Let me begin this blog with “I do not know” whether cell phone used causes brain cancer in the form of tumors or not. However, not knowing something means you do not know and hence caution is most likely in order, particularly when cancer is the point of discussion.
Let me try to ease the confusion and suggest some lifestyle steps to avoid unnecessary risk if it is present. A primary malignant brain tumor is one in which the cancer originates in the brain itself rather than traveling to the brain from another region of the body (metastases). There are over 20,000 new cases of primary brain malignancies each year. A specific form of brain tumor known as the glioblastoma multiforme has increased 30 to 70 percent from one decade to the next in some metropolitan areas of the United States. It is believed that ten times the number of metastatic brain tumors will also occur in the same time period.
Risks for cancer include pesticides, air pollution, chemicals found in meats, power lines, and plastics. Xrays are also on the list of risk factors including the microwave type radiation emitted from cell phones. This is why cell phone companies suggest we hold the phones away from out ear when using it. Further, there have been several studies indicating a relationship (not cause and effect) between cell phone use and risk of brain cancer, increased risk of acoustic neuroma, and glioblastomas. It is important to note that other studies that have not found any relationship between cell phone use and increased risk for brain cancer. We will most likely learn more about this relationship as we have more time to study the use and effects of cell phone use on a larger number of people over a greater period of time.
As cell phone use is a lifestyle issue, what can be done at this point? There certainly has been an increase in the number of users and the amount of time each user spends on their cell phone. Some homes do not even have land lines anymore. Children are using cell phones at unprecedented rates as well. Dr. Black, renowned neurosurgeon suggests that parents try to curtail cell phone usage in their children. Even adults are encouraged to use an earpiece (not a blue tooth) to avoid direct contact between the phone and the ear.
I have started to use an earpiece myself.
Sleep is actually a very important function of and for the brain. We need to generate enough sleep to feel rested, to have energy, to assist with mood, and to even help us think more clearly.
Sleep is divided into four stages. Deep sleep or stage IV sleep is critical to brain function. With advanced age we generate less deep IV sleep and it is probably not a coincidence that our cognitive abilities change as well.
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) is the part of sleep when we dream and we are actually paralyzed. REM occupies about 25% of our sleep and is critical for encoding information to a deeper level. Our brain processes millions of bits of information daily and during REM it is thought the brain selects those bits of information that are most critical.
Debate on how much sleep is necessary continues, but it is probably safe to say that young children need at least 8 hours of sleep a day while adults should get more than 6. Certainly, these numbers are not fixed and there are cases where some do fine with only a few hours while others do not. The bottom line is that our brains need sleep, deep sleep, and REM to function efficiently.
Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder that includes a wide array of symptoms. We do not know the cause of autism and we have no cure. Much has been learned and autism is certainly no longer viewed as a single disorder or entity. The emotional strain on a family can be substantial, particularly when resistance to an emotional or loving attachment occurs.
I have been reading more about the positive effects of surfing on some children with autism. As I am not an expert in this area I want to be careful and inform the public that autism is not my area of specialization. However, I have now read several accounts of how a child suffering from autism has a type of “awakening” after some time in the water learning how to surf.
Obviously, the surfing I am describing involves one to one work with a trained surfer who has a gift of working with children suffering autism. It is also true that by these accounts that the first part of the experience can be difficult as the child experiences a natural fear of the ocean and strangers. It might be most difficult for the parents who are watching with great doubt.
The reports indicate that after a short period of time the child with autism not only relaxes, but begins to awaken to life and the surroundings in a way not seen prior to the surfing experience. It is not known why or how this occurs, but perhaps the child’s brain is literally overwhelmed with stimulation which helps to soothe and foster interaction with others in the immediate environment. One parent even described his child as being able to speak and connect in ways he thought was impossible.
Perhaps Mother Nature provides us with some treatments in her own way. The majesty of an ocean whose water fills 80% of our planet might have some answers for the brain. Maybe it is the movement, the energy, the sound, the rhythm. Even if we do not fully understand why, the fact that we have anecdotal evidence for surfing bringing some children with Autism to a new awakening is reason enough to ask more questions.
For many years neurons have been considered the main act within the cerebral cortex, responsible for our thoughts, emotions, and movements. Of interest is the fact that neurons only account for about 10% of human brain cells. Glial cells that account for the other 90% of brain cells have typically been thought to carry a supportive role to the neurons.
An article in Forbes Magazine (July 13, 2009), however, suggests glial cells may be even more important than neurons for treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and stroke. Recent understanding of the brain now indicates glial cells with neurons play a critical role in brain development and brain function.
Medications on the market today do not work on glial cells. Ben Barnes, Chairman of the Neurobiology Department at Stanford University Medical School posits that one type of glial cells, the astrocytes, trigger the initial steps of destruction in brain diseases. As such, Dr. Barnes believes that by creating treatments that of the astrocytes can in turn save dying neurons.
If glial cells do indeed maintain a more critical role in the formation, function, and elimination of synaptic activity, plasticity, and creation of myelin sheath around the neuron, an entirely new approach to behavioral neuroscience will be born and with it, an entirely new treatment approach.
The human brain has what is known as a dominant side and a non-dominant side. Dominance is determined by where language is processed and for the vast majority of humans we believe the dominant side is the left side or left hemisphere. Interestingly, we are not sure why the left side evolved to be dominant, but perhaps it had something to do with cave men and women using their right hands more often.
As language is processed primarily by most in the left hemisphere it is important to note that words are best processed when spoken into the right ear. The right ear processes information primarily using the left hemisphere while the left ear uses the right hemisphere.
A recent study found that words were more deeply processed when spoken into the person’s right ear. Therefore, if you want me to remember something for you please speak to me on my right side.
The human brain is very complex and responsible for all behavior, and we are continually learning new information about how it operates. Behavioral and cognitive functions can be organized into five distinct domains to include : Memory, Attention & Concentration, Language Skills, Visual & Spatial and Executive Functions (Logic & Reasoning).
Memory and new learning is a necessary and important function of the human brain. Our ability to live independently and to function normally is a direct result of a normal memory system. Our life story is built by encoding and retaining our daily experiences. Our personal identity is framed by our memory and ability to learn from these memories.
Memory and new learning begins with the Hippocampus, a critical structure in the middle temporal lobes of both hemispheres of the brain. This is the structure that enables learning and transition of new learning into a permanent storage site in the Cortex. The Hippocampus has the ability to generate new brain cells with stimulating environments, can be damaged with chronic stress, and is hit early by Alzheimer’s disease. Damage to the Hippocampus results in memory deficits.
Read more about Memory…
Most advanced nations spend a significant amount of time, money, and energy dealing with poverty and the short and long term consequences for those who live in poverty. Policy statements are drafted and then implemented with varying degrees of success. One thing is certain, no policy has removed poverty suggesting that we either have not implemented the correct policy or poverty is a reality of life.
One aspect of poverty that probably does not receive enough attention is the negative health outcomes that result from such an environment. Studies many years ago demonstrated the negative effects of an un-enriched environment on rats. Interestingly, the brain was significantly affected both structurally and functionally. For humans, poverty really represents an unenriched environment in which poor nutrition, lack of love and attention, crime, drugs, insecurity, and lack of proper mental stimulation exist.
A nation enlightened to development of our youth and to creation of a policy that understands the impact of poverty will confront this reality. Research has demonstrated a correlation between poverty in childhood and increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease later in life. While there are short term consequences of poverty, there are also long term effects particularly when one understands that poverty limits proper development of the human brain.
Perhaps a first step in creating a policy on poverty is to educate the public on the importance of environmental input early in life upon later development of the human brain. Most families will work to follow such educational guidelines if they understand what to do with regard to promoting brain health for their own children. For those who are vulnerable and without resources or adults to provide the enriched environment policies can address what is needed and appropriate resources to help developing children thrive.
Significantly more Americans are taking prescription drugs for mental illness since 1996 according to a new study. Researchers believe the increase is due in part to expanded insurance coverage and a greater familiarity with the drugs among primary care doctors.
The findings indicate 73% more adults and 50% more children are using drugs to treat mental illness than in 1986. Among those over the age of 65, use of psychotropic medication has doubled between 1996 and 2006. Similarly, children diagnosed and treated for mental health conditions by their primary care physician have doubled between 1996 and 2006.
Mental health has become more of a mainstream issue within overall health and access to such care has improved. One problem the researches underscore is the lack of access to mental health services by the severely mentally ill. Lack of treatment can lead to these individuals ending up in the criminal justice system according to the researchers.
While the researchers point out that access to mental health services has increased significantly and that this is a positive outcome, it is also reasonable to question if something else besides access accounts for increased utilization of psychotropic medication. In particular, why are so many children being treated for mental health problems and being treated with medication?
It is important for the United States and all nations to provide appropriate diagnostic and treatment interventions. This includes medication and non-medication treatments and certainly a greater reliance on proactive rather than reactive approaches to care.
Recent research on monkeys indicates one brain cell may have the power to restore voluntary movement of paralyzed muscles. Nearly every neuron tested by scientists demonstrated the ability to activate muscles immobilized by drugs in monkeys.
Some suggest that if a monkey can learn how to harness the power of a single neuron to activate muscles that have paralysis, the effect should be even more powerful in humans. This research finding has significant implications for the hundreds of thousands of people with spinal cord injuries annually.
It is thought that some types of spinal cord injuries result in paralysis in which the person is fully conscious inside a body that does not respond to commands. While the brain activity that would normally result in voluntary movement is still present, the directions for such movement do not reach the muscle.
The current research on monkey brain cells suggests a potential therapeutic mechanism by bypassing the type of nerve damage that can result in such paralysis. The brain can learn to control new cells and use them to generate movements quickly. Creating electrical stimulation from new neuronal activation in muscles that are paralyzed represents a future oriented treatment direction for those who suffer paralysis.
When I present my keynote address on Brain Health I try to provide the audience with a glimpse of how complicated and miraculous the human brain really is. I typically make a statement that one day the human brain will be able to fix the maladies of the human body and that one day the human brain will communicate with other brains without opening the mouth.
While this may sound a bit science fiction I believe it to be true. A recent report provides yet more support for where our planet is heading. The automaker Honda has been funding research and development into the ability of the human brain via thoughts to relay commands to a robot that will alter the function of the car. If one wants the air conditioner turned on he or she can complete this by simply thinking the wish and the brain signals will trigger a robot mechanism to make the command happen.
In the near or distant future we will be able to conduct our basic daily functions from mental energies that will enable a much more efficient use of time and energy. It represents a true technological advancement based from the brain. Ultimately, this use of energy will be from brain to brain.