Brain’s Response to Sweets May Indicate Risk for Development of Alcoholism

Several human and animal studies have shown a relationship between a preference for highly sweet tastes and alcohol use disorders. Furthermore, the brain mechanisms of sweet-taste responses may share common neural pathways with responses to alcohol and other drugs. A new study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has found that recent drinking is related to the orbitofrontal-region brain response to an intensely sweet stimulus, a brain response that may serve as an important phenotype, or observable characteristic, of alcoholism risk.

“It has long-been known that animals bred to prefer alcohol also drink considerably greater quantities of sweetened water than do animals without this selective breeding for alcohol preference,” explained David A. Kareken, deputy director of the Indiana Alcohol Research Center, a professor in the department of neurology at Indiana University School of Medicine, and corresponding author for the study. “More recently, it has become clear that animals bred to prefer the artificial sweetener, saccharin, also drink more alcohol. Although the data in humans are somewhat more variable, some studies do show that alcoholics, or even non-alcoholics with a family history of alcoholism, have a preference for unusually sweet tastes. Thus, while the precise reasons remain unclear, there does seem to be significant evidence suggesting some link between the rewarding properties of both sweet tastes and alcohol.”

Kareken added that this is the first study to examine the extent to which regions of the brain’s reward system, as they respond to an intensely sweet taste, are related to human drinking patterns.

Full story of sweet tooth and alcoholism at Science Daily

Beedie Savage – President of Quantum Units Education

Exercise Reorganizes the Brain to Be More Resilient to Stress

Physical activity reorganizes the brain so that its response to stress is reduced and anxiety is less likely to interfere with normal brain function, according to a research team based at Princeton University.

The researchers report in the Journal of Neuroscience that when mice allowed to exercise regularly experienced a stressor — exposure to cold water — their brains exhibited a spike in the activity of neurons that shut off excitement in the ventral hippocampus, a brain region shown to regulate anxiety.

These findings potentially resolve a discrepancy in research related to the effect of exercise on the brain — namely that exercise reduces anxiety while also promoting the growth of new neurons in the ventral hippocampus. Because these young neurons are typically more excitable than their more mature counterparts, exercise should result in more anxiety, not less. The Princeton-led researchers, however, found that exercise also strengthens the mechanisms that prevent these brain cells from firing.

The impact of physical activity on the ventral hippocampus specifically has not been deeply explored, said senior author Elizabeth Gould, Princeton’s Dorman T. Warren Professor of Psychology. By doing so, members of Gould’s laboratory pinpointed brain cells and regions important to anxiety regulation that may help scientists better understand and treat human anxiety disorders, she said.

Full story of exercising and stress at Science Daily

Beedie Savage – President of Quantum Units Education

Brain’s ‘Dark Side’ as Key to Cocaine Addiction

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have found evidence that an emotion-related brain region called the central amygdala — whose activity promotes feelings of malaise and unhappiness — plays a major role in sustaining cocaine addiction.

In experiments with rats, the TSRI researchers found signs that cocaine-induced changes in this brain system contribute to anxiety-like behavior and other unpleasant symptoms of drug withdrawal — symptoms that typically drive an addict to keep using. When the researchers blocked specific brain receptors called kappa opioid receptors in this key anxiety-mediating brain region, the rats’ signs of addiction abated.

“These receptors appear to be a good target for therapy,” said Marisa Roberto, associate professor in TSRI’s addiction research group, the Committee on the Neurobiology of Addictive Disorders. Roberto was the principal investigator for the study, which appears in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Carrot or Stick?

In addition to its clinical implications, the finding represents an alternative to the pleasure-seeking, “positive” motivational circuitry that is traditionally emphasized in addiction.

Full story of the brains dark side at Science Daily

Beedie Savage – President of Quantum Units Education

Heart Health Matters to Your Brain

People suffering from type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD) are at an increased risk of cognitive decline, according to a new study from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

Lead author Christina E. Hugenschmidt, Ph.D., an instructor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest Baptist, said the results from the Diabetes Heart Study-Mind (DHS-Mind) suggest that CVD is playing a role in cognition problems before it is clinically apparent in patients. The research appears online ahead of print in the Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications.

“There has been a lot of research looking at the links between type 2 diabetes and increased risk for dementia, but this is the first study to look specifically at subclinical CVD and the role it plays,” Hugenschmidt said. “Our research shows that CVD risk caused by diabetes even before it’s at a clinically treatable level might be bad for your brain.

“The results imply that additional CVD factors, especially calcified plaque and vascular status, and not diabetes status alone, are major contributors to type 2 diabetes related cognitive decline.”

Full story of heart health and your brain at Science Daily

Beedie Savage – President of Quantum Units Education

Mediterranean diet is brain food

Sticking to a Mediterranean diet may not just be good for your heart, it may be good for your brain as well, according to a new study.

Researchers in Spain followed more than 1,000 people for six and a half years, and found that participants who were on a Mediterranean diet and supplemented that diet with extra nuts or olive oil performed better on cognitive tests at the end of the study period than the control group, which followed a lower-fat diet. The study was published Monday in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

“We found that a Mediterranean diet with olive oil was able to reduce low-grade inflammation associated with a high risk of vascular disease and cognitive impairments,” said Dr. Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez, the chairman of preventive medicine at the University of Navarra in Spain and a study author.

The Mediterranean diet is devoid of processed foods and bad fats, and high in whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables, legumes, fish and even red wine – all things that are high in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. These types of foods are known to help reduce vascular (circulatory) damage, inflammation and oxidative (free radical) damage in the brain.

Full story of the Mediterranean diet at CNN Health

Beedie Savage – President of Quantum Units Education