brain

  1. Choline on your mind

    Some nutrients, like vitamin D, always seem to be making headlines -- while others, you just never hear about.

    Take choline, for example.

    When was the last time you heard about that one? Possibly never -- but you might want to add it to your vocabulary, because this B vitamin found in egg yolks, liver, and chicken may have the power to protect your brain and keep dementia at bay.

    Researchers looked at data on some 1,400 adults between the ages of 36 and 83 who were tracked for nearly a decade and given MRI exams along with tests to check both memory and cognitive ability.

    You might want to stock up on eggs: The patients with the highest dietary choline intake did much better on those memory tests than those with the lowest. What's more, the MRIs revealed fewer signs of "white matter hyperintensity" in the brain.

    That's a blood vessel problem that may be linked to both stroke and dementia.

    Sounds great, right? But there's just one catch: The choline levels were calculated based on food surveys, and food surveys simply aren't good science. They rely too much on guesses, estimates, and memory.

    That last one's a little ironic given that memory tests were part of the study. Can those who did the worst on those tests really be relied on to give an accurate accounting of their food intake?

    On the other hand, this study doesn't come out of the blue, either -- because choline is needed by the brain to make acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in everything from muscles to memory.

    Some studies have shown that Alzheimer's patients lose the ability to turn choline into acetylcholine, and some promising experimental research has looked into finding ways to correct that -- although if the problem is in the conversion, then choline supplements on their own won't stop the disease.

    But if they can prevent it, we're on the right track -- and earlier studies have shown that rats given choline in the womb go on to develop more powerful brains later.

    Since choline is also essential for everything from your heart to your liver, you might want to add this to your supplement list. After all, it's unlikely you're getting enough from diet alone -- unless you're eating plenty of egg yolks.

    By the way, choline isn't the only B vitamin that can play a key role in stopping and even reversing cognitive decline: Seniors given a blend of B6, B12, and thiamine did significantly better on memory tests and had fewer signs of the brain shrinkage linked to dementia.

    Learn more here.

  2. Shine a light on seasonal depression

    Your skin isn't the only part of your body that needs a regular dose of sunlight -- your brain thrives on the stuff, too.

    Just as your skin helps turn sunlight into vitamin D, your brain uses those same bright rays as a cue to produce serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps you to feel happy and content.

    Lack of sun is why most of us experience the winter blahs at some point -- and for millions of people, it's the direct cause of an annual battle with serious depression.

    Now, a new gadget is promising to bring quick and lasting relief to people who suffer from that seasonal affective disorder -- and it works by giving your brain the light it needs to get the serotonin factory producing at mid-summer levels.

    The device looks like a set of the earbuds people use for listening to music -- but instead of tiny speakers, these earbuds contain little flashlights with enough power to send a beam of light through the ears and straight into the brain.

    Side note: I'm going to be more careful with Q-tips from now on.

    Using light to beat SAD is not a new concept. Many people already get relief by staring at a light box. It works -- but it's a pain in the butt: It can take an hour a day, every day, or more to get some relief... and who has that kind of time these days?

    That's where the new technique really shines: In one clinical trial, nearly 80 percent of 89 SAD patients who used the earbud flashlights were completely cured with just 12 minutes of treatment a day, according to data presented at the recent International Forum for Mood and Anxiety Disorders in Budapest.

    Just 12 minutes! If this holds up to further study, this won't just be a breakthrough -- it would revolutionize how we treat SAD.

    The only drawback is the price. At around $300, it's more expensive than a lightbox and even pricier than an iPod.

    But since it's every bit as portable as a music player, you can plug in on your way to the office and arrive at work each day singing a new -- and happier -- tune.

  3. Get wine benefits from your wine

    One of the best things about enjoying the health benefits of red wine is the wine itself. So naturally, some researchers are trying to spoil the party -- because a new study looks at the benefits of the polyphenols in red wine... when taken without the actual wine.
  4. Aging signs -- or warning signs?

    Millions of seniors battle the three S's in their later years: the stoop, the shakes, and the shuffle. And most docs will respond with their own S: the shrug as they tell you it's just part of getting older. Bull.
  5. The myth of the 'senior moment'

    The "senior moment" -- it's one of the most common stereotypes in movies and on television. But the "senior moment" used so often for cheap laughs isn't nearly as "common" as you've been led to believe. In fact, most seniors barely experience any significant form of cognitive decline over the years.
  6. The 'secret ingredient' in coffee

    I love a good mystery -- and there's one brewing right now in the world of coffee. Now, a new study has found two ingredients in particular that seem to work together to protect you against Alzheimer's disease. One is caffeinate, and the other is...well, that's where the mystery comes in.
  7. Magic hat can boost thinking powers

    The experimental hat delivers an electrical jolt to the brain, and Australian researchers say it can change how you think--making you better able to solve problems, especially when math is involved.
  8. The cocaine of the playground

    It's bad enough when Big Pharma tries pushing dangerous and unnecessary drugs on adults. It's far, far worse when they do it to our children.

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