Tag Archives: Cognition

Learn Music, Get Smart

Training in music while still young effects changes in the brain that enhance one’s speech and sound abilities.
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Practitioners of music therapy, like most members of the listening public, vouch for the healing qualities of music. Music soothes a stressed mind, elevates the soul, and helps cope with illnesses. What if it also improves intelligence? Can we say that learning the violin or piano would make you smarter? We could debate the meaning of “intelligence”, but many neuroscientists and psychologists are now beginning to answer the question in the affirmative.

In a review paper published last week in Nature, Nina Kraus and Bharath Chandrasekaran, both of the School of Communication at Northwestern University near Chicago, claim that training in music changes the brain significantly. And that these changes would help specifically in skills like speech processing, and generally in many areas that involve the processing of sound. Musicians get better at remembering things, have better motor skills, and can also pay attention better in a sea of noise. “Music training improves auditory skills that are not exclusively related to music,” write the authors.

Music is a sophisticated art form that invokes several skills even to listen. From an auditory point of view, it has three aspects: pitch, timing and timbre. Timing is at the heart of rhythm, and timbre is involved in the quality of sound. At a deeper level, it involves a complex organisation of sound. Great musicians and highly sophisticated listeners, particularly of classical music, would often point to deep cultural facets as well.

Learning music would call into play basic skills as well higher cognitive abilities. Musical training is a complex task that involves several brain areas. At a basic level, it requires the ability to identify pitch, the frequency of a note. Even the most basic learner needs to tune the instrument first. This isn’t easy, and many people simply can’t identify the pitch of a note easily, no matter how hard they try. Good musicians need to have a great sense of timing. They also need to distinguish timbre, which actually conveys the richness of sound (while pitch is the basic frequency, timbre is the fine structure of a note). The ability to identify these three basic features needs considerable training.

A long history of training in music shows up in the brain structure. The brains of musicians show more grey matter in areas that are important for playing a specific instrument. In physiological terms, this change results in increased activation of neurons (brain cells) when exposed to sound. For example, the strength of activation when exposed to the sound of an instrument depends on the length of training on that instrument. What this shows, and Kraus and Chandrasekaran argue, is that the changes were acquired through training and are not innate differences in the brain.

Areas in the brain that get developed through musical training are involved in at least three faculties: sound processing, visual processing and motor control. This is why learning to perform music is different from listening, no matter how deep. “Listening to music does not involve motor control,” says Vinod Menon, professor at the department of psychiatry and behavioural sciences, Stanford University. Menon’s lab studies, among other things, show the brain processes music and also the similarities and differences between music and speech processing in the brain.

Language and music seem to be two different subjects, but there are many similarities between them. At a fundamental level, both involve the processing of sound. Some of the finer skills that musicians have are transferred easily to the processing of speech, which also uses attributes like pitch and timbre to convey information. “Musicians would be able to detect easily fine distinctions in speech like irony or sarcasm,” says T.S. Sridhar, professor of molecular medicine at St Johns Medical College, Bangalore. Sridhar has experience of working in auditory physiology.

This skill could translate to being able to identify emotions in speech much better than in the case of non-musicians. Musical training uses a high working memory, an ability that is extremely useful in language. It also involves paying close attention to sound, which also translates to a skill in language: the ability to listen carefully to a stream of sound amidst a sea of noise. Many experiments have shown that neurons in the brains of musicians indeed show a higher response when exposed to the sound of language when compared to non-musicians.

Since the strength of such response is dependent on the length of training, it always helps to start early. Kraus and Chandrasekaran argue that seven years is the best age to start. This in turn raises another question: can one get the benefits of musical training — in terms of translatable skills — when training in later life? Says Kraus, who is Hugh Knowles Professor of communication sciences, neurobiology and physiology and otolaryngology at Northwestern University, “There is evidence that the nervous system, and in particular the auditory system, continues to change throughout the life times of human and non-human animals. An important area for future research is to determine specifically the effects of musical experience — begun later in life — on the nervous system.”

So performers, play on, be it for your brain or your heart. As a commentary on the Nature article argues, music could be taught and learned for its own sake and not merely to improve the brain.

Source The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)

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Growing Evidence Links Exercise and Mental Acuity

Can exercise help keep your mind sharp? Researchers increasingly say the answer is yes.

John J. Ratey, a psychiatrist who wrote the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, says that there is overwhelming evidence that exercise produces large cognitive gains and helps fight dementia.

The Washington Post advises:
“…while the volume of that research grows, the safest course of action for both body and mind appears to be to keep our weight down, follow a regular course of moderate to intense exercise, and stick with it.”

Source: Washington Post May 25, 2010

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Memory Loss Can be Reversed — Just Do THIS

Moderate physical activity performed in midlife or later appears to be associated with a reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment — and a six-month high-intensity aerobic exercise program can improve cognitive function in individuals who already have the condition.
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Each year, 10 percent to 15 percent of individuals with mild cognitive impairment will develop dementia, as compared with 1 percent to 2 percent of the general population.

Physical exercise may protect against mild cognitive impairment by means of the production of nerve-protecting compounds, greater blood flow to the brain, improved development and survival of neurons and the decreased risk of heart and blood vessel diseases.

Rources:
Eurekalert January 11, 2010
Archives of Neurology January 2010;67(1):71-9
Archives of Neurology January 2010;67(1):80-6

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Achyranthes Aspera

Botanical Name : Achyranthes aspera
Family: Amaranthaceae
Genus: Achyranthes
Species: A. aspera
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Caryophyllales

Common Name:Apamarga,Latjira,Chirchita or Onga,Apamarga,Kanarica,Kharamanjiri,Merkati, Varisa, Puthkanda, Umblokando,  Prickly chaff-flower,Devil’s Horsewhip
Vernacular Names: Sans: Apamarga; ; Eng: Prickiy-chaffflower.
Parts Used: The whole herb

Habitat: It grows as wasteland herb every where.Open dry places at elevations up to 2000 metres in Nepal. More or less naturalized as a weed in waste ground in southern Europe,E. Asia – Himalayas to Australia.

Description: Achyranthes aspera  is a   perennial or annual herb . Stems erect to ascending . Leaves opposite, petiolate ; blade elliptic , ovate to orbiculate, or broadly rhombate, margins entire . Inflorescences terminal and axillary , pedunculate , elongate , many-flowered, simple spikes or few-branched panicles; flowers crowded together at tips , becoming more widely spaced toward base . Flowers bisexual , often becoming deflexed with age; tepals 4 or 5, basally connate , without ornamentation, coriaceous , becoming indurate in fruit, ± glabrous ; filaments basally connate into short tubes or cups ; anthers 4-locular; pseudostaminodes 5; ovary obovoid or turbinate ; ovule 1; style elongate; stigma 1, capitate. Utricles enclosed by and falling with indurate tepals, elliptic or cylindric , membranous, indehiscent. Seeds 1, inverted , obovoid or ovoid , smooth .

You may click to see the pictures of   Achyranthes Aspera

Species 8-12: c and se United States, Mexico, West Indies, Central America, South America, tropical , subtropical , and warm-temperate regions of the Old World.

The groups of plants referred to as Achyranthes and Alternanthera have been subject to considerable nomenclatural confusion, primarily because P. C. Standley (1915) designated Achyranthes repens Linnaeus as the lectotype species of Achyranthes. As a result, species that had been placed in Achyranthes were transferred to Centrostachys Wallich, and species that had been in Alternanthera were transferred to Achyranthes. A. A. Bullock (1957; see also R. Melville 1958) showed that Standley’s lectotypification was incorrect and that the type species of Achyranthes is Achyranthes aspera Linnaeus. The generic concepts of Achyranthes and Alternanthera then returned to those prior to 1915.

Physical Description:
Species Achyranthes aspera
Plants perennial or annual . Stems 0.4-2 m , pilose or puberulent . Leaf blades elliptic , ovate , or broadly ovate to orbiculate, obovate-orbiculate, or broadly rhombate, 1-20 × 2-6 cm, adpressed-pubescent abaxially and adaxially. Inflorescences to 30 cm; bracts mem-branous; bracteoles long-aristate, spinose ; wings attached at sides and base . Flowers: tepals 4 or 5, length 3-7 mm; pseudostaminodes with margins fimbriate at apex, often with dorsal scale. Utricles ± cylindric , 2-4 mm, apex truncate or depressed .

Achyranthes aspera is a variable, pantropical species divided into six varieties (C. C. Townsend 1974), two of which occur in the flora . The variety with a long perianth and acuminate leaves has long been called var. aspera; the variety with a short perianth and blunt leaves, var. indica. However, A. Cavaco (1962) showed that the type of var. indica must be the type of the species A. aspera, thus var. indica is a homotypic synonym of var. aspera. Townsend made the combination A. aspera var. pubescens for plants previously called var. aspera.

Cultivation:The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires moist soil.Cultivated as a food crop in China. A very variable species.

Propagation: Seed – sow spring in situ.

Edible Uses
Edible Parts: Leaves; Seed.

Leaves cooked. Used as a spinach substitute. Seed cooked. The seeds are said to be eaten with milk in order to check hunger without loss of body weight. The brown oviod seed is about 2mm long.


Chemical Constituent:
Plant yields achyranthine.

Medicinal Uses:Antispasmodic; Astringent; Diuretic; Odontalgic.
Since time immemorial, it is in use as folk medicine. It holds a reputed position as medicinal herb in different systems of medicine in India.One of the more important mdicinal herbs of Nepal, it is widely used in the treatment of a range of complaints. Ophthalmic. The whole plant is used medicinally, but the roots are generally considered to be more effective. They contain triterpenoid saponins. The root is astringent, diuretic and antispasmodic. It is used in the treatment of dropsy, rheumatism, stomach problems, cholera, skin diseases and rabies. The juice extracted from the root of this plant, mixed with the root of Urena lobata and the bark of Psidium guajava, is used in the treatment of diarrhoea and dysentery. The plant is astringent, digestive, diuretic, laxative, purgative and stomachic. The juice of the plant is used in the treatment of boils, diarrhoea, dysentery, haemorrhoids, rheumatic pains, itches and skin eruptions. The ash from the burnt plant, often mixed with mustard oil and a pinch of salt, is used as a tooth powder for cleaning teeth. It is believed to relieve pyorrhea and toothache. The leaf is emetic and a decoction is used in the treatment of diarrhoea and dysentery. A paste of the leaves is applied in the treatment of rabies, nervous disorders, hysteria, insect and snake bites.

As per Ayurveda:It is tikta, ushnnveerya .and katu; alleviates deranged function of kapha; useful in the treatment of piles, pruritus, dysentery and dyscrasia; astringent and emetic.

Leaves made into a paste with water are applied to bites of poisonous insects, wasps, bees, etc. Powdered root, mixed with honey, is given internally in haemorrhoids.

Decoction of the root is prescribed in diarrhoea. Root paste is given to stop bleeding after abortion. A pinch of root powder, in combination with pepper powder and honey, is a good remedy for cough; seeds,rubbed with rice-water, are prescribed to patients suffering from bleeding piles.

Decoction of the whole plant is diuretic; it is efficacious in renal dropsies and in combination with that of Kakajanga (Leea aequata) useful in insomnia.

Dry plant is beneficial in gonorrhoea and colic. It also acts as a laxative.

Ashes of the plant with water and jaggery are effective in ascites and anasarca;sesamum oil medicated with ashes of the plant is applied as eardrops.

Traditional Medicinal Uses: According to Ayurveda, it is bitter, pungent, heating, laxative, stomachic, carminative and useful in treatment of vomiting, bronchitis, heart disease, piles, itching abdominal pains, ascites, dyspepsia, dysentery, blood diseases etc.

Ayurvedic Preparation: Apamarga Taila, Agnimukha etc.

The plant is highly esteemed by traditional healers and used in treatment of asthma, bleeding, in facilitating delivery, boils, bronchitis, cold, cough, colic, debility, dropsy, dog bite, dysentery, ear complications, headache, leucoderma, pneumonia, renal complications, scorpion bite, snake bite and skin diseases etc. Traditional healers claim that addition of A. aspera would enhance the efficacy of any drug of plant origin.    Prevents infection and tetanus.  Used to treat circumcision wounds, cuts.  Also used for improving lymphatic circulation, strengthens musculatured, improves blood circulation; Cold with fever, heat stoke with headache, malaria, dysentery; Urinary tract lithiasis, chronic nephritis, edema; Rheumatic arthralgia (joint pain). Used traditionally for infertility in women: Two ml decoction of root and stem is administered orally thrice a day for three months. Younger women respond better to this therapy.

Other Uses
*Useful for reclamation of wastelands.
*Leaf is consumed as potherb.
*Seeds rich in protein, cooked and eaten.
*Used in religious ceremonies in India.

Soap; Teeth.
The ash from the burnt plant, often mixed with mustard oil and a pinch of salt, is used as a tooth powder for cleaning teeth. The dried twigs are used as toothbrushes. The ash of the burnt plant is a rich source of potash. It is used for washing clothes.

Click to see:->Achyranthes aspera elevates thyroid hormone levels and decreases hepatic lipid peroxidation in male rats

Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

Resources:

http://www.ayurvedakalamandiram.com/herbs.htm
http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/CropFactSheets/onga.html
http://www.pfaf.org/database/plants.php?Achyranthes+aspera
http://www.pfaf.org/database/plants.php?Achyranthes+aspera
http://www.hear.org/starr/plants/images/species/?q=achyranthes+aspera+var+aspera
http://zipcodezoo.com/Plants/A/Achyranthes_aspera/

http://www.herbnet.com/Herb%20Uses_DE.htm

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Older Brain May be a Wiser Brain

When older people can no longer remember names at a cocktail party, they tend to think that their brainpower is declining. But a growing number of studies suggest that this assumption is often wrong.

Instead, the research finds, the aging brain is simply taking in more data and trying to sift through a clutter of information, often to its long-term benefit

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The studies are analyzed in a new edition of a neurology book, Progress in Brain Research .

Some brains do deteriorate with age. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, strikes 13% of Americans 65 and older. But for most aging adults, the authors say, much of what occurs is a gradually widening focus of attention that makes it more difficult to latch onto just one fact, like a name or a telephone number. Although that can be frustrating, it is often useful.

“It may be that distractibility is not, in fact, a bad thing,” said Shelley H Carson, a psychology researcher at Harvard whose work was cited in the book. “It may increase the amount of information available to the conscious mind.”

For example, in studies where subjects are asked to read passages that are interrupted with unexpected words or phrases, adults 60 and older work much more slowly than college students. Although the students plow through the texts at a consistent speed regardless of what the out-of-place words mean, older people slow down even more when the words are related to the topic at hand.

That indicates that they are not just stumbling over the extra information, but are taking it in and processing it.
When both groups were later asked questions for which the out-of-place words might be answers, the older adults responded much better than the students.

“For the young people, it’s as if the distraction never happened,” said an author of the review, Lynn Hasher, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and a senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute. “But for older adults, because they’ve retained all this extra data, they’re now suddenly the better problem solvers. They can transfer the information they’ve soaked up from one situation to another.”

Such tendencies can yield big advantages in the real world, where it is not always clear what information is important, or will become important. A seemingly irrelevant point or suggestion in a memo can take on new meaning if the original plan changes. Or extra details that stole your attention may help you assess the speaker’s real impact.

“A broad attention span may enable older adults to ultimately know more about a situation and the indirect message of what’s going on than their younger peers,” Dr Hasher said. “We believe that this characteristic may play a significant role in why we think of older people as wiser.”

Sources: The Timers of India