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Learn Music, Get Smart

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Training in music while still young effects changes in the brain that enhance one’s speech and sound abilities.
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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News on Health & Science

Anger Send Blood to the Head

Blood really does rush to the head during a fit of anger.

Medical research has proved that when irate, the carotid arteries – which supply the head and neck – dilate.
The increased flow of blood to the brain then results in what is known as a ‘head rush‘.
Scientists tested 58 healthy volunteers between the ages of 19 and 60 for their cerebral responses to mental stress.


It was found that in all cases the mental stress led to vasodilation – the relaxing of blood vessels carrying blood to the head – accompanied by an increase in brain blood flow.
However, those with high blood pressure did not register increased blood flow when annoyed.
Tasneem Naqvi and Hahn Huynh from the University of Southern California and Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre set the volunteers tasks designed to make them agitated.

The researchers then used ultrasound imaging to measure the effects on the carotid artery and an artery within the brain.

The results are published in the journal Cardiovascular Ultrasound.

Source:Mail Online: 3rd.July. ’09


Fighting Melanoma in the Mirror

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Skin self-exams are the most direct method for detecting potentially deadly melanoma, though the benefits remain unproved. Moles that are smaller than a pencil eraser are rarely cancerous.

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90 percent of melanoma growths are curable if caught early and removed; untreated, survival rates are worse than for lung cancer. When it comes to melanoma, vanity may be a virtue. The most direct method for detecting this deadly skin cancer is to face a mirror, clothes off, and check for suspicious moles from head to toe.

Melanoma is the biggest no-brainer for screening,” said Myles Cockburn, a preventive medicine expert at the University of Southern California. “You’re looking right at the tumor.”

Moles at least the size of a pencil eraser are of greatest concern, since smaller spots are rarely cancerous, said Dr. David Polsky, a dermatologist at New York University School of Medicine. “To get hung up on the real small stuff is missing the bigger picture,” he said.

But changes to the color, size or shape of any mole may be an early indication of trouble, especially for someone who has a family history of melanoma or lots of unusual moles.

And while sun-drenched areas on the head or legs are likely sites for other forms of skin cancer, melanoma can develop anywhere on the body.

About 90 percent of melanoma growths are curable if caught early and surgically removed, putting the impetus on people at home to look for cancerous spots. When growths are left unchecked, the chances of surviving the disease for long are worse than for lung or colon cancer.

But in the push to make everyone better skin cancer detectives, tough obstacles — and questions — remain.

To locate the first signs of danger requires studious attention, and few people seem willing to bother. Nine to 18 percent of Americans regularly examine their own skin for melanoma, surveys show. Dermatologists, typically the first responders for skin cancer, may be quicker to schedule a Botox appointment than to verify a patient’s concern about changing moles, research shows.

Furthermore, there is no proof so far that such screening will ultimately help save any of the estimated 8,400 lives lost to melanoma each year in the United States.

“It’s still an open question,” said Dr. Marianne Berwick, a melanoma specialist at the University of New Mexico who led the largest and most rigorous investigation so far on skin self-exams. That study found that fastidious skin watchers had no better chance of surviving cancer after five years than those who did not check for moles. Two decades of follow-up have failed to show any improvement, she said.

The stakes are high. The chance of surviving melanoma turns sharply for the worse once the tumors have spread beyond their original site on the skin, making it critical to find changes early.

“There’s no really good proven therapy for advanced disease,” said Dr. Martin Weinstock, a professor of dermatology at Brown University Medical School.

Researchers have tested various treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation and the drug interferon, which show only modest effects against the later stages of melanoma. Newer drugs and vaccines are undergoing testing now. But the main reasons that melanoma survival rates have improved at all over the past 30 years are earlier detection and better screening.

Yet in the rush to get the cancer out fast, experts say they are noticing a relaxing of standards in diagnosing melanoma. Doctors these days are more likely to take out any suspicious mole out of fear of missing a cancerous one, and possibly getting sued for a missed diagnosis, these experts say.

A separate study conducted by Dr. Berwick found that 40 percent of the melanomas detected in 1988 would not have been considered cancerous 10 years earlier.

This could mean that surgeons are removing a fair share of lesions that aren’t melanoma, though even pathologists examining the same skin biopsy samples often disagree on whether the diagnosis is melanoma. At the same time, doctors who aren’t trained in spotting may be leaving harder-to-detect, slow-growing tumors behind.

“Unless you’re specifically trained as a clinician to do a skin exam, you can’t necessarily do a good one,” said Dr. Cockburn of U.S.C.

Nonetheless, like many doctors, Dr. Cockburn still believes that the odds can improve by teaching “your average Joe” to look for melanoma spots, a view shared by the American Cancer Society and other medical groups.

Enlisting the help of a spouse or partner may make it easier to track evolving moles on the body. A camera may also help. One study found that people who took photos of their skin improved their chances of detecting possible melanomas by 12 percent.

The only downside to home screening is in creating a nation of skin cancer hypochondriacs who further tilt the balance to unnecessary operations, experts warn.

But in this age of plastic surgery, the chance to overcome a deadly, but treatable, cancer is worth the risk, Dr. Cockburn said. “With the amount of stuff that gets chopped off these days,” he said, “I don’t really think there’s a problem.”

The New York Times:Oct.19.’08

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Ailmemts & Remedies


Hypothermia is a condition in which an organism’s temperature drops below that required for normal metabolism and bodily functions. In warm-blooded animals, core body temperature is maintained near a constant level through biologic homeostasis. But when the body is exposed to cold its internal mechanisms may be unable to replenish the heat that is being lost to the organism’s & see

Hypothermia is the opposite of hyperthermia, the condition which causes heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature is lowered due to exposure to cold. It can occur even at mild temperatures if exposure is prolonged.

The body’s natural defences against the cold consist of restricting the flow of blood to the skin so as to prevent heat loss, along with shivering and releasing hormones to generate heat.

These measures are limited and are usually inadequate to maintain body temperature in cold environments.

The causes vary, and include increased susceptibility to flu and other viruses.
However, hypothermia is one of the most deadly cold-induced conditions and, if not caught and treated early on, can lead to a rapid decline in the body’s ability to function normally.

Unlike other warm-blooded animals that have a layer of fur or blubber to keep them warm, you need an extra layer of clothing to keep you warm when it’s cold outside. Without that extra layer of clothing, more heat escapes from your body than your body can produce. If too much heat escapes, the result is hypothermia. Exposure to cold water and certain medical conditions also can cause hypothermia.

Your normal core body temperature is usually right around 98.6 F. In hypothermia, your body fails to maintain a normal temperature. An internal body temperature of 95 F or lower signals hypothermia.

The cause of hypothermia usually is extended exposure to cold temperatures or a cool, damp environment. Other contributing causes include inadequate clothing and neglecting to adequately cover your extremities, particularly your head — a disproportionate amount of heat is lost through your head.

Hypothermia in milder weather

Hypothermia can happen not just in cold winter weather, when there are low temperatures or low wind chill factors, but under milder conditions as well. A rain shower that soaks you to the skin on a cool day can lead to hypothermia if you don’t move inside to warm up and dry off. If you stay outside, evaporation of the water from your skin further cools your body, lowering your internal temperature. A wind blowing over the wet parts of your body greatly increases evaporation and cooling.

An accidental fall into cold water is especially likely to lead to hypothermia. Hypothermia may develop within minutes of being exposed to cold water, or it may take several hours, depending on the water temperature. Water doesn’t have to be icy cold to cause hypothermia. Your body loses heat more quickly in water than in air. Any water temperature lower than your body temperature causes your body to lose at least some heat.

Click to see:->How We Lose Heat to the Environment

Symptoms take effect in three stages.

Normal body temperature in humans is 37°C.

The first stage – mild hypothermia – is characterised by:

* Bouts of shivering;
* Grogginess and muddled thinking.

In stage 1, body temperature drops by 1-2°C below normal temperature (35-38°C). Mild to strong shivering occurs.The victim is unable to perform complex tasks with the hands; the hands become numb. Blood vessels in the outer extremities constrict, lessening heat loss to the outside air. Breathing becomes quick and shallow. Goose bumps form, raising body hair on end in an attempt to create an insulating layer of air around the body (which is of limited use in humans due to lack of sufficient hair, but useful in other species). Often, a person will experience a warm sensation, as if they have recovered, but they are in fact heading into Stage 2. Another test to see if the person is entering stage 2 is if they are unable to touch their thumb with their little finger; this is the first stage of muscles not working.

Indicators of moderate hypothermia are:

* Violent shivering or shivering which suddenly stops;
* Inability to think and pay attention;
* Slow, shallow breathing;
* Slow, weak pulse.

In stage 2, body temperature drops by 2-4°C. Shivering becomes more violent. Muscle mis-coordination becomes apparent. Movements are slow and labored, accompanied by a stumbling pace and mild confusion, although the victim may appear alert. Surface blood vessels contract further as the body focuses its remaining resources on keeping the vital organs warm. The victim becomes pale. Lips, ears, fingers and toes may become blue.

Severe hypothermia has set in when:

* Shivering stops;
* The patient loses consciousness;
* There is little or no breathing;
* Pulse is weak, irregular or non-existent.

In stage 3, body temperature drops below approximately 32 °C (89.6 °F). Shivering usually stops.[1][2] Difficulty speaking, sluggish thinking, and amnesia starts to appear; inability to use hands and stumbling is also usually present. Cellular metabolic processes shut down. Below 30 °C (86.0 °F), the exposed skin becomes blue and puffy, muscle coordination becomes very poor, walking becomes almost impossible, and the victim exhibits incoherent/irrational behavior including terminal burrowing or even a stupor. Pulse and respiration rates decrease significantly but fast heart rates (ventricular tachycardia, atrial fibrillation) can occur. Major organs fail. Clinical death occurs. Because of decreased cellular activity in stage 3 hypothermia, the body will actually take longer to undergo brain death.

Immersion Hypothermia
Hypothermia of both the extremities and body core continues to be a major limitation to diving in cold water. Cooling in the extremities is often the limitation to operations. The fingers decrease dexterity due to pain or numbness, safety, work capacity, and increase the risk of developing nonfreezing cold injury.

In divers breathing heliox below 100 meters wearing hot water suits, the inspired gas must be heated or the symptoms of hypothermia can set in without the divers realizing it.

Other predisposing factors leading to immersion hypothermia include dehydration, inadequate rewarming with repetitive operations, starting operations while cold, wet dry suit undergarments, sweating with work, inadequate thermal insulation (ex. thin dry suit undergarment), lack of heated breathing gas with deep heliox diving, and poor physical conditioning.

Risk factors:
Being in extreme cold, wearing wet clothes — especially in the presence of wind — and being in cold water can all play a part in increasing your chances of hypothermia. In addition, other factors make you more vulnerable:

* Advanced age. People age 65 and older are especially vulnerable because they may have other illnesses or take medications that can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature.
* Very young age. Children usually lose heat faster than adults do. Children have a larger head-to-body ratio than adults do, making them more prone to heat loss through the head. Children may also ignore the cold because they’re having too much fun to think about it. And they may not have the judgment to dress properly in cold weather or to get out of the cold when they feel cold. Infants may have a special problem with the cold because they have less efficient mechanisms for generating heat.
* Mental impairment. People with Alzheimer’s disease or another illness that causes mental impairment may not be aware of the risks of being out in the cold. Wandering is not uncommon among people with Alzheimer’s, and some affected people may stray away from home and be unable to find their way back on their own. Being stranded leaves them vulnerable to the weather.
* Alcohol and drug use. Alcohol may make your body feel warm inside, but it lowers your body’s ability to retain heat. Both alcohol and drugs such as marijuana can keep your blood vessels dilated, restrict your shivering response, impair your judgment and alter your awareness of weather conditions.
* Certain medical conditions. Some health disorders affect your body’s ability to respond to cold or to produce heat. Examples include untreated underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), stroke, severe arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, trauma, spinal cord injuries, burns, blood vessel or nerve disorders that affect sensation in your extremities (for example, peripheral neuropathy in people with diabetes), dehydration and any condition that limits activity or restrains the normal flow of blood. Older adults are more likely to have one or more of these risk factors.
* Water conditions. Factors contributing to your risk of hypothermia in cold water include the temperature of the water and the length of time you spend in it. Rescue time is crucial when a person accidentally falls into cold water. Chances of survival are affected by how cold the water is: The colder the water, the less the chance of survival.

The first step is to contact the emergency services as extreme hypothermia requires urgent professional attention.

All cold, wet clothing should be replaced with warm, dry clothing to prevent further heat loss immediately.

If breathing has stopped or there is no pulse, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) should be attempted until the emergency services arrive.

Rapid rewarming with hot water or massaging cold extremities should be avoided as, if done improperly, it could lead to serious tissue damage.

Do not give alcohol or nicotine products to someone suffering from hypothermia.

Complications depend on how low your body temperature falls. If you’re in water, you may lose consciousness and drown before your temperature drops low enough to cause death by hypothermia. Other complications of hypothermia may include:

* Frostbite
* Loss of limbs
* Coma

The lower your core body temperature, the greater your chance of complications and permanent damage.

First aid to Hypothermia patient… & see

The key rules are to wear many layers of clothing, drink plenty of fluids and hot drinks (but not alcohol) and keep well nourished.

Wearing cotton in cool weather is a particular hypothermia risk as it retains water, and water rapidly conducts heat away from the body. Even in dry weather, cotton clothing can become damp from perspiration, and chilly after the wearer stops exercising. Synthetic and wool fabrics provide far better insulation when wet and are quicker to dry. Some synthetic fabrics are designed to wick perspiration away from the body. In air, most heat (20 to 40 percent) is lost through the head; covering the head and neck is quite important in reducing the likelihood of hypothermia.

Heat loss on land is very difficult to predict due to multiple variables such as clothing type and quantity, amount of insulating fat on the victim, environmental humidity or personal dampness such as after exertion, the circumstances surrounding the hypothermic episode and etc. Heat is lost much faster in water, hence the need for wetsuits or drysuits in cold-weather activities such as kayaking. Water temperatures that would be quite reasonable as outdoor air temperatures can lead to hypothermia very quickly. For example, a water temperature of 10 degrees Celsius (50 F) can be expected to lead to death in approximately 1 hour, and water temperatures hovering at freezing can lead to death in as little as 15 minutes. But in water, even a temperature as high as 80 degrees Fahrenheit may eventually lead to hypothermia.

Alcohol consumption prior to cold exposure may increase one’s risk of becoming hypothermic. Alcohol acts as a vasodilator, increasing blood flow to the body’s extremities, thereby increasing heat loss. Ironically, this may cause the victim to feel warm while he or she is rapidly losing heat to the surrounding environment.

The United States Coast Guard promotes using life vests as a method of prevention against hypothermia through the 50/50/50 rule: if someone is in 50-degree water for 50 minutes they have a 50 percent better chance of survival if they are wearing a life jacket

Maintaining movement to keep circulation up is also advised.

Age Concern advises keeping at least one room well-heated during the winter months.

Is help available?
Age Concern runs a Be a Good Neighbour scheme during winter.

The scheme calls on people to be aware of elderly people living nearby and to help out with routine tasks.

Dr Simon Fradd, of the Doctor Patient Partnership, said: “Helping collect prescriptions, getting prescriptions or just making time for a chat are a few simple ways we can help.”

More details can be obtained from Age Concern’s freephone line on 0800 00 99 66.
There is considerable evidence that children who suffer near-drowning accidents in water near 0°C (273 K) can be revived over an hour after losing consciousness. The cold water considerably lowers metabolism, allowing the brain to withstand a much longer period of hypoxia.

Medically induced
Induced hypothermia (also known as therapeutic hypothermia) is the intentional induction of hypothermia for medical purposes. Such practice has been shown to reduce brain damage in infants and increase survivability in certain cases of cardiac arrest. The method also has applications in cardiac surgery and stroke recovery.
Hypothermia being induced by using water circulated through heat-conducting pads

Hypothermia may be a consequence of anesthetic induction drugs and occurs to some extent every time an anesthetic is given. Anesthetic drugs produce two different effects that lead to hypothermia during surgery: they increase the width of blood vessels, vasodilation, allowing blood to flow easily from the body’s inner organs or core to the periphery or skin. This allows heat to be easily lost or radiated from the body. The temperature control center situated in the hypothalamus is also affected by drugs causing the normal temperature control limits to be increased, compromising the body’s normal cold response system.

Paradoxical undressing
20% to 50% of hypothermal deaths are associated with a phenomenon known as paradoxical undressing. This typically occurs during moderate to severe hypothermia as the victim becomes disoriented, confused, and combative. The hypothermic victim may begin discarding the clothing he or she has been wearing, which in turn increases the rate of temperature loss. There have been several published case studies of victims throwing off their clothes before help reached them.

Rescuers who are trained in mountain survival techniques have been taught to expect this effect. However, the phenomenon still regularly leads police to assume incorrectly that urban victims of hypothermia have been subjected to a sexual assault.[citation needed]

One explanation for the effect is a cold-induced malfunction of the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates body temperature. Another explanation is that the muscles contracting peripheral blood vessels become exhausted (known as a loss of vasomoter tone) and relax, leading to a sudden surge of blood (and heat) to the extremities, fooling the victim into feeling warm.

Disclaimer: This information is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advise or help. It is always best to consult with a Physician about serious health concerns. This information is in no way intended to diagnose or prescribe remedies.This is purely for educational purpose.


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Healthy Tips

Exercise Your Brain

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We all know about the importance of proper nutrition and exercise to keep our muscles in good shape. But did you also know that giving the brain a workout is equally important?


Researchers from the Mayo Clinic and the University of Southern California have determined that computer-based mental training programs appear to improve cognitive performance in older people by as much as 10 years. Another study from Harvard found that taking beta-carotene long-term can improve cognitive function.

So what can you do to keep your brain as fit as the rest of you? Here are a few tips:

* Move your body. A recent study from Columbia University in New York City found that people who exercised regularly for three months increased the blood flow to the hippocampus part of the brain, which is responsible for memory. This also can lead to the production of new brain cells. Sandra Aamodt, editor-in-chief of Nature Neuroscience, a leading scientific journal on brain research, explains that increased blood flow to the brain can offset mini-strokes, which can cause cognitive decline.

* Eat your vegetables and fruits. Your mother was right all along! The Alzheimer’s Association recommends a diet high in dark-colored vegetables (e.g., kale, spinach, beets and eggplant); colorful fruits (e.g., berries, raisins, prunes, oranges and red grapes) and fish such as salmon or trout high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids to keep those neurons firing. James Joseph, director of the neuroscience lab at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, says, “We have found that the berry fruits improve neuronal communication.”

* Challenge your brain. Games such as crossword puzzles, word jumbles or even sudoku (a numbers puzzle originating in Japan) keep those mental wheels turning. In tests of experienced crossword puzzlers of all ages, those in their 60s and 70s did the best, according to a recent article in U.S. News & World Report.

* Be social. Get involved with your community or participate in your favorite hobby with others. Researchers at Harvard found that those with at least five social ties were less likely to suffer cognitive decline than those with no social ties. Researchers at George Washington University found that elderly people who joined a choir stepped up their other activities during a 12-month period, while those who were not involved with the choir dropped out of other social activities.