I am wondering what, if any, long term health effects there are from high levels of brain activity.
I don't mean cases where a brain is being artificially stimulated, but rather where there is a high (as in the high end of normal, not as in shell-shock) sustained level of sensory input, or simply that the brain in question is "thinking too much".
Assuming a person could sustain high levels of neural activation, is there a chance that the brain could "strain" itself or somehow "wear out" or come to some other kind of harm?
(This is such a difficult question to begin answering in any satisfactory manner, though I think can be addressed for pedagogical purposes in line with the aims of this SE.)
Before we address the question, I think it is prudent to think about the difference between stimulation and activity. A neuron can be self-activating without external stimulation, or it can be highly stimulated by sensory input and yet have low or inhibited activity. You do not specify, so I think the discussion must necessarily be very incomplete on this topic.
Your question is also naturally a little unclear and difficult to answer methodically, especially because 'damage' in this case is a very subjective term. As with all biological systems, there are self-protective mechanisms and reflexes and feedback circuits in place to prevent 'you' or your brain from overdoing anything. A dysregulation in neuron activation, or activity, would probably be a state of illness, such as having a seizure. I don't think it is possible for a typical person to expose themselves to sensory extremes without consequently feeling tired or bored as a result (e.g. looking into a strobe light or listening to loud music for inordinate amounts of time), which may be the result of an internal homeostasis, just like blood pH or blood sugar level, though regulated through physiologically-dependent behavior (sleep, concentration levels, apathy, etc.)
More strictly and scientifically speaking, all activity wears all tissues, including the brain. This would make 'brain activity' a process contributing to aging. However, once again, one can interpret anything as 'damaging'; breathing is damaging (oxidation! the cellular definition of wear-and-tear), but it also sustains you. Calories sustain you, but caloric restriction extends lifespan in virtually all animal models.
A recent publication in Nature (Oct 2019) suggests that the global inhibition or decrease of all neuron firing seems to be related to increased longevity which may suggest the opposite case to your question: lower neural activity may lead to extended lifespan. This suggests, though does not demonstrate, that over-activation may contribute more 'damage' and accelerated aging, compared to lower levels of activation. This conclusion is also based on evidence associated with a global - whole-central nervous system - effect, and does not indicate that one should under-stimulate parts of their nervous system to achieve the same result. Also, keep in mind that stimulation and activity are entirely separate things, so such a conclusion does not answer your question.
Social and sensory overstimulation drives autistic behaviors, animal study suggests
A new study shows that social and sensory overstimulation drives autistic behaviors. The study, conducted on rats exposed to a known risk factor in humans, supports the unconventional view of the autistic brain as hyper-functional, and offers new hope with therapeutic emphasis on paced and non-surprising environments tailored to the individual's sensitivity.
For decades, autism has been viewed as a form of mental retardation, a brain disease that destroys children's ability to learn, feel and empathize, thus leaving them disconnected from our complex and ever-changing social and sensory surroundings. From this perspective, the main kind of therapeutic intervention in autism to date aims at strongly engaging the child to revive brain functions believed dormant. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) completed a study that turns this traditional view of autism completely around.
The study demonstrates that, in rats exposed to a known autism risk factor, unpredictable environmental stimulation drives autistic symptoms at least as much as an impoverished environment does, and that predictable stimulation can prevent these symptoms. The study is also evidence for a drastic shift in the clinical approach to autism, away from the idea of a damaged brain that demands extensive stimulation. Instead, autistic brains may be hyper-functional and thus require enriched environments that are non-surprising, structured, safe, and tailored to a particular individual's sensitivity.
"The valproate rat model used is highly relevant for understanding autism, because children exposed to valproate in the womb have an increased chance of presenting autism after birth," says Prof. Henry Markram, co-author of the study and father of a child with autism. Accordingly, rats exposed to valproate in early embryonic development demonstrate behavioral, anatomical and neurochemical abnormalities that are comparable to characteristics of human autism.
The scientists here show that if rats are exposed to this prenatal autism risk factor and reared in a home environment that is calm, safe, and highly predictable with little surprise -- while still rich in sensory and social engagement -- do not develop symptoms of emotional over-reactivity such as fear and anxiety, nor social withdrawal or sensory abnormalities.
"We were amazed to see that environments lacking predictability, even if enriched, favored the development of hyper-emotionality in rats exposed to the prenatal autism risk factor," says Henry Markram.
The study critically shows that in certain individuals, non-predictable environments lead to the development of a wider range of negative symptoms, including social withdrawal and sensory abnormalities. Such symptoms normally prevent individuals from fully benefiting from and contributing to their surroundings, and are thus the targets of therapeutic success. The study identifies drastically opposite behavioral outcomes depending on levels of predictability in the enriched environment, and suggests that the autistic brain is unusually sensitive to predictability in rearing environment, but to different extent in different individuals. The results were received with enthusiasm by the autism community, which consistently reports the high sensitivity of people with autism to change and to sensory stimulation.
The study is strong evidence for the Intense World Theory of Autism, proposed in 2007 by neuroscientists Kamila Markram and Henry Markram, both co-authors on the present study. This theory is based on recent research suggesting that the autistic brain, in both humans and animal models, reacts differently to stimuli. It proposes that an interaction -- between an individual's genetic background with biologically toxic events early in embryonic development -- triggers a cascade of abnormalities that create hyper-functional brain microcircuits, the functional units of the brain. Once activated, these hyper-functional circuits could become autonomous and affect further brain functional connectivity and development. These would lead to an experience of the world as intense, fragmented, and overwhelming while differences in severity between persons with autism would stem from the system affected and the timing of the effect. The authors acknowledge the need to test these ideas in humans.
If children with autism are indeed more neurobiologically sensitive to the environment than other children as a result of early brain hyper-function, then predictable environmental stimulation tailored to an individual's specific hyper-sensitivity could significantly improve quality of life, by preventing or ameliorating the debilitating autistic symptoms of sensory overload and anxiety or fears, and allow the child to flourish.
"A stable, structured environment rich in stimuli could help children with autism, by providing a safe haven from an overload of sensory and emotional stimuli. In contrast, an environment with many unpredictable, changing stimuli could make their symptoms worse, raising anxiety and fear and making these children retract into a bubble," says Kamila Markram.
"Importantly, such constructive interactions with a safe and predictable world at key developmental sensitive periods early on could enhance coping and succeeding in subsequent less structured or unfamiliar contexts, and give place to a harmonious individual development," says Monica Favre, first author of the study.
This study has immediate implications for clinical and research settings, because enhanced brain processing and sensitivity to environmental surprises need to be considered as possible defining characters of autism. This breakthrough suggests that if brain hyper-function can be diagnosed soon after birth, at least some of the debilitating effects of a supercharged brain can be prevented, not by environmental enrichment per se, but by highly specialized environmental stimulation that is safe, consistent, controlled, announced and only changed very gradually at the pace determined by each child.
Tinnitus Cure May Lie in the Brain
Scientists were able to eliminate tinnitus — a persistent ringing in the ears — in rats by stimulating a nerve in the neck while playing a variety of sound tones over an extended period of time. The finding gives hope for a future tinnitus cure in humans.
Tinnitus usually comes in the form of a high-pitched tone in one or both ears, but can also sound like a clicking, roaring or whooshing sound. While tinnitus isn't fully understood, it is known to be a sign that something is wrong in the auditory system: the ear, the auditory nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain, or the parts of the brain that process sound. Something as simple as a piece of earwax blocking the ear canal can cause tinnitus, but it can also arise from a number of health conditions. For example, when sensory cells in the inner ear are damaged from loud noise, the resulting hearing loss changes some of the signals in the brain to cause tinnitus.
There's no known cure for tinnitus. Current treatments generally involve masking the sound or learning to ignore it. A research team led by Dr. Michael Kilgard at the University of Texas at Dallas and Dr. Navzer Engineer at MicroTransponder, Inc. set out to see if they could develop a way to reverse tinnitus by essentially resetting the brain's auditory system. Their work was funded in part by NIH’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD).
The researchers paired electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve — a large nerve that runs from the head to the abdomen — with the playing of a tone. Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is known to release chemicals that encourage changes in the brain. This technique, the scientists reasoned, might induce brain cells (neurons) to tune to frequencies other than the tinnitus one. For 20 days, 300 times a day, they played a high-pitched tone to 8 rats during VNS.
In the advance online edition of Nature on January 12, 2011, the researchers reported that the number of neurons tuned to the high frequency had jumped by 79% compared to control rats. The scientist then tested 2 different tones in a second group of rats but stimulated the vagus nerve only for the higher one. The neurons tuned to the higher tone increased by 70%, while those tuned to the lower one decreased in number. This showed that the tone alone wasn’t enough to initiate the change it had to be accompanied by VNS.
The researchers next tested whether tinnitus could be reversed in noise-exposed rats. The animals received VNS paired with various tones other than the tinnitus frequency 300 times a day for about 3 weeks. Rats that received the treatment showed behavioral changes indicating that the ringing had stopped. Neural responses in the brain's auditory cortex returned to their normal levels as well, indicating that the tinnitus had disappeared.
"The key is that, unlike previous treatments, we're not masking the tinnitus, we're not hiding the tinnitus," Kilgard says. "We are retuning the brain from a state where it generates tinnitus to a state that does not generate tinnitus. We are eliminating the source of the tinnitus."
VNS is already used to treat people with epilepsy or depression. The scientists are now planning to conduct clinical studies of VNS paired with tones in tinnitus patients.
Excessively Masturbating Does Damage to Your Nervous System
I like to masturbate. I like it a bit too much. Since the age of 14, I would masturbate as many as 3 times a day—each and every day of the week. I would see a pretty girl, and I would get the urge to masturbate. I would see a movie with an attractive actress, and I would want to masturbate. I would even think about porn, and I would get the urge to masturbate.
Now, I believe all my over activity has made it difficult for me to have sex with an actual partner. Each time I try to have sex with my partner, I cannot maintain an erection. If I do manage to gain an erection, I ejaculate almost instantly. As a 28-year old male, I want to feel the warmth of a woman—without the sudden need to ejaculate. Please, any advice would help.
The years of abusive masturbation have severely inflamed your body. You can no longer maintain an erection—let alone postpone an ejaculation. Your body has ejaculated for so long, the hyperactive images created during masturbation have caused you to treat sex like a session of masturbation—quick, quite, and private.
Masturbation alters your brain function. You get “turned on” by a varying degree of body types and images. Your mind now objectifies women, using their body as a source of pleasure. When you prepare to have sex with a real woman, your mind cannot signal for the proper hormones because it is not accustomed to the atmosphere. Your mind is accustomed to watching a movie, seeing a women, and gaining the urge to masturbate.
The Science Behind Your Weak Erections
Masturbation and ejaculation stimulate your acetylcholine & parasympathetic nervous functions. Over stimulation of these nerves overproduce sex hormones and neurotransmitters, such as acetylcholine, dopamine, and serotonin. As a result, your body cannot modulate your hypothalamus and adrenal functions. Instead, the body releases excessive stress hormones that overwork and exhaust varous glands in your body.
In this highly stressful state, your exhausted glands ceases to produce sufficient amount of key neuro-chemicals that are necessary to transmit nerve impulses and ensure healthy blood flow. Without the necessary chemicals and hormones (example, nitric oxide), your erections disappear. When the body produces weak erections, the result can lead to excessive precum and semen leakage during intercourse.
Regain Your Old Self Back
Weak erections and premature ejaculations can ruin your relationship. Your partner will not stay patient forever. As for your little issue, you’re going to want to refrain from masturbation and sex. Tie your hands together. Lock yourself in the basement if you have too. However you stop yourself from masturbating as often, do it! If you want to speed up the recovery time of your weak erections and premature ejaculation issues, take the right herbal treatment that will improve your endurance and erection quality.
- An excessive feeling of drowsiness
- Feeling of confusion
- Memory loss, especially short-term
- Loss of motor skills and overall motor control
- Blurred vision
- Breathing has become shallow or slowed
- Weakness in the muscles
While these short-term side effects can be frightening, they aren’t nearly as bad as the long- term effects that benzos can have on the brain. After prolonged use in high doses, there is a potential for extreme effects on the brain, including:
Some of the effects on the brain can occur during withdrawal. These include brain zaps and shocks, head shocks, electrical shocks, brain shivers, and brain fog. None of these are technically dangerous, but the feeling can be excruciating, or downright frightening.
If you want to get off of benzos, including Xanax, you should never stop using it abruptly or cold turkey, as this can bring on terrible side effects. Always work with a medical professional to wean or taper off benzos.
There is also a high risk of overdose when it comes to benzos, as they are relaxers and most people won’t notice that they have taken too much until it is too late. It is imperative to note the different overdose symptoms of benzos, as an overdose can easily turn fatal.
Is Your Child Overstimulated from Too Much Screen Time?
How much screen time is too much for kids?
Long before addiction sets in, a child's sensitive nervous system can become overstimulated and hyperaroused from moderate but regular amounts of screen time. This causes the brain to be in a state of chronic stress and effectively short circuits the frontal lobe, creating a host of symptoms that mimic or exacerbate mental health, learning, and behavioral disorders.
The first step in addressing this state — what I call Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS) — is recognizing the signs.
This is important because traditionally when experts discuss red flags for problematic screen time, they focus on addictive behaviors, many of which are readily apparent. In contrast, this quiz is designed to help parents see the not-so-obvious ways in which screen time might be impacting a child's or teen's behavior in a negative way.
Place a checkmark next to each question that applies to your child.
- Does your child seem revved up much of the time?
- Does your child have meltdowns over minor frustrations?
- Does your child have full-blown rages?
- Has your child become increasingly oppositional, defiant, or disorganized?
- Does your child become irritable when told it’s time to stop playing video games or to get off the computer?
- Do you ever notice your child’s pupils are dilated after using electronics?
- Does your child have a hard time making eye contact after screen time or in general?
- Would you describe your child as being attracted to screens “like a moth to a flame”?
- Do you ever feel your child is not as happy as he or she should be or is not enjoying activities as much as he or she used to?
- Does your child have trouble making or keeping friends because of immature behavior?
- Do you worry that your child’s interests have narrowed recently, or that interests mostly revolve around screens? Do you feel his or her thirst for knowledge and natural curiosity has been dampened?
- Are your child’s grades falling, or is he or she not performing academically up to his or her potential — and no one is certain why?
- Have teachers, pediatricians, or therapists suggested your child might have bipolar disorder, depression, ADHD, an anxiety disorder, or even psychosis, and there’s no family history of the disorder?
- Have multiple practitioners given your child differing or conflicting diagnoses? Have you been told your child needs medication, but this doesn’t feel right to you?
- Does your child have a preexisting condition, like autism or ADHD, whose symptoms seem to get worse after screen time?
- Does your child seem “wired and tired” — exhausted but can’t sleep, or sleeps but doesn’t feel rested?
- Does your child seem unmotivated and have poor attention to detail?
- Would you describe your child as being stressed, despite few identifiable stressors?
- Is your child receiving services in school that don’t seem to be helping?
- Do you and your child argue over screens (limits, timing, content, activities, getting a new device, etc.) on a regular basis?
- Does your child lie about screen use, “cheat” when on restriction, or take their device to bed with them?
- Is your child a “sore loser” or hyper-competitive when playing games or sports, to the point where it affects peer relationships or enjoyment of the activity itself?
- Does your child prefer socializing online over face-to-face interactions?
- Do you avoid setting screen time limits because you fear your child’s reaction, you’re too exhausted, or because you’d feel guilty doing so?
- Do you avoid spending time with your child because you predict it won’t be enjoyable or because you harbor negative feelings toward your child?
Overall points: Count the number of checked boxes. The more questions that resonate with your family’s situation the higher the likelihood that screen time is affecting your child’s nervous system—ESS. At the same time, a higher score reflects risk for tech addiction—even if the amount of screen time is “average” or even less than your child’s peers.
1-5 points:Some risk for ESS. Your child has some difficulties whose primary underlying cause may or may not be related to screen use. However, all mental health, learning and behavior issues will improve when screen time is properly addressed. This is similar to how restoring sleep tends to have a panacea-like effect on mental conditions across the board.
5-12 points: Moderate risk for ESS. Your child has some significant difficulties, likely in more than one area (school, home or in relationships). There’s a good chance that your child may remain “stuck” or see limited improvements if ESS and screen time are not addressed. On the other hand, if you’re catching ESS early and aren’t too stressed yourself, now would a good time to nip it in the bud.
13 or more: High risk for ESS. If you’ve answered “yes” to more than half the questions above, it is highly likely your child has Electronic Screen Syndrome and may also be at risk for technology addiction. Many, many families fall into this category. You may feel you’re in crisis mode, all the time. Fear not—being in this state can be highly motivating, and you’re likely to see more dramatic and even “life-changing” benefits when ESS is reversed.
Specific problematic areas:In contrast to the overall score, this section can help flesh out specific challenges your child may be experiencing. In turn, this can help you choose areas in which to track progress.
Hyperarousal/overstimulation: Virtually all these questions relate directly or indirectly to hyperarousal, but in regards to physiological arousal look to items 1-7, 10, 16-18, and 22.
Mood: Items 9, 11, 13, 17 and 22.
Cognition/focus: Items 4, 11-15, 17 and 19.
Behavior/social skills: Items 4, 7, 10, 20, 22 and 23.
Attachment: Items 7, 9, 10, 20, 21, 24 and 25.
Addiction: Items 5, 8, 9, 11, 12, 20, and 21, 23 and 24.
Misdiagnosis: Items 12-15, and 19. Since ESS can mimic or exacerbate psychiatric disorders, its presence is commonly missed. The presence of ESS doesn’t rule out other underlying conditions, but it will virtually always make other issues worse. Further, when ESS is left untreated the underlying disorders become harder (if not impossible) to address.
Electronic Screen Syndrome
In general, ESS is marked by high levels of arousal (hyperarousal, or being “revved up”) and an inability to regulate emotions and stress levels (dysregulation).
Symptoms vary and can mimic virtually any psychiatric or learning disorder and many neurological disorders. However, a classic presentation of ESS is irritable mood, poor focus or disorganization, low frustration tolerance, and problematic behaviors such as argumentativeness or poor eye contact. Depressed or anxious mood is also common.
You might notice that the quiz questions above cover a wide variety of dysfunction, but they all represent scenarios that can occur when a child starts operating from a more primitive part of the brain—which is what happens when children get more screen time than the nervous system can handle.
The presence of ESS is good news—because whenever we can identify a culprit, we can point to an avenue of treatment. (Compare this to going in circles because you don’t know what’s going on and you’re wasting time/energy/money trying to figure it all out.)
Importantly, it doesn’t matter if there are underlying diagnoses or stressors contributing to the child’s symptoms indeed these factors only make the child more vulnerable to overstimulation. And though screens may seem so ubiquitous that they’re impossible to control, the truth is that with education, support, and a concrete plan, parents can take back control, turn ESS around, and boost quality of life for not just your child but the entire family.
The keys to success lie in grasping the physiology and dynamics behind screens and the nervous system as well as understanding how to systematically reset and resynchronize a child’s brain. This is achieved with a strict, extended electronic fast (aka a tech fast or screen fast) of at least three weeks’ (sometimes longer) duration.
Though the thought of this might seem overwhelming, most parents find the fast easier than they imagined it would be. Once the child’s nervous system is reset to its natural baseline, parents can either continue being (mostly) screen-free, or they can methodically determine how much screen time the child can tolerate without triggering symptoms or dysfunction.
Why not just cut back, you ask? Because screen exposure has potent biological effects including overactivation of the brain’s reward pathways, desynchronization of the body clock, sensory overload, release of stress hormones, and electrical excitability. These systems tend to stay in a disorganized state without complete removal of the offending agents. Removing screen stimulation allows the brain to get deep rest, resynchronize the clock, rebalance brain chemistry and hormones, quiet overactive pathways, and restore mental energy.
In short, recognizing and addressing overstimulation and ESS from screen time can have a profound impact on mood, focus, and behavior in children, teens—and even young adults—in a matter of weeks, while restoring peace and harmony in the home.
Over Stimulated Nervous System
When under stress the sympathetic nervous system’s (SNS) general action is to mobilize the body’s resources to induce the fight-or-flight response. For many who live under constant chronic stress their SNS remains in an over stimulated state.
Symptoms of an over active or dominant sympathetic nervous system are: anxiety, panic attacks, nervousness, insomnia, breathlessness, palpitations, inability to relax, cannot sit still, jumpy or jittery, poor digestion, fear, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, to name but a few.
Many people suffer from a dominant SNS of varying degrees ranging from low grade seemingly imperceptible to severe obvious cases. For many this low grade overstimulated state has become such a familiar state of being to them it has become “normal” or imperceptible. For others the symptoms have become more severe and relief is usually sort.
The increasing level of anxiousness in many also contributes towards a dominant SNS as it stimulates the nervous system to deal with the anxiety. The underlying cause of anxiety is thinking or believing that you are not enough to handle a situation and thus it creates anxiety. Feelings of self loathing, worthlessness, inadequacy, not being good enough, etc, etc all fuel this belief and thus fuel the anxiety. Again many if not most people suffer from some level of anxiety, ranging from low grade which many are not even aware of as it has become their familiar state of being, to more severe obvious cases whom usually seek help in some form.
Eventually in later stages the over stimulated nervous system becomes depleted which signals the rest of the body to slow down in order to maintain a “back up” energy supply in case it is required for an emergency. This stage is where the constant fatigue, lethargy and lack of vitality occur. Usually some form of artificial stimulation is sort by many such as caffeine, salt, energy drinks, sugar (carbohydrates), alcohol (the sugar in alcoholic drinks), drugs and entertainment which all stimulate a depleted nervous system. The problem is that these short lived artificial energy boosts are sort more and more often in an attempt to maintain a barely functioning level of existence. This artificial stimulation “confuses” the nervous system as it is trying to slow the depleted body down to store energy but the artificial stimulation is doing the opposite. This then creates a cascade of events which eventually causes more long term problems such as under active thyroid and autoimmune conditions, not to mention the adrenal fatigue which is concurrently created due to the stress and thyroid imbalance.
Treating a Dominant Sympathetic Nervous System
The first step is to establish a baseline of what it feels like not to be in nervous overdrive. The gentle breath meditation will help you connect to your truly natural state of being which is gentle and harmonious. Once you establish this baseline you then need to be present with yourself (do not check out) throughout the day and be aware of when you lose the gentleness, when the hardness returns, when you go into nervous energy to get things done, when you start to rush, when you become anxious and then bring yourself back to your gentle natural state of being. Without the baseline feeling of gentleness and harmony you may not ever be aware of when you are in SNS overdrive as you have no comparison of what it is like not to be in it, that is, it becomes familiar to you and thus becomes your normal state of being which in truth is not natural. At first this technique may be difficult but over time it gets easier!
You also need to deal with the belief that you are not enough in order to heal the anxiety. This involves developing self love which will naturally develop over time as a consequence of remaining in the gentleness. Be aware of when you go into hardness, disregard, over indulgence, self loathing, etc and bring yourself back to the gentleness. This is the way to truly heal your self. It is that simple!
To help support your body through this process our laboratory has developed a neurorelief supplement to assist with reducing your nervous system overdrive and balance your neurotransmitters. It contains a combination of inhibitory neurotransmitter amino acids GABA, taurine and glycine to help calm the nervous system in addition to 5-hydroxytryptophan to help regulate serotonin levels and licorice extract which energetically promotes harmony in the body. Neurorelief capsules are available online through the members section of this website.
Adrenal and thyroid issues which are usually present with a stimulated nervous system also need to be tested and treated if found to be depleted. Refer to the relevant sections on this website for details.
Treating a Depleted Nervous System
If you progressed into the later stages where the nervous system is depleted do not seek relief in the form of artificial stimulants as it will create more long term problems. At this stage in addition to the gentle breath meditation mentioned above you need to support the depleted body by increasing your metabolic rate and thus increase energy production. This is achieved through plenty of rest, sleep, good nutrition, adrenal, thyroid and sex hormone support. These hormones are essential as they all regulate metabolism and if they are depleted your metabolism will slow down. Refer to the relevant sections on this website for details. When your energy production is restored your nervous system will also return back to normal.
Cortical, subcortical and diencephalon
The limbic system consists of areas that lie in the cerebral cortex (cortical areas), areas that lie under the cerebral cortex (subcortical areas) and areas of the intermediate brain (diencephalon).
The cortical areas within the limbic system are:
- Cortex orbitofrontalis
- Gyrus cinguli, (with the cortex cingular anterior)
- Septum pellicidum.
The subcortical areas within the limbic system are:
The areas of the brain that belong to the intermediate brains, the diencephalon within the limbic system, are:
Lead is associated with decreased brain volume
Humans are most vulnerable to lead before birth and early childhood, because the brain and other systems are growing and developing rapidly. Since lead changes the way neurons interact and causes cell death, it irreversibly alters the delicate process of development. Moreover, lead levels in children are often higher than in adults exposed to the same environment, because children consume more food and water relative to their size than adults. Children also chew and eat objects around them, including paint chips or lead-containing toys, increasing their lead exposure.
To calculate the impact of childhood lead exposure, researchers from the Cincinnati Lead Study recruited pregnant women living in Cincinnati neighborhoods with high levels of lead. They recruited women from 1979-1984 and monitored their children closely up to 6.5 years of age, then again at 10, 15-17, and 19-24 years.
Researchers examined how lead exposure altered total brain size, as well as the size of specific brain regions. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), they found that higher lead exposure was associated with a smaller prefrontal cortex in young adults (Figure 2). Since the prefrontal cortex is responsible for attention, complex decision-making, and regulating social behavior, differences in its size and function could explain the cognitive and behavior problems seen with lead exposure.
Figure 2: Lead exposure is associated with decreased brain volume. Brain scans were compiled/averaged from 157 subjects in the Cincinnati Lead Study and overlaid on a standard brain template. Red and yellow areas indicate regions of volume loss. The first row of images shows prefrontal cortex volume loss. Figure from Cecil et al., 2008, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License.
Use Your Thoughts For You
You have much more power than ever believed to influence your physical and mental realities. Your mindset is recognized by your body – right down to the genetic level, and the more you improve your mental habits, the more beneficial response you’ll get from your body. You can’t control what has happened in the past, which shaped the brain you have today, programmed your cells, and caused certain genes to switch on.
However, you do have the power in this moment and going forward to choose your perspective and behavior, which will change your brain, cells, and genes.