Biological Basis of Depression

A recent review article in the American Journal of Psychiatry examines data from many functional neuroimaging studies in order to define more clearly the biological basis of depression. Abnormalities in two sets of neural circuits seem to be the most consistent findings in people with depression: Serotonin anxiety and distress circuits that connect the amygdala and several locations in the medial …

Aerobic Exercise Stimulates Neuron Growth

Moderate aerobic exercise appears to be the best form of exercise to stimulate neuron growth. One of the great challenges facing anyone who has wrestled with depression is how best to counteract the negative effects on brain development and cognitive function that have clearly been linked to recurrent depression. Depression leads directly to reductions in the brain’s growth hormone (brain …

Can Junk Food Shrink Your Brain?

Did you know that increasing or even maintaining your intake of burgers, fries and soda pop—and pretty much any other hallmark of the “Western diet,” high in saturated fats and refined sugar—isn’t just an efficient way of rotting your teeth out and raising your risk of cancer, diabetes or heart disease, but that you may also be shrinking your brain? …

Faith and Depression

Depression wears down our sense of trust and faith. Biologically, depression involves activating parts of the brain that search for problems. What is faith? It is an experience more than a specific belief. You can try an experiment by completing this sentence a few times (in your mind or out loud): “I have faith in  _________.” Then complete another sentence …

Memory and Cognitive Problems

Memory and/or cognitive problems are the rule rather than the exception in people with mood disorders1. There are a number of reasons for this and figuring out the best approach to these problems is tricky. Mood episodes (episodes of mania, hypomania or depression) appear to be harmful to the brain. Studies find that those with the largest number of episodes …

Be Mindful of Keeping Your Mind Full of Good – Arnrow

Experience-dependent neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to learn, adapt, and evolve to not only our experiences, but also, and perhaps more significantly, our reactions to those experiences. It is almost as if our brains can form habits, and the types of behaviors and patterns that it develops are dependent on how we choose to be. This suggests that the …

Passing on PTSD to Children

At a recent scientific meeting, Rachael Yehada showed that traits that are related to posttraumatic stress disorder PTSD can be passed on to children during pregnancy. Mothers in New York City who were pregnant on September 11, 2001 and developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had children with low cortisol in their blood (a sign of PTSD). But if the fathers …

Brain Cell Formation in Older Brains

Cell formation. Readers of this blog may recall that we reported last year the discouraging findings from Dr. Pasco Rakic (professor of neuroanatomy at Yale University) that there is very little neurogenesis (creation of new neurons) in the brains of older primates (including humans). Now, an article by Kristy Spalding published a few months ago in Cell suggests that the …

Exercise or Inactivity Changes Your Brain’s Structure and Its Resilience to Stress

This past year has been a remarkable year in terms of new studies examining the effects of exercise on your brain. Everyone knows, of course, that exercise is good for you. But these studies together provide compelling evidence that exercise (and inactivity) profoundly change the structure and function of your brain. One set of studies has shown that exercise profoundly …

Long Term Antipsychotics – Adverse Effects on Brain?

This post is a bit off topic. I have tried to not focus on medication issues in this blog on the grounds that there are many, many websites that talk about medications and very little else. However one of the blog’s most loyal readers sent in an email about long term antipsychotic medications and potential adverse effects on brain function …

Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) May Prevent Alzheimer’s

Higher blood levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) appear to protect against Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other types of dementia, that is the result of a study is published in JAMA Neurology this past month by Sudha Seshadri, M.D., a professor of neurology at Boston University and his colleagues. BDNF is “growth hormone” for the brain. It enhances the creation of connections between …

PTSD Psychotherapy Affects Gene Activity

  Mind-body dualism seems alive and well in the land of mental health. I am still surprised how often someone will say, “well that’s not a biological depression.” Meaning that it is the kind of depression that can be understood as a result of events in that person’s life, or that it can be treated effectively with therapy, or that …

My Brain Isn’t Working

 Difficulties with cognition and focus are almost universal in folks with moods. In the scientific literature there have been attempts to distinguish between mood related problems and problems that tend to persist regardless of mood state. There is probably nothing that can more profoundly affect our brain’s ability to focus than an episode of depression or mania. These functional brain …

Dual Treatment: Medications and Therapy Work Together to Treat Depression

A review in the prestigious journal JAMA Psychiatry suggests that there may be a clear biological explanation of how medications and psychotherapy work together to treat depression. The authors note that recent, unexpected, research findings suggest that antidepressant medications reactivate the brain’s ability to relearn old lessons. The medications allow the brain to modify old neuron connections in a way …

Therapy or Medications for Depression?

A new study published in the most prestigious psychiatric journal (JAMA Psychiatry – see reference below) strongly suggests that a brain scan might be able to help people decide whether therapy or medications are more likely to treat their depression. As background, although some people feel that for more severe depression medications are more effective, the fact is that most …

Brain Scan Diagnosis?

A newly developed brain scanning method that measures blood flow to different parts of the brain may help to distinguish between bipolar and unipolar depression, according to a study that got a fair amount of media attention. The study of 54 adult women used a novel way of measuring brain function called arterial spin labeling (ASL). This approach allowed much …

Childhood Trauma – Brain Effects

Experiencing trauma in childhood is associated with changes in the brain during teenage years, according to a study of 117 adolescents using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The researchers compared MRI’s from age 12 with MRI’s from age 16. They asked the teenagers about childhood trauma and also did psychiatric diagnostic interviews. There were significant differences in how the brains of teenagers …

Stress, Resilience and the Neurobiology of Depression

Dr. Eric Nestler, M.D. believes that when it comes to treating depression, we should be doing better.  Less than half of those with depression get better after receiving maximum treatment. Dr. Nestler describes depression as a broad syndrome hat involves many different diseases. Because the specific causes of depression cannot be identified, this disorder is difficult to treat. In order …