Each week I publish a "Week in Review" for our students and alumni where I summarize exciting new developments in psychology and neuroscience. Here are six of the most interesting items from recent weeks:
Type 2 diabetes ages the brain
Aging does lead to some neurodegeneration. But as type 2 diabetes progresses, brain aging accelerates by 26%. However, "by the time type 2 diabetes is formally diagnosed, there may already be significant structural damage to the brain." Furthermore, "people with diabetes had a 13.1% decrease in executive function beyond [normal] age-related effects, and their processing speed decreased by a further 6.7% compared to people of the same age without diabetes. "People with diabetes also had more pronounced decreases in gray matter beyond the typical age-related effects—a further 6.2% decrease in gray matter in the ventral striatum, but also loss of gray matter in other regions, compared with normal aging."
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) doesn't change the brain
This study combined two randomized control trials and found that eight weeks of MBSR by participants who had never meditated did not lead to structural brain changes. Compared to a waitlist group and group that undertook Health Enhancement Program (HEP) training, there was no difference in gray matter volume or density or in cortical thickness (gray matter are the neurons themselves). However, MBSR practice time did reduce amygdala volume.
Ruminating about our ruminations causes more depression
Women ruminate more than men and show higher levels of depressive symptoms. But, for both men and women, ruminating on their ruminations was the best predictor of depressive symptoms. Metacognitive therapy has been shown to help.
Probiotics may cause brain fog
Participants' brain fog was accompanied by gas, bloating and abdominal distension. Some of these participants were on gluten-free, FODMAP-restricted, or paleo diets. A majority of the participants tested positive for SIBO (68%) and/or D-lactic acidosis (77%). Following antibiotic treatment and/or elimination of probiotic use, 77% of participants reported that their brain fog was completely resolved and their gastrointestinal symptoms were improved significantly.
We have some input into the structure, function and health of our brains
"Everyone’s body and everyone’s brain differs from everyone else’s from the moment of birth, and these differences grow as the final shaping of our bodies and brains is done outside the womb and incorporates our individual experiences in the world. As humans, we can exert control over the environment that provides this experience, so ... we have some agency in forging the structure, function, and health of the organ that is most critical to our individual identities as human beings."
Learning to play chess has long-lasting effects on the brain
"A 2018 study concluded, after analyzing the brains of almost 30 high-level professional chess players, that 'long-term cognitive activities, such as chess, may systematically influence the [white matter] properties of early memory, attention, and visual pathways.'”
Photo by Gaspar Uhas on Unsplash