Tag Archives: science

Beyond the Brain

Electrodes measure a Tibetan monk’s brain activity.

The ancient Egyptians thought so little of brain matter they made a practice of scooping it out through the nose of a dead leader before packing the skull with cloth before burial. They believed consciousness resided in the heart, a view shared by Aristotle and a legacy of medieval thinkers. Even when consensus for the locus of thought moved northward into the head, it was not the brain that was believed to be the sine qua non, but the empty spaces within it, called ventricles, where ephemeral spirits swirled about. As late as 1662, philosopher Henry More scoffed that the brain showed “no more capacity for thought than a cake of suet, or a bowl of curds.”

Around the same time, French philosopher René Descartes codified the separation of conscious thought from the physical flesh of the brain. Cartesian “dualism” exerted a powerful influence over Western science for centuries, and while dismissed by most neuroscientists today, still feeds the popular belief in mind as a magical, transcendent quality.

A contemporary of Descartes named Thomas Willis—often referred to as the father of neurology—was the first to suggest that not only was the brain itself the locus of the mind, but that different parts of the brain give rise to specific cognitive functions. Early 19th-century phrenologists pushed this notion in a quaint direction, proposing that personality proclivities could be deduced by feeling the bumps on a person’s skull, which were caused by the brain “pushing out” in places where it was particularly well developed. Plaster casts of the heads of executed criminals were examined and compared to a reference head to determine whether any particular protuberances could be reliably associated with criminal behavior.

Though absurdly unscientific even for its time, phrenology was remarkably prescient—up to a point. In the past decade especially, advanced technologies for capturing a snapshot of the brain in action have confirmed that discrete functions occur in specific locations. The neural “address” where you remember a phone number, for instance, is different from the one where you remember a face, and recalling a famous face involves different circuits than remembering your best friend’s.

Yet it is increasingly clear that cognitive functions cannot be pinned to spots on the brain like towns on a map. A given mental task may involve a complicated web of circuits, which interact in varying degrees with others throughout the brain—not like the parts in a machine, but like the instruments in a symphony orchestra combining their tenor, volume, and resonance to create a particular musical effect.

Corina’s brain all she is…is here

Corina Alamillo is lying on her right side in an operating room in the UCLA Medical Center. There is a pillow tucked beneath her cheek and a steel scaffold screwed into her forehead to keep her head perfectly still. A medical assistant in her late 20s, she has dark brown eyes, full eyebrows, and a round, open face.

Exercising for Weight Loss (Sex Health Guru)

Running at the fitness club

Exercising for Weight Loss (Sex Health Guru)

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Physical exercise is any bodily activity that enhances or maintains physical fitness and overall health. It is performed for many different reasons. These include strengthening muscles and the cardiovascular system, honing athletic skills, weight loss or maintenance and for enjoyment. Frequent and regular physical exercise boosts the immune system, and helps prevent the “diseases of affluence” such as heart disease, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and obesity. It also improves mental health and helps prevent depression. Childhood obesity is a growing global concern and physical exercise may help decrease the effects of childhood obesity in developed countries.

Types of exercise

Exercises are generally grouped into three types depending on the overall effect they have on the human body:

Flexibility exercises, such as stretching, improve the range of motion of muscles and joints.

Aerobic exercises, such as cycling, swimming, walking, rowing, running, hiking or playing tennis, focus on increasing cardiovascular endurance.

Anaerobic exercises, such as weight training, functional training or sprinting, increase short-term muscle strength.

Categories of physical exercise

Aerobic exercise

Anaerobic exercise

Strength training

Agility training

Sometimes the terms ‘dynamic’ and ‘static’ are used. ‘Dynamic’ exercises such as steady running, tend to produce a lowering of the diastolic blood pressure during exercise, due to the improved blood flow. Conversely, static exercise (such as weight-lifting) can cause the systolic pressure to rise significantly (during the exercise).

Exercise benefits

thumb|right|200px|A common [[elliptical trainer|elliptical training machine.]] Physical exercise is important for maintaining physical fitness and can contribute positively to maintaining a healthy weight, building and maintaining healthy bone density, muscle strength, and joint mobility, promoting physiological well-being, reducing surgical risks, and strengthening the immune system.

Exercise also reduces levels of cortisol, thereby benefiting health. Cortisol is a stress hormone that builds fat in the abdominal region, making weight loss difficult. Cortisol causes many health problems, both physical and mental.

Frequent and regular aerobic exercise has been shown to help prevent or treat serious and life-threatening chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, insomnia, and depression. Strength training appears to have continuous energy-burning effects that persist for about 24 hours after the training, though they do not offer the same cardiovascular benefits as aerobic exercises do.

Effect on the immune system

Although there have been hundreds of studies on exercise and the immune system, there is little direct evidence on its connection to illness. Epidemiological evidence suggests that moderate exercise appears to have a beneficial effect on the human immune system while extreme exercise appears to impair it, an effect which is modeled in a J curve. Moderate exercise has been associated with a 29% decreased incidence of upper respiratory tract infections (URTI), but studies of marathon runners found that their prolonged high-intensity exercise was associated with an increased risk of an infection, although another study did not find the effect. Immune cell functions are impaired following acute sessions of prolonged, high-intensity exercise, and some studies have found that athletes are at a higher risk for infections. The immune systems of athletes anf nonathletes are generally similar. Athletes may have slightly elevated NK cell count and cytolytic action, but these are unlikely to be clinically significant.

Supplementation with the antioxidants vitamin C and E has been found to decrease the release of interleukin-6 (IL-6), which would be expected to decrease the depression of the immune system. Further, vitamin C supplementation has been associated with lower URTIs in marathon runners. However, the decreased release of IL-6 limits the anti-inflammatory effect of exercse and could limit the positive adaptation effects of exercise.

Biomarkers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein, which are associated with chronic diseases, are reduced in active individuals relative to sedentary individuals, and the positive effects of exercise may be due to its anti-inflammatory effects. The depression in the immune system following acute bouts of exercise may be one of the mechanisms for this anti-inflammatory effect.


Active exhalation during physical exercise helps the body to increase its maximum lung capacity. This results in greater efficiency, since the heart has to do less work to oxygenate the muscles, and there is also increased muscular efficiency through greater blood flow. Consciously breathing deeply during aerobic exercise helps this development of the heart and lungs.

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Human Bodies Make Their Own Morphine

A laboratory morphine vial from the 1880s.

Our bodies produce a small but steady amount of natural morphine, a new study suggests.

Traces of the chemical are often found in mouse and human urine, leading scientists to wonder whether the drug is being made naturally or being delivered by something the subjects consumed.

The new research shows that mice produce the “incredible painkiller”—and that humans and other mammals possess the same chemical road map for making it, said study co-author Meinhart Zenk, who studies plant-based pharmaceuticals at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri.

In the study, researchers injected mice with an extra dose of a natural brain chemical called tetrahydropapaveroline (THP), which humans and mice are known to produce.

Using a tool called a mass spectrometer to analyze the mouse urine, the team was able to tell that THP underwent chemical changes in the body that created morphine, according to the study, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

What’s more, the study found that mouse morphine is produced in nearly the same way as the morphine in poppies—the only morphine-making plants known to science.

Morphine a Defense Mechanism?

But “the big question is, What is it for?” Zenk said of the mammal-made morphine.

THP must undergo a complicated, 17-step process in the body to create morphine. Even so, the chemical has evolved twice—in poppies and in mammals—suggesting it’s somehow valuable for survival.

In the well-studied poppy plant, scientists suspect morphine acts as a defense against predators. For instance, a rabbit eating—and thus killing—a morphine-laced poppy may become sluggish, making itself easy prey for a passing hawk.

Likewise, Zenk noted, if an animal attacks a person, even background levels of morphine may block out enough pain to allow the person to escape. (Explore the human body.)

For now, however, this is “absolute speculation,” Zenk said. Next he plans to test the urine of people who have endured horrible pain—such as traffic-accident victims—to see if their bodies spiked morphine levels.

It’s also difficult to say whether the discovery will yield any new treatments, Zenk added. (Related: “Toxic Snail Venoms Yielding New Painkillers, Drugs.”)

But it’s possible that scientists could someday induce a person’s body to create a natural jolt of morphine that might prove less damaging than injecting the substance into the body. Morphine shots can carry many side effects, he said—especially constipation.