21 April 2009

Chocolate is good for your brain

I never cease to be amazed by how many studies there are that prove that chocolate is good for you – I guess it goes to show that if you believe in something and work hard enough, eventually you will find the evidence to prove yourself right!

In this study, led by Professor David Kennedy of Northumbria University, 30 students were asked to count backwards in groups of 3 from a random number between 800 and 999. The study found that the students performed better if they had first had a large mug of cocoa, they also got less tired.

Interestingly the effects of the cocoa seemed less pronounced when the task was made more difficult.

The reason for the improvement is down to compounds found in chocolate called flavonols which cause the blood supply to the brain to increase – hence the improvement in performance and reduction in tiredness.

It should be noted that flavonols also occur naturally in fruit and vegetables, although conducting experiments using fruit and vegetables would be nowhere near as interesting!

Click here to read the full report in Confectionary News.

17 April 2009


Scientists believe that they are a step closer to finding a cure for jetlag after discovering what it is that causes the body’s internal clock to become confused.

They have found that moving between different time zones disrupts the two main sleep patterns in different ways. It appears that the neurons (brain cells) that govern deep sleep can reset themselves in a matter of a couple of days, but that the neurons that govern the period of sleep known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM) can take up to a week to adjust.

Jetlag is therefore caused by one set of neurons telling your body you are in one time zone while another set are telling it you are in another; the greater that difference, the greater the problem.
Since the issue is resolved when the neurons come back into synch, biologists believe it will be possible to create a drug that effectively resets your body clock.

If you’re up for a somewhat scientific read, you can click here view the full research paper on the “Current Biology” web site.

13 April 2009

Why we like to brush our hair

Professor Francis McGlone, of food and beauty firm Unilever, whose team discovered the C-fibres, said hugging and grooming such as brushing our hair, all play an important part in making us feel good.
The C-fibres are instrumental in transmitting both pain and pleasure from our skin to the brain, but they only transmit pleasure to the brain if the skin is stroked at a slow rate of around 4 centimetres per second.

It is believed that this is why brushing your hair can be pleasurable and why a massage is only pleasurable if it is done slowly.

Professor McGlone also believes that these “pleasure nerves” may be instrumental in helping develop the brain and the immune system in babies. He said: “We've known for many years that preterm infants, if they're not handled every day, stroked and cuddled, their immune systems don't develop effectively and their birth weight doesn't increase significantly. And the only mediation that increases that infant's health is touch.”

Click here an interview with Professor McGlone.

08 April 2009

The first flush of love

I was looking through some back issues of Psychologies Magazine and was interested in a reference to the brain’s activity in the first flush of love. We can all probably remember the lovely “butterflies in the tummy” and almost breathless infatuated feelings of romantic love, which settle down after some time into more established, stable love.

Early in a relationship, the pleasure centres of the brain work overtime as increasing levels of neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine boost our moods, libido and motivation. This helps the bonding process and makes couples open to new experiences and sharing together. When our brain chemistry settles down to pre-infatuation levels, we are less open to try new activities. When people experience novelty again, the pleasure centres kick back into action and they fall in love all over again – a holiday to a new destination is a great example.  Scientists at UCL have identified specific areas of the brain showing activity when people see their loved ones, most notably the medial insula which is associated with “gut feelings” and part of the anteria cinguate which is known to respond to euphoria inducing drugs. Researchers at the University of Pavia suggest that the first flush of love is likely to last for a maximum of a year – so I guess the trick to keeping those initial fluttery feelings is to always to keep doing novel things together.

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