Monday, February 9, 2009

Changing Brains


Better Understanding the Adolescent Brain

By Warren H. Chaney, Ph.D.

CEO Mind Technologies Inc.

That brains differ between adults and children comes as no surprise. How much they differ - on the other hand - usually comes as a shock to parents encountering their sweet loving child’s teenage years for the first time. Parents usually account for the drastic changes with three words, “It’s their hormones!” I suspect that more is blamed on hormone change than research will support. Changes in brain development or the lack of (as some parents claim) – may account for more than we think.

Adults and Adolescents – Differing Brains

There isn’t a parent alive unfamiliar with the “special behavior” that teenagedom seems to engender. Doors slam, angry words exchanged, locked rooms, sulking, staying up till late and sleeping until noon when given the chance – these are more typical, than not. Then - there is the decision process. It is radically different during those adolescent years. To many parents they see their loving well-behaved child who wanted to be with them all the time morph into what appears to them to be an alien from another galaxy. Only trouble is, this alien lives at home.

The teen-age brain is relatively well developed except for a piece of brain tissue located right behind the forehead, called the prefrontal cortex. It combines the right and left frontal lobes and is the central part of the brain system that handles our complex decision-making. In teenagers, this system had not completely developed therefore the process is incapable of carrying out the kind of reasoning that enables most adults to make rational decisions.

Research has clearly demonstrated that while the teen’s body is almost completely grown by graduation, their brain is not. When this decision-making system underperforms, as it must – the quality of decisions suffer. It may lead a teen to choose a supersized 48-ounce sugar filled cola instead of milk or a more serious poor choice like stealing a car or taking drugs. It is these types of what appears to be irresponsible choices that lead adults to attribute rash decision making to teen behavior.

Teenagers may engage in risky behavior simply because their brains cannot perceive risk the same way adults can. Sometimes this adverse risk taking run afoul of the law. It is not for nothing that more seventeen year-olds commit crimes than any other age group.[i] However, given what we are learning about the teenage brain, there may be a need for lawmakers to revisit legislation surrounding incarceration of juveniles.

Many of our challenging decisions are made in the frontal lobe. We don’t require new decision making each and every time we drive to and from work. The brain soon has this activity stored and ready for replay. Yet, let a bicyclist dart in front of us and our brain’s decision-making system goes into overdrive, turning on quickly when need be. Unfortunately, a child or teen doesn’t have a complete working system to begin with. Insurance companies know this and that is why they price accordingly.

Fortunately, today’s imaging equipment (such as the fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) lets us look inside an adult or young person’s brain in order to observe what is actually going on as the brain is functioning. Brain activity is determined by examining blood flow to the portion of the brain being used. Other equipment such as the PET Scan (Positron Emission Topography) performs similar tasks by measuring a brain’s fuel intake.

Brain scans combined with behavioral studies have revealed a great deal about the prefrontal cortex. We have learned that the same areas used for learning complicated rules and regulations, also applies them to differing situations.[ii] An adult suffering an injury to this area might understand that they must undress to go to bed. Yet, they may not realize that it’s inappropriate to do so as a guest in someone else’s living room.

We have learned that the prefrontal cortex brain system keeps us from letting our impulses get out of whack. One might feel like yelling at the boss, yet this important brain system keeps us from doing so.

An important study conducted by Dr. Silvia Bunge and her team at UC Davis found that children tend to make riskier choices that adults but do so because it’s enjoyable. When those in the research group were faced with different choices, the adults picked the safer choice while the adolescent often chose the riskier one. According to Bunge, the children knew they were making the riskier choice. Bunge was able to identify a region of the prefrontal cortex that was active, as the decision was being made but yet not as active as was the adult’s corresponding cortex. In other words, the teen’s region was active but not enough to keep them from taking the gamble.

Poverty – Brain Differences and Children

In a study recently published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, scientists said that normal 9- and 10-year-olds, differing only in socioeconomic status, have detectable differences in the response of their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is critical for problem solving and creativity. This study emphasized the devastating effects of poverty on children's achievement. The study wasn’t a large one so we must be wary about its conclusions. Yet, the fact that it breaks new research ground gives us pause for consideration.

Few neuroscientists dispute the fact that children from more affluent families appear to have a “built-in” advantage over those less fortunate. At one time, it was thought the problem was a difference in financial opportunity. While that is still a factor, new studies have produced a major added difference. The brains of children from poorer homes are showing decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex as compared to similar age young people that have greater financial advantage.

Other studies have shown that the reasons for socioeconomic brain differences are because of the variability of a child’s life experiences.[iii] The experiences impact brain growth. On this count, we are all a result of these social interactions. Perhaps 30-40% of our brain is gene determinant but the remaining 60-70 results from our brain’s interaction with its environment.

Brain development in the first 2 years after birth is extremely dynamic. Total brain volume increases 101% in the first year, with a 15% increase in the second. Cerebellum volume increases 240% in the first year and the caudate increased 19% and the hippocampus 13% from age 1 to age 2.[iv] This is just a way of pointing out that there was robust growth of the human brain in the first two years of life. These results suggest a structural underpinning of cognitive and motor development in early childhood.[v]

While the new studies will be debated for some time, no one can deny that a wake-up call has been sounded. It isn’t that the young people are poor and because they are poor may have negative brain differences. It is that they are more likely to have health problems as well as potential problems from living in an environment that may not be brain friendly.


Our brain changes dramatically from birth all the way through life, till death. During our younger years, our decision-making is challenged by a lack of brain maturity. Our brain’s environment constantly influences the brain’s mapping and growth. As we age, some studies have indicated that too much of our decision-making has been mapped causing us to become “set in our ways” and out of touch with current realities. The important issue to understand is that because the brain does constantly change being poor or disadvantaged is not a death sentence. With the proper intervention and training such as we experience at MTI with our Dynamic Mind Workshops, one will get an improvement in both the physical and cognitive behaviors.

[i] Tompa, Rachel, This is your brain on adolescence, Media Relations, October 16, 2008.

[ii] IBID

[iii] Mazziotta JC, Woods R, Iacoboni M, Sicotte N, Yaden K, Tran M, Bean C, Kaplan J, Toga AW; (2009) The myth of the normal, average human brain--the ICBM experience: (1) subject screening and eligibility. Members of the International Consortium for Brain Mapping (ICBM). Neuroimage.Feb 1;44(3):914-22

[iv] Knickmeyer, et al. (2008) A Structural MRI Study of Human Brain Development from Birth to 2 Years. The Journal of Neuroscience, November 19, 2008, 28(47):12176-12182.

[v] IBID

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Welcome to Your New Mind Blog

Hello and welcome to the "Your New Mind" blog! Here, you will find discussions on that part of the human anatomy that separates us from the rest of the creatures in the jungle: The Human Brain. Subjects will include nutrition, disease, memory, exercise and many other topics that combined create a healthy and happy brain.

We hope to have
a wide variety contributors from all walks of life both scientific and layman. Not the least of which is Dr. Warren Chaney, CEO of Mind Technology Institute, and creator of the Dynamic Mind System.

We invite your input and our hope is that through this communication we can learn how to develop and protect the part of our body that truly creates the human experience, the brain.

Steve Baker


Certain nutrients help keep the mind sharp.

By Warren H. Chaney, Ph.D.

CEO Mind Technologies Inc.

Many in our society are very concerned with the possibility of losing their memory and cognitive functioning or ability to think. As we frequently discuss in our Mind Dynamics’ Workshops, such loss has no claim on age. It happens to the young as it does one who is older. However, there appear to be two major contributors to one’s severe loss of memory. The one occurring most frequently is due to deposits of amyloidal-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles around the brain’s neurons. Amyloid buildup is a degenerative process that without exception affects us all as we age. Little by little it steadily gums our brain cells with protein deposits, decreasing our brain's memory and learning abilities.

The other major cause is due to multiple episodes of decreased blood flow in the brain. This leads to damage in many localized areas within the brain. Often these losses are very tiny and become noticeable only over time. This may be physiologically caused or it can occur because of an injury that seems minor at the time, but has a major effect later on. A friend of mine sustained a concussion from what he thought was a minor football head injury. It was 23 years later when his neurologist discovered that the injury had decreased brain flow to an area of his brain’s frontal lobe, causing it to become less active than normal. For years he found himself “stuck” on this or that. His family described him as unable to “get off of” something. It was later in life that the discovery was made that his problem solving ability was being impacted by an under active frontal brain lobe.

That memory loss has become epidemic is no longer an issue of dispute within the medical community. As all scramble for a cure – the public is left to wonder what can be done…now? The answer: “Much!”

Memory loss and other problems may be improved and in some instances entirely relieved by a thoughtful supplementation of neurologically beneficial nutrients. Contrary to all the internet claims and health supplement marketing, there is no one “magic pill” to take. Why - Because the brain needs different nutrients at different times.

Think of the brain - as you do your car. When the oil level is satisfactory, adding more oil won’t help. If the oil becomes contaminated or the levels low, the engine may is suddenly in danger of failing. Likewise an auto runs better on a full tank of gas. It will sputter when the tank is too low and stop altogether when empty. Cheap gas will power an engine but it will often cause the motor to knock. Today’s market is full of cheap gas for the brain. It is costly, does little and may actually be harmful.

The magic brain pills flooding the market often contain the buzzwords but nowhere near the quantity much less quality, to provide what the brain needs around the clock. These pills often provide the wrong stuff and the right time and the right stuff at the wrong time. It is far more inexpensive to select “the right stuff” and then take it when the brain needs it.

the Right Stuff

The following is not intended to be a compete listing of everything a brain needs but it’s a grand start. Begin with this supplementation and your brain will feel a difference in a week to ten days.

Good Multi-Vitamin/Mineral Capsule (not tablet): These are commercially available and not overly expensive. The very nature of our highly processed foods, over use of sugars, and inundation of transfats in our food supply makes supplementation a first line of defense requirement. Today, most nutritional professionals require their patients to take a multiple-vitamin/mineral capsule (they are far more bio-available than tablets). What’s more – other supplements work better when taken in tandem with a multiple-vitamin mineral.

Studies have shown that much of the world food supply being grown today is mineral deficient. There are many reasons for this including soil depletion. Be that as it may, a good multiple vitamin/mineral capsule helps alleviate the problem. For example, some studies have demonstrated that nearly 80% of people have a magnesium deficiency.[i] As a consequence, low magnesium levels were found to heighten the risk of blockage of blood flow to the brain. The amount of magnesium in most multiples is sufficient enough to counteract this mineral deficit.

B-Complex Vitamin: It is a little known fact that B’s should be taken together. A vitamin B-12 taken alone does little good. The brain has many vitamin B requirements and a complex will supply most of them in addition to supplying a positive synergistic effect amongst the Bs.

Fish Oil: Also inexpensive – fish oil supplies the brain with the important Omega-3 oils also needed by the cardio vascular system. Low levels of Omega-3s have been proven to increase the risk of poor memory health in humans. In the well-known Framingham Heart Study, 899 people with an average age of 76 were followed for a period of 9 years.[ii] Those with the highest levels of the Omega-3s had a 47% reduction of the development of poor memory health and compared with the others. Any way you look at it…”That ain’t bad!”

Curcumin: is the source for the spice turmeric used in yellow curry. Current studies consistently indicate that turmeric appears to reduce amyloidal plaque around the brain’s cells.[iii],[iv],[v] Amazingly, the incident of Alzheimer’s’ disease in eastern Indian countries are 25% of ours in the west - and they remain the greatest consumers of the spice.

Curcumin is inexpensive and has been shown to have other mild physiological effects but the more important one remains in what appears to be a significant reduction of Alzheimer's-related amyloid plaque. I am often asked if I recommend this for young people and my answer has remained a positive yes!

Phosphatidylserine (PS): is a phospholipid that improves a cell’s membrane flexibility and permeability. This aids the connections between neurons and improves the transmission of information from cell to cell via the important neurotransmitters. So far over 3,000 published research papers have established the value of phosphatidylserine in strengthening memory formation, improving mental acuity and aiding in focus and concentration.[vi] That PS also helps inhibit stress and relieve depression is a plus.[vii] Unfortunately, as we age our brain supply of this important ingredient diminishes.


Of course there is much more than one can do in aiding the supplementation of the brain but it is beyond the scope and purpose of discussing them in this brief article. For instance, Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an important part of the brain’s electron transport chain. It is essential in the brain and strengthens heart action.[viii] Often a physician will prescribe a statin drug for a patient unaware that the statins reduce the body’s supply of CoQ10. Yet, it has been well documented that the severity of heart failure correlates with those having the lowest levels of CoQ10. In the brain – CoQ10 is used to convert food and vitamins into fuel packets known as ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Because, the body can store little ATP, a constant supply is needed. Nor have we discussed Alpha lipoic acid or vitamin D3s importance to the brain.

I have not made an attempt to recommend a dosage level because in many cases it depends upon one’s age, current health, and living circumstances. That being said, the important nutrients that we have just discussed will get your brain off to a wonderful start and you will feel a difference in your mind in a very short span of time.

Until next time – pleasant memories!

Dr. Warren H. Chaney, CEO of Mind Technologies, Inc., is one of the nation’s preeminent behavioral scientists, specializing in cognitive behavior and the brain. [1]Dr. Chaney is widely published and is one of the most sought after speakers in his field. He works with corporations, educational institutions, and other organizations helping them to better utilize their brainpower to improve performance.

[i] Larsson SC, Virtanen MJ, Mars M, Männistö S, Pietinen P, Albanes D, Virtamo J.: “Magnesium, Calcium, Potassium, and Sodium Intakes and Risk of Stroke in Male Smokers.” Arch. Interan Medicine. 2008 March; 168(5): pp 459-465.

[ii] Framingham Heart Study, Dawber TR, Kannel WB, Revotskie N, Stokes JI, Kagan A, Gordon T: “Some factors associated with the development of coronary heart disease. Six years' follow-up experience in the Framingham Study.” Am J Public Health 1959; 49(10):1349-1356. (PubMed ID Number: 13814556: No Abstract)

[iii] Park SY, Kim DS. "Discovery of natural products from Curcuma longa that protect cells from beta-amyloid insult: a drug discovery effort against Alzheimer's disease." J Nat Prod. 2002 Sep;65(9):1227-31.

[iv] Frautschy SA, Hu W, Kim P, Miller SA, Chu T, Harris-White ME, Cole GM. "Phenolic anti-inflammatory antioxidant reversal of Abeta-induced cognitive deficits and neuropathology." Neurobiol Aging. 2001 Nov-Dec;22(6):993-1005.

[v] Lim GP, Chu T, Yang F, Beech W, Frautschy SA, Cole GM. "The curry spice Curcumin reduces oxidative damage and amyloid pathology in an Alzheimer transgenic mouse." J Neuroscience. 2001 Nov 1;21(21):8370-7.

[vi] Singh RB, Neki NS, Kartikey K, Pella D, Kumar A, Niaz MA, Thakur AS. “Effect of coenzyme Q10 on risk of atherosclerosis in patients with recent myocardial infarction.” Mol Cell Biochem.2003 Apr;246(1-2):75-82.

[vii] Palmieri, G., Palmieri, R., Inzoli, M.R., Lombardi, G., Sottini, C., Tavolato, B., and G. Giometto.: “Double-Blind Controlled Trial of Phosphatidylserine in Patients with Senile Metal Deterioration.” Clinical Trials Journal, 1987; 24(1):73-83.

[viii] Burke BE, Neuenschwander R, Olson RD. “Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of coenzyme Q10 in isolated systolic hypertension”. Southern Medical Journal. 2001 Nov;94(11):1112-7.