Category Archives: Brain

Childhood Trauma, The Hippocampus, Depression And Neurogenesis.

Childhood Trauma Can Harm Brain And Increase Risk Of Depression. However, The Good News Is The Brain Can Recover. This Article Explains How.

When we are at our most depressed, we may look at (as others perceive it) a beautiful sunset and derive no more pleasure from it than we would from looking at a rubbish dump or ugly building site. In short, nothing can lift our spirits and we feel unvaryingly, utterly desolate. It is as if the part of our brain that once experienced pleasure is now dead and unresponsive, never to be revived.

In fact, the latest research suggests that, indeed, a part of the brain, known as the hippocampus (a structure involved with long-term memory, the formation of new memories, and associating emotions with such memories), is impaired in function and reduced in volume in those suffering from severe, recurrent depression.

The good news, however, is that research also suggests that this brain region’s functioning is NOT irrevecocably impaired due to a specific type of brain neuroplasticity (the ability the brain has to repair and rewire itself) known as NEUROGENESIS (the brain’s ability to generate new neurons).

THE RESEARCH :

The research to which I refer has discovered that, in individuals who are severely depressed and suffer recurrent depressive episodes, the hippocampus has become significantly reduced in size. (We know, too, from numerous other articles that I have published on this site, that those who have suffered severe and chronic childhood trauma and, as a result, have gone on to develop conditions such as borderline personality disorder or complex posttraumatic stress disorder are also liable to have incurred developmental damage to this particular brain region ; and, indeed, sufferers of these conditions frequently also receive a co-morbid diagnosis of clinical depression).

The study involved 8,927 participants of whom 1,728 had received a diagnosis of major depression. This allowed the researchers to compare the brains of the depressed individuals with the brains of the healthy individuals using data that had been obtained using a brain scanning technique technique known as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Of the depressed individuals, 65 per cent had recurrent depression and it was this subset of the depressed individuals who were found to have shrunken hippocampi (those participants who were experiencing their FIRST depressive episode had hippocampi which were of normal size).

IMPLICATIONS OF THE ABOVE FINDINGS :

As the researchers pointed out, these findings suggest that it is the depression which causes the damage to the hippocampus, rather than the other way around and this discovery helps to emphasize how important it is to commence treatment for depression at the earliest possible opportunity, especially in teenagers and young adults whose brains may be more susceptible to physical damage due to their greater plasticity when compared to the brains of adults, in order to prevent such organic damage to the brain from occurring.

Indeed, the researchers. underlining this point, drew attention to the fact that the longer depression goes on, and the more depressive episodes an individual suffers, the greater the reduction in size of that individual’s hippocampus is likely to be.

EFFECT OF DAMAGE DONE TO THE HIPPOCAMPUS :

There now exists an increasing body of evidence that one of the functions of the brain’s HIPPOCAMPUS may be the recognition of novelty and it has been theorized that, because, as we saw above, it may be damaged in depressed individuals, particularly those individuals who have suffered long-standing, recurrent depressive episodes, these people may lose the ability to respond to novelty and this loss then contributes significantly to their depressive state. For instance, it helps explain why they may not respond with pleasure to a beautiful sunset (see opening paragraph) and why they are prone to seeing whatever they do as ‘being the same’, by which is meant everything produces the same feelings of flatness, emptiness, meaninglessness ; in short, a state of anhedonia.

THE GOOD NEWS : EVIDENCE THAT THE DAMAGE INCURRED BY THE HIPPOCAMPUS IS REVERSIBLE :

The good news, however, as has already been alluded to above, is that numerous studies have demonstrated that such damage to the brain is, in fact, reversible ; this is due to a quality that the brain possesses known as neuroplasticity (which I have written extensively about in many other articles that I have already published on this site – e.g. see my article about three ways in which the brain is able to repair itself in relation to the damage it has sustained as a result of childhood trauma).

Indeed, one of the leading researchers involved in the study, Hickie, described how the hippocampus was one of the brain regions within which it is known that cells can rapidly generate new connections between themselves (this process is known as neurogenesis, see above) to replace the connections that were lost during the periods of untreated depression.

WHAT KINDS OF TREATMENT DO THE RESEARCHERS INVOLVED IN THE STUDY SUGGEST?

Hickie further states that there is some evidence that medication (antidepressants) protect, to some degree, the hippocampus from shrinking but also stressed the importance of meaningful social interventions as a form of treatment, pointing out that if, when depressed, we simply sit alone in a room and isolate ourselves, failing to interact socially with others, then this lack of social interaction, in itself, is likely to reduce the size of the hippocampus – a good social support system, then, is an extremely important factor to be considered when deciding how best to treat depression.

Furthermore, Hickie states that there is also evidence that treatment using fish oils can be ‘neuroprotective.’

In the case of young people, Hickie suggests that psychotherapy may often be the first-line treatment offered, rather than medication. (N.B. Always consult an appropriately qualified professional when considering medical treatments).

eBook :

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Related Research : Hippocampal Volume Reduction In Major Depression.

RESOURCE :

Depression Self-Help | Self Hypnosis Downloads

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

BPD, The Love-Hate Relationship And Neuroscience

love=hate

We have seen from several other articles that I have published on this site that one of the hallmarks of borderline personality disorder is the tendency of sufferers of this devastating psychiatric condition to flip suddenly from idealizing / feeling love towards individuals and demonizing / feeling hate towards them (which, of course, is a major reason why BPD sufferers also tend to have severe difficulties with their interpersonal relationships). This tendency is sometimes referred to as ‘SPLITTING.’

Intriguingly, a study (Zeki et al.) carried out at University College, London, may help to elucidate this tendency to suddenly ‘switch’ betwen loving and hating the same person from a neurological perspective (i.e. in terms of brain’s physical organization and biological functioning).

THE STUDY :

The study invoved 17 individuals who had their brain scanned under two conditions :

CONDITION 1 : Brain scans were taken whilst the individuals were looking at photos of people they loved.

CONDITION 2 : Brain scans were taken of the same individuals in Condition 1 whilst they were looking at photos of people the claimed to hate.

NERVOUS CIRCUITS IN THE BRAIN :

Researchers found that some of the brain’s nervous / neural circuits involved in generating feelings of hate are ALSO INVOLVED IN GENERATING FEELINGS OF LOVE.

More specifically :

The region of the brain known as the putaman seems to be activated both when an individual is experiencing feelings of love and when s/he is experiencing feelings of hate including disgust, contempt and aggression.

The region of the brain known as the insula also seems to be activated both when an individual is experiencing feelings of love and when s/he is experiencing feelings of hate,

THE CEREBRAL CORTEX :

Furthermore, research findings suggest that regions of the cerebral cortex are deactivated both when an individual is experiencing feelings of love (the regions deactivated when we are experiencing feelings of love are involved in reasoning and judgment) and also when s/he is experiencing feelings of hate.

However, it should also be noted that fewer regions in this part of the brain are deactivated when the person is experiencing feelings of hate.

This finding may help to explain the neurological underpinnings of the origin of the expression that ‘love is blind’ (i.e. when feeling intense love, all reasoning and judgment tends to go out of the window and we are, to put it colloquially, liable to be led irrationally by the heart rather than rationally by the mind).

Furthermore, the fact that fewer regions of this brain region seem to be deactivated when people experience feeling of hate may be a kind of safely mechanism to prevent them from, for example, resorting to excessive, unnecessary and perhaps, ultimately, self-defeating violence in response to these feelings.

Indeed, the author of the study suggests that the cerebral cortex is less deacivated when people feel hate than it is when people feel love because when they feel hate they need to be able to reason effectively so that they can be sufficiently calculating when it comes to exacting revenge! Such calculation, more relevant to our ancient ancestors, may involve judging if a physical fight could potentially be won and what it would be necessary to do in any such fight to win it – alternatively, it might be necessary to judge whether a violent attack on an opponent will backfire as said opponent is of vastly superior physical strength.

One can, perhaps, tentatively infer from this that evolutionary processes have determined that we are less rational in response to feelings of love than we are in response to feelings of hate.

In any event, it seems the fine line between love and hate, and the propensity, especially in the case of BPD sufferers, to flip suddenly between the two has a neurological basis.

RESOURCE :

Increase Your Emotional Intelligence | Self Hypnosis Downloads.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Possible Adverse Effects Of Maternal Stress On The Unborn Baby’s Brain Development.

childhood-trauma

A study carried out by Sarkar et al. at Imperial College, University of London and published in the scientific joutnal Clinical Endocrinology suggests that, if a mother is highly stressed during pregnancy, her consequent excessive production of stress hormones may adversely affect the brain development of her unborn child from about seventeen weeks after conception onwards.

THE STUDY :

The study involved 267 women and the researchers measured their levels of the stress hormone known as CORTISOL (which can have damaging effects over the long-term) by taking samples of their blood (levels of cortisol increase in the blood in accordance with increasing levels of stress and anxiety experienced by the individual).

The mothers also had samples of amniotic fluid (a protective fluid that surrounds the fetus and also facilitates the exchange of water, nutrients and biochemical products between the mother and the unborn child) taken.

It was found that mothers with high levels of cotisol in their blood also had higher than normal levels of the same hormone in their amniotic fluid (to which, as alluded to above, the unborn child is exposed).

Furthermore, it was found that the longer the mother had been pregnant, the stronger was the positive correlation between the levels of cortisol in her blood and the level of cortisol in the amniotic fluid.

This, in turn, suggests that the longer the mother has been pregnant (i.e. as the gestational age of the unborn child increases) the more he or she (i.e. the unborn baby) is likely to be adversely affected by excessive cortisol levels.

It should be noted, however, that further research is needed to clarify how high the mother’s cotisol levels need to be to present the unborn child with a significant risk of potential harm.

WHAT IS THE POTENTIAL HARM THAT MAY BE DONE TO THE DEVELOPING CHILD BY HIGH CORTISOL LEVELS?

Such potential harm may include a lowering of the developing child’s potential I.Q. by about 10 points (Glover), an increased likelihood of developing attentional deficits and a greater susceptibility to experience anxiety in later life (although, again, further research is needed in order to investigate these possibilies more fully).

CONCLUSION :

From the above findings, it is possible to conclude that high levels of maternal stress may start to adversely affect the unborn child’s development from as early as a gestational age of 17 weeks and that this danger increases as the unborn child’s gestational age increases. It is therefore very important that the mother-to-be is ptovided with good emotional support during pregnancy, including sensitive treatment by employees.

You may also be interested to read my related articles :

Enjoy a Positive Pregnancy | Self Hypnosis Downloads

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Can Neurofeedback Achieve In A Week Same Results As Years Of Zen Meditation?

childhood-trauma

We have seen from many other articles that I have published on this site that those who have suffered significant and protracted childhood trauma are more likely than average to suffer mental health problems in later life, including anxiety (click here to read my previously published article : Childhood Trauma And Its Link To Adult Anxiety.

We have also seen that one method that many find useful to reduce feelings of anxiety is meditation (for example, see my previously published article : The Brain, Neuroscience And Meditation).

ZEN MEDITATION, ALPHA WAVES AND NEUROFEEDBACK :

Above : Individual undergoing a neurofeedback / EEG biofeedback session using a computer program and brain sensors.

According to Buzsaki, Professor of Neuroscience at Rutgers University, Zen meditation needs to be undertaken for years until the person practising it is able to slow the frequency of the brain’s alpha waves and to spread the alpha oscillations more forward to the front of the brain ; slowing these brain waves have many beneficial effects including :

  • reducing fear
  • reducing ‘mind chatter’
  • increasing feelings of calm
  • reduce anxiety
  • reduce feelings of panic

However, Buzaki states that (as alluded to above) whilst it takes years of Zen meditation to optimally alter alpha wave brain activity, the same results can be obtained after a mere week’s training with neurofeedback.    

WHAT IS NEUROFEEDBACK?

Neurofeedback is sometimes also referred to as EEG biofeedback and is a form of technology that helps the individual to learn how to beneficially alter his / her brain waves and it works by operant conditioning.

It is based on the idea that dysregulation of the brain iforms the basis of many emotional, cognitive and behavioral problems and, as such, this brain dysregulation needs to be corrected.

N.B. Neurofeedback should only be carried out under the supervision of an appropriately qualified and experienced person.

RELATED ARTICLE :

Childhood Trauma Leading To  An Over-dominant Brain Stem.

eBook :

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Above eBook : How Childhood Trauma Can Physically Damage The Developing Brain (And How These Effects Can Be Reversed). Click HERE  for further details.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

PTSD And Physically Evaluating The Brain

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD) can both be considered forms of brain INJURY even though the cause of the injury is extreme psychological trauma rather than a physical trauma such as a blow to the head with a hammer or car accident.

However, when psychiatrists treat PTSD with drugs, they do so, in the vast majority of cases, without looking at the organ they are treating (i.e. the brain), unlike, say, a cardiologist, who would not consider treating the heart without, first, physically evaluating it.

In relation to this, the psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen stresses the importance that, before prescribing psychoactive drugs in patients suffering from PTSD (and other disorders), it is vital that the patient’s brain is physically evaluated in order to help ascertain in what ways it may be behaving sub-optimally ; he argues that such physical evaluations of the brain would reduce the amount of guess work psychiatrists (who do not examine the brain) must currently employ when prescribing medications intended to beneficially alter brain function and thus ameliorate the patient’s particular symptoms.

The method Amen recommends for physically evaluating what is going on in the brains of patients seeking therapeutic intervention for their particular condition is called SPECT (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography) imaging.

What Information Does SPECT Imaging Provide About The Brain?

SPECT imaging measures blood flow in the brain and, because this blood flow reflects brain activity, it provides three important preces of information about the brain’s functionality ; these are :

  1. Areas of the brain that are functioning well.
  2. Areas of the brain that are overactive.
  3. Areas of the brain that are underactive.

Armed with this information, Amen argues, the psychiatrist who makes use of SPECT imaging is in a much stronger position to tailor his / her treatment to the specific needs of the individual based upon the results of this imaging technique, whereas the psychiatrist who does not physically evaluate the brain in such a manner is forced to merely speculate what is happening in the patient’s brain, thus making his / her decisions about which psychoactive drugs need to be administered less informed and, potentially, therefore, less effective.

eBook :

childhood-trauma-brain

Above eBook now available for instant download from Amazon. Click here for further information.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Flashbacks, Memory And The Prefrontal Cortex

ABOVE : SHORT VIDEO SUMMARY (2 MINUTES) OF MAIN POINTS OF ARTICLE.

We have seen from numerous other articles that I have published on this site how severe and protracted childhood trauma can, in some cases, lead to the development of complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD) in later life and that one possible symptom of this condition is the experiencing of FLASHBACKS.

Flashbacks involve the individual who suffers from them re-experiencing and reliving traumatic events involuntarily in such an intense and vivid way (sometimes involving hallucinations) that it feels like they are actually happening in the here-and-now.

Flashbacks are generally triggered by something that reminds the individual (on a conscious or unconscious level) of the original traumatic event, even very tandentially.

FLASHBACKS, MEMORY AND THE PREFRONTAL CORTEX :

A study conducted in 2008 involving sufferers of disorders related to stress has helped to cast some light upon what is happening in the brains of individuals who are prone to experiencing flashbacks.

First, it was found that these individuals’ ability to perform general memory tasks was inferior in comparison to the performance on the same tasks by healthy individuals.

Second, when those suffering from a stress-related condition were asked by the researchers to carry out a ‘suppression task’ (a task in which they were required to attempt NOT to think about something) they demonstrated LESS ACTIVITY IN THE PREFRONTAL CORTEX than did the healthy individuals when instructed to undertake the same task.

From this finding it was inferred that these individuals’ (i.e. those suffering from a stress-related disorder) underactive prefrontal cotices interfered with their ability to prevent traumatic memories breaking through into conscious awareness.

Learning ‘GROUNDING TECHNIQUES’ can help individuals cope with their flashbacks (grounding techniques involve using the five senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell – to reconnect with the present) although many may also require the services of an appropriately trained, qualified and experienced therapist, paticularly if suffering from disorders such as PTSD or complex PTSD.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Childhood Trauma Leading To Over-Dominant Brain Stem

ABOVE : 3 MINUTE SUMMARY VIDEO OF THE ARTICLE BELOW.

A Simple Overview Of The Brain’s Structure And Development :

A simplified way of describing the structure of the brain is to think of it as comprising three main regions that develop in the following order from birth to a person’s early or mid-twenties.

FIRST TO DEVELOP : The brain stem and mid-brain :

Main functions : Sensory / motor and basic survival mechanisms (‘fight / flight’)

SECOND TO DEVELOP : The limbic brain :

Main functions : Emotional development, behavior and attachment

THIRD TO DEVELOP : The cortical brain :

Main function : inhibition, thinking, language, planning, decision-making, abstract thought and learning.

CIHLDHOOD TRAUMA AND THE BRAIN :

As described above, it is the brain stem’s function to preserve our safety in dangerous situations (by physiologically preparing us for ‘fight or flight‘).

However, when a chid has been traumatized over an extended period and has been excessively exposed to frightening situations, the brain stem can become overative and over-dominant so that the brain is on a constant state of ‘red-alert’ (giving rise to feelings of hypervigilance, edginess, agitation and constant fear) even in situations which are, in objective terms, very safe.

IN SHORT, THE CHILD BECOMES ‘LOCKED INTO SURVIVAL MODE’, primed to lash out (figuratively or literally) or run away (again, figuratively or literally). And, of course, in the case of the former, this can lead to him / her being wrongly labelled as ‘bad’ whereas, in fact, his or her behavior is essentially due to what can reasonably described as brain injury incurred due to the traumatic events to which s/he has been subjected over a ptotracted period.

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT AND ASSOCIATED PROBLEMS :

Such children are, in effect, ‘stuck’ at the first stage of brain development shown above (i.e. the brain stem / mid brain developmental stage).

Unfortunately, this means the child is not only locked into feeling constantly hyperalert to anticipated danger and profoundly unsafe, but can suffer from other significant impairments (see below):

OTHER PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH BEING STUCK AT THE STAGE OF BRAIN STEM DEVELOPMENT :

Being locked into the brain stem development stage also prevents the higher regions of the brain (i.e. the limbic brain and the cortical brain, as described above) from developing properly, and, therefore, also from functioning properly.

This can mean that the child is unable to form attachments or control his/her emotions (due to the damage done to the ‘limbic brain‘ ) and is also unable properly to perform the functions of the ‘cortical brain’, including : inhibition (leading to impulsive behavior), planning, decision-making, reflecting and learning. Such problems can manifest themselves in numerous ways, including being unable to form friendships at school, ‘mis-behaving’ in class and learning difficulties)

THERAPIES :

Bottom-Up’ (as opposed to ‘Top-Down’) therapies such as SENSORIMOTOR PSYCHOTHERAPY can be of benefit to individuals affected by ‘brain stem’ associated problems and it is generally agreed that these problems should be addressed prior to addressing problems associated with the ‘limbic brain’ and ‘cortical brain.’

There is also a growing body of evidence to suggest that the traumatized brain may also be hekped to recover using a treatment known as neurofeedback.

eBook :

How Childhood Trauma Can Physically Damage The Developing Brain (And How These Effects Can Be Reversed).

Above eBook now available for instant download from Amazon. Click here for further details.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).