Archive | May 2012

Pain – is it all in the brain?

In a recent book, well-renowned neuroscientist and writer Martin Ingvar and medicine journalist Lotta Eldh, dive deeper into the latest research findings related to the topic of pain. Interestingly, scientists seem to have started to pay more attention to the importance of exercising the brain’s inherent defense mechanisms against pain, particularly in the case of chronic pain. The authors even go as far as saying that strong pain killers, such as opiates, can be counter productive since they will knock out the brain’s natural response of pain relief, and thus inhibit the brain’s learning pattern for its own pain treatment.

Some of the examples discussed of alternative pain relief treatments are; exercise, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and mindfulness. When we exercise the brain releases endorphines which can work as to ease the pain that we sense, either directly from our work-out or from before. ACT is a type of cognitive behavioural therapy that is all about accepting the presence of the pain and learning how to control the feelings that it provokes in order to handle it better, and mindfulness, that is related, also focuses on how to handle everything present while relaxing into the pain. As Ingvar and Eldh point out, pain is something very subjective, and as a matter of fact research has shown that the limbic system (that controls our feelings, memory and behaviours) plays an important role in how we experience pain.

Thus Ingvar and Eldh explain that a good combination of a physical training program together with psychological training can be just as effective in the long run as a traditional medication treatment, when dealing with pain. The authors however ask for patience, since the ‘re-programming’ of the brain’s acquired pain responses can take time. But as they put it, if you just confront your pain and hang in there you get rewarded when you finally get out at the other end of the tunnel.

The authors also dedicate a specific chapter to people not susceptible to psychological treatment, such as patients with dementia or that have suffered a stroke resulting in speech disorders. On many occassions such patients have trouble communicating what they feel, which is why care-givers need to pay extra attention to behaviours that can represent the expression of pain. This e.g. includes banging of one’s hand at the table, scraping with the foot, restless wandering back and forth or cries for mum.

Personally, I’m once again fascinated by what exercise (and psychological will) can do for your body and well-being and will try to keep this in mind next time somebody’s pushing me into that tough exercise or stretch at the gym.

Unfortunately the book is not available in English, but if you’re interested in the topic, you can surely find something interesting to read here.

Source article (unfortunately only available in Swedish): http://www.svd.se/nyheter/idagsidan/hjarnan-basta-verktyget-mot-varken_6938933.svd

Babushkimania – Russian grannies to take over Europe’s music scene?

In times when all of Europe (and some of its neighbouring countries) are preparing for the musical get-together of the year, The Eurovision Song Contest (ESC), Russia is generally a country to look out for. With a track record of ending among the top three in five of the past 11 years and a general strong voting base in the former Soviet Union they often bring an important contribution that’s considered an odds-on from the start. (Eurotechno or grand ballads with figure ice-skaters or ballet dancers usually being the winning concepts.) Nothing saying that that would have changed for this year, and many still saying they’re just as much of a favourite this year as other years, but you could definitely say they surprised many when bringing forth this year’s contribution.

Timely enough for the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations (that I blogged about here), they’ve namely selected a group of 8 grand-mothers called the Buranovskiye Babushki (literally ‘Grandmothers from Buranovo’) that with their ethno-pop style out-performed former ESC winners Dima Bilan and T.A.T.u with almost 10 points by the public vote in the Russian national song selection. With most of the group being 70-80 years of age, only 6 out of the 8 grannies will be performing in Baku, Azerbadjzan next week when the competition starts with the semifinals.

However it ends up going for Russia’s new grannie stars, I still think their initiative is admirable and the fact that Russia ended up voting them winners a true mark of Solidarity between Generations, in its very own special way.

See them perform their winning song here:

The effects of ginkgo extract on dementia

More than half of the elderly with dementia are over age 80 in high-income countries. Alzheimer’s — a purportedly incurable disease starting with mild memory loss and ending with severe brain damage and death — is the most common form of dementia. Indeed, progress for treating such conditions has not had much haste. Perhaps something is hiding within the alternatives — some formula or combination that may change a dreary caterpillar into a fluttering  butterfly. Antioxidants, Asian ginseng, cat’s claw, ginkgo, and grape seed extract have all been proposed as alternatives for treating Alzheimers and dementia. Let us, for example, focus on the extract from the ginkgo biloba leaf from the ginkgo tree — a unique plant species widely known and particularly respected both for its use in traditional medicine and for its symbolism in China, Korea, and Japan.

In addition to its explored potential effects such as improved blood flow, prevention of oxidative cell damage from free radicals (i.e. “aging”), and prevention of platelet aggregation and blood clotting, ginkgo has been purported to act with nootropic, or memory enhancing, properties. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study conducted by the National Institute on Aging and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), of the National Institutes of Health, USA, found some promising results for ginkgo extract as treatment for dementia. Ginkgo biloba extract in this study was able to show an indication of reduced risk of progression of dementia and a smaller decline in memory when compared to the placebo group. It followed 118 volunteers age 85 or older who used 80 mg of ginkgo extract three times per day over a time period of 42 months.

To conclude, ginkgo extract has large potential for treating dementia, but an evidence base just as large is required. Broad clinical trials must commence to address the effectiveness of this treatment.

References

NCCAM (2012) Alzheimer’s disease and CAM. Retrieved May 9th, 2012, from: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/providers/digest/alzheimers.htm

NCCAM (2012) Pilot study provides new insight on effect of ginkgo extract on dementia in the elderly. Retrieved May 9th, 2012, from: http://nccam.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/022608.htm