Science Confirms What We’ve Always Suspected: Potato Chips are Irresistible

RatI love potato chips. There’s something very satisfying about the crunch of a good chip. The problem with chips, other than the obvious effect they have on my waistline, is that I can’t eat just one. Neither can my husband, who loves to open a bag of potato chips while I’m preparing dinner! To explain the disappearance of the potato chips, we joke that the chip-eating culprit in our house is not my husband but a giant mouse that has developed a taste for salty snacks.

Recent research presented by Tobias Hoch at a meeting of the American Chemical Society shows that not only do rodents love potato chips but that this attraction may not be due solely to the high ratio of fats and carbohydrates, which is one proposed explanation for the “bet you can’t eat just one” phenomenon. There is something else that makes potato chips irresistible. Continue reading

Your Brain on Drugs: Decision or Disease?

If you were around in the 1980s, you remember Nancy Regan telling us to “just say no” to drugs. That campaign focused specifically on the effect crack had on the community.  In the 1990s and 2000s, we saw and increase in reports of methamphetamine and heroin overdoses. Though they are perfectly legal, nicotine and even more so, alcohol can be just as damaging on one’s life when used in excess. The War on Drugs launched in the 1970s along with the Just Say No campaign brought tougher sentences related to drug possession, however, this has done little to deter individuals from using drugs. If you have ever had a loved one (friend, family member, or significant other) addicted to drugs or alcohol, you know how devastating it can be to watch their lives spiral out of control. Though society shuns addicts for making such decrepit choices, you wonder, “how could a person possibly choose to live like this?” Continue reading

The Art and Science of Mothering (or, What You Will Scoop From a Bath With Your Bare Hands)

I had my very first Mother’s Day yesterday. Well, I guess technically my first Mother’s Day would have been last year when I was pregnant, but yesterday was the first one with an external, fully realized, crawling, pickle-devouring, cheeseball-grinning, pattycaking daughter who melts my heart on a daily basis. We had a lovely day: I received cards and gifts from our dog, my 10-month-old daughter, and my husband. We had a leisurely breakfast at a local dive bar that actually has seriously good food (and excellent Bloody Marys, to boot). Total strangers — mostly men, curiously — wished me “Happy Mother’s Day” in soft and sincere voices with smiles on their faces and a little shine in their eyes. It was like the Mom mojo was reverberating in the air. I felt on display, slightly revered, a bit like a rock star. It was heady stuff. Continue reading

Yet another reason to leave the mall….

I love shopping. I mean, I really love shopping. Not the hustle and bustle, mega-mall, door buster debacle but the casual meandering through an antiques store or small, local shop. I buy some things online, but I truly enjoy the process of looking, feeling, and pondering over objects before I purchase them. It has been roughly a year since I set foot in a shopping mall and, just this past week, I had to stop in and pick up a few items that weren’t available online. Now, I know it’s the holiday season and being overwhelmed is 50% of the equation, so I had geared myself up for a crowded, hot, and loud situation.

Forget the wall of people—everyone was relatively cheerful and a simple “Excuse me” or “Pardon me” made navigation a breeze. Hot and stuffy? Not a problem. I left my coat in my car and shivered my way to the entrance. I had just a few things to buy and I can take the heat. The noise level in the mall was roughly a dull roar. There were children being towed (loudly) behind parents with arms full of packages, bell ringers, cell phone talkers, and the like. As a cubicle-dweller and a mother of an exorbitantly talkative five year old, I can tune all that out, too. The problem….the crippling, unforeseen problem Continue reading

How Exercise Can Grow Your Brain

Image courtesy National Institutes of Aging, NIH.

I used to work in a physics lab where I was in charge of regularly transferring liquid helium from a tank to a susceptometer (an instrument often used for superconductivity studies). One day, the helium transfer line that I was holding sprung a leak and I froze a good portion of my finger before I was able to stop that leak. Over the days that followed, I could not feel my finger at all and assumed that the nerve damage was permanent. However, as those days turned into weeks and my previously frozen finger healed, I started regaining sensation. After a month had passed, my finger looked and felt just like it had before the helium freeze.

Neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons) is widely accepted as fact for the peripheral nervous system; for example, the nerves in my finger grew back even though I had lost them to frostbite. However, there is the widespread belief that neurons in the central nervous system (CNS) are static and do not multiply after adulthood. The evidence for such belief is everywhere, from spinal cord injuries that result in permanent lifelong paralysis to neurodegenerative conditions such as multiple sclerosis. However, like many widespread beliefs that are simply assumed to be true, nature always finds a way to foil our best laid plans. Continue reading

Illuminating The Functional Architecture Of The Broken Brain

The term ‘phrenology’ conjures up images of nineteenth century medics examining bumps on people’s heads as a means of enciphering key aspects of their character (1).  The arch-phrenologist was a man by the name of Franz Josef Gall whose suggestion that “mental faculties might be reflected in the shape of the brain, and hence the skull” kept many a head-feeler on the look out for supportive evidence (1).  But soon recognized for the fraud that it was, phrenology lost traction as a discipline worthy of attention by any serious-minded medical practitioner (1). Continue reading

Neuroplasticity, trivia and a sprinkling of Twitter

Without really trying to be, turns out I’m kind of wired for trivia. My brain seems to reserve lots of little nooks and crannies for bits of information that are probably entirely useless to my day-to-day life or career, but man, are they fun to pull out at parties. I can’t tell you why it’s easier for me to remember that horses are largely physiologically incapable of throwing up than it is to recall some of the names of my childhood friends, I just know that’s the way it is. I’ve learned to embrace it. But is trivia useful, or just a waste of gray matter? Turns out, absorption of trivia is a potential tool to engender positive brain plasticity (neuroplasticity), especially as we age and fight the good fight against dementia and memory loss. Continue reading

The Skin Of Paint On The Pinnacle Knob

Review Of the 9th Annual International Bioethics Forum: Taking the Measure of the Magic Mirror, April 22-23, 2010, BTC Institute, Madison, WI

If we were to think of the height of the Eiffel tower as representing the age of our earth, then the existence of humanity would be nothing more that the skin of paint on the pinnacle knob. This was Mark Twain’s angle on the history of humanity and the opening perspective offered by Professor of Philosophy, Sean Kelly, whose inaugural lecture at this year’s annual International Bioethics Forum on the science of consciousness kick-started a series of talks by a preeminent cast of academic thinkers and speakers. Kelly’s ensuing factual inventory set the tone for others to follow. During their brief history, humans have become a force that has incontrovertibly impacted our planet. Ninety-five percent of that skin of paint of human existence occurred before the advent of agriculture. And during that time humans have shown that they are the only beings with a capacity not only for complex language but also for storing information outside of themselves in the form of books and multimedia.  No other species dwells upon historical time like we do. Continue reading

Basketballs and Brains

Basketball on basketball court, elevated view

Well, it’s NCAA basketball tournament time and, as this post hits the blog, we’re heading into the second day of “March Madness,” one of my favorite times of the collegiate sports year. Raise your hand if your brackets are already in shambles! Yeah, mine too.*

Tournament fever aside, it’s also Global Brain Awareness Week, so I started wondering how I might juxtapose basketball and brains for this post. As I started searching for connections, I found three that piqued my interest. Continue reading