A HAIR-THIN needle pricks the skin. What happens next depends on who you ask. A traditional Chinese practitioner will tell you that acupuncture manipulates the body’s vital energy, Qi (pronounced chee), balancing the opposing forces of Yin and Yang. When Yin and Yang are in harmony, Qi flows freely along pathways called meridians and you stay healthy, but when the Qi gets blocked you become ill. Inserting needles into points along a meridian unblocks Qi and restores the body’s healthy balance.
Western scientists explain it differently. They say inserting needles at acupuncture points stimulates the nervous system to release morphine-like substances that block pain signals. It may also trigger neurotransmitters and neurohormones, which influence such dynamic systems as circulation and the immune response.
Ever since acupuncture caught on in the West, we’ve been seeking to replace the Eastern mysticism with hard facts. But clinical trials so far have produced a disappointingly mixed bag of results that don’t seem to back up the anecdotal claims for the wonders of acupuncture. There might be a steadily building case for clinical relief of some types of pain and nausea. But the inconclusive studies still outweigh the positive ones. Continue reading Acupuncture: East meets West
When it comes to your moods, decisions and behaviour, the brain in your head is not the only one doing the thinking
IT’S been a tough morning. You were late for work, missed a crucial meeting and now your boss is mad at you. Come lunchtime you walk straight past the salad bar and head for the stodge. You can’t help yourself – at times of stress the brain encourages us to seek out comfort foods. That much is well known. What you probably don’t know, though, is that the real culprit may not be the brain in your skull but your other brain.
Yes, that’s right, your other brain. Your body contains a separate nervous system that is so complex it has been dubbed the second brain. It comprises an estimated 500 million neurons – about five times as many as in the brain of a rat – and is around 9 metres long, stretching from your oesophagus to your anus. It is this brain that could be responsible for your craving under stress for crisps, chocolate and cookies.
Embedded in the wall of the gut, the enteric nervous system (ENS) has long been known to control digestion. Now it seems it also plays an important role in our physical and mental well-being. It can work both independently of and in conjunction with the brain in your head and, although you are not conscious of your gut “thinking”, the ENS helps you sense environmental threats, and then influences your response. “A lot of the information that the gut sends to the brain affects well-being, and doesn’t even come to consciousness,” says Michael Gershon at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, New York. Continue reading Gut Instincts & your second Brain
This was the message from CSP fellow Dr Mick Thacker, director of the ‘Pain: Science and Society’ MSc course at King’s College London.
Giving a keynote lecture, Dr Thacker advised delegates to move away from purely mechanical-based therapies for back pain patients, and become more aware of the role of neuro-immnunology in relation to pain.
“Traditional physiotherapy has based its management of back pain on anatomical, tissue-based principles and biomechanics”, said Dr Thacker. Continue reading Let go of outdated paradigms and stop dwelling on Biomechanical tissue-based models when treating Back Pain.
The brain drain is real. There is a network of previously unrecognised vessels that rid the brain of unwanted extracellular fluids and other substances, including amyloid-beta – a peptide that accumulates in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s. The new discovery looks set to add to our understanding of the disease.
Jeffrey Iliff at the University of Rochester Medical Centre, New York, and his colleagues, were intrigued by the fact that there are no obvious lymphatic vessels in the brain. Among other things, the lymphatic system removes waste interstitial fluids from body tissue.
“It seemed strange that such an important and active organ wouldn’t have a specialised waste-removal system,” says Iliff.
When the researchers added fluorescent and radioactive tracers to the cerebrospinal fluid of live mice, the tracers quickly spread throughout the rodents’ brains. Using two-photon microscopy to visualise the movement in real-time, the team saw cerebrospinal fluid permeating the entire brain through ‘pipes’ surrounding blood vessels, similar to the lymphatic system that services all other organs.
The pipes work on hydraulic principles, though, and so the system breaks upon opening, making it hard to identify it outside living organisms. Continue reading The Brains Drain System
MOST PEOPLE would agree that certain events in their life, such as bereavement, changing jobs, examinations, or even rush-hour travel in big cities, are stressful. We try to avoid stress, but if we cannot, we must try to adapt to it. This adaptation is sometimes referred to as ‘toughening up’. Although stress is difficult to define, we know that both avoidance and toughening up are crucial ways of coping with it.
When we cannot cope, stress can lead to irritability and fatigue, and other more serious disorders, such as gastric ulcers, cardiovascular disease, anxiety and depression. Yet not everyone subjected to severe stress suffers from a heart attack or a bout of depression: some individuals are much more vulnerable than others. Many neuroscientists now suspect that the difference in the ability to cope may lie in biochemical changes in the brain involved in the process of adaptation to stress.
Continue reading Why stress gets on your nerves