Synopses & Reviews
Chapter One Welcome to the Age of the Miracle Brain
Popular Myth: You are born with a genetically determined brain of a certain size and potential, and that's it. There's little or no way to alter its capabilities and functioning; thus, your chances in life are predestined, your fate sealed.
New Scientific Reality: The brain is a growing, changing organ, its capabilities and vitality dependent to a large degree on how you nourish and treat it. Thus, you can dramatically influence your brain's functioning and your own destiny. The long neglected brain is now being exposed to intense biological scrutiny, and the news is good for all of us.
Good-bye, "Brain as Machine" In every century, philosophers, scientists, clergy, and scholars put their particular spin on the nature of the brain. In the mid 1700s, a British philosopher described the brain as "an ingenious system of vibrating hollow tubes," similar to a church organ. In the industrial age, the appropriate metaphor is brain as machine, currently that ultimate information processor, the computer--hardwired, forged of immutable metal and chips to be programmed, with a preordained memory and capacity.
But new brain discoveries render the metaphor unsuitable. If the demands on your computer outstrip its capabilities, it becomes junk. It does not grow a few more chips, nor rev up its inner byte resources to improve memory or performance. No, its physical structure is decreed forever by circumstances of its birth in some computer factory. You can kick it, pour nutrients over it, make it listen to music, give it smart drugs, but it does not get smarter. Not so with a real, living brain.
The notion of brain as computer or machine isa relic of yesterday's science. Exciting new investigations of the brain show it to be a growing, ever-changing massive complexity of cells, a miraculous living organ malleable by external and internal influences. Just as the structure and function of the heart changes-improving or deteriorating-in response to diet, drugs, and exercise, so do those of the brain.
Neuroscientists now know the brain is an organ of mind-boggling plasticity--like the rest of your body, dynamic, not "fixed" for life. Larry Squire, professor of neuroscience at the University of California at San Diego and past president of the national Society for Neuroscience, has said: "If you could use a video camera to watch the brain respond to experiences, I have no doubt you would see it growing, retracting, reshaping."
"The most important thing is to realize that the brain is growing and changing all the time," agrees leading brain researcher Bruce McEwen at New York's Rockefeller University.
""The chemical composition of the neurons themselves is changing, and hence there is no separate and unchanging hardware, in contrast to a programmable range of software." -- Susan Greenfield, "The Human Brain: A Guided Tour, 1997
Until recently, we have known little about the biological architecture of the brain compared with other organs, such as the liver, kidney, and heart. Why? Very simple, says British neurologist Richard S.J. Frackowiak at London's Institute of Neurology, in a fascinating article in "Daedalus," published in 1998 by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The brain was simply not available for examination. Hidden in "a relatively impenetrable box, the skull," the human brain could not be readilyprobed or excised during life, but only after death. All knowledge about how the brain functioned was remote, deduced from human behavior. That began to change in 1972 with the arrival of computerized tomography (CT) scans and later positron-emission tomography (PET) scans which could turn out clear images of brain anatomy and metabolism and track chemicals as they made their way through elaborate pathways in the brain. With this remarkable new noninvasive technology, our interest definitely perked up. For the first time, we humans can now begin to understand in remarkable detail the structure and function of the source of our unique place in the universe-how our brain works and how we can make it work even better. The ancient mystery is yielding to twenty-first century knowledge.
"Fantastic Pictures of the Living Brain
At one time, the only way scientists could study the anatomy of the brain was by examining dead brain tissue. Of course, they still study autopsied brain slices under electron microscopes. But the study of dead brain cells has given way to exquisite observations of live brain cells in action. Much of the revolutionary thinking about the brain is made possible by new technology that allows scientists to peer inside the brain as it is thinking, processing information, learning new things, consolidating memory and expressing anger, depression, even having hallucinations and psychotic episodes. The remarkable new field of brain imaging can reveal even the voices of demons lurking in the brains of schizophrenics. For example, the October 1995 issue of "Time magazine showed a "snapshot of a hallucination," a freeze-frame of a brain with six red-orange blobs, indicating hotspots of intense activity captured on a PET scan. The hot colors occurred every time a twenty-three-year-old paranoid schizophrenic pressed a button to signal he was having a hallucination of disembodied heads shouting abuse and commands at him. These brain images not only confirm brain activity and help diagnose mental problems, but also offer concrete evidence of beneficial brain changes induced by various nutrients, drugs, hormones, and herbal treatments.
Sophisticated colorful 3-D brain images can trace the routes of neurotransmitters as they congregate to elicit mood changes and lay down long-term memory. Scientists using brain images can witness the amount of blood flow to areas of the brain and how much energy the brain useshow it bums glucose-to perform a task. Generally, the greater the blood flow and the more glucose consumed, the harder the brain is working. In some studies...
Bestselling author Jean Carper reveals the astonishing new discoveries that have caused brain researchers to completely revise their ideas about the brain's marvelous capabilities for change through "nutritional neuroscience." In this amazing book you will learn how you can mold your brain to optimize memory, intelligence mental achievement, and mood by eating the right foods and taking specific brain-boosting supplements: from common vitamin E to alpha-lipoic acid, ginkgo biloba, and coenzyme Q10. Here, too, is astounding information on raising your children's IQ before they are born; which vitamins can boost intelligence and memory; how high blood pressure can shrink your brain; what foods to eat to sharpen memory and rejuvenate brain cells, and much more.
Bestselling author Carper ("Miracle Cures") shows how the right food and nutritional supplements can have a strong impact on the brain's performance, and explains to readers how to maximize brain power, boost memory, lift moods, improve I.Q. and creativity, prevent and reverse mental aging, and more. 16 photos throughout.
About the Author
Jean Carper is America's leading authority on health and nutrition and the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Stop Aging Now!, Food -- Your Miracle Medicine, and The Food Pharmacy. She is a columnist for USA Weekend and lives in Washington, D.C. and Florida.