Our Better Health

Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness


Leave a comment

This Is What Happens To Your Brain After A Breakup

“Turning on the reward neurons releases repeated floods of the neurotransmitter dopamine. And the dopamine activates circuits inside the brain that create a craving…In the case of romance, the thing you need more of is your beloved.” – Diane Kelly

We’re going to assume, at least for the sake of this article, that someone you once loved someone did not end up becoming “the one.”

Many people reading this article will concede that a such an unfortunate occasion has happened at least once.

The underlying concept you’ll see throughout the article is this: the brain’s complex – and often, unknowable – intricately woven circuitry produces complex feelings that arise from any and all situations; whether positive or negative.

Of course, this includes any relationship that has gone awry.

The motivation behind this article is to explain what happens to the brain following a painful breakup. The benefit of such knowledge is noteworthy in the sense that we will gain a more comprehensive understanding of the neurocircuitry that accompanies a hard felt separation.

It is our hope, then, that this knowledge will enable you to understand why such emotions occur – and what you can do as a rational being to make the best out of a tough situation.

HUMANS ARE HARDWIRED FOR LOVE

Anyone remember the 1980’s commercial “This is your brain on drugs?” This commercial was a well-intended (though rudimentary) depiction of what occurs in the human brain during drug use. Whether or not one is a fan of this ad, it is challenging to object its effectiveness. Following extensive research, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America reproduced a more intensive version of the commercial following a sizeable decrease in drug abuse cases.

As it turns out, the human brain reacts similarly to love. According to Psychology Today, “love has probably started more schoolyard fights, adult feuds, and outright wars than every other catalyst combined – money, alcohol, drugs, politics, sports, etc.”

Simply put, the numerous effects of love on the brain are strikingly similar to those produced by drugs. Similar to how drugs can induce a stagnant effect on the human brain, love (especially deep love) can result in the same – if not exacerbated – neurological effects.

A neuroscientist at the Einstein College of Medicine explains love’s effect on the brain as follows: “Other kinds of social rejection are much more cognitive…(Romantic rejection) is a life changing thing, and involves systems that are not at the same level as feeling hungry or thirsty.”

In other words, when someone we love rejects us, it is as harmful, if not more so, to the brain than social needs (friendships) and primal needs (sustenance).

Wow…can’t say we saw that coming. Wonder what Dr. Oz or Dr. Phil would say on the matter. Anyway, digression aside let’s get down to it.

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR BRAIN AFTER A BREAKUP

When we separate or reject somebody who we love, the physical effects – shallow breathing, nausea, chest constriction, etc. – are all very real phenomena.

Studies demonstrate that individuals in the midst of a breakup show disproportionate activity in the brain regions that determine the body’s response to physical pain and distress. This is potentially dangerous; and again, the more intimate the relationship, the likelier that adverse and extreme harmful physical side effects arise.

Unfortunately, this counterproductive cognitive response negatively affects other physical channels; including higher blood pressure, weakening of the immune system, and complications of the digestive system. These physical symptoms may persist for days, weeks, or months following a separation; with the duration of such effects highly dependent upon the individual.

Perhaps the most tragic response to heartbreak is a condition known as Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy (aka, “Broken Heart Syndrome) which produces stress hormones in extreme excess, which can, sadly, result in a heart attack, stroke, or even death.

(Sigh…)

WHAT THIS MEANS (AND DOESN’T)

From birth to death (and perhaps beyond), human beings desire to be loved. Regardless of the rapid advancements in neuroscience, we cannot – nor should we presume to – understand the complex mechanisms of love on our brain, body, and soul.

Experience (and science) tells us that love and human existence are inseparable. On the positive side, this inseparability enables us to love and cherish those we hold dear despite any and all circumstances. On the not so positive side, such findings elaborate upon – for better or worse – our dependence on others for connection, friendship, love, and nourishment.

For those currently going through the heartbreak that many of us have endured, it’s important to know that you are not alone. Human beings, by evolutionary design, are resilient creatures. Our brains have the superlative capability of learning, adapting, and rewiring to any past, present or future situation.

REFERENCES:
PARKER, D. (N.D.). QUOTES ABOUT ADAPTATION (102 QUOTES). RETRIEVED MARCH 24, 2017, FROM HTTP://WWW.GOODREADS.COM/QUOTES/TAG/ADAPTATION
KELLY, D. (2015, JULY 20). HERE’S WHAT BREAKING UP DOES TO YOUR BRAIN. RETRIEVED MARCH 24, 2017, FROM HTTP://GIZMODO.COM/HERES-WHAT-BREAKING-UP-DOES-TO-YOUR-BRAIN-1717776450
WEISS, R., LCSW, CSAT-S. (2015, JANUARY 28). THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON LOVE. RETRIEVED MARCH 24, 2017, FROM HTTPS://WWW.PSYCHOLOGYTODAY.COM/BLOG/LOVE-AND-SEX-IN-THE-DIGITAL-AGE/201501/IS-YOUR-BRAIN-LOVE


Leave a comment

What is BDNF and What Does it Do?

BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor, is a protein produced inside nerve cells.  The reason why it is so important to a healthy brain is because it serves as Miracle-Gro for the brain, essentially fertilizing brain cells to keep them functioning and growing, as well as propelling the growth of new neurons.

Although neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin are important in helping the brain function because they carry the signals of neurons, the protein BDNF build and maintain the brain circuits which allow the signals to travel.

BDNF improves the function of neurons, encourages their growth, and strengthens/protects them against premature cell death.  It also binds to receptors at the synapses, to improve signal strength between neurons.

Essentially, the more BDNF in the brain, the better the brain works.  

What Happens When There’s Not Enough?

Naturally, we want more of this protein in the brain.  But what exactly happens when there is a lack of BDNF or when something prevents it from working properly? Along with impaired learning, decreased levels have been associated with a variety of neurological/mental conditions such as alzheimer’s, epilepsy, anorexia nervosa, depression, schizophrenia, and OCD.  Let’s talk about the specifics of a few of them.

Connection Between Depression and BDNF

Although researchers do not say that low levels of the protein is the cause of depression, many studies have found a connection between the two.  In the book Spark, Dr. John Ratey pointed out that a study of 30 depressed people found that every single one of them had low levels of the protein.  In a postmortem study of people who committed suicide and had depression, the researchers also found significantly decreased levels of the protein.

Even in individual without a mental illness, lower levels of the protein have been correlated with personality traits that make them less mentally resilient and more vulnerable to depression.

Again, researchers have not been able to find a single cause of depression and saying that low BDNF is the cause of depression would be irresponsible.  But it looks to be a factor.

Connection Between Anxiety and BDNF

Anxiety is fear.  Fear, to the brain, means a memory of danger.  Danger means something different to someone with a diagnosed anxiety disorder than someone without.

Here’s how anxiety works in the brain.  When confronted with real threat, there is no difference in brain scans of someone who doesn’t have anxiety disorder and someone who does.  However, the difference comes into play when it comes to everyday life, when situations are non-threatening.  A brain with anxiety cannot distinguish between a threatening situation and a nonthreatening situation, so it is always on high alert and fearful.  So to someone with an anxiety disorder, every situation is a dangerous situation.

The National Institute of of Mental Health labels anxiety a learning deficit—because the brain is unable to learn to discriminate between dangerous situations and benign situations.

Recent research has led scientists to believe that the protein is an essential ingredient in combating anxiety.  Scientists think this is due to the fact that it helps the brain learn to essentially work around the fear and create positive memories. In addition, higher levels of the protein ramps up levels of serotonin, which calms the brain down and increases the sense of safety.

Low BDNF and Impaired Learning

Since BDNF provides the infrastructure for effective learning, it follows that the lack of the protein impairs effective learning.  Additionally, people with gene mutations that robs them of the ability to produce the Miracle-Gro are more likely to have learning deficiencies.

In a 2007 study of humans, German researchers found that people learned vocabulary words 20 percent slower when compared to people that increased BDNF levels right before learning (by exercising).

Essentially, the protein is a mechanism for the brain to learn.  It gives the synapses the tools it needs to take in information, process it, associate it, remember it, and put it in context to see the big picture.

Age as a Factor

Alike many other chemicals in the human body, aging decreases BDNF levels.  That’s why it takes us longer to learn to do complex tasks as we age.  Remember, the protein is instrumental in learning quickly and learning well.

To make matters worse, it is estimated that 1 in 3 people have a genetic mutation that makes BDNF levels fall much faster than average.

Just how fast do the levels drop when you have this genetic mutation?  A study at Stanford University sought to answer this question.  The study took 144 airplane pilots ages 40 to 69.  They had the pilots do annual flight simulator test over a few years time.  The end result? The test scores of pilots who had the genetic mutation dropped twice as fast as the scores of the pilots that did not have the mutation.

But luckily, we don’t have to live with ever-decreasing levels.  That is because we can increase them through various ways, whether we have the genetic mutation or not.

Increasing BDNF Levels

As the Miracle-Gro of the brain, the more of it we have, the better.  Although it is a relatively new discovery, scientists do know that it can be increased in several ways.

 

Exercise

Aerobic exercise increases its production.  But science thinks exercise not only increases production the protein, but it also adjusts it to optimal levels that have been programmed into our DNA through evolution.

Carl Cotman, a neuroscientist at UC Irvine, ran an experiment with rats to see if there was a difference in BDNF production between various exercise routines.  Turns out, there is.  After just two weeks, those who exercised daily produced the protein much more rapidly than those who exercised on alternating days (150 percent of baseline versus 124 of baseline).  However, after a month, there was no difference in production of BDNF between those who exercised daily and those who exercised every other day.

But the study also noted that the protein returned to baseline (non-exercise) levels just after two weeks of not exercising.  This was true for both groups.  However, it shot right back up after just two days of exercising: 139 percent for daily exercisers and 129 for alternating day exercisers.

Researchers found that exercise in old rats made the brain function (almost) just as good as young rats.

Exercising is by far the most surefire and fastest way to increase BDNF levels.  That is why it is so effective in relieving stress and symptoms of mental illnesses.  This is also why exercise allows the brain to learn so effectively.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are plentiful in fish, especially deep-water fish (salmon, tuna, cod).  They have been shown to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, heart problems, oxidative damage, and inflammation of the neurons.  They also provide a neuroprotective layer for the brain by raising and normalizing BDNF levels.

Although some sources say that you can take omega-3 supplements, there are studies out there the question the overall efficacy of fish oil supplements.  So the best way to get your omega-3 fatty acids is to eat them.  But if you are interested in seeing how much (and if) omega-3 supplements increase BDNF levels in men, then keep up with this clinical trial, which has not been completed yet.

While there are other sources of omega-3 fatty acids as well like nuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds, there is insufficient evidence to show that they have the same benefits as omega-3 from fish.  Omega-3 fatty acids from deep-water fish contain DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which are essential to many of the benefits it provides.

Probiotics

In the book Brain Maker Dr. David Perlmutter recommends five strains of probiotics to increase BDNF levels in the brain.  Those are Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus brevis, Bifodobacterium lactis, and Bifidobacterium longum.  Here are the common foods in which you can find each strain:

Lactobacillus plantarum: sauerkraut, pickles, brined olives, kimchi, Nigerian ogi, sourdough, fermented sausage, stockfish, and some cheeses (such as cheddar)

Lactobacillus acidophilus: yogurt, kefir, miso, and tempeh

Lactobacillus brevis: pickles, saurkraut, and beer hop

Bifodobacterium lactis: yogurt, miso, tempeh, pickled plum, pickles, kim chi, and many other forms of fermented and pickled fruits/vegetables that have not gone through the manufacturing process

Bifidobacterium longum: yogurt, milk, fermented dairy foods, saukraut, and soy-based products

Intermittent Fasting

For those that are not familiar, intermittent fasting is a form of dietary restriction in which the person goes without food for a certain amount of time (usually 12 to 24 hours).

Although the evidence is still thin, there are some studies out there that show intermittent fasting can increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor.  Dietary restriction seems to stimulate the production of new neurons, increase the brain’s ability to resist aging, and restore function to the brain following injury.  More specifically, intermittent fasting appears to result in a stress response at a cellular level that stimulates neuronal plasticity and the production of certain proteins, like BDNF.

Again, more research needs to be done on the connection between intermittent fasting and brain-derived neurotrophic factor but results so far look promising.

*******

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor is the foundation of all things good in the brain.  It allows the brain to work effectively and efficiently.  When there is enough Miracle-Gro in the brain and it is allowed to work efficiently, it enables the brain to create more memories, learn quicker, and operate at a higher level. When there’s a deficiency of it in the brain, it causes all kinds of cognitive and mental issues.

 


Leave a comment

Targeting Gut Bacteria May Be The Key To Preventing Alzheimer’s

Diet could be a powerful mode of prevention.

A new study suggests that a gut-healthy diet may play a powerful role in preventing one of the most feared diseases in America.

Mounting research continues to show the links between the health of the gut and that of the brain. Now, a new study from Lund University in Sweden finds that unhealthy intestinal flora can accelerate the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

The report, published Feb. 8 in the journal Scientific Reports, demonstrates that mice with Alzheimer’s have a different gut bacterial profile than those that do not have the disease.

The gut microbiome is highly responsive to dietary and lifestyle factors. This suggests that a gut-healthy diet may play a powerful role in preventing one of the most feared diseases in America.

“Alzheimer’s is a preventable disease and in the near future we will likely be able to give advice on what to eat to prevent it,” study author Dr. Frida Fak Hållenius, associate professor at the university’s Food for Health Science Centre, told The Huffington Post. “Take care of your gut bacteria, by eating lots of whole-grains, fruits and vegetables.”

In the new study, Hållenius and her colleagues revealed a direct causal association between gut bacteria and signs of Alzheimer’s in mice. When a group of bacteria-free mice were colonized with the bacteria of rodents with Alzheimer’s, they developed brain plaques indicative of Alzheimer’s. When the bacteria-free mice were colonized with the bacteria of the healthy rodents, however, they developed significantly fewer brain plaques.

Beta-amyloid plaques between nerve cells in the brain are a central marker of the disease. These sticky protein clumps accumulate between the brain’s neurons, disrupting signals and contributing to the gradual killing off of nerve cells.

“We don’t yet know how bacteria can affect brain pathology, we are currently investigating this,” Hållenius said. “We think that bacteria may affect regulatory T-cells in the gut, which can control inflammatory processes both locally in the gut and systemically ― including the brain.”

The contributions of microbes to multiple aspects of human physiology and neurobiology in health and disease have up until now not been fully appreciated.

The gut microbiome is intimately connected with the immune system, since many of the body’s immune cells are found in this area of the stomach, Hållenius added.

Anything that happens in the digestive tract can affect the immune system, she explained. “By changing the gut microbiota composition, you affect the immune system of the host to a large extent.”

The findings suggest that Alzheimer’s may be more more preventable than health experts previously thought. The composition of bacteria in the gut is determined by a mix of genetics and lifestyle factors. Diet, exercise, stress and toxin exposure all play a huge role in the gut’s bacterial makeup.

Now, the researchers can begin investigating ways to prevent the disease and delay its onset by targeting gut bacteria early on. And in the meantime, anyone can adopt a plant-based, whole foods diet and probiotic supplementation as a way to improve the health of their microbiome.

“The diet shapes the microbial community in the gut to a large extent, so dietary strategies will be important in prevention of Alzheimer’s,” Hållenius said. “We are currently working on food design that will modulate the gut microbiota towards a healthier state.”

The study is far from the first to show a connection between gut bacteria and Alzheimer’s. In a 2014 paper published in the journal Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, researchers listed 10 different ways that the microbiome may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, including fungal and bacterial infections in the intestinal tract and increased permeability of the blood-brain barrier.

“The contributions of microbes to multiple aspects of human physiology and neurobiology in health and disease have up until now not been fully appreciated,” that study’s authors wrote.

By Carolyn Gregoire      Feb 21, 2017
 


1 Comment

For Anxiety Disorders, CBT May Restore Brain’s Structural Balance

New research finds that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) actually changes key brain structures that are involved in processing and regulating emotions.

The finding helps to explain the success of CBT for anxiety disorders. Remediation of social anxiety is an important accomplishment as anxiety in social situations is not a rare problem.

Experts say that around one in 10 people are affected by social anxiety disorder during their lifetime. Social anxiety disorder is diagnosed if fears and anxiety in social situations significantly impair everyday life and cause intense suffering. A relatively common anxiety provoking experience is talking in front of a larger group — a situation that can provoke fear and extreme stress.

In the new study, researchers from the University of Zurich, Zurich University Hospital and the University Hospital of Psychiatry Zurich discovered that the successful treatment of an anxiety disorder alters key brain structures linked to emotions.

In patients suffering from social anxiety disorder, regulation of excessive anxiety by frontal and lateral brain areas is impaired. Strategies aimed at regulating emotions should restore the balance between cortical and subcortical brain areas.

key-brain-structures-involved-in-processing-and-regulating-emotions

These strategies are practiced in CBT, a central therapy for social anxiety disorder. In cognitive behavioral group therapy, patients learn and apply new strategies aimed at dealing with social anxiety disorder.

Based on specific examples, the group discusses explanatory models and identifies starting points for changes. Through self-observation, role plays, or video recordings, alternative viewpoints can be developed.

related: ‘Positive Activity’ as Effective as ‘Positive Thinking’ in Treating Depression

In the study, published online in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, researchers investigated structural brain changes in patients suffering from social anxiety disorder after a specific 10-week course of CBT. Using magnetic resonance imaging, the participants’ brains were examined before and after CBT.

“We were able to show that structural changes occur in brain areas linked to self-control and emotion regulation,” said Dr. Annette Brühl, head physician at the Center for Depression, Anxiety Disorders and Psychotherapy at the University Hospital of Psychiatry Zurich (PUK).

The more successful the treatment, the stronger the brain changes. The research group was also able to demonstrate that brain areas involved in processing emotions were more interconnected after the treatment.

“Psychotherapy normalizes brain changes associated with social anxiety disorder,” Brühl said.

By Rick Nauert PhD
 


2 Comments

What is Misophonia?

Misophonia is most-likely a neurological affliction that causes a fight/flight/freeze response to otherwise normal visual and audial stimuli. As of now, there is no official consensus on what exactly causes the disorder. Though it was coined in 2001 by Jastreboff and Jastreboff there has been little research published under the disorder’s current name.

Researchers such as Joseph E. LeDoux and Stephen Porges have been researching auditory over-responsivity. However, the name of the disorder matters little since researchers are more focused on what’s going on inside the brain and body and not merely perceived notions and sweeping generalizations.

Many that sufferer from misophonia struggle with similar symptoms. Commonly, tapping, whistling, chewing, and other repetitive sounds cause this severe reaction. Though the disorder manifests with aversions to sights and sounds, many are proposing that its cause is physiological and not psychological.

There are currently no experts on Misophonia and no one doctor or researcher can claim that they have all the answers. This is also true of treatments and coping methods. Before trying a treatment please ensure that you are aware that new disorders not only carry a lack of treatment but also a risk. If you are trying experimental treatments please be wary. If you feel uncomfortable with your treatment provider, do not hesitate to refrain from continuing.

Please chew with your mouth CLOSED!

Please chew with your mouth CLOSED!

As of now, much of the research must be geared toward preliminary findings. The first steps to understanding Misophonia comes from academic and ethically conducted research that will lay the groundwork for future studies and findings. The IMRN works vehemently to ensure that several angles of research are being explored. We are not committed to one theory over another. Our focus on research is about the journey. As research changes and develops, so will our ideas on the disorder.

There seems to be an overlap between SPD SOR (Sensory Processing Disorder; Sub-set Sensory Over Responsivity) and Misophonia. However, this overlap is entirely based on symptoms. Whether or not the two are related remains to be seen. Though, due to the close over-lap, Lucy Miller of the SPD Foundation has joined the IMRN advisory board to help facilitate research to see if the two may in-fact be related. If this is true, this explains the similarities between misophonics, autistics, Aspergers patients, as well as other disorders.

The cause of Misophonia is secondary right now to its impact on the lives of sufferers. As a magazine and news site we hope to connect sufferers with their researchers. Since there is no official cure it is important that we act as shoulders and support systems for each other. Together we can ask for answers. The IMRN does not believe that one researchers proposals are more important than another. Though we may currently be fundraising for one lab this does not mean that we are not exploring all avenues. A cross-disciplinary approach is our best case scenario when it comes to finding answers. This means that audiologists, neurologists, psychologists, and several professionals are the key to finding answers. When asking ‘what is misophonia?’ we must realize that it is through working together that we find the greatest answers.

 
July 22, 2016
 


Leave a comment

10 Foods That Preserve Intelligence And Brain Health

A pigment in leafy vegetables stops the degrading of ‘crystallized intelligence’ by old age, new research finds.

Crystallized intelligence is the ability to use knowledge, experience and skills which have been gained during the lifetime.

Lutein is a yellow pigment and naturally occurring carotenoid that is produced by plants and so can only be obtained from the diet.

Lutein can be extracted from marigold flower and is present in:

  • spinach,
  • kale,
  • broccoli,
  • cabbage,
  • yellow carrots,
  • mango,
  • orange,
  • papaya,
  • red or green pepper

and also in egg yolks and animal fats since animals consume this pigment from plants.
Ms Marta Zamroziewicz, the study’s first author, said:

“Lutein accumulates in the brain, embedding in cell membranes, where it likely plays ‘a neuroprotective role’.

Previous studies have found that a person’s lutein status is linked to cognitive performance across the lifespan.

peppers

Research also shows that lutein accumulates in the gray matter of brain regions known to underlie the preservation of cognitive function in healthy brain aging.”

The  study analysed the effect of lutein on the cognitive function of 122 healthy adults between 65 to 75 years old.

Subjects had to complete neuropsychological testing related to crystallized intelligence.

Blood samples were collected to assess the levels of lutein and brain volume was measured using MR imaging.

The focus was on parts of the temporal cortex since this area of the brain is important in the maintenance of crystallized intelligence.

The results showed that those with higher blood serum levels of lutein performed better on crystallized intelligence tests.

Professor Aron Barbey, who led the study, said:

“Our analyses revealed that gray-matter volume of the parahippocampal cortex on the right side of the brain accounts for the relationship between lutein and crystallized intelligence.
This offers the first clue as to which brain regions specifically play a role in the preservation of crystallized intelligence, and how factors such as diet may contribute to that relationship.”

Professor Barbey concluded:

“We can only hypothesize at this point how lutein in the diet affects brain structure.
It may be that it plays an anti-inflammatory role or aids in cell-to-cell signaling.
But our finding adds to the evidence suggesting that particular nutrients slow age-related declines in cognition by influencing specific features of brain aging.”

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience (Zamroziewicz et al., 2016).

29TH DECEMBER 2016        MINA DEAN


1 Comment

Five Ways Christmas Affects Your Brain

Christmas is a time of year like no other; gifts are exchanged, little-spoken-to relatives are contacted, and appetising treats are consumed with great gusto. Christmas can be both a time of stress and a time of relaxation. But whether you love or hate Christmas it’s pretty difficult to avoid – and so your brain may be altered by the experience one way or another. Here are some of the main facets of the Christmas experience, and how they might affect your brain.

The festive spirit: The joy surrounding Christmas may influence some of the chemicals in your brain (dopamine and serotonin) which affect your happiness levels. Dopamine is known to be involved with reward-driven behaviour and pleasure seeking and serotonin is thought to increase our feelings of worth and belonging. So when people talk about “Christmas cheer” they may be on to something.

In fact, researchers at the University of Copenhagen conducted an imaging study to try and find the “centre” of the Christmas spirit in the human brain. Here, participants were shown Christmas-themed images and, in those participants who actively celebrated Christmas, there was increased brain activation in the sensory motor cortex, the premotor and primary motor cortex, and the parietal lobule. Previously these brain areas have been associated with spirituality, bodily senses and recognising facial emotions. While these results should be interpreted with some caution, it is interesting to note the physical effects that feeling festive can exert on your brain.

christmas

Stress: Not everyone finds Christmas an entirely joyful and festive time – many people find it very stressful. In fact, the burdens of navigating through a busy shopping centre to find the ideal gift for your other half, or of cooking the perfect turkey for a house full of hungry people, is enough to rattle even the calmest person. Stress can exert a physical response in your body, with the automatic release of adrenaline and cortisol. Further, cortisol has been shown to have a profound effect on the hippocampus, which may decrease your memory and ability to multitask.

Giving gifts: The giving and receiving of gifts is an age-old Christmas tradition and there’s no better feeling than seeing your loved one’s eyes light up when you’ve found the perfect gift for them. But why does giving make us feel so good? Generosity has been linked with the reward circuitry of our brain, causing the release of dopamine and endorphins. Researchers have described a “helpers’ high”, which is experienced after giving. The chemicals that cause this high can reduce stress and increase your desire to repeat these acts of kindness. So, while you may resent being out of pocket after buying your great aunt that pair of slippers, your brain at least ensures that you are compensated with a chemical reward.

Bonding with family and friends: The quintessential Christmas experience involves sitting around a table with your loved ones. In fact, it’s hard to even imagine the festive period without thinking of your family and friends. The bond between you and those special to you can result in the release of a hormone called oxytocin in the brain. Oxytocin – sometimes referred to as the “cuddle hormone” – drives maternal behaviour, trust, and social attachment. As such, this hormone may help towards explaining that warm, fuzzy feeling you get at Christmas when surrounded by those you love and trust.

Overindulging: Indulging in our favourite food and drinks is all part of the Christmas experience – but overeating can affect your brain. It has been shown to activate a pathway linking the hypothalamus in the brain to the immune system. This leads to an immune response and low-grade inflammation, which may explain why you can feel unwell after eating too much. Of course, this doesn’t do much harm to your body after one extravagant Christmas meal – but, when overeating becomes a long-term issue, this inflammation can become chronic, and contribute to Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

But for now, don’t worry too much if you’ve got Christmas on the brain, you’ll soon be back to your usual self come January.

December 21, 2016     Kira Shaw    Postdoctoral Researcher in Neuroscience, University of Sussex