The Pain Centers

Scientists, including Prof. Irene Tracey, PhD, have made great strides in the study of pain. Her work is described in a recent article at . (The New Yorker’s freemium model gives  a few free articles per month. Two thumbs up!)

It seems the “dorsal posterior region of the insula” is deeply involved with pain. “It’s just this lovely island of cortex hidden in the middle, deep in your brain,” Prof. Tracey said. “And it’s got all these amazing different functions. When you say, ‘Actually, I feel a bit cold, I need to put a sweater on,’ what’s driving you to do that? Probably this bit.”

But the root cause of much pain is perhaps an undiscovered “island of cortex” that I shall call the “Egoism and Jackass Center (EJC)”. Pain is often the eventual result of the operation of this center when it causes disputes and rash actions. One’s pain may be caused by the operation of one’s own EJC, or someone else’s, but most often when all parties involved behave like asses.

I have a quirky, sporadic angry side. IMO it is genetic on the maternal side, considering the wide variety of family members with whom I share the trait. For instance, this morning, after about the hundredth technical problem with Comcast services, I cancelled the cable-TV and phone services. I was ready to cancel internet service too, even though I knew that the internet is essential to us. My EJC was firing on all cylinders! But luckily, some more-rational “island of cortex” overruled my EJC on that.

(More overruling may occur when the rest of the house finds out there is no cable TV.)

I have a quirky taste for the TV show “Cops” and its imitators. (On “Cops”, police officers go about their normal activities, but with camera crews recording it all.) It is clear that the police generally have excellent control of their EJCs. That is, under huge stresses, and in great danger, and even under physical attack, they usually control their behaviour well, and stay within the complex rules that govern what they can and cannot do. (Of course, there is probably a bias against airing footage that shows the police erring.)

Control of the EJC varies widely among the suspected criminals on these shows.  I imagine that education, socialization, and innate personality all play a role in this. The EJC stimulates dangerous and self-defeating criminal behaviours: car chases, physical attacks on police officers, domestic violence, and the like.

Suspects’ behaviour clearly varies based on the drugs that are found with the suspects and the drugs they have (apparently) used. On average and in general, alcohol and cocaine and amphetamines increase the operation of the EJC, resulting in stupid actions and great pain, but marijuana decreases the action of the EJC, which often spares the suspects the worst possible results.

The evolutionary role of the EJC is unclear. I believe that humans evolved as social animals, in groups that have leaders. Cooperation must have beeen important. But is jackass behaviour always anti-social? Or does the EJC help a leader take forceful action, without self-doubt?

Hopefully the next administration will erase the federal bans on funding scientific research into gun violence, and scientific research on marijuana. Maybe a more peaceful society is within our reach.



Dementia Downer

A meta-analysis (analysis of previous studies) has found that there is not strong evidence of major success for any one approach to preventing or treating mental decline, and specifically, Alzheimer’s dementia. This includes treatments using medicines, diet, exercise, vitamins, and cognitive training (doing a lot of thinking, puzzles, and the like). But, there were some encouraging conclusions too, and some that were less discouraging.

As reported in , the very scientific Minnesota Evidence-based Practice Center (EPC) concludes that “Overall the results didn’t show much benefit…”.

There were positive results that were not statistically strong enough to meet the standards for recommending a new standard of care. It is possible that treatments were not done soon enough (early enough in life) to bring major benefits. It also is possible that treatments were not done long enough to yield solid gains.  And of course, better drugs may be developed in the future.

One of the better results is this:”… the FINGER (Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability) trial showed that of 1,260 adults ages 60 to 77 years with CAIDE (Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging and Dementia), those who received an intervention with physical activity, diet, and cognitive training saw a 25% greater 2-year improvement in multi-domain neuropsychological test performance …”

Other than cognitive training, the best results in the studies are from the usual suspects: Diet and Exercise. And, probably for the usual reason: circulation. Lots of studies link mental performance and circulation of the blood to the brain.

An interesting new angle is not yet covered by the kind of studies that the EPC reviewed. Recent research indicates that the “glymphatic system” has “clean-up” cells which may remove or reduce the tangles of beta-amyloid that usually exist in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.  (These tangles are now considered the proximate cause of many symptoms of dementia; their origin and root causes remain under investigation.) The glymphatic system probably performs other maintenance tasks in the brain, as well.  The glymphatic system’s activity may be linked to, and enabled by, the shrinkage of other cell types in the brain during sleep, which increases spaces in-between by up to sixty percent. The increased space may be necessary for proper “cleaning” to occur. It is very possible that getting enough sleep is a factor in avoiding dementia.


Prevagen? BS! De-regulation? BS!

Category: Mental Energy

If you watch TV you cannot avoid ads for patent medicines like Prevagen. I would love to improve my memory, so I read up on it.

IMO there is NO reason to think that Prevagen works. There are no studies of Prevagen or its effects. However, the main ingredient has been studied. Here is the opinion of an expert (who posted it on about that:

“Aequorin is a protein and will be hydrolyzed in the stomach. So negligible amount of intact protein will be absorbed into the body from the GI tract. Even if the protein was administered by injection it is unlikely that it could cross the blood-brain-barrier. If by any remote chance the protein does make it into brain cells, it could be neurotoxic by virtue of chelating calcium ions which are essential to cell function.
Robert C. Speth, Ph.D.”

“Neurotoxic” means “poisonous to your nerve cells”. I always joke that that nail polish is a “brain poison” because I dislike the smell. But here is a real one, in a patent medicine.

The US government policy in recent years has been to allow these lies to be broadcast unless the products are actually illegal for other reasons, such as known poisons or controlled substances. This is imo bad government, which is imo typical for “free-market” thinkers. They live in their ivory towers, where they think everyone has full information about everything. IMO we should be protected from these products and their sellers, just like the law protects us from physical assault.

In fact, the FDA has issued a “Sanction Letter” about this product – In 2012!!! Finally this year (2017) the NY Attorney General and the FTC (NOT the FDA) filed suit to end this hoax. Meanwhile they keep it tied up in the courts, and keep making millions of dollars. The FDA has become a joke. That’s what “de-regulation” really means – wealthy businessmen paying lobbyists, paying lawyers, paying off regulators, “contributing” to “election campaigns”, and swindling the public. Caveat emptor, and caveat voter too!