Brain waves are oscillating electrical voltages in the brain, measuring just a few millionths of a volt. At the root of all our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are the communication between neurons within our brains. Brainwaves are produced by synchronized electrical pulses from masses of neurons communicating with each other.
Brainwaves are detected using sensors placed on the scalp. They are divided into bandwidths to describe their functions but are the best thought of as a continuous spectrum of consciousness, from slow, loud, and functional — to fast, subtle, and complex.
It is a handy analogy to think of brainwaves as musical notes — the low-frequency waves are like a deeply penetrating drum beat, while the higher frequency brainwaves are more like a subtle high pitched flute. Like a symphony, the higher and lower frequencies link and cohere with each other through harmonics.
Our brainwaves change according to what we’re doing and feeling. When slower brainwaves are dominant, we can feel tired, slow, sluggish, or dreamy. The higher frequencies are dominant when we feel wired or hyper-alert.
The descriptions that follow are only broad descriptions — in practice, things are far more complex, and brainwaves reflect different aspects of different locations in the brain.
Brainwave speed is measured in Hertz (cycles per second), and they are divided into bands delineating slow, moderate, and fast waves.
Infra-Low brainwaves (also known as Slow Cortical Potentials) are thought to be the basic cortical rhythms that underlie our higher brain functions. Very little is known about infra-low brainwaves. Their slow nature makes them difficult to detect and accurately measure, so few studies have been done. They appear to play a major role in brain timing and network function.
Delta (δ) Waves (0.5 TO 4HZ) — Sleep
Delta brainwaves are slow, loud brainwaves (low frequency and deeply penetrating, like a drumbeat). They are generated in deepest meditation and dreamless sleep. Delta waves suspend external awareness and are the source of empathy. Healing and regeneration are stimulated in this state, and that is why deep restorative sleep is so essential to the healing process.
Theta brainwaves occur most often in sleep but are also dominant in deep meditation. Theta is our gateway to learning, memory, and intuition. In theta, our senses are withdrawn from the external world and focused on signals originating from within. Twilight states that we normally only experience fleetingly as we wake or drift off to sleep. In theta, we dream; vivid imagery, intuition, and information beyond our normal conscious awareness. It’s where we hold our ‘stuff,’ our fears, troubled history, and nightmares.
Alpha (α) Waves(8 TO 12 HZ) — Very relaxed, Passive Attention
Alpha brainwaves are dominant during quietly flowing thoughts and in some meditative states. Alpha is ‘the power of now,’ being here, in the present. Alpha is the resting state of the brain. Alpha waves aid overall mental coordination, calmness, alertness, mind/body integration, and learning.
Beta brainwaves dominate our normal waking state of consciousness when attention is directed towards cognitive tasks and the outside world. Beta is a ‘fast’ activity, present when alert, attentive, engaged in problem-solving, judgment, decision making, or focused mental activity.
Beta brainwaves are further divided into three bands; Lo-Beta (Beta1, 12–15Hz) can be thought of as a ‘fast idle’ or musing. Beta (Beta2, 15–22Hz) is the high engagement or actively figuring something out. Hi-Beta (Beta3, 22–38Hz) is a highly complex thought, integrating new experiences, high anxiety, or excitement. Continual high-frequency processing is not a very efficient way to run the brain, as it takes a tremendous amount of energy.
Gamma (γ) Waves(35 TO 42 HZ) — Concentration
Gamma brainwaves are the fastest brain waves (high frequency, like a flute) and relate to the simultaneous processing of information from different brain areas. Gamma brainwaves pass information rapidly and quietly. The most subtle of the brainwave frequencies, the mind has to be quiet to access gamma.
Gamma was dismissed as ‘spare brain noise’ until researchers discovered it was highly active in states of universal love, altruism, and the ‘higher virtues.’ Gamma is also above the frequency of neuronal firing, so how it is generated remains a mystery. It is speculated that gamma rhythms modulate perception and consciousness and that a greater presence of gamma relates to expanded consciousness and spiritual emergence.
New Trial to Test Brain Wave Stimulation as Alzheimer’s Preventative
With a new $1.8 million grant from the Part the Cloud-Gates Partnership Grant Program of the Alzheimer’s Association, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Massachusetts General Hospital are launching a new clinical trial to test whether stimulating a key frequency of brain waves with light and sound can prevent the advance of Alzheimer’s disease pathology even before volunteers experience symptoms such as memory impairment.
“Because Alzheimer’s disease leads to neurodegeneration and cognitive decline, the best time for intervention may be before those symptoms even begin,” said Dr. Li-Huei Tsai, Picower Professor of Neuroscience and director of The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT. “We are hopeful that our safe, non-invasive approach of sensory stimulation of 40Hz gamma brain rhythms can have a preventative benefit for patients. We are very grateful to Part the Cloud-Gates Partnership Grant Program for their support in funding rigorous research to test this exciting possibility.”
In extensive testing in Tsai’s lab with multiple mouse models of Alzheimer’s, the light and sound stimulation technique, called Gamma ENtrainment Using Sensory Stimuli (GENUS), improved cognition and memory, prevented neurodegeneration, and reduced amyloid and tau protein buildups. The research showed that increasing 40Hz brain rhythm power and synchrony stimulated the brain’s immune cells and blood vessels to clear out the toxic proteins. Early results from human testing at MIT show that GENUS is well tolerated and increases 40Hz power and synchrony, just like in the mice.
The new study, conducted in collaboration with neurologist Dr. Keith Johnson at MGH, will enroll 50 volunteers aged 55 or older who show signs of amyloid protein plaque buildup in PET scans but remain cognitively normal. Experimental volunteers will receive an hour of GENUS light and sound stimulation in their homes daily for a year. At regular checkups, the team will monitor GENUS's effect on amyloid buildup via PET scans as well as other biomarkers such as tau and for changes in cognition, sleep, structural and functional MRI, and other indicators of brain function and health.
The trial will be double-blinded, randomized, and controlled, meaning that some volunteers will be exposed to non-GENUS light and sound during the trial to provide a non-treatment comparison group. To ensure that bias does not influence the results, neither the volunteers nor the experimenters will know which group's volunteers are.
Biohacking is the practice of changing our chemistry and our physiology through science and self-experimentation to energize and enhance the body. It’s a broad definition, but that’s also because the concept is constantly evolving. It includes implementing lifestyle and dietary changes that improve the functioning of your body, as well as wearable technology to help you monitor and regulate physiological data. It can even run to extremes such as using implant technology and genetic engineering.
The possibilities are endless, but they are all rooted in the idea that we can change our bodies and our brains, and that by doing so we can ultimately become smarter, faster, and better as human beings.
Start biohacking your body by using wearables like the FitBit or the Apple Watch to track the way you operate. You could also start experimenting with the power of music in your everyday life and adopting a sustainable healthy diet. But if you’re ready for something new, and something different, consider one of these non-invasive methods from our biohacking guide:
Biohack Tip 1: Red Light Therapy
Have you ever spent a lot of time indoors and begun to feel… off? Our bodies and brains need light to function at their best. Not only does the sun give us an important dose of vitamin D, but it helps us in a number of other physiological and emotional ways. Let’s look a little closer – specifically at the light wavelengths between 600 and 900 nanometers (nm). How does this range of light waves impact us and how can we use it to biohack the body?
Studies have shown that your body responds particularly well to red and near-infrared wavelengths, which range from 600 to 900 nm. This particular range of light waves is absorbed by the skin to a depth of about 8 to 10 millimeters, at which point your mitochondrial chromophores absorb the photons. This activates a number of the nervous system and metabolic processes.
In plainer terms, red light therapy has become an increasingly popular form of biohacking used to treat a number of conditions. It has been proven to relieve pain,reduce inflammation, and restore mood. And because it is a non-invasive and non-chemical treatment, it’s not as intimidating as other forms of biohacking.
Biohacking Tip 2: Functional Music
With over 100 billion neurons that are constantly using electricity to talk to each other, your brain is like Grand Central Station. If everyone is chattering loudly at the same time, it can be tough to concentrate on what you need to get done. That’s where music biohacking comes in. Brain activity can be measured in a wave-like pattern and determines if you feel alert, sleepy, relaxed, or stressed. Things that can affect your brainwaves include the activity you are currently performing, how much restorative rest you’ve had, and what you’ve just eaten or drank.
One of the most reliable ways to change your brainwaves is through a consistent sound wave. Audio entrainment, a form of music biohacking, uses binaural beats and tones to synchronize with your brain waves and induce a meditative, relaxed state. You can access programs developed specifically for your own brain and the activities you want to accomplish at Brain.fm. If you’re not ready to go that far, you can still change your mood and mindset by queuing up your favorite playlist and listening while you work out, cook breakfast, or commute to work.
Biohacking Tip 3: Osteostrong
We talk a lot about cardiac health. After all, heart disease is the #1 killer of women in the United States. Everyone needs to be aware of cardiovascular diseases and how to protect themselves as best they can. As a culture, we also talk a lot about skin health – slathering on sunscreen as part of our daily routine and supplementing our diets with collagen-boosting foods. Weight loss, inflammation, memory, GI health, and how an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise can prematurely age you – these are all at the forefront of our minds. But how often do we think about the health of our bones?
A decrease in bone health creeps up on you and most people are unaware of how bone density changes over time. Roughly up until the age of 30, men and women actually build more bone than they lose, so we are constantly strengthening our bones and working on bone density. But when we hit our mid-30s, things change. And if you’ve passed that benchmark, you may have felt that shift.
After reaching their mid-30s, women lose about 2% of bone density every year, and that continues for a few years following menopause. This leaves women with a high likelihood of experiencing osteoporosis.
So what do you do? Consider trying OsteoStrong, a non-pharmaceutical way of improving bone density, strength, and balance as one of your biohacking techniques.
According to OsteoStrong’s website, research indicates that the stimulus required to activate the growth of healthy bone tissue is 4.2 multiples of body weight. However, this level of force would be exceptionally difficult to achieve on your own. That’s why OsteoStrong utilizes the Spectrum System, which is part of a new category of devices called the Robotic Musculoskeletal Development System (RDMS).
Biohacking Tip 4: Gratitude
How we view life has a huge effect on our moods, how we treat others, and our general levels of fulfillment. When you have an abundance mindset, you’re consistently grateful for everything that comes your way and is always focused on the positive. Have a hard time adopting this type of perspective? Changing your mindset is really about nothing more than practice. You need to consistently refocus your brain to see the positive in every situation until it becomes second nature. These biohacking techniques and tools can help:
A gratitude journal in which you write three to five things you’re grateful for helps you reframe the day to focus on the positive and reflect on all the good things that happen to you.
Take a gratitude walk where you give thanks and send positive energy to every living thing you see. If you walk to work or take a morning jog, you can easily incorporate this into your normal routine.
Write a weekly letter of gratitude to someone who has helped you or who means a lot to you. It could be a family member, a long-lost friend, or even a coworker who always remembers to stock your favorite coffee.
Begin the day with a ritual, such as meditating, and set an intention to be grateful for all you encounter.
Biohacking Tip 5: Supplements
Exercising, eating right, and developing the right mindset are important steps tounlocking an extraordinary life. Biohacking helps you take this to the next level by incorporating supplements that improve focus, increase energy, and help your body benefit from the most bioavailable forms of nutrients available.
We often don’t get all the vitamins and minerals we need to keep us at peak performance. High-quality supplements in the form of pills, shakes, bars, or drinks can fill the nutritional gap and help boost performance, detoxify our systems, and achieve daily energy.
Tony has created a variety of health supplements, drinks, and bars that help you feel your best every day and make biohacking the body easy.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized environment. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a well-established treatment for decompression sickness, potential risk of scuba diving. Other conditions treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy include serious infections, bubbles of air in your blood vessels, and wounds that may not heal due to diabetes or radiation injury.
In a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, the air pressure is increased two to three times higher than normal air pressure. Under these conditions, your lungs can gather much more oxygen than would be possible breathing pure oxygen at normal air pressure.
When your blood carries this extra oxygen throughout your body, this helps fight bacteria and stimulate the release of substances called growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing.
Your body’s tissues need an adequate supply of oxygen to function. When tissue is injured, it requires even more oxygen to survive. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen your blood can carry. With repeated scheduled treatments, the temporary extra high oxygen levels encourage normal tissue oxygen levels, even after the therapy is completed.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used to treat several medical conditions. And medical institutions use it in different ways. Your doctor may suggest hyperbaric oxygen therapy if you have one of the following conditions:
Bubbles of air in your blood vessels (arterial gas embolism)
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Infection of skin or bone that causes tissue death
Non-healing wounds, such as a diabetic foot ulcer
Skin graft or skin flap at risk of tissue death
Traumatic brain injury
Vision loss, sudden and painless
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is generally a safe procedure. Complications are rare. But this treatment does carry some risk.
Potential risks include:
Middle ear injuries, including leaking fluid and eardrum rupture, due to changes in air pressure
Temporary nearsightedness (myopia) caused by temporary eye lens changes
Lung collapse caused by air pressure changes (barotrauma)
Seizures as a result of too much oxygen (oxygen toxicity) in your central nervous system
Lowered blood sugar in people who have diabetes treated with insulin
In certain circumstances, fire — due to the oxygen-rich environment of the treatment chamber.
How to Prepare
You’ll be provided with a hospital-approved gown or scrubs to wear in place of regular clothing during the procedure.
For your safety, items such as lighters or battery-powered devices that generate heat are not allowed into the hyperbaric chamber. You may also need to remove hair and skin care products that are petroleum-based, as they are a potential fire hazard. Your health care team will provide instruction on preparing you to undergo hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
During Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is typically performed as an outpatient procedure but can also be provided while hospitalized.
In general, there are two types of hyperbaric oxygen chambers:
A unit designed for 1 person. In an individual (monoplace) unit, you lie down on a table that slides into a clear plastic chamber.
A room designed to accommodate several people. In a multi-person hyperbaric oxygen room — which usually looks like a large hospital room — you may sit or lie down. You may receive oxygen through a mask over your face or a lightweight, clear hood placed over your head.
Whether you’re in an individual or multi-person environment for hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the benefits are the same.
During therapy, the room's air pressure is about two to three times the normal air pressure. The increased air pressure will create a temporary feeling of fullness in your ears — similar to what you might feel in an airplane or at a high elevation. You can relieve that feeling by yawning or swallowing.
For most conditions, hyperbaric oxygen therapy lasts approximately two hours. Members of your health care team will monitor you and the therapy unit throughout your treatment.
After Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Your therapy team assesses you, including looking in your ears and taking your blood pressure and pulse. If you have diabetes, your blood glucose is checked. Once the team decides you are ready, you can get dressed and leave.
You may feel somewhat tired or hungry following your treatment. This doesn’t limit normal activities.
To benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy, you’ll likely need more than one session. The number of sessions is dependent upon your medical condition. Some conditions, such as carbon monoxide poisoning, might be treated in three visits. Others, such as non-healing wounds, may require 40 treatments or more.
To effectively treat approved medical conditions, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is usually part of a comprehensive treatment plan provided with other therapies and drugs designed to fit your individual needs.
Like any other organ or part of the human body, the brain, too, is susceptible to injuries or declining functions, especially as we grow older. A healthy diet, physical exercise, and improving your blood pressure, blood sugar, or blood cholesterol levels are some of the ways through which you can maintain a healthier, younger brain.
The brain can suffer from numerous disorders that can be divided into:
Traumatic events such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, and global brain ischemia.
Aging-related degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or dementia.
Psychiatric and mood disorders, including schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression.
Mentally stimulating activities are vital to keeping the brain young. Different brain activities, such as solving puzzles, math problems, or anything that may require at least some cognitive effort, contributes to the maintenance of the brain’s neural plasticity.
Neural plasticity is the ability of the central nervous system (CNS) to adapt to changes in the environment, aging, trauma, or injuries. It’s an important brain process in which neural networks work together to build a more resilient nervous system and maintain its proper functioning.
Improved reaction Time, Memory, and Mood
The first placebo-controlled study to demonstrate some of the benefits of Light Therapy treatments on the human brain was performed in 2013. Multiple improvements were observed among participants who received Light Therapy compared to the placebo group. Light therapy participants experienced:
Quicker reaction time, proved with the sustained-attention psychomotor vigilance task (PVT) that measured the speed by which study participants responded to visual stimulus.
Better memory, proved by the delayed match-to-sample (DMS) memory task, where the outcome measures included measuring readiness for a quick response and the number of correct trials.
Improved mood, as Light Therapy helped participants to sustain more positive emotional states. The mood was measured by the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS), a clinical survey that measures feelings and emotions. The participants were asked to fill the form in before and two weeks after having a treatment.
Light Therapy against Cognitive Decline
In a more recent study effort, researchers treated older adults who were at risk of cognitive decline with Light Therapy. A positive neurocognitive effect was observed among the participants in this study, all of whom aged between 49 and 90. Some of the participants also struggled with cognitive decline due to vascular disease, however, Light Therapy was effective regardless of the nature of their cognitive decline.
As Light Therapy helped the elderly participants boost cognitive scores, researchers on the team were also able to observe their increased brain waves power (alpha, beta, and gamma brain waves in their resting state).
Combating age-related cognitive decline with Light Therapy has been in the focus of another recent study, published in February 2019. This study examined the frontal brain functions among elderly men. Frontal brain functions are key to directing behavior. The participants were divided into two groups, treatment, and placebo. Those who received treatment indeed showed improved cognitive performance following the treatment. These results demonstrate that Light Therapy can really work in a safe manner to treat age-related cognitive decline.
Light Therapy and Executive Function
As of 2017, we also know that Light Therapy can improve the brain’s executive function. This is your ability to manage time, pay attention, change focus, plan, organize, multitask, remember details, or avoid saying the wrong thing at the wrong time3. In other words, the ability to create and meet goals.
As research further suggests, Light Therapy helped study participants to better perform in the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task (WCST)4. This is a neurophysiological test where the task-takers are asked to match a set of cards presented to them, in an attempt to assess their ability to demonstrate cognitive flexibility–a key process in cognitive ability. They are not told how to match the cards, but only if their particular match is correct or not. The WCST is a clinical way to measure the brain’s executive function. Those participants who received Light Therapy made fewer errors on the task and demonstrated improved set-shifting ability compared to the control group.
Such results suggest that Light Therapy improves the brain’s executive function and may have intriguing potentials for treating or preventing deficits resulting both from aging or neuropsychological disorders which include conditions such as epilepsy, stroke, migraines, brain tumors, dementia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s among others.
Can Light Therapy Improve Your Ability to Learn?
In 2017, scientists tested 118 people to see if Light Therapy can have a meaningful impact on their learning abilities. In a similar fashion to previous research, the participants were divided into treatment and placebo groups. Light Therapy showed that the treatment group improved their learning capabilities.
During the trial, the Light Therapy device was directed at the lateral prefrontal cortex of participants, and following treatments, they experienced faster and better rule-based learning5. So, imagine having all participants been bartenders demanded to know the exact ingredients of Mojito, Bloody Mary, Margarita, and other essential cocktails. This Light Therapy treatment would have aided their ability to remember all the ingredients needed for fashioning each drink, adding each ingredient in the desired sequence, or remember who on the table ordered a stronger Bloody Mary. We demonstrate this type of ability through our brain’s rule-based learning capacity.
Different life events may inhibit our brain’s ability to learn. Aging certainly is one of them. Other reasons may include extended exposures to pesticides or neurotoxins, which impair the mitochondria in brain cells. Since Light Therapy kind of “exercises” the mitochondria and prompts the brain to forge new neural networks, the process itself acts as a cognitive rehabilitation6. Which also leads us to the next section.
Light Therapy and Traumatic Brain Injuries
Cognitive decline may occur due to traumatic brain injuries, too. A person who suffers from one may face memory or concentration problems, mood swings, depression, anxiety, or speech problems among other TBI manifestations. What gives hope is another batch of studies that attests to the positive cognitive benefits among TBI patients from receiving Light Therapy.
Light Therapy has been shown to stimulate the growth of new nerve tissue and synapses in damaged brain cells, thus improving the cognitive brain functions of those patients who not only suffer from TBI but also from Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The latter is a degenerative brain disease prevalent among athletes and military veterans or anyone who presents with a history of repetitive brain trauma.
It’s common knowledge that as we age, our normal brain function gets disrupted. We tend to find it harder to recall information, memorize names, and respond with reason. The decline of our mental acuity causes these commonplace mental problems. Contrary to popular belief, aging is not the sole culprit for mental deterioration. Many factors, such as aging, lifestyle changes, and environmental stress, contribute to the decline of mental acuity.
As cognitive decline progresses, significant mental changes can result in disorders such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. While these can be common aspects of life, they aren’t inevitable. Many medical experts believe that there are many lifestyle changes that you can take to prevent the degradation of Mental Acuity.
What is Mental Acuity?
Mental acuity is known as the sharpness of the mind. It involves our cognitive ability to concentrate, process, understand, reason, and memorize. On the other hand, intelligence means the extent to which our brains absorb and process a specific amount of information at a given amount of time. Mental acuity is a natural and essential aspect of our brain health and is not a measure of how “smart” we are.
Mental acuity allows us to perform daily activities effectively and efficiently. When our cognitive ability functions well, we’re more capable of doing things without damage or conflict.
What are the symptoms of a Deteriorating Mental Acuity?
Some signs of a deteriorating cognitive ability may be subtle. However, when left untreated could progress over time to more serious mental disorders. According to the National Institute on Aging, 8 out of 10 people who experience amnestic mild cognitive impairment develop into having Alzheimer’s disease.
Here are some early symptoms of a deteriorating mental acuity:
Absent-mindedness and having trouble concentrating
Forgetfulness of specific details like names, dates, events, and facts
Inability to reason and make vital decisions
Difficulty in retrieving information
Difficulty in following simple instructions
How to Improve Mental Acuity
Prevention is better than cure when it comes to developing chronic brain disorders. Here’s how you can take your brain health into your own hands by observing these lifestyle habits:
Ensure a well-balanced diet
Getting enough nutrition is the key to ensure mental sharpness. Making sure you eat a well-balanced diet can help your body supply enough nutrients to your brain. Omega 3 Fatty Acids are essential nutrients that help build and restore brain cells. The brain also needs antioxidants to prevent inflammation.
Excessive intake of toxins such as alcohol and drug can depreciate your mental ability. Experts agree that poor gut health also results in a weakened immune system. As a result, it weakens your body’s inflammatory response. A poor inflammatory response causes mental disorders such as schizophrenia and dementia.
Have Enough Sleep
Irregular sleep patterns and sleep deprivation disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm that can lead to short-term mental problems as well as long-term chronic health problems.
Your body’s circadian rhythm is a natural body clock that controls your sleep-wake schedule as well as your digestive patterns. When you’re sleep-deprived, these rhythms get disturbed. As a result, you experience headaches, mood swings, and difficulty to focus and recall information. Aside from these unwanted effects, not having enough sleep also negatively impacts your overall brain health.
Get Yourself Moving
Exercise isn’t just for physical and aesthetic purposes. It also affects brain function in multiple ways. When you exercise, your body pumps more oxygen into your brain through an increased heart rate. Exercise allows your body to release hormones that are vital in nourishing your brain cells. It also promotes growth factors in your brain to assist in the growth of neuronal connections.
A study at the University of Georgia shows that a 20-minute exercise daily can improve memory retention and information processing. Many experts agree that a sedentary lifestyle may accelerate your way into cognitive decline.
Use Red Light Therapy
Red Light therapy is a more modern approach to non-invasive and low-risk medical treatments. It is a form of photobiomodulation that allows light to change human cells' physiology that causes a wide range of benefits such as biological balance and cellular energy.
Kaiyan Medical is one of the pioneers of Red light therapy that uses red wavelengths to deliver benefits to the skin and near-infrared lights to penetrate deeper within the skin’s surface. This dual technology allows for better absorption and effectiveness of the benefits of Red light therapy.
As near-infrared wavelengths penetrate the brain’s cellular system, it promotes energy production by stimulating the mitochondria. It also prevents stress by keeping away oxidative stress. Thus, it delivers multiple benefits such as better blood flow, faster cell regeneration, and improved healing.
A study shows that red light therapy has significantly improved brain function when given to patients with cognitive dysfunction. All these benefits are vital in promoting and maintaining a healthy mental acuity. Red light therapy delivers all these cellular benefits to promote better sleep quality and a more balanced circadian clock.
As you maintain these lifestyle changes, you can experience a more improved brain function and better brain health. Now you can defy all odds and allow your brain to perform at its peak by having a healthy lifestyle and a balanced body.
Imagine that the movement of a single hair on your arm causes severe pain. For patients with neuropathic pain — a chronic illness affecting 7 to 8% of the European population, with no effective treatment — this can be a daily reality.
Scientists from EMBL Rome have now identified a special population of nerve cells in the skin that are responsible for sensitivity to gentle touch. These are also the cells that cause severe pain in patients with neuropathic pain. The research team, led by EMBL group leader Paul Heppenstall, developed a light-sensitive chemical that selectively binds to this nerve cell type. By first injecting the affected skin area with the chemical and then illuminating it with near-infrared light, the targeted nerve cells retract from the skin’s surface, leading to pain relief. Nature Communications publishes the results on 24 April 2018.
The Spicy Effect
By clipping off the nerve endings with light, the gentle touch that can cause severe pain in neuropathic patients is no longer felt. “It’s like eating a strong pepper, which burns the nerve endings in your mouth and desensitizes them for some time,” says Heppenstall. “The nice thing about our technique is that we can specifically target the small subgroup of neurons, causing neuropathic pain.”
There are many different nerve cells in your skin, which make you feel specific sensations like vibration, cold, heat, or normal pain. These cells are not affected by the light treatment at all. The skin is only desensitized to the gentlest touch, like a breeze, tickling, or an insect crawling across your skin.
Illumination vs. Drugs
Previous attempts to develop drugs to treat neuropathic pain have mostly focused on targeting single molecules. “We think, however, that there’s not one single molecule responsible. There are many,” Heppenstall explains. “You might be able to succeed in blocking one or a couple, but others would take over the same function eventually. With our new illumination method, we avoid this problem altogether.”
Touch and pain were assessed by measuring reflexes in mice affected by neuropathic pain in their limbs. Affected mice will normally quickly withdraw their paw when it is gently touched. After the light therapy, however, they exhibited normal reflexes upon gentle touch. The therapy's effect lasts for a few weeks, after which the nerve endings grow back, and gentle touch causes pain again.
The team also investigated human skin tissue. The tissue's overall makeup and the specifics of the neurons of interest appear to be similar, indicating that the method might be effective in managing neuropathic pain in humans. “In the end, we aim to solve the problem of pain in both humans and animals,” says Heppenstall. “Of course, a lot of work needs to be done before we can do a similar study in people with neuropathic pain. That’s why we’re now actively looking for partners and are open for new collaborations to develop this method further, with the hope of one day using it in the clinic.”
Muse is a wearable device in the form of a headband that senses the brain's electrical rhythms (EEG). The headband is coupled with a smartphone app (Calm) that monitors the user’s brain electrical activity and gives immediate feedback to achieve a “calm” or meditative pattern. Over time, the use of this device is thought to help reduce distractibility, improve stress control, and improve mood.
The headband is light and comfortable but requires a bit of experience to fit properly and to transmit reliable signals by BlueTooth to the associated smartphone app. The device will not work with older versions of many smartphones (such as the iPhone 4). The instructions for use are straightforward and easy to follow, and the program is up and running within minutes. Once one gets started, it is straightforward to adjust settings and to personalize the program.
The user is asked to sit quietly with eyes closed and to focus on counting expirations. The app displays one of two pleasant visual backgrounds associated with wind or water sounds. The volume and frequency of these weather sound decrease as the EEG rhythm become the “calm” state. Therefore, one gets immediate and easy to understand feedback as to how one is doing. The sessions can be set to last from 3 minutes to 45 minutes.
Immediately after finishing a session, the app provides a graphical depiction of one’s EEG rhythm, grouped into “calm,” “neutral,” or “active” bands. The app calculates the amount of time spent “calm” and awards points for “calm” time. The points are associated with certain awards and expressions of positive feedback. Besides, the app graphically displays the percentage of time spent “calm” over variations and prescribes several challenges to increase time performance. All times performance of this is lovely and easy to understand and to manipulate.
The company’s website provides a great deal of information regarding frequently asked questions and troubleshooting. When I submitted a question to the company over the website, I received an answer within hours. The app allows one to permit for session data to be aggregated by the company for research purposes. I think it is useful to share personal data because they may ultimately determine how effective the device might be.
The Muse headband is a remarkable technological advance over earlier versions of EEG neurofeedback technologies. Neurofeedback is a technique that has been employed for mental health conditions for more than a decade and formerly required a link between traditional EEG recording devices with desktop or laptop computers. Through operant conditioning, these techniques seek to alter brain functioning by giving live feedback about EEG rhythms to the patient. Patients are rewarded if they can achieve certain EEG rhythm characteristics, such as decreased theta activity (4–7 cycles per second) or an increase in alpha activity (12–15 cycles per second). A higher proportion of alpha wave activity is thought to be associated with focused attention and a feeling of calm or well-being.
Traditional neurofeedback techniques have never been fully tested in psychiatric conditions for several reasons. First, these techniques are not protected by exclusive intellectual property, so industrial funding for large-scale trials has not been available. Similarly, devices designed to deliver neurofeedback have not been seen as unique medical devices by the FDA, which could be protected by patents. Furthermore, there is some disagreement about which pattern of EEG rhythms would be most therapeutic for particular groups of patients. I was not able to locate references to clinical trials using Muse technology specifically. Although not formally approved for clinical use by the FDA, many clinics currently offer neurofeedback treatments. However, widespread clinical adoption of neurofeedback has not occurred due to concerns about cost relative to the uncertainties about efficacy. Most protocols recommended that individuals come to a supervised clinical setting for multiple sessions per week over several months. This is a time consuming and expensive endeavor which, due to lack of published scientific data on efficacy, is not reimbursed by insurance companies. With the Muse technology, EEG neurofeedback has entered the world of self-directed activity using a wearable device coupled with a smartphone app. Therefore, the cost is much reduced, and it becomes feasible to decide individually whether the techniques are a worthwhile investment of time.
The Muse headband costs $299, and the app is free. This appears to be a very reasonable cost, given the complexity of the technology and the amount of information obtained with its use.