Friday, August 26, 2016

“20 Must-Know Facts to Harness Neuroplasticity and Improve Brain Health”

As a brain tumor survivor, I am constantly on the lookout for ways to improve my brain health. I am also a sucker for lists on how to improve myself. So I found this list of “20 Must-Know Facts to Harness Neuroplasticity and Improve Brain Health” written by Alvaro Fernandez, CEO of SharpBrains, helpful, insightful and inspiring. Here’s a link:
  1. There is more than one “It” in “Use It or Lose It” -- our performance depends on a variety of brain functions and cognitive skills, not just one (be it "attention" or "memory" or any other).
  2. Genes do not determine the fate of our brains. Thanks to lifelong neuroplasticity, our lifestyles are as important as our genes--if not more-- in how our brains grow and our minds evolve.
  3. We need to pay more attention to Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) to verify whether any intervention causes an effect, and under what specific circumstances -- The media is doing quite a poor job, in our view, to educate the general public.
  4. The largest recent RCT (the ongoing FINGER study) and a 2010 systematic review of all relevant RCTs provide useful guidance: First, they report a protective effect of social and cognitive engagement, physical exercise, and the Mediterranean diet. Second, the average benefits at the population level appear quite limited, so we need to have realistic expectations.
  5. Physical exercise and increased fitness promote brain functioning through a variety of mechanisms, including increased brain volume, blood supply and growth hormone levels.
  6. Cardiovascular exercise that gets the heart beating – from walking to skiing, tennis and basketball – seems to bring the greatest brain benefits; thirty to sixty minutes per day, three days a week, seems to be the best regimen.
  7. Mental stimulation strengthens the connections between neurons (synapses), improving neuron survival and cognitive functioning. Mental stimulation also helps build cognitive reserve, helping the brain better cope with potential AD pathology.
  8. Routine activities do not challenge the brain. Keeping up the challenge requires going to the next level of difficulty, or trying something new.
  9. The only leisure activity that has been associated with reduced cognitive function is watching television.
  10. Brain training can work, putting the "cells that fire together wire together" to good use, but available RCTs suggest some key conditions must be met to transfer to real-life benefits.
  11. The brain needs a lot of energy: It extracts approximately 50% of the oxygen and 10% of the glucose from arterial blood.
  12. The Mediterranean Diet, supplemented with olive oil and nuts, is associated with decreased risk of cognitive decline.
  13. Moderate doses of caffeine increase alertness but there is no clear sustained lifetime health benefit (or harm).
  14. Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption seems to lower the risk of dementia.
  15. Taking "brain supplements" of any kind does not seem to boost cognitive function or reduce risks of cognitive decline or dementia, unless directed to address an identified deficiency.
  16. The larger and the more complex a person’s social network is, the bigger the amygdala (which plays a major role in our behavior and motivation). There is no clear evidence to date on whether "online" relationships are fundamentally different from "offline" ones in this regard.
  17. Chronic stress reduces and can even inhibit neurogenesis. Memory and general mental flexibility are impaired by chronic stress.
  18. There is increasing evidence that meditation and biofeedback can successfully teach users to self-regulate physiological stress responses.
  19. We will not have a Magic Pill or General Solution to solve all our cognitive challenges any time soon, so a holistic multi-pronged approach is recommended, centered around nutrition, stress management, and both physical and mental exercise.
  20. Having said that, no size fits all, so it's critical to understand and address individual needs, priorities and starting points.

Copyright: <a href=''>mrspopman / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Monday, August 1, 2016

Latest Brain Tumor Celebrity: Gord Downie

I often re-post articles about celebrities because:
  • I sense that knowing a celebrity with a brain tumor somehow helps brain tumor victims feel like they aren’t the only ones fighting this wicked disease.
  • It draws attention to the need for a cure among the celebrities’ following which almost always expands beyond the brain tumor community of victims, survivors, doctors and the like.
  • It humanizes the impact of brain cancers.
So Today I ran across an article about Gord Downie from the Canadian Press who reports that “Canadian rock band the Tragically Hip begins what is being billed as its final tour after lead singer Gord Downie was diagnosed with a deadly brain cancer.”

If you are a Gord Downie fan, you may want to read about Glioblastoma (GBM) which is the brain tumor disease the article reports that he has. :-(

Monday, July 18, 2016

“New Liquid Aspirin Found To Be Ten Times More Effective In Killing Cancer Cells Than Chemotherapy”

This headline in “Science World Report” my eyeballs and didn’t let go until I read the very short article -
I then tracked down an article posted on - that gave more details. The article’s headline reported that “At a scientific meeting this week, researchers hail their evidence about a new soluble drug containing liquid aspirin as a potential breakthrough in the treatment of brain tumors.”

In this article, by Catharine Paddock PhD, reports that at the “Brain Tumours 2016 - From Biology to Therapy” meeting, held in Warsaw, Poland, 27-29 June, 2016 the news was announced.

An important part of the announcement was the claim that Prof. Geoff Pilkington and Dr. Richard Hill have figured out how to cross the “blood-brain barrier.”
Paddock writes that, “Researchers trying to develop cancer drugs for treating brain tumors have found it very difficult to create compounds that pass through the blood-brain barrier. Many cancer drugs that can defeat tumors in other parts of the body cannot pass through.”

Apparently, this new breakthrough enables cancer drugs to do just that.

Paddock goes on to report that “They ( i.e. Prof. Geoff Pilkington and Dr. Richard Hill) say their findings suggest the new drug could be highly effective against glioblastoma, one of the most devastating and most common type of brain tumor in adults say their findings suggest the new drug could be highly effective against glioblastoma, one of the most devastating and most common type of brain tumor in adults.

I suggest you read the entire article.

Monday, July 11, 2016

“Useless treatments common in young, terminal cancer patients”

That’s the headline of a story I’ve just reread that was written by Dennis Thompson of HealthDay -
This news makes me wince uncomfortably.

Thompson reports that “An analysis of insurance records found that cancer patients often undergo chemotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery in their final 30 days.”
I’m trying to better understand this and having trouble. Does this mean that concerned doctors are trying to save patients right up to the last second? Or does it mean that doctors are giving patients medicine that cannot help them, but makes $$$ for ______ (I’ll let you fill in the blink).

Thompson further reports that “In 2012, ASCO issued a set of guidelines for physicians that recommended against using aggressive measures in patients with advanced cancer who are unlikely to benefit from such treatment. Instead, doctors should focus on easing the patient's pain and symptoms, the guidelines say.

He also quotes Dr. Andrew Epstein, an ASCO expert in palliative care, saying, "Much more often than not, these types of care at the end of life are not helpful, and they are emotionally and physically harmful for patients, and emotionally harmful to the patients' loved ones." Epstein is a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.”

To see if these guidelines are being followed, researcher Dr. Ronald Chen -  associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill - and his colleagues reviewed claims data for more than 28,000 terminally ill cancer patients younger than 65 who died between 2007 and 2014. The patients lived across 14 different states and had been diagnosed with advanced lung, colon, breast, pancreatic or prostate cancer.

Guess what?

The investigators found that between 71 percent and 76 percent of patients received some form of aggressive care at the end of life, depending on their type of cancer.

Somehow this just makes me sad. Not only are these victims dying, it seems like they aren’t allowed to go peacefully.

I could be wrong. Maybe all of these victims want to fight to their last breadth no matter what the odds are.

Read the article and decide for yourself.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Crossing the blood-brain barrier to better combat brain cancer

Here’s some potentially good news from Ryan Cross who wrote about Alexandre Carpentier (pictured above), a neurosurgeon at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, who used “ultrasound to open the blood-brain barrier in patients with recurrent glioblastoma, the most common and deadly tumor originating in the adult brain—allowing for delivery of chemotherapy that would otherwise reach the tumor in minuscule amounts” -

As background, you should know that the protective sheath surrounding the brain’s blood supply—known as the blood-brain barrier—is a safeguard against nasty germs and toxins. But it also prevents existing drugs that could potentially be used to treat brain cancer or Alzheimer’s disease from reaching the brain.

According to Cross, “the procedure works by first injecting microbubbles into the bloodstream and then using a device implanted near patients’ tumors to send ultrasonic soundwaves into the brain, exciting the bubbles. The physical pressure of the bubbles pushing on the cells temporarily opens the blood-brain barrier, letting an injected drug cross into the brain.”

Here’s a link to the abstract:

Picture: Alexandre Carpentier holds the SonoCloud device, which he has implanted in 15 brain cancer patients.