Could Your Eating Habits Be Affecting Your Brain?

This Is Your Brain on Junk Food

Junk Food

We’re not going to tell you junk food is bad for your body (you already know that).

We’re not even going to tell you junk food is bad for your brain (you probably figured as much). 

But what you might not know is how junk food is bad for your brain. Turns out, there’s actually quite a lot going on in that head of yours when you fuel your noggin with fatty, sugary foods.

For one thing, a new study suggests that a diet high in fat and sugar (for even a relatively short length of time) changes the chemical activity in the brain. After just six weeks of being fed a diet high in fat and sugar, mice showed chemical changes in the brain associated with depression. The mice also showed signs of anxiety, and higher levels of stress hormones, as well as higher levels of a molecule associated with patterns of reward and withdrawal.

Last year, another study linked eating foods high in trans fats with reduced brain performance and decreased brain volume!

According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, companies that manufacture food are already working to reduce the amounts of trans fats in food products. McDonalds, for example, stopped using trans fats to fry French fries a number of years ago.

Still, trans fats are so bad for your body and brain that the FDA is taking preliminary steps to further restrict or ban the sale of food containing trans fats.

In the meantime, what can you do? Do we even need to say it? Stop eating so much junk food.  Eat fresh fruits, vegetables and healthy grains instead. You’ve heard it before. But if you want to enjoy a healthy body and good brain performance as you continue to grow or age, it’s advice worth listening to.



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Classic Case of Christmas Brain

Want a Healthier Holiday Brain? Here are 5 Seasonal Pitfalls You Should Avoid

XmasThis time of year may be filled with Christmas cheer and holiday goodwill, but there are other seasonal factors that can have a less-than-pleasant impact on your brain. How can you keep your brain happy and healthy through the holidays? Here are five seasonal dangers and how you can avoid them:

1. Not Enough Sunlight. Seasonal Affective Disorder affects about 11 million people each year. Despite the colder weather, getting outside and into natural sunlight can help your mood. Taking vitamin D—known as “the sunshine vitamin”—and other supplements can also help beat those blues.

2. Too much food.  Let’s be honest, over-eating is a time-honored tradition at Christmas time. And while our holiday favorites are delicious, no one likes that groggy, full feeling hours after. To enjoy the holidays and be kind to your body and brain at the same time, treat your sweet tooth in moderation, choose beverages wisely to limit sugar and alcohol, if you eat out consider splitting a meal with someone, and try to manage your overall stress level so you’re not as drawn to the comfort food. Remembering these tips can help keep your energy high (and that top button on your jeans comfortably fastened).

3.Too much alcohol. Alcohol wreaks havoc with your brain in countless ways. If your holiday parties and gatherings include alcohol, make a plan. Set a drink limit for yourself and stick to it. If you find that difficult to do, think about creating new traditions by hosting or attending parties where alcohol isn’t served.  By avoiding binge drinking during the holidays (and throughout the year), you’ll stay safer, and your brain will be happier and healthier.

4.Too much time in front of the tube. Watching television during the holidays is enjoyable, but watching TV puts your brain waves into an autopilot mode that is highly suggestible (gee, do you think TV advertisers have figured that one out?). Some studies have even linked watching a lot of TV with attention and concentration issues. Playing board games with the family, going for walks, or spending time at the park are good alternatives that will allow you to have fun, get some fresh air, and keep your brain sharp.

5.Holiday Stress. Christmas time usually means family time, which can be nice, but can also mean an increase in the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. What are some proven ways of managing stress? Exercise, meditation, laughter, and favorite music help, and don’t forget the common-sense practice of saying no to overcommitment. 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Can Napping Resolve Some of Your Problems?

Fixing Painful Memories While You Sleep


When Todd was five, the neighbor’s cat went ballistic and gave him a really bad scratch. Twenty years later, Todd still steers clear of cats. In fact, areas of his brain involved in emotion and fear light up, and Todd starts to sweat and feel anxious, if someone even mentions cats

Can Todd train his brain to react differently? But now Todd has fallen in love with a woman who owns several cats and can’t imagine her life without her feline friends.

For years, people have sought relief from fearful or painful memories by exploring them in the safety of a psychologist’s office. There’s something about activating the regions of the brain involved in those memories—in settings where the anticipated outcome never materializes—that creates new associations. In other words, if Todd racks up enough scratch-free experiences talking about cats in the safety of a counselor’s office, seeing cats safely from a distance, or petting cats without consequence, the link Todd’s brain makes between cats and scratches will begin to weaken.

Scientists are figuring out a new way to desensitize the brain through these kinds of repeated, pain-free exposures. And they’re doing it during sleep. 

Researchers created fearful memories by delivering mild electric shocks to study participants at the same time the participants were shown pictures of faces and exposed to distinct scents, like lemon or mint. Pretty soon, all it took was seeing the pictures and smelling the scent and participants would break out in a slight sweat, their amygdalas on alert, anticipating the mild shock.

After training the brain to respond fearfully to certain images and smells, could researchers retrain the brain? Could they desensitize those memories? Create pain-free associations that would begin to diffuse the painful associations they had fostered? Even more intriguing, could they create pain-free associations while the participants were asleep?

They managed to do just that, and they accomplished it by having participants nap in the lab with electrodes on their scalps to monitor brain waves. During slow-wave sleep, when recent memories are most active, researchers repeatedly exposed the nappers to the same scents—lemon and mint—this time without any shocks.

At first, even while sleeping, participants responded the same way they had when they were awake, by sweating and with brain activity that indicated the same kind of negative anticipation. Before long, however, with repeated exposures, the volunteers began to show less negative reactions both in their bodies and their brains.

People who slept longer and received more “safe” exposures benefited the most from the treatment.

After waking up, participants continued to show decreased responses to the photos and scents, meaning the desensitization they demonstrated while sleeping stuck with them.

Will nap therapy replace talk therapy in the near future? Probably not. Although if the two approaches are ever combined, time spent on your psychologist’s couch might mean bringing along a pillow, as well.  

Is Your Teen's Texting Addiction Altering Their Brain?

Texting Alters Teen Brain Chemistry

texting vid

New data on teen texting is disturbing, to say the least. Over the past three years, teen texting is up 600%, with the average number of texts among teens hitting 3000 texts every month. Increasingly, doctors are treating teens for sleep disorders because one out of five teens wake up at night so they can text.

According to a report aired on ABC, doctors are describing the teen texting phenomenon as a physical addiction that can alter the brain.

Texting is addicting because the instant gratification of getting a text back floods the brain with dopamine, which is linked to pleasure and reward. In fact, the changes in brain chemistry are not unlike the changes that occur in the brain of someone addicted to drugs. Child neurologist Dr. Michael Seyffert explains that “Neuroimaging studies have shown that those kids who are texting have that area of the brain light up the same as an addict using heroin.”

You can watch the ABC report on texting here.  

Tags: , , , , , ,

Mia Tischer - From Marathon Training to Brain Training

Changing Lives, One Brain at a Time

miaA life changing realization came to Mia Tischer while she was training for a marathon. It dawned on her that if the body could be trained to enhance physical performance, why couldn’t the brain could be trained to enhance mental performance?

Shortly after that realization, Mia made the decision to partner with LearningRx, a brain training franchise, opening a brain training center in Naperville, Illinois.

“My background is in social services working with adults and children with disabilities,” Tischer said. “I have a passion for helping others who are struggling.”

According to Tischer, the range of people who are benefitting from her services is impressive. “We help kids and adults with learning struggles, autism, ADHD, dyslexia and more,” she explains. “We also help high-achieving students and successful adults looking for a competitive edge at school or on the job. Finally, we help seniors wanting to stay sharp, victims of strokes or traumatic brain injuries seeking to regain lost brain function.”

She adds, “As a culture, we value physical fitness. I want to build a culture of brain fitness.”

Read the rest of the article to learn more, including why Tischer says that, from her experience, “tutoring is a Band-Aid.”

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

ESPN Covers Sally Francklyn’s Recovery from a TBI

TBI Victim on the Road to Recovery with Brain Training


 “My name is Sally Francklyn and I have a traumatic brain injury.”

In their recent coverage of well-known freeskiier Sally Francklyn, ESPN describes the young woman as a writer, skier, and much-loved personality in the freeskiing industry. Sally, who had recently landed a position as a public relations spokesperson for ski gear icons Nordica and Arc’teryx, was backcountry skiing with friends in March of 2012 when an 800-foot slide into a rock wall shattered her helmet and left her with a traumatic brain injury. Doctors were unsure if she could survive.

Eighteen months after the debilitating accident, Sally writes about her ongoing recovery, crediting rehabilitation caretakers, therapists and trainers—including her LearningRx brain trainers—for the progress she’s made so far.

“We helped improve her memory, her ability to think, her ability to pay attention,” explained LearningRx President Dean Tenpas in an interview with ESPN. Sally worked one-on-one with a LearningRx brain trainer. LearningRx brain training uses intense mental exercise to stimulate the brain to strengthen, rewire and even create neural connections. For many LearningRx clients with TBIs, the results are life changing.  

Sally’s goal is to get back on the slopes in 2014.

“I can ride a bike with my dad now,” Sally writes, “and last spring I put my skis on again for the first time and walked around on snow-covered flat ground.”

ESPN’s coverage of the Sally’s ongoing story includes a video as well as a published account of the accident and recovery in her own words. ESPN will also be airing a video series in which Sally interviews other people in the ski community who have suffered hardships and managed to fight through them.

Watch Sally’s video and read about her story here.


Tags: , , , , ,

LearningRx Featured in Scientific American

Are Learning Styles Determined by Brain Skills or Preference?

Scientific-American Should teachers teach to individual learning styles?

Does research show that teaching to learning styles is effective?

Are learning styles determined by brain skills or preference?

An article in Scientific American explores these and other questions that matter to educators and parents everywhere.

The article begins with the story of Dr. Ken Gibson who, inspired by his own reading challenges, founded LearningRx, a brain training company that strengthens cognitive skills weaknesses.

According to Dr. Gibson, cognitive weaknesses are often at the root of preferred learning styles. That’s because students lean on their particular cognitive strengths as a way of compensating for one or more weaknesses. “We have a natural tendency to use the skills that are strongest,” Gibson adds. “That becomes our learning style.”

He does a great job of explaining why learning preferences develop. The burning question, then, is this: When schools accommodate those preferences by teaching to individual learning styles, does it help? Sophie Guteri, the article’s author, examines several studies, quoting researchers who say there’s no real evidence that accommodating individual learning preferences results in higher grades or better test performance.

In the article, Gibson doesn’t chime in on whether or not accommodations work. His point seems to be, instead, that they shouldn’t be necessary. That is, in fact, the premise behind his company, LearningRx. At LearningRx, students are given a cognitive skills assessment to identify weaknesses in skills including memory, logic, visual processing and auditory processing. Based on the results of that assessment, LearningRx brain trainers customize training exercises to target and strengthen those weaknesses. As weaknesses are strengthened, students find themselves better equipped to process incoming information in a greater variety of formats.

In this fascinating article, Guteri does an excellent job exploring the complexities of the issue, while the studies cited create a compelling case for interventions, such as brain training, that improve students’ ability to learn regardless of how material in the classroom is presented. 

Everyday Tips for Improving Your Brain

10 Ways to Improve Your Brain

200313650-001Did you know that living with stress, eating junk food, and embracing the sedentary life as a couch potato aren’t just bad for your mood and body, they’re bad for your brain, too? This is the reason professionals who deal with brain health often tout the benefits of exercise, eating well and reducing stress.

Your brain can benefit from other everyday things, as well. Laughter, for example, releases stress and—if you’re laughing with a friend—is a great way to connect with those around you. (Social connection is a key indicator of brain health, and experts say that social interaction helps build something called “cognitive reserve.”)

Getting plenty of sleep is also an everyday activity that is critical for brain health because it’s when you are asleep that your brain solidifies learning and makes recent memories permanent.

Christina Sevilla, center director of the LearningRx Brain Training Centers in Denver and Centennial, Colorado, provides a list of 10 tips for improving the health of your brain. She writes, “Often we think of brain fitness tips as being activities like memory games, brain teasers and logic puzzles. All those things do work our brains, but other aspects of our health also effect the efficiency and strength of our brains.”

Click on the link for all 10 tips in the article Everyday Tips for Improving Your Brain.

Tags: , , ,

The Real Cause of Dyslexia: Brain Scans Show the Story

What Causes Dyslexia?

iStock_000021178612XSmall A common myth about dyslexia is that it’s caused by weak visual processing.

One reason this myth is so stubborn is because it sounds reasonable. After all, we use vision to read, so if reading is hard, there must be a problem with the brain’s visual system, right?


Scientists have known for years that the real cause of dyslexia lies in the brain’s auditory system. Kids and adults with dyslexia who confuse letters like b’s and d’s don’t do it because they see the letters as the same, but because they hear them as the same.

It’s the reason interventions like one-on-one brain training that strengthen auditory processing are seven times more effective than tutoring at improving reading skills. (A Chicago School District study showed that, on average, one year’s worth of tutoring produces a three-month net gain in reading skills, while the average result of LearningRx one-on-one brain training is a three-year net gain in reading skills in just six months!).

Now groundbreaking research provides greater understanding into the link between dyslexia and the brain.

The study, conducted by researchers at The Center for the Study of Learning at Georgetown University Medical Center, used fMRI technology to compare the brains of children with and without dyslexia. What they discovered is that while children with dyslexia do show differences in the part of the brain responsible for visual processing, those differences are the result of dyslexia, not the cause.

The cause-and-effect intricacies of dyslexia could be seen when children in the study were given an intervention that strengthened auditory processing and phonemics. When auditory processing was improved, reading not only improved, but the part of the brain responsible for visual processing also showed increased activity. Researchers say this sequence of events suggests that visual processing is improved by better reading, and not the other way around.

The study confirms that “early identification and treatment of dyslexia should not revolve around these deficits in visual processing,” says Olumide Olulade, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and post-doctoral fellow at GUMC.


LearningRx Reviews: Mom says other treatments for her son's ADHD and ODD felt like "Band-Aids" until she found LearningRx

Mom says, after brain training, her son thinks quicker and has a much “better handle on life.”

LearningRx Reviews - Matthew: Student-of-the-Year“I was at the end of my rope.”

Those are the words of one mom, Jackie, after years of seeking help for her son. She explains, “We had him evaluated by psychologists. He had years of occupational therapy. We tried everything from brushing to joint compression. He started to be medicated and we saw some improvement in focus and attention, but many issues continued to be a problem. It was like putting a Band-Aid on something, but the underlying problem was always a problem.”

Jackie’s 9-year-old son, Matthew, had been diagnosed with ADHD, sensory integration dysfunction, and oppositional defiance disorder. His mother says he was miserable, anxious and depressed. She adds, “It was affecting his social relationships and his behavior in school. At home he was volatile, disruptive and incredibly difficult to deal with. I was beyond myself in frustration.”

Still searching for help, Jackie visited a dyslexia website and found a link to LearningRx. There she discovered a video of a news story about two kids with ADHD who had been helped so dramatically by LearningRx brain training programs that they were no longer on ADHD medication.

Jackie remembers her response after watching the video: “I sat there and cried because I thought, ‘There could be something I didn’t know about that could help my son.'”

LearningRx uses intense mental exercise—done one-on-one with a brain training coach—to stimulate the brain to change in ways that improve thinking, reading, learning, attention and more. Testing before and after the program measures changes in brain performance (in fact, LearningRx brain training is proven to raise IQ an average of 15 points!).

Clients and their families tell stories that support the statistics—even if getting started is hard. In the beginning, Jackie says the brain training sessions were difficult because they forced Matthew to face things that were hard for him. Even Matthew admits, “I hated it. I would storm outside. I would have fits, hide under a table.”

What kept the family returning week after week? Matthew’s relationship with his brain trainer was one of the keys. Matthew explains, “Adam is a really fun guy. He’s not like the kind of guy who is all serious. He jokes around. He still made me do it, but we had fun.”

The LearningRx results for this family were life changing. Jackie reports that “we have absolutely no oppositional behavior from our son anymore.” She says Matthew is having much greater success in life, not only academically but socially, too.

“Socially, he’s so much more accepted now because he gets the rules of how to act around other people, how to be accountable, how to not demand. He’s polite, cooperative. He has such a better handle on life.” She adds that her son is thinking quicker now, and is more capable of articulating this thoughts and feelings. “That’s helped his behavior tremendously, because now he can say what he feels and not just explode physically. His brain is able to connect the dots so much better.”

Matthew says he went from failing classes and being bullied, to getting As and Bs and having “a bunch of friends.”

Jackie says the six months Matthew spent working with a LearningRx brain trainer “changed his life. How do you say thank you for that? It’s one of the best investments we’ve ever made for our son.”

Watch Matthew, Jackie and others share their LearningRx reviews on video:

  • This family’s video testimonial won the LearningRx 2013 Student of the Year Video Contest. Watch Matthew’s and Jackie’s video here.
  • Kaiya, 13, struggled so much with reading and math her mother says that, before LearningRx, it was a struggle to get through each day. Since LearningRx, Kaiya is no longer behind in math, her grades and her confidence have soared, and she’s the first (instead of the last) to catch onto new choreography in her dance classes. Kaiya was a finalist in the LearningRx 2013 Student of the Year Video Contest. Watch Kaiya’s video here.
  • Candy, a college grad, woke up from a routine knee surgery and found that her memory had been erased—she didn’t even remember attending the Ivy League school where she obtained her degree! Before brain training, Candy’s cognitive skills were so weak that doctors told her family she would never be able to hold down a job or live on her own. Since brain training, Candy went back to school, earned an MBA, manages her own finances and is preparing to make a career move to another state! Candy was a finalist in the LearningRx 2013 Student of the Year Video Contest. Watch Candy’s video here.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,