Our Latest Brain News and Commentary
This will be one of our regular pages that summarize some
of the latest news about the brain, intelligence, and related
topics. You will notice a difference with the newest pages, which
is that there will be fewer links to original sources or at least
to exact pages for them. This is because many websites have been
changing the URLs of their pages, and rather than trying to keep
up with all the bad links on this site, we'll link to just the
homepage or mention the source. Rest assured that if you want
to get the original articles you can always search at Google
or elsewhere using a clip of what is quoted here or the name
of the study in order to locate the primary sources.
On this page (written in November 2013), we look at whether
quitting an addictive drug cold turkey can cause a mental decline,
how obesity may be bad for the brain, and the question of how
early retirement affects brain function. We wrap things up with
research into IQ and longevity, with this authors thoughts about
Cold Turkey Brain Damage
Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center, in animal
studies, found that managing withdrawal from morphine addiction
resulted in better outcomes than taking the animals off the drug
all at once. The study was reported in Brain, Behavior and
Immunity. Italo Mocchetti, PhD, and his colleagues, have
suggested there research on animals challenges the idea that
addictive drugs alone are the cause of mental decline in those
who abuse them, suggesting that withdrawing too quickly might
be partly to blame.
After treating animals with morphine and while allowing them
to withdraw from the substance, they measured pro-inflammatory
cytokines in the brain. These can cause damage and cell death.
They also looked at CCL5, a protein which protects the brain.
Interestingly, we found that treating the addicted animals
with morphine both increased the protective CCL5 protein while
decreasing pro-inflammatory cytokines, suggesting a beneficial
More research will have to be done, especially to discover
if the same effects are seen with withdrawal from other drugs.
In the meantime it seems that, if you want to quit, it might
be wise to ease off of cigarettes, alcohol, or any other drugs
that you might be addicted to (easing off certainly made it more
comfortable the last time I quit caffeine).
Is Obesity Bad for Your Brain?
In recent years several studies have looked at the brain and
how it is affected by being overweight. The conclusion (in general)
is that being obese is bad for your brain. One study of 6,500
people in California, for example, found that those who carried
too much weight around their mid-section in middle age were more
likely to have dementia when they were older. A Swedish study
found that when compared to thinner people, those who were overweight
in their 40s had a faster decline in brain function in the decades
A study reported on by the BBC Online last year came to similar
conclusions. Shirley Cramer, who works with Alzheimer's Research
UK says: "We do not yet know why obesity and metabolic abnormality
are linked to poorer brain performance, but with obesity levels
on the rise, it will be important to delve a little deeper into
Other studies have shown that obese people often have signs
of brain damage. Research done on healthy adults in their 20s
and 30s found that the fatter subjects had lower gray-matter
densities. A study of 114 people between the ages of 40 and 66
found that the obese subjects had, on average, smaller and more
atrophied brains when compared with the thinner subjects.
It isn't entirely clear why fat affects the brain negatively.
More importantly, the causal connection is not clear. Some research
suggests that a gene called "FTO" affects both weight
gain and brain function, and that one version of the gene may
be the problem. People with two copies of the "bad"
version gain weight more easily. They may also have more brain
problems. This means that there may not be a direct causal connection
between gaining weight and diminished brain function, since they
both could be caused by particular version of the FTO gene that
some people have. Thus, losing weight or gaining weight may have
no direct effect on the brain. I'll report more on this in the
Work More to Keep Your Brain Healthy?
A study of 429,000 retirees in France, subjects who were chosen
specifically because they were previously self-employed, found
that they were less likely to have dementia if they continued
to work for a longer period. Carole Dufouil, the lead researcher,
was quoted by nextavenue.org as saying, "...all other risk
factors being equal, those who retired at 65 years old had a
14.6 percent lower risk of getting dementia than those who retired
Now, I understand the basic idea here, and I'm not even surprised
by the findings (probably nobody really was). Many of have seen
or heard about the man or woman who retires and starts mentally
declining quickly. But I suspect that if they studied those who
continued versus those who stopped formal employment or business
activities in favor of other engaging mental activity (writing,
volunteering as a mentor, traveling the world), they would find
no difference. It seems very unlikely that work alone is what's
of value here, and more likely that many people just don't know
how to find sufficient purpose and identity beyond their work.
IQ and Longevity
Researchers from the University of Glasgow and other universities
in Scotland found that IQ level may be related to longevity.
They published their findings quite a few years back (September
2003 issue of Psychosomatic Medicine), but it seemed worth reporting
on this again. The study used data from a 1932 test of 87,498
Scottish school children born in 1921, as well as other data,
and they tracked their subjects over a 70-year period.
What did they find? When born in wealthier neighborhoods,
people's life spans were the same regardless of IQ level, but
when born in a poor area, a person had a definite advantage in
longevity if he or she had a higher IQ in childhood. There are
several speculations as to why this should be, ranging from the
hypothesis that a higher IQ leads to adopting better health habits
to idea that those with higher intelligence are better able to
cope with many adverse situations in life.
It makes sense that it would increase lifespan in a poor neighborhood
and not in a wealthier one. Regular visitors to this website
and readers of the Brainpower newsletter know I'm not a big believer
in the value of a high IQ alone, without the "software"
or thinking habits that really make a difference. But having
better basic "hardware" has to be of some value.
It could certainly make it easier to find a way to live more
like the people in the wealthier areas, and so extend one's life
(lifespan differences between the poor and wealthy have been
It's also interesting that people with a lower IQ who already
lived in wealthier neighborhoods had no longevity disadvantage
from having less intelligence. Once again, this supports my idea
that it is our habits (both physical and mental) that are more
important, even if there is some marginal advantage to being
born with a better brain. Once we are beyond a certain level
of raw intelligence it is how we use it that matters most.