Some reflections on concussion from the author below. We can help if you do have concussion.
A Carolina Panthers player left the Super Bowl and was found to have a concussion.
By David L. Katz
Fortunately for me and the others gathered at the Katz home, we enjoyed a fabulous, Cuisinicity.com meal for the Big Game. No surprise there; my wife is the culinary genius behind the site.
Thank goodness for the wonderful dinner, because the game itself was rather disappointing. There was, I trust my fellow spectators will agree, an unusual bumper crop of penalties, some egregiously bad calls by the referees, some truly strange mistakes by players and a disquieting bounty of poor sportsmanship into the bargain. Congratulations to the Broncos and Peyton just the same, but seriously, weird game.
Alas, it also featured an announcement all fans of the game should now know is a reason for a collective wince: concussion protocol. Corey Brown, of the Carolina Panthers, left the game after a head injury, underwent neurological evaluation and was found to have a concussion.
I trust everyone now knows the ominous implications of that kind of injury if repeated periodically over the course of a career. The media attention to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, is considerable and rising. The movie “Concussion,” starring Will Smith, raises the profile further. I highly recommend the movie if you haven’t seen it, by the way. It is very well done, and beautifully acted, and entertaining even as it educates.
I have no particular expertise in CTE beyond any doctor’s basic understanding of it, and others have said plenty already. If you are interested, as every football fan should be, and certainly as every parent of a child inclined to play football must be, the relevant information is readily available. I will take the opportunity to make a different point, about the cultural malleability of “normal,” and thus, “acceptable.”
While I have no claim to the football-fan hall of fame, I like the game as much as the next guy. I am wondering more and more, though, if my entertainment is worth the price the players are paying.
Football is part of our culture, and thus normal. We might thus think that if it has occasional consequences, those, too, are normal. That may make them seem acceptable. But that’s the real danger here: complacency. We can perhaps only see it looking across cultures, rather than from corner to corner within the box that is our own.
Consider, for instance, the Gladiatorial Games of Roman times. Those were, infamously, contests to the death, whether between people, or people and wild, half-starved animals. The only vague approximations of any such barbaric entertainment in the modern world are, so far as I know, bull fighting, and the generally illegal contests between fighting dogs or roosters. There is no longer any mainstream interest in watching bloody death for entertainment.
But that’s simply because sensibilities and culture have evolved. The Romans were people just like us. Their society, too, was made up of mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles. They, too, knew love and compassion. But they cheered while watching young men, literally, kill one another. In their culture, it was normal, and thus acceptable; but I trust we agree history has reached a different verdict.
I happen to be a fan of both the late Heath Ledger, and Paul Bettany, and was thus predisposed to love the movie “A Knight’s Tale.” I’m no movie critic – I can’t say whether or not it’s a great movie – I can only say I like it.
The movie is especially noteworthy for how it handles anachronism. More than once, it features period elements, like music, and then transitions them to the modern analog, such as a rousing rendition of “The Boys Are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzy. More memorable still is a scene at a dance. Heath Ledger’s character is dancing with his love interest in the stylized manner of medieval folk dance. The music then transitions to the late, great David Bowie – “Golden Years,” to be exact – and the dancing keeps pace, morphing into what one would expect, more or less, in any given club on any given Saturday.
The director, I think, was telling us something important: The old-fashioned music and dance of medieval times would not have felt old-fashioned then. It was, simply, the music and dance of its day. It was normal. Showing medieval folk dancing to a modern audience says: this was an old-fashioned party. The director substituted “current” music and dance to show us how it felt to the participants. It was current and normal then, and no matter how it feels to us now, that’s how it would have felt to them.
That’s relevant to football. We are not willing to entertain ourselves by watching young men bash one another’s heads in with maces, as the Romans did. But we do entertain ourselves as young men bash their helmeted heads into one another repeatedly over a span of years, with all-too-often calamitous consequences.
Our gridiron heroes are latter-day gladiators. And their house – the house of football – inspires almost religious devotion in our culture. But that may be only because it is part of our culture. Imagine if football did not yet exist, and we were thinking of introducing it, and knew about CTE from the start. Would we add such a game and such a liability to our cultural entertainments?
The one-time editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, and later Medscape, Dr. George Lundberg, reflected along similar lines in the New York Times recently. He discusses cultural evolution over a much shorter period than the Middle Ages to now, noting a marked change in his personal – and our societal – enthusiasm for the brutalities of boxing. Both the sport and its following have changed dramatically in recent years, and he conjectures that football is in that same queue.
My principal mission here is to point out the inevitability of culturally induced blindness to the unacceptable elements of what is currently normal. We live in a time of epidemic obesity and its complications in our children, yet continue to market multicolored marshmallows to them as “part of a complete breakfast.” This is absurd, and history will judge us accordingly, but it’s normal now – and so we overlook the hypocrisy. Cultures around the world justify practices as heinous as female genital mutilation. What passes for “normal” is self-defining, and to some extent, self-perpetuating.
Until, that is, we evolve beyond it. Looking back, what was normal yesterday often proves repulsive and contemptible today.
We speak routinely about “thinking outside the box,” but when the box is culture, that is much easier said than done. Everything we know is inside the box, as are we. The contents of the box at any given time are normal.
History turns the years into a ladder. Out of the box we all climb, into a bigger box presumably, as we gain the perspective of altitude, and roll our eyes at the mess we’ve left behind.
I love watching football. The Romans presumably loved their gladiatorial games. Both are normal in context. That doesn’t guarantee that either is right.
For the sake of today’s players, and our sons inclined to take their places, I hope we reform the game of football sooner than later. It’s a great game, but not when paid for with brains scrambled, and lives cut short.
In general, we need to recognize how readily we follow the gospel of any given culture telling us what’s normal. We need to recognize that normal is simply what we do now, and that it isn’t necessarily right. Perhaps the true measure of cultural enlightenment is how ably we judge ourselves in real time as history is sure to do in the fullness of time.
People who exercise have better mental fitness, and a new imaging study from UC Davis Health System shows why. Intense exercise increases levels of two common neurotransmitters — glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA — that are responsible for chemical messaging within the brain.
Published in this week’s issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, the finding offers new insights into brain metabolism and why exercise could become an important part of treating depression and other neuropsychiatric disorders linked with deficiencies in neurotransmitters, which drive communications between the brain cells that regulate physical and emotional health.
“Major depressive disorder is often characterized by depleted glutamate and GABA, which return to normal when mental health is restored,” said study lead author Richard Maddock, professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “Our study shows that exercise activates the metabolic pathway that replenishes these neurotransmitters.”
The research also helps solve a persistent question about the brain, an energy-intensive organ that consumes a lot of fuel in the form of glucose and other carbohydrates during exercise. What does it do with that extra fuel?
“From a metabolic standpoint, vigorous exercise is the most demanding activity the brain encounters, much more intense than calculus or chess, but nobody knows what happens with all that energy,” Maddock said. “Apparently, one of the things it’s doing is making more neurotransmitters.”
The striking change in how the brain uses fuel during exercise has largely been overlooked in brain health research. While the new findings account for a small part of the brain’s energy consumption during exercise, they are an important step toward understanding the complexity of brain metabolism. The research also hints at the negative impact sedentary lifestyles might have on brain function, along with the role the brain might play in athletic endurance.
“It is not clear what causes people to ‘hit the wall’ or get suddenly fatigued when exercising,” Maddock said. “We often think of this point in terms of muscles being depleted of oxygen and energy molecules. But part of it may be that the brain has reached its limit.”
To understand how exercise affects the brain, the team studied 38 healthy volunteers. Participants exercised on a stationary bicycle, reaching around 85 percent of their predicted maximum heart rate. To measure glutamate and GABA, the researchers conducted a series of imaging studies using a powerful 3-tesla MRI to detect nuclear magnetic resonance spectra, which can identify several compounds based on the magnetic behavior of hydrogen atoms in molecules.
The researchers measured GABA and glutamate levels in two different parts of the brain immediately before and after three vigorous exercise sessions lasting between eight and 20 minutes, and made similar measurements for a control group that did not exercise. Glutamate or GABA levels increased in the participants who exercised, but not among the non-exercisers. Significant increases were found in the visual cortex, which processes visual information, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which helps regulate heart rate, some cognitive functions and emotion. While these gains trailed off over time, there was some evidence of longer-lasting effects.
“There was a correlation between the resting levels of glutamate in the brain and how much people exercised during the preceding week,” Maddock said. “It’s preliminary information, but it’s very encouraging.”
These findings point to the possibility that exercise could be used as an alternative therapy for depression. This could be especially important for patients under age 25, who sometimes have more side effects from selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), anti-depressant medications that adjust neurotransmitter levels.
For follow-up studies, Maddock and the team hope to test whether a less-intense activity, such as walking, offers similar brain benefits. They would also like to use their exercise-plus-imaging method on a study of patients with depression to determine the types of exercise that offer the greatest benefit.
“We are offering another view on why regular physical activity may be important to prevent or treat depression,” Maddock said. “Not every depressed person who exercises will improve, but many will. It’s possible that we can help identify the patients who would most benefit from an exercise prescription.”
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So we all know that feeling that we get after exercise – we feel generally happier, less stressed, less anxious and also sleep better. Exercise produces a rush of happy hormones we also know as endorphins. So what are these endorphins and why do they make us feel happy?
Endorphins are chemicals that are produced in our brains in response to stress or pain. Running, doing a hard workout, playing a sport or any exercise at all that increases our bodies stress response has the ability to make our brains release endorphins. The endorphins have the ability to travel through our neural networks as a neurotransmitter. One thing we do know about endorphins is that they make us feel really good. So how does this work then?
A part of the brain called the hypothalamus sends a signal to increase endorphin uptake through our bodies neural network when we subject ourselves to certain activities like exercise, sex, eat certain foods or experience pain. The endorphins then attach themselves to specific receptor sites within our neural network – these are called opioid receptors. These special receptors have the ability to block out pain signals and also to increase that euphoric happy feeling we get after we exercise. It is the same receptors that are locked onto when we take pain relief in the form of opiates.
Once we achieve a positive result in something we do, either though through exercise or simple activities like sticking to a plan you’ve made, your brain will also release another happy hormone called dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for us feeling addicted to pleasure seeking behaviors. By setting regular and achievable exercise goals that you reach it is highly possible to make exercise the trigger for your brain to release dopamine.
Serotonin is another one of our brains happy hormones that act as a natural anti-depressant. When we exercise serotonin levels in our brain increase and so does your level of happiness.
I know all these terms may seem confusing but there is another very important happy hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin is released when we feel loved, cared for and connected to others. Your brain will also release oxytocin when you are kind to others.
So no matter how hard it may seem to get yourself moving on some days, putting one foot in front of the other and pushing yourself to move and exercise is not only good for your muscles and joints but also stimulates your brain. You’ll produce your very own happy hormones, reduces your stress levels and have you wanting to repeat it all over again next time. Give your fellow team mates, friends and family an encouraging kind words regularly as well- it will not only help them feel happy but will increase your happiness as well.