How Hangovers Work

Anatomy of a HangoverI thought this article at Howstuffworks was appropriate just after the all day drinking fest that is St. Patrick's Day for many.

According to the article, a hangover from a heavy night (and/or day) of drinking is mainly due to dehydration.

The dehydration process begins with a chemical reaction in the brain; specifically the pituitary gland. This reaction causes less vasopressin to be released from the pituitary gland, which in turn causes the kidneys to send water directly into the bladder (rather than reabsorbing it).

So why do hangovers cause headaches? Apparently the massive amount of dehydration by the morning causes the body's organs to steal water from the brain.

According to the article, this causes "the brain to decrease in size and pull on the membranes that connect the brain to the skull, resulting in pain". This cannot be good for neuronal health!

Based on this information it seems that the best way to avoid a hangover is to drink plenty of water along with those heavy booze. There are other things (e.g. electrolytes) that are lost along with H2O, however.

I'm not convinced that these really work, but some hangover prevention pills on the market may help to avoid losing these essential chemicals.

Each type of drink has a different kind of hangover associated with it, according to this article. Red wine and dark liquors have the worst side effects, while vodka is the least likely to cause a hangover.

If these articles are right, a good way to drink without getting a hangover is to take shots of water between shots of vodka (no one could tell the difference!), and maybe add a little orange juice (making a screwdriver) to add some electrolytes back into the mix. Anyone care to test out this theory…?

-MC

Neuroscience Blogs of Note, Part 2

brainsurprise3.pngI will follow up MC's recent post with a brief review of three other neuroscience-related blogs that are worth mentioning as we begin Neurevolution.
Brain Waves (http://brainwaves.corante.com/) is a self-labeled "neurotechnology" blog. Written by Zack Lynch, it is a real-world look at the effects and benefits derived from neuroscience research with regards to society, culture and economics. The author has a background in evolutionary biology but brings to light articles spanning a wide range of topics including neuroeconomics, nanotechnology, pharmaceutical research, perceptual illusions, and music appreciation. The focus of the blog however is on neurotechnology — on technological advancements that permit the improvement or study of the brain.

SCLin's Neuroscience Blog (http://forebrain.blogspot.com/) contains pointers to and summaries of recent neuroscience articles which focus on computational and cognitive neuroscience issues. While too technical to be of much value to the layperson, it reports on articles dealing with cutting-edge questions in neuroscience, such as the nature of the information code in the brain (e.g. meaningful representations in the prefrontal cortex) and information flow through neural pathways (e.g. the short-latency activation of dopaminergic neurons by visual stimuli).

Although It may be hard to classify as a neuroscience blog, Neurophilosophy (http://neurophilosophy.wordpress.com/) does contain a fair number of interesting posts for the neuroscientist, such as a recent one on mind-computer interfaces for robots. Recent articles however have focused more on topics as varied as biological mimicry, hibernation, bionic hands, animals that blow bubbles to smell underwater, and other non-neuroscience topics. As such, it focuses on fascinating science questions in general, of which neuroscience is certainly a part.

This ends our first review.  Stay tuned for further reviews, as well as new content and pointers to other interesting articles!

-PL 

Neuroscience Blogs of Note

A wired brainAs the first post on Neurevolution, I would like to review several other neuroscience blogs that have been around for a while.

First is Mind Hacks, a blog by the two authors of the book by the same name. According to the authors, the blog and book include "neuroscience and psychology tricks to find out what's going on inside your brain". Many of the topics covered are very similar to those that will be covered here: issues at the edge of cognition and neuroscience.

A post of particular interest simply quoted Marvin Minsky (a prominent figure in the field of artificial intelligence) from his book Society of Mind.

People ask if machines have souls. And I ask back whether souls can learn. It does not seem a fair exchange – if souls can live for endless time and yet not use that time to learn – to trade all change for changelessness.

What are those old and fierce beliefs in spirits, souls, and essences? They're all insinuation that we're helpless to improve ourselves. To look for our virtues in such thoughts seems just as wrongly aimed a search as seeking art in canvas cloths by scraping off the painter's works.

I found this quote very moving, as it expresses (by comparison) the wonderful joy of learning and change. It's also profound because it questions certain long-held assumptions about what immortality would be like, and what we would want it to be like.

Another post of interest explained how the retina ("the only part of the central nervous system visible from outside the body") and associated structures can reveal a great deal about cognitive functions. It turns out that as items are stored in working memory the pupil dilates (more with each successive item), and as the items are recalled and repeated back to the experimenter the pupil contracts down to its normal size. What does this say about system integration in the brain? It likely means that even low-level regions controlling pupil dilation or eye-movement initiation are tied intimately with regions involved in higher level cognition such as working memory. 

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