Neurofeedback is guided brain training. Guided is the key word. Many commercials are appearing for brain training systems to offset or undo many of the progressive brain problems that occur over time such as memory loss, anxiety, depression and others. Most systems simply are exercises to try to re-teach the brain into a more normal pattern of function whether for memory difficulty, anxiety or for other common problems. However, no two people have the same pattern of brain imbalance, and therefore no two will respond as well to a single training program.
The body shows its wear with life. Diet, stress, injuries and other occurrences all lead to changes in the body progressively over time. That seems pretty obvious. The brain is no different, changing with every challenge life throws at it.
Just as the changes are seen in the body with life’s stresses over time, changes are also seen in the brain. The only difference is that the changes in the brain show up primarily as changes in function; a little anxiety, forgetfulness, depression, learning difficulty, attention deficit and more.
Chronic psychosocial stress seems to be greater for all of us than it was 20-30 years ago, and it is a way of life for many people. Mental stress activated the stress response system. This system activated the adrenal glands to produce cortisol which alerts the brain and alters our ability to lower blood sugar. The brain runs primarily on glucose so during high alert states induced by stress, we are hormonally driven to maintain higher blood sugar. Chronic stress and the cortisol reaction can eventually cause ongoing elevations of blood sugar.
Mental stress also activates the sympathetic nervous system or the “alarm system”. This increases pulse rate, blood pressure and inhibits digestion. Over time those changes adapt to chronic stress and become ongoing.
When chronic mental stress alerts the brain over too long an interval, the brain “learns” that pattern. In the short-term it is a state of heightened alertness. However, over the long-term, chronic activation of this pattern causes anxiety.
The brain is the most metabolically active tissue in the body. It is also the only tissue that must run almost exclusively on glucose. Reoccurring episodes of low blood sugar or high blood sugar begin to alter brain function. Typical imbalances that occur from chronic chemical stress to the brain include anxiety, ADD, ADHD, “brain fog” and depression.
The brain is also very sensitive to food additives called “excitotoxins”. The most notorious of these is MSG, but they include many other additives such as dyes, flavor enhancers and others. There is a very good book on this subject that was written by a medical neurologist, The Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills, by Russell Blaylock, M.D. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTSvlGniHok)
Cortisol is a multitasking hormone. In addition to raising brain alertness to deal with stress, it is also anti-inflammatory. Perhaps the greatest ongoing cause is an allergy or sensitivity, particularly food sensitivities. When the adrenal glands are chronically activated to fight inflammation, the abnormally high levels of cortisol change brain activation to an ongoing pattern of anxiety.
A key trait of the brain is that it is neuroplastic. This simply means that you can teach it new information or function with repetition. This is both the best and the worst trait of the brain. If it is taught tennis, it will learn tennis. If it is taught stress, it will learn stress.
Over time all of the above factors generating a stress response patter in the brain actually teach the brain to operate in an imbalanced stress pattern. When this happens normal everyday events that are not stressful are perceived as stressful by the brain altering its function. This induces anxiety, attention deficit, and other changes that over time produce depression. Some degree of memory loss is a universal feature in all of those states.
The good news is that if the brain has been trained into a bad pattern inducing memory loss, anxiety, attention deficit, and other problems, the best trait of the brain can be used to correct it. EEG guided neurofeedback training can be used to re-train the brain back into a normal pattern.
Neurofeedback uses two simultaneous methods to retain the brain back to more normal function. The first is “entrainment” which uses different colored light-emitting diodes to teach different areas of the brain more balanced brain wave patterns. Glasses with 4 diodes in each side emit different frequencies and colors of flashing lights. Each frequency and color pattern stimulates a different part of the brain cortex teaching it a more balanced pattern.
Entrainment has been compared to an observation made with two pendulum clocks in the 17th century. If the pendulums are out of sync and the two clocks are left close to each other for a period of time, their vibrational pattern eventually causes them to oscillate in synchronization.
The second training method is neurofeedback itself. This involves watching a movie while monitoring EEG electrodes are measuring brain wave activity over a specific brain lobe. The EEG feedback is integrated with the movie sight and sound. When the brain waves wander off the desired training pattern, the sight and sound of the movie dims causing the brain to “gain” to seek the right balance to return a clear picture and sound. Over subsequent sessions the brain gradually learns the correct brain wave activation pattern until it becomes an imbedded, learned response.
Neurofeedback is done simultaneously with entrainment for a compound training effect. The light diodes for entrainment are in the corners of the training glasses with the central area being open to allow the viewing of the movie.
Brain dysfunction and decline are becoming epidemic in society. One in five Americans uses a medication for a psychiatric or behavioral disorder such as anxiety or depression with 1 in 4 women doing so. This is an increase of 30% in one decade. Currently 6.5 million children use medications for ADD and ADHD, a startling 41% increase in one decade.
The problem is really not one of bad brain chemistry that can be compensated with a drug; it is a problem of function, and function can be changed. For those who want to get their brain back, neurofeedback is the best choice.