5 Functions of the Pineal Gland

Currently 1:45 AM and I’m a INSOMNIAC READING this >>>>

https://www.healthline.com

What is the pineal gland?

The pineal gland is a small, pea-shaped gland in the brain. Its function isn’t fully understood. Researchers do know that it produces and regulates some hormones, including melatonin.

Melatonin is best known for the role it plays in regulating sleep patterns. Sleep patterns are also called circadian rhythms.

The pineal gland also plays a role in the regulation of female hormone levels, and it may affect fertility and the menstrual cycle. That’s due in part to the melatonin produced and excreted by the pineal gland. A 2016 study suggests that melatonin may also help protect against cardiovascular issues such as atherosclerosis and hypertension. However, more research needs to be done into the potential functions of melatonin.

Keep reading to learn more about the functions of the pineal gland.

1. Pineal gland and melatonin

If you have a sleep disorder, it could be a sign that your pineal gland is not producing the correct amount of melatonin. Some alternative medicine practitioners believe you can detox and activate your pineal gland to improve sleep and open your third eye. There is no scientific research to support these claims, though.

One way to control the melatonin in your body is to use melatonin supplements. These will typically make you feel tired. They may help you realign your circadian rhythm if you’ve been traveling to a different time zone or working a night shift. Supplements may also help you fall asleep faster.

For most people, low-dose supplements of melatonin are safe for both short-term and long-term use. Typically, dosages range from 0.2 milligrams (mg) to 20 mg, but the right dose varies between people. Speak to a doctor to see if melatonin is right for you and to learn which dosage is best.

Melatonin supplements may cause the following side effects:

  • sleepiness and drowsiness
  • grogginess in the morning
  • intense, vivid dreams
  • slight increase in blood pressure
  • slight drop in body temperature
  • anxiety
  • confusion

If you’re pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or nursing, talk to your doctor before using melatonin supplements. Additionally, melatonin may interact with the following medications and groups of medications:

  • fluvoxamine (Luvox)
  • nifedipine (Adalat CC)
  • birth control pills
  • blood thinners, also known as anticoagulants
  • diabetes medications that lower blood sugar
  • immunosuppressants, which lower the activity of the immune system

2. Pineal gland and cardiovascular health

2016 review  looked at past research on the connection between melatonin and cardiovascular health. Researchers found evidence that melatonin produced by the pineal gland can have a positive impact on your heart and blood pressure. They concluded that melatonin may be used to treat cardiovascular disease, though more research is needed.

3. Pineal gland and female hormones

There’s some evidence that light exposure and related melatonin levels may have an effect on a woman’s menstrual cycle. Reduced amounts of melatonin may also play a role in the development of irregular menstrual cycles. Studies are limited and often dated, so newer research is needed.

4. Pineal gland and mood stabilization

The size of your pineal gland may indicate your risk for certain mood disorders. One study suggests that a lower pineal gland volume may increase your risk of developing schizophrenia and other mood disorders. More research is needed to better understand the effect of pineal gland volume on mood disorders.

5. Pineal gland and cancer

Some research suggests that there may be a connection between impaired pineal gland function and cancer risk. A recent study on rats found evidence that lowering pineal gland function through overexposure to light led to cellular damage and increased risk for colon cancer.

Another study  found evidence that, when used with traditional treatments, melatonin may improve the outlook for people with cancer. This may be especially true in people with more advanced tumors.

More research is needed to determine how melatonin affects the production and blocking of tumors. It’s also unclear what dosage may be appropriate as a complementary treatment.

Malfunctions of the pineal gland

If the pineal gland is impaired, it can lead to a hormone imbalance, which can affect other systems in your body. For example, sleep patterns are often disrupted if the pineal gland is impaired. This can show up in disorders such as jet lag and insomnia. Additionally, because melatonin interacts with female hormones, complications may affect the menstrual cycle and fertility.

The pineal gland is located near many other important structures, and it interacts heavily with blood and other fluids. If you develop a pineal gland tumor, it may affect many other things in your body. Some early symptoms of a tumor include:

  • seizures
  • disruption in memory
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • damage in vision and other senses

Talk to your doctor if you have a sleep disorder, or if you want to know more about taking melatonin supplements.

Outlook

Researchers still don’t fully understand the pineal gland and melatonin. We know melatonin plays a role in setting sleep patterns with day-night cycles. Other research suggests that it helps in other ways, such as in regulating the menstrual cycle.

Melatonin supplements may be helpful in managing sleep disorders, such as jet lag, and in helping you to fall asleep. Remember to speak with your doctor before using melatonin, especially if you take certain drugs.

Q&A: Pineal gland malfunction

Q:

I have a sleep disorder. Could it be caused by a problem with my pineal gland?

A:

There isn’t very good research on what problems with the pineal gland look like. Very rarely, there can be pineal gland tumors. However, it seems as though the main symptoms come from the pressure these tumors cause, rather than changes in hormone production. People can also get calcifications, which may contribute to certain types of dementia in older people. In children, calcifications affect the sexual organs and skeleton.Suzanne Falck, MDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

Tips for a better night’s sleep

If you’re looking for a better night’s sleep, there are several methods you can use to try to improve your quality of sleep.

Go to sleep earlier. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night. If you know it takes you a while to fall asleep, start winding down earlier, and get into bed before you want to fall asleep. Consider setting an alarm to remind you to get ready for bed by a certain time.

Avoid the snooze button. Try to avoid using the snooze button on your alarm. Sleep between snoozes is of lower quality. Instead, set your alarm for the time you need to get out of bed.

Exercise regularly at the right time. Exercising regularly helps reduce anxiety and improves sleep quality. Even a 15-minute walk at a brisk pace can make a difference. Avoid exercising too close to bedtime, though. Instead, plan your workout so that you have at least a couple of hours between exercise and bedtime.

Try yoga and meditation. Both yoga and meditation can help you de-stress right before sleep.

Keep a journal. If racing thoughts are keeping you awake, consider writing your feelings down in a journal. While it may seem counterintuitive, this may actually make you feel more at ease.

Stop smoking. Nicotine, which is found in tobacco, is a stimulant. Using tobacco can make it harder to sleep. Smokers are also more likely to feel tired when they wake up.

Consider cognitive behavioral therapy. This involves seeing a certified therapist and getting some sleep assessments. You might also need to keep a sleep journal and refine your bedtime rituals.

Learn more: Can you take melatonin and birth control at the same time? »

Read more: 8 natural sleep aids »

Flickering light mobilizes brain chemistry that may fight Alzheimer’s

Flickering light mobilizes brain chemistry that may fight Alzheimer’s

Exposure to light pulsing at 40 hertz causes the brain to release a surge of cytokines which activate microglia and reduces neuroinflammation. The findings could help with the development of new treatments to fight Alzheimer’s disease.

Unconscious Memories Hide in the Brain but Can Be Retrieved

https://www.psychologytoday.com/ memories-hide-in-the-brain-can-be-retrieved

THE BASICS

Geralt/Pixabay

Source: Geralt/Pixabay

Unconscious fear-related memories can remain totally hidden from your conscious mind, yet they still have the ability to dramatically affect everyday behavior and emotions. Luckily, groundbreaking new research from Northwestern University has identified a specific brain mechanism that has the ability to hide traumatic memories in the brain—and also to retrieve them.  

The Northwestern researchers led by Jelena Radulovic, MD/PhD, professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences and pharmacology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, found that a process known as “state-dependent” learning contributes to the formation of fear-related memories that are inaccessible through normal cognition and consciousness.

The August 2015 study, “GABAergic Mechanisms Regulated by miR-33 Encode State-Dependent Fear,” appears in the journal Nature Neuroscience. In a press release, Radulovic, who is the principal investigator described the study saying,

The findings show there are multiple pathways to storage of fear-inducing memories, and we identified an important one for fear-related memories. This could eventually lead to new treatments for patients with psychiatric disorders for whom conscious access to their traumatic memories is needed if they are to recover.

“State-dependent” memory implies that returning to the particular place, mindset, activity, or drug-induced state in which the memory was initially encoded may be the only way to access these subconscious memories and bring them into conscious awareness.

State-dependent memories can be positive or negative. In many cases, traumatic or stressful experiences are buried from consciousness as a protective mechanism. Inadvertent or unexpected stimuli linked to the state-dependent memory can trigger acute flashbacks that are often the hallmark of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  

Researchers believe this process is a neural defense mechanism designed to protect the psyche of an individual from being incapacitated by fear-inducing memories. However, if suppressed memories aren’t coaxed out of hiding and brought to the surface, they often lead to debilitating psychological problems, such as anxietydepression, PTSD, or dissociative disorders.

Scientists Create and Retrieve Traumatic Unconscious Memories in Mice

For this experiment, the Northwestern scientists infused the hippocampus of mice with a drug called gaboxadol that stimulates extra-synaptic GABA receptors. “It’s like we got them a little inebriated, just enough to change their brain state,” Radulovic said.

In a process of classical conditioning, the mice were put in a “Skinner box” and given a mild and brief electric shock. When the mice were returned to the same box the next day, they were allowed to move freely and didn’t exhibit fear. This indicated that they didn’t recall the earlier shock in the same box and were fearless

However, when scientists infused the mice with more gaboxadol and returned them to the box, they froze in place, which was a sign that they were fearful and anticipating another shock. “This establishes when the mice were returned to the same brain state created by the drug, they remembered the stressful experience of the shock,” Radulovic said.

The experiment shows that when the extra-synaptic GABA receptors were activated with the drug, they changed the way the stressful event was encoded. In the drug-induced state, the brain engaged completely different molecular pathways and neuronal circuits to store the memory as being fear-related. 

Most memories are stored in distributed brain networks including the cortex, and can easily be accessed by consciously recalling an event. However, when the mice were in a different brain state induced by gaboxadol, the stressful event activated subcortical memory regions of the brain and hid the memories in the subconscious. 

“It’s an entirely different system even at the genetic and molecular level than the one that encodes normal memories,” said lead study author Vladimir Jovasevic, who worked on the study when he was a postdoctoral fellow in Radulovic’s lab. More specifically, this different system is regulated by a small microRNA, miR-33, and may be the brain’s protective mechanism for creating a type of amnesia when the memory of an abusive or traumatic event is so overwhelming it needs to be blocked from consciousness.

My Personal Experience With State-Dependent Fear-Based Memories 

In a recent Psychology Today blog post, “Cortisol and Oxytocin Hardwire Fear-Based Memories,” I wrote about intense state-dependent fear-related memories that became hardwired deep within my brain after being beaten up by three guys near my New York City apartment. In order to get over these fear-inducing memories, I returned repeatedly to the same bloodied slab of concrete where I had been attacked under safely controlled conditions and re-encoded the fear-based state-dependent memories and neutralized their crippling power.article continues after advertisement

Coincidentally, the inspiration for that post came from a study that was also led by Jelena Radulovic. Back in 2013, Radulovic discovered that one function of oxytocin is to strengthen social memory in a specific region of the brain.

She also discovered that if an experience is especially painful or distressing that oxytocin intensifies hardwiring of the negative memory. In a press release Radulovic said, “By understanding the oxytocin system’s dual role in triggering or reducing anxiety, depending on the social context, we can optimize oxytocin treatments that improve well-being instead of triggering negative reactions.”

I was excited to read about the new study by Radulovic this morning. For this study, Radulovic and her colleagues at Northwestern Medicine, have discovered for the first time the mechanism by which state-dependent learning renders stressful fear-inducing memories consciously inaccessible by studying mice.

The Yin-Yang of Glutamate and GABA

I’ve been fascinated with the role of glutamate and GABA in controlling anxiety and hardwiring fear-related memories ever since I began competing in extreme ultra-endurance athletic competitions in my 20s… and again after being mugged in 2003. On p. 279 of The Athlete’s Way: Sweat and the Biology of Bliss I write about glutamate saying,article continues after advertisement

Any traumatic memory is automatically stored in your implicit, unconscious memory … There is a protein called glutamate that sears synapses together in any unique or traumatic experience. This is how fear conditioning is hardwired. Glutamate bonds are hard to dissolve.

Specific trauma, like getting mugged, is held in your conscious mind but also in you nonthinking cerebellum as part of your personal unconscious. For weeks after being mugged, if I passed the park I had a visceral physiological response of sweaty palms and elevated heart rate. This fear was bottom-up processing. I needed to tackle it from the top-down to change it. That is what being human is about. We can get on top of our animal instincts and shape ourselves.

Although I wrote the above passage over a decade ago, the ideas remain scientifically sound. That said, the latest research by Radulovic offers exciting new clues on the neurobiological process of burying fear-based memories in the subcortical regions of our brain and how the unconscious mind works.

Luathapdan/Labeled for Reuse

Source: Luathapdan/Labeled for Reuse

Based on these new findings, the best way to access unconscious memories appears to be tapping into the state-dependent system by returning the brain to the same state of consciousness, mindset, or physically returning to the specific environment where the memory was initially encoded. 

As Radulovic explains, two amino acids, glutamate and GABA are the yin and yang of the brain, directing its emotional tides and controlling whether nerve cells are excited or inhibited (calm).

Under normal conditions the system is balanced. But when we are hyper-aroused and vigilant, glutamate surges. Glutamate is the primary chemical that helps store memories in our neuronal networks. On the flip side, GABA calms you down, helps you sleep, and inhibits the excitable potential of glutamate to run wild.article continues after advertisement

The most commonly used tranquilizing drug, benzodiazepine, activates GABA receptors in our brains. Apparently, there are two kinds of GABA receptors according to the latest Northwestern findings. One kind, synaptic GABA receptors, works in tandem with glutamate receptors to balance the excitation of the brain and create a state of homeostasis during times of distress.

The other population, extra-synaptic GABA receptors, work as independent agents. These receptors actually ignore glutamate. Instead, they focus internally and adjust brain waves and mental states by monitoring the levels of internal chemicals, such as GABA, sex hormones, and micro RNAs.

According to the researchers, these extra-synaptic GABA receptors alter the brain’s state and have the potential to make you “aroused, sleepy, alert, sedated, inebriated or even psychotic.” However, the Northwestern scientists discovered another critical role of these receptors…they also help encode memories of a fear-inducing event and then store them away, hidden from consciousness. This is a groundbreaking discovery. In a press release, Radulovic said,

The brain functions in different states, much like a radio operates at AM and FM frequency bands. It’s as if the brain is normally tuned to FM stations to access memories, but needs to be tuned to AM stations to access subconscious memories. If a traumatic event occurs when these extra-synaptic GABA receptors are activated, the memory of this event cannot be accessed unless these receptors are activated once again, essentially tuning the brain into the AM stations.

Radulovic points out that it’s often difficult for therapists treating people with buried fear-based memories because patients often can’t remember traumatic experiences that may be the root cause of their anxiety symptoms.

Conclusion: To Retrieve State-Dependent Memories Return to the Same State

Do you have any fear-based memories that seem deeply buried in your brain that surface into conscious awareness under specific circumstances? What triggers the retrieval or recollection of these unconscious memories that are hiding in your brain?  

The new findings by Radulovic et al suggest that in response to traumatic stress, some individuals activate the glutamate system to store memories while others activate the extra-synaptic GABA system. Activating the extra-synaptic GABA system makes traumatic memories inaccessible unless state-dependent triggers are introduced.

For many people who suffered childhood abuse or neglect, unconscious memories are buried deep within subcortical brain regions and can’t be accessed consciously. This exciting new research could be a catalyst for interventions that help bring unconscious memories to the surface so they can be dealt with and resolved consciously.

If you’d like to read more on this topic, check out my Psychology Today blog posts:

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