Religion, internet, wine, pot and veganism may cause your brain to shrink

So suggests an article in Atlantic Wire, which summarizes various substances and activities that might cause brain shrinkage in humans. Included in this list of possible brain-shrinking substances and activities are the following:

  1. Chronic back pain
  2. Alcohol
  3. Internet addiction
  4. Sleeplessness/insomnia
  5. Vegetarianism/veganism
  6. Sunlight deficiency
  7. Marijuana use
  8. Religious affiliation

It would appear that a religious, wine-drinking, internet-addicted, pot-smoking, insomniac vegan who avoids sunlight is on a path straight towards pinheadedness!

The Things That May Shrink Your Brain

…even though it’s described as a normal part of aging, there have been numerous studies linking brain shrinkage to things other than, say, stress and depression. Below are just a few of those news-reported items academics say also appear to hasten the process:

  • Chronic back pain may cause brain shrinkage by up to 11 percent. In 2004, Northwestern University researchers linked chronic back pain to a thinning of gray matter. In more specific terms than those with fragile backs would like to think about, the lead researcher explained in a press release at the time: “Loss in brain density is related to pain duration, indicating that 1.3 cubic centimeters of gray matter…are lost for every year of chronic pain.”
  • Alcohol (but wine more so than beer) may cause brain shrinkage. In a 2008 study recounted in the UK Independent, researchers found that “the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in memory, spatial tasks and many other functions, was more than 10 percent smaller in those whose tipple was wine than in those who favoured beer.”
  • Internet addiction may cause brain shrinkage. In June, Scientific American reported on a recently published Chinese study that brain-scanned 18 college-aged internet addicts and found, in part, that “several small regions in online addicts’ brains shrunk, in some cases as much as a 10 to 20 percent.”
  • Sleeplessness may cause brain shrinkage. A 2010 study linked chronic insomniacs to the loss in brain density, and researchers found, as Discovery News wrote, “brain imaging has linked chronic insomnia to lower gray matter density in areas that regulate the brain’s ability to make decisions and to rest.” The caveat: “the researchers are not yet able to pin down whether sleeplessness precedes gray matter loss or the other way around.”
  • A vegetable-heavy diet may cause brain shrinkage. That’s a simplistic way of saying a diet with a lack of the vitamin B12. In a counter-intuitive finding in 2008, researchers found that the lack of a diet including the vitamin B12, found in meats and milk, isn’t good for the brain. The study was described by The Sun as concluding: “those on a meat-free diet are six times more likely to suffer brain shrinkage as the most vitamin B12 is found in meats, liver, fish and milk.”
  • Lack of sunlight may cause brain shrinkage. There’s a big caveat to this 2007-reported study: it was only performed on mice. But, like a lot of other research, the findings were implied for humans. One of the Ohio State researchers described to the Associated Press: “If humans’ brains similarly shrink without sunlight exposure, it could be physical evidence of depression some people complain about when daylight decreases.”
  • Marijuana usage may cause brain shrinkage. It may be a delicate, controversial subject for medical marijuana proponents, but we’ll just note a 2008 Reuters report describing a brain-scanning study that found “the hippocampus and amygdala were smaller in men who were heavy marijuana users compared to nonusers, the researchers said. The men had smoked at least five marijuana cigarettes daily for on average 20 years.”
  • Religious affiliation may cause brain shrinkage. When this bit of research surfaced, the ensuing headlines humored a few religious skeptics. But the finding is more nuanced than merely linking the faithful to shrinking brains….

3 Comments

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  1. addition
    Can’t blogs also cause brain shrinkage? I saw a therapist once and it was right, I hadn’t been there but a few minutes and I already noticed shrinkage…

  2. Big Little Smart Dumb.
    Each of the items listed say, “…may cause brain shrinkage.”

    But none of the items listed say, “…may decrease intelligence.”

    Over the last twenty years, the physical (size) of the computer has decreased while at the same time the (intelligence) of the computer has increased.

    Could the human brain evolve in the same way that the computer has? That is, (big) and (less) intelligent evolving to (small) and (more) intelligent.

    I’ve read that the bigger a person’s brain, the more intelligent the person tend’s to be.

    But in the 1950’s I remember a TV science show that predicted that in the future – a (real) long time from now – the entire human (body) would phase out its need for arms, legs and even torso and end up as just a little genius head.

    I distinctly remember the drawing of that happy talking head.

    I don’t remember them explaining how it would eat, reproduce, wash, etc.

    If the brain increases in size as intelligence increases, has anyone estimated how big the head will be in the year 2525? Or, 4545?

    Maybe the The Talking Heads, the rock band, also saw that TV show.

  3. On the marijuana thing, it might be worthwhile to note that the article makes references to heavy long term usage. This is not really any problem because the majority of people who smoke marijuana are not long term heavy users, do not really have an addiction to speak of and their are more things to worry about than brain shrinkage, like decreased memory recall, short term memory loss, bronchitis and asthma, etc… in other words brain shrinkage is the least of people’s worries. Let’s also not forget that just because the brain shrinks doesn’t mean it’s a loss of neurosynaptic activity nor decreased intelligence. I mean look at our brains and compare them to those neanderthals… and who were the more advanced off these two species?

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