Neurotoxicology (mk II)

For starters, I’d like to say that Prague and the gig was the ABSOLUTE BALLS (this is a good thing for the uninformed). Roger Waters was his usual sublimely arrogant yet musically perfect self; an example is that he sang the song ‘Mother’ as a duet, with a recording of HIMSELF made 30 years ago. That is pretty damn crazy. The puppets were there, the horrifying mother, schoolmaster and wife giant inflatables, with glowing eyes, glaring at the audience with spotlight eyes (see the picture below), Waters himself stood onstage in full Nazi regalia, firing a SMG into the audience shouting “I’ll have all of ya shot!”… it was brilliant.

But that’s not why I’m here.

I’m tumbling (I haven’t done a big post in a while) for the sole reason to inform you blokes and blokettes (if blokettes are interested in what I tumbl about) for the purposes of Neuroscience! *plays a fanfare on the armpit*

Yes, since I’ve been looking into doing a postgrad course in Medicine, the modules Neurotoxicology and Neuroendocrinology are starting to look rather fascinating. The brain, as I’ve said before, is rather susceptible to all manner of things going wrong with it, it’s a rather temporamental organ. If it needed an operating system to function, it would be Windows 95, with only the firewall to keep it being bludgeoned to death by the evils of the internet (the environment).

Alcohol is the worst culprit. Whilst in Prague, I drank a litre of beer before I shaved in the morning (that’s nearly 2 pints for everyone of a non-continental persuasion before you get all pissy with the metric system) and had significantly more during the day. I blame £1 a pint in the pubs. For God’s sake, we went to the 'Jazz Republic’ and they were doing White Russians for less than £2. A swanky bar with live music, and the cocktails were less than what you’d pay for pisswater in an English bar?!?

Anyhoo, alcohol is a dreadful thing to put into your system. 4 times over what you can stand before heaving it all up again (200ml/dl blood), which isn’t a lot if you think about it, can depress the nervous system into a coma. Twice that is fatal. Alcohol poisoning can fall into 2 categories; acute and chronic.

Acute poisoning is pretty difficult to spot at a glance; the patient can be unresponsive or be having violent seizures, they can in some instances appear to be relatively ok. Up close, it’s slightly easier to spot. Most likely there’s been uncontrollable micturition and/or vomiting, and you may well smell the alcohol on their breath. Activated charcoal is probably the best bet to treat, as well as any CNS symptoms. As with most neurotoxins, the body will flush them out eventually, it just needs help surviving until it can.

Chronic poisoning can be dreadful on the old noggin (and I don’t mean the tropic factor). You can lose nearly a fifth of your neurons in the frontal lobe, and half in parts of the cerebellum. There are two syndromes associated with brain damage caused by alcoholism.

Wernicke’s encephalopathy is caused by alcohol-induced lesions in the periventricular brainstem nuclei and medial nuclei and mammillary bodies of the hypothalamus and leaves sufferers ataxic, confused and with almost no short-term memory.

Korsakoff’s syndrome occurs due to the lack of thiamine (Vit B1) in the brain due to excessive drinking. Also known as Korsakoff’s psychosis, there are several key presenting symptoms with this disease: short and long-term memory loss, problems with intuition, and most strikingly, confabulation (making shit up) to cover for the memory loss.

Unfortunately, the two above syndromes are, as far as we know, irreparable and a patient will suffer for the rest of his/her life. Alcoholism is also exceedingly dangerous when attempting to treat. A heroin addict will not die from the biological mechanisms of withdrawal. An alcoholic can, it is true dependence. The physiological changes which occur in the brain also make relapse more likely each time they attempt to come off it, and giving up becomes progressively harder (known as 'kindling’, due to sensitisation of GABAa channels).

The moral of this story? Drink responsibly, and leave excessive drinking to certain occasions (21st birthday/Stag do’s/Ex’s funerals etc. etc.) or fear dependence. Or take a bunch of non-lethal hallucinogens (LSD/Psilocybin) but bewarned, you may end up writing a fantastic prog rock show that I may have to fly out to watch.


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What have I learnt from neurotoxicology? Answer is that literally everything in the universe will make your brain either swell up and die (encephalitis), explode through the bottom of your skull (herniate), die cell by cell (necrosis) or drown in a burst blood vessel (haemorrhage).

Everyone keep on talking about how resilient our bodies are to pathological states, but sometimes I’m just amazed how we manage to survive 24 hours, especially with the amount of crap we put into our body.

Watch this space for some awesome and hardcore brain-shit.

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Exposure to common flame retardants may contribute to attention problems in children

Prenatal exposure to some flame retardants that have been widely-used in consumer products is associated with attention problems in children ages three through seven, according to a new study by researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, within Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. The researchers are the first to show the effects of prenatal exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) on children’s development, during both the preschool and school age periods. Results appear in the journal of Neurotoxicology and Teratology.

PBDEs are found in textiles, plastics, wiring, and furniture containing polyurethane foam to reduce flammability. Since PBDEs are not chemically bound to these materials, they migrate into the environment over time. Humans are commonly exposed to the chemicals through accidental ingestion of house dust and by eating meat, dairy, and fatty fish with accumulated PBDEs. While PBDEs were phased out in 2004, they remain ubiquitous in the environment.