Health Care

Brain chemical could be key to blocking unwelcome thoughts

Brain chemical could be key to blocking unwelcome thoughts”

Scientists found that a chemical called GABA is the neurotransmitter responsible for suppressing unwanted thoughts. By contrast, people with less GABA in their hippocampus had a tougher time suppressing the association.

Theoretically, strengthening communication between GABA receptors in the hippocampus would give your prefrontal cortex the tools it needs to manage symptoms of conditions like schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and Post-Tramatic Stress Disorder.

Scientists have identified a significant chemical in the brain that is key in keeping unwanted thoughts at bay. These could be in the form of unpleasant memories or images, worries, or even traumatic experiences that bring grief. They forced the subjects to remember unrelated pairs of words meaning.

In the task, participants learn to associate a series of words with a paired, but otherwise unconnected, word, for example ordeal/roach and moss/north.

Using the Think/No-Think procedure - a series of tasks created to understand how the brain inhibits thoughts - the participants were asked to recall or suppress words based on colour cues. For instance, if the word "moss" is shown in green, participants must recall its associated word, north, but if it is shown in red, they must simply stare and supress their minds from thinking of the word "north".

Their brains were monitored using both functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI), which detects changes in blood flow, and magnetic resonance spectroscopy, which measures chemical changes in the brain.

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A region at the front of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex is known to play a key role in controlling our actions and has more recently been shown to play a similarly important role in stopping our thoughts. For many people, whether living with mental health issues or not, being able to stop intrusive thoughts could be a major breakthrough in their quality of life.

The test showed that there's one particular neurotransmitter, called GABA, that is particularly abundant in the brains of people who were able to suppress the association.

Gaba is the brain's main "inhibitory" neurotransmitter.

They found people who had the highest concentrations of Gaba in their brain's hippocampus (or memory hub) were best at blocking unwanted thoughts or memories.

"Our ability to control our thoughts is fundamental to our wellbeing", explains Professor Michael Anderson from the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the University of Cambridge. Inhibiting unwanted thoughts is as much about the cells within the hippocampus - the "boots on the ground" that receive commands from the prefrontal cortex. A psychologically healthy adult may still grow quiet every few weeks because of that time in 1997 when they called their teacher "mom", but a more severe inability to suppress intrusive thoughts is a feature common to a number of psychiatric disorders.

The result was that when there is insufficient GABA content in the hippocampus, the person is not in control of himself and cannot abandon the obsessive thoughts.

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