Monday, December 27, 2010

Loose the Amygdala and never fear again.

Recent studies on one of the most important part of he limbic system, the amygdala, found that these little almond shaped organs located within each side of the temporal lobes can actually have a significant impact on future treatment for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other anxiety conditions.

In an article released last week, a group of scientist from the University of Iowa described of a female adult patient who had an extremely uncommon condition in which her amygdala was destroyed. The patient was not able to experience fear, even after being placed in situations she once loathe of (haunted house, having snakes and spiders placed near her, watching horror films, and talking about life-threatening things). The researchers believe that the reason for her lack of fear was that her amygdala did not function.

The amygdala is known to play a key role in triggering fear reactions, as various studies have concluded. These studies, however, are done on animals. "This study is the first to show that it is also the case in humans," wrote the authors. Daniel Tranel, Ph.D, senior study author, states that their findings may impact how health care professionals will treat patients with PTSD and anxiety disorder. Tranel wrote:
    "This finding points us to a specific brain area that might underlie PTSD. Psychotherapy and medications are the current treatment options for PTSD and could be refined and further developed with the aim of targeting the amygdala."
Lead study author, Justin Feinstein, believes that safe and non-invasive ways of diminishing amygdala activity might prove effective in treating PTSD patients.Feinstein said:
    "This past year, I've been treating veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan who suffer from PTSD. Their lives are marred by fear, and they are oftentimes unable to even leave their home due to the ever-present feeling of danger. In striking contrast, the patient in this study is immune to these states of fear and shows no symptoms of post-traumatic stress. The horrors of life are unable to penetrate her emotional core. In essence, traumatic events leave no emotional imprint on her brain."
    "Taken together, these findings suggest that the human amygdala is a pivotal area of the brain for triggering a state of fear. While the patient is able to experience other emotions, such as happiness and sadness, she is unable to feel fear. This suggests that the brain is organized in such a way that a specific brain region - the amygdala - is specialized for processing a specific emotion - fear."
    "Without our amygdala, the alarm in our brain that pushes us to avoid danger is missing. The patient approaches the very things she should be avoiding, yet, strikingly, appears to be totally aware of the fact that she should be avoiding these things. It is quite remarkable that she is still alive."
"The Human Amygdala and the Induction and Experience of Fear"
Justin S. Feinsteinsend, Ralph Adolphs, Antonio Damasio, Daniel Tranel
Current Biology, 16 December 2010. 10.1016/j.cub.2010.11.042


Shrinklady said...

Thank-you Ms. Choy, for raising the profile of an organ that probably controls more of our behaviour than anyone is willing to believe. Most people would feel a lot happier if they could change their amygdala. And that includes parents. Then they'd better understand for instance, why their child can't concentrate in school or why he or she lacks creativity (i.e. the child is too activated). An activated amygdala probably accounts for more lower school grades than any other learning problem.

What's even more amazing though is that if you know how to work with it directly, you can reset the amygdala so that it's buzzing at a lower rate - and that's without drugs!

I often suggest to folks to imagine feeling the way they do after a good yoga class. Then imagine feeling that way most of the time. That's the power of the amygdala.

Thanks for putting it out there,


ms. choy said...

You are right Shrinklady, the Amygdala has more control over human behavior than what studies seems to show. There is another recent study that claims that the size of the Amygdala is correlated with the amount of socializing. I think studies in the future will reveal more :)

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