Write Lightning is a blog from writer Deb Thompson.
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Mon, Mar 14 2005

This Is Your Brain on MRI: Any Questions? You Bet.

The Rabid Librarian led me over to a health-related story from last week. At first glance, the idea that certain MRI scans introduce an antidepressant effect in rats sounds like a great thing. But the electrical activity of the brain is precious stuff. Should we be comfortable with the fairly common use of something that has the potential to have this much effect on our thought processes? Even the basic facts about magnetic resonance imaging tell us that the person undergoing the procedure may experience warmth. This may be caused by the contrast dye that is sometimes used to produce a better image. But it still is an indication that the test is not a casual glance into the body's inner workings. An MRI disturbs the natural movement of the body's protons for a short time. It's the body's attempt to get back to normal function that causes the energy which is measured up by the machine. It's not nearly as uncomfortable as some tests, but anything that interrupts the natural flow of cells in the body has the potential to do harm as well as good.

The University of Wisconsin has been studying what happens to Buddhist monks when they meditate, and has found that there is increased gamma-wave activity in those who are practiced in the art of meditation. Meditation and prayer tend to promote peace of mind and a sense of connection with the rest of the world that gives us an open attitude toward helping others. But this usually happens over a period of time through an individual's free will. The introduction of something artifical, such as drugs, can produce brain changes that are sudden and dramatic, which is why the wiser doctors are often reluctant to prescribe mood-altering drugs to their depressed patients unless other methods have failed. We just don't know enough about how these things really affect the mind's ability to function. While MRI scanning is not a drug, we might want to consider that fact that it could be capable of making the same kinds of sudden changes. Before we cheer that as a breakthrough, I hope we wait until a lot more evidence is in on what the scan does to the brain's ability to maintain an overall healthy balance.

posted at: 10:00 | category: /Health and Fitness | link to this entry



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