Alpha Wave Enhancement May Someday Treat Depression

contemplation-PaulHoward-flickr.jpg

Stimulating alpha brain waves with a mild electric current might someday be a treatment for symptoms of depression or even schizophrenia.

To discover if this is possible, researchers enhanced study participants’ alpha waves using a 10-Hertz current running through electrodes attached to the scalp. Doing this boosted the participants’ alpha waves and increased their creativity.

“We’ve provided the first evidence that specifically enhancing alpha oscillations is a causal trigger of a specific and complex behavior – in this case – creativity,” said lead researcher Flavio Frohlich, PhD. “But our goal is to use this approach to help people with neurological and psychiatric illnesses.”

Alpha Waves and Depression

Evidence exists that depressed individuals have impaired alpha oscillations, so it makes sense to researchers such as Dr. Frohlich that boosting alpha waves may help relieve their symptoms.

Alpha oscillations are naturally occurring brain patterns generated by the activity of neurons. Alpha brain waves flow at a frequency rate of 8 to 12 Hertz, or waves per second. They form when we take a break from physically interacting with the world.

When people meditate, contemplate or daydream, alpha waves are prominent in their brain. As soon as they re-engage with the world around them, higher frequency brain waves take over.

“...if people with depression are stuck in a thought pattern and fail to appropriately engage with reality...it’s possible that enhancing alpha oscillations could be a meaningful...treatment paradigm for them,” says Frohlich.

Don’t Try This At Home

Frohlich cautions people against trying to electrically enhance their own alpha waves, tempting though a brain boost may be. He points out that his research has been well-controlled, and the long term effects of electrical alpha stimulation have yet to be determined.

There are also ethical concerns to address about using cognitive enhancement on healthy adults. However, Frohlich and colleagues hope their continuing research helps those who are suffering.

“There are people that are cognitively impaired and need help, and sometimes there are no medications that help or the drugs have serious side effects. Helping these populations of people is why we do this kind of research.”

Source: Science Daily
Photo credit Paul Howard / flickr creative commons

 
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