Issue 64

Naloxone's effect on musical enjoyment, the super cerebellum, and hungry brains

Feb. 16, 2019

Hello friend! Welcome to Scrap Facts.

I'm a reporter covering health and science with insatiable curiosity. I love everything I learn, not all of which gets its own story. Each week, I'll bring you some of my favorite facts that I picked up on the job or while out living life.

Archives from Tinyletter can be found here.

An overdose antidote may make music temporarily less enjoyable.

Found while reporting: This obsession email on the chills music gives us.

Although the neuroscience on the pleasurability of music is limited (and to be fair, it’s not exactly a life-or-death field of study), there’s some evidence that has shown that enjoying music releases endorphins, similar to the way food, drugs, and sex do.

In fact, one of the earliest studies (pdf) examining chills (and thrills!) caused by music found that if you give someone naloxone, a life-saving anti-opioid overdose drug, they are less likely to experience chills in the near future. Follow up research from 2017 found the same thing.

Naloxone and naltrexone, a similar anti-overdose drug, block opioid receptors, which is how they can reverse the effects of accidental overdoses. The fact that they cause anhedonia, or the condition of not being able to enjoy music, suggests that endorphins, which are opioids our body makes—actually play a key role in the way we appreciate happy and sad songs.

Clinically, these some early research that suggests that music therapy can be a part of treatment for addiction recovery. Although it’s not potent enough on its own, the cool thing about music is that it’s not actually a drug—meaning it’s both cheap and doesn’t come with any serious negative side effects.

This week, Kesha’s “Praying” and Sir Babygirl’s “Cheerleader” both gave me chills—if you have favorite chill-inducing music, I wanna hear it! Email me at scrapfacts@gmail.com, and if I get enough submissions, I’ll make a playlist for the next edition!

The brain may not be totally defenseless to Alzheimer’s after all.

Found while reporting: One part of the brain appears to be immune to Alzheimer’s.

When we think of Alzheimer’s, we often think of two main culprits degrading the brain: deformed, abundant proteins called amyloid beta and tau that both slowly destroy the brain’s function. These proteins accumulate first in some parts of the brain like the hippocampus (home of many memories) before spreading outward as the disease progresses.

However, there are so many more proteins involved in Alzheimer’s. This is because the brain is capable of defending itself for years before it can no longer keep the disease at bay. The process of self-defense involves a lot of immune responses, which involves producing different levels of hundreds of proteins than healthy brains do.

To try to understand Alzheimer’s better, researchers went ahead and tried to catalog every single one of these protein levels and their changes in sick and healthy brains. They generated an enormous amount of data, and along the way, they found something pretty cool: the cerebellum, a part of the brain known to help us with movement and balance, seems to protect itself from the disease.

Instead of showing wear and tear like other parts of the brain, the cerebellum stays fairly in tact in brains with Alzheimer’s. But it also looks like it produces a whole new set of proteins than healthy brains, suggesting that maybe, the cerebellum can somehow fight off the disease in ways other regions of the brain can’t.

In the future, scientists could study these changes in the cerebellum to generate a defense for the rest of the brain to stop Alzheimer’s.

Our brains have different energy requirements at different points in our lives.

Found while reporting: Older women’s brains look similar to younger men’s.

For its size, the brain uses way more energy than other parts of your body (which is weird when you think it’s not moving at all).

Apparently, thinking and firing electrical impulses to other neurons to keep us alive (and even doing what we want) is incredibly calorically demanding. Adult brains require about 20% of our resting metabolic calories (260 - 300, roughly).

However, they need even more when we’re kids! One small study published in 2014 found that kids around 5 years old needed the largest number of calories to feed their brains, compared to infants or teens. After 5, the brain needs less and less energy; adults hit a low level of energy requirement after they hit 60.

When we learn anything, our brains for connections with other neurons; at 5, not only are we learning loads, but we’re also growing generally. As a result, a huge proportion of a kid’s calories go to brain development—which is why good nutrition as a kid is so important.

Sadly, there’s ample evidence to suggest that when toddlers and children are malnourished, they have can have trouble learning and behavioral problems that persist in adulthood (in addition to other negative effects on the body). Although worldwide, malnutrition in kids is decreasing, it’s still a problem for over 20% of children.

Stuff I learned from others:

New Zealand is about to have more tourists than permanent residents, from Dan Kopf for Quartz.

There is a LEGO for every single emotion you could possibly feel, from Daniel Wolfe for Quartz. (Seriously, check out this amazing interactive tool.)

Mandarin is being taught in more schools in countries in Africa than ever before, Lynsey Chutel reports for Quartz Africa. Why? Cos China is (and has been for a while) investing loads across Africa.

Animal of the week: Cockroaches.

The Bronx Zoo ran a Valentine’s Day campaign where, for the low price of $15, you could name a Madagascar hissing cockroach after your loved one, to them that your love will withstand the nuclear apocalypse.

It’s a nice thought, but I’m gonna add just a touch of reality to it: Madagascar hissing cockroaches live to be about 5 years old. Not exactly immortal.

BUT that doesn’t mean cockroaches aren’t cool! As Marion Renault wrote for Scienceline this week, we can learn a lot about a group of creatures that have been on this planet for hundreds of thousands of years. Their species’ endurance may be the key to new antibiotics or allergy drugs. Pretty cool, for a creature commonly known as a pest!

Honestly I’d 100% scream in the presence of a cockroach, but I do like to imagine they could form a cute little band like this one.

If you’d still like to get an animal of any kind to represent your indestructible love for your partner, might I suggest a tardigrade? These creatures have been known to withstand even the vacuums of space, and you could even make a date out of going to find one in a mossy patch on a tree in a forest.

Long read of the week: I know the big sportsball game + lackluster Maroon 5 concert happened earlier this month, but I’d recommend revisiting this ESPN feature about Bob Costas’ struggle to speak out about concussion risks from football in his position at NBC. The main takeaway for me was that the NFL is a massive money-making machine, and networks are at at its mercy if they want to criticize it. Tip of the hat to friend of the newsletter Ron Buch for sending this my way.

That’s all for now. Stay curious, friend! <3

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