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Do Our Brains Shrink During Winter Too?

Maybe it's a good thing summer is coming. At least if you're a mouse...

An interesting study by Ohio State University may provide clues about the extent to which our bodies respond and adapt to the shorter days of winter. Researchers discovered the brains of one specific species of mouse shrink during the winter, causing them to have more difficulty with some learning skills.

Scientists created an environment for two sets of white-footed mice that simulated the shorter (eight hours) and longer days (16 hours) of the year during winter and summer for 13 weeks. Unlike the mice exposed to summer-like periods of light, those bathed in shorter periods of light suffered from impaired spatial memory, the mental map that helps them remember important places in their environment. Researchers speculate these biological changes may help mice conserve their energy during the harsh winter months when food and warm sunlight are scarce.

After a second test, researchers found the group exposed to less sunlight had a smaller brain mass compared to the other with more sun exposure, along with a proportionally smaller hippocampus, the sector that houses spatial memory, and alterations in spinal density.

How this applies to humans: Melatonin levels, affected by seasonal changes in sunlight, also control the changes in brain size and function in mammals such as these white-footed mice which could very well play a huge factor in the incidence of seasonal affective disorder.

This shouldn't really come as a surprise, considering I have been telling you about the benefits of light therapy in treating depression for years, and the evidence becomes more compelling with each new study. That sunlight and natural light therapy can help rid you of depression is just another example of the fact, when you take the proper approach to your health and provide your body with the right nourishment and care it needs, drugs are rarely, if ever, necessary.

Journal of Neuroscience, May 4, 2005, Vol. 25: 4521-4526

Ohio State University May 12, 2005

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