Surfing the Internet is good for the brain

From Soup to Net

Have you ever wondered what a radish and your home computer have in common?

No? Well if you did, and if you pursued the answer with an online search, you might reduce risk of cognitive decline.

And by the way, that’s what a radish and your home computer have in common.

Dreaming of you

“We were looking for radishes to make radish soup.”

That unlikely sentence appeared in an e-mail from a friend of mine. She’d had a dream the night before, and I happened to appear in it, and we were obviously preparing an unusual meal. At the end of her e-mail she wrote: “I wonder if there is such a thing as radish soup?”

How could there not be? In all of culinary history I’m sure that someone at sometime has made soup out of just about every growing thing. Nevertheless, I wasn’t expecting a Google search to come back with more than 7,600 hits, including a couple of YouTube videos featuring radish soup preparation.

Before I pursued any of these links I happened to open another e-mail from a colleague who sent me some info about a new UCLA study on cognitive function.

The California researchers recruited 24 healthy volunteers between the ages of 55 and 76. Half the subjects were experienced Internet users, and half were newcomers to Internet features and search tools. Functional magnetic resonance imaging scans were used to track brain changes while the subjects completed two separate tasks: 1) conducting an Internet search, and 2) reading a book.

Brain scan analysis showed that book reading prompted significant brain activity in both groups. But the scans were markedly different between the two groups while surfing the Net. Three key brain areas that involve complex reasoning and decision-making were fully engaged among experienced Internet users. These areas were not engaged among the Internet novices.

Lead researcher, Dr. Gary Small, told UC Newsroom: “A simple, everyday task like searching the Web appears to enhance brain circuitry in older adults, demonstrating that our brains are sensitive and can continue to learn as we grow older.”

In light of previous research that shows how learning, problem solving, and other mental tasks help reduce cognitive decline, it appears “silver surfers” (i.e.; elderly Internet users) may be deeply engaging their brains in exactly the way that helps aging brains stay fresh and alert.

Soup’s on!

After reading about the UCLA study I went back to my radish soup inquiry and quickly found a blog written by a Malaysian woman who calls herself “MayaKirana,” which translates as “Soup Queen.”

MayaKirana provides some interesting information about the white radish, along with a simple recipe for white radish soup that calls for one white radish (which looks like a white carrot and can weigh as much as a pound), pork, and red dates. Boil for 10 minutes, simmer for two hours – you’re done.

According to MayaKirana, white radish (or daikon) is good for breastfeeding mothers because it prompts lactation. It also happens to be low in calories, but high in nutrition, and is purported to help digestion, soothe sore throats, and relieve asthma symptoms. (But a warning: MayaKirana notes that daikon may neutralize efficacy of herbal tonics and drugs.)

A link to another site revealed additional healthy benefits, noting that daikon is rich source of folic acid, vitamin C, and magnesium – three nutrients that just happen to support brain health and reduce risk of cognitive decline.

So with just a few clicks I learned a little Malaysian, uncovered an interesting detail about lactation, picked up an unusual soup recipe, and, presumably, stimulated areas of my brain that involve complex reasoning and decision-making.

And now I’m on my way out to my local Han Ah Reum Mart to see if they carry daikon because I’ve suddenly got a serious craving for some white radish soup.

What’s Han Ah Reum? You can look it up!

Sources:
“Searching the Internet Increases Brain Function” Rachel Campeau, UC Newsroom, 10/14/08, universityofcalifornia.edu
“White Radish Soup” MayaKirana, 8/6/06, soupqueen.blogspot.com