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Plants and the Human Brain [Englisch] [Gebundene Ausgabe]

David O. Kennedy

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7. Februar 2014
We're all familiar with the idea that plant-derived chemicals can have an impact on the functioning of the human brain. Most of us reach for a cup of coffee or tea in the morning, many of us occasionally eat some chocolate, some smoke a cigarette or take an herbal supplement, and some people use illicit drugs. We know a great deal about the mechanisms by which the psychoactive components of these various products have their effects on human brain function, but the question of why they have these effects has been almost totally ignored. This book sets out to describe not only how, but more importantly why, plant- and fungus-derived chemicals have their effects on the human brain. The answer to this last question resides, in part, with the terrestrial world's two dominant life forms, the plants and the insects, and the many ecological roles the 'secondary metabolite' plant chemicals are trying to play; for instance, defending the plant against insect herbivores whilst attracting insect pollinators. The answer also resides in the intersecting genetic heritage of mammals, plants, and insects and the surprising biological similarities between the three taxa. In particular it revolves around the close correspondence between the brains of insects and humans, and the intercellular signaling pathways shared by plants and humans. Plants and the Human Brain describes and discusses both how and why phytochemicals affect brain function with respect to the three main groups of secondary metabolites: the alkaloids, which provide us with a host of poisons, a handful of hallucinogens, and most drugs of abuse (e.g. morphine, cocaine and nicotine); the phenolics, which constitute a significant and beneficial part of our natural diet; and the terpenes, a group of multifunctional compounds which provide us with the active components of cannabis and a multitude of herbal extracts.

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This is an impressive book. ... I recommend reading it - the writing is clear, lucid, and engaging. If you don't believe me, just read the first two paragraphs - you will be hooked! Dale Walters, Scotland's Rural College, Edinburgh This book is a scholarly masterpiece of David O. Kennedy. If you want to understand the pharmacological mode of action of the psychoactive natural products and their role in human history, Plants and the Human Brain, is fascinating read. Michael Wink, Heidelberg University, Germany For plant biology collections, this book is a jewel. Highly recommended. Sam Blu, Choice

Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

David Kennedy is a Professor of Biological Psychology and the Director of the Brain, Performance and Nutrition Research Centre at Northumbria University in the UK. His own research centers around the effects of nutritional interventions, including plant derived chemicals, on human brain function

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4.0 von 5 Sternen Excellent In-Depth Review 9. Februar 2014
Von Allan M. Lees - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
Professor Kennedy has written the definitive summary of what is currently known about plant chemicals and their effects on the human brain. More than that, he guides us through the evolutionary history of plants and animals to explain why it is that plant chemicals should in fact have any effect on mammalian brains - when you stop to think about it, it's not at all obvious why this should be the case. The author is lucid and follows a clear path from preliminary exegesis through a wonderland of fascinating facts about the ways in which plant-animal interactions have shaped the evolution of both kingdoms, and how recent plant-human interactions have frequently shaped the course of human history and the environment we've created.

I did not know, for example, that almost all the fundamental internal cellular signaling pathways were established before the point when, around 1.6 billion years ago, plants and animals diverged. These pathways were then strongly conserved so that even today the same genes and the same chemicals are used across all living things. In one simple example of cross-clade conservation, many plants need to attract nitrogen-fixing bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi to their roots in order to gain access to nitrogen (fixed from the air by bacteria) and phosphorous (fixed by the fungi). This 3-way symbiosis is mediated by a chemical the plant releases into the surrounding soil. When we find this particular chemical in humans we call it... estrogen. So the very chemical we humans use to mediate the development and function of primary sexual characteristics is used by plants to mediate symbiosis. Who would have thought it? And this is merely one example out of many.

One of the major benefits of Professor Kennedy's book is that it sheds light not only on the reasons why certain plants have been sought out across human history for their narcotic effects, but also on the reasons why many plants have beneficial effects on aspects of cognition. On reflection I realized that it's surprising so many people take for granted the fact that cocaine, opium, magic mushrooms and mescaline can induce quite drastic modifications to perception yet are skeptical about claims that other plants can induce beneficial effects. As it turns out, there are a great many plant chemicals that have demonstrated efficacy in enhancing focus, mood, task performance, and working memory as well as others that have longer-term neuroprotective effects. One of the many valuable aspects of this book is that Professor Kennedy looks at all the available research and indicates where this is shaky and where it is quite solid. The reader thus acquires sufficient background to be able more adequately to evaluate the various health claims about plants and plant extracts that he or she will encounter on manufacturers' labels and in Internet articles.

It definitely helps for the reader to have some background in basic evolutionary theory and a little biochemistry wouldn't go amiss either, but even a casual reader will be able to come away feeling very well informed. This is, however, not a "popular science" book - there's no condescending gee-whizz or simplified explanations. It is also very sparse with illustrations, these for the most part being restricted to chemical diagrams intended to show structural similarities between related compounds. Yet despite these facts the book is absolutely compelling and rewards every moment spent turning the pages. We can only hope that the BBC or some other education-oriented media company takes the trouble to adapt the contents for what could be an extremely informative television series.
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