Health & Fitness | November 5, 2017 10:00 am

Researchers Think They Have Discovered the Key to Unwanted Thoughts

Scientists zero in on chemical that allows us to suppress certain concepts.

Have you ever been plagued by uncomfortable thoughts that are hard to dislodge? There may be relief as scientists claim to have identified a chemical in the brain’s “memory” region that allows humans to suppress those unwanted thoughts, reports BBC

This discovery could explain why people cannot stop focusing on intrusive thoughts, which is an especially common pitfall for those with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia.

“When this capacity breaks down, it causes some of the most debilitating symptoms of psychiatric diseases – intrusive memories, images, hallucinations, ruminations, and pathological and persistent worries,” Study author and University of Cambridge Professor Michael Anderson, who conducted the study, explained, according to BBC. 

Participants were asked to learn to associate a series of words with a paired, but not connected, word, and respond to signals. Based on the color of the signal, the participant had to remember the word or stop themselves from remembering. During the exercises, their brains were monitored for changes in blood flow and chemical changes.

Researchers discovered that a neurotransmitter known as Gaba might be the key to the phenomenon. The BBC reports that Gaba is the brain’s main “inhibitory” neurotransmitter. In simple terms, when Gaba is released by one nerve cell, it suppresses the activities of other cells to which its connected.

If people have high concentrations of Gaba in their brain’s memory hub (the hippocampus), they were better at blocking unwanted thoughts or memories.

Anderson says that the research is exciting because experts are now able to pinpoint which neurotransmitters are likely to be important. The professor believes that the findings could offer a new approach to treating disorders like schizophrenia or PTSD, according to BBC. 

“Our study suggests that if you could improve Gaba activity within the hippocampus, this may help people to stop unwanted and intrusive thoughts,” he said, reports the BBC.