The Power of Gamma Neurofeedback
Dr. Sanjay Manchanda
Harnessing the Power of Gamma Neurofeedback for Cognitive Mastery
The brain is an electrochemical organ which operates through electrical signalling. Like an orchestral symphony, different parts of the brain produce different frequencies of electrical notes as they function.
The frequency band of Gamma, particularly 40 Hz Gamma, is privileged. This is primarily due to its connection to higher-order mental functioning, synchronizing timing in the brain, as well as indications that it is involved with keeping the brain healthy and young.
We can increase the power and synchronization of Gamma frequencies in the brain by stimulating the brain with light and sound. Stimulating the brain with sounds in the ears is called audio entrainment. Audio tapes and tracks using binaural beats have been available for decades, and EEG states have captured the imagination in the consumer marketplace.
We have become used to hearing about accessing the so-called 'Theta State' for creativity, the 'Alpha State' for relaxation, and the 'Beta State' for focusing on a task, and these phrases have gained popularity. But we rarely hear about the 'Gamma State'.
The reality in the brain is of course a bit more complex. There is no such thing as pure Theta or Alpha state, the brain produces all frequencies all the time, only the relative mix changes dynamically. Different parts of the brain produce different mixes as they perform quite different functions. Nevertheless, these phrases point out how the EEG reflects brain states. We know that we can increase Gamma in the brain by stimulating it with pulsed light, called photobiomodulation.
But there is another and superior way to increase Gamma activity in the brain: training the brain to increase Gamma using neurofeedback.
What is the advantage of neurofeedback training over stimulation and entrainment?
In stimulation, such as by using tones or pulsed light, we are stimulating the brain to produce the desired signals; the brain may or may not learn to produce the activity that created the signals by itself.
In neurofeedback training, we are teaching the brain the skill of producing the desired activity independent of a stimulus. Both methods of encouraging the brain into optimal states can be useful, and in my clinical experience, if they are combined the result is better than using just entrainment or neurofeedback by itself. This is what Sens.ai does.
Imagine that you are meditating with the Sens.ai headset, with its sensors at significant places on your head, that are picking up your EEG. As you go deeper, the Sens.ai software on your phone lets you know when the Gamma activity increases or decreases.
This form of biofeedback, making you aware of the Gamma portion of the EEG signal of your brain, can teach your brain what a deeper state feels like, and how to enter these states faster and deeper.
Neurofeedback is a special form of biofeedback. With biofeedback, the technology informs the user that the target physiological parameter, for example, heart rate, skin electrical activity or blood flow is moving towards or away from the desired state.
That feedback provides the user with the information they need to either continue doing what they are doing (because they are heading in the right direction) or to make an internal adjustment to get them back on track.
This is like learning to ride a bike, once you receive clear feedback your body and your brain are experts at figuring out a path to move you into balance. Neurofeedback works with the EEG, the electrical signals produced by the brain.
Biofeedback and neurofeedback have been around for decades in clinics and have been used to teach relaxation, improve focus, reduce the symptoms of ADD, and deal with pain and headaches among other applications. These applications have been largely limited to the offices of highly trained professionals requiring expensive equipment and extensive training. This makes them largely unaffordable and inaccessible for the average consumer.
Even in professional settings, training at Gamma frequencies has been largely ignored for historical reasons. This is partly because earlier EEG equipment was not designed to measure Gamma frequencies. They were complex and expensive to measure, and so they were ignored.
And it was hard to measure Gamma frequencies outside the skull due to high-frequency attenuation by the skull and muscle tension signal contamination. As a result, the early meditation research studies and clinical practice were limited to looking at the Alpha, Theta and Beta bands.
The most popular clinical databases have been limited to approximately 30 Hz, and so Gamma training is still not popular with clinicians. Consumer-level equipment has not had the sophistication to do any kind of real neurofeedback training much less Gamma training. Gamma was the least studied wavelength of EEG but that has changed with Sens.ai.
Gamma power and synchrony have been shown to increase in high-performance cognitive and meditative states. In fact, musicians, meditators, and mathematicians have all been shown to have higher resting Gamma power in their brains1,2,3. Gamma has been particularly implicated in processes that coordinate information from different parts of the brain4.
Also, 40 hz Gamma is being studied for its ability to “take the garbage out” in the brain by activating glial cells and possibly reducing age-related cognitive decline5. One purpose of these frequency signals is to coordinate the activities of different parts of the brain as they cooperate. Using neurofeedback we can train different notes in the brain signals up or down in power and timing for different performance outcomes.
The ability to train Gamma power and synchronization in different parts of the brain can significantly increase our ability to gain cognitive and mediative mastery.
So can we effectively train Gamma frequency signals in the brain and help people gain cognitive and meditative mastery? Currently, available research and clinical-grade equipment is capable of faithfully picking up signals up to 70 hz (with very expensive equipment). Even though these signals are attenuated by the skull, they can be successfully used for training. Consumer-level equipment that can pick up and train Gamma has (up until now) been non-existent.
The Sens.ai headset is the first-of-its-kind consumer-level device that faithfully reproduces signals in the range of 40-50 hz from the brain and has built-in programs for Gamma neurofeedback training. The combination of neurofeedback and pulsed light (photobiomodulation) is what makes Sens.ai particularly unique.
So how do Sens.ai’s Gamma neurofeedback programs work?
We begin by recognizing that Gamma waves ride on Theta and Alpha waves. This phenomenon is called cross-frequency coupling. For example, when a memory is retrieved from the hippocampus, a combination of low-frequency waves theta and high-frequency gamma waves are involved in the retrieval of the memory6.
So the neurofeedback training is carried out in a recommended progression through multi-week ‘Missions’ that train the user in various combinations of theta and gamma or alpha and gamma frequencies or theta, alpha and gamma at once, as well as gamma alone. This allows us to achieve excellent results.
Also, the electrode placement where the training is done is important. Different brain areas participate in functional networks communicating together to perform various functions. The brain contains some highly interconnected nodes, which are also connected to each other in what is called a rich club network.
The Sens.ai headset uses electrodes located on some of these important hubs such as the superior medial frontal/dACC cortex and the medial parietal/PCC cortex 7. This enables us to train the parts of the brain that have a huge impact on its overall functioning.
Besides neurofeedback, Sens.ai uses infrared LEDs that are placed at locations in the brain that participate in the rich club network of the brain allowing us to have the most significant impact from combining photobiomodulation with neurofeedback training for optimal brain performance, cognitive longevity and altered states of consciousness.
(2019, March 14). An Hour of Light and Sound a Day Might Keep Alzheimer’s at Bay