TIME Mental Health/Psychology

The Part of Your Brain That Senses Dread Has Been Discovered

This tiny part of your brain tracks bad experiences

A tiny part of the brain can keep track of your expectations about negative experiences—and predict when you will react to an event—researchers at University College London say.

The brain structure, known as the habenula, activates in response to negative events such as electric shocks, and they may help people learn from bad experiences.

The findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, marks the first time this association has been proven in humans. Earlier studies showed that the habenula causes animals to avoid negative stimuli by suppressing dopamine, a brain chemical that drives motivation.

In this study, investigators showed 23 people random sequences of pictures followed by a set of good or bad outcomes (an electric shock, losing money, winning money, or neutral). The volunteers were asked to occasionally press a button to show they were paying attention, and researchers scanned their brains for habenula activity using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. Images were taken at high resolution because the habenula is so small—half the size of a pea.

When people saw pictures associated with painful electric shocks, the habenula activated, while it did not for pictures that predicted winning money.

“Fascinatingly, people were slower to press the button when the picture was associated with getting shocked, even though their response had no bearing on the outcome,” lead author Rebecca Lawson from the University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said in a statement. “Furthermore, the slower people responded, the more reliably their habenula tracked associations with shocks. This demonstrates a crucial link between the habenula and motivated behavior, which may be the result of dopamine suppression.”

The study also showed that the habenula responds more the worse an experience is predicted to be. For example, researchers said the habenula responds much more strongly when an electric shock is certain than when it is unlikely to happen. This means that your brain can tell how bad an event will be before it occurs.

The habenula has been linked to depression, and this study shows how it could play a part in symptoms such low motivation, focusing on negative experiences and pessimism in general. Researchers said that understanding the habenula could potentially help them develop new ways of treating depression.

TIME Opinion

I Don’t Love Lucy: The Bad Science in the Sci-Fi Thriller

Maybe if the screenwriters had used 20% of their brains...

You use a whole lot more than 10% of your brain—but a common fallacy that says otherwise is nonetheless the central premise of a new movie

Now there are three Lucys I have to keep straight: The 3.2 million year old Australopithecus unearthed in Ethiopia in 1974; the eponymous star of the inexplicably celebrated 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy; and, most recently, the lead character—played by Scarlett Johansson—of the new sci-fi thriller straightforwardly titled Lucy. Going by intellectual heft alone, I’ll pick the millions-year-old bones.

The premise of the movie, such as it is, is that Lucy, a drug mule living in Taiwan, is exposed to a bit of high-tech pharma that suddenly increases her brain power, giving her the ability to outwit entire police departments, travel through time and space, dematerialize at will and yada-yada-yada, cut to gunfights, special effects and a portentous message about, well, something or other.

The movie poster’s teaser line? “The average person uses 10% of their brain capacity. Imagine what she could do with 100%.”

Let’s forgive the poster its pronoun problem (the average person—as in just one of us—uses 10% of their brain capacity), because the science problem is so much more egregious. The 10% brainpower thing is part of a rich canon of widely believed and entirely untrue science dicta that include “Man is the only animal that kills its own kind” (tell that to the lion cubs that were just murdered by an alpha male trying to take over a pride) and “A goldfish can remember something for only seven seconds” (a premise that was tested…how? With a pop quiz?).

No one is entirely sure where the 10% brainpower canard got started, but it goes back at least a century and is one of the most popular entries in the equally popular book 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology. There is some speculation that the belief began with an idle quote by American philosopher William James who, in 1908, wrote, “We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources,” an observation vague enough to mean almost anything—or nothing—at all.

Some people attribute it to an explanation Albert Einstein offered when asked to account for his own towering intellect—except that Einstein never said such a thing and even if he had it would not make it true. Still others cite the more scientifically defensible idea that there is a measure of plasticity in the brain, so that if the region that controls, say, the right arm, is damaged by, say, a stroke, it is sometimes possible for other parts of the brain to pick up the slack—a sort of neural rewiring that restores lost motion and function.

But none of that remotely justifies the 10% silliness. The fact is, the brain is overworked as it is, 3 lbs. (1,400 gm) of tissue stuffed into a skull that can barely hold it all. There’s a reason the human brain is as wrinkled as it is and that’s because the more it grew as we developed, the more it bumped up against the limits of the cranium; the only way to increase the surface area of the neocortex sufficiently to handle the advanced data crunching we do was to add convolutions. Open up the cerebral cortex and smooth it out and it would measure 2.5 sq. ft. (2,500 sq cm). Wrinkles are a clumsy solution to a problem that never would have presented itself in the first place if 90% of our disk space were going to waste.

What’s more, our bodies simply couldn’t afford to maintain so much idle neuronal tissue since the brain is an exceedingly expensive organ to own and operate—at least in terms of energy needs. At birth, babies actually have up to 50% more neural connections among the billions of brain cells than adults do, but in the first few years of life (and, to a lesser extent, on through sexual maturity) a process of pruning takes place, with many of those synaptic links being broken and the ones that remain growing stronger. That makes the brain less diffuse and more efficient—which is exactly the way any good central processing unit should operate. It also allows it to use up fewer calories, which is critical.

“We were a nutritionally marginal species early on,” the late William Greenough, a psychologist and brain development expert at the University of Illinois, told me for my 2007 book Simplexity. “A synapse is a very costly thing to support.”

Added Ray Jackendoff, co-director of the center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, “The thing that’s really astonishing might not be that we lose so many connections, but that the brain’s plasticity and growth are able to continue for as long as they do.”

OK, so the Lucy screenwriters aren’t psychologists or directors of cognitive studies institutes. But they do have the same 100 billion neurons everybody else’s brains have. Here’s hoping they take a few billion of them out for an invigorating run before they write their next sci-fi script.

TIME Brain

Learning to Read Does Not End in Fourth Grade

Girl learning to read
Cultura RM/Gary John Norman—Getty Images/Collection Mix: Subjects RM

Do you remember when reading stopped requiring so much effort, and became almost second nature?

Probably not, but researchers have long believed that it probably happened some time during fourth grade. That’s when, they thought, word-processing tended to become more automatic and less deliberate, and you started to read to learn, as opposed to learning to read.

But a new study published in the journal Developmental Science questions that assumption, showing that children are still learning to read past fourth and even fifth grade. The shift to automatic word-processing, in which the brain recognizes whether a group of symbols constitutes a word within milliseconds, allowing fluid reading that helps the reader focus on the content of the text rather than on the words, may occur later than previously thought.

To test when this process develops, researchers fitted 96 college, third, fourth and fifth grade students with electrode caps to scan their brains as they were shown on a screen real words, fake words, strings of letters and strings of random symbols.

The third-, fourth- and fifth-graders processed real words, fake words, and letter strings similarly to the college students, showing that some automatic word-processing begins as early as third grade. But only the college students processed the meaningless symbols differently from actual words—which suggests that brain activity in the three groups of young children remained the same whether they were processing real words or not. While they showed some signs of automatic word processing, or no longer exerting effort to read, for the most part the younger children still treated familiar and unfamiliar words in the same way.

However, when the researchers switched to a written test, which presumably gave the participants the more time to think about the distinctions, all groups scored above 95 percent, showing that with some effort, or when their conscious brains were involved, the children also realized the difference between real and fake words.

That suggests that for the young children, the processing wasn’t automatic just yet. Study author Donna Coch, associate professor of education at Dartmouth, says that it’s not that fourth graders can’t read well, but rather they aren’t quite as efficient as adults at reading.

“You have a limited amount of resources, and if you’re using them on words that could not be words in your language, that’s taking up resources that could be used in word processing,” says Coch. “If you don’t have to put in effort to sound out words, you can pay more attention to understanding.”

So if fourth-graders aren’t quite reading to learn, then when does the shift toward more complete automatic word-processing occur? According to Coch, that probably happens some time between fifth grade and college—a period she says that hasn’t been studied.

For now, the results strongly suggest that reading skills need to continue to be nurtured during that period. “This certainly does suggest that teachers beyond fourth grade are still teachers of reading,” says Coch.

TIME Brain

Want to Learn a Language? Don’t Try So Hard

If at first you don't succeed, trying again might not help you when it comes to learning languages.

A new study from MIT shows that trying harder can actually make some aspects of learning a new language more difficult. While researchers have known that adults have a harder time with new languages than children do, the latest findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE, suggest that adults’ stronger cognitive abilities may actually trip them up.

Children have a “sensitive period” for learning language that lasts until puberty, and during these years, certain parts of the brain are more developed than others. For example, they are adept at procedural memory, which study author Amy Finn, a postdoc at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, describes as the “memory system we get for free.” It’s involved in tasks we learn unconsciously such as riding a bike, dancing, or subtle language rules. It’s a system that learns from observing and from experience; neural circuits in the brain build a set of rules for constructing words and sentences by absorbing and analyzing information—like sounds—from the world around them.

“The procedural memory is already in place for an infant and working well, and not interacting with other brain functions,” says Finn. However, as people age, another memory system that is less based on exploratory processes starts to mature, and control the language learning process. “As an adult, you have really useful late-developing memory systems that take over and do everything.”

In essence, adults may over-analyze new language rules or sounds and try to make them fit into some understandable and coherent pattern that makes sense to them. But a new language may involve grammar rules that aren’t so easily explained, and adults have more difficulty overcoming those obstacles than children, who simply absorb the rules or exceptions and learn from them. That’s especially true with pronunciation, since the way we make sounds is something that is established early in life, and becomes second nature.

“Adults are much better at picking up things that are going to immediately help them like words and things that will help them navigate a supermarket,” says Finn. “You can learn language functionally as an adult, but you’ll never sound like a native speaker.”

So how can adults remove their own roadblocks to learning new languages? Finn says more research needs to be done to determine if adults can ever go back to learning languages like children, but linguists are looking at a variety of options. A few include “turning off” certain areas of the brain using a drug or a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation, which might allow adults to be more open to accepting new language rules and sounds.

Finn also hopes to study adults performing a challenging task while they learn a language, which is another way of distracting the cognitive portions of the brain from focusing on the new language, to see if that can help them to absorb more linguistic information.

TIME Brain

To Prevent Alzheimer’s, Diet and Exercise Are Effective, Large Study Shows

In a groundbreaking study that looked at how diet, exercise and other non-drug interventions affect cognitive decline, researchers see some hope for relatively easy dementia-fighting strategies

+ READ ARTICLE

No one believes that a disease as complicated as Alzheimer’s can be warded off by an apple a day or by faithfully hitting the weight room. But a breakthrough study presented Sunday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference shows that after just two years, people who underwent lifestyle interventions showed improvements in their mental functions, including in memory, executive function and speed tests of their cognitive skills.

Dr. Miia Kivipelto from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden knew that several studies have linked some lifestyle behaviors, such as exercise and a healthy diet, as well as being more socially active, to less cognitive decline and stronger scores on memory and organizational tests. But it wasn’t clear whether people who ate better, exercised more and had more friends also shared something else in common that could explain their ability to slow down dementia symptoms.

So Kivipelto conducted one of the first studies to randomly assign 1,260 older individuals at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s to a lifestyle intervention or to normal health care, to see if the behaviors linked to better brain health actually helped to stave off intellectual decline. “We were surprised that were able to see a clear difference already after two years,” says Kivipelto. She was especially pleased to see the effect since the control group also received adequate and appropriate health care. “We thought that two years may not be enough, but the multi-domain approach seems to be an effective way of doing something to protect memory.”

MORE: New Understanding on Understanding Alzheimer’s

All of the participants, part of the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER) study, had some risk factor for developing dementia, including their age, education, and poor heart-health profile. Half were randomly assigned to get an intensive lifestyle makeover, with both group and individual nutrition advice, an exercise trainer, and a nurse or physician who made sure they took their medications. In addition, these volunteers benefited from a social support system. The other half received appropriate health care, but not at the intensive level the intervention group did, and without the social support of their fellow participants.

MORE: New Criteria May Change Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

After just two years, the group that group that got the lifestyle makeover were in much better shape.

MORE: Study: Brain Scans Help Predict Alzheimer’s Disease Early

She and her team plan to continue following up with the participants in another seven years, to see if the effect remains. But she is aware that sticking with a lifestyle plan like the one in the study is a challenge, and says that any such program needs to incorporate ways of keeping patients motivated to comply. That’s why social support may be an important part of any such plan; in this study, for example, if participants missed exercise sessions, others called to find out why they were absent, cementing a pact to adhere to the new behaviors.

Kivipelto also recognizes that genetic factors can play a role in cognitive decline and risk of memory loss, but she says there may be a role for lifestyle interventions in helping people who may be at high risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease—before their symptoms start.

“These findings show that prevention is possible, and that it may be good to start early,” she says. “With so many negative trials for Alzheimer’s drugs reported lately, it’s good that we may have something that everyone can do now to lower their risk.”

 

TIME technology

This Blanket Will Tell Your Flight Attendant Precisely How Unhappy You Are

LED lights in British Airways' "happiness blanket" turn red when you're on the verge of a panic attack and blue when you're too drunk to notice you're flying straight into a thunderstorm

+ READ ARTICLE

British Airways wants to make its planes your happy place. To help take your mind off the alarming air turbulence, the hundreds of strangers you’re sardined in with, and the full-body stop-and-frisk you may have endured for flying with them, they’re testing a “happiness blanket” that will convey your “meditative state” throughout the trip.

The blanket doesn’t magically make you happy. (If only …) Instead, it helps the airline figure out what makes you happy other than copious amounts of bloody Marys and a double-dose of Xanax. It works in conjunction with a headband, which measures your brain wave activity, then wirelessly conveys it to the blanket, which is embedded with red and blue LED lights. They flash red when you’re miserable or blue when you’re in “a Zen-like state of mind.”

Not surprisingly, flyers’ moods fluctuate the most when using in-flight entertainment or eating. “What we found was that the blankets turned bluer when people were relaxing, such as sleeping, listening to relaxing music, or eating, as that created a feeling of well-being. However, eating cheese for example can often turn the blankets red, as that releases a chemical in the brain which increases brain activity,” says the airlines’ consumer PR manager, Michael Johnson, who adds that the blankets will not be made available to paying customers.

No word on how flyers reacted to arrival delays, abrupt changes in elevation or news that they’re out of the chicken entrée but the vegetarian meal is still available.

TIME Marijuana

Six Ways Science Says Marijuana May Hurt Your Health

New Year Celebration
Partygoers smoke marijuana during a New Year's Eve party at a bar in Denver, celebrating the 2014 start of retail pot sales in Colorado. Brennan Linsley—AP

With the increasing push for the legalization of marijuana across the country, science is rolling out research on why pot may not be so harmless.

Boosters of marijuana legalization often speak about the relative harmlessness of the drug, especially when compared to alcohol and tobacco, which kill millions of people a year worldwide. But while the evidence suggests that pot is less damaging than some other legal drugs, the exact effects of marijuana on human health have not been well studied. Existing research is often limited in scope and rarely shows a clear causal connection.

But there have been some worrying findings, especially considering the increasing use of marijuana by American adults. A paper published this year in Forensic Science International, for instance, described two rare deaths of young men that were attributed to heart conditions resulting from marijuana use.

With legalization taking place in Colorado and Washington State, more research will now be possible. For now, here is a tour of what has been documented so far about marijuana’s negative effects.

1. It can interfere with learning

Marijuana interferes with the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, affecting cognitive functions such as movement, memory, and emotional control. A recent small study found that impairment in working memory occurs immediately after marijuana use. Subjects who received a higher dose of THC—marijuana’s main active chemical—took significantly longer to complete immediate recall and mental calculation tasks.

2. It can lead to dangerous driving

Pot impairs functions key to driving, including reaction time, hand-eye coordination and depth perception, a study by the University of Chicago reported. In the first full year after medical marijuana was legalized in Colorado, there was a 12% increase in traffic fatalities, according to data analysis by researchers at Columbia University. However, studies have not been able to provide consistent evidence to prove that the effects of marijuana cause an increased rate of collisions. According to a different study published in Accident Analysis and Prevention, the closest comparison to the culpability of accident when under the influence of marijuana is to a driver who has taken penicillin, anti-depressants or an antihistamine, which suggests marijuana’s effects have a nominal impact on accident risk. More research is needed.

3. It may harm the developing brain.

Although a causal connection has yet to be found, studies show regular marijuana use—once a week or more—can change the structure of the teenage brain. Marijuana affects memory and problem solving abilities, both of which can impact academic performance. Researchers from the Harvard School of Medicine and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine surveyed a small group between the ages of 18 and 25 and noticed structural abnormalities in the brain, specifically in grey matter, the nucleus accumbens, and the amygdala, after recreational marijuana use.

4. It could make you panic.

Marijuana may alleviate anxiety for some, but for others it can cause it. THC can cause increased heart rate, poor coordination, or lightheadedness, which can be triggers for anxiety attacks. Some research suggests that people who frequently use of marijuana—and who started using it as young adults—were more likely to have anxiety disorders or depression. Whether cannabis use causes anxiety disorders, however, is not known.

5. It can be addictive.

One in 10 users exhibits symptoms of dependence, according to the American Psychological Association. Marijuana’s rate of dependence liability of 9% is comparable to that of anti-anxiety medications and is well under the liability rates of alcohol (15%) and tobacco (32%), according to a study by the Institute of Medicine. However, the reason why some become addicted and others don’t remains unclear. Genetic studies have suggested that the involvement, or lack thereof, of CB1 receptors in response to cannabis can influence the likelihood of addiction. The receptor gene has been found to have a connection to the development of dependence to drugs and alcohol. Studies done on animals suggest that cannabis triggers reward centers in the brain, including neurons that produce dopamine, which could also encourage continued use.

6. It can stress your heart

Marijuana-related deaths are so rare as to be treated as mythological by marijuana boosters, but a paper published this spring in Forensic Science International does describe the deaths of two healthy men, ages 23 and 28, who experienced heart trouble after using marijuana. “To our knowledge, these are the first cases of suspected fatal cannabis intoxications where full postmortem investigations, including autopsy, toxicological, histological, immunohistochemical and genetical examinations, were carried out,” the authors write. The authors surmise that the cardiovascular events were the result of increased heart rate that can happen in some pot smokers, particularly in the first hours after using marijuana. Nonetheless, the authors conclude, that the “absolute risk of cannabis-related cardiovascular effects can be considered to be low, as the baseline risk for most cannabis smokers is low and cannabis-induced changes are transient.”

TIME social anxiety

This Is the Brain Circuit That Makes You Shy

Using a new light-based technique, scientists trace the nerve network that lights up when mammals meet

What do you do when you want to study something as complicated as what happens deep in the brain when two strangers meet? You develop a completely new way of tracking nerve connections, and then you test it in mice.

That’s what Dr. Karl Deisseroth, a professor of psychiatry and bioengineering at Stanford University, and his colleagues did. “We know social behavior is complicated, but to be able to delve into the brain of freely behaving mammals and to see the signal in real time predicting their social interaction was very exciting,” says Deisseroth, who published his results in the journal Cell.

Brain researchers have long known that certain chemicals known as neurotransmitters soar or drop depending on what we’re doing and how we feel. Based on these observations, drug companies have developed an armada of medications aimed at mimicking these changes to treat everything from depression, hyperactivity and even social anxiety or shyness. But there’s a difference between observing hormone levels rising or falling and identifying a specific circuit — among the millions that occur in the brain — responsible for how we feel and whether we are friendly at a first meeting, say, or a little more reserved. Studying those circuits has been challenging because scientists simply couldn’t get real-time information about which nerves were firing, and where, when certain behaviors, such as a meet and greet, occurred.

(MORE: The Upside of Being an Introvert (and Why Extroverts Are Overrated))

Deisseroth solved that problem. Using optogenetics and fiber photometry, he was able to tag specific nerves in the brain with light-receptor molecules and connect them to ultra-thin fibers that were tied to a switch. Flip the switch on, and the cells were stimulated; turn it off and they quieted down.

Deisseroth and his team hooked up their show to cells that operated on the brain chemical dopamine. When they turned the system on, the cells would release dopamine, and when that happened, the mice showed more interest in investigating newcomers dropped into their cage — they sniffed, they explored and they engaged. When the dopamine activation was turned off, however, the mice made little effort to acknowledge or investigate the intruder.

(MORE: Study: Nearly 1 in 8 Shy Teens May Have Social Phobia)

While manipulating the social interactions of mice is fascinating in itself, Deisseroth sees his findings as being potentially helpful in treating mental illnesses. The fact that he was able to isolate a single circuit that affected something as complex as social behavior suggests that manipulation of deep brain circuits might be a promising way to treat, or modulate behavior in people as well. What if, for example, it became possible to dampen the social aversion that affects some children with autism? If they could interact with people more comfortably, it might be possible to modulate the other symptoms of their developmental disorder. Or what if hyperactivity could be dialed down? Or depression’s darkest moods lightened in the same way?

Deisseroth stresses that we’re far from even speculating how such therapies might be used, but the possibility that deep brain circuits might be tapped to affect behavior is promising. In the meantime, says Deisseroth, “We know these things are complex. The brain is so mysterious, and psychiatry is so mysterious, so our job for a long time will be to deepen understanding of these complex circuits. If that’s the only thing that comes out of this, that would still be great.”

TIME sleep

How Procrastination Is Messing With Your Sleep

How Procrastination Is Messing With Your Sleep
Tim Platt—Getty Images/Collection Mix: Subjects RM

Whether you’re a night owl or an early riser, sometimes it can be hard to stick to your bedtime. You know, those times when you mean to go to sleep but instead you stay up to watch just one more episode of Orange Is the New Black. Before you know it, it’s 1 a.m. The next day, you’re probably groggy, tired, and—let’s face it—cranky.

Health.com:11 Surprising Health Benefits of Sleep

“Bedtime procrastination” is the name researchers from Utrecht University in the Netherlands have given to this phenomenon. They define it as “failing to go to bed at the intended time, while no external circumstances prevent a person from doing so.”

Translation: Unlike insomnia, which is when you can’t fall asleep, bedtime procrastination is when you could go to bed, but you willingly put it off and, as a result, you don’t get enough sleep.

Health.com:12 Ways We Sabotage Our Mental Health

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME medicine

5 Weird Migraine Treatments

5 Weird Migraine Treatments That Could Give You Relief
Philippe Bigard—Getty Images/OJO Images RF

It’s no secret that migraines are a serious pain. About 37 million Americans get migraines, and women are three times more likely to have them than men, according to the National Headache Foundation. Ouch!

If you’re plagued by migraines, you’ve likely popped different pills to ease the throbbing. But would you ever try a high-tech headband or a battery-operated patch to soothe your aching head? Yes, such treatments exist. In honor of Headache and Migraine Awareness Month, here are five wacky migraine fighters explained. (The first three are available by prescription only.)

Health.com:18 Signs You’re Having a Migraine

Cefaly headband

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the Cefaly headband, which was found to reduce patients’ number of migraine days by 30% in a clinical trial published in the journal Neurology. The headband has an electrode that presses against the middle of your forehead, delivering a round of electric impulses that work to stimulate the nerves above the eyes. It’s safe to use for 20 minutes a day, and some experts believe that daily use could help prevent migraines before they start. “In my practice, this device has helped quite a few patients, cutting headache days per month in half or more,” says Richard Lipton, M.D., Edwin S. Lowe Chair in Neurology for the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)

Now that’s a mouthful! A portable device with TMS technology uses a pulse of magnetic energy to target migraines with aura, which plague about 20% of migraines sufferers, according to the National Headache Foundation. “A patient with visual aura might report seeing spots of light, zig-zag lines, or a graying of vision lasting 10 to 60 minutes,” says Dr. Lipton, who tested the treatment himself in a clinical trial for Lancet Neurology. When these visual symptoms appear, just hold the TMS device against the back of your head and press the button. A magnetic pulse will help target your occipital lobe, the brain’s center of visual processing, and help relieve aura symptoms. Just don’t go overboard with this machine: You should only use it once a day, per the FDA, which approved the treatment just last year.

Health.com:11 Surprising Headache Triggers

Zecuity patch

Most migraine sufferers are used to taking medicine, but it’s not always the best option. “Migraine sometimes paralyzes the digestive system,” Dr. Lipton says. “Once this happens, oral medications can’t be absorbed until the attack is over.” That’s where this battery-operated patch, approved by the FDA in 2013, comes in handy. For people who can’t absorb their medication properly or find it just plain nauseating, the Zecuity Patch (worn on your arm or thigh) sends the commonly prescribed migraine drug sumatriptan (brand name Imitrex) through the skin, so it bypasses your digestive system completely.

Health.com:8 Ways to Headache-Proof Your Home

Tinted glasses

For some sufferers of migraines with aura, their pain is triggered by looking at certain patterns. A 2011 study published in the journal Cephalalgia found that precision-tinted eyeglasses helped normalize brain activity for chronic migraine sufferers. All patients (some with and without headaches) were asked to look at high-contrast striped patterns through three different pairs of glasses. Those who regularly battled migraines reported feeling less discomfort when they viewed the patterns using the tinted pair. It’s thought that the visual cortex gets overstimulated during a migraine attack, leading some patients to suffer perceptual illusions, says study author Jie Huang, Ph.D. Tinted lenses help suppress that visual stress and consequently reduce migraine frequency.

Would you believe a line of glasses for migraines already exists? Axon Optics offers frames with FL-41 therapeutic lenses. They use a rose-colored filter to block the annoying blue-green light you’ll usually find in florescent lamps, so people stifled by bright spaces can get a little relief, too.

Health.com:21 Natural Headache Treatments

Acupuncture

This one’s kind of controversial. Though studies have shown that there’s not a large difference in pain reduction between placebo or “sham” acupuncture and the real thing, a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found 50 to 75% of patients with migraines felt better after receiving each type, respectively. Acupuncture is a practice based on traditional Chinese medicine where needles inserted into the skin are used to realign the flow of energy, or qi, in the body. Medical professionals still aren’t sure exactly how it works, but it’s possible acupuncture helps stimulate electromagnetic signals in the body to release chemicals that dull pain. Acupuncture may provide some relief to people who haven’t responded to other treatments. “When done by someone good, it’s safe and sometimes very helpful,” Dr. Lipton says.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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