Monday, September 17, 2012

Vitamin D in Pregnancy Critical for Brain Development, Study Says

Babies whose mothers had adequate levels appeared to do better on mental, motor tests.

Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy could hinder babies' brain development, impeding their mental and motor skills, a new study suggests.

Researchers in Spain measured the level of vitamin D in the blood of almost 2,000 women in their first or second trimester of pregnancy and evaluated the mental and motor abilities of their babies at about 14 months of age. The investigators found that children of vitamin D-deficient mothers scored lower than those whose mothers had adequate levels of the sunshine vitamin.

"These differences in the mental and psychomotor development scores do not likely make any difference at the individual level, but might have an important impact at the population level," said study lead author Dr. Eva Morales, a medical epidemiologist in the Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona.

Overall, lower scores in these tests could lead to lower IQs among children, Morales added.
The study was published online Sept. 17 and in the October print issue of the journal Pediatrics.
Previous research has linked insufficient levels of vitamin D during pregnancy with language impairment in children at 5 and 10 years of age.

Despite these connections, experts still debate how much vitamin D pregnant women should receive.
The Institute of Medicine, an independent U.S. group that advises the public, recommends pregnant women get 600 international units (IU) a day of vitamin D and no more than 4,000 IU/day. However, the Endocrine Society says that 600 units does not prevent deficiency and that at least 1,500 to 2,000 units a day may be required.

Bruce Hollis, director of pediatric nutritional sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, said the recommended 600 units per day is probably sufficient to promote good skeletal health in fetuses, but it "basically does nothing" to prevent other diseases.

Other studies have reported that low prenatal vitamin D levels could weaken a baby's immune system and increase the risk of asthma and other respiratory conditions, and heart disease.

Hollis recommends that women who are pregnant or want to become pregnant get 4,000 units a day of vitamin D.

Women must take supplements or spend 10 or 15 minutes in the sun during the summer if they are fair-skinned to get this level of vitamin D, Hollis added. It would be difficult to get this many units even from foods rich in vitamin D, such as fatty fish and fortified milk.

In the current study, Morales and her colleagues measured vitamin D levels in 1,820 pregnant women living in four areas of Spain. Most were in their second trimester.

The researchers found that 20 percent of the women were vitamin D-deficient and another 32 percent had insufficient levels of the vitamin.

Morales and her colleagues found that the babies of mothers whose prenatal vitamin D level was deficient scored on average 2.6 points lower on a mental test and 2.3 points lower on a psychomotor test at about 14 months of age than babies of women whose prenatal vitamin D level was adequate.

Differences of between four and five points in these types of neuropsychological tests could reduce the number of children with above-average intelligence (IQ scores above 110 points) by over 50 percent, Morales noted.

The authors took into consideration other factors that could influence babies' mental and motor development, including birth weight, maternal age, social class and mother's education level, and whether or not the mother drank alcohol or smoked during pregnancy.

The study found a link between vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy and babies' brain development, but it did not prove the existence of a cause-and-effect relationship.

To get a better idea of what these differences in developmental scores mean, the authors should evaluate the children when they are 7 or 8 years old and starting to learn to read and write, said Dr. Ruth Lawrence, medical director of the Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Study Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.

Also, this study does not address the diet of the babies, Lawrence said. Although vitamin D is in both breast milk and infant formula, cholesterol and the amino acid taurine are only found in breast milk and also affect brain development after birth, she added.

Lawrence advises pregnant women get a dietary consultation in their first trimester and consider vitamin D supplementation. "We have realized that vitamin D has a lot more impact than to prevent rickets," she said.
Vitamin D may have additional benefits for mothers-to-be. Other research conducted by Hollis and his team found that pregnant women taking vitamin D could lower their risk of pregnancy-related diabetes and high blood pressure.

Early studies suggesting that high levels of vitamin D could lead to birth defects were bogus, Hollis said.
Women can receive up to 50,000 units a day before worrying about having too much vitamin D, Hollis said. Excessive vitamin D can lead to spikes in blood levels of calcium, which can, in turn, lead to kidney and nerve damage and abnormal heart rhythm.

Sugar in blood can shrink your brain

The Hindu To ward off brain shrinkage, eat well and get fit.
To ward off brain shrinkage, eat well and get fit. File Photo
Doctors ought to think again about what is a normal blood-sugar level.
Researchers in Australia have found that even those now considered normal are at greater risk of the brain shrinkage that comes with type-2 diabetes and is evident in dementia patients.
“We found that even within the normal range, and in people without diabetes, higher sugar levels were associated with greater shrinking of the hippocampus,” said Nicolas Cherbuin, head of the brain lab at the Australian National University in Canberra.
“If these findings are replicated in other cohorts, norms for blood sugar levels and diabetes may need to be re-examined.” Over four years Cherbuin studied 249 people aged 60-64 whose blood sugar was in the normal range of 4-6.1 millimoles per litre.
He found that those in the top of the range were more likely to have loss of brain volume in the hippocampus and the amygdala than those in the lower blood-glucose range. The hippocampus and the amygdala are important to memory and cognitive skills.
Type-2 diabetes is often put down to poor lifestyle choices and the same goes for high blood sugar. To ward off brain shrinkage, eat well and get fit — and try and avoid the stressful things in life.
“Lack of exercise and chronic stress also affect blood sugar levels and a healthy lifestyle should include regular exercise and avoiding chronic stress,” Cherbuin said.

Study shows brain function differences in women with anorexia

Researchers found different parts of the brain were activated during different appraisals of self.

A new study published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience by researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at UT Dallas and UT Southwestern found brain-based differences in how women with and without anorexia perceive themselves. The findings shed light on how brain pathways function in ill and fully recovered individuals who have had anorexia nervosa.

Dr. Dan Krawczyk, associate professor at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and psychiatry at UT Southwestern, and Dr. Carrie McAdams, assistant psychiatry professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center, used functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. Then they asked women to evaluate their own characteristics in comparison to a friend. Tasks consisted of reading and responding to statements with three different appraisals:

     * Self (evaluation of an attribute about one's own identity based on one's own opinion).

     * Friend (evaluation of an attribute about a close female friend).

     * Reflected (evaluation of an attribute about one's self as believed by one's friend).

When making judgments about themselves, women with anorexia showed different types of brain activation than women without anorexia. "This data provides biological evidence that self-identity is processed differently in women with anorexia nervosa," said Dr. Krawczyk. "These differences in understandings of oneself may lead to and perpetuate the problematic eating behaviors of those with anorexia. This is important because it further validates the idea that anorexia is not just about food behaviors, but rather it is about how individuals see themselves and link it to social perception.

" Researchers observed differences in fMRI activation related to self-knowledge ("I am," "I look") and perspective-taking ("I believe," "a friend believes") in the brain's precuneus, two areas with the dorsal anterior cingulate and the left middle frontal gyrus. This study further validates that the precuneus is linked to self-consciousness and reflective self-awareness, both of which involve rating one's own personality traits as opposed to making judgments of other people.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, more than 24 million people of all ages and genders stuffer from an eating disorder in the United States. Women are much more likely than men to develop eating disorders, and research suggests that up to 4 percent of women suffer from anorexia nervosa in their lifetimes.

"Anorexia nervosa is the psychiatric illness with the highest mortality rate, with nearly 10 peercent of its sufferers dying from the disorder," said Dr. McAdams. "Treatments for anorexia attempt to change the eating habits of the individual so that they begin to eat a nutritionally balanced diet. However, this disorder is rarely cured by dietary changes alone.

" The hope of Dr. Krawczyk's and Dr. McAdams' research is to show how the latest advancements in neuroimaging can characterize brain-based changes in those with anorexia to facilitate timely and efficacious prevention and treatment.

 "We are now working to compare how these brain pathways function in both currently ill and fully recovered individuals who have had anorexia nervosa, with the hope of observing whether changes in these brain regions can be associated with recovery," said Dr. Krawczyk.

Aneurysm 'a high-pressured fire hose inside the brain'

Often illnesses or medical issues gain attention when famous people are afflicted with them.

Many people around the world learned about Parkinson's disease after Michael J. Fox announced his diagnosis.

More locally, many people became more informed about brain aneurysms when Rochester City Council President Dennis Hanson died following a brain aneurysm.

Here are some facts about brain aneurysms:


A common misperception is that a brain aneurysm is a rupture of a blood vessel in the brain, but that's not exactly the case. Brain aneurysms alone don't kill or harm people.

"A brain aneurysm is a small, balloon-shaped bubble that forms on the side of an artery," said Dr. Robert Brown, a Mayo Clinic neurologist.

The bubble is the aneurysm, but the trouble doesn't happen until that bubble bursts. When the bubble ruptures blood can shoot out into the brain.

"It's like a high-pressured fire hose inside the brain," said Mayo Clinic Neurosurgeon Dr. Giuseppe Lanzino. The blood leak can either destroy the brain, or harm it enough to dramatically impact a person's mental and physical capacities, Lanzino said.

Life and death

 "It's a relatively uncommon, but still important cause of death," Brown said.

There are 25,000 to 30,000 reported brain aneurysm ruptures in the United States every year. Brown says about one-third of those, or about 10,000, cause death, but the number of brain aneurysm ruptures is a tiny fraction of the number of brain aneurysms people have. Some 2 percent of the U.S. population, or about 6 million people, have a brain aneurysm that has not ruptured.

"Many people have them and don't even know it," Brown said.

Many patients don't even require treatment, Lanzino said. Between 60 percent and 70 percent of people who've had burst aneurysms and been treated at Mayo Clinic do very well. The other 30 percent either die or have severe mental or physical impairment, Lanzino said.

The chief determinant of life or death is the amount of damage already done to the brain by the time the patient comes in.

"If the brain has already been irreversibly damaged by the bleed, those are patient's beyond our ability to help," Lanzino said.

Brown said he doesn't think the rate of brain aneurysms is increasing — rather, medical technology has just made it easier to spot them.

"The frequency with which we're identifying brain aneurysms that haven't burst is due to more CT and MRI scans being done, typically for symptoms completely unrelated to the aneurysm that is seen on the scan," he said.

Brain surgery can't slow down Holliston artist

Ken McGagh/ for Wicked Local and Daily News
tumor2.jpgArtist Mark Campbell of Holliston stands in front of his exhibit "Limes For Life" at the Dana Hall School in Wellesley. Campbell is recovering from brain surgery after a tumor the size of a lime was found.
For weeks now, friends and family have told Holliston resident and artist Mark Campbell to slow down and rest.

After all, he did just have surgery in July to remove a brain tumor.
"You can’t slow down when your body is telling you to go," said Campbell, 44. "It’s been a pretty intense ride."

That ride, which started a couple years ago when Campbell first learned about the tumor, has led him to the Dana Hall School Gallery, where about 100 of his digitally-enhanced illustrations are on display. His exhibit will run until Oct. 5 and kicks off the gallery’s 2012-2013 season.

An opening reception is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 18, from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the gallery.

"I’ve always wanted to make someone feel better, or be able to relate," Campbell said of his work. "Every single (print) has a story."

The latest chapter of Campbell’s story began after he hurt his knee playing softball. He went to get the injury checked out, and it was then that doctors determined he had a brain tumor, "about the size of a lime," he was told.

At the time, Campbell had three options: remove the tumor with surgery, shrink it with radiation or just observe the tumor’s growth. After learning insurance wouldn’t cover radiation treatment, Campbell decided to wait and see what the tumor did.

Campbell said he showed no signs or symptoms of the tumor, which was located very close to his eyes.
In June of this year, the tumor had grown to the point that doctors needed to do something, or it had the potential to damage his vision, sense of smell or cause paralysis.

The single father of two went in for surgery on July 25, and checked out of the hospital just three days later.
The tumor was malignant in nature, Campbell said, and while the surgeons got about 96 percent of the tumor out, they will determine in the coming weeks what the next course of action.

"I had the perfect situation of what you want with something like this," said Campbell. "The right kind of tumor, I was healthy, didn’t drink, didn’t smoke and was the right age. I consider myself really blessed."

Before he went in for surgery, Campbell said he recognized the exorbitant cost of surgery and recovery. So he used his doctor’s lime comparison as inspiration for a fundraising campaign that showcases his artistic abilities

The campaign, called "Limes for Life," features T-shirts and coffee mugs with a lime design Campbell created, a book he wrote to accompany his artwork, and his music.

"I didn’t expect people to respond the way they did," said Campbell. "It is just an unbelievable overwhelming amount of support from people."

Most of his recovery time has been spent sending products out to people, including two dozen copies of his book and about 70 T-shirts.

He added that "Limes for Life" is not a one-time thing, and he hopes to revisit it soon to raise more money to help others.

The pieces in the Dana Hall exhibit are mostly ones he created before his surgery. He was inspired to get a collection of work together after seeing an exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts. He’s had exhibits at Pejamajo CafĂ© in Holliston, as well as the Holliston Public Library.

"It’s insane what you can do with this stuff," said Campbell of technology, including an iPad application he used to make some self-portraits after the surgery.

Even with his positive approach to the situation, Campbell said post-surgery life has not been easy. He said he is tired all the time and can't really drive far distances. His head and face hurt so much after surgery that any facial movement - smiling, yawning, sneezing – was very painful.
He even temporarily lost his sense of smell and sense of taste, which both recently came back.
"The healing is happening," he said.

But the thing that Campbell said hurt the most was the month of summer vacation he lost with his son and daughter.

"If there were ever two supporters through this, they are it," Campbell said.

Despite the pain of surgery and the continued battle Campbell faces, he said if it were not for the tumor, he probably wouldn’t have a show at Dana Hall.

"(The tumor) forced me to write that book and put this show together," he said. "The impetus to do those things was profound because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen after surgery."

Brain food: keeping up with cardoons

A big-breasted bird.
Roast Chicken.What do I do with cardoons? S. Lui
MY great mate Rosa Mitchell says that after the recent rain and burst of warmth, cardoons are sending up fresh tender leaves. This wild cousin of the thistle grows around Melbourne, particularly on disturbed ground.

Mitchell says only harvest the tender stems near the heart of the plant, trim away the leaves and boil the stems for 30 minutes to an hour, or until tender. She recommends you crumb and fry them until they're golden then serve them with a sprinkle of salt.

She says another great way to cook them is to mash the cooked stems with a little flour, an egg and some parmesan, then form patties and shallow fry them.

Cardoons can be found at the moment in some farmers' markets. Under no circumstances do you substitute thistle stalks for cardoons, as one unfortunate forager did, only to find they're about as palatable as echidna skins.

Can I feed my coeliac friend porridge for breakfast? M. Lawson
BEING a coeliac really limits your food choices. When a person with coeliac disease eats the protein in grains such as wheat, rye, barley and oats, the immune system recognises the proteins, commonly referred to as ''gluten'' - although they all have different names - as being foreign invaders. So the immune system produces T cells, which attack the intestine and not the proteins.

Some people with coeliac disease, however, can eat oats. Unfortunately, Australian oats are grown and processed in proximity to other grains so those coeliacs who can eat oats have to eat ''pure oats'' sourced from Scotland or the US. Look out for the brand Bob's Red Mill Oats. As much as I love porridge, it's not really something I would give a friend for breakfast. Consider fruit, eggs or perhaps a kipper?

What does ''Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee'' actually mean? J. Appleton
I EDITED out your comment about lemurs preferring to drink Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee because it went against the laws of nature and was terribly cheeky.
I have been to a Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee plantation in Mexico and can tell you exactly what one looks like. There is an over-story of rainforest trees that have been thinned out. Under these are planted coffee bushes. The floor of the plantation is thick with leaf litter and the forest is home to birds, deer, butterflies and too many spiders and serpents. The coffee is grown with fewer chemicals and tends to get a better price at the market. Unfortunately, the coffee I tried was made in a filter and had been stewed and tasted dreadful - which goes to prove that you can try to save the environment but it won't save you from a bad barista.

Where can I get an older, big-breasted chicken with good, firm thighs? L. Holworth
WHAT is it with you people this week? Taken a Benny Hill tablet or something? Anyway, L. Holworth, you are right. Most commercial chickens are slaughtered at about six weeks and although generally plump, the flesh is very tender, so you won't find those firm legs and thighs. Some growers, such as Milawa Free Range Poultry, grow their birds for 72 days and feed them a diet that contains corn, giving a big-breasted bird with firm flesh and yellow skin, the natural pigments in the corn accumulating in the fat. These are really good chooks, costing about $12 a kilogram for a whole free-range bird, or $17 a kilogram for an organic chook.

Brain implant improves thinking in monkeys. Are humans next?

Forget Adderall.

Scientists have implanted a chip inside the brains of rhesus monkeys and seen their decision making and thinking improve. The breakthrough is an important step on what will be a long road to bringing brain prostheses to stroke victims and those suffering from dementia and brain injuries.

Previous research showed that a neural implant could boost memory in rodents, but this demonstration of a device that could enhance fairly advanced mental skills was the first in primates, whose brains are more similar to those in humans.

Published in the Journal of Neural Engineering, the paper, by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and the University of Southern California, also builds upon previous brain implants that improved the brain’s ability to do physical things such as see better, control prosthetic limbs or move computer cursors. What sets this device apart is that it improves the brain’s internal function.

The experiments

The study began with the researchers teaching five rhesus monkeys to play a picture-matching game. They would be shown an image, such as of a toy, mountains or a person, and then later on, they’d have to select the matching image from a group of them. Every time they guessed correctly, they got a treat.
The monkeys improved over two years of playing the game — getting 75% of the easy matches correct and 40% of the harder ones, which is better than chance guessing.

Then, the monkeys got a tiny brain implant with two sensors that was threaded through the forehead and into two nearby layers of the cerebral cortex, which is the outer covering of the brain. The two layers are known to communicate with each other during the type of decision making in which the monkeys engaged while playing the picture-matching game.

The implant logged how the neurons were firing while the animals were making their choices and sent the data to a computer. The researchers then found the pattern that occurred when the monkeys chose the correct images.

Then, the scientists put this “correct” pattern into the monkeys’ brains while they were in the middle of choosing the matching picture; doing so improved their performance by about 10%.
The scientists tested it again by purposely impairing the monkeys’ performance by giving them cocaine, which caused their scores to drop by 20%.

But, with the stimulator on, they didn’t make mistakes.


While the commercial version of this device is years away, co-author Sam A. Deadwyler a Wake Forest University told The New York Times, “The whole idea is that the device would generate an output pattern that bypasses the damaged area, providing an alternative connection” in the brain.

But the road to such a device could be long given that decision making is a complex process involving many neural circuits.

The Times concludes:
“A device focused on just one circuit is likely to be very limited. But not long ago, even a simple neural prosthesis would have seemed like science fiction.”

Brain on drugs

Artist draws bizarre self-portraits while high on various narcotics
This, in case you’ve ever lain awake at night pondering it, is what happens if you have the desire to mix drugs with paint, Daily Mail reports.

Washington DC-based artist Bryan Lewis Saunders did just that to create his aptly entitled portfolio of work, DRUGS.

From cocaine and marijuana, to Xanax and Absinth, these narcotics-inspired self-portraits capture the many faces of Saunders as he experiments with a cocktail of illegal substances.

Reminiscent of the 1987 PSA ‘Brain on Drugs’, the artwork is an alarming home truth of what narcotics can do to the mind.

“After experiencing drastic changes in my environment, I looked for other experiences that might profoundly affect my perception of the self,” he wrote in a commentary accompanying the collection.

“So I devised another experiment where everyday I took a different drug and drew myself under the influence. Within weeks I became lethargic and suffered mild brain damage. I am still conducting this experiment but over greater lapses of time. I only take drugs that are given to me.”

Inspired by Xanax is a psychedelic hipster-esque pastel image of Saunders donning a ‘My Little Pony’ t-shirt and beanie hat. ‘Hash’ emits a similar ecstasy, with brightly coloured swirls of crayon surrounding his balding head. And in ‘Psilocybin Mushrooms (2 caps onset)’ he looks utterly thrilled, his eyes bulging and his mouth formed in an ecstatic grin.

In ‘1 sm Glass of “real” Absinth’ his raw outline is line-drawn in what looks like charcoal, smudges around his pin-dot eyes making him look like he is crying.‘10mg Adderall’ has Saunders transformed into a bespectacled adder, while his disembodied hand supports his head in ‘10mg Ambien’.

Words fail the description of ‘Bath Salts’, by far the most disturbing image, hacked into the paper with frustrated pen jabs. His warped features sit skew-if on his face, his bared teeth riddled with dirt. Almost as disturbing is 250mg Cephalexin, sketched in smudged neon green ink, depicting Saunders wearing a Klu Klux Klan style headdress. And in the style of ‘The Shining’ he recites ‘melting on the couch’ over and over in ‘4mg Dilaudid’. The candidly honest portfolio continues with ‘15mg Buspar (snorted)’, a saintly-looking image of Saunders with his eyes closed behind a wash of bright yellow. One of the less erratic portraits, he looks almost peaceful. In ‘Butane Honey Oil’ a mechanical instrument is drawn into his head, in place of his brain, a self-satisfied smile on his lips, his eyes closed.

‘1 shot of Dilaudid / 3 shots of Morphine’ has the artist take on an Egyptian-style look, with a decorative headdress and pink super-hero eye-mask.

As with many of the images he is out of human proportion, an outstretched hand almost twice the size of his face.

‘DMT’ is a bizarre contrast of utterly unfathomable etchings on top, a spirally mess of thin lines, and a scientific labelled diagram detailing ‘head’, ‘open space’ and ‘connecting sensation’.

Wording in ‘60mg Geodon’ reads ‘Do not drink alcoholic beverages when taking this medication’, which one might suspect Saunders has done given the pained, blotchy self-portrait its influence has provoked. ‘10mg Loritab’ appears to be one of the more normal sketches, relatively lifelike with in-proportion features and appropriate shading. daily times monitor