Monday, June 19, 2017

A Lack of 'Editing' in The Brain Could Be What's Driving The Most Aggressive Tumours


Brain cancer is often a devastating diagnosis, and scientists have been hunting for mechanisms that could explain the sources of brain tumours, with hopes to also find something that could prevent them.

Now a new study has peered into the mechanisms of gene expression in the brain, and found that tissue samples from brain cancer patients show a lack of microRNA editing. This means we might one day find a way to use gene editing to slow down the progression of the disease.

MicroRNAs are short bits of RNA that don't code for proteins, but are still important for regulating gene expression. In fact, these molecules might be responsible for fine-tuning as much as 30 percent of all protein-encoding genes in mammals.

This fine-tuning happens through various changes to the RNA molecule, and this process is called 'editing'. Studies have shown that editing "changes the information encoded by the genome and adds complexity to the gene regulatory networks".

A common type of microRNA editing happens when one of its components, adenosine, is changed to a different one, inosine, lending the name 'A-to-I editing'.

Researchers know that A-to-I editing is a crucial process needed for normal functioning of the organism, especially when it comes to cell development and homeostasis.

Problems with microRNA editing, which lead to changes in gene expression, have already been linked to several types of cancer, including a type of brain cancer called glioma.

Now scientists have looked into the mechanisms behind microRNA editing in human brain tissue samples, looking specifically at the frontal cortex and corpus callosum, along with tumour samples of glioblastoma multiforme, a highly aggressive type of brain cancer.

The team found that brain tumour samples had significantly lower levels of A-to-I editing, while in healthy brains this process happens much more regularly, even in comparison to other types of tissue in the human body.

"What precisely is happening, we can't say, but with altered levels and positions of these editing events, cellular output can be significantly altered which we see in case of cancers," says lead researcher Arijit Mukhopadhyay from the CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in India.

In other words, it looks like if microRNA editing goes off the rails and doesn't rearrange its components just so, it can lead to all kinds of genetic changes which in turn affect how the brain cells grow - sometimes for the worst.

Cancer happens when cells start dividing out of control and take over, so this new finding is an important step towards establishing what exactly goes wrong at the biochemical level when a brain tumour starts to form.

"[W]e have been able to show that in both healthy and diseased state, microRNA editing is an important layer of information with specific sequence and structural preferences – especially in the human brain," the team writes in the paper.

Scientists say they now need more research to further establish what happens in the brain to derail editing in a way that can lead to tumours. Conversely, they also hope to identify specific microRNA types that could protect us from cancer by suppressing tumour formation.

Armed with this knowledge, researchers could one day even use gene editing techniques like CRISPR to potentially fix the microRNA editing problems.

If this method can prevent the changes in cells that lead to cancer, it might be a way to prevent tumours from growing in the first place.

Early stress ups depression risk by permanently changing DNA


Beware! A study has revealed that individuals, who experience childhood stress and trauma, are at increased risk of depression by permanently changing their Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA). According to researchers, early life stress encodes lifelong susceptibility to stress through long-lasting transcriptional programming in a brain reward region implicated in mood and depression. The study focuses on epigenetics – a study of changes in the action of genes caused not by changes in DNA code we inherit from our parents, but instead by molecules that regulate when, where and to what degree our genetic material is activated. The function of transcription factors are specialised proteins that bind to specific DNA sequences in our genes and either encourage or shut down the expression of a given gene. Study’s lead investigator Catherine Pena said that the work identifies a molecular basis for stress during a sensitive developmental window that programs a mouse’s response to stress in adulthood. “We discovered that disrupting maternal care of mice produces changes in levels of hundreds of genes in the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA), neurons located close to the midline on the floor of the midbrain, that primes this brain region to be in a depression-like state, even before we detect behavioural changes.

Essentially, this brain region encodes a lifelong, latent susceptibility to depression that is revealed only after encountering additional stress,” Peña added.

The investigators identified a role for the developmental transcription factor orthodenticle homeobox 2 (Otx2) as a master regulator of these enduring gene changes. The team showed that baby mice that were stressed in a sensitive period (from postnatal day 10-20) had suppressed Otx2 in the VTA. While Otx2 levels ultimately recovered by adulthood, the suppression had already set in motion gene alterations that lasted into adulthood, indicating that early life stress disrupts age-specific developmental programming orchestrated by Otx2. To test the prediction that Otx2 was actually responsible for the stress sensitivity, the team developed viral tools that were used to either increase or decrease Otx2 levels. They found that suppression of Otx2 early in life was both necessary and sufficient for increased susceptibility to adult stress. Senior investigator of the study Eric J. Nestler said that this mouse paradigm will be useful for understanding the molecular correlates of increased risk of depression resulting from early life stress and could pave the way to look for such sensitive windows in human studies. The study is published in the journal Science.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Roots Of Consciousness: We're Of Two Minds


What would happen if your brain was split in two? In this week's Invisibilia podcast and show, host Hanna Rosin meets a woman named Karen with "alien hand syndrome."

After surgery to treat her epilepsy severed the connection between the two halves of her brain, Karen's left hand took on a mind of its own, acting against her will to undress or even to slap her. Amazing, to be sure. But what may be even more amazing is that most people who have split-brain surgery don't notice anything different at all.

But there's more to the story than that. In the 1960s, a young neuroscientist named Michael Gazzaniga began a series of experiments with split-brain patients that would change our understanding of the human brain forever. Working in the lab of Roger Sperry, who later won a Nobel Prize for his work, Gazzaniga discovered that the two halves of the brain experience the world quite differently.

When Gazzaniga and his colleagues flashed a picture in front of a patient's right eye, the split-brain patient could easily describe the scene verbally. But when a picture was flashed in front of the left eye, the patient would report seeing nothing. If allowed to respond non-verbally, however, the right brain could adeptly point at or draw what was seen by the left eye. So the right brain knew what it was seeing; it just couldn't talk about it. These experiments showed for the first time that each brain hemisphere has specialized tasks.

I spoke with Gazzaniga about his seminal research and what it can tell us about the nature of the human brain and even human consciousness. He's the director of the SAGE Center for the Study of Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of the upcoming book, The Consciousness Instinct. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

It's incredible now to think that until you did those experiments, no one knew about brain lateralization. What does it feel like to make such a profound discovery?

Before we conducted our experiments, it seemed very clear that cutting the corpus callosum did not have any effect. Karl Lashley, an influential memory researcher, joked that the corpus callosum's role was simply "to keep the hemispheres from sagging."

So it was pretty stunning to witness a guy who was otherwise just like everybody else be completely unaware in his left hemisphere about what his right hemisphere was capable of. All of the information in half of his visual field could not be verbally described. And yet, the right hemisphere responding non-verbally was aware that the information had been presented. It boggles the mind. If you were witnessing that, trust me, you would just be stunned. You'd say, "I want to understand that more."

So what's the benefit of having the two halves of the brain specialized like that?

Well, people have been wondering about lateralization of the nervous system for a long time, and there are many theories, but it's basically not known. Up until you get to the human brain, if you look at monkeys and chimps, both sides of the brain serve basically the same functions. And then in humans, there starts to be this vast amount of lateral specialization. One simple idea that we've offered is that the human is really set with more capacities than fewer, and each one of those capacities takes up some kind of neural space.

If you start with a normal, intact brain with things duplicated on each side and you need more cortical space to add on all the new, higher functions of the human condition, you're gonna say, "Maybe let's recraft some of this space and just use one hemisphere, so we have more space for another capacity." But as I say, it's just speculation; it's not in the category of "we know how it works."

What are "functions of the human condition"?

Well, over time, as our experiments evolved, rather than just asking patients to identify what they saw, we asked them to select objects or drawings to match the images we showed them, and then we would ask them to explain themselves. For example, we showed the right eye of one patient a picture a chicken claw. The right hand had to pick a related drawing, and one was a chicken. So, the chicken claw obviously goes with the chicken. At the same time, we showed to the left eye a New England snow scene. The left hand had to pick a related image, and one was a shovel, so the left hand pointed to the shovel.

Afterward, we asked the patient, sort of confrontationally, "Why did you do that? Why did you point to the chicken and the shovel?" And the patient said, "Well, the chicken claw goes with the chicken, and you need a shovel to clean out the chicken shed." And we realized — BOOM! — we do that all day long! We have all these separate systems, these impulses, these emotions, these behaviors, all this stuff, and we're constantly thinking about it and spinning it into a story that fits.

Once you're onto that as a big feature of the human condition, you could then see how you can take that kind of interpretive system and build larger stories about meaning and why we're doing things and our origins, and all the rest of it.

What can split-brain research teach us about normal brains?

One of the fundamental facts of split-brain research that people have to remember is that you can take any normal person and normal brain and disconnect the hemispheres and all of a sudden you have two consciousnesses. And through analysis and examination of all kinds of neurologic cases, you realized there are consciousnesses all over the brain!

So if you're looking at one system that somehow generates our subjective sense of being conscious — that's wrong. That's not how we should think about how consciousness evolved. You can take a conscious system and divide it in two just by disconnecting some neurons — that is a thing to go home and think about real hard.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

New data reveals increase in rate of deaths from Alzheimer's disease

The rate of death from Alzheimer's disease in the United States increased by more than 50 percent in the past 15 years, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In part, it's because Americans are living longer – age is one of the biggest risk factors for developing Alzheimer's. But it's also because medical professionals can identify risk factors, recognize the symptoms and diagnose the disease earlier.

In addition to cognitive impairment and behavioral decline, Alzheimer's – which accounts for the majority of cases of dementia – causes deterioration of other systems of the body, leading physicians to include it as a cause of death alongside conditions it may cause, such as pneumonia or blot clots.

Now, Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death nationwide. It is estimated that one in every 10 Americans age 65 and older has Alzheimer's dementia. Guidelines for diagnosing it were updated in 2012 to include use of biomarkers or genes to determine risk for the disease, in addition to family report, physician judgment and a neurological and cognitive exam.

"Those in their 80s are at the highest risk because that is the fastest-growing decade of Americans," said Dr. Paul Eslinger, a clinical neuropsychologist at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Women account for two-thirds of Alzheimer's cases. In part that's because they typically live longer than men. Some recent studies also relate use of estrogen by women who have a genetic biomarker for Alzheimer's to a significantly increased risk of developing the disease.

Alzheimer's is typically considered to be a disease of the elderly because it is caused as brain cells gradually die off over the course of several years, even before the condition can be clinically diagnosed. Although its causes are unclear and there is no cure, some treatments can slow progression of the disease.

"Certain medications can provide the brain with some of the neurotransmitters it needs so it can function with the depleted number of cells it has and you can slow clinical symptoms such as memory loss," said Dr. Claire Flaherty, a clinical neuropsychologist at Hershey Medical Center.

Eslinger said about 80 clinical trials in progress nationwide are focusing on toxic proteins – called amyloid plaques – in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. They explore a range of approaches, including boosting brain immune function, cell metabolism, blood flow and neurotransmitter efficiency.

Early detection of the disease is important because it allows individuals an opportunity to participate in such treatment trials, most of which are geared toward the early stages of the disease, when treatments are thought to be most effective.

Early diagnosis can also help clarify for families whether a loved one has Alzheimer's or another condition that necessitates changes in their ability to work, drive, manage a household or live independently. Starting treatments early and managing lifestyle factors that can exacerbate symptoms are other benefits to detecting the disease sooner.

Advances in management of the medical and non-medical aspects of the disease are making it possible for more Alzheimer's patients to finish their lives at home. While that can improve a patient's quality of life, it can place incredible demands on caregivers.

The brunt of the burden falls on women, who account for two-thirds of all caregivers. They may need to leave the workforce early, reduce the hours they can work or make other career and lifestyle adjustments to provide the support an Alzheimer's patient requires.

Flaherty said the problem is finally being recognized by local and state governments, which are forming plans to care for an aging population and an estimated tripling in the cases of Alzheimer's in the next 30 years.

"We also have an extreme shortage of geriatric specialists in this country and those who are assigned to work with these Alzheimer's patients are not always that well trained," she said. "These are things that are now being addressed."

HEALTH INSIGHT: THE IMPORTANCE OF A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP


"Not only is healthy sleep essential for the prevention of brain degeneration as seen in Alzheimers and Parkinsons but it has also been shown to be effective treatment for sufferers of these conditions. Our brain relies so heavily on our sleep cycles to regenerate that studies have shown one missed night of sleep can impact sufferers of mental illnesses – particularly depression."

While we all sleep, we all have different experiences of sleep. Some of us feel like we can’t get enough of it, others really struggle to fall asleep. And for something that makes up decades of our lives, we don’t often think about it as important as more than rest. Even sleep researchers admit how little we know about sleep. But what we do know about sleep is fascinating.

Our sleep and awake patterns make up our circadian rhythm or clock. It is a biological timer of sorts that is created to be in synchronisation with the rotation of the earth.

Naturally, over the day, we accumulate sleep inducing hormones such as melatonin. Exposure to light, triggers different hormones such as serotonin which is what helps us wake up and stay awake during the day. Our stress hormone, cortisol, upsets the balance of these two hormones which is why stress not only affects our sleep but also affects our mood. In fact, sleeplessness is a key diagnostic criteria for depression.

With the modernisation of our society, artificial light has altered our lifestyles to the point where our circadian rhythms have become disrupted and out of rhythm with the rotation of the earth. For example, we are more often than not awake after sunset when in reality sunset was meant to be a signal to sleep. Also, one of the most effective ways to alter sleep patterns is with a blue based light - most of the devices in use today such as phones, tablets and televisions have a blue based light.

We see this disruption even more pronounced in shift workers, whose eating and sleeping habits don’t fit with a standard circadian rhythm. They commonly struggle with metabolic issues such as obesity and type 2 diabetes due to increased insulin resistance caused by altered sleep patterns. Even with the same energy intake, their body is not able to digest it in the same way because the cycle of fasting and food intake is out of routine.

Interestingly, it has been noticed that beta amyloid, one of the most significant risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease, is actively cleared from our brains while we sleep. Not only is healthy sleep essential for the prevention of brain degeneration as seen in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's but it has also been shown to be effective treatment for sufferers of these conditions. Our brain relies so heavily on our sleep cycles to regenerate that studies have shown one missed night of sleep can impact sufferers of mental illnesses – particularly depression.

Our immune system relies on sleep to rebuild all of the cells necessary for the immune system to function. This means that disrupted or missed sleep leaves our bodies at risk of infections and viruses which a rested body would be able to fight.

Also, improving sleep quality has also been shown to reduce inflammation and improve cholesterol regulation, both of which are major risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

So what can we do about our sleep habits? Sleep hygiene and lavender essential oils are the most promising when it comes to sleep quality research. Pharmaceutical drugs do little for sleep quality although they can improve sleep quantity. Sleep hygiene includes limiting blue or artificial light after sundown where practical, avoiding caffeine in the afternoon, and setting up a night time routine such as reading before going to bed. While there is significant hype around “morning routines” at the moment, I would argue that an evening routine which promotes quality sleep is of even more benefit.

Another option to improve the response of the body to the right sleep/wake hormones is to use an application on your phone or computer called f.lux. This app changes the light of your screen depending on the time of day to prepare your body for healthy and consistent sleep cycles.

Bridie Kersten is a registered nutritionist with an advanced diploma in nutrition and a Bachelor of Health Science (biochemistry and nutritional medicine).

Three Tips To Improve Your Um... Er... Memory


Memory difficulties are commonly thought of as a problem relating to older age. However the somewhat depressing news published in the British Medical Journal in 2012 revealed how cognitive decline starts in our forties and fifties, indicating it's never too early to be putting in place ways to help preserve cognitive function.

While there are a number of factors contributing to why we struggle with memory, one of the chief culprits is stress, identified by 80 percent of Americans as their most common workplace challenge.

With rates of presenteeism (low productivity due to working while sick) costing the Australian economy $34 billion a year, identifying ways to reduce the impact of stress and boost memory and cognition is becoming increasingly urgent.

To remember anything requires a three-phase step -- paying attention, encoding the material and recalling it at the appropriate time.

Poor workplace practices such as multitasking or working too many hours when already tired means the information we want to retain may never get encoded. We think we have forgotten, but the reality is we never remembered in the first place.

Thankfully there are three simple ways we can boost our memory.



Getting enough sleep

Chronic sleep deprivation increases daytime sleepiness, reduces attention and speed of processing information. Worse still, it increases the risk of the formation of false memories where your imagination creates its own version of reality.

Most people need between seven and nine hours of good quality uninterrupted sleep to think at their best. Overly busy brains benefit from an evening wind-down that includes switching off all technology at least one hour before bed, keeping to a regular bedtime routine, and keeping the room cool around 21°C, dark and quiet. Adding an additional 20 minutes of sleep time by going to bed earlier can make all the difference to your level of brainpower, as can adding in a daytime power nap of a similar time.

Increasing your exercise regime

Aerobic exercise enhances memory through increased cerebral blood flow, the associated elevation of mood, and reduction of stress, making it easier to learn and remember.

Maintaining a high level of brain fitness is the best way to enhance memory and cognition.

A new study has revealed that for the over fifties, undertaking several 45-60 minute sessions of moderate to vigorous walking, running, swimming, cycling or rowing each week can help boost general cognition, while resistance training using weights can improve executive function, memory and working memory.

Stilling the mind

Taking time out for quiet, reflective thought develops greater critical thinking, strengthens the understanding of what we learn and improves memory.

Regular mindfulness meditation practice has been shown to enhance working memory -- the additional bonus being it leads to structural changes in the brain associated with increased gray matter volume, along with improved psychological wellbeing and emotional regulation.

The most important appointment of the day is the one you make with yourself to press pause, quieten the mind and think. As with any skill you're seeking to improve in, it's always the practice that counts.

If we're always in a rush, doing too many things at once and chronically tired, it's always going to be more difficult to think well and remember what matters. While it can be tempting to take the easy option and outsource our memory to Google, choosing to exercise your mental muscle is what builds a stronger, more resilient brain. What counts is putting in the practice and keeping the brain in tip-top shape by embracing those lifestyle choices as shown by the brain science to make the biggest difference.

Maintaining a high level of brain fitness is the best way to enhance memory and cognition.

Dr. Jenny Brockis specialises in the science of high-performance thinking and is the author of Future Brain: The 12 Keys To Create Your High Performance Brain (Wiley).

Monday, June 12, 2017

Research shows how sign language exposure affects young cochlear implant recipients


In a new, multisite study of deaf children with cochlear implants, UT Dallas researchers have found that children with either no exposure or limited exposure to sign language end up with better auditory, speaking and reading skills later. The paper is one of the first nationwide longitudinal studies of how sign language exposure affects young cochlear implant recipients.

The topic of whether children with cochlear implants should begin their communication experience with sign language has been controversial. However, Dr. Andrea Warner-Czyz, assistant professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS) and co-author of the study, said the research clarifies outcomes for such decisions.

"If you want your deaf child to be an oral communicator and have reading and language measures on par with their normal hearing peers, then signing to them may not provide the easiest route to that outcome," she said.

The study recently was published in the journal Pediatrics.

A cochlear implant is a biomedical device surgically implanted in the cochlea to replace the function of the damaged inner ear. The Food and Drug Administration has approved cochlear implantation for children with severe to profound hearing loss as young as 1-year-old.

Dr. Ann Geers, a BBS research scientist who was the lead author of the study, said a major question for normal hearing parents and the professionals who work with pediatric cochlear implant users is whether spoken language skills are best developed by focusing on the auditory speech signal or whether early exposure to an unambiguous visual language provides an important foundation for learning a spoken language.


To determine the answer, Geers, Warner-Czyz and researchers from six cochlear implant centers across the U.S. studied about 100 elementary-age children who had cochlear implants. The children, like 95 percent of all children born with hearing loss, had parents with normal hearing. The children either had early exposure to sign language that continued more than two years after the implantation, early sign language exposure that stopped before two years post-implant, or had no sign language exposure.

Each year, the researchers looked at how the children performed in the areas of speech perception, speech intelligibility, language and reading. The study showed that the children who continued to sign after two years of having a cochlear implant had poorer outcomes across all communication domains, particularly compared to those who didn't sign at all.

"This study provides the most compelling support yet available for the benefits of listening and spoken language input for promoting verbal development in children implanted by 3 years of age," Geers said. "Contrary to earlier published assertions, there was no advantage to parents' use of sign language. This result affirms the decision of many hearing parents who choose not to use sign language when their child receives a cochlear implant."

The researchers said the study's findings should be a powerful counseling tool for families, especially those whose native language is spoken rather than signed.

"A lot of these families think that once their child receives a cochlear implant, then that's it. But there's a lot of work that goes into getting these kids with the successful outcomes -- some of which has to do with how you use spoken language gt vto communicate with your child," Warner-Czyz said.

New review examines link between pain and opioid abuse


The drug overdose epidemic is largely driven by opioids, which continue to be prescribed for chronic pain despite recommendations to use non-opioids for most cases. A new review published in the British Journal of Pharmacology examines the interaction between pain and the abuse of opioids, and investigates the circuits in the brain that may be behind this link. The review is part of a special theme issue on Emergent Areas of Opioid Pharmacology.

"We have shown that the brain's natural opioid system is drastically changed by the presence of pain, and these changes may very well contribute to the difficulty of treating chronic pain with opioids," said first author Adrianne Wilson-Poe, PhD of the Washington University in Saint Louis School of Medicine. "We have just glimpsed the tip of the iceberg when it comes to pain's effect on the brain, however, and we need a lot more research and grant funding to get to the bottom of the extremely complex interaction between drug abuse and pain."

She and senior author Jose Moron-Concepcion, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at Washington University, note that without a fundamental understanding of pain-induced changes in the brain and how these adaptations interact with subsequent drug exposure, investigators are merely fishing for solutions to the opioid crisis. "Our work is attacking this problem head-on by diligently characterizing the mechanisms involved in pain, addiction, and the interaction between them," said Dr. Wilson-Poe. "We envision a future where chronic pain is considered a disease in its own right, not merely a symptom of some other biological process."

The review stresses that opioids are the most powerful analgesics known to man, and their continued use in the treatment of severe pain is inevitable; however, opioid therapy of the future must look very different from how it does today. Efforts to address this issue include a 2016 guideline by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that recommends using non-opioids for most cases of chronic pain, using the lowest effective dose when prescribing opioids, and ensuring that patients who are treated with opioids are closely monitored.

The review is part of a larger themed issue, 'Emergent Areas of Opioid Pharmacology,' that will publish at a later time.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that the emergence of illicitly manufactured synthetic opioids including fentanyl, carfentanil, and their analogs represents an escalation of the ongoing opioid overdose epidemic. Also, prescription opioid misuse is a significant risk factor for heroin use, and 80% of heroin users first misuse prescription opioids.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Stress while pregnant can lead to child’s eating disorder

Israeli researchers find stressed pregnant mice have offspring predisposed to binge eating, but also discovered that a certain diet can prevent it.


Pregnancy can be a stressful time. Now there’s a new stressor and it’s about stress itself.

A new study on pregnant mice, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, shows a causal link between prenatal stress and the onset of eating disorders — particularly binge eating disorder (BED) — later in life for the child.

The study, done by scientists at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, also revealed good news: The researchers were able to prevent the onset of a compulsive eating disorder by feeding the mice a diet high in folic acid and B-vitamins.

Moderate exposure to stress during pregnancy is not all negative, according to the research team led by Prof. Alon Chen, head of the neurobiology department at the Weizmann. In fact, it makes good evolutionary sense, providing mothers with a way to communicate with their unborn offspring about the world into which they are about to emerge.

Stress, for example, can signal the embryo that it will be born into an area with poor food availability and that it should slow down its metabolic rate. The problem arises when a child with such “programming” is raised in a culture with an abundance of high-calorie foods – as is the case in much of the developed world today. The mismatch can lead to obesity.

Chen and his team stressed the mother mice while pregnant. When the babies were subsequently fed a high-calorie “Western” diet, they developed an impulse to binge eat.

The researchers then looked into the young mice’s brains and found “large molecular differences between offspring whose mothers’ stress mechanism was activated and those in whose mothers it was not activated,” Chen said.

While the DNA in the mice did not change, the expression of their genome did. One of the most important mechanisms in epigenetics (literally: “on top of genetics”) is a biochemical process involving molecules in the methyl group that takes place in the hypothalamus, the brain region that regulates metabolic processes, hormone production and stress reactions.

“Perhaps the most unexpected finding in the study,” said Chen, “is that we succeeded in preventing the disorder from emerging simply by providing a balanced diet of methyl sources,” such as folic acid, choline, methionine, and vitamins B12 and B6.

“Does this mean that a balanced diet would also help cure eating disorders in humans? It is important to note that the research was conducted on a mouse model at this stage, but all the biological genes and pathways it described are shared by mice and humans.”

The main researcher was postdoctoral fellow Mariana Schroeder, with the participation of Maya Sharon Lebow, Yonat Drori, Mira Jakovcevski, Tamar Polacheck, Mareen Engel and Shifra Ben-Dor from the Weizmann’s Department of Life Sciences.

Protect yourself from deadly brain tumours


Today is World Brain Tumour Day. Do you know all about the deadly brain tumour?

The human body is built in a way that tiny building blocks known as body cells make up our organs and tissues. These cells further divide themselves in a controlled way to make new cells that enable the body to grow, heal and repair. The abnormal growth of these cells forms a lump, that’s what we call tumour.

Tumours can grow and behave in a different manner. They may be malignant that means cancerous or benign that is non-cancerous. Malignant brain tumours can easily spread in other parts of the brain and to the spinal cord from their point of origin. Whereas, benign brain tumour usually doesn’t spread in brain but it may press the nearby tissues causing problems.

Brain tumour can be classified in two broad categories each having different grades. The one that arises within brain tissue is called primary brain tumour. When cancer cells spread from where the cancer first started to other parts of the brain, it is called as secondary brain tumour.

Primary brain tumour can be further categorised on the basis of the tissue in which it originates. The tumour that begins in glial tissue is the most common primary brain tumour known as gliomas. It may be of several types:

Astrocytomas: It may grow anywhere in the brain and spinal cord. In adults, it generally originates in cerebrum. However, in children it occurs in brain stem, cerebrum or cerebellum.

Oligodendrogliomas: It generally arises in cerebrum and grows slowly. It doesn’t generally spread in surrounding areas of brain tissue.

Ependymomas: It usually develops in the lining of the ventricles. This tumour is most common in childhood and adolescence but can develop in any age.

There are few brain tumours other than those which do not develop in glial tissue.

Meningiomas: It is usually benign. It grows very slowly and the brain gets adjusted to its presence gradually. It occurs usually in females between thirty to fifty years of age. Without showing any symptoms, it may grow quite large.

Schwannomas: It occurs most often in adults. These tumours affect women twice as often as men.

Craniopharyngiomas: It develops in pituitary gland. These tumours occur most often in children and adolescents.

Germ cell tumour: It originates from developing sex cells or germ cells.

Pineal region tumour: It occurs in or around the pineal gland - a tiny organ near the centre of the brain. This area is very difficult to reach. So, most often it can’t be removed. This tumour can be slow or fast growing.

Secondary brain tumours are completely different from primary brain tumours. They have the same name as the original cancer like if lung cancer spreads to the brain, it is called as metastatic lung cancer. Metastasis is the spread of cancer within the body. The cells in secondary tumour resemble to abnormal cells of the organ in which the cancer originated. The most common cancers that can spread to the brain are breast cancer, colon cancer, kidney cancer, lung cancer and melanoma.

Symptoms of brain tumour:

Severe headaches and their changing patterns, more frequent and more severe headaches.

Nausea and vomiting.

Motor seizures, unintentional movements such as twitching, changes in performance of daily activities and walking patterns.

Growth of hands and feet in adults.

Fatigue, sluggishness and loss of initiative.

Muscle weakness, soreness and paralysis.

Memory difficulties, confusion, personality or behaviour changes.

Sensory changes in vision, smelling, hearing or emotional state etc.

Loss of control of body functions, partial or total loss of consciousness.

Altered menstrual periods or secretion of breast milk in women.

Preventive and healing natural remedies:

Adequate sleep is the basic requirement of a healthy brain. A good sleep flushes out the toxins through a glymphatic system. These toxins naturally accumulate during the day. Lack of sleep distracts the natural process of glymphatic system affecting cognitive function.

Live a healthy lifestyle comprising of meditation, yoga and deep breathing exercises. These stress reducing practices can help lessen inflammation from swelling in the brain. Reduce stress and stay happy.

Herbs and vegetables are becoming progressively more popular to combat brain tumour. Turmeric, ginger, oregano, basil, thyme, green tea and green leafy vegetables contain cancer fighting phytonutrients. Consume them daily along with ketogenic diet containing adequate amount of proteins, healthy fats and low carbohydrates that trigger ketone production. A ketogenic diet may reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain and obstructs the supply of nutrients to tumour. Calorie restriction with diet control and fasting may also reduce inflammation, prevent cancer metastasis, constrain cancer cells from multiplying and produce ketones to fuel neurons.

Reduce your exposure to radiation from wireless devices. Make more use of landline phones instead of cell phones. Text instead of talking on mobile phone whenever it can serve the purpose. Use the speaker phone. Don’t talk when signals are poor. Never sleep with your mobile phone in your bedroom especially keeping it near your head. Power off your wireless device when not in use. Besides these healthy lifestyle habits, ‘Hyper Basic Oxygen Therapy’ received at a young age can reduce the risk of brain tumour and also improve cognitive function of survivors of brain tumour.

Save the most important organ of your body. It controls the ability to speak, think, learn, move and control your emotions. A healthy lifestyle is the key to prevent brain tumour. Know your risk factors like age, exposure to radiation, a family history of brain tumour and currently having cancer in another part of your body from where it could metastasize to your brain. If you notice any symptom seek medical opinion at earliest. Live healthy and longer!

Simple blood test holds out hope for Huntingdon's disease breakthrough


A simple blood test could predict Huntingdon's disease years before its onset, in a breakthrough which could one day lead to the first treatment for the incurable condition.

Research by University College London said they have identified the strongest potential blood biomarker yet which can identify and track the genetic brain disorder.

More than 10,000 people in the UK suffer from the disease which is fatal and currently incurable.

The researchers say their findings, published in Lancet Neurology, should help test new treatments for the genetic brain disorder, which is fatal and currently incurable.

"This is the first time a potential blood biomarker has been identified to track Huntington's disease so strongly," said the study's senior author, Dr Edward Wild, from UCL.


The test measures the neurofilament light chain - a protein released from damaged brain cells.

Scientists Are Now Using AI To Predict Autism In Infants


Despite all the headway that science has made in understanding autism in recent years, knowing which children will one day develop autism is still almost impossible to predict. Children diagnosed with autism appear to behave normally until around two, and until then there is often no indication that anything is wrong.

But by scanning the brains of babies whose siblings have autism and then running the data from those scans through a machine learning algorithm, researchers say they may have come up with a method for accurately predicting which children will wind up diagnosed with autism at as young as six months.

For autism researchers, this feat has long been elusive. Diagnosing autism spectrum disorder before children develop symptoms could allow families to begin treatments like behavioural therapy earlier in hopes of making it more effective, as well as allowing researchers to test potential treatments, enabling them to more accurately judge whether these treatments actually work.

In a paper out Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Washington University School of Medicine scanned the brains of 59 high-risk, six-month-old infants to examine how different regions of the brain connect and interact. At age two, after 11 of those infants had been diagnosed with autism, they scanned their brains again. After that, the researchers turned to artificial intelligence, using an algorithm that trained itself to identify patterns in brain connectivity that separated those six-month-olds who developed autism and those who did not. Using deep learning, they were then able to develop a model capable of predicting which six-month-olds would eventually develop autism.

Using this method, researchers were able to accurately predict nine of the 11 infants who would wind up with an autism diagnosis. And it did not incorrectly predict any of the children who were not autistic.

"Our treatments of autism today have a modest impact at best," said Joseph Piven, a psychiatrist at UNC Chapel Hill and author of the study, told Gizmodo. "People with autism continue to have challenges throughout their life. But there's general consensus in the field that diagnosing earlier means better results."

Estimates suggest that about one out of every 68 children in the US has autism. The Australian Bureau of Statistics found that around one in 150 Australians had autism in 2015. Still, there are no good biomarkers to predict who is most at risk for developing it. Some rare genetic mutations are linked to autism, but most cannot easily be linked to genetic risk factors. While some findings have indicated that brain-related changes occur in children with autism before any behavioural symptoms emerge, those changes have been difficult to identify.

The study was a follow-up to one published earlier this year that looked at whether brain growth could be a biomarker for autism, since children with autism tend to have larger brains than developmentally normal children. In that study, MRI scans revealed that the volume of the brains of infants with autism grew faster between 12 and 24 months. Based on those scans, an algorithm was able to detect which children between six and 12 months would develop autism about 80 per cent of the time, though it also identified a few false positives.

By looking instead at connectivity, the new study shows a method of prediction that's more accurate and identifies children at a younger age. In total, they found 974 functional connections that were associated with autism-related behaviours.

"It's a data driven approach," said Piven. "We didn't start with a particular hypothesis."

Piven said they hope to reproduce the study, as well as expand it to not just predict whether a child might wind up with autism, but how severe it will be and what sorts of behaviours they will exhibit. Autism is a spectrum disorder ranging from mild symptoms to ones that severely inhibit a person's life, so this would make the tool much more useful and potentially also make treatment more impactful.

The study is only an early indicator of a good predictive measure. It will have to be reproduced before it's ready for clinical use. And the test in its current form would unlikely be used in the general population, but rather as a measure to be taken after an infant has already been identified as high risk. One in five siblings of children with autism, for example, eventually develops autism. Developing other screening techniques for high-risk infants would make such a test more useful.

"I would look at this study as a proof of principle," he said. "Our intention is to provide early detection intervention just like we now do for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's."

Daily tipple can shrink your brain


A glass of wine a day is enough to damage the brain and could raise the risk of Alzheimer's disease, a study by Oxford University suggests.

The research found that even those who drink in line with recommended weekly limits are three times more likely to suffer atrophy to the brain, with a steeper rate of cognitive decline.

The 30-year study tracked 550 civil servants, with brain imaging used to explore links between drinking and brain health. Those drinking between 14 and 21 units of alcohol a week - six to nine medium glasses of wine - were three times more likely than teetotallers to suffer hippocampal atrophy.

Such shrinkage can precede symptoms of dementia.

Participants who drank less, between seven and 14 units (three to six glasses weekly), had twice the risk of those who never drank alcohol, the research found. Even those drinking less than seven units of alcohol a week had an increased risk of damage.

The greatest risks were among the heaviest drinkers. Those consuming more than 30 units of alcohol saw an almost sixfold rise in their risk.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

An egg a day helps children grow taller - and it could make them become healthier adults

Babies given an egg a day consumed less sugary foods, offering hope to tackle the child obesity crisis.


When babies 6 to 9 months old were given an egg a day, their growth improved and they ate less sugary foods.

Giving weaned babies an egg a day for six months dramatically improves their growth if they are undernourished, a trial has found, boosting their chances of becoming taller, healthier adults.

About 80 babies between 6 and 9 months that had recently been weaned were given an egg a day for six months in addition to their normal routine, and 80 babies in the same community in Ecuador continued to be fed as usual. After six months, babies given an egg were half as likely to have reduced growth as the other group.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, was carried out in Ecuador, where growth stunting is a widespread problem. Among the indigenous highland communities in the Ecuadorian Andes, where the study was carried out, about 43% of children under 5 have stunted growth.

This is the first randomised, controlled trial to test the effect of eggs on stunting.

"It's no single nutrient in the eggs but rather the whole package of amino acids and fatty acids, and also vitamins like and choline and B12," study author Lora Iannotti of Washington University in St Louis told IBTimes UK.

Tackling stunting

The World Health Assembly identified stunting as its top challenges to overcome by 2025. Babies with stunted growth tend to become smaller children, and to eventually have a reduced height as an adult. And it's not just about height.

"Men and women with stunted growth both have a reduced lifespan and limited economic productivity," said Inka Barnett of the Institute of Development Studies, a paediatric nutritionist who was not involved with the study.

Quichua indigenous people are pictured in Chimborazo province in the central Ecuadorian Andes highlands. Growth stunting is a significant problem in the community.

"And probably even more devastating are the changes in cognitive development. Brain development needs nutrients. If these nutrients are not given in first 1,000 days from conception, the brain cannot develop to its full potential.

"This has lifelong consequences with respect to educational outcomes, job prospects and the economic development of the whole country."

The study offers a promising and relatively cheap way to tackle stunting in countries where it is a significant problem, Barnett said.

"It's not an industrially produced food, it's a natural food. So perhaps it's more accessible than micronutrient biscuit, which is given to mothers in some contexts."

The eggs in the study were bought from local small-to-medium-scale chicken farms. They are also a part of the diet of the population already, but are not typically given to babies.

A woman feeds a hen outside her house in Ecuador.

Less appetite for sugar?

As well as improving the babies' growth, those given an egg a day were also less likely to eat sugary foods.

"We weren't looking for this, but we found in the group who received eggs that it reduced the children's consumption of sugar-sweetened foods," Iannotti said. "That wasn't what we were trying to do, but that was a very good finding."

Exactly why eating eggs reduced intake of sugary foods isn't yet clear. It could be because the eggs filled them up and so they had less appetite for other foods, Ianotti said, although further research would be needed to test this.

This finding could be significant in developed countries where obesity is the type of malnutrition that dominates.

"This is the case in many places right now – there is a dual burden of under and over-nutrition. Even in children, the consumption of sugar-sweetened food and drinks is on the rise and it's very problematic for nutrition," said Ianotti.

"The nice thing about eggs is that in many places in the world that already a part of the diet. They're a high-quality food that isn't packed with empty calories."

Pinched nerves don’t have to be such a “pain in your neck” – prevention and treatment can make all the difference


Anyone who’s experienced a pinched nerve knows just how “unnerving” it can truly be. The odds are that most of you have dealt with an episode or two, and will more than likely will do so again in the future. After all, you might be surprised to know that a pinched nerve is one of the world’s more common medical maladies.

Sure, they can be short-lived in duration and minor in discomfort. But, they can also be quite lengthy, painful and debilitating, limiting your range of motion and impeding even the simplest of daily activities. It can be excruciating just lifting your head off the morning pillow, looking over your shoulder when backing out of a parking space or even pulling your shirt over your head.

I would contend, however, that pinched nerves do not have to be such a “pain in the neck.” In fact, there are preventative steps you can take to limit your exposure, and treatment modalities you can follow upon occurrence that can make all the difference in the world.

Pay attention to the warning signs, though they’re hard to miss

Simply put, a pinched nerve is the name given to the uncomfortable sensation, pain or numbness caused when there’s increased pressure on a nerve. Your body’s nerves extend from the brain and spinal cord, sending important messages from head to toe. When pressure builds on a nerve or, in other words, it gets pinched, the messages and the nourishing fluid don’t flow quite as well as they should. In turn, a very distinct and painful message can get sent to the brain, potentially leading to weakness, numbness or tingling.

These warning signs are clearly evident. Muscle weakness that seems to worsen is the first sign of a pinched nerve. You may be unable to clench your fists as hard. Or, you may have tingling or “pins and needles” sensations. This may be intermittent, only manifesting itself when triggered by certain motions or activities. Pain, on the other hand, may tend to get progressively worse. Constant pain is very unpleasant and can stop you from engaging in day-to-day activities.

Where did my pinched nerve come from – and how can I make sure it never comes back?

So you may ask yourself – what brought on my pinched nerve? Well, there are many reasons why a pinched nerve occurs. Most common and recognizable is that you held your body in one position for a long period of time, such as when sleeping. Or, you put a specific body part through too many repetitive motions, such as your wrist from typing or elbow from tennis. Sometimes, you can experience a pinched nerve from lifting a heavy object, other times from twisting the wrong way during exercise. You might wake up with soreness in your back or neck that lasts for a few days before progressing to a shooting pain.

There are also more overt reasons why a nerve compression may occur, such as a traumatic episode of blunt force, such as a car accident. Of course, a pinched nerve can also be the result of complications related to discs in your neck or back, when cartilage becomes displaced and pushes on a nerve. This can all be part of the natural aging process. It’s normal for our vertebrae and discs to weaken due to age and degenerative spine conditions can naturally develop over time.

Now that we know how they occur, it begs the question of what can we do to prevent a pinched nerve from occurring? Paying attention to body positions and maintaining good posture is probably the easiest precautionary measure. There are proper ways to sit, stand and perform daily activities with good body mechanics. In addition, one of the best ways to prevent a pinched nerve is to live a healthy lifestyle. Developing a strong and flexible back reduces the likelihood of injury, while staying in good shape reduces the weight put on the spine, limiting the development of disc problems and other forms of deterioration.

Be mindful, if your profession or daily routines include repetitive activities to perform a task, try incorporating frequent breaks or rest periods to reduce or eliminate the risk of nerve injury. You’ll be very glad you did.

Full range of conservative treatments can provide much needed relief

One of the most important things you should understand about a pinched nerve is that symptoms tend to exacerbate without treatment. Seeking prompt medical attention is the best way to get long-term relief. There are a comprehensive range of conservative treatments to ease symptoms. I advise most patients to try physical therapy, Pilates, yoga or other core-based exercise routines, supplemented as needed by medication or spinal injections.

An over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can do the trick. Plus, oral corticosteroid or a steroid injection can, furthermore, reduce the swelling and pain, and allow inflamed nerves to recover.

How long it takes for symptoms to subside can change from person to person. Treatment also varies depending on the severity, cause and location of the nerve compression. In many cases, symptoms can be resolved when treatment allows the nerve to recover. Because nerves can regenerate very slowly over time, it’s important to seek evaluation for symptoms which persist or recur over a number of days or weeks.

Some people will benefit greatly from simply resting the injured area and avoiding activities that tend to worsen the symptoms. In many cases, that’s all you need to do. However, studies show that completely resting for two to three days can sometimes bring about an adverse impact due to muscle atrophy. So, I don’t recommend rest that exceeds more than one or two days.

It may seem counter intuitive, but you can rest the pinched nerve and still keep your blood pumping. Good circulation and toned muscles can help the healing process. Start with low-impact exercise that feels comfortable. Pilates is excellent for balancing muscle development, building strong core muscles in the back and abdomen, and reinforcing good posture. With stronger back muscles, you can provide better support to the vertebrae and discs, placing less pressure on the spinal column and nerves.

Yoga combines classic poses, controlled breathing and deep relaxation to condition and strengthen your body regardless of your current flexibility or other physical limitations.

Physical therapy is a great option for neck and lower back discomfort

When a pinched nerve is caused by problems in the neck or lower back, physical therapy to stretch and strengthen the muscles is often a great option. Exercises may strengthen the back or core muscles and decrease or eliminate pressure on the nerve.

The goal is to increase strength, flexibility and support in the areas surrounding your impacted area.

A physical therapist will work with you to create a program that helps your recovery. However, be careful. Working out alone can worsen your condition. It’s important to have the guidance of a trained medical professional whenever attempting to exercise or stretch with a pinched nerve.

Physical therapy lasting about four to six weeks, sometimes accompanied by anti-inflammatory medications, can help in 90-95 percent of cases. Then, once your physical therapy is complete, continue core-based exercises at home.

Remember these helpful tips and keep your head up.

In some respects, there isn’t much you can do to protect yourself from a pinched nerve. It’s simply going to happen to some people. That is, unless you’re going to lead a life free of turning, twisting and lifting, which isn’t too likely. But, by being mindful of these important tips, taking care of your body and paying attention to your body posture, you can do wonders to avoid the pitfalls of pinched nerves. Keep your shoulders back, sit up straight and, most of all, keep your head up in all ways possible.

Dr. Grigory Goldberg is a board-certified and fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon specializing in spine surgery. Part of the Advanced Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Institute with offices in Freehold Township and Monroe, Dr. Goldberg is affiliated with CentraState Medical Center. He can be reached by calling 866-CENTRA7.

Blood, brains and yogurt parry pathogens


NEW ORLEANS – As antimicrobial-resistant infections continue to inspire the search for modern cures, microbiologists are also looking to some ancient and unexpected corners of the world for progress. Alligator blood, cockroach brains and even commercial yogurt may harbor bug-beating elements, recent research presented at ASM Microbe 2017 suggests. All explorations were early in their progress. But each offers tantalizing invitations to further research.

A study from Purdue University, Northwest (PNW) showcased alligator serum's power to inhibit the growth of several human pathogens, including Escherichia coli, Salmonella, and Staphylococcus. Though alligator blood was already known to be a potent antimicrobial, the mechanism for making it that way has been largely unknown. To begin to uncover that secret, PNW professor Lindsay Gielda supervised a study led by then-undergraduate Nate Poling, who exposed 28 species of bacteria to sera from alligator, cat, dog, duck, boa constrictor, turtle, lobster and opossum.

Out of all bacterial strains tested, the alligator serum showed the most antimicrobial potential – except when it came to one pathogen: Serratia marcescens, a pathogen known for causing septicemia in alligators. The reason for that, the scientists hypothesized, is a special nitrogen regulation system in S. marcescens that is able to escape a mechanism alligators have evolved over millions of years to limit nitrogen availability in their blood, thus inhibiting most bacterial growth, since all organisms need nitrogen to survive.

"A lot of antimicrobials take a 'target-and-kill' approach" Gielda told BioWorld Today. "What if we can have some kind of factor that steals nutrients away?" Determining that could eventually help lead to the discovery of either new antimicrobials or synergistic combination therapies, she said.

BRAWNY BRAINS

Though research into sourcing powerful therapies from the natural world has tended to focus on plants and animals, another study presented during the meeting noted that insects also represent a plentiful and untapped potential source of new antimicrobials.

Research conducted by scientists in Malaysia and Pakistan took that idea to its logical end, putting cockroaches to the test – or at least cockroach parts. Reasoning that the insects have a deserved reputation as one of the hardiest creatures on earth and are routinely exposed to all kinds of wastes and pathogenic microbes, they dissected and extracted cockroach body parts to test against both S. aureus and neuropathogenic E. coli K1. Cockroach brain lysates, they found, exhibited both high antibacterial activity and were nontoxic to human cells. Out of hundreds of compounds present in the brain extracts, only 20 different compounds were identified, 18 of which appeared to possess broad-spectrum antimicrobial, anticancer and analgesic properties, they said.

The research was conducted by Salwa Mansur Ali, of Sunway University in Malaysia, and Ruqaiyyah Siddiqui, an assistant professor at the University of Karachi in Pakistan.

TASTIER THAN BUGS?

For those averse to bugs fighting bugs, researchers at Howard University offered a potentially more palatable set of results. They found that a Lactobacillus isolate from commercial yogurt, identified as Lactobacillus parafarraginis, inhibited growth of several multidrug-resistant and extended spectrum beta-lactamase bacteria from patients in a Washington hospital.

In light of the current rise of antibiotic resistance in hospitals, said Rachelle Allen-McFarlane, a doctoral candidate in the biology department at Howard, findings from the yogurt study may hold promise for therapeutic applications.

No studies regarding how sick a patient might need to be to imbibe alligator blood or eat cockroach brains were reported during the meeting. U.S. yogurt sales, also not featured in any studies at ASM, topped $7.7 billion in 2015.

‘Olive oil prevents brain cancer’

OLIVE OIL… A compound found in olive oil may help to prevent cancer developing in the brain.

The oily substance — one of a group of nutrients known as fatty acids — stimulates the production of a cell molecule whose function is to prevent cancer-causing proteins from forming.

The study team says it is too soon to say whether dietary consumption of olive oil may help prevent brain cancer. Their findings, however, point towards possible therapies based on the oil to prevent brain cancer from occurring.

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh analysed the effect of oleic acid on a cell molecule, known as miR-7, which is active in the brain and is known to suppress the formation of tumors.

They found that oleic acid prevents a cell protein, known as MSI2, from stopping production of miR-7. In this way, the olive oil component supports the production of miR-7, which helps prevent tumors from forming.

Researchers made their discoveries in tests on human cell extracts and in living cells in the lab. The Medical Research Council and the Welcome Trust funded the study, published in the Journal of Molecular Biology.

Dr. Gracjan Michlewski of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: “While we cannot yet say that olive oil in the diet helps prevent brain cancer, our findings do suggest that oleic acid can support the production of tumor-suppressing molecules in cells grown in the lab. Further studies could help determine the role that olive oil might have in brain health.”

Also, walking for just 30 minutes a day can boost the chances of beating cancer by almost half, research shows. Separate studies involving breast and bowel cancer patients found that regular exercise had a huge impact on survival.

The first was carried out by a team from Harvard University who followed 992 men with stage three bowel cancer, which had spread to nearby tissue, for seven years. Stage three is the second most advanced form of cancer, meaning it is large and fast-growing.

Patients who did 30 minutes’ moderate exercise five days a week and ate healthily were 42 per cent less likely to die. They also lived longer if the cancer returned.

The second study, by Australian researchers, looked at 194 women who had recently undergone surgery to remove breast cancer.

Half of patients were told to do 180 minutes’ moderate activity a week for at least eight months – although many carried on for longer. The other half continued about their normal lives and both groups were examined after eight years.

The team from the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane found that women who had exercised were 55 per cent more likely to still be alive. The majority of patients in both studies did brisk walking as their main activity but heavy cleaning, gentle cycling and mowing the lawn also counted.

Scientists believe that even moderate exercise can slow tumor growth or prevent their returning by reducing levels of hormones. They include insulin, which helps tumor cells multiply, as well as estrogen in women, which encourages the development of breast cancer.

Exercise is particularly important for bowel cancer as it reduces inflammation, which can lead to cells multiplying and forming tumors. It also prevents patients becoming obese, as fat tissue produces hormones that stimulate tumor growth.

The bowel cancer study was presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago, the world’s largest cancer meeting. Also, cancer patients are more likely to survive their battle if they live in the countryside, new research suggests.

Being surrounded by trees and fields in every direction reduces the risk of death by 29 per cent for those with the disease. Experts believe it could be down to the ease of getting a GP appointment in rural villages, allowing symptoms to be addressed quickly.

A closer relationship with the doctor may offer another explanation for the results of the British study, which city-dwellers often struggle to develop. Scientists also hinted that those living away from urban areas are more likely to be affluent – a factor known to increase someone’s life expectancy.

Moderate drinking may alter brain, study says


Drinking in moderation can help our health, some research has showed. Many doctors recommend a glass of wine or beer a night as part of diet plans such as the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, which have been proven to keep your heart and brain healthy. However, a new study suggests that even moderate drinking may not be great for your brain.

As part of the study, which was published Wednesday in the BMJ, researchers looked at people’s weekly alcohol intake from the Whitehall II study, which tracks disease and social behaviors in a group of British civil servants for 30 years. University of Oxford and University College London scientists studied how participants fared with regular brain function tests and an MRI.

What they noted was that the people who drank the most had the highest risk of hippocampal atrophy, a form of brain damage that can impact spatial navigation and can be associated with memory-loss conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia. The heavier drinkers saw a faster decline in language skills and had poorer white matter integrity, which is crucial to processing thoughts quickly.

Some studies have shown that the brains of heavier drinkers change over time, and not in a good way, but this research suggests that the brains of even moderate drinkers were changing, too. They also had a higher risk of hippocampal atrophy than those who didn’t report any drinking at all.

If you’re starting to worry and are afraid to drown your sorrows, note that there are many caveats, and more research needs to be done. Some experts suggest you shouldn’t change your drinking behavior based on this one study, but the results of these brain scans and memory tests for moderate and lighter drinkers were not what researchers expected.

“We were surprised that the light to moderate drinkers didn’t seem to have that protective effect,” said study co-author Dr. Anya Topiwala, a clinical lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford. “These are people who are drinking at levels that many consider social drinkers, so they are not consuming a lot.”

Even the heaviest of the drinkers aren’t big nightly bingers. The “drank the most” group in this study consumed about 30 units of alcohol a week, with a unit considered to be 10 milliliters or 8 grams of pure alcohol. A medium glass of wine has about two units of alcohol, and so does a pint of some beers, depending on the alcohol content.

If you do the boozy math, the study’s heaviest drinkers had a little more than two medium glasses of wine or two beers every night of the week.

The moderate group was drinking about 14 to 21 units of alcohol per week, or about a medium glass of wine each night, plus a little extra on the weekends.

Researchers discovered that the moderate group was three times more likely to have hippocampal atrophy compared with people who didn’t drink at all. However, in the heavy and moderate drinkers, there is no evidence to show how clinically significant this change is, and there is no evidence linking this loss to any negative general cognitive effects, even the ones for which the participants were tested.

With the light drinkers, those who had a small glass of wine a night or up to seven units per week, researchers didn’t see a significant difference compared with the abstainers, but they didn’t see any protective qualities, either.

The abstainers may be one subject that needs further development, according to Eric Rimm, a professor of medicine and director for the program in cardiovascular epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Rimm, who was not involved in the new study, has researched the impact of alcohol for years. He said that although the study has an interesting hypothesis, the abstainer group (22 men and 15 women) is tiny and may be throwing off the results.

If you are a moderate drinker, he said, you don’t have to give up the booze based solely on this report.

“There are so many other lifestyle factors that are not taken into account in this study, like nutrition. Eating whole grains and fruits and vegetables have been linked with slower cognitive decline,” Rimm said. Attributing mental decline to alcohol is too limited, he said.

Tom Dening, a professor of dementia research and Director of the Centre for Old Age and Dementia at the University of Nottingham, called the study “most impressive” and suggests it may be a good reminder that “perhaps we should all drink a bit less,” but he also questioned its results. People typically are not honest about how much they really drink, he noted.

“People tend to underestimate their actual consumption, partly to appear more respectable,” Dening said. “If actual consumption was under-reported, then the apparent adverse effects of modest amounts of alcohol could have been magnified.”

Earlier studies have also shown that people tend to drink less as they age, said Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford, who was not involved in the new research.

“These type of studies also cannot account for all the (factors), and therefore they cannot, and should not, conclude causation,” Heneghan said. “Using all the available evidence provides a much more balanced approach for the public on deciding how much to drink.”

Although drinking can increase your cancer risk, Rimm points out that many studies have showed that people who consume moderate amounts have much better overall health. Moderate drinkers have a 30% to 40% reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes compared with those who don’t drink, studies show. There are cardiovascular benefits, and moderate drinkers seem to live longer than abstainers.

Rimm wondered whether there were so few abstainers in the study because, after 30 years, they hadn’t lived as long as the others.

When it comes to the brain, this is not the first research to question whether drinking even moderate amounts had an impact, though results have been mixed. One 2008 study found that unlike with the heart, for which alcohol has protective qualities, the more people drank, the smaller their total brain volume, meaning their brains aged faster.

“An observational study cannot truly prove that alcohol causes dementia, but the findings are in keeping with my clinical experience,” said Dr. Elizabeth Coulthard, a consultant senior lecturer in Dementia Neurology at the University of Bristol who was not involved in the new research. “Hopefully this research will contribute to a greater understanding of true safe limits for alcohol consumption that ensure protection from future dementia. Until we have further studies, the good news is that low alcohol intake was not associated with brain or memory decline in this sample.”

Topiwala said she and her co-authors want to try to replicate the results, particularly with a more diverse population. Most in this study were men with similar backgrounds, with generally higher IQs than the population as a whole, all factors that can affect the results.

“We think, though, this study asks some really important questions in an area that does have a knowledge gap,” Topiwala said.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Dad's attention may boost baby's IQ

Infants with 'hands-on' fathers did better at thinking skills tests at age two than their counterparts.

Giving birth and breastfeeding mean that biologically the mother is the prime nurturer of a child. However, this doesn't mean that fathers shouldn't be involved...

If you're a new father, spending plenty of time with your baby could boost their mental development, a new study suggests.

British researchers looked at how 128 fathers interacted with their infants at three months of age. When the kids turned two, the researchers measured their mental development.

The study was published in Infant Mental Health Journal.

Gender not important

Infants whose fathers were more engaged and active when playing with them in their first few months of life did better on thinking skills tests at age two than other infants.

Many factors have a major influence on a child's development, and this study wasn't designed to prove a cause-and-effect relationship. But these findings suggest that father-child interactions at a young age are an influencing factor, the researchers said.

According to a Health24 article the foetus in the womb also benefits from experience as an essential component of prenatal brain development. A prenatal child's specific experiences determine which connections are strengthened and expanded, and which connections are eliminated.

The researchers didn't see any differences based on the gender of the baby. Dad's interactions had a positive influence on thinking skills for both boys and girls.


Better cognitive development

"Even as early as three months, these father-child interactions can positively predict cognitive development almost two years later, so there's something probably quite meaningful for later development, and that really hasn't been shown much before," study leader Paul Ramchandani said in an Imperial College London news release. He is a professor at the school's department of medicine.

Study co-author Vaheshta Sethna said, "We also found that children interacting with sensitive, calm and less anxious fathers during a book session at the age of two showed better cognitive development, including attention, problem-solving, language and social skills." She's with the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London.

"Our findings highlight the importance of supporting fathers to interact more positively with their children in early infancy," Sethna said.

She added that sharing positive emotions and reading activities seem to be linked to bigger boosts in the child's thinking skills.

Here's why dehydration is really bad for you

We’re all guilty of skimping on water throughout the day but it turns out it’s affecting your whole body.


Usually people who are dehydrated can fix that situation up pretty fast by simply downing a bottle of water - however severe dehydration is much, much worse.

Not only has does your heart have to work overtime and you lose essential salts from your body, but it also puts you in a seriously bad mood and leave you gasping for water.

These are the dangers of being dehydrated.

Speaking recently to US Weekly, David Gandy said two days before he has a big shoot he will “deplete all the salt” from his body and then the day before, he “dehydrates” himself.

While some may say that he’s a healthy man who knows his body, experts believe it could leave him with some serious side effect.

Speaking to Allure, nutritionist Keri Gans, R.D.N., said Gandy would more than likely have experienced a rough time throughout his routine.

"Dehydration particularly can cause side effects such as dizziness, increased thirst, dry mouth, fatigue, and a headache,” Gans said.

“You can also experience decreased urine output which may put you at risk for a heart attack.”


Prevention magazine spoke with University of Connecticut professor Lawrence E. Armstrong, PhD, who claimed water intake is all about balance.

"The entire amount of water in a woman's body may be 38 to 45 liters, and for a man, 42 to 48," he said.

"Dehydration means that for a period of time, you have lost part of that water. It's a matter of whole-body balance."


According to The Victorian government’s Better Health Channel, adults lose about 2.5 to 3 litres of water a day – with even more being lost through exercise.

They recommend a woman to drink about eight cups of water a day and men to drink 10 cups.


“Not drinking enough water can increase the risk of kidney stones and, in women, urinary tract infections,” the website states.

“It can also lower your physical and mental performance, and salivary gland function, and lead to dehydration.”

However they also warn against drinking too much water, claiming it could cause hyponatraemia (water intoxication).

“If large amounts of plain water are consumed in a short period of time, the kidneys cannot excrete enough fluid. Hyponatraemia can lead to headaches, blurred vision, cramps (and eventually convulsions), swelling of the brain, coma and possibly death,” the website states.

They claim hyponatraemia mostly occurs in diseases or infants who are fed formula which is too diluted.