1. Study suggests game design elements can help increase physical activity among adults

    October 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the JAMA Network Journals press release:

    Physical activity increased among families in a randomized clinical trial as part of a game-based intervention where they could earn points and progress through levels based on step goal achievements, according to a new article published by JAMA Internal Medicine.

    More than half of the adults in the United States don’t get enough physical activity. Gamification, which is the use of game design elements such as points and levels, is increasingly used in digital health interventions. However, evidence of their effectiveness is limited.

    Mitesh S. Patel, M.B.A., M.S., of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and coauthors conducted a clinical trial among adults enrolled in the Framingham Heart Study, a long-standing cohort of families. The clinical trial included a 12-week intervention and 12 more weeks of follow-up among 200 adults from 94 families.

    All study participants tracked their daily step counts with either a wearable device or a smartphone to establish a baseline and then selected a step goal increase. They were given performance feedback by text or email for 24 weeks. About half of the adults participated in the gamification arm of the study and were entered into a game with their family where they could earn points and progress through levels as a way to enhance social incentives through collaboration, accountability and peer support, as well as physical activity.

    More than half of the participants were female and the average age was about 55. At the start of the trial, the average number of daily steps was 7,662 in the control group of the study and 7,244 in the group with the game-based intervention.

    During the 12-week intervention period, participants in the gamification arm achieved step goals on a greater proportion of participant-days (difference of 0.53 vs. 0.32) and they had a greater increase in average daily steps compared with baseline (difference of 1,661 vs. 636) than the control group, according to the results.

    While results show physical activity declined during the 12-week follow-up period in the gamification group, it was still better than that in the control group for the proportion of participant-days achieving step goals (difference of 0.44 vs. 0.33) and the average daily steps compared with baseline (difference of 1,385 vs. 798).

    The study notes some limitations, including ones that may limit generalizability such as all participants were members of the Framingham Heart Study, had European ancestry and needed a smartphone or a computer. Researchers also did not test the intervention’s effects in nonfamily networks.

    “Our findings suggest that gamification may offer a promising approach to change health behaviors if designed using insights from behavioral economics to enhance social incentives,” the authors conclude.


  2. Study suggests dementia risk is increased in 40-something women with high blood pressure

    October 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Academy of Neurology press release:

    Women who develop high blood pressure in their 40s may be more likely to develop dementia years later, according to a study published in the October 4, 2017, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

    “High blood pressure in midlife is a known risk factor for dementia, but these results may help us better understand when this association starts, how changes in blood pressure affect the risk of dementia and what the differences are between men and women,” said study author Rachel A. Whitmer, PhD, of Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif.

    The study involved 7,238 people who were part of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California health care system. They all had blood pressure checks and other tests from 1964 to 1973 when they were an average age of 33, then again when they were an average age of 44. About 22 percent of the participants had high blood pressure in their 30s (31 percent of men and 14 percent of women). In their 40s, 22 percent overall had high blood pressure, but the makeup was 25 percent of men and 18 percent of women.

    Next the researchers identified the 5,646 participants who were still alive and part of the Kaiser Permanente system in 1996 and followed them for an average of 15 years to see who developed dementia. During that time, 532 people were diagnosed with dementia.

    Having high blood pressure in early adulthood, or in one’s 30s, was not associated with any increased risk of dementia. But having high blood pressure in mid-adulthood, or in one’s 40s, was associated with a 65-percent increased risk of dementia for women. Women who developed high blood pressure in their 40s were 73 percent more likely to develop dementia than women who had stable, normal blood pressure throughout their 30s and 40s.

    The results were the same when researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect risk of dementia, such as smoking, diabetes and body mass index.

    “Even though high blood pressure was more common in men, there was no evidence that having high blood pressure in one’s 30s or 40s increased the risk of dementia for men,” Whitmer said. “More research is needed to identify the possible sex-specific pathways through which the elevated blood pressure accelerates brain aging.”

    For women who made it to age 60 without dementia, the cumulative 25-year risk of dementia was 21 percent for those with high blood pressure in their 30s compared to 18 percent for those who had normal blood pressure in their 30s.

    One limitation of this study is that many developments have been made since the study started in screening for high blood pressure and the use and effectiveness of drugs for it, limiting the ability to generalize the results to today’s population.


  3. Study links risk factors for heart health in men to marital ups and downs

    October 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the BMJ press release:

    The available research points to an association between marital status and health, but it’s not clear whether this observed link is influenced by the health of people entering into marriage or the protective effects of the marriage itself.

    But most studies that have looked at marital quality and the risk of cardiovascular disease have focused on single point in time, rather than examining the potential impact of changes over time.

    In a bid to rectify this, the researchers tracked changes in cardiovascular risk factors for 620 married fathers taking part in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), which began in 1991.

    The dads completed a 12-item validated questionnaire (measure of intimate bonds scale) to assess the quality of their marital relationship when their child was nearly 3 and again when their child was 9.

    Relationship quality was defined as consistently good; consistently bad; improving; or deteriorating.

    The researchers assessed the dads’ blood pressure, resting heart rate, weight (BMI), blood fat profile, and fasting glucose levels between 2011 and 2013 when their child was nearly 19, on the basis that it would take some time for changes in cardiovascular risk factors to occur after any corresponding changes in relationship quality.

    The results showed little change in cardiovascular risk factors for men whose relationships with their spouses were consistently good or bad.

    But a more distinct pattern emerged for those whose relationships had either improved or deteriorated during the study period, although the effects in absolute terms were small.

    After taking account of potentially influential factors, such as age, educational attainment, short stature, and household income, improving relationships were associated with lower (0.25 mmol/l) levels of low density lipoprotein (‘bad’ cholesterol) and relatively lower weight (around 1 BMI unit lower) when compared with consistently good relationships.

    And they were more weakly associated with improved total cholesterol (0.24 mmol/l lower) and improved diastolic blood pressure (2.24 mm Hg lower)

    Deteriorating relationships, on the other hand, were associated with worsening diastolic blood pressure (2.74 mm Hg higher).

    “Traditionally, beneficial effects of marital status were thought to be mediated by either health selection, confounding by socioeconomic status, or psychosocial mechanisms,” write the researchers.

    “The latter argument has been used to support the observation that men appear to gain more benefit than women, as women have larger social networks and are less dependent on their partner than men,” they add.

    By way of an explanation for the lack of change in risk factors among men whose relationships were consistently good or bad, the researchers suggest that this could be down to some degree of ‘habituation’ over time or differences in individual perception of relationship quality.

    This is an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, added to which a large number of participants dropped out of the study and the findings only applied to men, caution the researchers.

    Because the study participants are still relatively young, it isn’t clear whether the patterns they found will be reflected in actual rates of disease in future, they say. Further monitoring of the participants would be required.

    They conclude: “Assuming a causal association, then marriage counselling for couples with deteriorating relationships may have added benefits in terms of physical health over and above psychological well-being, though in some cases ending the relationship may be the best outcome.”


  4. Study suggests link between mothers’ immune response and social deficits for kids with autism

    by Ashley

    From the University of Sydney press release:

    The retrospective cohort study of 220 Australian children, conducted between 2011-2014, indicates that an “immune-mediated subtype” of autism driven by the body’s inflammatory and immunological systems may be pivotal, according to the University of Sydney’s Professor Adam Guastella.

    Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a set of neurodevelopmental disorders, characterised by impaired reciprocal interaction and communication skills, and restricted and repetitive behaviours and interests. It occurs in one in every 68 people around the world.

    Maternal immune activation (MIA) has been highlighted as a factor that might increase the risk of ASD; however, this new study is believed to be the first to examine whether MIA is linked to poorer outcomes in children with ASD. MIA is defined as an active immune response during pregnancy that can be triggered by an external event such as infection or autoimmune disorders.

    The mechanisms by which MIA increases the risk of ASD are largely unknown but research suggests that an immune-mediated subtype in ASD may be driven by changes in cytokine, chemokine or antibody levels in the mother and/or child.

    The researchers say the identification of an immune system-mediated subtype in ASD driven by MIA and immune biomarkers would enable more streamlined diagnosis and management in clinical settings.

    Preclinical animal models have shown that immune activation during pregnancy causes ASD-like phenotypes in offspring, which supports the MIA hypothesis.

    Children recruited to the study were administered the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-Generic (ADOS-G) that uses simple activities and questions designed to prompt and observe communication, social and stereotyped behaviours relevant to the diagnosis of ASD.

    A primary caregiver also completed the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS), a 65-item rating scale measuring social interaction, language and repetitive/restricted behaviours and interests in the child. The SRS provides a total score and individual scores on five subscales: awareness, cognition, communication, motivation and mannerisms.

    A primary caregiver completed a family history questionnaire, which included a medical history including any diagnosed illnesses or chronic conditions.

    Results of the study support the identification of an immune-mediated subtype of autism that could have both diagnostic and treatment implications.

    Natalie Pollard said trying to understand why her eldest son, Ethan, 7, has autism was a “long journey,” but the findings were a positive step.

    The University of Sydney academic from Dural doesn’t suffer from asthma and allergies, and her two younger sons do not have autism.

    “I knew something wasn’t quite right early on, and his development was slower and he would scream for hours,” she said.

    “As a mum, I think the findings are great, because we need more information out there and it could potentially help solve the puzzle of autism, which is multi-factorial.”

    Results

    • A history of allergies or asthma in the mother was associated with increased severity of social symptoms
    • A history of autoimmune conditions in the mother was not associated with increased symptom severity

    “Our results build on existing research by showing an associated between maternal immune activation caused by asthma and allergies and ASD symptom severity in children with ASD, said Shrujna Patel, a University of Sydney PhD candidate who led the study with colleagues at the Brain and Mind Centre, Children’s Hospital Westmead, Macquarie University and the Telethon Kids Institute.

    “Children of mothers who reported a history of immune activation had significantly higher Social Responsiveness Scale total scores, suggesting they had more severe caregiver-reported deficits,” she said.

    “Specifically, they had higher scores on cognition and mannerisms subscales, suggesting they had more difficulty understanding social situations and displayed more restricted behaviours or unusual interests.”

    The researchers said the identification of an immune system-mediated subtype in ASD driven by MIA and immune biomarkers would enable more streamlined diagnosis and management in clinical settings.

    The findings also support the investigation of biomarkers in this sub-group and present potential new targets for immune-modulating drug therapies.


  5. An epidemic of dream deprivation: Unrecognized health hazard of sleep loss

    October 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Arizona Health Sciences press release:

    A silent epidemic of dream loss is at the root of many of the health concerns attributed to sleep loss, according to Rubin Naiman, PhD, a sleep and dream specialist at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, who recently published a comprehensive review of data.

    His review, “Dreamless: the silent epidemic of REM sleep loss” in the “Unlocking the Unconscious: Exploring the Undiscovered Self” issue of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, details the various factors that cause rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and dream loss. Typical sleep follows a pattern in which deeper, non-REM sleep is prioritized by the body. Only later in the night and into the early morning do people experience dreaming, during REM sleep.

    “We are at least as dream-deprived as we are sleep-deprived,” noted Dr. Naiman, UA clinical assistant professor of medicine. He sees REM/dream loss as an unrecognized public health hazard that silently wreaks havoc by contributing to illness, depression and an erosion of consciousness. “Many of our health concerns attributed to sleep loss actually result from REM sleep deprivation.”

    The review examines data about the causes and extent of REM/dream loss associated with medications, substance use disorders, sleep disorders and behavioral and lifestyle factors. Dr. Naiman further reviews the consequences of REM/dream loss and concludes with recommendations for restoring healthy REM sleep and dreaming.


  6. Study unveils new functions of hippocampus

    October 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Hong Kong press release:

    A research team led by Lam Woo Professor of Biomedical Engineering Ed X. Wu of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Hong Kong has made major breakthrough in unveiling the mysteries of the brain to reveal functions of an important region, hippocampus, not known to scientists before.

    The findings have recently been published in the international academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) in August 2017.

    The hippocampus, located underneath the cortex, plays important roles in memory and navigation. Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia have been proven to have affected and damaged this area of the brain, resulting in early symptoms including short-term memory loss and disorientation. People with hippocampal damage may lose the ability to form and retain new memories. It is also closely related to other diseases such as epilepsy, schizophrenia, transient global amnesia and posttraumatic stress disorder.

    However, the role of hippocampus in complex brain networks, particularly its influence on brain-wide functional connectivity, is not well understood by scientists. Functional connectivity refers to the functional integration between spatially separated brain regions.

    Rodent experiments conducted by Dr Russell W. Chan, Dr Alex T. L. Leong and others, led by Professor Wu, revealed that low-frequency activities in the hippocampus can drive brain-wide functional connectivity in the cerebral cortex and enhance sensory responses. The cerebral cortex is the largest region of the mammalian brain and plays a key role in memory, attention, perception, cognition, awareness, thought, language, and consciousness. In other words, low-frequency activities of the hippocampus can drive the functional integration between different regions of the cerebral cortex and enhance the responsiveness of vision, hearing and touch. These results indicated that hippocampus can be considered as the heart of the brain, a breakthrough in our knowledge of how the brain works.

    Furthermore, these results also suggest that low-frequency activities in the hippocampus can enhance learning and memory since low-frequency activities usually occur during slow-wave sleep which has been associated with learning and memory. Slow-wave sleep, often referred as deep sleep, is a state that we usually enter several times each night and is necessary for survival. Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that usually starts slowly and worsens over time, and the most common early symptom is memory loss. These results may also have potential therapeutic implications of hippocampal neuromodulation in Alzheimer’s disease.

    These current findings are a major step in furthering our fundamental understanding of the origins and roles of brain-wide functional connectivity. These findings also signify the potentials of rsfMRI and neuromodulation for early diagnosis and enhanced treatment of brain diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, epilepsy, schizophrenia, transient global amnesia, and posttraumatic stress disorder.

    Professor Wu’s team is one of the world’s leading teams in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) research, particularly in the investigation of auditory and visual functions, and brain structural and functional connectivity. The pioneering technologies they employ include the use of optogenetics activation, pharmacological inactivation and fMRI to serve as an important tool for investigating the dynamics underlying brain activity propagation as well as the origins and roles of brain functional connectivity.

    Their earlier revelation that the thalamus, another region connecting to the cortex, is not just a relay or passive brain region as initially thought, but can initiate brain-wide neural interactions at different frequencies, had been published in the December 2016 edition of PNAS.

    The human brain is the source of our thoughts, emotions, perceptions, actions, and memories. How the brain actually works, however, remains largely unknown. One grand challenge for neuroscience in the 21st century is to achieve an integrated understanding of the large-scale brain-wide interactions, particularly the patterns of neural activities that give rise to functions and behaviour. In 2010, the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the US launched the Human Connectome Project which aims to “provide an unparalleled compilation of neural data, an interface to graphically navigate this data and the opportunity to achieve never before realised conclusions about the living human brain.” In 2013, the Obama administration in the US launched the BRAIN Initiative to “accelerate the development and application of new technologies that will enable researchers to produce dynamic pictures of the brain that show how individual brain cells and complex neural circuits interact at the speed of thought.” In November 2016, China launched its own initiative “China Brain Project,” which aims to advance basic research on the neural circuit mechanisms underlying cognition in hopes to improve brain disease diagnosis/intervention and inspire development of brain-machine intelligence technology.

    Major research findings

    Based on current knowledge, one expects the hippocampus to predominantly generate high-frequency activities and these activities are largely confined within the hippocampus. However, in this study, low-frequency optogenetic excitation of the dorsal dentate gyrus, a subregion of the hippocampus, evoked cortical and subcortical activities which are beyond the hippocampus. Furthermore, this low-frequency stimulation enhanced brain-wide functional connectivity in the bilateral hippocampus, visual cortex, auditory cortex and somatosensory cortex. Meanwhile, pharmacological inactivation of the hippocampus decreased brain-wide functional connectivity. In addition, visually evoked responses in visual regions also increased during and after such low-frequency hippocampal stimulation. Together, these experimental results highlight the role of low-frequency activity propagating along the hippocampal-cortical pathway, particularly its contribution to brain-wide functional connectivity and enhancement of sensory functions.

    The human brain only accounts for 2% of the total body weight, yet it consumes about 20% of the total body’s energy demand. Despite its importance, it is one of the least understood organs of the body. The research team’s findings have advanced our fundamental understanding of the origins and roles of brain-wide functional connectivity.

    Optogenetic and pharmacological functional magnetic resonance imaging

    The emerging integrated technique adopted by Professor Wu’s team consists of optogenetics, pharmacological neuromodulation and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Optogenetics is a neuromodulation method that uses a combination of techniques from optics and genetics to control the activities of individual neurons in living tissues. Pharmacological neuromodulation uses drugs to manipulate the activities of neurons. fMRI is a large-view non-invasive imaging technique for detecting brain-wide activations. Researchers can make use of fMRI to visualize whole brain activity in response to different optogenetic stimulation and pharmacological manipulations. The synergistic combination of the three technologies has enormous potential to spark a new age of interdisciplinary research to advance our understanding of the brain.


  7. Study suggests mixed messages may get in way of health-related self-improvement

    by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign press release:

    Self-improvement edicts to lose weight, quit smoking or eat more fruits and vegetables can fall on deaf ears if the intervention message is mixed, says new research co-written by a University of Illinois expert in social psychology.

    When recommending multiple behavior changes, it’s more effective if the messages are framed along similar polarities, according to a new paper from Dolores Albarracin, a professor of psychology at Illinois.

    “There are all these programs to get people to execute multiple behavioral changes in the area of health, which is especially important because something like a healthy lifestyle is a conglomerate of behaviors,” Albarracin said.

    In other words, two actions or two inactions are more effective than a mix of positive and negative instructions.

    “What we found is that it’s better to combine them in a homogeneous way,” said Albarracin, also a professor of business administration. “If you tell people to engage in two behaviors and the behaviors are a mix of actions and inactions, it’s likely that recipients will adhere less. It’s easier to frame the recommendations along the same axis of action or inaction. You don’t want to work against yourself or at cross-purposes with your message.”

    Trying to get people to increase both their intake of fruits and their volume of exercise “goes together better in that both are increases in recommended action and may be remembered and executed more effectively,” Albarracin said.

    “Telling someone to increase exercise while decreasing their fat intake isn’t nearly as effective, as shown in behavioral and clinical outcomes,” she said. “It’s better to say ‘Increase exercise and increase the amount of vegetables you eat’ than ‘Increase exercise and decrease fat intake.'”

    The paper, which will be published in the journal Health Psychology Review , is a meta-analysis of 150 research reports of interventions promoting multiple behavior domain change and measuring change at the most immediate follow-up.

    The findings provide important insights on how to best combine recommendations when interventions target clusters of health behaviors, Albarracin said.

    “The problem of how many behaviors we can combine is important, but equally critical is how to combine them,” she said. “Previously, there wasn’t much guidance on what the optimal combination is. There wasn’t any sort of logic to it. This paper gives you a fairly robust answer because it looks at the literature as a whole.”

    The paper is relevant to health care organizations, health care marketing and any type of organization that is trying to change employee behavior.

    “In terms of organizational behavior, if you’re trying to train people to execute a few different behaviors, it would be better to frame it this way rather than mix and match,” Albarracin said. “If you’re trying to create employee health programs, for example, think of it as one package. You don’t want to overload people with information, but you also don’t want to have a message that’s at cross-purposes with itself.”


  8. Study suggests smell loss predicts cognitive decline in healthy older people

    October 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Chicago Medical Center press release:

    A long-term study of nearly 3,000 adults, aged 57 to 85, found that those who could not identify at least four out of five common odors were more than twice as likely as those with a normal sense of smell to develop dementia within five years.

    Although 78 percent of those tested were normal — correctly identifying at least four out of five scents — about 14 percent could name just three out of five, five percent could identify only two scents, two percent could name just one, and one percent of the study subjects were not able to identify a single smell.

    Five years after the initial test, almost all of the study subjects who were unable to name a single scent had been diagnosed with dementia. Nearly 80 percent of those who provided only one or two correct answers also had dementia, with a dose-dependent relationship between degree of smell loss and incidence of dementia.

    “These results show that the sense of smell is closely connected with brain function and health,” said the study’s lead author, Jayant M. Pinto, MD, a professor of surgery at the University of Chicago and ENT specialist who studies the genetics and treatment of olfactory and sinus disease. “We think smell ability specifically, but also sensory function more broadly, may be an important early sign, marking people at greater risk for dementia.”

    “We need to understand the underlying mechanisms,” Pinto added, “so we can understand neurodegenerative disease and hopefully develop new treatments and preventative interventions.”

    “Loss of the sense of smell is a strong signal that something has gone wrong and significant damage has been done,” Pinto said. “This simple smell test could provide a quick and inexpensive way to identify those who are already at high risk.”

    The study, “Olfactory Dysfunction Predicts Subsequent Dementia in Older US Adults,” published September 2?, 2017, in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, follows a related 2014 paper, in which olfactory dysfunction was associated with increased risk of death within five years. In that study, loss of the sense of smell was a better predictor of death than a diagnosis of heart failure, cancer or lung disease.

    For both studies, the researchers used a well-validated tool, known as “Sniffin’Sticks.” These look like a felt-tip pen, but instead of ink, they are infused with distinct scents. Study subjects smell each item and are asked to identify that odor, one at a time, from a set of four choices. The five odors, in order of increasing difficulty, were peppermint, fish, orange, rose and leather.

    Test results showed that:

    • 78.1 percent of those examined had a normal sense of smell; 48.7 percent correctly identified five out of five odors and 29.4 percent identified four out of five.
    • 18.7 percent, considered “hyposmic,” got two or three out of five correct.
    • The remaining 3.2 percent, labelled “anosmic,” could identify just one of the five scents (2.2%), or none (1%).

    The olfactory nerve is the only cranial nerve directly exposed to the environment. The cells that detect smells connect directly with the olfactory bulb at the base of the brain, potentially exposing the central nervous system to environmental hazards such as pollution or pathogens. Olfactory deficits are often an early sign of Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease. They get worse with disease progression.

    Losing the ability to smell can have a substantial impact on lifestyle and wellbeing, said Pinto, a specialist in sinus and nasal diseases and a member of the Section of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at UChicago Medicine. “Smells influence nutrition and mental health,” Pinto said. People who can’t smell face everyday problems such as knowing whether food is spoiled, detecting smoke during a fire, or assessing the need a shower after a workout. Being unable to smell is closely associated with depression as people don’t get as much pleasure in life.”

    “This evolutionarily ancient special sense may signal a key mechanism that also underlies human cognition,” noted study co-author Martha K. McClintock, PhD, the David Lee Shillinglaw Distinguished Service Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago, who has studied olfactory and pheromonal communication throughout her career.

    McClintock noted that the olfactory system also has stem cells which self-regenerate, so “a decrease in the ability to smell may signal a decrease in the brain’s ability to rebuild key components that are declining with age, leading to the pathological changes of many different dementias.”

    In an accompanying editorial, Stephen Thielke, MD, a member of the Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center at Puget Sound Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the psychiatry and behavioral sciences faculty at the University of Washington, wrote: “Olfactory dysfunction may be easier to quantify across time than global cognition, which could allow for more-systematic or earlier assessment of neurodegenerative changes, but none of this supports that smell testing would be a useful tool for predicting the onset of dementia.”

    “Our test simply marks someone for closer attention,” Pinto explained. “Much more work would need to be done to make it a clinical test. But it could help find people who are at risk. Then we could enroll them in early-stage prevention trials.”

    “Of all human senses,” Pinto added, “smell is the most undervalued and underappreciated — until it’s gone.”

    Both studies were part of the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project (NSHAP), the first in-home study of social relationships and health in a large, nationally representative sample of men and women ages 57 to 85.

    The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health — including the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease — the Institute of Translational Medicine at the University of Chicago, and the McHugh Otolaryngology Research Fund.

    Additional authors were Dara Adams, David W. Kern, Kristen E. Wroblewski and William Dale, all from the University of Chicago. Linda Waite is the principal investigator of NSHAP, a transdisciplinary effort with experts in sociology, geriatrics, psychology, epidemiology, statistics, survey methodology, medicine, and surgery collaborating to advance knowledge about aging.


  9. Study suggests that being in a good mood for your flu jab may boost its effectiveness

    October 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Nottingham press release:

    New research by a team of health experts at the University of Nottingham has found evidence that being in a positive mood on the day of your flu jab can increase its protective effect.

    Flu vaccination is estimated to only be effective in 17-53% of older adults compared to 70-90% of younger people. With the onset of winter and so-called ‘flu season’, the research is likely to be of interest to everyone having their autumn flu jab.

    This new Nottingham-based study is the first to examine several psychological and behavioural factors that have been shown to affect how well vaccinations work. The researchers set out to understand which factor, or combination of factors has the greatest impact on the ability of vaccinations to protect against disease.

    The team measured negative mood, positive mood, physical activity, diet and sleep three times a week over a 6 week period in a group of 138 older people due to have their flu jab. Then they examined how well the jab was working by measuring the amount of influenza antibody in the blood at 4 weeks and 16 weeks after the vaccination.

    The results showed that of all of the factors measured, only positive mood over the 6 week observational period predicted how well the jab worked – with good mood associated with higher levels of antibody. In fact, when the researchers looked at influences on the day of vaccination itself, they found an even greater effect on how well it worked, accounting for between 8 and 14% of the variability in antibody levels.

    Professor Kavita Vedhara, from the University’s Division of Primary Care, said: “Vaccinations are an incredibly effective way of reducing the likelihood of catching infectious diseases. But their Achilles heel is that their ability to protect against disease is affected by how well an individual’s immune system works. So people with less effective immune systems, such as the elderly, may find vaccines don’t work as well for them as they do in the young.

    “We have known for many years that a number of psychological and behavioural factors such as stress, physical activity and diet influence how well the immune system works and these factors have also been shown to influence how well vaccines protect against disease.”

    The study, published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity, was unusual in that, by chance, the vaccination that participants received was identical to the one they had received in the previous year. This has happened only once before since the turn of the century. As a result, the researchers found that participants had very high levels of antibody – and therefore protection – for two out of three of the viruses present in the vaccination, even before they were vaccinated.

    This so-called ‘ceiling effect’ meant that this study was unlikely to see further large increases in antibody levels for these two viruses and therefore was unlikely to reveal an effect of psychological and behavioural factors. As a result the team focused its analyses on the one strain which was the least ‘immunogenic’ i.e. the strain with low levels of antibody prior to vaccination.

    The researchers say the approach of focusing on individual viral strains is not uncommon, but recommend that future research is best conducted in the context of a vaccination with more novel viral strains to further confirm the positive mood effect on vaccination.

    The project was funded by National Institute for Health Research School for Primary Care Research (NIHR SPCR) and the Medical Research Council (MRC).


  10. Study suggests link between BMI and how we assess food

    October 2, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati press release:

    A new study demonstrated that people of normal weight tend to associate natural foods such as apples with their sensory characteristics. On the other hand, processed foods such as pizzas are generally associated with their function or the context in which they are eaten.

    “It can be considered an instance of ‘embodiment‘ in which our brain interacts with our body.” This is the comment made by Raffaella Rumiati, neuroscientist at the International School for Advanced Studies — SISSA in Trieste, on the results of research carried out by her group which reveals that the way we process different foods changes in accordance with our body mass index. With two behavioural and electroencephalographic experiments, the study demonstrated that people of normal weight tend to associate natural foods such as apples with their sensory characteristics such as sweetness or softness.

    On the other hand, processed foods such as pizzas are generally associated with their function or the context in which they are eaten such as parties or picnics.

    “The results are in line with the theory according to which sensory characteristics and the functions of items are processed differently by the brain,” comments Giulio Pergola, the work’s primary author. “They represent an important step forward in our understanding of the mechanisms at the basis of the assessments we make of food.” But that’s not all.

    Recently published in the Biological Psychology journal, the research also highlighted the ways in which underweight people pay greater attention to natural foods and overweight people to processed foods. Even when subjected to the same stimuli, these two groups show different electroencephalography signals. These results show once again the importance of cognitive neuroscience also in the understanding of extremely topical clinical fields such as dietary disorders.