1. Probiotic use linked to improved symptoms of depression

    June 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the McMaster University press release:

    Probiotics may relieve symptoms of depression, as well as help gastrointestinal upset, research from McMaster University has found.

    In a study published in the medical journal Gastroenterology, researchers of the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute found that twice as many adults with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) reported improvements from co-existing depression when they took a specific probiotic than adults with IBS who took a placebo.

    The study provides further evidence of the microbiota environment in the intestines being in direct communication with the brain said senior author Dr. Premysl Bercik, an associate professor of medicine at McMaster and a gastroenterologist for Hamilton Health Sciences.

    “This study shows that consumption of a specific probiotic can improve both gut symptoms and psychological issues in IBS. This opens new avenues not only for the treatment of patients with functional bowel disorders but also for patients with primary psychiatric diseases,” he said.

    IBS is the most common gastrointestinal disorder in the world, and is highly prevalent in Canada. It affects the large intestine and patients suffer from abdominal pain and altered bowel habits like diarrhea and constipation. They are also frequently affected by chronic anxiety or depression.

    The pilot study involved 44 adults with IBS and mild to moderate anxiety or depression. They were followed for 10 weeks, as half took a daily dose of the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001, while the others had a placebo.

    At six weeks, 14 of 22, or 64%, of the patients taking the probiotic had decreased depression scores, compared to seven of 22 (or 32%) of patients given placebo.

    Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) showed that the improvement in depression scores was associated with changes in multiple brain areas involved in mood control.

    “This is the result of a decade long journey — from identifying the probiotic, testing it in preclinical models and investigating the pathways through which the signals from the gut reach the brain,” said Bercik.

    “The results of this pilot study are very promising but they have to be confirmed in a future, larger scale trial,” said Dr. Maria Pinto Sanchez, the first author and a McMaster clinical research fellow.


  2. Can omega-3 help prevent Alzheimer’s disease?

    June 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the IOS Press press release:

    The incidence of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is expected to triple in the coming decades and no cure has been found. Recently, interest in dietary approaches for prevention of cognitive decline has increased. In particular, the omega-3 fatty acids have shown anti-amyloid, anti-tau and anti-inflammatory actions in the brains of animals. In a new article published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers have found that for patients with high omega-3 levels, blood flow in specific areas of the brain is increased.

    “This study is a major advance in demonstrating the value of nutritional intervention for brain health by using the latest brain imaging,” commented George Perry, PhD, Dean and Professor of Biology, The University of Texas at San Antonio, and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

    Single photon emission computed tomography, or SPECT, can measure blood perfusion in the brain. Images acquired from subjects performing various cognitive tasks will show higher blood flow in specific brain regions. When these images were compared to the Omega-3 Index, a measure of the blood concentration of two omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), investigators found a statistically significant correlation between higher blood flow and higher Omega-3 Index. In addition, they evaluated the neuropsychological functions of the subjects and found that omega-3 levels also correlated with various psychological feelings using a standardized test battery (WebNeuro).

    This study drew from a random sample of 166 participants from a psychiatric referral clinic for which Omega-3 Index results were available. The participants were categorized into two groups of higher EPA+DHA concentrations (>50th percentile) and lower concentrations (<50th percentile). Quantitative brain SPECT was conducted on 128 regions of their brains and each participant completed computerized testing of their neurocognitive status.

    Results indicated statistically significant relationships between the Omega-3 index, regional perfusion on brain SPECT in areas involved with memory, and neurocognitive testing.

    Overall, the study showed positive relationships between omega-3 EPA+DHA status, brain perfusion, and cognition. Lead author Daniel G. Amen, MD, of the Amen Clinics Inc., Costa Mesa, CA, adds, “This is very important research because it shows a correlation between lower omega-3 fatty acid levels and reduced brain blood flow to regions important for learning, memory, depression and dementia.”

    Co-author William S. Harris, PhD, University of South Dakota School of Medicine. Vermillion, SD, lends this perspective, “Although we have considerable evidence that omega-3 levels are associated with better cardiovascular health, the role of the ‘fish oil’ fatty acids in mental health and brain physiology is just beginning to be explored. This study opens the door to the possibility that relatively simple dietary changes could favorably impact cognitive function.”


  3. Studies link healthy brain aging to omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the blood

    May 30, 2017 by Ashley

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

    Two new studies link patterns of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the blood to the integrity of brain structures and cognitive abilities that are known to decline early in aging.

    The studies add to the evidence that dietary intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can promote healthy aging, the researchers said. Further research is needed to test this hypothesis, they said.

    The brain is a collection of interconnected parts, each of which ages at its own pace. Some brain structures, and the abilities they promote, start to deteriorate before others, said University of Illinois M.D./Ph.D student Marta Zamroziewicz, who led the new research with psychology professor Aron Barbey.

    “We studied a primary network of the brain — the frontoparietal network — that plays an important role in fluid intelligence and also declines early, even in healthy aging,” Zamroziewicz said. Fluid intelligence describes the ability to solve problems one has never encountered before.

    “In a separate study, we examined the white matter structure of the fornix, a group of nerve fibers at the center of the brain that is important for memory,” she said.

    Previous research has shown that the fornix is one of the first brain regions to be compromised in Alzheimer’s disease.

    In both studies, the researchers looked for patterns of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the blood of adults ages 65 to 75. They analyzed the relationship between these nutrient patterns and subjects’ brain structure and performance on cognitive tests. This research differs from other such studies, which tend to focus on only one or two polyunsaturated fatty acids, Zamroziewicz said.

    “Most of the research that looks at these fats in health and healthy aging focuses on the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, but those come from fish and fish oil, and most people in the Western Hemisphere don’t eat enough of those to really see the benefits,” she said. Other fatty acids, like alpha-linolenic acid and stearidonic acid, are precursors of EPA and DHA in the body. Those fats can be derived from land-based foods such as nuts, seeds and oils.

    “A central goal of research in nutritional cognitive neuroscience is to understand how these nutrients affect brain health,” Zamroziewicz said. “Some of these nutrients are thought to be more beneficial than others.”

    In a study reported in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience, the researchers looked for relationships between several omega-3 fatty acids in the blood, the relative size of structures in the frontal and parietal cortices of the brain, and performance on tests of fluid intelligence in healthy elderly adults.

    The team found correlations between blood levels of three omega-3 fatty acids — ALA, stearidonic acid and ecosatrienoic acid — and fluid intelligence in these adults. Further analyses revealed that the size of the left frontoparietal cortex played a mediating role in this relationship. People with higher blood levels of these three nutrients tended to have larger left frontoparietal cortices, and the size of the frontoparietal cortex predicted the subjects’ performance on tests of fluid intelligence.

    “A lot of research tells us that people need to be eating fish and fish oil to get neuroprotective effects from these particular fats, but this new finding suggests that even the fats that we get from nuts, seeds and oils can also make a difference in the brain,” Zamroziewicz said.

    In the second study, the team found that the size of the fornix was associated with a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the blood, and that a more robust fornix coincided with memory preservation in older adults. Again, the researchers saw that brain structure played a mediating role between the abundance and balance of nutrients in the blood and cognition (in this case, memory). The findings are reported in the journal Aging & Disease.

    “These findings have important implications for the Western diet, which tends to be misbalanced with high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids and low amounts of omega-3 fatty acids,” Zamroziewicz said.

    “These two studies highlight the importance of investigating the effects of groups of nutrients together, rather than focusing on one at a time,” Barbey said. “They suggest that different patterns of polyunsaturated fats promote specific aspects of cognition by strengthening the underlying neural circuits that are vulnerable to disease and age-related decline.”


  4. Computer game could help children choose healthy food

    May 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Exeter press release:

    A simple brain-training game could help children choose healthy snacks instead of chocolate and sweets, according to a new study.

    Children who played a seven-minute game devised by University of Exeter psychologists made healthier choices when asked to pick foods afterwards.

    The game involves reacting to images of healthy food by pressing a button, and doing nothing if unhealthy foods are shown.

    “The sight of foods like chocolate can activate reward centres in the brain at the same time as reducing activity in self-control areas,” said Lucy Porter, the lead researcher on the project.

    Our training encourages people to make a new association — when they see unhealthy food, they stop.

    “Many health promotion schemes rely on education and willpower and require a lot of time, staff and money, but our game potentially sidesteps these issues by creating a free, easy tool for families to use at home.

    “The research is at an early stage and we need to investigate whether our game can shift dietary habits in the long-term, but we think it could make a useful contribution.”

    The researchers ran two experiments, and in total more than 200 schoolchildren aged 4-11 were shown images of healthy and unhealthy foods.

    Alongside each image was a cartoon face — happy for healthy food, sad for unhealthy food.

    Children had to hit the spacebar when they saw a happy face, and do nothing if they saw a sad face — they were not told that the game had anything to do with healthy or unhealthy food.

    Afterwards, they played a shopping game where they had to choose a limited number of food items in one minute.

    “We didn’t see a total turnaround in favour of choosing healthy options, but these increased from about 30% of foods chosen to over 50% in children who did the brain training,” said Porter.

    Age did not affect whether the game worked or not, meaning that children as young as four can benefit from playing.

    Meanwhile children in control groups — who were shown happy and sad faces mixed evenly between healthy and unhealthy foods, or images which were not food-related at all — showed no change in food choices.

    Similar research by the study’s senior author, Dr Natalia Lawrence, has already led to the creation of an app which helps adults avoid unhealthy foods and lose weight.

    “It’s encouraging to see that this simple computer game has the potential to improve food choices in young children as well as in adults” she said.

    “As we all know, it’s incredibly important to encourage healthy eating habits from a young age; children in the UK eat on average three times too much sugar and not enough fruit and vegetables.

    “This game is one simple and relatively fun way of trying to redress the balance.”

    Porter added: “This easy game does all the hard work for you. It’s not about learning anything consciously, it’s about working with automatic responses.

    She acknowledges that some people might feel uneasy about this, but she explains: “Playing this game is optional — unlike the constant stream of advertising designed to brainwash children.

    “This game won’t eliminate the effect of junk food advertising or price promotions, but it might give people a little bit of control back.”


  5. Doubling vegetable consumption in schools with a lower-cost gaming approach

    May 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. press release:

    A new study shows that the successful strategy to get elementary school children to eat more vegetables based on use of the FIT Game, can be just as effective and less costly to implement when teachers no longer administer the game. Results of a study in which FIT Game episodes were displayed in the school cafeteria, leading to a 99.9% increase in vegetable consumption from baseline levels, are published in Games for Health, a peer-reviewed publication from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. The article is available free on the Games for Health Journal website until June 5, 2017.

    The article entitled “The FIT Game III: Reduced the Operating Expenses of a Game-Based Approach to Increasing Health Eating in Elementary Schools” is coauthored by Damon Joyner, Heidi Wengreen, RD, PhD, Sheryl Aguilar, RD, and Gregory Madden, PhD, Utah State University, Logan, Lori Andersen Spruance, PhD, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, and Brooke Morrill, PhD, Schell Games, Pittsburgh, PA. The researchers evaluated the effectiveness of the FIT Game in two elementary schools, graded K-5, measuring daily vegetable consumption. In previous studies, when teachers administered the game in the classroom, vegetable consumption increased by 44% and 33%. The current study employed a less costly approach to sharing FIT Game episodes with the students that was even more successful at increasing their vegetable consumption.

    “Nationally, child vegetable consumption has been low, well below the levels needed to obtain the many health benefits. Since adults tend to eat what they found enjoyable as a child, increasing child vegetable consumption offers promise of influencing their health in their adult years,” says Tom Baranowski, PhD, Editor-in-Chief of Games for Health Journal, from USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center, and Department of Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX. “Joyner and colleagues adapted a very low cost game-based intervention that can be employed in elementary schools and substantially increased vegetable consumption. This is a very promising outcome that needs to be replicated and, if found to be generally effective, should be broadly distributed throughout the U.S. and beyond.”


  6. Study suggests taking folic acid supplements during pregnancy may improve psychological development in children

    May 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the British Psychological Society press release:

    Children’s emotional intelligence improved if mums take folic acid supplements throughout pregnancy.

    Taking folic acid supplements throughout pregnancy may improve psychological development in children.

    That is the finding of research by Professor Tony Cassidy and colleagues from Ulster University who will present their study to the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society in Brighton.

    Professor Cassidy said: “There is evidence that folic acid supplements taken during the first three months of pregnancy can have beneficial effects on children’s brain development. We wanted to investigate whether continued supplementation throughout pregnancy had any additional effects.”

    The researchers asked the parents of 39 children, now aged seven, to answer questions about their child’s personality, including levels of resilience, relationships with others and how they express their emotions. Within this group 22 mothers had taken the supplement throughout their pregnancy while the other 19 took it during the first three months only.

    Analysis showed that children whose mothers took the supplement throughout pregnancy demonstrated higher levels of emotional intelligence and resilience. Additionally, the level of folic acid in mother’s blood towards the end of pregnancy was a good predictor of children’s resilience and emotional intelligence.

    Professor Cassidy said: “Most expectant mothers know that taking folic acid supplements in the first three months of pregnancy is important for the baby’s spinal development. Our study shows that there are potential psychological benefits for the child if supplements are taken throughout the pregnancy.”


  7. Study suggests timing and duration of school lunch and recess related to food choices and physical activity

    May 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Experimental Biology 2017 press release:

    A new study finds that the duration and timing of lunch and recess is related to food choices and physical activity of school children. These findings could help schools make policies that promote healthier school lunches and increased physical activity during recess.

    Gabriella McLoughlin, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, will present the new research at the American Society for Nutrition Scientific Sessions and annual meeting during the Experimental Biology 2017 meeting, to be held April 22-26 in Chicago.

    “Most research has focused solely on nutritional intake or physical activity during recess,” said Naiman Khan, PhD, assistant professor and leader of the research team. “This is the first study to objectively measure food intake at lunch in conjunction with physical activity and consider the influence of duration and timing.”

    For the study, the researchers assessed the lunch intake and physical activity of 151 fourth and fifth grade students from two low-income schools. Each school scheduled lunch either just before or immediately after recess.

    The researchers found that:

    • Although less food was wasted when recess was held before lunch, children consumed a greater proportion of vegetables when lunch was offered before recess.
    • When children had a longer time for a combined lunch and recess period, children were proportionally more physically active when lunch was offered before recess.
    • When the lunch-recess period was shorter, children were more active when recess was offered before lunch.

    “Overall, our findings suggest that recess and lunch behaviors are interrelated,” said McLoughlin. “However, the specific food choices and activity levels children engage in may be subject to the timing and duration of lunch and recess.” The relationships between food intake at lunch and physical activity were independent of factors previously shown to contribute to recess activity such as a child’s weight status and gender.

    The current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend scheduling recess before lunch to reduce overall food waste. Although the new study also showed reduced food waste when recess is before lunch, the findings suggest that current recommendations may have unintended consequences for the types of foods consumed and could affect physical activity during recess, depending on the duration of the recess-lunch period.

    “We plan to communicate our findings to school teachers, administrators and policymakers to facilitate the implementation of evidence-based policies that support children’s ability to meet their daily physical activity and nutritional recommendations,” said Khan.

    Now that the researchers have extensive data on children’s physical activity patterns and lunch choices, the investigators are seeking federal funding to create feasible and sustainable school interventions based on their findings. They would also like to study whether policies regarding lunch and recess affect risk for obesity, success in academics and other markers of cognitive development in children.


  8. Study links low-fat dairy consumption to lower incidence of depression

    April 30, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Tohoku University press release:

    People who consume low-fat milk and yogurt, rather than whole-fat dairy products, are less likely to have depression, according to researchers in Japan and China.

    Dairy consumption has long been linked to a wide range of physical health benefits, but its effect on emotional health has remained unclear. Now, a new study published in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology reveals that people who consume low-fat dairy products may be less prone to depression.

    Professor Ryoichi Nagatomi of Tohoku University and colleagues in Japan and China investigated the association between whole and low-fat dairy consumption and depressive symptoms such as exhaustion, sadness, anxiety, helplessness and hopelessness. This is the first study to consider different components of dairy products (whole fat and low fat) and the occurrence of depression.

    The study involved 1,159 Japanese adults between the ages of 19 and 83. There were 897 men and 262 women, of which 31.2% and 31.7% respectively, were depressed.

    The researchers asked the participants in a questionnaire how often they consumed whole- or low-fat milk or yogurt. Depressive symptoms were evaluated using the self-rating depression scale, which consists of 20 questions and is a tool to distinguish people with and without depression.

    The result showed that people who consumed low-fat dairy products between one and four times a week are less depressed. The correlation remained even after considering other critical factors such as age, sex, health status, nutrition status and life style.

    The study found no association between whole-fat milk consumption and depressive symptoms. The researchers speculate that this is because trans-fatty acid contained in whole fat milk, which is associated with depression, cancelled out the anti-depressive effect of another milk component, tryptophan.

    The researchers note that since this was a cross-sectional study that analyzed a population at a single point in time, it could not explain what actually caused such outcomes. Other dairy products, such as cheese and butter, were not included in the study. It is also unclear whether milk or yogurt had a stronger influence. Further studies are necessary to confirm and clarify the causality of the findings.


  9. Study suggests Marmite may affect brain function

    April 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of York press release:

    Scientists at the University of York have discovered a potential link between eating Marmite and activity in the brain, through the apparent increase of a chemical messenger associated with healthy brain function.

    Participants consuming a teaspoon of Marmite every day for a month, compared to a control group who consumed peanut butter, showed a substantial reduction of around 30 per cent in their brain’s response to visual stimuli, measured by recording electrical activity using electroencephalography (EEG).

    Researchers think this may be due to the prevalence of vitamin B12 in Marmite increasing levels of a specific neurotransmitter — known as GABA — in the brain.

    GABA inhibits the excitability of neurons in the brain, with the chemical acting to ‘turn down the volume’ of neural responses in order to regulate the delicate balance of activity needed to maintain a healthy brain.

    As Marmite consumption appears to increase GABA levels, this study is the first to show that dietary intervention may affect these neural processes. GABA imbalances are also associated with a variety of neurological disorders.

    Anika Smith, PhD student in York’s Department of Psychology and first author of the study, said: “These results suggest that dietary choices can affect the cortical processes of excitation and inhibition — consistent with increased levels of GABA — that are vital in maintaining a healthy brain.

    “As the effects of Marmite consumption took around eight weeks to wear off after participants stopped the study, this suggests that dietary changes could potentially have long-term effects on brain function.

    “This is a really promising first example of how dietary interventions can alter cortical processes, and a great starting point for exploring whether a more refined version of this technique could have some medical or therapeutic applications in the future. Of course, further research is needed to confirm and investigate this, but the study is an excellent basis for this.”

    Dr Daniel Baker, Lecturer in the Department of Psychology and senior author of the paper, said: “The high concentration of Vitamin B12 in Marmite is likely to be the primary factor behind results showing a significant reduction in participants’ responsiveness to visual stimuli.

    “Since we’ve found a connection between diet and specific brain processes involving GABA, this research paves the way for further studies looking into how diet could be used as a potential route to understanding this neurotransmitter.

    “Although GABA is involved in various diseases we can make no therapeutic recommendations based on these results, and individuals with a medical condition should always seek treatment from their GP.”


  10. Daily consumption of tea may protect the elderly from cognitive decline

    March 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the National University of Singapore press release:

    A cup of tea a day can keep dementia away, and this is especially so for those who are genetically predisposed to the debilitating disease, according to a recent study led by Assistant Professor Feng Lei from the Department of Psychological Medicine at National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.

    The longitudinal study involving 957 Chinese seniors aged 55 years or older has found that regular consumption of tea lowers the risk of cognitive decline in the elderly by 50 per cent, while APOE e4 gene carriers who are genetically at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease may experience a reduction in cognitive impairment risk by as much as 86 per cent.

    The research team also discovered that the neuroprotective role of tea consumption on cognitive function is not limited to a particular type of tea — so long as the tea is brewed from tea leaves, such as green, black or oolong tea.

    “While the study was conducted on Chinese elderly, the results could apply to other races as well. Our findings have important implications for dementia prevention. Despite high quality drug trials, effective pharmacological therapy for neurocognitive disorders such as dementia remains elusive and current prevention strategies are far from satisfactory. Tea is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world. The data from our study suggests that a simple and inexpensive lifestyle measure such as daily tea drinking can reduce a person’s risk of developing neurocognitive disorders in late life,” explained Asst Prof Feng.

    He added, “Based on current knowledge, this long term benefit of tea consumption is due to the bioactive compounds in tea leaves, such as catechins, theaflavins, thearubigins and L-theanine. These compounds exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potential and other bioactive properties that may protect the brain from vascular damage and neurodegeneration. Our understanding of the detailed biological mechanisms is still very limited so we do need more research to find out definitive answers.”

    In this study, tea consumption information were collected from the participants, who are community-living elderly, from 2003 to 2005. At regular intervals of two years, these seniors were assessed on their cognitive function using standardised tools until 2010. Information on lifestyles, medical conditions, physical and social activities were also collected. Those potential confounding factors were carefully controlled in statistical models to ensure the robustness of the findings.

    The research team published their findings in scientific journal The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging in December 2016.

    Future Research

    Asst Prof Feng and his team are planning to embark on further studies to better understand the impact of Asian diet on cognitive health in aging. They are also keen to investigate the effects of the bioactive compounds in tea and test them more rigorously through the assessment of their biological markers and by conducting randomised controlled trials or studies that assign participants into experimental groups or control groups randomly to eliminate biased results.