1. 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.”


  2. 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.”


  3. 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.


  4. 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.


  5. 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.”


  6. 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.


  7. Electrical ‘switch’ in brain’s capillary network monitors activity and controls blood flow

    by Ashley

    From the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont press release:

    All it takes is the flip of a protein “switch” within the tiny wire-like capillaries of the brain to increase the blood flow that ensures optimal brain function. New research has uncovered that capillaries have the capacity to both sense brain activity and generate an electrical vasodilatory signal to evoke blood flow and direct nutrients to nourish hard-working neurons.

    These findings were reported online in Nature Neuroscience.

    When there is an increase in brain activity, there is an increase in blood flow, says Thomas Longden, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont and first author of the study. “The area of the brain covered by the capillaries — the smallest blood vessels in the body — vastly surpasses the area covered by arterioles. This ideally positions them for monitoring neuronal activity and controlling blood flow.”

    Understanding the mechanisms that precisely direct cerebrovascular blood flow to satisfy the brain’s ever-changing energy needs has, to date, eluded scientists. Neurons consume an enormous amount of the body’s energy supplies — about 20 percent — yet lack their own reserves, so are reliant on blood to deliver nutrients. Previously, capillaries were thought to be passive tubes and the arterioles were thought to be the source of action. Now, Longden and colleagues have discovered that capillaries actively control blood flow by acting like a series of wires, transmitting electrical signals to direct blood to the areas that need it most.

    To achieve this feat, the capillary sensory network relies on a protein (an ion channel) that detects increases in potassium during neuronal activity. Increased activity of this channel facilitates the flow of ions across the capillary membrane, thereby creating a small electrical current that generates a negative charge — a rapidly transmitted signal — that communicates the need for additional blood flow to the upstream arterioles, which then results in increased blood flow to the capillaries.

    The team’s study also determined that if the potassium level is too high, this mechanism can be disabled, which may contribute to blood flow disturbances in a broad range of brain disorders.

    “These findings open new avenues in the way we can investigate cerebral diseases with a vascular component,” says co-first author Fabrice Dabertrand, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pharmacology at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. Cerebrovascular illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease, CADASIL, and other conditions that cause cognitive decline can, in part, be a consequence of neurons not receiving enough blood flow and therefore not getting sufficient nutrients.

    “If you’re hungry, you’re not able to do your best work; it may be the same for neurons,” says Dabertrand, who adds that the group’s next phase of research will focus on exploring potential pathological factors involved in disabling the capillary potassium-sensing mechanism.

    An image from the Vermont team’s research will be featured on the cover of the May 2017 issue of Nature Neuroscience.


  8. Blueberry concentrate improves brain function in older people

    March 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Exeter press release:

    Blueberries

    Drinking concentrated blueberry juice improves brain function in older people, according to research by the University of Exeter.

    In the study, healthy people aged 65-77 who drank concentrated blueberry juice every day showed improvements in cognitive function, blood flow to the brain and activation of the brain while carrying out cognitive tests.

    There was also evidence suggesting improvement in working memory.

    Blueberries are rich in flavonoids, which possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

    Dr Joanna Bowtell, head of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Exeter, said: “Our cognitive function tends to decline as we get older, but previous research has shown that cognitive function is better preserved in healthy older adults with a diet rich in plant-based foods.

    “In this study we have shown that with just 12 weeks of consuming 30ml of concentrated blueberry juice every day, brain blood flow, brain activation and some aspects of working memory were improved in this group of healthy older adults.”

    Of the 26 healthy adults in the study, 12 were given concentrated blueberry juice — providing the equivalent of 230g of blueberries — once a day, while 14 received a placebo.

    Before and after the 12-week period, participants took a range of cognitive tests while an MRI scanner monitored their brain function and resting brain blood flow was measured.

    Compared to the placebo group, those who took the blueberry supplement showed significant increases in brain activity in brain areas related to the tests.

    The study excluded anyone who said they consumed more than five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, and all participants were told to stick to their normal diet throughout.

    Previous research has shown that risk of dementia is reduced by higher fruit and vegetable intake, and cognitive function is better preserved in healthy older adults with a diet rich in plant-based foods.

    Flavonoids, which are abundant in plants, are likely to be an important component in causing these effects.


  9. Mediterranean diet may have lasting effects on brain health

    January 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) media release:

    healthy, vital seniorA new study shows that older people who followed a Mediterranean diet retained more brain volume over a three-year period than those who did not follow the diet as closely.

    The study is published in the January 4, 2017, online issue of Neurlogy®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. But contrary to earlier studies, eating more fish and less meat was not related to changes in the brain.

    The Mediterranean diet includes large amounts of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, beans and cereal grains such as wheat and rice, moderate amounts of fish, dairy and wine, and limited red meat and poultry.

    As we age, the brain shrinks and we lose brain cells which can affect learning and memory,” said study author Michelle Luciano, PhD, of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. “This study adds to the body of evidence that suggests the Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on brain health.”

    Researchers gathered information on the eating habits of 967 Scottish people around age 70 who did not have dementia. Of those people, 562 had an MRI brain scan around age 73 to measure overall brain volume, gray matter volume and thickness of the cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain. From that group, 401 people then returned for a second MRI at age 76. These measurements were compared to how closely participants followed the Mediterranean diet.

    The participants varied in how closely their dietary habits followed the Mediterranean diet principles. People who didn’t follow as closely to the Mediterranean diet were more likely to have a higher loss of total brain volume over the three years than people who followed the diet more closely. The difference in diet explained 0.5 percent of the variation in total brain volume, an effect that was half the size of that due to normal aging.

    The results were the same when researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect brain volume, such as age, education and having diabetes or high blood pressure [hypertension].

    There was no relationship between grey matter volume or cortical thickness and the Mediterranean diet.

    The researchers also found that fish and meat consumption were not related to brain changes, which is contrary to earlier studies.

    It’s possible that other components of the Mediterranean diet are responsible for this relationship, or that it’s due to all of the components in combination,” Luciano said.

    Luciano noted that earlier studies looked at brain measurements at one point in time, whereas the current study followed people over time.

    “In our study, eating habits were measured before brain volume was, which suggests that the diet may be able to provide long-term protection to the brain,” said Luciano. “Still, larger studies are needed to confirm these results.”

     


  10. Increased reaction to stress linked to gastrointestinal issues in children with autism

    January 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Missouri-Columbia media release:

    One in 45 American children lives with autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Many of these children also have significant gastrointestinal issues, but the cause of these symptoms is unknown. Now, researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine suggest that the gastrointestinal issues in these individuals with autism may be related to an increased reaction to stress. It’s a finding the researchers hope could lead to better treatment options for these patients.

    “We know that it is common for individuals with autism to have a more intense reaction to stress, and some of these patients seem to experience frequent constipation, abdominal pain or other gastrointestinal issues,” said David Beversdorf, M.D., associate professor in the departments of radiology, neurology and psychological sciences at MU and the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. “To better understand why, we looked for a relationship between gastrointestinal symptoms and the immune markers responsible for stress response. We found a relationship between increased cortisol response to stress and these symptoms.”

    Cortisol is a hormone released by the body in times of stress, and one of its functions is to prevent the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation. These inflammatory substances — known as cytokines — have been associated with autism, gastrointestinal issues and stress. The researchers studied 120 individuals with autism who were treated at MU and Vanderbilt University. The individuals’ parents completed a questionnaire to assess their children’s gastrointestinal symptoms, resulting in 51 patients with symptoms and 69 without gastrointestinal symptoms.

    To elicit a stress response, individuals took a 30-second stress test. Cortisol samples were gathered through participants’ saliva before and after the test. The researchers found that the individuals with gastrointestinal symptoms had greater cortisol in response to the stress than the participants without gastrointestinal symptoms.

    When treating a patient with autism who has constipation and other lower gastrointestinal issues, physicians may give them a laxative to address these issues,” Beversdorf said. “Our findings suggest there may be a subset of patients for which there may be other contributing factors. More research is needed, but anxiety and stress reactivity may be an important factor when treating these patients.”