1. Study suggests curcumin improves memory and mood

    February 3, 2018 by Ashley

    From the UCLA press release:

    Lovers of Indian food, give yourselves a second helping: Daily consumption of a certain form of curcumin — the substance that gives Indian curry its bright color — improved memory and mood in people with mild, age-related memory loss, according to the results of a study conducted by UCLA researchers.

    The research, published online Jan. 19 in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, examined the effects of an easily absorbed curcumin supplement on memory performance in people without dementia, as well as curcumin’s potential impact on the microscopic plaques and tangles in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

    Found in turmeric, curcumin has previously been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in lab studies. It also has been suggested as a possible reason that senior citizens in India, where curcumin is a dietary staple, have a lower prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and better cognitive performance.

    “Exactly how curcumin exerts its effects is not certain, but it may be due to its ability to reduce brain inflammation, which has been linked to both Alzheimer’s disease and major depression,” said Dr. Gary Small, director of geriatric psychiatry at UCLA’s Longevity Center and of the geriatric psychiatry division at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, and the study’s first author.

    The double-blind, placebo-controlled study involved 40 adults between the ages of 50 and 90 years who had mild memory complaints. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either a placebo or 90 milligrams of curcumin twice daily for 18 months.

    All 40 subjects received standardized cognitive assessments at the start of the study and at six-month intervals, and monitoring of curcumin levels in their blood at the start of the study and after 18 months. Thirty of the volunteers underwent positron emission tomography, or PET scans, to determine the levels of amyloid and tau in their brains at the start of the study and after 18 months.

    The people who took curcumin experienced significant improvements in their memory and attention abilities, while the subjects who received placebo did not, Small said. In memory tests, the people taking curcumin improved by 28 percent over the 18 months. Those taking curcumin also had mild improvements in mood, and their brain PET scans showed significantly less amyloid and tau signals in the amygdala and hypothalamus than those who took placebos.

    The amygdala and hypothalamus are regions of the brain that control several memory and emotional functions.

    Four people taking curcumin, and two taking placebos, experienced mild side effects such as abdominal pain and nausea.

    The researchers plan to conduct a follow-up study with a larger number of people. That study will include some people with mild depression so the scientists can explore whether curcumin also has antidepressant effects. The larger sample also would allow them to analyze whether curcumin’s memory-enhancing effects vary according to people’s genetic risk for Alzheimer’s, their age or the extent of their cognitive problems.

    “These results suggest that taking this relatively safe form of curcumin could provide meaningful cognitive benefits over the years,” said Small, UCLA’s Parlow-Solomon Professor on Aging.


  2. Study looks at how stress can cause disease

    January 24, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Michigan State University press release:

    A Michigan State University researcher is providing new insight into how certain types of stress interact with immune cells and can regulate how these cells respond to allergens, ultimately causing physical symptoms and disease.

    The federally funded study, published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, showed how a stress receptor, known as corticotropin-releasing factor, or CRF1, can send signals to certain immune cells, called mast cells, and control how they defend the body.

    During the study, Moeser compared the histamine responses of mice to two types of stress conditions — psychological and allergic — where the immune system becomes overworked. One group of mice was considered “normal” with CRF1 receptors on their mast cells and the other group had cells that lacked CRF1.

    “While the ‘normal’ mice exposed to stress exhibited high histamine levels and disease, the mice without CRF1 had low histamine levels, less disease and were protected against both types of stress,” Moeser said. “This tells us that CRF1 is critically involved in some diseases initiated by these stressors.”

    The CRF1-deficient mice exposed to allergic stress had a 54 percent reduction in disease, while those mice who experienced psychological stress had a 63 percent decrease.

    The results could change the way everyday disorders such as asthma and the debilitating gastrointestinal symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are treated.

    “We all know that stress affects the mind-body connection and increases the risk for many diseases,” Moeser said. “The question is, how?”

    “This work is a critical step forward in decoding how stress makes us sick and provides a new target pathway in the mast cell for therapies to improve the quality of life of people suffering from common stress-related diseases.”

    The National Institutes of Health funded the study.


  3. Try exercise to improve memory and thinking, new guideline urges

    January 14, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Mayo Clinic press release:

    For patients with mild cognitive impairment, don’t be surprised if your health care provider prescribes exercise rather than medication. A new guideline for medical practitioners says they should recommend twice-weekly exercise to people with mild cognitive impairment to improve memory and thinking.

    The recommendation is part of an updated guideline for mild cognitive impairment published in the Dec. 27 online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

    “Regular physical exercise has long been shown to have heart health benefits, and now we can say exercise also may help improve memory for people with mild cognitive impairment,” says Ronald Petersen, M.D., Ph.D., lead author, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, Mayo Clinic, and the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging. “What’s good for your heart can be good for your brain.” Dr. Petersen is the Cora Kanow Professor of Alzheimer’s Disease Research.

    Mild cognitive impairment is an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. Symptoms can involve problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes.

    Generally, these changes aren’t severe enough to significantly interfere with day-to-day life and usual activities. However, mild cognitive impairment may increase the risk of later progressing to dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other neurological conditions. But some people with mild cognitive impairment never get worse, and a few eventually get better.

    The academy’s guideline authors developed the updated recommendations on mild cognitive impairment after reviewing all available studies. Six-month studies showed twice-weekly workouts may help people with mild cognitive impairment as part of an overall approach to managing their symptoms.

    Dr. Petersen encourages people to do aerobic exercise: Walk briskly, jog, whatever you like to do, for 150 minutes a week — 30 minutes, five times or 50 minutes, three times. The level of exertion should be enough to work up a bit of a sweat but doesn’t need to be so rigorous that you can’t hold a conversation. “Exercising might slow down the rate at which you would progress from mild cognitive impairment to dementia,” he says.

    Another guideline update says clinicians may recommend cognitive training for people with mild cognitive impairment. Cognitive training uses repetitive memory and reasoning exercises that may be computer-assisted or done in person individually or in small groups. There is weak evidence that cognitive training may improve measures of cognitive function, the guideline notes.

    The guideline did not recommend dietary changes or medications. There are no drugs for mild cognitive impairment approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

    More than 6 percent of people in their 60s have mild cognitive impairment across the globe, and the condition becomes more common with age, according to the American Academy of Neurology. More than 37 percent of people 85 and older have it.

    With such prevalence, finding lifestyle factors that may slow down the rate of cognitive impairment can make a big difference to individuals and society, Dr. Petersen notes.

    “We need not look at aging as a passive process; we can do something about the course of our aging,” he says. “So if I’m destined to become cognitively impaired at age 72, I can exercise and push that back to 75 or 78. That’s a big deal.”

    The guideline, endorsed by the Alzheimer’s Association, updates a 2001 academy recommendation on mild cognitive impairment. Dr. Petersen was involved in the development of the first clinical trial for mild cognitive impairment and continues as a worldwide leader researching this stage of disease when symptoms possibly could be stopped or reversed.

     


  4. Study suggests eating more foods with choline during pregnancy could boost baby’s brain

    January 12, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Cornell University press release:

    When expectant mothers consume sufficient amounts of the nutrient choline during pregnancy, their offspring gain enduring cognitive benefits, a new Cornell University study suggests.

    Choline — found in egg yolks, lean red meat, fish, poultry, legumes, nuts and cruciferous vegetables — has many functions, but this study focused on its role in prenatal brain development.

    The researchers, who published their findings online in The FASEB Journal, used a rigorous study design to show cognitive benefits in the offspring of pregnant women who daily consumed close to twice the currently recommended amount of choline during their last trimester.

    “In animal models using rodents, there’s widespread agreement that supplementing the maternal diet with additional amounts of this single nutrient has lifelong benefits on offspring cognitive function,” said Marie Caudill, professor of nutritional sciences and the study’s first author. “Our study provides some evidence that a similar result is found in humans.”

    The finding is important because choline is in high demand during pregnancy yet most women consume less than the recommended 450 milligrams per day.

    “Part of that is due to current dietary trends and practices,” said Richard Canfield, a developmental psychologist in the Division of Nutritional Sciences and the senior author of the study. “There are a lot of choline-rich foods that have a bad reputation these days,” he said. Eggs, for example, are high in cholesterol, and health professionals, including those in the government, have raised caution about pregnant women consuming undercooked eggs, which may deter women from eating them altogether, even though such risks are low for pasteurized or cooked eggs, Canfield said. Red meats are often avoided for their high saturated fat content, and liver is not commonly eaten, he added.

    Two previous studies by other research teams had mixed results after examining cognitive effects of maternal choline supplementation, perhaps due to study designs that were not tightly controlled, Caudill said.

    In this study, 26 women were randomly divided into two groups and all the women consumed exactly the same diet. Intake of choline and other nutrients were tightly controlled, which was important since the metabolism of choline and its functions can overlap with such nutrients as vitamin B12, folic acid and vitamin B6.

    “By ensuring that all the nutrients were provided in equal amounts, we could be confident that the differences in the infants resulted from their choline intake,” Caudill said. In this study, half the women received 480 mg/day of choline, slightly more than the adequate intake level, and the other half received 930 mg/day.

    Canfield and co-author Laura Muscalu, a lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Ithaca College, tested infant information processing speed and visuospatial memory at 4, 7, 10 and 13 months of age. They timed how long each infant took to look toward an image on the periphery of a computer screen, a measure of the time it takes for a cue to produce a motor response. The test has been shown to correlate with IQ in childhood. Also, research by Canfield and others shows that infants who demonstrate fast processing speeds when young typically continue to be fast as they age.

    While offspring in both groups showed cognitive benefits, information processing speeds were significantly faster for the group of expectant mothers who consumed 930 mg/day when compared with the group that took 480 mg/day over the same period.

    Though the study has a small sample, it suggests that current recommendations for daily choline intake may not be enough to produce optimal cognitive abilities in offspring, Canfield said. Current choline intake recommendations are based on amounts required to prevent liver dysfunction, and were extrapolated from studies done in men in part because no studies had investigated requirements during pregnancy.

    The study was funded by the Egg Nutrition Center, the Beef Checkoff, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Institute for the Social Sciences, the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.


  5. Study suggests food cues undermine healthy eating choices

    January 11, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Universiteit van Amsterdam (UVA) press release:

    Obesity has become a major health issue due to the current ‘obesogenic’ environment in which unhealthy food is both easy and cheap to purchase. As a result, many (government) organisations encourage healthy eating habits among the general public by providing information on healthy diets. Nevertheless, when people encounter stimuli that they have learned to associate with certain snacks, they tend to choose those products, even when they know these are unhealthy. This is the finding of research carried out by psychologists Aukje Verhoeven, Poppy Watson and Sanne de Wit from the University of Amsterdam (UvA).

    The researchers investigated the effects of health warnings on food choices in the presence or absence of food-associated stimuli. This includes every kind of stimuli associated with food, including adverts that trigger thoughts of a tasty snack or the sight or smell of food which leads to craving.

    ‘Health warnings often make people want to choose healthier food products, yet many still end up picking unhealthy food products’, says Verhoeven. ‘We suspected this might partly be due to the fact that people learn to associate specific cues in their environment with certain food choices. For example, eating a cheese burger regularly occurs in the visual presence of a large logo M. This causes a strong association between the stimulus (the logo) and the rewarding experience of eating a cheese burger. Simply seeing an M eventually causes us to crave a burger and triggers a learned behaviour to head to a fast-food restaurant. Unhealthy choices are therefore automatically activated by learned associations, making health warnings, which focus on conscious choices, ineffective.’

    To test their hypothesis, the researchers used a specific computer task, the Pavlovian-instrumental transfer, in a controlled setting to simulate the learning processes between certain (food) choices and environmental stimuli in subjects. ‘Health warnings for healthy food choices only seem to be effective in an environment where no food cues are present. Whenever stimuli are present which people have come to associate with certain snacks, they choose the accompanying (unhealthy) food product, even when they know it is unhealthy or aren’t really craving that food product. It didn’t matter whether we alerted the subjects before or after they learned the associations with food cues’, says Verhoeven.

    How do you ensure people don’t just have the intention to buy healthier food products but actually go ahead and do so? The researchers suggest decreasing the level of food-associated stimuli people, and children in particular, are exposed to. One way to do this, for example, would be to decrease the amount of advertising for unhealthy foods. Also, the results suggest that these processes could in turn stimulate the choice for healthy products. Verhoeven: ‘It is worthwhile exposing people to healthy food products together with certain environmental cues more often, for example by showing more adverts for healthy products. The environment could also be shaped such that healthy choices are the easiest to make, for instance by placing healthy products at the front in canteens or by replacing chocolate bars with apples and healthy snacks at the cash register. In this way, you give people a gentle push in the right direction.’


  6. Blueberry vinegar improves memory in mice with amnesia

    January 9, 2018 by Ashley

    From the American Chemical Society press release:

    Dementia affects millions of people worldwide, robbing them of their ability to think, remember and live as they once did. In the search for new ways to fight cognitive decline, scientists report in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that blueberry vinegar might offer some help. They found that the fermented product could restore cognitive function in mice.

    Recent studies have shown that the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, have lower levels of the signaling compound acetylcholine and its receptors. Research has also demonstrated that blocking acetylcholine receptors disrupts learning and memory. Drugs to stop the breakdown of acetylcholine have been developed to fight dementia, but they often don’t last long in the body and can be toxic to the liver. Natural extracts could be a safer treatment option, and some animal studies suggest that these extracts can improve cognition. Additionally, fermentation can boost the bioactivity of some natural products. So Beong-Ou Lim and colleagues wanted to test whether vinegar made from blueberries, which are packed with a wide range of active compounds, might help prevent cognitive decline.

    To carry out their experiment, the researchers administered blueberry vinegar to mice with induced amnesia. Measurements of molecules in their brains showed that the vinegar reduced the breakdown of acetylcholine and boosted levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein associated with maintaining and creating healthy neurons. To test how the treatment affected cognition, the researchers analyzed the animals’ performance in mazes and an avoidance test, in which the mice would receive a low-intensity shock in one of two chambers. The treated rodents showed improved performance in both of these tests, suggesting that the fermented product improved short-term memory. Thus, although further testing is needed, the researchers say that blueberry vinegar could potentially be a promising food to help treat amnesia and cognitive decline related to aging.


  7. Study suggests journaling inspires altruism through an attitude of gratitude

    January 4, 2018 by Ashley

    From the University of Oregon press release:

    Gratitude does more than help maintain good health. New research at the University of Oregon finds that regularly noting feelings of gratitude in a journal leads to increased altruism.


  8. Mild traumatic brain injury causes long-term damage in mice

    January 3, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Wiley press release:

    A new Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology study in mice found that mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) can precipitate not only acute damage but also a lifelong degenerative process.

    At 24 months, animals exposed to repetitive mild TBI showed clear evidence of learning and working memory impairment with a lack of spatial memory and certain motor deficits. There was also evidence of ongoing degeneration of neuron projections as well as neuroinflammation. These changes were also observed after a single mild TBI, albeit to a lesser degree than repetitive mild TBI.

    “This is the first demonstration of what is, in essence, lifelong behavioural and pathological consequences of mild TBI in a relevant pre-clinical model,” said co-author Dr. William Stewart, of the University of Glasgow, in the UK. “Read with our previous characterisations at earlier time points in survival from injury, we can now see not only that repetitive mild TBI can precipitate lifelong and evolving pathology, but that even just a single mild TBI at a young age can lead to changes over normal ageing at very late survival points.”

    “This recognition of lifelong consequences of mild TBI in this model provides a promising platform for studies into processes driving these pathologies, and also strategies for their prevention,” added lead author Dr. Benoit Mouzon, of the Roskamp Institute in Florida.


  9. Study suggests graphic anti-smoking posters may actually backfire

    December 30, 2017 by Ashley

    From the RAND Corporation press release:

    Exposing teens to graphic anti-smoking posters may actually increase the risk that some start smoking, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

    Conducted in a one-of-a-kind laboratory that replicates a convenience store, the study found that some teens who viewed posters depicting gruesome displays of smoking-caused diseases actually reported being more susceptible to cigarette smoking after viewing the displays during a shopping trip.

    The negative effects were found among teens who, before viewing the posters, reported being at some risk for smoking. The graphic posters did not appear to have any effect on teens who were committed to never smoking.

    “Our findings are counter intuitive and suggest that some anti-smoking strategies may actually go too far,” said William Shadel, lead author of the study and a senior behavioral scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

    The study is published online by the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

    Most of the tobacco industry’s advertising spending is focused on point-of-sale retail locations such as convenience stores. These outlets are awash in posters for tobacco products, signs for price promotions and the tobacco power wall — the display of cigarettes and other tobacco products that is prominent behind the checkout counter.

    Studies indicate that most adolescents visit locations that sell tobacco on a near weekly basis, placing them at significant risk for repeated exposure to tobacco advertising. Numerous studies have linked such exposures to more-positive attitudes toward smoking among adolescents.

    In response, some jurisdictions have proposed that graphic cigarette warning posters be displayed alongside the tobacco power wall and near the cash register. New York City mandated such warnings in 2009, but courts voided the regulation after lawsuits initiated by the tobacco industry.

    For the RAND study, researchers had teens visit a replica of a convenience store to buy a few items. With about half of the teens, the checkout counter or the wall behind the cash register displayed a prominent poster showing a photo of a diseased mouth and the words “WARNING: Cigarettes cause cancer.”

    The poster used was drawn from among nine that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had intended to put on cigarette packages and was the one had been rated as the most effective image by adolescents in previous research.

    The 441 adolescents aged 11 to 17 who participated in the RAND experiment were surveyed about their attitudes toward cigarette smoking and asked about other items both before and after shopping in the replica convenience store. About 5 percent of the participants reported prior cigarette smoking and about 20 percent were considered at-risk for future cigarette smoking before visiting the convenience store.

    Researchers say their analysis found that rather than disrupting the positive point-of-sale advertising in the convenience store, the graphic anti-smoking poster seemed to further heighten the smoking susceptibility of adolescents already considered at-risk for future tobacco use.

    “It is possible that at-risk adolescents responded to the graphic warning posters in a defensive manner, causing them to discount or downplay the health risks portrayed in the poster,” Shadel said. “It may also be possible that the graphic posters caused adolescents to divert their attention to the tobacco power wall, where they were exposed to pro-tobacco messages.”

    Researcher say that a shortcoming of their study is that they tested only one anti-smoking poster with the adolescents and they did not experiment with a variety of poster sizes or a greater variety of store placement.

    “Our findings do suggest that policymakers should be careful when considering graphic warning posters as part of anti-tobacco education in retail environments,” Shadel said. “This type of action either needs additional research or potentially should be abandoned in favor of better-demonstrated anti-smoking efforts.”


  10. Study suggests eating together as a family helps children feel better, physically and mentally

    December 25, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Montreal press release:

    Children who routinely eat their meals together with their family are more likely to experience long-term physical and mental health benefits, a new Canadian study shows.

    Université de Montréal doctoral student Marie-Josée Harbec and her supervisor, pyschoeducation professor Linda Pagani, made the finding after following a cohort of Quebec children born between 1997 and 1998.

    The study is published today in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.

    “There is a handful of research suggesting positive links between eating family meals together frequently and child and adolescent health,” Pagani said. “In the past, researchers were unclear on whether families that ate together were simply healthier to begin with. And measuring how often families eat together and how children are doing at that very moment may not capture the complexity of the environmental experience.”

    The study looked at children who had been followed by researchers since they were 5 months old as part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development. At age 6, their parents started reporting on whether or not they had family meals together. At age 10, parents, teachers and the children themselves provided information on the children’s lifestyle habits and their psycho-social well-being.

    “We decided to look at the long-term influence of sharing meals as an early childhood family environment experience in a sample of children born the same year,” Pagani said, “and we followed-up regularly as they grew up. Using a birth cohort, this study examines the prospective associations between the environmental quality of the family meal experience at age 6 and child well-being at age 10.”

    When the family meal environment quality was better at age 6, higher levels of general fitness and lower levels of soft-drink consumption were observed at age 10. These children also seemed to have more social skills, as they were less likely to self-report being physical aggressive, oppositional or delinquent at age 10.

    “Because we had a lot of information about the children before age 6 — such as their temperament and cognitive abilities, their mother’s education and psychological characteristics, and prior family configuration and functioning — we were able to eliminate any pre-existing conditions of the children or families that could throw a different light on our results,” said Harbec. “It was really ideal as a situation.”

    Added Pagani: “The presence of parents during mealtimes likely provides young children with firsthand social interaction, discussions of social issues and day-to-day concerns, and vicarious learning of prosocial interactions in a familiar and emotionally secure setting. Experiencing positive forms of communication may likely help the child engage in better communication skills with people outside of the family unit. Our findings suggest that family meals are not solely markers of home environment quality, but are also easy targets for parent education about improving children’s well-being.”

    “From a population-health perspective, our findings suggest that family meals have long-term influences on children’s physical and mental well-being,” said Harbec.

    At a time when fewer families in Western countries are having meals together, it would be especially opportune now for psycho-social workers to encourage the practice at home — indeed, even make it a priority, the researchers believe. And family meals could be touted as advantageous in public-information campaigns that aim to optimize child development.