1. Study suggests mindfulness may help reduce cravings for food and drugs

    February 20, 2018 by Ashley

    From the City University London press release:

    Mindfulness strategies may help prevent or interrupt cravings for food and drugs, such as cigarettes and alcohol, by occupying short term memory, according to a new review from City, University of London.

    Looking at experimental studies that have examined the effects of different types of mindfulness strategies on cravings, it was found that in many instances these strategies brought about an immediate reduction in craving. The research was published in Clinical Psychology Review.

    Craving can be defined as an intense, conscious desire, usually to consume a specific drug or food. There is also a significant body of research that suggests it is causally linked to behaviour. For example, craving predicts relapse episodes in substance use and food cravings predict both eating and weight gain. As such, cravings are often considered an appropriate target for intervention.

    Mindfulness meditation has a long tradition of being used to address cravings. According to ancient Buddhist texts, craving leads to suffering but can be avoided through mindfulness meditation practice. More recently, mindfulness-based interventions have been used to explicitly target cravings with the aim of bringing about clinically relevant changes to behaviour.

    Mindfulness interventions typically employ a range of different types of strategy, for example they may include exercises designed to promote greater awareness of bodily sensations, to develop an attitude of acceptance toward uncomfortable feelings, or to help individuals see themselves as separate from their thoughts and emotions.

    However, there is currently a limited understanding of the ways in which these different types of strategy may influence craving-related outcomes, either independently, or in combination. As a result, the review aimed to address these limitations by reviewing studies that have examined the independent effects of mindfulness on craving.

    Looking at 30 studies which met the criteria, it was found that some of the beneficial effects seen for mindfulness strategies in relation to craving are likely to stem from interrupting cravings by loading working memory, a part of our short-term memory which is concerned with immediate conscious perceptual and linguistic processing.

    In addition, it was also seen that mindfulness reduced craving over the medium term, most likely due to ‘extinction processes’; essentially strategies that result in the individual inhibiting craving-related responses and behaviours which eventually lead to reduced cravings.

    Dr Katy Tapper, author of the review and a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at City, University of London, said:

    “The research suggests that certain mindfulness-based strategies may help prevent or interrupt cravings by occupying a part of our mind that contributes to the development of cravings. Whether mindfulness strategies are more effective than alternative strategies, such as engaging in visual imagery, has yet to be established. However, there is also some evidence to suggest that engaging in regular mindfulness practice may reduce the extent to which people feel the need to react to their cravings, though further research is needed to confirm such an effect.”


  2. Study suggests grape-derived compounds may promote resilience against depression

    February 19, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Mount Sinai Hospital / Mount Sinai School of Medicine press release:

    In a study to be published online February 2 in Nature Communications, scientists from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai describe an extensive analysis of novel grape-derived compounds, dihydrocaffeic acid (DHCA) and malvidin-3′-O-glucoside (Mal-gluc), which might be developed as therapeutic agents for the treatment of depression. The study results indicate that these natural compounds may attenuate depression by targeting newly discovered underlying mechanisms of the disease.

    According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year approximately 16 million individuals in the United States have a major depressive episode. Conventional pharmacological treatments are estimated to produce temporary remission in less than 50 percent of patients, and they are often associated with severe adverse effects. Thus, there is an urgent need for a wider spectrum of novel therapeutics.

    Depression is associated with a multitude of pathological processes, including inflammation of the peripheral immune system, a set of biological structures and processes in the lymph nodes and other tissues that protect against disease and abnormalities involving synapses, the structures that permit neurons to pass an electrical or chemical signal to other neurons. However, currently available antidepressants are largely restricted to targeting the systems that regulate serotonin, dopamine, and other related neurotransmitters, and these treatments do not specifically address inflammation and synaptic maladaptations that are now known to be associated with MDD.

    Previous research has found that grape-derived polyphenols have some efficacy in modulating aspects of depression, yet the mechanisms of action had largely remained unknown until now. The new study, led by Giulio Maria Pasinetti, PhD, Saunders Professor of Neurology, and a team of investigators from the Center for Integrative Molecular Neuroresilience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, found that a bioactive dietary polyphenol preparation — a combination of three grape-derived polyphenol products, including a select Concord grape juice, a select grape seed extract, and trans-resveratrol — was effective in promoting resilience against stress-induced depression in mice.

    Specifically, researchers found that DHCA and Mal-gluc can promote resilience in mouse models of depression by modulating inflammation and synaptic plasticity, respectively. DHCA reduces interleukin 6 (IL-6), a pro-inflammatory substance secreted by T cells and macrophages to stimulate immune response, by epigenetically modulating the non-coding sequence of the IL-6 gene. Mal-gluc modulates histone acetylation of the Rac1 gene and allows transcription activators to access the DNA for increased transcription in the brain, which influences the expression of genes responsible for synaptic plasticity. Researchers also demonstrated that DHCA/Mal-gluc treatment was effective in attenuating depression-like phenotypes in a mouse model of increased systemic inflammation induced by transplantation of cells from the bone marrow of stress-susceptible mice.

    “Our research shows that combination treatment with the two compounds can promote resilience against stress-mediated depression-like phenotypes by modulating systemic inflammatory responses and brain synaptic plasticity in a mouse model of depression,” says Jun Wang, PhD, Associate Professor of the Department of Neurology and first author on the paper.

    The Mount Sinai study provides, for the first time, novel preclinical evidence supporting the targeting of multiple key disease mechanisms through DNA epigenetic modification for the treatment of depression. This study strongly supports the need to test and identify novel compounds that target alternative pathologic mechanisms, such as inflammation and synaptic maladaptation, for individuals who are resistant to currently available treatment.

    “Our approach to use a combination treatment of DHCA and Mal-gluc to simultaneously inhibit peripheral inflammation and modulate synaptic plasticity in the brain works synergistically to optimize resilience against chronic stress-induced depression-like phenotypes,” said Dr. Pasinetti. “The discovery of these new, natural grape-derived polyphenol compounds targeting cellular and molecular pathways associated with inflammation may provide an effective way to treat a subset of people with depression and anxiety, a condition that affects so many people.”

    Researchers from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey and the University of North Texas contributed to this research.

    The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and The Office of Dietary Supplements.


  3. Study suggests learning to make healthy choices can counter the effects of large portions

    February 11, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    People are often told that eating everything in moderation can help them lose weight, but it is better to choose healthier foods than to try to eat less, according to Penn State researchers.

    In a recent study, researchers measured how much participants ate when given meals that varied in portion size. Despite about one-third of participants having been trained in different strategies to manage food portions during a previous year-long weight loss trial, all participants ate more as portion sizes grew. Although the trained participants ate the same amount as the others, they tended to choose healthier foods and ended up consuming fewer calories overall.

    “The results show that choosing healthy, lower-calorie-dense foods was more effective and more sustainable than just trying to resist large portions of higher calorie options,” said Faris Zuraikat, graduate student. “If you choose high-calorie-dense foods but restrict the amount that you’re eating, portions will be too small, and you’re likely to get hungry.”

    Previous research has shown the power of the “portion size effect,” which is the tendency for people to eat more when larger portions are served and can result in people consuming more calories than they intended.

    The researchers designed an intervention to help people counteract this effect, in which participants were taught strategies to control food portions and eat healthier. Zuraikat said he and the other researchers wanted to see if this training was effective in helping people control portions.

    “We gathered a group of subjects who had extensive training on portion-control strategies to see if their response to increasing portion size of foods served at a meal differed from untrained individuals,” Zuraikat said. “We were also interested in whether those untrained individuals with overweight and obesity or normal weight differed in their response.”

    The researchers recruited three groups of women to participate in the study: 34 controls with overweight, 29 controls with normal weight, and 39 who had previously completed a one-year weight loss trial emphasizing portion-control strategies. All participants visited the lab once a week for four weeks. During each visit, the researchers provided the same foods but increased the portion size of the foods in a randomized order across weeks.

    Each meal consisted of foods with higher calorie density, like garlic bread, and lower calorie density, like salad. Foods were weighed before and after the meal to determine how much was eaten, and calorie intake was determined from these measures.

    The researchers found that when they were given larger portions, participants in all three groups ate more. For example, when the portion size was increased 75 percent, the average amount consumed went up 27 percent.

    However, the participants who received training consumed fewer calories overall than those who did not. Even though the participants in all three groups ate similar amounts of food, the participants who received training chose foods lower in calorie density.

    “All the groups were served the same meals, but their food choices differed. The participants who went through the training consumed more of the lower calorie-dense foods and less of the higher calorie-dense foods than the untrained controls,” Zuraikat said. “Consequently, trained participants’ calorie intake was less than that of the control groups, whose intake didn’t differ by weight status.”

    The researchers say the study — published in the journal Appetite — illustrates the strength of the portion-size effect while also suggesting easier, more sustainable strategies for managing calorie intake.

    “The study supports the idea that eating less of the higher-calorie-dense foods and more of the nutritious, lower-calorie-dense foods can help to manage hunger while consuming fewer calories,” said Barbara Rolls, professor and the Helen A. Guthrie Chair of Nutritional Sciences, Penn State. “You still have a full plate, but you’re changing the proportions of the different types of foods.”

    Liane S. Roe and Christine E. Sanchez, both of Penn State, were co-investigators in this study.

    The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the USDA supported this project.


  4. Study suggests painting a realistic picture of difficulties of weight loss may actually be helpful

    February 9, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Drexel University press release:

    To reach your New Year’s fitness goals, a bit of reverse psychology might be in order. Telling people that weight loss is extremely challenging — rather than imparting a “You can do it!” mantra — motivated them to shed more weight, according to a new study by psychologists at Drexel University. However, the strategy did not compel participants to achieve the goal for which it was originally designed: to modify or replace many of the unhealthy foods in their homes.

    The study’s findings, published this week in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, have conflicting implications, says Michael Lowe, PhD, a professor at Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences.

    “On one hand, giving overweight people a realistic sense of the dilemma that they are in and the powerful forces they are up against — including a genetic predisposition toward obesity and an increased susceptibility to many food cues in the environment — may actually promote cognitive restraint over their eating in the short-term,” Lowe said. “But, on the other hand, this message did not motivate participants to make numerous changes to the foods they surround themselves with.”

    Lowe and a team of researchers originally set out to determine the effectiveness of three weight loss interventions: behavior therapy, behavior therapy plus meal replacements, or a condition focused on getting people to change foods in their home food environments. They enrolled 262 overweight and obese individuals and assigned them to one of the three methods, while tracking their weight over a three-year period.

    Behavior therapy — the current “gold standard” in weight loss treatment — involves group support, regular weigh-ins, exercise, explicit goal setting and monitoring food intake, while meal replacement treatment replaces breakfast and lunch with calorie-controlled shakes or nutrition bars.

    Behavior therapy is aimed at bolstering someone’s internal sense of self-regulation over food intake and exercise. But research has shown that increases in self-control are not sustainable, and lost weight is almost always regained. The powerful lure of foods high in fat, sugar and salt has been well-documented, and existing treatments do not do enough to ensure that foods kept in the home are permanently changed in ways that make self-control more feasible, according to Lowe.

    “You can’t just give advice,” he said. “You have to work with people to eliminate and substitute very specific foods, and teach them to prepare food differently.”

    That’s why his research team hypothesized that modifying the home food environment (or HFE) would be the most effective strategy for losing and maintaining weight loss. Participants in this group were given homework assignments to identify and make numerous changes to specific foods that were still satisfying but less calorically damaging.

    “Asking people to make healthy decisions, when there are thousands of food choices available, is both emotionally challenging and also complicated,” Lowe said. “HFE treatment is really about mechanically trying to ensure that these changes are made, so the level of chronic temptation generated by foods in their homes is reduced.”

    Most importantly, the research team repeatedly reminded the HFE group about the challenges associated with weight loss and maintenance. In doing this, the researchers aimed to acknowledge the participants’ vulnerability to overconsume favorite foods.

    “We said, ‘It’s impressive and encouraging that you are taking this step to improve your weight and health, but we need to help you understand the daunting challenges you’re facing.’ The reason we did this was not to discourage them, but to give them a more realistic sense of how crucial it is for them to make lasting changes in their parts of the food environment that they could control,” Lowe said.

    People struggling with their weight are likely to hold themselves responsible, even though a number of internal (heredity, for example) and external (fast food restaurants) forces are at play and beyond their control, Lowe said. The researchers suggested that by making multiple changes to their food environment, participants would be reducing the need to perpetually exercise self-control to maintain the weight they lost.

    In addition to measuring the participants’ weights during six assessment sessions over three years, the researchers also assessed conditions such as binge eating, quality of life, cognitive restraint and food cravings by using questionnaires and statistical analysis.

    At the end of the three-year study period, the researchers found that those in the HFE group lost more weight than those in the behavior therapy group. However, the differential in weight loss was modest, and all participants showed the familiar trend toward weight regain.

    “We failed to get them to translate our warnings into the kind of actions we were trying to get them to take,” Lowe said.

    The warnings did, however, have a positive — though unanticipated — effect. Cognitive restraint — defined by a participant’s ability to actively make healthy choices and measured with mediation analysis — showed the longest, most prolonged increase in the HFE participants, when compared to the other two treatment groups.

    This suggests that the researchers’ rhetoric about the difficulties of sustaining weight loss may have actually caused the participants in the HFE group to “push back” against this message and increase their vigilance over their eating, Lowe said.

    “That is, by questioning the usefulness of building self-control skills, the HFE treatment may have bolstered the very capacity it was meant to downplay — stronger self-control with regard to food,” the study authors write.

    Though surprising, these results have potentially clinically-useful implications. By emphasizing the many factors that make lasting weight loss so difficult, it may help motivate individuals to mentally and behaviorally cope with these factors, according to Lowe.

    “Rather than acting as cheerleaders giving facile encouragement, leaders of weight loss groups might serve their clients better by providing a more sobering description of the challenges participants face,” Lowe explained.

    However, since the participants in the HFE condition did not make greater changes to their home food environment, future studies should examine how to better improve and monitor this weight loss intervention, such as sending dieticians or other practitioners directly to clients’ homes for periodic visits.

    For Lowe, the study reinforces the challenging reality for those seeking to maintain weight loss — and makes a strong case for policies (such as Philadelphia’s beverage tax) that focus on preventing, rather than treating, the problem of obesity in the United States.

    “Once these conditions develop and you are continuing to live in the same obesogenic environment, it is unrealistic to expect that many people will be able to sustain a large weight loss,” he said. “Society ultimately needs to prevent these unhealthy weight gains before they occur.”


  5. How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

    February 6, 2018 by Ashley

    From the University of California – San Diego press release:

    Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus of the human brain by distinct, sparse sets of neurons.

    The findings are published in the January 15 issue of PNAS Online Early Edition.

    Episodic memories are recollections of past events that occurred at a particular time and place, a sort of mental time travel to recall, for example, a past birthday party or conversation with a friend. Encoding of episodic memories occurs in the hippocampus — a pair of small, seahorse-shaped regions located deep within the central portion of the brain — but the precise mechanism and numbers of neurons involved has been unclear.

    “Scientists are interested in these issues not only because of their implications for models of memory, but also for health-related reasons,” said first author John Wixted, PhD, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychology at UC San Diego. “For example, degeneration in this region of the brain is responsible for memory loss in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.”

    Wixted, with Larry Squire, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry, Neurosciences and Psychology in UC San Diego School of Medicine, and colleagues studied brain function in 20 epileptic patients undergoing intracranial monitoring for clinical purposes.

    Specifically, they recorded single-neuron activity as study participants read a continuous stream of words, some of which were repeated. Participants were asked to indicate whether the words were “new” or “old” if they recalled seeing the word earlier. Strong neural activity in the hippocampus associated with repeated words, but not novel words, was deemed evidence of activity related to episodic memory.

    The scientists found that individual episodic memories are encoded and represented by the strong activity of small (fewer than 2.5 percent) and usually non-overlapping sets of hippocampal neurons, a finding that perhaps helps explain why past research efforts have struggled to detect the process. At the same time, they noted that the firing rates or activity of remaining hippocampal neurons (approximately 97.5 percent) were suppressed — a phenomenon called neural sharpening. These findings are significant because they confirm what scientists have long believed to be true but for which direct evidence had been lacking.

    The researchers also looked for related activity in the amygdala, a nearby brain region associated with emotion and emotional memory. Models do not predict episodic memories are encoded in the amygdala by sparse sets of neurons as they are in the hippocampus, and, indeed, the scientists found no such activity there.

    “If treatments and preventions are to be developed for memory problems, and for diseases that affect memory,” said Squire, “it will be important to know how the brain accomplishes learning and memory: What brain structures are important for memory and what jobs do they do? In our study, we found what would have been easily missed were it not for theoretical models of memory that had been developed earlier.”

    Co-authors include: Stephen D. Goldinger, Arizona State University; Joel R. Kuhn, UC San Diego; Megan H. Papesh, Louisiana State University; Kris A. Smith, David M. Treiman and Peter N. Steinmetz, Barrow Neurological Institute.


  6. 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.


  7. Study suggests teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

    January 20, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Cancer Research UK press release:

    Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

    Being bombarded by TV ads for unhealthy, high calorie food could lead teens to eat more than 500 extra snacks like crisps, biscuits and fizzy drinks throughout the course of a single year compared to those who watch less TV.

    Energy and other fizzy drinks high in sugar, takeaways and chips were some of the foods which were more likely to be eaten by teens who watched a lot of TV with adverts.

    The report, based on a YouGov survey, questioned 3,348 young people in the UK between the ages of 11-19 on their TV viewing habits and diet.

    When teens watched TV without adverts researchers found no link between screen time and likelihood of eating more junk food. This suggests that the adverts on commercial TV may be driving youngsters to snack on more unhealthy food.

    The report is also the biggest ever UK study to assess the association of TV streaming on diet.

    It found that teens who said they regularly streamed TV shows with ads were more than twice as likely (139%) to drink fizzy drinks compared to someone with low advert exposure from streaming TV, and 65% more likely to eat more ready meals than those who streamed less TV.

    Regularly eating high calorie food and drink – which usually has higher levels of fat and sugar- increases the risk of becoming overweight or obese.

    Obesity is the second biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK after smoking, and is linked to 13 types of cancer including bowel, breast, and pancreatic.

    Dr Jyotsna Vohra, a lead author on the study from Cancer Research UK, said: “This is the strongest evidence yet that junk food adverts could increase how much teens choose to eat. We’re not claiming that every teenager who watches commercial TV will gorge on junk food but this research suggests there is a strong association between advertisements and eating habits.

    “It’s been 10 years since the first, and only, TV junk food marketing regulations were introduced by Ofcom and they’re seriously out of date. Ofcom must stop junk food adverts being shown during programmes that are popular with young people, such as talent shows and football matches, where there’s currently no regulation.

    “Our report suggests that reducing junk food TV marketing could help to halt the obesity crisis.”

    The Obesity Health Alliance recently published a report which found that almost 60% of food and drink adverts shown during programmes popular with adults and 4-16 year olds were for unhealthy foods which would be banned from children’s TV channels.

    Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert, said: “Obese children are five times more likely to remain obese as adults which can increase their risk of cancer later in life.

    “The food industry will continue to push their products into the minds of teens if they’re allowed to do so. The Government needs to work with Ofcom to protect the health of the next generation.”


  8. 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.


  9. 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.’


  10. 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.