Our Better Health

Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness


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Some Video Games Are Good For Older Adults’ Brains

If you’re between 55 and 75 years old, you may want to try playing 3D platform games like Super Mario 64 to stave off mild cognitive impairment and perhaps even prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

That’s the finding of a new Canadian study by Université de Montréal psychology professors Gregory West, Sylvie Belleville and Isabelle Peretz. Published in PLOS ONE, it was done in cooperation with the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal (IUGM), Benjamin Rich Zendel of Memorial University in Newfoundland, and Véronique Bohbot of Montreal’s Douglas Hospital Research Centre.

In two separate studies, in 2014 and 2017, young adults in their twenties were asked to play 3D video games of logic and puzzles on platforms like Super Mario 64. Findings showed that the gray matter in their hippocampus increased after training.

The hippocampus is the region of the brain primarily associated with spatial and episodic memory, a key factor in long-term cognitive health. The gray matter it contains acts as a marker for neurological disorders that can occur over time, including mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s.

West and his colleagues wanted to see if the results could be replicated among healthy seniors.

The research team recruited 33 people, ages 55 to 75, who were randomly assigned to three separate groups. Participants were instructed to play Super Mario 64 for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, take piano lessons (for the first time in their life) with the same frequency and in the same sequence, or not perform any particular task.

The experiment lasted six months and was conducted in the participants’ homes, where the consoles and pianos, provided by West’s team, were installed.

The researchers evaluated the effects of the experiment at the beginning and at the end of the exercise, six months later, using two different measurements: cognitive performance tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure variations in the volume of gray matter. This enabled them to observe brain activity and any changes in three areas:

  • the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex that controls planning, decision-making and inhibition;
  • the cerebellum that plays a major role in motor control and balance; and
  • the hippocampus, the centre of spatial and episodic memory.

According to the MRI test results, only the participants in the video-game cohort saw increases in gray matter volume in the hippocampus and cerebellum. Their short-term memory also improved.

The tests also revealed gray matter increases in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and cerebellum of the participants who took piano lessons, whereas some degree of atrophy was noted in all three areas of the brain among those in the passive control group.

What mechanism triggers increases in gray matter, especially in the hippocampus, after playing video games? “3-D video games engage the hippocampus into creating a cognitive map, or a mental representation, of the virtual environment that the brain is exploring.,” said West. “Several studies suggest stimulation of the hippocampus increases both functional activity and gray matter within this region.”

Conversely, when the brain is not learning new things, gray matter atrophies as people age. “The good news is that we can reverse those effects and increase volume by learning something new, and games like Super Mario 64, which activate the hippocampus, seem to hold some potential in that respect,” said West. Added Belleville: “These findings can also be used to drive future research on Alzheimer’s, since there is a link between the volume of the hippocampus and the risk of developing the disease.”

“It remains to be seen,” concluded West, “whether it is specifically brain activity associated with spatial memory that affects plasticity, or whether it’s simply a matter of learning something new.”

Story Source:
December 6, 2017     Materials provided by Université de Montréal. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
Greg L. West, Benjamin Rich Zendel, Kyoko Konishi, Jessica Benady-Chorney, Veronique D. Bohbot, Isabelle Peretz, Sylvie Belleville. Playing Super Mario 64 increases hippocampal grey matter in older adults. PLOS ONE, 2017; 12 (12): e0187779 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0187779

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This Nutrient Balance Reverses Brain Aging

The right balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may help promote healthy cognitive aging, new research finds.

While we are used to hearing about the benefits of the fatty acids in fish and fish oils, that is only half the story.

Omega-6 fatty acids can come from nuts, seeds and other oils.

Typically, Western diets have too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3.

Together, a balance of these fatty acids may help to reduce age-related decline and maintain the integrity of cortical structures.

Ms Marta Zamroziewicz, who led the research, said:

“We studied a primary network of the brain — the frontoparietal network — that plays an important role in fluid intelligence and also declines early, even in healthy aging.
In a separate study, we examined the white matter structure of the fornix, a group of nerve fibers at the center of the brain that is important for memory.”

The researchers examined the levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids in adults aged 65 to 75, along with their brain structure.

The best balance of fatty acids for brain health.

Ms Zamroziewicz explained that it takes more than just fish and fish oils to keep the brain healthy with age:

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

A second study found a link between a balanced amount of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and greater memory preservation in older adults.

Ms Zamroziewicz explained:

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

Professor Aron Barbey, who co-authored the study, said:

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

The study was published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience (Zamroziewicz et al., 2017).

source: PsyBlog


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23 Things You Never Knew About Your Brain

I’m the engine that keeps you running all day long, and I’m here to share the mysteries of how I really work. I have a lot on my plate: 100 billion nerve cells So you might want to take a moment before you blame me for not being fast enough, failing to get easy math right, or even forgetting your friend’s birthday. It’s not really my fault: Information travels through me between the rates of 0.5 meters per second and 120 meters per second. Even though I weigh about three pounds, I’m a fuel guzzler that uses 20% of your body’s energy. Google is making me weak A 2011 study from Columbia University found that you’ve been relying more on the Internet, less on me. That means I’m going to forget more over time. Study author Betsy Sparrow, PhD suggests we should focus on “greater understanding of ideas and ways of thinking,” and less on memorization. Some of us crave junk food. Some of us don’t. In one study, subjects were shown the names of foods they liked, and the parts of me that got excited were the same parts activated in drug addicts. This may have to do with dopamine, the hormone linked to motivation and pleasure, say researchers. The thinking goes that those with fewer dopamine receptors may need more food to make me happy. There’s a powerful link between music, nostalgia, and me In a 2010 study, researchers found just listening to a meaningful song from childhood brought on a happiness triggered by the fond memories. I can predict future events Findings from a 2012 study reveal exciting new evidence that my front-most region, the frontopolar cortex, helps predict future events from past experiences. It’s not exactly psychic-superpowers, but I am able to make short-term predictions and think strategically about the future by drawing conclusions from recent patterns. For instance, the study’s participants could anticipate slot machine payoffs based on previous trends in the games. I get distracted easily when we go shopping Two cool new studies: One looked at the MRIs of participants watching deceptive ads (think: late-night infomercials). When I was cloudy from stress, lack of sleep, or low awareness, I was most likely to urge you to buy. Another study on shoppers noticed I may subconsciously push you to more expensive products if attractive, potential mates are nearby, so we impress them. (Here are some signs you might have a shopping addiction.) Sometimes, even I think you should trust your gut Conscious thought doesn’t always lead to the better choice: One study showed students to be happier when they used me for simple decisions, and used their “gut” for more complex ones. In another study, participants let my unconscious state do the grunt work, and they showed less buyer’s remorse. So: When you think hard on a big decision (new job), don’t get stuck on one of the factors (salary, long-term potential, location, et cetera) and instead, sleep on it. Brain games might not do much for me. Seriously. In a recent study, 11,430 volunteers aged 18 to 60 completed a series of online tasks for a minimum of 10 minutes a day, three times a week, for six weeks. Even though participants improved at the tasks, researchers believe that there wasn’t a boost in general memory and learning abilities. Want to get sharp in your downtime? Listen to more music: Stanford University researchers found that it helps me better organize chaos, pay attention, make predictions, and update memory. After all, happy music triggers positive memories. I get stimulated easily, and not by what you might expect A 2011 study in Addiction Biology found that frequent tanning will fire off the same “reward” response for me as drug addiction (ie, I  want to do it again and again). Ditto for binge eating, being popular on Facebook (!), or other obsessive activities. Find healthy ways to stimulate me: exercise, spending time with friends, treating yourself to a day of relaxation. Ladies: I’m more moody with you. Sorry. Physically, I’m about ten percent larger in men than women. It doesn’t make guys smarter, it just lets me control their different bodies. Neurologically, it’s more common for women to suffer from mood disorders—but men are more likely to have ADHD or language disabilities. I peak in my 20s Memory starts declining at around 27! Even though my ability to function doesn’t start deteriorating until as early as 45, we will start losing some of my cells in your 20s. Beat the odds: Eat your way sharp with these seven research-backed foods like blueberries, that help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, maintain your memory, and boost my acetylcholine levels (which helps improve memory function). Drinking yourself stupid? It’s all myth Yes, alcohol disrupts brain function and hurts motor activity, like speaking or walking in a straight line. But it doesn’t kill off entire cells; and adults who drink in moderation do not risk losing brain cells. As a bonus, a glass of red wine a night might protect me from stroke damage, according to a 2010 study.

You can train me to be less impulsive In an isolated 2012 study, researchers found that people in a simulated gambling task could teach themselves to be more cautious bettors. With more research, scientists believe they can help with new developments in treating addiction and impulse-control disorders like ADHD. Your cell phone scares me New research from the National Institute of Health showed that less than an hour of cellphone use can speed up my activity in the area closest to the phone antenna. Although the verdict isn’t out yet on cell phone usage and cancer, many more studies reveal cellphone radiation to be linked with other disturbances, like sleep problems. Do us both a favor and limit use, or try a headset or earpiece. Some parts of me never sleep It’s important for you to get a good night’s sleep, even if I’m busy: Sleep helps stabilizes memories. It also may help me process them, by encoding the emotional bits and ditching the unnecessary details to remember the order of events. I can be reprogrammed to be happier In one study, adults classified as pessimists showed higher death rates over a 30-year period than those who were optimists. To rewire me to become more optimistic, take positive actions! Recent research shows that genes play only a 30 to 40% role in your life outlook, and you can shift from being a pessimist to an optimist over time. Meditation is groovy A recent report found that those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks showed significant changes in my parts linked to memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. Try silently repeating a calming word again and again to prevent distracting thoughts from inundating your brain, or focus on your breathing to be more in the moment. Try following these meditation tips. I can trick you into thinking busy means fit. But being swamped at the office or home isn’t the kind of activity I need to stay healthy. People lose concentration by being immobile; exercise helps me rewire and shield against Alzheimer’s disease, among many other health benefits. Help me by fitting in at least three to five sessions of cardio for 30 minutes a week. Can’t swing that? Walk to work, park your car farther from the supermarket, take the stairs, or try dozens of other ways to get more movement in your day. Here’s what I like you to eat: omega-3s, vitamin B, complex carbs, antioxidants. Omega-3 fatty acids help my intellectual performance. Choline (the fat-like B vitamin in eggs and other foods) minimizes fatigue and increases my alertness without a trip to the closest Starbucks. It also helps with memory and stress resistance. Complex carbs are useful to improve my mental performance. Laughter really is the best medicine for me. My amygdala and hippocampus (two parts linked to depression) light up when I hear laughter, as does my nucleus accumbens, which is a key player in pleasurable feelings. Chuckling reduces stress hormones and lowers blood pressure too, decreasing your chance of heart attack and stroke. In one 2012 study, researchers found an increase in oxytocin (also known as the “love hormone”, which enhances my reward centers), when subjects listened to infant laughter. This may just explain the YouTube popularity of laughing baby videos. I get better with exercise. Exercise helps more than just keeping your bones strong and heart pumping. Art Kramer, from the University of Illinois, found that memory—one component of my many functions that declines with age—can improve with treadmill usage just three days a week, working up to an hour a day. Exercise increases blood flow to me, which delivers vital oxygen and glucose. MRIs revealed that areas pivotal for decision-making, planning, and multitasking also improved in those who went on the treadmill. Watch your blood pressure. There’s a large body of research connecting high blood pressure and how I function. Hypertension (high blood pressure) puts a constant stress on me and your cardiovascular system, and it can physically be spotted on MRIs as white matter lesions. Don’t ignore warning signs like having a “high-normal” reading, blood pressure creeping up slowly, or only getting high readings at the doctor’s office. (We bet you didn’t know this one surprising activity may reduce the risk of high blood pressure.) Prevent (or better manage) diabetes to keep me healthy. In June 2012, a nine-year longitudinal study showed that participants with diabetes who didn’t control their blood sugar levels suffered from cognitive decline. Take control of your diabetes or prevent the disease completely by swapping everyday foods high in sugar for healthier choices, staying active with exercise, and seeing your doctor regularly. Sources: “The Odd Brain: Mysteries of Our Weird And Wonderful Brains Explained,” Reader’s Digest Magazine, Emotion, USA Today, New York Times, Science , NewsObserver.com, Addiction Biology, NPR.org, PsychCentral.com, faculty.washington.edu, brainfacts.org, Boston.com, PsychologyToday.com, BMJ.com, bbc.co.uk, news.columbia.edu, prevention.com, nature.com, cbsnews.com

BY PERRI O. BLUMBERG
source: www.rd.com


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Fun Fact Friday

  • Within the first two months of legal marijuana sales in Colorado, property crimes decreased by 14%, and homicide rates were down by 67%.

  • Video games train the human brain to make faster real life decisions.

  • A study found that anxiety disengages the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain that plays an important role in flexible decision making.

  • Without your little finger, you would lose 50% of your hand strength.

~ Happy Friday!~

 


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The Most Overlooked Factor in Depression Recovery

Only relatively small changes are needed to see benefits to depressive symptoms.

A healthy diet is one of the most overlooked factors in recovering from depression, recent research claims.

The Mediterranean diet in particular provides the vitamins and minerals the body and brain need.

Dr Vicent Balanzá, one of the study’s authors, explained that the brain…

“…needs an adequate intake of key nutrients, such as polyunsaturated fatty acids Omega-3, essential amino acids, B-group vitamins (B12 and folate), vitamin D and minerals like zinc, magnesium and iron.
A balanced and high-quality diet, such as the Mediterranean, provides all of these, but in cases of deficiencies, nutritional supplements are advisable.”

The Mediterranean diet is good for both the brain and the body, Dr Balanzá said:

“At the population level, we had scientific evidence that Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cognitive impairment.
Now we also know that it reduces the risk of depression.
These are strong arguments to preserve a cultural -and wholesome- treasure that has been transmitted over time,”

The study explains the best way of getting the required nutrients:

“A traditional whole-food diet, consisting of higher intakes of foods such as vegetables, fruits, seafood, whole grains, lean meat, nuts, and legumes, with avoidance of processed foods, is more likely to provide the nutrients that afford resiliency against the pathogenesis of mental disorders.”

This is far from the first study to highlight the importance of diet in treating depression.

A recent study of 15,093 people who were followed over 10 years, found…

“A Mediterranean diet including fruits, vegetables and legumes can prevent depression, a large new study finds.
People only had to make relatively small changes to see the benefits.
The scientist think that depression could be partly down to a lack of essential nutrients.
People who reported eating more nuts, fruits and vegetables were considered to be following the Mediterranean diet more closely.
Those who ate more meats and sweets were considered to be moving away from the healthy diet.
The benefits of the diet are likely related to higher levels of omega 3 and other essential nutrients.”

The study was published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry (Sarris et al., 2015).

source: PsyBlog


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Magic Mushrooms can ‘Reset’ Depressed Brain

A hallucinogen found in magic mushrooms can “reset” the brains of people with untreatable depression, raising hopes of a future treatment, scans suggest.

The small study gave 19 patients a single dose of the psychedelic ingredient psilocybin.
Half of patients ceased to be depressed and experienced changes in their brain activity that lasted about five weeks.

However, the team at Imperial College London says people should not self-medicate.

There has been a series of small studies suggesting psilocybin could have a role in depression by acting as a “lubricant for the mind” that allows people to escape a cycle of depressive symptoms.
But the precise impact it might be having on brain activity was not known.

The team at Imperial performed fMRI brain scans before treatment with psilocybin and then the day after (when the patients were “sober” again).

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, showed psilocybin affected two key areas of the brain.

  • The amygdala – which is heavily involved in how we process emotions such as fear and anxiety – became less active. The greater the reduction, the greater the improvement in reported symptoms.
  • The default-mode network – a collaboration of different brain regions – became more stable after taking psilocybin.

Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research at Imperial, said the depressed brain was being “clammed up” and the psychedelic experience “reset” it.

He told the BBC News website: “Patients were very ready to use this analogy. Without any priming they would say, ‘I’ve been reset, reborn, rebooted’, and one patient said his brain had been defragged and cleaned up.”

However, this remains a small study and had no “control” group of healthy people with whom to compare the brain scans.

Further, larger studies are still needed before psilocybin could be accepted as a treatment for depression.

However, there is no doubt new approaches to treatment are desperately needed.

Prof Mitul Mehta, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said: “What is impressive about these preliminary findings is that brain changes occurred in the networks we know are involved in depression, after just a single dose of psilocybin.

“This provides a clear rationale to now look at the longer-term mechanisms in controlled studies.”

By James Gallagher    Health and science reporter, BBC News website    14 October 2017
 
source: www.bbc.com


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Boost Bacteria to Bolster Your Brain

How can boosting bacteria in your body improve your brain health? Called the “second brain” by leading scientists, a healthy balance of flora in the gut helps to determine whether you’ll have a great memory and a strong resistance to brain disease.

And what happens in the gut plays a significant role in your brain health.  Restoring beneficial bacteria and some healthy yeasts in your intestines (yes, some yeasts are beneficial, just not the ones that cause yeast infections) can go a long way toward protecting your mental faculties and preventing brain diseases altogether.

Frequently when I tell people about this connection between intestinal and brain health—what is known as the gut-brain axis, they tell me that they are covered because they eat yogurt on a regular basis.  While yogurt may (or may not) help boost intestinal flora depending on whether it contains any live cultures at all, we need to give our guts a lot more than yogurt to help us establish a strong and healthy brain for life.

Let’s explore some of the exciting research into the link between beneficial microbes in our gut and our overall brain health.

Some probiotics actually function as antioxidants within the body, which can not only reduce the effects of free radical damage and aging, it is especially good news in the prevention and treatment of brain diseases.

That’s because the brain is vulnerable to free radical damage. Additionally, research at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) found that consuming certain strains of probiotics could actually produce many brain health benefits, including improved sensory and emotional processing.

Since the brain plays a significant role in whether we suffer from mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, probiotics may also be helpful in addressing these serious health concerns. In animal studies conducted by the Department of Medicine at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and published in the medical journal Gastroenterology, the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum eliminated anxiety and normalized behavior.  It appeared to work by reducing the excitability of the nerves in the gut that connect through the vagus nerve to the central nervous system, and in doing so, eliminated anxiety.

Hungarian researchers found that intestinal inflammation is one of the key factors involved in depression and that treating the inflammation with probiotics (along with B complex vitamins, vitamin D, and omega 3 fatty acids) reduced depressive symptoms.

Additional French research demonstrates the power of boosting specific strains of probiotics to boost mood and psychological health.  They found that healthy study participants experienced reduced psychological stress, depression, anxiety, and anger and hostility, as well as improved problem-solving skills when taking the Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum for 30 days.

While you can still enjoy yogurt if you are already doing so, please keep in mind that the above strains are not typically found in yogurt.  I’m not aware of any yogurt that contains the best brain-boosting strains.

Take a probiotic supplement containing proven strains of brain-boosting probiotics such as  Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium longum, and Lactobacillus helveticus on a daily basis.  Store your probiotics in the refrigerator, and take them on an empty stomach. First thing in the morning with a large glass of water tends to work well for most people.

Additionally, kimchi—the national dish of Korea which is typically a fermented mixture of cabbage, chilis, and garlic—frequently contains a much more diverse group of beneficial microbes than yogurt, making it an excellent choice as a brain boosting food. Some types contain fish sauce so if you’re vegan be sure to choose a fish sauce-free option. It is delicious on sandwiches, over brown rice, or as a side-dish to many foods.  Be sure to choose kimchi that hasn’t been pasteurized to ensure the cultures are still intact.

By: Michelle Schoffro Cook           October 5, 2017
source: www.care2.com