Our Better Health

Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness


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The Neuroscience of Bad Habits and Why It’s Not About Will Power

Why are bad habits so hard to break? What if the bumper sticker “Just Say No!” actually works against us? If willpower were the answer to breaking bad habits then we  decisionswouldn’t have drug addiction or obesity. There’s something going on in our brains where we literally lose the ability for self-control, but all hope isn’t lost.

Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse calls the phrase “Just Say No!” “magical thinking.”

It appears that dopamine is one of the main chemicals regulating the pleasure center of the brain. At the most basic level, it regulates motivation — it sends signals to receptors in the brain saying, “This feels good!”

Whether you’re a heroin addict and you see an association to heroin, you’re a caffeine addict and you see a cup of coffee, you’re a Smartphone addict and you see another person pick up their phone, or if you’re hungry and you see some good-looking food, your brain rushes with dopamine and that is now caught on brain-scanning machines.

The fascinating thing is that Volkow has found that  the images alone affect the rise of dopamine in our brains. So if we pass a McDonald’s and see the arches, our brain associates that with a tasty hamburger (for some) and shoots up dopamine. That good feeling will unconsciously drive the motivation to go in and get a Big Mac. It’s a conditioned response. The same goes for anything including most likely our relationships to our phones.

A blue button with the word Change on it

What can we do?

It makes sense why more and more addiction centers are integrating mindfulness into their curriculum. Mindfulness practice has been shown to activate the prefrontal cortex and cool down the amygdala. This gives us the ability to widen the space between stimulus and response where choice lies and access possibilities and opportunities we didn’t know were there before. This is crucial when it comes to our addictive behaviors to take a step back, “think through the drink” and recognize the various options that lie before us.

We can learn to step into the pause, notice the sensation of the urge that’s there and as the late Alan Marlatt, Ph.D. said, “surf the urge” as it peaks, crests and falls back down like a wave in the ocean.

One place to start is to just get curious about the pull you feel to whatever you think you’re compulsive with. An easy one besides some of the arguably more destructive habits (drugs, alcohol) is our phones.

Today, be on the lookout for what cues you to check your app. Do you see someone else doing it? Are you waiting somewhere and there’s something uncomfortable about waiting? Is it a certain time of day or place?

Training your brain to recognize this cue can help you get some space from it to ask, “What do I really want to pay attention to right now? What matters?” As we get better at recognizing that space between stimulus and response and making the choices that run alongside our values, like riding a bike, it will start to come more naturally.

Just because our brains have been altered by our compulsive behaviors, doesn’t mean we’re destined to fall into the same habits. With the right skills, community and support we can learn how to break out of routine and into a life worth living.

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. 
 


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The Food Flavouring That Causes Dementia

90% use too much of a flavouring that can cause inflammation of blood vessels in the brain.

A high-salt diet is linked to dementia, new research finds.

Salt causes the delicate lining of the brain’s blood vessels to inflame, because of signals sent from the gut.

Fully 90% of Americans consume above the recommended dietary maximum of 2,300 mg per day.

Dr Costantino Iadecola, study co-author, said:

“We discovered that mice fed a high-salt diet developed dementia even when blood pressure did not rise.
This was surprising since, in humans, the deleterious effects of salt on cognition were attributed to hypertension.”

The effect was quickly reversed by lowering salt intake.

The conclusions come from a study in which mice were fed a high-salt diet that is equivalent to a high-salt diet in humans.

Subsequently, the mice had much worse cognitive function.

Their brains showed 28% less activity in the cortex and 25% less in the hippocampus.

They had problems getting around a maze and did not show the usual interest in new objects placed in their cage.

They also had poorer blood flow in their brains and the integrity of the blood vessels there was worse.

However, these changes were reversed once the mice were returned to a normal diet.

The scientists found that these changes had nothing to do with higher blood pressure.

Worse cognitive functioning in the mice was seen even when the mice had normal blood pressure.

They were the result of signals sent from the gut to the brain.

These activated an immune response in the brain which increased levels of interleukin-17.

This eventually resulted in the inflammation of the delicate lining of the brain’s blood vessels.

The study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience (Faraco et al., 2018).
source: PsyBlog


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This Food May Help You Sleep Better

Forget warm milk. A new study from the University of Pennsylvania says that fish may be the key to a good night’s sleep.

The paper, published Thursday in Scientific Reports, found an association between regular fish consumption and high sleep quality among Chinese schoolchildren, likely thanks to the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. Largely as a result of that improved sleep, the researchers found, the children also scored higher on IQ tests.

“There’s a relationship between fish consumption and higher cognitive functioning. What what we document here is that it’s the better sleep that explains the relationship,” says Adrian Raine, one of the paper’s authors and a professor of criminology, psychiatry and psychology at Penn. “From A to B to C: From fish consumption to better sleep to higher cognitive functioning.”

The researchers asked 541 schoolchildren in China between ages 9 and 11 to describe their eating habits, including how often they ate fish. Their parents, meanwhile, were asked to answer questions about the kids’ sleep patterns. Researchers then administered IQ tests when the children turned 12.

They found links between eating fish regularly — the more, the better — and both improved sleep and higher IQ scores. But, Raine explains, it appears that many of the cognitive benefits can be traced back to bedtime. “The brain is so much more plastic early on in child development,” he says. “We might anticipate that fish consumption earlier in life may be particularly beneficial for a child’s sleep and cognitive functioning.”

While the study focused on kids, Raine says “it’s quite reasonable to imagine that these findings can also apply to adults,” citing studies that have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can alter psychological functioning in adults.

Eating fish just a few times a month may improve your brain functioning, Raine says. (Fish and omega-3s have also been shown to be good for your heart.)

“The important thing is really having a balanced diet. It needn’t be a lot,” Raine says. “Even if parents could just get fish on the table once a week, that could be enough to make a bit of a difference over at school and in long-term performance, and especially sleep.”

By JAMIE DUCHARME       December 22, 2017      TIME Health
source: time.com


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Selenium: What It Does and Where To Find It

Selenium Protects a Specific Type of Interneurons in The Brain

Exactly 200 years ago, the Swedish scientist Jöns Jacob Berzelius discovered the trace element selenium, which he named after the goddess of the moon, Selene. Besides its industrial applications (chemical industry, production of semiconductors and toners), selenium is an essential trace element and indispensable for humans, many animals and some bacteria. A team led by Dr. Marcus Conrad, research group leader at the Institute of Developmental Genetics (IDG) at Helmholtz Zentrum München, showed for the first time why selenium is a limiting factor for mammals.

Scientific ‘by-catch’ solves decades-old mystery

The scientists have been investigating for years the processes of a novel type of cell death, known as ferroptosis. In this context, the enzyme GPX4, which normally contains selenium in the form of the amino acid selenocysteine, plays an important role.

In order to better understand the role of GPX4 in this death process, we established and studied mouse models in which the enzyme was modified,” said study leader Conrad. “In one of these models, we observed that mice with a replacement of selenium to sulfur in GPX4 did not survive for longer than three weeks due to neurological complications.”

In their search for the underlying reasons, the researchers identified a distinct subpopulation of specialized neurons in the brain, which were absent when selenium-containing GPX4 was lacking. “In further studies, we were able to show that these neurons were lost during postnatal development, when sulfur- instead of selenium-containing GPX4 was present,” stated first author of the study, Irina Ingold.

Furthermore, the scientists were able to show that ferroptosis is triggered by oxidative stress, which is known to occur for instance during high metabolic activity of cells and high neuronal activity. “Our study demonstrates for the first time that selenium is an essential factor for the postnatal development of a specific type of interneurons,” said Dr. José Pedro Friedmann Angeli, a scientist at the IDG, describing the results. “Selenium-containing GPX4 protects these specialized neurons from oxidative stress and from ferroptotic cell death.”

Thus, the study explains why certain selenoenzymes are essential in some organisms, including mammals, whereas they are dispensable in other organisms, such as fungi and higher plants. In future investigations, study leader Marcus Conrad and his team aim to investigate how ferroptosis is triggered in cells. As a long-term goal, he wants to elucidate the role of ferroptosis in various disease conditions in order to be able to alleviate diseases, such as cancer or neurodegeneration, which are currently difficult to tackle.

Journal Reference:

Irina Ingold, Carsten Berndt, Sabine Schmitt, Sebastian Doll, Gereon Poschmann, Katalin Buday, Antonella Roveri, Xiaoxiao Peng, Florencio Porto Freitas, Tobias Seibt, Lisa Mehr, Michaela Aichler, Axel Walch, Daniel Lamp, Martin Jastroch, Sayuri Miyamoto, Wolfgang Wurst, Fulvio Ursini, Elias S.J. Arnér, Noelia Fradejas-Villar, Ulrich Schweizer, Hans Zischka, José Pedro Friedmann Angeli, Marcus Conrad. Selenium Utilization by GPX4 Is Required to Prevent Hydroperoxide-Induced Ferroptosis. Cell, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.11.048

Story Source:
Materials provided by Helmholtz Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health.
Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
December 29, 2017
www.sciencedaily.com

10 Foods Rich in Selenium

Selenium Function

This important nutrient is vital to immune system function. Selenium works in conjunction with vitamin E, vitamin C, glutathione and vitamin B3 as an antioxidant to prevent free radical damage in the body. It’s thought to help prevent cancer by affecting oxidative stress, inflammation and DNA repair. Selenium has been found to be important to male fertility; increasing selenium levels leads to improved sperm motility. There is preliminary research that suggests that selenium supplementation may also help with asthma symptoms, but more studies are needed.

Selenium Deficiencies

Deficiencies of selenium can occur in areas where soil content of this mineral is low. Diets high in refined foods may also lead to deficiency, as selenium can be destroyed by food processing. Taking anti-inflammatory drugs may reduce the body’s supply of selenium.

Low selenium levels can contribute to autoimmune problems, such as psoriasis and thyroid disease. Low levels have also been tied to stomach, throat and prostate cancers, although more research is needed to determine if this is a cause or a result of the disease. Some studies suggest that selenium deficiency is linked to mood disorders. There’s indication that deficiencies in selenium may contribute to the progression of viral infections.

10 Selenium Food Sources

The selenium content in foods depends on the concentration of selenium in the soil where the crops were grown. The following foods are generally considered good sources of selenium:

  • Brazil Nuts
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Fish (tuna, halibut, sardines, flounder, salmon)
  • Shellfish (oysters, mussels, shrimp, clams, scallops)
  • Meat (Beef, liver, lamb, pork)
  • Poultry (chicken, turkey)
  • Eggs
  • Mushrooms (button, crimini, shiitake)
  • Grains (wheat germ, barley, brown rice, oats)
  • Onions

Recommended Daily Allowance

  • Children (under 3): 20 mcg
  • Children (4-8): 30 mcg
  • Children (9-13): 40 mcg
  • Adolescents (14-18): 55 mcg
  • Adults 19 and older: 55 mcg
  • Pregnant women: 60 mcg
  • Lactating women: 70 mcg

Toxicity

Exceeding 400 mcg per day can lead to selenium toxicity. Side effects may include hair loss, white spots on fingernails, fatigue, dizziness, nausea and nerve damage. There’s some evidence that high selenium levels may increase the risk of squamous cell skin cancer. Another well controlled study found a correlation between higher levels of selenium and an increased risk of developing type-2 diabetes.

Because of the possibility of toxicity, selenium supplements are controversial. The safest way to ensure a sufficient level of selenium in the diet is by eating a variety of selenium rich foods, like those listed above. Brazil nuts can be very high in selenium and should only be eaten occasionally. One Brazil nut can supply a whole day’s requirement of selenium, although this can vary depending on soil conditions. A multivitamin that contains some selenium is safe for most people to take and can help to fill the gap in a diet that is lacking.

source: www.fitday.com


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Fun Fact Friday

  • Simply looking at a photo of someone you love can help relieve pain.

  • Scientists usually omit left-handed people from tests because their brain works differently.

 

  • Pretending you don’t have feelings of anger, sadness, or loneliness can literally destroy you mentally.

  • Chocolate milk was invented in Jamaica.

 

Happy Friday!
source: @Fact


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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