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September 23, 2011 at 8:00 AMComments: 8 Faves: 0

The Week in Health

By Smarty More Blogs by This Author

The new and novel, weird and wonderful, week in health news. THIS Week in Health

Saturday, September 17, 2011 - High Fat Prenatal Diet Programs Baby to Be Fat

Baby Eating Junk FoodConsidering almost half of American women at childbearing age are overweight or obese, a new study on high fat prenatal diets is particularly alarming.

In it, researchers compared the babies of mice on a low fat diet to the babies of mice on a high-fat diet six week prior to conception and then throughout the course of their pregnancy. 

Not surprisingly, the mommy mice on the high-fat diet gained more body weight and had a higher fat mass than their low counterparts on the low fat diet. More startling however, were the differences between the babies born to each group.

Babies that received a high-fat prenatal diet had notably more body fat, less lean muscle mass and smaller livers – changes which occurred before their momma mice even became obese!

Fortunately, there was some good news discovered through this research as well.  Switching to a low-fat diet just before pregnancy and maintaining one throughout prevented these effects in mice and should protect human babies as well!

Sunday, September 18, 2011 - New Technology Reveals the Movies In Our Minds!

Movies In Our MindsImagine sitting down and watching a video recording of your dreams last night.

Consider what it would be like to see what a coma patient does in their mind. 

What amazing things could be learned with such a video? What could we accomplish?

Though it may sound like the stuff of science fiction, a new study coauthored by Professor Jack Gallant, a UC Berkly neuroscientist, boldly declares "We are opening a window into the movies in our minds."

With the use of fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and computational models, researchers are decoding a reconstruction the dynamic visual experiences occurring in people’s minds – in the case of this study – movie trailers they are remembering.

Currently, this technology is limited to reconstructing movie clips which people have already viewed – however, researchers are very optimistic about the future of this technology. “This is a major leap toward reconstructing internal imagery," says Gallant.

In the future, they believe we will be able to use it to view things like dreams and memories – things which no one else sees and things which the imagining person may not even remember themselves!

Monday, September 19, 2011 - Study Finds ADHD Symptoms Improve With Regular ‘Green Time’

Kids Playing OutsideA new study published this week expands on the benefits of nature on the mind. Previous studies  have shown that even brief exposure to a green outdoor setting - or just looking at photos of them - can improve concentration and impulse control in NON-ADHD children and adults. Now, science looks at the effects of regular time spent outdoors.

Explains study coauthor, Professor Frances Kuo,

“Before the current study, we were confident that acute exposures to nature -- sort of one-time doses -- have short-term impacts on ADHD symptoms…The question is, if you're getting chronic exposure, but it's the same old stuff because it's in your backyard or it's the playground at your school, then does that help?”

This study has found that regardless of age, gender, family income level or familiarity with the space, time spent outdoors in natural green spaces (not built outdoor spaces) diminishes symptoms of ADD and ADHD. Of particular benefit, are open green spaces like large lawns or soccer fields.

For parents of the 10% of children diagnosed with ADD or ADHD since 2007, this is obviously great news. With increasing dissatisfaction and mistrust surrounding the standard stimulant medications for ADD and ADHD, studies like these prove there are other, more natural ways to manage symptoms.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011 - New Research Shows We Yawn to Cool Our Brains

Why We Yawn - We Yawn to Cool Our BrainsThough we associate it with fatigue or boredom, yawning has remained a fairly mysterious behavior – one that Andrew Gallup, postdoctoral research associate for Princeton’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department, wanted to get to the bottom of.

“Despite numerous theories posited in the past few decades, very little experimental research has been done to uncover the biological function of yawning, and there is still no consensus about its purpose .... Enter the brain cooling, or thermoregulatory, hypothesis...”

This theory states that the brain triggers a yawn as means to cool itself when it become overheated. It was this theory Gallup and a team of researchers set out to prove.

Of course, it is important to remember he explained, that yawning is only an effective cooling mechanism for the brain if pulled in air that was cooler than our normal body temperature.  A yawn on a balmy 90 degree summer day wouldn’t do it. 

Thus, Gallup’s team set of to compare the incidence of yawning in summer to the incidence in winter. To trigger this, they showed participants them pictures of other people yawning.

The results? More people yawned in the cool of winter than in the heat of summer.

"This is the first report to show that yawning frequency varies from season to season. These results provide additional support for the view that excessive yawning may be used as a diagnostic tool for identifying instances of diminished thermoregulation." said Gallup.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011 - Study Says Take Zinc For Brain Health

Oysters for ZincA new study addresses a long-standing controversy in the scientific community.

Though, it’s been known for over 50 years that zinc was important to certain nerve cells called “vesicles”, which enable nerve cell communication, whether zinc played any DIRECT role in the communication process was hotly debated.

A team at Duke University  has now proved that it does.

“We discovered that zinc is essential to control the efficiency of communication between two critical populations of nerve cells in the hippocampus…Carefully controlling zinc's regulation of communication between these nerve cells is critical to both formation of memories and perhaps to occurrence of epileptic seizures,” said James McNamara, M.D., senior author of the study.

Though, it should be noted, and McNamara mentions, zinc should not be taken in doses above the recommended daily value. 

The BEST way to get zinc?

Eat zinc-rich foods like the those below!

HIGH ZINC FOODS - 6 Medium Oysters - 511% DV Zinc, 3 oz. Beef Shanks - 59% DV Zinc, 3 oz. Alaska Crab – 43% DV Zinc, 3 oz. Pork Shoulder – 28% DV Zinc, ¾ Cup Fortified Breakfast Cereal – 25% DV Zinc, 1 Leg Roast Chicken – 18% DV Zinc, ½ Cup Canned Baked Beans – 11% DV Zinc, 1 Cup Low-Fat Yogurt – 11% DV Zinc, ½ Cup Chickpeas – 9% DV Zinc, 1 oz Swiss Cheese – 8% DV Zinc

Thursday, September 22, 2011 - Scientists Come Closer to Inducing Hibernation in Humans

Hibernating Squirrels Offer Hope for Induced Human HiberantionThough the resemblance is close, the hibernation state some animals experience is not like sleep. In it, an animal experiences a reduction in heart rate and blood flow that similar to a person in cardiac arrest and yet, their brain doesn’t suffer damage the way a human’s brain would under the same reduction. Hibernating induces a severe drop in metabolism which allows animals to survive despite below freezing temperatures and in caloric intake.

"Understanding the neuroprotective qualities of hibernating animals may lead to development of a drug or therapy to save people's lives after a stroke or heart attack," says Professor of chemistry and biochemistry, Kelly Drew.

Though unfortunately, the workings of this behavior are still largely unknown, Drew and a team of researchers have successful induced a hibernation state in arctic squirrels - a huge and promising breakthrough!

We devised an experiment in which non-hibernating arctic ground squirrels were given a substance that stimulated adenosine receptors in their brains. We expected the substance to induce hibernation," says Drew.

Though “torpor” or hibernation, was only successfully induced in 1/3rd of the squirrels prior to their normal hibernation season,  that alone is huge feat.

"We show for the first time that activation of the adenosine receptors is sufficient to induce torpor in arctic ground squirrels during their hibernation season," said Jinka, a proud researcher in this study.

The next step they explain will be too take the study to rats who more closely resemble human beings, and come one step toward the ultimate goal of human application.

Friday, September 23, 2011 - New Study Counters the “I Was Drunk!” Defense

Drinking doesn't make yoy make bad choices, it just makes your care less that you are making them.Most of us have been here before; you go out for a night of drinking with friends and wake up with regrets and some seriously embarrassing memories. In our defense we say “The alcohol made me do it!”  Yet, a new study shows, this isn’t entirely true.

Dr. Bruce Bartholow wanted to measure the affect of alcohol on our brain's ERN (or error-related negativity signal) which is normally triggered when we realize we made a mistake.

He split participants into three groups with one receiving a vodka tonic with 100 proof vodka, the second receiving an extremely low dose 10 proof vodka tonic and the last, just plain tonic. The first group blew a .09 percent blood alcohol level, the other two, .00. All were challenged with computer task.

In comparison to their non-inebriated peers, the participants who drank alcohol were less likely to notice errors and less likely to slow down after they made one.

Said Bartholow, “I wondered whether alcohol's effects on error processing were less about reducing awareness of errors and more about reducing the distress that normally accompanies errors… It’s not as though people do drunken things because they’re not aware of their behavior, but rather they seem to be less bothered by the implications or consequences of their behavior than they normally would be… I suppose the main implication is that people shouldn’t assume ‘I was drunk’ is a good excuse for doing things one knows he or she shouldn’t be doing…”

The study will be published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.


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  • The study on mind imagery reconstruction - and the affiliated photo - just blew my mind! It's weird too because I just listened to an episode of Wiretap on NPR that was talking about hypothetical questions - one of my favorites being:

    "If you had the opportunity to record and watch your dreams, would you do it under the condition that your entire extended family and significant other had to watch with you?"

    Now the idea isn't so out there afterall.

    Second favorite from this week's - just the idea of people hibernating ( I wish *I* could hibernate! :< ) and the picture of the hibernating squirrels. n.n *squee!*

  • Is there a word missing in the first headline, or is my brain just struggling because it's Monday?

    My favorite stories this week are definitely the imagery reconstruction and the hibernation! The image reconstruction is seriously like science fiction, almost...something we only could dream about before! I'm excited to see how this technology will progress

    I wonder what the difference would be between medically-induced hibernation and a medically-induced coma? (Also. THOSE SQUIRRELS. So cute!)

  • OH! I get it. Mondays...>.<...

  • n.n

  • I really love the one about imagery reconstruction as well. It's amazing how different we remember things in our mind (comparing the actual clip and the image made from reconstruction).

    Also love the one about how spending time outside can reduce symptoms of ADD/ADHD. Being outside is just more natural than sitting in front of a TV or computer. This reduction makes a lot of sense to me!

    Also, I agree. Those squirrels are so cute!

  • In addition to agreeing on the cute squirrels, I have to say that reconstructing brain imagery disturbs me. On our own, we remember some dreams but forget most as unimportant. What if we forced ourselves to remember all? Wouldn't that dilute the power of the ones that are meant to impact us? Maybe we don't remember some because they're too horrid for us to handle while conscious? Who wants to open that Pandora's box?

    Lastly... I need an OUTDOOR office!

  • So no one mentioned the article on the drinking yet so let me just say it seems logical that when drinking or drunk it makes sense that people just don't care as much. It also makes sense they would not be concerned with consequences either. But I love the fact that the statement " oh, I was drunk" is no excuse for their behavior!

  • Seth - I have to say my first thought was actually some sort of "Minority Report" scenario, where they can look into a suspect mind and see if they committed a crime. SCARY. lol

    However, my thought about the use for dreams was "How awesome! Maybe someday people could learn more from their dreams." But that's a really interesting point!

    Maybe you have something in that maybe somethings are meant to be remembered while others aren't.

    I'm a big believer in the value of interpreting your dreams. For those of you have never tried it - it's not anything like fortune telling. It's more psychoanalysis - in fact, there are a good number of psychologists and psychiatrist that make dream interpretation a major portion of their therapy!

    In sleep our minds try to work through problems or using things we encounter (symbols) in our everyday lives. You can start by looking at dream symbolism books or checking out dream websites. I routinely google search : "(something that showed up in my dream) dream interpretation" - look for " in the search results - it's a good site for it. HOWEVER, you should keep in mind that each person attaches their own meaning to a symbol - say you dream of a dog for example - for a person that loves dog, it could be a symbol of companionship, while for someone that was attacked by a dog, it could be speaking about fear.

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