Science

A Mild Chill Is Good For Weight Loss

03/06/2014

Chilly photoBy mild chill, I’m not talking about the polar vortex that has sent temperatures below freezing throughout the country. In fact, my feet feel frozen solid even as I sit here typing away. So that kind of cold is just uncomfortable and it leaves us feeling hungry for the hearty fare that is in no way good for our waistline.

The mild chill that researchers are talking about is between 62 and 77 degrees F. Even when we crave a cozy office or a warm fire to heat up the room, it may not be good for weight loss, according to Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt, a biologist at the Maastricht University Medical Center. 

By keeping the room a little cooler, your body has to use more calories than it does when it’s cold. And it’s not because shivering burns calories, because remember we’re only talking about a mild chill here. 

"In the long term, that can have an effect on your energy balance and body weight," van Marken Lichtenbelt tells Shots. He and his colleagues outline the evidence for the idea in a commentary published Wednesday in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism.

When there’s a chill in the air your body activates what’s called brown fat. Brown adipose tissue (BAT) or brown fat is one of two types of fat (the other being white fat) found in humans. Brown fat contains a lot of heat generating mitochondria, better known as the power plant of the cell. When the body needs to raise your temperature, it burns brown fat. 

"What is needed is for the building to get more temperature variation over time, along with drifting temperatures," van Marken Lichtenbelt says on Shots. That can mean keeping the entire office a little cooler during the winter or varying the temperatures in different rooms, he adds.

This is all the more reason to turn down your thermostat just a bit in the winter and not make the room quite so cozy.

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Read More: Is Your Schedule Conducive to Being Thin?

Crocodile Tears: Babies Fake Cry to Get Attention

02/14/2014

Crying baby photoAccording to new research from Sacred Heart University in Tokyo, babies as young as 7 months old cry to get attention. Japanese researchers observed the crying habits of a 7 month and 9 month old over a six month period.

Dr. Hiroko Nakayama said that the younger child fake cried to get the mother’s attention. But he also said that crocodile tears may not always be a bad thing, in fact, it may be good for the baby's social and emotional development. 

The children were observed for an hour twice per day and recorded on a video camera. The younger child had more than 68 crying episodes and the older child (both girls) had 34 crying episodes. The study, which is published in the Infant Behavior and Development journal, focused on the positive and negative emotions in the moments immediately before or after a crying episode.

A negative emotion was considered if a child looked distressed before or after a crying episode and a positive emotion was when a child did not look distressed before or after a crying episode. A child was considered to be faking it, if they did not appear distressed before a crying episode or after a crying episode. However, the vast majority of crying episodes were real. 

According to researcher Hiroko Nakayama, “People might have a negative impression of 'fake crying' said Nakayama, but they shouldn't. It attracts the attention of the care-giver, and "such individual interaction contributes greatly not only to an infant's social development but also to their emotional development. Infants who are capable of fake crying might communicate successfully with their caregivers in this way on a daily basis. Fake crying could add much to their relationships."

But bear in mind that though the study is an interesting look into the crying habits of babies, it only includes two babies, so it’s difficult to know how accurate the study actually is.

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Read More: Baby Sleep Patterns Largely Genetic

Super Babies Meet IVF: Parents Choose the Smartest Embryos

02/05/2014

Super babies photoA Chinese firm claims it’s getting closer to allowing parents to pick the embryos that are most likely to succeed. Researchers believe that 50 to 80 percent of what determines IQ is inherited and now a Chinese firm is attempting to isolate genes that will actually make babies smarter. 

BGI (formerly known as Beijing Genomic Institute) is the world’s largest genetic research center. Researchers are working toward the end result of allowing in-vitro fertilization clients to have their pick of the embryo litter. The majority of their samples come from people with an IQ of 160 and up. Take into account that the average IQ is actually 100 and the average Nobel Laureate has an IQ of 145.

Research has shown that most kids are within 13 points of their parents combined IQ but 2 of 3 out of 100 have considerably higher IQs than their parents. 

"People have chosen to ignore the genetics of intelligence for a long time," said Zhao Bowen, known as China’s Bill Gates and the head researcher at BGI. He hopes to publish his team's initial findings this summer. "People believe it's a controversial topic, especially in the West. That's not the case in China."

The roots of intelligence are somewhat of a mystery, though studies have shown that more than half of IQ is inherited. Scientists have also identified genes that cause significantly lower intelligence. One part of the project includes taking saliva based DNA samples from kids that attend math and science Olympiad training camps as well as collecting DNA samples from those with super high SAT scores. BGI has so far attracted about 500 qualified volunteers for the research. 

'"Imagine what a couple might pay to ensure that they get the best out of 10 or 50 possible offspring, optimizing over their choice of heritable attributes,” Zhao wrote on his blog, reported in The Daily Mail, comparing the cost of a Harvard degree or private school with the few thousand dollars it takes to fertilize and implant embryos.

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Spiritual People Are Healthier, Less Stressed

01/26/2014

Praying photoSpirituality offers a buffer against the strains of modern life and as a result, those that are spiritual take less sick days and are less stressed and anxious, according to a psychologist at the Health and Safety Laboratory in Stockport. 

Dr. Roxanne Gervais surveyed workers and found that those who attended religious services felt more connected to a higher being and as a result felt less stressed and anxious overall. 

Dr Gervais told The Telegraph: “As the pace of work and life accelerates, people long for meaning, and the younger generation in particular is looking for more than just a big pay check at the end of the month. My research shows that religiosity in the workplace may act as a resource, making people more resilient to cope with the many challenges of working life. Such personal beliefs could be very helpful not only for employees, but also for employers providing people with a buffer zone.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, taking the path less traveled by exploring spirituality can lead to a clear purpose and better personal relationships. It’s not necessarily connected to a specific religious belief system or religious worship but it can help with stress relief because it provides more meaning in life and more direction. Spirituality also connects you to the world so that you feel less of a sense of isolation. Feeling like part of a greater whole allows us to begin to release the need to control.

But more than anything, according to the Mayo Clinic, spiritual people are better able to cope with stress and heal from illness and addiction because they’ve created a built in coping mechanism. 

“They’re better able to cope with stress, they heal faster from illness, and they experience increased benefits to their health and well-being. On an intellectual level, spirituality connects you to the world, which in turn enables you to stop trying to control things all by yourself. When you feel part of a greater whole, it’s easy to understand that you aren’t responsible for everything that happens in life,” says Dr. Roberta Lee, author of The Super Stress Solution.

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Read More: 7 Reasons to Consider Visiting an Ashram

Mother/Baby Contact Important for Premature Infant Development

01/16/2014

New born baby photoPremature babies gain a huge advantage early in life and down the line if they have ample skin-to-skin contact with their mothers. Even 10 years later, the advantages to the child were many, according to a new study published in Biological Psychiatry.

It’s essential for psychological and physical development that premature infants enjoy the loving touch of their mothers early on. Infants neglected in hospitals and orphanages end up with many problems ranging from depression to a more wide ranging failure to thrive. In one study, Dr. Ruth Feldman, a professor at Bar-Ilan University, studied the impact of physical contact on infants.

"In this decade-long study, we show for the first time that providing maternal-newborn skin-to-skin contact to premature infants in the neonatal period improves children's functioning ten years later in systems shown to be sensitive to early maternal deprivation in animal research," said Feldman on Science Daily.

Researchers compared standard incubator care to Kangaroo Care (KC), which was developed to manage the risk of hypothermia in premature infants born in Columbia. KC was originally developed because of a lack of incubators. It uses the mother’s body heat to keep the baby warm. 

In the study, researchers asked 73 mothers to provide skin-to-skin contact to their premature infants for 1 hour for 14 consecutive days. They also assessed 73 babies that received standard incubator care. 

Mothers in the KC group were more maternal and their babies showed better cognitive skills in tests repeated from 6 months to 10 years. At 10 years of age, children who received maternal contact as infants showed more organized sleep, better neuroendocrine response to stress, and more mature functioning of the nervous system. 

"This study reminds us once again of the profound long-term consequences of maternal contact," commented Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. "The enhanced level of stimulation provided by this contact seems to positively influence the development of the brain and to deepen the relationship between mother and child."

Each year in the U.S. nearly 500,000 babies are premature or 1 in 8 babies. A premature birth is when a baby is born before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. A full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks.

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Read More: Baby Sleep Patterns Largely Genetic

Pregnant Women Who Drank 1 Glass of Wine Per Week Had Better Behaved Kids

01/14/2014

Drinking while pregnant phootPregnant women who drank extremely moderately during pregnancy, about one glass of wine per week or one bottle of wine per month, had better behaved kids, according to a new study. Researchers in Denmark looked at the drinking habits of 100,000 Danish moms-to-be and found that drinking in extreme moderation was linked to well adjusted children.

Researchers asked 37,000 women about the behavior of their children and found that the kids of light drinkers were generally more stable. Psychologist Janni Nicalson from the University of Copenhagen warns that this is not an invitation to drink while pregnant but confirms that a mother’s choices while pregnant do impact their child. 

She said to the Express: "At first sight this makes no sense, since alcohol during pregnancy is not seen as beneficial to child behavior." 

"But when you look at the lifestyle of the mothers, you find an explanation." 

"Mothers who drank 90 units or more of alcohol turn out to be the most well educated and have healthiest lifestyle over all."

However, The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence advises women who are pregnant to avoid alcohol in the first 3 months of pregnancy because of the risk of miscarriage. Drinking heavily while pregnant can cause a baby to develop fetal alcohol syndrome, which can lead to restricted growth, facial abnormalities, behavioral problems, mental retardation, learning disorders, and vision difficulties. Fetal alcohol syndrome isn’t a single birth defect, but a cluster of related developmental problems. 

“We know that alcohol can interfere with the development of unborn babies so it seems safest to abstain from alcohol when pregnant. NCT supports the government recommendations that women limit their consumption of alcohol during pregnancy,” Elizabeth Duff, Senior Policy Adviser for NCT, the UK’s largest charity for parents, said.

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Read More: CDC: Pregnant Women Should Be Careful of Holiday Food Safety

 

Study Shows How and Where Alzheimer’s Disease Starts

01/05/2014

FMRI photoUsing high resolution functional MRI (fMRI) imaging in patients with Alzheimer’s disease as well as in mouse models, Columbia University Medical Center has answered three important questions about the disease including where it starts, why it starts there, and how it progresses. 

The findings could improve treatment of the disease as well as early detection, which is important for effective use of drugs. The study was published online in the journal Nature Neuroscience

“It has been known for years that Alzheimer’s starts in a brain region known as the entorhinal cortex,” said co-senior author Scott A. Small, MD, Boris and Rose Katz Professor of Neurology, professor of radiology, and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. “But this study is the first to show in living patients that it begins specifically in the lateral entorhinal cortex, or LEC. The LEC is considered to be a gateway to the hippocampus, which plays a key role in the consolidation of long-term memory, among other functions. If the LEC is affected, other aspects of the hippocampus will also be affected.”

The Spread of Alzheimer's

Alzheimer’s spreads from the LEC directly to other areas of the cerebral cortex, the brain region involved in spatial orientation and navigation. Research into Alzheimer’s has made leaps and bounds over the past few years. Alzheimer’s drugs don’t work because they're given too late, after the damage to the brain has already been done. Researchers are working to pinpoint those with the gene mutation that causes Alzheimer’s so they can give the drugs earlier on to prevent the damage that the toxic amyloid protein does to the brain.

“The LEC is especially vulnerable to Alzheimer’s because it normally accumulates tau, which sensitizes the LEC to the accumulation of APP. Together, these two proteins damage neurons in the LEC, setting the stage for Alzheimer’s,” said co-senior author Karen E. Duff, PhD, professor of pathology and cell biology (in psychiatry and in the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain) at CUMC and at the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

In the study, 96 adults were followed for approximately 3.5 years after which 12 individuals were found to have progressed into Alzheimer’s disease. These 12 had significantly decreased cerebral blood volume (BV), a measure of metabolic activity in the LEC, compared to the other 84 participants who showed no signs of dementia. 

The study has implications for both research and treatment. “Now that we’ve pinpointed where Alzheimer’s starts, and shown that those changes are observable using fMRI, we may be able to detect Alzheimer’s at its earliest preclinical stage, when the disease might be more treatable and before it spreads to other brain regions,” said Dr. Small. 

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Read More: Loneliness in Old Age Associated with Increased Alzheimer's Risk 

Blame Your Cravings and Over Eating on the Hormone Leptin

01/04/2014

Hormones in the brain photoI first learned about the hormone leptin when I was writing about the impact of high fructose corn syrup on the body. It turns out that eating foods with high fructose corn syrup slow the release of leptin, the hormone in the body responsible for making you feel full. This was my first introduction to understanding that your hormone imbalance may actually be contributing to cravings and over eating. 

If you have trouble sticking to a diet, have cravings, or you’re overweight, leptin may be to blame. Leptin is a master hormone that controls hunger and satiety. It’s secreted by fat tissue. Leptin has a major influence on energy balance in the body along with suppressing food intake and weight loss. 

One study found that obese subjects seemed to be leptin resistant meaning they were resistant to the effects that the hormone should have on the body. The body isn’t able to respond to messages of feeling full in the way that it should be able to in normal weight individuals. Leptin regulates the rate of fat breakdown as well through thermogenesis, the process by which the body makes heat (mainly in the muscles). 

Fructose intake has an impact on leptin (Remember what I said about high fructose corn syrup?). In fructose fed rats, leptin receptors found in the hypothalamus did not function properly. Leptin had no impact on fructose fed rats while rats fed normally reduced their intake of food in response to leptin. 

Good sleep also has an impact on leptin and too much caloric restriction seems to reduce the secretion of leptin in the body. 

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Read More: 6 Surprising Ways Your Diet Can Impact Your Mood

Fat or Skinny? It’s Up to Your Gut Bacteria

12/22/2013

Fat or skinny photoWhen Rob Knight got sick in Peru in 2008 he went on nearly two weeks of antibiotics to quell his illness. And after returning home to his normal diet and exercise routine he lost nearly 70 pounds. It appeared that an alteration in his gut bacteria had changed his entire health picture. 

“Exercise and diet, which had not worked before, began to work,” says Knight to The Washington Post, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Colorado at Boulder who studies the microorganisms that live in our bodies, known as the human microbiome. “I think that reconfiguring my gut microbial community made it possible.”

His experience illustrates a body of evidence that suggests that naturally occurring bacteria, microbes, and viruses in the gut influence metabolism. A study published in Science found that the specific bacteria that you shelter can impact weight. 

Researchers started out testing the gut communities of twins where one was obese and one was lean. Then they transplanted the gut communities in the lean twin and the obese twin into the guts of various mice. The mice that received the obese community gained weight and exhibited some of the metabolic features of human obesity. 

It may be that people that gain weight tend to have more efficient gut bacteria and are better at breaking foods down. 

“If you want to stay lean, you’ll want bacteria that are not very efficient,’’ says Claire Fraser, a professor of medicine and microbiology and immunology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “If we each eat a bowl of cereal and your bacteria are better than mine at breaking it down, you’ll get 95 calories, while I’ll only get 70, and the rest will pass through. You’re the one who’s going to gain weight.’’

The foods that you eat also contribute to your gut bacteria. For example, high fat and low fiber foods provide different bacteria than low fat high fiber foods.

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Read More: Groundbreaking Study Links Gut Bacteria To Obesity

Acid Reducing Drugs Linked to a B12 Deficiency

12/19/2013

Acid reducing foods photoPeople who use certain acid reducing drugs for 2 or more years are at an increased risk of a B12 deficiency. B12 keeps the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy, helps make DNA, and prevents anemia which can make people tired and weak. A deficiency can also lead to problems with dementia later in life

These drugs are called PPIs and histamine 2 receptor antagonists in both prescription and over-the-counter names like Prevacid, Prilosec, and Nexium. In all, 157 million prescriptions are written for such drugs each year. 

“People who are taking these medications are more likely than the average person to be vitamin B12 deficient, and it’s a potentially serious problem,” said Dr. Douglas A. Corley, senior author of the new study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association and reported in The New York Times. “This raises the question of whether people taking these medications for long periods should be screened for vitamin B12 deficiency.”

Researchers at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif. looked at the medical records of 25,956 adults who had a B12 deficiency between 1997 and 2011 and compared them to 184,199 patients without a deficiency during the same period of time. The results showed that patients who took PPIs for more than 2 years were 65 percent more likely to have a deficiency. In all, 12 percent of patients deficient in B12 had used PPI’s for 2 years or more compared to 7.2 percent of control patients. 

Currently, “awareness of B12 deficiency with the use of P.P.I.’s is very low,” said Dr. T.S. Dharmarajan, the vice chairman of medicine at the Wakefield campus of Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, who was not involved in the research on The New York Times. “If physicians read the study, a lot of B12 levels will be ordered in the months and years to come.”

Though vitamin B12 has many important functions in the body, it’s found in mostly animal sources like beef liver, clams, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and milk. Some breakfast cereal and non-dairy milks are supplemented with it.

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Read More: Vegetarians: Are You Getting Enough B12?


Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on SereneKitchen.com. She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.


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