Forgotten fathers: New dads also at risk for postpartum depression

Study provides an in-depth look at new fathers' experiences with PPD

March 7, 2019

Science Daily/University of Nevada, Las Vegas

A new study offers an in-depth view of new fathers' experiences with postpartum depression (PPD). The study explores issues they encounter and how they can move beyond barriers they face in receiving diagnoses and treatment of the little-known phenomenon.

 

It's increasingly common to hear about new moms suffering from the baby blues. But what about new dads?

 

A new UNLV study, published last week in the Journal of Family Issues, offers an in-depth view of new fathers' experiences with postpartum depression (PPD). The study explores issues they encounter and how they can move beyond barriers they face in receiving diagnoses and treatment of the little-known phenomenon.

 

Between 5 and 10 percent of new fathers in the United States suffer from PPD, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. One study shows that the risk goes up to 24 to 50 percent for men whose partners suffer from PPD.

 

A team of researchers, led by UNLV Couple and Family Therapy professor Brandon Eddy, scoured blogs, websites, forums, and chat rooms for first-hand accounts from new dads. Six themes emerged:

 

·     Needing education.Fathers didn't know men could suffer from PPD and were surprised to learn others experienced it. Women who saw PPD in men were unsure of what to call it. Men complained about pushback or not receiving information from doctors or therapists, or frustration that the PPD resources they did manage to find focused solely on how to help their wives.

·     Adhering to gender expectations. Many dads felt pressured to espouse traditional "tough guy" stereotypes. In fact, one man who told another father to "suck it up" said he knew it was bad advice but explained that it's what's expected of men.

·     Repressing feelings.Men were reluctant to share their feelings for fear of sounding ridiculous or looking weak to their wives, who were the primary caregivers.

·     Overwhelmed.Many of the new dads found it difficult to express their emotions of confusion, exhaustion, helplessness, loneliness, and feeling trapped. Parents often suffer from lack of sleep after birth, which can exacerbate stress and depressive symptoms -- making them more irritable to their children's crying.

·     Resentment of baby.While many fathers expressed joy and excitement for the arrival of their children, others resented their baby's constant needs and attention. A few talked about suppressing urges to hurt the baby or themselves.

·     Experience of neglect.The dads felt lost, forgotten, and neglected -- by their wives, the health care system, and society. One father described "uncomfortably laughing" while reading PPD screening questions typically asked of women during routine checkups: "I began to feel like someone should be asking me the same questions." Another said men, who must simply wait while women do the hard work of pregnancy and labor and lack an umbilical cord connection to their children, had often shared with him similar stories of struggling with PPD: "There's no truly acceptable place or context for men to publicly reveal being challenged -- much less rocked to the core -- by what I call 'sudden parenthood'."

 

Overall, the findings complement previous studies on barriers for fathers suffering from PPD. UNLV researchers said encountering a lack of information and stigma often causes dads to distance themselves from their child and has been associated with marital difficulties.

 

Previous research elsewhere has found that paternal involvement has many positive outcomes for children, such as boys displaying less hostile behavior then children with absent dads, reduced delinquency for both sexes, considerably higher IQ scores for children in their early development years, and lower levels of emotional distress. That's on top of studies showing fathers who suffer from PPD report lower levels of communication with their partners, as well as increased rates of substance abuse and domestic violence.

 

"The expectations society gives to men of what they are supposed to be, what they are supposed to do, and how they do it was a significant factor on how many of these men chose to cope with life stressors," the UNLV researchers wrote.

 

"Because men are already less likely than women to seek professional help for depression, it is vital that the stigma of PPD decreases," they added. "Because paternal involvement is a significant factor in the healthy development of children, it would seem wise to make information about paternal PPD more available in order to combat its negative impact on families."

 

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force -- an independent coalition of national experts -- recently recommended that all women be screened for depression before and after giving birth. There is no current assessment designed to specifically screen men for PPD.

 

"With the vast amount of research conducted on the importance of paternal involvement and the rising rates of PPD in fathers," researchers wrote, "it seems logical that fathers should also be included in this recommendation."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190307091448.htm

Child's elevated mental ill-health risk if mother treated for infection during pregnancy

March 7, 2019

Science Daily/University of Gothenburg

Risks for autism and depression are higher if one's mother was in hospital with an infection during pregnancy. This is shown by a major Swedish observational study of nearly 1.8 million children.

 

"The results indicate that safeguarding against and preventing infection during pregnancy as far as possible by, for instance, following flu vaccination recommendations, may be called for," says Verena Sengpiel, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, and last author of the study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

 

Maternal infection with certain infectious agents, such as cytomegalovirus (CMV) or the herpes virus, are already known to be capable of harming fetal brain development and boosting the risk of certain psychiatric disorders.

 

The findings of the current study, however, also show that infection in general during pregnancy, too -- including when the actual infectious agent does not reach the fetal brain -- is related to elevated risk of the child developing autism or depression later in life.

 

More autism and depression

 

The study is based on data on all children, totaling almost 1.8 million, born in Sweden during the years 1973-2014. The particulars from the Swedish Medical Birth Register were linked to the national inpatient register, which records whether the mother was treated in hospital with an infection diagnosis during the pregnancy concerned.

 

Using the inpatient register, the researchers also monitored these children's mental health until 2014, when the oldest were aged 41.

 

It was found that if, during pregnancy, a mother with an infection diagnosis received hospital treatment, there was a marked rise in the risk of her child needing hospital care later in life, with a diagnosis of either autism or depression. The increase in risk was 79 percent for autism and 24 percent for depression.

 

In contrast, there was no association between the mothers being in hospital with an infection diagnosis during pregnancy and two other psychiatric diagnoses studied in their children: bipolar disorder and psychosis, including schizophrenia.

 

Increased risk even after mild infection

 

The pregnant women in the study may have been hospitalized with diagnoses other than infections, but then had infections diagnosed during their stay as well. The elevated risk of mental ill-health in the child was also evident after infections in the pregnant women that are usually considered mild, such as a common urinary tract infection.

 

The study, which was observational, provides no answer on how maternal infection during pregnancy affects fetal brain development. However, other studies have shown that an infection in the mother leads to an inflammatory reaction, and that some inflammatory proteins can affect gene expression in fetal brain cells.

 

Other research shows that inflammation in the mother boosts production of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the placenta, which may conceivably affect the unborn child's brain development.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190307103212.htm

Sensory stimuli improves brain damage in mouse models of preterm birth

March 4, 2019

Science Daily/Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona

A research conducted by the INc-UAB shows that the same perinatal brain injury caused by hypoxia and ischemia have differentiated effects on each gender, but can be improved through tactile and proprioceptive stimuli. Petting and massaging the mice in the first stages of their life provided neurological protection in their adult life, especially in male mice in which the injury was reduced by half.

 

Perinatal brain injuries hinder neurological capabilities throughout life, causing anything from fine motor problems to severe cognitive limitations. At the same time, therapy treatments currently available are very limited. That is why other types of interventions to help counter these effects are being explored.

 

Now, a new study by researchers from the Institute of Neuroscience of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (INc-UAB), led by Dr Lydia Giménez-Llort, demonstrates that tactile and proprioceptive stimulation -related to the tactile perception and that of the body's own position, muscle bone, balance and coordination of movements- improves the effects of perinatal hypoxic and ischemic brain injuries throughout the life of the mice. This improvement mainly benefits male mice, in which the neurological damage is reduced by half.

 

The study, published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, was conducted with mouse models of preterm birth. "We currently know that the immature brain of preterm infants, equivalent to that of mice when born, is at a larger risk for hypoxic-ischemic damage, and male newborns are more susceptible and respond worse to protective and therapeutic interventions," co-author of the study Mireia Recasens points out. "Our work provides important information on this serious health problem with a damage of 1-3.5 and 6 of every thousand births in developed and developing countries, respectively."

 

Sensory stimulation was applied from before the injury occurred until the final stages of infancy, a period in preterm infants equivalent to being born at seven months until two years. The manipulation consisted in tactile and propioceptive stroking and massaging of the mice three times within an eight-minute period, twice a day.

 

The results revealed that this intervention had a notable neurological protection on both genders throughout their lives, but researchers highlight that the effects were especially positive among males. The histopathological analysis in males demonstrated 50% less brain damage compared to the non-stimulated mice. There was a 30% decrease among female mice. The neurological protection in both genders was correlated to the improvement of functional capacities, reflexes, and an improvement in memory results.

 

In relation to brain areas, the region involved with motor control and learning and memory (caudate/putamen) was the one to register the largest difference in males, with 80% less damage. In females, the main improvement was a 66% reduction in atrophy to the corpus callosum, a nerve tract connecting the left and right brain hemispheres.

 

"The study illustrates the preventive and therapeutic potential of these types of stimulations in newborns with brain injuries, in a short yet very intense period at levels of brain development and plasticity. It also gives support to the different scientific approaches advocating for the transcendence of perinatal conditions -- from sensory stimulation to maternal contact and a warm and protective environment -- and its role as an adjuvant to current therapies," highlights Dr Giménez-Llort, who is also a member of the International Gender Medicine (IGM) and the ISNA, an international association of sensory stimulation and snoezelen, which studies its effects.

 

One same injury with different effects according to gender

 

The research also analysed for the first time the impact of perinatal hypoxic and ischemic brain injuries, demonstrating that although the same degree of neuropathological severity exists, the damage affects each gender's functional, neurological, cognitive and emotional capacities differently depending on the stage of life and task undertaken.

 

"During the infant stage, the damage affects balance, particularly among females, and prehension in males, but both aspects improve as they grow and only reflexes remain damaged. Male mice showed to have infantile hyperactivity, which normalises as they became adults. In contrast, the anxiety and emotional traits of these injuries lasted throughout their lives. Both genders showed poorer learning processes at short and long terms, but there was more damage to memory among the males," explains Aida Muntsant, PhD student at the INc-UAB and first author of the paper. The functional evaluations were correlated with the degree of severity of the affected brain areas: hippocampus, caudate/putamen, thalamus, neocortex and corpus callosum.

 

Rehabilitation targets

 

"As a whole, the study shows the different neuronal substrates needed to satisfy functional demands and points to the most resilient neuroanatomical targets to repair these functions through postnatal stimulation," points out Dr Kalpana Shrisvastava, specialist in neuroimmunology and co-first author of the paper.

 

"Despite the obvious differences between rodents and humans, the study shows the complex relationship between different regions of the brain, risk factors, vulnerability and resilience, and all dependant on gender and age. It also provides new data on behavioural neuroscience within the field of neonatology and the area of paediatric functional rehabilitation, defining a translational scenario in which to study the underlying mechanisms of the functional and neuropathological correlates found," concludes Dr Lydia Giménez-Llort.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190304100034.htm

Mother's behavioral corrections tune infant's brain to angry tone

Maternal interactions may help shape the same brain region adults use for vocal emotion processing

February 27, 2019

Science Daily/PLOS

The same brain network that adults use when they hear angry vocalizations is at work in infants as young as six months old, an effect that is strongest in infants whose mothers spend the most time controlling their behavior, according to a new study in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Chen Zhao of the University of Manchester, UK, and colleagues. The study indicates that the network recruited in adult vocal emotion processing is up and running quite early in life, and that its sensitivity to anger is partly a result of maternal interactions.

 

It has been recognized for generations that infants can distinguish the emotional content of their mothers' voices long before they understand words, based on intonation, tone, rhythm, and other elements. In adults, that emotional content is processed in the frontal and temporal lobes. Brain imaging studies in infants have been performed, but the noise of an MRI machine has made analysis of response to sounds challenging.

 

In the current study, the authors overcame that limitation by using functional near infrared spectroscopy, a silent, noninvasive method that measures blood flow to cortical areas, while infants sat in their mothers' laps and listened to recorded non-speech vocalizations that were angry, happy, or neutral in emotionality. Separately, the team also observed the same mother-infant pairs during floor play, quantifying the mother's interactions in terms of both sensitivity to infant behavior as it changed, and directiveness, or the degree to which the mother sought to control the infant's behavior.

 

They found that both angry and happy vocalizations activated the fronto-cortical network, and the level of activation in response to anger was greater for those infants whose mothers were more directive in their interactions. The results suggest that greater experience with directive caregiving, or the stress it produces, heightens the infant brain's ability to detect and respond to angry vocalizations.

 

Zhao adds: "Brain science shows that babies' brains are sensitive to different emotional tones they hear in voices. Such tones can cause different activation patterns in the infant's brain areas which are also known to be involved in processing voices in adults and older children. These patterns also reveal that the early care experienced by babies can influence brain responses so that the more intrusive and demanding their mother, the stronger the brain response of these 6-month-olds is to hearing angry voices."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190227142726.htm

Infant sleep duration associated with mother's level of education and prenatal depression

Findings show greater support for mothers who experience prenatal depression or cesarean delivery may be warranted

February 27, 2019

Science Daily/University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry

A new study analyzing data from Canadian parents has found that babies sleep less at three months of age if their mothers do not have a university degree, experienced depression during pregnancy or had an emergency cesarean-section delivery.

 

The study, which examined associations between a mother's level of education, prenatal depression, method of delivery and her infant's sleep duration, was published this month in Sleep Medicine. It found that infants born to mothers without a university degree slept an average of 13.94 hours per day -- 23 minutes less than infants born to mothers with a university degree, and just short of the National Sleep Foundation guidelines of an average of 14-17 hours of sleep per day at three months of age.

 

The researchers analyzed data from 619 infants and their mothers participating in AllerGen's CHILD Cohort Study -- a national birth cohort study collecting a wide range of health, lifestyle, genetic and environmental exposure information from nearly 3,500 children and their families from pregnancy to adolescence.

 

"Sleep affects a baby's growth, learning and emotional development, and is one of the most common concerns of new parents," said Piush Mandhane, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta and one of the study's lead authors.

 

"While earlier research has linked a mother's socioeconomic status, including level of education, to shorter infant sleep duration, we have not really understood the factors at play. Our study revealed that 30 per cent of the effect of maternal education on infant sleep duration is actually mediated by a mother's prenatal depression, as well as the type of delivery."

 

Specifically, the researchers found mothers without a university degree to be at significantly higher risk of having symptoms of depression during both the prenatal and postnatal periods, or the prenatal period alone, compared to women with a university degree.

 

There are several possible explanations for the association between maternal depression and infant sleep, according to co-lead author Anita Kozyrskyj, also a professor of pediatrics at the U of A. "Mothers in distress tend to have sleep problems during pregnancy, which can be 'transmitted' to the fetus via the mother's circadian clock and melatonin levels," she said. "Maternal depression and emergency cesarean section also both lead to elevated free cortisol levels, which, in turn, may cause an exaggerated stress response in infants that negatively impacts their sleep."

 

Further, the researchers found that the method of delivery independently predicted infant sleep duration, with infants delivered by emergency cesarean section sleeping approximately one hour less per day than infants born by vaginal delivery.

 

"This was an interesting finding, as we did not observe an association between shorter infant sleep and scheduled cesarean sections or vaginal deliveries," commented first author Brittany Matenchuk, an AllerGen trainee and a former Master's student at the U of A.

 

"While we are still at an early stage of unravelling the underlying biologic mechanisms, our study suggests that prenatal depression and birth mode are potential targets for health-care professionals and policy makers to improve infant sleep duration. Mothers who experience prenatal depression or an emergency cesarean delivery may benefit from support so that infant sleep problems do not persist into childhood."

 

According to the team, previous studies have shown that sleep has a large impact on infant emotional and behavioural development. It may also affect how they perform cognitively later in life.

 

"We need to support moms before the child is born," added Mandhane. "And if we can start to promote healthy sleep early on, three months of age onward, I think that just is better for families in general."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190227140010.htm

Working long hours linked to depression in women

February 25, 2019

Science Daily/University College London

Women who work more than 55 hours a week are at a higher risk of depression but this is not the case for men, according to a new study.

 

The study of over 20,000 adults, published today in the BMJ's Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, found that after taking age, income, health and job characteristics into account, women who worked extra-long hours had 7.3% more depressive symptoms than women working a standard 35-40 week. Weekend working was linked to a higher risk of depression among both sexes.

 

Women who worked for all or most weekends had 4.6% more depressive symptoms on average compared to women working only weekdays. Men who worked all or most weekends had 3.4% more depressive symptoms than men working only weekdays.

 

"This is an observational study, so although we cannot establish the exact causes, we do know many women face the additional burden of doing a larger share of domestic labour than men, leading to extensive total work hours, added time pressures and overwhelming responsibilities," explained Gill Weston (UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care), PhD candidate and lead author of the study.

 

"Additionally women who work most weekends tend to be concentrated in low-paid service sector jobs, which have been linked to higher levels of depression."

 

The study showed that men tended to work longer hours in paid work than women, and having children affected men's and women's work patterns in different ways: while mothers tended to work fewer hours than women without children, fathers tended to work more hours than men without children.

 

Two thirds of men worked weekends, compared with half of women. Those who worked all or most weekends were more likely to be in low skilled work and to be less satisfied with their job and their earnings than those who only worked Monday to Friday or some weekends.

 

Researchers analysed data from the Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS). This has been tracking the health and wellbeing of a representative sample of 40,000 households across the UK since 2009.

 

Information about working hours, weekend working, working conditions and psychological distress was collected from 11,215 working men and 12,188 working women between 2010 and 2012. Depressive symptoms such as feeling worthless or incapable were measured using a self-completed general health questionnaire.

 

"Women in general are more likely to be depressed than men, and this was no different in the study," Weston said.

 

"Independent of their working patterns, we also found that workers with the most depressive symptoms were older, on lower incomes, smokers, in physically demanding jobs, and who were dissatisfied at work."

 

She added: "We hope our findings will encourage employers and policy-makers to think about how to reduce the burdens and increase support for women who work long or irregular hours -- without restricting their ability to work when they wish to.

 

"More sympathetic working practices could bring benefits both for workers and for employers -- of both sexes."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190225192140.htm

Inflammation links heart disease and depression

March 18, 2019

Science Daily/University of Cambridge

People with heart disease are more likely to suffer from depression, and the opposite is also true. Now, scientists believe they have identified a link between these two conditions: inflammation -- the body's response to negative environmental factors, such as stress.

 

While inflammation is a natural response necessary to fight off infection, chronic inflammation -- which may result from psychological stress as well as lifestyle factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol intake, physical inactivity and obesity -- is harmful.

 

The link between heart disease and depression is well documented. People who have a heart attack are at a significantly higher risk of experiencing depression. Yet scientists have been unable to determine whether this is due to the two conditions sharing common genetic factors or whether shared environmental factors provide the link.

 

"It is possible that heart disease and depression share common underlying biological mechanisms, which manifest as two different conditions in two different organs -- the cardiovascular system and the brain," says Dr Golam Khandaker, a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Clinical Fellow at the University of Cambridge. "Our work suggests that inflammation could be a shared mechanism for these conditions."

 

In a study published today in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, Dr Khandaker and colleague Dr Stephen Burgess led a team of researchers from Cambridge who examined this link by studying data relating to almost 370,000 middle-aged participants of UK Biobank.

 

First, the team looked at whether family history of coronary heart disease was associated with risk of major depression. They found that people who reported at least one parent having died of heart disease were 20% more likely to develop depression at some point in their life.

 

Next, the researchers calculated a genetic risk score for coronary heart disease -- a measure of the contribution made by the various genes known to increase the risk of heart disease. Heart disease is a so-called 'polygenic' disease -- in other words, it is caused not by a single genetic variant, but rather by a large number of genes, each increasing an individual's chances of developing heart disease by a small amount. Unlike for family history, however, the researchers found no strong association between the genetic predisposition for heart disease and the likelihood of experiencing depression.

 

Together, these results suggest that the link between heart disease and depression cannot be explained by a common genetic predisposition to the two diseases. Instead, it implies that something about an individual's environment -- such as the risk factors they are exposed to -- not only increases their risk of heart disease, but at the same time increases their risk of depression.

 

This finding was given further support by the next stage of the team's research. They used a technique known as Mendelian randomisation to investigate 15 biomarkers -- biological 'red flags' -- associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease. Mendelian randomisation is a statistical technique that allows researchers to rule out the influence of factors that otherwise confuse, or confound, a study, such as social status.

 

Of these common biomarkers, they found that triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood) and the inflammation-related proteins IL-6 and CRP were also risk factors for depression.

 

Both IL-6 and CRP are inflammatory markers that are produced in response to damaging stimuli, such as infection, stress or smoking. Studies by Dr Khandaker and others have previously shown that people with elevated levels of IL-6 and CRP in the blood are more prone to develop depression, and that levels of these biomarkers are high in some patients during acute depressive episode. Elevated markers of inflammation are also seen in people with treatment resistant depression. This has raised the prospect that anti-inflammatory drugs might be used to treat some patients with depression. Dr Khandaker is currently involved in a clinical trial to test tocilizumab, an anti-inflammatory drug used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis that inhibits IL-6, to see if reducing inflammation leads to improvement in mood and cognitive function in patients with depression.

 

While the link between triglycerides and coronary heart disease is well documented, it is not clear why they, too, should contribute to depression. The link is unlikely to be related by obesity, for example, as this study has found no evidence for a causal link between body mass index (BMI) and depression.

 

"Although we don't know what the shared mechanisms between these diseases are, we now have clues to work with that point towards the involvement of the immune system," says Dr Burgess. "Identifying genetic variants that regulate modifiable risk factors helps to find what is actually driving disease risk."

 

The research was funded by Wellcome and MQ: Transforming Mental Health.

 

Dr Sophie Dix, Director of Research at MQ, says: "This study adds important new insight into the emergence and risk of depression, a significantly under researched area.

 

"Taking a holistic view of a person's health -- such as looking at heart disease and depression together -- enables us to understand how factors like traumatic experiences and the environment impact on both our physical and mental health.

 

"This research shows clearly the shared biological changes that are involved. This not only opens opportunities for earlier diagnosis, but also create a solid foundation for exploring new treatments or using existing treatments differently. We need to stop thinking about mental and physical health in isolation and continue this example of bringing sciences together to create real change."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190318222147.htm

 

Training beyond exhaustion can prevent learning

March 5, 2019

Science Daily/eLife

Researchers have found that muscle fatigue caused by overexertion when practicing a skill can affect the task in hand and impair learning afterwards.

 

The findings, published in the open-access journal eLife, suggest that the common practice of training beyond fatigue should be reconsidered as it could do more harm than good.

 

The saying goes that 'practice makes perfect'. And although intense repetition of motor skills is a routine part of learning in many disciplines -- from playing a musical instrument to becoming a better artist, a faster runner or perfecting intricate surgical techniques -- it is well known that fatigue eventually starts to degrade our ability to practice a task.

 

"Surprisingly little is known about the effects of muscle fatigue on our ability to keep learning and getting better at a skill," says first author Meret Branscheidt, former Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, US. "With this study, we set out to disentangle the effects of fatigue on performance of a task from its effects on the ability to learn and get better at it."

 

The researchers asked 120 people to learn a pinch-force task over two days. They were given a device that transmits force into a signal received by a computer and asked to hold it between the thumb and index fingers of their dominant hand. During each trial, participants were asked to press the device at different force levels to control the motion of a cursor displayed on a computer screen.

 

On the first day, a subgroup was asked to continue pinching until they experienced muscle fatigue, which was measured by the extent of contraction they could achieve. On the second day both groups of participants performed the task without reaching the point of fatigue. The researchers found that the ability to get better at the pinch task on the second day was impaired in the group that reached fatigue on day one. In fact, it took them two additional days of training without fatigue to catch up to the same level as the normal (or 'control') group.

 

The most striking results, however, came from the researchers' next experiment. When they tested performance of the untrained, unfatigued hand in the pinch task, they found that those people who had reached the point of exhaustion performed less well using both their fatigued and unfatigued hands. This suggested that fatigue impairs motor skill learning mechanisms in the brain. To confirm this, the team used magnetic stimulation to disrupt the brain processes thought to be involved in remembering a new skill. This partly alleviated the effect of fatigue on skill learning, which suggests that fatigue may affect the formation of memories that help people to retain new skills they have learned.

 

Finally, they tested whether muscle fatigue only affects tasks that require high levels of motor control. They asked fatigued and non-fatigued participants to press 10 keys on a computer keyboard in the correct sequence and found no difference in performance on day one or two. This suggests that the detrimental effects of muscle fatigue on learning are specific to tasks that require finely tuned motor skills, but not for more mentally demanding tasks.

 

"We have shown that learning in a fatigued state results in detrimental effects on a person's ability to acquire a new skill," concludes senior author Pablo Celnik, Director of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "Our observations should be considered carefully when designing training protocols such as in sports and musical performance, as well as for rehabilitation programs."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190305112828.htm

Exercise gives older men a better brain boost

Men have stronger positive correlation between fitness and brain function

February 13, 2019

Science Daily/American Physiological Society

New research suggests that the relationship between physical and brain fitness varies in older adults by virtue of their sex.

 

Cardiorespiratory fitness is the measure of how much -- and how well -- oxygen is delivered to the muscles during exercise. Fitness level has also been associated with changes in the brain's nerve-rich tissue, called gray matter, and better cognitive function in later life. Previous studies have also found cardiorespiratory fitness to be related to how the brain functions during periods of rest. Nerve connectivity in the brain during rest changes with age. These changes can negatively affect cognitive function. However, "the neural basis of sex differences in the relationship between fitness and brain function in older adults has not been directly explored," wrote researchers from York University and McGill University in Canada.

 

The research team studied one group of men and one of women, both with an average age of 67. The volunteers self-reported their typical daily physical activity level. The research team recorded the participants' height, weight, age, sex and resting heart rate to determine their cardiorespiratory fitness. They also administered imaging tests of the brain to record nerve function both within specific brain networks (local efficiency) and among all networks (global efficiency).

 

The men were found to have higher cardiorespiratory fitness levels than the women. However, the women had higher local network efficiency and lower global network efficiency than the men. This pattern of connectivity was more robust in the women and has been positively associated with executive function, which are skills that contribute to being able to focus, pay attention and manage time. Fitness levels, however, were more strongly associated with improving this brain efficiency pattern for men than women.

 

"Our findings that [cardiorespiratory fitness] is associated with brain function in a sex-dependent manner underscore the importance of considering sex as a factor when studying associations between exercise and brain health in older adulthood," the researchers wrote.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190213124408.htm

More vitamin D may improve memory but too much may slow reaction time

Potential risks and benefits

March 14, 2019

Science Daily/Rutgers University

How much vitamin D can boost memory, learning and decision-making in older adults, and how much is too much? A unique study found that overweight and obese older women who took more than three times the recommended daily dose of vitamin D showed improvements in memory and learning -- but also had slower reaction times. The researchers hypothesize that slower reaction times may increase the risk of falling among older people.

A unique Rutgers-led study found that overweight and obese older women who took more than three times the recommended daily dose of vitamin D showed improvements in memory and learning -- but also had slower reaction times. The researchers hypothesize that slower reaction times may increase the risk of falling among older people.

The researchers, whose work is in the Journals of Gerontology: Series A, used computers to assess the impact of vitamin D on cognitive function. The researchers evaluated three groups of women between 50 and 70 years old in a randomized controlled trial.

One group took the recommended daily dose of 600 international units (IU), equivalent to 15 micrograms, of vitamin D each day for a year. Another group took 2,000 IU per day and the third took 4,000. All women participated in lifestyle counseling and were encouraged to lose a modest amount of weight.

The researchers found that memory and learning improved in the group that took 2,000 IU per day, but not in the group that took the higher dosage. Meanwhile, the women's reaction time showed a trend to be slower at 2,000 IU daily and was significantly slower at the higher dosage.

"The slower reaction time may have other negative outcomes such as potentially increasing the risk of falling and fractures," said senior author Sue Shapses, a professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and director of the New Jersey Obesity Group. "This is possible since other researchers have found that vitamin D supplementation at about 2,000 IU daily or more increased risk of falls, but they did not understand the cause. Our team's findings indicating a slower reaction time may be one answer. Many people think that more vitamin D supplementation is better, but this study shows that is not always the case."

Shapses said 4,000 IU a day might not be a problem for younger people but for the elderly it could compromise walking or catching one's balance to avoid a fall because their reaction time is slower. This is a presumption until future research can cover vitamin D levels, cognition and falls in one study, she added.

Vitamin D -- known for its importance for bone health -- is obtained through sun exposure and some foods. Researchers have also found that vitamin D has a major impact on how the body, including the brain, functions.

Cognitive impairment and dementia are significant public health problems, especially with aging, the study notes. Evidence shows that vitamin D plays a role in cognition and the normal functioning of the central nervous system.

More than one in four adults 65 and older fall each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The annual U.S. toll includes 29 million falls, 3 million emergency department visits, 800,000 hospitalizations and 28,000 deaths. Falling also leads to more than $31 billion in annual Medicare costs, and the costs will surge unless the problem is recognized and prevention is stressed.

More research is needed to determine whether reaction time is related to rates of falls and injuries in at-risk populations. Examining different doses of vitamin D supplementation and from dietary sources in both men and women of different ages, and people of different races over a longer period, also needs to be studied, Shapses said. Larger studies are needed as well.

Neurofeedback gets you back in the zone

New study from biomedical engineers demonstrates that a brain-computer interface can improve your performance

March 12, 2019

Science Daily/Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science

Researchers have shown -- for the first time -- that they can use online neurofeedback to modify an individual's arousal state to improve performance in a demanding sensory motor task, such as flying a plane or driving in suboptimal conditions.

 

Our state of arousal -- being fearful, agitated, or calm -- can significantly affect our ability to make optimal decisions, judgments, and actions in real-world dynamic environments. Imagine, for instance, walking across a balance beam. Your performance -- speed across the beam and the odds of making it across without falling off -- are dramatically better if the beam sits a mere six inches off the ground and you are relaxed rather than terror-stricken on a beam 60 feet higher. To keep you in the zone of maximum performance, your arousal needs to be at moderate levels, not so high that it pushes you over the edge.

 

Biomedical engineers at Columbia Engineering have shown -- for the first time -- that they can use online neurofeedback to modify an individual's arousal state to improve performance in a demanding sensory motor task, such as flying a plane or driving in suboptimal conditions. The researchers used a brain computer interface (BCI) to monitor, through electroencephalography (EEG) in real time, the arousal states of the study participants when they were engaged in a virtual reality aerial navigation task. The system generated a neurofeedback signal that helped participants to decrease their arousal in particularly difficult flight situations, which in turn improved participants' performance. The study was published today by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

"The whole question of how you can get into the zone, whether you're a baseball hitter or a stock trader or a fighter pilot, has always been an intriguing one," says Paul Sajda, professor of biomedical engineering (BME), electrical engineering, and radiology, who led the study. "Our work shows that we can use feedback generated from our own brain activity to shift our arousal state in ways that significantly improve our performance in difficult tasks -- so we can hit that home run or land on a carrier deck without crashing."

 

The 20 subjects in the study were immersed in a virtual reality scenario in which they had to navigate a simulated airplane through rectangular boundaries. Known as a boundary avoidance task, this demanding sensory-motor task model created cognitive stresses, such as making the boxes narrower every 30 seconds, that escalated arousal and quickly resulted in task failure -- missing or crashing into the boundary. But when the researchers used neurofeedback, the subjects did better, were able to fly longer while performing the difficult tasks that required high levels of visual and motor coordination.

 

There were three feedback conditions (BCI, sham, and silence) randomly assigned for every new flight attempt. In the BCI condition, subjects heard the sound of a low-rate synthetic heartbeat that was continuously modulated in loudness as a function of the level of inferred task-dependent arousal, as decoded from the EEG. The higher that level of arousal, the louder the feedback and vice versa. Participants' task performance in the BCI condition, measured as time and distance over which the subject can navigate before failure, was increased by around 20 percent.

 

"Simultaneous measurements of pupil dilation and heart rate variability showed that the neurofeedback indeed reduced arousal, causing the subjects to remain calm and fly beyond the point at which they would normally fail," says Josef Faller, the study's lead author and a postdoctoral research scientist in BME. "Our work is the first demonstration of a BCI system that uses online neurofeedback to shift arousal state and improve task performance in accordance with the Yerkes-Dodson law."

 

The Yerkes-Dodson law is a well-established and intensively studied law in behavioral psychology about the relationship between arousal and performance. Developed in 1908, it posits an inverse-relationship between arousal and task performance, that there is a state of arousal that is optimal for behavioral performance in a given task. In this new study, the researchers showed that they could use neurofeedback in real time to move an individual's arousal from the right side of the Yerkes-Dodson curve to the left, toward a state of improved performance.

 

"What's exciting about our new approach is that it is applicable to different task domains," Sajda adds. "This includes clinical applications that use self-regulation as a targeted treatment, such as mental illness."

 

The researchers are now studying how neurofeedback can be used to regulate arousal and emotion for clinical conditions such as PTSD. They are also exploring how they might use online monitoring of arousal and cognitive control to inform human-agent teaming, when a robot and a human work together in a high-stress situation like a rescue. If the robot has information on the human's arousal state, it could choose its tasks in a way that reduces its teammate's arousal, pushing her/him into an ideal performance zone.

 

"Good human-agent teams, like the Navy SEALS, do this already, but that is because the human-agents can read facial expressions, voice patterns, etc., of their teammates to infer arousal and stress levels," Sajda says. "We envision our system being a better way to communicate not just this type of information, but much more to a robot-agent."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190312143206.htm

Smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity each linked to unhealthy brains

March 11, 2019

Science Daily/European Society of Cardiology

Factors that influence the health of our blood vessels, such as smoking, high blood and pulse pressures, obesity and diabetes, are linked to less healthy brains. The strongest links are with areas of the brain known to be responsible for our more complex thinking skills, and which deteriorate during the development of Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

 

The study examined the associations between seven vascular risk factors and differences in the structures of parts of the brain. The strongest links were with areas of the brain known to be responsible for our more complex thinking skills, and which deteriorate during the development of Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

 

The researchers, led by Dr Simon Cox, a senior research associate at the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh (UK), examined MRI scans of the brains of 9,772 people, aged between 44 and 79, who were enrolled in the UK Biobank study -- one of the largest groups of people from the general population to have data available on brain imaging as well as general health and medical information. All had been scanned by a single scanner in Cheadle, Manchester, and most of the participants were from the north-west of England. This is the world's largest single-scanner study of multiple vascular risk factors and structural brain imaging.

 

The researchers looked for associations between brain structure and one or more vascular risk factors, which included smoking, high blood pressure, high pulse pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, and obesity as measured by body mass index (BMI) and waist-hip ratio. These have all been linked to complications with the blood supply to the brain, potentially leading to reduced blood flow and the abnormal changes seen in Alzheimer's disease.

 

They found that, with the exception of high cholesterol levels, all of the other vascular risk factors were linked to greater brain shrinkage, less grey matter (tissue found mainly on the surface of the brain) and less healthy white matter (tissue in deeper parts of the brain). The more vascular risk factors a person had, the poorer was their brain health.

 

Dr Cox said: "The large UK Biobank sample allowed us to take a comprehensive look at how each factor was related to many aspects of brain structure. We found that higher vascular risk is linked to worse brain structure, even in adults who were otherwise healthy. These links were just as strong for people in middle-age as they were for those in later life, and the addition of each risk factor increased the size of the association with worse brain health.

 

"Importantly, the associations between risk factors and brain health and structure were not evenly spread across the whole brain; rather, the areas affected were mainly those known to be linked to our more complex thinking skills and to those areas that show changes in dementia and 'typical' Alzheimer's disease. Although the differences in brain structure were generally quite small, these are only a few possible factors of a potentially huge number of things that might affect brain ageing."

 

Smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes were the three vascular risk factors that showed the most consistent associations across all types of brain tissue types measured. High cholesterol levels were not associated with any differences in the MRI scans.

 

To quantify the size of the differences they observed, Dr Cox explained: "We compared people with the most vascular risk factors with those who had none, matching them for head size, age and sex. We found that, on average, those with the highest vascular risk had around 18ml, or nearly 3%, less volume of grey matter, and one-and-a-half times the damage to their white matter -- the brain's connective tissue -- compared to people who had the lowest risk; 18ml is slightly more than a large tablespoon-full, or a bit less than a small, travel-sized toothpaste tube."

 

He said that the findings showed the potential of making lifestyle changes to improve brain and cognitive ageing.

 

"Lifestyle factors are much easier to change than things like your genetic code -- both of which seem to affect susceptibility to worse brain and cognitive ageing. Because we found the associations were just as strong in mid-life as they were in later life, it suggests that addressing these factors early might mitigate future negative effects. These findings might provide an additional motivation to improve vascular health beyond respiratory and cardiovascular benefits."

 

Limitations of the study include the fact that it does not include people over the age of 79 and that UK Biobank participants tend to live in less deprived areas, which may restrict how the findings can be generalised to other populations. As the researchers were measuring brain structures only, and were not carrying out functional brain imaging or tests of thinking skills, they cannot show in this study how the changes in brain structure might impact cognitive function, but other studies have shown the relationship between increased numbers of vascular risk factors and worse or declining thinking skills, and dementia.

 

Now the researchers plan to measure the links between vascular risk factors and thinking skills in the UK Biobank participants and in other groups too. In addition, they are following older people, and carrying out multiple scans and tests of thinking skills. They hope this will tell them more about the role that vascular risk factors play in the decline of different types of thinking skills and which areas of the brain are implicated. They also hope that the findings will motivate future work to understand the biological mechanisms through which different sources of vascular risk might be related to different brain areas and tissues.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190311081944.htm

Seven moral rules found all around the world

Is it good to cooperate? Testing the theory of morality-as-cooperation in 60 societies

March 4, 2019

Science Daily/University of Chicago Press Journals

What is morality? And to what extent does it vary around the world? The theory of 'morality-as-cooperation' argues that morality consists of a collection of biological and cultural solutions to the problems of cooperation recurrent in human social life. These solutions or cooperative behaviors are plausible candidates for universal moral rules, and that morality-as-cooperation could provide the unified theory of morality that anthropology has hitherto lacked.

 

Anthropologists at the University of Oxford have discovered what they believe to be seven universal moral rules.

 

The rules: help your family, help your group, return favors, be brave, defer to superiors, divide resources fairly, and respect others' property, were found in a survey of 60 cultures from all around the world.

 

Previous studies have looked at some of these rules in some places -- but none has looked at all of them in a large representative sample of societies. The present study, published in volume 60, no. 1 issue of Current Anthropology, by Oliver Scott Curry, Daniel Austin Mullins, and Harvey Whitehouse, is the largest and most comprehensive cross-cultural survey of morals ever conducted.

 

The team from Oxford's Institute of Cognitive & Evolutionary Anthropology (part of the School of Anthropology & Museum Ethnography) analyzed ethnographic accounts of ethics from 60 societies, comprising over 600,000 words from over 600 sources.

 

Dr Oliver Scott Curry, lead author and senior researcher at the Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, said: "The debate between moral universalists and moral relativists has raged for centuries, but now we have some answers. People everywhere face a similar set of social problems and use a similar set of moral rules to solve them. As predicted, these seven moral rules appear to be universal across cultures. Everyone everywhere shares a common moral code. All agree that cooperating, promoting the common good, is the right thing to do."

 

The study tested the theory that morality evolved to promote cooperation, and that -- because there are many types of cooperation -- there are many types of morality. According to this theory of 'morality as cooperation', kin selection explains why we feel a special duty of care for our families, and why we abhor incest. Mutualism explains why we form groups and coalitions (there is strength and safety in numbers), and hence why we value unity, solidarity, and loyalty. Social exchange explains why we trust others, reciprocate favors, feel guilt and gratitude, make amends, and forgive. And conflict resolution explains why we engage in costly displays of prowess such as bravery and generosity, why we defer to our superiors, why we divide disputed resources fairly, and why we recognize prior possession.

 

The research found, first, that these seven cooperative behaviors were always considered morally good. Second, examples of most of these morals were found in most societies. Crucially, there were no counter-examples -- no societies in which any of these behaviors were considered morally bad. And third, these morals were observed with equal frequency across continents; they were not the exclusive preserve of 'the West' or any other region.

 

Among the Amhara of Ethiopia, "flouting kinship obligation is regarded as a shameful deviation, indicating an evil character." In Korea, there exists an "egalitarian community ethic [of] mutual assistance and cooperation among neighbors [and] strong in-group solidarity." "Reciprocity is observed in every stage of Garo life [and] has a very high place in the Garo social structure of values." Among the Maasai, "Those who cling to warrior virtues are still highly respected," and "the uncompromising ideal of supreme warriorhood [involves] ascetic commitment to self-sacrifice...in the heat of battle, as a supreme display of courageous loyalty." The Bemba exhibit "a deep sense of respect for elders' authority." The Kapauku "idea of justice" is called "uta-uta, half-half... [the meaning of which] comes very close to what we call equity." And among the Tarahumara, "respect for the property of others is the keystone of all interpersonal relations."

 

The study also detected 'variation on a theme' -- although all societies seemed to agree on the seven basic moral rules, they varied in how they prioritized or ranked them. The team has now developed a new moral values questionnaire to gather data on modern moral values, and is investigating whether cross-cultural variation in moral values reflects variation in the value of cooperation under different social conditions.

 

According to co-author Professor Harvey Whitehouse, anthropologists are uniquely placed to answer long-standing questions about moral universals and moral relativism. "Our study was based on historical descriptions of cultures from around the world; this data was collected prior to, and independently of, the development of the theories that we were testing. Future work will be able to test more fine-grained predictions of the theory by gathering new data, even more systematically, out in the field."

 

"We hope that this research helps to promote mutual understanding between people of different cultures; an appreciation of what we have in common, and how and why we differ," added Curry.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190304134216.htm

Daily intake of nutritional supplements cannot prevent depression

March 6, 2019

Science Daily/European Association for the Study of Obesity

MooDFOOD, the largest randomized clinical trial to study the effects of nutritional strategies on the prevention of major depressive disorder concludes that daily intake of nutritional supplements cannot prevent depression.

 

Over 1000 participants who were overweight or had obesity and were identified as being at elevated risk for depression but who were not currently depressed, from four European countries -the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain, took part in the study. Participants were randomized to either take nutritional supplements containing folic acid, vitamin D, zinc, selenium or to a pill placebo, and half of participants also received a behavioural lifestyle intervention intended to change dietary behaviours and patterns.

 

Researcher Mariska Bot from Amsterdam UMC reported: "Daily intake of nutritional supplements over a year does not effectively prevent the onset of a major depressive episode in this sample. Nutritional supplements were not better than placebo. Therapeutic sessions aimed at making changes towards a healthy dietary behaviour did also not convincingly prevent depression." Dr. Bot is first author of a paper showing these results in today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

 

Depression is a common disorder

 

More than 40 million Europeans experience a major depressive disorder. One in ten men and one in five women suffer from clinical depression at least once during their lifetime. Depression is one of the most prevalent and disabling disorders in the EU.

 

Given the increasing prevalence of depression, more people are actively searching for ways to decrease their risk through lifestyle modification, but are often overwhelmed by confusing and contradictory information. To help European citizens the MooDFOOD project has developed evidence-based nutritional strategies to help prevent depression.

 

Prevention of depression through a healthy diet

 

The MooDFOOD prevention trial formed a crucial part of the five year MooDFOOD project, which investigated the relationship between nutrition and depression. MooDFOOD was funded by the European Commission and led by the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

 

Although the behavioural therapy to encourage a healthy dietary behavior and improve diet was not effective at preventing depression overall, there was some evidence that it prevented depressive episodes in those participants who attended a recommended number of sessions. This may suggest the food behavioural therapy only works if the participants get sufficient exposure and are able to sufficiently improve their diet and dietary behaviour.

 

MooDFOOD project coordinators professor Marjolein Visser and professor Ingeborg Brouwer of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam said:

 

"Several studies within, and outside the five year MooDFOOD project show that consuming a healthy dietary pattern is important for European citizens, not only for physical health, but it may also help to prevent depressive symptoms. " Based on a large number of studies and careful analysis, MooDFOOD researchers have come to three important conclusions at the end of their project. First, a healthy dietary pattern, typified by a Mediterranean style diet high in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, pulses and olive oil, and low in red meat and full-fat dairy products, may reduce the risk of developing depression. Second, in people with obesity, weight loss can lead to a reduction in depressive symptoms. Third, current evidence does not support the use of nutritional supplements in order to prevent depression.

 

Practical tools

 

These recent results have important implications for all Europeans. The MooDFOOD team has translated these findings into tools for the general population, health professionals (GPs, dieticians and psychologists), researchers and policy makers.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190306100545.htm

Blue-enriched white light to wake you up in the morning

March 6, 2019

Science Daily/The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)

Here is good news for those who have difficulty with morning alertness. A research team proposed that a blue-enriched LED light can effectively help people overcome morning drowsiness. This study will provide the basis for major changes in future lighting strategies and thereby help create better indoor environments.

 

Considerable research has been devoted to unmasking circadian rhythms. The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine went to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael W. Young for unveiling the molecular mechanisms that control circadian rhythms. In particular, the relationship between light and its physiological effects has been investigated since the discovery of a novel, third type of photoreceptor in the human retina in the early 2000s. Rods and cones regulate visual effects, while the third type, photosensitive retinal ganglion cells, regulate a large variety of biological and behavioral processes including melatonin and cortisol secretion, alertness, and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

 

Initial studies on light sources have shown that blue monochromatic, fully saturated lights are effective for stimulating physiological responses, but the relative effectiveness of commercially available white light sources is less well understood. Moreover, the research was more focused on the negative effects of blue light; for instance, when people are exposed to blue light at night, they have trouble achieving deep sleep because the light restrains melatonin secretion.

 

However, Professor Hyeon-Jeong Suk and Professor Kyungah Choi from the Department of Industrial Design and their team argue that the effects of blue-enriched morning light on physiological responses are time dependent, and that it has positive effects on melatonin levels and the subjective perception of alertness, mood, and visual comfort compared with warm white light.

 

The team conducted an experiment with 15 university students. They investigated whether an hour of morning light exposure with different chromaticity would affect their physiological and subjective responses differently. The decline of melatonin levels was significantly greater after the exposure to blue-enriched white light in comparison with warm white light.

 

Professor Suk said, "Light takes a huge part of our lives since we spend most of our time indoors. Light is one of the most powerful tools to affect changes in how we perceive and experience the environment around us."

 

Professor Choi added, "When we investigate all of the psychological and physiological effects of light, we see there is much more to light than just efficient quantities. I believe that human-centric lighting strategies could be applied to a variety of environments, including residential areas, learning environments, and working spaces to improve our everyday lives."

 

This research was collaborated with Professor Hyun Jung Chung from the Graduate School of Nanoscience and Technology.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190306100602.htm

Broken heart' syndrome may originate in the brain

March 4, 2019

Science Daily/European Society of Cardiology

Scientists have shown for the first time that the brain is involved in the development of a heart condition called Takotsubo syndrome (TTS). They found that regions of the brain responsible for processing emotions and controlling the unconscious workings of the body, such as heart beat, breathing and digestion, do not communicate with each other as well in TTS patients as in healthy people.

 

The study is published in the European Heart Journal today (Tuesday) and the researchers say that although, at this stage, they cannot show that the reduced brain functions definitely cause TTS, their findings suggest that these alterations in the central nervous system may be part of the mechanism involved and they are linked with the onset of TTS in response to stressful or emotional triggers.

 

TTS is known as "broken heart" syndrome and is characterised by a sudden temporary weakening of the heart muscles that causes the left ventricle of the heart to balloon out at the bottom while the neck remains narrow, creating a shape resembling a Japanese octopus trap, from which it gets its name. Since this relatively rare condition was first described in 1990, evidence has suggested that it is typically triggered by episodes of severe emotional distress, such as grief, anger or fear, or reactions to happy or joyful events. Patients develop chest pains and breathlessness, and it can lead to heart attacks and death. TTS is more common in women with only 10% of cases occurring in men. [1]

 

In an unusual example of collaboration between neuroscientists and cardiologists, researchers carried out MRI brain scans in 15 TTS patients taken from the InterTAK Registry, established at the University Hospital Zurich, Switzerland, in 2011 [2]. They compared the scans with those from 39 healthy people. The scans were performed between July 2013 and July 2014 and the average time between TTS diagnosis and the MRI scans was about a year.

 

Professor Christian Templin, principle investigator at the Registry and professor of cardiology at University Hospital Zurich, said: "We were interested in four specific brain regions that are spatially separate from one another but functionally connected, meaning they share information. We found that TTS patients had decreased communication between brain regions associated with emotional processing and the autonomic nervous system, which controls the unconscious workings of the body, compared to the healthy people.

 

"For the first time, we have identified a correlation between alterations to the functional activity of specific brain regions and TTS, which strongly supports the idea that the brain is involved in the underlying mechanism of TTS. Emotional and physical stress are strongly associated with TTS, and it has been hypothesised that the overstimulation of the autonomic nervous system may lead to TTS events."

 

The regions of the brain that the researchers looked at included the amygdala, hippocampus and cingulate gyrus, which control emotions, motivation, learning and memory. The amygdala and cingulate gyrus are also involved in the control of the autonomic nervous system and regulating heart function. In addition, the cingulate gyrus is involved in depression and other mood disorders that are common among TTS patients.

 

"Importantly, the regions we've identified as communicating less with one another in TTS patients are the same brain regions that are thought to control our response to stress. Therefore, this decrease in communication could negatively affect the way patients respond to stress and make them more susceptible to developing TTS," said Professor Templin.

 

A limitation of the study is that the researchers did not have MRI scans of patients' brains before or at the time they developed TTS, so cannot say for certain that the decreased communication between brain regions caused the TTS or vice versa.

 

Co-author, Dr Jelena Ghadri, a senior research associate at the University Hospital Zurich and co-principle investigator of the InterTAK Registry, said: "Our results suggest that additional studies should be conducted to determine whether this is a causal relationship. We hope this study offers new starting points for studying TTS in terms of understanding that it much more than 'broken heart' syndrome and clearly involves interactions between the brain and the heart, which are still not fully understood. We are at the beginning of learning more about this complex disorder. Hopefully, one day new findings can be translated into developments in preventive, therapeutic and diagnostic strategies to improve patient care.

 

"Of note, this study presents the results of a collaboration between neuroscientists and cardiologists. One problem in TTS research is that usually cardiologists only focus on the heart; we believe that approaching TTS in a multidisciplinary way might help to uncover the real nature and causes of this disease. The methods we used are mainly neuroscientific in nature, but the findings we uncovered are, in our view, of major importance for cardiologists in understanding TTS."

 

[1] TTS affects less than 3% of people who suffer a heart attack and tends to occur between the ages of 60-75.

 

[2] The InterTAK Registry is a worldwide network, including more than 40 different cardiology centres in more than 18 countries. The University Hospital Zurich has become a centre of excellence, specialising in the care of TTS patients, while also carrying out translational and basic science research.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190304195238.htm

Cocoa may help curb fatigue typically associated with multiple sclerosis (MS)

May offer easy, safe approach to persistent symptom, if confirmed in larger studies, suggest researchers

March 4, 2019

Science Daily/BMJ

Cocoa may help curb the fatigue that is typically associated with multiple sclerosis (MS), suggest the results of a small feasibility trial, published online in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

 

Cocoa, like dark chocolate, is rich in flavonoids -- substances found abundantly in fruit and vegetables and associated with anti-inflammatory properties.

 

If the findings are confirmed in larger studies, it may offer a simple dietary approach to a persistent and hard to treat symptom, which affects nine out of 10 people with MS, suggest the researchers.

 

The causes of mental and physical fatigue experienced by people with MS are complex, and likely to include neural, inflammatory, metabolic, and psychological factors. None of the currently available approaches offers long term relief, say the researchers.

 

Previous research suggests that dark chocolate, containing between 70 and 85 per cent cocoa solids, is associated with an improvement in subjectively assessed fatigue in people with chronic fatigue syndrome (ME).

 

This prompted the researchers to see if it might also be worth exploring its potential in helping to tackle the fatigue associated with MS.

 

They randomly assigned 40 adults recently diagnosed with the relapsing remitting form of MS and fatigue to drink a cup of either high flavonoid cocoa powder mixed with heated rice milk (19) or a low flavonoid version (21) every day for six weeks.

 

Participants were instructed to wait 30 minutes before taking any prescribed medication or eating or drinking anything else, but otherwise to stick to their usual diet.

 

Fatigue and fatigability-the speed with which mental and physical fatigue set in-were formally assessed before the start, at the mid-point, and at the end of the trial.

 

And participants also subjectively rated their fatigue on a scale of 1 to 10, at 10.00, 15.00, and 20.00 hours each day, and monitored their activity with a pedometer.

 

After six weeks there was a small improvement in fatigue in 11 of those drinking high flavonoid cocoa compared with eight of those drinking the low flavonoid version.

 

And there was a moderate effect on fatigability, with those drinking high flavonoid cocoa able to cover more distance during the 6 minute walk test.

 

Those drinking the high flavonoid version showed a 45 per cent improvement in subjectively assessed fatigue and an 80 per cent improvement in walking speed.

 

Although not objectively measured, pain symptoms also improved more in the high flavonoid group.

 

"Our study establishes that the use of dietary interventions is feasible and may offer possible long-term benefits to support fatigue management, by improving fatigue and walking endurance," write the researchers.

 

Given the anti-inflammatory properties of flavonoids, they could be used alongside other approaches, such as exercise, drug treatment, and physiotherapy, to treat fatigue, they suggest.

 

"The use of dietary approaches to reduce fatigue and associated factors in people with MS may be an easy, safe, and cost-effective way to have an impact on quality of life and independence, allowing people to feel more in control of their condition.

 

"A full evaluation, including wider geography, longer follow up and cost effectiveness is now indicated," they conclude.

 

In a linked editorial, Dr Paolo Ragonese, University of Palermo, points out that the treatment and management of MS related fatigue "still represents a challenge...because its mechanisms are multifactorial."

 

And diets rich in flavonoids are linked to longer life and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease as well as positive changes to the volume and diversity of gut bacteria (the microbiome), he points out.

 

"Although [this] study is an exploratory trial, it adds further interesting suggestions to the possible positive effects of flavonoid intake on the management of fatigue in patients with MS," he concludes.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190304195240.htm

Does extra sleep on the weekends repay your sleep debt? No, researchers say

February 28, 2019

Science Daily/Cell Press

Insufficient sleep and untreated sleep disorders put people at increased risk for metabolic problems, including obesity and diabetes. But is extra sleep on the weekends enough to reduce those risks? The short answer, according to new findings is 'no.'

 

"The key take-home message from this study is that ad libitum weekend recovery or catch-up sleep does not appear to be an effective countermeasure strategy to reverse sleep loss induced disruptions of metabolism," says Kenneth Wright of the University of Colorado Boulder.

 

People often sleep more on weekends than they do during the week. Yet it wasn't known how returning to an insufficient sleep schedule during the workweek after a weekend of recovery sleep influences a person's metabolic health.

 

To find out, in the new study, researchers led by Christopher Depner and Wright enlisted healthy young adults. Each participant was randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first had plenty of time to sleep -- 9 hours -- each night for 9 nights. The second had just 5 hours to sleep each night over that same period. Finally, the third slept 5 hours for 5 days followed by a weekend in which they slept as much as they liked before returning to another 2 days of restricted sleep.

 

In the two sleep-restricted groups, insufficient sleep led to an increase in snacking after dinner and weight gain. During ad libitum weekend recovery sleep in the third group, study participants slept an hour longer on average than they usually would. They also consumed fewer extra calories after dinner than those who got insufficient sleep.

 

However, when they went back to getting insufficient sleep after the weekend, their circadian body clock was timed later. They also ate more after dinner as their weight continued to rise.

 

The sleep restriction in the first group of participants was associated with a decrease in insulin sensitivity of about 13 percent. But the group that had a chance to sleep more on the weekend still showed less sensitivity to insulin. The insulin sensitivity of their whole bodies, liver, and muscle decreased by 9 to 27 percent after they got insufficient sleep again, once the weekend was over.

 

"Our findings show that muscle- and liver-specific insulin sensitivity were worse in subjects who had weekend recovery sleep," Depner says, noting that those metabolic aberrations weren't seen in the people who got less sleep all along. "This finding was not anticipated and further shows that weekend recovery sleep is not likely [to be] an effective sleep-loss countermeasure regarding metabolic health when sleep loss is chronic."

 

The Sleep Research Society and American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends 7 or more hours of sleep nightly for adults, to promote optimal health. The new findings add to evidence that insufficient sleep is a risk factor for metabolic disorders. It also shows that catching up on weekends isn't the solution to chronic sleep loss during the week.

 

Wright says that it's not yet clear whether weekend recovery sleep can be an effective health countermeasure for people who get too little sleep only occasionally -- a night or two per week, perhaps. They hope to explore the fine details of these dynamics in future studies, including the influence of daytime napping and other strategies for getting more Zzzs.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190228113534.htm

Not all sleep is equal when it comes to cleaning the brain

February 27, 2019

Science Daily/University of Rochester Medical Center

New research shows how the depth of sleep can impact our brain's ability to efficiently wash away waste and toxic proteins. Because sleep often becomes increasingly lighter and more disrupted as we become older, the study reinforces and potentially explains the links between aging, sleep deprivation, and heightened risk for Alzheimer's disease.

 

"Sleep is critical to the function of the brain's waste removal system and this study shows that the deeper the sleep the better," said Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc., co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and lead author of the study. "These findings also add to the increasingly clear evidence that quality of sleep or sleep deprivation can predict the onset of Alzheimer's and dementia."

 

The study, which appears in the journal Science Advances, indicates that the slow and steady brain and cardiopulmonary activity associated with deep non-REM sleep are optimal for the function of the glymphatic system, the brain's unique process of removing waste. The findings may also explain why some forms of anesthesia can lead to cognitive impairment in older adults.

 

The previously unknown glymphatic system was first described by Nedergaard and her colleagues in 2012. Prior to that point, scientists did not fully understand how the brain, which maintains its own closed ecosystem, removed waste. The study revealed a system of plumbing which piggybacks on blood vessels and pumps cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) through brain tissue to wash away waste. A subsequent study showed that this system primarily works while we sleep.

 

Because the accumulation of toxic proteins such as beta amyloid and tau in the brain are associated with Alzheimer's disease, researchers have speculated that impairment of the glymphatic system due to disrupted sleep could be a driver of the disease. This squares with clinical observations which show an association between sleep deprivation and heightened risk for Alzheimer's.

 

In the current study, researchers conducted experiments with mice that were anesthetized with six different anesthetic regimens. While the animals were under anesthesia, the researchers tracked brain electrical activity, cardiovascular activity, and the cleansing flow of CSF through the brain. The team observed that a combination of the drugs ketamine and xylazine (K/X) most closely replicated the slow and steady electrical activity in the brain and slow heart rate associated with deep non-REM sleep. Furthermore, the electrical activity in the brains of mice administered K/X appeared to be optimal for function of the glymphatic system.

 

"The synchronized waves of neural activity during deep slow-wave sleep, specifically firing patterns that move from front of the brain to the back, coincide with what we know about the flow of CSF in the glymphatic system," said Lauren Hablitz, Ph.D., a postdoctoral associate in Nedergaard's lab and first author of the study. "It appears that the chemicals involved in the firing of neurons, namely ions, drive a process of osmosis which helps pull the fluid through brain tissue."

 

The study raises several important clinical questions. It further bolsters the link between sleep, aging, and Alzheimer's disease. It is known that as we age it becomes more difficult to consistently achieve deep non-REM sleep, and the study reinforces the importance of deep sleep to the proper function of the glymphatic system. The study also demonstrates that the glymphatic system can be manipulated by enhancing sleep, a finding that may point to potential clinical approaches, such as sleep therapy or other methods to boost the quality of sleep, for at-risk populations.

 

Furthermore, because several of the compounds used in the study were analogous to anesthetics used in clinical settings, the study also sheds light on the cognitive difficulties that older patients often experience after surgery and suggests classes of drugs that could be used to avoid this phenomenon. Mice in the study that were exposed to anesthetics that did not induce slow brain activity saw diminished glymphatic activity.

 

"Cognitive impairment after anesthesia and surgery is a major problem," said Tuomas Lilius, M.D., Ph.D., with the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and co-author of the study. "A significant percentage of elderly patients that undergo surgery experience a postoperative period of delirium or have a new or worsened cognitive impairment at discharge."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190227173111.htm

How listening to music 'significantly impairs' creativity

February 27, 2019

Science Daily/Lancaster University

The popular view that music enhances creativity has been challenged by researchers who say it has the opposite effect. Psychologists investigated the impact of background music on performance by presenting people with verbal insight problems that are believed to tap creativity. They found that background music 'significantly impaired' people's ability to complete tasks testing verbal creativity -- but there was no effect for background library noise.

 

Psychologists from the University of Central Lancashire, University of Gävle in Sweden and Lancaster University investigated the impact of background music on performance by presenting people with verbal insight problems that are believed to tap creativity.

 

They found that background music "significantly impaired" people's ability to complete tasks testing verbal creativity -- but there was no effect for background library noise.

 

For example, a participant was shown three words (e.g., dress, dial, flower), with the requirement being to find a single associated word (in this case "sun") that can be combined to make a common word or phrase (i.e., sundress, sundial and sunflower).

 

The researchers used three experiments involving verbal tasks in either a quiet environment or while exposed to:

 

  • Background music with foreign (unfamiliar) lyrics

  • Instrumental music without lyrics

  • Music with familiar lyrics

Dr Neil McLatchie of Lancaster University said: "We found strong evidence of impaired performance when playing background music in comparison to quiet background conditions."

 

Researchers suggest this may be because music disrupts verbal working memory.

 

The third experiment -- exposure to music with familiar lyrics- impaired creativity regardless of whether the music also boosted mood, induced a positive mood, was liked by the participants, or whether participants typically studied in the presence of music.

 

However, there was no significant difference in performance of the verbal tasks between the quiet and library noise conditions.

 

Researchers say this is because library noise is a "steady state" environment which is not as disruptive.

 

"To conclude, the findings here challenge the popular view that music enhances creativity, and instead demonstrate that music, regardless of the presence of semantic content (no lyrics, familiar lyrics or unfamiliar lyrics), consistently disrupts creative performance in insight problem solving."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190227081542.htm

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