Women/Prenatal/Infant9

Prenatal stress changes brain connectivity in-utero

New findings from developmental cognitive neuroscience

March 26, 2018

Science Daily/Cognitive Neuroscience Society

The time babies spend in the womb is far from idle. The brain is changing more rapidly during this time than at any other time in development. It is an active time for the fetus to grow and explore, and of course connect to its mother. New evidence from in-utero fetal brain scans shows, for the first time, that this connection directly affects brain developme

 

"It has long been thought that the stress of a mother during her pregnancy may imprint on the brain of her developing child," says Moriah Thomason of Wayne State University who is presenting this new work at the 25th meeting for the Cognitive Neuroscience Society in Boston today. "Despite the clear importance of this time frame, we presently possess very little understanding of how functional macroscale neural networks build during this precious time in human life, or the relevance of this to future human health and development."

 

This prenatal work is part of a growing body of research to better understand how the human brain develops across its lifespan, from fetus to old age. "We are interested in how a human brain constructs over time to become the adult brain," says Nim Tottenham of Columbia University, whose work focuses on identifying sensitive periods of brain development from childhood into adolescence. She is chairing a session on new findings in brain development at the CNS meeting: "The talks aim to bridge across the very long brain development that gives rise to mature functioning."

 

Seeing the changing fetal brain

 

Research in newborns and older children to understand prenatal influences has been confounded by the postnatal environment, Thomason explains. But recent advancements in fetal imaging allowed her and her team to gain insight into a critical time period in brain development never previously accessible.

 

Using fetal resting-state fMRI, they examined functional connectivity in 47 human fetuses scanned between the 30th and 37th week of gestation. The researchers recruited the participating mothers from a low-resource and high-stress urban setting, with many reporting high-levels of depression, anxiety, worry, and stress.

 

They found that mothers reporting high stress had fetuses with a reduced efficiency in how their neural functional systems are organized. It is the first time, imaging has shown a direct influence of maternal stress on fetal brain development, independent of influences of the postnatal environment.

 

"The major thrill is that we have demonstrated what has long been theorized, but not yet observed in a human, which is that the stress of a mother during her pregnancy is reflected in connectional properties of her child's developing brain," Thomason says. The data suggest that the brain does not develop in a sequence from simplest systems (e.g., vision, motor) to more complex high-order systems, but perhaps instead first develops the areas that will be most critical in bridging across systems.

 

The researchers found that the cerebellum played a central role in the observed effects, suggesting it may be especially vulnerable to the effects of prenatal or early life stress. The cerebellum has the highest density of glucocorticoid receptors, which are involved in stress responses, than any other place in the brain. Thomason and her team plan to further investigate this as a possible mechanism for the stress responses they observed.

 

Although conducting in-utero brain scans are challenging -- first and foremost because of the always wriggling babies -- working with expectant mothers is quite rewarding, Thomason says. "A lot of our moms are interested in being part of this research, not because of concerns they have in their pregnancy," she says, "but because they appreciate the heightened vulnerability of budding human life, and this is an opportunity to help other women that may not have the same fortune in their circumstances."

 

Making connections into adulthood

 

Cognitive neuroscientists are especially interested in understanding sensitive periods of time when the environment has the largest influence on future brain functions. To identify such times, Tottenham of Columbia University has honed in on connections between the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the amygdala.

 

"A majority of developmental change during childhood and adolescence are the changes in connections," she explains. "We have largely focused on the connections between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex because of the very large changes we have observed there across childhood and adolescence and their central role in emotional behaviors."

 

Studying awake children as young as 4-years old, Tottenham and colleagues identified developmental periods when the nature of the communication between the amygdala and the PFC operates differently than in an adult. The connections develop very slowly over childhood, with a dramatic shift toward the end of childhood when the transition to adolescence brings about more adult-like characteristics. Looking at coincidental environmental events in childhood, the researchers also found data to suggest that amygdala-medial PFC connections are highly impressionable to external forces.

 

"The human brain is designed to learn from the environment. This is thanks to the long period of infancy, childhood, and adolescence that humans enjoy," Tottenham says. "What has amazed me most about the developing brain is that it is not simply an immature version of the adult brain but instead is designed to collaborate with the expected caregiving ecology."

 

Indeed, says Thomason: "We must consider the developing brain in context, thinking about the role of the environment in shaping the brain. It is a topic that inspires us to promote healthy brain growth, to ask what it is that we do for children in the lifestyles, opportunities, and learning conditions we create for them."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180326110123.htm

Wives of many prostate cancer sufferers made ill or feel undermined by the disease

March 19, 2018

Science Daily/European Association of Urology

Many wives of advanced prostate cancer sufferers feel that their lives are being undermined by their husband’s illness, with nearly half reporting that their own health suffered. In addition a focus subgroup has revealed that many feel isolated and fearful, and worry about the role change in their lives as their husband’s cancer advances. This study, developed with the wives of men with metastatic prostate cancer who were being treated with hormone therapy, is amongst the first carried out on how prostate cancer affects the partners of sufferers.

 

Prostate cancer is the most common male cancer. Prostate cancer which metastisises to other parts of the body is often difficult or impossible to cure, and so is often treated with androgen deprivation therapy (ADT), which slows down the tumour growth. ADT shuts down production of the hormone testosterone, but that leads to fatigue, frailty, and loss of sexual drive. The effects of prostate cancer and its treatment have been extensively studied in men, but there is almost no work on how this affects their partners.

 

A team of Danish researchers from Herlev and Gentofte University Hospital, led by registered nurse Jeanne Avlastenok and Dr. Peter Østergren, have been working with the wives and partners of men who had been undergoing exercise therapy to maintain body strength and resilience during prostate cancer treatment. They questioned 56 women on how the cancers were affecting the lives of their husbands. Nearly half of these women (26 women, i.e. 46%) reported that their partner’s health problem had affected their own health.

 

The researchers randomly selected 8 women for in-depth, focus-group style interviews – aimed at encouraging the women to express how they are being affected by their partner’s illness.

 

“We worked with the women as a group, encouraging them to be open about what they felt in a supportive group environment”, said Jeanne Avlastenok.

 

“Three of the women – those with early stage disease – were less burdened than the others, but the remaining five expressed some significant concerns.

 

Many felt increasingly socially isolated. Their husbands were fatigued both by the illness and by the treatment, which meant that they couldn’t socialize as a couple, which made the women feel cut off from social support”.

 

Sample Comment: ''Because he sleeps so much we do not visit the family or our friends and do not have many guests'' said one.

 

RN Jeanne Avlastenok continued, “They also gradually developed a real fear of being alone, even within the relationship. They felt that they had to be strong, which meant that they couldn’t share the burden of the illness.

 

The last theme which worried the women was over the role change in their relationship. As their men became less able to fulfil their usual roles, the women had to undertake tasks which had previously fallen to the men. Many of these are simple tasks but for the women they represented a sea change in the way their lives were structured”.

 

Sample Comment: 'We have 22 windows and my husband thinks that he still can polish them and also do all the gardening. But nothing happens and he doesn't want me to arrange professional help''

 

All of the women were worried that their husbands would develop significant pain as the disease progressed.

 

The team stresses that the focus group findings is very much qualitative work on a small sample. “But in any study, you need to do the qualitative work before moving to any larger sample”, said Dr. Peter Østergren, “We needed to let the women express their concerns first, so we can understand which questions to ask

 

Commenting, Professor Hein van Poppel (Leuven, Belgium), EAU Adjunct Secretary General for Education, said:

 

“Many prostate cancer patients have a hard time, both physically and emotionally, and this work shows that this stress can spill over and affect wives and partners. This is good for neither of them. Good mental and emotional health needs to be part of how we judge a treatment, and we need to try to ensure that both patients and their partners get the support they both need”.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180319091027.htm

Early puberty linked with increased risk of obesity for women

March 15, 2018

Science Daily/Imperial College London

Girls who start puberty earlier are more likely to be overweight as adults, finds new research

 

The researchers say their findings, published today in the International Journal of Obesity, strengthen existing evidence of a link between the onset of puberty and a woman's body mass in adulthood.

 

Previous studies have established a link between obesity and puberty, with increased bodyweight known to be a risk factor for girls starting puberty earlier.

 

However, these observational findings can be influenced by situational factors, such as ethnicity, economic background, education level, and diet, making it difficult to determine whether early puberty or these other factors are the cause.

 

But now this latest research shows that early puberty is itself a risk factor for being overweight, with girls who have their first period earlier more likely to have a higher Body Mass Index (BMI).

 

According to the authors of the study, their findings help to untangle these complex external factors and add insight into an underlying causal link, showing that early puberty has a significant impact on a woman's risk of obesity.

 

Dr Dipender Gill, a Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Fellow in the School of Public Health and first author of the study, said: "Previous studies have shown there is an association, but we didn't know whether early puberty caused obesity in adulthood, or was simply associated with it. In our latest study we've generated evidence to support that it is a causal effect."

 

In order to get around the effects of confounding factors, the Imperial team used genetic variants as a tool to look at the effect of the onset of puberty (known as age at menarche), measured as the age of a girl's first period.

 

The genes in every cell of our bodies are randomly gifted to us from our parents when their sperm and egg cells fuse, with the outcome of this random jumble being the genetic basis of the embryo -- influencing everything from hair colour to risk of disease for the rest of your life.

 

But single 'letter' changes to the DNA sequence of a gene can alter its function. In terms of disease risk, these single letter variants (called single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs) can result in a small increase or decrease in risk. The combination of variants of more than 20,000 genes contribute towards our cumulative genetic risk.

 

In the latest study, researchers employed a statistical technique called Mendelian Randomization which uses these genetic variants as a tool to show the causal relationship between earlier puberty and increased BMI.

 

Using data from 182,416 women they identified 122 genetic variants that were strongly associated with the onset of puberty -- with the women's age at first period obtained via questionnaire.

 

The team then looked at data from the UK Biobank, which holds biomedical information on hundreds of thousands of people, incorporating physiological measurement data with genetic sequence data and questionnaire responses. Specifically, they looked for the effect of the genetic variants related to age at menarche with BMI in a second set of 80,465 women from the UK Biobank, for whom they also had measurements for BMI.

 

Initial analysis revealed a link between these genetic variants and BMI, with those women who had variants associated with earlier puberty having an increased BMI. The researchers then tested for this same association in a third group 70,962 women, finding the same association.

 

Dr Gill, added: "Some of these genetic variants are associated with earlier puberty and some with later onset, so by taking advantage of this we were able to investigate any association of age at menarche with BMI in adulthood.

 

"We're not saying that it's a genetic effect, but rather that by using these genetic variants as a proxy for earlier puberty, we are able to show the effect of earlier puberty without the impact of external factors that might confound our analysis. We performed a range of statistical sensitivity analyses to test the robustness of our findings and they remained strong through this, so within the limitations of the study design, we are confident of findings."

 

Previous research from the group has used the same technique to show that low iron levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, as well as showing that girls who start puberty earlier are likely to spend less time in education.

 

Future studies will use the same Mendelian Randomization approach to look at genetic variants in relation to drug targets for cardiovascular disease and stroke.

 

The technique is not without its limitations, and it is possible that these genetic variants could be influencing bodyweight independently of age at menarche, such as through altering metabolism or fat production. However, even after the team had removed any genetic variants that were also associated with childhood obesity (12 in total), they came to the same finding.

 

According to the researchers, it remains unclear how maturing earlier has a direct impact on bodyweight, but they indicate that differences between physical and emotional maturity may play a role. It could be that young women who mature earlier than their peers are treated differently or have different societal pressures than girls of the same age who have not started puberty.

 

Another explanation could be the physical effects of hormonal changes during puberty, such as increased fat deposition in breast tissue, which when established earlier may move them to a higher risk profile for higher BMI or obesity in later life.

 

"It is difficult to say that changing someone's age of puberty will affect their adult risk of obesity and whether it is something that we can clinically apply -- as it would unlikely be ethically appropriate to accelerate or delay the rate of puberty to affect BMI," added Dr Gill. "But it is useful for us to be aware that it's a causal factor- girls who reach puberty earlier may be more likely to be overweight when they are older."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180315203819.htm

Physically fit women nearly 90 percent less likely to develop dementia

March 15, 2018

Science Daily/American Academy of Neurology

Women with high physical fitness at middle age were nearly 90 percent less likely to develop dementia decades later, compared to women who were moderately fit, according to a new study. The study measured the women's cardiovascular fitness based on an exercise test.

 

When the highly fit women did develop dementia, they developed the disease an average of 11 years later than women who were moderately fit, or at age 90 instead of age 79.

 

"These findings are exciting because it's possible that improving people's cardiovascular fitness in middle age could delay or even prevent them from developing dementia," said study author Helena Hörder, PhD, of the University of Gothenburg in Gothenburg, Sweden. "However, this study does not show cause and effect between cardiovascular fitness and dementia, it only shows an association. More research is needed to see if improved fitness could have a positive effect on the risk of dementia and also to look at when during a lifetime a high fitness level is most important."

 

For the study, 191 women with an average age of 50 took a bicycle exercise test until they were exhausted to measure their peak cardiovascular capacity. The average peak workload was measured at 103 watts. A total of 40 women met the criteria for a high fitness level, or 120 watts or higher. A total of 92 women were in the medium fitness category; and 59 women were in the low fitness category, defined as a peak workload of 80 watts or less, or having their exercise tests stopped because of high blood pressure, chest pain or other cardiovascular problems.

 

Over the next 44 years, the women were tested for dementia six times. During that time, 44 of the women developed dementia. Five percent of the highly fit women developed dementia, compared to 25 percent of moderately fit women and 32 percent of the women with low fitness. The highly fit women were 88 percent less likely to develop dementia than the moderately fit women.

 

Among the women who had to stop the exercise test due to problems, 45 percent developed dementia decades later.

 

"This indicates that negative cardiovascular processes may be happening in midlife that could increase the risk of dementia much later in life," Hörder said.

 

Limitations of the study include the relatively small number of women involved, all of whom were from Sweden, so the results may not be applicable to other populations, Hörder said. Also, the women's fitness level was measured only once, so any changes in fitness over time were not captured.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180315101805.htm

Feeling anxious? Blame the size of your waistline!

New study links waist-to-height ratio to anxiety in middle-aged women

March 7, 2018

Science Daily/The North American Menopause Society (NAMS)

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders, and it's more likely to affect women, especially middle-aged women. Although anxiety can be caused by many factors, a new study suggests that the amount of abdominal fat a woman has could increase her chances of developing anxiety.

 

Everyone is familiar with the term "stress eating" that, among other things, can lead to a thicker waistline. In this study that analyzed data from more than 5,580 middle-aged Latin American women (mean age, 49.7 years), the cause-and-effect relationship was flipped to determine whether greater abdominal fat (defined as waist-to-height ratio in this instance) could increase a woman's chances of developing anxiety. Although this is not the first time this relationship has been examined, this study is the first of its kind known to use waist-to-height ratio as the specific link to anxiety. Waist-to-height ratio has been shown to be the indicator that best assesses cardiometabolic risk. A general guideline is that a woman is considered obese if her waist measures more than half of her height.

 

The article "Association between waist-to-height ratio and anxiety in middle-aged women: a secondary analysis of a cross-sectional multicenter Latin American study" reports that 58% of the study population were postmenopausal, and 61.3% reported experiencing anxiety. The study found that those women in the middle and upper thirds of waist-to-height ratios were significantly more likely to have anxiety, and those in the upper third were more likely to actually display signs of anxiety compared with women in the lower two-thirds.

 

Anxiety is a concern because it is linked to heart disease, diabetes, thyroid problems, respiratory disorders, and drug abuse, among other documented medical problems. Research has shown an increase in the frequency of anxiety in women during midlife, likely as a result of decreased levels of estrogen, which has a neuroprotective role.

 

"Hormone changes may be involved in the development of both anxiety and abdominal obesity because of their roles in the brain as well as in fat distribution. This study provides valuable insights for healthcare providers treating middle-aged women, because it implies that waist-to-height ratio could be a good marker for evaluating patients for anxiety," says Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, NAMS executive director.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180307095201.htm

 

Moms who co-sleep beyond six months may feel more depressed, judged

February 28, 2018

Science Daily/Penn State

Moms who continue to co-sleep -- by sharing either a room or bed -- with their infants past six months were more likely to feel depressed, worried about their babies' sleep and think their decisions were being criticized, according to researchers.

 

Recent trends and popular advice telling moms not to sleep with their babies may make mothers who do choose to co-sleep with their infants more likely to feel depressed or judged, according to Penn State researchers.

 

After analyzing moms' sleeping patterns and feelings about sleep for the first year of their babies' lives, the researchers found that mothers who were still co-sleeping -- sharing either a room or bed -- with their infants after six months were more likely to feel depressed, worried about their babies' sleep and think their decisions were being criticized.

 

Douglas Teti, department head and professor of human development and family studies, Penn State, said that regardless of current parenting trends, it's important to find a sleep arrangement that works for everyone in the family.

 

"In other parts of the world, co-sleeping is considered normal, while here in the U.S., it tends to be frowned upon," Teti said. "Co-sleeping, as long as its done safely, is fine as long as both parents are on board with it. If it's working for everyone, and everyone is okay with it, then co-sleeping is a perfectly acceptable option."

 

The researchers said that while most American families begin co-sleeping when their babies are first born, most of those families transition the babies to their own room by the time he or she is six months old. Teti said concerns about sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or the desire for babies to learn how to fall asleep on their own may be why many parents in the U.S. prefer their babies to be sleep alone.

 

Teti said this study -- which analyzed the sleeping habits of 103 mothers in their baby's first year of life -- saw a similar pattern in its participants.

 

"We found that about 73 percent of families co-slept at the one-month point. That dropped to about 50 percent by three months, and by six months, it was down to about 25 percent," Teti said. "Most babies that were in co-sleeping arrangements in the beginning were moved out into solitary sleep by six months."

 

The researchers also found that moms who were still co-sleeping with their babies past six months were more likely to be more depressed, worry about their baby's sleep and feel more criticized than moms who were no longer co-sleeping.

 

On average, mothers that were still co-sleeping after six months reported feeling about 76 percent more depressed than mothers who had moved their baby into a separate room. They also reportedly felt about 16 percent more criticized or judged for their sleep habits.

 

"We definitely saw that the persistent co-sleepers -- the moms that were still co-sleeping after six months -- were the ones who seemed to get the most criticism," Teti said. "Additionally, they also reported greater levels of worry about their baby's sleep, which makes sense when you're getting criticized about something that people are saying you shouldn't be doing, that raises self-doubt. That's not good for anyone."

 

Teti said that the study -- published in the journal Infant and Child Development -- isn't about whether co-sleeping is good or bad, but about the importance of finding a sleep arrangement that works well while not neglecting your partner or spouse.

 

"If you're going to co-sleep, you have to make sure both people in the partnership have talked it through and both people are in sync with what they want to do," Teti said. "If not, that's when criticism and arguments can happen, and possibly spill over into the relationship with child. So you want to avoid that. You need to make sure you have time with your partner, as well."

 

Teti also said that even when co-sleeping works well, it can still cause more loss of sleep for the parents than if the baby slept in its own room.

 

"If you co-sleep, it is going to disrupt your sleep, and probably Mom's sleep more than Dad's," Teti said. "So this is something to be careful with if you're not good with chronic sleep debt. Co-sleeping needs to work well for everyone, and that includes getting adequate sleep. To be the best parent you can be, you have to take care of yourself, and your child benefits as a result."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180228144434.htm

Postnatal depression has life-long impact on mother-child relations

February 20, 2018

Science Daily/University of Kent

Postnatal depression (PND) can impact the quality of relationships between mother and child into adult life, and have a negative influence on the quality of relationships between grandmothers and grandchildren, new research has discovered.

 

Now, research led by Dr Sarah Myers and overseen by Dr Sarah Johns in the School of Anthropology and Conservation has found that PND continues to impact mother-child relationships into later life and affects multi-generational relationships too.

 

They surveyed 305 women mainly from the UK and US with an average age of 60 and who had given birth to an average of 2.2 children. Their children ranged in age from 8 to 48, with an average age of 29 and many of whom now had their own children. This wide-ranging data set allowed them to assess the impact of PND over a longer time frame than has been hitherto examined.

 

Their data showed that women who had PND reported lower relationship quality with their offspring, including those children who are now adults and that the worse the PND had been the worse the later relationship quality was.

 

While mothers who experienced depressive symptoms at other times had worse relationships with all of their children, PND was found to be specifically detrimental to the relationship mothers had with their child whose birth triggered the PND.

 

This suggests that factors which affect mother-child relationships in early infancy can have lifelong consequences on the relationship that is formed over time.

 

Another discovery from the research was that women who suffer from PND with a child, and then in later life become a grandmother via that child, form a less emotionally close relationship with that grandchild. This continues the negative cycle associated with PND as the importance of grandmothers in helping with the rearing of grandchildren is well-documented.

 

The researchers hope the findings will encourage the ongoing development and implantation of preventative measures to combat PND. Investment in prevention will not only improve mother-child relationships, but also future grandmother-grandchild relationships.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180220122917.htm

One or more soda a day could decrease chances of getting pregnant

February 13, 2018

Science Daily/Boston University School of Medicine

A new study has found that the intake of one or more sugar-sweetened beverages per day -- by either partner -- is associated with a decreased chance of getting pregnant.

 

The amount of added sugar in the American diet has increased dramatically over the last 50 years. Much of that increase comes from higher intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, which constitute approximately one-third of the total added sugar consumption in the American diet. While consumption of these beverages has been linked to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, early menstruation, and poor semen quality, few studies have directly investigated the relationship between sugary drinks and fertility.

 

Now, a new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers has found that the intake of one or more sugar-sweetened beverages per day -- by either partner -- is associated with a decreased chance of getting pregnant.

 

The study was published in Epidemiology.

 

"We found positive associations between intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and lower fertility, which were consistent after controlling for many other factors, including obesity, caffeine intake, alcohol, smoking, and overall diet quality," says lead author Elizabeth Hatch, professor of epidemiology. "Couples planning a pregnancy might consider limiting their consumption of these beverages, especially because they are also related to other adverse health effects."

 

About 15 percent of couples in North America experience infertility. Identifying modifiable risk factors for infertility, including diet, could help couples conceive more quickly and reduce the psychological stress and financial hardship related to fertility treatments, which are associated with more than $5 billion in annual US healthcare costs.

 

Through the Pregnancy Study Online (PRESTO), an ongoing web-based prospective cohort study of North American couples, the researchers surveyed 3,828 women aged 21 to 45 living in the United States or Canada and 1,045 of their male partners. Participants completed a comprehensive baseline survey on medical history, lifestyle factors, and diet, including their intake of sugar-sweetened beverages. Female participants then completed a follow-up questionnaire every two months for up to 12 months or until pregnancy occurred.

 

Both female and male intake of sugar-sweetened beverages was associated with 20 percent reduced fecundability, the average monthly probability of conception. Females who consumed at least one soda per day had 25 percent lower fecundability; male consumption was associated with 33 percent lower fecundability. Intake of energy drinks was related to even larger reductions in fertility, although the results were based on small numbers of consumers. Little association was found between intake of fruit juices or diet sodas and fertility.

 

"Given the high levels of sugar-sweetened beverages consumed by reproductive-aged couples in North America, these findings could have important public health implications," the authors concluded.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180213120426.htm

Sixty-four percent of women suffer from insomnia in late pregnancy

January 29, 2018

Science Daily/University of Granada

A new study warns that health systems need to address the problem of insomnia in pregnancy systematically, since as well as affecting the quality of life of pregnant women, insomnia is a risk factor for high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes mellitus, depression, preterm birth and unplanned caesarean sections.

 

The research study was recently published in the European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology. 486 healthy pregnant women from Granada, Jaen, Huelva and Seville who had attended the Andalusian Health Service (SAS) before the 14th week of pregnancy (first trimester) participated in the study. The effects of pregnancy on these women were monitored throughout all three trimesters.

 

The results reveal that 44% of pregnant women suffer from insomnia in the first trimester of pregnancy, which increases to 46% in the second trimester and 64% in the third trimester. These are very high figures which, according to the authors of the research, justify the need for a "systematic approach to this problem."

 

Dr. María del Carmen Amezcua Prieto, one of the researchers behind the study and a lecturer at the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health of the University of Granada, explains that: "Although it is well known that pre-existing sleep problems worsen and new issues frequently arise during pregnancy, there is a tendency to assume that difficulties related to getting to sleep and maintaining restorative sleep are characteristic phenomena of pregnancy and that they must be endured."

 

However, Dr. Amezcua Prieto points out that: "This probably occurs because the health system does not give importance to the issue during the monitoring of pregnancies, to the point where the World Health Organization (WHO) does not even address the issue of sleep in its guidelines on providing care to pregnant women."

 

Insomnia-related problems

 

Insomnia causes numerous problems. It affects the quality of life of pregnant women, which apart from being of great importance per se, is also a risk factor for high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, depression, premature birth and unplanned caesarean sections. Consequently, the issue must be tackled systematically.

 

María del Rosario Román Gálvez, one of the other researchers behind this ambitious project, warns that every single aspect of night-time sleep and its impact on daytime functioning must be addressed in order to study insomnia effectively.

 

"The results of our study show significant alterations in sleep fragmentation (the times women wake up during the night and how long they stay awake), as well as in daytime sleepiness. It also demonstrates that the frequency and intensity of sleep fragmentation continue to increase as the pregnancy progresses. Likewise, pregnancy also complicates sleep induction (the time it takes for an individual to fall asleep) and sleep duration. It is important to take into account these aspects to properly address the problem using non-pharmacological treatments," the UGR researcher notes.

 

Factors associated with insomnia were also analysed as part of the project. Prof. Aurora Bueno Cavanillas highlights that: "Although it may seem obvious, the most important factor is pre-gestational insomnia, given that it is fundamental to prevention and underscores the importance of detecting insomnia before pregnancy and throughout all stages of it." The study also revealed that other factors, such as obesity and whether or not the women have already had children, can have an impact on sleeping patterns.

 

Lastly, the study illustrates that the regular practice of moderate or intense physical exercise during pregnancy protects women against pregnancy-related insomnia, "so this is yet another reason for promoting physical activity during pregnancy."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180129131340.htm

 

Eating more foods with choline during pregnancy could boost baby’s brain

January 4, 2018

Science Daily/Cornell University

When expectant mothers consume sufficient amounts of the nutrient choline during pregnancy, their offspring gain enduring cognitive benefits, a new study suggests.

 

Choline -- found in egg yolks, lean red meat, fish, poultry, legumes, nuts and cruciferous vegetables -- has many functions, but this study focused on its role in prenatal brain development.

 

The researchers, who published their findings online in The FASEB Journal, used a rigorous study design to show cognitive benefits in the offspring of pregnant women who daily consumed close to twice the currently recommended amount of choline during their last trimester.

 

"In animal models using rodents, there's widespread agreement that supplementing the maternal diet with additional amounts of this single nutrient has lifelong benefits on offspring cognitive function," said Marie Caudill, professor of nutritional sciences and the study's first author. "Our study provides some evidence that a similar result is found in humans."

 

The finding is important because choline is in high demand during pregnancy yet most women consume less than the recommended 450 milligrams per day.

 

"Part of that is due to current dietary trends and practices," said Richard Canfield, a developmental psychologist in the Division of Nutritional Sciences and the senior author of the study. "There are a lot of choline-rich foods that have a bad reputation these days," he said. Eggs, for example, are high in cholesterol, and health professionals, including those in the government, have raised caution about pregnant women consuming undercooked eggs, which may deter women from eating them altogether, even though such risks are low for pasteurized or cooked eggs, Canfield said. Red meats are often avoided for their high saturated fat content, and liver is not commonly eaten, he added.

 

Two previous studies by other research teams had mixed results after examining cognitive effects of maternal choline supplementation, perhaps due to study designs that were not tightly controlled, Caudill said.

 

In this study, 26 women were randomly divided into two groups and all the women consumed exactly the same diet. Intake of choline and other nutrients were tightly controlled, which was important since the metabolism of choline and its functions can overlap with such nutrients as vitamin B12, folic acid and vitamin B6.

 

"By ensuring that all the nutrients were provided in equal amounts, we could be confident that the differences in the infants resulted from their choline intake," Caudill said. In this study, half the women received 480 mg/day of choline, slightly more than the adequate intake level, and the other half received 930 mg/day.

 

Canfield and co-author Laura Muscalu, a lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Ithaca College, tested infant information processing speed and visuospatial memory at 4, 7, 10 and 13 months of age. They timed how long each infant took to look toward an image on the periphery of a computer screen, a measure of the time it takes for a cue to produce a motor response. The test has been shown to correlate with IQ in childhood. Also, research by Canfield and others shows that infants who demonstrate fast processing speeds when young typically continue to be fast as they age.

 

While offspring in both groups showed cognitive benefits, information processing speeds were significantly faster for the group of expectant mothers who consumed 930 mg/day when compared with the group that took 480 mg/day over the same period.

 

Though the study has a small sample, it suggests that current recommendations for daily choline intake may not be enough to produce optimal cognitive abilities in offspring, Canfield said. Current choline intake recommendations are based on amounts required to prevent liver dysfunction, and were extrapolated from studies done in men in part because no studies had investigated requirements during pregnancy.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180104124300.htm

Women get less credit than men in the workplace

December 13, 2017

Science Daily/University of Delaware

New research suggests that women receive less credit for speaking up in the workplace than their male counterparts.

 

Kyle Emich, an assistant professor of management in UD's Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, explored this topic with the University of Arizona's Elizabeth McClean, Boston College's Sean R. Martin and the United States Military Academy's Todd Woodruff for a forthcoming article in Academy of Management Journal.

 

"In sum, we find that when men speak up with ideas on how to change their team for the better they gain the respect of their teammates -- since speaking up indicates knowledge of the task at hand and concern for the wellbeing of the team," Emich said. "Then, when it comes time to replace the team's leader, those men are more likely to be nominated to do so. Alternatively, when women speak up with ideas on how to change the team for the better, they are not given any more respect than women who do not speak up at all, and thus are not seen as viable leadership options."

 

Emich said that in the case of the researchers' first sample, involving military cadets at West Point, "This difference is immense."

 

On average in 10-person teams, Emich said, men who speak up more than two-thirds of their teammates are voted to be the No. 2 candidate to take on team leadership.

 

"Women who speak up the same amount are voted to be the No. 8 candidate," he said. "This effect size is bigger than any I have seen since I began studying teams in 2009."

 

Further, in the team's second study, a lab study of working adults from across the United States, Emich said, "We find that men are given more credit than women even when saying the exact same thing."

 

"Of course, when I discuss this with women they are not shocked," Emich said. "The most common reaction I get is gratitude that we finally have data to show something they have been observing for years. However, men are mostly oblivious. This is because they do not need to consider their gender in most organizational contexts, thus their unconscious biases remain just that, unconscious."

 

To further explain what he means, Emich said that when most individuals imagine a leader, they are likely to expect that leader to be a man by default.

 

"This is the reason it is so easy for people -- both men and women -- to link men's voices (speaking up) with leadership," Emich said. "Implicitly, men are already considered leaders to a greater extent than women are. The reason I mention this is that correcting the problem will take effort and the conscious attention to biases against women in the workplace."

 

So how can individuals combat this biased thinking in the workplace?

 

"I challenge any man reading this to go into your next meeting and see who comes up with ideas and who gets credit for them," Emich said. "I know this was an eye-opening exercise for me -- being a man who was previously unaware of the level of bias women face.

 

"At first, just observe," he said. "Then, eventually, step up and give credit where credit is due."

 

Giving credit where credit is due can be as simple, Emich explained, as acknowledging that who the idea came from: If a woman's ideas have been floated around the room, you can acknowledge that by saying, "I think we all really like [name]'s idea."

 

Emich also recommends that professionals consider mentoring women in the workplace.

 

"Finally, at the very least, understand that we all use cognitive shortcuts to get through each day," he said. "We simply don't have the energy or ability to fully consider everything we run into. For example, think of what you had for breakfast. How did you decide? You probably just grabbed the closest thing to you, or followed a pattern of what you always eat.

 

"Well, we have patterns and shortcuts involving people too, and one of them is more easily considering men leaders even when women exhibit the exact same behaviors," Emich said. "And this shortcut has very real negative consequences for women and workplaces alike."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171213130252.htm

 

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