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Dec 31
Early-life exercise promotes healthy brain
Exercising early in life can alter microbial community in the gut for the better, promoting healthy brain and metabolic activity over the course of a lifetime, says a new study.

The research indicates that there may be a window of opportunity during early human development to optimise the chances of better lifelong health.

"Exercise affects many aspects of health, both metabolic and mental, and people are only now starting to look at the plasticity of these gut microbes," said senior study author Monika Fleshner from University of Colorado Boulder in the US.

Microbes take up residence within human intestines shortly after birth and are vital to the development of the immune system and various neural functions. The human gut harbours over 100 trillion microorganisms.

These microbes can add as many as five million genes to a person's overall genetic profile and thus have tremendous power to influence aspects of human physiology.

While this diverse microbial community remains somewhat malleable throughout adult life and can be influenced by environmental factors such as diet and sleep patterns, the researchers found that gut microorganisms are especially 'plastic' at a young age.

The study found that juvenile rats who voluntarily exercised every day developed more beneficial microbial structure, including the expansion of probiotic bacterial species in their gut compared to adult rats, even when the adult rats exercised as well.

A robust, healthy community of gut microbes also appears to promote healthy brain function and provide anti-depressant effects, Fleshner explained.

The researchers have not pinpointed an exact age range when the gut microbe community is likeliest to change, but the preliminary findings indicated that earlier is better.

The study was published in the journal Immunology and Cell Biology.

Dec 29
Overeating can cause depression, beware!
In a recent study, it has been found that chronic overeating and stress are tied to an increased risk of depression and anxiety.

The researchers from Yale University report that the anesthetic ketamine reverses depression-like symptoms in rats which are fed a high-fat diet in a similar way it combats depression and synaptic damage of chronic stress in people.

Senior author Ronald Duman said that the effects of a high-fat diet overlap with those of chronic stress and could also be a contributing factor in depression as well as metabolic disorders such as Type 2 diabetes.

In the research scientists have shown that ketamine, also known as Special K and abused as a recreational drug, can quickly and dramatically reduce symptoms of chronic depression in patients, who are resistant to typical antidepressant agents.

They also found that a single low dose of ketamine reversed those symptoms quickly, and reversed the disruption of mTORC signaling pathways.

The research is published in the Journal, 'Neuropharmacology.'

Dec 28
When it comes to IVF, persistence pays off
A new study has revealed that two-thirds of couples undergoing in vitro fertilization treatment need up to six attempts to have a successful pregnancy.

Scientists at the universities of Bristol and Glasgow said the process is not a " single shot" as chances of success increased with the number of treatments, the Independent reported.

The authors found that in all women, the live-birth rate for the first cycle was 29.5 per cent, and remained above 20 per cent up to and including the fourth cycle for women under 40.

The cumulative percentage of live-births across all cycles continued to increase up to the ninth cycle, with 65 per cent of women achieving a live birth by the sixth cycle.

IVF is commonly stopped after three or four unsuccessful embryo transfers, with three unsuccessful transfers labelled as repeat implantation failure.

Professor Lawlor said that these findings support the efficacy of extending the number of IVFcycles beyond three or four.

The study is published in The American Medical Association.

Dec 26
Mathematical model could help predict dengue fever epidemic
Scientists have developed a new mathematical model that could predict the spread of dengue fever in urban areas and may help contain the deadly disease.

The model created by Lucas M Stolerman and Stefanella Boatto from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro offers a simplified approach to studying the spread of the dengue fever in urban areas, specifically breaking down the epidemic dynamics across a city and its varying neighbourhoods and populations.

The model is important for studying how varying neighbourhood conditions affect the spread of dengue fever and how to contain it. For example, some neighbourhoods have standing water allowing large mosquito populations to develop. Since mosquitoes fly only a few hundred metres from their birthplace, a human infected with the disease who commutes long distances could spread the disease.

The model uses a Susceptible-Infected-Recovered (SIR) approach to disease spread and the network consists of the city's neighbourhoods where local populations are assumed to be well-mixed. "The SIR-Network model can be used to predict whether local interventions - like cleaning up standing water in containers - in one or two neighbourhoods could affect the prevalence of dengue across the city," said coauthor Daniel Coombs, professor at the University of British Colombia in Canada.

"We give formulae that describe whether an epidemic is possible, in terms of human travel patterns among neighbourhoods, mosquito populations and biting rates in each neighbourhood," Coombs said. The fraction of people travelling from residential neighbourhoods to active ones are represented by directed edges in the network.

The study also presents fundamental properties of the basic reproduction number (Ro) for their specific model. Ro is the expected number of secondary cases due to a single infection.

The researchers applied the SIR-Network model to dengue fever data, which had been updated several times, including as recent as 2014, from the epidemic outbreak of 2007-2008 in various neighbourhoods of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and soon discovered several interesting features of the epidemic.

First, they needed to include a transmission rate that varied over the months of the dengue season to match the available data. The researchers predict that the transmission rate peaks 6 to 8 weeks before the peak incidence of dengue.

Secondly, they predict that the city centre, where large populations from various neighbourhoods go to work each day, is the most important neighbourhood to spreading the fever.

Ultimately, the researchers found that results were improved most when a time-infection parameter was introduced to model seasonal climate changes.

The study was published in the SIAM Journal on Applied Mathematics.

Dec 24
Soon, anti-inflammatory drug from maple syrup
A team of researchers has identified a molecule with anti-inflammatory properties in maple syrup.

Arthritis and other inflammatory diseases could someday be treated with medication containing the molecule quebecol from maple syrup.

Discovered in 2011, quebecol is the result of chemical reactions during the syrup-making process that transform the naturally occurring polyphenols in maple sap. After successfully synthesizing quebecol and its derivatives, Universite Laval researchers under the supervision of Normand Voyer, a chemist with the Faculty of Science and Engineering, evaluated its anti-inflammatory properties.

They called on colleague Daniel Grenier, who developed an in vitro model for determining the anti-inflammatory potential of natural molecules. "We take blood cells called macrophages and put them with bacterial toxins," explained Professor Grenier. "Macrophages usually react by triggering an inflammatory response. But if the culture medium contains an anti-inflammatory molecule, this response is blocked."

The researchers carried out tests that showed quebecol curbs the inflammatory response of macrophages, and some derivatives are even more effective than the original molecule.

"The most powerful derivative has a simpler structure and is easier to synthesize than quebecol," said Normand Voyer. "This paves the way for a whole new class of anti-inflammatory agents, inspired by quebecol, that could compensate for the low efficacy of certain treatments while reducing the risk of side effects."

The study is published in the journal Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters.

Dec 22
14 gram almonds daily can boost your health
Eating a moderate amount of almonds daily can enrich the diets of adults and young children, says a new study.

"Almonds are a good source of plant protein -- essential fatty acids, vitamin E and magnesium," said one of the researchers Alyssa Burns from University of Florida in the US.

For the 14-week study, the scientists gave almonds daily to 29 pairs of parents and children. Most of the adults were mothers with an average age of 35, while their children were between three and six years of age.

The children were encouraged to consume 14 grams of almond butter daily and parents were given 14 grams of almonds per day.

An online dietary recall was used to find out what adults had eaten and how much. That way, researchers could measure diet quality.

The scientists based their conclusions about improved dietary intake on participants' scores on the Healthy Eating Index (HEI), a tool used to measure diet quality and adherence to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The results indicated that when parents and children were eating almonds, their HEI increased for total protein foods, seafood and plant proteins and fatty acids, while they ate fewer empty calories.

For all components, a higher score indicates higher diet quality. When parents and children ate almonds, their HEI score increased from 53.7 to 61.4.

Parents and children consumed more vitamin E and magnesium when eating almonds, Burns noted.

The study was published in the journal Nutrition Research.

Dec 21
Online candy games make kids eat more: Study
Parents, take note! Children tend to consume more calories after playing online games that involve food, a new study has found.

Researchers found that shortly after playing a game with an embedded food advertisement, children ate 55 per cent more of the candy offered to them than children who had played a game with an embedded toy advertisement.

At least once a week, two thirds of all children of primary-school age will play an internet game that was created to draw attention to a brand, researchers said.

Most of these advertisements are for snacks and candy.

Only 6 per cent of these children are aware that such advergames are advertisements.

Such games do affect their behaviour, said Frans Folkvord, from Radboud University in The Netherlands.

Folkvord tested the effects of such hidden online food advertisements on the eating behaviour of more than 1,000 children.

"In contrast to television, where the clearly delimited blocks of commercials can help viewers guard against temptation, on the internet, advertising is mixed with other types of content," said Folkvord.

"The websites of food manufacturers contain games, which also offer children the option of sharing games with their friends," he said.

Folkvord found that children do not recognise the games as advertisements, even when brand names and logos are clearly visible.

Moreover, it does not matter whether the games are about candy or fruit - children eat more candy after playing a game involving food.

During the five-minute break after playing the food-related games, children ate 72 more calories than did children in the control conditions.

Although Folkvord found no link between eating candy and having a higher BMI two years later, choosing the snack did have an effect.

The BMIs of children who chose to satisfy their hunger with an apple instead of with candy were lower two years later than were those of children who had chosen to satisfy their hunger with candy.

"These children had apparently learned to make healthier choices," Folkvord said.

"Children play a game, get hungry and reach for treats.

As the cycle continues, children fail to learn healthy eating behaviour," said Folkvord.

"The results of my study indicate that these advertisements have an even heavier influence on children who are already overweight," he said.

Dec 19
High fat diet can combat schizophrenia
A diet high on fat but very low on carbohydrates which is generally favoured by body-builders may be effective in treating schizophrenia, new research has found.

Schizophrenia is a devastating, chronic mental illness that affects nearly one percent of people worldwide.

There is no cure and medications used to alleviate it and can produce side effects such as movement disorder, weight gain and cardiovascular disease.

The researchers discovered that feeding mice a ketogenic diet, which is high on fat but very low on carbohydrates (sugars), leads to fewer animal behaviours that resemble schizophrenia.

The ketogenic diet has been used since the 1920s to manage epilepsy in children and more recently as a weight loss diet preferred by some body builders.

The diet may work by providing alternative energy sources in the form of so-called ketone bodies (products of fat breakdown) and by helping to circumvent abnormally functioning cellular energy pathways in the brains of schizophrenics, said one of the researchers Zoltan Sarnyai from James Cook University in Queensland, Australia.

"Most of a person's energy would come from fat. So the diet would consist of butter, cheese, salmon, etc. Initially it would be used in addition to medication in an in-patient setting where the patient's diet could be controlled," Sarnyai explained.

The study also showed mice on a ketogenic diet weigh less and have lower blood glucose levels than mice fed a normal diet.

The findings were published online in the journal Schizophrenia Research.

Dec 18
Men with moustaches outnumber women in medical leadership
Men with moustaches significantly outnumber women in academic medical leadership positions in the US, says a study.

Thirteen percent of department leader positions at top academic medical institutions in the US are held by women, while nearly 20 percent are held by men with mustaches, the findings showed.

"The lack of women in leadership roles in medicine is well-documented, but despite the eccentricities of the study, our results show that even when you focus solely on men with mustaches - which are rare - women are still outnumbered across various specialties," said lead author Mackenzie Wehner from the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

The number of women in medicine has risen significantly in recent times. Almost 50 percent of US medical students are women, but the proportion of women in academic medicine is still low with only 21 percent full professors being women, the study pointed out.

The lack of women in leadership positions is a problem because of the "strong ethical argument for equality", the researchers said.

They analysed 1,018 medical department leaders by searching the institutional websites of the selected medical schools to identify leaders, such as the chair, chief or head of each specialty.

In the study, the number of women was compared to the number of men with moustaches in academic medical leadership positions.

The team looked at moustaches because these are rare, and wanted to see if women were even rarer. The team measured the proportion of women and men with moustaches across institutions and specialties.

Results showed that women accounted for 13 percent of department leader positions, while moustachioed men accounted for 19 percent of department leader positions.

Only five specialties had more than 20 percent women department leaders, and they were obstetrics and gynaecology, pediaetrics, dermatology, family medicine, and emergency medicine.

The study was published in the BMJ (British Medical Journal).

Dec 17
Slow chewing keeps childhood obesity at bay
You may want to ask your kids not to rush their meals as a new study has suggested that chewing slowly can help prevent excessive weight gain among children.

The University of California study found that waiting 30 seconds in between bites of food allows children to realize they're no longer hungry before they overeat, preventing excessive weight gain.

To lose weight, you need to stop eating. But it's not that simple for most people," said co-author Marcos Intaglietta. "So we decided to investigate how effective eating slowly would be."

The slow eating approach has the advantage of being sustainable over the long term, unlike most diets, because it doesn't require you to change what you eat on a daily basis, said co-author Geert Schmid-Schonbein. It doesn't deprive you of your favorite foods and it can be applied in any cultural and ethnic context.

"You can adopt this slow eating approach for yourself and keep it up for the rest of your life," Schmid-Schonbein said. "You can teach this approach to your children and they can teach it to their children in turn."

Researchers also instructed the student participants to drink a glass of water before each meal and avoid snacks in between meals. The approach was dubbed "Good Manners for a Healthy Future."

The study is published in the journal Pediatric Obesity.