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Health Bulletin


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  1. #561
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    Re: Health Bulletin

    'Brain training' boosts working memory, but not intelligence

    Brain training games, apps and websites may strengthen your ability to hold information in mind, but they do not benefit the kind of intelligence that helps you reason and solve problems, according to a new study.

    "It is hard to spend any time on the web and not see an ad for a website that promises to train your brain, fix your attention, and increase your IQ," said psychological scientist and lead researcher Randall Engle of Georgia Institute of Technology.

    "These claims are particularly attractive to parents of children who are struggling in school," Engle said.

    According to Engle, the claims are based on evidence that shows a strong correlation between working memory capacity (WMC) and general fluid intelligence.

    Working memory capacity refers to our ability to keep information either in mind or quickly retrievable, particularly in the presence of distraction.

    General fluid intelligence is the ability to infer relationships, do complex reasoning, and solve novel problems.

    The correlation between WMC and fluid intelligence has led some to surmise that increasing WMC should lead to an increase in both fluid intelligence, but "this assumes that the two constructs are the same thing, or that WMC is the basis for fluid intelligence," Engle noted.

    Engle and colleagues asked 55 undergraduate students to complete 20 days of training on certain cognitive tasks. The students were paid extra for improving their performance each day to ensure that they were engaged in the training.

    Students in the two experimental conditions trained on either complex span tasks, which have been consistently shown to be good measures of WMC, or simple span tasks.

    With the simple span tasks, the students were asked to recall items in the order they were presented; for complex span tasks, the students had to remember items while performing another task in between item presentations.

    A control group trained on a visual search task that, like the other tasks, became progressively harder each day.

    The results showed that only students who trained on complex span tasks showed transfer to other WMC tasks. None of the groups showed any training benefit on measures of fluid intelligence.

    "For over 100 years, psychologists have argued that general memory ability cannot be improved, that there is little or no generalisation of 'trained' tasks to 'untrained' tasks," said Tyler Harrison, graduate student and lead author of the paper.

    "So we were surprised to see evidence that new and untrained measures of working memory capacity may be improved with training on complex span tasks," Harrison said.

    The study was published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.


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    Re: Health Bulletin

    'Internal clock' in skin stem cells protects against UV rays

    Human skin stem cells possess an 'internal clock' which helps them switch on genes involved in UV protection during the day, scientists have found. The findings could pave the way for new strategies to prevent premature ageing and cancer in humans.

    "Our study shows that human skin stem cells possess an internal clock that allows them to very accurately know the time of day and helps them know when it is best to perform the correct function," said study author, Salvador Aznar Benitah, Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA) Research Professor.

    "This is important because it seems that tissues need an accurate internal clock to remain healthy," Benitah said.

    A variety of cells in our body have internal clocks that help them perform certain functions depending on the time of day, and skin cells as well as some stem cells exhibit circadian behaviours.

    Benitah and his collaborators previously found that animals lacking normal circadian rhythms in skin stem cells age prematurely, suggesting that these cyclical patterns can protect against cellular damage.

    But until now, it has not been clear how circadian rhythms affect the functions of human skin stem cells.

    To address this question, Benitah teamed up with his collaborators Luis Serrano and Ben Lehner of the Centre for Genomic Regulation.

    They found that distinct sets of genes in human skin stem cells show peak activity at different times of day.

    Genes involved in UV protection become most active during the daytime to guard these cells while they proliferate - that is, when they duplicate their DNA and are more susceptible to radiation-induced damage.

    "We know that the clock is gradually disrupted in aged mice and humans, and we know that preventing stem cells from accurately knowing the time of the day reduces their regenerative capacity," Benitah said.

    "Our current efforts lie in trying to identify the causes underlying the disruption of the clock of human skin stem cells and hopefully find means to prevent or delay it," Benitah said.

    The study was published by Cell Press in the journal Cell Stem Cell.


  3. #563
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    Re: Health Bulletin

    Yoga can cure early stage heart disease, diabetes: Study

    Can yoga be a cure for early stage diabetes and heart disease? The results of a year-long study, published in the latest issue of the Journal of Yoga and Physical Therapy suggests so.

    In this study, conducted at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, 100 patients at risk for coronary heart disease and type-II diabetes were divided into two groups - one of them was prescribed conventional lifestyle modification such as exercise, diet and smoking cessation while the other was prescribed yogic exercises in addition.

    "There was a significant reduction in body mass index (BMI), blood pressure and total cholesterol among others in both the groups. But when compared with the conventional lifestyle group, the yoga group had a significantly greater decrease in BMI, low density lipoprotein cholestrol (LDL) and increase in high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL)," said D S C Manchanda, the lead author of the study, and head of the cardiology department at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

    Manchanda said that mechanisms underlying regression of early arthrosclerosis - thickening of the artery wall - in metabolic syndrome was not clear though. "Control of several risk factors like hypertension, type-II diabetes mellitus lipids, reversal or preventive effects of both psychological and oxidative stress and reducing inflammation may be contributing factors," he added.

    On the basis of the study results, cardiologists say, yoga may be a cost effective technique to target multiple risk factors for heart disease and type-II diabetes prevention. "Though larger trials are required, it is suggested that yoga may be incorporated in the therapeutic lifestyle modifications for metabolic syndrome as well as coronary heart disease and type-II diabetes," Dr Manchanda said.

    Yogic exercises that have been shown to have positive impact include breathing exercises such as pranayamas and anulom-vilom - alternate nose breathing. Asanas like surya namaskar, tadasna and vajrasana have also been shown to have positive impact on patients.

    Non-communicable diseases, chiefly cardiovascular diseases , diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases, are the major cause of adult mortality and morbidity worldwide. "Most of the non-communicable diseases, for example diabetes or heart disease, affect the person in the productive years. It causes reduced productivity and early retirement. Also, it puts immense pressure on the public health expenditure as in most cases the treatment costs are higher compared to the communicable diseases. Preventive strategies such as yoga must be propagated for better health," said a senior doctor.


  4. #564
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    Re: Health Bulletin

    Soon, headache to become history

    Researchers have claimed that a device implanted in patients' heads has shown promising results towards curing headaches.

    About two years ago, doctors implanted a device on a patient's skull under the skin, CBS News reported.

    Now, whenever the patient feels a headache's symptoms, she activates a trigger using a magnet on a small control box implanted in her lower back.
    This activity sends an electric pulse along wires to a specific nerve in her brain.

    According to researchers, the electric stimulation of the nerve cut average headache intensity by more than 70 percent.


  5. #565
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    Re: Health Bulletin

    Coming soon: Drugs with fewer or no side effects

    Scientists have used cutting edge computer modelling to learn how the body reacts to different drug treatments, paving way for drugs with fewer or no side effects . Researchers from the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS) investigated alternative drug recognition sites on G proteincoupled receptors (GPCRs) — the largest and most important family of receptor proteins in the human body.

    GPCRs play a role in virtually every biological process and most diseases, including neuropsychiatric disorders , cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes, inflammation and cancer.

    Almost half of all current medications available use GPCRs to achieve their therapeutic effect.

    The new research into how GPCRs work at the molecular level has unlocked vital insights into how drugs interact with this therapeutically relevant receptor family.

    Professor Arthur Christopoulos from MIPS hopes the research would lead to the creation of drugs that are more targeted, and with fewer side effects. "This study has cracked the secret of how a new class of drug molecule, which we have been studying for some time now, actually binds to a GPCR and changes the protein's structure to achieve its unique molecular effect," Christopoulos said.


  6. #566
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    Re: Health Bulletin

    Now, pacemakers for brain, bladder and back

    Amrita Swani suffered debilitating pain for almost 8-10 years because of a severely osteoporotic back. "She used to be an active person, practising yoga, going for daily walks, handling household chores. But as the disease progressed, she could hardly stand straight for two minutes," says her daughter-in-law Harminder.


    Then, two years ago, Swani, a Mumbai resident, went in for a neurostimulator implant at Jaslok hospital. A 54mm x 54mm device, slightly smaller than a business card, was implanted near her spinal cord. Like a conventional pacemaker, it gives out mild electric signals which create a tingling sensation that masks the pain. Today, the intensity of the pain has halved. "Now she goes shopping and even to the local club," says Harminder.

    Pacemakers are usually associated with heart disease. They are implanted just under the skin of the chest and help maintain a regular heart beat and rhythm by sending out electric signals. Now, the technology — the application of electrical energy to nerves to elicit a response or deliver a therapy — is being used to treat a host of ailments. From chronic back pain and epilepsy to Parkinson's Disease (PD) and urinary incontinence, neuro-modulation (the technical term for the treatment) is bringing relief to many patients.

    Dr Sumit Singh, head of movement disorders and headache at Medanta Medicity in Gurgaon, has carried out 40 such implants in patients with advanced PD in the past two years. The device, also called a "brain pacemaker", is implanted below the collar bone. Its leads (or wires) connect to electrodes embedded in the brain. The device sends out electric signals that block the nerve impulses which cause tremors associated with the disease.

    The treatment, called deep brain stimulation, does not cure PD but it helps control its symptoms and enhance the effect of medication. "DBS brings down tremors by 90% to 95%. Slowness of movement and stiffness of limbs can be reduced by up to 70%," says Dr Singh , who was a key member of AIIMS' deep brain stimulation program set up in 2002.

    The results, however, vary from patient to patient. For example, in the case of 65-year-old Mumbai resident Shail Pandey, a neurostimulator led to a 30% reduction in symptoms.

    Pandey, who has been living with PD for more than 15 years, got the device implanted at NIMHANS Banglore in 2008. "Initially, the dependence on medicines decreased and so did the stiffness , but over time there has been deterioration," says Nalin, Pandey's son.

    Dr Preeti Doshi, a pain specialist with Jaslok hospital in Mumbai, has implanted 20 such devices in the past five years in patients with chronic pain. "We opt for an implant only after other treatments have failed," says Doshi, adding that neurostimulators are most commonly prescribed for chronic pain resulting from a spinal surgery. Last year, Dr Alok Gupta of Artemis hospital, Gurgaon, implanted a pacemaker in 33-year-old Shalini Arora, who had been epileptic since she was a toddler. "From having three-four seizures a week she's been practically seizure-free after the surgery," says Dr Gupta. Despite encouraging results, neuro-modulation has remained limited in its reach because of the steep costs involved. The devices are imported and cost Rs 6 lakh or more. Other drawbacks of the technology include technical complications, infection or a blood clot at the implant site.


  7. #567
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    Re: Health Bulletin

    Now, pacemakers for brain, bladder and back

    Amrita Swani suffered debilitating pain for almost 8-10 years because of a severely osteoporotic back. "She used to be an active person, practising yoga, going for daily walks, handling household chores. But as the disease progressed, she could hardly stand straight for two minutes," says her daughter-in-law Harminder.


    Then, two years ago, Swani, a Mumbai resident, went in for a neurostimulator implant at Jaslok hospital. A 54mm x 54mm device, slightly smaller than a business card, was implanted near her spinal cord. Like a conventional pacemaker, it gives out mild electric signals which create a tingling sensation that masks the pain. Today, the intensity of the pain has halved. "Now she goes shopping and even to the local club," says Harminder.

    Pacemakers are usually associated with heart disease. They are implanted just under the skin of the chest and help maintain a regular heart beat and rhythm by sending out electric signals. Now, the technology the application of electrical energy to nerves to elicit a response or deliver a therapy is being used to treat a host of ailments. From chronic back pain and epilepsy to Parkinson's Disease (PD) and urinary incontinence, neuro-modulation (the technical term for the treatment) is bringing relief to many patients.

    Dr Sumit Singh, head of movement disorders and headache at Medanta Medicity in Gurgaon, has carried out 40 such implants in patients with advanced PD in the past two years. The device, also called a "brain pacemaker", is implanted below the collar bone. Its leads (or wires) connect to electrodes embedded in the brain. The device sends out electric signals that block the nerve impulses which cause tremors associated with the disease.

    The treatment, called deep brain stimulation, does not cure PD but it helps control its symptoms and enhance the effect of medication. "DBS brings down tremors by 90% to 95%. Slowness of movement and stiffness of limbs can be reduced by up to 70%," says Dr Singh , who was a key member of AIIMS' deep brain stimulation program set up in 2002.

    The results, however, vary from patient to patient. For example, in the case of 65-year-old Mumbai resident Shail Pandey, a neurostimulator led to a 30% reduction in symptoms.

    Pandey, who has been living with PD for more than 15 years, got the device implanted at NIMHANS Banglore in 2008. "Initially, the dependence on medicines decreased and so did the stiffness , but over time there has been deterioration," says Nalin, Pandey's son.

    Dr Preeti Doshi, a pain specialist with Jaslok hospital in Mumbai, has implanted 20 such devices in the past five years in patients with chronic pain. "We opt for an implant only after other treatments have failed," says Doshi, adding that neurostimulators are most commonly prescribed for chronic pain resulting from a spinal surgery. Last year, Dr Alok Gupta of Artemis hospital, Gurgaon, implanted a pacemaker in 33-year-old Shalini Arora, who had been epileptic since she was a toddler. "From having three-four seizures a week she's been practically seizure-free after the surgery," says Dr Gupta. Despite encouraging results, neuro-modulation has remained limited in its reach because of the steep costs involved. The devices are imported and cost Rs 6 lakh or more. Other drawbacks of the technology include technical complications, infection or a blood clot at the implant site.


  8. #568
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    Re: Health Bulletin

    Way to suppress appetite found

    Scientists have used genetic engineering to identify a population of neurons that tell the brain to shut off appetite. Researchers have also identified neurons in other brain regions that can stimulate the appetite of mice that are not hungry, paving way for therapies that promote or decrease appetite.

    To identify these neurons, or cells that process and transmit information in the brain, researchers at the University of Washington first considered what makes an animal lose its appetite. There are a number of natural reasons, including infection, nausea , pain or simply having eaten too much already.

    Nerves within the gut that are distressed or insulted send information to the brain through the vagus nerve.

    Appetite is suppressed when these messages activate specific neurons - ones that contain CGRP, (calcitonin gene-related peptide) in a region of the brain called the parabrachial nucleus . In mouse trials, researchers used genetic techniques and viruses to introduce light-activatable proteins into CGRP neurons.

    Activation of these proteins excites the cells to transmit chemical signals to other regions of the brain.

    When they activated the CGRP neurons with a laser, the hungry mice immediately lost their appetite and walked away from their liquid diet (Ensure); when the laser was turned off, the mice resumed drinking the liquid diet. "These results demonstrate that activation of the CGRP-expressing neurons regulates appetite. This is a nice example of how the brain responds to unfavourable conditions in the body, such as nausea caused by food poisoning," said Richard Palmiter , UW professor of biochemistry and investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

    Using a similar approach, neurons in other brain regions have been identified that can stimulate the appetite of mice that are not hungry.

    Researchers hope to identify the complete neural circuit in the brain that regulates feeding behaviour.


  9. #569
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    Re: Health Bulletin

    Taste in music changes with age

    Our taste in music alters — softens even — as we get older, according to a new Cambridge study.

    The music we like adapts to the particular 'life challenges' we face at different stages of our lives, researchers have found. The study is the first to "comprehensively document" the ways people engage with music "from adolescence to middle age" , researchers said.

    Using data gathered from more than a quarter of a million people over a ten year period, researchers divided musical genres into five broad, "empirically derived" categories they call the MUSIC model - mellow, unpretentious, sophisticated , intense, contemporary — and plotted the patterns of preference across age-groups .

    The study found that the first great musical age is adolescence — defined by a short, sharp burst of 'intense' and the start of a steady climb of 'contemporary' . 'Intense' music — such as punk and metal — peaks in adolescence and declines in early adulthood, while 'contemporary' music — such as pop and rap — begins a rise that plateaus until early middle age.

    "Teenage years are often dominated by the need to establish identity , and music is a cheap, effective way to do this," said Dr Jason Rentfrow , senior researcher on the study. "' Intense' music, seen as aggressive , tense and characterized by loud, distorted sounds has the rebellious connotations that allow adolescents to stake a claim for the autonomy that is one of this period's key 'life challenges' ," Rentfrow said.

    "As 'intense' gives way to the rising tide of 'contemporary' and introduction of 'mellow' — such as electronic and R & B — in early adulthood, the next musical age emerges," researchers write in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

    "These two "preference dimensions" are considered "romantic, emotionally positive and danceable ," they said.


  10. #570
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    Re: Health Bulletin

    Taste in music changes with age

    Our taste in music alters softens even as we get older, according to a new Cambridge study.

    The music we like adapts to the particular 'life challenges' we face at different stages of our lives, researchers have found. The study is the first to "comprehensively document" the ways people engage with music "from adolescence to middle age" , researchers said.

    Using data gathered from more than a quarter of a million people over a ten year period, researchers divided musical genres into five broad, "empirically derived" categories they call the MUSIC model - mellow, unpretentious, sophisticated , intense, contemporary and plotted the patterns of preference across age-groups .

    The study found that the first great musical age is adolescence defined by a short, sharp burst of 'intense' and the start of a steady climb of 'contemporary' . 'Intense' music such as punk and metal peaks in adolescence and declines in early adulthood, while 'contemporary' music such as pop and rap begins a rise that plateaus until early middle age.

    "Teenage years are often dominated by the need to establish identity , and music is a cheap, effective way to do this," said Dr Jason Rentfrow , senior researcher on the study. "' Intense' music, seen as aggressive , tense and characterized by loud, distorted sounds has the rebellious connotations that allow adolescents to stake a claim for the autonomy that is one of this period's key 'life challenges' ," Rentfrow said.

    "As 'intense' gives way to the rising tide of 'contemporary' and introduction of 'mellow' such as electronic and R & B in early adulthood, the next musical age emerges," researchers write in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

    "These two "preference dimensions" are considered "romantic, emotionally positive and danceable ," they said.


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