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News on Health & Science

Exercise Radically Improves Brain Power

Exercise can keep your brain sharp as you age. A new study has shown that a program of exercise can, over the course of a year, increase the size of your hippocampus, a part of the brain key to memory and spatial navigation.

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The hippocampus often shrinks in late adulthood, leading to memory impairment.

According to the Los Angeles Times:
“To complete the study, the team recruited 120 older people who didn’t exercise regularly. Half were randomly assigned to an aerobic exercise program … The group doing aerobic exercise had increases in hippocampus volume: up 2.12 percent in the left hippocampus, and 1.97 percent in the right hippocampus.”

Regular exercise can also improve the ability of overweight children to think, plan and even do math, according to other recent research. MRIs have shown that previously inactive children who start to exercise experience increased brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, an area associated with complex thinking, decision making and correct social behavior.

The more they exercise, the better the result.

Eurekalert reports:
“Intelligence scores increased an average 3.8 points in those exercising 40 minutes per day after school for three months with a smaller benefit in those exercising 20 minutes daily.  Activity in the part of their brain responsible for so-called executive function also increased in children who exercised … Similar improvements were seen in math skills”.

Resources:
*Los Angeles Times January 31, 2011

*Wall Street Journal February 22, 2011

*Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

*Eurekalert February 18, 2011

*Georgia Health Science News

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Health Alert News on Health & Science

An Increase in Leptin Could Promote Colorectal Cancer

While researchers have known that obesity increases the risk for the development of colon cancer, the underlying molecular mechanisms have remained unclear.
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Now, for the first time, researchers have found that an increase in leptin, a cytokine that is normally increased in obese or overweight individuals, may promote colorectal neoplasms by activating colorectal cancer stem cells.

Cancer stem cells constitute a small subfraction of tumor cells that are characterized by long lifespan and capacity for self-renewal, and are responsible for tumor development, resistance to treatments and cancer recurrence. In colon cancer, leptin is able to increase the growth, survival, and resistance to certain chemotherapy treatments in this key cell population.

Leptin, a fat tissue-derived pluripotent cytokine regulating appetite and energy balance in the brain, also controls many physiological and pathological processes in peripheral organs, including carcinogenesis.

Colon cancer has increased in developed countries, possibly due to sedentary lifestyles and high caloric diets. Prior research has linked obesity to colorectal cancer risk by .4-1.0 fold in men and up to 2.0 fold in premenopausal women.

“Since targeting cancer stem cells may be a translationally relevant strategy to improve clinical outcomes, interfering with leptin signaling by targeting leptin receptors might become a novel attractive option for colorectal cancer treatment, particularly in obese patients,” says senior author of the study, Eva Surmacz.

“It is important to consider that cancer stem cells have been identified in several human malignancies,” says Monica Bartucci, study co-author. “Understanding how cancer stem cells interact with a tumor environment, including hormones like leptin, is likely to have significant implications for treatment management of different cancer types in human patients. We hope, in collaboration with Dr. Surmacz, not only to test the effects of leptin antagonist compounds on colon cancer stem cells but also to study the results of leptin stimulation on cancer stem cells isolated in other cancer tissues.”

Source: Elements4Health

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Health & Fitness

Memory Loss Can be Reversed — Just Do THIS

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Moderate physical activity performed in midlife or later appears to be associated with a reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment — and a six-month high-intensity aerobic exercise program can improve cognitive function in individuals who already have the condition.
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Each year, 10 percent to 15 percent of individuals with mild cognitive impairment will develop dementia, as compared with 1 percent to 2 percent of the general population.

Physical exercise may protect against mild cognitive impairment by means of the production of nerve-protecting compounds, greater blood flow to the brain, improved development and survival of neurons and the decreased risk of heart and blood vessel diseases.

Rources:
Eurekalert January 11, 2010
Archives of Neurology January 2010;67(1):71-9
Archives of Neurology January 2010;67(1):80-6

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Positive thinking

Fearlessness Can be Taught

The brain can produce antidepressants with the right signal, a finding that suggests that meditating, or going to your “happy place,” tru ly works, scientists reported .

Mice, who were forced to swim endlessly until they surrendered and just floated, waiting to drown, could be conditioned to regain their will to live when a tone they associated with safety was played.

The experiment suggests that there are good ways to teach people this skill, and points to new routes for developing better antidepressants, said Dr Eric Kandel of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Columbia University in New York, who led the research.

“The happy place works. This is like going to the country,” Kandel said in a telephone interview.

Writing in the journal Neuron, Kandel’s team said they used classical conditioning to train mice. They had already conditioned some mice to fear a neutral tone by playing the sound when they shocked the animals’ paws. After a while, the tone itself creates fear. “It scares the hell out of the animal,” Kandel said.

They decided to reverse the study — they played the tone when they were not shocking the mice. “It learned that the only time it was really safe is when the tone comes on,” Kandel said.

To make a mouse depressed, they used a method favored by drug companies called learned helplessness. “You put an animal into a pool of water and it can’t get out. It gives up and it stops swimming and it just floats,” Kandel said. “When you give the animal an antidepressant, it starts swimming again. When we played the tone, it started to swim again just as it did with the antidepressant.”

Further experiments showed the tone and an antidepressant drug worked synergistically, he said. When they looked at the brains of their mice, they saw using the conditioned “safety” tone activated a different pathway than the drugs did.

It affected dopamine, while antidepressants work on serotonin. Both are message-carrying molecules called neurotransmitters. The conditioning also affected a compound called brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF —which helps nourish and encourages the growth of brain cells. The learned safety did not affect serotonin.
Mice conditioned by the “safety” tone also had more newborn brain cells in the dentate gyrus, a part of the brain linked with learning and depression.

When Kandel’s team used radiation to slow the birth of new cells in the dentate gyrus, the effects of learned safety and of antidepressants were blunted.

Kandel noted that antidepressant drugs appear to work, in part, by encouraging the growth of new brain cells — as does psychotherapy.

“Learning involves alterations in the brain and gene expression,” Kandel said. “Psychotherapy is only a form of learning.”

This shows how effective psychotherapy, meditation and other stress-reduction tools may be, and it could help in the design of new drugs, Kandel said. “This opens up new pathways that may profitable,” he said.

Sources: The Times Of India

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