Tag Archives: Medical News Today

Mushrooms may help to slow aging – MNT

It’s always gratifying to run across information that may indicate an ally in the battle of aging in which we are all engaged. Medical News Today reports on what I would have thought to be an unlikely ally – the mushroom.

A new study published in the journal Food Chemistry suggests that certain mushrooms contain two antioxidants thought to improve healthspan and stave off aging.

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The new research was led by Robert Beelman, professor emeritus of food science and director of the Pennsylvania State University Center for Plant and Mushroom Products for Health in State College. Michael D. Kalaras, a postdoctoral assistant in food science, is the first author of the paper.

Researchers were already aware that mushrooms are “the highest source” of an antioxidant called ergothioneine, but little was known about glutathione, another major antioxidant.

Additionally, levels of antioxidants vary across different species of mushroom, so the researchers wanted to know which species had the most of these two chemicals.

The new findings are significant in the context of the so-called free radical theory of aging. As Prof. Beelman explains, “[The theory] has been around for a long time [and it] says when we oxidize our food to produce energy there’s a number of free radicals that are produced that are side products of that action and many of these are quite toxic.” Continue reading

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Do daydreamers have more efficient brains? – MNT

Must confess I have had a problem with daydreaming in my youth, particularly in school. So, this news from Medical News Today gave me something I could throw back at those teachers who chided me as a child.

Daydreaming is often associated with a reduced capacity to focus on a task at hand, and people who allow their minds to wander may be regarded as uninvolved, or as having “their head in the clouds.”

One study found that people’s minds tend to wander for almost half of their waking day, and the researchers behind it suggested that daydreaming could render us unhappy as our thoughts tend to drift toward negative scenarios.

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Yet could people who daydream more than most actually have an advantage?

New research led by Dr. Eric Schumacher and doctoral student Christine Godwin, from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, seems to indicate that daydreamers have very active brains, and that they may be more intelligent and creative than the average person.

“People with efficient brains,” explains Dr. Schumacher, “may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering.”

The study’s findings were recently published in the journal Neuropsychologia.

Cognitive ability and DMN connectivity

The default mode network (DMN) of the brain — that is, the neural connectivity that is visibly active even when the brain is otherwise at rest — has previously been linked to daydreaming.

In the new study, the researchers were interested in finding out whether the particular dynamics of the DMN in daydreamers, and this network’s communication with other parts of the brain during mind wandering, correlated with heightened cognitive abilities.

Dr. Schumacher and his team worked with 112 participants who were subjected both to MRI scans and to tests targeting cognitive performance.

During the scan, the participants were asked to look at a fixed point for 5 minutes, during which time the researchers monitored their DMN activity. They also investigated how DMN activity correlated with other brain regions in a resting state.

“The correlated brain regions gave us insight about which areas of the brain work together during an awake, resting state,” says Godwin.

This was important, she added, because “research has suggested that these same brain patterns measured during these states are related to different cognitive abilities.”

The data from the MRI scans were paired with information derived from tasks aimed to measure the participants’ intellectual abilities and creativity. They were asked to respond to a mind wandering questionnaire.

It was found that participants who said that they spent a lot of time daydreaming performed better in the cognitive tasks. Their MRI scans also showed heightened activity in regions connected with learning and memory.

The scans confirmed that DMN activity was tied to mind wandering. Daydreaming also correlated with connectivity between the DMN and the frontoparietal control network of the brain, which has been associated with cognitive control, or adaptability to different situations, and working memory.

Efficient brains and wandering attention

Dr. Schumacher says that these findings suggest that daydreaming may not deserve the stigma attached to it, after all.

“People tend to think of mind wandering as something that is bad. You try to pay attention and you can’t. Our data are consistent with the idea that this isn’t always true. Some people have more efficient brains.” Dr. Eric Schumacher

He adds that daydreamers with a heightened cognitive performance will most likely be able to tune themselves out of discussions or presentations without, in fact, losing the thread of the argument.

“Our findings remind me of the absent-minded professor — someone who’s brilliant, but off in his or her own world, sometimes oblivious to their own surroundings,” says Dr. Schumacher.

“Or,” he adds, “school children who are too intellectually advanced for their classes. While it may take 5 minutes for their friends to learn something new, they figure it out in a minute, then check out and start daydreaming.”

However, the researchers think that more studies are needed to investigate both the positive and potentially negative aspects of daydreaming.

“There are important individual differences to consider as well, such as a person’s motivation or intent to stay focused on a particular task,” Godwin concludes.

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Manuka honey: Is it really a superfood? – MNT

Honey has been used to treat wounds since ancient times, as detailed in a document dating back to 1392. It was believed to help in the fight against infection, but the practice fell out of favor with the advent of antibiotics.

I have been a fan of honey for over 50 years. It was one of the first ‘health foods’ I got into in one of my earliest forays into eating well. So, I was aware of many of its healthy properties. Nonetheless, this information about Manuka honey from Medical News Today was news to me.

As we face the challenge of a growing worldwide resistance to antibiotics, scientists are examining the properties and potential of honey.

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Qualities of Manuka honey

The leaves of the Manuka tree, also known as a tea tree, have been known for centuries among the indigenous tribes of New Zealand and southern Australia for their healing powers.

Bees that collect nectar from this tree make Manuka honey, which harbors some of healing properties.

All honey contains antimicrobial properties, but Manuka honey also contains non-hydrogen peroxide, which gives it an even greater antibacterial power.

Some studies have found Manuka honey can also help to boost production of the growth factors white blood cells need to fight infection and to heal tissue.

Manuka honey contains a number of natural chemicals that make it different: Continue reading

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Chocolate may improve cognitive function within hours – Study

Here is some good news for chocolate lovers. Researchers have found that cocoa flavanols could boost cognitive function within just a few hours of consumption. Perhaps the best news is that elderly adults reaped the best benefits.

Additionally, researchers found that regular, long-term intake of cocoa flavanols may protect against cognitive decline.

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Writing in Medical News Today, Honor Whiteman reported flavanols are naturally occurring compounds found in various types of plants, with some of the highest levels found in the beans of the cocoa tree.

Continue reading

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Filed under aging, aging brain, brain, brain function, brain health, chocolate, Medical News Today

Baby Boomers Charging into Senior Citizen Rank

Regular readers know that I am a retired newsman. I worked for 20 years for Reuters News Service and spent a year in the home office on London’s Fleet Street. During years of writing the news I was often surprised to learn that ‘news’ was not necessarily something that just happened. Often a discovery would be made of something that occurred long ago, but just came to light. My years in the news business taught me that anything that people weren’t currently aware of was – news.

With that in mind I confess that I have just come to the realization that the baby boomers are fast becoming senior citizens. I just ran across a page in Pew Research Center about boomers that blew me away. The page was dated December 29, 2010, hardly news it would seem. What I learned was that roughly 10,000 baby boomers turned 65 on that day and that another 10,000 would turn 65 every day through 2030. The world is experiencing a silver tsunami. That was news to me.

A silver-haired tsunami of 10,000 baby boomers a day for 30 years is coming

We are in the midst of a silver-haired tsunami of 10,000 baby boomers a day for 30 years

Here are some more of the figures from the Pew page published at the end of 2010, “Currently, just 13% of Americans are ages 65 and older. By 2030, when all members of the Baby Boom generation have reached that age, fully 18% of the nation will be at least that age, according to Pew Research Center population projections. But don’t tell Baby Boomers that they are old. The typical Boomer believes that old age does not begin until age 72, according to a 2009 Pew Research survey. Also, while about half of all adults say they feel younger than their actual age, fully 61% of Boomers are feeling more spry than their age would imply. In fact, the typical Boomer feels nine years younger than his or her chronological age.”

I am actually a pre-baby-boomer having been born in 1940, so I am fully into the senior citizen experience, for better or for worse. Unfortunately, being over age 65 can be tough on a person who hasn’t taken care of him/herself for whatever reason.

I have written much about the scourge of obesity on the population.

Medical News Today reports that loneliness has an almost equal impact on early death as obesity among seniors. That was a piece of stunning news to me.

MNT quoted John Cacioppo, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, saying that he found dramatic differences in the rate of decline in physical and mental health between lonely and socially engaged older people.

“The physical and mental resilience of older people who have satisfying relationships is much stronger than in lonely older people, Cacioppo says, as they are more able to “bounce back” from adversity.

At a TED talk in Des Moines Cacioppo expanded on that, “We think of loneliness as a sad condition but, for a social species, being on the social perimeter is not only sad—it’s dangerous,” he says. “The pain and averseness of loneliness, of feeling isolated from those around you, is also part of a biological early warning machinery to alert you to threats and damage to your social body, which you also need to survive and prosper.”

There are three core dimensions to healthy relationships, according to Cacioppo and his colleagues:

“Intimate connectedness” from having someone in your life who “affirms who you are”
•”Relational connectedness” from having mutually rewarding face-to-face contact with people
•”Collective connectedness” from feeling that you are part of a group “beyond individual existence.”

These three core dimensions reminded me of a post I did last August – What is the Value of hugging?

One of the great benefits of hugging stems from the release of a hormone, oxytocin, in the body which reduces blood pressure as well as stress and anxiety. “Partners in functional relationships have been found to have increased oxytocin levels. The hormone promotes bonding, social behavior and closeness between family members and couples.” Clearly, this would have very beneficial effects for seniors, as well as everyone else.

You can read the entire post at the link to learn further benefits of hugging and close physical contact.

So, if you are one of the newly-minted 65 year olds, welcome aboard. I hope you are able to pick up on Professor Cacioppo’s three core dimensions and enjoy a long full life. Some hugging wouldn’t hurt, either.

Tony

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