Saturday, April 28, 2018

Dark chocolate consumption reduces stress and inflammation


Data represent first human trials examining the impact of dark chocolate consumption on cognition and other brain functions

Date:
April 24, 2018
Source:
Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center
Summary:
Findings from two new studies show dark chocolate consumption reduces stress and inflammation, while improving memory, immunity and mood.
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FULL STORY

Research shows there might be health benefits to eating certain types of dark chocolate.
Credit: LLU Health
New research shows there might be health benefits to eating certain types of dark chocolate. Findings from two studies being presented today at the Experimental Biology 2018 annual meeting in San Diego show that consuming dark chocolate that has a high concentration of cacao (minimally 70% cacao, 30% organic cane sugar) has positive effects on stress levels, inflammation, mood, memory and immunity. While it is well known that cacao is a major source of flavonoids, this is the first time the effect has been studied in human subjects to determine how it can support cognitive, endocrine and cardiovascular health.
Learn about your brain, here.
"For years, we have looked at the influence of dark chocolate on neurological functions from the standpoint of sugar content -- the more sugar, the happier we are," Berk said. "This is the first time that we have looked at the impact of large amounts of cacao in doses as small as a regular-sized chocolate bar in humans over short or long periods of time, and are encouraged by the findings. These studies show us that the higher the concentration of cacao, the more positive the impact on cognition, memory, mood, immunity and other beneficial effects."
The flavonoids found in cacao are extremely potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, with known mechanisms beneficial for brain and cardiovascular health. The following results will be presented in live poster sessions during the Experimental Biology 2018 meeting.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Barbara Bush: Advocate for literacy and the brain

Former First Lady Barbara Bush, who died on Tuesday, was a strong advocate for reading and literacy. During her time at the White House, Mrs. Bush encouraged reading and writing among Americans. In 1989, she founded the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. The foundation started a new children’s program, My Home Library,” last year, but campaigned to increase the literacy rate of adults as well. Reading is crucial to learning and educational achievement. Reading profoundly supports brain health, through all stages of life. To honor Mrs. Bush’s legacy, we present the following article, “The Reading Brain: How Your Brain Helps You Read, and Why it Matters.”


Adapted from The Reading Brain: How Your Brain Helps You Read, and Why it Matters
by Martha Burns, Ph.D


If you’re reading this, you’re probably an accomplished reader. In fact, you’ve most likely forgotten by now how much work it took you to learn to read in the first place. And you probably never think about what is happening in your brain when you’re reading that email from your boss or this month’s book club selection.

And yet, there’s nothing that plays a greater role in learning to read than a reading-ready brain.

As complex a task as reading is, thanks to developments in neuroscience and technology we are now able to target key learning centers in the brain and identify the areas and neural pathways the brain employs for reading. We not only understand why strong readers read well and struggling readers struggle, but we are also able to assist every kind of reader on the journey from early language acquisition to reading and comprehension—a journey that happens in the brain.


Read about your brain!


We begin to develop the language skills required for reading right from the first gurgles we make as babies. The sounds we encounter in our immediate environment as infants set language acquisition skills in motion, readying the brain for the structure of language-based communication, including reading.

Every time a baby hears speech, the brain is learning the rules of language that generalize, later, to reading.  Even a simple nursery rhyme can help a baby's brain begin to make sound differentiations and create phonemic awareness, an essential building block for reading readiness. By the time a child is ready to read effectively, the brain has done a lot of work coordinating sounds to language, and is fully prepared to coordinate language to reading, and reading to comprehension.

The reading brain can be likened to the real-time collaborative effort of a symphony orchestra, with various parts of the brain working together, like sections of instruments, to maximize our ability to decode the written text in front of us.
….
It’s never too early to set a child on the pathway to becoming a strong reader. And it’s never too late to help a struggling reader strengthen his or her brain to read more successfully and with greater enjoyment.










Tuesday, April 10, 2018

April Is Autism Awareness Month: Part II: Causes

Causes and Risk Factors

While scientists don’t know the exact causes of ASD, research suggests that genes can act together with influences from the environment to affect development in ways that lead to ASD. Although scientists are still trying to understand why some people develop ASD and others don’t, some risk factors include:
  • Having a sibling with ASD
  • Having older parents
  • Having certain genetic conditions—people with conditions such as Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, and Rett syndrome are more likely than others to have ASD
  • Very low birth weight

Diagnosing ASD

Doctors diagnose ASD by looking at a person’s behavior and development. ASD can usually be reliably diagnosed by the age of two. It is important for those with concerns to seek out assessment as soon as possible so that a diagnosis can be made, and treatment can begin.

Diagnosis in Young Children

Diagnosis in young children is often a two-stage process.

Stage 1: General Developmental Screening During Well-Child Checkups

Every child should receive well-child check-ups with a pediatrician or an early childhood health care provider. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for developmental delays at their 9-, 18-, and 24- or 30-month well-child visits and specifically for autism at their 18- and 24-month well-child visits. Additional screening might be needed if a child is at high risk for ASD or developmental problems. Those at high risk include children who have a family member with ASD, have some ASD behaviors, have older parents, have certain genetic conditions, or who were born at a very low birth weight.
Get the basics of the brain, in easy-to-read language.

Parents’ experiences and concerns are very important in the screening process for young children. Sometimes the doctor will ask parents questions about the child’s behaviors and combine those answers with information from ASD screening tools, and with his or her observations of the child. Read more about screening instruments on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
Children who show developmental problems during this screening process will be referred for a second stage of evaluation.

Stage 2: Additional Evaluation

This second evaluation is with a team of doctors and other health professionals who are experienced in diagnosing ASD.
This team may include:
  • A developmental pediatrician—a doctor who has special training in child development
  • A child psychologist and/or child psychiatrist—a doctor who has specialized training in brain development and behavior
  • A neuropsychologist—a doctor who focuses on evaluating, diagnosing, and treating neurological, medical, and neurodevelopmental disorders
  • A speech-language pathologist—a health professional who has special training in communication difficulties
The evaluation may assess:
  • Cognitive level or thinking skills
  • Language abilities
  • Age-appropriate skills needed to complete daily activities independently, such as eating, dressing, and toileting
Because ASD is a complex disorder that sometimes occurs along with other illnesses or learning disorders, the comprehensive evaluation may include:
  • Blood tests
  • Hearing test
The outcome of the evaluation will result in a formal diagnosis and recommendations for treatment.
Source: NIH

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

April Is Autism Awareness Month. Understanding the basics, Pt.1.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is said to be a “developmental disorder” because symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life.


According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a guide created by the American Psychiatric Association used to diagnose mental disorders, people with ASD have:
  • Difficulty with communication and interaction with other people
  • Restricted interests and repetitive behaviors
  • Symptoms that hurt the person’s ability to function properly in school, work, and other areas of life
Autism is known as a “spectrum” disorder because there is wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms people experience. ASD occurs in all ethnic, racial, and economic groups. Although ASD can be a lifelong disorder, treatments and services can improve a person’s symptoms and ability to function. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for autism. All caregivers should talk to their doctor about ASD screening or evaluation.

Signs and Symptoms of ASD

People with ASD have difficulty with social communication and interaction, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviors. The list below gives some examples of the types of behaviors that are seen in people diagnosed with ASD. Not all people with ASD will show all behaviors, but most will show several.

Learn about the developing brain, in easy-to-read language. 

Social communication / interaction behaviors may include:
  • Making little or inconsistent eye contact

  • Tending not to look at or listen to people

  • Rarely sharing enjoyment of objects or activities by pointing or showing things to others

  • Failing to, or being slow to, respond to someone calling their name or to other verbal attempts to gain attention

  • Having difficulties with the back and forth of conversation

  • Often talking at length about a favorite subject without noticing that others are not interested or without giving others a chance to respond

  • Having facial expressions, movements, and gestures that do not match what is being said

  • Having an unusual tone of voice that may sound sing-song or flat and robot-like
  • Having trouble understanding another person’s point of view or being unable to predict or understand other people’s actions

Restrictive / repetitive behaviors may include:

  • Repeating certain behaviors or having unusual behaviors. For example, repeating words or phrases, a behavior called echolalia

  • Having a lasting intense interest in certain topics, such as numbers, details, or facts

  • Having overly focused interests, such as with moving objects or parts of objects

  • Getting upset by slight changes in a routine

  • Being more or less sensitive than other people to sensory input, such as light, noise, clothing, or temperature
People with ASD may also experience sleep problems and irritability. Although people with ASD experience many challenges, they may also have many strengths, including:
  • Being able to learn things in detail and remember information for long periods of time

  • Being strong visual and auditory learners

  • Excelling in math, science, music, or art

Causes and Risk Factors

While scientists don’t know the exact causes of ASD, research suggests that genes can act together with influences from the environment to affect development in ways that lead to ASD. Although scientists are still trying to understand why some people develop ASD and others don’t, some risk factors include:
  • Having a sibling with ASD
  • Having older parents
  • Having certain genetic conditions—people with conditions such as Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, and Rett syndrome are more likely than others to have ASD
  • Very low birth weight

Diagnosing ASD

Doctors diagnose ASD by looking at a person’s behavior and development. ASD can usually be reliably diagnosed by the age of two. It is important for those with concerns to seek out assessment as soon as possible so that a diagnosis can be made, and treatment can begin.

Diagnosis in Young Children

Diagnosis in young children is often a two-stage process.

Stage 1: General Developmental Screening During Well-Child Checkups

Every child should receive well-child check-ups with a pediatrician or an early childhood health care provider. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for developmental delays at their 9-, 18-, and 24- or 30-month well-child visits and specifically for autism at their 18- and 24-month well-child visits. Additional screening might be needed if a child is at high risk for ASD or developmental problems. Those at high risk include children who have a family member with ASD, have some ASD behaviors, have older parents, have certain genetic conditions, or who were born at a very low birth weight.
Parents’ experiences and concerns are very important in the screening process for young children. Sometimes the doctor will ask parents questions about the child’s behaviors and combine those answers with information from ASD screening tools, and with his or her observations of the child. Read more about screening instruments on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
Children who show developmental problems during this screening process will be referred for a second stage of evaluation.

Stage 2: Additional Evaluation

This second evaluation is with a team of doctors and other health professionals who are experienced in diagnosing ASD.
This team may include:
  • A developmental pediatrician—a doctor who has special training in child development
  • A child psychologist and/or child psychiatrist—a doctor who has specialized training in brain development and behavior
  • A neuropsychologist—a doctor who focuses on evaluating, diagnosing, and treating neurological, medical, and neurodevelopmental disorders
  • A speech-language pathologist—a health professional who has special training in communication difficulties
The evaluation may assess:
  • Cognitive level or thinking skills
  • Language abilities
  • Age-appropriate skills needed to complete daily activities independently, such as eating, dressing, and toileting
Because ASD is a complex disorder that sometimes occurs along with other illnesses or learning disorders, the comprehensive evaluation may include:
  • Blood tests
  • Hearing test
The outcome of the evaluation will result in a formal diagnosis and recommendations for treatment.

Source: NIH