Monthly Archives: March 2017

Do not Believe Spin Swimmers Fidget Has No Benefits at all

Fidget spinners may be fun toys, but there is no science behind claims that they help kids with attention and focus, according to a new review article.

The review, which was published July 7 in the journal Current Opinion in Pediatrics, found that no research had specifically focused on the impact of these hot new toys on thinking, attention or recall. Furthermore, there are zero peer-reviwed studies on any aspect of fidget spinners, the researchers found. Without that research, claims made by manufacturers about such links are baseless.

“There’s no science behind the idea that they increase attention,” said study co-author Dr. Ruth Milanaik, director of the neonatal follow-up program at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York. “We have to view it as what it is: It’s a toy, a fun toy.” [How Fidget Spinners Work: It’s All About the Physics]

Some of the companies marketing fidget spinners, or small, ball-bearing-filled plastic toys that spin when you rotate them, claim the toys can increase attention for those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or calm symptoms of autism or anxiety. For instance, the claims the toys are great for anxiety, focusing, ADHD and autism, in addition to quitting bad habits and staying awake. [Why Fidget Spinners Are So Hot (And Where to Buy Them)]

To see whether any of these marketing claims had basis in fact, Milanaik and her colleagues looked through the available literature to find studies on fidget spinners. It turned out, there is no scientific evidence supporting these marketing claims, Milanaik and her colleagues reported in the current review paper. That could be because the gadgets don’t benefit a kid’s focus, or because nobody has done a substantial enough study on the claims.

Some limited studies do show benefits to fidgeting in children with ADHD. For instance, in a small study published in 1995 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that boys with ADHD who can squirm and fidget instead of sitting still show greater attention to a task; however, the same benefit was not shown for children who did not haveADHD. A 2016 study monitored children’s activity via an ankle bracelet and found that children with ADHD tended to do better on attention tasks when they could fidget.

When it comes to fidget toys, one study found that children who used stress balls, which are squishy foam balls, reported better attention in class and improved performance. Still other work shows that fidgeting and movement releases norepinephrine and dopamine, the same brain chemicals that are stimulated by ADHD medications. In addition, some evidence suggests that certain types of self-regulation toys can incentivize children with autism to complete tasks at school, the study found.

However, there were no studies that specifically looked at the effects of fidget spinners on attention, the review found. And no two distraction-aid toys are alike, so extrapolating from studies that used different toys can be dicey.

“The concept of using therapy putty might be different from using a squish ball might be different from the concept of using a fidget spinner,” Milanaik told Live Science.

To measure attention, researchers often give children simple tasks, such as adding or subtracting small numbers, and then count how many they complete (and complete correctly) either with or without the toys, Milanaik said. Studies may also assess listening and recall by asking people to repeat back a series of numbers either with or without the toys, she added. Milanaik’s group is currently assessing the role of “therapy putty” on attention, though they likely won’t have results for several months.

Parents who believe fidget spinners have attentional benefits for their kids should feel free to experiment with their child while they’re at home, doing homework or reading a book, Milanaik said.

But letting them enter the classroom is a different story. Most schools ban toys from classrooms, but some still allow children to bring in fidget spinners to address their sensory issues, the study found. But with no scientific evidence of their benefits, fidget spinners in the classroom could do more harm than good, the study noted.

For one, some fidget spinners come apart easily, and the ball bearings inside them can be choking hazards, she said.

Beyond that, one child’s attention aid could be another child’s annoying distraction, Milanaik said.

For instance, in research meetings, Milanaik has found that fidget spinners can distract group members.

“They make a spinning noise, we find it distracting when we have to work in a group — but we all like to use them,” Milanaik said.

And of course, any toy that enters the classroom could be the source of squabbling, bartering or other distracting behavior, which could undercut any potential attentional benefits, the review noted.

“A classroom is a wonderful group of children,” Milanaik said. “Some things that might be great for one child might be very distracting for another.”

Can Oxygen Therapy Really Reverse Damage to a Child’s Brain?

Two doctors claim to have used controversial oxygen treatments to reverse brain damage in a 2-year-old from Arkansas who nearly died by drowning in a cold swimming pool, but other experts are very skeptical of the claims the doctors made in their report of the case.

“I found the publication to be sufficiently suspect,” said Dr. Ian Miller, a pediatric neurologist and medical director of the comprehensive epilepsy program at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, who was not involved in the report. “I really worry that other people who read about this on the internet will think that this is a legitimate type of therapy” for people with brain damage, when there is no proof of this, Miller told Live Science.

In the new report, the authors describe the case of 2-year-old Eden Carlson, who fell into her family’s swimming pool last year and was submerged in 41-degree-Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) water, for about 15 minutes. In total, she spent 2 hours without a heartbeat, and was not expected to survive, her family said in a YouTube video. Doctors were able to revive her, but she had experienced brain damage. After a month in the hospital, she couldn’t speak, walk or respond to commands. An MRI showed she had damage to her brain’s gray and white matter.

Fifty-five days after the girl’s near-drowning, Dr. Paul Harch, clinical professor and director of hyperbaric medicine at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, began an oxygen treatment on the girl, giving her oxygen at the same air pressure as air at sea level for 45 minutes twice a day. After these treatments, Eden became more alert and started to speak and even laugh again, according to the case report. Then, 78 days after her near-drowning, the doctors gave Eden hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), which provides oxygen in a pressurized chamber. Harch co-owns a company that offers hyperbaric oxygen treatments. [The 10 Most Controversial Miracles]

After about 40 sessions of this therapy, Eden could walk again with assistance and had normal cognition, Harch’s report said. An MRI after the hyperbaric treatments showed a “near-complete reversal” of the brain damage, Harch and his co-authors said. The report was published in the July issue of the journal Medical Gas Research.

But other experts had serious concerns about the report, saying that the authors did not provide evidence that the oxygen treatments helped at all in Eden’s recovery. Rather, these experts said this type of recovery could happen without these specific oxygen treatments.

Miller said everyone can be grateful that Eden is doing so well. However, Miller said he found the report “to be really underwhelming in terms of its evidence.”

For example, Miller said, the report did not provide evidence that brain cell death occurred, or that these brain cells were “resurrected” by the oxygen treatment.

“There is just no way that providing oxygen to a dead brain cell makes the brain cell recover,” Miller said. “That’s not how the brain responds to injury and to oxygen once neurological death has occurred.”

Dr. David Cifu, professor and chairman of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, was similarly concerned about the paper.

“This proves nothing,” Cifu said. People can recover brain function after near drowning, he said, and “it has nothing to do with hyperbaric oxygen.”

Recovery can happen because of the brain’s plasticity, or flexibility, meaning that different brain areas can take over for those that have been damaged, Cifu said. Cifu has conducted rigorously designed studies, some for the military, on the use of hyperbaric oxygen treatment for people with traumatic brain injuries. In these studies, participants received either a hyperbaric oxygen treatment or a “sham” treatment that was not expected to have an effect. But both groups showed the same level of improvements in their symptoms, regardless of whether they received the real or sham treatment. The hyperbaric oxygen “just didn’t help the people” any better than the control-group treatment, he said.

In addition, Miller said Eden’s recovery may have been related to the temperature of the water when she was submerged. It’s known that people who have near-drowning experiences in cold water tend to have better outcomes than those in warmer water, because cold water can have a “protective” effect on the brain.

When Live Science reached out to Harch about these criticisms in an email, Harch said “the child made progressive accelerated neurological improvement with each week of HBOT. That neurological improvement can only be explained by improvement in brain function which is consistent with the regrowth of brain tissue. Spontaneous recovery and growth of tissue can possibly occur over time, but the child was not improving at this rate until the introduction of each of these therapies.”

Miller said a recovery over months is not unexpected in someone with a brain injury.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat certain conditions, including carbon monoxide poisoning, decompression sickness (often called “the bends” by divers) and burns caused by heat or fire.

Under the pressurized conditions of a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, the lungs can take in more oxygen than they would when breathing at normal air pressure. The increase of oxygen in the blood may improve the delivery of oxygen to tissues and help minimize cell injury, according to the FDA.

Studies on hyperbaric oxygen for treating brain injury have had mixed results, with some studies suggesting a benefit in the case of stroke patients, while other studies, like Cifu’s research, finding no effect.

Earlier this year, the FDA issued a warning to consumers that hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been promoted as a treatment for many conditions that it is not approved to treat. The FDA clarified that hyperbaric oxygen therapy is not approved to treat brain damage, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, diabetes or many other conditions for which it has been promoted.

How Brain’s ‘Helper Cells’ Could Contribute to Schizophrenia

Problems with the brain’s “helper cells” may contribute to schizophrenia, a new study in mice suggests.

The study focused on glial cells, which provide support for the neurons that do the “signaling” within the brain. For instance, glial cells help organize the connections among neurons and produce myelin, which acts as insulation around the brain’s nerve fibers.

To see if glial cells contribute to schizophrenia, the researchers first took samples of skin cells from people who developed schizophrenia in childhood, before age 13.

Then, the scientists used a technique to reprogram these skin cells to make them into cells called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which have the potential to become any cell type in the body. The researchers then manipulated the iPSCs so they turned into glial progenitor cells, or the cells in the body that give rise to glial cells. [10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Brain]

The researchers transplanted the glial progenitor cells into the brains of young mice. This resulted in “chimeric” mice, meaning they had regular mouse neurons but human glial progenitor cells.

The study showed that the glial cells from the people with schizophrenia were highly dysfunctional; for example, the cells did not give rise to enough myelin-producing cells, so transmission between neurons was impaired, the researchers said. In addition, a type of glial cells calledastrocytes did not mature properly and weren’t able to fully support the neurons.

The mice with these faulty cells also exhibited anti-social and anxious behaviors, similar to the behaviors seen in people with schizophrenia, the researchers said.

“The findings of this study argue that glial cell dysfunction may be the basis of childhood-onset schizophrenia,” Dr. Steve Goldman, co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

However, because the study was conducted in mice, more research is needed to determine if the same effects are also seen in humans.

But the authors said the chimeric mice that were developed in this study could be used in the future to test new treatments for schizophrenia, and thus speed up the process of finding new therapies for the disease. In addition, the study identified chemical imbalances that disrupt communication among brain cells, and these imbalances could be a target for new therapies, the authors said.

How Bacteria Gut Can Make Bad Effects Bad Can Change Their Evil Ways

Could the idea that there are “good” and “bad” bacteria be a false dichotomy? A study appearing today (July 21) in the journal Science Immunology suggests so.

In a study on mice, scientists found that a group of bacteria calledHelicobacter, long associated with ulcers, stomach cancer and intestinal distress, turned “bad” only when placed in a bad gut environment.

These bacteria triggered two very different kinds of immune-system responses, depending on the health of the mice. In healthy mice raised in a nearly germ-free, controlled environment, the Helicobacter induced an immune response associated with tolerance, as if the body were saying it accepted the new bacteria along with its existing gut bacteria, collectively known as the gut microbiome. [Body Bugs: 5 Surprising Facts About Your Microbiome]

However, in mice bred to have colitis, a condition that involves inflammation of the bowel, the Helicobacter made the inflammation worse. The immune systems treated the bacteria as foreign invaders.

The study suggests that Helicobacter and similar bacteria labeled as “bad” may, in fact, be neutral or even beneficial, depending on the health of the individual. A person’s level of stress, poor diet or genetics all may influence the good or bad nature of gut bacteria, the scientists said.

“An interesting issue about Helicobacter species is that they’re thought of as pathobionts, which means they don’t necessarily have a well-described function in terms of promoting host health,” said Dr. Chyi-Song Hsieh, an assistant professor of medicine and of pathology and immunology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, who led the study. “But in the wrong context, in the wrong person, with the wrong genetics, it can cause inflammation in various parts of the gastrointestinal tract.”

Hsieh said the discovery could lead to a better understanding of the causes of inflammatory bowel disease, as well as treatments for the condition, which affects upward of 3 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [5 Ways Gut Bacteria Affect Your Health]

The human gut contains trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that mostly contribute to good health by aiding in digestion and regulating the immune system. Many of these bacteria elicit responses from the immune system cells, called T cells. These responses improve the body’s tolerance to beneficial molecules and keep the immune system in check, so it doesn’t run rampant and attack the body’s own tissues.

“Gut bacteria [are] constantly interacting with immune cells of the host and can promote barrier function [or protection] in the intestinal tract,” said Jiani Chai, a graduate student in Hsieh’s lab who was the first author on the paper.

Some bacteria, however, such as the Helicobacter species, cause the T cells to increase inflammation and attack cells within the body that they recognize as foreign.

The study on mice doesn’t imply that all gut bacteria are inherently neutral, waiting for the gut to determine their fate as good or bad, Hsieh told Live Science. After all, one type of Helicobacter, called H. pylori, clearly can cause dangerous ulcers and stomach cancer. But it is interesting to observe that Helicobacter, thought to be solely bad, can trigger an immune response that is good for the body, he added.

It remains unclear exactly why Helicobacter elicits certain responses from T cells, but this could be key to maintaining tolerance to bacteria. And figuring this out could potentially lead to the development of new drug targets for treating IBD, he said.

Hsieh said his group’s future studies may investigate the possibility of using bacteria as sort of a medical delivery system, like a vaccine, to directly access the immune system to help regulate autoimmune diseases.