Category Archives: Health

1 of 3 Cases of Dementia Can Be Prevented with a Lifestyle of Healthier and Cleaner Life

One-third of dementia cases could be prevented if more people could be helped to behave in ways that would improve their brain health, according to a new report.

Some public health strategies aimed at helping people to be healthy — for example, by staying in school past age 15, protecting their hearing in midlife and keeping up with exercise and hobbies in old age — could help to decrease the global numbers of dementia cases, the researchers said in their report, published today (July 19) in the journal The Lancet.

“Society must engage in ways to reduce dementia risk throughout life, and improve the care and treatment for those with the disease,” study co-author Dr. Lon Schneider, a professor of psychiatry, neurology and gerontology at the University of Southern California, said in a statement. “This includes providing safe and effective social and health-care interventions in order to integrate people with dementia within their communities. Hopefully this will also ensure that people with dementia, their families and caregivers, encounter a society that accepts and supports them.” [6 Big Mysteries of Alzheimer’s Disease]

In the study, the researchers looked at previous research that has examined risk factors for dementia throughout people’s lives. For example, they looked at studies that had examined the link between people’s education, health, physical activity levels and the risk of dementia. The researchers then calculated and modeled the potential impact that reducing many different risk factors would have on the global prevalence of dementia.

The investigators found that targeting nine risk factors could slash the worldwide number of dementia cases by 35 percent. For example, if all young people continued their education past age 15, the number of dementia cases would be reduced by 8 percent, the researchers found. If all middle-age people with hearing loss were treated for the condition, the number of dementia cases would be reduced by 9 percent. And if all smokers older than 65 quit smoking, the number of dementia cases would be reduced by 5 percent, the researchers found.

The other six factors tied to dementia risk were high blood pressure and obesity in midlife, and the combination of depression, physical inactivity,social isolation and diabetes in people older than 65.

More research is needed to clarify exactly why and how each of these factors impacts a person’s dementia risk, the researchers said. However, when it comes to the link between education and dementia, previous research has suggested that more education may increase a person’s cognitive reserve — that is, the mind’s resilience to brain damage that aging may inflict — the researchers said.

Smoking has a negative impact on the cardiovascular system, and previous research has linked cardiovascular problems with dementia, the researchers said.

Social isolation may lead to a decline in cognitive activity, which previous research has linked to accelerated cognitive decline, the researchers said. [6 Foods That Are Good For Your Brain]

The link between depression and dementia remains largely unclear, but one possible mechanism is that depression may affect the growth of brain cells and the volume of the hippocampus — a major brain component — thus upping the risk of dementia, the researchers said.

Further research is needed to understand the link between hearing loss and dementia, and to determine whether hearing aids may help to alleviate the impact of hearing loss on dementia risk, the researchers said.

The report had certain limitations, the authors said. For example, the authors did not consider diet and alcohol in their estimates, and these factors may also be a factor in people’s dementia risk, according to the report.

The Science of Cooking Oils: Which Are Really the Healthiest?

These days, the shelf of the cooking-oil section of the supermarket is a crowded spot. This abundance of oil options can cause confusion about which oils may be the healthiest ones to use.

Over the past 10 years, the landscape of cooking oils has changed, said Jo Ann Carson, a professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. She pointed to the increased availability of high-oleic oils, the fairly recent arrival of coconut oil, and the wider availability of lesser-known oils such as grapeseed oil.

With so many cooking oils out there, it can be difficult to make sense of the latest health headlines about dietary fat in general, Carson said. [Special Report: The Science of Weight Loss]

Many consumers are confused about which types of dietary fat experts encourage or discourage in order to promote heart health, said Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition science and policy and director of the cardiovascular nutrition laboratory at the Tufts University Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging in Boston. Further complicating matters, there’s been hype about coconut oil, and claims have circulated that “butter is back,” Lichtenstein said.

Lichtenstein was part of an advisory panel for the American Heart Association that wrote a report on dietary fats and cardiovascular disease. For the report, which was published in June in the journal Circulation, the panel did a careful review of the scientific literature to clarify some of the controversies surrounding dietary fat, she said.

After evaluating the evidence, the panel recommended that Americans decrease levels of saturated fats (fats that come from meats, poultry, cheese, dairy products and tropical oils, such as coconut and palm oils) to reduce their risk of heart disease. People should replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats, which include polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, Lichtenstein said.

The overall message is to encourage healthy fats in the diet by replacing animal fats with vegetable fats, Lichtenstein told Live Science.

She said the bulk of the evidence favors polyunsaturated fats — found in fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds, as well as sunflower, safflower, soybean and corn oils — rather than monounsaturated fats, found in other types of nuts and seeds, avocados, and olive, canola and peanut oils. The data showed that if people replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats, they reduce their risk of heart disease somewhat more than if they replace saturated fats with monounsaturated fats.

In other words, polyunsaturated fats may be a little healthier, especially for people concerned about heart health, Lichtenstein said.

The panel’s analysis of four so-called randomized, controlled trials — considered the “gold standard” of scientific evidence — showed that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat resulted in a 29 percent drop in the risk of heart disease. This reduction is comparable to that seen when people take statin drugs, according to the report. [6 Foods That Are Good For Your Brain]

Replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats is good for the heart because it decreases the levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and as well as fats in the blood called triglycerides, both of which are risk factors for heart disease.

So what do the findings of the report suggest about how you should use cooking oils?

The main points are to use cooking oils in moderation, Lichtenstein said. The government’s U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that Americans include a small amount of oils in their diets every day to supply essential fatty acids, because the body can’t make these acids and thus must get them from food. There are two such fatty acids, and both are polyunsaturated fatty acids: linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid.

But all cooking oils are composed of three different types of fatty acids: monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and saturated fats. Each oil is categorized based on which type of fatty acid is the most prominent in it. For example, olive and canola oils are considered mostly monounsaturated fat, while corn and soybean oils contain mainly polyunsaturated fat. Coconut oil is predominantly saturated fat.

To help you select some of the healthiest oils while still pleasing your taste buds, here is a rundown of 10 cooking oils. Some oils have been well studied for their health benefits, while others have too little research from which to draw firm conclusions about their effects on heart health. (Story continues below infographic.)

Avocado oil is rich in monounsaturated fat (70 percent of the fats in the oil are monounsaturated), and it has one of the highest levels of monounsaturated fat among cooking oils, second only to olive oil. Like olive oil, avocado oil is also low in polyunsaturated fats (10 percent of the fats in the oil are polyunsaturated).

Compared with other vegetable oils, avocado oil has a higher saturated fat content (20 percent), but this percentage is much smaller than the percentage of saturated fat in butter, lard or tropical oils, such as coconut or palm oils. [7 Foods You Can Overdose On]

Avocado oil is a fine oil to use, although it tends to be more expensive than other oils and may be harder to find, Lichtenstein said. It has a mild flavor similar to avocado, and the oil can withstand high cooking temperatures, making it suitable for sautéing, grilling, roasting or using in salad dressings.

Canola oil also has relatively high monounsaturated fat content, Carson said. But although it contains a higher proportion of monounsaturated fat (62 percent of the fats in this oil are monounsaturated), canola oil is also a good source of polyunsaturated fat (32 percent).

In addition, canola oil has the lowest level of saturated fat among cooking oils (7 percent). It is also one of the few oils that contain a good plant-based source of omega-3 fats, a beneficial type of polyunsaturated fat.

A 2013 review of studies published in the journal Nutrition Reviews found that when people use canola oil to replace saturated fat in their diets, it can help to reduce their total cholesterol levels and LDL cholesterol levels, which can reduce people’s risk of heart disease.

This neutral-flavored oil comes from a plant called the rapeseed, which is widely cultivated in Canada and is responsible for its name, a derivative of “Canadian oil, low acid.” (The “low acid” refers to versions of the rapeseed plant that are bred to have low erucic acid content. High levels of erucic acid can be toxic.)

Canola oil is a versatile and practical cooking oil that’s not very expensive and can be used in a variety of ways, from baking and grilling to stir-frying and making salad dressings, Carson said.

Made from the fruit of the coconut palm tree, coconut oil has been promoted as a better alternative to butter. It is a white solid at room temperature with a consistency resembling that of butter or shortening rather than a liquid oil.

Consumers seem to have bought into the hype that it’s among the healthier options, and vegans, who eat no animal fat, may use it as a butter substitute. In a 2016 survey published in The New York Times, 72 percent of consumers rated coconut oil as a “healthy food” compared with 37 percent of nutrition experts. [Dieters, Beware: 9 Myths That Can Make You Fat]

Nutrition experts, in contrast, noted that coconut oil is high in saturated fat (92 percent), and recommended using it only sparingly. In fact, coconut oil has more saturated fat than the same amount of butter or lard.

There is also limited science to back up marketers’ claims that coconut oil is much better for the heart than butter is. After evaluating all of the studies available, a 2016 review published in the journal Nutrition Reviews found that people who consumed coconut oil had higher total and LDL cholesterol levels than those who consumed unsaturated fats, although the levels were a bit lower than in the people who used butter.

The review authors concluded that there is little evidence that coconut oil has any benefit to heart health compared with other types of saturated fat, such as butter or palm oil.

After conducting a similar review, the 2017 advisory report from the American Heart Association did not recommend the use of coconut oil. The panel concluded that coconut oil “increases LDL cholesterol, a known cause of heart disease, and has no known offsetting favorable effects.”

Summing it up, Lichtenstein, who served on the AHA’s panel, said that coconut oil does not have any unique heart-health benefits, and its “halo effect” — meaning its perception by the public as a healthful food — is probably not justified from a scientific perspective. There is not any reason to use coconut oil rather than unsaturated oils, and there are potentially disadvantages from its high content of saturated fat, she said.

This versatile cooking oil is extracted from grape seeds left over from wine making, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A favorite of chefs and foodies, grapeseed oil has a mild flavor that can be combined with other, stronger flavors. It’s considered a good all-purpose oil that can be used for sautéing and roasting, or in salad dressings. Store grapeseed oil in the refrigerator to prevent it from becoming rancid, food experts say.

Grapeseed oil has a high percentage of polyunsaturated fat (71 percent polyunsaturated, 17 percent monounsaturated, 12 percent saturated), with a similar fatty acid profile to soybean oil (61 percent polyunsaturated fat, 24 percent monounsaturated, 15 percent saturated), Lichtenstein said.

According to a 2016 review of studies published in the journal Nutrition and Metabolic Insights, little is known about the effects of grapeseed oil on human health. Few studies have looked at the heart-health benefits of this mostly polyunsaturated fat. [5 Surprising Ways to Be Heart Healthy]

Because of its prominent role in the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is a popular cooking oil.

Extra-virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing of the olives. This results in an oil that has more flavor and a fruity aroma, and is less processed, meaning it is considered “unrefined.” It is also typically more expensive than other types of olive oil and contains the most antioxidants. Refined versions of olive oil, called “pure,” are lighter in color and milder in flavor than extra-virgin oils. [11 Ways Processed Food Is Different from Real Food]

Olive oils typically have the highest percentage of monounsaturated fats among cooking oils (although some high-oleic versions of other oils may have artificially boosted levels of monounsaturated fats).Olive oil is also rich in antioxidants called polyphenols, beneficial plant compounds that some evidence suggests may improve heart health.

A study done in Spain of about 7,500 men and women at high risk of heart disease found that people who were advised to consume a Mediterranean-diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or mixed nuts had a lower rate of heart attack, stroke and death from heart-related causes, compared with people who were advised only to follow a generally low-fat diet. These findings appeared in 2013 in The New England Journal of Medicine.

From a heart-health standpoint, there is no real significant difference between extra-virgin olive oil and other kinds of olive oil, Carson told Live Science.

There are better choices than extra-virgin olive oil for cooking at high temperatures, such as when frying, because the oil cannot withstand very high heat before it starts to burn and smoke, Carson said. Refined, or pure, olive oil may be more suited for high-temperature cooking.

Because extra-virgin olive oil offers more flavor than other types of olive oil, it’s a good option for sautéing vegetables, dipping bread or preparing salad dressings and marinades, Carson said.

Among cooking oils, peanut oil has the highest monounsaturated fatcontent — about half (49 percent). Peanut oil has a similar percentage of polyunsaturated fat (33 percent) to canola oil, another mostly monounsaturated fat.

Its percentage of saturated fat (18 percent) is higher than that of other vegetable oils, but not to the point that it’s a concern for heart health, and it still has less saturated fat than coconut or palm oils, Lichtenstein said.

A flavorful oil with a pale color and nutty aroma, peanut oil can withstand high heat and is a good choice for cooking Asian-inspired meals and stir-fries, according to food experts.

Often used in Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, sesame oil is a good mix of polyunsaturated fat (46 percent) and monounsaturated fat (40 percent), Lichtenstein said. The remaining 14 percent is saturated fat. It’s not usually used as a cooking fat and is used more for its intense flavoring, she noted. [Tip of the Tongue: The 7 (Other) Flavors Humans May Taste]

Sesame oil lends a nutty flavor to any dish, especially toasted sesame oil, which has a darker color and bolder flavor. Refrigerate sesame oil after opening it.

Light in color and neutral in flavor, sunflower oil has one of the highest concentrations of polyunsaturated fat (69 percent) among cooking oils. It supplies some monounsaturated fat (20 percent) and is low in saturated fat (11 percent), making it an overall heart-healthy option. Sunflower oil is a good all-purpose oil because it can withstand high cooking temperatures.

Shoppers may also see “high-oleic” versions of sunflower or canola oils on supermarket shelves or high-oleic oils listed on the ingredient lists of processed foods. These oils have been modified to be richer in oleic acid, which boosts their levels of monounsaturated fat.

High-oleic sunflower oil, for example, would have a fatty acid profile that would more closely resemble an oil that is mainly monounsaturated fat, like olive oil, than it would conventional sunflower oil.

Food manufacturers are turning to high-oleic oils as replacement for trans fats, which are hydrogenated oils that can extend processed foods’ shelf life, according to nutrition experts. As manufacturers eliminate their use of unhealthy trans fats, high-oleic oils have taken their place because these mostly monounsaturated fats are more shelf-stable than polyunsaturated fats.

Four studies have compared the heart-health effects of a diet rich in conventional sunflower oil, a polyunsaturated fat, with a diet rich in canola oil, which has more monounsaturated fat. The researchers concluded that sunflower oil and canola oil had similar effects: Both reduced people’s levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, according to a 2013 review of those studies, published in the journal Nutrition Reviews.

Historically, vegetable oil has typically been soybean oil, Carson said. But these days, the term also may be used for a blend of different oils, she noted.

Soybean oil is primarily a polyunsaturated oil (61 percent polyunsaturated fat, 24 monounsaturated fat and 15 percent saturated fat). As a bonus, soybean oil contains some omega-3 fats, which are heart-healthy fats often found in salmon and sardines, but are less common in plant-based sources of food.

Vegetable oil made from soybeans is a neutral-tasting oil that does not have much flavor, Carson said. Nevertheless, it’s a versatile, all-purpose cooking oil for sautéing and frying, or making salad dressings, she said.

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.

How Sugar Drink Can Make Your Body Stretch Burn Fat

Washing down your bacon cheeseburger with a big, cold soda may trigger the body to store more fat than it would if you drank something without sugar, a new small study finds.

When the people in the study added a sugary drink to a protein-rich meal, their bodies’ fat-burning ability decreased by 8 percent on average, the researchers found. In addition, the sugary drinks also appeared to increase their food cravings after the meal.

“We were surprised by the impact that the sugar-sweetened drinks had on metabolism when they were paired with higher-protein meals,” lead study author Shanon Casperson, a research biologist at the U.S.  Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, said in a statement. [11 Ways Processed Food is Different from Real Food]

“This combination also increased study subjects’ desire to eat savory and salty foods for four hours after eating,” Casperson added.

Indeed, earlier research has shown that people who increase their protein intake experience changes  both in how food is processed by their body and in how much they eat, according to the study, published July 20 in the journal BMC Nutrition. For example, research suggests that a higher protein intake is linked to an increase in the body’s fat-burning abilities.

The new findings suggest that adding sugary drinks to a high-protein intake may have the opposite effect: The sugar-rich beverages may slow the body’s burning of fat, according to the study.

For the study, the researchers recruited 27 healthy young adults, gave them special meals and then observed them in special isolated rooms called “room calorimeters.”  The rooms had a bed, a toilet, a sink and some other furniture, and equipment to measure the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide along with temperature and air pressure. These measurements allowed the researchers to calculate how the foods the participants ate affected their metabolism, including how many calories they burned and how they broke down fat, protein and carbohydrates.

The participants spent two 24-hour periods in the rooms. Each period started at 4 p.m., and each participant had dinner at 5 p.m. in the chamber. The participants then fasted until breakfast the next morning. [8 Reasons Our Waistlines Are Expanding]

Then, the experiment really began. During one stay in the room, the participants were served breakfast and lunch meals that each contained 15 percent protein. Each meal was served with a sweet drink that contained either sugar or an artificial sweetener. If the drink with sugar was served at breakfast, the participant received the artificially sweetened drink at lunch, and vice versa. This allowed the researchers to see if there was any difference between how the meal was metabolized when it was combined with sugar, versus without sugar.

After both breakfast and lunch, the participants were observed for 4 hours. During this time, the researchers could see how the body responded to the meal with either a sugary drink or an artificially sweetened drink.

During their other stay in the room, the participants were served breakfast and lunch meals that each contained 30 percent protein.

The researchers found that when a sugar-sweetened beverage was served with a meal, the participants’ fat-burning ability was 8 percent lower than it was when the meal was served with an artificially sweetened drink. In addition, although the sugary drinks added more calories to the meals, they didn’t cause the participants to feel fuller after eating.

In other words, sugary drinks seem to decrease the body’s fat burning and don’t contribute to feeling fuller. The findings “provide further insight into the potential role of sugar-sweetened drinks — the largest single source of sugar in the American diet — in weight gain and obesity,” Casperson said.

Be careful with the Birth Control App, Expert Say

A new smartphone app has been approved for people to use as a type of contraception in the European Union, but experts warn that you shouldn’t toss out the condoms and birth control pills just yet.

The app, Natural Cycles, is available in the Apple App Store and the Google Play store to users everywhere. It digitizes an age-old method of preventing pregnancy, sometimes called the rhythm method, natural family planning or fertility awareness. The idea is to track ovulation and avoid sex (or use additional protection) on days when a woman is most likely to be fertile. But these methods have a failure rate of about 25 percent, even though the promotional materials for Natural Cycles claim that the app is 93 percent effective. [Wonder Woman: 10 Interesting Facts About the Female Body]

“Don’t rely on something like this,” said Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the Yale School of Medicine who is not involved with the company that makes the app. The app could be an option if a couple wanted to postpone pregnancy for a while but would not mind it if they did become pregnant, she said. But most people who are looking for contraception are going to want something more reliable.

The company that makes Natural Cycles is headquartered in Sweden, and the app was certified as a medical device in February, making it the only app that can call itself “contraception” in Europe. The app requires users to enter a precise body-temperature measurement first thing every morning — a familiar task for people who are already using natural family planning methods, as resting body temperature rises by a miniscule amount right at ovulation. The app then tracks body temperature and the menstrual cycle, taking into account the amount of time that sperm are likely to survive in the body, to give “red” days on which the chance of fertilization is high and “green” days on which it is lower.

It’s essentially just the tech-age way of doing natural family planning, “which has been around for generations,” said Dr. Nathaniel DeNicola, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at The George Washington University’s School of Medicine & Health Sciences. DeNicola is not involved with the company that makes the app.

But the success rate that Natural Cycles touts seems unrealistically high, and it comes from just two clinical studies, DeNicola said. Research on other methods of contraception — including condoms, birth control pills and intrauterine devices (IUDs) — goes back decades, so the success rates are pretty clear. That’s not true of this app, DeNicola said.

In one study, a clinical study published in March 2016, the app’s makers found that it had a failure rate of just 0.5 percent — it accidentally gave users a green “go ahead” sign that unprotected sex would be OK on days when it should have given a red “no-go” sign only 0.5 percent of the time. In other words, out of 1,000 women using the app, 5 could expect to become pregnant due to the app’s algorithm failure.

This failure rate is on a par with that of one of the most reliablereversible birth control methods out there, the IUD, DeNicola said. However, that rate is the app’s “perfect use rate,” meaning it applies only to people who use the app perfectly, following the directions to the letter every day, DeNicola said.

The perfect-use rate is “probably the last number that should be out there, because the data really isn’t close to supporting that” for typical users, DeNicola said. [7 Surprising Facts About the Pill]

Another estimate of the app’s failure rate is called the “typical use” rate, and pegs the risk of an unintended pregnancy at 7 percent. But that number is based on a single study in which a third of the people enrolled dropped out before the end. The company-affiliated researchers did a more conservative calculation by assuming all of those dropouts got pregnant, and came to a failure rate of 10 percent.

“That would probably be the most medically sound number to be talking about, if you felt comfortable giving a number at all based on just one study,” DeNicola said.

Whether Natural Cycles would be a good choice depends on the user’s needs and expectations for their birth control, Minkin said. If the 25 percent chance of pregnancy that normally comes with the natural family planning method seems acceptable, then the app is “certainly better than nothing,” she said.

But anyone hoping for a more reliable method should not go in thinking that Natural Cycles, or any fertility awareness app, will give them a 99.5 percent chance of not getting pregnant, DeNicola said. For rates like that, people would be better off using long-acting reversible contraceptives, or LARCs. These include options such as the birth control implant that goes under the skin (99 percent effective, according to Planned Parenthood) and IUDs (99 percent effective).

At present, health and medicine apps are largely unregulated in the United States, said DeNicola, who is the vice chair of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ task force on telehealth. That means that the safety and efficacy of health apps are often “buyer beware.”

Why Hunger Can Eliminate If You Ignore It Long?

Why is it that when you’re tremendously hungry, you’re able to forget about it if you’re in the middle of an intriguing activity, such as reading a good book?

It’s almost as if you’re able to ignore those hunger pangs until your task is complete, at which point the hunger can hit you hard.

Such a question might seem straightforward, but the answer is actually quite complex and perplexing, dietitians told Live Science. [Why Do Your Teeth Feel Weird After Eating Spinach?]

When a person is hungry, a cascade of triggers notifies the brain that the body needs food. One of those triggers is a hormone called ghrelin — “the only mammalian substance that has been shown to increase appetite and food intake when delivered to humans,” according to a 2006 review in the journal Physiology and Behavior.

Most of the body’s supply of ghrelin is created in the stomach and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). Once made, ghrelin can cross the blood-brain barrier and target certain parts of the brain, stimulating hunger, according to the review.

Moreover, ghrelin is with us 24/7: its levels drop as we eat, and rise before meals, reaching concentrations high enough to stimulate hunger, according to the review.

However, a curious finding shows that ghrelin isn’t the be-all and end-all of hunger pangs.

In a 2016 study in the journal Clinical Nutrition, 59 obese adults participated in an eight-week-long program in which they fasted every other day. (They ate sparingly on the “fast” days, and ate freely on alternate days.) But after measuring the participant’s ghrelin levels, the researchers found that “hunger was not related to ghrelin concentrations … at any point,” they wrote in the study.

In other words, when people fasted, their levels of ghrelin increased. But for unknown reasons, these people didn’t report feeling hungrier than usual.

“It’s interesting because the subjective “How hungry are you?” doesn’t really match up with what we measure clinically,” Colleen Tewksbury, a bariatric program manager at Penn Medicine, who was not involved with the review or the study, told Live Science.

So, why is it that people can basically ignore their hunger pangs? One idea, based on anecdotal observations, is that intense activities can distract people from their hunger, said Leah Groppo, a clinical dietician at Stanford Health Care in Palo Alto, California.

“If you’re really distracted, oftentimes people are able to lose that sense of hunger,” Groppo told Live Science. “Then, over time it [the feelings of hunger] will diminish because you’re still hyper-focused on something else.”

However, if you’re surrounded by enough cues to remind you of your hunger — say, you’re reading a novel but you’re by the kitchen, and the smell of dinner is wafting through the air — then you’ll likely remember how hungry you are.