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Nutrition has benefits for brain network organization
Date:September 7, 2017
Source:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Nutrition has been linked to cognitive performance, but researchers have not pinpointed what underlies the connection. A new study by University of Illinois researchers found that monounsaturated fatty acids -- a class of nutrients found in olive oils, nuts and avocados -- are linked to general intelligence, and that this relationship is driven by the correlation between MUFAs and the organization of the brain's attention network.
The study of 99 healthy older adults, recruited through Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, compared patterns of fatty acid nutrients found in blood samples, functional MRI data that measured the efficiency of brain networks, and results of a general intelligence test. The study was published in the journal NeuroImage.
"Our goal is to understand how nutrition might be used to support cognitive performance and to study the ways in which nutrition may influence the functional organization of the human brain," said study leader Aron Barbey, a professor of psychology. "This is important because if we want to develop nutritional interventions that are effective at enhancing cognitive performance, we need to understand the ways that these nutrients influence brain function."
"In this study, we examined the relationship between groups of fatty acids and brain networks that underlie general intelligence. In doing so, we sought to understand if brain network organization mediated the relationship between fatty acids and general intelligence," said Marta Zamroziewicz, a recent Ph.D. graduate of the neuroscience program at Illinois and lead author of the study.
Studies suggesting cognitive benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in MUFAs, inspired the researchers to focus on this group of fatty acids. They examined nutrients in participants' blood and found that the fatty acids clustered into two patterns: saturated fatty acids and MUFAs.
"Historically, the approach has been to focus on individual nutrients. But we know that dietary intake doesn't depend on any one specific nutrient; rather, it reflects broader dietary patterns," said Barbey, who also is affiliated with the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at Illinois.
The researchers found that general intelligence was associated with the brain's dorsal attention network, which plays a central role in attention-demanding tasks and everyday problem solving. In particular, the researchers found that general intelligence was associated with how efficiently the dorsal attention network is functionally organized used a measure called small-world propensity, which describes how well the neural network is connected within locally clustered regions as well as across globally integrated systems.
In turn, they found that those with higher levels of MUFAs in their blood had greater small-world propensity in their dorsal attention network. Taken together with an observed correlation between higher levels of MUFAs and greater general intelligence, these findings suggest a pathway by which MUFAs affect cognition.
"Our findings provide novel evidence that MUFAs are related to a very specific brain network, the dorsal attentional network, and how optimal this network is functionally organized," Barbey said. "Our results suggest that if we want to understand the relationship between MUFAs and general intelligence, we need to take the dorsal attention network into account. It's part of the underlying mechanism that contributes to their relationship."
Barbey hopes these findings will guide further research into how nutrition affects cognition and intelligence. In particular, the next step is to run an interventional study over time to see whether long-term MUFA intake influences brain network organization and intelligence.
"Our ability to relate those beneficial cognitive effects to specific properties of brain networks is exciting," Barbey said. "This gives us evidence of the mechanisms by which nutrition affects intelligence and motivates promising new directions for future research in nutritional cognitive neuroscience."
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Nutrition has benefits for brain network organization." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 September 2017. <>.
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Gluten Free Recipe:

Mini Vegan Peanut Butter Cups


16 mini paper liners

Chocolate Coating:

  • 1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips (about 7 ounces)

Peanut Butter Filling:

  • 1/2 cup all-natural organic peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon coconut flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Coarse sea salt, for topping (if desired)



  1. Line a mini muffin pan with the 16 paper liners and set it aside. Melt half of the dark chocolate (about 3/4 cup dark chocolate chips) over a double boiler. I simply arrange an heat-safe bowl over my 2-quart sauce pan that has been filled with about an inch of water, and then bring that to a boil.
  2. Once the chocolate is melted, use a teaspoon to scoop the chocolate into the bottom of each mini muffin liner, then set the pan aside again.
  3. To prepare the peanut butter filling, stir together all of the ingredients in a medium bowl, until the mixture is thick. Use a teaspoon to measure out the filling, then roll it between your hands to form a ball. I like to gently press each ball between my fingers so that the top and bottom are slightly flattened, that way the peanut butter cups won't look too round.
  4. Press the peanut butter filling into each muffin cup, then melt the remaining dark chocolate to spoon over the top. You want the tops to be flat, just like a Reese's peanut butter cup, so you might need a little bit more than a teaspoon to fill out the tops. While the chocolate is still melted, sprinkle the tops with coarse sea salt, if desired. (I highly recommend it!)
  5. Allow the cups to cool at room temperature, or put them in the fridge to speed up the process. Because this recipe calls for natural peanut butter, which is normally stored in the fridge, I'd recommend storing these in the fridge if you don't plan on serving them all within two days. They should keep for a month or more when stored in an airtight container in the fridge-- unless you eat them all before then!

Recipe Notes:

What I love about making my own peanut butter cups is that you get to control everything, from how dark the chocolate is to how much peanut butter filling goes into each cup. You can even find dark chocolate that is sweetened with coconut sugar now, to completely eliminate the refined sugar element. Don’t care for peanut butter? Use almond butter, cashew butter, or sunflower butter if you prefer. It’s hard to mess these up!
School, health and behavior suffer when children have TV, video games in bedroom
Date:September 26, 2017
Source:Iowa State University
A new Iowa State University study is one of the first to demonstrate the consequences of allowing children to have a TV or video game system in their bedroom.
Douglas Gentile, lead author and professor of psychology, says the research shows location really does matter. When there was a TV or video games in the bedroom, children spent less time reading, sleeping or participating in other activities, which had a ripple effect on several outcomes. As a result, these children did not do as well in school and were at greater risk for obesity and video game addiction, Gentile said.
Researchers were able to track these effects over a period of six months to two years. The study, published in the journal Developmental Psychology, also found children with bedroom media watched programs and played video games that were more violent, which increased levels of physical aggression. Gentile says it stands to reason that most parents are not fully aware of what is happening behind closed doors.
"When most children turn on the TV alone in their bedroom, they're probably not watching educational shows or playing educational games," Gentile said. "Putting a TV in the bedroom gives children 24-hour access and privatizes it in a sense, so as a parent you monitor less and control their use of it less."
The study utilizes data from Gentile's previous studies on screen time and media content. While some of the results mirror the findings in those studies, Gentile says they found that having bedroom media significantly changes the amount of time children spend with media, changes the content they view, but also changes what children do not do, such as reading.
Digital media changes everything
While this study looked specifically at TVs and video games in the bedroom, Gentile expects the effects to be the same, if not stronger, given the access children now have to digital devices. He has talked with parents worried about their child's digital media use or how best to set limits. Their concerns range from children accessing questionable content to responding in the middle of the night to text messages or social media alerts, he said.
It is a challenge Gentile says he too has faced as a parent, but he encourages others to keep media out of their children's bedroom. It may cause a battle in the short term, but will benefit children in the long term.
"It's a lot easier for parents to never allow a TV in the bedroom than it is to take it out," he said. "It's a question every parent must face, but there is a simple two-letter answer. That two-letter answer is tough, but it is worth it."
Indirect, but significant effect
It may be natural for parents to wonder why a TV in the bedroom is any different from any other room in the home. Gentile says it comes down to ease of access. There is no direct link between the physical presence of a TV and poor grades. Rather, bedroom media makes it easier for children to spend more time watching or playing, which displaces other beneficial and healthful activities.
For example, researchers tracked children over a period of 13 and 24 months and found bedroom media (both TV and video games) increased total screen time, which indirectly affected school grades. The data pointed to one explanation -- third through fifth grade students who spent more time watching TV, spent less time reading. According to the study, increased screen time was also associated with higher body mass index, physical aggression and symptoms of video game addiction.
"We know from decades of research on addiction that the No. 1 predictor of addiction is access. You can't be addicted to gambling, if there is no place to gamble," Gentile said. "Access is certainly the gateway to a wide range of effects, both positive and negative."
Iowa State University. "School, health and behavior suffer when children have TV, video games in bedroom." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 September 2017. <>.

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Pilot study shows that neurofeedback may help treatment-resistant depression

Date:September 6, 2017
Source:Boston University School of Medicine
A small pilot study has indicated that neurofeedback -- where patients concentrate on modifying their own brainwave patterns -- has potential to treat many of the 100m people worldwide who suffer from Treatment-Resistant Depression (TRD). This is the first time that neurofeedback has been shown to improve both individual symptoms and overall recovery in TRD.
According to the World Health Organisation, "Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide," with over 300m people suffering globally. There are treatments for depression, but up to a third of people don't respond to treatment, even after trying different antidepressants. This is Treatment-resistant depression (TRD). For these patients, there are limited options.
Now a new pilot study from Korea indicates that neurofeedback may be offer a viable treatment to patients suffering from TRD, if used with antidepressants. Working with 12 patients with TRD and 12 controls, the researchers put patients through 12 weeks regular training sessions, where the patients learned how to vary their brainwaves in response to audio and visual signals.
In past research, different brainwaves have been shown to be associated with different moods and brain states, so these patients were asked to concentrate on changing the levels of particular types of brainwaves as they were displayed on a computer screen. On each visit, patients received beta/sensorimotor rhythm training for 30 min, and then alpha/theta training for 30 min. Psychological progress was measured using various standard depression questionnaires** at the start of the treatment, then at 1, 4 and 12 weeks. These questionnaires showed how treatment affected such factors as interpersonal relationships, work ability, and family life.
The researchers found that in the neurofeedback group, 8 of the 12 patients responded to treatment, and 5 of those responded well enough to be classified as being in remission. Most of these patients are now under long-term observation to see if remission has continued. In contrast the control group did not show significant improvement from baseline after 12 weeks.
Project leader, Professor Eun-Jin Cheon (Yeungnam University Hospital, South Korea), said:
"Neurofeedback has been trialed with psychological conditions in the past, but as far as we know this is the first time that anyone has succeeded in achieving remission and overall recovery (functional recovery)with treatment-resistant depression. This is particularly important, because this is an otherwise untreatable group of patients.
In our study we included patients with major depressive disorder, who still had residual symptoms and functional impairment despite receiving antidepressant treatment. Our results suggested that neurofeedback might be an effective complementary treatment to make patients feel well again and successfully engage with life. The most promising thing about neurofeedback is it doesn't cause even mild side effects. It could also improve self-efficacy by participating active, voluntary treatment.
We need to emphasise that this is a small study -- if you like, it's still at the level of clinical science rather than clinical treatment, so we are a long way from this finding its way into the clinic. But the results surprised us, it merits further investigation."
Commenting, Henricus G Ruhe, MD, PhD, (Department of Psychiatry Radboudumc, Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and member of the ECNP Scientific Advisory Panel) said:
"This is a very interesting study targeting remaining depressive symptoms in patients who insufficiently responded to previous treatment trials of antidepressants. Although the number of included patients are small (12 treated with neurofeedback vs. 12 controls) we should consider this pilot study as promising and suggesting that alternative approaches (relative to antidepressants) might be beneficial in nonresponding depressed patients.
Further work is needed to both replicate these results and compare this strategy with alternative treatment options (e.g. psychotherapy or additional pharmacotherapeutic steps). This will enable the community to determine where neurofeedback must be positioned and/or when it should be recommended in future guidelines."
European College of Neuropsychopharmacology. "Pilot study shows that neurofeedback may help treatment-resistant depression." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 September 2017. <>.
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