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Soft drinks bad for your memory, diet soda may be even worse

​New York, April 21 (IANS) If you thought switching to diet soda can help you avoid the ill effects associated with sugary soft drinks, think again! Researchers have found that while drinking sugary beverages frequently may lead to poorer memory, daily intake of diet soda may increase the risk of stroke and dementia. Both sugary and diet drinks correlated with accelerated brain ageing, according to the findings published in two separate studies. People who drink sugary beverages frequently are more likely to have poorer memory, smaller overall brain volume, and a significantly smaller hippocampus -- an area of the brain important for learning and memory, said the study published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia. A follow-up study, published in the journal Stroke, found that people who drank diet soda daily were almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia when compared to those who did not. Scientists have put forth various hypotheses about how artificial sweeteners may cause harm, from transforming gut bacteria to altering the brain's perception of "sweet," but "we need more work to figure out the underlying mechanisms", said Boston University's Matthew Pase, who is lead author on the two studies. For the studies, researchers used data from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS), a study that aims to identify common factors or characteristics that contribute to cardiovascular disease (CVD). "These studies are not the be-all and end-all, but it's strong data and a very strong suggestion," said Sudha Seshadri, Professor at Boston University School of Medicine (MED) in the US. "It looks like there is not very much of an upside to having sugary drinks, and substituting the sugar with artificial sweeteners doesn't seem to help," Seshadri, who is senior author on both papers, said. Excess sugar has long been associated with cardiovascular and metabolic diseases like obesity, heart disease and Type-2 diabetes, but little is known about its long-term effects on the human brain. He chose to study sugary drinks as a way of examining overall sugar consumption. "It's difficult to measure overall sugar intake in the diet," he says, "so we used sugary beverages as a proxy." For the first study, published in Alzheimer's & Dementia, researchers examined data, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and cognitive testing results, from about 4,000 people enrolled in the Framingham Heart Study's Offspring and Third-Generation cohorts. The researchers looked at people who consumed more than two sugary drinks a day of any type -- soda, fruit juice and other soft drinks -- or more than three per week of soda alone. Among that "high intake" group, they found multiple signs of accelerated brain ageing, including smaller overall brain volume, poorer episodic memory, and a shrunken hippocampus, all risk factors for early-stage Alzheimer's disease. Researchers also found that higher intake of diet soda--at least one per day--was associated with smaller brain volume. In the second study, published in the journal Stroke, the researchers, using data only from the older Offspring cohort, looked specifically at whether participants had suffered a stroke or been diagnosed with dementia due to Alzheimer's disease. They found that people who drank at least one diet soda per day were almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia.

Brain games may not make you smarter: Study

​New York, April 18 (IANS) If you thought brain games could make you smarter, think again. In a study, researchers at Florida State University in the US found no evidence that such games increase overall cognitive abilities. An increasing number of people believe brain training helps protect them against memory loss or cognitive disorders, said Neil Charness, Professor of Psychology. "Our findings and previous studies confirm there's very little evidence these types of games can improve your life in a meaningful way," Associate Professor Wally Boot said. The study focused on whether brain games could boost the "working memory" needed for a variety of tasks. In their study, the researchers set up one group of people to play a specially designed brain-training video game called "Mind Frontiers," while another group of players performed crossword games or number puzzles. All players were given lots of information they needed to juggle to solve problems. Researchers tested whether the games enhanced players' working memory and consequently improved other mental abilities, such as reasoning, memory and processing speed. That is the theory behind many brain games: If you improve overall working memory, which is fundamental to so much of what we do every day, then you can enhance performance in many areas of your life. The team examined whether improving working memory would translate to better performance on other tasks. They found no such evidence, according to the study published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience "It's possible to train people to become very good at tasks that you would normally consider general working memory tasks: memorizing 70, 80, even 100 digits," Charness said. "But these skills tend to be very specific and not show a lot of transfer. The thing that seniors in particular should be concerned about is, if I can get very good at crossword puzzles, is that going to help me remember where my keys are? And the answer is probably no," Charness said. The researchers suggested that to improve cognitive function, people should better get some aerobic exercise rather than sitting in front of the computer playing these games

Restricting trans fats cuts heart attack risks: Study

New York, April 17 (IANS) Hospitalisation for heart attacks and strokes is less common among people living in areas that restrict trans fats in foods compared to residents in areas without restrictions, new research has found. "Our study highlights the power of public policy to impact the cardiovascular health of a population," said lead author Eric Brandt from Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, US. Trans fatty acids, or trans fats, are commonly found in fried foods, chips, crackers and baked goods. Eating even minimal amounts is linked to a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death worldwide. Some communities in the US -- most notably New York City -- have eliminated the use of trans fats in restaurants and eateries in recent years. To study the impact of restricting trans fats, researchers compared outcomes for people living in New York counties with and without the restrictions. Using data from the state department of health and census estimates between 2002 and 2013, the researchers focused on hospital admissions for heart attack and stroke. They found that three or more years after the restrictions were implemented, people living in areas with the bans had significantly fewer hospitalizations for heart attack and stroke when compared to similar urban areas where no limits existed. The decline for the combined conditions was 6.2 per cent, said the study published in the journal JAMA Cardiology. "It is a pretty substantial decline," Brandt said. "The results are impressive, given that the study focused on trans fatty acid bans in restaurants, as opposed to complete bans that included food bought in stores," senior author Tamar S. Polonsky, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago, added. "If we enact a more complete restriction on trans fatty acids, it could mean even more widespread benefits for people," Polonsky said.

Combat sweat with natural fabrics

​New Delhi, April 16 (IANS) It's best to wear natural fabrics to beat the heat and to keep skin problems at bay, say experts. Vandana Anurag, Founder of The Parisian Boudoir and Salesh Grover, Business Head at OSL Luxury Collections, have shared ways in which you can deal with sweat: * Loose clothes don't touch your body and allow your body to breathe. Believe it or not, but loose fitting apparel like peplum tops, flowy tops or loose pants will always keep you cooler than a pair of skin tight tank and fit denims. * Keep yourself cool by switching to breathable and sweat absorbing fabrics. Always dress up in clothes with natural fabrics it will keep your temperature low. * Avoid wearing dresses with embellishments as they weigh down your clothes and leads the fabric to touch your skin, trapping the body heat. Embellishments also don't let air pass through the fabric, thus causing sweating. * Wearing a light coloured and relaxed fit T-shirt can save you from sweating. They can be played around in different styles. * Summer style is incomplete without chinos and denim shorts. When it comes to shorts, fit and length is the key. You can pair up denim shorts with cotton Polo T-shirt to get the comfort and style.

Instagram 'Stories' growth surpasses Snapchat

New York, April 14 (IANS) Facebook's photo-sharing app Instagram has surpassed Snapchat in daily active users of "Stories" feature, though the format was first launched by Snapchat in 2013. According to a report in Forbes on Thursday, Instagram's "Stories" feature is now used by more than 200 million people every day -- an increase of 50 million since January. On the other hand, Snapchat who launched the "Stories" format in October 2013, had 161 million daily active users in February. "Stories" feature is an ephemeral chain of photo and video clips with filters and special effects. More recently, Facebook and WhatsApp also introduced the feature, imitating Snapchat. "Instagram Stories appears to have directly hampered Snapchat's user growth since its debut. Snapchat attributed its slowing pace in part to issues with Android updates and increasing competition. However, Instagram's impact on the chat app seems undeniable," the report noted. On May 10, the focus will be on Snapchat's user growth when Snap reports first quarter earnings.

Why exercise on empty stomach may be better for your health

​New York, April 10 (IANS) If you have been wondering whether it is better to eat or fast before a workout, researchers now have an answer. A new study has found that exercise on empty stomach is better for your health in the long term. The study analysed effects of eating versus fasting on gene expression in adipose (fat) tissue in response to exercise. After eating, adipose tissue "is busy responding to the meal and a bout of exercise at this time will not stimulate the same (beneficial) changes in adipose tissue", explained corresponding author of the study Dylan Thompson from University of Bath in Britain. "This means that exercise in a fasted state might provoke more favourable changes in adipose tissue, and this could be beneficial for health in the long term," Thompson added. "We propose that feeding is likely to blunt long-term adipose tissue adaptation to regular exercise," the researchers noted in the study published in the American Journal of Physiology -- Endocrinology and Metabolism. The study participants were a group of overweight males who walked for 60 minutes at 60 per cent maximum oxygen consumption on an empty stomach and, on another occasion, two hours after consuming a high-calorie carbohydrate-rich breakfast. The research team took multiple blood samples after eating or fasting and after exercising. The researchers also collected fat tissue samples immediately before and one hour after walking. Gene expression in the adipose tissue differed significantly in the two trials. The expression of two genes, PDK4 and HSL, increased when the men fasted and exercised and decreased when they ate before exercising. The rise in PDK4 likely indicates that stored fat was used to fuel metabolism during exercise instead of carbohydrates from the recent meal. HSL typically increases when adipose tissue uses stored energy to support increased activity, such as during exercise, Thompson said. These results reinforce the view that "adipose tissue often faces competing challenges," Thompson wrote. "This is the first study to show that feeding prior to acute exercise affects post-exercise adipose tissue gene expression," the study said.

Eating Marmite may be good for your brain: Study

​London, April 6 (IANS) Consuming Marmite -- a tangy British spread -- daily may be good for the brain, as it has been found to increase a chemical messenger associated with healthy brain function, a study has showed. In the study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, participants consuming a teaspoon of Marmite every day for a month, showed a substantial reduction of around 30 per cent in their brain's response to visual stimuli. This beneficial effect may be due to the prevalence of vitamin B12 in Marmite increasing levels of a specific neurotransmitter -- known as GABA -- in the brain, the researchers said. "The high concentration of Vitamin B12 in Marmite is likely to be the primary factor behind results showing a significant reduction in participants' responsiveness to visual stimuli," said Daniel Baker, Lecturer at the University of York in London. GABA inhibits the excitability of neurons in the brain, with the chemical acting to 'turn down the volume' of neural responses in order to regulate the delicate balance of activity needed to maintain a healthy brain. The study suggested that dietary intervention could potentially have long-term effects on brain function. "These results suggest that dietary choices can affect the cortical processes of excitation and inhibition - consistent with increased levels of GABA - that are vital in maintaining a healthy brain," said Anika Smith, from the University of York. Conversely, GABA imbalances are also associated with a variety of neurological disorders. "Since we've found a connection between diet and specific brain processes involving GABA, this research paves the way for further studies looking into how diet could be used as a potential route to understanding this neurotransmitter," Baker said.

Video games may help combat depression

New York, March 27 (IANS) Feeling depressed? Beat the blues by playing video games, touted as viable and effective treatment for depression, researchers said. They help in brain training. The findings showed that playing the specifically designed video game helped people feel they had some control over their depression. Such video games had the potential to target depression caused by both internal -- such as chemical imbalance or hereditary factor -- and external factors -- like issues in job or relationship. "Through the use of carefully designed persuasive message prompts ... mental health video games can be perceived and used as a more viable and less attrition-ridden treatment option," said Subuhi Khan from the University of California - Davis in the US. Portraying depression as something caused internally because of biological factors and providing a video game-based app for brain training made participants feel that they could do something to control their depression. This supports other research that shows that brain-training games have the potential to induce cognitive changes, the researchers said. On the other hand, portraying depression as a condition caused by external factors led users to spend more time playing the game -- again, perhaps giving them a feeling of control over their situation. But this result was likely due to immediate engagement and was unlikely to have long-term benefits, the study noted. In the study, forthcoming in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, the team asked 160 student volunteers to play six, three-minute games. Each game was an adaptation of neurophysiological training tasks that have been shown to improve cognitive control among people experiencing depression and ended on basic inspirational notes to inspire the participant to play the game. The results revealed that when the video game users were messaged reminders, they played the game more often and in some cases increased the time spent playing.

Talking more to Siri lately? You must be lonely

​New York, March 29 (IANS) It is easy to try to carry on a conversation with Siri, the virtual assistant on your iPhone, or Amazon's Alexa device from your living room. But if you are doing it more lately, please beware. Researchers suggest that frequent interactions with human-like products may indicate loneliness. "If someone notices they are talking more to Siri lately, maybe that has something to do with feeling lonely," said one of the researchers Jenny Olson, Assistant Professor at the University of Kansas School of Business in the US. "From that standpoint, it's important to be aware of it," Olson said. While these humanlike products do keep people from seeking out normal human interaction, which is typically how people try to recover from loneliness, there are limits to this phenomenon, and the long-term consequences are unclear, the researchers warned in a study published online in the Journal of Consumer Research. "Generally, when people feel socially excluded, they seek out other ways of compensating, like exaggerating their number of Facebook friends or engaging in pro-social behaviour to seek out interaction with other people," Olson said. "When you introduce a human-like product, those compensatory behaviours stop," Olson noted. In four experiments, the researchers found evidence that people who felt socially excluded would exhibit those compensating behaviours unless they were given the opportunity to interact with a human-like product. "Alexa isn't a perfect replacement for your friend Alexis," lead author James Mourey of DePaul University in Chicago said. "But the virtual assistant can affect your social needs," Mourey added.

Outdoor games can make kids love nature

​Toronto, March 19 (IANS) Allowing your kids play out in the open can help them develop a deep love for nature as they grow, a study has shown. "Developing positive experiences in nature at a young age can influence our attitudes and behaviours towards nature as adults," said Catherine Broom, Assistant Professor at University of British Columbia in Canada. In the study, published in the Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 87 per cent of children who played outside as children expressed a continued love for nature as young adults. Of that group, 84 per cent said taking care of the environment was a priority. "It is important to study these childhood experiences in order to develop environmental awareness and action in the next generation," Broom added. For the study, the team interviewed 50 university students between the ages of 18 to 25. Of the group, 100 per cent of females stated that they loved nature and 87 per cent of males responded the same. Environmental awareness programmes at a young age can also help develop children's awareness and action, the researchers added. "Our findings imply that providing positive childhood experiences in nature, such as outdoor school programmes, may help to develop care for the environment in adults," Broom noted. The researchers suggested that schools and early childhood classroom activities should connect positive experiences in nature with mindful learning and reflection that help empower students to take a personal role in protecting the environment by recycling, turning off the lights, and using alternative transportation methods. "Students need to learn and have a conscious understanding that the decisions we make each day can influence our environment, such as where we buy our food and how we use the Earth's natural resources," Broom said.