Eating More Fruits and Vegetables Gives Children Better Mental Health

The impact of the better diets was a healthier mental state.

*****

Children who eat a better diet, packed with fruit and vegetables, have better mental wellbeing — according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

A new study published today is the first to investigate the association between fruit and vegetable intakes, breakfast and lunch choices, and mental wellbeing in UK school children.

It shows how eating more fruit and veg is linked with better wellbeing among secondary school pupils in particular. And children who consumed five or more portions of fruit and veg a day had the highest scores for mental wellbeing.

The study was led by UEA Health and Social Care Partners in collaboration with Norfolk County Council.

The research team say that public health strategies and school policies should be developed to ensure that good quality nutrition is available to all children before and during school to optimise mental wellbeing and empower children to fulfil their full potential.

Lead researcher Prof Ailsa Welch, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “We know that poor mental wellbeing is a major issue for young people and is likely to have long-term negative consequences.

“The pressures of social media and modern school culture have been touted as potential reasons for a rising prevalence of low mental wellbeing in children and young people.

“And there is a growing recognition of the importance of mental health and wellbeing in early life — not least because adolescent mental health problems often persist into adulthood, leading to poorer life outcomes and achievement.

“While the links between nutrition and physical health are well understood, until now, not much has been known about whether nutrition plays a part in children’s emotional wellbeing. So, we set out to investigate the association between dietary choices and mental wellbeing among schoolchildren.”

The research team studied data from almost 9,000 children in 50 schools across Norfolk (7,570 secondary and 1,253 primary school children) taken from the Norfolk children and Young People’s Health and wellbeing Survey.

This survey was commissioned by the Public Health department of Norfolk County Council and the Norfolk Safeguarding Children Board. It was open to all Norfolk schools during October 2017.

Children involved in the study self-reported their dietary choices and took part in age-appropriate tests of mental wellbeing that covered cheerfulness, relaxation, and having good interpersonal relationships.

Prof Welch said: “In terms of nutrition, we found that only around a quarter of secondary-school children and 28 per cent of primary-school children reported eating the recommended five-a-day fruits and vegetables. And just under one in ten children were not eating any fruits or vegetables.

“More than one in five secondary school children and one in 10 primary children didn’t eat breakfast. And more than one in 10 secondary school children didn’t eat lunch.

The team looked at the association between nutritional factors and mental wellbeing and took into account other factors that might have an impact — such as adverse childhood experiences and home situations.

Dr Richard Hayhoe, also from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “We found that eating well was associated with better mental wellbeing in children. And that among secondary school children in particular, there was a really strong link between eating a nutritious diet, packed with fruit and vegetables, and having better mental wellbeing.

“We also found that the types of breakfast and lunch eaten by both primary and secondary school pupils were also significantly associated with wellbeing.

“Children who ate a traditional breakfast experienced better wellbeing than those who only had a snack or drink. But secondary school children who drank energy drinks for breakfast had particularly low mental wellbeing scores, even lower than for those children consuming no breakfast at all.

“According to our data, in a class of 30 secondary school pupils, around 21 will have consumed a conventional-type breakfast, and at least four will have had nothing to eat or drink before starting classes in the morning.

“Similarly, at least three pupils will go into afternoon classes without eating any lunch. This is of concern, and likely to affect not only academic performance at school but also physical growth and development.

“Another interesting thing that we found was that nutrition had as much or more of an impact on wellbeing as factors such as witnessing regular arguing or violence at home.

Prof Welch said: “As a potentially modifiable factor at an individual and societal level, nutrition represents an important public health target for strategies to address childhood mental wellbeing.

“Public health strategies and school policies should be developed to ensure that good quality nutrition is available to all children both before and during school in order to optimise mental wellbeing and empower children to fulfil their full potential.”

Smarter Parrots Need More Stimulation

The study could apply to other animals.

*****

The smarter the bird, the more unique welfare needs it has in captivity, according to a U of G first-ever study.

This finding may apply to other brainy captive creatures including great apes, elephants and whales, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Georgia Mason, director of U of G’s Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare.

“This study provides the first empirical evidence that intelligent animals can struggle in captivity,” said Mason, a professor in the Department of Integrative Biology.

The study also revealed for the first time that greater intelligence — a benefit in the wild — can hinder large-brained parrots’ adjustment to captivity.

Roughly half of the world’s parrots now live in homes, zoos and breeding facilities.

“What’s new in this study is that we’re showing why some species are at risk and others are fine.”

Published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the study highlights the need for cognitive stimulation and foods that require more complicated physical handling to improve care of birds.

Co-authors are Heather McDonald, a former U of G PhD student who is now with Mount Sinai Health in Toronto, as well as researchers at the University of Bristol in the U.K. and Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

The researchers examined two main data sources.

One was an early 1990s survey on captive breeding success involving more than 30,000 birds in the United States. The team also ran an online survey involving almost 1,400 pet parrots in 50 species for stereotypic behaviour, or abnormal activity such as biting at cage bars, chewing or even eating feathers, and swaying, bouncing or rote pacing in cages.

They looked at housing conditions, brain size-body weight ratios (a marker for intelligence), diets and other factors, and used a form of analysis that allows evolutionary biologists to tease out inherited traits that predispose species to risk.

They found that species whose natural diet involves nuts, seeds and tough-coated insects were more likely to pluck, chew or even eat their feathers. Parrot species with relatively large brains were more at risk for all other forms of stereotypic behaviour.

That finding suggests that owners need to ensure naturalistic diets rather than providing processed foods to domestic birds. Wild parrots normally spend 40 to 75 per cent of their time in foraging.

Mason said parrots may have evolved needs to crunch and manipulate with their beaks — even when their food is ready-processed and presented in a bowl — or may need particular nutrients in natural diets.

“We don’t know which is the most important to feather-plucking birds. So ideally owners should provide naturalistic food items intact so that parrots really have to break their way in and do extractive foraging as they do in the wild.”

Cockatiels, Jandaya parakeets and yellow-naped Amazons, for instance, typically thrive in domestic settings. But relatively large-brained parrots such as Nanday parakeets, monk parakeets and some cockatoos suffer more psychological welfare problems.

“These intelligent species are more invasive, too — another reason to treat them with extra care,” said Mason.

Most parrots are highly social but are often housed alone and sometimes in monotonous and predictable conditions.

“Some species seem to adapt well to captivity, but maybe some should not be kept unless you have lots of time and creativity.”

She said owners should provide more stimulation to birds, including more naturalistic aviaries along with puzzles and other enrichment items.

“Good parrot carers are doing this already. But if you’re new to parrots, pick a species likely to thrive. Don’t pick parrots that are not a good fit for your place and lifestyle.”

About half of the world’s estimated 100 million parrots live in captivity, most as pets in private homes. In the wild, more than 40 per cent of species are threatened or near threatened, said Mason, who has discussed her new study with the World Parrot Trust.

“It’s really important from a conservation point of view to have good parrot welfare.”

Soaring Profits, Inflation and Businesses Raising Costs on Goods

Instead of management collecting on higher profit margins, certain businesses could raise wages and attract workers during this “Great Resignation” (where many workers are quitting) that American society is having.

*****

If This is a Wage-Price Spiral, Why Are Profits Soaring?

That’s the question millions are asking, even if economic reporters are not. The classic story of a wage-price spiral is that workers demand higher pay, employers are then forced to pass on higher wages in higher prices, which then leads workers to demand higher pay, repeat.

We are seeing many stories telling us that this is the world we now face. A big problem with that story is the profit share of GDP has actually risen sharply in the last two quarters from already high levels.

The 12.4 percent profit share we saw in the second quarter is above the 12.2 percent peak share we saw in the 00s, and far above the 10.4 percent peak share in the 1990s. In other words, it hardly seems as though businesses are being forced by costs to push up prices. It instead looks like they are taking advantage of presumably temporary shortages to increase their profit margins.

This doesn’t mean that some businesses are not in fact being squeezed. We are seeing rapidly rising wages for low-paid workers. That is putting a strain on many restaurants and other businesses that pay low wages.

That is unfortunate for them, but this is the way capitalism works. The reason we don’t still have half our population working on farms is that workers had the opportunity to work at higher-paying jobs in manufacturing. If workers now have the option to work at better-paying jobs, the restaurants that can adapt to higher pay will stay in business, but some obviously will not.

Sunscreens That Contain Zinc Oxide Can Become Toxic After 2 Hours

This is research on sunscreen that more people should know about.

*****

Sunscreen that includes zinc oxide, a common ingredient, loses much of its effectiveness and becomes toxic after two hours of exposure to ultraviolet radiation, according to a collaboration that included Oregon State University scientists.

The toxicity analysis involved zebrafish, which share a remarkable similarity to humans at the molecular, genetic and cellular levels, meaning many zebrafish studies are immediately relevant to people.

Findings were published today in Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences.

The research team, which included College of Agriculture Sciences faculty Robyn Tanguay and Lisa Truong and graduate fellow Claudia Santillan, sought to answer important but largely neglected questions regarding the massive global sunscreen market, predicted by market data firm Statista to be worth more than $24 billion by the end of the decade.

The questions: How stable, safe, and effective are sunscreen ingredients in combination rather than as individual compounds — which is how they are considered for Food and Drug Administration approval — and what about the safety of any chemical products that result from reactions caused by exposure to sunlight?

“Sunscreens are important consumer products that help to reduce UV exposures and thus skin cancer, but we do not know if the use of some sunscreen formulations may have unintended toxicity because of interactions between some ingredients and UV light,” said Tanguay, an OSU distinguished professor and an international expert in toxicology.

What the public thinks about sunscreen safety has caused manufacturers, often based on limited data, to use lots of some ingredients while limiting others, she said. For example, oxybenzone has effectively been discontinued because of concerns that it harms coral reefs.

“And sunscreens containing inorganic compounds like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, that block UV rays, are being marketed more and more heavily as safe alternatives to the organic small-molecule compounds that absorb the rays,” Tanguay said.

Scientists including the University of Oregon’s James Hutchinson and Aurora Ginzburg and the University of Leeds’ Richard Blackburn made five mixtures containing the UV filters — the active ingredients in sunscreens — from different products available in the United States and Europe. They also made additional mixtures with the same ingredients, plus zinc oxide at the lower end of the commercially recommended amount.

The researchers then exposed the mixtures to ultraviolet radiation for two hours and used spectroscopy to check their photostability — i.e., what did sunlight do to the compounds in the mixtures and their UV-protective capabilities?

The scientists also looked at whether the UV radiation had caused any of the mixtures to become toxic to zebrafish, a widely used model organism that goes from egg to swimming in five days, and found that the UV-exposed mixture without zinc oxide did not cause any significant changes in the fish.

“There have been several studies that showed sunscreens can quickly react under UV exposure — the specifically intended setting for their use — so it’s pretty surprising how little toxicity testing has been done on the photodegradation products,” Truong said. “Our findings suggest that commercially available small-molecule-based formulas, which were the basis for the formulas we studied, can be combined in different ingredient ratios that minimize photodegradation.”

But scientists saw big differences in photostability and phototoxicity when zinc oxide particles were added — either nanoparticles or the larger microparticles.

“With either size of particle, zinc oxide degraded the organic mixture and caused a greater than 80% loss in organic filter protection against ultraviolet-A rays, which make up 95% of the UV radiation that reaches the Earth,” Santillan said. “Also, the zinc-oxide-induced photodegradation products caused significant increases in defects to the zebrafish we used to test toxicity. That suggests zinc oxide particles are leading to degradants whose introduction to aquatic ecosystems is environmentally hazardous.”

Tanguay said she was surprised that all five small-molecule mixtures were generally photostable but not surprised that adding zinc oxide particles led to toxicity upon UV irradiation.

“As a team at Oregon State that specializes in studying nanoparticle toxicity, these results were not a shock,” she said. “The findings would surprise many consumers who are misled by ‘nano free’ labels on mineral-based sunscreens that imply the sunscreens are safe just because they don’t contain those smaller particles. Any size of metal oxide particle can have reactive surface sites, whether it is less than 100 nanometers or not. More important than size is the metal identity, its crystal structure and any surface coatings.”

Memory Function is Improved With Mild Physical Activity

Strong memory function is valuable in today’s advanced, technologically-driven society.

+++++

People who include a little yoga or tai chi in their day may be more likely to remember where they put their keys. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine and Japan’s University of Tsukuba found that even very light workouts can increase the connectivity between parts of the brain responsible for memory formation and storage.

In a study of 36 healthy young adults, the researchers discovered that a single 10-minute period of mild exertion can yield considerable cognitive benefits. Using high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging, the team examined subjects’ brains shortly after exercise sessions and saw better connectivity between the hippocampal dentate gyrus and cortical areas linked to detailed memory processing.

Their results were published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

[…]

The neuroscientists found that the level of heightened connectivity predicted the degree of recall enhancement.

Yassa, director of UCI’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and the recently launched UCI Brain Initiative, said that while prior research has centered on the way exercise promotes the generation of new brain cells in memory regions, this new study demonstrates a more immediate impact: strengthened communication between memory-focused parts of the brain.

“We don’t discount the possibility that new cells are being born, but that’s a process that takes a bit longer to unfold,” he said. “What we observed is that these 10-minute periods of exercise showed results immediately afterward.”

A little bit of physical activity can go a long way, Yassa stressed. “It’s encouraging to see more people keeping track of their exercise habits — by monitoring the number of steps they’re taking, for example,” he said. “Even short walking breaks throughout the day may have considerable effects on improving memory and cognition.”

Yassa and his colleagues at UCI and at the University of Tsukuba are extending this avenue of research by testing older adults who are at greater risk of age-related mental impairment and by conducting long-term interventions to see if regular, brief, light exercise done daily for several weeks or months can have a positive impact on the brain’s structure and function in these subjects.

Active Learning Environment Until 5 Years Old Found to Shape the Brain 4 Decades Later

The development children have until 5 years old is an especially important time of brain development.

+++++

An enhanced learning environment during the first five years of life shapes the brain in ways that are apparent four decades later, say Virginia Tech and University of Pennsylvania scientists writing in the June edition of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

The researchers used structural brain imaging to detect the developmental effects of linguistic and cognitive stimulation starting at six weeks of age in infants. The influence of an enriched environment on brain structure had formerly been demonstrated in animal studies, but this is the first experimental study to find a similar result in humans.

“Our research shows a relationship between brain structure and five years of high-quality, educational and social experiences,” said Craig Ramey, professor and distinguished research scholar with Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and principal investigator of the study. “We have demonstrated that in vulnerable children who received stimulating and emotionally supportive learning experiences, statistically significant changes in brain structure appear in middle age.”

The results support the idea that early environment influences the brain structure of individuals growing up with multi-risk socioeconomic challenges, said Martha Farah, director of the Center for Neuroscience and Society at Penn and first author of the study.

“This has exciting implications for the basic science of brain development, as well as for theories of social stratification and social policy,” Farah said.

The study follows children who have continuously participated in the Abecedarian Project, an early intervention program initiated by Ramey in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1971 to study the effects of educational, social, health, and family support services on high-risk infants.

Both the comparison and treatment groups received extra health care, nutrition, and family support services; however, beginning at six weeks of age, the treatment group also received five years of high quality educational support, five days a week, 50 weeks a year.

When scanned, the Abecedarian study participants were in their late 30s to early 40s, offering the researchers a unique look at how childhood factors affect the adult brain.

“People generally know about the potentially large benefits of early education for children from very low resource circumstances,” said co-author Sharon Landesman Ramey, professor and distinguished research scholar at Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. “The new results reveal that biological effects accompany the many behavioral, social, health, and economic benefits reported in the Abecedarian Project. This affirms the idea that positive early life experiences contribute to later positive adjustment through a combination of behavioral, social, and brain pathways.”

During follow-up examinations, structural MRI scans of the brains of 47 study participants were conducted at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute Human Neuroimaging Lab. Of those, 29 individuals had been in the group that received the educational enrichment focused on promoting language, cognition, and interactive learning.

The other 18 individuals received the same robust health, nutritional, and social services supports provided to the educational treatment group, and whatever community childcare or other learning their parents provided. The two groups were well matched on a variety of factors such as maternal education, head circumference at birth and age at scanning.

Analyzing the scans, the researchers looked at brain size as a whole, including the cortex, the brain’s outermost layer, as well as five regions selected for their expected connection to the intervention’s stimulation of children’s language and cognitive development.

Those included the left inferior frontal gyrus and left superior temporal gyrus, which may be relevant to language, and the right inferior frontal gyrus and bilateral anterior cingulate cortex, relevant to cognitive control. A fifth, the bilateral hippocampus, was added because its volume is frequently associated with early life adversity and socioeconomic status.

The researchers determined that those in the early education treatment group had increased size of the whole brain, including the cortex.

Several specific cortical regions also appeared larger, according to study co-authors Read Montague, professor and director of the Human Neuroimaging Lab and Computational Psychiatry Unit at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, and Terry Lohrenz, research assistant professor and member of the institute’s Human Neuroimaging Laboratory.

The scientists noted the group intervention treatment results for the brain were substantially greater for males than for females. The reasons for this are not known, and were surprising, since both the boys and girls showed generally comparable positive behavioral and educational effects from their early enriched education. The current study cannot adequately explain the sex differences.

“When we launched this project in the 1970s, the field knew more about how to assess behavior than it knew about how to assess brain structure,” Craig Ramey said. “Because of advances in neuroimaging technology and through strong interdisciplinary collaborations, we were able to measure structural features of the brain. The prefrontal cortex and areas associated with language were definitely affected; and to our knowledge, this is the first experimental evidence on a link between known early educational experiences and long-term changes in humans.”

“We believe that these findings warrant careful consideration and lend further support to the value of ensuring positive learning and social-emotional support for all children — particularly to improve outcomes for children who are vulnerable to inadequate stimulation and care in the early years of life,” Craig Ramey said.

The American Minimum Wage Would Be $26 an Hour Today If Wages Tracked Productivity (As They Once Did in the 20th Century)

Among the most ridiculous things in America is how wages for most workers have been mostly stagnant for 40 years.

+++++

That may sound pretty crazy, but that’s roughly what the minimum wage would be today if it had kept pace with productivity growth since its value peaked in 1968. And, having the minimum wage track productivity growth is not a crazy idea. The national minimum wage did in fact keep pace with productivity growth for the first 30 years after a national minimum wage first came into existence in 1938.

Furthermore, a minimum wage that grew in step with the rapid rises in productivity in these decades did not lead to mass unemployment. The year-round average for the unemployment rate in 1968 was 3.6 percent, a lower average than for any year in the last half century.

The $26 an Hour World

Think of what the country would look like if the lowest paying jobs, think of dishwashers or custodians, paid $26 an hour. That would mean someone who worked a 2000 hour year would have an annual income of $52,000. This income would put a single mother with two kids at well over twice the poverty level.

And, this is just for starting wages. Presumably workers would see their pay increase above the minimum as they stayed at their job for a number of years and ideally were promoted to better paying positions. If we assume that after 10 or 15 years their pay had risen by 20 percent, then these workers at the bottom of the pay ladder would be getting more than $60,000 a year.

While that is hardly a luxurious standard of living, it is certainly enough to support a middle-class lifestyle. For a two-earner couple this would be $120,000 a year. Imagine this is what people at the very bottom of the labor force could reasonably expect when they are in their thirties and forties.

Don’t Try This at Home

The $26 an hour is useful as a thought experiment for envisioning what the world might look like today, but it would not be realistic as policy for local, state, or even national minimum wage without many other changes to the economy. A minimum wage this high would almost certainly lead to large-scale unemployment, and that would be true even if it were phased in over five or six years.

The problem is that we have made many changes to the economy that shifted huge amounts of income upward, so that we cannot support a pay structure that gives workers at the bottom $52,000 a year. This is the whole point of my book, Rigged [it’s free], we have restructured the economy in ways that ensure a disproportionate share of income goes to those at the top. If the bottom half or 80 percent of the workforce got the same share they got 50 years ago, we would have an enormous problem with inflation.  

Just to quickly run through the short list, we can start with my favorites, government-granted patent and copyright monopolies. Items like drugs, medical equipment, and computer software, which would all be relatively cheap in a free market, instead cost us huge amounts of money because of these monopolies. In the case of prescription drugs alone, patent monopolies and related protections may add more than $400 billion a year (roughly $3,000 per family) to our annual bill. In total, the cost from these protections can easily exceed $1 trillion a year (almost $8,000 per family).

[…]

Not only did the federal minimum wage not keep pace with productivity growth, it did not even keep pace with inflation. A person working at the minimum wage today is getting substantial lower pay than a worker did 53 years ago in 1968.

It would be a great story if we could reestablish the link between the minimum wage and productivity and make up the ground lost over the last half century. But we have to make many other changes in the economy to make this possible. These changes are well worth making.  

The Unique Benefits Anaerobic Exercise Has on Fat Cells

Turns out that lifting can have positive effects on body fat at the cellular level. Muscles are also a main way for the body to store amino acids to fight infections.

+++++

We all know that lifting weights can build up our muscles. But by changing the inner workings of cells, weight training may also shrink fat, according to an enlightening new study of the molecular underpinnings of resistance exercise. The study, which involved mice and people, found that after weight training, muscles create and release little bubbles of genetic material that can flow to fat cells, jump-starting processes there related to fat burning.

The results add to mounting scientific evidence that resistance exercise has unique benefits for fat loss. They also underscore how extensive and interconnected the internal effects of exercise can be.

Many of us pigeonhole resistance training as muscle building, and with good reason. Lifting weights — or working against our body weight as we bob through push-ups, squats or chair dips — will noticeably boost our muscles’ size and strength. But a growing number of studies suggest weight training also reshapes our metabolisms and waistlines. In recent experiments, weight workouts goosed energy expenditure and fat burning for at least 24 hours afterward in young womenoverweight men and athletes. Likewise, in a study I covered earlier this month, people who occasionally lifted weights were far less likely to become obese than those who never lifted.

But how weight training revamps body fat remains murky. Part of the effect occurs because muscle is metabolically active and burns calories, so adding muscle mass by lifting should increase energy expenditure and resting metabolic rates. After six months of heavy lifting, for example, muscles will burn more calories just because they are larger. But that doesn’t fully explain the effect, because adding muscle mass requires time and repetition, while some of the metabolic effects of weight training on fat stores seem to occur immediately after exercise.

Perhaps, then, something happens at a molecular level right after resistance workouts that targets fat cells, a hypothesis that a group of scientists at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and other institutions recently decided to investigate. The researchers had been studying muscle health for years, but had grown increasingly interested in other tissues, especially fat. Maybe, they speculated, muscles and fat chatted together amiably after a workout.

In the past decade, the idea that cells and tissues communicate across the expanse of our bodies has become widely accepted, though the complexity of the interactions remains boggling. Sophisticated experiments show that muscles, for instance, release a cascade of hormones and other proteins after exercise that enter the bloodstream, course along to various organs and trigger biochemical reactions there, in a process known as cellular crosstalk.

Our tissues also may pump out tiny bubbles, known as vesicles, during crosstalk. Once considered microscopic trash bags, stuffed with cellular debris, vesicles now are known to contain active, healthy genetic material and other substances. Released into the bloodstream, they relay this biological matter from one tissue to another, like minuscule messages in bottles.

Intriguingly, some experiments indicate that aerobic exercise prompts muscles to release such vesicles, conveying a variety of messages. But few studies had looked into whether resistance exercise might also result in vesicle formation and inter-tissue chatter.

So, for the new study, which was published in May in The FASEB Journal, from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, the researchers decided to examine the cells of bodybuilding mice. They first experimentally incapacitated several of the leg muscles in healthy adult mice, leaving a single muscle to carry all the physical demands of movement. That muscle swiftly hypertrophied, or bulked up, providing an accelerated version of resistance training.

Before and after that process, the researchers drew blood, biopsied tissues, centrifuged fluids and microscopically searched for vesicles and other molecular changes in the tissues.

They noted plenty. Before their improvised weight training, the rodents’ leg muscles had teemed with a particular snippet of genetic material, known as miR-1, that modulates muscle growth. In normal, untrained muscles, miR-1, one of a group of tiny strands of genetic material known as microRNA, keeps a brake on muscle building.

After the rodents’ resistance exercise, which consisted of walking around, though, the animals’ leg muscles appeared depleted of miR-1. At the same time, the vesicles in their bloodstream now thronged with the stuff, as did nearby fat tissue. It seems, the scientists concluded, that the animals’ muscle cells somehow packed those bits of microRNA that retard hypertrophy into vesicles and posted them to neighboring fat cells, which then allowed the muscles immediately to grow.

But what was the miR-1 doing to the fat once it arrived, the scientist wondered? To find out, they marked vesicles from weight-trained mice with a fluorescent dye, injected them into untrained animals, and tracked the glowing bubbles’ paths. The vesicles homed in on fat, the scientists saw, then dissolved and deposited their miR-1 cargo there.

Soon after, some of the genes in the fat cells went into overdrive. These genes help direct the breakdown of fat into fatty acids, which other cells then can use as fuel, reducing fat stores. In effect, weight training was shrinking fat in mice by creating vesicles in muscles that, through genetic signals, told the fat it was time to break itself apart.

“The process was just remarkable,” said John J. McCarthy, a professor of physiology at the University of Kentucky, who was an author of the study with his then graduate student Ivan J. Vechetti Jr. and other colleagues.

Mice are not people, though. So, as a final facet of the study, the scientists gathered blood and tissue from healthy men and women who had performed a single, fatiguing lower-body weight workout and confirmed that, as in mice, miR-1 levels in the volunteers’ muscles dropped after their lifting, while the quantity of miR-1-containing vesicles in their bloodstreams soared.

Of course, the study mostly involved mice and was not designed to tell us how often or intensely we should lift to maximize vesicle output and fat burn. But, even so, the results serve as a bracing reminder that “muscle mass is vitally important for metabolic health,” Dr. McCarthy said, and that we start building that mass and getting our tissues talking every time we hoist a weight.

Major Progress Made Towards Developing Quantum Computers

Quantum computers will have a significant effect on society when researchers complete developmental advances on them. They will have the ability to improve the design of pharmaceutical drugs, increase the power of artificial intelligence, increase the accuracy of predicting weather patterns, and do other things such as improve the analysis of data.

*****

A team of physicists from the Harvard-MIT Center for Ultracold Atoms and other universities has developed a special type of quantum computer known as a programmable quantum simulator capable of operating with 256 quantum bits, or “qubits.”

The system marks a major step toward building large-scale quantum machines that could be used to shed light on a host of complex quantum processes and eventually help bring about real-world breakthroughs in material science, communication technologies, finance, and many other fields, overcoming research hurdles that are beyond the capabilities of even the fastest supercomputers today. Qubits are the fundamental building blocks on which quantum computers run and the source of their massive processing power.

“This moves the field into a new domain where no one has ever been to thus far,” said Mikhail Lukin, the George Vasmer Leverett Professor of Physics, co-director of the Harvard Quantum Initiative, and one of the senior authors of the study published today in the journal Nature. “We are entering a completely new part of the quantum world.”

According to Sepehr Ebadi, a physics student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the study’s lead author, it is the combination of system’s unprecedented size and programmability that puts it at the cutting edge of the race for a quantum computer, which harnesses the mysterious properties of matter at extremely small scales to greatly advance processing power. Under the right circumstances, the increase in qubits means the system can store and process exponentially more information than the classical bits on which standard computers run.

[…]

“Our work is part of a really intense, high-visibility global race to build bigger and better quantum computers,” said Tout Wang, a research associate in physics at Harvard and one of the paper’s authors. “The overall effort [beyond our own] has top academic research institutions involved and major private-sector investment from Google, IBM, Amazon, and many others.”

The researchers are currently working to improve the system by improving laser control over qubits and making the system more programmable. They are also actively exploring how the system can be used for new applications, ranging from probing exotic forms of quantum matter to solving challenging real-world problems that can be naturally encoded on the qubits.

Eating Fruits and Vegetables Linked to Less Stress

Too much stress has a detrimental effect on one’s health.

*****

Eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is associated with less stress, according to new research from Edith Cowan University (ECU).

The study examined the link between fruit and vegetable intake and stress levels of more than 8,600 Australians aged between 25 and 91 participating in the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle (AusDiab) Study from Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute.

The findings revealed people who ate at least 470 grams of fruit and vegetables daily had 10 per cent lower stress levels than those who consumed less than 230 grams. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends eating at least 400 grams of fruit and vegetables per day.

Lead researcher, PhD candidate Simone Radavelli-Bagatini from ECU’s Institute for Nutrition Research, said the study strengthens the link between diets rich in fruit and vegetables and mental wellbeing.

“We found that people who have higher fruit and veggie intakes are less stressed than those with lower intakes, which suggests diet plays a key role in mental wellbeing,” said Ms Radavelli-Bagatini.

A growing issue

Mental health conditions are an increasing problem in Australia and around the world. Around one in two Australians will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime. Globally, approximately 1 in 10 people live with a mental health disorder.

According to Ms Radavelli-Bagatini, some stress is considered normal, but long-term exposure can significantly impact mental health.

“Long-term and unmanaged stress can lead to a range of health problems including heart disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety so we need to find ways to prevent and possibly alleviate mental health problems in the future,” said Ms Radavelli-Bagatini.

The benefits of a healthy diet are well known, but only 1 in 2 Australians eat the recommended two serves of fruit per day and fewer than 1 in 10 eat the recommended five serves of vegetables each day.

“Previous studies have shown the link between fruit and vegetable consumption and stress in younger adults, but this is the first time we’re seeing similar results across adults of all ages,” said Ms Radavelli-Bagatini.

“The study’s findings emphasise that it’s important for people to have a diet rich in fruit and vegetables to potentially minimise stress.”

Food and mood

While the mechanisms behind how fruit and vegetable consumption influences stress are still unclear, Ms Radavelli-Bagatini said key nutrients could be a factor.

“Vegetables and fruits contain important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, flavonoids and carotenoids that can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, and therefore improve mental wellbeing,” she said.

“Inflammation and oxidative stress in the body are recognised factors that can lead to increased stress, anxiety and lower mood.”

“These findings encourage more research into diet and specifically what fruits and vegetables provide the most benefits for mental health.”

The research is part of ECU’s recently launched Institute for Nutrition Research, which aims to investigate how nutrition can help prevent and treat chronic health conditions.

‘Fruit and vegetable intake is inversely associated with perceived stress across the adult lifespan’ was published in Clinical Nutrition.

Experimental Drug Has Potential Against Alzheimer’s Disease

The drug reversed Alzheimer’s in mice through removing garbage from their brain cells. The research seems like a notable milestone against Alzheimer’s disease.

*****

Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine have designed an experimental drug that reversed key symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in mice. The drug works by reinvigorating a cellular cleaning mechanism that gets rid of unwanted proteins by digesting and recycling them. The study was published online today in the journal Cell.

“Discoveries in mice don’t always translate to humans, especially in Alzheimer’s disease,” said co-study leader Ana Maria Cuervo, M.D., Ph.D., the Robert and Renée Belfer Chair for the Study of Neurodegenerative Diseases, professor of developmental and molecular biology, and co-director of the Institute for Aging Research at Einstein. “But we were encouraged to find in our study that the drop-off in cellular cleaning that contributes to Alzheimer’s in mice also occurs in people with the disease, suggesting that our drug may also work in humans.” In the 1990s, Dr. Cuervo discovered the existence of this cell-cleaning process, known as chaperone-mediated autophagy (CMA) and has published 200 papers on its role in health and disease.

CMA becomes less efficient as people age, increasing the risk that unwanted proteins will accumulate into insoluble clumps that damage cells. In fact, Alzheimer’s and all other neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by the presence of toxic protein aggregates in patients’ brains. The Cell paper reveals a dynamic interplay between CMA and Alzheimer’s disease, with loss of CMA in neurons contributing to Alzheimer’s and vice versa. The findings suggest that drugs for revving up CMA may offer hope for treating neurodegenerative diseases.

Establishing CMA’s Link to Alzheimer’s

Dr. Cuervo’s team first looked at whether impaired CMA contributes to Alzheimer’s. To do so, they genetically engineered a mouse to have excitatory brain neurons that lacked CMA. The absence of CMA in one type of brain cell was enough to cause short-term memory loss, impaired walking, and other problems often found in rodent models of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, the absence of CMA profoundly disrupted proteostasis — the cells’ ability to regulate the proteins they contain. Normally soluble proteins had shifted to being insoluble and at risk for clumping into toxic aggregates.

Dr. Cuervo suspected the converse was also true: that early Alzheimer’s impairs CMA. So she and her colleagues studied a mouse model of early Alzheimer’s in which brain neurons were made to produce defective copies of the protein tau. Evidence indicates that abnormal copies of tau clump together to form neurofibrillary tangles that contribute to Alzheimer’s. The research team focused on CMA activity within neurons of the hippocampus — the brain region crucial for memory and learning. They found that CMA activity in those neurons was significantly reduced compared to control animals.

What about early Alzheimer’s in people — does it block CMA too? To find out, the researchers looked at single-cell RNA-sequencing data from neurons obtained postmortem from the brains of Alzheimer’s patients and from a comparison group of healthy individuals. The sequencing data revealed CMA’s activity level in patients’ brain tissue. Sure enough, CMA activity was somewhat inhibited in people who had been in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, followed by much greater CMA inhibition in the brains of people with advanced Alzheimer’s.

“By the time people reach the age of 70 or 80, CMA activity has usually decreased by about 30% compared to when they were younger,” said Dr. Cuervo. “Most peoples’ brains can compensate for this decline. But if you add neurodegenerative disease to the mix, the effect on the normal protein makeup of brain neurons can be devastating. Our study shows that CMA deficiency interacts synergistically with Alzheimer’s pathology to greatly accelerate disease progression.”

A New Drug Cleans Neurons and Reverses Symptoms

In an encouraging finding, Dr. Cuervo and her team developed a novel drug that shows potential for treating Alzheimer’s. “We know that CMA is capable of digesting defective tau and other proteins,” said Dr. Cuervo. “But the sheer amount of defective protein in Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases overwhelms CMA and essentially cripples it. Our drug revitalizes CMA efficiency by boosting levels of a key CMA component.”

In CMA, proteins called chaperones bind to damaged or defective proteins in cells of the body. The chaperones ferry their cargo to the cells’ lysosomes — membrane-bound organelles filled with enzymes, which digest and recycle waste material. To successfully get their cargo into lysosomes, however, chaperones must first “dock” the material onto a protein receptor called LAMP2A that sprouts from the membranes of lysosomes. The more LAMP2A receptors on lysosomes, the greater the level of CMA activity possible. The new drug, called CA, works by increasing the number of those LAMP2A receptors.

“You produce the same amount of LAMP2A receptors throughout life,” said Dr. Cuervo. “But those receptors deteriorate more quickly as you age, so older people tend to have less of them available for delivering unwanted proteins into lysosomes. CA restores LAMP2A to youthful levels, enabling CMA to get rid of tau and other defective proteins so they can’t form those toxic protein clumps.” (Also this month, Dr. Cuervo’s team reported in Nature Communications that, for the first time, they had isolated lysosomes from the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients and observed that reduction in the number of LAMP2 receptors causes loss of CMA in humans, just as it does in animal models of Alzheimer’s.)

The researchers tested CA in two different mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease. In both disease mouse models, oral doses of CA administered over 4 to 6 months led to improvements in memory, depression, and anxiety that made the treated animals resemble or closely resemble healthy, control mice. Walking ability significantly improved in the animal model in which it was a problem. And in brain neurons of both animal models, the drug significantly reduced levels of tau protein and protein clumps compared with untreated animals.

“Importantly, animals in both models were already showing symptoms of disease, and their neurons were clogged with toxic proteins before the drugs were administered,” said Dr. Cuervo. “This means that the drug may help preserve neuron function even in the later stages of disease. We were also very excited that the drug significantly reduced gliosis — the inflammation and scarring of cells surrounding brain neurons. Gliosis is associated with toxic proteins and is known to play a major role in perpetuating and worsening neurodegenerative diseases.”

Treatment with CA did not appear to harm other organs even when given daily for extended periods of time. The drug was designed by Evripidis Gavathiotis, Ph.D.,, professor of biochemistry and of medicine and a co-leader of the study.

Drs. Cuervo and Gavathiotis have teamed up with Life Biosciences of Boston, Mass., to found Selphagy Therapeutics, which is currently developing CA and related compounds for treating Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

The study is titled, “Chaperone-mediated autophagy prevents collapse of the neuronal metastable proteome.” The study’s other co-leader and first author is Mathieu Bourdenx, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Cuervo’s lab and also a junior researcher at the Institute of Neurodegenerative Diseases, University of Bordeaux, France. Additional Einstein authors include: Adrián Martín-Segura, Aurora Scrivo, Susmita Kaushik, Ph.D., Inmaculada Tasset, Ph.D., Antonio Diaz and Yves R. Juste.

Study Shows Electrolytes Effective at Preventing Muscle Cramping

The study found that electrolyte-infused water is more effective than plain water.

*****

If you reach for water when a muscle cramp strikes, you might want to think again. New research from Edith Cowan University (ECU) has revealed drinking electrolytes instead of pure water can help prevent muscle cramps.

The study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, found that people who drank electrolyte enhanced water during and after exercise were less susceptible to muscle cramps than those who drank pure water.

Muscle cramps are a common painful condition affecting many people, including around 39 per cent of marathon runners, 52 per cent of rugby players and 60 per cent of cyclists.

Dilution solution

Lead researcher Professor Ken Nosaka, from ECU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences, said the study builds on the evidence that a lack of electrolytes contributes to muscle cramps, not dehydration.

“Many people think dehydration causes muscle cramps and will drink pure water while exercising to prevent cramping,” he said.

“We found that people who solely drink plain water before and after exercise could in fact be making them more prone to cramps.

“This is likely because pure water dilutes the electrolyte concentration in our bodies and doesn’t replace what is lost during sweating.”

When cramp strikes

Professor Nosaka began researching the causes of muscle cramps after regularly suffering from them while playing tennis.

The study involved 10 men who ran on a downhill treadmill in a hot (35ºC) room for 40 to 60 minutes to lose 1.5 to 2 per cent of their body weight through sweat in two conditions.

They drank plain water during and after exercise for one condition and took a water solution containing electrolytes in the other condition.

The participants were given an electrical stimulation on their calves to induce muscle cramp. The lower the frequency of the electrical stimulation required, the more the participant is prone to muscle cramp.

“We found that the electrical frequency required to induce cramp increased when people drank the electrolyte water, but decreased when they consumed plain water,” said Professor Nosaka.

“This indicates that muscles become more prone to cramp by drinking plain water, but more immune to muscle cramp by drinking the electrolyte water.”

Not all water is equal

Electrolytes are minerals including sodium, potassium, magnesium and chloride. They are essential for muscle health and help the body to absorb water.

Oral rehydration solutions contain electrolytes in specific proportions and can be made with water, salt and sugar. They are commonly found in supermarkets and pharmacies.

Professor Nosaka said electrolytes have many benefits for both athletes and the general population.

“Electrolytes are vital to good health — they help the body to absorb water more effectively than plain water and replace essential minerals lost through sweat or illness,” he said.

“People should consider drinking oral rehydration fluids instead of plain water during moderate to intense exercise, when it’s very hot or when you are sick from diarrhoea or vomiting.”

Professor Nosaka is planning further research to find out the optimal amount of electrolytes to prevent muscle cramps as well as how they could help the elderly and pregnant women.