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Cinnamon turns up the heat on fat cells

New research from the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute has determined how a common holiday spice—cinnamon—might be enlisted in the fight against obesity. Scientists had previously observed that cinnamaldehyde, an essential oil that gives cinnamon its flavor, appeared to protect mice against obesity and hyperglycemia. But the mechanisms underlying the effect were not well understood. Researchers in the lab of Jun Wu, research assistant professor at the LSI, wanted to better understand cinnamaldehyde's action and determine whether it might be protective in humans, too. "Scientists were finding that this compound affected metabolism," said Wu, who also is an assistant professor of molecular and integrative physiology at the U-M Medical School. "So we wanted to figure out how—what pathway might be involved, what it looked like in mice and what it looked like in human cells." Their findings, which appear in the December issue of the journal Metabolism, indicated that cinnamaldehyde improves metabolic health by acting directly on fat cells, or adipocytes, inducing them to start burning energy through a process called thermogenesis.
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Now you like it, now you don't: Brain stimulation can change how much we enjoy and value music

Enjoyment of music is considered a subjective experience; what one person finds gratifying, another may find irritating. Music theorists have long emphasized that although musical taste is relative, our enjoyment of music, be it classical or heavy metal, arises, among other aspects, from structural features of music, such as chord or rhythm patterns that generate anticipation and expectancy. Now, researchers from the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital of McGill University have proven it is possible to increase or decrease our enjoyment of music, and our craving for more of it, by enhancement or disruption of certain brain circuits. Previous studies using brain imaging found that listening to pleasurable music engages brain circuits involved in reward anticipation and surprise, known as the fronto-striatal circuits. However, nobody had ever tested whether these circuits are essential to musical reward, or if they can be manipulated, leading to changes in subjective and physiological measures of experienced musical pleasure. In order to modulate the functioning of fronto-striatal circuits, the researchers from the lab of Robert Zatorre used a non-invasive brain stimulation technique, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which uses magnetic pulses to either stimulate or inhibit selected parts of the brain. In this case, the researchers applied TMS over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). Brain imaging studies have shown that stimulation over this region modulates the functioning of fronto-striatal circuits, leading to the release of dopamine, a key neurotransmitter in reward processing.
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Theory: Flexibility is at the heart of human intelligence

Centuries of study have yielded many theories about how the brain gives rise to human intelligence. Some neuroscientists think intelligence springs from a single region or neural network. Others argue that metabolism or the efficiency with which brain cells make use of essential resources are key. A new theory, published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, makes the case that the brain's dynamic properties - how it is wired but also how that wiring shifts in response to changing intellectual demands - are the best predictors of intelligence in the human brain. "When we say that someone is smart, we understand intuitively what that means," said University of Illinois psychology professor Aron Barbey, the author of the new paper. "Usually, we're referring to how good they are at making decisions and solving particular types of problems. But recently in neuroscience, there's been a focus on understanding in biological terms how general intelligence arises." That requires studying the structural and functional characteristics of the brain.
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The Messy Minds of Creative People

The creative process-- from the first drop of paint on the canvas to the art exhibition-- involves a mix of emotions, drives, skills, and behaviors....Bringing together lots of different research threads over the years, they identified three "super-factors" of personality that predict creativity: Plasticity, Divergence, and Convergence.
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Brain is strobing not constant, neuroscience research shows: First sight, now sound: New discoveries show perception is cyclical

It's not just our eyes that play tricks on us, but our ears too. That's the finding of a landmark collaboration that provides new evidence that oscillations, or 'strobes', are a general feature of human perception. While our conscious experience appears to be continuous, the study suggests that perception and attention are intrinsically rhythmic in nature.

link: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171116172505.htm
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Brain training game linked to lower dementia risk a decade later

Could a computer brain-training program be the first effective tool for preventing dementia? The results from a decade-long study of over a thousand people suggests it might be. Approximately 47 million people have dementia worldwide, but there are no known interventions that can be used to reduce the risk of a person developing the condition. Now a study of 2,800 people over the age of 65 has found that those who did a type of brain-training intended to boost a person’s brain processing speed were 29 per cent less likely to develop dementia over a ten-year period. Brain-training is a controversial area. There’s a booming market in computer games designed to improve a person’s memory, attention, or multitasking skills, for example, but evidence on whether they work any better than other types of computer game has been mixed. Jerri Edwards, of the University of South Florida, and her team have been testing three brain-training programs to see if any might protect against dementia. These programs are designed to target memory, reasoning, or processing speed. “These are very basic abilities that tend to decline with age,” says Edwards.....Only 1,200 people stuck with the study for the full decade. But when the team analysed the data from these people, they found that those who did the speed of processing training were 29 per cent less likely to have developed dementia than people in the control group. Those who did the memory or reasoning training were just as likely to have developed dementia as the control group.
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Your parents' lifestyles can determine your health—even as an adult

We don't choose our parents, their jobs or their health. And we don't have a say in whether or not they smoke, nor in what they ate when we were children. However, our recent study found that these things strongly determine our own lifestyles and health, even into adulthood. For our study – involving 21,000 participants aged 50 and above from 13 European countries – we compared the participants' current smoking, obesity and lack of exercise with their parents' job, longevity, smoking status and alcohol problems during the participants' childhoods. We showed that parents' characteristics when participants were ten years old explained between 31% and 78% of their adult health, with a European average at 50%. The countries where health was largely determined by parents' characteristics were Czech Republic (78%), Germany (72%), Spain (70%), France (66%) and Austria (64%). However, parental factors mattered less in Belgium (31%), the Netherlands (34%) and Switzerland (41%).
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People assigned to take cold showers didn’t feel any healthier, but they missed less work

There’s something impressive about taking cold showers. It summons up images of military discipline, and people claim that it makes you healthier. But how much of that is true? In my quest to find out, I came across a 2016 paper published in PLoS One on how cold showers affected health and work. The researchers recruited about 3,000 participants who, like most of us, were not used to taking cold showers. These participants were assigned to four groups. Every day for 30 consecutive days, the first group had to end their normal, blessedly warm shower with a cold shower for 30 seconds. The second group had to do this for 60 seconds, the third for 90 seconds, and the fourth was the control group that did not suffer for science. The participants had to time themselves, too, so if they couldn’t complete the full 30–90 seconds, they had to record how long they had subjected themselves to the water. (Keep in mind that this happened in the Netherlands, in January.) After the 30 days, the participants spent another month showering however they wanted. During this time, volunteers were asked to take a wide variety of surveys. At the end of the period, the researchers discovered an interesting finding: the people who had taken the cold showers took 29 percent fewer sick days than the others. But, crucially, they didn’t actually feel ill (as self-reported) any less often.
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Dog ownership linked to lower mortality

A team of Swedish scientists have used national registries of more than 3.4 million Swedes aged 40 to 80 to study the association between dog ownership and cardiovascular health. Their study shows that dog owners had a lower risk of death due to cardiovascular disease or to other causes during the 12-year follow-up. A total of more than 3.4 million individuals without any prior cardiovascular disease in 2001 were included in the researchers' study linking together seven different national data sources, including two dog ownership registers. The results are being published for the first time in Scientific Reports. The goal was to determine whether dog owners had a different risk of cardiovascular disease and death than non-dog owners. "A very interesting finding in our study was that dog ownership was especially prominent as a protective factor in persons living alone, which is a group reported previously to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death than those living in a multi-person household. Perhaps a dog may stand in as an important family member in the single households. The results showed that single dog owners had a 33 percent reduction in risk of death and 11 percent reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease during follow-up compared to single non-owners. Another interesting finding was that owners to dogs from breed groups originally bred for hunting were most protected," says Mwenya Mubanga, lead junior author of the study and PhD student at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University.
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Scientists claim to diagnose football-related brain injury in living patients for first time

For the first time, scientists have confirmed a diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — a neurological disease linked to head injuries from sports like football — in a living person. Until now, we’ve only been able to diagnose CTE in dead patients. Finding the disease while the patient is still alive could help scientists find a way to treat it. CTE develops from repeated hits to the head and has been linked to severe memory loss, depression, and dementia. It’s been found in 99 percent of the donated brains of NFL players. In a study published in the journal Neurosurgery, researchers found a telltale sign of CTE, a specific protein, in the brains of 14 retired NFL players who underwent a brain scan. Now that one of the players has died and doctors have been able to take a closer look at his brain, they have confirmed the CTE diagnosis. Many former National Football League players like Aaron Hernandez and Junior Seau have been found to have the progressive brain disease. Last year, the NFL reached a billion-dollar settlement, the largest in sports history, over a lawsuit from former players who suffered concussions and now have severe neurological diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). The subject of the paper was former NFL player Fred McNeill, according to CNN. McNeill played 12 seasons in the National Football League for the Minnesota Vikings, reporting one concussion. But by the time he was 59, McNeill was already experiencing serious problems with his motor skills, and so he sat for the brain scan. Scientists found increased levels of certain proteins in his brain, including the tau protein, which has been linked to Alzheimer’s. After McNeill died two years ago, at 63, detailed brain-tissue analysis confirmed that his brain had other physical signs of CTE, suggesting that the tau protein is linked to the disease. A study from September suggested that the levels of another protein, called CCL11, may also be used to diagnose CTE in living patients.
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