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Caffeine and Kids’ Brains

The amount of caffeine kids consume may be disrupting kids' brainsWhile adolescents are fast asleep, their brains are busy maturing, making key connections (synapses), a process that continues until adulthood. But the amount of caffeine kids consume may be disrupting that process, warn a group of Swiss researchers who investigated how caffeine acts on the brains of rats. A study from the team at the University Children’s Hospital Zurich shows that caffeine intake equivalent to three or four cups of coffee per day reduced rats’ deep sleep and delayed the animals’ brain development. The researchers gave 30-day-old rats moderate amounts of caffeine over five days and measured the electrical current generated by their brains. They found that deep sleep periods were reduced from day 31 until day 42, seven days beyond the time the rats received the caffeine. Not only did the rats’ brain maturation slow, but the investigators reported that the animals, which normally grow more curious with age, remained timid and cautious. The researchers suggested that even if rat brains differ clearly from the human brain, there are enough developmental parallels to raise the issue of whether caffeine intake during puberty is harmless. The study was published in PLoS ONE on September 4, 2013.

Nadja Olini, Salomé Kurth, and Reto Huber. “The Effects of Caffeine on Sleep and Maturational Markers in the Rat,” PLoS ONE, September 4, 2013; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0072539


What Does Your Clean (or Messy) Desk Say About You?

A messy desk may bolster creative thinkingDon’t let the neatniks get you down if your desk is less than pristine. A new study from the University of Minnesota suggests that while there are practical benefits to keeping a neat desk, a messy one may bolster creative thinking. Researchers asked a group of college-age students to fill out some questionnaires in a clean and orderly office or a messy, paper-strewn one. Afterward, the students were given the chance to donate to a charity and to take an apple or a chocolate snack as they left. Those who worked in the neat offices gave more to the charity than the ones who worked in the messy environments, and were more likely to take apples instead of candy bars. Next, the students were assigned to either a clean or messy office and asked to come up with novel uses for ping pong balls. Both groups came up with the same number of ideas, but impartial judges viewed the ones from study participants assigned to the messy offices as more creative. The study was published online in the September 2013 issue of Psychological Science.

Kathleen D. Vohs, et al, “Physical Order Produces Healthy Choices, Generosity, and Conventionality, Whereas Disorder Produces Creativity,” Psychological Science, August 1, 2013, doi: 10.1177/0956797613480186


Acupuncture for Depression

Acupuncture worked better than medicationAntidepressants used in conjunction with acupuncture worked better than medication alone in a newly published study from the U.K.’s University of York. Investigators there also tested counseling combined with antidepressants, which they found worked as well as acupuncture and drugs.

The researchers randomized a group of 755 men and women being treated with antidepressants for moderate to severe depression to receive either 12 weekly acupuncture sessions, 12 weekly counseling sessions or the medication alone. After three months, the team reported a “significant reduction” in average depression scores for patients who underwent acupuncture or counseling in addition to antidepressants compared to the group that received medication as the only treatment. Improvements in the acupuncture and counseling groups continued to be observed for up to six months, but at nine and 12 months there were no further gains in scores indicating recovery from depression among these patients. The study was designed to evaluate how effective acupuncture and counseling would be for patients with moderate to severe depression who remained in primary care.

My take? I’m not surprised that acupuncture worked well for some of the patients in this study – the World Health Organization has recognized it as an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression. While not addressed by the U.K. study, I believe that there is no better therapy than regular aerobic exercise for more immediate, symptomatic treatment of mild to moderate depression. Many studies have demonstrated the efficacy of a daily workout for improving emotional health and boosting self-confidence. For best results, I recommend 30 minutes of continuous activity at least five days a week.

Hugh MacPherson et al, “Acupuncture and Counselling for Depression in Primary Care: A Randomised Controlled Trial,” PLoS ONE September 24, 2013


What Foods Must You Avoid? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed the idea of labeling foods that are gluten free: New Rules on Gluten-Free Food Labeling? Check out the article and let us know what foods you must avoid that have labels on the food packaging.


Surprising Supplement for Sleeplessness

Ginseng increases energy, vitality and sexual vigor, improves skin and muscle tone, and helps build resistance to stressUsed regularly, ginseng increases energy, vitality and sexual vigor, improves skin and muscle tone, and helps build resistance to stress. And now, results of a small, new study from Korea suggest that it can also improve sleep quality. Researchers at Kwandong University recruited 15 healthy males, ages 15-37, and instructed them to take 1,500 mg of red ginseng by mouth three times a day for seven days to see whether it affected their sleep quality. One day before, and seven days after the participants took the ginseng, the investigators used overnight polysomnography to monitor their sleep. For this test, sensors are attached to the head, chest and legs that can measure brain waves, the oxygen level in blood, heart rate and breathing, as well as eye and leg movements. The research team reported that the participants slept longer and more efficiently after they had taken the ginseng, but they noted that larger studies would be needed to confirm these findings. The study was published in the September 16, 2013 issue of the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.

H. Jeong Han, H. Yun Kim, J Joon Choi et al. “Effects of red ginseng extract on sleeping behaviors in human volunteers.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology, July 16, 2013. pii: S0378-8741(13)00494-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2013.07.005


The Future of Organic Foods (Video)

Dr. Weil speaks about the future of organic foods and how there needs to be a change in the way we choose what we eat. If more people become involved and make their voices heard with organic foods, there can be great change in the way food is grown and consumed. We eat what is cheap and available, but by making changes we can live a healthier life and eat healthier foods.

Learn more about organic foods and find out which foods you should always buy organic.

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For Saner Shopping: Wear High Heels

You’re more likely to spend sensibly if you’re wearing high heelsSeriously, a new study from marketing professors at Utah’s Brigham Young University found that when shopping for such pricey items as a new television, you’re more likely to spend sensibly if you’re wearing high heels. They theorized that anything that forces your mind to focus on keeping your body in equilibrium affects your shopping choices as well. For their study, the researchers set up experiments that caused consumers to factor balance into their shopping. In one experiment, online shoppers were asked to lean back in a chair, others were asked to play a Wii Fit game while answering questions about product choices or to stand on one foot while pondering which printer to purchase. The idea behind the study was to help consumers better understand what they really want while shopping. "We need to sit back for a minute and consider, 'Is this really what I want, or are the shoes I'm wearing influencing my choice?' We need to be more aware of what is influencing our choices," said study co-author Darron Billeter, Ph.D., in a press release that accompanied publication of the study in the August 2013 issue of the Journal of Marketing Research. The investigation is part of an emerging area of research that examines the relationship between physical sensations and decision-making. Previous studies have looked at the role of ambient temperature and hunger on shopping choices.

Jeffrey S. Larson, Darron M. Billeter. “Consumer Behavior in ‘Equilibrium’: How Experiencing Physical Balance Increases Compromise Choice”. Journal of Marketing Research, 2013; 50 (4): 535 DOI: 10.1509/jmr.11.0455


What’s Your Breast Cancer Risk?

Fewer than one in 10 women accurately estimated their lifetime risk of breast cancerWhatever your view of your breast cancer risk, it’s probably incorrect. A recent survey of nearly 10,000 women revealed that fewer than one in 10 accurately estimated their lifetime risk of breast cancer. About 45 percent of the women participating underestimated their risk, while 46 percent over-estimated it. In general, the survey showed that minority women were more likely to underestimate their odds of developing the disease, while white women overestimated. The women, ages 35-70, completed questionnaires at 21 mammography centers on Long Island, N.Y. They were asked 25 questions about their perceptions of breast cancer risk up to age 90. Results showed that three percent of the women estimated their breast cancer risk to be zero to five percent; 35 percent estimated five to 10 percent; 40 percent of the women estimated 10 to 15 percent; 12 percent put their risk at 15 to20 percent; while five percent estimated 20 to -25 percent and another five percent estimated their risk as greater than 25 percent. "Despite ongoing media attention, awareness campaigns, pink ribbons, breast cancer walks, and breast cancer month, most women lack accurate knowledge of their own breast cancer risk," said Jonathan D. Herman, M.D., of Hofstra North Shore-LIJ Medical School in New Hyde Park, N.Y. who conducted the survey. He is now planning a follow-up study to focus on healthcare providers' understanding about breast cancer risk, and what they think their patients know about their own risk.

My take? The estimates of breast cancer risk uncovered by this survey are pretty wide of the mark. In fact, the average 50-year-old white woman’s five-year risk of breast cancer is 1.3 percent and her lifetime risk (until age 90) is 11.2 percent. If you flip those numbers, you’ll see that for a 50-year-old white woman the odds of not developing breast cancer in the next five years is 98.7 percent and that odds are 88.8 percent against her developing breast cancer in her lifetime. The average five-year risk for mid-life African-American women is 1.2 percent with a lifetime risk of 8.9 percent. You can find breast cancer risk calculators online that can provide a reasonably reliable estimate of your five-year and lifetime risks.