Smartphones can predict brain function associated with anxiety and depression

Information on social activity, screen time and location from smartphones can predict connectivity between regions of the brain that are responsible for emotion, according to a study from Dartmouth College.

In the research, data from phone usage was analyzed alongside results from fMRI scans to confirm that passively collected information can mirror activity in the brain linked to traits such as anxiety. Predictions based solely on the phone data matched the brain scans with 80 percent accuracy.

The study, presented at ACM UbiComp, an annual conference on pervasive and ubiquitous computing, represents the first time researchers have been able to predict connectivity between specific brain regions solely based on passive data from smartphones.

“Simple information about how someone is using their smartphone can provide a peek into the complex functioning of the human brain,” said Mikio Obuchi, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Computer Science at Dartmouth and lead author of the study. “Although this research is just beginning, combining data from smartphones—rather than fMRI alone—will hopefully accelerate research to understand better how the human brain works.”

According to the research, how often and how long an individual uses their phone provides information about the functioning between the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the amygdala—two key centers of the brain related to emotional state.

The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is responsible for self-control, decision making, and risk evaluation. The amygdala triggers the fight or flight response and helps individuals determine the emotions of others.

In addition to data on social activity, screen time and location, information on exercise and sleep patterns was also collected for the study.

The research found that more screen time, regular exercise, earlier bedtimes, higher social interaction and certain location patterns passively inferred from phone data matched a state of higher functional connectivity between the brain regions. This increased activity indicates a more positive emotional state.

“We are not suggesting that phones should replace technology like fMRI, but they can help individuals and health providers learn more about behavior patterns from everyday observations,” said Jeremy Huckins, a lecturer on psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth and a co-author of the study.

The research result aligns with clinical evidence showing that stronger connectivity between the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the amygdala to be associated with lower levels of anxiety and depression. Weaker functional connectivity, on the other hand, represents a more negative emotional state.

Anonymous fMRI data from volunteer participants were placed into two categories divided by low and high brain connectivity levels. By matching phone data against the fMRI results the researchers were able to predict which research subjects had higher or lower connectivity between brain regions with 80 percent accuracy.

According to the research team, the use of passive information from a smartphone can help eliminate the subjectivity that often complicates other information-gathering techniques on emotional well-being such as personal interviews and self-reporting on questionnaires.

The phone information allowed researchers to predict the emotional state of individuals at any given time without intrusive data collection. The data also support predictions of the long-term emotional traits in individuals.

“Hopefully, this study shows how mobile sensing can provide deep longitudinal human behavioral data to complement brain scans,” said Andrew Campbell, the Albert Bradley 1915 Third Century Professor of computer science at Dartmouth and the senior researcher on the study. “This could offer new insights into the emotional well-being of subjects that would just not be possible without continuous sensing.”

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How even a short walk can boost your memory

How even a short walk can boost your memory: Exercise improves concentration and problem-solving skills, scientists discover

  • Scientific review found people improved on memory tests after exercising 
  • Findings come from 13 studies which were analysed by Swedish researchers 
  • Exercise is believed to increase levels of a protein called ‘brain-derived neurotrophic factor’ which is thought to be important for memory function

A short walk, run or bike ride could provide a memory boost in less than an hour.

A scientific review looked at people aged 18 to 35 who walked, ran or cycled at moderate to high intensity and then took tests such as remembering a list of 15 words.

The participants, who exercised in bursts of two minutes, or 15 minutes, half an hour or an hour, improved on tests and showed better concentration and problem-solving skills.

The findings come from 13 studies which were analysed by Swedish researchers.

A short walk, run or bike ride could provide a memory boost in less than an hour

The authors, from Jonkoping and Linkoping universities, conclude: ‘This systematic review strongly suggests that aerobic, physical exercise followed by a brief recovery… improves attention, concentration, and learning and memory functions in young adults.’

Exercise is believed to increase levels of a protein called ‘brain-derived neurotrophic factor’ which is thought to be important for memory.

But not everyone is a natural athlete or has hours to work out. 

The review wanted to see if a single bout of exercise could have an effect, so looked at studies exploring this with young adults over ten years.

The review, published in the journal Translational Sports Medicine, found exercise from two minutes to an hour improved memory and thinking skills for up to two hours.

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Changes in gut microbiota can greatly impact alcohol-related liver disease and cancer risk

The importance of gut microbiota in alcohol-related liver disease and liver cancer has been demonstrated in two studies presented at the Digital International Liver Congress 2020. The key role of microbial biodiversity in the gut was highlighted in a study of fecal microbial transplantation. The technique shows promise as an intervention to improve some aspects of alcohol-related liver disease. A second study used a mouse model to associate changes in gut microbiota with the action of key signaling molecules, mediating the risk of hepatocarcinogenesis.

In recent years, imbalances in gut microbiota, or dysbiosis, have been implicated as contributing to alcoholic liver disease. In cases of chronic alcohol use, reactive oxygen species produced by alcohol metabolism can lead to chronic intestinal inflammation, which in turn can increase gut permeability and alter microbiota composition. This includes expansion of inflammation-associated bacteria such as Proteobacteria, and reduction of protective species such as Faecalibacterium. Increased gut permeability is believed to lead to translocation of gut bacterial DNA and endotoxins to the liver. The latter, in particular, are thought to induce pro-inflammatory toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) signaling pathways that are associated with hepatocarcinogenesis.

The importance of gut microbiota raises the possibility manipulating it to improve patient outcomes. The first study tested whether fecal microbial transplant (FMT), the transfer of fecal bacteria from a healthy individual to a patient, could reduce cravings for alcohol as the first step for use in subsequent larger trials. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized pilot clinical trial, 20 patients with alcohol use disorder (AUD) and liver cirrhosis, all of whom had tried several options to quit alcohol unsuccessfully, were given FMT or placebo, with FMT shown to reduce alcohol cravings as well as total and psychosocial sickness impact profile at day 15 post-treatment. A corresponding significant increase in microbiota diversity was seen in FMT patients compared with baseline (p=0.02), including a higher relative abundance of Odoribacter. Alistipes and Roseburia were also more abundant in patients given FMT compared with placebo at day 15.

“FMT was safe and is shown to have an impact on reducing short-term alcohol cravings and improving psychosocial quality of life in patients with cirrhosis and AUD,” said study presenter Dr. Jasmohan S Bajaj of McGuire VA Medical Center, U.S. “The relative abundance of short-chain-fatty-acid-producing bacteria identified in patients with higher diversity after FMT demonstrates that altering the gut-brain axis is a potential avenue to alleviating AUD in those with cirrhosis.”

A second study explored how gut microbiota may affect the process of developing hepatocellular carcinoma. The study used mice genetically engineered to develop steatohepatitis (NEMO-hepa mice). By crossing these mice with others with inactivated genes involved in the inflammatory response to bacteria, and then altering the gut microbial balance with broad-spectrum antibiotics, the research team showed that knocking out the NLRP6 receptor (a key mediator of colonic homeostasis that can cause intestinal dysbiosis if deficient) leads to more severe steatohepatitis and a higher tumor burden. The degree of intestinal barrier permeability was highly correlated with tumor burden as well as several indicators of inflammation in the liver. Crucially, this immune phenotype could be transferred to other mice by FMT, provided they had functional TLR4 signaling, and could be reversed if the transplanted microbiota were depleted with broad-spectrum antibiotics.

“Strikingly, we also found that replacing depleted Akkermansia muciniphila bacteria in the guts of these mice helped ameliorate their inflammation and steatohepatitis,” said Dr. Kai Markus Schneider of University Hospital RWTH Aachen, Germany. “This knowledge of how short-term changes to microbiota reshape the hepatic tumor microenvironment has the potential to reveal new therapeutic options for cancer prevention and therapy.”

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Your Lifestyle Choices Are Causing Great Damage to Your Health- Here’s How You Can Ward Off Autoimmune Diseases

Doing what’s convenient has become almost second nature to us. Whether it’s staying back at work, giving up on sleep to complete pending tasks, or opting for a quick and easy-to-eat meal, we constantly make choices that are bad for us. We’ve become our own worst enemies! And, the numbers are there to prove it. In the last three decades, the rate of autoimmune disorders has increased drastically.

Granted autoimmunity is commonly passed down through genetics but, recent research into the field suggests that our environment and life choices are doing greater harm to us.

While it’s true that in today’s day and age, we can’t escape from our sleep-deprived and stressed-out lifestyles but, we can rest assured that switching to better dietary habits will significantly decrease our chances of getting autoimmune diseases, and it will substantially improve the quality of our lives.

How Our Immune System Works

In many ways, our immune system functions similarly to a home security system. Both systems are designed in a manner that ensures intruders are locked outside, while we remain safely inside.

Unlike a security system, however, when our immune system notices any threats in the form of bacteria, parasites, viruses, or any other harmful substances from the outer environment, it instantly activates its inflammatory pathways to ensure their destruction.

However, sometimes our body loses its ability to differentiate between substances that belong inside and outside it. In such cases, it launches inflammatory pathways in a state of “self-attack”. This is what is happening inside our bodies when we have autoimmunity. Basically, it’s like having the home security go off for no reason, rendering us unable to stay inside our home.

Causes of Misdiagnosis

During autoimmunity, it is common for different organs to be attacked. Hence, each of its types is classified according to the organ being affected. Common types of autoimmunity include type 1 diabetes, irritable bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Hashimoto’s disease, celiac disease, and Grave’s disease.

Depending on the symptoms that occur, doctors order a biopsy, blood tests, or imaging. Autoimmunity, however, can be gravely complex, and doctors are known to have a hard time coming to a conclusion while dealing with it.

How To Stay Immune

Since studies have proven that the environment can have adverse effects on us, we have to ensure that we limit the multiple stressors present within our lifestyle choices. Yes, this means changing everything, down to the last scratch.

No more overtime, no more sleepless nights, no more unhealthy dietary choices. Remember that autoimmunity is genetic, and we always run the risk of passing it on to the next generation. Switching up our lifestyle for the sake of our health will only cause our bodies to bless us like never before.

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Blood sample can be used to assess the severity and prognosis of frontotemporal lobar degeneration in the future

Biomarkers to support the diagnosis of frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) and to assess the severity and expected prognosis of the disease are needed. Neurofilament light chain (NfL) measured from a blood sample strongly correlates with the duration of the disease in FTLD patients and the rate of brain atrophy, according to a new study published by the University of Eastern Finland in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.

FTLD is the second most common cause of degenerative and progressive dementing diseases in the working-age population after Alzheimer’s disease. FTLD is divided into two subgroups based on the primary symptoms. Early symptoms of the most common form of FTLD, behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), include changes in behavior, personality, and executive functions. In the second subgroup, primary progressive aphasia (PPA), the primary symptoms are linguistic, including naming problems and problems in speech production. FTLD patients often have also concomitant motor neuron disease (FTD-MND), and there is some overlap in the neuropathology and genetic alterations between these diseases. Several predisposing genetic mutations have been recognized for FTLD, of which the C9orf72 repeat expansion is exceptionally prevalent in Finnish patients.

NfL is an intracellular structural protein that maintains the shape of the nerve cells and the axons. Upon neuronal damage, NfL is released into the intercellular space, from where it eventually ends up in the blood. Indeed, elevated blood NfL levels are observed in a variety of neurodegenerative diseases and after brain trauma. Previously, NfL levels have been measured in cerebrospinal fluid, where it has a higher concentration than in the blood. However, new ultra-sensitive methods allow measuring NfL also in the blood, making blood NfL a minimally invasive biomarker for neurodegeneration.

The new study found that patients with high levels of blood NfL had a shorter duration of the disease and a faster rate of brain atrophy. High levels of blood NfL were detected particularly in the FTD-MND and PPA groups. Also, carriers of the C9orf72 repeat expansion had elevated blood NfL levels. These results provide valuable information on the course of the disease in FTLD patients showing different clinical symptoms or harboring diverse genetic backgrounds.

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Cooking more at home? Diverse food cultures can expand heart-healthy menu

For many in the United States, dinner means a large portion of meat and two sides, usually a starch and a vegetable. Think steak, potatoes and peas, or chicken, carrots and rice.

“That’s a very American and northern European idea—a meal which stems from a large amount of meat being available, and also wealth,” said Amy Bentley, a professor of food studies at New York University.

But trying different dishes from diverse cultures can open up a new menu of heart-healthy food options and go-to meal ideas. And now, with more people making their own meals as they stay home to limit the spread of the coronavirus, what better time than World Day of Cultural Diversity to try something different for dinner?

Meat is just an accent on the dish in many other parts of the world, said Bentley, author of “Inventing Baby Food: Taste, Health and the Industrialization of the American Diet.” Vegetables, including legumes like black beans or chickpeas, make up a medium portion of the plate. A starch like rice or polenta usually makes up the largest portion. Spices add flavor.

Think an Indian curry or Chinese stir-fried chicken and vegetables.

If you’re cooking the dish for the first time, Bentley recommends making a smaller amount or going light on spicier ingredients to get used to the flavors.

Keep moderation in mind when sizing up portions, too, said Ronaldo Linares, a New Jersey-based chef and restaurant consultant who teaches cooking classes. Linares, who comes from a Cuban-Colombian background, wrote the cookbook, “Sabores de Cuba,” a recipe collection of classic Cuban dishes with a healthy, diabetes-friendly twist.

Eating one big meal has the potential to cause fluctuations in blood sugar, Linares said. Research shows fluctuations in blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol could put people at higher risk for heart attack or stroke.

Using fresh ingredients and avoiding processed foods can add interesting flavors, he added. “If you are sticking to the guidelines of traditional cooking, it’s going to be naturally healthy.”

Instead of store-bought salsa, Bentley suggested making homemade salsa with chopped-up tomatoes, onion, cilantro, jalapenos and a pinch of salt. If a recipe calls for butter, Linares suggested substituting avocado oil or olive oil, which are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

Both Linares and Bentley noted that for some families, a lack of access to affordable, fresh ingredients can hamper the ability to eat diverse or healthier foods. Food choices also can be influenced by the exposure to ads for sugary drinks and fast food, regardless of one’s racial or ethnic background.

Just 1 in 10 adults meet the daily recommendation of having at least 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables as part of a healthy eating pattern, according to a 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Ultimately, we need a better food environment,” Bentley said. “It’s too much to expect the individual to be solely responsible because so much of this is about the food that’s available in the culture as well as socioeconomic issues.”

Some general nutritional guidelines can fit into meals within any cultural preference, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. They include making half your plate fruits and vegetables, and adding calcium-rich foods to each meal.

“It’s better to talk about healthy approaches to eating through actual food rather than nutrients,” Bentley said, “and not get hung up on portions and the minute mechanics that only adds to people’s stress.”

The American Heart Association suggests a healthy dietary pattern to reduce heart disease risk factors, such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. Plant-based and Mediterranean diets are singled out in AHA dietary guidelines.

Linares picked Peruvian cuisine when asked to highlight another food culture for people looking to try heart-healthy but flavorful alternatives. His sample meal starts with ceviche, a seafood dish.

“So, let’s say a ceviche of cooked octopus. It’s super tender, they char it, serve it cold, toss it in some lime juice and some herbs,” he said. “Then you have a sweet potato puree and add some aromatics and seasoning. Add some corn, some pickled onions and you put it together in this beautiful bowl.

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Lithuanians can go maskless as lockdown eases

Lithuania’s government said Wednesday that residents were no longer required to cover their faces outside, as the Baltic eurozone member reopened after weeks of coronavirus lockdown.

“Face coverings in outdoor public places will only be recommended from now,” Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis told reporters.

Lithuanians had been required since April 10 to wear masks outside to slow the spread of the virus. Police fined hundreds of people for disobeying the order.

Masks remain compulsory on public transport, in shops and at markets for now.

Among the first EU members to ease lockdown restrictions, Lithuania has already reopened open-air restaurants and cafes, along with shops and libraries, as infections slow.

Skvernelis said restaurants will be allowed to serve clients inside starting next week while local authorities will have the option to reopen schools later this month.

The government also approved plans to partially resume flights. More than 150 passengers arrived at Vilnius airport from Frankfurt on Wednesday afternoon—the country’s first regular passenger flight since mid-March.

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Finally! You Can Get Adult & Kids Face Masks at Old Navy

Unless you’ve been lucky enough to have sewing skills and spare breathable fabric lying around the house, you might be in the same boat as so many of us, still struggling to find good masks for our children and ourselves. Today we have good news for you: Old Navy has is now selling super cute, stylish kids masks and adult masks, at rather incredible prices.

The masks are in the kind of preppy and preppy prints Old Navy has always used for its shorts and pajamas. There are plaids, checks, paisleys, anchors, tropical motifs, stripes, polka dots, and the occasional Warhol-esque banana. You can’t choose, however. The kids masks and adult masks are sold in “surprise packs” of five for $12.50.

All the masks are three-ply 100 percent cotton, with elastic over-ear straps.

There is a catch here. As hospitals have known long before us, it’s pretty difficult to get something — even something as simply designed as a reusable cloth mask — into production very quickly, especially when we’re in the midst of a pandemic. So even Old Navy’s factories aren’t able to get us instant gratification here. These masks have only been available for pre-order since 5 a.m. ET Friday, are selling so fast that they the estimated shipping date is May 27 as of this writing. Get your orders in soon!

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Still mask shopping? Most of these kids masks are available right now.






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