Yoga may reduce mild cognitive impairment

27 Jul

Let me state my biases right upfront, I am a yoga practitioner, so I may have a tendency to be less critical of yoga positive research. With that in mind, let me report on this study published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease: “Changes in Neural Connectivity and Memory Following a Yoga Intervention for Older Adults: A Pilot Study.” Here is the abstract:

No study has explored the effect of yoga on cognitive decline and resting-state functional connectivity.

This study explored the relationship between performance on memory tests and resting-state functional connectivity before and after a yoga intervention versus active control for subjects with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Participants ( ≥ 55 y) with MCI were randomized to receive a yoga intervention or active “gold-standard” control (i.e., memory enhancement training (MET)) for 12 weeks. Resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to map correlations between brain networks and memory performance changes over time. Default mode networks (DMN), language and superior parietal networks were chosen as networks of interest to analyze the association with changes in verbal and visuospatial memory performance.

Fourteen yoga and 11 MET participants completed the study. The yoga group demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in depression and visuospatial memory. We observed improved verbal memory performance correlated with increased connectivity between the DMN and frontal medial cortex, pregenual anterior cingulate cortex, right middle frontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and left lateral occipital cortex. Improved verbal memory performance positively correlated with increased connectivity between the language processing network and the left inferior frontal gyrus. Improved visuospatial memory performance correlated inversely with connectivity between the superior parietal network and the medial parietal cortex.

Yoga may be as effective as MET in improving functional connectivity in relation to verbal memory performance. These findings should be confirmed in larger prospective studies.

Interesting, but I do have a few concerns. The improvement in depression for the yoga group was statistically significant but the effect size was small:

the yoga group improved significantly in depression (GDS) and in visuospatial memory (Rey-O delayed recall). The clinical improvement in GDS for the yoga group was only minimal (baseline 7.5 (5.1) and follow up 3.9 (2.5); p = 0.01).

If you look at the table you will see that the control group also experience a reduction in depression, the fact that it did not achieve significant is likely an artifact of the study’s small sample size. Moreover, the yoga group started out with much higher depression scores suggesting that the groups might not have been comparable.

Here is the authors’ descriptions of the study’s limitations:

The sample size was only powered towards rs-fMRI findings, and exploring relationships between memory and functional connectivity, not exploring multi-domain effects on cognition. Additionally, we do not have long-term follow-up, which means we are unable to explore cognitive decline towards dementia. Also, it is possible that the enhanced cognitive benefits and connectivity changes resulting from the KK yogic intervention were due to the 60 min of instruction per week, the 12 min per day of Kirtan kriya meditation (shown to positively affect blood flow in the brain [34]), or a combination of these factors. However, as previous studies only using KK meditation found activation patterns that are in-line with those from the present research, it is unlikely that the weekly classes presented a large deviation. Nevertheless, this is a fruitful area for future research studies, which may aim to parse out the effects of these various activities, or perhaps determine that for optimal benefits weekly classes in addition to a daily meditative practice is recommended.


Is brain training a placebo?

25 Jul

The word “placebo” comes from the Latin and means  “I shall please.” A recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that claims about the benefits of brain training may simply be placebo effects:

“Placebo effects pose problems for some intervention studies, particularly those with no clearly identified mechanism. Cognitive training falls into that category, and yet the role of placebos in cognitive interventions has not yet been critically evaluated. Here, we show clear evidence of placebo effects after a brief cognitive training routine that led to significant fluid intelligence gains. Our goal is to emphasize the importance of ruling out alternative explanations before attributing the effect to interventions. Based on our findings, we recommend that researchers account for placebo effects before claiming treatment effects.”

(Hat tip to Deric’s MindBlog).



Micronutrients and insomnia

22 Jul

The most recent issue of Clinical Psychological Science includes a paper titled “Effect of Micronutrients on Insomnia in Adults.” Here is the abstract:

Insomnia is a debilitating condition causing psychological distress and frequently comorbid with other mental health conditions. This study examined the effect of 8 weeks of treatment by broad spectrum micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) on insomnia using a multiple-baseline-across-participants open-label trial design. Seventeen adults were randomized to 1-, 2-, or 3-week baseline periods (14 completed). Self-report measures were the Consensus Sleep Diary–Morning (CSD-M), the Pittsburgh Insomnia Rating Scale (PIRS), and the Depression, Anxiety, Stress Scale (DASS). Baselines were generally stable. Treatment completers reported reliable and clinically significant change in insomnia severity (PIRS), in depression, stress, and anxiety (DASS), and on at least two aspects of sleep measured by the CDS-M. All completers were treatment-compliant, and side effects were minimal. Nutritional supplementation is shown to be a novel, beneficial treatment for insomnia in adults. Follow-up research using placebo-controlled designs as well as comparisons to cognitive-behavioral and other treatments is recommended.

I think the paper is quite interesting and it is consistent with some other research. I do, however, have some concerns. The researchers use a commercial brand name supplement, DSD (Daily Self Defense). Here is their description:

DSD contains all the B vitamins identified as being important for stress reduction (Table S1 in the Supplemental Material available online provides a full list of ingredients).

As a subscriber, I have access to the supplementary material, yet when I checked s1 it did not contain that information. I found a list of ingredients on line and I think the researchers should be clearer about why they thought this formulation would be more effective than other commercially available products. The main ingredients are very similar to what you would find in many commercially available multiple vitamin pills, plus 460 milligrams of a proprietary herbal blend.



Psilocybin as a treatment for depression

20 Jul

Here the findings from the abstract from a paper published in The Lancet Psychiatry;


Psilocybin’s acute psychedelic effects typically became detectable 30–60 min after dosing, peaked 2–3 h after dosing, and subsided to negligible levels at least 6 h after dosing. Mean self-rated intensity (on a 0–1 scale) was 0·51 (SD 0·36) for the low-dose session and 0·75 (SD 0·27) for the high-dose session. Psilocybin was well tolerated by all of the patients, and no serious or unexpected adverse events occurred. The adverse reactions we noted were transient anxiety during drug onset (all patients), transient confusion or thought disorder (nine patients), mild and transient nausea (four patients), and transient headache (four patients). Relative to baseline, depressive symptoms were markedly reduced 1 week (mean QIDS difference −11·8, 95% CI −9·15 to −14·35, p=0·002, Hedges’ g=3·1) and 3 months (−9·2, 95% CI −5·69 to −12·71, p=0·003, Hedges’ g=2) after high-dose treatment. Marked and sustained improvements in anxiety and anhedonia were also noted.


This study provides preliminary support for the safety and efficacy of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression and motivates further trials, with more rigorous designs, to better examine the therapeutic potential of this approach”

Note that this is feasibility study and had no control group. Also, it was not  psilocybin alone, but the mushroom in conjunction with psychological support.


Cleveland’s contributions to the world

18 Jul

My beloved adopted city of Cleveland will be receiving a lot of attention this week. Unfortunately, not all of it will be positive. For example, this week’s edition of Slate’s Political Gabfest is titled: “Last Week Was Awful and Next Week I Have to Go to Cleveland” Thanks a lot, David Plotz.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to remind the world of a few things that Cleveland has contributed to the world:


  1. Bobby Womack.


2. Harvey Pekar:

Though we used to hang out in the same places, I only met Harvey Pekar once, and then it was at a book signing. He was a nice guy. If you are unfamiliar with his work I recommend Our Cancer Year as a good place to start. The movie American Splendor is also very good.


3. Superman!



4. Christmas Story

It was filmed in Cleveland!


5. The Michelson-Morley experiment

Ann Patty on learning Latin

15 Jul

A fascinating Lexicon Valley podcast where linguist  John McWhorter interviews Ann Patty about her efforts to learn Latin. Patty documents her learning project in her book Living with a Dead Language: My Romance with Latin

As I have said many times, learning a language is an ideal exercise for your brain. Don’t waste you time with expensive and, probably, ineffective brain training software. Learn a language instead.

The most interesting thing I learned in last Sunday’s New York Times

13 Jul

It turns out that you can buy silicone substitutes for pizza dough to practice dough tossing. You can purchase this product at





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