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The butter brain hypothesis

10 Oct

I always enjoyed reading the late Seth Robert’s blog. He never hesitated to question orthodoxies and always had some interesting new idea. However, some of the things he advocated were troubling. One example, of this was the butter brain hypothesis, the idea that consumption of butter might improve cognitive performance.

The idea is not implausible. The brain, after all, contains many lipids and the idea that consuming certain lipids might improve its performance does not sound unreasonable. The problem is butter is high in saturated fats and has been linked to heart disease.

I know, I know, many recent news reports tell us that “butter is safe” or that “butter is back.” These kind of person-bites-dog stories are popular in the media, but the science around saturated fats and cardiovascular disease is well established.

Here is an article from the New York Times reflecting on evolution and the dietary needs of the brain.

And here is a recent paper on the dangers of saturated fats. The abstract reads:

In recent years, many nutrition news headlines exclaimed that saturated fat was not linked to heart disease, leaving the public confused about whether to limit intake, as has been the dietary recommendation for several decades. However, a more nuanced look at the evidence indicates that high saturated fat diets are in fact not benign with respect to heart disease risk. Dietary recommendations should emphasize replacing saturated fats typical in red and processed meats, and certain tropical oils and dairy forms, with healthier polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat-rich foods, such as nuts, olive oil, and fatty fish, as well as healthy sources of carbohydrates, such as fiber-rich whole-grain foods, rather than refined-grain and sugar-laden foods.

 

Why are they called essential fatty acids?

5 Oct

I actually didn’t know until I watched this video:

 

 

I’ll post the second video on Friday.

Meet world memory champion Jonas Von Essen

26 Sep

You can read an interview with him here.

“I think that aiming high and practicing above your comfort level is very important. If you aim low you will land low. If you go fast and forget a lot you will gradually adapt to the higher tempo and forget less and less. It made all the difference to me.”

Von Essen has also received some attention for his diet.

“Diabetes of the brain”

5 Aug

The idea that Alzheimer’s disease might be a kind of diabetes has been floating around the research community for a number of years. Now it’s beginning to garner some media attention. Here is a 2008 paper that explains the hypothesis:

‘For nearly three decades of relatively intense research on AD, the inability to interlink this constellation of abnormalities under a single primary pathogenic mechanism resulted in the emergence and propagation of various heavily debated theories, each of which focused on how one particular component of AD could trigger a cascade that contributes to the development of all other known abnormalities. However, reevaluation of the older literature revealed that impairments in cerebral glucose utilization and energy metabolism represent very early abnormalities that precede or accompany the initial stages of cognitive impairment1 and led us to the concept that impaired insulin signaling has an important role in the pathogenesis of AD and the proposal that AD represents “type 3 diabetes.”’

This suggests that the behaviors that protect against diabetes may also protect Alzheimer’s disease.

 

 

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.

 

 

Uric acid and personality

2 May

Psychology has many interesting findings that have never been adequately explored. One of them is the link between high IQ and gout. Gout is a form of arthritis caused by a high level of uric acid in the body.

Now a study, published in Personality and Individual Differences reports links between serum uric acid and personality:

“Elevated serum uric acid (SUA) is associated with a variety of medical and psychopathological conditions. This study investigated whether elevated SUA is associated with the Five Factor Model of personality. Participants underwent a health examination at two points of time, T1 (N = 3706) and T2 (N = 2104), about 18 months apart. Ordinary least squares (OLS) regressions were used to examine the concurrent and over-18-month associations between the FFM factors and SUA levels. Extraversion was associated with elevated SUA at T1 and T2. Conscientiousness was associated with decreased SUA at T1. The associations of Extraversion and Conscientiousness with SUA decreased to marginal significance when adjusted for body weight as a possible mediator. Agreeableness was associated with decreased SUA at T1 and T2 and persisted after adjustment for covariates. A secondary analysis conducted to examine whether the FFM could predict individuals having above normal SUA levels, showed a trend similar to that observed for the OLS regressions. The associations found have direct relevance to medical and psychopathological conditions associated with elevated SUA.”

 

Study claims Concord grape juice improves cognitive function

18 Mar

A paper published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition makes that claim. Here is the study design:

“Twenty-five healthy mothers (aged 40–50 y) of preteen children who were employed for ≥30 h/wk consumed 12 ounces (355 mL) of either CGJ (containing 777 mg total polyphenols) or an energy-, taste-, and appearance-matched placebo daily for 12 wk according to a randomized crossover design with a 4-wk washout. Verbal and spatial memory, executive function, attention, blood pressure, and mood were assessed at baseline and at 6 and 12 wk. Immediately after the cognitive battery, a subsample of 17 women completed a driving performance assessment at the University of Leeds Driving Simulator. The 25-min driving task required participants to match the speed and direction of a lead vehicle.”

And here are the results:

“Significant improvements in immediate spatial memory and driving performance were observed after CGJ relative to placebo. There was evidence of an enduring effect of CGJ such that participants who received CGJ in arm 1 maintained better performance in the placebo arm.”

The full paper is here. One observation, if the grape juice effect carried over to the placebo condition, then the either the washout period was not long enough, or the grape juice had a permanent effect on cognition, or there is some other methodological flaw.

The research was supported by Welch Foods Inc.

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