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Meditation, yoga can sharpen your mind

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Yoga

London, May 11: Confirming what yogis have claimed for long, new research has found that meditation and breath-focused practices, such as pranayama, can work like fertiliser for the brain, strengthening our ability to focus on tasks.

“Our research finds that there is evidence to support the view that there is a strong connection between breath-centred practices and a steadiness of mind,” said principal investigator of the study Ian Robertson from Trinity College Dublin.

The findings, published in the journal Psychophysiology, explained the neurophysiological link between breathing and attention.

The research showed that breathing — a key element of meditation and mindfulness practices — directly affects the levels of a natural chemical messenger in the brain called noradrenaline.

This chemical messenger is released when we are challenged, curious, exercised, focused or emotionally aroused and, if produced at the right levels, helps the brain grow new connections, like a brain fertiliser.

The way we breathe, in other words, directly affects the chemistry of our brains in a way that can enhance our attention and improve our brain health.

The study found that participants who focused well while undertaking a task that demanded a lot of attention had greater synchronisation between their breathing patterns and their attention, than those who had poor focus.

The authors believe that it may be possible to use breath-control practices to stabilise attention and boost brain health.

“In our study we looked for a neurophysiological link that could help explain these claims by measuring breathing, reaction time, and brain activity in a small area in the brainstem called the locus coeruleus, where noradrenaline is made,” said lead author Michael Melnychuk from Trinity College Dublin.

“Noradrenaline is an all-purpose action system in the brain. When we are stressed we produce too much noradrenaline and we can’t focus. When we feel sluggish, we produce too little and again, we can’t focus. There is a sweet spot of noradrenaline in which our emotions, thinking and memory are much clearer,” Melnychuk added.

The researchers believe that the findings could have particular implications for research into brain ageing.

“Brains typically lose mass as they age, but less so in the brains of long term meditators. More ‘youthful’ brains have a reduced risk of dementia and mindfulness meditation techniques actually strengthen brain networks,” Robertson said.

“Our research offers one possible reason for this – using our breath to control one of the brain’s natural chemical messengers, noradrenaline, which in the right ‘dose’ helps the brain grow new connections between cells,” he added.

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What is to be blamed for childhood cancer?

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Childhood cancer
Representative Image , Image Credit : J Pat Carter/AP

A team of researchers has thrown light on the community beliefs about what causes cancer in children, an area which remains understudied, finds a latest research.

“Few childhood cancers are attributed to genetics or environmental factors, so when children are diagnosed with cancer, families often wonder ‘why me/why us’?” said lead author Janine Vetsch, postdoctoral research candidate from UNSW Sydney in Australia.

For the study, the team examined the beliefs of more than 600 participants — parents and childhood cancer survivors — about the causes of childhood cancer, and compared them with beliefs of 510 members of the general population.

Findings, published in Acta Oncologica, revealed that more than seven out of 10 childhood cancer survivors and survivors’ parents believed that chance or bad luck caused the cancer.

This led to most parents and survivors seem to understand that there is nothing they could have done to prevent the cancer, according to Vetsch.

However, around one in five families did believe that environmental factors and genetics played a role, despite only limited available scientific evidence, results further showed.

“It looks like healthcare professionals are successfully helping most families arrive at that view,” said Vetsch.

Such views could lead to stigma. Hence, it is important to increase community knowledge of childhood cancer causes in general.

There is a need to encourage doctors to talk about the causes with affected families to address unhelpful misconceptions,” Vetsch suggested.

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Does your dental floss contain toxic chemicals?

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Dental Health, Image: Bigstock

New York, Jan 9: Using Oral-B Glide dental floss could contribute to elevated levels of toxic chemicals that can lead to health problems, especially in women, including kidney and testicular cancer, high cholesterol, low birth weight, among others, says a study led by US-based Silent Spring Institute.

In the study, the team measured the presence of 11 different PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) — water- and grease-proof substances — in blood samples of 178 middle-aged women.

The findings, appearing in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology (JESEE), showed that women who flossed with Oral-B Glide tended to have higher levels of a type of PFAS called PFHxS (perfluorohexanesulfonic acid) in their body compared with those who did not.

“This is the first study to show that using dental floss containing PFAS is associated with a higher body burden of these toxic chemicals,” said lead author Katie Boronow, a scientist at the institute.

“The good news is, based on our findings, consumers can choose flosses that don’t contain PFAS,” she added.

Further, the team also tested 18 dental flosses (including three Glide products) for the presence of fluorine — a marker of PFAS, all of which tested positive for fluorine. The new findings are consistent with previous reports that Glide is manufactured using Teflon-like compounds.

In addition, the study also showed that women who frequently ate prepared food in coated cardboard containers, such as French fries or takeout, had elevated blood levels of PFAS chemicals.

“Overall, this study strengthens the evidence that consumer products are an important source of PFAS exposure,” Boronow said. “Restricting these chemicals from products should be a priority to reduce levels in people’s bodies.”

Other behaviours that were associated with higher PFAS levels included having stain-resistant carpet or furniture and living in a city served by a PFAS-contaminated drinking water supply.

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How breastfeeding is linked to being a righty or lefty

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Breastfeeding

New York, Jan 9: Are you a leftie or a righty? The duration for which a child is breastfed may determine handedness or the dominant hand, says a research.

The study, from the University of Washington, suggests that the prevalence of left-handedness is lower among breastfed infants.

Children breastfed for longer than nine months were associated with the prevalence for righthandedness.

On the other hand, bottle fed infants were associated with left-handedness.

The reason could be because the region of the brain that controls handedness localises to one side of the brain.

Possibly, breastfeeding optimises this process towards becoming right or left-handed, the researchers explained.

“We think breastfeeding optimises the process the brain undergoes when solidifying handedness,” said Philippe Hujoel, a professor from the varsity.

“That’s important because it provides an independent line of evidence that breastfeeding may need to last six to nine months,” Hujoel added.

For the study, the researchers included 62,129 mother-child pairs.

The findings, published in the journal Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition, showed that breastfeeding for less than one month, one to six months, and more than six months, when compared to bottle feeding, was associated with a nine per cent, 15 per cent and 22 per cent decreased prevalence of non right-handedness, respectively.

However, the study does not imply that breastfeeding leads to right-handedness, Hujoel emphasised.

Handedness, whether it be right- or left-handed, is set early in fetal life and is at least partially determined by genetics, he noted.

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