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Spending long hours in dim light may affect learning ability

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New York, Feb 6: Do you use dim lights at home? If yes, then you should stop doing it as researchers have found that too much dim light in our surrounding might impair learning ability.

According to the researchers, spending too much time in dimly lit rooms might change the brain’s structure and hurt one’s ability to remember and learn.

For the study, published in the journal Hippocampus, researchers studied the brains of Nile grass rats — which, like humans, are diurnal and sleep at night — after exposing them to dim and bright light for four weeks.

The rodents exposed to dim light lost about 30 per cent of capacity in the hippocampus, a critical brain region for learning and memory and performed poorly on a spatial task they had trained on previously.

“When we exposed the rats to dim light, mimicking the cloudy days of Midwestern winters or typical indoor lighting, the animals showed impairments in spatial learning,” said Antonio “Tony” Nunez, Professor at Michigan State University in the US.

The study is the first to show that changes in environmental light, in a range normally experienced by humans, leads to structural changes in the brain, the researchers said.

The researchers mentioned that sustained exposure to dim light led to significant reductions in a substance called brain derived neurotrophic factor — a peptide that helps maintain healthy connections and neurons in the hippocampus — and in dendritic spines, or the connections that allow neurons to “talk” to one another.

“Since there are fewer connections being made, this results in diminished learning and memory performance that is dependent upon the hippocampus. In other words, dim lights are producing dimwits,” said Joel Soler, lead author of the study.

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How mushrooms can aid in diabetes treatment

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New York, Aug 17: Eating white button mushrooms daily can act as a prebiotic by improving microbial community in the gut, which could then improve the regulation of glucose in the liver, a finding that could one day pave way for new diabetes treatments, say researchers.

In the study, feeding white button mushrooms to mice changed the composition of gut microbes — microbiota — to produce more short chain fatty acids, specifically propionate from succinate, according to Margherita T. Cantorna, Professor at Pennsylvania State University in the US.

Previous research has shown that succinate and propionate can change the expression of genes needed to manage glucose production, she said.

“Managing glucose better has implications for diabetes, as well as other metabolic diseases,” Cantorna noted.

The study, reported in the Journal of Functional Foods, used two types of mice who were fed about a daily serving size of the mushrooms. One group had microbiota, the other were germ-free.

Consuming the mushrooms set off a chain reaction among the gut bacteria, expanding the population of Prevotella — a bacteria that produces propionate and succinate.

These acids can change the expression of genes that are key to the pathway between the brain and the gut that helps manage the production of glucose, or gluconeogenesis.

The mushrooms, in this case, serve as a prebiotic, which is a substance that feeds beneficial bacteria that are already existing in the gut. Probiotics are live beneficial bacteria that are introduced into the digestive system.

Beyond the possible beneficial benefits of mushrooms as a prebiotic, Cantorna said that this study also shows more evidence that there is a tight connection between diet and microbiota.

“It’s pretty clear that almost any change you make to the diet, changes the microbiota,” Cantorna added.

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Cabbage, broccoli could help prevent colon cancer: Study

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London, Aug 16: Eating green leafy vegetables such as kale, cabbage as well as broccoli could help maintain a healthy gut and prevent colon cancer, says a new study.

The findings revealed that mice fed on a diet rich in indole-3-carbinol (I3C) — which is produced when we digest these vegetables — were protected from gut inflammation and colon cancer as it activates a protein called the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR).

AhR acts as an environmental sensor, passing signals to immune cells and epithelial cells in the gut lining to protect us from inflammatory responses to the trillions of bacteria that live in the gut.

In the study, published in the journal Immunity, when genetically modified mice — that cannot produce or activate AhR in their guts — were fed a diet enriched with I3C, they did not develop inflammation or cancer.

But “when mice whose cancer was already developing were switched to the I3C-enriched diet, they ended up with significantly fewer tumours which were also more benign,” said lead author Amina Metidji from the Francis Crick Institute in the UK.

Moreover, the team found that normal mice fed on standard or I3C-enriched food did not develop tumours, while those fed on a ‘purified control diet’ developed colon tumours within 10 weeks.

Purified control diets contain exact mixtures of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and fibres enriched with vitamins and minerals, but have fewer AhR-promoting chemicals.

“This suggests that even without genetic risk factors, a diet devoid of vegetable matter can lead to colon cancer,” the researchers noted.

The study shows that while we cannot “change the genetic factors that increase our risk of cancer, we can probably mitigate these risks by adopting an appropriate diet with plenty of vegetables”.

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Exercise may reduce irregular heartbeat risk in obese people

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Atrial fibrillation is a condition that can make your heart race and put you at risk for stroke. But people who are obese are more prone to it and can reduce it if they exercise regularly.

According to a study, people with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30 have a significantly higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation than the normal weight individuals.

“People who reported that they didn’t exercise at all had about double the risk of developing fibrillation when compared to those who were physically active and whose body weight was normal,” said co-author Lars Elnan Garnvik from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU).

“However, people who were obese but who exercised a lot limited the increase in risk to no more than approximately 50 per cent. This suggests that physical activity is good for limiting the increased risk of atrial fibrillation in obese people,” Garnvik added.

For the study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, the research team involved 43,602 men and women who participated in the study between 2006 and 2008.

“Physical activity and exercise reduce a lot of the known risk factors for atrial fibrillation, like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and chronic inflammation,” said co-author Lars Elnan Garnvik from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

“Physical activity can also improve a person’s fitness level, and we know that people in good shape have a reduced risk of heart failure,” Garnvik added.

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