Monday, February 24th, 2014
Hearing adults talking may have a significant effect on the cognitive and language development of babies who were born prematurely, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics. More from WomenandInfants.org:
The goal of the study was to test the association of the amount of talking that a baby was exposed to at what would have been 32 and 36 weeks gestation if a baby had been born full term, using the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development, 3rd Edition (Bayley – III) cognitive and language scores.It was hypothesized that preterm infants exposed to higher word counts would have higher cognitive and language scores at seven and 18 months corrected age.
“Our earlier study identified that extremely premature infants vocalize (make sounds) eight weeks before their mother’s due date and vocalize more when their mothers are present in the NICU than when they are cared for by NICU staff,” explained Dr. Vohr.
At 32 weeks and 36 weeks, staff recorded the NICU environment for 16 hours with a Language Environment Analysis (LENA) microprocessor. The adult word count, child vocalizations and “conversation turns” (words of mother or vocalizations of infant within five seconds) between mother and infant are recorded and analyzed by computer.
“The follow-up of these infants has revealed that the adult word count to which infants are exposed in the NICU at 32 and 36 weeks predicts their language and cognitive scores at 18 months. Every increase by 100 adult words per hour during the 32 week LENA recording was associated with a two point increase in the language score at 18 months,” said Dr. Vohr.
The results showed the hypothesis to be true.Dr. Vohr concluded, “Our study demonstrates the powerful impact of parents visiting and talking to their infants in the NICU on their developmental outcomes. Historically, very premature infants are at increased risk of language delay.The study now identifies an easy to implement and cost effective intervention – come talk and sing to your baby – to improve outcomes.”
Image: Mom holding infant’s hand, via Shutterstock
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Monday, February 24th, 2014
Children who engage in a lot of violent video game play and television viewing may be driven by genetics, according to new research conducted with Dutch children and published in the Journal of Communication.
The parents noted how much violent TV programming their children, aged 5-9, viewed, as well as how often they played violent video games. DNA samples collected at the children’s birth were then analyzed to determine whether they have a certain gene variant. The researchers found that children who had the specific variation of the serotonin-transporter gene on average consumed more violent media and displayed more ADHD-related behavior than those who did not have the genetic marker.
The researchers noted that the link is subtle, and other factors, chiefly the parenting environment children are growing up in, may be at play. However, other research has found links between genetic factors and the overall amount of media children are likely to consume. And this new study is the first to isolate the type of media–violent content–being consumed in light of genetic factors. So the scientists called for further research.
“Our results indicate that children’s violent media use is partly influenced by genetic factors. This could mean that children with this gene variant are more likely to seek out stimulating activities, such as violent television viewing and video game playing,” said [researcher Sanne] Nikkelen in a statement. “It is important to study the relationship between media use and ADHD-related behaviors because children who show increased ADHD-related behaviors often face peer and academic difficulties and are at increased risk for substance abuse. Examining factors that may contribute to the development of these behaviors is essential.”
Image: Child playing video game, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
American children are exposed to at least double the levels of chemicals that are known to affect the brain in ways that are linked with disorders including autism, ADHD, and dyslexia–all disorders that have been on the rise in recent years. Time.com reports on new research that has found radical changes in chemical exposure since 2006:
In 2006, scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai identified five industrial chemicals responsible for causing harm to the brain — lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (found in electric transformers, motors and capacitors), arsenic (found in soil and water as well as in wood preservatives and pesticides) and toluene (used in processing gasoline as well as in paint thinner, fingernail polish and leather tanning). Exposure to these neurotoxins was associated with changes in neuron development in the fetus as well as among infants, and with lower school performance, delinquent behavior, neurological abnormalities and reduced IQ in school-age children.
Now the same researchers have reviewed the literature and found six additional industrial chemicals that can hamper normal brain development. These are manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene and polybrominated diphenyl ethers. Manganese, they say, is found in drinking water and can contribute to lower math scores and heightened hyperactivity, while exposure to high levels of fluoride from drinking water can contribute to a seven-point drop in IQ on average. The remaining chemicals, which are found in solvents and pesticides, have been linked to deficits in social development and increased aggressive behaviors.
The research team acknowledges that there isn’t a causal connection between exposure to any single chemical and behavioral or neurological problems — it’s too challenging to isolate the effects of each chemical to come to such conclusions. But they say the growing body of research that is finding links between higher levels of these chemicals in expectant mothers’ blood and urine and brain disorders in their children should raise alarms about how damaging these chemicals can be. The developing brain in particular, they say, is vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals, and in many cases, the changes they trigger are permanent.
“The consequence of such brain damage is impaired [central nervous system] function that lasts a lifetime and might result in reduced intelligence, as expressed in terms of lost IQ points, or disruption in behavior,” they write in their report, which was published in the journal Lancet Neurology.
They point to two barriers to protecting children from such exposures — not enough testing of industrial chemicals and their potential effect on brain development before they are put into widespread use, and the enormous amount of proof that regulatory agencies require in order to put restrictions or limitations on chemicals.
Image: Chemical pesticides, via Shutterstock
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ADHD, Autism, brain chemistry, chemicals, dyslexia, fluoride, pesticides, toxic chemicals | Categories:
Child Health, Must Read, New Research, Trends
Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
A woman’s diet during pregnancy may directly affect her child’s brain in a way that determines the baby’s risk of becoming obese or overweight during childhood, new research has found. More from The Atlantic:
The article, published in the journal Cell in January, looks at the impact a mother’s diet has on her offspring’s health. This line of research isn’t new—otherstudies have shown links between a woman’s health during pregnancy and her child’s weight later in life—but this is one of the first to provide a potential explanation for this phenomenon.
To explore this, researchers first fed pregnant mice a diet high in fat at varying stages during their pregnancy to figure out when the most critical period was.
It turns out that mother mice that were fed a high-fat diet while they were nursing had significantly heavier male offspring with a higher percentage of body fat than moms fed a normal diet during this time. These males also had higher insulin resistance and glucose intolerance, precursors for type-2 diabetes, even if they themselves consumed a normal diet. Interestingly, these poor health effects were only present in the female offspring if they ate a high-fat diet, but not if they ate normally.
Following this discovery, the researchers looked at what was going on in the brains of these mice that might be linked to their increase in body fat, particularly focusing on the hypothalamus, a major hormonal relay station in the brain that helps to regulate our metabolism. Two chemicals that are maintained through the hypothalamus and are key players in controlling our hunger and satiety are aGRP/Neuropeptide Y, which are released when we’re hungry, stimulating our appetites, and POMC, which is involved in triggering satiety once we’ve eaten.
In baby mice, neurons continue to develop after they’re born, but in humans, neural development is more established at birth. Therefore, the nursing stage in mice actually corresponds to the third trimester of pregnancy in humans, meaning that the most critical period for people is during the last trimester.
In the case of POMC and aGRP, the researchers discovered that there was a lower density of axon fibers—the part of the cell that connects neurons in one area of the hypothalamus to another—in mice with mothers that were fed a high-fat diet. This may then have had an effect on the processing of insulin and glucose in these mice, potentially leading to the glucose intolerance and elevated insulin levels that the scientists witnessed.
Moreover, it appears that a target of these neurons that is involved in suppressing appetite and stimulating the metabolism was also significantly affected. Specifically, the genetic expression of the thyroid-stimulating hormone TRH was significantly lower in the offspring of the high-fat mother mice. This means that there was a reduced potential for the release of this hormone, which is involved in weight-regulation.
Finally, the researchers also found evidence of abnormalities in pancreatic cells, again suggesting an impairment in the processing of glucose and insulin release.
Image: Pregnant woman eating, via Shutterstock
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Friday, February 14th, 2014
Teenagers are more likely to agree to wear sunscreen on a regular basis after hearing about the premature aging sun exposure can cause, a new study has found. Similar information about how the sun’s rays increase the risk of potentially life-threatening skin cancer, however, did not prove as motivational to the teens studied. More from Reuters:
“Vanity is more of a driving force to use sunscreen, as opposed to the fear factor of developing skin cancer,” the study’s lead author, William Tuong, told Reuters Health. Tuong is a fourth-year medical student at the University of California, Davis.
In his study, high school students applied sunblock three times as often if they watched a video showing how it could prevent their skin from wrinkling than if they watched a video showing how sun exposure causes melanoma.
Fifty Sacramento 11th-grade students participated in the study and saw one of two educational videos urging them to lather on sunscreen.
Tuong developed the five-minute videos to test the theory that teenagers were more likely to respond to messages about appearance than to messages about health.
A young, attractive woman speaks directly to youth in both videos.
In one, the actress emphasizes the growing incidence of melanoma in young people and the link between the deadliest form of skin cancer and ultraviolet light. In the other video, the same actress discusses how ultraviolet light contributes to premature aging and “can make you look older and less attractive.”
“We are not trying to look like our grandparents, right?” the actress says. “Have you seen what the sun can do to a grape? It gets shriveled and wrinkled. Raisins are not cute,” she says.
“I don’t want to look like a raisin face, and I don’t think you want to either,” she continues. “The sun causes wrinkles, dark spots, uneven skin tones, sagging skin and rough, leathery skin. These are all the things that will make you look older and definitely less sexy.”
Image: Teen wearing sunscreen, via Shutterstock
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