Research Your Resolution: Take a Slow and Steady Approach to Losing Weight

Feig-Resolution-Slowandsteady.png

Emily_Feig
Emily Feig, PhD

Emily Feig, PhD, is a clinical research fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Feig recently published the results of a study she conducted as a doctoral student at Drexel University showing that individuals who maintained a steady rate of losing weight during the first few months of a behavioral weight loss program had better long term results than individuals who fluctuated in the amount they lost from week to week. Read more about her research study here.


If your goal for the New Year is losing weight, I recommend finding eating and exercise behaviors that lead to a steady weight loss week to week, even if the pace at which you are losing weight is slow.

For example, you might commit to bringing a healthy afternoon snack to work to replace stopping at the vending machine, setting a “kitchen closed” time when evening snacking will end, adding a vegetable to dinner five nights a week, or setting aside an hour each weekend to plan ahead for meals the next week.

By keeping track of how different behaviors affect your weight, you can adjust to find what leads to a slow and steady weight loss pace for you.

This is because we found that, in a sample of 183 participants in a behavioral weight loss program, better long-term weight loss at one and two years was achieved by those who lost weight at a consistent pace during the first few months of the program, compared to those whose weights varied more week to week.

So finding healthy behaviors that lead to a slow and steady rate of weight loss is likely a key factor in keeping the weight off long-term.


Research Your Resolution

Do you have goals for improving your health in the New Year? This month, investigators from the Mass General Research Institute are discussing the science behind some common New Year’s resolutions, and offering tips and advice based on their research into exercise, diet, healthy aging, heart health, and much more.

Massachusetts General Hospital is home to the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, a community of more than 10,000 people working across 30 departments, centers and institutes. The Mass General Research Institute works to support, guide and promote these research initiatives.

DASH Diet — Ranked Best Overall Diet, Could Prevent Hypertension and Gout

For the eighth consecutive year, U.S. News and World Report recently ranked the DASH Diet “best overall” diet among nearly 40 it reviewed. The announcement came just as new research suggests that combining DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) with a low-sodium diet has the potential to lower blood pressure as well as or better than many anti-hypertension medications.

The diet tied this year for “best overall” diet and was ranked No. 1 in the “healthy eating” and “heart disease prevention” categories.

Did you know that in addition to lowering blood pressure, the DASH diet may also reduce the risk of developing gout? In this article, originally published last year, researchers from Mass General describe how following the diet could prevent the intense pain and swelling associated with the disease:

Diet Known to Reduce Risk for Hypertension May Also Prevent Gout

Balanced diet

recent study from Massachusetts General Hospital suggests that following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet may reduce the risk of gout.

What is gout?

When excess uric acid in the bloodstream builds up too quickly or can’t be eliminated fast enough, it is deposited as needle-shaped crystals in the tissues of the body, including joints, causing intense pain. This pain, otherwise known as gout, is the most common type of inflammatory arthritis.

What are the current dietary recommendations for gout?

Doctors recommend a diet low in purines (chemical compounds that can be broken down into uric acid), which are found in certain meats and seafood. “But following such a diet has limited effectiveness and proves challenging for many patients,” says Hyon Choi, MD, DrPH, director of the Gout and Crystal Arthropathy Center in the MGH Division of Rheumatology, Allergy, and Immunology, senior author of the study.

What is the DASH diet?

The DASH diet (originally created to help patients with high blood pressure) emphasizes eating fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy items, whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts while discouraging eating foods high in saturated fats, cholesterol, trans fats and sodium, as well as red meats and sweets. Several studies have confirmed its ability to reduce risks for hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

What did the study investigate?

The study enrolled over 44,000 men with no history of gout. The research team applied two scoring systems to the dietary patterns of participants:

  1. A DASH dietary pattern score (based on the criteria for the DASH diet)
  2. A Western dietary pattern score (based on high intake of red and processed meats, French fries, refined grains, sweets and desserts)
What did they find?

During the 26 years of follow up, 1,731 participants were newly diagnosed with gout. Researchers found that a higher DASH dietary pattern score was associated with a lower risk for gout, while a higher western dietary pattern score was associated with an increased risk for gout. “For individuals at high risk for gout, especially those who also have hypertension, the DASH diet is likely to be an ideal preventive approach,” says Sharan Rai, MSc, of the MGH Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology, and lead author of the paper.

What are the implications of the study?

While these findings need to be confirmed in future interventional trials, the researchers note that many individuals at risk for gout because of elevated uric acid levels might already be candidates for the DASH diets, since more than half of such individuals also have hypertension. The only group that probably should be careful with the DASH diet would be patients with severe kidney disease, since the diet can be high in potassium.

12 Days of Research at Mass General: Untangling the Connections Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Mental Illness

Banner 12 days of researchIn the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

But before we get to the research, we want to thank you for following along with the Research Institute in 2017! We’ll be taking a short break over the holidays, but we can’t wait to continue sharing all the exciting research news and breakthroughs from Mass General in 2018!

December 2017:

Gatchel Untangles the Causes of Mood and Anxiety Symptoms and Loss of Brain Function in Aging Populations

Jennifer Gatchel studying Alzheimer's disease

Often referred to as the golden years, life after retirement can sometimes turn out to be less than sunny.

Dramatic lifestyle changes such as admittance to an assisted care facility and loss of mobility or independence can take a toll on mental health.

In fact, twenty percent of people over 55 suffer from a mental disorder, and two-thirds of nursing home residents exhibit mental and behavioral problems.

As a geriatric psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital, Jennifer Gatchel MD, PhD, works with adults ages 60 and over to help them cope with life’s transitions.

For many of her patients, symptoms of mental illness are often compounded by symptoms that indicate the onset of degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

“These are conditions I see every day in my practice that I find highly compelling,” says Gatchel. “Could psychiatric symptoms in older adults be driven in part by Alzheimer’s disease pathology and proteins impacting brain circuitry? If so, it would represent an important shift in the way we think about treating older adults presenting with these symptoms.”

Gatchel is using a combination of neuroimaging, cognitive testing, clinical assessments, and her ongoing interactions with patients to inform her research on the relationships between mood and anxiety symptoms and dementia.

She ultimately hopes to improve care and brain health for older patients and help them make the most of their golden years.

Measuring changes in brain structure and function

Gatchel uses positron-emission tomography (PET) neuroimaging to visualize amyloid and tau, the two proteins thought to be the core pathological drivers of Alzheimer’s disease, in living older adults.

By looking at amyloid and tau concurrently, both at a single time point and over time, she can follow individuals to see how the changes in their brain map onto the changes they are experiencing clinically.

To measure brain function and mental health, Gatchel asks participants and their families about observable changes in their mood, memory and performance of day-to-day activities. Participants also complete cognitive tests sensitive enough to pick up on small changes that may indicate degeneration in the brain.

Chicken or the egg scenario

In analyzing the data, Gatchel has found that the relationships between psychiatric and cognitive symptoms are very complex and akin to a chicken or the egg scenario.

“On the one hand, symptoms of depression or anxiety may be a precursor of Alzheimer’s disease, and may be among the earliest signs of the disease,” she explains.

“On the other end of the spectrum, recurrent episodes of depression may serve as risk factor for dementia. Also, older adults who have a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease may experience a reactive depression. It’s a complex question depending on which stage of the disease we’re looking at.”

She has unearthed some intriguing findings by looking at a cohort of older adults over the age of 60 with no reported cognitive impairments or psychiatric conditions enrolled in the Harvard Aging Brain Study, led by Drs. Reisa A. Sperling and Keith A.  Johnson.

Results thus far show that subclinical depressive symptoms in cognitively normal older adults are associated with accumulations of tau in a brain region affected in aging and early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

She has also carried out work with a cohort of younger adults from Colombia. This research, led by Dr. Yakeel T. Quiroz, looks at individuals who may carry a mutation in a single gene that gives rise to early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Similar to the Harvard Aging Brain Study, participants in the study had no reported cognitive impairments or psychiatric conditions at study entry.

Interestingly, Gatchel has found that subclinical symptoms of anxiety are associated with amyloid buildup, rather than tau pathology in this younger cohort.

Intrigued by these results, Gatchel plans to conduct future research to further disentangle the underlying pathology of depressive and anxiety symptoms, and to determine whether this differs across a range of symptom severity and in late onset vs. early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

One next step is to recruit an additional cohort of older adults with more severe psychiatric symptoms to complement the existing participants in the Harvard Aging Brain Study.

“We may be observing only a modest relationship between depressive symptoms and tau because individuals with more severe depressive symptoms were excluded from the study at entry,” says Gatchel.

“Would we see a stronger relationship if we examined individuals who had more severe depressive symptoms? Would we still observe a relationship with tau as compared to amyloid? Also, if we follow individuals over time, do those with more significant depressive or anxiety symptoms accumulate pathology more rapidly? These are just some of the questions we hope to address in the next phase of work.”

Gatchel will also continue to look to patients and clinical research participants to help her refine her research questions.

“It’s been incredibly helpful to maintain clinical practice as a psychiatrist,” she says. “My clinical encounters and relationships with patients are critical to informing the research process, and are continually changing the way I think about designing studies.

“It’s also extremely motivating to know that something you’re doing—a research question you are trying to tackle—could impact or improve clinical practice.”

You can find the original article here

12 Days of Research (16).png

12 Days of Research at Mass General: An On-the-Go Test For Food Allergies

Banner 12 days of researchIn the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

November 2017:

Pocket-Sized Device Provides Food Allergy Sufferers with Life-Saving Tableside Lab Results

If you’re among the 50 million Americans with a severe allergy to foods like gluten or nuts, every meal at a restaurant can feel like a potential land mine. Even if the restaurant has made an effort to provide dishes that are allergen-free, worries of cross-contamination and a subsequent severe or potentially life threatening reaction can still put a damper on your dinner plans.

To help ease concerns and keep food allergy sufferers safe, a team of researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital has developed a new device small enough to fit on a keyring that costs only $40 and can quickly and accurately test for food allergens.

While advances have been made in the packaged food industry, where new federal regulations require the manufacturer to disclose whether the product contains major food allergens, these disclosures are not always accurate and there are no similar regulations for the restaurant industry.

Rather than force diners to completely avoid foods that have the chance of containing an allergen, or eat something only to regret it later, Mass General researchers created integrated exogenous antigen testing (iEAT), a pocket-sized device that can accurately analyze food for the presences of allergens in less than 10 minutes. Specifically, the device can screen for peanuts, hazelnuts, wheat, milk and eggs.

keychain pic.jpeg
The iEAT system

Developed by co-senior team leaders Ralph Weissleder, MD, PhD, Director of the Center for Systems Biology (CSB) at Mass General and Hakho Lee, PhD, Hostetter MGH Research Scholar and Director of the Biomedical Engineering Program at the CSB, the device consists of three components:

  1. A small plastic test tube that the user can put a small sample of food into. The tube contains a solution that dissolves the sample and adds magnetic beads to the solution. The beads are designed to bind to the food allergen of interest.
  2. The user can then drop the solution onto an electrode chip, which is inserted into the keychain sized reader.
  3. The reader analyzes the sample and indicates on a small display whether the allergen is present, and if so, in what concentration.

Testing performed by the research team showed that measurements of the concentration of the allergen is extremely accurate. In fact, the device could detect levels of gluten that were 200 times lower than the federal standard. Accuracy is key because everyone’s sensitivity varies — some individuals could experience a reaction after consuming a miniscule trace of an allergen.

Weissleder and Lee have also developed a smartphone app to complement iEAT. With the app, users can compile and store the data they collect as they test different foods for various allergens at different restaurants and even in packaged foods. The app is set up to share this information online so others with the app will be able to find restaurants with foods that consistently have no or low levels that are below the individual’s triggering concentration.

cell phone app

Consumers may be able to purchase the $40 iEAT device and corresponding app in the near future — the research team has granted a license to a local start-up company to make the system commercially available. Weissleder and Lee also report that they could apply this technology to detect other substances in food such as MSG or even pesticides.

This research was recently highlighted in an NIH article and published in ACS Nano.

It was also recently featured in a news story on CBS Boston.

You can find the original post here.

12 Days of Research (14).png

12 Days of Research at Mass General: Modeling Alzheimer’s Disease in 3D

Banner 12 days of researchIn the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

October 2017:

How a 3D Model of Alzheimer’s Disease is Providing New Hope in the Search for Treatments

Reigning in Alzheimer’s disease continues to be a challenge — more than 10 million families are affected by this degenerative neurological disease, and the number of patients dying from the disease has increased 68 percent since 2010.

In the past decade, attempts at developing drugs to slow or halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease have been unsuccessful. The traditional path for early testing of promising therapies – mouse models – has been ineffective, and more than a dozen major clinical trials have failed.

But scientists and clinicians at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease (MIND) have developed an innovative new approach that could significantly improve the drug development process.  The laboratory teams of Doo Yeon Kim, PhD, an investigator in the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at MIND, and Rudy Tanzi, PhD, have found a way to grow human neural stem cells in a three-dimensional gel matrix.

This gel system allows the neural cells to grow more naturally and form into 3-D networks just like they do in the brain. It also provides a more accurate model of the signature plaques and tangles that develop around these neurons in Alzheimer’s disease.

The stem cells used in this lab model are genetically engineered to produce two proteins that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease – β-amyloid and tau. In the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, excessive accumulation of β-amyloid results in the formation of plaques in the spaces between neural cells, while tau is the main component of destructive neurofibrillary tangles within the cells.

Until Dr. Kim’s success, no single model of Alzheimer’s disease contained both amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. It usually takes a year to develop plaques in mouse models, it took only six weeks to develop both plaques and tangles in the “dish.”

Dr. Kim is now working with a consortium of labs to test thousands of FDA-approved drugs in this “Alzheimer’s in a dish” model to see if any of the drugs are effective in reducing levels of p-tau, a protein that is increased in Alzheimer’s patients.

Of the 2,400 drugs that have been tested, the team had approximately 40 promising hits that they can now investigate further.

Learn more: https://giving.massgeneral.org/fresh-alzheimers-approach-sparks-hope/

You can find the original post here.

12 Days of Research (13).png

12 Days of Research at Mass General: Predicting Painful Migraine Attacks

Banner 12 days of researchIn the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

August 2017:

Making Migraines Less of a Headache: Researchers Find New Way to Predict Migraine Attacks

20412581 - portrait of stressed young housewife in modern kitchen

If you’ve ever felt the pulsating pain, nausea and blinding light sensitivity that comes with a migraine, you’re not alone. In the US, more than 37 million people get these severe headache attacks that can last for several hours at a time.

If you’ve experienced migraines, you also know that their arrival can be sudden and unpredictable. Now a team of researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital has developed a new forecasting model that has the potential to pinpoint when a migraine will strike by tracking an individual’s stress levels over time.

While more work is needed before the model is ready for clinical use, a system that reliably predicts the onset of migraines could provide much needed relief for chronic migraine sufferers.

About Migraines

Migraines are more than just a bad headache – they are an incapacitating collection of neurological symptoms that affect 18% of American women and 6% of men, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. Symptoms range from flashes of light, one-sided throbbing pain, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and much more. Migraine attacks can be incredibly painful and debilitating, sometimes confining the sufferer to a darkened room until the symptoms subside. More than 90% of sufferers are unable to work or function normally during their migraine.

Doctors know that certain genes can make some individuals more susceptible to getting migraines, and potential migraine triggers can include stress, hormone fluctuations, lack of sleep and certain foods. However, predicting the exact cause and time of an individual migraine attack remains difficult. To make matters worse, preventative drugs that help to nip a migraine in the bud are only effective when taken at the onset of symptoms.

Developing and Testing a Forecast Model

Because perceived stress has received considerable attention for its association with the onset of headaches, a team of researchers led by Tim Houle, PhD, Associate Professor of Anesthesia, Critical Care, and Pain Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, developed a forecasting model for predicting future migraine attacks based on current levels of stress and head pain.

To test out the model, the team recruited 95 participants with a history of migraines. Participants were asked to keep a daily diary recording the frequency and intensity of their stress levels and presence/absence of any head pain. Each variable was measured using a specific scale.

Of the 4,195 days of analyzed diary data, participants experienced a migraine on 1,613 of these days (38.5%).  By analyzing participants’ self reported stress levels, the research team found statistically significant evidence that stress was greater in the days leading up to a reported migraine.

What This Means for Migraine Sufferers

The results provide the first statistically significant evidence that individual headache attacks can be forecasted within an individual sufferer. However, Houle cautions that the predictive model needs to be refined before it can be of widespread clinical use, and for now should be viewed as a first step in a new venture of forecasting migraine attacks.

In the future, a reliable forecasting model could be used to improve treatment options, reduce anxiety about the unpredictability of attacks and increase an individual’s confidence in their ability to self-manage migraine attacks.

Read the full study here

You can find the original post here.

12 Days of Research (11).png

12 Days of Research at Mass General: A Strategy for Sneaking Drugs Into Tumor Cells

Banner 12 days of researchIn the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

July 2017:

Could a Technique Echoing an Ancient Greek Military Strategy Point the Way to More Effective Cancer Treatments?

Trojan horse

According to Greek legend, the Trojan horse was a wooden structure built by Greek soldiers and presented to the Trojans as a gift after a long and fruitless siege of the city during the Trojan War. When the Trojans brought the gift horse within their city walls, the Greek soldiers who were hidden inside crept out under the cover of night and launched a deadly surprise attack. Historians continue to debate how much of the tale is based in fact and how much in myth.

At Massachusetts General Hospital, a real-life Trojan horse scenario that takes place on the nanoscale level could provide a way to sneak cancer drugs into fortified tumor cells so the drugs can attack from within.

Here are five things to know about a new study from the Mass General Center for Systems Biology:

1. Think of nanoparticles as the Trojan horses of cancer therapy. These tiny molecules (typically between 20 and 100 nanometers in size) are increasingly being used to transport drugs to a specific target in the body. The ability that researchers have to easily change the size and surface characteristics of the nanoparticles and control the time and location of the drug’s release makes them ideal for drug delivery systems.

2. Nanoparticles are small enough to carry the drugs (the Greek soldiers) through the body and can protect the encapsulated drug from toxic substances in the bloodstream that are used in infusion chemotherapy. However, in clinical practice, getting these nanoencapsulated drugs into patients’ tumors has been challenging—tumor blood vessels are difficult to break through, which limits the passage of any drugs from the bloodstream into tumor cells. Although it’s usually beneficial for blood vessels to maintain barrier function, their tough exteriors are a disadvantage in cancer therapies.

3. A 2015 study by Miles Miller, PhD, of the Center for Systems Biology, and his colleagues showed that tumor-associated macrophages — immune cells found around tumors that are in charge of engulfing pathogens, foreign materials and dead cells — can improve delivery of nanoparticle-based therapies to tumor cells. They also found that radiation therapy made it easier for substances to pass through tumor blood vessels. But exactly how these effects are produced and how they could be combined to enhance nanomedicine delivery was not known. Answering those questions was the goal of the current study.

4. Miller and his team found that macrophages can be prompted to act like Trojans, helping to bring the drugs inside the tumor, if the tumors are treated with radiation prior to administering the drugs. In the same way that a siege weakens the resistance of a city, the radiation weakens the blood vessels within the tumor. It also increases the number of macrophages attracted to tumor blood vessels which, in turn, pick up the drug-laden nanoparticles and bring them into the tumor. The sudden influx of macrophages into the weakened walls of the blood vessels causes many of the vessels to burst, thus flooding the tumor cells with the drug-laden nanoparticles and improving drug delivery by 600 percent.

5. “Finding that this combination of radiation and nanomedicine leads to synergistic tumor eradication in the laboratory provides motivation for clinical trials that combine tumor rewiring using radiation therapy with nanomedicine,” says Miller, who was lead author of the study. “Most of the treatments and nanomedicines employed in this study are FDA approved for cancer treatment, so this combination treatment strategy could be tested in clinical trials relatively quickly.”

Radiation & Macrophages

Ralph Weissleder, MD, PhD, Director of the MGH Center for Systems Biology is senior author of the Science Translational Medicine paper.

You can find the original post here.

12 Days of Research (10)

12 Days of Research at Mass General: Do Alzheimer’s Patients Suffer Silent Seizures?

Banner 12 days of researchIn the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

May 2017:

Researchers Detect “Silent” Seizures in Alzheimer’s Patients

First let’s define a key word:
Hippocampus: The brain structure responsible for memory development. The hippocampus is a key part of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease, and also a common source of seizures in people with epilepsy.

New research from Massachusetts General Hospital suggests a potential new connection between the devastating memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and “silent” seizures in the memory center of the brain.

The small study enrolled two female patients in their 60s with early AD and no known history of seizures. Because electrodes placed on the scalp are often unable to detect seizure activity deep in the brain, researchers surgically implanted electrodes on both sides of the brain through the foramen ovale (FO), a narrow opening at the base of the skull, in addition to scalp EEG. Each patient’s brain activity was monitored for 24 to 72 hours.

The FO electrodes recorded evidence of seizures in the hippocampuses of both patients, while the scalp EEG readings did not detect any abnormal electrical activity. Most notably, these seizures primarily occurred when patients were asleep, a critical time for memory consolidation.

“While it is not surprising to find dysfunction in brain networks in Alzheimer’s disease, our novel finding that networks involved in memory function can become silently epileptic could lead to opportunities to target that dysfunction with new or existing drugs to reduce symptoms or potentially alter the course of the disease,” says Andrew Cole, MD, Director of the Mass General Epilepsy Service and senior author of the Nature Medicine paper.

One patient received anti-seizure medicine as a treatment following the scan, which seemed to cut down on AD-linked symptoms such as confusion and repeating the same question. The other patient started on the medication but it had to be discontinued due to adverse effects on her mood.

A recent study led by Alice Lam, MD, PhD, also of the MGH Epilepsy Service and lead author of the current study, demonstrated a novel tool for detecting hippocampal seizures not detectible by scalp EEGs in patients with epilepsy. Cole and his team are working to refine this tool and apply it to AD.

Due to the small size of the study, further research is also needed to validate the results with a broader population.

You can find the original post here.

12 Days of Research (8).png

12 Days of Research at Mass General: Lack of Sleep Can Impact Childhood Behavior

Banner 12 days of researchIn the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

March 2017:

Children’s Sleep Habits Could Improve Their Ability to Focus, Make Friends and Solve Problems Later on in Childhood: Five Things to Know

A recent study by the MassGeneral Hospital for Children found that children ages 3 to 7 who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to have problems with attention, emotional control and relationship building later on in childhood. Here are five things to know about the study…

Young boy sleeping on bed with teddy bear

  1. The recommended amount of sleep for children is 11 hours or more at ages 3 to 4 year; and 10 hours or more at ages 5 to 7 years.
  2. A recent study from MassGeneral Hospital for Children reports that children ages 3 to 7 who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to have problems with attention, emotional control and peer relationships in mid-childhood (ages 7-10). The study found significant differences in the surveys responses of parents and teachers depending on how much sleep the 7-year-old children regularly received at younger ages.
  3. Analyzed data came from Project Viva, a long-term study that looks at the health impacts of several factors during pregnancy and after birth.  Information was gathered from mothers via interviews and questionnaires conducted at varying time points between when children were ages 6 months and 7 years old. Mothers and teachers were also sent surveys evaluating factors such as emotional symptoms and problems with conduct or peer relationships, when children were around 7.
  4. Among the 1,046 children enrolled in the study, those living in homes with lower household incomes and whose mothers had lower education levels were more likely to sleep less than nine hours at ages 5 to 7. Other factors associated with insufficient sleep include more television viewing and a higher body mass index. Sleep deficiencies also tend to be more prevalent in African American children. Sleep levels during infancy often predict levels at later ages, supporting the importance of promoting a good quantity and quality of sleep from the youngest ages.
  5. “Our previous studies have examined the role of insufficient sleep on chronic health problems – including obesity– in both mothers and children,” explains Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, chief of General Pediatrics at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, who led the study.  “The results of this new study indicate that one way in which poor sleep may lead to these chronic disease outcomes is by its effects on inhibition, impulsivity and other behaviors that may lead to excess consumption of high-calorie foods. It will be important to study the longer-term effects of poor sleep on health and development as children enter adolescence.”

You can read more about this study here.

You can find the original post here.

12 Days of Research (6).png

12 Days of Research at Mass General: Autism and the Blood-Brain Barrier

Banner 12 days of research

In the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

February 2017:

Five Things to Know: The Blood-Brain Barrier, Intestinal Permeability and Autism

Researchers from the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Mucosal Immunology and Biology Research Center at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) recently came out with a study published in Molecular Autism. Here are five things to know:

  1. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the U.S., with 1 in every 68 children born in this country diagnosed with ASD. Parents and researchers alike are looking for to learn more about the causes and develop new treatment options for this complex condition.
  2. The blood-brain barrier prevents materials in the blood from entering the brain, and the intestinal epithelial tissue (the intestine’s lining) creates a boundary between the intestine and the rest of the body. When either of these barriers aren’t functioning properly, it can cause inflammation.
  3. The research team analyzed postmortem brain tissues from 33 individuals (8 with ASD, 10 with schizophrenia and 15 healthy controls) and intestinal tissues from 21 individuals (12 with ASD and 9 without such disorders).
  4. The results showed alterations in blood-brain barrier and intestinal permeability in individuals with ASD. This is the first time anyone has shown that an altered blood-brain barrier and impaired intestinal barrier could both be contributing to inflammation in the nervous system tissue of individuals with ASD.
  5. What’s next? Researchers plan to look at how the composition of microbiota in the intestine impacts intestinal permeability and the behavior of autistic individuals. Researchers already know that kids with ASD have an altered composition of gut microbial communities. If they can learn more about this composition impacts ASD, they may be able to devise new treatments.

Learn more about this study here.

You can find the original post here.

12 Days of Research (5).png