Intermittent fasting has health benefits, but it’s not for everyone, researchers say

Either way, the alternating between eating and fasting can improve blood-sugar regulation and increase resistance to stress.

Weight loss, less stress, and lower cholesterol—a type of diet called intermittent fasting could yield all of these benefits and more, a new study concludes. But other researchers chimed in with some notes of caution: This diet is difficult and requires patience, and it may not be a good idea for people with certain health conditions.

Intermittent fasting consists of alternating between periods of eating and not eating, according to co-author Mark Mattson, a Johns Hopkins University neuroscientist. He said that this diet comes in two varieties: one that requires the person to consume food only within a set six- or eight-hour period of the day; and one that limits the person to eat normally five days a week and eat only one moderate-sized meal on each of the other two.

Either way, the alternating between eating and fasting can improve blood-sugar regulation and increase resistance to stress, while also lowering blood pressure, blood lipid levels, and heart rates, Matson wrote. He said that he would encourage more health professionals to tell their patients about it.

“We are at a transition point where we could soon consider adding information about intermittent fasting to medical school curricula alongside standard advice about healthy diets and exercise,” Mattson said in a release statement.

But Guy Mintz, director of cardiovascular health and lipidology at Sandra Bass Hear Hospital in New York, noted that the fasting regimen can be difficult. He did not participate in the study.

Mintz also said that patients who are diabetic, older, or not overweight should avoid intermittent fasting. The diet can cause swift fluctuations in blood sugar, which can be harmful for any of these patient groups, he said.

Russian scientists use MRI scans to predict children’s intelligence

The Russian researchers accomplished the task by building a network architecture that applies several mathematical models.

Russian scientists took fourth place in an international competition of MRI-based methods for predicting adolescent intelligence. The scientists, from Russia’s Skoltech Center for Computational and Data-Intensive Science and Engineering (CDISE), used new techniques that they said could gauge a child’s “fluid intelligence,” or brain power that the child is born with and that has little to do with acquired knowledge or skills.

Their model predicted children’s fluid intelligence level and the “target variable”—intelligence over time, which can be affected by learning and environmental nurturing—independently of age, gender, brain size, or the type of MRI scanner used, according to the researchers. They published their results in the journal Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Neurocognitive Prediction.

The competition dates back to 2013, when the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched a grand-scale study of adolescent brains to evaluate if and how teenagers’ hobbies and habits affect their brain development. NIH scientists also wondered if MRI scans could predict a young person’s intelligence level and compiled a massive database of brain scans of children ages 9-10.

The NIH subsequently jumpstarted the competition and made the database available to international research groups wishing to compete. To enter the competition, each group would have to build a predictive model based on brain images.

The Russian researchers accomplished the task by building a network architecture that applies several mathematical models to more accurately predict the outcomes, as well as an “ensemble method” for analyzing the MRI data.

“Our team develops deep learning methods for computer vision tasks in MRI data analysis, amongst other things,” said CDISE Ph.D. student Ekaterina Kondratyeva. “With this approach, one can classify an image as it is, without first reducing its dimension and, therefore, without losing valuable information.”

Brain scans could spot children’s mood, behavior problems early

Whitfield-Gabrieli suggested that children who exhibit the telltale biomarkers could receive early interventions.

Brain scans could help spot children who are at higher risk for depression, anxiety, or attention problems, suggests a study. In the study, which was published December 26 in JAMA Psychiatry, the researchers describe identifying using imaging devices to scan children’s brains for certain brain-tissue formations that are associated with heightened risk of emotional or attentiveness difficulties.

“We’re facing a tremendous epidemic with teen anxiety and depression, and we wanted to find an early marker that predicted the development of anxiety, depression and attentional symptoms,” said Susan Whitfield-Gabrieli, the study’s lead author. She is a professor of psychology and director of the Northeastern University Biomedical Imaging Center in Boston.

The researchers examined 94 children, most of whom did not exhibit any mental health concerns, although 17 were considered to be at risk of having reading problems. During the study, they conducted MRI scans of every child and found that connections in certain areas of the brain at age 7 could help predict the onset of depression, attention problems, or similar issues within the next four years of life.

Whitfield-Gabrieli suggested that children who exhibit the telltale biomarkers could receive early interventions, such as cognitive therapy, exercise programs, or mindfulness training to help them minimize their symptoms and halt the progression of any emerging psychological disorders.

The researchers noted that while it is not feasible to try to image all children’s brains yet, it may be possible in the future with the development of more efficient, lower-cost imaging methods.

Whitfield-Gabrieli also hopes to scan infants’ brains in a later study to see if it is possible to predict mental health issues at even earlier stages in life.

Venice grapples with sea-level rise

Human construction projects in the twentieth century may also be a factor.

Venetian Mayor Luidi Brugnaro said that his city is “on its knees” in the midst of unprecedented flooding this month, as fears surge of irreparable damage to some of the city’s most prized historic buildings and statues. The acclaimed city on the water is now combating rising sea levels and sinking building foundations, with more extreme flooding expected in years to come.

Water levels rose to nearly 5 feet three times in a single week, after never having done so even twice in a single year. The sea level is rising, according to Venice’s tidy monitoring service, which reported that the ocean is more than 10 inches higher today than it was in 1870. Coupled with this, the city’s foundations are sinking gradually into the underlying mud and marshland.

City officials blame climate change. Brugnaro has urged climate scientists to visit Venice to see an example of the effects of runaway greenhouse-gas emissions on human life.

“We need scientists here, they need to come here and create a permanent place where they can study what is happening here, because of climate change, with all its effects … Venice is a frontier,” he said.

But human construction projects in the twentieth century may also be a factor. Local industries pumped water out of an aquifer beneath the city for decades until the 1970s, while the city rapidly built new ports along the mainland and widened and deepened the channels to enable larger ships to dock. All of these activities may have disrupted the natural flow of water in and out of the area and exacerbated the high-tide events, according to experts.