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Can chocolate improve brain function? From Reuters:
New studies suggest a specially formulated type of cocoa may boost brain function and delay decline as people age, researchers said on Sunday. Scientists, speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco, presented results from early studies testing the effects on the brain of flavanols, an ingredient found in cocoa.
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Science Daily reports the following from a Tufts University news release:
Folate and vitamin B12, two important nutrients for the development of healthy nerves and blood cells, may work together to protect cognitive function among seniors, reports a new epidemiological study from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University (USDA HNRCA). According to Martha Savaria Morris, PhD, epidemiologist at the USDA HNRCA, "we found a strong relationship between high folate status and good cognitive function among people 60 and older who also had adequate levels of vitamin B12." The study, published in the January 2007 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, also determined that low vitamin B12 status was associated with increased cognitive impairment.
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From Reuters:
New evidence shows that the human brain can manufacture fresh brain cells, researchers said, in a study that may lead to better ways to treat brain damage and disease.

"This study is exciting because it reveals a group of brain cells in the adult human brain that are continuously regenerating," said Dr. Mark Baxter of Britain's Oxford University.

Another expert, Sebastian Brandner, head of the Division of Neuropathology at the Institute of Neurology at University College London, said, "These findings are important for several reasons: Understanding stem cell biology is essential to study brain repair in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and it is even possible that stem cells are the source of some brain tumors."
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According to a Reuters' article, "Neuroscientists are making such rapid progress in unlocking the brain's secrets that some are urging colleagues to debate the ethics of their work before it can be misused by governments, lawyers or advertisers." The new sense of urgency springs from a research paper published last week that "showed neuroscientists can now not only locate the brain area where a certain thought occurs but probe into that area to read out some kinds of thought occurring there."

This startling news
that brain scanners can now read a person's intentions before they are expressed or acted upon has given a new boost to the fledgling field of neuroethics that hopes to help researchers separate good uses of their work from bad.
"The potential for misuse of this technology is profound," said Judy Illes, director of the Stanford University neuroethics program in California. "This is a truly urgent situation."
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According to Reuters:
A new study bolsters evidence that people partially blinded by a stroke or brain injury may be able to improve their field of vision by teaching new parts of their brain to see, U.S. researchers said.. Using a computer workout program for the brain, about three-quarters of patients in the study could see better after six months of treatment with the therapy, which trains neighboring brain cells to take over for damaged areas.

Read the full article here.

Reuters reports that "Elderly people who report being lonely are more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease as people who are not lonely, new research indicates."
Social isolation in old age -- being single, having few friends, and participating in few activities with others -- has been associated with risk of developing dementia, Dr. Robert S. Wilson, from Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, and colleagues explain in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
"'Loneliness was associated with lower cognitive function at the start of the study and with more rapid cognitive decline during the study,' the authors report." You can find the entire article here.

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The use of a stent to open a blocked carotid (neck) artery, even in a patient without symptoms, often leads to an improvement in brain function, according to a presentation this week at a medical conference in Hollywood, Florida. After performing carotid stenting, "nearly half of patients experience long-term, statistically significant improvements in memory, judgment, and reasoning," study presenter Dr. Rodney Raabe of Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Washington, told Reuters Health. Here's the entire article.

Doctors say older people who had a stent put into the main artery of their brain to prevent strokes got a real bonus: improved mental function.The small study, which included 37 patients, found that 16 (43 percent) of them scored higher on a battery of 11 cognitive tests one year after the procedure, according to Dr. Rodney Raabe, chief of radiology at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Wash. Read the entire article here.

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"Smokers who use the prescription-only anti-smoking agent varenicline triple their likelihood of successfully kicking the habit, compared with trying to quit without medication, a new review concludes. The drug, Chantix, partially stimulates nicotine receptors in the brain, which helps reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms. It also partially blocks nicotine from attaching to these receptors, making smoking less satisfying and so curbing a person's desire to smoke." Go here for the whole Reuters article.

Smokers with a damaged insula -- a region in the brain linked to emotion and feelings -- quit smoking easily and immediately, according to a study in Science.
The study provides direct evidence of smoking's grip on the brain. Here's a link to the whole story in Science Daily.

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Among older adults with elevated levels of blood homocysteine, 3 years of folic acid supplementation improves cognitive function to levels generally seen in people several years younger, results of a Dutch study suggest. Read about it here.

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