Color & Control:

Round Up

Tweaking the gut bacteria of malnourished kids
We carry myriad of bacteria in our guts, which we need to grow. Now, a clinical trial suggests that a new dietary supplement could help restore the gut bacteria of malnourished kids.

The trial in Bangladesh saw the creation of a supplement from local ingredients, including chickpeas, soy flour, peanuts, green bananas, oil and sugar. Compared with children given a standard treatment for malnutrition—a calorie-dense “ready-to-use supplementary food” (RUSF)—kids on the new supplement put on weight and gained height faster. Also their fecal samples better matched those of healthy kids by the end of the trial. The appearance of certain proteins involved in bone growth and brain development increased, while markers of inflammation decreased, according to the study published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

These findings hint that “the influence of the [microbial] community reaches well beyond the wall of the gut” said senior author Dr. Jeffrey Gordon. Remarkably, the RUSF treatment has 20% more calories and yet, “this intervention with a lower calorie density turns around usual thinking around nutrition and calorie intake  highlighting the importance of gut bugs in child development”. 

That said, more data is needed to confirm whether the supplement helps children grow in the long term and whether the observed changes in protein levels actually translate to strong bones and healthy brains.
Source: Live Science

Pen and paper beats screen for retention

An intriguing Japanese study suggests handwriting on paper leads to greater brain activity and memory retention than content on a tablet. The researchers hypothesize the richer spatial details of writing on paper may explain why it could enhance the encoding of information in the brain.

The new research published in Behavioral Neuroscience, showed students who were using paper notebooks scored slightly better on their memory tests with more activity in the hippocampus, precuneus, visual cortices, and other language-related frontal regions of the brain. “The superiority in both accuracy and activations suggests paper use promoted the acquisition of rich encoding information and/or spatial information,” the researchers conclude.

“Actually, paper is more advanced and useful compared to electronic documents because it contains more one-of-a-kind info for stronger memory recall,” says corresponding author Kuniyoshi Sakai. “Digital tools have uniform scrolling up and down and standardized arrangement of text and picture size, like on a webpage. But if you remember using a physical textbook… you can close your eyes and visualize the photo one-third of the way down on the left-side page, plus notes you added in the margins.”

Perhaps the biggest hanging questions …will prolonged use of electronic devices from a young age change this in the future.
Source: University of Tokyo

Struggling with awkward comments

Disability activist and blogger, Emily Ladau, described an encounter with a kind of low-grade, everyday ableism that is probably best understood by individuals living with a disability and their family/friends. Emily was getting her hair done. Out of nowhere, the following exchange took place:

“Why are you in a wheelchair?” asks another customer.

Emily recalls: “I was caught off guard. I sputtered something about being born with Larsen syndrome, a genetic joint and muscle disorder.”  Then, Emily’s own hairstylist added: “I don’t know how she does it. If it were me, I’d just lay in bed and cry all day.” These interactions are driven by certain ideas about disability and social interactions—ideas that need to be re-examined and dismantled:

• Awkward and embarrassing comments about disabled people are almost always meant well, so we shouldn’t be too quick to judge. • Most non-disabled people lack the awareness of disability to avoid such comments. They need to be educated, not embarrassed. • Disabled people don’t realize that most non-disabled people are kind, and don’t mean to offend them.
• Disabled people are so consumed with anger and advocacy agendas that they look for opportunities to take offense. • Ableism is hostile and harmful, so ableist comments can be justifiably confronted with anger and aggressive correction.

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