Medical News Today: Five ways to boost concentration

In the information overload age, being able to focus and keep your attention on the task at hand can be a struggle. We have compiled some concentration-boosting and distraction-fighting techniques to fire up your capacity to concentrate.
man typing at a computer
Concentrating can sometimes be a challenge, but steps can be taken to enhance your ability to concentrate.

On an average day, Americans are bombarded with an estimated 34 gigabytes of information and 100,500 words. Meanwhile, office workers are interrupted every 11 minutes, while it takes 25 minutes, on average, to get back to the task they were working on before the interruption. It is therefore no surprise that our ability to focus is withering due to these endless distractions.

Maintaining attention allows us to construct our internal world in such a way that the thoughts, motivations, and emotions that are the most relevant to our goals will have priority in our brains.

The ability to sustain attention begins at an early age and contributes to success throughout people’s lives. Several factors during childhood and adolescence can enhance or impair the development of skills that enable you to focus for extended periods.

Infants look to their parents for guidance on where to focus their attention, while preschoolers who can concentrate and persist on a task are 50 percent more likely to complete college.

Research has indicated that preschoolers and kindergartners who are farsighted often have a hard time paying attention, which could increase their risk of slipping behind in school.

In adolescents, binge drinking is thought to interrupt normal brain growth in the frontal brain areas that are linked to high-level thoughts, including organization and planning. Heavy alcohol use may therefore affect a teenager’s ability to perform in school and sports, and these effects could be long-lasting.

Regardless of upbringing or social and work-based distractions, there are some steps that you can take to harness your brain at its best and channel your focus to complete tasks. Here are Medical News Today‘s tactics to help you improve your concentration quickly and effectively.

1. Get regular ‘green time’

A dose of nature could be just what the doctor ordered when trying to improve your attention span and ability to concentrate.

office with plants
Add some greenery to your office to increase concentration levels in the workplace.

Research suggests that exposure to natural surroundings, including green spaces, may prove beneficial for children’s brain development.

In a study, children aged 4–5 to 7 years of age with more green space around their homes scored better in attention tests. These results underline the importance of expanding green areas in cities to support children’s health and brain development.

Increased concentration from green exposure does not stop during childhood. Research has demonstrated that glancing at greenery can also markedly boost concentration levels and productivity in college and the workplace.

Students were asked to conduct a mundane task and given a 40-second break midway through to view either a bare concrete roof or a flowering meadow green roof. Individuals who glanced at the meadow scene made considerably fewer errors and exhibited superior concentration levels on the remaining half of the task than those who observed the concrete scene.

Another study showed that enriching a bare office with plants increased the productivity of workers by 15 percent. The presence of greenery increased workplace satisfaction, perceived air quality, and reported levels of concentration.

The researcher’s analysis details that plants may be beneficial because a green office promotes employees’ work engagement by making them more cognitively, emotionally, and physically involved in their work.

You may not have the luxury of a rooftop garden or an office laden with plants, but spending time outside someplace green, or eating your lunch in the park each day, could make a significant difference to your concentration.

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2. Take a break

If you are lucky enough to have high working memory capacity, then you should have no problem ignoring distractions and staying focused on tasks. But for the rest of us, tuning out background distractions can be challenging.

Evidence suggests that taking a break from the following distractions could enhance your ability to concentrate.


group of people using devices
Take a vacation from email, cell phone notifications, and social media to boost concentration.

Controlling the times you log in to email — work or personal — and batching messages, among other strategies, could help to boost on-the-job productivity.

A study found that people who read emails throughout the day switched screen twice as often and were in an ongoing state of high alert with a constant heart rate. When email was removed from these people for 5 days, their heart rate returned to a natural, variable one.

The authors concluded that taking an email vacation significantly decreases stress and improves concentration and focus.

Cell phone notifications

Whether you are alerted to text or an incoming call by an alarm, vibration, or trendy ringtone, a cell phone notification can distract you enough to impair your ability to concentrate on a task.

In fact, the distraction caused by a notification is just as off-putting as using your cell phone to make calls or send a text message, according to research. A team discovered that while notifications are short in duration, they tend to trigger task-irrelevant thoughts or mind wandering that damages task performance.

The team explained that task performance takes a hit because humans have a limited capacity for attention that needs to be split between tasks. The researchers also emphasized that just being aware of a missed text or call can have the same effect.

If you need to stay on track and focused, it might be worth either turning off your cell phone, setting it to silent, or putting it away somewhere that you cannot see it.

Social media

The curiosity of checking personal social media accounts can often be overwhelming, but research indicates that there are negative consequences when using social media during office hours.

Approximately 2.8 billion people worldwide use social media, and many of those use social media for personal purpose while at work. Using social media during working hours has been revealed to have an adverse effect on self-reported work performance and concentration, and the well-being of the organization.

Fighting the urge to use social media while you need to concentrate may help to improve your productivity and concentration.

Work breaks

Other research demonstrates how to take the best type of break to boost energy, motivation, and concentration. Researchers recommend taking:

  • a mid-morning break to replenish concentration
  • better breaks by doing something you enjoy, which should make your break more restful, provide better recovery, and help you to come back to worked focused
  • frequent short breaks to facilitate recovery

Taking breaks earlier in the day and doing preferred activities lead to better health, job satisfaction, and revival of energy, motivation, and concentration. Workers also experienced fewer headaches, eyestrain, and lower back pain after their break.

3. Rethink your environment

Our environment plays a significant role in how well we are able to concentrate. It is known that by decluttering your home or tidying your desk, your mind also feels more orderly, free, and able to think more clearly.

You can make changes to your environment so that it is favorable for sustaining concentration.

desk with plants and colorful books
Design your own work area to improve your productivity.

Design your own work space. Whether you have full control over the design of your work space or can embellish your desk with just a few personal items, having control over our work environment can help to improve productivity.

A study compared people who completed a series of tasks in a bare and functional office space, an office decorated with plants and pictures, and an office in which the individual designed the space.

People who were in a space with plants and pictures were 17 percent more productive than those in bare office, while those who designed their own spaces were 32 percent more productive than the workers at a functional desk.

Listen to Baroque classical music. In a study of radiologist’s work lives, it was found that listening to Baroque classical music improved mood and job satisfaction and potentially improved diagnostic efficiency, accuracy, and productivity.

Play natural sounds. If Baroque music is not your thing, playing natural sounds could also benefit concentration. Researchers revealed that playing sounds from nature in the office, such as flowing water, could enhance cognitive abilities and optimize the ability to concentrate.

Inhale rosemary aroma. Research has suggested that exposure to rosemary aroma may improve speed and accuracy of cognitive performance.

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4. Try brain training

Problem-solving exercises, brain training methods, and even video games could all have a positive, negative effect, or no effect at all on concentration, depending on which study you read.

person completing a crossword
Frequently doing crosswords could help to improve attention and concentration.

Recent research has indicated that people who often do word puzzles, such as crosswords, have better brain function later in life.

Researchers found direct relationships between how often pople used word puzzles and the speed and accuracy of performance on tasks assessing reasoning, memory, and attention.

A study has emphasized that it matters what type of brain training you are doing to improve memory and attention. Researchers compared two brain-training methods called “dual n-back” and “complex span.”

Participants who practiced dual n-back demonstrated a 30 percent improvement in their working memory — almost double the gains made by the complex span group.

Dual n-back is a memory sequence test wherein individuals have to remember a sequence of auditory and visual stimuli that are updated continuously.

Playing video games has been shown to cause changes in many regions of the brain. Researchers discovered that video game use altered the brain regions that are responsible for visuospatial skills and attention and made them work more efficiently.

5. Enhance your well-being

Physical activity, dietary choices, and weight are all factors that can contribute to how well you function and your concentration levels. For example, if you skip breakfast, it is unlikely that by lunchtime you will be able to perform tasks to the best of your ability due to hunger pangs.

Looking after your well-being, staying active, and eating concentration-boosting foods can all help toward improving concentration.

Concentration-enhancing foods

To increase your ability to concentrate, you might want to add some walnuts, avocados, and chocolate to your dietary repertoire.

avocados on a wooden board
Avocados may help to enhance cognitive measures, including memory and attention.

Walnuts may improve performance on tests for cognitive function, including those assessing information processing speed, memory, and concentration.

Avocados. Consuming one avocado every day may help improve cognitive function due to an upsurge in lutein levels in the eye and brain. Researchers uncovered that eating an avocado daily enhanced measures of cognitive skills, including processing speed, memory, and attention.

Chocolate — or specifically the cocoa bean — is rich in flavanols, which are compounds that have neuroprotective effects. Cocoa flavanols may help to improve cognitive processing speed, working memory, and attention when ingested for between 5 days and 3 months.

Exercise for concentration

Research has revealed that individuals who practice sport can perform better on cognitive tasks than those with bad physical health. When compared with a group who led a more sedentary lifestyle, the group who were in good physical condition performed better on tasks testing sustained attention.

A study of older adults also specified that exercise improved brain function. All participants who exercised for between 75 minutes and 225 minutes per week showed elevated attention levels and an increased ability to focus.

Yoga may significantly improve energy levels and brain function. Investigators found that practicing Hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation for 25 minutes per day boosted the regions of the brain associated with goal-directed behavior and allowed participants to focus more easily.

Check your weight

Research unearthed a connection between weight loss and improved memory and concentration.

Researchers say that factors such as high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and type 2 diabetes, which often result from obesity, might impair the brain. They suggest that as people get back to a healthy weight and the associated problems disappear, their cognitive issues will vanish, too.

If you have tried all the above and you are still wrestling with your inability to concentrate, grab yourself a large coffee. Caffeine has been shown to affect the alerting and executive control networks of the brain and has clear beneficial effects on concentration and attention.

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Medical News Today: All you should know about sunken eyes

Sunken eyes are usually the result of aging or health issues that are of less concern still. Treatment options can include both medicinal and home remedies that use natural ingredients.

The skin under the eyes is delicate, which is why it sometimes appears sunken and has darker coloring than elsewhere on the face.

Age plays a role in sunken eyes but other factors can contribute, so it may affect younger people as well.

Most people notice sunken eyes when they look in the mirror. The exact appearance will differ from person-to-person.

Causes of sunken eyes

Woman checking her eyes and facial skin in mirror.
Sunken eyes may not cause any adverse symptoms, apart from the skin around the eyes appearing darker and ‘hollow’.

Most cases of sunken eyes relate to the quality of an individual’s nutrition and healthy living.

When these causes are corrected, sunken eyes can resolve without further treatment. This means that causes can be avoided or treated in good time to prevent the recurrence of sunken eyes.

Below are some examples of health and lifestyle issues affecting the skin under the eyes:


The most common cause of sunken eyes is dehydration, or not having enough water in the body.

Consuming too much coffee, soda, and prepackaged drinks may cause diuretic effects, including increased production of urine, which may lead to dehydration.

Vitamin deficiencies

Deficiencies of vitamin C, vitamin K, and iron can cause eyes to become sunken. In fact, “hollow” eyes is one of the symptoms of undernutrition, as reported in the SM Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism.

Vitamin C helps with absorbing iron and decreasing bruising, whereas vitamin K is responsible for blood clotting.

Deficiencies in one or both of these vitamins can lead to easy bruising, unhealthy skin, and sunken eyes.

Sleep issues

Man suffering from insomnia and poor sleep, laying awake in bed.
Disrupted sleep, or a lack of sleep, may cause sunken eyes. Establishing a good sleep pattern may help to treat the condition.

Not enough sleep or poor quality sleep can cause sunken eyes and discoloration of the delicate skin just below the eyes.

According to a 2017 report from the National Sleep Foundation, good quality sleep has the following necessary elements:

  • sleeping for much of the time in bed
  • taking no more than 30 minutes to fall asleep
  • waking no more than once per night
  • not being awake for more than 20 minutes during the night


Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and gives the skin its strength and flexibility.

As the body ages, it tends to lose collagen. The first place where collagen loss is most noticeable is the skin under the eyes. The loss of collagen causes the eyes to settle back into the eye sockets, making the eyes appear sunken.

Weight loss

Most people tend to lose weight in their face first. Sometimes, the weight loss is dramatic enough to cause blood vessels below the eyes to become prominent, and the skin to be transparent, producing the appearance of sunken eyes.

Dramatic weight loss may also cause nutritional deficiencies, which can lead to sunken eyes.


It is possible for sunken eyes to be caused by a person’s genetics or DNA. As an example of the effect of DNA, the position of the eyes in the sockets is due largely to genetics.


Smoking causes collagen and skin elasticity degradation. These losses can cause the skin in the face to sag and the eyes to appear sunken.


Allergies can cause the eyes to sink and dark circles to form under them. These effects are attributable to inflammation in the tiny blood vessels below the eyes or blocked nasal passages, which can be associated with allergies.

Sinus infections

Inflamed sinuses are another culprit of sunken eyes. Nasal congestion and pressure are symptoms of a sinus infection and should be brought to the attention of a doctor.


Any injury to the face or the bones around the eyes can cause the eyes to appear sunken. Most orbital fractures heal within a few weeks or months. However, many fractures are orbital blowout fractures, where the bony rim of the eye is intact, but the thin floor of the eye socket has ruptured or cracked.

A 2015 report in Clinical Ophthalmology finds that injury to the eye is common in 29 percent of orbital fractures.

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Medical treatment

Sunken eyes resulting from medical conditions, such as allergies and sinus problems, can be treated with medications. These may include antibiotics for sinus infections and antihistamines and eye drops for allergies.

Cosmetic surgery and dermal fillers may be a consideration for sunken eyes resulting from aging or genetics. However, surgery is never without risks.

Dermal fillers involve an injection of hyaluronic acid into the sensitive tissue just below the eyes, so these may cause side effects.

Surgical treatment is the best way to treat eye fractures, restore eye regularity, and balance the volume of the injured orbit in the case of eye injuries.

Home remedies

Lifestyle changes and home remedies can help to reduce sunken eyes.

For the following remedies involving application of substances to the area, a person should ensure they keep their eyes closed and avoid getting them into their eyes.

Home remedies include:

Staying hydrated

Person pouring water from kitchen tap into glass.
Dehydration may cause sunken eyes, so drinking water may help.

Water is the most necessary thing the body needs to stay healthy. It affects every organ in the body, included the largest of them all – the skin.

Usually, people who have sunken eyes experience improvement by increasing water intake and limiting diuretic beverages.

Drinking 8 to 10 glasses of water per day can help people avoid sunken eyes.

Good quality sleep

Sunken eyes are often an indicator that someone is not getting enough good quality sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, while infants, children, teens, and older adults may need more.

Almond oil

Sunken eyes indicate that the skin below the eyes has lost nutrients. The space below the eyes can be nourished with almond oil, which is rich in vitamin E, a vital skin vitamin. Vitamin E oil is also another skin-nourishing option.

Raw potatoes

Potatoes contain vitamin C, enzymes, and starch to nourish the thin skin below the eyes. And the coolness of the raw potato reduces inflammation of blood vessels to minimize swelling and a dark appearance. Potatoes can be applied below the eyes while lying down for about 20 minutes.

Tea bags

Tea contains antioxidants and flavonoids. Using tea bags improves sunken eyes by promoting circulation and relaxing the eye nerves and muscles.

Steep two tea bags for at least 5 minutes. Squeeze the liquid from them and make sure they are not too hot for the thin, sensitive area below the eyes. Place under each eye for at least 10 minutes.

Cucumber slices

Cucumber is a popular home remedy for dark circles and sunken eyes. Cucumber slices can be placed under the eyes for a cooling effect and to reduce swelling and skin discoloration.

Fish oil

Fish oil is rich in fatty acids, making it an anti-inflammatory that promotes healing of damaged cells.

Fish oil can be applied by breaking open a fish oil capsule and putting the oil on the skin under the eyes. This should be done before going to bed for up to 4 weeks.

Lemon juice

Lemon juice is nature’s bleach, and when applied to the skin below the eyes it aids dead skin removal and discoloration. It is essential to dilute lemon juice with water to reduce skin irritation, and to keep it away from the eyes themselves.

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When to see a doctor

If sunken eyes appear to worsen with time, despite getting more sleep and staying hydrated, and if they are accompanied by other symptoms, a person should go and see their doctor.

Additional symptoms signaling another problem include:

  • congestion of the nasal passages
  • itchy, dry, or red eyes
  • fatigue that is ongoing
  • extreme or unusual weight loss or appetite problems
  • nausea and other digestive issues
  • headaches

Based on a physical exam or symptoms, a doctor may request further tests to determine the cause of sunken eyes.

Most of the time, sunken eyes are not related to life-threatening conditions. If they are linked to aging or genetics, they do not usually cause other problems.

However, any concerns about a person’s eyes should be addressed first by talking to their doctor if they are affecting their self-esteem or causing depression and anxiety.

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Medical News Today: What is poliosis?

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Medical News Today: Neurodegeneration: New cell death mechanism revealed

New research reveals how a dysfunction in the brain’s so-called self-digestion system leads to cell death in neurodegenerative disorders. The newly discovered mechanism may lead to new therapies for conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
When the brain’s ‘housekeeping’ mechanism fails, neurons start degenerating. New research shows how.

A healthy brain has a self-cleaning mechanism called “autophagy,” which in Greek etymology literally means “eating oneself.”

In autophagy, brain cell parts that are no longer useful are broken down into even smaller parts, recycled, and are then used to create new cells. However, in neurodegenerative conditions such as dementia, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease, and many other incurable disorders, the autophagy process is faulty.

While this is something that researchers already knew, what they didn’t know until now were the precise mechanisms by which this happens, and more specifically, how this leads to cell death — particularly in the late stages of the disease.

New research uncovers precisely these mechanisms. The groundbreaking study was carried out by scientists at King’s College London in the United Kingdom, and the findings were published in the journal Current Biology.

While the study used a model of a single, rare neurodegenerative disorder known as dentatorubral-pallidoluysian atrophy (DRPLA), the findings are likely applicable to all neurological conditions that are characterized by faulty autophagy.

Dr. Olga Baron, of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, is the first author of the study, and Dr. Manolis Fanto, also from the IoPPN, is the senior and corresponding author.

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Autophagy block mechanism revealed

Dr. Fanto and his team designed two DRPLA disease models using two different kinds of mice and replicated the findings in human cells.

The experiments revealed that a “progressive stall” and then a “chronic block” occur in autophagy, in certain disease-specific areas of the brain. In this “persistent stall,” the brain cells get “confused” and try to maintain a normal homeostasis through alternative molecular pathways, or routes.

But by doing so, the team reveals, the cells degrade themselves. In normal autophagy, cellular waste would be pushed out, keeping the brain “clean” — but because of the autophagy block, the cells start “throwing out” parts of themselves, leading to degradation.

Specifically, the study authors revealed the mechanisms by which the cells start degrading parts of their nucleus and cytoplasmic layer.

“[In this study,]” they write, “we report the first in vivo evidence of a nucleophagy-based mechanism in neurodegeneration, reflected in the association of nuclear Lamin B1 with GFP-LC3 in the nucleus and in the cytoplasm.”

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Current therapies may be misguided

“We hypothesize,” they note, “that this excretion process is a[n alternative] clearance mechanism for the cell. However, with the potential consequence of causing cell and tissue atrophy.”

Given that many therapies for neurodegenerative disorders attempt to boost cell clearance, the new findings suggest that such an approach might make matters worse rather than better.

In the absence of normal autophagy, this alternative cell clearance process “depletes the cell of material, damaging its nucleus and cytoplasm and leaving behind cell corpses with a fragile nucleus and thin cytoplasmic layer.”

“The common factor underlying this mechanism of cell atrophy and death is a persistent block in autophagy,” the authors conclude. “Since chronic autophagy inhibition has been reported in an increasing number of rare and common human neurodegenerative pathologies, the mechanism here reported may, therefore, be of great relevance in human disease.”

The findings may be relevant in other neurodegenerative diseases where faulty autophagy is key.

Autophagy is important for all degenerative neurological conditions and what is emerging from our study is how the blockage of autophagy kills nerve cells in a new way, not described before.”

Dr. Manolis Fanto

Dr. Baron also comments on the findings, saying, “Studies like ours, looking at rare genetic conditions, can be very powerful in finding new mechanisms.”

“We are currently looking into whether we can replicate the same findings for other disorders where autophagy has been shown to malfunction, like Alzheimer’s disease and motor neuron disease,” she adds.

If the findings are replicated, they could eventually lead to better, more precise therapies for improving symptoms of neurodegeneration.

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Medical News Today: Eating out may mean eating more this Thanksgiving

If you’re shunning the stress of preparing a Thanksgiving dinner this year and eating out instead, you might want to approach the restaurant with caution; such an environment could cause you to eat more than you should.
Thanksgiving dinner
If you’re eating out for Thanksgiving, you could wind up eating more.

Research from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor suggests that food-related cues, such as images of food and inviting aromas, might trick us into thinking that we are hungry, even if we have just eaten.

But the researchers found that these cues are unlikely to make food taste better, nor do they increase the pleasure of eating them.

Study leader Michelle Joyner, who works in the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan, and colleagues have published the findings in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

Thanksgiving is a time for reflection, gratitude, and a delicious meal, all while surrounded by family and friends. However, while the latter might provoke thoughts of a home-cooked feast, some of us prefer to enjoy the food but without all the hard work.

According to a recent survey from the National Restaurant Association, around 1 in 10 people in the United States will eat their Thanksgiving meal at a restaurant this year.

But the new study suggests that restaurant-goers should watch out, because the sight of food and its delicious aroma may trigger hunger pangs, even after a full-blown turkey dinner.

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Food cues lead to greater calorie intake

Joyner and her colleagues came to their findings by conducting a laboratory-based experiment in which they assessed how food-related cues impact feelings of hunger, food cravings, and food consumption.

The study included 112 college students, who were all randomly allocated to one of two groups.

One group was sent to a “fast-food laboratory,” where the laboratory was styled similar to a fast-food restaurant, with tables and chairs, or booths, images of food, and background music. The other group was sent to a “neutral” laboratory, with no food-related cues.

Both the groups were asked to eat lunch 1 hour before arriving at their designated laboratory. On arrival, they were given tokens that allowed them to purchase fast food such as cheeseburgers, French fries, and milkshakes. The tokens also allowed them to purchase time for activities unrelated to food, such as playing video games.

The team found that subjects who were exposed to food-related cues in the fast-food laboratory displayed more food cravings than those in the neutral laboratory, and they consumed 220 more calories.

Interestingly, there was no difference in how much the two groups liked the taste of the food that they consumed, or how much they enjoyed it.

“Food-related cues can make people want or crave food more, but don’t have as much of an impact on their liking, or the pleasure they get from eating the food,” says Joyner.

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Findings ‘have public health implications’

What is more, food-related cues were found to have no impact on participants’ purchasing of non-food-related activities, which indicates that the behavioral effects of food cues are food-specific.

Taken together, the researchers say that their findings suggest that food cues may “contribute to overconsumption through increased wanting and hunger. These findings have public health implications for overeating and obesity.”

So, you might want to stop and think before you go reaching for that extra slice of pumpkin pie: are you really still hungry? Or is the aroma of delicious food playing tricks on you?

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Medical News Today: Can you eat just one meal a day?

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Medical News Today: Immune cells cross blood-brain barrier in multiple sclerosis

Researchers probing the mechanisms of nerve tissue damage in multiple sclerosis have identified two ways in which white blood cells overcome the blood-brain barrier to wreak havoc in the highly protected environment of the brain and spinal cord.
doctor holding brain scans
How do white blood cells penetrate the blood-brain barrier in MS? A new study investigates.

In a paper published in the journal Cell Reports, first study author Sarah Lutz, assistant professor of anatomy and cell biology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and colleagues describe how they studied mechanisms of immune attack on the central nervous system (CNS) in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis (MS).

Prof. Lutz explains that in MS, immune cells are able cause damage because they can gain entry to the brain and spinal cord from the bloodstream. “A better understanding of how these cells cross the blood-brain barrier,” she adds, “will aid our efforts to develop specific therapies to keep them out.”

The bloodstream carries essential nutrients, oxygen, cells, and other substances to all parts of the body, including the CNS, which comprises the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves.

The blood-brain barrier and ‘tight junctions’

However, because of the delicate operations that go on in the CNS — such as the firing of neurons and passage of electrical signals that control movement and speech and carry information from the senses — it has a higher level of protection than the rest of the body.

One feature that can help the blood-brain barrier to restrict the movement of blood-borne cells, molecules, and ions into and out of the CNS is the close packaging of the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels that serve the CNS.

This close packing — which makes the blood vessels supplying the CNS virtually impermeable — comprises “tight junctions” of protein complexes that bolt the endothelial cells together.

In contrast, the junctions between endothelial cells in blood vessels that supply other organs and tissues are looser and can also be adjusted to allow a less restricted range of cells and other materials to pass through.

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An autoimmune disease of the CNS

MS is a persistent autoimmune disease in which cells of the immune system attack the fatty layer of tissue that surround the nerve fibers, or axons, in the CNS, mistaking it for a disease agent or other threat.

The fatty layer of tissue is known as myelin, and it protects the electrical impulses that carry messages between the CNS and other parts of the body — such as movement muscles and the senses. In MS, however, the immune system degrades not only the myelin but can also damage the exposed axons.

The myelin damage occurs at multiple places in the CNS. These become lesions that harden into scar tissue, or sclerosis, hence the name of the disease.

MS has many different symptoms depending on which parts of the CNS are affected. They include, but are not limited to: impaired vision; blindness; difficulty remembering and concentrating; poor coordination; problems with balance; extreme fatigue; tremors; slurred speech; numbness; and paralysis.

Symptoms can flare up, go away, and then come back again, or they can stay and progressively worsen.

The disease is commonly diagnosed in people aged 20–50, but it can affect any person of any age. In the United States, there are thought to be around 1 million people living with MS.

Damaged ‘tight junctions’

Scientists who are looking for MS’s causes have discovered that two types of white blood cell, the lymphocytes Th1 and Th17, are involved in destroying the myelin sheath that protects the axons of the CNS. But until now, it was not clear how these immune cells managed to get across the blood-brain barrier into the CNS.

For their investigation, Prof. Lutz and her colleagues studied the blood-brain barrier of both healthy mice and mice with autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). Mice with EAE are often used as animal models in the study of MS.

To find out how the Th1 and Th17 immune cells get across the blood-brain barrier in MS, the team genetically labeled the tight junctions in the blood vessels using a fluorescent protein.

The scientists found that the tight junctions in the blood-brain barrier of the MS mice were much more damaged when Th17 cells were present, and that this damage seemed to occur in the very early stages of the disease.

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Traveling through endothelial cells

Around 3 days after observing the damage that occurred in the presence of the Th17 immune cells, the researchers saw that the Th1 cells were attacking the myelin and damaging neurons.

However, these cells did not gain access to the CNS through the damaged tight junctions, but did so through another mechanism that involved passing through the endothelial cells themselves.

It appeared that the Th1 cells were able to use small pits, or “caves,” called “caveolae.” These are found on the surfaces of cells — including endothelial cells — that are used to transport materials into and out of cells.

The researchers confirmed their findings by breeding MS mice without caveolae; they found hardly any Th1 immune cells in the CNS of these mice.

They concluded that the Th1 immune cells need the caveolae of the endothelial cells in the blood vessels that serve the CNS in order to cross the blood-brain barrier.

Prof. Lutz explains that that this was the first time that they had ever seen the different mechanisms through which the two types of immune cell got across the blood-brain barrier to reach the myelin and the axons “in live animals in real-time.”

Now that we know how these cells get to neurons, drugs or small molecules can be designed that interfere with or block each of these processes to help treat and possibly prevent multiple sclerosis.”

Prof. Sarah Lutz

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Medical News Today: Metastatic prostate cancer: What you need to know

Prostate cancer occurs when the cells in the prostate begin to grow uncontrollably.

Sometimes, prostate cancer develops quickly and spreads to other organs. This is known as stage IV prostate cancer and is said to be metastatic.

What is the prostate?

Prostate highlighted in 3D model of male anatomy.
The prostate is a small organ that plays a role in protecting sperm and producing semen.

The prostate gland is a small, walnut-shaped organ that sits between the bladder and rectum in men.

During ejaculation, sperm cells travel from the testicles through the seminal vesicles to the prostate gland. The prostate secretes special fluids that help the sperm cells survive.

This combination of fluid and sperm cells is known as semen, and it exits the body through the urethra.

What is metastatic prostate cancer?

In many cases, prostate cancer grows very slowly; so slowly in fact, that many men do not even know that they have the disease. In other men, however, the disease metastasizes — spreads to organs outside of where it originated.

There are two types of metastatic prostate cancer:

  1. Local metastasis: Prostate cancer with local metastasis means that the cancer has spread to other organs within the pelvis. This usually means the local lymph nodes, but can include any organ or structure in the pelvis.
  2. Distant metastasis: Distant metastasis means that the prostate cancer has spread beyond the pelvis. The bones, spine, brain, liver, and lungs are common sites of cancer metastasis.

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Man experiencing painful urination because of a prostate problem.
Potential symptoms of prostate cancer include difficulty urinating, pain during urination, and a sense of needing to urinate urgently.

Symptoms of prostate cancer can include:

  • urinary urgency
  • difficulty starting or stopping urination
  • weak or interrupted urine flow
  • painful or burning urination
  • erectile dysfunction
  • painful ejaculation
  • blood in the urine or semen

Anyone experiencing these symptoms should consult with their doctor as soon as possible. While many other conditions can cause similar symptoms, it is important to rule out prostate cancer.

Once a person has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, the signs of metastasis will vary depending on the where the cancer spreads and how quickly it is growing.

For example, a person with prostate cancer and local metastasis to nearby lymph nodes may not experience any change in symptoms.

However, a person with metastasis to the bones may experience bone pain.

Other symptoms of metastasis may include:

  • fatigue
  • feeling unwell
  • reduced appetite
  • weight loss
  • swelling in the legs or feet


Advanced prostate cancer can cause many other health problems depending on where the cancer has spread to and how quickly it is spreading.

  • Urinary problems: Cancerous growths can press on the bladder, urethra, or other pelvic organs. Prostate cancer can also spread to those organs and cause urinary retention, blood in the urine, incontinence, and difficulties emptying the bladder.
  • Bowel problems: Advanced prostate cancer can cause bowel problems, such as constipation, diarrhea, urgency, obstruction, and incontinence. This is often due to the use of pain medications, or the spread of prostate cancer to the bowel or rectum. Dietary changes, dehydration, and inactivity can also cause bowel problems.
  • Sexual problems: It is not uncommon for men with advanced prostate cancer to have difficulties getting or maintaining an erection. Some men also have decreased libido or an inability to ejaculate.
  • Bone pain or fractures: Prostate cancer that has spread to the bones can cause significant bone pain. It can also weaken the bones, making a person susceptible to breaks and fractures.
  • Hypercalcemia: Calcium is stored in the bones but can leak out into the blood if prostate cancer spreads to the bones. High levels of calcium in the blood can cause fatigue, increased thirst or need to urinate, nausea and vomiting, constipation, and loss of appetite.
  • Anemia: Anemia means a decrease in the number of red blood cells that are available to carry oxygen throughout the body. This can lead to severe fatigue, shortness of breath, and looking pale. It is usually caused by cancer that has spread to the bone marrow but can also be a side effect of cancer treatments.
  • Lymphedema: Prostate cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes can cause blockages within the vessels that transport lymph around the body. This causes swelling in the legs or scrotum.


There are many types of treatments available for advanced prostate cancer. A doctor or oncologist will develop a treatment plan that takes into account the individual’s symptoms, prognosis, goals for treatment, age, and general health.

Hormone therapy

Hormone therapy for advanced prostate cancer shuts down the production of male sex hormones. This can help prevent the cancer from continuing to grow. Common drugs include abiraterone (Zytiga) and enzalutamide (Xtandi).


Chemotherapy is a type of medication that destroys cancer cells or prevents them from multiplying. People are usually given chemotherapy once the prostate cancer has stopped responding to hormone therapy.

Chemotherapy is usually a combination of two or more drugs that are administered intravenously, injected, or taken as a pill.


Immunotherapy is a type of medication that modifies the body’s immune system to find and destroy cancer cells.

Treatment for prostate cancer that has spread to the bones includes drugs such as zoledronic acid (Zometa) and denosumab (Xgeva). Treatment for local metastatic cancer may also include radiation therapy.

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Side effects of prostate cancer treatment

Prostate cancer treatment can cause some serious side effects, including:

Senior male patient speaking to young male doctor.
Prostate cancer treatments may cause a number of side effects that should be outlined by a medical professional beforehand.
  • infertility
  • urinary incontinence
  • urinary retention
  • diarrhea
  • erectile dysfunction
  • pain
  • fatigue
  • hair loss
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and vomiting

Luckily, there are many medications available to treat the side effects of cancer treatment.

A person should not feel the need to “power through” or suffer from uncomfortable symptoms. It is important for anyone undergoing treatment to communicate with their healthcare team about any side effects they are experiencing.


The prognosis for advanced prostate cancer depends on where the cancer has spread and how aggressively it is growing.

According to the American Cancer Society, survival rates are as follows:

  • Local prostate cancer without spread has a 5-year survival rate at nearly 100 percent.
  • Prostate cancer with local spread also has a 5-year survival rate at nearly 100 percent.
  • Prostate cancer with distant metastasis has a 5-year survival rate of around 29 percent.

These are general statistics; it is important for a person with prostate cancer to speak to their doctor about their specific case.


If prostate cancer is diagnosed before it has spread, or if it has only spread to nearby structures, the survival rate is excellent.

This makes routine screening and early diagnosis essential in the fight against prostate cancer.

Men over the age of 50 should speak to a healthcare professional about the different screening options and which one is most appropriate for them.

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Medical News Today: How do cancer cells start to spread? Study sheds light

Metastatic cancer is responsible for the vast majority of cancer deaths, but our limited understanding of how metastasis begins makes finding ways to stop it hugely challenging. A new study may provide some insight, however.
a cancer cell
Researchers have found that a tumor’s surrounding environment influences the spread of cancer cells.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) have discovered how the surrounding environment of a tumor can cause cancer cells to metastasize.

Put simply, metastatic cancer occurs when cancer cells break away from a primary tumor and move to other areas of the body — most commonly the bones, liver, and lungs.

Once cancer cells have metastasized, controlling them becomes much more difficult. While current treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy can help to slow the spread of cancer cells, they are not always successful.

It is estimated that around 90 percent of cancer-related deaths are a result of metastatic cancer, highlighting the need for more effective strategies to combat the disease.

But, as study leader Stephanie Fraley — a professor of bioengineering at UCSD — notes, “We are good at targeting tumor growth, but we do not know enough about metastasis.”

The new research, however, has uncovered further information about what triggers metastatic cancer, a discovery that could lead to more successful treatments.

The researchers recently reported their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

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Gene modules and vascular mimicry

For their study, Fraley and colleagues built a 3-D collagen matrix, which enabled them to get an in-depth look at the migration activity of various types of human cancer cell.

“It’s critical to have the cells surrounded by a 3-D environment that mimics what happens in the human body,” notes Fraley.

The researchers found that a condensed environment caused the cancer cells to activate a distinct set of genes, or a “gene module,” which the researchers named collagen-induced network phenotype (CINP).

The team found that the activation of this gene module prompted a phenomenon known as vascular mimicry, which is the formation of blood vessel-like structures.

These structures promote cancer metastasis; they supply the tumors with blood and help to provide cancer cells with the “nutrients” they need to survive.

“We thought that putting cells into this more constrained environment would prevent their spread,” says first study author Daniel Ortiz Velez, of the Department of Bioengineering at UCSD. “But the opposite happened.”

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Gene module predicts cancer metastasis

Next, the team searched for the CINP gene module across a range of cancer types.

They found that they were able to use the CINP to predict metastasis in nine different cancers, including breast cancer, lung cancer, and pancreatic cancer. They were also able to use the gene module to predict patient survival.

The researchers now plan to see whether they can replicate their findings in more cancer cell types and animal models, and they hope that their research will uncover a way to stop CINP activation and halt cancer metastasis.

“It is possible that gene expression analysis of additional cancer cell types induced into [vascular mimicry]-like behavior by our 3-D collagen system could help to further refine the conserved CINP gene module,” they say.

“This would facilitate prioritization of the genes for targeted functional studies to identify key regulators and potential therapeutic targets.”

“Validation of the prognostic value of this gene module could help patients avoid the long-term side effects of aggressive radiation and chemotherapy if the likelihood of metastasis is very low,” the researchers conclude.

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Medical News Today: How cinnamon can help you to burn holiday fat

As you make that pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, consider adding an extra pinch of cinnamon; a study shows that cinnamaldehyde, the organic compound that gives cinnamon its flavor, helps you to burn fat.
Cinnamon is a common holiday spice with surprising fat-burning properties, new research suggests.

Pumpkin pie, mulled wine, hot chocolate, and eggnog — these are just a handful of the foods and drinks that make the holidays such a truly delicious time.

But if you’re worried that such yummy treats could make you pack on the extra pounds, worry no more! These enticing foods also contain cinnamon, and new research bears some good news: the common holiday spice could help you to burn fat.

The new study comes from the University of Michigan (UM) Life Sciences Institute (LSI) in Ann Arbor, and the research was led by Jun Wu, a research assistant professor at the LSI and an assistant professor of molecular and integrative physiology at the UM Medical School.

Wu and colleagues set out to examine the effect of cinnamaldehyde on human fat cells. Speaking about the motivation for her study, Wu says, “Scientists were finding that this compound affected metabolism.”

Previous studies in mice had already shown that cinnamaldehyde helps to fight off obesity and hyperglycemia. “So,” Wu continues, “we wanted to figure out how — what pathway might be involved, what it looked like in mice, and what it looked like in human cells.”

To do this, the researchers treated adipocytes, or fat cells, from both mice and humans with the compound. Their findings were published in the journal Metabolism.

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Cinnamon triggers fat-burning process

The experiments revealed that cinnamaldehyde has a direct effect on fat cells. In a process known as thermogenesis, the compound makes the adipocytes start burning the fat that they had been storing.

Adipocytes store lipids, which can then be burned for energy. The cells evolved to help our bodies use energy resources effectively during times when such resources might be scarce, such as through a cold winter or famine.

“It’s only been relatively recently that energy surplus has become a problem. Throughout evolution, the opposite — energy deficiency — has been the problem. So any energy-consuming process usually turns off the moment the body doesn’t need it,” Wu explains.

Getting the body to turn the energy-consuming process, or thermogenesis, back on has been the focus of recent research, especially in light of the so-called obesity epidemic.

The study authors think that cinnamon might be one such way to turn thermogenesis on. In their research, they found a higher expression of certain genes and enzymes that boost lipid metabolism in the adipocytes treated with cinnamaldehyde.

Additionally, they found a higher level of Ucp1 and Fgf21, which are regulatory proteins that help to induce thermogenesis.

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Cinnamon may be better than drugs

In the study paper, Wu and team conclude, “Given the wide usage of cinnamon in the food industry, the notion that this popular food additive, instead of a drug, may activate thermogenesis, could ultimately lead to therapeutic strategies against obesity that are much better adhered to by participants.”

The lead researcher emphasizes this conclusion.

Cinnamon has been part of our diets for thousands of years, and people generally enjoy it […] So if it can help protect against obesity, too, it may offer an approach to metabolic health that is easier for patients to adhere to.”

Jun Wu

So, this holiday season, we’re probably safe to add a bit more cinnamon — but not a massive amount — to our festive food.

The researchers caution that more research is needed to figure out the perfect way to use cinnamaldehyde to trigger thermogenesis without causing any side effects.

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