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Even without concussion, athletes in contact sports may have brain changes

Female college rugby players may have subtle brain changes even if they haven’t had a recent concussion.

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Photo by Molly Belle from Unsplash.com

Female college rugby players may have subtle brain changes even if they haven’t had a recent concussion, according to a new study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The study compared rugby players to other female college athletes competing in the non-contact sports of swimming and rowing.

“There’s no longer a debate that when an athlete is diagnosed with a concussion caused by a sharp blow or a fall, there is a chance it may contribute to brain changes that could either be temporary or permanent,” said study author Ravi S. Menon, Ph.D., FRSC, of Western University in London, Canada. “But what are the effects of the smaller jolts and impacts that come with playing a contact sport? Our study found they may lead to subtle changes in the brains of otherwise healthy, symptom-free athletes.”

The study involved 101 female college athletes, including 70 who played rugby and 31 who participated in either rowing or swimming. A subset of rugby players were followed for at least two years. Swimmers and rowers were followed for one year.

All athletes were concussion-free six months prior to the start of the study and during the study as well, however some rugby players had a concussion history before the six-month period while non-contact athletes had experienced none.

Some of the athletes wore devices to record head impacts, including 37 rugby players and nine rowers. Measurements from the devices found that while rowers did not experience any impacts, 70% of the rugby players experienced an average of three impacts during two practices and one pre-season game.

“While we only looked at these impacts during a few events during the season, previous research has shown these kinds of subclinical impacts may accumulate over years of participation in contact sports,” said Menon.

Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of all the athletes during in- and off-season play. With the brain scans, researchers examined how water molecules moved throughout the white matter to determine if there were microstructural brain changes. They also investigated how different areas of the brain communicated with each other and whether there were any changes in how those areas worked together.

In rugby players, researchers found changes in the microstructure of the white matter, including in nerve fibers that connect areas of the brain that control basic emotions like fear, pleasure and anger. In some of the rugby players, the changes progressed over time. Researchers did not find changes in the brains of swimmers or rowers.

Researchers also found that for rugby players only, the microstructure of the brain changed between in- and off-seasons, specifically in the brain stem, which controls the flow of messages between the brain and body.

Researchers found differences in the functional organization of the brain too. When compared to swimmers and rowers, rugby players had changes in connectivity–how the brain communicates–between the areas of the brain that control memory retrieval and visual processing.

“Even with no concussions, the repetitive impacts experienced by the rugby players clearly had effects on the brain,” said Menon. “More research is needed to understand what these changes may mean and to what extent they reflect how the brain compensates for the injuries, repairs itself or degenerates so we can better understand the long-term health effects of playing a contact sport.”

A limitation of the study was that while the rugby athletes did not experience a diagnosed concussion, there may have been undiagnosed concussions that went unnoticed by the coaching staff or undetected by relatively insensitive clinical tools.

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Alsons Dev welcomes The Abba’s Orchard to Avia Estate

The country’s largest and most esteemed network of authentic Montessori schools, The Abba’s Orchard, breaks ground on June 14 for its 15th campus located in Avia Estate, a township project in Alabel, Sarangani by Alsons Development and Investment Corporation (Alsons Dev).

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The country’s largest and most esteemed network of authentic Montessori schools, The Abba’s Orchard, breaks ground on June 14 for its 15th campus located in Avia Estate, a township project in Alabel, Sarangani by Alsons Development and Investment Corporation (Alsons Dev).

The expansion reflects the school’s mission of “Discover True Montessori Philippines,” offering high-quality education in the SOCCSKSARGEN Region—a mission that aligns with Alsons Dev’s vision to offer vibrant live-work-play-learn communities where families and businesses can thrive. Recognizing this shared purpose, Alsons Dev partnered with The Abba’s Orchard, contributing a substantial two hectares of land within Avia Estate to make the school a reality.

“We at Alsons Dev are thrilled to partner with The Abba’s Orchard in bringing this exceptional learning environment to Alabel,” said Miguel Dominguez, Alsons Dev Director. “This collaboration aligns with our commitment to fostering growth and development within SOCCSKSARGEN.”

Discover how Avia Estate can let you live your best life. For more information about Avia Estate, visit facebook.com/AviaEstate.

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Optimism wards off procrastination

While procrastinators often admonish themselves for their “bad habit,” it turns out that their worries for the future are more to blame.

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People with an optimistic outlook on the future are less likely to be severe procrastinators, according to new research at the University of Tokyo. While procrastinators often admonish themselves for their “bad habit,” it turns out that their worries for the future are more to blame. Through a survey of nearly 300 young people, researchers found that those who had a positive view about their stress levels decreasing in the future, compared to the past or present, were less likely to experience severe procrastination. Views on personal well-being didn’t appear to have an effect. Improving people’s outlook and readiness for the future could help them overcome procrastination and achieve a less stressful lifestyle. 

How many times have you made a “to do” list, and although the most important task is at the top, you seem to be working your way up from the bottom or distracted by something else entirely? While we might chide ourselves for procrastinating, sometimes the more we try to overcome it, the more stressed we feel and the cycle continues. That is how it was for graduate student Saya Kashiwakura from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tokyo, so she decided to investigate why.

“I have struggled with procrastination since childhood. I would clean my room when I needed to study for a test and prioritize aikido practice over my postgraduate research. This habit of putting off important tasks has been a constant challenge,” said Kashiwakura. “I wanted to change my behavior, as I realized that I was not confronting the future impact of my actions.”

This inspired Kashiwakura to examine the relationship between procrastination and the procrastinator’s perspective on time, particularly their view of the future. When she began researching procrastination, she was surprised to discover that many more people suffer from it than she had imagined and found it reassuring her problems were not unique.

Previous research has shown that a feature of procrastination is disregard for the future or difficulty linking present actions with future outcomes. However, the reasons for this have been unclear. Kashiwakura and co-author Professor Kazuo Hiraki, also from UTokyo, proposed that it might be because severe procrastinators have a more pessimistic outlook. 

The researchers surveyed 296 participants in Japan in their 20s for their views on stress and well-being, and importantly how these changed over time. This included asking about their experiences from 10 years in the past through to the present, and their expectations for 10 years in the future. From the results, participants were clustered into one of four groups (for example, if they thought their situation would improve or would stay the same), and then each group was divided into severe, middle and low procrastinators. 

“Our research showed that optimistic people — those who believe that stress does not increase as we move into the future — are less likely to have severe procrastination habits,” explained Kashiwakura. “This finding helped me adopt a more light-hearted perspective on the future, leading to a more direct view and reduced procrastination.” 

It was not only the level of stress people experienced, but how their perception of it changed over the 20-year time period discussed, which influenced their procrastination habits. Surprisingly, a relationship wasn’t found between procrastination and negative views on well-being, such as one’s attitude towards oneself, or not yet finding purpose and goals in life.

Using these results, the team wants to develop ways to help people nurture a more optimistic mindset and overcome procrastination. “We hope our findings will be particularly useful in the education sector. We believe that students will achieve better outcomes and experience greater well-being when they can comprehend their procrastination tendencies scientifically, and actively work on improving them, rather than blaming themselves,” said Kashiwakura. 

“Thoughts can change with just a few minutes of watching a video or be shaped by years of accumulation. Our next step is to investigate which approach is appropriate this time, and how we can develop the ‘right’ mindset to lead a happier and more fulfilling life.”

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Study shows how night shift work can raise risk of diabetes, obesity

“When internal rhythms are dysregulated, you have this enduring stress in your system that we believe has long-term health consequences.”

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Just a few days on a night shift schedule throws off protein rhythms related to blood glucose regulation, energy metabolism and inflammation, processes that can influence the development of chronic metabolic conditions.

The finding, from a study led by scientists at Washington State University and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, provides new clues as to why night shift workers are more prone to diabetes, obesity and other metabolic disorders.

“There are processes tied to the master biological clock in our brain that are saying that day is day and night is night and other processes that follow rhythms set elsewhere in the body that say night is day and day is night,” said senior study author Hans Van Dongen, a professor in the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. “When internal rhythms are dysregulated, you have this enduring stress in your system that we believe has long-term health consequences.”

Though more research is needed, Van Dongen said the study shows that these disrupted rhythms can be seen in as little as three days, which suggests early intervention to prevent diabetes and obesity is possible. Such intervention could also help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, which is elevated in night shift workers as well.

Published in the Journal of Proteome Research, the study involved a controlled laboratory experiment with volunteers who were put on simulated night or day shift schedules for three days. Following their last shift, participants were kept awake for 24 hours under constant conditions—lighting, temperature, posture and food intake—to measure their internal biological rhythms without interference from outside influences. 

Blood samples drawn at regular intervals throughout the 24-hour period were analyzed to identify proteins present in blood-based immune system cells. Some proteins had rhythms closely tied to the master biological clock, which keeps the body on a 24-hour rhythm. The master clock is resilient to altered shift schedules, so these protein rhythms didn’t change much in response to the night shift schedule.

However, most other proteins had rhythms that changed substantially in night shift participants compared to the day shift participants.

Looking more closely at proteins involved in glucose regulation, the researchers observed a nearly complete reversal of glucose rhythms in night shift participants. They also found that processes involved in insulin production and sensitivity, which normally work together to keep glucose levels within a healthy range, were no longer synchronized in night shift participants.

The researchers said this effect could be caused by the regulation of insulin trying to undo the glucose changes triggered by the night shift schedule. They said this may be a healthy response in the moment, as altered glucose levels may damage cells and organs, but could be problematic in the long run.

“What we showed is that we can really see a difference in molecular patterns between volunteers with normal schedules and those with schedules that are misaligned with their biological clock,” said Jason McDermott, a computational scientist with PNNL’s Biological Sciences Division. “The effects of this misalignment had not yet been characterized at this molecular level and in this controlled manner before.”

The researchers’ next step will be to study real-world workers to determine whether night shifts cause similar protein changes in long-term shift workers.

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