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Your sense of smell may be the key to a balanced diet

The food you ate just before your walk past the bakery may impact your likelihood of stopping in for a sweet treat – and not just because you’re full.

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Photo by Otto Norin from Unsplash.com

Walking past a corner bakery, you may find yourself drawn in by the fresh smell of sweets wafting from the front door. You’re not alone: The knowledge that humans make decisions based on their nose has led major brands like Cinnabon and Panera Bread to pump the scents of baked goods into their restaurants, leading to big spikes in sales.

But according to a new study, the food you ate just before your walk past the bakery may impact your likelihood of stopping in for a sweet treat – and not just because you’re full.

Scientists at Northwestern University found that people became less sensitive to food odors based on the meal they had eaten just before. So, if you were snacking on baked goods from a coworker before your walk, for example, you may be less likely to stop into that sweet-smelling bakery.

The study, “Olfactory perceptual decision-making is biased by motivational state,” was published August 26 in the journal PLOS Biology.

Smell regulates what we eat, and vice versa

The study found that participants who had just eaten a meal of either cinnamon buns or pizza were less likely to perceive “meal-matched” odors, but not non-matched odors. The findings were then corroborated with brain scans that showed brain activity in parts of the brain that process odors was altered in a similar way.

These findings show that just as smell regulates what we eat, what we eat, in turn, regulates our sense of smell.

Feedback between food intake and the olfactory system may have an evolutionary benefit, said senior and corresponding study author Thorsten Kahnt, an assistant professor of neurology and psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“If you think about our ancestors roaming the forest trying to find food, they find and eat berries and then aren’t as sensitive to the smell of berries anymore,” Kahnt said. “But maybe they’re still sensitive to the smell of mushrooms, so it could theoretically help facilitate diversity in food and nutrient intake.”

Kahnt said while we don’t see the hunter-gatherer adaptation come out in day-to-day decision-making, the connection between our nose, what we seek out and what we can detect with our nose may still be very important. If the nose isn’t working right, for example, the feedback loop may be disrupted, leading to problems with disordered eating and obesity. There may even be links to disrupted sleep, another tie to the olfactory system the Kahnt lab is researching.

Using brain imaging, behavioral testing and non-invasive brain stimulation, the Kahnt lab studies how the sense of smell guides learning and appetite behavior, particularly as it pertains to psychiatric conditions like obesity, addiction and dementia. In a past study, the team found the brain’s response to smell is altered in sleep-deprived participants, and next wanted to know whether and how food intake changes our ability to perceive food smells.

According to Laura Shanahan, a postdoctoral fellow in the Kahnt lab and the first and co-corresponding author of the study, there’s very little work on how odor perception changes due to different factors. “There’s some research on odor pleasantness”, Shanahan said, “but our work focuses in on how sensitive you are to these odors in different states.”

Pizza and pine; cinnamon and cedar

To conduct the study, the team developed a novel task in which participants were presented with a smell that was a mixture between a food and a non-food odor (either “pizza and pine” or “cinnamon bun and cedar” – odors that “pair well” and are distinct from each other). The ratio of food and non-food odor varied in each mixture, from pure food to pure non-food. After a mixture was presented, participants were asked whether the food or the non-food odor was dominant.

Participants completed the task twice inside an MRI scanner: First, when they were hungry, then, after they’d eaten a meal that matched one of the two odors.

“In parallel with the first part of the experiment running in the MRI scanner, I was preparing the meal in another room,” Shanahan said. “We wanted everything fresh and ready and warm because we wanted the participant to eat as much as they could until they were very full.”

The team then computed how much food odor was required in the mixture in each session for the participant to perceive the food odor as dominant. The team found when participants were hungry, they needed a lower percentage of food odor in a mixture to perceive it as dominant – for example, a hungry participant may require a 50% cinnamon bun to cedar mixture when hungry, but 80% when full of cinnamon buns.

Through brain imaging, the team provided further evidence for the hypothesis. Brain scans from the MRI demonstrated a parallel change occurring in the part of the brain that processes odors after a meal. The brain’s response to a meal-matched odor was less “food-like” than responses to a non-matched meal odor.

Applying findings to future sleep deprivation research

Findings from this study will allow the Kahnt lab to take on more complex projects. Kahnt said with a better understanding of the feedback loop between smell and food intake, he’s hoping to take the project full circle back to sleep deprivation to see if lack of sleep may impair the loop in some way. He added that with brain imaging, there are more questions about how the adaptation may impact sensory and decision-making circuits in the brain.

“After the meal, the olfactory cortex didn’t represent meal-matched food odors as much as food anymore, so the adaptation seems to be happening relatively early on in processing,” Kahnt said. “We’re following up on how that information is changed and how the altered information is used by the rest of the brain to make decisions about food intake.”

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How to help children build a growth mindset

Consider these three tips to help children build a growth mindset.

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A new year is a perfect time to consider the habits you want to keep and the ones you’d like to develop. One resolution to consider is helping your children develop a growth mindset this year.

“We know one of the greatest boosts to parents’ confidence over the past year came from knowing their children’s whole selves are being nurtured, and we want to see that trend continue,” said Carter Peters from KinderCare Learning Center’s education team. “A growth mindset helps children try new things despite fear of failure. It’s the kind of thinking that allows inventors and creative thinkers to get excited about trying something new and ensures they have the cognitive flexibility and problem-solving skills to work through hurdles.”

Adults can often easily spot when children are engaged in creative thinking and prideful of their work, but that confidence may be lost as failures turn into insecurities. By nurturing a growth mindset and showing children they can learn and develop new skills in any area, it better sets them up for long-term success.

Consider these three tips to help children build a growth mindset:

Photo by Markus Spiske from Unsplash.com

1. Praise effort

It’s easy to fall into the habit of praising successes. However, praising effort encourages children to try new things without the fear of failing. It also teaches children personal growth and achievement are possible, even if their overall effort wasn’t a success.

“Young children often get excited to try something new,” Peters said. “By praising effort and showing children they’ll still be loved and valued despite the outcome, you can reframe how they approach challenges and teach them that difficult doesn’t mean impossible.”

2. Encourage the process

People often withhold praise until there’s a result, which leads children to hurriedly scribble a picture to hold up for a “good job” instead of taking time to focus on their efforts. When children know adults will encourage them during the process, instead of only upon the achievement, they’re more likely to try new things or master a new skill. For example, try providing encouragement such as, “I can see you’re focused on drawing that tree. It looks so lifelike because you’re putting so much thought into what you’re doing.” Once their project is finished, continue the encouragement by hanging up their artwork or school projects in a prominent place.

3. Model a growth mindset

You can model a growth mindset for children by narrating your actions when you are facing a challenge: “I am having a difficult time putting this shelf together, but it’s OK. I’ll take a break then read the instructions again.” Remove negative words from your vocabulary, such as “I can’t” or “I’m stupid.” Even when you are joking, children may not be able to tell the difference. You can also ask your children to join you in problem-solving. Take time to hear their ideas and try them even if you think they won’t work. This not only supports the development of their growth mindset, but the quality time and encouragement reinforces their sense of self-worth and builds confidence.

For more tips to help children develop a growth mindset, visit kindercare.com.

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Signs of a Healthy Marriage

Although there are many different ways to define a healthy marriage, these three qualities are essential for any lasting and fulfilling relationship.

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A healthy marriage is built on trust, respect, and communication. Couples with these qualities in their relationship tend to be more satisfied with their marriage and overall life. They also report feeling closer to their partner and having stronger well-being. With 2.3 out of every 1000 people in the US experiencing divorce in 2022, it is important to frequently check in on the health of your marriage.

Although there are many different ways to define a healthy marriage, these three qualities are essential for any lasting and fulfilling relationship.

Signs of a Healthy Marriage

A healthy marriage is built on trust, communication, and mutual respect. If you and your partner can effectively communicate and share a mutual level of respect, then your relationship is off to a good start. Trust is also important in a healthy marriage, as it allows you and your partner to feel secure in your relationship and rely on each other.

Many other signs can indicate whether or not a marriage is healthy. For example, couples who can spend quality time together and enjoy shared activities usually do well. Couples who can openly discuss their relationship with each other and work through difficulties together are also more likely to have a happy and healthy marriage. Finally, marriages, where both partners feel like they can be themselves without judgment from their spouse tend to be the strongest and most lasting.

Freedom to be yourself

In a healthy marriage, partners feel free to be themselves. They don’t have to put on a facade or pretend to be someone they’re not. They can be open and honest with each other and feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, feelings, and desires.

Both partners should pursue their interests and hobbies without compromising or sacrificing for the sake of the relationship. There’s no need to agree on everything – in fact, it’s healthy to have some separate interests – but overall, both partners should feel like they’re able to be true to themselves within the relationship.

Lots of good communication

In a healthy marriage, partners can communicate effectively. It means expressing needs and wants and listening and responding to what the other person is saying. There are mutual respect’s opinions, even if there are disagreements. Couples in a healthy marriage feel comfortable communicating with each other about both the good and the bad.

Good sex life

A good sex life can be a major sign of a healthy marriage. A lack of sexual activity can be an early warning sign that something is wrong in the relationship. Often, couples who have a good sex life are more connected emotionally and physically. They are also more likely to trust each other and communicate openly.

Trust in each other

In any relationship, trust is essential. Without trust, there is no foundation for the relationship to grow. In a marriage, trust is even more important. Trusting your spouse means you feel confident in their ability to support you emotionally and financially. It also means that you feel safe sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings with them.

When you trust your spouse, you know they have your best interests. You feel comfortable being yourselves around each other and sharing your hopes, dreams, and fears. Openness and honesty in your relationship allow you to be vulnerable with each other. This vulnerable honesty creates a deeper level of intimacy in your marriage.

When you trust each other, you can be more forgiving when mistakes are made. You know that everyone makes mistakes and that nobody is perfect. You also understand that your spouse is human and capable of making mistakes like anyone else. If they make a mistake, you are more likely to forgive them because you know they are sorry and will try not to make the same mistake again.

Trust is one of the most important foundations of a healthy marriage. If you want your marriage to thrive, build trust in each other.

A successful, strong marriage takes work, but with communication, trust, respect, vulnerability, and affection as its core components, you can together create a partnership that will be long-lasting.

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Obesity linked to macular degeneration

Immune cells are also activated when the body is exposed to stressors such as excess fat in obesity, making being overweight the number one non-genetic risk factor for developing AMD, after smoking.

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A Canadian study published in the prestigious journal Science elucidates a new molecular mechanism that may cause age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

The research at Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosement, in Montreal, shows how life stressors such as obesity reprogram immune system cells and make them destructive to the eye as it ages.

“We wanted to know why some people with a genetic predisposition develop AMD while others are spared,” said Université de Montréal ophtalmology professor Przemyslaw (Mike) Sapieha, who led the study by his postdoctoral fellow Dr. Masayuki Hata.

“Although considerable effort has been invested in understanding the genes responsible for AMD, variations and mutations in susceptibility genes only increase the risk of developing the disease, but do not cause it,” Sapieha explained.

“This observation suggests that we must gain a better understanding of how other factors such as environment and lifestyle contribute to disease development.”

AMD is a major cause of irreversible blindness worldwide and affected approximately 196 million people in 2020. It comes in two forms:

  • dry AMD, characterized by the accumulation of fatty deposits at the back of the eye and the death of nerve cells in the eye,
  • and wet AMD, which is characterized by diseased blood vessels that develop in the most sensitive part of the sight-generating tissue, called the macula.

Contact with pathogens

It is already known that the immune system in the eye of a person with AMD becomes dysregulated and aggressive. Normally, immune cells keep the eye healthy, but contact with pathogens such as bacteria and viruses can make them go awry.

At the same time, immune cells are also activated when the body is exposed to stressors such as excess fat in obesity, making being overweight the number one non-genetic risk factor for developing AMD, after smoking.

In their study, Sapieha and Hata used obesity as a model to accelerate and exaggerate the stressors experienced by the body throughout life.

They found that transient obesity or a history of obesity leads to persistent changes in the DNA architecture within immune cells, making them more susceptible to producing inflammatory molecules.

“Our findings provide important information about the biology of the immune cells that cause AMD and will allow for the development of more tailored treatments in the future,” said Hata, now an ophthalmology professor at Kyoto University, in Japan.

The researchers hope their discovery will lead other scientists to broaden their interest beyond obesity-related diseases to other diseases characterized by increased neuroinflammation, including Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

About this study

“Past history of obesity triggers persistent epigenetic changes in innate immunity and exacerbates neuroinflammation,” by Mike Sapieha and Masayuki Hata, was published in Science.

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