Thursday, January 14, 2010

For healthy mental aging, brain games can fill in for schooling?

More epidemiological stupidity -- confusing cause and effect

It's well documented that people lacking college degrees are more likely to develop memory problems or even Alzheimer's disease later in life. [Which means what? That people with poor memories to start with cannot handle college?]

But people can significantly compensate for poorer education by engaging often in mental exercises such as word games, puzzles, reading, and lectures, a large national study has found. "Among individuals with low education, those who engaged in reading, writing, attending lectures, doing word games or puzzles once or week [i.e. those who were naturally smart to start with] or more had memory scores similar to people with more education," said psychologist Margie Lachman of Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., lead author of the study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

"The lifelong benefits of higher education for memory in later life are quite impressive, but we do not clearly understand how and why these effects last so long," she noted. It could be because higher education promotes lifelong interest in cognitive endeavors, she added. By contrast, people with less education may engage less often in mental exercises that help keep the memory agile.

The study assessed 3,343 men and women between the ages of 32 and 84 with an average age of 56. Almost 40 percent of the participants had at least a four-year college degree. Lachman and colleagues evaluated how the participants performed in two cognitive areas, verbal memory and executive functionbrain processes involved in planning, abstract thinking and cognitive flexibility. Participants were given a battery of tests, including tests of verbal fluency, word recall, and backward counting.

"The findings are promising because they suggest there may be ways to level the playing field for those with lower educational achievement, and protect those at greatest risk for memory declines," said Lachman. "Although we can not rule out the possibility that those who have better memories are the ones who take on more activities, the evidence is consistent with cognitive plasticity, and suggests some degree of personal control over cognitive functioning in adulthood by adopting an intellectuly active lifestyle."


NYC: Restaurant chefs boiling over Bloomberg’s latest really stupid idea

Mayor Bloomberg yesterday defended his latest nanny initiative — a controversial crackdown on salt — by comparing the simple seasoning to killer asbestos in the classroom. "If we know there's asbestos in a school room what do you expect us to do?" Bloomberg shot back at reporters questioning his new initiative. "Say it's not our business? I don't think so. The same thing is true with food and smoking and a lot of things.

"Salt and asbestos, clearly both are bad for you," Bloomberg continued. "Modern medicine thinks you shouldn't be smoking if you want to live longer. Modern medicine thinks you shouldn't be eating salt, or sodium." [There is no such thing as a monolithic "modern medicine" -- only a range of ideas]

Bloomberg is pushing a plan to cut the amount of salt in packaged and restaurant foods by 25 percent over the next five years. He says the initiative is voluntary.

Never mind that salt has important properties that preserve and stabilize food, and its sodium ions help maintain the fluid in human blood cells. Forget that the body does not manufacture its own sodium ions so there has to be some salt in everyone's diet.

Restaurant owners have a less scientific reason for disliking the crackdown: salt makes food taste good. Some of the city's top chefs and restaurant owners yesterday had a spicy message for City Hall: Simmer down and stay out of our kitchens. "I'm all for trying to make New Yorkers healthier people," said acclaimed chef Ed Brown, owner of the restaurant eighty one on the Upper West Side. "But when it comes to him telling me how much salt to put in food, I have a problem with it."

Noted chef David Chang, owner of the Momofuku Noodle Bar, said cooks have been using salt with food almost as long as they have been using fire. "You need salt to draw flavor out of food," Chang said. "It's a skill that you teach cooks. For that to be regulated by the government is just stupid and foolish."

Too much sodium contributes to high blood pressure, which can cause heart attacks and stroke, health officials say.


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