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Sep 24

By Rick Nauert PhD

Emerging research suggests the hormones that trigger the menstrual cycle influence the way a woman’s memory works. Practically, investigators discovered cognitive and spatial abilities were influenced by the time of the month.

Researchers from Concordia University designed the study to show that the female brain works differently. Drug development and treatment protocols are typically designed using male models.

In the current study, researchers investigated whether hormones associated with the menstrual cycle could change brain patterns and capabilities.

“Women have sometimes reported to doctors that their memory works differently depending on which phase of the menstrual cycle they are in — even during and following pregnancy, or following menopause.

This has led scientists to wonder whether estrogen and progesterone could affect memory and problem solving,” said psychology professor Dr. Wayne Brake, who co-authored the study.

“Our research shows that, rather than impairing memory in general, estrogen and progesterone may instead cause the brain to favor one memory system or strategy over another.”

For the study, researchers tested 45 women who had regular menstrual cycles. Participants were asked to complete a “hormonal profile” questionnaire that gathered detailed information on their periods, past pregnancies, contraceptive, and synthetic hormone intake history and general life habits.

The participants were then given a verbal memory task, such as remembering a list of words, as well as a virtual navigation task, such as finding their way through a maze in a video game, that could be solved in several ways.

At the end of the experiment, participants were debriefed on how they solved the tasks from beginning to end.

Results were clear: women who were ovulating performed better on the verbal memory task. On the other hand, women tested in their pre-menstrual phase were better at solving spatial navigation tasks.

Researchers said that proves that women tend to use different strategies to solve tasks — such as navigating a maze or remembering a list of words — depending on where they are in their menstrual cycle.

Essentially, the study shows that the hormonal changes women experience throughout their cycles have a broader impact than previously believed, and have significant effects on how women approach and solve problems.

“This is important scientifically. We and others have previously shown that the levels of estrogen and progesterone in rodents influence different brain regions, affecting various memory systems involved in task-solving,” says Brake.

“For example, when estrogen levels are high, female rats will use one type of memory system or strategy versus another to solve a maze. This is the first study to show that this is also true for women, who solve tasks in different ways based on their hormones.”

The findings clearly show that additional research is needed to deepen the understanding of the female brain.

For recent Ph.D. graduate Dema Hussain, the study’s lead author, these results point to an ongoing bias in scientific research.

“Traditionally, researchers and scientists have relied on using male participants — and male rats — in studies to develop drugs and treatments for the general population. But we now know that women respond differently than men,” she says.

“I hope that this study emphasizes that more research is needed to deepen our understanding of the female brain, and that efforts must be made to tailor future research to improve our understanding of the effects of female sex hormones on cognition and memory.”

By Rick Nauert PhD

Researchers from the University of Warwick Sleep and Pain Lab show in a new study that conditions like back pain, fibromyalgia, and arthritis are linked with negative thoughts about insomnia and pain — and this double whammy can be effectively managed by cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

In the research, Esther Afolalu and colleagues developed a pioneering scale to measure beliefs about sleep and pain in long-term pain patients, alongside their quality of sleep. This method of quantification is the first of its type to combine both pain and sleep and investigate the vicious cycle between sleep and pain problems.

“Current psychological treatments for chronic pain have mostly focused on pain management and a lesser emphasis on sleep, but there is a recent interest in developing therapies to tackle both pain and sleep problems simultaneously,” Afolalu said. “This scale provides a useful clinical tool to assess and monitor treatment progress during these therapies.

The scale was tested on four groups of patients suffering from long-term pain and bad sleeping patterns, with the result showing that people who believe they won’t be able to sleep as a result of their pain are more likely to suffer from insomnia, thus causing worse pain.

The results show that the scale was vital in predicting patients’ level of insomnia and pain difficulties. With better sleep, pain problems are significantly reduced, especially after receiving a short course of CBT for both pain and insomnia.

The study has provided therapists the means with which to identify and monitor rigid thoughts about sleep and pain that are sleep-interfering, allowing the application of the proven effective CBT for insomnia in people with chronic pain.

“Thoughts can have a direct and/or indirect impact on our emotion, behavior and even physiology. The way how we think about sleep and its interaction with pain can influence the way how we cope with pain and manage sleeplessness,” said Dr. Nicole Tang, the senior author.

“Based on clinical experience, whilst some of these beliefs are healthy and useful, others are rigid and misinformed. The new scale, PBAS, is developed to help us pick up those beliefs that have a potential role in worsening the insomnia and pain experience,” Tang said.

The study appears in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

By Traci Pedersen
Omega 3 Strongly Linked to Behavior, Learning in ChildrenResearchers at the University of Oxford have found that a child’s blood levels of long-chain Omega-3 DHA can significantly predict how well he or she is able to concentrate and learn. The study, published in the journal PLOS One, is one of the first to evaluate blood Omega-3 levels in UK schoolchildren.

“From a sample of nearly 500 schoolchildren, we found that levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in the blood significantly predicted a child’s behavior and ability to learn,” said co-author Paul Montgomery, Ph.D., from Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention in the Department of Social Policy and Intervention.

“Higher levels of Omega-3 in the blood, and DHA in particular, were associated with better reading and memory, as well as with fewer behavior problems as rated by parents and teachers,” he said.

For the study, blood samples were taken from 493 schoolchildren, between the ages of seven and nine. All of the children were thought to have below-average reading skills, based on national assessments at the age of seven or their teachers’ current judgments.

Analyses of their blood samples revealed that, on average, just under two per cent of the children’s total blood fatty acids were Omega-3 DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) and 0.5 percent were Omega-3 EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid), with a total of 2.45 percent for these long-chain Omega-3 combined. This is below the minimum of 4 percent recommended by leading scientists, with 8-12 percent regarded as optimal, the researchers reported.

Parents also reported their child’s diet, revealing to the researchers that almost nine out of ten children in the sample ate fish less than twice a week, and nearly one in ten never ate fish at all.

“’The longer term health implications of such low blood Omega-3 levels in children obviously can’t be known,” said co-author Dr Alex Richardson.

“But this study suggests that many, if not most UK children, probably aren’t getting enough of the long-chain Omega-3 we all need for a healthy brain, heart and immune system.”

“That gives serious cause for concern because we found that lower blood DHA was linked with poorer behavior and learning in these children. Most of the children we studied had blood levels of long-chain Omega-3 that in adults would indicate a high risk of heart disease.

This was consistent with their parents’ reports that most of them failed to meet current dietary guidelines for fish and seafood intake. Similarly, few took supplements or foods fortified with these Omega-3,” he said.

The findings build on previous studies conducted by the same researchers, showing that dietary supplementation with Omega-3 DHA improved both reading progress and behavior in children from the general school population who were struggling with reading.

Their earlier research has shown benefits of supplementation with long-chain omega-3 (EPA+DHA) for children with ADHD, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, and related conditions.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is taking steps to improve the warning labels featured on non-aspirin nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – NSAIDs – so they reflect that the drugs increase the risk of for heart attack or stroke.

In 2005, the FDA added boxed warning labels about cardiovascular risk to all prescription NSAIDs. However, a new comprehensive review found that the risk for heart attack or stroke can happen even after using NSAIDs for a short term, like a few weeks – an earlier estimate than previously stated.

This new safety information prompted the update on the drugs commonly used to treat toothaches, back pain, strains or sprains, menstrual cramps and headaches, according to an agency announcement.

Patients who take over-the-counter or prescription NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac and celecoxib, should seek immediate medical attention if they experience chest pain, shortness of breath or trouble breathing, weakness in one part or side of their body or slurred speech.

“Be careful not to take more than one product that contains an NSAID at a time,” Dr. Karen Mahoney, deputy director of the FDA’s Division of Nonprescription Drug Products, said in the consumer update.

Read the Drug Facts label for additional information on the proper way to take NSAIDs, she adds. If you already have high blood pressure or heart disease, speak to a health care provider before using NSAIDs.

Jun 27

Erectile Dysfunction – The Causes


By Kyle J. Norton
With either mental or physical stimulation, your brain signals the nerve ending in the penis to release nitric oxide. Nitric oxide relaxes or dilates blood vessels, enabling them to open up and bring more blood to the penis and helping to create an erection. In this article, we will discuss what causes erectile dysfunction in men.

1. Aging
Starting at the age of 40 the levels of prolactin increases, stimulating the conversion of dihydro-testosterone, causing enlarged prostate and erection difficulty in some men.

2. Uncontrolled diet
Uncontrolled diet that is high in saturated fat and trans fat causing excessive fat build up in the arteries and veins in the penis. Remember that fat is required for function of the brain but excessive intake of fat causes fat to build up in the arteries as well as small veins in the penis and brain. That is also the reason that some experts indicate that erectile dysfunction in men is one of many symptoms of heart diseases and stroke.

3. Smoking
Nicotine is a stimulative, it causes the depletion of oxygen in the bloodstream resulting in the heart to beat faster than usual so that it can carry more oxygen to the cells in our body. It also causes the deduction of the amount of nitric oxide (the substance that relaxes or dilates blood vessels, enabling them to open up and bring more blood to the penis and helping to create and maintain an erection) released from the head of the penis resulting in erectile dysfunction. Cigarette fume contains high amounts of cadmium, the harmful and toxic substance causing calcium to stick on the arterial wall resulting in blocking blood flow to the penile veins creating erectile problems.

4. Excessive alcohol drinking
Excessive alcohol drinking over a long period of time not only damages the liver but also raises the levels of triglycerides in the blood. It also leads to high blood pressure, heart failure and an increased calorie intake causing the arteries and vessels in the penis to be clogged up by harmful cholesterol resulting in erection difficulty.

5. Enlarged ProstateStudies found that there are strong relations between lower urinary tract symptoms and the rate of erectile dysfunction in men with symptoms of enlarged prostate. The main role of the prostate gland is to squeeze fluid into the urethra as sperm moves through during sexual climax. As the prostate enlarges, the layer of tissue surrounding it stops it from expanding, causing the gland to press against the urethra like a clamp on a garden hose resulting in prostate gland muscles surrounding the prostate making it contract and shrink down, increasing the erectile problem.

6. High levels of LDL
The hardening and narrowing of the arteries, causes a reduction in blood flow throughout the body including the vessels in the penis, leading to impotence.

7. Hormone imbalance
Testosterone deficiency can result in a loss of libido and loss of erection. An excess of the hormone prolactin also reduces levels of testosterone. Hormone imbalances can also result from kidney or liver disease.

8. Diabetes
Chronic high levels of blood sugar often damages small blood vessels and nerves throughout the body, impairing the nerve impulses and reducing the blood flow needed for erection.

By Traci Pedersen
Recurrent major depressive disorder (MDD) is associated with lower bone mineral density (BMD) in men, according to a new study from the University of Eastern Finland in collaboration with Deakin University, Australia. The use of antidepressants is also associated with lower BMD, but this link is dependent on weight and site of bone measurement.

Osteoporosis is a common health problem, particularly among postmenopausal women, and an underlying factor in fragility fractures. In the elderly, susceptibility to fracture and serious hip fractures can result in long-term hospitalization and decreased state of health.

Risk factors include low levels of physical activity, smoking, low intake of calcium and vitamin D, as well as certain medications and diseases. Lower bone density has also been linked to depression.

This might be due to depression-induced long-term stress and increased secretion of inflammatory markers. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) used to treat depression have been shown to weaken bone health as well.

Although most studies have focused on postmenopausal women, the new study analyzed the association of single and recurrent MDD episodes and the use of antidepressants with bone density in men.

Between 2006 and 2011, 928 male participants (aged 24-98 years) completed a comprehensive questionnaire and had BMD assessments at the forearm, spine, total hip, and total body. MDD was identified using a structured clinical interview.

Nine percent of the study population had experienced a single MDD episode, and five percent had suffered from recurrent MDD. Furthermore, seven percent of the study participants reported the use of antidepressants at the time of assessment.

The findings showed that recurrent MDD was associated with lower BMD at the forearm (-6.5 percent) and total body (-2.5 percent) compared to men with no history of MDD, while single MDD episodes were associated with higher BMD at the total hip (+3.4 percent).

Antidepressant use was tied to lower BMD only in lower-weight men and varied across the bone sites. For example, the use of antidepressants was associated with reduced bone density in the hip in men weighing less than 242 pounds.

In the forearm, however, the association of anti-depressants with reduced bone density was not observed in men until their body weight was under 165 pounds.

Finally, the findings show that recurrent major depression may increase the risk of osteoporosis in men. Furthermore, the use of antidepressants should be taken into account as a potential risk factor of osteoporosis especially in men with a low body weight.

The study constitutes part of the Ph.D. project of Researcher Päivi Rauma, focusing on the effects of depression and antidepressants on bone health. The findings are published in the Journal of Musculoskeletal and Neuronal Interactions.

By TRACI PEDERSEN Associate News Editor

Inability to balance on one leg for longer than 20 seconds was found to be associated with reduced cognitive function and an increased risk for small blood vessel damage in the brain in otherwise healthy people, according to new research published in the journal Stroke.

“Our study found that the ability to balance on one leg is an important test for brain health,” said lead study author Yasuharu Tabara, Ph.D., associate professor at the Center for Genomic Medicine at Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine in Kyoto, Japan.

“Individuals showing poor balance on one leg should receive increased attention, as this may indicate an increased risk for brain disease and cognitive decline.”

For the study, 841 women and 546 men (average age of 67) were timed to see how long they could stand on one leg with their eyes open. The maximum time for keeping the leg raised was 60 seconds.

Participants got two chances and the better of their two scores was used in the analysis. Magnetic resonance imaging was used to detect small vessel disease.

Researchers found that struggling to balance on one leg for more than 20 seconds was linked to cerebral small vessel disease, such as lacunar infarctions (a piece of tissue that is dying or dead because of a lack of blood supply) and microbleeds (tiny round hemorrhages). The researchers noted that:

five percent of those with more than two lacunar infarction lesions had trouble balancing;.
16 percent of those with one lacunar infarction lesion had trouble balancing;
30 percent of those with more than two microbleed lesions had trouble balancing;
three percent with one microbleed lesion had trouble balancing.
After adjusting for a variety of factors, people with more microbleeds and lacunar infarctions in the brain had shorter one-legged standing times. Also, people who had shorter one-legged standing times tended to have lower cognitive scores.

Although prior research has examined the connection between gait and physical abilities and the risk of stroke, this is one of the first studies to closely investigate how long a person can stand on one leg as a reflection of overall brain health.

“One-leg standing time is a simple measure of postural instability and might be a consequence of the presence of brain abnormalities,” said Tabara.

The researchers also found a strong link between struggling to stand on one leg and increased age, with significant shorter one-leg standing time in patients aged 60 and over. Small vessel disease typically increases with age.

Tabara noted that the one-leg standing test is an easy way to determine if there are early signs of being at risk for a stroke and cognitive impairment and whether these patients need additional evaluation.

Source: American Heart Association

Dec 8

By JANICE WOOD Associate News Editor

A new study has discovered that the brains of obese children literally light up differently when tasting sugar.

The study, led by researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, does not show a causal relationship between sugar hypersensitivity and overeating. However, it does support the idea that the growing number of America’s obese youth may have a heightened psychological reward response to food, according to the researchers.

This elevated sense of “food reward” — which involves being motivated by food and deriving a good feeling from it — could mean some children have brain circuitries that predispose them to crave more sugar throughout life, the researchers explain.

“The take-home message is that obese children, compared to healthy weight children, have enhanced responses in their brain to sugar,” said first author Kerri Boutelle, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and founder of the university’s Center for Health Eating and Activity Research (CHEAR).

“That we can detect these brain differences in children as young as eight years old is the most remarkable and clinically significant part of the study.”

For the study, the researchers scanned the brains of 23 children, ranging in age from eight to 12, while they tasted one-fifth of a teaspoon of water mixed with sugar. The children were directed to swirl the sugar-water mix in their mouths with their eyes closed, while focusing on its taste.

According to the researchers, 10 of the children were obese and 13 were at healthy weights. All had been pre-screened for factors that could confound the results, the researcher said.

For example, they were all right-handed and none suffered from psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety or ADHD. They also all liked the taste of sucrose, the researchers reported.

The brain images showed that obese children had heightened activity in the insular cortex and amygdala, regions of the brain involved in perception, emotion, awareness, taste, motivation, and reward.

Notably, according to the researchers, the obese children did not show any heightened neuronal activity in a third area of the brain — the striatum — which is also part of the response-reward circuitry and whose activity has, in other studies, been associated with obesity in adults. The striatum, however, does not develop fully until adolescence, the researchers said.

The researchers added that one of the interesting aspects of the study is that the brain scans may be documenting, for the first time, the early development of the food reward circuitry in pre-adolescents.

“Any obesity expert will tell you that losing weight is hard and that the battle has to be won on the prevention side,” said Boutelle.

“The study is a wake-up call that prevention has to start very early because some children may be born with a hypersensitivity to food rewards or they may be able to learn a relationship between food and feeling better faster than other children.”

Source: University of California-San Diego

By TRACI PEDERSEN Associate News Editor

Brain Activity Just After Quitting Smoking May Predict Relapse
Smokers who attempt to quit but end up relapsing within seven days exhibit specific disruptions in the brain’s working memory system during their time of smoking abstinence, according to a new study by Penn Medicine.

This distinct neural activity — mainly a decrease in the part of the brain that supports self-control and an increase in the area that promotes an “introspective” state — could help distinguish successful quitters from those who fail at an early stage; it may also reveal a potential therapeutic target for new treatments.

“This is the first time abstinence-induced changes in the working memory have been shown to accurately predict relapse in smokers,” said senior author Caryn Lerman, Ph.D. a professor of Psychiatry and director of Penn’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Nicotine Addiction.

For the study, published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe the effects of brief abstinence from smoking on working memory and its associated neural activation. The 80 participants, aged 18 to 65, reported smoking more than 10 cigarettes a day for more than six months and were currently seeking treatment.

“The neural response to quitting even after one day can give us valuable information that could inform new and existing personalized intervention strategies for smokers, which is greatly needed.” said James Loughead, Ph.D., associate professor of Psychiatry.

Past research strongly suggests that if a person can go without smoking for seven days, he or she will likely continue that way for six months or longer, and is therefore highly predictive of long-term success.

The researchers conducted two brain scans: the first immediately after a person smoked and the other 24 hours after abstinence began. Following smoking cessation counseling, participants set a future target quit date. Seven days after the target quit date, participants had a check-up, during which smoking behavior was accessed, including a urine test.

Sixty one smokers relapsed and 19 quit successfully for this period, the researchers reported.

Those who relapsed had decreased activity in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which controls executive functions, like working memory, compared to those who quit. Working memory is necessary for staying focused, blocking distractions, and completing tasks. They also had reduced suppression of activation in the posterior cingulate cortex, a central part of the default mode network of the brain, which is more active when people are in an “introspective” state.

Although wide implementation of a neuroimaging test is not clinically or economically feasible at this time, these findings on working memory may lead to improved measuring tools, specifically for early smoking relapse.

Source: Penn Medicine

Nov 30

Statins, prescribed to lower cholesterol and reduce risks of heart attacks and strokes, seem to diminish inflammation that occurs after people breathe airborne particles
November 24, 2014 |By Brian Bienkowski and Environmental Health News

One of the most widely prescribed drugs in the United States may have an extra benefit: protecting people from air pollution.

Statins, prescribed to lower cholesterol and reduce risks of heart attacks and strokes, seem to diminish inflammation that occurs after people breathe airborne particles.

“Health impacts from spikes in particulates in the air are substantial. Statins seem to protect not only lungs from these impacts but the heart, too,” said Dr. Norman Edelman, the American Lung Association’s senior medical advisor.

About one in four Americans over the age of 45 takes statins, including Lipitor, Zocor and other brand names.

Although drugs cannot be prescribed to protect people from air pollution, several studies show that people who take statins have fewer proteins in their blood that indicate inflammation of tissues, said Dr. Stephan van Eeden, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia who specializes in lung health. This inflammation may aggravate respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Most recently, a study of 1,923 U.S. women found that those taking statins are less likely to have signs of inflammation, said Bart Ostro, an epidemiologist with California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment who led the study.

“There are some specific groups [such as diabetics] that seem to have higher levels of inflammation after long-term exposure,” Ostro said. “On the converse side, we found that people on statins seem to be protected from the inflammatory effects of PM2.5.”

In the women taking statins, there was no association between PM2.5 – the tiny particles emitted mostly by burning diesel and other fossil fuels – and the proteins indicating inflammation, while for most of the other groups the links were quite strong.

It’s not the first time researchers have noticed this link: University of Michigan researchers found decreased blood indicators of inflammation in people who took statins in a study of 92 people in Boston. A national study of 5,778 people also reported that statins canceled out the presence of signs of inflammation from PM2.5, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.

Scientists believe that inflammation is a key factor in heart disease.

“The older thinking was that plaque in coronary arteries caused heart attacks,” Edelman said. “Now the thinking is that it’s also due to some living tissue under plague that gets inflamed and that disrupts the plaque. We already knew statins ameliorate heart disease, and always thought it was through lipids, but here’s a new pathway.”

Around the world, studies have shown that whenever particulates increase, deaths from heart attacks and respiratory disease rise, too. Experts estimate that fine particles are linked to about 800,000 deaths annually worldwide.

Particulate pollution has been on a steady decline in the United States: The national average for PM2.5 decreased 34 percent from 2000 to 2013, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. However, high concentrations of the pollution still persist in some cities with heavy traffic and industry, such as Los Angeles and Chicago.

When van Eeden and colleagues gave statins to rabbits before exposing them to particulate matter they had decreased lung inflammation. In a second study of rabbits, statins seemed to help clear large particles from the lungs by promoting the movement of white blood cells to nearby lymph nodes, which protects the lungs against pending inflammation.

“It’s clear that if the animals are treated for about a month with statins before they’re exposed to particles, you can significantly lower the amount of particles generated in the lungs and decrease the blood vessel inflammatory process,” van Eeden said.

It’s not clear how statins may cause fewer particles in the lungs, but van Eeden said statin-treated rabbits have more particles in lymph nodes, suggesting the drugs stimulate particles to move to the nodes.

In another animal test mice given Zocor prior to oil fly ash or particulate exposure did not experience lung injuries and inflammation like their non-treated counterparts did, according to a 2011 study in Argentina.

Van Eeden and colleagues are now trying to figure out if the animal findings hold true for human lungs. So far, their work looks “very promising,” he said.

His lab is examining lung tissue from people who had part of a lung removed. Many were smokers and had a lot of particles in their lungs. They haven’t finished the study but so far they’re seeing that “it’s quite clear that people who used statins had less particles in their lungs,” van Eeden said.

“Once again it suggests anti-inflammatory properties and seems to clear the particles,” van Eeden said. “And these were people chronically exposed to air pollution or cigarette smoke.”

However, it’s too early for doctors to prescribe statins for people exposed to air pollution, said Dr. Martha Daviglus, a cardiovascular epidemiologist at Northwestern University and University of Illinois.

“We need more evidence. We already have a lot of people taking statins for cholesterol, and we don’t fully know the effect of taking the drugs for years and years, and decades yet,” Daviglus said.

The number of people taking the drugs is already expected to rise as the American Heart Association last year advocated for increased statin use to combat high cholesterol.

It remains unclear if people would have to take statins immediately prior to breathing air pollution, and, if so, for how long, in order for the drugs to help.

“It seems they have some good effects with regards to air pollution, but we need to conduct clinical trials with people living near roads or high-emitting facilities,” Daviglus said.

Ostro said it would be “somewhat of a leap” to prescribe statins to mitigate air pollution impacts, given some of their known side effects, such as liver problems.

Food and Drug Administration spokesman Kristofer Baumgartner said that any new claims about additional benefits for a drug have to be reviewed by a team of scientists, and the benefit would have to outweigh any risks.

Two pharmaceutical giants who sell statins, Pfizer and AstraZeneca, would not comment on the air pollution studies.

There is no research on whether other anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, would also protect people from air pollution.

Van Eeden sees potential for statins to play a role in reducing effects of air pollution, possibly in the near future. One possible group could be those suffering from asthma, which causes inflamed and constricted air passages.

“If this human study confirms what we found in rabbits, then if there is an episode of air pollution, maybe people at high risk can get a short course of statins for that period until the air pollution clears,” he said. He is currently seeking funding to test statins on firefighters to see if they reduce lung inflammation caused by smoke.

Edelman said the answer to protecting people is still cleaning the air.

“We don’t want people to start thinking now we have a drug to control effects of air pollution so we don’t have to worry about air pollution,” he said. “It’s still a large threat.”

This article originally ran at Environmental Health News, a news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.


It all comes down to willpower, right? Strength of purpose. Muster the resolve to skip dessert, and you have a shot at losing that spare tire hanging off your belly. Succumb to your temptations, however, and you are simply being weak.

But is it just weakness that causes us to overeat?

A study in Psychological Science suggests that our inability to resist that mouthwatering looking chocolate cake doesn’t arise simply because our willpower is weak but also because, after exhausting our willpower, the cake looks even more mouthwatering to us than it did before. Our ability to overcome temptation is reduced at the same time that the power of the temptation increases.

In this study, participants first underwent an exercise meant to exhaust their willpower. They watched a seven minute documentary on Canadian bighorn mountain sheep. Believe it or not, that documentary on its own doesn’t delete people’s willpower significantly. Instead, it was distracting words scrolling across the screen that exhausted people’s willpower. You see, half the participants were told to watch the documentary and read the words if they wanted to, as they scrolled in front of their field of vision. No willpower needed there. If you are curious what the word looks like, you look at it. If not, you don’t.

But the other half of the participants were told specifically not to read the words — they were told to maintain their focus on the sheep. Nothing but the sheep. Seven minutes of ignoring words while watching sheep? Exhausting just to think about it!

And willpower exhaustion was an important part of the study, because previous research has shown that willpower is depletable. Exert willpower for seven minutes and you have less willpower to draw upon in the near future.

Which leads us to part two of the study. The researchers placed these participants in an fMRI machine (a brain imager) and flashed pictures of deliciously unhealthy foods. They wanted to see which parts of people’s brains lit up in front of these tempting delicacies. I should tell you that the participants in this study were all trying to lose weight, and had all fasted before the study (which, by the way, probably means their willpower was already beginning to be depleted before they began the research).

Here is what happened. The fMRI images revealed differences across the two groups of participants in their ability to resist temptation. They found neurologic evidence of depleted willpower among the people who spent seven minutes not reading those pesky words. But that is not all that the researchers found. Those people whose willpower had been relatively depleted also showed increased activity in regions of the brain associated with “Q reactivity” — something to do with the OFC portion of their brains. (Sorry, neuroscience is above my pay grade.) Basically, the activity in these brain regions revealed that the food pictures looked tastier to depleted participants than it did to non-depleted ones.

Think of it this way. You’re on a diet. You have a tough day at work, and an awful commute back home (where it took all your remaining willpower not to flip off that @$&hole who cut in front of you on the highway) and now you open up your fridge to have a healthy salad. But you see a tempting container of macaroni and cheese. Not only are you too exhausted to resist the temptation, but the macaroni and cheese actually strikes you as something that would be so delicious to eat!

Jun 17

Depressed or Anxious? Check Your Thyroid



holisticsolutionsdoc.comSix weeks ago I woke up tired and depressed, like I have so often in the last year. All I wanted to do is go back to bed.

The negative intrusive thoughts began before my feet touched the floor.

You are so lazy, I thought to myself. You could never hold a REAL job. You can barely string together three sentences.

All I had to do that day was to crank out one quality blog before getting the kids from school, but every few paragraphs I needed to lie down.

Since I hadn’t been sleeping well for months and was used to feeling fatigued, I assumed my exhaustion and concentration problems were merely symptoms of my chronic depression.

But there was actually something more going on than depression.

“Your thyroid is not making enough thyroid hormone,” a new doctor told me over the phone that day. “That’s the first thing we have to work on, because low thyroid levels can affect a lot of things and make you feel very tired and depressed.”

As a physician who practices “functional medicine,” a science that engages the entire body to address the underlying causes of disease, she took a dozen vials of blood from me the week before as part of a comprehensive consultation.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck that produces hormones that control how your body uses energy and a lot of other things, like body temperature and weight. When your thyroid is underactive (hypothyroidism), your symptoms might include:

Weight gain
Fuzzy thinking
Low blood pressure
Slow reflexes
When your thyroid is overactive (hyperthyroidism), symptoms include:

Weight loss
High heart rate
High blood pressure
The interesting thing is that I’ve had my thyroid levels checked for eight years now, ever since an endocrinologist spotted a tumor in my pituitary gland. However, not until a comprehensive lab test was done did a doctor suggest treatment for low levels of both T3 and T4 hormones.

According to the American Thyroid Association, more than 12 percent of the American population will develop a thyroid condition. Today an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease; however, 60 percent are unaware of their condition.

Many of those people will visit their primary care physician or a psychiatrist and report symptoms of depression, anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, and fuzzy thinking. They might receive a diagnosis of major depression, general anxiety, or bipolar disorder, and leave the doctor’s office with prescriptions for antidepressants, mood stabilizers, sedatives, or all three.

The drugs might abate some of the symptoms, but the underlying illness will remain untreated.Dana-photo-for-About-page

Dana Trentini, mother of two, was diagnosed with hypothyroidism the year following the birth of her first son in 2006. She was overwhelmed with fatigue. Her pregnancy weight was impossible to lose.

Her hair began to fall out. And kidney stones landed her in the emergency room. She was treated by a leading endocrinologist and became pregnant again; however, her thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) reached levels far above the recommended reference range for pregnancy and she miscarried.

In October 2012, she launched the blog “Hypothyroid Mom” to help educate others about thyroid disease.

“The mission of Hypothyroid Mom is clear — to drive awareness,” she writes on her blog. “The Thyroid Federation International estimates there are up to 300 million people, mostly women, with thyroid dysfunction worldwide, yet over half are unaware of their condition.”

Everyday Health featured Hypothyroid Mom in January 2014 for Thyroid Awareness Month: “How Mom’s Thyroid Problems Can Hurt Baby.” It is Dana’s life mission to bring about universal thyroid screening in pregnancy.

“I will save babies in memory of my lost child,” she writes.

A friend led me to her fascinating post, “Mental Disorder or Undiagnosed Hypothyroidism?” In this post, she features a letter from one of her readers who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and pumped full of meds, ready to undergo electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

The woman, Jana, writes: “Finally after four years of bipolar medications to the max, a close family member was diagnosed with hypothyroidism so my doctor tested me, too. I have a family history of thyroid disease. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism.”

And then she says something that makes me think all persons taking antidepressants and mood stabilizers should have their thyroid checked: “Every single time I attend a bipolar support group, I ask everyone if they are hypothyroid and every time half the people raise their hand and the other half have no clue what it is and they don’t know if they have been tested.”

Dana then highlights a few studies linking bipolar disorder, depression, and thyroid disease. As she mentions, the use of lithium to treat bipolar disorder complicates matters, because the medication can itself cause thyroid problems.

However, plenty of research points to the connection between bipolar disorder and thyroid disease even in those who aren’t medicated with lithium, as well as the connection between different kinds of mood disorders and hypothyroidism. Dana mentions these:

A 2002 study entitled “High Rate of Autoimmune Thyroiditis in Bipolar Disorder: Lack of Association with Lithium Exposure” found that Hashimoto’s thyroid antibodies were highly prevalent in a sample of outpatients with bipolar disorder as compared to a control group.
An interesting study of bipolar twins versus healthy control twins showed that autoimmune thyroiditis is related not only to bipolar disorder itself but also to the genetic vulnerability to develop the disorder.
A 2004 study found a link between thyroid autoimmunity, specifically the presence of thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO Ab+), with anxiety and mood disorders in the community.
A 2005 study found that subjects with Hashimoto’s disease displayed high frequencies of lifetime depressive episodes, generalized anxiety disorders, social phobia and primary sleep disorders.
For some people, thyroid treatment is straightforward and brings fast relief of symptoms. Mine has been more complicated because I take lithium for my bipolar disorder and I have a pituitary tumor. I’m extremely sensitive to medications that stimulate thyroid production: What should be a therapeutic dose for me causes insomnia. I am hopeful, however, that I will eventually find a solution.

If you suffer from depression, anxiety, or both, please get your thyroid checked. Read Dana’s post, “Top 5 Reasons Doctors Fail to Diagnose Hypothyroidism.”

An underactive thyroid can make you feel depressed, fatigued and fuzzy brained. An overactive thyroid can cause anxiety and insomnia. If you fluctuate between the two, you will have similar symptoms to those of bipolar disorder.

Thyroid disease may very well be at the root of your problem.

Mar 23

By TRACI PEDERSEN Associate News Editor

Oxytocin Shows Promise in Treating AnorexiaOxytocin, sometimes called the “love hormone,” could be a promising new treatment for anorexia nervosa, according to two new studies.

Researchers found that when patients with anorexia are given a dose of oxytocin, they are less likely to fixate on images of high calorie foods, fat body parts, and angry faces.

Oxytocin is released naturally during relational bonding, such as sex, childbirth and breastfeeding. It has been tested as a treatment for many mental disorders, and has been shown to lower social anxiety in people with autism.

“Patients with anorexia have a range of social difficulties which often start in their early teenage years, before the onset of the illness,” said senior author Dr. Janet Treasure from the Department of Psychological Medicine at King’s College London.

“These social problems, which can result in isolation, may be important in understanding both the onset and maintenance of anorexia. By using oxytocin as a potential treatment for anorexia, we are focusing on some of these underlying problems we see in patients.”

For the first study, published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, 31 patients with anorexia and 33 healthy controls were given either a dose of oxytocin, delivered as a nasal spray, or a placebo. The participants were then shown a series of images relating to food (high and low calorie), body shape (fat and thin), and weight (scales).

As the images flashed on the screen, researchers measured how quickly participants identified the images. If they had a tendency to focus on the negative images, they would identify them more rapidly. The test was done before and after taking oxytocin or placebo.

After receiving oxytocin, patients with anorexia reduced their focus on images of food and fat body parts. The effect of oxytocin was especially strong in patients with anorexia who had greater communication problems.

In another study, published in PLOS ONE, researchers evaluated the same participants’ reactions to facial expressions, such as anger, disgust or happiness. After taking oxytocin, patients with anorexia were less likely to focus on the “disgust” faces and also less likely to avoid looking at angry faces.

“Our research shows that oxytocin reduces patients’ unconscious tendencies to focus on food, body shape, and negative emotions such as disgust,” said lead author Dr. Youl-Ri Kim from Inje University in Seoul, South Korea.

“There is currently a lack of effective pharmacological treatments for anorexia,” she said. “Our research adds important evidence to the increasing literature on oxytocin treatments for mental illnesses, and hints at the advent of a novel, groundbreaking treatment option for patients with anorexia.”

With a brain-stimulating procedure to relieve Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy and another that purports to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, it was only a matter of time before neurostimulation became an accepted treatment for migraine headaches, which affect about 1 in 10 people worldwide.

The FDA recently approved an external device that uses nerve stimulation to decrease the frequency of debilitating migraine headaches. The Cefaly headband, which connects to a stick-on electrode to stimulate the endings of the trigeminal nerve, is the first non-pharmaceutical treatment for chronic migraines to get the agency’s okay.

cefaly-migraine-nerve-stimulation“Cefaly provides an alternative to medication for migraine prevention. This may help patients who cannot tolerate current migraine medications for preventing migraines or treating attacks,” Christy Foreman, director of device evaluation at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a statement.

Cefaly, made by the Belgian company STX-Med, was already approved for sale in Europe and has sold roughly 50,000 units.

Migraine sufferers wear the headband for 20 minutes a day and can go about their daily routines as they do so. A 67-person clinical trial cited by the FDA showed that wearers experienced fewer headaches in a month. However, the device doesn’t prevent all migraines and, despite the company’s claims to the contrary, the FDA found no evidence that it relieves the pain of a migraine already in progress.

Patients experience a mild tingling sensation on their forehead while the headband is active. Some users disliked the sensation enough to discontinue use, but among the existing European users, more than half say they plan to continue using Cefaly.

migraines, migraine headaches, nerve stimulation, cefalyCefaly’s innovation is not neurostimulation, but neurostimulation without surgery to install the device.

Medical devices far more sophisticated than the anti-migraine headgear confront the same challenge: Researchers are developing a number of prosthetic devices that hook into the patient’s nervous system, but most require surgery.

For instance, Switzerland’s EFPL is testing a prosthetic hand that sends some sensory information back to the brain, giving the patient the illusion of feeling with the artificial hand. Cambridge scientists have proposed a neuroprosthetic bladder that would allow quadriplegics to control elimination with the touch of a button.

But in amputees and quadriplegics, the cost-benefit equation of surgical implantation is quite different than it is for those who suffer migraines, which, however miserable, do not threaten the patient’s long-term health.

Inquiries into brain-to-machine interfaces also rely on successfully linking nerves and machines together. Many are also currently focused on providing services for patients with paralysis due to the invasive installation. But if they are to gain acceptance among the general population, non-surgical hookups will likely be necessary.

By JANICE WOOD Associate News Editor

Mindfulness-based Meditation Eases Cancer Symptoms in TeensMindfulness-based meditation has been found to lessen some symptoms associated with cancer in teens.

That may be because mindfulness-based meditation focuses on the present moment and the connection between the mind and body, according to researchers at the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine children’s hospital.

Teens diagnosed with cancer face not only the physical symptoms of their condition, but also the anxiety and uncertainty related to the progression of the disease, according to the researchers.

They also must live with the anticipation of physical and emotional pain related to illness and treatment, the significant changes implied in living with cancer, as well as the fear of recurrence after remission, researchers noted.

For the clinical trial, the researchers asked 13 teens with cancer to complete questionnaires covering mood — positive and negative emotions, anxiety and depression — sleep and quality of life.

The group was then divided in two: The first group of eight teens was offered eight mindfulness-based meditation sessions, while the remaining five were put on a wait-list, creating a control group.

The eight meditation sessions were 90 minutes long and took place weekly. After the last session, patients from both groups filled out the same questionnaires a second time.

“We analyzed differences in mood, sleep, and quality of life scores for each participant and then between each group to evaluate if mindfulness sessions had a greater impact than the simple passage of time,” said Dr. Catherine Malboeuf-Hurtubise of the university’s Department of Psychology.

“We found that teenagers that participated in the mindfulness group had lower scores in depression after our eight sessions. Girls from the mindfulness group reported sleeping better. We also noticed that they developed mindfulness skills to a greater extent than boys during the sessions.”

The results suggest that mindfulness sessions could be helpful in improving mood and sleep in teenagers with cancer, as previous oncology research suggests with adults, she added.

According to the researchers, differences between the two groups were not large enough to assign observed benefits solely to the mindfulness component of the sessions.

“The social support provided to the adolescents in the mindfulness group could possibly explain observed benefits on mood and sleep,” Malboeuf-Hurtubise said.

“Nonetheless, mindfulness-based interventions for teenagers with cancer appear as a promising option to lighten psychological inconveniences of living with cancer.”

The researchers intend to offer members of the control group an opportunity to take the meditation sessions, she added.

Source: University of Montreal

Depression and pain can often co-exist. Learn why they’re linked, and find out about depression treatments that can also ease headaches and other chronic pain.

By Elizabeth Shimer Bowers
Medically reviewed by Farrokh Sohrabi, MD

As many people with depression know, the mind and the body are intricately connected. When you’re depressed, pain can feel worse for you than it might for someone who doesn’t have depression.

“When people have both depression and pain, it’s hard to tell which came first,” says Ian Cook, MD, an associate professor in residence in the department of psychiatry and bio-behavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and a research scientist at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute.

What scientists do know is that depression and pain are clearly linked. “Pain and mood are actually regulated by the same part of the brain,” says Joseph Hullett, MD, senior medical director for clinical strategy at OptumHealth Behavioral Solutions in Golden Valley, Minn. Hullett says the loss of certain neurotransmitters in the brain can cause depression symptoms and make pain feel even more uncomfortable.

Depression seems to be especially closely linked to certain kinds of chronic pain in the body, including migraine headaches, severe non-migraine headaches, and lower back pain. As a result, depression and pain treatments often overlap.

Depression and Headaches

Depression is linked to both migraine headaches and non-migraine headaches, although the strongest relationship is between depression and migraines.

“People with migraines are two to three times as likely to have depression as the general population,” says Richard B. Lipton, MD, a professor and vice chairman of neurology and a professor of epidemiology and population health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and director of the Montefiore Headache Center in New York City. People who have chronic migraines — those who experience migraines 15 or more days of the month — are about twice as likely to have depression as people with episodic migraine, meaning those who experience migraines less than 15 days a month.

The research on migraines and depression shows that the relationship goes both ways: People with depression are more likely to get migraines, and people with migraines are more likely to become depressed. In fact, 40 percent of people with migraines also have depression. “Migraines and depression have common underpinnings in the brain, which can develop due to environmental factors, genetic causes, or a combination of both,” Dr. Lipton says. “Migraine pain and depression are also linked because both conditions respond to some of the same medications.”

However, the link between depression and pain from non-migraine headaches isn’t a two-way street. “Severe non-migraine headaches clearly increase your risk for depression, but depression doesn’t increase your risk for non-migraine headache,” Lipton says. A study published in the journal Headache showed that people with a form of non-migraine headache called cluster headache are more likely to have depression than people who don’t have cluster headaches.

Depression and Pain Treatment: “Overlap” Medications

There are a number of medications that can help ease both depression and pain. “Whether you’re depressed or not, antidepressant medications seem to have some ability to turn down pain signals, so they’re usually part of a treatment plan for back pain, migraines, and other forms of chronic pain,” Dr. Hullett says.

Antidepressants work for both depression and pain because they act in the same parts of the brain where mood and pain tend to overlap. For both migraine and non-migraine headaches coupled with depression, an older class of antidepressants called tricyclic antidepressants can work well. “Interestingly, in people who have both migraine pain and depression, a small ‘anti-migraine’ dose is usually sufficient for depression treatment as well,” Dr. Cook says. “This may be because when the pain gets better, the depression often gets better, too.”

However, other types of pain require different solutions. “If you have arthritis, muscle strain, or pain from a recent surgery, using a medication that works at the site of the pain or injury is important,” Cook says. Luckily, some of the medicines that affect pain in the body also affect mood areas of the brain, and thus work as depression treatments, too. “Opiate medications such as codeine can do this, for example,” he says.

Other Options for Treating Depression and Pain

“Non-drug treatments can be very effective in making both depression and pain less severe and incapacitating,” Hullett says. These treatment options include:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This is one of the best-studied treatments for depression and pain. “CBT is specifically designed to deal with the emotions, sensations, and anticipations that occur in the mind because of pain,” Hullett says.
Psychotherapy. Experts say you’re more likely to feel pain in response to negative feelings. For people who see the world through physical sensations rather than emotional ones, Hullett says that psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can help with both depression and pain.
Relaxation therapy. “By activating what is known as the ‘relaxation response,’ relaxation therapy can be of great benefit in treating both depression and pain because it changes the steroid hormone response in a way that allows the body to repair itself,” Cook says. “Plus, it affects the way you experience pain in a positive way.”

One form of relaxation therapy that may be particularly useful as a treatment for depression and pain is progressive muscle relaxation. “Chronic pain often involves muscle spasms or muscle tension,” Hullett says, “so it’s great if you can learn how to relax those muscles.”
Complementary therapy. If you’re open-minded about complementary therapies, Hullett says that acupuncture, acupressure, yoga, massage, and hypnotherapy can all help treat depression and pain.
Support groups. “People who have depression and pain should recognize that they’re not alone,” Cook says. “In addition to the professional help you may be able to get from your primary care physician, psychiatrist, or pain specialist, you may also find benefit in support groups.” To find a support group in your area, refer to the American Chronic Pain Association. For online support, check out the Everyday Health Managing Pain group.

Feb 24

Treatment of Depression With rTMS


A procedure referred to as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, or rTMS, was developed in 1985 to test brain function in healthy individuals, and in those with various types of medical conditions. Recent studies, however, suggest that rTMS may also be used as a medical treatment for some psychiatric conditions, including depression.

When the brain is stimulated with rTMS, a magnetic coil is placed against the scalp about three inches beyond the hairline and to the left of the center of the head. The magnetic coil is made from two plastic loops, connected to look like a “figure 8.” Each of the two loops in the coil is about three inches wide.

rTMS works by creating magnetic pulses in the loops of the coil. These magnetic field pulses produce small electric currents that stimulate nerve cells in the brain. These magnetic pulses also stimulate muscles and skin in the scalp and cause a moderate tapping sensation to be felt in the scalp under the coil. rTMS does not involve passing electrical currents directly through the scalp. Therefore, in contrast to ElectroConvulsive Therapy (ECT), it does not require anesthesia.

The most promising use of rTMS is in the treatment of depression. Several studies, suggest that a several-week course of daily rTMS treatments may improve depression for up to several months. In addition, these studies suggest that rTMS is generally safe and does not cause the memory loss associated with ECT. In rare cases, rTMS has been reported to induce seizures.

Currently, treatment of depression with rTMS is an experimental procedure. Much more research will be necessary to prove the effectiveness of rTMS and determine the best ways to use rTMS (example: what parts of the brain should be stimulated, how fast, how often, etc.) to treat depression.

rTMS may someday provide an effective alternative to ECT. Because rTMS apparently has fewer side effects than ECT, it may be possible to someday use rTMS to treat milder cases of depression, or to use rTMS to speed improvement of depression being treated with antidepressant medications

Feb 23


A recent brain imaging study helps explain how we learn to copy actions through observation. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of participants’ brains, while they watched someone else perform a task, suggests that areas of the brain are used in a similar way to when the person is actually moving.

One of the most recently developed forms of neuroimaging, fMRI allows the observation of neural activity in the brain by tracking changes in the blood flow to neurons.

Dr. Scott Frey of the University of Oregon and his team took fMRI scans of the brain while 19 college-aged, healthy participants watched films of other people building or taking apart objects using parts of Tinker Toys.

“We’ve been looking at the process of motor learning through observation in the context of procedures,” Dr. Frey said. “Teaching a physical skill often involves someone demonstrating the essential action components after which the learner tries to reproduce what has been observed.

“This is true for behaviors ranging from learning to eat with utensils, playing an instrument or performing surgery. We wanted to know how the brain takes what is seen and translates it into a motor program for guiding skilled movements.”

In the study, brain scans of those simply watching were compared against scans from those planning to copy the actions in the correct order afterwards. Dr. Frey found that observing with the intention to copy used parts of the brain that also are used when learning by physically doing the activity. The participants’ accuracy in reproducing the actions a few minutes later was predicted by the amount of activity in the intraparietal sulcus (IPS), which is in the parietal lobe. This backs up previous findings that the IPS is involved in the processing of others’ intentions.

When the participants were asked to watch a film and copy the actions, but not necessarily in the same order, activity in these brain regions increased to a lesser extent. Dr. Frey believes that activity in the IPS may act as a “thermometer” to show how well a person is translating what they are seeing into plans for action.

“What appears vital is the intention of the observer, rather than simply the visual stimulus that is being viewed,” he said. “If the goal is to be able to do what you are seeing, then it appears that activity through your motor system is up-regulated substantially. This could prove important as a means of facilitating rehabilitation of individuals with movement impairments or paralyses.”

Brain damage long has been linked to problems using objects, with damage to different areas causing different types of problems. Sometimes a patient can perform an action properly but out of context. For example, one patient with damage to his right hemisphere tried to brush his teeth with a comb and eat with a toothbrush. This was not because he did not know what the objects were, as he was able to name them.

In a 2005 study, Dr. Frey confirmed the idea that skills in using objects can be separated from the knowledge of what they are. His team tested eight patients with a type of apraxia affecting object-related movement, five stroke patients without this type of problem, and six healthy participants.

The apraxia patients could identify objects but had problems in planning how to reach for them accurately. However, they had no problems with hand actions not involving objects, such as signaling “stop” or waving goodbye. They were also much more likely to have damage to the IPS.

Frey S. H. and Gerry V. E. Modulation of Neural Activity during Observational Learning of Actions and Their Sequential Orders. Journal of Neuroscience, Vol. 26, December 20, 2006, pp. 13194-13201.

Buxbaum L. J., Frey S. H. and Bartlett-Williams, M. Deficient internal models for planning hand-object interactions in apraxia. Neuropsychologia, Vol. 43, June 2005, pp. 917-29.

Johnson-Frey S. H. The neural bases of complex tool use in humans. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Vol. 8, February 2004, pp. 71-78.

Feb 22

Types of Brain Imaging Techniques


Brain imaging techniques allow doctors and researchers to view activity or problems within the human brain, without invasive neurosurgery. There are a number of accepted, safe imaging techniques in use today in research facilities and hospitals throughout the world.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, is a technique for measuring brain activity. It works by detecting the changes in blood oxygenation and flow that occur in response to neural activity – when a brain area is more active it consumes more oxygen and to meet this increased demand blood flow increases to the active area. fMRI can be used to produce activation maps showing which parts of the brain are involved in a particular mental process.

Computed tomography (CT) scanning builds up a picture of the brain based on the differential absorption of X-rays. During a CT scan the subject lies on a table that slides in and out of a hollow, cylindrical apparatus. An x-ray source rides on a ring around the inside of the tube, with its beam aimed at the subjects head. After passing through the head, the beam is sampled by one of the many detectors that line the machine’s circumference. Images made using x-rays depend on the absorption of the beam by the tissue it passes through. Bone and hard tissue absorb x-rays well, air and water absorb very little and soft tissue is somewhere in between. Thus, CT scans reveal the gross features of the brain but do not resolve its structure well.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) uses trace amounts of short-lived radioactive material to map functional processes in the brain. When the material undergoes radioactive decay a positron is emitted, which can be picked up be the detector. Areas of high radioactivity are associated with brain activity.

Electroencephalography (EEG) is the measurement of the electrical activity of the brain by recording from electrodes placed on the scalp. The resulting traces are known as an electroencephalogram (EEG) and represent an electrical signal from a large number of neurons.

EEGs are frequently used in experimentation because the process is non-invasive to the research subject. The EEG is capable of detecting changes in electrical activity in the brain on a millisecond-level. It is one of the few techniques available that has such high temporal resolution.

Magnetoencephalography (MEG) is an imaging technique used to measure the magnetic fields produced by electrical activity in the brain via extremely sensitive devices known as SQUIDs. These measurements are commonly used in both research and clinical settings. There are many uses for the MEG, including assisting surgeons in localizing a pathology, assisting researchers in determining the function of various parts of the brain, neurofeedback, and others.

Near infrared spectroscopy is an optical technique for measuring blood oxygenation in the brain. It works by shining light in the near infrared part of the spectrum (700-900nm) through the skull and detecting how much the remerging light is attenuated. How much the light is attenuated depends on blood oxygenation and thus NIRS can provide an indirect measure of brain activity.

By JANICE WOOD Associate News Editor
New research has found that people with chronic insomnia have some key differences in the part of the brain that controls movement.

“Insomnia is not a nighttime disorder,” said Rachel E. Salas, M.D., an assistant professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “It’s a 24-hour brain condition, like a light switch that is always on. Our research adds information about differences in the brain associated with it.”

The researchers found that the motor cortex in patients with chronic insomnia was more adaptable to change — more plastic — than in a group of people who slept well. They also found more “excitability” among neurons in the same region of the brain in the people with chronic insomnia.

“This adds evidence to the idea that insomniacs are in a constant state of heightened information processing that may interfere with sleep,” said the researchers.

For the study, the researchers used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which painlessly delivers electromagnetic currents to precise locations in the brain, which temporarily disrupts the function of the targeted area.

According to the researchers, “TMS is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat some patients with depression by stimulating nerve cells in the region of the brain involved in mood control.”

The study included 28 adults, including 18 who suffered from insomnia for a year or more and 10 who reported no trouble sleeping. Each person was outfitted with electrodes on their dominant thumb, as well as an accelerometer to measure the speed and direction of the thumb.

The researchers then gave each person 65 electrical pulses using TMS, stimulating areas of the motor cortex and watching for involuntary thumb movements linked to the stimulation. The researchers then trained each person for 30 minutes, teaching them to move their thumb in the opposite direction of the original involuntary movement. They then gave the electrical pulses again.

The idea was to measure the extent to which their brains could learn to move their thumbs involuntarily in the newly trained direction, the researchers explained. The more the thumb was able to move in the new direction, the more likely their motor cortexes could be identified as more plastic, they noted.

Because lack of sleep at night has been linked to decreased memory and concentration during the day, the researchers suspected that the brains of good sleepers could be more easily retrained. The results, however, were the opposite. They report that they found much more plasticity in the brains of those with chronic insomnia.

“The origins of the increased plasticity in insomniacs is unclear,” said Salas. “it is not known whether the increase is the cause of insomnia.”

“It is also unknown whether this increased plasticity is beneficial, the source of the problem or part of a compensatory mechanism to address the consequences of sleep deprivation associated with chronic insomnia,” she added.

Salas speculated it is possible that many of the problems linked to insomnia, such as increased metabolism, increased cortisol levels, and constant worrying, might be linked to increased plasticity in some way.

The researcher noted that TMS may play a role in diagnosing insomnia, as there is no objective test. Diagnoses are based solely on patient reports.

There also is not a single treatment that works for all people with insomnia, she said, adding that TMS could potentially prove to be a treatment, perhaps through reducing excitability.

The study was published in the journal Sleep.

By RICK NAUERT PHD Senior News Editor

Supplement May Slow Cognitive Decline in Older AdultsNormal aging is typically accompanied by some declines in cognitive abilities, but a new study suggests that impairment may be mitigated by a proprietary supplement including blueberries and green tea.

Physical activity and cognitive training have been found to be helpful in delaying cognitive decline, with dietary modifications and supplements recently generating additional interest.

In the study, University of South Florida researchers report that a formula of nutrients high in antioxidants and other natural components can help to boost the speed at which the brains of older adults processed information.

The USF-developed nutritional supplement includes extracts from blueberries and green tea combined with vitamin D3 and amino acids, including carnosine.

The compound was tested by the USF researchers in a clinical trial enrolling 105 healthy adults, ages 65 to 85.

Researchers Paula Bickford, Ph.D., and Brent Small, Ph.D., teamed up to investigate the effects of the antioxidant-rich nutritional supplement on the cognitive performance of older adults.

The two-month study evaluated the effects of the formula, called NT-020, on the cognitive performance of these older adults, who had no diagnosed memory disorders.

Those randomized to the group of 52 volunteers receiving NT-020 demonstrated improvements in cognitive processing speed, while the 53 volunteers randomized to receive a placebo did not.

Reduced cognitive processing speed, which can slow thinking and learning, has long been associated with advancing age.

The study, in which participants from both groups took a battery of memory tests before and after the interventions, appears in the current issue of Rejuvenation Research.

“After two months, test results showed modest improvements in two measures of cognitive processing speed for those taking NT-020 compared to those taking placebo,” said Small, a professor in USF’s School of Aging Studies.

“Processing speed is most often affected early on in the course of cognitive aging. Successful performance in processing tasks often underlies more complex cognitive outcomes, such as memory and verbal ability.”

Blueberries, a major ingredient in the NT-020 formula, are rich in polyphenols, a type of antioxidant containing a polyphenolic, or natural phenol substructure.

“The basis for the use of polyphenol-rich nutritional supplements as a moderator of age-related cognitive decline is the age-related increase in oxidative stress and inflammation,” said study co-principal investigator Paula C. Bickford, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Neurosurgery and Brain Repair, and senior research career scientist at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa.

“Non-vitamin polyphenols are the most abundant modulators of oxidative stress and inflammation in our diet. NT-020 is 95 percent polyphenols.”

One of the main ingredients of the supplement, called NT-20, is extracted from blueberries.

In several preclinical trials, researchers gave aging laboratory rats NT-020 to see if it boosted memory and other cognitive performance by promoting the health of neurons in the aging brain.

Those studies demonstrated that NT-020 promoted the growth of stem cells in the brain, produced an overall rejuvenating effect, benefitted animals with simulated stroke, and led to better cognitive performance.

The researchers plan future clinical trials with longer intervention periods so that the optimal time for taking the formula may be better understood.

Researchers also speculate that if the study had included participants who were less healthy cognitively, or those with memory impairments, they may have observed “more robust findings.”

“In the future, having markers of oxidative stress and inflammation, as well as brain-based measures of functioning, may allow us to identify the manner by which this compound, as well as others, may influence functioning,” they concluded.

The NT-020 formula was patented by the University of South Florida, in partnership with the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, and licensed to Natura Therapeutics, Inc. The supplement is commercially available as NutraStem®.

The study was supported by a grant from the University of South Florida Neuroscience Collaborative to Small and Bickford. Bickford is a co-founder of Natura Therapeutics, Inc.

Jan 10

By Chris Iliades
Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
If you are one of the approximately five million Americans with fibromyalgia, you know that pain can be severe, unpredictable, and exhausting. It can be constant for a period of time and then get better for a while — but it tends to just keep coming back.

Additionally, a painkiller that worked before may stop working, and what works for some symptoms may not work for others. Pain management needs to be constantly adjusted and may require a team of specialists who are familiar with fibromyalgia.

Common pain symptoms of fibromyalgia include stabbing, burning, shooting, or throbbing pain in any area of the body. Pain is usually worse in the morning. People with fibromyalgia may have tender areas on their neck, shoulders, back, or legs that are painful when touched.

And fibromyalgia pain can become even worse with physical or emotional stress. Common stressors that may make your fibromyalgia pain worse include a traumatic event, such as a car accident, repetitive physical traumas, or a physical illness.

Getting this pain under control is not easy. But it is possible.

“Pain medications for fibromyalgia tend to wane and lose their effectiveness over time,” explains Micha Abeles, MD, a rheumatologist at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington. “It is often necessary to wean a patient off one medication and add new medications over time. If pain medication is not working, it is [also] necessary to evaluate the patient to identify any psychosocial events that could be acting as stressors and making their pain worse.”

Switching to a new fibromyalgia pain medication is easier if you taper one medicine gradually before starting a new one. Always follow your doctor’s directions carefully and never stop a medication on your own.

7 Treatment Options for Fibromyalgia

Important options for treating fibromyalgia include finding the right pain medication, getting the proper psychological support, trying complementary therapies, and finding the right treatment team. If your fibromyalgia treatment is not working, ask your doctor to help you explore these options:

Pain medications. There are a number of medications now approved for fibromyalgia pain, including pregabalin (Lyrica), duloxetine (Cymbalta), and milnacipran (Savella). The narcotic-like painkiller tramadol (Ultram) has also been effective for fibromyalgia. “Switching between medications may be necessary and can be made easier with samples or vouchers to decrease the financial cost for the patient,” advises Dr. Abeles.
Antidepressant medications. Tricyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants are frequently used for fibromyalgia and have been successful in controlling symptoms of pain, sleep disturbances, fatigue, and depression.
Sleep management. People with fibromyalgia often have trouble getting enough sleep — and lack of sleep can make fibromyalgia symptoms worse. Make sure you avoid caffeine and stick to a strict sleep schedule. Ask your doctor if a sleep aid medication might help.
Social and psychological support. The stress of living with a chronic painful disease like fibromyalgia can make your symptoms worse. Research shows that increasing social support reduces fibromyalgia symptoms, such as pain. You may benefit from a fibromyalgia support group. Professional counseling to help you develop coping skills and better manage your symptoms has also been shown to be helpful.
Exercise. Exercise is an important part of feeling better if you have fibromyalgia. Studies show that exercise can help you improve your fitness level, feel better about yourself, and reduce the number of painful pressure points in fibromyalgia.
Acupuncture. One survey found that about 20 percent of people diagnosed with fibromyalgia and treated at a university-based clinic tried acupuncture within a two-year period. Some studies have found that acupuncture can help relieve fibromyalgia pain, but other reports say the effects are not long-lasting and the treatment doesn’t help with the fatigue or sleep problems common with fibromyalgia.
Other alternative treatments. Although there’s no strong evidence for most alternative treatments for fibromyalgia, many people who have tried these alternative approaches report significant improvement in their symptoms. These treatments include therapeutic message, yoga, biofeedback, hypnosis, chiropractic manipulation, and nutritional supplements. Always let your medical team know about any alternative treatments you’re contemplating.
If you are being treated for fibromyalgia and your pain medications are not as effective as in the past, you have options. Remember that it is common for people with fibromyalgia to try different types of medications and other management strategies. It is also important to make sure you have a sympathetic, knowledgeable team of experts to help you manage your fibromyalgia symptoms.

Fibromyalgia is an unpredictable disease that requires a flexible treatment plan. One of the best things you can do is to educate yourself about fibromyalgia so that you can work closely with your treatment team and be a good advocate for yourself.

By Robert Preidt, HealthDay News TUESDAY, Jan. 24, 2012 (HealthDay News) — Getting too little sleep can make you hungrier than normal and may lead to weight gain, a small study suggests.

The team at Uppsala University in Sweden used functional MRI to observe the brains of 12 normal weight males while they looked at images of food. This was done on two occasions — after a night of normal sleep and after a night without sleep.

The results showed that a specific brain region that plays a role in appetite shows more activation in response to food images after a night without sleep than after a night of normal sleep.

This suggests that poor sleep habits can affect a person’s risk of becoming overweight in the long run, according to the study published online Jan. 18 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

“After a night of total sleep loss, these males showed a high level of activation in an area of the brain that is involved in a desire to eat,” researcher Christian Benedict said in a university news release.

“Bearing in mind that insufficient sleep is a growing problem in modern society, our results may explain why poor sleep habits can affect people’s risk to gain weight in the long run. It may therefore be important to sleep about eight hours every night to maintain a stable and healthy body weight,” Benedict added.

Sep 28

Telomeres the Key to Longevity?


by Stasia Bliss on September 17, 2013.
Have you ever heard of telomeres? They have made their appearance in the news now and again and are back in the spotlight to be more intensely explored by science and more fully understood by the population at large, it seems. What are they and how do they work? Could understanding and affecting telomere length be the key to longevity and health?

Telomeres are strands of DNA stuck to the end of chromosomes. When you were born you had somewhere between 15,000 and 35,000 of these little clasp-like protecting pairs sitting at the ends of your genes. It seems that as most people age, the number of telomeres reduces until there are less 4,000 or so – which is apparently one suspected cause for death. It was previously thought that telomeres only get shorter, but recent studies prove these assumptions wrong, as we now know that telomeres can get longer as well.

What makes telomeres grow?

It seems that there is more to a healthy lifestyle and attention to food quality than ever expected. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, superfoods and antioxidants as well as engaging in regular exercise, a positive attitude and healing emotional trauma actually make telomeres grow longer. Antioxidants such as Resveratrol and selenium – especially selenium found in blue corn can be very beneficial to the growing of telomeres.

Dr. Lawrence Wilson at the Center for Development has commented on telomeres and what contributes to their lengthening, including information derived from the book The Immortality Edge by M. Fossel, G. Blackburn, and D. Woyarowski. In this exploration of telomeres it is found that exercise is beneficial, specifically lighter exercise in younger people and shorter spurts of more vigorous exercise in people age 40-50. Increasing yang energy in the body is also recommended verses increasing yin. Yin and yang are concepts of Chinese medicine and point to specific qualities in food and the way food is prepared, thought patterns,movement and exercise.

Yang energy could be increased through eating more fresh foods – especially those which grown beneath the earth or those lightly cooked like grains. Meat, eggs and sea salt are considered the most yang – though it is encouraged to eat in balance – so as not to get overly yin either. Drinking more water increases yang as does limiting processed and reaching for more whole foods. Certain practices such as fasting can increase yang energy, where over-eating increases yin. Getting enough rest also increases yang in the body which is thought to lengthen telomeres.

Scientist have found that deep-seated emotional traumas such as childhood abuse can shorten telomeres and so it is thought that healing emotional wounds and addressing psychological issues can have the opposite effect of lengthening them. Yoga and meditation, especially for around one hour per day, can lengthen telomeres and may be one of the greatest keys to longevity.

One thing is certain, a healthy, wholesome diet along with positive mental patterns, good sleep and exercise are now scientifically proven ways to lengthen ones life. The telomeres which hang onto the end of our chromosomes apparently measure the length of our lives and a well-balanced lifestyle helps to not only keep these precious telomeres in tact, but lengthen them – one of the greatest keys to understanding longevity science has perhaps ever discovered. So if you didn’t have an excuse before to eat right, exercise and meditate, now you do. Science is now proving what natropaths, yogis and metaphysics have been saying for decades or longer. A healthy lifestyle really does help you to live longer by lengthening telomeres. There is only one kink in the awareness that needs deeper understanding. Cancer cells seem to have longer telomeres too.

Though cancer cells grow longer telomeres, they are actually inhibited by a healthy lifestyle. This one understanding is preventing the sudden plunge into researching drugs which might help lengthen telomeres, as they could potentially stimulate cancer cell growth as well. The benefit to eating right and exercising is that the other benefits gained from a healthy lifestyle help to balance and cleanse the body so as to make it an unfit environment for cancer cells to live in, while at the same time lengthening the telomeres of all the healthy cells. Could telomeres be the key to longevity? For now, it seems closer to the whole truth about biological life extension than anything else.

Written by: Stasia Bliss

By Deborah Kotz
How motivated would you be to forgo the cheesecake, practice relaxation techniques, and hit the gym if you knew that altering your lifestyle could not only slow, but actually reverse the aging of your cells? For the first time, researchers have produced preliminary evidence that this could be the case.

In a small study involving 35 men in their 50s and 60s, researchers at the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and the University of California, San Francisco, found that the 10 participants who adopted several healthful lifestyle changes for five years experienced a 10 percent lengthening of their cell’s telomeres, indicating that the cells would have a longer lifespan. Telomeres are the protective ends of chromosomes that protect against DNA damage — analogous to how the plastic tips on the end of shoelaces keep those from unraveling.

The other 25 men in a control group had a 3 percent shortening of their cell’s telomeres, over five years which typically occurs during that aging time frame.

“Shortened telomeres have been shown to play a role in heart disease, colon cancer, stroke, dementia, and premature death,” said study leader Dr. Dean Ornish, UCSF clinical professor of medicine and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute. “But our study is the first to show that any intervention could lengthen telomeres.”

Still, he added, the findings need to be replicated in larger clinical trials where participants are randomly assigned to make lifestyle changes and then compared to a group assigned to keep their health habits the same.

The vast array of health habits adopted in this study, which was published Monday in the journal Lancet Oncology, required a lot of effort on the part of the volunteers — all of whom had early-stage prostate cancer that was being closely monitored instead of treated.

Participants ate a mostly vegan diet rich in plant-based protein, fruits, vegetables, unrefined grains, and legumes — with only 10 percent of their calories coming from fat. The men also were told to walk or get some form of exercise for 30 minutes, six days a week, and they attended hour-long support-group sessions on a weekly basis. In addition to all of this, they practiced an hour of stress management techniques such as meditation, yoga stretches, or progressive muscle relaxation every day, which probably also helped them sleep better.

Twice monthly sessions with study support staff helped the men stick with these lifestyle patterns for five years, though some were more compliant than others.

“It’s a small study, but it’s big science,” said Dr. David Katz, a prevention medicine specialist at Yale University’s Prevention Research Center who was not involved in the study. “The message we’re getting from this and other studies is consistent: We don’t have the medical capacity to tweak genes and make chronic diseases go away, but we can refashion our fate at the level of our DNA by the behavior choices we make.”

Katz, author of the new book Disease-Proof, believes that following a healthful lifestyle can lower a person’s risk of developing diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes by 80 percent. Like Ornish’s plan, the healthy lifestyle he advocates includes reducing stress, exercising, remaining socially connected, and following a plant-based diet rich in grains and produce. Getting about eight hours of sleep a night and avoiding smoking are also important, he said.

Whether we really need to cut way back on dietary fat to keep our telomeres long remains a matter of debate.

“I certainly have no disagreement with the study’s dietary plan,” Katz said. “But I think if they re-ran the study using an optimal Mediterranean-style diet — with olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seafood — they would get exactly the same results.”

While Ornish may disagree, he did point out that the research found that those men who implemented more modest lifestyle changes had a more modest improvement in their telomere length.

“It’s not all or nothing,” Ornish said. “The more you change, the more you improve, and not everyone needs to make changes to this degree.”

What’s more, not everyone can. Someone dealing with chronic pain or depression might not be capable of making such a dramatic lifestyle overhaul. “You need to consider your starting point,” Katz said, “and be honest and insightful about any barriers standing in your way.”

Deborah Kotz can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.

By MICHELLE CASTILLO / CBS NEWS/ August 12, 2013, 5:56 PM
Having labor that is induced or augmented may lead to a greater chance of having a child with autism, new research reveals.

The U.S. government estimates that one in 50 school-aged kids has an autism spectrum disorder, which is the designation for a group of developmental brain disorders. All the conditions include some level of impairment when it comes to social skills, communication and behavioral issues.

New study links pollution to autism
Researchers looked at data from the North Carolina Detailed Birth Record and Education Research databases, which included 625,042 live births linked with school records. Of the group, 5,500 children had been diagnosed with autism.

Induced labor occurs when a medical professional intervenes in order to jump start the labor process. This usually happens when the woman is past her due date and has yet to go into labor or if there are problems with the baby or the mother’s health. The doctor or midwife can use hormone medication (Pitocin) or other methods to open the mother’s cervix, begin contractions and help her body prepare for vaginal birth.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 23.1 percent of all births in 2008 were induced.

Doctors may also augment labor to help along the birth if the process stops or slows down for some reason. This method is less commonly used than inducing labor and often requires medication.

Overall, the researchers estimated two out of every 1,000 autism cases in boys could potentially be prevented by not inducing or augmenting labor. Though the numbers seemed small, they were statistically significant, meaning not due to random chance.

Mothers who had induced labor were 13 percent more likely to have a child with autism. Mothers with augmented labor were 16 percent more likely to have a kid with the disorder. If a mother had both methods used on her, the child was 27 percent more likely to be diagnosed with autism during childhood.

For comparison, the authors noted that a mom who had other pregnancy problems, like diabetes, increased the risk of autism in her children by 23 percent, and if the fetus was ever in distress, the chance went up 25 percent.

C-sections did not affect the rate of autism.

Study links flu with autism risk
Other conditions during pregnancy have recently been linked to increased autism risk. An August 2012 study showed that mothers who were obese were 67 percent more likely to have children with the disorder compared to those who maintained a normal weight during pregnancy.

Taking the anti-epilepsy drug valproate has been linked to a five-fold higher risk of having a child with an autism spectrum disorder in an April 2013 study published in JAMA. Exposure to air pollution while with child was also significantly connected to higher rates of autism, a June 2013 Environmental Health Perspectives study revealed.

Though the risk in the new study may seem alarming to some, Dr. Jeffrey L. Ecker, an obstetrician at Massachusetts General Hospital, told HealthDay that mothers shouldn’t be concerned if they need to have their labor assisted — nor should they go against their doctor’s recommendation.

“Women should not conclude that if they need induction or augmentation their child will have or be at high risk for autism. Nor should they seek to avoid induction (or) augmentation,” Ecker, who was not involved in the study, said. “The latter reaction would … almost certainly (increase rates of) cesarean delivery, an intervention that we know has important (negative) effects on both maternal and neonatal health.”

The study published in JAMA Pediatrics on Aug. 12.

How sleep affects us By: Beth Belle Cooper

Better sleeping is known to provide lots of health benefits. These can include better heart function, hormonal maintenance and cell repair as well as boosting memory and improving cognitive function. Basically, sleeping gives your body a chance to deal with everything that happened during the day, repair itself, and reset for tomorrow.

Sleep deprivation, therefore, actually harms us in several ways. One of the most obvious harms is that we have trouble focusing when we’re sleep deprived. Buffer cofounder Leo Widrich wrote about this before:

Someone who is severely sleep deprived is in fact as attentive and awake as you are. With one big difference to you. Here is what a recent study found: The sleep deprived person can in fact deliver the exact same results as someone who isn’t sleep deprived in any exercise. That is, given it is a non-repeated exercise and they give it their best shot. Odd right? Now onto this though:

The problem lies elsewhere. Whether we are sleep deprived or not, we lose focus at times. And that is precisely where the sleep deprived person lands in a trap. Once we start to lose focus and have received the right amount of sleep, our brain can compensate for that and increase attention. If we are sleep deprived, our brain can’t refocus.

The benefits of napping

Studies of napping have shown improvement in cognitive function, creative thinking, and memory performance. As I mentioned in my post about the body clock and your body’s best time for everything, we’re naturally designed to have two sleeps per day:

The idea that we should sleep in eight-hour chunks is relatively recent. The world’s population sleeps in various and surprising ways. Millions of Chinese workers continue to put their heads on their desks for a nap of an hour or so after lunch, for example, and daytime napping is common from India to Spain.

Naps can even have a physical benefit. In one study of 23,681 Greek men over six years, the participants who napped three times a week had a 37% lower risk of dying from heart disease. Not to mention a host of other positive outcomes that might occur from regular napping:

Sleep experts have found that daytime naps can improve many things: increase alertness, boost creativity, reduce stress, improve perception, stamina, motor skills, and accuracy, enhance your sex life, aid in weight loss, reduce the risk of heart attack, brighten your mood and boost memory.

Naps have been shown to benefit the learning process, helping us take in and retain information better. In one study, participants memorized illustrated cards to test their memory strength. After memorizing a set of cards, they had a 40-minute break wherein one group napped, and the other stayed awake. After the break, both groups were tested on their memory of the cards, and the group who had napped performed better:

Much to the surprise of the researchers, the sleep group performed significantly better, retaining on average 85 percent of the patterns, compared to 60 percent for those who had remained awake.

Apparently, napping actually helps our brain to solidify memories:

Research indicates that when memory is first recorded in the brain–in the hippocampus, to be specific–it’s still “fragile” and easily forgotten, especially if the brain is asked to memorize more things. Napping, it seems, pushes memories to the neocortex, the brain’s “more permanent storage,” preventing them from being “overwritten.”


Taking a nap also helps to clear information out of your brain’s temporary storage areas, getting it ready for new information to be absorbed. A study from the University of California asked participants to complete a challenging task around midday, which required them to take in a lot of new information. At around 2 p.m., half of the volunteers took a nap while the rest stayed awake.

The really interesting part of this study is not only that at 6 p.m. that night the napping group performed better than those who didn’t take a nap. In fact, the napping group actually performed better than they had earlier in the morning.

The lead researcher, Dr. Matthew Walker . . . said the findings support the idea that sleep is a necessary process that clears the brain’s short-term memory storage so there is room to absorb new information.

The same research team had found earlier that studying through the night, such as cramming the night before an exam actually decreases the brain’s ability to absorb information by almost 40%, which makes sense in light of this newer research into the effect of a nap on the brain’s learning abilities.

I love this analogy from Dr. Walker to explain the process of clearing out your brain’s storage with a nap:

Walker likened the process to having an email inbox in your hippocampus. This gets full, and you need to sleep to initiate the clearing-out process. Until you do, then the mail stays in the inbox and you can’t take in any more.

“It’s just going to bounce until you sleep and move it into another folder,” said Walker.

Dr. Walker also mentioned how these findings mean napping before learning is as important as it is afterwards:

Sleep prepares the brain like a dry sponge, ready to soak up new information.

Avoiding burnout

A study from Massachusetts showed how napping can help your brain recover from ‘burnout’ or overload of information:

To see whether napping could improve visual discrimination, a team led by Robert Stickgold, a neuroscientist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had college students who were not sleep deprived stare at a video screen filled with horizontal bars. Periodically, three diagonal bars flashed in the lower left corner of the screen, and the students had to say whether these bars were stacked horizontally or vertically. The researchers graded students’ performance by measuring how long the diagonal bars had to be shown in order for them to answer correctly 80% of the time.

Students sat through 1,250 frustrating trials during each session, so those who did not nap did worse and worse over the course of the day. But students who took a 1-hour nap returned to their original performance levels in the next test.

The researchers in this study also experimented with moving the diagonal bars into different areas of the screen after several tests, which resulted in participants performing as well as they did at the beginning. Stickgold said this pointed out how quickly our brain’s visual centers become overloaded, since only three tests were enough to see a decrease in performance that could be overcome by changing the placement of visual input:

Burnout is a signal that says you can’t take in more information in this part of your brain until you’ve had a chance to sleep.

Another study showed that a 60– to 90-minute nap could be as good as a full night’s sleep for learning a visual perception skill. It seems as though our eyes are getting a lot of rest and repair when we’re asleep!

The benefits of a nap can even last for several hours, according to Professor Leon Lack from Flinders University:

Ten to 15 minutes of sleep seems to be the optimum period in terms of improving mental operations, performance, reaction times and subjective feelings of alertness. And that improvement in performance and alertness seems to be maintained for up to two and sometimes three hours after the nap. Interestingly, the five-minute nap just didn’t produce the same amount of improvement, while longer naps of 25 to 30 minutes led to subjects being somewhat drowsy and less alert for up to an hour after the nap.

What’s happening in your brain during a nap?

Some recent research has found that the right side of the brain is far more active during a nap than the left side, which stays fairly quiet while we’re asleep. Despite the fact that 95% of the population is right-handed, with the left side of their brains being the most dominant, the right side is consistently the more active hemisphere during sleep.

The study’s author, Andrei Medvedev, speculated that the right side of the brain handles ‘housekeeping’ duties while we’re asleep. The study looked at how active various parts of the brain were while participants were sleeping:

Medvedev and his colleagues used a type of brain imaging known as near-infrared spectroscopy, which involves placing optical fibers similar to electrodes symmetrically around a person’s scalp. These “optodes” send infrared light through the brain and measure how much light returns.

The intensity of light bouncing back provides an estimate of the blood flow in different regions of the brain. Blood flow, in turn, is an indicator of how active those regions are.

So while the left side of your brain takes some time off to relax, the right side is clearing out your temporary storage areas, pushing information into long-term storage, and solidifying your memories from the day.

How to get the most from your nap

It’s true that I’m a big proponent of naps now, but I wasn’t always. In fact, I was once vehemently opposed to napping, because I found that I was generally groggy and felt even more tired when I woke up from a nap.

The trick, I’ve found, is to work out what kind of nap suits you best. Unfortunately, this takes a lot of trial and error, but I definitely think it’s worth it. Here are some tips to help you work out the best way to get the most from your nap:

1. Learn how long you take to fall asleep

If you’re trying to nap for a specific amount of time, you definitely need to factor in the length of time it takes you to get to sleep. If you need some help to work this out, you could try using a fitness tracker like the Jawbone UP, or a sleep-tracking app on your phone. Once you have a rough idea, you can factor this into your napping time.

When I set an alarm to wake me up from a nap, I normally set it five to 10 minutes longer than I want to sleep, since this is about how long I take to get to sleep. If I’m still awake after 15 or 20 minutes, I reset my alarm and start over. Having an alarm set lets me relax knowing that I won’t fall asleep for hours and wake up groggy around dinner time.

If you don’t want to set an alarm, you could try this trick Michael Hyatt shared on his blog:

“Every day after lunch, I lie down on the sofa in my office,” he recounted. “I hold my car keys in my right hand and let my hand hang toward the floor. When the car keys fall out of my hand, I know I’m done.” (Evidently, the famous artist Salvador Dali had a similar practice.)

2. Don’t sleep too long.

Sleeping for the wrong length of time is exactly what made me hate naps originally. The problem is that this can give you sleep inertia–that feeling of waking up groggy and even more tired than you were before.

Dr. Sara C. Mednick who wrote Take a Nap! Change Your Life says sleep inertia happens when you wake up during deep, slow-wave sleep.

Since brain temperature and blood flow to the brain decrease during this sleep stage, it’s jarring to suddenly be awake and experiencing much higher rates of brain activity.

There is no benefit to napping longer than 90 minutes, because you will only begin another sleep cycle. Further, if you take a snooze too late in the day, it will contain too much slow-wave sleep.

This how-to guide for a caffeine nap explains how troublesome sleep inertia can be:

Limit your nap to 15 minutes. A half hour can lead to sleep inertia, or the spinning down of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which handles functions like judgment. This gray matter can take 30 minutes to reboot.

The consensus across most of the research I dug up seemed to be either to go for a short, 15– to 20-minute nap, perhaps with a cup of coffee beforehand to wake up with more energy (though I’ll be impressed if you can coordinate this!) or to sleep for a full 90-minute sleep cycle, and wake up before your next cycle starts.

3. Choose the right time of day.

Napping when your energy levels are naturally decreased can help you avoid the dreaded infinite-hour feeling, where the day drags on as you try to ignore your sleepiness. This is usually sometime after lunch for those of us who work on a traditional 9–5 schedule:

Because of the natural cycles of our circadian rhythms, we are at our most tired twice during a 24-hour period. One peak of sleepiness is usually in the middle of the night, so the other, 12 hours later, falls smack-dab in the middle of the afternoon.

If you’re sleep deprived from the night before, you’ll feel this dip in energy even more strongly and be more inclined to nap. Rather than fighting it off with energy drinks or coffee, try a short nap to refresh your brain before taking on the afternoon.

If you’re lucky enough to have a napping place in your office as we do at Buffer, or Social Print Studio’s napping boxes pictured above, you’re off to a good start already!

4. Practice

The best way I’ve found to get better at napping is to practice. Figuring out what works for you can take a while, so try experimenting with different times of the day, different nap lengths and different ways of waking up (if you’re worried about grogginess, you could try an app like Warmly, which wakes you up slowly, or a sleep-tracking app like Sleep Cycle to wake you up during light sleep).

Don’t forget to set up your napping space with as little light as possible and grab a blanket to keep you warm while you’re asleep. Good luck!

–Beth Belle Cooper is a content crafter at Buffer, a smarter way to share on Twitter and Facebook. Follow her on Twitter at @BelleBethCooper

Reprinted with permission from Buffer.

Jun 14

Sugar and Bipolar Disorder


By Dennis Thompson Jr.
Lots of people consider a pint of ice cream the perfect cure for the blues. Others indulge in sugary snacks as a way to get an energetic high. But for people with bipolar disorder, sugar and other simple carbohydrates may harm more than help.

Carbohydrate cravings in bipolar patients are legendary, so much so that increased intake of sugary treats is considered a clue to bipolar disorder during diagnosis. People who are depressed munch on sugary snacks to make themselves feel better and then, in the throes of a manic high, mindlessly devour high-carb junk food.

The question is, should those with bipolar disorder put the brakes on sugar intake?

Bipolar Disorder: Sugar and the Brain

Blood sugar and carbohydrate intake are very important to the brain. Your brain runs on glucose and depends on carbohydrates to supply the energy it needs. But for bipolar patients, carbohydrate intake also prompts the production and release of important neurotransmitters. The body produces tryptophan, an amino acid that the brain converts into the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin creates a feeling of calm and well-being and reduces depression. So people with bipolar disorder are indulging in a form of self-medication when they eat sugary snacks during depressive lows or manic highs.

Doctors believe that people use this natural reaction to try to ease their bipolar symptoms when they have depression or mania. Eating large amounts of sugar can soothe a deep depression. It also can take the edge off a manic high.

But compulsive sugar intake is not an exact form of treatment, and people who eat too much sugar may find their mood swinging wildly — a terrible prospect for people with bipolar symptoms. They also face an inevitable “crash” following the intake of simple carbohydrates like sugar. Sugary foods burn hot and fast through the body, and their effects on brain chemistry and other bodily processes tend to be immediate, intense, and abrupt.

Bipolar Disorder: Getting the Right Carbs

Bipolar patients should not cut carbohydrates out of their diet. Because they are linked to the mood-controlling neurotransmitters, carbohydrates are important to managing bipolar symptoms. Instead, swap out simple sugars in the diet for more complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates burn slow and long, ensuring a more controlled release of neurotransmitters to the brain. Complex carbohydrates are also healthier for you overall, keeping your blood glucose levels more stable and preventing the development of type 2 diabetes.

To help eliminate sugar cravings and maintain good blood sugar levels and healthy brain chemistry, you should:

Eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which are rich in complex carbohydrates.
Be sure to eat enough protein, which can improve alertness without the rush of a sugar high. Lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, and low-fat dairy products are good, healthy sources of protein. Poultry, oil-rich fish, baked potatoes, beans, oats, nuts, and seeds are protein sources that have the added benefit of being rich in tryptophan and can help the brain produce serotonin in a controlled, healthy fashion.

It might help to create a food and mood journal for keeping track of when you eat, what you eat, and any abrupt changes in mood you experience. These notes could hold the key to determining if certain foods are influencing your bipolar symptoms in a positive way.

By Janice Wood Associate News Editor
People who develop atrial fibrillation — a type of irregular heartbeat common in old age — may also be more likely to develop problems with memory and thinking, according to a new study.

“Problems with memory and thinking are common for people as they get older. Our study shows that, on average, problems with memory and thinking may start earlier or get worse more quickly in people who have atrial fibrillation,” said study author Evan L. Thacker, Ph.D., of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“This means that heart health is an important factor related to brain health.”

The study analyzed results from more than 5,100 people age 65 and older from four communities in the United States who were enrolled in the Cardiovascular Health Study.

Participants did not have a history of atrial fibrillation or stroke at the start of the study. They were followed for an average of seven years, taking a 100-point memory and thinking test every year.

Of the 5,150 participants, 552, or about 11 percent, developed atrial fibrillation during the study.

The researchers found that people with atrial fibrillation were more likely to experience lower memory and thinking scores at earlier ages than people with no history of atrial fibrillation.

For example, from age 80 to age 85 the average score on the 100-point test went down by about 6 points for people without atrial fibrillation. But the average dropped by about 10 points for people with atrial fibrillation, the researchers noted.

For participants ages 75 and older, the average rate of decline was about three to four points faster per five years of aging with atrial fibrillation compared to those without the condition, he added.

“This suggests that, on average, people with atrial fibrillation may be more likely to develop cognitive impairment or dementia at earlier ages than people with no history of atrial fibrillation,” he said.

Thacker noted that scores below 78 was suggestive of dementia. People without atrial fibrillation in the study were predicted to score below 78 points at age 87, while people with atrial fibrillation were predicted to score below 78 points at age 85, two years earlier.

“If there is indeed a link between atrial fibrillation and memory and thinking decline, the next steps are to learn why that decline happens and how we can prevent that decline,” said Thacker.

The study was published in the online issue of Neurology.

Source: American Academy of Neurology

NEW YORK, May 20 (UPI) U.S. men who had attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder as children weighed 19 pounds more at age 41 than those with no ADHD, researchers say.

Study co-author F. Xavier Castellanos, a psychiatrist at the Child Study Center at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York, and colleagues at Verona University in Italy; the Institute for Psychiatric Research in Orangeburg, N.Y.; and the Neuroingenia Clinical and Research Center in Mexico said ADHD might affect up to 11 percent of U.S. children, the majority boys.

The study involved 207 white boys with childhood ADHD — mean age of 8.3 — interviewed at ages 18-25 and age 41. At age 18, 178 boys without ADHD were recruited.

At 41, 111 men with childhood ADHD and 111 men without childhood ADHD self-reported their weight and height.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found at age 41, the men who had ADHD weighed an average of 213 pounds, and 41 percent of them were obese, while the men who hadn’t had ADHD weighed 194 pounds on average, and 22 percent were obese.

The study didn’t figure out why boyhood ADHD might be causing weight problems in adulthood — the weight gain could be caused by psychological factors or neurobiology, Castellanos told NPR.

Differences in the pathways for dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, have been found in both people who are obese and people with ADHD, Castellanos said.

“It makes sense, because they’re self-medicating with carbohydrates,” Dr. Edward Hallowell, a psychiatrist in Sudbury, Mass., who has ADHD and treats adults with ADHD but wasn’t involved with the study, told NPR. “Carbs do the same thing that stimulant medications do — promote dopamine.”

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