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Psychology, psychiatry and mental health news and research findings, every weekday.
Updated: 2 hours 58 min ago

Depression Ups Smoking Cessation Challenge – Exercise Helpful

3 hours 20 min ago

Smoking is often associated with depression with the mood disorder making it much more difficult to kick the habit.

Often those that have the hardest time shaking off the habit may have more mental health issues than they are actually aware of.

Those insights were some of the findings recently published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research by a team of Canadian researchers.

While nearly one in five North American adults are regular smokers — a number that continues to steadily decline — about 40 percent of depressed people are in need of a regular smoke.

This revelation motivated researchers to investigate the underpinnings of the behavior.

The findings revealed that those who struggle with mental illness simply have a tougher time quitting, no matter how much they want to.

The anxiety, cravings, or lack of sleep that accompany typical attempts to quit cold turkey will have them scrambling for the smokes they might have sworn off earlier that evening.

A person without clinical depression is better equipped to ride things out.

Yet a bit more exercise has been shown to reduce the compulsion to reach for a cigarette — even if it is not enough to alleviate the symptoms of the depression itself.

Based on an 18-month study, quitting was found to be easier in the midst of even the most basic workouts, since withdrawal symptoms were reduced in the aftermath of regular walks.

“The review should be seen as a call to arms,” says study co-author Grégory Moullec, a postdoctoral researcher affiliated with Concordia’s Department of Exercise Science.

“Our hope is that this study will continue to sensitize researchers and clinicians on the promising role of exercise in the treatment of both depression and smoking cessation,” adds first author Paquito Bernard.

As well, for those who are having a hard time giving up cigarettes, the research sheds light on how that struggle can reveal depression that has not been adequately diagnosed.

Overall, investigations into how exercise can play a role in helping to quit smoking continues. Most people eager to break the habit would no doubt leap at the chance to shed their cravings through physical activity alone.

“We still need stronger evidence to convince policymakers,” explains Moullec.

“Unfortunately there is still skepticism about exercise compared to pharmacological strategies. But if we continue to conduct ambitious trials, using high-standard methodology, we will get to know which interventions are the most effective of all.”

Source: Concordia University

Combat Metaphors in Business Often Backfire

4 hours 4 min ago

A new study discovers bosses who try to motivate their employees with violent rhetoric — think of Steve Jobs declaring “thermonuclear war” on Samsung — may begin a ‘battle’ they often lose.

“Business executives use violent language all the time,” said David Wood, a Brigham Young University (BYU) business professor. “They say, ‘We’re going to kill the competition,’ or ‘We’re going to war.’

“This study shows they should think twice about what they’re saying.”

Surprisingly, the study found that when an employee’s own CEO uses violent rhetoric, those employees are less likely to make unethical decisions.

Either way, the research shows clear evidence that violent rhetoric influences ethical decision making — for better or for worse.

Wood, BYU colleague Josh Gubler and coauthor Nathan Kalmoe carried out two experiments with 269 participants for the study. In the first experiment they showed half the subjects this motivational message from a CEO:

“To this end, I am declaring war on the competition in an effort to increase our market share. I want you to fight for every customer and do whatever it takes to win this battle. To motivate you to fight for this cause, I will be rewarding the top ten sales associates, and a guest, an all-expense paid vacation to Hawaii.”

The other half of the subjects got the same message but with the words “war,” “fight,” and “battle” replaced by “all-out effort,” “compete,” and “competition,” respectively.

Researchers then assessed the subjects’ likelihood to engage in unethical behavior — in this case, posting fake negative reviews for the competition’s product.

They found that when the source of violent rhetoric was the rival CEO, employees were significantly more likely to post fake negative reviews and ratings about the competition.

“What’s disconcerting is that people don’t think they’re being unethical in these situations,” Wood said.

“You can’t just say, ‘OK people, you need to be better now, don’t be bad,’ because they don’t think they’re being bad.”

In the second part of the study, researchers tested whether participants would bend internal sales policies (no selling to people with credit scores below 600) to boost sales figures after receiving an email from their manager.

Again half of the subjects received a message with violent rhetoric.

The results once again showed that the use of violent rhetoric by leadership impacted the ethical decision making of the employees.

“There has been a lot of research on the effects of violence and violent media on aggressive behavior,” Gubler said.

“This research shows it goes further: It affects your willingness to lie and to cheat and to bend moral rules. There are serious implications for CEOs.”

Wood adds, “Our environment impacts our choices at much more subtle levels than we realize.”

Source: Brigham Young University

Aggressive businessmen photo by shutterstock.

Vitamin D Deficiency Common in Schizophrenia

4 hours 50 min ago

A new study finds that vitamin D-deficient individuals are twice as likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia as people who have sufficient levels of the vitamin.

Vitamin D, produced by the skin after exposure to sunlight, helps the body absorb calcium and is needed for bone and muscle health.

More than one billion people worldwide are estimated to have deficient levels of vitamin D due to limited sunshine exposure.

Vitamin D deficiency is often linked to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year and may be attributable to a lack of sunlight.

Schizophrenia is a mental illness with symptoms that can include delusions and hallucinations.

Since schizophrenia is more prevalent in high latitudes and cold climates, researchers have theorized vitamin D may be connected to the disorder.

“This is the first comprehensive meta-analysis to study the relationship between the two conditions,” said one of the study’s authors, Ahmad Esmaillzadeh, Ph.D.

“When we examined the findings of several observational studies on vitamin D and schizophrenia, we found people with schizophrenia have lower vitamin D levels than healthy people. Vitamin D deficiency is quite common among people with schizophrenia.”

The study is published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

The researchers reviewed the findings of 19 observational studies that assessed the link between vitamin D and schizophrenia.

Combined, the studies looked at vitamin D levels and the mental health of 2,804 adult participants. The studies used blood tests to determine each participant’s vitamin D levels.

The meta-analysis found that people with schizophrenia had significantly lower levels of vitamin D in the blood compared to the control groups.

The average difference in vitamin D levels between schizophrenic patients and control participants was -5.91 ng/ml. People with vitamin D deficiency were 2.16 times more likely to have schizophrenia than those with sufficient vitamin D in their bloodstreams.

In addition, 65 percent of the participants who had schizophrenia also were vitamin D deficient.

“There is a growing trend in the nutrition science field to consider vitamin D and its relationship to conditions such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and depression,” Esmaillzadeh said.

“Our findings support the theory that vitamin D may have a significant impact on psychiatric health. More research is needed to determine how the growing problem of vitamin D deficiency may be affecting our overall health.”

Source: Endocrine Society

Vitamin D pill photo by shutterstock.

Blend Nature into School Playgrounds to Reduce Stress, Improve Attention

5 hours 35 min ago

School playgrounds that feature natural habitats and trees do more than just provide a unique outdoor adventure as researchers discover the environment can reduce children’s stress and inattention.

University of Colorado Boulder researchers also found that working on class assignments or gardening in such settings also provide stress-reducing benefits for youth.

The study, as published in the journal Health & Place, is one of the first of its kind to focus on the relationship between student access to green settings and stress.

“Many schools already offer stress management programs, but they’re about teaching individuals how to deal with stress instead of creating stress-reducing environments,” said Louise Chawla, lead author of the study.

“Schools are where children spend a major part of their life hours, so it’s an important place to look at for integrating daily contact with the natural world because of the many benefits it brings.”

Natural-terrain schoolyards — with dirt, scrub oak, and water features, for example — foster supportive relationships and feelings of competence, the researchers found.

“Combination schoolyards that have at least some natural-habitat landscaping, even if they include built structures as well, can have positive impacts on children,” said Chawla, who also is the director of University of Colorado Boulder’s Children, Youth and Environments Center.

Co-authors of the paper included three former doctoral students: Kelly Keena and Illène Pevec, both who were at the University of Colorado Denver; and Emily Stanley, who was at Antioch University New England in Keene, N.H.

For the study, a variety of settings were observed including elementary-school students’ recess in wooded and built areas; fourth- through sixth-grade students’ use of a natural habitat for science and writing lessons; and high school students’ gardening for volunteerism, required school service or coursework.

The sites were located at a private elementary school in Baltimore that serves children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities; a public elementary school in suburban Denver with students from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds; and four public and private entities for teenagers — a college preparatory school, a public high school, an alternative school, and an afterschool program — throughout Colorado.

Together the researchers logged more than 1,200 hours of observation. They interviewed students, teachers, parents, and alumni and coded keywords from the interviews for their findings, among other methods.

Over three school years at the Baltimore elementary school recess site, 96 percent of students in the first through fourth grades chose to play in the woods when they had the option of heading either there, to a playground, or to an athletic field.

In the woods, the younger children freely engaged in exploratory and sensory-based activities. The older children cooperatively organized activities like building forts and trading found objects.

Teachers at the Baltimore elementary school reported that the students returned from recess with longer attention spans. Some parents said the experience was empowering and critical to their child’s well-being and social and emotional balance.

Students at the Denver elementary school, who completed assignments in a natural habitat, found the process to be an escape from stress in the classroom and at home, according to the study. Twenty-five percent of the students spontaneously described the green area as “peaceful” or “calm.”

There also were anecdotal observations at the Denver school. In one case for example, a group of menacing schoolmates were unable to provoke a student in the green space whose temper normally was quick to escalate, according to the author.

“In more than 700 hours of observations at the Denver school’s green outdoor space, zero uncivil behaviors were observed,” said Chawla.

“But there were many incidences of arguments and rudeness indoors, as there are at many schools.”

Among the teenage participants throughout Colorado who gardened, 46 percent referred to calm, peace, and relaxation in addition to other positive descriptors when reflecting on their experiences.

They also gave four main reasons for their favorable reactions: being outdoors in fresh air; feeling connected to a natural living system; successfully caring for living things; and having time for quiet self-reflection.

For schools that are interested in providing natural habitats for students but only have built outdoor spaces, Chawla suggests tearing out some areas of asphalt or creating joint-use agreements with city parks and open space.

“Schools are really prime sites for an ecological model of health and for building access to nature into part of the school routine as a health measure,” said Chawla.

Source: University of Colorado, Boulder

Playground set in nature photo by shutterstock.

Trying too Hard Can Slow New Language Development

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 8:30am

Neuroscientists have long observed that learning a language presents a different set of opportunities and challenges for adults and children.

Adults easily grasp the vocabulary needed to navigate a grocery store or order food in a restaurant, but children have an innate ability to pick up on subtle nuances of language that often elude adults.

For example, within months of living in a foreign country, a young child may speak a second language like a native speaker.

Experts believe that brain structure plays an important role in this “sensitive period” for learning language, which is believed to end around adolescence.

The young brain is equipped with neural circuits that can analyze sounds and build a coherent set of rules for constructing words and sentences out of those sounds.

Once these language structures are established, it’s difficult to build another one for a new language.

In a new study, a team of neuroscientists and psychologists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) discovered another factor that contributes to adults’ language difficulties: When learning certain elements of language, adults’ more highly developed cognitive skills actually get in the way.

The researchers discovered that the harder adults tried to learn an artificial language, the worse they were at deciphering the language’s morphology — the structure and deployment of linguistic units such as root words, suffixes, and prefixes.

“We found that effort helps you in most situations, for things like figuring out what the units of language that you need to know are, and basic ordering of elements. But when trying to learn morphology, at least in this artificial language we created, it’s actually worse when you try,” said Amy Flynn a postdoc at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research.

Finn and colleagues from the University of California at Santa Barbara, Stanford University, and the University of British Columbia describe their findings in journal PLOS ONE.

Linguists have known for decades that children are skilled at absorbing certain tricky elements of language, such as irregular past participles (examples of which, in English, include “gone” and “been”) or complicated verb tenses like the subjunctive.

“Children will ultimately perform better than adults in terms of their command of the grammar and the structural components of language — some of the more idiosyncratic, difficult-to-articulate aspects of language that even most native speakers don’t have conscious awareness of,” Finn says.

In 1990, linguist Elissa Newport hypothesized that adults have trouble learning those nuances because they try to analyze too much information at once. Adults have a much more highly developed prefrontal cortex than children, and they tend to throw all of that brainpower at learning a second language.

This high-powered processing may actually interfere with certain elements of learning language.

“It’s an idea that’s been around for a long time, but there hasn’t been any data that experimentally show that it’s true,” Finn says.

Finn and her colleagues designed an experiment to test whether exerting more effort would help or hinder success.

The Study

First, they created nine nonsense words, each with two syllables. Each word fell into one of three categories (A, B, and C), defined by the order of consonant and vowel sounds.

Study subjects listened to the artificial language for about 10 minutes. One group of subjects was told not to overanalyze what they heard, but not to tune it out either.

To help them not overthink the language, they were given the option of completing a puzzle or coloring while they listened. The other group was told to try to identify the words they were hearing.

Each group heard the same recording, which was a series of three-word sequences — first a word from category A, then one from category B, then category C — with no pauses between words.

Previous studies have shown that adults, babies, and even monkeys can parse this kind of information into word units, a task known as word segmentation.

Subjects from both groups were successful at word segmentation, although the group that tried harder performed a little better. Both groups also performed well in a task called word ordering, which required subjects to choose between a correct word sequence (ABC) and an incorrect sequence (such as ACB) of words they had previously heard.

The final test measured skill in identifying the language’s morphology.

The researchers played a three-word sequence that included a word the subjects had not heard before, but which fit into one of the three categories.

When asked to judge whether this new word was in the correct location, the subjects who had been asked to pay closer attention to the original word stream performed much worse than those who had listened more passively.

The findings support a theory of language acquisition that suggests that some parts of language are learned through procedural memory, while others are learned through declarative memory.

Under this theory, declarative memory, which stores knowledge and facts, would be more useful for learning vocabulary and certain rules of grammar.

Procedural memory, which guides tasks we perform without conscious awareness of how we learned them, would be more useful for learning subtle rules related to language morphology.

“It’s likely to be the procedural memory system that’s really important for learning these difficult morphological aspects of language.

“In fact, when you use the declarative memory system, it doesn’t help you, it harms you,” Finn says.

Still unresolved is the question of whether adults can overcome this language-learning obstacle. Finn says she does not have a good answer yet but she is now testing the effects of “turning off” the adult prefrontal cortex using a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Other interventions she plans to study include distracting the prefrontal cortex by forcing it to perform other tasks while language is heard, and treating subjects with drugs that impair activity in that brain region.

Source: MIT

Abstract of a child’s brain photo by shutterstock.

Alzheimer’s Delayed by Caffeine?

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 7:45am

Caffeine appears to have a positive effect on so-called “tau deposits” in Alzheimer’s disease, scientists have found. Tau deposits are proteins that, together with beta-amyloid plaques, are some of the characteristic features of Alzheimer’s disease.

These deposits interfere with the communication of nerve cells in the brain, and can cause nerve degeneration. No drug is currently available to prevent this process. So researchers led by Dr. Christa Muller from the University of Bonn, Germany, took a look at caffeine.

It is an “adenosine receptor antagonist,” meaning it blocks receptors in the brain that are activated by adenosine. Blocking the adenosine receptor subtype A2A may play a particularly important role.

The team created a compound with caffeine-like effects, a water-soluble A2A antagonist called MSX-3. It specifically blocks only A2A adenosine receptors. In doing so, it is significantly more effective than caffeine while having fewer side effects.

The compound was tested on mice which were altered to have a tau protein that would lead to the early development of Alzheimer’s symptoms. The Alzheimer’s-prone mice were given this A2A antagonist for several weeks, and achieved significantly better results on memory tests — particularly spatial memory — than those given placebo. Full results are published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

The team writes, “Epidemiologic evidences support that habitual caffeine intake prevents memory decline during aging and reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”

Commenting on their study, they explain, “We found that chronic caffeine intake [from MSX-3] prevents from the development of spatial memory deficits in tau mice. Moreover, caffeine treatment mitigated several proinflammatory and oxidative stress markers. Together, our data support that moderate caffeine intake is beneficial in a model of Alzheimer’s disease-like tau pathology, paving the way for future clinical evaluation in Alzheimer’s disease patients.”

Dr. Muller said, “We have taken a good step forward. The results of the study are truly promising, since we were able to show for the first time that A2A adenosine receptor antagonists actually have very positive effects in an animal model simulating hallmark characteristics and progression of the disease. And the adverse effects are minor.

She added, “Patience is required until A2A adenosine receptor antagonists are approved as new therapeutic agents for Alzheimer’s disease. But I am optimistic that clinical studies will be performed.”

One of the major studies of “real life” caffeine intake and cognition was carried out in 2012 by Chuanhai Cao, Ph.D., of the University of South Florida. Cao and colleagues monitored blood caffeine levels of 124 people aged 65 to 88 years for two to four years. All had mild cognitive impairment, which can progress to Alzheimer’s disease.

Those with higher blood caffeine levels scored better on tests of memory and thinking processes. No other lifestyle differences were seen.

Cao says, “These intriguing results suggest that older adults with mild memory impairment who drink moderate levels of coffee — about three cups a day — will not convert to Alzheimer’s disease, or at least will experience a substantial delay before converting to Alzheimer’s.”

“The results are consistent with earlier studies on mice,” he adds. Caffeinated coffee was the main source of caffeine in the study.

“We are not saying that moderate coffee consumption will completely protect people from Alzheimer’s disease,” added Cao. “However, we firmly believe that moderate coffee consumption can appreciably reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s or delay its onset.”

A very recent review of the modifiable factors linked to cognition and dementia found that 39 percent of studies on caffeine had positive results. “Acting as a stimulant of the central nervous system, caffeine causes heightened alertness and arousal,” the authors write.

“Caffeine is one type of compound known as methylxanthines whose effects are mainly to block adenosine receptors in the brain, resulting in cholinergic stimulation. It was hypothesized that such stimulation would lead to improved memory.”

Although many small studies appear to demonstrate a protective effect, “given the paucity of large cohort studies, more research is needed to establish causality,” they conclude.

In summary, caffeine has not been proven conclusively to protect against Alzheimer’s disease, but decades of research suggest that it may be effective. While caffeine is known to enhance short-term memory and cognition, there is some evidence that long-term use may protect against cognitive decline or dementia.

With the large economic and emotional impact of Alzheimer’s disease, it is vital that we identify potential triggers. Moderate consumption of caffeinated coffee is generally safe for healthy people, so would provide a simple protective strategy, if its benefit is confirmed in more reliable studies.


Laurent, C. et al. Beneficial effects of caffeine in a transgenic model of Alzheimer’s disease-like Tau pathology. Neurobiology of Aging, 31 March 2014 doi:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2014.03.027

Cao, C. et al. High blood caffeine levels in MCI linked to lack of progression to dementia. Journal of Alzheimers Disease. 19 March 2012 doi: 10.3233/JAD-2012-111781

Beydoun, M. A. et al. Epidemiologic studies of modifiable factors associated with cognition and dementia: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Public Health. 24 June 2014 doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-14-643

Reading Skill Development Can Continue to Middle School

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 7:00am

Traditional educational theory holds that fourth grade is when students stop learning to read and start reading to learn.

A new study suggests to the contrary as Dartmouth researchers analyzed brain waves and found fourth-graders do not experience a change in automatic word processing, a crucial component of the reading shift theory.

Instead, some types of word processing become automatic before fourth grade, while others don’t switch until after fifth.

Research findings are published in the journal Developmental Science.

“The findings mean that teachers at all levels of elementary school must think of themselves as reading instructors,” said the study’s author, Donna Coch.

“Until now, we lacked neurological evidence about the supposed fourth-grade shift,” said Coch, principal investigator for Dartmouth’s Reading Brains Lab.

“The theory developed from behavioral evidence, and as a result of it, some teachers in fifth and sixth grade have not thought of themselves as reading instructors.

Now we can see from brain waves that students in those grades are still learning to process words automatically; their neurological reading system is not yet adult-like.”

Automatic word processing is the brain’s ability to determine whether a group of symbols constitutes a word within milliseconds, without the brain’s owner realizing the process is taking place.

To test how automatic word processing develops, Coch placed electrode caps on the heads of third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders, as well as college students.

She had her test subjects view a screen that displayed a mix of real English words (such as “bed”), pseudo-words (such as “bem”), strings of letters (such as “mbe”), and strings of meaningless symbols one at a time.

The setup allowed her to see how the subjects’ brains reacted to each kind of stimulus within milliseconds. In other words, she could watch their automatic word processing.

Next, Coch gave the participants a written test, in which they were asked to circle the real words in a list that also contained pseudo-words, strings of letters, and strings of meaningless symbols.

This task was designed to test the participants’ conscious word processing, a much slower procedure.

Interestingly, most of the 96 participants got a nearly perfect score on the written test, showing that their conscious brains knew the difference between words and non-words.

However, the electrode cap revealed that only the college students processed meaningless symbols differently than real words.

The third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders’ brains reacted to the meaningless symbols the same way they reacted to common English words.

“This tells us that, at least through the fifth grade, even children who read well are letting stimuli into the neural word processing system that more mature readers do not,” Coch said.

“Their brains are processing strings of meaningless symbols as if they were words, perhaps in case they turn out to be real letters. In contrast, by college, students have learned not to process strings of meaningless symbols as words, saving their brains precious time and energy.”

The phenomenon is evidence that young readers do not fully develop automatic word processing skills until after fifth grade, which contradicts the fourth-grade reading shift theory.

The brain waves also showed that the third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders processed real words, psuedowords, and letter strings similarly to college students, suggesting that some automatic word processing begins before the fourth grade, and even before the third grade, also contradicting the reading shift theory.

“There is value to the theory of the fourth grade shift in that it highlights how reading skills and abilities develop at different times,” Coch said.

“But the neural data suggest that teachers should not expect their fourth-graders, or even their fifth-graders, to be completely automatic, adult-like readers.”

Source: Dartmouth College

Overreaction Can Lead to Near Misses

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 6:15am

A new study looks at how, in our hypercompetitive world, it is easy to not see the forest because of the trees when we experience a close loss or fail to achieve a company goal — even though we may have come very close.

Brigham Young University (BYU) researchers discovered that it appears to be human nature to overreact to a loss, potentially abandoning a solid strategy and thus increasing the chances of losing the next time around.

The finding, as published in the journal Management Science, is based on an analysis of two decades of data on NBA coaching decisions.

The researchers focused on whether coaches adjusted their personnel following games where the margin of victory or defeat was small.

After narrow wins, coaches changed their starting lineup one-fourth of the time. But after narrow losses, they changed their starting lineup one-third of the time.

“A blowout win is informative about the team’s future success, compared to a crushing defeat,” said Brennan Platt, a professor of economics at BYU and co-author on the study.

“But losing by a point versus winning by a point, most of that is just noise. To say ‘a win is a win’ ignores important information in the intensity of the win, causing narrow losers to overreact and narrow winners to be complacent.”

Platt and fellow BYU economists Lars Lefgren and Joe Price modeled the result of these attempts to right the ship. They found that hasty adjustments actually backfire, resulting in about one extra loss per season per team.

None of the coaches in the sample demonstrated immunity to overreacting to close losses.

The study authors note that coaches also underreact to close wins — particularly games that were expected to win by large margins. That’s why they titled their study “Sticking with What Barely Worked.”

Platt said the findings are particularly relevant to bosses’ evaluations of employee performance.

“A lot of the goals businesses set are related to zero/one outcomes — did you meet your sales quota, did the patient recover, did the plane arrive on time,” Platt said.

“You need to be careful to process all of the information. Things that are out of your control should be accounted for before you start evaluating staff. The intensity of the outcome — by how far they missed the goal — should give you an indication of whether it was just bad luck.”

Source: Brigham Young University

Sleep Deficits = Memory Problems

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 5:30am

Americans are not receiving adequate amounts of sleep with experts stating that sleep insufficiencies are now a public health epidemic.

New research adds to the list of symptoms that a lack of sleep triggers as scientist discover sleep voids can lead to errors in memory.

Experts have known that sleep issues can cause extreme mood changes or irritability, a lack of energy or motivation, poor performance at school or work, and tension headaches or stomach aches.

In the new study, researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) and the University of California, Irvine (UC-Irvine) found participants deprived of a night’s sleep were more likely to botch the details of a simulated burglary they were shown in a series of images.

The study has been published online in the journal Psychological Science.

Distorted memory can have serious consequences in areas such as criminal justice, where eyewitness misidentifications are thought to be the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States.

“We found memory distortion is greater after sleep deprivation,” said Kimberly Fenn, MSU associate professor of psychology and co-investigator on the study.

“And people are getting less sleep each night than they ever have.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls insufficient sleep an epidemic and said it’s linked to vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.

The researchers conducted experiments at MSU and UC-Irvine to gauge the effect of insufficient sleep on memory.

The results: Participants who were kept awake for 24 hours — and even those who got five or fewer hours of sleep — were more likely to mix up event details than participants who were well rested.

“People who repeatedly get low amounts of sleep every night could be more prone in the long run to develop these forms of memory distortion,” Fenn said.

“It’s not just a full night of sleep deprivation that puts them at risk.”

Source: Michigan State University

Neuroscience to Explain Psychotherapy Modus Operandi

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 7:45am

Despite tremendous advances in psychological care, researchers are still uncertain as to the mechanism by which psychotherapy influences the brain and improves a person’s condition.

This knowledge gap may narrowing as a new study by University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) psychology professor Michelle Craske and colleagues seeks to discover the operational manner by which psychotherapy provides benefits.

The issue is salient as mental health disorders — such as depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder, and eating disorders — affect one in four people worldwide.

Psychological treatments “hold the strongest evidence base for addressing many such conditions,” but they need improvement, according to a study by Craske, Cambridge University professor Emily Holmes and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s professor Ann Graybiel.

Their article is found online in the journal Nature.

For some conditions, such as bipolar disorder, psychological treatments are not effective or are in their infancy, the life scientists report, and a “culture gap” between neuroscientists and clinical scientists has hindered the progress of mental health treatments.

The authors call on scientists from both disciplines to work together to advance the understanding and treatment of psychological disorders.

Psychological treatments, they say, have not benefitted much from the dramatic advances neuroscience has made in understanding emotions and behavior.

The reason may be that neuroscientists and clinical scientists “meet infrequently, rarely work together, read different journals, and know relatively little of each other’s needs and discoveries,” writes Craske, a faculty member in the UCLA College, and her colleagues.

The authors advocate steps for closing the culture gap. First, uncover the mechanisms of existing psychological treatments.

There is, they note, a very effective behavioral technique for phobias and anxiety disorders called exposure therapy; patients learn that what they fear is not as harmful as they think, and their fears are greatly reduced by the repeated presence of the object of their fear.

Second, the paper states, neuroscience is providing “unprecedented” insights that can relieve dysfunctional behavior — practitioners can use those insights to create new and improved psychological treatments.

Third, the authors urge, the next generation of clinical scientists and neuroscientists should work more closely together. They propose a new umbrella discipline they call “mental health science” to marry the benefits of both disciplines.

“There is enormous promise,” they conclude.

“Psychological treatments are a lifeline to so many — and could be to so many more.”

Source: UCLA

Personalized Approach and Computer Tablets Improve Autistic Care

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 7:00am

Emerging research shows that the communication skills of minimally verbal children with autism can be greatly improved through personalized interventions that are combined with the use of computer tablets.

A three-year study by University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers examined different approaches to improving communication abilities among children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and minimal verbal skills.

Approximately 30 percent of children with ASD overall remain minimally verbal even after years of intervention.

UCLA professor Connie Kasari, the paper’s senior author, worked with researchers at Vanderbilt University and the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

They found that children’s language skills greatly improved when spoken- and social-communication therapy was tailored based on their individual progress and delivered using computer tablets.

The trial involved 61 children with ASD, ages five to eight.

For six months, each child received communication therapy focusing on social communication gestures, such as pointing, as well as play skills and spoken language.

Half of the children were randomly selected to also use speech-generating applications on computer tablets for at least half of the time during their sessions.

The tablets were programmed with audio clips of words the children were learning about during their therapy sessions and images of the corresponding objects.

Working with a therapist, the child could tap a picture of a block, for example, and the tablet would play audio of the word “block.”

The researchers found that children who had access to the tablets during therapy were more likely to use language spontaneously and socially than the children who received the communication intervention alone — and that incorporating the tablets at the beginning of the treatment was more effective than introducing it later in the therapy.

“It was remarkable how well the tablet worked in providing access to communication for these children,” said Kasari.

“Children who received the behavioral intervention along with the tablet to support their communication attempts made much faster progress in learning to communicate, and especially in using spoken language.”

Researchers also conducted follow-up visits with the children three months after the initial study period and found that their improvement had been maintained during that time.

The study was the first ASD research to use a sequential multiple assignment randomized trial, or SMART, design.

The approach, which enables researchers to tailor interventions according to how each child in the study responds, was designed by Daniel Almirall and Susan Murphy, biostatisticians at the University of Michigan who were members of the research team.

It also was the first randomized, controlled trial on this underserved population of children to use a computer tablet combined with an effective behavioral intervention.

The findings were published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Source: UCLA

Doctor using tablet with a child photo by shutterstock.

Common Genes Linked to Autism

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 6:15am

New research sheds light on autism as scientists discover most of the genetic risk for the disorder comes from versions of genes that are common in the population rather than from rare variants or spontaneous mutations.

In the largest study of its kind to date, heritability outweighed other risk factors.

Specifically, about 52 percent of the risk for autism was traced to common and rare inherited variation, with spontaneous mutations contributing a modest 2.6 percent of the total risk.

“Genetic variation likely accounts for roughly 60 percent of the liability for autism, with common variants comprising the bulk of its genetic architecture,” explained Joseph Buxbaum, Ph.D.

“Although each exerts just a tiny effect individually, these common variations in the genetic code add up to substantial impact, taken together.”

Buxbaum, and colleagues have reported their findings in the journal Nature Genetics.

“Thanks to the boost in statistical power that comes with ample sample size, autism geneticists can now detect common as well as rare genetic variation associated with risk,” said Thomas R. Insel, M.D., director of National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

“Knowing the nature of the genetic risk will reveal clues to the molecular roots of the disorder. Common variation may be more important than we thought.”

Although autism is thought to be caused by an interplay of genetic and other factors, including environmental, consensus on their relative contributions and the outlines of its genetic architecture has remained elusive.

Recently, evidence has been mounting that genomes of people with autism are prone to harboring rare mutations, often spontaneous, that exert strong effects and can largely account for particular cases of disease.

More challenging is to gauge the collective impact on autism risk of numerous variations in the genetic code shared by most people, which are individually much subtler in effect.

Limitations of sample size and composition made it difficult to detect these effects and to estimate the relative influence of such common, rare inherited, and rare spontaneous variation.

Differences in methods and statistical models also resulted in sometimes wildly discrepant estimates of autism’s heritability — ranging from 17 to 50 percent.

Meanwhile, recent genome-wide studies of schizophrenia have achieved large enough sample sizes to reveal involvement of well over 100 common gene variants in that disorder.

These promise improved understanding of the underlying biology — and even development of risk-scores, which could help predict who might benefit from early interventions to nip psychotic episodes in the bud.

Researchers believe the new study significantly improves autism genetics.

The study was made possible by Sweden’s universal health registry, which allowed investigators to compare a very large sample of about 3,000 people with autism with matched controls.

Researchers also brought to bear new statistical methods that allowed them to more reliably sort out the heritability of the disorder.

In addition, they were able to compare their results with a parallel study in 1.6 million Swedish families, which took into account data from twins and cousins, and factors like age of the father at birth and parents’ psychiatric history.

“This is a different kind of analysis than employed in previous studies,” explained Thomas Lehner, Ph.D., chief of NIMH’s Genomics Research Branch.

“Data from genome-wide association studies was used to identify a genetic model instead of focusing just on pinpointing genetic risk factors. The researchers were able to pick from all of the cases of illness within a population-based registry.”

Now that the genetic architecture is better understood, the researchers are identifying specific genetic risk factors detected in the sample, such as deletions and duplications of genetic material and spontaneous mutations.

“Even though such rare spontaneous mutations accounted for only a small fraction of autism risk, the potentially large effects of these glitches makes them important clues to understanding the molecular underpinnings of the disorder,” said the researchers.

“Within a given family, the mutations could be a critical determinant that leads to the manifestation of autism spectrum disorder in a particular family member,” said Buxbaum.

“The family may have common variation that puts it at risk, but if there is also a de novo [spontaneous} mutation on top of that, it could push an individual over the edge. So for many families, the interplay between common and spontaneous genetic factors could be the underlying genetic architecture of the disorder.”

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

Autism puzzle ribbon photo by shutterstock.

Physician Training Program Improves Care for Depression

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 5:30am

A new performance improvement initiative for physicians has been found to significantly increase their use of evidence-based practices in screening for and treating depression.

In a new study, Dr. Michael E. Thase of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School and colleagues evaluated a continuing medical education program to increase physicians’ use of practices that have been shown to improve diagnosis and care for depression.

The three-stage initiative, reported in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice, started with a review of 50 patients for each participating doctor.

The initial review step assessed the physicians’ consistency with a set of evidence-based performance measures, including comparison with the performance of other participants.

Based on this feedback, each physician developed a personal plan to improve patient care.

The plans were to be implemented over a three-month period, during which time the clinicians received educational and support materials.

After three months, participants underwent a repeat review to assess changes in performance. The physicians could earn educational credits for completing each step of the program.

Four hundred ninety-two US psychiatrists and primary care physicians registered and completed the first stage of the program. Of these, 86 physicians completed all three steps of the initiative.

Those who did complete the program showed substantial improvements in their management of depression.

The percentage of physicians using standardized criteria to screen their patients for depression increased from 26 percent at the first chart review to 68 percent at the follow-up review.

The percentage performing recommended follow-up screening also increased from 48 to 75 percent.

The educational initiative was also associated with increased use of standardized measures to assess adherence to antidepressant treatment from 10 to 45 percent.

Many patients stop taking prescribed antidepressants within the first few months, and use of standardized measures allow for more reliable assessments that may promote increased adherence to treatment.

Depression is a common and potentially disabling condition that can be difficult to treat.

One in three US adults will experience a major depressive episode during their lifetime, yet a quarter of patients are undiagnosed, and fewer than half of those who are diagnosed receive treatment.

There are research-proven practices to improve management of depression, but some clinicians have been slow to adopt these recommendations.

The new approach seeks to help doctors incorporate new evidence into routine care through practice-based learning.

The current study supports this approach, showing substantial improvements in adherence to guideline-based practice by physicians who complete all three steps of the initiative.

The results highlight the significant gap between how doctors perceive their performance and their “real world performance,” as reflected in patient charts.

“Improvements in patient care through the use of clinician self-assessment, goal setting, and reassessment suggest clinicians achieved greater awareness and knowledge of evidence-based measures,” Dr. Thase and coauthors conclude.

Researchers further studies to understand why a high percentage of physicians started but did not complete the program — previous studies suggest that the initial self-evaluation step may be the “key component” in improving performance.

Source: Wolters Kluwer Health

For Women, Early Sexual Abuse Tied to Atherosclerosis Later in Life

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 8:45am

Women who were sexually abused as children often show signs of atherosclerosis, an early indication of cardiovascular disease, according to new research.

Published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke, this is the first study to suggest a link between sexual abuse and higher carotid artery intima-media thickness (IMT), a thickening of the inner lining of the arteries that may indicate early atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis can lead to heart disease and other forms of cardiovascular disease, according to researchers.

The study of 1,400 Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic, and Chinese women between the ages of 42 and 52 found that those with a history of childhood sexual abuse had higher carotid artery IMT at midlife than those without a history of abuse.

The link between childhood abuse and IMT was not explained by standard cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as blood pressure, lipids and body mass, the researchers noted.

The researchers also found that a history of childhood sexual abuse, but not childhood physical abuse, was related to higher IMT.

Researchers began their work in 1996, drawing participants from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), with participants in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Newark, Pittsburgh and Oakland.

The women, who were transitioning through menopause, were questioned about childhood and adult physical and sexual abuse and for a range of well-established heart disease risk factors. The researchers found that 16 percent of the women reported a history of childhood sexual abuse, across all racial groups, with the abuse as high as 20 percent among African-Americans.

Researchers followed the women annually for the next dozen years. At the 12th visit, they underwent carotid artery ultrasound to detect carotid IMT and carotid artery plaque.

“These study findings indicate the importance of considering early life stressors on women’s later cardiovascular health,” said lead author Rebecca C. Thurston, Ph.D.

“Awareness of the long-term mental and physical consequences of sexual abuse in childhood needs to be heightened nationally, particularly among women and health professionals.”

Thurston, an associate professor of psychiatry, psychology, epidemiology and clinical and translational science and director of the Women’s Behavioral and Health Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, advises women who have a history of childhood sexual abuse to report it to their physicians and health care providers.

“If physicians are able, they should ask about child abuse,” she continued. “Considering child abuse can be important in understanding a woman’s cardiovascular risk.”

Thurston noted she plans to continue the study and to research the effect of violence against women and the development of heart disease.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute on Aging, and National Institute on Nursing Research, and the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health.

Source: American Heart Association


CBT in Grade School Can Lower Kids’ Anxiety

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 8:00am

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to greatly reduce anxiety levels in schoolchildren ages nine to 10 years old, according to new research from Oxford University. Researchers believe that this therapy would benefit all children, regardless of their anxiety levels.

The project involved a randomized controlled trial designed to test the effectiveness of CBT lessons at that age. The findings are published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

For the study, researchers enrolled 1362 children from 40 primary schools in southwest England and followed them for one year. Groups were assigned to receive either classroom-based CBT lessons led by teachers, CBT lessons led by health facilitators, or standard school provision.

During CBT, students learned how to identify and handle their emotions and replace their anxious thoughts with more constructive thought patterns. They also developed their problem-solving skills so they could better deal with anxiety-provoking situations.

“These are important findings. The intervention offers an affordable and practical response to the challenges of promoting emotional health in schools,” said Professor Harry Daniels, from the Department of Education at the University of Oxford.

“The need to improve the mental health of children is being increasingly recognized as a global priority given the associated health risks, and the economic and social costs, if such anxieties are not dealt with early on.”

CBT lessons were one-hour long and given to whole classes of children as part of the school curriculum. The findings showed that teacher-led CBT lessons were not as effective as the lessons delivered by health professionals from outside of the school.

According to the researchers, childhood anxiety is very common. It negatively affects their daily lives and increases the risk of severe mental health disorders in adulthood. Prior research has found that by the age of 16, 10 percent of children are affected by an anxiety disorder.

“Schools provide a convenient location to deliver emotional health prevention programs for children. Whilst there are a number of school based programs, few have been scientifically evaluated to determine what effect they have on children’s emotional health,” said lead author Professor Paul Stallard, of the University of Bath’s Department for Health.

The team is now trying to determine whether these reductions in anxiety are maintained after children move on to secondary school.

Source: Oxford University
Children in class room photo by shutterstock.

Antipsychotic Drugs Linked to Decrease in Brain Volume

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 7:15am

A new study has confirmed a link between antipsychotic drugs and a slight, but measurable, decrease in brain volume in patients with schizophrenia.

Researchers noted they were also able to examine whether this decrease is harmful for cognitive function, reporting that over a nine-year follow-up, the decrease did not appear to have any effect.

As we age, our brains naturally lose some of their volume. Known as atrophy, this process usually begins in our 30s and continues into old age. Researchers have known for some time that patients with schizophrenia lose brain volume at a faster rate than healthy individuals, although the reason why is unclear.

For their study, researchers from the University of Oulu, Finland, and the University of Cambridge in England identified the rate of decrease in both healthy individuals and patients with schizophrenia. They also documented where in the brain schizophrenia patients have more atrophy. Finally, they examined the links between atrophy and antipsychotic medication.

Comparing the brain scans of 33 patients with schizophrenia with 71 healthy individuals over a nine-year period — from the ages of 34 to 43 — the researchers discovered that schizophrenia patients lost brain volume at a rate of 0.7 percent each year. The healthy participants lost brain volume at a rate of 0.5 percent per year, the researchers reported.

Speculation that antipsychotic medication used to treat schizophrenia may be linked to this decrease in brain volume was confirmed by the new study, which showed that the decrease was greater when the dose of medication was higher.

However, the researchers note that the mechanisms behind this — and whether it was, in fact, the medication that was causing this greater loss of tissue — are not clear.

There also has been some speculation that older antipsychotic medications might cause brain volume decreases, while newer antipsychotic medications actually protect against these decreases. The new study, however, found that both classes of antipsychotic medication are associated with similar declines in brain volume.

The researchers also looked at whether there was any link between the volume of brain loss and the severity of symptoms or loss of cognitive function, but found no effect.

“We all lose some brain tissue as we get older, but people with schizophrenia lose it at a faster rate,” said Dr. Juha Veijola from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oulu. “We’ve shown that this loss seems to be linked to the antipsychotic medication people are taking.

“Research like this where patients are studied for many years can help to develop guidelines about when clinicians can reduce the dosage of antipsychotic medication in the long term treatment of people with schizophrenia.”

“It’s important to stress that the loss of brain volume doesn’t appear to have any effect on people over the nine year follow-up we conducted, and patients should not stop their medication on the basis of this research,” said Dr. Graham Murray from the Behavioral and Clinical Neuroscience Institute and the Department of Psychiatry at University of Cambridge.

“A key question in (the) future will be to examine whether there is any effect of this loss of brain volume later in life. We need more research in larger studies with longer follow-ups to evaluate the significance of these brain changes.”

The research, supported by the Academy of Finland, Medical Research Council, Sigrid Jusélius Foundation, and the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, was published in the open access journal PLOS ONE.

Source: University of Cambridge


Bottles of medication photo by shutterstock.

Study of Resting Brain May Help Unravel Severe Mental Illness

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 6:30am

The human brain operates much the same whether a person is at rest or performing a variety of tasks, according to new research from Rutgers University-Newark. This finding will make it easier to study severe mental illness, since scientists can be certain that what they observe on a brain at rest is there all the time.

“It is easier to analyze a brain at rest,” says Michael Cole, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience. He conducted the study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

“We can now observe people relaxing in the scanner and be confident that what we see is there all the time,” said Cole, who initially wondered whether the brain reorganized itself for every task. “If that had been the case, we would have had less hope that we could understand mental illness in our lifetime.”

“Now scientists can better hone in on the possible causes of mental illness,” said Cole. He suggests at least one target of opportunity: the prefrontal cortex. This region of the brain is involved in high level thinking.

Cole believes that scientists should investigate whether connectivity between the prefrontal cortex and other areas of the brain is altered — while the brain is at rest — in people with severe mental illness.

“And then we can finally say something fundamental,” he says, “about what’s different about the brain’s functional network in schizophrenia and other conditions.”

Those differences, he believes, could explain particular symptoms. For example, what if a patient has visual hallucinations because of poor connectivity between the prefrontal cortex and the region of the brain that regulates sight?

Cole suggests that this is just one possible scenario that could be answered by studying the brain at rest. Others include a patient’s harmful beliefs, such as an overly negative self-view when depressed.

Studying the brain at rest might lead to new important findings that could greatly improve the lives of patients with severe mental illness. Cole noted that rarely do current medications for severe mental illness relieve cognitive symptoms.

Although some drugs help reduce hallucinations or depressing thoughts, patients continue to have difficulty concentrating on the task at hand, and often find it difficult to find or hold a job. Cole hopes his research will shed new light on the workings behind severe mental illness.

The research is published in the journal Neuron.

Source: Rutgers University
MRI of brain photo by shutterstock.

Even Mild Traumatic Brain Injury May Cause Brain Damage

Sat, 07/19/2014 - 8:45am

Even mild traumatic brain injury may cause brain damage, including thinking and memory problems, according to a new study.

For the study, 44 people with a mild traumatic brain injury and nine people with a moderate traumatic brain injury were compared to 33 people with no brain injury.

All of the participants took tests of their thinking and memory skills. At the same time, they had diffusion tensor imaging scans, a type of MRI scan that is more sensitive than traditional MRI for detecting damage to brain cells and helps map fiber tracts that connect brain regions, according to the researchers.

The people with brain injuries had their scans an average of six days after the injury. A year later, 23 of those with injuries had another scan and took the cognitive tests again, the researchers reported.

The study found that compared to the people with no brain injury, those with injuries had damage in brain white matter consisting of disruption to nerve axons, those parts of nerve cells that make up white matter and that allow brain cells to transmit messages to each other.

The study also found that scores on a verbal letter fluency task, a test of thinking, and memory skills, were 25 percent lower in people with a brain injury than in the healthy people. This was strongly related to the imaging measures of white matter damage, the researchers noted.

“Most of the studies thus far have focused on people with severe and chronic traumatic brain injury,” said study author Andrew Blamire, Ph.D., of Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. “We studied patients who had suffered clinically mild injuries, often from common accidents, such as falling from a bicycle, or slow speed car accidents.

“This finding is especially important, as 90 percent of all traumatic brain injuries are mild to moderate.”

One year after the injury, the scores on thinking and memory tests were the same for people with brain injuries and those with no injuries, the researchers noted. However, the researchers found that there were still areas of brain damage in people with injuries.

“These results show that thinking skills were recovering over time,” Blamire said. “The areas of brain damage were not as widespread across the brain as previously, but focused in certain areas of the brain, which could indicate that the brain was compensating for the injuries.”

The study, supported by the Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust, was published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Source: The American Academy of Neurology


Weight Management Program Also Reduces Depression

Sat, 07/19/2014 - 8:00am

A program aimed at helping obese women maintain their weight also significantly reduced depression in nearly half the women, according to a new study from Duke University.

The study was conducted with 185 low-income black women between the ages of 25 and 44, each with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 35, who were receiving primary care at five community health centers in central North Carolina.

For 91 of the women, software developed by Duke researchers created a personalized program called the Shape Program’s “Maintain, Don’t Gain” intervention. During the 12 months of the program, the women in this group tracked behavioral goals — such as no fast food or sugary drinks — each week via automated phone calls. Each of the women also had monthly calls with a personal health coach, while some took advantage of a YMCA membership.

The other 94 participants were randomly placed in a control group and continued to receive usual care from their physicians.

At the start of the 12-month study, 19 percent of the intervention participants and 21 percent of the women in the control group reported moderate to severe depression.

At the end of the 12 months, just 11 percent of the intervention participants said they were still depressed, compared to 19 percent receiving usual care. At 18 months, 10 percent of the intervention group said they were depressed, while the usual-care group remained at 19 percent, according to the study.

The findings were not related to how well the women did in the weight management program nor whether they were taking depression medication, the researchers noted.

“Interventions that focus on maintaining your weight, not just losing weight, may have more widespread effects,” said lead author Dori Steinberg, a research scholar with the Duke Digital Health Science Center.

“It is exciting that we improved depression among a population that is severely socioeconomically disadvantaged and has limited access to depression treatment. The reductions we saw in depression are comparable to what is seen with traditional approaches like counseling or medication treatment.”

The study, which appears in the American Journal of Public Health, cites past research showing that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression. Additionally, more than one in seven black women will suffer major depression.

Compared with their white counterparts, black women with depression are less likely to receive treatment (39.7 percent vs. 54 percent), according to the researchers.

And among those who seek treatment, blacks are less likely than whites to receive care that corresponds to clinical practice guidelines, Steinberg noted.

Moreover, depression is three times more common for those with incomes below the federal poverty level, according to the study.

Obesity is also more severe among black women, which can lead to a higher prevalence of obesity-related chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, according to the study.

Past research has also shown that black women find it more difficult to lose weight. However, it is unclear why that disparity exists.

According to Steinberg, the disparity might be influenced by differences in sociocultural norms related to weight, diet, and physical activity or socioeconomic stressors and other barriers regarding access to treatment.

“These higher occurrences may also have an impact on psychosocial outcomes such as depression,” she said. “Interventions that focus on behavioral weight control may present a useful opportunity to address both obesity and depression.”

Source: Duke University

Stress, High-Fat Meal Slows Metabolism in Women

Sat, 07/19/2014 - 7:15am

Experiencing a stressful situation and then eating a high-fat meal the next day can slow down the body’s metabolism, potentially contributing to weight gain, according to a new study in women published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

“This means that, over time, stressors could lead to weight gain,” said lead author Dr. Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and psychology at Ohio State University.

“We know from other data that we’re more likely to eat the wrong foods when we’re stressed, and our data say that when we eat the wrong foods, weight gain becomes more likely because we are burning fewer calories.”

For the study, 58 women (average age 53) answered questions about the previous day’s stressors before eating a meal consisting of 930 calories and 60 grams of fat. The researchers then measured the participants’ metabolic rates — how long it took the women to burn calories and fat — and measured blood sugar levels, triglycerides, insulin, and the stress hormone cortisol.

In general, participants who reported that they had experienced one or more stressful events during the previous 24 hours burned 104 fewer calories than non-stressed participants in the seven hours after eating the high-fat meal. This difference could result in a weight gain of almost 11 pounds per year.

Most of the reported stressful situations were interpersonal in nature: arguments with co-workers, spouses or friends, trouble with children, or work-related pressures.

The stressed women showed higher levels of insulin, which contributes to the storage of fat and less fat oxidation — the conversion of fat molecules into fuel. Fat that is not burned is stored.

Prior research has shown that people who experience stress and other mood problems are at higher risk of becoming overweight. These findings appear to explain at least one reason for that connection.

The research meal consisted of eggs, turkey sausage, biscuits, and gravy — approximately the same amount of calories and fat found in a loaded two-patty hamburger and French fries from a fast-food restaurant.

“This is not an extraordinary meal compared to what many of us would grab when we’re in a hurry and out getting some food,” said Kiecolt-Glaser, also director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine at Ohio State.

The control for comparison in this study was that one meal contained saturated fat and the other was high in monounsaturated fat (from sunflower oil).

“We suspected that the saturated fat would have a worse impact on metabolism in women, but in our findings, both high-fat meals consistently showed the same results in terms of how stressors could affect their energy expenditure,” said co-author Dr. Martha Belury, professor of human nutrition at Ohio State.

The researchers found that insulin spiked soon after the high-fat meal was consumed. It then decreased to roughly match insulin levels in non-stressed women after another 90 minutes.

A history of depression alone did not affect metabolic rate, but depression combined with a stressful situation led to a sharper increase in triglycerides after the meal. Triglycerides are a form of fat in the blood, and high levels are considered a risk for cardiovascular disease.

“With depression, we found there was an additional layer. In women who had stress the day before and a history of depression, triglycerides after the meal peaked the highest,” Kiecolt-Glaser said.

“The double whammy of past depression as well as daily stressors was a really bad combination.”

The researchers are reluctant to extend these findings to men since men tend to have more muscle than women, which affects their metabolic rates, Belury said.

Source: Ohio State University


Woman eating a hamburger photo by shutterstock.