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Updated: 1 hour 38 min ago

‘Textisms’ Can Provide Key Info Usually Found Face to Face

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 5:30am

New research finds that textisms like emoticons, irregular spellings, and exclamation points in text messages are not simply crude or sloppy methods to replace written language.

Investigators from Binghamton University, State University of New York, explain that these “textisms” help convey meaning and intent in the absence of spoken conversation.

“In contrast with face-to-face conversation, texters can’t rely on extra-linguistic cues such as tone of voice and pauses, or non-linguistic cues such as facial expressions and hand gestures,” said Professor of Psychology Dr. Celia Klin.

“In a spoken conversation, the cues aren’t simply add-ons to our words; they convey critical information. A facial expression or a rise in the pitch of our voices can entirely change the meaning of our words,” she said.

“It’s been suggested that one way that texters add meaning to their words is by using “textisms”– things like emoticons, irregular spellings (sooooo) and irregular use of punctuation (!!!).”

A 2016 study led by Klin found that text messages that end with a period are seen as less sincere than text messages that do not end with a period.

Klin pursued this subject further, conducting experiments to see if people reading texts understand textisms, asking how people’s understanding of a single-word text (e.g., yeah, nope, maybe) as a response to an invitation is influenced by the inclusion, or absence, of a period.

“In formal writing, such as what you’d find in a novel or an essay, the period is almost always used grammatically to indicate that a sentence is complete. With texts, we found that the period can also be used rhetorically to add meaning,” said Klin.

“Specifically, when one texter asked a question (e.g., I got a new dog. Wanna come over?), and it was answered with a single word (e.g., yeah), readers understood the response somewhat differently depending if it ended with a period (yeah.) or did not end with a period (yeah).

This was true if the response was positive (yeah, yup), negative (nope, nah), or more ambiguous (maybe, alright). We concluded that although periods no doubt can serve a grammatical function in texts just as they can with more formal writing — for example, when a period is at the end of a sentence — periods can also serve as textisms, changing the meaning of the text.”

Researchers are aware that text messages represent a new form of language evolving in real time. As such, this is an unique moment to observe the way in which traditional communication methods adapt to the new channel.

“What we are seeing with electronic communication is that, as with any unmet language need, new language constructions are emerging to fill the gap between what people want to express and what they are able to express with the tools they have available to them,” said Klin.

“The findings indicate that our understanding of written language varies across contexts. We read text messages in a slightly different way than we read a novel or an essay. Further, all the elements of our texts — the punctuation we choose, the way that words are spelled, a smiley face — can change the meaning.

The hope, of course, is that the meaning that is understood is the one we intended. Certainly, it’s not uncommon for those of us in the lab to take an extra second or two before we send texts. We wonder: How might this be interpreted? ‘Hmmm, period or no period? That sounds a little harsh; maybe I should soften it with a “lol” or a winky-face-tongue-out emoji.'”

With trillions of text messages sent each year, we can expect the evolution of textisms, and of the language of texting more generally, to continue at a rapid rate, wrote the researchers.

“The results of the current experiments reinforce the claim that the divergence from formal written English that is found in digital communication is neither arbitrary nor sloppy,” said Klin.

The study appears in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

Source: Binghamton University/EurekAlert

New Insights on How Sleep Enhances Memory

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 7:45am

New research expands knowledge of how sleep enhances memory as investigators discover sleep helps us to use our memory in the most flexible and adaptable manner possible.

Researchers at the University of York explain that sleep strengthens old and new versions of the same memory to the same extent, thereby improving memory efficiency.

The scientists also discovered that when a memory is retrieved — when we remember something — it is updated with new information present at the time of remembering.

The brain appears not to “overwrite“ the old version of the memory, but instead generates and stores multiple (new and old) versions of the same experience. Therefore, sleep helps us keep the “saved” version of a memory and also allows retention of a “save as” rendition.

Interestingly, the storage of multiple versions of the same memory can cause similar problems as to what occurs when we save multiple versions of a file on a computer and cannot accurately recall the difference between the files.

The results of the research, carried out at York’s Sleep, Language and Memory (SLAM) Laboratory, appear in the journal Cortex.

Lead researcher Dr. Scott Cairney of York’s Department of Psychology said, “Previous studies have shown sleep’s importance for memory. Our research takes this a step further by demonstrating that sleep strengthens both old and new versions of an experience, helping us to use our memories adaptively.

“In this way, sleep is allowing us to use our memory in the most efficient way possible, enabling us to update our knowledge of the world and to adapt our memories for future experiences.”

In the study, two groups of subjects learned the location of words on a computer screen. In a test phase, participants were presented with each of the words in the centre of the screen and had to indicate where they thought they belonged.

One group then slept for 90 minutes while a second group remained awake before each group repeated the test. In both groups, the location recalled at the second test was closer to that recalled at the first test than to the originally-learned location, indicating that memory updating had taken place and new memory traces had been formed.

However, when comparing the sleep and wake groups directly, the locations recalled by the sleep group were closer in distance to both the updated location (i.e. previously retrieved) and the original location, suggesting that sleep had strengthened both the new and old version of the memory.

Corresponding author Professor Gareth Gaskell believes the study reveals that sleep has a protective effect on memory and facilitates the adaptive updating of memories.

“For the sleep group, we found that sleep strengthened both their memory of the original location as well as the new location. In this way, we were able to demonstrate that sleep benefits all the multiple representations of the same experience in our brain.”

The researchers point out that although this process helps us by allowing our memories to adapt to changes in the world around us, it can also hinder us by incorporating incorrect information into our memory stores.

Over time, our memory will draw on both accurate and inaccurate versions of the same experience, causing distortions in how we remember previous events.

Source: University of York/EurekAlert

More Screen Time Tied to Depression, Suicidal Behavior in Teens

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 7:00am

A new study suggests that greater screen time — whether in the form of computers, cell phones, or tablets — may have contributed to a spike in depression and suicide-related behaviors and thoughts among American teens, particularly girls, between 2010 and 2015.

The study, led by a researcher at San Diego State University (SDSU), sheds new light on the need for parents to monitor how much time their children are spending in front of media screens.

“These increases in mental health issues among teens are very alarming,” said study leader Dr. Jean Twenge, professor of psychology. “Teens are telling us they are struggling, and we need to take that very seriously.”

Twenge, along with SDSU graduate student Gabrielle Martin and colleagues Drs. Thomas Joiner and Megan Rogers at Florida State University, analyzed questionnaire data from more than 500,000 U.S. teens from two anonymous, nationally representative surveys that have been conducted since 1991. They also studied suicide statistics kept by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The findings show that the suicide rate for girls aged 13-18 increased by 65 percent between 2010 and 2015, and the number of girls experiencing suicide-related outcomes — feeling hopeless, thinking about suicide, planning for suicide, or attempting suicide — increased by 12 percent. The number of female teens reporting symptoms of severe depression increased by 58 percent.

“When I first saw these sudden increases in mental health issues, I wasn’t sure what was causing them,” said Twenge. “But these same surveys ask teens how they spend their leisure time, and between 2010 and 2015, teens increasingly spent more time with screens and less time on other activities. That was by far the largest change in their lives during this five-year period, and it’s not a good formula for mental health.”

The team looked back at the data to see if there was a statistical relationship between screen-time and depressive symptoms and suicide-related outcomes.

They discovered that 48 percent of teens who spent five or more hours per day on electronic devices reported at least one suicide-related outcome, compared to only 28 percent of those who spent less than an hour a day on devices. Depressive symptoms were more common in teens who spent a lot of time on their devices as well.

The findings add to previous evidence showing that spending more time on social media is linked to unhappiness.

In contrast, the results show that spending time away from these devices and engaging in in-person social interaction, sports and exercise, doing homework, attending religious services, etc., is associated with fewer depressive symptoms and suicide-related outcomes.

Although economic struggles are often thought to be linked to depression and suicide, the U.S. economy was improving between 2010 and 2015, so it is unlikely to be the primary driver of these increases, Twenge noted.

“Although we can’t say for sure that the growing use of smartphones caused the increase in mental health issues, that was by far the biggest change in teens’ lives between 2010 and 2015,” she said.

The study findings are published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

Source: San Diego State University

CBT Shown to Have Lasting Benefits for Kids with OCD

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 6:15am

In the largest research study of its kind to date, researchers have determined cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) provides lasting benefits for children with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

OCD is an extremely stressful psychiatric disorder that affects between 0.25 and four percent of all children. OCD can cause kids to have unwanted thoughts, feelings, and fears. These obsessions can make a child feel anxious and may lead to compulsive behaviors or rituals.

Fortunately, new research shows that cognitive behavioral therapy provides long-term benefits for children and adolescents aged seven to 17.

In the study, coined the “Nordic research project,” investigators from Aarhus University and child and adolescent psychiatry clinics in Norway and Sweden, found that children and adolescents who benefited from the therapy were also free of patterns of compulsive behavior and compulsive thoughts one year after the treatment ended.

“The study makes clear that cognitive behavioral therapy reaches beyond the treatment period. This knowledge is important, both for the practitioners, but not least for the affected children and their families,” said Dr. Per Hove Thomsen, one of the researchers behind the study and professor at Aarhus University.

“OCD is a very difficult disorder which demands a colossal amount of the child in question. It is almost impossible to live a normal life as a child and teenager with a normal level of development, if you need to wash your hands a hundred times a day in a particular way in order not to be killed, which is something that compulsive thinking can dictate.

For the same reason, early intervention is necessary before the disorder has disabling consequences in adulthood,” explains Thomsen.

The children from the study with OCD were treated with a cognitive behavioral psychological approach. Therapists helped individuals learn to refrain from acting on compulsive thoughts and instead incorporate new thought patterns.

CBT intervention also involves the whole family, as the effect is strengthened by the mother and father supporting the methods that the child is given to overcome the OCD.

Lead author David R.M.A Højgaard, Ph.D., said the treatment approach includes close observation of the child or teenager after the initial therapy is completed.

“The results of the study indicate that to maintain the effect in the longer term you need to remain aware and detect OCD symptoms so you can nip them in the bud before they develop and become worse. This is done by offering booster sessions to refresh the treatment principles and thereby prevent OCD from getting a foothold again,” said Højgaard.

Researchers believe the study design which analyzed care in child and adolescent psychiatry clinics shows that care can be provided in a variety of settings.

“The biggest challenge facing OCD treatment is that there are not enough specially trained therapists and treatment facilities to meet needs. The study shows that if the level of training of therapists is consolidated and if supervision is provided, then it is possible to provide treatment in an isolated corner of Norway that is just as effective as the treatment provided at a university clinic,” Thomsen said.

The study is part of The Nordic Long Term OCD Treatment Study (NordLOTS) and comprises 269 children and adolescents with OCD from Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

The results showed that 92 percent of the 177 children and teenagers who immediately benefited from the treatment were still healthy and free of symptoms one year after the treatment ended. Of these, 78 percent had no clinical symptoms of OCD.

The study appears in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Source: Aarhus University

Cognitive Training Can Aid Older Adults in Innovative Thinking

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 5:45am

A new pilot study suggests cognitive training improves innovative thinking, along with corresponding positive brain changes, in healthy adults over the age of 55.

Researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas say the new study suggests a specific strategic cognitive training program can enhance innovation in healthy adults.

In this program, brain performance was measured by an individual’s ability to synthesize complex information and generate a multitude of high-level interpretations.

“Middle-age to older adults should feel empowered that, in many circumstances, they can reverse decline and improve innovative thinking,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, Center for BrainHealth founder and chief director and lead author of the study.

“Innovative cognition — the kind of thinking that reinforces and preserves complex decision-making, intellect, and psychological well-being — does not need to decline with age. This study reveals that cognitive training may help enhance cognitive capacities and build resilience against decline in healthy older adults.”

The SMART program (for Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training) was developed at the Center for BrainHealth. It focuses on learning strategies that foster attention, reasoning, and broad-based perspective-taking.

In the study, Center for BrainHealth researchers conducted a randomized pilot trial and compared the effect of SMART to aerobic exercise training (known to be good for brain health) and control subjects on innovative cognition.

The SMART program was conducted one hour per week for 12 weeks with two hours of homework each week. The 58 participants were assessed at baseline, mid- and post-training using innovative cognition measures and functional MRI, a brain scanning technology that reveals brain activity.

“In addition to evaluating the effects of the cognitive training, this study also provided an opportunity to test a reliable assessment tool to measure innovative cognition, which has been relatively neglected due to the complexity of quantifying innovative thinking,” Chapman said.

The 19 participants in the cognitive reasoning training group (SMART) showed significant gains pre- to post-training in high-quality innovation performance They improved their performance by an average of 27 percent from baseline to mid- and post-training periods on innovative cognition measures.

The physical exercise and control groups did not show improvement. These positive gains in the reasoning training group corresponded to increased connectivity among brain cells in the central executive network of the brain, an area responsible for innovative thinking.

“Advances in the field of MRI are allowing us to measure different aspects of brain function,” said Dr. Sina Aslan, an imaging specialist at the Center for BrainHealth.

“Through this research, we are able to see that higher activity in the central executive network corresponded to improved innovation. These findings suggest that staying mentally active not only mitigates cognitive decline, but also has the potential to restore creative thinking, which is typically lost with aging.”

While further research is needed to establish how to ensure the benefit persists, Chapman is encouraged by the results.

“Reasoning training offers a promising cost-effective intervention to enhance innovative cognition, one of the most valued capacities and fruitful outputs of the human mind at any age.”

The study appears in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

Source: Center for BrainHealth

Aerobic Exercise Can Help Preserve Brain Area Key to Memory

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 7:00am

New research finds that aerobic exercise, including stationary cycling, walking, and treadmill running can offset shrinkage of a critical brain region thereby improving memory function and maintaining brain health as we age.

In a first of a kind study, researchers from Australia’s National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) and the Division of Psychology and Mental Health at the University of Manchester in the U.K. found evidence in humans that exercise helps to maintain the hippocampus, a structure critical for memory and other brain functions.

Studies in mice and rats have consistently shown that physical exercise increases the size of the hippocampus but until now evidence in humans has been inconsistent.

Normally, brain health decreases with age, with the average brain shrinking by approximately five percent per decade after the age of 40.

For the study, the researchers systematically reviewed 14 clinical trials which examined the brain scans of 737 people before and after aerobic exercise programs or in control conditions.

The participants included a mix of healthy adults, people with mild cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s, and people with a clinical diagnosis of mental illness including depression and schizophrenia. Ages ranged from 24 to 76 years with an average age of 66.

The researchers examined effects of aerobic exercise, including stationary cycling, walking, and treadmill running. The length of the interventions ranged from three to 24 months with a range of two to five sessions per week.

Overall, the results showed that, while exercise had no effect on total hippocampal volume, it did significantly increase the size of the left region of the hippocampus in humans.

Lead author Dr. Joseph Firth, an NICM postdoctoral research fellow, said the study provides some of the most definitive evidence to date on the benefits of exercise for brain health.

“When you exercise you produce a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which may help to prevent age-related decline by reducing the deterioration of the brain,” Firth said.

“Our data showed that, rather than actually increasing the size of the hippocampus per se, the main ‘brain benefits’ are due to aerobic exercise slowing down the deterioration in brain size. In other words, exercise can be seen as a maintenance program for the brain.”

Firth says that along with improving regular healthy aging, the results have implications for the prevention of aging-related neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia but further research is needed to establish this.

Interestingly, physical exercise is one of the very few “proven” methods for maintaining brain size and functioning into older age.

The study appears in the journal NeuroImage,

Source: NICM, Western Sydney University

Study Uses Twitter Data to Better Grasp ADHD

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 6:15am

Emerging research suggests Twitter data may help scientists develop more effective treatments for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Investigators from the University of Pennsylvania explain that postings on Twitter provide a unique assessment of what life is like for someone with ADHD.

“On social media, where you can post your mental state freely, you get a lot of insight into what these people are going through, which might be rare in a clinical setting,” said Dr. Sharath Chandra Guntuku, a postdoctoral researcher working with the World Well-Being Project in the School of Arts and Sciences and the Penn Medicine Center for Digital Health.

“In brief 30- or 60-minute sessions with patients, clinicians might not get all manifestations of the condition, but on social media you have the full spectrum.”

Guntuku and Dr. Lyle Ungar, a professor of computer and information science turned to Twitter to try to understand what people with ADHD spend their time talking about.

The researchers collected 1.3 million publicly available tweets posted by almost 1,400 users who had self-reported diagnoses of ADHD, plus an equivalent control set that matched the original group in age, gender, and duration of overall social-media activity. They then ran models looking at factors like personality and posting frequency.

“Some of the findings are in line with what’s already known in the ADHD literature,” Guntuku said.

For example, social-media posters in the experimental group often talked about using marijuana for medicinal purposes. “Our coauthor, Russell Ramsay, who treats people with ADHD, said this is something he’s observed in conversations with patients,” Guntuku added.

The researchers also found that people with ADHD tended to post messages related to lack of focus, self-regulation, intention, and failure, as well as expressions of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. They often used words like “hate,” “disappointed,” “cry,” and “sad” more frequently than the control group and often posted during hours of the day when the majority of people sleep, from midnight to 6:00 a.m.

“People with ADHD are experiencing more mood swings and more negativity,” Ungar said. “They tend to have problems self-regulating.”

This could partially explain why they enjoy social media’s quick feedback loop, he said. A well-timed or intriguing tweet could yield a positive response within minutes, propelling continued use of the online outlet.

Using information gleaned from this study, which appears in the Journal of Attention Disorders, Ungar and Guntuku said they plan to build condition-specific apps that offer insight into several conditions, including ADHD, stress, anxiety, depression, and opioid addiction.

They aim to factor in facets of individuals, their personality, or how severe their ADHD is, for instance, as well as what triggers particular symptoms.

The applications will also include mini-interventions. A recommendation for someone who can’t sleep might be to turn off the phone an hour before going to bed. If anxiety or stress is the major factor, the app might suggest an easy exercise like taking a deep breath, then counting to 10 and back to zero.

“If you’re prone to certain problems, certain things set you off; the idea is to help set you back on track,” Ungar said.

Investigators warn, however, that the study has limitations. Indeed, better understanding ADHD has the potential to help clinicians treat such patients more successfully, but having this information also has a downside: It can reveal aspects of a person’s personality unintentionally, simply by analyzing words posted on Twitter.

The researchers also acknowledge that the 50-50 split of ADHD to non-ADHD study participants isn’t true to life; only about eight percent of adults in the U.S. have the disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In addition, people in this study self-reported an ADHD diagnosis rather than having such a determination come from a physician interaction or medical record.

Despite these limitations, the researchers say the work has strong potential to help clinicians understand the varying manifestations of ADHD, and it could be used as a complementary feedback tool to give ADHD sufferers personal insights.

“The facets of better-studied conditions like depression are pretty well understood,” Ungar said. “ADHD is less well studied. Understanding the components that some people have or don’t have, the range of coping mechanisms that people use — that all leads to a better understanding of the condition.”

Source: University of Pennsylvania

Many Project Their Feelings About Stress Onto Others

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 5:30am

A new study finds that we tend to project our own experiences with stress onto other people, which can sometimes result in miscommunication and missed opportunities. For example, a person who thrives on high levels of stress may not understand why another person is so burned out.

“Your stress mindset will affect your judgement of other people’s stress responses,” said researcher Nili Ben-Avi from Tel Aviv University’s (TAU) Coller School of Management. “But we have shown that even if stress affects you positively, it can distort the way you see your colleagues, your employees, your spouses, even your own children. We should be very careful about assessing other people’s stress levels.”

Lead researcher Professor Sharon Toker at TAU Coller School of Management says that it comes down to whether we see stress as a positive or a negative.

The study specifically looked at whether a person’s individual mindset regarding stress can color the way he or she will perceive a colleague or employee’s health, work productivity, and degree of burnout.

“This research informs the way managers assess their employees’ ability to take on different workloads,” said Toker.

“If a manager perceives that a certain employee doesn’t suffer from stress, that manager will be more likely to consider the employee worthy of promotion. But because the manager believes that stress is a positive quality that leads to self-sufficiency, the manager will also be less likely to offer assistance if the employee needs it.”

The findings can have implications at home as well. “It may also inform our relationships with our spouses or with our children. For example, a typical ‘tiger mom’ is sure that stress is a good thing. She may simply not see how burned out her child may be,” Toker said.

For the study, the researchers recruited 377 American employees for an online “stress-at-work” questionnaire. Participants were asked to read a description of “Ben,” a fictitious employee who works long hours, has a managerial position, and needs to multitask. The employees then rated his burnout levels and completed a stress mindset questionnaire about Ben.

“The more participants saw stress as positive and enhancing, the more they perceived Ben as experiencing less burnout and consequently rated him as more worthy of being promoted,” said Toker.

The researchers also investigated whether or not they could manipulate the participants’ perceptions of stress and consequently change how they perceive other people’s stress. They conducted a series of further experiments among 600 employed Israelis and Americans to determine whether their stress mindset could be cultivated or changed.

The participants were randomly assigned to either an “enhancing” or “debilitating” stress mindset group of 120-350 people. Using a technique called “priming” — prompting participants to think of the word “stress” in either positive or negative terms — the researchers asked the participants to write about past stress experiences in either a “positive/enhancing” or “negative/debilitating” way.

Next, participants read a description of Ben’s workload and had to assess Ben’s burnout, rate of productivity, and psychosomatic symptoms. Participants were also asked whether Ben should be promoted and whether they would be willing to help him with his workload.

Study participants primed to have a positive/enhancing stress mindset rated Ben as suffering less from stress-related symptoms and were consequently more likely to recommend Ben for promotion. They were also less likely to offer him help. But those primed to feel as though stress was debilitating/negative felt that Ben was more burned out and consequently less fit to be promoted.

The study findings are published online in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Source: American Friends of Tel Aviv University

Smell Loss Before Alzheimer’s Used to Direct Therapy

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 7:45am

A new study suggests an individual’s impaired sense of smell can be used to determine if they will respond to a specific type of medication to treat Alzheimer’s disease before it ever develops.

Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) explain that having an impaired sense of smell is recognized as one of the early signs of cognitive decline before the clinical onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

In the study, investigators discovered a way to use the loss of smell to determine if patients with mild cognitive impairment may respond to cholinesterase inhibitor drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

Impaired cholinergic function contributes to Alzheimer’s disease (AD), affecting cognition, behavior and activities of daily living. The reduced production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine impairs both memory and learning, two important components of AD.

Investigators discovered mediations, such as donepezil, can enhance cholinergic function by increasing the transmission of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain.

However, they have not been proven effective as a treatment for individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition that markedly increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The findings appear online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

“We know that cholinesterase inhibitors can make a difference for Alzheimer’s patients, so we wanted to find out if we could identify patients at risk for Alzheimer’s who might also benefit from this treatment,” said D.P. Devanand, M.B.B.S., M.D.

“Since odor identification tests have been shown to predict progression to Alzheimer’s, we hypothesized that these tests would also allow us to discover which patients with MCI would be more likely to improve with donepezil treatment.”

In this year-long study, 37 participants with MCI underwent odor identification testing with the University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test (UPSIT). The test was administered before and after using an atropine nasal spray that blocks cholinergic transmission.

The patients were then treated with donepezil for 52 weeks, and were periodically reevaluated with the UPSIT and with memory and cognitive function tests.

Those who had a greater decline in UPSIT scores, indicating greater cholinergic deficits in the brain, after using the anticholinergic nasal spray test saw greater cognitive improvement with donepezil.

In addition, short-term improvement in odor identification from baseline to eight weeks tended to predict longer-term cognitive improvement with donepezil treatment over one year.

“These results, particularly if replicated in larger populations, suggest that these simple inexpensive strategies have the potential to improve the selection of patients with mild cognitive impairment who are likely to benefit from treatment with cholinesterase inhibitors like donepezil,” said Devanand.

Source: Columbia University

Teen Insomnia Linked to Alcohol Use

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 7:00am

Emerging research finds that insomnia is linked to alcohol use among early adolescents.

Investigators at Rutgers University-Camden examined the associations between alcohol use and four sleep-related issues. Conditions reviewed included, initial insomnia; daytime sleepiness; sleep irregularity, defined as the difference in weekday and weekend bedtimes; and disturbed sleep, characterized as nightmares, snoring, sleepwalking, wetting the bed, and talking in sleep.

“Parents, educators, and therapists should consider insomnia to be a risk marker for alcohol use, and alcohol use a risk marker for insomnia, among early adolescents,” said researcher Dr. Naomi Marmorstein, a professor of psychology.

The study appears in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

When sleep problems were found to be associated with frequency of alcohol use, she examined whether symptoms of mental health problems or levels of parental monitoring accounted for these associations.

The research focused on seventh- and eighth-grade students participating in the Camden Youth Development Study, an initiative funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health. The study examines the development of mental health problems and resilience among at-risk youth.

Youth completed questionnaires in the classroom that asked several specific questions. Teens were asked how long it took for them to fall asleep, what times they usually went to bed on a weekday and on the weekend or vacation night, how often they experienced sleep disturbances, and whether they ever fell asleep in class or had trouble staying awake after school.

They were also asked the frequency of any alcohol use in the previous four months. In addition, students answered questions which were used to assess depressive symptoms, as well as evidence of conduct disorder symptoms.

Teachers also completed questionnaires, which were analyzed to determine the presence of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms.

Overall, there were associations between alcohol and both insomnia and daytime sleepiness. Importantly, Marmorstein determined that symptoms of mental health problems and parental monitoring did not account for the link between insomnia and alcohol use.

“These findings indicate that insomnia may be a unique risk marker for alcohol use among young adolescents,” she said.

Marmorstein notes that the findings are consistent with associations found between insomnia and alcohol among older adolescents and adults.

Source: Rutgers University-Camden

Pre-K Math Play at Home Tied to Stronger Vocabulary

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 6:15am

Parents who engage their preschoolers in math activities at home may be helping to improve not only their child’s math skills, but also their general vocabulary — perhaps with even greater results than reading books alone, according to a new study at Purdue University.

The findings are published online in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

“Exposure to basic numbers and math concepts at home were predictive, even more so than storybook reading or other literacy-rich interactions, of improving preschool children’s general vocabulary,” said Amy Napoli, a doctoral student in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies who led the study.

“And one of the reasons we think this could be is the dialogue that happens when parents are teaching their children about math and asking questions about values and comparisons, which helps these young children improve their oral language skills.”

There are several ways parents can encourage math learning at home, such as talking about counting, connecting numbers to quantities, and comparing values, such as discussing more and less. It also helps to focus on counting as purposeful, such as “there are three cookies for a snack” rather than “there are cookies for a snack.”

“This focus on math typically isn’t happening at home, but this shows that when parents do include math concepts it can make a difference,” said Napoli, who is working on tools to help parents improve math-related instruction at home.

“When working with families, there is a math-related anxiety aspect and that is probably why more parents focus on literacy than on math. But, if you can count, then you can teach something to your child.”

For the study, researchers evaluated 116 preschool children aged three to five years old. The research team assessed the children’s math and language skills in the fall and spring of the preschool year and also took into account what their parents had reported about math and literacy activities at home. The families’ engagement in math predicted children’s improvement over time.

The researchers warn that these findings only show correlation and that future experimental work is needed to evaluate the causal nature of these findings. This research is ongoing work supported by Purdue’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies.

“It’s never too early to talk about numbers and quantities. One of the first words young children learn is ‘more,'” said Dr. David Purpura, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, and senior author of the study.

Source: Purdue University

Financial & Work Stress May Hike Heart Attack Risk

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 5:30am

A new international study discovers psychosocial factors, including work and financial stress, significantly increase the risk of having a heart attack or myocardial infarction. Currently, few doctors ask about stress, depression, or anxiety during an annual examination.

Researchers believe inquires on stress, and suggestions on where to obtain information to improve coping skills and enhance resiliency, should become standard practice, just as current standards have physicians asking about smoking.

The INTERHEART study, presented at the 18th Annual Congress of the South African Heart Association, discovered the odds of myocardial infarction was 5.6 times higher in patients with moderate or severe work stress compared to those with minimal or no stress.

Individuals with significant financial stress had a 13-fold higher odds of having a myocardial infarction.

“The role of psychosocial factors in causing disease is a neglected area of study,” said lead author Dr. Denishan Govender, associate lecturer, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

“The study showed that psychosocial factors are independently associated with acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) in Africa but as far as we are aware there are no other published local data,” said co-author Professor Pravin Manga, professor of cardiology, University of the Witwatersrand.

In other words, stress, even in the absence other cardiovascular conditions such as high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol, can significantly increases the risk of a heart attack.

This study included 106 patients with acute myocardial infarction who presented to a large public hospital in Johannesburg. A control group of 106 patients without cardiac disease was matched for age, sex, and race.

All participants completed a questionnaire about depression, anxiety, stress, work stress, and financial stress in the previous month. A Likert scale was used to grade the experience of each condition.

Investigators assigned four resiliency profiles to classify how well a person was coping with financial stress:

  • individuals were assessed as having no financial stress if they were coping financially;
  • mild financial stress if they were coping financially but needed added support;
  • moderate financial stress if they had an income but were in financial distress;
  • significant financial stress if they had no income and at times struggled to meet basic needs.

Levels of psychosocial conditions were compared between groups and used to calculate associations with having a heart attack.

Self-reported stress levels were common, with 96 percent of heart attack patients reporting any level of stress, and 40 percent reporting severe stress levels.

There was a three-fold increased risk of myocardial infarction if a patient had experienced any level of depression (from mild to extremely severe) in the previous month compared to those with no depression.

Govender said, “Our study suggests that psychosocial aspects are important risk factors for acute myocardial infarction. Often patients are counselled about stress after a heart attack but there needs to be more emphasis prior to an event.

“Few doctors ask about stress, depression, or anxiety during a general physical and this should become routine practice, like asking about smoking. Just as we provide advice on how to quit smoking, patients need information on how to fight stress.”

Source: European Society of Cardiology

Obese, Anorexic Women Show Low Levels of ‘Feel Good’ Neurosteroid

Sun, 11/12/2017 - 8:45am

Women who struggle with anorexia nervosa or obesity exhibit low levels of a neuroactive steroid known as allopregnanolone, a metabolite of the hormone progesterone, according to a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Previous studies have linked low levels of allopregnanolone (allo) to depression and anxiety, which are common mood symptoms in both anorexia and obesity. Low levels of allo have also been found in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But until now, the chemical and its impact on mood has not been measured in anorexic or obese women.

Allo binds to receptors and enhances the signal of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), generally producing a positive mood and feelings of well-being. More than 50 percent of women with anorexia nervosa have depression or anxiety, and 43 percent of adults who are obese have depression.

“Depression is an incredibly prevalent problem, especially in women, and also particularly at the extremes of the weight spectrum,” said study leader Dr. Karen Miller, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

“The hope is that a greater understanding of mechanisms contributing to these disorders —including abnormalities in the regulation of hormones and their neuroactive metabolites — may lead to new targeted therapies in the future.”

The study involved 12 women with anorexia nervosa with amenorrhea (not having menstrual periods) whose body mass indices were less than 18.5; 12 normal-weight women with BMIs between 19 and 24; and 12 obese women with BMIs at 25 or higher.

None of the women had received a diagnosis of depression or had ever taken antidepressants. The average age of the participants was 26 years old.

Participants gave blood samples and completed questionnaires to measure levels of depression and anxiety. The lab used gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to pick up extremely small levels of sex hormones and metabolites in the participants’ blood serum, saliva and brain tissue.

The researchers found that in women with anorexia nervosa and in obese women, blood levels of allo were 50 percent lower than they were in women with normal BMIs. Women who were clinically obese had allo levels approximately 60 percent lower than normal-weight women.

In addition, levels of allo in all participants correlated with the severity of their depression and anxiety symptoms as measured by the questionnaires. Participants with lower levels of allo had greater severity of depression symptoms.

“We are beginning to see more and more evidence that low allo levels are tightly linked to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mood disorders,” said Dr. Graziano Pinna, associate professor of psychiatry in the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) College of Medicine and an author on the paper.

“To see that women with anorexia nervosa and obesity have low levels adds to the picture that the role of allo is under-recognized in mood disorders.”

The researchers also found that progesterone levels were similarly low across all groups. This suggests that the low allo levels may have been caused by improper functioning of enzymes responsible for the metabolism of progesterone into allo.

“Women with anorexia nervosa had low progesterone because they were amenorrheic, and the other two groups also had low progesterone levels because their blood was taken in the follicular phase when progesterone is naturally low,” said Pinna.

“That we found that obese women had lower allo levels than normal weight participants adds to growing evidence that this steroid is involved in depression and anxiety regardless of how much progesterone is available to begin with.”

Pinna believes that the enzymes that convert progesterone into allo may not be working properly, causing decreases in allo that lead to mood disorders.

“Drugs that increase the efficacy of these enzymes may be useful in helping to boost allo levels,” he said. “But more research is needed to figure out exactly the deficit in the metabolism of progesterone into allo so that precision medicines using allo as a biomarker can be developed.”

Source: University of Illinois at Chicago

Patients with Gulf War Illness, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Show Distinct Molecular Changes After Exercise

Sun, 11/12/2017 - 8:00am

A new study reveals distinct molecular mechanisms underlying two long-misunderstood brain disorders: chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and Gulf War Illness (GWI). These two illnesses, which were long thought to be psychological in nature, share significant commonalities such as pain, fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, and exhaustion after exercise.

The new study by researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) draws on previous findings from the team regarding two GWI subtypes. Their study lays the groundwork needed to understand these disorders in order to diagnosis and treat them effectively.

The changes in brain chemistry were observed in levels of microRNA (miRNA) — small non-coding RNA molecules that turn protein production on or off — 24 hours after riding a stationary bike for 25 minutes.

“We clearly see three different patterns in the brain’s production of these molecules in the CFS group and the two GWI phenotypes,” said senior investigator James N. Baraniuk, M.D., professor of medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine.

“This news will be well received by patients who suffer from these disorders who are misdiagnosed and instead may be treated for depression or other mental disorders.”

Baraniuk worked on the study with Narayan Shivapurkar, Ph.D., assistant professor of oncology at the medical school.

Chronic fatigue syndrome affects between 836,000 and 2.5 million Americans, according to a National Academy of Medicine report. The condition was believed by some to be psychosomatic until a 2015 review of 9,000 articles over 64 years of research pointed to unspecified biological causes. Still, no definitive diagnosis or treatment is available.

Many Gulf War veterans were exposed to a combination of nerve agents, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals that may have triggered the chronic pain, cognitive, gastrointestinal, and other problems, Baraniuk says. The illness occurs in more than one-fourth of the 697,000 veterans deployed to the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War, according to earlier work by the research team.

Although the mechanisms behind GWI remain unknown, the new findings provide significant insights into brain chemistry that can now be investigated.

For the study, the researchers focused on spinal fluid of CFS, GWI and control subjects who agreed to have a lumbar puncture. Before exercising, miRNA levels were the same across all participants; however, after exercising, significant differences were found.

The CFS, control and two subtypes of GWI groups had distinct patterns of change. For example, CFS patients who exercised had reduced levels of 12 different mRNAs, compared to those who did not exercise.

In addition to the exercise-related miRNA changes in the two GWI subtypes, one subgroup also developed jumps in heart rate of over 30 beats when standing up that lasted for two to three days after exercise. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed that these patients had smaller brainstems in regions that control heart rate and which did not activate their brains while doing a cognitive task.

In contrast, the other GWI subgroup did not show any heart rate or brainstem changes, but their brains needed to recruit additional regions to complete a memory test. The two groups were as different from each other as they were from the control group.

Finding two distinct pathophysiological miRNA brain patterns in patients reporting Gulf War disease “adds another layer of evidence to support neuropathology in the two different manifestations of Gulf War disease,” says Baraniuk.

He adds that miRNA levels in these disorders were different from the ones that are altered in depression, fibromyalgia, and Alzheimer’s disease, further suggesting CFS and GWI are distinct diseases.

The new findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Source: Georgetown University Medical Center

Higher Brain Glucose Levels Linked to More Severe Alzheimer’s

Sun, 11/12/2017 - 7:30am

A new study has found a connection between abnormalities in how the brain breaks down glucose and the severity of the signature amyloid plaques and tangles in the brain, as well as the onset of eventual outward symptoms, of Alzheimer’s disease.

Led by Madhav Thambisetty, M.D., Ph.D., of the National Institute on Aging’s Laboratory of Behavioral Neuroscience, researchers looked at brain tissue samples at autopsy from participants in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA), one of the world’s longest-running scientific studies of human aging. The BLSA tracks neurological, physical, and psychological data on participants over several decades.

The scientists analyzed three groups of BLSA participants: Those with Alzheimer’s symptoms during life and with confirmed Alzheimer’s disease (beta-amyloid protein plaques and neurofibrillary tangles) in the brain at death; healthy controls; and individuals without symptoms during life but with significant levels of Alzheimer’s pathology found in the brain post-mortem.

Researchers measured glucose levels in different brain regions. Some are vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease, such as the frontal and temporal cortex, while others are resistant, like the cerebellum.

They discovered distinct abnormalities in glycolysis, the main process by which the brain breaks down glucose, with evidence linking the severity of the abnormalities to the severity of Alzheimer’s.

Lower rates of glycolysis and higher brain glucose levels correlated to more severe plaques and tangles. More severe reductions in brain glycolysis were also related to the expression of symptoms of Alzheimer’s during life, such as problems with memory.

“For some time, researchers have thought about the possible links between how the brain processes glucose and Alzheimer’s,” said NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. “Research such as this involves new thinking about how to investigate these connections in the intensifying search for better and more effective ways to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s disease.”

While similarities between diabetes and Alzheimer’s have long been suspected, they have been difficult to evaluate, since insulin is not needed for glucose to enter the brain or to get into neurons.

The team tracked the brain’s usage of glucose by measuring ratios of the amino acids serine, glycine, and alanine to glucose, allowing them to assess rates of the key steps of glycolysis.

They found that the activities of enzymes controlling these key glycolysis steps were lower in Alzheimer’s cases compared to normal brain tissue. Furthermore, lower enzyme activity was associated with more severe Alzheimer’s pathology in the brain and the development of symptoms.

Next, they used proteomics — the large-scale measurement of cellular proteins — to tally levels of GLUT3, a glucose transporter protein, in neurons. They found that GLUT3 levels were lower in brains with Alzheimer’s compared to normal brains, and that these levels were also connected to the severity of tangles and plaques.

Finally, the team checked blood glucose levels in study participants years before they died, finding that greater increases in blood glucose levels correlated with greater brain glucose levels at death.

“These findings point to a novel mechanism that could be targeted in the development of new treatments to help the brain overcome glycolysis defects in Alzheimer’s disease,” said Thambisetty.

The researchers cautioned that it is not yet completely clear whether abnormalities in brain glucose metabolism are definitively linked to the severity of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms or the speed of disease progression.

The next steps for the researcher include studying abnormalities in other metabolic pathways linked to glycolysis to determine how they may relate to Alzheimer’s pathology in the brain.

The study was supported by the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, and was published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Source: National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Aging

Sleep Apnea in Elderly May Boost Risk of Alzheimer’s

Sun, 11/12/2017 - 6:30am

New research shows that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may put elderly people at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

In the study, published in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, researchers report that biomarkers for amyloid beta, the plaque-building peptides associated with Alzheimer’s disease, increase over time in elderly adults with OSA in proportion to OSA severity.

That means individuals with more apneas per hour had greater accumulation of brain amyloid over time, the researchers explain.

Alzheimer’s afflicts about five million older Americans. OSA is more common, afflicting between 30 to 80 percent of the elderly, depending on how OSA is defined, according to the researchers.

“Several studies have suggested that sleep disturbances might contribute to amyloid deposits and accelerate cognitive decline in those at risk for AD,” said Ricardo S. Osorio, M.D., senior study author and assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine. “However, so far it has been challenging to verify causality for these associations because OSA and AD share risk factors and commonly coexist.”

The study included 208 participants, between the ages of 55 and 90, with normal cognition as measured by standardized tests and clinical evaluations. None of the participants was referred by a sleep center, used continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to treat sleep apnea, was depressed, or had a medical condition that might affect their brain function

The researchers performed lumbar punctures to obtain participants’ cerebrospinal fluid to measure soluble amyloid beta levels, then used positron emission tomography, or PET, to measure amyloid beta deposits directly in the brain in a subset of participants.

The study found that more than half the participants had OSA, including 36.5 percent with mild OSA and 16.8 percent with moderate to severe OSA.

From the total study sample, 104 participated in a two-year longitudinal study that found a correlation between the severity of OSA and an increase in amyloid deposits in the brain. That finding was confirmed in the subset of participants who underwent amyloid PET, which showed an increase in amyloid burden in those with OSA, according to the researchers.

Surprisingly, the study did not find that OSA severity predicted cognitive deterioration in these healthy elderly adults, the researchers noted.

According to Andrew Varga, M.D., Ph.D., study coauthor and a physician specializing in sleep medicine and neurology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, this suggests that these changes were occurring in the preclinical stages of Alzheimer’s.

“The relationship between amyloid burden and cognition is probably nonlinear and dependent on additional factors,” he said.

This finding may also be attributable to the study’s relatively short duration, highly educated participants, and the use of tests that fail to discern changes in cognitive abilities that are subtle or sleep-dependent, the researchers said.

The high prevalence of OSA the study found in these cognitively normal elderly participants and the link between OSA and amyloid burden in these very early stages of Alzheimer’s suggest the CPAP, dental appliances, positional therapy and other treatments for sleep apnea could delay cognitive impairment and dementia in many older adults, the researchers said.

“Results from this study, and the growing literature suggesting that OSA, cognitive decline, and AD are related, may mean that age tips the known consequences of OSA from sleepiness, cardiovascular and metabolic dysfunction to brain impairment,” Osorio said.

“If this is the case, then the potential benefit of developing better screening tools to diagnose OSA in the elderly who are often asymptomatic is enormous.”

Source: American Thoracic Society

Photo: Sleep apnea may increase AD risk. Credit: ATS.

Advanced Cancer Patients with Depression Live Longer With Palliative Care

Sat, 11/11/2017 - 8:45am

Patients with depression and advanced cancer tend to live longer when they receive a palliative care intervention, according to a new study published in the journal Health Psychology. Palliative care is designed to minimize stress and pain, provide comfort, and improve quality of life for those with severe illness.

The findings provide new insight on the association between depression and survival.

For the study, the researchers pulled data from two randomized controlled trials with advanced cancer patients receiving ENABLE (Educate, Nurture, Advise, Before Life Ends) intervention, a palliative care intervention designed to improve quality of life among patients diagnosed with cancer.

“Palliative care is still a relatively new specialty that has still not been fully incorporated into clinical practice, so studies like ENABLE provide important insights into the contributions that this multi-disciplinary specialty care can make to patients, family members, and the health systems that adopt this care model,” said senior author Marie Bakitas, associate director of the Center for Palliative and Supportive Care at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

The intervention involved a personal consultation followed by six weekly structured phone coaching sessions with an advanced practice nurse specializing in palliative care. Topics covered in the intervention included coping strategies, symptom management, and advanced care planning. Calls continued each month until the patient died or the study ended.

The researchers compared the effect that early intervention, delayed intervention, or no palliative care intervention (i.e. usual care) had on the survival rates as a function of the patient’s initial level of depression.

On average, higher levels of depression at the onset of the study were tied to shorter survival. This was particularly true for those with greater depression in the usual care group (none of whom received the palliative care intervention).

In contrast, the survival rate for highly depressed patients in the palliative care intervention — either the early or delayed intervention — improved significantly to the point that they were similar in survival to those with low levels of depression. The results remained true even after the researchers factored in demographics, the cancer site, and the severity of the illness.

“Although the effect of the palliative care intervention on survival is clear, the mechanism behind it is not,”  said co-lead author Dr. Jay G. Hull, the Dartmouth Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, and associate dean of faculty for the social sciences.

“One possibility is that those who are depressed are less attentive to their health, illustrating how traditional care may be insufficient to help patients overcome this deficit. Yet, a tailored intervention may succeed by motivating health-promoting behaviors, which may enable patients to live longer.”

Source: Dartmouth College

Boys May Do Better in Schools with More Girls

Sat, 11/11/2017 - 7:45am

Boys are more likely to achieve higher reading scores when they attend schools with a higher proportion of female students, according to a new study by researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

Since reading is an essential skill which can influence performance in other subject areas, the study reveals the importance of gender equality in schools.

The implication is that the greater the number of girls in the school, the more productive the learning environment. And since boys have previously been shown to be highly influenced by the school learning environment, they are therefore more likely to benefit from having more girls in the classroom.

The researchers say that traits more commonly associated with girls’ academic behavior — such as higher levels of concentration and greater motivation to perform well — may help explain their positive influence on school environment and also help clarify why girls continue to outperform boys in many educational subjects.

In addition, the findings suggest that boys may not necessarily benefit from single-sex schools and vocational education, where subjects are often heavily weighted towards a particular gender.

“Boys’ poorer reading performance really is a widespread, but unfortunately also understudied, problem. Our study shows that the issue is reinforced when boys attend schools with a predominantly male student population,” said lead author Dr. Margriet van Hek, from Utrecht University.

“Yet schools can help improve this situation by ensuring a balanced gender distribution in their student population.”

For the study, the researchers set out to investigate how school environment influences boys’ and girls’ educational performance in secondary school. They analyzed the reading test scores of more than 200,000 15-year-old students from over 8,000 mixed-gender schools around the world. They found that boys performed significantly better in schools where more than 60 percent of the pupils were girls.

The findings also suggest that single-sex and vocational schools, where subjects are often heavily weighted towards a particular gender, may not be beneficial to boys’ learning. Policymakers should therefore consider introducing measures which encourage more equal gender distribution in schools.

However, the researchers say that more studies are needed to establish how far the school-level discrepancies are replicated within the classroom, and whether the differences are present in other subject areas.

The findings are published in the journal School Effectiveness and School Improvement.

Source: Taylor & Francis Group

Psychedelic Drug Tied to Improved Sense of Well-Being

Sat, 11/11/2017 - 7:00am

A psychedelic drug traditionally used in South America — and finding a foothold in some parts of the U.S. — improves people’s general sense of well-being and may offer a treatment for alcoholism and depression, according to a new study.

Ayahuasca, a psychedelic brew often used in the Amazon region, contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT), an illegal drug in the U.K. and the U.S.

A blend of the Psychotria vridis bush and the stems of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, ayahuasca is used by indigenous tribes and religious groups in the Amazon region, as well as many visitors.

Some research has shown that psychedelic drugs, such as LSD and magic mushrooms, can help alcoholics tackle their addiction.

Using Global Drug Survey data from more than 96,000 people worldwide, researchers from the University of Exeter and University College London found that ayahuasca users reported lower problematic alcohol use than people who took LSD or magic mushrooms.

Ayahuasca users also reported higher general well-being over the previous 12 months than other respondents in the survey.

“These findings lend some support to the notion that ayahuasca could be an important and powerful tool in treating depression and alcohol use disorders,” said lead author Dr. Will Lawn of University College London. “Recent research has demonstrated ayahuasca’s potential as a psychiatric medicine, and our current study provides further evidence that it may be a safe and promising treatment.”

However, he said, it is important to note that these data are purely observational and do not demonstrate causality.

“Moreover, ayahuasca users in this survey still had an average drinking level which would be considered hazardous,” he continued. “Therefore, randomized controlled trials must be carried out to fully examine ayahuasca’s ability to help treat mood and addiction disorders.”

He added the new study is notable because it is the largest survey of ayahuasca users completed to date.

The online survey, which was promoted via social media, measured wellbeing using the Personal Wellbeing Index — a tool used by researchers around the world that asks about things such as personal relationships, connection with the community, and a sense of achievement.

Of the respondents, 527 were ayahuasca users, 18,138 used LSD or magic mushrooms, and 78,236 did not take psychedelic drugs.

“If ayahuasca is to represent an important treatment, it is critical that its short and long-term effects are investigated, and safety established,” noted senior author Professor Celia Morgan of the University of Exeter.

“Several observational studies have examined the long-term effects of regular ayahuasca use in the religious context,” she continued. “In this work, long-term ayahuasca use has not been found to impact on cognitive ability, produce addiction, or worsen mental health problems. In fact, some of these observational studies suggest that ayahuasca use is associated with less problematic alcohol and drug use, and better mental health and cognitive functioning.”

However, the survey data did show a higher incidence of lifetime mental illness diagnoses within the ayahuasca users. Subsequent analyses found that these were confined to users from countries without a tradition of ayahuasca use.

The researchers said future studies should examine the relationships between ayahuasca use, mental health, well-being, and problematic alcohol and substance use among these people.

The survey also asked people about the experiences of ayahuasca, and most users said they took the drug with a healer or a shaman.

Ayahuasca was rated as less pleasant and with less of an urge to use more of it than LSD or magic mushrooms. Its acute effects usually lasted for six hours, and were most strongly felt one hour after consumption.

The study was published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

Source: University of Exeter

Photo: Ayahuasca is a blend of the Psychotria Viridis bush and the stems of the Banisteriopsis Caapivine. Credit: Rafael Guimarães dos Santos.

Heart Health Linked to Brain Health for Older Adults

Sat, 11/11/2017 - 6:00am

Older people whose hearts pump less blood may have reduced blood flow in the memory-processing areas of the brain, according to a new study.

“Our findings show that when the heart does not pump blood as effectively, it may lead to reduced blood flow in the right and left temporal lobes, areas of the brain that process memories,” said study author Angela L. Jefferson, Ph.D., of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., and a  member of the American Academy of Neurology. “What is surprising is the reduction we observed is comparable to brain blood flow in someone 15 to 20 years older.”

For the study, researchers enrolled 314 people with an average age of 73 who did not have heart failure, stroke, or dementia. Of that group, 39 percent had mild cognitive impairment, a condition that puts a person at an increased risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Participants were given echocardiograms to measure cardiac index, or how much blood the heart pumped relative to body size. Blood flow in the brain was measured with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Researchers found that lower cardiac index corresponded to lower blood flow in the brain. In the left temporal lobe, blood flow was lower, on average, by 2.4 milliliters of blood per 100 grams of tissue per minute for every one unit decrease in cardiac index.

This amount is similar to the average decrease in blood flow that would be expected with more than 15 years of aging, according to the researchers.

In the right temporal lobe, the effect was 2.5 milliliters of blood per 100 grams of tissue per minute, equivalent to more than 20 years of aging.

This was after adjusting for various factors that could affect blood flow, including mild cognitive impairment, age, education, and whether a person had the Alzheimer’s APOE e4 gene, the researchers noted.

“Our results suggest mechanisms that regulate blood flow may become more vulnerable as a person ages, even before cognitive impairment sets in,” Jefferson said.

“This important observation warrants further study. It is also possible the temporal lobes, where Alzheimer’s disease first begins, may be especially vulnerable due to a less extensive network of sources of blood flow. If we can better understand how this process works, we could potentially develop prevention methods or treatments.”

The study was published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Source: The American Academy of Neurology