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Updated: 11 min 7 sec ago

9/11 First Responders At Risk For PTSD, Sleep Apnea

Mon, 03/24/2014 - 6:15am

New research discovers the particulate manner inhaled by 9/11 first responders increases the risk of obstructed sleep apnea and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), both conditions that may impact cardiovascular health.

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai researchers presented two separate studies at a recent American Heart Association’s conference.

“Our study shows high exposure to the massive dust cloud of air pollution at Ground Zero has increased the risk among first responders of both obstructive sleep apnea and PTSD,” said cardiologist Mary Ann McLaughlin, M.D., M.P.H.

McLaughlin is the principal investigator for the WTC-CHEST Program at Mount Sinai evaluating the effects of exposure in World Trade Center (WTC) responders 10-14 years following the events of 9/11.

“As a result, this puts our 9/11 first responders at higher risk of developing heart disease,” she said.

Police, firefighters, and others at Ground Zero were exposed to varying levels of a dust cloud of air filled with cement dust, smoke, glass fibers, and heavy metals.

The WTC-CHEST Program at Mount Sinai has previously linked this particulate matter exposure to lung, heart, and kidney disease abnormalities.

Now the research team’s studies found further research evidence linking sleep apnea and PTSD to exposure of the 9/11 particulate matter.

In each of the two analyses, researchers studied the same WTC-CHEST Program population of more than 800 participants between January 2011 to September 2013 with varying exposure to particulate matter ranging from very high, high, intermediate, and low. Their analysis took into account each first responder’s time of arrival, proximity, duration and level of exposure at Ground Zero.

“Elevated exposure to the particulate matter from 9/11 caused upper airway inflammation and is a significant contributing factor to the pathogenesis of obstructive sleep apnea,” McLaughlin said.

“There is strong evidence in our study data showing a significant risk of inhaled particulate matter exposure and risk of obstructed sleep apnea in the studied group of WTC first responders.”

In addition, researchers linked particulate matter inhalation to the high risk of PTSD. Study results show those with very high or high exposure were more likely to have PTSD.

Also, they found that those responders with PTSD also had elevated biomarkers for increased cardiovascular disease risk including high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP), a key biomarker of inflammation indicative of increased cardiovascular risk.

Those WTC responders with PTSD had significantly higher hsCRP levels.

“High levels of exposure to particulate matter may lead to sleep apnea and PTSD, and as a result a high risk factor for cardiovascular disease,” said McLaughlin. “As a result of our new study findings, we plan to further closely monitor our WTC first responders for heart disease warning signs.”

This research study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The studies seek to further examine the relationship between pulmonary and cardiac function abnormalities, other markers of chronic cardiopulmonary disease, kidney dysfunction, and further elucidate the pathophysiologic effects of exposure to inhaled particulate matter on 9/11.

Source: Mount Sinai School of Medicine

Firefighter photo by shutterstock.

Could Mushrooms Lead to New Depression Treatments?

Mon, 03/24/2014 - 5:30am

New research using brain imaging technology helps to clarify how psilocybin — the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms — affects the brain, perhaps paving the way for therapeutic use of the substance as an adjunct to psychotherapy.

Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, the first author of two new papers, said, “Psilocybin was used extensively in psychotherapy in the 1950s, but the biological rationale for its use has not been properly investigated until now.”

The Study

In the first study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 30 healthy volunteers had psilocybin infused into their blood while inside magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, which measure changes in brain activity.

The scans showed that activity decreased in “hub” regions of the brain, areas that are especially well-connected with other areas.

The second study, published online by the British Journal of Psychiatry, found that psilocybin enhanced volunteers’ recollections of personal memories, which the researchers suggest could make it useful as an adjunct to psychotherapy.

Dr. David Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology and senior author of both studies, said, “Psychedelics are thought of as ‘mind-expanding’ drugs so it has commonly been assumed that they work by increasing brain activity, but surprisingly, we found that psilocybin actually caused activity to decrease in areas that have the densest connections with other areas.

“These hubs constrain our experience of the world and keep it orderly. We now know that deactivating these regions leads to a state in which the world is experienced as strange.”

The intensity of the effects reported by the participants, including visions of geometric patterns, unusual bodily sensations, and altered sense of space and time, correlated with a decrease in oxygenation and blood flow in certain parts of the brain.

The function of these areas, the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), is the subject of debate among neuroscientists, but the PCC is proposed to have a role in consciousness and self-identity.

The mPFC is known to be hyperactive in depression, so psilocybin’s action on this area could be responsible for some antidepressant effects that have been reported.

Similarly, psilocybin reduced blood flow in the hypothalamus, where blood flow is increased during cluster headaches, perhaps explaining why some sufferers have said symptoms improved under psilocybin.

In the BJP study, 10 volunteers viewed written cues that prompted them to think about memories associated with strong positive emotions while inside the brain scanner.

The participants rated their recollections as being more vivid after taking psilocybin compared with a placebo, and with psilocybin there was increased activity in areas of the brain that process vision and other sensory information.

Participants were also asked to rate changes in their emotional wellbeing two weeks after taking the psilocybin and placebo.

Their ratings of memory vividness under the drug showed a significant positive correlation with wellbeing two weeks afterwards.

In a previous study of 12 people in 2011, researchers found that people with anxiety who were given a single psilocybin treatment had decreased depression scores six months later.

“Our findings support the idea that psilocybin facilitates access to personal memories and emotions,” Carhart-Harris said.

Research Findings

Previous studies have suggested that psilocybin can improve people’s sense of emotional wellbeing and even reduce depression in people with anxiety.

“This is consistent with our finding that psilocybin decreases mPFC activity, as many effective depression treatments do. The effects need to be investigated further, and ours was only a small study, but we are interested in exploring psilocybin’s potential as a therapeutic tool,” he said.

Nevertheless, the researchers acknowledged that because the participants in this study had volunteered after having previous experience of psychedelics, they may have held prior assumptions about the drugs which could have contributed to the positive memory rating and the reports of improved wellbeing in the follow-up

Functional MRI measures brain activity indirectly by mapping blood flow or the oxygen levels in the blood. When an area becomes more active, it uses more glucose, but generates energy in rapid chemical reactions that do not use oxygen.

Consequently, blood flow increases but oxygen consumption does not, resulting in a higher concentration of oxygen in blood in the local veins.

In the PNAS study, the volunteers were split into two groups, each studied using a different type of fMRI: 15 were scanned using arterial spin labeling (ASL) perfusion fMRI, which measures blood flow, and 15 using blood-oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) fMRI.

The two modalities produced similar results, strongly suggesting that the observed effects were genuine.

The studies were carried out using protocol for licensed storeage and handling of a schedule I drug and were approved by NHS research ethics committees.

All the volunteers were mentally and physically healthy and had taken hallucinogenic drugs previously without any adverse response.

The research involved scientists from Imperial, the University of Bristol and Cardiff University and was funded by the Beckley Foundation, the Neuropsychoanalysis Foundation, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, and the Heffter Research Institute.

Source: Imperial College
Magic mushroom photo by shutterstock.

Small Neonates at Risk for Future Math Difficulties

Sun, 03/23/2014 - 8:15am

Babies born small for their gestational age are at greater risk for having future problems in math, according to a new study by the University of Warwick and Ruhr-University Bochum.

The study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, was designed to explore the link between preterm birth and dyscalculia — a learning disorder which involves problems in everyday math skills. It is diagnosed when children do worse than expected in math, based on their overall intelligence levels.

“Mathematic impairment is not the same as dyscalculia. A child with both low IQ and low mathematic abilities can have general mathematic impairment without suffering from dyscalculia,” said study co-author Professor Dieter Wolke from the University of Warwick.

The study looked at 922 children between the ages of seven and nine, and found no direct correlation between preterm births in general and dyscalculia. However, they did find that being small-for-gestational-age is an indicator of whether a child is likely to have dyscalculia.

Children who are born very preterm, before 32 weeks, of gestational age have a 39.4 percent chance of having general mathematic impairment compared to 14.9 percent of those born at term (39 to 41 weeks), which translates into a significantly increased odds ratio of 3.22.

On the other hand, very preterm children’s risk of developing dyscalculia was with an odds ratio of 1.62 (22.6 percent) compared with controls (13.7 percent), not significantly increased.

“What this study has shown is that preterm children are not at an increased risk of having dyscalculia, but their risk may be increased if they were born small for gestational age,” said Wolke.

The researchers note that with the right support by teachers and parents, children can learn ways to improve their math skills. Just as dyslexia doesn’t mean that children won’t be able to read and write to a high standard, being diagnosed with dyscalculia may not stop a child from gaining a strong understanding of mathematics.

“In general, preterm and small-for-gestational-age children often have mathematic problems and, even if they are not diagnosed with dyscalculia, they may need special help in school to not be left behind academically,” said co-author Dr. Julia Jaekel of Ruhr-University Bochum.

Source:  University of Warwick

Homeless With Brain Injury More Likely to visit ER, Be Arrested, or Be Assaulted

Sun, 03/23/2014 - 7:30am

New research has found that homeless people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) are more likely to visit an Emergency Room, be arrested or jailed, or be victims of physical assault.

Traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions, are about seven times more common among homeless people than the general population, according to researchers. The homeless also are known to be frequent users of hospital emergency departments for health care.

“Given the high costs of emergency department visits and the burden of crime on society, these findings have important public health and criminal justice implications,” researchers from St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto wrote in the study, which was published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation.

The latest findings come from an ongoing study of changes in the health and housing status of 1,200 homeless and “vulnerably housed” single adults in Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa. The Health and Housing in Transition study has been following participants for up to four years.

Of those being followed by the study, 61 percent said they had suffered a TBI some time in their lifetime, according to researchers. The breakdown shows that number increases to 69 percent in Vancouver, and 64 percent in Ottawa, while it was 50 percent in Toronto.

The study found that homeless people with a history of TBI were about 1.5 times more likely to have visited an emergency department in the previous year, possibly due to long-term cognitive effects of the original TBI. Previous research has shown that people with TBI are high users of health care services up to five years after the original injury.

According to Dr. Stephen Hwang of the hospital’s Centre for Research on Inner City Health, frequent emergency department visits could also be related to health problems related to the TBI, such as seizures or substance use.

The study also found that the homeless with TBI were almost twice as likely to have been arrested or incarcerated in the previous year.

Hwang speculated that this could be due to impaired cognition or personality disturbances following TBI.

The study also found that they were almost three times more likely to have experienced a physical assault in the previous year.

This is consistent with previous studies that suggested people with a history of TBI are more likely to be victims of violent crime, according to the researchers.

Hwang noted that this is one of the first studies to suggest that sustaining a TBI is an independent risk factor for becoming a future victim of physical assault.

“Screening homeless and vulnerably housed people for TBI and helping them to better manage behaviors after brain injuries could help improve outcomes and potentially reduce the use of costly health care and legal services,” concluded Matthew To, lead author of the study and a research student at St. Michael’s Hospital.

Source: St. Michael’s Hospital

Homeless man holding his head photo by shutterstock.

Depression, Obesity Linked in Teen Girls

Sun, 03/23/2014 - 6:45am

Teen girls who suffer from either depression or obesity are at greater risk for developing the other condition later on, according to researchers from Rutgers-Camden University.

For the study, researchers evaluated over 1,500 participants (ages 11-24) in Minnesota over a 10-year period and found that females with depression in early adolescence were more likely to become obese by late adolescence.

Furthermore, females with obesity in late adolescence were more likely to experience depression by early adulthood. No significant links between the two disorders were found in males during the study.

“When researchers looked at this connection over time, data had been mixed,” said Dr. Naomi Marmorstein, an associate professor of psychology at Rutgers-Camden.

“Some found that depression and obesity go hand-in-hand, while others did not see that connection. We tried to take the next step in clarifying this link by looking at a sample of youth that we followed from ages 11 to 24.”

The study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, is co-authored with psychology professor Dr. William Iacono of the University of Minnesota and research associate Lisa Legrand, Ph.D.

The new study improves on past research by focusing on the onset of each disorder, rather than just recurrence or persistence of the two conditions.

Participants in the new study were assessed at ages 11, 14, 17, 20, and 24 by using height and weight measurements and clinical, interview-based diagnosis of major depressive disorder. The participants were checked for onsets of either disorder by age 14, between the ages of 14 and 20, and between ages 20 and 24.

Marmorstein said her study was not designed to investigate the reasons for these links, but that other theories and research offer possible explanations. She said depression can lead to obesity through an increased appetite, poor sleep patterns, and lethargy, while obesity can cause depression due to weight stigma, poor self-esteem, and reduced mobility.

“When a person is young, she is still developing eating and activity patterns, as well as coping mechanisms,” Marmorstein explained. “So if she experiences a depressive episode at age 14, she may be more at risk for having an onset of unhealthy patterns that persist.”

Furthermore, a child who is obese may be more susceptible to negative societal messages about obesity or teasing, which could contribute to depression.

“At this age, adolescents are starting to establish relationships becoming self-conscious, so teasing can be particularly painful,” Marmorstein said.

“Prevention efforts aimed at both of these disorders at the same time when just one is diagnosed might help in decreasing their prevalence and comorbidity,” she added.

“When an adolescent girl receives treatment for depression, the clinician might consider incorporating something relating to healthy eating and activity,” she said. “Exercise can assist in the treatment of depression to begin with, so it seems like a good reason to combine prevention efforts for both depression and obesity.”

It is still unknown why they found no links between obesity and depression in males, but Marmorstein hypothesizes that it could be a result of different developmental processes leading to obesity and depression in males and females.

Source:  Rutgers University

Depressed obese teenager photo by shutterstock.

Oxytocin Shows Promise in Treating Anorexia

Sun, 03/23/2014 - 6:00am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source:  King’s College London 


Addiction Linked to Disruption of ‘Love Hormone’

Sat, 03/22/2014 - 8:45am

New research from Australia links addictive behavior, such as drug and alcohol abuse, to the poor development of oxytocin, known as the “love hormone,” in early childhood.

“We know that newborn babies already have levels of oxytocin in their bodies, and this helps to create the all-important bond between a mother and her child,” said Dr. Femke Buisman-Pijlman from the University of Adelaide’s School of Medical Sciences.

“But our oxytocin systems aren’t fully developed when we’re born — they don’t finish developing until the age of three, which means our systems are potentially subject to a range of influences, both external and internal.”

Buisman-Pijlman, who has a background in both addiction studies and family studies, noted the main factors affecting our oxytocin systems are genetics, gender, and environment.

“You can’t change the genes you’re born with, but environmental factors play a substantial role in the development of the oxytocin system until our systems are fully developed,” she said.

“Previous research has shown that there is a high degree of variability in people’s oxytocin levels. We’re interested in how and why people have such differences in oxytocin, and what we can do about it to have a beneficial impact on people’s health and wellbeing.”

For her study, Buisman-Pijlman reviewed worldwide research into oxytocin, known as the “love hormone” or “bonding drug” because of its role in enhancing social interactions, maternal behavior, and partnership.

“Some of those studies show that some risk factors for drug addiction already exist at four years of age,” she said.

“And because the hardware of the oxytocin system finishes developing in our bodies at around age three, this could be a critical window to study,” she said. “Oxytocin can reduce the pleasure of drugs and feeling of stress, but only if the system develops well.”

Her theory is that adversity in early life is key to the impaired development of the oxytocin system.

“This adversity could take the form of a difficult birth, disturbed bonding or abuse, deprivation, or severe infection, to name just a few factors,” she said.

“Understanding what occurs with the oxytocin system during the first few years of life could help us to unravel this aspect of addictive behavior and use that knowledge for treatment and prevention.”

The study was published in the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior.

Source: The University of Adelaide

Mother bonding with her baby photo by shutterstock.

Move From Poor Area Offers A New Mindset

Sat, 03/22/2014 - 8:00am

A well-structured voucher program can help residents from impoverished neighborhoods move to affluent areas and feel comfortable enough to stay, researchers found, despite evidence that people tend to remain in poor, segregated areas even when offered large housing subsidies.

‘The Baltimore Mobility Program succeeds while so many others have failed because it not only gives families the financial support to move, but also the chance to experience life in a safe, quiet, diverse place with good schools and quality homes,” said Johns Hopkins sociologist Dr. Stefanie DeLuca.

“What usually happens with housing vouchers,” DeLuca said, “is that a family chooses a neighborhood similar to the old one, and they don’t move far enough away to experience real change. The Baltimore Mobility Program offers families the support and encouragement to experience a totally new way of living.”

“They didn’t know life could be like this. In some cases, all they’ve known exists within a few-blocks radius in Baltimore City,” said DeLuca, who conducted the research with Jennifer Darrah, Ph.D., a lecturer at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

“Once they had a chance to live in high-performing school districts with low crime rates, there were some pretty profound changes in how these parents thought about neighborhoods and schools and what was best for their kids.”

For the study, published in the Journal of Public Policy Analysis and Management, DeLuca followed 110 people enrolled in the Baltimore Mobility Program — a voucher program designed to move more than 2,000 low-income African-American families from high-poverty, highly segregated city neighborhoods to more diverse, higher-income suburbs.

The program offers families extensive support before, during, and after their moves. They begin with tours of the suburbs and walk-throughs of available apartments. There are credit counseling sessions, and they get to meet former city residents already living in the suburbs.

Program administrators work closely with landlords to assemble a roster of pre-approved available rentals to otherwise ease what could be an intimidating bureaucratic process. Also, by requiring participants to remain in their new homes for at least two years, DeLuca found, the program gave families a true sense of what was possible in a safe, diverse community.

More than two-thirds of the families who moved from the city to the suburbs through Baltimore Mobility remained there one to eight years later. Many mothers who initially told DeLuca they had no interest in leaving the city later said they had changed their minds.

Source:  Johns Hopkins

Happy mother and children photo by shutterstock.

Gene Variant Can Contribute to Forgetfulness

Sat, 03/22/2014 - 7:15am

Researchers have found a connection between short-term memory lapses, such as losing your keys, and the dopamine D2 receptor gene (DRD2).

Psychologists from the University of Bonn report that people who have a certain variant of this gene are more easily distracted and experience a higher incidence of lapses due to a lack of attention.

Most of us are familiar with such everyday lapses, such as walking into a room and forgetting why you went there or forgetting the name of the person you are speaking with on the phone.

“Such short-term memory lapses are very common, but some people experience them particularly often,” said Dr. Martin Reuter from the Department for Differential and Biological Psychology at the University of Bonn.

In previous experiments, researchers discovered indications that the DRD2 plays a part in forgetfulness. The gene has an essential function in signal transmission within the frontal lobes.

“This structure can be compared to a director coordinating the brain like an orchestra,” said Dr. Sebastian Markett, principal author of the new study.

“The DRD2 gene acts as the conductor’s baton, because it plays a part in dopamine transmission in the brain,” he explained. “If the baton skips a beat, the orchestra gets confused.”

For their study, the researchers tested 500 people by taking a saliva sample and examining the DRD2 gene in each. All humans carry the DRD2 gene, which comes in two variants that are distinguished by only one letter within the genetic code. The one variant has C (cytosine), which is displaced by T (thymine) in the other.

According to the research team’s analyses, about a quarter of those tested had the DRD2 gene with the cytosine nucleobase, while three quarters were the genotype with at least one thymine base.

The scientists then set out to discover if this difference in the genetic code had an effect on everyday behavior.

By means of a self-assessment survey, they asked each person to state how frequently they experience short-term memory lapses, such as how often they forgot names or misplaced their keys. The survey also included questions about impulsivity-related factors, such as how easily they were distracted from actual tasks at hand, and how long they were able to maintain their concentration.

The researchers used statistical methods to check whether it was possible to associate data on the forgetfulness symptoms elicited from the surveys to one of the DRD2 gene variants. The results showed that functions such as attention and memory are less clearly expressed in people who carry the thymine variant of the gene than in the cytosine type, they reported.

“The connection is obvious: Such lapses can partially be attributed to this gene variant,” said Markett.

According to their own statements, the people with the thymine DRD2 variant more frequently “fall victim” to forgetfulness or attention deficits, while the cytosine type seems to be protected from those deficits, he said.

“This result matches the results of other studies very well,” added Markett.

He added that people with the gene variant should not believe it is just their genetic fate to be forgetful.

“There are things you can do to compensate for forgetfulness,” he said, noting some ideas, such as writing notes or making more of an effort to put your keys down in a specific location.

“People who develop such strategies for the different areas of their lives are better able to handle their genetic difference,” he concluded.

Source: University of Bonn

Genetic abstract photo by shutterstock.

Computer System Can Spot Fakers Better Than People

Sat, 03/22/2014 - 6:30am

A new study has found that a computer system can spot real or faked expressions of pain more accurately than people.

“The computer system managed to detect distinctive dynamic features of facial expressions that people missed,” said Marian Bartlett, Ph.D., a research professor at the University of California San Diego’s Institute for Neural Computation and lead author of the study.

“Human observers just aren’t very good at telling real from faked expressions of pain.”

That’s because “humans can simulate facial expressions and fake emotions well enough to deceive most observers,” said Kang Lee, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Toronto and senior author of the study. “The computer’s pattern-recognition abilities prove better at telling whether pain is real or faked.”

The research team found that humans could not discriminate real from faked expressions of pain better than random chance. Even after some training, accuracy was only improved to 55 percent. That pales in comparison to the computer’s 85 percent accuracy.

“In highly social species such as humans, faces have evolved to convey rich information, including expressions of emotion and pain,” Lee said.

“And, because of the way our brains are built, people can simulate emotions they’re not actually experiencing so successfully that they fool other people. The computer is much better at spotting the subtle differences between involuntary and voluntary facial movements.”

The single most predictive feature of false expressions is the mouth, and how and when it opens, according to the study’s findings. Fakers’ mouths open with less variation and too regularly.

“Further investigations will explore whether over-regularity is a general feature of fake expressions,” the researchers said in the study, which was published in Current Biology.

“In addition to detecting pain — real and false — the computer-vision system might be used to detect other real-world deceptive actions in the realms of homeland security, psychopathology, job screening, medicine and law,” said Bartlett.

“As with causes of pain, these scenarios also generate strong emotions, along with attempts to minimize, mask, and fake such emotions, which may involve ‘dual control’ of the face,” she said.

“In addition, our computer-vision system can be applied to detect states in which the human face may provide important clues as to health, physiology, emotion, or thought, such as drivers’ expressions of sleepiness, students’ expressions of attention and comprehension of lectures, or responses to treatment of affective disorders.”

Source: University of Toronto


Computer assessment of face photo by shutterstock.

Abuse Alters Hormones in Kids, Hikes Risk of Metabolic Disorders

Fri, 03/21/2014 - 8:30am

A new endocrinology investigation suggests childhood abuse or neglect can lead to long-term hormone impairment that raises the risk of developing obesity, diabetes, or other metabolic disorders in adulthood.

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

For the study, researchers examined levels of the weight-regulating hormones leptin, adiponectin, and irisin in the blood of adults who endured physical, emotional, or sexual abuse or neglect as children.

Leptin is involved in regulating appetite and is linked to body-mass index (BMI) and fat mass. The hormone irisin is involved in energy metabolism. Adiponectin reduces inflammation in the body, and obese people tend to have lower levels of the hormone.

Researchers found that these important hormones were out of balance in people who had been abused or neglected as children.

“This study helps illuminate why people who have dealt with childhood adversity face a higher risk of developing excess belly fat and related health conditions,” said one of the study’s authors, Christos S. Mantzoros, M.D., D.Sc., Ph.D.

“The data suggest that childhood adversity places stress on the endocrine system, leading to impairment of important hormones that can contribute to abdominal obesity well into adulthood.”

The cross-sectional study examined hormone levels in the blood of 95 adults ages 35 to 65. Using questionnaires and interviews, each participant was assigned a score based on the severity of the abuse or neglect experienced during childhood.

Researchers divided the participants into three groups and compared hormone levels in people with the highest adversity scores to the other two-thirds of the participants.

Participants with the highest adversity scores tended to have higher levels of leptin, irisin, and the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein in their blood. All of these markers are linked to obesity.

In addition, the group of people who suffered the most adversity tended to have lower levels of adiponectin, another risk factor for obesity.

Even after researchers adjusted for differences in diet, exercise, and demographic variables among the participants, high levels of leptin and irisin continued to be associated with childhood adversity.

“What we are seeing is a direct correlation between childhood adversity and hormone impairment, over and above the impact abuse or neglect may have on lifestyle factors such as diet and education,” Mantzoros said.

“Understanding these mechanisms could help health care providers develop new and better interventions to address this population’s elevated risk of abdominal obesity and cardiometabolic risk later in life.”

Source: The Endocrine Society

Balanced Monitoring of Online Use Shows Best Results for Kids

Fri, 03/21/2014 - 7:45am

New research suggests a balanced parenting approach is the most effective strategy for helping teens make safe, moral online decisions.

In a study on parenting strategies and online adolescent safety, Penn State University researchers found evidence that suggests parents should try to establish a middle ground between keeping their teens completely away from the internet and not monitoring their online activities at all.

“It’s a Goldilocks problem,” said Pamela Wisniewski, Ph.D., a postdoctoral scholar in information sciences and technology.

“Overly restrictive parents limit the positive online experiences a teen can have, but overly permissive parents aren’t putting the right types of demands on their children to make good choices.”

Active mediation and monitoring online behavior, not blanket rules, may be a better strategy.

“Parents should have some level of monitoring their teens online usage, but not necessarily in a covert way because that may create trust problems,” said Wisniewski.

Ideally, parents would start to work with their teens to guide their moral development in making decisions about online behavior when their children are young. The earlier the better, according to Wisniewski.

“By the time they are age 16 or 17, it’s probably too late to jump in and start to intervene,” said Wisniewski.

Parents who learn more about technology can better guide their children, according to the researchers, who presented their findings at the recent Computer Supported Cooperative Work conference in Baltimore.

“Our analysis also suggests that parents’ level of digital literacy moderates their mediation strategies,” the researchers noted.

“Parents who knew more about technology tended to be more actively engaged in their teens’ online behaviors while parents who were less technically inclined tended to be more in favor of restricting how their teens engaged with others online.”

The researchers studied the parenting styles and mediation strategies of 12 pairs of parents and their teen children, who ranged in age from 13 to 17. They interviewed the children and parents separately about online activities such as illegal downloading, cyber-bullying and identity theft.

The researchers assessed responses to 270 statements on moral behavior based on a common six-staged chart of moral development used by psychologists. They also analyzed 555 parental statements that indicated their parenting and mediation styles, from authoritarian with active mediation to indulgent with little mediation.

Most of the younger teens were more compliant to parents — considered stage one of the moral development scale — while older teens tended to make moral decisions by weighing personal rewards and punishment — a second stage strategy on the scale.

The researchers are currently conducting a study with a larger group of parents and teens. Eventually, these studies could help software designers create online monitoring software that helps parents actively engage with their teens in developing moral guidelines for online behavior, as opposed to just imposing restrictions on teens’ online activities.

Source: Penn State
Mother and daughter online photo by shutterstock.

Kids Tend to Pick Up Parents’ Alcohol, Drug Habits

Fri, 03/21/2014 - 7:00am

New research suggests that our vices may become habits among our offspring.

The study discovered parents who use alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs are more likely to have children who pick up their habits.

Researchers from Sam Houston State University found that when compared to parents who did not use substances, parents who used alcohol, marijuana, and other illicit drugs were significantly more likely to have children who used those same drugs.

Specifically, the odds of children’s alcohol use were five times higher if their parents used alcohol; the odds of children’s marijuana use were two times higher if their parents used marijuana; and the odds of children’s other drug use were two times higher if their parent used other drugs.

Age and other demographic factors also were important predictors of substance use.

“The study is rare in that it assesses the extent to which parent’s substance use predicts use by their children within age-equivalent and developmentally specific stages of the life course,” said researcher Kelly Knight, Ph.D.

“If a parent uses drugs, will their children grow up and use drugs? When did the parent use and when did their children use? There appears to be an intergenerational relationship.

“The effect is not as strong as one might believe from popular discourse, but when you measure it by developmental stage, it can provide important information on its impact in adolescence and early adulthood, specifically.”

The study examined the patterns of substance use by families over a 27-year period. It documents substance use over time, giving a more complete understanding of when substance use occurs, when it declines, and the influence of parents in the process.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2011, about 22.6 million Americans age 12 years and older said they used illicit drugs in the last month.

Other studies show that drug use is associated with reduced academic achievement, lower employment rates, poorer health, dependency on public assistance, neighborhood disorganization, and an increase in the likelihood of involvement in crime, criminal victimization and incarceration.

The cost of drug use in this country from lost productivity, health care and criminal justice is nearly $600 billion.

By plotting the life course of substance use within families, the study may be a valuable tool for the development of intervention programs. The study suggests that if substance use can be curtailed in adolescence, it may help to curb its prevalence in future generations.

The study also helps pinpoint the use of different illicit substances over the span of a lifetime, including its emergence in adolescence and when that use may decline.

For example, marijuana and other drug use is most prevalent in adolescence and generally declines before or at age 24. Alcohol use continues to increase throughout adolescence and young adulthood, and then remains relatively steady over the lifetime.

These findings come from the National Youth Survey Family Study, which has collected data from three generations over a 27-year period. The analysis is based on 655 parents and 1,227 offspring from 1977 to 2004.

Source: Sam Houston State University

Tooth Loss Linked with Anxiety, Depression

Fri, 03/21/2014 - 6:15am

A new study suggests dental problems are often associated with a variety of biosocial conditions including depression and anxiety.

The study was presented at the 43rd Annual Meeting of the American Association for Dental Research.

R. Constance Wiener, Ph.D., from West Virginia University, found that tooth loss from caries and periodontal disease is an outcome that is often linked with complex, chronic conditions.

Commonly, several biopsychosocial factors influence dental health, including self-worth, self-esteem, and care access. Individuals reporting dental anxiety may avoid dental care, and individuals with depression may be negligent in self-care.

In the study, researchers examined a potential association of tooth loss with depression and anxiety.

Investigators analyzed results from The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) Survey, a complex, telephone survey of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health departments.

Researchers used BRFSS 2010 data that included 451,075 respondents. From this data set, investigators performed statistical analysis on participants 19 years and older who had responded to questions related to depression, anxiety, and tooth loss.

Altogether, there were 292 eligible participants with 13.4 percent of participants reporting anxiety, 16.7 percent depression, and 5.7 percent total tooth loss.

The sample was evenly distributed between males and females; there were 68.7 percent non-Hispanic whites, 12.7 percent non-Hispanic blacks, 12.5 percent Hispanics, and 6.8 percent other.

Analysis determined that depression, anxiety, and a combined category of depression or anxiety were significantly associated with tooth loss (p <0.0001) when compared to participants without the conditions.

Source: International & American Associations for Dental Research
Man receiving dental care photo by shutterstock.

Lifestyle Improvements May Prevent Depression

Fri, 03/21/2014 - 5:30am

New research suggests that for some, meeting with a nutritionist or dietary coach to learn about healthy eating is as effective for preventing major depression as meeting with a counselor or participating in talk therapy.

University of Pittsburgh researchers found this experience to be true for older black and white adults with mild symptoms of mood disorders.

Their findings were published online recently in Psychiatric Services.

“Depression is common and treatments often don’t completely resolve the disability that attends the illness,” said senior author Charles F. Reynolds III, M.D.

Sadness, fatigue, and disinterest in activities that used to bring pleasure can leave patients isolated and unable to care for themselves.

“That’s why we’re very interested in finding ways to prevent the disease in those we know are particularly vulnerable,” he said.

“Avoiding episodes of major depression can help people stay happy and engaged in their communities, as well as reduce health care costs.”

Rsearchers assessed whether problem-solving therapy for primary care (PST-PC), could prevent elderly adults who have mild symptoms of depression from developing full-blown disease.

This approach uses a scientifically proven seven-step technique delivered by non-mental-health professionals to help patients resolve difficulties and thus improve coping skills and confidence.

Instead of comparing the PST-PC participants to those who received “usual care,” which would most likely mean receiving no intervention, the team took the novel approach of comparing the PST-PC group to participants who underwent a program of dietary coaching at a similar visit interval for the same number of hours.

Researchers used an innovative, culturally tailored approach to recruit and retain African-American study participants, based on a method developed by Sandra Quinn, Ph.D., and Stephen Thomas, Ph.D., co-investigators from the University of Maryland Center for Health Equity.

“Because racial minorities are at greater risk for depression, in part due to socioeconomic disadvantages, lower educational attainment, and a greater likelihood of other medical problems, we established a foundation of trust working through churches and community-based organizations in black communities,” said Quinn.

Of the 244 participants, 90, or more than a third, were African-American.

“Previous studies we and others have done indicate about 25 percent of people in later life who are mildly depressed become seriously depressed in the next one to two years,” Reynolds said.

The researchers found about nine percent of the people in each intervention arm went on to experience an episode of major depression, and they all had a similar reduction in depressive symptoms over the two-year study period.

Also, both approaches were equally successful among black and white participants.

“This project tells us that interventions in which people actively engage in managing their own life problems, such as financial or health issues, tend to have a positive effect on well-being and a protective effect against the onset of depression.”

“We suspect we had a higher than usual proportion of black participants because community leaders championed the project, no medication was prescribed, and treatment could be delivered at home or at other non-clinical settings,” said Thomas.

“Lifestyle interventions, such as dietary coaching, may be more culturally appropriate and acceptable in racial-ethnic minority communities.”

In a new project, the researchers will examine whether PST-PC can be effectively administered by lay health counselors in low- and middle-income countries such as India.

Source: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine


Man meeting with a dietary coach photo by shutterstock.

Evidence Fails to Support Vitamin D Supplements for Depression

Thu, 03/20/2014 - 9:15am

Although vitamin D deficiency has been found to be associated with numerous health conditions, including mood disorders and major depressive disorders, current research does not suggest vitamin D supplementation reduces or prevents depression.

In a new study, researchers performed a detailed review of clinical trials that were conducted to examine the effect of vitamin D supplementation on depression.

Investigators found that few well-conducted trials of vitamin D supplementation for depression have been published and that the majority of these show little to no effect of vitamin D on depression.

The review, by Jonathan A. Shaffer, Ph.D., assistant professor of medical sciences at Columbia University Medical Center, was published recently in the online edition of Psychosomatic Medicine.

The review found that only seven trials with a total of approximately 3200 participants compared the effect of vitamin D supplementation on depression with no vitamin D supplementation.

Nearly all of these trials were characterized by methodological limitations, and all but two involved participants without clinically significant depression at the start of the study. The overall improvement in depression across all trials was small and not clinically meaningful.

However, additional analyses of the clinical data by Dr. Schaffer hinted that vitamin D supplements may help patients with clinically significant depression, particularly when combined with traditional antidepressant medication.

New well-designed trials that test the effect of vitamin D supplements in these patients are needed to determine if there is any clinical benefit.

The authors note that supplementation with vitamin D also may be effective only for those with vitamin D deficiency. They also recommend that future studies consider how vitamin D dosing and mode of delivery contribute to its effects on depression.

“Although tempting, adding vitamin D supplements to the armamentarium of remedies for depression appears premature based on the evidence available at this time,” said Shaffer.

He hopes that the current review will guide researchers to design new trials that can answer the question more definitively.

Source: Columbia University

Vitamin D supplement photo by shutterstock.

Psychological Problems Plague Many Survivors of Serious Accidents

Thu, 03/20/2014 - 8:30am

The good news is that contemporary medical care and technology saves lives after critical illnesses and accidents; the bad news is that long-term hospitalizations and need for mechanical ventilation is associated with serious psychosocial issues.

A new study discovers the first few months after discharge from a facility are critical, said professor of clinical epidemiology Dr. Henrik Toft Sørensen of Aarhus University and Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark.

Sørensen lead the largest-to-date study of psychiatric problems before and after treatment that involves mechanical ventilation treatment.

The results, as published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), suggest a higher incidence of anxiety, depression, and insomnia after ventilator patients are discharged from the hospital.

In the study, 24,179 mechanically ventilated patients admitted to all Danish intensive care units in the period 2006-2008 were compared with other admitted patients, as well as with the general population.

“The study shows that up to 13 percent of the ventilator patients — that’s to say one in seven — were prescribed medication for psychological problems within the first three months after the hospital admission.

“We were well aware that there was an increased risk, but we had not expected the figure to be so high,” said Sørensen.

“By comparison, five percent of the patients who had not been mechanically ventilated received medication for psychological problems after the hospital admission.”

The medication typically covers sleeping medicine, anxiety medication, or antidepressant medicine.

Half a percent of the mechanically ventilated patients had such severe psychological problems that they received a psychiatric diagnosis from a psychiatric hospital within the first three months after the hospital discharge.

Sørensen believes that there is a considerable need for an increased focus on prevention and treatment of psychological problems in patients who survive critical illness.

“Psychological problems have profound human and socioeconomic costs,” he said. “Among patients, relatives and medical doctors, there ought to be a much greater degree of knowledge and awareness of the long-term consequences of critical illness.

“It is important that we all become better at taking early steps towards the right prevention and treatment.”

Source: Aarhus University


Patient in critical care hospital photo by shutterstock.

Sharing Sounds with Caregiver Helps Child Learn to Talk

Thu, 03/20/2014 - 7:45am

New research suggests the social feedback loop that develops when parents and children “talk” to each other is important for language development.

Moreover, the loop appears to be experienced less frequently and is diminished in strength in interactions with autistic children.

Study findings are published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“This loop likely has cascading impacts over the course of a child’s development,” said psychological scientist and study author Dr. Anne S. Warlaumont of the University of California, Merced.

“Understanding how it works and being able to monitor its components while the children go about their daily lives may eventually lead to better strategies for helping parents and other adults interact most effectively with autistic children.”

“Recent technological advances enable people to record all the sounds children make and hear during the course of the day and to automatically label that data,” Warlaumont said. With these tools, researchers can detect subtle moment-to-moment effects that child and caregiver have on each other.

“These local effects appear to add up over the millions of exchanges children experience over the first few years of life, resulting in substantial differences in the types of sounds kids produce,” she said.

Warlaumont and her co-authors at the LENA Research Foundation and the University of Memphis studied 13,836 hours of daylong audio recordings of caregivers and children, ages eight months to four years old, to better understand how parents respond to children’s sounds.

One hundred and six of the children were typically developing and 77 had autism. The LENA Research Foundation collected the data.

The data revealed that adults are more likely to immediately respond to children when the vocalizations are speech-related. In turn, the children are more likely to create more vocalizations. Together, this forms a social feedback loop that promotes speech development.

However, the data showed that autistic children produce fewer vocalizations and the responses from adults are less connected to whether they’re speech-related. The result is that the feedback loop happens less often and is diminished in effectiveness, reducing the opportunities the child has to learn from the social interactions.

“Our simulations provide further support that these differences may account for the slower growth in speech-related vocalization production that we see in autism compared to in typical development,” says Warlaumont.

The research was made possible by a small audio recorder worn by each child all day long. The recordings were processed using technology — called Language ENvironment Analysis (LENA) — that can identify who or what is making sound. The software can also detect the difference between speech-like sounds and crying or laughing.

The research also showed that socioeconomic status seems to affect the interactions making up the feedback loop. Higher maternal education was associated with increased rates of child vocalization as well as increased sensitivity of adult responses to the type of vocalization a child produced.

Both these differences are expected to promote faster speech development in high-socioeconomic-status families.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Adult Dishonesty May Lead Kids to Lie and Cheat

Thu, 03/20/2014 - 7:00am

A provocative new study attacks a topic many adults would like to avoid — Do children who’ve been lied to lie more themselves?

University of California, San Diego researchers say the results of their study suggest that adult dishonesty does influence children — in the wrong way.

“This is the first experiment confirming what we might have suspected: Lying by an adult affects a child’s honesty,” said Dr. Leslie Carver, an associate professor of psychology and human development

Study findings are reported in the journal Developmental Science.

The study tested 186 children ages three to seven in a temptation-resistance paradigm. Approximately half of the children were lied to by an experimenter, who said there was “a huge bowl of candy in the next room” but quickly confessed this was just a ruse to get the child to come play a game.

The others were simply invited to play, with no mention of candy.

Children were asked to identify well-known character toys they couldn’t see by their associated sounds.

The game asked children to identify character toys they couldn’t see by their sounds. Sounds and toys were pretty easy to pair: a “Tickle me” audio clip for Elmo; “I love cookies” for Cookie Monster; and “There is a rumbly in my tummy” for Winnie the Pooh.

One sound was a deliberately tricky exception: Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” which is not associated with any commercially available character toy.

When the classical music cue was played, the experimenter was called out of the room to, supposedly, take a phone call — leaving the children alone in the room for 90 seconds and tempting them to take a peek at the mysterious toy making that sound.

The children were explicitly asked not to peek. On returning, the experimenter also explicitly asked the children to tell the truth. Cameras rolled the whole time.

And? The five, six and seven year-olds who had been lied to were both more likely to cheat and then more likely to lie about having done so, too.

About 60 percent of the school-aged children who had not been lied to by the experimenter peeked at the tricky temptation toy — and about 60 percent of the peekers lied about it later.

Among those that had been lied to, those figures rose to nearly 80 percent peeking and nearly 90 percent of the peekers lying.

“Why?” remains an open research question, the researchers note in their paper.

It could be the five to seven year-old children were simply imitating the behavior modeled by the adult, or it could be they were making judgments about the importance of honesty to this adult.

Or, it could be more nuanced: “Perhaps the children did not feel the need to uphold their commitment to tell the truth to someone who they perceived as a liar.”

But it didn’t seem to make any difference to the younger set, the preschoolers, whether they had been deceived by the experimenter earlier.

They peeked and lied at about the same rates. That may be because three and four year-olds don’t have very sophisticated theory-of-mind abilities yet.

“The study was not designed to get at the reasons that children are more likely to lie when they have been lied to, but to demonstrate that the phenomenon can occur,” Carver said.

What happens when trusted caregivers do the lying also remains an open research question. But Carver and Chelsea Hays are still urging restraint. Even if it’s expedient for an adult to lie — to get cooperation through deception, for example, or to get children to control their emotions — it’s probably a bad idea in the long run.

Earlier research, Carver and Hays note in the paper, has documented that the majority of parents admit to lying to their children even as they maintain that honesty is an important value.

“The actions of parents,” Carver and Hays write, “suggest that they do not believe that the lies they tell their children will impact the child’s own honesty. The current study casts doubt on that belief.”

“The study has implications not only for parenting but also for teaching scenarios and for forensic situations,” said Carver. “All sorts of grown-ups may have to re-examine what they say to kids. Even a ‘little white lie’ might have consequences.”

Source: University of California, San Diego

Child not telling the truth photo by shutterstock.

Social Connections Can Help to Reduce Depression

Thu, 03/20/2014 - 6:15am

A new study finds that belonging to a social group helps to alleviate depression and prevent relapse. And, it appears the closer the tie to the group, the better the results.

In the paper, currently in press at the Journal of Affective Disorders, psychologists Dr. Alexander Haslam and lead author Dr. Tegan Cruwys and their colleagues at the University of Queensland conducted two studies of patients diagnosed with depression or anxiety.

The patients either joined a community group with activities such as sewing, yoga, sports and art, or partook in group therapy at a psychiatric hospital.

In both cases, patients responding to survey questions who did not identify strongly with the social group had about a 50 percent likelihood of continued depression a month later.

But of those who developed a stronger connection to the group and who came to see its members as “us” rather than “them,” less than a third still met the criteria for clinical depression after that time. Many patients said the group made them feel supported because everyone was “in it together.”

“We were able to find clear evidence that joining groups, and coming to identify with them, can alleviate depression,” said Haslam.

While past research has looked at the importance of social connections for preventing and treating depression, Haslam says it has tended to emphasize interpersonal relationships rather than the importance of a sense of group identity.

In addition, researchers haven’t really understood why group therapy works. “Our work shows that the ‘group’ aspect of social interaction is critical,” he said.

The researchers say the next questions they will try to answer are what factors encourage people to engage with a group and to internalize its identity, and how this leads them to develop a sense of support, belonging, purpose, and meaning.

Haslam said this is likely to involve both group and individual factors, including how accommodating the group is, and how the group fits with a person’s understanding of themselves and the world.

Haslam said his participation in the program has greatly influenced his research on depression.

“The group is a major source of encouragement, but it has also helped to hone our questions in important ways — so that we have asked the right questions and looked in the right places for answers.”

Source: Canadian Institute for Advanced Research

Support group photo by shutterstock.