Brain activity buffers against worsening anxiety

Activity in brain's thinking and problem-solving center linked to avoiding anxiety

November 17, 2017

Science Daily/Duke University

Boosting activity in brain areas related to thinking and problem-solving may also protect against worsening anxiety, suggests a new study. Using noninvasive brain imaging, the researchers found that at-risk people were less likely to develop anxiety if they had higher activity in a region of the brain responsible for complex mental operations. The results may be a step towards tailoring psychological therapies to the specific brain functioning of individual patients.

 

Using non-invasive brain imaging, the researchers found that people at-risk for anxiety were less likely to develop the disorder if they had higher activity in a region of the brain responsible for complex mental operations. The results may be a step towards tailoring psychological therapies to the specific brain functioning of individual patients.

 

"These findings help reinforce a strategy whereby individuals may be able to improve their emotional functioning -- their mood, their anxiety, their experience of depression -- not only by directly addressing those phenomena, but also by indirectly improving their general cognitive functioning," said Ahmad Hariri, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke. The results are published Nov. 17 in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

 

Previous findings from Hariri's group show that people whose brains exhibit a high response to threat and a low response to reward are more at risk of developing symptoms of anxiety and depression over time.

 

In the current work, Hariri and Matthew Scult, a clinical psychology graduate student in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Duke, wanted to investigate whether higher activity in a region of the brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex could help shield these at-risk individuals from future mental illness.

 

"We wanted to address an area of understanding mental illness that has been neglected, and that is the flip side of risk," Hariri said. "We are looking for variables that actually confer resiliency and protect individuals from developing problems."

 

The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is our brain's "executive control" center, helping us focus our attention and plan complex actions. It also plays a role in emotion regulation, and well-established types of psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, engage this region of the brain by equipping patients with strategies to reframe or re-evaluate their emotions.

 

The team drew on data from 120 undergraduate students who participated in the Duke Neurogenetics Study. Each participant completed a series of mental health questionnaires and underwent a type of non-invasive brain scan called functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) while engaged in tasks meant to activate specific regions of the brain.

 

The researchers asked each participant to answer simple memory-based math problems to stimulate the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Participants also viewed angry or scared faces to activate a region of the brain called the amygdala, and played a reward-based guessing game to stimulate activity in the brain's ventral striatum.

 

Scult was particularly interested in "at-risk" individuals with the combination of high threat-related activity in the amygdala and low reward-related activity in the ventral striatum. By comparing participants' mental health assessments at the time of the brain scans, and in a follow-up occurring on average seven months later, he found that these at-risk individuals were less likely to develop anxiety if they also had high activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

 

"We found that if you have a higher functioning dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the imbalance in these deeper brain structures is not expressed as changes in mood or anxiety," Hariri said.

 

The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is especially skilled at adapting to new situations, the researchers say. Individuals whose brains exhibit the at-risk signatures may be more likely to benefit from strategies that boost the brain's dorsolateral prefrontal activity, including cognitive behavioral therapy, working memory training, or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

 

But, the researchers warn, the jury is still out on whether many brain-training exercises improve the overall functioning of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, or only hone its ability to complete the specific task being trained. Additional studies on more diverse populations are also needed to confirm their findings.

 

"We are hoping to help improve current mental health treatments by first predicting who is most at-risk so that we can intervene earlier, and second, by using these types of approaches to determine who might benefit from a given therapy," Scult said.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171117141743.htm

Stress can lead to risky decisions

Neuroscientists find chronic stress skews decisions toward higher-risk options

November 16, 2017

Science Daily/Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Making decisions that require weighing pros and cons of two choices is dramatically affected by chronic stress, neuroscientists have discovered. In a study of rats and mice, they found stressed animals were far likelier to choose high-risk, high-payoff options. They also found that impairments of a specific brain circuit underlie this abnormal decision making.

 

MIT neuroscientists have now discovered that making decisions in this type of situation, known as a cost-benefit conflict, is dramatically affected by chronic stress. In a study of mice, they found that stressed animals were far likelier to choose high-risk, high-payoff options.

 

The researchers also found that impairments of a specific brain circuit underlie this abnormal decision making, and they showed that they could restore normal behavior by manipulating this circuit. If a method for tuning this circuit in humans were developed, it could help patients with disorders such as depression, addiction, and anxiety, which often feature poor decision-making.

 

"One exciting thing is that by doing this very basic science, we found a microcircuit of neurons in the striatum that we could manipulate to reverse the effects of stress on this type of decision making. This to us is extremely promising, but we are aware that so far these experiments are in rats and mice," says Ann Graybiel, an Institute Professor at MIT and member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research.

 

Graybiel is the senior author of the paper, which appears in Cell on Nov. 16. The paper's lead author is Alexander Friedman, a McGovern Institute research scientist.

 

Hard decisions

 

In 2015, Graybiel, Friedman, and their colleagues first identified the brain circuit involved in decision making that involves cost-benefit conflict. The circuit begins in the medial prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for mood control, and extends into clusters of neurons called striosomes, which are located in the striatum, a region associated with habit formation, motivation, and reward reinforcement.

 

In that study, the researchers trained rodents to run a maze in which they had to choose between one option that included highly concentrated chocolate milk, which they like, along with bright light, which they don't, and an option with dimmer light but weaker chocolate milk. By inhibiting the connection between cortical neurons and striosomes, using a technique known as optogenetics, they found that they could transform the rodents' preference for lower-risk, lower-payoff choices to a preference for bigger payoffs despite their bigger costs.

 

In the new study, the researchers performed a similar experiment without optogenetic manipulations. Instead, they exposed the rodents to a short period of stress every day for two weeks.

 

Before experiencing stress, normal rats and mice would choose to run toward the maze arm with dimmer light and weaker chocolate milk about half the time. The researchers gradually increased the concentration of chocolate milk found in the dimmer side, and as they did so, the animals began choosing that side more frequently.

 

However, when chronically stressed rats and mice were put in the same situation, they continued to choose the bright light/better chocolate milk side even as the chocolate milk concentration greatly increased on the dimmer side. This was the same behavior the researchers saw in rodents that had the prefrontal cortex-striosome circuit disrupted optogenetically.

 

"The result is that the animal ignores the high cost and chooses the high reward," Friedman says.

 

Circuit dynamics

 

The researchers believe that this circuit integrates information about the good and bad aspects of possible choices, helping the brain to produce a decision. Normally, when the circuit is turned on, neurons of the prefrontal cortex activate certain neurons called high-firing interneurons, which then suppress striosome activity.

 

When the animals are stressed, these circuit dynamics shift and the cortical neurons fire too late to inhibit the striosomes, which then become overexcited. This results in abnormal decision making.

 

"Somehow this prior exposure to chronic stress controls the integration of good and bad," Graybiel says. "It's as though the animals had lost their ability to balance excitation and inhibition in order to settle on reasonable behavior."

 

Once this shift occurs, it remains in effect for months, the researchers found. However, they were able to restore normal decision making in the stressed mice by using optogenetics to stimulate the high-firing interneurons, thereby suppressing the striosomes. This suggests that the prefronto-striosome circuit remains intact following chronic stress and could potentially be susceptible to manipulations that would restore normal behavior in human patients whose disorders lead to abnormal decision making.

 

"This state change could be reversible, and it's possible in the future that you could target these interneurons and restore the excitation-inhibition balance," Friedman says.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171116132746.htm

 

Consuming nuts strengthens brainwave function

Researchers find that nuts benefit the brain by enhancing cognition, memory, recall and rest

November 15, 2017

Science Daily/Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center

A new study has found that eating nuts on a regular basis strengthens brainwave frequencies associated with cognition, healing, learning, memory and other key brain functions.

 

In the study titled "Nuts and brain: Effects of eating nuts on changing electroencephalograph brainwaves," researchers found that some nuts stimulated some brain frequencies more than others. Pistachios, for instance, produced the greatest gamma wave response, which is critical for enhancing cognitive processing, information retention, learning, perception and rapid eye movement during sleep. Peanuts, which are actually legumes, but were still part of the study, produced the highest delta response, which is associated with healthy immunity, natural healing, and deep sleep.

 

The study's principal investigator, Lee Berk, DrPH, MPH, associate dean for research at the LLU School of Allied Health Professions, said that while researchers found variances between the six nut varieties tested, all of them were high in beneficial antioxidants, with walnuts containing the highest antioxidant concentrations of all.

 

Prior studies have demonstrated that nuts benefit the body in several significant ways: protecting the heart, fighting cancer, reducing inflammation and slowing the aging process. But Berk said he believes too little research has focused on how they affect the brain.

 

"This study provides significant beneficial findings by demonstrating that nuts are as good for your brain as they are for the rest of your body," Berk said, adding that he expects future studies will reveal that they make other contributions to the brain and nervous system as well.

 

Berk -- who is best known for four decades of research into the health benefits of happiness and laughter, as well as a cluster of recent studies on the antioxidants in dark chocolate -- assembled a team of 13 researchers to explore the effects of regular nut consumption on brainwave activity.

 

The team developed a pilot study using consenting subjects who consumed almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans, pistachios and walnuts. Electroencephalograms (EEG) were taken to measure the strength of brainwave signals. EEG wave band activity was then recorded from nine regions of the scalp associated with cerebral cortical function.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171115091809.htm

Quick! What's that smell? Mammal brains identify type of scent faster than once thought

November 14, 2017

Science Daily/NYU Langone Health / NYU School of Medicine

It takes less than one-tenth of a second -- a fraction of the time previously thought -- for the sense of smell to distinguish between one odor and another, new experiments in mice show.

 

In a study to be published in the journal Nature Communications online Nov. 14, researchers at NYU School of Medicine found that odorants -- chemical particles that trigger the sense of smell -- need only reach a few signaling proteins on the inside lining of the nose for the mice to identify a familiar aroma. Just as significantly, researchers say they also found that the animals' ability to tell odors apart was the same no matter how strong the scent (regardless of odorant concentration).

 

"Our study lays the groundwork for a new theory about how mammals, including humans, smell: one that is more streamlined than previously thought," says senior study investigator and neurobiologist Dmitry Rinberg, PhD. His team is planning further animal experiments to look for patterns of brain cell activation linked to smell detection and interpretation that could also apply to people.

 

"Much like human brains only need a few musical notes to name a particular song once a memory of it is formed, our findings demonstrate that a mouse's sense of smell needs only a few nerve signals to determine the kind of scent," says Rinberg, an associate professor at NYU Langone Health and its Neuroscience Institute.

 

When an odorant initially docks into its olfactory receptor protein on a nerve cell in the nose, the cell sends a signal to the part of the brain that assigns the odor, identifying the smell, says Rinberg.

 

Key among his team's latest findings was that mice recognize a scent right after activation of the first few olfactory brain receptors, and typically within the first 100 milliseconds of inhaling any odorant.

 

Previous research in animals had shown that it takes as long as 600 milliseconds for almost all olfactory brain receptors involved in their sense of smell to become fully activated, says Rinberg. However, earlier experiments in mice, which inhale through the nose faster than humans and have a faster sense of smell, showed that the number of activated receptors in their brains peaks after approximately 300 milliseconds.

 

Earlier scientific investigations had also shown that highly concentrated scents activated more receptors. But Rinberg says that until his team's latest experiments, researchers had not yet outlined the role of concentration in the odor identification process.

 

For the new study, mice were trained to lick a straw to get a water reward based on whether they smelled orange- or pine-like scents.

 

Using light-activated fibers inserted into the mouse nose, researchers could turn on individual brain receptors or groups of receptors involved in olfaction to control and track how many receptors were available to smell at any time. The optical technique was developed at NYU Langone.

 

The team then tested how well the mice performed on water rewards when challenged by different concentrations of each smell, and with more or fewer receptors available for activation. Early activation of too many receptors, the researchers found, impaired odor identification, increasing the number of errors made by trained mice in getting their reward.

 

Researchers found that early interruptions in sensing smell, less than 50 milliseconds from inhalation, reduced odor identification scores nearly to chance. By contrast, reward scores greatly improved when the mouse sense of smell was interrupted at any point after 50 milliseconds, but these gains fell off after 100 milliseconds.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171114091307.htm

 

Why head and face pain causes more suffering

Sensory neurons in the head and face tap directly into the brain's emotional pathways

November 13, 2017

Science Daily/Duke University

Scientists have discovered why pain from the head and face can be more disruptive, and more emotionally draining, than pain elsewhere in the body. The team found that sensory neurons from the head and face are wired directly into one of the brain's principal emotional signaling hubs, while sensory neurons from the body are connected only indirectly. The results may pave the way toward more effective treatments for chronic head pain.

 

Hate headaches? The distress you feel is not all in your -- well, head. People consistently rate pain of the head, face, eyeballs, ears and teeth as more disruptive, and more emotionally draining, than pain elsewhere in the body.

 

Duke University scientists have discovered how the brain's wiring makes us suffer more from head and face pain. The answer may lie not just in what is reported to us by the five senses, but in how that sensation makes us feel emotionally.

 

The team found that sensory neurons that serve the head and face are wired directly into one of the brain's principal emotional signaling hubs. Sensory neurons elsewhere in the body are also connected to this hub, but only indirectly.

 

The results may pave the way toward more effective treatments for pain mediated by the craniofacial nerve, such as chronic headaches and neuropathic face pain.

 

"Usually doctors focus on treating the sensation of pain, but this shows the we really need to treat the emotional aspects of pain as well," said Fan Wang, a professor of neurobiology and cell biology at Duke, and senior author of the study. The results appear online Nov. 13 in Nature Neuroscience.

 

Pain signals from the head versus those from the body are carried to the brain through two different groups of sensory neurons, and it is possible that neurons from the head are simply more sensitive to pain than neurons from the body.

 

But differences in sensitivity would not explain the greater fear and emotional suffering that patients experience in response to head-face pain than body pain, Wang said.

 

Personal accounts of greater fear and suffering are backed up by functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), which shows greater activity in the amygdala -- a region of the brain involved in emotional experiences -- in response to head pain than in response to body pain.

 

"There has been this observation in human studies that pain in the head and face seems to activate the emotional system more extensively," Wang said. "But the underlying mechanisms remained unclear."

 

To examine the neural circuitry underlying the two types of pain, Wang and her team tracked brain activity in mice after irritating either a paw or the face. They found that irritating the face led to higher activity in the brain's parabrachial nucleus (PBL), a region that is directly wired into the brain's instinctive and emotional centers.

 

Then they used methods based on a novel technology recently pioneered by Wang's group, called CANE, to pinpoint the sources of neurons that caused this elevated PBL activity.

 

"It was a eureka moment because the body neurons only have this indirect pathway to the PBL, whereas the head and face neurons, in addition to this indirect pathway, also have a direct input," Wang said. "This could explain why you have stronger activation in the amygdala and the brain's emotional centers from head and face pain."

 

Further experiments showed that activating this pathway prompted face pain, while silencing the pathway reduced it.

 

"We have the first biological explanation for why this type of pain can be so much more emotionally taxing than others," said Wolfgang Liedtke, a professor of neurology at Duke University Medical Center and a co-author on Wang's paper, who is also treating patients with head- and face-pain. "This will open the door toward not only a more profound understanding of chronic head and face pain, but also toward translating this insight into treatments that will benefit people."

 

Chronic head-face pain such cluster headaches and trigeminal neuralgia can become so severe that patients seek surgical solutions, including severing the known neural pathways that carry pain signals from the head and face to the hindbrain. But a substantial number of patients continue to suffer, even after these invasive measures.

 

"Some of the most debilitating forms of pain occur in the head regions, such as migraine," said Qiufu Ma, a professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the study. "The discovery of this direct pain pathway might provide an explanation why facial pain is more severe and more unpleasant."

 

Liedtke said targeting the neural pathway identified here can be a new approach toward developing innovative treatments for this devastating head and face pain.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171113123753.htm

People will desire something even more if you increase their focus on it

November 13, 2017

Science Daily/Case Western Reserve University

The relationship between desire and attention was long thought to only work in one direction: when a person desires something, they focus their attention on it.

 

Now, new research reveals this relationship works the other way, too: increasing a person's focus on a desirable object makes them want the object even more -- a finding with important implications for marketers and clinicians seeking to influence behavior.

 

The study, published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, is the first to demonstrate a two-way relationship.

 

"People will block out distraction and narrow their attention on something they want," said Anne Kotynski, author of the study and a PhD student in psychological sciences at Case Western Reserve University. "Now we know this works in the opposite direction, too."

 

In marketing, advertisements with a hyper focus on a product's desirable aspect -- say zooming in on the texture of icing and frosting -- might help sell a certain brand of cake.

 

Findings suggest the ad could be targeted to people who have shown an interest in a similar product, such as running the cake commercial during a baking show.

 

Clinicians could potentially help their patients develop a stronger focus on -- and pursuit of -- healthy activities that they may desire but otherwise resist, such as exercising or eating a balanced diet, Kotynski said.

 

The study's findings also add a wrinkle to knowledge of focus and emotion.

 

According to a spate of previous research, positive emotions -- such as happiness and joy -- widen a person's attention span, while negative emotions -- such as disgust and fear -- do the opposite: narrowing a person's focus.

 

"We conceptualize fear as drastically different from desire," Kotynski said. "But our findings contribute to growing evidence that these different emotions have something key in common: They both narrow our focus in similar ways."

 

The findings also fit the notion that both of these emotions -- fear (negative) and desire (positive) -- are associated with evolutionarily pursuits that narrowed our ancestors' attentions.

 

For example, fear of predators motivated attention focused on an escape route, while an urge to mate motivated focus on a sexual partner.

 

"If a person has a strong desire, research says this positive emotion would make them have a wide attention span," Kotynski said. "Our research shows we developed a more beneficial behavior around desire: focusing our mental energy on the important object, much like fear would."

 

The study

 

Study participants were shown images of desserts mixed in with mundane items. They were instructed to pull a joystick toward them if the image was tilted one direction and push the stick away if it was tilted the opposite direction. Researchers recorded the reaction time of each.

 

Participants who responded fastest to pull the images of desserts were those whose attention had been narrowed. Responses were much slower to the mundane, and for participants whose attention was broad -- suggesting narrowed attention increases desire for desserts but not for everyday objects.

 

The study used dessert pictures to measure reaction time because such images have been shown to increase desire across individuals, most likely due to a motivation to seek high fat, high calorie foods that is rooted in evolution.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171113095516.htm

Blue lighting is scientifically proven to help us relax faster than white lighting after an argument

November 10, 2017

Science Daily/University of Granada

Researchers say that blue light accelerates the relaxation process after acute psychosocial stress such as arguing with a friend or when someone pressures you to quickly finish some task.

 

Said stress is a kind of short-term stress (acute stress) that occurs during social or interpersonal relationships, for example while arguing with a friend or when someone pressures you to finish a certain task as soon as possible.

 

The researchers, which belong to the BCI Lab (Brain-Computer Interface Lab) at the University of Granada, note that psychosocial stress produces some physiological responses that can be measured by means of bio-signals. That stress is very common and negatively affects people's health and quality of life.

 

For their work, whose results have been published in the PlosOne journal, the researchers made twelve volunteers to be stressed and then perform a relaxation session within the multisensory stimulation room at the School for Special Education San Rafael.

 

In said room the participants lied down with no stimulus but a blue (group 1) or white (group 2) lighting. Diverse bio-signals, such as heart rate and brain activity, were measured throughout the whole session (by means of an electrocardiogram and an electroencephalogram, respectively).

 

The results showed that blue lighting accelerates the relaxation process, in comparison with conventional white lighting.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171110113936.htm

'Bursts' of beta waves, not sustained rhythms, filter sensory processing in brain

November 8, 2017

Science Daily/Brown University

Scientists have found that people and mice alike use brief bursts of beta brainwaves, rather than sustained rhythms, to control attention and perception.

 

To better understand the brain and to develop potential therapies, neuroscientists have been investigating how "beta" frequency brainwaves help the brain filter distractions to process sensations. A new Brown University study stands to substantially refine what they thought was going on: What really matters is not a sustained elevation in beta wave power, but instead the rate of specific bursts of beta wave activity, ideally with perfect timing.

 

The new insight, reported in the journal eLife, arose from the scientists looking beneath the covers of the typical practice of averaging beta brain wave data. With a closer examination, trial-by-trial for each subject, they saw that what really reflected attention and impacted perception were discrete, powerful bursts of beta waves at frequencies around 20 hertz.

 

"When people were trying to block distraction in a brain area, the probability of seeing these beta events went up," said senior author Stephanie R. Jones, an associate professor of neuroscience at Brown. "The brain seemed to be flexibly modulating the expression of these beta events for optimal perception."

 

The findings, made with consistency in humans and mice, can not only refine ongoing research into how beta waves arise and work in the brain, Jones said, but also provide guidance to clinicians as they develop therapies that seek to modulate beta waves.

 

Testing touch

 

The research team, led by graduate student Hyeyoung Shin, acquired the data through a series of experiments in which they measured beta waves in the somatosensory neocortex of humans and mice in the second leading up to inducing (or not inducing) varying amounts of a tactile sensation. Humans wore a cap of magnetoencephalography sensors, while mice had implanted electrodes. For people, the sensation was a tap on a finger tip or the foot. For mice, it was a wiggle of a whisker.

 

Subjects were merely required to report the sensations they felt -- people pushed a button, while mice were trained to lick a sensor in exchange for a reward. The researchers tracked the association of beta power with whether subjects accurately detected, or didn't detect, stimuli. What they found, as expected, is that the more beta activity there was in the corresponding region of cortex, the less likely subjects were to report feeling a sensation. Elevated beta activity is known to help suppress distractions.

 

A particularly good example, Shin said, was that in experiments where people were first instructed to focus on their foot, there was more beta power in the hand region of the neocortex. Correspondingly, more beta in the hand region resulted in less detection of a sensation in the hand.

 

"We think that beta acts a filter mechanism," Shin said.

 

Beta bursts

 

Consistently throughout various iterations of the experiments across both the human and mouse subjects, increases in beta activity did not manifest as a continuously elevated rhythm. Instead, when beta appeared, it quickly spiked in short, distinct bursts of power. Only if a subject's beta was averaged over many trials would it look like a smooth plateau of high-power activity.

 

After discovering this pattern, the researchers performed analyses to determine what features of the bursts best predicted whether subjects would report, or miss, a touch sensation. After all, it could be the number of bursts, their power, or maybe how long they lasted.

 

What Shin and the team found is that number of bursts and their timing both mattered independently. If there were two or more bursts any time in the second before a sensation, it was significantly more likely to go undetected. Alternatively, if just one burst hit within 200 milliseconds of the sensation, the stimulus would also be more likely to be overlooked.

 

"The ideal case was having large numbers and being close in timing to the stimulus," Shin said.

 

A better idea of beta

 

While the study helps to characterize the nature of beta in the somatosensory neocortex, it doesn't explain how it affects sensations, Jones acknowledged. But that's why it is important that the results were in lockstep in both mice and in people. Confirming that mice model the human experience means researchers can rely on mice in experiments that delve more deeply into how beta bursts arise and what their consequence are in neurons and circuits. Shin is already doing experiments to dissect how distinct neural subpopulations contribute to beta bursts and somatosensory detection, respectively. Co-author and postdoctoral researcher Robert Law is applying computational neural models that link the human and animal recordings for further discovery.

 

In the clinical realm, Jones said, an improved understanding of how beta works could translate directly into improving therapies such as transcranial magnetic stimulation or transcranial alternating current to treat neurological disorders, such as chronic pain, or depression. Rather than using those technologies to generate a consistent elevation in beta in a brain region, Jones said, it might be more effective to use them to induce (or suppress) shorter, more powerful bursts and to time those to be as close in time to a target brain activity as possible.

 

"Typically with non-invasive brain stimulation you are trying to entrain a rhythm," Jones said. "What our results suggest is that's not what the brain is doing. The brain is doing this intermittent pattern of activity."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171108092409.htm

 

Clear effect of art therapy on severe depression

November 6, 2017

Science Daily/University of Gothenburg

Create a picture of how you are feeling on this particular day, said the first exercise in the art therapy. After ten treatments the patients who suffered from severe or moderately severe depression had shown more improvement than the patients in the control group, shows research.

 

"The conclusion is that it was the art therapy that facilitated their improvement," says Christina Blomdahl, PhD at the institute of health and care sciences, licensed occupational therapist and art therapist.

 

As part of her dissertation she has allowed 43 patients with severe or moderately severe depression to undergo a manual-based art therapy that she has developed herself. The control group consisted of 36 people who all suffered from the same medical condition.

 

In parallel with this, all participants were given different combinations of medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy and physical therapy. The majority of the participants were so affected by their depression that they were unable to work.

 

The individual art therapy took place in psychiatry or primary care and was conducted by a specially trained therapist. Each session began with a short briefing and a relaxation exercise. After that it was crayons, water colors and creation that was on the agenda, all based on a predetermined setup.

 

"They followed the manual I had created in order to ensure that it was scientific, but although everyone was given the same theme to go on the patients responded very differently to the exercises. The materials were simple, allowing people to doodle and feel free to express themselves the way they wanted to, and then they would talk about the picture and its significance to the participant," explains Christina Blomdahl.

 

After ten hour-long treatment sessions the patients had improved on an average of almost five steps on a rating scale used for depression. A large leap that entails a considerable change to everyday life, and sometimes it may also mean that a patient is able to return to work.

 

Anxiety, sleep, ability to take initiative and emotional involvement are some of the factors that are assessed. In the control group that had not undergone art therapy there was no definite change.

 

"The focal point was that people felt like they were meeting themselves; that the picture served as a mirror where you could see and make new discoveries about yourself, a bit like coming to life, says Christina Blomdahl.

 

"Even the people who did not experience any direct benefit from the treatment had shown improvement. Painting pictures based on themes and discussing the pictures with the therapist promotes self-reflection and brain stimulation that takes place outside of the conscious mind," she continues.

 

"It is my hope that art therapy will be used in healthcare again. Based on evidence requirements it has been more or less scrapped by psychiatry, but this is one of the largest studies that has been conducted in this area and it is a step that may lead to more people being trained in it and the method being used again," Christina Blomdahl concludes.

Further information: https://gupea.ub.gu.se/handle/2077/52419

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171106100128.htm

Possible new weapon against PTSD

September 1, 2015

Science Daily/Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Blocking a newly identified memory pathway could prevent the disorder

Animals who underwent chronic stress prior to a traumatic experience engaged a distinctive brain pathway that encodes traumatic memories more strongly than in unstressed animals, new research shows.

 

About 8 million Americans suffer from nightmares and flashbacks to a traumatic event. This condition, known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is particularly common among soldiers who have been in combat, though it can also be triggered by physical attack or natural disaster.

 

Studies have shown that trauma victims are more likely to develop PTSD if they have previously experienced chronic stress, and a new study from MIT may explain why. The researchers found that animals who underwent chronic stress prior to a traumatic experience engaged a distinctive brain pathway that encodes traumatic memories more strongly than in unstressed animals.

 

Blocking this type of memory formation may offer a new way to prevent PTSD, says Ki Goosens, the senior author of the study, which appears in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

 

"The idea is not to make people amnesic but to reduce the impact of the trauma in the brain by making the traumatic memory more like a 'normal,' unintrusive memory," says Goosens, an assistant professor of neuroscience and investigator in MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research.

 

The paper's lead author is former MIT postdoc Michael Baratta.

 

Strong memories

 

Goosens' lab has sought for several years to find out why chronic stress is so strongly linked with PTSD. "It's a very potent risk factor, so it must have a profound change on the underlying biology of the brain," she says.

 

To investigate this, the researchers focused on the amygdala, an almond-sized brain structure whose functions include encoding fearful memories. They found that in animals that developed PTSD symptoms following chronic stress and a traumatic event, serotonin promotes the process of memory consolidation. When the researchers blocked amygdala cells' interactions with serotonin after trauma, the stressed animals did not develop PTSD symptoms. Blocking serotonin in unstressed animals after trauma had no effect.

 

"That was really surprising to us," Baratta says. "It seems like stress is enabling a serotonergic memory consolidation process that is not present in an unstressed animal."

 

Memory consolidation is the process by which short-term memories are converted into long-term memories and stored in the brain. Some memories are consolidated more strongly than others. For example, "flashbulb" memories, formed in response to a highly emotional experience, are usually much more vivid and easier to recall than typical memories.

 

Goosens and colleagues further discovered that chronic stress causes cells in the amygdala to express many more 5-HT2C receptors, which bind to serotonin. Then, when a traumatic experience occurs, this heightened sensitivity to serotonin causes the memory to be encoded more strongly, which Goosens believes contributes to the strong flashbacks that often occur in patients with PTSD.

 

"It's strengthening the consolidation process so the memory that's generated from a traumatic or fearful event is stronger than it would be if you don't have this serotonergic consolidation engaged," Baratta says.

 

Drug intervention

 

This memory consolidation process can take hours to days to complete, but once a memory is consolidated, it is very difficult to erase. However, the findings suggest that it may be possible to either prevent traumatic memories from forming so strongly in the first place, or to weaken them after consolidation, using drugs that interfere with serotonin.

 

"The consolidation process gives us a window in which we can possibly intervene and prevent the development of PTSD. If you give a drug or intervention that can block fear memory consolidation, that's a great way to think about treating PTSD," Goosens says. "Such an intervention won't cause people to forget the experience of the trauma, but they might not have the intrusive memory that is ultimately going to cause them to have nightmares or be afraid of things that are similar to the traumatic experience."

 

The Food and Drug Administration has already approved a drug called agomelatine that blocks this type of serotonin receptor and is used as an antidepressant.

 

Such a drug might also be useful to treat patients who already suffer from PTSD. These patients' traumatic memories are already consolidated, but some research has shown that when memories are recalled, there is a window of time during which they can be altered and reconsolidated. It may be possible to weaken these memories by using serotonin-blocking drugs to interfere with the reconsolidation process, says Goosens, who plans to begin testing that possibility in animals.

 

The findings also suggest that the antidepressant Prozac and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are commonly given to PTSD patients, likely do not help and may actually worsen their symptoms. Prozac enhances the effects of serotonin by prolonging its exposure to brain cells. While this often helps those suffering from depression, "There's no biological evidence to support the use of SSRIs for PTSD," Goosens says.

 

"The consolidation of traumatic memories requires this serotonergic cascade and we want to block it, not enhance it," she adds. "This study suggests we should rethink the use of SSRIs in PTSD and also be very careful about how they are used, particularly when somebody is recently traumatized and their memories are still being consolidated, or when a patient is undergoing cognitive behavior therapy where they're recalling the memory of the trauma and the memory is going through the process of reconsolidation."

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150901100547.htm

 

How exposure to brief trauma and sudden sounds form lasting memories

Study may speed improved treatments for hearing loss and symptoms of PTSD

August 24, 2015

Science Daily/NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine

Researchers have found how even brief exposure to sudden sounds or mild trauma can form permanent, long-term brain connections, or memories, in a specific region of the brain.

 

The NYU team says their new study, summarized in the cover article in the journal Nature Neuroscience online Aug. 24, is believed to be the first to explore an apparent connection between hearing and memory formation in the locus coeruleus as well as the first to successfully improve hearing in rats by manipulating the centrally located brain region whose neural network projects throughout the body.

 

"Our study gives us deeper insight into the functions of the locus coeruleus as a powerful amplifier in the brain, controlling how and where the brain stores and transforms sudden, traumatizing sounds and events into memories," says senior study investigator and neuroscientist Robert C. Froemke, PhD, an assistant professor at NYU Langone and its Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine. "Our findings, if confirmed by future studies in animals and people, should help us better understand how to improve hearing and memory abilities in those suffering from hearing loss or possibly even Alzheimer's disease, as well as how to alter or minimize memories involved in disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder."

 

According to the investigators, their findings provide insight into how and where traumatizing events stick in our minds and may possibly explain why it may take years to learn dates in history class but only seconds to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, from a shock or sudden event. They also say these study results may help explain how electrical impulses, such as those produced by cochlear implants for the hearing impaired, can better be used to improve hearing, and how traumatizing memories can be reshaped or dampened to lessen symptoms of PTSD.

 

As part of the Froemke team's four-year investigation, led by Ana Raquel O. Martins, PhD, PharmD, the researchers chemically stimulated the locus coeruleus in rats while simultaneously playing them a sound paired with a food reward. After a two-week training period to ensure that the rats associated the sound with food, the same sound was played much more quietly. The researchers recorded activity in the same regions of their brain, as well as in the auditory cortex area responsible for interpreting sounds. They found that the locus coeruleus and auditory cortex still responded to the sound, even at nearly imperceptible levels, for the subsequent and remaining two weeks of the experiments.

 

However, chemically stimulating the locus coeruleus led to 100 percent neural activity in the auditory cortex, even in the absence of the same triggering sounds. Neural activity in the auditory cortex in response to the sounds was at least 10 times greater than when activity in the locus coeruleus was chemically suppressed.

 

According to Froemke, the results clearly demonstrate that the memory of the sound and its associated reward was encoded by the locus coeruleus, which helped improve the rats' ability to perceive the sound.

 

In another set of experiments, the investigators paired a specific sound with a series of mild shocks to the animals and found that when the shocks stopped, but the sound continued to play, their locus coeruleus response remained the same, at 20 neuron spikes per second.

 

Froemke says he next plans to investigate how information is encoded within the locus coeruleus and to identify which cells are activated by cochlear implants and in animal models of PTSD. He is also planning experiments to identify patterns formed in the locus coerelus during other behavioral events involving hearing, such as mothers responding to the cries and calls of their offspring.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/08/150824114553.htm

Impact of sleep disturbance on recovery in veterans with PTSD and TBI

August 21, 2015

Science Daily/Boston University Medical Center

Poor sleep may impact treatment and recovery in veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). A review of extensive research on sleep in TBI and PTSD has found that sleep-focused interventions can improve treatment outcomes in veterans.

 

Led by researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and VA Boston Healthcare System, the review article currently appears online in the journal of Clinical Psychology Review.

 

Sleep difficulty is a primary symptom of both PTSD and TBI and has been found to affect the severity of both conditions. TBI patients can suffer from permanent sleep problems regardless of the severity of their initial injury. Approximately 40 to 65 percent of individuals have insomnia after mild TBI, while patients with sleep difficulties are at a higher risk of developing PTSD. Despite recent attention, sleep has been understudied in the veteran population.

 

The review found that poor sleep often persists in veterans after resolution of their PTSD and mild TBI symptoms, but few treatments and rehabilitation protocols target sleep specifically. "In these veterans, sleep disturbances continue to adversely impact daily functioning and quality of life. "PTSD, TBI, and sleep problems significantly affect functional status and quality of life in veterans returning from combat," explains lead author Yelena Bogdanova, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at BUSM add VA title.

 

According to the researchers sleep is critical for restorative processes and evaluation of sleep problems should be integral to the clinical management of PTSD and TBI. "Understanding sleep problems and their role in the development and maintenance of PTSD and TBI symptoms may lead to improvement in overall treatment outcomes," added Bogdanova. "Future research efforts," she proposes, "should target the development of sleep-focused interventions."

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/08/150821111053.htm

 

Study finds association between people who have had a traumatic brain injury, ADHD

Findings suggest it may be useful to assess TBI history during screening, assessment of ADHD

August 20, 2015

Science Daily/St. Michael's Hospital

A new study has found a 'significant association' between adults who have suffered a traumatic brain injury at some point in their lives and who also have attention deficit hyperactive disorder.

 

The study, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, supports research that found a similar association in children, said Dr. Gabriela Ilie, lead author of the study and a post-doctoral fellow at St. Michael's Hospital.

 

The data used in the adult study was collected by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health's Monitor, a continuous, cross-sectional telephone survey of almost 4,000 Ontario residents age 18 and older. Traumatic brain injury was described as any injury to the head that resulted in loss of consciousness for at least five minutes or overnight hospitalization. ADHD was measured by self-reported history of an ADHD diagnosis or the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale known as the ASRS.

 

Among adults with a history of TBI, 5.9 per cent reported having been diagnosed with ADHD in their lifetime and another 6.6 per cent screened positive for ADHD when the self-report scale was conducted during the phone survey.

 

Recent clinical studies have suggested a relationship between ADHD and TBI that were experienced in childhood.

 

"This is not be surprising because some of the most persistent consequences of TBI include ADHD-like symptoms, such as memory and attention impairment, deficits in executive functions such as planning and organization, processing consonants and vowels and impulsive behaviour," Dr. Ilie said.

 

Other studies have suggested that TBI may lead to psycho-neurological changes that facilitate ADHD or ADHD may increase the probability that a person may fall or have another accident that will result in a TBI.

 

"Therefore it may be useful to assess TBI history during screening and assessment of ADHD in the adult population," Dr. Ilie said.

 

Dr. Robert Mann, senior scientist at CAMH and co-principal investigator said this latest study extends previous findings from the research team about the association between TBI and mental health and addiction issues.

 

"These new data suggest a significant association between ADHD and TBI," Dr. Mann said. "We see that adults with TBI are more than twice as likely than those without to report symptoms of ADHD."

 

Traumatic brain injuries are increasing in developed countries. The World Health Organization has predicted that by 2020 TBI will become the third largest contributor of disease and disability in the world, following heart disease and depressions.

 

Injuries from team sports such as hockey and football have been identified as the main source of TBI among youth, while falls and motor vehicle collisions are the main causes among adults.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/08/150820105207.htm

Depressed fathers risk not getting help

November 6, 2017

Science Daily/Lund University

Postnatal depression among new mothers is a well-known phenomenon. Knowledge about depression in new fathers, however, is more limited. A new study shows that depression among new fathers may be more common than previously believed. There is also a major risk that it remains undetected using today's screening instruments, and that fathers do not receive the help they need.

 

Detecting depression in new parents is crucial -- not only for their own sake but also because depressed parents often become less perceptive to the needs of their child, particularly if the child cries a lot. Babies of depressed parents tend to receive less stimulation which, eventually, could lead to slower development. In some cases, depression may lead to neglect of the child or inappropriately forceful behaviors.

 

"These behaviours are not unusual -- depression does not only involve major suffering for the parent, but also a risk for the child," says Elia Psouni, associate professor of developmental psychology and co-author of the study, together with psychologists Johan Agebjörn and Hanne Linder.

 

All new mothers are screened for depression, and an estimated 10-12 per cent of women are affected during their first year after giving birth. Fathers, however, are not screened, but previous international studies claim that the proportion of depressed fathers amounts to just over 8 per cent.

 

The study of 447 new fathers showed that the established method of detecting depression (EPDS, Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale) works poorly on men.

 

"This means that current statistics may not tell the whole truth when it comes to depression in new fathers," says Elia Psouni. "The screening method does not capture symptoms which are particularly common in men, such as irritation, restlessness, low stress tolerance, and lack of self-control."

 

Although one-third of the depressed fathers in the study had thoughts of hurting themselves, very few were in contact with the healthcare system. Among those who were classified being moderately to severely depressed, 83 per cent had not shared their suffering with anyone. Although difficult to know, the corresponding figure for new mothers is believed to be 20-50 per cent.

 

"Telling people you feel depressed is taboo; as a new parent, you are expected to be happy. On top of that, previous research has shown that men are often reluctant to seeking help for mental health issues, especially depression; therefore it's doubtful that they would reveal their suffering to a paediatric nurse," says Elia Psouni.

 

Elia Psouni, Johan Agebjörn and Hanne Linder hope that their study will lead to improved screening methods in accordance with their suggestions, delivered so that it can reach all fathers. The method they developed, which combines questions from EPDS and GMDS (Gotland Male Depression Scale), proved to be well-suited for capturing dads with multiple symptoms of depression.

 

When it comes to screening depression in fathers, Elia Psouni thinks that the period to consider should be longer than the 12 months currently applied in studies of new mothers.

 

"Among dads, depression is common even at the end of the first year, which may be due to the fact that they rarely get help, but there may be other explanations. Whatever the reason, it is important to monitor dads' wellbeing as their part of the parental leave usually occurs towards the end of the child's first year of life."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171106112238.htm

More physical activity and higher intensity physical activity may significantly reduce risk of death in older women in the short term

November 6, 2017

Science Daily/American Heart Association

Using wearable devices to measure activity showed that the amount of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity was associated with an up to 70 percent lower risk of death among older women in a four-year study. The amount of light intensity physical activity was not associated with death risk, but that may not negate the benefits of light activity for other health outcomes.

 

Researchers found the volume of light intensity physical activity or sedentary behavior was not associated with death rate. However, light intensity activity may be beneficial for other health outcomes not studied in this research.

 

Previous studies, which used self-reports, showed that active people have about 20 percent to 30 percent lower death rates compared to their least active counterparts.

 

This research, conducted from 2011 to 2015, is among the first to investigate physical activity, measured using a wearable device called a triaxial accelerometer, and a clinical outcome. The device is capable of measuring activity along three planes: up and down, front to back and side to side. These capabilities increase sensitivity to detect physical activity and allow for more precise measurements.

 

"We used devices to better measure not only higher intensity physical activities, but also lower intensity activities and sedentary behavior, which has become of great interest in the last few years," said I-Min Lee, M.B.B.S., Sc.D., the study's first author and professor of medicine and epidemiology at Harvard University's medical and public health schools in Boston, Massachusetts.

 

More than 17,700 women (average age 72) who were asked to wear the device for seven days, when awake, returned their devices. Data were analyzed from 16,741 compliant participants (i.e., their devices showed it was worn for at least 10 hours a day, on at least four days). During an average follow-up of approximately two-and-a-half years, 207 women died.

 

Researchers found:

 

·      More moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity (such as brisk walking) was associated with roughly a 60 percent to 70 percent lower risk of death at the end of the study among the most active women, compared to the least active.

·      More light intensity activity (such as housework and slow walking -- e.g., window shopping in a mall), or more sedentary behavior was not independently associated with death risk at the study's end. Researchers stressed this finding does not mean light activity isn't beneficial for other health outcomes not studied here.

 

Researchers chose this study population to begin addressing knowledge gaps, said Lee who is also an associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "Younger people in their 20s and 30s generally can participate in vigorous intensity activities, such as running or playing basketball. But for older people, vigorous intensity activity may be impossible, and moderate intensity activity may not even be achievable. So, we were interested in studying potential health benefits associated with light intensity activities that most older people can do."

 

The study's participants, selected from the Women's Health Study, were relatively healthy, and mostly white women, therefore the findings may have limited generalizability to other groups of people.

 

The findings support 2008 federal guidelines and American Heart Association that suggest at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity (or a combination of the two) and muscle-strengthening exercises two or more days a week.

 

"We hope to continue this study in the future to examine other health outcomes, and particularly to investigate the details of how much and what kinds of activity are healthful. What is irrefutable is the fact that physical activity is good for your health," Lee said.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171106085826.htm

Mindfulness may help mothers cope with stress when their babies have a heart condition

Working with mothers, nurse researchers form CHOP and Penn Nursing analyze coping techniques, including positive focus on here and now

November 2, 2017

Science Daily/Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Mindfulness may offer an active coping mechanism for mothers faced with the stress of having a newborn diagnosed with congenital heart disease (CHD). Mindfulness, which aims to increase a person's awareness and acceptance of daily experiences, is currently used in a variety of healthcare settings as a potentially effective skill for stress reduction, emotion, affect and attention regulation.

 

A team of nurse-researchers from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing) published a study in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing in which they gathered perspectives on coping mechanisms from focus groups with 14 mothers of critically ill infants, and explored the feasibility of mindfulness as a stress-reduction technique.

 

"Mothers of infants with complex congenital heart disease are exposed to increased stress, which has been associated with numerous adverse outcomes," said Barbara Medoff-Cooper, PhD, RN FAAN, principal investigator and nurse scientist in the Cardiac Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and at Penn Nursing. "The coping mechanisms these mothers use critically impacts the family's adaptation to the illness, and most likely infant outcomes as well."

 

"Thus far, parental interventions in the CICU generally are informative or educational, aiming to increase parental abilities to actively manage the caretaking demands of an infant with CHD," said Nadya Golfenshtein, PhD, RN, lead author of the study and a researcher at Penn Nursing. "Mindfulness can be a helpful tool that assists mothers during an incredibly stressful time for them, and for their family by allowing them to pause and be present in the moment rather than wishing something different was happening or worrying about tomorrow."

 

The researchers collected data during focus groups between July 2015 and March 2016. The sessions included a short introduction to mindfulness as a stress reduction intervention, led by a moderator who is a psychotherapist experienced in group formats.

 

"In the study, mothers described the post-diagnostic period, surgery and the cardiac intensive care unit stay as extremely stressful," said Amy J. Lisanti, PhD, RN, CCNS, CCRN-K, nurse researcher at CHOP and NRSA postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. "Many expressed concerns regarding the post-discharge period when they would need to independently handle their infant's condition. Their increased stress often led them to feel out of control, lethargic and not like themselves. They acknowledged the importance of stress reduction, recognizing that relief from stress could help them sleep better, recharge energy, focus and think clearly."

 

After experiencing a brief guided session of mindfulness in a focus group, one mother said, "Most meditation is about clear your mind and lose focus, but this is to focus on now. I think it works for me, I was never able to do the clear mind thing. This is more accessible to me." Another noted, "This is something I'm doing for myself, remembering I'm part of this too. Sometimes you are on autopilot, making sure everyone else is ok. Yes, this is a moment when I'm doing something for myself."

 

The mothers agreed that mindfulness should start early, preferably immediately after the prenatal CHD diagnosis. That way, they felt, that they would have time to learn and practice the skill by the time the baby is born. There was also a general agreement that the worst time to begin the practice is around surgery, as that is an overwhelming time and mothers are too busy to learn a new skill. The mothers preferred engaging in mindfulness in a private, quiet room as the sounds of the CICU stress them and may prevent them from relaxing.

 

"We hope to design a program that draws from these findings and more research on mindfulness meditation is needed in a larger cohort of mothers," added Golfenshtein.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171102124912.htm

Bonding benefits of breastfeeding extend years beyond infancy

Longer breastfeeding predicts increases in maternal sensitivity over time

October 30, 2017

Science Daily/American Psychological Association

Women who breastfeed their children longer exhibit more maternal sensitivity well past the infant and toddler years, according to a 10-year longitudinal study.

 

The results held even after accounting for maternal neuroticism, parenting attitudes, ethnicity, mother's education and presence of a romantic partner. The findings are published in the journal Developmental Psychology.

 

"It was surprising to us that breastfeeding duration predicted change over time in maternal sensitivity," said the study's lead author, Jennifer Weaver, PhD, of Boise State University. "We had prior research suggesting a link between breastfeeding and early maternal sensitivity, but nothing to indicate that we would continue to see effects of breastfeeding significantly beyond the period when breastfeeding had ended."

 

Maternal sensitivity was defined as the synchronous timing of a mother's responsiveness to her child, her emotional tone, her flexibility in her behavior and her ability to read her child's cues.

 

Even though increased breastfeeding duration led to greater maternal sensitivity over time, the effect sizes were small, according to the article. That means the close interaction experienced during breastfeeding may be only one of many ways the bond is strengthened between mother and child, according to Weaver.

 

The researchers analyzed data from interviews with 1,272 families who participated in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's Study of Early Child Care. Recruited from 10 sites around the U.S. in 1991 when their infants were a month old, mothers completed a home interview and became part of the initial study sample. The sample included a substantial proportion of less-educated parents (30 percent had no college education), and ethnic minority families (13 percent were African-American).

 

Women in the study breastfed for an average of 17 weeks. Fewer than 1 percent breastfed for 24 months and 29 percent didn't breastfeed at all. Researchers interviewed and videotaped families in their homes periodically until their child turned 11.

 

As part of the study, parents interacted with their children during free play scenarios and age-appropriate problem-solving tasks. For example, at the six-month visit, parents and babies played with a set of toys and, when the children were 4, they would complete a maze together. When the children were in fifth grade, mothers talked to their child about an area of possible disagreement, and also worked with their child to build a tower out of toothpicks. Researchers rated the quality of the collaborative interaction, such as the mother's level of support, respect for her child's autonomy and levels of hostility.

 

While fathers participated in the home interviews, there was no correlation between the mother's breastfeeding length and men's sensitivity toward their children.

 

The study is not intended to diminish the bonding experiences of women who are not able to breastfeed, said Weaver. "Ultimately, I do hope that we will see breastfeeding examined more closely as a parenting factor, not just as a health consideration, to allow us to more fully understand the role that breastfeeding plays in family life."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171030092921.htm

There is no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy

October 24, 2017

Science Daily/Binghamton University

Any amount of alcohol exposure during pregnancy can cause extreme lasting effects on a child, according to new research.

 

A team of researchers led by Marvin Diaz, assistant professor of psychology at Binghamton University, determined that even a small to moderate amount of alcohol exposure produces significant amounts of anxiety in offspring, lasting through adolescence and into adulthood. This research differed in its use of only low levels of alcohol exposure, whereas prior studies used high levels of exposure to reach the same conclusion.

 

"There's been a lot of media coverage on whether there's a safe amount of alcohol to drink," said Diaz. "This study shows that there isn't."

 

Pregnant rats were exposed to ethyl alcohol vapor for a six-hour period on their twelfth day of gestation; this was the only time the rats were exposed to alcohol. The offspring were then subjected to a series of anxiety tests. The researchers found that anxiety was most apparent in male rats during their adolescence. After entering adulthood, the effects were opposite, with ethanol exposed male rats showing reduced anxiety, while the females still appear to be unaffected.

 

"The most important takeaway from this study is that the effects we studied on the rats only took one day of exposure to produce -- just six hours," said Diaz.

 

Diaz is interested in taking this research further, to determine exactly what changed in the brain to cause such increased levels of anxiety after alcohol exposure, and to see why the effects are apparent in male rats but not females.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171024130614.htm

Traumatic events take toll on the heart

New study links traumatic experiences with increased risk of heart disease, especially after the menopause transition

October 11, 2017

Science Daily/The North American Menopause Society (NAMS)

Today it seems about everything has been shown to lead to heart disease. Of course, smoking is bad for you, as is high blood pressure. There's even mounting evidence that psychosocial factors can cause heart problems. A new study demonstrates how traumatic experiences can affect vascular health and, ultimately, heart disease.

 

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in women. According to the American Heart Association, every minute in the US someone's mother, wife, daughter, or sister dies from a form a heart disease. To date, little research has been done to study the impact of traumatic experiences on vascular health as a precursor to heart disease. Even less work has focused on this relationship during the menopause transition when the risk of heart disease is naturally increasing, along with deteriorating endothelial function. (The endothelium is the inner lining of the heart and blood vessels.)

 

In this study of 272 peri- and postmenopausal nonsmoking women, researchers tested whether a greater number of lifetime traumatic experiences was related to poorer endothelial function, independent of demographic characteristics, other heart disease risk factors, estradiol, and childhood abuse history. The result was that women reporting a higher number of traumatic experiences (three or more) had poorer endothelial function which can make them more susceptible to a cardiac incident. For purposes of this study, traumatic experiences were defined as events such as sexual harassment, death of a child, being in a car accident, experiencing a natural disaster, or being beaten or mugged.

 

"These findings underscore the importance of psychosocial factors, such as trauma exposure, in the development of heart disease risk in midlife women," says Dr. Rebecca Thurston, lead author of the study from the University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine.

 

"Given the large percentage of postmenopausal women affected by heart disease, this is an important study that should remind healthcare providers of the need to thoroughly discuss a woman's history beyond simply asking about her physical health," says Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, NAMS executive director."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171011091739.htm

Iron supplements have long-term benefits for low birth-weight babies

Follow-up study finds early iron intervention can lower levels of aggression and rule-breaking behavior in children age 7

September 27, 2017

Science Daily/Springer

Babies classified as low birth weight (under 2,500 grams) are at risk of iron deficiency, which is linked to impaired neurological development. A long-term randomized study now shows that providing such babies with iron supplements can prevent behavioral problems at school age.

 

The findings are part of ongoing Swedish research involving 285 late preterm and term infants who weighed between 2000 grams and 2500 grams at birth, and were defined as being marginally low birth weight. This group represents a significant number of all births. The babies were randomly selected to receive either no iron supplements, or specific doses from the age of six weeks to six months.

 

Research up until now has shown that those babies given iron supplements had a lower risk of suffering from iron deficiency or iron deficiency anemia by the time they were six months old. When the participants were tested again when they were 3 and a half years old, the ones in the supplement group had fewer behavioral problems than those who went without extra iron.

 

In this study, 207 of the participants from the initial investigation were tested at the age of seven. Berglund and his fellow researchers wanted to see if the early iron intervention influenced the children's cognitive and neurobehavioral abilities. The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children was used to assess the children's cognitive abilities. Their parents completed two standardized questionnaires about their children's behavior.

 

No major differences were found in the intelligence scores of the children in the two separate test groups. The magnitude of the intervention group to show externalizing problems was however significantly reduced compared to that of the children in the other. They had lower levels of aggressive and rule-breaking behavior, and did not suffer as many thought problems. The thought problems in question were recently shown to be the best independent predictor of autism spectrum disorders. This suggests that the behavioural and emotional profiles of low birth weight children who did not receive iron supplements include different symptoms of subclinical neurodevelopmental problems.

 

"Our findings suggest that iron supplementation may have long-lasting effects on behavioural functions in children born of a low birth weight," says Berglund. "This clinically important benefit from early iron supplementation gives further support to recommend iron supplementation of all low birth weight children, including those with marginally low birth weight."

 

On the population level this finding is important, since marginally low birth weight infants represent a relatively large proportion of all births. Up to five percent of infants born in high income countries and fifteen percent of those in low income countries are defined as such.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170927123600.htm

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