Health/Wellness

Diet shown to reduce stroke risk may also reduce risk of depression

February 25, 2018

Science Daily/American Academy of Neurology

People who eat vegetables, fruit and whole grains may have lower rates of depression over time, according to a preliminary study.

 

The study found that people whose diets adhered more closely to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet were less likely to develop depression than people who did not closely follow the diet. In addition to fruit and vegetables, the DASH diet recommends fat-free or low-fat dairy products and limits foods that are high in saturated fats and sugar. Studies have shown health benefits such as lowering high blood pressure and bad cholesterol (LDL), along with lowering body weight.

 

"Depression is common in older adults and more frequent in people with memory problems, vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or people who have had a stroke," said study author Laurel Cherian, MD, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. "Making a lifestyle change such as changing your diet is often preferred over taking medications, so we wanted to see if diet could be an effective way to reduce the risk of depression."

 

For the study, 964 participants with an average age of 81 were evaluated yearly for an average of six-and-a-half years. They were monitored for symptoms of depression such as being bothered by things that usually didn't affect them and feeling hopeless about the future. They also filled out questionnaires about how often they ate various foods, and the researchers looked at how closely the participants' diets followed diets such as the DASH diet, Mediterranean diet and the traditional Western diet.

 

Participants were divided into three groups based on how closely they adhered to the diets. People in the two groups that followed the DASH diet most closely were less likely to develop depression than people in the group that did not follow the diet closely. The odds of becoming depressed over time was 11 percent lower among the top group of DASH adherers versus the lowest group. On the other hand, the more closely people followed a Western diet -- a diet that is high in saturated fats and red meats and low in fruits and vegetables -- the more likely they were to develop depression.

 

Cherian noted that the study does not prove that the DASH diet leads to a reduced risk of depression; it only shows an association.

 

"Future studies are now needed to confirm these results and to determine the best nutritional components of the DASH diet to prevent depression later in life and to best help people keep their brains healthy," said Cherian.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180225191804.htm

Getting sleepy? Fruit flies constantly tune into environmental temperature to time sleep

February 21, 2018

Science Daily/University of Michigan

Humans and fruit flies may have not shared a common ancestor for hundreds of millions of years, but the neurons that govern our circadian clocks are strikingly similar.

 

Now, University of Michigan researchers have made a discovery in fruit flies that may teach us a little more about our own sleep cycles. Using the fruit flies, they showed how circadian clock neurons use thermoreceptors to constantly monitor the temperature of their environment. They found even mild changes in temperature have physiological effects on clock neurons that control sleep timing.

 

This discovery will help researchers understand how neurons are using environmental temperature in addition to light to regulate sleep timing in mammals, including humans. Their study will be published Feb. 21 in Nature.

 

"Decades of work from recent Nobel Prize winners and many other labs have have actually worked out the details of how light is able to adjust the clock, but the details of how temperature was able to adjust the circadian clock were not well understood," said Swathi Yadlapalli, first author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher in the U-M Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology.

 

"Going forward, we can ask questions of how these two stimuli are processed and integrated into the clock system, and how this has effects on our sleep behavior and other physiological processes."

 

Circadian clocks are biochemical mechanisms that allow living things to organize their sleep and waking across the 24-hour cycle of a day. Researchers know that circadian clocks in mammals control the internal body temperature to drive sleep patterns, says Orie Shafer, principal investigator of the study. For example, we think of the human body temperature as a steady 98.6 degrees, Shafer said, but actually, our body temperature changes throughout the day.

 

"In fact, it's fluctuating," Shafer said. "The circadian system produces a daily rhythm in temperature which is an important cue for when it's time to go to sleep."

 

As we're coasting toward bedtime, these circadian clocks cool our internal body temperature. As we're gliding toward wakefulness, these clocks turn up the heat. This is regardless of the temperature of the room we're sleeping in. But showing that circadian clock neurons in fruit flies use external temperature to trigger sleep suggests that some clock neurons in humans could be similarly sensitive.

 

To study how the fruit fly neurons responded to external temperature, Yadlapalli worked with Chang Jiang, a postdoctoral researcher in the labs of Pramod Reddy and Edgar Meyhofer of the U-M Department of Mechanical Engineering. Together, they developed an optical imaging and temperature control system that enabled them to take a snapshot of neural activity in the circadian clock network of fruit flies when the flies are exposed to heat or cold stimulus.

 

"It looks like clock neurons are able to get the temperature information from external thermoreceptors, and that information is being used to time sleep in the fly in a way that's fundamentally the same as it is in humans," Shafer said. "As temperature drops, these neurons that promote sleep become excited, and that really entrains the sleep activity cycle to external temperature cycles. It's precisely what happens to sleep in mammals when internal temperature drops."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180221131853.htm

Depression linked to reduced arginine levels

February 21, 2018

Science Daily/University of Eastern Finland

People suffering from major depressive disorder, MDD, have reduced arginine levels, a new study from the University of Eastern Finland shows. Arginine is an amino acid which the body uses to produce, e.g., nitric oxide. Nitric oxide, in turn, is a nervous system and immune defence mediator, and it also plays a role in vascular regulation. The global arginine bioavailability ratio, GABR, is an indicator of the body's arginine levels, and the ratio has previously been used to measure the body's capacity to produce nitric oxide. Reduced arginine bioavailability is also known to be an independent risk factor of cardiovascular diseases.

 

Published in Journal of Affective Disorders, the study shows that people suffering from MDD have reduced arginine bioavailability.

 

"It is possible that depression-induced inflammatory responses lead to reduced arginine levels. This may result in insufficient production of nitric oxide for the needs of the nervous system and circulation. However, we don't know yet what exactly causes reduced arginine bioavailability in people with depression," says Doctoral Student Toni Ali-Sisto, the lead author of the study.

 

The study carried out by the University of Eastern Finland and Kuopio University Hospital involved 99 adults with diagnosed major depressive disorder and 253 non-depressed controls. The concentrations of three amino acids, namely arginine, citrulline and ornithine, were analysed from their fasting glucose samples, and this data was used to calculate their GABRs. Symmetric and asymmetric dimethylarginine concentrations were also measured, as they both play a role in the production of nitric oxide. The findings were then compared between the depressed and the non-depressed controls. The study also analysed whether these concentrations changed in people with depression during a follow-up of eight months, and whether remission of depression had an effect on the concentrations.

 

"Although our study shows that people with depression have reduced arginine bioavailability, this doesn't mean that taking an arginine supplement would protect against depression. That's an area for further research," Ali-Sisto says.

 

People with depression had weaker arginine bioavailability than their non-depressed controls. The study did not find significant differences in the symmetric and asymmetric dimethylarginine concentrations. The use of anti-depressants or anti-psychotics did not affect the concentrations, either.

 

Contrary to the researchers' expectations, there were no clear differences in the concentrations measured from people who had recovered from depression and people who remained depressed.

 

"Arginine bioavailability was slightly higher in people who had recovered from depression than in people who remained depressed. However, a more extensive set of data and a longer follow-up period are necessary for estimating arginine's role in depression recovery."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180221122850.htm

How people cope with difficult life events fuels development of wisdom

February 20, 2018

Science Daily/Oregon State University

How a person responds to a difficult life event such as a death or divorce helps shape the development of their wisdom over time, a new study suggests.

 

For many, the difficult life event also served to disrupt their sense of personal meaning, raising questions about their understanding of their world. These disruptions ultimately lead to the development of new wisdom, said Carolyn Aldwin, director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU. "The adage used to be 'with age comes wisdom,' but that's not really true," said Aldwin, an expert on psychosocial factors that influence aging. "Generally, the people who had to work to sort things out after a difficult life event are the ones who arrived at new meaning."

 

The findings were just published in the Journals of Gerontology: Series B. The paper's lead author is Heidi Igarashi, who worked on the research as part of the dissertation for her doctorate at OSU; co-author is Michael R. Levenson of OSU.

 

The goal of the study was to better understand how wisdom develops in the context of adversity such as death of a loved one, divorce, health crisis, or loss of job. Understanding how people cope with adversity and develop wisdom provides insight into healthy aging, Aldwin said. "What we're really looking at is 'when bad things happen, what happens?'" Aldwin said. "The event can become a catalyst for changes that come afterward."

 

Igarashi reviewed interviews with 50 adults ages 56 to 91 who had experienced one or more significant difficult life events. The participants were asked to identify a specific difficult or challenging life event, describe how they coped, and describe whether the experience changed their outlook or actions in life.

 

"One thing that stood out right away is that, when asked to think about a difficult life event or challenge, people had an answer right away," Aldwin said. "Difficult times are a way people define themselves." The researchers found that people responded to the difficult life situations in three ways. For one group of respondents, 13 in all, the difficult life event led to little or no questioning of meaning in their life. Part of the people in this group simply accepted the event as something that could not be changed, while the remainder described using their intelligence, self-control and planning to solve problems related to the event.

 

The smallest group, five participants, indicated that the difficult life event helped them clarify a specific value or belief that had not previously been articulated.

 

The majority of the participants -- 32 -- indicated that the difficult life event disrupted their personal meaning and prompted the person to reflect on themselves, their fundamental beliefs and their understanding of the world.

 

"For these folks, the event really rocked their boat and challenged how they saw life and themselves," Aldwin said.

 

Further analysis showed that a person's social environment helped to shape their responses to the difficult life event. These social interactions included: enlisting help from others during the difficult time; unsolicited emotional support from family, friends or strangers; being held or holding, particularly among people sharing a difficult life event such as a loss; receiving unwanted support; comparing one's reaction to the event with the reactions of others; seeking expert advice; seeking out others with similar experiences; making new connections; and learning from society at large.

 

The researchers found that some of these social supports and interactions influenced a person's development of wisdom. Those who received unsolicited emotional support, for example, developed wisdom around compassion and humility. Seeking others with similar experiences exposed some participants to new ideas and interactions, supporting deeper exploration of their new sense of self.

 

"It mattered whether a participant was expected to adjust to the event quickly and 'get back to life,' or whether they were encouraged to grow and change as a result of the event," Igarashi said. "The quality of the social interactions really make a difference."

 

The findings provide new insight into the role of social support and interaction in developing wisdom, she said. The challenge for now is to determine how best to ensure that people are accessing the social supports they need to cope and grow from significant life challenges.

 

"Typically, the type of social support you get is the kind you ask for and allow, and there is no 'one size fits all' approach," Igarashi said. "But being open to the resources in your social network, or seeking out things like grief support groups may be worth exploring."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180220170348.htm

Pilot study in Kenya shows link between chronic pain and glutamate consumption

Researchers test theory that diet change can alleviate pain

February 16, 2018

Science Daily/American University

Preliminary research from a small pilot study carried out in Meru, in eastern Kenya, shows a link between chronic pain and consumption of glutamate, a common flavor enhancer found in Western and non-Western diets worldwide.

 

Chronic pain is among the most vexing health problems, including in the developing world, where most research suggests that the prevalence of pain is similar to the United States and other developed nations.

 

Preliminary research from a small pilot study carried out in Meru, in eastern Kenya, shows a link between chronic pain and consumption of glutamate, a common flavor enhancer found in Western and non-Western diets worldwide. Results demonstrated that when study participants cut monosodium glutamate from their diets, their symptoms improved. The findings are published in the journal Nutrition.

 

"This preliminary research in Kenya is consistent with what I am observing in my chronic pain research here in the United States," said Kathleen Holton, lead author of the study and assistant professor of health studies at American University. "We don't know what exposure is leading to this susceptibility to dietary glutamate, but this pilot study suggests the need for a large-scale clinical trial, since dietary change could be an effective low-cost treatment option for developing countries."

 

As researchers study glutamate, they're gaining insights into how the chemical works in the human brain and body. In the brain, glutamate is a common neurotransmitter. It also can act as an excitotoxin, over-stimulating and damaging or killing nerve cells. Some research has found that increased consumption of glutamate may enhance chronic pain symptoms, so there is biological cause for scientists to examine the chemical in relation to pain.

 

Glutamate is also a naturally occurring chemical in some foods, like soy sauce and parmesan cheese, but is more commonly found as a food additive. In the U.S., glutamate is added to many food products and found under many names including 'monosodium glutamate,' 'hydrolyzed protein,' 'protein isolate,' 'protein extract' and 'autolyzed yeast extract,' just to name a few. In Kenya, people's exposure to glutamate is only from a few foods which contain MSG, with the largest exposure being from a mixed seasoning spice called Mchuzi Mix, which is typically used in cooking daily.

 

In the Kenya study, the goal was to test whether a dietary intervention could perform as well as or better than over-the-counter medication in relieving pain. With a sample size of 30 participants, the researchers tested the effects of removing MSG, increasing water intake, or a combination of both, relative to acetaminophen (the main treatment option available in Meru). Study participants experienced chronic pain for at least three months or more and in at least three quadrants of the body. Similar to what is seen with widespread chronic pain patients in the U.S., most also suffered from other neurological symptoms, including headaches or migraines, chronic fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, and sleep issues.

 

Holton's collaborators in the research were University of Michigan Professor Dr. Daniel J. Clauw, M.D., and Dr. Peter K. Ndege, M.D., of Meru University of Science and Technology in Kenya. This research came about after Clauw learned about Meru villagers' plight with chronic pain. When the team initially surveyed residents in the area, an estimated 60 percent reported chronic pain, twice the amount typically observed.

 

The participants were broken into four groups. Because dehydration is associated with headache pain, the researchers factored that into the study design. The groups consisted of the following: If subjects commonly consumed Mchuzi Mix, they were given a similar mixed seasoning substitute that contained no MSG. Those reporting low water intake and no MSG were given bottled water and instructed to increase water consumption to eight cups a day.

 

Those with low water consumption who also consumed MSG were given water and the substitute spices. The control group had neither exposure and was given acetaminophen. The group that removed MSG from its diet and consumed more water reported significant improvements in their symptoms, as did the group receiving acetaminophen.

 

In the future, Holton, Clauw and Ndege plan a larger, epidemiological survey to further understand the prevalence of widespread chronic pain in the region and to train Kenyan research staff how to conduct a large-scale clinical trial to test if dietary change could be an effective, low-cost treatment option for pain in countries like Kenya.

 

"This would be incredible if we could impact chronic pain simply by making slight modifications to diet," said Clauw, a leading expert on chronic pain.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180216142702.htm

Sleepless in Japan: How insomnia kills

February 9, 2018

De Gruyter

Lay people tend to think that insomnia is usually a symptom of something else, like stress, a bad diet or a sedentary lifestyle, but this may not be true at all. It is possible that insomnia itself causes many of the conditions that it is seen as a symptom of. Using previous research that shows that insomnia causes a decrease in blood flow in the front dorsal lobe of the brain, which correlates with depression, the authors seek to establish a link between insomnia and depression.

 

Depression is a hidden killer. It is a condition that affects people all around the world. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in Japan. The yearly financial cost to the Japanese economy of depression and suicide is estimated by UPI to be USD 4.1 billion. Middle-aged males, one of the groups that was found to suffer the highest rates of insomnia are also the likeliest to commit suicide.

 

In March of 2011, over 7000 hospital staff in ten hospitals in the district of Rosai were given a self-administered anonymous questionnaire. The questions included information about the respondent's gender, age, and medical profession, as well as questions about their sleeping history two weeks prior to responding to the survey, as well as detailing their overtime work, and their history of disease and chronic pain. It also asked them to assess their own feelings of depression and fatigue.

 

The results were alarming. Thirteen percent of men, and nineteen percent of women suffered from insomnia, and the medical profession with the highest rate of insomnia were nurses at twenty percent. For comparison, about ten percent of Americans suffer from chronic insomnia.

 

Chronic insomnia can lead to depression, and a better understanding of the link between the two conditions could be used to improve treatment, and prevent the condition from worsening while strengthening the world economy. The hope is a survey will be developed for healthcare professionals (and other high-stress professions) that can identify insomnia before it becomes a problem.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180209114224.htm

Want to help your partner stress less? Listen from the heart

February 6, 2018

Science Daily/Wake Forest University

When we feel supported, we feel less stress. But sometimes we think we are being supportive of a romantic partner and we're not. Who hasn't experienced the self-satisfaction of feeling like we're 'helping' only to find we've only made the situation worse.

 

Wake Forest communication professor Jennifer Priem studies dating relationships and explores the connection between supportive conversations and physiological signs of stress reduction.

 

Using saliva samples, Priem can measure changes in stress by determining when cortisol levels rise and when they fall as a result of support conversations between dating partners. Cortisol is a stress hormone that, when over active can cause heart disease as well as other health problems such as headaches, sleep problems, and concentration impairment.

 

A supportive partner has the power to reduce the levels of cortisol by taking specific actions that help calm tension and reduce stress. Supportive communication can alleviate distress and improve a partner's emotional state.

 

"The fastest stress recovery comes from explicit messages," says Priem. "When a partner is stressed they are unable to focus on interpreting messages well. Clarity and eye contact help."

 

Other features of supportive communication that have been shown to reduce stress include:

 

·      Acknowledging the person is under stress and experiencing a problem. We are generally most willing to give high quality comforting when we can interpret the stress at the same level as the person needing support. Even if, and maybe especially when, you don't think the other person should be stressed, he or she still needs support. "If your partner is feeling stressed, telling him or her 'don't worry about it' or trying to distract the person from the stress by changing the subject is generally not going to help," Priem says.

·      Using verbal and nonverbal forms of communication, such as listening and asking questions, making eye contact, nodding and touching, can cause cortisol levels go down, and there is often a reappraisal of the problem by the person who is upset.

·      Listening and understanding is support validation and turns off strong emotional responses by legitimizing feelings. We often feel the need to say the right thing or fix the problem, but most often when people are stressed they want emotional support, which mainly consists of listening intently and asking questions. Unless someone specifically asks for advice, do not offer it. Once you validate their feelings, people may ask for advice, but they have to be ready to hear it.

·      Adjusting your approach as needed. It's possible that as a support provider you may think you are providing good support. But good support isn't good unless the person receiving the support perceives it as helpful.

 

"Cookie cutter support messages don't really work," says Priem. "Stress creates a frame through which messages are interpreted. Support that is clear and explicit in validating feelings and showing interest and concern is most likely to lower cortisol levels and increase feelings of wellbeing and safety. If you aren't seeing improvement in your partner's anxiety, you may need to change your approach."

 

The benefit both partners will receive from engaging in effective support goes beyond the immediate stress recovery after the conversation. The result of prolonged exposure to stress hormones, such as cortisol, is wear and tear on the body. Because the rate of physiological recovery after exposure to everyday stressors and hassles results in more or less cortisol exposure over the course of a lifetime, supportive communication that accelerates cortisol recovery, even slightly, may have longer health benefits. Thus, individuals who are able to facilitate faster stress recovery for their partner create immediate and long term relational and health benefits, strengthening the relationship and the individual.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180206115534.htm

Grape-derived compounds may promote resilience against depression

New study used DNA epigenetic mapping to analyze novel inflammatory mechanisms influencing brain circuitry associated with depression

February 2, 2018

Science Daily/The Mount Sinai Hospital / Mount Sinai School of Medicine

Researchers have analyzed novel grape-derived compounds, dihydrocaffeic acid (DHCA) and malvidin-3'-O-glucoside (Mal-gluc), which might be developed as therapeutic agents for the treatment of depression. Their study results indicate that these natural compounds may attenuate depression by targeting newly discovered underlying mechanisms of the disease.

 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year approximately 16 million individuals in the United States have a major depressive episode. Conventional pharmacological treatments are estimated to produce temporary remission in less than 50 percent of patients, and they are often associated with severe adverse effects. Thus, there is an urgent need for a wider spectrum of novel therapeutics.

 

Depression is associated with a multitude of pathological processes, including inflammation of the peripheral immune system, a set of biological structures and processes in the lymph nodes and other tissues that protect against disease and abnormalities involving synapses, the structures that permit neurons to pass an electrical or chemical signal to other neurons. However, currently available antidepressants are largely restricted to targeting the systems that regulate serotonin, dopamine, and other related neurotransmitters, and these treatments do not specifically address inflammation and synaptic maladaptations that are now known to be associated with MDD.

 

Previous research has found that grape-derived polyphenols have some efficacy in modulating aspects of depression, yet the mechanisms of action had largely remained unknown until now. The new study, led by Giulio Maria Pasinetti, PhD, Saunders Professor of Neurology, and a team of investigators from the Center for Integrative Molecular Neuroresilience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, found that a bioactive dietary polyphenol preparation -- a combination of three grape-derived polyphenol products, including a select Concord grape juice, a select grape seed extract, and trans-resveratrol -- was effective in promoting resilience against stress-induced depression in mice.

 

Specifically, researchers found that DHCA and Mal-gluc can promote resilience in mouse models of depression by modulating inflammation and synaptic plasticity, respectively. DHCA reduces interleukin 6 (IL-6), a pro-inflammatory substance secreted by T cells and macrophages to stimulate immune response, by epigenetically modulating the non-coding sequence of the IL-6 gene. Mal-gluc modulates histone acetylation of the Rac1 gene and allows transcription activators to access the DNA for increased transcription in the brain, which influences the expression of genes responsible for synaptic plasticity. Researchers also demonstrated that DHCA/Mal-gluc treatment was effective in attenuating depression-like phenotypes in a mouse model of increased systemic inflammation induced by transplantation of cells from the bone marrow of stress-susceptible mice.

 

"Our research shows that combination treatment with the two compounds can promote resilience against stress-mediated depression-like phenotypes by modulating systemic inflammatory responses and brain synaptic plasticity in a mouse model of depression," says Jun Wang, PhD, Associate Professor of the Department of Neurology and first author on the paper.

 

The Mount Sinai study provides, for the first time, novel preclinical evidence supporting the targeting of multiple key disease mechanisms through DNA epigenetic modification for the treatment of depression. This study strongly supports the need to test and identify novel compounds that target alternative pathologic mechanisms, such as inflammation and synaptic maladaptation, for individuals who are resistant to currently available treatment.

 

"Our approach to use a combination treatment of DHCA and Mal-gluc to simultaneously inhibit peripheral inflammation and modulate synaptic plasticity in the brain works synergistically to optimize resilience against chronic stress-induced depression-like phenotypes," said Dr. Pasinetti. "The discovery of these new, natural grape-derived polyphenol compounds targeting cellular and molecular pathways associated with inflammation may provide an effective way to treat a subset of people with depression and anxiety, a condition that affects so many people."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180202153207.htm

This is your brain: This is your brain outdoors

Neuroscientists find differences in brain activity depending whether people are outdoors or in a lab

January 30, 2018

Science Daily/University of Alberta

The brain acts much differently when we're outdoors compared to when we're inside the lab, a new study has found.

 

"It happens when we're doing normal, everyday activities, like riding a bike," explained Kyle Mathewson, a neuroscientist in UAlberta's Department of Psychology.

 

Mathewson and his research team put EEG equipment into backpacks and had subjects perform a standard neuroscience task while riding a bike outside. The task involved identifying changes in an otherwise consistent set of stimuli, such as a higher pitch in a series of beep sounds. They had previously performed the same experiment on stationary bikes inside their lab but in the but in the new study, the scientists were able to record laboratory quality measurements of brain activity outdoors, using portable equipment.

 

"Something about being outdoors changes brain activity," said Joanna Scanlon, graduate student and lead author on the study. "In addition to dividing attention between the task and riding a bike, we noticed that brain activity associated with sensing and perceiving information was different when outdoors, which may indicate that the brain is compensating for environmental distractions."

 

The great outdoors

The study showed that our brains process stimuli, like sounds and sights, differently when we perform the same task outdoors compared to inside a lab.

 

"If we can understand how and what humans are paying attention to in the real world, we can learn more about how our minds work," said Scanlon. "We can use that information to make places more safe, like roadways."

 

"If we want to apply these findings to solve issues in our society, we need to ensure that we understand how the brain works out in the world where humans actually live, work, and play," said Mathewson, who added that almost everything we know about the human brain is learned from studies in very tightly controlled environments.

 

Next, the researchers will explore how this effect differs in outdoor environments with varying degrees of distraction, such as quiet path or a busy roadway.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180130123732.htm

Americans are getting more ZZZZs

Decline in reading and watching TV before bed and increasing opportunities to perform tasks online and from home could be why

January 18, 2018

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated in the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) between 2003 and 2016, most Americans averaged an extra 7.5 hours of sleep each year over the 14-year period. The study, by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, was published online this month in the journal Sleep.

 

The findings reveal that daily sleep duration increased by 1.4 minutes on weekdays and 0.8 minutes on weekends per year. At first glance, this may not seem like substantial progress. However, over the 14-year period it translates to 17.3 minutes more sleep each night, or 4.4 full days more sleep each year. This is the first study to show that sleep duration has increased among broad segments of the United States population (students 15 and older, people who are employed, and retirees) over this period. The increase in sleep duration was mostly explained by respondents turning in earlier at night, and to a lesser degree by getting up later in the morning.

 

In addition to sleep, the ATUS covers all waking activities over a 24-hour period and thus allowed Penn researchers to investigate behaviors that could be responsible for the increase in sleep duration. For example, over the 14-year period, fewer respondents decided to read or watch TV prior to bed in the evening, two prominent activities that compete with sleep for time.

 

"This shows an increased willingness in parts of the population to give up pre-bed leisure activities to obtain more sleep," said the study's lead author, Mathias Basner, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Sleep and Chronobiology in Psychiatry. "Also, the data suggest that increasing opportunities to work, learn, bank, shop, and perform administrative tasks online and from home freed up extra time, and some of it was likely used to get more sleep."

 

No significant sleep time trend was found for unemployed respondents or those not in the labor force, thus bringing attention to the difficulty of work/family balance and the finding that sometimes people sacrifice sleep to make the other two work. In earlier work, the Penn team identified time spent working as the #1 waking activity competing with sleep for time. Changes in time spent working were not found to play a substantial role in the increasing sleep time trend in this study, though.

 

The study also showed that the number of Google searches on the topic "sleep" has more than doubled and scientific publications on "short sleep" and its consequences has grown more than 10 fold from 2003 to 2016, and was highly correlated with the observed increase in sleep duration. Although the team says this does not prove causality, it gives hope that increasing awareness through reports of insufficient sleep and its consequences as well as campaigns to encourage healthy sleep -- such as the 2013 National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project -- may be working.

 

The dangers of short sleep are well documented. Earlier research by senior author David F. Dinges, PhD, chief of the division of Sleep and Chronobiology, showed that cognitive performance and vigilant attention decline quickly after being awake past 16 hours or if sleep is chronically curtailed, which increases the risk for errors and accidents. Also, additional studies have found associations between chronic short sleep and obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and declines in cognitive function.

 

In 2015, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society published a consensus statement that adults should sleep 7 or more hours per night on a regular basis to promote optimal health.

 

"As researchers, increasing awareness of short sleep and its consequences remains a critically important task to improve public health," said Basner. "At the same time, this data provides new hope that these efforts may be effective in motivating many Americans to sleep more."

 

The researchers caution that the findings need to be replicated and that there is still a long way to go in the fight against chronic, widespread sleep loss. Since the ATUS is a survey, more population research with objective measures of sleep is needed. The authors also add that an increase in reported "long sleep," i.e. for more than nine hours each night, of 0.48 percent/year over this 14-year period, calls for further research into the health effects of "long sleep."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180118175315.htm

Here’s how stress may be making you sick

January 10, 2018

Michigan State University

A researcher is providing new insight into how certain types of stress interact with immune cells and can regulate how these cells respond to allergens, ultimately causing physical symptoms and disease.

 

The federally funded study, published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, showed how a stress receptor, known as corticotropin-releasing factor, or CRF1, can send signals to certain immune cells, called mast cells, and control how they defend the body.

 

During the study, Moeser compared the histamine responses of mice to two types of stress conditions -- psychological and allergic -- where the immune system becomes overworked. One group of mice was considered "normal" with CRF1 receptors on their mast cells and the other group had cells that lacked CRF1.

 

"While the 'normal' mice exposed to stress exhibited high histamine levels and disease, the mice without CRF1 had low histamine levels, less disease and were protected against both types of stress," Moeser said. "This tells us that CRF1 is critically involved in some diseases initiated by these stressors."

 

The CRF1-deficient mice exposed to allergic stress had a 54 percent reduction in disease, while those mice who experienced psychological stress had a 63 percent decrease.

 

The results could change the way everyday disorders such as asthma and the debilitating gastrointestinal symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are treated.

 

"We all know that stress affects the mind-body connection and increases the risk for many diseases," Moeser said. "The question is, how?"

 

"This work is a critical step forward in decoding how stress makes us sick and provides a new target pathway in the mast cell for therapies to improve the quality of life of people suffering from common stress-related diseases."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180110132958.htm

Feel anxious? Have trouble sleeping? You may be traveling for business too often

January 8, 2018

Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

People who travel for business two weeks or more a month report more symptoms of anxiety and depression and are more likely to smoke, be sedentary and report trouble sleeping than those who travel one to six nights a month.  Among those who consume alcohol, extensive business travel is associated with symptoms of alcohol dependence.  Poor behavioral and mental health outcomes significantly increased as the number of nights away from home for business travel rose.

 

The Global Business Travel Association Foundation estimates there were nearly 503 million person-business trips in 2016 in the U.S. compared to 488 million in the prior year. "Although business travel can be seen as a job benefit and can lead to occupational advancement, there is a growing literature showing that extensive business travel is associated with risk of chronic diseases associated with lifestyle factors," said Andrew Rundle, DrPH, associate professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health. "The field of occupational travel medicine needs to expand beyond its current focus on infectious disease, cardiovascular disease risks, violence and injury to bring more focus to the behavioral and mental health consequences of business travel."

 

The study was based on the de-identified health records of 18,328 employees who underwent a health assessment in 2015 through their corporate wellness work benefits program provided by EHE International, Inc. The EHE International health exam measured depressive symptoms with the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), anxiety symptoms with the Generalized Anxiety Scale (GAD-7) and alcohol dependence with the CAGE scale.

 

A score above 4 on the Generalized Anxiety Scale (GAD-7) was reported by 24 percent of employees, and 15 percent scored above a 4 on the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), indicating that mild or worse anxiety or depressive symptoms were common in this employee population. Among those who consume alcohol, a CAGE score of 2 or higher indicates the presence of alcohol dependence and was found in 6 percent of employees who drank. GAD-7 and PHQ-9 scores and CAGE scores of 2 or higher increased with increasing nights away from home for business travel. These data are consistent with analyses of medical claims data from World Bank employees which found that the largest increase in claims among their business travelers was for psychological disorders related to stress.

 

Employers and employees should consider new approaches to improve employee health during business trips that go beyond the typical travel health practice of providing immunizations and medical evacuation services, according to Rundle, whose earlier research found that extensive business travel was associated with higher body mass index, obesity, and higher blood pressure.

 

"At the individual-level, employees who travel extensively need to take responsibility for the decisions they make around diet, exercise, alcohol consumption, and sleep. However, to do this, employees will likely need support in the form of education, training, and a corporate culture that emphasizes healthy business travel. Employers should provide employees who travel for business with accommodations that have access to physical activity facilities and healthy food options."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180108121550.htm

People who sleep less than 8 hours a night more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety

January 4, 2018

Binghamton University

Sleeping less than the recommended eight hours a night is associated with intrusive, repetitive thoughts like those seen in anxiety or depression, according to new research.

 

Binghamton University Professor of Psychology Meredith Coles and former graduate student Jacob Nota assessed the timing and duration of sleep in individuals with moderate to high levels of repetitive negative thoughts (e.g., worry and rumination). The research participants were exposed to different pictures intended to trigger an emotional response, and researchers tracked their attention through their eye movements. The researchers discovered that regular sleep disruptions are associated with difficulty in shifting one's attention away from negative information. This may mean that inadequate sleep is part of what makes negative intrusive thoughts stick around and interfere with people's lives .

 

"We found that people in this study have some tendencies to have thoughts get stuck in their heads, and their elevated negative thinking makes it difficult for them to disengage with the negative stimuli that we exposed them to," said Coles. "While other people may be able to receive negative information and move on, the participants had trouble ignoring it."

 

These negative thoughts are believed to leave people vulnerable to different types of psychological disorders, such as anxiety or depression, said Coles.

 

"We realized over time that this might be important -- this repetitive negative thinking is relevant to several different disorders like anxiety, depression and many other things," said Coles. "This is novel in that we're exploring the overlap between sleep disruptions and the way they affect these basic processes that help in ignoring those obsessive negative thoughts."

 

The researchers are further exploring this discovery, evaluating how the timing and duration of sleep may also contribute to the development or maintenance of psychological disorders. If their theories are correct, their research could potentially allow psychologists to treat anxiety and depression by shifting patients' sleep cycles to a healthier time or making it more likely a patient will sleep when they get in bed.

 

The paper, "Shorter sleep duration and longer sleep onset latency are related to difficulty disengaging attention from negative emotional images in individuals with elevated transdiagnostic repetitive negative thinking" was published in ScienceDirect.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180104152947.htm

 

Weekly fish consumption linked to better sleep, higher IQ

December 21, 2017

Science Daily/University of Pennsylvania

Regular fish consumption has been shown to improve cognition. It's also been known to help with sleep. A new study connects all three for the first time. The team found that children who eat fish at least once a week sleep better and have higher IQs by an average of 4 points.

 

Children who eat fish at least once a week sleep better and have IQ scores that are 4 points higher, on average, than those who consume fish less frequently or not at all, according to new findings from the University of Pennsylvania published this week in Scientific Reports, a Nature journal.

 

Previous studies showed a relationship between omega-3s, the fatty acids in many types of fish, and improved intelligence, as well as omega-3s and better sleep. But they've never all been connected before. This work, conducted by Jianghong Liu, Jennifer Pinto-Martin and Alexandra Hanlon of the School of Nursing and Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor Adrian Raine, reveals sleep as a possible mediating pathway, the potential missing link between fish and intelligence.

 

"This area of research is not well-developed. It's emerging," said Liu, lead author on the paper and an associate professor of nursing and public health. "Here we look at omega-3s coming from our food instead of from supplements."

 

For the work, a cohort of 541 9- to 11-year-olds in China, 54 percent boys and 46 percent girls, completed a questionnaire about how often they consumed fish in the past month, with options ranging from "never" to "at least once per week." They also took the Chinese version of an IQ test called the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Revised, which examines verbal and non-verbal skills such as vocabulary and coding.

 

Their parents then answered questions about sleep quality using the standardized Children Sleep Habits Questionnaire, which included topics such as sleep duration and frequency of night waking or daytime sleepiness. Finally, the researchers controlled for demographic information, including parental education, occupation and marital status and number of children in the home.

 

Analyzing these data points, the Penn team found that children who reported eating fish weekly scored 4.8 points higher on the IQ exams than those who said they "seldom" or "never" consumed fish. Those whose meals sometimes included fish scored 3.3 points higher. In addition, increased fish consumption was associated with fewer disturbances of sleep, which the researchers say indicates better overall sleep quality.

 

"Lack of sleep is associated with antisocial behavior; poor cognition is associated with antisocial behavior," said Raine, who has appointments in the School of Arts and Sciences and Penn's Perelman School of Medicine. "We have found that omega-3 supplements reduce antisocial behavior, so it's not too surprising that fish is behind this."

 

Pinto-Martin, who is executive director of Penn's Center for Public Health Initiatives, as well as the Viola MacInnes/Independence Professor of Nursing and a professor of epidemiology in Penn Medicine, sees strong potential for the implications of this research.

 

"It adds to the growing body of evidence showing that fish consumption has really positive health benefits and should be something more heavily advertised and promoted," she said. "Children should be introduced to it early on." That could be as young as 10 months, as long as the fish has no bones and has been finely chopped, but should start by around age 2.

 

"Introducing the taste early makes it more palatable," Pinto-Martin said. "It really has to be a concerted effort, especially in a culture where fish is not as commonly served or smelled. Children are sensitive to smell. If they're not used to it, they may shy away from it."

 

Given the young age of this study group, Liu and colleagues chose not to analyze the details participants reported about the types of fish consumed, though they plan to do so for work on an older cohort in the future. The researchers also want to add to this current observational study to establish, through randomized controlled trials, that eating fish can lead to better sleep, better school performance and other real-life, practical outcomes.

 

For the moment, the researchers recommend incrementally incorporating additional fish into a diet; consumption even once a week moves a family into the "high" fish-eating group as defined in the study.

 

"Doing that could be a lot easier than nudging children about going to bed," Raine said. "If the fish improves sleep, great. If it also improves cognitive performance -- like we've seen here -- even better. It's a double hit."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171221101341.htm

Combinations of certain personality traits may guard against depression and anxiety

November 29, 2017

Science Daily/University at Buffalo

People showing high levels of extraversion and conscientiousness may have protection against depression and anxiety, according to the results of a new study.

 

Though high levels of neuroticism put people at risk for depression and anxiety, if those same individuals are also highly extraverted and conscientious they could have a measure of protection against those disorders, according to the results of a new study by a team of University at Buffalo psychologists.

 

The findings, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, point to the importance of stepping away from focusing on single personality traits in clinical settings in favor of looking at how combinations of traits might work together to help either prevent or predict specific symptoms.

 

"We know individually how these traits relate to symptoms, but now we are beginning to understand how the traits might impact one another," says Kristin Naragon-Gainey, an assistant professor in UB's Department of Psychology and the paper's lead author with Leonard Simms, associate professor of psychology.

 

"We have to consider the whole person in order to understand the likelihood of developing negative symptoms down the road."

 

Neuroticism is the tendency to experience different negative emotions and to react strongly to stress. Along with extraversion and conscientiousness, it is among the "Big Five" personality traits, a group that also includes agreeableness and openness to experience.

 

People express each of the traits somewhere on a continuum. Someone high in extraversion would be very social, while another person low in extraversion would be much less outgoing. Conscientiousness, meantime, is the tendency to be organized, goal-oriented and non-impulsive.

 

The researchers interviewed 463 adult participants who reported receiving psychiatric treatment within the past two years. Each participant also completed numerous questionnaires. The study examined the traits of neuroticism, extraversion and conscientiousness because those three have the strongest associations with mood and anxiety disorders.

 

Naragon-Gainey says all things being equal, there are risks for disorders associated with certain traits, but a better image of what's at stake emerges when there's an understanding of how a group of behavioral tendencies might work together.

 

The results could provide an improved understanding of the mechanisms through which people develop mood disorders and explain the factors that might put someone at risk for symptoms like depression and anxiety.

 

Additionally, the findings might assist clinicians in how to capitalize on people's strengths with treatments that utilize what the study's results suggest are protective traits.

 

"I think there's a tendency in treatment and clinical psychology to concentrate on the problems and the negatives," says Naragon-Gainey. "If you utilize the pre-existing strengths that clients bring with them, it can positively affect treatment and the level of symptoms going forward, as well as reinforcing what the person is already doing well."

 

Conceptually, the strengths linked to high levels of extraversion and conscientiousness relate to the fact that social interactions and effective engagement in meaningful activities are rewarding for people, according to Naragon-Gainey.

 

"If someone has high levels of extraversion they might be very good at gathering social support or increasing their positive affectivity through social means," says Naragon-Gainey. "Similarly, conscientiousness has a lot to do with striving toward goals and putting plans in action, which can combat the withdrawal and avoidance that can go along with neuroticism."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171129131357.htm

Exercise may help protect smokers from inflammation, muscle damage

November 28, 2017

American Physiological Society (APS)

Regular exercise may protect smokers from some of the negative effects associated with smoking, such as muscle loss and inflammation, according to a new study.

 

Smoking can cause a number of system-wide physiological changes in addition to local damage to the lungs. Inflammation that begins in the pulmonary system can "spill over" into the circulatory system to cause damage to other organs throughout the body, explained a team of German researchers. Inflammation can also interact negatively with the protein pathways in the body, causing muscle to break down more quickly than it is produced. This process leads to muscle loss, also called muscle wasting or atrophy, which causes weakness.

 

The researchers studied markers of inflammation in the blood and muscle fibers from two groups of mice that were exposed to cigarette smoke on a long-term basis. One group performed daily running tests on a treadmill for the last eight weeks of the study ("smoke-exposed exercise"), while the other group did not exercise ("smoke-exposed"). Both smoke-exposed groups were compared to age-matched controls not exposed to smoke.

 

Markers of inflammation increased in the blood and muscle samples of the smoke-exposed group but improved significantly in the smoke-exposed exercise group after the research team introduced the treadmill tests. Both smoke-exposed groups had a lower muscle weight when compared to the control group and showed a decrease in fiber area in the muscles prior to introduction of exercise. Exercise reversed some of this type of damage in the smoke-exposed exercise group. "Regular endurance exercise training seems to protect long-term smokers against some important negative local and systemic consequences of smoking," the researchers wrote.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171128113546.htm

Migraines linked to high sodium levels in cerebrospinal fluid

November 28, 2017

Science Daily/Radiological Society of North America

Migraine sufferers have significantly higher sodium concentrations in their cerebrospinal fluid than people without the condition, according to the first study to use a technique called sodium MRI to look at migraine patients.

 

Migraine, a type of headache characterized by severe head pain, and sometimes nausea and vomiting, is one of the most common headache disorders, affecting about 18 percent of women and 6 percent of men. Some migraines are accompanied by vision changes or odd sensations in the body known as auras. Diagnosis is challenging, as the characteristics of migraines and the types of attacks vary widely among patients. Consequently, many migraine patients are undiagnosed and untreated. Other patients, in contrast, are treated with medications for migraines even though they suffer from a different type of headache, such as the more common tension variety.

 

"It would be helpful to have a diagnostic tool supporting or even diagnosing migraine and differentiating migraine from all other types of headaches," said study author Melissa Meyer, M.D., radiology resident at the Institute of Clinical Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, University Hospital Mannheim and Heidelberg University in Heidelberg, Germany.

 

Dr. Meyer and colleagues explored a magnetic resonance technique called cerebral sodium MRI as a possible means to help in the diagnosis and understanding of migraines. While MRI most often relies on protons to generate an image, sodium can be visualized as well. Research has shown that sodium plays an important role in brain chemistry.

 

The researchers recruited 12 women, mean age 34, who had been clinically evaluated for migraine. The women filled out a questionnaire regarding the length, intensity and frequency of their migraine attacks and accompanying auras. The researchers also brought in 12 healthy women of similar ages to serve as a control group. Both groups underwent cerebral sodium MRI. Sodium concentrations of migraine patients and healthy controls were compared and statistically analyzed.

 

The researchers found no statistical differences between the two groups for sodium concentrations in the gray and white matter, brain stem and cerebellum. However, significant differences emerged when the researchers looked at sodium concentrations in the cerebrospinal fluid, the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, providing a cushion for the brain while also helping to ensure chemical stability for proper brain function.

 

Overall, sodium concentrations were significantly higher in the brain's cerebrospinal fluid in migraine patients than in the healthy control group.

 

"These findings might facilitate the challenging diagnosis of a migraine," Dr. Meyer said.

 

The researchers hope to learn more about the connection between migraines and sodium in future studies.

 

"As this was an exploratory study, we plan to examine more patients, preferably during or shortly after a migraine attack, for further validation," Dr. Meyer said.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171128091009.htm

Neurofeedback shows promise in treating tinnitus

November 27, 2017

Science Daily/Radiological Society of North America

Researchers using functional MRI (fMRI) have found that neurofeedback training has the potential to reduce the severity of tinnitus or even eliminate it, according to a new study

 

Tinnitus is the perception of noise, often ringing, in the ear. The condition is very common, affecting approximately one in five people. As sufferers start to focus on it more, they become more frustrated and anxious, which in turn makes the noise seem worse. The primary auditory cortex, the part of the brain where auditory input is processed, has been implicated in tinnitus-related distress.

 

For the study, researchers looked at a novel potential way to treat tinnitus by having people use neurofeedback training to turn their focus away from the sounds in their ears. Neurofeedback is a way of training the brain by allowing an individual to view some type of external indicator of brain activity and attempt to exert control over it.

 

"The idea is that in people with tinnitus there is an over-attention drawn to the auditory cortex, making it more active than in a healthy person," said Matthew S. Sherwood, Ph.D., research engineer and adjunct faculty in the Department of Biomedical, Industrial and Human Factors Engineering at Wright State University in Fairborn, Ohio. "Our hope is that tinnitus sufferers could use neurofeedback to divert attention away from their tinnitus and possibly make it go away."

 

To determine the potential efficacy of this approach, the researchers had 18 healthy volunteers with normal hearing undergo five fMRI-neurofeedback training sessions. Study participants were given earplugs through which white noise could be introduced for periods of time. The earplugs also served to block out the scanner noise.

 

To obtain fMRI results, the researchers used single-shot echoplanar imaging, an MRI technique that is sensitive to blood oxygen levels, providing an indirect measure of brain activity.

 

"We started with alternating periods of sound and no sound in order to create a map of the brain and find areas that produced the highest activity during the sound phase," Dr. Sherwood said. "Then we selected the voxels that were heavily activated when sound was being played."

 

The participants then participated in the fMRI-neurofeedback training phase while inside the MRI scanner. They received white noise through their earplugs and were able to view the activity in their primary auditory cortex as a bar on a screen. Each fMRI-neurofeedback training run contained eight blocks separated into a 30-second "relax" period followed by a 30-second "lower" period. Participants were instructed to watch the bar during the relax period and actively attempt to lower it by decreasing primary auditory cortex activity during the lower phase.

 

The researchers gave the participants techniques to help them do this, such as trying to divert attention from sound to other sensations like touch and sight.

 

"Many focused on breathing because it gave them a feeling of control," Dr. Sherwood said. "By diverting their attention away from sound, the participants' auditory cortex activity went down, and the signal we were measuring also went down."

 

A control group of nine individuals were provided sham neurofeedback -- they performed the same tasks as the other group, but the feedback came not from them but from a random participant. By performing the exact same procedures with both groups using either real or sham neurofeedback, the researchers were able to distinguish the effect of real neurofeedback on control of the primary auditory cortex.

 

The study represents the first time fMRI-neurofeedback training has been applied to demonstrate that there is a significant relationship between control of the primary auditory cortex and attentional processes. This is important to therapeutic development, Sherwood said, as the neural mechanisms of tinnitus are unknown but likely related to attention.

 

The results represent a promising avenue of research that could lead to improvements in other areas of health like pain management, according to Dr. Sherwood.

 

"Ultimately, we'd like take what we learned from MRI and develop a neurofeedback program that doesn't require MRI to use, such as an app or home-based therapy that could apply to tinnitus and other conditions," he said.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171127091127.htm

Stress suppresses response to cancer treatments

November 27, 2017

Science Daily/University of Queensland

New research shows that chronic stress suppresses the immune system's response to cancer, reducing the effectiveness of immunotherapy treatments. Scientists say they are investigating dual therapies for patients to reduce stress signalling and improve their response to treatments.

University of Queensland scientists say they are investigating dual therapies for patients to reduce stress signalling and improve their response to treatments.

UQ Diamantina Institute researcher Dr Stephen Mattarollo said lymphoma progressed more rapidly in mouse models when stress pathways were induced to reflect chronic psychological stress.

"When we used immunotherapies on these mice they were not able to respond as effectively as those which had not been stressed," Dr Mattarollo said.

"This is because the stress led to poor function against the cancer by T-cells, which are very important in the immune system's control and surveillance of tumours and are a major target in many immunotherapy treatments."

Dr Mattarollo said increased anxiety was natural with a cancer diagnosis, and it should be managed to ensure the best possible outcome for patients.

"Absolutely there is now pre-clinical evidence to suggest that treatments and lifestyle interventions to manage or reduce stress levels will improve the chances of these patients responding to therapies," he said.

"This applies particularly to immunotherapies, but many conventional therapies such as chemotherapy also rely on components of the immune system for their effectiveness.

"It is quite possible that by increasing the immune function in patients they will also respond better to some other therapies."

PhD candidate Michael Nissen said as immunotherapies became more widely available, it was important to build on the knowledge of factors which influence their effectiveness.

"The more we know, the better chance we have of designing them effectively and efficiently to work in cancer patients," Mr Nissen said.

Dr Mattarollo said the lab was hoping to combine immunotherapy treatments with commonly used blood pressure drugs that block the effects of stress hormones.

"We hope this will reduce the stress-induced neural signalling and improve immune function," Dr Mattarollo said.

"We are about to test this combination in animal models."

Dr Mattarollo said psychoneuroimmunology -- or the interaction between the mind, the nervous system and the immune system -- is a rapidly growing discipline and is becoming an increasing focus of the lab's cancer research.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171127095000.htm

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