Health/Wellness4

Intelligence can link to health and aging

May 8, 2019

Science Daily/University of Missouri-Columbia

For over 100 years, scientists have sought to understand what links a person's general intelligence, health and aging. In a new study, a University of Missouri scientist suggests a model where mitochondria, or small energy producing parts of cells, could form the basis of this link. This insight could provide valuable information to researchers studying various genetic and environmental influences and alternative therapies for age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease.

 

"There are a lot of hypotheses on what this link is, but no model to link them all together," said David Geary, Curators Distinguished Professor of Psychological Sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science. "Mitochondria produce cellular energy in the human body, and energy availability is the lowest common denominator needed for the functioning of all biological systems. My model shows mitochondrial function might help explain the link between general intelligence, health and aging."

 

Geary's insight came as he was working on a way to better understand gender-specific vulnerabilities related to language and spatial abilities with certain prenatal and other stressors, which may also involve mitochondrial functioning. Mitochondria produce ATP, or cellular energy. They also respond to their environment, so Geary said habits such as regular exercise and a diet with fruits and vegetables, can promote healthy mitochondria.

 

"These systems are being used over and over again, and eventually their heavy use results in gradual decline," Geary said. "Knowing this, we can help explain the parallel changes in cognition and health associated with aging. Also with good mitochondrial function, the aging processes will occur much more slowly. Mitochondria have been relatively overlooked in the past, but are now considered to relate to psychiatric health and neurological diseases."

 

Geary said chronic stress can also damage mitochondria that can affect the whole body -- such as the brain and the heart -- simultaneously.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190508134509.htm

Stress in early life could make people more likely to develop depression

May 8, 2019

Science Daily/University of Bristol

New research by the University of Bristol has found that early life adversity could make an individual more at risk of developing negative thinking, which could lead to major depressive disorder (MDD). The findings provide biological and psychological evidence to support work first proposed in the 1960s.

 

The study, published in Neuropsychopharmacology and funded by the MRC and BBSRC, using a rodent model of early life adversity, has shown that offspring are much more sensitive to negative biases in their cognition when treated with the stress hormone, corticosterone.

 

The research has shown a dose of corticosterone had no effect in normal rats but caused a negative bias in the early life adversity animals. The study also found that the early life adversity rats were less likely to anticipate positive events and failed to properly learn about reward value. These impairments in reward-related cognition are particularly interesting as one of the main features of depression is a loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities.

 

The findings support the idea that those at risk of developing mood disorders may have impairments in the way they learn about and use their memories about how rewarding an experience has been to then guide and motivate them to repeat the activity. The researchers suggest that these neuropsychological effects might explain why early life adversity can make people more likely to develop depression.

 

Emma Robinson, Professor of Psychopharmacology, School of Physiology, Pharmacology & Neuroscience and lead author on the paper, said: "This study supports a wider body of literature which suggests that depression may develop from an interesting yet complex interaction between biological and psychological processes. As we start to understand these better we hope that the knowledge we generate can be used to better guide current and future treatments.

 

"Our larger body of work suggests that the effectiveness of current antidepressant treatments might be linked to how much a person is able to re-engage with their environment and their level of social support.

 

"The findings also add further evidence to support the validity of this relatively new area of research into mood disorders, particularly studies using animals to understand the neurobiology of affective biases and how they contribute to normal and pathological behaviour."

 

Studies in patients have shown that depression is linked to changes in how the person processes information particularly emotional information. People with depression have a negative view of the world which can be measured by looking at how they process information such as emotional faces and words. However, whether this causes the illness or are a consequence is not known.

 

The researchers developed a method to use in rodents where similar neuropsychological processes were measured. One of the tasks, the affective bias test, looked at how simple associations between a specific cue, a bowl with a specific digging substrate in it, and a reward, a food pellet, could be biased by the animal's affective state when they learn about it.

 

When animals learn the association in a negative affective state they remember it in a more pessimistic way whilst memories formed in a positive affective state are remembered in a more positive way. The biases the study was able to measure in rodents correlated exactly with how these same treatments affect peoples' mood in the long-term, something which no other animal test in psychiatry has been able to achieve.

 

The next step in the research will be to understand how these processes and the deficits seen in the animals respond to current antidepressant treatments including the recently licensed, rapid onset antidepressant ketamine. The researchers already have some evidence about how ketamine interacts with these neuropsychological processes and this latest work will help them bring these findings together with an important disease model and risk factor for depression.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190508113326.htm

A moody gut often accompanies depression: New study helps explain why

May 7, 2019

Science Daily/Columbia University Irving Medical Center

For people with depression, gastrointestinal distress is a common additional burden, and a new study suggests that for some, the two conditions arise from the same glitch in neuron chemistry -- low serotonin.

 

The study, conducted in mice, shows that a shortage of serotonin in the neurons of the gut can cause constipation, just as a serotonin shortage in the brain can lead to depression.

 

The study also found that a treatment that raises serotonin in the gut and the brain may alleviate both conditions.

 

Up to a third of people with depression have chronic constipation, and a few studies report that people with depression rate their accompanying bowel difficulties as one of the biggest factors reducing their quality of life.

 

Severe constipation can obstruct the GI tract and cause serious pain. The condition leads to 2.5 million physician visits and 100,000 hospitalizations each year.

 

Though some antidepressants are known to cause constipation, medication side effects do not explain all cases.

 

"Ultimately, many patients with depression are faced with limited treatment options and have to suffer with prominent GI dysfunction," says study leader Kara Gross Margolis, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeon.

 

Similarities between the gut and the brain suggest the two conditions may also share a common cause.

 

"The gut is often called the body's 'second brain,'" says Margolis. "It contains more neurons than the spinal cord and uses many of the same neurotransmitters as the brain. So it shouldn't be surprising that the two conditions could be caused by the same process."

 

Because low levels of serotonin in the brain have been linked to depression and serotonin is also used by neurons in the gut, the researchers studied mice to determine if a serotonin shortage also plays a role in constipation.

 

The mice used in the study carry a genetic mutation (linked to severe depression in people) that impairs the ability of neurons in the brain and the gut to make serotonin.

 

The serotonin shortage in the gut, the researchers found, reduced the number of neurons in the gut, led to a deterioration of the gut's lining, and slowed the movement of contents through the GI tract.

 

"Basically, the mice were constipated," Margolis says, "and they showed the same kind of GI changes we see in people with constipation." (In previous studies, these same mice also showed depressive symptoms).

 

Encouragingly, an experimental drug treatment invented by two of the study's co-authors, Marc Caron, PhD, and Jacob Jacobsen, PhD, of Duke University, raised serotonin levels in the gut's neurons and alleviated constipation in the mice.

 

The treatment -- slow-release drug-delivery of 5-HTP, a precursor of serotonin -- works in part by increasing the number of GI neurons in adult mice.

 

The discovery of this connection between a brain and a gastrointestinal disorder suggests that new 5-HTP slow-release therapies could treat related brain-gut conditions simultaneously.

 

The study is also one of the first to show that neurogenesis in the gut is possible and can correct abnormalities in the gut. "Though it's been known for many years that neurogenesis occurs in certain parts of the brain, the idea that it occurs in the gut nervous system is relatively new," Margolis says.

 

Neurogenesis may help treat other types of constipation. "We see a reduction of neurons in the GI tract with age, and that loss is thought to be a cause of constipation in the elderly," Margolis says. "The idea that we may be able to use slow-release 5-HTP to treat conditions that require the development of new neurons in the gut may open a whole new avenue of treatment."

 

An immediate-release version of 5-HTP is available as a supplement, but it has not been proved scientifically to work and physiologically it should not, as it is too short-acting, Margolis says. 5-HTP is the immediate precursor to serotonin. Once ingested, 5-HTP is converted to serotonin, but the serotonin is rapidly inactivated before it can work effectively.

 

The slow-release version of 5-HTP used in the current study produces constant administration of 5-HTP which has been demonstrated to remedy the limitations of currently available immediate-release 5-HTP.

 

Clinical studies are already planned for testing a slow-release 5-HTP drug in people with treatment-resistant depression.

 

Planning for testing a slow-release 5-HTP drug in constipation is in progress.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190507080148.htm

Transplanting gut bacteria alters depression-related behavior, brain inflammation in animals

Knowledge of stress biology may eventually yield bacterial treatments for psychiatric disorders

May 6, 2019

Science Daily/Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Scientists have shown that transplanting gut bacteria, from an animal that is vulnerable to social stress to a non-stressed animal, can cause vulnerable behavior in the recipient. The research reveals details of biological interactions between the brain and gut that may someday lead to probiotic treatments for human psychiatric disorders such as depression.

 

"In rats that show depressive-type behavior in a laboratory test, we found that stress changes their gut microbiome -- the population of bacteria in the gut," said study leader Seema Bhatnagar, PhD, a neuroscientist in Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). "Moreover, when we transplanted bacteria from those stress-vulnerable rats into rats that had not been stressed, the recipient animals showed similar behavior."

 

Bhatnagar added that stress also increased inflammation in the brains of vulnerable rats, and that this inflammation appeared in unstressed rats after they received transplants from vulnerable animals.

 

The study team published its findings online March 4, 2019 in Molecular Psychiatry.

 

Bhatnagar leads the Stress Neurobiology Program at CHOP, and many of her co-authors are members of the PennCHOP Microbiome Program, a collaboration between researchers at CHOP and the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The program aims to better understand the communities of microbes inside our bodies and alter their properties to improve human health. Chunyu Zhao, PhD, of that program, performed microbiome data analysis and is a co-author of the paper.

 

Scientists already know that brain and gut influence each other. In humans, patients with psychiatric disorders have different populations of gut microbes compared to microbes in healthy individuals, with parallel findings also seen in animal models of psychiatric disease. This study investigated mechanisms related to brain inflammation, microbiomes and stress.

 

"Humans do not all react identically to the same stresses -- some are more vulnerable than others to developing psychiatric disorders, others are more resilient," said Bhatnagar. "Something similar happens in laboratory animals as well."

 

In rodents, social hierarchies and territoriality are major sources of stress. In the laboratory, researchers model stressors with validated behavioral tools such as a forced swim test or a social defeat test to examine how animals use coping strategies to deal with stress. Rats that cope more passively are more vulnerable to the effects of stress because they also exhibit more anxiety- and depressive-type behaviors, while rats that cope more actively are resilient to the effects of social stress. Based on these assessments, the researchers classified the animals as either vulnerable or resilient.

 

The study team then analyzed the fecal microbiomes of vulnerable rats, resilient rats, a non-stressed control group, and a placebo group. They found that vulnerable rats had higher proportions of certain bacteria, such as Clostridia, than the other groups.

 

They then performed fecal transplants from three donor groups -- vulnerable rats, resilient rats or control non-stressed rats -- into naïve rats, animals that had not been stressed. They found that different microbiomes changed depressive-like behavior. Rats receiving transplants from vulnerable rats were more likely to adopt depressive-like behaviors, whereas rats receiving transplants from resilient animals or non-stressed animals did not exhibit any changes in behavior or in neural measures. Patterns of brain inflammatory processes in recipients also resembled those seen in the brains of vulnerable animals, suggesting that immune-modulating effects of gut bacteria such as Clostridia may have promoted that inflammation. However, transplants did not significantly change anxiety-like behavior.

 

The finding that gut transplants from vulnerable rats increased depressive-type behavior but not anxiety-type behavior in non-stressed recipients may point to different mechanisms. The authors said this difference suggests that depressive-type behaviors are more regulated by the gut microbiome, whereas anxiety-type behaviors are primarily influenced by neural activity changes produced by stress experience.

 

"Although much more research remains to be done, we can envision future applications in which we could leverage knowledge of microbiome-brain interactions to treat human psychiatric disorders," said Bhatnagar. "People already are taking over-the-counter probiotics as supplements. If we can eventually validate beneficial behavioral effects from specific bacteria, we could set the stage for new psychiatric treatments."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190506163642.htm

Mental well-being predicts leisure time physical activity in midlife

Different exercise activities are related to the different dimensions of well-being in midlife

May 3, 2019

Science Daily/University of Jyväskylä - Jyväskylän yliopisto

Men and women with high mental well-being at the age of 42 were more physically active at the age of 50 compared to those who got lower scores in mental well-being at age 42. Different exercise activities are related to the different dimensions of well-being in midlife.

 

Mental well-being was investigated through three dimensions: emotional, psychological and social well-being. Emotional well-being indicates overall satisfaction with life and a tendency to have positive feelings. Psychological well-being refers to experiences of personal growth and the purpose of life. Social well-being tells about relationships with other people and the community.

 

It was a surprise that leisure time physical activity did not predict later mental well-being or subjective health, but mental well-being predicted physical activity. It seems that mental well-being is an important resource for maintaining a physically active lifestyle in midlife, says Dr. Tiia Kekäläinen from the Gerontology Research Center and Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, Finland.

 

Different types of physical activities are good for well-being

 

Investigation of various leisure time physical activities revealed that different activities are associated with the dimensions of well-being in 50-year-old men and women. Walking was related to emotional well-being, rambling in nature to social well-being and endurance training to subjective health.

 

"Although exercise did not predict later mental well-being or subjective health in this study, exercise is important for current mental well-being and health," Kekäläinen says.

 

These associations were found among both men and women, but additionally, rambling in nature was linked to both emotional well-being and subjective health, but only among men.

 

"It is possible that rambling in nature means different things for men and women. For example, it correlated with the frequency of vigorous exercise only among men," Kekäläinen says.

 

The data gathered at ages 42 and 50 by questionnaires and interviews for the Jyväskylä Longitudinal Study of Personality and Social Development (JYLS) were used (n = 303). Prof. Lea Pulkkinen started JYLS in 1968 at the Department of Psychology, University of Jyväskylä. Later, JYLS has been moved to the Gerontology Research Center and is led by Research Director Katja Kokko.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190503112740.htm

Perseverance toward life goals can fend off depression, anxiety, panic disorders

Looking on the bright side also acts as a safeguard, according to 18-year study

May 2, 2019

Science Daily/American Psychological Association

People who don't give up on their goals (or who get better over time at not giving up on their goals) and who have a positive outlook appear to have less anxiety and depression and fewer panic attacks, according to a study of thousands of Americans over the course of 18 years. Surprisingly, a sense of control did not have an effect on the mental health of participants across time.

 

The study was published by the American Psychological Association in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

 

"Perseverance cultivates a sense of purposefulness that can create resilience against or decrease current levels of major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder," said Nur Hani Zainal, MS, from The Pennsylvania State University and lead author of the study. "Looking on the bright side of unfortunate events has the same effect because people feel that life is meaningful, understandable and manageable."

 

Depression, anxiety and panic disorders are common mental health disorders that can be chronic and debilitating and put a person's physical health and livelihood at risk, according to Zainal and her co-author, Michelle G. Newman, PhD, also of The Pennsylvania State University.

 

"Often, people with these disorders are stuck in a cycle of negative thought patterns and behaviors that can make them feel worse," said Newman. "We wanted to understand what specific coping strategies would be helpful in reducing rates of depression, anxiety and panic attacks."

 

Zainal and Newman used data from 3,294 adults who were studied over 18 years. The average age of participants was 45, nearly all were white and slightly fewer than half were college-educated. Data were collected three times, in 1995 to 1996, 2004 to 2005 and 2012 to 2013. At each interval, participants were asked to rate their goal persistence (e.g., "When I encounter problems, I don't give up until I solve them"), self-mastery (e.g., "I can do just anything I really set my mind to") and positive reappraisal (e.g., "I can find something positive, even in the worst situations"). Diagnoses for major depressive, anxiety and panic disorders were also collected at each interval.

 

People who showed more goal persistence and optimism during the first assessment in the mid-1990s had greater reductions in depression, anxiety and panic disorders across the 18 years, according to the authors.

 

And throughout those years, people who began with fewer mental health problems showed more increased perseverance toward life goals and were better at focusing on the positive side of unfortunate events, said Zainal.

 

"Our findings suggest that people can improve their mental health by raising or maintaining high levels of tenacity, resilience and optimism," she said. "Aspiring toward personal and career goals can make people feel like their lives have meaning. On the other hand, disengaging from striving toward those aims or having a cynical attitude can have high mental health costs."

 

Unlike in previous research, Zainal and Newman did not find that self-mastery, or feeling in control of one's fate, had an effect on the mental health of participants across the 18-year period.

 

"This could have been because the participants, on average, did not show any changes in their use of self-mastery over time," said Newman. "It is possible that self-mastery is a relatively stable part of a person's character that does not easily change."

 

The authors believe their findings will be beneficial for psychotherapists working with clients dealing with depression, anxiety and panic disorders.

 

"Clinicians can help their clients understand the vicious cycle caused by giving up on professional and personal aspirations. Giving up may offer temporary emotional relief but can increase the risk of setbacks as regret and disappointment set in," said Zainal. "Boosting a patient's optimism and resilience by committing to specific courses of actions to make dreams come to full fruition despite obstacles can generate more positive moods and a sense of purpose."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190502100852.htm

How eating feeds into the body clock

April 25, 2019

Science Daily/Medical Research Council

New research has found it is not just what you eat, but when you eat that is important -- knowledge which could improve the health of shift workers and people suffering from jet lag.

 

The Medical Research Council (MRC)-funded study, published today in the journal Cell, is the first to identify insulin as a primary signal that helps communicate the timing of meals to the cellular clocks located across our body, commonly known as the body clock.

 

The team behind the research believe this improved understanding may lead to new ways to alleviate the ill-health associated with disruption to the body clock. These could include eating at specific times or taking drugs that target insulin signalling.

 

The body clock -- also known as the circadian rhythm -- is a 24-hour biological cycle that occurs individually in every cell of the body, driving daily rhythms in our physiology, from when we sleep, to hormone levels, to how we respond to medication. Our body clock is synchronised with the surrounding environment by exposure to daylight and the timing of meals. This synchrony is important for long-term health, and it is well known that disrupting your circadian rhythm by shift work or travel across time zones can be detrimental for health. Importantly, it is thought that eating at unusual times, as often occurrs during shift work and jet lag, is a major cause of body clock disruption. However, it has not previously been known exactly how the body clock senses and responds to meal timing, making it difficult to provide medical advice or interventions that might alleviate the problem.

 

Researchers at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge and the University of Manchester have now identified insulin as a primary signal that helps communicate the timing of meals to the cellular clocks across our body, and in doing so strengthen the circadian rhythm. The team's experiments in cultured cells, and replicated in mice, show that insulin, a hormone released when we eat, adjusts circadian rhythms in many different cells and tissues individually, by stimulating production of a protein called PERIOD, an essential cog within every cell's circadian clock.

 

Dr John O'Neill, a research leader at the MRC LMB who led the Cambridge research team, said: "At the heart of these cellular clocks is a complex set of molecules whose interaction provides precise 24-hour timing. What we have shown here is that the insulin, released when we eat, can act as a timing signal to cells throughout our body."

 

Working with Dr David Bechtold, a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester, the researchers found that when insulin was provided to mice at the 'wrong' biological time -- when the animals would normally be resting -- it disrupted normal circadian rhythms, causing less distinction between day and night.

 

Dr Bechtold said: "We already know that modern society poses many challenges to our health and wellbeing -- things that are viewed as commonplace, such as shift-work, sleep deprivation, and jet lag, disrupt our body clock. It is now becoming clear that circadian disruption is increasing the incidence and severity of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes."

 

Dr Priya Crosby, a researcher at the MRC LMB and lead author on the study, highlighted: "Our data suggests that eating at the wrong times could have a major impact on our circadian rhythms. There is still work to do here, but paying particular attention to meal timing and light exposure is likely the best way to mitigate the adverse effects of shift-work. Even for those who work more traditional hours, being careful about when we eat is an important way to help maintain healthy body clocks, especially as we age."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190425143607.htm

Being too harsh on yourself could lead to OCD and anxiety

A correlation was found between strong feelings of responsibility and likelihood of developing OCD or GAD

April 25, 2019

Science Daily/Hiroshima University

A new study has found that people who reported intense feelings of responsibility were susceptible to developing Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) was published in the International Journal of Cognitive Therapy.

 

"People with OCD [are] tortured by repeatedly occurring negative thinking and they take some strategy to prevent it... GAD is a very pervasive type of anxiety. [Patients] worry about everything." describes Associate Professor Yoshinori Sugiura of the University of Hiroshima.

 

Anxiety and OCD-like behaviors, such as checking if the door is locked, are common in the general population. However, it is the frequency and intensity of these behaviors or feelings that make the difference between a character trait and disorder.

 

"For example, you're using two audio recorders instead of one," says Sugiura when interviewed. "It's just in case one fails ... having two recorders will enhance your work but if you prepare [too] many recorders ... that will interfere with your work."

 

A problem Sugiura identifies in psychology is that each disorder that sufferers experience has several competing theories regarding their cause.

 

"There are too many theories and therapies for mental disorders for one expert to master them all." elaborates Sugiura.

 

The goal of this research team (consisting of Sugiura and Associate Professor Brian Fisak (University of Central Florida)) was to find a common cause for these disorders and simplify the theories behind them.

 

Sugiura and Fisak first defined and explored "inflated responsibility." The team identified 3 types of inflated responsibility: 1) Responsibility to prevent or avoid danger and/or harm, 2) Sense of personal responsibility and blame for negative outcomes and 3) Responsibility to continue thinking about a problem. The research group combined tests used to study OCD and GAD as there had been no previous work that compared these tests in the same study.

 

To establish whether inflated responsibility was a predictor of OCD or GAD, Sugiura and Fisak sent an online questionnaire to American university students. Through this survey they found that respondents who scored higher in questions about responsibility were more likely to exhibit behaviors that resemble those of OCD or GAD patients. Personal Responsibility and Blame and the Responsibility to Continue Thinking, had the strongest link to the disorders.

 

The researchers would like to clarify that this preliminary study is not representative of the general population due to the small scale and skewed population (mostly female university students). However, the promising findings suggest that this format can be applied to a larger population and yield similar results.

 

Sugiura is currently looking into how to reduce responsibility and the preliminary outcomes are positive. When asked for any tips to reduce anxiety or obsessive behaviors he said:

 

"[A] very quick or easy way is to realize that responsibility is working behind your worry. I ask [patients] "Why are you worried so much?" so they will answer "I can't help but worry" but they will not spontaneously think "Because I feel responsibility" ... just realizing it will make some space between responsibility thinking and your behavior."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190425104253.htm

Stressed, anxious? Ask the brain!

April 23, 2019

Science Daily/Friedrich Miescher Institute

Our actions are driven by "internal states" such as anxiety, stress or thirst -- which will strongly affect and motivate our behaviors. Not much is known about how such states are represented by complex brain-wide circuits, including sub-cortical structures such as the amygdala. In a study recently published in Science, the group of Andreas Lüthi at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research (FMI) used a deep brain imaging technique to monitor amygdala activity in active mice and revealed the neuronal dynamics encoding behavioral states.

 

When a mouse is hungry, it is going to forage for food; when it is anxious, it is going to stop exploring its environment and freeze or flee. How such internal states correlate with the behavior of an animal has been studied in detail. However, little is known about how the brain encodes and controls internal states.

 

Jan Gründemann, a SNF Ambizione Fellow in Lüthi's group and now a professor at the University of Basel, joined forces with Yael Bitterman, a computational neuroscientist working as a postdoc in the Lüthi group, to investigate the neuronal activity in the amygdala of freely moving mice in various states. The amygdala is a small almond-shaped brain structure that is considered a hub for regulating affective, homeostatic (hunger and thirst) and social behaviors via widespread connections with many brain regions. The amygdala is suggested to play a role in the coordination of brain states, but that role is not well understood.

 

Using a miniaturized microscope imaging technique, Gründemann and Bitterman tracked neuronal activity in the amygdala of mice across different environments that prompted various internal states and behaviors. The results were rather unexpected: The researchers identified two large antagonistic sets of neurons -- called ensembles -- that were active in opposite behavioral states: When the mice were exploring their environment, neuronal ensemble 1 was active; when they were not exploring (meaning that they were in non-exploratory defensive states), neuronal ensemble 2 was active.

 

Surprisingly, the activity of the ensembles did not align with spatial areas generally associated with anxiety states such as the safe corners in an open field. Furthermore, the scientists did not expect that complex internal states and their behaviors would be coded with relatively simple, low-dimensional activity patterns in the amygdala. In summary, the study shows that the identified two neuronal ensembles encode opposing moment-to-moment state changes, especially regarding exploratory and defensive behaviors, but do not provide a measure of global anxiety levels of an animal.

 

"The power of this study is that we managed to interrogate the brain directly about the affective state the mouse is in," says Lüthi. "If we want to understand a behavior, we need to understand the brain! Drawing conclusions simply based on standardized behavioral observations may be misleading -- as we could show." As a next step, the Lüthi group wants to find out more about how these active ensembles emerge in the amygdala, and how they can influence other regions in the brain.

 

Can these findings be relevant for human anxiety disorders? "The coding of internal states -- such has anxiety -- may work in a similar way in humans than in mice," says Lüthi. "It's conceivable that in a person with an anxiety disorder there is an imbalance between neuronal ensembles coding for distinct internal states. It will be interesting to test this hypothesis in animal models for psychiatric diseases."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190423133608.htm

Minor sleep loss can put your job at risk

April 23, 2019

Science Daily/University of South Florida

Losing just 16 minutes of sleep could be the difference between a clear-headed day at the office or one filled with distractions.

 

A new study published in the Sleep Health (Journal of the National Sleep Foundation) finds shorting your sleep routine during the work-week greatly interferes with job performance. University of South Florida researchers found workers are more likely to have poor judgement and fall off-task the next day.

 

Lead author Soomi Lee, PhD, assistant professor in the School of Aging Studies, and her colleagues surveyed 130 healthy employees who work in Information Technology and have at least one school-aged child. Participants reported that when they slept 16 minutes less than usual and had worse quality sleep, they experienced more cognitive issues the next day. That raised their stress levels, especially regarding issues related to work-life balance, resulting in them going to bed earlier and waking up earlier due to fatigue.

 

"These cyclical associations reflect that employees' sleep is vulnerable to daily cognitive stress and also a contributor to cognitively stressful experiences," said Lee. "Findings from this study provide empirical evidence for why workplaces need to make more efforts to promote their employees' sleep. Good sleepers may be better performers at work due to greater ability to stay focused an on-task with fewer errors and interpersonal conflicts."

 

Researchers also compared work-days to weekends. They conclude the consequences of less sleep is not as apparent when one has the next day off from work.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190423133605.htm

Vitamin D study sheds light on immune system effects

April 17, 2019

Science Daily/University of Edinburgh

Scientists have uncovered fresh insights into how vitamin D affects the immune system and might influence susceptibility to diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

 

Vitamin D is produced by the body in response to sunlight and is often lauded for its health benefits. Researchers found it also affects key cells of the immune system.

 

This discovery might explain how vitamin D regulates immune reactions that have been implicated in autoimmune diseases such as MS.

 

The University of Edinburgh team focused on how vitamin D affects a mechanism in the body's immune system -- dendritic cells' ability to activate T cells.

 

In healthy people, T cells play a crucial role in helping to fight infections. In people with autoimmune diseases, however, they can start to attack the body's own tissues.

 

By studying cells from mice and people, the researchers found vitamin D caused dendritic cells to produce more of a molecule called CD31 on their surface and that this hindered the activation of T cells.

 

The team observed how CD31 prevented the two cell types from making a stable contact -- an essential part of the activation process -- and the resulting immune reaction was far reduced.

 

Researchers say the findings shed light on how vitamin D deficiency may regulate the immune system and influence susceptibility to autoimmune diseases.

 

The study, published in Frontiers in Immunology, was funded by the Medical Research Council, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Natural Environment Research Council and Wellcome.

 

Professor Richard Mellanby, of the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Inflammation Research, said: "Low vitamin D status has long being implicated as a significant risk factor for the development of several autoimmune diseases. Our study reveals one way in which vitamin D metabolites can dramatically influence the immune system."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190417111440.htm

Espresso yourself: Coffee thoughts leave a latte on the mind

April 17, 2019

Science Daily/Monash University

For millions of Australians, each day begins with a hot cup of coffee in order to activate our brains for the working day. The morning coffee run also acts a social lubricant, a creature comfort and, for some, a non-negotiable ritual.

 

But what if coffee aficionados could get the same effects from their morning latte by simply responding to cues that make them think of coffee -- including the smells, sights and sounds?

 

New international research by Monash University and the University of Toronto has found that the placebo effect of coffee can heighten arousal, ambition and focus in regular drinkers without them actually consuming the beverage.

 

Dr Eugene Chan, Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the Monash Business School, and Sam Maglio, Associate Professor of Marketing and Psychology at the University of Toronto, explored the association between coffee and arousal to see if the brain's exposure to stimuli could deliver the same cognitive benefits as a caffeine buzz.

 

"As long as individuals see a connection between coffee and arousal, whatever its origin may be, mere exposure to coffee-related cues might trigger arousal in and of themselves without ingesting any form of caffeine," Dr Chan said.

 

"Smelling coffee gives rise to the beverage's psychoactive, arousing effects. This is because the brains of habitual coffee consumers are conditioned to respond to coffee in certain ways, as per the prominent Pavlov's dog theory.

 

"So walking past your favourite café, smelling the odours of coffee grounds, or even witnessing coffee-related cues in the form of advertising can trigger the chemical receptors in our body enough for us to obtain the same arousal sensations without consumption."

 

Researchers exposed 871 participants from Western and Eastern cultures to coffee and tea-related cues across four separate experiments that would make them think of the substance without actually ingesting it.

 

In one study, participants had to come up with advertising slogans for coffee or tea. In another, they had to mock-up news stories about the health benefits of drinking coffee or tea. The arousal levels and heart rates were monitored by the researchers throughout the studies.

 

The study centred on a psychological effect called 'mental construal'. This determines how individuals think and process information, whether they focus on narrow details or the bigger picture.

 

Results showed that priming people with coffee cues -- exposing them to images and other stimuli (smells and sounds) about coffee -- increased their alertness, energy levels, heart rate, and made them think narrowly.

 

The cognitive-altering effects of coffee were more prevalent in participants from Western countries, where coffee is more popular and has connotations related to energy, focus and ambition, compared to those from Eastern countries. Coffee was also associated with greater arousal than tea.

 

"Our research can offer intriguing implications, as it relies not on physiology but rather psychological associations to change our cognitive patterns," Dr Chan said.

 

"This study could even help to explain how drinking decaffeinated coffee can produce faster reaction times on tasks. Perhaps the mental association between coffee and arousal is so strong that it can produce cognitive changes even where there's no caffeine ingestion physiologically.

 

"This adds to the growing amount of literature documenting that the foods we eat and the beverages we drink do more than simply provide nutrition or pleasure -- mere exposure to, or reminders of them, affect how we think."

 

The coffee industry in Australia is worth close to $10 billion, with industry revenue growing at a rate of 2.2% annually for the past five years.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190417111437.htm

Study explores how technology can help prompt positive memories for people with depression

April 9, 2019

Science Daily/Lancaster University

Researchers have provided a crucial first step towards understanding how computing technology could be used to help people with depression remember happy memories.

 

Improving the recall of positive memories is a method used by clinical experts treating memory impairments of people with depression. This is, among other things, to help offset a bias towards negative thinking.

 

However, there are currently few technologies that have been designed specifically to support people experiencing memory impairments associated with depression.

 

A team of human-computer interaction researchers from Lancaster University and Trinity College Dublin, have through in-depth interviews with experts in neuropsychology and cognitive behavioural therapies, found that most existing technologies related to supporting memory impairments are focused on 'episodic' impairments, which are closely associated with conditions such as dementia.

 

The researchers explored three memory impairments in depression: negative bias, over-generalisation, and reduced positivity.

 

"Memory impairments in depression are fundamentally different," said Corina Sas, Professor of Digital Health at Lancaster university and one of the researchers on the project. "Their effect is not felt through the loss of episodic memories, but rather difficulties in retrieving these memories among memories of general events and periods within their lifetime.

 

"People living with depression not only benefit less from the types of cues usually explored in existing memory technology research, but such cues can also be counterproductive."

 

The researchers identified several areas of opportunity for where technology could help.

 

These include:

·     The use of 'biosensors', which could help inform technologies as to the current mind-set of the user.

·     Technology that can actively prompt users with positive memories to counteract negative thoughts.

·     Positive memory banks, which help people actively capture positive memories often by anticipating and planning for positive events.

·     Technologies that enable the active curation of positive memories.

 

"Novel technologies that can adapt the retrieval of positive memories to the current emotional state of the user will be important," said Professor Sas.

 

"We can imagine technologies that prompt people to identify and retrieve positive memories as counterexamples for when people are ruminating over negative thoughts. This can help support a more balanced perspective on life, and help increase the accessibility and value of positive memories."

 

The study aims to inform specialists working in the 'Human-Computer Interaction' field about the limitations of existing memory technologies and factors to consider when designing new technologies to help people with depression. "These methods could be integrated into a range of different mental health technologies," said Gavin Doherty, Associate Professor at Trinity College Dublin, and co-founder of SilverCloud Health -- a health technology company.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190409100029.htm

Common sleep myths compromise good sleep and health

April 16, 2019

Science Daily/NYU Langone Health / NYU School of Medicine

People often say they can get by on five or fewer hours of sleep, that snoring is harmless, and that having a drink helps you to fall asleep.

 

These are, in fact, among the most widely held myths about sleeping that not only shape poor habits, but may also pose a significant public health threat, according to a new study publishing online in Sleep Health on April 16.

 

Researchers from NYU School of Medicine reviewed more than 8,000 websites to identify the 20 most common assumptions about sleep. With a team of sleep medicine experts, they ranked them based on whether each could be dispelled as a myth or supported by scientific evidence, and on the harm that the myth could cause.

 

"Sleep is a vital part of life that affects our productivity, mood, and general health and well-being," says study lead investigator, Rebecca Robbins, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Health. "Dispelling myths about sleep promotes healthier sleep habits which, in turn, promote overall better health."

 

The claim by some people that they can get by on five hours of sleep was among the top myths researchers were able to dispel based on scientific evidence. They say this myth also poses the most serious risk to health from long-term sleep deficits. To avoid the effects of this falsehood and others identified in this study, such as the value of taking naps when you routinely have difficulty sleeping overnight, Robbins and her colleagues suggest creating a consistent sleep schedule and spending more time, at least seven hours, asleep.

 

Another common myth relates to snoring. And while Robbins says snoring can be harmless, it can also be a sign of sleep apnea, a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing starts and stops over the course of the night. The authors encourage patients not to dismiss loud snoring, but rather to see a doctor since this sleep behavior may lead to heart stoppages or other illnesses.

 

The study authors also found sufficient evidence in published studies that, despite beliefs to the contrary, drinking alcoholic beverages before bed is indeed unhealthy for sleep. According to experts, alcohol reduces the body's ability to achieve deep sleep, which people need to function properly.

 

"Sleep is important to health, and there needs to be greater effort to inform the public regarding this important public health issue," says study senior investigator Girardin Jean Louis, PhD, a professor in the departments of Population Health and Psychiatry at NYU Langone. "For example, by discussing sleep habits with their patients, doctors can help prevent sleep myths from increasing risks for heart disease, obesity, and diabetes."

 

The researchers acknowledge that some myths still cause disagreement among sleep experts. For instance, although sleeping in on weekends does disrupt the natural circadian rhythm, for people in certain professions, such as shift workers, it may be better for them to sleep in than to get fewer hours of sleep overall. These discrepancies, they say, suggest that further research needs to be done.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190416081414.htm

Psychologists find smiling really can make people happier

April 12, 2019

Science Daily/University of Tennessee at Knoxville

Smiling really can make people feel happier, according to a new paper published in Psychological Bulletin.

 

Coauthored by researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and Texas A&M, the paper looked at nearly 50 years of data testing whether facial expressions can lead people to feel the emotions related to those expressions.

 

"Conventional wisdom tells us that we can feel a little happier if we simply smile. Or that we can get ourselves in a more serious mood if we scowl," said Nicholas Coles, UT PhD student in social psychology and lead researcher on the paper. "But psychologists have actually disagreed about this idea for over 100 years."

 

These disagreements became more pronounced in 2016, when 17 teams of researchers failed to replicate a well-known experiment demonstrating that the physical act of smiling can make people feel happier.

 

"Some studies have not found evidence that facial expressions can influence emotional feelings," Coles said. "But we can't focus on the results of any one study. Psychologists have been testing this idea since the early 1970s, so we wanted to look at all the evidence."

 

Using a statistical technique called meta-analysis, Coles and his team combined data from 138 studies testing more than 11,000 participants from all around the world. According to the results of the meta-analysis, facial expressions have a small impact on feelings. For example, smiling makes people feel happier, scowling makes them feel angrier, and frowning makes them feel sadder.

 

"We don't think that people can smile their way to happiness," Coles said. "But these findings are exciting because they provide a clue about how the mind and the body interact to shape our conscious experience of emotion. We still have a lot to learn about these facial feedback effects, but this meta-analysis put us a little closer to understanding how emotions work."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190412094728.htm

People with a sense of oneness experience greater life satisfaction

Effect is found regardless of religion

April 11, 2019

Science Daily/American Psychological Association

People who believe in oneness -- the idea that everything in the world is connected and interdependent -- appear to have greater life satisfaction than those who don't, regardless of whether they belong to a religion or don't, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

 

"The feeling of being at one with a divine principle, life, the world, other people or even activities has been discussed in various religious traditions but also in a wide variety of scientific research from different disciplines," said Laura Marie Edinger-Schons, PhD, of the University of Mannheim and author of the study. "The results of this study reveal a significant positive effect of oneness beliefs on life satisfaction, even controlling for religious beliefs."

 

The research was published in the journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality.

 

Edinger-Schons conducted two surveys involving nearly 75,000 people in Germany. In the first survey, more than 7,000 participants, recruited as part of a cooperation project between the university and a company, were asked to respond to a series of statements designed to measure their belief in oneness (e.g., "I believe that everything in the world is based on a common principle" or "Everything in the world is interdependent and influenced by each other"). They were also asked to respond to items measuring other concepts associated with oneness, such as social connectedness, connectedness to nature and empathy as well as life satisfaction.

 

Edinger-Schons found a significant correlation between scores on her oneness scale and the concepts associated with oneness, suggesting that it was a valid measure of the concept. More important, she also found that people with higher oneness scores reported significantly greater life satisfaction.

 

To determine whether oneness scores were variable over time or a more fixed construct, the same survey was administered to the same group of people six weeks later. While a little more than 3,000 of them responded, Edinger-Schons still found that oneness beliefs had not changed significantly and therefore might be stable over time.

 

"Obviously, oneness beliefs are more than a situation-specific feeling or mood," she said. "They rather seem to represent a general attitude toward life."

 

Once again, she also found a significant correlation between oneness beliefs and life satisfaction. While being satisfied with life as a whole should be rewarding in itself, research does suggest that people with higher life satisfaction experience some additional benefits, such as increased academic performance in younger people and better health in old age, according to Edinger-Schons.

 

In a second survey, involving more than 67,000 people, Edinger-Schons looked at whether oneness beliefs could explain individuals' life satisfaction over and above the effect of religion. Much research has been done on the association between religion and life satisfaction, but she wondered if there might not be something else at work. Specifically, her hypothesis was that oneness beliefs might explain peoples' satisfaction with life even better than religion.

 

"I recognized that in various philosophical and religious texts, a central idea is the idea of oneness," said Edinger-Schons. "In my free time, I enjoy surfing, Capoeira, meditation and yoga, and all of these have been said to lead to experiences that can be described as being at one with life or nature or just experiencing a state of flow through being immersed in the activity. I was wondering whether the larger belief in oneness is something that is independent of religious beliefs and how it affects satisfaction with life."

 

Participants came from a variety of religious backgrounds, including Protestant denominations, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. More than a quarter of those who identified their beliefs said they were atheist.

 

While oneness scores did vary by religion (Muslims had the highest median score while atheists had the lowest), they were much better predictors of life satisfaction than religious beliefs.

 

"I did not find it surprising that atheists have the lowest levels of oneness beliefs in the sample, but what surprised me was that oneness beliefs were actually very different across various religious affiliations, with Muslims having the highest levels," she said. "Also, when oneness beliefs were taken into account, many of the positive effects of religious affiliation on life satisfaction disappeared."

 

Many people today practice yoga, meditation, action sports and other activities that aim at achieving a state of oneness or flow. Strengthening the more general belief in the oneness of everything has the potential to enhance peoples' lives and might even be more effective than traditional religious beliefs and practices at improving life satisfaction, Edinger-Schons said.

 

As all the participants were from Germany, she noted that it is unclear if this effect would translate to residents of other countries and suggested more research would need to be done.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190411101803.htm

Stress-related disorders linked to heightened risk of cardiovascular disease

Risk is particularly high during the first year after diagnosis

April 10, 2019

Science Daily/BMJ

Stress related disorders -- conditions triggered by a significant life event or trauma -- may be linked to a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), finds a large Swedish study published in The BMJ today.

 

The risk of severe and acute CVD events, such as cardiac arrest and heart attack, was particularly high in the first six months after diagnosis of a stress related disorder, and within the first year for other types of CVD.

 

Most people are, at some point during their life, exposed to psychological trauma or stressful life events such as the death of a loved one, a diagnosis of a life threatening illness, natural disasters, or violence, write the authors.

 

And there is building evidence which suggests that severe stress reactions to significant life events or trauma are linked to the development of CVD.

 

But previous studies have mainly focused on male veterans or those currently active in the military with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or PTSD symptoms. And because of the smaller size of these samples, data on the effects of stress reactions on different types of CVD are limited.

 

So to shed some light on this, researchers used Swedish population and health registers to explore the role of clinically diagnosed PTSD, acute stress reaction, adjustment disorder, and other stress reactions in the development of CVD.

 

They controlled for family background, medical history, and underlying psychiatric conditions.

 

The researchers matched 136,637 people from an "exposed cohort" who were diagnosed with a stress related disorder between January 1987 and December 2013 with 171,314 full siblings who were free of stress related disorders and CVD.

 

For each exposed person, 10 people from the general population who were unaffected by stress related disorders and CVD at the date of diagnosis of the "exposed" patient were randomly selected.

 

Exposed and unexposed people were then individually matched by birth year and sex.

 

Severe stress reactions to significant life events or trauma were linked to a heightened risk of several types of CVD, especially during the first year after diagnosis, with a 64% higher risk among people with a stress related disorder compared to their unaffected sibling.

 

The findings were similar for people with a stress related disorder compared to the general population.

 

And there was a stronger link between stress related disorders and early onset CVD -- cases of disease which developed before the age of 50 -- than later onset ones.

 

Out of all studied CVDs, the excess risk during the first year was strongest for heart failure, and for major blood clots (embolism and thrombosis) after one year.

 

There were similar associations across sex, calendar period, medical history, and family history of CVD. But those who were diagnosed with a stress disorder at a younger age had a heightened risk of CVD.

 

This is an observational study based on the Swedish population and, as such, can't establish cause. The authors point out evidence from other studies suggesting a biological link between severe stress reactions and cardiovascular disease development. And they can't rule out the role of other unmeasured behavioural factors, such as smoking and alcohol intake.

 

But they say that their study is the first to explore the association between a number of stress related disorders, including but not limited to PTSD, and several types of CVD using sibling-based comparisons, among both men and women.

 

And doctors need to be aware of the "robust" link between stress related disorders and a higher subsequent risk of cardiovascular disease, particularly during the months after diagnosis, they add.

 

"These findings call for enhanced clinical awareness and, if verified, monitoring or early intervention among patients with recently diagnosed stress related disorders," they conclude.

 

In a linked editorial, Professor Simon Bacon from Concordia University in Canada, says that the design of the study "allows us to make reasonable assumptions about the similarity of the environment, lifestyles, and health behaviours between those with a disorder and their paired siblings without one. Such assumptions allow inferences about other alternative potential pathways linking these disorders to CVD outcomes."

 

In the future, well designed studies evaluating more appropriate interventions will be critical, not only to confirm the inferences of the new study but also to provide real benefits to patients," he concludes.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190410210000.htm

Study explores how technology can help prompt positive memories for people with depression

April 9, 2019

Science Daily/Lancaster University

A team of human-computer interaction researchers, have through in-depth interviews with experts in neuropsychology and cognitive behavioral therapies, found that most existing technologies related to supporting memory impairments are focused on 'episodic' impairments, which are closely associated with conditions such as dementia.

 

Researchers have provided a crucial first step towards understanding how computing technology could be used to help people with depression remember happy memories.

 

Improving the recall of positive memories is a method used by clinical experts treating memory impairments of people with depression. This is, among other things, to help offset a bias towards negative thinking.

 

However, there are currently few technologies that have been designed specifically to support people experiencing memory impairments associated with depression.

 

A team of human-computer interaction researchers from Lancaster University and Trinity College Dublin, have through in-depth interviews with experts in neuropsychology and cognitive behavioural therapies, found that most existing technologies related to supporting memory impairments are focused on 'episodic' impairments, which are closely associated with conditions such as dementia.

 

The researchers explored three memory impairments in depression: negative bias, over-generalisation, and reduced positivity.

 

"Memory impairments in depression are fundamentally different," said Corina Sas, Professor of Digital Health at Lancaster university and one of the researchers on the project. "Their effect is not felt through the loss of episodic memories, but rather difficulties in retrieving these memories among memories of general events and periods within their lifetime.

 

"People living with depression not only benefit less from the types of cues usually explored in existing memory technology research, but such cues can also be counterproductive."

 

The researchers identified several areas of opportunity for where technology could help.

 

These include:

·     The use of 'biosensors', which could help inform technologies as to the current mind-set of the user.

·     Technology that can actively prompt users with positive memories to counteract negative thoughts.

·     Positive memory banks, which help people actively capture positive memories often by anticipating and planning for positive events.

·     Technologies that enable the active curation of positive memories.

 

"Novel technologies that can adapt the retrieval of positive memories to the current emotional state of the user will be important," said Professor Sas.

 

"We can imagine technologies that prompt people to identify and retrieve positive memories as counterexamples for when people are ruminating over negative thoughts. This can help support a more balanced perspective on life, and help increase the accessibility and value of positive memories."

 

The study aims to inform specialists working in the 'Human-Computer Interaction' field about the limitations of existing memory technologies and factors to consider when designing new technologies to help people with depression. "These methods could be integrated into a range of different mental health technologies," said Gavin Doherty, Associate Professor at Trinity College Dublin, and co-founder of SilverCloud Health -- a health technology company.

 

The research, which is detailed in the paper 'Exploring and Designing for Memory Impairments in Depression', will be presented at the CHI2019 academic conference to be held in Glasgow in May. The work was supported by AffecTech: Personal Technologies for Affective Health, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network funded by the European Commission H2020.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190409100029.htm

Novel 5-minute workout improves blood pressure, may boost brain function

April 8, 2019

Science Daily/University of Colorado at Boulder

Could working out five minutes a day, without lifting a single weight or jogging a single step, reduce your heart attack risk, help you think more clearly and boost your sports performance?

 

Preliminary results from a clinical trial of Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST), presented this week at the Experimental Biology conference in Orlando, suggest "yes."

 

"IMST is basically strength-training for the muscles you breathe in with," said Daniel Craighead, a postdoctoral researcher in the the University of Colorado Boulder Integrative Physiology department who is leading the study. "It's something you can do quickly in your home or office, without having to change your clothes, and so far it looks like it is very beneficial to lower blood pressure and possibly boost cognitive and physical performance."

 

Developed in the 1980s as a means to wean critically ill people off ventilators, IMST involves breathing in vigorously through a hand-held device -- an inspiratory muscle trainer -- which provides resistance. Imagine sucking hard through a straw which sucks back.

 

During early use in patients with lung diseases, patients performed a 30-minute, low-resistance regimen daily to boost their lung capacity.

 

But in 2016, University of Arizona researchers published results from a trial to see if just 30 inhalations per day with greater resistance might help sufferers of obstructive sleep apnea, who tend to have weak breathing muscles.

 

In addition to more restful sleep, subjects showed an unexpected side effect after six weeks: Their systolic blood pressure plummeted by 12 millimeters of mercury. That's about twice as much of a decrease as aerobic exercise can yield and more than many medications deliver.

 

"That's when we got interested," said principal investigator Professor Doug Seals, director of CU Boulder's Integrative Physiology of Aging Laboratory.

 

Systolic blood pressure, which signifies the pressure in your vessels when your heart beats, naturally creeps up as arteries stiffen with age, leading to damage of blood-starved tissues and higher risk of heart attack, cognitive decline and kidney damage.

 

While 30 minutes per day of aerobic exercise has clearly been shown to lower blood pressure, only about 5 percent of adults meet that minimum. Meanwhile, 65 percent of mid-life adults have high systolic blood pressure.

 

"Our goal is to develop time-efficient, evidence-based interventions that those busy mid-life adults will actually perform," said Seals, who was recently awarded a $450,000 National Institute of Aging grant to fund the clinical trial of IMST involving about 50 subjects.

 

Craighead presented preliminary results Sunday and Monday at Experimental Biology 2019 showing that:

 

With about half the tests done, the researchers have found significant drops in blood pressure and improvements in large-artery function among those who performed IMST with no changes in those who used a sham breathing device that delivered low-resistance.

 

The IMST group is also performing better on certain cognitive and memory tests.

 

When asked to exercise to exhaustion, they were also able to stay on the treadmill longer and keep their heart rate and oxygen consumption lower during exercise.

 

Some cyclists and runners have already begun to use commercially-available inspiratory muscle trainers to gain a competitive edge.

 

But Seals and Craighead stress that their findings are preliminary and curious individuals should ask their doctor before considering IMST.

 

That said, with a high compliance rate (fewer than 10 percent of study participants drop out) and no real side-effects, they're optimistic.

 

"High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is the number one cause of death in America," said Craighead. "Having another option in the toolbox to help prevent it would be a real victory."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190408161643.htm

Why heart failure patients suffer depression, impaired thinking

April 5, 2019

Science Daily/University of Guelph

A new study explains why heart failure patients often have trouble with thinking and depression, pointing to ways to prevent and treat both heart and brain maladies through the emerging field of circadian medicine.

 

Heart failure patients often have trouble with thinking and depression.

 

A new study by University of Guelph researchers explains why and points to ways to prevent and treat both heart and brain maladies through the emerging field of circadian medicine.

 

Published recently in Nature's Scientific Reports, the study is the first to reveal how cognition and mood in mice are regulated by the body clock and how pertinent brain regions are impaired in heart failure, said Tami Martino, a professor in U of G's Department of Biomedical Sciences and director of the Centre for Cardiovascular Investigations.

 

"Neurosurgeons always look in the brain; cardiologists always look in the heart. This new study looked at both," said Martino, whose work in the emerging field of circadian medicine is supported by funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. She recently received a Mid-Career Investigator Award from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

 

Coronary heart disease, the most common cause of heart failure, causes one in three deaths in Canada, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

 

Human patients with heart failure often have neurological conditions such as cognitive impairment and depression, said Martino. She worked on the study with master's student Austin Duong and PhD student Cristine Reitz -- both co-first authors -- and neuroscientists including U of G psychology professor Boyer Winters and biomedical sciences professor Craig Bailey.

 

Martino suspected the heart-brain connection involved the circadian mechanism molecule, called "clock."

 

Circadian rhythms in humans and other organisms follow Earth's 24-hour cycle of light and darkness, signalling when to sleep and when to be awake.

 

Martino's earlier research showed how disrupting circadian rhythms -- as with shift workers, jet-lagged travellers and patients disturbed in intensive-care units -- can trigger changes that worsen heart disease and impair overall health and well-being.

 

For this new study, the researchers compared normal mice with mice carrying a mutation in their circadian mechanism (called "clock mice"). They found that the mutation affected the structure of neurons in brain areas important for cognition and mood.

 

Working with University of Toronto colleagues, the team also found differences in clock regulation of blood vessels in the brains of the clock mice.

 

After inducing heart failure in mice to simulate human heart failure, they used microarray profiling to identify key genes in the brain that were altered in neural growth, stress and metabolism pathways.

 

The results show that the circadian mechanism influences neural effects of heart failure, said Martino. Pointing out that no cure exists for the heart condition, she said understanding how the circadian mechanism works in the brain may lead to new strategies to improve patients' quality of life.

 

Patients recovering from heart attacks often experience disturbed circadian rhythms from light, noise and interactions with hospital staff at night. "Maintaining circadian rhythms especially for patients with heart disease could lead to better health outcomes."

 

More generally, the findings point to potential health benefits for people in general. Avoiding shift work for people with underlying heart conditions or sleep disorders, reducing light at night or avoiding social jet lag (going to bed late and waking up later than usual on weekends) could all help reduce neurobiological impairments.

 

Those problems -- and potential solutions -- involve not just hearts but brains, she said. "If we're not yet able to cure heart failure, we should at least be focusing on how we can improve quality of life for patients."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190405124313.htm

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