New research suggests a healthy diet during pregnancy is good for the mother and also her offspring.
Researchers from the Oregon Health and Science University tested the effect of a maternal high-fat diet on nonhuman primates, tightly controlling their diet in a way that would be impossible in a human population.
The findings suggest a high-fat diet alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of the baby and has a long-term impact on offspring behavior.
The new study links an unhealthy diet during pregnancy to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression in children.
“Given the high level of dietary fat consumption and maternal obesity in developed nations, these findings have important implications for the mental health of future generations,” the researchers reported.
The research appears in the journal Frontiers in Endocrinology.
The study was led by Elinor Sullivan, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Division of Neuroscience at Oregon National Primate Research Center at OHSU.
Researchers discovered behavioral changes in the offspring associated with impaired development of the central serotonin system in the brain. Further, it showed that introducing a healthy diet to the offspring at an early age failed to reverse the effect.
Previous observational studies in people correlated maternal obesity with a range of mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders in children.
The new research demonstrates for the first time that a high-fat diet, increasingly common in the developed world, caused long-lasting mental health ramifications for the offspring of non-human primates.
In the United States, 64 percent of women of reproductive age are overweight and 35 percent are obese. The new study suggests that the U.S. obesity epidemic may be imposing transgenerational effects.
“It’s not about blaming the mother,” said Sullivan, senior author on the study.
“It’s about educating pregnant women about the potential risks of a high-fat diet in pregnancy and empowering them and their families to make healthy choices by providing support. We also need to craft public policies that promote healthy lifestyles and diets.”
Researchers grouped a total of 65 female Japanese macaques into two groups, one given a high-fat diet and one a control diet during pregnancy.
They subsequently measured and compared anxiety-like behavior among 135 offspring and found that both males and females exposed to a high-fat diet during pregnancy exhibited greater incidence of anxiety compared with those in the control group.
The scientists also examined physiological differences between the two groups, finding that exposure to a high-fat diet during gestation and early in development impaired the development of neurons containing serotonin, a neurotransmitter that’s critical in developing brains.
The new findings suggest that diet is at least as important as genetic predisposition to neurodevelopmental disorders such as anxiety or depression, said an OHSU pediatric psychiatrist who was not involved in the research.
“I think it’s quite dramatic,” said Joel Nigg, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, pediatrics, and behavioral neuroscience in the OHSU School of Medicine.
“A lot of people are going to be astonished to see that the maternal diet has this big of an effect on the behavior of the offspring.
“We’ve always looked at the link between obesity and physical diseases like heart disease, but this is really the clearest demonstration that it’s also affecting the brain.”
Sullivan and research assistant and first author Jacqueline Thompson said they believe the findings provide evidence that mobilizing public resources to provide healthy food and pre- and post-natal care to families of all socioeconomic classes could reduce mental health disorders in future generations.
“I don’t remember too clearly,” says Sarah, 40, now divorced. “There was a rat. It was black and silky, the size of a cat, and it ran across the closet from one side to the other. I was terrified it would bite the baby if it had burrowed into the walls, so I pulled all the shoes out to the center of the closet, searching for it, or for the hole where it had to be hiding. It had to be there — I had seen it, and I could smell it: like damp and oily rags.”
She loses the thread of her broken memory, recounting her then husband’s confusion at her behavior, irritated, telling her to come back to bed, there wasn’t a rat, it was a dream, turn off the damn light. So she did, and though the baby woke several times that night, as he always did, she got up, and cared for him as she had done since the day she brought him home. A bright, blue-eyed boy, a lightning bolt of infant activity. When he grew sleepy the next morning, she laid him in his crib, and returned to bed, restless and unwell.
Through the monitor, she heard him scream. Agonizing, a sound of pain that took her back to the videos of babies born addicted to drugs and their haunting cries of withdrawals. She leapt from the bed, down the hall to the crib. He slept, peacefully, the little back rising and falling with easy breath. She stared at him, waiting for him to stir, but he slept on.
“It was strange,” she says, “But there were children playing outside. I thought maybe it had been one of them. I just went back to bed. Then it happened again. The same cry, the same peaceful child, sound asleep. Just a nightmare, I thought.”
“Then there was a third cry. Deeper and different. When I went to him, I was nervous. From the doorway, I could see the strange, grey lights, like blades, stabbing into sparkling air above his small body. He looked asleep, but the cry came from inside him, from deep in his belly, and the lights around him were greyish, and sinister. The cries turned to laughter, and indistinct voices like scraping metal on metal. I backed away. I didn’t know what to do.”
Frightened, confused, she called her mother.
“Later, she told me that she thought I had killed him, that I said, over and over, ‘He’s asleep, but he’s still screaming. Please help me.’ She was a thousand miles away. She called a local friend, who came to the apartment to see us. She must have been terrified of what she would find. But the baby was fine. I was a wreck.”
Sarah pauses in the telling, eyes wet, though it has been long enough that the infant in question is now preparing for college, no worse for the wear. I let her gather herself, and she smiles.
“She sent me to bed, and took the baby monitor. I don’t know how long I slept, but someone must have called my mother and reassured her.”
She stops talking and looks out the window. I wait, expecting to hear the end of the story.
“That’s it,” she says. “The next day it was as if nothing had happened.”
“You’re thinking I should have gotten care, gone to the hospital, someone should have come to help me. But none of that happened. And no one talked about it again, ever. You’re right, of course. I needed help. But I wasn’t sure what had happened. I don’t really remember the next six months of his life. I must have done what was expected of me.”
“The thing is, if everyone around you acts as if nothing has happened, you wonder if it did, especially when your mind fails you in that way. I remember seeing and hearing vague sounds and voices, and thinking, ‘Is it real?’ I’d decide it didn’t matter, and go on about the day. If you’re doing what you should be doing, aren’t you alright?”
She shakes her head, lets her gaze fall to her shoes.
“Years later, I described the incident to my doctor, after another bout of depression. Her eyes got wide. ‘That’s psychosis,’ she said. ‘You should have been hospitalized. Someone should have taken care of that boy for you.’ I’d never had that word attached to me, and I laughed. Of course I wasn’t crazy. ‘Crazy isn’t a great word. If you are seeing and hearing things that aren’t there, that’s psychosis,’ she said. ‘A sign that you really need help. Why didn’t they help you?’”
Sarah sighs and admits there wasn’t anyone to help her. Her family and friends were a thousand miles away, her husband had to work to keep them fed. And her face turns sad when she admits it might have been for the best. She still worries all these years later that someone might find out about what happened. Her career is such that a label of ‘psychosis’ would likely end it.
“The stigma attached to it is so powerful. An involuntary commitment would have marked me as unfit to do my job.”
While privacy laws protect medical records, licensing boards for several careers in most states ask questions regarding mental health treatment, and the consequences for reporting are unknown. The Americans with Disabilities Act should protect people who are under mental health care, but, it becomes a grey area when it comes to the public service sector. Whether a doctor, lawyer, nurse, or police officer is “fit” for duty after having been hospitalized for mental health issues remains a topic of debate, even years after the incident, and even if the incident was so clearly tied to a particular event.
“If something went wrong, even if it wasn’t my fault, something like that on my record might be enough to push a jury to blame me. It was years ago, but that might not matter. So I just don’t report it. I was never hospitalized. I’ve had colleagues through the years who refused to seek treatment for depression, even with mental health coverage, for that exact reason. Especially if the policy comes through their jobs. Sure, HIPPA protects people. Until it doesn’t.”
She smiles again, and says it feels good just to tell the story. She asks to see it when it’s finished, ostensibly out of curiosity, but also to make sure her identity is properly disguised. The stigma of mental illness weighs heavily on her, as it does on any society that prevents its public servants from seeking out the help they need to continue to serve. Sarah has received awards from her superiors for her hard work and dedication. She is an exemplary employee. Thousands like her are not seeking treatment because of stigma and miseducation, when they might serve their communities better with treatment, and offer a unique perspective on those members of the public who are themselves struggling with mental illness. That is the reality.
A profound new study suggests managing lifestyle factors such as hearing loss, smoking, hypertension, and depression could prevent one-third of the world’s dementia cases.
Moreover, researchers discovered nonpharmacologic interventions such as social contact and exercise can mitigate symptoms associated with dementia.
The report by the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention and Care was presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2017. Study findings are published in The Lancet.
“There’s been a great deal of focus on developing medicines to prevent dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease,” says Lon Schneider, M.D., professor of psychiatry and the behavioral sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California.
“But we can’t lose sight of the real major advances we’ve already made in treating dementia, including preventive approaches.”
The commission brought together 24 international experts to systematically review existing research and provide evidence-based recommendations for treating and preventing dementia.
About 47 million people have dementia worldwide and that number is expected to climb as high as 66 million by 2030 and 115 million by 2050.
Interestingly, reducing dementia risk can begin in childhood.
The commission’s report identifies nine risk factors in early, mid- and late life that increase the likelihood of developing dementia. About 35 percent of dementia — one in three cases — is attributable to these risk factors, the report says.
By increasing education in early life and addressing hearing loss, hypertension, and obesity in midlife, the incidence of dementia could be reduced by as much as 20 percent, combined.
In late life, stopping smoking, treating depression, increasing physical activity, increasing social contact, and managing diabetes could reduce the incidence of dementia by another 15 percent.
“The potential magnitude of the effect on dementia of reducing these risk factors is larger than we could ever imagine the effect that current, experimental medications could have,” Schneider says.
“Mitigating risk factors provides us a powerful way to reduce the global burden of dementia.”
The commission also examined the effect of nonpharmacologic interventions for people with dementia and concluded that they had an important role in treatment, especially when trying to address agitation and aggression.
“Antipsychotic drugs are commonly used to treat agitation and aggression, but there is substantial concern about these drugs because of an increased risk of death, cardiovascular adverse events and infections, not to mention excessive sedation,” Schneider says.
The evidence showed that psychological, social and environmental interventions such as social contact and activities were superior to antipsychotic medications for treating dementia-related agitation and aggression.
The commission also found that nonpharmacologic interventions like group cognitive stimulation therapy and exercise conferred some benefit in cognition as well.
The commission’s full report provides detailed recommendations for the prevention and the management of dementia.
Topic areas include prevention, treating cognitive symptoms, individualizing dementia care, caring for caregivers, planning for the future following a dementia diagnosis, managing neuropsychiatric symptoms, and considering the end of life.
Source: University of Southern California Health Sciences/EurekAlert
Photo: One in three cases of dementia could be prevented by addressing nine lifestyle factors, according to a report from the first Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention and Care. Credit: Keck Medicine of USC.
A new study of older adults finds that having a positive attitude toward aging enhances resiliency and the way people feel about themselves.
However, researchers found that a person’s attitude toward aging is not static and that day-to-day experiences do affect an individual’s awareness of age-related change (AARC).
Moreover, this awareness does affect one’s mood.
Investigators discovered that while a positive attitude helps people reduce negative experiences, when a loss does occur, it may significantly affect a person’s feelings on that day.
“People tend to have an overall attitude toward aging, good or bad, but we wanted to know whether their awareness of their own aging — or AARC — fluctuated over time in response to their everyday experiences,” says Shevaun Neupert, an associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State University and lead author of a paper on the study.
The paper, “Aging Attitudes and Daily Awareness of Age-Related Change Interact to Predict Negative Affect,” is published in the journal The Gerontologist.
For the study, researchers enrolled 116 participants between the ages of 60 and 90. Each participant took a survey to establish baseline attitudes toward aging.
In the following eight days, participants kept a log of daily stressors (such as having an argument), completed a daily evaluation of age-related experiences (such as “I am becoming wiser” or “I am more slow in my thinking”), and reported on their affect, or mood.
“We found that people’s AARC, as reflected in their daily evaluations, varied significantly from day to day,” says Jennifer Bellingtier, a recent Ph.D. graduate from North Carolina State and co-author of the paper.
“We also found that people whose baseline attitudes toward aging were positive also tended to report more positive affect, or better moods.”
“People with positive attitudes toward aging were also less likely to report ‘losses,’ or negative experiences, in their daily aging evaluations,” Neupert says.
“However, when people with positive attitudes did report losses, it had a much more significant impact on their affect that day,” Neupert says.
“In other words, negative aging experiences had a bigger adverse impact on mood for people who normally had a positive attitude about aging.”
The study expands on previous work that found having a positive attitude about aging makes older adults more resilient when faced with stressful situations.
Source: North Carolina State University
New research found that participation in arts-based groups benefit the emotions of both healthy adults and those experiencing mental health conditions.
In the study, art-based involvement included participation in activities that involved choir singing and creative writing.
Investigators discovered participants reported a significant increase in positive emotions and a decrease in negative emotions during the arts-based activity compared with other times during the day.
Interestingly, the influence on positive emotions was short-lived while the effect on negative emotions lasted until evening.
Saliently, adults with chronic mental health conditions were equally able to derive emotional benefits as healthy adults.
Furthermore, study participants described numerous ways in which their participation in the arts-based groups enhanced their individual and interpersonal emotion regulation.
“People with chronic mental health conditions tend to experience difficulties with emotion perception and regulation, which can have a big impact on their social relationships. These symptoms are not well treated with medication or psychotherapy,” explains Dr. Genevieve Dingle, corresponding author of the British Journal of Clinical Psychology study.
“The findings of this study are exciting because they clearly show the potential for participation in arts-based groups to influence emotions and emotion regulation in positive ways.”
New research suggests social interactions during a course of chemotherapy influences the success of the treatment.
Investigators from the National Institutes of Health and the University of Oxford discovered cancer patients were a little more likely to survive for five years or more after chemotherapy if they interacted during chemotherapy with other patients who also survived for five years or more.
Patients were a little more likely to die in less than five years after chemotherapy when they interacted during chemotherapy with those who died in less than five years.
The findings appear online in the journal Network Science.
“People model behavior based on what’s around them,” said Jeff Lienert, lead author from the NHI’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).
“For example, you will often eat more when you’re dining with friends, even if you can’t see what they’re eating. When you’re bicycling, you will often perform better when you’re cycling with others, regardless of their performance.”
Lienert set out to see if the impact of social interaction extended to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Joining this research effort were Lienert’s adviser, Felix Reed-Tsochas, Ph.D., Laura Koehly, Ph.D., and Christopher Marcum, Ph.D.
They based their findings on electronic medical records data from 2000 to 20009 from two major hospitals in the United Kingdom’s National Health Service.
The researchers examined the total time a patient spent with the same patients undergoing chemotherapy and their five-year survival rate. The five-year survival rate is the percentage of people who live at least five years after chemotherapy treatment is completed.
For example, a five-year survival rate of 70 percent means that an estimated 70 out of 100 people are still alive five years after chemotherapy. They also reviewed a room schematic to confirm the assumption that patients were potentially positioned to interact.
“We had information on when patients checked in and out of the chemotherapy ward, a small intimate space where people could see and interact for a long period of time,” Lienert said. “We used ‘time spent getting chemotherapy in a room with others’ as a proxy for social connection.”
When patients were around those during chemotherapy who died in less than five years following chemotherapy, they had a 72 percent chance of dying within five years following their chemotherapy.
The best outcome was when patients interacted with someone who survived for five years or longer: They had a 68 percent chance of dying within five years. The researchers’ model also predicted that if patients were isolated from other patients, they would have a 69.5 percent chance of dying within five years.
“A two percent difference in survival — between being isolated during treatment and being with other patients — might not sound like a lot, but it’s pretty substantial,” Lienert said.
“If you saw 5,000 patients in nine years, that 2 percent improvement would affect 100 people.”
“Mr. Lienert’s research is the first to investigate, on a large scale, how social context in a treatment setting can play a significant role in disease outcomes,” said Koehly.
“As cancer care moves more towards targeted therapies based on genomic tumor assessments, NHGRI is interested in understanding how these social environmental factors might impact treatment efficacy.”
The researchers didn’t study why the difference occurred, but hypothesize that it may be related to stress response. “When you’re stressed, stress hormones such as adrenaline are released, resulting in a fight or flight response,” Lienert said.
“If you are then unable to fight or fly, such as in chemotherapy, these hormones can build up.”
While the researchers also didn’t investigate the impact of visitors on cancer patients undergoing therapy, the effect would likely be similar, he said.
“Positive social support during the exact moments of greatest stress is crucial,” Lienert said.
“If you have a friend with cancer, keeping him or her company during chemotherapy probably will help reduce their stress. The impact is likely to be as effective, and possibly more effective, than cancer patients interacting with other cancer patients.”
Michigan State University investigators found that when service workers face verbal abuse from customers during the workday, they are more likely to go on unnecessary shopping sprees in the evening.
Investigators studied 94 call-center workers at a large bank in China and discovered that customer mistreatment (e.g., customers who yelled, argued, swore, etc.) put the employees in a bad mood after work.
This, in turn, led to damaging thoughts (ruminating or repeatedly and excessively worrying about the mistreatment) and behaviors (impulse shopping).
“Thus, stress from customers spills over to spoil people’s experiences outside of work,” said Dr. Russell Johnson, a MSU associate professor of management.
The findings from Johnson and colleagues, who surveyed employees multiple times per day for 15 consecutive workdays, appear online in the Academy of Management Journal.
In the study, the researchers explored a variety of interventions and found simple solutions to the problem.
The first approach encouraged workers to think about a recent incident where they helped customers (a “recall of prosocial action intervention”) before starting work.
Another effective strategy, also performed before going to work, was for the worker to think about an interaction from the customer’s viewpoint (a “perspective-taking intervention”).
Researchers discovered setting a pre-work mentality reduced employees’ perceptions of mistreatment, reduced their negative mood and led to less rumination and impulse shopping.
Becoming more prosocial shifts attention away from the self and reduces impulsive and individualistic acts, explain the study authors.
“These recall and perspective-taking interventions are quick and easy exercises that customer-service employees can do prior to beginning the workday to reduce the stress from rude customers,” Johnson said.
Source: Michigan State University
Although drinking alcohol is an accepted cultural behavior in many countries across the world, heavy use of alcohol can cause disastrous short-term and long-term consequences, especially among youth.
Experts explain that adolescents are known to enjoy their drinking games and nights-out without worrying much about the effects alcohol can have on their health. In fact, drinking in high quantities is common during adolescence with nearly 25 percent of high school seniors in the US reporting that they got drunk in the last 30 days.
A new mini review looks at the effects of heavy drinking among young people; in particular, how the behavior impacts brain health.
“Adolescence is a time when the brain still matures including not only biological development but also maturation of psychosocial behaviors. Given the increase of binge and heavy drinking in young people, understanding the effects of consuming large quantities of alcohol on neural development and the impact on cognitive skills is very important,” said Assistant Professor Anita Cservenka, an Assistant Professor at Oregon State University.
The study appears in Frontiers in Psychology.
Binge or heavy episodic drinking means four or more standard drinks within a two-hour drinking session for females, five or more drinks for males. The review highlights existing research that examines the harmful effects of such drinking habits with a view to inform future studies.
“We looked at six areas to determine the deleterious impact of heavy drinking on brain response, namely: response inhibition, working memory, verbal learning and memory, decision making and reward processing, alcohol cue reactivity, and socio-cognitive/socio-emotional processing” Cservenka said.
The review establishes that binge drinking among young people is associated with a thinning or reduction of areas of the brain that play a key role in memory, attention, language, awareness and consciousness, which include cortical and subcortical structures.
Using learning and memory as an example, researchers explain that studies have shown heavy drinking leads to a deficit in the ability of young people to learn novel words, which has been linked to changes in brain activity.
Looking to the future, “these brain alterations, as a result of heavy alcohol use during adolescence and young adulthood, could result in increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder later on in life.
“It is therefore important to continue raising awareness of the risks of binge drinking and to promote future research in this area. Our review provides a useful basis to determine the areas that require further attention,” Cservenka said.
A new study has linked specific wiring in the brain to distinct behavioral symptoms of depression.
University of California San Diego scientists found brain circuits tied to feelings of despair and helplessness and were able to alleviate and even reverse such symptoms in mice studies.
The research is published in the journal Cell.
“We took an approach of studying depression in the sense that different brain areas and circuits of the brain might mediate or contribute to very discrete aspects of depression,” said study first-author Daniel Knowland, a UC San Diego graduate student.
“For example, brain area A might contribute to loss of appetite, brain area B to social withdrawal and so forth.”
Senior author Dr. Byungkook Lim, an assistant professor in the Neurobiology Section, said the results require much more study and evaluation to be applied to humans with depression, but the new research in animal models provides solid grounding.
“This is one of the first studies providing clear evidence showing that different brain circuitry is involved in different types of depressive behavior with specific symptoms,” said Lim.
“Each area of the brain is different with distinct cell types and connectivity, so if we can confirm that one area of circuitry is more involved in a particular symptom than another, we may eventually be able to treat a depression patient more efficiently than treating everyone the same way.”
The researchers employed several tools to track brain pathways and specific areas of neurons involved in specific behaviors, including imaging techniques and social strategy behavioral models.
Two populations of neurons were identified in the brain’s ventral pallidum region (part of the basal ganglia) as key to underlying depressive behavior.
The new study found that specifically modifying pathways in these two areas in a mouse displaying depression led to improved behavioral changes similar to those of a healthy mouse.
More importantly, this study provides strong insight to understanding the interaction between several brain areas in depression.
Previous studies have mainly focused on the role of certain brain areas in isolation. Researchers in the new study were able to examine connections across multiple regions and how one impacted the other.