A new study from Brigham Young University finds that stress damages the GI system of mice in a similar manner as junk food, especially among females.
Dr. Laura Bridgewater, a professor of microbiology and molecular biology found that when female mice were exposed to stress, their gut microbiota — the microorganisms vital to digestive and metabolic health — changed to look like the mice had been eating a high-fat diet.
The study appears in Nature Scientific Reports.
“Stress can be harmful in a lot of ways, but this research is novel in that it ties stress to female-specific changes in the gut microbiota,” Bridgewater said.
“We sometimes think of stress as a purely psychological phenomenon, but it causes distinct physical changes.”
Bridgewater and her collaborators at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China took a large group of eight week-old mice and exposed half of the males and half of the females to a high-fat diet. After 16 weeks, all of the mice were exposed to mild stress over the course of 18 days.
Researchers then extracted microbial DNA from the mice fecal pellets before and after the stress to test how the gut microbiota was affected. They also measured mouse anxiety based on how much and where the mice traveled in an open field arena.
The researchers found fascinating differences between genders: Male mice on the high-fat diet exhibited more anxiety than females on the high-fat diet, and high-fat males also showed decreased activity in response to stress.
However, it was only in female mice that stress caused the gut microbiota composition to shift as if the animals were on a high-fat diet.
While the study was only carried out on animals, researchers believe there are could be significant implications for humans.
“In society, women tend to have higher rates of depression and anxiety, which are linked to stress,” said Bridgewater, who also serves as associate dean of the BYU College of Life Sciences.
“This study suggests that a possible source of the gender discrepancy may be the different ways gut microbiota responds to stress in males vs. females.”
Source: Brigham Young University
A new study suggests that six weeks of midday light therapy can help people with bipolar disorder improve mood and enhance functional abilities.
Bright light therapy has been used for years to reduce symptoms of depression in patients with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The therapy is typically delivered in the morning to theoretically reset circadian rhythms.
Experts have found, however, that for patients with bipolar disorder the early morning use of bright light may result in side effects including mania or mixed symptoms.
Northwestern University researchers implemented a novel midday light therapy intervention in an effort to provide relief for bipolar depression and avoid side effects.
Investigators found that compared to dim placebo light, study participants assigned to bright white light between noon and 2:30 p.m. for six weeks experienced a significantly higher remission rate (minimal depression and return to normal functioning).
More than 68 percent of patients who received midday bright light achieved a normal level of mood, compared to 22.2 percent of patients who received the placebo light (see graph below).
The group receiving bright light therapy also had a much lower average depression score of 9.2 compared to 14.9 for the placebo group and significantly higher functioning, meaning they could go back to work or complete tasks around the house they hadn’t been able to finish prior to treatment.
“Effective treatments for bipolar depression are very limited,” said lead author Dr. Dorothy Sit, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“This gives us a new treatment option for bipolar patients that we know gets us a robust response within four to six weeks.”
Researchers were pleased that patients also experienced minimal side effects from the therapy. No one experienced mania or hypomania, a condition that includes a period of elation, euphoria, irritability, agitation, rapid speech, racing thoughts, a lack of focus, and risk-taking behaviors.
“As clinicians, we need to find treatments that avoid these side effects and allow for a nice, stable response. Treatment with bright light at midday can provide this,” said Sit, also a Northwestern Medicine psychiatrist.
The study included 46 participants who had at least moderate depression, bipolar disorder, and who were on a mood stabilizer.
Patients were randomly assigned to either a 7,000 lux bright white light or a 50 lux placebo light. The light therapy patients were instructed to place the light box about one foot from their face for 15-minute sessions to start.
Every week, they increased their exposure to the light therapy by 15-minute increments until they reached a dose of 60 minutes per day or experienced a significant change in their mood.
“By starting at a lower dose and slowly marching that dose up over time, we were able to adjust for tolerability and make the treatment suitable for most patients,” Sit said.
Sit and her colleagues also observed a noticeable effect of bright light therapy by four weeks, which is similar to other studies that test light therapy for non-seasonal depression and depression during pregnancy.
Light therapy has conventionally been tested using morning light at awakening because previous research has suggested that morning light helps reset circadian rhythms and can be helpful in the treatment of SAD, Sit said.
But the mechanism of response is unclear in bipolar disorder. To understand the possible effects of midday bright light on circadian rhythms in patients with depression and bipolar disorder, Sit and colleagues are planning new studies to investigate.
Source: Northwestern University/Newswise
New research suggests the rate of substance abuse among African-American and Latino adults in a high-risk urban community is low, and comparable to the general U.S. population.
Investigators say the rate of substance abuse among these ethnic groups is similar to that found in the U.S. population despite a very high prevalence of serious risk factors and structural and environmental challenges.
The study suggests risk factors for substance use problems include homelessness and incarceration. On the other hand, researchers discovered the presence of protective factors — such as support, education, and employment — help to instill resiliency and appear to mitigate the risk of substance abuse.
The findings have the potential to pave the way for targeted intervention and prevention programs for communities most vulnerable to substance misuse.
“The many risk factors that can contribute to an increased likelihood of substance use problems by African-American and Latino adults living in a poor, urban community have been well documented, but protective factors are often ignored,” said Dr. Charles Cleland, lead author of the study, from the New York University Meyers College of Nursing.
“We wanted to address this knowledge gap and found that people with the highest rates of risk factors and least evidence of resilience were the most likely to suffer substance use problems.”
Dr. Marya Gwadz, principal investigator of this study, also based at Meyers College of Nursing continues, “People hold stereotypes about those living in high-risk urban settings, for example, that these populations have elevated rates of unemployment, homelessness, and substance use problems.
“Yet we found a substantial proportion of participants had relatively low rates of risk factors, overcoming obstacles, and thriving, even in difficult situations beyond their control, such as high local unemployment rates. We believe our study challenges some of the preconceptions people may hold about African-American/Black and Latino adults living in high-risk urban communities.”
The researchers explored many factors believed to contribute to the risk for substance misuse, in nearly 3,000 African-American/Black and Latino adults from a community suffering high rates of poverty.
Homelessness and incarceration were some of the “risks”, and “resilience” was comprised of factors such as emotional and instrumental support (i.e. childcare or provision of transport), as well as education and employment.
Participants were enrolled to the study by their peers, a recruitment method that engaged more isolated or vulnerable members of the target population, who may not typically want to take part in research.
“The individual risk and resilience factors of these thousands of people provided an almost overwhelming amount of information. To deal with this high level of complexity, we used a method that simplified and organized participants into a few groups with similar risk and resilience profiles,” said Cleland. “This helped us to understand how these factors are related to substance use problems.”
The study examined males and females separately and found both sexes could be described by three groups, with each comprised of a combination of factors. The groups were ranked according to their likelihood of substance misuse.
Almost one-third of women (27 percent) and 38 percent of men were in the lower risk groups, with the likelihood of substance use problems comparable to the general U.S. adult population.
The profiles from the higher risk groups indicated that homelessness and incarceration were strongly associated with an increased probability of substance use problems, whereas education, as well as instrumental (ways in which people assist in physical or tangible ways) and emotional support, were protective factors.
In fact, a lack of instrumental and emotional support, which may be indicative of social isolation and fractured social relationships, emerged as a serious concern for the functioning and wellbeing of these participants.
Restless legs syndrome can become a chronic illness with long-lasting effects on patients’ mental and physical health. A new study into the genetics underlying restless legs syndrome has identified 13 previously unknown genetic risk variants, findings that researchers believe will someday help scientists develop new treatment options for the condition.
European researchers explain that as many as one in 10 people of European ancestry is affected by restless legs syndrome. The condition is characterized by feeling an overwhelming urge to move, often in conjunction with unpleasant sensations, usually in the legs.
Rest and inactivity often inflame the symptoms, whereas movement can lead to temporary relief. The condition is chronic and can get progressively worse.
People with restless legs syndrome have substantially impaired sleep, reduced overall quality of life, and increased risk of depression, anxiety disorders, hypertension, and, possibly, cardiovascular disease.
For around one in 50 people, the condition can be severe enough to require chronic medication, which may in turn have potentially serious side effects.
Studies of families and twins have shown that there is a strong genetic component to the disorder and led to the discovery of six genetic variants that increased the risk of developing the condition.
“We have studied the genetics of restless legs syndrome for more than 10 years and the current study is the largest conducted so far,” said Dr. Barbara Schormair from the Institute of Neurogenomics at the Helmholtz Zentrum München, first author of the study.
“We are convinced that the newly discovered risk loci will contribute substantially to our understanding of the causal biology of the disease.”
Now, an international team of researchers has compared the genetic data from over 15,000 patients with more than 95,000 controls, and identified a further 13 genetic risk variants. The findings were then replicated in a sample of 31,000 patients and 287,000 controls.
The study results appear in Lancet Neurology.
“Restless legs syndrome is surprisingly common, but despite this, we know little about what causes it – and hence how to treat it,” said Dr. Steven Bell from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge, also one of the first authors on the study.
“We already know that it has a strong genetic link, and this was something we wanted to explore in more detail.”
Several of the genetic variants have previously been linked to the growth and development of nerve cells – a process known as neurogenesis – and to changes in the formation of neuronal circuits.
Investigators believe these findings strengthen the case for restless legs syndrome being a neurodevelopmental disorder whose origins may go back to development in the womb as well as impaired nerve cell growth in later life.
“The genetic risk variants that we’ve discovered add more weight to the idea that this condition is related to the development of our nervous system,” said Dr. Emanuele Di Angelantonio, also from Cambridge.
“It also gives us some clues to how we may treat patients affected by the condition.”
Prof. Juliane Winkelmann, who heads the Institute of Neurogenomics at the Helmholtz Zentrum as well as a restless legs syndrome outpatient clinic at the Klinikum Rechts der Isar in Munich, adds: “Our genetic findings are an important step towards developing new and improved treatment options for our patients.”
One particular biological pathway implicated by the findings is known to be a target for the drug thalidomide. While the drug has a controversial reputation due to its previous use when treating pregnant women that led to serious birth defects in their offspring, it is now used to treat some cancers.
The researchers suggest that thalidomide or similar drugs may offer potential treatment options for male patients with restless leg syndrome and female patients beyond reproductive age, but they stress the necessity of rigorous clinical testing for efficacy and side-effects before any such use.
Source: University of Cambridge
Military personnel are significantly more likely to disclose post-traumatic stress symptoms while being interviewed by a virtual human compared to when they are taking a computer survey, according to a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Robotics and AI.
The researchers believe that the computer-generated “human” interviewer offers the advantages of anonymity while also giving a sense of social connection and rapport, which can help service men and women reveal more about their mental health symptoms.
Following a tour of duty, the US military evaluates the mental health of its troops with a written survey called the Post-Deployment Health Assessment (PDHA). This survey measures post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, which may include agitation, anxiety, depression, nightmares, and/or disturbing thoughts and feelings.
The results of this survey, however, can affect a respondent’s career prospects in the military. This means that the respondents may be reluctant to be completely honest. In addition, the stigma surrounding mental health problems may deter a person from admitting to symptoms or seeking help.
Earlier research has shown that people are often more likely to provide sensitive information in anonymous surveys, as they feel safer and less exposed. However, human interviewers can build rapport with interviewees, which isn’t possible in an anonymous survey. When an interviewer forms a social connection with an interviewee, they tend to open up more easily.
A computer-generated “human” interviewer could provide a solution that combines the rapport-building skills of real human interviewers with the feelings of anonymity and safety provided by anonymous surveys. These virtual interviewers can use a variety of techniques to build rapport, including a welcoming expression and posture, and being attentive and responsive.
The researchers hypothesized that a virtual interviewer would help soldiers disclose PTSD symptoms more easily. They tested this hypothesis in a group of soldiers who had returned from a year-long deployment in Afghanistan.
The troops completed the official PDHA survey as well as an anonymous version on a computer. They also participated in an anonymous interview with a virtual interviewer, who built rapport beforehand by asking them questions about common post-traumatic stress symptoms.
Strikingly, the troops revealed significantly more PTSD symptoms to the virtual interviewer than in either of the surveys. The research team repeated the experiment in a larger group of soldiers and veterans, this time comparing only the anonymous PDHA survey and an anonymous interview with a virtual interviewer.
In this second experiment, soldiers and veterans with milder PTSD symptoms opened up and disclosed more symptoms to the virtual interviewer compared to the anonymous PDHA survey. This suggests that virtual interviews could help to uncover PTSD symptoms that current interview techniques are unable to detect, and help soldiers gain access to much-needed treatments.
“Allowing PTSD to go untreated can potentially have disastrous consequences, including suicide attempts,” says Gale Lucas of the University of Southern California.
“These kinds of technologies could provide soldiers a safe way to get feedback about their risks for post-traumatic stress disorder. By receiving anonymous feedback from a virtual human interviewer that they are at risk for PTSD, they could be encouraged to seek help without having their symptoms flagged on their military record.”
New research suggests that since most children will experience bullying at some point in their lifetime schools, families and communities should take a more proactive role in helping children learn to be resilient.
Investigators discovered the reason some children are devastated by bullying while others are not is because children who have developed resiliency skills are buffered and protected from internalizing the harm intended though bullying and cyberbullying.
The study by researchers from Florida Atlantic University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, validates how resilience differentiates children who just survive bullying from those who thrive when faced with adversity.
Children do in fact play a significant role in allowing or disallowing the harm that takes place when bullied. The researchers believe the ability to be resilient is innate, but it needs to be nurtured through social and environmental factors.
The study, “Cultivating Youth Resilience to Prevent Bullying and Cyberbullying Victimization,” appears in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect.
For the research, investigators hypothesized that resilient youth are less likely to be targets for bullying both at school and online, and that those who are targeted are less impacted by it at school.
To test this concept, they used a validated biopsychosocial 10-item resilience scale to explore the relationship between resilience and experience with bullying and cyberbullying.
The scale included statements like “I can deal with whatever comes my way,” “I am not easily discouraged by failure,” and “Having to cope with stress makes me stronger.”
Items on the scale were designed to assess both the protective capacity of resilience as well as its ability to repair or restore equilibrium in the lives of youth when they face adversity.
Based on a nationally-representative sample of 1,204 American youth ages 12 to 17 and living in the United States, results from the study found that uniformly, students with higher levels of resilience were bullied at school or online less often.
Moreover, among those who were bullied, resilience served as a buffer, insulating them from being affected in a negative manner at school. Their experience with various forms of interpersonal peer harm also varied inversely with the students’ self-reported level of resilience.
“Resilience is a potent protective factor, both in preventing experience with bullying and mitigating its effect,” said Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., study author, a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice within FAU’s College for Design and Social Inquiry. Hinduja co-authored the study with Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D., a professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
“Resilient kids are those, who for a variety of reasons, are better able to withstand external pressures and setbacks and are less negatively impacted in their attitudes and actions than their less-equipped peers when facing this type of victimization.”
Hinduja and Patchin hope that the latest data from their study will bring attention to an often-neglected and even forgotten component of the ways that schools, families, and communities address the role and responsibility of the child who is bullied.
There is heavy interest to identify better solutions to bullying these days, and Hinduja recently shared their research on resilience in keynotes with the International Bullying Prevention Association, the World Anti Bullying Forum, and social media companies’ intent on helping targets help themselves.
“We want children to learn and develop the skills they need to deal with problems, and yet we rarely help them engage with those problems so that they can grow in their ability to solve them,” said Hinduja.
“Instead, we seek to constantly protect and insulate them – instead of bolstering their self-confidence, problem-solving ability, autonomy, and sense of purpose – which are all innate strengths.”
Hinduja points out that in many forms of verbal and online bullying, targets do have some ability to allow or disallow much of the harm that others try to inflict if they are trained to manage this form of adversity.
As such, adults and organizations have a responsibility to teach and model for them the proper strategies to deflect, dismiss, or otherwise rise above the insults and hate.
Source: Florida Atlantic University
A new national survey finds that a significant percentage of individuals are concerned that migraines detrimentally affect work productivity, quality of life, family/relationships and employment.
The public opinion survey queried more than a thousand Americans, both people with the disease and those without.
Respondents believe employers should make reasonable workplace accommodations for migraine sufferers. This perception was held by 76 of percent migraine suffers and 58 percent of non-sufferers agree. One study has found that a worksite migraine education program has the potential to significantly impact lost productivity and absenteeism for sufferers.
Almost half (45 percent) of migraine sufferers and nearly one-in-five non-sufferers say they know someone with the condition who has left the workforce or reduced their work hours due to the progression of their disease.
Significant majorities of all respondents agree that insurers should cover prevention or alternative migraine treatments – 79 percent of migraine sufferers and 64 percent of non-sufferers.
Unfortunately, more than half of migraine sufferers (53 percent) say individuals with migraine are stigmatized because of their condition. However, less than one-third (31 percent) of non-sufferers believe people with migraines face stigma.
Researchers explains that the most common social stigma associated with individuals with migraine reflects lack of awareness of the seriousness of the condition. Both those who suffer from migraines, and those who do not, link stigma to a migraine sufferers ‘overreaction’ (just a headache) and that it is not a ‘real’ disease.
Stigma also stems from the belief that sufferers are lazy, or fail to manage the condition and refuse to work, according to many respondents.
“The survey findings indicate that the health and economic impact of migraine is broad and must be addressed in order to overcome stigma and aid those suffering from this disabling condition,” said Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America.
Research!America, the nation’s largest nonprofit public education and advocacy alliance working to make research to improve health a higher national priority commissioned the survey.
“More research is necessary to understand the biological and environmental factors associated with migraine in order to reduce the prevalence of this disease,” explains Wolley.
A majority of both those who suffer from migraines, and those who do not, say it is important that our nation supports research that focuses on the prevention and treatment of migraine – 77 percent of sufferers and 68 percent of non-sufferers.
About 12 percent of the U.S. population experience migraines, with women three times more likely to have the condition than men. Respondents who suffer themselves are more aware of this gender difference than those who do not — migraine sufferers (66 percent), non-sufferers (48 percent).
More than half of migraine sufferers (52 percent) say veterans are disproportionately affected by the disease, compared to 32 percent of non-sufferers. In one study of approximately 3,600 U.S. soldiers screened within 90 days of returning from a one-year combat tour in Iraq, soldiers were shown to have two-to-four times the incidence rate of migraine as compared to the general population.
There is general agreement that migraine sufferers are at risk of overusing medications – 61 percent of migraine sufferers and 49 percent of non-sufferers agree. When asked if migraine sufferers have access to effective treatments, two thirds of migraine sufferers agreed compared to less than half of non-sufferers. Nearly 40 percent of non-sufferers say they are not sure compared to a much lower 17% of those who suffer from the disease.
The survey found that more migraine sufferers (70 percent) than non-sufferers (53 percent) agree that the condition is a disability. Migraine headaches are covered under the American Disability Act which defines a person with a disability as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
Over 20 percent of chronic migraine sufferers are disabled, and the likelihood of disability increases sharply with the number of comorbid conditions. Allergies, anxiety and depression are often other health conditions associated with migraine sufferers, according to those with the condition (81 percent) and non-sufferers (58 percent).
A majority of migraine suffers and non-sufferers alike say they would be likely to have an examination for the condition if suggested by a primary care provider; similarly, they would seek an examination if recommended by family members or a pharmacist.
Of those who suffer from migraine, 43 percent say they are seeking or have received treatment from a health care provider for chronic migraine, followed by cluster migraine (37 percent) and episodic migraine (29 percent).
Among other findings:
• Migraine sufferers (85 percent) and non-sufferers (61 percent) agree that exposure to excessive light is associated with greater risk of migraine. This is consistent with scientific evidence that people with migraine tend to have recurring attacks triggered by a number of different factors, including stress, anxiety, hormonal changes, bright or flashing lights, lack of food or sleep, and dietary substances. Sudden changes in weather or environment also increases the risk of migraine.
• Half of migraine sufferers (50 percent) and plurality of non-sufferers (38 percent) say migraines are most likely caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, and stress. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders cites evidence that migraines are genetic, with most migraine suffers having a family history of the disorder.
• When asked if migraine tracking tools such as apps and online diaries can be helpful in managing the condition, 74 percent of migraine sufferers agreed compared to 48 percent of non-sufferers.