When parents divorce often the most important issue, and perhaps the most difficult negotiation, involves the children. Parents typically have strong views on legal and physical custody of the children and how the arrangements should be structured.
New research finds that children who live full time with one parent are more likely to feel stressed than children in shared custody situations. Perhaps surprisingly, this finding persists regardless of the level of conflict between the parents or between parent and child.
Investigators from Stockholm University’s Demography Unit believe habitation with each parent is important because children who spend most of the time away from one parent may lose contact with friends, relatives and even struggle with resources like money.
Previous research has also shown that children may worry about the parent they rarely meet, which can make them more stressed, said Dr. Jani Turunen, a child and adolescent mental health researcher at Stockholm and Karlstad Universities.
Investigators explain that the understanding that children who live full time with one parent are worse psychologically than children in shared physical custody has been previously shown, However, the new study is the first to look specifically at stress.
Shared physical custody is not to be confused with shared legal custody. Shared legal custody only gives both parents the legal right to decisions about the child’s upbringing, school choices, religion, and so on. Shared physical custody means the child actually lives for equal, or near equal, time with both parents, alternating between separate households.
Researchers analyzed data from the Surveys of Living Conditions in Sweden, ULF, from 2001-2003, combined with registry data. Sweden is a country that is often considered a pioneer in emerging family forms and behaviors like divorce, childbearing and family reconstitution.
Turunen believe the progressive Swedish environment may help other countries deal with comparable issues. Her paper appears in the Journal of Divorce & Remarriage.
In the survey, a total of 807 children with different types of living arrangements answered questions about how often they experience stress and how well, or badly, they get along with their parents. The parents were also queried on how well they get along with their former partner.
Researchers discovered children living with only one of the parents have a higher likelihood of experiencing stress several times a week, than children in shared physical custody. This generally applied even if the parents have a poor relationship, or if the children don’t get along with either of them.
Study results conflict with a previous concern that shared physical custody could be an unstable living situation, which can lead to children becoming more stressed. However, many of the earlier concerns were built on theoretical assumptions, rather than empirical research, says Turunen.
What probably makes children in shared physical custody less stressed is that they can have an active relationship with both their parents, which previous research has shown to be important for children’s well-being.
As the relationship between the child and both of its parents becomes stronger, the child finds the relationship to be better and the parents can both exercise more active parenting.
In other words, living with both parents does not mean instability for the children. It’s just an adaptation to another housing situation, where regular relocation and a good contact with both parents equals stability, Turunen said.
Source: Stockholm University
Menopause is a challenging time for many women as hormonal changes can create a cascade of physical and mental health issues. Notably, experts explain that between 40 and 60 percent of women in perimenopause and early menopause face issues with sleep because of this physical change.
The majority also report hot flashes and night sweats, which can be disruptive to falling and staying asleep. Sleep deprivation can influence mood and also increase the risk for serious physical health conditions.
In a new study, researchers from the Mayo Clinic found that low-dose hormone therapy may be effective in easing sleep issues in this population. The goal of the study was twofold: find out how two forms of hormone therapy affect sleep quality and assess the ties between hot flashes, sleep quality and hormone therapy.
The study appears in Menopause: The Journal of The North American Menopause Society.
“Poor sleep quality over time affects more than just mood,” said Virginia Miller, Ph.D., director of Mayo Clinic’s Women’s Health Research Center and the study’s corresponding author.
“Sleep deprivation can lead to cardiovascular disease, among other health risks. There can be serious consequences — mental and physical — if you’re not getting quality sleep over a long period of time.”
The study looked at two forms of hormone therapy — oral estrogen (conjugated equine estrogen) and a patch (17 beta-estradiol) — to find out how their use affected sleep quality.
The participants were part of the Kronos Early Estrogen Prevention Study, and all were recently menopausal women. The women self-reported on the quality of their sleep using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index. They also recorded the intensity of hot flashes and night sweats during this time.
Study participants were found to have improved sleep quality over four years when using low-dose hormone therapy — twice the improvement of those in the placebo group.
Researchers also found that sleep quality improved with changes in hot flashes and night sweats, but Miller said it remains difficult to determine if the low sleep quality is caused by these symptoms or if they are a consequence of poor sleep.
“Menopause affects such a large portion of the population, so it is important to keep researching how we can best promote a woman’s overall health during this phase in her life,” Miller said.
Source: Mayo Clinic
Taking care of an ailing spouse is no easy matter, and the stress many Americans experience as a caretaker is extreme.
Yet University of Buffalo researchers noted that helping behaviors, which are at the core of caregiving, typically relieve stress. Indeed, the caretaking role is paradoxical as the draining demands of caregiving appear to conflict with the uplifting effects of helping.
Resolving that paradox was part of the aim of a new study by Dr. Michael Poulin, an associate professor in psychology and an expert in empathy, human generosity and stress. Poulin and his co-authors found that the strress of caregiving is eased when it is seen to make a difference and is appreciated by the spouse.
The findings of the study, led by Drs. Joan Monin, Yale School of Public Health, Stephanie Brown, Stony Brook University, Kenneth Langa, University of Michigan, and Poulin, appear in the American Psychological Association’s journal Health Psychology.
Poulin said more than 30 years of research shows that being a caregiver is among the most stressful, emotionally burdensome and physically demanding roles a person can take on. Spouses who are caregivers show decreased immune function, increased signs of physiological stress and are at greater risk for physical and mental illness.
Yet other studies, including much of Poulin’s own research, suggest that the act of providing help to somebody is typically stress-relieving and is associated with better emotional and physical well-being.
“The problem is that when you’re a caregiver, not all of your time is spent helping,” says Poulin. “Sometimes all you can do is witness the person’s state while being passively on duty.”
But previous research also confirmed that the act of helping in this context was associated with improving the caretakers’ well-being, a finding that was true even when general caregiving was broken downs into tasks, like feeding or bathing.
“This is what we wanted to get at,” says Poulin. “We knew that something about being helpful is good in these circumstances. But why? Is it just being active? Is doing something better than doing nothing? Or is it that doing something to improve another person’s well-being is what matters?”
The research team conducted two studies with spouses caring for partners with chronic pain.
In the first study, 73 participants reported caregiving activity and their accompanying emotions in three-hour intervals. This allowed the researchers to look at the amount of help given and how much that help pleased the spouse and subsequently affected the caregiver.
The second study involved 43 caregivers who completed a diary at the end of the day that detailed the help they provided and the appreciation they received.
The findings suggest that spouses caring for a partner feel happier and report fewer physical symptoms when they believe their help is appreciated.
“Spending time attempting to provide help can be beneficial for a caregiver’s mental and physical well-being, but only during those times when the caregiver sees that their help has made a difference and that difference is noticed and recognized by their partner,” he said.
“Importantly, this study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that it is important to target emotional communication between spouses in daily support interactions to improve psychological well-being in the context of chronic conditions and disability,” the authors write.
Source: University of Buffalo
A new study from Ireland on rodents shows that certain brain regions heavily implicated in anxiety and depression are significantly affected by gut microbes by way of biological molecules called microRNAs (miRNAs).
The findings, published in the journal Microbiome, shed new light on how gut bacteria may influence anxiety-like behaviors.
The researchers from APC Microbiome Institute at University College Cork studied the link between gut bacteria and miRNAs in the brain and discovered that a significant number of miRNAs were changed in the brains of microbe-free mice. These mice, who had been raised in a germ-free bubble, displayed abnormal anxiety, deficits in sociability and cognition and increased depressive-like behaviors.
“Gut microbes seem to influence miRNAs in the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex,” said Dr. Gerard Clarke, the corresponding author.
“This is important because these miRNAs may affect physiological processes that are fundamental to the functioning of the central nervous system and in brain regions, such as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, which are heavily implicated in anxiety and depression.”
miRNAs are short sequences of nucleotides (the building blocks of DNA and RNA), which can influence how genes are expressed. Dysregulation or dysfunction of these molecules is believed to be an underlying factor contributing to stress-related mental disorders, neurodegenerative diseases and neurodevelopmental abnormalities. In addition, miRNA changes in the brain have been implicated in anxiety-like behaviors.
“It may be possible to modulate miRNAs in the brain for the treatment of psychiatric disorders but research in this area has faced several challenges, for example, finding safe and biologically stable compounds that are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and then act at the desired location in the brain,” said Clarke.
“Our study suggests that some of the hurdles that stand in the way of exploiting the therapeutic potential of miRNAs could be cleared by instead targeting the gut microbiome.”
The findings reveal that levels of 103 miRNAs were different in the amygdala and 31 in the prefrontal cortex of mice raised without gut bacteria (GF mice) compared to conventional mice. However, adding back the gut microbiome later in life normalized some of the changes to miRNAs in the brain.
The study suggests that a healthy microbiome is necessary for appropriate regulation of miRNAs in these brain regions. Prior research has shown that manipulation of the gut microbiome influences anxiety-like behaviors but this is the first time that the gut microbiome has been linked to miRNAs in both the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, according to the authors.
To determine which miRNAs were present in the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, the researchers used next-generation-sequencing (NGS) on groups of 10-12 control mice with a normal gut microbiota, GF mice and ex-GF mice — colonized with bacteria by housing them with the control mice — and adult rats whose normal microbiota had been depleted with antibiotics.
The researchers discovered that depleting the microbiota of adult rats with antibiotics affected some miRNAs in the brain in a similar way to the GF mice. This suggests that even if a healthy microbiota is present in early life, subsequent changes in adulthood can impact miRNAs in the brain relevant to anxiety-like behaviors, according to the authors.
The exact mechanism by which the gut microbiota is able to influence the miRNAs in the brain is still unclear, say the researchers. And while the study shows that effects of the microbiota on miRNAs are present in more than one species (mice and rats), further research into the association between gut bacteria, miRNAs and anxiety-like behaviors is needed before the findings can be translated to a clinical setting.
“This is early stage research but the possibility of achieving the desired impact on miRNAs in specific brain regions by targeting the gut microbiota — for example by using psychobiotics — is an appealing prospect,” said Clarke.
Source: BioMed Central
New research suggests less than 15 minutes of mindfulness training helps heavy drinkers reduce the amount they drink.
Investigators from University College London found that after an 11-minute training session — and encouragement to continue practicing mindfulness — heavy drinkers drank less over the next week than people who were taught relaxation techniques.
Mindfulness training helps individuals focus, without judgement, on what’s happening in the present moment.
“We found that a very brief, simple exercise in mindfulness can help drinkers cut back, and the benefits can be seen quite quickly,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Sunjeev Kamboj.
In the study, which appears in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers brought in 68 drinkers, who drink heavily but not to the point of having an alcohol use disorder.
Half of them were trained to practice mindfulness, which teaches a heightened awareness of one’s feelings and bodily sensations, so that they pay attention to cravings instead of suppressing them.
They were told that by noticing bodily sensations, they could tolerate them as temporary events without needing to act on them. The training was delivered through audio recordings, and only took 11 minutes. At the end of the training participants were encouraged to continue practicing the techniques for the next week.
The other half were taught relaxation strategies, chosen as a control condition that appeared to be just as credible as the mindfulness exercise for reducing alcohol use. The study was double-blind, meaning neither experimenters nor participants knew which strategy was being delivered.
“We used a highly controlled experimental design, to ensure that any benefits of mindfulness training were not likely explained by people believing it was a better treatment,” said co-author Dr. Tom Freeman.
The mindfulness group drank 9.3 fewer units of alcohol (roughly equivalent to three pints of beer) in the following week compared to the week preceding the study, while there was no significant reduction in alcohol consumption among those who had learned relaxation techniques.
“Practicing mindfulness can make a person more aware of their tendency to respond reflexively to urges. By being more aware of their cravings, we think the study participants were able to bring intention back into the equation, instead of automatically reaching for the drink when they feel a craving,” Kamboj said.
Severe alcohol problems are often preceded by patterns of heavy drinking, so the researchers are hopeful that mindfulness could help to reduce drinking before more severe problems develop.
“Some might think that mindfulness is something that takes a long time to learn properly, so we found it encouraging that limited training and limited encouragement could have a significant effect to reduce alcohol consumption,” said co-author Dr. Damla Irez.
Source: University College London
In the largest brain-imaging study of cardiovascular stress physiology to date, researchers have introduced a brain-based explanation of why stress might impact a person’s heart health.
The findings, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, show that as we experience stressful events, our brains produce a distinct pattern of activity that appears to be directly tied to bodily reactions — such as rises in blood pressure — that increase the risk for cardiovascular disease.
“Psychological stress can influence physical health and risk for heart disease, and there may be biological and brain-based explanations for this influence,” said Peter Gianaros, Ph.D., the study’s senior author and psychology professor at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.
For the study, the researchers conducted mental stress tests and monitored the blood pressure and heart rates of 310 participants (157 men and 153 women) undergoing an MRI procedure. The mental tests were designed to create a stressful experience by having the participants receive negative feedback as they came up with time-pressured responses to computer challenges.
The participants (aged 30 to 51 years) were enrolled in the Pittsburgh Imaging Project, an ongoing study of how the brain influences cardiovascular disease risk. As expected, the mental stress tests increased blood pressure and heart rate in most of the volunteers compared to a non-stress baseline period.
Using machine-learning, the researchers discovered that a specific brain activity pattern could reliably predict the size of the participants’ blood pressure and heart rate reactions to the mental stress tests.
The brain regions that were especially predictive of stress-related cardiovascular reactions included those that determine whether information from the environment is threatening and that control the heart and blood vessels through the autonomic nervous system.
The research involved middle-aged healthy adults at low levels of risk for heart disease, so the findings may not be applicable to people with existing heart disease. In addition, brain imaging does not allow researchers to draw conclusions about causality.
“This kind of work is proof-of-concept, but it does suggest that, in the future, brain imaging might be a useful tool to identify people who are at risk for heart disease or who might be more or less suited for different kinds of interventions, specifically those that might be aimed at reducing levels of stress,” Gianaros said.
“It’s the people who show the largest stress-related cardiovascular responses who are at the greatest risk for poor cardiovascular health and understanding the brain mechanisms for this may help to reduce their risk.”
Source: American Heart Association