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By Bret Stetka The concept of mindfulness involves focusing on your present situation and state of mind. This can mean awareness of your surroundings, emotions and breathing—or, more simply, enjoying each bite of a really good sandwich. Research in recent decades has linked mindfulness practices to a staggering collection of possible health benefits. Tuning into the world around you may provide a sense of well-being, an array of studies claim. Multiple reports link mindfulness with improved cognitive functioning. One study even suggests it may preserve the tips of our chromosomes, which whither away as we age. Yet many psychologists, neuroscientists and meditation experts are afraid that hype is outpacing the science. In an article released this week in Perspectives on Psychological Science, 15 prominent psychologists and cognitive scientists caution that despite its popularity and supposed benefits, scientific data on mindfulness is woefully lacking. Many of the studies on mindfulness and meditation, the authors wrote, are poorly designed—compromised by inconsistent definitions of what mindfulness actually is, and often void of a control group to rule out the placebo effect. The new paper cites a 2015 review published in American Psychologist reporting that only around 9 percent of research into mindfulness-based interventions has been tested in clinical trials that included a control group. © 2017 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24182 - Posted: 10.12.2017

By Emma Yasinski Scientists and physicians have tried countless methods to treat the nightmares, anxiety, and flashbacks of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in soldiers, from talk therapy to drugs designed to press the “delete” button on specific memories. Now, one group of researchers proposes another solution: Prevent the condition in the first place by predicting who is most likely to get it. In a new study, they say a 105-question survey already given to all U.S. soldiers may be able to do just that. “It’s a very important study,” says Sharon Dekel, who studies PTSD at Harvard Medical School in Boston, but was not involved in the new work. Only a minority of people exposed to trauma develop the disorder, and the new work may lead to better screening methods for this “vulnerable population,” she adds. U.S. Army soldiers have taken the Global Assessment Tool (GAT), a survey about their mental health, every 2 years since 2009. The confidential questionnaire asks soldiers to rate their agreement with statements like “My leaders respect and value me,” and “I believe there is a purpose to my life.” It’s meant to help soldiers understand their own strengths and weaknesses. But Yu-Chu Shen, a health economics researcher at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, wondered whether the survey could also predict the likelihood of someone developing PTSD or depression. So she and colleagues designed a study to see how soldiers’ GAT scores aligned with later illnesses. They looked at 63,186 recruits who enlisted in the Army between 2009 and 2012 and had not yet been exposed to combat. The team then compared the scores with how the same soldiers fared on a postduty comprehensive health assessment that also looked for signs of PTSD and depression. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 24152 - Posted: 10.05.2017

By Caroline Williams We are used to hearing that meditation is good for the brain, but now it seems that not just any kind of meditation will do. Just like physical exercise, the kind of improvements you get depends on exactly how you train – and most of us are doing it all wrong. That the brain changes physically when we learn a new skill, like juggling or playing a musical instrument, has been known for over a decade. Previous studies had suggested that meditation does something similar for parts of the brain involved in focused attention. Two new studies published in Science Advances suggest that certain kinds of meditation can change social and emotional circuitry, too. The research comes out of the ReSource Project at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, and looked at the effects of three different meditation techniques on the brains and bodies of more than 300 volunteers over 9 months. One technique was based on mindfulness meditation, and taught people to direct attention to the breath or body. A second type concentrated on compassion and emotional connection via loving kindness meditations and non-judgmental problem-sharing sessions with a partner. A final method encouraged people to think about issues from different points of view, also via a mix of partnered sessions and solo meditation. In one study, MRI scans taken after each three-month course showed that parts of the cortex involved in the specific skill that was trained grew thicker in comparison with scans from a control group. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24149 - Posted: 10.05.2017

Nicola Davis A pioneering approach to tackling a host of diseases using an electrical implant could eventually reduce or even end pill-taking for some patients, researchers have claimed. The technology relies on electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve – a bundle of nerve fibres that runs from the brain to the abdomen, branching off to organs including the heart, spleen, lungs and gut, and which relays signals from the body’s organs to the brain and vice versa. The pacemaker-like device is typically implanted below the left collarbone with wires running to the vagus nerve in the neck and is already used to tackle treatment-resistant epilepsy and depression. But a growing body of researchers say that such “hacking” of the body’s neural circuits could alleviate the symptoms of diseases including rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease by tapping into a recently discovered link between the brain and the immune system. That, they say, could bring hope for those with currently untreatable conditions while raising the possibility for others of dramatically reducing medication, or even cutting it out altogether. “In your lifetime and mine we are going to see millions of people with devices so they don’t have to take drugs,” said Kevin Tracey, president of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research and co-founder of bioelectronics company, SetPoint Medical.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: The Biology of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 24051 - Posted: 09.09.2017

By Kai Kupferschmidt One of the main targets in the war on drugs could well become a drug to treat the scars of war. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has designated 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), better known as the illegal drug ecstasy, a "breakthrough therapy" for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a status that may lead to faster approval. The agency has also approved the design for two phase III studies of MDMA for PTSD that would be funded by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a nonprofit in Santa Cruz, California. MAPS announced the "breakthrough therapy" designation, made by FDA on 16 August, on its website today; if the group can find the money for the trials, which together could cost an estimated $25 million, they may start next spring and finish by 2021. That an illegal dancefloor drug could become a promising pharmaceutical is another indication that the efforts of a dedicated group of researchers interested in the medicinal properties of mind-altering drugs is paying dividends. Stringent drug laws have stymied research on these compounds for decades. "This is not a big scientific step," says David Nutt, a neuropsychopharmacologist at Imperial College London. "It’s been obvious for 40 years that these drugs are medicines. But it’s a huge step in acceptance." Since 2012, FDA has designated close to 200 drugs as breakthrough therapies, a status that indicates there’s preliminary evidence that an intervention offers a substantial improvement over other options for a serious health condition. The agency aims to help develop and review these treatments faster than other candidate drugs. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 12: Psychopathology: The Biology of Behavioral Disorders; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 24006 - Posted: 08.28.2017

By Francine Russo Survivors of sexual assault who come forward often confront doubt on the part of others. Did you fight back? they are asked. Did you scream? Just as painful for them, if not more so, can be a sense of guilt and shame. Why did I not resist? they may ask themselves. Is it my fault? And to make matters worse, although the laws are in flux in various jurisdictions, active resistance can be seen as necessary for a legal or even “common sense” definition of rape. Unless it is clearly too dangerous, as when the rapist is armed, resisting is generally thought to be the “normal” reaction to sexual assault. But new research adds to the evidence debunking this common belief. According to a recent study, a majority of female rape survivors who visited the Emergency Clinic for Rape Victims in Stockholm reported they did not fight back. Many also did not yell for help. During the assault they experienced a kind of temporary paralysis called tonic immobility. And those who experienced extreme tonic immobility were twice as likely to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and three times more likely to suffer severe depression in the months after the attack than women who did not have this response. Tonic immobility (TI) describes a state of involuntary paralysis in which individuals cannot move or, in many cases, even speak. In animals this reaction is considered an evolutionary adaptive defense to an attack by a predator when other forms of defense are not possible. Much less is known about this phenomenon in humans, although it has been observed in soldiers in battle as well as in survivors of sexual assault. A study from 2005, for example, found 52 percent of female undergraduates who reported childhood sexual abuse said they experienced this paralysis. © 2017 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: The Biology of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 23916 - Posted: 08.05.2017

How well cancer patients fared after chemotherapy was affected by their social interaction with other patients during treatment, according to a new study by researchers at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. 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 were published online July 12, 2017, in the journal Network Science. “People model behavior based on what’s around them,” Jeff Lienert, lead author in NHGRI’s Social and Behavioral Research Branch and a National Institutes of Health Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program fellow. “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., at Oxford’s CABDyN Complexity Centre at the Saïd Business School, Laura Koehly, Ph.D., chief of NHGRI’s Social and Behavioral Research Branch, and Christopher Marcum, Ph.D., a staff scientist also in the Social and Behavioral Research Branch at NHGRI.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 23854 - Posted: 07.20.2017

By JANE E. BRODY Hurray for the HotBlack Coffee cafe in Toronto for declining to offer Wi-Fi to its customers. There are other such cafes, to be sure, including seven of the eight New York City locations of Café Grumpy. But it’s HotBlack’s reason for the electronic blackout that is cause for hosannas. As its president, Jimson Bienenstock, explained, his aim is to get customers to talk with one another instead of being buried in their portable devices. “It’s about creating a social vibe,” he told a New York Times reporter. “We’re a vehicle for human interaction, otherwise it’s just a commodity.” What a novel idea! Perhaps Mr. Bienenstock instinctively knows what medical science has been increasingly demonstrating for decades: Social interaction is a critically important contributor to good health and longevity. Personally, I don’t need research-based evidence to appreciate the value of making and maintaining social connections. I experience it daily during my morning walk with up to three women, then before and after my swim in the locker room of the YMCA where the use of electronic devices is not allowed. The locker room experience has been surprisingly rewarding. I’ve made many new friends with whom I can share both joys and sorrows. The women help me solve problems big and small, providing a sounding board, advice and counsel and often a hearty laugh that brightens my day. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 23730 - Posted: 06.12.2017

By LISA SANDERS, M.D. She didn’t have any urgent medical problems, the woman told Dr. Lori Bigi. She was there because she had moved to Pittsburgh and needed a primary-care doctor. Bigi, an internist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, quickly eyed her new patient. She was 31 and petite, just over five feet tall and barely 100 pounds. And she looked just as she described herself, pretty healthy. Doctors often rely on patients’ sense of their well-being, especially when their assessment matches their appearance. But as Dr. Bigi was reminded that day, patients aren’t always right. The patient did say that she had seen her old doctor for awful headaches she got occasionally. They felt like an ice pick through the top of her head, the patient explained, which, at least initially, usually came on while she was going to the bathroom. The headache didn’t last long, but it was intensely painful. Her previous doctor thought it was a type of migraine. He prescribed medication, but it didn’t help. Now her main problem was anxiety, and she saw a psychiatrist for that. Sudden Panic Anxiety is common enough, and because the patient was seeing a specialist, Bigi wasn’t planning to spend much time discussing it. But then the doctor saw that in addition to taking an antidepressant — a recommended treatment for anxiety — the patient was on a sedating medication called clonazepam. It wasn’t a first-line medication for anxiety, and this tiny woman was taking a huge dose of it. The young woman explained that for most of her life, she was not a particularly anxious person. Then, two years earlier, she started experiencing episodes of total panic for seemingly no reason. At the time she chalked it up to a new job — she worked in a research lab — and the pressures associated with a project they had recently started. But the anxiety never let up. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 23721 - Posted: 06.08.2017

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS Mice do not, so far as we know, practice meditation. But in order to study how that activity affects human brains at the cellular level, researchers at the University of Oregon managed to put murine brains into a somewhat equivalent state. Their experiments, reported in March in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest new ways of investigating how a person’s brain can constantly reshape itself. Past studies have suggested that people who meditate tend to have more white matter in and around the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain involved in regulating emotions. Meditation also seems to intensify theta-wave activity, a type of rhythmic electrical pulsation often associated with a state of calm. Psychologists at Oregon speculated that the surge in theta waves stimulated the production of cells in the white matter. But they needed to develop an animal model of this activity; they obviously couldn’t examine the living brain tissue in meditating humans. So the psychologists asked colleagues in the university’s neuroscience department if they could increase theta-wave activity in mice, which were already being used to study brain states and neural plasticity, or the brain’s ability to rewire itself. Could the neuroscientists create a comparable effect in mice? Yes, it turned out, using a brain-research technique known as optogenetics, which uses light to turn on and off neurons, and mice that have been bred with specific genes responsive to light. The Oregon group, by pulsing the light at the same frequency found in human theta waves (eight hertz), were able to switch on the neurons in the anterior cingulate cortexes of the mice. They also exposed some mice to light at higher and lower frequencies and left others alone. Each treated mouse received 30 minutes of light therapy for 20 days, in an attempt to mimic the amount of meditation done in earlier human studies. Afterward, those mice exposed to the eight-hertz, thetalike light waves proved to be relatively calm in behavioral tests: they lingered in lighted portions of a special cage, while their twitchier counterparts ran for the shadows. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 23646 - Posted: 05.22.2017

Aimee Cunningham For black adults, moving out of a racially segregated neighborhood is linked to a drop in blood pressure, according to a new study. The finding adds to growing evidence of an association between a lack of resources in many predominately black neighborhoods and adverse health conditions among their residents, such as diabetes and obesity. Systolic blood pressure — the pressure in blood vessels when the heart beats — of black adults who left their highly segregated communities decreased just over 1 millimeter of mercury on average, researchers report online May 15 in JAMA Internal Medicine. This decline, though small, could reduce the overall incidence of heart failure and coronary heart disease. “It’s the social conditions, not the segregation itself, that’s driving the relationship between segregation and blood pressure,” says Thomas LaVeist, a medical sociologist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., who was not involved with the study. “Maybe hypertension is not so much a matter of being genetically predisposed.” That’s important, LaVeist adds, because it means that racial health disparity “can be fixed. It’s not necessarily contained in our DNA; it’s contained in the social DNA.” Racial segregation can impact a neighborhood’s school quality, employment opportunities or even whether there is a full-service grocery store nearby. Social policies that improve residents’ access to education, employment and fresh foods can “have spillover effects in health,” says Kiarri Kershaw, an epidemiologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 23617 - Posted: 05.16.2017

By Sandra Lamb Each night before “Greg” goes to bed he brushes and flosses his teeth. Then he double-checks the instructions on the dark brown bottle his nurse gave him before he unscrews the cap and tips five drops of a light-amber, oily liquid onto a spoon. The brew, glistening from the light of the bathroom fixture, is tasteless and has no odor he can detect. But it’s chock-full of bacteria. He sloshes the substance around in his mouth and swallows. Greg hopes that while he sleeps the foreign microbes will wage war with other organisms in his gut, changing that environment to ultimately help him manage some of the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms that cloud his mind and riddle his days and nights with nightmares, flashbacks, thoughts of suicide and irrational responses to stressful events. The bacteria he is swallowing, his doctors tell him, “may help reduce symptoms of stress.” Each drop of Greg's brew is filled with millions of Lactobacillus reuteri, a bacterium isolated and derived from human breast milk. The Denver VA Hospital orders the substance and prescribes it as part of a PTSD clinical trial involving 40 veterans who either receive the bacteria or a placebo mix of sunflower oil and other inactive substances. (The bacterium is also currently used to treat a dental condition called chronic periodontitis because it has been shown to help fight inflammation.) © 2017 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: The Biology of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 23600 - Posted: 05.10.2017

By CATHERINE SAINT LOUIS Halfway through February, I could no longer sleep through the night. At 2 a.m., I’d find myself chugging milk from the carton to extinguish a fire at the top of my rib cage. The gnawing feeling high in my stomach alternated with nausea so arresting I kept a bucket next to my laptop and considered taking a pregnancy test, even though I was 99 percent sure I wasn’t expecting. One day on the subway platform, I doubled over and let out a groan so pathetic it prompted a complete stranger to ask, “Are you all right?” Then I knew it was time to seek medical attention. New Yorkers don’t address strangers on the subway, I told myself. It’s like breaking the fourth wall. The next day, my primary care doctor told me I probably had an ulcer, a raw spot or sore in the lining of the stomach or small intestine. Here are some of the things I learned about ulcers during the odyssey that followed. ■ Anyone Can Get an Ulcer. Back in the 1980s, when doctors and most everyone else thought psychological stress or spicy foods led to ulcers, two Australian scientists discovered that the main culprit was actually a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori. That discovery eventually won them a Nobel Prize in 2005, and ushered in an era of using antibiotics to cure ulcers. But that didn’t wipe out ulcers altogether. Far from it. Indeed, my tribe of fellow sufferers are legion. Nearly 16 million adults nationwide reported having an ulcer in 2014,according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. The largest group, roughly 6.2 million, were 45 to 64 years old. Those 18 to 44 accounted for 4.6 million, 65- to 74-year-olds for 2.6 million, and those 75 and older for 2.4 million. I got a blood test to see if I was infected with H. pylori; the test came back negative, so I didn’t need antibiotics. Regular use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen or aspirin, can also lead to an ulcer, but I wasn’t taking those medicines. My ulcer turned out to be “idiopathic,” which is a fancy way of saying that doctors have no idea why it happened. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 13: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Link ID: 23490 - Posted: 04.14.2017

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS For generations, mothers have encouraged children to take long, slow breaths to fight anxiety. A long tradition of meditation likewise uses controlled breathing to induce tranquillity. Now scientists at Stanford University may have uncovered for the first time why taking deep breaths can be so calming. The research, on a tiny group of neurons deep within the brains of mice, also underscores just how intricate and pervasive the links are within our body between breathing, thinking, behaving and feeling. Breathing is one of the body’s most essential and elastic processes. Our breaths occur constantly and rhythmically, much like our hearts’ steady beating. But while we generally cannot change our hearts’ rhythm by choice, we can alter how we breathe, in some cases consciously, as in holding our breath, or with little volition, such as sighing, gasping or yawning. But how the mind and body regulate breathing and vice versa at the cellular level has remained largely mysterious. More than 25 years ago, researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles first discovered a small bundle of about 3,000 interlinked neurons inside the brainstems of animals, including people, that seem to control most aspects of breathing. They dubbed these neurons the breathing pacemaker. But recently, a group of scientists at Stanford and other universities, including some of the U.C.L.A. researchers, began using sophisticated new genetics techniques to study individual neurons in the pacemaker. By microscopically tracking different proteins produced by the genes in each cell, the scientists could group the neurons into “types.” © 2017 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 23447 - Posted: 04.05.2017

MaryCatherine McDonald, Marisa Brandt, Robyn Bluhm In the wake of World War I, some veterans returned wounded, but not with obvious physical injuries. Instead, their symptoms were similar to those that had previously been associated with hysterical women – most commonly amnesia, or some kind of paralysis or inability to communicate with no clear physical cause. English physician Charles Myers, who wrote the first paper on “shell-shock” in 1915, theorized that these symptoms actually did stem from a physical injury. He posited that repetitive exposure to concussive blasts caused brain trauma that resulted in this strange grouping of symptoms. But once put to the test, his hypothesis didn’t hold up. There were plenty of veterans who had not been exposed to the concussive blasts of trench warfare, for example, who were still experiencing the symptoms of shell-shock. (And certainly not all veterans who had seen this kind of battle returned with symptoms.) We now know that what these combat veterans were facing was likely what today we call post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. We are now better able to recognize it, and treatments have certainly advanced, but we still don’t have a full understanding of just what PTSD is. The medical community and society at large are accustomed to looking for the most simple cause and cure for any given ailment. This results in a system where symptoms are discovered and cataloged and then matched with therapies that will alleviate them. Though this method works in many cases, for the past 100 years, PTSD has been resisting. © 2010–2017, The Conversation US, Inc.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 12: Psychopathology: The Biology of Behavioral Disorders; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 23442 - Posted: 04.04.2017

By Clare Wilson A new kind of brain cell that links breathing rate to alertness has been found in mice. Destroying these neurons made mice very calm and may explain why deep breathing – such as in yoga or meditation – makes us feel relaxed. Kevin Yackle at the University of California, San Francisco, and his team have dubbed these brain cells “pranayama neurons” in reference to a yoga breathing exercise. They identified them using an existing database of gene activity in different mouse brain cells. The pranayama neurons stood out because they are the only type of brain cell in the hindbrain that makes two particular proteins. There are only 350 of these neurons in a mouse’s brain, located at its base in a region responsible for controlling breathing. The researchers found that the cells connect to a nearby brain area known to control alertness. They then genetically engineered three mice so a drug could be used to kill their pranayama neurons, but leave other brain cells untouched. Once these neurons had been destroyed, the animals took more slow breaths. They also spent less time exploring and sniffing, and more time grooming themselves, becoming “super-chilled out”, says Yackle. The normal role of these neurons might be to ensure that when mice are more physically active – such as when exploring a new place – their sniffing and fast breathing trigger a rise in alertness, says Yackle. If the same mechanism is at work in people, slower breathing might make these neurons less active and so lower stress levels. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 23431 - Posted: 03.31.2017

By NICHOLAS BAKALAR There is some evidence that stress prompts people to turn to sweet, high-calorie “comfort foods.” Now scientists have confirmed a link between long-term stress and obesity. The study, published in Obesity, tested 2,527 men and women over 50 years old, quantifying stress by measuring levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in 2-centimeter hair clippings, or about two months’ growth. After controlling for age, sex, ethnicity, smoking, diabetes and other factors that might be linked to obesity, they found that the higher the level of cortisol, the greater the body weight, B.M.I. and waist circumference. Higher cortisol levels were also associated with persistence of obesity over time. Other studies have relied on measures of cortisol in blood, urine or saliva, which can vary by time of day and be affected by temporary stressors and other factors. But this study was able to measure general stress levels over two months to get a picture of the long-term effect. The researchers acknowledge that they were unable to determine whether chronically high cortisol levels are a cause or a consequence of obesity (feeling “fat,” for example, could raise your stress levels). The lead author, Sarah E. Jackson, an epidemiologist at University College London, said that while it may not be possible to eliminate stress, “you may be able to find ways to control it. Even just being aware that stress might make you eat more may help.” © 2017 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 13: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Link ID: 23310 - Posted: 03.04.2017

By NICHOLAS BAKALAR Psychological distress may increase your chances of dying from cancer. Researchers interviewed 163,363 adults in England and Scotland using well-validated questionnaires on general and mental health. They followed the population in 16 studies conducted between 1994 and 2008. After controlling for age, smoking, physical activity and other factors, they found that compared with those with the lowest scores on depression and anxiety, those with the highest had higher rates of cancer death. The associations were particularly strong for colon and rectal, prostate, pancreatic and esophageal cancers, and for leukemia. In instances of colorectal and prostate cancer, they found a “dose-response” effect: the greater the distress, the greater the likelihood of death from those cancers. People might have had undiagnosed cancer at the start of the study, which would affect their mood, so the researchers accounted for this possibility by doing an analysis that excluded study members who died of cancer in the first five years. The results were largely the same. The study, in BMJ, is observational so cannot determine cause and effect, and it depended in part on self-reports. “The extent to which these associations could be causal,” the authors write, “requires further testing with alternative study designs.” © 2017 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 23159 - Posted: 01.28.2017

Joseph Palamar On Nov. 30 the FDA approved a Phase III clinical trial to confirm the effectiveness of treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with MDMA, also known as Ecstasy. This news appeared in headlines throughout the world, as it represents an important – yet somewhat unorthodox – advance in PTSD treatment. However, the media have largely been referring to Ecstasy – the street name for this drug – as the treatment in this trial, rather than MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine). This can lead to misunderstanding, as recreational Ecstasy use is a highly stigmatized behavior. Using this terminology may further misconceptions about the study drug and its uses. While Ecstasy is in fact a common street name for MDMA, what we call Ecstasy has changed dramatically since it became a prevalent recreational drug. Ecstasy now has a very different meaning – socially and pharmacologically. It is understandable why the media have referred to this drug as Ecstasy rather than MDMA. Not only has much of the public at least heard of Ecstasy (and would not recognize MDMA), but this also increases shock value and readership. But referring to a therapeutic drug by its street name (such as Ecstasy) is misleading – especially since MDMA is known to be among the most popular illicit drugs used at nightclubs and dance festivals. This leads some to assume that street drugs are being promoted and provided to patients, perhaps in a reckless manner. © 2010–2017, The Conversation US, Inc.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 12: Psychopathology: The Biology of Behavioral Disorders; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 23129 - Posted: 01.21.2017

Being stressed out increases our risk of heart disease and stroke, and the key to how to counter it may lie in calming the brain, a new medical study suggests. Psychological stress has long been considered a source of sickness. But personal stress levels are difficult to measure and there isn't direct evidence of the link, even though population studies finger stress as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease just like smoking and hypertension. "I think that this relatively vague or insufficient link reduced our enthusiasm of taking stress seriously as an important risk factor," said Dr. Ahmed Tawakol, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Tawakol led a study published in Wednesday's online issue of The Lancet that sheds light on how the amygdala — a key part of the brain that is more active during emotional, stressful times — is linked to a greater risk of cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks and strokes. The researchers gave 293 patients aged 30 or older without cardiovascular disease PET/CT brain imaging scans, mainly for cancer screening and followed them over time. After an average of nearly four years, activity in the amygdala was significantly associated with cardiovascular events such as heart attacks, heart failure and strokes, after taking other factors into account. People with more amygdala activity also tended to suffer the events sooner, Tawakol said. ©2017 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 23087 - Posted: 01.12.2017