Genes increase the stress of social disadvantage for some children

Genes amplify the stress of harsh environments for some children, and magnify the advantage of supportive environments for other children, according to a study that’s one of the first to document how genes interacting with social environments affect biomarkers of stress.”Our findings suggest that an individual’s genetic architecture moderates the magnitude of the response to external stimuli — but it is the environment that determines the direction” says Colter Mitchell, lead author of the paper and a researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR).The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, uses telomere length as a marker of stress. Found at the ends of chromosomes, telomeres generally shorten with age, and when individuals are exposed to disease and chronic stress, including the stress of living in a disadvantaged environment.For the study, Mitchell and colleagues used telomere samples from a group of 40 nine-year-old boys from two very different environments – one nurturing and the other harsh. Those in the nurturing environment came from stable families, with nurturing parenting, good maternal mental health, and positive socioeconomic conditions, while those in the harsh environment experienced high levels of poverty, harsh parenting, poor maternal mental health, and high family instability.For those children with heightened sensitivity in the serotonergic and dopaminergic genetic pathways compared to other children, telomere length was shortest in a disadvantaged environment, and longest in a supportive environment.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Michigan. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Chronic stress in early life causes anxiety, aggression in adulthood, neurobiologists find

In recent years, behavioral neuroscientists have debated the meaning and significance of a plethora of independently conducted experiments seeking to establish the impact of chronic, early-life stress upon behavior — both at the time that stress is experienced, and upon the same individuals later in life, during adulthood.These experiments, typically conducted in rodents, have on the one hand clearly indicated a link between certain kinds of early stress and dysfunction in the neuroendocrine system, particularly in the so-called HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal), which regulates the endocrine glands and stress hormones including corticotropin and glucocorticoid.Yet the evidence is by no means unequivocal. Stress studies in rodents have also clearly identified a native capacity, stronger in some individuals than others, and seemingly weak or absent in still others, to bounce back from chronic early-life stress. Some rodents subjected to early life stress have no apparent behavioral consequences in adulthood — they are disposed neither to anxiety nor depression, the classic pathologies understood to be induced by stress in certain individuals.Today, a research team led by Associate Professor Grigori Enikolopov of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) reports online in the journal PLoS One the results of experiments designed to assess the impacts of social stress upon adolescent mice, both at the time they are experienced and during adulthood. Involving many different kinds of stress tests and means of measuring their impacts, the research indicates that a “hostile environment in adolescence disturbs psychoemotional state and social behaviors of animals in adult life,” the team says.The tests began with 1-month-old male mice — the equivalent, in human terms of adolescents — each placed for 2 weeks in a cage shared with an aggressive adult male. The animals were separated by a transparent perforated partition, but the young males were exposed daily to short attacks by the adult males. This kind of chronic activity produces what neurobiologists call social-defeat stress in the young mice. These mice were then studied in a range of behavioral tests.”The tests assessed levels of anxiety, depression, and capacity to socialize and communicate with an unfamiliar partner,” explains Enikolopov. These experiments showed that in young mice chronic social defeat induced high levels of anxiety helplessness, diminished social interaction, and diminished ability to communicate with other young animals. Stressed mice also had less new nerve-cell growth (neurogenesis) in a portion of the hippocampus known to be affected in depression: the subgranular zone of the dentate gyrus.Another group of young mice was also exposed to social stress, but was then placed for several weeks in an unstressful environment. Following this “rest” period, these mice, now old enough to be considered adults, were tested in the same manner as the other cohort.In this second, now-adult group, most of the behaviors impacted by social defeat returned to normal, as did neurogenesis, which retuned to a level seen in healthy controls. …

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Newly discovered marsupial the victim of fatal attraction: Due to stress hormone, males die before young are born

A QUT mammalogist has discovered a highly sexed mouse-like marsupial in Queensland’s Springbrook National Park. The Black-tailed Antechinus was found in the high-altitude regions of the World Heritage Area. It’s the third new species in the genus Antechinus Dr Andrew Baker’s research team has discovered in the past two years, all from south-east Queensland.Dr Baker said he suspected the rare, Black-tailed Antechinus was a separate species when he and his team came across it last May because it had distinctive yellow-orange markings around its eyes and on its rump, and a black tail and feet.”Comparing it to the Dusky Antechinus, which inhabits south-east Australia, we thought it was probably new,” said Dr Baker, from QUT’s Science and Engineering Faculty.”We laid about 300 traps baited with peanut butter and oats. When we caught the first black-tailed antechinus in a trap, we knew we were onto something pretty special.”Dr Baker is now applying for an endangered species listing.”Antechinus males and females are highly promiscuous; males mate for long periods of time with many females to promote their own genes,” Dr Baker said.”A single female’s brood of young will typically be sired by several fathers. But during mating, stress hormone levels rise dramatically, eventually causing the males’ bodies to shut down. The males all die before their young are born.”The results of the team’s studies have been published in the journal Zootaxa.The Black-footed Antechinus is a coup for Dr Baker and his research partners from the Queensland Museum and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.New mammal discoveries are rare, with only a handful typically discovered in the world each year.Dr Baker said the Black-tailed Antechinus likely won’t be the last unique creature to be unearthed in Springbrook National Park.”The Gondwanaland rainforest relic at Springbrook is special and unique,” he told the Gold Coast Bulletin. “It would not surprise me if there are other animals that are new in that area. Such things are about place not species.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Queensland University of Technology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Does more stress equal more headaches?

A new study provides evidence for what many people who experience headache have long suspected — having more stress in your life leads to more headaches. The study released today will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 66th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, April 26 to May 3, 2014.For the study, 5,159 people age 21 to 71 in the general population were surveyed about their stress levels and headaches four times a year for two years. Participants stated how many headaches they had per month and rated their stress level on a scale of zero to 100.A total of 31 percent of the participants had tension-type headache, 14 percent had migraine, 11 percent had migraine combined with tension-type headache and for 17 percent the headache type was not classified. Those with tension-type headache rated their stress at an average of 52 out of 100. For migraine, it was 62 out of 100 and 59 for those with migraine and tension-type headache.For each type of headache, an increase in stress was associated with an increase in the number of headaches per month. For those with tension headache, an increase of 10 points on the stress scale was associated with a 6.3-percent increase in the number of headache days per month. For migraine, the number of headache days per month went up by 4.3 percent, and 4 percent for those with migraine and tension headache. The results were adjusted to account for factors that could affect the number of headaches, such as drinking, smoking and frequent use of headache drugs.”These results show that this is a problem for everyone who suffers from headaches and emphasize the importance of stress management approaches for people with migraine and those who treat them,” said study author Sara H. Schramm, MD, of University Hospital of University Duisburg-Essen in Germany. “The results add weight to the concept that stress can be a factor contributing to the onset of headache disorders, that it accelerates the progression to chronic headache, exacerbates headache episodes, and that the headache experience itself can serve as a stressor.”The study was supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by American Academy of Neurology (AAN). …

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Meeting report: �Depression and Anxiety Spectrum disorders

Dr. Eskandar gave an overview of neurosurgical and physiological studies in both animal and human studies; Dr. Akil gave an overview of the underlying biology associated with stress and depression; and Dr. Dougherty discussed using …

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Mindfulness training can help reduce teacher stress and burnout

Aug. 28, 2013 — Teachers who practice “mindfulness” are better able to reduce their own levels of stress and prevent burnout, according to a new study conducted by the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (CIHM) at UW-Madison’s Waisman Center.The results of the study, led by Assistant Scientist Lisa Flook, were recently published in the journal Mind, Brain and Education.Mindfulness, a notion that stems from centuries-old meditative traditions and is now taught in a secular way, is a technique to heighten attention, empathy and other pro-social emotions through an awareness of thoughts, external stimuli, or bodily sensations such as breath.While teachers play a critical role in nurturing children’s well-being, progress in addressing teacher stress has been elusive. Stress and burnout among teachers is a major concern for school districts nationwide, affecting the quality of education and incurring increased costs in recruiting and sustaining teachers.For the study, a group of 18 teachers was recruited to take part in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course, a well-established and well-studied method of mindfulness training. The project team adapted the MBSR training to fit the particular needs and time demands of elementary school teachers. It was among the first efforts to train teachers, in addition to students, in mindfulness techniques and to examine the effects of this training in the classroom.”We wanted to offer training to teachers in a format that would be engaging and address the concerns that were specifically relevant to their role as teachers,” says Flook, who has advanced degrees in education and psychology and whose primary interest is in exploring strategies to reduce stress and promote well-being in children and adolescents.The teachers who received the training were randomly assigned and asked to practice a guided meditation at home for at least 15 minutes per day. They also learned to use specific strategies for preventing and dealing with stressors in the classroom, such as “dropping in,” a term to describe the process of bringing attention to the sensations of breath and other physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions for brief periods of time. The training also included caring practices to bring kind awareness to their experiences, especially those that are challenging.One of the goals of the study was to evaluate outcomes using measures that could be affected by mindfulness training. The researchers found that those who received the mindfulness training displayed reductions in psychological stress, improvements in classroom organization and increases in self-compassion. In comparison, the group that did not receive the training showed signs of increased stress and burnout over the course of the school year. These results provide objective evidence that MBSR techniques are beneficial to teachers.”The most important outcome that we observed is the consistent pattern of results, across a range of self-report and objective measures used in this pilot study, that indicate benefits from practicing mindfulness,” says Flook, who also leads CIHM’s “Kindness Curriculum” study involving 4-year-old preschoolers.Madison teacher Elizabeth Miller discovered that mindfulness is a meditative technique that does not require “just sitting still and trying to observe your thoughts,” which she said was difficult for her. …

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Thinking about family matters linked to stress for working moms, not dads

Aug. 11, 2013 — Although working mothers and fathers are almost as likely to think about family matters throughout the day, only for mothers is this type of mental labor associated with increased stress and negative emotions, according to new research to be presented at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.”I assume that because mothers bear the major responsibility for childcare and family life, when they think about family matters, they tend to think about the less pleasant aspects of it — such as needing to pick up a child from daycare or having to schedule a doctor’s appointment for a sick kid — and are more likely to be worried,” said study author Shira Offer, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.Much has been written about the unequal division of household labor and childcare, but the overwhelming majority of studies in this field examine specific behaviors, Offer said. “These studies focus on the physical aspect of tasks and demands, which can be measured and quantified relatively easily,” she said. “However, much of the work we do, both paid and unpaid, takes place in our mind. We are often preoccupied with the things we have to do, we often worry about them, and feel stressed not to forget to do them or to do them on time. These thoughts and concerns — mental labor — can impair our performance, make it difficult to focus on tasks, and even hurt our sleep. This mental labor is the focus of my study.”The study relies on data from the 500 Family Study, a multi-method investigation of how middle-class families balance family and work experiences. The 500 Family Study collected comprehensive information from 1999 to 2000 on families living in eight urban and suburban communities across the United States. Most parents in the 500 Family Study are highly educated, employed in professional occupations, and work, on average, longer hours and report higher earnings than do middle-class families in other, nationally representative samples. Although the 500 Family Study is not a representative sample of families in the U.S., it reflects one of the most time pressured segments of the population. …

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How to learn successfully even under stress

July 30, 2013 — Whenever we have to acquire new knowledge under stress, the brain deploys unconscious rather than conscious learning processes. Neuroscientists at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum have discovered that this switch from conscious to unconscious learning systems is triggered by the intact function of mineralocorticoid receptors. These receptors are activated by hormones released in response to stress by the adrenal cortex.The team of PD Dr Lars Schwabe from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, together with colleagues from the neurology department at the university clinic Bergmannsheil, reports in the journal Biological Psychiatry.Predicting the weather under stressThe team from Bochum has examined 80 subjects, 50 per cent of whom were given a drug blocking mineralocorticoid receptors in the brain. The remaining participants took a placebo drug. Twenty participants from each group were subjected to a stress-inducing experience. Subsequently, all participants underwent a learning test, the so-called weather prediction task. The subjects were shown playing cards with different symbols and had to learn which combinations of cards meant rain and which meant sunshine. The researchers used MRI to record the respective brain activity.Learning unconsciously or consciouslyThere are two different approaches to master the weather prediction test: some subjects tried consciously to formulate a rule that would enable them to predict sunshine and rain. Others learned unconsciously to give the right answer, following their gut feeling, as it were. The team of Lars Schwabe demonstrated in August 2012 that, under stress, the brain prefers unconscious to conscious learning. …

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Thwarting protein production slows cancer cells’ malignant march

July 18, 2013 — Protein production or translation is tightly coupled to a highly conserved stress response that cancer cells rely on for survival and proliferation, according to Whitehead Institute researchers. In mouse models of cancer, targeted therapeutic inhibition of translation disrupts this survival response, dramatically slowing tumor growth and potentially rendering drug-resistant tumors vulnerable to other therapies.From yeast to worms to humans, this stress response and its primary regulator, heat shock factor 1 (HSF1), help normal cells adapt to harsh environments, including the presence of heavy metals, high salt concentrations, low oxygen levels, and of course increased temperatures.”In a perverted twist of fate, cancer cells take advantage of this incredibly ancient survival strategy — the heat shock response — to help them survive despite the best efforts of our own natural defenses, and sophisticated therapeutics, to kill them,” says Whitehead Member Susan Lindquist. “And trumping all that, we find it not only helps them survive, it helps them thrive!”Across tumor and cancer types, cancer cells rely on the heat shock response and HSF1 to support the production of vast quantities of proteins and the high-energy demands needed to propel malignancy. Accordingly, researchers have envisioned HSF1 as a potential therapeutic target, but such transcriptional regulators have been notoriously difficult to target. However, by determining that protein translation is intimately connected to HSF1 activity, Whitehead scientists may have identified an approach to controlling cancer cells’ overactive heat shock response. Their work is described in this week’s issue of the journal Science.”The genetic screens that we conducted in collaboration with the Broad Institute and the drug screens that were conducted by Sandro Santagata (Lindquist lab postdoctoral researcher) all pointed to this connection — that the process of protein production signals to HSF1,” says Marc Mendillo, a postdoctoral researcher in Lindquist’s lab and a coauthor of the Science paper with Santagata. “And this link may explain the HSF1 activation we have observed across an extraordinarily broad range of human cancers.”Santagata’s screens identified one compound that was particularly effective at disrupting translation and HSF1 activity. Collaborators at Boston University synthesized an analog of this compound, called Rohinitib (RHT), that is even more efficacious. Normal cells are relatively resistant to RHT and seem to be little affected by it. However, cells from a wide spectrum of cancers are sensitive to it — RHT added to cancer cells in vitro normalizes their metabolism, including the increased glucose uptake characteristic of such cells, and even kills them. …

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Females respond better to stress because of estrogen in the brain, animal study finds

July 10, 2013 — The idea that females are more resilient than males in responding to stress is a popular view, and now University at Buffalo researchers have found a scientific explanation. The paper describing their study is published July 9 online, in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.”We have examined the molecular mechanism underlying gender-specific effects of stress,” says senior author Zhen Yan, PhD, a professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “Previous studies have found that females are more resilient to chronic stress and now our research has found the reason why.”The research shows that in rats exposed to repeated episodes of stress, females respond better than males because of the protective effect of estrogen.In the UB study, young female rats exposed to one week of periodic physical restraint stress showed no impairment in their ability to remember and recognize objects they had previously been shown. In contrast, young males exposed to the same stress were impaired in their short-term memory.An impairment in the ability to correctly remember a familiar object signifies some disturbance in the signaling ability of the glutamate receptor in the prefrontal cortex, the brain region that controls working memory, attention, decision-making, emotion and other high-level “executive” processes.Last year, Yan and UB colleagues published in Neuron a paper showing that repeated stress results in loss of the glutamate receptor in the prefrontal cortex of young males.The current paper shows that the glutamate receptor in the prefrontal cortex of stressed females is intact. The findings provide more support for a growing body of research demonstrating that the glutamate receptor is the molecular target of stress, which mediates the stress response.The stressors used in the experiments mimic challenging and stressful, but not dangerous, experiences that humans face, such as those causing frustration and feelings of being under pressure, Yan says.By manipulating the amount of estrogen produced in the brain, the UB researchers were able to make the males respond to stress more like females and the females respond more like males.”When estrogen signaling in the brains of females was blocked, stress exhibited detrimental effects on them,” explains Yan. “When estrogen signaling was activated in males, the detrimental effects of stress were blocked.”We still found the protective effect of estrogen in female rats whose ovaries were removed,” says Yan. “It suggests that it might be estrogen produced in the brain that protects against the detrimental effects of stress.”In the current study, Yan and her colleagues found that the enzyme aromatase, which produces estradiol, an estrogen hormone, in the brain, is responsible for female stress resilience. They found that aromatase levels are significantly higher in the prefrontal cortex of female rats.”If we could find compounds similar to estrogen that could be administered without causing hormonal side effects, they could prove to be a very effective treatment for stress-related problems in males,” she says.She notes that while stress itself is not a psychiatric disorder, it can be a trigger for the development of psychiatric disorders in vulnerable individuals.Jing Wei, PhD, postdoctoral associate in the UB Department of Physiology and Biophysics, is first author and Eunice Y. Yuen, PhD, former research assistant professor in the same department, contributed equally. Other co-authors are Xiangning Li, PhD, postdoctoral associate, and Ping Zhong, PhD, research scientist in the same department; Ilia N. …

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CPAP therapy reduces nightmares in veterans with PTSD and sleep apnea

July 8, 2013 — A new study suggests that CPAP therapy reduces nightmares in veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).Results show that the mean number of nightmares per week fell significantly with CPAP use, and reduced nightmare frequency after starting CPAP was best predicted by CPAP compliance.”Patients with PTSD get more motivated to use CPAP once they get restful sleep without frequent nightmares, and their compliance improves” said principal investigator Sadeka Tamanna, MD, MPH, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Laboratory at G.V. (Sonny) VA Medical Center in Jackson, Miss.The research abstract was published recently in an online supplement of the journal SLEEP, and Tamanna presented the findings at SLEEP 2013, the 27th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC.The study involved a retrospective review of medical records to identify OSA patients who also carried a PTSD diagnosis and were treated in a VA medical center sleep clinic between May 2011 and May 2012. Mean number of nightmares per week before treatment and up to six months after CPAP prescription were extracted. Treatment compliance was determined from CPAP memory cards.”One out of six veterans suffers from PTSD, which affects their personal, social and productive life,” said Tamanna. “Nightmares are one of the major symptoms that affect their daily life, and prevalence of OSA is also high among PTSD patients and can trigger their nightmares.”The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports that obstructive sleep apnea is a common sleep illness affecting up to seven percent of men and five percent of women. It involves repetitive episodes of complete or partial upper airway obstruction occurring during sleep despite an ongoing effort to breathe. The most effective treatment option for OSA is continuous positive airway pressure therapy, CPAP, which helps keep the airway open by providing a stream of air through a mask that is worn during sleep.According to the National Center for PTSD of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD symptoms such as nightmares or flashbacks usually start soon after a traumatic event, but they may not appear until months or years later. Symptoms that last longer than four weeks, cause great distress or interfere with daily life may be a sign of PTSD. To get help for PTSD, veterans can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, text 838255, contact a local VA Medical Center, or use the online PTSD program locator on the VA website.The study is entitled, “Effect of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy on nightmares in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder and obstructive sleep apnea.”

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Head Start children and parents show robust gains in new intervention

July 1, 2013 — An eight-week intervention involving 141 preschoolers in a Head Start program and their parents produced significant improvements in the children’s behavior and brain functions supporting attention and reduced levels of parental stress that, in turn, improved the families’ quality of life.The findings — from the first phase of a long-term research project by University of Oregon neuroscientists that will monitor the families over time — appear this week online in advance of regular publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.The new UO initiative is designed as an addition to the regular Head Start program, which was launched by the federal government in 1965 to enhance the education, health, nutrition and parental involvement for families living under the poverty line.A preliminary economic analysis, not included in the new study, estimates that implementing the program widely at Head Start sites would add just $800 per family and could yield a strong return on investment, said project leader Helen Neville, who holds the UO’s Robert and Beverly Lewis Endowed Chair in Psychology and heads the Brain Development Lab.”This intervention didn’t come out of thin air,” Neville said. “It came out of basic research on neural plasticity that we have done in our lab for many decades.” Neural plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to shape and reshape itself over a lifetime.”We’ve studied neural plasticity by looking at deaf people, blind people, children with language impairments, bilinguals and typical people,” Neville said. “We’ve found that some systems of the brain don’t show much neural plasticity. Some show a lot but only in a specific time period. So we targeted this second kind of system, focusing on selective attention of the developing brain.”Children from lower socioeconomic status (SES) often have more problems with attention skills than do children from higher SES backgrounds, because, on average, they have more difficulty suppressing, or ignoring, non-attended information, Neville said. Such difficulties likely arise, she said, as children in lower SES families grow up amid chaos and unpredictable environments.The UO team developed learning exercises, including games, appropriate for kids ages 3-5. The exercises, said co-author Scott Klein, require clear focus from the children.Parents or other primary caregivers attended weekly two-hour sessions in which they learned standard parenting practices that build strong relationships and about the value of the attention skills their children were receiving. Much of the discussion centered on reducing negative components of parenting and fostering a positive atmosphere, such as providing guided choices for children, establishing expectations and praising good behaviors, said Klein, a research assistant in the Brain Development Lab. Training was reinforced with weekly phone calls to the parents to help address specific problems.”We try to have all activities done with children embedded with the parents all of the time,” Klein said. “We are building a systematic change one step at a time. …

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People’s perception of the effect of stress on their health is linked to risk of heart attacks

June 26, 2013 — People who believe that stress is having an adverse impact on their health are probably right, because they have an increased risk of suffering a heart attack, according to new research published online today (Thursday) in the European Heart Journal.The latest findings from the UK’s Whitehall II study, which has followed several thousand London-based civil servants since 1985, found that people who believe stress is affecting their health “a lot or extremely” had double the risk of a heart attack compared to people who didn’t believe stress was having a significant effect on their health. After adjusting for factors that could affect this result, such as biological, behavioural or psychological risk factors, they still had a 50% greater risk of suffering or dying from a heart attack.Previous results from Whitehall II and other studies have already shown that stress can have an adverse effect on people’s health, but this is the first time researchers have investigated people’s perceptions of how stress is affecting their health and linked it to their risk of subsequent heart disease.”This current analysis allows us to take account of individual differences in response to stress,” said Dr Hermann Nabi, the first author of the study, who is a senior research associate at the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health at Inserm (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale), Villejuif, France.Dr Nabi and his colleagues from France, Finland and the UK, followed 7268 men and women for a maximum of 18 years from 1991 when the question about perceived impact of stress on health was first introduced into the questionnaire answered by study participants. The average age of the civil servants in this analysis was 49.5 and during the 18 years of follow-up there were 352 heart attacks or deaths as a result of heart attack (myocardial infarction).The participants were asked to what extent they felt that stress or pressure they experienced in their lives had affected their health. They could answer: “not at all,” “slightly,” “moderately,” “a lot,” or “extremely.” The researchers put their answers into three groups: 1) “not at all,” 2) “slightly or moderately,” and 3) “a lot or extremely.” The civil servants were also asked about their perceived levels of stress, as well as about other lifestyle factors that could influence their health, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, and levels of physical activity. Medical information, such as blood pressure, diabetes and body mass index, and socio-demographic data, such as marital status, age, sex, ethnicity and socio-economic status, was also collected. Data from the British National Health Service enabled researchers to follow the participants for subsequent years and to see whether or not they had a heart attack or died from it by 2009.After adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics, civil servants who reported at the beginning of the study that their health had been affected “a lot or extremely” by stress had more than double the risk (2.12 higher) of having a heart attack or dying from it compared with those who reported no effect of stress on their health. After further adjustments for biological, behavioural and other psychological risk factors, including stress levels and measures of social support, the risk was not as great, but still higher — nearly half as much again (49% higher) — than that seen in people who reported no effect on their health.Dr Nabi said: “We found that the association we observed between an individual’s perception of the impact of stress on their health and their risk of a heart attack was independent of biological factors, unhealthy behaviours and other psychological factors.”He added: “One of the important messages from our findings is that people’s perceptions about the impact of stress on their health are likely to be correct.”The authors say that their findings have far-reaching implications. Future studies of stress should include people’s perceptions of its impact on their health. From a clinical point of view, doctors should consider patients’ subjective perceptions and take them into account when managing stress-related health complaints.Dr Nabi said: “Our findings show that responses to stress or abilities to cope with stress differ greatly between individuals, depending on the resources available to them, such as social support, social activities and previous experiences of stress. Concerning the management of stress, I think that the first step is to identify the stressors or sources of stress, for example job pressures, relationship problems or financial difficulties, and then look for solutions. …

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Herbal extract boosts fruit fly lifespan by nearly 25 percent

June 18, 2013 — The herbal extract of a yellow-flowered mountain plant long used for stress relief was found to increase the lifespan of fruit fly populations by an average of 24 percent, according to UC Irvine researchers.But it’s how Rhodiola rosea, also known as golden root, did this that grabbed the attention of study leaders Mahtab Jafari and Sam Schriner. They discovered that Rhodiola works in a manner completely unrelated to dietary restriction and affects different molecular pathways.This is significant, said Jafari, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences, because dietary restriction is considered the most robust method of improving lifespan in laboratory animals, and scientists have been scrambling to identify compounds that can mimic its effects.”We found that Rhodiola actually increases lifespan on top of that of dietary restriction,” Jafari said. “It demonstrates that Rhodiola can act even in individuals who are already long-lived and healthy. This is quite unlike resveratrol, which appears to only act in overfed or unhealthy individuals.”The researchers proved this by putting flies on a calorie-restricted diet. It has been shown that flies live longer when the amount of yeast they consume is decreased. Jafari and Schriner expected that if Rhodiola functioned in the same manner as dietary restriction, it would not work in these flies. But it did. They also tested Rhodiola in flies in which the molecular pathways of dietary restriction had been genetically inactivated. It still worked.Not only did Rhodiola improve lifespan an average of 24 percent in both sexes and multiple strains of flies, but it also delayed the loss of physical performance in flies as they aged and even extended the lives of old flies. Jafari’s group previously had shown that the extract decreased the natural production of reactive oxygen species molecules in the fly mitochondria and protected both flies and cultured human cells against oxidative stress.Jafari and Schriner, an assistant project scientist in Jafari’s laboratory, are not claiming that Rhodiola supplements will enable humans to live longer, but their discovery is enhancing scientific understanding of how supplements believed to promote longevity actually work in the body.Rhodiola has already shown possible health benefits in humans, such as decreasing fatigue, anxiety and depression; boosting mood, memory and stamina; and preventing altitude sickness. …

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Dad’s life stress exposure leaves mark on sperm, can affect offspring brain development

June 12, 2013 — Sperm doesn’t appear to forget anything. Stress felt by dad — whether as a preadolescent or adult — leaves a lasting impression on his sperm that gives sons and daughters a blunted reaction to stress, a response linked to several mental disorders. The findings, published in a new preclinical study in the Journal of Neuroscience by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, point to a never-before-seen epigenetic link to stress-related diseases such as anxiety and depression passed from father to child.While environmental challenges, like diet, drug abuse, and chronic stress, felt by mothers during pregnancy have been shown to affect offspring neurodevelopment and increase the risk for certain diseases, dad’s influence on his children are less well understood. The effects of lifelong exposures to dad on children are even more out of reach.Now, a team of researchers led by Tracy L. Bale, PhD, associate professor of neuroscience in the Perelman School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and the School of Veterinary Medicine Department of Animal Biology, have shown that stress on preadolescent and adult male mice induced an epigenetic mark in their sperm that reprogrammed their offspring’s hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a region of the brain that governs responses to stress. Surprisingly, both male and female offspring had abnormally low reactivity to stress.This stress pathway dysregulation — when reactivity is either heightened or reduced — is a sign that an organism doesn’t have the ability to respond appropriately to a changing environment. And as a result, their stress response becomes irregular, which can lead to stress-related disorders.”It didn’t matter if dads were going through puberty or in adulthood when stressed before they mated. We’ve shown here for the first time that stress can produce long-term changes to sperm that reprogram the offspring HPA stress axis regulation,” said Bale. “These findings suggest one way in which paternal-stress exposure may be linked to such neuropsychiatric diseases.”Past epidemiological studies suggest that germ cells — sperm and eggs — are more susceptible to reprogramming during the slow growth period of preadolescence. Therefore, in this study, in order to examine the effects of paternal stress, male mice were exposed to six weeks of chronic stress, before breeding, either throughout puberty or only in adulthood. …

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Formula-feeding linked to metabolic stress and increased risk of later disease

June 5, 2013 — New evidence from research suggests that infants fed formula, rather than breast milk, experience metabolic stress that could play a part in the long-recognized link between formula-feeding and an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and other conditions in adult life.Share This:The study appears in ACS’ Journal of Proteome Research.Carolyn Slupsky and colleagues explain that past research showed a link between formula-feeding and a higher risk for chronic diseases later in life. Gaps exist, however, in the scientific understanding of the basis for that link. The scientists turned to rhesus monkeys, stand-ins for human infants in such research, that were formula-fed or breast-fed for data to fill those gaps.Their analysis of the monkeys’ urine, blood and stool samples identified key differences between formula-fed and breast-fed individuals. It also produced hints that reducing the protein content of infant formula might be beneficial in reducing the metabolic stress in formula-fed infants. “Our findings support the contention that infant feeding practice profoundly influences metabolism in developing infants and may be the link between early feeding and the development of metabolic disease later in life,” the study states.Share this story on Facebook, Twitter, and Google:Other social bookmarking and sharing tools:|Story Source: The above story is reprinted from materials provided by American Chemical Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above. Journal Reference:Aifric O’Sullivan, Xuan He, Elizabeth M. S. McNiven, Neill W. …

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‘Belief in science’ increases in stressful situations

June 5, 2013 — A faith in the explanatory and revealing power of science increases in the face of stress or anxiety, a study by Oxford University psychologists suggests.The researchers argue that a ‘belief in science’ may help non-religious people deal with adversity by offering comfort and reassurance, as has been reported previously for religious belief.’We found that being in a more stressful or anxiety-inducing situation increased participants’ “belief in science”,’ says Dr Miguel Farias, who led the study in the Department of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University. ‘This belief in science we looked at says nothing of the legitimacy of science itself. Rather we were interested in the values individuals hold about science.’He explains: ‘While most people accept science as a reliable source of knowledge about the world, some may hold science as a superior method for gathering knowledge, the only way to explain the world, or as having some unique and fundamental value in itself. This is a view of science that some atheists endorse.’As well as stressing that investigating a belief in science carries no judgement on the value of science as a method, the researchers point out that drawing a parallel between the psychological benefits of religious faith and belief in science doesn’t necessarily mean that scientific practice and religion are also similar in their basis.Instead, the researchers suggest that their findings may highlight a basic human motivation to believe.’It’s not just believing in God that is important for gaining these psychological benefits, it is belief in general,’ says Dr Farias. ‘It may be that we as humans are just prone to have belief, and even atheists will hold non-supernatural beliefs that are reassuring and comforting.’The researchers report their findings in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.There is evidence from previous studies that suggests religious belief helps individuals cope with stress and anxiety. The Oxford University group wondered if this was specific to religious belief, or was a more general function of holding belief.The researchers developed a scale measuring a ‘belief in science’ in which people are asked how much they agree or disagree with a series of 10 statements, including:’Science tells us everything there is to know about what reality consists of.’ ‘All the tasks human beings face are soluble by science.’ ‘The scientific method is the only reliable path to knowledge.’ This scale was used first with a group of 100 rowers, of whom 52 were about to compete in a rowing regatta and the other 48 were about to do a normal training session. Those about to row in competition would be expected to be at a higher stress level.Those who were competing in the regatta returned scores showing greater belief in science than those in the training group. The difference was statistically significant.Both groups of rowers reported a low degree of commitment to religion and as expected, those rowers about to compete did say they were experiencing more stress.In a second experiment, a different set of 60 people were randomly assigned to two groups. One group was asked to write about the feelings aroused by thinking about their own death, while the other was asked to write about dental pain. A number of studies have used an exercise on thinking about your own death to induce a certain amount of ‘existential anxiety’.The participants who had been asked to think about their own death scored higher in the belief in science scale.The researchers say their findings are consistent with the idea that belief in science increases when secular individuals are placed in threatening situations. …

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Mindfulness meditation may relieve chronic inflammation

Jan. 16, 2013 — People suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma — in which psychological stress plays a major role — may benefit from mindfulness meditation techniques, according to a study by University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction, originally designed for patients with chronic pain, consists of continuously focusing attention on the breath, bodily sensations and mental content while seated, walking or practicing yoga.

While interest in meditation as a means of reducing stress has grown over the years, there has been little evidence to support benefits specific to mindfulness meditation practice. This was the first study designed to control for other therapeutic mechanisms, such as supportive social interaction, expert instruction, or learning new skills.

A class in stress reduction can be beneficial in many ways, some of which have little to do with mindfulness, according to Melissa Rosenkranz, assistant scientist at the center and lead author on the paper, which was published recently in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity. For example, learning to manage stress by engaging in regular physical activity may be therapeutic.

“We wanted to develop an intervention that was meant to produce positive change and compare the mindfulness approach to an intervention that was structurally equivalent,” Rosenkranz says.

The study compared two methods of reducing stress: a mindfulness meditation-based approach, and a program designed to enhance health in ways unrelated to mindfulness.

The comparison group participated in the Health Enhancement Program, which consisted of nutritional education; physical activity, such as walking; balance, agility and core strengthening; and music therapy. The content of the program was meant to match aspects of the mindfulness instruction in some way. For example, physical exercise was meant to match walking meditation, without the mindfulness component. Both groups had the same amount of training, the same level of expertise in the instructors, and the same amount of home practice required by participants.

“In this setting, we could see if there were changes that we could detect that were specific to mindfulness,” Rosenkranz explains.

Using a tool called the Trier Social Stress Test to induce psychological stress, and a capsaicin cream to produce inflammation on the skin, immune and endocrine measures were collected before and after training in the two methods. While both techniques were proven effective in reducing stress, the mindfulness-based stress reduction approach was more effective at reducing stress-induced inflammation.

The results show that behavioral interventions designed to reduce emotional reactivity are beneficial to people suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions.

The study also suggests that mindfulness techniques may be more effective in relieving inflammatory symptoms than other activities that promote well-being.

Rosenkranz emphasizes that the mindfulness-based approach is not a magic bullet.

“This is not a cure-all, but our study does show that there are specific ways that mindfulness can be beneficial, and that there are specific people who may be more likely to benefit from this approach than other interventions.”

Significant portions of the population do not benefit from available pharmaceutical treatment options, for example. Some of these patients suffer from negative side effects of the drugs, or simply do not respond to the standard-of-care for treatment of the disorder.

“The mindfulness-based approach to stress reduction may offer a lower-cost alternative or complement to standard treatment, and it can be practiced easily by patients in their own homes, whenever they need,” Rosenkranz says.

Scientists at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds conduct rigorous research on the physiological effects of meditation on the brain, and the power of the brain to influence human health. This study adds to the growing body of knowledge concerning the mechanisms of mindfulness and how it affects the body.

Co-authors on the paper were Richard J. Davidson, Donal G. MacCoon, John F. Sheridan, Ned H. Kalin and Antoine Lutz.

This work was supported by grants from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (U01AT002114-01A1 to Antoine Lutz; and P01-AT004952 to Richard J. Davidson), the National Institute of Mental Health (P50-MH069315 to Richard J. Davidson), and a core grant from the National Institutes of Health to the Waisman Center (P30-HD003352, to Marsha Selzer), the Fetzer Institute, the John Templeton Foundation, and the Mental Insight Foundation.

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