In The News
Innovative research uses technology to help people with a sweet-tooth lose weight. Researchers believe they can train the brain to better resist temptation and warn people of an unhealthy urge before the temptation occurs.
Specifically, Drexel University psychologists have created a computer game aimed at improving users’ inhibitory control. Additionally, the investigators are also rolling out a mobile app that used in conjunction with the Weight Watchers app, will alert users on unhealthy urges before they strike.
The game is designed to improve a person’s “inhibitory control,” the part of the brain that stops you from giving into unhealthy cravings — even when the smell of French fries is practically begging you to step inside a fast food restaurant.
In a second study, the researchers have developed a mobile app that intelligently detects patterns in a person’s eating habits. When users are likely to slip from their dietary plans, the app provides tailored strategies to put them back on track.
Researchers in Drexel’s Laboratory for Innovations in Health-Related Behavior Change are now seeking participants for both studies.
Innovative interventions to help people control their weight are sorely needed. On a national level, more than one-third (35.7 percent) of adults are considered to be obese and more than 74 percent obese or overweight.
While a number of factors contribute to the nation’s obesity epidemic, often the mind is the biggest barrier when it comes to losing weight, said Evan Forman, Ph.D., professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences.
It’s been shown, for example, that sweet foods trigger the same feel-good brain chemicals as addictive drugs.
“Millions of people are trying to lose weight, and they are going about it in a reasonable way — by trying to reduce calories. But you’re going to slip from your diet plan. That pretty much happens to everyone,” Forman said.
“You could say the secret of helping people actually lose weight is preventing these lapses, so we concentrated on how to best do that.”
Researchers believe weight control begins with mind control.
All day long, you have to make choices about what foods you consume. And it’s no secret that there is “a powerful part of your mind that drives you toward things that taste good and feel good,” Forman said.
Let’s say a colleague brings a box of doughnuts into the office. For a person who habitually consumes sweets, the first reaction is, “I want one.” The secondary response tries to pump the brakes on that urge. But that reaction is typically slower and less strong than impulse, according to Forman.
“However, studies have shown that if you do certain tasks that involve this inhibitory control over and over again, it actually gets stronger,” he said.
Forman and a team of researchers tested this theory in a recent study, published in the journal Appetite. Habitual snack food eaters were assigned to one of four short, training exercises designed to increase their mindful decision-making and strengthen their inhibitory control.
The study concluded that both types of training were successful in reducing snack food eating.
The researchers are now looking to find out whether inhibitory control training can help participants reduce their consumption of sugary foods, and ultimately lose weight.
Their new training game — called DietDash — first requires study participants to disclose the types of sugary foods they consume most frequently. They will then be assigned to one of four versions of a game that is customized to their diet.
For example, if someone lists soda and chocolate chip cookies as their favorite treats, those items will appear in the game.
Players are instructed to press certain keys to respond to different types of images, including pictures of tasty sugary foods and pictures of healthy foods. As the player’s inhibitory control improves, the game speed increases for an extra challenge. Users are instructed to play this game for eight minutes per day, every day for six weeks.
Though other studies have shown this type of training at least temporarily affects users’ eating habits, the researchers want to know what will happen over a course of two months.
“The study is really the first to attempt to train people for weeks in a row,” Forman said. “We think this can translate to real-world behaviors, because just like any task, it improves with practice.”
Once the study is complete, Forman said the computer game could also be developed into a mobile app.
Trending a person’s weight and providing feedback based upon user experience is an additional are of study.
To this end, the researchers’ second design is a weight loss app called DietAlert, developed with funding from Weight Watchers and the Obesity Society.
Used in conjunction with the Weight Watchers app, the smartphone application collects information about users’ eating habits and uses a mathematical algorithm to determine when they are most likely to lapse from their diet plans.
For example, the app may conclude that a person is most likely to eat junk food after lunch when she has skipped breakfast. As the app learns about someone’s patterns, it will send out a warning alert and offer a tip to help the user stick to his or her health plan.
“Part of the difficulty with a diet plan stems from an inability to determine and target factors that continue to cause lapses over and over again,” Forman said.
The DietAlert app distinguishes itself from the hundreds of other diet applications available, because it not only tracks a person’s eating habits, but it uses that information to give personalized advice.
“This app targets each individual person exactly when they need the help,” Forman said.
Source: Drexel University
Over the last three decades’ research has discovered that discrimination can physically affect the health of individuals. Specifically, investigators learned that discrimination may be linked to poor cardiovascular health within the African American Population.
Eventually, the scope of these studies broadened, uncovering a connection between discrimination and other health disparities among minority groups. New research emanating from the University of Iowa, finds another negative health outcome linked to discrimination: alcohol abuse.
“We’ve had this idea that discrimination is associated with heavier drinking and drinking-related problems, but we didn’t have a clear understanding of the evidence underneath that,” says Paul Gilbert, assistant professor of the Department of Community and Behavioral Health.
“I wanted to uncover what we know and how we know it. What does the science actually say?”
Experts have known for decades that drinking is a common coping response to stress — a phenomenon called stress-reactive drinking, Gilbert says.
“We recognize discrimination as a stressor, and we recognize people drink in response to stress,” Gilbert says. “But do they drink in response to discrimination?”
The paper, “Discrimination and Drinking: A Systematic Review of the Evidence,” appears online in in Social Science & Medicine.
For the study, Gilbert searched six online databases for studies related to discrimination and drinking, winnowing his potential sources down to about 1,200 scientific studies that met his criteria.
From there, he identified 97 peer-reviewed, published research papers with quantitative evidence that showed a link between discrimination and heavy and hazardous drinking. Seventy-one studies involved racial discrimination, and the rest examined discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender.
“Our study supports the notion that discrimination is harmful to health, specifically through alcohol,” says Gilbert.
Investigators discovered several gaps in the research. For example, the majority of studies involved interpersonal discrimination against African Americans, such as being treated poorly in a store or being called a name.
Gilberts says more studies need to be done about discrimination against other groups, including other racial and ethnic groups, and discrimination due to religion, sexual orientation, gender, age, or disability status.
He also would like to see a more nuanced look at what types of discrimination might be linked to heavy and hazardous drinking.
For example, studies could involve systematic or structural discrimination, such as school and neighborhood segregation.
Additionally, studies of internalized discrimination — which occurs when members of a racial minority absorb the racist messages they hear, resulting in self-hatred or hatred of their minority group — demand investigation.
Finally, Gilbert hopes researchers will take a closer look at the types of alcohol abuse linked to being discriminated against.
“The basic knowledge is now there,” he says. “The next step to advance science is to say what specific groups are involved, what specific type of discrimination are they experiencing, and what specifically were the alcohol outcomes.
Was it just heavier drinking, or was it heavy drinking that led to dependence — or is it alcohol-related problems like getting in a car crash or work and family problems?”
Source: University of Iowa
A researcher at the University of Houston has been examining a growing trend among college students known as “drunkorexia.” This non-medical term refers to the combination of drinking alcohol and engaging in diet-related behaviors such as food restriction, excessive exercising, or bingeing and purging.
For these students, the purpose of restricting food intake while drinking is often to allow more calories for alcohol and/or to allow alcohol to enter the bloodstream more quickly.
“Drunkorexia refers to a complex pattern of drinking-related behaviors that take place before, during, and after a drinking event,” explained Dipali V. Rinker, a research assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Houston.
“College students appear to engage in these behaviors to increase alcohol effects or reduce alcohol-related calories by engaging in bulimic-type or diet/exercising/calorie/restricted eating behaviors.”
The findings were presented at the 39th Annual Research Society on Alcoholism in New Orleans.
Rinker said her research is designed to flesh out the definition of drunkorexia as well as identify different types of “drunkorexic” behaviors. She added that these types of behaviors may result in a number of problems.
“Potential outcomes may include less inhibition that could lead to more negative alcohol-related consequences,” she said. “Additionally, restricting caloric intake to those from alcohol could lead to vitamin depletion, as it may keep the individual from eating more nutrient-dense foods.”
Although the study showed some gender differences in drinking habits, the association between gender and drunkorexia is a complex one, she noted.
“While it is clear that college women who drink more are more likely than men to engage in bulimic-type behaviors, and with greater frequency, and to experience more alcohol-related problems as a result of these behaviors, there were no gender differences for engaging in drunkorexia to increase the effects of alcohol or engaging in bulimic-type behaviors to compensate for alcohol-related calories,” said Rinker.
She went on to report that in some cases, men were more likely to engage in bulimic-type and diet/exercising/calorie-restricted eating behaviors to reduce alcohol-related calories. She added that more research is necessary to gain a better understanding of these differences.
“It is important to realize that, in addition to the amount and/or frequency of alcohol consumption, the manner in which college students drink puts them at greatest risk for experiencing problems,” emphasized Rinker.
“Students who engage in compensatory dieting/exercise behaviors before, during, or after a drinking event to either increase the effects of alcohol or reduce alcohol calories by either engaging in bulimic-type or extreme dieting, exercise, or restrictive behaviors — such as skipping meals — are putting themselves at risk for serious negative consequences related to alcohol use,” said Rinker.
Furthermore, in order to reduce health problems associated with drinking, students should stay well-hydrated and not drink on an empty stomach. They should also eat healthy food and exercise, particularly on days they are drinking.
Source: Research Society on Alcoholism
A new review finds that media exposure to sex does not significantly influence teen sexual behavior.
As such, researchers say proclaiming a link between such so-called sexy media and the sexual behavior of young people is in fact premature. The media neither contributes to the early initiation of sex among young people, nor to their sexual conduct more generally.
The finding comes from a systematic analysis of 22 relevant studies on the topic. Christopher Ferguson of Stetson University and colleagues Patrick Markey at Villanova University and Rune Nielsen at IT University Copenhagen performed the review.
The results of the meta-analysis appear in the journal Psychiatric Quarterly.
Parents and policy makers often raise the concern that so-called sexy media (media depicting or discussing sexual encounters) may promote sexual behavior among teenagers.
The new review finds no conclusive evidence that this occurs.
Ferguson’s team conducted a meta-analysis of 22 previous studies that all measured the influence of some form of media on an outcome related to teenagers’ sexual behavior. Outcome behaviors included becoming pregnant, participation in risky sexual behavior, or the initiation of sex.
The studies in total took into account the views of more than 22,000 participants younger than 18 years old.
Researchers discovered only a very weak link between the type of media that teenagers viewed and their eventual sexual behavior. They also found media exposure to sex also plays only a very minor role in the initiation of sex.
The researchers do not exclude the possibility that sexy media may still influence sexual attitudes, but say that this does not seem to carry over into actual behavior.
“Evidence for an association between media and sexual behavior is minimal,” says Ferguson, who believes that parents and peers play a much greater role in how teenagers’ moral values around sexuality develops.
Despite increased availability of sex in the media, US government data suggests teens are waiting longer to have sex, and teen pregnancy rates are at historic lows.
The results do not exclude the possibility that media may have some influence on at-risk youth who are deprived of other socialization influences.
“That is to say, when information from parents or schools are lacking, media may become the only source of information on sexuality,” explains Ferguson.
Researchers warn that simply making the media the scapegoat and giving it considerable public attention might distract parents and policy makers from more pressing and important issues related to teen sexuality.
According to Ferguson, parents must be encouraged to discuss sexuality with their teens, proper sex-education programs must be implemented in schools, and ways should be examined by which peer networks can be used to promote safe sex.
“The encouraging message from our results is that the media is unlikely to thwart parental efforts to socialize children should parents take the initiative to talk directly to their children about sex,” Ferguson adds.
New research assessing motivational strategies discovers telling yourself that “I can do better at a given task,” is the most effect strategy as you really may do better.
In the study, UK researchers compared motivation techniques on more than 44,000 people with the participants divided into 12 experimental groups and one control group.
In conjunction with BBC Lab UK, Professor Andrew Lane and his colleagues tested if particular psychological skills would help people improve their scores in an online game.
Investigators wanted to discover if a particular tactic worked best.
This complex study, found in Frontiers in Psychology, examined if one motivational method would be more effective for any specific aspect of a task. The methods tested were self-talk, imagery, and if-then planning.
Each of these psychological skills was applied to one of four parts of a competitive task: process, outcome, arousal-control, and instruction.
People using self-talk, for example telling yourself “I can do better next time” — performed better than the control group in every portion of the task.
The greatest improvements were seen in self-talk-outcome (telling yourself, “I can beat my best score”), self-talk-process (telling yourself, “I can react quicker this time”), imagery-outcome (imagining yourself playing the game and beating your best score), and imagery-process (imagining yourself playing and reacting quicker than last time).
Investigators also found a short motivational video could improve performance.
Participants watched a short video before playing the online game. The coach for these videos was, none other than, four-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson, an athlete known for advocating mental preparedness in addition to physical training.
If-then planning was found to be one of the least successful of this study, despite being an effective tool in weight management and other real life challenges.
Professor Lane said: “Working on, ‘Can You Compete?’ was inspirational and educational; since we have been developing online interventions to help people manage their emotions and doing this across a range of specific contexts from delivering a speech to fighting in a boxing ring, from taking an exam to going into dangerous places.”
Academic research on the human compulsion to seek revenge suggests revenge is a complex emotion that is extremely difficult to explain.
Despite popular consensus that “revenge is sweet,” years of experimental research have suggested otherwise, finding that revenge is seldom as satisfying as anticipated and often leaves the avenger less happy in the long run.
Emerging research from Washington University in St. Louis expands our understanding of revenge, showing that our love-hate relationship with this dark desire is indeed a mixed bag, making us feel both good and bad, for reasons we might not expect.
“We show that people express both positive and negative feelings about revenge, such that revenge isn’t bitter, nor sweet, but both,” said the study’s first author, Fade Eadeh, a doctoral student in psychological and brain sciences.
“We love revenge because we punish the offending party and dislike it because it reminds us of their original act.”
The new study uses a provocative “use case” to provide a more nuanced understanding of both the benefits and drawbacks of revenge.
Its findings are based on three experiments in which about 200 people in each experiment were asked to fill out online questionnaires rating the intensity of moods and emotions triggered by their reading of brief news accounts. One of the events described the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces as a retaliation for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The experiments were designed to explore whether people are right in thinking that revenge has the potential to make them feel good, despite recent research that suggests otherwise.
“We wondered whether people’s intuitions about revenge are actually more accurate than originally anticipated,” Eadeh said.
“Why is there such a common cultural expectation that revenge feels sweet and satisfying? If revenge makes us feel worse, why did we see so many people cheering in the streets of D.C. and New York after the announcement of bin Laden’s death?”
In experiment one, participants read either a “justice-is-served” news account of bin Laden’s killing or a nonpolitical control passage about the Olympic Games.
They then rated how strongly their current feelings matched up with a random list of 25 adjectives, such as happy, edgy, satisfied, irritated, mad, upset, or sad.
Although this framework is similar to one used in a 2014 revenge study by Lambert, researchers modified the data analysis phase to focus on measures of emotion, as opposed to mood.
Lambert’s study and a 2008 revenge study led by the late Dr. Kevin Carlsmith at Colgate University both focused on mood and both found little evidence that revenge contributed positively toward it. Instead, people felt worse after taking revenge.
“In the case of the bin Laden assassination, this person is associated with an obviously horrific act — the 9/11 attacks, which provides reason why revenge may be an indirect source of negative feelings,” Eadeh said.
“What our current research shows is that the way you measure feelings can be quite important.”
In the current paper, the authors explain that although the terms emotion and mood are often used interchangeably by psychologists, there are important differences.
Emotions usually relate back to some clear and specific trigger and can be intense but are often fleeting. Moods, on the other hand, may come about gradually, last for an extended time, and are often of low intensity.
In this study, Eadeh and colleagues used sophisticated linguistic tools along with a standard mood inventory to tease apart the differences in self-reported emotions after reading a revenge-related passage.
This analysis replicated previous findings that showed reading about revenge put people in a worse mood, but it also found that the same experience was capable of generating positive feelings.
“Our paper consistently shows that the emotional consequences of revenge are a mixed bag, in that we feel both good and bad when we take revenge on another party. This counters some previous research on the topic, by our own lab and others, that revenge is a wholly negative experience,” Eadeh said.
To further test these findings, researchers repeated the experiment using different reading passages selected to avoid wording or content that might predispose readers toward a particular emotion or mood.
In an effort to avoid stimulating patriotic emotions, the Olympics control passage was swapped for a generic description of food allergies. Additionally, the Osama bin Laden passage was altered to remove wording that explicitly described the killing as retaliation for the 9/11 attacks.
Researchers found that despite these changes, the findings remained largely the same.
“We believe the reason people might feel good about revenge is because it allows us the opportunity to right a wrong and carry out the goal of punishing a bad guy,” Eadeh said.
“In our study, we found that Americans often expressed a great deal of satisfaction from bin Laden’s death, presumably because we had ended the life of a person that was the mastermind behind a terror organization.”
The study is forthcoming in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
Using the best available evidence on the impact of physical activity on children and young people, researchers find that time taken away from lessons for physical activity is time well spent and does not come at the cost of getting good grades.
The statement on physical activity in schools and during leisure time appears online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. It was drawn up by a panel of international experts with a wide range of specialties from the UK, Scandinavia, North America, and Denmark.
The document includes 21 separate statements on the four themes of fitness and health; intellectual performance; engagement, motivation, and well-being; and social inclusion. The recommendations encompass structured and unstructured forms of physical activity for six to to 18-year-olds in school and during leisure time.
- physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness are good for children’s and young people’s brain development and function as well as their intellect;
- a session of physical activity before, during, and after school boosts academic prowess;
- a single session of moderately energetic physical activity has immediate positive effects on brain function, intellect, and academic performance;
- mastery of basic movement boosts brain power and academic performance;
- time taken away from lessons in favour of physical activity does not come at the cost of getting good grades.
In terms of the physiological benefits of exercise, the Statement says that cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness “are strong predictors” of the risk of developing heart disease and type II diabetes in later life, and that vigorous exercise in childhood helps to keep these risk factors in check.
Experts also acknowledge that frequent moderate intensity and, to a lesser extent, low intensity exercise will still help improve kids’ heart health and their metabolism. Moreover, the positive effects of exercise are not restricted to physical health, says the Statement.
Experts contend that regular physical activity can help develop important life skills, and boost self-esteem, motivation, confidence, and wellbeing. And it can strengthen/foster relationships with peers, parents, and coaches.
And just as importantly, activities that take account of culture and context can promote social inclusion for those from different backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual orientation, skill levels, and physical capacity.
Incorporating physical activity into every aspect of school life and providing protected public spaces, such as bike lanes, parks, and playgrounds “are both effective strategies for providing equitable access to, and enhancing physical activity for, children and youth,” says the Statement.
Professor Craig Williams, director of the Children’s Health and Exercise Research Centre, Sport and Health Sciences at Exeter was one of eight international speakers invited to provide expert statements to aid Danish colleagues revise their national consensus guidelines.
Williams said, “Over the 30 years we have been researching the health and well-being of young people, we have seen the accumulation of pediatric data across physiological, psychological, environmental, and social issues.
“This 21-point consensus statement reflects the importance of enhanced physical activity, not just in schools but sports and recreational clubs, with the family, and even for those children with long term illness. At all levels of society, we must ensure that enhanced physical activity is put into practice.”
Source: University of Exeter
Children whose parents are emotionally or physically unavailable or whose families engage in weight-related teasing are more likely to develop binge eating habits, according to a new study at the University of Illinois. Parental weight, race, and income had no effect, however.
“This study found that childhood binge eating is really associated with parents’ weight-related beliefs, but not their actual weight, and their emotional availability but not necessarily the income availability,” said Jaclyn Saltzman, a doctoral researcher in human development and family studies, and a scholar in the Illinois Transdisciplinary Obesity Prevention Program.
Saltzman explains that childhood binge eating can lead to depression, obesity, and many weight and eating behavior problems as the child grows into adulthood. The key is early recognition and intervention.
“Intervening early to address binge eating may not only help prevent an eating disorder from emerging but also prevent lifetime habits of unhealthy weight-related behaviors.”
The research team focused on binge eating and loss-of-control eating behavior. Loss of control is traditionally considered a symptom of binge eating in adults, but Saltzman explains that, according to recent research in the field, loss of control is used as the hallmark of binge eating in young children, although this is not yet officially recognized in diagnostic manuals.
“Loss of control is something that researchers have used to describe binge eating in young children. The idea is that the size of the binge — the amount of food they eat — is less important than the feelings of being out of control or the stress about that eating behavior, especially in young kids, because they don’t have all that much control over the food that they have access to,” said Saltzman.
“Binge eating is feeling like you are not in control when you are eating. You are eating past the point of fullness and to the point of discomfort. You are experiencing a lot of emotional distress because of it,” she said.
For the study, Saltzman and Dr. Janet M. Liechty, a professor of medicine and of social work at University of Illinois, analyzed studies on childhood binge eating spanning the last 35 years. They found that very few studies had been conducted over the last decade on kids and binge eating in the family context.
The researchers began with over 700 potential studies, to which they applied strict inclusion criteria to locate only those that involved children under age 12, used reliable instruments, and stayed within the constructs of interest.
“That left us with 15 studies, which we screened with a tool to assess risk for bias so that we could comment on the strengths and limitations in the studies,” Saltzman said.
The findings show that poor parenting traits, such as ignoring, under-involvement, emotional non-responsiveness, and weight-related teasing in the family are associated with childhood binge eating.
Weight teasing is being made fun of, mocked, or “kidded with” about one’s weight, usually for being perceived as being overweight, Saltzman explains. “Family-based weight teasing would be any of those behaviors perpetrated by a family member, like a parent or a sibling.”
“We want to emphasize to parents that weight isn’t the ‘be all end all,’ and that focusing on weight too much can be damaging. Instead, focusing on giving kids the tools they need to manage their emotions, particularly emotions around eating and weight, can help strengthen children’s coping skills so they are less likely to need binge eating.” Saltzman said.
The findings show that childhood binge eating is not related to parental weight, education, economic situation, race, or ethnicity. “Actually, no studies found any association between these constructs and childhood binge eating,” Saltzman said.
A new study reveals that women who attended religious services had a lower risk of suicide compared with women who never attended services.
Suicide is among the 10 leading causes of death in the United States. In the research, Tyler J. VanderWeele, Ph.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health, and coauthors looked at associations between religious service attendance and suicide from 1996 through June 2010.
The researchers analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Study with their findings reported online in JAMA Psychiatry. The analysis included 89,708 women and self-reported attendance at religious services.
Among the women, who were mostly Catholic or Protestant, 17,028 attended more than once per week, 36,488 attended once per week, 14,548 attended less than once per week and 21,644 never attended based on self-reports at the study’s 1996 baseline.
Authors identified 36 suicides during follow-up.
Compared with women who never attended services, women who attended once per week or more had a five times lower risk of subsequent suicide, according to the results.
The authors note their study has limitations as they used observational data. Therefore, despite adjustment for possible interfering factors, it still could be subject to confounding by personality, impulsivity, feeling of hopelessness, or other cognitive factors.
The authors also note women in the study sample were mainly white Christians and female nurses, which can limit the study’s generalizability.
“Our results do not imply that health care providers should prescribe attendance at religious services. However, for patients who are already religious, service attendance might be encouraged as a form of meaningful social participation.
Religion and spirituality may be an under-appreciated resource that psychiatrists and clinicians could explore with their patients, as appropriate,” the study concludes.
Editorial: Association of Religious Involvement and Suicide
“What should mental health professional do with this information? … Thus, the findings by VanderWeele et al underscore the importance of obtaining a spiritual history as part of the overall psychiatric evaluation, which may identify patients who at one time were active in a faith community but have stopped for various reasons. …
Nevertheless, until others have replicated the findings reported here in studies with higher event rates (i.e., greater than 36 suicides), it would be wise to proceed cautiously and sensitively,” writes Harold G. Koenig, M.D., of Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C., in a related editorial.
Source: JAMA Psychiatry
New research from Canada supports a correlation between a motivation to seek accomplishment and an attraction to leisure.
Queen’s University biology professor Dr. Lonnie Aarssen investigated the maxim “work hard, play hard,” a saying that has been traced back to at least 1827.
“I’ve been interested for quite a while in two motivations that people seem to display — one I call legacy drive and one I call leisure drive,” said Aarssen.
Yet, despite its status as a standard in Western society, a statistical link between the two motives has never been quantified.
Aarssen, along with undergraduate student Laura Crimi, conducted a survey of over 1,400 undergraduate students at Queen’s. Participants were asked to identify their age, gender, religious affiliation, and cultural background. They were then asked a series of questions to determine their attraction to religion, parenthood, accomplishment or fame, and recreation.
While some degree of correlation was seen between most of the factors listed, there was a particularly strong correlation between attraction to both legacy and leisure activities. That is, those inclined to “work hard” tend also to “play hard.”
The results also suggest three distinct groupings of individuals based on their strongest motivational factors.
One group consisted of relatively apathetic types; those who displayed relatively weak attraction to parenthood, religion, work, and leisure. Another group distinguished themselves through high attraction to both religion and parenthood with moderate attraction to accomplishment and leisure.
A final group, the highly motivated “go-getters,” were highly attracted to parenthood as well as to accomplishment and leisure.
Aarssen suggests that the “work hard, play hard” motivation could serve an evolutionary purpose in humans, by presenting a means to divert our attention from our own mortality.
“We, unlike any other animals, are aware and concerned about our own self-impermanence,” Aarssen said. That is, we are aware that we have a limited time on this earth.
“Legacy drive and leisure drive have potential to explain our ability to buffer this anxiety. Between these two drives, our ancestors were able to distract from their own self-impermanence, allowing them to cope with the anxiety and thus minimize its potential negative impact on reproductive success.”
The study is available online in the Open Psychology Journal.
Source: Queen’s University
A new study reports that programs to prevent prescription abuse are in place, but underutilized. The finding comes at a time when prescription drug abuse is a raging epidemic across America.
Celebrity deaths like that of Prince and Heath Ledger have heightened the sensitivity of Americans on the problem. Moreover, the realization that the addiction is a true public health problem — with addictions across the population from teens to seniors — has led legislators to call for programs to combat the abuse.
The new study is informative in showing that programs already exist for the addiction, yet they are underutilized. The report comes out of Maine, one of the U.S. states hardest hit by the “epidemic” of prescription painkiller and heroin abuse. Researchers say that although there have been some positive trends recently, there are also troubling ones.
The study appears in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
Investigators report that in 2014, a high percentage of women in their 80s — 38 percent — had prescriptions for powerful painkilling medications known as opioids.
“That’s very concerning,” said researcher Stephanie Nichols, Pharm.D., of Husson University School of Pharmacy in Bangor, Maine.
For one, she explained, elderly people have a higher rate of respiratory conditions, which makes them more susceptible to an accidental opioid overdose.
What’s more, the study found, women in their 80s were also commonly prescribed sedatives known as benzodiazepines. If one of those medications were combined with an opioid, that would also raise the risk of a potentially fatal overdose, Nichols said.
Prescription opioids include medications like hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), codeine, and morphine. Abuse of these substances is common with the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse estimating 52 million Americans have abused a prescription drug — with opioid painkillers at the top of the list.
In response, most U.S. states have established prescription-monitoring programs (PMPs) — electronic databases that track prescriptions for opioids and other controlled substances. Health care providers can use the programs to identify possible cases of prescription drug misuse and help patients get treatment for addiction if needed.
But although Maine has had a monitoring program since 2004, Nichols’s team found that in 2014, many pharmacists were not using it. Of 275 pharmacists they surveyed, only 56 percent said they were using the program.
Doctors and other health care providers use the system, but it’s still important for pharmacists to be linked in, too, according to Nichols.
“Often, the pharmacist is the ‘last line of defense,’ for patient safety,” she said.
Based on the state’s PMP, opioids were prescribed to 22 percent of Maine residents in 2014 — enough to supply every person in the state with a 16-day supply.
That figure is down slightly from 2010, Nichols said. “But it’s still a very large number,” she added.
In an encouraging sign, though, prescriptions for oxycodone and hydrocodone were lower in 2014, but prescriptions for buprenorphine were up sharply. Buprenorphine is an opioid, but it’s typically used to treat opioid addiction.
“I think that’s a positive trend, because we interpret that as an increase in treatment of people with an opioid use disorder,” Nichols said.
Still, she added, more can be done. That includes getting health care providers and pharmacists on board with existing programs and increasing the accessibility and usability of those programs.
Maine has not only a PMP, Nichols pointed out, but also a diversion alert program — which allows providers to see whether a patient has a history of drug-related arrests.
“We have resources to help tackle the opioid epidemic,” Nichols said, “but we’re underusing them.”
A second study in the same issue of JSAD looked at another type of program aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse. The program involves drug “take-backs,” that is local events where people can bring their unneeded or expired prescriptions for safe disposal.
In the study, Itzhak Yanovitzky, Ph.D., of Rutgers University in New Jersey, surveyed over 900 New Jersey adults and found that efforts to raise public awareness of local take-back programs seem to work.
People who’d seen media stories on drug take-back — or even just signs at their local drug store — were twice as likely to have used the programs in the past 30 days as other state residents were.
It suggests that if people are aware of local take-back programs, many will actually use them, according to the study.
Anti-anxiety medications may lower levels of empathy, according to a new rat study by neuroscientists at the University of Chicago.
Research has shown that rats are often emotionally motivated to help other rats in distress and routinely free their trapped friends. However, the new findings show that rats who were given midazolam, an anti-anxiety medication, were less likely to free their trapped companions.
Midazolam did not affect the rats’ physical ability to open the restrainer door. In fact, rats on this medication routinely opened the door for a piece of chocolate but did not feel motivated enough to open the door for their stressed companions. The findings suggest that motivation to help others relies on emotional reactions, which are dampened by the anti-anxiety medication.
“The rats help each other because they care,” said Peggy Mason, Ph.D., professor of neurobiology at the University of Chicago. “They need to share the affect of the trapped rat in order to help, and that’s a fundamental finding that tells us something about how we operate, because we’re mammals like rats too.”
The researchers used a rat-helping test originally established in a 2011 study published in the journal Science by Mason, Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, Ph.D., a post-doctoral scholar now at the University of California, Berkeley, and Jean Decety, Ph.D., Irving B. Harris Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Chicago.
In those first experiments, one rat was kept in a restrainer — a closed tube with a door that can be nudged open only from the outside. The second rat roamed free in the cage around the restrainer, able to see and hear the trapped cage mate.
In that study, the free rats quickly figured out how to release their trapped cage mates, seen by the researchers as a sign of empathy for their companions in distress. In the latest research, rats injected with midazolam did not free their trapped companions, although they did open the same restrainer when that restrainer contained chocolate chips.
According to the study, stress — such as seeing and hearing a trapped companion — triggers the adrenal gland and sympathetic nervous system and causes physical symptoms such as increased heart rate and high blood pressure.
To determine whether the rats’ helping behavior was driven by these physical changes, the researchers conducted another set of experiments by giving the rats nadolol, a beta-blocker similar to those used to treat high blood pressure. Nadolol prevents the pounding heart and other bodily signs of a stress response. But even those rats who were given nadolol were just as likely to help their companions as those injected with saline or nothing at all.
“What that tells you is that they don’t have to be physiologically, peripherally aroused in order to help. They just have to care inside their brain,” Mason said.
Mason said that this study further confirms the previous research that rats, and by extension other mammals — including humans — are motivated to help others through empathy.
“Helping others could be your new drug. Go help some people and you’ll feel really good,” she said. “I think that’s a mammalian trait that has developed through evolution. Helping another is good for the species.”
The findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
A new study finds that parents who are too involved with their college-age kids could indirectly lead to issues such as depression and anxiety.
“Helicopter parents are parents who are overly involved,” said Florida State University doctoral candidate Kayla Reed. “They mean everything with good intentions, but it often goes beyond supportive to intervening in the decisions of emerging adults.”
Reed and Assistant Professor of Family and Child Sciences Dr. Mallory Lucier-Greer explain that what has been called “helicopter parenting” can have a meaningful impact on how young adults see themselves and whether they can meet challenges or handle adverse situations.
Though much attention has been paid to the notion of helicopter parenting, most of the studies have focused on adolescents.
The current study, found online in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, specifically examined emerging adults, or college-aged students navigating the waters of attending college.
Researchers surveyed more than 460 college students, ages 18 to 25, seeking to learn how their mothers influenced their life decisions. Specifically, researchers asked students how their mothers would respond to sample situations. Investigators looked at mothers because they are traditionally in the primary caregiver role.
Researchers also asked students to self-assess their abilities to persist in complicated tasks or adverse situations and then also rate their depression, life satisfaction, anxiety, and physical health.
Students who had mothers who allowed them more autonomy reported higher life satisfaction, physical health, and self-efficacy. However, students with a so-called helicopter parent were more likely to report low levels of self-efficacy, or the ability to handle some tougher life tasks and decisions.
In turn, those who reported low levels of self-efficacy also reported higher levels of anxiety and depression, and lower life satisfaction and physical health.
“The way your parents interact with you has a lot to do with how you view yourself,” Lucier-Greer said. “If parents are simply being supportive, they are saying things like ‘you can manage your finances, you can pick out your classes.’
“It changes if they are doing that all for you. I think there are good intentions behind those helicopter behaviors, but at the end of the day you need to foster your child’s development.”
Sample scenarios given to students included questions about whether their mothers would encourage them to resolve a conflict with a roommate or friend on his or her own, or whether their mothers would actively intervene in the situation.
Other sample questions probed whether mothers regularly asked students to text or call at given intervals and whether the mothers were controlling their diets.
Researchers hope to continue this line of work in the future by expanding the work to look at both mothers and fathers and also young adults as they enter the workforce.
Source: Florida State University
A new UK study has discovered emergency service workers at risk for mental health issues can be identified by screening during their first week of training.
Individuals at risk can then receive preventative interventions to increase mental resilience to stress and trauma.
In the study, researchers from the University of Oxford and King’s College London studied trainee paramedics to see if they could identify risk factors that made people more likely to suffer post-traumatic stress (PTSD) or major depression (MD).
Dr. Jennifer Wild from the University of Oxford explained, “Emergency workers are regularly exposed to stressful and traumatic situations and some of them will experience periods of mental illness. Some of the factors that make that more likely can be changed through resilience training, reducing the risk of PTSD, and depression.
“We wanted to test whether we could identify such risk factors, making it possible to spot people at higher risk early in their training and to develop interventions that target these risk factors to strengthen their resilience.”
Investigators followed a group of around 400 new ambulance staff through the first two years of their three-year training period.
During the initial six-week classroom phase of the training, the students were given a number of assessments to establish their thinking styles, coping behavior, psychiatric history, and personality traits.
Follow up sessions were carried out every four months for the next two years to see if any of the participants had had PTSD or depression. After two years, a final assessment looked at quality of life, as well as smoking, alcohol and drug use, days off work, weight change, burnout, and insomnia.
Researcher Dr. Anke Ehlers said, “While just under one in five experienced PTSD or depression in the two years, most got better by the next four-month follow-up.
“However, there were still lasting effects. Those who had reported mental ill health were more likely to have sleep problems at two years. They were also more likely to have days off work. Paramedics who developed an episode of PTSD were also more likely to report gaining weight and smoking.”
The team found that even accounting for past psychiatric history, people were more likely to experience PTSD and depression if they had lower perceived resilience to trauma, or if they dwelled on stressful events from the past before they started their training.
Significantly, the number of traumatic incidents they experienced could not be used to predict PTSD but was relevant to predicting major depression, suggesting a cumulative risk of different exposures to trauma for depression.
“This is not about screening out particular people in training,” Wild said. “Early assessment means that those who are more at risk can be offered training to improve their resilience to stressful and traumatic experiences. That has the potential to reduce episodes of PTSD and major depression and improve the long term health of a valued and essential workforce.”
Source: University of Oxford/EurekAlert
Emerging research finds that living in an urban community blessed with greenery such as parks, golf courses, or fields, appears to reduce teen aggression.
Experts explain that studies have shown that the families we grow up in, the places we work, and the friends we keep (our social environment) play a large role in influencing behavior.
Nevertheless, the influence of the physical environment on behavior, has not received extensive inquiry.
To address this void, researchers at the University of Southern California recently conducted the first longitudinal study to see whether greenery surrounding the home could reduce aggressive behaviors in a group of Southern California adolescents living in urban communities.
The study will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP).
The team, part of the Department of Preventive Medicine and the Department of Psychology, followed 1,287 adolescents, age nine to 18 years. They assessed the adolescents’ aggressive behaviors every two to three years, asking parents if their child physically attacked or threatened others, destroyed things, or exhibited other similar behaviors.
The researchers then linked the adolescents’ residential locations to satellite data to measure the levels of greenery in their neighborhoods.
The study found that nine to 18-year-olds who lived in places with more greenery had significantly less aggressive behaviors than those living in neighborhoods with less greenery. Both short-term (one to six months) and long-term (one to three years) exposure to greenspace within 1,000 meters surrounding residences were associated with reduced aggressive behaviors.
The behavioral benefit of greenspace equated to approximately two to two and a half years of adolescent maturation.
Interestingly, factors such as age, gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, parents’ educational background, occupation, income level, or marital status, and whether their mother smoked while pregnant or was depressed, did not affect the findings.
The results were validated by the finding that the green space benefits existed for both boys and girls of all ages and races/ethnicities. Moreover, the benefits spanned across populations with different socioeconomic backgrounds and living in communities with different neighborhood quality.
“Identifying effective measures to reduce aggressive and violent behaviors in adolescents is a pressing issue facing societies worldwide,” said Diana Younan, M.P.H., doctoral candidate at the Keck School of Medicine.
“It is important that we target aggressive behaviors early on. Our study provides new evidence that increasing neighborhood greenery may be an effective alternative intervention strategy for an environmental public health approach that has not been considered yet.”
Based on the study’s findings, University of Southern California investigators estimate that increasing greenery levels commonly seen in urban environments could result in a 12 percent decrease in clinical cases of aggressive behavior in California adolescents living in urban areas.
Researchers conclude that these results support the benefits of greenery in decreasing aggressive behaviors for adolescents living in urban communities.
Children who are the victims of sexual and/or physical abuse or who witness chronic parental violence are far more at risk of becoming substance abusers as adults, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Toronto.
“We found that both direct (physical and sexual abuse) and indirect (witnessing parental domestic violence) forms of childhood victimization are associated with substance abuse,” said lead author, Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson, Sandra Rotman Endowed Chair at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and Institute for Life Course & Aging.
The findings show that one in five drug-dependent adults and one in six alcohol-dependent adults experienced childhood sexual abuse, compared to one in 19 in the general Canadian population. One in seven adults with drug or alcohol dependence had been exposed to chronic parental domestic violence, compared to one in 25 in the general population.
According to the study, parental violence was considered “chronic” if it occurred 11 or more times before the child turned 16.
“We were surprised that chronic parental domestic violence exposure remained significantly associated with both drug and alcohol dependence, even when we adjusted for childhood maltreatment, depression and most of the known risk factors for substance dependency,” said Fuller-Thomson.
“In fact, the odds of alcohol dependency among those who witnessed their parents’ chronic domestic violence were about 50 percent higher than those without that exposure, and these odds were similar in magnitude to that of childhood sexual abuse.”
More research is needed to understand the pathways through which witnessing chronic parental violence and childhood maltreatment may increase the prevalence of drug and alcohol dependence across the life course.
Fuller-Thomson suggests that “the chronic chaotic and violent home environment may have predisposed individuals to turn to alcohol or drugs as a way of coping.”
For the study, researchers analyzed data from a representative sample of 21,544 adult Canadians drawn from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health components. At some point in their lifetime, 628 of these respondents had been dependent upon drugs and 849 had been dependent upon alcohol.
“Our findings underline the importance of preventing childhood abuse and domestic violence. In addition, social workers and other health professionals must continue to support survivors of these childhood adversities across the lifespan, with particular attention to substance abuse and dependence issues, added co-author Jessica Roane.
Other significant predictors of both alcohol and drug dependence include lower levels of education, poverty, being male, being single as opposed to married, and a history of depression and/or anxiety disorders.
The findings are published online in the journal Substance Use and Misuse.
Source: University of Toronto
A new, first-of-its-kind study examines the connection between teacher burnout and students’ stress levels.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia collected saliva samples from over 400 elementary school children, grades four to seven, at 17 public schools.
Cortisol levels were then assessed from the samples as the hormone is commonly used as a biological indicator of stress. Correspondingly, teacher burnout was determined through survey results.
Investigators found that in classrooms in which teachers experienced more burnout, or feelings of emotional exhaustion, students’ cortisol levels were elevated.
Indeed, the relationship between student stress and teacher burnout is a chicken and egg question.
The study appears in the journal Social Science & Medicine.
Higher cortisol levels in elementary school children have been linked to learning difficulties as well as mental health problems.
“This suggests that stress contagion might be taking place in the classroom among students and their teachers,” said Eva Oberle, Ph.D., the study’s lead author.
“It is unknown what came first, elevated cortisol or teacher burnout. We consider the connection between student and teacher stress a cyclical problem in the classroom.”
Oberle said a stressful classroom climate could be a result of inadequate support for teachers, which may impact teachers’ ability to effectively manage their students.
A poorly managed classroom can contribute to students’ needs not being met and increasing stress. This could be reflected in elevated cortisol levels in students.
Alternatively, stress could originate from students, who may be more challenging to teach because of increases in anxiety, behavioral problems, or special needs. In this scenario, teachers could feel overwhelmed and report higher levels of burnout.
“Our study is a reminder of the systemic issues facing teachers and educators as classroom sizes increase and supports for teachers are cut,” said Oberle.
“It is clear from a number of recent research studies that teaching is one of the most stressful professions, and that teachers need adequate resources and support in their jobs in order to battle burnout and alleviate stress in the classroom,” said University of British Columbia education professor Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, Ph.D., the study’s co-author.
“If we do not support teachers, we risk the collateral damage of students.”
In a recently published case study, doctors describe how a woman with treatment-resistant depression was eventually diagnosed with a brain tumor.
“Depressive symptoms may be the only expression of brain tumors,” Dr. Sophie Dautricourt of Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Caen, France, and colleagues write in BMJ Case Reports. “Thus, it is challenging to suspect a brain tumor when patients with depression have a normal neurological examination.”
They illustrate this phenomena by outlining the case of a 54-year-old woman who had been depressed for six months. She was experiencing apathy, difficulties making decisions, sleep disorders, suicidal thoughts, and problems with concentration and attention.
There was no personal or family history of mental illness, but she had recently gone through several stressful events. The antidepressant fluoxetine and the anti-anxiety medication bromazepam had no effect and were discontinued after five months.
Once the patient was given a brain CT scan and MRI scan, it became clear she had several meningiomas, common tumors of the central nervous system, with a giant meningioma in the left frontal lobe. These tumors are not usually cancerous, and affect the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. They can lead to erosion and thinning of the skull.
The left frontal lobe “is an area known to have an important role in the development of depression for patients with tumors in the brain,” the experts write.
“Her meningiomatosis improved after surgery,” they add. “The depressive symptoms disappeared within one month. This case highlights the importance of identifying signs of brain tumor in patients with depression.”
The experts write that psychiatric symptoms such as depression, mania, hallucinations, anxiety disorders, and anorexia nervosa, even without any neurological signs, may be a sign of a brain tumor, although “it seems unrealistic to prescribe brain imaging in every patient with a depressive syndrome.”
A study published in May 2016 investigated the rate of significant psychiatric symptoms in patients with meningiomas and found that they affect up to 35 percent of patients. Dr. Kalyan Bommakanti of Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, India, and colleagues also looked at the factors that influence these psychiatric symptoms, and the effects of surgery.
They recruited 57 meningioma patients aged 15 and 65 years seen in the hospital between 2006 and 2009. Psychiatric symptoms occurred most often in the group with meningiomas in the temporal area (60 percent), followed by the frontal area (46 percent).
Tumors located in the frontal cerebral lobe were associated with more severe depressive symptoms than tumors in the posterior brain region. Overall risk of psychiatric symptoms was much higher for patients with larger meningiomas rather than smaller tumors.
Following surgery, none of the patients developed new psychiatric symptoms. Among those with psychiatric symptoms, 45 percent completely recovered, 40 percent partly recovered, and 15 percent did not improve at all.
In the journal Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery, they write, “Surgical excision of meningiomas ameliorates the psychiatric symptoms, either completely or partly, in the majority of patients.”
Commenting on her case study, Dautricourt says that the location of the tumor “points to an important role in the development of depression for patients with a brain tumor.” She explains, “Disruption of the frontolimbic connections appears to play a more important role than the frontal cortex lesions themselves, in the development of depressive mood states.”
She states, “Detecting a brain tumor in patients with depression is a primary concern. Indeed, removing a brain tumor can mitigate brain damage, but may also decrease or alleviate depressive symptoms.”
Currently, there is no consensus on when to carry out brain imaging in patients with depressive syndromes.
The team recommends brain imaging in cases with some abnormalities in a neurological examination, or in the absence of neurological signs, when there is late onset of depressive syndrome (after 50 years of age); treatment-resistant depression; or apathy without dysphoric manifestations or with a reduced emotional response.
There is also some debate among experts over the need for brain imaging when the patient has new-onset psychosis, new-onset mood or memory symptoms, new or atypical psychiatric symptoms, and personality changes.
“In conclusion,” they write, “we recommend using brain imaging for tracking these clinical particularities in patients with depression. This approach can lead to an early diagnosis of brain tumors and, thus, improve the functional and vital prognosis of these patients.”
Dautricourt, S. et al. Meningiomatosis revealed by a major depressive syndrome. BMJ Case Reports, 23 December 2015 doi:10.1136/bcr-2015-211909
Bommakanti, K. et al. Pre-operative and post-operative psychiatric manifestations in patients with supratentorial meningiomas. Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery, 17 May 2016 doi: 10.1016/j.clineuro.2016.05.018
A survey of approximately 68,000 adults suggests lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults experience substantially higher rates of severe psychological distress, heavy drinking and smoking, and impaired physical health than heterosexuals.
Researchers used information obtained by the National Health Interview Survey, believed to be the most representative health sample conducted to date. The results were reported in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine by researchers at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and University of Minnesota School of Public Health.
The findings, which support earlier findings of smaller, less representative surveys of the LGB and transgender community, “should serve as a call to health care professionals and public health practitioners to pay particular attention to … this small, diverse and vulnerable population,” the authors concluded.
“This study adds to the previous research on LGBT health disparities and has important implications for policy and practice,” said Gilbert Gonzales, Ph.D., M.H.A., the study’s corresponding author and assistant professor of Health Policy at Vanderbilt.
“Clinicians, health care providers and health policymakers should be sensitive to the health and social issues affecting LGBT patients,” he said. Gonzales’ co-authors were Julia Przedworski and Carrie Henning-Smith, Ph.D., M.P.H., M.S.W., at the University of Minnesota.
Beginning in 2013, the National Health Interview Survey, which has been administered by the U.S. Census Bureau for nearly 60 years, included a question on sexual orientation.
Responses from the 2013 and 2014 surveys revealed the following results. Compared to heterosexuals:
- gay men were more likely to report severe psychological distress, heavy drinking, and moderate smoking;
- bisexual men were more likely to report severe psychological distress, heavy drinking, and heavy smoking;
- lesbian women were more likely to report moderate psychological distress, poor or fair health, multiple chronic conditions, heavy drinking, and heavy smoking; and
- bisexual women were more likely to report multiple chronic conditions, severe psychological distress, heavy drinking, and moderate smoking.
Previous studies have linked the poorer health outcomes in this group to “the chronic stress of being a member of a marginalized minority group,” the report said.
Researchers theorize that discriminatory environments and policies can “engender feelings of rejection, shame and low self-esteem, which can negatively shape their health and health-related behaviors.”
The findings from the survey are essential for improving health and quality of life among LGBT adults. Researchers believe the information can help to establish baseline nationally representative estimates of the physical, functional and mental health status and health risk factors for LGBT adults.
The baseline information will help to eliminate health disparities and avoidable differences in health based on sexual orientation, the authors concluded.
Source: Vanderbilt University
Emerging research discovers chronic fatigue syndrome has physical rather than mental roots.
Until now, physicians have been unable to pinpoint the origin for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or link the condition to consistent abnormalities in body chemistry.
CFS is a condition where normal exertion leads to debilitating fatigue that isn’t alleviated by rest. There are no known triggers, and diagnosis requires lengthy tests administered by an expert.
Now, for the first time, Cornell University researchers report they have identified biological markers of the disease in gut bacteria and inflammatory microbial agents in the blood.
As described in the journal Microbiome, researchers describe how they correctly diagnosed myalgic encephalomyeletis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) in 83 percent of patients. Investigators used stool samples and blood work to determine CFS, offering a noninvasive diagnosis and a step toward understanding the cause of the disease.
“Our work demonstrates that the gut bacterial microbiome in chronic fatigue syndrome patients isn’t normal, perhaps leading to gastrointestinal and inflammatory symptoms in victims of the disease,” said Dr. Maureen Hanson, the paper’s senior author.
“Furthermore, our detection of a biological abnormality provides further evidence against the ridiculous concept that the disease is psychological in origin.”
“In the future, we could see this technique as a complement to other noninvasive diagnoses, but if we have a better idea of what is going on with these gut microbes and patients, maybe clinicians could consider changing diets, using prebiotics such as dietary fibers or probiotics to help treat the disease,” said Dr. Ludovic Giloteaux, a postdoctoral researcher and first author of the study.
In the study, researchers collaborated with Dr. Susan Levine, an ME/CFS specialist in New York City, who recruited 48 people diagnosed with ME/CFS and 39 healthy controls to provide stool and blood samples.
The researchers sequenced regions of microbial DNA from the stool samples to identify different types of bacteria. Overall, the diversity of types of bacteria was greatly reduced and there were fewer bacterial species known to be anti-inflammatory in ME/CFS patients compared with healthy people.
Interestingly, this is an observation often found in people with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
At the same time, the researchers discovered specific markers of inflammation in the blood, likely due to a leaky gut from intestinal problems that allow bacteria to enter the blood, Giloteaux said.
Bacteria in the blood will trigger an immune response, which could worsen symptoms.
The researchers have no evidence to distinguish whether the altered gut microbiome is a cause or a whether it is a consequence of disease, Giloteaux added.
In the future, the research team will look for evidence of viruses and fungi in the gut, to see whether one of these or an association of these along with bacteria may be causing or contributing to the illness.
Source: Cornell University