Archive for July 25th, 2012

Drug Use And Antisocial Behavior Strongly Linked With Adolescent Pregnancy


Editor’s Choice
Main Category: Pregnancy / Obstetrics
Also Included In: Depression;  Mental Health;  Psychology / Psychiatry
Article Date: 25 Jul 2012 – 10:00 PDT

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Numerous studies have been conducted on the impacting factors for pregnancy outcomes in young women, yet so far, no study has established which of these factors are the most important and the impact of depression on pregnancy outcomes is particularly unclear.

Researchers from Norway’s Institute of Public Health and the Centre for Adolescent Health, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute together with Australian researchers from the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne have now discovered that the most significant risks for becoming pregnant and abortions in young adulthood are adolescent antisocial and drug use behavior.

The researchers examined the link between depressive symptoms in 14 to 18 year old adolescent girls and their pregnancy outcomes aged between 21 to 24 years as young adults.

The research included data from 988 young Australian women who participated in The Victorian Adolescent Health Cohort Study, a longitudinal study who were followed from age 14 in 1992 until today.

The team defined pregnancy outcomes as becoming pregnant, as well as completing and/or terminating a pregnancy. The researchers checked participants for depressive symptoms six times during adolescence. Pregnancy outcomes were evaluated twice during young adulthood.

The participants were also surveyed in terms of their degree of antisocial behavior, including vandalism, car damage, graffiti, fighting, theft and expulsion from school and drug use, including smoking, cannabis and alcohol during their teenage years in order to assess other possible influences on pregnancy outcomes. The researchers also took into consideration the women’s socio-economic data, including parental education and marital status and discovered an elevated risk of pregnancy in those who reported high depressive symptoms on several occasions during adolescence in comparison with those who reported no such symptoms.

However, the researchers observed that this link was eliminated when they considered the participants’ antisocial and drug use behavior, as well as socio-economic variables. They noted, in particular, that adolescent antisocial and drug use behavior had the strongest link to becoming pregnant and having an abortion in young adulthood.

Leading author, Wendy Nilsen, said:

“The findings support previous research that suggests a relationship between depression and pregnancy outcomes, but indicate that this relationship either is confounded with or can be explained by antisocial and drug use behavior.”

The research therefore demonstrates the importance of accounting for other possible causal factors in addition to the factor of initial interest.

Nilsen explains:

” The findings are useful because they underscore the relationship between antisocial and drug use behavior and pregnancy outcomes in young women. More studies are nevertheless needed before one can say anything clear about the causal relations, but the results suggest that selectively helping young people with a history of antisocial and drug use behavior may improve the future sexual and reproductive health outcomes in this group.”

The findings are also significant in relation to earlier research that was mainly based on pregnancy outcomes in teenagers, and not in young adults. Whilst in 1971, the average age of first-time mothers in most Western countries was 25 years, nowadays the term “early pregnancy” also applies to pregnancy in young adulthood with first-time mothers average age being 31 years.

The study outcome indicates that some of the same factors, such as antisocial and drug use behavior, which are linked to pregnancy outcomes in teenagers also relate to pregnancy outcomes in young adult women. The researchers suggest that the difference in the average age of first-time mothers validates further studies into pregnancy, lifestyle and mental health, and Nilsen concludes: “Further research could look at whether getting pregnant in young adulthood affects some life role transitions, such as establishing a career and/or family.”

Written by Petra Rattue
Copyright: Medical News Today
Not to be reproduced without permission of Medical News Today

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Genetic Link Found to Rapid Weight Gain from Antipsychotic Meds


Genetic Link Found to Rapid Weight Gain from Antipsychotic MedsScientists have discovered two genetic variants associated with substantial, rapid weight gain occurring in nearly half of patients treated with antipsychotic medications.

The results from two studies from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Canada could eventually be used to identify which patients have the variations, enabling doctors to choose strategies to prevent this serious side effect and offer more personalized treatment, the researchers note.

“Weight gain occurs in up to 40 percent of patients taking medications called second-generation or atypical antipsychotics, which are used because they’re effective in controlling the major symptoms of schizophrenia,” said Dr. James Kennedy, senior author of the study.

The weight gain can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart problems and a shortened life span, he noted.

“Identifying genetic risks leading to these side effects will help us prescribe more effectively,” said Kennedy. Currently, the center screens for two other genetic variations that affect patients’ responses to psychiatric medications.

Each study identified a different variation near the melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R) gene, which is known to be linked to obesity.

In the latest study, people carrying two copies of a variant gained about three times as much weight as those with one or no copies, after six to 12 weeks of treatment with atypical antipsychotics.

The study had four patient groups: Two from the U.S., one in Germany, and one from a larger European study. Three of the four groups had never taken atypical antipsychotics.

Different groups were treated with drugs such as olanzapine, risperidone, aripiprazole or quetiapine, and compliance was monitored to ensure the treatment regime was followed, the researchers said. Weight and other metabolic-related measures were taken at the start and during treatment.

“The weight gain was associated with this genetic variation in all these groups, which included pediatric patients with severe behavior or mood problems, and patients with schizophrenia experiencing a first episode or who did not respond to other antipsychotic treatments,” noted researcher Dr. Daniel Müller.

“The results from our genetic analysis combined with this diverse set of patients provide compelling evidence for the role of this MC4R variant. Our research group has discovered other gene variants associated with antipsychotic-induced weight gain in the past, but this one appears to be the most compelling finding thus far.”

The gene’s role in antipsychotic-induced weight gain was identified in a study published earlier this year in The Pharmacogenomics Journal. Researchers
found a different variation on MC4R that was linked to the side effect.

For both studies, CAMH researchers did genotyping experiments to identify the single changes to the sequence of the MC4R gene — known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) — related to the drug-induced weight gain side effect.

The MC4R gene encodes a receptor involved in the brain pathways regulating weight, appetite and satiety. “We don’t know exactly how the atypical antipsychotics disrupt this pathway, or how this variation affects the receptor,” said Müller. “We need further studies to validate this result and eventually turn this into a clinical application.”

The recent study is published online in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Source: The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)

DNA photo by shutterstock.

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Involved Dads Boost Behavioral Outcomes at Year 1


Involved Dads Boost Behavioral Outcomes at Year 1 Children whose fathers are more engaged with them at 3 months have fewer behavioral problems at 12 months, according to new research.

Researchers at the University of Oxford studied 192 families recruited from two maternity units in the UK to see whether there was a link between father-child interactions in the early postnatal period and the child’s behavior.

“We found that children whose fathers were more engaged in the interactions had better outcomes, with fewer subsequent behavioral problems,” said Dr. Paul Ramchandani, who led the study.

“At the other end of the scale, children tended to have greater behavioral problems when their fathers were more remote and lost in their own thoughts, or when their fathers interacted less with them.”

The association tended to be stronger for boys than for girls, suggesting that boys may be more susceptible to the influence of their fathers from a very early age, he said.

“We don’t yet know whether the fathers being more remote and disengaged are actually causing the behavioral problems in the children, but it does raise the possibility that these early interactions are important,” he added.

The researchers believe there are a number of possible explanations for the link. The lack of engagement by the father could reflect wider problems in family relationships, with fathers who are in a more troubled relationship with their partners finding it more challenging to engage with their infants, they said.

Alternatively, it may reflect a lack of supervision and care for the infant, resulting in an increase in behavioral problems.

Another possibility is that the infant’s behavior represents its attempts to elicit a parental reaction in response to an earlier lack of parental engagement, the researchers said.

“Focusing on the infant’s first few months is important as this is a crucial period for development and the infant is very susceptible to environmental influences, such as the quality of parental care and interaction,” Ramchandani said.

“As every parent knows, raising a child is not an easy task. Our research adds to a growing body of evidence which suggests that intervening early to help parents can make a positive impact on how their infant develops.”

The research was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Source: Wellcome Trust

Father with infant photo by shutterstock.

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Mindfulness Practice Helps Seniors Combat Loneliness


Mindfulness Practice Helps Elders Combat LonelinessLoneliness can be a major risk factor for health conditions such as depression, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s. It is especially problematic among seniors, for whom seclusion and isolation may even lead to death.

Experts say that modern strategies to reduce loneliness in the elderly population — by participation in social networking programs in community centers — have not been successful. But a new study finds that a new/old approach may provide an innovative solution.

In the investigation, J. David Creswell, Ph.D., from Carnegie Mellon University looked at the use of mindfulness meditation to reduce loneliness in older adults.

In the review, researchers found that mindfulness meditation — a 2,500-year-old practice dating back to Buddha that focuses on creating an attentive awareness of the present moment — not only reduced loneliness but also lowered inflammation levels.

Inflammation is believed to promote the development and progression of many diseases.

These findings, published in Brain, Behavior & Immunity, provide valuable insights into how mindfulness meditation training can be used as a novel approach for reducing loneliness and the risk of disease in older adults.

“We always tell people to quit smoking for health reasons, but rarely do we think about loneliness in the same way,” said Creswell.

“We know that loneliness is a major risk factor for health problems and mortality in older adults. This research suggests that mindfulness meditation training is a promising intervention for improving the health of older adults.”

For the study, the research team recruited 40 healthy adults aged 55-85 who indicated an interest in learning mindfulness meditation techniques. Each person was assessed at the beginning and end of the study using an established loneliness scale. Blood samples also were collected.

The participants were randomly assigned to receive either the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program or no treatment.

The MBSR program consisted of weekly two-hour meetings in which participants learned body awareness techniques — noticing sensations and working on breathing — and worked their way toward understanding how to mindfully attend to their emotions and daily life practices.

They also were asked to practice mindfulness meditation exercises for 30 minutes each day at home and attended a daylong retreat.

Investigators determined that eight weeks of the mindfulness meditation training decreased the participants’ loneliness.

They also discovered that participants reduced genetic blood inflammatory responses as well as a measure of C-Reactive Protein (CRP).

These findings suggest that mindfulness meditation training may reduce older adults’ inflammatory disease risk.

“Reductions in the expression of inflammation-related genes were particularly significant because inflammation contributes to a wide variety of the health threats including cancer, cardiovascular diseases and neurodegenerative diseases,” said study collaborator Steven Cole.

While the health effects of the observed gene expression changes were not directly measured in the study, Cole noted that “these results provide some of the first indications that immune cell gene expression profiles can be modulated by a psychological intervention.”

Creswell added that while this research suggests a promising new approach for treating loneliness and inflammatory disease risk in older adults, more work needs to be done.

“If you’re interested in using mindfulness meditation, find an instructor in your city,” he said. “It’s important to train your mind like you train your biceps in the gym.”

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

Elderly woman meditating photo by shutterstock.

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Social Networking for Jobs May Add to Income Inequality


Social Networks Help Americans Find Good JobsSocial networking for vocational prospecting appears to be more effective in the United States than in Germany.

In a new study, researchers from North Carolina State University discover that while informal networks help both European and American job-seekers, networks in America help job-seekers find higher paying positions.

But one downside is that the practice may lead to economic inequality.

“It is interesting to note that the open market system in the United States, with minimal labor regulations, actually sees people benefiting more from patronage — despite the expectation that open markets would value merit over social connections,” said doctoral student Richard Benton, who co-authored the research.

In the study, researchers examined survey data from the U.S. and Germany to compare the extent to which people find new jobs through “informal recruitment.”

Informal recruitment or networking occurs when a person who is not looking for a new job is approached with a job opportunity through social connections.

The study shows that, on average, informal recruitment is significantly more common in Germany, where approximately 40 percent of jobs are filled through informal recruitment — as opposed to approximately 27 percent of jobs in the United States.

However, the jobs people find through informal recruitment in the U.S. are much more likely to be high-wage managerial positions. Specifically, the odds that a job will be filled via networking increase by two percent for every dollar of hourly wage that the job pays.

For example, the odds that jobs paying $40 per hour ($80,000 per year) will be filled through informal recruitment are about 66 percent better than the odds that a minimum-wage job ($7.25 per hour) will be filled through informal recruitment.

By comparison, the researchers found that wages in Germany did not appear to be linked to how workers found their jobs.

“Ultimately, this suggests that U.S. economic institutions offer greater rewards to sponsorship and nepotism than what we see elsewhere, which could help to explain why inequality is so extreme here,” said Dr. Steve McDonald, an associate professor of sociology at NC State and lead author of the paper.

The study can be found online in the journal Social Forces.

Source: North Carolina State University

Man interviewing for a job photo by shutterstock.

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Memory Connections Change from Childhood to Adulthood


Memory Connections Change from Childhood to AdulthoodIn a new area of study, researchers explore how brain mechanisms for memory retrieval differ between adults and children.

Neuroscientists from Wayne State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered that while the memory systems are the same in many ways, the aging process appears to impart important differences in how we learn and respond to education.

Noa Ofen, Ph.D., an assistant professor in WSU’s Institute of Gerontology and Department of Pediatrics, says that cognitive ability, including the ability to learn and remember new information, dramatically changes between childhood and adulthood.

This ability parallels with dramatic changes that occur in the structure and function of the brain during these periods.

In the study, Ofen and her collaborative team tested the development of neural foundations of memory from childhood to young adulthood.

Researchers did this by exposing participants to pictures of scenes and then showing them the same scenes mixed with new ones. They then and asked them to judge whether each picture was presented earlier.

Participants made retrieval judgments while researchers collected images of their brains with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Using this method, the researchers were able to see how the brain remembers. “Our results suggest that cortical regions related to attentional or strategic control show the greatest developmental changes for memory retrieval,” said Ofen.

This finding suggests that older participants use the cortical regions of the brain to retrieve past memories more so than younger participants.

“We were interested to see whether there are changes in the connectivity of regions in the brain that support memory retrieval,” Ofen added.

“We found changes in connectivity of memory-related regions. In particular, the developmental change in connectivity between regions was profound even without a developmental change in the recruitment of those regions, suggesting that functional brain connectivity is an important aspect of developmental changes in the brain.”

Researchers say this study is unique as it is the first time that the development of connectivity within memory systems in the brain has been tested.

Findings suggest the brain continues to rearrange connections to achieve adult-like performance during development.

Future studies by Ofen and her research team will focus on modeling brain network connectivity, and applying these methods to study abnormal brain development.

The team’s findings are published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Source: Wayne State University

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Research Uncovers Yoga’s Stress Reduction Secrets


Research Uncovers Yoga's Stress Reduction SecretsResearchers have determined that yoga can help to relieve stress by reducing the associated cellular inflammation.

The recent study is a follow up to the discovery by UCLA scientists that a specific type of yoga — used for brief, simple daily meditation — reduced the stress levels of people who care for those stricken by Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Researchers discovered a certain form of chanting yogic meditation, practiced for 12 minutes daily for eight weeks, led to a reduction in the biological mechanisms responsible for an increase in the immune system’s inflammation response.

Scientists now that inflammation, if constantly activated, can contribute to a multitude of chronic health problems.

In a study of 45 family dementia caregivers, psychiatrist Dr. Helen Lavretsky and colleagues found a difference in genetic response after the Kirtan Kriya Meditation (KKM). The discovered that 68 genes responded differently after KKM, resulting in reduced inflammation.

The study is reported in the current online edition of the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Caregivers are the unsung heroes for their yeoman’s work in taking care of loved ones that have been stricken with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, said Lavretsky.

However, caring for a frail or demented family member can be a significant life stressor. Older adult caregivers report higher levels of stress and depression and lower levels of satisfaction, vigor and life in general.

Moreover, caregivers show higher levels of the biological markers of inflammation. Family members in particular are often considered to be at risk of stress-related disease and general health decline.

The issue is salient given the aging of America and the expected dramatic increase in prevalence of dementia. Currently, at least five million Americans provide care for someone with dementia.

“We know that chronic stress places caregivers at a higher risk for developing depression,” she said.

“On average, the incidence and prevalence of clinical depression in family dementia caregivers approaches 50 percent. Caregivers are also twice as likely to report high levels of emotional distress.”

Caregivers tend to be older themselves, leading to what Lavretsky calls an “impaired resilience” to stress and an increased rate of cardiovascular disease and mortality.

Experts have surmised that psychosocial interventions like meditation reduce the adverse effects of caregiver stress on physical and mental health. However, the pathways by which such psychosocial interventions impact biological processes are poorly understood.

In the study, the participants were randomized into two groups. The meditation group was taught the 12-minute yogic practice that included Kirtan Kriya, which was performed every day at the same time for eight weeks.

The other group was asked to relax in a quiet place with their eyes closed while listening to instrumental music on a relaxation CD, also for 12 minutes daily for eight weeks. Blood samples were taken at the beginning of the study and again at the end of the eight weeks.

“The goal of the study was to determine if meditation might alter the activity of inflammatory and antiviral proteins that shape immune cell gene expression,” said Lavretsky. “Our analysis showed a reduced activity of those proteins linked directly to increased inflammation.

“This is encouraging news. Caregivers often don’t have the time, energy, or contacts that could bring them a little relief from the stress of taking care of a loved one with dementia, so practicing a brief form of yogic meditation, which is easy to learn, is a useful too.”

Source: UCLA

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