Archive for category Depression

Good Foods Boost Moods


Good Foods Boost MoodsNew research reveals that some common foods enhance moods with a striking similarity to valproic acid, a widely used prescription mood-stabilizing drug.

“Molecules in chocolate, a variety of berries and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids have shown positive effects on mood. In turn, our studies show that some commonly used flavor components are structurally similar to valproic acid,” said Karina Martinez-Mayorga, Ph.D., leader of the research team, which presented its findings at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Valproic acid, which is sold under brand names such as Depakene, Depakote and Stavzor, is used to smooth out the mood swings of people with manic-depressive disorder and related conditions, she said.

“The large body of evidence that chemicals in chocolate, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, teas and certain foods could well be mood-enhancers encourages the search for other mood modulators in food,” she added.

While people have recognized the mood-altering properties of food for years, Martinez-Mayorga’s team is looking to identify the chemical compounds that moderate mood swings, help maintain cognitive health, improve mental alertness and delay the onset of memory loss.

Her study involved the use of techniques associated with chemoinformatics ― the application of informatic methods to solve chemical problems ― to screen the chemical structures of more than 1,700 food ingredients for similarities to antidepressant drugs and other agents with reported antidepressant activity.

She noted her team plans to move from analyzing the database to actually testing the flavor/mood hypothesis experimentally. The end result may be dietary recommendations or new nutritional supplements with beneficial mood effects, she said.

“It is important to remember that just eating foods that may improve mood is not a substitute for prescribed antidepressive drugs,” Martinez-Mayorga cautioned.

She added that eating specific foods and living a healthful lifestyle can generally boost moods for people who don’t require medication.

Karina Martinez-Mayorga, Ph.D., who described research done while working at the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies, is now with the Chemistry Institute at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Source: The American Chemical Society

Strawberries dipped in chocolate photo by shutterstock.

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Stress, Depression Reduce Brain Volume Thanks to Genetic ‘Switch’


Stress, Depression Reduce Brain Volume Thanks to Genetic 'Switch' Scientists have known that stress and depression can cause the brain to retract or lose volume, a condition associated with both emotional and cognitive impairment. Now, a new study discovers why this occurs.

Yale scientists have found that the deactivation of a single genetic switch can instigate a cascading loss of brain connections in humans and depression in animal models.

Researchers say the genetic switch, known as a transcription factor, represses the expression of several genes that are necessary for the formation of synaptic connections between brain cells. The loss of connections, in turn, can contribute to loss of brain mass in the prefrontal cortex, say the scientists.

“We wanted to test the idea that stress causes a loss of brain synapses in humans,” said senior author Ronald Duman, Ph.D. “We show that circuits normally involved in emotion, as well as cognition, are disrupted when this single transcription factor is activated.”

In the study, the research team analyzed tissue of depressed and non-depressed patients donated from a brain bank and looked for different patterns of gene activation.

The brains of patients who had been depressed exhibited lower levels of expression in genes that are required for the function and structure of brain synapses.

Lead author and postdoctoral researcher H.J. Kang, Ph.D., discovered that at least five of these genes could be regulated by a single transcription factor called GATA1.

When the transcription factor was activated in animal models, rodents exhibited depressive-like symptoms, suggesting GATA1 plays a role not only in the loss of connections between neurons but also in symptoms of depression.

This finding of genetic variations in GATA1 may help researchers identify people at high risk for major depression or sensitivity to stress.

“We hope that by enhancing synaptic connections, either with novel medications or behavioral therapy, we can develop more effective antidepressant therapies,” Duman said.

Source: Yale University

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Low Estrogen Linked to PTSD


Low Estrogen Linked to PTSDHigh levels of estrogen may help protect a woman from mood disorders, while low levels of the hormone can make a woman more susceptible to trauma at certain times in her menstrual cycle, according to new research by Harvard and Emory University neuroscientists.

Depression and anxiety disorders are twice as common in women as in men, but the reason for this gender difference has remained unclear.  The new research, however, suggests that women are most at risk for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when their estrogen is low during the menstrual cycle.

“PTSD is a disorder of recovery,” said author Mohammed Milad, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and director of the Behavioral Neuroscience Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

Men may be less susceptible to mood disorders since testosterone is regularly converted into estrogen in the male brain, resulting in a more steady flow of estrogen.

In healthy women and female rats, estrogen calms the fear response, according to the Harvard researchers, who were led by Kelimer Lebron-Milad, an HMS instructor of psychiatry.

The Emory researchers, led by postdoctoral researcher Ebony Glover, proved that the same is true for women suffering from PTSD. The higher their blood levels of estrogen were when they completed a fear-extinction task, the less likely women were to act startled.

Both studies used “fear-conditioning” experiments, in which the participant is trained to fear a safe “conditioned stimulus” such as a colored shape, paired with a frightening or painful “unconditioned stimulus” like a shock to the finger or a puff of air to the neck or eye.

Overall, women or female rats showed less fear to the neutral stimulus when their estrogen levels were high rather than low.

PTSD is common in women after a trauma such as rape or sexual assault, which studies say are experienced by 25 to 30 percent of women in their lifetimes, and the symptoms last on average four times as long in women as in men after trauma.

This new research suggests the reason for this vulnerability may be the monthly menstrual change in estrogen.

“People are afraid to look into the influence of sex hormones on ‘fear learning’ and extinction,” said Mohammed Milad, “because it’s such a complex system.”

When Milad studied fear as a Ph.D. student, his lab used only male rats. But when he began to study fear in humans as a postdoctoral researcher, he saw that female data were much more variable.

“The data led me there,” to sex differences, Milad said. “Since females add variance, scientists have tended to avoid studying them” in rodent research, he said. Studies of the human brain would tend to combine men and women, assuming that neurological gender differences were minimal. But this attitude is changing.

In addition, since birth control pills affect estrogen levels, they may be used as a future treatment against post-traumatic stress.

The research is published in Biological Psychiatry.

Source:  Biological Psychiatry

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Depression Strongest Driver of Suicidal Thoughts in Soldiers, Vets


Current and former soldiers who seek treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) should be screened closely for major depression since the disorder is the single strongest driver of suicidal thinking, say authors of a new Canadian study.

Researchers evaluated 250 active duty Canadian Forces, RCMP members and veterans.  The study comes at a time when record numbers of suicides are being reported among American troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, and the number of suicides reported among Canadian forces last year reached its highest point since 1995.

In veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, about half also have symptoms of major depressive disorder during their lifetime, said the researchers.

But “the task of predicting which people may be at an increased risk of completing suicide is a complex and challenging care issue,” they said.

The study included 193 Canadian Forces vets, 55 active troops and two RCMP members referred to the Parkwood Hospital Operational Stress Injury Clinic in London, Ontario.

Soldiers and vets were screened for PTSD, major depression, anxiety disorders and alcohol abuse.  The depression questionnaire also included questions about suicidal thinking.

Study participants served an average of 15 years and had been deployed an average of three times. About one-fourth had been deployed to Afghanistan at least once. Ninety-two per cent were men.

Most met the criteria for “probable” PTSD, and almost three-fourths screened positive for probable major depression.

Overall, about one-fourth — 23 percent — said that they had experienced thoughts of self-harm, or that they would be better off dead, for several days over the prior two weeks.

Another 17 percent said they had those thoughts more than half of the days in the past two weeks; six percent reported feeling this way almost every day for the previous two weeks.

As found in other studies, the researchers showed that PTSD is linked to suicidal thoughts. But “what became the biggest predictor was, specifically, depression severity,” said Dr. Don Richardson, a consultant psychiatrist at the Operational Stress Injury Clinic and an adjunct professor in the department of psychiatry at Western University in London.

“It really stresses the importance that when you’re assessing someone for PTSD it’s also critical that you assess specifically for major depression,” Richardson said. “From our limited study, it was depression severity that was the most significant predictor of having suicidal ideation.”

The concern is that soldiers seeking treatment for military-related trauma might not receive aggressive therapy for depression. Instead, the focus might be more focused on PTSD and exposure therapy.

“There’s potentially a lot of people out there who are suffering who might not be aware that there are effective treatments, and that there are clinics available across Canada that specialize in military trauma,” said Richardson.

Source:  The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry

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Artery Disease Linked to Depression


Artery Disease Linked to DepressionA new research study has discovered that peripheral artery disease often accompanies depression.

Researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco, discovered the relationship during a study of more than one thousand men and women with heart disease.

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a circulatory problem in which blood flow is reduced to the extremities – usually the legs and feet. Blood flow is reduced because of arterial narrowing with the condition often resulting in pain, reduced mobility and, in extreme cases, gangrene and amputation.

The study may be found online in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers followed men and women with coronary artery disease over a seven-year period. The 1,024 participants were members of the Heart and Soul Study.

“We discovered that there was an association between depression and PAD at baseline, and also found that the patients who were depressed at the beginning of the study had a higher likelihood of developing PAD during follow-up at seven years,” said Marlene Grenon, M.D., C.M., a vascular surgeon at UCSF.

“These findings add to the growing body of research showing the importance of depression in both the development and progression of PAD,” said senior author Beth Cohen, M.D., M.A.S. “This also emphasizes the need for medical providers to be attentive to the mental health of their patients who have developed, or who are at risk for, PAD.”

Researchers discovered that some of the risk for PAD was associated with modifiable risk factors such as smoking and reduced physical activity.

“We still don’t know which comes first,” said Grenon. “Is it that patients with PAD become depressed because their mobility is impaired, or that people who are depressed engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and lack of exercise, and are thus more at risk of developing PAD? Or might it be a vicious cycle, where one leads to the other?”

Further research is needed to tease out cause and effect, she said.

Researchers believe that whatever the initial cause, improving healthy habits such as being more physically active, eating better, quitting smoking and improving stress management might reduce both PAD and depression.

“These lifestyle changes would be considered healthy for anyone, and would also help overall cardiovascular health,” said Grenon.

“As providers, we can help patients recognize the connections between mental and physical health,” added Cohen.

“This may help reduce the stigma of mental health diagnosis and encourage patients to seek treatment for problems such as depression.”

Source: University of California – San Francisco

Abstract of man’s heart photo by shutterstock.

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Brain Scans Show Teen Drinking Impairs Brain Efficiency


Brain Scans Show Teen Drinking Impairs Brain EfficiencyNew research suggests brains scans can identify patterns of brain activity that may predict if a teen will develop into a problem drinker.

The study also confirms that heavy drinking affects a teenagers’ developing brain.

Using special MRI scans, researchers looked at forty 12- to 16-year-olds who had not started drinking yet, then followed them for about three years and scanned them again.

Researchers discovered that half of the teens started to drink alcohol fairly heavily during this interval.

Investigators also found that kids who had initially showed less activation in certain brain areas were at greater risk for becoming heavy drinkers in the next three years.

However, once the teens started drinking, their brain activity looked like the heavy drinkers’ in the other studies — that is, their brains showed more activity as they tried to perform memory tests.

“That’s the opposite of what you’d expect, because their brains should be getting more efficient as they get older,” said lead researcher Lindsay M. Squeglia, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego.

Researchers say an operational definition of heavy drinking typically included episodes of having four or more drinks on an occasion for females and five or more drinks for males.

The findings add to evidence that heavy drinking has consequences for teenagers’ developing brains. But they also add a new layer: There may be brain activity patterns that predict which kids are at increased risk for heavy drinking.

“It’s interesting because it suggests there might be some pre-existing vulnerability,” Squeglia said.

Researchers say they are not advocating for teens to receive MRIs to determine their risk of excessive alcohol consumption. But the findings do give clues into the biological origins of kids’ problem drinking.

Experts say the findings suggest that heavy drinking may affect young people’s brains right at the time when they need to be working efficiently.

“You’re learning to drive, you’re getting ready for college. This is a really important time of your life for cognitive development,” Squeglia said.

She noted that all of the study participants were healthy, well-functioning kids. It’s possible that teens with certain disorders — like depression or ADHD — might show greater effects from heavy drinking.

Source: Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs

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Yoga Reduces Depression in Pregnant Women


Yoga Reduces Depression in Pregnant WomenYoga may help women cope with depression during pregnancy, as well as boost maternal bonding, according to new research from the University of Michigan.

Researchers note that one in five pregnant women experience major depression. Their study found that “mindfulness” yoga helped reduce those symptoms.

“We hear about pregnant women trying yoga to reduce stress but there’s no data on how effective this method is,” said lead author Maria Muzik, M.D., M.S., assistant professor of psychiatry.

“Our work provides promising first evidence that mindfulness yoga may be an effective alternative to pharmaceutical treatment for pregnant women showing signs of depression. This promotes both mother and baby well-being.”

Hormonal changes, genetic predisposition and social factors set the stage for some expectant moms to experience persistent irritability, feelings of being overwhelmed and inability to cope with stress, according to the researchers. Untreated, these symptoms could be major health risks for both mother and baby, including poor weight gain, preeclampsia, premature labor, and trouble bonding.

While antidepressants have proven to effectively treat these mood disorders, many pregnant women are reluctant to take these drugs out of concern for their infant’s safety, said Muzik.

“Unfortunately, few women suffering from perinatal health disorders receive treatment, exposing them and their child to the negative impact of psychiatric illness during one of the most vulnerable times. That’s why developing feasible alternatives for treatment is critical.”

Evidence suggests women are more comfortable with non-traditional treatments, including herbal medicine, relaxation techniques and mind-body work, including mindfulness yoga, which combines meditative focus with physical poses, the researcher notes.

For the research study, women who were 12 to 26 weeks pregnant and showed signs of depression participated in 90-minute mindfulness yoga sessions that focused on poses for the pregnant body, as well as support in the awareness of how their bodies were changing to help their babies grow.

More research is needed, according to Muzik, who notes that funding for follow-up work on this subject was recently provided by a grant from the Institute for Research on Women and Gender.

“Research on the impact of mindfulness yoga on pregnant women is limited but encouraging,” she said. “This study builds the foundation for further research on how yoga may lead to an empowered and positive feeling toward pregnancy.”

The findings were published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice.

Source: University of Michigan

Pregnant woman performing yoga photo by shutterstock.

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