Posts Tagged Germany

Stress Hormones Impede Healthy Behavioral Change


Stress Hormones Impede Healthy Behavioral ChangeFor many people, stress is the factor that unravels diets, exercise plans and other goal-directed tasks.

European researchers believe they have discovered why stressed persons are more likely to lapse back into old habits rather than follow a goal-directed agenda.

In a study, investigators determined stress hormones shut down the activity of brain regions for goal-directed behavior, yet do not affect the brain regions responsible for habitual behavior.

Researchers from the Ruhr-Universität in Germany, together with colleagues from the University Hospital Bergmannsheil, mimicked a stress situation in the body using drugs. They then examined the brain activity using functional MRI scanning.

The scientists found that the interaction of the stress hormones hydrocortisone and noradrenaline shut down the activity of brain regions for goal-directed behavior. Yet the brain regions responsible for habitual behavior remained unaffected.

During the research on different stress hormones, the cognitive psychologists used three substances: a placebo, the stress hormone hydrocortisone and yohimbine. Yohimbine is a product which ensures that the stress hormone noradrenaline stays active longer.

Some study participants received hydrocortisone alone or just yohimbine, while other participants received both substances. A fourth group was administered a placebo. Altogether, 69 volunteers participated in the study.

During the experiment, all participants, both male and female, learned that they would receive cocoa or orange juice as a reward if they chose certain symbols on the computer.

After this learning phase, volunteers were allowed to eat as many oranges or as much chocolate pudding as they liked. “This procedure weakens the value of the reward,” said Lars Schwabe, Ph.D.

“Whoever eats chocolate pudding will lose the attraction to cocoa. Whoever is satiated with oranges, has less appetite for orange juice.”

In this context, goal-directed behavior means: Whoever has previously eaten the chocolate pudding chooses the symbols leading to cocoa reward less frequently. Whoever is satiated with oranges selects less frequently the symbols associated with orange juice.

The findings show that only the combination of yohimbine and hydrocortisone attenuates or satisfies goal-directed behavior.

As expected, volunteers who took yohimbine and hydrocortisone did not behave in a goal-directed manner but according to habit. In other words, satiation with oranges or chocolate pudding had no effect.

Persons who had taken a placebo or only one medication, on the other hand, behaved goal-directed and showed a satiating effect.

The brain data revealed: The combination of yohimbine and hydrocortisone reduced the activity in the forebrain – in the so-called orbitofrontal and medial prefrontal cortex.

Researchers say that these areas have been previously associated with goal-directed behavior. The brain regions which are important for habitual learning, on the other hand, were similarly active for all volunteers.

Source: Ruhr-University Bochum

Brain abstract photo by shutterstock.

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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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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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