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In the News June 27, 2018

Changes in Stress After Meditation

For the first time researchers have developed a way to precisely measure how much stress reduction occurs with meditation. In this study, researchers looked at both Yoga and Chi meditation. While both were effective in reducing stress, Yoga was more effective. Additionally, this year-long study found that long-term practice of meditation can make physiological changes (reduced stress) permanent. And the benefits don’t stop there: executive functions were also strengthened as a result of long-term meditation. Executive functions include decision-making, self-control, and goal-oriented behaviors, among others.


A Sudden and Lasting Separation from a Parent Can Permanently Alter Brain Development

When infants and young children are separated from their parents, their stress hormones such as cortisol spike. This leads to permanent changes in the development of the brain, including early maturation of the parts responding to threat detection and stress. This psychiatrist’s explanation of what happens is compelling reading and gut-wrenching in light of current events.


Probiotics and Anxiety

A recent study by the University of Kansas has found no proof to support the idea that probiotics can help reduce anxiety in humans. Although probiotics appear to reduce anxiety in rodents, the researchers noted that, per unit of body weight, rodents in studies were given higher doses of probiotics than humans. It is possible humans could show a reduction in anxiety symptoms on an equivalent dose. Researchers noted that the people in human studies were also not dealing with high levels of anxiety to begin with, so it is possible that probiotics could be more helpful to people with high levels of anxiety. Research simply hasn’t looked yet. The take-away from this study is that while probiotics aren’t likely to worsen your anxiety, there’s not enough research to support spending extra money on probiotics in the hope of reduced anxiety. Your time and money may be better spent seeing a therapist, engaging in exercise, practicing other relaxation exercises such as deep breathing, or seeing your doctor for some medication.


Dogs Understand Facial Expressions

The next time you are angry, fearful, or happy, your dog can likely understand it from your facial expression. These expressions, researchers found, actually raised stress levels in the dogs studied and they showed evidence of having their fight-or-flight responses readied. I don’t know about you dog people out there, but I’ve definitely seen this with my own dog.


Lefties Need to Know About This

Some particular types of therapy, neural therapies involving electrical stimulation of the brain used to treat resistant anxiety and depression, may be ineffective for left-handed individuals. More worrisome, it might potentially be harmful. Research is finding that handedness seems to be related to the way we organize emotions in the brain. So-called approach emotions (you can think of them as positive emotions) are often located in the same side of the brain as the dominant hand. Avoidance emotions are typically handled by the same side of the brain associated with the non-dominant hand. And that word “typically” is important. Much research is done using right-handed people, and this state of organization is generally true for right-handed people. However, left-handed people are likely wired the opposite way, so standard treatment would then be stimulating the avoidance emotions, potentially actually worsening the depression or anxiety. And for those people who are not strongly right- or left-handed, their organization is scattered more evenly across both sides of the brain and even less predictable for knowing which areas to treat.


Tracking Suicidal Thoughts in Real Time

Risk factors which are good indicators for the potential for suicidal thoughts (such as the loss of hope) are helpful in identifying risk long-term. But they don’t offer insight on the risk of suicidality in the near term, such as the next few hours or days. Researchers are utilizing phone apps to begin to look into what kinds of thoughts are happening in the minutes, hours, or days before an attempted suicide. While researchers don’t have specific kinds of behaviors or thoughts or cues identified yet, they have identified five patterns of suicidal thoughts and additional studies are being done.


The Genetics of Psychiatric Disorders

In a huge study of more than 265,000 people with psychiatric disorders and more than 784,000 controls (people without psychiatric disorders), researchers began to identify some underlying commonalities at a molecular level. In particular, the study identified genetic overlap between ADHD, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and schizophrenia. The study also found strong overlap between anoxeria nervosa and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and between OCD and Tourette syndrome. The study also found a genetic correlation between migraine and ADHD, major depressive disorder, and Tourette syndrome.

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