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Technology And Children: A Negative Effect On Health?

Technology & ChildrenOne of the vagaries of parenthood is that we think we know more than our kids, enough to maintain a watchful eye over all they do and the places they go.  That might have been true before the advent of wireless technology and electronic media, but that’s an iffy proposition today.  Of course, the connected parent is concerned about his child’s safety and does all he can to ensure it.  But that idea transcends the physical, for the motivational, psychological and emotional dangers are ubiquitous.

Anything that has benefits, whether subjectively perceived or real, could be laden with risks.  Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, detailing her research from a recent issue of Pediatrics and reporting to WebMD, feels that, “Some young people find the lure of social media difficult to resist, which can interfere with homework, sleep, and physical activity,” adding that, “Parents need to understand how their child is using social media so they can set appropriate limits.”   The element of internet risk is recognized by about half the parents interviewed, but only a fourth deems internet sites safe.  (WebMD. 3/28/11)

Concerning the children’s point of view, half admitted not to have spoken with their parents about their internet and social media activities.  Only four percent of parents realize that their kids log-on more than ten times a day, and twelve percent don’t even know their kids have a social account.  “Nurturing friendships and community engagement” are named as positive reasons to connect online, but the downsides of bullying and sexual inappropriateness receive equal attention.  Dr. O’Keeffe suggests that age thirteen is suitable for social interaction via the internet, agreeing with federal privacy rules outlined on some of the more popular networking sites, such as Facebook.  (O’Keeffe. 2011)

For years, health care professionals, teachers (especially PE teachers) and too few parents have been concerned with the amount of time their kids spend in front of the TV, which for many households had been an electronic babysitter from the get-go. While the Journal of Adolescence tells us that kids’ TV time hasn’t increased appreciably in the last fifty years (Marshall. 2006), their video game and social networking time has. Electronic sexual solicitation of underage youth is not as widespread as one would think from the reports (Ybarra. 2008), but that does not eliminate or reduce the risk.  Such solicitation is more likely to come through text messaging and in chat rooms, and harassment of one kind or another through instant messaging than through social networking sites (Ibid).

Nonetheless, kids spend more than seven hours a day, on average, in front of a screen.  Recent evidence raises concerns about media’s effects on aggression, sexual behavior, substance use, disordered eating, and academic difficulties.  Intense and regular parental involvement can increase the benefits and reduce the harm that media can have for a developing child and for adolescents.  (Strasburger. 2010)  Such anxieties are not limited to this side of the Atlantic or Pacific, either.  Online “addictions” were found to be related not only to aggression, but also to narcissistic personality traits and self-control, in studies conducted in Korea using international parameters.  (KIM. 2008)

The same kids who have problems with their peers at school or in the mall are likely to be the ones at risk for manipulation and targeting on the internet or smart phone.  Picking up signs of aberrant behavior are important, but we have to be vigilant.  Changes in behavior that include depression or aggression, delinquency or truancy, and becoming a loner or hanging with the wrong crowd are signals.  From the biomedical position, sedentary habits at a young age might just be able to predict health problems in adulthood.   Now, that’s another issue.  This topic should not entertain role reversal, even if your child is more adept at using the computer than you are.

References

http://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20110328/social-networking-may-affect-kids-health
Social Networking May Affect Kids’ Health
Report Urges Parents to Communicate and Participate When Kids Socialize Online

Pediatrics Vol. 127 No. 4 April 1, 2011 pp. 800 -804
The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families
Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, MD, Kathleen Clarke-Pearson, MD,
Council on Communications and Media

J Adolesc. 2006 Jun;29(3):333-49. Epub 2005 Oct 21.
A descriptive epidemiology of screen-based media use in youth: a review and critique.
Marshall SJ, Gorely T, Biddle SJ.

Pediatrics Vol. 121 No. 2 February 1, 2008 pp. e350 -e357
How Risky Are Social Networking Sites? A Comparison of Places Online Where Youth Sexual Solicitation and Harassment Occurs
Michele L. Ybarra, MPH, PhD, Kimberly J. Mitchell, PhD

Pediatrics Vol. 125 No. 4 April 1, 2010 pp. 756 -767
Health Effects of Media on Children and Adolescents
Victor C. Strasburger, MDa, Amy B. Jordan, PhDb, Ed Donnerstein, PhDc

Eur Psychiatry. 2008 Apr;23(3):212-8. Epub 2007 Dec 31.
The relationship between online game addiction and aggression, self-control and narcissistic personality traits.
Kim EJ, Namkoong K, Ku T, Kim SJ.

Br J Sports Med. 2011 Sep;45(11):906-13.
Sedentary behaviour in youth.
Pate RR, Mitchell JA, Byun W, Dowda M.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

B Vitamins And Energy

happygirlA considerable fraction of the general population reports using one or more vitamin supplements. Reasons include fighting stress and tiredness, and improving mental function. Until recent decades, there was only modest support from the allopathic community that supplements could render any benefit.

Using questionnaires that tracked mood states, levels of perceived stress, and general health, researchers at the Brain Performance and Nutrition Center of Northumbria University, in the UK, discovered a relationship between vitamin supplement intake and overall performance as related to fatigue, mood, and feelings of well-being.  High-dose B-vitamin supplementation “…led to significant improvements in ratings…” in the vigor subscale of the subjective assessments.  (Kennedy. 2010)  Cognitive and executive function improved in parallel fashion as a result of physical reinvigoration.  The authors concluded that, “Healthy members of the general population may benefit from augmented levels of vitamins/minerals via direct dietary supplementation.”

When questioned about the rationale behind supplementation, the answer should list poor dietary choices, processed food, depleted soil, chemical fertilizers and biocides, synthetic additives, malabsorption, careless food preparation, haphazard storage and shipping, and the use of medications and alcohol.  Feel free to add a few.

Because the vitamin B complex is water-soluble and relatively delicate, it responds to whatever insults include boiling or steaming, heat, and prolonged exposure to light.  Not only that, but the complex is vulnerable to the aerosol pesticides used by the produce brokers who store foods prior to over-the-road shipping.

The B vitamins comprise a group that plays a vital role in cell metabolism.  They were once thought to be a single vitamin, but later were found to have distinct functions in the body, although they coexist in the same foods.  They received their numbers based on the order in which they were isolated.  In conjunction, the B complex is helpful to combat most symptoms and causes of conditions such as depression, stress, coronary heart disease and other cardiovascular concerns.  Working together, the B’s are able to support metabolic homeostasis, the immune system, and the nervous system, while simultaneously maintaining healthy skin, muscle tone, and promoting cell growth and division.  Neat, eh?

The water-solubility of B vitamins helps them disperse throughout the body, but also means that they need replacement every day.  Excess is excreted in urine, which explains the dark yellow-orange color that occurs after taking the supplement.  (That would be riboflavin, B2.)  One of the B group’s claims to fame is its role in the burning of carbohydrates for energy.  If this metabolic purpose is impaired, fatigue strikes, often with a vengeance.  Thiamine in particular, or one of its derivatives, is known to improve energy metabolism during physical fatigue (Nozaki.  2009), and is a reputed activator of carbohydrate processing (Masuda. 2010).

If taken as an isolated supplement, a singular B vitamin may act as a drug, even though there are few adverse reactions, with the possible exception of very high-dose pyridoxine (B6) being associated with sensory neuropathy.  (Scott. 2008)  Alcohol of any type, even the comparatively innocuous beer, will result in a net deficit of the B vitamins.

The stress that characterizes the Western lifestyle takes a physical, as well as psychological, toll.  The mood changes and testiness that follow physical exhaustion are shared with family and friends.  B-vitamin supplementation has shown itself to attenuate the causes and effects, either one at a time or together.  (Stough. 2011)  People with the lowest levels of the B vitamins in their diets usually have the poorest memories and cognitive abilities.  Those with gastric dysfunction, such as that characterized by low stomach acid or deficit of intrinsic factor, will absorb the least vitamin B12 from their foods, so are well-advised to supplement.

The interaction of the body’s chemistry is complex.  We need vitamin B2 to metabolize B6.  We need B6, B12, and folate to clear homocysteine, a marker for cardiac involvement.  But taking an isolated B vitamin without the rest of the family upsets the apple cart.  The RDA is a poor guide because it recommends only that dose of a nutrient that will prevent deficiency disease, such as beriberi or pellagra.  Meeting with a health care professional can help you to figure what’s what.

References

Kennedy DO, Veasey R, Watson A, Dodd F, Jones E, Maggini S, Haskell CF.
Effects of high-dose B vitamin complex with vitamin C and minerals on subjective mood and performance in healthy males.
Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2010 Jul;211(1):55-68.

SUPPORTING ABSTRACTS
Nozaki S, Mizuma H, Tanaka M, Jin G, Tahara T, Mizuno K, Yamato M, Okuyama K, Eguchi A, et al
Thiamine tetrahydrofurfuryl disulfide improves energy metabolism and physical performance during physical-fatigue loading in rats.
Nutr Res. 2009 Dec;29(12):867-72.

Masuda H, Matsumae H, Masuda T, Hatta H.
A thiamin derivative inhibits oxidation of exogenous glucose at rest, but not during exercise.
J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2010;56(1):9-12.

Scott K, Zeris S, Kothari MJ.
Elevated B6 levels and peripheral neuropathies.
Electromyogr Clin Neurophysiol. 2008 Jun-Jul;48(5):219-23.

Stough C, Scholey A, Lloyd J, Spong J, Myers S, Downey LA.
The effect of 90 day administration of a high dose vitamin B-complex on work stress.
Hum Psychopharmacol. 2011 Sep 8.

Bassett JK, Hodge AM, English DR, Baglietto L, Hopper JL, Giles GG, Severi G.
Dietary intake of B vitamins and methionine and risk of lung cancer.
Eur J Clin Nutr. 2011 Aug 31.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Shift Work and Your Health

overworked-workerRotating shifts causes difficulties because it works in opposition to the body’s normal circadian rhythms, the most influential being the sleep/wake cycle.  There is also the matter of social isolation that comes from working when everybody else is asleep, and vice-versa.  One of the complications of changing shifts is the incidence of gastrointestinal upset.  Shift workers have a notoriously high occurrence of ulcers, based partly on disruption of sleep patterns and partly on the activation of H. pylori infection if it is at all present and waiting for the opportunity to strike.  (Pietroiusti, 2006)  (Segawa, 1987)  Chronic fatigue, untimely sleepiness, and even failure to fall asleep are some other physical interruptions caused by shift work.  Among the worst social perturbations is divorce, an element that hits some jobs more than others, law enforcement being a prime example.

Canada’s Institute for Work and Health delved into this topic and found that night work is associated with an increase in breast cancer among women who work rotating shifts for long durations.  (IWH, 2010)  The etiology of breast cancer is mostly uncertain, but about one fourth its incidences can be attributed to genetic factors.  At least a little blame has been put on light at night and its effect on melatonin, the hormone produced by the pineal gland that communicates information about light to different parts of the body in order to regulate biologic rhythms.  When the eye’s pupil detects changes in brightness—night—it sends the sleep message to the brain by way of melatonin.  When this activity gets stymied, melatonin is not able to exert its anti-cancer character, and the risk of breast cancer is elevated after a prolonged time. (Schernhammer, 2001)   (Hansen, 2001)   Melatonin is a popular sleep aid, especially for those experiencing jet lag, but few have associated it with anti-cancer function.  (Knower, 2012)  An interesting realization in this circumstance is the body’s inability to manufacture vitamin D from exposure to natural light, raising the question of the appropriateness of supplementation.  (Shao, 2012)  Among researchers’ quests is the determination of the actual concentrations of vitamin D in women who have survived breast cancer and whether or not insufficiency is prevalent among sufferers, survivors, and healthy controls.  (Trukova, 2012)  (Blask, 2009)

Little is known about sleep taken at night, and even less about sleep taken during the day, when years of natural law dictate otherwise.  Nobody really knows how much sleep is necessary for optimal health.  But there is evidence that long sleepers and very short sleepers have increased mortality.  (Ferrie, 2007)  The first part of sleep lasts about fifteen minutes, and is labeled as Stage 1.  If you are awakened from this stage, you may even deny having been asleep.  Stage 2 occupies about half of sleep time, yet is the least understood part.  Being deprived of this stage results in almost total sleep loss because this is the part from which other stages develop.  This, by the way, is the stage affected by medications and sleep aids.  Stages 3 and 4 are combined into the slow-wave-sleep stage, differing only by the number of delta waves measureable by an EEG.  Contrasted to Stage 2, this is the one common to most persons, and is the one compensated after long periods of sleep deprivation.  This is the one needed for body repair and the activity of growth hormone(s).  Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is the best known stage and throughout its duration the body is virtually paralyzed and loses its ability to regulate heat.  Dreams, which are deemed necessary to psychological well-being, occur here.  REM, dominating the late stages of sleep episodes, is strongly influenced by circadian rhythm.   Daytime sleep is normally one or two hours shorter than night time sleep.  REM, therefore, is shortened.  This adds to the alertness problems of the night shift.

A modern concern about shift work is increased risk of type 2 diabetes and the metabolic syndrome, compounded by the possible elevation of cardiovascular jeopardy.  This affects women more than men, but the combination of obesity, high triglycerides, and low HDL cholesterol is common to both.  (Karlsson, 2001)  Years of rotating night shift work are associated with weight gain that comes from failed attempts to eat right and from limited time for exercise.  And to think that all this is precipitated by disturbed circadian periodicity.  Eating on the run and mindless snacking are more common among night workers than their daytime counterparts.  Even if day and night workers had the same major CVD factors, the night workers admit to increased job strain and greater at-work physical exertion, both of which contribute to the altered parameters that incite metabolic syndrome.  (Esquirol, 2009)  In Japan, where the work ethic is ubiquitously strong, different work schedules have been associated with a rise in the incidence of diabetes.  (Morikawa, 2005)  (Suwazono, 2006)  Over the long term, changes are evident not only in daily glucose levels, but also in glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c), which measures glucose over an extended time.  (Suwazono, 2009)

Workplace cafeterias commonly close at night.  Workers are then left to their own culinary devices, and that often translates to unhealthy eating habits by virtue of convenience and time constraints.  A healthy work force is a boon to productivity and accident prevention, areas in which companies can demonstrate an interest that supersedes complaining about the opposite.  If a company is reactive, it can get you to the First-Aid station or to the HR person for failure to perform.  By being proactive, it can prevent both while saving money on bandages and the expense of training a replacement.

If there is a best-case scenario for shift work, scheduling a rotation that lasts at least six weeks seems to work by affording enough time to adapt one’s circadian dance to the situation.  There are those who prefer steady nights, but that breed is rare.  If we think adapting to factory work schedules is tough, we should look at those who work in the emergency room.  At least some of us have a scapegoat for tight trousers.

References

Blask DE.
Melatonin, sleep disturbance and cancer risk.
Sleep Med Rev. 2009 Aug;13(4):257-64. Epub 2008 Dec 17.

Costa G.
Shift work and breast cancer. 
G Ital Med Lav Ergon. 2010 Oct-Dec;32(4):454-7.

Esquirol Y, Bongard V, Mabile L, Jonnier B, Soulat JM, Perret B.
Shift work and metabolic syndrome: respective impacts of job strain, physical activity, and dietary rhythms.
Chronobiol Int. 2009 Apr;26(3):544-59.

Ferrie JE, Shipley MJ, Cappuccio FP, Brunner E, Miller MA, Kumari M, Marmot MG.
A prospective study of change in sleep duration: associations with mortality in the Whitehall II cohort.
Sleep. 2007 Dec;30(12):1659-66.

Ha M, Park J.
Shiftwork and metabolic risk factors of cardiovascular disease.
J Occup Health. 2005 Mar;47(2):89-95.

Hansen J.
Light at night, shiftwork, and breast cancer risk.
J Natl Cancer Inst. 2001 Oct 17;93(20):1513-5.

Institute for Work and Health (IWH)
Scientific Symposium, Toronto, 12 April, 2010
Scientific Symposium on the Health Effects of Shift Work
http://www.iwh.on.ca/shift-work-symposium

Karlsson B, Knutsson A, Lindahl B.
Is there an association between shift work and having a metabolic syndrome? Results from a population based study of 27,485 people.
Occup Environ Med. 2001 Nov;58(11):747-52.

Knower KC, To SQ, Takagi K, Miki Y, Sasano H, Simpson ER, Clyne CD.
Melatonin suppresses aromatase expression and activity in breast cancer associated fibroblasts.
Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2012 Jan 12.

Kroenke CH, Spiegelman D, Manson J, Schernhammer ES, Colditz GA, Kawachi I.
Work characteristics and incidence of type 2 diabetes in women.
Am J Epidemiol. 2007 Jan 15;165(2):175-83.

Morikawa Y, Nakagawa H, Miura K, Soyama Y, Ishizaki M, Kido T, Naruse Y, Suwazono Y, Nogawa K
Shift work and the risk of diabetes mellitus among Japanese male factory workers.
Scand J Work Environ Health. 2005 Jun;31(3):179-83.

Paul A. Schulte, PhD, Gregory R. Wagner, MD, Aleck Ostry, PhD, et al
Work, Obesity, and Occupational Safety and Health
American Journal of Public Health. Mar 2007; 97:3, 428-436

Pietroiusti A, Forlini A, Magrini A, Galante A, Coppeta L, Gemma G, Romeo E, Bergamaschi A.
Shift work increases the frequency of duodenal ulcer in H pylori infected workers.
Occup Environ Med. 2006 Nov;63(11):773-5.

Prasai MJ, George JT, Scott EM.
Molecular clocks, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Diab Vasc Dis Res. 2008 Jun;5(2):89-95.

Schernhammer ES, Laden F, Speizer FE, Willett WC, Hunter DJ, Kawachi I, Colditz GA.
Rotating night shifts and risk of breast cancer in women participating in the nurses’ health study.
J Natl Cancer Inst. 2001 Oct 17;93(20):1563-8.

Scott AJ.
Shift work and health.
Prim Care. 2000 Dec;27(4):1057-79.

Segawa K, Nakazawa S, Tsukamoto Y, Kurita Y, Goto H, Fukui A, Takano K.
Peptic ulcer is prevalent among shift workers.
Dig Dis Sci. 1987 May;32(5):449-53.

Shao T, Klein P, Grossbard ML.
Vitamin D and Breast Cancer.
Oncologist. 2012 Jan 10.

Suwazono Y, Sakata K, Okubo Y, Harada H, Oishi M, Kobayashi E, Uetani M, Kido T, Nogawa K.
Long-term longitudinal study on the relationship between alternating shift work and the onset of diabetes mellitus in male Japanese workers.
J Occup Environ Med. 2006 May;48(5):455-61.

Suwazono Y, Dochi M, Oishi M, Tanaka K, Kobayashi E, Sakata K.
Shiftwork and impaired glucose metabolism: a 14-year cohort study on 7104 male workers.
Chronobiol Int. 2009 Jul;26(5):926-41.

Trukova KP, Grutsch J, Lammersfeld C, Liepa G.
Prevalence of Vitamin D Insufficiency Among Breast Cancer Survivors.
Nutr Clin Pract. 2012 Jan 6.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Longevity And Stress

hand-squeezing-stress-ballJust as oxidation causes iron to rust and brass to tarnish, it causes our cells to rust and tarnish, only figuratively and not literally…unless the Tin Man is part of the gene pool.  When you get stressed out—and there’s a litany of reasons for that—your body makes oxidative chemicals that hasten aging, increase cardiovascular risk, and set the stage for myriad chronic and acute illnesses, including relatively benign things like colds.

Vanderbilt University discovered that accurate and uncomplicated assessment of oxidative stress inside the body could be accomplished by the measurement of chemicals called isoprostanes.  These substances are derived from the action of free radicals on fatty acids, and can be found in plasma and urine.  Primarily associated with risk of atherosclerosis, isoprostanes levels are elevated by “cigarette smoking, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes mellitus, and obesity,” among other factors.  Additionally, “Enhanced oxidant stress occurring either locally in the vessel or systemically is implicated…in atherosclerosis in humans.”  (Morrow. 2005)   In circumstances not cardiac-related, isoprostanes are inflammatory mediators that augment the perception of pain.

As long as there is oxygen there will be oxidation, but most species have developed ways to deal with it.  What separates humans from other life forms is that we do things on purpose to increase the oxidative process.  We eat the wrong foods, we smoke, we are sedentary, and we worry about things that never happen, while fretting about things we cannot change.  We even worry about getting diseases that are not likely to attack us by virtue of genetic exclusion, but sometimes do get a start because we worried about them needlessly.  The body’s response to oxidative stress, which can be prompted by both mental and physical assaults, is tied to aging and life span.  (Finkel. 2000)

There is increasing evidence that psychosocial stress can cause system-wide derangement of cellular homeostasis, accompanied by heightened oxidative stress and pro-inflammatory activity.  (Marotta. 2011)  Persons under stress have elevated levels of malondialdehyde (MDA), a product that stems from the oxidation of fatty acids and that degrades the integrity of the cell.  This, in turn, can cause mutations of DNA.  That can initiate a plethora of unwelcome events.

Mental stress can incite physical responses, some of which may appear as gastrointestinal conditions, tension headaches, hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome, sexual dysfunction, alcoholism, fatigue, and skin conditions that include psoriasis, lichen planus, itching and hives.  Some or all of these may be related to increased cortisol production by the adrenal glands.  Stress can affect other hormones, as well, and is implicated in depression and impaired immune function.

Because the brain has high fatty acid content, it seems logical that fatty acids are involved in brain chemistry, physiology, and function.  Therefore, it follows that cognitive health and neuropsychiatric well-being are intertwined.  Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those from fatty fish and fish oil supplements, appear effective in the prevention of stress (and manufacture of cortisol) and in the regulation of mood.  (Perica. 2011)  In fact, the first consistent demonstration of the effect of dietary ingredients on the structure and function of the brain involved omega-3 fats.  (Bourre. 2005)

At the ends of our chromosomes are telomeres, pieces of DNA that are the equivalent of shoelace aglets (those plastic sheaths that help to thread the laces).  When telomeres start to fray because of continual cell replication, cells become senescent—they grow old.  Oxidative stress shortens telomeres, thus hastening aging and the onset of age-related diseases, none of which started yesterday.  (Epel. 2004)  If cortisol is one of the major hormones related to telomere shortening, then it is to our benefit to diminish it.  Stressors coming from outside the body are not so easy to handle.  But this does not mean that internalized stressors are more manageable.  Maintaining proper weight and controlling glucose are important stressors to consider.

The employment of functional foods and certain supplements can help to ease stress, to lighten the cortisol load, and to bolster immune defenses.  Telomeres may be preserved by a diet that reduces added sugars.  Essential fatty acids can ease the mental burdens of the daily grind.  Green tea polyphenols have shown to be effective in addressing a variety of oxidative, pro-inflammatory processes (Yang. 1998), while having a beneficial effect on nucleic acid and protein synthesis (Beltz. 2006).  The vitamin B complex is collectively known as the stress vitamins, and their utility as such has been reported often over past decades (Kennedy. 2011)  (Stough. 2011)  Intense Chinese research has discovered that telomeres may be rescued from senescence by epigallocatechin gallate (ECGC) in green tea, and by quercitin from apples, onions, citrus, and dark berries. (Sheng. 2011)

Stress-fighting, mood-lifting foods include such simple ingredients as oatmeal, pistachios, avocadoes, and wine.  Turkey, eggs, water, and almonds can affect your affect.  Chocolate can calm things by releasing endorphins, and walnuts can get rid of the blues by increasing uridine, which boosts communication among neurons.  Spinach helps maintain normal levels of serotonin, a mood enhancer that also deals with the sleep-wake cycle and pain perception.  If, on the other hand, you care little about stress and what it does to your body, go ahead and eat half a dozen bacon-fried doughnuts.

References

Morrow JD.
Quantification of isoprostanes as indices of oxidant stress and the risk of atherosclerosis in humans.
Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2005 Feb;25(2):279-86.

Finkel T, Holbrook NJ.
Oxidants, oxidative stress and the biology of ageing.
Nature. 2000 Nov 9;408(6809):239-47.

Marotta F, Naito Y, Padrini F, Xuewei X, Jain S, Soresi V, Zhou L, Catanzaro R, Zhong K, Polimeni A, Chui DH.
Redox balance signalling in occupational stress: modification by nutraceutical intervention.
J Biol Regul Homeost Agents. 2011 Apr-Jun;25(2):221-9.

Perica MM, Delas I.
Essential fatty acids and psychiatric disorders.
Nutr Clin Pract. 2011 Aug;26(4):409-25.

Bourre JM.
Dietary omega-3 Fatty acids and psychiatry: mood, behaviour, stress, depression, dementia and aging
J Nutr Health Aging. 2005;9(1):31-8.

Epel ES, Blackburn EH, Lin J, Dhabhar FS, Adler NE, Morrow JD, Cawthon RM.
Accelerated telomere shortening in response to life stress.
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Dec 7;101(49):17312-5.

Yang F, de Villiers WJ, McClain CJ, Varilek GW.
Green tea polyphenols block endotoxin-induced tumor necrosis factor-production and lethality in a murine model.
J Nutr. 1998 Dec;128(12):2334-40.

Beltz LA, Bayer DK, Moss AL, Simet IM
Mechanisms of cancer prevention by green and black tea polyphenols.
Anticancer Agents Med Chem. 2006 Sep;6(5):389-406.

Kennedy DO, Veasey RC, Watson AW, Dodd FL, Jones EK, Tiplady B, Haskell CF.
Vitamins and psychological functioning: a mobile phone assessment of the effects of a B vitamin complex, vitamin C and minerals on cognitive performance and subjective mood and energy.
Hum Psychopharmacol. 2011 Jul 12. doi: 10.1002/hup.1216.

Stough C, Scholey A, Lloyd J, Spong J, Myers S, Downey LA.
The effect of 90 day administration of a high dose vitamin B-complex on work stress.
Hum Psychopharmacol. 2011 Sep 8. doi: 10.1002/hup.1229.

Sheng R, Gu ZL, Xie ML
Epigallocatechin gallate, the major component of polyphenols in green tea, inhibits telomere attrition mediated cardiomyocyte apoptosis in cardiac hypertrophy.
Int J Cardiol. 2011 Oct 14.

Huk-Kolega H, Skibska B, Kleniewska P, Piechota A, Michalski Ł, Goraca A.
Role of lipoic acid in health and disease
Pol Merkur Lekarski. 2011 Sep;31(183):183-5.

Rios A, Delgado-Casado N, Cruz-Teno C, Yubero-Serrano EM, Tinahones F, Malagon MD, Perez-Jimenez F, Lopez-Miranda J.
Mediterranean diet reduces senescence-associated stress in endothelial cells.
Marin C, Delgado-Lista J, Ramirez R, Carracedo J, Caballero J, Perez-Martinez P, Gutierrez-Mariscal FM, Garcia-
Age (Dordr). 2011 Sep 6.

Lin J, Epel E, Blackburn E.
Telomeres and lifestyle factors: Roles in cellular aging.
Mutat Res. 2011 Aug 22.

Murillo-Ortiz B, Albarrán-Tamayo F, Arenas-Aranda D, Benítez-Bribiesca L, Malacara-Hernández J, Martínez-Garza S, Hernández-González M, Solorio S, Garay-Sevilla M, Mora-Villalpando C.
Telomere length and type 2 diabetes in males, a premature aging syndrome.
Aging Male. 2011 Aug 9.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Anxious About Anxiety?

mid-adult-male-portraitYou’re not anxious about going on vacation or performing a pleasant task. You’re enthusiastic (but not enthused). You could be anxious about going to the dentist or to defend your last income tax return. Here, you’re entertaining a feeling of dread or apprehension, probably lacking clear justification.  Anxiety results from a subjective way of looking at a situation in the absence of a clear and actual danger. Of course, the sweating, increased pulse, and tension coupled with self-doubt about being able to handle the matter tell a different story. Sometimes respirations increase, the mouth gets dry and the intestines gurgle. All this is part of a defense mechanism. Anxiety can be particular, such as a panic attack in a crowd of people, in which case the stimulus can be identified. Or it may be generalized, being a long-term experience with no explanation of its cause. Obsessive-compulsory disorder (OCD) is an anxious state characterized by quandaries of uncertainty and compulsions to act. If the act is frustrated, the uncertainty remains and anxiety is intensified. Anxiety is considered a normal, but transient, response to stress, encouraging a person to take action in order to deal with what is perceived to be a difficult situation.

What’s The Risk?

Women are twice as likely as men to become anxious, mostly because of hormones and the archaic expectations that women are supposed to take care of everybody else before themselves. Age plays a minor role, in that OCD, separation anxiety and social phobias that include panic disorder show up in childhood and the teenage years. Early identification and treatment can forestall later problems. Certain environmental factors, such as poverty, separation from family, overly strict parents, family conflicts, anxious family members and lack of support can induce anxiety disorders. That anxiety runs in families is accepted, but it’s not known if the onset is genetic or learned, or both.

Physiologically, anxiety may be prompted by faulty brain chemistry, where an imbalance of serotonin, for instance, may result in irregular moods and emotions. There may be a structural fault, too.  The amygdala is the part of the brain in charge of processing emotional reactions and memory consolidation, including the recollection of fear.  If it’s overactive, this structure will heighten the fear response and increase anxiety in social situations.   Non-structural physical concerns, such as health problems, can cause anxiety.  Diabetes, alcoholism, heart disease, odd sensations that have no apparent cause, and thyroid disease are a few.

How Do I Handle Anxiety?

Besides the traditional psychotherapy practices and anti-anxiety medications, there are a few things you can do to take charge. First, you need to know that withdrawal from a psychoactive drug can cause anxiety. So, weaning from benzodiazepines causes the thing for which you took the drug in the first place. But beta-blockers, typically used for blood pressure control, have no such effect. They’re used off label to control rapid heartbeat, nervousness, trembling voice and shaky hands that accompany anxiety attacks. Alcohol withdrawal causes anxiety in many people.

Alternative approaches to anxiety treatment include things you can do and things you can swallow. Some modalities that require active participation include music therapy, art therapy, aromatherapy and meditation. With these you have to turn the music on, wield a paintbrush, light a candle, or think about pleasant things. But many people are unwilling or unable to be so engaged because of time constraints, family and job obligations, or simple faineance. Deglutition is the answer.

Options to psychological interventions for anxiety were sought in order to overcome limitations on time and resources. Because of adverse side-effects, alternatives to anxiolytic drugs also were explored. There is a shrub from the South Pacific islands that’s been used for centuries to calm the nerves, Piper methysticum, commonly known as kava kava. In a meta-analysis performed by the Cochrane Database at England’s Exeter University, researchers found that anxious subjects who took kava extract as a sole constituent in their treatment experienced a substantial reduction in symptoms compared to those taking a placebo (Pittler, 2000, 2003). One of the differences between a natural substance and a synthetic one is the time it takes to demonstrate effectiveness.  With a natural substance—in this example, herbal—you get the active ingredient and all the supportive components of the plant. Many enjoy an unexplainable synergy.  With a synthetic one—a drug—you get an isolated chemical that is not toned down by collaborative elements. Although earlier study found kava to be effective at taming anxious moments, it took eight weeks for kava’s superiority to placebo to be displayed (Volz, 1997).

Benzodiazepines are the drugs commonly used to treat anxiety. Their side effects, besides excessive drowsiness and decreased alertness, include paradoxical consequences, such as aggression, impulsivity, and irritability. Cognitive impairment and tolerance can result, as well. Tapering off these medications requires deliberation and a watchful eye. Using kava kava during such an ordeal, patients who were weaned from the drugs while being introduced to the herbal showed good tolerance and improved symptoms over a period of two weeks in a five-week trial in Germany (Malsch, 2001).

Generalized anxiety disorder has responded well to another folk remedy, passion flower. In a study comprising three dozen individuals, half received passion flower plus placebo and half received a benzodiazepine plus placebo in a one-month trial. The outcome showed both the herb and the drug to be effective in controlling anxiety symptoms. The drug, with rapid onset of action, impaired job performance (Akhondzadeh, 2001). The herb did not. Pharmacologically, extracts of the upper parts of the passion flower plant are most dynamic (Dhawan, 2001).

If you’ve taken fish oil for heart and brain health, that’s good. It’s been discovered that low levels of omega-3 fatty acids play a significant role in a number of mental irregularities (Buydens-Branchley, 2008) and that mood disorders respond especially well to omega-3 supplementation, with EPA getting better press than its companion, DHA (Ross, 2007). With a ratio of 3 to I, EPA to DHA, a fish oil product called Kirunal appears more than adequate to satisfy the mono- or adjunctive therapy approach in treating mood anomalies. For decades it’s been given that omega-3 fats are effective in the treatment of major depressive disorders, so it is reasonable to submit that they be likewise in anxiety disorders (Ross, 2009). If the presence of a substance yields a specific result, then the absence of that substance should yield the opposite. A deficit of n-3 fats has been identified in the red cell membranes of anxious persons (Greena, 2006), specifically those with social anxieties. Overall, it’s been proposed that human foods be supplemented with omega-3 fats as a strategy to improve behaviors and cognitive functions (Vinot, 2011). This makes one wonder if the education community needs to sit up and take notice. If that’s an inflammatory statement, n-3 supplementation can ameliorate that while reducing self-induced anxiety (Kiecolt-Glaser, 2011).

A relative newcomer on the anti-anxiety supplement stage is curcumin, the active ingredient of the turmeric spice common to Southern Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine.  Known predominantly as an anti-inflammatory agent, curcumin was found to have antidepressant like activity similar to tricyclic antidepressants, such as fluoxetine and imipramine (Sanmukhani, 2011). Because it is a natural substance, doses of curcumin used in an Indian trial were extraordinarily high, at 100 mg per kilogram of body weight, which equates to about 6,800 mg (6.8 grams) for a 150-pound person. Lesser dosages, from 10 to 80 mg/kg, demonstrated a positive effect on serotonin and dopamine activity, acting similarly to commonly prescribed drugs (Kulkami, 2008).

If you maintain a healthy diet, making sure to get the full array of macro and micro minerals, especially magnesium and zinc, as well as sufficient B vitamins, focusing on B 12, you’ll be able to avoid at least one cause of anxiety. Cutting back on alcohol and caffeine, and getting ample sleep are others. A caveat: before embarking on a supplement regimen to address anxiety, check with a healthcare professional to look for interactions with medicines and foods.

References

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Buydens-Branchey L, Branchey M.
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Buydens-Branchey L, Branchey M, Hibbeln JR.
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Dhawan K, Kumar S, Sharma A.
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Dhawan K, Kumar S, Sharma A.
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Pnina Greena, Haggai Hermeshb, Assaf Monselisec, Sofi Marom, Gadi Presburger, Abraham Weizman
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*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Mood Boosts Elder Brain Power

pleased-manWhen you’re in a good mood, it’s almost amazing what you can accomplish. This has little to do with emotions and even less with temperament. The former are short-lived and specific, and may be turned on by a single stimulus. The latter are characteristics that are seemingly innate rather than learned. Moods may be disarrayed, as in depression and bipolar disorder, and are subjective, although they may be inferred by conduct or body language. Many things can trigger a bad mood, and what disturbs one person might be ridiculous to another. In some circles, bad mood is believed to originate when one’s ego becomes threatened by a situation, event or condition beyond his control. Foul moods can interfere with many of our individual enterprises and ventures, not the least of which are the mental acrobatics that have seen us through thick and thin from youth to the extremes of middle-age. With age there may come decline, physically, emotionally and mentally. But we may have more control over this than previously thought. Is it possible that we can improve physical health, which will improve mood, which will improve mental faculties?

We already know that diet and exercise can enrich physical well-being and probably extend life…and the quality of life as we live it. Newspapers, magazines, the internet, television programs, and even the beauty parlor help to deliver information about longevity and agelessness. With a little thought, it’s possible to separate the wheat of the message from the chaff. The time at which old age begins is subjective, and ranges from sixty-five to the mid seventies, depending on whom you ask. Most of us believe that old age is for other people. That attitude will bless you with almost-eternal youth.

A vagary of aging is the diminution of working memory and instant decisiveness. The invincibility of youth gives way to the deliberations of middle-age and eventually to the tentativeness of senior citizenship. The culmination of this time line puts us on the game board square labeled “moody” or “testy” or “cranky.”  Modern research tells us that good mood can counterbalance these vagaries, and that trivial gestures, like giving a person a small bag of candy, can help to improve performance on tests of decision making and working memory.

In an interesting work done at Decision Research, in Oregon, good mood in twenty-three seniors was engendered with a bag of candy and a Thank-you card as a reward for agreeing to take part in the study. An equal number of seniors received no reward, and were considered the control group. Both groups were assigned to individual computers. The candy group saw happy faces and smiling suns on their sky-blue backgrounds. The control group saw neutral round images with no facial features. In tests of speed and accuracy that entailed experiential, sequenced learning, the candy group made significantly better choices than the neutral group. An extension of this mode to real life is analogous to meeting a person for the first time, and having to decide if she or he is trustworthy. What the study suggests is that people in a good mood are able to make such a determination faster and more accurately.

Working memory is linked to learning outcomes, encompassing the recall of instructions and the ability to complete an activity based on them. It boils down to how much information you can hold onto at one time. This function is important to decision making. The seniors in the happy group fared better than the others (Carpenter, 2013). It can be such that those who are suddenly elated forget their aches and pains and their trials and tribulations, thus vouching for the promises of a good mood. If good mood improves memory, then being able to remember might just improve mood, particularly for those beleaguered with cognitive interruptions.

Lots of factors can throw the body out of balance, but if you are chemically balanced, your moods will also be. It has been established that positive feelings facilitate working memory and decision making. Nutrients can do the same, especially if they are proportioned to maintain stable blood sugar. Because some seniors are prone to the loss of gustatory sensation, eating may be a chore rather than a pleasure, in which case nutrient supply may be shallow. Supplementation with at least one nutrient–vitamin B6, for example—has been found to improve storage of information (Deijen, 1992).

When the elderly are able to cheer each other on, as in a community setting, they are more apt to comply with those dietary interventions aimed at physical and mental maintenance. That flavor enhancement induces appetite by overcoming perceptual losses has been demonstrated at home and institutional settings (Schiffman, 1993), and the inclusion of essential fatty acids, whether from foods or supplements, has been found to enhance cognitive function (Yehuda, 2012) and, thereby mood (Parker, 2006) (Stahl, 2008).

Keeping Grandpa or Grandma in a good mood is essential to family serenity. In a time when several generations might live together, this could be as simple as letting them control the remote. Trading Ed Sullivan reruns for peace of mind is probably worth it if Gramps can simultaneously offer a compelling review of last Sunday’s pot roast dinner.

References

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Positive feelings facilitate working memory and complex decision making among older adults.
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J. B. Deijen, E. J. van der Beek, J. F. Orlebeke, H. van den Berg
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Eric Eich
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Parker G, Gibson NA, Brotchie H, Heruc G, Rees AM, Hadzi-Pavlovic D.
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*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Stress and Childhood Obesity

weigh-inBeing a kid doesn’t necessarily mean having a carefree life, yet that’s how most adults view childhood. Because kids don’t have jobs, bills to pay, and children to raise what could they possibly have to worry about? More than we realize. Even the very young among us have stressors, slight though they may be. Stress is a function of the demands we face and our ability to handle them. Often it comes from outside sources. You know—family, job, friends, school, and expectations. Sometimes stress comes from inside, related to what we think we should do compared to what we actually do, say or think.

Today, kids have to learn scores of times more information than their parents did at the same age. That we can blame on an electronic era. And they have to learn these things in the same allotted time. Preschoolers get stressed when their moms leave them at daycare. As they get older, kids are pressured by academics and social position. After all, they need to fit in. Their lives get so hectic they seldom have time for themselves, for creative play, or even for relaxation. They are overscheduled with activities that would tax even the adult mind. Disturbing images on TV, news of wars, terrorism and natural disasters, and concerns for personal and family safety add to the burden. Illness, death and divorce don’t help.

All stressors are not created equal, and all people do not respond to stress the same way. Children often learn to handle stress from their parents. Sometimes that’s good; sometimes not. The idea that, “If it doesn’t kill me, it’ll make me stronger,” doesn’t apply to youngsters who’ve not yet developed a coping mechanism. What does this have to do with obesity, a childhood plague that’s more than doubled in the last few decades?  Lots.

A person’s reaction to stress will likely invoke the fight-or-flight (-or freeze) response as the primary means of dealing with a novel situation perceived as threatening. Children who overreact to stress will manufacture more cortisol than the body can dump, and that’s where the problem begins—emotional eating (Michels, 2012). Cortisol is a steroid hormone made by the adrenal glands, released in response to stress. Its main job is to increase blood sugar to power the fight-flight machinery. Cortisol counteracts insulin and contributes to insulin resistance (Goran, 2010) by lowering glucose transport to the cell membrane. Small increases in cortisol can provide a quick burst of energy in an emergency. At the same time it can heighten memory, briefly but powerfully enhance immunity and lower sensitivity to pain. But the return to normal is needed lest the body idle at high rpm’s. With our high-stress culture that has become the norm…chronic stress. That eventually induces impairment of cognitive function, suppresses thyroid activity, throws blood sugar out of whack, menaces bone density, elevates blood pressure, and actually lowers immune responses. And it increases deposition of abdominal fat, setting the stage for metabolic syndrome, depressed affect (Endocrine Society, 2009) (Dockray, 2009) and cardiovascular entanglement, even at a young age.

Children’s biological response to stressors was examined recently by researchers from Penn State and Johns Hopkins Universities.  A group of pre-teens was assigned public speaking and mathematical tasks with little preparation time allowed for either. Cortisol content of their saliva was measured before and after. Following the assignment, the children were offered an array of snack foods regardless of their hunger status. The amount of calories they consumed varied, but those with the highest body mass indexes, who also had the highest cortisol levels, consumed more calories, even in the absence of hunger, than did those with lower cortisol levels. The outcome suggests that children with poor response to stress are at risk for becoming overweight or obese (Francis, 2013). Other factors that contribute to eating in the absence of hunger include poverty, living in a violent environment and food insecurity.

The determination of childhood obesity needs to be made on an individual basis, not from a chart developed by an insurance company that focuses on only one ethnicity or population. Anthropometric measurements and family history need to be included in an evaluation. Pathologies need to be ruled out, genetics must be considered, and psychosocial factors scrutinized. The comorbidities of obesity are varied and many, and their prophylaxis calls for early intervention, some of which transcends diet. Overweight children face the same health conditions as their parents, with hypertension, discordant lipid panels, abnormal glucose levels, and elevated inflammation markers among them. Lifestyle changes, where parents are the managers, may be all that is needed. This may include dietary interventions that eliminate simple carbohydrates, especially sugars and refined starches common to the foods kids like the most. These foods will spike insulin, which will spike cortisol, which will encourage eating, which will add pounds. Avoiding pharmaceutical anorectic agents is strongly encouraged.

Mental stress is associated with emotional eating, which typically ignores healthy dietary patterns (Michels, 2013). Cortisol levels peak in the morning, but can remain elevated in stressful surroundings. Admittedly, some of those surroundings are beyond a parent’s control, so coping mechanisms are helpful. Without being a helicopter parent, it’s possible to create a comfortable atmosphere for a child, even when he is away from you. Teaching coping skills by example starts early. Believe it or not, kids watch, listen and emulate. There are three-year-olds with vocabularies that would make you wince. If kids can learn to be tense and confrontational, they can also learn to relax and to take things in stride.

Limiting cortisol manufacture might be as easy as increasing magnesium in thediet. How?  Vegetables. Essential fatty acids, music therapy and phospholipids,and even vitamin C and tea have been shown to curtail cortisol release (Rains,2011) (Arent, 2010) (Peters, 2001).

References

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*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Feeling Anxious? Maybe Not

anxious-womanGood for you. You’re going to Disney World. But don’t say you’re anxious about it. It’s okay to be anxious about going to the dentist. It’s understandable that you’d be anxious about your debut at an IRS audit. Unless you‘re terrified by the characters, you’re eager, not anxious, about visiting Walt’s place. To be anxious is to be afraid, apprehensive, uneasy, or distressed, but not enthusiastic. Anxiety is a disorder with more than one characterization. It can display as panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic-stress disorder, social anxiety, and a few others, including various phobias. It’s even possible to be anxious about being anxious, to the point that the subsequent distress precludes a normal life.

A common emotion, anxiety is felt by most humans once in a while. Taking a test, facing a novel problem at the office, or making a difficult decision is enough to get you anxious. Being lost in a strange town makes you feel like a rat in a laboratory maze. These little upsets are supposed to go away. If they cause a lingering burn, it’s time to talk about it. Frustration with a task can cause anxiety, and anxiety about doing it in the first place can cause frustration, which then perpetuates the cycle. Replacing uncomfortable cognitions with calming thoughts—something you can learn to do yourself—is one path to serenity.  The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote about dealing with frustration and anxiety two thousand years ago. So, this isn’t a new challenge. However, what is new is the discovery that the ninety percent of the cells that compose the body have the potential to respond to anxiety. These would be the intestinal bacteria that have the uncanny ability to communicate with the brain, a conclusion attributed to evolution but more than likely decided at the ontogeny. That a bidirectional communication system between the gut and the cerebrum exists has been established, and that it influences brain development and behavior through complex signaling mechanisms is amply defined (Diaz-Heijtz, 2011) (Collins, 2012) (Chen, 2013).

The connection between gut and brain is controlled by the vagus nerve, which is the longest cranial nerve, passing through the neck and thorax into the abdomen, where it directs motor and secretory impulses of the viscera—your innards. Stimulation of this nerve can instigate activity in a body process known as the HPA axis (Hosoi, 2000) (O’Keane, 2005), the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, the control center for most of the body’s hormones, one of which is the steroid hormone cortisol. Cortisol is used as a biomarker for psychological stress (Djuric, 2008).  In response to physical or mental stress, the hypothalamus produces corticotropin-releasing factor, which binds to specific receptors in the pituitary gland, where adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is made. ACTH then moves to the adrenals to direct the secretion of cortisol. The idea behind cortisol is to break down body tissue to be used as energy. When rampant, it breaks down lean tissue to liberate amino acids that can be used to raise blood sugar. In adipose tissue, cortisol breaks fats into fatty acids and glycerol, which also elevate blood sugar.

To calm this activity in a kind of physiological riot control, the body enlists the major inhibitory neurotransmitter, called gamma-aminobutyric acid—GABA—to slow down the firing of nerve cells in the brain. Emily Dean, M.D., a psychiatrist practicing in Massachusetts, likens GABA to a glass of wine in front of a fire, to restful sleep, or to tranquility and yoga (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201206/do-probiotics-help-anxiety). Paints a nice picture, eh? Negative alterations in GABA receptor expression are implicated in the development of anxiety and depression, which are comorbid with functional bowel disorders.

It’s been hypothesized that probiotics are able to make compounds that enhance the brain-gut link by acting as delivery vehicles for neuroactive substances, with each neurochemical being related to a specific strain of intestinal flora (Lyte, 2011). The strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus is known to modulate the immune system by manipulating tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFa) and Interleukin 8 (Ma, 2004), two cytokine signaling molecules related to immunity and inflammation. In mouse studies performed in Ireland a couple years back, those animals preloaded with L. rhamnosus were spared a frantic response to physiological insult and stress, contrasted to their cage mates denied the probiotic, whose cortisol levels were extreme (Bravo, 2011). As expected, mice whose vagus nerves were severed had no similar neurochemical and behavioral effects, indicating the vagus nerve as the major thoroughfare between gut bacteria and the brain (Ibid). Even in the absence of insult, mice treated with lactobacillus presented with higher levels of anxiety-reducing receptors, the observation of which could not be made until their sacrifice. A lactobacillus, then, reduces stress-induced levels of corticosterone (the rodent equivalent of cortisol) by normalizing the HPA axis (Gareau, 2007).

The HPA axis helps to regulate physiological processes that include temperature, digestion, immunity, mood, sexuality and energy usage, besides controlling your response to stress, trauma and injury. If, as believed, the hypothalamus is involved with fibromyalgia and the adrenals with chronic fatigue syndrome, the use of a probiotic to tend to the HPA axis should ameliorate these assaults. If GABA plays a major role in the HPA stress response (Herman, 2004) (Cullinan, 2008), and if GABA production is enhanced by lactic acid bacteria (Dhakal, 2012), then a five-dollar treatment for anxiety is at hand.  Not only L. rhamnosus, but also L. brevis (Li, 2010), L. reuteri (Ma, 2004), and strains of Bifidobacteria (Barrett, 2012) work to produce GABA. This should settle once and for all that not all bacteria are bad.

References

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*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Wintertime Depression

concerned-young-manWhen the winter solstice occurs and the sun is above the Tropic of Capricorn, do you turn from Prince or Princess Charming into an ogre? It’s the time of year when people report feeling more depressed—overwhelmed by the impending holidays, bothered by dried out bank accounts, disconcerted by situations at work. Folks get irritated by things that don’t raise a hackle the rest of the year. They get testy, feel low or inferior, and lose energy, concentration and drive. This relationship among body, mind, and environment is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Blame it on the sun, or rather its scarcity, and the shortage of what the sun provides…vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin.

Are You Vitamin D Deficient?

Even in the sunniest places on the planet, people are deficient in vitamin D. You’d think that in Oman, at twenty-one degrees north of the equator, just within the tropical zone, the people’s vitamin D stores would be sufficient to prevent signs of deficit. In that part of the world it’s significant that women are covered, and for various reasons avoid sun exposure. This interrupts the complex relationship of sunlight, cholesterol and other factors that cause the body to manufacture vitamin D. (Alshishtawy. 2011) Likewise, in Bangkok, Thailand, whose latitude is even closer to the equator, vitamin D levels are surprisingly low. People living in Thailand’s municipal areas have lower circulating vitamin D than those in the rural areas. (Chailurkit. 2011) Might there be a connection between vitamin D levels and the seasonal blues?

It’s accepted that vitamin D deficiency is rampant, and that for a variety of reasons. People fear skin cancer, so they slather themselves with sun blocker or stay indoors or under cover. Some lack the physiological ability to manufacture vitamin D, perhaps with a cholesterol level insufficient to do the job. If brain development depends on ample vitamin D stores, then brain function seems to follow, especially in the realm of cognition and behavior as they relate to the presence or absence of pro-inflammatory molecules that are modulated by the vitamin. (McCann. 2008) Because seasonal affective disorder is often recurrent and predictable with the change of seasons, internal mechanisms related to circadian rhythms that are directed by vitamin D activity have been evaluated in aspects of SAD related to the major monoamine neurotransmitters, serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. More than one vulnerability factor is suspected, including the environment and genetic susceptibility. (Levitan. 2007)

Vitamin D Deficiency Research

Studies at the University of Texas uncovered an association of high vitamin D levels to low scores on standardized measures of depression. Persons with a history of depressive symptoms were found to have lower levels of vitamin D. (Hoang. 2011) Also in 2011, Dutch scientists found similar relationships between vitamin D deficiency and depression, observing that a poor diet and lack of sun exposure were common elements. (Koater. 2011) The geriatric population is even harder hit with SAD. Their failure or inability to maintain healthy eating habits, and their often self-imposed seclusion prevent them from attaining optimal vitamin D levels through what may be considered normal daily activity by other groups. (Stalpers-Konijnenburg. 2011)

Reports abound that recommend the testing of vitamin D levels for individuals affected by depressive symptoms of any kind, including SAD. The research finds this to be a cost-effective and simple way to effect a therapy that would improve long-term health outcomes and quality of life. (Penckofer. 2010) (Humble. 2010) Additional study has tentatively linked vitamin D deficiency to autism and schizophrenia, the incidence of both hypothetically linked to developmental (prenatal) vitamin D deficiency. (Humble, Gustafsson, et al. 2010)

How To Increase Your Vitamin D Intake

Vitamin D is usually obtained from the skin through the action of ultraviolet-B radiation on a kind of cholesterol, called 7-dehydrocholesterol, after which time it gets metabolized to 25-hydroxyvitamin D (the stuff measured in a blood test). It gets further metabolized to the hormonal form, 1,25-hydroxyvitamin D. Although genetics may play a part in vitamin D blood levels, adequate calcium intake, exercise, and less obesity can help to support them. (Mason. 2011)

Almost everyone decries going to bed in the dark and then waking in the dark. Exposure to bright light in the morning can get you revved up for the day. The problem is that, when you awake in the dark, the eye sends a message to the pineal gland that it’s time to go to sleep, and melatonin is made. That resets the sleep-wake cycle. But this is supposed to happen at night. Light therapy is accepted as an effective treatment for the winter time blues. (Virk. 2009) (Pail. 2011) You can buy lamps that radiate the full spectrum of sunlight. Even your incandescent reading lamp can help. (Szadoczky. 1991) After a couple of weeks of daily use, linked with vitamin D supplementation, you’ll feel better than new.

References

Alshishtawy MM.
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Sultan Qaboos Univ Med J. 2011 May;11(2):196-200.Chailurkit LO, Aekplakorn W, Ongphiphadhanakul B.
Regional variation and determinants of vitamin D status in sunshine-abundant Thailand.
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Association between low serum 25-hydroxyvitamin d and depression in a large sample of healthy adults: the cooper center longitudinal study.Mayo Clin Proc. 2011 Nov;86(11):1050-5.
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Depression is associated with decreased 25-hydroxyvitamin D and increased parathyroid hormone levels in older adults.
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008 May;65(5):508-12.Humble MB, Gustafsson S, Bejerot S.
Low serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25-OHD) among psychiatric out-patients in Sweden: relations with season, age, ethnic origin and psychiatric diagnosis.
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*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.