Measuring Stress

Comment: I usually get excited when I read about how technology can improve our health unfortunately, I often get disappointed about either the slowness of bringing a device to the market or that it does not live up to the hype. However, I continue to be optimistic, this new wearable device (still in development so do not get too excited) may provide a more objective measure of stress. At the moment whether we are stressed or not is usually assessed based on circumstances and subjective descriptions of events. The device currently being tested measures cortisone levels which are at much higher levels when individuals experience chronic stress.

This article appeared in Neurosciencenews.com under the title of Signs of Burnout Can Be Detected in Sweat

Extract only

When we’re in a stressful situation, whether life-threatening or mundane, cortisol is the hormone that takes over. It instructs our bodies to direct the required energy to our brain, muscles and heart. “Cortisol can be secreted on impulse – you feel fine and suddenly something happens that puts you under stress, and your body starts producing more of the hormone,” says Adrian Ionescu, head of Nanolab.

While cortisol helps our bodies respond to stressful situations, it’s actually a double-edged sword. It’s usually secreted throughout the day according to a circadian rhythm, peaking between 6am and 8am and then gradually decreasing into the afternoon and evening.

“But in people who suffer from stress-related diseases, this circadian rhythm is completely thrown off,” says Ionescu. “And if the body makes too much or not enough cortisol, that can seriously damage an individual’s health, potentially leading to obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression or burnout.”

Capturing the hormone to measure it

Blood tests can be used to take snapshot measurements of patients’ cortisol levels. However, detectable amounts of cortisol can also be found in saliva, urine and sweat. Ionescu’s team at Nanolab decided to focus on sweat as the detection fluid and developed a wearable smart patch with a miniaturized sensor.

The patch contains a transistor and an electrode made from graphene which, due to its unique proprieties, offers high sensitivity and very low detection limits. The graphene is functionalized through aptamers, which are short fragments of single-stranded DNA or RNA that can bind to specific compounds.

The aptamer in the EPFL patch carries a negative charge; when it comes into contact with cortisol, it immediately captures the hormone, causing the strands to fold onto themselves and bringing the charge closer to the electrode surface. The device then detects the charge, and is consequently able to measure the cortisol concentration in the wearer’s sweat.

Click for original Neurosciencenews article

Vaccines, depression and stress

Comment: As countries move towards rolling out Covid-19 vaccinations to the population it is useful to look at a suggestion that our psychological state may impact upon the effectiveness of vaccinations. This article I found (Depression and Stress Could Dampen Efficacy of COVID-19 Vaccines: Interventions and Health Behavior Changes Could Boost Immunity) highlights that Decades of research show that depression, stress, loneliness, and poor health behaviors can weaken the body’s immune system and lower the effectiveness of certain vaccines.

It should be noted that there is no specific evidence that these factors impact current covid-19 vaccines.

Extract and links below

Vaccines are among the safest and most effective advances in medical history, protecting society from a wide range of otherwise devastating diseases, including smallpox and polio. The key to their success, however, is ensuring that a critical percentage of the population is effectively vaccinated to achieve so-called herd immunity.

Even though rigorous testing has shown that the COVID-19 vaccines approved for distribution in the United States are highly effective at producing a robust immune response, not everyone will immediately gain their full benefit. Environmental factors, as well as an individual’s genetics and physical and mental health, can weaken the body’s immune system, slowing the response to a vaccine…

“In our research, we focus most heavily on the antibody response, though it is just one facet of the adaptive immune system’s response,” said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at The Ohio State University and senior author on the paper.

The good news, according to the researchers, is that the COVID-19 vaccines already in circulation are approximately 95% effective. Even so, these psychological and behavioral factors can lengthen the amount of time it takes to develop immunity and can shorten the duration of immunity…

Click here for original article at the Association for Psychological Science

Click here for the research publication

Weighted Blankets – Do they help with anxiety?

Comment: Recently someone asked me about weighted blankets and whether they were worthwhile. Not knowing much about them, being a person who likes the air-condition on cold while I sleep with minimal covering I looked around for any information and came across this article in  Popular Science,  which is based on a systematic review published in the American journal of Occupational Therapy in 2020 – Links at end of post. The general conclusion is Weighted blankets may be an appropriate therapeutic tool in reducing anxiety; however, there is not enough evidence to suggest they are helpful with insomnia.

It’s not just consumers who use weighted blankets

Occupational therapists frequently use weighted blankets for something called sensory integration therapy, which children who have trouble processing their senses—a trait that’s often linked with autism. Weighted blankets stimulate those patients’ senses of touch, helping their brains adapt to it. It’s thought this can help them better control their emotions and boost their mental health.

At least in the US, they’re also increasingly used in places like psychiatric wards, where they’re used as an alternative to other, more traditional methods such as medication or physical restraints.

“I watched people who were going to be put into restraints not have to be put into restraints because we offered them the blankets first,” says Annette Becklund, a therapist who has worked extensively in mental health hospitals.

Kathryn Eron, a mental health researcher at Denver Health Medical Center in Colorado, says that their mental health facilities have been using blankets as an alternative to medication. “Usually the patients that have a higher level of anxiety like [a weighted blanket] and want to use it,” says Ashlie Watters, a researcher at Denver Health specializing in eating disorders. “Anecdotally, they say it is helpful.”

Stories like that have inspired researchers to begin investigating the effects of weighted blankets in a more methodical way…

Click for Popular Science Article

Click for Weighted Blanket Use; Systematic Review article

Does the Moon affect your sleep?

Comment: Interesting study on the impact of a full moon on sleep. It appears from this research discussed at neurosciencenews.com that in the days leading up to a full moon you are more likely to go to bed later and sleep less.

For centuries, humans have blamed the moon for our moods, accidents and even natural disasters. But new research indicates that our planet’s celestial companion impacts something else entirely — our sleep.

In a paper published Jan. 27 in Science Advances, scientists at the University of Washington, the National University of Quilmes in Argentina and Yale University report that sleep cycles in people oscillate during the 29.5-day lunar cycle: In the days leading up to a full moon, people go to sleep later in the evening and sleep for shorter periods of time.

The research team, led by UW professor of biology Horacio de la Iglesia, observed these variations in both the time of sleep onset and the duration of sleep in urban and rural settings — from Indigenous communities in northern Argentina to college students in Seattle, a city of more than 750,000. They saw the oscillations regardless of an individual’s access to electricity, though the variations are less pronounced in individuals living in urban environments…

Click here for original article at nuerosciencenews.com 

 

Psychedelics – Future medications?

Comment: In the past few years there has been renewed interest and research in the role that psychedelics may have in the treatment of a number of mental health conditions. This article from Scientific American looks at the future role of psychedelics as a treatment for depression. For those interested in this topic there are many resources at Mind Medicine Australia A link is at the end of this post.

Remember: Please do not experiment with your own mental health by using psychedelics – if you have mental health concerns consult a doctor or psychologist.

…Chemicals such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and dimethyltryptamine (DMT) are more accurately called “serotonergic psychedelics” among the neuroscience community. Outside of this group however, many people don’t think of these compounds as antidepressants to be distributed by white-coat-wearing psychiatrists. Instead, they imagine whimsical blotter papers passed around by washed-up hippies at Grateful Dead concerts.

And yet, researchers in the U.K. have already been given the green light to begin clinical trials for using DMT for treating depression

To a neuroscientist whose focus is the striatum, a brain area involved in complex conditions ranging from depression to addiction, it’s evident that these drugs have tremendous promise for a safe, happier future.

Many states are looking to reevaluate the legal status of psychedelics. This is a start at improving the public perception of psychedelic use, which can ultimately encourage more to seek psychedelic therapy in psychiatric practice…

Click here : Original Article at Scientific American 

Mind Medicine Australia

How culture may influence spiritual aspects of our life –

Comment: For many people, spiritual health is important to mental health. In my role as a psychologist clients will sometimes indicate they have had contact with aliens/ghosts/spirits and or other outer worldly experiences. In these situations, it is important to differentiate between those who may be having a psychotic episode, and those having an experience that they are attempting to explain or resolve to the best of their ability. A person’s background and culture has always been an important element in how people experience the world, the study mentioned in the article looks at the concept of how culture impacts upon the mind in terms of what the authors term porous and absorbed.

IT’S NOTORIOUSLY CHALLENGING to apply science to spirituality — to quantify the mysterious or explain the supernatural. Why do some people report being possessed by demons or recall being visited by angels? Why do others have no interest in matters of the divine? In a study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers find psychological clues that influence this divide. According to interviews and surveys of over 2,000 people across the United States, Ghana, Thailand, China, and Vanuatu, two pivotal factors shape people’s perceived experience with a spiritual presence: porosity and absorption.

Porosity refers to the degree to which people view their internal mind and the outside world as permeable, while absorption references how much individuals tend to “lose themselves” in sensory experiences. These factors can predict whether a person is likely to report vivid experiences with gods or spirit

“What we experience is shaped by how we pay attention,” study co-author Tanya Luhrmann tells Inverse. Luhrmann is a medical and psychological anthropologist at Stanford University.

“Our pattern of paying attention really does affect what comes to feel real.” …..

Click for news item inverse.com

Click here for full text version of the study

Change your lifestyle to impact your mental health

Comment: Over the years I have seen clients who experience a wide range of concerns, they are sometimes surprised when I focus on the basics of health –  nutrition, exercise, sleep, substance use, stress management. There is a complex relationship between these factors and mental health and it is often a “chicken and the egg” issue of which comes first. The bottom line is that we are one system  – mental health is supported by physical health and vice versa. This short article from the conversation highlights the importance of lifestyle medicine.

Remember: For physical health concerns, the first point of call should be your local doctor.

The majority of Americans are stressedsleep-deprived and overweight and suffer from largely preventable lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. Being overweight or obese contributes to the 50% of adults who suffer high blood pressure10% with diabetes and additional 35% with pre-diabetes. And the costs are unaffordable and growing. About 90% of the nearly $4 trillion Americans spend annually for health care in the U.S. is for chronic diseases and mental health conditions. But there are new lifestyle “medicines” that are free that doctors could be prescribing for all their patients.

Lifestyle medicine is the clinical application of healthy behaviors to prevent, treat and reverse disease. More than ever, research underscores that the “pills” today’s physician should be prescribing for patients are the six domains of lifestyle medicine: whole food plant-based eating, regular physical activity, restorative sleep, stress management, addiction reduction or elimination, and positive psychology and social connection.

Click for article

Welcome to 2021

Hello, hopefully this year will lead to a resolution of the current Covid-19 epidemic. 2020 has taught us the importance of personal hygiene (wash hands), and social distancing. at the same time there is increased awareness of psychological health and the importance for many of social connections. Perhaps the words for 2020 should be adaption and endurance.

2020 was a time for change for me – poor health in 2019 led to a major change in lifestyle and moving health to my number 1 priority. During the year I also left my employment with a pharmaceutical company (Indivior). I am very grateful for my experiences with the company and leave with good memories however, I also recognise that the lifestyle I had adopted was not good for my health. Having left the company I decided to return to clinical work and focus on health and psychology. I now work part time in practice based in Sydney Australia.

During 2021 I will be focusing upon building a new service (apart from my psychological practice) that focuses on lifestyle management – watch out for a new web site.

To start this year I have found a few research articles you may find interesting.

Mark Anns

Lifestyle and Mental Health

Comment: A study from the University of Otago reported in the Science Daily adds to the evidence of the importance of lifestyle on overall health. This study looked at young adults and mental health – in summary, Getting good quality sleep, exercising, and eating more raw fruits and vegetables predicts better mental health and well-being in young adults, a University of Otago study has found. The interesting aspect related to sleep was that it was quality rather than quantity that seems most important.

“Sleep, physical activity, and a healthy diet can be thought of as three pillars of health, which could contribute to promoting optimal well-being among young adults, a population where the prevalence of mental disorders is high and well-being is suboptimal,”

Senior author, Associate Professor Tamlin Conner, of the Department of Psychology, says most prior research examines these health behaviours in isolation of each other.

“We showed that they are all important for predicting which young adults are flourishing versus suffering.”

She also stressed the study’s findings were correlations only.

“We didn’t manipulate sleep, activity, or diet to test their changes on mental health and well-being. Other research has done that and has found positive benefits. Our research suggests that a ‘whole health’ intervention prioritising sleep, exercise, and fruit and vegetable intake together, could be the next logical step in this research,” she says.

Link to Science Daily article

Link to research article

High Blood Pressure – Take Action

Comment: I found a short article on myths associated with high blood pressure (Hypertension) – In the USA it is estimated that 45% of adults have hypertension. The bottom line get assessed by a medico and take preventive action to avoid health issues.

This is the list of myths in a newsletter by Medical news Today

  • Blood pressure is not serious
  • Hypertension runs in my family, so there is nothing I can do
  • High blood pressure is inevitable with age
  • I would notice symptoms if I had hypertension
  • I do not use table salt, so I do not need to worry about sodium intake
  • When my blood pressure responds to medication, I can stop taking it
  • Hypertension is curable

The article highlights the importance of being assessed and taking action – medication and or lifestyle modifications. The next time you see a doctor ask them to check your blood pressure.

Link to article