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 

 

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

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

Exercise – Podcast

Following the release of the WHO guidelines on physical activity the ABC Health Report did a podcast on What dose of physical activity is best for you?

Dr Norman Swan interviews Dr Melody Ding Associate Professor, Sydney School of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Sydney

Podcast 30 November: length 8.5 minutes

Link to ABC Health report

New Guidelines – Physical Activity

Comment: In reading these new WHO guidelines on amount of daily recommended physical activity we should be undertaking, it may be challenging to consider how will I achieve this goal as “I do not have the time”. Often the answer is not easy and involves a restructuring of how we undertake our daily activities. To restructure and maintain the behaviours involves (where possible) moving “health” up our list of priorities

The WHO Guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour provide evidence-based public health recommendations for children, adolescents, adults and older adults on the amount of physical activity (frequency, intensity and duration) required to offer significant health benefits and mitigate health risks. For the first time, recommendations are provided on the associations between sedentary behaviour and health outcomes, as well as for subpopulations, such as pregnant and postpartum women, and people living with chronic conditions or disability. 

Adults should do at least 150– 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity; or at least 75–150 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity; or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity throughout the week, for substantial health benefits.

Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities at moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these provide additional health benefits.

Link to WHO Report

E-Health options for mental health

Comment: There is evidence for the effectiveness of online courses to support mental health. The recent Productivity Commission Report on mental health highlighted that online treatment can provide a convenient, clinically effective, low-cost way … to manage their mental illness. Information on various options can be found at the Health Direct websitesee below.

What is online therapy?

Online therapy is psychological support, information, therapy and other help that is provided online or on your mobile device.

There are many different types of online therapy. Some are as simple as screening tools and checklists to help you decide if you want to seek help for a psychological issue. Some offer web seminars. Others have structured online programs. Some programs offer an online counsellor to talk to, while others don’t.

Online therapy can be a very effective way of helping most people. It can be accessed easily with a computer, tablet or smartphone. 

Click here for healthdirect information on e-therapy