1. Low levels of ‘anti-anxiety’ hormone linked to postpartum depression

    March 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Johns Hopkins Medicine press release:

    In a small-scale study of women with previously diagnosed mood disorders, Johns Hopkins researchers report that lower levels of the hormone allopregnanolone in the second trimester of pregnancy were associated with an increased chance of developing postpartum depression in women already known to be at risk for the disorder.

    In a report on the study, published online on March 7 in Psychoneuroendocrinology, the researchers say the findings could lead to diagnostic markers and preventive strategies for the condition, which strikes an estimated 15 to 20 percent of American women who give birth.

    The researchers caution that theirs was an observational study in women already diagnosed with a mood disorder and/or taking antidepressants or mood stabilizers, and does not establish cause and effect between the progesterone metabolite and postpartum depression. But it does, they say, add to evidence that hormonal disruptions during pregnancy point to opportunities for intervention.

    Postpartum depression affects early bonding between the mother and child. Untreated, it has potentially devastating and even lethal consequences for both. Infants of women with the disorder may be neglected and have trouble eating, sleeping and developing normally, and an estimated 20 percent of postpartum maternal deaths are thought to be due to suicide, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

    “Many earlier studies haven’t shown postpartum depression to be tied to actual levels of pregnancy hormones, but rather to an individual’s vulnerability to fluctuations in these hormones, and they didn’t identify any concrete way to tell whether a woman would develop postpartum depression,” says Lauren M. Osborne, M.D., assistant director of the Johns Hopkins Women’s Mood Disorders Center and assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “For our study, we looked at a high-risk population of women already diagnosed with mood disorders and asked what might be making them more susceptible.”

    For the study, 60 pregnant women between the ages of 18 and 45 were recruited by investigators at study sites at The Johns Hopkins University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. About 70 percent were white and 21.5 percent were African-American. All women had been previously diagnosed with a mood disorder, such as major depression or bipolar disorder. Almost a third had been previously hospitalized due to complications from their mood disorder, and 73 percent had more than one mental illness.

    During the study, 76 percent of the participants used psychiatric medications, including antidepressants or mood stabilizers, and about 75 percent of the participants were depressed at some point during the investigation, either during the pregnancy or shortly thereafter.

    During the second trimester (about 20 weeks pregnant) and the third trimester (about 34 weeks pregnant), each participant took a mood test and gave 40 milliliters of blood. Forty participants participated in the second-trimester data collection, and 19 of these women, or 47.5 percent, developed postpartum depression at one or three months postpartum. The participants were assessed and diagnosed by a clinician using criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, version IV for a major depressive episode.

    Of the 58 women who participated in the third-trimester data collection, 25 of those women, or 43.1 percent, developed postpartum depression. Thirty-eight women participated in both trimester data collections.

    Using the blood samples, the researchers measured the blood levels of progesterone and allopregnanolone, a byproduct made from the breakdown of progesterone and known for its calming, anti-anxiety effects.

    The researchers found no relationship between progesterone levels in the second or third trimesters and the likelihood of developing postpartum depression. They also found no link between the third-trimester levels of allopregnanolone and postpartum depression. However, they did notice a link between postpartum depression and diminished levels of allopregnanolone levels in the second trimester.

    For example, according to the study data, a woman with an allopregnanolone level of 7.5 nanograms per milliliter had a 1.5 percent chance of developing postpartum depression. At half that level of hormone (about 3.75 nanograms per milliliter), a mother had a 33 percent likelihood of developing the disorder. For every additional nanogram per milliliter increase in allopregnanolone, the risk of developing postpartum depression dropped by 63 percent.

    “Every woman has high levels of certain hormones, including allopregnanolone, at the end of pregnancy, so we decided to look earlier in the pregnancy to see if we could tease apart small differences in hormone levels that might more accurately predict postpartum depression later,” says Osborne. She says that many earlier studies on postpartum depression focused on a less ill population, often excluding women whose symptoms were serious enough to warrant psychiatric medication — making it difficult to detect trends in those women most at risk.

    Because the study data suggest that higher levels of allopregnanolone in the second trimester seem to protect against postpartum depression, Osborne says in the future, her group hopes to study whether allopregnanolone can be used in women at risk to prevent postpartum depression. She says Johns Hopkins is one of several institutions currently participating in a clinical trial led by Sage Therapeutics that is looking at allopregnanolone as a treatment for postpartum depression.

    She also cautions that additional and larger studies are needed to determine whether women without mood disorders show the same patterns of allopregnanolone levels linked to postpartum depression risk.

    If those future studies confirm a similar impact, Osborne says, then tests for low levels of allopregnanolone in the second trimester could be used as a biomarker to predict those mothers who are at risk of developing postpartum depression.

    Osborne and her colleagues previously showed and replicated in Neuropsychopharmacology in 2016 that epigenetic modifications to two genes could be used as biomarkers to predict postpartum depression; these modifications target genes that work with estrogen receptors and are sensitive to hormones. These biomarkers were already about 80 percent effective at predicting postpartum depression, and Osborne hopes to examine whether combining allopregnanolone levels with the epigenetic biomarkers may improve the effectiveness of the tests to predict postpartum depression.

    Of note and seemingly contradictory, she says, many of the participants in the study developed postpartum depression while on antidepressants or mood stabilizers. The researchers say that the medication dosages weren’t prescribed by the study group and were monitored by the participant’s primary care physician, psychiatrist or obstetrician instead. “We believe that many, if not most, women who become pregnant are undertreated for their depression because many physicians believe that smaller doses of antidepressants are safer for the baby, but we don’t have any evidence that this is true,” says Osborne. “If the medication dose is too low and the mother relapses into depression during pregnancy or the postpartum period, then the baby will be exposed to both the drugs and the mother’s illness.”

    Osborne and her team are currently analyzing the medication doses used by women in this study to determine whether those given adequate doses of antidepressants were less likely to develop symptoms in pregnancy or in postpartum.

    Only 15 percent of women with postpartum depression are estimated to ever receive professional treatment, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many physicians don’t screen for it, and there is a stigma for mothers. A mother who asks for help may be seen as incapable of handling her situation as a mother, or may be criticized by friends or family for taking a medication during or shortly after pregnancy.


  2. Married people have lower levels of stress hormone

    February 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Carnegie Mellon University media release:

    couple on dateStudies have suggested that married people are healthier than those who are single, divorced, or widowed. A new Carnegie Mellon University study provides the first biological evidence to explain how marriage impacts health.

    Published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, the researchers found that married individuals had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who never married or were previously married. These findings support the belief that unmarried people face more psychological stress than married individuals. Prolonged stress is associated with increased levels of cortisol which can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate inflammation, which in turn promotes the development and progression of many diseases.

    “It’s is exciting to discover a physiological pathway that may explain how relationships influence health and disease,” said Brian Chin, a Ph.D. student in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Department of Psychology.

    Over three non-consecutive days, the researchers collected saliva samples from 572 healthy adults aged 21-55. Multiple samples were taken during each 24-hour period and tested for cortisol.

    The results showed that the married participants had lower cortisol levels than the never married or previously married people across the three day period. The researchers also compared each person’s daily cortisol rhythm — typically, cortisol levels peak when a person wakes up and decline during the day. Those who were married showed a faster decline, a pattern that has been associated with less heart disease, and longer survival among cancer patients.

    These data provide important insight into the way in which our intimate social relationships can get under the skin to influence our health,” said laboratory director and co-author Sheldon Cohen, the Robert E. Doherty University Professor of Psychology.


  3. Mediterranean diet may have lasting effects on brain health

    January 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) media release:

    healthy, vital seniorA new study shows that older people who followed a Mediterranean diet retained more brain volume over a three-year period than those who did not follow the diet as closely.

    The study is published in the January 4, 2017, online issue of Neurlogy®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. But contrary to earlier studies, eating more fish and less meat was not related to changes in the brain.

    The Mediterranean diet includes large amounts of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, beans and cereal grains such as wheat and rice, moderate amounts of fish, dairy and wine, and limited red meat and poultry.

    As we age, the brain shrinks and we lose brain cells which can affect learning and memory,” said study author Michelle Luciano, PhD, of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. “This study adds to the body of evidence that suggests the Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on brain health.”

    Researchers gathered information on the eating habits of 967 Scottish people around age 70 who did not have dementia. Of those people, 562 had an MRI brain scan around age 73 to measure overall brain volume, gray matter volume and thickness of the cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain. From that group, 401 people then returned for a second MRI at age 76. These measurements were compared to how closely participants followed the Mediterranean diet.

    The participants varied in how closely their dietary habits followed the Mediterranean diet principles. People who didn’t follow as closely to the Mediterranean diet were more likely to have a higher loss of total brain volume over the three years than people who followed the diet more closely. The difference in diet explained 0.5 percent of the variation in total brain volume, an effect that was half the size of that due to normal aging.

    The results were the same when researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect brain volume, such as age, education and having diabetes or high blood pressure [hypertension].

    There was no relationship between grey matter volume or cortical thickness and the Mediterranean diet.

    The researchers also found that fish and meat consumption were not related to brain changes, which is contrary to earlier studies.

    It’s possible that other components of the Mediterranean diet are responsible for this relationship, or that it’s due to all of the components in combination,” Luciano said.

    Luciano noted that earlier studies looked at brain measurements at one point in time, whereas the current study followed people over time.

    “In our study, eating habits were measured before brain volume was, which suggests that the diet may be able to provide long-term protection to the brain,” said Luciano. “Still, larger studies are needed to confirm these results.”

     


  4. Tablet devices show promise in managing agitation among patients with dementia

    January 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the McLean Hospital media release:

    senior researcher with tabletA new pilot study led by McLean Hospital’s Ipsit Vahia, MD, medical director of Geriatric Psychiatry Outpatient Services at McLean Hospital, suggests that the use of tablet computers is both a safe and a potentially effective approach to managing agitation among patients with dementia.

    “Tablet use as a nonpharmacologic intervention for agitation in older adults, including those with severe dementia, appears to be feasible, safe, and of potential utility,” said Vahia. “Our preliminary results are a first step in developing much-needed empirical data for clinicians and caregivers on how to use technology such as tablets as tools to enhance care and also for app developers working to serve the technologic needs of this population.”

    “Use of Tablet Devices in the Management of Agitation Among Inpatients with Dementia: An Open Label Study” was recently published in the online version of The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. This research builds upon previous studies demonstrating that art, music, and other similar therapies can effectively reduce symptoms of dementia without medication. By using tablet devices to employ these therapies, however, patients and providers also benefit from a computer’s inherent flexibility.

    “The biggest advantage is versatility,” said Vahia. “We know that art therapy can work, music therapy can work. The tablet, however, gives you the option of switching from one app to another easily, modifying the therapy seamlessly to suit the individual. You don’t need to invest in new equipment or infrastructure.”

    Researchers loaded a menu of 70 apps onto the tablets for the study. The apps were freely available on iTunes and varied greatly in their cognitive complexity — from an app that displayed puppy photos to one that featured Sudoku puzzles.

    The researchers found that tablet use was safe for every patient, regardless of the severity of their dementia, and that with proper supervision and training, the engagement rate with the devices was nearly 100 percent. The study also found that the tablets demonstrated significant effectiveness in reducing symptoms of agitation, particularly — but not exclusively — among patients with milder forms of dementia.

    Vahia cited several examples of the tablet’s potential to improve a patient’s condition. One particular patient, who only spoke Romanian, was very withdrawn and irritable, and medications were ineffective in controlling his symptoms.

    “We started showing him Romanian video clips on YouTube, and his behavior changed dramatically and instantaneously,” said Vahia. “His mood improved. He became more interactive. He and his medical support team also started using a translation app so that staff could ask him simple questions in Romanian, facilitating increased interaction. These significant improvements are a clear testament of the tablet’s potential as a clinical tool.”

    Based on such promising outcomes, the Geriatric Psychiatry Outpatient Services clinical team is expanding the use of tablet devices as a means to control agitation in dementia patients at McLean. This will allow researchers to develop more robust data and expand the scope of the study, including a focus on specific clinical factors that may impact how patients with dementia engage with and respond to apps.


  5. As neighborhood status falls, cardiovascular disease risk among black residents spikes

    January 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Drexel University media release:

    The lower a neighborhood’s socioeconomic status is, the more likely its black residents are to develop heart disease and stroke, according to a new Drexel University-led public health study.

    While many neighborhood-level public health studies focus on physical aspects of a neighborhood — such as the availability of affordable, healthy foods or the walkability of the location — this study examined how a neighborhood’s social and economic makeup was linked to the development of cardiovascular disease.

    “This is an important contribution because it is the largest study among blacks to look at the link between neighborhood socioeconomic status and adverse neighborhood conditions such as violence and disorder in relation to cardiovascular disease,” said Sharrelle Barber, ScD, a research fellow at Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health, who led the study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

    Barber and her team — which included Dornsife School of Public Health Dean Ana Diez-Roux, MD, PhD — looked at heart disease and stroke incidence from 2000 to 2011 among black men and women who participated in a National Institutes of Health project called the Jackson (Mississippi) Heart Study. This information was linked to data on neighborhood poverty, unemployment and other socioeconomic indicators from the 2000 U.S. Census, along with other data on violence and disorder.

    Barber and her team found that every step down on an established disadvantage scale resulted in a 25 percent increase in risk of cardiovascular disease.

    When they measured violence and disorder levels in neighborhoods, there was a similar increase in risk of cardiovascular disease for each negative step on the scale.

    “For decades, centuries, even, researchers have linked adverse neighborhood economic and social conditions to health,” Barber said. “For example, in ‘The Philadelphia Negro,’ a groundbreaking study conducted by W.E.B. DuBois, mortality rates among Blacks in Philadelphia at the turn of the 20th century were higher in the poorest wards of the city.”

    When it comes to examining chronic disease risk, Barber feels it is “critical” to delve deeper and identify true root causes so that policies and strategies can be as effective as possible.

    Among the issues that clearly need addressing are violence and disorder.

    “These are symptoms of the broader issues of racial and economic inequality that is rampant in urban areas across the United States,” Barber said. “These issues arise from decades of persistent, concentrated poverty and disinvestment in communities of color, including limited opportunities for good jobs, proper education and other resources necessary for the full wellbeing of individuals and communities.”

    “One way of addressing this issue is to invest in economic and social policies at the neighborhood level — such as creating jobs and educational opportunities — in tandem with evidence-based efforts to reduce violence,” Barber concluded.


  6. Childhood poverty can rob adults of psychological health

    by Ashley

    From the Cornell University media release:

    childhood depressionA large and growing body of research shows that poor kids grow up to have a host of physical problems as adults.

    Now add poor psychological health to the list, a Cornell University researcher says.

    A sweeping new study, conducted by following participants over a 15-year period, is the first to show that childhood poverty can cause significant psychological damage in adulthood.

    Impoverished children in the study had more antisocial conduct such as aggression and bullying, and increased feeling of helplessness, than kids from middle-income backgrounds, the study said. Poor kids also have more chronic physiological stress and more deficits in short-term spatial memory.

    “What this means is, if you’re born poor, you’re on a trajectory to have more of these kinds of psychological problems,” said Gary Evans, the author of the study and professor of environmental and developmental psychology at Cornell.

    Why?

    In a word, stress.

    “With poverty, you’re exposed to lots of stress. Everybody has stress, but low-income families, low-income children, have a lot more of it,” Evans said. “And the parents are also under a lot of stress. So for kids, there is a cumulative risk exposure.”

    Evans, a child psychologist who specializes in the effects of stress on children, is the author of “Childhood poverty and adult psychological well-being,” published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    The findings are important because kids who grow up in poverty are likely to stay impoverished as adults. For example, there’s a 40 percent chance that a son’s income will be the same as his father’s income.

    People walk around with this idea in their head that if you work hard, play by the rules, you can get ahead,” Evans said. “And that’s just a myth. It’s just not true.

    In his study, Evans tracked 341 participants over a 15-year period, and tested them at ages 9, 13, 17 and 24.

    Short-term spatial memory was tested by asking adult study participants to repeat increasingly complex sequences of lights and sounds by pressing four colored pads in the correct order — similar to the “Simon” game. The adults who grew up in poverty had a diminished ability to recall the sequences, compared to those who did not. “This is an important result because the ability to retain information in short-term memory is fundamental to a host of basic cognitive skills, including language and achievement,” the study said.

    Although the participants were assessed on this measure only when they were adults, this test had the strongest association with childhood poverty of the four measures.

    Helplessness was assessed by asking the participants to solve an impossible puzzle. Adults growing up in poverty gave up 8 percent more quickly than those who weren’t poor as kids. Previous research has shown chronic exposure to uncontrollable stressors — such as family turmoil and substandard housing — tends to induce helplessness.

    Mental health was measured with a well validated, standardized index of mental health with statements including “I argue a lot” and “I am too impatient.” Adults who grew up in poverty were more likely to agree with those questions than adults from a middle-income background.

    Chronic physiological stress was tested by measuring the participants’ blood pressure, stress hormones and body mass index. Adults who grew up in poverty had a higher level of chronic physical stress throughout childhood and into adulthood.

    The study has two implications, Evans said.

    First, early intervention to prevent these problems is more efficient and more likely to work. “If you don’t intervene early, it’s going to be really difficult and is going to cost a lot to intervene later,” he said.

    Second, increasing poor families’ incomes is the most efficient way to reduce a child’s exposure to poverty and, in turn, their risk of developing psychological problems. Evans supports the creation of a safety net, similar to Social Security’s supplemental income for the elderly and disabled. If a family is poor and has children, the federal government should provide them with supplementary income sufficient to participate in society, he said.

    It’s not true you can’t do anything about poverty. It’s just whether there’s the political will, and are people willing to reframe the problem, instead of blaming the person who is poor and — even more preposterous — blaming their children,” he said.

    “This is a societal issue, and if we decide to reallocate resources like we did with the elderly and Social Security, we could change the kind of data this study is showing,” he said.

    “Could we get rid of poverty? Probably not,” Evans said. “But I think we could change it dramatically.”


  7. Shooting, gang violence exposure leads to PTSD

    December 13, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Northwestern University media release:

    memory vanishingThe violence that women in disadvantaged neighborhoods experience and witness can result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and full diagnoses, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study that examined a disadvantaged Chicago neighborhood.

    Also noteworthy, women with PTSD diagnosis or sub-threshold PTSD had significantly more severe depression symptoms than women in the study who didn’t report experiencing trauma. Every woman who was recruited had symptoms of depression.

    “There are many women who are affected by shooting and gang violence in these neighborhoods,” said first author Sunghyun Hong, a research assistant at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “These women are often overlooked. With this study, we were able to shine a light on this high prevalence of trauma exposure and PTSD diagnosis among the underserved population.”

    This is one of very few studies to explicitly examine the impact that living in a disadvantaged neighborhood has on PTSD symptoms. The study was published Dec. 7 in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities (pdf of study available for free download at this link).

    The traumatic experiences reported in the study were often violent or sexual in nature. One woman disclosed having witnessed the fatal shooting of her son, and another woman reported watching her father be murdered in her home.

    The neighborhood from which women in the study were recruited ranked 7th for property crime, 26th for quality of life crime and 35th for violent crime among 77 Chicago neighborhoods.

    Thirty-six percent of women in the study had PTSD or sub-threshold PTSD (substantial trauma symptoms that might not have met the full PTSD diagnostic criteria). Those with PTSD had more severe depression symptoms than other women in the study who did not exhibit signs of PTSD, said principal investigator and senior author Inger Burnett-Zeigler, clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Feinberg.

    “Even if you don’t meet the full criteria for PTSD, you can have enough symptoms to impact your well-being,” Burnett-Zeigler said. “There is a substantial proportion of people who fall below the PTSD diagnosis line who might be getting lost in the cracks. It’s important for mental health providers to develop a greater awareness around this because untreated PTSD symptoms affect mental health, quality of life and functioning.”

    A significant percentage of women in a general population who experienced trauma (20 percent) develop PTSD she said.

    “But the prevalence of PTSD symptoms is particularly acute in impoverished neighborhoods,” Burnett-Zeigler said. “In the study’s sample, 71 percent of the women who experienced trauma had PTSD symptoms.”

    “This wasn’t a sample we recruited based on having traumatic experiences, and yet so many women we recruited had experienced something traumatic,” Burnett-Zeigler said. “That is really significant in terms of how prevalent of an issue this is in that vulnerable population.


  8. How to avoid feeling depressed on Facebook

    December 9, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Lancaster University media release:

    Computer UserComparing yourself with others on Facebook is more likely to lead to feelings of depression than making social comparisons offline.

    That’s one of the findings from a review of all the research on the links between social networking and depression by David Baker and Dr Guillermo Perez Algorta from Lancaster University.

    They examined studies from 14 countries with 35,000 participants aged between 15 and 88.

    There are among 1.8 billion people on online social networking sites worldwide, with Facebook alone having more than 1 billion active users.

    Concerns over the effect on mental health led the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2011 to define “Facebook depression” as a “depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression.”

    The Lancaster University review of existing research found that the relationship between online social networking and depression may be very complex and associated with factors like age and gender.

    In cases where there is a significant association with depression, this is because comparing yourself with others can lead to “rumination” or overthinking.

    • Negative comparison with others when using Facebook was found to predict depression via increased rumination
    • Frequent posting on Facebook was found to be associated with depression via rumination

    However, the frequency, quality and type of online social networking is also important.

    Facebook users were more at risk of depression when they:

    • Felt envy triggered by observing others
    • Accepted former partners as Facebook friends
    • Made negative social comparisons
    • Made frequent negative status updates

    Gender and personality also influenced the risk, with women and people with neurotic personalities more likely to become depressed.

    But the researchers stressed that online activity could also help people with depression who use it as a mental health resource and to enhance social support.


  9. Vitamin D status in newborns and risk of MS in later life

    by Ashley

    From the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) media release:

    pregnancy measurementBabies born with low levels of vitamin D may be more likely to develop multiple sclerosis (MS) later in life than babies with higher levels of vitamin D, according to a study published in the November 30, 2016, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

    “More research is needed to confirm these results, but our results may provide important information to the ongoing debate about vitamin D for pregnant women,” said study author Nete Munk Nielsen, MD, MSc, PhD, of the State Serum Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark.

    In Denmark, dried blood spots samples from newborn screening tests are stored in the Danish National Biobank. Researchers identified everyone in Denmark who was born since April 30, 1981, had onset of MS by 2012 and whose dried blood spots samples were included in the biobank. The blood from those 521 people was then compared to that of 972 people of the same sex and birthday who did not have MS. In this study, newborns with levels of vitamin D less than 30 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L) were considered born with deficient levels. Levels of 30 to less than 50 nmol/L were considered insufficient and levels higher than or equal to 50 nmol/L were considered sufficient.

    The study participants were divided into five groups based on vitamin D level, with the bottom group having levels of less than 21 nmol/L and the top group with levels higher than or equal to 49 nmol/L. There were 136 people with MS and 193 people without MS in the bottom group. In the top group, there were 89 people with MS and 198 people without the disease. Those in the top group appeared to be 47 percent less likely to develop MS later in life than those in the bottom group.

    Nielsen emphasizes that the study does not prove that increasing vitamin D levels reduces the risk of MS.

    The study has several limitations. Dried blood spots samples were only available for vitamin D analysis for 67 percent of people with MS born during the time period. Vitamin D levels were based on one measurement. Study participants were 30 years old or younger, so the study does not include people who developed MS at an older age. In addition, the Danish population is predominantly white, so the results may not be generalizable to other populations. Furthermore, it cannot be excluded that this apparent beneficial effect could be mediated through other factors in later life such as vitamin D levels, in which case a possible maternal vitamin D supplementation would not reduce the MS risk in the offspring.

    Sources of vitamin D are diet, supplementsn and the sun. Dietary vitamin D is primarily found in fatty fish such as salmon or mackerel. Levels of vitamin D should be within the recommended levels, neither too low nor too high.

     


  10. Physical stature as a teen could predict future stock choices

    November 9, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Cornell University media release:

    tablet computer seniorSocial scientists have long studied the relationship between a person’s height and their success in life. Taller people, studies purport, tend to be better educated, earn more money, and have higher confidence and self-esteem than those who are “vertically challenged.”

    A Cornell researcher and two of his former University of Miami colleagues are authors of a new study that takes that idea a step further — showing that observed physical attributes are related to participation in the stock market.

    Specifically: Individuals who are relatively tall are more likely to hold stocks in their financial portfolios, and those who are relatively overweight or obese are more risk-averse and less likely to participate in the market.

    Jawad Addoum, assistant professor of finance and the Robert R. Dyson Sesquicentennial Fellow in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, is co-author of “Stature, Obesity and Portfolio Choice,” which was published online Aug. 1 in the journal Management Science.

    Co-authors are Alok Kumar, Ph.D. ’03, finance department chair at Miami, and George Korniotis, associate professor of finance.

    Addoum, who arrived at Cornell in June after four years as assistant professor of finance at Miami, stresses that it’s not just height as an adult that plays a role in a person’s portfolio decisions.

    It’s really about height during teenage years,” he said. “Those who grow tall early drive most of this effect. People who grow tall early are able to enjoy a sort of social dominance as teens. Tall teens are more likely to play sports and participate in other extracurricular activities, and they tend to have a better overall experience in high school.”

    The researchers posit that people’s physical attributes could evoke environmental responses — and shape personality traits such as optimism, self-esteem and trust — that could in turn play a role in risk-taking behavior.

    Addoum and his team analyzed four sets of data — two from Europe and two from the U.S. — which contained detailed information regarding households’ investment decisions.

    The U.S. data sets included the Health and Retirement Study and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY). The latter sample, which included individuals who were age 14 to 22 in 1979, was analyzed separately from the other three sets; it only contains information about the decision to own stocks, mutual funds and bonds, whereas the other three data sets separated ownership of stocks and mutual funds with that of less risky bonds. However, it also reports height at two points in time: height during teenage years and final height as an adult.

    Noteworthy among the group’s findings:

    Gender-specific effects: Consistent with related studies, the group found that the positive effects of height are stronger for men than for women, and that the negative effects of body mass index (BMI) are greater for women than for men;

    Teen height vs. adult height: The researchers found that while both teen and adult height are important determinants of market participation, teen height appears to be economically more important. What’s more, adult height becomes statistically insignificant when relative current and relative teen BMI are factored in.

    BMI and impatience: Citing a 2015 study that linked BMI and impatience, the group attempted to link obese individuals’ avoidance of stocks to time preferences. However, analysis of NLSY findings suggest that cognitive skills are more telling in portfolio decisions than impatience.

    Addoum said that, in a traditional rational model, someone should be able to decide how to invest based on their current situation and not on physiological factors or experiences during their teen years. But that’s not always the case.

    “Someone should be able to look at this as, “I want to build my wealth, and I should invest,'” he said. “But it turns out that early experiences can lead to hesitance in terms of financial risk-taking. This suggests that social experiences can have long-lasting effects that really matter.”

    The group says its findings could be applied to other behaviors, such as risk-taking among hedge and mutual fund managers, as well as corporate managers. Future work will examine, among other things, the role of physical attributes in managerial decisions.