1. Study suggests pregnant women with PTSD have higher levels of stress hormone cortisol

    December 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    Research has shown that a woman’s emotional and physical health during pregnancy impacts a developing fetus. However, less is known about the effect of past stressors and posttraumatic stress disorder on an expectant woman.

    To that end, researchers at the University of Michigan measured the stress hormone cortisol in pregnant women from early pregnancy to when their baby was 6 weeks old. They found that those with a dissociative type of PTSD that’s often related to childhood abuse or trauma had levels up to 10 times higher than their peers.

    These toxic levels of cortisol may contribute to health problems in the next generation, said Julia Seng, professor of nursing and lead author on the study.

    “We know from research on the developmental origins of health and disease that the baby’s first environment in its mother’s body has implications for health across the lifespan,” Seng said. “Higher exposure to cortisol may signal the fetus to adapt in ways that help survival, but don’t help health and longevity. This finding is very useful because it helps us know which women are most likely to exhibit the highest level of stress and stress hormones during pregnancy and postpartum.”

    Cortisol is sometimes called the stress hormone because it’s released in stressful situations as part of the flight-or-fight response. Cortisol levels that stay high are linked to serious health problems such as heart disease and high blood pressure, and can fuel weight gain, depression and anxiety plus a host of other problems. The effect of elevated cortisol on a developing fetus isn’t well understood, but high cortisol and stress also contribute to preterm birth.

    In the study, 395 women expecting their first child were divided into four groups: those without trauma, those with a trauma but no PTSD, those with classic PTSD and those with dissociative PTSD.

    Researchers measured salivary cortisol at different times during the day. Then 111 of those women gave saliva specimens until postpartum. The difference in cortisol was greatest in early pregnancy, when levels were eight times higher in the afternoon and 10 times higher at bedtime for the dissociative group than for other women.

    About 8 percent of pregnant women in the study had PTSD, a disorder that results when symptoms of anxiety and fear persist well after exposure to stressful events. About 14 percent of that group had the more complex dissociative PTSD, which was associated with higher cortisol.

    “It’s been a mystery in our field why cortisol is sometimes high with PTSD and sometimes not,” Seng said. “This finding that in pregnancy it’s only the dissociative subgroup that has high cortisol gives us more to go on for future research.”

    Seng was surprised at how high the cortisol was in the dissociative group. She also said researchers expected women with classic PTSD to experience elevated cortisol as well, and the fact that they didn’t is good news.

    “We can do something for the 1-to-2 out of 100 pregnant women who have this dissociative PTSD,” Seng said. “We can work with them to make pregnancy, maternity care, labor, breastfeeding and early parenting less likely to trigger stress reactions. And we can connect them to mental health services when they are ready to treat their PTSD.”

    Seng and collaborator Mickey Sperlich have developed a PTSD-specific education program for pregnant woman with a childhood trauma called the Survivor Moms’ Companion, which has been piloted in Michigan and is currently being piloted in England.


  2. Study suggests disorders of the voice can affect a politician’s success

    by Ashley

    From the Acoustical Society of America press release:

    The acoustics of a political speech delivery are known to be a powerful influencer of voter preferences, perhaps giving some credence to the saying, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” Vocal disorders change the qualities of a person’s speech, and voice scientists Rosario Signorello and Didier Demolin at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris have found that this alters politicians’ perceived charisma and listeners’ voting preferences.

    The researchers examined two cases of politicians with vocal disorders: Umberto Bossi, former leader of the Italian Lega Nord party, whose vocal cords were partially paralyzed by a stroke, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, former president of Brazil, whose larynx has disturbed functionality due to throat cancer. Signorello will present the findings at the 174th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, being held Dec. 4-8, 2017, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

    In both vocal pathologies, the vocal range was narrowed and pitch lowered. The disordered voices were characterized by hoarseness, a slower speech rate and a restriction in the ability to modulate pitch. “We use pitch manipulation to be ironic and sarcastic, to change the meaning of a sentence,” said Signorello, emphasizing the limited speech capabilities of the politicians after their pathology.

    “Before the stroke, people perceived Bossi as positive, enthusiastic, a very charming speaker, and when listening to his post-stroke voice, everything changed,” said Signorello. “After the stroke, he had a flat pitch contour, a lack of modulation, and this was perceived as a wise and competent charisma.”

    Multiple charismatic adjectives were assessed on a Likert scale of agreement by a French audience. Using an audience who didn’t understand the languages of the vocal stimuli was important. “[W]henever you listen to a voice you assess the acoustics, but also what they say, and we didn’t want the verbal, semantic content to influence our results,” said Signorello.

    The French listeners were asked which vocal stimuli they would vote for and, perhaps surprisingly, there was a preference for the leaders’ post-disorder voices. “French people didn’t want to vote for someone who was strong and authoritarian, or perceived as a younger version of the leader,” said Signorello. However, this was a variable trend. “In each example the vocal patterns are so diverse you never find the same answers; all trigger different emotional states and convey different personality traits.”

    Emphasizing that there is no “best” voice, Signorello said, “Charisma is a social phenomenon, difficult to assess because it is subject to social trends. It’s impossible to give a recipe of what is more or less charismatic — it’s like fashion, it changes drastically with time.”

    The researchers found it intriguing that the leadership charismas identified from post-vocal disorder vocal stimuli were characterized by personality traits that are also used to describe an older person, for example, as wise. “We are interested in how age and the perception of age from voice influences the social status of a speaker in a given society,” said Signorello, who plans to investigate this further.

    He plans to extend the study to vocal disorders of female politicians, aiming to use the findings to improve and focus speech rehabilitation of public speakers, from teachers, to CEOs and politicians. He is also interested in applying these findings to smart device voice recognition technology.


  3. Study looks at how hand preference develops

    December 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati press release:

    Are you born or do you become right-handed or left-handed? A study led by Valentina Parma, researcher at the International School for Advanced Studies — SISSA of Trieste, and Professor Umberto Castiello of the University of Padua, just published on Scientific Reports, shows that hand preference is already well defined at the 18th week of gestation. Analysing the characteristics of several fetal movements, the researchers have been able to accurately foresee the motor preference observed in the same boys and girls at age nine. The predictive capacity of the method used seems to be a good starting point for the early recognition of pathologies characterised by cerebral asymmetries, such as depression, schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders.

    It takes a few months for a newborn to be able to grasp an object, a few years to draw and then to write, manifesting the possible preference for the use of one hand or other parts of the body. And yet, a study just published on Scientific Reports shows that as early as in the maternal womb, hand preference is well defined and the motor system is highly sophisticated.

    The researchers have studied fetal kinematics to predict manual dominance of 29 foetuses. After nine years they compared their predictions with the preference shown by the same boys and girls obtaining an accuracy that ranged between 89% and 100% depending on the parameters used. In particular, the researchers analysed the movements of the hands of the foetuses at the 14th, 18th and 22nd week of gestation using a 4D ultrasound scan, viewing the three dimensional image in real time and in movement, in 20-minute sessions. They studied three types of movements: two of greater precision, directed to the eyes and mouth, and one directed to the uterine wall, as a control. The results have shown that starting from the 18th week the foetuses execute significantly more quickly the movements requiring precision with that which will become the preferred hand.

    The study, conducted by the International School for Advanced Studies — SISSA of Trieste, the Integrated University Hospital of Trieste — ASUITs, Ab.Acus of Milan, the University of Padua and the Lincean Centre Beniamino Segre of Rome, shows the elevated level of maturation and specialisation of the motor system in utero. But not just that. The accuracy of the method used in this study opens new perspectives for its use in the clinical field. Hand preference, in fact, is due to the prevalence of one cerebral hemisphere, the contralateral one, over the other. This characteristic has sometimes been associated to pathologies which involve a cerebral asymmetry, such as depression, schizophrenia and autistic spectrum disorders. Fetal kinematics could be used to identify new markers that would allow to intervene at an early stage and compensate for any development problems.


  4. Study links working memory with higher physical endurance, better cognitive function

    December 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Mount Sinai Hospital / Mount Sinai School of Medicine press release:

    Mount Sinai researchers have found a positive relationship between the brain network associated with working memory — the ability to store and process information relevant to the task at hand — and healthy traits such as higher physical endurance and better cognitive function.

    These traits were associated with greater cohesiveness of the working memory brain network while traits indicating suboptimal cardiovascular and metabolic health, and suboptimal health habits including binge drinking and regular smoking, were associated with less cohesive working memory networks.

    This is the first study to establish the link between working memory and physical health and lifestyle choices.

    The results of the study will be published online in Molecular Psychiatry on Tuesday, December 5, at 4 am EST.

    The research team took brain scans of 823 participants in the Human Connectome Project (HCP), a large brain imaging study funded by the National Institutes of Health, while they performed a task involving working memory, and extracted measures of brain activity and connectivity to create a brain map of working memory. The team then used a statistical method called sparse canonical correlation to discover the relationships between the working memory brain map and 116 measures of cognitive ability, physical and mental health, personality, and lifestyle choices. They found that cohesiveness in the working memory brain map was positively associated with higher physical endurance and better cognitive function. Physical traits such as high body mass index, and suboptimal lifestyle choices including binge alcohol drinking and regular smoking, had the opposite association.

    “Working memory accounts for individual differences in personal, educational, and professional attainment,” said Sophia Frangou, MD, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Working memory is also one of the brain functions that is severely affected by physical and mental illnesses. Our study identified factors that can either support or undermine the working memory brain network. Our findings can empower people to make informed choices about how best to promote and preserve brain health.”

    This study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (R01 MH104284-01A1) and European Unit FP7 program (IMAGEMEND 602450; IMAging GEnetics for MENtal Disorders) projects, the Swiss National Science Foundation, the National Institute for HealthResearch (NIHR; Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHSFoundation Trust and King’s College London) and the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (eMED SysAlc01ZX1311A).HCP data are disseminated by the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at the University of Southern California.


  5. Study suggests marriage may help stave off dementia

    December 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the BMJ press release:

    Marriage may lower the risk of developing dementia, concludes a synthesis of the available evidence published online in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

    Lifelong singletons and widowers are at heightened risk of developing the disease, the findings indicate, although single status may no longer be quite the health hazard it once seemed to be, the researchers acknowledge.

    They base their findings on data from 15 relevant studies published up to the end of 2016. These looked at the potential role of marital status on dementia risk, and involved more than 800,000 participants from Europe, North and South America, and Asia.

    Married people accounted for between 28 and 80 per cent of people in the included studies; the widowed made up between around 8 and 48 per cent; the divorced between 0 and 16 per cent; and lifelong singletons between 0 and 32.5 per cent.

    Pooled analysis of the data showed that compared with those who were married, lifelong singletons were 42 per cent more likely to develop dementia, after taking account of age and sex.

    Part of this risk might be explained by poorer physical health among lifelong single people, suggest the researchers.

    However, the most recent studies, which included people born after 1927, indicated a risk of 24 per cent, which suggests that this may have lessened over time, although it is not clear why, say the researchers.

    The widowed were 20 per cent more likely to develop dementia than married people, although the strength of this association was somewhat weakened when educational attainment was factored in.

    But bereavement is likely to boost stress levels, which have been associated with impaired nerve signalling and cognitive abilities, the researchers note.

    No such associations were found for those who had divorced their partners, although this may partly be down to the smaller numbers of people of this status included in the studies, the researchers point out.

    But the lower risk among married people persisted even after further more detailed analysis, which, the researchers suggest, reflects “the robustness of the findings.”

    These findings are based on observational studies so no firm conclusions about cause and effect can be drawn, and the researchers point to several caveats, including the design of some of the included studies, and the lack of information on the duration of widowhood or divorce.

    Nevertheless, they proffer several explanations for the associations they found. Marriage may help both partners to have healthier lifestyles, including exercising more, eating a healthy diet, and smoking and drinking less, all of which have been associated with lower risk of dementia.

    Couples may also have more opportunities for social engagement than single people — a factor that has been linked to better health and lower dementia risk, they suggest.

    In a linked editorial, Christopher Chen and Vincent Mok, of, respectively, the National University of Singapore and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, suggest that should marital status be added to the list of modifiable risk factors for dementia, “the challenge remains as to how these observations can be translated into effective means of dementia prevention.”

    The discovery of potentially modifiable risk factors doesn’t mean that dementia can easily be prevented, they emphasise.

    “Therefore, ways of destigmatising dementia and producing dementia-friendly communities more accepting and embracing of the kinds of disruptions that dementia can produce should progress alongside biomedical and public health programmes,” they conclude.


  6. Study looks at how office workers perceive sitting down all week

    December 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the James Cook University press release:

    A James Cook University study has found nearly three quarters of office workers believe there is a negative relationship between sitting down all day at work and their health — and that bosses are crucial to helping solve the problem.

    PhD candidate Teneale McGuckin is a lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science at JCU. She surveyed 140 office workers on what they thought was the relationship between sitting time and health.

    “One hundred people said that more sitting time worsened their health. Back complaints were the most common worry, then neck aches and loss of muscle tone. People also talked about weight gain and that sitting down all day reduced their motivation.”

    Ms McGuckin said that science supported the view that sitting is bad for you.

    “Increased sitting time has been associated with an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease and reduced life expectancy. Links to weight gain, some cancers, type 2 diabetes, and breathing difficulties, have also been identified.”

    The office workers were also asked what they thought could be done about the problem and suggested a variety of behaviour change strategies.

    These included alarms or alerts to prompt standing, or computer software which freezes the computer for a selected period of time, standing in meetings or in the lunchroom, and standing desks.

    “But whatever the strategy used, the focus groups said it needed to include education on the benefits and it needed buy-in from management. People said the breaks have to be seen as a normal activity and there shouldn’t be criticism if they are away from their desks,” said Ms McGuckin.

    She said that it was plain a ‘one size fits all’ approach would be unlikely to succeed due to personal preferences.

    “Interventions have to include a variety of strategies that are individually tailored and in which the people involved have the opportunity for input. If people feel they have control of the situation in this way, the strategy is more likely to work.”

     


  7. Screen time before bed linked with less sleep, higher BMIs in kids

    by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    It may be tempting to let your kids stay up late playing games on their smartphones, but using digital devices before bed may contribute to sleep and nutrition problems in children, according to Penn State College of Medicine researchers.

    After surveying parents about their kids’ technology and sleep habits, researchers found that using technology before bed was associated with less sleep, poorer sleep quality, more fatigue in the morning and — in the children that watched TV or used their cell phones before bed — higher body mass indexes (BMI).

    Caitlyn Fuller, medical student, said the results — published in the journal Global Pediatric Health — may suggest a vicious cycle of technology use, poor sleep and rising BMIs.

    “We saw technology before bed being associated with less sleep and higher BMIs,” Fuller said. “We also saw this technology use being associated with more fatigue in the morning, which circling back, is another risk factor for higher BMIs. So we’re seeing a loop pattern forming.”

    Previous research has found associations between more technology use and less sleep, more inattention, and higher BMIs in adolescents. But even though research shows that 40 percent of children have cell phones by fifth grade, the researchers said not as much was known about the effects of technology on a younger population.

    Fuller said that because sleep is so critical to a child’s development, she was interested in learning more about the connection between screen time right before bed and how well those children slept, as well as how it affected other aspects of their health.

    The researchers asked the parents of 234 children between the ages of 8 and 17 years about their kids’ sleep and technology habits. The parents provided information about their children’s’ technology habits, sleep patterns, nutrition and activity. The researchers also asked the parents to further specify whether their children were using cell phones, computers, video games or television during their technology time.

    After analyzing the data, the researchers found several adverse effects associated with using different technologies right before bed.

    “We found an association between higher BMIs and an increase in technology use, and also that children who reported more technology use at bedtime were associated with less sleep at night,” Fuller said. “These children were also more likely to be tired in the morning, which is also a risk factor for higher BMIs.”

    Children who reported watching TV or playing video games before bed got an average of 30 minutes less sleep than those who did not, while kids who used their phone or a computer before bed averaged an hour less of sleep than those who did not.

    There was also an association between using all four types of technology before bed and increased cell phone use at night, such as waking up to text someone, with watching TV resulting in the highest odds.

    Fuller said the results support new recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) about screen time for children. The AAP recommends that parents create boundaries around technology use, such as requiring their kids to put away their devices during meal times and keeping phones out of bedrooms at night.

    Dr. Marsha Novick, associate professor of pediatrics and family and community medicine, said that while more research is needed to determine whether multiple devices at bedtime results in worse sleep than just one device, the study can help pediatricians talk to parents about the use of technology.

    “Although there are many benefits to using technology, pediatricians may want to counsel parents about limiting technology for their kids, particularly at bedtime, to promote healthy childhood development and mental health,” Novick said.


  8. Study suggests high-intensity exercise boosts memory

    December 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the McMaster University press release:

    The health advantages of high-intensity exercise are widely known but new research from McMaster University points to another major benefit: better memory.

    The findings could have implications for an aging population which is grappling with the growing problem of catastrophic diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

    Scientists have found that six weeks of intense exercise–short bouts of interval training over the course of 20 minutes–showed significant improvements in what is known as high-interference memory, which, for example, allows us to distinguish our car from another of the same make and model.

    The study is published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

    The findings are important because memory performance of the study participants, who were all healthy young adults, increased over a relatively short period of time, say researchers.

    They also found that participants who experienced greater fitness gains also experienced greater increases in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that supports the growth, function and survival of brain cells.

    “Improvements in this type of memory from exercise might help to explain the previously established link between aerobic exercise and better academic performance,” says Jennifer Heisz, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster and lead author of the study.

    “At the other end of our lifespan, as we reach our senior years, we might expect to see even greater benefits in individuals with memory impairment brought on by conditions such as dementia,” she says.

    For the study, 95 participants completed six weeks of exercise training, combined exercise and cognitive training or no training (the control group which did neither and remained sedentary). Both the exercise and combined training groups improved performance on a high-interference memory task, while the control group did not.

    Researchers measured changes in aerobic fitness, memory and neurotrophic factor, before and after the study protocol.

    The results reveal a potential mechanism for how exercise and cognitive training may be changing the brain to support cognition, suggesting that the two work together through complementary pathways of the brain to improve high-interference memory.

    Researchers have begun to examine older adults to determine if they will experience the same positive results with the combination of exercise and cognitive training.

    “One hypothesis is that we will see greater benefits for older adults given that this type of memory declines with age,” says Heisz. “However, the availability of neurotrophic factors also declines with age and this may mean that we do not get the synergistic effects.”


  9. Study suggests social ties could help with cancer management

    by Ashley

    From the Brigham and Women’s Hospital press release:

    Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital led by Ying Bao, MD, ScD, an epidemiologist in BWH’s Channing Division of Network Medicine and Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School, have found that women with stronger social networks had better survival after colorectal cancer diagnosis and conclude that social network strengthening could be a tool for management of colorectal cancer.

    Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed and second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. At current rates, approximately 5% of individuals will develop a cancer of the colon or rectum within their lifetime. Though social network research has been done in other diseased populations, very few studies have examined the association between social network and survival in varying cancer sites.

    The team utilized data from 896 women who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study and had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer between 1992 and 2012. Social integration was assessed every four years during that time using the Berkman-Syme Social Networks Index; the value scale accounts for factors like marital status, social network size, contact frequency and religious or social group participation. This helped organize a patient rating system that identified patients on a range from socially isolated to socially integrated.

    The findings indicated that, overall, women with high levels of social integration before a colorectal cancer diagnosis had significantly reduced risk of all-cause and colorectal cancer-specific mortality, particularly among older women. Though the number of extended ties (religious or social group participation) weren’t associated with survival, the presence of more intimate ties (family and friends) was associated with a significantly lower death rate.

    “When a patient is diagnosed, health care providers can look to the patient’s social network to see if it provides necessary resources or whether outside help might be something to consider,” said Bao who is also an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. “That could be assistance from social workers, for example, to ensure access to care. For physicians, portions of a care plan aimed at strengthening a patient’s social network can be valuable tools that haven’t always been considered in the past.”

    Due to the complexity of network interactions, there are many pathways through which social networks could cause improved survival among cancer patients. Some prior research indicates that higher levels of social integration are associated with lower levels of inflammation and thus disease progression; other studies indicate it relates to a reduction in psychological stress and poor health behaviors that may contribute to cancer progression. Support from social networks, such as assistance in getting to medical appointments, reminders to take medications, and help with nutrition and mobility, may also explain the observed association. Future investigations are required to understand how these factors are influencing different kinds of patients and their care plans.


  10. Study suggests opening windows and doors may improve sleep

    by Ashley

    From the Wiley press release:

    A recent Indoor Air study found that opening windows or doors before going to bed can reduce carbon dioxide levels in bedrooms and improve sleep quality.

    Participants subjective assessment of their sleep depth, which was obtained through questionnaires, correlated with carbon dioxide levels. Objectively measured sleep efficiency and number of awakenings, which were assessed through senses worn during sleep, also correlated with carbon dioxide levels.

    Lower carbon dioxide levels implied better sleep depth, sleep efficiency, and lesser number of awakenings.