Archive for the ‘stress’ Category

New research has found that checking email less reduces stress.

It provides further evidence that stepping away from your inbox is a good idea not just for the sake of productivity, but also for the sake of your health.

In an experiment done by Kostadin Kushlev and Elizabeth Dunn, participants were told to change how they dealt with email in two separate weeks.

In one week, a limit was put on the amount they could check email – they were only allowed to check email three times a day.

The other week, they could check their email as much as they liked.

The researchers – from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver – found that in the week when email use was restricted, participants experienced significantly lower daily stress than when they checked email more often.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563214005810

By Sarah C. P. Williams

There’s a reason people say “Calm down or you’re going to have a heart attack.” Chronic stress—such as that brought on by job, money, or relationship troubles—is suspected to increase the risk of a heart attack. Now, researchers studying harried medical residents and harassed rodents have offered an explanation for how, at a physiological level, long-term stress can endanger the cardiovascular system. It revolves around immune cells that circulate in the blood, they propose.

The new finding is “surprising,” says physician and atherosclerosis researcher Alan Tall of Columbia University, who was not involved in the new study. “The idea has been out there that chronic psychosocial stress is associated with increased cardiovascular disease in humans, but what’s been lacking is a mechanism,” he notes.

Epidemiological studies have shown that people who face many stressors—from those who survive natural disasters to those who work long hours—are more likely to develop atherosclerosis, the accumulation of fatty plaques inside blood vessels. In addition to fats and cholesterols, the plaques contain monocytes and neutrophils, immune cells that cause inflammation in the walls of blood vessels. And when the plaques break loose from the walls where they’re lodged, they can cause more extreme blockages elsewhere—leading to a stroke or heart attack.

Studying the effect of stressful intensive care unit (ICU) shifts on medical residents, biologist Matthias Nahrendorf of Harvard Medical School in Boston recently found that blood samples taken when the doctors were most stressed out had the highest levels of neutrophils and monocytes. To probe whether these white blood cells, or leukocytes, are the missing link between stress and atherosclerosis, he and his colleagues turned to experiments on mice.

Nahrendorf’s team exposed mice for up to 6 weeks to stressful situations, including tilting their cages, rapidly alternating light with darkness, or regularly switching the mice between isolation and crowded quarters. Compared with control mice, the stressed mice—like stressed doctors—had increased levels of neutrophils and monocytes in their blood.

The researchers then homed in on an explanation for the higher levels of immune cells. They already knew that chronic stress increases blood concentrations of the hormone noradrenaline; noradrenaline, Nahrendorf discovered, binds to a cell surface receptor protein called β3 on stem cells in the bone marrow. In turn, the chemical environment of the bone marrow changes and there’s an increase in the activity of the white blood cells produced by the stem cells.

“It makes sense that stress wakes up these immune cells because an enlarged production of leukocytes prepares you for danger, such as in a fight, where you might be injured,” Nahrendorf says. “But chronic stress is a different story—there’s no wound to heal and no infection.”

In mice living with chronic stress, Nahrendorf’s team reported today in Nature Medicine, atherosclerotic plaques more closely resemble plaques known to be most at risk of rupturing and causing a heart attack or stroke. When the scientists blocked the β3 receptor, though, stressed mice not only had fewer of these dangerous plaques, but also had reduced levels of the active immune cells in their plaques, pinpointing β3 as a key link between stress and atheroscelerosis.

The finding could lead to new drugs to help prevent cardiovascular disease, suggests biologist Lynn Hedrick of the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology in San Diego, California. “I think this gives us a really direct hint that the β3 receptor is important in regulating the stress-induced response by the bone marrow,” Hedrick says. “If we can develop a drug that targets the receptor, this may be very clinically relevant.”

More immediately, the new observations suggest a way that clinicians could screen patients for their risk of atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke, Tall says. “Rather than asking four questions about stress levels, we could use their white blood cell counts to monitor psychosocial stress,” he says.

Thanks to Dr. Rajadhyaksha for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2014/06/how-stress-can-clog-your-arteries

The Earth may not be flat nor is it the center of the universe, but that doesn’t mean old-world intellectuals got everything wrong. In fact, in recent years, modern science has validated a number of teachings and beliefs rooted in ancient wisdom that, up until now, had been trusted but unproven empirically.

A full 55 pages of Arianna Huffington’s new book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, are dedicated to these scientific breakthroughs that often confirm the power of ancient psychology and contemplative practices. On an intuitive level, we’ve known for centuries that these lifestyle practices can help us lead happy, healthy and balanced lives. But now, with the support of hard science, we can embrace these pieces of ancient wisdom and start really living them.

Here are eight ancient beliefs and practices that have been confirmed by modern science.

1. Helping others can make you healthier.

In their never-ending search for the best way to live, Greek philosophers argued over the relative benefits of hedonic and eudaimonic happiness. Hedonic well-being sees happiness as a factor of increased pleasure and decreased pain, while eudaimonic (“human flourishing”) happiness has more to do with having a larger purpose or meaning in life. A recent study from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill psychologist Barbara Fredrickson may reveal which form of happiness is more beneficial for health and well-being.

The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year, found that while both types of happiness can make you feel good, the latter could promote physical health and longevity as well. Using phone interviews, questionnaires and blood samples, the study explored how the two forms of happiness affected individuals on a genetic level. Participants with more hedonic and less eudaimonic well-being were found to have a lower production of virus-attacking antibodies, while those with more eudaimonic well-being experienced an increase in antibody production.

2. Acupuncture can restore balance to your body.

The traditional Chinese medicine technique is believed to address imbalances in a person’s qi (pronounced chi), the circulating energy within every living thing. Whether or not you believe in the existence of this energy flow, a new study published in Archives of Internal Medicine found that the age-old practice may be an effective way to relieve migraines, arthritis and other chronic pains.

Analyzing previous research data from approximately 18,000 subjects, researchers found that acupuncture was more effective than sham acupuncture and standard western care when treating various types of pain, including migraines and chronic back pain.

3. We need the support of a community in order to thrive.

Traditional Buddhist teachings suggest that community is a key component in any happy, fulfilled life. A 2010 study conducted by Brigham Young University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers confirmed this belief, concluding that a healthy social life promotes longevity.

In analyzing the 148 studies — involving more than 300,000 individual participants — available on the subject, the researchers discovered that those with stronger social relationships maintained a 50 percent increased likelihood of survival. The effect of social relationships on mortality risk is even greater than the effect of exercise or obesity.

4. Tai chi can help alleviate a variety of health conditions.

This ancient Chinese martial art is based on the belief that achieving balance with one’s mind and body creates an overall sense of peace and harmony, naturally inspiring a long life. A report in the May 2009 issue of Harvard Women’s Health Watch summarized several studies confirming that this “moving meditation” practice can help prevent and treat many age-related health problems alongside standard treatment in older adults. A number of studies in the past decade have found tai chi to be helpful for those suffering from arthritis, low bone density and heart disease.

5. Meditation can help you reduce stress and discover inner peace.

Stemming from ancient Eastern origins, the practice of meditation is believed to help still the mind and reach a heightened level of awareness, improving health and well-being as a byproduct. Science is now proving the health benefits of meditation. The latest study from a team of Harvard Medical School scientists reveals how this mind-body practice can affect genes that control stress levels and immune function.

Harvard psychiatrist John Denniger and his team used neuro-imaging and genomics technology to measure potential physiological changes in each subject more accurately. After observing the high-stress individuals as they followed the study’s prescribed yoga and meditation practices, the team noticed an improved mitochondrial energy production, utilization and resiliency, which help to reduce the stress linked to health conditions like hypertension and infertility.


6. Compassion is the key to a meaningful life.

Tibetan Buddhist tradition includes a practice called metta, or loving-kindness. A 2012 study from Emory University found that compassion meditation based on this Tibetan model can effectively boost one’s ability to empathize with others by way of reading their facial expressions.

Another loving-kindness meditation study from 2011 found that, over time, this practice increased participants’ positive emotions that allowed them to find a deeper sense of mindfulness, their purpose in life, the network of support surrounding them, and their health. These components helped increase their overall life satisfaction.

7. Accepting what you can’t change is key to reducing suffering.

According to Buddhist teachings, one must accept the things they cannot change in order to reduce suffering. Now, scientists have found that this belief rings true, especially for older adults who are working through difficult life changes.

Researchers from Deakin University in Australia found that facing the realities of living with assistance and losing a degree of independence helps seniors live longer and feel far happier. Their study, which was published in the Journal of Happiness Studies last year, compared feelings of life satisfaction and perceived control of older adults living with assistance and those living in the community. Their analysis revealed that the ability to accept the inevitable (as well as maintain low-level control) in an assisted living setting was a significant predictor of life satisfaction. The researchers concluded, “In order to protect the well-being of older individuals, adaptation involves both a sense of control and the active acceptance of what cannot be changed.”

8. All you need is love.

If there is one thing that a variety of ancient wisdom traditions can agree on, it’s the value of love in maintaining a happy, meaningful life. And a group of Harvard researchers, on a mission to uncover the true roots of life fulfillment, conducted a 75-year study that reached the same conclusion.

The Harvard Grant Study, led by psychiatrist George Vaillant, followed the life trajectories of 268 male students in order to answer life’s universal questions of growth, development, value and purpose. Vaillant considers the most meaningful finding of the study to be that a happy life revolves around loving relationships. He explained that there are two pillars of happiness: “One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/21/8-ancient-beliefs-now-bac_n_4995877.html

Getting really angry might be more dangerous than you think.

A new study found people who experienced severe anger outbursts were more at risk for cardiovascular events in the two hours following the outbursts compared to those who remained calm.

“The relative risk was similar for people who had known pre-existing heart disease and those who didn’t,” says Dr. Murray A. Mittleman, senior study author and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

The study was designed so that each patient was compared to his or her own baseline risk. “A person with pre-existing heart disease or cardiovascular disease, the absolute risk they are incurring is much greater than (that of) a person without cardiovascular disease or risk factors,” Mittleman says.
“If we look at somebody at higher risk for having cardiovascular events, and they get angry multiple times a day, this can lead to 650 extra heart attacks per year out of 10, 000 a year,” he says. “When we look at a person who is relatively low risk, but if they do have these episodes of anger fairly frequently, we estimate there would be about 150 extra heart attacks out of 10,000 a year.”

Smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, being overweight and having diabetes are all risk factors for cardiovascular disease. An estimated 17 million people worldwide die of cardiovascular diseases, particularly heart attacks and strokes, each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study published Monday in the European Heart Journal was a data analysis looking at nine studies where anger and cardiovascular events were self-reported over nearly two decades. The study found a 4.74 times higher risk of MI (myocardial infarction, or heart attack) or ACS (acute coronary syndrome, where the heart muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood) following outbursts of anger.

“Anger causes our heart rate to increase through the sympathetic nervous system and causes our stress hormones to become elevated (the fight or flight mechanism),” says Dr. Mariell Jessup, president of the American Heart Association and medical director of the Penn Heart and Vascular Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “We breathe faster, all of which may trigger undesirable reactions in our blood pressure or in our arteries.”

This disruption may mean the heart or the brain doesn’t get the blood and oxygen they need resulting in a heart attack or a stroke, she says.

Researchers suggest more needs to be done to come up with effective interventions to prevent cardiovascular events triggered by anger outbursts. The American Heart Association suggests regular physical activity, finding a way to relax or talking with friends to help reduce stress and anger.

Mittleman suggests the best way to lower your risk for a heart attack or stroke during an angry outburst is to lower your overall baseline level of risk – exercise, eat healthy and don’t smoke – and then find ways to cope with stress and anger.

http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2014/03/03/angry-outbursts-may-raise-heart-attack-stroke-risk/?hpt=hp_t2

crf

Scientists have used one of the world’s most powerful X-ray machines to identify the molecule responsible for feelings of stress, anxiety and even depression.

The pituitary gland is known to the medical world as a key player in stress and anxiety, as it releases stress chemicals in the blood.

However, scientists have now discovered that the protein receptor CRF1 is responsible for releasing hormones which can cause anxiety and depression over extended periods of time. The protein receptor is found in the brain and controls our response to stress. When it detects stress molecules released by the hypothalamus, it releases these hormones.

The study, conducted by drug company Heptares Therapeutics, was published in the Nature journal on 17 July.

Researchers used a particle accelerator called the Diamond Light Source to understand the structure of CRF1. The X-ray machine’s powerful beams illuminated the protein’s structure, according to the Sunday Times, including a crevice that could become a new target for drug therapy.

The information gained from this study will be used to design small molecule drugs that fit into this new pocket to treat depression.

Speaking to the Sunday Times, Dr Fiona Marshall, Chief Scientific Officer at Heptares Therapeutics, said: “Now we know its shape, we can design a molecule that will lock into this crevice and block it so that CRF1 becomes inactive — ending the biochemical cascade that ends in stress.”

Writing on Diamond’s website, Dr. Andrew Dore, a senior scientist with Heptares added that the structure of the protein receptor “can be used as a template to solve closely related receptors that open up the potential for new drugs to treat a number of major diseases including Type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis”.

Thanks to Tracy Lindley for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/scientists-discover-the-molecule-responsible-for-causing-feelings-of-depression-8724471.html

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The fruit fly study adds to the evidence “that using toxins in the environment to medicate offspring may be common across the animal kingdom,” says biologist Todd Schlenke.

When fruit flies sense parasitic wasps in their environment, they lay their eggs in an alcohol-soaked environment, essentially forcing their larvae to consume booze as a drug to combat the deadly wasps.

The discovery by biologists at Emory University was published in the journal Science on February 22.

“The adult flies actually anticipate an infection risk to their children, and then they medicate them by depositing them in alcohol,” says Todd Schlenke, the evolutionary geneticist whose lab did the research. “We found that this medicating behavior was shared by diverse fly species, adding to the evidence that using toxins in the environment to medicate offspring may be common across the animal kingdom.”

Adult fruit flies detect the wasps by sight, and appear to have much better vision than previously realized, he adds. “Our data indicate that the flies can visually distinguish the relatively small morphological differences between male and female wasps, and between different species of wasps.”

The experiments were led by Balint Zacsoh, who recently graduated from Emory with a degree in biology and still works in the Schlenke lab. The team also included Emory graduate student Zachary Lynch and postdoc Nathan Mortimer.

The larvae of the common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, eat the rot, or fungi and bacteria, that grows on overripe, fermenting fruit. They have evolved a certain amount of resistance to the toxic effects of the alcohol levels in their natural habitat, which can range up to 15 percent.

Tiny, endoparasitoid wasps are major killers of fruit flies. The wasps inject their eggs inside the fruit fly larvae, along with venom that aims to suppress their hosts’ cellular immune response. If the flies fail to kill the wasp egg, a wasp larva hatches inside the fruit fly larva and begins to eat its host from the inside out.

Last year, the Schlenke lab published a study showing how fruit fly larvae infected with wasps prefer to eat food high in alcohol. This behavior greatly improves the survival rate of the fruit flies because they have evolved high tolerance of the toxic effects of the alcohol, but the wasps have not.

“The fruit fly larvae raise their blood alcohol levels, so that the wasps living in their blood will suffer,” Schlenke says. “When you think of an immune system, you usually think of blood cells and immune proteins, but behavior can also be a big part of an organism’s immune defense.”

For the latest study, the researchers asked whether the fruit fly parents could sense when their children were at risk for infection, and whether they then sought out alcohol to prophylactically medicate them.

Adult female fruit flies were released in one mesh cage with parasitic wasps and another mesh cage with no wasps. Both cages had two petri dishes containing yeast, the nourishment for lab-raised fruit flies and their larvae. The yeast in one of the petri dishes was mixed with 6 percent alcohol, while the yeast in the other dish was alcohol free. After 24 hours, the petri dishes were removed and the researchers counted the eggs that the fruit flies had laid.

The results were dramatic. In the mesh cage with parasitic wasps, 90 percent of the eggs laid were in the dish containing alcohol. In the cage with no wasps, only 40 percent of the eggs were in the alcohol dish.

“The fruit flies clearly change their reproductive behavior when the wasps are present,” Schlenke says. “The alcohol is slightly toxic to the fruit flies as well, but the wasps are a bigger danger than the alcohol.”

The fly strains used in the experiments have been bred in the lab for decades. “The flies that we work with have not seen wasps in their lives before, and neither have their ancestors going back hundreds of generations,” Schlenke says. “And yet, the flies still recognize these wasps as a danger when they are put in a cage with them.”

Further experiments showed that the flies are extremely discerning about differences in the wasps. They preferred to lay their eggs in alcohol when female wasps were present, but not if only male wasps were in the cage.

Theorizing that the flies were reacting to pheromones, the researchers conducted experiments using two groups of mutated fruit flies. One group lacked the ability to smell, and another group lacked sight. The flies unable to smell, however, still preferred to lay their eggs in alcohol when female wasps were present. The blind flies did not make the distinction, choosing the non-alcohol food for their offspring, even in the presence of female wasps.

“This result was a surprise to me,” Schlenke says. “I thought the flies were probably using olfaction to sense the female wasps. The small, compound eyes of flies are believed to be more geared to detecting motion than high-resolution images.”

The only obvious visual differences between the female and male wasps, he adds, is that the males have longer antennae, slightly smaller bodies, and lack an ovipositor.

Further experimentation showed that the fruit flies can distinguish different species of wasps, and will only choose the alcohol food in response to wasp species that infect larvae, not fly pupae. “Fly larvae usually leave the food before they pupate,” Schlenke explains, “so there is likely little benefit to laying eggs at alcoholic sites when pupal parasites are present.”

The researchers also connected the exposure to female parasitic wasps to changes in a fruit fly neuropeptide.

Stress, and the resulting reduced level of neuropeptide F, or NPF, has previously been associated with alcohol-seeking behavior in fruit flies. Similarly, levels of a homologous neuropeptide in humans, NPY, is associated with alcoholism.

We found that when a fruit fly is exposed to female parasitic wasps, this exposure reduces the level of NPF in the fly brain, causing the fly to seek out alcoholic sites for oviposition,” Schlenke says. “Furthermore, the alcohol-seeking behavior appears to remain for the duration of the fly’s life, even when the parasitic wasps are no longer present, an example of long-term memory.”

Finally, Drosophila melanogaster is not unique in using this offspring medication behavior. “We tested a number of fly species,” Schlenke says, “and found that each fly species that uses rotting fruit for food mounts this immune behavior against parasitic wasps. Medication may be far more common in nature than we previously thought.”

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130222102958.htm