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Mental Health News

Following are the latest news and information resources for the various mental health topics that we cover. We hope you will find the news educational and the links in the resources section useful in helping you to get even more in-depth data.

Low Testosterone May Raise Depression Risk

Men with lower levels of testosterone may be at increased risk of depression, a new study finds.

Researchers found that more than half of the men in the study who had lower levels of testosterone had a diagnosis of depression, or showed symptoms of the condition, while a quarter of participants were taking medication for the disease. The vast majority of male participants in the new George Washington University study also were found to be overweight or obese, and so for comparison, the researchers pointed to a recent survey of U.S. adults finding that 6 percent of those overweight or obese were depressed.

"Depression and/or depressive symptoms were present in 56 percent of the subjects," in the study, the authors concluded.

Produced primarily by the testicles, testosterone helps maintain a man's sperm production, sex drive, muscle strength and mass, bone density, and facial and body hair. Men who do not produce a "normal" amount of testosterone may be diagnosed with a condition called hypogonadism, but exactly what level should be considered normal is difficult to define, the authors wrote.

One reason for this is that blood levels of testosterone may be less important to a man's health than the effects of the hormone in muscle, bone, the brain and the reproductive organs, explained the authors. But even with blood tests, there is no level of testosterone that is universally accepted within the medical community as being too low.

Testosterone levels generally peak during adolescence and early adulthood. As men age, their testosterone levels gradually decline, typically by about 1 percent a year after age 30 or 40, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website.

In the new study, the researchers probed the medical charts of 200 men with an average age of 48. All had been referred to an endocrinologist after a blood test indicated their testosterone levels were borderline low (between 200 and 350 ng/dL).

The researchers looked at the men's demographic data, medical histories, medication use, and symptoms of hypogonadism. They also looked at whether the men had been diagnosed with depression or if they took an anti-depressants, and all study participants who weren't diagnosed with depression or taking medications for the condition answered standardized test questions aimed at measuring their mood.

Analysis showed that the study participants had higher rates of obesity and lower rates of physical activity than their peers in the general population. Participants also suffered from erectile dysfunction, decreased libido, fewer morning erections, low energy and sleep disturbances. Rates of depression were 62 percent for study participants in their 20s and 30s, 65 percent for those in their 40s, 51 percent for those in their 50s and 45 percent for those age 60 and over.

"In an era where more and more men are being tested for '"Low T' — or lower levels of testosterone — there is very little data about the men who have borderline low testosterone levels," study researcher Dr. Michael Irwig, an associate professor of medicine and director of the Center for Andrology at the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C., said in a statement. "We felt it important to explore the mental health of this population."

More research is still needed in this area, but doctors and other health care professionals "should recognize the high rates of depression and depressive symptoms in men referred for borderline testosterone levels," the authors wrote in their study.

Testosterone replacement therapy can improve the signs and symptoms of low testosterone in these men, the researchers said. In the decade ending in 2011, one commercial health insurance group in the United States saw the number of testosterone prescriptions triple, according to a 2013 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. The researchers noted a corresponding trend of increased direct-to-consumer marketing leading men to believe "Low T" may be the underlying cause for their decreased sexual function and low energy.

The study was published July 1 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

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Stress In Low-Income Families Can Affect Children’s Learning

Children living in low-income households who endure family instability and emotionally distant caregivers are at risk of having impaired cognitive abilities according to new research from the University of Rochester.

The study of 201 low-income mother-child pairs, conducted at Mount Hope Family Center, tracked the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the children at ages 2, 3, and 4. It found that specific forms of family adversity are linked to both elevated and low levels of cortisol in children. Children with either the elevated or low cortisol levels also had lower than average cognitive ability at age 4.

“What we were interested in seeing is whether specific risk factors of children living in poverty might be related to children’s cortisol levels,” said lead author Jennifer Suor, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology. “Then we looked to see if the hormone levels are predictive of significant differences in the children’s ability to think.”

The study, published in the journal Child Development, shows that children in low-income, stressful home environments—specifically homes with family instability and harsh and disengaged mothers—can have adverse levels of cortisol in their bodies, which previously studies have associated with having damaging effects on the structure and function of children’s brains.

Understanding how cortisol affects the brain’s cognitive abilities, though, is still unclear. “The exact mechanisms through which too much or too little cortisol affects cognitive functioning aren’t fully understood,” said coauthor Melissa L. Sturge-Apple, assistant professor of psychology.

illustration of three people showing low and high cortisol level related to low cognitive function and moderate cortisol levels related to average cognitive function “Researchers hypothesize that too much cortisol can have toxic effects on parts of the brain that are important for cognitive functioning, and too little might hinder the body’s ability to recruit the biological resources necessary for optimal cognitive functioning,” Sturge-Apple said.

“Moderate amounts of cortisol is a good thing, though, it helps facilitate cognitive functioning,” added Suor. “In the right amount it makes you rise to the occasion and it helps recruit important cognitive resources like memory and the ability to reason. But it’s a problem when we have too much or too little cortisol.”

The children with family instability or harsh and emotionally distant caregivers at age 2, had elevated cortisol levels, while children with only family instability at age 2, had lower than average cortisol levels. “We were surprised to find that the children’s cortisol levels, which we test from a cheek swab, didn’t change—they remained relatively stable over the three years,” Suor said.

Family instability includes frequent changes in care providers, household members, or residence. Such instability, the researchers said, reflects a general breakdown of the family’s ability to provide a predictable and stable environment for the child.

Suor added that “there are other environmental and biological factors that might contribute to children’s lower cognitive functioning. However, our research, as well as previous studies, has indicated that cortisol plays a role in cognitive functioning.”

“There is a public awareness relevance to this study. We saw really significant disparities in the children’s cognitive abilities at age four—right before they enter kindergarten,” Suor said. “Some of these kids are already behind before they start kindergarten, and there is research that shows that they’re unlikely to catch up.”

The researchers said that prevention and intervention could help these at-risk children. “Our findings support the need for an investment in community-based interventions that can strengthen parent-child relationships and reduce family stress very early in a child’s life,” Suor said.

“A lot of research that we’ve done at Mt. Hope shows that using preventative interventions can help moms parent their children in ways that may lead to improvements in their children’s cortisol.”

Patrick Davies and Liviah Manning, from the University of Rochester, and Dante Cicchetti, from the University of Minnesota and Mt. Hope Family Center, coauthored the study. The National Institute of Mental Health supported the research.

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Scientists Find A New Mechanism Underlying Depression

The World health Organization calls depression "the leading cause of disability worldwide," causing more years of disability than cancer, HIV/AIDS, and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases combined. In any given year, 5-7% of the world's population experiences a major depressive episode, and one in six people will at some point suffer from the disease.

Despite recent progress in understanding depression, scientists still don't understand the biological mechanisms behind it well enough to deliver effective prevention and therapy. One possible reason is that almost all research focuses on the brain's neurons, while the involvement of other brain cells has not been thoroughly examined.

Now researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have shown that changes in one type of non-neuronal brain cells, called microglia, underlie the depressive symptoms brought on by exposure to chronic stress. In experiments with animals, the researchers were able to demonstrate that compounds that alter the functioning of microglia can serve as novel and efficient antidepressant drugs.

The findings were published in Molecular Psychiatry, the premier scientific journal in psychiatry and one of the leading journals in medicine and the neurosciences.

The research was conducted by Prof. Raz Yirmiya, director of the Hebrew University's Psychoneuroimmunology Laboratory, and his doctoral student Tirzah Kreisel, together with researchers at Prof. Yirmiya’s laboratory and at the University of Colorado in Boulder, USA.

The researchers examined the involvement of microglia brain cells in the development of depression following chronic exposure to stress. Comprising roughly 10% of brain cells, microglia are the representatives of the immune system in the brain; but recent studies have shown that these cells are also involved in physiological processes not directly related to infection and injury, including the response to stress.

The researchers mimicked chronic unpredictable stress in humans — a leading causes of depression — by exposing mice to repeated, unpredictable stressful conditions over a period of 5 weeks. The mice developed behavioral and neurological symptoms mirroring those seen in depressed humans, including a reduction in pleasurable activity and in social interaction, as well as reduced generation of new brain cells (neurogenesis) — an important biological marker of depression.

The researchers found that during the first week of stress exposure, microglia cells undergo a phase of proliferation and activation, reflected by increased size and production of specific inflammatory molecules, after which some microglia begin to die. Following the 5 weeks of stress exposure, this phenomenon led to a reduction in the number of microglia, and to a degenerated appearance of some microglia cells, particularly in a specific region of the brain involved in responding to stress.

When the researchers blocked the initial stress-induced activation of microglia with drugs or genetic manipulation, they were able to stop the subsequent microglia cell death and decline, as well as the depressive symptoms and suppressed neurogenesis. However, these treatments were not effective in "depressed" mice, which were already exposed to the 5-weeks stress period and therefore had lower number of microglia. Based on these findings, the investigators treated the "depressed" mice with drugs that stimulated the microglia and increased their number to a normal level.

Prof. Yirmiya said, “We were able to demonstrate that such microglia-stimulating drugs served as effective and fast-acting antidepressants, producing complete recovery of the depressive-like behavioral symptoms, as well as increasing the neurogenesis to normal levels within a few days of treatment. In addition to the clinical importance of these results, our findings provide the first direct evidence that in addition to neurons, disturbances in the functioning of brain microglia cells have a role in causing psychopathology in general, and depression in particular. This suggests new avenues for drug research, in which microglia stimulators could serve as fast-acting antidepressants in some forms of depressive and stress-related conditions.”

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Stanford Researchers Find Mental Health Prescription: Nature

Feeling down? Take a hike.

A new study finds quantifiable evidence that walking in nature could lead to a lower risk of depression.

Specifically, the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.

"These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world," said co-author Gretchen Daily, the Bing Professor in Environmental Science and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. "Our findings can help inform the growing movement worldwide to make cities more livable, and to make nature more accessible to all who live in them."

More than half of the world's population lives in urban settings, and that is forecast to rise to 70 percent within a few decades. Just as urbanization and disconnection from nature have grown dramatically, so have mental disorders such as depression.

In fact, city dwellers have a 20 percent higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40 percent higher risk of mood disorders as compared to people in rural areas. People born and raised in cities are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia.

Is exposure to nature linked to mental health? If so, the researchers asked, what are nature's impacts on emotion and mood? Can exposure to nature help "buffer" against depression?

Natural vs. urban settings

In the study, two groups of participants walked for 90 minutes, one in a grassland area scattered with oak trees and shrubs, the other along a traffic-heavy four-lane roadway. Before and after, the researchers measured heart and respiration rates, performed brain scans and had participants fill out questionnaires.

The researchers found little difference in physiological conditions, but marked changes in the brain. Neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, a brain region active during rumination – repetitive thought focused on negative emotions – decreased among participants who walked in nature versus those who walked in an urban environment.                                                                                   

"This finding is exciting because it demonstrates the impact of nature experience on an aspect of emotion regulation – something that may help explain how nature makes us feel better," said lead author Gregory Bratman, a graduate student in Stanford's Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources, the Stanford Psychophysiology Lab and the Center for Conservation Biology.

"These findings are important because they are consistent with, but do not yet prove, a causal link between increasing urbanization and increased rates of mental illness," said co-author James Gross, a professor of psychology at Stanford.

Nature's services

It is essential for urban planners and other policymakers to understand the relationship between exposure to nature and mental health, the study's authors write. "We want to explore what elements of nature – how much of it and what types of experiences – offer the greatest benefits," Daily said.

In a previous study, also led by Bratman, time in nature was found to have a positive effect on mood and aspects of cognitive function, including working memory, as well as a dampening effect on anxiety.

The studies are part of a growing body of research exploring the connection between nature and human well-being. The Natural Capital Project, led by Daily, has been at the forefront of this work. The project focuses on quantifying the value of natural resources to the public and predicting benefits from investments in nature. It is a joint venture of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, The Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund and the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment.

Coauthors of "Nature Experience Reduces Rumination and Subgenual Prefrontal Cortex Activation" include J. Paul Hamilton of the Laureate Institute for Brain Research and Kevin Hahn, a psychology research assistant at Stanford.

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For Women With Bipolar Disorder, Sleep Quality Affects Mood

Poor sleep is associated with negative mood in women with bipolar disorder, according to researchers at Penn State College of Medicine and University of Michigan Medical School.

Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. The condition is marked by extreme mood episodes characterized as manic (highs) depressive (lows) or mixed.

Sleep problems are common in people with bipolar disorder, and poor sleep quality and bipolar disorder appear to exacerbate each other. Previous research shows that poor sleep quality is a symptom of depressive and manic episodes, and that lack of sleep can trigger mania.

"Patients with bipolar disorder often suffer with sleep problems even when many of their other symptoms are well-controlled," said Dr. Erika Saunders, chair, department of psychiatry at Penn State College of Medicine. "Improving their sleep could not only better their quality of life, but also help them avoid mood episodes.

Finding the best treatments for sleep disorders in people with bipolar disorder meant investigating differences between women and men with the condition.

"Women and men sleep differently," Saunders explained. "We know from studies of the general population that women have a different type of sleep architecture than men, and they're at different risks for sleep disorders, particularly during the reproductive years."

Women and men also experience bipolar disorder differently. Women often have more persistent and more depressive symptoms, as well as a number of other coexisting conditions such as anxiety, eating disorders and migraine headaches. Men tend to have shorter episodes and more time in between episodes.

"Because of these factors, we thought the impact that sleep quality might have on mood outcome in bipolar disorder may be different for men and women," Saunders said.

The researchers analyzed data from 216 participants in the Prechter Longitudinal Study of Bipolar Disorder at the University of Michigan Medical School. They looked at the effect of sleep quality at the beginning of the study on mood outcome over the next two years. Mood outcome was measured by the severity, frequency and variability of depressive or manic symptoms.

"Variability meant how much the individuals went up and down in terms of their symptoms," Saunders explained.

For women, poor sleep quality predicted increased severity and frequency of depression and increased severity and variability of mania. Among men, baseline depression score and a personality trait called neuroticism were stronger predictors of mood outcome than sleep quality. The research was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

One unanswered question is why poor sleep affects women with bipolar disorder more than men. There could be a biological mechanism at work.

"There is some suggestion from animal models that reproductive hormones affect the circadian rhythm system, which is a biological system that affects our need to sleep," Saunders said. "It could be that reproductive hormones are biologically affecting sleep in women and therefore also affecting mood outcomes. Or, it could have more to do with the type of sleep that women are getting. We'll have to do more investigation into the biological underpinnings to understand that better."

Even before that question is answered, Saunders says the message is clear: "We feel it's extremely important for clinicians and patients to recognize that sleep quality is an important factor that needs to be treated in patients with bipolar disorder, particularly in women."

Additional researchers on this project were Julio Fernandez-Mendoza, assistant professor at Penn State College of Medicine, and Masoud Kamali, Shervin Assari and Melvin McInnis at the University of Michigan Medical School.

The Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund, National Center for Research Resources and National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences funded this research.

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Chronic Depression Shrinks Brain's Memories And Emotions

The hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for memory and emotion, shrinks in people with recurrent and poorly treated depression, a global study has found.

The findings highlighted the importance of treating depression early, particularly in teenagers and young adults, the study concluded.

Fifteen research institutes around the world, including from the US, Europe and Australia, collaborated to combine the results of their existing, smaller studies comparing the hippocampuses of depressed and healthy people.

This allowed them to examine the brain magnetic resonance imaging data of 8,927 people, 1,728 of whom had major depression and the rest of whom were healthy.

The researchers found 65% of the depressed study participants had recurrent depression and it was these people who had a smaller hippocampus, which is near the center of the brain and is involved with long-term memory, forming new memories, and connecting emotions to those memories.

The findings of the largest international study to compare brain volumes in people with and without major depression were published in the medical journal Molecular Psychiatry.

The University of Sydney’s brain and mind research institute led the Australian arm of the study. Its co-director, Professor Ian Hickie, said those people in the study experiencing their first depressive episode had a normal hippocampus size.

“But the more episodes of depression a person had, the greater the reduction in hippocampus size,” he said.

“So recurrent or persistent depression does more harm to the hippocampus the more you leave it untreated. This largely settles the question of what comes first: the smaller hippocampus or the depression? The damage to the brain comes from recurrent illness.”

Hickie, who is also a national mental health commissioner, said it meant identifying and treating depression effectively when it first occurred was vital to prevent this damage, particularly among teenagers and young adults.

But there was good evidence that with treatment, the damage was reversible, he said.

“Other studies have demonstrated reversibility, and the hippocampus is one of the unique areas of the brain that rapidly generates new connections between cells, and what are lost here are connections between cells rather than the cells themselves,” Hickie said.

“Treating depression effectively does not just mean medicines. If you are unemployed, for example, and then sit in a room doing nothing as a result, this can shrink the hippocampus. So social interventions are just as important, and treatments such as fish oils are also thought to be neuro-protective.”

There was some evidence that the hippocampus was larger in those patients taking antidepressants, Hickie said, indicating these medications could have a protective effect.

“There is a lot of nonsense said about antidepressants that constantly perpetuates the evils of them, but there is a good bit of evidence that they have a protective effect,” he said.

“But that doesn’t mean they are the only treatment. There are, in fact, a broad range of treatments that should be explored, and in young people psychotherapy would often be explored as the first line of treatment, not medicines.”

A co-author of the study, Associate Professor Jim Lagopoulos, said the findings provided new insight on brain structures and possible mechanisms responsible for depression.

It also indicated the findings that were possible through collaboration.

“Despite intensive research aimed at identifying brain structures linked to depression in recent decades, our understanding of what causes depression is still rudimentary,” he said.

“One reason for this has been the lack of sufficiently large studies, variability in the disease and treatments provided, and the complex interactions between clinical characteristics and brain structure.”

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Brain Scan Can Predict Who Responds Best To Certain Treatment For Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Tens of millions of Americans — an estimated 1 to 2 percent of the population — will suffer at some point in their lifetimes from obsessive-compulsive disorder, a disorder characterized by recurrent, intrusive, and disturbing thoughts (obsessions), and/or stereotyped recurrent behaviors (compulsions). Left untreated, OCD can be profoundly distressing to the patient and can adversely affect their ability to succeed in school, hold a job or function in society.

One of the most common and effective treatments is cognitive-behavioral therapy, which aims to help patients understand the thoughts and feelings that influence their behaviors and then work toward eliminating them. But not all OCD sufferers benefit over the long term: In an estimated 20 percent of patients, symptoms eventually return after the therapy is complete.

A new study by researchers at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA suggests that a certain detail from patients’ brain scans could help clinicians identify which people are more likely to relapse after cognitive-behavioral therapy — and why.

“The efficiency of brain network connectivity before treatment predicts the worsening of symptoms after treatment,” said Jamie Feusner, a UCLA associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Semel Institute’s Adult OCD Program.

Feusner and Joseph O’Neill, a UCLA associate professor of child psychiatry and a research scientist at the Semel Institute, were the study’s co-principal investigators. The research was published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychiatry. 

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to study the brains of 17 people, aged 21 to 50 years old, with OCD. Scans were taken both before and immediately after the patients completed an intensive four-week course of cognitive-behavioral therapy, and the doctors monitored the patients’ clinical symptoms over the next 12 months.

“We found that cognitive-behavioral therapy itself results in more densely connected local brain networks, which likely reflects more efficient brain activity,” Feusner said.

However, the researchers also found that people who had more efficient brain connectivity before they began treatment actually did worse in the follow-up period. Surprisingly, neither the severity of symptoms before treatment nor the amount that symptoms improvement during treatment were accurate predictors of the patients’ post-treatment success.

The researchers say that knowing more about which patients might not fare well long-term could potentially help doctors and patients choose the best course of treatment.

“Cognitive-behavioral therapy is in many cases very effective, at least in the short term. But it is costly, time-consuming, difficult for patients and, in many areas, not available,” Feusner said. “Thus, if someone will end up having their symptoms return, it would be useful to know before they get treatment.”

He added that the findings don’t mean that some people with OCD cannot be helped — just that four weeks of intensive cognitive-behavioral therapy might not be the most effective long-term approach. OCD can also be treated with medication or through cognitive-behavioral therapy that lasts longer than the four-week period evaluated in the study.

The UCLA study was the first to use brain connectivity to help predict a post-treatment clinical course, and the first to test the effects of cognitive-behavioral therapy on brain network connectivity. Feusner and his colleagues are conducting several other studies to understand the effects of the treatment on the brain in people with OCD and with other OCD-related disorders, including body dysmorphic disorder and anorexia nervosa.

“We are now starting to translate knowledge of the brain into useful information that in the future could be used by doctors and patients to make clinical decisions,” Feusner said. “Although a brain scan may seem expensive, these scans only took about 15 minutes and thus the cost is not exceptionally high, particularly in comparison to medication or cognitive-behavioral therapy treatments, which over time can cost many thousands of dollars.” 

Feusner, O’Neill and their colleagues plan to conduct another study in a larger number of patients in an attempt to validate the findings; they also will assess additional measures of brain function and structure that they hope will offer more clues to determining the long-term course of symptoms in people being treated for OCD.

The research was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (R01MH085900).

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6 Surprising Signs You May Have Adult ADHD

ADHD—attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—is one of the most common mental disorders diagnosed in kids. But just because you’ve graduated from stickers and backpacks to spreadsheets and briefcases doesn’t mean the disorder can’t affect you.

While ADHD is a developmental disorder that begins when you’re a kid, it can persist into adulthood—causing problems with your job, other responsibilities, or your relationship.

Here are 6 surprising symptoms of adult ADHD. If these sound familiar, let your doctor know, as she can better determine if you truly have ADHD and are a candidate for treatment.

You Take Lots Of Bathroom Breaks

And not because you have to pee a lot. Adults with ADHD often feel like they have to be on the move—almost like they’re powered by an invisible motor—making something like a long presentation or meeting feel unbearable. They might just fidget, but they can also be more likely to actually get up and go, whether it’s to the water fountain or the bathroom.

“They’re not able to settle easily,” says Anthony Rostain, M.D., the medical director for the adult developmental disorders section at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. “We also see adults having trouble just sitting and waiting for whatever.”

You’re A Champion Interrupter

Let’s say you’re engaging in some small talk, and the guy you’re chatting with is taking forever to get to the point. Do you often interrupt him or even finish his sentences? That’s a common behavior seen in guys with ADHD.

It might simply be impatience, but it also can have something to do with working memory. There’s growing evidence that suggests people with ADHD might have difficulty holding information in their minds before applying it, such as in conversation, says Dr. Rostain.

“They might be afraid if they don’t say what’s on their mind, they’ll forget what they have to say,” he explains. (Make sure you don’t forget about the 3 Exercises You Should Do Every Day.)

You Don’t Like To Wait

Think of that famous marshmallow experiment: If someone offered you one tasty treat now or two later on, which situation would you choose? People who can wait for their rewards can delay their gratification, but that’s something that can be difficult in adults with ADHD.

In fact, research suggests that people with ADHD show abnormal activation of the reward pathways in their brain, which may explain the challenge in delaying gratification.

And it’s not just about marshmallows. You might have a problem holding off on rewards if you purchase the first thing you see instead of shopping around for a better price or waiting for a sale, or even if you constantly reload your Facebook app to see if anyone’s commented on or liked your posts.

You’ve Started 281 New Hobbies

Started being the key word. People with ADHD tend to be novelty seekers, meaning they’re always on the lookout for new, fun things. The problem, though, is that they may not follow through with the hobbies, says Dr. Rostain.

Take a look at your closet. Is it crammed with skis you’ve used twice, then tossed aside? How about some Rosetta Stone software from when you vowed to teach yourself French?

Now, there’s no shame in wanting to try, say, bird watching, only to discover a couple weeks in that you can’t stand the noisy critters. It’s when it starts to become habitual—like if you bail on rock climbing a few weeks after bidding farewell to the fowl—that it may signal a bigger issue. (Try The Anarchy Workout for 6 weeks and you could lose up to 18 pounds of pure fat!)

You’ve Got Serious Road Rage

Yes, your propensity to flip other motorists off might actually be a symptom of ADHD. The finger doesn’t really have anything to do with driving, though—it serves as a vehicle for your anger, frustration, and impatience to boil over.

Think of what happens before you even get behind the wheel: You’re probably already running a few minutes late, maybe because you had some last-minute things to take care of that morning. Then once you cruise to the main road, you’re stuck behind a granny doing 20 mph in a 50. Your temper flares, and you yell some choice words, pull some aggressive driving techniques—or both.

“It’s a combination of being angry at the situation they are in, feeling trapped, and feeling like they’ve misjudged their time and are going to be late,” says Dr. Rostain. “A lot of people are afraid of what those consequences will be.”

You’re Attached To Your Cell Phone

A hallmark of ADHD is the need for distraction, and what better to keep you preoccupied than your smartphone? You might find yourself texting while someone’s trying to talk to you, or tapping out a quick status update on the sly during a meeting.

Another risk factor: Playing with your phone while driving, says Dr. Rostain. You might do it because of instant gratification—traffic jams are boring, you think, but skimming through some tweets can break the monotony. Resist the urge: Texting while driving can raise your risk of a crash by 23-fold, according to research.

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Obesity, Excess Weight In U.S. Continue Upswing

Obesity and excess weight, and their negative impact on health, have become a significant focus for physicians and other health-care experts in recent years.

But new research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis shows that an escalation in the number of those considered obese or overweight in the United States continues, signaling an ongoing upward swing in chronic health conditions as well.

The study is available online June 22 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Compared with a similar study published in 1999 that estimated 63 percent of men and 55 percent of women age 25 and older were overweight or obese, the new data from 2007-12 indicate that nearly 75 percent of men and 67 percent of women now are overweight or obese.

“This is a wakeup call to implement policies and practices designed to combat overweight and obesity,” said the study’s first author, Lin Yang, PhD, a postdoctoral research associate in public health at the School of Medicine. “An effort that spans multiple sectors must be made to stop or reverse this trend that is compromising and shortening the lives of many.”

Adult Americans who are obese now outnumber those who are considered overweight, according to the new findings, which estimate that 67.6 million Americans over the age of 25 are obese and an additional 65.2 million are overweight.

In the new study, Yang and Graham A. Colditz, MD, DrPH, a disease-prevention expert and deputy director of the university’s Institute for Public Health, estimated the prevalence of obesity and those who are considered overweight, by gender, age and race/ethnicity. The sample size included 15,208 men and women aged 25 and older, which is representative of more than 188 million people.

Colditz also was a co-author on the earlier 1999 study, which used survey data collected from 1988-94.

Parsing the data in the new study, the researchers found that African-Americans have the highest rates of obesity, with 39 percent of black men and 57 percent of black women considered obese. The researchers also found that 17 percent of black women are extremely obese, meaning their body mass index is over 40, as are 7 percent of black men.

Among Mexican-Americans in the study, 38 percent of men and 43 percent of women are obese. For whites, 35 percent of men and 34 percent of women are obese.

The study points out that because clinical practice for the prevention and treatment of chronic conditions has focused on screening high-risk populations, people in higher-weight categories are more likely to be diagnosed with weight-associated diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis and some cancers.

The authors suggest that public health experts should focus efforts on risk-reducing strategies such as physical environment interventions, enhancing primary care efforts to prevent and treat obesity, and altering societal norms of behavior.

“Delivering these strategies is a priority to counter the burden of obesity on contemporary and future generations,” they noted.

Colditz, the Niess-Gain Professor of Surgery and associate director of prevention and control at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, focuses much of his research on disease prevention.

“There are many things we can do to interrupt this worrisome and costly trend, and the benefits go well beyond what’s obvious to the eye,” Colditz said. “Some cancers, for example, can be prevented by eating a healthy diet, exercising and keeping weight in check. We need to do what we can to change behaviors of current and future generations to reverse this preventable societal burden.”

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First Trimester Stress Linked To Brain Disorders

Stress and early parenthood inevitably go hand in hand. But unnecessary stress during pregnancy should be avoided if possible for a few newly specified reasons, according to a study published in Endocrinology. It seems that stress can actually affect the microbes that reside in an expectant mother's vagina, which, in turn, are transferred to the newborn during vaginal birth, resulting in changes to the little one's gut microbiome and brain development. As a result, these changes have an impact on the infant's immune system and metabolism. In fact, scientists believe that the altered gut microbiota is linked to a greater risk of neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism and schizophrenia.

Stress in pregnancy

These effects were observed in a University of Pennsylvania lab in pregnant mice who had to endure such stressors as unfamiliar noises, predator odors, and being restrained. This all occurred during early gestation, or what might be considered the first trimester, and the offspring of these mice experienced negative outcomes with regard to their metabolism and amino acid processing in the brain. Interestingly, the effects were more dramatic in male mice than in females.

"We were very surprised in our observation that effects of stress so early in pregnancy lasted so long, resulting in a stable and long-term change to the mother's vaginal microbiota, and that these same changes were passed on to the offspring," postdoctoral researcher and study author Eldin Jašarevi says.

The critical first trimester

The team of Penn researchers found that the first trimester was a particularly critical window of time when stress exerts its greatest impact. "These results would suggest that stress might exert an effect on her offspring's development well before the woman discovers she is pregnant," Jašarevi advises. "Our findings in our mouse model are consistent with epidemiological studies indicating that the first trimester is a dynamic and critical period to a variety of environmental factors—stress, infection, and malnutrition—that have been associated with an increased risk for neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism, schizophrenia, and ADHD."

Some of the team's previous work also looked at stress during mid and late pregnancy, but they didn't find these periods to be as vulnerable. Still, other studies in different animal models have discovered that chronic and unpredictable stress during any stage of pregnancy might lead to a variety of negative outcomes, according to Jašarevi.

What about C-sections?

It's worth nothing that babies delivered by C-section are not exposed to the mother's vaginal microbes. (Instead, their guts are likely to be colonized by bacteria from their mother's skin or the hospital environment.) In these cases, one might expect that maternal stress has less of an impact on the newborn. But the researchers claim that they've separately observed how maternal stress still influences the "transmission of critical nutrients necessary for neurodevelopment" well before labor and childbirth.

Given that these investigations involved animals and not human participants, the results should be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, relieving stress during pregnancy is a good idea for any soon-to-be mom. As far as how much stress is too much stress, it's hard to say. Jašarevi knows that responses are highly individual, and usually determined by genetics and the environment. Some people can shoulder a lot of it, while others can't.

If you're feeling tense, under a lot of pressure, or stretched too thin, take a 5-minute break to practice some controlled breathing. Other methods for relieving stress include listening to calming music, stretching, yoga or kickboxing, meditating, drinking peppermint tea, and sniffing lavender essential oil. You'll not only be giving yourself some much-needed relief, but your baby may benefit as well.

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Did You Know?

A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2006 found that Americans lose a collective 321m days of work because of anxiety and depression each year, costing the economy $50bn annually. 


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