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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.

7 Things You Should Know About Seasonal Depression And Light Therapy

Winter is the time of year for warm cable knit sweaters, Ugg boots and Starbucks’ peppermint mocha. But it also means shorter days and longer nights, spells of cold and darkness. It’s no wonder that many of us feel a little woeful at this time of year — it’s harder to get out of bed in the morning, we’re more tired and irritable during the day, and we just don’t feel like doing very much.

It’s normal to feel a bit blue as winter sets in, but if it’s affecting your work and relationships, it could be the sign of a more serious condition called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

“SAD is much more serious than the winter blues,” says psychiatrist George C. Brainard from Thomas Jefferson University. “It’s a type of depression that can be debilitating and requires clinical intervention.”

SAD affects approximately six percent of people in the United States every year, but the good news is that it’s treatable. Here’s what you need to know about SAD and light therapy, the most common method of treatment.

1. SAD isn’t like normal depression

While SAD is a form of depression and shares similarities such as mood swings and feelings of hopelessness, there are three key differences. SAD tends to occur on a seasonal basis, often beginning in autumn or winter and subsiding in the spring. People tend to crave carbohydrates and gain weight as a result. And while depression can lead to insomnia, SAD tends to do the reverse: “So instead of needing 7 to 8 hours of sleep, you might need 10 to 14 hours,” says Brainard.

2. SAD affects both sexes

While it’s true that women tend to be more prone to SAD — nearly three-quarters of those affected are women — men can get it too. In fact, men are often the ones with more severe symptoms. You’re also more likely to be affected by SAD if you’re younger — symptoms normally begin between the ages of 18 and 30.

3. Light therapy can help SAD

The exact cause of SAD isn’t fully understood but scientists believe it’s linked to the lower levels of sunlight we get during the winter months. Light therapy is one of the main ways of treating SAD, where a special lamp called a light box mimics sunlight.

Light therapy has been around since the 1980s and several studies have shown that it’s effective in treating SAD. “As a treatment for a psychiatric problem, light therapy has a remarkably high success rate of 60–80%,” says Brainard.

This may be because light therapy addresses the potential root cause of SAD – lower levels of sunlight, says psychologist Elizabeth Saenger at the Center for Environmental Therapeutics in New York.

“Most other psychiatric interventions, particularly medication, intervene at other points in our bodies, treating the side effects of the decrease in light rather than the original cause.”

4. How you use your light box matters

Using your light box in the correct way can make all the difference in how effective your therapy will be. You don’t need a prescription, but your psychiatrist will be able to advise you on how and when to use your box. In general, you’ll need to sit in front of your light box for 30 to 45 minutes every day. This works best if you do it first thing in the morning within two hours of waking up, says Brainard.

Research has shown that light therapy is linked to circadian rhythms, the body’s internal clock, which can vary from person to person. “Light therapy grew out of the science of circadian rhythms,” explains Saegner, who says that treating SAD with light is backed by credible scientific research.

5. Not all light boxes are made equal

Light therapy isn’t regulated by the FDA, so the quality of light boxes can vary depending on the manufacturer. “You need to know what you’re doing,” says Saegner, “or you could literally get burnt by UV rays or get insufficient lux [illumination].”

When choosing a light box, make sure you pick one that is specially designed to treat SAD — some are used to treat skin disorders. Boxes come in different sizes and designs but they should all emit a bright white light, rather than UV or blue light. You’ll also want to consider factors like its brightness and how you’ll be using it, how much space you have for one in your house, and how much time you have in the mornings.

You can buy a light box online for between $60 and $300 — your insurance company may be able to reimburse you for this cost. If you’re hesitant about making a purchase, you can rent one out first to try.

6. Light therapy has side effects too

It’s a misconception to think that light boxes emit light of such high intensity that they’re dangerous. Most boxes emit light of a 10,000 lux intensity, which is similar to the type of light you would get at dawn, says Brainard. In comparison, typical indoor lighting averages between 50 to 250 lux.

Light therapy is generally considered safe but as with all treatments, there can be side effects if used incorrectly. These include eye strain, dry eyes and possibly hypomania, which is the reverse of depression where “a person can feel racy or tuned up,” says Brainard. Part of using a light box correctly involves sitting at the right distance from it, as specified by the manufacturer, and not staring directly into the light.

7. Light therapy isn’t dawn stimulation

You can also buy a special type of alarm clock that wakes you up using light. The idea is to stimulate a sunrise, where light gradually gets brighter over, say, 30 minutes before your desired alarm time. This dawn stimulation is different from the bright light therapy we’ve been talking about so far. It hasn’t been studied in as much detail as light therapy but there is evidence to suggest it might be useful in treating SAD too.

If you suspect you might have SAD, speak to your doctor. He or she will be able to run a few tests to diagnose you correctly. Your doctor will also discuss what treatment options are available and what would work best for you. Light therapy is often one of the first treatments recommended because it’s simple, unobtrusive and largely effective. But there are other ways to treat SAD too — with antidepressants, melatonin treatment, counseling or general changes to your lifestyle.

Winter can be a tough time, but remember help is always on hand to fight those blues away.

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Want To Reduce Anxiety, And Increase Cognitive Ability And Memory? Try Meditation

Like a workout, meditation has its good days and its tough ones. Some days when I meditate, I spend much of the time making lists, hoping desperately I’ll remember them by the end of my 15 to 20 minutes. Sometimes, I can barely sit still. Some days, I feel calm. I spend more time focusing on my breath than distractions.

Like a physical workout, no matter how it felt during the activity, I always feel better afterward. Meditation is a training ground for your brain to become more mindful and conscious, creating a more stable and clear mind and emotional balance, according to a Scientific American story on meditation. Like a muscle that needs regular workouts to get stronger, your brain needs disciplined training to learn to, well, be present and relax.

“Sitting in the present moment is a kind of clear mind,” says Tom Gaylord, director of the Seattle Shambhala Meditation Center. “Distraction is a fuzzy, often ruminating mind.”

The Shambhala Center teaches a mindful awareness meditation rooted in the Buddhist tradition that is based on awareness of your body and your breath. The technique is simple and easy for people to learn, Gaylord says, though it is hard to maintain for long periods of time. Thus, the training.

Like exercising a muscle, “Every time we come back to the present, we are increasing our mental strength,” he says.

Meditation has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress, and lead to more empathy, cognitive ability and an improvement in memory. A Harvard study showed that after eight weeks of mindfulness training, people’s brains showed a decrease in density in the amygdala, known to play a role in anxiety and stress.

As you become more aware of when you are present and mindful, self-awareness arises, Gaylord says. Similar to lifting weights or exercise, the more you work out, the more you understand your body, from its limits to what feels right. You apply the same technique to your mind.

“We learn about ourselves as we practice,” he says.

With any activity that requires discipline, I require some of it to be fun or to feel like the outcome is valuable. Gaylord concurs. You can’t meditate because your doctor told you to do so; you have to experience it for yourself.

Think of it this way: When you’re busy, driving to work, dropping off kids or answering emails, your day doesn’t often allow much time to notice whether you’re present.

Everyone is present at some point during the day. The first step is to ask yourself whether you know when you are present. Get curious, Gaylord says. Sitting in meditation gives you the space to ask the question and observe the answer.

You might see as you meditate that your emotional reactivity goes down. You might be less inclined to yell at someone in traffic. In turn, you are less emotional, and less exhausted. You can do a better job at work or be more satisfied in your work, or in your life, he says.

As you return to your schedule from the holidays, you also might have experienced intense family interactions or stress. A meditation practice can support you in noticing whether a sibling pushed your buttons, or whether it caused a reaction and perhaps a blowup. Being able to see that chain of events is helpful, Gaylord says.

The New Year also is a great time to establish new practices, such as attending a meditation class at Seattle Shambhala or other local meditation centers. But really, “Anytime is a good time to start a practice,” Gaylord says.

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Some Doctors Say Allergies May Increase Chances For Anxiety, Depression

Children who have seasonal allergies at a young age are more likely to have anxiety and depression than other children, according to a new study published in Pediatrics .

Researchers also say the more seasonal allergies a child has, the higher the score they had for “internalizing behavior”.

“Internalizing behavior” includes symptoms of anxiety and depression, and they develop when a person keeps issues to themselves.

Dr. Maya Nanda of Children’s Mercy Hospital helped lead the study.

Around 600 children were part of the research, which tested the children between the ages of one and seven years old.

Dr. Nanda says the cause of the link between allergies and internalizing behavior is still officially unknown, but other studies have shed light on what could possibly be the reason.

According to Canada Today, the children may develop “internalizing behavior” due to a chemical reaction from the allergies that impacts areas of the brain that affect moods.

The link could also be from children changing their behavior as a result of often being sick with allergies.

Dr. Nanda said the study is still going on and the children with allergies will continue to be monitored.

Symptoms of hay fever, the most common form of allergy and the one found in the link with depression and anxiety, include sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, and a runny nose.

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When Antidepressants Aren’t Enough For Late Life Depression

More than half of adults 65 and older with clinical depression don’t get better after taking antidepressants. When that happens, physicians are left to rely on educated guesses for what the next step of treatment should be — changing to a different antidepressant, prescribing a second drug in addition to antidepressants, or perhaps psychotherapy.

However, a new, large study has found that adding the antipsychotic drug aripiprazole, sold under the brand name Abilify, to traditional antidepressant therapy can relieve depression in many of these patients. Up to 44 percent of patients given aripiprazole in the study achieved remission compared to only 29 percent of patients on placebo.

Aripiprazole is a second-generation antipsychotic — a drug that stabilizes moods by regulating dopamine levels instead of serotonin, which is what most antidepressants act on. And previous research has shown aripiprazole to be effective in treating depression in younger patients. But it can react differently in people of different ages, and there had been no controlled research studies on its effectiveness in older patients with depression.

“Our findings help clarify the risk-benefit ratio of aripiprazole augmentation for clinicians facing the common situation of treatment-resistant depression in their older patients,” said Dr. Charles Reynolds, geriatric psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh and senior author of the study, which was published in the September 2015 edition of The Lancet.

The findings could go a long way in helping choose what treatments to pursue, especially since so many older adults have depression that recurs despite antidepressant therapy. And depression can often increase symptoms of coexisting illnesses, such as diabetes, as well as the risk for dementia and suicide, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

For the new study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, researchers recruited nearly 500 participants receiving the antidepressant venlafaxine, formerly sold as Effexor or Effexor XR. After 12 weeks, 181 patients did not undergo remission even at the highest dose. These patients with treatment-resistant depression were then randomly assigned to have either aripiprazole or a placebo added to their regimen for another 12 weeks. Of the patients given the drug combination, 44 percent experienced a remission of their depression.

But secondary or combination drugs such as antipsychotics can have their own set of negative effects. And older patients are often more vulnerable to side effects like restlessness or muscle stiffness, known as mild Parkinsonism, said geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Lon Schneider at the University of Southern California. In their severe form, these symptoms are disabling. That’s why these side effects are “more than merely troublesome.”

The study’s authors noted that the jitteriness and Parkinsonism — experienced by 26 percent and 17 percent of the patients taking Abilify, respectively — were mild and went away when the dose was reduced. But then critics question if it is really worth it to add a pill that costs upwards of $700 for a month’s supply.

Critics also question if the study is truly applicable to older adults because the average age of the participants was only 66. “That’s not that old!” said Dr. Robert McCue, a geriatric psychiatrist at New York University, who explained that patients have to be in their late 70s and 80s to be considered “geriatric.” According to McCue, patients in their late 70s and 80s often have very different depression symptoms from those in their 50s and 60s. They have more somatic and memory complaints, and can be even more vulnerable to side effects.

“That,” he said, “is where the work needs to be done.”

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Early Childhood Depression Affects Brain Development

Did your child suffer from depression during their childhood years? Parents, a new study suggests early childhood depression can affect brain development.

According to a research study published on JAMA Psychiatry, children who suffered from clinical depression are most likely to have abnormalities in brain development. In a statement cited by Science Daily, co-researcher Dr. Joan L. Luby said that the study had allowed them to explore the connections between depression and brain development, stating that "negative mood, exposure to poverty, and a lack of parental support and nurturing" can cause alterations in brain growth and development.

The participants involved in the study are 193 preschool children from ages 3 to 6 from St. Louis, Missouri metropolitan area. These children were under observation for 11 years - from Sep. 22, 2003 to Dec. 11, 2014 in a "longitudinal behavioral and neuroimaging study of childhood depression."

A statistical model of parameters such as Multilevel Modeling was used in the study in order to observe the links between childhood depression symptoms, prior diagnosis of major depressive disorder and the inverted U-shaped trajectory of gray matter change across 3 scan waves. This trajectory is said to have a linkage with emotional and cognitive function and is made up of neurons.

Out of 193 children, 90 of them had been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. 116 of them showed 3 full scan waves. The drop in the gray matter's thickness, volume and surface area are evident in children who experienced an episode of depression. This led them to a conclusion that brain development can be affected by depression among children.

"Gray matter development follows an inverted U-shaped curve," Luby said. "As children develop normally, they get more and more gray matter until puberty, but then a process called pruning begins, and unnecessary cells die off. But our study showed a much steeper drop-off, possibly due to pruning, in the kids who had been depressed than in healthy children."

In their next research, Dr. Luby and her co-investigators plan to examine even younger participants and perform brain scans. The planned study would aim to determine whether pruning begins earlier than three years old. The researchers also acknowledge the discomfort that childhood depression may cause. However, they encouraged that a long-lasting intervention should be done to these children in order for them to have a healthy growth and development.

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Can Computer-Guided Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Improve Depression Treatment?

In the United States, depression is the top cause of disability, but only 21% of patients diagnosed with major depression get treatment that meets the guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association. Of people seeking depression treatment, those who’d like to be treated with live psychotherapy outnumber those who’d like to be treated with medication three to one, but those who want live therapy often don’t receive it. Access to psychotherapy is limited by the number of professionals in one’s region, cost, and logistics — not to mention stigma. And when people do get therapy, therapists may not provide care that is evidence-based.

One way to get high-quality psychotherapy to people who need it is to automate and computerize the treatment process and deliver it through websites and apps. This could potentially offer guidelines-based treatment to anyone, anywhere, anytime, at a modest cost. Stand-alone computerized cognitive behavioral therapy (CCBT) has been found to be effective for the treatment of depression, and is already available from a few entities. But it’s still not known how much, if at all, CCBT would improve treatment of depression in primary care, so a group of researchers in the United Kingdom recently tested the advantages of adding CCBT to standard treatment. They randomly assigned 691 people with depression into three different groups. One group received standard care, and the others received standard care plus one of two online CCBT programs.

Comparing CCBT with standard care for depression

As it turns out, standard depression treatment in UK primary care centers is quite good. Citizens are routinely offered antidepressant medications, psychotherapy, and access to community mental health teams, psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors — a range of resources seldom available in US primary care practices.

There was a lot of crossover between the study groups. In the “standard care” group, 19% ended up using CCBT even though they weren’t specifically assigned to that treatment. Between 77% and 84% of all three groups used medication to treat their depression, and “live” mental health specialists were seen by 17% of one and 24% of the other CCBT group.

Against this backdrop — with many participants in the CCBT groups also receiving mental health specialty treatment and 19% of the standard-practice group receiving CCBT — no significant difference in depression treatment results was found. However, in the US, the findings may have been very different, considering the limited array of mental health resources in most primary care clinics.

It would be most interesting, and more important, to know the benefit of using CCBT for patients who receive nothing else — no medication and no access to mental health specialists. It’s for these patients that CCBT might be the most beneficial.

Challenges in getting people to use CCBT for depression treatment

Both of the CCBT websites had been tested in previous clinical trials and both had been found to be effective treatments — but they’re only helpful if people use them. Even though the two stand-alone CCBT websites were designed to be used over either 6 or 8 “sessions,” most people only used them once or twice, even though the study provided reminder calls to the participants. People with depression can experience fatigue, impaired concentration, and feelings of hopelessness. Getting them to consistently use CCBT websites on their own schedule is a challenge — even if these programs might be helpful in the end. More structure may be needed to keep people using CCBT.

What’s the take-home? The biggest challenge isn’t building a CCBT program that works; it’s building one that people will use. Just as you need to entertain before you can educate, any CCBT program needs to be extremely engaging to users — and to provide immediate value from the first session. And, although the treatment-anywhere-anytime concept is alluring, relying on people to schedule CCBT themselves on their own time, in their own homes, may lead to high levels of drop-off; after all, you can always get around to it later.

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Positive Strategies To Deal With Anxiety

A troubling number of older individuals are now using anti-anxiety medications on a regular basis. In the past year, more than more than 5 percent of adults in the U.S. have filled at least one prescription for benzodiazepines -- anxiety medications such as Valium and Xanax -- according to a 2015 study in JAMA Psychiatry. And use goes up with age: 7.4 percent of people in their 50s and early 60s and 8.7 percent of those 65-80 are taking these drugs.

There's nothing wrong with the occasional use of these medications to handle a stressful situation -- if you're nervous about an airplane flight or public speaking, for example. "Benzos" and other sleeping and anti-anxiety meds are fine for short-term use in most cases.

But that JAMA Psychiatry study also found that about 1/4 of all of these anti-anxiety prescriptions are for long-term use, and many people are not receiving those prescriptions from a psychiatrist. If you suffer from anxiety that is so severe that you require medication to treat it on an ongoing basis, then you should also be seeing a psychiatric professional to help you with your symptoms.

Here's part of the problem: Anxiety is a symptom, not the condition. Anti-anxiety drugs temporarily relieve the dysphoria, that sense of acute unease or dissatisfaction associated with your anxiety, so you feel like they're "working." But pills can't take away whatever is at the root of your anxiety.

Not only do anti-anxiety drugs not solve your underlying problem, but they also dull our ability to respond to our environment in a quick and accurate way. Slower reaction times mean that driving is much more hazardous. Walking becomes dangerous too, with an added risk of falls.

So if you are taking drugs like these on a regular basis, consider sitting down with your doctor to talk about why you're using them. Evaluate the possible risks, get guidance on how to taper down, and find new ways to manage the conditions you've been trying to treat with these medications, like anxiety or insomnia.

Sleep and Exercise: Positive Ways to Deal with Anxiety

There are plenty of positive ways that you can deal with anxiety without popping a pill. My top two suggestions would be either getting better sleep or getting more exercise. Ideally, do both.

Researchers here at UC Berkeley have found that lack of sleep increases anxiety, so check out our article 15+ Sleep Remedies.

Many studies have found that exercise can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. You don't have to "feel the burn" to experience the benefits of exercise on your mood: a recent study found that even a short walk in nature reduces what they call "rumination" -- the tendency to get into negative thought patterns that you can't find your way out of.

Besides sleep and exercise, I'd also prescribe a healthy dose of whatever it is you love. Make time to do the things that bring you pleasure and don't put you in an anxious circumstance -- whether that's a book you want to read, music you want to listen to, or a museum you want to visit.

Add pleasure to your life, and you'll find you're subtracting stress and anxiety at the same time.

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Keep Things Simple For A Healthy, Long Life

I'm often asked for medical advice by friends, family members, even new acquaintances: What about this diet? What should I do about this symptom? What about this medication?

People are usually disappointed when I don't share their enthusiasm about the latest health fads. Members of my family, in particular, are often underwhelmed by my medical advice.

I'll be the first to admit that I don't always do a great job of conveying why I'm skeptical about the newest medical technology, reports of the latest health news and fashions and even people's symptoms. Mostly it's because in my experience so much about health just isn't that simple.

Most symptoms, after all, aren't explainable, at least to the level of detail we all seem to want. "What's causing my symptoms?" friends, family and patients ask me. Is it a virus? Bacteria? Arterial blockage?

In spite of all the science and technology in medicine, what we doctors do is more about making educated guesses. Especially in primary care, it's often a matter of playing the probabilities than providing precise diagnostic information.

But prevention is different. We know a lot about it, based on huge bodies of epidemiological research. Most of prevention is fairly straightforward. You've heard the advice again and again. In fact, the repetition may make it easy to tune out.

I'll risk it, though, and tell you again that there really aren't shortcuts to health. Here's what you need to do:

Get enough sleep.

Move your body throughout the day.

Eat well — a healthy assortment of foods. Mostly plants, and not too much. (An idea popularized by author Michael Pollan.)

Interact socially. Isolation is not good for the body, soul or mind.

Take some time to reflect on what you are grateful for.

Recently I've come across a couple of sources that do a good job of conveying these messages. One is a set of books and ideas about the world's so-called Blue Zones. If you haven't heard about them, Blue Zones are the places in the world where people both have the healthiest and longest lives.

People in these communities often live well beyond 100 years:

Okinawa, Japan

Ikaria, Greece

Sardinia, Italy

Nicoya, Costa Rica

Loma Linda, Calif.

In these places, people have preventive medicine baked into their lives, mostly without even having to think about it. Their daily activities involve eating healthful diets rich in local plants, walking most places and lots of intergenerational social interaction.

Interestingly, folks in these communities generally do drink alcohol. But they limit it to 1 or 2 drinks a day. Also, they typically do eat meat — but not very often and in small portions. (Loma Linda may be a bit of an exception, with its large population of Seventh-Day Adventists.)

One thing that probably won't surprise you: Blue Zoners do not eat refined sugars. They skip the convenient packaged foods that we're trained to eat because they're cheap and widely available.

Summarizing these themes visually in under two minutes is another gem from the idea lab of Dr. Mike Evans from Toronto. You've seen some of his other videos here. I love them. Just watch the one below, and follow his advice. That's what I'm trying to do in my own life.

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A Simple Exercise To Reduce Your Anxiety In Stressful Situations

If your strategy for calming down before a job interview or big presentation is to pace up and down, muttering, "You got this!" until you almost, sort of believe it, then we've got good news.

There's a simpler and more effective way to beat anxiety. The trick? Remind yourself of what you value most.

In her new book "Presence," Amy Cuddy, the Harvard psychologist who popularized the idea of "power posing" to increase confidence, offers a simple exercise to get over your nerves. Take a few moments to write about a core value that's meaningful to you — e.g., family, creativity, career success — and a time when that value was important.

The exercise might seem unrelated to the task at hand, but hopefully it will help you remember what you as a unique individual have to bring to the table.

A growing body of research supports the idea that reflecting on your personal values — what researchers call "self-affirmation" — can help you deal with challenging situations.

In one study on self-affirmation, researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of California at Santa Barbara asked 85 undergrads to give a five-minute speech about why they would be a good candidate for a job at their university.

The experience was designed to be extremely stressful — after giving the speech, participants counted aloud backward from 2,083 by 13 seconds while experimenters yelled at them to "go faster."

At the study's outset, all participants completed a questionnaire that asked them to rank the importance of five personal values: religion, social issues, politics, theory, and aesthetics. Half the participants answered questions about their top-ranked value; the other half answered questions about their lowest-ranked value.

Results showed that participants who'd self-affirmed by writing about their most important value reported significantly less stress while preparing for the speech. Researchers also measured their levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and found that the participants who'd self-affirmed showed no significant spikes.

In other words, simply reflecting on who you are and what you care about may be enough to buffer the effects of a highly stressful experience.

In "Presence," Cuddy says self-affirmation facilitates the development of "presence" — which she defines as being attuned and able to express your true potential — by allowing you to become "your authentic self" and "your boldest self."

It's not, she says, about believing that you're the best at this role or developing a false sense of confidence. Instead, it's about knowing that you're able to do the best you can and demonstrate your personal strengths and talents.

She says that self-affirmation is "a way of grounding ourselves in the truth of our own stories. It makes us feel less dependent on the approval of others and even comfortable with their disapproval, if that's what we get."

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Compound Found In Spices May Increase Brain Connections

Brazilian researchers from D’Or Institute for Research and Education (IDOR), Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and Federal University of Bahia (UFBA) have demonstrated in laboratory that apigenin, a substance found in parsley, thyme, chamomile and red pepper, improves neuron formation and strengthens the connections between brain cells.

Previous experiments with animals had already shown that substances from the same chemical group as the apigenin, known as flavonoids, positively affect memory and learning. Many studies highlight the potential of flavonoids to preserve and enhance brain function. While the effectiveness of flavonoids for brain health is not an entirely new concept, this research is the first to show the positive effects of apigegin directly on human cells and the first to unraveling its mechanism.

The scientists observed that just by applying apigenin to human stem cells in a dish they become neurons after 25 days – an effect they would not see without the substance. Moreover, the neurons that were formed made stronger and sophisticated connections among themselves after being treated with this natural compound.

“Strong connections between neurons are crucial for good brain function, memory consolidation and learning”, says neuroscientist from IDOR and UFRJ Stevens Rehen, leader author of the paper published today at Advances in Regenerative Biology.

The research team conducted by Rehen demonstrated that apigenin works by binding to estrogen receptors, which affect the development, maturation, function, and plasticity of the nervous system. This group of hormones is known to delay the onset of psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. However, the use of estrogen-based therapies is limited by the increased risk of estrogen-dependent tumors and cardiovascular problems.

Researchers believe apigenin can be used as an alternative approach on future treatments for neurodegenerative diseases as well as in neuronal differentiation strategies in laboratory.

“We show a new path for new studies with this substance”, points out Rehen. “Moreover, flavonoids are present at high amounts in some foods and we can speculate that a diet rich in flavonoids may influence the formation of neurons and the way they communicate within the brain.”

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Did You Know?

In the United States in 2001-2003, 30% of the population experienced some form of mental illness.

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