Friday, April 30, 2010

Experts - we know next to nothing about Alzheimer's

Over the years - and indeed on this blog - there have been quite a few stories linking different foods, habits and lifestyles to an increased or decreased risk of Alzheimer's disease. However, a panel of experts set up by the National Institutes of Health in the U.S. has reviewed all the evidence and found that we still know next to nothing about what (beyond getting older) causes it and how we can prevent it. There is a strong association with a gene called ApoE4 but it is a long way from being aware of the link to deriving any practically-useful information from it. There was no evidence of even moderate scientific quality linking dietary supplements, drugs, healthy eating, exercise and a good social life to a reduced risk of Alzheimer's and in studies that did show an association there was no evidence that it wasn't being mentally alert that allowed people to maintain a healthy lifestyle rather than vice versa. There was evidence that diabetes, depression and smoking were associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's but nothing to suggest that they were connected.

You can find out more about this report at

and read the whole thing at

Has the bubble burst for Omega-3s?

Following on from research showing that omega-3s might not improve cognition in older people

a new study shows that they may not have much of an effect in children either. Researchers from the University of Wales studied 450 children between the ages of eight and ten in Newport, South Wales. Half of them were given omega-3 supplements while the rest were given a placebo. The children were given psychological assessments and teachers and parents reported on any changes they saw in their behaviour. Reading, spelling and coordination were largely unaffected by the omega-3 although it did produce an improvement in children's attention in class.

Antidepressants and self-poisoning risk - which are the riskiest?

Self-poisoning is a common way of killing oneself, especially among women. Because suicide is linked to depression, and antidepressants are often easily available, antidepressants are involved in around 25% of all poisoning suicides in the U.K. and 20-30% of non-fatal overdoses. It is therefore important to know if certain kinds of antidepressants are riskier than others. A team of researchers led by Keith Hawton from Oxford University compared numbers of prescriptions to numbers of deaths in cases of deaths by self-poisoning. They used data from six general hospitals in Oxford, Manchester and Derby between 2000 and 2006. The study found that older, tricyclic antidepressants were much riskier than the SNRI (Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor) drug venlafaxine and the NaSSA (Noradrenergic and Specific Serotonin Antidepressant) drug mirtazapine. In turn these drugs were riskier than SSRIs (Serotonin Specific Reuptake Inhibitors). Among the tricyclic antidepressants dosulepin and doxepin were both riskier than amitriptyline while within the SSRIs citalopram was riskier than the other drugs.

Hawton, Keith ... [et al] - Toxicity of antidepressants: rates of suicide relative to prescribing and non-fatal overdose British Journal of Psychiatry May 2010, 196(5), 354-358

Bupropion helps people with schizophrenia stub it out

People with schizophrenia are three times more likely to smoke than the rest of the population and find it harder to give up. A drug called bupropion blocks the effects of nicotine and has been used to help people without schizophrenia quit. A team of researchers led by Daniel Tai-yin Tsoi from the University of Sheffield reviewed 21 studies into the effectiveness of bupropion in helping people with schizophrenia quit smoking. They found that it was nearly three times as effective at helping people stop smoking than a placebo and had no effect on people's mental state.

Tsoi, Daniel Tai-Yin, Porwal, Mamta and Webster, Claire - Efficacy and safety of bupropion for smoking cessation and reduction in schizophrenia: systematic review and meta-analysis British Journal of Psychiatry May 2010, 196(5), 346-353

Psychosis - hearing the service users' stories

There has been lots of research into psychosis but relatively little of it has looked at the thoughts, feelings and life histories of the people who suffer from the condition. John Rhodes from the Willesden Mental Health Resources Centre in London and Simon Jakes from Campbelltown Hospital in New South Wales looked at 28 people's accounts of their illness. They were particularly interested in the ways in which the condition developed and whether this was related to any interpersonal difficulties the participants had been experiencing at the time. After studying the participants' accounts they came up with three patterns of onset: an eruptive, sudden transformation of oneself or one's world; a slow progressive onset characterised by interconnected changes in meaning and experience and an onset beginning in people's childhood experiences. Social difficulties were mentioned spontaneously by 17 of the participants and another 9 discussed them when asked. People who had developed psychosis gradually, or in their childhood, had felt negative emotion about, and been preoccupied with, a difficult interpersonal issue over a long time. The participants' stories suggested that certain ideas and images can take hold of a person, become interwoven into their thinking and start to influence the way they see the world and/or themselves. The authors conclude by suggesting that it is important for people trying to help those with delusions to get them to talk about how their condition started.

Rhodes, John and Jakes, Simon - Perspectives on the onset of delusions Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy March-April 2010, 17(2), 136-146

Picking up the pieces in Kosovo

Millions of people all over the world suffer from the psychological consequences of warfare and a large number of studies have reported high levels of psychological distress among civilian survivors of war. Researchers from the University of Amsterdam, the University of Connecticut and the Kosova Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims studied 67 people seeking treatment for war-related stress almost a decade after the conflict in Kosovo finished. The study found that the participants had been involved in 'multiple war-related traumatic events' and had high levels of mental-health problems. After treatment the participants reported no changes in post-traumatic stress symptoms or psychological wellbeing although they did show reduced levels of depression and 'overall psychiatric distress' and an improved quality of life. Those participants who improved after treatment were the ones who had been in less distress at the start of the study.

Morina, Nexhmedin ... [et al] - Psychopathology and well-being in civilian survivors of war seeking treatment: a follow-up study Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy March-April 2010, 17(2), 79-86

Mariposa by Sarah Coggrave

Sarah Coggrave has written a book about her experiences of suffering, and recovering from, an eating disorder.

Mariposa is a vivid, colourful and comprehensive account of Sarah Coggrave’s recovery from an eating disorder. Her art and writing paint an eclectic picture of a complex individual trying desperately to wrestle free from the evil voices inside her head. The book follows Sarah’s journey through hospital and then a specialist clinic as she totally transforms and rebuilds her life. Throughout she reflects with startling insight on the root of her problems and confesses her innermost thoughts and feelings. We hear the eating disorder is deafening in the beginning. However eventually it fades to little more than an inaudible whisper as Sarah finds her own voice.

You can find out more about the book at

and, if you are on Facebook

30 ways of dealing with stress

Christine Seivers has compiled a useful list of hints and tips for dealing with stress. You can find her top tips at

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dreams, memory and learning

Dreams have been linked to prophesies and the unconscious welling up to the surface or dismissed as the brain's equivalent of a PC's screensaver but new research by scientists at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston suggests that they may play an important part in learning and memory. The researchers studied 99 people who spent an hour training on a virtual maze. After their initial training the participants either had a nap or took part in quiet activities but stayed awake. When they attempted the maze again the participants who had stayed awake or who had had a nap but had not dreamt about the maze showed very little signs of improvement. However, those people who had dreamt about the maze showed 10 times the level of improvement of the other participants. The participants who dreamt about the maze were the ones who had done particularly poorly in their initial training.

Premature babies, psychiatric problems

Advances in medical technology mean that many more premature babies now survive but such children have an increased risk of cognitive, neuromotor and sensory problems later in life. A study by British researchers, led by Samantha Johnson who works at University College London and the University of Nottingham, studied 219 children who were born extremely prematurely and followed them to see how they were getting on 11 years later. At the age of 11 almost a quarter of the children had a psychiatric disorder. The most frequent conditions were Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) (12%), emotional disorders (9%) and autism-spectrum disorders (8%).

Sleep, drugs and social networks

Previous research has pointed to a link between poor sleep in children and an increased risk of drug use. Now new research from the University of California, San Diego has confirmed this and also suggests that bad sleep can spread throughout social networks. The study covered 8,349 children between year 7 and year 12 and found that children who slept less than seven hours a night were 19% more likely to take drugs. By mapping the social networks of the children the researchers found that the friends of children who slept badly were 29% more likely to sleep badly themselves. This influence carried on through up to four degrees of separation although it diminished as the connections between people got more remote. Lack of sleep is also linked to behavioural, cognitive and emotional problems and the study recommended that children got an average of between 8 1/2 and 9 1/4 hours sleep a night.

You can find out more about this research at

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Chocolate - not such a 'feelgood food'?

It is often thought that chocolate cheers people up but new research from the University of California, San Diego shows that people who regularly eat chocolate are more prone to depression. The researchers studied nearly 1,000 adults comparing their chocolate consumption and their levels of depression. Those who ate the most chocolate - more than six 28g bars a month - had the highest depression scores. It is not known whether depressed people eat chocolate to cheer themselves up or whether there is something in chocolate that makes people depressed.

You can find out more about this research at

Personality, ageing and brain structure

Researchers from Washington University in St Louis have been looking into the links between people's personality and how their brain changes as they age. They gave MRI scans to 79 people between the ages of 44 and 88 who also took personality tests. Neuroticism - a tendency to see events in a negative or fearful light - was associated with lower volumes of grey matter in the frontal and medial temporal brain regions, whereas conscientiousness was associated with higher volumes. The same effects held true for a part of the brain called the orbitofrontal cortex which is involved in social and emotional processing. There was no clear link between levels of extroversion and changes in brain volume. It was unclear whether people's personalities affected how their brains changed with age or whether it was the changes to people's brains that affected their temperament.


A significant minority of people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) respond rapidly to cognitive behaviour therapy and these benefits seem to be long-lasting. Researchers from the University at Buffalo, in New York, studied 71 people with IBS who received smaller or larger 'doses' of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). 30% of the sample could be classified as 'rapid responders' of whom 90-95% were still better after three months. Although the rapid responders had more symptoms at the start of the study they achieved a more substantial and sustained symptom reduction than non-rapid responders. Both 'doses' of CBT had comparable rates of rapid responders.

You can find out more about this research at

Family depression and interpreting emotions

Children whose mothers are depressed are known to be more at risk of depression themselves. The way people react to the world around them is thought to be important in whether they develop depression or not and interpreting people's facial expressions is thought to be one of the most important factors in this. This American study of 85 girls between the ages of 9 and 14 compared 50 girls whose mothers had no depression with 35 girls whose mothers had had depression. None of the girls had had depression themselves. The girls were asked to judge emotions based on a subtly-changing computer image. The better the girls were at judging emotion the quicker they could work out what the expression was as it moved from neutral to happy, sad or angry. The daughters of the depressed mothers needed a bigger change before they could tell what the expression was and made more errors identifying angry expressions suggesting that this cognitive bias is one way in which depression can be 'transmitted' from mothers to children.

Joormann, Jutta, Gilbert, Kirsten and Gotlib, Ian H. - Emotion identification in girls at high risk for depression Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry May 2010, 51(5), 575-582

Parenting programmes - are they a long-term solution?

Parenting programmes like The Incredible Years have been proven to have good short-term effects but little research has been done into their long-term effectiveness or into what makes them effective, or not, in children diagnosed with 'conduct disorder' and 'oppositional defiant disorder.' Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology studied 54 children who had taken part in The Incredible Years programme following them up five or six years afterwards to see how they were getting on. 5-6 years later two-thirds of the children no longer had a diagnosis of 'conduct disorder' or 'oppositional defiant disorder.' The strongest predictors of whether children still had a diagnosis were if they lived only with their mother or if they were a girl.

Drugli, May Britt ... [et al] - Five-to six-year outcome and its prediction for children with ODD/CD treated with parent training Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry May 2010, 51(5), 559-566

Friday, April 23, 2010

What makes for a happy (very) old age?

Most developed countries have an aging population but what makes for a happy old age? People in Georgia, in the former Soviet Union, are known to live to a ripe old age and researchers from Iowa State University have been studying 158 centenarians there to see what makes them happy, or not. They found that past satisfaction with life was the key to happiness in old age. In a linked study of 78 octogenarians the researchers found that a diminished ability to solve everyday problems was a significant predictor of depression symptoms in the octogenarians although it was a loss of abilities rather than overall cognitive functioning that led to depression. For the centenarians living in a nursing home and having neurotic tendencies increased depression. Both groups worried about the direction the country was heading in and what kind of world they would leave for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Research shows true cost of caring

Researchers from Pennsylvania State University and the Benjamin Rose Institute in Cleveland, Ohio have been looking into the toll taken on people looking after someone with dementia, and their findings do not make cheerful reading. The study of 67 caregivers found that they frequently experienced overwhelming stress that could lead to breakdown and depression. Behaviour issues were a common source of stress as well as the feeling of losing a relationship with a family member and conflict with siblings or relatives. Around 4 million people in the U.S. care for someone with dementia and some people end up doing so for 15 or 20 years.

You can find out more about this research at

Long road back to normality for borderline sufferers

Building a good social life and holding down a job can be tough for people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) even when their symptoms have disappeared. Mary Zanarini from McLean Hospital in Massachusetts followed 290 people with BPD over a decade to see how their condition changed; the participants in the study had all been inpatients at the hospital. 93% of the patients had had at least one 2-year break from BPD symptoms over the course of the study and 86% had had a four-year period without symptoms. However, only about half of the participants achieved 'full recovery' which was defined as a reprieve from symptoms lasting at least two years plus good social and vocational functioning. Of those who did recover about a third later redeveloped symptoms or once again struggled socially, or with their job.

Losing parents and children's mental health

Children who lose a parent to suicide are more likely to commit suicide themselves and are also at a greater risk of other mental-health problems. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore looked at suicides, psychiatric hospitalisations and violent-crime convictions over a period of 30 years in more than 500,000 Swedish children, teenagers and young adults who had lost a parent to suicide, illness or an accident and four million who hadn't. They found that those children who lost a parent to suicide as children or teenagers were three times more likely to kill themselves than children with living parents although there was no increase in risk for children who were eighteen or over when their parent committed suicide. Children whose parents had died in an accident were twice as likely to kill themselves as unaffected children but again the differences disappeared when children were older when they were bereaved. Children who lost a parent to illness did not have an increased risk of suicide. Children who lost parents to suicide were nearly twice as likely to be hospitalised for depression whereas those who lost their parents to accidents or illness had a 30-40% greater risk. Losing a parent for whatever reason increased a child's risk of committing a violent crime.

You can find out more about this research at

Thursday, April 22, 2010

New gene linked to Alzheimer's risk

Researchers from the University of Miami have identified a new gene associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. In a study of 5,376 people, 2,269 of whom had Alzheimer's disease, the researchers compared a stretch of genes to see if certain variations were more common in the people with Alzheimer's. They found that a gene called MTHFD1L on chromosome six was associated with a doubling in the risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer's. The gene is known to be involved in influencing the body's levels of a substance called homocysteine, high levels of which are known to be a strong risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer's diseases.

You can find out more about this research at

Smoking and depression go together like bacon and eggs

In the U.S. the National Center for Health Statistics has been analyzing data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to look into the links between depression and smoking. They found that 43% of adult smokers aged 20 and over have depression. Among men aged between 40 and 54 55% of smokers are depressed and among women aged 20 to 39 about 50% of smokers were. Overall only 7% of adults aged 20 and over had depression. The more depressed people were the more likely they were to smoke. Adults with depression were more likely to smoke over a pack a day and to smoke their first cigarette within five minutes of waking up.

You can find out more about this research at

Anticonvulsants and suicide risk

Certain anticonvulsant drugs could be associated with an increased risk of suicide, attempted suicide or violent death. Anticonvulsants are used to help people with epilepsy but can also be prescribed for bipolar disorder, mania, neuralgia, migraine and neuropathic pain. Researchers from Harvard Medical School analyzed data from 14 states about patients fifteen-years old and over who started taking anticonvulsants between July 2001 and December 2006. They found that the risk of suicidal acts was increased for gabapentin (Neurontin), lamotrigine (Lamictal), oxcarbazapine (Trileptal), tiagabine (Gabitril) and valproate (Depakote).

You can find out more about this research at

Omega 3s not a miracle solution for older people's cognition

Along with statins and aspirin omega-3s seem to be touted as the miracle cure for just about everything. However, a trial by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has found no evidence that it can improve cognition in older people. The trial studied 867 people aged between 70 and 80. For two years half of the participants were given omega-3 and half a placebo and their cognition was tested at the beginning and end of the study. After two years there was no change in cognitive function in either group of participants.

You can find out more about this research at

Why bottling up anger could be the way to an early grave

People with heart disease who bottle up their anger are at nearly three times the risk of having a heart attack or dying over the next 5-10 years. Researchers from Tilburg University in the Netherlands looked into the influence of type D personality in a study of 644 patients who were followed for an average of about six years. Type D personalities are prone to suffer from anger and other negative emotions and often bottle their anger up because they find it difficult to express themselves in social situations. There was a significant relationship between suppressed anger and the risk of heart attack or death even after the researchers adjusted for factors like blood pressure and heart disease severity. Nearly 20% of people with a type D personality had high levels of suppressed anger compared to only 4% of the rest of the sample. Having a type D personality quadrupled the risk of having a heart attack or dying during the course of the study.

You can find out more about this research at

Britain leads the way - in binge drinking

British people are the biggest binge drinkers in Europe. Polling company Eurobarometer surveyed 18,000 people across Europe and found that although British people were not the most frequent drinkers they did drink the most at a single sitting with 12% of the population admitting that they have up to ten drinks (five pints) in a single night out. Only 20% of Britons said they had drunk nothing at all in the last year compared to double that number in Portugal, Italy and Hungary. Denmark and Sweden were the countries with the fewest teetotallers - 10%. Italians and Portuguese were more likely to drink little but often with 60% saying they drank up to two glasses every day of the week. Figures from the U.K.'s Home Office show that crime and disorder caused by binge drinking costs the taxpayer between $8-13 billion a year.

What makes a 21st turn tipsy?

The legal age for drinking in the U.S. is 21 and there has been quite a lot of coverage of people dying as a result of excessive drinking on their 21st birthday. Researchers from the University of Texas, at Austin studied 150 college students asking them how much they thought they would drink before their 21st and comparing this to how much they actually drank. The researchers found that the majority of students drank more than they thought they would and that men were more likely to underestimate their consumption than women. Drinking shots, drinking at a fast pace, celebrating with influential peers and engaging in 21st birthday traditions were all associated with drinking more than expected.

Brister, Heather A., Wetherill, Reagan R. and Fromme, Kim - Anticipated versus actual alcohol consumption during 21st birthday celebrations Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs March 2010, 71(2), 180-183

Alcohol consumption in older people

Most studies into how people drink over their lifetimes have found that consumption peaks in early adulthood and declines later but little is known about individual's drinking patterns and what factors make people drink less or more as they age. Researchers from Duke University in North Carolina studied 6,787 people who were between 51 and 61 in 1992 and tracked their alcohol consumption regularly until 2006. The study found that overall alcohol consumption in the group declined. However, for a minority of people alcohol consumption increased. These people were more likely to be affluent, highly-educated, male, White, unmarried, less religious and in excellent to good health. People who were problem drinkers before the study started were more likely to drink more as they got older whereas people who were light drinkers at the start of the study were more likely to drink less.

Platt, Alyssa, Sloan, Frank A. and Costanzo, Philip - Alcohol-consumption trajectories and associated characteristics among adults older than age 50 Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs March 2010, 71(2), 169-179

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sleep disorders take greater toll in non-White groups

Sleep disorders could take a greater toll on people's quality of life and health among Black and Hispanic people than in White people. Researchers from Arizona State University used data from the Sleep Heart Health Study covering a total of 5,237 people. Sleep disturbances were common with 46% of people having at least mild sleep apnea, 34% reporting frequent snoring, 30% having insomnia symptoms and 25% reporting excessive daytime sleepiness. The physical health of African Americans with sleep problems was significantly worse than in Caucasians. Both Hispanic and African-Americans with sleep problems had significantly worse mental health than Caucasians.

You can find out more about this research at

French study exposes the myth of multi-tasking

Employers and management gurus often speak of the benefits of multi-tasking but a new study by Dr Etienne Koechlin of the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris suggests that the human brain might only be designed to do two tasks at once. The study used imaging techniques to monitor brain activity in 32 volunteers asked to perform a letter-matching test. When the volunteers completed one task at a time one side of a certain area of their frontal lobes lit up and when they completed two the frontal lobes divided the tasks between them. The brain was able to control switching between the two hemispheres when carrying out two tasks but people's accuracy went downhill quickly once a third was added. This research ties into earlier studies which showed that people find it easy to choose between two alternatives but much harder to deal with more than two.

You can find out more about this research at

Autism and child development

Not everyone with autism develops at the same rate or in the same way during early childhood. Researchers from the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland collected data from 2,720 parents and found three different patterns of autism. Regression was characterised by a loss of previously acquired social, communicative or cognitive skills before the age of three. 'Plateau' was the display of only mild developmental delays until the child showed a gradual to abrupt halt in their development that restricted further advances in their skills and No Loss and No Plateau children showed early warning signs of autism without experiencing either a loss or a plateau. The children who went through the Regression pattern had a significant increase in their autism symptoms, the greatest risk of not attaining conversational speech and were more likely than other groups to need increased educational support. Compared to the No Loss No Plateau children the children from the Plateau group were more likely to need educational support and more likely to be diagnosed with autism rather than the less-serious Asperger's syndrome.

You can find out more about this research at

Pollution hits intelligence in young children

Exposure to pollutants in the womb can affect children's cognition at the age of five. Researchers from the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health in New York studied 214 children born to healthy, non-smoking women in Krakow, Poland. The women in the study wore backpack air monitors and provided blood samples during their pregnancy and the children's intelligence was tested at the age of five. Those children exposed to most polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) had a significant reduction in their intelligence scores. PAHs are produced when fossil fuels are burnt but are also found in cereals, oils and fats.

Drinking women do better in couples therapy

Women being treated for alcohol problems with cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) might respond better to couples therapy than individual therapy. Barbara McCrady from the University of New Mexico and Elizabeth Epstein from the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey studied 102 women with a steady partner or husband. Some received couples therapy while others received individual therapy. For each woman the researchers calculated the percentages of days abstinent and the percentage of days of heavy (more than three drinks in a day) drinking. For the first month of treatment the abstinence rate rose sharply. During the year following treatment the women in couples therapy reported fewer heavy-drinking days than the women in individual treatment.

Brain-training games don't make you any cleverer

Brain-training games might be good fun but they probably don't make you cleverer. In an experiment for the BBC television programme 'Bang Goes The Theory' 11,000 people used the games for six weeks and took tests of their memory, concentration skills, planning ability and problem-solving. There was no improvement in the people playing the game compared to those who simply surfed the Internet for the same amount of time. Scans taken of some of the volunteers showed that the training had no effect on the make-up of the brain either.

You can find out more about this research at

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sexual preference and violence

People who are homosexual, bisexual or lesbian or who have had a same sex relationship in the past are 1.5 to 2x more likely to have experienced violent events during their childhood and have double the risk of experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder as a consequence of these events. Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health and the Children's Hospital, Boston used data from the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions and found that 48% of 'sexual minority' women and 28% of 'sexual minority' men experienced violence or abuse in childhood compared to 21% of women and 20% of men in the general population.

You can find out more about this research at

Psychiatrists underestimate antidepressant side effects

People suffering from depression may have far more side effects than psychiatrists think they do. Mark Zimmerman from Rhode Island Hospital asked 300 people being treated for depression to fill out the Toronto Side Effects Scale. The patients rated the frequency of 31 side effects and the degree of trouble they experienced and this was compared to what the psychiatrists had documented. The average number of side effects recorded by the patients using the questionnaire was 20 times higher than the number recorded by the psychiatrists. Even when limiting the side effects to those which were 'frequently occuring' or 'very bothersome' the rate was still found to be two or three times higher than that recorded by the psychiatrists. The results are important as side effects are one of the most frequent reasons patients stop taking their medication.

You can find out more about this research at

Couples therapy: how effective is it?

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, have been studying the effectiveness of couples therapy in a study of 134 married couples. Most of the couples were in their 30s and 40s and slightly more than half of them had children. The couples were chronically and seriously distressed and fought frequently but were hoping to improve their marriages. The couples received 26 therapy sessions a year and psychologists carried out follow-up sessions approximately every six months for five years after therapy ended. Some of the couples received traditional behavioural couple therapy, focusing on making positive changes and learning better ways of communicating and working towards solutions, while others received integrative behavioural couples therapy which focuses more on emotional reactions. When the therapy sessions were over about two-thirds of the couples had shown significant clinical improvement. The integrative approach was more effective in the first two years but the difference was not dramatic and did not last as the years went on. Five years after the treatment about half the couples were significantly improved, a quarter were unchanged and a quarter were separated or divorced.

You can find out more about this research at

Obesity, genes and Alzheimer's disease

FTO is a gene associated with obesity. People with one copy of it are on average 1.5kg heavier than average and people with two copies of it are 3kg heavier. The gene is carried by 46% of Western Europeans and researchers from California University now think it may also be associated with Alzheimer's disease. The scientists found that those people with the variation had 8% fewer cells in the frontal lobe of the brain and 12% less in the occipital lobe - areas associated with complex judgments and the processing of mental imagery respectively. Obesity increases the risk of dementia because it can lead to damage to the blood vessels in the brain, in turn leading to damage to brain cells but the differences could not be attributed to cholesterol levels, diabetes or high-blood pressure.

You can find out more about this research at

Another study into the links between genetics and Alzheimer's disease, also carried out by researchers at the University of California looked into the effect of variations in a gene called Catechol-O-Methyltransferase (COMT). A sample of 2,858 African-American and Caucasian people between the ages of 70 and 79 were studied over an eight-year period. Their DNA was analyzed and they were tested on their language, concentration and memory, response time and attention. People with the 'Met' variant of the gene experienced a greater decline in their thinking skills over the years while people with the 'Val' variant scored, on average, 32% better if they were Caucasian and 48% better if they were African-American.

You can find out more about this research at

Monday, April 19, 2010

Nature, nurture and ADHD

Although there is some debate about the exact proportions of each most psychiatrists now accept that the nature/nurture debate is a pointless one and that mental-health problems are due to a complex interaction between people's genes and their environment. ADHD is no exception to this and a team of researchers from Michigan State University studied 304 youths to look further into the causes of the condition. They looked at variations in a genetic region - 5HTTLPR - which led to either a very low or very high production of serotonin in the brain and the children's tendencies to blame themselves for arguments between their parents. They found that the children with variations in the gene and who were more prone to self-blame had more ADHD symptoms.

You can find out more about this research at

Aliens, incentives and ADHD

Researchers from Nottingham University in the U.K. have been using a computer game to assess the effectiveness of behaviour therapy in treating children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In behaviour therapy children are rewarded for not behaving impulsively and the game took a similar approach by rewarding children for zapping the right colour aliens and penalising them for behaving impulsively and zapping the wrong colour ones. For some of the children the rewards and penalties of the game were increased fivefold. The children whose incentives were greater performed better at the game and the game affected activity in the same region of the brain as the ADHD drug Ritalin.

You can find out more about this research at

Even short-term meditation can boost concentration

Even a small number of meditation sessions can have a beneficial effect on people's cognition. Researchers at the University of North Carolina studied 49 students. Half of them listened to an audio book while the other half received meditation training made up of four daily, 20-minute sessions. Both groups' mood improved but even after this short course of mindfulness training the participants who meditated showed 'significant improvement in their critical cognitive skills.'

You can find out more about this research at
Black men with chronic pain are more likely to experience depression than White men. Researchers from the University of Michigan studied 1,600 men and found that those who were Black were more likely to experience depression, 'affective distress' and disability. The Black men were in poorer overall health and were at a higher risk of not being able to take care of themselves or their families. Alcohol and caffeine use were linked to less depression as was being married whereas being embroiled in a lawsuit relating to the pain or having high blood pressure were linked to more depression.

You can find out more about this research at

Linking the Big Five to depression

Psychologists often use the 'Big Five' or OCEAN model to assess people's personality on five variables: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism (the tendency to see events in a negative or pessimistic light). Previous research has linked extraversion to a decreased risk of depression and neuroticism to an increased risk but there has been little or no research into all five factors. Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia studied 44,112 people including 542 pairs of twin - something which allowed them to explore the links between personality type, genetics and depression. They found that neuroticism was the most-important personality factor in influencing the link between genetics and depression. The next most important factor was conscientiousness - the less conscientious people were the more likely they were to become depressed. Openness, extraversion and agreeableness all had less of an influence.

Kendler, K.S. and Myers, J. - The genetic and environmental relationship between major depression and the five-factor model of personality Psychological Medicine May 2010, 40(5), 801-806

Bullying: not just something to grow up and get over

Bullying is a feature of many children's lives but is often thought to be an inevitable phase of growing up, something that is down to bad luck, that passes with age and that has few long-term consequences. Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London have been reviewing the evidence on bullying and their conclusions disagree with all these assumptions. They found that being a victim of bullying was linked to certain personal characteristics and family factors, that it can last a long time, that it is associated with severe symptoms of mental-health problems including self-harm, violent behaviour and psychosis and that it has long-lasting effects that can persist until late adolescence.

Arseneault, L., Bowes, L. and Shakoor, S. - Bullying victimization in youths and mental-health problems: 'Much ado about nothing'? Psychological Medicine May 2010, 40(5), 717-729

Young drug users prefer being high to being healthy

Researchers from Liverpool John Moores University and IREFREA, a European body which researches drug use and its prevention, have been looking into 'recreational' drug use and its impact on people's happiness and well-being. They studied 1,341 16-35 year-olds in nine European cities. Starting to use drugs at a younger age and using them more frequently were linked to poorer life satisfaction and more suicidal thoughts and hopelessness. Younger people who used drugs more frequently placed more value on having fun than maintaining long-term health. People who were homosexual or bisexual were more likely to report hopelessness, suicidal thoughts and dissatisfaction with life and more likely to prefer fun to health. People who had started using cocaine at a younger age were more likely to have thought about killing themselves in the last 12 months.

Sumnall, H. ... [et al] - A choice between fun or health? Relationships between nightlife substance use, happiness and mental well-being Journal of Substance Use April 2010, 15(2), 89-104

Saturday night's alright for fighting

For many people a fight is as much part of a good night out as drinking, flirting and dancing. Researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University hung around eight city-centre night clubs in a bid to find out more about violence. They saw 171 violent incidents of which 108 involved men. Male violence involved a ritualised choreography of verbal challenges, drink-spilling and jostling whereas female fighting was much more difficult to predict, tended to involve hair-pulling and was more difficult for male security guards to deal with.

Forsyth, A.J.M., and Lennox, J.C. - Gender differences in the choreography of alcohol-related violence: an observational study of aggressive within licensed premises Journal of Substance Use April 2010, 15(2), 75-88

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Community arts projects help mental health

Community arts projects can increase people's sense of psychological well-being and help reduce levels of anxiety and depression. Dr Asiya Siddiquee from Manchester Metropolitan University studied six projects based in the North-West of England which involved a diverse range of activities such as creative writing, photography and dance. She studied 96 people who had taken part in the projects and found they had had a significant increase in their mental health with less anxiety and depression. The participants felt more in control of their lives, more independent and had a greater sense of purpose.

You can find out more about this research at

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Spanking and aggression

Researchers from Tulane University in New Orleans have been looking into the effects of spanking on children. The researchers studied nearly 2,500 children asking their mothers about how often they were spanked and about their behaviour. The children who were spanked more often were twice as likely as those who weren't spanked to develop aggressive behaviour such as getting into fights, destroying things or being mean to others. More than half of the children had been spanked in the month before the interview. Those who had been spanked more than once by the age of three had double the risk of being highly aggressive by five. The findings held true even after taking into account psychological maltreatment, maternal depression and substance abuse.

You can find out more about this research at

Girls with eating disorders slip through the cracks

People with eating problems who do not meet the criteria for a full-blown eating disorder are often classified as Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS). This is sometimes seen as less serious but new research from Stanford University School of Medicine suggests that a diagnosis of EDNOS can mask serious health problems. The researchers studied 1,310 female patients treated for eating disorders at the Lucile Packard's Children's Hospital and assessed them for signs of malnutrition such as a low heart rate, low blood pressure, low body temperature and low levels of potassium and phosphorus. 60% of the EDNOS patients met the medical criteria for hospitalisation and this group was, on average, sicker than patients with full-blown bulimia. The sickest EDNOS patients were those who had dropped more than 25% of their body weight before diagnosis. Although the girls had been overweight when they started they had lost weight very quickly and showed signs of severe malnutrition.

Wasting away with Alzheimer's

Researchers from the University of Kansas School of Medicine have been looking into the relationship between body composition (how much of our body is fat and how much is muscle, bones and organs) and Alzheimer's disease. Weight loss often happens among people with Alzheimer's disease and can occur before any symptoms of memory loss. The researchers studied 140 people aged 60 and over, half of whom had Alzheimer's disease. The participants also had MRI brain scans and psychological tests. The study found that lean mass was reduced in the people with Alzheimer's disease. Decreases in the volume of the whole brain and of white matter, and declines in cognitive performance were all associated with loss of lean mass but it was a decline in lean mass, not an increase in body fat that was responsible for people's changing body composition. It is not known whether the loss of lean mass is associated with the lack of exercise on the part of people with Alzheimer's or whether there is some underlying mechanism responsible for a loss of lean mass and Alzheimer's disease.

Diet and Alzheimer's disease - more research backs healthy diet

There has already been a lot of research into the links between diet and Alzheimer's disease and a new study by researchers at Columbia University Medical Center in New York has added more weight to the evidence linking a healthy diet to a reduced risk of the condition. The researchers asked more than 2,100 New Yorkers aged 65 and over about their dietary habits and over the next four years 253 of them developed Alzheimer's. However, those whose diets included the most salad dressing, nuts, fish, tomatoes, poultry and dark-green leafy vegetables and the least red meat, high-fat dairy, offal and butter had a 38% lower risk of developing Alzheimer's than those whose diets included fewer fruits, vegetables and poultry and more red meat and high-fat dairy.

You can find out more about this research at

Antibody treatment shows promise for Alzheimer's

As people's Alzheimer's disease progresses their brain shrinks and the fluid-filled ventricles at the centre of the brain increase in volume. Researchers at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center have been using a naturally-occuring antibody found in people's blood to arrest this process and, in a small-scale trial, have had some success. In a study of 20 patients the researchers gave half of them the antibody and half a placebo. After 18 months the patients were given an MRI brain scan and a series of cognitive tests. The group given the antibody had much less enlargement of their ventricles (6.7% vs 12.7%) and slightly less brain shrinkage (1.6% vs 2.2%). Those who received the antibody - IGIV - showed significantly less decline in their overall functioning and thinking abilities than the group given the placebo.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Smugness at sixty - self-esteem through the lifespan

People's self-esteem reaches a peak at 60 with the highest levels being enjoyed by well-off married men. Ulrich Orth from the University of Basel studied 3,617 American men and women aged between 25 and 104 between 1986 and 2002. The study found that self-esteem peaked at 60 but declined thereafter due to retirement and failing health. Better education, income, health and employment status were all linked to higher self-esteem as was being in a happy marriage. Apart from people in their 80s and 90s women tended to have lower self-esteem than men.

You can find out more about this research at

Smoking and IQ

People who smoke have lower IQs than those who don't. That's according to a study of over 20,000 men carried out by Professor Mark Weiser of Tel Aviv University. The men took IQ tests and were asked about their smoking habits when they were conscripted into the Israeli army. The average IQ of the smokers was 94 compared to 101 for the non-smokers. Because the sample was so large the researchers were able to rule out the influence of socioeconomic factors and in cases where one twin smoked and the other did not the non-smoking twin was found to have a higher IQ.

You can find out more about this research at

Not-so-young and want a good night's sleep? Stick to a routine.

Sticking to a set routine could be the key to getting a good night's sleep for older adults. A team of researchers led by Anna Zisberg from the University of Haifa in Israel studied 96 Russian-speaking older adults living in retirement communities. The participants were asked about their daily routines and their sleep patterns. Those participants who stuck most closely to their daily routine fell asleep more quickly and had a better quality of sleep. Washing, dressing and eating at regular times were particularly associated with getting a good night's sleep.

You can find out more about this research at

Oxytocin, autism and emotions

Oxytocin is a hormone which plays an important part in labour, delivery and breastfeeding and it also plays a role in promoting trust, love and social recognition. Recently psychologists have become interested in using oxtyocin to treat autism. Dr Adam Guastella from the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Sydney studied the effects of oxytocin on adolescents with autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs). They gave half of them an oxytocin nasal spray and half a placebo. The participants were also asked to complete a facial expression task that measured how well they recognised emotions. The study found that the participants were better at recognising emotions after they had received the oxytocin spray.

You can find out more about this research at

Family history, protein plaques and Alzheimer's disease

Hardly surprisingly getting old is the main risk factor for Alzheimer's disease but the next most significant one is having a family history of the condition. Lisa Mosconi from New York University led a team of researchers using PET (positron emission tomography) scans to study the brains of healthy adults to see whether they were developing the plaques of beta amyloid protein that are characteristic of Alzheimer's. The team scanned 42 participants. 14 of them had mothers with Alzheimer's, 14 of them had fathers with Alzheimer's and 14 had unaffected parents. Those participants with a family history of the illness were more likely to have the plaques and those whose mothers had the illness were particularly at risk, being four times more likely to have them.

You can find out more about this research at

Social networks and heavy drinking

Over the last few years psychologists have become increasingly interested in the idea of social networks and there is evidence that these can influence people's happiness, smoking and exercise habits. Nicholas Christakis from Harvard University led a team of researchers looking into the effects of social networks on drinking. The team used data from the Framingham Heart Study which followed 12,067 people for more than 30 years. They found that people were 50% more likely to drink heavily if someone they were connected with also drank heavily and 36% more likely if a friend of a friend was a heavy drinker. The influence of heavy drinkers could be felt up to three degrees of separation away.

You can find out more about this research at

Family tree research can yield bitter fruit

For most people researching a family tree can be a source of pleasure and fulfilment but a significant minority might get more than they bargained for. Dr Anne-Marie Kramer of the University of Warwick studied 224 people who had done some research into their family history. Most found it a positive experience with benefits including making discoveries, investigating family myths and mysteries and making their ancestors real by finding out more about their lives. However, about 30 participants mentioned conflicts or problems caused by their research including:
  • uncovering unwelcome information
  • wanting information from relatives who did not wish to give it
  • giving relatives inaccurate information
  • spending more time researching than with loved ones
  • coming into contact with hostile relatives.

You can find out more about this research at

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Lager louts or boozy brainboxes?

Newspaper coverage often concentrates on images of lager louts and uncouth ladettes but there is an increasing amount of evidence that it is actually professional, middle-class people who are most likely to put their health at risk by drinking too much. Researchers from the London School of Economics followed 9,665 men and women born during one week in 1970. They found that women with degrees were almost twice as likely to drink daily as those without degrees and were more likely to admit to having a drink problem. The link was even apparent for levels of educational achievement at primary school with women who achieved 'medium' or 'high' test marks as schoolgirls up to 2.1x more likely to drink daily as adults. Better-educated men were also more likely to drink than their less well-educated counterparts but the difference was not nearly as great as among women.

You can find out more about this research at

Self-help book shows good results for binge eating

Researchers from the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, Wesleyan University and Rutgers University have been studying the effectiveness of a self-help book - 'Overcoming Binge Eating' - by Professor Christopher Fairburn from Oxford University. They studied 123 people, half of whom read the book and took part in a six-step, self-help programme based on it. The programme used self-monitoring, self-control and problem-solving strategies and was made up of eight therapy sessions over the course of 12 weeks. By the end of the programme 63.5% of the participants who followed it had stopped bingeing, compared to only 28.5% of those who did not participate; after a year the figures were 64.2% and 44.6% respectively.

You can find out more about this research at

Shedding light on sibling rivalry

Researchers from the University of Missouri have been looking into the thorny issue of sibling rivalry. They carried out a number of interviews of pairs of siblings between 8 and 20. They found that there were two types of conflict between siblings. The first kind was about equality and fairness issues such as taking turns and sharing responsibilities and these had no impact on relationship quality. The second type of conflict was over personal space, for example borrowing things without asking or hanging around when older siblings have friends over. When these conflicts were common both younger and older siblings reported less trust and communication.

You can find out more about this research at

The rollercoaster of bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is characterised by mood swings from extremes of depression to euphoria and mania, often accompanied by unusual thoughts and delusions. David A. Solomon from Brown University, Rhode Island and his colleagues have been looking into the ups and downs of bipolar disorder and the factors that affect recovery from its extreme highs and lows. They found that the median (mid-range) length of mood episodes was 13 weeks and that about three-quarters of patients had recovered from these episodes within a year. Those who became ill sooner - having psychosis in the first week of an episode for example - had a lower probability of recovery as did people who had spent a longer time being ill over the years. People with 'cycling' episodes who moved very quickly from extreme highs to extreme lows or vice versa were also less likely to recover compared to those who only had one 'episode' at a time.

You can find out more about this research at

Email or lie-mail?

People are more likely to lie using emails than they are when using pen and paper. Charles Naquin and his colleagues from DePaul University in Chicago gave 48 graduate business students an imaginary $89 kitty and asked them to choose how much they would tell their partner was in the kitty and how they would share it. Some communicated by email while others used pen and paper. 92% of the people using email lied about the size of the kitty compared to 63% of those using pen and paper. In a similar study 177 full-time managers took part in a business game pretending to be the manager of a science project negotiating for grant money. Again the players who shared information by email were more likely to cheat than players who shared information using pen and paper.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Punishment, reward, and brain structure. How does it all tie-in with depression?

Girls who are at a higher risk of depression might have brains that deal differently with punishment and rewards. Researchers from Stanford University studied 26 girls between the ages of 10 and 14. Half of them had mothers with recurrent depression and were considered to be at high-risk themselves while half had no personal or family history of depression. Both groups were given MRI brain scans while completing a task that could result in either reward or punishment. Girls in the high risk group had a weaker brain response to the anticipation and receiving of a reward. In particular they showed no activitiy in a part of the brain called the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex which is believed to play a role in linking learning to reward. However, the girls in the at-risk group showed greater brain activity than the other girls in response to being punished.

You can find out more about this research at

Study Probes into the Minds of Supertaskers - Guest Post by Kitty Holman

According to a study that is soon to be published in the "Psychonomic Bulletin and Review," real multi-taskers, of the superhuman variety, comprise only a little over two percent of the population. The study was conducted by Dr. David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah, and his colleague, Dr. Jason Watson of the university's Brain Institute. The scientists determined that only one out of forty of their initial test group was able to drive a car sufficiently well and manage using a cell phone at the same time.

Strayer and Watson used driving simulators—akin to racing games usually seen at video game arcades—in order to determine who of their group could maintain a fully-developed cell phone conversation while successfully operating a motor vehicle. The vast majority was unable to do so, and those who had become deeply involved in their conversations drove as if they were driving under the influence of alcohol with a BAC of about the legal limit.

Strayer and Watson gathered a small group of the remarkably well-performing multitaskers—what they refer to as "supertaskers"-- and studied them further. They made these supertaskers undergo a wide variety of tests in which their multitasking abilities were further measured. In one experiment, the supertasking participants were asked to listen and watch several audio and visual signals at the same, and then were charged with the tasks of memorizing the two competing streams of information. Several of the participants performed exceedingly well
While further study of these rare individuals who can accomplish several tasks at once is intriguing, what is most exciting about this new study is that it flies in the face of previous notions that the human mind can only truly focus and perform well one task at a time. Dr. Watson is quoted as saying, "Current theory says dual tasking creates bottleneck on your attention ability." But this new study suggests otherwise, the scientist goes on to indicate, meaning that those who truly can multitask will be extremely important in the understanding of dual-task cognitive processes in the future, and how and why they may break down, or not.

To read the full article in which the information about Watson and Strayer's study is explained, click here.

For further information about the "Psychonomic Bulletin and Review," visit the journal's website.

This guest post is contributed by Kitty Holman, who writes for Nursing Degrees . She welcomes your comments at her email Id:

U.K. Government boosts help to veterans

The U.K. Government has announced £2m of new funding for the veterans' charity Combat Stress to help improve access to mental-health services for former servicemen. The money will fund up to 15 community psychiatric nurses to work in mental-health trusts alongside specialist Combat Stress teams, allow the Combat Stress helpline to be open 24 hours a day, improve education and training for GPs and help make sure veterans are aware of the services available to them. Combat Stress was set up after the end of World War One and is currently helping over 4,000 veterans. As well as post-traumatic stress disorder the charity also helps veterans suffering with depression, alcohol and drug problems, mood disorders, anxiety and phobias.

You can find out more about the work of Combat Stress at

Depression and Relationships – A Two-Way Street? - Guest post by Teresa Jackson

Mental illness is not easy to understand, especially if it’s in the form of depression. Most people do not realize that depression is a mental ailment that is just like schizophrenia or mania in that those who are affected by it cannot control it. We tend to use the phrase - Oh, I’m so depressed – at the drop of a hat whenever we’re sad or find that life is not going exactly as we planned. And because we tend to bounce back sooner or later, we don’t really get what “depression” as a mental illness is. This is why we’ve all been guilty at some point of time or the other of asking people who suffer from depression to “snap out of it”. The unpalatable truth is that depression as a mental illness cannot be snapped out of – it has to be treated medically and handled with affection, kindness, patience and understanding.
People who suffer from depression find it hard to maintain healthy relationships with their significant others. This is because they’re moody and in their own world; they have neither the energy nor the willpower to do anything and so come across as lazy; and they find it hard to talk explain their state of mind to others. It’s often harder on the other person in the relationship, because it’s like having to deal with a really moody child most of the time – you have to be extremely patient, you need to really understand the illness and its behavior, and you need to be prepared for all the side-effects that the medication could cause. It’s almost similar to dealing with a chronic or terminal disease or living with an alcoholic – simply put, your partner needs medical help and emotional support.
More often than not, depression tends to kill relationships because not too many people are able to provide support and care on a constant and continuous basis; it either breaks them off completely or keeps partners together through ties that are tenuous at best and which can snap at any given time or at the slightest provocation. And when this happens, there’s always the risk that it can worsen the depression or send someone who is recovering into a relapse.
There’s also the risk that people who are normal are pushed into a depressive state when they’re unable to cope with traumatic breakups or with the death of a loved one. They’re in a state of shock at first, and when they don’t seek professional help for their intense sadness, it brings about a neurological imbalance and sends them into full-fledged depression. People whose children abandon them and who live alone, and those who have suffered trauma and who shun any form of emotional attachment are easily susceptible to depression.
A recent study conducted at the University of Michigan found that their spouses’ hostile and anti-social behavior increased symptoms of depression over time in women.
So you can see how relationships and depression are two-way streets – one can cause the other and each feeds on the other. So the more loving and healthier a relationship is, the more positive an effect it has on alleviating depression, and vice versa.
This guest article is written by Teresa Jackson, she writes on the subject of online NP schools . She invites your questions, comments at her email address :

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Child sexual abuse and pregnancy

Women who were sexually abused during their childhood may be more at risk of mental and physical health problems during their pregnancy. Researchers from the University of Haifa and Soroka Hospital in Israel studied 1,830 pregnant women comparing those who had been victims of childhood sexual abuse, those who had been victims of other childhood traumas and those who had experienced no trauma. Those women who had been sexually abused in childhood suffered higher levels of depression and more post-traumatic stress symptoms. The more severe the child sexual abuse the stronger the link between post-traumatic stress symptoms and poor physical health during pregnancy.

Naltrexone cuts costs of drink problems

Oral naltrexone can significantly reduce the healthcare costs associated with alcohol. It is estimated that around one in twelve people in the U.S. has a drink problem, something that cost an estimated $185bn in 1998. Researchers, led by Henry R. Kranzler from the University of Connecticut, studied 7,959 people over a six-month period and found that people with alcohol problems who took naltrexone had significantly lower healthcare costs than people with alcohol problems who did not take the drug.

You can find out more about this research at

Sleep problems and substance abuse

Sleep problems in early childhood could be linked to substance abuse in adolescence. Researchers from Idaho State University studied 386 chidren, gathering information on sleep problems and substance abuse from when they were three to when they were twenty. They found that having trouble sleeping in early childhood - between three and five - predicted a higher probability of having trouble sleeping between 11 and 17, which, in turn, predicted drug problems in young adulthood (18-21). Overtiredness in early childhood predicted problems inhibiting impulsive behaviour in adolescence which was also linked to using more illegal drugs. Overtiredness in childhood also predicted the presence of binge drinking, blackouts and drink driving in young adulthood. It is known that the prevalence of sleep problems in childhood is increasing and in 2006 more than half of secondary-school students in the U.S. reported feeling tired and sleepy with more than 30% saying they had problems sleeping.

You can find out more about this issue at

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Heart disease risk factor affects cognition

C-reactive protein (CRP) is found in the blood and its levels rise in response to inflammation. High levels of CRP have been linked with an increased risk of diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease and now researchers at the University of Muenster in Germany have found that they could also be linked to cognitive problems. The researchers studied 447 people with an average age of 63. The participants had their levels of CRP measured, had MRI brain scans and took tests to measure their verbal memory, word fluency and decision-making. Memory and language skills were found not to be associated with CRP but higher levels of the protein were associated with worse performance in executive function. The MRI scans showed changes to the frontal lobe of the brain equivalent to 12 years of aging for those with the highest levels of CRP compared to those with the lowest levels.

You can find out more about this research at

'Don't panic!' works for mild panickers

Mild panic disorder can affect quite a sizeable proportion of people, is associated with a large burden of disease and generates considerable economic costs to society yet little research has been done into early interventions designed to nip the problem in the bud before it gets worse. Peter Meulenbeek from the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam led a team of researchers studying the effectiveness of a group-therapy programme called 'Don't Panic!' based on cognitive-behavioural principles that have been shown to be effective in the treatment of full-blown panic disorder. 217 people participated in the study, 109 went on the 'Don't Panic!' course and 108 were placed on a waiting list as part of a control group. 39% of people on the 'Don't Panic!' course showed a clinically-significant improvement compared to only 16% on the control group and the benefits of the treatment lasted at least six months.

Meulenbeek, Peter ... [et al] - Early intervention in panic: pragmatic randomised controlled trial British Journal of Psychiatry April 2010, 167(4), 326-331

Autism and immigration

Over the past thirty years occasional studies have pointed to an increased frequency of autism in the children of immigrant parents but the factors that might lie behind this are complicated and there has been relatively little research into this issue. Daphne Keen from St George's Hospital in London led a team studying 428 children with autism who had been treated, over a six-year period, by child development services in South-West London. They found that mothers born outside Europe had a significantly higher risk of having a child with autism-spectrum disorder. Mothers from the Caribbean had the highest risk and mothers of Black ethnicity had a significantly higher risk compared to White mothers. However, a statistical analysis of the results showed that most of the increased risk was due to immigration rather than ethnicity.

Keen, D.V., Reid, F.D. and Arnone, D. - Autism, ethnicity and maternal immigration British Journal of Psychiatry April 2010, 196(4), 274-281

Drugs and bipolar disorder

People with bipolar disorder are more likely to use drugs than people with any other mental illness yet the effects of drugs on bipolar disorder are not clearly understood. A team of researchers led by Michael J. Ostacher from Massachusetts General Hospital studied 3,750 people with bipolar disorder over two years. Contrary to the researchers' expectations the people who used drugs were no slower to recover from the depressive phase of the illness than those who didn't. However, the people who used drugs were more likely to switch straight from a depressed to a manic state with no period of 'normality' in between.

Ostacher, Michael J. ... [et al] - Impact of substance use disorders on recovery from episodes of depression in bipolar disorder patients: prospective data from the systematic treatment enhancement program for bipolar disorder (STEP-BD) American Journal of Psychiatry March 2010, 167(3), 289-297

Combination therapy more effective for depression

Between 50% and 75% of people show some improvement on first taking an antidepressant but only about a third completely recover after taking just one drug. Previous research has shown that a combination of drugs can have a better effect and a team of researchers led by Pierre Blier of the University of Ottawa studied the effectiveness of adding mirtazapine to various different antidepressants. Mirtazapine belongs to a different class of drugs to most other antidepressants and is classified as a noradrenergic and specific serotonergic antidepressant (NaSSA). 105 people with major depression received either fluoxetine on its own, or mirtazapine combined with fluoxetine, venlafaxine or bupropion. The recovery rates were 25% for fluoxetine, 52% for mirtazapine and fluoxetine, 58% for mirtazapine and venlafaxine and 46% for mirtazapine and bupropion. There were no extra side effects from using a combination of different drugs.

Blier, Pierre ... [et al] - Combination of antidepressant medications from treatment initiation for major depressive disorder: a double-blind randomized study American Journal of Psychiatry March 2010, 167(3), 281-288