Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Boys, girls, weight and depression

Healthy-weight girls who think they are fat are more likely to be depressed than fatter girls who realise they are overweight. Researchers from Penn State University studied 12,683 adolescents taking part in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The children were asked about their actual weight, whether they thought they were over-, under- or the right weight and their levels of depression were assessed. 80% of the girls were overweight knew they were too fat whereas 40% of the overweight boys thought that they were at a healthy weight. The girls who thought they were overweight but were actually at a healthy weight were more depressed than girls who were overweight and knew they were. Boys who were actually underweight were more likely to be depressed than boys who were heavier with the researchers describing them as 'extremely distressed.'

Dopamine and decisions

Striking a balance between short-term goals - going out for a meal with friends or buying a new book - and long-term objectives like saving up for a house or a holiday can be tricky. Researchers at University College London have been investigating the role of dopamine in these thought processes and have found that too much of the chemical - which is found naturally and plays a part in transmitting signals in the brain - might make you more likely to take the short-term option. The researchers studied 14 healthy participants asking them to make a choice between a small reward now or a larger one later. They were asked to make the decision after being given a drug called L-dopa, which boosts dopamine, a placebo and a drug called haloperidol which suppresses dopamine. After taking the L-dopa the participants were more likely to take the short-term option although there was little difference between their decisions after taking the placebo or after taking haloperidol. The participants also had brain scans while they took the tests. The L-dopa increased activity in the striatum and prefrontal cortex and the more susceptible people were to the influence of the L-dopa the more activity they showed in their amygdalas.

You can find out more about this research at

Friday, June 18, 2010

Alcohol and cannabis - the earlier they start the harder they fall

Alcohol and cannabis are the most commonly used substances among adults and teenagers in the U.S. and other developed countries. One survey showed that 41, 62 and 73% of Year 8, 10 and 12 students respectively had drunk alcohol with the figures for cannabis smoking for the same years being 16, 32 and 42%. Many programmes for preventing teenage alcohol and drug use aim to delay the age at which people first start using these substances with the hope that this will prevent problems in adolescence and adulthood. However, few long-term studies have followed people from early adolescence to young adulthood in order to examine the effects of early drug and alcohol use. Researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College in New York followed 621 people from Year 7 to Year 12 asking them about their drug and alcohol use and then got them to fill out a survey about their lives at 24. The study found that an early start to substance use was linked to a higher incidence of weekly alcohol use in young adulthood as well as more substance-related occupational,relationship and legal problems. The majority of young adults with problems due to alcohol or drug use had first reported having alcohol and cannabis before Year 12. The negative effects of early-onset substance use were strongest in people's social and work lives.

Griffin, K.W., Bang, H. and Botvin, G.J. - Age of alcohol and marijuana use onset predicts weekly substance use and related psychosocial problems during young adulthood. Journal of Substance Use, June 2010, 15(3), 174-183

Children of alcoholics do better at college than expected

It is estimated that one out of eight Americans is an adult child of an alcoholic. College students who are the children of alcoholics have been shown to be at an increased risk for depression and alcohol abuse, have lower self-esteem and have a greater risk of dropping out than other students. However, there has not been a huge amount of research into this issue and Professor J. Camille Hall from the University of Tennessee studied 100 African American college students in an attempt to find out more. Half were the children of alcoholics and half had parents without a drink problem and within the two groups there was an even split of men and women. The study found less difference between the two groups than expected with the children of alcoholics not struggling with social or behavioural problems. The children of alcoholics actually drank significantly less alcohol than the other students although the children of non-alcoholics, not surprisingly perhaps, reported having healthier families during their childhood.

Hall, J. - Childhood perceptions of family, social support, parental alcoholism, and later alcohol use among African American college students. Journal of Substance Use, June 2010, 15(3), 157-165

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Youth clubs - the positive way to help kids?

It sometimes seems as though legal restrictions and medication are society's preferred way of keeping children out of trouble. However, a new study by researchers at Ohio State University points to a more positive solution - youth clubs. The study surveyed nearly 300 children aged between 9 and 16 in Utah. Three-quarters of the children were members of a local branch of Boys and Girls Clubs of America; the rest weren't. The more children participated in the club the higher their self-esteem. Participation in the clubs also improved the youngsters' social skills and made them feel more part of their community. Children who experienced these benefits were less likely to drink, smoke cannabis or tobacco, do badly at school and get involved in gangs.

You can find out more about this research at

Aspirin for schizophrenia

Aspirin could have a role in the treatment of schizophrenia. Nobody really knows what causes schizophrenia but previous studies have shown that anti-inflammatory drugs such as celexicob can have some effect, suggesting that inflammation plays a role in the process. Aspirin is an anti-inflammatory and researchers from the University Medical Centre, Utrecht, studied 80 patients over 3 months, half of whom were given an aspirin and half of whom took a placebo. The participants continued to take their antipsychotic medication and were given other drugs to prevent the stomach problems sometimes caused by taking aspirin. After three months the patients who had been given the aspirin showed a significant reduction in their schizophrenia symptoms.

You can find out more about this research at

Suicide and genetics

Nearly a million people killed themselves in 2000 and scientists estimate that 1.5 million will in 2020. It is thought that about 40% of the variation in people's suicidal behaviour could have a genetic basis and a team of Spanish researchers based at Mount Sinai Hospital and Columbia University in New York analysed 840 different variations found in 312 genes which affect the brain. They found that three variations in three different genes allowed them to correctly classify 69% of the sample of psychiatric patients they studied by whether they had previously tried to kill themselves or not.

You can find out more about this research at

Why smoking makes you more stressed not less

People who smoke often say that it helps them to deal with stress but new research by scientists from Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry suggests that, if anything, it makes the problem worse. The scientists studied 469 people who were trying to give up after being hospitalized for heart disease. After a year 41% of them had managed to give up smoking and these people experienced a 20% reduction in their stress levels compared to those who went back to smoking whose stress levels remained unchanged. The relationship between not smoking and less stress remained even after taking into account patients' age and education, how heavily they had smoked before giving up and how high their stress levels had been at the start of the study. Before giving up 85% of the participants said that smoking helped them to deal with stress to some extent but the researchers thought that this was because smoking helped people to deal with the pangs of nicotine withdrawal; once people had managed to give up smoking they no longer felt these pangs and their overall levels of stress fell.

You can find out more about this research at

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Getting to the bottom of PTSD and aggression

Not all soldiers returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and not all people with PTSD have problems with anger and aggression but those that do can end up in trouble and hurting those around them. Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studied 676 military veterans in an attempt to find out what made certain people with PTSD become angry and aggressive. They found that those veterans who had witnessed family violence before joining the military, who had fired a weapon during deployment, had been deployed for more than a year and who were experiencing current hyperarousal symptoms - sleep problems, being 'on edge,' jumpiness, irritability and difficulty concentrating - were more likely to have problems managing their temper.

You can find out more about this research at

Studying the psychology of Perry Mason

A brilliant cross-examination that gets an innocent person off the hook or puts a guilty one behind bars is a staple of courtroom dramas and novels. A study by researchers at the universities of Liverpool and Leeds shows that schooling witnesses in the kind of questioning techniques used by lawyers can actually help improve the accuracy of their answers. The researchers showed more than 50 participants footage of a staged crime and then subjected them to the kind of questioning techniques that they might come across in court. They found that the participants who had been given prior guidance on cross examination techniques were able to respond appropriately and were less likely to make mistakes. The researchers thought that the use of complex questions containing multiple parts, double negatives and advanced vocabulary employed by lawyers taxes the brain making it less able to filter and organise information. By preparing the participants in advance they were able to devote less energy to understanding the lawyer and more to answering the question.

Insomnia and cognition

Researchers at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences have been looking into the effects of long-term insomnia on people's cognition. They compared a group of older adults with insomnia to a group of unaffected participants. The participants took four tests. In test one they had to press a button when they saw a star on the screen. In test two they had to press a button when they saw a 'p' on screen but not when they saw a 'd.' In test three they had to come up with as many words in a certain category, e.g. animals, as possible and in test four they had to come up with as many words beginning with a certain letter as possible. Surprisingly although the insomniacs performed worse in test two they performed better in tests one, three and four. The participants' brain activity was monitored while they carried out the tests and the insomniacs showed less activity in the regions needed to carry them out. Their superior performance was put down to them being in a state of extra vigilance, increased adrenalin and more stress known as hyperarousal. The participants with insomnia also had less grey matter in their orbitofrontal cortex. After six weeks of sleep therapy the insomniacs did less well in task one, better in task two and showed the same performance in tasks three and four. Their levels of brain activity while they carried out the tasks showed signs of improving but it could be that the state of hyperarousal experienced by the insomniacs leads to some of the physical and mental health problems associated with the condition.

You can find out more about this research at

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Teenage suicide raises the risk of adult wife beating

Boys who try to kill themselves before the age of 18 are much more likely to beat their wives and girlfriends later in life. Researchers from the Oregon Social Learning Center in Eugene studied 153 males from high-crime neighbourhoods who were assessed annually from the ages of 10 to 32. The researchers found that 58% of the participants who tried to kill themselves as children went on to beat their girlfriends/wives compared to 23% among those who had not tried to commit suicide. The association held true even after taking factors such as aggression, depression, substance abuse and a family history of abuse were

Light therapy and PTSD

Light therapy could be used to help people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Researchers from the University of South Carolina in Columbia carried out a small-scale study on 16 soldiers suffering from PTSD after coming back from the Iraq war. Half received 10,000 lux of bright-light therapy for 30 minutes each day while half received sham treatment with an inactivated ion generator. Those who received the bright-light therapy showed a 'significantly greater improvement' in sleep disturbances and moderate improvements in their PTSD symptoms and depression. Sleep disturbances can help to trigger off and maintain PTSD so a treatment which can tackle this, is relatively cheap and has few side effects could be a significant breakthrough.

Monday, June 14, 2010

How to Cope with Unexplained Depression - Guest Post by Susan White

No doubt it’s our sixth sense and the ability to feel emotions that give us an advantage over other creatures that inhabit our world, but it’s also this very attribute that causes negative feelings like sadness and anger, both of which tend to destabilize us if they get out of control. When grief goes beyond the normal kind of sadness you feel when you lose a loved one, have to cope with a dead-end or abusive relationship, or have to deal with the loss of a job or something dear to you, it’s termed clinical depression. And if you’ve never been a victim, you probably wouldn’t understand this kind of depression.
While medical professionals attribute depression to the decrease of the chemical serotonin (the feel-good chemical) in our brains, there’s no real evidence to show that this is the only reason people feel intensely sad and suffer abrupt and extreme mood swings. In general, depression is a combination of a mixture of factors, both physiological and psychological. Most depressed people are not satisfied with their lives, they don’t like their jobs or are unemployed, they are lonely, overweight or obsessed and dissatisfied with the way they look, they have few or no friends at all, they are not close to family, and they have a grouse with someone or some people they interact with on a regular basis. These environmental factors contribute to changes in their brain which in turn make them suffer much more than normal, healthy people would. And if they don’t make the effort to pull themselves out of this rut, they get stuck in the vicious whirlpool that is depression.
Most people resort to antidepressants as the “best” way to cure depression. When they seek professional help, their physicians get them started on these drugs. But what they need to understand is that these drugs are not a panacea that will cure them. Rather, antidepressants must be used initially to relieve the worst of the depression, after which the patient is in a suitably uplifted mood to agree to therapy, regular exercise, and other social activities that go a long way in restoring the balance of chemicals in the human brain.
Besides, antidepressants are both addictive and come with major side-effects – they cause insomnia, nausea, weight gain, lethargy, and other life-altering differences to your health. So the sooner you get off them, the better. However, you must never stop cold-turkey because that could come with its own detrimental effects. Consult your doctor and with their guidance, slowly wean yourself off these drugs and start getting your life back in order. I’ve found that the best antidote to depression is to find a job that you love, surround yourself with loved ones, and make it a point to exercise regularly. When you’re at peace with yourself, it’s easy to banish depression forever.
This article is contributed by Susan White, who regularly writes on the subject of Radiology Technician Schools . She invites your questions, comments at her email address:

Diabetes and declining cognition

Researchers from the Netherlands have added more evidence to the idea that there is a link between diabetes and a decline in cognitive function. The researchers from the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment studied 2,600 men and women between the ages of 45 and 70 who were taking part in a long-term study into the effects of lifestyle on health. 61 had type-2 (adult-onset) diabetes at the start of the study and 78 developed it over the next five years. Over a five-year period the decline in mental functioning was three times greater in the people with type-2 diabetes. Those who had had diabetes at the start of the study had the largest decline but even those who had developed it more recently showed double the risk. The drop in function occured mostly in the first five years and then levelled off suggesting that early intervention to help people control their blood sugar could be crucial to preventing cognitive decline.

You can find out more about this research at

PTSD raises dementia risk

Military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could be more likely to develop dementia. PTSD often occurs in soldiers coming back from war zones and it is estimated that as many as 17% of veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan have it while between 10-15% of Vietnam veterans had PTSD symptoms 15 years or longer after their return. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco studied 181,093 veterans, aged 55 or older, over a seven-year period from 2000 to 2007. Over that time 31,107 of them developed dementia. The veterans with PTSD had a 10.6% risk of developing dementia, compared to a 6.6% risk for those without the condition. The study took into account demographic variables and other medical and psychiatric illnesses. PTSD has previously been linked to a range of other medical conditions and declines in cognitive performance.

You can find out more about this research at

CBT - how well does it work in the real world?

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective in treating depression in clinical trials but there is less evidence about its effectiveness in the 'real world.' Researchers from the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz studied 229 people referred to an outpatients' clinic with depression between 2001 and 2008, of whom 174 completed the full course of treatment. Their levels of depression were measured over the course of their therapy and these showed a "significant alleviation of depressive symptoms." 61% of all the patients achieved a 50% improvement of their symptoms and whether they were taking antidepressants or not had little impact on their improvement. The results were encouraging but not quite as good as those found in clinical trials.

You can find out more about this research at

Depression and abdominal obesity

Depression can make you fat but being fat does not necessarily make you depressed. Researchers from the University of Alabama used data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study, a long-term study of 5,115 men and women aged between 18 and 30 who were followed over 20 years. At five-year intervals the participants were weighed, had their waist-hip ratios measured and were asked about their mood. Everyone gained weight over the course of the study but those who started the study feeling depressed increased in abdominal obesity and BMI at a faster rate. After five years their waist was, on average, 1.5cm thicker and by year 20 it was 2.6cm higher. However, a high initial BMI and waist circumference did not influence the rate of change in symptoms of depression over time. Reports have shown that cortisol - a hormone linked to stress - is also related to depression and abdominal obesity so this could be the link.

You can find out more about this research at

Friday, June 11, 2010

Bipolar and high blood pressure

There is already an established link between bipolar disorder and heart disease and diabetes and now there is evidence that the condition could also be linked to high blood pressure. Researchers from Michigan State University studied 99 people who had been hospitalized for bipolar disorder. Nearly half of them had high blood pressure and the younger someone was when they were first diagnosed as bipolar the more likely they were to develop high blood pressure. The patients who had high blood pressure also had higher levels of mania.

You can find out more about this research at

Study finds sixth-formers not quite bright young things

You might think that sixth formers would be bursting with youthful energy and full of the joys of Spring but a study by researchers at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey suggests that they are more likely to be drowsy and depressed. The study involved 262 high-school students with an average age of 17.7 years. Over half of them (52%) had excessive daytime sleepiness and these students were three times as likely to have strong depression symptoms. 30% of the students had strong depression symptoms while 32% had some symptoms of depression. The students reported getting an average of 6.1 hours sleep on a school night and 8.2 hours on a weekend night; well short of the recommended nine hours.

You can read more about this research at

Borderline personality disorder, self-harm and suicide

People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) are said to be 'stable in their instability.' They have a terror of being alone with great efforts being made to avoid real or imagined abandonment. People's moods are extremely unstable and inappropriate anger and impulsive behaviour are common. People with BPD are much more likely to engage in self-harm and suicidal behaviour and researchers from the University of Bristol carried out an in-depth study interviewing four women with a history of self-injury and overdosing. They found that suicide and self-harm attempts could be triggered off by distressing events either a long time ago (such as child abuse) or more recently e.g. interpersonal conflict or negative thoughts about themselves. An overdose was seen as a last resort once self-injury had become insufficient as a means of self-help to manage feelings of desperation and isolation. The study found that the women felt ambivalence towards death with an overdose "appearing to depict an attempt to resolve unbearable feelings through an unarticulated 'cry for help.'"

Brooke, Stu and Horn, Nick - The meaning of self-injury and overdosing amongst women fulfilling the diagnostic criteria for 'borderline personality disorder.' Psychology and psychotherapy: theory, research and practice June 2010, 83(2), 113-128

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Winter woes for bipolar sufferers

People with bipolar disorder often show variations in their moods throughout the seasons or at different times of the day. Researchers from the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki studied 122 people. 32 of them had bipolar disorder, 40 of them were first-degree - i.e. in the same nuclear family - relatives of people with bipolar disorder and 50 were unaffected controls. Among bipolar disorder sufferers and their relatives those who reported seasonal variations in mood and behaviour scored worse on tasks of manipulating shapes, visuospatial reasoning, auditory attention, working memory and verbal memory than those with no seasonal variation. Patients and relatives tested in Spring, Summer or Autumn performed better than those tested in Winter but there was no association between season and test scores among the unaffected controls.

You can find out more about this research at

Young men smart more from cupid's arrows

Contrary to the popular stereotype it could be young men who are more affected by the ups and downs of romance than young women. Researchers from Wake Forest University in North Carolina studied more than a 1,000 unmarried youngsters - aged between 18 and 23 - as part of a long-term study of mental health and the transition to adulthood. They found that the young men were more reactive to the quality of ongoing relationships and had greater emotional benefits from the positive aspects of a romantic relationship. The men were more affected by the quality of a relationship while the women were affected by whether they were in a relationship or not. The women expressed their emotional distress by depression while the men tended to develop substance problems i.e. got stoned or drunk.

You can read more about this research at

Not-so-early babies and special needs

Babies born just a week prematurely could be at a slightly greater risk of autism and learning disabilities. Researchers from Glasgow University analysed the birth history of more than 400,000 school children and found that those born between 37 and 39 weeks had a 5.1% chance of developing special educational needs compared to 4% for those born at 40 weeks. Of the 400,000 children studied 18,000 were classified as having special needs including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, dyslexia, deafness and poor vision. The research is significant as most elective caesarean sections - an operation carried out more and more frequently - are performed at 39 weeks.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Smoking and mental health

Second-hand smoking has been associated with a range of physical health problems and new research now suggests that it might be linked to an increased risk of psychological problems too. Researchers from University College London studied 8,155 people in Scotland who took part in the Scottish Health Survey in 1998 or 2003. They filled out a questionnaire about their mental health problems and admissions to psychiatric hospitals were checked over six years of follow-up. Exposure to second-hand smoke was assessed by measuring levels of cotinine - a by-product of the breakdown of nicotine - in saliva. Non-smokers who had a high level of exposure to second-hand smoke had higher odds of mental distress. Smokers and non-smokers with a high level of of exposure to second-hand smoke were both more likely to be hospitalized for depression, schizophrenia, delirium or other psychiatric conditions.

Survey shows true toll of Iraq

Not surprisingly soldiers who have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq often come back with mental health problems. But the true extent of the problem is difficult to measure and there has been little research into what other problems soldiers might have. Scientists from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research collected anonymous mental-health surveys from 18,305 soldiers between 2004 and 2007. The surveys were collected three and 12 months after deployment. The study found that the prevalence of PTSD ranged from 5.6%-11.3% and that of depression from 5%-8%. Alcohol misuse or aggressive behaviour was present in about half of the people affected by PTSD or depression.

You can find out more about this research at

Adolescence and attachment in Asia Minor

In recent years attachment theory has become one of the main ways in which psychologists think about people and their development through childhood and adolescence into adulthood, their problems and their relationships with other people. Attachment theory all hinges on the relationship between a child and its primary caregiver - usually their mother. People with secure attachment expect others to be accepting and responsive and are comfortable with intimacy and autonomy. People with preoccupied attachment are thought to have had inconsistent support, low sensitivity, high proximity and compulsive caregiving during their childhood and, as a result, have developed a style of relating to people in which they become excessively vigilant, very anxious and ambivalent. People who experienced a fearful attachment style have both a desire for closeness as well as a need for space and independence. They desire social contact but this desire is inhibited by fear of rejection. Finally, people with dismissing attachment have had an inconsistent and unsupportive relationship with their parents and have a negative view of themselves and others. They tend not to trust others and are more self-sufficient and cynical, are poor communicators and are independent. Researchers from Ege University in Turkey studied the effect of different attachment styles on 384 children aged between 11 and 16. The children filled out questionnaires to assess their attachment style and their development. The children with a secure attachment style had higher levels of good behaviour, less emotional symptoms, less hyperactivity and better relationships with their peers. A fearful attachment style was associated with more emotional symptoms and greater difficulties overall. A dismissing attachment style was significantly associated with more emotional symptoms, hyperactivity, lower levels of good behaviour and more problems overall.

Keskin, G. and Cam, O. - Adolescents' strengths and difficulties: approach to attachment styles Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing June 2010, 17(5), 433-441

Social support and senior centres

Despite the negative aspects of old age - declining health and loss of loved ones - research has shown that forming and maintaining a good network of friends can have a positive effect on people's physical and emotional health. S.A. Fulbright from the University of Arkansas studied 257 older adults who used senior centres in the area to see what effect they had on improving people's lives. The study found that 88% said that they attended the centres for friends and social support. 94% of them had made close friends at the centres and 94% said that their lives had improved since they started going there. 86% said that they had made friends they felt they could rely on when needed and these people were much less likely to be depressed.

Fulbright, S.A. - Rates of depression and participation in senior centre activities in community-dwelling older persons Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing June 2010, 17(5), 385-391

Monday, June 07, 2010

Fighting self stigma

People with mental-health problems often suffer from stigma from the rest of society which can take a negative view of mental illness. In some cases people internalize this stigma - so-called 'self-stigma' - and lose their self-esteem and self-confidence. A team of researchers led by Professor Roe from the University of Haifa studied the effectiveness of a treatment called Narrative Enhancement Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which aims to give people with mental illness the necessary 'tools' to deal with self-stigma. They compared 21 people who completed the treatment with 22 who were placed on a waiting list. Those who participated in the treatment showed reduced self-stigma and an increase in their quality of life and self-esteem.

You can find out more about this research at

Early to bed, early to rise ...

Children who have enough sleep and go to bed at regular times do better at school. Researchers from SRI International, an independent American research institute studied 8,000 four-year-old children. They asked their parents about their children's bed times when they were nine months old and four years old and carried out developmental assessments when they were four. Having a regular bedtime was the most constant predictor of positive developmental outcomes. Scores for receptive and expressive language, phonological awareness, literacy and numeracy were all higher in children who had rules about their bed times. It is recommended that children this age get 11 hours sleep a night.

You can read more about this research at

Want to know the truth? Give someone a pencil.

An old-fashioned pencil might be a better way to work out whether people are telling the truth than a high-tech lie detector. Aldert Vrij from the University of Portsmouth got 31 people from the police and military to go on a mock mission to pick up a package from another agent and deliver it elsewhere. Half the participants were told to tell the truth about their mission while the other half were asked to lie. The participants were also asked to draw the scene of the package pick up. The 'liars' tended not to draw the agent whom they had picked up the package from whereas the 'truth tellers' did. 80% of truth tellers and 87% of liars could be correctly classified on this basis alone. The truth tellers were equally divided (53% vs 47%) between those who drew the scene from a first-person perspective and those who drew it from a birds-eye view whereas the liars nearly all (81%) went for a birds-eye view. The accuracy of the drawing test was actually better than other psychological tests or lie detectors.

You can find out more about this study at

Friday, June 04, 2010

Moving kids and mental troubles

Having a nomadic childhood can have negative long-term consequences for people's health and happiness. Researchers from the University of Virginia studied 7,108 American adults who were followed for ten years. The participants, who were between the ages of 20 and 75, were asked how many times they had moved as children and about their psychological well-being, personality type and social relationships. The more times people moved as children the more likely they were to report lower life satisfaction and psychological well-being even after taking age, sex and education levels into account. Those who moved most frequently also had fewer good-quality relationships. People who were assessed as being introverted or neurotic suffered more from frequent moves. This could be because introverted children find it harder to make new friends after moving and that neurotic children have more negative reactions to stressful life events.

You can find out more about this research at

Urine test could lead to quicker autism diagnosis

A simple urine test could be used to diagnose autism earlier and far more cheaply than current methods. People with autism often have gastrointestinal problems as well and they have a different range of bacteria in their guts from unaffected people. These gut bacteria produce different by-products in people's urine and a team of researchers from Imperial College London and the University of South Australia studied this in a sample of 101 children aged between three and nine. 39 had previously been diagnosed with autism, 28 did not have autism themselves but had autistic siblings and 34 had neither. The study found that each of the groups had a distinctive chemical fingerprint which they hope will allow an earlier age of intervention than current tests which rely on measuring children's social, communication and imaginative skills.

You can find out more about this research at

IQ and suicide risk

Having a low IQ in early adulthood is linked to a higher risk of suicide - at least in men. Researchers from the Wellcome Trust studied 1.1 million men in Sweden who all took IQ tests when they did their national service. Over the next 24 years at least 18,000 of them had had to go to hospital at least once after trying to kill themselves. Even after allowing for age and socioeconomic status men with lower IQ scores were increasingly likely to have attempted suicide at least once, with the most common method being poisoning. The researchers can only speculate on the reasons for this link but two theories are that people with higher IQs have a greater capacity for problem solving and that they find it easier to talk about their problems with other people.

You can find out more about this research at

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Cannabis and schizophrenia - new evidence to add to the debate

Much ink has been spilt and many trees sacrificed debating the links between smoking cannabis and schizophrenia. Researchers from Stony Brook University in New York have added to the debate with a long-term study following 229 patients for ten years after they were first admitted to a psychiatric hospital. They compared the patients' use of marijuana - both recently and over their lifetimes - with how old they were when their symptoms started and how severe those symptoms currently were. Two-thirds of the participants had smoked cannabis at some point in their lives. The people who had used cannabis before being hospitalised had worse symptoms of psychosis than those who hadn't and were admitted at a younger age. Patients whose symptoms had become worse said they were smoking more cannabis next time they were interviewed and people who started smoking more cannabis developed worse symptoms.

You can find out more about this research at

Wake up - but there's no need to smell the coffee

A cup of coffee in the morning is no more effective than a placebo at sharpening up people's thought processes. Researchers from the University of Bristol studied 379 people who were deprived of caffeine for 16 hours before being given either caffeine or a placebo. The participants then took a series of tests to measure their attentiveness, memory and vigilance. The study found "little difference" in the results between the coffee users and those who were given placebos. In cases where the caffeine did make an improvement this was actually a case of bringing caffeine users performance back up to the levels of non caffeine users.

You can find out more about this research at

Cigarettes and the blues

Over the years a number of studies have linked cigarette smoking with depression. It could be that a common factor lies behind both, that people smoke to cheer themselves up or that cigarettes themselves cause depression. Researchers from the University of Otago in New Zealand looked into this topic using data from the Christchurch Health and Development Study which has been following 1,265 people since their birth in 1977. The participants were asked about their mood and their smoking habits at 18, 21 and 25. The researchers found significant links between being addicted to nicotine and depression with the 'best-fitting causal model' being one in which it was smoking that led to an increased risk of depression rather than vice versa.

Boden, Joseph M., Fergusson, David M. and Horwood, L. John - Cigarette smoking and depression: tests of causal linkages using a longitudinal birth cohort British Journal of Psychiatry June 2010, 196(6), 440-446

Newer antipsychotics no more effective

Atypical, or second-generation, antipsychotics have been used more and more over the last decade to treat schizophrenia in preference to older 'typical' drugs. But are they really any better? Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London reviewed 15 studies comparing the two kinds of drugs covering a total of 2,522 participants. They found no difference between the two types of drugs in terms of the number of people who stopped taking them and their effect on people's symptoms. People taking the newer drugs were more likely to put on weight while those on the older drugs were more likely to have side effects such as akinesia (inability to initiate movement) and akathisia (inability to sit still).

Crossley, Nicolas A. ... [et al] - Efficacy of atypical v typical antipsychotics in the treatment of early psychosis: meta-analysis British Journal of Psychiatry June 2010, 196(6), 434-439

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Swedes play numbers game with ADHD

Researchers from Sweden have been looking into the risk factors for ADHD. Sweden could be described as the ultimate database state with the authorities keeping large amounts of information on its citizens. Despite the civil-liberties implications this is very useful for medical researchers. The scientists, from the Karolinska Institute and Stockholm University, identified 7,960 Swedish children, aged between six and 19, who had been given a prescription for ADHD medication. The children's records were then tracked through other registers using the unique ten-digit reference number all Swedish residents are given at birth. The study found that boys were three times more likely than girls to be on medication with the highest rate being in boys between 10 and 15. Poorly-educated women were 130% more likely to have a child on ADHD medication than women with university degrees and children were 54% more likely to be on medication if they came from a single-parent family. Coming from a family on welfare benefits increased the risk of ending up on ADHD medication by 135%.

You can find out more about this research at

SSRIs and cataracts

Certain types of antidepressants called SSRIs (serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors) can increase people's risk of cataracts. Researchers from the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute in Canada compared 19,000 people over the age of 65 who were taking antidepressants with 190,000 people in the same age group not taking them. Three SSRIs - fluvoxamine, venlafaxine and paroxetine - were all found to increase cataract risk by 39%, 33% and 23% respectively. However, the increase in risk was associated with current rather than prior use of SSRIs.

You can find out more about this research at

NICE issues new alcohol guidelines

In the U.K. the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has issued guidelines aimed at dealing with the country's drink problem. The guidance recommends a minimum national price, per unit, of alcohol; a ban on all alcohol advertising in order to protect children; reducing the limites on duty-free alcohol and cutting licensing hours at pubs, clubs and off licences. The most controversial recommendation is that patients are quizzed about their alcohol consumption when they sign up with a GP, visit a pharmacy to get their medication reviewed or have to go to an accident and emergency department. It is estimated that one in four people in the U.K. - around about 10 million - are putting their health at risk by drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol.

You can download a copy of the full NICE guidelines at

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Crowded wards increase nurses' risk of depression

Nurses who work in overcrowded wards may have a higher risk of depression. Researchers from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health looked at 16 hospitals in 2003 and 2004 to see what the monthly bed-occupancy rate was. They defined an 85% bed-occupancy rate as 'optimal' and anything above this as overcrowding. They then compared these rates to statistics on sick leave for 5,166 members of staff in 2004 and 2005. In the most crowded wards - with more than 95% occupancy - staff had double the risk of depression.

You can find out more about this research at

Light the blue touch paper, stand back and see what happens

Researchers from the University of Valencia have been making 30 Spanish men angry to see what happens. The researchers were looking to see what happens in people's brains and bodies rathe than how they behaved. They read the men 50 phrases designed to make them angry. They found that when the men got angry their heart rate, arterial tension and testosterone production increased and their levels of the stress hormone cortisol decreased. The left hemisphere of the men's brains became more stimulated, especially in the frontal and temporal lobes.

You can find out more about this research at

Drink-driving college students

Drink-driving is a major public health problem and, in the U.S. at least, is particularly prevalent among college students. A study by researchers at the University of Maryland reveals the extent of the problem and shows that it gets worse when students reach the U.S. legal drinking age of 21. The researchers studied 1,253 students who were asked annually whether they had got into a car with a drunk driver, had driven after drinking and had driven while drunk. At 20 43% said that they had got into a car with a drunk driver, 8% had driven after having a drink and 20% had driven while drunk themselves. There were notable increases in all three figures when the students reached 21.

You can find out more about this research at

Home, nursery and school all need help to boost poor kids

Children do best when they are stimulated at home, school and nursery, suggesting that all three areas need to be targeted to improve the results of children from deprived backgrounds. Researchers in the U.S. followed 1,300 children from birth to Year 5 as part of the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. The study evaluated children's environments at home and in the nursery when they were four and a half, looked at their school environment in Year 1 and tracked their progress in tests from Year 1 to Year 5. Those children who were stimulated in all three environments - home, nursery and Year 1 - did better than other children and this was particularly true of children from low-income families, suggesting that any government initiatives need to address all three environments.

You can find out more about this research at

SSRIs and miscarriage - new evidence of a link

Researchers from the University of Montreal have confirmed previous studies linking the use of certain antidepressants to an increased risk of miscarriage. The researchers studied 5,124 women who had suffered miscarriages. They found that there was an increased risk associated with SSRIs (serotonin specific reuptake inhibitors), especially Seroxat and Effexor. Overall, the increased risk was 68%. It is estimated that more than 1 in 30 women take antidepressants when pregnant. Doctors warn, however, that coming off the drugs suddenly can lead to a relapse with the potential to put both mothers and babies at risk.

You can find out more about this research at