January 10, 2012
The Wall Street Journal
By Melinda Beck
Losing weight is simple: Eat less and exercise more. Why that’s so difficult for so many people is embedded deep in the human psyche.
A growing body of research is finding intriguing connections between personality traits and habits that can lead to obesity. The same parts of the brain that control emotions and stress response also govern appetite, several studies have shown. Early life experiences also set the stage for overeating years later, researchers have found.
“If we can understand how personality is contributing to weight gain, we can develop interventions to help people deal with it,” says Angelina R. Sutin, a researcher at the National Institute on Aging who led a study published last year comparing the body mass index, or BMI, and personality traits of nearly 2,000 Baltimore residents over 50 years.
In the study, those who scored high on neuroticism—the tendency to easily experience negative emotions—and low on conscientiousness, or being organized and disciplined, were the most likely to be overweight and obese. Impulsivity was strongly linked to BMI, too: The subjects in the top 10% of impulsivity weighed, on average, 24 pounds more than those in the lowest 10%. People who rated themselves low on “agreeableness” were the most likely to gain weight over the years. The study was published in July in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
September 28th, 2011
By: Angela Haupt
You are what you eat? Maybe not, but you do feel what you eat. Research suggests that certain foods affect mood—for better or worse. Dietary changes can trigger chemical and physiological changes within the brain that alter our behavior and emotions. “Most people understand the link between what they eat and their physical health,” says registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer, author of the 2010 book Eat Your Way to Happiness. “But the link between what you eat and your mood, your energy, how you sleep, and how well you think is much more immediate. What you eat or don’t eat for breakfast will have at least a subtle effect by mid-afternoon, and what you’re eating all day will have a huge impact today and down the road.”
Here’s a closer look at how your diet could be affecting your mood.
1. You don’t eat regularly. Food is fuel; skip a meal and you’ll feel tired and cranky. “It’s like trying to run a car without gas,” says registered dietitian Keri Gans, author of The Small Change Diet. When you go too long without eating, your blood sugar sinks and mood swings ensue. Aim for a meal or snack every four hours. Breakfast is particularly important—especially for children: Studies show it helps kids perform better and get into less trouble at school. And breakfast makes both kids and adults less prone to cravings and more likely to maintain a healthy weight. But remember: All morning meals aren’t equal. “We’re not talking about a doughnut and coffee here,” Somer says. She recommends high-fiber cereal with a handful of fruit, or a cup of oatmeal with some milk and berries.
2. You skimp on carbs. Carbohydrates have long been demonized, but your body needs carbs to produce serotonin—a feel-good brain chemical that elevates mood, suppresses appetite, and has a calming effect. Research suggests that low-carb dieters are more likely to feel tired, angry, depressed, and tense than those who get the recommended amount. The federal government advises that 45 to 65 percent of daily calories come from carbs, or 900 to 1,300 calories a day if you’re following a 2,000-calorie diet. Some carbs, however, outshine others. Only complex carbs—high in fiber and packed with whole grains—have a positive effect on mood, whereas simple carbs (think candy, cake, cookies, and other sugary choices) bring you down. Need a quick mood boost? Try an all-carb snack, like a couple cups of air-popped popcorn or half a whole-grain English muffin. “You’ll feel happier and more relaxed very quickly,” says Somer.
[Feeling Sad? Seven Instant Mood Boosters]
3. You fall short on omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s—found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines—improve both memory and mood. Research suggests that low omega-3 levels are associated with depression, pessimism, and impulsivity. Indeed, depression rates are typically lowest in countries like Japan, where oily fish is a diet staple. Most experts recommend at least two servings of fatty fish per week; other sources include ground flaxseeds, walnuts, canola oil, and omega-3-fortified eggs. There’s also omega-3-fortified margarine, peanut butter, and granola bars.
4. You neglect important nutrients. Getting too little iron can spell depression, fatigue, and inattention, research suggests. Iron-rich foods include red meat, egg yolks, dried fruit, beans, liver, and artichokes. Scientists have also found that insufficient thiamine can cause “introversion, inactivity, fatigue, decreased self-confidence, and a poorer mood,” according to a recent report published in the Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science. Thiamine abounds in cereal grains, pork, yeast, cauliflower, and eggs, and getting enough increases well-being, sociability, and your overall energy level. Equally important: folic acid, which helps fend off depression. Green veggies, oranges, grapefruit, nuts, sprouts, and whole-wheat bread are good sources.
[What to Eat to Feel Happier]
5. You eat too much fat. That bag of potato chips isn’t good for your waistline or your mood. Greasy choices—particularly those high in saturated fat—are linked to both depression and dementia. What’s more, a large, high-fat meal will almost instantly make you feel sluggish. “It takes a lot of work for our bodies to digest fat,” Gans says. “And since there’s more work going on, you’re obviously going to end up feeling tired.”
6. You chug without thinking. What you drink affects your spirits as much as what you eat. In moderate amounts, caffeine can enhance physical and mental performance, but too much can spur anxiety, nervousness, and mood swings. Stick to one or two cups daily to dodge the negative effects. “Coffee, for example, is a stimulant, and when it wears off, you’re going to feel a drop,” says registered dietitian Constance Brown-Riggs, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “In terms of feeling better or having more energy, it’s far better to drink water as your primary beverage.” Another smart choice? Low-fat or skim milk. Dairy products contain lots of whey protein, which antidotes stress, improves mood, and enhances memory. One cup a day will induce a sense of well-being and relaxation. If you’re not a milk person, green tea—an antioxidant powerhouse—also fights depression. It contains theanine, an amino acid that helps combat stress.
February 3rd, 2011
By: Catherine Donaldson Evans
Packers and Steelers fans should be careful not to get too emotionally wrapped up in whether their team wins or loses at this Sunday’s Super Bowl.
A new study finds that a Super Bowl loss for a home team is associated with higher cardiac death rates in men, women and the elderly.
The research, published in the journal Clinical Cardiology, documents how stressed sports lovers get when their favorite team loses. That tension, say the authors, can turn into heart attack deaths.
“Physicians and patients should be aware that stressful games might elicit an emotional response that could trigger a cardiac event,” lead author Dr. Robert A. Kloner of the Heart Institute at Good Samaritan Hospital said in a statement. “Stress reduction programs or certain medications might be appropriate in individual cases.”
Kloner and his colleagues looked at cardiac-related deaths after the 1980 Los Angeles Super Bowl loss and the 1984 L.A. Super Bowl win.
They found the 1980 loss caused an increase in cardiac-related and total deaths in men and women, leading to more fatalities among older adults than younger ones. But the 1984 win had the reverse effect: Deaths dropped more often among both women and older adults.
“Total and cardiac mortality rates in Los Angeles County, Califorina, increased after the 1980 Super Bowl loss (SBL), but there was an overall reduction in total mortality after the 1984 Super Bowl win (SBW),” the authors wrote.
In men, there was a 15 percent increase in all cardiovascular deaths linked to the Super Bowl loss, and in women there was a 27 percent jump, according to the findings. Older adults had a 22 percent spike in cardiovascular deaths associated with the home team’s upset.
Previous studies have found that cardiac deaths related to soccer game losses happen primarily among male fans.
January 24th, 2011
By: Honey Birk
Although most kids don’t become addicted to video games, you may still want to keep a sharp eye on your child’s gaming habits.
A study released this week in the journal Pediatrics followed more than 3,000 elementary and middle school kids in Singapore over a two-year period, looking at the problem of obsessive, or pathological gaming, and identifing the risk factors and personal characteristics involved.
Overall, kids who become pathological gamers tend to be more impulsive, have lower social competence, are less empathic and are less able to regulate their emotions, according to the authors.
Once players became pathological gamers, their grades suffered, as did their relationships with their parents. In addition, they also began to be exposed to more violent video games, which the authors say, is a concern in light of previous studies that have linked short-term and long-term effects of violent games on aggression.
In fact, the study finds kids who began playing more violent games began to have more aggressive fantasies and engaged in more aggressive behaviors. They also were more likely to be victims of aggression, the authors say.
This study is the first to show that gaming predicts other mental health disorders and is not just associated with them. So, although kids who are depressed may retreat into gaming, the gaming increases their depression and vice versa, the authors report.
“Although children do use games as a coping mechanism, it is not simply a symptom of other problems,” the researchers write. “Youths who became pathological gamers ended up with increased levels of depression, anxiety and social phobia.”
Yet, those who stopped their pathological gaming ended up with lower levels of depression, anxiety and social phobia than did those who remained pathological gamers, according to the findings.
The researchers also note that most pathological gamers in the study were still pathological gamers after two years, which suggests pathological gaming is not just a “phase” kids go through.
Kids who become pathological gamers started out playing for an average of 31 hours per week, compared with 19 hours for those who did not. However, the amount of gaming alone was not enough to define pathological gaming, the authors note.
December 28th, 2010
By: Amy Chaves
The November 2010 issue of Nature reported that several large pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline, have chosen to pull out of the psychiatric pharmacology in the treatment of schizophrenia. The reason is obvious, according to Nature author, Abbott: The first generation of schizophrenia drugs (manufactured in the 1950s) and the second generation (manufactured in the 1990s) have not addressed the adverse side effects of antipsychotic drugs on patients.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes schizophrenia as a mental disorder that interferes with a person’s ability to identify what is real. A person affected with this disorder is not able to manage emotions, cognition, as well as communication. Symptoms could appear in early adolescence as “early flickers of paranoia, hypersensitivity, and hallucination” (Dobbs, 2010). According to WHO, schizophrenia is usually characterized by disruptions in the most fundamental human attributes such as perception, language, thought, emotion, and sense of self. In 2001, WHO estimated that schizophrenia affects 7 per thousand of the adult population (the equivalent of 24 million worldwide), mostly between 15 to 35 years old.
The same November 2010 issue of Nature discussed about a US clinical trial involving nearly 1,500 patients in 57 clinical sites, and at a cost of US$43 million. This trial examined an array of second generation antipsychotic drugs to determine if they were better than the first generation antipsychotic drugs. The clinical trial spanned from 2001-2005. When the results of the unblinded trial were released in 2005, the psychiatric community and pharmacological companies were astounded: the findings suggest that the new drugs were barely different from the old ones.
Although both generations of anti-psychotic drugs were reported to control hallucinations and delusions, patients taking the second generation drugs remained confused, withdrawn, and devoid of drive, the same side effects observed in the first generation drugs. The result of this clinical trial, according to psychiatrist Jeffrey Lieberman, is frustrating and humbling for the research community and it had a chilling effect on the pharmaceutical industry (Abbott, 2010).
A systematic review in 2003 by Bagnall, et al., examined the effectiveness, safety, and cost-effectiveness of atypical antipsychotic drugs used to treat schizophrenia. The review consisted of 171 randomized, controlled trials, of which 28 were from drug manufacturers. Although the review showed that atypical drugs (i.e., risperidone, amisulpride, olanzipine, and clozapine) were seen to be more effective in relieving symptoms of schizophrenia than typical ones, it nonetheless found the following common side-effects: agitation, movement disorders, impotence, dry mouth, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, and weight gain.
The same systematic review examined the safety of these drugs and some of the following adverse reactions were found: death, malignant syndrome, seizures, hepatic dysfunction, and cardiac problems.
A systematic review, involving the application of scientific strategies to limit bias, is a synthesis of relevant studies that address specific clinical questions. Reviews of this kind are considered as the best evidence for making clinical decisions.
The findings of the 2001-2005 US clinical trial and the systematic review of Bagnall, et al. point to the ineffectiveness of anti-psychotic drugs in dealing with schizophrenia. Considering that up to 1% of the world’s population is estimated to be affected by this disorder, schizophrenia represents a huge market for any pharmaceutical. However, as research have shown, the pharmaceutical industries have done little in 50 years to address the adverse side-effects that patients have experienced from antipsychotic drugs .
August 9th, 2010
By: Heidi Blake
The humanoid machine, called Nao, hunches its shoulders when it feels sad and raises its arms for a hug when it feels happy.
It has been designed to mimic the emotional skills of a one-year-old child and is capable of forming bonds with people who treat it with kindness.
Nao is able to detect human emotions through a series of non-verbal “clues”, such as body-language and facial expressions, and becomes more adept at reading a person’s mood through prolonged interaction.
It uses video cameras to detect how close a person comes and sensors to work out how tactile they are.
The wiring of the robot’s “brain”, designed to mirror the neural network of the human mind, allows it to remember its interactions with different people and memorise their faces.
This understanding, along with a set of basic rules about what is “good” and “bad” for it, allow the robot to indicate whether it is “sad” or “happy”.
The actions used to display each emotion are preprogrammed but Nao decides by itself which feeling to display, and when.
“We’re modelling the first years of life,” said Lola Cañamero, a computer scientist at the University of Hertfordshire who led the project to create Nao’s emotions.
“We are working on non-verbal cues and the emotions are revealed through physical postures, gestures and movements of the body rather than facial or verbal expression.”
Cañamero believes that robots will act as human companions in future.
“Those responses make a huge difference for people to be able to interact naturally with a robot,” she said.
“If people can behave naturally around their robot companions, robots will be better-accepted as they become more common in our lives.”
Nao was developed as part of a project called Feelix Growing, funded by the European commission.
Though some scientists believe that robots could be used to help around the house, or to care for the elderly, in the future, others have warned that the humanoids could spin out of control and attack their owners by accident.
June 4, 2010
By Will Weissert
HAVANA — Fidel Castro speculated Wednesday that a nuclear strike on Iran might help President Barack Obama win a second term in the White House and also suggested the United States could attack North Korea.
The former leader of Cuba, who has not been seen in public for nearly four years, also portrayed the U.S. president as a victim of fantasies planted in his mind by sinister advisers.
The column published by Cuban state media floated the idea that a nuclear attack on Iran — perhaps even without U.S. authorization — might help Obama win re-election in 2012.
“Could Obama enjoy the emotions of a second presidential election without having the Pentagon or the State of Israel, whose conduct does not in the least obey the decisions of the United States, use nuclear weapons against Iran?” he asked. “How would life on our planet be after that?”
It’s a question he did not answer, nor did he elaborate.