Exercise Improves Mental Health in ADHD Children

Researchers from Dartmouth College found that exercise improves memory in children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD.

The data collected over the past few years has clearly shown that exercise is able to create neurobiological changes. This conclusion was announced by David Bucci, Associate Professor of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College.

The research found the effects of exercise on the brain were different depending on the age of the individual. Researchers further identified a gene that mediates the degree where exercise would have a beneficial effect. Bucci said this conclusion would have implications in terms of using exercise as a tool to intervene in the development of mental illness.

Bucci began his study of the link between exercise and memory with ADHD. This is one of the most common childhood mental disorders where the alarming choice of treatment is medication.

He said, “The notion of pumping children full of psycho-stimulants at an early age is troublesome. We frankly don’t know the long-term effects of administering drugs at an early age – drugs that affect the brain – so looking for alternative therapies is clearly important.”

Evidence presented from colleagues at the University of Vermont lead Bucci to focus on finding the relationship between exercise and ADHD. That study observed that ADHD children in Vermont summer camps, athletic events or team sports responded better to behavioral intervention compared to sedentary children with ADHD. While the empirical data was lacking, this was persuasive enough for Bucci to undertake his own study.

During their study, they observed laboratory rats with ADHD-like behavior, and showed that exercise reduced the extent of these behaviors. The researchers also observed that this was more beneficial to female than male rats, similar to what was observed between male and female ADHD children. From this finding, the research moved into investigating the mechanisms that affect the exercise and learning and memory improvement connection, primarily a brain-derived neurotrophic factor. This factor helped in brain development as the degree of BDNF in exercising rats correlated with improved memory. It also found that this factor had an extended effect in adolescents compared to adults.

Bucci said, “The implication is that exercising during development, as your brain is growing, is changing the brain in concert with normal developmental changes, resulting in your having more permanent wiring of the brain in support of things like learning and memory. It seems important to exercise early in life.”

With this latest paper, it was a move to take the studies of exercise and memory in rats and apply the same to humans. Bucci further explained that an individual’s genotype for BDNF affected whether exercise developed learning and memory. He said ”This could mean that you may be able to predict which ADHD child, if we genotype them and look at their DNA, would respond to exercise as a treatment and which ones wouldn’t.  The interesting question in terms of mental health and cognitive function is how exercise affects mental function and the brain.”

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Obesity and Depression Leads to Sleepiness

According to new research, obesity and depression are but two of the main reasons why an individual might feel sleepy during the daytime. This conclusion was reached after three studies conducted by Penn State researchers with a random sample of 1,741 adults.

The study found that obesity and emotional stress are the root causes for sleepiness and fatigue during the daytime. It also found that insufficient sleep and obstructive sleep apnea play roles in exacerbating the condition. These two are also linked to other medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, depression, diabetes, obesity and accidents.

According to Alexandros Vgontzas MD, the study lead for the three studies, “The ‘epidemic’ of sleepiness parallels an ‘epidemic’ of obesity and psychosocial stress. Weight loss, depression and sleep disorders should be our priorities in terms of preventing the medical complications and public safety hazards associated with this excessive sleepiness.”

One of the studies was a seven year follow up, with 222 adults who reported excessive daytime sleepiness or EDS. With those with EDS, weight gain was one of the biggest predicting factor. He added, “In fact, our results showed that in individuals who lost weight, excessive sleepiness improved.”

Those from the same group who developed EDS within the same timespan was also reviewed. The findings showed, which researchers saying that this was for the time, that depression and obesity were the top risk factors for new-onset excessive sleepiness.

The third study, with a population of 103 research volunteers, found once again that depression and obesity were amongst the best indicators for EDS. He further added, “The primary finding connecting our three studies are that depression and obesity are the main risk factors for both new-onset and persistent excessive sleepiness.”

The study found that the rate of new onset excessive sleepiness was eight percent and the rate of persistent daytime sleepiness was 38 percent. These three studies were presented at SLEEP 2012 at the 26th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS) in Boston.

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Lack of Sleep Related to High Anxiety

The latest technologies have provided scientists with evidence of how sleep deprivation leads to anxiety. These investigators have said that their findings demonstrate increased sleep loss exaggerates the level of anxiety for upcoming social events. This overreaction happens most often to those individuals who are already suffering from high anxiety, making them even more vulnerable.

There are two common features of anxiety disorders: sleep loss and amplified emotional response. With these findings, it is suggested that these features may not be independent but might actually be a causal relationship.

The study was conducted at the University of California Berkeley campus, where researchers used brain scanning techniques on eighteen healthy adults in two separate groups. One group had tests after a normal night’s sleep while the second group had theirs after a night of sleep deprivation. In both sessions, participants were exposed to an emotional task that had a period of anticipating potentially negative experience through an unpleasant visual image or a potentially benign experience or neutral visual image.

In functional MRI scans, it showed that sleep deprivation was amplified with the build up of anticipatory activity in the embedded emotional centers of the brain, most especially the amygdala, where responses to negative and unpleasant experiences were found. It was also found that in many emotional centers of the brain, sleep deprivation triggered a sixty percent increase in anticipatory reactions. The study further found that the effect of sleep deprivation was related to how naturally anxious an individual is in their natural settings.

The study concluded that individuals who were more anxious also showed the biggest vulnerability to the aggravating effects of sleep deprivation. The result further suggests that anxiety has a significant effect in elevating the emotional dysfunction and risk attributable mainly to lack of sleep.

According to the lead author of the study, Andrea Goldstein, “Anticipation is a fundamental brain process, a common survival mechanism across numerous species. Our results suggest that just one night of sleep loss significantly alters the optimal functioning of this essential brain process, especially among anxious individuals. This is perhaps never more relevant considering the continued erosion of sleep time that continues to occur across society.”

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Getting Shot in the Head

Before you start imagining video game head shots or gray matter splattered all over, this is a look at gunshots to the head from a scientific perspective. I was always curious whether the brain can register the conscious sensation of pain before a bullet does its damage. Two online articles have discussed this quite extensively, and both concluded that the brain would not be able to react to a direct hit from a gun.

In my research, I also found out a few pretty surprising things about whether shots to the head are always fatal and about brain damage. There may be some objections to these conclusions, but here are my findings:

  1. When shot in the head, in this day and age, one actually has a fifty percent chance of surviving. This shows that not everyone dies from head shots.
  2. Most people think that a bullet to the brain would damage it irreparably, but in reality a bullet wound may not necessarily damage the brain in areas essential for consciousness.
  3. If the individual does die from gunshot wounds to the head, it is not necessarily from the trauma of brain damage. It may also be other factors, such as blood loss. This is frequently the case, because the internal carotid artery clears a quarter a liter of blood per minute supplied directly to the brain. In high stress situations, the blood supply can double and with a hole in the head, the blood supply cleans out rather quickly.
  4. The level of brain damage is determined to many factors, such as the velocity, shape, size and material of the bullet. Furthermore, when the bullet hits the skull, fragments of bone also fly into the brain, resulting in more projectiles hitting the soft tissue. The structure of the skull is also a factor, as the pressure wave from the bullet and the fragments are contained in a small space, reverberating from the bone back into the brain echoing many times over.

So, gunshots to the head are not always fatal, and do not always result in permanent brain damage. While some may die, others may be able to react, think clearly and be able to save themselves in times of mortal danger.

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Caffeine as a Sports Enhancing Drink: An Examination of the Positive and Negative Effects of Caffeine for Athletes

Recently, energy drinks containing caffeine have become quite popular within the athletic community. Whereas formerly, caffeine was only ingested through drinks such as coffee, tea and in small doses soda, now the market for energy drinks has increased the access to caffeine.

Caffeine is one of the most consumed drugs in the country. A five ounce cup of coffee contains between 75 and 150 mg of caffeine, while a twelve ounce serving of soft drinks or an ounce of chocolate would have something between 25 and 60 mg of caffeine. Caffeine can  also be found in over-the-counter medications, such as analgesics, stimulants and allergy drugs, somewhere between 30 and 200 mg.

Nowadays, more and more of these energy drinks have appeared on store shelves. A standard sixteen ounce energy drink has between 140 and 170 mg with some having up to 300 mg of caffeine. Their increasing popularity has given rise to the question of whether the chemical can assist in the performance of athletes. The resulting answers give rise to words of caution as well as an assessment of their ability to help athletes have a better game.

Even the scientific community is deep in a debate determining if caffeine is a true ergogenic aid. Caffeine research is quite expansive, with a large number of factors that affect empirical results. These factors include one’s tolerance to the drug, the dosages and the type of activity. What has been determined though is that some activities can be enhanced while some others are limited with the use of caffeine. Another conclusion would be that long-term dependence on caffeine can result in problems regarding performance and overall health of the individual user.

This drug is considered as a central nervous system stimulant as it provides arousal and alertness together with the ability to fight off both mental and physical fatigue. The drug also affects cardiovascular, pulmonary and neuromuscular systems. As a result, many view caffeine as an ergogenic aid, thus aiding athletic performances. Currently, the World Anti-Doping Agency has removed caffeine as a prohibited substance, labeling it merely as a mild stimulant.

Caffeine is still very much an irony, especially when it comes to its effect on the neuromuscular system of an individual. In the laboratory setting, isolated muscle tissue increases in strength when exposed to the drug. However, in order for an individual to achieve this, it would require an ingestion of as much as 500 times the caffeine blood level one might experience even after several cups of coffee. At a more reasonable dose of 300 mg, there is no change in muscle strength or power. The measurable effects caffeine does have, though, are a decrease in reaction time and movement ability because of the arousal effects on the individual’s central nervous system. This effect would be important especially when reacting to the starting gun or the reaction to movements of an opponent.

Despite its reaction time improvement effect, it has a nugatory effect on the fine control movements of the individual. This is characterized with the reduction of hand steadiness and a reduction in fine motor skills. This would essentially affect the performance in sports activities such as archery and other skill competitions.

Another effect of ingestion of caffeine is the options of fuel utilization during exercise. The body has two choices for energy production, namely glucose and free fatty acids. Glucose is found in the blood while free fatty acids are found in cells throughout the body. When the body undergoes endurance events lasting more than two hours, the performance is affected by the available muscle glycogen and glucose in the blood. When the glycogen levels fall, so does blood glucose levels and results in deterioration in one’s performance. Caffeine affects this process through the release of the FFA’s from fat tissue, resulting in greater use of the FFA thus increasing performance. This spares the muscle glycogen and retains the blood glucose levels, maintaining the performance. Even moderate caffeine consumption, about 250 mg, creates this push for better performance.

Despite these benefits, there are also side effects from high doses caffeine. These include severe anxiety and nervousness, gastrointestinal discomfort and cardiac arrhythmia as well as elevated blood pressure. Caffeine is also a diuretic, inducing frequency of urination and a danger towards dehydration. Another major issue is the variable responses of individuals to caffeine. Levels dangerous to some may even just be enough for others to see marked improvements in their sports performance. The third and most important issue is the addictive nature of caffeine. This is often seen in caffeine dependent individuals, where withdrawal symptoms include headaches, fatigue and irritability as well as nausea. The dependence may also be psychological in nature, resulting in greater problems in the long run.

In the end, it’s up to the individual to decide whether or not to use caffeine as an aid in sports performance. A cup of coffee probably won’t hurt, but the regular use of high caffeine sports drinks might be worse in the long-run. Dependence would be the most glaring problem, especially in the psychological sense, as one might get to the point where they feel they are unable to perform at their best without ingesting the sports drink, and long-term high caffeine doses could lead to central nervous system fatigue. Despite its widespread use, caffeine is still a potent drug with effects on the individual and thus must be used with caution.

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