Vitamin D Can Help Curb Depression

In a recent study with women suffering from moderate to severe depression, the groups who received treatment for Vitamin D deficiency showed significant improvement in their medical situations.

According to Sonal Pathak, MD, an endocrinologist at Bayhealth Medical Center of Dover, Delaware, “Vitamin D may have an as-yet-unproven effect on mood and its deficiency may exacerbate depression. If this association is confirmed, it may improve how we treat depression.”

The study was unveiled during the Endocrine Society’s 94th Annual Meeting held in Houston, Texas. Here, Dr. Pathak presented the research results after the three women, aged from 42 to 66, were diagnosed with clinical depression and were medicating with antidepressants. The three women were also being treated for one of two metabolic conditions, Type 2 diabetes or hypothyroidism. These women also had risk factors for vitamin D deficiency. These can be attributed to low intake of the vitamin as well as poor sun exposure. To determine such, the three subjects had undergone a 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood test.

All three women registered low levels of vitamin D, between 8.9 to 14.5 nanograms per milliliter. When individuals register below 21 ng/mL, they are deemed deficient as normal levels are set at 30 ng/mL according to the Endocrine Society. The women were prescribed oral vitamin D replacement medication between eight to twelve weeks and their vitamin D levels were increased to normal levels. The women ranged between 32 to 38 ng/mL.

After the treatment, the three women related improvements in their depression according to the Beck Depression Inventory. This is a twenty one question survey that measures the level of sadness and depression of an individual. Scoring between 0 to 9 would be minimal depression. A 10 to 18 is considered as mild depression, 19 to 29 is moderate depression and a score between 30 to 63 means severe depression.

One of the three women improved their depression score from 32 to 12, which is a drop from severe to mild depression. Another one of the women scored from 26 to an eight, showing only minimal symptoms of depression. The third patient’s score of 21 improved to 16, showing mild depression.

Still, other studies have indicated that vitamin D levels have an effect on both mood and depression. There is still a need for a large, randomized controlled clinical studies to prove if there is a cause and effect relationship.

Dr. Pathak further added, “Screening at-risk depressed patients for vitamin D deficiency and treating it appropriately may be an easy and cost effective adjunct to mainstream therapies for depression.”

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Bees Can Reverse Brain Aging

A study conducted at the Arizona State University have found that elderly honey bees are able to reverse brain aging. This was found that despite their advanced age, they are able to manage hive responsibilities usually managed by much younger bees.

This finding is important as there is current research on age-related dementia in humans and potential new drug regimens might be found from these senior honey bees. The researchers have found that social interventions in bees, and hopefully in humans can effectively mitigate the effects of dementia due to advancement of age.

The study was published in the journal Experimental Gerontology and it was conducted by scientists from ASU in cooperation with the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. The study was lead by Gro Amdam, an associate professor with the School of Life Sciences at ASU. The findings indicated that tricking the older forager bees in performing socially inclined tasks in the hive results in changes in their brain structure and functioning.

Amdam declared, “We knew from previous research that when bees stay in the nest and take care of larvae – the bee babies – they remain mentally competent for as long as we observe them. However after a period of nursing, bees fly out gathering food and begin aging very quickly. After just two weeks, foraging bees have worn wings, hairless bodies and more importantly, lose brain function – basically measured as the ability to learn new things. We wanted to find out if there was plasticity in this aging pattern so we asked the question, ‘What would happen if we asked the foraging bees to take care of larval babies again?’”

In experiments conducted for the study, the researchers had removed all the younger nurse bees from the hive, leaving only the queen and the babies. When the elder foraging bees had returned to the nest, the activity lessened for several days. When some of the elderly bees returned to foraging for food, the others remained in the hive and took care of the larvae bees. The study researchers found that after ten days in the hive, about half of the elderly bees had significantly improved to learn new things when they remained in the hive.

The team not only observed the ability to learn return to these bees, they also found a change in the protein make up in the bee’s brains. When the brains of the hive bees and forager bees were compared, they found two proteins change in the make up. They also discovered the presence of Prx6, a protein that helps combat dementia also found in humans as well as other conditions such as Alzheimer’s. There was also a discovery of a second protein that chaperones and protects other proteins from being damaged when exposed to cell level stresses.

The boon of this discovery is in the creation of a drug that can help maintain brain functionality but the formulation can still be up to thirty years away in the future. Amdam further added, “Maybe social interventions – changing how you deal with your surroundings – is something we can do today to help our brain stay younger. Since the proteins being researched in people are the same proteins bees have, these proteins may be able to spontaneously respond to specific social experiences.” The study lead further suggested that studies be done on mammals such as rats to investigate if the same molecular changes that bees undergo may also be doable in mammals and eventually humans.


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A Pill to Help Make People Work Harder?

In the rush to help create safe weight loss drugs, a new study conducted research from a wholly different perspective. Instead of a drug focused on increasing metabolism, can there be a pill designed to make individuals want to exercise harder and more intensely?

This may sound like fiction, but the new study published in the online edition of The FASEB journal recommends that this may actually be an achievable reality. A team of researchers from Switzerland have found that a specific hormone in the brain named erythropoietin (Epo) was elevated in mice who were motivated to exercise.

Moreoever, the strain of erythropoietin used in the experiments did not cause an increase in red blood cell counts, which avoids potentially unwanted side-effects. Thus, the treatment could help with any health condition which benefits from physical activity, from obesity to Alzheimer’s and many other mental health conditions that can be alleviated through physical activity.

According to Max Gassmann, DVM, researcher from the Institute of Veterinary Physiology of the Vetsuisse-Faculty and Zurich Center for Integrative Human Physiology at the University of Zurich said, “Here we show that Epo increases the motivation to exercise. Most probably, Epo has a general effect on a person’s mood and might be used in patients suffering from depression and related diseases.”

In making this discovery, Gassmann and his colleagues had used three types of mice, those that had no treatment, those injected with the human hormone Epo and those that were genetically modified to produce human Epo in the brain. Compared to the control group, those mice with human Epo in the brain had significantly higher running imperative without increasing red blood cell count.

Gerald Weissmann, MD, Editor in Chief of the FASEB Journal captured the significance of the study by saying, “If you can’t put exercise in a pill, then maybe you can put the motivation to exercise in a pill instead. As more and more people become overweight and obese, we must attack the problem from all angles. Maybe the day will come when gyms are as easily found as fast food restaurants.”

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Alcohol May Actually Help Problem Solving Skills

In a recent study, scientists observed that men who ingested two pints of beer or two glasses of wine before tackling brain teasers showed quicker times in providing correct answers. This may lead to a better understanding if alcohol actually is able to enhance an individual’s problem solving skills.

The study found that aside from being quicker in solving brain teasers, they got more questions right compared to others who answered the same test while sober. This goes against the grain of traditional wisdom regarding the effect of alcohol on analytical thinking and rational thought.

The lead author of the study, Professor Jennifer Wiley of the University of Illinois at Chicago, found that alcohol may actually enhance creative problem solving skills through a reduction of the mind’s working memory capacity, allowing for greater concentration on one specific topic at a time.

According to Professor Wiley, “Working memory capacity is considered the ability to control one’s attention. It’s the ability to remember one thing while you’re thinking about something else.”

While this study demonstrating alcohol’s ability to enhance creative problem solving, other research counteracted this as increased working memory capacity leads to better analytic and problem solving abilities. Other research includes a current study recently published at the journal Consciousness and Cognition, where it found individuals drinking alcohol and registering 0.07 blood alcohol level or higher were worse at completing problems requiring attention control, but registered better with creative problem solving tests.

With this discovery, participants registering BAC levels of 0.07 or higher were able to solve 40 percent more problems than their sober counterparts, taking just 12 seconds to complete the tasks compared to 15.5 seconds for teetotalers.

Wiley noted caution on the results as it was too focused and may limit the possibilities to a broader more flexible state of attention that may prove helpful to creative solutions to eventually emerge. She added, “We have this assumption, that being able to focus on one part of  a problem or having lot of expertise is better for problem solving. But that’s not necessarily true. Innovation may happen when people are not so focused. Sometimes it’s good to be distracted.”

Another limitation is the study’s application to individuals having a few drinks and not those that drink to get drunk. She added, “The bottom line is what we think being too focused can blind you to novel possibilities and a broader, more flexible state of attention is needed for creative solutions to emerge.”

Other experts view that the findings make sense, they also noted that sleep would also be beneficial for creativity enhancement. Past research would show that individuals that were allowed to sleep after being given a problem were more likely to wake up with a creative solution compared to others who kept awake.

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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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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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