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More Information and Recent Research on the Brain and Mental Function

(University of Melbourne) People with a certain type of gene are more deeply affected by their life experiences, a new study has revealed… The research … focused on a particular gene, known as SERT, that transports the mood-regulating chemical, serotonin… "Our results suggest some people have a genetic makeup that makes them more susceptible to negative environments, but if put in a supportive environment these same people are likely to thrive," [lead investigator Dr. Chad] Bousman said.
(Duke University) A Duke University-led study … found that early stress, specifically between kindergarten and grade three, was most strongly associated with muted responses to rewards in adulthood. Previous studies have identified this type of brain activity as a marker for increased risk of depression and anxiety. "In participants with the greatest levels of early stress, we saw the lowest levels of activity in the ventral striatum in response to a reward," [Study lead author Jamie] Hanson said.
(Paul Krugman) There has been a lot of comment, and rightly so, over a new paper by the economists Angus Deaton (who just won a Nobel) and Anne Case, showing that mortality among middle-aged white Americans has been rising since 1999… Basically, white Americans are, in increasing numbers, killing themselves, directly or indirectly. Suicide is way up, and so are deaths from drug poisoning and the chronic liver disease that excessive drinking can cause…
I know I’m not the only observer who sees a link between the despair reflected in those mortality numbers and the volatility of right-wing politics.
My message to Dr. Krugman - Caro:
I agree with you that right-wing “volatility”, as you put it, is at least partly responsible for the despair causing so many self-inflicted deaths in one way or another among middle-aged American whites.
But it’s more than anger-mongering that is causing the problem. It’s mainly, I think, due to the furtherance of the belief that we’re all on our own and are worth less as human beings if we can’t find a way, without any help, to get out of the economic morass caused by income inequality—which causes so much influence inequality.
Millions of years of evolution living in hunter-gatherer tribes molded us into creatures whose feelings of security and well being depend on being members of a cooperative group. But today’s right wingers want us to believe that we’re all on our own, and any cooperative effort to increase the common good is a catastrophic mistake. We’re just not built that way, and trying to pretend we are or should be is apparently very detrimental to our mental health.
I’d write a book about it, if I could find a publisher.
(Center for BrainHealth) A first of its kind study … shows that depressive thoughts are maintained for longer periods of time for people with depressed mood, and this extended duration may reduce the amount of information that these individuals can hold in their memory… The authors suggest that this greater dedication of memory resources to depressive thoughts and consequently, an impoverished ability to hold positive thoughts in memory, might be the key to understanding how depression develops and continues throughout an individual's lifespan.
(Shots, NPR) Multiple studies have linked depression with elevated markers of inflammation, including two analyses from 2010 and 2012 that collectively reviewed data from 53 studies, as well as several postmortem studies. A large body of related research confirms that autoimmune and inflammatory activity in the brain is linked with psychiatric symptoms… The idea that inflammation — whether stirred up by infection or by other factors — contributes to or causes mental illness comes with caveats, at least in terms of potential treatments. Trials testing anti-inflammatory drugs have been overall mixed or underwhelming.
More . . .

Depression and Complementary Health Approaches
(National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health) A Task Force on Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the American Psychiatric Association conducted a review in 2010 of complementary approaches in psychiatry and found that, based on the quality of available evidence, there is enough evidence to support further research on some complementary approaches [to treating depression], including omega-3 fatty acids, St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), folate, S-adenosyl-l-methionine (SAMe), light therapy, physical exercise, and mindfulness-based therapies for augmenting current treatments of depression in adults. However, the Task Force noted the need for more rigorous and larger studies before employing these complementary approaches.
(Wiley) New research … concludes that there is insufficient evidence for the use of taking an Omega 3 fatty acid supplement in treating major depressive disorder… A new Cochrane review … found that whilst people who were given Omega 3 fatty acids reported lower symptom scores than people with the dummy pill, the effect was small and there were important limitations that undermined their confidence in the results. Their analyses showed that although similar numbers of people experienced side effects, more data would be required to understand the risks of taking Omega 3 fatty acids.
(The Atlantic) ‘Tis the season of darkness. The clocks are turned back, the biological clock on those pretty leaves outside is a-tickin’, and soon it will be nothing but bare branches and 4:45 p.m. sunsets. This is a certifiable bummer for all of us in the Northern Hemisphere, but for people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, it's worse: As the sun goes, so too goes their mental health.
For many with SAD, this means dragging out the light-therapy lamp. Light therapy is the most researched and widely-used treatment for SAD. It requires a person to sit under a very bright light for 30 minutes upon waking, every day that he or she would have symptoms. But according to a new study…, cognitive behavioral therapy could be better for patients in the long run than light therapy.
(Canadian Medical Association Journal) Internet-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) combined with clinical care has been shown to benefit people with depression, anxiety and emotional distress from illness, according to an evidence-based review… The review looks at recent, high quality studies and the growing body of literature on smartphone and tablet applications for mental illness.
(New York Times) Medical literature has overstated the benefits of talk therapy for depression, in part because studies with poor results have rarely made it into journals, researchers reported… Their analysis is the first effort to account for unpublished tests of such therapies. Treatments like cognitive behavior therapy and interpersonal therapy are indeed effective, the analysis found, but about 25 percent less so than previously thought.
(University of Michigan Health System) When it comes to treating depression, how well a person responds to a fake medicine may determine how well they'll respond to a real one, new research finds. Those who can muster their brain's own chemical forces against depression, it appears, have a head start in overcoming its symptoms with help from a medication. But those whose brain chemistry doesn't react as much to a fake medicine, or placebo, struggle even after getting an active drug.
The findings … help explain the variation in treatment response and resiliency that bedevils depression patients and their care teams. The discovery also opens up the door to new research on how to amplify the brain's natural response in new ways -- to improve depression treatment for the estimated 350 million people worldwide who have depression at any given time.
(Mayo Clinic) A new study from Mayo Clinic shows that a simple series of conversation cards can dramatically improve both the patient's and their physician's satisfaction with the discussion on and comfort with the choice of antidepressant.
(University of Connecticut) Children of anxious parents are at increased risk for developing [anxiety] disorder. Yet that does not need to be the case, according to new research by UConn Health psychiatrist Golda Ginsburg… The study … found family-based intervention works. Only 9 percent of children who participated in a therapist-directed family intervention developed anxiety after one year, compared to 21 percent in a group that received written instruction, and 31 percent in the group that did not receive any therapy or written instruction.
(Reuters) Children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) show signs of improvement after playing a videogame for 30 minutes a day rather than taking a pill, the U.S. company developing the treatment said… Children in the pilot study - 80 aged between eight and 12, half of which had ADHD - showed improved working memory and levels of attention, and some parent ratings of symptoms also rose, according to the results.
Community: The game might also work for adults with ADHD.
(MRC Clinical Sciences Centre) A study … is the first to find that immune cells are more active in the brains of people at risk of schizophrenia as well as those already diagnosed with the disease. The finding could completely change our current understanding of schizophrenia, raising the possibility that testing people most at risk of the disorder ahead of time could allow them to be treated early enough to avoid its most severe symptoms.
Community: Dr. Andrew Weil has a program for reducing inflammation naturally.
(New York Times) [A] landmark government-funded study … concluded that schizophrenia patients who received smaller doses of antipsychotic medication and a bigger emphasis on one-on-one talk therapy and family supports made greater strides in recovery over the first two years of treatment than patients who got the usual drug-focused care.
(Griffith University) Stem cells from adult schizophrenia patients form new proteins more slowly than those from healthy people, according to new research. The findings are enhancing understanding of how schizophrenia affects the workings of the brain, and open the way to new approaches for future drug therapies… According to the Eskitis Institute's Professor Emeritus Alan Mackay-Sim, analysis of almost 1000 proteins in patients' stem cells indicated their cellular machinery for making new proteins was reduced, with the rate of protein synthesis greatly impaired.
(Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore) Research led by scientists from Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore (Duke-NUS) has linked the abnormal behaviour of two genes (BDNF and DTNBP1) to the underlying cause of schizophrenia… In a follow-up study, Dr. Je plans to test if these findings are viable in an animal model. If proven successful, this could mean that correcting the imbalance within the brain circuits of schizophrenia patients may bring us closer to producing a treatment.
(University of California - San Francisco) Like scratchy-sounding old radio dials that interfere with reception, circuits in the brain that grow noisier over time may be responsible for ways in which we slow mentally as we grow old, according to the results of new studies from UC San Francisco on young and older adults. The new intracranial and electroencephalogram (EEG) research … supports the neural noise hypothesis, which proposes that the signal-to-noise ratio in nerve circuits diminishes with aging and leads to worse performance.
(Singularity Hub) With a simple scan of your brain at rest, scientists can now guess whether — on average — you are naughty or nice… [I]n a computational tour-de-force, the team added 280 different traits to the pool of brain scan data, and for each participant performed canonical correlation analysis — a type of statistical wizardry that helps unearth relationships between datasets with hundreds of complex variables.
The result was stark and stunning: the brain connectivity patterns could be aligned in a single axis, where one end was associated with positive traits — such as more education, better memory and physical performance — whereas the other with negative ones, such as rule-breaking and poor sleep quality.
(Seattle Times) Brain scientists at the University of Washington have used an old-fashioned parlor game in a novel way to prove that two people’s brains can be linked across the Internet — an experiment that sounds like it was ripped from the pages of a science-fiction novel… Researchers say melding two minds has the potential for a vast range of applications. For example, it might allow for the transfer of information from a healthy one to a damaged one. Or it might allow an alert person to transmit that brain state to somebody who is sleepy, or struggling to pay attention.
(University of Sassari) A group of researchers has developed a cognitive model, made up of two million interconnected artificial neurons, able to learn to communicate using human language starting from a state of 'tabula rasa', only through communication with a human interlocutor. This research sheds light on the neural processes that underlie the development of language.
(University of Oxford) When brain scientists at Oxford University studied apathy, they didn't expect to see less motivated people making more effort. Their results suggest that for some people traditionally perceived as lazy, it's biology -- not attitude -- that might be the cause… 'Using our brain scanning techniques we found that connections in the front part of the brains of apathetic people are less effective. The brain uses around a fifth of the energy you're burning each day. If it takes more energy to plan an action, it becomes more costly for apathetic people to make actions. Their brains have to make more effort.'
(University of Chicago Booth School of Business) When sports fans wear their lucky shirts on game day, they know it is irrational to think clothing can influence a team’s performance. But they do it anyway. Researchers finds that even when people recognize that their belief does not make sense, they can still allow that irrational belief to influence how they think, feel and behave.
(Reuters Health) Men who perceive themselves to be less masculine according to the traditional gender norms of society, and are feeling stressed about it, may be more prone to violent behavior, according to a U.S. study. These men are more likely to commit violent assaults compared to men who are more comfortable in their own skin, researchers say.
(University of Queen Mary London) Standard approaches for investigating risk of violence in psychiatric patients and prisoners are inaccurate and should be abandoned in all future studies, according to researchers from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL)… The new approach is instead based on identifying risk factors that have a clear causal link to violence, and include symptoms of major mental disorder, the patient's living condition, and whether they are taking medication.
(Cell Press) Philosopher Thomas Hobbes called it 'the lust of the mind.' Former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt said it was 'the most useful gift.' And, yes, we all know what killed the cat. But ask a group of scientists to define curiosity and you'll get a rousing debate. No more, argue researchers in a review of curiosity science. They propose it's time for researchers to organize and focus on curiosity's function, evolution, mechanism, and development.
(University of California - San Diego) Young adults are more envious than older adults, a new paper suggests. They are more envious over looks and for a wider range of other reasons, too. It also appears that both men and women are more likely to envy someone who is of their own gender and approximately their own age.
(Cell Press) It's long been known that mood biases our judgments and perceptions, but this effect has usually been regarded as irrational or disadvantageous. A new theory argues that mood draws on experiences and can, in fact, help us quickly adapt to changes in our environment.
(University Herald) New research suggests that birth order amongst siblings only marginally affects one's personality. Researchers from the University of Mainz and Leipzig in Germany found that central personality traits such as extraversion, emotional stability, agreeableness, and conscientiousness are not affected by birth-order position. Only regarding self-reported intellect small effects were found: Firstborns were more likely to report a rich vocabulary and less difficulty understanding abstract ideas.
(Academy of Finland) Brain imaging reveals how neural responses to different types of music really affect the emotion regulation of persons. The study proves that especially men who process negative feelings with music react negatively to aggressive and sad music… "We hope our research encourages music therapists to talk with their clients about their music use outside the session," concludes [main author] Emily Carlson, "and encourages everyone to think about the how the different ways they use music might help or harm their own well-being."
(Reuters Health) Even patients who think they look much younger after a face-lift still may not see an improvement in self-esteem, a small U.S. study suggests.
(Reuters Health) Families may spend almost twice as much caring for dementia patients at the end of life than they might if their loved one suffered from a different disease, a U.S. study suggests. Costs paid by Medicare, the U.S. health insurance program for the elderly, were similar over the final five years of life for patients with dementia, heart disease, cancer and other conditions, according to the study published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine. But the average out-of-pocket costs absorbed by families of dementia patients totaled $61,522 over those five years, far greater than the typical tab of $34,068 for patients without dementia.
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Please do not give advice. We can best help each other by telling what works for us, not what we think someone else should do.