Stress and Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques may be helpful in managing a variety of health conditions, including anxiety associated with illnesses or medical procedures, insomnia, labor pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and temporomandibular joint dysfunction. For some of these conditions, relaxation techniques are used as an adjunct to other forms of treatment. Relaxation techniques have also been studied for other conditions, but either they haven’t been shown to be useful, research results have been inconsistent, or the evidence is limited.

Condition Summary of Current Evidence


Studies have shown relaxation techniques may reduce anxiety in people with ongoing health problems such as heart disease or inflammatory bowel disease, and in those who are having medical procedures such as breast biopsies or dental treatment. Relaxation techniques have also been shown to be useful for older adults with anxiety.

Read more about the efficacy of relaxation techniques for anxiety

Scientific Literature


Posted in Human Behavior: Stress | Leave a comment

E-Z Pass helps states clock motorists’ speeds; accounts suspended for repeat offenders

Several states are using their agreement with E-Z Pass to monitor and punish speeders, adding to the increasing number of electronic speed-monitoring devices facing motorists.

Right now, three states — Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania — will suspend E-Z Pass privileges after multiple speeding violations, as reported first by USA Today.

And at least two of the other 12 states that allow E-Z Passes at toll plazas reportedly have rules for speeding through the designated toll lanes.

The electronic passes, or transponders, were created to be put on the inside of vehicle windshields and triggered at toll booths. Motorists prepay their accounts, instead of exchanging money with attendants and contributing to backups at toll plazas.

“You can lose your E-Z Pass privileges if you speed through E-Z Pass lanes,” Dan Weiller, a New York State Thruway Authority spokesman, told the newspaper. “You get a couple of warnings. We don’t have the power to give a ticket, but we do have to power to revoke your E-Z Pass, which we will. More

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Successful Vaccination Against ‘Mad Cow’-Like Wasting Disease in Deer

“Gut vaccine” strategy may work for similar brain infections in humans

Newswise — Researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center and elsewhere say that a vaccination they have developed to fight a brain-based, wasting syndrome among deer and other animals may hold promise on two additional fronts: Protecting U.S. livestock from contracting the disease, and preventing similar brain infections in humans.

The study, to be published in Vaccine online Dec. 21, documents a scientific milestone: The first successful vaccination of deer against chronic wasting disease (CWD), a fatal brain disorder caused by unusual infectious proteins known as prions. Prions propagate by converting otherwise healthy proteins into a disease state.

Equally important, the researchers say, this study may hold promise against human diseases suspected to be caused by prion infections, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, kuru, familial insomnia, and variably protease-sensitive prionopathy. Some studies also have associated prion-like infections with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Now that we have found that preventing prion infection is possible in animals, it’s likely feasible in humans as well,” says senior study investigator and neurologist Thomas Wisniewski, MD, a professor at NYU Langone.

CWD afflicts as much as 100 percent of North America’s captive deer population, as well as large numbers of other cervids that populate the plains and forests of the Northern Hemishpere, including wild deer, elk, caribou and moose. There is growing concern among scientists that CWD could possibly spread to livestock in the same regions, especially cattle, a major life stream for the U.S. economy, in much the same manner that bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or Mad Cow Disease, another prion-based infection, spread through the United Kingdom almost two decades ago.

According to Dr. Wisniewski and his research team, if further vaccine experiments prove successful, a relatively small number of animals (as few as 10 percent) could be inoculated to induce herd immunity, in which disease transmission is essentially stopped in a much larger group.

For the study, five deer were given the vaccine; another six were given a placebo. All of the deer were exposed to prion-infected brain tissue; they also were housed together, engaging in group activities similar to those in the wild. Scientists say this kept them in constant exposure to the infectious prions. The animals receiving the vaccine were given eight boosters over 11 months until key immune antibodies were detectable in blood, saliva, and feces. The deer also were monitored daily for signs of illness, and investigators performed biopsies of the animals’ tonsils and gut tissue every three months to search for signs of CWD infection.

Within two years, all of the deer given the placebo developed CWD. Four deer given the real vaccine took significantly longer to develop infection — and the fifth one continues to remain infection free.

Wisniewski and his team made the vaccine using Salmonella bacteria, which easily enters the gut, to mirror the most common mode of natural infection — ingestion of prion-contaminated food or feces. To prepare the vaccine, the team inserted a prion-like protein into the genome of an attenuated, or no longer dangerous, Salmonella bacterium. This engineered the Salmonella to induce an immune response in the gut, producing anti-prion antibodies.

“Although our anti-prion vaccine experiments have so far been successful on mice and deer, we predict that the method and concept could become a widespread technique for not only preventing, but potentially treating many prion diseases,” says lead study investigator Fernando Goni, PhD, an associate professor at NYU Langone.

Funding for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health grants NIH NS047433, ARRA NS047433-06S1 and the Seix Dow Foundation.

In addition to Wisniewski and Goni, other NYU investigators involved in the study were Kinlung Wong, BSc; Daniel Peyser, MSc; and Jinfeng Zu, PhD. Research support was also provided by Candace Mathiason, PhD; Jeanette Hayes-Klug; Amy Nalls; Kelly Anderson; and Edward Hoover, DVM, MS, of the College of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, where the deer were kept; Lucia Yim, PhD; Veronica Estevez, MSc; and Jose A. Chabalgoity, PhD, at the University of Uruguay in Montevideo, where the vaccine was developed; and David R. Brown, MD, at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom.

Posted in Nutrition: Gut, Vaccinations | Leave a comment

What Psychology Says About Materialism and the Holidays

Six questions for materialism expert Tim Kasser, PhD

Reporters/editors/producers note: The following feature was produced by the American Psychological Association. You may reprint it in its entirety or in part. We only request that you credit APA as the source. We also have a photograph of Kasser for reprinting.

Would the holidays be the same without some materialism in the mix? In today’s consumer society, what does it mean to be materialistic, and is that necessarily a bad thing? Psychologists have conducted research that has helped answer those questions and many more.

Tim Kasser, PhD, is a professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, specializing in materialism and well-being. Among Kasser’s numerous articles and books are “The High Price of Materialism,” published in 2002, and “Psychology and Consumer Culture” in 2004. A former associate editor of APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology®, Kasser earned his PhD in psychology from the University of Rochester.

APA recently asked Kasser the following questions:

APA: What does it mean to be materialistic and why is it generally viewed in a negative light? Why are some people materialistic and others not?

Kasser: To be materialistic means to have values that put a relatively high priority on making a lot of money and having many possessions, as well as on image and popularity, which are almost always expressed via money and possessions.

I think materialism is viewed in a negative light because people may have had unpleasant experiences with materialistic people. We know from research that materialism tends to be associated with treating others in more competitive, manipulative and selfish ways, as well as with being less empathetic. Such behavior is usually not appreciated by the average person, although it is encouraged by some aspects of our capitalist economic system.

Research shows two sets of factors that lead people to have materialistic values. First, people are more materialistic when they are exposed to messages that suggest such pursuits are important, whether through their parents and friends, society, or the media. Second, and somewhat less obvious — people are more materialistic when they feel insecure or threatened, whether because of rejection, economic fears or thoughts of their own death.

APA: How have media, particularly social media, influenced materialism in the world today?

Kasser: The research shows that the more that people watch television, the more materialistic their values are. That’s probably because both the shows and the ads send messages suggesting that happy, successful people are wealthy, have nice things, and are beautiful and popular. One has to remember that, in the U.S. at least, the vast majority of media are owned by a few for-profit corporations that make money by selling advertising, and the purpose of advertising is to sell products.

A study I recently published with psychologist Jean Twenge tracked how materialism has changed in U.S. high school seniors over a few decades and connected those changes with national advertising expenditures. We found that the extent to which a given year’s class of high school seniors cared about materialistic pursuits was predictable on the basis of how much of the U.S. economy came from advertising and marketing expenditures — the more that advertising dominated the economy, the more materialistic youth were.

One study of American and Arab youth found that materialism is higher as social media use increases. The findings suggest that, just as television use is associated with more materialism, so is use of social media. That makes sense, since most social media messages also contain advertising, which is how the social media companies make a profit.

APA: What is the difference between being extremely materialistic and being a compulsive shopper? Is a materialistic person at risk of becoming a compulsive shopper?

Kasser: Materialism is about values and desire for money, possessions and the like. Compulsive consumption is when a person feels unable to control the desire to consume, often because she or he is trying to fill some emptiness or overcome anxiety. Materialism and compulsive consumption are related to each other. In a recent meta-analysis of the association between materialism and people’s well-being, we found that the correlation between people’s materialism and the extent they reported problems with compulsive consumption was strong and consistent across many studies.

While materialism is a risk factor for compulsive consumption, they are not the same thing. Another psychologist, Miriam Tatzel, suggests that some materialists are “loose” with their money and some are “tight.” Both types of people care about having money and possessions, but the loose materialist is going to spend and spend and spend, whereas the tight materialist will be more like Scrooge or Silas Marner, trying to accumulate wealth.

APA: What might be some positive aspects of materialism?

Kasser: We know from the literature that materialism is associated with lower levels of well-being, less pro-social interpersonal behavior, more ecologically destructive behavior, and worse academic outcomes. It also is associated with more spending problems and debt. From my perspective, all of those are negative outcomes.

But from the point of view of an economic/social system that relies on spending to drive high levels of profit for companies, economic growth for the nation and tax revenue for the government, consumption and over-spending related to materialism may be viewed as a positive.

APA: What does psychological research say about materialism’s link to happiness?

Kasser: The connection between materialism and well-being is the longest-standing strand of research in the materialism literature. My colleagues at the University of Sussex and I recently published a meta-analysis that showed the negative relationship between materialism and well-being was consistent across all kinds of measures of materialism, types of people and cultures. We found that the more highly people endorsed materialistic values, the more they experienced unpleasant emotions, depression and anxiety, the more they reported physical health problems, such as stomachaches and headaches, and the less they experienced pleasant emotions and felt satisfied with their lives.

The most supported explanation for why well-being is lower when materialism is high concerns psychological needs. Specifically, materialistic values are associated with living one’s life in ways that do a relatively poor job of satisfying psychological needs to feel free, competent and connected to other people. When people do not have their needs well-satisfied, they report lower levels of well-being and happiness, as well as more distress.

APA: How does religious faith affect materialism, particularly during the holiday season?

Kasser: A couple of studies have found that the negative relationship between materialism and well-being is even stronger for people who are religious. This is probably because there is a conflict between materialistic and religious pursuits. That is, research on how people’s values are organized has shown that some goals are easy to simultaneously pursue, but others are in tension or conflict with each other. For example, it is relatively easy to focus on goals for money at the same time one focuses on goals for image and popularity, as those goals all are related and facilitate each other. The research shows there is a tension between materialistic goals and religious pursuits, just as Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, Lao Tze and many other religious thinkers have long suggested. It seems that trying to pursue materialistic and spiritual goals causes people conflict and stress, which in turn lowers their well-being.

One study has shown that this plays out during Christmas, too. Psychologist Ken Sheldon and I co-authored a study that found that to the extent people focused their holiday season around materialistic aims like spending and receiving, the less they were focused on spiritual aims. We also found that people reported “merrier” Christmases when spirituality was a large part of their holiday, but reported lower Christmas well-being to the extent that the holiday was dominated by materialistic aspects. Source

Posted in Human Behavior: Materialism | Leave a comment

5 Weird Ways Love Affects Your Personality

If you feel like you’re “addicted” to being in love, you might be onto something

Beyoncé may be a musical genius, but can you really be “drunk in love”? According to science, yes, you can. In fact, feeling head-over-heels does more than just make you feel a little warm and fuzzy; it can actually transform the way you think and act.

Check out some of the freaky ways love can affect your mind and body, and prepare to feel (mostly) exonerated from your past in-the-name-of-love behavior.

1. It can make you feel high

There’s a scientific explanation for why you feel so blissfully overjoyed during a new relationship, and it has nothing to do with romantic dates. Scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City studied the MRI scans of college students and found that falling in love activates the same neural system in your brain that lights up when you take cocaine, giving you an intense feeling of euphoria. So if you feel like you’re “addicted” to your new beau, you may not be as crazy as you think. More

Posted in Human Behavior: Love, Human Behavior: Relationships, Marriage | Leave a comment

Older Breast Cancer Patients Still Get Radiation Despite Limited Benefit

Newswise — DURHAM, N.C. – Women over the age of 70 who have certain early-stage breast cancers overwhelmingly receive radiation therapy despite published evidence that the treatment has limited benefit, researchers at Duke Medicine report.

The study suggests that doctors and patients may find it difficult to withhold treatment previously considered standard of care, even in the setting of high quality data demonstrating that the advantages are small.

“The onus is on physicians to critically analyze data to shape our treatment recommendations for patients, weighing the potential toxicities of treatment against clinical benefit,” said Rachel Blitzblau, M.D., Ph.D., the Butler Harris Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology at Duke University Medical Center. Blitzblau was the senior author of a study published online Dec. 8, 2014, in the journal Cancer.

Blitzblau and colleagues launched their inquiry to determine whether clinical practice changed as a result of a large randomized, prospective study first published in 2004 that compared treatment options for women ages 70 and older with early-stage hormone-receptor positive breast cancers. The CALGB 9343 study reported limited benefit for adding radiation therapy plus the drug tamoxifen after lumpectomy among older women.

Specifically, the 2004 study’s 5-year data showed a small but statistically significant reduction in the rate of cancer recurrence; a similar finding was reported again in 2012 with a decade of data. However, the addition of radiation to tamoxifen after surgery did not improve overall survival among the study participants at either of the reporting periods.

“The discussion at the time of the first CALGB report in 2004 was that we should consider omitting radiation for these women, because the small observed benefits might not be worth the side effects and costs,” Blitzblau said, adding that side effects include fatigue, discomfort and changes in the radiated breast tissue, among others.

But little has changed following publication of the study, with about two-thirds of women still getting radiation therapy. Blitzblau and colleagues analyzed cancer treatment patterns from a national health database called the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) registry. They found that before the CALGB study results were published in 2004, 68.6 percent of older women who would have been eligible for enrollment in the CALGB trial received radiation therapy. In the five years after the study was first reported, the rate dropped, but only slightly, to 61.7 percent.

“The publication of the trial had only a very small impact on practice patterns,” Blitzblau said. “Our findings demonstrate the potential difficulty of incorporating clinical trial data that involves omitting a treatment that has been considered the standard of care.”

She said physicians might have delayed making practice changes until longer-term data was available; the research team’s analysis did not include results after the 10-year data from CALGB was published in 2012. In addition, she said, there is likely lingering concern among both doctors and patients that reducing treatments may worsen outcomes for older women who have excellent overall health and therefore longer life expectancies.

But Blitzblau said the findings of the current study highlight an important and increasingly difficult challenge for physicians: Striking the right balance between offering effective treatments while also acknowledging the need for more financially efficient medical care.

“It’s important to improve patient and doctor communication to ensure that the right patients are getting the right treatment at the right time,” Blitzblau said. “As we work toward more efficient and evidence-based medical practice in all medical specialties, we will need to understand what processes may be needed to spur change.”

In addition to Blitzblau, study authors include Manisha Palta, Priya Palta, Nrupen A. Bhavsar, and Janet K. Horton.

Posted in Cancer: Breast, Health Care: Medical Errors | Leave a comment

Nearly Half of U.S. Kids Exposed to Traumatic Social or Family Experiences During Childhood

Newswise — Nearly half of all children in the United States are exposed to at least one social or family experience that can lead to traumatic stress and impact their healthy development – be it having their parents divorce, a parent die or living with someone who abuses alcohol or drugs – increasing the risk of negative long-term health consequences or of falling behind in school, suggests new research led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The study reports on new data showing the magnitude of these adverse experiences in the child population in the U.S., while also suggesting that training parents, providers and communities to help children with trauma cope and build even basic aspects of resilience may soften the blows and lead to later success, despite the obstacles.

The findings are published in the December issue of the journal Health Affairs.

“This study tells us that adverse childhood experiences are common among U.S. children and, as demonstrated in adult studies, have lifelong impacts that begin early in life,” says study leader Christina D. Bethell, PhD, MPH, MBA, a professor in the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

For the study, Bethell and her colleagues analyzed data from the 2011-12 National Survey of Children’s Health, a survey of parents of 95,677 children under 17 from throughout the United States. The survey included questions about nine adverse childhood experiences as reported by parents: extreme economic hardship, parental divorce/separation, lived with someone with a drug or alcohol problem, witness or victim of neighborhood violence, lived with someone who was mentally ill or suicidal, witnessed domestic violence, parent served time in jail, treated or judged unfairly due to race/ethnicity and the death of a parent. The survey includes myriad data on family and neighborhood environments and parental well-being in addition to children’s schooling and medical care, and contains some data about child resilience.

The study found that more than 22 percent of children represented in the survey had two or more of these traumatic childhood experiences. Broken down by state, Utah had the lowest number of children experiencing two or more traumatic experiences (16.3 percent) while Oklahoma had the highest (32.8 percent).

Researchers found that children with two or more adverse experiences were more than 2.5-times more likely to repeat a grade in school as well as be disengaged in school, compared to those without any traumatic experiences, and after adjusting for confounding factors such as race, income and health status. Children with these experiences were also much more likely to have a wide range of chronic health problems, including asthma, ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, obesity and other health and risk factors. Children with adverse childhood experiences were also less likely than those without to live in a protective home environment and have mothers who were healthy.

The news isn’t all bad: Among children with two or more adverse experiences who already have a chronic condition requiring regular doctor visits, those who had learned and showed even the one aspect of resilience evaluated in the study were 1.5-times more likely to be engaged in school and nearly half as likely to repeat a grade in school compared to those who had not learned this skill.

Also a positive: Children and families who received quality health care from a doctor who knows, listens to and ensures children’s whole health care needs are met and coordinated did better than those who did not.

Bethell says that parents and children can be taught to recognize and reduce the biologic, emotional and psychological impact of traumatic stress, bounce back when faced with a challenge, and to develop a habit of hope instead of despair. Some of the most promising methods involve simple breathing techniques as well as so-called “trauma-informed” care and community approaches growing in popularity all across the country.

“Adverse childhood events don’t automatically have to have long-term traumatic impacts for children,” Bethell says. “To recognize trauma in children requires widespread awareness and skills-building among adults interacting with children at all levels. Efforts to support children, families and communities, so they can create a culture that supports safe, stable and nurturing relationships, hold great promise. Rapid innovation and studies documenting best methods and their impact are called for now. Supporting and teaching the adults in children’s lives to learn to heal from trauma and learn resilience themselves may be the most effective strategy to implement immediately.”

Posted in Domestic Violence, Mental Health: Abuse, Mental Health: PTSD | Leave a comment

Cervical Cancer: FDA Approval of Nonavalent HPV Vaccine Adds New Eradication Tool

Newswise — CHICAGO, IL (Dec. 10, 2014)—The Food and Drug Administration’s approval of a nonavalent vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV) represents another important step in the eradication of cervical cancer, according to the Society of Gynecologic Oncology (SGO).

It is estimated that the seven “high-risk” HPV types found in the nonavalent vaccine can potentially prevent over 90 percent of cervical cancers and a similarly high number of other HPV-associated cancers of the vulva, vagina, anus, penis, and some head and neck cancers.

“As the healthcare providers for women who suffer from cervical and lower genital tract cancers, members of the SGO have always been advocates for the primary prevention of cervical and other HPV-related cancers,” said SGO President Richard R. Barakat, MD. “Vaccination against HPV is a powerful way to eliminate these cancers.”

SGO reiterates its strong support for vaccination of adolescent girls and boys, including the routinely recommended age group of 11 to 12 year olds, the group in which these vaccines have been found to be most effective. Also, SGO recommends that women undergo cervical cancer screening as recommended by guidelines.

In 2014, the American Cancer Society estimated that 12,360 women would be diagnosed and 4,020 women would die from cervical cancer in the United States. “HPV vaccination should result in a significant decline in these numbers, but it is critical that physicians urge parents to take advantage of the rare opportunity to prevent cancer through a simple vaccine,” Dr. Barakat said.

Girls and boys already on a vaccine schedule should continue to get vaccinated.

Posted in Cancer: Cervical, HPV | Leave a comment

How to Avoid Foods That Trigger Migraines During the Holiday Season

Newswise — Certain foods and drinks can trigger migraine in many people, and those who suffer from migraines need to be especially careful to avoid these triggers as they attend holiday celebrations. With this in mind, the American Migraine Foundation and its Chair, David W. Dodick, MD, FRCP (C), FACP, want to help people with migraine avoid these potential triggers, so that they can better enjoy the season. Dr. Dodick is also Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine (Scottsdale, AZ).

“This is the season in which many people overindulge in things that can trigger attacks of migraine,” said Dr. Dodick. “It’s important to think through food and beverage choices, to help reduce the risk of having a migraine attack.”

Dr. Dodick and the Foundation offer the following tips, which can also be found on, along with a wealth of other consumer-friendly tips on reducing migraine risk while enjoying the holidays:

• Skipping or missing meals is a much more common trigger of migraine than any particular food, so be sure to eat regularly during the day. That’s three meals … don’t skip breakfast!

• Avoid eating within a few hours of bedtime or drinking caffeinated beverages after early afternoon.

• Identify potential dietary triggers. Start keeping a migraine diary now, and see if you can identify particular foods that are followed by a migraine attack at least half of the time you eat them. Avoid those foods, especially during the holidays when stress and other holiday factors may make you more susceptible to attacks.

• Red wine is a common migraine trigger for some people, so opt for white wine or another beverage instead, unless you discover that these others are also migraine triggers for you. And because alcohol and dehydration can trigger migraines, be sure to drink in moderation. Alternating a glass of water with an alcoholic beverage will help.

• Practice healthy eating habits: In addition to not skipping meals, limit your intake of processed foods, sodium, sugar, and caffeinated and carbonated drinks.

“Knowing your food triggers and planning in advance can increase your enjoyment of holiday activities with fewer migraine attacks,” said Dr. Dodick. “If you don’t know whether you have food triggers, we suggest trying to eliminate specific dietary foods and beverages, such as red wine, processed meats, nuts, chocolate, aged cheese, monosodium glutamate, and gluten-containing foods, to see if they are causing migraine attacks. If these attacks decrease, introducing these items back one at a time can identify the culprit(s), should they exist. Not everyone with migraine has food triggers, but for those with these triggers, avoiding them can often mean fewer migraine attacks.”

For more information on migraine food triggers and how to identify them, see Migraine Management – Migraine Food Triggers.

The American Migraine Foundation recently redesigned its site ( to include a range of resources, including a new monthly “Spotlight,” where migraine sufferers and the public can turn for more detailed information about living with and managing many aspects of migraine. “Spotlight” will change topics approximately once a month. The current Spotlight is “’Tis the Season for Holiday Headaches,” a feature packed with information on how people with migraine can help reduce the likelihood that activities during the winter holidays will trigger more frequent migraine attacks. In addition to the subject discussed above, the site includes articles on “Seasonal Triggers of Migraines,” “Migraine and Sleep During the Holidays,” “Tips for Managing Stress During the Holidays,” and “’Tis the Season for Major Migraines” (an article covering a range of potential holiday-related migraine triggers), as well as useful links.


Some 36 million Americans live with migraine, more than have asthma and diabetes combined. An estimated three to seven million Americans live with chronic migraine, a highly disabling neurological disorder. Migraine can be extremely disabling and costly, accounting for more than $20 billion in direct (e.g. doctor visits, medications) and indirect (e.g. missed work, lost productivity) expenses each year in the United States.


The American Migraine Foundation is a non-profit foundation supported by the American Headache Society and generous donors dedicated to the advancement of migraine research. Its mission is to support innovative research that will lead to improvement in the lives of those who suffer from migraine and other disabling headaches. is the companion website to the American Headache Society (, the professional services organization for the world’s foremost clinicians and researchers working in migraine.

Posted in Headaches: Migraines | Leave a comment

Mental Illness Is the Wrong Scapegoat After Mass Shootings

Newswise — In the shadow of the two year anniversary of one of the worst mass shootings in American history, at Sandy Hook Elementary School, an extensive new study by two Vanderbilt University researchers challenges common assumptions about gun violence and mental illness that often emerge in the aftermath of mass shootings.

When a mass shooting occurs there seems to be a familiar narrative that untreated mental illness is the primary cause for the terrifying act. But a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health by Dr. Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth T. MacLeish finds that an isolated focus on mental illness is misguided.

“Gun discourse after mass shootings often perpetuates the fear that ‘some crazy person is going to come shoot me,’” said Metzl, the study’s lead author. “But if you look at the research, it’s not the ‘crazy’ person you have to fear.”

In the article, “Mental Illness, Mass Shootings and the Politics of American Firearms,” Metzl and MacLeish analyzed data and literature linking guns and mental illness over the past 40 years. They found that despite societal pre-conceived notions, most mentally ill people are not violent.

“Fewer than 5 percent of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness,” they write.

Their research uncovered four central myths that arise in the aftermath of mass shootings:

(1) Mental illness causes gun violence
(2) Psychiatric diagnosis can predict gun crime before it happens
(3) U.S. mass-shootings “prove” that we should fear mentally ill loners
(4) Because of the complex psychiatric histories of mass-shooters, gun control “won’t prevent” mass shootings

They stress that all four of these are incorrect, though understandable assumptions.

“Our research finds that across the board the mentally ill are 60 to120 percent more likely than the average person to be the victims of violent crime rather than the perpetrators.”

Metzl and MacLeish find that the focus on mental illness after horrific, yet statistically rare, mass shootings misdirects people from the bigger issues tied to preventing gun deaths in the U.S.

“There are 32,000 gun deaths in the United States on average every year and people are far more likely to be shot by relatives, friends or acquaintances than they are by lone violent psychopaths,” said Metzl.

“We should set our attention and gun policies on the everyday shootings, not on the sensational shootings because there we will get much more traction in preventing gun crime.”

The presumed link between mental illness and gun violence has led to calls for mental health screening for gun owners. But the authors find that psychiatric diagnosis is in and of itself not predictive of violence.

“Even the overwhelming majority of psychiatric patients who fit the profile of recent U.S. mass shooters – gun-owning, angry, paranoid white men – do not commit crimes,” Metzl and MacLeish write.

“Basing gun crime-prevention efforts on the mental health histories of mass shooters risks building ‘common evidence’ from ‘uncommon things,’ all while giving mental health providers the untenable responsibility of preventing the next massacre.”

The authors detail how focusing solely on mental illness ignores those factors that do predict gun violence more broadly:

• Drug and alcohol use
• History of violence
• Access to firearms
• Personal relationship stress

“People are far more likely to be shot by relatives, friends, enemies or acquaintances than they are by lone violent psychopaths,” according to Metzl and MacLeish’s research.

The authors argue in the paper that lawmakers and voters should pay much more attention to mental health systems such as access to mental health care, medication and health insurance.

“In a way it is a failure of the system often that becomes represented as a failure of the individual,” said Metzl.

The authors also delve into to the ways that responses to mass shootings reflect cultural anxieties about race and gender.

“The rhetoric in which people are accumulating guns in the present day has a lot to do with the fear of the unknown stranger. ‘Somebody could come attack me or my family, so we need to protect ourselves.’ And that rhetoric is most common among suburban white men,” said Metzl.

The authors uncover how the political and racial strife in the 1960’s led some African Americans to push for their constitutional right to own and carry guns, while some white Americans at the time, including the National Rifle Association, pushed for stricter gun control laws.

“Reading the gun rights statements of the Black Panthers and other black power groups in the 1960’s is almost exactly the same as the Tea Party today,” said Metzl. “Both groups argued that they’re protecting themselves from government tyranny and have a constitutional right as individuals to bear arms,” said Metzl.

Yet Metzl adds that in the 60s, American society rushed to pathologize “black culture” while restricting gun rights, while in the present day our narratives locate the problem on individual white brains while at the same time encouraging further gun ownership.

Metzl and MacLeish teach at the The Center for Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt, an innovative multidisciplinary center that studies the social and societal dimensions of health and illness. Its scholarship, teaching and wide-ranging collaborative projects explore medicine and science in a wide array of cultural contexts, while at the same time fostering productive dialogue across disciplinary boundaries.

The paper will publish in the February issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Posted in Human Behavior: Violence | Leave a comment

Live Trees and Scented Candles Hijack the Holidays for Allergy Sufferers

Newswise — The many smells and tastes of the holidays that get so many in a festive mood can sicken others, thanks to allergic reactions. But with some seasonal savvy, allergy sufferers can breathe easy this festive time of year.

“The dust from the boxes and on the decorations that have been packed away in dank basements or dusty attics is triggering reactions in my allergy and asthma patients,” said Rachna Shah, MD, affiliate faculty member at Loyola Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and allergist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital.

The holidays are supposed to be some of the happiest times of the year. But popular seasonal items, such as fresh trees, scented air fresheners and live plants make the holidays miserable for many.

Here are Dr. Shah’s top five tips for easy breathing this holiday season:

1. Clean The Tree – Artificial or real, a tree can cause allergy problems. “A tree that is moldy increases the spore counts in the home exponentially after just a few days, triggering reactions and illness,” says Dr. Shah. “Some have found relief by spraying down the tree with water to remove mold and then limiting the amount of time the tree is indoors to 12 days or less.”

The clean fragrance from the live balsam, fir and pine trees is pleasing, but it can aggravate respiratory conditions. “No variety of live tree is less allergenic than any other,” says Dr. Shah. “Artificial is the best if you have allergies.” The scent of a freshly cut tree as well as elements of its care can wreak havoc on your airways and nasal passages. “The water in the tree holder also grows stagnant and collects mold, which is detrimental to those with allergies,” Dr. Shah says. Decorations used to adorn the tree may also be dusty, scented or carry irritants. If you choose an artificial tree, make sure the branches, as well as decorations, are dry and moisture-free. “Artificial trees and holiday decorations can grow mold if they get wet, as they often do in humid basements or attics,” she warns.

2. Prepare for Parties – Bring your own treats, especially for kids, at social gatherings where allergenic foods may be plentiful and an only option. “Those with egg, nut or dairy allergies especially can play it safe and enjoy the parties if they know what they are eating and drinking,” says Dr. Shah. “Communicating in advance with the host can help avoid illness.”

3. Pamper the Pet – Dogs and cats spend more time indoors during the winter months and often bring allergens in with them from their trips outdoors, contaminating the environment for those with sensitive respiratory systems. “Have your dog and cat groomed more often to remove dander and hair,” says Shah. HEPA filters also help filter pet hair of all kinds as well.

4. Relax – “Anxiety has been shown to increase asthma symptoms,” says Dr. Shah. “Use relaxation methods such as deep breathing, meditation or yoga to maintain control during the holiday hustle-bustle.”

5. Never Use Scented Candles or Home Fragrance Oils – The popularity of home fragrance products and scented specialty candles reaches a peak during the holidays – and so do allergies. Unplug the electric scent distributors and take a pass on the potpourri simmering pots. “Far from creating an inviting home, the fragrance aggravates the sinuses and respiratory system so sufferers can’t breathe,” Dr. Shah said.

6. Avoid Real Poinsettias and Fresh Floral Arrangements – “The moist soil encourages the growth of mold. And if there is mold in your house, you are breathing mold spores,” Dr. Shah said. This causes air passageways to swell, which restricts airflow. It can even cause skin rashes.

7. Keep the Humidity in Check – Warm and cool air humidifiers are up and running in many homes now that the cold, dry air is here. “Get a gauge and keep the humidity no higher than 48 to 50 percent,” Dr. Shah said. “Too much humidity encourages the growth of mold, which triggers allergic reactions.”

8. Store Holiday Decorations in Large Plastic Tubs – Save yourself some sneezes next year by purchasing large resealable plastic tubs to store decorations. Dust them occasionally during the year.

Posted in Allergies, Asthma | Leave a comment

Dehydration and diabetes: new research

Newswise — BUFFALO, N.Y. — Some drugs used to treat diabetes mimic the behavior of a hormone that a University at Buffalo psychologist has learned controls fluid intake in subjects. The finding creates new awareness for diabetics who, by the nature of their disease, are already at risk for dehydration.

Derek Daniels’ paper “Endogenous Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 Reduces Drinking Behavior and Is Differentially Engaged by Water and Food Intakes in Rats,” co-authored with UB psychology graduate students Naomi J. McKay and Daniela L. Galante, appears in this month’s edition of the Journal of Neuroscience.

The hormone, GLP-1, works in the body to increase the release of insulin, functioning the same way as many common injectable treatments for diabetes. Extensive research has already established GLP-1’s role in the control of food intake, but the new study’s authors say there was a profound absence of literature on its role in fluid intake.

“Naomi picked this up early on in her graduate work and published two other papers before this one showing GLP-1 decreases fluid intake in ways that weren’t appreciated before,” said Daniels, whose lab studies the neurobiology of ingestive behaviors, like thirst and dehydration.

A downloadable photo of Daniels is available here:

When GLP-1 binds to receptors in the body it sends a signal to the brain that decreases fluid intake.
“We blocked that signaling,” said McKay. “In doing so, we found an elevation in water intake.”

But what sounds like straightforward behavioral pharmacology is a bit tricky when measuring incremental increases in a rat’s fluid intake, especially when working with units of volume as small as the segments of time that measure computer processing speeds. Rats consume fluid in nanolitres, and since filling a teaspoon requires nearly 5 million nanolitres, researchers use a lickometer to study licking patterns.
“Licking patterns can give us hints about why rats drink more or less after an experimental manipulation,” said Daniels. “In this study, we found that the rats were probably drinking more because they were feeling less full from the drinking.”

Lickometers measure the number of times a rat’s tongue touches an electrical port. In doing so, the rat unknowingly completes an electrical circuit at the same time the port dispenses water. Each completed circuit is one lick. The lack of any sensation protects the integrity of the count. The number of licks are tracked and then translated into a given volume of fluid.

“Clearly what we’re seeing, not just in this paper, but in all three papers, is that these substances decrease drinking behavior,” said Daniels. “But we’re not saying people shouldn’t use these drugs to treat diabetes, and we’re not saying they are ineffective tools for the treatment of diabetes. However for populations already at risk for dehydration it may be something we want to be more concerned about.”

These conclusions arise from what Daniels says is “a reverse-engineering approach or a reverse drug discovery approach.”
“Normally, it’s the basic research that informs the applied research. Basic research tells us what drugs to try for treating a disease. But in this case, we’ve used the drug and the clinical relevance to learn more about basic abilities of the body and how the body functions,” said Daniels.

Funding for the study came from The National Institutes of Health, an American Psychological Association dissertation award and the Mark Diamond Research Fund of the Graduate Student Association at the University at Buffalo for McKay.

Posted in Diabetes, Nutrition: Hydration | Leave a comment

Why Keeping the Weight Off Over the Long Term is So Hard

Newswise — SILVER SPRING, MD: A new report combining perspectives from a range of obesity experts identifies genetic, epigenetic and neuro-hormonal differences between individuals as one of the key challenges associated with weight loss and long-term weight control. The authors, led by Paul MacLean, PhD, and Rena Wing, PhD, reinforce that maintaining weight loss over the long term can be a major challenge. They recommend a number of novel approaches to improve obesity therapeutics, including more emphasis on an individualized approach to weight-loss treatments and maintenance, and the integration of physiology and behavioral psychology to identify effective and sustainable interventions.

“Despite advancements in our understanding of obesity, weight regain after weight loss remains the most substantial problem in obesity treatment – with both the body and the mind conspiring against individual efforts to maintain weight loss,” said Dr. MacLean, co-chair of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) working group who authored the report, “Innovative Research to Improve Maintenance of Weight Loss,” published in the January 2015 issue of the journal Obesity. “There are many differences in individuals ranging from genetic to behavioral that lead some to do well on one approach, whereas others do not. Therefore, what works for a friend or coworker may be very different from a weight-loss program that’s most effective and sustainable for you over the long term.”

The NIH Working Group report summarizes the results from a recent conference and includes various perspectives from experts in integrative physiology, genetics, endocrinology, and behavioral and cognitive sciences.

The report is accompanied by a commentary in Obesity by research and treatment pioneers and TOS past presidents, George Bray, MD, of Pennington Biomedical Research Center and Thomas Wadden, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania. In their commentary, Drs. Bray and Wadden called individualized weight-loss strategies “promising,” highlighting it as the most important issue identified by the working group to bridge the divide between basic and clinical sciences and better target obesity treatments.

“In all weight loss trials, whether behavioral, dietary, exercise or pharmacological, some individuals lose a great deal of weight, others an average amount, and some even gain weight,” they say in their response.

Drs. Bray and Wadden go further to call the area of personalized treatment an “essential focus” that should be combined with political and societal actions to change our food and activity environments, which currently exacerbate the struggle for most people who are trying to lose weight and keep it off.

“Personalized medicine is not a new idea; it is one that is applied and encouraged across many areas of medicine. Why not apply it to obesity treatment?” said Chris Ochner, PhD, TOS Public Affairs co-chair and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Weight loss is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.”

Working group co-chair Dr. Wing also stresses that current treatment approaches to improving maintenance of weight loss often do not adequately counter the many physiological and behavioral changes that occur when a person loses weight.

“Development of more effective approaches to weight-loss maintenance requires the integration of physiological and behavioral perspectives and a more concerted collaboration between basic and clinical researchers,” she said.

TOS agrees that collaboration between physiological and behavioral researchers is needed to advance the science behind individualized treatments and develop better weight-maintenance strategies. In 2013, the Society launched the Bio-Behavioral Research Section to encourage greater research into the complex interactions between biological, behavioral and environmental factors that influence obesity. The Section, led by Chair Myles Faith, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, strives to bridge people, ideas and methodologies from distinct scientific “silos.”

“Understanding individual differences in treatment response requires expertise in biology and behavior,” Faith said. “Seasoned clinicians, who are keenly observing and working to harness the strengths of individual patients every day, are an integral piece of the puzzle. Individual responses to treatment are at the scientific ‘heart’ of the matter for understanding weight-loss maintenance.”

The NIH working group report in full seeks to identify barriers to successful weight loss, review strategies that have been previously employed to improve success, and recommend novel solutions that could be investigated in future long-term weight control studies. In addition to more personalized weight-loss strategies, the authors recommend further exploration into the following areas to improve weight-loss maintenance:
• Pharmacological strategies to counter the physiological changes that occur after weight loss, which require adjustments to the drug development process (e.g. pairing different medications or combining medication and behavioral approaches).
• New ways to improve adherence to physical activity programs.
• Foods engineered to maximize palatability and satiation to improve long-term adherence to a lower-calorie diet.
• Strategies to decrease the perceived reward value of foods and increase impulse control.
• Technologies (e.g. smart phones, tablets, GPS) and social networking to keep individuals engaged and goal-oriented.

Find the full report online in Obesity here and the Bray/Wadden commentary here.

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About The Obesity Society
The Obesity Society (TOS) is the leading professional society dedicated to better understanding, preventing and treating obesity. Through research, education and advocacy, TOS is committed to improving the lives of those affected by the disease. For more information visit: Connect with us on social media: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Posted in Human Behavior: Willpower, Obesity, Weight Cycling | Leave a comment