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Posts Tagged ‘research’

I found an article that gives new meaning to the concept of listening to your gut. The opening line reads “Early digestive problems may hardwire the brain for depression.”

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21028136.500-do-early-gut-problems-set-the-brain-up-for-depression.html

Researchers at Stanford are trying to figure out which comes first, the gut problems or the depression.  The working theory was that hormones released during sadness trigger negative effects on the stomach area, but now they’re not so sure. The gut problems might trigger the depression.

This isn’t exactly a scientific observation, but I can vouch for their theory. I had bad stomach pains when I was young, before anyone noticed signs of depression in me. Diagnosed with nonspecific gastrothisandthat or whatever, I ended up in the doctor’s office or the ER on a regular basis. I was doubled over in pain, and nobody could figure out why. Here’s the kicker: When I went on antidepressants and mood stabilizers in my mid-20s, the gut problems mysteriously disappeared.

A research group from Kings College in London has narrowed down the genetics of severe recurring depression to chromosome 3, and both the Stanford group and a research group from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, have come up with basically the same results. In the research world, all three groups finding the same thing is pretty important.

The curious thing about genetic mapping is that there is so much apparently unrelated information on each chromosome. According to the National Institute of Health, there are currently 51 known disorders known to be associated with chromosome 3, one of which is the thoracic aortic aneurysm my dad had. I’m pretty sure that had nothing to do with depression…although come to think of it, he was going through a pretty low time in his life… But I don’t have any of those syndromes or deficiencies…that I know of…yet…hmm.

But then there’s still this “which came first, the chicken or the egg” thing. Do certain disorders make it easier for depression to surface, or does depression pave the way for certain other weaknesses to present themselves – those gut problems, for example?

See, I think the process of discovering all of this is interesting. Someday, all this research put together will help doctors prescribe more effective treatments for depression instead of “hey, I got a new sample – let’s see what this does.”

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There’s this big puzzle I’ve been trying to figure out for years, and it’s my brain. I have to catch up with what’s going on in the mental health world, or I feel like that puzzle is never going to get solved. And the more my mood swings grumble at me, the more I go into hypomanic detective mode.

So I ran across this article in NIMH’s Science News section. I love this part of their website. I remember when I was a kid – and this was before we even had a color TV – I learned that doctors did research, and I always wondered what they were discovering. Always did like watching PBS more than the Perils of Penelope Pitstop. After I got older, I forgot all about that show…until I got cable TV and found a whole channel devoted to old TV cartoons. Rooby-Roo!!

Okay…focus…

Results of the Study

The researchers found that nearly 40 percent of those identified as having major depression also had symptoms of subthreshold hypomania (mania that lasts less than four days at a time). Compared to those with major depression alone, those with depression plus subthreshold hypomania tended to be younger at age of onset and to have had more coexisting health problems, more episodes of depression and more suicide attempts.

I could have told them that. No, really.

I think the reason I was so interested in what the doctors were discovering is because I knew I was a little off and I wished I knew why. I spent many of my pre-teen and teenage years trying to compensate in various ways for feeling so blue, and usually overdoing it. Then I would go back to withdrawing from the world because in the process of overcompensating, I had usually done something to embarrass myself. The cycle got a little more amplified over time until my late teens, by which time the ups and downs and my inability to deal with them had become painfully obvious.

The more I think about it, the more I remember being sick, too. Looking back, I think it was partly from flipping between being sedentary and being agitated. There were headaches and allergies and upset stomachs – and I remember feeling a lot better when I discovered that four Tylenol were better than two. The MDs didn’t help much. I got diagnosed with nonspecific this or that all the time in my late teens and early 20s. That was before I saw a psychiatrist and life started to make so much more sense.

Of course you’re going to get sick when your body is being unstable. We’ve always heard that it’s so important for us to take care of ourselves and be firm about giving ourselves and our kids healthy foods and a stable environment. I think we’re just now discovering the full effect of WHY we should do that. I guess the researchers can’t just take people’s word for it, though.

Can we get away from the old “because I said so” script from childhood and start being honest about the fact that mental health and physical health are intertwined in real life?

I’m talking to the people who have trouble with everyday struggles, not to the people in strait jackets. It takes practice to watch the ups and downs and to notice when the coping skills are crumbling. It takes a lot of discipline to put your foot down with yourself or your kids when you notice the subthreshold hypomania is trading jabs with the depression and something’s got to give. Find a good doctor and stay on top of your health before you end up in a corner staring at cartoons and hating life.

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The great thing about the Internet is that we – the public – can weigh in on proposals that our government is trying on for size, and they’re actually asking our opinion straight up, without asking us to contact our representatives! Now that’s democracy in action – I love this country.

The latest open commentary has to do with the USDA’s recommendations on how much alcohol is too much – in this case, the cap on “low-risk drinking” and “moderation” would now be defined as 14 drinks weekly (no more than 4 drinks per day) for men and 7 drinks weekly (no more than 3 drinks per day) for women. CLICK HERE to read what other people are saying about the Rethinking Drinking report and submit your own comments. But don’t wait – the deadline for weighing in on this issue is this Thursday, July 15.

Personally, I think it’s interesting that someone thinks we’re going to consult the USDA recommendations before we go to a party or a bar and have a few. But people really take this sort of thing as an authoritative statement for how much is too much. We don’t know – we’re not doing the research. We rely on them for information. And they are citing research about how alcohol is actually good for your health sometimes. On the other hand, nobody’s changing the legal limit for how drunk is too drunk, and we’re having a hard enough time keeping the kids and the drunks from thinking that getting smashed is cool.

What do you think? Are they giving people license to drink more, or are they just telling us to lighten up?

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The diagnostic bible of the American Psychiatric Association is getting a makeover. A rough draft of version 5 (which is still being debated by the powers that be) is posted at http://www.DSM5.org. And this debate is going to be a dilly.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the manual that doctors, insurers, and scientists use in deciding what is officially considered a mental disorder and how to tell if someone has it. Every now and then they decide to re-evaluate this based on the latest research findings. In a new twist, they were seeking feedback via the Internet from both psychiatrists and the general public about whether the changes will be helpful before finalizing them. That ended in April. Now they have a committee (called the DSM-5 work group on their website) reviewing the comments; and between public input, APA member input, and private research, they will have the new version ready for publication by May of 2013.

Why so long? Take a look at their website, especially the timeline. Then check out the list of diagnostic categories on the home page. These are only the general categories. Specific disorders in each category can be seen by clicking on the name of the general category. All things considered, that final list is going to be huge – when they decide what will be on it and why.

Here’s one issue that they have to decide before 2013. Is Gender Identity Disorder a physical problem, a mental problem, or just another way for humans to behave? The LGBT community is already on the edge of their seats waiting for the APA to have an official opinion, and one way or another, that decision will make headlines for weeks.

My personal source of amusement comes from the fact that, at the moment, PMS is lumped in with bipolar disorder in the Mood Disorders category. I have both, I can tell the difference between the two, and I think that putting them in the same diagnostic category is hilarious. PMS is a physical problem with emotional side effects, and doesn’t belong in the DSM at all (although I think several men around the world would loudly disagree with me).

In other categories, the APA is officially considering hoarding, skin-picking, tics, and olfactory reference syndrome (delusional beliefs about one’s own body odor) as formally classified Anxiety Disorders. Binge eating is also being considered for placement with anorexia and bulimia in the Eating Disorders category. There’s an idea. I could get insurance to pay for a doctor to help me stop pigging out.

Seriously, if you are concerned about the diagnostic process when it comes to mental disorders, keep checking back for updates to their website. I hope that they’re carefully considering the comments of the people who have to personally deal with these issues every day, and not just letting the insurance companies tell the APA how to interpret the research.

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Check this out. The US Patent Office has officially declared that we don’t own our own genetic material, and apparently they’ve been doing it for years.

Now, normally I don’t jump every time the ACLU has a problem with something, but this one I like. On behalf of 20 plaintiffs, including other researchers and individual cancer patients who can’t get the testing they need, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit in a New York federal court to release the patent which says that Myriad Genetics is the only company that can study, test, and report on the BRCA genes related to breast and ovarian cancer.

This isn’t exactly a new story, but twelve years and eight patents ago, someone at the US Patent Office began setting a seriously questionable precedent.

If they’re really preventing anyone else from even looking at these genes, Myriad’s patents have succeeded in holding up cancer research – for now. Fortunately, someone has already recognized the futility of patenting nature. Myriad’s motion to dismiss was denied by the judge. Stay tuned.

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You have to see this, if you haven’t already. Anyone who is interested in topics like mental health, pediatric health, teaching children, pharmaceutical research, or what to do about children with unusual behaviour should watch and pay attention. This is a 56-minute video called The Medicated Child, and it was aired on PBS recently. It really struck a nerve with me, both as a mother and as an adult with bipolar disorder.

http://video.pbs.org/video/1316921025#

What do you think?

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I can’t decide which I like best – the database itself or the information-sharing. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is gathering information on what a normal kid’s brain looks like so they can share the information with people who are researching developmental disorders like autism.

NIMH described the latest release of data on their website today. They studied over 500 kids, from infants to young adults, using MRI brain scans, physical exams, psychological exams, and measurements of hormonal activity. The point was to catch each kid at different points in their life, get all of this information for that age, and wait a couple of years before doing it again to see what changed. The younger ones got tested more frequently because development occurs faster in the younger years.

The project, called The NIH Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Study of Normal Brain Development, is looking at things like brain size, memory function, motor skills, language development, and general social skills.

Their focus in this study is only on kids with no health problems. This way, they can pass on the information to people who are trying to figure out why some kids don’t develop normally, who can then compare the “normal” scans and physiological data to that of those kids and study what’s different. Hopefully, we’ll all learn something soon about why the brain can sometimes go haywire in childhood, and whether there is anything we can do to keep it from happening.

If you’re wondering how they got the kids to lie still for the MRI, I read somewhere else that the younger ones are usually scanned while they are sleeping. Trust me – telling most two-year olds to lie down and be still while they’re awake is like asking most puppies to calm down when you come home. That research environment must have been a real trip.

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