Bloggers and researchers weigh in on stress management

A new study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine makes a direct connection between coronary heart disease, diabetes and job burnout. In this instance, "burnout" is defined as a state characterized by emotional exhaustion, fatigue and cognitive weariness. 

To bring about their conclusions, scientists affiliated with Tel Aviv University examined almost 8,900 people, 100 of whom developed coronary heart disease by the end of their three to four year study. Using a scale to determine their levels of burnout, the Tel Aviv team identified that high levels of job burnout increased the chances of having heart disease by 40 percent. Those who were especially burnt out – whose level of burnout were in the top 20 percent – were almost 80 percent more likely to experience heart disease than their more relaxed counterparts.

Following a write up of the study, the Huffington Post published a compilation of other issues related to stress. These include a greater-than-average chance of becoming depressed, problems with sleep and a tendency to have poorer brain health. 

In light of these and other problems related to stress, Huffington Post blogger and stress expert Kate Bratskeir wrote about specific things she used to stress out about, which she has learned to discard in order to improve her personal mental state. These include concerns that might seem superfluous, but nonetheless can weigh on a person's mind, such as a lack of ability to dance well, having less-than perfect vision, not having a clear sense of direction and worrying about what her friends think of her vegetarianism.  Her underlaying thesis may be that a good way to control stress is to have a clear sense of what factors in life can and cannot be controlled. 

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Dementia may be more prevalent than expected

A new presentation from an expert on cognitive function offers the speculation that less than half of Americans with a mental health disorder are aware of their own condition. Brain health, states professor Barbara Sahakian, Ph.D., should be a greater priority among medical professionals and people who closely monitor their own well being. 

"Just as joggers check their pulse rate, we should encourage individuals to regularly keep an eye on the state of their mental health," she states. "Often people wait too long to seek help, making their condition more difficult to treat. We need to educate the public about what to look for and make them aware of the importance of early detection and intervention."

Her statement also explains that issues like depression and anxiety are the primary causes of disability in the U.S., U.K. and Canada. In these three nations, one out of ever four people copes with some form of mental disorder.

Ways in which older individuals could reduce their dementia risk
While there's no way to be completely certain older individuals won't develop any mental disorders, healthy aging has been connected to regular exercise, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and keeping the mind active with lots of social activities and intellectually stimulating hobbies, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart health and brain health may also be closely connected to cognitive function.

Findings were published in the journal Stroke showing that elderly individuals who exercised frequently were 40 percent less likely to develop vascular-related dementia and lightly working out reduced their risk of cognitive impairment by as much as 60 percent. Three years worth of data culled from multiple nations in Europe, including almost 640 individuals in their 60s and 70s, were used to bring about these conclusions. 

Study participants were interviewed about their quality of life and exercise habits throughout the study period and MRI tests were administered to look for signs that their cognitive functioning may be on the way to deterioration. . 

On the website of the American Heart Association, the study's primary author Ana Verdelho, M.D., encouraged that people at risk for age-related dementia undergo at least 30 minutes of physical activity three times a week, especially if they're also at risk for cardiovascular health-related conditions such as high blood pressure or stroke. 

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News sources point to love’s possible health benefits

In light of a certain romantic holiday that falls midway through February, let’s consider one aspect of love that often goes unexamined. Several expert sources note that love may help improve your health.

Take a compilation of possible love-induced health benefits documented by Woman’s Day Magazine. One expert the news provider spoke to – Joseph Hullett, M.D. – recalled a study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed that married couples tend to outlive singles. Although the scientists involved with that study noted that this trend may be related to incidental factors – financial statuses, for example – Woman’s Day doesn’t stop there. Couples who exercise together – be they married or dating – are more likely to meet work out goals they’ve set for themselves, and may exert themselves as much as 15 percent more during their physical activity routine, said fitness professional Jay Cardiello.

Although most pertinently, being in love has long-term benefits for stress management, according to Woman’s Day magazine and numerous other sources.

“Human beings are social animals who have biological drives that make them want to find relationships,” Joseph Hullett, M.D., told the news provider. “When they can’t find those unions, they’re punished with stress.”

Long-term relationships linked to stress reduction
More recently, The Huffington Post reported on a study from Rutgers University, showing that while the initial stages of a relationship can cause individuals more stress than they’re used to, overtime, being in love can lower anxiety.

“What happens in the brain when you love someone is that there’s more activity in the ‘reward’ system,” Helen Fisher, Ph.D., a physical anthropologist and research professor told the news provider. “Your brain floods with dopamine, which gives you focus, energy and optimism and those things can all be good to counter stress.”

Specifically, the researchers examined the levels of cortisol hormones in study subjects. Cortisol is a hormone linked to stress, explains the news source. After the participants who were in new relationships were tested, they were tested again a year later, and once more two years into their relationships. It was found that, while they were more stressed out in the initial stages of their romance, their cortisol continued to drop to below its original level over the next two years.

Some of this stress reduction can be connected to the physical act of love. The Rutgers study indicates that having sex on a regular basis can release endorphins that combat anxiety and depression, as well as reduce blood pressure. Woman’s Day magazine even points to research showing that women’s health can benefit from weekly sex. The news source indicates that a Planned Parenthood study concluded that having sex once a week helps keep menstrual cycles regular.






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Social media linked to weight gain, study finds

Facebook and other social media users have been shown to have increased self-esteem following "likes" or other positive social indicators on their pages, but according to a new study by the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia Business School, these same individuals also tend to have higher body-mass indexes (BMIs) and more credit card debt. Based on further evidence from a study of more than 1,000 U.S. social media users, researchers claim that excessive social media use could lead to weight management problems or others associated with loss of self-control.

The study, published online in the Journal of Consumer Research, found that those with the most credit-card debt and the highest BMIs also tended to have more digital relationships and were more active on their accounts.

For the first part of the study, participants completed surveys indicating their closeness with friends on Facebook. These people were then divided into two groups, based on whether they wrote about their friends on Facebook or about the actual experience of browsing the site. Researchers determined that those who had the closest online social ties also had the highest self-esteem.

A second portion of the study revealed that, while these users were more content with themselves, the effect is only possible when users focus on the information they present to others, as opposed to information that is provided by their friends. Participants who were prompted to focus on the statuses of their friends experienced no change in self-esteem, while those who posted information about their thoughts, feelings or activities were more optimistic about themselves as a result.

"We find that people experience greater self-esteem when they focus on the image they are presenting to strong ties in their social networks," said Keith Wilcox, assistant professor of marketing at Columbia Business School and co-author to the paper. "This suggests that even though people are sharing the same positive information with strong ties and weak ties on social networks, they feel better about themselves when the information is received by strong ties than by weak ties."

Faces on Facebook more memorable
According to another recent study conducted by the University of Warwick, our brains are already primed for remembering Facebook posts as well as we might an in-person conversation with a friend, because our memories are tuned to recognize and store that which can be readily generated. In their study, researchers found that people can remember faces from Facebook posts more strongly than they can human faces or sentences in books, at a magnitude comparable to that of an amnesiac to a healthy control. The authors add that more than 30 million Facebook posts are made each hour.

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Taking a ‘Stop Day’ for better health

In his new book, “24/6: A prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life,” Matthew Sleeth, M.D., has put forth a fresh perspective on work and play that could improve health and stress management.The former emergency room physician claims that a night-and-day web presence and changing workplace expectations have led to a workforce that, even on weekends, isn’t taking the time to unwind and de-stress. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), anxiety can cause widespread health complications as the body releases excessive amounts of the stress hormone cortisol, which suppresses the body’s immune response.

“For almost 2,000 years, Western culture stopped – primarily on Sunday – for about 24 hours,” Sleeth told CNN. “Even when I was a child, you couldn’t buy gasoline, you couldn’t buy milk. The drugstores weren’t open. The only thing that was open was a hospital. Even in dairy farming country, we could milk cows, but we wouldn’t bring in hay.”

Stress varies
In a recent study of childhood anxiety, the CDC outlined three primary forms of stress: positive stress, tolerable stress and toxic stress. Positive stress is a common and short-lived form, occurring in response to isolated instances, like receiving a shot or showing up at a new school for the first time. This kind of stress is considered normal and often productive. Tolerable stress is similarly brief, but is more extreme in presentation. Toxic stress is considered harmful to mental and physical health, lasting over weeks or even years and leading to heightened cortisol levels and, in some cases, further changes in brain chemistry. Toxic stress is particularly dangerous for young children because their brains are still developing.

Doctors are now more frequently asking about stress and depression during regular check-ups, as recent studies have shown these can affect long-term health. According to Sleeth, more people have anxiety and stress disorders than ever before, driven in part by a changing attitude surrounding the workplace. The definition of labor has fundamentally changed over time. Weekends have been typically effective for letting a very physical workforce rest up before returning to more labor. But as more employees perform work activities from home or on mobile devices, some offices have taken away the long-held tradition of the weekend, leading to higher stress levels in the working population.

Short-term hormones like adrenaline can be helpful at times, but they can be constantly turned on when we are stressed for extended periods. Sleeth says that taking a single day of rest, forcing oneself to ignore work emails to focus on personal interests and relaxation, could significantly cut back on anxiety.

What is anxiety?
According to the CDC, anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive and unrealistic worry about everyday tasks or events, and may be specific to certain objects or activities. Phobias can cause anxiety and social fears are among the largest drivers of stress in the workplace and at home. Compulsive behaviors can occur as a result of long-term anxiety, and confronting these could help to curb future panicking.

Having a healthier weekend
During the weekend, we are more apt to binge drink or eat ourselves into miniature food comas, but there are ways to have your cake and eat it, too, without incurring the wrath of extra pounds or poor cardiovascular health. Weekends are a great time to get in that exercise you didn’t have time for during the week, and afterwards, you can enjoy a nice, long nap, away from email or work calls. Limiting alcohol intake and livening up your weekends can be fun and rewarding. You can even spend your extra time coming up with a new health food recipe that could make its way into your lunchbox at work.

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Experts offer tips on keeping your brain healthy

You can always do more to take better care of your brain, even if you haven't been experiencing any memory problems. In fact, a handful of Texas-based researchers have focused their efforts into finding more information on brain health, in order to help brains nationwide stay in better shape.

"The more knowledge we can share about the brain, the more we can empower individuals to take charge of their cognitive health," said Sandra Chapman, Ph.D., of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas (UT).

As an ongoing yearly tradition at UT, Chapman and her associates are planning to host a series of lectures they've titled "The Brain: An Owner's Guide." This year, the speakers will focus on how the brain controls thought and action, decisions and emotions that affect our lives, and how the internet has changed the way brains work.

Chapman also recently published a book on the subject on brain health, titled "Make Your Brain Smarter." In the tome, she presents the theories that aging does not impact brain health the way many people assume it does. In addition, having a good memory may not necessarily mean your brain is in the best shape, according to her findings.

Some suggested vitamins for healthy brains
While scientists continue to advance our knowledge of how the brain works, there a few things some people are already convinced may help improve the brain's overall functioning.

For example, writing for the official website of television health celebrity Dr. Oz, Dr. Rovenia Brock, Ph.D., recommends consuming omega-3 fatty acids, known to be especially present in fish oil for the improvement of brain, joint, eye and heart health. The names of the two omega-3 acids most commonly found in fish oil are called eicosapentaenoic (EPA) acid and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). For people who don't already consume fish frequently, Rovenia encourages them to munch down a 500 milligram (mg) supplement per day. DHA, states Rovenia, is already
present in the brain's nerve cells and additional DHA could aid the brain's development and functionality.

Likewise, the Alzheimer's Prevention and Research Foundation (APRF) notes that omega-3 acid from fish oil could potentially lessen an individual's chances of developing memory loss or dementia during old age. Exercise and consuming additional healthy foods could also reduce chances of brain deterioration.

However, the awareness and research organization provides a handful of other substances a person could consume regularly to help their minds keep fit.

In addition to omega 3….
Next on its list of measures that could help prevent brain deterioration, the APFR lists taking a comprehensive multivitamins on a daily basis. The organization postulates that brain damage has been linked to low blood levels of folic acid. Therefore, a multivitamin for brain health should contain 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid, as well as 500 mg of vitamin C.

The organization also recommends the antioxidant CoEnzyme Q10. It's said that this antioxidant will improve overall energy, especially if an individual is older than 35 years of age. While it occurs naturally in the body, the amount of CoEnzyme Q10 within humans starts to reduce over the years, which results in a loss of energy. In terms of dosage, the APRF says people should take between 200 and 400 mg of the antioxidant. Another antioxidant, alpha lipoic acid, and gingko biloba are also also on the APRF's compilation of potentially brain enhancing supplements.

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Stress reduction important to physical health, studies find

Taking an evening walk or meditating on a park bench could be great ways to curb stress, and according to new research from the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR), stress management may be effective at preventing a host of adverse health conditions. The foundation has since released a line-up of suggestions that could help you to feel healthy while getting in your daily dose of quiet time.

Seasonal weight management
"Stress is a detriment to a healthy lifestyle, and unfortunately it is often a side effect of the holiday season," said NFCR Chief Science Officer Michael Wang, Ph.D.

Research has shown that people tend to get more stressed in the colder months, and may be more likely to overeat or drink too much alcohol around this time of year. Dealing with stress could be a healthy and effective way of managing weight loss in addition to improving overall physical health.

Physical activity isn't only a good way to ensure optimal cardiovascular health, but the Mayo Clinic notes that it also helps reduce stress. When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins that help us to stay focused on a single task and not get distracted by anxiety-ridden thoughts. According to the Clinic, this effect isn't specific to everyday athletes, and those less familiar with regular exercise can still gain some benefits.

Nutrition and diet
Eating unhealthy and fat-laden foods may contribute to feelings of low energy and even anxiety, according to NFCR. Those who plan their diets ahead of time may find that it's not overly difficult to manage a daily routine with a few set health guidelines. Limiting sweets is one simple way to lower fat levels in the bloodstream and help keep cholesterol down. Sweets can also cause problems by juicing up the body in the short term with sugar, giving it a quick burst that results in an energy dip once you're done digesting. Choosing whole grains, fruits and vegetables could help pack the body with antioxidants that can help keep seasonal illness at bay.

Letting go and planning ahead
It can be hard to let go of what irritates us most, but by doing so, we could free our minds up to attend to more important matters and save ourselves hours of worrying and stress-building. NSCF notes that when stressed, writing a list of to-dos could help us to mitigate feelings of being overly burdened. Buying seasonal gifts will also be easier if we plan ahead of time.

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Thermography issues newest lie detector test: your snout

Did you know that when you lie, your nose gets warmer? It's called the Pinocchio effect, and it's one of several discoveries made in a recent study from the University of Granada Department of Experimental Psychology. The department has been among the few to deeply study the subject of body temperature as an indicator of physical and mental well being, finding correlations in brain health as well as stress management.

Uses of Thermography
Thermography is applied to several fields including the construction and medical industries. It has also helped scientists better understand sexual activity and arousal, providing the insight, for instance, that the chest and genital areas both experience an increase of temperature at the time. University of Granada researchers Emilio Gomez Milan, Ph.D., and Elvira Salazar Lopez, Ph.D., also demonstrated during their study that, physiologically, men and women become stimulated at about the same frequency throughout the day.

Beyond this, researchers determined that thermography is an important indicator of mental wellness, providing information about how difficult a mental task might be as well as when someone may be lying or experiencing stress.

Thermographic cameras, invented during World War II as night vision to detect enemy soldiers, also help to measure energy loss in buildings as well as determine whether bovine have respiratory disorders or raccoons have rabies, according to the University of Granada.

In conditions that limit the body's ability to regulate its own temperature, thermographic imagery can be applied to determine healthy bodily functioning. It can also be used to assess overall body temperature and observe blood flow.

Emotional analysis
Because the face lights up with patterns that pair to specific kinds of thoughts and feelings, thermography can be used to identify emotional states. When an empathetic person sees someone experiencing an electric charge, for instance, researchers observed very particular patterns in their faces that indicated suffering, and the temperature in the forearms appeared to increase as well.

The American College of Clinical Thermology recommends thermographic imaging for early screenings of several diseases already, and scientists may one day be able to use the field to diagnose certain ailments. Firms like Clinical Thermography in D.C. have performed hundreds of individual tests and the field appears to be expanding as the uses of thermography become more apparent.

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Mother’s vitamin C deficiency may hurt fetus

Soon-to-be mothers should keep a careful eye on their vitamin C levels, as recent research from the University of Copenhagen shows that fetuses may experience damage to brain health when their mothers have insufficient levels of the nutrient. The research was published in an online issue of the journal PLOS ONE and joins with other studies from the University of Pittsburgh and The Mount Sinai Bone Program suggesting that optimal vitamin C consumption could improve bone health.

Deficiency is widespread
The University of Copenhagen study found that between 10 and 20 percent of adults worldwide are vitamin C deficient. Researchers determined that even marginal deficiency can stunt the fetal hippocampus by 10 to 15 percent.

"We used to think that the mother could protect the baby," said Jens Lykkesfeldt, lead researcher and professor in the University of Copenhagen's Department of Veterinary Disease Biology. "Ordinarily there is a selective transport from mother to fetus of the substances the baby needs during pregnancy. However, it now appears that the transport is not sufficient in the case of vitamin C deficiency." Lykkesfeldt adds that the inability of the mother's body to protect the infant from certain forms of distress necessitates that mothers and caretakers pay close attention to diet and nutrition during early development.

Research found that damage to the fetal brain was not reversible. In a test with guinea pigs, scientists noted that doses of the vitamin immediately following birth and for two months thereafter had no regenerative effects. Researchers are still trying to figure out how early in pregnancy vitamin C deficiency affects fetal health.

Study conclusions
According to Lykkesfeldt, certain groups are affected more severely by vitamin C deficiency, including those who smoke and those who eat poorly. He adds that children born to vitamin C deficient mothers are at risk for lower memory capacities, but that varied diets can help mothers to prevent this. Supplements are also good ways to ensure mothers have good numbers across the board when it comes to key vitamins and minerals.

During pregnancy
There are many factors that can affect infant health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that mothers supplement their diets with folic acid, which helps prevent birth defects, and suggests that they review vaccinations to ensure they are up to date. Smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages during pregnancy has also been proven harmful. The CDC adds that a mother's blood pressure during pregnancy can directly influence the child's future blood pressure average, suggesting that mothers should keep their blood pressure under control during this time.

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Chocolate intake linked to prevalence of Nobel Laureates

Eat chocolate and get the Nobel Prize? Well, not exactly. According to research from Kings College London and the Wellcome Trust, countries with the highest chocolate intake per capita also have higher numbers of Nobel Prize winners.

No, this does not mean that chocolate inherently makes you smarter. That said, there is some evidence to suggest that cocoa may have positive effects on health and memory, so read on before throwing that bar in the trash.

Population study
The United States population is larger than that of most countries, and boasts a high number of Nobel Laureates. But while Americans eat a lot of chocolate, it may not be the right kind boost cognitive function, according to the London study.

If chocolate had a home, it would be Switzerland. According to the study, the Swiss eat 120 85-ounce chocolate bars per capita annually. While many countries, the United States included, often add milk dilution, Switzerland rarely does so, leaving its chocolate with higher levels of flavonoids, the key ingredients thought to provide chocolate with its "super-food" qualities.

Sweden was an odd exception in the study, producing more than twice as many Nobel Prize winners as expected based on its chocolate consumption of 6.4kg per capita annually. Researchers pointed out that while this may have minor health implications, the information is skewed because the Nobel Committee is Scandinavian, which could make it harder for Swedes to be awarded.

One explanation for the study's results could be that chocolate may improve cognitive performance, but another explanation might be that complex economies have more access to education and workforce resources, and that these economies also tend to have more access to chocolate, too.  The future will tell if chocolate truly holds a place among the century's super foods, but in the meantime, let's work with what we know.

Health effects
Dietary flavonoids have been shown to improve cognitive performance in animals, and the evidence is strong that they may do the same for humans. Dark chocolate is high in potassium, copper, magnesium and iron. Copper and potassium are thought to improve heart health, and iron and magnesium are thought to help regulate blood pressure. In addition, dark chocolate is high in dietary fiber and thought to help reduce "bad" cholesterol.

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