Archive for March, 2011

Managing Work-Life Balance by Taking a Step Back

Posted by on Thursday, 31 March, 2011

By RICK NAUERT PHD


As the pace of life escalates, many find themselves with conflicting demands and increased stress from work, home and — if a high school, college or graduate student — the classroom.

One strategy to deal with the stress is to take a step back and withdraw.

Researchers say this is not all bad as a momentary break. Self-reflection could do us all a world of good.

“People need to ask themselves, ‘What roles do I play?’ and ‘Are these roles working for me?’” said Dr. Julie McCarthy, associate professor of organizational behavior at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC).

“And if they’re not working, we then need to ask, ‘What are the strategies I’m using to make things better?’”

In her latest study, McCarthy worked with Tracy Hecht of Concordia University to look at how undergraduate students with jobs outside of school attempted to achieve balance.

The researchers looked at three strategies often used to deal with opposing demands on time, attention and energy: solution-driven active engagement (problem-focused), venting to others (emotion-focused) or ignoring those problems altogether and distracting ourselves with other activities (avoidance-focused).

While the problem-focused approach is traditionally viewed as the best of the three, McCarthy and Hecht’s research found that strategy could actually cause more problems as a result of stress, over-exhaustion and lack of recovery time. “People need time to refocus in order to learn or study well,” said McCarthy.

The most surprising conclusion had to do with the third coping mechanism: avoidance. When the student participants simply set aside some of their issues for a while, they actually experienced a reduction in conflict between life roles.

“This technique is traditionally seen as ‘running away from your problems’,” said McCarthy. “But maybe by backing off and taking breaks, students are able to replenish their resources.”

Feeling drained leads to lower levels of satisfaction with life and higher rates of burnout, depression and ill-health.

And while playing multiple roles can be stimulating, interesting and lead to a sense of accomplishment and achievement, McCarthy said there are real risks we need to be aware of.

“People need to assess which strategies they’re using to cope with their problems and make sure they’re making time for resource recovery,” she said.

“Too many roles can be detrimental unless we begin asking ourselves honest, pointed questions.”

Source PsychCentral


Infants Have High Nicotine Levels When They Sleep With Parents Who Smoke

Posted by on Wednesday, 30 March, 2011

By Christopher Fisher, PhD


“Third-hand smoke” stuck to skin or clothing is responsible for the high nicotine levels seen in babies who share a bedroom with their smoker parents. This is the conclusion of a study carried out in Catalonia, which also shows that ventilating bedrooms is not effective in reducing the levels of toxins from passive smoking.The original article is open access; check the end of this report for a download link.

“Passive smoking is the leading preventable cause of childhood death in developed countries”, Guadalupe Ortega, lead author of the research study and coordinator of the Atenció Primària Sense Fum programme at the Department of Health of the Generalitat de Cataluña (Catalonia regional government) tells SINC.

The data show that babies who sleep in the same room as their parents exhibit nicotine levels three times higher than those that sleep in another room. These figures show that they suffer from what is known as “third-hand smoke,” – in other words the harmful smoke particles that impregnate their parents’ skin, clothes, and hair.

Known as BIBE (Brief Intervention in Babies. Effectiveness) “the study highlights exposure to tobacco smoke among this very vulnerable age group in private spaces, where no specific programs are yet in place”, says Ortega.

The study, published in BMC Public Health, the results of which are currently being studied, involved the participation of 96 primary healthcare centres in Catalonia. The experts interviewed the parents of 1,123 babies (under 18 months of age), who had at least one smoking parent. They analyzed hair samples from 252 babies in order to determine their nicotine levels, and carried out follow-up visits three and six months later.

The parents’ statements largely coincided with the results obtained from the hair analysis – 73% of the adults said they smoked or allowed smoking in their homes, while 83% of the hair analysed showed up high nicotine levels.

The myth of ventilation
The hair nicotine analyzes also showed that smoke toxins are not eliminated even if parents regularly carry out actions to protect their children’s health. This was the case with ventilating bedrooms after smoking, smoking at the window, or when the baby is not in the house or in a different room. “The only way of keeping the place smoke-free is to smoke outside the house,” the expert stresses.

The study also shows that parents’ influence varies according to their gender. As mothers generally spend most time with babies, it is they who expose their children to the greatest levels of tobacco smoke. They were also found to breast feed for less time than non-smoking mothers.

Anti-smoking law helps children
According to the study, children are most heavily exposed to smoke in private places, such as at home and in cars, as well as in bars and cafés, where smoking was allowed in 2009 (when the fieldwork was carried out).

“The tightening of the law to control smoking is important because of its indirect effect on raising awareness among the public at large”, the researcher explains. In her opinion, the application of this law has led to an increase in people requesting help to give up smoking.

The experts are now preparing a study to identify the factors that most strongly influence children’s exposure to smoke. This information will provide paediatricians with a scale to help them detect the risk of passive smoking in childhood.

Source The Behavioral Medicine Report


Genetic Link to Suicide Attempts

Posted by on Tuesday, 29 March, 2011

By RICK NAUERT PHD


A new research study of thousands of people with bipolar disorder suggests genetic risk factors may play a prominent role in the decision to attempt suicide.

Knowledge of the genetic factor may lead to better suicide prevention efforts by providing new directions for research and drug development.

Johns Hopkins scientists, reporting in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, identified a small region on chromosome 2 that is associated with increased risk for attempted suicide.

This small region contains four genes, including the ACP1 gene, and the researchers found more than normal levels of the ACP1 protein in the brains of people who had committed suicide.

This protein is thought to influence the same biological pathway as lithium, a medication known to reduce the rate of suicidal behavior.

“We have long believed that genes play a role in what makes the difference between thinking about suicide and actually doing it,” said study leader Virginia L. Willour, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Willour and her colleagues studied DNA samples from nearly 2,700 adults with bipolar disorder, 1,201 of them with a history of suicide attempts and 1,497 without.

They found that those with one copy of a genetic variant in the region of chromosome 2 where ACP1 is located were 1.4 times more likely to have attempted suicide, and those with two copies were almost three times as likely.

Willour and her colleagues were able to replicate their findings in another group of samples: This one made up of DNA from more than 3,000 people with bipolar disorder.

By using only DNA from people with bipolar disorder, the researchers say they were able to control for mental illness and focus in on what may cause one group to attempt suicide and another to control those urges.

Suicide is estimated to kill 1.4 percent of the U.S. population, and roughly 4.6 percent of the population has attempted suicide at least once, Willour said. Among people with bipolar disorder, 47 percent think about killing themselves while 25 percent actually try to do it, she says.

Willour said the next steps are to replicate these findings and to determine the exact biological mechanisms through which these genetic risk factors increase the risk for suicidal behavior.

“What’s promising are the implications of this work for learning more about the biology of suicide and the medications used to treat patients who may be at risk,” Willour said.

“Not everyone with bipolar disorder can take lithium because of its side effects. If we could give them another option, that would be fantastic.”

Source PsychCentral


Tylenol and the War on Drugs

Posted by on Monday, 28 March, 2011

By Kurt Harris, M.D.


Many years ago after a surgical procedure I was given a prescription for Vicodin, which is the brand name combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Hydrocodone is an opioid analgesic – related to morphine and heroin – and acetaminophen is the generic name for tylenol. There was not (and still is not) a version of hydrocodone all by itself – you can only get the two in combination.

The toxicity of acetaminophen to your liver is well known. Currently some 38% of cases of acute liver failure are due to acetaminophen ingestion. You can get liver failure from taking 15 extra strength tylenol (containing 500 milligrams of acetaminophen) a day or from as few as 4 if you have liver damage from alcohol. This liver failure is insidious. Once it starts, it can quickly progress to the point where you feel fine but will be dead in a matter of days unless you have a liver transplant. By the time you feel desperately ill, it may be too late. If you have overdosed on tylenol and have abdominal pain, you need to get yourself to an emergency room quickly.

I remember being annoyed that in order to get effective pain relief I was being forced to take a liver toxin that added little to the pain relieving efficacy of the opiate. I speculated to my wife that there was probably more injury and death occurring from the acetaminophen than the “dangerous narcotic” in the Vicodin.

Now it looks like the FDA has recognized the same thing that was casually obvious to a radiologist more than 10 years ago. As recreational drug users and addicts seek Vicodin for it’s narcotic benefits, and regular folks have acute pain, they are increasingly suffering inadvertent liver toxicity from acetaminophen, contributing to the 40,000 Emergency room visits per year related to acute liver injury.

From this article in the Wall Street Journal January 13, 2011:

Federal health regulators are restricting the amount of acetaminophen in prescription painkillers such as Vicodin and Percocet because of concerns that acetaminophen overdoses are linked to thousands of cases of liver damage in recent years.

The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday it will ask manufacturers to limit acetaminophen used in combination prescription drugs to 325 milligrams. The agency is also asking drug makers to add the strongest warning-a black box-to their labels about the possibility of severe liver damage.

What has all this to do with the war on drugs?

In the early days of the misguided, counterproductive and massively expensive “war on drugs”, Richard Nixon signed the Drug Control Act that established “schedules” that doctors and patients must deal with today. The schedules range from IV to I, in order of their “abuse potential”.

Just don’t get confused and think that this had something to do with safety. Toxic chemotherapy agents, the blood thinner warfarin and many other very dangerous drugs are not on the schedule at all, but pretty much any drug someone might take at a party is.

It was decided that drugs should be made more difficult to obtain based on their potential for “abuse”. In keeping with the moralistic and authoritarian origins of all this, “abuse” means “getting high” and has little to do with how dangerous the given drug is to your health. Some drugs, like cannabis, are schedule I and legally unavailable to anyone in most states. Does anyone really think cannabis is deadlier than Jim Beam?

This is how you end up with an unnecessary liver toxin in your narcotic. The government figures it has a lower potential for abuse because you will be dissuaded from taking enough of it to “get high’ by the potential for hepatotoxicity due to the added acetaminophen! The manufacturer quite naturally responds to the perverse incentives of the Drug Control Act by adding the acetaminophen to get a schedule III classification. This makes it less onerous for the prescribing physician, and easier for the patient, resulting in greater sales for the drug company.

Make the potential party drug more toxic so it is less likely to be “abused”.

In case you think my reasoning on this is overly cynical, have you ever purchased denatured alcohol at the hardware store? This is ethanol – the same kind found in your gin and tonic – which has been purposefully engineered to kill you if you drink it. “Denatured” implies there has been some chemical alteration of the alcohol, but in fact it is just intentionally contaminated with toxic industrial solvents like methanol or acetone.

The manufacturer goes to extra effort and expense to add poison for the sole purpose of escaping burdensome government regulation and taxation. And the government dissuades you from getting high with a legal drug by threatening you with death.

Still doubt that your government might be willing to burn the village in order to save it?

Read an article by Deborah Blum of Slate called The Chemist’s War.

Here are some excerpts:

It was Christmas Eve 1926, the streets aglitter with snow and lights, when the man afraid of Santa Claus stumbled into the emergency room at New York City’s Bellevue Hospital…

Before hospital staff realized how sick he was-the alcohol-induced hallucination was just a symptom-the man died. So did another holiday partygoer. And another. As dusk fell on Christmas, the hospital staff tallied up more than 60 people made desperately ill by alcohol and eight dead from it. Within the next two days, yet another 23 people died in the city from celebrating the season…..

Frustrated that people continued to consume so much alcohol even after it was banned, federal officials had decided to try a different kind of enforcement. They ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States, products regularly stolen by bootleggers and resold as drinkable spirits. The idea was to scare people into giving up illicit drinking. Instead, by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people….

So I am glad the FDA is finally realizing what is going on, but it’s too bad they don’t address the true source of the problem, which is Prohibition II – the absurd war on drugs, the “schedule” and the perverse incentives such attempts at control always create.

Your government is determined to protect you from too much fun, even if it kills you.

Source Psychology Today


Effects Of Stress And Pollution Passed To Future Generations Through Epigenetic DNA Changes

Posted by on Saturday, 26 March, 2011


When the Human Genome Project ended a decade ago, scientists thought that they had closed the lid on all that is to be known about our genes. But what they really did was open a Pandora’s Box, says theoretical evolutionary biologist Prof. Eva Jablonka of Tel Aviv University’s Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas.

After sifting through hundreds of scientific studies concerned with epigenetics, Prof. Jablonka concludes that some of the effects of stress, cancer, and other chronic diseases we suffer from may be passed on to our offspring through deep and complicated underlying cellular mechanisms that we are just now beginning to understand.

Prof. Jablonka will discuss her findings at an epigenetics conference in North Carolina later this month.

The invisible threat
Epigenetic research suggests that the effects of stress and environmental pollution can be passed on to future generations without any obvious change or mutation in our DNA. The problem, Prof. Jablonka points out, is that we have no idea of the extent these effects will have on the human genome of the future.

“I am a story teller. I read a lot of information and develop theories about evolution. For the last 25 years, before it became a fad, I was interested in the transmission of information not dependent on DNA variations,” Dr. Jablonka says. “Epigenetic inheritance is information about us that is not explicitly encoded in our genes. Two individuals may have identical genes, but the genes present very different characteristics. They can be genetically identical but different epigenetically.”

In a 2009 paper for the Quarterly Review of Biology, Prof. Jablonka wrote about cellular epigenetic inheritance and explored some of the consequences of such inheritance for the study of evolution, also pointing to the importance of recognizing and understanding epigenetic inheritance for practical and theoretical issues in biology. She has since concluded that individuals can influence their heredity.

After reviewing the literature, she has found more than 100 examples of living organisms, from bacteria to human beings, demonstrating how our genes’ expression can be altered and inherited.

“Stress is enormously important,” Prof. Jablonka says. “It can affect the development of cancer and other chronic diseases, and may also have long term impacts on ecology.” At the conclusion of the Human Genome Project, researchers hoped that the findings would provide relief from several diseases. “What they weren’t prepared for,” she continues, “is that genes really do so many things, and that gene expression patterns can be heritable. We can learn some things about diseases from our DNA, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.”

Is environmental pollution irreversible?
Stress can create near invisible effects on gene expression, effects that can be passed from mother or father to child. Some of this operates through microRNA, tiny RNA discovered about a decade ago, which work as cellular “micro-managers.” In addition, a process called DNA methylation alters gene function. Various processes “hidden” in chromosomes within the cells appear to be influenced by lifestyle and disease.

As a result, Prof. Jablonka advises that it might be prudent to reconsider all the environmental pollutants being introduced into the planet’s ecosystems. Some pesticides and fungicides are androgen suppressors and have many effects on gene expression — and these effects can be inherited. Whether and how future generations can endure with these altered gene functions are still open questions, she says.

Source The Behavioral Medicine Report