Archived Articles - December 2015


Light therapy may alleviate depression, aside from winter blues
    Dec-01-2015

For long, people have been using light therapy with a view to lift mood, especially those getting blues when days are shorter and darker. Now, a study undertaken by researchers in Canada has suggested that light therapy can also be used for treating non-seasonal depression.

Findings of the study published in JAMA Psychiatry note that these days, depression is among the most widespread mental health disorders throughout the world and is mainly responsible for disability as well as deteriorating quality of life.

Several get relief from depression through psychotherapy or medication, but these are not effective for all and there are some patients who do not continue with their treatment owing to the adverse side effects or the problem in either accessing or being able to afford the treatments.

Dr. Raymond Lam, lead study author, who is from the University of British Columbia, noted that their study was the first to reveal that only undergoing light therapy is effective in opposition to a placebo. Moreover, this was the first study to evaluate the effects of only light therapy and using a combination of light and drugs.

Dr. Lam added that combining light therapy with drugs was found to be most useful in treating depression. Nevertheless, some patients prefer treatment without medication first and may opt for light therapy, he said.

Dr. Lam and his colleagues randomly divided 122 patients in four groups - only light, only medication, light therapy and a combination of light and drugs or a control group that was not given any active treatment, for eight weeks to evaluate the usefulness of light therapy for people suffering from non-seasonal depression.

Those who received active treatments during the study were given fluoxetine (Prozac) in dosage of 20 mg daily in addition to being exposed to a fluorescent light box for 30 minutes soon after they woke up every morning.

Another group received only light therapy and a placebo (inactive pill), while a third group of patients were given drug treatment along with normal light from an ineffective device in place of an active light box. On the other hand, those in the control group were given a placebo pill along with light from the same ineffective device.

At the beginning of their study, the researchers gave their subjects a standard questionnaire with a view to evaluate how severe the patients' depression was. The participants were asked about their inner tension, unhappiness, lessened sleep, reduced appetite, problems in concentrating, absence of energy, lack of feelings and even negative or suicidal thoughts.

Those suffering from most relentless depression were given the highest score - 60, while, at the beginning of the study, the average score of the participants was between 26 and 27 pointing to restrained depression.

At the end of eight weeks, it was found that patients in the group who were given both medication as well as light therapy experienced the maximum decline in depression scores - the drop was 16.9 points.

On average, the depression score decline among patients who only received light therapy was 13.4 points, while those receiving only medication showed average drop of 8.8 points and patients in the control group receiving just ineffective treatments experiences a decline of 6.5 points.

Since the researchers are yet to ascertain the precise reason for decrease in depression due to light therapy, they assumed that this treatment may have helped to reset the brain's biological clock (scientifically termed as circadian rhythms).

Nevertheless, this study had a shortcoming - the researchers did not provide data regarding the duration for which the subjects were exposed to natural light during their study. The authors have acknowledged this shortcoming. It is assumed that exposing the participants to higher dosage of light therapy or medication may have made a greater impact.

Dr. Teodor Postolache, a psychiatrist and researcher associated with the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, observed that it has been generally seen that when low dosage of antidepressants fail to produce the desired results, clinicians increase the dosage gradually to achieve the amount of medication needed to alleviate the symptoms. Dr. Postolache did not have any involvement with the study.

Dr. Postolache noted that light therapy may prove to be an appropriate agent when used together with medications and is likely to make the reaction to the therapy further complete. At the same time, he advised people suffering from depression not to purchase light therapy devices on their own and include it in their treatment with antidepressants.

According to Sue Penckofer, a scientist associated with the Chicago-based Loyola University, who was also not associated with the study, the optimal time for considering light therapy during the course of a patient's treatment would largely depend on the harshness of the symptoms.

Penckofer recommended that people suffering from more mild depression may first try light therapy. However, if they are enduring more moderate or severe depression, they should first opt for medicine.

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Acupuncture, Alexander Technique can relieve chronic neck pain significantly
    Dec-07-2015

Findings of a large-scale study undertaken by University of York researchers have revealed that using acupuncture and Alexander Technique may provide considerable relief from chronic neck pain.

Those suffering from chronic neck pain know how excruciating the condition is. They are also aware that it is very difficult to treat this condition. Findings of studies undertaken earlier have shown that generally no single intervention is effective enough to offer long-term benefits from chronic neck pain. Recently, researchers at the University of York's Department of Health Sciences evaluated the various benefits of acupuncture and Alexander Technique lessons. They came to the conclusion that this treatment method continued for a period of 12 months helped to lessen the pain and disability associated with the condition in comparison to just providing usual care.

Findings of the study by these York researchers were carried in Annals of Internal Medicine and it said that the researchers engaged 517 patients from GP practices in York, Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester. These participants were arbitrarily separated into three different groups. One group was given the usual care in addition to as many as 20 30-minute lessons on Alexander's technique by Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique, while practitioners from the British Council provided members of another group with 12 sessions of acupuncture founded on the traditional medical theory plus the normal care. Each of these 12 acupuncture sessions lasted for 50 minutes. The third group of participants was only provided with the usual care.

These interventions were given to the participants in the initial four to five months. On the other hand, the usual care provided to the participants in all the three groups comprised prescribed medicines as well as visits to physiotherapists, GPs and other healthcare specialists.

The findings of the York researchers revealed that the pain of the participants who received acupuncture treatment experienced 32 percent less pain after 12 months, while those who took Alexander Technique experienced 31 percent less pain after the same period.

When compared to only the usual care, it was found that the reductions in pain due to acupuncture or Alexander Technique lessons were considerably satisfactory. In addition, it was also found that patients suffering from chronic neck pain in the last two groups were able to deal with or reduce their intensity of pain better even without taking medications.

According to a Senior Research Fellow at the University of York's Department of Health Sciences, Dr. Hugh MacPherson, the main findings of their study showed that chronic neck pain patients who underwent acupuncture and Alexander Technique lessons for a duration of 12 months experienced significant decrease in their problems. Considering the fact that this is the first time there is clear evidence that acupuncture and Alexander Technique have been able to provide relief from chronic neck pain for a longer period, the findings of the researchers at University of York are definitely very significant.

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Potato extract helps to avoid weight gain
    Dec-16-2015

Findings of a study recently undertaken by scientists at the McGill University and carried in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research have revealed that extracts from the common potato may prove to be an effective measure to put off weight gain.

According to researcher Luis Agellon, they were surprised by the findings of their study. At first they could not believe their findings and undertook the experiments again employing a separate batch of potato extract. In order to be certain, this time the potatoes used were those that were grown in a different season.

The aforementioned study was jointly funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canada Foundation for Innovation as well as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Potato extracts loaded with polyphenols

During their course of the study, the researchers provided mice with a diet meant for increasing obesity. This diet was fed for 10 weeks and it comprised refined carbohydrates and elevated amounts of fats. According to expectations, on average, the mice gained 64 percent of their weight. On the other hand, a group of mice that were fed a diet promoting obesity along with potato extract were found to have gained only 28 percent weight, which was less than half the average weight added by mice only feeding on obesity promoting diet.

The findings of this study are important considering the fact that they hint at potato extract's ability to prevent obesity. In fact, obesity is considered to be a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, type-2 diabetes and even cancer.

According to the researchers at the McGill University, the benefits offered by potato extracts may be attributed to the elevated amounts of polyphenols contained by them. Polyphenols are actually chemicals derived from plants and they have been associated with numerous health benefits.

Lead study author Stan Kubow is of the view that contrary to the common belief that red vine forms the main source of polyphenols in the well known and highly nutritious French diet, it is actually potatoes that contribute to its major polyphenol content. Even in North America, potatoes are the third main source of polyphenols and they are considered more important than the well-liked blueberries vis-à-vis polyphenol content.

Kubow went on to explain that potatoes are not only inexpensive to produce; several cultures have already incorporated them as a part of their diet since time immemorial. He added that during their study they opted for a cultivated potato variety that is consumed by people in Canada and contains elevated levels of polyphenols.

Currently, the researchers are looking forward to make this potato extract commercially in the form of a dietary supplement or may be a culinary ingredient for people who are keen to shed some extra body weight. They are now trying to find partners in the food industry to fund further clinical trials with the potato extract.

According to Kubow, as many as 30 potatoes are needed to extract the daily dose needed by an individual. At the same time, he cautioned that they do not necessarily advise people trying to lose weight to consume 30 potatoes daily, since doing so would mean accumulating a very large number of calories in the body.

Potato extracts may help to lose weight

Scientific proof regarding consumption of potato extracts continue to emerge, despite the reputation of this vegetable as a bane of people enduring diabetes. Besides, there is a general conception that consumption of potatoes is not suitable for people undergoing or plan to undergo weight loss plans.

Meanwhile, another lead researcher of a study involving potatoes and their effect on weight loss, Dr. Britt Burton-Freeman, PhD, commented that many people have raised doubts regarding potatoes' role in weight loss programs as this vegetable has a high glycemic index. This study was undertaken by the Davis-situated University of California jointly with the Illinois Institute of Technology and the findings of the study were carried in the October 2014 edition of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

Dr. Burton-Freeman, however, stated that the findings of their study have only corroborated what various nutrition experts and health professionals have been saying for years. Precisely speaking, it does not mean that one has to eliminate a specific food or any food groups to lose weight. Instead, it is all about lessening the intake of calories, she clarified.

During the course of their study, the researchers at the McGill University randomly divided the adult overweight participants into three groups - two either receiving high-glycemic-index or low-glycemic-index (reduced calorie) diets and the third belonging to a control group without any dietary restrictions. Participants from all these three groups were asked to ingest anything between five and seven potato servings every week. These participants were given potatoes as well as a number of healthy recipes for their preparation.

At the end of 12 weeks, it was found that participants in all three groups had lost considerable weight and the amount of weight lost by participants in all these groups was more or less the same.

According to Burton-Freeman, although this does not offer any proof that healthily prepared potato recipes result in weight gain. On the contrary, she said that they are now looking into the means by which consumption of potatoes or potato extracts can help in promoting weight loss.

In addition to the potential weight losing benefits offered by potatoes, this vegetable is also a very wholesome food. If you consume potatoes also with their skin, a 5.3 oz or medium sized potato will supply you with nearly 45 percent of your body's daily requirement of vitamin C. Aside from this vital vitamin, potatoes also provide us with more potassium compared to a banana.

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New study suggests sunlight, fish oil aid in curing psychiatric disorders
    Dec-22-2015

Findings of a recent study have suggested that serotonin, a neurotransmitter, may perhaps be one of the major means which aid the omega-3 fatty acids as well as vitamin D to augment our mental health. This was hinted by a scientific paper authored by scientists at the Oakland Research Institute's Children's Hospital and carried recently in the FASEB medical journal.

Referring to their findings, researcher Rhonda Patrick remarked that in their paper they have clarified the manner in which serotonin is actually a vital modulator of several aspects, including impulse control, executive functions, sensory gating as well as pro-social behaviour of an individual. She further stated that they have associated production of serotonin and its function to vitamin D as well as omega-3 fatty acids, thereby suggesting one mechanism by which these vital micronutrients facilitate the brain in functioning normally as well as affect the manner in which we behave.

From depression to schizophrenia

Currently, researchers are busy trying to discover the numerous mechanisms by which vitamin D as well as omega-3 fatty acids help our cognitive and emotional health. In fact, both these essential micronutrients have been associated with putting off psychiatric disorders and also improving the psychiatric symptoms. In addition, they are said to be responsible for improving the cognitive functioning as well as behaviour in people enduring specific disorders related to the brain.

In fact, the findings of another study carried in the September 2014 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences discovered that vitamin D may be useful in the recycling of neurotransmitters in a region of the brain that is accountable for learning as well as memory, thereby aiding in holding back any cognitive decline. Findings of yet another study that was carried in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism in 2014 discovered that any deficiency of vitamin D may increase the chances of developing schizophrenia by two-fold.

Aside from this research, various other studies have also related presence of elevated levels of omega-3 with improved mood and simultaneously lower incidences of psychological disorders. An all inclusive research review carried in the 2010 edition of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry discovered that taking omega-3 supplements improved the symptoms of depression considerably in patients who endured anxiety and did not respond to treatment with anti-depressants.

When our body comes in contact with sunlight, it produces vitamin D naturally. On the other hand, omega-3 acids are found in a wide assortment of foods, especially fish oils.

The serotonin connection

Even as there is mounting proof of omega-3 acids and vitamin D being beneficial for the normal functioning of the brain, scientists are yet to ascertain the mechanisms of these benefits. Findings of an earlier study by researchers in Oakland found that vitamin D facilitates regulation of serotonin synthesis from the amino acid called tryptophan. In yet another research paper, the scientists observed that it may be an indication that there is a link between children with poor levels of vitamin D being susceptible to developing autism.

In a research paper published very recently, the authors have talked about the manner in which serotonin is supposed to play a vital role in various cognitive diseases, such as social behaviour, decision making, mood and impulses. Low levels of serotonin may have a role in conditions related to the brain - in various diverse conditions like mood disorders (both depression as well as bipolar disorder), autism, schizophrenia and even attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD).

The authors of the paper observed that during their study they found the omega-3 eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) lowered the activity of inflammatory signalling molecules in the brain called E2 series prostaglandins that slow down the release of serotonin. Hence, they concluded that EPA not only lessens inflammation related to a variety of brain diseases, but also enhances the levels of serotonin. In addition, one more omega-3 acid known as DHA or docosahexaenoic acid was found to enhance the fluidity of the cell membranes close to the neuron synapse, thereby augmenting their efficacy in utilizing serotonin.

Aside from vitamin D's role in producing serotonin, this nutrient also aids in regulating the expression of roughly 1,000 different genes in our body.

The findings of these studies have hinted that growing vitamin D levels, for instance via more exposure to sunlight, and omega-3 acids may possibly have a crucial role in lessening the incidences as well as the harshness of a variety of diseases related to the brain.

According to researcher Bruce Ames, deficiency of vitamin D, which is transformed into a steroid hormone in the brain and helps to regulate approximately 1,000 genes, is very common among the residents in the United States. Similarly, deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids are also widespread, he noted.

At the same time, the researchers noted that one of the main benefits of such an approach is that all these nutrients usually do not have any adverse side effect.


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