People who wish to look after their heart health are aware that regularly eating vegetables is key.

A new study from Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Joondalup, WA, in Australia finds that leafy greens and other vegetables high in nitrates in particular confer significant cardiovascular benefits.

Researchers found that daily consumption of a cup of vegetables rich in nitrates is associated with better heart health.

“Our results have shown that, by simply eating 1 cup of raw (or half a cup of cooked) nitrate-rich vegetables each day, people may be able to significantly reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.”

– lead author Dr. Catherine Bondonno from ECU’s Institute for Nutrition Research

Green leafy vegetables high in nitrates include spinach, lettuce, arugula (also known as rocket), Chinese cabbage, and parsley. Non-leafy vegetables with strong nitrate content include radishes, fennel, and beet.

The researchers estimate that cooking reduces a vegetable’s nitrate content by about 50%, but that is still enough to promote heart health.

Dr. Bondonno said, “The greatest reduction in risk was for peripheral artery disease — 26% — a type of heart disease characterized by the narrowing of blood vessels of the legs. However,” she added, “we also found people had a lower risk of heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure.”

The authors note that their findings are consistent with four earlier studies.

Worldwide, roughly 17.9 million people die of heart disease each year. In the United States, it is the leading cause of death for “men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About 655,000 people in the U.S. die of heart disease every year — one out of every four deaths in the country.

The study appears in the European Journal of Epidemiology.

A long-term study

The researchers analyzed 23 years of data for 56,468 residents of Denmark who participated in the Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health Study. All individuals filled out a food frequency questionnaire, and the resulting data was cross-referenced against public health records.

Analysis revealed that people in the highest fifth of intake of vegetable nitrates exhibited a 2.58 mm Hg, or millimeters of mercury, lower systolic blood pressure — which is the first value in a blood pressure reading — compared with those in the lowest intake group (after adjustments for possible confounding differences between the groups).

The higher the nitrate intake, the greater the fall in blood pressure. The top intake group ate an average of 141 milligrams (mg) of nitrate per day. This is equivalent to 2–2.5 cups of leafy vegetables daily.

In contrast, the impact of nitrate intake on hospitalizations across all types of cardiovascular disease (CVD) plateaued at 59 mg per day. It did not increase with further nitrate intake.

Overall, there was a 15% reduction in CVD admissions over the 23 years of follow-up, compared with those with the lowest nitrate intake, which was 23 gm per day. The greatest reduction in risk — at 26% — was seen in hospitalizations for peripheral artery disease.

Speaking to Medical News TodayDr. Edo Paz of K Health, who was not involved in the research, said he considers the study significant due to its large sample size and lengthy follow-up period.

“However,” he noted, “this is an observational study, and there are some key limitations as a result.” He explained:

“In particular, it is highly likely that people who eat vegetables have other healthy behaviors that are different than those people who do not eat vegetables. For instance, these participants may be more likely to maintain a healthy weight, exercise more, smoke less, etc. Even though the authors try to account for these variables, this is still a key limitation inherent to observational studies in general.” – Dr. Edo Paz

Just a cup

The study suggests that the equivalent of a cup of raw or half a cup of cooked green leafy vegetables of this kind a day is just about the right amount for long-term heart health. “We did not see further benefits in people who ate higher levels of nitrate-rich vegetables,” said Dr. Bondonno.

“People don’t need to be taking supplements to boost their nitrate levels,” Dr. Bondonno said, “because the study showed that one cup of leafy green vegetables each day is enough to reap the benefits for heart disease.

Dr. Paz told MNT: “It’s important to remember that everything should be eaten or consumed in moderation. If extreme amounts of nitrate are ingested, it could lead to methemoglobinemia, which is a condition in which red blood cells have reduced ability to carry oxygen.”

“Fortunately, methemoglobinemia is relatively rare and is more commonly caused by nitrate contamination of drinking water.”

Dr. Bondonno does not recommend juicing vegetables if you want to enjoy the optimal nitrate benefit, since juicing removes pulp and fiber.

On the other hand, blending vegetables is fine. She recommends including a cup of spinach in a berry smoothie as an easy, enjoyable way for people to consume their vegetables.

The unmistakable taste and smell of coffee — not to mention its ability to perk people up in the morning — have made it one of the world’s most popular beverages.

Better still, observational studies indicate that coffee may protect against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and certain cancers.

Prospective studies, which follow people over time, have provided evidence that drinking this beverage is safe for most people and is associated with lower mortality rates.

However, a new study suggests that some of the supposed health benefits of coffee for cardiovascular health may have been overblown. The research was limited to white British participants.

As a result of the caffeine that coffee contains, excessive consumption can cause unpleasant symptoms such as tachycardia (a fast resting heart rate) and palpitations.

Drinking coffee can also lead to a moderate, temporary increase in blood pressure.

So it may come as a surprise that regular coffee drinkers either have normal or reduced blood pressure compared with people who do not drink coffee.

One explanation may be that coffee drinkers develop a physiological tolerance for the effects of caffeine.

But a new study suggests that people with a high genetic risk of cardiovascular disease unconsciously reduce how much they drink to avoid unpleasant cardiovascular symptoms.

The research found that individuals with high blood pressure, angina, or arrhythmia drank less caffeinated coffee and were more likely to drink decaffeinated coffee.

Crucially, there was strong evidence that their genetic vulnerability to cardiovascular disease led to their reduced consumption of coffee.

This rules out the alternative explanation that consuming less coffee made them more vulnerable to cardiovascular disease.

Researchers at the University of South Australia in Adelaide conducted the study, which appears in The American Journal of Clinical NutritionTrusted Source.

Guided by genetics

“Whether we drink a lot of coffee, a little, or avoid caffeine altogether, this study shows that genetics are guiding our decisions to protect our cardio health,” Professor Elina Hyppönen, who led the research and directs the Australian Centre for Precision Health at the university.

“If your body is telling you not to drink that extra cup of coffee, there’s likely a reason why,” she adds. “Listen to your body — it’s more in tune with your health than you may think.”

In observational studies, this effect could give the false impression that coffee prevents high blood pressure and protects the heart.

In reality, people vulnerable to high blood pressure may simply avoid drinking coffee because, for them, the caffeine is more likely to cause unpleasant symptoms.

The scientists drew on information about 390,435 white British participants aged 39–73 years who are part of a medical and genetic database called UK Biobank.

On recruitment, participants reported their regular coffee consumption. Researchers also measured their blood pressure and heart rate and noted any cardiovascular symptoms.

Participants with high blood pressure, angina, or arrhythmia consumed less caffeinated coffee compared with those without these symptoms.

To determine whether regular coffee consumption caused the symptoms, or whether the symptoms triggered a reduction in coffee consumption, the researchers used a statistical technique called Mendelian randomization.

This technique exploits the random inheritance of genetic variants that increase a person’s risk of a particular outcome later in life — in this case, the association between blood pressure and heart rate with habitual coffee consumption.

Because factors, such as lifestyle or diet, cannot change a person’s genetic sequence, any associations that the researchers discovered must be due to the gene variants rather than any other factors.

When they analyzed the data, it showed that having a particular genetic variant determined how much coffee a person drank.

“What this means is that someone who drinks a lot of coffee is likely more genetically tolerant of caffeine, as compared to someone who drinks very little,” says Prof. Hyppönen.

“Conversely, a noncoffee drinker, or someone who drinks decaffeinated coffee, is more likely prone to the adverse effects of caffeine and more susceptible to high blood pressure,” she adds.

Psychological effects

Medical News Today asked Prof. Hyppönen whether the psychological effects that some people experience when they drink a lot of coffee, such as anxiety and agitation, could also play a role.

“This is not something that we looked at in our study, but any unpleasant sensation that an individual feels in response to coffee consumption is likely to reduce their wish to drink coffee,” said Prof. Hyppönen.

MNT asked Dr. Edo Paz, a doctor atdigital primary care platform K Health, about the effects of drinking too much coffee.

He responded:

“[D]rinking too much coffee can result in headache, anxiety, tremors, and difficulty sleeping. With regards to the heart, in particular, excess coffee intake can result in palpitations and may trigger events in the heart, such as abnormal heart rhythms, in susceptible individuals.”

The problem of reverse causation

The findings of the new research suggest that observational studies that found an association between coffee consumption and better health may have fallen prey to “reverse causation.”

In other words, heart health issues led people to drink less coffee, rather than the other way round.

Prof. Hyppönen said Mendelian randomization studies had cast doubt on other apparent protective effects.

For example, epidemiological studies have led people to infer that moderate alcohol consumption protects against cardiovascular disease, and that having excess weight reduces mortality compared with moderate weight.

“According to [Mendelian randomization] studies, there does not appear to be any benefit for having [excess weight] versus [slim or moderate] weight, with the possible exception for smokers,” she said.

Smoking reduces appetite and hence weight, but it also has links with a wide range of negative effects on health.

“Also for alcohol, [the] evidence suggests linear increases in blood pressure and stroke risk, with no benefit for light alcohol consumption,” she added.

While further studies are necessary using a more diverse population, this study suggests using a considered, personalized approach when promoting high coffee intakes.

Many people have chronic stress and anxiety. They face symptoms such as nervousness, agitation, tension, a racing heart, and chest pain.

In fact, anxiety is among the most common mental health issues. In the United States, more than 18 percent of adults are affected by anxiety disorders each year.

In some cases, another health condition, such as an overactive thyroid, can lead to an anxiety disorder. Getting an accurate diagnosis can ensure that a person receives the best treatment.

In this article, learn about a wide range of natural and home remedies that can help with stress and anxiety.

Natural remedies for anxiety and stress

Natural remedies are generally safe to use alongside more conventional medical therapies.

However, alterations to the diet and some natural supplements can change the way antianxiety medications work, so it is essential to consult a doctor before trying these solutions. The doctor may also be able to recommend other natural remedies.

1. Exercise

Exercise may help to treat anxiety.

Exercise is a great way to burn off anxious energy, and research tends to support this use.

For example, a 2015 review of 12 randomized controlled trials found that exercise may be a treatment for anxiety. However, the review cautioned that only research of higher quality could determine how effective it is.

Exercise may also help with anxiety caused by stressful circumstances. Results of a 2016 studyTrusted Source, for example, suggest that exercise can benefit people with anxiety related to quitting smoking.

2. Meditation

Meditation can help to slow racing thoughts, making it easier to manage stress and anxiety. A wide range of meditation styles, including mindfulness and meditation during yoga, may help.

Mindfulness-based meditation is increasingly popular in therapy. A 2010 meta-analytic review suggests that it can be highly effective for people with disorders relating to mood and anxiety.

3. Relaxation exercises

Some people unconsciously tense the muscles and clench the jaw in response to anxiety. Progressive relaxation exercises can help.

Try lying in a comfortable position and slowly constricting and relaxing each muscle group, beginning with the toes and working up to the shoulders and jaw.

4. Writing

Finding a way to express anxiety can make it feel more manageable.

Some research suggests that journaling and other forms of writing can help people to cope better with anxiety.

2016 study, for example, found that creative writing may help children and teens to manage anxiety.

5. Time management strategies

Some people feel anxious if they have too many commitments at once. These may involve family, work, and health-related activities. Having a plan in place for the next necessary action can help to keep this anxiety at bay.

Effective time management strategies can help people to focus on one task at a time. Book-based planners and online calendars can help, as can resisting the urge to multitask.

Some people find that breaking major projects down into manageable steps can help them to accomplish those tasks with less stress.

6. Aromatherapy

Smelling soothing plant oils can help to ease stress and anxiety. Certain scents work better for some people than others, so consider experimenting with various options.

Lavender may be especially helpful. A 2012 study tested the effects of aromatherapy with lavender on insomnia in 67 women aged 45–55. Results suggest that the aromatherapy may reduce the heart rate in the short term and help to ease sleep issues in the long term.

7. Cannabidiol oil

CBD oil comes from the marijuana plant.

Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is a derivative of the cannabis, or marijuana, plant.

Unlike other forms of marijuana, CBD oil does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the substance that creates a “high.”

CBD oil is readily available without a prescription in many alternative healthcare shops. Preliminary research suggests that it has significant potential to reduce anxiety and panic.

In areas where medical marijuana is legal, doctors may also be able to prescribe the oil.

8. Herbal teas

Many herbal teas promise to help with anxiety and ease sleep.

Some people find the process of making and drinking tea soothing, but some teas may have a more direct effect on the brain that results in reduced anxiety.

Results of a small 2018 trial suggest that chamomile can alter levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

9. Herbal supplements

Like herbal teas, many herbal supplements claim to reduce anxiety. However, little scientific evidence supports these claims.

It is vital to work with a doctor who is knowledgeable about herbal supplements and their potential interactions with other drugs.

10. Time with animals

Pets offer companionship, love, and support. Research published in 2018 confirmed that pets can be beneficial to people with a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety.

While many people prefer cats, dogs, and other small mammals, people with allergies will be pleased to learn that the pet does have to be furry to provide support.

2015 studyTrusted Source found that caring for crickets could improve psychological health in older people.

Spending time with animals can also reduce anxiety and stress associated with trauma. Results of a 2015 systematic reviewTrusted Source suggest that grooming and spending time with horses can alleviate some of these effects.

Other treatment options

Therapy may help to treat chronic anxiety.

Anxiety that is chronic or interferes with a person’s ability to function warrants treatment.

When there is no underlying medical condition, such as a thyroid problem, therapy is the most popular form of treatment.

Therapy can help a person to understand what triggers their anxiety. It can also help with making positive lifestyle changes and working through trauma.

One of the most effective therapies for anxiety is called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The goal is to help a person understand how their thoughts affect their emotions and behavior and to replace those reactions with positive or constructive alternatives.

CBT can help with generalized anxiety and anxiety relating to a specific issue, such as work or an instance of trauma.

Medication can also help a person to manage chronic anxiety. A doctor may prescribe medications in any of the following groups:

  • antianxiety drugs called benzodiazepines, including Xanax and Valium
  • antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, including Prozac
  • sleeping medications, if anxiety interferes with sleep

People should follow the doctor’s instructions when using these drugs, as they can have severe and possibly life threatening adverse effects.

Natural anxiety remedies can replace or complement traditional treatments.


Untreated anxiety can get worse and cause more stress in a person’s life. However, anxiety is highly treatable with therapy, natural remedies, lifestyle changes, and medications.

A person may need to try several combinations of therapies and remedies before finding one that works. A doctor can help a person to determine which options are best.

Globally, heart disease is the number one cause of death. It is responsible for 17.9 million deaths each year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States, one person dies every 36 seconds from cardiovascular disease. Heart disease accounts for 1 in 4 deaths in the U.S.

As February is American Heart Month, today, we will tackle some persistent myths about heart disease.

1. Young people do not need to worry about heart disease

It is true that heart disease is more likely to affect people over the age of 65, but 4–10% of heart attacks occur in people under the age of 45 years, mainly in men. In addition, it is how we live our lives as children, adolescents, and adults that lays the groundwork for heart health as we age.

For instance, eating a diet that is high in trans and saturated fats or smoking tobacco slowly increases the risk of heart disease as we age. Changes to lifestyle today build the foundation for a healthier heart in later life.

In the U.S. as a whole, heart disease mortality has slowly dropped since the 1970s, although the trend seems to be slowing. However, in some regions, rates have increased.

One study that investigated heart disease mortality in different age groups in the U.S. found that “over 50% of counties [experienced] increases in heart disease mortality from 2010 through 2015 among adults aged 35–64 years.”

2. People should avoid exercise if they have heart disease

This is a myth. Exercise helps strengthen the heart muscle and improve blood flow around the body.

In August 2020, the European Society of Cardiology published guidelines on exercise in patients with cardiovascular disease. Prof. Sanjay Sharma, who was involved in creating the guidelines, explains:

“The chance of exercise triggering a cardiac arrest or heart attack is extremely low.” However, he also adds a note of caution: “People who are completely inactive and those with advanced heart disease should consult their doctor before taking up sports.”

3. I take cholesterol-lowering drugs, so I can eat whatever I like

Some drugs, such as statins, reduce the level of cholesterol in the blood. However, this does not mean that a person who is taking statins can consume foods containing saturated fats with abandon.

Cholesterol is either consumed in the food that you eat or produced in the liver. Statins block an enzyme in the liver that is necessary for producing cholesterol, reducing overall blood cholesterol levels. However, this means that ingested cholesterol can still make it into the blood.

In short, statins may just be able to override the adverse effects of a poor diet, but a poor diet will increase risk of other independent risk factors for heart disease, such as obesityhypertension, and diabetes.

4. Heart disease runs in my family, so there is nothing I can do to stop it

If close family members have experienced heart disease, it could mean that you have an increased risk. However, it is not set in stone, and there are a number of ways to reduce the risk, even for people with a genetic susceptibility.

These include eating a healthful diet, stopping smoking, managing blood pressure, and exercising regularly.

It is also worth noting that if heart disease runs in the family, it may not be a sign of genetic susceptibility. Families tend to share lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise habits, both of which can impact the risk of heart disease.

5. Vitamins can prevent heart disease

Although most vitamins, taken at the recommended doses, are unlikely to be bad for heart health, there is no evidence that taking any vitamin supplements can reduce the risk of heart disease. And they certainly cannot replace a healthful diet and regular exercise.

For instance, a systematic review and meta-analysis looked for associations between multivitamin and mineral supplements and a number of cardiovascular outcomes, including coronary heart disease and stroke.

The analysis, published in 2018, took data from 18 existing studies, including 2,019,862 participants.

The authors concluded that multivitamin and mineral “supplementation does not improve cardiovascular outcomes in the general population.”

According to Victoria Taylor, the nutrition lead at the British Heart Foundation: “There are no shortcuts when it comes to nutrition — supplements are not a replacement for healthy food. You might be prescribed a vitamin or mineral supplement by a health professional for other reasons, but we do not recommend people take multivitamins to help prevent heart and circulatory diseases.”

6. I have smoked for years, there is no point stopping now

This is a myth. Smoking tobacco is a major cause of heart disease. As soon as a person stops smoking, the health benefits begin. The National Institute on Aging write:

“It doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you’ve been smoking, quitting smoking at any time improves your health. When you quit, you are likely to add years to your life, breathe more easily, have more energy, and save money.”

They also explain that you will lower the risk of heart attack and stroke and have better circulation.

7. Heart disease only really affects men

This is a myth, as heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women. In 2017 in the U.S., 24.2% of men and 21.8% of women died from heart disease.

However, when strokes, which have similar risk factors, are added in, the figures are even more similar between men and women: 28.7% of men and 28% of women died from heart disease or stroke.

It is a common misconception that only men are affected by heart disease. It is true that men tend to develop cardiovascular disease at an earlier age than women and have a greater risk of coronary heart disease. However, women have a higher risk of stroke.

One paper explains, “Although the incidence of [cardiovascular disease] in women is usually lower than in men, women have a higher mortality and worse prognosis after acute cardiovascular events.”

8. Cardiac arrest and heart attack are the same

Heart attacks and cardiac arrests are not the same thing. A heart attack is a circulation problem. It occurs when the coronary artery, which carries oxygenated blood to the muscles of the heart, becomes blocked.

A cardiac arrest is an “electrical problem,” where the heart stops pumping blood around the body effectively. Cardiac arrests are often caused by a heart attack.

During a heart attack, an individual is likely to be conscious. During a cardiac arrest, they are almost always unconscious. Both are a medical emergency.

9. Coughing during a heart attack can save your life

According to some sources, coughing vigorously during a heart attack — so-called cough CPR — can save your life.

This is an internet distortion of a paper published over 40 years ago, which showed that patients who had a cardiac arrest during arteriography in hospital and who coughed every 1–3 seconds stayed conscious for an additional 39 seconds.

There is no evidence that this technique works in the community for heart attacks that are not induced by medical procedures.

According to Christopher Allen, a senior cardiac nurse:

“The absolute priority when you think you or someone else is having a heart attack is to call [the emergency services]. This way, paramedics can assess and aid you, and you’ll get to hospital as fast as possible. There is no medical evidence to support ‘cough CPR.’”

10. People with heart disease should avoid eating all fat

A person with cardiovascular disease certainly should reduce their intake of saturated fats — which are found in foods such as butter, biscuits, bacon, and sausages — and partially hydrogenated and trans fats, which are found in foods such as baked goods, frozen pizzas, and microwave popcorn.

However, unsaturated fats can provide benefits. For instance, there is some evidence that omega-3, which is a polyunsaturated fat, might protect heart health.

The American Heart Association recommend “that all adults eat fish (particularly fatty fish) at least 2 times a week. Fish is a good source of protein and is low in saturated fat. Fish, especially oily species like mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon, provide significant amounts of the two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids shown to be cardioprotective, [eicosapentaenoic acid] and [docosahexaenoic acid].”

They also recommend eating plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids. These can be found in tofu and other forms of soybeans; walnutsflaxseeds, and their oils; and canola oil.

The take-home

Heart disease is common, but it is not inevitable. There are lifestyle changes that we can all implement to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular problems, whatever our age.

Daniel Balakov / Getty Images

Scientists discover that a drug used to treat arthritis shows promising initial results for treating COVID-19 in older adults.

An international team of scientists has found that the arthritis drug baricitinib shows promise for increasing the survival of older adults with COVID-19.

The new research, appearing in the journal Science Advances, lays the groundwork for larger, randomized controlled trials to confirm the initial findings.

Repurposed drugs

Alongside developing an effective and safe vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, scientists are also identifying potential treatments that may help increase the survival chances of people who develop COVID-19.

To do this quickly, scientists have turned to previously available drugs, looking to repurpose them as COVID-19 treatments. Since these medicines already have approval for use, many of the safety tests involved in the development of a novel drug are not required.

However, this is still no small task. There are thousands of potential drugs to search through when identifying those that may be worth testing.

To speed up the process, scientists used artificial intelligence (AI) systems that can rapidly analyze these medicines and determine if they could be effective COVID-19 treatments.

One such drug that artificial intelligence software identified in February 2020 was baricitinib, a medication for adult rheumatoid arthritis.

The software identified this drug because it had two potential mechanisms of action. The first might reduce inflammation, while the second might make it more difficult for the virus to access a person’s cells.

Since these initial findings, baricitinib has been used in clinical settings to treat COVID-19. The scientists behind the present study drew on this initial clinical data and conducted laboratory tests to determine how effective the drug may be as a treatment.

Increased survival

The scientists looked at 83 patients from the University of Pisa, Italy, and the Albacete Hospital, Spain. The participants had an average age of 81 years, with moderate to severe COVID-19, and were given baricitinib as treatment. The research team compared this group to a control group of patients from Italy and Spain, who did not take the drug.

The scientists found that the group who received baricitinib was less likely to need mechanical ventilation, while the patients were less likely to die compared with the control group.

Specifically, 34.9% of the control group either died or needed mechanical ventilation, compared with 16.9% of the patients treated with baricitinib.

Two mechanisms of action

To better understand how baricitinib may causing this beneficial effect, the scientists studied its impact on miniature human organs grown in a laboratory.

This confirmed the initial findings of the AI software: that baricitinib reduces inflammation and makes it more difficult for the virus to access a person’s cells.

A leading cause of death for people with COVID-19 has been acute respiratory distress syndrome. This occurs when a person’s inflammatory response to SARS-CoV-2 goes out of control, damaging respiratory system cells and potentially affecting many other organs in their body.

The scientists found that this inflammatory response can also make it easier for the virus to enter a person’s cells as it replicates itself within their body.

Baricitinib seems to work by reducing both of these reactions, significantly increasing the chances of survival.

According to the study’s co-lead author Prof. Volker Lauschke, associate professor in Personalized Medicine and Drug Development at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, “[t]his study confirms what AI predicted, and what we were hearing from patient case reports.”

“For instance, one case involved an 87-year-old severely unwell patient from Foggia, Italy, who showed rapid improvement after being given the drug, whereas her husband and son, who did not receive baricitinib, died.”

“This study has also shone a light on exactly how this drug may protect us at the cellular level. This helps us understand why other types of drugs are proving beneficial, or not beneficial, as we help identify other treatments which may tackle COVID-19.” – Prof. Volker Lauschke

The next step is to confirm the initial findings in larger, randomized controlled trials, which are already proceeding.

For Prof. Justin Stebbing, of the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London, United Kingdom, and study co-lead author, “[w]e have seen the top-line results of a randomized study called the Adaptive Covid Treatment Trial-2 announced recently, showing benefits of baricitinib plus remdesivir, compared to remdesivir alone in over 1,000 patients.”

“Other very large trials occurring now include COV-BARRIER, and this will help create a fuller picture of the benefits and side effects of the oral medication (a small number of the patients in our study needed to stop the treatment due to problems with liver function).

“Further trials comparing baricitinib to other drugs in COVID-19 patients would also be helpful in improving outcomes.”

1178534783 Moha El-Jaw/Getty Images

In a small clinical trial, patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) who were given two doses of psilocybin along with psychotherapy showed a reduction in depressive symptoms. The psychedelic’s therapeutic effects persisted for up to 4 weeks with minimal side effects.

Psychedelics are known for their hallucinogenic properties, but their mind-altering effects may also benefit people with depression.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 17.3 million adults in the United States have experienced at least one depressive episode.

Currently, the gold standard for treating MDD is psychotherapy or antidepressant medication. A 2014 study in World Psychiatry found that psychotherapy combined with antidepressants was more effective than the former alone.

Replacing antidepressants with hallucinogenic mushrooms

New antidepressants are ketamine-like drugs that show a high therapeutic response. A 2014 meta-analysis in Psychopharmacology reports that roughly 0.5 milligrams per kilogram of ketamine effectively reduced depressive symptoms. These effects also lasted 2–3 days after treatment. However, there are some drawbacks.

While currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are some short-term side effects to consider when using ketamine, such as feeling strange or bizarre, numbness, and difficulties speaking.

Ketamine has a high liability for addiction and may have a large potential for abuse. A 2018 study in Neurobiology of Stress found that repeated low-dose ketamine treatments for treatment-resistant depression resulted in cognitive impairments and potential for abuse.

To avoid people abusing their medication, alternative treatments to support psychotherapy are needed — enter psilocybin.

There is growing evidence of psilocybin’s antidepressant properties. A study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology demonstrateda single psilocybin dose that produced an antidepressant and anxiolytic response in cancer patients, which lasted for 5 years.

Compared with ketamine, psilocybin has lower addictive properties, which would be beneficial as a potential add-on for current treatments. However, clinical research evaluating this substance in combination therapies is limited.

Recently, researchers at Johns Hopkins University published an article contributing to the research investigating the effectiveness of psilocybin-assisted therapy for depression.

“These data expand the findings of previous studies involving patients with cancer and depression, as well as patients with treatment-resistant depression, by suggesting that psilocybin may be effective in the much larger population of MDD,” write the study authors.

Their clinical trial results appear in JAMA Psychiatry.

Johns Hopkins clinical trial

From August 2017 to April 2019, the researchers of the current study recruited adults with MDD who were not taking antidepressant medications and had no history of psychotic disorder, suicide attempts, or hospitalizations. The scientists randomly assigned a total of 24 participants to an immediate or a delayed treatment group.

The psychedelic-assisted therapy lasted for 8 weeks, with 18 in-person visits and 2 days for psilocybin treatment.

Participants in the immediate treatment group began the psilocybin treatment during an 11-hour supportive psychotherapy session. The researchers allowed for a 1.6-week break between the first and second doses. In contrast, the delayed treatment group waited 8 weeks before receiving psilocybin-assisted therapy.

Reduction in severity of depression

At the time of enrollment, participants had a score of 23 in the GRID-Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (GRID-HAMD), which indicates moderate depression. After a 1-week and 1-month follow-up, participants in the immediate treatment group dropped to a score of 8, indicating mild depression.

In the entire cohort, 67% reduced the severity of their depressive symptoms 1 week after psilocybin treatment. This percentage grew to 71% when researchers followed up after 4 weeks.

After 1 week, the researchers found that 58% of the cohort were no longer classified as clinically depressed. By week 4, they found that 54% of the participants were no longer classified as depressed.

Limitations from the clinical trial design

Several limitations exist that could challenge the usefulness of the study results. The research had insufficient minority representation, as recruitment leaned towards non-Hispanic whites.

This is important because while white people typically report more cases, the American Psychiatric Association note that Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to experience depression for more extended periods. In response, the researchers acknowledge the need for future studies to validate this proof of concept in more representative populations.

The study also fails to address the long-term effects of psilocybin treatment. Unlike the investigation on cancer patients, which had a 5-year follow up, the current research followed up after only 1 month.

There were also variables in the study design that could question psilocybin’s effectiveness as an antidepressant drug. One comes from a lack of a placebo group. Placebos are essential in determining whether a person truly benefitted from the drug and not from outside factors. For this reason, the safety of using psilocybin remains unknown.

Final thoughts

Overall, the authors find their clinical trial supports the use of psilocybin-assisted therapy for MDD.

“Although the rapid antidepressant effects of psilocybin are similar to those reported with ketamine, the therapeutic effects are different. Ketamine effects typically last for a few days to 2 weeks, whereas the current study showed that clinically significant antidepressant response to psilocybin therapy persisted for at least 4 weeks, with 71% of the participants continuing to show a clinically significant response (≥50% reduction in GRID-HAMD score) at week 4 of follow-up.”

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A study finds that social anxiety and depression lead to a greater use of dating apps and affect what people hope to gain from them.

Pew Research Center data released in February this year indicate that, in the United States, as many as 30% of adults have used a dating site or app.

According to a Statista survey, in the first quarter of 2020, Tinder, the most popular of these apps, had more than 6 million subscribers.

There are numerous reasons for using a dating app. Now, a new study from Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, looks specifically at the link between social anxietydepression, and dating apps.

According to this research, there is a link between social anxiety and depression and a more extensive use of dating apps.

“With increased symptoms of social anxiety and depression, women may be even more likely to turn to technology for social connection, especially if alternative forms of social contact are reduced due to social avoidance.” – Senior author Martin Antony, from Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada

The study appears in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.

Why do people use dating apps?

Previous research suggests there are six things people who use Tinder hope to attain. These “Tinder motives” are:

  • love
  • casual sex
  • ease of communication
  • self-worth validation
  • thrill of excitement
  • trendiness

The prevailing theory tested in the new research is the positive link between social anxiety and depression with a greater use of dating apps. In addition, the researchers predicted positive associations between social anxiety and depression and a desire for:

  • ease of communication for men, due to the anxiety associated with asking potential partners for a date, traditionally perceived as a male responsibility
  • love, equally for both genders
  • self-worth validation, equally for both genders
  • the thrill of excitement, especially for men
  • casual sex, especially for men

The study authors also predicted a negative association between social anxiety, depression, and contacting dating app matches equally for both genders.

The study’s findings

A total of 374 individuals who use dating apps were recruited for the study and responded to questions posed through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform.

There were no inclusion or exclusion criteria, and each person received $1 for taking part in the study.

The researchers asked participants to fill out the 17-question Social Phobia Inventory (SPIN), in which a person describes the anxiety they have experienced in social situations over the past week. Researchers recognize the SPIN survey for its usefulness as a psychometric measure.

In addition, individuals completed the equally well-regarded 21-question Depression Anxiety Stress Scales survey for measuring anxiety, depression symptoms, and stress.

Participants also completed the Tinder Motives Scale survey that tracked the importance of five of the six Tinder motives to the individual. The research team did not include trendiness because they considered the survey ineffective for measuring its significance.

The scientists measured individuals’ use of dating apps through the Online Dating Inventory questionnaire to assess their use and behavior.

The researchers found that social anxiety and depression are not interchangeable, and were variously linked, or not, with different motives for using dating apps.

The researchers’ general hypothesis was deemed correct: social anxiety and depression do appear to be associated with greater dating app use. Beyond that, the authors of the study drew a variety of conclusions.

They found that:

  • Social anxiety and depression are associated with the use of dating apps for ease of communication by both genders, though the effect is more pronounced for women.
  • Women with social anxiety are more likely to be interested in obtaining love through dating apps. Depression did not affect whether people were looking for this, for either men or women.
  • Dating apps are used for self-worth validation by people of both genders with social anxiety. This was also true of people with depression, with a stronger effect in women than men.
  • Contrary to the researchers’ expectations, there was a positive link between social anxiety and the thrill of excitement for women, though not for women living with depression, and not for men.
  • There was an association between social anxiety in men and women with an effort to obtain casual sex. This was also true in people living with depression, with a stronger effect in women.

The researchers also discovered a negative correlation between social anxiety and depression in men and the likelihood that they would actually contact a person who turned out to be a match. The likelihood a woman would initiate contact was not affected at all by their level of depression.

The study authors point out that they cannot know whether social anxiety and depression lead to greater dating app use or the other way around, suggesting this open question would benefit from further research.

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A preclinical study has tested a new vaccine for Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers found that the vaccine, which targets the beta-amyloid protein, was safe and effective in mice.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological condition and the most common cause of dementia.

According to the latest estimates from the Alzheimer’s Association, 1 in 10 people over the age of 65 years in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s disease, and experts expect the number of people with the condition to increase as the population ages. By 2050, projections show that 13.8 million people aged 65 years and over will have Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S.

While groups around the world are working to find an effective treatment for the condition, an alternative approach is to develop a vaccine. Although they are more commonly associated with infectious diseases, vaccines can also prime the body to defend itself against other, noninfectious molecules.

In Alzheimer’s disease, scientists believe that two processes drive the progression of the disease: the buildup of plaques comprising beta-amyloid proteins between neurons in the brain and tangled knots of the tau protein within neurons.

Since the general understanding is that beta-amyloid initiates the disease process, scientists have tried to develop a vaccine against it. The hope is that the immune system recognizes and destroys the beta-amyloid before it can aggravate the cell damage that the tau protein causes.

Although scientists have developed several vaccines, translating the findings from murine models into humans while ensuring safety is notoriously challenging, and the authorities have not yet approved any vaccines for use.

Researchers need to overcome the fact that as people age, their immune system becomes less responsive. As a result, without help, they will have a lower response to a vaccine.

Scientists usually overcome this problem by adding adjuvants that kickstart and enhance the immune response. However, a potential problem is that the adjuvants overstimulate the immune system, leading to inflammation.

A new study that the University of South Florida Health (USF Health) led describes a novel therapeutic vaccine for Alzheimer’s disease, which uses the body’s own immune cells to target beta-amyloid. The study found that this approach avoided the overstimulation of the immune system that can occur due to chemical adjuvants.

The study showed effective antibody production and memory improvements in vaccinated mice, and the findings appear in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Harnessing dendritic cells

The new vaccine uses dendritic cells, which communicate with other immune cells, such as B cells and T cells, to guide the immune response.

“This therapeutic vaccine uses the body’s own immune cells to target the toxic [beta-amyloid] molecules that accumulate harmfully in the brain,” explains the senior author of the paper, Dr. Chuanhai Cao.

The dendritic cells are loaded with a modified version of beta-amyloid so that the body can detect and destroy the real thing.

“Because we use dendritic cells to generate antibodies, this vaccine can coordinate both innate and acquired immunity to potentially overcome age-related impairments of the immune system,” adds Dr. Cao.

In the new study, the researchers tested the vaccine in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease. The mice were genetically modified to produce high levels of beta-amyloid and show cognitive difficulties similar to those that occur in humans with Alzheimer’s disease.

Memory improvements

The team gave some of the mice the vaccine, while others received the dendritic cells only (containing no beta-amyloid).

The mice that received the vaccine produced antibodies against beta-amyloid in their brains and blood. They also showed symptom improvements — for example, in memory tests, the vaccinated mice performed similarly to healthy mice.

The vaccinated mice also showed significantly improved working memory compared with mice that received only the dendritic cells. Working memory involves holding and manipulating information for a short time, and deficits in this form of memory are a common feature of Alzheimer’s disease.

Importantly, the vaccine did not cause an inflammatory response in the mice — a major concern when developing a vaccine and the main reason why researchers had to stop using a previous vaccine.

“Inflammation is a primary symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, so any possible treatment with neural inflammation as a side effect essentially pours gas on the fire,” explains Dr. Cao.

This study found no evidence of an inflammatory reaction. There were no significant differences in the amounts of inflammatory molecules called cytokines in the vaccinated mice compared with the nonvaccinated mice.

What next?

The strength of the new vaccine lies in its specificity, says Dr. Cao. The antigen on the vaccine stimulates a very specific response from T cells, which enables the destruction of beta-amyloid but prevents activity that could cause autoimmunity. “[…] it provides strong immunomodulatory effects without inducing an unwanted, vaccine-associated autoimmune reaction in the aging mice,” he says.

Going forward, the team hopes that the vaccine could serve to stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in humans, although further studies will be necessary to confirm that the vaccine can produce long lasting antibodies and is safe to use in people.

It is important to note that this study used a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. There is a sharp fall-off in translation from animal models to human treatments from many promising preclinical studies, ranging from 0% to 100% failure.

Also, there has been some debate about the effectiveness of targeting beta-amyloid rather than either focusing on the tau protein, launching a combined attack on both proteins, or dampening the inflammation that results in cellular damage.

Beyond Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers suggest that the vaccine type could help improve the immune system of people with other age-related disorders. The vaccine may “lay the foundation for future immunotherapies for aging-related disorders,” the authors conclude.

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A study finds sleep deprivation makes unwelcome thoughts occur more frequently and makes them harder to manage.

It’s not uncommon for unwelcome thoughts to cross a person’s mind now and again.

According to psychologist Marcus Harrington of the Department of Psychology at the University of York in the United Kingdom, “For most people, thought intrusions pass quickly, but for those [who are experiencing] psychiatric conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they can be repetitive, uncontrollable, and distressing.”

Harrington is the lead author of a new study investigating the effect of sleep deprivation on unwanted thoughts.

The study finds that sleep deprivation increases the frequency of unwanted thoughts and lessens an individual’s ability to control them.

Funded by the Medical Research Council, the research appears in Clinical Psychological Science.

Unwanted thoughts

“In everyday life,” says Harrington, “mundane encounters can remind us of unpleasant experiences. For example, a car driving too fast on the motorway might cause us to retrieve unwanted memories from a car accident many years ago.”

However, for people with some psychiatric disorders, unwelcome thoughts can be a frequent, persistent, and often emotionally destructive intrusion.

“It is clear,” says Harrington, “that the ability to suppress unwanted thoughts varies dramatically between individuals, but, until now, the factors that drive this variability have been mysterious. Our study suggests sleep loss has a considerable impact on our ability to keep unwanted thoughts out of our minds.”

A lack of sleep and the resulting inability to manage unwelcome thoughts may also be self-perpetuating.

“The study also suggests that the onset of intrusive thoughts and emotional disturbances following bouts of poor sleep could create a vicious cycle, whereby upsetting intrusions and emotional distress exacerbate sleep problems, inhibiting the sleep needed to support recovery.” – Senior author Dr. Scott Cairney

The study

The researchers recruited 60 healthy individuals with an average age of 20 to participate in the study. The researchers randomly assigned them to a sleep group or a sleep-deprivation group. There were 30 participants in the sleep deprivation group and 29 in the sleep group because the researchers disqualified one participant.

The participants had to forego naps, caffeine, and alcohol on test days.

The researchers trained each person to associate face photos with either negative or neutral images from the International Affective Picture System. The participants also learned suppression techniques to help them overcome unpleasant memories. After their training, they went to sleep for the night.

The following day, participants were shown faces and asked to try and suppress the associations the faces provoked.

People who had sufficient sleep could successfully suppress unwelcome thoughts and reported that doing so became easier over time.

The participants also reported a reduction in their emotional response to negative images. Researchers supported this with observations of a reduction in their sweat response as they viewed the images.

Individuals from the sleep-deprivation group reported having a difficult time suppressing their thoughts. They also reported that experiencing and then managing intrusive thoughts remained a challenge throughout the study.

Participants who were sleep-deprived reported a 50% increase in unwanted thoughts compared with those who were well-rested.

The authors write:

“Even after sleep-deprived participants initially gained control over unwanted memories and prevented them from intruding, they were consistently more susceptible to relapses when reminders were confronted again later compared with rested individuals.”

The study mentions a caveat. Since scientists know that sleep helps solidify pre-bedtime memorization, perhaps those deprived of sleep could not utilize the memory suppression techniques they learned the night before as the sleep group could.

Says Cairney:

“This study offers an important insight into the impact of sleep on mental health. Besides post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, our findings might have implications for our understanding of other disorders linked to sleep disturbances, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.”

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A study of 160 people in the United States finds associations between worries around COVID-19 and substance use. The authors warn that the pandemic may increase the risk of substance abuse in some people and advocate for specific interventions to protect mental health.

Beyond the physical effects of the novel coronavirus, the onset and continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic have dramatically affected people’s mental health in the United States and worldwide.

recent study highlighted how levels of depression in the U.S. have tripled during the pandemic. Symptoms of anxiety may also be on the rise, according to recent trends in Google searches.

Understandably, the pandemic generates fear in many people, as the world finds itself in an unprecedented situation filled with uncertainty.

People manage uncertainties in different ways, but there is a risk that the stress the pandemic causes may trigger an ongoing mental health problem in some people.

A recent study led by the University of Houston, TX, finds that worry about COVID-19 may be a risk factor for substance use, which could, in turn, lead to misuse in some people.

The findings, which appear in Psychiatry Research, suggest the pandemic could adversely affect mental health for years to come.

COVID concerns

This study explored worries and fears about COVID-19 among three groups of people: those who do not use substances, people who were substance users before the pandemic, and people who started to use substances during the pandemic.

The substances in question included alcohol, cigarettes, cannabis, e-cigarettes, stimulants, opioids, and other drugs. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, these are among the most commonly used substances in the U.S.

In total, 160 people took part in the online study between April and May 2020.

The survey took around 30 minutes to complete and included questions about COVID-19 exposure and diagnosis, fears and worries about the pandemic, and a series of questions about substance use, including when and how people used substances and why they did so.

Worry fuels substance use

Almost 6% of the participants said they had received a diagnosis of COVID-19, and around half reported having pre-existing medical conditions.

Many of the participants also reported changing their substance use since the start of the pandemic.

Some participants reported starting using the following substances since the beginning of the pandemic:

  • alcohol (8.8%)
  • cigarettes (6.9%)
  • stimulants (5.6%)
  • opioids (5.6%)
  • cannabis (5%)
  • e-cigarettes (4.4%).

The results also found that worrying about the pandemic had associations with using substances to cope. Substance users reported worrying about COVID-19 more than non-users, and people who started using substances during the pandemic (excluding opioids) had the highest levels of worry.

“Results generally suggest the persons using substance experience the highest levels of COVID-19-related worry and fear,” the authors explain in their paper. “Additionally, worry about COVID-19 is related to coping motives for substance use.”

COVID-19-specific interventions

The authors say that doctors could find their findings useful. They suggest that doctors assessing levels of worry about COVID-19 help identify people at greatest risk for substance use, and ultimately substance abuse.

With this knowledge, doctors might prevent such problems from developing, for example, by recommending therapy or helping the person develop healthy coping mechanisms. The authors write:

“These results provide preliminary evidence that COVID-19-related worry and fear may be putative risk factors for substance use initiation in the face of COVID-19, and these results may provide critical clinical information for helping individuals cope with this pandemic.”

The authors state the importance of developing specialist interventions for COVID-19-specific mental health problems, including addictions, as the pandemic continues to evolve.

It is crucial to roll out such initiatives early to prevent a wave of mental health problems in the future, says Prof. Michael Zvolensky, senior author of the study.

“The impact of COVID-19 on psychological symptoms and disorders, addiction, and health behavior is substantial and ongoing and will negatively impact people’s mental health and put them at greater risk for chronic illness and drug addiction. It will not equally impact all of society. Those at greater risk are those that have mental health vulnerabilities or disorders,” he closes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers advice and helplines on managing stress during the pandemic.