depression

A study of people experiencing a first episode of psychosis has shown that higher levels of the antioxidant glutathione are associated with quicker responses to treatment and may improve early intervention outcomes.

The time that it takes for somebody to respond to treatment for psychosis is a key indicator of their long-term outcome.

Psychosis can be a symptom of a number of psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia and schizoaffective, bipolar, and major depressive disorders.

In around one-third of people with schizophrenia, the condition is considered resistant to treatment. This is associated with more severe symptoms and more time spent in the hospital.

The medical community has yet to fully understand why some people respond to antipsychotic treatments within weeks, while others take months.

A new study that appears in Molecular Psychiatry set out to understand this disparity. In a collaborative effort among a range of Canadian institutions, researchers looked at the levels of a protective antioxidant in the brains of people experiencing a first episode of psychosis.

They found that higher levels of the antioxidant were associated with quicker response to treatment, suggesting that boosting the amount of the antioxidant in the brain could improve outcomes for people experiencing psychosis.

The glutathione-glutamate balance

In the study, the researchers investigated an antioxidant called glutathione. Scientists believe that glutathione protects neurons against free radicals, which are highly reactive molecules known to damage cells. Glutathione is the most prominent antioxidant found in brain cells.

Some studies have found a lack of glutathione in people experiencing psychosis, specifically in the cingulate cortex — a part of the brain associated with emotion regulation, which is highly important in schizophrenia.

The lack of glutathione seems to be most striking in patients who have continuing symptoms, even after receiving treatment, suggesting that the molecule could be associated with response to treatment.

Glutathione is also important in relation to another chemical called glutamate. At high levels, glutamate can be toxic to neurons, and this is known to occur in first-episode psychosis. Excess glutamate has also been associated with reduced responsiveness to the treatment of psychosis.

These two chemicals are tightly linked in the brain; glutamate is a precursor of glutathione, and glutathione can protect the brain when glutamate levels become dangerously high.

Ultrapowerful imaging

To measure the levels of these two chemicals in the brain, and specifically in the cingulate cortex, the researchers behind the present study used a type of MRI called ultrahigh field magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

The research involved 26 people with a diagnosis of a schizophrenia spectrum disorder who had been referred to the Prevention and Early Intervention Program for Psychoses, at the London Health Sciences Centre, in Ontario.

All participants provided written consent and were recruited before they received antipsychotic treatment. The team separately recruited healthy controls, 27 in total, with no personal or family history of psychosis.

The team measured brain antioxidant levels, both before the patients started treatment for psychosis and 6 months later.

Boosting brain antioxidants

The researchers found no significant differences in levels of glutathione between the group with schizophrenia spectrum disorders and the control group. However, there were important differences among the participants with schizophrenia.

In particular, the team found that having higher glutathione levels was associated with responding to treatment more quickly.

Conversely, higher levels of glutamate were associated with having greater social difficulties. The researchers determined this using the Social and Occupational Functioning Assessment Scale, which measures function in social or work situations.

The findings suggest that higher levels of glutathione — which help regulate levels of glutamate — could help people with schizophrenia or other conditions that cause psychosis respond more quickly to treatment and have better overall outcomes.

Dr. Lena Palaniyappan, an associate professor at the University of Western Ontario and the senior author of the study, explains, “This study demonstrates that if we can find a way to boost the amount of antioxidants in the brain, we might be able to help patients transition out of hospital more quickly, reduce their suffering more quickly, and help them return earlier to their work and studies.”

The authors suggest that interventions to increase glutathione levels in the brain could be a valuable therapeutic avenue.

The researchers estimate that just a 10% increase in glutathione levels could reduce the time that a person spends in the hospital by at least 1 week. And this may not be too difficult to achieve, as a supplement called N-acetylcysteine has already been shown to increase antioxidant levels in the brain and improve symptoms of schizophrenia.

Surveys from around the world show that men everywhere find it difficult to open up about mental health, though they are significantly more at risk of attempting suicide than women. In this Special Feature, we look at why this may be and how to address this issue.

In high-income countries, three times as many men as women die by suicide, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report from 2018.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention also cite 2018 data, noting that in that year alone, “Men died by suicide 3.56 [times] more often than women” in the United States.

And Mental Health America, a community-based nonprofit, reference data suggesting that more than 6 million men in the U.S. experience symptoms of depression each year, and more than 3 million experience an anxiety disorder.

Despite these staggering figures, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) report that men are less likely than women to have received formal mental health support in the past year.

Why is this the case? Recent research offers some explanations and proposes ways of remedying the situation.

Stigma around men’s mental health

In their 2018 report, the WHO emphasize that cultural stigma surrounding mental health is one of the chief obstacles to people admitting that they are struggling and seeking help.

And this stigmatization is particularly pronounced in men.

“Described in various media as a ‘silent epidemic’ and a ‘sleeper issue that has crept into the minds of millions,’ with ‘chilling statistics,’ mental illness among men is a public health concern that begs attention.”

Thus begins a study from The University of British Columbia (UBC), in Vancouver, Canada, published in 2016 in Canadian Family Physician.

Its authors explain that prescriptive, ages-old ideas about gender are likely both part of the cause behind the development of mental health issues in men and the reason why men are put off from seeking professional help.

Another study from Canada — published in Community Mental Health Journal in 2016 — found that, in a national survey of English-speaking Canadians, among 541 respondents with no direct experience of suicidal ideation or depression, more than one-third admitted to holding stigmatizing beliefs about mental health issues in men.

And among this group, male respondents were more likely than females to hold views such as: “I would not vote for a male politician if I knew he had been depressed,” “Men with depression are dangerous,” and “Men with depression could snap out of it if they wanted.”

Among 360 respondents with direct experience of depression or suicidal ideation, more male than female respondents said that they would feel embarrassed about seeking formal treatment for depression.

One contributor who spoke to Medical News Today also pointed out that it is not easy for men to be open with their peers about mental health struggles.

“Talking about mental health isn’t something that tends to come up readily in particular social environments, such as when playing football,” he told us.

“Often, the relationships there are tied into the game and little else away from the pitch, which is a real shame,” he added.

Further stumbling blocks for men of color

Men of color and men of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds face additional challenges when it comes to looking after their mental health.

According to Prof. Norman Bruce Anderson, former CEO of the American Psychological Association — in the U.S., Black and Latino men are six times more likely to be murdered than their white peers.

Prof. Anderson also notes that American Indian men are the demographic most likely to attempt suicide and that Black men are most likely to experience incarceration.

According to Dr. Octavio Martinez Jr., executive director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, the effect of these disparities on the mental health of people of color and of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds is “a double whammy.”

“Add the stigmatization of help-seeking behavior by men of all races to the unique stressors faced by men and boys of color, and it’s no wonder men and boys of color are at higher risk for isolation and mental health problems. These challenges can manifest as substance use or acting out through violence and aggression — which can lead to more stigma and a continuation of the cycle.”

On top of this, the authors of a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved point out that “Medical experimentation on African Americans during slavery laid a foundation of mistrust toward healthcare providers.”

All of these issues taken together lay a further barrier to people of color seeking and accessing care for mental health when they need it.

Men may have different symptoms

Specialists also point out that men and women can experience different symptoms of the same mental health issues. This, they say, may be partly a “side effect” of divergent views of mental health.

For instance, NIMH specialists explain that “Some men with depression hide their emotions and may seem to be angry, irritable, or aggressive, while many women seem sad or express sadness.”

They also note that some symptoms of depression are physiological, such as a racing heart, digestive issues, or headaches, and men “are more likely to see their doctor about physical symptoms than emotional symptoms,” according to the NIMH.

The organization also note that self-medicating with alcohol and other substances is a common symptom of depression among men and that this can exacerbate mental health problems and increase the risk of developing other health conditions.

So what can mental health professionals and policymakers do to ensure that men feel confident and comfortable seeking support and that they receive the appropriate care?

Better mental health education

The first step in addressing these issues, researchers argue, is enhancing education about mental health.

In the Canadian Family Physician study, the researchers emphasize the importance of “disrupting how men traditionally think about depression and suicide by breaking down the stigma that surrounds these topics” through nationwide campaigns.

They also explain that it is important to help men change the idea of receiving support from “a mark of weakness” to a necessary step in maintaining one aspect of health that is as important as any other.

Anecdotal evidence supports these suggestions. One MNT respondent, for instance, told us that:

“[One] area I feel needs improvement is education. […] I had spells of bad mental health in my childhood. It wasn’t until my teenage years, when I became aware of my mother’s and grandfather’s history of mental health problems, that I realised what was going on with me. As a child, feeling anxious and/or depressed for no apparent reason was terrifying and only made my symptoms worse.”

“Also, not knowing what was going on made me embarrassed, and I usually wouldn’t tell anyone what was going on with me,” this contributor went on to say.

“I don’t know for sure, but if there had been education about mental health in my childhood, I reckon my symptoms wouldn’t have scared me as much, and I would have been more open about talking about it with my parents, teachers, healthcare professionals, etc.”

Another step in providing better support for men, the UBC researchers say, is “changing the landscape” of care for mental health by offering community-based programs that help counter risk factors for mental health problems, such as a sense of isolation among older people.

But no intervention is complete until it accounts for the groups that face systematic marginalization, such as men of color and those of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds.

Specialists have found that Black men in the U.S. are more likely to seek support in informal settings, such as places of worship. Based on this, they have suggested “community-based participatory research” as an important first step.

This approach will require researchers to gain trust and seek collaboration from Black Americans in finding out what needs to change to make formal support more accessible.

Dr. Martinez, referring to a report from 2014, also emphasizes the importance of community-based approaches.

He promotes interventions aimed to encourage men and boys of color and of diverse backgrounds to connect on a personal level. “Stigma fades when men and boys see resilience and mental health self-care modeled by their fathers, brothers, teachers, faith leaders, and friends,” he says.

“Seek ways to demonstrate the connection between individual mental health and popular traditions of mentorship, cultural pride, self-emancipation and community action among men.”

A study in mice has found that scientists can switch off a gene responsible for an aggressive form of breast cancer. Silencing the gene not only shrinks tumors but also prevents their spread around the body.

Around one in eight females in the United States will develop breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

In 2019, doctors diagnosed an estimated 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer in females in the U.S., while around 41,760 individuals died from the disease.

Up to a fifth of breast cancers are a more aggressive form known as triple-negative breast cancer that is difficult to treat.

Unlike the majority of breast cancers, estrogen and progesterone do not fuel the growth of triple-negative tumors, so drugs, such as tamoxifen, that block these hormones are ineffective.

A molecule that switches off a particular gene in triple-negative tumors could be a promising alternative treatment, according to research at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, LA.

The scientists report their discovery in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

The effect of gene silencing

The research combined in vitro studies of cells growing in dishes with in vivo studies involving mice.

The team began by working with cultures of a triple-negative cancer cell line that originally came from a patient treated in 1973 at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX.

The researchers compared the effects of switching off two known breast cancer genes, one called Rab27a and the other TRAF3IP2.

To deactivate or “silence” the genes, they targeted them with molecules of short hairpin RNAs called lentiviral-TRAF3IP2-shRNA. These are strands of RNA twisted back on themselves like a hairpin that prevent a specific gene from being read or “transcribed” to make a protein.

The researchers discovered that switching off TRAF3IP2 had a more disruptive effect on cancer-associated metabolic pathways in the cells than switching off Rab27a.

They confirmed this by switching off the genes individually in a mouse model of breast cancer.

Switching off Rab27a did slow down tumor growth in the mice, but a very small number of cancer cells spread, or “micrometastasized.”

When the researchers switched off TRAF3IP2, however, this not only suppressed new tumor growth but also prevented metastasis for up to 1 year. Better still, the treatment shrank existing tumors until they were undetectable.

“This exciting discovery has revealed that TRAF3IP2 can play a role as a novel therapeutic target in breast cancer treatment,” says Dr. Reza Izadpanah, assistant professor of medicine at Tulane University School of Medicine, who led the research.

Future studies ‘to further validate’ findings

The scientists are now seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to start clinical trials as soon as possible.

They write that, first, they will need to confirm their results by transplanting breast cancer cells from human patients into mice, in a process known as ‘xenotransplantation.’

“A limitation of the present study is that we used a single breast cancer cell line to investigate potential roles of silencing Rab27a and TRAF3IP2 on tumor growth. Our future studies will involve the use of patient-derived xenotransplants to further validate these fundamental first in vivo and in vitro results.”

– Eckhard U. Alt et al.

Silencing TRAF3IP2 may turn out to be an effective treatment in several cancers and even heart failure.

The gene is known to activate various cellular pathways that promote inflammation, which plays an important role not only in cancer but also in heart failure.

In their breast cancer research, the team at Tulane School of Medicine collaborated with Dr. Chandrasekar Bysani at the University of Missouri School of Medicine in Columbia, who identified the part played by TRAF3IP2 in promoting inflammation in heart failure.

Dr. Bysani also took part in recent research that found that switching off TRAF3IP2 could be an effective strategy for treating glioblastoma, a malignant type of brain cancer.

Encephalitis is a rare condition that is most often caused by viruses (viral encephalitis). It can also be caused by non-infectious diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematous and Behcet’s disease (an autoimmune disorder). The leading cause of severe encephalitis is the herpes simplex virus.

Other causes include enterovirus infections or mosquito-borne viruses; Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE); Western equine encephalitis (WEE); Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE); Japanese encephalitis; and Zika virus.

The very young and the elderly are more likely to have more severe encephalitis.

Exposure to viruses can occur through breathing in respiratory droplets from infected people, certain insect bites, and direct skin contact.

What are encephalitis symptoms and signs?
The signs and symptoms of encephalitis can range from very mild flu-like symptoms to potentially life-threatening events. Signs and symptoms of encephalitis include sudden fever, headache, vomiting, visual sensitivity to light, stiff neck and back, confusion, drowsiness, unsteady gait, irritability, loss of consciousness, poor responsiveness, seizures, muscle weakness, sudden severe dementia, and memory loss.

How do health care professionals diagnose encephalitis?
A health care professional diagnoses encephalitis after performing a thorough history and exam. The exam will incorporate special techniques to look for signs of inflammation of the membranes that surround the spinal cord and brain (meninges). The doctor will order specific tests to help determine the diagnosis.

Tests that evaluate individuals suspected of having encephalitis include cerebrospinal fluid analysis, brain scanning such as computerized tomography scan (CT or CAT scan)/ Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, and an evaluation of the blood for infection and the presence of bacteria.

The most common method of obtaining a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (or CSF) for examination is a spinal tap. A spinal tap, or lumbar puncture (LP), involves the insertion of a needle into the fluid within the spinal canal. The needle goes between the spine’s bony parts until it reaches the CSF. A medical professional then collects a small amount of fluid to send to the laboratory for an exam.

Evaluating the CSF is necessary for a definitive diagnosis of encephalitis and to decide on the best treatment options.

Abnormal spinal fluid results confirm the diagnosis and, in the event of an infection, by identifying the organism that caused the infection.

What is the treatment of encephalitis?
People require urgent treatment with antibiotics and/or antiviral medications if a physician suspects that person has encephalitis. Patients may need to take sedatives for irritability or restlessness. Doctors may administer other medications to decrease fever or treat headaches.

Prevention
Basic steps to avoid the spread of infections (handwashing, covering mouth when coughing, etc.) can help prevent encephalitis.

*Dr. Nwaoney is an epidemiologist, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Medical Director of Richie Hospital and El Shaddai Group.

A new study has suggested that loneliness decreases with age. In addition, it seems to be less prevalent in collectivist societies than in individualistic ones and less common in women than in men.

New research suggests that young people are more likely than older people to feel lonely, that people in countries that are collectivist rather than individualistic are less likely to feel lonely, and that loneliness is more likely to affect men than women.

The research, which appears in the journal Personality and Individual Differencesdraws on a newly published significant global dataset that the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) gathered for their “Loneliness Experiment.”

Loneliness

In recent years, loneliness has become a focus of research as the body of evidence demonstrating its effects on both individuals and society continues to grow. Loneliness negatively affects people’s well-being and the economy, and it increases the likelihood that a person will need medical care.

The authors of the present study state that loneliness can be understood as “the discrepancy between actual and desired social relationships.”

According to this definition, two people who have the same number of social relationships may experience loneliness differently if one desires more social relationships than the other.

Conversely, two people who desire the same number of social relationships may experience different levels of loneliness if one of them has more social relationships.

While researchers know that many other factors can affect loneliness, few studies have been large or diverse enough to get an accurate picture as to what these may be and how they might interact.

To address this, the authors of the present study drew on a large and diverse new dataset to explore the ways in which culture, age, and gender affect loneliness.

More than 46,000 participants

The study drew on the BBC’s Loneliness Experiment dataset. This dataset contains information from nearly 55,000 people aged between 16 and 99 from 237 countries, islands, and territories, making it one of the largest and most diverse of its kind.

The authors of the present study focused on a subset of this data, including people who had indicated their age and specified that they were a man or a woman. There were insufficient data available to include those who chose “other” as their gender. In total, they used data from 46,054 people.

To determine the participants’ level of individualism or collectivism, the authors drew on a previous study that assigned relative individualism or collectivism to 101 countries. The participants in the current study only included those who indicated that they were from one of these 101 countries.

The researchers asked the participants various questions to determine their loneliness:

  • Do you feel a lack of companionship?
  • Do you feel left out?
  • Do you feel isolated from others?
  • Do you feel in tune with people around you?

The participants responded on a scale of one to five, indicating how often they experienced these feelings. One indicated never, and five indicated always.

Age, gender, and culture affect loneliness

The authors found that loneliness tended to increase based on people’s individualism and reduce as they got older. Loneliness was more prevalent among men than women. Taken together, the interaction of age, gender, and cultural background predicted loneliness.

The authors noted that their study was unable to explain why this might be. For example, while developmental processes could explain a reduction in loneliness as people get older, historical changes in the stigma surrounding talking about loneliness could also account for it.

According to Prof. Manuela Barreto of the University of Exeter, United Kingdom, and first author of the study: “Contrary to what people may expect, loneliness is not a predicament unique to older people. In fact, younger people report greater feelings of loneliness.”

“Since loneliness stems from the sense that one’s social connections are not as good as desired, this might be due to the different expectations younger and older people hold. The age pattern we discovered seems to hold across many countries and cultures.”

While the authors found that individualism was more likely to result in loneliness, much of the data from the study came from countries that people consider to be more individualistic. However, the authors suspect that individualism is likely to enhance loneliness, particularly if other factors are at play.

The authors also highlight that other factors could influence the finding that men are likely to be more lonely than women. For example, it may be that men felt particularly encouraged to discuss their loneliness for this study, given that gender stereotypes dictate them as being reluctant to discuss their emotions.

Radio hosts and other listeners actively invited men to participate in this study. The authors suggest that using an online survey provided them with the conditions that they needed to discuss their emotions.

Prof. Pamela Qualter, of the University of Manchester, U.K., and a co-author of the study, notes: “With regard to gender, the existing evidence is mixed. There is an awareness that admitting to feeling ‘lonely’ can be especially stigmatizing for men.”

“However, when this word is not used in the measures, men sometimes report more loneliness than women. This is indeed what we found.”

As the authors note, their findings were not representative, and the effects of the variables that they identified were relatively small. Nonetheless, the size and diversity of the study have led the authors to believe that “those effects are real and that loneliness is a fairly universal experience across demographic categories.”

For Prof. Barreto, their study has implications for young people living through the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. She says, “Though it is true that younger people are better able to use technology to access social relationships, it is also known than when this is done as a replacement — rather than an extension — of those relationships, it does not mitigate loneliness.”

Photo Taken In Oradea, Romania

A new study has identified how ketamine can combat difficult-to-treat depression.

New research has revealed the specific parts of the brain that ketamine affects when doctors use it to treat people with difficult-to-treat depression.

The study, which appears in the journal Translational Psychiatry, may open the door to new therapies in the treatment of depression.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States, about 7.6% of people over the age of 12 have depression during any 2-week period. The CDC describe depression as a sad mood that extends for a long period and affects a person’s ability to live a normal life.

When severe, depression can have a serious negative effect on a person’s life, sometimes leading to suicidal thoughts.

Experts do not fully understand why some people experience depression, although the National Institute of Mental Health suggest that genetic, environmental, biological, and psychological factors may play a role. It is treatable with medication, psychological therapy, or a combination of the two.

Previous research has made it clear that the drug ketamine can be an effective antidepressant, and some scientists have proposed it as a treatment in cases of depression that do not respond to conventional treatments.

However, precisely how and why ketamine functions as an antidepressant is less clear. As a consequence, the authors of the present study wanted to identify precisely what effects ketamine has on the brain of a person who is not responding to conventional treatments. They hope that this research may lead to better treatment options for these individuals.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can call 800-799-4889.

Looking at ketamine’s effect in the brain

To do this, the researchers gave participants doses of ketamine that were low enough not to have an anesthetic effect and then took images of their brains using a positron emission tomography (PET) camera.

According to the study’s first author, Dr. Mikael Tiger, a researcher at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at the Karolinska Institutet in Solna, Sweden, “In this, the largest PET study of its kind in the world, we wanted to look at not only the magnitude of the effect but also if ketamine acts via serotonin 1B receptors.”

“We and another research team were previously able to show a low density of serotonin 1B receptors in the brains of people with depression.”

By using a radioactive marker that binds to a person’s serotonin receptors, the PET images could highlight what effects ketamine was having on these receptors, which play a crucial role in depression by modulating the amount of serotonin that a person receives. Experts believe that low levels of serotonin correlate to more severe experiences of depression.

The authors of the study recruited people through internet advertising. After receiving 832 volunteers, the authors reduced this number to 30 to make sure that the participants were as relevant to the study as possible.

Other than having major depressive disorder (MDD), the participants were healthy. They had not responded to previous treatment for MDD.

The researchers split the participants into two groups, treating 20 people with ketamine and the other 10 with a placebo.

The study was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, meaning that neither the doctors nor the participants initially knew to which group each participant belonged.

Prior to the treatment, the researchers took a baseline scan of the participants’ brains. They took a second scan in the days following the treatment.

For the second phase of the study, 29 of the participants agreed to take ketamine twice a week for 2 weeks.

Serotonin reduced, dopamine increased

Using a rating scale for depression, the researchers found that 70% of the participants in the second phase of the study responded to the ketamine.

Furthermore, after analyzing the PET images, the authors found that the ketamine was affecting the participants’ brains in a previously unidentified manner, reducing the output of serotonin but increasing the output of dopamine, which is also important for mood regulation.

According to the last author of the study, Dr. Johan Lundberg, research group leader at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, “We show for the first time that ketamine treatment increases the number of serotonin 1B receptors.”

“Ketamine has the advantage of being very rapid-acting, but at the same time, it is a narcotic-classed drug that can lead to addiction. So it’ll be interesting to examine in future studies if this receptor can be a target for new, effective drugs that don’t have the adverse effects of ketamine.”

– Dr. Johan Lundberg

late menopause
late menopause

Sexual problems are more common in postmenopausal women, which suggests that menopause can reduce libido.

The reduced sex drive is often caused by decreased estrogen levels, which can dampen arousal and result in sex being more painful.

In this article, we look at how menopause might affect someone’s sex drive, along with what can be done to improve libido.

Menopause and libido

What is menopause?

Menopause refers to when a woman stops having her period permanently, but it can affect more than a woman’s menstrual cycle.

Menopause can cause physical and emotional changes that impact a woman’s life, including her sex life.

Some symptoms and side effects associated with menopause include:

  • anxiety
  • bladder control issues
  • decreased sex drive and desire (libido)
  • depression
  • difficulty sleeping
  • thinning hair
  • weight gain

Each of these effects can impact a woman’s quality of life and relationship with her partner.

What is libido?

Libido refers to sexual interest and sexual enjoyment.

Some women going through menopause report reduced libido, but the causes vary from person to person.

According to one review, the reported rates of sexual problems in postmenopausal women are between 68 and 86.5 percent.

This range is much higher than in all women in general, which is estimated to be between 25 and 63 percent.

Why does menopause affect libido?

Decreased estrogen levels can result in reduced blood flow to the vagina, which can cause the tissues of the vagina and labia to become thinner. If this happens, they become less sensitive to sexual stimulation.

Decreased blood flow also affects vaginal lubrication and overall arousal. As a result, a woman may not enjoy sex as much and may have difficulty achieving orgasm. Sex may be uncomfortable or even painful.

Fluctuating hormone levels during perimenopause and menopause can also affect a woman’s mental health, which in turn, may cause a decrease in her libido.

Stress can also impact a woman’s libido, as she may be juggling a job, parenting, and be caring for aging parents. The changes in hormone levels a woman may experience during menopause may make her irritable or depressed, so dealing with everyday stress may feel more difficult.

According to an article published in the Journal of Women’s Health, women who have more significant side effects associated with menopause are more likely to report lower libido levels.

Examples of these side effects include hot flashes, depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and fatigue.

Other factors that make a woman going through menopause more likely to experience a reduced libido include:

  • history of chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, or depression
  • history of smoking
  • engaging in low levels of physical activity

A woman should talk to her doctor about how these conditions could affect her sex drive.

Tips for improving libido

There are several steps a woman can take to increase her libido. These include medical treatments, lifestyle changes, and home remedies.

Medical treatments

middle aged couple enjoying a bike ride
Spending time together on shared hobbies, exercising, and planned dates will help increase a couple’s intamacy.

If a woman experiences changes to her vaginal tissue, such as thinning and dryness, she may wish to consider estrogen therapy.

Prescription estrogen can be applied directly to the vagina in the form of creams, pills, or vaginal rings. These usually contain lower doses of estrogen than regular birth control pills.

Some women may wish to take estrogen pills that contain higher levels of hormones. This treatment, known as hormone replacement therapy, might help reduce symptoms, such as hot flashes and mood changes, but may also carry risks.

A woman thinking about hormone replacement therapy should discuss it with her doctor before starting to take any medication.

One study found that women using hormone therapies reported higher levels of sexual desire compared with women who did not.

Less commonly, a doctor may prescribe testosterone therapy. However, not all women respond to this treatment, and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not approve it for treating sexual disorders in women.

A woman may not experience any changes in her sex drive after using estrogen or testosterone therapies.

A woman may also choose to see a therapist who specializes in sexual dysfunction or enhancing sex. Sometimes, couples may want to attend therapy together.

Lifestyle changes

Some women may benefit from using water-soluble lubricants during sex. These can be purchased over-the-counter at most drugstores.

However, women should avoid non-water soluble and silicone-based lubricants, as these can break down condoms used to protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Increasing physical activity, such as getting 30 minutes or more of exercise on a routine basis, may help reduce menopause-related symptoms, including a low libido. Eating a healthful diet can also enhance a person’s overall sense of well being.

Changing sexual habits

There are many ways a person can foster a sense of intimacy with their partner, including:

  • Changing sexual routines: Try spending extended periods on foreplay, use vibrators or other sex toys to enhance an intimate experience, or engage in sexual activity or touching without the goal of orgasm.
  • Relieving stress together: There are many stress-relieving techniques a couple can do outside of the bedroom to increase intimacy. Examples include going on planned dates together, taking a walk, or spending time doing hobbies together, such as exercise, crafts, or cooking.
  • Practicing masturbation: Spending time alone and exploring what types of touch and sexual stimulation work well for an individual can help them talk to a partner about their needs and preferences. It can also help a person feel more comfortable with sexual activity without the pressure of a partner.

Natural remedies

Some women use natural supplements to try to increase their libido. It is important to keep in mind that the FDA do not regulate herbs and supplements, so women should be sure to choose a reputable brand.

Some natural remedies used to increase libido in women include:

  • black cohosh
  • red clover
  • soy

A woman should discuss these remedies with a doctor before taking them to ensure they will not interact negatively with other prescriptions and supplements she may be taking. Soy contains estrogen, so it may react with other estrogen therapies.

When to see a doctor

A woman should speak to her doctor whenever perimenopause or menopause is having a significant impact on her day-to-day activities, including sexual activity.

Sometimes, a doctor can recommend changes in health habits as well as discuss whether prescription medications may help relieve the symptoms, including a low libido.

Speaking with a doctor can also rule out any other underlying medical conditions that may cause a reduced libido. These conditions include urinary tract infections, uterine prolapse, endometriosis, or pelvic floor dysfunction.

Outlook

While some women do experience a decreased libido in menopause, others do not.

Some women may even experience a heightened libido after menopause. This can be due to reduced stresses over pregnancy and fewer child-rearing responsibilities.

If a woman’s libido is impacted after menopause, she should talk to her doctor about treatments that could enhance her quality of life.

Previous research has suggested that there is a link between depression and tea drinking. Now, a new study is investigating this relationship further.

Depression is common among older adults, with 7% of those over the age of 60 years reporting “major depressive disorder.”

Accordingly, research is underway to identify possible causes, which include genetic predisposition, socioeconomic status, and relationships with family, living partners, and the community at large.

A study by researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Fudan University in Shanghai raises another possibility. It finds a statistically significant link between regular tea drinking and lower levels of depression in seniors.

While the researchers have not yet established a causal relationship between tea and mental health, their findings — which appear in BMC Geriatrics — show a strong association.

Reading the tea leaves

Tea is popular among older adults, and various researchers have recently been investigating the potential beneficial effects of the beverage.

A separate study from the NUS that appeared in Aging last June, for example, found that tea may have properties that help brain areas maintain healthy cognitive function.

“Our study offers the first evidence of the positive contribution of tea drinking to brain structure and suggests a protective effect on age-related decline in brain organization.”

Junhua Li, lead author

That earlier paper also cites research showing that tea and its ingredients — catechin, L-theanine, and caffeine — can produce positive effects on mood, cognitive ability, cardiovascular health, cancer prevention, and mortality.

However, defining the exact role of tea in preventing depression is difficult, especially due to the social context in which people often consume it. Particularly in countries such as China, social interaction may itself account for some or even all of the drink’s benefits.

Feng Qiushi and Shen Ke led the new study, which tracks this covariate and others, including gender, education, and residence, as well as marital and pension status.

The team also factored in lifestyle habits and health details, including smoking, drinking alcohol, daily activities, level of cognitive function, and degree of social engagement.

In addition, the authors write, “The study has major methodological strength,” citing a few of its attributes.

Firstly, they note, it could more accurately track an individual’s tea-drinking history because “instead of examining tea-drinking habit [only] at the time of survey or in the preceding month/year, we combined the information on frequency and consistency of tea consumption at age 60 and at the time of assessment.”

Once the researchers had classified each person as one of four types of tea drinker according to how often they drank the beverage, they concluded:

“[O]nly consistent daily drinkers, those who had drunk tea almost every day since age 60, could significantly benefit in mental health.”

13,000 study participants

The researchers analyzed the data of 13,000 individuals who took part in the Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey (CLHLS) between 2005 and 2014.

They discovered a virtually universal link between tea drinking and lower reports of depression.

Other factors seemed to reduce depression as well, including living in an urban setting and being educated, married, financially comfortable, in better health, and socially engaged.

The data also suggested that the benefits of tea drinking are strongest for males aged 65 to 79 years. Feng Qiushi suggests an explanation: “It is likely that the benefit of tea drinking is more evident for the early stage of health deterioration. More studies are surely needed in regard to this issue.”

Looking at the connection the other way around, tea drinkers appeared to share certain characteristics.

Higher proportions of tea drinkers were older, male, and urban residents. In addition, they were more likely to be educated, married, and receiving pensions.

Tea drinkers also exhibited higher cognitive and physical function and were more socially involved. On the other hand, they were also more likely to drink alcohol and smoke.

Qiushi previously published the results of the effect of tea drinking on a different population, Singaporeans, finding a similar link to lower rates of depression. The new study, while more detailed, supports this earlier work.

Currently exploring new CLHLS data regarding tea drinking, Qiushi wishes to understand more about what tea can do, saying, “This new round of data collection has distinguished different types of tea, such as green tea, black tea, and oolong tea so that we could see which type of tea really works for alleviating depressive symptoms.”

Adnexal masses are lumps that occur in the adnexa of the uterus, which includes the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. They have several possible causes, which can be gynecological or nongynecological.

An adnexal mass could be:

  • an ovarian cyst
  • an ectopic pregnancy
  • a benign tumor
  • a malignant tumor

A family doctor can usually manage benign masses. However, prepubescent and postmenopausal individuals will need to see a gynecologist or oncologist.

Malignant adnexal masses require treatment from a specialist.

In this article, we discuss the characteristics of adnexal masses. We also review how doctors diagnose and treat adnexal them.

Symptoms

People report different symptoms, depending on the cause of the adnexal mass.

People with an adnexal mass may report:

  • severe lower abdominal or pelvic pain that is usually on one side
  • abnormal bleeding from the uterus
  • pain during sexual intercourse
  • worsening pain during a period
  • painful periods
  • abnormally heavy bleeding during periods
  • abdominal symptoms, including a feeling of fullness, bloating, constipation, difficulty eating, increased abdominal size, indigestion, nausea, and vomiting
  • urinary urgency, frequency, or incontinence
  • weight loss
  • lack of energy
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • vaginal discharge

Different causes of adnexal masses may have similar symptoms, so doctors usually conduct further investigations to determine the exact cause.

Once the doctor has worked out the cause of the adnexal mass, they can recommend treatment and management.

Causes

Adnexal masses include a variety of different conditions that range in severity from benign growths to malignant tumors.

The cause of adnexal masses could be gynecological or nongynecological.

Some of the causes of adnexal masses include:

  • Ectopic pregnancy: A pregnancy where the fertilized egg implants somewhere outside the uterus.
  • Endometrioma: A benign cyst on the ovary that contains thick, old blood that appears brown.
  • Leiomyoma: A benign gynecological tumor, also known as a fibroid.
  • Ovarian cancer: These tumors of the ovary may be ovarian epithelial cancers that begin in the cells on the surface of the ovary or malignant germ cell cancers that begin in the eggs.
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease: Inflammation of the upper genital tract, which includes the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. It occurs due to an infection.
  • Tubo-ovarian abscess: An infectious adnexal mass that forms because of pelvic inflammatory disease.
  • Ovarian torsion: A gynecological emergency involving a complete or partial rotation of the tissue that supports the ovary, which cuts off blood flow to the ovary.

Diagnosis

A doctor may diagnose an adnexal mass by:

  • taking a complete medical history
  • asking questions about symptoms
  • conducting a physical examination
  • obtaining blood samples

Most of the time, people will need a transvaginal ultrasound to allow doctors to evaluate the characteristics of an adnexal mass.

Females who have had a positive pregnancy test result and report abdominal or pelvic pain and vaginal bleeding might have an ectopic pregnancy. An ovarian torsion causes sudden, severe pain with nausea and vomiting. Immediate medical attention is necessary to treat both an ectopic pregnancy and ovarian torsion.

People with pelvic inflammatory disease or a tubo-ovarian abscess may experience gradual pelvic pain with nausea and vaginal bleeding.

Early ovarian cancer may sometimes present with nonspecific symptoms. Sometimes, doctors may only detect cancer when the tumor has become malignant.

Malignant tumors may have one or several of the following characteristics:

  • a solid component of the tumor
  • parts of the tumor have thick divisions larger than 2–3 centimeters separating them
  • they are present on both sides of the reproductive tract
  • the presence of fluid filled lumps

Treatment

A doctor will choose the most appropriate treatment depending on the cause of the adnexal mass. Women with an ectopic pregnancy will have to end their pregnancy. A doctor may choose one of the following procedures:

  • the administration of a single or two-dose intramuscular methotrexate
  • laparoscopic surgery
  • a salpingostomy or salpingectomy, which are surgical procedures involving the fallopian tubes

Doctors have not yet determined the optimal management of an endometrioma, according to a study that featured in Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey.

Currently, the possible treatments for an endometrioma include:

  • watchful waiting
  • medical therapy
  • surgical intervention
  • inducing ovulation and using assisted reproductive technology in females with infertility

People with pelvic inflammatory disease will require courses of intravenous antibiotics, which may include:

  • cefotetan (Cefotan)
  • cefoxitin (Mefoxin)
  • clindamycin (Cleocin)

Some people can receive treatment outside of the hospital setting with oral doxycycline (Vibramycin) and intramuscular ceftriaxone (Rocephin) or another third generation cephalosporin antibiotic. In some cases, doctors will need to add oral metronidazole (Flagyl).

In the past, tubo-ovarian abscesses required surgical removal of the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. However, doctors can now prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics. A person with a ruptured tubo-ovarian abscess may still require surgery.

Ovarian torsion is a gynecological emergency. The only treatment is surgery to prevent severe damage to the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

People with leiomyomas or fibroids may receive hormonal treatments or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to control the symptoms. Once a person stops taking medication, the symptoms may return, and the fibroids may continue to grow. Surgery is the most successful treatment for fibroids.

The treatment options for ovarian cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. Oncologists will consider the following factors before recommending a treatment plan:

  • the type of ovarian cancer and how much cancer is present
  • the stage and grade of the cancer
  • whether the person has a buildup of fluid in the abdomen causing swelling
  • whether surgery can remove the whole tumor
  • genetic changes
  • the person’s age and general health status
  • whether it is a new diagnosis, or if cancer has come back

Risk factors

Risk factors depend on the cause of the adnexal mass. Females with ovarian masses have an increased risk of developing ovarian torsion. More than 80% of females with ovarian torsion have masses of 5 cm or larger.

Doctors diagnose fibroids in about 70% of white females and more than 80% of black females by the age of 50 years. Other factors may increase a person’s risk of developing fibroids, such as:

  • starting periods early in life
  • using oral contraceptives before 16 years of age
  • an increase in body mass index (BMI)

Ovarian cancer can run in families. People with a family history of ovarian cancer may have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. Other risk factors include:

  • inherited genetic changes
  • hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer
  • endometriosis
  • postmenopausal hormonal therapy
  • obesity
  • tall height

The likelihood of developing cancer also tends to increase with age.

Summary

Adnexal masses are lumps that doctors may find in the adnexal of the uterus, which is the part of the body that houses the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. Not all masses are cancerous, and they do not all require treatment.

Different types of adnexal mass can share many of the same symptoms. As a result, doctors need to collect a full medical history and data from physical examinations, blood tests, and medical imaging, including transvaginal ultrasounds.

Doctors need to pinpoint the location and cause of an adnexal mass to determine the appropriate management and treatment.

A big stress factor that isn’t usually addressed is pre-menopausal or menopause effect on sleep. If you’re 40 or over, you can agree that insomnia is real! This culprit must be addressed. Many women experience sleep problems before and during menopause when hormone levels and menstrual periods become irregular. Often, poor sleep sticks around throughout the menopausal transition and after menopause.

Hormones shift throughout women’s lives, and changes to estrogen, progesterone and other hormones can lead to recurring sleep problems well before the transition to menopause actively begins. You might think that a good night’s sleep is nothing but it becomes a precious commodity once you reach a certain age.

Hot flashes are sometimes referred to as, “personal summers.’ Any woman in this stage of life will tell you that if feels like your body has turned into an oven. Sleeplessness due to menopause is often associated with hot flashes. These unpleasant sensations of extreme heat can happen during the day or at night. Nighttime hot flashes are often paired with unexpected awakenings.

There are changes in the brain that lead to the hot flash itself, and those changes — not just the feeling of heat — may also be what triggers the awakening.

When they happen at night, hot flashes are called night sweats. Some women find that hot flashes interrupt their daily lives. The earlier in life hot flashes begin, the longer you may experience them. Research has found that black women get hot flashes for more years than white and Asian women.

Lifestyle changes to improve hot flashes
Before considering medication, first try making changes to your lifestyle.
If hot flashes are keeping you up at night, keep your bedroom cooler and try drinking small amounts of cold water before bed. Layer your bedding so it can be adjusted as needed. Some women find a device called a bed fan helpful. Here are some other lifestyle changes suggested by research:
• Dress in layers, which can be removed at the start of a hot flash.
• Carry a portable fan to use when a hot flash strike.
• Avoid alcohol, spicy foods, and caffeine. These can make menopausal symptoms worse.
• If you smoke, try to quit, not only for menopausal symptoms, but for your overall health.
• Try to maintain a healthy weight. Women who are overweight or obese may experience more frequent and severe hot flashes.
• Try mind-body practices like yoga or other self-calming techniques. Early-stage research has shown that mindfulness meditation, may help improve menopausal symptoms.

Here is what works for me and my suggestions from a few years of trial/errors, research, doctor’s input, etc:
1. Stop worrying about sleep! Period. It also meant I had to address other areas of my life. Most of what ails us is addressed holistically. As a first born with a type A personality, my default to is to find solutions which means my brain is working constantly. Sometimes, I ponder problems that have not yet been invented. Which also means that I’m not present in the moment. I lived in the future somewhere. However, I’ve learned to pay attention to the Here and Now, and enjoy those in my life circle. I endeavor to Live my best life and not try to fix everything. This helps quiet my mind.
2. It is perfectly okay to give yourself a limited amount of time to ‘stress or fuss’ after which you stop and move on to a mindless activity. Sleep will come.
3. Exercise is my go-to therapy. When I run, I sleep better.
4. Sex is a great precursor to sleep but only after both parties are fully satisfied. If the woman is a passive participant, she’ll have to watch her partner sleep joyfully next to her.
5. I am an avid aromatherapy advocate. We must be consistent in this. It takes a while for your body to acclimate to a particular scent. My scent of choice is lavender because it calms me.
6. I drink chamomile or any relaxing tea at night. This is a staple.
7. I love baths and my doctor suggested I take one before I sleep. I soak in the tub with bath beads, light candle. OR take a shower in the dark but rub your body with aroma oils and inhale.
8. Finally, once in a while, I find my way to my massage therapist, who usually says that my body is knotted up; however after 2 hours or so, I am loose and ready to climb in bed