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mental health

When children indulge in sugary foods, they turn feral and bounce off every available surface. This is, as most parents can attest, a fact. In this Special Feature, we ask whether this common knowledge holds up to scientific scrutiny.

You are at a party, and there are around 20 children, aged 3–6. The noise is deafening and the candy bowls are empty. Screams of joy fill the air as parents marvel at their offspring’s sugar-induced bedlam.

But what does the science say? Does sugar increase the risk of hyperactivity in children? Perhaps surprisingly, the data says “probably not.”

This will come as a surprise to anyone who has attended a gathering of children where sweet treats are available, so let’s dive into the evidence, or lack thereof.

Sugar and hyperactivity in children

The question of whether sugar influences children’s behavior started to generate interest in the 1990s, and a flurry of studies ensued. In 1995, JAMA published a meta-analysis that combed through the findings of 23 experiments across 16 scientific papers.

The authors only included studies that had used a placebo and were blinded, which means that the children, parents, and teachers involved did not know who had received the sugar and who had been given the placebo.

After analyzing the data, the authors concluded: “This meta-analysis of the reported studies to date found that sugar (mainly sucrose) does not affect the behavior or cognitive performance of children.”

However, the authors note that they cannot eliminate the possibility of a “small effect.” As ever, they explain that more studies on a large scale are needed.

There is also the possibility that a certain subsection of children might respond differently to sugar. Overall, though, the scientists demonstrate that there certainly isn’t an effect as large as many parents report.

Are some children more sensitive to sugar?

Some parents believe that their child is particularly sensitive to sugar. To test whether this might be the case, one group of researchers compared two groups of children:

  • 25 “normal” children aged 3–5
  • 23 children, aged 6–10, whose parents described them as being sensitive to sugar

Each family followed three experimental diets in turn and each for 3 weeks. The diets were:

  1. high in sucrose, with no artificial sweeteners
  2. low in sucrose, but with aspartame as a sweetener
  3. low in sucrose, but with saccharin — a placebo — as a sweetener

The study included aspartame, as the authors explain, because it, too, has been “considered a possible cause of hyperactivity and other behavior problems in children.”

All three diets were free from artificial food colorings, additives, and preservatives. Each week, the scientists assessed the children’s behavior and cognitive performance. After analysis, the authors concluded:

“For the children described as sugar-sensitive, there were no significant differences among the three diets in any of 39 behavioral and cognitive variables. For the preschool children, only 4 of the 31 measures differed significantly among the three diets, and there was no consistent pattern in the differences that were observed.”

In 2017, a related study appeared in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. The researchers investigated the impact of sugar consumption on the sleep and behavior of 287 children aged 8–12.

The scientists collected information from food frequency questionnaires and demographic, sleep, and behavior questionnaires. A surprising 81% of the children consumed more than the recommended daily sugar intake.

Still, the researchers concluded that “Total sugar consumption was not related to behavioral or sleep problems, nor affected the relationship between these variables.”

Taking the findings together, it seems clear that if sugar does impact hyperactivity, the effect is not huge and does not extend to the majority of children.

Why does the idea persist?

At this point, some readers might be asking, “If there is no scientific evidence that sugar induces hyperactivity in children, why does it induce hyperactivity in my children?” Some of the blame, it is sad to say, may fall on parental expectations.

A study that underlines this point appeared in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology in 1994. The researchers recruited 35 boys aged 5–7 whose mothers described them as being behaviorally “sugar sensitive.”

The children were split into two groups. They all received a placebo, which was aspartame. Half of the mothers were told that their children had each received a placebo, and the others were told that theirs had each received a large dose of sugar.

The scientists filmed the mothers and sons as they interacted and were asked questions about the interaction. The authors explain what they saw:

“Mothers in the sugar expectancy condition rated their children as significantly more hyperactive. Behavioral observations revealed these mothers exercised more control by maintaining physical closeness, as well as showing trends to criticize, look at, and talk to their sons more than did control mothers.”

Also, the media plays a part in perpetuating the myth. From cartoons to movies, the term “sugar rush” has entered common parlance.

Another factor is the setting in which a child might be given excess sugar. The classic scenario is a room full of children at a birthday party. In this environment, they are having fun and are likely to be excitable, regardless of the candy consumed.

Similarly, if candy is a special treat, the simple fact of receiving a delicious reward might be enough to generate a boisterous outburst of high-octane activity.

Where did this idea begin?

The health effects of sugar have been discussed widely over the last century. Even today, much research is dedicated to understanding the full details of this sweet chemical’s power over human health.

In 1947, Dr. Theron G. Randolph published a paper discussing the role of food allergies in fatigue, irritability, and behavioral problems in children. Among other factors, he described sensitivity to corn sugars, or corn syrup, as the cause of “tension-fatigue syndrome” in children, symptoms of which include tiredness and irritability.

In the 1970s, sugar was blamed for reactive or functional hypoglycemia — in other words, a dip in blood sugar following a meal — which can cause symptoms such as anxiety, confusion, and irritability.

These were the two prominent theories that underpinned the belief that children’s behavior is negatively impacted by consuming sugar: It is either an allergic reaction or a response to hypoglycemia. However, neither theory is now backed by the data.

Another lay explanation is that sugary snacks cause a brief spike in blood glucose, an effect called hyperglycemia. However, the symptoms of hyperglycemia include thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, irritability, and nausea. They do not include hyperactivity.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a fresh surge of interest in the sugar–hyperactivity theory. A number of studies appeared to show that children who were the most hyperactive consumed more sugar.

However, these studies were cross-sectional, meaning that they studied one population of children at one point in time. As the authors of the meta-analysis cited above explain, from these findings, it is impossible to know whether sugar causes hyperactivity or whether hyperactivity drives increased sugar intake.

Ongoing research

Since the 1990s, studies looking at hyperactivity and sugar have trailed off, with most experts considering the case closed. In one domain, however, studies have continued.

For the vast majority of children, sugar will not cause hyperactivity, but the jury is still out for one group of youngsters: those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Scientists have approached this topic from two angles; some studies ask whether a high-sugar diet could increase the risk of developing ADHD, while others investigate whether sugar could exacerbate symptoms of ADHD in kids with the condition.

From the first camp of research, a study published in 2011 followed 107 fifth-graders and found “no significant association […] between total volume of simple sugar intake from snacks and ADHD development.”

Looking for longer-term effects, a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2019 assessed “evidence of the association between dietary patterns and ADHD.” The authors concluded that “a diet high in refined sugar and saturated fat can increase the risk” of ADHD and that a diet heavy in fruit and vegetables is protective.

However, they acknowledge that the evidence was generally weak. For instance, of the 14 studies that found a relationship between diet and ADHD, 10 used a cross-sectional or case-control design, both of which are observational and can have methodological problems.

Cross-sectional studies cannot tease apart which came first, the cause or the effect, because they determine the prevalence of both at the same point in time.

Case-control studies provide stronger evidence, as they look back into potential causes, or risk factors, after working out who has the health issue in question. The researchers then explore the occurrence of the risk factors in a similar group of people who do not have the health problem.

However, information about potential causes can be affected by memory bias — for example, people with ADHD may be more likely to report that they had a sugary diet because the association is expected.

The authors of the meta-analysis make another important point; there is some evidence that people with ADHD are more likely to binge eat than people without it. This might mean that increased consumption of foods that activate reward networks in the brain, such as sugary snacks, might be the result of ADHD, rather than a factor that increases the risk of ADHD.

An important final word

Sugar, it seems, does not cause hyperactivity in the vast majority of children. In the future, larger, longer studies might detect a small effect, but current evidence suggests that the association is a myth.

This, however, does not discount the fact that a diet high in sugar increases the risk of diabetes, weight gain, tooth cavities, and heart disease. Monitoring children’s, and our own, sugar intake is still important for maintaining good health.

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 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 antibiotic 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 the fever or treat headaches.

Prevention

Basic steps to avoid spread of infections (hand washing, 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.

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

Over the years, many scientists have set out to answer the same question: Does the month or season of your birth influence mortality risk? A recent study takes a deeper look at this query.

Scientists from the United States, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Lithuania, Japan, and elsewhere, have investigated this topic.

Some of these earlier studies concluded that, in the northern hemisphere, people born in November have the lowest risk of overall mortality and heart disease-related mortality.

Conversely, those born in the spring or summer have the highest risk; this increase peaks in May. In the southern hemisphere, these general patterns shift by 6 months.

Although scientists have spent a great deal of time and effort investigating this relationship, exactly how your month of birth might influence your future health is still unclear.

Some scientists believe that the birth-month mortality effect may have its roots in socioeconomic factors. However, to date, few studies on this topic have been able to control their analysis for socioeconomic factors.

Recently, scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, both in Boston, MA, looked into this question once more. They published their findings in the BMJ.

Access to detailed data

To investigate, the researchers took data from the Nurses’ Health Study, which began in the 1970s; it involved 121,700 registered U.S. female nurses who were 30–55 years of age at enrollment. The dataset includes information about each participant, including medical history, weight, height, smoking status, demographics, and lifestyle factors.

The Nurses’ Health Study provides impressively granular detail; for instance, it contains information about the education level of the participants’ husbands, and whether the participant’s parents owned their home at the time they were born.

In all, 116,911 participants were eligible for the current study; the authors collated information about the causes of any deaths. Over 38 years of follow-up, there were 43,248 deaths.

Was there an effect?

Once the scientists had adjusted their analysis for a range of variables, they found no significant association between overall mortality and either the month or season of their birth. However, they did identify an effect on cardiovascular mortality risk. The authors write:

“[C]ompared with women born in November, those born from March to July had a higher mortality for cardiovascular disease […] while women born in December […] had the lowest cardiovascular disease-related mortality.”

When they looked at cardiovascular disease and the seasons, they identified a small but statistically significant relationship. They measured an increase in the risk of death from heart disease for those born in spring and summer when compared with those born in fall.

After controlling for a number of factors, including familial and socioeconomic variables, the relationship remained significant.

These results are in line with other large scale studies. For instance, the authors discuss two Swedishstudies, both of which involved millions of participants and 20 years of follow-up. As with the current research, they measured the lowest cardiovascular mortality rate in those born in November.

“Previous epidemiological studies have relatively consistently described individuals born in November to have the lowest risk of overall and cardiovascular mortality,” explain the authors, “and those born in the spring or summer to have the highest mortality risk.”

Does vitamin D play a role?

The findings from the most recent investigation suggest that socioeconomic factors may not be the primary reason for varying cardiovascular mortality rates with the season of birth. Scientists still do not know why this pattern emerges, but there are some theories.

Some experts suspect that vitamin D might play a part. They argue that if a pregnant woman experiences less sunlight during pregnancy — in the winter months, for instance — she may be deficient in vitamin D.

This deficiency, perhaps, could increase the future cardiac risk of the unborn child. At this stage, however, there is no evidence to back up this theory.

In their paper, the authors also wonder whether this small but significant seasonal trend will stand the test of time. As people live for longer, as food is now readily available all year round, and as the climate changes, perhaps this effect will dwindle, or maybe it will gradually shift. Whatever the answer, only time will tell.

It is worth noting that there are certain limitations to the latest study. For instance, the research only included females and, although the team controlled for a range of variables, there is always the possibility that a variable the scientists did not measure was driving the relationship.

With that said, the large dataset, detailed analysis, and agreement with other large studies make the latest findings compelling.

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No less than 45 million Nigerians, approximately 20 percent of the population, are likely to suffer adverse mental health-related problems in their life time.

Disclosing this in Lagos recently, Medical Director, Tranquil & Quest, Dr Otefe Edebi, said 1 in 5 persons in society is at risk of mental health issues.

Edebi who made this assertion during a tour of the new facility based in Lekki-Ajah to offer psychiatric and psychological evaluations to cater for people in need of mental health care in Nigeria said substance abuse and mental health cases were on the rise across the country.

General statistics indicate that about 20 percent of people in any given society in the world, including here in Nigeria, are likely to suffer from one mental ailment or the other,” he said.

We have put together a team of highly-skilled, well-experienced professionals from various fields in mental health care, ranging from consultants, psychiatric nurses, psychologists and supportive professionals on the business side.

Our goal is to address the challenge of rising cases of substance abuse and mental health in Nigeria.” With headquarters in New Jersey, the facility is the brainchild of the Chairman/CEO, Dr Henry Bandele Odunlami, an experienced psychiatrist with over 20 years of experience in mental health.

Mental health problems, like depression and anxiety, are experienced by more people worldwide than any other physical disorder. According to predictions from the World Health Organization, by 2020 depression will cause greater disability than any other mental or physical disorder.

This is a severe problem and it is common sense that we find effective solutions for these problems. To-day most mental health problems are treated with psychological and pharmacological interventions. The most common psychological treatments are known as cognitive-behavioural therapies (CBT), while antidepressants are the most common class of medication used to treat both depression and anxiety.

Other interventions are also effective, although not promoted as much as the previous mentioned treatments, including exercise, relaxation/ meditation, and sleep-based interventions. Herbs and nutrients are also often used to treat mental health problems, but there is doubt whether they actually work.

The following more commonly used natural supplements will be reviewed to see if there is actually any evidence to support their efficacy.

1. Omega-3 fish oils. There has been a substantial amount of research on the effects of fish oil, mostly in the area of depression, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD ). The overall evidence suggests that fish oil is moderately effective for these conditions. In several meta-analyses, it had been confirmed that fish oil can improve depressive symptoms that occur in major depressive disorders and bipolar disorder. The most effective fish oils for mental health are those ones that contain greater concentration of EPA ( a type of omega-3 fat)

2. St John’s wort. This herb has always been very popular for the treatment of depression and there have been many good quality studies in several meta-analyses. St John’s wort has been shown to be effective for the treatment of depression. However, research on stress, ADHD and other mental health problems have not been so convincing. The major problem with St John’s wort is that it interacts with many medications.

3. Saffron. Positive studies on its effect on depression have increased over the last decade. Follow up studies have all confirmed that saffron is effective for the treatment of depression. In comparison with antidepressants such as Prozac and Trofanil, Saffron has proven to be as effective, but with less side effects. Although it is the most expensive spice in the world, only a small amount is needed, which makes the cost quite affordable (approx $30 – $40 a month). Another advantage is that in combination with pharmaceutical antidepressants, it was more effective than the antidepressant alone.

4. Rhodiola Rosea. This herb was originally used in Russia to enhance athletic performance. It was later discovered to be effective for stress, feelings of burnout, and depression. A few good quality European studies have indicated that Rhodiola is helpful for improving mood and seems to be particularly helpful for people with stress related fatigue. People who feel run-down, find it hard getting out of bed in the morning, lack motivation/drive, experience energy slumps in the afternoon, and feel quite flat, may also benefit from Rhodiola Natural practitioners often refer to this condition as ‘adrenal fatigue’.

5. Theanine. This is an amino acid derived from green tea and is claimed to help people experience a relaxed and calm state. Some good studies indicate that it can reduce levels of stress hormones in the body (e.g. cortisol) and can move people’s brain waves into ‘alpha’ states. Alpha brain waves are associated with relaxation and meditation. People with a mind that is constantly racing report positive effects from theanine. It has also shown to improve sleep in children with ADHD, and was even helpful for people with schizophrenia.

This is just a selection of herbs and nutrients with good research-based support for their mental health benefits. There are other options available, including s-adenosyl-methionine (SAME) for depression. Kava for anxiety, B-vitamins for stress, and glycine/magnesium for sleep.

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My alarm is set to the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. It’s impossible to not smile when this song plays. This, combined with the other habits below, set the tone for a productive, happy and healthy day.

1. Drink a glass of water as soon as you wake up.

This rehydrates your body, revs up your digestive system, and gets things flowing. You may notice positive changes like clearer skin and better digestion. Bonus points if you add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice or a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar.

2. Do not check your email or phone for at least an hour.

Do you sleep with your cell phone next to you and grab for it first thing when you wake? This is not a good habit. If you choose to resist the temptation to check your email and Facebook feed until at least an hour after waking up, you’ll find that your mind is more clear, focused and happy.

3. Think of one thing for which you have gratitude.

This sets the stage for positivity throughout the day. If you come up with three or five things, even better.

4. Step outside and take a deep breath.

Fill your lungs with fresh air. Even if it’s cold outside. This only takes 10 seconds! It reminds you that you are alive and breathing.

5. Move your body.

You don’t necessarily have to do an intense workout before breakfast, but moving your body even a little is a great way to get the blood flowing and shake the body into wake-up mode. Simply doing a few stretches is a great option. Or turn on your favorite song and dance like no one is watching.

6. Take time to eat a healthy breakfast.

Rather than reaching for a box of cereal, focus on getting real foods in your body. Eggs, soaked oats, and smoothies are all great options. (And they really don’t take that much time to prepare.) Try it out.

7. Say your affirmations.

Look into the mirror and say something positive to yourself. Some ideas:

  • I radiate beauty, confidence and grace.
  • Every cell in my body is healthy and vibrant.
  • I feel great when I take care of myself.

So are you up for the challenge of incorporating these healthy habits? What about you? What helps you start the day off right?

Your choice of partner can affect your health in many ways, both positively and negatively. Anything from their exercise habits and working hours to their personality can have an impact on your well-being. We investigate the surprising ways that your significant other can affect your health.

Whether you are in a new relationship or a long-term one, newlyweds or celebrating your golden wedding anniversary, a same-sex couple or of the opposite sex, the time spent with your partner can influence your health outcomes.

Having a healthy relationship is not only rewarding, but it also significantly shapes our long-term health in a similar way to getting a good night’s sleep, eating healthfully, and not smoking. Studies have shown, time and time again, that people who are in satisfying relationships feel happier, have fewer problems with health, and live longer.

On the flip side, having unhealthy connections or a lack of social ties is linked to depression, cognitive decline, and an increased risk of premature death.

Here are some of the beneficial and detrimental effects that your relationship could have on your well-being.

Positive effects of a partner on health

Pain relief

woman in labor holding partner's hand
A partner’s touch has been found to relieve pain in women.

It is well known that people subconsciously synchronize their footsteps when they walk together or mirror a friend’s posture during a conversation.

Investigators from the University of Colorado, Boulder and the University of Haifa in Israel have now discovered that when heterosexual lovers touch when the woman is in pain, couples’ heart rates and respiratory patterns synchronize and the woman’s pain dissipates.

These findings add to a growing body of evidence on “interpersonal synchronization,” a phenomenon in which people begin to physiologically mirror those that they spend time with. “The more empathic the partner and the stronger the analgesic effect, the higher the synchronization between the two when they are touching,” explains lead author Pavel Goldstein, a postdoctoral pain researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Help achieve healthy goals

Two heads are better than one when it comes to taking up healthy habits. Funded by Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, and the National Institute on Aging, scientists at University College London (UCL) in the United Kingdom revealed that if you want to swap bad habits for good, then you would be more successful if your partner also makes those changes.

Among women who smoked, the researchers found that 50 percent succeeded in quitting smokingif their partner gave up at the same time, compared with 17 percent whose partners were non-smokers already, and just 8 percent whose partners smoked regularly.

“Unhealthy lifestyles are a leading cause of death from chronic disease worldwide,” says study author Prof. Jane Wardle, director of Cancer Research UK’s Health Behaviour Research Centre at UCL. “The key lifestyle risks are smoking, excess weight, physical inactivity, poor diet, and alcohol consumption. Swapping bad habits for good ones can reduce the risk of disease, including cancer.”

Improve fitness

Echoing these findings, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, MD, conducted research finding that improving your fitness could also improve the fitness of your spouse.

Couples were asked about their physical activity levels at two medical visits conducted around 6 years apart. On the first visit, if a wife met the recommended guidelines for physical activity, her husband was 70 percent more likely to also reach those targets at subsequent visits than those whose wives were less active.

Conversely, when a husband met recommended activity levels, his wife was 40 percent more likely to also achieve these levels at follow-up visits.

When it comes to physical fitness, the best peer pressure to get moving could be coming from the person who sits across from you at the breakfast table,” says co-author Laura Cobb, a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “There’s an epidemic of people in this country who don’t get enough exercise, and we should harness the power of the couple to ensure people are getting a healthy amount of physical activity.”

Alter microbiome

man standing in the shower
Microbial exchange with your partner can occur simply from walking on the same bathroom floor.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo in Canada found that couples who live together influence the microbiome – that is, the community of bacteria and other microbes – on each other’s skin.

Commonalities between couples’ skin microbiome were strong enough that computer algorithms could detect couples that cohabit with an accuracy of 86 percent.

Skin regions that were the most similar between partners were on the couples’ feet. “In hindsight, it makes sense,” says Prof. Josh Neufeld, of the Faculty of Science in the Department of Biology at the University of Waterloo. “You shower and walk on the same floor barefoot. This process likely serves as a form of microbial exchange with your partner, and also with your home itself.”

Improve physical and mental health

While analyzing whether or not relationships are good for your health, David and John Gallacher, from Cardiff University in the U.K., confirmed that long-term, committed relationships are good for physical and psychological health, and that these benefits increase over time.

On average, individuals who are married live longer; women have better mental health when they are in committed relationships, while men have better physical health when in a committed relationship. The study authors say, “On balance it probably is worth making the effort.”

Decrease risk of health conditions

Studies have shown that partners can also affect each other’s risk and development of disease.

woman and man arguing
Persistent nagging from your partner could slow down diabetes progression.

For example, a study by Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing deduced that for men who are in an unhappy marriage, the development of diabetes is slower and treatment is more successful once they are diagnosed.

The researchers said that wives who continuously regulate their husband’s health behaviors and who are seen as annoying and provoking hostility and emotional distress in the husbands could explain this finding.

The study challenges the traditional assumption that negative marital quality is always detrimental to health,” says lead investigator Hui Liu, an associate professor of sociology at MSU. “It also encourages family scholars to distinguish different sources and types of marital quality. Sometimes, nagging is caring.”

Researchers from the University of Michigan have also determined that having an optimistic spouse predicted fewer chronic illnesses and better mobility over time.

A growing body of research shows that the people in our social networks can have a profound influence on our health and well-being,” says lead study author Eric Kim, a doctoral student in the University of Michigan’s Department of Psychology. “This is the first study to show that someone else’s optimism could be impacting your own health.”

In other research, people who are happily wed are more than three times as likely to be alive 15 years after coronary bypass surgery as their unmarried counterparts. Married people also are less likely to have cardiovascular problems than individuals who are single, divorced, or widowed.

Adverse effects of a partner on health

Intensify pain

In contrast to the research that showed a partner’s touch decreases pain, a study by King’s College London in the U.K. found that being in the company of your partner could make pain worse.

The researchers found that the more avoidant of closeness women were in their relationships, the more pain they experienced when given a laser pulse on their finger.

Research led by the University of Edinburgh in the U.K. also found a connection between partners and pain. The team found that partners of individuals with depression have an increased risk of experiencing chronic pain.

The researchers’ analysis showed that depression and chronic pain share common causes. Some of these causes are genetic while others stem from the environment shared by the partners.

Derail your diet

healthy eating plan
Dieting with your partner could end up derailing your weight loss plans.

Dieting with your partner may seem to be a good idea, but research has indicated that among romantic couples, the more successful one partner is at restricting their diet and eating more healthfully, the less confident the other partner becomes at controlling their food portions.

When people strive to reach a goal, being close (in this case, romantically) with someone who is successfully reaching the same goal can make the other partner less confident in their own efforts to reach the goal,” explains Jennifer Jill Harman, an associate professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

Facilitate weight gain

Marriage has been positively correlated with weight gain among couples. For example, lead researcher Andrea L. Meltzer – an assistant professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX – and collaborators unveiled that newlyweds who are satisfied with their marriage are more likely to gain weight in the early years of marriage than those who are unsatisfied.

“On average, spouses who were more satisfied with their marriage were less likely to consider leaving their marriage, and they gained more weight over time,” states Prof. Meltzer. “In contrast, couples who were less satisfied in their relationship tended to gain less weight over time.

Other research by the University of Bath’s School of Management in the U.K. showed that marriage makes men gain weight and that fatherhood exacerbates the problem further.

Increase risk of health conditions

In contrast with research signalling that your significant other can decrease your risk of certain health conditions, other studies show the reverse.

For example, the McGill University Health Centre in Canada has suggested that if someone has type 2 diabetes, their partner has a 26 percent increased risk of also developing the condition.

While spouses are not related biologically, they share the same environment, social habits, and eating and exercising patterns – all of which are factors that alter the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

“When we talk about family history of type 2 diabetes, we generally assume that the risk increase that clusters in families results from genetic factors. What our analyses demonstrate is that risk is shared by spouses,” says senior study author Kaberi Dasgupta, of the Research Institute at McGill University.

a couple sitting on the bed ignoring each other
Giving your spouse the silent treatment increases your risk of back pain and stiff muscles.

Furthermore, the way that you react to disagreements and argue with your partner could predict health problems later in life. The University of California, Berkeley, and Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, revealed that fits of rage during marital spats can predict cardiovascular problems, and shutting down and giving the silent treatment raises the risk of a bad back or stiff muscles.

“Conflict happens in every marriage, but people deal with it in different ways. Some of us explode with anger; some of us shut down,” says lead study author Claudia Haase, an assistant professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University. “Our study shows that these different emotional behaviours can predict the development of different health problems in the long run.”

Research has also indicated that individuals may unintentionally worsen their partner’s insomnia. Moreover, other research found that inflammation markers rise in tired partners who argue.

Additionally, in older adults, researchers learned that the frailer an individual – a condition that affects around 10 percent of those aged 65 and over – the more likely it is that they will become depressed. Equally, the more depressed an older person is, the frailer they will become.

What is more, people married to frail spouses had an increased risk of becoming frail themselves, and those married to a depressed partner were also more likely to become depressed.

And interestingly, health changes influenced by a romantic partner do not necessarily end when they pass away.

Kyle Bourassa, a psychology doctoral student at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and colleagues found that couples’ qualities of life are linked even when one partner dies.

The people we care about continue to influence our quality of life even when they are gone. We found that a person’s quality of life is as interwoven with and dependent on their deceased spouse’s earlier quality of life as it is with a person they may see every day.

Kyle Bourassa

Bourassa says that even though we have lost the people we love, they remain with us. The research highlights how important relationships are for our health and well-being. However, he does say that the findings are cut both ways. “If a participant’s quality of life was low prior to his or her death, then this could take a negative toll on the partner’s later quality of life as well.”

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We all worry from time to time. But if you can’t shake it after a few weeks or it starts to get in the way of your normal work or home life, talk to your doctor. It can take a toll on your health and might be linked to an anxiety disorder. Therapy, drugs, and other strategies can help.

Nervous system

This messaging network is made up of your brain, spinal cord, nerves, and special cells called neurons. Worrying too much can trigger it to release “stress hormones” that speed up your heart rate and breathing, raise your blood sugar, and send more blood to your arms and legs. Over time, this can affect your heart, blood vessels, muscles, and other systems.

Muscles

When you’re troubled about something, the muscles in your shoulder and neck can tense up. This can lead to migraines or tension headaches. A body massage or relaxation techniques, like deep breathing and yoga, may help.

Breathing

If you’re worried a lot, you might breathe more deeply or more often without realising it. While this usually isn’t a big deal, it can be serious if you already have breathing problems linked to asthma, lung disease, or other conditions.

Heart

If it sticks around long enough, but something as small as a nagging concern in the back of your mind can affect your heart. It can make you more likely to have high blood pressure, a heart attack or a stroke. Higher levels of anxiety can trigger those stress hormones that make your heart beat faster and harder. If that happens over and over, your blood vessels may get inflamed, which can lead to hardened artery walls, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and other problems.

Blood sugar

When you’re worried about something, stress hormones also give you a burst of fuel (in the form of blood sugar). This can be a good thing if you need to run from danger, but what happens if you don’t use that fuel? Your body normally stores it to use later. But, sometimes, if you’re overweight or afflicted with diabetes, for example, your blood sugar can stay too high for too long. This can lead to heart disease, strokes or kidney disease.

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Contrary to research that suggests marijuana may act as a gateway drug, encouraging the use of other harmful substances, a new study indicates it may have the opposite effect.

The new review suggests marijuana may help treat substance use disorders and some mental health conditions.

In the journal Clinical Psychology Review, researchers suggest marijuana use has the potential to help treat some individuals with substance use disorders, such as opioid addiction.

What is more, the review – led by Zach Walsh, an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Canada – suggests using marijuana could help alleviate symptoms of some mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

While marijuana, or cannabis, remains the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States, with around 22.2 million users in the past month, it is becoming increasingly legalized for medical and/or recreational purposes.

In relation to the drug’s therapeutic potential, some studies have suggested marijuana can help treat pain, inflammation, epileptic seizures, and even Alzheimer’s disease.

Additionally, many patients and advocates of medical marijuana claim the drug has the potential to treat mental health issues and substance use disorders, and the new study by Walsh and team suggests that, in some cases, these individuals may be right.

Marijuana may be an effective ‘exit drug’

The researchers came to their conclusion after conducting a systematic review of 60 studies assessing the effects of either medical or non-medical marijuana on mental health and substance abuse.

The analysis revealed that medical marijuana shows potential for treating symptoms of PTSD, depression, and social anxiety.

However, for patients with psychotic disorders – such as bipolar disorder – the team found non-medical marijuana use may be problematic.

Additionally, the review indicates that medical marijuana use may help some individuals with substance use disorders by acting as a substitute.

“Research suggests that people may be using cannabis as an exit drug to reduce the use of substances that are potentially more harmful, such as opioid pain medication,” Walsh explains.

The evidence to date suggests that medical marijuana does not raise the risk of self-harm or harm to others, the researchers note, although they caution that acute marijuana intoxication and recent use of medical marijuana may affect short-term memory and other cognitive functions.

The team concludes that more research is required to further assess the effects of marijuana use on mental health and substance abuse. This is particularly important given the increase in marijuana legalization in the U.S., and in Canada, marijuana may be legalized as early as 2017.