Friday, February 12, 2016

Feeling Down? Go Help Someone Rather Than Looking for Someone to Help You

I've known this for some time.  When I'm depressed, like this past week, when a friend's son, and a young man I taught journalism to, took his own life last week, and then when there was a bomb scare at my son's high school (and a job contract ended suddenly), I went to help at my church's after-school program and soon I was feeling better, surrounded by all the high-on-sugar (this was the Valentine's Day party day) and sweet, anyway, kids.

Many of them come from low-income homes and they're hungry for loving contact.  Some parents work several works and aren't home too much, while others may be in jail (yes, sadly) or just not around. 

But it does more for me than the kids when they come up to me and ask me to read with them, or they follow me like a little shadow.  Or they look really happy to see me.

And now a new study confirms this.

According to, giving support—rather than receiving it—may have unique positive effects on key brain areas involved in stress and reward responses.

Participants in the study were asked about whether they gave or received support—for example, having "someone to lean on" or "looking for ways to cheer people up" when they are feeling down. Consistent with previous studies, "Both receiving and giving more support were related to lower reported negative psychosocial outcomes," researchers write.

While performing a stressful mental math task, participants who reported giving the most support had reduced activation in brain areas related to stress responses. In contrast, receiving a lot of support was unrelated to activation in stress-related regions.

Giving higher levels of support was also linked to increased activity in a brain area that functions as part of the reward system during an "affiliative" task, in which subjects looked at pictures of loved ones; and during a "pro-social" task, in which subjects had a chance to win money for someone in need.

 Giving support might avoid the sometimes harmful effects of receiving support—for example, if it doesn't match the person's preferences or leaves him/her feeling indebted. "Giving support, on the other hand, allows an individual to control when and how support is given…[and] may result in more effective stress reduction," the researchers write.

So you know the old saying?  It's better to give than receive.  But sometimes, you receive, too.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Surviving a Bomb Scare -- Hormone Helped Kids Help Each Other

There was a bomb scare at my son's high school yesterday.  Fortunately it turned out to be false but the anxiety and panic and sheer terror are still with me (and I suspect, my son, too) today.

The kids, all 2,000 of them, were immediately told to evacuate to the large field behind the school.  The principal left parents a message last night saying they all filed out well and followed directions but I'm learning on Facebook that it was mass pandemonium instead.

A new study says, however, that we all have a social hormone that promotes cooperation in risky situations.

I couldn't reach my son because he was told to leave everything behind, including his phone (wonder if it's still there?  it's just stuff, I keep reminding myself).  Finally a friend loaned him his phone and he was able to text me that he was fine.  The friend's mother came and got them both.

I threw my arms around him and burst into tears when he came through the door.

Now we have a plan for if it happens again. 

A hormone implicated in monogamy and aggression in animals also promotes trust and cooperation in humans in risky situations, Caltech researchers say, according to  "Part of the dark side of monogamy is that an AVP-pumped-up male is more likely to behave aggressively toward intruders," says study coauthor Colin Camerer, the Robert Kirby Professor of Behavioral Economics at Caltech.

In the new study, Camerer and his team tested the hypothesis that AVP might also play a role in social bonding in people and could help explain our species' cooperative tendencies. "One of the reasons humans rule the world rather than apes is that we do things that require a great deal of trust. We cooperate in large-scale groups," Camerer says. "Where does that come from? Is it something like pair bonding but just scaled up? And if it is, what role does AVP play?"

The team designed a game to mimic situations in a game in which people are willing to help but only if everyone else does, too. 

The experiment showed that players who received AVP before the game were significantly more likely to cooperate than those who received the placebo. "By targeting a specific hormonal system in the human brain, we could manipulate people's willingness to cooperate and help them do better," says Gideon Nave, a graduate student in Camerer's lab and a coauthor on the study.

My son survived and is fine though I admit, I felt a smidgen of fear dropping him off at school this morning.  Thank God no one was hurt and there was no bomb but it almost feels like there was.  I guess you can't go through this without your life changing a little somehow.

But I'm glad he found his friend and that they stayed together until his mom came.  That helped, a little.  Must have been the AVP.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Is Being a Morning Person in Your Genes?

Both my husband and I dated people who liked to party and stay out all night.  Needless to say, the relationships didn't work out.

He and I are both morning people.  And now a new study says it may just be in our DNA.

According to, the study found that there may be genes in our DNA that can be linked back to someone who is a morning person.  

“In this study we set out to discover more about an individual’s preference toward early rising and were able to identify the genetic associations with “morningness” as well as ties to lifestyle patterns and other traits,” says Youna Hu, PhD, who led 23andMe’s research on the paper. The study revolved around a database that yielded genetic insights into a variety of conditions and traits, and potentially how those genetic factors are affected by behavior and environment.

 Morningness is governed by differences in circadian rhythm, which have previously been linked to medically relevant traits such as sleep, obesity and depression. The study revealed that seven of the genetic locations associated with morningness are near genes previously known to be involved in circadian rhythm.

 I remember the boyfriend who loved to drink and stay up all night.  One New Year's Eve we went to bed at 5 a.m.  I walked around in a daze and it took several days to get back to normal.  It was the same thing with my working as an overnight journalist.  I would get home about 1 or 2 a.m. and then stay up until 4 or 5 to cycle back down, then sleeping till it was time to get up for work at 3.  It was the wintertime and I never saw the sunlight.

It affected my health.  I had stomach aches when I went back on daytime.  

Additional findings from the study include:
• The majority (56 percent) of participants in the study consider themselves night owls
• Women and adults over age 60 are more likely to be morning people
• Morning people are significantly less likely to have insomnia, or require more than eight hours of sleep per day, and less likely to suffer from depression than individuals who reported being “night owls”
The researchers also found that after taking into account the effect of age and sex, morning persons are likely to have lower BMI.  While that's not necessarily a causative factor, it's still something to think about.  I personally really like that.  



Compulsively Check Facebook? It May Be Because You're Sleep-Deprived

Now this is weird.

You know all those people who are constantly checking Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and all those other texting sites?

Well, they're not just annoying.  They may be sleep-deprived.

It's an odd correlation but a new study links compulsive Facebook checking to lack of sleep.

Say what?

Apparently, University of California, Irvine, researchers have found that, if you find yourself toggling over to look at Facebook several dozen times a day, it’s not necessarily because the experience of being on social media is so wonderful. It may be a sign that you’re not getting enough sleep, according to

n a recently completed study, researchers at the University of California, Irvine demonstrated that lack of sleep – in addition to affecting busy college students’ moods and productivity – leads to more frequent online activities such as browsing Facebook.

“When you get less sleep, you’re more prone to distraction,” says lead researcher Gloria Mark, a UCI informatics professor. “If you’re being distracted, what do you do? You go to Facebook. It’s lightweight, it’s easy, and you’re tired.”

Mark says there have been lots of studies on how information technology affects sleep. "We did the opposite: We looked at how sleep duration influences IT usage,” says Mark, who will present the findings at a leading computer-human interaction conference in May.

Mark says the study’s findings show a direct connection among chronic lack of sleep, worsening mood and greater reliance on Facebook browsing. She also found that the less sleep people have, the more frequently their attention shifts among different computer screens, suggesting heightened distractibility.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Go On a Seafood Diet? Just Might Help Protect You From Alzheimer's

My husband is going to love this.  He'd live on seafood if he could.  Every week when we go out he orders a shrimp cocktail, then has a salad with salmon.

He does it because he loves it but now there's an even better reason. Eating seafood just might protect you from Alzheimer's.

A new study has found that older adults with a major risk gene for Alzheimer’s disease who ate at least one seafood serving per week showed fewer signs of Alzheimer’s-related brain changes. In contrast, this association was not found in the brains of volunteers who ate fish weekly but did not carry the risk gene.
The researchers also examined the brains for levels of mercury, which can be found in seafood and is known to be harmful to the brain and nervous system. They found that seafood consumption was associated with increased mercury levels in the brains but not the amount of beta amyloid protein plaques and tau protein tangles, the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.
The study's purpose was to see whether seafood consumption is related to brain mercury levels, and whether either seafood consumption or brain mercury levels may play a role in the brain changes that lead to Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
At the start of the study, the participants were cognitively normal, but some eventually developed cognitive impairment and dementia. 
So should you go on an all-seafood diet?  Not eat all the food you see but an actual meal plan of fish, and then more fish?  Unless you have the gene, it's not going to protect you.  But it's not a bad idea to cut down on red meat, either.  

Friday, February 5, 2016

Bungee-Jumping at 20? You'll Still Be Riding a Motorcycle at 70

I've always been a risk-taker.

Well, if you consider someone who jogs in the snow when she's broken her wrist and nose (3 times) doing it, that is.

Maybe just stupid!

Anyway, a new study has found that once a risk-taker, always a risk-taker. 

People who are risk-takers in their youth also tend to take relatively more risks than their peers as they age, according to an analysis of more than 44,000 German citizens, reports.
“The data suggests risk-taking is similar to a personality trait in that it remains relatively stable throughout most of adulthood,” says Gregory R. Samanez-Larkin, assistant professor of psychology and a co-author of the paper appearing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The results show that individuals’ level of risk-taking remains stable over time, relative to their peers. The results suggest that a person who went bungee jumping in their 20s may be more likely than their more risk-averse peers to, say, ride motorcycles later in life. However, it does not mean people in their 70s remain as likely to skydive as people in their 20s, said the researchers, noting that recreational risks taken by individuals decline steeply after the age of 30.
“Overall, the stereotype is that we take less risks when we are older and in general the respondents in the survey are telling us that is true,” Samanez-Larkin says. “The new and interesting part of this study is that the effect of age on risk-taking varies across a range of activities.”
For instance, an individual’s willingness to take financial risks remains steady until he or she nears retirement age, notes Samanez-Larkin. However, when it comes to social risk-taking such as the willingness to trust another person, “We see a flat line — it doesn’t change with age,” he says.
 Unless you don't trust people as a general rule.  But maybe that's just another risk-taker behavior, or not, to those who only like certain kinds of risk.
Let's talk about fraud and risk-taking. The findings, especially on trusting others and taking social risks, may be relevant for understanding fraud victimization in old age, say the researchers. It has been assumed that the elderly are more susceptible to con artists than youth because of a decline in cognitive skills.
In fact, the researchers say, it does not seem that older people are more susceptible to fraud in old age. The elderly are targeted more often by criminals simply because they have more money, Samanez-Larkin says. These new findings suggest that the people who were trusting as youth may be more vulnerable to fraud as they age because now they are the focus of the con artists’ attention.
So get out there and take a risk.  Just be careful who it's with! 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

You Won't Touch a Super Bowl Snack After This

Ready for SuperBowl 50?  I'm not.  I hate the game.  I live in a tennis and soccer house.  Sorry.

But how about those snacks?  If you want to keep enjoying them, stop reading.

A new study says if you're gonna eat two slices of Domino's Ultimate Pepperoni Hand-Tossed, Large, you'd have to run 109 football fields to burn it off.

A handful (ounce) of peanuts?   Coaching football for 35 minutes.

One potato chip with French Onion Dip (and this you might find even less tasty than that)?  Thirty minutes of singing along to ColdPlay and Beyonce during the halftime show.

And what about two KFC Original Recipe Chicken Drumsticks?  Try 1,561 waves.

On the liquid side, two bottles of Budweiser beer equal 267 touchdown dances in the end zone.

And five tortilla chips with 7-layer dip?  Sixty minutes performing in a marching band.

So what's a guy (or girl) to do?  Think about healthier snacks, of course.  That doesn't mean you have to go for the apples and bottled water.  But just think about what you're putting in your mouth.  And is it really worth it?