BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: stress

When in doubt go with your gut!

The human gut has trillions of bacteria that help to regulate digestion and break down food.  An extremely important function they have is to keep out bad bacteria and potential harmful microbes.  The gut is a very important part of the body, because it affects not only your digestion and metabolism, but your brain too!

Often called your “second brain,” the human gut plays a big role in a human’s life.  The gut produces about 95% of serotonin, which is the drug that affects emotion.  An experiment with mice was done to see the effect that their gut had on their brain activity.

Each mouse received antibiotics, consisting of neurochemicals that enhanced mood, and were observed after this change occurred in their gut.  The mice became more energetic.  The article mentioned that even changing an animal’s gut by one bacteria can change their mood.  In this case altering one bacteria was tested which caused the mice to be more cautious than normal.

This article went in depth on how the bacteria in your gut can cause anxiety. “Bacteria communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve: When the vagus nerve is severed, effects of gut bacteria on brain biochemistry, stress response and behavior evaporate.”  They then went on to discuss how someone’s brain can affect the human gut, which was extremely fascinating.

Golden Snub-nosed Monkeys, Qinling Mountains - China

They first did tests with monkey’s and found that mothers who were exposed to loud noises during pregnancy caused their offspring to have less beneficial bacteria.  Another experiment was done with students in which they gave stool samples during exam week.  The results showed that their was less good bacteria in their gut, called lactobacilli.

In general the human gut plays a huge role on the brain and vice versa.  Stay healthy, don’t stress too much over school because you never know what anxiety could be doing to the good bacteria in your gut!

I chose this article because I have stomach issues and had to go gluten free.  I didn’t realize what goes into your gut had such a large effect on the brain!

 

Did You Know Stress Could Cause…

Sorry! I got distracted. ADHD. Stress can cause ADHD. Many drug companies and family physicians blame ADHD on a chemical imbalance. It is so common in the US to simply get drugs to pacify children’s hyperactivity. In fact, kids as young as “4-year-olds can be diagnosed and medicated with amphetamines like Ritalin

6296020485_1130d59586_m.” (Huffington Post) This is great news for the drug companies… but is this idea that ADHD is solely form a chemical imbalance completely true?

Many people are starting to oppose this idea. Marilyn Wedge, family therapist, found in her cases that a lot of times children’s crazy or abnormal behavior can be attributed to stressful or changing situations. More times than not we forget that everyone from infancy to retirement is affected by stressful situations. Whether they show it or not, or are conscious of it or not, people’s actions are known for being dependent on situations. Though this can be the situation at any age, my article refers mainly to children. Family therapists found that children are like sponges, they soak up the feelings and emotions in any situation and reproduce them in their actions. Marilyn said “Some people may be amazed that a 4-year old child could be so tuned in to his father and have behavior problems because of a father losing his job. To a family therapist, however, this kind of situation is business as usual. We see it every day.” (Huffington Post) So, rather than a simple chemical imbalance, ADHD might be from a stressful environment, and there is no pill to fix that.

This debate brings us back to the nature versus nurture argument. The nature versus nurture argument can be applied to every situation, and it is; and there is almost always people fighting for both sides. The truth is, we may never have a clear answer. In fact, I would argue that most situations are influenced by both nature and nurture. In relation to ADHD, a child could truly have a chemical imbalance or have lack of blood flow to certain regions of the brain. Or, he or she could just as easily be immersed in a stressful situation and have “learned behavior”  from their parents, siblings or anyone that they are near. Do you find that it is much harder to work when you are stressed or something else is enveloping your mind? Do you maybe work best in these situations? Do you, in whatever situation, feel hyperactive and count it as part of your personality? Maybe you don’t have ADHD, or maybe you do. Regardless, you can look at yourself and see the effects of stress on you.

 

Here are some websites for further research:

http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/3995.html

http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/guide/adhd-and-stress

http://www.healthcentral.com/adhd/c/849319/112416/stress-affects-adhd/

 

 

 

The Harm Stress Causes

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c6/DNA_double_helix_45.PNG

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/chronic-stress-can-wreak-havoc-body

Recently scientists have begun to discover why stress can have a negative effect on the human body. Although stress is needed when dealing with situations which require hormones to trigger a fight or flight, consistent stress can lead to a multitude of health problems. Chronic stress can lead to mental instability, and an increased risk in heart attacks, strokes, infection, etc. The decrease in health is due to inflammation and warped genetic material caused by epigenetics (chemical interactions that activate and deactivate regions of a genome to carry out specific functions). Recently scientists have discovered that  changes in epigenetics can affect activity levels in genes which directly change responsibilities of certain cells including immune cells. The stress causes a genetic response that deactivates certain areas of a genome which stops an immune cell from working properly, which of course leads to an increase in diseases that cannot be properly taken care of. Hopefully, as we continue to understand epigenetics, we will be able to take appropriate steps that will both further our understanding of the human genome, as well as help increase the longevity and immune system of individuals.

Can Stress Affect Pregnancies in Later Generations?

We all know stress isn’t always a good thing, but it could be important to especially avoid it at certain points in one’s life. Recently researchers from the University of Lethbridge in Canada investigated the effects of stress on pregnancies and how it can influence pre-term births. It is already known that pre-term births them selves lead to health issues later in life, but there were some new discoveries involving epigenetics.

 

Epigenetic_mechanisms

 

These researchers studied the length pregnancies of rats, due to the generally small amounts of variation between them, and found something intriguing. They carried out the experiment by first splitting the first generation of rats into “stressed” and “not stressed” groups. What they found was that the daughters of stressed rats had a shorter pregnancy than the daughters of not stressed rats.

This trend continued into the granddaughters of the rats. They also displayed high levels of glucose than the control group, and they weighed less. The stress also compounded, or increased, through generations.

This can all translate into human pregnancies. The researchers believe that the epigenetic changes in the rats is due to microRNA (miRNA) – non-coding RNA molecules that play a role in regulating gene expression. They bind to complementary mRNAs and prevent them from being translated. This is different than what is usual belief with epigenetics which is that epigenomes are affected by DNA methylation of the nucleotide base pairs. Metz, a scientist working on this research states that microRNAs “are important biomarkers of human disease, can be generated by experiences and inherited across generations. We have now shown that maternal stress can generate miRNA modifications with effects across several generations.”

It is very similar to the information found with the generational epigenetic effects of famine in the “Ghost in Our Genes” video that we watched in class.

This research can help determine pre-term births and the causalities that can come along with them. While the research is still not the whole picture, it is another step towards understanding our genetics.

 

ADHD or just Stress?

Common pills for ADHD

Common pills for ADHD

            People tend to turn quickly to medication when a child is not doing well in school or is upset. The American Academy of Pediatrics has even lowered the age to 4 years old that children can be diagnosed with ADHD.  This is how drug companies market a “chemical imbalance” theory for children. However, people are turning to a new view.

Family stress is now seen as toxic to children and root of many emotional and behavioral problems. In a recent Parentlode column, Lisa Belkin from Huffington Post discussed this new view. Family therapists are now trying to help children by looking at their nurturing environment.

For example, a child named Paulie had a  teacher who believed he had ADHD because of his seemingly personality change overnight. When asked about it, he said he was worried about his father who had lost his job and was crying all day. How to fix this problem? Therapists are encouraging parents to reduce arguments at home, not  show their negative emotions in front of their children, and tell their children goods things about their days.

Parents can help their children’s stress by having a healthier communication style.  They also should be aware of keeping a healthy family structure. Spending time together can even help. If parents begin to drift and one parent is overly close to the child, this can place pressure on the child and cause them to develop problems, even autism or ADHD. Over the past couple of decades, drug companies have successfully convinced parents that pills will solve their childrens’ problems. Parents are starting to see past this. Parents are now starting to take on the role of fixing their children’s mental health and not giving them pills or sending them to child psychiatrists.

I chose this topic because I know many people that are taking medication for ADHD and similar diagnosis. I think it is interesting to see other alternatives to these drugs. Also, some of these drugs when combined, have side effects that are still unknown so I find it is interesting to see if there are other solutions.

Original Article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marilyn-wedge-phd/protecting-a-child-from-f_b_1084421.html?utm_hp_ref=healthy-living-mind

Extra Sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/04/stressed-parents-sick-kids_n_1075317.html

http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2011/10/14/peds.2011-2654

Image Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adderallrx.jpg

Recently discovered mammal suffers from parenthood…

For a recently discovered species of marsupials, the Black-tailed Antechinus, it seems that parenthood is the highest cause of death. The Black-tailed Antechinus was discovered in Queensland’s Springbrook National Park, Australia by Dr. Andrew Baker. He laid 300 traps of oats and peanut-butter to catch the marsupial. After putting the marsupials through a multitude of tests they found that all the males died after mating. The stress hormone levels in the males, post mating, would steadily increase until eventually the males bodies would simply shut down. In this species of marsupials the males never live to see their young be born.

Massages Actually Relieve Stress!

flickr
Photo by FoundryParkInn

When people say that they are taking a spa day, people are skeptical. But, according to a new study massages lower levels of stress hormones in the body. According to this study, people who have regular massages have substantially lower levels of cortisol and higher levels of white blood cells compared to people who do not get massages regularly.

Dr. Mark Hyman Rapaport, the chairman of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said, ” […] the findings are very intriguing and exciting, and I’m a skeptic!”

The study consisted of 53 adults. 29 of these adults were given a 45 minute Swedish massage once or twice a week for 5 weeks. The other 24 adults in the study were given light touch massages for the same time period. After the 5 week trial, the adults who had received the Swedish massages had significantly lower levels of cortisol, significantly higher levels of oxytocin, and slightly higher levels of white blood cells than those who had received the light touch massages.

The Mayo Clinic points out that regular massages can help to alleviate stiffness, pain, anxiety, depression, and maintain a regular blood pressure. The health benefits of massages are endless!

For more information on the health benefits of massages go to: http://stress.about.com/od/stresshealth/a/cortisol.htm

 

Your Morning Coffee Can Weaken Your Vision?!

We all love that energizing cup of fresh coffee to start the day, but can too much lead to Glaucoma?

Cup of Coffee

Will you sacrifice your morning cups of coffee to save your eyesight? Photographer: Ian Britton, http://www.freefoto.com/preview/09-16-72/Cup-of-Coffee

The Harvard School of Public Health observed that Scandanavian countries consume the most amount of coffee in the world and also have the highest rates of Exfoliation Glaucoma (EG). Harvard researchers suspected a link between coffee and EG and proceeded to conduct a study. They took 78,900 women and 41,202 men who initially had no signs of glaucoma and had undergone eye exams between 1980 and 2008 and had them answer a questionnaire of how much coffee they drank each day.

The researchers then looked at their medical records to see if there was any evidence of EG present. Those that drank more than 3 cups of coffee a day, compared to those who didn’t drink any coffee at all, showed elementary signs of EG (fibrous material on lens, high pressure on optic nerve, build up of fluid in the eye) and had a 66% increased chance of developing EG. It’s peculiar how the link was only seen with coffee, not other caffeinated products such as soda, chocolate etc.

A question to ask yourself: will this really change the amount of coffee I drink everyday? Given the benefits of coffee: “decreased chance of developing hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol” does the possibility of developing EG balance out with the health benefits of coffee? I think it’s fair to say that you should and can drink less than three cups a day to stay on the safe side. Besides, isn’t 2 1/2 cups enough to satisfy your craving, support your health and still minimize your chance of developing EG?

For more information you can visit: “Coffee Might Raise Glaucoma Risk: Study” (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_129935.html)

Stress is Good for you?

Does this look familiar?

High school is stressful. Students are forced to balance heavy loads of school work on top of family obligations and time-consuming extracurricular activities. We all know a little bit of stress is healthy, providing just enough motivation to give you a kick in the butt, but not enough to make you want to pull your hair out. However, when finals time rolls around and you’re ready to cry because you’re so overburdened, then stress becomes a problem. When you’re stressed, glucocorticoids, or stress hormones increase the level of cortisol in your body, prepping it to take on the physical demands of stress. (In terms of evolution, being under stress is being chased by a lion that thinks you’re dinner, not taking the SAT tomorrow). Science has always told us that stress is bad for us; high levels of cortisol are linked to depression and high levels of cortisol over prolonged periods of time actually impair our ability to cope with stress. Just reading about this is stressful, right? But what if I told you that stress might actually be good for you, at least in one respect. A new study conducted by Ranjish Rao and published in Biological Psychiatry shows that high glucocorticoid levels could potentially help reduce the development of PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

 

No, I’m not Crazy. Stress Really Can Be Good for You

PTSD is caused when a person witnesses a traumatic, potentially life-threatening event. For example, combat soldiers and children who were sexually abused often times suffer from PTSD. Recent studies show the “trauma” in PTSD is the impact of stress on the brain structure of the victim, according to Dr. John Krystal, editor of Biological Psychiatry. The study conducted by Rao was inspired by an odd occurrence: clinical reports showed people with low cortisol levels were more likely to develop PTSD, and that cortisol treatment actually reduces the symptoms of PTSD. The study used a model of a rat to study its stress levels in relation to corticoids. Professor Chattarji from the National Center of Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India explains the outcome of the experiment: “ We were able to…. identify a possible cellular mechanism in the amygdala, the emotional hub of the brain [responsible for this odd occurrence.]” It turns out the number of synapses in the amygdala is a fairly accurate predictor of whether or not a person will have high or low anxiety levels. The corticoids given to the rats reset the number of synapses in their amygdalas, and brought down their stress level.

So What Does this Mean for Me?

If you’re a high-stressed, health conscious person like me, after reading this you might feel slightly better about your high stress levels, but don’t celebrate just yet. Even though we all have the potential to develop PTSD, not everyone does, so this study is relevant to only a portion of the population. Even if it were relevant to everyone, the stress hormones in the study were given to the rats under controlled circumstances, and if this were to become an actual therapeutic treatment for PTSD, the patient would most likely ingest corticoids under the close watch of their psychiatrist. In my opinion, the damage caused by high glucocorticoid levels far outweigh the benefits. So, take a deep breath and relax. Maybe go for a run or talk with a friend. Your stress will eventually go away.

 

 

 

Oh, hey there Stress -.- Here to cause some more damage?

Taken on Yasmin Kibria's laptop

It’s everywhere. Whether it be school related, family or friends related–it’s always present. It’s an integral part of our lives. We’ve always known that stress has negative effects on our lives, but according to an article written by Alice Park, who has done a fellowship at Harvard University, stress shrinks the brain and lowers our ability to cope with adversity. Yay, even more negative effects of stress!

Researchers have found that even everyday stress can be leading to changes in the brain that make us more susceptible to social and psychological disorders such as depression and addiction.

Professor Rajita Sinha of Yale University School of Medicine and director of the Yale Stress Center has found that stress can cause shrinkage in parts of the brain responsible for emotions and metabolism, even in healthy individuals. Her research has found that it it’s not indiviual traumatic events that have the most impact, but the cumulative effect of a lifetime’s worth of stress that might cause the most dramatic changes in brain volume.

After imaging the brains of one hundred healthy participants who have had stressful events in their lives showed smaller grey matter in the prefrontal cortex.  This region is responsible for self-control, emotions and physiological functions.

The prefrontal cortex is known as the “CEO of the brain.” This region is responsible for cognitive analysis and abstract though, and the moderation of acceptable behavior in social interactions.Injury to this region can affect the ability to process information and solve problems, the abilities to concentrate, remember and learn.  Damage can also lead to personality changes that lead to impulsive and socially inappropriate behavior, depression and violence.

By further analyzation, Sinha was able to distinguish how different types of stress, such as divorce, death of a loved one, or loss of a job, affect different regions of the brain.  Recent events, such as finding out of a medical diagnosis, affect emotional awareness.  When this part shrinks, we strat to lose connection with our emotions, and as a result, act inappropriately in interactions with other people.

More serious events, like life traumas, such as living with cancer, affects our mood centers which skews our ability to regulate pleasure and reward.  A shrinkage in this area is also linked to depression and other mood disorders.

Lastly, chronic stress, stress we deal with every day doesn’t affect brain volume on its own.  This type of stress erodes parts of the brain slowly and gradually.

It’s important to keep in mind that stress can build up and lead to negative results and effects on the brain.

How can we alleviate stress? There are hundreds of things you can do: yoga, exercise, making lists, etc.  It’s also important to maintain strong social and emotional relationships because others can help as well.

 

Broken Heart Syndrome?

Yes, it’s real…

"Radiology Picture of the Day"

Photo taken by Radiology Picture of the Day, Edited by Yasmin Kibria

The broken heart syndrome is a temporary heart condition brought on by stressful situations–both excessively happy or excessively sad or tragic moments.  The symptoms may be brought on by the heart’s reaction to a surge of stress hormones.  A flood of stress hormones and adrenaline causes part of the heart to enlarge temporarily and triggers symptoms that can look like heart attack: chest pain, shortness of breath, irregular heart rhythm. The difference is that the factors that would normally cause heart attack, such as a blocked artery, aren’t present.

The University of Arkansas performed a study which looked at rates of “broken heart syndrome” — when a sudden shock or prolonged stress causes heart attack-like symptoms or heart failure — and found that it overwhelmingly affects women.

Dr. Abhishek Deshmukh, a cardiologist at the University of Arkansas who has treated women with broken heart syndrome, became curious about just how gender-specific the condition was.He found that, overall, women had about 7.5 times the risk of broken heart syndrome as men; in people under 55, women were at 9.5 times greater risk than men. Women over 55 were also three times more likely to suffer broken heart syndrome than younger women.

Why does this gender imbalance occur? Researchers are still working towards finding an answer, but it has been speculated that hormones come into play.

The way to mend a broken heart? Literally let it heal over time–it’ll be fine soon enough.

For further information:

http://healthland.time.com/2011/11/17/study-women-are-more-vulnerable-to-broken-hearts/#ixzz1fGLHn6V4

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57326698-10391704/broken-heart-syndrome-more-common-in-women/

http://theweek.com/article/index/221655/broken-heart-syndrome-a-real-health-issue-for-women
 

Zoos Killing Elephants?

Credit: xrayspx on Flickr

According to a study conducted by zoologists, elephants that are kept in captivity die much earlier than elephants that remain in the wild. Wouldn’t you think that elephants being kept at a zoo would be more likely to live longer? After all, they are getting regular feedings that require little to no effort on their part, and they are purposely kept away from any predators . So what’s the problem?

Ironically, most of these elephants end up dying of obesity (can you imagine how big an obese elephant might be?), because they eat and eat and eat, but don’t get any exercise in their limited spaces at the zoo. In addition to that, the elephants die from the stress of being transported to a zoo, and being separated from their mothers.

According to a study led by Ros Clubb (wildlife scientific officer at the RSPCA), African elephants lived (on average) 16.9 years in captivity, while free African elephants lived (on average) 35.9 years.

In another study, led by the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural affairs, seventy-seven elephants were studied in thirteen UK zoos. The results showed that the elephants spent 83% of their time indoors, 71 of the 77 elephants were overweight, and only 11 could walk normally.

That doesn’t mean that zoos are horrible for all animals, just read this article, but they certainly aren’t helping out the elephants!

 

While applying to college, be glad you’re not a dragonfly.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kroszka/4122223330/

We all joke about stress killing us or that we’d rather be dead from all the stress we’re going through. Seniors have to keep their grades up, applications are due, sports, music practice, making time for friends and now family coming over for the holidays. I know it can feel like your Aunt Sally is trying to headbutt you, but we should all be happy that as of right now, the stress were under isn’t actually killing us.

Stress is bad for your body and effects every cell in a negative manner. Stress also makes it harder to do the work that is causing the stress in the first place. A recent study has shown that juvenile dragon flies actually die if put under stress. These dragonfly larvae were faced with predators, the stress of the situation killed them. In dragonfly larva, the negative impacts of the increase in stress hormones was fatal. Even though the predators wouldn’t have eaten them, the thought was too much for them. A specific reason for death of the juvenile was a reduced immune system that was further compromised by bacteria or viruses.

The last thing you want to do while inundated with work is to get sick and not be able to perform at your best. Be careful, and be mindful that stress is bad for your health and that its not the end of the world if you don’t get an A on your next test.

Photo: CC Liscensed photo by Kroszk@

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