Long-term exposure to air pollution can lead to physical changes in the brain, as well as learning and memory problems and even depression, new research in mice suggests.
While other studies have shown the damaging effects of polluted air on the heart and lungs, this is one of the first long-term studies to show the negative impact on the brain, said Laura Fonken, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in neuroscience at Ohio State University.
“The results suggest prolonged exposure to polluted air can have visible, negative effects on the brain, which can lead to a variety of health problems,” Fonken said.
“This could have important and troubling implications for people who live and work in polluted urban areas around the world.”
The study appears online this week in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
A link to the abstract of the research article may be found here.
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- Air Pollution Tied to Brain Damage (newser.com)
- Indoor Air Pollution and Blood Pressure (iapnews.wordpress.com)
From the NY Times 23 June 2011 article (includes video)
The patient wanted to know, and her therapist — Marsha M. Linehan of theUniversity of Washington, creator of a treatment used worldwide for severely suicidal people — had a ready answer. It was the one she always used to cut the question short, whether a patient asked it hopefully, accusingly or knowingly, having glimpsed the macramé of faded burns, cuts andwelts on Dr. Linehan’s arms:
“You mean, have I suffered?”
“No, Marsha,” the patient replied, in an encounter last spring. “I mean one of us. Like us. Because if you were, it would give all of us so much hope.”
“That did it,” said Dr. Linehan, 68, who told her story in public for the first time last week before an audience of friends, family and doctors at the Institute of Living, the Hartford clinic where she was first treated for extreme social withdrawal at age 17. ….
The article goes on to tell Dr. Linehan’s journey to “radical acceptance” on how she uses this concept in therapy.
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – In a new study this week, doctors describe a form of self-injury among teenagers called self-embedding, which involves inserting objects into the skin or muscle.
The researchers say embedding is on the spectrum of self-harming behaviors, but a much more severe form that appears to be linked to thoughts of suicide and major psychiatric disorders.
“There’s clearly a more severe intent to hurt themselves than cutting,” said Dr. William Shiels, a radiologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio and one of the authors of the study.
“Inserting a 16 cm paperclip – not just to do that on one arm, but both arms – the intent that’s required to cause that much self harm is significant,” he said.
Self-injury, which is often in the form or cutting or burning, is a fairly common behavior, with estimates ranging between 4 and 30 percent of youth who have hurt themselves in some way.
The pain involved in self-harm is thought to provide a sense of psychological relief, and is generally not considered part of a suicide attempt.
Related resources and articles
- Cutting (Teen Health/Nemours Foundation)
Article written for teens with information and advice
- Self-harm videos a worrying trend (healthzone.ca)
- Cutting: Deliberate Self-Harm Syndrome (Medpedia)
- A new study on self-injury behavior encourages quick and targeted intervention (eurekalert.org)
- How can we tackle the rise in self-harm? (Irish Times, May 2011)
“The solution, she says, is a multiple-intervention approach similar to the very successful German model, which has reduced self-harm and suicide in Nuremberg by 24 per cent over two years and has now been rolled out across that country.
The Nuremberg Alliance Against Depression was a two year pilot intervention programme performed at four levels: training of family doctors and support through different methods; a public relations depression awareness campaign; cooperation with community facilitators (teachers, priests, local media, etc.); and support for self-help activities as well as for high-risk groups. The programme has been extended throughout Germany and in other European countries through the European Alliance Against Depression.”
Genes linked to the immune system can affect healthy people’s personality traits as well as the risk of developing mental illness and suicidal behaviour, reveals a thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
Inflammation is part of the immune system and is responsible for defending humans against infection as well as fascilitating the healing of injuries, and is therefore vital for our survival. Research has demonstrated that inflammatory processes also have other roles to play as inflammatory substances produced by the body influence mechanisms in the brain involving learning and memory.
Inflammatory substances produced in moderate quantities in the brain can be beneficial during the formation of new brain cells, for example. However, an increase in the levels of these substances as is the case during illness, can result in damage to the brain.
“Previous studies have shown that individuals suffering from various mental illnesses have an increased peripheral inflammation, but the reason behind this increase is not known,” says Petra Suchankova Karlsson, who wrote the thesis. “It has been suggested that the stress that goes with mental illness activates the body’s immune system, but it is also possible that inflammation in the body affects the brain, which in turn results in mental illness.”
Previous studies have focused on how environmental and psychological factors affect the immune system’s impact on the brain. Suchankova’s thesis presents, for the first time, results that suggest that several different genes linked to the immune system are associated with healthy people’s personality traits. It also demonstrates that some of these genes are associated with an increased risk of developing schizophrenia or suicidal behaviour….
Research from MU Brain Imaging Center may lead to treatment of a variety of mental disorders
(image at right- animated image of MRI brain scan, starting at top of head)
From the January 25, 2011 Eureka news alert
COLUMBIA, Mo. – One of the first studies published from the University of Missouri Brain Imaging Center (BIC) gives researchers insight into the brain and memory and may provide researchers clues to treating a variety of debilitating disorders.
Nelson Cowan, director of the BIC and Curator’s Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences, used the BIC’s magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to produce graphics that depict the structure and function of the brain during various mental tasks in an effort to understand abstract working memory. People use their abstract working memories to assign meaning when trying to recall facts – for example, when someone dials a set of phone numbers, their abstract memory brings forth an image of the person they are calling.
Previous studies identified an area of the brain responsible for holding abstract working memory, although it was assumed by some researchers to hold only visual information. At the BIC, Cowan found that this same part of the brain can hold auditory information as well. For example, when people hear “Jingle Bells” they relate it to the Christmas season and retain the meaning of the song temporarily.
“This research has given us better understanding of an area of the brain that may be affected in people with various learning disabilities, autism and schizophrenia,” said Cowan. “For example, recent research has shown that people with schizophrenia simply hold fewer items in their working memories, rather having an inability to disregard unimportant items, as previously thought. Thus, discovering more about working memory will enable scientists to better target schizophrenia, among other disorders.”
Cowan’s research will be published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, and his related research on the childhood development of working memory has been funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1985.
The study is one of many research projects that are currently underway at the BIC.
For example, researchers from the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology in the College of Human Environmental Sciences are studying the neurological effects of eating breakfast on obese people. That research team is also studying the effects of eating breakfast on working memory. Cowan said psychiatry researchers are studying the effects of medications on the brain, and researching addictive behaviors is enhanced by the BIC.
“The center enables us to conduct interdisciplinary research that can advance the field of psychology,” Cowan said. “Brain imaging makes our behavioral research more powerful because we can better understand the brain and how it functions during different activities and conditions.”
In addition, Nelson says the ability to do brain imaging makes grant proposals stronger. He says the facility attracts new faculty members and makes for better research.
National survey reveals 45.1 million adults in the U.S. experienced mental illness in the past year
Study shows that nearly 1 in 5 people suffering from mental illness also have a substance use disorder
[Editor Flahiff’s note: A recent WSJ Health news story reported that almost 12,000 of the Screen Actors Guild participants will lose access to treatment for mental-health and substance-abuse issues beginning in January.“Others that have made the same move include the Plumbers Welfare Fund, representing about 3,500 members in the Chicago area, and Woodman’s Food Market, a chain in Wisconsin with 13 stores and about 2,200 employees.” …”According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2010 Employer Health Benefits survey, about one-third of firms with more than 50 workers said they made changes in the benefits they offer in response to the law, and 5% of those said they dropped mental-health coverage.”]
According to new results from a national survey, 19.9 percent of American adults in the United States (45.1 million) have experienced mental illness over the past year. The survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that 11 million adults (4.8 percent) in the U.S. suffered serious mental illness in the past year – a diagnosable mental disorder has substantially interfered with, or limited one or more major life activities.SAMHSA’s 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reveals that 8.4 million adults in the U.S. had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year, 2.2 million made suicide plans, and one million attempted suicide.The survey also reveals that in many cases those experiencing mental illness, especially those with serious mental illness, also have a substance use disorder (abuse or dependence on alcohol or an illicit drug). Nearly 20 percent (8.9 million) of adults in the U.S. with mental illness in the past year also had a substance use disorder. Among those with serious mental illness in the past year, 25.7 percent had a substance use disorder in the past year – approximately four times the level experienced by people not suffering from serious mental illness (6.5 percent).“Too many Americans are not getting the help they need and opportunities to prevent and intervene early are being missed,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D. “The consequences for individuals, families and communities can be devastating. If left untreated mental illnesses can result in disability, substance abuse, suicides, lost productivity, and family discord. Through health care reform and the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act we can help far more people get needed treatment for behavioral health problems.”Administrator Hyde announced the survey’s findings during an address before the 6th World Conference on Promotion of Mental Health and Prevention and Mental and Behavioral Disorders in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the Education Development Center, Inc., The Clifford Beers Foundation, The Carter Center and the World Federation for Mental Health.The survey provides other insights into the nature and scope of mental illness, including information on those segments of the population who may be at greater risk of experiencing mental illness. For example, the survey shows that mental illness is more likely among adults who were unemployed than among adults who were employed full time (27.7 percent versus 17.1 percent).There is a marked difference in the percentages with mental illness between men and women as well, with 23.8 percent of women experiencing some form of mental illness, as opposed to 15.6 percent of men. In terms of age, young adults (ages 18 to 25) had the highest level of mental illness (30 percent), while those aged 50 and older had the lowest (13.7 percent).Less than four in ten (37.9 percent) of adults in the U.S. with mental illness in the past year received mental health services. Service use was higher for adults with serious mental illness (60.2 percent); however, 4.4 million adults with serious mental illness in the past year did not receive mental health services.Results from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings is based on the 2009 NSDUH – the latest in a series of scientifically conducted annual surveys of approximately 67,500 people throughout the country. Because of its statistical power, it is a primary source of information on the levels of a wide range of behavioral health matters including mental health and substance abuse issues.A copy of the report is accessible at: http://oas.samhsa.gov/NSDUH/2k9NSDUH/MH/2K9MHResults.pdf
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Changes in diet have been linked to a reduction of abnormal behaviors in mentally ill people or animals, but a Purdue University study shows that diet might also trigger the onset of mental illness in the first place.
Joseph Garner, an associate professor of animal sciences, fed mice a diet high in sugar and tryptophan that was expected to reduce abnormal hair-pulling. Instead, mice that were already ill worsened their hair-pulling behaviors or started a new self-injurious scratching behavior, and the seemingly healthy mice developed the same abnormal behaviors.
“This strain of mouse is predisposed to being either a scratcher or a hair-puller. Giving them this diet brought out those predispositions,” said Garner, whose results were published in the December issue of the journal Nutritional Neuroscience. “They’re like genetically at-risk people.”…
…Garner’s study raises questions of how diet might be affecting other behavioral or mental illnesses such as autism, Tourette syndrome, trichotillomania and skin-picking. He said that before now, a link between diet and the onset of mental disorders hadn’t been shown.
“What if the increase of simple sugars in the American diet is contributing to the increase of these diseases?” Garner said. “Because we fed the mice more tryptophan than in the typical human diet, this experiment doesn’t show that, but it certainly makes it a possibility.”
Garner next wants to refine the experiments to better imitate human dietary habits, including the amount of tryptophan people consume. Internal Purdue funding paid for his work..
…Abstract on the research in this release is available at: http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/research/2010/101213GarnerTryptophan.html