We all deal with stress. Whether it’s stress from a job, financial, or relationship issues, chronic stress has been linked to an increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease [1-2]. However, there hasn’t been a biological marker that could be used to measure an individual’s level of stress. A recent study performed by researchers at the University of Western Ontario Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and published in the journal Stress has found that the level of cortisol in hair can be used as a biomarker to measure chronic stress and the risk of heart attack in men .
Have you ever heard a person in poor health being told “Well, you’ve got to stay positive, that will help”? This seemingly common idea is currently under significant scientific investigation. Indeed, the debate about the degree to which psychological processes can directly influence physical health has received special attention recently. A special supplement of the Annals of Behavioural Medicine directly addressed this topic in February this year and a recent article in the Lancet explored this issue, cautioning us that the relationship between a positive psychological orientation and cancer survival remains unclear .
How you think about your health can have powerful impacts on how you experience your health. In a recent study with a group of cardiac patients, how people thought about their illness (termed “illness cognitions”) was found to have a direct impact on how people experience health and emotional wellbeing . These illness cognitions also affected health indirectly by influencing the types of behaviours people were engaged in to cope with cardiac problems. This study brings to our attention the relevance of psychology in relation to medical illnesses.
In a recent paper in Nature Neuroscience, two researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida report that obese rats with extended access to what they deemed “palatable food” — bacon, sausage, cheesecake, pound cake, frosting and chocolate — exhibited compulsive like eating behavior, much like rats with extended access to cocaine or heroin . This compulsive eating meant that they continued eating despite negative ramifications, in this case a flash of light signaling an oncoming electric shock administered to their foot. This lack of control over behavior with known negative consequences is a hallmark of both drug addiction and obesity. The investigators found that just like drug addicted rats, these obese rats had fewer striatal (a region of the forebrain) dopamine D2 receptors; this is responsible for the observed dampening of their neural reward responses to the food, which caused them to continue to eat, seeking that elusive high.
Although the root cause(s) of stuttering remain unknown, evidence has accumulated from twin and adoption studies that genetics plays a role. Dennis Drayna, a geneticist at the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), undertook a study to identify the genes involved in the disorder with the ultimate goal to elucidate poorly defined neural structures and functions regulating human speech. Results from the study were reported recently in the New England Journal of Medicine .
The study focused on a Pakistani family in whom previous work had determined that stuttering was linked to the long arm of chromosome 12 (chromosome 12q). In addition to the affected and unaffected members of these families, the study also included 123 Pakistani stutterers who were unrelated and 270 stutterers from the United States and England. Children under the age of eight were excluded, as they often recover from stuttering, as were people with neurologic or psychiatric symptoms. The control group (non-stutterers) consisted of 96 Pakistanis and 276 North American whites.