Outrun Discouraging Words


The Power of Negative Thinking

If you ever catch on fire, try to avoid looking in a mirror, because I bet that will really throw you into a panic.

Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey

To assess a diabetic's risk of heart disease, a doctor typically takes a blood sample to look for biochemical telltales such as the level of insulin.  The traditional method certainly does not involve sitting the patient down on a psychiatrist's couch to see if a glass of water looks half empty or half full.  The latter technique may, however, turn out to be as much to the point as blood tests, because some new research suggests that depressed diabetics are, quite literally, prone to getting their hearts broken.

This study, which is to be published in January's Atherosclerosis by Trevor Orchard, an epidemiologist at the University of Pittsburgh, is one piece of a mosaic that psychologists and epidemiologists have been fitting together over the past few years.  Another piece is an answer to the question of why depressed people seem particularly susceptible to infection.  The picture that is emerging as the pieces fit together suggests that the old tag "a healthy mind in a healthy body" frequently needs to be inverted.  An unhealthy mind can lead directly to an unhealthy body - and therefore another old medical tag "treat the patient, not the disease" takes on a new significance.

Accentuate the positive

Dr Orchard explored this interaction between mind and body using data collected during the Pittsburgh Epidemiology of Diabetes Complications Study, which was designed to identify those factors that worsen the health of people already suffering from diabetes.  In "juvenile-onset" (type-1) diabetes, these complications can be as deadly as the ailment itself.  Type-1 diabetics cannot produce insulin-a hormone which regulates the level of sugar in the blood.  They must therefore inject themselves with insulin at regular intervals or else risk coma or sudden death.  And, as if this were not sobering enough, type-1 diabetics also have a tendency to suffer from early and severe arteriosclerosis, a condition in which the walls of the blood vessels thicken and harden.

Arteriosclerosis of the coronary arteries is particularly dangerous, for these vessels supply blood to the muscle of the heart.  As the coronary-artery walls narrow, the flow of nutrients and oxygen to the heart slows, and coronary heart disease (CHD) follows.

Dr Orchard's analysis involved more than 600 diabetics, who were examined at 2-year intervals over 6 years.  In addition to undergoing the usual physiological tests, the participants were also evaluated at the beginning of the study by the "Beck Depression Inventory".  This test rates individual symptoms of depression (such as pessimism, suicidal ideas, social withdrawal and loss of libido).  The more depressed a patient is, the more points he accumulates.

A patient's score on the Beck scale turned out to bea good predictor of his eventual level of CHD-better, indeed, than high levels of blood sugar, the standard symptom of diabetic disorder.  Those without CHD scored significantly lower than those with it.  And patients who developed angina, a painful heart condition resulting from arteriosclerosis, had depression scores that were nearly twice as high (12.2) as diabetics whose hearts stayed healthy (6.6).

Diabetics, of course, whether depressed or not, are seriously ill people.  But it has been known for a long time that people with no serious illness other than depression are more likely to die than those who are otherwise similar, but mentally healthy.  Many of their causes of death have some visible connection with their disease - suicide, violent accidents and drug abuse are high on the list.  But depressed patients also die more often than the mentally healthy from "natural" causes such as pneumonia and influenza.

The question of why severely depressed patients suffer from infections more often than the average person attracted the attention of Gregory Miller, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University, also in Pittsburgh.  In a normal body, infectious organisms are met by a battalion of cells known as lymphocytes.  Some of these attack the invaders directly.  Others produce antibodies that gum them up.  But the immune systems of the severely depressed tend to mount a weaker counter-attack than those of the mentally fit.  Dr Miller and his colleagues think they have the explanation for this immunological apathy.

In the past, studies relating mental depression to depression of the immune system have usually been performed on patients stuck in hospital.  This complicates matters, because the mere fact of being in a hospital affects a patient's mood and behaviour.  Instead, Dr Miller studied 32 depressed women who were not in hospital, and matched them with a control group of healthy women.  As he reports in the latest issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, lymphocytes from the depressed women responded much less than those from the normal women when exposed to agents that induce proliferation.

One explanation for this relies on the observation that depression is often accompanied by a hormonal imbalance in the brain.  The disease is associated with abnormal levels of norepinephrine and estradiol, hormones that are known to help regulate the immune system.  Dr Miller's results, however, showed that this biochemical difference could not, by itself, account for the weakness of the responses shown to infection by the depressed women.  There must be something else involved.  When he and his colleagues started examining the women in question, they found that the depressed subjects had very different ways of life from the controls.  They smoked more, drank more caffeinated drinks, slept more fitfully, and exercised less.  But, perhaps surprisingly, only one of these differences, that in physical activity, proved to have a significant relationship with lymphocyte production.

Dr Miller found that physical activity accounted for about half of the difference in immunity between depressed and normal women.  He believes that exercise represents the first clear behavioural link between depression and a dysfunctional immune system.  If that speculation proves correct, encouraging depressed people to exercise should help to protect them from illness and the strange correlations between depression, pneumonia and influenza may finally make some sense.

Source: The Economist 18 December 1999 Science and technology section

See also:

bulletReason to Be Cheerful - our inherent personality differences merely reflect the different endorphin levels maintained by our bodies...  Depressed people usually display realistic self-appraisals of their social competencies.  The non-depressed view themselves as much more adroit than they really are.  Thus, depressed people are realists while the non-depressed are confident illusionists...
bulletRegarding Civility - studies of animals who groom each other - from fish to primates (and including humans) show that stroking one another causes measurable changes in the amygdala.  I suspect this is one of the major reasons for the hair styling industry as well as the massage industry (I mean the authentic one, but possibly the other kind as well).  My conclusion?  Try hugging someone today - or comb a family member's hair (gently!).  See if it doesn't put you both in a better mood...

Why not go out for some exercise right now?  There's never been a better time.

Negativity is Contagious, Study Finds

Source: izzyjustice.wordpress.com

Though we may not care to admit it, what other people think about something can affect what we think about it. This is how critics become influential and why our parents’ opinions about our life choices continue to matter, long after we’ve moved out. But what kind of opinions have the most effect" An important new study in the Journal of Consumer Research reveals that negative opinions cause the greatest attitude shifts, not just from good to bad, but also from bad to worse.

“Consumer attitudes toward products and services are frequently influenced by others around them. Social networks, such as those found on Myspace and Facebook suggest that these influences will continue to be significant drivers of individual consumer attitudes as society becomes more inter-connected,” explain Adam Duhachek, Shuoyang Zhang, and Shanker Krishnan (all of Indiana University). “Our research seeks to understand the conditions where group influence is strongest.”

Consumers were presented with information about a new product and allowed to independently form their evaluations. As would be normally expected with many products, some of these evaluations were positive and others negative. The researchers then revealed to participants whether their peers evaluated the product negatively or positively. They found that the opinions of others exert especially strong influence on individual attitudes when these opinions are negative. Additionally, consumers that privately held positive attitudes toward the product were more susceptible to influence from group opinion than those who initially held negative opinions.

Furthermore, the researchers also found that those with negative opinions of the product were likely to become even more negative if asked to participate in a group discussion: “When consumers expect to interact with other consumers through these forums, learning the views of these other consumers may reinforce and even polarize their opinions, making them more negative,” the researchers reveal.

“This research has several interesting implications. First, given the strong influence of negative information, marketers may need to expend extra resources to counter-act the effects of negative word of mouth in online chatrooms, blogs and in offline media. Conversely, companies could damage the reputations of competitors by disseminating negative information online,” the researchers explain. “Consumers should be aware that these social influence biases exist and are capable of significantly impacting their perceptions.”

Adam Duhachek, Shuoyang Zhang, and Shanker Krishnan, “Anticipated Group Interaction: Coping with Valence Asymmetries in Attitude Shift.” Journal of Consumer Research: October 2007

Source: eurekalert.org University of Chicago Press Journals 4 October 2007

Stress May Promote Ageing of Cells

by Karla Gale

New York - A new finding may explain how stress could ultimately lead to premature aging.  Chronic psychological stress is associated with accelerated shortening of the caps, called telomeres, on the ends of chromosomes in white blood cells - and thus hasten their demise - according to a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Telomeres promote chromosome stability, Dr Elissa S Epel at the University of California, San Francisco, and her colleagues explain.  Telomeres shorten with each replication of the cell, and cells cease dividing when telomeres shorten sufficiently.

The team investigated the theory that psychological stress affects telomere shortening and thereby contributes to accelerated ageing.  Their study included 39 healthy, premenopausal women who were primary caregivers for a child with a chronic illness, and 19 age-matched mothers of healthy children who served as a comparison "control" group.  Stress was measured with a standardised questionnaire, and telomere length was measured in participants' blood samples.  Within the caregiving group, the longer that a woman had been a caregiver, the shorter was the length of telomeres.

In the 14 women with the highest stress scores, telomeres averaged 3,110 units in length; the 14 with the lowest stress had telomeres that averaged 3,660 units.  In adults, telomeres shorten by an average of 31 to 63 units per year, so the scientists estimate that the 550-unit shortening in the high-stress group translates to 9 to 17 additional years of ageing.  These findings may have implications for human health, co-author Dr Elizabeth H Blackburn, also at UCSF, said, since telomere shortening is associated with premature death from cardiovascular disease and infections.

While the number of years that mothers had been a caregiver did matter, "not all caregivers fell into the high-stress group," she added.  "This points to the importance of trying to use stress reduction interventions as much as possible."

From Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online 29 November 2004

Source: cnn.netscape.cnn.com © Reuters all rights reserved

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