Feeling Fat-Shamed Takes a Toll on Health

-Traci Pedersen

The pain of being the target of fat shaming may take a significant toll on one’s health, according to a new study led by researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The findings show that people with high levels of weight bias internalization are much more likely to develop cardiovascular and metabolic disease.

Weight bias internalization occurs when people apply negative weight stereotypes to themselves — such as believing they are lazy or unattractive — and devalue themselves because of their weight.

“There is a common misconception that stigma might help motivate individuals with obesity to lose weight and improve their health,” said Rebecca Pearl, Ph.D., an assistant professor of Psychology in Psychiatry.

“We are finding it has quite the opposite effect. When people feel shamed because of their weight, they are more likely to avoid exercise and consume more calories to cope with this stress. In this study, we identified a significant relationship between the internalization of weight bias and having a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, which is a marker of poor health.”

For the study, the researchers examined 159 adults with obesity who were enrolled in a larger clinical trial testing the effects of a weight loss medication. Before any intervention was given, the participants completed baseline questionnaires measuring depression and weight bias internalization. A majority of the participants were African American women, a group typically underrepresented in weight bias research.

Participants were also given a medical exam to determine whether they had metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors — such as high triglycerides, blood pressure, and waist circumference — which are linked to heart disease, type II diabetes, and other obesity-related health problems.

Initially, no link was found between weight bias internalization and metabolic syndrome when controlling for participant demographics, such as age, gender, and race. However, when patients were separated into two groups, “high” and “low” levels of weight bias internalization, those with high internalization were three times more likely to have metabolic syndrome, and six times more likely to have high triglycerides as compared to participants with low internalization.

“Health care providers, the media, and the general public should be aware that blaming and shaming patients with obesity is not an effective tool for promoting weight loss, and it may in fact contribute to poor health if patients internalize these prejudicial messages,” said co-author Tom Wadden, Ph.D., a professor of Psychology in Psychiatry and director of Penn’s Center for Weight and Eating Disorders.

“Providers can play a critical role in decreasing this internalization by treating patients with respect, discussing weight with sensitivity and without judgment, and giving support and encouragement to patients who struggle with weight management — behaviors everyone should display when interacting with people with obesity.”

Previous research has shown that exposure to weight bias and stigma negatively affects mental and physical health, demonstrating that these experiences can lead to a physiological stress response such as increased inflammation and cortisol levels and can increase unhealthy habits such as overeating and avoiding physical activity.

Larger, longer-term studies are needed to explore which biological responses are responsible for putting a person with weight bias internalization at greater risk for cardio-metabolic disease.

“Disparagement of others due to their weight and messages that perpetuate blame and shame, if internalized, can cause harm to the physical and mental health of individuals with obesity,” added Pearl.

“As health care practitioners, we can help challenge negative, internalized stereotypes by educating patients about the complex biological and environmental factors that contribute to obesity, while providing concrete strategies to help patients manage their weight and improve their health.”

The findings are published in the journal Obesity.

Physical Health and Mental Health, Part 2: Exercising Regularly

-Staci Lee Schnell, MS, CS, LMFT

This is Part 2 in a series. Read Part 1 here: “Physical Health and Mental Health, Part 1: Eating Healthfully“.

The relationship between Physical Health and Mental Health plays a significant role in our lives. It has been found that staying physically fit actually helps our mental health as well. When our physical health is poor it puts a great strain on our mental health.

Eating healthfully, exercising regularly and getting a good night’s sleep are all important elements in a mentally and physically healthy life. Lifestyle interventions with a combination of psychotherapy and medications are all important in one’s treatment plan.

The Importance of Exercising Regularly to Benefit Mental Health

One can reap all the physical and mental health benefits of exercise with just 30-minutes of moderate exercise five times a week. Two 15-minute or even three 10-minute exercise sessions can also work just as well.

It is well known that regular exercise is good for the body. But exercise is also one of the most effective ways to improve our mental health as well. Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on Depression, Anxiety, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and more. Exercising regularly can also relieve and reduce stress, enhance coping skills, improve memory, help sleep, and boost one’s mood overall.

Exercise stimulates the growth of new brain cells which has been shown to help in age-related memory decline. It changes the brain in ways that protects memory and thinking skills.

Regular physical activity can also foster a sense of self-worth and a higher self- esteem, helping us to feel stronger both physically and mentally.

Aerobic exercises such as running, swimming, biking, dancing are all mood boosting.

Exercise cannot cure Depression, Anxiety, or Attention Deficit Disorder but can help improve the symptoms.

Depression

When one exercises, there is a release of endorphins. Endorphins are powerful chemicals in our brain that energize our spirits and make us feel better. They may also serve to improve our overall mood as well as reduce the perception of pain.

Exercise can also serve as a distraction from worries and depressing thoughts.  Which allows one to find some time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.

Exercise is not a substitute for medication or psychotherapy.

Anxiety

Exercise, proper diet, good sleep, and sunshine are all natural anxiety reducers. Physical activity relieves tension and stress and boosts physical and mental energy.  Exercise enhances our well-being through the release of endorphins, just as in Depression.

Physical Activity helps relax our muscles and relieves tension in our bodies.  Regular exercise can reduce the impact of stress, as well.

Yoga combines physical movement with meditation and deep breathing to help calm the mind and alleviate worry and is a great activity for those with Anxiety.

Exercise is not a cure for Anxiety but an enhancer to psychotherapy and medication treatments.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Exercising regularly is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce the symptoms of ADHD. Exercise has been shown to improve concentration, motivation, memory, and mood. Physical activity immediately boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels, all of which affect focus and attention. The same endorphins that make you feel better also help you concentrate and feel mentally sharp for tasks at hand.

Executive functioning skills, psychotherapy, support groups, and medication prescribed by a doctor, as well as regular exercise can all be included in the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Working with a Therapist specifically trained in Anxiety, Depression, and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is essential in the treatment of these Mental Health Disorders.  Exercise alone should not be considered a substitute for medication or psychotherapy.

Physical Health and Mental Health, Part 1: Eating Healthfully

-Staci Lee Schnell, MS, CS, LMFT

Mental health and physical health are closely related. Keeping physically fit actually helps our mental health too; because it is very hard to stay psychologically healthy when our physical health is poor. If we are physical functioning poorly it takes an emotional toll on us as well.

Caring for your body and mind may mean you’ll not only live longer, but better. Eating healthfully, exercising regularly and getting a good night’s sleep are all important aspects to both the health of our mind and body. Just as there are many effective treatments for physical illnesses, besides therapies and medications, lifestyle interventions can be beneficial to our mental health too.

The Importance of Eating Healthfully to Benefit Mental Health

You’ve probably heard the saying, “you are what you eat.” But what exactly does that mean? Put simply, food is fuel, and the kind of fuel you consume determines the types of nutrients in your system, therefore impacting how your mind and body function. In other words, if you eat poorly you’ll tend to feel poor.

Food can play a contributing role in the treatments of Depression, Anxiety, and Attention Deficit Disorder. Eating a healthy diet can actually play a part in one’s treatment plan. However, a healthy diet alone should not be considered a substitute for medication or psychotherapy.

Depression

A combination of Psychotherapy, Anti-Depressants, and a healthy diet consisting of Folic Acid, Vitamin D, and Omega-3s should all be included in one’s treatment for Depression.

Increasing one’s intake of folate has been associated with helping to reduce depressive symptoms. Leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale, fruits, nuts, beans and whole grains have high amounts of folate, or folic acid.

Depression rates are higher among those with a Vitamin D deficiency. Fatty fish like salmon and tuna have the most naturally occurring Vitamin D. Other foods like milk, orange juice and breakfast cereals have Vitamin D added.  Eating foods high in Vitamin D therefore, may help reduce depression.

Some studies suggest that Omega-3s may be helpful in the treatment of depression as they seem to have a mood-stabilizing effect. Omega-3 essential fatty acids may also help boost the effectiveness of conventional antidepressants. Oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, anchovies and sardines) are the most highly recommended sources of omega-3.  Omega-3s can also be found in walnuts, flax (or flaxseed oil), olive oil, fresh basil and dark green leafy vegetables.

Anxiety

Studies have shown that when people take Probiotics (supplements containing the good bacteria), their anxiety levels, perception of stress, and mental outlook may improve.

Some Teas are known to help reduce Anxiety.  Chamomile Tea has a natural calming and soothing effect and Rooibos and African Red Bush teas seem to have a balancing effect on stress hormones.

Tryptophan has been linked to helping one to feel calm. Turkey, Soy, Eggs, and Cheese are all high in tryptophan.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, other psychotherapies, anti-anxiety medications, and a healthy balanced diet should all be included in one’s treatment plan for Anxiety Disorders.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Protein may help improve concentration and possibly make ADHD medications work for a longer period of time.  Beans, cheese, eggs, meat, and nuts can be good sources of protein.

Complex carbohydrates may help with the sleep issues some experience with ADHD.  Eating vegetables and some fruits, including oranges, tangerines, pears, grapefruit, apples, and kiwi may help one’s sleep if eaten in the evening.

Eating more omega-3 fatty acids has been linked with increased concentration as well.

Executive functioning skills, psychotherapy, support groups, and medication prescribed by a doctor, as well as eating healthfully can all be included in the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Psychotherapy with a Therapist specifically trained in Anxiety, Depression, and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is essential in the treatment of these Mental Health Disorders.  A healthy diet alone should not be considered a substitute for medication or psychotherapy.

Stop Overeating by Learning How to Manage Your Energy

-Ann Kearney Cook

You can do it!

Join me in my office as I consult with Sharon (name changed for privacy), a 32-year old unmarried woman with a history of depression and binge eating. When we first met, Sharon reported that while she’d had solid control of her eating habits for five years, over the last several months she experienced a major relapse.

She said:

“I don’t know what has happened to me. When I am eating I feel completely out of control. It’s like I have to continue binge-eating more and more until I experience physical pain. Only then am I able to stop eating.”

When I asked her if there had been any major changes in her life over the last year, she shared that she’d received a promotion at work, which was great, but that, “In this new position I have to act overly happy and positive all the time. It’s not my nature to be ‘Suzy Sunshine,’ so I’m exhausted by the end of each day.”

She also shared that she skipped meals at work and binged in the evening. Then she withdrew from others over the weekend because she was absolutely exhausted.

After empathizing with how out of control she felt and how scary that must be, I shared that managing your energy throughout the day increases willpower — and is essential for overcoming overeating.

Willpower, like a muscle, can be fatigued over the course of the day.

Your capacity to make good decisions decreases when your willpower is depleted. Willpower is limited and whittled away by exhaustion and the everyday demands of life.

Examples of activities that can deplete willpower include:

  • Demanding work projects
  • Excessive chores
  • Trying to act happy when you really are depressed
  • Resisting food present in your environment when you’re not actually hungry
  • Unpleasant tasks
  • Unhealthy relationships

Once willpower is depleted, you are at greater risk for self-destructive behaviors such as binge eating, over drinking, and losing your temper.

Sharon and I then worked together to create five strategies for managing her energy throughout the day.

  1. She decided that every two hours at work she would read something brief and empowering. Then she would stretch, and watch a funny video on YouTube, or perhaps she would meditate or pray.
  2. She agreed to drink lots of water during the day to stay hydrated and energetic.
  3. She selected and paid for a meal service that would bring her three healthy meals a day. She committed to stop skipping meals.
  4. She made plans to get together with friends one night each weekend to do something fun.
  5. She returned to attending church on a regular basis.
  6. She made a concerted effort to get out in nature more.

These strategies replenished her energy throughout the day so her willpower was not depleted in the evening.

Acting in this manner helped her maintain energy all day. With a new capacity to manage her energy, Sharon had more willpower to make healthy choices about food and other areas of her life.

Emotional Impact after Quitting Fitbit

-Rick Nauert, PhD

Researchers are learning that personal tracking tools — technologies that meticulously count our daily steps, map our runs, account for each purchase — fall in and out of favor in users’ lives.

This finding is significant because many believe self-engagement is critical to improve personal health and reduce overall health care costs.

New research explores why people quit using the apps, how they felt when they quit, and how apps can better be designed to improve retention.

University of Washington researchers found that people abandon self-tracking for a variety of reasons. For some, the information provided by the Fitbit (or a financial tracking tool for that matter) may not be what they had hoped for thus they abandon the effort.

Others find collecting data a hassle, don’t quite know how to use the information, or simply learn what they need to know about their habits and move on.

“We got curious about what it’s like for people after they stop using self-tracking tools,” said Sean Munson, a University of Washington assistant professor of human centered design and engineering.

“Do they feel great, do they feel guilty, do they feel like they’ve gotten everything they need?”

For the study, researchers surveyed 193 people who had abandoned personal informatics tracking. The study team found many people experienced no real difference in their lives. Other emotions, however, ranged from guilt over not being able to keep it up to relief from the tyranny of self-tracking.

Now, in a paper to be presented at the 2016 International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp 2016), the researchers explore how different design approaches may better support people who have lapsed in their Fitbit use.

“People feel more guilt when it comes to abandoning health tracking, as compared to something like location tracking, which is more of a fun thing that people do for a while and move on from,” said lead author Daniel Epstein, a University of Washington doctoral student in computer science and engineering.

“We definitely don’t think that everyone should be tracking forever, but we wanted to see if there are design opportunities to better support people who have had different experiences using Fitbit.”

The research team surveyed 141 people who had lapsed in using Fitbit. They showed the subjects seven different visual representations and ways of framing previously collected data, to see if the data could offer additional support and encouragement to be healthy if portrayed in new and interesting ways.

Half of these Fitbit users described feeling guilty about their lapsed Fitbit use, and nearly all of those said they would like to return to activity tracking. Twenty-one said they got no value out of tracking, found it annoying, or struggled to connect the data to behavior change. Five participants felt they had learned enough about their habits, and 45 reported mixed feelings about abandoning their Fitbit.

The researchers found that lapsed users responded differently to seeing their old Fitbit data presented in new ways, depending on their personal tracking history.

Participants who had tracked their fitness levels for less than four months preferred visualizations that showed them which days of the week or time of day they were active, while those with a longer track record preferred visualizations that highlighted the length of their activity record.

Most people preferred social comparisons that made them look better than their peers, such as “you walked more than 70 percent of people,” over those that were framed negatively, such as “30 percent of people walked more than you” — even if the comparisons represented the same information.

The team also found that people who felt guilty about abandoning their Fitbit use were very receptive to recommendations that they return to tracking, while people who felt they had gotten what they had wanted out of self-tracking felt those same suggestions were judgmental and unhelpful.

The responses show, researchers say, that a one-size-fits-all design approach misses opportunities to support different types of users.

“Right now self-tracking apps tend to assume everyone will track forever, and that’s clearly not the case,” said co-author James Fogarty, a University of Washington associate professor of computer science and engineering.

“Given that some people feel relief when they give it up, there may be better ways to help them get better value out of the data after they’re done, or reconnect them to the app for weeklong check-ins or periodic tune-ups that don’t presume they’ll be doing this every day for the rest of their lives.”

Source: University of Washington

10 Days Without Exercise Can Reduce Blood Flow in Brain

-Traci Pedersen

We know that when highly active people stop exercising for one or two weeks, their cardiovascular endurance begins to diminish. But what effect, if any, does an exercise break have on the brain?

This was the focus of a new study by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. Using MRI brain imaging, the research team studied cerebral blood flow in very healthy and athletic older adults (ages 50-80 years) before and after a 10-day period during which they stopped all exercise.

They found a significant decrease in blood flow to several brain areas, including the hippocampus, after the participants quit their exercise routines.

“We know that the hippocampus plays an important role in learning and memory and is one of the first brain regions to shrink in people with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. J. Carson Smith, associate professor of kinesiology and lead author of the study.

“In rodents, the hippocampus responds to exercise training by increasing the growth of new blood vessels and new neurons, and in older people, exercise can help protect the hippocampus from shrinking. So, it is significant that people who stopped exercising for only 10 days showed a decrease in brain blood flow in brain regions that are important for maintaining brain health.”

The study participants were all “master athletes,” defined as people between the ages of 50 and 80 who had been participating in endurance exercise for at least 15 years and who had recently competed in an endurance event.

To qualify for the study, the participants’ exercise regimens had to involve at least four hours of high intensity endurance training each week. On average, they were running 36 miles each week or the equivalent of a 10K run a day. Not surprisingly, this group had a V02 max above 90 percent for their age. Vo2 max is a measure of the maximal rate of oxygen consumption of an individual and reflects their aerobic physical fitness.

The researchers measured the velocity of blood flow in the brain with an MRI scan while the participants were still following their regular training routine (at peak fitness) and again after 10 days of no exercise.

They discovered that resting cerebral blood flow significantly dropped in eight brain regions, including the areas of the left and right hippocampus and several regions known to be part of the brain’s “default mode network” — a neural network known to deteriorate quickly with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

The findings add to the growing scientific evidence of the impact of physical activity on cognitive health.

“We know that if you are less physically active, you are more likely to have cognitive problems and dementia as you age,” said Smith. “However, we did not find any evidence that cognitive abilities worsened after stopping exercising for just 10 days.

“But the take-home message is simple: If you do stop exercising for 10 days, just as you will quickly lose your cardiovascular fitness, you will also experience a decrease in blood brain flow.”

Smith believes this new information could have important implications for brain health in older adults, and points to the need for more research to find out how fast these changes occur, what the long-term effects could be, and how quickly they could be reversed when exercise is resumed.

The findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

Why You Can’t Eat (or Can’t Stop Eating) After a Breakup

-Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH

Investigating the gut-brain response

We often find what we need when we’re not looking for it. That’s how it was for me today, spending a lazy Sunday searching the scientific literature for research related to “communication about feelings” (isn’t that what everyone does on Sundays?).

Instead of finding research related to how people talk or avoid talking about their feelings, I found myself taken in by the first result: a 2011 article published in Nature titled “Gut feelings: the emerging biology of gut-brain communication.”

I was intrigued for two reasons: (1) one of my good friends, a neuroscientist, often talks about gut decisions (they are not always the “right” decisions to make but they deserve attention for various reasons); and (2) I had recently talked with another friend about some of my own gut-brain responses and it left me with a nagging question.

What happened is this: I had shared a story about how, when I was 19, I lost my appetite for a week. I was healthy and happy with life except that I had ended a relationship with someone who I liked, but didn’t want to be with anymore, and I felt badly about it. The pain of hurting another person was, for me, so painful that my stomach hurt and I couldn’t eat, a result of my overly sensitive and overly empathic nature in which I took in his perceived pain and made it my own (in reality, I’m sure he was just fine).

So there I was, relatively unable to eat normally except for the lucky fact that my body was adaptive enough to crave a specific food each day. For the first few days, the only food I could bare to eat was watermelon. Then, some specific muffins from a specific bakery. After about a week, time healed, my appetite returned, and I mostly forgot about this odd gut-brain reaction.

That is, until the next time I found myself ending a relationship and once again losing my appetite. This came to be a cycle that repeated itself during times when I was ready to break up with someone, had already broken up with someone, or was experiencing sufficient relationship distress. I didn’t lose my appetite for days at a time due to any other type of stress, I told my friend; just relationship distress. And it was annoying.

“What about drinking?” he asked, as I sipped from a tasty lavendar drink at a favorite bar. “Did you ever lose your appetite for certain drinks?”

And it occurred to me that I hadn’t. Yet the scientist in me couldn’t figure out why I would so routinely and consistently lose my appetite for food in the face of relationship issues but never any type of alcohol.

Reading the Nature piece today has provided me with some sense of my own gut-brain connection, and perhaps—if you’ve experienced appetite issues in response to relationship distress, it may for you too. It seems that there’s a growing and (for me) fascinating area of research related to interactions between our gut (e.g., appetite, GI function, etc) and our brain (e.g., thoughts, memories, decision making, and emotions).

The article reviewed scientific findings related to the gut/brain that lead me to believe that the following—at least for me—may have happened:

1. When I was 19 and had my first significant breakup, I had a fairly typical stress response of changes to eating patterns.

2. Relationship-related distress is rare enough for me—and I am a highly sensitive/empathic person—and thus “memories of body states associated with previous feeling states” (this, from the article) perhaps became linked. That is, relationship distress is, for me, connected with loss of appetite going back to my first significant breakup.

3. Because I wasn’t really drinking alcohol very often at age 18 or 19, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to want a drink, let alone to lose my appetite for a drink. Thus, I had no alcohol-related appetite loss in relation to relationship distress at the time, and it’s consequently never become part of how I deal with this now. It never became imprinted.

I mention this because, in a recent class discussion about love, breakups, and communication, my students talked a bit about their own changes to eating patterns when faced with heartbreak. Some students talked about drinking more alcohol, or taking various drugs or pain medications, after a breakup. Other students talked about eating more than usual or less than usual when going through difficult relationship issues.

It’s common to experience changes related to eating (and to sleep) in response to relationship issues, including breakups. However, we have idiosyncratic patterns and the Nature article helped me to understand the numerous pathways that may be possible in creating these connections and establishing individuals’ patterns related to appetite, eating behaviors and their memories and emotions. I liked this part of the article:

“…body loops, or their meta-representations in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), may play a part not only in how somebody feels at a given moment but may also influence future planning and intuitive decision making. For example, according to Damasio, somatic markers may covertly result in ‘undeliberated inhibition of a response learned previously … [or] the introduction of a bias in the selection of an aversive or appetitive mode of behavior.’”

My pattern of appetite loss is specific to me—and because it’s so predictable, when it happens at all I experience it as an annoyance since I like to eat and just want to get the whole “appetite loss” thing over with. I know that I’m fine; I just want to eat again. I’ve also found that, for me, the appetite loss is linked specifically with feeling bad about hurting another person. I can manage relationship distress. I can manage breakups. But, going back to childhood, I’ve always found it painful to do things that break another person’s heart—and it’s that pain that seems to be linked with finding it too painful to eat. [Fortunately these days, I am eating 100 percent normally and happily.]

There’s nothing to “do” here; meaning, this isn’t a “5 Tips” or “10 Steps” piece. But if you find yourself interested in the topic, and have a science-y background, you may find the article to be an interesting read. And if you experience gut-related symptoms in response to relationship or sexuality issues, you might look for patterns in your own past, and memories, to see how a gut-brain reaction may have developed for you. It may even give you some insights in terms of how you might be able to care for yourself going forward.

Watching Too Much Television Can Be Deadly

-Rick Nauert, PhD

Being a couch potato and bingeing on TV series can literally be hazardous to your health.

So says the American Heart Association as a new study found that watching a lot of television every day may increase your risk of dying from a blood clot in the lung.

A lung blood clot, known medically as a pulmonary embolism, usually begins as a clot in the leg or pelvis as a result of inactivity and slowed blood flow. If the clot breaks free, it can travel to a lung and become lodged in a small blood vessel, where it is especially dangerous.

In the study, from 1988-1990, Japanese researchers asked 86,024 participants, age 40-79, how many hours they spent watching TV. Over the next 19 years, 59 participants died of a pulmonary embolism.

Researchers found that compared to participants who watched TV less than 2.5 hours each day, deaths from a pulmonary embolism increased by:

  • 70 percent among those who watched TV from 2.5 to 4.9 hours;
  • 40 percent for each additional two hours of daily TV watching; and
  • 2.5 times among those who watched TV five or more hours.

“Pulmonary embolism occurs at a lower rate in Japan than it does in Western countries, but it may be on the rise,” said Hiroyasu Iso, M.D., Ph.D., professor of public health at Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine and study corresponding author.

“The Japanese people are increasingly adopting sedentary lifestyles, which we believe is putting them at increased risk.”

Authors noted that the risk is likely greater than the findings suggest.

Deaths from pulmonary embolism are believed to be underreported because diagnosis is difficult. The most common symptoms of pulmonary embolism — chest pain and shortness of breath — are the same as other life-threatening conditions, and diagnosis requires imaging that many hospitals are not equipped to provide.

Researchers accounted for several factors that might have influenced findings, including obesity, diabetes, cigarette smoking, and hypertension. After the number of hours spent watching TV, obesity appeared to have the next strongest link to pulmonary embolism.

Toru Shirakawa, M.D., study first author and a research fellow in public health at Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine, said the findings may be particularly relevant to Americans. Other studies indicate U.S. adults watch more television than Japanese adults.

“Nowadays, with online video streaming, the term ‘binge-watching’ to describe viewing multiple episodes of television programs in one sitting has become popular,” Shirakawa said. “This popularity may reflect a rapidly growing habit.”

Authors said people who watch a lot of TV can take several easy steps to reduce their risk of developing blood clots in their legs that may then move to their lungs.

“After an hour or so, stand up, stretch, walk around, or while you’re watching TV, tense and relax your leg muscles for five minutes,” said Iso, noting this advice is similar to that given to travelers on long plane flights. He added that drinking water may also help and, in the long run, shedding pounds if overweight is likely to reduce risk.

The study, published in the journal Circulation, recorded participants’ viewing habits before computers, tablets and smartphones became popular sources of information and entertainment.

Sadly, the new technologies have probably increased the risk of pulmonary embolism although additional studies are needed.

Source: American Heart Association

These 5 Foods and Substances Can Cause Anxiety and Insomnia

Before you reach for the medicine cabinet, take a look at your dinner plate.

Do you suffer from panic attacks or have trouble sleeping? If so, you may have tried stress reduction techniques or even medications, but has anyone ever asked you what you eat? It may surprise you to learn that certain everyday foods, some of which are considered healthy, have the capacity to overstimulate your nervous system just as powerfully as a stressful life event.

Medications may be helpful in managing your symptoms in the short term, but what if you could get to the root cause of the problem once and for all? If you identify which ingredients in your menu are working against you, you can gain control over your symptoms, avoid co-pays and side effects, and most importantly, protect your health from the damaging effects of internal biological stress.

When it comes to anxiety and insomnia, the foods listed below can be chemical triggers for anyone. Those at highest risk include women, people over 40, individuals with multiple chemical/medication sensitivities or allergies, and anyone with conditions affecting the digestive or immune system such as IBS, inflammatory bowel disease, or chemotherapy treatment.

Which foods are most likely to press your panic button?

1. Caffeine

Caffeine is a notorious nemesis in sleep and anxiety disorders. In a recent study of people with panic disorder, caffeine increased stress hormone levels in all participants and triggered panic attacks in about half of them. Caffeine keeps you awake by blocking sleep-promoting adenosine receptors in the brain. Even five hours after drinking caffeine, 50% of it remains in your bloodstream and has been shown to impair sleep. In fact, it takes a staggering 16 to 24 hours for caffeine to completely leave your system. This means that even a single morning cup of coffee may affect your sleep quality at night. To see if caffeine is your culprit, gradually cut back a little each day rather than going cold turkey to minimize withdrawal headaches, fatigue, and concentration problems.

2. Nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and goji berries)

Plants in the nightshade family produce natural pesticides called glycoalkaloids, which are designed to kill predators like insects and worms, but are also toxic to human cells. These cunning chemical weapons block the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, resulting in overstimulation of the nervous system in sensitive individuals. Anxiety is just one of many neuropsychiatric side effects documented in humans. Common nightshade ingredients in prepared foods include potato starch, chilies, bell peppers, tomato paste, paprika, red pepper flakes and cayenne. Most people eat nightshades in some form every day, so glycoalkaloids may accumulate in your system over time. It takes at least five days for glycoalkaloids to clear your system, so you’ll need to remove these foods completely for a week or longer to see if they are bothering you. Cooking doesn’t destroy glycoalkaloids, but there are other simple ways to minimize your exposure.

3. Alcohol

Alcohol can be very effective in relaxing you and helping you fall asleep. However, as alcohol starts to wear off in the middle of the night, sleep quality suffers significantly. Metabolism varies depending on age, gender, genetic background and other factors, but the primary predictor of how long alcohol remains in your bloodstream is quantity. On average, each “drink” (1.5-oz shot, 12-oz beer, or 5-oz wine) takes two hours to clear your system: two drinks—four hours, three drinks—six hours, etc. As alcohol wears off, “mini-withdrawal” effects can range from restless sleep to bad dreams to full-blown panic attacks. If you’re in the habit of drinking every evening, cut back gradually to minimize potential for withdrawal, which can temporarily worsen sleep and anxiety problems.

4. Aged, fermented, cured, smoked, and cultured foods (salami, cheese, sauerkraut, red wine, etc.).

The way to turn a fresh whole food like beef, milk, grapes, or cabbage into a gourmet food like aged steak, brie, merlot, or kimchi is to add bacteria to it and let it ferment. During fermentation, bacteria break down food proteins into tiny molecules called biogenic amines, which accumulate as the food ages. The most important biogenic amine found lurking within aged foods is histamine, a powerful neurotransmitter that can aggravate our digestive, hormonal, cardiovascular, and nervous systems. Histamine causes anxiety and insomnia in susceptible individuals, partly through its ability to increase levels of adrenaline, our “fight-or-flight” hormone. Histamine is indestructible, so cooking and freezing don’t help. This article contains more detailed information, including meat, seafood, and beverage tables as well as food preparation tips to keep your histamine levels low.

5. Sugar, Flour, and other Refined Carbohydrates

All sugars and starches, except those that come in the form of a natural whole food like a piece of fruit or a sweet potato, are considered refined carbohydrates.

Popular breakfast foods like orange juice, sweet yogurts, and most cereals are rich in refined carbohydrates that start your day with a blood sugar spike, setting into motion a hormonal chain reaction that can affect your mood, energy, concentration, and appetite for hours. After insulin surges to bring your blood sugar down, the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline rush in to prevent your blood sugar from crashing. Since most people eat refined carbohydrates like bread, chips, or noodles during lunch and dinner as well, they are essentially riding this invisible roller coaster 24 hours a day.

In this study, a single serving of a glucose-sweetened beverage caused adrenaline levels to double in adults and quadruple in children, not peaking until four hours after the drink was consumed.

Adrenaline causes panic symptoms like sweating, lightheadedness, and palpitations in sensitive people. These sensations are often mistaken for “hypoglycemia” (low blood glucose) even though in most cases, blood glucose doesn’t fall below normal.

The standard advice to people who feel panicky between meals is to eat carbohydrates every three hours to prevent blood sugar from dropping. However, that approach can actually worsen the problem over time by increasing your body’s dependence on sugar as well as your risk for insulin resistance.

It is much wiser to remove refined carbohydrates from the diet to prevent blood sugar from spiking in the first place. I recommend eliminating them for at least two weeks to see how you feel. It is best for all of us to permanently avoid these processed sugar sources anyway, so in taking this one small step toward identifying your dietary demons, you’ll be taking a giant leap toward overall good health.

Bottom Line

The most powerful way to change your brain chemistry is by changing how you eat. Keep a food and symptom journal to see if you notice any patterns, keeping in mind that some foods may not trigger symptoms until many hours later. What you discover may be the key to your peace of mind and a good night’s sleep.

Psychiatric disorders more common among workaholics, study finds

If your life seems to revolve around your job, so much so that your relationships and social life suffer, then you’re likely to fall under the definition of a “workaholic.” It is no surprise that workaholism can induce stress, but a new study suggests that it may also be associated with psychiatric disorders.
[An overworked businessman]
Researchers found workaholics were more likely to meet criteria for OCD, ADHD, anxiety, and depression.

Published in the journal PLOS One, the study found that workaholics were more likely to have anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than non-workaholics.

According to the study authors – including Cecilie Schou Andreassen of the Department of Psychological Science at the University of Bergen, Norway – workaholism has been defined as “being overly concerned about work, driven by an uncontrollable work motivation, and to investing so much time and effort to work that it impairs other important life areas.”

With an increasing amount of Americans facing longer working hours and increasing job demands, workaholism is believed to be a common occurrence, with some studies estimating that it affects around 10 percent of the U.S. workforce.

Andreassen and colleagues note that previous studies have suggested a link between workaholism and psychiatric disorders; they set out to gain a better understanding of this association.

The Bergen Work Addiction Scale

The team analyzed data of 16,426 working adults of a median age of 37 years.

The researchers used the Bergen Work Addiction Scale to identify workaholism among the subjects, which involved participants rating how often the following statements applied to them in the past year:

  • You think about ways to free up more time for work
  • You spend significantly more time working than originally planned
  • You work to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness, or depression
  • Others have told you to work less but you don’t listen to them
  • You become stressed if you are prevented from working
  • Work is prioritized before hobbies, leisure activities, and/or exercise
  • You work to the extent that it negatively impacts your health.

Participants rated each statement on a scale of 1 (never) to 5 (always). They were deemed a workaholic If they scored “often” or “always” on four or more statements, and this occurred for 7.8 percent of participants.

Workaholics more likely to meet criteria for psychiatric disorders

Additionally, all participants were assessed for psychiatric symptoms through the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale, the Obsession-Compulsive Inventory-Revised, and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale.

Compared with non-workaholics, the team found that workaholics were significantly more likely to have symptoms of psychiatric disorders.

A total of 32.7 percent of workaholics met ADHD criteria, compared with 12.7 percent of non-workaholics.

OCD criteria were met for 25.6 percent of workaholics, while only 8.7 percent of non-workaholics met OCD criteria.

Among workaholics, 33.8 percent met the criteria for anxiety and 8.9 percent met the criteria for depression, compared with 11.9 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively, for non-workaholics.

Younger, single, and highly educated individuals with higher socioeconomic status were most likely to be workaholics, the researchers report.

Furthermore, workaholism was found to be more prevalent among individuals with managerial roles, those who worked in the private sector, and those who were self-employed.

Overall, the researchers say their results indicate that certain sociodemographic groups may be at increased risk of workaholism, and that workaholics may be more likely to have co-existing psychiatric conditions.

The authors add:

“Clearly, more research is warranted to elucidate these important relationships further. In the meantime, it is recommended that physicians and therapists should not take for granted that a seemingly successful workaholic does not have ADHD-related clinical features.

However, more research is needed to examine whether workaholism is totally negative for all individuals as it may be that workaholism may serve an important structuring function for those with mental health problems and those with social dysfunction.”

-Honor Whiteman