Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Unexpected uncertainty can breed paranoia

June 9, 2020
Yale University
In times of unexpected uncertainty, such as the sudden appearance of a global pandemic, people may be more prone to paranoia, say researchers.

Silhouette of person, | Credit: © lassedesignen /
Silhouette of person, photo concept (stock image).
Credit: © lassedesignen /

In times of unexpected uncertainty, such as the sudden appearance of a global pandemic, people may be more prone to paranoia, Yale University researchers suggest in a new study published in the journal eLife.

Paranoia is a key symptom of serious mental illness, marked by the belief that other people have malicious intentions. But it also manifests in varying degrees in the general population. For instance, one previous survey found that 20% of the population believed people were against them at some time during the past year; 8% believed that others were actively out to harm them.

The prevailing theory is that paranoia stems from an inability to accurately assess social threats. But Corlett and lead author Erin Reed of Yale hypothesized that paranoia is instead rooted in a more basic learning mechanism that is triggered by uncertainty, even in the absence of social threat.

"We think of the brain as a prediction machine; unexpected change, whether social or not, may constitute a type of threat -- it limits the brain's ability to make predictions," Reed said. "Paranoia may be a response to uncertainty in general, and social interactions can be particularly complex and difficult to predict."

In a series of experiments, they asked subjects with different degrees of paranoia to play a card game in which the best choices for success were changed secretly. People with little or no paranoia were slow to assume that the best choice had changed. However, those with paranoia expected even more volatility in the game. They changed their choices capriciously -- even after a win. The researchers then increased the levels of uncertainty by changing the chances of winning halfway through the game without telling the participants. This sudden change made even the low-paranoia participants behave like those with paranoia, learning less from the consequences of their choices.

In a related experiment, Yale collaborators Jane Taylor and Stephanie Groman trained rats, a relatively asocial species, to complete a similar task where best choices of success changed. Rats who were administered methamphetamine -- known to induce paranoia in humans -- behaved just like paranoid humans. They, too, anticipated high volatility and relied more on their expectations than learning from the task.

Reed, Corlett and their team then used a mathematical model to compare choices made by rats and humans while performing these similar tasks. The results from the rats that received methamphetamine resembled those of humans with paranoia, researchers found.

"Our hope is that this work will facilitate a mechanistic explanation of paranoia, a first step in the development of new treatments that target those underlying mechanisms," Corlett said.

"The benefit of seeing paranoia through a non-social lens is that we can study these mechanisms in simpler systems, without needing to recapitulate the richness of human social interaction," Reed said.


Materials provided by Yale University. Original written by Bill Hathaway. 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Health Challenges of Social Distancing

Excerpted from the Dana Foundation, March 30, 2020.)

We are social creatures by nature, wired to connect with friends, family, and with other people within their communities (See In Sync: How Humans are Wired for Social Relationships). Yet, according to the U.S. Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), a large number of Americans report feeling lonely or socially isolated from others – so much so that many experts are calling it a “loneliness epidemic.” In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many communities are facing work and school closures and shelter-in-place orders, which may be further isolating vulnerable populations from the social interactions that are so vital to mental health and well-being.

Here, Myrna Weissman, Ph.D., the Diane Goldman Kemper Family Professor of Epidemiology in Psychiatry at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, discusses the impact of loneliness on mental health, as well as ways to stay connected when circumstances dictate you must stay at home.

What do we know about the effect of social isolation on mental health?

Human attachments are a basic need. That’s why we live in families and communities where we can be connected to other people. It’s just part of the human condition. There is vast data to document that when these kind of attachments are disrupted in early life, like when a mother suffers from post-partum depression, which often disrupts the mother-infant bond, it can have long-term health consequences, ranging from low-birth weight to increased risk of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or suicidal behavior later in life. Unfortunately, the studies also show that poor bonds early in life can also lead to more social isolation when you are older, as well as feelings of extreme loneliness.

We understand that attachments to others are very important. In fact, a lot of talk therapy focuses on dealing with disruptions to those attachments. You don’t need a lot of friends, but you need to have some people in your life that you can talk to and share your life with.

One of the things psychiatrists were seeing long before the COVID-19 pandemic is that loneliness and social isolation are huge factors in depression. Sometimes, a person has depression and they will avoid other people and become more isolated as their symptoms worsen. Other times, people are depressed because they are isolated from others and they don’t have people they can rely on. Maybe they are lonely because something has changed in their lives. Maybe something bad has happened and they’ve lost someone special. Maybe they don’t get along with their families or the people who should be closest to them. There are, unfortunately, many paths to loneliness....

Does it influence only depression?

No, it influences everything – including chronic medical illnesses like hypertension and diabetes. It’s also now been linked to dementia. People don’t just wake up one day with dementia, unless they’ve had a stroke. Rather, the lack of social interaction, the ability to talk and cooperate with others, leads to a graduate mental decline over time. These social interactions are an important part to health in general.

That said, some people have the opposite experience. They are living with people with whom they don’t get along. Being stuck at home makes things even more stressful as they no longer can do the activities that take them out during the day that can compensate for the underlying discord in the family. That’s of concern.

Then there are the people who live alone. They may be more used to a lowered level of social contact in general. But, on the other hand, many people who live alone have a large number of friends and family members who they see on a regular basis to compensate for that alone time. They could be made more vulnerable by what’s going on, too.

How can people best cope with this sort of forced isolation?

The good news is that human beings, in general, are very flexible and adaptable. There’s good evidence that when you can find ways to connect, it helps to reduce symptoms associated with isolation. Anecdotally, I’ve seen some very creative solutions over the past few weeks....

How can people recognize when the isolation may be becoming too much?

It may not always be easy to recognize it in yourself. It may be easier to see in others. From my experience over the past 10 days, I’d say to watch out for the following situations. First, if there’s someone in your life that you are never hearing from – you send an email or call them and they don’t answer, that’s worrisome. That may be the kind of person who requires more attention during this time. Keep reaching out. Make sure they are okay.

The other kind of situation that may be of concern is a friend or family member who are hyper-focused on the disasters. They are on social media or sending out emails about the number of people who are dying, who are in the hospitals, or the lack of respirators. They are dwelling on the bad things. There, too, it is worthwhile to reach out to them and try to help them focus on something else, to help them see the positives in the situation.

Is there anything we can learn from this period of isolation that can help our mental health and well-being once the isolation from COVID-19 lifts so we can better connect with others in the future?

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the world might change after this is all over. What you take away from this experience will largely depend on your circumstances. Hopefully, you’ll learn something new about yourself. You’ll take stock of what is most vital to your wellbeing during this extraordinary period – both the things you need to be at your best and the things you need to avoid. My hope is that it will help people to reorder their priorities, examine what is important, and discover new ways to foster connections with others.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Diabetes and Coronavirus, CO-VID19

Take charge of your health.


  • COVID-19 & diabetes

COVID-19 is a new and potentially serious coronavirus. There are many coronaviruses, ranging from the common cold to much more serious viruses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). They are viruses that have been transmitted from animals to people. In severe cases, coronaviruses can cause infection in the lungs (pneumonia), kidney failure and even death.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern. At present there is no vaccine against COVID-19.
Common signs are typical flu-like symptoms: a fever, cough, breathing difficulties, tiredness and muscle aches. Symptoms usually start within 3-7 days of exposure to the virus, but in some cases it has taken up to 14 days for symptoms to appear.
People of all ages can be infected. For many (more than 80% of cases), COVID-19 is mild, with minimal flu-like symptoms. Some have not shown symptoms or only very mild symptoms, more like a common cold. The majority of people who have caught the virus did not need to be hospitalised for supportive care. However, in approaching 15% of cases COVID-19 has been severe and in around 5% of cases it has led to critical illness. The vast majority (around 98%) of people infected to date have survived.

When people with diabetes develop a viral infection, it can be harder to treat due to fluctuations in blood glucose levels and, possibly, the presence of diabetes complications.

Older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the COVID-19 virus. When people with diabetes develop a viral infection, it can be harder to treat due to fluctuations in blood glucose levels and, possibly, the presence of diabetes complications. There appear to be two reasons for this. Firstly, the immune system is compromised, making it harder to fight the virus and likely leading to a longer recovery period. Secondly, the virus may thrive in an environment of elevated blood glucose.
Like any other respiratory disease, COVID-19 is spread through air-droplets that are dispersed when an infected person talks, sneezes or coughs. The virus can survive from a few hours up to a few days depending on the environmental conditions. It can be spread through close contact with an infected person or by contact with air droplets in the environment (on a surface for example) and then touching the mouth or nose (hence the common advice circulating on hand hygiene and social distancing).
What can people with diabetes and their loved ones do?
For people living with diabetes it is important to take precautions to avoid the virus if possible. The recommendations that are being widely issued to the general public are doubly important for people living with diabetes and anyone in close contact with people living with diabetes.
  • Wash hands thoroughly and regularly.
  • Try to avoid touching your face before you have washed and dried your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect any objects and surfaces that are touched frequently.
  • Don’t share food, glasses, towels, tools etc.
  • When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or use the crook of your arm if you don’t have a tissue to hand (dispose of the tissue appropriately after use).
  • Try to avoid contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing.
  • Think whether you can make changes that will help protect yourself or loved ones. For example, can you avoid unnecessary business travel? Can you avoid large gatherings? Can you avoid public transport?
  • If you are ill with flu-like symptoms, stay at home.
If you have diabetes:
  • Prepare in case you get ill.
  • Make sure you have all relevant contact details to hand in case you need them.
  • Pay extra attention to your glucose control.
  • If you do show flu-like symptoms (raised temperature, cough, difficulty breathing), it is important to consult a healthcare professional. If you are coughing up phlegm, this may indicate an infection so you should seek medical support and treatment immediately.
  • Any infection is going to raise your glucose levels and increase your need for fluids, so make sure you can access a sufficient supply of water.
  • Make sure you have a good supply of the diabetes medications you need. Think what you would need if you had to quarantine yourself for a few weeks.
  • Make sure you have access to enough food.
  • Make sure you will be able to correct the situation if your blood glucose drops suddenly.
  • If you live alone, make sure someone you can rely on knows you have diabetes as you may require assistance if you get ill.
COVID-19 is a new coronavirus. The situation is not fully clear at this point, so keep informed of the latest developments. Look out for updates and advice from your government, national diabetes association and other reliable sources

Take charge of your health

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Seven Important Corona Virus Tips

Learn about the brain and health.

Dr. James Robb is a Pathologist and has extensively studied Coronavirus for years. Below is something he put together for his colleagues in medicine and science. I think it’s excellent.

I think masks are really not helpful other than keeping you from touching your face. Otherwise good stuff.

Subject: What I am doing for the upcoming COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic

Dear Colleagues, as some of you may recall, when I was a professor of pathology at the University of California San Diego, I was one of the first molecular virologists in the world to work on coronaviruses (the 1970s). I was the first to demonstrate the number of genes the virus contained. Since then, I have kept up with the coronavirus field and its multiple clinical transfers into the human population (e.g., SARS, MERS), from different animal sources. The current projections for its expansion in the US are only probable, due to continued insufficient worldwide data, but it is most likely to be widespread in the US by mid to late March and April.

Here is what I have done and the precautions that I take and will take. These are the same precautions I currently use during our influenza seasons, except for the mask and gloves.:

1) NO HANDSHAKING! Use a fist bump, slight bow, elbow bump, etc.
2) Use ONLY your knuckle to touch light switches. elevator buttons, etc.. Lift the gasoline dispenser with a paper towel or use a disposable glove.
3) Open doors with your closed fist or hip - do not grasp the handle with your hand, unless there is no other way to open the door. Especially important on bathroom and post office/commercial doors.
4) Use disinfectant wipes at the stores when they are available, including wiping the handle and child seat in grocery carts.
5) Wash your hands with soap for 10-20 seconds and/or use a greater than 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer whenever you return home from ANY activity that involves locations where other people have been.
6) Keep a bottle of sanitizer available at each of your home's entrances. AND in your car for use after getting gas or touching other contaminated objects when you can't immediately wash your hands.
7) If possible, cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue and discard. Use your elbow only if you have to. The clothing on your elbow will contain infectious virus that can be passed on for up to a week or more!

What I have stocked in preparation for the pandemic spread to the US:

1) Latex or nitrile latex disposable gloves for use when going shopping, using the gasoline pump, and all other outside activity when you come in contact with contaminated areas.

Note: This virus is spread in large droplets by coughing and sneezing. This means that the air will not infect you! BUT all the surfaces where these droplets land are infectious for about a week on average - everything that is associated with infected people will be contaminated and potentially infectious. The virus is on surfaces and you will not be infected unless your unprotected face is directly coughed or sneezed upon.  This virus only has cell receptors for lung cells (it only infects your lungs) The only way for the virus to infect you is through your nose or mouth via your hands or an infected cough or sneeze onto or into your nose or mouth.

2) Stock up now with disposable surgical masks and use them to prevent you from touching your nose and/or mouth (We touch our nose/mouth 90X/day without knowing it!). This is the only way this virus can infect you - it is lung-specific. The mask will not prevent the virus in a direct sneeze from getting into your nose or mouth - it is only to keep you from touching your nose or mouth.

3) Stock up now with hand sanitizers and latex/nitrile gloves (get the appropriate sizes for your family). The hand sanitizers must be alcohol-based and greater than 60% alcohol to be effective.

4) Stock up now with zinc lozenges. These lozenges have been proven to be effective in blocking coronavirus (and most other viruses) from multiplying in your throat and nasopharynx. Use as directed several times each day when you begin to feel ANY "cold-like" symptoms beginning. It is best to lie down and let the lozenge dissolve in the back of your throat and nasopharynx. Cold-Eeze lozenges is one brand available, but there are other brands available.

I, as many others do, hope that this pandemic will be reasonably contained, BUT I personally do not think it will be. Humans have never seen this snake-associated virus before and have no internal defense against it. Tremendous worldwide efforts are being made to understand the molecular and clinical virology of this virus. Unbelievable molecular knowledge about the genomics, structure, and virulence of this virus has already been achieved. BUT, there will be NO drugs or vaccines available this year to protect us or limit the infection within us. Only symptomatic support is available. I hope these personal thoughts will be helpful during this potentially catastrophic pandemic. You are welcome to share this email.

Good luck to all of us!

James Robb, MD FCAP

Learn about the brain and health.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Memory games: Eating well to remember

Learn about your amazing brain!

February 18, 2020
University of Technology Sydney

A healthy diet is essential to living well, but should we change what we eat as we age? Researchers have found strong evidence of the link between food groups and memory loss and its comorbidities. Her findings point to a need for age-specific dietary guidelines as the links may vary with age -- people aged 80+ with a low consumption of cereals are at highest risk of memory loss and comorbid heart disease.
A healthy diet is essential to living well, but as we age, should we change what we eat?

Learn about your amazing brain!

UTS research fellow Dr Luna Xu has studied data from 139,000 older Australians and found strong links between certain food groups, memory loss and comorbid heart disease or diabetes.

Dr. Xu found high consumption of fruit and vegetables was linked to lowered odds of memory loss and its comorbid heart disease. High consumption of protein-rich foods was associated with a better memory.

Dr Xu also found the link between food group and memory status may vary among different older age groups. People aged 80 years and over with a low consumption of cereals are at the highest risk of memory loss and its comorbid heart disease, her research showed.

"Our present study implies that the healthy eating suggestions of cereals consumption in the prevention of memory loss and comorbid heart disease for older people may differ compared to other age groups," said Dr Xu, who holds a Heart Foundation postdoctoral research fellowship.

She said the study pointed to a need for age-specific healthy dietary guidelines.

Memory loss is one of the main early symptoms for people with dementia, which is the second leading cause of death of Australians. People living with dementia have on average between two and eight comorbid conditions, which may accelerate cognitive and functional impairment. The most common comorbidities in dementia include cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and hypertension.

"The dietary intervention in chronic disease prevention and management, by taking into consideration the fact that older populations often simultaneously deal with multiple chronic conditions, is a real challenge," Dr Xu said.

"To achieve the best outcome for our ageing population, strong scientific evidence that supports effective dietary intervention in preventing and managing co-occurring chronic conditions, is essential."

Learn about your amazing brain!

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Materials provided by University of Technology Sydney. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Drinking 1% rather than 2% milk accounts for less aging in adults

How your astonishing brain works. Click here.

Drinking 1% rather than 2% milk accounts for less aging in adults

High-fat milk consumption is connected to significantly shorter telomeres

January 15, 2020
Brigham Young University
A new study shows drinking low-fat milk -- both nonfat and 1% milk -- is significantly associated with less aging in adults.
A new study shows drinking low-fat milk -- both nonfat and 1% milk -- is significantly associated with less aging in adults.
Research on 5,834 U.S. adults by Brigham Young University exercise science professor Larry Tucker, Ph.D., found people who drink low-fat milk experience several years less biological aging than those who drink high-fat (2% and whole) milk.
"It was surprising how strong the difference was," Tucker said. "If you're going to drink high-fat milk, you should be aware that doing so is predictive of or related to some significant consequences."
Tucker investigated the relationship between telomere length and both milk intake frequency (daily drinkers vs. weekly drinkers or less) and milk fat content consumed (whole vs. 2% vs. 1% vs. skim). Telomeres are the nucleotide endcaps of human chromosomes. They act like a biological clock and they're extremely correlated with age; each time a cell replicates, humans lose a tiny bit of the endcaps. Therefore, the older people get, the shorter their telomeres.
And, apparently, the more high-fat milk people drink, the shorter their telomeres are, according to the new BYU study, published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. The study revealed that for every 1% increase in milk fat consumed (drinking 2% vs. 1% milk), telomeres were 69 base pairs shorter in the adults studied, which translated into more than four years in additional biological aging. When Tucker analyzed the extremes of milk drinkers, adults who consumed whole milk had telomeres that were a striking 145 base pairs shorter than non-fat milk drinkers.

How your astonishing brain works. Click here
Nearly half of the people in the study consumed milk daily and another quarter consumed milk at least weekly. Just under a third of the adults reported consuming full-fat (whole) milk and another 30 percent reported drinking 2% milk. Meanwhile, 10% consumed 1% milk and another 17% drank nonfat milk. About 13% did not drink any cow milk.
"Milk is probably the most controversial food in our country," Tucker said. "If someone asked me to put together a presentation on the value of drinking milk, I could put together a 1-hour presentation that would knock your socks off. You'd think, 'Whoa, everybody should be drinking more milk.' If someone said do the opposite, I could also do that. At the very least, the findings of this study are definitely worth pondering. Maybe there's something here that requires a little more attention."
Somewhat surprisingly, he also found that milk abstainers had shorter telomeres than adults who consumed low-fat milk.
Tucker said the study findings provide support for the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2015-2020), which encourage adults to consume low-fat milk, both nonfat and 1% milk, and not high-fat milk, as part of a healthy diet.
"It's not a bad thing to drink milk," Tucker said. "You should just be more aware of what type of milk you are drinking."

How your astonishing brain works. Click here

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Materials provided by Brigham Young University. Original written by Todd Hollingshead. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.