Monthly Archives: June 2017

Lack of Sleep May Be a Cause, Not a Symptom, of Mental Health Conditions

An online therapy program designed to treat insomnia also appears to reduce levels of anxiety and depression, a new study from the United Kingdom finds.

Sleep problems are common in people who also have mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. In fact, sleep issues are often thought to be a symptom of these other issues, according to the study. But the new findings suggest that the opposite may be true: Some mental health conditions may stem from a lack of sleep.

“How well we sleep might actually play a role in our mental health,” lead study author Daniel Freeman, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford, said in a statement. “If you can sort out your sleep, you could also be taking a significant step forward in tackling a wide range of psychological and emotional problems.”

The new study, which was published today (Sept. 6) in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry, included more than 3,700 British college students (with an average age of 24) who had insomnia. All participants filled out questionnaires about their sleep and other mental health conditions — including paranoia, hallucinations, anxiety and depression — at the beginning of the study and then again after three and 10 weeks, when the treatment ended. Twelve weeks later, the participants filled out the questionnaires for the final time.

The people in the study were randomly assigned to either the treatment group or the control group. Those in the treatment group participated in an online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) program. CBT focuses on the way people think, and helps them challenge their own thoughts and beliefs; a specialized type of CBT for insomnia, called CBT-I, is considered to be a “first-line” therapy for people with insomnia that lasts longer than one month, according to the American College of Physicians. The people in the control group did not receive CBT.

The online program involved six 20-minute-long sessions, and the participants were asked to keep a sleep diary, practice certain behavioral techniques and learn about healthy sleep, according to the study. Using data from the sleep diaries, the program tailored its advice to each participant.

The researchers found that after 10 weeks, the people in the treatment group reported less insomnia, fewer hallucinations and fewer experiences of paranoia than those in the control group. In addition, the people in the treatment group had decreased levels of depression and anxiety, and improved psychological well-being and perceived functioning, compared with the people in the control group. (“Perceived functioning” refers to how well the people thought they were functioning on a daily basis.) Further analysis showed that 60 percent of the decrease in paranoia levels could be linked to improved sleep, the study found.

The findings suggest that sleep plays an important role in mental healthand that doctors should consider it a priority to improve patients’ sleep, the authors wrote.

“For too long, insomnia has been trivialized as merely a symptom” of other mental health conditions, and has been thought of as a problem to be tackled, Freeman said. But “for many people, insomnia can be part of the complex package of causes of mental health difficulties,” he said.

The researchers noted that the study had limitations. For example, many people did not complete the study, so it’s unclear if the findings would apply to larger groups of people, the researchers said. Only half of the participants logged in to two therapy sessions, and just 18 percent logged in to all six sessions. In addition, the participants self-reported their symptoms, which can be an unreliable method, the researchers said.

More research is also needed to see how long the effects of the CBT online therapy last, the researchers said.

Finger Length Could Predict Athletic Ability

Examine your fingers. Which is longer? Is it the index finger (the finger you use to point with – technically the second digit, or 2D, counting the thumb), or the ring finger (the fourth digit, or 4D)?

The relative length of the index and ring fingers is known as the digit ratioor the 2D:4D. For example, if your index finger is 2.9 inches (or 7.4 cm) long, and your ring finger is 3.1 inches (or 7.9 cm) long, your digit ratio is 0.935 (i.e., 2.9/3.1 or 7.4/7.9).

Males typically have lower digit ratios (the ring finger in males is typically longer than the index finger) than females (the fingers are about the same length in females). The ratio does not change much with age.

There is some indirect evidence that the digit ratio is determined during early fetal development – as early as the second trimester of pregnancy – by the balance between the steroid hormones testosterone and estrogen. The developing ring finger has a high number of receptors for testosterone: the more testosterone the fetus produces, the longer the ring finger, and so the lower the digit ratio.

Our research team wanted to take this finger research a step further: could the differences predict athletic ability, and, if so, how?

In general, those with lower digit ratios – that is, those whose ring fingers are relatively longer than their pointers – are more likely to perform better across a very wide range of sports and athletic events. This was first illustrated in a detailed study of English professional football (soccer) players.

In 2001, researchers John Manning and Rogan Taylor showed that professional football players had lower digit ratios than nonathletes, first team players had lower ratios than reserve or youth team players, footballers who played for their country had lower ratios than those who hadn’t and those who played for their country more often (more caps) had lower ratios than those who played less often.

Although considerable variability exists across different activities, subsequent research has shown that people with low digit ratios tend to be better at American football (gridiron), basketball, fencing, handball, kabaddi (an Indian contact sport), rowing, rugby, running (both sprintingand cross-country), slalom skiing, sumo wrestling, surfing, swimming, tennis and volleyball.

While the relationship between digit ratio and sports performance is generally stronger in males than in females, important relationships have been seen in females. For example, we published a study in 2015 showing that females with lower ratios rowed substantially faster at the Australian Rowing Championships than females with higher ratios.

The relationships have also generally been stronger for athletes who compete in closed-skill sports (stable, predictable, self-paced environments such as rowing, running, swimming) than athletes who compete in open-skill sports (unstable, unpredictable, externally paced environments such as basketball, football, volleyball). This is probably because single traits, such as the digit ratio, are not usually favorably related to open-skill sports performance because numerous factors determined by the collective actions of all players, not the individual, are involved in sporting success.

Nonetheless, in a recent study of Australian basketball players, we showed that men with lower ratios were more likely to reach higher competitive levels and play at the Olympic Games.

Another interesting finding is that the right digit ratio is apparently more sensitive to fetal steroid hormones than is the left digit ratio. This might be why the right ratio is sometimes better related to athletic performance.

While the digit ratio itself does not confer a sporting advantage, it is thought to be a biomarker of fetal testosterone, which has powerful, long-term effects on the developing body and brain. For example, it influences the growth and development of several organs, including the brain, heart, muscles and bones, which are important for sports and athletic performance.

Studies have shown that people with lower digit ratios tend to have better visual-spatial and cognitive ability, presumably due to better development of the right side of the brain. These abilities are important in sports where athletes have to follow the flight of the ball, read the play and make tactical decisions.

Mental toughness also plays an important role in sporting success. Mentally tough athletes have an insatiable desire to succeed, have unshakable confidence, are highly motivated and adapt well to stressful situations. A study of British athletes in 2011 found that those with low ratios were mentally tougher, more determined, more confident and more optimistic.

Physical fitness is an important determinant of success in many sports and athletic events. Favorable links between digit ratio and cardiorespiratory endurance and muscular strength have been found in males. In a recent study of Minnesotan high school boys, we found that those with lower ratios had better hand-grip strength (irrespective of age and body size) than their peers with higher ratios. Physical fitness is also an important indicator of good health, suggesting that people with low ratios are healthier.

The digit ratio is also assumed to be a good measure of adult steroid hormones because of its link with fetal steroid hormones. While there is little evidence to support this, men with low ratios do, however, experience more marked spikes in testosterone during challenge situations, such as those experienced during competitive sport. Males with low digit ratios also tend to be more aggressive and take more risks.

The long and short of it? Sporting success is in your hands.

Child Nearly Dies After Taking Big Bite of Hot Dog

Taking a big bite of a hot dog nearly killed a 9-year-old boy in Turkey, but it was a rare heart disorder, not choking, that triggered the close call, a new case report reveals.

The boy suffered sudden cardiac arrest after the mouthful, was revived by emergency services and was later diagnosed with Brugada syndrome, a heart rhythm disorder that usually has no symptoms, according to a report of the case, published online Sept. 6 in the journal Pediatrics.

Brugada syndrome is a rare condition that is usually inherited; it disrupts the electrical impulses between the ventricles, or lower chambers of the heart, which causes them to beat abnormally, according to the National Organization for Rare Diseases. [27 Oddest Medical Case Reports]

People with Brugada syndrome may develop a fast and dangerous heart rhythm known as ventricular fibrillation that prevents the heart from pumping enough blood to the rest of the body. Sometimes, the first signs of Brugada syndrome are passing out, a sudden fast heart beat or even sudden death, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The boy in the recent case fainted and experienced a sudden heart attack during lunch at his school.

It’s not uncommon for kids to choke on a hot dog or even on popcorn if they are running around and eating these foods at a ball game, for example, and some children may even die as a result of choking on these foods, said Dr. Elizabeth Saarel, chair of pediatric cardiology at Cleveland Clinic Children’s in Ohio.

Pediatricians have typically assumed that these deaths were due to an airways issue, meaning the food blocked the child’s ability to breathe, Saarel said.

In this child’s case, there may have been a cardiac reason to explain the way his body reacted after he took a large bite of food, Saarel said.

A big bite irritated his vagal nerve, which runs behind the throat, Saarel told Live Science. When the vagal nerve is stimulated by a large bite of food sliding down a person’s throat, the heart rate slows down and blood pressure drops, she said.

But in a person who has Brugada syndrome, like this 9-year-old, a slower heart rate can trigger a life-threatening and abnormally fast heart rhythm, Saarel explained. This may lead to fainting, sudden cardiac arrest or sudden death, she added.

After paramedics successfully resuscitated the boy, he was sent to the children’s intensive care unit of the hospital for evaluation. He had normal results on an electrocardiograph (ECG) and exercise stress test. But his doctors noticed a suspicious elevation in one of his heart-rhythm patterns, and the boy was sent to a specialist, according to the case report.

Heart specialists detected a type 1 Brugada pattern on the boy’s ECG, the telltale abnormality used to diagnose Brugada syndrome.

Named for the Spanish cardiologists who first described the condition, in 1992, Brugada syndrome tends to be more common in men and may occur more frequently in people of Asian descent. Sometimes, this abnormal heart rhythm is first seen in children after they have experienced a high fever, which can irritate the heart, according to the case report.

This dangerous heart rhythm may also occur after consuming too much alcohol, when taking certain medications or, more frequently, while people are sleeping, according to the case report.

To prevent future heart attacks, the 9-year-old boy was treated with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator placed under his skin. This small device monitors the rhythm of the heart and delivers a small electrical shock to control an abnormal heartbeat, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Because Brugada syndrome can be inherited, the boy’s parents and brother were also screened for the condition. Only his brother was diagnosed with this abnormal heart rhythm, according to the case report, but that boy did not receive an implantable defibrillator, because he had no symptoms.

It’s rare to diagnose Brugada syndrome in children, and usually kids are first diagnosed after the condition is seen in one of their parents, Saarel said. And though the disorder runs in families, it’s very rare for Brugada syndrome to not be seen in parents, but to be found in two of their children, as occurred in this case, she said.

Currently, no medication has been shown to be completely protective for people with Brugada syndrome, but the implantable defibrillators generally work well for people with the condition, Saarel said. The devices are not typically put in kids unless the measure is really needed, she explained.

Is ‘Chicken Sashimi’ Safe?

It’s not uncommon to find raw foods on a restaurant menu — think sushi or steak tartare — but if you see uncooked poultry as an option the next time you’re dining out, you may want to opt for something else.

Several restaurants in the United States are serving up a raw chicken dish that’s referred to as either chicken sashimi or chicken tartare, according to Food & Wine Magazine. Though the “specialty” hasn’t caught on much in the U.S., it’s more widely available in Japan.

But if you’re wondering whether raw chicken served in a restaurant has suddenly become safe to eat, the answer is still no.

Eating chicken sashimi puts a person at a “pretty high risk” of getting an infection caused by Campylobacter or Salmonella, two types of bacteria that cause food poisoning, said Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist and an associate professor at North Carolina State University.

“There’s a pretty good chance that one or both of these pathogens are on/in the chicken meat itself,” Chapman told Live Science in an email.

Campylobacter infections are one of the most common causes of diarrheal infections in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The bacteria cause gastrointestinal symptoms including diarrhea, cramping and abdominal pain, and in some cases can also cause nausea and vomiting, the CDC says. There are an estimated 1.3 million cases in the U.S. each year and fewer than 100 deaths, on average, each year from the infection.

Salmonella infections also cause symptoms such as diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps, according to the CDC. About 1.2 million people contract Salmonella each year, and about 450 people die from the infection, the CDC says.

Chapman noted that eating raw chicken is different from eating raw fish, which can be found in sushi dishes. With raw fish, the germs that are most likely to make a person sick are parasites, and these parasites can be killed by freezing the fish, he said. Salmonella, on the other hand, “isn’t going to be affected by freezing.”

Chicken sashimi is sometimes prepared by boiling or searing the chicken for no more than 10 seconds, according to Food & Wine Magazine.

But these preparations probably only kill off the germs on the surface of the chicken, Chapman said. “But even that I’m not sure about,” he added. In addition, when a chicken is deboned, other germs can get into the inside of the chicken, he said.

In Japan, where the dish is more popular, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare advised restaurants in June 2016 to “re-evaluate raw and half-raw chicken menus,” according to The Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper. The ministry urged restaurants to cook chicken to an internal temperature of 75 degrees Celsius (167 degrees Fahrenheit).

The recommendation from the ministry came after more than 800 people said they were sickened several months earlier after eating chicken sashimi and chicken “sushi” rolls, The Asahi Shimbun reported.