Importance of Breakfast: Mood, Anxiety, Depression and More

I’ve been skipping breakfast a lot lately, and that hasn’t been my habit in years past. It occurred to me after reading 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris (who advocates a high protein meal in the morning) that I may be doing some legitimate harm to myself.

This study isn’t exactly my age group, but I think it might still be applicable… I’ll consider myself a student of life until I’m dead. Maybe I should consider making an effort to grab breakfast in the morning? See below:

Conducted in public schools in Philadelphia and Baltimore, the study found that increased school breakfast participation correlated with less tardiness and absence, higher math grades, and reductions in problems like depression, anxiety and hyperactivity. The researchers also found that students were more like to participate in school breakfast programs when the meals were offered free to all students, compared with programs that provided free meals to low-income youngsters while others paid for their breakfasts. [...]

They also showed greater improvement in student-reported levels of depression and anxiety and, for the Baltimore students, reduced levels of hyperactivity, as reported by teachers. (via.)

Thirst Reduces Stress Response: “The Watering Hole Effect”

Assuming this is conserved in humans, the following passage might suggest that it’s better that you walk into an interview a little bit thirsty:

“We’re calling this the Watering Hole Effect,” says Eric Krause, PhD, a research assistant professor in the basic science division of UC’s department of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience and first author of the study. “When you’re thirsty, you have to overcome some amount of fear and anxiety to approach a communal water source. And you want to facilitate those interactions—that way everyone can get to the water source.”

Krause and his team dehydrated laboratory rats by giving them sodium chloride, then exposed them to stress. Compared with a control group, the rats that received the sodium chloride secreted fewer stress hormones and also displayed a reduced cardiovascular response to stress.

“Their blood pressure and heart rate did not go up as much in response to stress as the control group’s, and they returned to resting levels more quickly,” says Krause.

“Also, in a social interaction paradigm with two rats interacting, we found them to be more interactive and less socially anxious.”

Further research, through examination of brain and blood samples from the rats, showed that the same hormones that act on kidneys to compensate for dehydration also act on the brain to regulate responsiveness to stressors and social anxiety.

The elevated sodium level, known as hypernatremia, limited stress responses by suppressing the release of the pro-stress hormone angiotensin II. Conversely, it increased the activity of oxytocin, an anti-stress hormone. (via.)

Thanks to hugthemonkey for pointing this one out on Twitter. Susan also posted a link to this interesting gem recently: A study led by Jillian O’Connor, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour at McMaster University, found that people think they can predict whether a mate will cheat by listening to tone of voice.

“Exhaustion Syndrome” & Depression

Certain personality traits heighten susceptibility to psychiatric disorders. Therefore a research team at Umeå University wanted to study whether this patient group had any susceptibility factors that could explain the development of their disorder. The patient group is distinguished by being anxious and pessimistic, with a weak sense of self, which is common in many psychiatric disorders. What was special about this group was that they stood out as persistent, ambitious, and pedantic individuals.

Being ambitious, fastidious, and overachieving also appears to make a person more prone to exhaustion syndrome. According to Agneta Sandström’s dissertation, individuals with exhaustion syndrome demonstrate impaired memory and attention capacity as well as reduced brain activity in parts of the frontal lobes. Regulation of the stress hormone cortisol is also impacted in the group, with altered sensitivity in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis). [...]

The HPA axis in the patient group shows reduced sensitivity in the pituitary, with less secretion of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) following stimulation with corticotropin (CRH), as well as heightened sensitivity in the adrenal cortex, with increased release of cortisol in relation to the amount of ACTH secreted. There is also a difference in the diurnal rhythm of cortisol, with the patients presenting a flatter secretion curve than the other two groups. The researchers could not detect any reduction in the volume of the hippocampus in the patient group. The proportion of individuals with measurable levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin 1 is higher in the patient group. (via.)

Orchid: S-allele “Depression-Risk Gene” and Potential Cognitive/Social Benefits

The reclamation of the “depression gene” proceeds apace: In a paper titled “Looking on the Bright Side of Serotonin Transporter Gene Variation,” two researchers who helped establish the “depression risk-gene” view of depression assert quite strongly that the genetic variant in question — the s-allele of the serotonin transporter gene, HTTLPR — possess greater social sensitivity than people without this variant, and have some significant cognitive advantages as well. (via.)

Exercise reverses anxiety phenotype in rats

Exercise can ameliorate anxiety and depression-like behaviours induced by an adverse early-life environment by altering the chemical composition in the hippocampus – the part of the brain that regulates stress response, researchers from UNSW have found. [...]

“What’s exciting about this is that we are able to reverse a behavioural deficit that was caused by a traumatic event early in life, simply through exercise,” said Professor of Pharmacology Margaret Morris, who will present the findings this week at the International Congress of Obesity in Stockholm.

In the study, rats were divided into groups and either isolated from their mothers for controlled periods of time to induce stress or given normal maternal contact. Half were given access to a running wheel.

In addition to being more anxious, animals that were subjected to stress early in life had higher levels of stress hormones and fewer steroid receptors in the part of the brain controlling behaviour.

“Both the anxious behaviour and the levels of hormones in these rats were reversed with access to the exercise wheel,” Professor Morris said.

“We know that exercise can elevate mood, but here we are seeing chemical changes that may underpin this improvement. One of these is increases in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps nerve cells grow. (via.)

In other news…
Morphine found to decrease testosterone in the brain, as well as liver, and testis. Which is interesting in light of the fact that a stressed/anxious phenotype of rat would have fewer steroid receptors in their brain.

Choline stemming some averse cognitive effects of smoking?

As I have mentioned in at least one previous post, choline may have some anxiolytic effects. The reason being for this is that choline, in at least one study was shown to have an inverse relationship with reported anxiety levels in a study’s participants.

Additionally I recently made a post about a study that showed a reduction in choline in the anterior cingulate cortices of people who have been smoking.

“The ACC is involved in mediating conditioned reinforcement, craving and relapsing behavior in addiction,” said study co-author Christian G. Schütz, M.D., M.P.H., from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Bonn.

So this begs the question… could supplementing choline play at least a small part in a larger scheme to help smokers prevent relapse when they decide to quit?

Anterior cingulate cortex, religion, atheism, and more.

With two experiments, the researchers showed that when people think about religion and God, their brains respond differently—in a way that lets them take setbacks in stride and react with less distress to anxiety-provoking mistakes. Participants either wrote about religion or did a scrambled word task that included religion and God-related words. Then the researchers recorded their brain activity as they completed a computerized task—one that was chosen because it has a high rate of errors. The results showed that when people were primed to think about religion and God, either consciously or unconsciously, brain activity decreases in areas consistent with the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), an area associated with a number of things, including regulating bodily states of arousal and serving an alerting function when things are going wrong, including when we make mistakes.

Interestingly, atheists reacted differently; when they were unconsciously primed with God-related ideas, their ACC increased its activity. The researchers suggest that for religious people, thinking about God may provide a way of ordering the world and explaining apparently random events and thus reduce their feelings of distress. In contrast, for atheists, thoughts of God may contradict the meaning systems they embrace and thus cause them more distress. (via.)

More on the anterior cingulate cortex, and in this case, specifically religious extremism:

Across all studies, anxious conditions caused participants to become more eagerly engaged in their ideals and extreme in their religious convictions. In one study, mulling over a personal dilemma caused a general surge toward more idealistic personal goals. In another, struggling with a confusing mathematical passage caused a spike in radical religious extremes. In yet another, reflecting on relationship uncertainties caused the same religious zeal reaction.

Researchers found that religious zeal reactions were most pronounced among participants with bold personalities (defined as having high self-esteem and being action-oriented, eager and tenacious), who were already vulnerable to anxiety, and felt most hopeless about their daily goals in life.

A basic motivational process called Reactive Approach Motivation (RAM) is responsible, according to lead researcher Ian McGregor, Associate Professor in York’s Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health. “Approach motivation is a tenacious state in which people become ‘locked and loaded’ on whatever goal or ideal they are promoting. They feel powerful, and thoughts and feelings related to other issues recede,” he says.

“RAM is usually an adaptive goal regulation process that can re-orient people toward alternative avenues for effective goal pursuit when they hit a snag. Our research shows that humans can sometimes co-opt RAM for short term relief from anxiety, however. By simply promoting ideals and convictions in their own minds, people can activate approach motivation, narrow their motivational focus away from anxious problems, and feel serene as a result,” says McGregor. [...]

Findings published last year in the journal Psychological Science by the same authors and collaborators at the University of Toronto found that strong religious beliefs are associated with low activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that becomes active in anxious predicaments.

“Taken together, the results of this research program suggest that bold but vulnerable people gravitate to idealistic and religious extremes for relief from anxiety,” McGregor says. (via.)

Interestingly, according to Wikipedia (egads! check your sources, man!) the ACC also plays a role in empathy:

A large number of experiments using functional MRI, electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) have shown that certain brain regions (in particular the anterior insula, anterior cingulate cortex, and inferior frontal cortex) are active when a person experiences an emotion (disgust, happiness, pain, etc.) and when he or she sees another person experiencing an emotion.

There’s also this…

At the functional level, roles played by this region in communication include social bonding in mammals, control of vocalization in humans, semantic and syntactic processing, and initiation of speech. The involvement of the anterior cingulate cortex in social cognition is suggested where, for infants, joint attention skills are considered both prerequisites of social cognition and prelinguistic communication acts.

A few more tidbits on the ACC from Wikipedia:

The anterior cingulate cortex can be divided anatomically based on cognitive (dorsal), and emotional (ventral) components. The dorsal part of the ACC is connected with the prefrontal cortex and parietal cortex as well as the motor system and the frontal eye fields making it a central station for processing top-down and bottom-up stimuli and assigning appropriate control to other areas in the brain. By contrast, the ventral part of the ACC is connected with amygdala, nucleus accumbens, hypothalamus, and anterior insula, and is involved in assessing the salience of emotion and motivational information. The ACC seems to be especially involved when effort is needed to carry out a task such as in early learning and problem-solving. Many studies attribute functions such as error detection, anticipation of tasks, motivation, and modulation of emotional responses to the ACC. Rehearsing a task that originally produced spontaneous, novel responses to the point of producing rigid, stereotypic responses results in a diminished ACC response. [...]

Because the ACC is intricately involved with error detection and affective responses, it may very well be that this area forms the bases of self-confidence. [..] Whenever the dorsal area was active, fewer errors were committed providing more evidence that the ACC is involved with effortful performance. The second finding showed that, during error trials, the ACC activated later than for correct responses, clearly indicating a kind of evaluative function.[...]

There is evidence that damage to ACC is present in patients with schizophrenia, where studies have shown patients have difficulty in dealing with conflicting spatial locations in a Stroop-like task and having abnormal ERNs. Participants with ADHD were found to have reduced activation in the dorsal area of the ACC when performing the Stroop task. [...] There is evidence that this area may have a role in obsessive–compulsive disorder due to the fact that what appears to be an unnaturally low level of glutamate activity in this region has been observed in patients with the disorder, in strange contrast to many other brain regions that are thought to have excessive glutamate activity in OCD. Recent meta-analyses of voxel-based morphometry studies comparing people with OCD and healthy controls has found people with OCD to have [...] decreased grey matter volumes in bilateral dorsal medial frontal/anterior cingulate cortex.

Helen S. Mayberg and two collaborators described how they cured 4 of 6 depressed people — individuals virtually catatonic with depression despite years of talk therapy, drugs, even shock therapy — with pacemakerlike electrodes in area 25 (the anterior cingulate cortex). A decade earlier, Mayberg had identified area 25 as a key conduit of neural traffic between the “thinking” frontal cortex and the phylogenetically older central limbic region that gives rise to emotion. She subsequently found that area 25 appeared overactive in these depressed people — “like a gate left open,” as she puts it — allowing negative emotions to overwhelm thinking and mood. Inserting the electrodes closed this gate and rapidly alleviated the depression of two-thirds of the trial’s patients.[...]

Greater ACC activation levels were present in more emotionally-aware female participants when shown short ‘emotional’ video clips. Better emotional awareness is associated with improved recognition of emotional cues or targets, which is reflected by ACC activation.

From the Brodmann Area 25 (ventral ACC) Wikipedia article which should probably be merged into the “anterior cingulate cortex” page:

This region is extremely rich in serotonin transporters and is considered as a governor for a vast network involving areas like hypothalamus and brain stem, which influences changes in appetite and sleep; the amygdala and insula, which affect the mood and anxiety; the hippocampus, which plays an important role in memory formation; and some parts of the frontal cortex responsible for self-esteem.

One study has noted that BA25 is metabolically overactive in treatment-resistant depression and has found that chronic deep brain stimulation in the white matter adjacent to the area is a successful treatment for some patients. A different study found that metabolic hyperactivity in this area is associated with poor therapeutic response of persons with Major Depressive Disorder to cognitive-behavioral therapy and venlafaxine.

Heightened immune response in socially anxious

Everyone experiences social stress, whether it is nervousness over a job interview, difficulty meeting people at parties, or angst over giving a speech. In a new report, UCLA researchers have discovered that how your brain responds to social stressors can influence the body’s immune system in ways that may negatively affect health.

Lead author George Slavich, a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, and senior author Shelley Taylor, a UCLA professor of psychology, show that individuals who exhibit greater neural sensitivity to social rejection also exhibit greater increases in inflammatory activity to social stress. [...]

The researchers recruited 124 individuals — 54 men and 70 women — and put them into two awkward social situations. First, in the lab, the volunteers completed the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), which involves preparing and delivering an impromptu speech and performing difficult mental arithmetic, both in front of a socially rejecting panel of raters wearing white lab coats. Mouth swabs were taken before and after the public-speaking tasks to test for changes in two key biomarkers of inflammatory activity — a receptor for tumor necrosis factor-? (sTNF?RII) and interleukin-6 (IL-6).

In a second session, 31 of the participants received an MRI brain scan while playing a computerized game of catch with what they believed were two other real people. The researchers focused on two areas of the brain known to respond to social stress — the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and the anterior insula.

At first, the game was between all three “players.” Halfway through the game, however, the research subject was excluded, leading to an experience of social rejection. The researchers then examined how differences in neural activity during social rejection correlated with differences in inflammatory responses to the TSST.

Their results showed that individuals who exhibited greater neural activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and anterior insula during social rejection in the brain scanner also exhibited greater increases in inflammatory activity when exposed to acute social stress in the lab.

“This is further evidence of how closely our mind and body are connected,” Slavich said. “We have known for a long time that social stress can ‘get under the skin’ to increase risk for disease, but it’s been unclear exactly how these effects occur. To our knowledge, this study is the first to identify the neurocognitive pathways that might be involved in inflammatory responses to acute social stress.” [...]

One critical question raised by the present findings is why neural sensitivity to social rejection would cause an increase in inflammation. There are several possible reasons, the authors note. For one, since physical threats have historically gone hand in hand with social threat or rejection, inflammation may be triggered in anticipation of a physical injury. Inflammatory cytokines — proteins that regulate the immune system — are released in response to impending (or actual) physical assault because they accelerate wound-healing and reduce the risk of infection.


This may also be of interest: Tylenol (acetaminophen) eases social anxiety.

Brain abnormalities in adolescents with substance abuse & conduct disorders

The scientists, including collaborators at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Maryland, studied 20 adolescent boys. On average they had been on probation 139 of the last 180 days; 19 of the 20 had the psychiatric diagnosis of conduct disorder, and all had diagnoses of substance use disorder. They had been abstinent, however, an average of about five weeks when studied. They were compared with 20 other boys who did not have serious antisocial or drug problems, but who were of similar age, ethnicity, and home neighborhoods.

All played a computerized risk-taking game that repeatedly presented a choice between a cautious and a risky behavior: press the left button and always win one cent, or press the right button and either win five cents or lose ten cents. The scientists examined brain activation with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as the boys decided to press right or left, and then as they experienced wins or losses after right presses.

Brain activation differed dramatically in the two groups. The anterior cingulate cortex monitors changing rewards and punishments, and then sends that information to another brain region (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex), which regulates one’s choices among possible behaviors. During decision-making, antisocial boys had significantly less brain activity than normals in both of those regions, and also in other decision-making areas (orbitofrontal cortex, amygdala, insula).


Choline deficiency’s relationship with anxiety

Choline (and anxiety) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia – In a large population-based study, choline concentrations were inversely correlated with anxiety symptoms in subjects aged 46–49 and 70–74 years who had valid information on plasma choline concentrations and symptoms of anxiety. [5] [...] It is well established that supplements of methyl group transfer vitamins B6, B12, folic acid reduce the blood titer of homocysteine and so may prevent heart disease.[6] Choline is a necessary source of methyl groups for methyl group transfer.

Choline is important as a component of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter. Soy Lecithin, and eggs are both a good source of choline. If you score the omega-3 eggs you’re working dietary double-time for brain nutrients. That last sentence sounds stupid, but I’m posting it anyway. Enjoy my drivel, interwebs.