Unraveling Individual Variability in Hormonal Mood Swings

Guest post by Brenda Patoine

The stereotype of women’s “inexplicable” mood swings has long provided fodder for comics and cartoonists, but for scientists trying to understand the underlying biology, hormonal depression is no joke.

Endocrine-related affective mood disorders show up in different forms in different phases of life, from premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) during otherwise normal menstrual cycling, to post-partum depression following childbirth, to mood disruptions around and after menopause. Yet these disorders don’t affect all women, and in fact, most women do not experience them.

“How is it that some women experience a change in affective state as a result of hormones whereas a majority of women do not?” Peter Schmidt, M.D. asked in a July 8 webinar sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). “That really is the million-dollar question.”

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A Ghostly Presence

Walking through New York City’s Chelsea Market Wednesday evening, it was hard not to notice the macabre graveyard scenery, hanging ghosts, and appendages crawling out of the walls. There was even an installed pipe coming out of the ceiling that had a torrent of “red water” falling into a sinkhole with zombie mannequins creeping out. It was entertaining, to say the least, and visitors were loving it.

But what is it about Halloween that gets people so worked up? Surely, it can’t be just the candy—that can be found on store shelves all year round. For a brief moment, the month of October allows us to unearth our fascination with morbid ideas such as vampires, haunted houses, and ghosts. Beyond the grisly decorations, there are varying superstitions about apparitions and the otherworldly in cultures throughout the world; but how do we explain the unintentional occurrences that spook us into believing in ghosts?

Credit: Shutterstock

Credit: Shutterstock

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Tackling the Issue of CTE in Sports

football CTEWith another football season on the horizon, coupled with last week’s induction of legendary linebacker Junior Seau into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the controversial topic of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is back on the front burner. CTE is a type of degenerative brain disease that has become a hot button issue in the world of contact sports.

Following Seau’s retirement in 2010 after an extraordinary 20-year career, his family began to notice bouts of insomnia, depression, extreme mood swings, and emotional withdrawal. “It was hard,” his daughter, Sydney, told Yahoo Sports. “[W]e were all reaching for someone that wasn’t exactly reaching back, even though…we knew that he wanted to.”

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From the Archives: Neurofeedback

One of our recent news stories discusses the promise of neurofeedback in the form of real time fMRI. A quick search of our files shows that we’ve touted the promise of neurofeedback—in the form of EEG—for at least the past 13 years. Have researchers finally hit pay dirt?

The latest story, “The Promise of Neurofeedback” by Carl Sherman, reports on research suggesting that people in a functional magnetic resonance imager, shown real-time images of their brain’s activity, can alter it, dampening or enhancing a target area. In one study, people with depression who used replays of pleasant memories to bump activity in certain areas also showed improvement on measures of their depressive symptoms. According to one of the researchers, David E. J. Linden of Cardiff University:

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Neuroscience and the Law

Much of what we “know” from neuroscience research is not ready—yet—for use in the courtroom, argued panelists during a forum on Thursday in Washington, DC.

“We’re not at the stage where we can accuse or convict—or determine a sentence” using only brain data, said Steven Hyman, director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and a Dana Foundation board member, during a Neuroscience and Society session at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

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