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.”

Continue reading

Severe Irritability in Children Not a Precurser to Bipolar Disorder

Guest Post by Brenda Patoine

Ever witnessed an all-out temper tantrum from a nap-deprived three-year-old? Now imagine living with that kind of emotional outburst day in and day out for years. This is what it’s like for parents of children with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD), a newly recognized psychiatric syndrome that typically begins before age ten.

child temper tantrum

Credit: Shutterstock

DMDD is among the “new” mental health disorders described in the latest edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), used by mental health professionals to diagnose and treat mental illness.

Continue reading

From the Archives: Exercise

National Senior Health and Fitness Day just passed, a good reason to revisit what scientists know about exercise and brain health, and not just for seniors. 

The Dana archives do not disappoint. Here’s what articles spanning the last six years tell us:

  • Exercise and longevity are correlated. As explained in a 2008 interview with Dana Alliance member Claudia Kawas, “An average of 15 minutes a day provided benefit, 30 provided more, 45 provided the most, and after that it leveled off: three hours was just as good as 45 minutes.”
  • Conversely, a 2009 article describes, “studies of large elderly populations have linked a sedentary lifestyle to greater risk of age-related cognitive impairment.”

Continue reading

Dog gone smart

My one-year-old Weimaraner dog, Jasper, is an expert at getting his message across. For example, when he stands by the door and barks loudly, he wants to go outside. When he puts his 70 pound "puppy" frame on my lap, he wants affection and/or attention. He does all of this, obviously, without verbal communication.

Animals are much smarter than they appear, as evidenced by an article in Time magazine* that explores the minds of animals. In the August 16, 2010 issue of the magazine, reporter Jeffrey Kluger discusses how apes are able to learn languages through pictures and signs. The apes can put together sentences, which helps to show that their minds are capable of learning like a human.

Kluger says that "mammals are members of the cerebral-cortex club," so the bigger that region of the brain is, the smarter the animal. Animals such as birds have a smaller brain size compared to dogs and apes, but the bird uses better creative skills for everyday functions. A bird can collect food and build a nest, and some can even be taught to talk (the parrot for example).

The study shows that the animal's environment also contributes to their brain capacity, and feelings such as a sense of loss and awareness are very much present in animals. Elephants and apes mourn the dead; other animals wait for reinforcements before they plan an attack. Animals have emotions and have shown awareness to things going on around them.

The Time article includes a diagram, which shows the smartest animals:

  • "Apes and cetaceans (such as dolphins): The animal elite, they have complex societies, big brains and awareness of self.
  • Corvids (birds): They excel at tool use and problem solving; have strong social bonds.
  • Social Carnivores (such as lions): Group hunting requires coordination and communication.
  • Herd Animals (such as buffalo): They live collectively but have no social structure; very limited intellect.
  • Bivalves (shellfish): No smarts to speak of; may well lack even consciousness."

Nobody can tell me that Jasper does not think methodically, because it takes brain power and emotions for him to carry out his actions. He shows how manipulative he can be when he jumps on the couch and pretends to nuzzle me affectionately, but is really trying to push me off so that he can have it to himself. He displays a sense of moodiness when he avoids his bedtime and starts to throw a tantrum before he finally enters his crate.

Jasper; Credit: Blayne JeffriesJasper thinking about how to avoid an early bedtime.

Jasper shows happiness, understanding at times, and a lack of enthusiasm when it rains and he refuses to go outside until it stops. Yes, indeed, animals can feel, think, and can sometimes outsmart us humans.

*The full version of the article appears in the August 16, 2010 print version of Time magazine.

–Blayne Jeffries

Unhappy camper: The myths of vacations

As I worked through my final semester at grad school this spring, my June vacation to Turkey motivated me to get my work done. Just thinking about what I would see and do on vacation made me incredibly happy—and planning it was just part of the fun. According to recent studies, this feeling of pre-trip happiness is the norm. Travelers better enjoy it while they can, though, because despite the assumption that vacations rejuvenate us, the euphoria may not last long.

A study of 1,530 adults conducted by Dutch scientists and published earlier this year found that although most people enjoyed their vacations, they were actually happiest when they were planning their trips. This anticipation can amount to up to eight weeks of increased happiness prior to a trip.

Bodrum, Turkey; Credit: Ann L. WhitmanPreparing for and actually viewing this sight were enjoyable. The return to everyday life? Not so much.

As for the extended benefits of vacation, the study found that most people return to their usual levels of stress almost immediately upon returning home. Those who experienced a “very relaxed” vacation felt the benefits the longest—for up to two weeks. This “post-vacation let-down,” as dubbed by science writer Sharon Begley, is corroborated by several previous studies, noted in this week’s Newsweek. It is also suggested by a second, smaller Dutch study published in the August issue of Work & Stress.

Despite these findings, some believe that vacations can have lasting health benefits. A research team led by Dr. Sebastian Filep at Victoria University in Australia interviewed travelers and reviewed their journal entries to measure their levels of happiness. They found that experiences before, during, and after vacation were linked to three main elements of happiness: positive emotion, meaning, and engagement. Based on evidence that has linked happiness and longevity, Dr. Filep believes that vacations could contribute to longer lives. He also suggests that they could be prescribed as a future component of treatment plans for depression.

Now that’s one prescription I wouldn’t mind receiving from a doctor.

–Ann L. Whitman

%d bloggers like this: