Passion for eating healthy food declared a mental disorder by ‘expert’ psychiatrists

Clean eating

It’s no secret to tens of millions of Americans that Big Food is poisoning us daily with their fare. If that were not the case, then GMO-free restaurant chains like Chipotle wouldn’t be as popular as they are, and sales of organic foods would not be reaching record levels year after year.

Big Food, of course, isn’t taking that lying down. “Mainstream” food producers may be enlisting the help of academia in getting Americans who believe in sustainable, clean food, declared mentally unstable.

As reported by Waking Times, scientists at the University of Northern Colorado, who recently conducted a case study about the obsession with healthy eating, have concluded that such clean-food preoccupation could be a mental disorder. They’ve even given it a name (because you can’t have a disorder without a name, right?) – orthorexia nervosa, or ON for short, and researchers say the condition is made worse by a fear of being unhealthy and shunning low-quality, pesticide-ridden, GMO-laden, gluten-stuffed foods.

It’s ‘mental’ to eat processed foods

As the Waking Times reported further:

The psychologists conducting the study argue that healthy eating can become dangerous if one becomes fixated on the types of ingredients in food, how the food is cooked, and what materials are used to prepare it. Those “suffering” from orthorexia may take extra time to prepare their food and carefully consider what they are willing to eat.

The horror.

The news site noted that today, 90 percent of products sitting on grocery store shelves in the U.S. are packed with processed foods, much of which are scientifically engineered to create physical and mental addiction. As such, these overly processed foods, which are also mega-portioned, have led to all sorts of medical problems – diabetes especially, but also heart disease and cancer, obesity and other chronic conditions. Given that even traditional medical science knows this, why would conscientious efforts by Americans to lower their risk of contracting these diseases – thereby driving the cost of health care down – not be encouraged, rather than vilified and misdiagnosed as crazy?

That just seems silly – at least, for rational people. So what’s the problem? Co-author of the recent study, Thomas Dunn, an associate professor at the University of Northern Colorado, notes:

Such draconian diets can lack essential nutrients, and they make the vitamins and minerals a person does get from meals of exclusively, say, leafy greens, impossible for the body to absorb. This can lead to fragile bones, hormonal shifts, and cardiac problems, along with psychological distress and entrenched, delusional thinking.

“Draconian diets?” If the good professor wants to talk about “draconian diets,” he needn’t look any further than what the average American household consumes on a daily basis: fast foods, processed sugars, sugary soda and food that is manufactured, not served in a natural form. If that weren’t the case, then why is there an obesity epidemic in the U.S.?

Eating clean isn’t crazy

In Dunn’s mind, if you meet two of the following, you might need some mental fixing:

1. You consume a nutritionally unbalanced diet because of concerns about “food purity.”
2. You’re preoccupied about how eating impure or unhealthy foods will affect your physical or emotional health.
3. You rigidly avoid any food you deem to be “unhealthy,” such as those containing fat, preservatives, additives or animal products.
4. You spend three or more hours per day reading about, acquiring or preparing certain kinds of food you believe to be “pure.”
5. You feel guilty if you eat foods you believe to be “impure.”
6. You’re intolerant of other’s food beliefs.
7. You spend an excessive proportion of your income on “pure” foods.

Is Dunn part of the emerging medical/academia clique attempting to work with the administration to get more people declared mentally incompetent so the FBI can take their guns away?

The reality is, good nutrition actually helps prevent mental disorders, as we have repeatedly noted. [Here, here, and here, for starters]. Clean eating is the key to sound mental health – not processed junk. And it’s not “crazy” to eat that way.

Serotonin map of brain could lead to better targeted antidepressants

Researchers hope to discover how the activity of serotonin in the brain is involved in different mental illnesses
Brain scan super-imposed on a woman’s head.

By understanding the biology of serotonin, drugs could be developed that only target cells relevant to a particular mental disorder – reducing side-effects.

Research that aims to map the activity of serotonin in the brain could revolutionise the use of antidepressants and behavioural therapy for people with mental illnesses.

The neurotransmitter serotonin has long been associated with mood, with drugs that boost the chemical in the brain helping to alleviate the symptoms of common illnesses such as depression and anxiety, but scientists lack a deep understanding of how it mediates different mood disorders.

By understanding the biology of serotonin, the hope is that drugs can be created that only target cells relevant to a particular disorder and behavioural therapies can be made more effective, reducing the need for antidepressants.

Dr Jeremiah Cohen, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Brain Science Institute in Baltimore, said: “The ultimate aim is to understand the biology of mood and how groups of cells in the brain connect to produce our emotional behaviour. Most antidepressants operate broadly in the entire serotonin system. What we hope to do with this map is use drugs that are available or design new drugs that will target only the components of that system relevant to a particular disorder.”

The use of antidepressants in England has soared since the late 1990s, raising concerns in some quarters about over-prescription. Researchers from the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation found that 40m prescriptions for antidepressants were made in 2012, compared to 15m in 1998. Doctors write prescriptions for more than one in 10 adults in developed countries, with Iceland, Australia, Canada and European Nordic countries leading the way, according to 2013 data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. More than 10% of American adults have used antidepressants.

Antidepressants that are better targeted could also avoid some of their common side-effects such as insomnia and sexual dysfunction, because the drugs could be designed to only affect the part of the brain involved in mood, said Cohen.

He is one of four researchers chosen by the charity MQ: Transforming Mental Health to share £900,000 to carry out mental health research. The effectiveness of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) as antidepressants strongly suggests that serotonin transmitter pathways are involved in illnesses such as depression and anxiety but little is known about the biology of the chemical. “Almost by accident scientists discovered that drugs that work on serotonin can affect mood,” said Cohen. “We are working with a blunt system and we need to refine it.”

He will build on preliminary studies of serotonin neurons in mice while the animals perform “reward and punishment” tasks. By monitoring their behaviour during the tasks, he and his colleagues will be able to map how the neurons participate in well-known responses that are analogous to human behaviours. He said that scientists have long been interested in mapping mood in the brain by dissecting the behaviour of serotonin neurons but in the past they have not had the technology to do it. “In neuroscience we are where physics was with Galileo and Newton,” he said. “It’s basic stuff. An observer might say we should know that [already], it seems like such an obvious thing we want to understand.”

MQ chief executive Cynthia Joyce said: “Whether medication or psychological therapy, it is vital that people receive the most effective mental healthcare that works for them. Dr Cohen’s research addresses a long-standing gap in our understanding of mental illness. Excitingly, it has the potential to help us to achieve better, more personalised treatments for millions of people.”

You are enough. Always have been and always will be…

“He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.” ~ Lao Tzu

For years my life was defined by deep feelings of inadequacy as well as concurrent actions of striving to keep those feelings at bay. Even as a young child, I felt nothing I did was good enough, and I can still recall feelings of intense anxiety, sometimes terror, at simply waking up and knowing I had to go to school. While my parents meant well, I was inculcated with the belief that to be loved meant having to prove your worth each and every day, which meant doing things in a certain way—staying quiet, doing what you were told, getting good grades, taking certain subjects.  In other words, I was given a supposed checklist of success, which would supposedly lead to this elusive state called “happiness.”

I was taught to be competitive, to believe that my self-worth was directly tied to accomplishment.  I could not be of value unless I achieved something. This is a belief system embraced by many, and for me, it only served to deepen the feelings of emptiness and downright devastation that I experienced, especially if I failed at something.  When one lives in a constant state of competition, there is no such thing as ever being good enough.  One lives in a constant fear that you NEVER will be good enough. Even as I continually achieved and collected accolades, I suffered from constant panic attacks, chronic anxiety and depression.  Therapy and anti-depressants would provide short-lived respite.

However, even as I spent most of waking time dedicated to “doing,” part of me was suspicious of what the point exactly was to all this “doing.”  A secret voice was always asking, “Is this all there is?”  Part of me was deeply ashamed that this voice even existed. After all, society was reinforcing that I was doing things the “right way.”  I dutifully checked off the items on my checklist of success, completely believing that once I completed each task, I would be closer and closer to that state called “happiness.”  However, with each accomplishment, I only seemed to be further and further away from where I wanted to be. A part of me resigned myself to believing that perhaps what I really wanted could never be attained, that it was elusive and outside myself.  But even as I tried to give into resignation, that voice and its question “Is this all there is?” continued to plague me.  I had become an adult and done everything that was expected of me.  And I was completely miserable.

“Is this all there is?” became an accusation.  But I busied myself with tasks to which I attached great importance.  I cooked gourmet meals.  I traveled to faraway places.  I did yoga.  I went through the motions of what a good life was supposed to be, never realizing in all those years that what I had longed for resided within myself.  My self-worth still resided in the external— from accomplishments and material possessions, in the need for validation from others.  It never occurred to me that I could give myself validation because I had never been taught that.

I remember back in 2001 discovering a book by Thich Nhat Hanh, in which he spoke about suffering.  It struck a chord with me, but I could not understand it.  For he said to lessen suffering in the world, you had to reduce suffering within yourself.  That concept seemed completely foreign to me. I did not understand how lessening MY suffering could possibly lessen the suffering of others. So even when we are well-meaning in focusing on the suffering of others, it only serves to distract from addressing what needs to change within ourselves.

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” ~ Joseph Campbell

Fast forward to the present, I now realize that we cannot possibly give or receive love without knowing love within ourselves first.  And how did I finally understand this?  It was when I heard the words, “Who you are is enough.”  I don’t know from whom or exactly when I heard this, but the concept was so revolutionary to me that I shed tears.  And for the first time, I felt free.  I have heard this mantra echoed numerous times from many spiritual teachings and teachers since hearing it the first time, but I finally understood what Thich Nhat Hanh meant.

I have dedicated the past few years to releasing my old belief systems related to worthiness. When the inner voice asked the question “Is there all there is?”, it was really asking, “Are you good enough?”  And the answer has been and always will be, “I am enough.”

You are enough. Always have been and always will be…

Do you think your life would look any different if you knew that you were enough?

Forget Prozac, Psychobiotics Are the Future of Psychiatry.

For millennia, the human race has sought to combat psychological disorders through the intervention of natural – and eventually synthetic – chemicals. Originally, the sources for these psychoactive substances were the various fruits and flowers, including the Areca tree (betel nut), the poppy (opium), and the coca plant (cocaine). But in the 20th Century, new actives were being created in the lab thanks in part to the discovery of lysergic acid, better known as LSD, in 1938.


By the middle of the 1950s, the psychiatric community was fascinated by the idea that mental health could be restored through the direct use of drugs or in combination with traditional psychotherapy. The idea took off in the 1960s as research continued to elucidate the biology of psychiatry.  It essentially created a new avenue for psychiatric treatment: psychopharmacology. This inevitably led to the synthesis of a new compound, 3-(p-trifluoromethylphenoxy)-N-methyl-3-phenylpropylamine, which eventually became known as fluoxetine, and then, as we have all come to know it, Prozac.  By the late 1980s, it was known by another name:  the wonder drug.

Today, pharmacologic compounds for psychiatric treatment are numerous and up to 20% of all Americans are taking some type of psychotropic medication totalling some $34 billion dollars annually. While there have been calls for a reduction in use of these chemicals, primarily due to the fact that many are ineffective, there is a constant pressure from the public to have all their problems solved by a pill.

There is a different – and less costly – course to deal with stress and other psychological problems although until recently, there has been little to no attention paid to this option.  The treatment does not involve an individual chemical but rather a plethora of them which act to reduce inflammation, calm stress and bring about a more pleasant mood.  With a new article out this week from the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre in Cork, Ireland, there is even hope that severe and chronic mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may one day be a thing of the past.

They are called quite simply, Psychobiotics.

According to the authors, Timothy G. Dinan – whose name sounds as catchy as that of another psychiatric pioneer, Timothy F. Leary – Catherine Stanton and John F. Cryan, a psychobiotic is “a live organism that, when ingested in adequate amounts, produces a health benefit in patients suffering from psychiatric illness.”  These live organisms are comprised not only of probiotics but also other bacteria known to produce psychotropic signals such as serotonin and dopamine.

While this concept may raise some eyebrows, this postulate has credence.  There have been several examples in humans where the introduction of a probiotic has led to improvement of mood, anxiety and even chronic fatigue syndrome. But there appears to be a disconnect between the idea of ingesting a bacterium that stays in the gut and psychiatric behavior, which is controlled by the brain.

The answer lies in the fact that many psychiatric illnesses are immunological in nature through chronic low level inflammation. There is a plethora of evidence showing the link between gut microbiota and inflammation and studies on probiotic strains have revealed their ability to modulate inflammation and bring back a healthy immunological function.  In this regard, by controlling inflammation through probiotic administration, there should be an effect of improved psychiatric disposition.

The authors bring up another reason why psychobiotics are so unique in comparison to most probiotics.  These strains have another incredible ability to modulate the function of the adrenal cortex, which is responsible for controlling anxiety and stress response. Probiotic strains, such as Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifdobacterium longum have shown to reduce levels of stress hormones and maintain a calmer, peaceful state.  There may be a host of other probiotic bacteria with the same ability although testing has been scant at best.

Finally, the last point in support of psychobiotics is the fact that certain strains of bacteria actually produce the chemicals necessary for a happy self.  But as these chemicals cannot find their way into the brain, another route has been found to explain why they work so well.  They stimulate cells in the gut that have the ability to signal the vagus nerve that good chemicals are in the body.  The vagus nerve then submits this information to the brain, which then acts as if the chemicals were there.  If these probiotics were used in combination with those that stimulate the production of opioid and cannabinoid receptors, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, the result would be more than just a calming effect; there would be a natural high.

There is little doubt that there needs to be more research into the role of psychobiotics in mental health.  Even the authors suggest that clinical studies need to be performed along with more fundamental research.  However, unlike drugs such as Prozac and LSD, which are highly regulated, probiotics are readily available on store shelves.  This in effect could allow everyone to join in a citizen science movement similar to that of the Erowid culture, which focuses on the effect of natural psychoactives.  All that would be needed is a hub and a name, say PSYCHOgerms, in order to identify the psychological wonders – and admittedly, duds – of the probiotic world.  Should this happen, it may help one day to move past the era of pharmapscyhology and head straight into the more natural world or psychobiotics.

schizophrenia is more common than you might think.

Schizophrenia isn’t a specific, rare or rigorously defined illness. Instead, it covers a wide range of often unrelated conditions, all of which are also seen in people who are not mentally ill.

Which illness frightens you most? Cancer? Stroke? Dementia? To judge from tabloid coverage, the condition we should really fear isn’t physical at all. “Scared of mum’s schizophrenic attacks”, “Knife-wielding schizophrenic woman in court”, “Schizo stranger killed dad”, “Rachel murder: schizo accused”, and

“My schizophrenic son says he’ll kill… but he’s escaped from secure hospitals 7 times” are just a few of dozens of similar headlines we found in a cursory internet search. Mental illness, these stories imply, is dangerous. And schizophrenia is the most dangerous of all.

A crowed street in Edinburgh

Such reporting is unhelpful, misleading and manipulative. But it may be even more inaccurate than it first appears. This is because scientists are increasingly doubtful whether schizophrenia – a term invented more than a century ago by the psychiatric pioneer Eugen Bleuler – is a distinct illness at all. This isn’t to say that individuals diagnosed with the condition don’t have genuine and serious mental health problems. But how well the label “schizophrenia” fits those problems is now a very real question.

What’s wrong with the concept of schizophrenia? For one thing, research indicates the term may simply be functioning as a catch-all for a variety of separate problems. Six main conditions are typically caught under the umbrella of schizophrenia: paranoia; grandiosity (delusional beliefs that one has special powers or is famous); hallucinations (hearing voices, for example); thought disorder (being unable to think straight); anhedonia or the inability to experience pleasure; and diminished emotional expression (essentially an emotional “numbness”). But how many of these problems a person experiences, and how severely, varies enormously. Having one doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily develop any of the others.

Why hasn’t this been noticed by clinicians? Mental health professionals, inevitably, tend only to see the most unwell individuals. These patients tend to suffer from lots of the problems we’ve mentioned – the more difficulties you’re experiencing, the more likely it is that you’ll end up being seen by a specialist – prompting psychiatrists like Bleuler to assume these problems are symptoms of a single underlying condition. But defining an illness by looking only at the minority who end up in hospital can be a big mistake.

The traditional view has been that schizophrenia occurs in approximately 1% of people. But it’s now clear that the sort of experiences captured under the label are common in the general population – frequently far less distressing and disruptive, for sure, but essentially the same thing. Take paranoia, for instance. Almost 20% of UK adults report feeling as though others were against them in the previous 12 months, with 1.8% fearing plots to cause them serious harm. We tested the level of paranoia among the general public by asking volunteers to take a virtual reality tube train ride, during which they shared a carriage with a number of computer-generated “avatars”. These avatars were programmed to behave in a strictly neutral fashion, yet over 40% of participants reported that the avatars showed hostility towards them.

Moreover, triggering the odd sensations associated with schizophrenia is remarkably easy. Go without sleep for a night or two and you’re likely to experience some very peculiar thoughts and feelings (as demonstrated by a recent study of sailors in solo races). Consume a lot of cannabis and the effects can be similar. Meanwhile, a classic study by the psychiatrist Stuart Grassian showed that prisoners placed in solitary confinement were soon prey to hallucinations and delusions.

What all this suggests is that schizophrenia isn’t a specific, relatively rare, and rigorously defined illness. Instead, it covers a wide range of often unrelated conditions, all of which are also seen in people who are not mentally ill, and all of which exist on a continuum from the comparatively mild to the very severe. People with conditions like schizophrenia are simply those who happen to fall at the extreme end of a number of these continua.

What causes psychotic experiences? Research has pointed a decisive finger at living in cities, drug use, poverty, migration, traumatic experiences in childhood and later negative events such as being the victim of an assault. Experiences like paranoia are also linked with a number of psychological traits, such as a tendency to worry, feel depressed, sleep poorly, or jump to conclusions. These factors seem to work in what scientists call a “dose-response” manner: the more of them you experience, the more likely it is that your mental health will suffer.

Genetic factors also play a part, though there’s no evidence for a single “schizophrenia” gene. Instead, a multitude of genes are likely to be involved – with their effect, crucially, conditioned by environmental factors. So the people who end up being treated for schizophrenia aren’t the unlucky few who happen to have inherited a rogue gene. Genetic susceptibility exists on a spectrum too. The more of the relevant genes you possess, the further you are to the extreme end of the spectrum and the less of a push you’ll need from life events to become ill. It’s worth remembering, however, that genetic research into schizophrenia has focused on the people who present for treatment: the severest end of the continua. What it hasn’t done is look at the various types of psychotic experiences across the general population.

Not everyone agrees with these new ways of thinking about schizophrenia. An editorial in the British Journal of Psychiatry, for example, lambasted the approach as “scientifically unproven and clinically impractical”. But one thing is certain: deepening our understanding of psychotic problems must be a priority. Diagnostic criteria for mental illnesses change over time, and the same will happen with schizophrenia. Rather than getting sidetracked by day-to-day debates about the symptoms required for a diagnosis, it will be more productive to focus on the individual psychotic experiences, remembering that they don’t only occur in those who come into contact with mental health services but exist on spectra in the general population. This isn’t merely a theoretical issue: if we target specific problems, rather than a loosely defined illness, we’re likely to improve treatment outcomes for the many people struggling with these debilitating experiences.

World-first bionic implant to treat mental illness under development.

World-first bionic implant to treat mental illness under development

UOW researchers are in the midst of developing a world-first brain implant to help treat people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.

Professor Xu-Feng Huang, Deputy Executive Director of the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute at UOW, is leading a multidisciplinary team of researchers on the $676,000, three-year, National Health and Medical Research Council funded project.

The device will work in a similar way to the cochlear implant, with electrodes implanted into the frontal area of the brain, which will provide electrical stimulation and growth factors to improve brain function in schizophrenia and allied disorders.

“Brain abnormalities in neuronal growth, microstructure and inter-neuronal communication underlie the prefrontal cortical pathology of many psychiatric diseases, including schizophrenia,” Professor Huang said.

Professor Huang recently told the Herald Sun that there had been virtually no technological breakthroughs for the treatment of schizophrenia (which ranks among the top 10 causes of disability in developed countries worldwide) in 50 years.

“Largely we rely on antipsychotics that not only have side-effects but also they can’t address the disease effects on cognitive function and communication,” he said.

The collaboration involves Australian Laureate Fellow Professor Gordon Wallace and his team at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science, who will bring their expertise in new organic materials (polymers), which conduct electricity.

“Through a number of years of study we’ve proven these materials have many benefits transmitting electrical signals to both nerve and muscle cells, and therefore influencing the developing and behaviour of those cells,” Professor Wallace said.

The team will initially evaluate and optimise the technology in vitro before creating a 3D nano-structured drug-loaded electrical stimulation device that will be tested in animal trials, with the potential to translate to clinical trials.

Professor Huang, who is also the Director of the Centre for Translational Neuroscience at UOW (which has been supported by the Schizophrenia Research Institute since 1999), is working on an additional five National Health and Medical Research Council projects (totalling $3 million) into mental illness.

In fact, a collaboration with China’s Beijing HuiLongGuan Hospital has recently found that that the prevention and treatment of diabetes might prove beneficial for people with schizophrenia and may yield better cognitive functioning, especially in immediate memory and attention.

It’s time to listen to the voices in your head.

Voice-hearing is no longer seen merely as a psychiatric disorder, and could teach us a lot about how language operates in the brain.
eleanor longden

Eleanor Longden delivers a TED talk on voice-hearing.

Hearing voices in your head when there’s no one around … that’s a sign of madness, right?

In the popular imagination voice-hearing is often viewed with fear and suspicion, frequently reified as a chaotic, corrupted symptom of illness. But that is changing, with a growing acceptance of voice-hearing as a profoundly human experience that can no longer be reduced to a mere symptom of psychiatric disorder. The work of Intervoice: The International Hearing Voices Network, and the enthusiastic response to Eleanor Longden’s 2013 TED talk, which recounts her own journey to recovery from a demoralising psychiatric diagnosis, indicate the growing possibilities for people living with the experience to raise their voices with a sense of power and pride.

This movement towards a better public understanding of voice-hearing has been mirrored by an increased interest in the scientific issues it raises. In recent years, academics from such diverse disciplines as psychology, philosophy, medical humanities, cognitive neuroscience, anthropology, theology and cultural studies have begun to reclaim it as a rich, diverse and complex human experience – one that offers abundant possibilities for scientific inquiry.

Take, for example, the idea that voices often relate to trauma or adversity, particularly those suffered in childhood. This view, which has found expression in the personal stories of many voice-hearers, has been supported by a growing body of scientific evidence. But why should traumatic experiences early in life lead many years later to the experience of hearing a voice, or what psychiatrists call an auditory verbal hallucination?

Recent investigations suggest that voice-hearing may provide fresh insights into traumatic memory, and how real-life conflicts become embodied in voices via dissociation (a defensive psychological response to trauma in which thoughts, emotions and memories become disconnected from one another). In turn, the experience that many voice-hearers describe – that of a disembodied “other” dynamically interacting with and intruding upon one’s sense of self – invites exploration into how representations of selfhood are generated and maintained.

Another approach that has proved fruitful is the idea that voice-hearing relates to one very ordinary aspect of people’s experience: their inner speech. Most of us report talking to ourselves silently in our heads as we go about our business, and it has been proposed that voices result when a person generates a bit of inner speech but, for whatever reason, doesn’t recognise it as their own. This view has received support from numerous studies with voice-hearing psychiatric patients, including findings that similar networks in the brain are activated when people hear voices as when they produce inner speech.

Many problems remain however, including the fact that we know very little about the phenomenal properties of ordinary inner speech, such as whether it has the qualities of a dialogue or a monologue, whether it is fully expanded like ordinary conversation or whether it sometimes has a compressed, note-form quality. Voice-hearing itself comes in an even more baffling array of varieties, from experiences that have the full perceptual force of listening to a person speaking to those that are much more ephemeral and thought-like.

Perhaps most importantly, the view of voices as disordered inner speech does not ring true with many voice-hearers’ experience. And yet, at some level, an explanation of voice-hearing must have something to do with how language operates in the brain. Perhaps the biggest challenge facing research in this area is to try to link, and draw on the relative merits of, the trauma and inner speech models. How can adverse experiences early in life, perhaps through the complex, multifaceted mechanisms of memory, lead to alterations in the way words are processed in the brain, and in turn to the sense that one’s self has been overtaken by other selves? Whatever the future for research in this area, it will require a continued focus on voice-hearing as a complex, heterogeneous phenomenon with many scientific secrets to reveal.

Pentagon’s DARPA works on reading brains in real time.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is investing $70 million to develop a new implant that can track, and respond to, brain signals in real time.

The goal of the new project, dubbed “Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies” (SUBNETS), is to gather new information via more advanced brain implants in order to reach the next level of effective neuropsychological treatment. DARPA is hoping to have the new implant developed within five years.

AFP Photo/Miguel Medina

Already, roughly 100,000 people worldwide live with a Deep Brain Stimulation implant, a device that helps patients cope with Parkinsons disease. While scientists are currently studying the possibility of using these devices to combat other diseases, the problem is current technology can only treat symptoms, not record the brain’s signals or analyze the effectiveness of any administered treatment.

“There is no technology that can acquire signals that can tell [scientists] precisely what is going on with the brain,” Justin Sanchez, DARPA’s program manager, told the New York Times.

The SUBNETS  program intends to change the current landscape significantly. Not only does DARPA want to map out exactly how diseases establish themselves in an individuals brain, the agency also wants its implant to be able to record the signs of illness in real time, deliver treatments, and monitor the treatment’s effectiveness.

Considering the toll that mental illnesses are taking on military veterans, there’s a new level of urgency surrounding the ambitious initiative. Ten percent of servicemembers receiving treatment from the Veteran’s Health Administration are being treated for mental health conditions or substance abuse, and mental disorders are now the primary reason for hospital bed stays.

“If SUBNETS is successful, it will advance neuropsychiatry beyond the realm of dialogue-driven observations and resultant trial and error into the real of therapy driven by quantifiable characteristic of neural state,” Sanchez said on DARPA’s website. “SUBNETS is a push toward innovative, informed and precise neurotechnological therapy to produce major improvements in quality of life for servicemembers and veterans who have very few options with existing therapies.”

The new project is part of President Obama’s BRAIN initiative, which sets aside $100 million in its first year to develop new innovations in neuroscience. DARPA is collaborating with the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation on SUBNETS, and it is currently soliciting proposals from various research teams.

Whether the agency can actually achieve its goal in five years is a question mark – one neuroscientist told the New York Times that, like nearly all DARPA projects, it’s “overambitious” – but new discoveries concerning how the brain functions are expected regardless. Whether the implant itself becomes a reality or not, Sanchez said that new medical devices will be developed as a result.

“We’re talking about a whole systems approach to the brain, not a disease-by-disease examination of a single process or a subset of processes,” Sanchez said. “SUBNETS is going to be a cross-disciplinary, expansive team effort and the program will integrate and build upon historical DARPA research investments.”

Sexual abuse linked to obesity in children, teens with mental illnesses.

Researchers reported that a history of sexual abuse increased the risk for obesity among children and adolescents who had significant psychiatric illnesses.

“Considering that children with mental illness are already at risk for weight problems and will continue to be at increased risk as they move toward adulthood, recognition of this association is important to consider when clinicians are developing appropriate treatment plans or are evaluating potential adverse effects from current treatment regimens,” Brooks R. KeeshinMD, with the Mayerson Center for Safe and Healthy Children at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, said in an interview.

Keeshin and colleagues analyzed medical charts of 1,434 youth admitted to a Midwestern inpatient psychiatric facility during a 10-month period. The researchers compared rates of physical and sexual abuse in youth with a normal BMI percentile and youth whose BMI percentiles were greater than 85, which in the study was considered to be overweight or obese.

Of the entire cohort, 14.7% reported physical abuse, 16.6% reported sexual abuse and 5.4% reported both.

Controlling for age, race, gender and antipsychotic treatment, Keeshin and colleagues found that youth who reported a history of sexual abuse were at greater odds of being overweight/obese (BMI percentiles 85 to 99) than having a healthy BMI (adjusted OR=1.41; 95% CI, 1.01-1.98). Physical abuse was not associated with an increase in BMI percentile.

Female gender and antipsychotic use were associated with overweight/obesity, although fewer girls (29.2%) than boys (38.6%) were prescribed antipsychotic medication. The researchers said being prescribed antipsychotics was the only significant predictor of “significant obesity,” defined as a BMI percentile greater than 99 (aOR=2.59; 95% CI, 1.57-4.28).

“These data suggest that, in youth with a significant mental illness, sexual abuse is significantly and independently associated with obesity, a finding that may prompt increased attention to weight gain by pediatricians who care for youth with a history of sexual abuse and suffer from mental illness,” the researchers concluded.

Source: Endocrine Today


Physical Punishment of Children Linked to Obesity, Arthritis in Adulthood.

Harsh physical punishment in childhood is associated with adverse physical health outcomes in adulthood, according to a cross-sectional study in Pediatrics.

Researchers surveyed over 30,000 U.S. adults about whether they had experienced harsh physical punishment (e.g., pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping, or hitting) as children. After adjusting for education, family history of dysfunction and mental disorders, and other variables, adults who reported receiving harsh physical punishment as children were at increased risk for having arthritis (adjusted odds ratio, 1.25) and obesity (OR, 1.20). The risk for cardiovascular disease was of borderline significance. Past studies have found that childhood mistreatment is linked to dysregulation of the body’s stress response system.

For physicians advising parents about discipline, the authors write: “It is recommended that physical punishment not be used with children of any age.” They instead recommend “positive parenting approaches and nonphysical means of discipline.”

Source: Pediatrics