Doctors behind ADHD study question drug treatment.


The co-authors of a 20-year-old study promoting the use of prescription drugs to combat the effects of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are now claiming the report may have overstated medication’s benefits.

According to a report in the New York Times, at least two co-authors of the highly influential study – called the Multimodal Treatment Study of Children With ADHD – have come forward to express concern that the original report also downplayed the benefits of behavioral therapy.

“There was lost opportunity to give kids the advantage of both and develop more resources in schools to support the child — that value was dismissed,” said co-author Dr. Gene Arnold, a child psychiatrist and professor at Ohio State University.

“I hope it didn’t do irreparable damage,” added a second co-author, Dr. Lilly Hechtman of Montreal’s McGill University. “The people who pay the price in the end is the kids. That’s the biggest tragedy in all of this.”

The report originally claimed that not only was medication like Adderall and Ritalin more effective than therapy, but also that combining the two treatments offered little to no benefit to the patient. Even a 2001 report that showed a combination of medication and therapy effectively treating ADHD symptoms by 12 percent over medication only (68 – 56 percent) labeled the results“small by conventional standards.”

Boosted by marketing from pharmaceuticals, prescriptions for ADHD drugs have skyrocketed since the early 1990s, alongside a significant rise in the diagnosis of ADHD in general.

According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 percent of high-school-age children have been diagnosed with the disorder, with roughly 3.5 million currently taking medication. These numbers stand in stark contrast to the 600,000 or so children diagnosed with ADHD in 1990.

“The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous,” Keith Conners, a psychologist and professor emeritus at Duke University, said to the Times earlier in December.“This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.”

One of the reasons medication has been used so often to treat the disorder is that, at the cost of $200 a year, it’s significantly cheaper than therapy, which can run up to $1,000 a year or more and isn’t covered as comprehensively by insurance companies. While medication can be helpful, it also has its consequences – potential addiction, anxiety, depression, insomnia and, in some cases, suicidal tendencies and hallucinations.

Behavioral therapy, meanwhile, focuses on developing a child’s long-term academic and social skills. According to psychologist Ruth Hughes of the advocacy group Children and Adults With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, medication may make a child ready to learn important skills, but it still requires someone to teach them.

Now, new studies are suggesting that the effects of medication begin to decrease once a child grows older, suggesting it’s extremely difficult to calculate how a child will react as they reach young adulthood. Some researchers pin the blame on the fact that many children stop taking the pills, while others say it demonstrates the inability of a medication-only approach to conclusively treat the disorder.

“My belief based on the science is that symptom reduction is a good thing, but adding skill-building is a better thing,” Stephen Hinshaw, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, said to the Times. “If you don’t provide skills-based training, you’re doing the kid a disservice. I wish we had had a fairer test.”

The US government still uses floppy disks.


The federal government is a complicated behemoth that takes a long time to change course. With technology changing faster than ever, it’s no surprise that government regulation and human stubbornness are slowing the transition to new methods. In fact, one government agency still requires parts of the government to submit information on floppy disks.

pile of floppy disks

The Federal Register is basically a daily update on the activities of the federal government. It aggregates all the orders, rule changes, and notices issued by various agencies and publishes them online and in paper form. This fulfills a requirement that the information be made available for public inspection, but the way the Federal Register gets all that information is odd.

Agencies are required to submit multiple certified copies of each document, which they can do multiple ways. Some still send over paper documents, but others provide digital files to the Register. However, the Register won’t accept a thumbdrive or SD card — it’s only floppy or CD, and a surprising number of agencies still send over 3.5-inch floppies. Where are they even finding floppy drives anymore?

There is also a much more modern secure email system for providing files, but moving to this platform is a big expensive change that many agencies haven’t made yet. The alternative, apparently, is to continue using technology from the 80s. There is hope that the issues surrounding the healthcare.gov website launch will prompt agencies to modernize, but it might take an act of congress to mandate the use of new tehcnology like the secure email system. So, all we need is for congress to come together and do away with floppy disks in the federal government. If there’s anything that can bring the two sides together, surely it is a disdain for floppy disks.

 

Google ramps up plan to make robots


 

Meka M1 robot
Meka’s M1 robot is one of the systems that has been acquired by Google

Google has revealed it has taken over seven robotics companies in the past half a year and has begun hiring staff to develop its own product.

A spokesman confirmed the effort was being headed up by Andy Rubin, who was previously in charge of the Android operating system.

The spokesman was unwilling to discuss what kind of robot was being developed.

But the New York Times reports that at this stage Google does not plan to sell the resulting product to consumers.

SchaftGoogle has hired a team of Japanese engineers who make humanoid robots

Instead, the newspaper suggests, Google’s robots could be paired with its self-driving car research to help automate the delivery of goods to people’s doors.

It notes the company has recently begun a same-day grocery delivery service in San Francisco and San Jose, called Google Shopping Express.

That would pitch the initiative against Amazon’s Prime Air Project, which envisages using drones to transport goods to its customers by air.

“Any description of what Andy and his team might actually create are speculations of the author and the people he interviewed,” said Google of the NYT article.

One UK-based expert welcomed the news.

“This is a clear sign that days of personalised robotic technology entering the mainstream market is imminent,” said Prof Sethu Vijayakumar, director of the Robotics Lab at the University of Edinburgh.

“Movement and sensing systems for robotics technology have made great strides. Now, with mainstream companies like Google taking up the challenge, other elements such as robust software integration, standardisation and modular design will pick up pace.”

Industrial Perception robot
Google now owns a company that makes a robot arm designed to handle packaged goods

The search giant’s robotics project is based in Palo Alto, California, and will have an office in Japan – one of the world’s leading nations in the field.

Speaking to the NYT, Mr Rubin said Google had a “10-year vision” for bringing the effort to fruition.

“I feel with robotics it’s a green field,” he said.

“We’re building hardware, we’re building software. We’re building systems, so one team will be able to understand the whole stack.”

Meka S2 robot head
Meka’s parts have been developed with human-robot interactions in mind

The companies acquired by Google to jumpstart its effort are:

  • Autofuss – a San Francisco company that employed robotics to create adverts. It has worked on several campaigns for Google’s Nexus-branded products.
  • Bot & Dolly – a sister company to Autofuss that specialised in precise-motion robotics and film-making. Its systems were used to make the film Gravity.
  • Holomni – a Mountain View, California-based company that specialised in caster wheel modules that could accelerate a vehicle’s motion in any direction.
  • Industrial Perception – a Palo Alto-headquartered business that focused on the use of 3D vision-guided robotic technologies to automate the loading and unloading of trucks, and handle packages.
  • Meka Robotics – A spin-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that built robot parts that appeared friendly and safe to humans. Its products included heads with big eye sensors, arms and a “humanoid torso”.
  • Redwood Robotics – a San Francisco-based company that focused on creating next-generation robot arms for use in manufacturing, distribution and service industries such as healthcare.
  • Schaft – a spin-off from the University of Tokyo that focused on the creation and operation of humanoid robots.

Insomnia Cure Boosts Success of Depression Treatment.


reating persistent insomnia at the same time as depression could double the chances that the mood disorder will disappear, a new study shows.

Doctors have long reported a link between insomnia — the inability to sleep — and depression, but many thought that depression led to insomnia. Now, experts suspect sleep problems can sometimes precede depression.

If other ongoing studies confirm these results, it might lead to major changes in depression treatment, experts added. Such changes would represent the biggest advance in depression treatment since the antidepressant Prozac was introduced in 1987, The New York Times reported.

“The way this story is unfolding, I think we need to start augmenting standard depression treatment with therapy focused on insomnia,” Colleen Carney, lead author of the small study, told the Times.

The study was funded by the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

The insomnia treatment relied on talk therapy, rather than sleep medication, for 66 patients.

Insomnia and depression are both common problems, and often interact, explained Dr. Steven Feinsilver, director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. He was not involved in the study.

“Clearly, poor sleep can cause depression and depression can cause poor sleep,” he said.

Evidence does exist that for many people, symptoms of insomnia precede symptoms of depression by a few years, Feinsilver noted. “This could be taken to mean either that insomnia causes depression or that insomnia is the earliest symptom of depression,” he said.

This study may help untangle that relationship. It “suggests that specifically treating the insomnia with behavioral techniques can substantially improve the outcome of patients with depression,” Feinsilver added.

For the millions of people with depression, the findings offer a ray of hope.

“This relatively simple technique for treating insomnia could be tremendously helpful for those with this common psychiatric illness,” Feinsilver said.

More than 20 million Americans suffer from depression — disabling feelings of sadness and despair that don’t go away, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. More than half of those with depression also suffer from insomnia.

The research team, from Ryerson University in Toronto, found depression lifted significantly among patients whose insomnia was cured. The insomnia treatment consisted of four talk therapy sessions over eight weeks, according to the Times.

During the sessions, patients were given certain instructions: set a specific wake-up time and don’t veer from it; get out of bed when awake but don’t eat, read or watch TV; and refrain from taking any daytime naps.

Almost 90 percent of patients who responded to the insomnia therapy also saw their depression lift after taking an antidepressant pill or an inactive placebo for two months. That was about double the rate of those who could not shake their sleeplessness, the news report said.

Study participants had to have had a month of sleep loss that had an effect on their jobs, family life or other relationships.

A smaller pilot study conducted at Stanford University produced similar findings, the Times reported.

Carney was to present the latest research Saturday at a conference of the Association for Behavioral & Cognitive Therapies, in Nashville, Tenn., the newspaper reported.

Research presented at meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

The Drugs of Work-Performance Enhancement .


My morning writer’s ritual is as predictable as it is contemporary: Walk the dog. Down a cup of coffee. Eat my shredded wheat. And, twice a week—sometimes three times—I flip open my vial of Adderall, tip out one of the 15-milligram peach tabs, and break it in half. For a moment the bitterness burns my tongue, and then down it goes.

The Adderall addition to my routine started three years ago, after I happened upon 60 Minutes one evening and caught a segment titled “Boosting Brain Power.” It was an examination of the Adderall epidemic on college campuses nationwide, and I found myself quickly drawn into it.

By the end of the story, the conclusion was inescapable: Adderall makes everything easier to understand; it makes you more alert and focused. Some college students scarf them like M&Ms and think they’re more effective at cognitive enhancement than energy drinks and safer than a smoke or a beer. A Harvard professor admitted he regularly devoured Adderall to help make a book deadline.

Prior to watching, I had some close friends and relatives with ADHD whose doctors prescribed the amphetamine for completely legitimate reasons. I called them “closet users” since they all seemed ashamed of their diagnosis, not to mention their prescription. Why they felt this stigma I’m not entirely sure. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, 4.4 percent of the adult U.S. population has ADHD, which if left untreated is associated with significant morbidity, divorce, employment, and substance abuse.

Like all prescription medications, Adderall has risks that are crucial to understand. Buried in the middle of that 60 Minutes segment was a too-short riff on amphetamine’s side effects, which include addiction, psychosis, and cardiovascular problems. I’ve read many of the horrific news stories about lives, especially young people’s lives, destroyed by this drug. Most notably, the tragic tale of Richard Fee, “an athletic, personable college class president and aspiring medical student,” as The New York Times reported earlier this year, who developed a full-fledged addiction, abetted by his doctors who routinely signed off on more meds. He was 24 when he hung himself at home.

Nonetheless, for untold healthy adults (those whom researchers refer to as “mentally competent”) the cognitive-enhancing drug has led to positive changes in their lives. Not surprisingly, the many Adderall “success” stories often go unnoticed in the current debate and climate. Explained one young woman, in her late 20s, on a public bulletin board: “[Adderall] makes me so happy I can be at a family function or out socializing and not get too distracted by other events/conversations around me. I can hear them, but am not taken in by them.”

And this testimonial from an anonymous poster: “Since being on Adderall, I have been insanely productive… I have paid all my outstanding bills and parking tickets (and even renewed my car’s registration before it was due). I’m not late for things anymore… I have not spent a single day lying around my house doing nothing in the past few months. I have a budget, and a scheduler that I actually use.”

The authors of a study published in the journal Nature argue in favor of moderate use: “Cognitive enhancement has more to offer individuals and society, and a proper societal response will involve making enhancements available while managing their risks.”

That spring when I watched the 60 Minutes broadcast I was on a deadline to finish a 400-plus-page book. After viewing the segment, I had a moment of insight. Jumping online, I took a few ADHD screening quizzes and was told I had “possible ADHD.” Such a diagnosis doesn’t place me among the 4.1 percent of U.S. adults with ADHD but it did lead me to promptly make an appointment with my primary care physician. When she asked me why I needed it, I replied just as the college kids had on 60 Minutes: “For focus.”

The first morning I swallowed the whole pill (as prescribed), and within 30 minutes thought I was going to have a stroke. My heart and head were pounding, and I felt as if I were, well, on speed. Which I was—Adderall is, after all, an aggregation of amphetamines. I cut the tabs in half after that and completed my book manuscript by the deadline, with about half my 60-day supply left.

Did it make me smarter? No. Did it make me a faster writer? Yes. Previously, when I’d sit down at my desk, I felt adrift at sea. It was as though my MacBook and research materials, piled high, swayed from left to right and then back again. It was dizzying; I just couldn’t get a grip.

For me, Adderall was like putting my foot on the ground to stop the drunken whirlies. I had a connection. I had control. My metaphoric double vision snapped to mono and I could see and think as clearly as if I’d stepped out of a fog. I’d never had such concentration and it showed in the number of well-written pages I produced daily.

Which isn’t to say that I didn’t experience some side effects. Amphetamines suppress appetite, so I easily lost weight. While the medication did wonders in prompting me to write, it inexplicably interfered with my ability to speak, scrambling my thoughts before they’d come out of my mouth. (I learned never to take a dose if I were to be out in the world anytime in the next four to six hours, otherwise I either spoke too quickly or too garbled.)

From time to time, I witnessed the shadows of depression, which I’ve read that others on the drug sometimes succumb to. Fortunately, I had the wherewithal to know this was a chemically induced darkness—one that reminded me of the sharp mood swings associated with Decadron, a corticosteroid once prescribed to me for a subdural hematoma resulting from a head injury. After two weeks of usage with this steroid, I felt suicidal. My physician had not warned me of this side effect. But with Adderall, I had knowledge aplenty and knew that once I stopped it, my depression would quickly lift. I also know that not everyone has that kind of previous experience or perspective, which is when folks get into deep trouble.

I take other meds, too, which also have their known side effects. The Lexapro I consume daily for anxiety can decrease sex drive; the Lipitor for high cholesterol can cause muscle and liver problems; and the Niaspan, also for cholesterol, can bring flushing and double vision. I’ve read about these side effects, recognize them when they occur, and understand that with the promised benefits of these meds comes risk.

But it’s different when it comes to Adderall; the most notable distinction is the “Black Box” warning on all amphetamines:

“AMPHETAMINES HAVE A HIGH POTENTIAL FOR ABUSE. ADMINISTRATION OF AMPHETAMINES FOR PROLONGED PERIODS OF TIME MAY LEAD TO DRUG DEPENDENCE AND MUST BE AVOIDED. MISUSE OF AMPHETAMINE MAY CAUSE SUDDEN DEATH AND SERIOUS CARDIOVASCULAR ADVERSE EVENTS.”

Still, according to the National Institutes of Health: “Under medical supervision, stimulant medications are considered safe.” I’d add, as the Nature authors did, especially for “mentally competent adults.”

I know some will say I’m lacking in discipline or that I’m abusing. I don’t think that’s the case, a belief that is buttressed every time I approach my desk to see the swaying stacks of research materials or my laptop levitating. On Adderall I function better and get immediate relief from the chaos—not to mention meet my deadlines. Certainly, like anything and everything in life, it’s not for everybody and the risk for abuse is very real. But as an educated patient, who measures risks and benefits every time a doctor hands me a prescription, I feel confident I’m making an informed choice for myself. And on those mornings when my routine includes half a peach tab, I know it will be a good work day.

10 Simple Things You Can Do Today That Will Make You Happier.


Happiness is so interesting, because we all have different ideas about what it is and how to get it. So naturally we are obsessed with it.

I would love to be happier, as I’m sure most people would, so I thought it would be interesting to find some ways to become a happier person that are actually backed up by science. Here are ten of the best ones I found.
 
happiness

1. Exercise more – 7 minutes might be enough

You might have seen some talk recently about the scientific 7 minute workout mentioned in The New York Times. So if you thought exercise was something you didn’t have time for, maybe you can fit it in after all.

Exercise has such a profound effect on our happiness and well-being that it’s actually been proven to be an effective strategy for overcoming depression. In a study cited in Shawn Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage, three groups of patients treated their depression with either medication, exercise, or a combination of the two. The results of this study really surprised me. Although all three groups experienced similar improvements in their happiness levels to begin with, the follow up assessments proved to be radically different:

The groups were then tested six months later to assess their relapse rate. Of those who had taken the medication alone, 38 percent had slipped back into depression. Those in the combination group were doing only slightly better, with a 31 percent relapse rate. The biggest shock, though, came from the exercise group: Their relapse rate was only 9 percent!

You don’t have to be depressed to gain benefit from exercise, though. It can help you to relax, increase your brain power and even improve your body image, even if you don’t lose any weight.

study in the Journal of Health Psychology found that people who exercised felt better about their bodies, even when they saw no physical changes:

Body weight, shape and body image were assessed in 16 males and 18 females before and after both 6 × 40 mins exercise and 6 × 40 mins reading. Over both conditions, body weight and shape did not change. Various aspects of body image, however, improved after exercise compared to before.

We’ve explored exercise in depth before, and looked at what it does to our brains, such as releasing proteins and endorphins that make us feel happier, as you can see in the image below.

brain

2. Sleep more – you’ll be less sensitive to negative emotions

We know that sleep helps our bodies to recover from the day and repair themselves, and that it helps us focus and be more productive. It turns out, it’s also important for our happiness.

In NutureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explain how sleep affects our positivity:

Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories gets processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine.

In one experiment by Walker, sleep-deprived college students tried to memorize a list of words. They could remember 81% of the words with a negative connotation, like “cancer.” But they could remember only 31% of the words with a positive or neutral connotation, like “sunshine” or “basket.”

The BPS Research Digest explores another study that proves sleep affects our sensitivity to negative emotions. Using a facial recognition task over the course of a day, the researchers studied how sensitive participants were to positive and negative emotions. Those who worked through the afternoon without taking a nap became more sensitive late in the day to negative emotions like fear and anger.

Using a face recognition task, here we demonstrate an amplified reactivity to anger and fear emotions across the day, without sleep. However, an intervening nap blocked and even reversed this negative emotional reactivity to anger and fear while conversely enhancing ratings of positive (happy) expressions.

Of course, how well (and how long) you sleep will probably affect how you feel when you wake up, which can make a difference to your whole day. Especially this graph showing how your brain activity decreases is a great insight about how important enough sleep is for productivity and happiness:

sleep

Another study tested how employees’ moods when they started work in the morning affected their work day.

Researchers found that employees’ moods when they clocked in tended to affect how they felt the rest of the day. Early mood was linked to their perceptions of customers and to how they reacted to customers’ moods.

And most importantly to managers, employee mood had a clear impact on performance, including both how much work employees did and how well they did it.

Sleep is another topic we’ve looked into before, exploring how much sleep we really need to be productive.

3. Move closer to work – a short commute is worth more than a big house

Our commute to the office can have a surprisingly powerful impact on our happiness. The fact that we tend to do this twice a day, five days a week, makes it unsurprising that its effect would build up over time and make us less and less happy.

According to The Art of Manliness, having a long commute is something we often fail to realize will affect us so dramatically:

… while many voluntary conditions don’t affect our happiness in the long term because we acclimate to them, people never get accustomed to their daily slog to work because sometimes the traffic is awful and sometimes it’s not. Or as Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert put it, “Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day.”

We tend to try to compensate for this by having a bigger house or a better job, but these compensations just don’t work:

Two Swiss economists who studied the effect of commuting on happiness found that such factors could not make up for the misery created by a long commute.

4. Spend time with friends and family – don’t regret it on your deathbed

Staying in touch with friends and family is one of the top five regrets of the dying. If you want more evidence that it’s beneficial for you, I’ve found some research that proves it can make you happier right now.

Social time is highly valuable when it comes to improving our happiness, even for introverts. Several studies have found that time spent with friends and family makes a big difference to how happy we feel, generally.

I love the way Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert explains it:

We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.

George Vaillant is the director of a 72-year study of the lives of 268 men.

In an interview in the March 2008 newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, Vaillant was asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?” Vaillant’s response: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

He shared insights of the study with Joshua Wolf Shenk at The Atlantic on how the men’s social connections made a difference to their overall happiness:

The men’s relationships at age 47, he found, predicted late-life adjustment better than any other variable, except defenses. Good sibling relationships seem especially powerful: 93 percent of the men who were thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger.

In fact, a study published in the Journal of Socio-Economics states than your relationships are worth more than $100,000:

Using the British Household Panel Survey, I find that an increase in the level of social involvements is worth up to an extra £85,000 a year in terms of life satisfaction. Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness.

I think that last line is especially fascinating: Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness. So we could increase our annual income by hundreds of thousands of dollars and still not be as happy as if we increased the strength of our social relationships.

The Terman study, which is covered in The Longevity Project, found that relationships and how we help others were important factors in living long, happy lives:

We figured that if a Terman participant sincerely felt that he or she had friends and relatives to count on when having a hard time then that person would be healthier. Those who felt very loved and cared for, we predicted, would live the longest.

Surprise: our prediction was wrong… Beyond social network size, the clearest benefit of social relationships came from helping others. Those who helped their friends and neighbors, advising and caring for others, tended to live to old age.

5. Go outside – happiness is maximized at 13.9°C

In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor recommends spending time in the fresh air to improve your happiness:

Making time to go outside on a nice day also delivers a huge advantage; one study found that spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosted positive mood, but broadened thinking and improved working memory…

This is pretty good news for those of us who are worried about fitting new habits into our already-busy schedules. Twenty minutes is a short enough time to spend outside that you could fit it into your commute or even your lunch break.

A UK study from the University of Sussex also found that being outdoors made people happier:

 

Being outdoors, near the sea, on a warm, sunny weekend afternoon is the perfect spot for most. In fact, participants were found to be substantially happier outdoors in all natural environments than they were in urban environments.

The American Meteorological Society published research in 2011 that found current temperature has a bigger effect on our happiness than variables like wind speed and humidity, or even the average temperature over the course of a day. It also found that happiness is maximized at 13.9°C, so keep an eye on the weather forecast before heading outside for your 20 minutes of fresh air.

6. Help others – 100 hours a year is the magical number

One of the most counterintuitive pieces of advice I found is that to make yourself feel happier, you should help others. In fact, 100 hours per year (or two hours per week) is the optimal time we should dedicate to helping others in order to enrich our lives.

If we go back to Shawn Achor’s book again, he says this about helping others:

…when researchers interviewed more than 150 people about their recent purchases, they found that money spent on activities—such as concerts and group dinners out—brought far more pleasure than material purchases like shoes, televisions, or expensive watches. Spending money on other people, called “prosocial spending,” also boosts happiness.

The Journal of Happiness Studies published a study that explored this very topic:

Participants recalled a previous purchase made for either themselves or someone else and then reported their happiness. Afterward, participants chose whether to spend a monetary windfall on themselves or someone else. Participants assigned to recall a purchase made for someone else reported feeling significantly happier immediately after this recollection; most importantly, the happier participants felt, the more likely they were to choose to spend a windfall on someone else in the near future.

So spending money on other people makes us happier than buying stuff for ourselves. What about spending our time on other people? A study of volunteering in Germany explored how volunteers were affected when their opportunities to help others were taken away:

 Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall but before the German reunion, the first wave of data of the GSOEP was collected in East Germany. Volunteering was still widespread. Due to the shock of the reunion, a large portion of the infrastructure of volunteering (e.g. sports clubs associated with firms) collapsed and people randomly lost their opportunities for volunteering. Based on a comparison of the change in subjective well-being of these people and of people from the control group who had no change in their volunteer status, the hypothesis is supported that volunteering is rewarding in terms of higher life satisfaction.

In his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman explains that helping others can improve our own lives:

…we scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.

7. Practice smiling – it can alleviate pain

Smiling itself can make us feel better, but it’s more effective when we back it up with positive thoughts, according to this study:

A new study led by a Michigan State University business scholar suggests customer-service workers who fake smile throughout the day worsen their mood and withdraw from work, affecting productivity. But workers who smile as a result of cultivating positive thoughts – such as a tropical vacation or a child’s recital – improve their mood and withdraw less.

Of course it’s important to practice “real smiles” where you use your eye sockets. It’s very easy to spot the difference:

pic1

According to PsyBlogsmiling can improve our attention and help us perform better on cognitive tasks:

Smiling makes us feel good which also increases our attentional flexibility and our ability to think holistically. When this idea was tested by Johnson et al. (2010), the results showed that participants who smiled performed better on attentional tasks which required seeing the whole forest rather than just the trees.

A smile is also a good way to alleviate some of the pain we feel in troubling circumstances:

Smiling is one way to reduce the distress caused by an upsetting situation. Psychologists call this the facial feedback hypothesis. Even forcing a smile when we don’t feel like it is enough to lift our mood slightly (this is one example of embodied cognition).

One of our previous posts goes into even more detail about the science of smiling.

8. Plan a trip – but don’t take one

As opposed to actually taking a holiday, it seems that planning a vacation or just a break from work can improve our happiness. A study published in the journal, Applied Research in Quality of Lifeshowed that the highest spike in happiness came during the planning stage of a vacation as employees enjoyed the sense of anticipation:

In the study, the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks.

After the vacation, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people.

Shawn Achor has some info for us on this point, as well:

One study found that people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent.

If you can’t take the time for a vacation right now, or even a night out with friends, put something on the calendar—even if it’s a month or a year down the road. Then whenever you need a boost of happiness, remind yourself about it.

9. Meditate – rewire your brain for happiness

Meditation is often touted as an important habit for improving focus, clarity and attention span, as well as helping to keep you calm. It turns out it’s also useful for improving your happiness:

In one study, a research team from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at the brain scans of 16 people before and after they participated in an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation. The study, published in the January issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, concluded that after completing the course, parts of the participants’ brains associated with compassion and self-awareness grew, and parts associated with stress shrank.

Meditation literally clears your mind and calms you down, it’s been often proven to be the single most effective way to live a happier live. I believe that this graphic explains it the best:

calming-mind-brain-waves

According to Shawn Achor, meditation can actually make you happier long-term:

Studies show that in the minutes right after meditating, we experience feelings of calm and contentment, as well as heightened awareness and empathy. And, research even shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness.

The fact that we can actually alter our brain structure through mediation is most surprising to me and somewhat reassuring that however we feel and think today isn’t permanent.

10. Practice gratitude – increase both happiness and life satisfaction

This is a seemingly simple strategy, but I’ve personally found it to make a huge difference to my outlook. There are lots of ways to practice gratitude, from keeping a journal of things you’re grateful for, sharing three good things that happen each day with a friend or your partner, and going out of your way to show gratitude when others help you.

In an experiment where some participants took note of things they were grateful for each day, their moods were improved just from this simple practice:

The gratitude-outlook groups exhibited heightened well-being across several, though not all, of the outcome measures across the 3 studies, relative to the comparison groups. The effect on positive affect appeared to be the most robust finding. Results suggest that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.

The Journal of Happiness studies published a study that used letters of gratitude to test how being grateful can affect our levels of happiness:

Participants included 219 men and women who wrote three letters of gratitude over a 3 week period.

Results indicated that writing letters of gratitude increased participants’ happiness and life satisfaction, while decreasing depressive symptoms.

Quick last fact: Getting older will make yourself happier

As a final point, it’s interesting to note that as we get older, particularly past middle age, we tend togrow happier naturally. There’s still some debate over why this happens, but scientists have got a few ideas:

Researchers, including the authors, have found that older people shown pictures of faces or situations tend to focus on and remember the happier ones more and the negative ones less.

Other studies have discovered that as people age, they seek out situations that will lift their moods — for instance, pruning social circles of friends or acquaintances who might bring them down. Still other work finds that older adults learn to let go of loss and disappointment over unachieved goals, and hew their goals toward greater wellbeing.

So if you thought being old would make you miserable, rest assured that it’s likely you’ll develop a more positive outlook than you probably have now.

 

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.”

Can organic agriculture feed the world better than GMOs?


For years now, the most-asked question by detractors of the good food movement has been, “Can organic agriculture feed the world?” According to a new United Nations report, the answer is a big, fat yes.

The report, Agro-ecology and the Right to Food, reveals that small-scale sustainable farming would even double food production within five to 10 years in places where most hungry people on the planet live.

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“We won’t solve hunger and stop climate change with industrial farming on large plantations,” Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food and author of the report, said in a press release. “The solution lies in supporting small-scale farmers’ knowledge and experimentation, and in raising incomes of smallholders so as to contribute to rural development.”

The report suggests moving away from the overuse of oil in farming, a problem that is magnified in the face of rising prices due to unrest in the Middle East. The focus is instead on agroecology, or eco-farming. “Agroecology seeks to improve the sustainability of agroecosystems by mimicking nature instead of industry,” reads a section.

The report shows that these practices raise productivity significantly, reduce rural poverty, increase genetic diversity, improve nutrition in local populations, serve to build a resilient food system in the face of climate change, utilize fewer and more locally available resources, empower farmers and create jobs.

Of 57 impoverished countries surveyed, for example, yields had increased by an average of nearly 80 percent when farmers used methods such as placing weed-eating ducks in rice patties in Bangladesh or planting desmodium, which repels insects, in Kenyan cornfields. These practices were also cost effective, locally available and resulted from farmers working to pass on this knowledge to each other in their communities.

While the report admits that agroecology can be more labor-intensive because of the complexity of knowledge required, it shows that this is usually a short-term issue. The report underscores that agroecology creates more jobs over the long term answering critics who argue that creating more jobs in agriculture is counter-productive. “Creation of employment in rural areas in developing countries, where underemployment is currently massive, and demographic growth remains high,” states the report, “may constitute an advantage rather than a liability and may slow down rural-urban migration.”

Mark Bittman put it aptly in his column on the UN report at the New York Times, saying:

Agro-ecology and related methods are going to require resources too, but they’re more in the form of labor, both intellectual—much research remains to be done—and physical: the world will need more farmers, and quite possibly less mechanization.

This is not the first time such a report has declared more productive ways to feed the world other than leaving that important task to large corporations. In April 2008, the IAASTD report (the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development)–which was supported by the World Bank, the UN Food & Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, among others, with the participation of over 60 world governments and 400 experts–found that not only would industrial food production not be able to feed the world in the long term, but the practices being employed are actually increasing hunger, exhausting resources and exacerbating climate change. However, the U.S., under the Bush Administration, was one of the countries that decided not to endorse the findings.

Though agroecological farming has benefits for industrialized countries too, both reports focus largely on what to do in the least-developed nations on the globe. The status quo for U.S. foreign policy in agriculture up until now has been to leverage our political muscle to force countries to except our subsidized crops, even if it meant destroying local agricultural economies. (Former President Bill Clinton apologized for this policy last year, saying that it has “failed everywhere it’s been tried,” and “we should have continued to work to make sure [Haiti] was self-sufficient in agriculture.”) Will the Obama Administration be more receptive to these findings and could there be a change in the way we work with other countries in our support for agriculture?

Looking back at this (proudly pro-business) administration’s follies in hiring a pesticide lobbyist as our Agricultural Trade Representative, maintaining the USDA in the confusing role of promoting and regulating agriculture, and focusing on “improved seeds,” which usually means funding for the development of genetically modified crops for poor countries and you might be discouraged.

But De Schutter argues that real change to improve the livelihoods of rural farmers requires governments to be on board. “States and donors have a key role to play here,” he said. “Private companies will not invest time and money in practices that cannot be rewarded by patents and which don’t open markets for chemical products or improved seeds.” In other words, feeding the worlds hungry should not be left to the market alone.

The report makes these specific recommendations for governing bodies:

making reference to agroecology and sustainable agriculture in national strategies for the realization of the right to food and by including measures adopted in the agricultural sector in national adaptation plans of action (NAPAs) and in the list of nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) adopted by countries in their efforts to mitigate climate change; reorienting public spending in agriculture by prioritizing the provision of public goods, such as extension services, rural infrastructures and agricultural research, and by building on the complementary strengths of seeds-and-breeds and agroecological methods, allocating resources to both, and exploring the synergies, such as linking fertilizer subsidies directly to agroecological investments on the farm (“subsidy to sustainability”); supporting decentralized participatory research and the dissemination of knowledge about the best sustainable agricultural practices by relying on existing farmers’ organizations and networks, and including schemes designed specifically for women; improving the ability of producers practicing sustainable agriculture to access markets, using instruments such as public procurement, credit, farmers’ markets, and creating a supportive trade and macroeconomic framework.

The report also gives recommendations for donors seeking to decrease hunger and improve rural livelihoods and for research organizations.

Source: civileats.com

10 Ways To Conquer Your Cravings for Sugar, Salt, and Fats.


 According to a recent article in the New York Times, “Food Corporations Turn to Chefs in a Quest for Healthy Flavor,” Big Food companies like PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, and even fast food giants like Taco Bell, are changing their ways in response to the increasing public demand for healthier food options. To improve their image as healthy food manufacturers, Big Food corporations have called upon top chefs to help them create healthy menu makeovers, infusing real, fresh, whole food into old recipe favorites.

Why is this happening now? Intense pressure brought on by politicians and their constituents (you and me!) has given these food manufacturers no choice but to respond to the public outcry for healthier food. It’s no longer enough for these companies to earn a profit by selling food that tastes good. People are beginning to use the power of the pocketbook to show these companies that the food they sell must also be nutritious.

That’s because people everywhere are waking up. They are beginning to see the dangers of genetically modified ingredients and all the sugar, salt, and fats hidden in our food supply. From fancy restaurants to fast food chains, chefs are catching on that people want their food to make them feel good, not just while they are eating it but hours, days, and years afterward.

Really, this news shouldn’t make the headlines. This is common sense! Paying for food that makes us sick is as crazy as shooting ourselves in the foot. It just doesn’t make sense.

Big Food is finally getting the message and getting on board.

But remember, no processed or fast food option will ever be better than a healthy home-cooked meal. The best way to ensure you are eating the highest quality, most nutritious food possible is to prepare your own food in your own kitchen. We are all chefs. You don’t have to be trained at Le Cordon Bleu to know your way around a kitchen. You just need a little knowledge, some imagination, and a sense of adventure.

A desire for real food is a fundamental part of our basic biological blueprint. Given the chance, our taste receptors will naturally gravitate toward the inherent sweetness found in vegetables, fruits, and even nuts and seeds.

So, how do you reprogram your taste buds to ditch the cravings for sugar, salt, and fats? You can start by eating real, fresh, whole foods. Avoid fake, commercialized foods that come in convenience packages or are made in a lab.

Here are 10 more tips to get you excited about ditching the sugar, salt, and fats:

1. Sauté or roast your veggies to bring out their natural sweetness. Properly searing your chicken or meat brings out the inherent sweetness by way of the Maillard reaction. This is a fancy name for what happens when you create that nice, brown crust on your meat.

2. Play with herbs like cilantro, parsley, dill, basil, and oregano to add flavor and phytonutrients! Finish a meal by adding fresh herbs before plating or serving. This last-minute addition kicks the flavor up a notch!

3. Healthy fats found in avocado, coconut, and tahini not only increase the flavor of your meal, they also add that creamy, luscious texture found in many rich foods.

4. Try creating a savory, umami (Japanese for “delicious”) flavor. Add moderate amounts of tamari, umeboshi plum paste, balsamic vinegar, tomato paste, dried mushroom, or sea vegetables to your next stew, soup, sauce, or stir-fry.

5. Cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, clove, ginger, and even cayenne or chipotle pepper powder are all extremely flavorful additions to a meal. Spices like these excite your taste buds and grab your attention. This is helpful, because, as studies show, when we are focused on actually tasting our food rather than mindlessly gobbling it up, we actually need less food to feel satisfied.

6. Befriend some kitchen must-haves like real vanilla extract or vanilla bean or coconut butter. Or use common, every-day foods like lemons in some creative ways. For example, use lemon zest to add real zing to any meal!

7. For the most flavor, eat seasonally and locally. Canned or packaged foods or foods that have traveled great distances in the back of a truck just can’t compare to the succulence of a fresh piece of locally grown fruit.

8. Check your hydration. Digestion starts in your mouth with your saliva, which helps us taste all the magnificent flavor in food. If you are dehydrated and not producing enough saliva, you won’t really be able to enjoy your food.

9. Check your medications. Believe it or not, most medications interfere with the body’s ability to taste and smell. Some of them can even create an unpleasant metallic taste in the mouth. Wondering how you might decrease the number of pills you take?

10. Got nutrition? Nutrient deficiency is an important cause of improper taste perception. A lack of certain vitamins and minerals can markedly impair your ability to smell and taste food. Most Americans have several nutrient deficiencies, but there is one in particular that can especially keep you from enjoying your next meal: zinc. Try adding foods like oysters, pecans, sunflower seeds, and lentils to increase your daily intake of this important mineral.

Source: DrHyman.com

         

Orange Juice May Soon Contain Pig DNA.


The future of orange crops are at risk and pig genes may be considered part of the solution.

On July 27, the New York Times (NYT) officially staked its flag into Big Ag’s garden and into the soil of the GMO camp with its wildly controversial piece, “A Race to Save the Orange by Altering Its DNA.”
The feature highlights the story of a highly influential orange grower and his undying quest to stave off Asian jumping lice and the bacteria that they carry, which has been devastating Florida’s orange crop since 2005.
Committed to engineering the world’s first genetically modified orange tree, the article centers on Ricke Kress, the president of Southern Gardens Citrus who is in charge of two and a half million orange trees and a factory that squeezes juice for Tropicana and Florida’s Best. According to NYT, Kress’s GMO savior would fight C. liberibacter and citrus psyllids through whatever means science determines necessary. As for public acceptance, Kress told his industry colleagues, “We can’t think about that right now.”

Rick Kress’ mission to save oranges by whatever means necessary

Kress’ crusade has led him along a path, the past several years, widely out of public view. His work has tested potential DNA donors from two vegetables, a virus, a pig, and a synthetic gene manufactured in a laboratory. Unbeknownst to the world, the NYT reports that later this summer Kress “will plant several hundred more young trees with the spinach gene, in a new house.

In two years, if he wins regulatory approval, they will be ready to go into the ground. The trees could be the first to produce juice for sale in five years or so.”

According to the NYT, whether it is his transgenic tree or someone else’s, Kress insists, “Florida growers will soon have trees that could produce juice without fear of its being sour, or in short supply.”

What is the danger of the “Greening” disease?

C. liberibacter, the bacterium that has all but annihilated Florida’s citrus crop, chokes off the flow of nutrients and are spread by Asian citrus psyllids that can carry the germ a mile without stopping, and the females can lay up to 800 eggs in their one-month life. It was first detected more than a century ago in China and has earned a place, along with anthrax and the Ebola virus, on the Agriculture Department’s list of potential agents of bioterrorism.

When it first hit, Florida growers attempted to subdue the contagion known as “Greening” by chopping down hundreds of thousands of infected trees and by spraying a broad spectrum of pesticides on the lice that carries it. However, the disease could not be contained. It has thus been determined by University of Florida agricultural analysts that the Asian bug and bacteria has cost Florida $4.5 billion and 8,000 jobs between 2006 and 2012.

Presently, there is no known cure for Greening disease. “In all of cultivated citrus, there is no evidence of immunity,” the plant pathologist heading a National Research Council task force on the disease said.

Does the New York Times really care about the health of its readers?

Although our hearts break for the thousands of people who have lost their jobs and for the unknown impact this orange crop devastation will have on the world as it continues to spread, our tempers boil against the New York Times for their highly biased representation of GMOs to their readers, of whom many are ignorant to the harmful realities related to GMOs.

Astoundingly, the NYT attempts to compare genetically modifying oranges to ancient breeding practices, something that they call “genetic merging.”

Because oranges themselves are hybrids and most seeds are clones of the mother, new varieties cannot easily be produced by crossbreeding – unlike, say, apples, which breeders have remixed into favorites like Fuji and Gala. But the vast majority of oranges in commercial groves are the product of a type of genetic merging that predates the Romans, in which a slender shoot of a favored fruit variety is grafted onto the sturdier roots of other species: lemon, for instance, or sour orange. And a seedless midseason orange recently adopted by Florida growers emerged after breeders bombarded a seedy variety with radiation to disrupt its DNA, a technique for accelerating evolution that has yielded new varieties in dozens of crops, including barley and rice.

Completely ignoring the inherent dangers of GMOs and confusing the process with conventional crossbreeding, the NYT states,

Even in the heyday of frozen concentrate, the popularity of orange juice rested largely on its image as the ultimate natural beverage, fresh-squeezed from a primordial fruit. But the reality is that human intervention has modified the orange for millenniums, as it has almost everything people eat.

In addition, the NYT times argues that, “Even conventional crossbreeding has occasionally produced toxic varieties of some vegetables.” The famed news source even insists that,

Oranges are not the only crop that might benefit from genetically engineered resistance to diseases for which standard treatments have proven elusive. And advocates of the technology say it could also help provide food for a fast-growing population on a warming planet by endowing crops with more nutrients, or the ability to thrive in drought, or to resist pests. Leading scientific organizations have concluded that shuttling DNA between species carries no intrinsic risk to human health or the environment, and that such alterations can be reliably tested.

Sources: RawForBeauty.com