Blog Archives

Shun stress for better sperm fertility

D not take undue stress in life and enjoy better quality, fertile sperm to maximize your chances.

Psychological stress is harmful to sperm and semen quality, affecting its concentration, appearance, and ability to fertilise an egg, a significant study says.

“Men who feel stressed are more likely to have lower concentrations of sperm in their ejaculate. The sperm they have are more likely to be misshapen or have impaired motility,” explained Pam Factor-Litvak, an associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman school of public health.

Stress may trigger the release of steroid hormones called glucocorticoids, which could blunt levels of testosterone and sperm production.

Another possibility is oxidative stress that has been shown to affect semen quality and fertility.

“Stress has long been identified as having an influence on health. Our research suggests that men’s reproductive health may also be affected by their social environment,” added Teresa Janevic, an assistant professor at Rutgers University’s school of public health.

To understand this, researchers studied 193 men, ages 38 to 49, enrolled in the study of the environment and reproduction at the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan in Oakland, California, between 2005 and 2008.

The men completed tests to measure work and life stress on subjective scale (how they felt overall) and objective scale (life events behind the stress).

Measured subjectively or objectively, life stress degraded semen quality.

Workplace stress was not a factor, however the researchers say it may still affect reproductive health since men with job strain had diminished levels of testosterone.

Unemployed men had sperm of lower quality than employed men regardless of how stressed they were, said the study published online in the journal Fertility and Sterility.


Aerobic Exercise Better for Overweight Girls than Strength Work, elliptical machine lowered health risks for teen-age girls, study finds.

In the ongoing battle against childhood obesity, new research suggests that aerobic exercise might be better than resistance training at cutting health risks for overweight girls.

Researchers at Pittsburgh’s Children’s Hospital recruited 44 obese girls ages 12 to 18 and assigned them to three groups. One group ran on a treadmill or used the elliptical machine for 60 minutes three days a week for three months. A second group lifted weights for each hour-long session, and the third group performed no exercise.

The results showed that while both types of exercise led to the loss of total body fat, only the girls who did aerobic exercise had significant reductions in visceral fat.

Visceral fat lies deep inside the body, around the inner organs, and differs from the fat layer found directly under the skin. While excessive amounts of both types of fat can have health consequences, it’s visceral fat that researchers believe greatly increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

In the study, the girls in the aerobic exercise group were also the only ones who improved their insulin sensitivity, a risk factor for type 2 diabetes that’s linked to obesity.

Anecdotally, the researchers noted that the girls who ran or used the elliptical appeared to enjoy exercise more than the girls in the weight-lifting group.

“Given the superior improvements in metabolic health with aerobic exercise and the enjoyment factor, we propose that aerobic exercise may be a better mode of exercise for adolescent girls of this age group,” the researchers conclude.

Chronic stress may lead to diabetes

Chronic StressNEW DELHI: Could stress play a role in development of diabetes? A study by the doctors at Delhi’s University College of Medical Sciences has found a link between the two most common chronic ailments in urban India.

The researchers reviewed health parameters of 1,000 people aged 30 years and above, including 500 newly detected type II diabetes patients, and found the disease was more common in people who suffered from chronic stress. The cause of stress included loss of job, separation from spouse or death of a relative among others.

Dr S V Madhu, the lead researcher, said increased secretion of the stress hormone—cortisol—leads to redistribution of fat, central obesity and insulin resistance. He added, “Higher stress levels also causes activation of oxidative and inflammatory pathways resulting eventually in development of type II diabetes.”

Dr Madhu, who heads the medicine and the endocrinology and metabolism division at UCMS, said this is the first study that has used different stress scales to characterize chronic psychological stress and evaluate its role in development of diabetes.

Doctors said, among the stress scales, the ability to cope with stress was found to be the strongest independent predictor of diabetes with an odds ratio of 0.77 that translates to a 33 percent lower risk of diabetes. “This is a positive finding. It shows that de-stressing mechanisms such as yoga, listening to music, sports or travelling can reduce the risk factor,” said another senior doctor.

Simply put, diabetes is a condition in which the body has trouble turning food into energy. All bodies break down digested food into a sugar called glucose, their main source of fuel. In a healthy person, the hormone insulin helps glucose enter the cells. But in a diabetic, the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin, or the body does not properly use it. Cells starve while glucose builds up in the blood.

There are two predominant types of diabetes. In Type 1, the immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. In Type 2, which accounts for an estimated 90-95% of all cases, either the body’s cells are not sufficiently receptive to insulin or the pancreas makes too little of the hormone, or both.

With more than 63 million diabetic patients, India is second only to China in the number of people living with the ailment. However, awareness about the disease remains low, says Dr B M Makkar from Research Society for the Study of Diabetes in India, RSSDI.

“Studies show almost 85 percent of type II diabetics are overweight. However, only six to ten percent are aware that being overweight put them at a higher risk for diabetes,” Dr Kakkar added.

Anxiety makes the world smell worse!

AnxietyAnxiety stinks! Stress may not only make you smell bad, but also the world around you, a new study suggests.

The study shows that when people are anxious, smells they once found neutral become distasteful.

Scientists using powerful new brain imaging technologies have revealed how anxiety or stress can rewire the brain, linking centers of emotion and olfactory processing, to make typically benign smells malodorous.

Researchers led by Wen Li, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Waisman Center, said that the brains of human subjects experience anxiety induced by disturbing pictures and text of things like car crashes and war transform neutral odours to distasteful ones, fuelling a feedback loop that could heighten distress and lead to clinical issues like anxiety and depression. The finding is important because it may help scientists understand the dynamic nature of smell perception and the biology of anxiety as the brain rewires itself under stressful circumstances and reinforces negative sensations and feelings.

“After anxiety induction, neutral smells become clearly negative,” said Li.

“People experiencing an increase in anxiety show a decrease in the perceived pleasantness of odours. It becomes more negative as anxiety increases,” Li said.

Using behavioural techniques and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Li’s group looked at the brains of a dozen human subjects with induced anxiety as they processed known neutral odours.

Functional MRI is a technology that enables clinicians and researchers to observe the working brain in action.

In the course of the experiment, researchers observed that two distinct and typically independent circuits of the brain- one dedicated to olfactory processing, the other to emotion- become intimately intertwined under conditions of anxiety.

Subsequent to anxiety induction and the imaging process, subjects were asked again to rate the panel of neutral smells, most assigning negative responses to smells they previously rated as neutral.

“In typical odour processing, it is usually just the olfactory system that gets activated. But when a person becomes anxious, the emotional system becomes part of the olfactory processing stream,” said Li.

Although those two systems of the brain are right next to each other, under normal circumstances there is limited crosstalk between the two.

However, under conditions of induced anxiety, the Wisconsin team observed the emergence of a unified network cutting across the two systems.

The study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Grandparents and Grandchildren Can Protect Each Other’s Mental Health

Grandparents and GrandchildrenGrandparents and their grown up grandchildren play important roles in each other’s health, a new study finds. The two-decade study found the quality of relationships between the two generations has measurable consequences on the mental well-being of both.

The researchers looked at 376 grandparents and 340 grandchildren, and tracked their mental health from 1985 to 2004. They found that both grandparents and adult grandchildren who felt emotionally close to the other generation had fewer symptoms of depression.

“Extended family members, such as grandparents and grandchildren, serve important functions in one another’s daily lives throughout adulthood,” said study researcher Sara Moorman, professor of sociology at Boston College.

Grandparents and their grown up grandchildren play important roles in each other’s health, a new study finds. The two-decade study found the quality of relationships between the two generations has measurable consequences on the mental well-being of both.

The researchers looked at 376 grandparents and 340 grandchildren, and tracked their mental health from 1985 to 2004. They found that both grandparents and adult grandchildren who felt emotionally close to the other generation had fewer symptoms of depression.

“Extended family members, such as grandparents and grandchildren, serve important functions in one another’s daily lives throughout adulthood,” said study researcher Sara Moorman, professor of sociology at Boston College.

The relationships between extended family members may be more important today than they’ve ever been, the researchers said. As life expectancy is increasing, generations co-exist for unprecedentedly long periods of time, and they can be sources of support, or strain, across people’s lives, the researchers said.

“Now, you can be 40 years old and still have one or more grandparents living, which is historically really new,” Moorman said. [10 Scientific Tips for Raising Happy Kids]

For the study, which was presented today (Aug. 12) in at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York, the participants filled out surveys every few years, answering questions such as how often they helped each other with housework, gave or received rides to the doctor’s office or grocery store, and how well they got along. Participants also reported how often they felt depressive symptoms such as sadness and lack of appetite.

The average grandparent in the study was born in 1917 and the average grandchild in 1963, making them 77 years old and 31 years old, respectively, at the midpoint of the study in 1994.

The results showed that besides the positive mental-health effects of having an emotionally close relationship, it is important for grandparents to be able to reciprocate the help they receive from their grandchildren, according to the researchers.

“Grandparents expect to be able to help their grandchildren, even when their grandchildren are grown,” Moorman said.

Among the participants, grandparents who felt independent, gave their grandchildren advice and bought them an occasional gift or paid for lunch had fewer depressive symptoms, whereas grandparents who only received help, without reciprocating had increased depressive symptoms.

The findings also showed it is important for grandchildren to help their grandparents remain independent, and maintain a two-way, supportive relationship, in order to ward off the detrimental effects of aging on the mental and emotional well-being of the older adults.

“All people benefit from feeling needed, worthwhile, and independent. In other words, let granddad write you a check on your birthday, even if he’s on Social Security and you’ve held a real job for years now,” Moorman said.

Scientists discover brain’s ‘misery molecule’ which affects stress, anxiety and depression

Brain's Mystery Molecule

  • Researchers found the protein – named CRF1- in the pituitary gland

  • It triggers cells to release hormones linked with stress and anxiety

  • They now hope to create a drug which can target and block this function

Scientists have found the brain’s ‘misery molecule’ believed to be responsible for all of our feelings of stress and anxiety.

Researchers believe that the protein – named CRF1 – could also be linked to depression.

A team from Heptares Therapeutics, a medical company based in Hertfordshire, used one of the world’s most powerful x-ray machines to study the brain’s pituitary gland.

It has long been known that the gland controls stress, depression and anxiety by releasing stress chemicals, the Sunday Times reports.

Now, scientists have discovered the response is triggered by CRF1 – which is found in the outer membranes of pituitary cells.

Fiona Marshall, chief scientific officer at Heptares, told the paper: ‘Stress related diseases such as depression and anxiety affect a quarter of adults each year, but what many people don’t realise is that these conditions are controlled by proteins in the brain, one of which is CRF1.’

She added that now they have worked out the structure of it and how it works it could open up potential to design drugs to control it.

CRF1 sits in pituitary cells and detects the stress molecules detected by the hypothalamus, a portion of the brain which produces hormones that control, body temperature, hunger and moods – among others.

When it picks one of these molecules up, it triggers the parent cell to release the hormones which lead to stress and anxiety, the paper reports.

Using the Diamond Light Source, based in Harwell, Oxfordshire, which produces powerful x-ray beams, researchers were able to study the protein’s structure and pin point areas which could be targeted by new drugs.

Ms Marshall said they had identified a ‘crevice’ which would be an ideal area to aim a molecule which could be specially designed to block CRF1 – effectively disabling it.

She said the team now hope to use this research method to analyse molecules involved in type 2 diabetes – with the hope of one day developing a drug which can be taken orally as opposed to the injections which sufferers of the condition have to use.

New PIP device measures stress to help users relax

Biometric Stress Sensing DeviceKickstarter bio-sensor is held between thumb and forefinger to measure ‘galvanic skin response’

Creating technology that allows individuals to endlessly measure and analyse themselves makes perfect sense for health-fanatics, and using Nike’s FuelBand or the FitBit Flex allows people to cheerfully obsess over the minutiae of their day. But what if you were tracking your stress levels instead? How would you use that information?

Aiming to provide an answer to this question is the PIP – a teardrop-shaped wireless biosensor that measures stress via ‘galvanic skin response’. Resembling the clicker from a set of car keys the PIP is held between thumb and fore-finger and is currently in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign.

It works by measuring the conductivity of your skin – a physiological reaction affected by how busily your sweat glands are working, and how blood is circulating under the skin. Taken together these metrics can give a measurement of how stressed an individual is.

The makers behind the PIP have created their own in-house algorithms to measure stress levels, but the real kicked is the games that are paired with device. Connecting via Bluetooth the PIP is used as a controller for Android and iOS games – teaching individuals to control their own stress levels in order to make progress in the game.

One title named ‘Relax and Race’ puts players in control of a dragon, with their stress level used to determine their steed’s speed. The more stressed out you are, the slower your dragon flies. Although this may sound like the feedback cycle from hell, the makers promise that the opposite is true and that controlling our stress is like any muscle – practice makes perfect.

Speaking to The Independent, Daragh McDonnell, CTO of Galvanic (the company behind the PIP) said that the games force users to develop “personal strategies to improve their performance – to figure out what works for them [so they can] apply them to real-world stress situations.”

Another game – The Loom – takes the competitive element out of the equation by showing the user a landscape that blooms as they relax: “the key point is that the game environment is inherently relaxing, which helps to overcome any reservations the player may have about being assessed.”

Galvanic are also keen to stress the possible medical applications of their invention, and have introduced the PIP to therapists to see how they might use the device.

After seeing the device Dr Mark Matthews, the Marie Curie Research Fellow at Cornell University said: “This type of technology has the potential to positively change how we live. [We’re] aiming to get therapists to use it with their clients as ways to scaffold learning anti-anxiety (relaxation) interventions like mindfulness and breathing exercises.”

“Ultimately I would like to see this as an intervention that people with bipolar disorder (and others) could use to help wind down their day and go to sleep.”

The idea of endlessly measuring our bodies has also seemed like a bad idea to me – an invitation for neuroticism rather than physical and mental well-being. But if devices like the PIP pitch themselves towards the therapeutic rather than the competitive, then I could see myself relaxing at the prospect of the quantified self.

%d bloggers like this: