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Love Hormone

Breastfeeding an infantImage via Wikipedia

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Scientists have cracked the mystery of a mother’s selfless love for her child.

Science has finally cracked the mystery of a mother’s selfless love. The tenderness, intimacy and selflessness with which a mother interacts with her infant has been revered and celebrated through the ages as one of the most beautiful and inspiring manifestations of human behaviour.

Now a new study says the credit for triggering this altruistic love may go to the suckling baby.

Reported by a team of researchers from France, Italy and the UK, the work unravels the mechanism by which a nursing baby triggers a chain of chemical events that lead to a rush of the “love” hormone, oxytocin, in the brain of the mother. The findings appear in the journal PLoS Computational Biology.

Scientists have known for a while that oxytocin — also called the hormone of trust and lust — when released in the blood causes milk to be let down from the mammary glands. But they didn’t have any clue about the exact cascade of events that leads to the release of oxytocin in the brain.

What was known before the study is how a few thousand neurons, specialised to release oxytocin, are marshalled together to produce a sufficiently intense outburst during events such as childbirth, breastfeeding or even an orgasm.

“For 30 years we have known that these spurts arise because, during suckling, the oxytocin neurons fire together in dramatic synchronised bursts, but exactly how these bursts come about had puzzled us,”says Jianfeng Feng, a neuroscientist at the University of Warwick who led the study.

The scientists found that in response to suckling, the neurons start releasing oxytocin from their dendrites (protrusions on the branches for receiving electric signals from other brain cells) as well as nerve endings. The finding came as a surprise as dendrites were earlier thought to be that part of a neuron which receive rather than transmit information.

Dendrites usually create a weak network of connection between neurons. According to the researchers, the release of oxytocin from them allows for a massive spurt in communication between the neurons. This coordinates a “swarm” of oxytocin producing factories, leading to massive bursts of release at intervals of five minutes or so.

The scientists liken the event to a flock of birds or insects undertaking a closely coordinated action without a leader to guide.

“The dendrites do much more than just receive information,” Feng, who is also the director of the Centre for Computational Systems Biology at Fudan University in China, told KnowHow.

Oxytocin, the brain chemical that works as a trigger for love and affection in females, is stored in the pituitary gland from where it is discharged into the blood. Interestingly, it is released not only during a surge of maternal love but also romantic love. According to Semir Zeki, regarded as the doyen of neurobiology, oxytocin — quite like vasopressin in males — is released in the blood during a sexual orgasm. Copious amounts of oxytocin are detected in a woman’s blood during childbirth as well.

Because of the role it plays in releasing milk, the chemical is being used indiscriminately by the dairy industry to make milching animals produce even more milk. It is also used arbitrarily by some clinics and midwifes to make labour pain free, often risking the lives of babies.

Another interesting brain study recently found that this trust-building hormone reduces neuronal activity and weakens the connections in the amygdala, which serves as the brain’s fear hub.

Feng thinks similar triggers may be at work during other natural processes where abundant quantities of oxytocin are released into the blood.

Sources: The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)

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Brain’s Role in Autism Probed

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A psychology researcher has pinpointed regions of the brain that are linked to “ritualistic repetitive behavior” in autistic children — the insatiable desire to rock back and forth for hours or to tirelessly march in place.

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Keith Shafritz, an assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University on Long Island, compared brain images of autistic children with those of neurologically normal youngsters. He and collaborators at Duke University and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill used a form of magnetic resonance imaging to explore sites in the brain.

They reported their findings in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry.

Repetitive behavior is one of autism’s core traits. It has driven parents to extremes as they try to distract a child to engage in other activities.

Mapping the brain constitutes a journey into the inner labyrinths of a three-pound cosmos where countless frontiers have yet to be explored.

In children with autism, Shafritz found deficits in specific regions of the cerebral cortex, the outer layer of gray matter linked to all higher human functions, including repetitive behavior. He also mapped deficits in the basal ganglia, a region deep below the cerebral hemispheres.

“We like to think about the research process as discovering clues why people engage in certain behaviors,” Shafritz said. “We were able to identify a series of brain regions that showed diminished activity when people were asked to alter certain behaviors and were not able to do so.”

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is becoming a major public policy issue. Federal health officials estimate that it afflicts 1 in every 150 children, which affects not only families but communities.

School systems don’t have enough appropriately trained teachers. Social services departments are overwhelmed by parents who need support and respite care.

For clues to the disorder, some scientists are scanning the human genome for suspect DNA.

Others, like Shafritz, are exploring the geography of the brain.

Edward G. Carr, a psychology professor at Stony Brook University in New York, said Shafritz’s discovery was important because it helped demystify repetitive behavior.

“Repetitive behavior is sometimes called self-stimulatory behavior. A very common form of it is body-rocking. A child will do it for hours,” Carr said. “Another child may wave his or her hands back and forth in front of their eyes. This is very common, and it’s called hand-flapping. They extend their arms forward and wave their hands in front of them. It’s like a light show.”

Shafritz said the brain areas associated with repetitious behavior were not associated with another autism problem, self-injury. Some children repeatedly slam their heads against a wall, for instance.

Still, Shafritz found a relationship between the newly identified brain areas and overlapping regions linked to schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Dr. Anil K. Malhotra, director of psychiatric research at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y., said he was not surprised. He too is studying links between autism and schizophrenia, and autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Sources:Los Angles Times

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Less Sleep Makes You Obese

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No matter which part of the world you live in, if you don’t get enough of sleep, there’s a fair chance you are going to put on weight, states a new study.

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What’s more is that it doesn’t matter if you’re an adult or a child.

In one of the first studies to observe cross-sectional relationships between duration of sleep and obesity in both children and adults, researchers have discovered a consistent increased risk of obesity among short sleepers.

The study, led by Francesco P Cappuccio, MD, of Warwick Medical School in the United Kingdom, involved an orderly search of publications on the relationship between short sleep duration and obesity risk.

Of the 696 studies, the researchers short-listed 12 studies on children and 17 studies on adults based on the inclusion criteria. This involved report of duration of sleep as exposure, body mass index (BMI) as continuous outcome and prevalence of obesity as categorical outcome, number of participants, age and gender.

In children, the study included 13 population samples from the 12 studies, representing 30,002 participants aged between two to 20 years, and found that 7 of 11 studies showed a significant link between short sleep duration and obesity.

In case of adults, 22 population samples from the 17 studies were included that meant a total of 604,509 participants aged between 15-102 years. It was discovered that 17 population samples showed a significant association between short duration of sleep and obesity.

In fact, all studies in adults showed a consistent and significant negative association between hours of sleep and BMI, quite unlike studies in children.

Cappuccio said that this study showed a consistent pattern of increased odds of being a short sleeper if you are obese, both in childhood and adulthood.

“By appraising the world literature, we were able to show some heterogeneity amongst studies in the world. However, there is a striking consistent overall association, in that both obese children and adults had a significantly increased risk of being short sleepers compared to normal weight individuals. The size of the association was comparable (1.89-fold increase in children and 1.55-fold increase in adults),” said Dr Cappuccio.

He added: “This study is important as it confirms that this association is strong and might be of public health relevance. However, it also raises the unanswered question yet of whether this is a cause-effect association. Only prospective longitudinal studies will be able to address the outstanding question.”

Click to see also :->Lack of Sleep and Obesity

Lack of sleep ‘makes you fatter’

New Weight Loss Prescription
Sources: The Times Of India

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Study Finds Happiness Lowest At Midlife

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People around the world reported the greatest bliss at the beginning and end of life. Researchers are puzzled by the results — and other studies have shown the opposite.

The road to happiness is U-shaped.

New research this week has found that happiness over the course of a lifetime follows a universal curve in which the greatest bliss occurs at the beginning and end of life, while misery dominates middle age.

The pattern was consistent around the globe, according to the report, which examined social survey data on 2 million people in 80 countries, including the United States.

The study, conducted by economists Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick in England and David Blanchflower of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, set out to look at the relationship between age and happiness.

Researchers controlled for other factors that affect happiness, such as divorce, job loss and income.

The researchers, whose study will be published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, found that in the United States happiness reached its lowest point around age 40 in women and age 50 in men. In Britain, unhappiness was greatest in men and women at age 44.

Oswald was perplexed by the results. He said it was possible that in midlife people learn to accept their strengths and weaknesses and abandon unrealistic aspirations.

Another possibility, he said, is that cheerful people live longer, driving the curve higher. Another explanation is that older people learn to count their blessings as their peers die, Oswald said.

“It’s a mystery,” he said. “There seems to be something inside human beings that is unexplained by life events.”

Richard A. Easterlin, a USC economist who also studies happiness, said that midlife misery is not inevitable. In fact, his research shows that when such factors as income and marital status are included in the calculations, midlife is the happiest stage of life. Finances and family life tend to improve as midlife approaches, he said, and after that things gradually get worse.

The latest study, which looks only at age, doesn’t answer the question that concerns people most, Easterlin said. “People want to know their prospects, what is likely based on their life circumstances,” he said.

Sources:Los Angeles Times

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Depression Risk ‘Highest In 40s’

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Life may begin at 40, but research suggests that 44 is the age at which we are most vulnerable to depression.....CLICK & SEE..

CLICK & SEE->.Realistic aspirations may be the key to happiness

.Data analysis on two million people from 80 countries found a remarkably consistent pattern around the world.

The risk of depression was lowest in younger and older people, with the middle-aged years associated with the highest risk for both men and women.

The study, by the University of Warwick and Dartmouth College in the US, will feature in Social Science & Medicine.

The only country which recorded a significant gender difference was the US, where unhappiness reached a peak around the age of 40 for women, and 50 for men.

Previous research has suggested that the risk of unhappiness and depression stays relatively constant throughout life.

However, the latest finding – of a peak risk in middle age – was consistent around the globe, and in all types of people.

Researcher Professor Andrew Oswald, an economist at the University of Warwick, said: “It happens to men and women, to single and married people, to rich and poor, and to those with and without children.”

He said the reason why middle age was a universally vulnerable time was unclear.

Count your blessings
However, he said: “One possibility is that individuals learn to adapt to their strengths and weaknesses, and in mid-life quell their infeasible aspirations.

Another possibility is that a kind of comparison process is at work in which people have seen similar-aged peers die and value more their own remaining years. Perhaps people somehow learn to count their blessings.”

Professor Oswald said for the average person, the dip in mental health and happiness comes on slowly, not suddenly in a single year.

Only in their 50s do most people emerge from the low period.

“But encouragingly, by the time you are 70, if you are still physically fit then on average you are as happy and mentally healthy as a 20-year-old.

“Perhaps realizing that such feelings are completely normal in midlife might even help individuals survive this phase better.”

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, said: “This study raises intriguing questions about the processes that lead to depression in mid-life, as well as indicating what a common experience it is worldwide.

“Depression is a complex and challenging condition that remains poorly understood, with as many as one in ten people with severe depression taking their own life.

“We welcome any scientific contribution to our understanding of this illness, particularly if the research can aid the development of better treatments, both therapeutic and pharmaceutical.”

Andy Bell, of the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, said mental health problems were extremely common – but he stressed they could occur at any time in life.

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“One possibility is that individuals learn to adapt to their strengths and weaknesses, and in mid-life quell their infeasible aspirations”
By Professor Andrew Oswald
University of Warwick

“Depression is a complex and challenging condition that remains poorly understood ”
By Marjorie Wallace
SANE

Sources: BBC NEWS, 29TH. JAN’08