Extended Hormone Therapy During Menopause Aids Cognition

Emerging research suggests a longer period of estrogen replacement therapy provides a prolonged cognitive benefit. However, investigators acknowledge that the risk-to-benefit balance of hormone therapy use is complicated and must be individualized.

Research has determined that estrogen has a significant role in overall brain health and cognitive function. This knowledge has fostered various studies on the prevention of cognitive decline as related to reduced estrogen levels during the menopause transition.

The new study suggests a cognitive benefit from a longer reproductive window complemented with hormone therapy. The study, “Lifetime estrogen exposure and cognition in late life: The Cache County Study,” appears online in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS).

Because women comprise two-thirds of the 5.5 million cases of Alzheimer disease in the United States, researchers have long suspected that sex-specific factors such as estrogen may contribute to women’s increased risk for the disease. Moreover, multiple studies have suggested a role for estrogen in promoting memory and learning.

In this newest study involving more than 2,000 postmenopausal women, researchers followed participants over a 12-year period to examine the association between estrogen and cognitive decline.

More specifically, they focused on the duration of a woman’s exposure to estrogen, taking into account such factors as time of menarche to menopause, number of pregnancies, duration of breastfeeding, and use of hormone therapy.

Investigators concluded that a longer duration of estrogen exposure is associated with better cognitive status in older adult women. Furthermore, they documented that these beneficial effects are extended with the use of hormone therapy, especially in the oldest women in the sample.

Women who initiated hormone therapy earlier showed higher cognitive test scores than those who started taking hormones later, providing some support for the critical window hypothesis of hormone therapy.

“Although the assessment of the risk-to-benefit balance of hormone therapy use is complicated and must be individualized, this study provides additional evidence for beneficial cognitive effects of hormone therapy, particularly when initiated early after menopause.

This study also underscores the potential adverse effects of early estrogen deprivation on cognitive health in the setting of premature or early menopause without adequate estrogen replacement,” says Dr. Stephanie Faubion, NAMS medical director.

Source: The North American Menopause Society (NAMS)

Rest After Trauma May Help Decrease PTSD Symptoms

New research suggests a period of rest following a traumatic event can help reduce the subsequent development of involuntary “memory intrusions,” a frequent symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. Memory intrusions can be both visual or non-visual and are often referred to as flashbacks.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, discovered memory disturbances in PTSD may be mitigated by a process that occurs in the brain that can be facilitated by rest and sleep. Specifically, investigators discovered increased consolidation — storage and contextualization of memories in the brain — helps to alleviate memory intrusions. Experts believe this finding could shed new light on treatment and prevention.

Lead author Dr. Lone Hørlyck, from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, said, “Over a lifetime, many people experience traumatic events, but most people do not develop persistent trauma symptoms.

“Identifying which mechanisms might contribute to memory intrusions in PTSD is important, as these disturbances comprise an important maintaining factor in the disorder.”

For the study, researchers presented 85 participants with emotionally negative videos, followed by either a period of wakeful rest or a simple control task, where participants were required to pay attention to numbers on a screen.

The videos comprised highly emotional content, such as badly injured people or serious accidents.

Researchers found that participants who had a period of rest following the viewing of negative videos reported fewer memory intrusions related to the videos over the following week.

In contrast, there was no difference between rest and the simple control task on a follow-up memory test assessing how much participants remembered when they wanted to.

Rest and certain phases of sleep are known to increase processing in the hippocampus, a key region of the brain that helps put memory in context.

According to the investigators, the results suggest that a strengthening of this contextual memory system is beneficial in preventing memory intrusions following trauma.

Senior author Professor Neil Burgess, of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said, “The coherence of memories is often compromised when people are exposed to psychological trauma, resulting in emotional memories popping up involuntarily and out of context.

“However, the binding of an event memory with its context may be partly restored with rest, facilitating deliberate control of the memory.

“The results show that specific brain systems could be targeted to reduce development of PTSD and may explain why treatments that focus on re-exposure and integrating the trauma with other information are beneficial.”

Hørlyck added, “Our findings contribute to a better understanding of the mechanisms that are at play when some people develop memory disturbances following trauma while others do not.”

Source: University College London/EurekAlert

Study: Competitive People Have Higher Risk for Using Drugs

A new study from Spain suggests hostile and competitive people are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.

“There are still many questions to answer but what we discovered is very significant,” points out Dr. Rosario Ruiz Olivares, head researcher at the University of Cordoba (Spain). Nevertheless, Olivares said that what could be called an addictive personality “does not exist.”

However, the study does confirm that there is a very strong correlation between a personality characterized by hostility and competitiveness and consumption of illegal substances, such as cocaine, cannabis and hallucinogens.

Investigators believe that people who are patient, less hostile, and not competitive have a much lower likelihood of being drug users. “This kind of personality is a protective factor for drug consumption and is especially meaningful in the case of alcohol and tobacco,” Olivares said.

In the study, socio-demographic and personality questionnaires were completed by 3,816 young people in the province of Cordoba between the ages of 18 and 29. “In the future, we would like to broaden the sample to a national level and study behavior patterns according to the person’s gender,” states Rosario Ruiz.

These results represent an important step in the field of preventing drug consumption among young people, since it could focus specifically on people who demonstrate hostile and competitive traits.

Furthermore, it will not only help in prevention, but may also help clinicians given that individuals who have these characteristics can find it more difficult to overcome their addiction. Early detection of substance abuse can lead to specific psychological therapy designed to work on the personality traits that influence drug abuse.

Source: University of Cordoba

Study: Only Children Not More Narcissistic Than Those With Siblings

New research finds no evidence for the claim that only children are more narcissistic than children with siblings.

German social and personality psychologists Drs. Michael Dufner (University of Leipzig), Mitja D. Back (University of Münster), Franz F. Oehme (University of Leipzig), and Stefan C. Schmukle (University of Leipzig) recently published their findings in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

The researchers began their study by asking people if they believed people who have no siblings are more narcissistic than people with siblings.

Then, Dufner and colleagues focused on two core aspects of narcissism: people feeling grandiose about themselves more and people being more rivalrous.

Researchers then analyzed data from a large panel study of over 1,800 people, and found the scores of narcissistic traits for only children were not that different from people with siblings. Even controlling for possible socioeconomic factors, these results held true.

“Some of the past research has reported no difference between only children and non-only children in terms of narcissism and some of the past research has reported such a difference,” said Dufner.

Due to the nature of their sampling and research methods, “we can now say with rather high confidence that only children are not substantially more narcissistic than people with siblings.”

Narcissism is considered a socially maladaptive personality trait, so lumping only children as being narcissistic can put them at a disadvantage from their peers, the researchers noted.

“When sociologists, economists, or policy makers discuss the downsides of low fertility rates, they should let go of the idea that growing up without siblings leads to increased narcissism,” Dufner and colleagues wrote.

“There might of course be economic or societal costs associated with low birth rates, but increasing narcissism in the upcoming generation does not seem to be a factor that is relevant to the discussion,” Dufner said.

Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology

Severe Morning Sickness May Be Risk Factor for Autism

A new study discovers children whose mothers had a severe form of a morning sickness during pregnancy were 53 percent more likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Kaiser Permanente researchers said the condition, known as hyperemesis gravidarum, is rare and occurs in less that 5 percent of all pregnancies.

Nevertheless, researchers believe the findings are important because the research suggests that children born to women with hyperemesis may be at an increased risk of autism. “Awareness of this association may create the opportunity for earlier diagnosis and intervention in children at risk of autism,” explains lead study author Darios Getahun, M.D., Ph.D., of Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research and Evaluation.

The study appears in the American Journal of Perinatology.

Experts explain that women with the severe form of morning sickness experience intense nausea and are unable to keep down food and fluids. This can lead to dangerous dehydration and inadequate nutrition during pregnancy.

To determine the extent of the association between hyperemesis gravidarum and autism spectrum disorder, researchers reviewed electronic health records of nearly 500,000 pregnant women and their children born between 1991 and 2014 at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California. They compared children whose mothers had a diagnosis of hyperemesis gravidarum during pregnancy to those whose mothers did not.

Other findings from the research included:

• Exposure to hyperemesis gravidarum was associated with increased risk of autism when hyperemesis gravidarum was diagnosed during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy, but not when it was diagnosed only in the third trimester;
• Exposure to hyperemesis gravidarum was associated with risk of autism regardless of the severity of the mother’s hyperemesis gravidarum;
• The association between hyperemesis gravidarum and autism spectrum disorder was stronger in girls than boys and among whites and Hispanics than among blacks and Pacific Islanders;
• The medications used to treat hyperemesis gravidarum did not appear to be related to autism risk.

Investigators explain that the results are consistent with the hypothesis that women experiencing hyperemesis gravidarum have poor nutritional intake. This may, in turn lead to potential long-term neurodevelopment impairment in their children.

The study cannot, however, rule out other possible explanations, such as perinatal exposures to some medications and maternal smoking.

Source: Kaiser Permanente/EurekAlert

Air Pollution Tied to Higher Rates of Violent Crime

A new series of studies from Colorado State University (CSU) reveal a strong association between short-term exposure to air pollution and aggressive behavior, in the form of aggravated assaults and other violent crimes across the continental United States.

The findings, published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, were derived from daily Federal Bureau of Investigation crime statistics and an eight-year, detailed map of daily U.S. air pollution.

The paper’s lead author is Dr. Jesse Burkhardt, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, who teamed up with fellow economist Dr. Jude Bayham in the same department; Dr. Ander Wilson in the Department of Statistics; and several air pollution experts in civil engineering and atmospheric science.

Air pollution scientists typically measure rates of pollution through concentrations of ozone, as well as of “PM2.5,” or breathable particulate matter 2.5 microns in diameter or smaller, which research has linked to health effects.

Eighty-three percent of crimes considered “violent” by the FBI are categorized as assaults in crime databases. The findings show that a 10 microgram-per-cubic-meter increase in same-day exposure to PM2.5 is linked to a 1.4% increase in violent crimes, nearly all of which is driven by crimes categorized as assaults.

Researchers also found that a 0.01 parts-per-million increase in same-day exposure to ozone is associated with a 0.97% increase in violent crime, or a 1.15% increase in assaults. Changes in these air pollution measures had no statistically significant effect on any other category of crime.

The team also discovered that 56 percent of violent crimes and 60 percent of assaults occurred within the home, which is an indication that many such crimes are tied to domestic violence.

“We’re talking about crimes that might not even be physical — you can assault someone verbally,” co-author Bayham said. “The story is, when you’re exposed to more pollution, you become marginally more aggressive, so those altercations – some things that may not have escalated – do escalate.”

The researchers were careful to correct for other possible explanations, including weather, heat waves, precipitation, or more general, county-specific confounding factors.

They also made no claims on how exposure to pollution can lead someone to become more aggressive; their results only show a strong link between such crimes and levels of air pollution.

The team published a companion paper in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Policy with similar results that used monthly crime statistics. A third paper in Epidemiology, with lead author Jesse Berman from the University of Minnesota and co-authors from CSU, used EPA pollution monitor databases and different statistical techniques and came to similar conclusions.

“The results are fascinating, and also scary,” said co-author Jeff Pierce, associate professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science and a Monfort Professor. “When you have more air pollution, this specific type of crime, domestic violent crime in particular, increases quite significantly.”

The economists calculated that a 10 percent reduction in daily PM2.5 could save $1.1 million in crime costs per year, which they called a “previously overlooked cost associated with pollution.”

Source: Colorado State University