Mind, body & health


6 Oct 09 *New York Times* includes an article: “Exploring the
Health Benefits of Pets” by Michal Czerwonka.
Here are some excerpts:
[begin excerpts]
When Chad, a yellow Labrador retriever, moved in with Claire Vaccaro’s
family in Manhattan last spring, he already had an important role. As an
autism service dog, he was joining the family to help protect Ms.
Vaccaro’s 11-year-old son, Milo — especially in public, where he often
had tantrums or tried to run away.
Like many companion animals, whether service dogs or pets, Chad had an
immediate effect — the kind of effect that is noticeable but has yet to
be fully understood through scientific study.
And it went beyond the tether that connects dog and boy in public.
“Within, I would say, a week, I noticed enormous changes,” Ms. Vaccaro
said of Milo, whose autism impairs his ability to communicate and form
social bonds.
“More and more changes have happened over the months as their bond has
grown. He’s much calmer. He can concentrate for much longer periods of
time. It’s almost like a cloud has lifted.”
Dr. Melissa A. Nishawala, clinical director of the autism-spectrum
service at the Child Study Center at New York University, said she saw
“a prominent and noticeable change” in Milo, even though the dog just
sat quietly in the room.
“He started to give me narratives in a way he never did,” she said,
adding that most of them were about the dog.
The changes have been so profound that Ms. Vaccaro and Dr. Nishawala are
starting to talk about weaning Milo from some of his medication.
Anecdotes abound on the benefits of companion animals — whether service
and therapy animals or family pets — on human health.
But in-depth studies have been rare. Now the Eunice Kennedy Shriver
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the
National Institutes of Health, is embarking on an effort to study
whether these animals can have a tangible effect on children’s well-being.
In partnership with the Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition in England
(part of the Mars candy and pet food company), the child health
institute is seeking proposals that “focus on the interaction between
humans and animals.”
In particular, it is looking for studies on how these interactions
affect typical development and health, and whether they have therapeutic
and public-health benefits.
It also invites applications for studies that “address why relationships
with pets are more important to some children than to others” and that
“explore the quality of child-pet relationships, noting variability of
human-animal relationships within a family.”
People working with animals expect the research to back up their
At Children’s Hospital of Orange County in Southern California, for
instance, dozens of volunteers regularly take their dogs to visit
patients. Children being treated for serious illnesses often have the
blues, anxiety or depression.
“The dogs brighten them up,” said Emily Grankowski, who oversees the pet
therapy program at the hospital.
Some patients who have refused to speak will talk to the dogs, she said,
and others who have refused to move often reach for the dogs so they can
pet them.
So the animals become part of the therapeutic program, especially in the
areas involving speech and movement.
“The human-animal bond bypasses the intellect and goes straight to the
heart and emotions and nurtures us in ways that nothing else can,” said
Karin Winegar, whose book “Saved: Rescued Animals and the Lives They
Transform” (Da Capo, 2008) chronicles human-animal interactions.
“We’ve seen this from coast to coast, whether it’s disabled children at
a riding center in California or a nursing home in Minnesota, where a
woman with Alzheimer’s could not recognize her husband but she could
recognize their beloved dog.”
[end excerpts]
The article is online at:
Clipping courtesy of Ken Pope


The *European Journal of Neurology* issued the following news release:
High unexpressed anger in MS patients linked to nervous system damage,
not disease severity
People with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) feel more than twice as much
withheld anger as the general population and this could have an adverse
effect on their relationships and health, according to a study published
in the December issue of the European Journal of Neurology.
Italian researchers assessed 195 patients with MS, using a range of
scales that measure anger, depression and anxiety, and then compared
them with the general population.
They were surprised by the results, which showed that while patients
experienced almost twice the normal level of withheld anger and exerted
low levels of control on their anger, their expressed anger levels were
similar to the general population.
This, together with the fact that the elevated withheld anger levels
were not related to the severity of the patients’ MS, suggests that
these inconsistent changes were caused by nervous system damage, rather
than an emotional reaction to the stress of the disease.
“We believe that the higher levels of withheld anger shown by the study
subjects is due to demyelination, loss of the substance in the white
matter that insulates the nerve endings and helps people receive and
interpret messages from the brain” explains lead researcher Dr Ugo
Nocentini from the IRCCS S Lucia Foundation in Rome.

Adults who suffer migraine headaches are more apt to have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than the general population, a new study suggests. And having PTSD and migraine may lead to greater headache-related disability.

Excerpts follow:


Among a group of 593 adults with migraine, PTSD was present in roughly 30 percent of those who suffered chronic daily headaches and about 22 percent of those with “episodic” migraine headaches. By comparison, approximately 8 percent of the population is estimated to have PTSD.


“The implications are such that abuse causes not just psychological distress from PTSD but also physical pain such as migraine,” Peterlin said, and there is an increased disability seen in those migraine sufferers with PTSD than those without PTSD.


SOURCE: Headache April 2009.
The full article can be found at

The *British Medical Journal* issued the following news release about an
article appearing in one of its associated journals (*Journal of
Epidemiology and Community Health*):

Half a glass of wine a day may boost life expectancy by five years

Long-term wine consumption is related to cardiovascular mortality and
life expectancy independently of moderate alcohol intake

Drinking up to half a glass of wine a day may boost life expectancy by
five years–at least in men–suggests research published ahead of print in
the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The Dutch authors base their findings on a total of 1,373 randomly
selected men whose cardiovascular health and life expectancy at age 50
were repeatedly monitored between 1960 and 2000.


Rush University Medical Center issued the following news release:

Depression linked with accumulation of visceral fat

Study explains association between depression and cardiovascular disease

Numerous studies have shown that depression is associated with an
increased risk of heart disease, but exactly how has never been clear.

Now, researchers at Rush University Medical Center have shown that
depression is linked with the accumulation of visceral fat, the kind of
fat packed between internal organs at the waistline, which has long been
known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.


The American Physiological Society issued the following news release:

Laughter remains good medicine

New study reports on the mind-emotion-disease model

The connection between the body, mind and spirit has been the subject of conventional scientific inquiry for some 20 years. The notion that psychosocial and societal considerations have a role in maintaining health and preventing disease became crystallized as a result of the experiences of a layman, Norman Cousins. In the 1970s, Cousins, then a writer and magazine editor of the popular Saturday Review, was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. He theorized that if stress could worsen his condition, as some evidence suggested at the time, then positive emotions could improve his health. As a result, he prescribed himself, with the approval of his doctor, a regimen of humorous videos and shows like Candid Camera(c). Ultimately, the disease went into remission and Cousins wrote a paper that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and a book about his experience, Anatomy of an Illness: A Patient’s Perspective, which was published in 1979. The book became a best seller and led to the investigation of a new field, known then as whole-person care or integrative medicine and now, lifestyle medicine.

Points from the news release:

  • Beta-endorphins elevate mood state
  • Human growth hormone (HGH) helps with optimizing immunity
  • Cortisol and epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) are detrimental stress hormones that negatively affect immunity if chronically released.
  • A group of 10 diabetics with hypertensoin and high cholesterol were assigned regularly to watch funny videos for 30 minutes. Over 12 months, their blood chemistry was compared to 10 matching people who were not made to laugh.
  • Adding laughter standard diabetes care may lower stress and inflammatory response and increase “good” cholesterol levels. The authors conclude that mirthful laughter may thus lower the risk of cardiovascular disease associated with diabetes mellitus and metabolic syndrome.

In describing himself as a “hardcore medical clinician and scientist,” Dr. Berk says, “the best clinicians understand that there is an intrinsic physiological intervention brought about by positive emotions such as mirthful laughter, optimism and hope.

More details follow:


Wiley-Blackwell issued the following news release:

CBT and BT: Some effect against chronic pain

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Behaviour Therapy (BT) show some
effect in helping the disability associated with chronic pain, according
to a Cochrane Systematic Review. The researchers assessed the use of CBT
and BT on chronic pain, mood, and disability.

“For people with chronic pain, psychological therapies can reduce
depression and anxiety, disability, and in some cases pain, but guidance
is still required on the best type and duration of treatment,” says lead
researcher Christopher Eccleston, at the Centre for Pain Research at the
University of Bath.

Both CBT and BT try to manage pain by addressing the associated
psychological and practical processes. CBT involves the avoidance of
negative thoughts. BT helps patients to understand how they can change
their behaviour in order to reduce pain. Both approaches have been in
development for around 40 years and are sometimes recommended for
patients with long lasting, distressing pain that cannot be relieved by
conventional medicines.

In a systematic review, researchers considered the results of 40 trials
of CBT and BT, which included 4,781 patients in total. Patients
suffering from pain due to any cause, except headache, migraine, or
cancer, were included. Most studies were of CBT, which showed small
positive effects on pain, disability, and mood. There was less evidence
for BT, which the researchers say had no effect on disability or mood.

“Although there is overall promise for CBT in chronic pain, the term
covers a diverse range of treatment and assessment procedures. Right
now, we are not able to say which specific features of therapy may be
critical for improvement of a patient’s condition,” says Eccleston.

According to the researchers, simpler studies of CBT and BT that focus
on a purer form of treatment, rather than a variety of mixed methods,
would benefit the field.

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