LIFE STYLE CAN CHANGE THE BRAIN

Jill Littrell, PhD, is an Associate Professor at Georgia State University in the School of Social Work.  Her PhD is in clinical psychology. Early in her career, she worked as a ward aide and then as a social worker in the state hospital in Nebraska. After attaining her PhD, she worked as a psychologist in the Alcohol and Drug Dependency Department at CIGNA Health Plan. During this time, she completed a two-volume work on alcoholism. Having been intrigued by the connections between mind and body, she pursued a Masters in Biology (Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry) while on faculty at Georgia State. Much of her class work and laboratory experience was focused on immunology. She has published various papers on the links between behavior, disease, and immune system function as well as on the efficacy of antidepressants.  Littrell writes on research updates related to medications, diagnoses, ways to support natural resilience, and various trends in the mental health field.

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February 1, 2016

Many posts on this website have cited studies linking stressful life events as a causal factor in the emergence of psychosis. What science requires is a mechanism connecting psychological stressors with functional changes that drive behavior. Recent studies connect psychosis with inflammation in the brain. Thus, the studies provide a mechanism for how trauma can increase the emergence of psychosis
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January 5, 2016

In the September, 2015 issue of JAMA Psychiatry, a team of Swedish researchers published a study evaluating the serotonin system in persons with social anxiety. the findings here are in direct contradiction to what the pharmaceutical companies would have us believe: that anxiety and depression are caused by deficit levels of serotonin. There was an editorial by the authors in the same issue which attempted to obfuscate the findings by referencing the heterogeneity in persons who exhibit social anxiety. Unfortunately, neither the article or the editorial referenced the work of neuroscientist who for the past 30 years have been investigating what happens in the brains of animals that are subjected to uncontrollable stress.
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September 14, 2015

Since the mid-1990s antipsychotic medications have been increasingly prescribed for children, adolescents, and adults. The most recent report finds an increase in use for older children from 2006 to 2008. Most of the prescriptions of antipsychotics for children reported by the study were for conditions which had not been approved by the FDA (called off-label use).
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August 7, 2015

I recently finished reading Joseph LeDoux’s wonderful book Anxious: Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety.  LeDoux has written numerous books and articles on fear over many decades now, with an accessible that makes neuroanatomy and neuroscience easy to understand.  LeDoux studies the brain, but readers of this site would want to know that he is dubious about drugs being the answer to ameliorating anxiety or fear.  He raises questions regarding which domains of behavior belong to the brain and which domains belong to mind.
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July 20, 2015

The importance of the gut microbiota for physical health, mood, and perhaps cognitive capacity is a recent discovery. There are still plenty of unknowns. Given that so much of the American diet is based on processed foods, each food additive needs to be interrogated to determine its impact on the microbes in the gut, general inflammation, and mood and behavior. It might be easier to eat lots of nut, fruits and vegetables and avoid the processed foods and artificial sweeteners and start enjoying yogurt (the stuff without the high fructose corn syrup).
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July 8, 2015

I’ve been teaching a course on substance abuse for about 30 years now. In this course, I cover a new drug class each week and always review the history of the drug. All of the drugs of abuse, cocaine, alcohol, marijuana, opiates are not new on the human scene. They date back to the Sumerians and the Greeks. The question for me is what accounts for epidemics? I have come to believe that epidemics are supplier driven rather than a function of consumer demand. For the current opiate epidemic, the suppliers were the pharmaceutical houses.
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June 23, 2015

The research examining the ways in which depressive/anxious behaviors correlate with markers of inflammation has been conducted outside of psychiatry, although a few psychiatrists have contributed. The causal role that inflammation plays in producing depression and anxiety has many implications. Many reports of depression preceding dementia, heart disease, strokes, cancer have been published in samples of persons who were not taking antidepressants. The common factor in all of these conditions is inflammatory processes.
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June 12, 2015

The United States is experiencing an epidemic of heroin addiction and a sharp rise in opiate over-dose death. Contrary to addicts being introduced to opiate addiction through street heroin, 75% of new addicts became addicted through prescription opiates. While SAMSHA does suggest that Opiate Treatment Programs screen for other drugs, SAMSHA is unclear about what should happen if the urine tests positive.
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April 20, 2015

The impact of long-term SSRIs on memory-related nerve cell receptors does have functional consequences. Research shows that SSRIs impair the acquisition of fear memories. (Perhaps a positive outcome.) But unlearning fear memories involves new learning as well, and according to a study by LeDoux and colleagues, long-term exposure to SSRIs makes it harder to unlearn fear memories.
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December 22, 2014

In the post on the debate between Allen Frances and Bob Whitaker, Frances argues that we should all advocate better treatment for those with psychosis. I think that we all might embrace the goal of better, more empathic treatment. However, we will differ on what “better treatment” might entail. I would argue that a return to the state hospital systems of the 1960s would not constitute better treatment.
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Categorized in: Adult, Blogs, Disorders, Featured Blogs, Schizophrenia and Psychosis

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June 10, 2014

As part of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government has made a commitment to integrate behavioral health with physical medicine. Physicians have saddled America with addiction to antidepressants, antipsychotics, and benzodiazpines. If the federal government decides that opiate addiction is ok, as they seem to have conceded, shouldn’t the question be “what is the cheapest and the safest opiate?” In Europe, heroin is an option right along with buprenorphine and methadone. It seems to me that the “back-door” legalization of opiates under the guise of “treatment” ought to at least be debated out in the open.
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Categorized in: Blogs, Featured Blogs, Opiates, Uncategorized

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June 29, 2013

Research by Andreasen et al. published in American Journal of Psychiatry in June of 2013 reported that the dosage of antipsychotic medication correlated with the reduction in the cortex volume; higher dosage was associated with greater reduction. In that same article, the authors suggested that, since they found brain shrinkage correlated with duration of relapse, curtailing or preventing the relapse would probably decrease damage. Their suggested mechanism for shortening the relapse process was to prescribe more drugs. Before advising fellow physicians to increase the dosage of antipsychotic drugs to prevent brain volume reduction, it is important to show the following: first, demonstrate that symptoms, in fact, reflect the occurrence of a damaging process; second, demonstrate that any treatment intervention actually targets the damaging process itself and not just the downstream symptoms of this process.
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Categorized in: Antipsychotics, Blogs, Featured Blogs, Psychiatric Drugs, Research, Uncategorized

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June 6, 2013

The Association for Psychological Science (APS) was founded twenty years ago by psychologists and neuroscientists who were dismayed by trends in the American Psychological Association (APA). The APA had lost its old single-minded focus on the search for empirically based answers to psychological questions. This may have followed from the fact that the APA’s membership encompassed an ever-larger percentage of practicing psychologists with many immediate, practical concerns. Yet it is these very clinicians who are in such dire need of empirically validated procedures. It might be time to summarize newer empirical literature that challenges the assumption that the mere expression of emotion is helpful.
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Categorized in: Blogs, Featured Blogs, Non-drug Approaches, Recovery/Empowerment, Trauma/Distress, Uncategorized

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March 28, 2013

Yesterday I attended psychiatry grand rounds, where Andy Miller presented his latest research. Andy has been a pioneer in the field of psychoneuroimmunology and an exponent for the view that major depression reflects systemic inflammation. (I have published a review of this literature recently in Frontiers in Psychology which is available for download).
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Categorized in: Adult, Antidepressants, Antipsychotics, Blogs, Depression, Disorders, Featured Blogs, Immune Response, Psychiatric Drugs