Meditate… Now!

I think the problems of the world aren’t caused by people coming together and saying “let’s make problems.” They’re caused by people coming together and saying “let’s make solutions” without having solved the problem of their own suffering. — Shinzen Young

Shinzen’s words inspire me, because they remind me that, while we all desire to improve ourselves and the world, our clouded minds are generally unable to parse the world enough to do so. I believe that in this endeavor, meditation is the key. In the written word, it’s easier to be convincing than emphatic, so I’ll try to be as convincing as I know how to be.

Meditation will change your life — drastically, and there’s a very good chance it is the answer you are looking for. In the short term, it provides more focused attention, ability to deal with emotions, and fulfilling relationships. In the long term, it will drastically transform you into a person in control of your own mind, mindful of the world around you, and liberated from mental chaos.

Our minds are out of control. If you’re anything like me, a quick look into your thoughts will reveal that while a few are productive or new, the majority are ruminations and critical statements borne of a mind constantly spinning its wheels. Any attempt to stop or control these thoughts will quickly reveal that willpower alone is not enough; it takes careful training.

Consider, then, a reality where your mind has even 20 percent less clutter… or 40 percent, or almost none. Where thoughts, observations, and intentions are felt clearly. This is the promise of meditation.

My first attempts at meditation were half-hearted. A friend convinced me to sit for about 15 minutes several times per month, which was just enough to notice how badly I needed meditation and nowhere near enough to do much about it. It was unbearable sitting still and being in my own mind. Practicing more seriously was a way to directly address this aversion, and doing so has been so helpful to so many parts of my life. Practice in sitting still has already helped me in all elements of life — a writing project that used to take several days can now (on a good day) be done in a few hours, because I’m able to sit still and focus.

The black box of machinery that is my mind has become a touch more transparent, and I’m a touch more able to see what is going on inside. Our minds are composed of disparate pieces, many of which want different things, and understanding these processes better has helped me accept when some of these parts are unhappy. By extension, I’ve been better able to deal with unpleasant situations and conflicting emotions without fear.

There is plenty further for me to go. I have not reached a point where I can spend 45 minutes focusing solely on my breath; most of the time, to even sit down involves a mental battle, with half of my mind dragging the other kicking and screaming onto the meditation cushion. But these same sits end with a feeling of clarity and an uptick in joy that can last the entire day.

by Michael Morgenstern, Huffington Post

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Watching the Waistline in Winter

You open the front door to embark upon your regular morning run and are met with blowing snow and wailing wind — your run is now a slog, and a short one. Dark has fallen long before dinnertime, and a lean chicken breast and steamed vegetables hold no allure — you crave a hot, creamy chicken pot pie with a buttery crust. And the weekends spent outdoors in the park, engaging in vigorous pursuits, these are a faint green memory of summer past — now you are trapped inside, planted in front of the TV set for hours on end.

And thus, how easy it becomes to pack on the pounds during the cruel months of winter. By imperceptible degrees, burgeoning fat inserts itself around your middle and secretively distributes itself over your thighs. Suddenly you’re using the next belt hole and wondering why your jeans are so much tighter than you realized.

Fear not… With a little discipline, a little planning, and a firm resolve, you can beat back the wolves of winter weight. All it takes is a few new strategies for exercising and eating right.

by Neil Zevnik, Huffington Post

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Psychotropic Medications Are Prescribed Appropriately Among U.S. Teens, National Study Finds

Prescribed psychotropic medications are not being misused or overused among U.S. youth, according to a study using nationally representative data sponsored by NIMH. The study was published December 3, 2012, online ahead of print in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

Psychotropic medications affect the brain chemicals associated with mood and behavior. Some studies and media reports have raised concerns about their use among youth. However, much of the concern stems from information found in anecdotal reports, small clinical samples, or insurance databases rather than on representative samples of U.S. youth with clinical assessments of emotional and behavioral disorders. Studies from regional community samples have found widely varying rates, which can lead to skewed perceptions. For example, different studies have found a wide range of stimulant medication use for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—from 7 percent to 72 percent—likely due to methodological and regional differences. As a result, it has been difficult to get a clear, accurate understanding of medication use among youth.


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Emergency Department Suicide Screening Tool Accurately Predicts At Risk Youth

A set of four questions that takes emergency department nurses or physicians less than 2 minutes to administer can successfully identify youth at risk for attempting suicide, reported a study by National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) researchers that was published in the December 2012 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Each year as many as 5 to 8 percent of U.S. children and young adults attempt suicide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2010, 4867 youths between ages 10 and 24 died by suicide, making it the second leading cause of death for people in this age group.

Most individuals who die by suicide have visited a health care provider 3 months to 1 year before their death. Typically these patients saw an emergency department (ED) nurse and physician for some other health concern such as abdominal pain or headaches. These at-risk individuals often go unrecognized by ED staff who either lack the time or training to properly screen patients. The Joint Commission, a leading U.S.-based nonprofit healthcare accreditation organization, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have previously recommended the creation and use of suicide screening tools for adult and pediatric patient populations. To date there are no screening instruments to assess suicide risk in children and adolescents who visit EDs for medical or surgical reasons.

“Many families use the emergency department as their sole contact in the healthcare system,” said Lisa M. Horowitz, Ph.D., M.P.H., lead author of the study. “Most people don’t show up to the emergency department and say ‘I want to kill myself.’ Rather they show up with physical complaints and do not discuss their suicidal thoughts. But studies have shown that if you ask directly, the majority will tell you. Nurses and physicians need to know what questions to ask.”


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Gene Variants Implicated in Extreme Weight Gain Associated with Antipsychotics

Extreme weight gain associated with taking an antipsychotic medication may be linked to certain genetic variants, according to a study published in the September 2012 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Antipsychotic medications, especially those known as “second generation” or “atypical” antipsychotics, generally are the first-line of treatment for schizophrenia and other serious mental disorders. They are effective in treating psychotic symptoms, but they are also associated with serious metabolic side effects that can result in substantial weight gain, and other cardiovascular problems.

Some people appear to be more susceptible to severe weight gain than others, but it is difficult to predict who is most at risk. To date, there have been few genetic studies of weight gain associated with antipsychotics, in part because it is difficult to control such variables as prior exposure to the medications, and because patients often stop taking the medications prematurely.

Anil Malhotra M.D., of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, and colleagues set out to identify any common gene variants associated with antipsychotic-induced weight gain in a group of patients who had never taken the medications before and who were carefully monitored to ensure they continued to take the medication over the study period. The initial study included a cohort of 139 pediatric patients who were prescribed a second-generation antipsychotic. Patients were examined over a period of 12 weeks to assess weight and metabolic effects of the medications.


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Researchers Explore Why Some Kids Seem to Outgrow Autism

Although rare, new research confirms that there are some children who just seem to “outgrow” autism and shed all remnants of the disorder.  Cases like these have long perplexed researchers.

What distinguishes them from people for whom autism is a lifelong condition? And what distinguishes them from those with typical early childhood development?

In a new study, Deborah Fein, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Connecticut, and her team set out to answer these questions.  They recruited 34 children and young adults (ages 8 to 21) who had been diagnosed with autism early in life but now appear to be functioning normally.

Only participants who had been diagnosed by autism experts were included in the study in an attempt to avoid cases in which there had been a misdiagnosis.

by Traci Petersen, PsychCentral

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Perinatal Choline Supplement May Lower Schizophrenia Risk

A new study reveals that babies who received the essential nutrient choline perinatally (before or just after birth) were far less likely to exhibit a physiologic risk factor for schizophrenia at the age of 33 days compared with those who received a placebo.

“We thought that if we could get a good intervention prenatally or early postnatally, we could decrease risk for the disorder,” said lead author Randy Ross, M.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine.

“This is really a first step towards trying to develop a prevention strategy,” said Ross. He added that finding ways to prevent a disease “may be much more effective than treating it after it comes on.”

The randomized controlled trial involved 93 healthy pregnant women, half of whom took choline supplements during their last two trimesters of pregnancy. Their babies also received choline soon after delivery.

The findings revealed that the offspring who received choline perinatally had a significantly lower rate of a physiologic risk factor for schizophrenia at the age of 33 days compared to the babies who had received matching placebo.

by Traci Pedersen, PsychCentral

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Loneliness Taxes the Immune System

New research has linked loneliness to a number of dysfunctional immune responses, suggesting that being lonely has the potential to harm overall health. Researchers found that people who were more lonely showed signs of elevated latent herpes virus reactivation and produced more inflammation-related proteins in response to acute stress than people who felt more socially connected. Chronic inflammation is linked to a number of dire health conditions, including coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the frailty and functional decline that can accompany aging, researchers note. “It is clear from previous research that poor-quality relationships are linked to a number of health problems, including premature mortality and all sorts of other very serious health conditions — and people who are lonely clearly feel like they are in poor-quality relationships,” said Lisa Jaremka, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University and lead author of the research.

by Janice Wood, PsychCentral

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Supplement Shows Promise for Preventing Schizophrenia

“Genes associated with schizophrenia are common, so prevention has to be applied to the entire population, and it has to be safe,” says senior study author Dr. Freedman, Professor and Chairman, Department of Psychiatry and Pharmacology, University of Colorado and Editor of The American Journal of Psychiatry.  “Basic research indicates that choline supplementation during pregnancy facilitates cognitive functioning in offspring. Our finding that it ameliorates some of the pathophysiology associated with risk for schizophrenia now requires longer-term follow-up to assess whether it decreases risk for the later development of illness as well.”

–Brain and Behavior Research Foundation

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When Bipolar Masquerades as a Happy Face

At 45, my patient Bruce was at the pinnacle of his career, with a lucrative law practice. Then his life was cruelly turned upside down by two medical events, a crushing first episode of major depression and a series of strokes from untreated hypertension.

For many years, Bruce struggled with severe depression and high blood pressure without much headway. Then something strange happened.

He suddenly pulled out of the depression and dove into his work. Not only that, but he felt the surge of energy and self-confidence that he used to have. No hurdle seemed too high or problem unsolvable, he recently recalled.

No one questioned his renewed energy and vigor, because he had always been vivacious. Nor did his combative behavior and ever increasing volume of provocative e-mail messages to friends and colleagues raise a suspicion that something might be seriously amiss.

Betting that his future earnings would more than cover large expenses, he put off filing his state tax returns. No one seemed to recognize just how impaired his judgment had become. Even the judge who placed him on probation for failure to file tax returns missed the real story.

When I met Bruce in a consultation, he spoke loudly and rapidly, and I had difficulty interrupting him. It wasn’t hard to figure out that he had been living with an unrecognized and untreated psychiatric illness that had driven him to the edge of ruin — bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression.


by Richard A. Friedman, M.D., New York Times

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