Team McCallum

R&D for Lifetime of Life

Pregnancy v autism.

A trio of researchers has discovered that if there is a short interval between first and second babies, the second one has an increased risk of autism.

The researchers looked at 660,000 pairs of siblings born in California between 1992 and 2002, where the first-born did not have autism. Then they compared the rates of autism in the second sibling, using the interval between when the mother first gave birth and when she became pregnant again.

Compared to an interval of 3+ years, an interval of 2-3 years resulted in an increase in the risk of autism by 27%, while 1-2 years increased the risk by 87% and under 1 year increased the risk by 139%.

The researchers checked their work using pairs of siblings where the 1st born had autism, and again found the second was at even greater risk if the interval was less than 3 years.

Experts in autism are cautioning that although the study appears sound, it is normal to wait for results to be replicated in a different group of people.

However, other studies have shown an increased risk of schizophrenia in the second born where there is a short interval between pregnancies. While other problems such as being severely pre-term are also linked to increased risk of autism.

Collectively, these suggest that a short interval increases the chance that the second child’s neural development is impacted.

The researchers speculated that the reason might be a depleted level of nutrients such as folate or iron, or elevated stress levels.

Until a mechanism is established, this would suggest mothers falling pregnant within 3 years of last giving birth should make sure their nutrients follow medical recommendations closely, and put practices in place to cut stress.


January 10, 2011 Posted by | Autism, Brain, Child Health, Diet, Minerals, Pregnancy, Stress, Success, Vitamins | Leave a comment

Comfort food or sex v stress.

Scientists in the US have been investigating how comfort eating or sex reduces the effects of stress by looking at the brains of rats.

Dr Yvonne M Ulrich-Lai gave some rats access to sweetened water for 2 weeks while controls did not get this ‘comfort’ food. Then the rats were stressed to determine the response pattern within the brain. Rats which got the sweetened water showed less stress response (e.g. heart rate) than the controls. And they explored more in a new environment and interacted more when they met unknown rats.

First, there were technical advances in knowledge, when a part of the brain called the basolateral amygdala was found to be key in the process. If this part was missing, the sugar did not cut the stress response.

More interestingly, the stress reduction of the sugary water was long lasting. Even a week after it was stopped, the stress reduction effects were still working. This finding explains why cutting out comfort eating is so difficult. It’s brain-training, remodelling the system to cut stress.

A further key finding was that saccharin also cut stress, although with less effect than sugar. And sweetener dumped directly into the rats’ stomachs did not cut stress, which means actually tasting the sweetener is important. So it’s not simply about calories.

Finally, rats gives access to sexually-receptive partners showed the same amount of reduction of stress as those on the sugar-sweetened water.

So sweet foods cut stress on a par with sex, by remodelling the brain in a manner that is long lasting.

Next time you enjoy a can of sugar sweetened drink, think of it not as enjoyment, but as stress reduction. Or as a long-lasting rewiring of your brain.

November 14, 2010 Posted by | Brain, Diet, Health, Soft drinks, Stress, Success, Sugar | 2 Comments

Walnuts improve blood pressure.

Prof Sheila G West wanted to find out if omega-3 fatty acids from plant sources would reduce cardiovascular responses to stress. Previous studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids, like the alpha linolenic acid found in walnuts and flax seeds, can reduce low density lipoproteins (‘bad’ LDL cholesterol). These foods may also reduce markers of inflammation.

A small group of people with high level of LDL cholesterol was cycled through three diets each lasting for 6 weeks. Tests were carried out at the end of each cycle.

The first diet was standard American. The second replaced some the fat and protein with a small amount of walnuts and walnut oil. In the third flaxseed oil was added. All the diets were carefully balanced to the same number of calories and tailored to ensure there was no weight gain or loss.

Resting blood pressure and blood pressure under standard stress tests were lower with walnuts and walnut oil. Adding flaxseed oil did not give a further improvement in this, although on other measures such as inflammation markers in the blood, flaxseed oil did give extra benefits.

The amount involved was about 9 walnuts (18 halves) and one tablespoon of walnut oil per day.

October 4, 2010 Posted by | Health, High blood pressure, Omega-3, Sheila G West, Stress, Success, Walnuts | Leave a comment

Gender v stress.

Prof Mara Mather has found that when stressed, the brains of men and women handle recognition of emotions from another person’s face in completely opposite ways.

To process facial emotions requires activity in the basic visual processing area of the brain (the fusiform face area) and connectivity to interpretation areas. Without stress, this is the same for both men and women.

Add stress, in the form of the cold pressor test, a standard method where your hand is dipped in iced water for a significant length of time. Then look at a photo of an angry face or a fearful face and repeat the brain activity scan.

Men were found to shut down the basic visual processing area and disconnect this from the emotional interpretation areas.

Women did the opposite. They ramped up visual processing activity and increased connectivity to the interpretation areas.

According to Prof Mather “Under stress, men tend to withdraw socially while women seek emotional support.”

September 29, 2010 Posted by | Brain, Gender, Mara Mather, Psychology, Relationships, Stress, Success | Leave a comment

Why tranquility works.

It is known that pleasant natural scenes induce feels of calmness and tranquility whereas man-made urban environments don’t.

Dr Michael D Hunter played the same sound, a constant roar, and used brain scans to find out what was happening when people listened to this while looking at a beach scene versus roar plus a motorway scene.

The research team found the motorway scene shut down connections between different areas of the brain, whereas the beach scene connected the auditory input to several other processing regions. One of these, the medial prefrontal cortex, is involved in the evaluation of mental states.

Beach view + ‘roar’ of the sea, leads to brain connections, and evaluates as pleasant and tranquil!

September 14, 2010 Posted by | Brain, Environment, Michael D Hunter, Natural healing, Nature, Positive Psychology, Stress, Success | 1 Comment

Parents v stress.

Prof Melanie Mallers looked at how a person’s perception of their relationship when young with their parents matched up with current stress in their lives.

Mallers followed 912 people aged 25-74 for 8 days to evaluate current stress, while a questionnaire established how they thought their parents treated them as children.

Participants were more likely to say their relationship with their mother was better than with their father.

Sons were more likely than daughters to say that they got along with their mothers.

People who reported they had a good mother-child relationship reported 3% less psychological distress compared to those who reported a poor relationship.

The team found that men who reported poorer relationships with their fathers were 4% more likely than other men to report encountering stress during the day. They were also more likely to develop a bad mood or health problems after encountering daily stress.

This was not found to be as common for the women in the study.

And if participants had a poor childhood relationship with both parents, they reported more stressful incidents than those with one or both parents supportive.

August 15, 2010 Posted by | Child Health, Gender, Health, Psychology, Relationships, Stress, Success | Leave a comment

Walking v stress & heart disease.

A study of exercise v stress in adolescents has found that walking cuts the impact of stress directly, and so may cut the risk of later heart disease.

Dr James Roemmich tested 40 girls and boys aged 10-14. Half were given a simulated ride to school. Half took a 1 mile simulated walk, using a treadmill.

After a further 20 minutes, both groups took a standard stress test.

Compared to active commuters, passive commuters reported twice as much stress, the increase in their systolic blood pressure was 3 times larger, and their heartbeat increased by 11 beats per minute, nearly 4 times that of the walkers.

The team does not know how long the protective effect lasts.

Roemmich said until this was known, several activity breaks during the day would seem to be best to protect against stress.

August 14, 2010 Posted by | Activity, Child Health, CVD - cardiovascular disease, Exercise, Health, James Roemmich, Stress, Success, Walking | Leave a comment

Stroke – your risk profile.

Prof Martin J O’Donnell reported in the Lancet on INTERSTROKE, a study of 3,000 stroke patients compared to 3,000 controls, across 22 low, middle and high-income countries.

Ten risk factors explain 90% of the chance of having a stroke, and most of those are modifiable.

The big 5 explain 80% of your risk of having a stroke.

High blood pressure (165% increased risk), currently smoking (109% increase), waist-to hip ratio in highest third (65% increase), poor diet (35% increase) and regular physical exercise (31% decrease).

On diet, fruit and fish cut the risk, but vegetables did not. Red meat, organ meat, and eggs increased the risk. Cooking with lard raised the risk by 66%.

The minor 5 making up the remaining 10% were – diabetes, excessive alcohol (moderate alcohol cut the risk), stress and depression, cardiac problems, and a particular blood fat ratio out of order (apolipoproteins B to A1 ratio).

The ten risk factors were all significant for ischaemic stroke (blockage).  For haemorrhagic stroke (bleeding) the significant factors were high blood pressure, smoking, waist-to-hip ratio, diet and alcohol.

The 10 stroke risk factors are very similar to the 9 heart attack risk factors produced by an earlier study (INTERHEART).

June 22, 2010 Posted by | Alcohol, CVD - cardiovascular disease, Depression, Diabetes, Diet, Exercise, Health, High blood pressure, Martin J O'Donnell, Obesity, Smoking, Stress, Stroke, Success | Leave a comment

Younger women at risk from work stress.

Dr Yrsa Andersen Hundrup. Women aged 50 or less who self-report work stress as much too high have a 40% higher chance of ischaemic heart disease (reduced blood supply to the heart muscle).

The study was in women only, and looked at over 12,000 Danish nurses for 15 years.

One of the risk factors for this disease is age, which may be masking a stress effect in women over 50.

Ischaemic heart disease is the number 1 killer in most Western countries in the world.

May 6, 2010 Posted by | CVD - cardiovascular disease, Health, Stress, Success, Work, Yrsa Andersen Hundrup | Leave a comment