Stress during pregnancy increases risk of mood disorders for female offspring

High maternal levels of the stress hormone cortisol during pregnancy increase anxious and depressive-like behaviors in female offspring at the age of 2, reports a new study in Biological Psychiatry. The effect of elevated maternal cortisol on the negative offspring behavior appeared to result from patterns of stronger communication between brain regions important for sensory and emotion processing. The findings emphasize the importance of prenatal conditions for susceptibility of later mental health problems in offspring.

Interestingly, male offspring of mothers with high cortisol during pregnancy did not demonstrate the stronger brain connectivity, or an association between maternal cortisol and mood symptoms.

“Many mood and anxiety disorders are approximately twice as common in females as in males. This paper highlights one unexpected sex-specific risk factor for mood and anxiety disorders in females,” said John Krystal, MD, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. “High maternal levels of cortisol during pregnancy appear to contribute to risk in females, but not males.”

Full story at Science Daily

Stressed out? Try smelling your partner’s shirt

The scent of a romantic partner can help lower stress levels, new psychology research from the University of British Columbia has found.

The study, published yesterday in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found women feel calmer after being exposed to their male partner’s scent. Conversely, being exposed to a stranger’s scent had the opposite effect and raised levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

“Many people wear their partner’s shirt or sleep on their partner’s side of the bed when their partner is away, but may not realize why they engage in these behaviours,” said Marlise Hofer, the study’s lead author and a graduate student in the UBC department of psychology. “Our findings suggest that a partner’s scent alone, even without their physical presence, can be a powerful tool to help reduce stress.”

Full story at Science Daily

Trauma induces more alcohol craving than stress among veterans with PTSD and co-occurring alcohol dependence

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol dependence (AD) are two of the most common and debilitating disorders diagnosed among American military veterans. AD and PTSD often occur together, and this co-occurrence has a worse prognosis than either disorder alone. Alcohol craving is related to relapse, but the relationship between PTSD symptoms, craving, and relapse is not well understood. This study is the first to explore the effects of trauma-induced and stress-induced imagery on alcohol craving, affect, and cardiovascular and cortisol responses in a laboratory setting.

Researchers examined 25 veterans who had been diagnosed with AD and PTSD and were participating in a randomized treatment trial. At baseline, participants’ PTSD symptoms and drinking quantity and frequency during the three-month pretreatment period were assessed. During the session, the participants were exposed to neutral, stressful, and traumatic imagery in random order. The main outcomes included craving, anxiety, mood states, salivary cortisol, and cardiovascular responses.

Full story of trauma inducing alcohol cravings at Science Daily

Depression, obesity common among bipolar patients with exhausted stress system

New observations show that older bipolar patients often have decreased activity in the hormone system responsible for the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol. Low levels of cortisol in bipolar patients were also associated with depression, low quality of life, obesity, dyslipidaemia and metabolic syndrome. These discoveries could provide important clues as to how treatment strategies for depression and bipolar disorder can be improved, according to a dissertation at Umeå University in Sweden.

Martin Maripuu, doctoral student at the Department of Clinical Sciences, Division of Psychiatry, has studied the correlation between low cortisol levels, so-called hypocortisolism, and poor psychiatric and somatic health in patients with recurrent depressions or bipolar disorder. Poor physical health in the form of obesity, metabolic syndrome and dyslipidaemia, i.e. high levels of fat in the blood, was considerably more common in patients with low cortisol levels in comparison to patients with normal or high cortisol levels.

Full story of depression and obesity at Science Daily

Liking on Facebook good for teens’ stress, but being liked…not so much

Facebook can have positive and negative effects on teens levels of a stress hormone, say researchers at the University of Montreal and the Institut universitaire de santé mentale de Montréal. Led by Professor Sonia Lupien, the team found that having more than 300 Facebook friends increased teens’ levels of cortisol. On the other hand, teens who act in ways that support their Facebook friends — for example, by liking what they posted or sending them words of encouragement — decreased their levels of cortisol. Their findings were published inPsychoneuroendocrinology.

Lupien and her colleagues recruited 88 participants aged 12-17 years who were asked about their frequency of use of Facebook, their number of friends on the social media site, their self-promoting behaviour, and finally, the supporting behaviour they displayed toward their friends. Along with these four measures, the team collected cortisol samples of the participating adolescents. The samples were taken four times a day for three days.

Stress levels measured in adolescents from cortisol samples are obviously not entirely due to the popular social media site. “While other important external factors are also responsible, we estimated that the isolated effect of Facebook on cortisol was around eight percent,” Lupien said. “We were able to show that beyond 300 Facebook friends, adolescents showed higher cortisol levels; we can therefore imagine that those who have 1,000 or 2,000 friends on Facebook may be subjected to even greater stress.”

Full story of liking on Facebook and impact on teens mental health at Science Daily

Stress causes infants to resort to habits

Under stress, people are inclined to resort to habits, rather than trying out new things. In the journal PNAS, psychologists from the Ruhr-Universität Bochum and the Technische Universität Dortmund report that this is true not only for adults, but also for infants.

Unfamiliar situations akin to everyday life caused an increase in the stress hormone cortisol

Together with their colleagues, Dr Sabine Seehagen from Bochum and Prof Dr Norbert Zmyj from Dortmund studied 26 infants at the age of 15 months who underwent a learning task. Approximately half of the infants had previously been subjected to stressful situations such as they may occur in their everyday life: a stranger sat down next to them, a dancing robot played loud music and moved around, their parents left the room for a maximum of four minutes. These events caused an increase in the stress hormone cortisol. The infants in the control group spent the same period of time playing with their parents.

Full story of stress and infant habits at Science Daily

Back to school and back to sleep

Sleep matters for kids, especially when they are stressed. A new study led by researchers Jinshia Ly, Jennifer J. McGrath and Jean-Philippe Gouin from Concordia University’s Centre for Clinical Research in Health and the PERFORM Centre shows that poor sleep might explain how stress impacts health in kids.

A good night’s sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep might buffer the impact of stress on kids’ cortisol level, which is a hormone produced in the adrenal gland to regulate the body’s cardiovascular, metabolic and immune systems. While short-term exposure to cortisol prepares the body for the “fight or flight” response, long-term exposure to cortisol can put people at risk for health problems, like heart diseases, weight gain and depression.

Full story of stress and getting sleep at Science Daily