"Such studies will lead to a better understanding of brain development in both autistic and typical individuals."
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges.
- Although a diagnosis of autism can typically be made around the age of 2, the average age for diagnosis in the United States is after 4 years old.
- A new study shows that the atypical development of autism in human brain cells starts at the very earliest stages of brain organization, which can happen as early as the third week of pregnancy.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. According to the CDC, a diagnosis of autism now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately (autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, and Asberger syndrome). These conditions are now wrapped into the ASD diagnosis.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for autism at 18 months and at 24 months, yet only about half of primary care practitioners in the United States screen for autism. Although a diagnosis of autism can typically be made around the age of 2, the average age for diagnosis in the United States is more than 4 years old.
Nerve cells in the autistic brain differ before birth, new research finds
The study was performed by scientists at King's College London and Cambridge University.
The study used induced pluripotent stem cells to recreate the development of each sample in the womb.
The researchers isolated hair samples from nine autistic people and six typical people. By treating the cells with an array of growth factors, the scientists were able to drive the hair cells to become nerve cells (or neurons), much like those found in either the cortex or the midbrain region.
These induced pluripotent stem cells (referred to as IPSCs) retain the genetic identity of the person from which they came, and the cells restart their development as it would have happened in the womb. This provides a look into that person's brain development.
At various stages, the researchers examined the developing cells' appearance and sequenced their RNA to see which genes the cells were expressing. On day 9 of the study, developing neurons from typical people formed "neural rosettes" (an intricate, dandelion-like shape indicative of typically developing neurons). Cells from autistic people formed smaller rosettes (or did not form any rosettes at all), and key developmental genes were expressed at lower levels.
Days 21 and 35 of the study showed cells from typical and autistic people differed significantly in a number of ways, proving that the makeup of neurons in the cortex differs in the autistic and typically developing brains.
John Krystal, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief of Biological Psychiatry, explains: "The emergence of differences associated with autism in these nerve cells shows that these differences arise very early in life."
Along with the variations, there were some things that proved similar.
Additionally, cells directed to develop as midbrain neurons (a brain region that's not implicated in autism dysfunction) showed only negligible differences between typical and autistic individuals. The similarities are just as important as the differences, as they mark how the autistic brain and typical brain develop uniquely from the earliest stages of growth.
"The use of iPSCs allows us to examine more precisely the differences in cell fates and gene pathways that occur in neural cells from autistic and typical individuals. These findings will hopefully contribute to our understanding of why there is such diversity in brain development," said Dr. Dr. Deepak Srivastava, who supervised the study.
The intention of this study is not to find ways to "cure" autism, but to better understand the key genetic components that contribute to it.
Simon Baron-Cohen, Ph.D., Director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge and the study's co-lead, added that "some people may be worried that basic research into differences in the autistic and typical brain prenatally may be intended to 'prevent,' 'eradicate,' or 'cure' autism. This is not our motivation, and we are outspoken in our values in standing up against eugenics and in valuing neurodiversity. Such studies will lead to a better understanding of brain development in both autistic and typical individuals."
While the benefits of music therapy are well known, more in-depth research explores how music benefits children with autism.
- Music is used in many different therapies. Used in conjunction with traditional therapies, music therapy benefits us in a variety of different ways.
- According to a 2004 study, music intervention used with children and teens with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) can improve their social behaviors, increase focus and attention, and reduce their anxiety and improve body awareness.
- Various music therapy activities and tools can be used to help improve the quality of life of children with autism.
Music has quickly become a tool used in various therapies because it can stimulate both hemispheres of the brain.
Credit: HTU on Shutterstock
Music has quickly become a tool used in various therapies because it can stimulate both hemispheres of our brain rather than just one. Theoretically, a therapist could use a song or instrument to support cognitive activity that helps children with autism build self-awareness and improve their relationships with others.
Music encourages communicative and social behaviors.
According to Nurse Journal, "...if we look closely at the way that a band works, it is obvious that the instruments must all interact with one another, but the player only needs to interact with the instrument at first."
This can be particularly difficult for children dealing with autism, but by introducing an instrument to their therapy, they may first bond with the object itself and then open up to interacting with others through the use of their instrument.
Music also encourages a better understanding of words and actions.
For children with autism, listening to a song about brushing their teeth could help them learn how to do this activity. Autism can create barriers for children in social settings, but small groups of children listening to music together may help the child feel comfortable singing or expressing themselves in front of others. According to research, dancing exercises in songs also help stimulate the sensory systems, allowing the children to enhance their fine motor skills.
The positive impact of music goes beyond social interactions, helping children develop better motor skills and body awareness.
According to a 2004 study published in the Journal of Music Therapy, music intervention used with children and teens with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) can improve their social behaviors, increase focus and attention, increase communication attempts (vocalizations/verbalizations/gestures), reduce their anxiety, and improve body awareness. A more recent 2018 study showed similar results.
How music therapy works
"All people, regardless of pathology, illness, disability, or trauma all have the ability to make music."
Credit: Photographee.eu on Shutterstock
Music is used in many different therapies. Used in conjunction with traditional therapies, music therapy benefits us in a variety of different ways.
According to Positive Psychology, some of the major health benefits of music therapy include:
- Reduces anxiety and physical symptoms of stress
- Helps to manage Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease
- Reduces depression and other symptoms (in the elderly population)
- Reduces symptoms of psychological disorders
- Improves self-expression and communication
The Nordoff-Robbins approach to music therapy.
This approach to music therapy interventions was developed through the 1950s-1970s by Paul Nordoff (an American composer and pianist) and Clive Robins (a teacher of children with special needs). According to Positive Psychology, this is an approach designed to harness every person's potential for engagement through active, communicative, and expressive music-making.
This approach emphasizes the importance of music-making in developing skills, a sense of self, and a capacity for social interactions. Nordoff and Robins both believed that all people, regardless of pathology, illness, disability, or trauma all have the ability to make music. Due to Robins' history with teaching children, this specific approach is well known for its work with children and adults who have learning disabilities or difficulties.
Relaxation music therapy.
Research has proven music aids in muscle relaxation. This can enable you to easily release some of the tension in your body, and when you do this, your mind also relaxes. While this is particularly useful for adults, it can also be beneficial for children. Music can be used as stress relief when a child with autism begins to feel overwhelmed in a new situation. Positive Psychology also explains that music therapy for children can also aid in offering a rhythmic structure for relaxation and breathing.
Music therapy for children.
What does music therapy look like for young children? Music therapy will vary based on each individual child's needs and abilities. For some, it can mean learning to play a musical instrument and for others, it can be singing or learning new activities through songs. Various music therapy activities and tools can be used (discussed and decided upon by both parents and therapists) to help improve the quality of life of children with autism.
The goal of this large-scale study was to provide actionable information on how to avoid depression or decrease depressive symptoms.
- Depression is a very common mental disorder, with more than 264 million people struggling with this issue worldwide. According to WHO, depression is a leading cause of disability.
- Depression results from a complex interaction of social, psychological, and biological factors.
- A new large-scale Harvard Medical School study suggests daytime napping and frequent television-watching may be negatively contributing to depression.
Depression is a common mental disorder, with more than 264 million people (of all ages) who struggle with this issue.
There are several different types of depression, with the two most common being:
- Recurrent depressive disorder
- Bipolar affective disorder
Depression, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) is a leading cause of disability worldwide. It results from a complex interaction of social, psychological, and biological factors. While there are several effective treatments for depression (including antidepressant medications), there are also lifestyle changes you can make to prevent or lessen the impact of depressive symptoms.
This large-scale, two-stage approach study scanned a wide range of modifiable factors that could be associated with the risk of developing depression...
Photo by Pressmaster on Shutterstock
According to a large-scale (over 100,000 participants) study out of Harvard Medical School, there are many ways you can lessen the impact of depression. The study focused on the lifestyle factors that you can easily modify if you suffer from depression.
The researchers took a two-stage approach to this study. The first stage drew on a database of over 100,000 participants in the UK Biobank to systematically scan a wide range of modifiable factors that could be associated with the risk of developing depression. These modifiable factors included things like social interaction, media use, sleeping patterns, diet, physical activity, and environmental exposures.
The second stage of this study was to narrow down the field to a smaller set of promising and potentially causal targets for depression. Throughout this two-step process, they were able to determine certain behaviors that can directly influence depression.
Confiding in and socializing with others could lessen depression symptoms.
Lead author Jordan Smoller, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School explains to Fast Company: "Far and away, the most prominent of these factors was frequency of confiding in others, but also visits with family and friends, all of which highlights the important protective effect of social connection and social cohesion."
This is further backed up by previous research done on the health benefits of socializing. According to Psychology Today, interacting with others boosts feelings of well-being and decreases feelings of depression. This helpful article lists several ways you can slowly incorporate more socialization into your life, with things like Skype/Facetime calls with family and friends, taking a new class, or volunteering at a charity organization.
Your television habits may be negatively impacting your depression.
The study suggests certain behaviors (such as watching television) could be associated with depression, but it isn't the first of it's kind to make that connection.
In fact, there have been several studies (including this one from 2017), that have suggested there is a link between how much television you watch and your mental health. Most of these studies conclude that the more television you watch, the worse your mental health can be.
Daytime napping also negatively impacts depression.
While it's common knowledge that a healthy sleeping pattern can positively impact your mental and physical health, did you know that having a nap during the daytime can impact depression? However, more research is needed to determine exactly why. The study suggests that both daytime napping and excessive television consumption could be proxies for sedentary behavior which would then impact your mental health.
The goal of this study was to provide actionable information on preventing and avoiding depression symptoms.
The research on depression and various mental health conditions has been ramping up and along with it, there will hopefully be more answers to these questions. As for this study, researchers explain that they wanted to leave readers with actionable advice on daily habits that could be contributing to their depressive symptoms.
"Depression takes an enormous toll on individuals, families, and society, yet we still know very little about how to prevent it," said Smoller in an interview. "We hope this work will motivate further efforts to develop actionable strategies for preventing depression."
While this has been a popular debate, the evidence suggests there isn't a strong link between pornography use and erectile dysfunction (ED).
- According to UW Health, around 5 percent of men that are 40 years old have complete erectile dysfunction. That number increases to about 15 percent by age 70.
- While there are many things that can cause or contribute to ED (such as high blood pressure, smoking, the use of drugs or alcohol, depression, and anxiety), there has been wide debate over the impacts of pornography use.
- Several studies outlined in this article look at the supposed link between ED and pornography use.
Erectile dysfunction (commonly referred to as ED) is the inability to get (or maintain) a full erection during normal sexual activity. This can occur sporadically or it can be a long-term issue. While ED can occur at any age, it is more common in men that are older as they are more likely to have health conditions that require medication, which can interfere with erectile function.
According to UW Health, around 5 percent of men that are 40 years old have complete erectile dysfunction, with that number increasing to about 15 percent of men by the age of 70. Mild to moderate ED impacts approximately 10 percent of men per decade of life (for example, 50 percent of men in their 50s, 60 percent of men in their 60s, etc.).
While anything from stress, to low self-esteem, to a physical injury can cause ED, there are some more specific causes that have been accounted for by the Urology Care Foundation:
- Having high blood pressure
- Having high blood sugar (diabetes)
- Having high cholesterol
- Using drugs or drinking too much alcohol
- Being obese
- Lacking exercise
However, there is one specific "cause" of ED that has been widely debated for years - the use of pornography.
Can pornography really cause erectile dysfunction?
Is there really any evidence proving porn causes ED?
Photo by PrinceOfLove on Shutterstock
Over the years, there have been multiple studies with conflicting results when it comes to this controversial question.
A 2012 study links porn and erectile dysfunction in men ages 20-40 but says it is only "one piece of the puzzle."
According to a HealthDay News study, porn-addicted men are more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction and are less likely to be satisfied with sexual intercourse. This was determined based on a survey of 312 men between the ages of 20-40. Of men surveyed, 3.4 percent said they preferred masturbating to pornography over sexual intercourse, but the researchers found a statistical relationship between porn addiction and sexual dysfunction.
According to lead researcher Dr. Matthew Christman (staff urologist with the Naval Medical Center in San Diego), the rates of organic causes of ED in this age cohort are extremely low, so the increase in erectile dysfunction needs to be explained. "We believe that pornography may be one piece to that puzzle. Our data does not suggest it is the only explanation, however."
A 2016 study has also been cited as proof that pornography use causes ED, however the study itself explains that more research is needed to prove this theory.
According to this study, 1 in 4 participants who sought help for new-onset ED were younger than 40, which was highly unusual. The conclusion of this study was that traditional factors that once explained sexual difficulties in men appear insufficient to account for the sharp rise in sexual dysfunctions and low sexual desire in these men."Both the literature and our clinical reports underscore the need for extensive investigation of Internet pornography's potential effects on users, ideally by having subjects remove the variable of internet pornography in order to demonstrate potential effects of behavioral modification," the authors wrote.
An Italian study suggests men could suffer from "sexual anorexia" after pornography use.
A survey of 28,000 users suggests many Italian males started an "excessive consumption" of porn sites as early as 14 years of age. The study uses the term "sexual anorexia," which is referred to in this case as a pathological loss of appetite for romantic-sexual interactions.
This particular study has been cited in multiple articles that claim ED is directly linked to pornography use. However, the study, listed in ANSA, outlines "daily use" for people in their early-mid 20s, and how individuals may become "inured to even the most violent images" in porn.
"It starts with lower reactions to porn sites, then there is a general drop in libido and in the end it becomes impossible to get an erection," explains Carlo Foresta, head of the Italian Society of Andrology and Sexual Medicine (SIAMS).
A 2019 study that analyzed porn watching and ED risk suggested there isn't likely to be a link.
According to this study, which sampled 877 American men between the ages of 18-60, porn-watching and ED were not likely to be linked. While it was true that some porn-watching men in the study did report ED, researchers found "very little evidence that mere pornography use is associated with changes in erection function."
While porn may have some impact on ED, that impact isn't always negative.
"ED is a biopsychosocial phenomenon, meaning there are many factors that can contribute to it," Christene Lorenzo, a therapist specializing in sexual health and relationships, explains to HealthLine.
There are many possible physiological, psychological, and relationship factors that impact ED that most surveys arguing the impacts of pornography of erectile function don't take into account.
Additionally, while porn-induced erectile dysfunction is possible, porn may also actually help with ED in some cases. Erectile dysfunction is a complex health issue that has both physical and mental health components, according to Medical News Today.
"A 2015 study found that men who reported more time spent viewing pornography had greater sexual responsiveness to a partner in a laboratory setting. This suggests that pornography might help prime the brain or body for sex, potentially improving intercourse with a partner."
According to the analysis, the more yoga sessions a person did each week, the less they struggled with depressive symptoms.
- Depressive disorders are the leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting over 340 million people.
- According to a new study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, yoga sessions may be able to ease depressive symptoms in people with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
- Mindfulness, meditation, and breathing control techniques are all things that have been proven effective in reducing depressive symptoms. Traditional yoga practices typically include a combination of these things and therefore may actually have more of a positive impact.
Yoga can be used as a form of exercise and self-help
Depressive disorders are the leading cause of disability worldwide.
Photo by fizkes on Shutterstock
Globally, mental disorders such as the ones highlighted throughout this article are responsible for up to 32% of disability-adjusted life years (which is described as a year of 'healthy' life lost). Depressive disorders are the leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting over 340 million people.
With COVID-19 lockdowns preventing people from accessing their regular workout routines, many are beginning to look for alternatives - and this is where yoga can help, according to new research. While typical treatments are still effective for those who are able to experience them, there may be another way to combat symptoms of depression.
According to a new study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, yoga sessions may be able to ease depressive symptoms in people with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
To assess whether physically engaging yoga practices were able to alleviate depressive symptoms in people with a diagnosed mental disorder, 19 studies were included in a large-scale systematic review, and 13 additional studies were included in a meta-analysis review for this experiment.Jacinta Brinsley, a doctoral candidate at the University of South Australia (and lead on the study) explains: "Exercise has always been a great strategy for people struggling with these feelings, as it boosts both mood and health."
How can yoga ease depression symptoms?
Study shows the more yoga you do, the less depressive symptoms you may feel.
Photo by Rawpixel.com on Shutterstock
Within the 1712 individuals across these 32 studies, disorders of depression, post-traumatic stress, schizophrenia, anxiety, alcohol dependence, and bipolar were present.
Participants did 1-2 yoga sessions per week which varied between 20 to 90 minutes long. According to Brinsley, "This is any kind of yoga where 'asana' (the postures and movements) are at the main focus." Brinsley also explained that most yoga classes found online or in gyms or studios in Western society would fit these criteria.
These yoga sessions were completed weekly for about 2.5 months across all studies reviewed in this project. The results found through Brinsley's team analysis were that yoga moderately eased depressive symptoms compared with other self-help treatments (or lack of treatment) across the mental health spectrum.
The analysis proves that some conditions seemed to benefit more than others, with the highest success being among individuals who were diagnosed with depressive disorders. Yoga was less effective for those with schizophrenia and those struggling with alcohol use disorders. There was no positive impact listed for those who struggled with depression that stemmed from PTSD.
According to the analysis, the more yoga sessions a person did each week, the less they struggled with depressive symptoms and the better they felt.
Different mechanisms work for us to improve our physical and mental health as we exercise.
Exercise has been widely known for its physical and mental health benefits, with increasing blood circulation to the brain (especially to areas like the amygdala and hippocampus), which both play roles in controlling our motivation, moods, and responses.
One of the mechanisms that work for us, bettering our physical and mental health when we exercise is the release of endorphins. Another important mechanism that helps is the body's central stress response system (the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis), along with the ability for yoga (or other kinds of exercise) to improve sleep quality.
Mindfulness, meditation, and breathing control techniques are all things that have been proven effective in reducing depressive symptoms. Traditional yoga practices typically include a combination of these things and therefore may actually have more of a positive impact beyond mindfulness, breathing exercises, or exercise used individually.
Connecting the body to the mind through yoga practices.
One of the most helpful things when dealing with mental health conditions is awareness and proactivity. Understanding the problem and working to find a solution. Yoga practices often teach that the body, mind, and spirit are all connected. When you do work in one area, it impacts your whole system.
Laurie Hyland Robertson, who co-authored the book "Understanding Yoga Therapy", explains: "We can expect that leg exercises, especially when you approach it in a mindful and purposeful way, can not only affect your quadriceps, but also your emotional state, your body's physiology, and even your mental outlook."
Yoga can be treated as any treatment plan - individualized for each patient.
Robertson also explains that yoga is an extremely unique treatment plan that offers something for everyone, as "the results of this analysis underscore the importance of working with a professional who can tailor yoga practices to the individual, adapting the care plan as needed."