Can Probiotics Treat Depression?

Probiotics and depressionThe importance of the gut for overall health is now being increasingly recognised. The gut has several important roles in the body including the digestion of food, and the absorption and production of many nutrients. The gut also has a major influence on our immune system and is involved in the production of many hormones. Our digestive tract contains trillions of bacteria which help with the function of the gut. When bacteria levels (known as gut flora or probiotics) are out of balance it can have detrimental effects on our health. In fact, several studies have now confirmed that probiotic supplementation is beneficial for overall health and can help treat many diseases (not just related to the gut).

The role of the gut and probiotics for mental health has attracted increasing interest over the last decade although there has been little research investigating the effects of probiotic supplementation for the treatment of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
probiotics
Researchers have just published a study in the journal, Nutrition, investigating the effects of probiotic supplementation in people with depression [1].

In this randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, forty adults with depression were randomly allocated into one of two groups; probiotic supplementation or placebo for 8 weeks. The probiotic capsule contained three strains of bacteria: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidobacterium bifidum.

After 8 weeks of intervention, people who received the probiotic supplements experienced significantly greater improvements in mood compared to those on the placebo. In addition, people taking probiotics experienced the following:

  • Greater decreases in serum insulin, which indicates improvements in insulin resistance
  • Greater reductions in c-reactive protein (CRP) levels, which points to reduced inflammation
  • Greater increases in glutathione, which indicates improvements in antioxidant defences

This study provides initial support for the benefits of probiotics for people with depression and highlights the crucial relationship between the gut and the brain. If you want to improve mental wellbeing, then you must not neglect the health of your gut. This includes looking at the foods you eat, the medications you take, the toxins you are consuming, and your overall stress levels.

Reference:

1. Akkasheh G, et al. Clinical and metabolic response to probiotic administration in patients with major depressive disorder: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Nutrition. 2015 Sep 28. pii: S0899-9007(15)00391-3. Pubmed link

Lance Armstrong

Pain Tolerance and Endurance Athletes

Endurance sports, such as cycling, require a different set of skills over their game sport counterparts. The very nature of endurance sports, pushing oneself to the limit for extended periods of time, taxes the mind much differently then other sports.

In this article we will cover the relationship between pain tolerance and endurance athletes.

While there are plenty of heroic stories of football or hockey players playing through some ungodly injury, this is not inherent to the sport. When Ray Lewis sacks Tom Brady, it hurts but when Brady throws a touchdown pass, there is nothing inherently painful about this success. To win a bike race, though, is inherently painful. What is it about cyclists that allow them to tolerate this pain so well? Do they even feel it the same way we do? Does their mind approach the pain differently? Do they address the pain differently? The following seeks to answer some of these questions.

Certainly some individuals are blessed with a genetic gift that allows them and their physical systems to excel and some would argue that these genetically-gifted individuals are rare. It could also be argued that these people are less rare than most realize. As an endurance athlete, you are only as good as your mind allows and there are many individuals who are physically strong yet mentally weak and who cannot succeed. The fact is, winners and the ones at the top of the sport are different types of people. Not different from each other but different from you and me.

Grit is a Requisite For Success

Common sense tells us that top endurance athletes probably have a little more ‘grit’ than the average person. It’s that type of grit that allowed Tyler Hamilton to win a stage of the Tour De France with a broken collarbone. Hamilton, known for his incredible pain tolerance, embodies the difference between ‘them’ and ‘us’. The insane pain tolerance of him and his peers is obviously the difference, but what drives that difference? Perhaps their tolerance isn’t different, perhaps their pain is different. What if these athletes feel pain differently than you and me? That would be a convenient explanation but as it turns out it’s not likely true.

A 2012 meta-analysis of 15 pain-tolerance and pain threshold studies showed that athletes feel pain in the same way and same levels as non-athletes. The only difference was that they were able to tolerate the pain better. This tells us that their bodies aren’t different (they still feel the pain) but their brains might perceive the pain differently (they have a much higher tolerance).

Additionally, it was found that the type of sport seems to matter with endurance athletes mostly having similar pain tolerances and thresholds which were different than other sports. This indicates some similarity within but not necessarily across sports. A cyclist handles pain differently than a baseball player, for example. Higher pain tolerance in athletes may hold clues for pain management.

The Pain Does Matter

It would be easy to dismiss all this talk of pain tolerance and make an argument that it’s not the pain that matters, but the physical ability. It’s common to hear excuses in sport about why things didn’t work out as well as a cyclist might have liked on race day.
Claire Hallissey
Many like to cite physical differences and ability and at times people will note that they were just ‘off’ that day. These things are real, and they do matter, but it’s not the whole story. Alexis Mauger, Andrew Jones and Craig Williams of the School of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Exeter decided to investigate the influence of pain medication on performance during time trial cycling.

Subjects were split into two groups and were given either acetaminophen (Tylenol) or a placebo prior to a self-paced 10 mile time trial. Subjects were also asked to rate subjective levels of pain. Although there was no significant difference in perceived pain tolerance, ie. all subjects felt the time trial was equally hard and equally painful, the group given a pain reducing medication had a significantly higher heart rate and a significantly better time trial time, which is to say that they pushed themselves harder.

This tells us that pain seems to be a limiter both in performance and in the ability to push oneself further. The findings would arguably be less interesting if the faster group stated that the time trial was less-painful, but the fact that they didn’t feel it was any less painful, and yet they went significantly faster, tells us that the a major speed limit is the individual’s pain tolerance. If an individual is able to tolerate pain better (or in the case of this study, merely reduce the pain), they can go faster.

In most sports, the ones at the top are often the most-quoted. Part of this is just because they are more in the spotlight, but what they say is also an excellent reflection of how they approach their craft. In a 1998 study by Jeffery Kress and Traci Statler of California State University, the quotes of Olympic cyclists were examined to determine how they attempt to deal with pain while training and competing.

Kress and Statler concluded that top cyclists utilize an array of tactics and techniques to address the pain associated with their sport. The key point is not that they are able to handle the pain better, it’s that they actually seek to embrace and deal with the pain, rather than ignore it as much of the population does during exercise. Simply put, top athletes approach the pain in a unique way by paying attention to it, rather than ignoring it.

Learning to Deal With Pain

With the above facts in mind a fair question to ask is whether or not this is a natural state or if it is a learned ability. Do cyclists and other endurance athletes learn to deal with the pain over time or are they born with these unique abilities?

A meta-study of pain tolerance and perception in athletes and non athletes, published in the journal, Pain, in 2012 seeks to answer whether or not pain tolerances and perception can be altered over time. The study looked at 15 studies including 900 individual subjects. The results of this meta-analysis, which are extensive, indicate that individuals can actually alter their perceptions and tolerance to pain over time through regular physical activity. Much like the act of strengthening the legs and the lungs, prolonged cycling seems to build towards a higher tolerance to pain.

What Placebos and Mental Illness can Teach us About Pain Tolerance

The placebo effect has long allowed scientists to test the effectiveness of medication (and other variables) but the effect itself has come under the scientific spotlight. The ability for a sugar pill to reduce pain, for example, opens up many questions about how pain works. Numerous studies over many years have proven time and again that a placebo can reduce pain in test subjects.

This indicates that pain reduction can be modulated both by external chemicals (in the form of pain medicine, for example) but also by internal psychological factors (which very well could ultimately alter brain chemistry as well).

Mental illness seems to affect pain tolerances as well. Elderly individuals suffering from dementia have different pain tolerances and thresholds. Additionally, the specific type of dementia seems to cause unique changes of these tolerances and thresholds.

Individuals that self-mutilate also, not surprisingly perhaps, have unique pain tolerances and thresholds. What is interesting about these individuals, though, is that the differences only seem to surface in instances of interpersonal distress. In other words, the very scenarios that would lead to a self-mutilating episode seem to be the only time they have a heightened tolerance to pain. This indicates that pain tolerances actually change depending on context.

Conclusion

Cyclists and other endurance athletes have to be able to face the pain inherent with their sport if they are to succeed. Although physical prowess is an obvious requirement to succeed in endurance racing, the ability to mentally deal with the physical pain is arguably equally important. It cannot go without saying that there are known genetic drivers behind individual differences in pain tolerance. This helps explain why some individuals are better at dealing with pain than others (regardless of their athletic ability).

It seems likely that to become a top cyclist one must have been born with both extreme physical ability as well as an elevated natural tolerance to pain. Beyond this, there are some differences that set the cyclists apart. Although they may have an inherent elevated tolerance to pain, the pain itself does not differ from other individuals.

We also know that pain is an important limiter in endurance sport and if a cyclist or other endurance athlete can manage the pain better they can go faster. Lastly, pain is very psychological so the way in which an athlete copes with it likely plays a significant role in their ability to deal with it. In the words of Tyler Hamilton a cyclist cannot block out the pain, but must embrace it.

The Impact of Violence in Video Games

Violence in video gamesViolence sells but many fear it may negatively impact those who partake in watching violent movies, television shows, and especially video games. It seems plausible that if violence in fact increases brand awareness when combined with video games that we will see more violent video games capitalising on in-game advertisement.

Is this a bad thing?

Although the findings are not firm, it seems likely that violent video games lead to more successful in-game advertising.

The Real World Example

For those who play video games, a completely new world has opened up over the last decade as these gamers (and their games) become increasingly connected to the internet. No longer are gamers stuck with playing against the computer, no longer are sports rosters outdated, no longer is the game you purchase the final version of the game. Many video games are played strictly on the internet.

Beyond the entertainment value of incorporating the internet into gaming, there is a monetary value. In-game advertising is certainly nothing new. However, the addition of the internet to in-game advertising allows for a dynamic experience.

The ability to use the internet to target and change in-game advertisements has created a completely new opportunity to capitalize on ads in ways that has never allowed before. And with this comes an increased desire to spend money on in-game advertising, which will certainly lead to more of it.

This seems harmless to all but the gaming purests whom are bothered by advertisements fudging with their gaming experience. This begs to question whether or not an in-game advertisement can even be effective if the individual who is suppose to see the ad is too busy killing Nazis! One must also consider whether or not an advertisement in a game where you kill Nazis is going to be as effective as say, Sonic the Hedgehog. It turns out, that such questions are beginning to be answered by researchers.

Who Are They?

Andre Melzer, Brad Bushman and Ulrich Hoffman, The University of Michigan The University of Amsterdam and University of Luebeck.

What They Did

Melzer, Bushman and Hoffman developed a 3D driving simulator that allows for researchers to manipulate the scenery (specifically, though not exclusively, billboards) in the game.

Users were split into two groups. The first group played a non-violent version of the game in which they were rewarded for running over geometric shapes. A second group played the violent version of the game. The only change in the game was that users were rewarded for running over innocent pedestrians (it may be worth noting that when an individual ran over a pedestrian, a loud screaming sound reinforced the act).

Throughout the game billboards were placed in the scenery which displayed 64 corporate brands which were proven (through prior testing) to be well-recognized brands by the general public. Following completion of the simulation, users were given a surprise memory (consisting of two parts) test as well as a questionnaire.

The Memory Test

The first aspect of the memory test presented users with blurred versions of real brands, some of which were in the game, and some were not. The second aspect was a ‘free recall’ test in which users listed as many of the brands they saw while playing the game as they could.

The Questionnaire

The questionnaire served a few purposes but the most significant question asked the user whether or not the game was violent.

The Results

As expected, most users correctly identified whether or not their version of the game was violent (as per the questionnaire). There was no difference in the amount of brands that were recalled by users in either version of the game (that is to say that on average, non-violent game players recalled an equal amount of brands as the violent game players). Interestingly though, users who played the violent version of the game were quicker to identify which brands were actually in the game compared to the non-violent game players.

What Does It Mean?

Truthfully, the study is somewhat lacking, and this is recognized by the researchers who intend on further developing the study. For example, they set up an eye-tracking system in the game but unfortunately it malfunctioned for most of the trials.

Having said that, it appears that violent video games may lead to an increase in awareness of advertisements presented in-game. When the users played the violent game they appeared more ready to identify brands that they saw while playing the game.

Violence sells but many fear it may negatively impact those who partake in watching violent movies, television shows, and especially video games. It seems plausible that if violence in fact increases brand awareness when combined with video games that we will see more violent video games capitalizing on in-game advertisement.
Is this a bad thing? That is for you to decide.