Music for the mind

Posted by wanwarlock | 9:48 AM | | 0 comments »

Whether it's the Beatles or Beethoven, people like music for the same reason they like eating or having sex: It makes the brain release a chemical that gives pleasure, a new study says.

The brain substance is involved both in anticipating a particularly thrilling musical moment and in feeling the rush from it, researchers found.

Previous work had already suggested a role for dopamine, a substance brain cells release to communicate with each other. But the new work, which scanned people's brains as they listened to music, shows it happening directly.

While dopamine normally helps us feel the pleasure of eating or having sex, it also helps produce euphoria from illegal drugs. It's active in particular circuits of the brain.

The tie to dopamine helps explain why music is so widely popular across cultures, Robert Zatorre and Valorie Salimpoor of McGill University in Montreal write in an article posted online on Sunday by the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The study used only instrumental music, showing that voices aren't necessary to produce the dopamine response, Salimpoor said.

It will take further work to study how voices might contribute to the pleasure effect, she said.

The researchers described brain-scanning experiments with eight volunteers who were chosen because they reliably felt chills from particular moments in some favourite pieces of music. That characteristic let the experimenters study how the brain handles both anticipation and arrival of a musical rush.

Results suggested that people who enjoy music but don't feel chills are also experiencing dopamine's effects, Zatorre said.

PET scans showed the participants' brains pumped out more dopamine in a region called the striatum when listening to favourite pieces of music than when hearing other pieces. Functional MRI scans showed where and when those releases happened.

Dopamine surged in one part of the striatum during the 15 seconds leading up to a thrilling moment, and a different part when that musical highlight finally arrived.

Zatorre said that makes sense: The area linked to anticipation connects with parts of the brain involved with making predictions and responding to the environment, while the area reacting to the peak moment itself is linked to the brain's limbic system, which is involved in emotion.

The study volunteers chose a wide range of music - from classical and jazz to punk, tango and even bagpipes. The most popular were Barber's Adagio for Strings, the second movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Debussy's Claire de Lune.

Since they already knew the musical pieces they listened to, it wasn't possible to tell whether the anticipation reaction came from memory or the natural feel people develop for how music unfolds, Zatorre said. That question is under study, too.

Dr. Gottfried Schlaug, an expert on music and the brain at Harvard Medical School, called the study "remarkable" for the combination of techniques it used.

While experts had indirect indications that music taps into the dopamine system, he said, the new work "really nails it."

Music isn't the only cultural experience that affects the brain's reward circuitry. Other researchers recently showed a link when people studied artwork.

- AP

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Tips for a stress-free holiday season

Posted by wanwarlock | 10:45 AM | , , | 0 comments »

The holiday season: a time of fun, relaxation and family. Or is it how Collins Dictionary describes stress - as mental, emotional or physical exhaustion.

Mention this season and there will be varying responses. Some love it, some hate it. It's a time when we may experience exhaustion, expectations, isolation, disappointment, aloneness, inferiority, being overwhelmed and at times misunderstood.

Most of us are just plain worn out, yet we long to create and achieve the kind of holiday time sold to us by the media. Images of perfection, happy families, designer settings and gourmet food goad us on - if only we had the luxury of a limitless budget, an events organiser and a chef.

Many of us arrive at year end worrying if there is enough food and champers, about the credit card bills coming in January, and experiencing shame and disappointment that perhaps the Christmas we wanted for our children we couldn't give.

Many people find this time of year stressful. More than half of us are likely to experience some form of stress-related depression now and this often forces us to look at ourselves and our partners. Just when we want everything to be perfect and for our respective families to see how well we are coping, stress, fatigue, relationships, hidden fears and worries often surface.

Here are 10 relationship tips to make the holiday season as happy as you want.

1. Remember what's important. A young boy once said: "Love is what's in the room at Christmas, when you stop opening presents, and listen." Let go of perfection; go back to basics.

2. Value your relationship as the central pivot for your family. Put it first, over the tasks, the trappings, even the traditions of the New Year. None of it has value unless you and your partner can provide the atmosphere you want. Your children will take the cue from the two of you.

3. Talk to each other. Say to your partner, "I'd like to talk about what we would like this year. Is this a good time?" If it's not, try to find a mutually okay time within the next 24 hours. Set a time limit so you both know the time frames. Half an hour is a good start. Sit down and talk about your hopes, dreams, fears and expectations. Tell them what you remember as a child about holidays and why you want it to be a particular way. For many of us, our parents' daily patterns are magnified at get-togethers, for example, a mother's desire for perfectionism and need for approval and a father's silence and veiled criticism of her. Then swap and listen to your partner's experience.

4. Be there for each other. In most relationships one of you will want to talk and one of you will avoid talking. Take a deep breath. It is your relationship with each other which will have more impact than any present/meal/and so on. Say when you feel overwhelmed. Just knowing that your partner is willing to really listen and make sense of what is important to you can help to ease the tension and increase a sense of connection. Don't expect your partner to be able to mind read or know what you need - tell them.

5. Identify together the specific causes of your holiday stress. What causes the most stress and anxiety for you? Money worries? Tension with certain family members? Work out how to manage those issues together.

6. Share at a family meeting. Once you and your partner know how you would like this time to be, consider having a larger family meeting with your children so that your whole family can plan the New Year with some give and take that can make everyone happy.

7. Be on a team. Know that it's quite normal when you get together with your siblings and parents for some of the old family patterns to re-emerge. Share with your partner what you notice you do when you are around your family. They may be able to help you be different so you don't have to feel smaller or less of who you are. If you see your partner collapsing into old behaviour around their parents, feel compassion and empathy for how it might have been for them growing up in that environment. Reach out to them and remind them you are a team.

8. What do you need for yourself? Try to do one thing each day that is looking after yourself. Try to do one fun thing each day that connects you with your partner. It can be as simple as sharing the morning paper cartoon.

9. Take time out. Have an agreement between the two of you that it's okay to ask them to hold the fort while you have five minutes' time out. Find a quiet place, even if it's the bathroom. Stress, anxiety and depression are common during the festive season. Reassure yourself that these feelings are normal. Make a pact with your loved one to give you a sign that says, "I'm here. You're okay."

10. Look for longer-term solutions. Remember that people under stress tend to "self-medicate" with alcohol, cigarettes, other drugs, or even food or exercise. These ways of shutting out what is going on in your relationships won't solve the problem.

Aim for the good times and have a Happy New Year.

Source: NZHerald

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NZ Cancer Survival Rates Up

Posted by wanwarlock | 10:29 AM | | 0 comments »

NZ Cancer Survival Rates Up

Cancer survival rates improved in the 10 years to 2007, according to a Ministry of Health report released today.

The report, which looked at cancer survival rates between 1994 and 2007, found that between 1998 and 2007 survival rates for adults with cancer improved from a ratio of 0.576 to 0.623 after five years of follow-up.

"Although survival in both males and females improved, survival ratios differed in terms of sex, ethnicity, extent of disease at diagnosis, and level of deprivation," the ministry's cancer programme's national clinical director, John Childs, said.

"In general, males had slightly lower survival ratios than females, and Maori had lower survival ratios than non-Maori. Extent of disease at diagnosis also impacted greatly on patient survival."

Of the 24 adult cancers the report looked at, cancer of the pancreas had the lowest survival outcomes over five and 10 years of follow-up. Testicular cancer showed the best survival ratios.

"Prostate cancer, with a five-year survival ratio of 0.862, also had one of the highest survival gain of the adult cancer sites," Dr Childs said.

Survival from childhood cancers improved between 1998 and 2005, but dropped in 2006 and 2007, which Dr Childs said was possibly due to changes in the system for registering cancers.

The survival rate was calculated by comparing the number of people who died with cancer with the number of people in the general population who would have been expected to die over the same period.

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Aspirin: the little pill with a big impact on cancer

Posted by wanwarlock | 3:06 PM | | 0 comments »

It is not yet a panacea for all ills, but it is getting close. Yesterday, researchers announced the first proof that aspirin can cut the risk of a range of cancers by up to 50 per cent.

It is already taken by millions to protect against heart attacks and strokes and has an established role in preventing diabetes, dementia, pregnancy complications and pain.

Scientists stopped short of recommending it be added to the water supply but declared it was "the most amazing drug".
The latest positive findings on cancer had shifted the balance in favour of mass medication, but it was still too soon to recommend everyone take it, they said.

The study of eight trials involving 25,000 patients taking a low daily dose of aspirin to ward off heart disease found the drug reduced deaths caused by all cancers by 21 per cent.

If a new medicine were launched tomorrow with a similar effect it would be hailed as a miracle cure. But instead of being priced at tens of thousands of dollars, aspirin costs a few cents a tablet.

After five years on the drug, cancer death rates fell further - by a third overall and by 54 per cent for cancers of the digestive tract (including oesophagus, stomach and the bowel).

The benefit did not improve with higher doses of aspirin but increased the longer it was taken. It was also greater in older people because of the higher incidence of cancer. Over 20 years, the reduction in risk ranged from 10 per cent for prostate cancer to 60 per cent for oesophageal cancer.

The findings, published in The Lancet, follow a report in the journal last October showing that low doses of aspirin cut the risk of bowel cancer by a third.

Peter Rothwell, Professor of neurology at Oxford University, who led both studies, said the benefit of taking aspirin was consistent across the trials, "suggesting that the findings are likely to be generalisable".


* For maximum benefit, a low dose 75mg of aspirin should be taken daily from late 40s or early 50s and continued for 20 to 30 years.

* After five to 10 years overall deaths from all causes are 10 per cent lower, and benefits grow as the years advance. However, research leaders advise against taking a daily dose except on the advice of their GP, as there could be other health complications.

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Festive fitness

Posted by wanwarlock | 10:02 AM | , | 0 comments »

Don't let the festive season get the best of your sleep routine. Early nights for the young and old alike will keep spirits high on Christmas day.

Mark Walton-Cook offers a series of simple and sometimes surprising hints to help keep you trim throughout the party season.

* Raise a glass: British scientists recently reported that bubbly can reduce the risk of heart diseases. Despite its light colour, champagne includes red grapes rich in polyphenols, plant chemicals that dilate blood vessels and improve circulation.

* Tuck into Rudolph: Like venison, reindeer steaks are lower in calories, cholesterol and fat than most cuts of beef, pork or lamb. They eat loads of reindeer meat in Finland, home of Father Christmas.

* Update your iPod with festive songs: 'Tis the season to swap Eye of the Tiger for Ding Dong Merrily on High - both tracks have a similar number of beats per minute (bpm) to spur you on while you train. Experts say the ideal workout music tempo is about five beats per minute above a working heart rate, so if you jog at 120bpm you should opt for music of about 125bpm - such as Mariah Carey's
All I Want for Christmas is You.

* Add protein to your drinks: The bloody mary is regarded as a healthy king among cocktails: it's packed with vitamin C. The lycopene in the tomato juice strengthens your heart, and the fructose helps metabolise alcohol. But upgrade to a lobster bloody mary - a Southern US favourite with a lobster skewer in it - and you'll add omega-3 fatty acids, and you'll get some muscle, too. "Lobster contains more lean protein per ounce than any other meat," says nutritionist Nell Nelson.

* Eat more, buy less: Hunger makes you spend more, according to a University of Cambridge report. So have a square meal before you shop.

* Make a date with dates: A handful of dates can reduce fats in your blood by a sixth, according to the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Although the dried variety is high in sucrose, it is low-GI so won't spike your blood-sugar levels.

* Get a good night's sleep: Plan one or two evenings each week during the party season for an early night - it could help you lose weight, according to a study of nurses in the US. Those who regularly had a good night's sleep were slimmer and had a lower body mass index (BMI) than short sleepers.

* Ask Father Christmas for socks: They're hardly the most stylish addition to your running kit, but compression socks support your calf muscles and could help you to a personal best. A study in the Journal of Strength And Conditioning Research suggested that they improve circulation and blood flow, enabling you to run longer.

* Train with your reflection: Running in front of a mirror at the gym helps make you more co-ordinated and, according to one UK university study, can make your work rate less energetically demanding.

* Go for a dawn run: Watch your weight come down as the sun comes up. Sunshine is a great source of vitamin D, which researchers believe can help keep you trim. A Minnesota study has linked low levels of vitamin D to sluggish weight loss in slimmers.

* Pull a cracker: Researchers at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee found that giggling for a few minutes a day uses enough calories to burn about 2.2kg of fat a year.

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