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According to a study published November 22nd in the New England Journal of Medicine by Paul Lichtenstein, Ph.D et al, “The use of medication to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder [AD/HD] is linked to a lower likelihood of crime,” “Using Swedish national registers, researchers studied about 16,000 men and 10,000 women ages 15 and older who had been diagnosed with AD/HD.” Next, “court and prison records were used to track convictions from 2006 through 2009 and see whether patients were taking AD/HD drugs when their crimes were committed.”  The results showed that as compared with nonmedication periods, among patients receiving ADHD medication, there was a significant reduction of 32% in the criminality rate for men ) and 41% for women.

Reuters (10/26, Pittman) reports that according to a meta analysis of 64 studies published in the journal Addiction, the medications naltrexone (Revia) and acamprosate (Campral) may be good initial treatments of alcoholism. Both acamprosate and naltrexone tended to work better when patients had abstained from alcohol for at least a few days before starting the medications, or had been through a detox program.  Acamprosate is known to calm brain activity, so it can stabilize a brain that gets agitated when an alcoholic stops drinking. Naltrexone,  works on the brain’s reward and reinforcement system, so if people were to drink while on the drug, it would block some of the positive feelings produced by alcohol and keep them from overdoing it.

The NPR (10/5, Hamilton) “Shots” blog reports that “scientists say they have figured out how an experimental drug called ketamine is able to relieve major depression in hours instead of weeks.” Ketamine is an FDA-approved anesthetic. It’s also a popular club drug that can produce out-of-body experiences and hallucinations. Not exactly what you’d want from a depression drug.  “It’s exciting,” says Ron Duman, a a psychiatarist and neurobiologist at Yale University. “The hope is that this new information about ketamine is really going to provide a whole array of new targets that can be developed that ultimately provide a much better way of treating depression.”  In stressed mice, a dose of ketamine was able to “rapidly increase  connections and also to rapidly reverse the deficits that are caused by stress,” Duman says.   Research is intended to produce drugs that will work like ketamine, but without the hallucinations.  Several of these alternative drugs are already being tried in people.

According to an article in the WSJ , Melinda Beck states that many people are using omega-3 supplements to protect against various ailments, despite the fact that research on omega-3’s benefits is mixed. Recent research published in JAMA suggests that omega-3 fatty acids do not protect against heart attacks, strokes or deaths. Some medical associations, including the American Psychiatric Association, recommend regular consumption of fish rich in omega-3 for most people. Still, according to Paul Coates, director of the Office of Dietary Supplements, “There is no single answer here.” Coates adds, “Given that there is a potential for benefit, and the harm has not yet been fully explored, at reasonable levels of intake, it’s not a bad idea.”

ImageAccording to a study in the August issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry “A cohort study of 84 adults from Sweden showed that those who had been infected with T gondii were seven times more likely to participate in nonfatal, self-directed violence compared with their counterparts who had not been infected.”  T gondii has always been known to be dangerous espically in pregnant women.  It is the causative agent in Toxoplamosis.  It is frequently contracted through eating undercooked meat or comin into contact with cat feces.

HealthDay (1/25, Preidt, http://tinyurl.com/minful-change) reported that a mindfulness meditation training program can trigger measurable changes in brain areas associated with awareness, empathy and sense of self within eight weeks according to a new study . Mindfulness  focuses on nonjudgmental awareness of one’s feelings, sensations and state of mind, which often results in greater peacefulness and relaxation, the researchers explained.  They used MRI to assess the brain structure of 16 volunteers two weeks before and after they took the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness.  The program included weekly meetings to practice mindfulness meditation and audio recordings for guided meditation practice.  The researchers also analyzed MRI scans of a control group of people who did not meditate for comparison.  The meditation group participants spent an average of 27 minutes a day doing mindfulness meditation exercises.  The MRI scans taken after the eight-week program revealed increased gray matter density in the hippocampus (important for learning and memory) and in structures associated with compassion and self-awareness.  The investigators also found that participant-reported reductions in stress were associated with decreased gray matter density in the amygdala, which plays a role in anxiety and stress.  None of these brain structure changes were seen in the control group.  The study will be published in the Jan. 30 issue of the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.

WebMD (10/8, Boyles, http://tinyurl.com/lowt-alzheimers) reported that low testosterone levels in older men with memory problems may signal progression to Alzheimer’s disease or increase the risk for developing age-related dementia.  In a newly published study, older Chinese men with early memory declines who did not yet have Alzheimer’s were far more likely to develop Alzheimer’s over a year of follow-up if they had low testosterone.  The study was small, but the findings suggest low testosterone may be an independent risk factor for rapid cognitive decline in older men with early memory loss, according to Saint Louis University Medical Center professor of gerontology John Morley, MD .  All the men underwent testing to assess memory function at enrollment, and 47 were determined to have evidence of mild cognitive impairment.  Over the course of the next year, 10 men received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.   All were in the previously identified group with early memory declines and all had low levels of free testosterone in blood samples.  While the research suggests a role for testosterone in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, study researcher Scott Moffat, PhD, says it is too soon to recommend testosterone treatment for men at risk for cognitive decline. “It is not really clear if testosterone is protecting the men in these studies or if levels are reflective of some other factor, such as overall better health,” he tells WebMD.

No Fear

The New York Times (12/17, Bhanoo, http://tinyurl.com/fearamygdala) reportsIn the 1930s, researchers discovered that when a certain part of monkeys’ brains was removed, the animals became fearless.  Now, scientists have confirmed that a missing amygdala results in similar behavior in humans, according to a study in the journal Current Biology. Patient SM, because of a rare condition called lipoid proteinosis, has holes where her amygdala would normally reside. Researchers found that she, like the monkeys, has no fear of creatures like snakes and spiders, which ordinarily alarm most people.  SM put her life at risk several times.  In one instance, she walked through a park alone at night and was attacked by a man with a knife. The following day, she walked through the same park again.   Shw was exposed  to snakes and spiders at a pet store, shown clips of horror movies like The Shining and The Blair Witch Project, and taken through a haunted house in a former sanatorium.   SM’s fear response was nonexistent.   What’s more, she “relished cuddling snakes and had to be stopped from reaching for a tarantula.”   Understanding how the mind of a patient like SM works could help researchers develop therapies for individuals who express excessive amounts of fear, like war veterans.

The AP(10/29, http://tinyurl.com/latuda1) reports The Food and Drug Administration approved a new drug from Sunovion Pharmaceuticals to treat adults with schizophrenia.   Schizohrenia affects about 1 percent of the U.S. population, causing hallucinations, paranoia and delusions.  The FDA approved Sunovion’s drug Latuda based on four studies that showed patients taking the drug had fewer schizophrenia symptoms than patients taking a placebo pill.  Latuda is part of the atypical antipsychotics drug class, which also includes Eli Lilly & Co.’s Zyprexa, Johnson & Johnson’s Risperdal and AstraZeneca’s Seroquel.  Those drugs were the top-selling group of prescription drugs in the U.S. last year, with combined sales of $14.6 billion.  Sunovion Pharmaceuticals Inc. is based in Fort Lee, N.J. and is the U.S. subsidiary of Japanese drugmaker Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma Co.

“Latuda is an oral, once-daily atypical antipsychotic, offering a first-line treatment option for patients with schizophrenia and is expected to be available in the US during the first quarter of 2011,” Marlborough-based Sunovion said.  Sunovion recently changed its name from Sepracor, a company known for its Lunesta sleep aid. A year ago, Sepracor was acquired by Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma Co., a Japanese drug maker.

USA Today (10/15, Zoroya TBI) reports the Army says it has discovered a simple blood test that can diagnose mild traumatic brain damage or concussion. “This is huge,” said Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army vice chief of staff.Army Col. Dallas Hack, who has oversight of the research, says recent data show the blood test, which looks for unique proteins that spill into the blood stream from damaged brain cells, accurately diagnosing mild traumatic brain injury in 34 patients.  Doctors can miss these injuries because the damage does not show up on imaging scans, and symptoms such as headaches or dizziness are ignored or downplayed by the victims.  If the brain is not allowed time to recover and a second concussion occurs, permanent damage may result.  Brain injuries afflict 1.4 million Americans each year, says the National Brain Injury Association. Seventy percent are mild cases.  About 300,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered concussions, mostly from roadside bombs, according to a RAND Corp. study.  Hack says the new findings could rival the discovery of unique proteins in the 1970s that now help doctors identify heart disease.