Hanging with your BFF reduces stress, increases altruism

Best FriendsA study in the current issue of Hormones and Behavior looked at the physical effects of social closeness on women. The results suggest that emotional closeness to a friend increases progesterone, a hormone thought to “boost well-being and reduce anxiety and stress.”

Stephanie Brown of the University of Michigan (the lead researcher of the study) paired up 160 female college students. She randomly assigned pairs of women to a task designed to elicit emotional closeness or to an emotionally neutral task (editing a botany manuscript). Progesterone levels were measured afterwards. The hormone levels of pairs who were involved in the emotional task remained stable or increased. A reduction in progesterone was found for pairs in the neutral group. Here’s the interesting part: A week later, the pairs met again and played a card game with their original partners. The researchers then asked the participants how likely they’d be to risk their life for their partner. Higher levels of progesterone were linked to a greater willingness to sacrifice to help their partner. It was noted that previous research had linked higher levels of progesterone to a desire for social bonding, but this was the first study to find that the reverse was also true.

Moderate Drinking May Shrink the Brain

Here is an interesting story that goes against the belief that a glass of wine or beer before dinner is good for you. Researchers found that increasing alcohol intake was associated with loss in total brain volume greater than expected from age alone. This was reported by Carol Ann Paul, of Wellesley College, and her colleagues in the October issue of the Archives of Neurology.

In the cross-sectional study, women were affected more strongly than men by moderate alcohol intake averaging at one to two drinks a day. The cardiovascular benefits of low to moderate alcohol intake are thought to result from increasing blood flow rates, which would have been expected to benefit the brain also, Paul said. But rather than preventing normal age-related volume reductions, the effects of moderate drinking were closer to those of heavy drinking, which has been linked to brain atrophy and cognitive decline, the researchers noted.

Since declines in brain volume and increases in white matter lesions are associated with memory loss and worsening dementia, the effects of alcohol likely have some functional impact over time, Paul said.

You can read more here.

UPDATE: CNN.com has more information about this story. You can find it here.

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The Importance of Post-Trauma Treatment

This stuff is hitting kind of close to home, doc by dospazSurvivors of natural disasters, accidents, war, abuse, and crime often face a difficult road to recovery. Children and youth in particular, who are only beginning to learn strategies to cope with stress and worry, may develop chronic difficulties following a traumatic experience; we’ve been writing all week about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In this week’s episode of The Family Anatomy Podcast, William Krill (author of Gentling: A Practical Guide to Treating PTSD in Abused Children) said that some children with whom he’s worked remained in treatment for over two years! Clearly, overcoming trauma isn’t easy, even with professional help. What about survivors who don’t have professional support?

Moms and internet addiction

Internet AddictionOver on the Postcards from the Mothership blog, I found a recent article about mothers’ risk of becoming addicted to the internet. Since a survey last year indicated that almost half of women would give up sex before giving up the internet, it seems clear that women are placing increasing value on their time spent online. As we wrote last week, internet addiction is being considered as a possible addition to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the diagnostic guide used by psychologists and psychiatrists.

The internet and its widespread use is a relatively new phenomenon, research-wise. Much of the work that has been done has focused on men’s addiction to videogames or online pornography. Researchers are only beginning to investigate the impact of social networks. Another relatively recent phenomenon is the increased use of laptops relative to desktops – you no longer need to remove yourself to an office in order to go online! The combination of ease of access and the proliferation of services such as Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr, along with the growth in the number of blogs, may have made the internet more appealing to busy moms.

Loneliness and depression are risk factors in the development of internet addiction. Put that together with the information in yesterday’s post about post-partum depression, and it suggests that new moms are at an increased risk to become addicted to the internet. They can connect with adults in chat rooms and on Facebook or Twitter, they can order diapers and other necessities online, and they can escape from their depression. In an article on CNN.com Health, Coleen Moore, the Resource Coordinator at the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery in Peoria, said that she’s seeing more young women, often new parents, for the treatment of internet addiction. Moore said:

In addiction treatment, we talk about the fact that there’s a void. Whatever that void may be — whether it’s emotional, spiritual, physical — typically, we’re trying to fill it.