Imagination can change perception of reality on a neural level

Imagining something into reality is probably a desire as old as imagination itself, but there might just be a slight bit more to it than mere wishful thinking.

A new study reveals how imagining a scenario that takes place in an emotionally neutral place can change our attitude to that place in reality.

To puzzle out how we learn from imagined events, researchers from Harvard University and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive Brain Sciences conducted an experiment, first in the US and then they replicated it in Germany.

Participants were asked to provide a list of people they really liked, people they disliked and a list of places they had neutral feelings towards. Then, while lying in an fMRI scanner, they were asked to imagine meeting someone from their liked-list at one of their neutral places.

All up, 60 people lay in an MRI to do just that, but the data of 12 of them had to be eliminated after two of the volunteers hilariously managed to fall asleep in the process, while the others struggled to be still enough for accurate imaging.

The MRI scans revealed our ability to imagine these scenarios involves a network in our brain that includes the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) – an area that has been linked to processing risk, fear, decision making and evaluation of morality.

“We propose that this region bundles together representations of our environment by binding together information from the entire brain that form an overall picture,” said cognitive neuroscientist Roland Benoit.

The researchers explain that while the vmPFC does not code for individual entities such as people exactly, but patterns of coded individual features represent individual people or places within this part of the brain. And they were able to see participants’ attitudes towards their neutral places change through changes in activity levels in of these neural patterns.

“When I imagine my daughter in the elevator, both her representation and that of the elevator become active in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. This, in turn, can connect these representations – the positive value of the person can thus transfer to the previously neutral location,” Benoit explained.

That the attitudes can transfer in this way confirms those brain parts not only hold the imagination of the place in our mind but also codes our evaluation of the real place too. So, imaginings, much like real happenings, can influence our attitude of the real world.

Evidence that we can alter our attitude towards a place merely with a daydream adds weight to the ideas that changing our thinking patterns can meaningfully change our reactions to the world – an important concept for mental health.

Of course, the power to evoke change through imagination only applies to our perceptions and the influences those can have on our psychology and physiology. It still has no bearing on altering our external physical realities no matter how many self-help books or politicians pretend otherwise.

But given how disruptive perceptions and emotions can be in our lives, understanding more about this phenomenon could prove highly useful.

“In our study, we show how positive imaginings can lead to a more positive evaluation of our environment,” Benoit summarised.

“I wonder how this mechanism influences people who tend to dwell on negative thoughts about their future, such as people who suffer from depression. Does such rumination lead to a devaluation of aspects of their life that are actually neutral or even positive?”

It’s an interesting question, and one that many of us who battle with negative thoughts are eager to better understand.

The study was published in Nature Communications.

Super-soldier diet? Pentagon eyes controversial keto diet in bid to build more lethal warriors

Ditching carbs may be the key to military success in America’s future wars.

Top Pentagon officials say research has shown that human bodies in ketosis – the goal of the popular and controversial ketogenic diet – can stay underwater for longer periods, making the fat- and protein-heavy eating plan a potential benefit to military divers. It is one example of a rapidly growing trend as military researchers zero in on how nutrition and certain drugs can enhance how fighting men and women perform in battle.

But U.S. defense officials say they lack the legal authorities to dictate to soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines what they can and cannot eat. Critics of the entire concept warn that the military is entering a danger-filled world if it begins ordering diets and drug protocols solely to build more lethal warriors.

But industries that specialize in the link between diet and performance are eager to engage in complex conversations about using cutting-edge science to optimize the human body while preserving basic elements of choice and individuality. The example of how ketosis – a biological process in which the body burns fat for fuel – could produce more capable military divers is one of the clearest examples of the 21st-century debate that now confronts the Pentagon.

“One of the effects of truly being in ketosis is that it changes the way your body handles oxygen deprivation, so you can actually stay underwater at [deeper] depths for longer periods of time and not go into oxygen seizures,” Lisa Sanders, director of science and technology at U.S. Special Operations Command, said at a high-level defense industry conference in Tampa late last month.

“That kind of technology is available today,” she said. “We can tell whether you are or are not in ketosis. We have really good indications of how to put you in ketosis. And we know statistically what that does to your ability to sustain oxygen.

“The problem,” she said, “is I don’t have the authority to tell people – swimmers, submariners, etc. – that they’re going to get themselves in ketosis so they can stay in the water longer. That’s an authority question, not a technology question.”

The keto diet remains the subject of great controversy. While touted an effective way to lose weight, critics say it’s simply not realistic nor healthy to virtually eliminate carbohydrates from one’s plate on a long-term basis.

Beyond the pros and cons of the diet, however, lie philosophical questions about how much control the armed forces can and should exert over the physical bodies of the recruits who make up its ranks. The military long has held members to physical fitness standards and weeded out those with substance abuse problems, but some scholars argue that the diet debate crosses a new ethical boundary.

Critics of dictating diets acknowledge that research and technology have provided unimaginable opportunities for performance improvement, but they warn that they could undercut the finely tuned human body if applied incorrectly.

“For me, it smacks of the removal of free will from one of the most basic of biological functions: eating and consuming energy. It’s also one that misunderstands and misrepresents how a biological organism works,” said E. Paul Zehr, a neuroscientist and biomedical research scholar at Canada’s University of Victoria. “Biological beings are not automatons or machines. You can’t just attempt to optimize one thing and not have it alter something else. All systems … exist in a balance.”

That balance, he said, is “heavily optimized already by evolution.”

“Changing a diet is not like just putting on snow tires,” said Mr. Zehr, author of the book “Chasing Captain America: How Advances in Science, Engineering & Biotechnology Will Produce a Superhuman.”

Meanwhile, researchers are examining how new drugs could aid service men and women before, during and after combat. The Panacea program, a project of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, aims to discover and produce “multitarget drugs that can modulate entire physiological systems with synergistic effect” rather than drug treatments that target individual proteins in the body.

“For the military, the program could rapidly generate new interventions that allow troops to function more effectively under extreme conditions or recover more quickly and completely following stress or injury,” said Tristan McClure-Begley, Panacea’s program manager.

Whether any specific drugs are mandated will be up to “regulatory bodies and individual military services,” said the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Despite the growing body of research on nutrition and diets, analysts stress that there is much more to learn.

An Ohio State University study this year followed 29 people – most members of the campus ROTC – and had roughly half of them follow the keto diet. The study found that the 15 participants on the diet were able “to maintain ketosis for 12 weeks” by eating just 30 to 50 grams of carbohydrates each day.

Those participants lost an average of 17 pounds and 5% of their body fat, researchers say, while those in the group who followed a more carb-heavy diet experienced little change to their bodies.

While the study was small in scale and did not prove whether the diet could aid in certain combat situations, but its authors argue that it’s a step toward broader research into how ketosis could provide an edge for the U.S. military.

“We showed that a group of people with military affiliation could accept a ketogenic diet and successfully lose weight, including visceral adipose tissue, a type of fat strongly associated with chronic disease,” said Jeff Volek, a professor in the department of human science at Ohio State and a co-author of the report. “This could be the first step toward a bigger study looking at the potential benefits of ketogenic eating in the armed forces.”

Moving forward, officials say, it’s crucial to find ways to incorporate the latest nutritional and medical research while not stripping away control over one’s body.

“Anything that deals with a human – our policies and authorities are really difficult to navigate because we have a lot of value on privacy and personal choice,” Ms. Sanders said. “And I think that’s the right thing to have. But sometimes we don’t consider the implications of that.”

Caitlin Johnstone: On authentic spirituality

Spirituality, as it is implemented in our world today, is almost entirely useless.

No, that’s not fair, I take that back. Spirituality as it is implemented in our world today has been very useful for giving people pleasant narratives to tell themselves about the nature of reality, for helping people to compartmentalize and dissociate away from their feelings and their psychological trauma, and for giving people a sense of belonging and the egoically pleasing feeling of having superior beliefs to other people.

Spirituality as it is implemented in our world today is great for escapism, in the same way that doing drugs, playing video games or binging on Netflix is great for escapism. I think it’s fair to say that more than 99 percent of what is generally practiced and recognized as spirituality today is nothing other than glorified escapism, whether you’re talking about organized religious spirituality, casual spiritual-but-not-religious spirituality, or even individuals who’ve made potentially authentic spiritual practices totally central in their lives.

Spirituality is great for escapism, but when it comes to what really matters, the way most people incorporate spirituality into their lives is utterly worthless.

What really matters is life itself: really showing up for it, really, deeply experiencing it in all its fullness, and, hopefully, transforming the world so that life can survive and thrive on this beautiful planet of ours. Spirituality as it is typically put into practice is useless for this. Spirituality as it is typically put into practice is inauthentic.

Within all of the innumerable manifestations of inauthentic spirituality, there is a very small kernel of truth. This kernel of truth points to authentic spirituality. Authentic spirituality is what we’re all ultimately seeking, underneath all the confusion and ancient religious texts and gospel songs and prostrations and “boy look how enlightened I am” egoic constructs and sage burning and crystals and New Age platitudes.

Escapism can take many forms, from sexual impulsivity, to substance abuse, to gambling, to online discussion forums, to religiosity, to getting really good at meditating so you don’t have to feel your feelings, to getting really good at self-inquiry so you can form an identity out of disembodied awareness instead of showing up and leaning into life. These are all essentially the same thing, and they are all movements away from authentic spirituality.

Authentic spirituality, the kind that is a worthwhile endeavor to invest one’s short time on this earth exploring, is the exact opposite of escapism. This type of spirituality is exceedingly rare, which is unfortunate, because it could very easily save our world.

Authentic spirituality takes no interest in providing you with comfortable stories to hold onto, like why we’re all here or what happens to us when we die. It takes no interest in How It Is narratives about the Ultimate Nature of Absolute Reality, in giving you some story about everything being God or everything being oneness or everything being emptiness or anything being anything at all. Authentic spirituality takes no interest in the escapism of comfortable narratives. Authentic spirituality is perfectly comfortable with not knowing and not pretending to know.

Authentic spirituality takes no interest in helping you to avoid uncomfortable feelings like rage, terror, confusion, hurt, shame, dissonance, or fear of death. It doesn’t give you any comforting narratives about how God will always be there for you or how everything happens for a reason, and it doesn’t encourage you to sedate and dissociate from your emotions using meditation, mantras or re-framing your experience into a new spiritual-sounding narrative. Authentic spirituality knows that feelings are for feeling. It doesn’t act those feelings out unconsciously; that would just be another form of escapism. It deeply experiences them, listens to what they’ve got to say, and explores them completely, all the way down.

Authentic spirituality takes no interest in carrying you to any kind of special level or attainment, whether that be Heaven, holiness, worthiness, or enlightenment. Authentic spirituality is solely concerned with what’s really going on, right here and right now, not in some lofty, egoically pleasing goal for the future.

Authentic spirituality is always leaning right into life, while inauthentic spirituality is always leaning back and away from it.

Authentic spirituality means coming all the way out into the light, even your most tender, hidden, carefully guarded bits. It means doing everything you can from moment to moment to become fully aware of your own inner processes, your own habits of cognition, perception and behavior which otherwise govern the way you experience the world without your being aware of them. It means being relentlessly honest with yourself about what’s really happening for you in your present experience, to the furthest extent possible in each moment.

Authentic spirituality is intensely curious about the true nature of your experience. It asks always, “What is this experience?”, “How am I fooling myself?”, “What’s real and what am I imagining?”, and “What the hell am I, anyway?” It peels away every belief you’ve ever formed about the nature of reality and your experience of it, right down to your very most basic assumptions about what you are, what all this is, and how it’s all happening, and questions it all with the burning and innocent curiosity of a child.

Authentic spirituality strips away the assumptions we’ve always made about life and works only with what you can immediately know for yourself, in your own experience, here and now. It moves toward a recognition that life is experienced as a continuous, mysterious explosion of sensory impressions, thoughts, memories and feelings appearing in your field of consciousness, and that this field of consciousness is experienced by an imperceptible experiencer. It then moves toward clearly seeing exactly how that’s all happening, and relinquishing old and inaccurate assumptions and habits that were built upon early misperceptions of that happening.

Authentic spirituality works always to bring your entire operating system into alignment with a clear understanding of how life is actually being experienced. Insights into the nature of consciousness and self are fine, but until your whole being is brought into alignment with those insights they are worthless. The only way to bring about this alignment is to consciously process through your conditioning, your old habits of cognition, perception and behavior which were formed during your lifetime while you were misperceiving fundamental aspects of reality.

When you are fully leaned into life and fully showing up for it, with no part of you hiding in the shadows of unconsciousness or working to keep any aspect of life from being experienced, you become capable of moving in the world in a very helpful, guided and efficient way. And it just so happens that that’s exactly what you want to do, because since you have embodied your decision to really be here, you want us all to keep being here. You want humanity to remain in this world, on this beautiful planet, in a collaborative relationship with itself and with its ecosystem, fully conscious and fully present.

And yes, it happens to be the case that when you become lucid on how your life is actually being experienced, life does become a lot more enjoyable, and you are bombarded with uncomfortable feelings a lot less. It turns out that most human suffering is caused by unconscious mental habits which steer us through life in a very blind and haphazard way, since habit is a useless tool for navigating through a world that is always moving and changing. In the end authentic spirituality ends up resolving all the unpleasantness that inauthentic spirituality was created to avoid via escapism, and does so far more effectively. But for authentic spirituality this was never the goal; it’s just a side-effect of being true to what’s real.

It all begins with the decision to cease hiding from yourself. So very much of people’s inner lives are hidden from them, because keeping things unconscious, unseen and undealt with is in the short term a lot more comfortable than exposing your tender, dissonant, shame-laden aspects to the light of consciousness. But it’s the only path toward fully experiencing life, and if you’re not choosing to do that, then why are you even here? Refusal to fully experience life is escapism, and escapism is just suicide for cowards.

Almost everyone practices escapism in some way, and all we’re ever doing is running away from what it is that we really want deep down. The whole world is running in the exact opposite direction of the way it truly wants to go. The best thing you can do to turn us away from our omnicidal, ecocidal trajectory is to turn yourself around, and take the first step in the right direction.

In the same way that the world as a whole is pointed towards death because we default to domination, addiction and playing out unconscious patterns, individually we find these patterns in us as well, in small, seemingly benign ways. Turn your individual compass towards health. Grit your teeth, scrape the gunk from your mental wounds, and investigate their cause. Every return to health is a win for humanity.

The best way to get around the internet censors and make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list for my website, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish. My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, liking me onFacebook, following my antics on Twitter, throwing some money into my hat on Patreon or Paypal, purchasing some of my sweet merchandise, buying my new book Rogue Nation: Psychonautical Adventures With Caitlin Johnstone, or my previous book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers. For more info on who I am, where I stand, and what I’m trying to do with this platform, click here. Everyone, racist platforms excluded, has my permissionto republish or use any part of this work (or anything else I’ve written) in any way they like free of charge.

Can you do 40 pushups? Harvard scientists say your risk of heart attack is over 30 times less

And even if you can’t, every pushup you can do over a certain number can reduce your risk.

We all want to live long lives. We all want to live healthy lives. Health and fitness aren’t just an outside interest; health and fitness can play a major role in your success. While the physical benefits clearly matter, the mental benefits of improved health and fitness on your professional and personal life — perseverance, resilience, determination, and mental toughness — are just as important.

But being healthy and fit is tough when the nature of most work involves sitting at a desk all day — and, if you’re an entrepreneur knee-deep in launching your startup, all evening, too.

But how can you determine the impact of a relatively sedentary professional lifestyle? Cardiovascular disease and stroke are the leading causes of premature death, making physical fitness assessments a strong predictor of health, but routine physicals don’t include sophisticated tools like treadmill tests.

Fortunately, there’s a simple, and possibly better, way you can test yourself: Do some pushups.

According to Justin Yang of Harvard’s School of Public Health:

Our findings provide evidence that push-up capacity could be an easy, no-cost method to help assess cardiovascular disease risk in almost any setting. Surprisingly, push-up capacity was more strongly associated with cardiovascular disease risk than the results of sub-maximal treadmill tests.

Researchers studied middle-aged male firefighters (the average participant age was 39) over a 10-year period. At the start of the study, each took a physical, a treadmill stress test, and a push-up test to determine how many pushups they could do in a row, without stopping.

During the next 10 years, 37 cardiovascular-related outcomes were reported, and researchers determined that men able to do 40 or more pushups during the baseline exam were 96 percent less likely to experience a cardiovascular event than those who could do only 10 or fewer.

Surprisingly, pushup capacity was more strongly associated with reduced cardiovascular disease risk than aerobic capacity, long considered the gold standard of fitness assessments.

Put even more simply: How many pushups you can do might be a better way to evaluate your risk of heart attack or stroke than an assessment of your aerobic fitness.

(Keep in mind only middle-aged, “occupationally active” men were studied; the results may not perfectly apply women or to less active men of other ages.)

How many pushups can you do?

It’s easy: Just loosen up, warm up, and then do as many pushups as you can. If you have to stop and rest, you’re done. If you put a knee down, you’re done. Just crank out as many solid pushups as you can.

Then evaluate the results:

  • If you can do 40 or more — which is really hard — great!
  • If you can do only 15 or 20, not so great. But then again, researchers found that every pushup you can do over the baseline of 10 decreases the risk of heart disease.
  • If you can only do 10 or fewer, you need to get to work. Your risk of heart disease is well over 30 times greater than it is for people who can do 40 or more. (And those are terrible odds.)

Granted, the test isn’t perfect. If you’re a runner or cyclist, you might bomb the pushup test but by all other criteria be exceptionally fit.

And more important, this is just a simple screening tool that yields indications, not certainties. People who can do 40 pushups today could have a heart attack tomorrow; others who can only do five may live to be 90. Some years ago, I was in extremely good cardiovascular shape and still had a heart attack. Stuff happens.

Caveats notwithstanding, muscle strength, cardiovascular fitness (because by the time you get to 40, I promise you’ll be breathing hard), and flexibility make a major difference in overall health, especially as we age.

The pushup test is a simple way to assess those attributes: Not perfect, but certainly directionally accurate. If you’re overweight, the test is harder. If you lack flexibility, the test is harder.

If you’re in poor overall physical condition, the test is harder. And all of those factors indicate a higher risk of mortality.

How many pushups do you want to do?

Improving your pushup capacity is, like most things fitness-related, a simple matter of time and effort: Put in the right kind of effort over a sufficient amount of time and you will improve (which, if you think about it, is incredibly empowering).

Say you can do 10 pushups in a row. Commit to a three-times-a week schedule, one that slowly adds volume to your workout. (And takes less than 10 minutes to complete.)

Week one: Do one set of 10 pushups, rest for 60-90 seconds, do another set to failure (you may not be able to do 10), and repeat one more time for three total sets.

Week two: Do one set of 12 pushups. (Don’t worry: You’ll be able to do 12.) Then do two more sets to failure.

Week three: Do one set of 14 pushups, and then do three more sets to failure. The goal is to increase your strength and endurance, which is why you add an additional set.

Keep increasing the number of reps per set until you hit 20 in your first set, then add three reps to your first set every week. And add two more total sets to each workout for a total of six.

By week eight, your rate of improvement will have accelerated; you may find yourself doing 30-plus pushups in the first set with relative ease. And by then you’ll know how much volume to add to your program to ensure you eventually can do 40 reps in one set.

And you’ll enjoy the process — because improving is always fun. (Trust me: I did 100,000 pushups one year. I know.)

Give the test a try. Ask your friends and family to give it a try.

And If you don’t do as well as you like, do something about it. (Here is another great place to start. And so is this.)

You get only one life — so make yours as healthy, happy, and long as you possibly can.

Twenty-four cases of the mumps confirmed at the University of Florida

It all started when Caillin Heron’s jaw started to hurt and she found it hard to chew.

That lead to a high fever, aches, pains and a severely swollen face. A few days later, the second army lieutenant and recent UF criminology graduate was diagnosed with the mumps.

As of Tuesday afternoon, University of Florida spokesperson Steve Orlando confirmed there are 24 cases of the mumps on campus. All 24 students were vaccinated.

Herron said it felt like a really bad flu and the worst face pain she’d ever experienced.

“At one point I was sleeping sitting up,” said Herron.

She says her doctor prescribed steroids and antibiotics and after about eleven days of the illness, she finally started to feel better.

Herron believes her case of the mumps wasn’t as bad as it could have been because she is vaccinated. University of Florida students are required to receive the MMR vaccine before they can attend school.

Now, Herron is encouraging others to get a third MMR vaccine. The CDC recommends getting the first dose at 12 through 15 months of age, and the second dose at 4 through 6 years of age.

According to the CDC, two doses of MMR vaccine are 88% effective at preventing mumps. Mumps outbreaks can still occur in highly vaccinated U.S. communities, particularly in settings where people have close, prolonged contact, such as universities and close-knit communities. During an outbreak, public health authorities may recommend an additional dose of MMR for people who belong to groups at increased risk for mumps. An additional dose can help improve protection against mumps disease and related complications.

A Florida Department of Health spokesperson said it is important to understand the majority of outbreaks in the U.S. are identified on college and university campus, meaning these cases are “not totally unexpected.” He said most cases go undiagnosed due to a lack of testing and reporting.

Florida has had 37 reported cases of mumps in 2019. Click here to search for cases.

Harvard researchers say certain ADHD medications may increase risk of psychosis

Certain medications commonly used to treat ADHD in teens and young adults may increase their risk of psychosis, according to new research from Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital.

The potential of developing psychosis was greater in younger patients who take amphetamines, such as Adderall or Vyvanse, than those taking methylphenidates, such as Ritalin or Concerta, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday.

The researchers studied 13- to 25-year-olds. They defined psychosis as hallucinations, delusional disorder, schizophrenia spectrum disorder, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder with psychotic features or unspecified psychosis.

Although the risk is low, the data come at a time when prescription rates and diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are on the rise. Two researchers published in the JAMA Network Open this past August said that in a 20-year period they “found a significant increase in the prevalence of diagnosed ADHD.”

It’s not clear whether more children have ADHD or more are being diagnosed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Either way, Dr. Lauren Moran, the lead author studying psychosis and prescription medications, said the use of amphetamines has more than tripled recently.

“There is not a lot of research comparing the safety profiles of amphetamines and methylphenidate, despite increasing use of these medications,” Moran said in a statement. Doctors have noted “patients without previous psychiatric history coming with psychosis” following stimulant use in the past, however.

Researchers analyzed 221,816 patients with ADHD between Jan. 1, 2004, and Sept. 30, 2015. One out of every 486 patients taking amphetamines later required treatment for psychosis, while patients on methylphenidate had a risk of 1 in 1,046. Overall, about 1 in 660 patients reported new-onset psychosis and were prescribed an antipsychotic medication.

The study only covers youth who had been recently diagnosed with ADHD and started taking medications and not those who were already being treated with medication.

“People who have been on a drug like Adderall for a long time who are taking the drug as prescribed and are tolerating it well are not likely to experience this problem,” Moran noted.

There were limitations to the study, as it did not cover those with public insurance or who were uninsured.

Authors also noted possible misuse of these stimulants. Adderall is popular among college students who use it to help them study. But if that had skewed findings at all, researchers said they would have expected larger effect sizes among college-age patients, which they did not.

Anxiety may be alleviated by regulating gut bacteria

People who experience anxiety symptoms might be helped by taking steps to regulate the microorganisms in their gut using probiotic and non-probiotic food and supplements, suggests a review of studies published today in the journal General Psychiatry.

Anxiety symptoms are common in people with mental diseases and a variety of physical disorders, especially in disorders that are related to stress.

Previous studies have shown that as many as a third of people will be affected by anxiety symptoms during their lifetime.

Increasingly, research has indicated that gut microbiota — the trillions of microorganisms in the gut which perform important functions in the immune system and metabolism by providing essential inflammatory mediators, nutrients and vitamins — can help regulate brain function through something called the “gut-brain axis.”

Recent research also suggests that mental disorders could be treated by regulating the intestinal microbiota, but there is no specific evidence to support this.

Therefore a team of researchers from the Shanghai Mental Health Center at Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, set out to investigate if there was evidence to support improvement of anxiety symptoms by regulating intestinal microbiota.

They reviewed 21 studies that had looked at 1,503 people collectively.

Of the 21 studies, 14 had chosen probiotics as interventions to regulate intestinal microbiota (IRIFs), and seven chose non-probiotic ways, such as adjusting daily diets.

Probiotics are living organisms found naturally in some foods that are also known as “good” or “friendly” bacteria because they fight against harmful bacteria and prevent them from settling in the gut.

The researchers found that probiotic supplements in seven studies within their analysis contained only one kind of probiotic, two studies used a product that contained two kinds of probiotics, and the supplements used in the other five studies included at least three kinds.

Overall, 11 of the 21 studies showed a positive effect on anxiety symptoms by regulating intestinal microbiota, meaning that more than half (52%) of the studies showed this approach to be effective, although some studies that had used this approach did not find it worked.

Of the 14 studies that had used probiotics as the intervention, more than a third (36%) found them to be effective in reducing anxiety symptoms, while six of the remaining seven studies that had used non-probiotics as interventions found those to be effective — a 86% rate of effectiveness.

Some studies had used both the IRIF (interventions to regulate intestinal microbiota) approach and treatment as usual.

In the five studies that used treatment as usual and IRIF as interventions, only studies that had conducted non-probiotic ways got positive results, that showed a reduction in anxiety symptoms.

Non-probiotic interventions were also more effective in the studies that used IRIF alone. In those studies only using IRIF, 80% were effective when using non-probiotic interventions, while only 45% were found to be effective when using probiotic ways.

The authors say one reason that non-probiotic interventions were significantly more effective than probiotic interventions was possible due to the fact that changing diet (a diverse energy source) could have more of an impact on gut bacteria growth than introducing specific types of bacteria in a probiotic supplement.

Also, because some studies had involved introducing different types of probiotics, these could have fought against each other to work effectively, and many of the intervention times used might have been too short to significantly increase the abundance of the imported bacteria.

Most of the studies did not report serious adverse events, and only four studies reported mild adverse effects such as dry mouth and diarrhoea.

This is an observational study, and as such, cannot establish cause. Indeed, the authors acknowledge some limitations, such as differences in study design, subjects, interventions and measurements, making the data unsuitable for further analysis.

Nevertheless, they say the overall quality of the 21 studies included was high.

The researchers conclude: “We find that more than half of the studies included showed it was positive to treat anxiety symptoms by regulation of intestinal microbiota.

“There are two kinds of interventions (probiotic and non-probiotic interventions) to regulate intestinal microbiota, and it should be highlighted that the non-probiotic interventions were more effective than the probiotic interventions. More studies are needed to clarify this conclusion since we still cannot run meta-analysis so far.”

They also suggest that, in addition to the use of psychiatric drugs for treatment, “we can also consider regulating intestinal flora to alleviate anxiety symptoms.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by BMJ. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Beibei Yang, Jinbao Wei, Peijun Ju, Jinghong Chen. Effects of regulating intestinal microbiota on anxiety symptoms: A systematic review. General Psychiatry, 2019; 32: e100056 DOI: 10. 1136/gpsych-2019-100056

Mum dies after shunning NHS treatment for curable cancer and going vegan instead

A mum who was diagnosed with treatable breast cancer has died after shunning medicine in favour of living a vegan and holistic lifestyle.

Katie Britton-Jordan, from Dalbury Lees, Derbyshire, was told she had triple negative breast cancer in July 2016 after finding a lump in her breast while feeding daughter Delilah when she was three.

She was offered a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy that would save her life but instead chose alternative methods including taking up a vegan diet.

Her husband Neil announced Katie’s death on Facebook yesterday.

He said: ‘It breaks my heart to be writing this but on Saturday 25th May, Katie, with the same grace and strength she handled herself through life, peacefully passed to the next.

‘She was surrounded by family and friends and shrouded with love.

‘Delilah, her “bestie” Elsa and I went and picked flowers and herbs from the garden and placed them all around Katie, she looked so serenely beautiful….

‘Our little girl has learnt the hardest lesson at such a young age and I simply run out of answers when sobbing she asks “why we have to say bye bye?”

‘We cuddle for a mo’ and then she’ll suddenly tell a little story of what or how mummy would do it, start to giggle and right there! I can see the spirit, resilience, strength and everything that was and will always be in her Mamma, in our little girl. She hasn’t gone far yo’.

‘Feel free to leave comments just, please be thoughtful and respectful. I know some people may have their own opinions on what Katie should or should not have done but whatever that is, it does not alter her bravery and dignity over the last 3yrs.’

Speaking two years ago about her decision not to have life-saving treatment, Katie said: ‘I feel really fit and well and I’m still able to work and look after my daughter. My diet, which involves mainly raw fruit and vegetables, has really helped.

‘If I had chemo, I think I would be almost bed-ridden. I have seen friends have chemotherapy and they are affected for life by it. It’s horrible.

‘You are poisoning your body. In my opinion, there are lots of options out there that I think are much more valuable than poisoning yourself.’

Despite her doctors’ advice Katie felt her decision had been an informed one. Her stage 2a cancer developed into stage 4 cancer, spreading to her lymph nodes in her neck, lungs, liver and bones.

As well as the vegan diet, Katie increased the number of supplements she took including iodine rich brown seaweed, raw turmeric, black pepper capsules and used a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.

She sought out immunotherapy outside the UK and raised funds through followers on Facebook of Katie’s Page.

She said: ‘I have looked at medically-based books and films that shows if you remove the primary tumour, it gives off cancer cell inhibitors and removing it can activate circulating cancer cells that are in the body and there is nothing to stop them.

‘If you remove it, it can come back much more aggressively. I believe what I am doing is the best option for me.

After discovering the lumps on her breast, doctors told her there were three tumours and the best course of action would be to remove it. Without treatment, they told her, she would die.

Katie added: ‘It all happened really quickly. I went home in a bit of a daze and tried to digest everything.

‘I have always been into alternative health. I started researching and decided there was no way I was having chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Initially I wasn’t sure about the surgery.

‘I didn’t know if it was a good thing or a bad thing but the more I read into it, the more I decided I didn’t want to do it either.’

Katie said her husband Neil supported her decision.

She said: ‘I had always had a healthy diet and I didn’t eat red meat but I decided that I would go completely vegan and cut out sugar and gluten. I eat mostly raw food.’

Instead of having CT scans on the NHS which involve radiation Katie decided to go for private thermographic imaging scans.

These scans use a heat camera to show if new blood supplies are being formed, indicating tumour growth.

Initially, the scans showed that her condition was stable but in March 2017, a scan showed new blood supplies and she went to hospital for the first time since diagnosis for an ultrasound scan.

She said: ‘The others are fairly stable and haven’t changed much but I have introduced other supplements since we saw the new tumour.’

Dr Catherine Zollman, a GP for over 20 years and medical director of Penny Brohn UK, said: ‘We’ve learned over 35 years of supporting people affected by cancer that you can combine the best of the lifestyle, dietary and complementary treatments alongside conventional treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and by doing this, you can reduce side effects, improve wellbeing and have a better chance of long-term survival.

‘In the case where the treatment offered on the NHS is potentially curative, treatment and monitoring are really important. If you miss that window, the potential for cure may no longer be there.

‘Nutritional approaches, physical activity, mindfulness-type training and complementary treatments can have an important place in helping people to take back some control over their health, helping to manage the side effects from the conventional treatment and supporting mental and physical wellbeing. With the correct support, you can have a very helpful combination of the two approaches and, for many people, this integrated approach works much better than either approach on its own.’