Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Study finds people with lots of friends live 3.7 years more than those who are isolated

Ill people are not in a very good position to make friends and the results below may prove only that

The secret to a long, healthy life may be having a strong social network, according to a new study. People with normal social relationships - friends, family and community involvement - were 50 per cent less likely to die during the research period than those with little social support.

Scientists found that a good social network was the equivalent to giving up smoking in terms of mortality. But people with little support had a mortality risk equal to being an alcoholic.

Researchers at Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina compiled data from 300,000 people over eight years. The study found that socially connected people would live an average of 3.7 years longer than less-connected people, according to co-author Timothy B. Smith.

Dr Antonio Gomez, assistant clinical professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said doctors should take note of the study, but that it has its limitations. He told the LA Times: 'We can't make the broad, sweeping claim that social relationships cause increased survivability - at least, not yet.'

He added that the study did not explain how social contact could cause good health, or the possibility that unknown differences between people could be influencing health.

Teresa Ellen Seeman, professor of medicine at the UCLA School of Public Health, said: 'As humans, we have many different regulatory systems - blood pressure, metabolism, stress hormones. 'There is data that suggests all these systems are affected by social relationships. 'People who report more supportive and positive social relationships have... lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, better glucose metabolism and lower levels of various stress hormones.'


How the horse sedative ketamine could beat manic depression

A horse tranquilliser could hold the key to the fastest treatment yet for depression, with benefits seen within 40 minutes. This compares with the weeks, even months, it takes with traditional antidepressants.

Two small studies have found that 70 per cent of patients with manic depression responded positively to the horse drug ketamine, with the effects lasting for at least three days.

A number of clinical trials are under way, investigating the benefits of the drug. Manic depression - also known as bipolar disorder - is a relatively common condition affecting about one in 100 people. It can occur at any age, although it often develops in the 20s. Men and women can develop the condition; celebrity sufferers include Stephen Fry, Robbie Williams and Carrie Fisher.

The disorder is characterised by mood swings ranging from extreme happiness to extreme sadness. These episodes of highs and lows can often last for several weeks or more - they may be interspersed by periods of normal mood. Many people can also suffer episodes of recurrent depression without the extreme highs. The condition is thought to be a result of imbalances in brain chemicals such as norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine.

For example, episodes of mania may be linked to high levels of norepinephrine and depression to low levels. Most patients can be treated using a combination of different treatments. These include mood-stabilising drugs (antidepressants) which act on the brain chemical serotonin to prevent the extreme mood swings, and other medications such as antipsychotics during manic episodes.

However, the main problem with these drugs is that they take time to have an effect. They work for about 70 per cent of cases.

Ketamine has a reputation as an illegal party drug but it has also long been used as an anaesthetic. It works in a different way from traditional medicine for treating depression. The drug targets the activity of the brain chemical glutamate. One of glutamate's jobs is to boost the electrical flow among brain cells. Studies have shown that when this is interrupted, depression can result. Ketamine helps by blocking a brain protein which affects glutamate signals.

It also improves the working of another brain protein which is involved in regulating brain cells' electrical flow. Now a small study by the prestigious U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has shown the effects of ketamine can be seen within minutes. Researchers gave 18 patients, who had suffered with bipolar for more than 20 years, intravenous infusions of ketamine.

Within 40 minutes, depressive symptoms significantly improved compared with placebo. About 71 per cent responded positively to the drug and the improvement lasted for an average of a week.

In another study at Connecticut Mental Health Centre, seven patients with major depression were treated and all had significant improvement in depressive symptoms within 72 hours.

The amount of ketamine given was much lower than that used as an anaesthetic. It's thought the drug acts more quickly than existing drugs because it tackles the condition at the 'first link' in the chain of events that lead to depression.

The effects may also be longer lasting because the drug boosts production of an important growth factor, also helping to boost electrical flow. Several bigger trials - including one at University Hospital, Geneva - are now looking at the use of the drug for depression.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Deenesh Khoosal, who is also a spokesman on bipolar disorder for the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: 'Only a small numbers of patients have used ketamine in studies so far, but larger trials are under way. If these results are confirmed, it will offer great hope for people with depression.'


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