Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Some people are born emotionally cooler

I know all about this. I myself am calm under stress. I am almost always calm in fact. Using a term going back to Galen, it would once have been described as "Anglo-Saxon phlegm", and that usage does still sometimes occur. Google it. Anyway, it is a very helpful trait. Since conservatives generally seem to be less emotional than the Left, it would be interesting to see how the syndrome described below correlated with political attitudes. Since military people are overwhelmingly conservative, I think I know the answer. I do myself of course have a small army background and look back at that time in my life with pleasure

Professor Deane Aikins, a psychiatrist at Yale University, said a small minority of individuals remain cool even in the most stressful circumstances. His findings, based on research with the military, found that some individuals did not panic because their body naturally protected them. Unlike the majority of people who were flooded with a stress hormone, they had much lower levels and also showed signs of another hormone that actually calmed them down.

He referred to Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot of the aeroplane that was successfully landed on the Hudson River in New York last month, as an example. "There are some individuals who when confronted with extreme stress their hormone profile is rather unique," he said. "It doesn't reach the same peak as the rest of us. So we're all ready to scream in our chairs, but there are certain individuals who just don't get as stressed. "Their stress hormones are lower and the peptides that down-regulate that stress are higher, so you can see in action the hormonal regular system really hitting overdrive. "Certain people are cooler under pressure and they perform very, very well during these periods of time."

Professor Aikins, who outlined his findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, studied hormone stress levels during extreme training exercises like mock survival or combat swimming. He said that while there was no such thing as a "man without fear" certain people were better equipped to deal with it. "I think they were born with it," he said. "We started figuring out we can start predicting who are these individuals who are going to have this cooler hormonal profile under high stress."

He said the research could lead to new training programmes - mental therapies or "push-ups" or medications to make others just as good at dealing with extreme stress. "So much so we're now getting to the point where we might be able to train people to do better under high stress and there might be ways to augment their hormonal system, mental health push ups might help to better deal with that stress."

He said that it was not that the "heroes" were not scared but they just did not exhibit signs of panic. "They say wow that was a really miserable day," he said. "But when you say to them did your heart pound or your palm sweat they just say mm well, it was ok."

He said US special forces as a group tend to "run cooler" than non-special forces. He said it was too early to say what percentage of men were born heroes.


Severe migraine sufferers 'more at risk of heart attack or stroke'

This does rather reinforce the view that migraine is not a single illness but rather a variety of disorders with similar symptoms. The authors correctly note, however, that the connection mentioned is a weak one

Suffering from severe migraines makes women significantly more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke, a new study suggests. Scientists found that those who experienced blurred or difficult vision during the painful headaches and carried certain genes were twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke. The findings could indicate that doctors should monitor patients with the condition more closely.

Around nine million people Britain regularly suffer from migraines, with an estimated 80 per cent thought to have an attack at least once a month. Around one in four are thought to have migraine with aura, whose symptoms can include flashing lights, black spots or zig-zag patterns in front of their eyes, as well as debilitating head pain. The researchers found that migraine with aura sufferers who also carried certain genes were twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke as women who never got migraines.

Migraine with aura sufferers who did not have the genes had no increased risk and neither did those who experienced no visual problems. "The complex relationship among this gene variant, migraine, stroke and heart disease has been the focus of many studies and the results have been controversial," said Dr Markus Schuerks, from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "Getting to the bottom of whether there is a connection and why may help to develop ways to prevent issues like stroke and heart disease, which are leading causes of death." He called for more studies to back up the findings.

The research looked at 25,000 women, aged over 45, almost a fifth who suffered from migraine, including 1,275 who had migraine with aura. Over 12 years, 625 of the women had a stroke, heart attack or both, according to the study, published in the journal Neurology.

Prof Peter Goadsby, from the University of California, San Francisco, and the Institute of Neurology, London, emphasised that the paper confirmed previous studies that there was no increased risk for stroke or cardiovascular disease in migraine without aura patients. "(This is) good news, as this represents about three-quarters of those affected by the disorder," he said. "Although the risk of cardiovascular disease is doubled in patients with active migraine with aura, it's important to realise the risk is already small, and when you double a small risk you still have a small risk. "The authors rightly note that there were few heart attacks and that the study needs repeating; the margin for error here is wide and it might be that the link isn't there at all. We will only know when we see the results of more research."

Migraine is listed as one of the top 20 most debilitating conditions by the World Health Organisation because of the impact it can have on quality of life.


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