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Researchers identify the physical effects of stress and anxiety on cells

Researchers identify the physical effects of stress and anxiety on cells

As per new research, a combination of stress and anxiety might physically change the makeup of the mitochondrial cells. In our lifetime, we often deal with events that leave a lasting impression on our minds. Major incidents such as losing a loved one, war, divorce can lead to anxiety disorders along with panic attacks. Anxiety disorder is different from normal worrying since it is prolonged and does not reduce with time. It can be bad for our emotional and physical health since it interferes with the normal daily activities making them difficult to perform. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are impacted by a combination of our genes and the environment resulting in an overall stressful life. It has been observed that not all people facing traumatic events develop anxiety disorder raising the question of what makes some persons respond differently than others. 

To find the answer, scientists studied mice that had displayed symptoms of depression and anxiety such as staying alone after facing highly stressful situations. Changes in the genetic activity were then tracked along with the production of protein in the area of the brain which deals with stress and anxiety. These areas are the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, nucleus accumbens, and amygdala. The research team used the “cross-species multi-omics” technique for analyzing the genes and proteins that are associated with mitochondrial cells. They found many changes in the mitochondria of the mice’s brain cells who were exposed to stress as compared to those who were not. After that blood samples of the patients who had panic disorder were tested and scientists detected similar mitochondrial changes in them.

The researchers mentioned in PLOS Genetics that the studies revealed a regular convergence of differentially expressed pathways related to mitochondria in blood samples of patients dealing with a panic disorder after a panic attack. This method of cellular energy metabolism might be a way in which animals deal with stress. 

Mitochondria, also known as the powerhouse of cells turn the food consumed into 90 percent of the chemical energy needed for the functioning of the body along with destroying the rogue cells. Dealing with a high amount of stress can affect how the mitochondria function leading to complicated health symptoms. 

Iiris Hovatta, University of Helsinki said that right now there is very little information on the effects of chronic stress on cellular energy metabolism. So these underlying mechanisms might be essential to the prevention of diseases related to stress. Genetic studies of the persons suffering from anxiety might lead to informed treatment which is currently limited to psychotherapy and medicines. 

Journal Reference: PLOS Genetics

Study demonstrates stress reduction benefits from petting dogs, cats

Study demonstrates stress reduction benefits from petting dogs, cats

College is stressful. Students have classes, papers, and exams. But they also often have work, bills to pay, and so many other pressures common in modern life.

Many universities have instituted “Pet your stress away” programs, where students can come in and interact with cats and/or dogs to help alleviate some of the strain.

Scientists at Washington State University have recently demonstrated that, in addition to improving students’ moods, these programs can actually get “under the skin” and have stress-relieving physiological benefits.

“Just 10 minutes can have a significant impact,” said Patricia Pendry, an associate professor in WSU’s Department of Human Development. “Students in our study that interacted with cats and dogs had a significant reduction in cortisol, a major stress hormone.”

Pendry published these findings with WSU graduate student Jaymie Vandagriff last month in AERA Open, an open access journal published by the American Educational Research Association.

This is the first study that has demonstrated reductions in students’ cortisol levels during a real-life intervention rather than in a laboratory setting.

The study involved 249 college students randomly divided into four groups. The first group received hands-on interaction in small groups with cats and dogs for 10 minutes. They could pet, play with, and generally hang out with the animals as they wanted.

To compare effects of different exposures to animals, the second group observed other people petting animals while they waited in line for their turn. The third group watched a slideshow of the same animals available during the intervention, while the fourth group was “waitlisted”. Those students waited for their turn quietly for 10 minutes without their phones, reading materials, or other stimuli, but were told they would experience animal interaction soon.

Several salivary cortisol samples were collected from each participant, starting in the morning when they woke up. Once all the data was crunched from the various samples, the students who interacted directly with the pets showed significantly less cortisol in their saliva after the interaction. These results were found even while considering that some students may have had very high or low levels to begin with.

“We already knew that students enjoy interacting with animals, and that it helps them experience more positive emotions,” Pendry said. “What we wanted to learn was whether this exposure would help students reduce their stress in a less subjective way. And it did, which is exciting because the reduction of stress hormones may, over time, have significant benefits for physical and mental health.”

Now Pendry and her team are continuing this work by examining the impact of a four-week-long animal-assisted stress prevention program. Preliminary results are very positive, with a follow-up study showing that the findings of the recently published work hold up. They hope to publish the final results of that work in the near future.

Journal: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2332858419852592

Materials provided by Washington State University