All posts in Health

Stress reactivity linked to early puberty

The New York Times had an interesting story the other day, chronicling the increasingly early age at which kids are entering puberty. There are the usual contributors cited for the lower age, including higher BMIs and exposure to environmental chemicals (xeno-estrogens such as BPA,) but the child’s stress reactivity is also listed as a factor.

In a study published in 2011, Bruce Ellis, a professor of Family Studies and Human Development at the University of Arizona, and his colleagues showed that children who are most reactive to stress — kids whose pulse, respiratory rate and cortisol levels fluctuate most in response to environmental challenges — entered puberty earliest.

“Evolutionary psychology offers a theory: A stressful childhood inclines a body toward early reproduction; if life is hard, best to mature young.”

Last week we posted a story about how the infant experience of repeat cortisol-inducing tools parents use, such as “cry it out” and spanking, can lay the foundations for a stress-reactive child.

This new evidence of the role stress reactivity plays in future health lends further reason to refuse these arbitrary cortisol-inducing parenting practices, in favor of gentle parenting.

Source: New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/magazine/puberty-before-age-10-a-new-normal.html?pagewanted=4&_r=1&ref=science)

Foundations of narcissism in infancy

Stress-reactive people are often what outsiders perceive as egocentric, paranoid, volatile, and often become violent in response to perceived threats. Being stress-reactive means you have a low tolerance for threat; and perceived threats will trigger irrational actions and can even destroy health and accelerate aging. (Robert Sapolsky summarizes this research in his bestseller, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.) In the face of a perceived threat, a stress-reactive individual’s compassion and empathy fly out the window, and self-preservation mode takes over. We often refer to those who default to this mode as being narcissists.

A fantastic article on Psychology Today talks about how stress-reactivity in adults can tear apart society, and it’s foundations form in infancy. One popular method that undermines healthy reactions to stress are methods that encourage parents to not respond to a child’s distress:

[When babies are left to cry, with no parental attempt at timely comforting,] epigenetic effects occur (genes are turned on or off and become part of subsequent cell generation). As a result, brain stress response systems can be wired permanently for oversensitivity and overreactivity (Anisman, Zaharia, Meaney, & Merali., 1998), leading to predispositions for clinical depression and anxiety (Barbas et al., 2003; de Kloet, Sibug, Helmerhorst, & Schmidt, 2005; see Watt & Panksepp, 2009, for a review), poor mental and physical health outcomes, and accelerated aging and mortality (for a review, Preston & de Waal, 2002)

Unrelieved distress in early life reduces the expression of GABA genes, leading to anxiety and depression disorders as well as increased use of alcohol for stress relief (Caldji, Francis, Sharma, Plotsky, & Meaney, 2000; Hsu et al., 2003). When emotional dysregulation becomes chronic, it forms the foundation for further psychopathologies (Cole, Michel & Teti, 1994), especially depression.

Infant emotional dysregulation is related to subsequent mental illness, including a propensity for violence (Davidson, Putnam & Larson, 2000). Stress that leads to “insecure attachment” disrupts emotional functioning, compromises social abilities and can promote a permanent bias towards self-preservation (Henry & Wang, 1998; also see Schore, in press, for a review). Children who are not nurtured well in early life tend to be more stress reactive, aggressive and troublesome.

Bottom line: Parents shape self-control in babyhood with nurturing care. Making sure babies’ needs are met promptly builds calm systems. Parents who don’t respond to baby’s needs lead to systems that are poorly shaped and easily stressed. What the baby’s body “practices” (calmness or distress) becomes habitual.

(source: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/moral-landscapes/201203/adults-out-control-the-spread-stress-reactivity)

 Babies cannot sooth their own distress, and require a caregiver to calm them down when crying or alarmed. How we respond to their cues lays a foundation for future stress responses; cries that are not responded to flood the brain with stress-hormone cortisol, which can prevent the formation of critical neuron synapses in critical areas of the brain responsible for forming attachments and emotional wellbeing.
The message is clear: old advice to leave babies alone to “self-sooth” is erroneous and damaging; not responding to cries in a timely manner lays a poor foundation for mental health.
Anticipating stressful situations and reactions before they escalate is easier than trying to relax a hysterical baby. Practicing empathic attachment-parenting ensures that care-givers and babies are in sync.

Feeding Your Baby On Demand ‘May Contribute to Higher IQ’

Yet another reason to ignore advice that says to feed your baby on a schedule: Babies fed on demand demonstrate higher IQ scores.

Credit: © Oleg Kozlov / Fotolia

Credit: © Oleg Kozlov / Fotolia

“The finding is based on the results of IQ tests and school-based SATs tests carried out between the ages of five and 14, which show that demand-feeding was associated with higher IQ scores. The IQ scores of eight-year-old children who had been demand-fed as babies were between four and five points higher than the scores of schedule-fed children, says the study published in the European Journal of Public Health.”

Science Daily


More info on the benefits of nursing a baby on demand 

Common antibiotic linked to asthma: UBC research

Photo by: file, google imageAntibiotics may be linked to the onset of asthma, according to UBC research:

“The team found that mice treated with vancomycin as pups were not only more susceptible to asthma but also ended up with a “strikingly reduced” number of t-reg cells, which are key players in the immune system. Finlay says a reduction in t-reg cells pushed the immune system into a “more allergic mode.” …

Meanwhile, the findings add to mounting evidence about the importance of “microbiota” — the diverse and huge collection of bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms that have lived in and on humans over the eons.

“The message it (the study) drives home is the whole idea that you do need your microbiota to develop normally,” says Finlay, explaining how the microorganisms children encounter early in life help stimulate and shape the immune system. “There is a reason kids are crawling around the floor hoovering everything up.”

He and his colleagues say microbes play a big role throughout life — such a big part that some researchers have taken to describing people as highly complex human-bacteria hybrids or “super organisms.” Bacterial cells living in and on a healthy human body outnumber human cells by a factor of 10.

“We are discovering that a disruption of these bugs is associated with a number of chronic health conditions”

This new research will hopefully have an effect on our culture’s over-perscription of antibiotics :

Ouellette says the University of British Columbia findings underscore that antibiotics should be used judiciously: “Giving antibiotics to young children, which disturb their normal bacterial flora, should not be taken lightly.”

Source: http://www.canada.com/health/Common+antibiotic+linked+asthma+research/6312842/story.html#ixzz1pRP0gjRn