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Sugar, high-fructose corn syrup linked to ADHD, bipolar, aggressive behavior, researchers say

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Oct. 16 (UPI) — Diets high in sugar may increase a person’s risk for developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder and aggressive behaviors, according to a report published Friday by the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.

Researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus suggest that fructose, a component of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, and uric acid, a fructose metabolite, may work to bring about the onset of these disorders in those genetically predisposed to them.

By lowering energy in cells, fructose “triggers a foraging response similar to what occurs in starvation,” which effectively stimulates behaviors such as risk taking, impulsivity, rapid decision making and aggressiveness, the researchers said.

This foraging response shares similarities with behavioral disorders such as ADHD, as well as bipolar disorder and aggressive behavior, they said.

“There have been many reports suggesting that sugar or other added sweeteners such as high-fructose corn syrup may be able to cause or aggravate various behavioral disorders,” study co-author Dr. Richard Johnson told UPI.

“The evidence is based on the unique ability of fructose to lower energy that triggers a foraging type of response,” said Johnson, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

The theory is based on “an evolutionary-based survival pathway” used by animals to protect against starvation, according to Johnson and his colleagues.

Historically, animals and humans used this response for survival, understanding that they needed to take certain risks to obtain food and avoid starvation and death, the researchers said.

However, this survival pathway is now activated by the metabolism of fructose, leading to the storage of fat in the liver and blood, the development of insulin resistance and a decrease in energy expenditure, earlier research by Johnson and his colleagues suggested.

The introduction of refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup into the human diet has led to a significant increase in fructose intake over the past 300 to 400 years, and Johnson and his colleagues argue that this level of intake is higher “than nature intended.”

In addition to fueling epidemics in obesity and diabetes, high-fructose intake can lead to problem behaviors, as human cells seek to restore their lost energy.

The new report describes how high amounts of fructose found in refined sugars in the typical Western diet may contribute to the development of behavioral disorders.

Sugar does not cause these behaviors, however, as it’s just a contributing factor, researchers emphasized.

“The identification of fructose as a risk factor does not negate the importance of genetic, familial, physical, emotional and environmental factors that shape mental health,” Johnson said.

Conditions such as ADHD and bipolar disorder are genetic — meaning they’re passed from parent to child — but they also have some “environmental components,” according to Dr. L. Eugene Arnold, emeritus professor of psychiatry at Ohio State University.

“Physical and mental health … impact each other,” said Arnold, a resident expert with Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or CHADD, an education and advocacy organization for people with the condition and their caregivers.

Currently, CHADD doesn’t offer guidance with regard to diet. However, the organization does cite research noting links between sugar intake and the worsening of ADHD symptoms.

With that in mind, Arnold recommends a diet built around “natural, whole foods,” such as the Mediterranean diet.

“A rule of thumb is if the list of ingredients on a food product label is so long you don’t want to read it, don’t buy it,” he said.

More research is needed to investigate the role of sugar and uric acid on mental health, especially with drugs designed to inhibit fructose metabolism for the treatment of diabetes and metabolic syndrome on the horizon, Johnson said.

For now, “reducing intake of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, especially sugary beverages, may be of additional benefit in preventing or helping behavioral disorders such as ADHD and bipolar disorder,” he said.



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‘Green prescriptions’ could cancel mental health benefits for some

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So-called “green prescriptions” may end up being counterproductive for people with mental health conditions, researchers say.

Spending time in nature is believed to benefit mental health, so some doctors are beginning to “prescribe” outdoor time for their patients.

That led researchers to investigate whether being in nature helps actually does help people with issues such as anxiety and depression. They collected data from more than 18,000 people in 18 countries.

The takeaway: Time in nature does provide several benefits for people with mental health conditions, but only if they choose on their own to visit green spaces.

While being advised to spend time outdoors can encourage such activity, it can also undermine the potential emotional benefits, according to the authors of the study published this month in the journal Scientific Reports.

The researchers said they were surprised to find that people with depression were spending time in nature as often as folks with no mental health issues, and that people with anxiety were doing so much more often.

While in nature, those with depression and anxiety tended to feel happy and reported low anxiety. But those benefits appeared to be undermined when the visits were done at others’ urging, the investigators found.

The more external pressure people with depression and anxiety felt to visit nature, the less motivated they were to do so and the more anxious they felt.

“These findings are consistent with wider research that suggests that urban natural environments provide spaces for people to relax and recover from stress,” said study leader Michelle Tester-Jones, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.

But the findings also show that health care practitioners and loved ones should be sensitive about recommending time in nature for people who have mental health issues.

“It could be helpful to encourage them to spend more time in places that people already enjoy visiting, so they feel comfortable and can make the most of the experience,” Tester-Jones said in a university news release.

More information

For more on the benefits of green spaces, go to the National Recreation and Park Association.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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Study: Nearly half of ‘essential workers’ in U.S. at risk for severe COVID-19

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Nov. 9 (UPI) — Nearly half of those classified as “essential workers” in the United States are at increased risk for severe COVID-19, according to an analysis published Monday by JAMA Internal Medicine.

This means that more than 74 million workers and those with whom they live could be at risk for serious illness, based on disease risk guidelines developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the researchers said.

“Many parts of the country face high and rising infection rates, [and] we should not think about work exposure and health risks in isolation, given that workers and persons at increased risk often live in the same households,” study co-author Thomas M. Selden told UPI.

“Insofar as we can reduce the prevalence of COVID-19 in our communities, we can reduce the extent to which policymakers have to choose between the economy and keeping the population safe,” said Selden, an economist with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic spread to the United States in March, states and cities across the country have instituted lockdown measures designed to limit the spread of the disease.

Many of these measures entailed closing schools and non-essential businesses, with only banks, grocery stores, pharmacies and other businesses deemed to provide vital services allowed to stay open.

For this study, Selden and his colleagues analyzed data on the U.S. workforce to examine how many people were in essential jobs, how often they were able to work at home, their risk for severe COVID-19 and the potential health risks for their household members.

Of the more than 157 million workers across the country, 72% are in jobs deemed essential — based on U.S. Department of Homeland Security criteria — and more than three-fourths of all essential workers are unable to work at home, Selden said.

Essential workers include those in the medical and healthcare, telecommunications, information technology systems, defense, food and agriculture, transportation and logistics and energy, water and wastewater industries, as well as those in law enforcement and public works, the DHS criteria stipulates.

The study notes that up to 60% of these workers have underlying health issues, placing them at increased risk for severe COVID-19 if they get infected, as defined by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Those with diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and chronic respiratory conditions like asthma are considered to be at high risk for serious illness, the CDC says.

Based on these findings, between roughly 57 million and 74 million adults working in on-site essential jobs — and their families — are at increased risk for serious illness, Selden and his colleagues estimated.

“Policymakers face important decisions about how to balance the economic benefits of keeping workers employed and the public health benefits of protecting those with increased risk of severe COVID-19,” Selden said.

“These issues arise in the context of decisions to close segments of the economy and decisions about how to distribute vaccines, which will initially be available only with limited supply, [and] become all the more difficult when the prevalence of infection rises in parts of the country,” he said.



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Study: Hydroxychloroquine no better than placebo for hospitalized COVID-19 patients

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Nov. 9 (UPI) — COVID-19 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine showed no signs of significant improvement in “clinical status” compared with those given a placebo, a study published Monday by JAMA found.

Patients given a five-day course of the drug were scored as “category six” based on the World Health Organization’s seven-category COVID Ordinal Outcomes Scale, the same as those given a placebo, the researchers said.

Also, 28 days after they started treatment, 10.4% of those treated with hydroxychloroquine died, just slightly lower than the 10.6% fatality rate in the placebo group.

“The results show that hydroxychloroquine did not help patients recover from COVID-19,” study co-author Dr. Wesley H. Self told UPI.

“In the study, patients treated with hydroxychloroquine and those treated with a placebo had nearly identical outcomes, [so] I do not foresee any role for hydroxychloroquine in acutely ill patients hospitalized with COVID-19,” said Self, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Hydroxychloroquine is an immunosuppressive and anti-parasitic drug that is used to treat malaria.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, it was touted by President Donald Trump and others as a potential treatment for the virus, despite the lack of any scientific data supporting its use.

Given its effectiveness helping those sickened with malaria — a mosquito-borne infection — to recover, “there was a strong rationale for why hydroxychloroquine may have been beneficial for patients with COVID-19,” according to Self.

However, in July, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned against the drug’s use in the treatment of those infected with the new coronavirus, due to potentially serious heart-related side effects.

For this study, Self and his colleagues treated 433 COVID-19 patients at 34 hospitals across the United States with either the drug or a placebo for a period of five days.

Patients assigned to the hydroxychloroquine group received 400 milligrams of the drug in pill form twice a day for the first two doses and then 200 mg. in pill form twice a day for the next eight doses, for a total of 10 doses over the five days.

All of the patients were then assessed based on the WHO’s COVID Ordinal Outcomes Scale, which categorizes those infected according to disease severity.

Most of the patients in both the hydroxycholorquine group and the placebo group were in “category six,” meaning they were hospitalized and receiving extracorporeal membrane oxygenation or invasive mechanical ventilation to maintain their breathing, the researchers said.

“Our results, especially when combined from other studies conducted in the United Kingdom and Brazil, are good evidence that hydroxychloroquine does not provide benefit for patients hospitalized with COVID-19,” Self said.



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