Is There a Happiness Gene?

(PCM) Yes…but only in women!

Researchers at the University of South Florida, Columbia University, and the New York State Psychiatry Institute found that low-expression of the gene MAOA (monoamine oxidase A) is associated with higher levels of happiness in adult females – but not in men.

According to the study, the MAOA gene works similarly to antidepressants by targeting the enzyme that breaks down the same neurotransmitters that many antidepressants target!

Lead author, Henian Chen, MD, PhD, said, “This is the first happiness gene for women. I was surprised by the result, because low expression of MAOA has been related to some negative outcomes like alcoholism, aggressiveness and antisocial behavior. It’s even called the warrior gene by some scientists, but, at least for women, our study points to a brighter side of this gene.”

So it’s not all good news, but it does offer some explanation as to why women report more anxiety and mood disorders than men, but more happiness, too.

The study of nearly 350 men and women found that women with the low-expression type of MAOA were much happier than women without copies, and women with two copies were even happier. Though the gene was also found in men, it did not make them any happier. Researchers explain that low expression of the gene encourages elevated levels of monoamine, which results in higher quantities of neurotransmitters remaining in the brain, thus improving mood. But why doesn’t it affect men the same way? Chen and her team point to higher testosterone levels found in men, which can possibly neutralize the happiness effects of MAOA.

However, the MAOA gene isn’t the only gene affecting our level of happiness. In fact, according to Medical News Today, previous studies have shown that our genes are likely responsible for 35% to 50% of the variations in people’s happiness!

“I think the time is right for more genetic studies that focus on well-being and happiness,” adds Chen. “Certainly it could be argued that how well-being is enhanced deserves at least as much attention as how (mental) disorders arise; however, such knowledge remains limited.”


Source: Medical News Today

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Tips to Avoid Gaining the ‘Freshman 15’

(PCM) “Freshman 15” is a term we’re all too familiar with, but is there any truth to it? Does the average college freshman actually gain 15 pounds in the first year?

Not exactly. “The Freshman 15” is a bit of an exaggeration, according to recent statistics and studies, with students gaining on average about 5-7 pounds in the first year.  But don’t forget, that’s an average. Some freshmen gain more weight than that, and others might not gain any weight at all.

So why do students gain weight their first year in college, anyway? Well, for one, mom and dad aren’t around to make healthy meals anymore, and there are no rules or curfews to stop you from partying all night, every night. Thanks to stress, dining halls, late-night eating, and too much alcohol, the pounds tend to pile on.

But just because you gain this new level of freedom, doesn’t mean you have to gain the weight, too. Here are a few tips on how to avoid the “Freshman 15”!

1. Just because mom and dad are miles away doesn’t mean you should stock your dorm room full of food you know they wouldn’t approve of – chips, cheese puffs, candy, and all the other sugary, fatty junk food that offers little or no nutritional value. It’s okay to keep some snacks in your dorm, but unless you don’t mind welcoming the “Freshman 15”, you better make them nutritious ones. Light popcorn, fruit, veggie sticks, oatmeal, yogurt, nuts and baked chips are all healthy options. These are much better snacks to have in your room when you come home from a night of partying and are ready to eat anything in sight – and while you’re studying too, of course.

2. Eat breakfast. Don’t skip this important meal – ever! Whether you’re trying to skip meals for weight loss or you’re just not a breakfast person, you should eat a little something to get your metabolism going. Plus, it will help keep you from binging later in the day; you don’t want to end up starving at the dining hall, where temptation lurks around every corner. Protein bars, greek yogurt, and instant oatmeal are quick and easy choices.

3. The dining hall can be disastrous; it truly is an all-you-can-eat, all day, every day! First thing’s first: don’t wait until you’re starving to head to the dining hall. At this point, you’ll be so hungry that you’ll not only overeat, but everything will look ten times better and be harder to resist (pizza, calzones, pasta, ice cream – you name it, it all looks good).

This is the first time most students are away from home and have to make their own eating decisions, but just because it’s there doesn’t mean you should eat it! Don’t think you can eat pizza, hamburgers and fries everyday and not gain weight. Unfortunately, it’s bound to catch up to you. Instead, check out all your options in the cafeteria before you make your selections.

The salad bar is always a good choice, as long as you’re mindful of what you pile on it. Obviously, if you are trying to watch your weight you will want to avoid anything fried, creamy, or full of sugar. Skip the croutons, pasta salads, and creamy dressings. This also means trying to avoid the plate of dessert on your way out. Stick with broth-based soups, healthy salads, lean meats, and fruit and vegetables, and watch those portion sizes! Most of the food will be there day after day, so don’t feel like you need to go for seconds or thirds.

4. Drink plenty of water. Studies have shown that people often mistaken hunger for thirst. Besides possibly taking away your “hunger”, water helps speed up your metabolism, rid your body of toxins, and so much more! Aim for at least 8 glasses of water a day – more if you’re exercising!

5. As much as college kids may not want to hear it, the truth is, excessive alcohol consumption can truly wreak havoc on your diet. One beer has 100-200 calories, and that adds up fast! Mixed drinks can have anywhere from 80 to 600 calories per drink; if you drink a few of the higher calorie drinks you might as well have eaten a whole pizza.

Mai tais, pina coladas, mud slides, margaritas, and long islands all contain over 500 calories. Rum and coke, Redbull and vodka, and most other drinks have over 200 calories, which can also add up quickly. Not only are you drinking empty calories, but your body metabolises alcohol before food. That means while you’re drinking, everything else is put on hold and stored until the alcohol is burned off. Alcohol also lowers inhibitions, meaning you’re more likely to ditch your healthy diet and eat that big, greasy sandwich everyone’s been raving about. A few nights or more of this every week, and well, you get the picture. Stick to vodka and club soda or other low calorie mixers, and limit yourself to just one or two drinks a night.

6. While the course load might be heavy and hard to adjust to the first year, there’s always time to squeeze in a little exercise. Exercise will not only keep the number on the scale in check, it can also help relieve stress – something most college students suffer from. Most schools offer free gyms that are within walking distance, so take advantage of them! Even just 30 minutes, 3-4 times a week will help keep weight gain at bay. Cardio workouts will help burn calories and speed up your metabolism, and weight training will help you tone up and burn more calories all day long.

7. Find a friend who has the same goals as you. Work together to avoid temptation at the dining hall and late night binging. Encourage each other to workout, or even take fitness classes together. It’s easier when you have friends who support you, not tempt you!

8. Get enough sleep! College students tend to be sleep deprived, whether it’s pulling all-nighters to study or to party. Try to avoid these bad habits! Studies show that sleep allows your brain to process and store material better, so staying up all night to cram for an exam isn’t the best idea. Lack of sleep also affects your appetite and judgement, which can increase hunger and decrease satiation. Aim for no less than 7 hours of sleep every night.

9. Don’t give up if you fall off the wagon and gain a few pounds. It happens. It’s not about depriving yourself or obsessing over the number on the scale, it’s about finding a healthy balance and lifestyle. What, when, and how you eat in college can set the stage for healthy eating habits for the rest of your life. Make mom and dad proud!

The post Tips to Avoid Gaining the ‘Freshman 15’ also appeared on PCM Lifestyle.

People Living to Age 90 Has Tripled in the United States

(PCM) Due to increases in life expectancy, the older population in the United States is growing fast: The number of nonagenarians – people in their 90s – has tripled, according to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

So who’s living to age 90 and beyond? The study found that most of the 90+ population are caucasian, graduated high school, and are covered by health insurance. Researchers also found that women outnumber men nearly 3 to 1.

What’s more, nonagenarians aren’t just living to 90, they’re still relatively healthy. “Today a person 90 years of age is expected to live on average another 4.6 years (versus 3.2 years in 1929–1931), and those who pass the century mark are projected to live another 2.3 years,” write researchers. In other words: once you hit 90, you’re life expectancy increases to 95!

The key to living longer is to live a healthy lifestyle while you’re young, including:

Exercising regularly
Eating a healthy, nutritious diet full of fruits and vegetables
Sleeping (7 to 8 hours a night)
Avoiding trans fats, saturated fats, processed foods, and too much sugar
Not smoking or drinking excessively
Staying on top of annual check-ups
Managing stress
Having friends
Being social
Playing video games!?

Friendships: The Key to Longevity?

photo credit

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Holding a Grudge? Why It’s Doing More Damage That You Might Think

(PCM) Do you drag out fights, hold on to grudges, or just can’t seem to forgive and forget? Well, it’s not doing anyone any good! In fact, holding onto hostility doesn’t just hurt those you won’t forgive, it can negatively affect your immune system and heart health!

According to RealAge, holding onto hostility is like living with chronic stress, releasing a combination of feel-bad chemicals into your body that increases heart rate, blood pressure, stomach acids, muscle tension, and inflammation-triggering compounds. That inflammation can lead to a buildup in your arteries, which causes heart attacks, wrinkles, stroke, and impotence.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, has the opposite effect! Letting go of your anger or hurt can help fight depression and anxiety, relieve chronic pain, and increase your immune system. Sometimes, though, it’s easier said than done. Take baby steps: work on letting go of the little, short-term grudges, and work your way towards letting go of bigger grievances. Talk it out with close friends, family, or a therapist.

Remember: forgiving someone for hurting you does not mean you’re weak. Sometimes forgiveness takes a lot more strength than holding onto something. So do yourself a favor and let go of your grudges – it just might save your life!

The post Holding a Grudge? Why It’s Doing More Damage That You Might Think also appeared on PCM Lifestyle.

Music Lessons May Have Lasting Benefits on the Brain

(PCM) Music lessons may provide more than just beautiful (or not so beautiful) music to the ear; lessons early on in life may have lasting benefits on the brain!

Researchers from Auditory Neuroscience Lab at Northwestern University studied 45 young adults and found that those with at least one year of childhood musical training had enhanced neurological responses to sound, a trait linked to improved learning and listening abilities.

Lead author Nina Kraus says:

“There’s good evidence that playing a musical instrument can profoundly affect the nervous system, but most of the studies have looked at people who are still playing. This is the first study, to my knowledge, to look at the more typical scenario of people taking music lessons as kids.”

“We know from previous studies that if you have a robust response to sound, you’re generally a better learner,” said Kraus. “You’re better able to hear conversations in noisy places, your reading ability tends to be better and your auditory memory also seems to benefit. Those skills are important.To me — and this is just my scientific opinion based on converging evidence — those are dollars well spent.”

“Certainly the hypothesis to be tested now is whether these experiences in childhood continue to have a mark on the nervous system throughout people’s lives.”

Bottom line: Children’s music lessons, whether you love them or hate them, are worth it!

Photograph: Murdo Macleod

The post Music Lessons May Have Lasting Benefits on the Brain also appeared on PCM Lifestyle.

Top 5 Reasons to Drink Red Wine

(PCM) Go ahead and pour yourself another glass of red wine! Here are five amazing reasons to indulge:

1. It relieves stress. While you don’t want to become dependent on alcohol, a little bit of wine in moderation (whether it’s once a week or once a day) can help reduce stress levels. A French study found that women who drink a little wine each day experience less stress than those who never drink a drop, or those who drink too much. The recommended amount is one glass of wine, or 5 ounces.

2. It protects your breasts! According to a study from the Cedars-Sinae Medical Center, red wine contains unique chemical compounds that slightly lower your estrogen levels while raising testosterone levels, which reduces your risk of breast and other cancers. However, drinking more than 1 or 2 drinks per day increases the risk of breast cancer.

3. It may lower risk of heart disease. Recent research suggests that moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with decreased incidence of cardiovascular disease, including lower risk of heart attacks, due to resveratrol and other anti-oxidants in wine. Resveratrol has also been found in studies to lower LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol).

4. It helps block fat storage. Researchers from Purdue University found that piceatannol – a compound found in red wine similar to resveratrol – can help block fat cells from growing! Additional research on resveratrol has found that the compound may prevent fat accumulation and reduce insulin resistance, which lowers the risk of diabetes.

5. It’s good for your brain! Resveratrol has been reported to protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. It’s even been shown to increase lifespan in animal studies.

So go ahead, pour yourself a glass of wine! Just watch your portion size!

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