Mental Health

Could lack of sleep trigger a food “addiction”?

Stuart Quan, MD
Stuart Quan, MD, Contributing Editor

Many people cite a lack of “motivation” or “willpower” as the reason that overweight people can’t control their eating habits. But a wealth of evidence has come to light that obesity is linked to insufficient sleep. Most recently, an experimental study has found that restricted sleep can increase the levels of brain chemicals that make eating pleasurable. Could it be that insufficient sleep makes the brain addicted to the act of eating?

A monthly shot for opioid addiction: An option for some

Wynne Armand, MD
Wynne Armand, MD, Contributing Editor

Several long-term treatments can help people overcome opioid addiction. One of them, naltrexone, may help people who have trouble sticking with taking a pill every day. Naltrexone can be offered as a monthly injection called Vivitrol, which has been shown to help more people stay on treatment as compared to the pill form. However, it’s not for everyone, and like all treatments for opioid addiction, it must be used very carefully.

How simply moving benefits your mental health

Srini Pillay, MD
Srini Pillay, MD, Contributor

The connection between your brain and your body is a two-way street. This means that how you feel affects how you move — and that the opposite is true, too. Here, we’ve assembled plenty of evidence that movement — whether it’s aerobic exercise in a gym or a simple meditative walk — is incredibly effective not only for boosting your mood, but for reducing symptoms of many common mental disorders, too.

A twist on the genetic link between Alzheimer’s and heart disease

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Although the two conditions seem unrelated, Alzheimer’s and heart disease actually share a genetic link. People who have a certain gene variant have both a somewhat elevated heart disease risk and a significantly elevated Alzheimer’s risk. Fortunately, a recent study has suggested that when people know they have this variant, they’re more likely to make healthy lifestyle choices that benefit their heart — and what’s good for the heart is good for the brain.

Would you know if your teen was depressed?

Nandini Mani, MD
Nandini Mani, MD, Contributing Editor

Recently, the USPSTF updated their guidelines for screening teenagers for depression. This update gives pediatricians — and all family care doctors — a framework for addressing this disorder. There are plenty of good reasons to screen teens for depression: it’s common among teenagers, it can look very different from depression in adults, and it can be dangerous to a teenager’s current — and future — health and happiness. Fortunately, there are a number of effective treatments available.

Can a heartburn drug cause cognitive problems?

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Many older adults take PPIs to treat heartburn, GERD, or stomach ulcers. Recently, a new study identified a link between chronic PPI use and an increased risk for dementia. If you take a PPI, check in with your doctor — you may be able to take it only when you have symptoms, not continuously (and this kind of usage was not associated with a dramatically increased dementia risk in the study).

People who exercise more also tend to drink more (alcohol)

Michael Bierer, MD
Michael Bierer, MD, Contributor

A recent study that tracked healthy volunteers’ exercise and drinking habits found that they tended to drink more on days when they exercised more. But this study might have had drastically different results if conducted with different groups. For example, what results might we see if the volunteers were sedentary people looking to exercise more — or people with unhealthy drinking patterns who were working to cut back?

The missing rewards that motivate healthy lifestyle changes

Srini Pillay, MD
Srini Pillay, MD, Contributor

Ask anyone who’s ever tried to make a healthy change — after a while, the motivation to keep at it just stops. Indeed, it can be incredibly hard to break old habits, or make new ones. But research has revealed that there are actually two different types of rewards in the brain — and that focusing on the less commonly pursued of the two can help you make lasting changes.

Is addiction a “brain disease”?

Michael Bierer, MD
Michael Bierer, MD, Contributor

A look into the “brain science” behind substance use disorders highlights the fact that for many people with addictions, “just say no” just doesn’t work. The biological underpinnings of addiction teach the brain to react unusually strongly if deprived of drugs, which can make recovering from an addiction incredibly difficult. Fortunately, it’s possible to teach the brain to rediscover healthier sources of joy and reward.

Decline in dementia rate offers “cautious hope”

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Last year, the Alzheimer’s Association predicted that rates of dementia would continue to rise. However, a report recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that rates of dementia have actually dropped steadily over the past three decades. Whether the drop in rates applies to everyone, and whether it will continue, remain to be seen. But the evidence also confirms that there’s quite a lot you can do to lower your dementia risk.