Mindfulness May Help Us Unlearn Our Fears, Finds Study
Fear has always been the evolutionary factor that has helped humans stay safe. In today’s world, however, fear responses or phobias are more a hindrance than help. To overcome these phobias, accumulating scientific evidence shows that ‘mindfulness’ practice could help in unlearning the fear response. 
 
A new study from researchers at the University of Southern Denmark, Uppsala University, Lund University, Peking University and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, shows that mindfulness training facilitates extinction of conditioned fear reactions, producing lasting reductions in threat-related arousal responses. 
 
The purpose of mindfulness is to help an individual focus on stimuli occurring in the present moment rather than the fear response. It is commonly believed that mindfulness can help people feel calmer, more serene and more motivated in their day-to-day lives. The findings of an increasing number of studies are now backing up that evidence, indicating that mindfulness practice can bring real benefits for physical and, especially, mental health.  
 
This new study, published in Nature Scientific Reports, has suggested that if you start practising mindfulness, you will find it easier to unlearn your phobias and remain fear-free. 
 
For the study, researchers recruited 26 healthy people and divided them randomly into two t groups. Participants from one group underwent a daily mindfulness session for four weeks through a popular app, while the other received no such session. After four weeks, all the participants had to undergo an experiment related to the fear response for a couple of days.
 
Initially, the participants learned a fear response by watching a slideshow of images. When a particular image came up on the screen, they also received mild electric shocks, to reinforce an association of unpleasant shocks with the images. Therefore, whenever a particular image came up, participants would experience increased sweating, a mark of the ‘fight or flight’ response. 
 
Once this association was created among the participants, the researchers then proceeded to eliminate this reaction. They achieved this by repeatedly showing the participants the same set of images; but, this time, without delivering any electric shocks. They wanted to find out in which of the participants, if any, the unlearning of the fear response would stick, since fearful associations, typically, tend to return very quickly. 
 
On a subsequent day, the investigators displayed the same slideshow of images to all the participants while having them hooked up to the device that they used to deliver shocks. But, this time, they did not deliver any shocks. 
 
Results indicated that the participants, who had received mindfulness training earlier, did not experience a fear reaction when they viewed a photo with which they had earlier formed an unpleasant association. However, in the other group of participants, who had not received the same mindfulness training, the fear response made a comeback, as demonstrated by skin conductance measurements that assessed physiological markers of a psychological arousal. 
 
“We can show that mindfulness does not only have an effect on subjective experiences of negative emotions, as has been shown previously, but that you can actual see clear effects on autonomic arousal responses, even with a limited amount of training,” explained Dr Johannes Björkstrand, lead author on the study. 
 
Dr Björkstrand believes that adding mindfulness therapy to exposure therapy,  which is typically used to help other overcome phobias, could boost its effectiveness. 
 
“Our results suggest that, if you combine mindfulness training with exposure therapy, maybe you can achieve larger and longer lasting treatment effects. In this way, you could get at an underlying vulnerability factor and more people would respond to these treatments,” he explained. However, studies in clinical populations and actual treatment studies are needed before drawing any firm conclusions in this matter. 
 
The researchers now want to move forward and investigate the underlying neurobiological mechanisms that are involved. “We are currently repeating the experiment with twice the number of participants, and the whole thing is carried out inside an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scanner equipped with an extra strong electro-magnetic field so that we can measure their brain activity to a high degree of precision throughout all parts of the experiment,” said Prof Ulrich Krik, co-author of the study. 
 
“We hope to show that the effect is robust and that we can replicate the current findings, and also say what processes in the brain are involved in producing these effects,” he added. 
 
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    COMMENTS

    ANANT NARAYAN PAI

    2 weeks ago

    Mr. Akshay Naik - can you name the popular app mentioned in the article which was used by the participants. And any other good materials regarding mindfulness.

    Fast Intermittently To Improve Health and Lifespan
    Researchers have found additional evidence that intermittent fasting can trigger a metabolic switch which, in turn, may lead to beneficial effects, such as improved lifespan. 
     
    According to a report published in the medical journal New England Journal of Medicine, eating in a six-hour period and fasting for 18 hours can trigger a metabolic switch from glucose-based to ketone-based energy which means the body’s source of energy changes from sugar to fat. 
     
    The author of this report, Dr Mark Mattson from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, has found that intermittent fasting improves blood sugar regulation, increases resistance to stress and suppresses inflammation. 
     
    Dr Mattson, who has studied the health impact of intermittent fasting for 25 years and adopted it himself about 20 years ago, writes that “intermittent fasting could be part of a healthy lifestyle.” A professor of neuroscience, he hopes that his new report helps clarify the science and clinical applications of intermittent fasting in ways that may help physicians guide patients who may want to try it. 
     
    According to him, intermittent fasting diets generally fall into two distinct categories - daily time-restricted feeding, which narrows eating periods to six to eight hours a day and the, so-called, 5:2 intermittent fasting diet in which people limit themselves to one moderate-sized meal two days each week. 
     
    The report provides evidence of other animal and human studies which have shown that alternating between times of fasting and eating supports cellular health, perhaps by making the body adapt to food scarcity through metabolic switching. This switch occurs when cells use up their stores of rapidly accessible, sugar-based fuel and begin converting fat into energy in a slower metabolic process. 
     
    Referencing several studies from the past, the report puts forward a conclusion that intermittent fasting can prove beneficial in all aspects of life, eventually assisting in control of diabetes and prevention of cardiovascular diseases. The report also quotes more recent preliminary studies that suggest intermittent fasting could benefit brain health as well. 
     
    Dr Mattson believes that further research is required to gather proof of any effect of intermittent fasting on learning and memory. But he hopes that such evidence will lead to fasting, or a pharmaceutical equivalent that mimics it, being prescribed as an intervention to stave off neuro-degeneration and dementia.  
     
    “We are at a transition point where we could soon consider adding information about intermittent fasting to medical school curricula alongside standard advice about healthy diets and exercise,” reports Dr Mattson.
     
    The report acknowledges that researchers do “not fully understand the specific mechanisms of metabolic switching and that “some people are unable or unwilling to adhere” to the fasting regimens. But Dr Mattson argues that, with guidance and some patience, most people can incorporate them into their lives. 
     
    “Patients should be advised that feeling hungry and irritable is common initially and usually passes after two weeks to a month as the body and brain become accustomed to the new habit,” the report explains. Dr Mattson advises gradual increase in the duration and frequency of the fasting periods over the course of several months.
     
    He hopes his report will encourage physicians to make the effort to understand the science behind intermittent fasting, so that they can communicate its potential benefits, harms, challenges and offer appropriate support to their patients.
     
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    Blue Light May Not Actually Disrupt Sleep, Finds Study
    Studies have previously reported that the cool-tone glow of your phone screen, known as ‘blue light’, could be harmful for your sleep patterns. It has become such a common belief that phones and tablets these days, typically, have some version of a ‘night mode’ that tweaks the screen’s colour to warmer tones as you wind down for bed. 
     
    A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Manchester has found that the dreaded blue light may not actually affect your sleep and may actually help you wind down. 
     
    Sunrise and sunset naturally regulate humans’ sleep patterns, with light exposure determining how tired or alert you feel. Light is filtered through photo-receptors in the eye, including a specialised protein called melanopsin. When we wake up, melanopsin measures the brightness of daytime light and halts production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. 
     
    Throughout the day, bright light keeps us awake, boosting attention and mood. As light dims in the evening, melanopsin triggers melatonin production, making us drowsy and helping us fall asleep. 
     
    For the study, mice were exposed to special lighting to see how cool- and warm-tone lights, of the same brightness, affected them. Surprisingly, results showed that blue-toned light had less of an effect on the mice than yellow-toned light, when it came to their internal clocks or circadian rhythm. 
     
    These findings have important implications for the design of lighting and visual displays intended to ensure healthy patterns of sleep and alertness. Current technologies are designed to limit our evening exposure to blue light, by changing the screen colour on mobile devices and may, therefore, send us mixed messages, the study argues. 
     
    Researchers suggest that, since twilight is dimmer as well as bluer than daylight, looking at warm-toned light at night could be sending our bodies mixed signals. Instead, using dim, cool lights at night and warm bright lights during the day might help our bodies on track. They believe that most night mode settings will dim the back-light; the noticeable change in colour could be doing us more harm than good. 
     
    “We argue that this is not the best approach, since the changes in colour may oppose any benefits obtained from reducing the brightness signals detected by melanopsin,” said Dr Timothy Brown, author of the study. “Our findings suggest that using dim, cooler, lights in the evening and bright warmer lights in the day may be more beneficial.”
     
    Dr Brown believes that the common view being that blue light has the strongest effect on our body clock is misguided. “In fact, the blue colours that are associated with twilight have a weaker effect than white or yellow light of equivalent brightness,” he explained. 
     
    “There is lots of interest in altering the impact of light on the clock by adjusting the brightness signals detected by melanopsin but current approaches usually do this by changing the ratio of short and long wavelength light; this provides a small difference in brightness at the expense of perceptible changes in colour,” he further added.
     
    The researchers firmly believe that this may not be the best approach, as the changes in colour may oppose any benefits obtained from reducing the brightness signals detected by melanopsin. Previous research has already provided evidence that aligning our body clock with our social and work schedules can be good for our health. Dr Brown seems to think that using colour appropriately can help us further achieve this.
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