Category Archives: Health and Wellness

Is substance misuse a choice or a disease?

Various different types of pill capsules lay scattered on a wooden table.

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Some people talk as if substance misuse is a moral failing. Science suggests that substance misuse is a disease similar to many other health conditions that affect the brain’s reward pathway. When one performs enjoyable activities like running or eating a tasty meal, dopamine and endorphins are released, and an individual may feel some euphoria. Drug use increases similar chemicals in brain pathways at a much greater magnitude. Furthermore, some drugs alter these functions after a single use. With ongoing usage, the brain pathways are modified, making it difficult for people to feel happy without the drug. In other words, one may get little enjoyment from everyday activities, and drug-taking becomes the only source of pleasure. Tolerance also develops as the brain adjusts to drug use, so more is needed.

The choice to try a drug may occur in a moment of vulnerability. There may be peer pressure. Individuals may begin taking a drug as a coping method for stress or distress. 

As substance misuse develops, it causes a loss of control over behaviors that impair the individual. It’s not just a matter of willpower to stop taking the drug. Moreover, people with altered brain chemistry may experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop using the drug. Avoiding the drug may become as challenging as going without food or water. 

Substance use disorder, like heart disease, results from a combination of factors. Genetic factors, frequency, duration, type of drug, ease of availability, and feelings of worry or depression are all factors that may be associated with the potential to develop a substance misuse disorder.

By treating those struggling with substance use disorder with the same compassion we extend to patients with a chronic disease like diabetes or heart failure, we can help them overcome this challenge and restore their health.

Do Probiotics Promote Health?

Should you take a daily probiotic supplement? | MD Anderson Cancer Center

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Probiotics have increased in popularity in the past few years. According to a survey by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, about 4 million US adults (1.6% of the population) used a probiotic or prebiotic supplement in the past 30 days1. From grocery store aisles devoted to probiotics to social media influencers, there are claims for probiotics, including improvement of everything from constipation to obesity to depression. What is the evidence that probiotics promote health?

Probiotics are gut microorganisms that are helpful in digesting food, producing vitamins, and fighting harmful pathogens. Probiotics are found in naturally fermented foods like yogurt, cheese, and kombucha.  The products we are addressing consist of similar bacteria, commercially manufactured and distributed. 

There is experimental evidence that probiotics can alleviate symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBS).  People taking a probiotic with the bacteria Bifidobacterium bifidum MIMBb75 experienced less discomfort, bloating, urgency, and digestive disorder compared to those who took a placebo2.

The evidence that probiotic use is helpful for restoring healthy gut flora after a course of antibiotics includes genetic sequencing of stool samples demonstrating increased diversity of gut bacteria and fewer antibiotic-resistant bacteria3.

There is some evidence of a connection between the gut microbiome and the brain. In one study, people with IBS taking the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 had fewer symptoms of depression relative to people taking a placebo4.  They also had reduced brain activity on fMRI in response to negative stimuli. More experimental evidence is needed to confirm these relationships. 

There are case reports of sepsis or fungemia from bacteria5 or yeast6 in probiotics in people with immune system deficiencies. However, the potential for harm is low, and no serious adverse events were reported in clinical trials. The most common side effect for the average healthy person is temporary bloating and constipation, which typically subsides after a few weeks of use7.

Think twice before consuming a probiotic pill. A healthy diet including natural sources of gut flora is probably just as good as any pill or drink. We need more experimental evidence before we can be certain of the relative potential benefits and harms of probiotics, natural or in pill form, for various illnesses.  



How much sleep do you need?


Why is sleep important

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Many believe they can function at peak performance with only 5 hours of sleep. While there might be a range of optimal sleep, few of us can be at our best with that little sleep. Sleeping allows the body to recover and perform restorative activities. While we sleep, our body produces signaling molecules such as cytokines that may impact immune system functions; cell and tissue repair take place; and heart rate decreases, allowing our heart to rest. 

These are the guidelines for the healthiest sleep duration from the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Newborn to 3 months: 14-17 hours
  • 4 to 11 months: 12-16 hours
  • 1 to 2 years: 11-14 hours
  • 3 to 5 years: 10-13 hours
  • 6 to 13 years: 9-12 hours
  • 14 to 17 years: 8-10 hours
  • 18 to 25 years: 7-9 hours
  • 26 to 64 years: 7-9 hours
  • 65 years or more: 7-8 hours

A study conducted by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) found evidence that children achieving these sleep goals have better attention, behavior, learning, and memory. Younger people need more sleep, particularly when the brain is still developing, as sleep plays a role in vocabulary acquisition and emotional control. 

Fewer than 6 or 7 hours of sleep a night may be associated with fatigue, drowsiness, mood changes, forgetfulness, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and depression. For example, a study conducted by the AASM found that sleeping less than recommended may be associated with greater suicidal thoughts in teenagers. A Stanford study found that 10 hours of sleep were associated with better mental and physical performance in high-performance athletes.

Studies show that sleep quality also matters. If your sleep is frequently interrupted, you may still feel groggy even after meeting the sleep time requirements for your specific age group. For better rest, try prioritizing sleep. Some tips are to remove distractions like electronic devices, adjust room temperature, and avoid caffeine intake before bedtime.

Sweet dreams!