Your smartphone could be good for your mental health

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Joanna Rodriguez, University of Surrey and Nadine Page, University of Surrey

When it comes to mental health, technologies such as smartphones and social media networks are almost always discussed in terms of the dangers they pose. Alongside concerns expressed in the media, some experts believe that technology has a role in the rising rates of mental health problems. However, there is also evidence to suggest your smartphone could actually be good for your mental health.

The brain is a sensitive organ that reacts and adapts to stimulation. Researchers have looked into smartphone usage and the effects on the day-to-day plasticity of the human brain. They found that the finger movements used to control smartphones are enough to alter brain activity.

This ability of technology to change our brains has led to questions over whether screen-based activity is related to rising incidence of such conditions as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or an increased risk of depression and insomnia. Technology has also been blamed for cyber-bullying, isolation, communication issues and reduced self-esteem, all of which can potentially lead to mental ill health.

Positive potential

However, focusing only on the negative experiences of some people ignores technology’s potential as both a tool for treating mental health issues and for improving the quality of people’s lives and promoting emotional well-being. For example, there are programmes for depression and phobias, designed to help lift people’s moods, get them active and help them to overcome their difficulties. The programmes use guided self help-based cognitive behavioural principles and have proven to be very effective.

Computer games have been used to provide therapy for adolescents. Because computer games are fun and can be used anonymously, they offer an alternative to traditional therapy. For example, a fantasy-themed role-playing game called SPARX has been found to be as effective as face-to-face therapy in clinical trials.

Researcher David Haniff has created apps aimed at lifting the mood of people suffering from depression by showing them pleasing pictures, video and audio, for example of their families. He has also developed a computer game that helps a person examine the triggers of their depression. Meanwhile, smartphone apps that play subliminal relaxing music in order to distract from the noise and worries of everyday living have been proven to be beneficial in reducing stress and anxiety.

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Technology can also provide greater access to mental health professionals through email, online chats or video calls. This enables individuals to work remotely and at their own pace, which can be particularly useful for those who are unable to regularly meet with a healthcare professional. Such an experience can be both empowering and enabling, encouraging the individual to take responsibility for their own mental well-being.

This kind of “telemedicine” has already found a role in child and adolescent mental health services in the form of online chats in family therapy, that can help to ensure each person has a chance to have their turn in the session. From our own practice experience, we have found young people who struggle to communicate during face-to-face sessions can be encouraged to text their therapist as an alternative way of expressing themselves, without the pressure of sitting opposite someone and making eye contact.

Conditions such as social anxiety can stop people seeking treatment in the first place. The use of telemedicine in this instance means people can begin combating their illness from the safety of their own home. It is also a good way to remind people about their appointments, thus improving attendance and reducing drop-out rates.

New routes to treatment

The internet in general can provide a gateway to asking for help, particularly for those who feel that stigma is attached to mental illness. Accessing information and watching videos about people with mental health issues, including high-profile personalities, helps to normalise conditions that are not otherwise talked about.

People can use technology to self-educate and improve access to low-intensity mental health services by providing chat rooms, blogs and information about mental health conditions. This can help to combat long waiting times by providing support earlier and improving the effectiveness of treatment.

More generally, access to the internet and use of media devices can also be a lifeline to the outside world. They allow people to connect in ways that were not previously possible, encouraging communication. With improved social networks, people may be less likely to need professional help, thus reducing the burden on over stretched services.

Research into the potential dangers of technology and its affect on the brain is important for understanding the causes of modern mental health issues. But technology also creates an opportunity for innovative ways to promote engagement and well-being for those with mental health problems. Let’s embrace that.

The Conversation

Joanna Rodriguez is Senior tutor at University of Surrey and Nadine Page is Teaching Fellow (Integrated Care) at University of Surrey

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What is Blastocystis?

Blastocystis spp. infection- Blastocystosis

Blastocystis spp. is a group of parasites that is sometimes found in the lower intestine (large bowel). Infection with Blastocystis spp. is called blastocystosis. Blastocystis spp. is thought to be transmitted through oral-fecal contact from poor hand washing and hygiene practices, ingesting contaminated food or water, and exposure to animals.

Our understanding of Blastocystis has been revised several times. Up until 1996, Blastocystis was thought to be some type of yeast or fungi. It was only when Blastocystis DNA was studied that we realized it was a parasite. For a long time, we thought there was only one type of Blastocystis- Blastocystis homminis. We now know that there are actually 9 different subtypes, which are collectively called Blastocystis spp. 

There is still debate about whether Blastocystis spp. is even an infectious agent. This is because Blastocystis spp. can be found in the fecal specimens of many people who appear healthy and have no symptoms at all. There is a huge variation in the symptoms people experience, and how well treatment works. Why would there be such variation in symptoms and treatment response? Researchers suggest it is because of the different subtypes of Blastocystis having different effects in the body, and reacting differently to treatment.

 

Signs and symptoms of blastocystosis

In people who do experience symptoms, signs and symptoms can include:

·         Diarrhea

·         Constipation

·         Nausea

·         Vomiting

·         Abdominal cramps

·         Bloody stools

·         Bloating

·         Excessive gas

·         Anal itching

·         Loss of appetite

·         Weight loss

·         Dizziness

·         Headaches

·         Depression

·         Fatigue

·         Rash

Diagnostic considerations

At The Health Lodge, if we suspect you have blastocystosis, we may be interested in performing some tests to give us more information. These include:

·         Testing for Blastocystis spp. A common method to test for Blastocystis spp. is by stool culture, however we prefer to use a variation on this method that involves extraction of DNA followed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. This is considered the most sensitive testing method.

·         Screening for nutrient deficiencies, as Blastocystis spp. can contribute to nutritional deficiencies, especially iron.

·         Screening for food allergies and intolerances. We find that many of our patients with Blastocystis infection also have food allergies or intolerances. Blastocystis spp. has been found to increase the permeability of the gut wall, which allows large proteins that are usually broken down to pass through into the blood stream. These proteins can interact with the immune system and trigger a reaction.

·         We may be interested in screening for Blastocystis spp. in patients with irritable bowel syndrome or irritable bowel disease (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis). Blastocystis infection has been associated with these diseases, and it may be an underlying cause or contributing factor in some cases.  

Treatment considerations

Common treatment for Blastocystis infection includes the antibiotic metronidazole (Flagyl). However, the high failure rates of eradication using single drug therapy has led to the use of combination therapies of multiple antibiotic and anti-parasitic medications. At The Health Lodge, we find the best results are often achieved with a combination of antibiotic therapy and complementary therapies.

At The Health Lodge, our goals in treating Blastocystosis include eradicating the Blastocystis infection, correcting nutrient deficiencies, identifying and managing food allergies and intolerances, and repairing the gut wall and digestive function. We believe that a multidisciplinary team of health care professionals is essential in managing all the aspects of health. Depending on your individual needs, your multidisciplinary team may include general practitioners, psychologists, dietitians or nutritionists, naturopaths, osteopaths, and acupuncturists. This comprehensive and holistic approach is designed to support your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.

Lyme disease - Integrative Treatment Approach Part One

Lyme disease, or Lyme Borreliosis, is caused by a species of bacteria called Borrelia. It is transmitted to humans by ticks. Some ticks carry Borrelia, and when they attach and suck blood, they can regurgitate the bacteria into their host. The most common strain is Borrelia burgdorferi. This is the cause of most cases of Lyme disease in America. In Europe, the main strains are B. garinii and B. afzelii.

 

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

Borrelia bacteria are slow growing. Symptoms may take days or months to appear. In some cases, the disease may lie dormant for years, and surface after a stressful event such as illness, surgery, or physical or emotional trauma. One of the earliest and most defining signs of Lyme disease is a rash that spreads out from the site of the tick bite. The rash resembles a bulls-eye. At this early stage you may feel like you have the flu- fatigue, fever, headaches, muscle and joint aches and pains, and swollen lymph nodes are common.

The later stages of Lyme disease can take months or years to develop, and can cause problems in the joints, heart, and nervous system, and may affect mood and cognition.

 

Lyme disease in Australia, why the controversy?

The question of whether Australian ticks carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease is controversial. The Australian government denies that Australian ticks carry the Borrelia bacteria, and suggests that people with Lyme disease must have contracted it while overseas. However, switched-on health practitioners are finding that not all patients with Lyme disease have been outside of Australia.

So why is there so much disagreement on Lyme disease in Australia? In 1994 a study by Russell and Doggett set out to answer the question of whether Australian ticks carry Borrelia bacteria. They collected 12 000 common Australian ticks and did not isolate any Borrelia DNA, concluding that Australian ticks do not carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. However, there were a number of issues in this study. Of the 12 000 ticks, only 1038 were actually tested for Borrelia. Russell and Doggett also worked on the assumption that only the burgdorferi strain of Borrelia causes Lyme disease, yet European studies have found that B.garinii and B.afzelii can also cause Borreliosis.

In 1959 Mackerras isolated Borrelia from Australian kangaroos, wallabies and bandicoots. Russell and Doggett did not mention this study in their own work. In 1962 Carley and Pope discovered an Australian strain of Borrelia, called Borrelia Queenslandica. Again, Russell and Doggett made no mention of this in their study. In 1995 Barry, Wills and Hudson isolated and grew Borrelia bacteria from Australian ticks. They also tested people with symptoms of Lyme disease, and 20% were positive for B.garinii, B.afzelii or B.burgdorferi.

Given that three out of four studies isolated Borrelia species from Australian fauna, a review of the government position on Lyme disease in Australia would be wise. We need more research to fully understand Lyme disease in Australia, and more public awareness of Lyme disease, to ensure people receive the correct diagnosis and best treatment.

 

Why is Lyme disease so difficult to diagnose?

Aside from the clear roadblocks that the controversy of Lyme disease in Australia causes for diagnosis, a number of other issues make diagnosis difficult. Firstly, less than 30% of patients with Lyme disease can recall getting a tick bite. Secondly, the bulls-eye rash that is a defining feature of Lyme disease occurs in less than 30% of cases.

And the list of reasons goes on: Borrelia can live inside cells and inside the central nervous system, and so may not come up in blood tests, especially in chronic cases. The tests currently used are very poor at detecting Borrelia, and results may come back falsely negative. None of the tests, either in Australia or overseas, test for strains of Borrelia specific to Australia, like Borrelia Queenslandica.

Because Lyme is difficult to diagnose, and awareness of Lyme disease in Australia is poor, patients are being misdiagnosed. People with Lyme disease have been misdiagnosed with fibromyalgia, motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

 

The complexities of Lyme disease

Lyme disease is not your average bacterial infection. Ticks often carry other organisms, including Babesia, Anaplasma, Ehrlichia, and Bartonella. These can be transmitted to humans at the same time as the Borrelia bacteria, causing co-infection. It is incredibly important to test and treat these co-infections as well. Animal and human studies show that these co-infections can cause more severe and treatment-resistant Lyme disease.

Borrelia is also capable of creating a biofilm. A biofilm is a slippery, glue-like coating that some bacteria create to act as a protective shield. The plaque on your teeth is a type of biofilm produced by Treponema denticola, which causes gum disease. To create the biofilm, the bacteria clump together and build a complex matrix around themselves. They can do this on a range of surfaces including our soft tissues. Other organisms, including the co-infections common in Lyme disease, can live inside the biofilm. The biofilm protects the bacteria from attacks from the immune system and antibiotics.  The Borrelia biofilm is one of the reasons Lyme disease and its co-infections are so difficult to treat.

 

Diagnostic considerations for Lyme disease

At The Health Lodge, we understand that the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease is complex. Therefore, we suggest a comprehensive diagnostic work-up to gather information relating to your health, including:

  • Screening for Borrelia
  • Screening for co-infections
  • Testing for nutrient deficiencies. Practitioners have found vitamin B12 and magnesium deficiency are common in patients with Lyme disease
  • We may test levels of stress and thyroid hormones. Thyroid and adrenal function is often impaired in Lyme disease
  • Screening for markers of inflammation, as chronic inflammation is an issue in Lyme disease
  • Assessing the health of your detoxification organs. Lyme disease and its co-infections can release toxins that attack the body, especially the nervous system. It is very important that the liver, kidneys, and digestive system are working well to get rid of these toxins. Unfortunately, in many patients with Lyme disease, these detoxification organs are under-functioning.
  • Heavy metal screening. Heavy metals can be incorporated into the bacterial biofilm, and affect the body’s ability to detoxify.

 

Treatment considerations for Lyme disease

Treatment of Lyme disease can be a long and difficult journey. Many people with Lyme disease do not get the treatment they need due to misdiagnosis.  Lyme disease is incredibly complex, and best treated by a team of health practitioners. At The Health Lodge, our treatment plan for patients with Lyme disease may include:

  • Supporting detoxification
  • Breaking down the biofilm
  • Treating Borrelia and co-infections
  • Decreasing inflammation
  • Supporting affected organs and systems
  • Heavy metal chelation
  • Correcting nutrient imbalances
  • Psychological support

 

Your integrative team of health care specialists

We believe that a multidisciplinary team of health care professionals is essential in managing all the aspects of Lyme disease. The multidisciplinary team may include general practitioners, psychologists, dietitians or nutritionists, naturopaths, osteopaths, and acupuncturists. This comprehensive and holistic approach is designed to support the patient’s physical, mental, and emotional well being.

For enquiries call The Health Lodge on 02 6685 6445

 

What are eating disorders? Treating with mainstream and complementary medicine

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are a complex and serious group of mental illnesses associated with significant problems with eating habits, weight management practices, and body image. People with eating disorders have extreme attitudes towards food intake, weight, and body shape. These factors become unhealthy preoccupations, interfere with daily activities, and negatively impact quality of life.

Eating disorders can affect men and women of any age from a range of cultures and backgrounds. The two main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

The key feature of anorexia nervosa is that the individual is focused on achieving and maintaining a low body weight. The goal weight is often so low that the body cannot function normally. Extreme dieting, food avoidance, purging behaviours (i.e. self-induced vomiting or laxative abuse), and excessive exercise are often used to reduce weight.

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurrent, uncontrolled periods of binge eating, followed by behaviours designed to compensate for the binge, such as extreme dieting, fasting, excessive exercise, or purging.

What are the causes of eating disorders?

There is no single cause of eating disorders. It is thought that a number of interacting psychological, biological, and social factors may contribute to the development of an eating disorder. These include:

  • Unstable or difficult family and personal relationships
  • Other mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety
  • Feelings of loneliness and social isolation
  • Feelings of loss of control
  • Feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy
  • High personal expectations and unrealistic personal goals
  • Major life changes or crises such as relationship breakdown or loss of a loved one
  • Imbalances in brain chemicals
  • Cultural attitudes around beauty and weight

 

Signs and symptoms of eating disorders

There are a number of signs and symptoms of eating disorders, and no two cases are identical. If you suspect that you or a loved one may have an eating disorder or may be developing one, it is very important to seek help. Early intervention is vital in preventing the development of long-term patterns, and promoting recovery. Signs of eating disorders can be mental, physical, or behavioural.

Mental signs:

  • Preoccupation with body weight and appearance
  • Poor concentration
  • Sudden mood changes, and feelings of irritability, sadness, or anger
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Distorted, negative body image
  • Constant preoccupation with food
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of loss of control

 

Physical signs:

  • Rapid weight loss or weight change
  • Irregular or absent menstrual periods in females
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Faintness or dizziness
  • Fatigue and increased need for sleep

 

Behavioural signs:

  • Extreme and constant dieting
  • Disappearance of large amounts of food (may indicate binge eating)
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom around meal times (may suggest vomiting or laxative use)
  • Compulsive, excessive exercise
  • Changes in food preferences, fussy eating, or restrictive food choices
  • Obsessive rituals around food and eating
  • Withdrawal from social situations that involve food
  • Avoidance of eating meals, and frequent excuses not to eat
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Wearing baggy clothes or changing clothing style
  • Lying about the amount or type of food eaten, eating in secret, or secretly throwing out uneaten food
  • Denial of hunger

 

Diagnostic considerations

At The Health Lodge, we run tests to gather more information relating to the health of patients with eating disorders.

  • Nutritional deficiencies are common in eating disorders, so we may screen for a number of nutrient deficiencies
  • Depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder are common co-morbidities in eating disorders, and can have major impacts on health. It may be important to test for zinc deficiency and copper overload, metabolic abnormalities such as raised urinary pyrroles, and genetic factors including MTHFR gene polymorphisms. These factors can all play major roles in a person’s psychological well being.
  • We may test levels of stress hormones, as these can be raised in eating disorders
  • Digestion may be impaired and tests that give us important information on digestive function may be needed.

 

Treatment options for eating disorders

Treatment of eating disorders can be a long and difficult journey. Many people with eating disorders do not seek treatment due to an unwillingness to change, feelings of fear and shame, or because they do not believe that their behaviour is a problem. Treatment of eating disorders is very important, as eating disorders can severely impact health, and in some cases can be fatal.

Eating disorders are incredibly complex, and are best treated by a team of health carers. One or more psychologists are essential in every health care team for a person with an eating disorder. Psychological support aims to help the individual to learn about their eating patterns and beliefs associated with eating and weight, and provides strategies to help shift dysfunctional attitudes and develop healthier behaviours. Strategies may include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Family therapy for children and adolescents
  • Education regarding eating disorders and factors that influence or increase the risk of developing eating disorders
  • Building self-esteem and improving self-awareness
  • Supporting and enhancing social and family relationships
  • Learning and developing tools to prevent relapse

 

At The Health Lodge, the integrated healthcare team will include:

  • A GP to oversee medication if required, diagnostics and specialist referrals
  • A naturopath to assist with digestive health and nutrient imbalances
  • A dietitian to advise on diet and eating practices
  • An acupuncturist to help treat underlying causes i.e. anxiety/depression
  • A yoga/meditation teacher to bring body awareness back into balance
  • A carer who has a prior history of eating disorders and can share the journey

 

Your integrative team of health care specialists

We believe that a multidisciplinary team of health care professionals is essential in managing all the aspects of eating disorders. The multidisciplinary team may include general practitioners, psychologists, dietitians or nutritionists, naturopaths, osteopaths, and acupuncturists. This comprehensive and holistic approach is designed to support the patient’s physical, mental, and emotional well being.

 

For enquiries call The Health Lodge on 02 6685 6445