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Mindfulness could help us unlearn fear

Throughout evolutionary history, fear has helped humans stay safe and thrive. But in the modern world, many fear responses such as phobias are, at best, unhelpful and, at worst, debilitating. Yet, accumulating evidence shows that mindfulness practice could help us unlearn these responses. The practice of mindfulness the purpose of which is to help an individual focus on stimuli occurring in the present moment is gaining momentum across countries and cultures. Anecdotal evidence suggests that mindfulness can help people feel calmer, more serene, and more motivated in their day-to-day life. And 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. Studies covered by Medical News Today last year linked mindfulness to better blood pressure control and improved effectiveness of opioid use disorder treatments. Previous research has also suggested that mindfulness may help lower symptoms of depression and anxiety. Now, a study from the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, Uppsala and Lund Universities in Sweden, Peking University in Beijing, China, and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, NY has found evidence that mindfulness could help people unlearn their fear responses. While fear has had a positive role in human evolution, helping our ancestors steer clear of dangerous situations, nowadays, many people experience learned fear responses that are unhelpful and counterproductive. Examples of such fear responses include phobias, such as the fear of flying, which are very difficult to eradicate once they take root. But the current research suggests that people who practice mindfulness long term find it easier to unlearn fear responses and remain fear- free as the study paper from Nature Scientific Reports explains. The researchers found that the participants who had received mindfulness training did not experience a fear reaction when they viewed the pictures with which they had previously formed unpleasant associations.It is also interesting that the intervention appears to have a specific effect on extinction retention, which is in line with previous brain imaging studies on mindfulness, and also has some implications for how these types of interventions could be used to treat anxiety-related problems in a clinical context. Johannes Björkstrand, Ph.D. (Credits: www.medicalnewstoday.com)

Does the air we breathe influence our schizophrenia risk?

Schizophrenia affects millions of people around the world and is a chief contributor to disability. Researchers are still working to uncover all the risk factors that could facilitate the development of this condition. A new study suggests that air pollution may be one of them. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 20 million people all around the globe live with schizophrenia. Hallucinations, persistent false beliefs, disordered thinking, and emotional disconnect chiefly characterize this mental health condition, and it is one of the main contributors to disability. People who live with schizophrenia also have a higher risk of premature death compared with the general population. Still, researchers are unsure of what causes this condition and why. So far, they argue that the top risk factor might be a person's genetic makeup, which interacts with environmental factors, such as social isolation and substance abuse. The search for risk factors, however, continues, and a new study from Aarhus University in Denmark may have identified another one: exposure to air pollution during childhood. Increasingly, researchers are showing that poor air quality may contribute not just to the development of pulmonary conditions such as lung cancer or asthma but also to the deterioration of brain health. Recently, Medical News Today reported on a study linking exposure to poor air quality with cognitive functioning problems, including memory loss. The current study whose findings appear in JAMA Network Open adds to the evidence that suggests researchers ought to take seriously ambient air pollution as a risk factor for brain and mental health. The investigators analysis indicated that individuals who had experienced exposure to high levels of air pollution growing up also had an increased risk of developing schizophrenia in adulthood. "The study shows that the higher the level of air pollution, the higher the risk of schizophrenia,says senior researcher Henriette Thisted Horsdal, Ph.D. For each 10 micrograms per cubic meter [referring to the concentration of the pollutant nitrogen dioxide in ambient air] increase in the daily average, the risk of schizophrenia increases by approximately 20%, she adds. (Credits: www.medicalnewstoday.com)