Cognitive Behavorial Therapy as an Alternative to Antipsychotics?

For some individuals with schizophrenia, a mental illness that affects approximately 2.1 million Americans, modern treatment options can be more troubling than the actual symptoms of the illness itself. One of the main classes of drugs used to treat schizophrenia are antipsychotics. Medications that fall under the umbrella of antipsychotics include Risperdal, Seroquel, Geodon, and Abilify among quite a few others (for a comprehensive list of start here). These medications carry nasty and sometimes very serious side effects. However, recent research suggests that for some individuals cognitive behavioral therapy could act as a replacement for such medications.

A Much Milder Option

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is aimed at correcting flawed emotions and thought patterns that a patient might have through talking to a professional such as a psychotherapist. And since one is not ingesting any foreign substance through this process there are no side effects. As a result it’s a great option for individuals with schizophrenia who are hesitant to take pills for their illness.

According to the study, published in The Lancet, it was found that after 18 months (the final assessment) 41% of the 17 who participated in cognitive behavioral therapy showed a minimum of a 50% improvement. For comparison, only 18% of the 17 who did not participate in CBT and only received normal care showed improvement.

The way the researchers measured the improvement of the patients was by using a metric known as the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS). It was first developed in 1987 and it is a way of measuring the severity of the symptoms of schizophrenia. Positive refers to the positive symptoms of schizophrenia which include hallucinations, delusions, and grandiosity. The negative refers to the negative symptoms which include anhedonia, social withdrawal, and emotional withdrawal.

While the study used a small sample size and a much larger size would be needed to draw definitive conclusions this is still a great finding. This isn’t to say that this is the end of the use of antipsychotics in the realm of schizophrenia treatment. This just isn’t true. There will always be those that absolutely require this type of medication for any type of stability much less remission.

For those that could take part in CBT as an alternative this is absolutely astonishing considering the side effects that antipsychotics as a class of medications bring to the table. It’s a sad reality for some that this class of medications can actually worsen some of the symptoms of schizophrenia, namely the negative symptoms.

Paving the Way for CBT

At the very least cognitive behavioral therapy certainly seems to be a very worthy adjunct treatment option for individuals with schizophrenia. CBT has a proven track record and it could very well be what people need. It’s not just a superb option for individuals suffering from schizophrenia but for those suffering from all types of mental illness. This includes (but is not limited to) anxiety disorders, major depression, drug addiction, OCD, and even ADHD.

The only drawback to CBT is the cost. Even if one has health insurance it can still be a burden. The cost is especially disheartening when you consider the fact that around 60-80% of people with mental illness are unemployed. That number is very worrisome. When one can barely afford to breath air, drink clean water, and eat food how will they be able to pay for therapy?

Nonetheless, cognitive behavioral therapy is without a doubt proven to be an effective treatment option for all types of folks. It may not work for everyone but there is a significant chance it will work for a large amount of the population.

New Potential Target for Anxiety Treatment Found

brain

While we all struggle from conventional life anxieties and stresses from time to time a true anxiety disorder can be a determining factor in a lower quality of life at best and entirely crippling at worst. An anxiety problem happens to be quite common in the US. How big of a problem exactly? The National Institute of Mental Health reports that around 40 million Americans, or 18% of the population over the age of 18, suffers from a condition related to anxiety.

So it’s always a good thing to here that scientists are at work successfully finding new potential treatment targets. It turns out that scientists have discovered a new area of the brain that could promote an anxiety response. What’s interesting about this finding is that this specific area was previously thought to dampen the anxiety response in individuals.

The findings, published in the journal Cellspecifically focus on the brain area related to the circuitry responsible for connecting the lateral septum to other brain structures. The scientists’ aim is to further understand how the brain processes anxiety in order to one day develop new anxiety medications that can treat this disorder more effectively than what we have on the market today. There are various modern treatment options for anxiety disorders which include (but are not limited to) SSRI’s, benzodiazepines, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), but even in this day and age there are many shortcomings to the available treatment options.

These scientists knew that the lateral septum was activated during anxiety states when experimenting with mice. What they didn’t know was whether this brain area was promoting anxiety or keeping a lid on it and this is exactly what they were out to determine. Through a process called optogenetics the researchers found that the lateral septum was in fact causing anxiety states in mice and that this state persisted even after the activation of this brain area.

The findings were confusing because these brain cells are inhibitory meaning that they “hold back” activity (in this case anxiety) but alas these are scientists and so they found the root of the problem. What they found is that the lateral septum brain cells (inhibitory) actually inhibit neurons to which they are connected to, in this case those of the hypothalamus, which also happen to be inhibitory. The hypothalamus is also connected to the paraventricular nucleus which is responsible for the release of a major stress hormone known as cortisol.

Evidently, when you inhibit and inhibitor you essentially cancel out the inhibitory state. These researchers concluded that since the lateral septum was inhibiting the hypothalamus the hypothalamus could not efficiently keep a lid on the cortisol (stress hormone) produced by the paraventricular nucleus. This is great finding because it is another step in the way of advancing anxiety based medications.

Current drug treatments for anxiety such as SSRI’s (drugs also used to treat depression ex. Zoloft) and benzodiazepines (Xanax) have many pitfalls, namely side effects. SSRI’s only work effectively for a small portion of the population and benzo’s happen to be some of the most highly addictive pills on this planet. What’s even worse is that these drugs have the potential to produce withdrawal upon discontinuation (acute withdrawal) and in the case of benzo’s it can be lethal. There is even a chance that individuals will experience a form of long lasting withdrawal known as post acute withdrawal syndrome with side effects much like the ones an individual was trying to treat in the first place (anxiety, depression, anhedonia, panic attacks, OCD, insomnia, etc.).

If scientists can get a better understanding of what makes anxiety tick through research such as this then sufferers will someday be able to cope with the disorder without having to worry about excessive side effects and potential withdrawal. We are still very far from getting there but with more knowledge we can certainly reach a place where all sufferers of mental illness can raise the quality of their lives.

Go Easy on the Sugar

too much sugar

Excess sugar consumption in a person’s diet has recently been found to severely increase the risk of heart disease. How big of a risk exactly? According to the journal of JAMA Internal Medicine, published on February 3, 2014, excess sugar consumption can more than double the risk of death from heart disease. That’s certainly nothing to laugh at. Most people know that eating and drinking too much sugar, whether it be through popular soft drinks such as Pepsi or even sugary cereals, can make one overweight and eventually lead to obesity as well as contribute to the onset of diabetes.

Too much sugar is never a good thing, this much is known by the general public (too much of anything is never good), and yet Americans are some of the biggest consumers of sugary products with our excessively large soft drinks and many other food products that are all too tasty with the help of added sugar. Sometimes it’s not even a person’s fault that he or she consumes too much sugar on a day to day basis as sugar is often added to a plethora of foods of which you would never suspect to contain sugar in the first place. Alas, one must always stay vigilant when it comes to monitoring food intake.

According to this fresh study it doesn’t even matter whether or not you are healthy. It doesn’t matter whether you have a pre-existing condition or if you’re prone to heart disease in the first place. What’s clear is that if you are consuming too much sugar on a day to day basis then you are increasing your risk of death by heart disease even if you are otherwise healthy, not overweight, and do not have to genetic tie to this killer. The more added sugar there is in your diet the greater the risk is.

What to make of all of this? First and foremost, you need to cut back on sugar intake. It’s obvious but it can be tricky to do. As mentioned earlier there are many foods with “hidden” sugar added to them. So the take away is that you must carefully read your food packaging, preferably before you even buy your food. Remember, added sugar is a crap source of carbohydrates in the first place. If you’re going to consume sugar then it would be best to get it from an unprocessed source such as your favorite fruit. Unprocessed sources of carbs are going to be the best sources for you to choose from.

Get a more detailed look at the findings of this study as far as added sugar and it’s role in increasing the risk of death by heart disease by heading on over to WebMD.

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