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     Volume 8 Issue 79 | July 24, 2009 |

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New Revelations

Scientists in the US and UK have come across interesting revelations on asthma

How emotions spark asthma attack
US scientists say they have hard evidence to show that certain emotions can cause flare-ups of asthma.

Children whose parents struggled to come to terms with the responsibilities of looking after a child were more than twice as likely to develop asthma.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison team discovered activity in brain areas linking the two in asthmatics who read emotive words.

One brain region has a role in obtaining information about disease symptoms while another processes emotions. Their findings appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Dr Richard Davidson and his team asked six patients with mild asthma to take part in their experiments. Each was shown three different categories of words - asthma-related words such as "wheeze", negative but non-asthma-related words such as "loneliness" and neutral words such as "curtains". At the same time, the volunteers were given known triggers of asthma to inhale, such as ragweed or dust-mite extract.

Meanwhile, their brain responses were monitored using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Two brain regions - the anterior cingulate cortex and the insula - showed increased activity when the asthma-related words were heard compared with the other word types.

Furthermore, the increased brain activity was linked to body function signals from the inhaled allergens. The researchers said that because of the small number of people studied their findings would need to be repeated and that it was likely that other brain areas are also involved in the relationship between emotions and asthma.

However, they said: "These brain areas may be hyperresponsive to disease-specific emotions." In turn, this might contribute to problems that worsen asthma, such as inflammation, they said.

Parenting link to asthma
Poor parenting could make some children more likely to develop asthma. Researchers have found that psychological factors may increase the likelihood that children whose genetic make-up makes them vulnerable to asthma will actually develop the condition. They found that children whose parents struggled to come to terms with the responsibilities of looking after a child were more than twice as likely to develop asthma. Parenting difficulties included maternal depression, relationship conflicts and a lack of social support. Of the 150 children studied, 28 per cent had developed asthma by the time they were between six and eight years of age.

A type of meditation based on yoga may ease asthma for some.

Stressed parents
Stressed parents may play a role in childhood asthma. Researchers found the children of tense parents who lived in polluted areas were far more likely to have asthma than friends in the same neighbourhood. The University of California team believe parental anxieties combine with other known risk factors to increase a child's asthma risk.

They told Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences there might be an underlying biological explanation. Experts have already shown that women who are stressed in pregnancy may raise the risk of their child developing asthma or other allergies.

Stress is known to trigger asthma attacks. In the latest study the researchers followed 2,497 healthy primary school children living in Southern California and recorded how many of these developed asthma over a three-year period - 120 in total. They also gathered information on other known asthma risk factors like exposure to traffic-related air pollution and maternal smoking, as well as parental education, income and stress levels.

As expected, children exposed to more air pollution had a higher risk of asthma, but this risk was further increased if their parents were stressed and described their lives as "unpredictable", "uncontrollable" or "overwhelming". Maternal smoking and parental stress posed a similar compounded risk.

Elaine Vickers of Asthma UK said: "This study adds to existing evidence suggesting that a child's

Stress is known to trigger asthma attacks.

environment can impact on their risk of developing asthma. For example, smoking during pregnancy, traffic pollution and stress in the home may all have harmful effects. We know that smoking during pregnancy significantly increases a baby's risk of having breathing difficulties and that children whose parents smoke are 1.5 times more likely to develop asthma, so Asthma UK strongly advises parents to avoid smoking around children and young people, especially in the home."

Yoga helps
A type of meditation based on yoga may ease asthma for some. However, there is little evidence that other relaxation techniques can help.

Two studies carried out at the Department of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter looked at a variety of techniques. The first compared patients taught to carry out Sahaja meditation with another group using other forms of relaxation, such as "positive affirmation", visualisation and progressive muscle relaxation.

Sahaja meditation aims to create a state of "full or heightened mental alertness". The researchers found that after four months, the patients, who had moderate to severe asthma which had failed to respond to conventional drug treatment, showed distinct differences.

The responsiveness of the patients' airways was measured, and in the meditation group, responsiveness to asthma medication was noticeably better than those simply carrying out relaxation techniques. The extra effect they experienced was similar to the other group being given an extra dose of medication.

The mood of both groups was also assessed - both had improved - but by more in the case of the meditating asthmatics. However, there were no noticeable differences in the overall measured "quality of life", or, significantly, in the use of inhalers, reported symptoms or breath strength.

Another study carried out at the university reviewed a number of other trials looking at the effects on asthma of several relaxation techniques. hese included progressive muscular relaxation, hypnotherapy, "autogenic training" -- which aims to create a state of "detached but alert awareness", and transcendental meditation. Of 15 trials, two involving progressive muscle relaxation or muscular and mental relaxation showed significant improvements in lung function - but the researchers suggested that the "poor quality" of the research might be harming the chances of reliable answers from the studies.

Source: BBC online



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