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Unhappiness Does Not Cause Illness, Say Researchers

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Good news for those of you who hate positive thinking: Researchers say that being unhappy does not increase your chances for illness or premature death. The two are related, they argue, but not the way we think. 

These findings are the result of a 10-year study, published today in The Lancet, involving nearly 720,000 British women between the ages of 50 and 69. Researchers sent out questionnaires asking study participants about their health, their income, their lifestyle, and their emotional wellbeing. Women were asked to rate their happiness, stress, relaxation, and feelings of control over their lives. The respondents completed the same questionnaires every three to five years.

By the end of the study, 4 percent of study participants had died. As previous studies have shown, women who reported being unhappy were more likely to be smokers. They were more likely to be poor, more likely to live alone, and less likely to get regular exercise. 

But once all those factors were controlled for, they were no less likely than their happy counterparts to get sick and die. The researchers found no significant difference in the death rates of happy and unhappy women. Nor did they find an increased death rate in women who reported high levels of stress. Women who were sick were more likely to say that they were stressed, unhappy, not relaxed, and not in control of their lives, but the researchers found no evidence that these factors were actually responsible for the illness. 

All these findings sharply contradict recent trends in research, which have emphasized the role of stress and unhappiness in causing disease.

Members of the research team are quite confident in their conclusions. Speaking in a press release, co-author Sir Richard Peto of the University of Oxford said, “Many still believe that stress or unhappiness can directly cause disease, but they are simply confusing cause and effect. Of course people who are ill tend to be unhappier than those who are well, but [this study] shows that happiness and unhappiness do not themselves have any direct effect on death rates.”

Still, it’s worth noting that happiness is pretty hard to measure. “There is no perfect or generally agreed way to measure happiness or related subjective indices of wellbeing,” the research team admitted in their paper. “Different approaches thus limit comparability between studies.” 

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science
New Patient Test Could Suggest Whether Therapy or Meds Will Work Better for Anxiety
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Like many psychological disorders, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for patients with anxiety. Some might benefit from taking antidepressants, which boost mood-affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Others might respond better to therapy, and particularly a form called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Figuring out which form of treatment works best often requires months of trial and error. But experts may have developed a quick clinical test to expedite this process, suggests a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have noted that patients with higher levels of anxiety exhibit more electrical activity in their brains when they make a mistake. They call this phenomenon error-related negativity, or ERN, and measure it using electroencephalography (EEG), a test that records the brain's electric signals.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” the paper’s lead author, UIC psychiatrist Stephanie Gorka, said in a news release. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you've made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

Gorka and her colleagues wanted to know whether individual differences in ERN could predict treatment outcomes, so they recruited 60 adult volunteers with various types of anxiety disorders. Also involved was a control group of 26 participants with no history of psychological disorders.

Psychiatrists gauged subjects’ baseline ERN levels by having them wear an EEG cap while performing tricky computer tasks. Ultimately, they all made mistakes thanks to the game's challenging nature. Then, randomized subjects with anxiety disorders were instructed to take an SSRI antidepressant every day for three months, or receive weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for the same duration. (Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of evidence-based talk therapy that forces patients to challenge maladaptive thoughts and develop coping mechanisms to modify their emotions and behavior.)

After three months, the study's patients took the same computer test while wearing EEG caps. Researchers found that those who'd exhibited higher ERN levels at the study's beginning had reduced anxiety levels if they'd been treated with CBT compared to those treated with medication. This might be because the structured form of therapy is all about changing behavior: Those with enhanced ERN might be more receptive to CBT than other patients, as they're already preoccupied with the way they act.

EEG equipment sounds high-tech, but it's relatively cheap and easy to access. Thanks to its availability, UIC psychiatrists think their anxiety test could easily be used in doctors’ offices to measure ERN before determining a course of treatment.

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Food
A Pitless Avocado Wants to Keep You Safe From the Dreaded 'Avocado Hand'
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The humble avocado is a deceptively dangerous fruit. Some emergency room doctors have recently reported an uptick in a certain kind of injury—“avocado hand,” a knife injury caused by clumsily trying to get the pit out of an avocado with a knife. There are ways to safely pit an avocado (including the ones likely taught in your local knife skills class, or simply using a spoon), but there’s also another option. You could just buy one that doesn’t have a pit at all, as The Telegraph reports.

British retailer Marks & Spencer has started selling cocktail avocados, a skinny, almost zucchini-like type of avocado that doesn’t have a seed inside. Grown in Spain, they’re hard to find in stores (Marks & Spencer seems to be the only place in the UK to have them), and are only available during the month of December.

The avocados aren’t genetically modified, according to The Independent. They grow naturally from an unpollinated avocado blossom, and their growth is stunted by the lack of seed. Though you may not be able to find them in your local grocery, these “avocaditos” can grow wherever regular-sized Fuerte avocados grow, including Mexico and California, and some specialty producers already sell them in the U.S. Despite the elongated shape, they taste pretty much like any other avocado. But you don’t really need a knife to eat them, since the skin is edible, too.

If you insist on taking your life in your hand and pitting your own full-sized avocado, click here to let us guide you through the process. No one wants to go to the ER over a salad topping, no matter how delicious. Safety first!

[h/t The Telegraph]

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