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Can Mental Disorders Predict Physical Illnesses?

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The phrase “mind-body connection” is so overused it sounds like a cliché, yet there’s a significant body of research that shows mental and physical health are in fact deeply intertwined. Despite that, healthcare systems are still slow to integrate mental and physical healthcare in order to provide better patient care. To address this, Swiss psychologists set out to study instances in which specific mental health disorders are followed or accompanied by physical disorders in adolescents. The goal was to determine a causal relationship between them, and if possible, to predict certain physical illnesses by the presence of a mental disorder.

What they found were small—but definite—associations between certain mental and physical disorders. In their paper, published in PLOS One, the authors write, “The most substantial associations with physical diseases preceding mental disorders included those between heart diseases and anxiety disorders, epilepsy and eating disorders, and heart diseases and any mental disorder.”

“To have proof of causality, you have to experimentally manipulate people being physically or mentally sick, which isn’t ethical,” Gunther Meinlschmidt, co-lead author of the study and a professor of psychology at University of Basel, Switzerland tells mental_floss. Since that wasn’t possible, he and the research team, led by Marion Tegethoff, analyzed data from a large co-morbidity survey of 6483 U.S. teenagers, aged 13 to 18.

Using statistical models, they first looked at whether mental disorders predicted physical disease. Indeed, arthritis and digestive disorders were more common after depression in adolescents, while skin disorders seem to follow anxiety disorders. Next, they reversed the variables, to see if physical disease was a better predictor of mental disorders. But those results were statistically very small, suggesting that the physical disorders either follow the mental disorders, or arise at the same time.

More research with larger sample sizes still needs to be done, including recruiting subjects who have both a physical and mental condition. Meinlschmidt plans to “try to understand if someone was treated, say, for epilepsy—does it effect [their] eating disorder?” This will help the team isolate strict causality, he says. However, “With this work, we go beyond mere associations toward these temporal or chronological associations. One indicator increases the confidence that something causal might be going on.”

This research is a necessary first step that “stresses the importance of integrative health care to have close collaboration with a system for treating people with mental disorders and physical illness,” Meinlschmidt says. Up to now, these “two separate worlds are not really working closely together.” His ultimate goal is “to dig deeper into potential mechanisms for developing new interventions." He hopes his research will bring more integration to two systems and help doctors create more integrated ways of treating a person’s health.

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Animals
Why Do Female Spotted Hyenas Give Birth Through Their Pseudo-Penises?
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At the zoo, you can sometimes tell the difference between male and female animals by noting their physical size, their behavior, and yes, their nether regions. Hyenas, however, flip the script: Not only are lady spotted hyenas bigger and meaner than their male counterparts, ruling the pack with an iron paw, they also sport what appear to be penises—shaft, scrotum, and all.

"Appear" is the key word here: These 7-inch-long phalluses don't produce sperm, so they're technically really long clitorises in disguise. But why do female hyenas have them? And do they actually have to (gulp) give birth through them? Wouldn't that hurt … a lot?

The short answers to these questions are, respectively, "We don't know," "Yes," and "OW." Longer answers can be found in this MinuteEarth video, which provides the full lowdown on hyena sex. Don't say we didn't warn you.

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science
Are Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll Really Linked? Researchers Investigate
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Around the world, sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll are said to go hand-in-hand. But do they? As PsyPost reports, a pair of Pennsylvania psychologists recently dove into the empirical evidence tying the three together, asking college students to talk about their drug use, sex lives, and music preferences and talents to suss out whether people who play and enjoy rock music really do have more active sex lives and drug use.

Published in the journal Human Ethnology Bulletin, the study [PDF] of 467 students relied on self-reporting, which isn't typically the most reliable evidence—people are wont to exaggerate how often they've had sex, for instance—but the survey also asked them about their desires, posing questions like "If you could, how frequently would you have sex?" It also asked about how often the students drank and what drugs they had tried in their lifetimes. They also described their musical experience and what kind of music they listened to.

The results were mixed, but the researchers identified a relationship between liking faster, "harder" music and having more sex and doing more drugs. Acoustic indie rock aficionados weren't getting quite as wild as heavy metal fans. High-tempo-music lovers were more likely to have taken hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, for example, and tended to have had more sexual partners in the previous year than people who favored slower types of music. According to the study, previous research has found that attention-seeking people are more likely to enjoy "hard" music.

The study didn't have a diverse enough group either in age or in ethnicity to really begin to make sweeping generalizations about humans, especially since college students (the participants were between 18 and 25) tend to engage in more risky behaviors in general. But this could lay the groundwork for future research into the topic. Until then, it might be more accurate to change the phrase to "sex, drugs, and heavy metal."

[h/t PsyPost]

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