Tag Archives: body and mind connection

Depression: Physiological differences in teenage boys and girls

By the time they hit 15, teenage girls are twice as likely as teenage boys to suffer from depression.

This could be because girls tend to think more negatively, dwelling on social and body image stressors. They’re also more likely to have experienced sexual abuse and other negative events. On a biological level, their hormones fluctuate more and they’re more vulnerable to inflammation.

A group of scientists from the U.K. and the U.S. wanted to understand what was happening in the brains of depressed teenage boys versus depressed teenage girls. They hooked up both depressed and non-depressed boys and girls to fMRI equipment and gave them a task: Press a button when you see a happy word. Don’t press it when you see a sad word. (Such an activity puts something called cognitive control to the test. Impaired cognitive control has been associated with depression.) Then they watched what happened in the subjects’ brains.

To keep it simple, they saw differences between the sexes, specifically in the brain’s supramarginal gyrus (an area thought to be involved in emotional responses) and posterior cingulate (an area associated with control, awareness, and memory). When faced with a cognitive control task, there’s a lot less activation going on for males with depression compared to healthy males–depressed and healthy female brains were relatively similar in that situation.

So what does this new knowledge do for the study of depression? It emphasizes that teenage boys and teenage girls suffering from depression have different things going on in their brains. The way we treat –and try to prevent –the disorder should, therefore, be different.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Probiotics to treat depression?

It’s not official yet, but a new study suggests taking probiotics could relieve symptoms of depression.

Remember several months ago, when I wrote about the relationship between your gut and your mental health? I recommended changing what you eat to develop a healthier gut. Well, this new study is along those same lines: Taking a probiotic to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS–a gut affliction) can also treat depression and anxiety.

It was just a small study with 44 participants. Each had both IBS and mild to moderate anxiety or depression. Half the participants took a probiotic (Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001, to be specific), while half took a placebo.

In the end, 14 of the 22 probiotic takers reported improvement in their depression symptoms, compared to half that number in the placebo group.

The researchers took it further and scanned the participants’ brains: Those whose depression symptoms had improved also showed changes in areas of the brain associated with mood control.

We need to see a larger version of this study before we start jumping on board, but given the established connection between the gut and the brain, I think it’s a promising area of research.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Your body under emotional stress: It’s not pretty

Let’s talk about stress. You know it’s bad for you emotionally, but did you know it’s dangerous physically, too?

It’s true. When you’re stressed out and you repress it, the stress can resurface as a physical illness. You may even find yourself in the emergency room with chest pains and shortness of breath — a panic attack masquerading as a  heart attack.

While panic attacks won’t kill you immediately, the long term effects of your anxiety can. We’re talking about blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Stress contributes to each of those.

In the short term, you could experience pain in your head, chest, stomach, or muscles. You might feel fatigued and have trouble sleeping. You could see changes in your sex drive. You might take longer than usual to recover from illness.

You also have to watch out for harmful behavior that could be addictive. Some people self harm or turn to drugs and alcohol to escape their anxiety. Others find an outlet in shopping, gambling, or sexual behavior they later regret.

So you need to find healthy ways to fight your stress. You probably know better than anyone what relaxes you: Is it exercise? Doing art or another hobby? Being with family or friends? Getting a massage? Being in nature? Meditation?

Therapy can be so helpful. Your therapist can help you identify sources of stress and strategies for relieving it. Even just having someone to listen in a non-judgmental way while you talk about your problems can be a big help.

So if you’re stressed, come on in. Let’s talk about it.

Mindfulness: It’s good for your heart

Over the years, I’ve seen mindfulness meditation make a big difference for clients dealing with depression and anxiety. But today I learned that mindfulness is good for the heart not just metaphorically, but physically as well. 

A new study shows that people who are more mindful — in other words, they are better at focusing on “the now” instead of rehashing the past or worrying about the future — have healthier glucose levels. Two things that might help explain this connection, researchers found, are: 1. Mindful people are less likely to be obese, and 2. Mindful people have a stronger sense of control over their lives — they believe they can make important changes.

This is good news for everyone, not just the mindful among us, because mindfulness is a trait that can be learned and developed. Working with a therapist is helpful, but practicing mindful meditation on your own can be, too. You can even find apps for your smartphone that will walk you through various meditations, helping bring your mind back to what is going on inside and around you.

Eventually, we hope, doing these mindfulness exercises will help you cultivate the everyday mindfulness that will change how you behave and how you respond to stressful situations.

So let’s work to be more aware of the world around us! It’s good for our hearts!


Wondering where you fall on the mindfulness spectrum? Here are some questions to consider:

  • Do you find yourself running on autopilot frequently?
  • Do you forget names soon after you hear them?
  • Do you snack without being aware of what you’re eating?
  • Do you break or spill things out of carelessness?

Go here for the full questionnaire researchers use to measure mindfulness. 


Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.

Long-term antidepressant use could reduce the risk of myocardial infarction

Coming out this month in the British Journal of Pharmacoloy is an interesting article about the links between selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) usage and the risks of myocardial infarction. It has been believed for awhile that a SSRI, which is a particular class of antidepressant, acts immediately to prevent future heart attacks presumably by its anticoagulant properties. In this study they concluded there was something else in SSRI’s that works long-term to prevent heart attacks.
I am wondering if it is related to inflammation? In recent months, SSRI’s have been found to decrease inflammation. Perhaps that is the same mechanism that prevents future heart attacks? Or is there something yet undiscovered?

This is yet another example of how the body and brain effect each other. When one improves the condition and health of the body, the brain also is effected for the positive! It also works the other way around. If one improves brain health, the health of the body will improve also! If you have had a heart attack or are at high risk, you might want to discuss with your nurse practitioner or doctor the possible treatment of a SSRI.  Your heart and brain will thank you!