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Monday, February 8, 2016

debates 056 - Alter medicine -shelf help and the art of cytokines

Our Health debates - 056

item #1 
       Can you read yourself happy?
In a new column for BBC Culture, Hephzibah Anderson explains that  fiction can cure us too.
As we knuckle down to our New Year’s resolutions, we’ll turn in droves to self-help books, hoping to find our own best selves in their pages. But a book needn’t hector or lecture to leave its imprint. The truth is that all good literature changes us, and a growing body of research suggests you might do better browsing through fiction for support in battling life’s challenges. 
(Getty) (Credit: Getty)Think of it less as self-help than ‘shelf help’.
Reading has been proven to sharpen analytical thinking, enabling us to better discern patterns – a handy tool when it comes to the often baffling behaviour of ourselves and others. But fiction in particular can make you more socially able and empathetic. Last year, the Journal of Applied Social Psychology published a paper showing how reading Harry Potter made young people in the UK and Italy more positively disposed towards stigmatised minorities such as refugees. And in 2013, psychologists at the New School for Social Research found that literary fiction enhanced people’s ability to register and read others’ emotions.

Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary first acknowledged bibliotherapy in 1941, defining the term as “the employment of books and the reading of them in the treatment of nervous diseases”, but according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it first popped up in print in 1920, in Christopher Morley’s The Haunted Bookshop.

item #2 
cytokines -
 proteins that signal the immune system to work harder.

nature05487-f1.2A study published in the journal Emotion. 

Researchers conducted two experiments designed to measure the affect positive emotions, such as amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, joy, love, and pride, have on the cytokine Interleukin-6 (IL-6), a marker for inflammation.

  • More than 200 young adults participated in the experiments, mostly self-reporting their emotions on a given day.
  •  Afterward, researchers took samples of their gum and cheek tissue to measure levels of IL-6. 
  • The results supported researchers’ hypothesis: Positive emotions are associated with lower levels of IL-6. What’s more is awe in particular was the strongest predictor for low levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, even when samples were controlled for relevant personality and health variables. 

NEWS - Daily Mirror
“That awe, wonder, and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions — a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art — has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy,”
        Dacher Keltner, psychologist at the University of California-Berkeley.

It is believed that by signaling the brain to produce inflammatory molecules, cytokines can block key hormones and neurotransmitters – such as serotonin and dopamine – that control moods, appetite, sleep and memory.

In answer to why awe would be a potent predictor of reduced pro-inflammatory cytokines, this latest study posits that 
'awe is associated with curiosity and a desire to explore, suggesting antithetical behavioral responses to those found during inflammation, where individuals typically withdraw from others in their environment,' 
Jennifer Stellar, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Toronto

As for which came first – the low cytokines or the positive feelings – Stellar said she can't say for sure:
 'It is possible that having lower cytokines makes people feel more positive emotions, or that the relationship is bidirectional,'  - Stellar said.

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