Healthy Choices

Laughter, depression share genetic traits

Researchers have found evidence that a genetic quirk previously found to make people more prone to negative emotions also may make them more likely to smile or laugh.
Researchers have found evidence that a genetic quirk previously found to make people more prone to negative emotions also may make them more likely to smile or laugh. The Associated Press

Every two weeks, we gather some of the most interesting, intriguing and even oddball studies from health researchers around the world. Here’s the latest:

People who are quick to laugh or get depressed have a genetic trait in common, a new study suggests.

Researchers from Northwestern University and UC Berkeley looked at people with short or long alleles of the gene 5-HTTLPR. The gene regulates serotonin, a brain chemical that plays a key role in depression and anxiety.

Each gene has two alleles, which determine certain traits, one inherited from the father and one from the mother. Prior studies indicated that those with short alleles were more prone to negative emotions.

The latest study suggests they’re also more likely to smile or laugh. Participants with short alleles responded more strongly to funny cartoons or film clips than those with long alleles, researchers discovered.

“The short allele amplifies emotional reactions to both good and bad environments,” Claudia Haase, a professor at Northwestern and study co-author, said in a news release.

The study was published online June 1 in the American Psychological Association’s journal Emotion.

Sleep loss increases protein linked to Alzheimer’s

A toxic brain protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease can perpetuate a cycle of sleep deprivation that compounds the problem of memory loss, UC Berkeley scientists have found.

“Our study shows that this (protein) deposition may lead to a vicious cycle in which sleep is further disturbed and memory impaired,” said William Jagust, a UC Berkeley Alzheimer’s expert and study author, in a news release.

Participants, ages 65 to 81, were asked to memorize 120 word pairs before going to bed. Those who had more of the toxic protein beta-amyloid in their brains had the least restful nights and performed worse in the memory tests the next morning, the researchers found.

The study was published in this month’s issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Teen bullying could increase adult depression

Bullied teens are more likely to become depressed young adults, British researchers reported in a recent article.

The researchers, based at Oxford University, looked at information reported by nearly 4,000 adolescents. They found that the 700 young teens who said they were the victims of frequent bullying were three times as likely to be depressed at 18 as their non-bullied peers.

The study didn’t conclude that the bullying caused depression but said that even taking into account other factors – such as family troubles, life stress and behavioral problems – teenage bullying could account for up to 30 percent of depression in early adulthood.

The study was published in this month’s edition of The BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal.

Weight-loss surgeries boosts tummy tucks

Thousands of Americans who underwent weight-loss surgeries in recent years have turned to plastic surgeons to relieve them of excess skin in the thighs, arms and abdomens, new data indicate.

Reported by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the data show a 9 percent to 10 percent increase in thigh lifts, arm lifts and breast lifts in 2014 compared to the prior year. Tummy tucks grew by 4 percent year over year.

The 2014 increase in plastic surgeries followed the third-highest year for U.S. weight-loss surgeries. In 2013, 179,000 Americans, or nearly 500 per day, underwent operations such as gastric bypass surgery to help limit food consumption and promote weight loss, the plastic surgeons group said.

“You can’t attribute that (increase in cosmetic surgeries) to anything other than the fact that there are more massive weight-loss patients out there looking to take care of the problems that they now have,” Scot Glasberg, the group’s president, said in a news release.