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Lynchburg Ranks High In Another Healthy Living Survey

Lynchburg, VA – According to a new Gallup survey, Lynchburg is one of the cities with the best “overall well-being” in the United States. This ranking comes less than four years after the Hill City graced the top ten list of most obese cities in the U.S.

“To hear this today was just the icing on the cake for me” said Joan Foster.  And it was the icing, maybe on the Angel Food cake.

Foster was mayor in 2010, when her city had a wakeup call.

“We were the 8th most obese region, region, in America, and many of us just couldn’t believe it” she said.

33% of the Hill City population, according to a Gallup Survey, was obese.

“All of us just made a promise, we’re going to do something about this and we didn’t stand around and talk a lot about it, we got moving” she said.

In 2011 Foster founded Live Healthy Lynchburg, a collaborative effort between city officials, the health department, and other local organizations to cripple obesity, and put Lynchburg a top a new ranking.  Since, Lynchburg residents have lost more than 12 tons of body weight, they’ve run and walked thousands of miles and health has become a focal point for city officials.

Fast forward, and today, Lynchburg is ranked tenth by Gallup, in overall well-being among small American cities.

“It’s becoming our culture and I love that” said Foster.

The ranking takes into account exercise, healthy eating, daily stress, and obesity, down 11% from 2010.

“There is no question that Live Healthy Lynchburg had an impact on this” said Christine Kennedy.

Kennedy of the Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce spearheaded “Work healthy Lynchburg,” an effort to have the business community promote healthy living in the work place.

“It doesn’t help to have that on a billboard across the United States that we were an obese city.  We wanted a ranking like what we got today that showed we are a healthy place to live we’re a happy place to live and you should want to move your family here and you should want to relocate your business here” she said.

Lynchburg joins the ranks of Burlington, Vermont and Billings, Montana.  The only other Virginia small city to grace the top ten list was Charlottesville, coming in at number nine.  Full results of the survey can be found here.

Article source: http://www.wset.com/story/25326132/lynchburg-ranks-high-in-another-healthy-living-survey

Powdered Alcohol is Coming Soon to Liquor Stores

Photo: Flickr, emzee(Newser) – As if alcohol, marijuana, caffeine, and pills of various kinds aren’t enough to give Americans a buzz, the federal government has approved a new product: powdered booze, reports Gawker. Even the company behind it, Palcohol, says the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s approval caught it off guard. The product is now expected to hit shelves in the fall, giving consumers six just-add-water options to choose from, including straight options like vodka and mixed offerings like Cosmopolitan, reports Eater. A sampling of the company’s old website copy and new (at Palcohol.com) may reflect a little legal advice:

Then: “We have found adding Palcohol to food is so much fun. … Some of our favorites are the Kamikaze in guacamole, Rum on a BBQ sandwich, Cosmo on a salad and Vodka on eggs in the morning to start your day off right. Experiment.”

Now: “Can Palcohol be added to food? I suppose so. … As Palcohol is a new product, we have yet to explore its potential of being added to food.”

Then: “Let’s talk about the elephant in the room….snorting Palcohol. Yes, you can snort it. And you’ll get drunk almost instantly … Good idea? No. It will mess you up.”

Now: “Can I snort it? We have seen comments about goofballs wanting to snort it. Don’t do it!” The site now notes that the former “humorous and edgy verbiage about Palcohol” wasn’t “meant to be our final presentation of Palcohol,” and asserts that it was very clear even then that its product be used responsibly. Lehrman Beverage Law, which first reported the TTB’s approval, is “absolutely astonished” that Palcohol was approved and says it “seems highly likely to raise a large number of legal issues and controversies.” (In other booze news, the plant tequila is derived from could help fight obesity.)

More From Newser.com:

Your Earwax Says a Lot About You
10 Celebs Who Don’t Drink
The World’s Most Popular Liquor Is…
Woman Spends $25K to Look Like Jennifer Lawrence
New Study Reveals the Surprising Reason Women Fake Orgasms

Article source: https://shine.yahoo.com/healthy-living/powdered-alcohol-coming-soon-liquor-stores-163700249.html

Can You Catch The Same Cold Twice?

Welcome to Ask Healthy Living — in which you submit your most burning health questions and we do our best to ask the experts and get back to you. Have a question? Get in touch here and you could appear on Healthy Living!

“Ask Healthy Living” is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult a qualified health care professional for personalized medical advice.

I just got over a cold, and now it seems I’ve passed it along to my coworker. Is it possible to get sick again from her cold (which was originally my cold)?

If you really, truly are the one who passed your cold on to your coworker, then you’re probably in the clear, says Dr. Mark Huffman, M.D., MPH, an assistant professor of preventive medicine and medicine-cardiology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“If one’s coworker’s cold came from the same strain of the common cold virus, a rhinovirus, then one should be immune from that virus,” Huffman writes in an email to HuffPost.

That’s because your body has built up antibodies and developed immunity against that particular strain of the virus, explains Dr. Roberto Posada, an associate professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Mount Sinai Hospital. And even if you did get infected again, it would likely be a milder form of the sickness — so mild, in fact, that you might not even notice you were sick with it.

However, it’s nearly impossible to know with 100 percent certainty that you were the one who gave your coworker the cold. “The problem is that there are so many strains of viruses [that] can cause a cold,” Posada tells HuffPost. “If you have a cold, and now your coworker has a cold, it may be a different one from the one you had. Then you definitely can catch it.”

The same concept applies to other viruses too, such as the flu and viruses that cause gastroenteritis. The flu-causing influenza virus, in particular, is known to mutate or change, Posada says, which is why last year’s flu shot may not necessarily protect you from the strains going around this year.

Have a question? Ask Healthy Living!

Article source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/23/catch-cold-twice_n_5168895.html?utm_hp_ref=healthy-living

Get gorgeous summer hair with these expert tips!

summer haircareHair is our crowning glory but due to factors like stress, pollution, improper care, etc, it can be damaged easily. Every once in a while everyone faces hair problems. Even change in seasons affect our hair in adverse ways. Dull hair, dandruff and excessive hair fall – summer brings a whole lot of hair problems.

Experts say one can ward off hair woes by focussing on cleanliness and hygiene and following the correct combing technique to keep the scalp and hair healthy in the scorching heat. Pustular eruptions and hair root and fungal infections are also common during summer.

For lustrous tresses, Chiranjiv Chhabra, dermatologist, Skin Alive Clinic in the capital, says cleanliness and hygiene should be on the top of the to-do list. Also the techniques used to maintain cleanliness is important.

‘If the hair is not washed often and the scalp is not kept clean, the constant presence of moisture on the scalp causes weakening of the roots, which further causes itching and irritation on the scalp, worsening the condition and hence hair fall,’ said Chhabra. 

One of the major causes of scruffy hair is lack of maintenance.

‘Anyone can have beautiful and healthy hair through proper care and using the right products,’ said Apoorva Shah, trichologist and founder of Richfeel Health and Beauty Pvt. ltd.

For the hair expert, combing with right brushes and following correct brushing techniques are vital.

Use a wide-tooth wooden base comb or a tortoise shell comb. Never go for rubber or iron combs. Make sure the ends of the comb are not pointed. Start combing the hair carefully from the ends in a downward direction only. Comb your hair only when dry. Hair is weakest when it is wet.

‘One should never comb when the hair is wet; else it can damage the hair. One can just gently finger-comb wet hair,’ said Shah.

The basic haircare starts with clean hair, but too much cleansing can be damaging.

The scalp produces an oily substance, which is called sebum. It is important to choose a shampoo that removes the right amount of oil. Daily shampooing is not a problem as long as the shampoo is mild and formulated for daily use. But sticking to thrice a week of shampooing is always better.

Most of the shampoos are not meant for daily use. It’s important to choose wisely.

Chhabra said: ‘Due to excess washing and wrong selection of hair care products, problems like dandruff, pustular eruptions and fungal infections aggravate. Scruffiness makes the hair look dull even after a wash and split-ends make the hair look thinner at the bottom, slowly leading to breakage.’

If possible, avoid using a blow dryer. Blow dryers are harsh, they lead to dryness and dullness. Rather, gently squeeze out excess water from the hair and blot it with a towel.

Shah told  ’One of the main reasons of hair loss is the use of hair dryers. The skin pores of the scalp open up while blow drying, which allows the dirt to enter the pores and that leads to hair loss.’

Styling products that contain alcohol or other harsh chemicals too can spell hair trouble.

Have your hair trimmed on a regular basis, at least once every two-three months. It is important for growing out layers.

Oil the scalp once a week. It stimulates blood flow and relieves stress, said Shah.

If the techniques and daily rituals have to be correct, one should also use the right products.

An expert from skin and haircare cosmetic brand The Body Shop suggested that those who complain of oily hair can try Rainforest shampoo. It soaks the oil and sweat from the scalp. It helps maintain volume.

Then there are therapies to tackle hair-related problems.

Chhabra suggested that one may opt for scalp rejuvenating medical therapies like Stem Cell Therapy, Peptide Therapy Laser, LED Therapy and Rejuvenating Orange Light Therapy as these help stimulate hair growth and keep dandruff and other hair problems in check.

Diet, too, plays an important role.

One should consume a balanced diet to ensure that one gets the essential nutrients. Hair reflects one’s health and the lack of balanced diet can affect the texture. Protein-rich food is a must for hair growth. Hence, sufficient intake of proteins is mandatory. Nature has provided us with several herbs that nourish and protect hair without any side effects and therefore, it makes sense to use  herbal remedies more often.

With inputs from IANS

Also read these articles on haircare:

For more tips on haircare, check out our haircare section. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest updates! For daily free health tips, sign up for our newsletter. And to join discussions on health topics of your choice, visit our forum.

Article source: http://health.india.com/beauty/get-gorgeous-summer-hair-with-these-expert-tips/

Is It Spring Allergies or a Cold? Here’s How to Tell

Spring has sprung—and, with it, so has spring allergy season. If you suffer from random sniffles, red eyes, and skin rashes, you may already know that you’re allergic to various pollens that hit the air once things start blooming. Or maybe you assumed those symptoms were due to a passing cold and actually have allergies you’re not aware of yet.

allergies

According to Keri Peterson, M.D., when the weather gets warmer, that means all kinds of pollens take to the skies (and your body). The most common culprit? “Beginning in early spring, it’s all about tree pollen,” Peterson says. “More and more patients start coming into my office with symptoms.”

Peterson says there’s a distinct difference between having a cold and having allergies—even though the symptoms often overlap. “A cold lasts no longer than 14 days; allergies last weeks to months,” she says. “If you suspect you have allergies, I definitely recommend to go to a doc or an allergist—you can book an appointment quickly online with ZocDoc. Both can help you with your symptoms, as well as find out what your specific allergies might be, via skin or blood testing.”

And there’s one symptom that’s always due to allergies, never a cold, Peterson says: itchy eyes. “If your eyes itch, it’s because of allergies,” she says. Here are her dos and don’ts for reducing allergy symptoms during this pollen-filled season:

Do remember that allergy pollen counts are usually highest in the morning. “There are allergy-blocking gels that you can apply to help keep pollen out of your nose,” she says. “You can also just try to stay inside on especially pollen-filled days.”

Don’t plan on lots of outdoor activities—such as gardening and mowing the lawn—that attract pollen.

Do “Wear sunglasses when you’re outside, because pollen can actually deposit on your eyelashes,” Peterson says.

Don’t leave your windows open, which lets pollen right into your home. Instead, use air-conditioning, and install a high-quality air purifier.

Do change your clothes when you go inside. “Wearing the same clothes you wore while outside can mean tracking pollen all over your house,” she says.

Don’t leave your doctor’s office without ammunition. She or he can give you prescriptions (or recommendations for over-the-counter medications) that can help quell your symptoms. If she says there is no prescription for your symptoms, be sure to ask about saline sprays that rinse the pollen out of your nose for relief, as well as decongestants, and hydrating eye drops.

Do you have allergies—or suspect that you do?

Photos: Thinkstock

Article source: http://www.glamour.com/health-fitness/blogs/vitamin-g/2014/04/spring-allergy-allergies-cold.html

Get pregnant faster with these 10 expert tips

Tips for conceptionGetting pregnant is one of the best feelings a woman can feel, but there is now a rising population of couples who are finding it increasingly difficult to conceive. While fertility woes might be one of the reasons, there are several other factors  – that you can control– that can make your journey to conception smoother and faster. So if you are wondering what you can do to get pregnant faster, here are some handy tips from Dr. Uma Rani, Senior Consultant, Obstetrics Gynaecology, Delhi based Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute.

Dos

Eat healthy: What you eat makes all the difference in the way you feel and your overall health. If you are planning to get pregnant, inculcate healthy food habits. Include green vegetables, salads and fresh fruits into your diet. Read more about the 7 inexpensive food items to boost your fertility.

Load up on the carbs: Carbohydrates are a great source of energy and since nowadays most women manage much more than their homes, having enough energy to cope with the demands of all the stress of daily life is imperative. A tired and fatigued body is not the best place for conception.

Ditch the toxins: Having a clean mind with a toxin free body is essential for successful conception. So in order to help you get yourself ready for pregnancy, avoid eating junk food and try going on a detox diet once in a while. Remember overdoing it is not good for your health either, so balance out the detox from the normal diet. Read more about the Ayurvedic detox diet

Stay hydrated: If you plan to get pregnant staying hydrated is imperative. Drinking enough water helps eliminate all the toxins from your body, keeps your organs working optimally and keeps your skin supple and young. Read more about the 7 tips to increase your water intake. 

Load up on iron and calcium: Including milk (a great source of calcium and other vitamins) and foods rich in iron into your diet is a great way to improve your bone and muscle growth. It also makes you stronger and helps you stay healthy – helping you conceive more easily.

Get some exercise: Exercising is not only great for your health, but it is also perfect to keep your hormones well regulated, makes you happy and regulates your menstrual and ovulation cycle (a great way to ensure the production of healthy eggs). Apart from that it also helps you stay at a healthy weight making conception much more easier. Since obesity is a major hurdle in conception, staying fit is the best way to ensure a healthy pregnancy.

Try to have a baby early: It is a known fact that as women age the quality of their eggs fall and getting pregnant becomes more difficult. So it is best that you try to get married and pregnant ideally between the age of 25 and 30.

Have more sex

The single most important factor which determines fertility is timely sexual intercourse. Generally for a woman with a 28 to 30 day menstrual cycle, ovulation (release of ovum) happens on the 14th day of the cycle. The lifespan of the ovum or egg is 24 to 36 hours and the lifespan of sperm is around 72 hours. So intercourse should happen in such a way that both sperm and eggs are ‘alive’. This greatly increases the chance of pregnancy. Understanding the concept of rise in Basal Body Temperature, use of urine test kits to determine LH surge will be helpful to roughly identify the period of ovulation. For those with irregular menstrual cycles, various factors affect the chances of fertility. Consultation with a gynecologist will help them to regularize the cycles as well as to enhance the chances of pregnancy.

In this day and age, with long working hours and other social pressures, couples are having less sex which reduces the chances of pregnancy. Prolonged intervals between bouts of intercourse can actually affect the motility of sperms. Find ways to work around these problems for a happy pregnancy.  

Don’ts:

Practice unsafe sex: Having unsafe sex or sex with multiple partners makes you very susceptible to infections that can severely disturb your reproductive system and affect you adversely. Moreover, since some infection cannot be cured completely it is a very high risk thing to do if you want to get pregnant. 

Go on crash diet: If you want that hot body or one that you see on TV or in magazines, exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet. Avoid crash and fad diets as they tend to have very disastrous effects on your body. Also, body fat (a healthy amount of it) helps maintain the proper functioning of your hormones and thereby your fertility. Read more about why fad diets are bad for you. 

Smoke: Smoking is especially bad for women, not only does it cause various different types of cancers, but it also greatly reduces fertility. So, kicking the butt is the best way you can give your reproductive system a boost. While smoking should be completely given up, you can drink, but occasionally.  

You may also like to read:

For more articles on conception, visit our pregnancy section. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest updates! For daily free health tips, sign up for our newsletter. And to join discussions on health topics of your choice, visit our forum.

 

Article source: http://health.india.com/pregnancy/get-pregnant-faster-with-these-10-expert-tips/

Study: Bullied Kids at Risk for Mental Health Problems 40 Years Later

Problem: Getting shoved on the playground, or swirlied in the toilet, called mean names behind your back, or to your face—bullying takes many forms (even more of late thanks to the Internet), and is an unfortunate part of life for many children. Some have argued that it’s just an unpleasant rite of passage, but many others, including government officials, feel otherwise. Some kids may “bounce back,” but we hear many stories of bullying gone too far, of teasing that ends tragically. And research shows that bullying victims have higher rates of self-harm, anxiety, and depression during childhood and adolescence.

A new study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, out of King’s College London, provides more evidence that bullied kids might not totally bounce back, that their health, relationships, and even economic status may be at risk even into middle age.

Methodology: The researchers looked at data from the U.K.’s National Child Development study, on more than 18,000 people who were born during one week in 1958. Those children were followed up with at ages 7, 11, 16, 23, 33, 42, 45, and 50. During the 7-year-old and 11-year-old check-ins, the children’s parents reported whether their children were bullied never, sometimes, or frequently. While it’s possible that some children were being bullied without their parents’ knowledge, the study notes that “reports of bullying victimization from mothers and children have been shown to be similarly associated with emotional and behavioral problems.”

At ages 23 and 50, participants completed measures of psychological distress and general health, and at 45, clinical interviewers assessed them for depressive and anxiety disorders. The age 50 interviews also included demographic information, about education level attained, employment status, and weekly net pay, as well as information about participants’ relationships—whether they were partnered or single, and how often they saw friends.

Results: Twenty-eight percent of the children studied had been occasionally bullied, and 15 percent had been frequently bullied. Bullying was more common among male children, and those whose parents were less involved, or had “manual occupations.”

This bullying (both occasional and frequent) was associated with poorer health later in life—victims had more psychological distress at 23 and 50, and were at higher risk for depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety disorders at age 45. The risk levels were similar to those for children who “had been placed in public or substitute care… or who reported multiple childhood adversities.” Bullying victims also rated their health more poorly and were more likely to have poor cognitive functioning at 50.

Being bullied was also associated with having lower education levels, a higher likelihood of being single at 50, spending less time with friends, and lower perceived life satisfaction.

Other than spending less time with friends, these associations stayed significant, even when the researchers controlled for other factors like childhood IQ, social class, childhood adversity, and the tendency to internalize or externalize behavior problems.

Implications: These findings show that the experience of being bullied, rather than being left behind when the person leaves school, may instead linger and affect the victim’s life well into middle age.

“Estimates of the associations between bullying victimization and adult outcomes were small but robust to adjustment for a number of key confounders,” the researchers write. “The findings are compelling in showing that the independent contribution of bullying victimization survives the tests of time and confounding. It is unlikely, of course, that bullying operates in isolation to create such lifelong adversities. Future studies should examine bullying victimization in the context of other forms of childhood abuse and identify pathways leading to poor adult outcome.”

There may well be other factors at play, but it seems that bullying is at least a risk factor for many negative outcomes as people grow older.


The study, “Adult Health Outcomes of Childhood Bullying Victimization: Evidence From a Five-Decade Longitudinal British Birth Cohort,” appeared in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Article source: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/04/study-bullied-kids-at-risk-for-mental-health-problems-40-years-later/361055/

Accretive Health CEO to step down

Accretive Health Inc. CEO Stephen Schuckenbrock will step down later this year after less than two years on the job, the Chicago-based hospital billings and revenue management company said Wednesday.

Schuckenbrock, who landed the top job at Accretive just over a year ago from computer giant Dell Inc., is scheduled to leave his role as president and CEO on Oct. 2, the date is contract expires, according to a statement.

He will continue to serve on the company’s board of directors and as its top executive through the end of his contract. Accretive Chief Operating Officer Joe Flanagan will lead the company’s newly created “Transformation Office” while it searches for a new CEO “with deep health care domain expertise,” the company said.

The company did not say why Schuckenbrock’s contract would not be renewed. An Accretive spokesman in New York declined to comment.
Schuckenbrock joined Accretive last April to replace embattled CEO Mary Tolan, the company’s co-founder, who left the post after facing withering criticism from investors after a series of missteps.

He has led the company through a period of tumult with mixed results.
Last month, the New York Stock Exchange delisted Accretive’s stock after the company failed to meet a deadline for restating its financial results from the last three years. It is now traded over the counter, where shares can exchange hands in party-to-party transactions rather than under an exchange.

The company has not released quarterly results — a requirement for publicly traded firms — since the third quarter of 2012. A month before Schuckenbrock came aboard, Accretive pulled nine quarters of financial statements going back to the second quarter of 2010 because of accounting discrepancies.

The company has said it did not properly book revenue or expenses for certain contracts, but it said the financial restatements will have no net effect on its cash flow. Accretive has not explained how it committed the errors.

“We have made substantial progress over the past year…Our top priority remains completing our financial restatement, and I am committed to seeing that through to completion as part of this transition,” Schuckenbrock said in a statement.

The announcement comes just weeks after Accretive elevated Steve Shulman to chairman of its board of directors after Tolan stepped down from that post April 2.

Schuckenbrock at the time praised Shulman’s selection, calling him “an invaluable resources to the company” whose leadership “will be vital” to its future.

Prior to becoming chairman, Shulman served as a director for Accretive. He also was chairman of Health Management Associates, where he oversaw the company’s sale to Community Health.

Shulman was not made available for comment.

Accretive’s accounting issues became public just as tensions were beginning to ease over its dealings inside a nonprofit health system.

In January 2012, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson accused the company of aggressive patient collection practices and of violating federal patient protection laws. The scandal effectively forced Accretive out of Minnesota, voided one of its major hospital contracts and raised questions about its business model.

Accretive settled the case in July 2012 without admitting wrongdoing and paid a $2.5 million fine. It disputed Swanson’s allegations, and a subsequent federal investigation that found its hospital client violated federal regulations by pressing patients in the emergency room for payment before they were stabilized.

The Minnesota controversy spurred Illinois regulators to file a complaint against the company to stop it from collecting debts owed by Illinois hospital patients. That complaint, filed in mid-2012 by the state Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, says it could suspend or revoke the Chicago-based company’s license to operate as a collection agency in the state based on an agreement between the company and the state of Minnesota.

The case has yet to be resolved.

In his year as chief executive, Schuckenbrock has ushered Accretive through a significant restructuring and hired new chief operating, chief information and chief financial officers.

In January, Accretive announced it would move some corporate functions from its Chicago headquarters to Dallas and Detroit, resulting in the loss of about 150 jobs in Chicago.

pfrost@tribune.com | Twitter @peterfrost

Article source: http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/breaking/chi-accretive-health-ceo-to-step-down-20140423,0,5593457.story

Southerners in Poll Oppose Health Law, and Its Repeal

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Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/24/health/health-law-repeal-has-little-support-poll-finds.html?hpw&rref=us

Study finds brain changes in young marijuana users

Young adults who occasionally smoke marijuana show abnormalities in two key areas of their brain related to emotion, motivation, and decision making, raising concerns that they could be damaging their developing minds at a critical time, according to a new study by Boston researchers.

Other studies have revealed brain changes among heavy marijuana users, but this research is believed to be the first to demonstrate such abnormalities in young, casual smokers.

Continue reading below

The Boston scientists also found that the degree of brain changes appeared to be directly related to the amount participants smoked per week.

Researchers did not study whether those changes were linked to corresponding declines in brain function, but lead author Jodi Gilman, a psychology instructor at Harvard Medical School and a brain scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, said such abnormalities in young brains are reason for concern.

“This is when you are making major decisions in your life, when you are choosing a major, starting a career, making long-lasting friendships and relationships,” Gilman said.

The findings, published Wednesday in the Journal of Neuroscience, come amid an increased debate about the long-term effects of marijuana, as a growing number of states legalize the drug for medicinal and recreational use.

Forty Boston-area young adults aged 18 to 25, many from Boston University, were selected for the study. Researchers used scans to measure the volume, shape, and density of two regions of the brain — the nucleus accumbens
and the amygdala.

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Half of the group said they used marijuana at least once a week, and the other 20 had not used the drug in the past year, and reported using it less than five times in their life.

Among the group that did smoke, the median use was about six joints per week.

Scans revealed that the nucleus accumbens was larger in marijuana users, compared with nonusers, and its alteration was directly related to how much the person smoked. The nucleus accumbens is a hub in the brain that is involved with decision making and motivation. Structural changes were also seen in the amygdala, which is involved with emotional behavior.

These changes, Gilman said, may be evidence that the brain is forming new connections that encourage further drug use, “a sort of drug learning process.” The study did not address whether the brain changes are permanent.

The results are similar to animal studies that show when rats are given THC, the mind-altering ingredient in marijuana, their brains also form new connections, indicating an adaptation to the unnatural level of reward and stimulation from marijuana.

Other scientists not involved in the study say its small size makes it hard to extrapolate to the general population. But they also said the findings may help explain what happened to the brains of participants in other marijuana studies that demonstrated behavioral and functional changes, but did not use scans to identify potential brain abnormalities.

“Anything that underscores that there may be structural changes in the brain [from marijuana use] is important,” said Dr. Staci Gruber, an associate psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School and a director of brain imaging at McLean Hospital.

Gruber’s studies of marijuana smokers have focused on those with longer, more chronic use and have found that those who started smoking at earlier ages, while still in their teens, are less able to perform certain reasoning and decision-making tasks, compared with those who started later in life.

Stuart Gitlow, president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, said the Mass. General study provides much-needed “hard evidence” of brain changes that appear to match the changes in cognitive skills — thinking and reasoning — that other researchers have demonstrated in marijuana studies.

“We’ve known that people who use marijuana when they’re younger tend to have cognitive abnormalities, but this gives us direct evidence,” he said.

“It’s fairly reasonable to draw the conclusion now that marijuana does alter the structure of the brain, as demonstrated in this study,” Gitlow said, “and that structural alteration is responsible, at least to some degree, for the cognitive changes we have seen in other studies.”

Earlier research has shown different brain changes linked to alcohol or other drug use, such as cocaine.

Dr. Hans Breiter, a coauthor of the Mass. General study, said there are still many unanswered questions about the potential long-term effects of these various chemicals, especially if people use more than one drug. One of his earlier studies, for instance, showed that the amygdala region of the brain shrank with cocaine use, while the new marijuana study suggests an increase.

“Most drug users use more than one drug,” said Breiter, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Cocaine users use opiates, and most marijuana users also drink,” he said.

Article source: http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/2014/04/15/casual-marijuana-use-creates-brain-changes-new-report-shows/X1cN8A7h5pOVJkeYkXTXlJ/story.html