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unashamed perv
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From an article in this week's New Scientist, precis'd, possibly badly, by me.

Troops suffering the stress of combat or the stress of "survival, evasion, resistance and escape" (SERE) training can suffer from disruption of key functions of the brain's prefrontal cortex, including planning, short-term memory and attention. They can also suffer from "disengagement from reality...perceptual distortions in which time can appear to speed up or slow down, colours or smells seem unusually intense, or the sense of self can shift." Sound familiar to anyone? It does to me.

Nothing particulary new there. But Charles "Andy" Morgan of Yale university did research on troops undergoing the stressful SERE training. He looked at hormone levels, and how well their cognitive functions were doing. He expected the best performing sujects "to be the least stressed, and so to produce the least noradrenaline and cortisol." These are the "stress hormones," and I think beta-blockers work by blocking their action.

However, what Morgan found was the exact opposite: the subject who were best at keeping a clear head under stress in fact had the highest levels of the stress hormone cortisol. So what was going on? Well, the high performing subjects also had higher levels of DHEA - a hormone which "seems to buffer the brain against the negative effects of stress." They also had higher levels of a neurotransmitter called neuropeptide Y (NPY), which the article says is "the most potent protective factor."

NPY alters the brains respone to noradrenaline, "acting as a brake to its accelerator pedal." The highest performing subjects in the SERE training had an NPY level one third higher than their peers, and once the stress was over, the NPY levels returned to normal. In those who performed less well, not only were the NPY levels lower, but when the stress was over their NPY levels dropped much lower than the normal level for at least 24 hours. To me, this suggests that they didn't recover so well, and were still feeling anxoius or panicky after the stress ahd gone.

Morgan's research suggests that "supplementing levels of DHEA and NPY could enhance soldiers' ability to think straight in the heat of battle, - and perhaps also offer some protection against Post Traumatic Stress Disorder." It suggests that such treatment would be much better than giving troops beta blockers for stress.

Ok, that was from the article "The Fog of War" by Peter Aldhous in New Scientist, 9th May 2009.

What I'm thinking is: people with anxiety disorders, including SA, suffer from many of the same symptoms as the soldiers: impaired cognitive function, particularly when anxious, and sometimes dissociation or depersonalisation. So maybe similar supplements can help us! Apparently DHEA is widely available as a supplement - I'll be looking into getting some tomorrow!

The article wasn't terrribly clear about the link between DHEA and NPY. It says NPY is a neurotransmitter, and it suggests "supplementing levels of NPY" but it doesn't say how to do this. Can you swallow NPY in pill form and expect it to affect your brain? Or can you take something else to improve your body's ability to produce your own? I know nothing about how brains work - can anyone enlighten me?

TL;DR? Soldiers who perform well under stress turned out not to have low levels of stress hormones cortisol and noradrenaline, but to have high levels of different stuff (DHEA and NPY)that appears to help negate the unwanted effets of stress. I want to get me some of this magic DHEA and NPY.
 

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adrenal fatigue is common among us but supplementing dhea will just diminish your body's production and you dont know how stable those supplements are. I used Dhea for a week 50 mg, after the 6th day I got pain in my testicles so I stopped it.
 
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