Sex at an Older Age Could Make You Happier and Healthier – Research

Sexual activity is an essential part of intimate relationships, though it tends to decline as people get older. But although research shows that frequency of sexual activity can decrease with age, for many older people, sex still remains an important part of their life.

There’s a common misconception that as people age, they lose their interest in sex and capacity for sexual behaviour. But as a UK survey shows, this isn’t the case.

Indeed, the survey found that 85% of men aged 60–69 report being sexually active – as do 60% of those aged 70–79 and 32% of those aged 80 and over. Women were found to be less sexually active as they aged, but studies show that, just like men, many women also want to continue to have sex as they get older. Studies in the US report similar levels of sexual activity across these age groups.

And the fact that so many people are still having sex as they age is good news, because as our new research seems to indicate, the less sex older people have, the more likely they are to experience mental and physical health problems.

Still at it

Our research looked at the sex lives of 2,577 men and 3,195 women aged 50 and older. We asked whether they had experienced a decline in the last year in their level of sexual desire, frequency of sexual activity, or ability to have an erection (men) or become sexually aroused (women).

We found that men who reported a decline in sexual desire were more likely to go on to develop cancer or other chronic illnesses that limited their daily activities. Men and women who reported a decrease in the frequency of sexual activities were also more likely to experience a deterioration in how they rated their level of health. And men with erectile dysfunction were also more likely to be diagnosed with cancer or coronary heart disease. It’s important to note, however, that changes in sexual desire or function could have been a result of early-stage, undiagnosed disease.

Our research also found that older adults enjoy life more when they are sexually active. And those who experience a decline in sexual activity report poorer well-being than those who maintain their levels of sexual desire, activity and function in later life. We also found that men who are sexually active in later life continue to have better cognitive performance compared to those who don’t.

Feel good hormones

It’s no secret that sex can help to produce that “feel good” factor. This is largely because during sex, there is a release of endorphins, which generate a happy or elated feeling. This doesn’t just impact our mental health though, as higher endorphin levels are also associated with greater activation of the immune system – which may reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.

Research suggests that people who engage in sexual intercourse with their partner are also likely to share a closer relationship. And closeness to one’s partner is linked with better mental health.

It’s also important to remember that sex is a form of physical activity – often performed at a moderate intensity – which burns close to four calories a minute. All exercise comes with health benefits – and sex is no different. So it’s definitely possible that you could gain mental and physical health benefits from regular sexual activity.

Trying new positions

Of course, sex is not the only factor that can help to improve health and well-being in older age. But as our research shows, older adults are not devoid of sexual desire, and an active sex life is something that should be encouraged. Indeed, it’s possible that a regular and problem-free sex life can lead to better mental (and possibly physical) health.

But information on and encouragement to try new sexual positions and explore different types of sexual activity isn’t regularly given to older people. And in many cases, when it comes to older people and sex, doctors often put their heads in the sand, and don’t really want to talk about it.

But it may well be that such discussions could help to challenge norms and expectations about sexual activity. And as our research shows, it could also help people to live more fulfilling and healthier lives – well into older age.

Explore Further:

To explore our range of branded intimate health products, please visit our main website, where you’ll also find a wide range of pharmaceutical-free options for the promotion of better mental & physical health and peak performance. You’ll find our home page, here

About The Authors and Source material:

The authors of this article are: Lee Smith, Reader in Physical Activity and Public Health, Anglia Ruskin University; Daragh McDermott, Head of School, School of Psychology and Sport Science, Anglia Ruskin University and Sarah Jackson, Research Psychologist, Health Behaviour Research Centre, UCL.

This article first appeared in the academic discussion journal ‘The Conversation’ on 23rd September, 2019 and is reproduced here under CCL copyright provisions. To view the original article, includeing active links to all references, please see here 

Nutritional Supplements and Mental Health: Here’s What We Know

We’ve all heard that ‘food is good for your mood’. Now, a new study into mental health and nutrient supplementation has taken a leap forward by establishing the gold standard for which nutrients are proven to assist in the management of a range of mental health disorders.

As well as an established relationship between poor diet and mental illness, there is now a vast body of research examining the benefit of nutrient supplementation in people with mental disorders.

To unpack this research, an international team of scientists led by researchers at the University of Manchester and NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University examined the ‘best of the best’ available evidence. The aim was to provide a clear overview of the benefit of specific nutrient supplements – including dosage, target symptoms, safety and tolerability – across different mental disorders. 

The world’s largest review of top-tier evidence, published online yesterday (10th September 2019) in World Psychiatry, examined 33 meta-analyses of randomised control trials (RCTs) and data from 10,951 people with mental health disorders including depression, stress and anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, schizophrenia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Although the majority of nutritional supplements assessed did not significantly improve mental health, the researchers found strong evidence that certain supplements are an effective additional treatment for some mental disorders, supportive of conventional treatment.

All nutrient supplements were found to be safe when recommended dosages and prescriptive instructions were adhered to and there was no evidence of serious adverse effects or contraindications with psychiatric medications.

Summary of results:

  • The strongest evidence was found for omega-3 supplements (a polyunsaturated fatty acid) as an add-on treatment for major depression – reducing symptoms of depression beyond the effects of antidepressants alone.
  • There was some evidence to suggest that omega-3 supplements may also have small benefits for ADHD.
  • There was emerging evidence for the amino acid N-acetylcysteine as a useful adjunctive treatment in mood disorders and schizophrenia.
  • Special types of folate supplements may be effective as add-on treatments for major depression and schizophrenia, however folic acid was ineffective.
  • There was no strong evidence for omega-3 for schizophrenia or other mental health conditions.
  • There is currently a lack of compelling evidence supporting the use of vitamins (such as E, C, or D) and minerals (zinc and magnesium) for any mental disorder.

Lead author of the study, Dr Joseph Firth, Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Manchester and Senior Research Fellow at NICM Health Research Institute, said the findings should be used to produce more evidence-based guidance on the usage of nutrient-based treatments for various mental health conditions.

“While there has been a longstanding interest in the use of nutrient supplements in the treatment of mental illness, the topic is often quite polarising, and surrounded by either over-hyped claims or undue cynicism,” Dr Firth said.

“In this most recent research, we have brought together the data from dozens and dozens of clinical trials conducted all over the world, in over 10,000 individuals treated for mental illness. This mass of data has allowed us to investigate the benefits and safety of various different nutrients for mental health conditions – on a larger scale than what has ever been possible before.” Dr Joseph Firth

​Senior author on the study, NICM Health Research Institute’s Professor Jerome Sarris said as the role of nutrition in mental health is becoming increasingly acknowledged, it was vital that an evidence-based approach be adopted.

“Future research should aim to determine which individuals might benefit most from evidence-based supplements and to better understand the underlying mechanisms so we can adopt a targeted approach to supplement use in mental health treatment.” Professor Sarris said. “The role of the gut microbiome in mental health is a rapidly emerging field of research, however more research is needed into the role of ‘psychobiotics’ in mental health treatment.” 

Explore Further:

To explore pharmaceutical-free options for the promotion of better mental and physical health and peak performance, then please be sure to visit our main website. Our home page, here

About The study and Source material:

The review involved researchers from Western Sydney University, King’s College London, The University of Manchester, The University of Queensland, ORYGEN National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, The University of Melbourne, University of Toronto and KU Leuven.

The research paper on which this article is based can be accessed in the October issue of World Psychiatry and online at http://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20672

This article is based on material provided to us by the University of Manchester newsroom and appears here with permission.

Looking to Start the School Year on the Right Foot? Get More Sleep!

 By Ryan Meldrum

There is a palpable buzz at the beginning of every school year. There are new classes, new teachers and new friends to be mande. The start of a new school year – not unlike New Year’s Eve – is often accompanied by an optimistic outlook to do better, be better and accomplish more.

As you think about the strategies you might use to achieve these goals, it’s worth considering the merits of getting enough shut-eye.

The old adage of the importance of getting eight hours of sleep at night exists for a reason. Sleep plays a crucial role in washing away the waste that gets built up between our brain cells as a result of all the thinking we do every day.

Sleep helps us transform our short-term memories into long-term ones. Getting a good night’s sleep also makes you more alert, attentive and able to concentrate. Do you see a theme emerging? If you think about the things needed to do well in school, many of them align with the things that a good night’s sleep helps to promote.

But it’s not just in the classroom where sleep will benefit you. Many student-athletes are looking for ways to find that extra edge to outperform their competitors. Why consider more sleep? It aids in muscle recovery, increases reactions times and ensures your immune system is humming on all cylinders. Again, these are things essential to being able to perform at one’s peak abilities.

Don’t take my word for it. Professional athletes like LeBron James, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Cristiano Ronaldo all consider sleep to be a critical part of their regimen for success.

Then there’s the growing body of evidence suggesting that a lack of sleep can increase symptoms of depression, anxiety and irritability. There is also evidence that a lack of sleep decreases self-control. Given the known links between lack of self-control, poor health and problematic behavior, it might come as no surprise that young adults who consistently sleep less than eight hours at night are more likely to be overweight, to engage in risk-taking behaviour (such as texting and driving), to use drugs and to engage in violence.

So, what can you do in order to get more restful, high quality sleep at night and boost your chances of starting the new school year on the right foot?

Stop drinking caffeinated beverages after 3 p.m. Caffeine is a stimulant. It makes it harder for you to fall asleep when you want. While this might seem obvious, what is less widely known is that it takes several hours for caffeine to be fully metabolised by the body. Pulling an all-nighter studying for exams by slamming back energy drinks? You would be better served going to bed at 9 p.m. without any caffeine in your system and waking up at 5 a.m. well-rested and ready to do more studying. Better yet, don’t wait until the night before the exam to start studying

Stop using electronics an hour before going to sleep. If you aren’t familiar with blue light, it’s a wavelength of light that is emitted by TVs, phones, computers and tablets. It suppresses melatonin, which helps our brains to shut down and fall asleep. Of course, if you can’t let go of your phone before bed, you can purchase blue-light blocking glasses on the cheap, and many TVs, computers and phones have settings that can reduce blue light emission (e.g., the “night” mode on smart phone apps like Twitter).

Avoid alcohol. For older students, who think getting a good buzz from alcohol may help you fall sleep more quickly, you should know that the quality of that sleep will not do much with regard to helping you earn better grades. This is because alcohol reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which helps your brain retain what you have learned during the day.

Explore Further:

To explore pharmaceutical-free options for the promotion of better sleep please see here

For ways to help optimise your learning and academic performance see here 

To explore our complete range of medication-free options to support health, wellbeing and peak performance, then the best starting point is our home page, here

About The Author and Source material:

Ryan Meldrum is associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at the Florida International University. He researches the links between sleep and outcomes ranging from self-control, obesity, substance use, drunk driving and suicidal tendencies. The material for this article was provided to us by the press office of the Florida International University (FIU) on August 26, 2019.  It is reproduced here with permission. The article has undegone minor editiorial amendments to account for British English spelling and our primarily European readership. To visit FIU, see here

Opioids and Chronic Pain: Here’s What the Experts Recommend

By Lesley Colvin and Blair H. Smith

Chronic pain – acute pain that lasts for longer than three months – affects around one in five people in Europe. The increase in use of strong morphine-type drugs (opioids) for the treatment of chronic pain is an area of much concern, particularly in North America.

Termed an “opioid epidemic”, most developed countries have seen a major increase in opioid prescribing over the last decade or so. Our latest research assesses how good the evidence is that opioids can help chronic pain effectively, balanced against any harms they can cause.

One in five Europeans suffers from chronic pain (Photo: Vitoria Santos)

Chronic pain very often doesn’t get better, so people can be prescribed opioids for a long time – years, or even decades. Is there evidence that opioids continue to work well to reduce chronic pain and improve quality of life? The majority of clinical trials only study opioid use for three months, so we don’t really know much about their effectiveness over the longer term. 

One of the few studies that has looked at how effective opioids are after 12 months, found that people who took opioid painkillers were not any more active than those on other types of painkillers.

There is also evidence that long-term use of opioids may be harmful. This is likely to be dose-related as risks increase at higher doses. Known harms include increased risks of:

  • Addiction and misuse: this can affect anyone who is prescribed opioids for pain. Prescribers and patients need to be aware of, and minimise, the risk from the beginning.
  • Overdose and death: deaths from prescription opioids are increasing dramatically in the US for example.
  • Interfering with the endocrine system: changes in hormone levels that can impact on sexual function and fertility.
  • Heart problems: heart attack risk is more than doubled in people taking long-term opioids.
  • Being in a road traffic accident: the risk is higher among drivers taking even relatively low doses of opioids.
  • Worsening pain or “opioid-induced hyperalgesia”: when long-term use makes pain worse. This is often difficult to recognise.
  • Opioid tolerance: when the body becomes used to opioids and requires a bigger dose to get the same painkilling effect.
  • Adverse effects on the immune system: people taking opioids eventually become more prone to infections.

Should we use opioids for chronic pain?

Yes, when appropriate – but with caution. The Scottish Intercollegiate Guideline Network (SIGN) publishes high-quality evidence-based management guidelines. SIGN 136 was the first comprehensive guideline on the management of chronic pain, published in 2013.

As a result of new evidence, SIGN 136 has specifically reviewed the section on opioid use and updated recommendations have recently been published. New research since 2013 has been critically reviewed to ensure that the new recommendations are based on the best available evidence. Some of the key points in the new advice include the following:

  1. Opioids should be used for as short a time as possible, in carefully selected people with chronic pain. This should happen when other treatments haven’t worked to manage the pain and where the benefits outweigh the risks of the serious harms listed above.
  2. Before starting treatment, the person with chronic pain and the prescriber should agree what the treatment aims are. These might include reduced pain, increased activity and/or better quality of life. If this doesn’t happen then there should be an agreed action plan to reduce and stop opioids.
  3. There should be ongoing, regular review by a member of the primary healthcare team, especially if the daily dose is equivalent to more than 50mg of morphine. Review should be frequent in the early stages, and at least annually, after treatment is established. If problems arise – such as opioids no longer providing good pain relief, increasing the dose provides no sustained pain relief or then there is evidence of addiction – then more frequent review will be needed and consideration given to reducing/stopping treatment.
  4. We should always use the lowest effective dose. Higher doses (equivalent to more than 90mg/day of morphine) should only be prescribed alongside review by a pain specialist.

These recommendations are consistent with those of The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP). The organisation emphasises that the use of other approaches, including behavioural therapies and increasing physical activity to improve quality of life, is preferred.

Where do we go from here?

Current evidence indicates that widespread, long-term opioid prescribing for chronic pain is likely to cause more harm than benefit in society. But some individuals with chronic pain do benefit. They should continue to be prescribed opioids, with the recommended caution, careful monitoring and review, and use of proven non-pharmacological therapies. Some people may also need support to reduce and stop long-term opioids, where the harms outweigh the benefits.

There is an urgent need for research to understand how to manage chronic pain better, including the safe use of and withdrawal from opioids. In tandem we need national policies, based on best available evidence and approaches to educate healthcare professionals and patients. This is likely to require investment in the short term, but it may be a small price to pay for the longer term benefits and probable cost savings of improving chronic pain management, which is the leading cause of disability globally.


Exploring Other Treatment Options

There are a number of proven, non-pharmaceutical options to help manage chronic pain conditions. These not only help to avoid the unwanted side-effects of medication, but some can also help to manage the psychological effects of chronic pain – such as low mood and anxiety – which often accompany the living restrictions which the pain causes.

To explore these treatment options, visit our main website here

About the authors and source material:

The authors of this article are Lesley Colvin, who is Deputy Head of Division – Population Health & Genomics & Chair in Pain Medicine, University of Dundee; and Blair H. Smith, who isProfessor of Population Health Science, University of Dundee

This article was first published in the online academic discussion journal, The Conversation on August 29, 2019 and is reproduced here under CCL copyright provisions. The original article, which includes active links to all references, may be found here