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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.
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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
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.”
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.