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Lifestyle Changes Alter Brain Chemical to Reduce Anxiety

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2009-05-13 07:42

Researchers have targeted a brain chemical that makes people more prone to anxiety. The study sheds new light on how lifestyle changes can help overcome anxiety and depression by altering the important chemical involved in development.

The study, conducted on animals, shows that fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2), is an important chemical in brain development. Low levels are associated with a predisposition for anxiety. The study suggests that changing behavior, by enriching one’s environment, can alter FGF2 and reduce anxiety.

For the study, rats that were bred for high anxiety were given a series of new toys. They subsequently were found to have higher levels of FGF2, reducing anxiety behaviors. The results are akin to humans making lifestyle changes that raise FGF2 to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Past studies have shown that depression is associated with low levels of the chemical, but researchers never understood whether depression or the chemical imbalance came first.

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Javier Perez, PhD, also at the University of Michigan led the study. According to Perez, "We have discovered that FGF2 has two important new roles: it's a genetic vulnerability factor for anxiety and a mediator for how the environment affects different individuals. This is surprising, as FGF2 and related molecules are known primarily for organizing the brain during development and repairing it after injury." Changing ones environment through lifestyle modification could essentially repair the brain to reduce anxiety in susceptible individuals.

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