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Add neurons, subtract anxiety

Wonderful news from science on the treatment of anxiety in both animals and humans. Fluoxetine, (a medicine for the treatment of anxiety) has been shown to stimulate the growth of new nerve cells. Specifically, cells in the memory storage and sorting area of the brain. As new cells grew, individuals were able to calm down more quickly. They were able to tell the difference between old (anxiety) memories and new (positive) memories. Several studies were done where positive memories were created in  people and animals. The circumstances that trigger an anxiety memory were copied, but with a slight change (like room color or smell) . Plus, and most important was that the events in the new circumstance ended with something  positive for the individual. (This type behavior therapy is called desensitization/counter-conditioning).  Individuals who grew more new cells, more quickly reduced their anxiety or fear.

How did new cells result in less anxiety? There is increase of new cells available to remember new events. Then, new, but similar events are paired with a positive outcome.  Sequences of events are stored in the brain as “memory patterns” The individual remembers, both the old and new memory patterns. With practice or repetition of patterns with the positive outcomes, the individual will learn the difference between old, fearful, v.s. new, more positive, memory patterns. The new memory patterns compete with the old pattern and the best outcome wins.  The result is less and less fear. This works, as long as the outcomes of similar events remain positive.The new cells, that were stimulated to grow by an anti-depressants, more quickly create new memory patterns. The final observation was that the new, positive, memory patterns are then stored long term in the brain and remain after the medication is stopped.

Then the rule “use it or lose it”, comes into play. Anxiety can return if old memory patterns are practiced more than the new memory patterns.  This leads to a regression or return to fearful behaviors and emotions. A little regression is normal, whenever life is stressful, but long term stress or just lack of practicing the skills, that once work, lead to more serious regression.

This is the first evidence that shows a rapid change in fear/anxiety is directly proportion to new cell growth and that medications increase growth of new cells.

In summary: Anxiety emotional states change more quickly when two things happen together.

1. Beneficial change in the environment, so that situations that creates fear/anxiety are changed and have positive outcome. (or at least block/prevent a negative outcome).

2. Anti-depressant Fluoxetine  at therapeutic dose.

This study explains, what has been observed, in behavior medicine for a long time. First, that medications alone are not enough to change anxiety. Second, the combination of  medication and behavior modification (or therapy) are the quickest treatment for anxiety. Finally, that the improvement is permanent.

Here is a link to the study:

Add neurons, subtract anxiety.

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