Scientists at Mainz and Innsbruck explore new treatment approach to overcome fear

From the News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton

Posted on July 9, 2014 by Stone Hearth News /Universität Mainz

A drug used to treat Parkinson’s disease could also help people with phobias or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Scientists of the Translational Neurosciences (FTN) Research Center at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) are currently exploring the effects of psychotherapy to extinguish fears in combination with L-dopa. This drug does not only help movement disorders, but might also be used to override negative memories.

Professor Raffael Kalisch, head of the Neuroimaging Center (NIC) of the JGU Translational Neurosciences Research Center, and his collaborators at the University of Innsbruck are conducting research in mice and in humans into the psychological and neurobiological mechanisms of anxiety and fear. “Fear reactions are essential to health and survival, but the memories of angst-inducing situations may cause long-term anxiety or phobias,” explained Kalisch.

In psychotherapy, the ‘fear extinction’ method is used in exposing people to a threat but without the adverse consequences. Latest research has proven that extinguishing fear also predicts mental health after trauma, suggesting extinction may be an important resilience mechanism.

Fear extinction involves a person being presented with a neutral stimulus, such as a circle on a screen, together with a painful sensation. Soon the person predicts pain in response to the circle on the screen and fear becomes conditioned.

Then the person is shown the circle again, but this time without the painful stimulus, so that the person can disassociate the two factors. A person who is afraid of spiders, for example, will in psychotherapy be confronted with spiders in a way that reassures them that the spider is harmless.

In another research program, Belgian scientists tested the ability to extinguish fear in soldiers later deployed to a war zone and found differences in the soldiers’ resilience to traumatic memories. Some experienced post-traumatic stress symptoms following their deployment, whereas those who were able to extinguish fear in the laboratory maintained a good state of mental health.

“If you are mentally flexible enough to change the associations that your mind has created, you might be better able to avoid lasting damage,” explained Kalisch. In cooperation with other scientists, Kalisch has found first evidence that this process of changing negative associations might involve the brain’s systems for reward and pleasure and depend on release of the neurotransmitter dopamine that helps control them.

However, even after successful extinction, old fear associations can return under other stressful circumstances. This might involve the development of PTSD or a relapse after successful psychotherapy. Kalisch has found that L-dopa, a drug to treat Parkinson’s disease, can prevent this effect and could therefore possibly be used to prevent relapse in treated PTSD or phobia patients.

L-dopa is taken up by the brain and transformed into dopamine that not only controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers and helps regulate movement, but also affects memory formation. The person receiving L-dopa after extinction will thus create a stronger secondary positive memory of the extinction experience and will thus be able to more easily replace the negative memory. This raises new questions about the role of primary fear memories and secondary prevention by L-dopa.

“We would like to be able to enhance the long-term effects of psychotherapy by combining it with L-dopa,” said Professor Raffael Kalisch. To this end, he is about to start a clinical study of people with a spider phobia to determine the effects of L-dopa on therapy outcome.

“Manipulating the dopamine system in the brain is a promising avenue to boost primary and secondary preventive strategies based on the extinction procedure,” he continued.

Anxiety, Phobias & Panic

My comments

This article is supported by book called  Anxiety, Phobias & Panic by Reneau Peurifoy published in 2004. The sub title is A Step by Step Program for Regaining Control of Your Life.  The book has however been updated  as a paperback in 2010.

The original book discusses reducing anxiety symptoms,  understanding and reducing stress,  identifying the sources and distorted thinking.  By chapter six  the reader  is learning to Enjoy Being Human.  With over 300 pages and  15 lessons   about sleep, relaxation, listening skills and developing a group, it is pretty good value  with Amazon.co.uk   for just 40p. . Not a typing error – forty pence. It has great testimonials and rates 5 stars.  The later book is considerably more expensive.

I always like to add something extra  and thought  you might enjoy these techniques.


From the FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton

Source National Center  for Complementary & Alternative Medicines (NCCAM)

When you are under stress, your body reacts by releasing hormones that produce the “fight-or-flight” response. Your heart rate and breathing rate go up and blood vessels narrow (restricting the flow of blood). Occasional stress is a normal coping mechanism. But over the long-term, stress may contribute to or worsen a range of health problems including digestive disorders, headaches, sleep disorders, and other symptoms.

In contrast to the stress response, the relaxation response slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and decreases oxygen consumption and levels of stress hormones. In theory, voluntarily creating the relaxation response through regular use of relaxation techniques could counteract the negative effects of stress.

  1. Relaxation techniques are generally safe, but there is limited evidence of usefulness for specific health conditions. Research is under way to find out more about relaxation and health outcomes.
  2. Relaxation techniques include a number of practices such as progressive relaxation, guided imagery, biofeedback, self-hypnosis, and deep breathing exercises. The goal is similar in all: to consciously produce the body’s natural relaxation response, characterized by slower breathing, lower blood pressure, and a feeling of calm and well-being.
  3. Relaxation techniques often combine breathing and focused attention to calm the mind and the body. These techniques may be most effective when practiced regularly and combined with good nutrition, regular exercise, and a strong social support system.
  4. Most relaxation techniques can be self-taught and self-administered. Most methods require only brief instruction from a book or experienced practitioner before they can be done without assistance.
  5. Do not use relaxation techniques as a replacement for conventional care or to postpone seeing a doctor about a medical problem. Talk to your health care providers if you are considering using a relaxation technique for a particular health condition. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.



Taking time out to relax!

This is from an email  newsletter they sent me but I  thought the advice was  worth sharing.

With good weather and sunny days, we need and want to enjoy the sunlight. Sunshine, a principal source of vitamin D, which is necessary for our health. So take breaks at work to distract you. Go on a weekend break, allow yourself to forget the daily routine and stresses that surround you. Taking time out to relax allows you to connect with family and friends. Use this opportunity to go for a walk, drink tea or practice relaxation exercises like yoga.

Keep calm in stressful situations!

Stress can affect you in different ways. For instance when you are in your car at the beginning of your work day or when you are running late for that bus, you will most likely be stuck in the morning traffic with various commuters traveling to different locations. It is important you stay relaxed, concentrated and begin the day with an open mind. The Stress Management Society Director Neil Shah was featured on the ITV tonight show on the 15th of May . Reporter Aasmah Mir asked Neil Shah to provide his expertise on stress management, Aasmah also asked Neil to analyse the responses from the drivers in these various very stress driving situations, by looking at ways in which to improve as well as how to handle such situations better. ITV also provided a comparison by having one of Britons oldest driving instructor take part in the show. It was a great programme to watch for any commuter!  Well done Neil.


The sunshine and good weather provides you with the perfect opportunity to clean, and store away any clutter, freeing up some open space. All these actions allow us to draw a line from the past, like the winter which is now behind us. However, a spring clean is also beneficial for your morale; it allows you to live in a clean and tidy environment, helping you free your mind at the same time.

Healthy eating

Simple methods such as reducing your calorie intake and trying to avoid un-healthy foods can make a significant difference, instead we recommend having green tea as an alternative to normal milky tea’s and coffee’s. If you feel peckish small snacks, such as nuts, or small pots of yogurt may help fill the void between meal times.

Engage in physical activities

Remember your New Year’s resolution!  You can use this time to go for a short walk during your break, get some fresh air and stretch your legs. It is important to do regular exercise as this can help you relax and get in a better mood. If you are time constrained or may not have enough time to go to the gym, simple activities such as stretching at your desk or even using the stairs rather than elevators. These are all good initiatives and can be done anywhere.

As ever, if you have or need any help, please feel to call us on 0203 142 8650 or drop an email to info@stress.org.uk. The Stress Management Society taking you from distress to de-stress since 2003 – eleven years.

 I will be back tomorrow all relaxed and de-stressed, honest engine… Jeanne






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