The Science Behind Exam Stress

Being a student currently studying A levels, I have first hand experience of stressing about exams, and I am sure many of you reading this blog have experience also. This form of stress is known as exam anxiety and is a common form of stress for people undertaking exams, although some people suffer with it more than others.


So, lets start off by talking about stress in general. Stress is the body’s way of coping with any demand and is a natural response to protect the body in times of danger. Hormones are released from the body causing the heart to beat faster and blood pressure / body perspiration to increase. These hormones can also give the body more strength and energy in a ‘fight or flight’ situation.

Psychologist Martyn Denscombe found via social research that exam stress is caused due to four reasons…

  • Educational consequences associated with the outcome of the exam – Usually, 3 A grades are required at A level to get into medical school for example
  • Self esteem regarding the outcome of the exam – people tend to feel more confident about themselves if they can receive high grades in exams
  • Judgements from friends and parents – people might think their friends will laugh at the if they don’t do well or their parents will be disappointed
  • Fear of disappointing teachers – if you don’t do well in exams after doing well in class all year, teachers may be disappointed

Too much stress can actually make it almost impossible to focus on exams and recall the information studied. When the body is stressed, a stress hormone called cortisol is released that is able to reduce the speed of memory retrieval in humans. Nutritional biochemist Shawn Talbott researched about cortisol found that even sleep can increase levels of cortisol – if an individual has 6 hours of sleep instead of the recommended 8 hours, there will be 50% more cortisol in the bloodstream.

So, the question that you are all probably wondering, HOW DO YOU REDUCE EXAM STRESS?

  1. START REVISION EARLY as this will reduce the chance of chronic stress building up over a period of time. Starting revision that little bit earlier will give you the time to go over the content you need more times, thus increasing the chance of you remembering it in the actual exam.
  2. PLAN REVISION – the amount of time spent by people actually deciding what subject to revise could definitely have been used to fit in that extra exam paper.
  3. DO NOT CRAM THE NIGHT BEFORE – this may seem like a good technique but it will actually just make you even more stressed and more likely to forget the content in the exam hall. Instead, spend that evening calming yourself down by going on a walk or having a relaxing bath.
  4. TAKE DEEP BREATHS – if you feel yourself getting stressed try to calm yourself down by drinking plenty of water and breathing in and out – this will make you feel much more comfortable and ready to start the exam.

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Study Shows That Lack of Sleep Reduces Formation of Memory

A new study has shown that a deprivation of sleep inhibits memories from forming by interfering with neurones reaching the hippocampus (‘the brain structure responsible for the formation of long term memories’).


The study was led by Nicolette Ognjanovski who works for the department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at the University of Michigan who based a series of experiments on mice and how their memories related to the amount of sleep they got. The mice were placed in a completely new environment and were left to explore their surroundings. After this, the mice were given a very mild foot shock by the researchers and were returned to their original home / environment. From this, it was found that the mice with the least amount of sleep had lost all memory of the new environment they were put in after they received the foot shock.


Assistant professor to Ognjanovski, Sara Aton, said:

“If you return the mouse to that same structure a day or even a couple [of] months later, they will have this very stereotyped fear response, which is that they freeze, but if you sleep-deprive an animal for a few hours after that context-shock pairing, the mouse won’t remember it the next day,”

“It seems like this population of neurons that is generating rhythms in the brain during sleep is providing some informational content for reinforcing memories. The rhythm itself seems to be the most critical part, and possibly why you need to have sleep in order to form these memories.”


Of course, it is already knows that less sleep hinders memories but this study has been able to figure out the actual way of how memories are formed – memories aren’t just stored in individual cells but are shared through a network of cells (“a very small number of the total cell population in the hippocampus” -Ognjanovski).

Through the results of this study, the researchers hope that the importance of getting enough sleep is highlighted to the public (adults should be getting around 7-9 hours of sleep each night, yet about 35% of adults get under 7) and the team now hope to find out whether stimulating the effects of sleep can help to restore damage and aid memory formation again.

Thank you for reading my blog, I hope you found it interesting! If you have any questions or ideas for future blogs feel free to leave them down below!



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Illegal ‘party drug’ could be used to treat depression

Doctors have been trialling the use of the illegal ‘party drug’ ketamine as a treatment for severe depression. 

Ketamine is licensed to be used as a ‘dissociative anaesthetic’ meaning that it is a form of general anesthesia but doesn’t necessarily cause complete unconsciousness. It can also be used as a pain killer and a ‘horse tranquilizer’ to sedate horses.

Dr Rupert McShane said that “since 2011, Ketamine has worked on patients with depression when nothing else has helped before.” As a result, he is trying to call for a national registry to officially monitor the use of it. He led a trial in Oxford which showed that out of 101 people who didn’t find a successful treatment to the drug, 42 of them showed a response to ketamine. One patient even said that “the first ketamine infusion literally saved my life” showing just how beneficial it can be in treating depression.

However, there are some obvious problems using ketamine as a form of treatment – mainly due to the fear of people become addicted to the drug. As it is a class B substance, there is always the possibility of the drug being misused so it is vital that the use of it is monitored through a national registry, allowing potentially tens of thousands of people who have not responded to other treatment to get proper help. As said by Dr McShane…

“We think that patients’ treatment should be in specialist centres and formally tracked in national or international registries. This will help us to pick up any safety or abuse problems with longer term use and narrow down what dose, frequency, route and durations of treatment works best.”


Of course, the dosage of ketamine used during treatment is significantly less that what is used illegally, so hopefully the possibility of ketamine being used legally came come about in the near future.

Thank you for reading my blog, if you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them down below.



_95476175_ketamine.gif  (—- ketamine infusion

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Study Findings bring us One Step Closer to a Cure for the Zika Virus

Study Findings bring us One Step Closer to a Cure for the Zika Virus


The zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus that can pass from pregnant women to the fetus, causing birth defects such as microcephaly (baby’s head is smaller and Guillain-Barré syndrome.. There are currently no vaccines or medicine to treat it but researchers claim they have reached a step closer towards a cure by mapping a protein that helps the zika virus to replicate and spread.

The symptoms of the zika virus last for about 2-7 days and include:

  • mild fever
  • skin rash
  • eye inflammation
  • headache
  • muscle and joint pain

These symptoms are often so mild that people can barely notice them.

The study was led by Indiana University (IU) in Bloomington in collaboration with Texas A&M University in College Station, and they were able to map an important protein in the Zika virus (non structural protein 5 or NS5) that helps the virus to replicate and spread. As a result of this, Professor Cheng Kao and his team are already working with partners to find compounds that can target the NS5 protein in the zika virus. Already, drugs approved to treat diseases like hepatitis have the potential to be used in tacking the zika virus.

Finally, I would like to end on a quote from the head professor in the study Prof. Cheng Kao:

“Mapping this protein provides us [with] the ability to reproduce a key part of the Zika virus in a lab. This means we can quickly analyze existing drugs and other compounds that can disrupt the spread of the virus. Drugs to target the Zika virus will almost certainly involve this protein.”


Hopefully, this outstanding discovery will lead us to a cure to the deadly virus that had more than 1 million cases reported in the latest World Heath Organization (WHO) and Pan American Health Organization update.

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Dr Elizabeth Blackwell


Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell (1821 – 1910) was the first woman to receive a medical degree from an American medical school, as well as being the first woman on the British medical register.


Elizabeth Blackwell was born on February 3, 1821 in Bristol, England and moved to the United States in 1832 where she pursued a teaching career. However, even after receiving widespread opposition, she went to medical school and graduated first in her class. Her inspiration behind entering the field of medicine was from one of her close friends who was dying who told her that she wouldn’t have had to go through such terrible suffering if she were treated by a female physician.


Apart from being the first recorded female doctor, Elizabeth received many accomplishments during her lifetime. These include the fact that she set up a medical school for women in the 1860s who were rejected from places elsewhere but were determined to become physicians and even started her own private practice when she returned to England. In 1852, she published a book called ‘The Laws of Life with Special Reference to the Physical Education of Girls” which focused on the physical and mental development of girls in preparation for motherhood.


Since 1949, the Elizabeth Blackwell Medal is given to a woman physician from the American Medical Women’s Association. Hobart and William Smith Colleges also give the Elizabeth Blackwell Award to women for outstanding service to humankind. In the US today, women make up around 47% of medical students – an achievement that may not have been possible had it not have been for Dr. Blackwell’s determination to defeat gender inequality in medicine.

Finally, I would like to end on a quote by Dr Elizabeth Blackwell: she said that

“If society will not admit of woman’s free development, then society must be remodeled”


which just shows how much of an inspiration she really is. Maybe one day, one of you reading this blog will follow in her footsteps and accomplish exceptional targets that at one stage, seemed impossible.

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All about HIV

What is HIV?

HIV (or human immunodeficiency virus) is a lentivirus that destroys a type of white blood cell in the immune system called a T-helper cell, and replicates itself inside these cells. As this happens, the infected persons immune system gradually breaks down, result in them finding it harder and harder to fight off infection and diseases. HIV can be found in semen, blood, vaginal and anal fluids, and breast milk, and cannot be transmitted through sweat, saliva or urine.


Early effects of HIV

Signs and symptoms of HIV usually begin to appear in 2-6 weeks and last for 1-2 weeks in the form of flu-like symptoms due to the body and immune system producing antibodies in an attempt to fight off the infection. This is known as seroconversion and tends to consist of symptoms like:

  • fever
  • skin rash
  • sore throat
  • swollen glands
  • joint/ muscle pain

After the seroconversion period is over, a person may not experience any symptoms of HIV for a few years.


How HIV affects the immune system

As mentioned earlier, HIV infects cells by merging with the host T cells, entering the host cell and multiplying. If someone does not receive treatment for HIV, they could severely damage their immune system and result in it not being able to defend itself at all thus causing even the most minor infection to become life-threatening. They are also more likely to pass the virus onto others and even develop AIDS.


Confections associated with HIV

People who have HIV are more likely to develop coinfections – diseases that can both have an effect on HIV and be affected by HIV. Some of the most common coinfections to HIV include:

  • tuberculosis
  • hepatitis
  • pneumonia

Side effects of HIV

The most common side effects experienced by people with HIV include:

  • headache
  • tiredness
  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • rash
  • high blood sugar levels
  • high cholesterol

Other possible side effects of HIV include:

  • anaemia
  • hepatitis
  • poor kidney function
  • glucose intolerance
  • inflamed pancreas

Treatment of HIV

HIV can be treated via antiretroviral treatment. This has proven to be a very effective form of medication and has significantly improved the life expectancy of many people with HIV. People who are receiving treatment usually take a combination of three different drugs at the same time – this is because the HIV can adapt quickly to combination therapy and become resistant to a single type of antiretroviral therapy.

However, a person taking these drugs may experience metabolic effects or conditions such as:

  • fat redistribution
  • insulin resistance
  • osteoporosis

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People With Depression Twice As Likely To Die After A Heart Attack



Coronary heart disease is the main cause of death in the UK, and depression has also been classed as a major health concern affecting more than 300 million people worldwide. However now, researchers have found out that the psychological disorder depression does infact increase mortality risk in relation to heart disease.

The study that took place was centred around people who were diagnosed with a heart attack formed from coronary heart disease. The health records of nearly 25,000 patients registered were followed for about ten years to see the effect of depression on their previous diagnosis. Overall, 15 percent of these patients were also diagnosed with depression after their heart disease diagnosis. In addition to this, depression proved to be the strongest risk fact for follow-up complications and was twice as likely to cause death than people without depression. Finally, of the 3,646 people who were diagnosed with depression, 50 percent died during the study, whereas only 38 percent of those who did not receive a depression diagnosis died over the course of the study.

Although the link between depression and heart disease is not a recent discovery, the researchers hope that their current findings prompt doctors and specialists to prioritise diagnosing depression. This could be done by using questionnaires or by taking symptoms (even if they may not mean anything) more seriously. The main researcher of the study, Dr. Heidi May, Ph.D., a cardiovascular epidemiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, UT, expressed the importance of testing for depressions in patients, especially with coronary heart disease…

“It can be devastating to be diagnosed with coronary artery disease,” says the lead author of the study. “Clinicians need to pay attention to the things their patients are expressing, in terms of both physical symptoms as well as emotional and nonverbal factors.This study shows that it does not matter if depression emerges in the short-term or a few years down the road – it is a risk factor that continually needs to be assessed. I think the take-home message is that patients with coronary disease need to be continuously screened for depression, and if found to be depressed, they need to receive adequate treatment and continued follow-up.”


Hopefully, this finding will make people understand the importance of treating depression and how it could potentially heavily decrease the level of cardiovascular risk. Of course there are other factors that also increase the risk of heart disease like obesity due to lack of exercise, however further research will aim to reduce the affect of other factors by finding ways to control them.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, if you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them down below!





Unhealthy Diet Could Raise Breast Cancer Risk In Early Adulthood

In previous studies, it had been discovered that a diet low in vegetables and high in carbohydrates snd red/processed meats was likely to cause chronic inflammation (long term inflammation) which in turn could lead to some kinds of cancer. However, it has now been found that this inflammation could actually increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer prior to menopause.


Some background to breast cancer

Breast cancer starts when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control.This can result in a tumor growing, and should this tumor be malignant (cancerous), it can spread to surrounding tissues. In females in the UK, breast cancer is the most common cancer, but thankfully about 65% of women diagnosed with breast cancer in England and Wales survive their disease for twenty years or more. 

For the study, researchers analyzed data from 45,204 women including information about their diet (mostly during their teenage, early adulthood years). Using a technique that associates food intake with markers of inflammation in the blood, theresearchers allocated an inflammatory score to each woman’s diet. The women were then divided into five groups based on their inflammatory score. This found that:

Women with the highest inflammatory diet score during early adulthood were found to have a 41 percent increased risk of premenopausal breast cancer, compared with those who had the lowest inflammatory diet score.

However, this study cannot be used as absolute proof as there are a number of limitations to it. For example, the people who had to state there adolescent diet may have recollected inaccurately, and the researchers did not have access to the women’s measurements of inflammatory blood markers during adolescence or early adulthood. Though, the study still manages to highlight the important of a healthful diet, especially in younger teenage/ early adulthood years of life.

Here is a quote from Karin B. Michels, Ph.D, one of the researchers who worked on this finding:

“Our study suggests that a habitual adolescent/early adulthood diet that promotes chronic inflammation may be another factor that impacts an individual woman’s risk. During adolescence and early adulthood, when the mammary gland is rapidly developing and is therefore particularly susceptible to lifestyle factors, it is important to consume a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes and to avoid soda consumption and a high intake of sugar, refined carbohydrates, and red and processed meats.”

Hopefully, this finding will strengthen the understanding that the choices you make when you are younger can heavily affect your future.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, I hope you enjoyed reading it. Feel free to leave a comment down below if you have any questions!






Scientists Now Recommend Eating 10 Portions Of Fruit And Vegetables A Day

Lead author Dr. Dagfinn Aune, of the School of Public Health at Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, and colleagues recently released a set of findings saying that eating 800 grams of fruits and vegetables daily – or around 10 portions of 80 grams – was associated with the lowest risk of disease and premature death. This includes eating foods like apples, pears and green leafy vegetables as these were found to be among the most beneficial for health.

One ‘portion’ was defined as  being 80 grams worth of food, the equivalent to a small banana, or three heaped tablespoons of cooked vegetables (peas, cauliflower etc…)

To reach this finding, the researchers analyzed the data of 95 studies that looked at the health benefits of fruit and vegetable intake, and experimented on almost 2 million participants and around 43,000 cases of heart disease, 47,000 cases of stroke, 81,000 cases of cardiovascular disease (CVD), and 94,000 deaths. Through this, the team found that by eating 10 portions of fruit and vegetables daily, people can lower the risk of disease and death by 33 percent. In addition to this, eating 200g of fruit and vegetables daily was associated with an 18 percent reduced risk of stroke, a 16 percent reduced risk of heart disease, a 13 percent lower risk of CVD, a 4 percent reduced risk of cancer and a 15 percent reduced of premature death. Of course, the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the greater the health benefits are going to be. For example, the researchers calculated that if everyone ate 10 portions of fruits and vegetables daily, then around 7.8 million premature deaths could be prevented across the globe annually.

Finally, when it comes to thinking which fruits and vegetables are the best to eat, the greatest reduction in cancer risk was associated with intake of green vegetables (such as green beans), yellow vegetables (such as peppers and carrots), and cruciferous vegetables. As well as this, eating raw and cooked vegetables reduces the risk of premature death. The reasoning for why this may be was well explained by Dr Aune…

“This may be due to the complex network of nutrients they hold,” notes Dr. Aune. “For instance, they contain many antioxidants, which may reduce DNA damage, and lead to a reduction in cancer risk.”

Overall, the researchers believe their findings highlight the importance of fruits and vegetables as part of a healthful diet.

 “We need further research into the effects of specific types of fruits and vegetables and preparation methods of fruit and vegetables. We also need mo

re research on the relationship between fruit and vegetable intake with causes of death other than cancer and cardiovascular disease.

However, it is clear from this work that a high intake of fruit and vegetables hold tremendous health benefits, and we should try to increase their intake in our diet.”

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How the brain processes fear

New research works out how the brain is involved in processing fear, which could potentially lead to new treatment options for people with mental health disorders.

Fear can be both useful and dangerous: it can protect people from danger by stimulating a ‘fight or flight’ response, yet it could also cause serious psychological discomfort and even mental health problems. The National Institute of Mental Health has explained that when the response of fear lasts longer than what is normally expected in a situation, this can interfere with an individual’s well-being and daily functioning – this is known as an anxiety disorder.

Because our brains are quite similar to that of animals, scientists have studied on animal models to to try and find out what exactly causes fear to be processed by the brain. For example, after researching on animals it was found that a mass of gray matter in the brain called amygdala plays a key role in processing emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation, and that the elongated ridges on the floor of each lateral ventricle of the brain (the hippocampus) is heavily involved in dealing with memory and emotions. The amygdala and hippocampus work with the hypothalamus by directly exchange signals when an individual recognizes emotional stimuli to deal with everything to do with memory and emotions.

When researchers tested their findings on humans, they surgically inserted electrodes into the amygdala and hippocampus of nine participants, who were asked to watch scenes from horror movies. From this, it was found that the had a form of medication-resistant epilepsy and the seizure activity in the electrode placements were high, showing that there is “direct evidence that the amygdala first extracts emotional relevance and then sends this information to the hippocampus to be processed as a memory.”

One of the researchers, Zheng, explains the findings in more detail:

“Neurons in the amygdala fired 120 milliseconds earlier than the hippocampus, It is truly remarkable that we can measure the brain dynamics with such precision. Further, the traffic pattern between the two brain regions are controlled by the emotion of the movie; a unidirectional flow of information from the amygdala to the hippocampus only occurred when people were watching fearful movie clips but not while watching peaceful scenes.”


Finally, I would like to end on a comment by neurologist Dr Jack Lin

“This is the first study in humans to delineate the mechanism by which our brain processes fear at the circuitry level. This has huge implications for treating neuropsychiatric disorders. For example, current drugs available to treat anxiety disorder bind to large areas of the brain, leading to unwanted side effects. Our hope is that we will one day be able to target and manipulate the precise amygdala-hippocampal circuit involved in processing negative emotions while preserving positive ones.”


Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, I found this article very interesting so I decided to share it with my readers! If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them down below.

Thanks, Rohini