A Q & A with Dr. Martin Paulus
Mental health is a tough subject to talk about, let alone understand, and has become a more prominent subject in the news recently. The Laureate Institute for Brain Research (LIBR) aims to shed more light on treatment options through research. Dr. Martin Paulus, Scientific Director and President at LIBR shares some insight with Tulsa Lifestyle contributor Kristy White on what they are working on and tips for staying mentally healthy.
Tulsa Lifestyle: What are a few things people can focus on to stay mentally healthy?
Dr. Paulus: There are three evidence-based activities that improve mental health:
(1) Exercise – a LIBR study shows that exercising as little as 30 minutes per day has profound effects on improving mental health. The type of exercise doesn’t so much matter.
(2) Eating habits – a LIBR investigator has recently confirmed research by others showing that a healthy diet is associated with fewer mental health problems. Eating a well-balanced diet low in refined sugars is probably the best choice.
(3) Sleep – One of our LIBR investigators has shown that sleep affects your immune system, which – in turn – affects your mood.
Research at LIBR has shown that just one hour of float therapy can provide significant short-term relief from symptoms of stress and anxiety.
TL: The ABCD Study focuses on children – why is it important to understand mood and anxiety at an early age?
Dr. Paulus: The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study follows 743 youth from the greater Tulsa area, including 150 Native American families. As part of a larger cohort of nearly 12,000 youth, we are observing how environmental, social and genetic factors affect brain development and either enhance or disrupt a young person’s life trajectory.
By identifying these factors early on, we can more effectively provide recommendations and information to parents and caregivers that may influence the personal development of mood and anxiety disorders.
TL: What types of research and studies are currently being done at LIBR?
Dr. Paulus: At the moment, we are looking to address the following questions with ongoing studies:
(1) Can we use brain-imaging and feedback to improve people’s mood?
(2) How does depression affect the immune system?
(3) Can floatation help people with anxiety and eating disorders to feel better about themselves?
(4) Can we use direct brain stimulation to reduce cravings in people with substance use problems?
(5) How does behavioral therapy protect people from developing anxiety and depression and can we build resilience with behavioral interventions?
(6) Can we use medications together with brain imaging to develop new interventions for patients with anorexia nervosa?
LIBR houses a multidisciplinary team of scientists and clinical research staff who apply neuroimaging, genetic, pharmacological, floatation, and neuropsychological tools to investigate the biology of neuropsychiatric disorders.
The William K. Warren Foundation and The National Institutes of Health are the lead contributors to our studies led by scientists from diverse backgrounds.
We have voluntary research programs for individuals that aim to advance mental health research and treatment options for Oklahomans.
TL: Tell us about the neuroscience-based research methods and how you intend to turn them into practical living practices.
Dr. Paulus: We have developed a web-based interface to make the acquisition of data easier and to compare these data to our database to make more precise clinical predictions.
We have also developed a neuroscience-based education tool, currently being tested in two Tulsa treatment programs. If these tests turn out positive, we can make these neuroscience-based education programs available to everybody.