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What’s money got to do with mental health?

Financial stress has been found as one of the main concerns that employees around the world contend with every day. With responsibilities to pay off bills, expenses, unexpected circumstances, and even debts, it’s challenging to not worry about finances all the time, especially if a person does not have savings.

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Have you ever heard of ‘financial stress?’ According to experts, this condition refers to that state of anxiety or emotional tension related to money, debt, and expenses. Money, in fact, is one of the most universal sources of stress. 

In workplaces, financial stress has been found as one of the main concerns that employees around the world contend with every day. With responsibilities to pay off bills, expenses, unexpected circumstances, and even debts, it’s challenging to not worry about finances all the time, especially if a person does not have savings.

In a recent report, Visa revealed that 84% of 1,000 employees are troubled by their finances while working. This situation affects their health, well-being, and productiveness, as stated by 68% of that study’s surveyed individuals.

Employees in the Philippines share this same experience. According to a study by Backbase, at least 51% of 100 surveyed Filipinos said that they’re currently worried about the state of their finances. It also revealed that the Philippines is the leading country when it comes to financial stress in the Asia-Pacific, indicating that 7 in 10 Filipinos find it challenging to manage their debts. 

In most cases, people caught up in these situations resort to borrowing money from their family, friends, or external lenders with interest rates. Another option is to ask for an advance or ‘bale’ from their employers, especially since traditionally, employees receive their salary twice a month on two separate dates. 

Helping navigate through the never normal

Two years into the pandemic, things became even more challenging for employees due to some limitations, particularly in mobility. Amid these radical changes, banks have been fast-tracking their digital transformation initiatives to improve their mobile and online banking platforms. This move enables customers to transact digitally, like paying utilities and other bills, without the risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

It shows how banks continuously innovate their services to assist their customers in managing their wealth while caring for their well-being. And as the pandemic reinforces that health is essential to people in the never normal, it also creates an opportunity for banks to help employers in empowering their employees and address the factors that can affect their overall welfare. 

For instance, there’s a concept that is now fast becoming a global trend that financial institutions can offer as part of their service offerings. This concept is called Earned Wage Access (EWA), a solution that started in the United States but is now seen around the world, enabling employees to access their salary before payday and release their already earned salary with just a click of a button.

EWA can be integrated and offered by banks to their corporate accounts so employers can incorporate it as a benefit for their employees. In 2022, this white-labeled solution will now be available in the Philippines. Thanks to PayKey, a fintech company based in Israel, which will start offering this solution to leading banks next year. 

Through EWA, employees can now access their already earned salaries at any time to pay for their current expenses. It works in simple ways. As a standalone app offered by PayKey for banks, employees can easily see their earned salaries to date. Then, if they want to have an advance on their wages,’ they can just request it through EWA. The requested amount will be transferred to the employee’s bank account as soon as it is approved.

The EWA trend will help employers minimize their workers’ financial stress, which will assist in improving their workplace productivity and employees’ well-being. In addition, as a new type of service for banks, EWA may help encourage unbanked Filipinos to get banked to achieve the Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ (BSP) 70 percent goal of Filipinos with bank accounts in 2023.

“EWA is not a loan. It has no interest rate because you’re accessing and withdrawing your earned money. With a fixed transaction fee, it will enable employees to easily advance their wages before payday to pay for their immediate expenses. We hope that with our solution, we can help banks and employers reduce employees’ financial stress and improve their well-being, especially at times like this,” said Roy Gabriel, chief innovation officer, and general manager of PayKey.

To learn more about PayKey, visit its website at https://paykey.com/.

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Combination of drugs for obesity and Type 2 diabetes may be more effective than a single therapy

The researchers conclude that combining the drugs has several advantages, including higher effectiveness in at least some patients and fewer side-effects.

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Canadian and German researchers are teaming up to identify new drug combinations to treat people with obesity and Type 2 diabetes. 

The goal is to develop personalized prescriptions that are more effective than single drugs and that can potentially replace more invasive treatments such as bariatric surgery, especially for children. 

“As a pediatric endocrinologist, I can tell you we’re seeing more and more Type 2 diabetes in kids and adolescents, and it seems to be a more aggressive form than adult onset diabetes, so we do need better therapies to achieve even greater efficacy and degree of weight loss,” said Andrea Haqq, a professor in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.

The researchers recently published a paper that examines the potential of several drugs that control incretins. These metabolic hormones stimulate the body to produce insulin and use it effectively. They also suppress appetite in order to control blood sugars and reduce weight. 

The researchers conclude that combining the drugs has several advantages, including higher effectiveness in at least some patients and fewer side-effects. 

Even a five per cent weight loss is considered clinically meaningful, and patients in some of the combination drug trials are achieving 10 or 15 per cent, said Haqq, who is a member of the Alberta Diabetes Institute and the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute. 

Haqq’s laboratory is collaborating with that of Timo Müller, director of the Institute for Diabetes and Obesity at the Helmholtz Diabetes Center and a researcher with the German Center for Diabetes Research in Münich, Germany.

As part of the collaboration with the Müller team, first author Qiming Tan, a PhD candidate in the U of A Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, will study for a term in Germany and a German student will join Haqq’s lab here.

Haqq and Tan recommend further research to identify why some individuals respond differently to the drugs. Some racial and ethnic groups bear a disproportionate burden of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, they said, so more participants from these groups are needed in trials. Further studies should also focus on how differences in biological sex affect drug efficacy and safety. 

In addition to drug combinations, the researchers are looking for non-pharmacological solutions, such as how adding fibre to a person’s diet can slow weight gain and improve the effectiveness of existing diabetes medications.

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How sleep helps to process emotions

According to the researchers, the coexistence of both mechanisms is beneficial to the stability and survival of the organisms: “This bi-directional mechanism is essential to optimize the discrimination between dangerous and safe signals,” says Mattia Aime from the DBMR, first author of the study.

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Photo by Mpho Mojapelo from Unsplash.com

Researchers at the Department of Neurology of the University of Bern and University Hospital Bern identified how the brain triages emotions during dream sleep to consolidate the storage of positive emotions while dampening the consolidation of negative ones. The work expands the importance of sleep in mental health and opens new ways of therapeutic strategies.

Rapid eye movement (REM or paradoxical) sleep is a unique and mysterious sleep state during which most of the dreams occur together with intense emotional contents. How and why these emotions are reactivated is unclear. The prefrontal cortex integrates many of these emotions during wakefulness but appears paradoxically quiescent during REM sleep.

“Our goal was to understand the underlying mechanism and the functions of such a surprising phenomenon,” says Prof. Antoine Adamantidis from the Department of Biomedical Research (DBMR) at the University of Bern and the Department of Neurology at the Inselspital, University Hospital of Bern.

Processing emotions, particularly distinguishing between danger and safety, is critical for the survival of animals. In humans, excessively negative emotions, such as fear reactions and states of anxiety, lead to pathological states like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD). In Europe, roughly 15% of the population is affected by persistent anxiety and severe mental illness. The research group headed by Antoine Adamantidis is now providing insights into how the brain helps to reinforce positive emotions and weaken strongly negative or traumatic emotions during REM sleep. This study was published in the journal Science.

A dual mechanism

The researchers first conditioned mice to recognize auditory stimuli associated with safety and others associated with danger (aversive stimuli). The activity of neurons in the brain of mice was then recorded during sleep-wake cycles. In this way, the researchers were able to map different areas of a cell and determine how emotional memories are transformed during REM sleep.  

Neurons are composed of a cell body (soma) that integrates information coming from the dendrites (inputs) and send signals to other neurons via their axons (outputs). The results obtained showed that cell somas are kept silent while their dendrites are activated. “This means a decoupling of the two cellular compartments, in other words soma wide asleep and dendrites wide awake,” explains Adamantidis.

This decoupling is important because the strong activity of the dendrites allows the encoding of both danger and safety emotions, while the inhibitions of the soma completely block the output of the circuit during REM sleep. In other words, the brain favors the discrimination of safety versus danger in the dendrites, but block the over-reaction to emotion, in particular danger.

A survival advantage

According to the researchers, the coexistence of both mechanisms is beneficial to the stability and survival of the organisms: “This bi-directional mechanism is essential to optimize the discrimination between dangerous and safe signals,” says Mattia Aime from the DBMR, first author of the study.

If this discrimination is missing in humans and excessive fear reactions are generated, this can lead to anxiety disorders. The findings are particularly relevant to pathological conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorders, in which trauma is over-consolidated in the prefrontal cortex, day after day during sleep.

Breakthrough for sleep medicine

These findings pave the way to a better understanding of the processing of emotions during sleep in humans and open new perspectives for therapeutic targets to treat maladaptive processing of traumatic memories, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) and their early sleep-dependent consolidation.

Additional acute or chronic mental health issues that may implicate this somatodendritic decoupling during sleep include acute and chronic stress, anxiety, depression, panic, or even anhedonia, the inability to feel pleasure. Sleep research and sleep medicine have long been a research focus of the University of Bern and the Inselspital, Bern University Hospital. “We hope that our findings will not only be of interest to the patients, but also to the broad public”, says Adamantidis.

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MetroMart to sell only cage-free eggs nationwide by 2025

MetroMart’s e-commerce platform connects consumers with local supermarkets and retailers including The Marketplace, Marks & Spencer, Landmark and All Day Supermarket. The company delivers throughout the Manila and Cebu regions, with plans to expand nationally.

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MetroMart, the country’s largest e-commerce grocery delivery platform, won praise today from U.S.-based global NGO Lever Foundation for its new commitment to source and sell only cage-free eggs nationwide by 2025.

“MetroMart is committed to social responsibility and benefiting the community, including through selling high quality, safe and humane food products,” said Evreem Fortich, Chief Operating Officer at MetroMart and ambassador of the company on the issue. “We’re pleased to share our new policy of selling only cage-free eggs to consumers on our platform by 2025, and we look forward to working closely with our partners to achieve that goal.”

MetroMart’s e-commerce platform connects consumers with local supermarkets and retailers including The Marketplace, Marks & Spencer, Landmark and All Day Supermarket. The company delivers throughout the Manila and Cebu regions, with plans to expand nationally. MetroMart has been actively promoting sustainability initiatives by using banners on its platform to raise public awareness of environmental issues, and offering promotional discounts for ethical and sustainable products.  

Numerous studies have found cage-free eggs are safer and have more vitamins and minerals and a better nutritional profile than caged eggs. Research by the European Food Safety Authority and others has found that cage-free egg farms are up to 25 times less likely to be contaminated with key strains of salmonella compared to hens raised in cages. Hens raised in cage-free systems enjoy better bone health, are free to move and express their natural behavior such as foraging, dust-bathing, flying and nesting.

“We applaud MetroMart for its commitment on this important issue, which will benefit the company’s customers by increasing food safety and quality while also improving the welfare of animals in its supply chain,” said Robyn del Rosario, Sustainability Program Manager at Lever Foundation, which worked with MetroMart on its pledge. “With e-commerce leaders like MetroMart rising in popularity and importance during the pandemic, the company’s commitment to socially responsible policies that benefit the community sets a stellar example for other retailers and food brands.”

Leading animal protection and food safety organizations around the world encourage a switch to cage-free eggs, which are less cruel to animals and safer for consumers. On caged egg farms, each egg-laying hen is confined for nearly her entire life in a cage so small she can barely turn around. Battery cage egg production has been banned throughout the European Union as well as in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada, India, and parts of the United States.

In recent years a growing list of restaurant, hospitality, retail and packaged foods brands have pledged to use only cage-free eggs in the Philippines, including KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Marriott, Nestle, Unilever, and many others. MetroMart is the first retailer in the Philippines and the first online grocery delivery platform in Asia to make the same pledge.

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