Posts tagged ‘health’

Birth Control Makes Women Blink More

Blinking is a critical function for most animals. Few of us give it much thought, however, since blinking is a spontaneous action that we have little control over—similar to breathing. Although science has revealed many of the mechanisms behind blinking, there are still some mysteries and odd inconsistencies.

eyeball

The act of blinking, which is largely controlled by the central nervous system, keeps eyes moist and free of irritants such as dust and dirt. Blinking can also take the form of a reflex response to protect the eyes from an approaching object. Even though blinking technically results in a loss of vision for a few seconds, it’s not noticeable. This is because the brain fills in the gaps—it “remembers” the scene (this is also how the brain accounts for blind spots!). In a recent study, scientists found that the brain has a second trick for reducing visual disruptions. When you blink, your eyes reposition to maintain focus on what you were looking at. The brain does this by tracking the movements of both the person and any objects that were in view. In the experiment, participants stared at a dot that slowly moved. The movement wasn’t dramatic enough for the participants to notice but the brain took note, repositioning their eyeballs to follow the dot every time they blinked. The researchers explained that this function is necessary to stabilize our vision, preventing a shaky camera effect. (more…)

March 25, 2017 at 5:14 pm Leave a comment

The Five Second Rule Works Best on Carpet

The “five second rule” is an unofficial pass to eat food dropped on the floor—provided only a few seconds have elapsed. The general wisdom is that it takes several seconds for bacteria to transfer to the food item, making it safe to eat if picked up quickly. In one survey, 87% of people admitted to eating dropped food at least once. The five second rule was never backed up by science but some researchers have decided to test the idea.

food_on_keyboard

In the first major study, researchers tracked the transfer of common bacteria, including E.coli, to food after it had been dropped. They found that carpet was less likely to transfer bacteria than smooth surfaces. While moist foods could become colonized within seconds, most foods were declared safe. For dry snacks, such as cookies, it could take 30 seconds or longer for bacteria to show up. The researchers decided that the five second rule works—in specific cases. (more…)

October 22, 2016 at 5:00 am 1 comment

Extreme Athletes May Benefit from Vitamin C Supplements

Cold season is upon us and even the latest scientific technology can’t prevent us from catching a cold. The lack of a real “cure” has led to all sorts of crazy remedies, including Epsom salts and onions (even I don’t know what’s going on with those!). There are a few major misconceptions surrounding the common cold and I’d like to knock them out one at a time.

Antibiotics will help my cold go away

Colds are usually caused by a group of viruses called rhinoviruses. There are hundreds of viral strains that can cause a cold and these strains change from year to year. This makes it difficult to create a single “cure” for colds. There’s also a reason your doctor can’t simply prescribe antibiotics: they won’t work. Antibiotics only kill bacteria, not viruses. Viruses, including influenza, tend to be trickier to treat. There are some antiviral drugs out there but the most effective defenses against viruses are vaccines. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have a vaccine for the common cold. Since colds are caused by a variety of constantly mutating viruses, it’ll be a while before we see any real preventatives.

Vitamin C will cure my cold

Vitamin C is commonly touted as both a treatment and preventative for the common cold. The idea is that vitamin C supplements will boost your immune system, preventing you from catching a cold (or treating one you already have). Actual research, however, doesn’t support this theory.

popeye graffiti

There have been multiple studies designed to look for relationships between vitamin C and colds. Currently, there is no evidence that vitamin C will actually prevent a cold. A vitamin C supplement is also unlikely to treat an existing cold. In an analysis of 55 different studies, a research team concluded, “The lack of effect of prophylactic vitamin C supplementation on the incidence of common cold in normal populations throws doubt on the utility of this wide practice.”

There was only one case where vitamin C supplements helped prevent and reduce the duration of cold symptoms. The supplements appeared to help one group of people: those who were already deficient due to lifestyle. Patients who regularly engaged in rigorous exercise benefitted mildly from vitamin C supplements. The same was true for people exposed to extreme temperatures. In both groups, colds were less frequent and symptoms were reduced when participants took vitamin C tablets. In conclusion, a vitamin C supplement won’t help your cold unless you’re a marathon runner or work outside in frigid temperatures.

You should “sweat out” a fever

There’s a strangely common belief that you should purposely sweat during a fever. Proponents of this method will recommend wrapping in blankets, keeping the thermostat turned up, and drinking hot beverages. The idea is that by maintaining a high body temperature, you can kill the virus faster. That’s not how fevers work, however. Fevers are a symptom of your body’s immune system fighting off something—whether a virus, bacteria, or some kind of toxin. The high temperature alone isn’t killing anything and most fevers go away on their own within a day or two. Doctors generally recommend resting, staying hydrated, and taking an antipyretic medication (such as ibuprofen) if the fever is especially bad.

Cough syrup reduces coughing and helps sore throats

I was guilty of believing this one for a while. Most of us know that cough syrup won’t “cure” a cough but we expect it to at least help, right? The general consensus is that cough syrup will reduce coughing and help soothe a sore throat. However, there is very little scientific evidence for these claims. An analysis of commonly available over-the-counter cough syrups found that most of them had the same effectiveness as a placebo.

In a 2007 analysis of codeine, a common ingredient in cough medicine, the authors concluded, “Recent placebo-controlled studies have shown that codeine is no more effective than placebo in suppressing cough caused by either upper respiratory disorders or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”

Dextromethorphan is the only cough medicine with any scientific backing. It’s been proven slightly effective but only in adults; studies have shown that the drug is ineffective in children. The benefits are also small enough that some doctors question the value of taking the medication. Interestingly, pure honey provides mild cough relief and was found to be more effective than cough syrups in the same study.

Why do so many of these myths persist? Cold symptoms don’t last long for most people. If someone takes cough medicine and then begins to feel better after a day, they might believe that the medication helped. In reality, the cold symptoms would have improved on their own thanks to the body’s immune system. The best “cure” for the common cold? Time.

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Photo: Mike Mozart / MiMo

Sources: cdc.gov, emedicine health, plos.org, medlineplus.gov, nih.gov, lww.com

September 26, 2016 at 5:00 am Leave a comment

Cinnamon Helps You Learn and Remember

The United States dietary supplements industry is huge, bringing in over $20 billion in sales every year. Since 2004, the industry has seen rapid growth every single year. More than 80% of adults buy supplements annually. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, doesn’t regulate these products the same way they regulate food and medications. This has resulted in mislabeled supplements, outrageous claims, and one study found that many natural supplements didn’t even contain the products they advertised. The FDA does have rules in place but it’s mostly up to the individual companies to regulate their own products.

Cinnamon

With the lack of FDA regulation, companies can make all sorts of claims about their supplements. Unfortunately, not many of these claims are backed up by actual science. A common claim is that certain supplements can improve memory and learning. While it’s true that there are practices and substances capable of affecting memory functions, they’re not quite what you’d expect.

Ginkgo is commonly touted as a memory enhancer. Tablets, capsules, and tinctures are available at most stores, with marketing claims such as “Improves Memory” and “Enhances Mental Alertness”. Actual science says otherwise. In a large 2012 study, researchers found absolutely no difference between ginkgo and a placebo during both learning and memory exercises. Ginkgo also had no effect on mental attention. The authors concluded, “We report that G. biloba had no ascertainable positive effects on a range of targeted cognitive functions in healthy individuals.”

While ginkgo might not help you on that next exam, there are a few other things you can try without spending money on supplements.

Exercise

If you’re trying to remember something or learn a new skill, exercise might be better than any supplement on the market. In a very recent study, a group of human volunteers were taught picture-location associations and then quizzed to get a baseline score. Some participants exercised right after the recall test, some exercised four hours later, and the last group didn’t exercise at all. 48 hours later, all participants were retested. The researchers found that the delayed exercise group performed better than average. There was no significant difference between the other groups. The group that exercised four hours after learning also had increased activity in the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with memory and learning. Other studies had already linked exercise to improved memory but this one showed that it works best if you wait a few hours first.

Music

There have been many studies on how music affects memory and learning. Results have been mixed but it appears that classical music, at the very least, can have positive effects on working memory for adults. In a 2007 study, researchers tested adults using working memory tasks. Working memory is what you use, for example, when trying to memorize a definition. In the study, one group listened to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, another group listened to white noise, and a third group worked in silence. Participants who had listened to Vivaldi performed significantly better on memory tests. Music may not work for every type of learning but it’s at least worth a shot when trying to memorize something for a test. Note that current studies have generally used classical music (Vivaldi is actually the standard for these types of experiments), it’s unknown how other types of music affect memory.

Sleep

Most people assume that proper sleep makes it easier to learn (and it’s true). Something that not everyone knows, however, is that sleep is actually critical for memory formation. While we sleep, memories we’ve formed during the day are strengthened. In past studies, a good night’s sleep was found to significantly improve performance in various tasks, including beating video game levels and learning to play new songs on the piano. During REM sleep, your brain is active and works with your memories, often linking them to previous ones. This partially explains why studying the day of the exam, even if you slept fine, isn’t as useful as studying the night before.

Cinnamon

Let’s say you have an important exam coming up. You listened to classical music while studying, exercised a few hours later, and got a great night’s sleep. Getting a good breakfast will at least help your mental alertness and you can potentially sneak in one last memory enhancer–cinnamon. Cinnamon, which you probably already have at home, is more likely to help your memory than any of the expensive supplements at health food stores. In a recent study, mice that consumed cinnamon showed improved memory and learning ability. Specifically, the researchers were able to convert “poor learners” (mice that had performed badly on memory tests) to “good learners” by giving them a small daily dose of ground cinnamon. Cinnamon contains a compound called sodium benzoate that stimulates neurons in the hippocampus, improving memory and learning. The study hasn’t been replicated with humans yet but hey, there’s more evidence of cinnamon helping your memory than gingko and ginseng!

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Photo: Sam Mugraby, Photos8.com

Sources: fda, npaHuman Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, current biologyAging Clinical and Experimental Research, nihJournal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology

August 21, 2016 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

Sleeping Your Best is All About Timing

By Chad Upton | Editor

Sleep can make you more happy, alert, motivated, and productive. If you’re healthy, it’s fairly straightforward to get these benefits from sleep if you know a little bit about your sleep cycles.

First, imagine if washing machines didn’t have timers and you had to guess when they finished their last cycle. If you stopped it too soon, your clothes would still be soapy; if you stopped it too late then it would start all over again. That would be a disaster; nobody would put up with that. Yet, that’s exactly what most people do with their sleep cycles.

You sleep in cycles. Each cycle usually lasts 90 – 110 minutes. It’s called a cycle because your brain and body go through a number of different stages and then it starts all over again. The stages can be divided in different ways, but two of the most common divisions are REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM.

The non-REM “deep sleep” phase is longer during the cycles earlier in the night and tend to get shorter during the later cycles. The REM phase is the opposite. Vivid dreams generally occur during REM sleep, so you tend to dream more as you get closer to your wakeup time.

Most of us get up at about the same time every day. Sometimes, you feel well rested; other times you feel like you barely slept at all. This wide variance can be caused by waking up in the middle of your sleep cycle rather than close to the end. (more…)

January 25, 2012 at 2:00 am 9 comments

Food Chains to Display Calories on Menu by 2014

By Chad Upton | Editor

Last year, President Obama introduced the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which is part of the health care reform of 2010.

Although we hear a lot about the controversial parts of this reform, there are variety of lesser known, albeit interesting, changes that will be phased in through 2018.

Some restaurants have already complied with one new regulation that requires them to show caloric values next to items on their menu. I noticed that Panera is already on board and my wife reminded me that Olive Garden has done the same. This is a bold move and it confirms that anything Alfredo is both the best and worst thing that Olive Garden serves.

There are some other interesting changes too; here’s an abbreviated timeline:

2012

  • Employers will have to disclose the value of the benefits they provide to their employees.
  • Tighter restrictions on corporate payments to individuals and other corporations, designed to prevent tax evasion and raise an estimated $17 billion over 10 years.

2013

  • Individual salaries over $200,000 and families with income over $250,000 will see a tax increase of 0.5%.

2014

  • Insurers can’t discriminate against individuals with pre-existing conditions.
  • Insurers can’t set annual spending caps.
  • Chain restaurants and vendors with 20 or more locations are required to show calorie count on menus and displays (additional nutritional info must also be available upon request).
  • Expand eligibility for Medicaid.
  • Changes to tax-free contribution limit on flex spending accounts.
  • Require that everyone has health insurance.
  • Penalize companies with more 50 full time employees if they do not provide insurance to those employees.

2017

  • States can apply to waive certain sections of the law if they mandate coverage that is as comprehensive and affordable.

2018

  • Existing health insurance plans must cover approved preventive care without co-payment.
  • Individuals who spend more than $10,200 ($27,500 for families) annually on health insurance will see an additional tax on those “Cadillac” plans.

This list was by no means comprehensive, although I did try to include the most notable changes. The details of these changes have been abbreviated and you should see the sources for additional reading on the provisions that may affect you.

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Image: kobo4lila (cc)

Sources: The Bill Itself (PDF), Wikipedia (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), Library of Congress

April 4, 2011 at 2:00 am 5 comments

The Three Plants That Will Improve Your Home Air

Spring is here and the garden centers are open. It’s time to get some plants, especially for inside your home.

Indoor plants are really important. There are chemicals in and on almost everything you buy. If your air is not replenished with fresh air, it can be mildly toxic. But, with the right mix of plants, your air can be cleaned and oxygenated around the clock.

With as little as these three plants, you can have this perfect mix:

  • Areca palm – (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)
  • Snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue – (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’)
  • Golden pothos or Devil’s ivy – (Scindapsus aures or Epipremnum aureum)

The “Areca Palm” removes CO2 and converts it into oxygen during the day. The “Snake Plant” converts CO2 into oxygen at night. The “Golden pothos” removes formaldehyde and other chemicals from your air.

Using these plants has shown significant oxygen level improvements in real world situations. Having these plants in your home can increase blood oxygen levels by 1% in 10 hours. They can reduce headaches, eye irritation, asthma and other respiratory problems.

These three plants are just a few of the many plants that are considered Air Filtering Plants. NASA has identified a number of similar plants in it’s Clean Air Study — an attempt to understand natural ways to purify air in closed spaces, on earth and beyond.

Read about the other plants or watch Kamal Meattle’s talk at TED for more info.

Broken Secrets | By: Chad Upton

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Photo: Leto A (cc)

Sources: TED, Air Filtering Plants

June 4, 2010 at 5:00 am 64 comments

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