TIME Obesity

How Obese Moms May Wire Kids for Obesity

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Kids of obese moms are more likely to be obese, and the latest research suggests that influence may begin in the womb

In a report presented Tuesday at the American Diabetes Association, researchers say that children born to obese moms may be predisposed to being obese due to their womb environment.

Scientists led by a team at University of Colorado School of Medicine analyzed stem cells taken from the umbilical cords of babies born to normal weight and obese mothers. In the lab, they coaxed these stem cells to develop into muscle and fat. The resulting cells from obese mothers had 30% more fat than those from normal weight mothers, suggesting that these babies’ cells were more likely to accumulate fat.

Whether that means the infants are more likely to become obese and develop the chronic conditions associated with excessive weight gain, such as heart disease and diabetes, isn’t clear yet, but the early changes are worth investigating further as possible risk factors for childhood obesity. “The next step is to follow these offspring to see if thee is a lasting change into adulthood,” says the lead presenter, Kristen Boyle, in a statement. She and her colleagues are already studying the cells to see whether they use and store energy any differently from those obtained from normal-weight mothers, and whether those changes result in metabolic differences such as inflammation or insulin resistance, which can precede heart disease and diabetes.

TIME medicine

See What Diseases You’re at Risk For Based on Your Birth Month

Researchers say there are sound and possibly scientific reasons to pay more attention to the month you were born in

“Whenever I present our work, I have to allow for laugh time,” says Nicholas Tatonetti, a scientist at Columbia University Medical Center.

Not a common practice for a serious academic researcher, but then again, Tatonetti studies something quite unfamiliar to those more accustomed to the intricacies of biological and molecular explanations for the human condition. “I study the month people were born in, to see if that changes their risk of developing disease in their entire lifetime,” he says. And in his latest report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, those results are pretty eye-opening.

By delving into the extensive database of patients seen at Columbia Medical Center over 14 years, beginning in 2000, Tatonetti and his team did a first-of-its kind look at whether birth month has anything to do with disease risk. Some previous studies have looked at the potential connection, but these investigations focused on individual conditions such as asthma and brain conditions, and therefore might have suffered from disease- or population-biases.

Tatonetti found that among 1,688 conditions for which patients were seen, 55 showed a strong relationship with birth month that could not be explained by chance alone. These included 20 conditions that were already described from previous, smaller studies, and 16 completely new associations. These included a surprisingly large number of heart-related diseases.

“Not only was it surprising that nobody had studied the relationship between heart disease and birth month yet, but we found not just one association but several with the same trend of increased lifetime risk of heart disease for those born in late winter and early spring,” says Tatonetti. “That’s suggestive of a mechanistic relationship, although we don’t yet know what that is.”

Earlier studies, for example, had connected birth in late summer or fall with asthma or respiratory problems, since mothers pregnant during the winter may be more likely to catch the flu or other respiratory infections. Tatonetti’s group is collaborating with 40 other institutions around the world to standardize patient electronic health records so the anonymized data can be studied for possible explanations of the birth month trends. The database will include environmental data as well, since it’s well known that environmental exposures — to things such as pollution, second hand smoke and more — can influence expectant moms and their developing fetuses.

He prefers to call what he does a study of seasonality rather than birth month. “Astrology puts a lot of stock on what month you were born in, and that really hurts this type of research, since there isn’t much scientific evidence to support that,” says Tatonetti. “But seasonality is a proxy for variable environmental factors present at the time of your birth, and we are learning more about the very large role that environment, and gene-environment interactions, plays in our development. This could be one way to start mapping out those gene-environment effects.”

To see which conditions you might be more vulnerable to developing, find your birth month in the wheel below.

Dr. Nick Tatonetti, Columbia University Medical Center

Read next: How Your Cat Could Make You Mentally Ill

TIME medicine

Memory Loss Not Caused By Cholesterol Drugs After All

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Some cholesterol-lowering drugs, called statins, could contribute to short-term memory lapses, but new data suggest that risk may not be real

About 25 million Americans currently take a drug to lower their cholesterol, so it’s no surprise that the most popular among them, statins, consistently top the list of best-selling prescription medications. But recent studies hinting that they were associated with memory problems have led some patients to shy away from them.

According to the latest data, though, there’s probably no need to avoid taking statins for this reason if a doctor prescribes them to protect against heart disease. In a report published in JAMA Internal Medicine, Dr. Brian Strom, chancellor of biomedical and health sciences at Rutgers University, and his colleagues say that while statins may contribute to short term memory issues, these tend to resolve over the long term and that such memory problems are not unique to the statins.

MORE: Who Really Needs To Take a Statin?

Previous studies had reported a possible connection between statins and memory loss, but those studies compared statin users to non-statin users. In his study, Strom included another group for comparison: people prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs that were not statins. Among a large group of 482,543 statin users, 26,484 users of non-statin cholesterol-lowering drugs and 482,543 controls who weren’t on any drugs, Strom and his team found that both cholesterol-lowering drug groups showed short-term memory problems in the first 30 days after they started taking their medications compared to the controls. For statin users, the increased odds of memory lapses was four-fold, and for the other drug group, nearly the same, at 3.6-fold.

Because both groups taking drugs showed similar memory effects, Strom says that it’s unlikely that statins are uniquely to blame for the short-term cognitive issues. And because statins and the other cholesterol-lowering drugs work in vastly different ways, it’s also unlikely that the effect can be blamed on the drugs themselves. Strom proposes that the groups’ short-term memory issues, which were recorded by doctors in the patients’ medical records, is more likely the result of these patients simply being more aware of and sensitive to any changes in their functions after starting a new medication. In other words, people may have been having memory issues before they started their medications, and the problems might have occurred if they had not started taking them, but the symptoms became more noticeable because the users were more attuned to changes after filling their new prescription. The control group might have been experiencing similar memory issues but didn’t report them to their doctors; therefore, the issues might not have been recorded. “People on new medicines are more likely to notice a problem, more likely to blame problems on the drug and more likely to go back to the doctor and report these problems,” Strom says.

MORE: Statins May Seriously Increase Diabetes Risk

While it’s possible that the drug-taking group is also at higher risk to begin with for memory-related problems, since they have more potentially vessel-blocking cholesterol in their blood that can also impede blood flow to the brain, the results remained strong even after the group adjusted for risk factors such as diabetes and other blood-related conditions.

What’s more, Strom and his team also looked at users who might have been prescribed statins, stopped taking them because they were uncomfortable with the short-term memory issues, and then were prescribed them again at a later time. These patients did not report memory problems at the same rate, suggesting that the effect has less to do with the drugs themselves than with a hyper-vigilance for any changes associated with new drugs—the second time around, the drugs weren’t novel any more. “If the memory problems were real, we would expect that those who took statins for the second time would develop memory problems again,” he says. “The fact that we saw this as a problem so infrequently in this group suggests that it was more because the statins were a new drug the first time around.”

Based on the results, Strom says he informs his own patients that for some, statins may be linked to a short-term memory issue but that these tend to disappear over the long term. He also warns that even the short-term problems may not be a true effect of the drugs but rather a misinterpretation of the studies. “People should not steer away from statins because of a fear of short-term memory problems,” he says, “because they probably are not real.”

TIME medicine

Explaining ‘Epigenetics': The Health Buzzword You Need to Know

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Getting a bad genetic draw from mom and dad is the most common way to inherit risks for diseases like cancer and heart problems. But there’s another way to pick up genetic changes that researchers are starting to pay attention to

Most of us get an introduction—whether we remember it or not—to genetics in our first biology class. We learn that genes, made up of DNA, are the molecular blueprint that make us who we are, and that this DNA code is a unique combination of instructions from both our mothers and fathers. Which genes we pick up from mom and which from dad is somewhat random, and that genetic roulette in turn determines, at least in part, which disease we’re most at risk for developing during our lifetimes.

But in recent decades scientists have learned that DNA alone is not destiny, and they’ve been focusing on another layer of genetic inheritance called epigenetics, which also play a role in determining what our DNA blueprints look like (more on that below). And in a new study published in the journal Cell, researchers show how it’s possible to pass on these epigenetic changes — which are not permanent alterations to the genome — created by exposure to things like tobacco, environmental pollutants and diet, as well as lifestyle behaviors.

What are epigenetic changes?

Every cell in the body contains the entire complement of genes it needs to develop properly — and that includes instructing liver cells to become liver cells and bone cells to function as bone cells and so on. How each cell knows to turn on the right genes in the genome to assume its correct identity involves epigenetics. Every gene is regulated by a region called the promoter, and epigenetics involves the process of turning specific genes on or off in particular cells. The most common way of controlling this gene expression is by plunking a molecule known as a methyl group on the promoter region. Where these methyl groups end up and how many of them crowd a gene on the genome determines whether that gene is turned on or off, and if it’s turned on, how much it is expressed.

What controls epigenetic changes?

This is a question that researchers are still trying to answer, but some of the leading candidates include exposure to things like tobacco and environmental pollutants. Diet may play a role as well as things like stress.

Can these epigenetic changes be passed from parent to child?

Studies show that some epigenetic changes might be transmitted from one generation to the next, but, says Azim Surani of the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research Gurdon Institute at the University of Cambridge, and senior author of the Cell paper. “It’s still an open question to what extent that happens.”

In his latest study, Surani and his colleagues studied how egg and sperm, known as germ line cells, are formed in an embryo. They found that these cells undergo a type of epigenetic erasure, in which any methyl groups added from the mother’s egg and the father’s sperm are removed, so the growing fetus can create its own, tabula rasa egg or sperm, depending on its sex.

“I would say this is an extremely robust erasure mechanism that’s unique to the germ line cells,” says Surani. “It’s really designed to clear out the epigenetic information before transmission of the genome to the next generation, almost like it’s trying to clean out the genome and prevention transmission of so-called aberrant epigenetic information being passed on.”

But about 5% of the methyl changes aren’t wiped out, and these escapees, as Surani calls them, may explain how some epigenetic changes re-appear in the offspring of parents, even if they aren’t permanent alterations to the genome but more like external modifications to how genes are regulated — similar to a renovation of a house whose original structure and layout remain the same.

Are there benefits or risks of having epigenetic changes passed from parent to child?

Surani’s results raise interesting questions about why epigenetic changes might be “inherited” in the first place.

Of the changes that they documented in the small sample of human embryos they studied, as well as among mice, they found that a certain core of genes may preferentially escape from the epigenetic cleansing. These genes are predominantly involved in nerve and brain cell function, as well as metabolic conditions, so they could preferentially impact conditions such as obesity and schizophrenia.

More work needs to be done before the exact role of epigenetics, and de-methylation, might play in these conditions, but the findings do point to an other potential contributor to these conditions, and possibly some helpful therapies.

But any epigenetic-based treatments are still a ways off, Surani says, since there is still a lot about methylation and de-methylation that remains a mystery. In addition to orchestrating which genes turn on and off and when, for example, methyl groups also have a very critical role in sitting on so-called jumping genes, or the dark matter of the genome. These are portions of DNA that are more mobile when the twisted strands of DNA open and close when cells divide. As they move around, these elements can cause mutations if they land in important genes and disrupt their function. Of the 5% of methylation that doesn’t get erased, most of it, says Surani, involves this dark matter of the genome.

So is that good or bad?

It may be that having some epigenetic changes escape from one generation to the next is a good thing, a defense mechanism of sorts, although what the right balance is for how much of the methyl groups should remain isn’t clear yet. “Future studies will start to illuminate some of the questions that these results raise now,” says Surani.

TIME Obesity

Don’t Blame Your Job For Weight Gain

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Job stress can lead to obesity, right? The latest data says maybe not

There’s a good amount of data linking people who report high work stress and obesity. But how much of that relationship is due to stress triggering normal-weight people to gain weight, and can lowering job strain also help workers to slim down?

To find out, a group of European researchers analyzed eight studies involving more than 60,000 workers who reported on-job stress and allowed scientists to record their weight over time. Reporting in the International Journal of Obesity, they say that a high-stress job can’t be blamed for the extra pounds.

They found no link in the studies between reported job stress and weight gain or obesity, and to cement that finding, they also reported that people who reported a drop in job strain didn’t report a corresponding drop in weight.

The one group that did put on pounds, however, were workers who went from a relatively stress-free working situation into one where they experienced more job-related anxiety. That suggests that the change in stress levels might be more important to weight gain than a consistent level of stress.

While the authors admit that the way people defined job stress in the eight studies varied, and therefore make the findings a little harder to interpret, the large number of workers involved and the overall lack of association between stress levels and weight hints that perhaps work worries aren’t the weight-gaining culprit that many of us like to think they are. Still, they say that the connection is worth studying more, since it’s not clear whether people under stress tend to eat more or less in response to their anxiety, and addressing psychological well being in the work environment is a good way to improve overall health too.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Amy’s Kitchen Is Starting a Vegetarian Drive-Thru

Amy's kitchen drive thru veggie burger
Courtesy of Amy's Kitchen Amy's Drive Thru veggie burger

The frozen food company will launch a fast food drive-thru this summer

Amy’s Kitchen wants to be more than just a frozen food company. In late June, it will launch its first drive-thru restaurant in Rohnert Park, Cal. to provide the same freshly prepared vegetarian foods the company is known for—but fast.

“Everybody said we couldn’t do it,” says Andy Berliner who co-founded the company with his wife Rachel (and named it after their daughter). Prepping and cooking an entirely vegetarian menu of burgers, pizzas and tortillas in under three minutes is a tall task, after all. “But we set up a test kitchen in our warehouse space and we did it. We learned how to do it from scratch very quickly.”

MORE: Transforming the Meaning of Fast Food

The company sources many of its ingredients for its packaged frozen food products from organic farmers, and that mission will continue with its drive thru. Drive-thru diners will have a choice of ordering meals that are gluten-free or dairy-free, and the pizza comes in either a rice or wheat crust. Amy’s Kitchen has 50 people working with farmers to source raw ingredients, from the potatoes in the French fries to the grains in the burgers, up to 18 months ahead of time. Keeping up with the demands of a drive thru stresses the already challenging system even further, says Berliner. “The weather doesn’t always cooperate, so one of the most challenging parts of our business right now is the agricultural end,” he says.

Still, every meal is hand made, which means the restaurant’s kitchen is bigger than most fast-food chains. The vegetarian burgers, for example, will be grilled on site and the buns toasted to order. And for all that manual labor, menu prices at Amy’s Drive-Thru are on par with more popular carnivorous food chains. Burgers will cost $2.99 (doubles will be $4.29), while cheese pizzas will go for $5.89, burritos for $4.69 and salads from $3.99 to $7.99.

MORE: Here Is What’s Going On With All Your Favorite Fast Food Chains

The restaurant’s fries will come from an undisclosed California farm that was selected for its spuds that fry well in sunflower oil. Amy’s grew thousands of pounds of potatoes to find just the right variety for its fries; the leftovers that didn’t make the cut—still tasty, just not great for frying—will be used in the company’s frozen food products.

Such efficient use of resources is a hallmark of Amy’s. The new drive-thru, near the company’s Petaluma headquarters, is built on the site of an old barn; its wood was shipped to the company’s Idaho plant for re-use there. Nearly all of the drive-thru’s wood-themed furniture is made from lumber off-cuts or discarded pieces, and the small amount of new wood is Forest Stewardship certified. Metal came from local scrap shops, and leftover pieces were used to make smaller items like trash cans. Solar panels blanket the drive-thru roof, and the restaurant will collect and reuse rainwater. All of the packaging is printed with non-GMO ink.

MORE: Finally, Some Good News About Kids and Fast Food

With the recent announcements that major food chains like McDonald’s and Chipotle are phasing out the use of human antibiotics in their meats, and the decisions by Taco Bell and Pizza Hut to stop using artificial ingredients in their foods, the push for healthier, unadulterated food is gaining ground. “Consumers of all ages, but particularly millennials, are aware that what they eat affects their health, their wellbeing and how they feel,” Berliner says. “We’ve just reached a tipping point in a whole new level of interest in eating better.”


TIME medicine

Health Experts Reveal How Much Standing At Work You Should Actually Be Doing

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The UK has developed the first set of health recommendations about sitting down at work

By now, the advice from health experts is clear: we should all sit less. That’s different from their advice to exercise more, because recent research shows that even regular exercise may not make much of a difference if you spend the rest of the day planted on a chair.

Now, the UK government’s Public Health England and a community advocacy group, Active Working CIC, have combed through the data on sitting and developed the first set of recommendations to let people know exactly how much time they should spend standing each day.

MORE: Sitting Is Killing You

According to the recommendation, written by health experts and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, people should aim to stand at least two hours a day during working hours. This doesn’t have to be all at once, but can be broken up into small periods of standing, pacing, fidgeting or walking—anything but sitting still.

It’s merely a recommendation, not a health mandate, the authors stress, and they don’t even suggest it as guidance that doctors should use to prescribe specific amounts of non-sitting behavior a day. But getting people to think about how much time they spend on their seats and how little time they spend on their feet is the point, the authors say. According to the data cited in the paper, an office worker spends up to 75% of his or her day sitting, and more than half of that comes in long episodes of nearly inert sedentariness lasting 30 minutes or more. Sedentary behavior is linked to a higher risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease. “This is an initial guidance, which we do expect to have to evolve with time,” says John Buckley, from the Institute of Medicine at the University of Chester and lead author of the paper in a statement. “As we get more evidence we will hopefully gain more precision.”

MORE: Sitting Can Increase Your Risk of Cancer By Up to 66%

Standing for at least two hours a day is just a first step; the recommendation encourages a standing goal of four working hours a day, roughly half of your working life. Even if you can’t leave your desk long enough to take a walk, trips to the break room or restroom count—as does anything that breaks up a long stretch of time in a chair.

Buckley and his group are already working on gathering more scientific data to refine the recommendation and help employers, workers and doctors get a better handle on how much non-sitting is needed to improve health. The researchers are studying a Virgin Media call center in Sheffield in the UK, where employees are given a choice of a sit-stand desk; the scientists hope to learn more about switching up working positions can impact health, as well as productivity and performance.

MORE: Sitting At Your Desk Is Killing You. Here’s What It Costs To Stop the Destruction

“This is so new, so we’re very excited about seeing whether some of our theories that we’re testing will become clearer,” he says. And hopefully by then, more of the world will be standing when they read the results.

TIME medicine

Go to Sleep: It May Be the Best Way to Avoid Getting Alzheimer’s

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Poor sleep may be contributing to the buildup of the brain plaques that drive the disease

Doctors studying Alzheimer’s disease have known for a while now that their patients are poor sleepers. But does the disease result in disrupted sleep, or do unhealthy sleep habits contribute to the disease?

Reporting in Nature Neuroscience, researchers led by Matthew Walker at the University of California, Berkeley, describe for the first time a unique pattern of sleep brain waves that seems to be linked to a higher risk of building up the brain proteins that can lead to impaired memory.

When the team studied 26 cognitively normal older adults, they found that higher amounts of amyloid, the protein responsible for the hallmark plaques found in Alzheimer’s disease, were linked with more disrupted deep sleep patterns. More importantly, the higher amount of amyloid and the disturbed sleep were also associated with worse performance on simple paired-word memory tests, which the researchers gave the volunteers both before and after a night’s sleep.

MORE: Many Doctors Don’t Tell Patients They Have Alzheimer’s

“It wasn’t just all of deep sleep that was disrupted but a very specific electrical signature deficit that we found,” says Walker. “It’s very particular and very unique, so my hope is that it’s so specific that it may really offer quite a high degree of sensitivity and specificity for the changes we see associated with Alzheimer’s disease.”

He stresses that in the current study, all of the volunteers were cognitively normal, and that the researchers did not follow them to determine if they eventually developed mild cognitive impairment—which often precedes Alzheimer’s—or Alzheimer’s itself. But the fact that the build-up of amyloid was connected to worse performance on the memory task highlights how early the disease process of Alzheimer’s may start: well before people experience any change in their intellectual skills. And one of the factors that may contribute to the accumulation of amyloid may be poor sleep. “Sleep is a great early warning beacon, a distress call that we can latch onto, to potentially alert us to the beginnings of Alzheimer’s,” says Walker.

MORE: New Research on Understanding Alzheimer’s

“What we think we found is a new way that disruption of sleep contributes to the pathology that can disrupt the cementing of memories,” says Bryce Mander, a post doctoral fellow at University of California, Berkeley, and lead author of the paper. The findings also resolve one of the puzzling questions in Alzheimer’s disease: why buildup of amyloid starts initially in areas of the brain that don’t have anything to do with memory. Mander and Walker’s team found that the protein does deposit, however, in areas of the brain that generate the wave patterns of deep sleep.

The relationship between sleep and amyloid is likely a two-way street, they say, in which the more amyloid that builds up, the worse the sleep, and the more disrupted the sleep, the more amyloid that gets deposited. Other studies have shown that deep sleep can cement memories as well as clear away amyloid. Not getting enough deep sleep, then, perpetuates the poor memory cycle.

What that means is that it might be possible to slow down some of the damage done by piled-up amyloid. If poor, disrupted sleep is promoting buildup, then getting more deep sleep might be able to reduce the protein burden in the brain. “If my parents and friends in their 50s, 60s or 70s ask me if they should pay attention to sleep and prioritize sleep in terms of their health risk of developing Alzheimer’s, I would say at this stage very much, ‘yes,’” says Walker. “It’s very clear now that sleep is an under-appreciated factor contributing to cognitive decline later in life, and it seems, to the pathology behind Alzheimer’s.”

TIME Brain

Scientists Figure Out How to Retrieve ‘Lost’ Memories

The latest research shows memories “lost” to amnesia aren’t gone forever; they’re just not accessible

Mice certainly aren’t men, but they can teach us a lot about memories. And in the latest experiments, mice are helping to resolve a long-simmering debate about what happens to “lost” memories. Are they wiped out permanently, or are they still there, but just somehow out of reach?

Researchers in the lab of Susumu Tonegawa at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT conducted a series of studies using the latest light-based brain tracking techniques to show that memories in certain forms of amnesia aren’t erased, but remain intact and potentially retrievable. Their findings, published Thursday in the journal Science, are based on experiments in mice, but they could have real implications for humans, too.

MORE: How to Improve Your Memory Skills

The mice were trained to remember getting a shock in a certain chamber. The scientists then used protein labels to tag the specific cells in the hippocampus of the brain that were activated and responsible for making that memory. According to Tomas Ryan, lead author of the paper, anywhere from 3% to 5% of the cells in a portion of the hippocampus are recruited to form a memory. When these mice were then placed into the same room again, they froze, recalling and anticipating the shock. But when the animals were given a drug that interrupts the memory-making process immediately after the shock, they no longer remembered the shock and didn’t freeze if placed in the room.

Then the researchers tried to retrieve the lost memory by simply activating just the circuit of cells that were responsible for the memory — without the shock. They did this using a technique called optogenetics, in which laser lights stimulate the tagged cells in the hippocampus. When the circuit was activated, the animals froze again, even if they were in a neutral room that they didn’t associate with the shock. The results suggest, says Ryan, that “this type of amnesia in general is due to inaccessibility of a memory; the memory itself is still present.”

MORE: You Asked: Do Brain Games Really Improve Memory?

While the studies were done in mice, the findings could have implications for memory loss in humans. Specifically, the work suggests that memories lost after a traumatic brain injury such as a concussion, car accident or even a stressful event or some forms of dementia may be retrievable. How successful that may be depends on how soon after the memory-robbing event the recall occurs; it’s more likely to happen, says Ryan, soon after the traumatic event and before the memory is completely stored in the brain. But if the brain is severely damaged, then it’s possible that the process of storing the memory itself is compromised, and the memory won’t be retrievable.

Still, there may be conditions where being able to find lost memories is critical, and these results indicate that those memories are still there, it’s a just a matter of finding the best way to retrieve them, which hasn’t been worked out yet for people.

TIME medicine

How an Italian Boy Survived 42 Minutes Underwater

It’s unusual, but not impossible to survive that long while submerged

An Italian boy who fell into a canal in Milan is the latest “miracle” drowning survivor. The 14 year old was jumping off a bridge with friends into 6.5-foot water when he failed to come up. It took rescuers creating a human chain and 42 minutes before they could find him in the murky water and bring him back up; he had no pulse and was unconscious.

After a month in the hospital, where doctors attached him to a machine that took over for his lungs and heart to keep his body oxygenated, he woke, apparently alert and able to talk to his parents (and ask about his favorite professional soccer team).

But how did he survive underwater for nearly an hour?

MORE: How the Teen Stowaway Survived His Trans-Pacific Flight in a Wheel Well

Michael isn’t the first to recover from being underwater for so long; there’s a report of a person surviving after being submerged for an hour. Other young boys have recovered after going under in frigid lakes, ponds and oceans for anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes.

Experts say it’s no accident that most of the survivors are young; the automatic reflex to drop the heart rate and divert oxygen to the brain, especially in cold water, is more robust in younger children than in adults. Keeping the brain bathed in oxygen is critical; after about four minutes without oxygen, brain damage can occur.

And the colder the water, the more likely the brain is to be sustained in this way; frigid temperatures help the body divert its resources primarily to the brain. The canal into which Michael fell was about 59 degrees.

Doctors say there is no way to fully explain how the boy survived, much less how his brain remained relatively intact. But Michael’s case, and those of the other survivors, stress how important it is to administer emergency CPR as soon as possible after a drowning.

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