TIME public health

Only 40% of Ebola Donations Have Reached the Affected Countries

88622340
Image Source—Getty Images/Image Source

The latest study shows the gap between what the world pledged to give, and what the affected countries really got

Of all the money pledged by well-intentioned individuals, organizations and nations, only 40% has actually reached the countries hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic in West Africa—Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The new calculation comes from Karen Grepin, an assistant professor of global health policy at New York University, in a report published in the BMJ. Using data collected by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Grepin looked back and found that the World Health Organization’s requests for aid changed constantly since the Ministry of Health in Guinea first reported the 49 cases and 29 deaths that launched the current Ebola outbreak. From an early ask of $4.8 million in April, the agency, along with the governments of the three affected nations, revised that need to $71 million in August and to $600 million soon afterward to contain the epidemic. By the end of 2014, the UN was requesting $1.5 billion.

MORE: The First Ever Large-Scale Ebola Vaccine Trial Begins in Liberia

The global community responded, pledging nearly $2.9 billion by December. Only $1.09 billion of this support has actually been paid, however, and Ebola-stricken countries only began receiving some of this aid in October, a full seven months after the first cases were reported. The U.S. has been the largest donor, pledging more than $900 million, of which 95% has been funded, followed by the U.K., with $307 million, and the World Bank at $230 million. (Only half of the World Bank pledge has been funded.)

MORE: TIME Person of the Year: The Ebola Fighters

The delay in dispatching resources to West Africa may have contributed to the spread of the virus and further increases in the financial needs of those countries, whose health systems have been strained by the volume of Ebola cases, Grepin argues. “We need a mechanism to enable more rapid disbursement of funds to fight public health threats such as Ebola, such as a dedicated fund that could be rapidly deployed for any emergency,” she writes. “Although quantity of funding is important, so is the quality of the response.” Learning from what worked to support the nations affected by Ebola, and which strategies proved too inefficient, could help to streamline and optimize efforts for the next public health threat.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

When Exercise Does More Harm than Good

Runner Exercise
Getty Images

A new study shows that running too much can be just as unhealthy as not being active at all

Americans as a whole don’t exercise enough—at least that’s what the latest studies show—and so the message is clear: get more active, take walks, Let’s Move! Basically anything is better than sitting on the couch. But how much exercise is enough? That’s a hotly debated question for which experts still don’t have a satisfactory answer. But given that most of us are starting from a sedentary position, the assumption has long been the more the better.

But in a report published Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology researchers from Denmark say that people who push their bodies too hard may essentially undo the benefit of exercise. Those who ran at a fast pace more than four hours a week for more than three days a week had about the same risk of dying during the study’s 12-year follow up as those who were sedentary and hardly exercised at all. The link held even after the researchers accounted for potentially confounding factors such as age, sex, whether the participants had a history of heart disease or diabetes, or whether they smoked and drank alcohol.

MORE This Is How Much Exercise Experts Really Think You Need

In fact, those with the lowest risk of dying during the study period were people who ran less than three times a week for one to 2.4 hours, at a slow to moderate pace. Even people who ran slightly more, for 2.5 hours to four hours a week at an average pace less than three times a week, showed slightly higher mortality risk, at 66%, something that came as a surprise to the authors.

“I would expect the light joggers to have really low risk,” says Jacob Marott, a researcher at the Copenhagen City Heart Study at Frederiksberg Hospital and one of the study’s co-authors. “But regarding the moderate joggers, I was a little surprised they didn’t have a bigger benefit from jogging than the light joggers. It made me think that if it’s really true, then exercise recommendations should take that into account.”

MORE It Doesn’t Matter How Much You Exercise If You Also Do This

What Marott and his team found was that both too little running and too much running are linked to higher rates of death. The most intense runners ended up with a risk of dying that was similar to that of those who opted to stay on the couch. Somewhere in between is the Goldilocks amount that’s just right to maintain heart health, burn off excess calories and keep blood sugar levels under control. And according to his results, that sweet spot is closer to the ‘less’ side of the curve than the ‘more’ side.

That dovetails with the mounting research that so-called micro-workouts—high intensity but brief workouts that could be as short at 1 minute, according to another recent paper—may be better for the body than long and continuous workouts.

That still means that some exercise is better than no exercise, but scientists may be getting more sophisticated about understanding that more isn’t always better, and that there may be a tipping point at which the harms of running start to outweighed its benefits.

Those negative effects might include things like changes in the structure and function of the heart and its vessels; previous studies showed that marathoners and long distance cyclists, for example, tend to be at higher risk of developing abnormal heart rhythms, and may be more vulnerable to enlarged hearts, which are less efficient at pumping blood and delivering oxygen and removing waste than normal-sized organs.

MORE Short Bursts of Exercise Are Better Than Exercising Nonstop

Marott acknowledges that it’s also possible that some other behaviors or factors common to avid runners, such as their exposure to the sun, which can increase their risk of skin cancer, might be explaining their higher risk of dying during the study. Other studies will have to investigate whether that’s the case, but in the meantime, Marott says “if you want to do something good for yourself, you don’t have to be extreme. Jogging one to four hours a week for no more than three days a week at a slow to moderate pace is actually achievable. And that’s a positive take-home message.”

Read next: 7 Reasons Why You’re Working Out and Still Not Losing Weight

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Reproductive Health

Beauty Products May Trigger Early Menopause

Pefume bottle
Bogdan Kosanovic—Getty Images

Biology determines when women hit menopause, but exposure to some common household products and pollutants may drive that timing even earlier

Menopause, like puberty, is a reproductive rite of passage, and marks for women the end of their fertility and child-bearing years. But studies show that it’s not just age that can determine when menopause starts — exposure to certain chemicals and pollutants can also play a role.

In one of the most comprehensive looks at possible menopause-disruptors to date, researchers led by Dr. Amber Cooper, from the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University in St. Louis, report in the journal PLOS ONE that such exposure can push menopause up by as much as four years.

Cooper and her team studied 31,575 women enrolled in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the government. Every two years, the women were surveyed about various health and nutrition issues, including whether they had begun menopause. At some point between 1999 and 2008, each of the participants also provided at least one blood and urine sample which the scientists analyzed for the presence of various chemicals, including dioxins contained in pesticides, phthalates found in fragrance, plastics, cosmetics and hair spray, plant-derived estrogens, and polychlorinated biphenyls, among others. The researchers found that women with the highest levels of 111 of these chemicals on average had menopause anywhere from 1.9 years to 3.8 years earlier than those with lower levels.

How could Cooper be so certain that the exposure was linked to the early menopause? She and her team conducted other analyses, including one of women closer to menopause, between the ages of 45 and 55 years, and found a similar association. They also found that it wasn’t just exposure, but increasing exposure over time that was also connected to problems with ovarian function, another potential consequence of the chemicals on reproductive health. And when they looked at all of the women in the survey from age 30 years on, those with the highest blood and urine measurements were six times more likely to be menopausal than women with lower readings.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” says Cooper, who stresses that the results don’t prove that exposure to these chemicals causes early menopause, only that the two might be connected somehow. ”We need more longitudinal studies to better understand each of these chemicals.”

Previous studies have linked certain chemicals to disruptions in the reproductive hormones, including estrogen, which can then have unhealthy effects on the heart and bone.

What’s concerning is the fact that with the majority of the chemicals, there isn’t much women can do to reduce their exposure. That’s because each of the compounds have different half lives, or time in which they can linger before completely breaking down. While PCBs have been banned in the U.S. since the 1970s, for example, their long half lives mean people may still be exposed to them in the soil, air and water, and in through animals or other things that have contact with them. Women can try to reduce their exposure to some of these chemicals by using products that do not contain synthetic fragrance—which is listed as “fragrance” or “parfum” and which contains phthalates. Women can also opt for organic beauty products, which would not contain pesticide residues and a number of other chemicals.

Cooper advises her patients to be more aware of their potential sources of exposure, including plastics in food packaging, and perhaps try microwaving only in glass and paper containers. “My goal is not to scare women, but raise awareness and promote future research,” she says.

TIME heart

High Cholesterol Can Be Dangerous Even If You’re Young

182149101
Lisa Bodvar—Getty Images

High cholesterol levels in older age are a familiar risk factor for heart attacks, and doctors warn that the danger can start much sooner for many. But how soon should you start worrying?

Most of us know that too much cholesterol in the blood can bring on dangerous clots that lead to heart attacks and stroke. And recent studies show that the build up of these fats in the blood vessels doesn’t happen overnight — it takes years of gradual deposits to narrow a vessel. So in 2013, when heart experts expanded the criteria for who over the age of 60 should consider taking cholesterol-lowering statins, Michael Pencina, a professor of biostatistics at the Duke University Clinical Research Institute, began wondering about those, including himself, who were younger. How long should they wait before taking the drugs?

In the latest study of healthy people who were followed for about 15 years on average, researchers report Monday in the journal Circulation that having even mildly elevated cholesterol levels can increase risk of having later heart problems by as much as 40%.

The researchers argue that having high cholesterol for many years—even if it starts when you’re young—should be a new risk factor that doctors and patients consider when discussing their risk of heart disease.

Even people with moderately high levels of lipids, who might not qualify for treatment for high cholesterol levels, could be at higher risk of heart attacks later in life simply because they harbor these elevated lipid levels for a long period of time.

MORE: Should I Take a Statin? What You Need to Know About the New Cholesterol Guidelines

Among a group of 1,478 people aged 55 years old from the Framingham Heart Study’s Offspring Cohort, those who had higher cholesterol levels for 11 to 20 years (beginning when they were about 35 years old) had a 16.5% higher risk of having a heart attack about 15 years later, compared to a 4.4% risk for those whose cholesterol levels never veered beyond the normal range during middle age. That’s an almost fourfold greater risk, and one that Pencina and his colleagues argue might be reason enough to be more aggressive in discussing ways to lower cholesterol with these patients so they can reduce their risk of heart trouble later on.

MORE: New Cholesterol Guidelines May Put 13 Million More on Statin Drugs

“We identified a patient population whom the guidelines might miss,” he says. It’s another dimension of cardiovascular health that needs to be looked at, and yes, I would say that it should be considered a risk factor.” In the study, the researchers considered LDL levels above 130 mg/dL as elevated, which falls into line with previous professional heart organization criteria.

But he stresses that this factor won’t fall easily into a threshold below which patients won’t need to worry about their cholesterol and above which they will. “There are so many components like family history and other factors that go into the decision of what kind of intervention people may need, such as lifestyle, diet or pharmacologic,” says Pencina. “But if you are measuring your cholesterol, even if it’s fine at an early age, it lets you build that history.”

TIME Reproductive Health

Birth Control Pill Risks May Now Include Brain Cancer

128897700
Raymond Forbes—Getty Images/age fotostock RM

Certain forms of birth control may promote growth of a rare brain tumor

Taking any drug is a matter of weighing the benefits and risks, and when it comes to birth control, women may now have one more factor to consider.

Dr. David Gaist, a neurologist at Odense University Hospital and the University of Southern Denmark, and his colleagues found that women taking hormonal contraceptives — those containing estrogen, progestin or a combination of both — showed higher rates of a rare brain tumor known as glioma. Their results, published Thursday in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, raise questions about the connection between oral contraceptives and brain cancer, but shouldn’t yet be interpreted as a reason to stop taking birth control, says Gaist.

MORE: This Contraceptive Is Linked to a Higher Risk of HIV

Using data from Denmark’s national registries of health records, cancer cases and prescriptions, Gaist zeroed in on the women aged 15 years to 49 years diagnosed with glioma, and then analyzed whether they were prescribed contraceptives and for how long. Overall, women who had used hormonal contraceptives at any point in their lives showed a 50% higher risk of developing the brain tumors compared to those who had not used them. And women who used the birth control for more than five years nearly doubled their risk of the cancer. Still, Gaist says, since gliomas are rare, even a doubling of a rare event is still a small risk.

MORE: Which Birth Control Works Best? (Hint: It’s Not the Pill)

“If you look at women in Denmark aged 15 to 49, about five in 100,000 experience that terrible diagnosis in a year, and that figure includes women on hormonal contraceptives, so it’s a very rare event.”

But he admits he was “a bit surprised” by the results, since previous studies suggested that the sex hormones estrogen and progestin might be protective against the gliomas. But those studies primarily included women past menopause, who self-reported their use of contraceptives. In his study, the women were at the age where they would be taking contraceptives, and the data came directly from medical records and registries and therefore more likely to be accurate.

MORE: Take a Look at History’s Worst Contraceptives for Women

Interestingly, Gaist found that women using progestin-only birth control showed slightly higher risk of developing gliomas. While it’s not clear why, he suspects that obesity may be playing a role. In Denmark, regulations require that doctors avoid prescribing estrogen-based contraceptives to obese women, since estrogen can increase risk of blood clots.

Dr. Santosh Kesari, director of neuro-oncology at University of California San Diego and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, notes that rates of gliomas have not spiked since the introduction of hormonal contraceptives, but agrees that the correlation deserves discussion and more study. “It’s something women should be aware about, but I don’t think there is enough evidence to say don’t use it. But the discussion about this potential risk needs to happen,” he says.

Until more research is done to tease apart how the hormones in contraceptives are influencing cells in the brain, Gaist agrees that there isn’t any reason for women to stop using such birth control methods. “With the present knowledge we have, I would still favor using contraception in eligible women,” he says. “But we need to do more research to get a better handle on the issues.”

TIME Developmental Disorders

Parents May Be Able to Lower Kids’ Autism Risk

Boy (7-9), rear view, close-up
Sean Justice—Getty Images

With the help of videos and trained therapists, parents of at-risk kids may eventually help their toddlers to avoid an autism diagnosis

Autism experts still disagree over a lot of things about the developmental disorder, but there is one idea that unites most of them — that the earlier the condition can be diagnosed, and the sooner interventions, from medications to behavioral therapies, can be tried, the more likely that child will be to develop normally.

The latest research, published Wednesday in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, pushes this idea even further by intervening with one of the youngest group of babies yet — those who are 7 months to 10 months old. Jonathan Green from the University of Manchester, in England, and his colleagues say that teaching parents to get more in tune with the signals coming from infants who are at high risk of developing autism can change their babies’ behavior and shift them toward a pattern of more normal development.

MORE: Autism Symptoms Disappeared With Behavioral Therapy in Babies

The scientists focused on a group of 54 families with at least one autistic child. About 20% of siblings of autistic children end up developing the disorder themselves, so Green and his team randomly assigned parents of these babies to either receive a new parent-training program or to get no additional intervention at all. While previous studies have also looked at such parenting programs, most have focused on toddlers once they have been diagnosed with autism, which generally occurs around age 3.

During the training sessions, which occurred over five months, a therapist visited the home and videotaped parents interacting with their infants and then analyzed the behaviors. Rather than assuming the babies would make sounds or fidget if they wanted something, parents were asked to pay close attention to the signs their infants were providing, and find ways to recognize and respond to them so the babies would be more likely to engage and interact with their parents rather than turn away. After at least six such sessions, the infants of parents who did this showed improvements in their ability to pay attention, as well as better flexibility in shifting their attention from one object to another. Presumably the plasticity, or flexibility of the developing brain, especially in the first year of life, is making it possible to redirect some of the processes that may be veering toward autism.

MORE: How Brain Waves May Be the Clue to Diagnosing Autism

“Taken together, we think all of these improvements across different areas of measurement suggest that we improved risk markers for autism at this age,” Green said during a news conference discussing the findings. “Therefore logically we can say that we potentially lowered the risk of later autism development in these infants. At this point we think the results are promising.”

He stressed that the babies have not been tested yet for autism, which will occur when they are around 3 years old, but that the changes he and his team saw strongly suggest that the path to autism may have been interrupted, or at least suppressed in some way. “What we hope is to eventually demonstrate that by changing something critical in the environment, that we can push the organic brain-development process, the neurocognitive process, back on a typical trajectory,” says Tony Charman, a professor of psychology at King’s College London and one of the co-authors. “That’s the theoretical hope.”

MORE: Major Autism Studies Identify Dozens of Contributing Genes

The findings aren’t the first to show that intervening at such an early age with high-risk babies can potentially lower their chances of developing autism. In 2014, researchers at the University of California, Davis, tested an intensive parenting model in which parents engaged in intensive, focused play with their infants who were 6 months old, and achieved similarly encouraging results. In that study, the infants even showed brain changes that suggested their cognitive processes were normalizing to look more like those of children unaffected by autism. In Green’s study, they also saw evidence that the infants’ ability to shift attention improved after the parenting sessions to look more like those at low risk of developing autism.

MORE: Behavior Therapy Normalizes Brains of Autistic Children

Green said that the findings need to be repeated with dozens more families, but he’s encouraged by the initial success. “These parents need to have enhanced skills to deal with some of the biological vulnerability they are faced with in their children,” he said. “There are great advantages to parent-mediated interventions of this kind; once the parents are skilled up in this way, the therapy can go on 24-7 at home. It’s important to intervene throughout childhood.”

TIME Cancer

This Drink Could Protect You From Skin Cancer

112791529
Getty Images

The sun is the biggest culprit in causing skin cancer, but there’s a beverage that may thwart some of the tumor-causing effects of ultraviolet rays

You may grab a cup (or two) of coffee every morning to help you wake up and face the day, but you may also be doing your skin a favor. Researchers in a new paper released January 20 say that coffee can protect against melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Melanoma is triggered by damage to skin cells’ DNA caused by UV rays from the sun or tanning beds; these mutations prompt the cells to grow abnormally and spread to other tissues in the body, where it can be fatal. But in a report published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Erikka Loftfield from the National Cancer Institute and her colleagues found that people who drank more than four cups of coffee a day on average had a 20% lower risk of developing melanoma over 10 years.

Loftfield’s group looked at food and cancer information from more than 447,000 people enrolled in a National Institutes of Health-AARP study who answered a 124-item food questionnaire and allowed the scientists access to their medical records. Even after the team adjusted for the potential effects of age, smoking, alcohol use and family history of cancer, the connection between high coffee consumption and lower risk of melanoma remained significant. The researchers even factored in the potential effect of casual sun exposure by looking at the average July ultraviolet readings where the participants lived.

The association only held for caffeinated coffee—not for decaf—and Loftfield’s group says there’s sound biological reason for that. Coffee contains numerous compounds, including polyphenols and caffeine, that keep cancer-fighting processes that are triggered by UV light under control. The roasting process of coffee beans also releases vitamin derivatives that protect against UV damage in mice. There’s also intriguing evidence that caffeine may act as a molecular sunscreen, absorbing UV rays and therefore protecting DNA from damage.

The group says that their results need to be repeated and confirmed, and that it’s too early yet to change your coffee habits to protect yourself from skin cancer. But the findings support the idea that there might be more you can do to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays than only slathering your body in sunscreen. It’s okay to enjoy a few cups of joe (as long as it’s in the shade).

Read next: This Kind of Tea Lowers Blood Pressure Naturally

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME medicine

It Doesn’t Matter How Much You Exercise If You Also Do This

200206965-010
Simon Watson—Getty Images Sitting too much can negate the benefits of exercise

Your workouts may not mean a lot if you sit too much

Most of us know that we need to be more physically active. Only 20% of American adults get the recommend amount of physical activity—150 minutes of the moderately intense aerobic kind—each week.

But simply moving more isn’t enough, according to a new report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The benefits of exercise can be blunted if you also spend most of the rest of your day sitting.

MORE Sitting Is Killing You

Dr. David Alter, a heart expert from the University of Toronto and senior scientist at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, and his colleagues found that sitting too much—even among people who exercise regularly—led to higher rates of hospitalization, heart disease and cancer, as well as early death.

The researchers looked at 47 studies that asked people how much time they spent sitting and exercising, as well as rates of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and death from any cause. The more hours people in the studies spent sedentary—like watching TV or reclining on a couch—the higher their risk of all of these negative outcomes. Heavy sitters showed a 90% higher risk of developing diabetes than those who sat less, an 18% higher chance of dying of heart disease or cancer, and 24% greater odds of dying from any cause. These rates were the average among people who both exercised regularly and those who did not.

MORE Now There’s Another Reason Sitting Will Kill You

“What struck me, and I was quite surprised by this, was that the deleterious effects of sitting time were almost uniform across the board of total mortality, heart disease mortality, the occurrence of heart disease, the occurrence of cancer and the mortality from cancer,” says Alter. “When we see a consistent effect, that reaffirms that something real is going on.”

What’s happening, he suspects, is that the metabolic effects of sitting are overwhelming any benefits that exercise might have. Even if people exercise regularly for half an hour or an hour a day, how they spend the remainder of that day is also important to their health. Alter says that the unhealthy effects of sitting are somewhat reduced among those who are physically active—by about 15%—but they aren’t completely erased. “You can make a little bit of headway on the bad effects of sedentary time by at least doing some exercise,” he says. “But you can’t completely nullify it.”

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

The only way to do that is to sit less, and not just exercise more. For so long, the public health message has been to move more and squeeze in as much active time as possible into the day. That message is still important, he says, but it needs to change as new research on the dangers of sitting starts to emerge. “It’s time to modify the public health message,” he says. “We still need more research, but there is a signal there that it’s time to do that. We need two different strategies—one that targets exercise for 30 minutes to 60 minutes a day, and the other is to reduce sedentary behavior.”

For his patients, Alter starts by helping them realize how much of their day they spend in a chair. There’s no prescription for sitting, and no research yet to support the optimal levels for avoiding cancer or heart disease or early death. But studies have shown that standing burns twice as many calories per hour, about 140, as sitting. And burning extra calories is a good way to maintain a healthy weight, one of the key factors in preventing heart disease and some cancers.

“Little things add up to a lot,” says Alter, who says he checks emails while on a elliptical. He also recommends standing up or moving around for several minutes every half hour when you’re at your desk, and aiming to sit two to three hours less in a 12 hour day. If you can’t give up your favorite TV shows, he adds, stand during the commercials.

Read next: Why You Should Start Forcing Your Coworkers to Take a Walk With You

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME medicine

This is What Alcohol Does to Your Sleep

It’s a favored way to end a hectic day, but a drink before bed can disrupt your sleep

Having a drink before bedtime might make you fall asleep a little faster. But the sleep you get after imbibing may not be so restful, finds a new paper in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Building upon earlier research, Christian Nicholas and his colleagues at the University of Melbourne found that alcohol just before sleep can lead to poorer quality slumber.

While most people know from experience that having a drink before hitting the sack can help you feel drowsy, Nicholas and his team were interested in learning how the brain physiologically reacts to the alcohol while you’re sleeping. They had 24 (presumably eager) young adults ages 18 to 21 to spend several nights at the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences Sleep Laboratory. On one of the nights, they would be given a nightcap (orange juice and vodka) and on another night, they’d only get a placebo (orange juice with a straw dipped in vodka). They were allowed to go to bed at their normal time, but their heads were dotted with electrodes to measure their sleeping brainwave patterns on an electroencephalogram (EEG).

MORE The More Hours You Work, the More You Drink, Study Says

Not surprisingly, on the nights they drank alcohol, people showed more slow wave sleep patterns, and more so-called delta activity—a process linked to the restorative aspects of deeper sleep, when memories are firmed up, the brain’s detritus is cleared out and hard-working neurons get some much-needed replenishment.

But that wasn’t the only thing going on in their brains. At the same time, alpha wave patterns were also heightened, which doesn’t happen during normal sleep. Alpha activity tends to occur when the brain is awake but quietly resting, in metabolic break mode. Having both delta and alpha activity together therefore leads to disrupted sleep, since the alpha functions tend to offset any restorative efforts the brain neurons are trying to squeeze in.

MORE Alcohol Poisoning Kills 6 Americans a Day

In fact, such dual activity patterns are typically seen among people with chronic pain conditions and in lab-based studies where people are intentionally given electric shocks while they slept. “People tend to feel that alcohol helps them fall asleep a little quicker, and therefore people associated that with helping them sleep,” says Nicholas. “But when you actually go and look at what is happening while they sleep, the quality of that sleep isn’t good.”

In previous studies, such warring alpha-delta brain patterns during sleep have been linked to daytime drowsiness, waking up not feeling rested, and symptoms like headaches and irritability. Whether similar outcomes occur among people who drink before bed isn’t clear yet, says co-author Julia Chan, but it’s reasonable to think that they might. “When you see alpha activity alongside delta activity during sleep, it suggests there might be some kind of wakefulness influence that could compete with the restorative nature of delta sleep,” she says.

This doesn’t mean that you should avoid alcohol at night all the time; occasionally indulging in a nightcap probably won’t disrupt your sleep too much. But, “if somebody is doing this night after night after night, the effects can be cumulative, not only for alcohol use but on sleep disruption as well,” says Nicholas.

Read next: School Should Start Later So Teens Can Sleep, Doctors Urge

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Obesity

The FDA Has Approved an Implantable Device for Obesity

Overweight
Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new device that uses electricity to control hunger pangs

It’s the first new device for fighting obesity in nearly a decade and on Wednesday, it was FDA approved for Americans.

Called VBLOC, the device requires implanting a small pulse generator into the abdomen, making it less invasive than bariatric surgery. VBLOC took its manufacturer, EnteroMedics, 12 years to develop. It works in the gut like a pacemaker does in the heart, sending out pulses of electricity to the vagus nerve, which normally signals the brain when the stomach is empty or full. VBLOC stimulates this nerve, sending the message that the stomach is satisfied, which shuts down the urge to eat more.

For now, doctors set the device to trigger different levels of electrical stimulation, depending on how much support the patient needs. Eventually, EnteroMedics’ consulting chief medical officer, Dr. Scott Shikora, patients may be able to adjust the frequency and timing of the pulses themselves.

VBLOC is approved for those who are obese, with a body mass index of 35 to 45, and who have at least one other obesity-related medical conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease. Patients also have to have tried and failed at losing weight with a weight loss program.

“If you bring along a new technology that is much simpler, much lower risk and doesn’t dramatically change lifestyle like required of bariatric patients, then I suspect a pretty good number of patients out there will say ‘Sign me up, this is for me,’” says Shikora, who has been performing the more invasive operations for two decades in Boston. For now, it’s likely to be offered by reputable weight loss centers that also perform other obesity procedures in the coming year before expanding to other outlets.

The FDA based its decision on a trial conducted by EnteroMedics involving 157 patients who used the device and 76 patients who did not. The VBLOC group lost 8.5% more excess weight than the control group after a year. While the weight loss did not meet the study’s original goal of having the patients lose at least 10% of their excess weight, the agency decided that the benefits of the device in helping obese patients lose weight outweighed any potential risks, which included surgical complications, vomiting, heartburn, chest pain and problems swallowing. “Medical devices can help physicians and patients to develop comprehensive obesity treatment plans,” Dr. William Maisel, chief scientist in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health said in a statement.

The agency is asking EnteroMedics to continue studying VBLOC for five years in at least 100 patients who use the device after it reaches market. Those studies will let doctors and regulators know if stimulating the vagus nerve continuously in these patients has any adverse effects on the nerve’s other functions in communicating information from the digestive tract up to the brain.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com