TIME Exercise/Fitness

Yoga Helps Older Adults Battle Depression and Anxiety

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For many older adults, the thought of stepping into a yoga class swarming with yogis more flexible than Gumby might provoke anxiety. But the practice itself may be just the antidote the over-60 set needs, suggests a recent review of studies about relaxation exercises. Those who did yoga and other calming activities saw greater reductions in their anxiety and depression than people who didn’t.

The body of literature on yoga’s relaxation benefits spans all kinds of people, but the authors thought adults aged 60 and older deserved their own analysis. Up to 40% of older adults report anxiety, they note, and anywhere from 15-20% of the elderly experience depression. So in the review published in the journal Aging & Mental Health, researchers scrutinized 15 studies—12 of them randomized controlled trials—from the past two decades that looked at different methods of relaxation. They gauged the effectiveness of six techniques: yoga, listening to music, tensing and relaxing different groups of muscles, massage therapy and stress management training.

MORE: Is Bikram Yoga Safe?

The most effective ways to alleviate depression were yoga, the music intervention and the muscle tensing and relaxing exercise—called PMRT, for progressive muscle relaxation training. The music and yoga interventions were the best for anxiety.

Yoga had the strongest staying power. Positive effects from the stretching, breathing and meditation exercises stuck around six months later in older adults. “It could help counterbalance the negative effects of ageing, improve physical functioning, postpone disability, decrease morbidity and mortality, stimulate the mind, and increase hope, reducing the risk of anxiety and depression,” the study authors write.

MORE: 15 Ways Exercise Makes You Look and Feel Younger

And good vibes from PMRT lasted 14 weeks after the intervention ended. “It is believed that the PMRT has a tranquilising effect, triggers a sense of peacefulness, helps participants retreat mentally from their problem and curtails negative thoughts, reducing depressive symptoms,” the authors write.

The most effective intervention, of course, is the one you enjoy doing—and these results suggest that it’s never too late to find your favorite way to unwind.

 

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Should You Drink Green Juice?

5/5 experts say yes.

The tally is in, and green juice is a go, say all five of our experts.

A store-bought, veggie-heavy green juice can contain 36% of your daily recommended potassium and 20% of daily vitamin A, with 12 grams of natural sugar, no fat and 4 grams of protein. Juicing your own fresh glass will likely net even more nutrients.

“Veggie juice is very healthy,” says Barry Popkin, PhD, professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health. And way healthier, he says, than fruity concoctions like smoothies, which Popkin recently came down against in this very series. The main concern about juicing and blending—that pulverizing produce lets sugar rush into your bloodstream faster without fiber—isn’t a big issue with juice made from vegetables. “It is low in sugar, so quite different,” Popkin says.

That’s assuming your green juice is getting most of its color from vegetables, not fruit juice plus a pinch of kale, says Dr. Lydia Bazzano, a physician and director of the Center for Lifespan Epidemiology Research at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. Her research on fruit and vegetables juices found that vegetables—especially the green leafy kind—were linked to less risk of developing diabetes. Drinking fruit juice, on the other hand, was associated with more of a risk of developing diabetes.

Green juice might help improve cholesterol, too. One small study gave 32 men with high cholesterol a little less than a cup of kale juice every day for three months and found that for non-smokers, the HDL- to LDL-cholesterol ratio improved by 52%, and selenium levels went up.

But don’t drink too much of a good thing, warns Kristi King, senior clinical dietitian at Texas Children’s Hospital. “It should be used as part of an overall, well-balanced diet and not for ‘cleanses’ or ‘detoxes,’ as that is what we have kidneys and livers in our bodies for,” she says.

Speaking of kidneys, people with kidney disease or kidney stones should be wary of juicing, says Dr. Mary Jo Kasten, assistant professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic. Kasten wrote an article about a patient with kidney disease who experienced kidney failure after a six-week juice fast. Certain foods—like beets and spinach and even iced tea, the culprit behind a recent case of kidney failure—are rich sources of oxalate, a natural compound that can increase kidney stones and kidney damage in people with diseased kidneys. But juicing is fine for most people, Kasten says.

Most of us, of course, aren’t anywhere close to overdosing on vegetables; according to the USDA, the average American eats just half of the recommended amount of vegetables every day, and only 10% of what we do get down is dark green. “It is better to eat than to drink veggies and fruits,” says Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. “But it is better to drink them than not to have them at all.”

green juice
Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME

Read Next: Should I Drink Coconut Water?

TIME Diet/Nutrition

20 Delicious Bug Recipes from Chefs

Bug appetit! Here's how Rick Bayless and Curtis Stone like their insects

Environmentalists and foodies alike have been hailing bugs as the future of eco-friendly protein. That’s great news for chefs and bug scientists with a taste for insects, including Marcel Dicke, an ecological entomologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands who gave a 2010 TED talk called “Why Not Eat Insects?” (His dish of choice: dragonfly larvae.)

But recent news that eating crickets might not be as sustainable as we thought—they can’t, it turns out, survive on a diet of straight food waste—hasn’t dampened Dicke’s enthusiasm for insects as the future of food. “Different insect species have different feed requirements,” he says. “The fact that several large insect farms have recently been set up in the U.S., South Africa and the Netherlands—using organic side streams—shows that insects can be reared on such substrates.” Crickets, and 2,000 species of their insect friends, are currently being consumed around the world, Dicke says, and can make “a very good contribution to a sustainable food security.”

So we went to celebrity chefs and bug enthusiasts for advice on the tastiest way to prepare them.

  • Chef Aaron Sanchez’s Grasshopper ‘Bacon’ Bits

    chapulines
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    “Crispy grasshoppers, better known as Chapulines, are a delicacy in Oaxaca and are popular all over Mexico. They’re often eaten as a snack on their own or used as a toping to add crunch and texture, like we offer on our guacamole at [my restaurant] Johnny Sánchez. Think Mexican bacon bits. After being cleaned thoroughly, we toast them on a comal—a traditional Mexican griddle—with chili and lime to add spice and flavor. They’re absolutely delicious and are a great source of protein.”

    Aarón Sánchez is chef and partner at Johnny Sánchez in New Orleans

  • Chef Gordon’s Deep-Fried Tarantulas

    Chugrad McAndrews for The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, published by Ten Speed Press

    “First I freeze the spiders—a humane way to dispatch them—then I remove the abdomen, which is basically a fluid-filled sac, and singe off the body hairs, using a butane torch. I dip them in tempura batter and drop in hot oil. The end result looks good and tastes even better. I served these to guests, including astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, at the 111th Explorers Club Annual Dinner at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC.”

    David George Gordon, known as the Bug Chef, is author of the Eat-a-Bug Cookbook: 40 Ways to Cook Crickets, Grasshoppers, Ants, Water Bugs, Spiders, Centipedes, and Their Kin

  • Meryl Natow’s Mealworm Arancini

    Meryl Natow

    “We’ve made mealworm lettuce wraps, cricket fried rice, and mealworm arancini, which taste just like typical arancini! If you didn’t know that insects were included, you probably never would guess. What’s great is the added protein helps keep you fuller longer.”

    Meryl Natow is the co-founder and creative director of Six Foods, a company that makes cricket-based tortilla chips

  • Chef Karen Barroso’s Garlicky Grasshopper Mix

    Guajillo

    “In Mexico, there are 398 different species of edible insects. Grasshoppers, or chapulines, are among the most traditional and can be found in the U.S. I like to sauté chapulines from Oaxaca with garlic cloves, chile de arbol oil, sea salt and Spanish peanuts. This is a traditional snack that you can find at the markets in Oaxaca. We serve it at the bar as an accompaniment for mezcal.”

    Karen Barroso is the owner and head chef of Guajillo in Arlington, VA

  • Chef Rick Bayless’ Worm-Salt Margarita

    margarita
    Getty Images

    “You’ve probably had margaritas rimmed with salt, but what about a mezcal cocktail rimmed with sal de gusano, an Oaxacan chile-salt with pulverized with toasted maguey worms? Salty in flavor, the coarsely ground worms are the perfect accompaniment to a cocktail we call El Mural, made with mezcal, various citrus juices and agave syrup.”

    Rick Bayless is a chef, restaurateur, author and winner of Top Chef Masters 2009

  • Chef Laurent Quenioux’s Ant Larvae

    Laurent Quenioux

    “We make blinis with ant eggs and caviar, and a three-egg dish of escamoles, quail eggs and salmon roe. We have been making an escamole [ant larvae] quiche, and, using just the albumen that drains out when the eggs are frozen, meringue. Our signature dish is a corn tortilla resting on a nasturtium leaf and topped with escamoles sautéed in butter with epazote, shallots, and serrano chilis, served with a shot of Mexican beer and a lime gel.

    Their delicate eggy qualities, their wildness, their unexpected appearance—like condensed milk with little pebbles in it—and the responsibility I feel to train the American palate to accept them inspires me to do gastronomy with bugs. The insects will be the solution to feed all those masses, but how do you get insects on the daily table in America? In the last twenty years, we grew here in America from iceberg lettuce to baby frisée. Insects are like any other ingredient: a challenge and an opportunity.”

    Laurent Quenioux was the executive chef and owner of Bistro LQ in Los Angeles; he now operates pop-ups across Los Angeles

  • Chef Zack Lemann’s Lightly Fried Dragonflies

    Audubon Nature Institute

    “Cooking dragonflies usually involves some sweat equity on the front end. Swinging a net in classic insect nerd fashion in the heat of south Louisiana summers is typically the only way you can come by large numbers of these notoriously elusive bugs. But after having collected and frozen them, they can be made to taste very much like soft-shelled crab.

    I treat dragonflies like fish in that they are run through an egg bath and then dredged in seasoned fish fry. Prior to the cooking of these critters, take equal parts butter, soy sauce, and creole or country-style Dijon mustard (about a tablespoon of each), mix, and heat in a small skillet for a couple of minutes on a low setting. This can be set aside in a little bowl. Then you need just two burners: on one, vegetable oil is over a medium heat in a shallow pan. On the other, sliced portobello mushrooms sauté in a very small amount butter with just a sprinkle of garlic powder.

    When the oil is hot enough for frying, dragonflies go in for about thirty seconds, get flipped, and then cook for another thirty. This is perhaps a good time to note that these are delicate insects. In order to insure that they stay intact, I recommend repurposing an entomological tool known as featherweight tweezers and turning them into a culinary device: these wonderful forceps can be used to hold dragonflies by the wings both when prepping them for the pan (the egg and flour procedure) and when they are being turned in and removed from hot oil.

    The scientific name for the order of insects to which dragonflies belong is Odonata. When we make this word English, we call them odonates. And so, in seeking a clever, alliterative name for this truly scrumptious dish, I came up with Odonate Hors d’Oeuvre. I describe it as lightly fried dragonflies on sautéed portobello mushroom.”

    Zack Lemann is the Executive Bug Chef at the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in New Orleans, Louisiana

  • Chef Hugo Ortega’s Mescal Worm Tacos

    Debora Smail

    “My favorite way to enjoy insects like chapulines (grasshoppers), gusanos de maguey (mescal worms) and escamole (any eggs) is fresh, but in order to get these items from Mexico to the U.S. they must be dehydrated. They are very high in protein and, once rehydrated, you can use them in so many ways! Gusanos de maguey are more fatty, and they resemble the taste and texture of crisp bacon. I like to cook them with white onion, butter and olive oil and finish with fresh parsley and serrano peppers.”

    Hugo Ortega is executive chef and co-owner of Hugo’s, Backstreet Cafe and Caracol in Houston, Texas and a four-time James Beard Award finalist

  • Chef Hugo Ortega’s Tomatillo Grasshoppers

    Paula Murphy

    “Chapulines taste more earthy and grassy, and I prepare them similar to the gusanos and accompany with tomatillo sauce, guacamole and fresh tortillas for a nice snack or lunch. I also love them in tamales, quesadillas or tostadas and they are nice fried. I also like to prepare sal de chapuline—grasshopper salt—to salt the rim of a mezcalrita for a true taste of Oaxaca!”

    Hugo Ortega is executive chef and co-owner of Hugo’s, Backstreet Cafe and Caracol in Houston, TX, and a four-time James Beard Award finalist

  • Meghan Curry’s Critter Fritters

    Leandra Blei Photography

    “My very favorite edible insect recipe was a Spicy Critter Fritter made with ground crickets, aka cricket flour. Cricket flour bakes and cooks much like other nut flours with slightly great binding ability and a nice nutty aroma and flavor.”

    Meghan Curry is the founder of Bug Vivant, a culinary website devoted to edible insects

  • Chef Cesar Moreno’s Grasshopper Almond Flour Cake

    The Black Ant

    “New on the dessert menu for spring is the Piña Loca Cake: Grasshopper almond flour cake, roasted pineapple squares and coco loco ice cream leche quemada sauce. I like to use insects when baking because they add a nuttiness to the flour. They are also great to use as a salt or garnish. They can be covered with chocolate. And best of all they are a lean protein and very healthy.”

    Cesar Moreno is the Pastry Chef at The Black Ant in New York City

  • Chef Will Wienckowski’s Roasted Cicadas

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    “I had an opportunity to cook 17-year cicadas two summers ago. They were great dry roasted with a little salt. The roasted cicadas also worked very well in a sausage made with monkfish. I think roasted insects can be good in anything that could use a little variety in texture.”

    Will Wienckowski is the head chef at Ipanema Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant in Richmond, VA

  • Marcel Dicke’s Dragonfly Larvae

    dragonfly larva
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    “My best recipe for a wonderful insect dish: take fresh dragonfly larvae, wash them; take fresh peppermint leaves and deep-fry the dragonfly larvae with the peppermint leaves briefly. Serve with white rice. Delicious. (The only problem is the availability of the dragonfly larvae—I have seen them for sale in Dali, China, a city on a lake.)”

    Marcel Dicke is an ecological entomologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and co-author of The Insect Cookbook—Food for a Sustainable Planet

  • Chef Richard Sandoval’s Grasshopper Guac

    © MOSHE ZUSMAN PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO, LLC
    © MOSHE ZUSMAN PHOTOGRAPHY STUD—© MOSHE ZUSMAN PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO, LLC

    “Here’s a traditional preparation from southern Mexico that includes dried grasshoppers: Ripe avocados are mixed table-side with fresh green tomatillos, cotija cheese, onions, cilantro, lime, sea salt, and a dash of red chile cascabel powder. The combo offers fresh flavors and textures, not the least of which is the crunchy, nutty taste of the grasshoppers.

    Grasshoppers, or chapulines as they’re called in Spanish, have been part of the Mexican diet since the Aztec and Mayan civilizations. In some parts of Mexico, like Oaxaca where they are a staple, you see chapulines in everything—guacamole, tacos, quesadillas and queso fundido. Before your write off grasshopper guacamole here in Denver, know that grasshoppers are not only very popular in Mexico but they are a traditional food being revived by foodies.”

    Richard Sandoval is a chef, restaurateur, author and television personality

  • Chef Julian Medina’s Grasshopper Tacos

    toloache tacos chapulines
    Toloache

    “When I was organizing Toloache’s menu, I knew we had to have Tacos de Chapulines on the menu. Grasshoppers are a delicacy so deeply rooted in Mexican culture, and I really wanted to share them with New York. To create the taco I saute dried grasshoppers with jalapenos, then complement them in the tortilla with tomatillo salsa and guacamole.”

    Julian Medina is owner and chef of Toloache in New York City

  • Megan Miller’s Cricket Cobbler

    Bitty Foods

    “Asking for one favorite way to prepare any insect is kind of like asking for a single way to prepare any bird—you could of course roast them, fry them or boil them, but the resulting texture and flavor will vary according to the species and what it was fed. At Bitty Foods, we make snacks and baked goods using crickets that have been fed an organic diet and then dried and milled into a fine powder. For foolproof results, I’d suggest starting with our Bitty baking flour and substituting it cup-for-cup for wheat flour in your favorite cookie or cake, or even cobbler recipe.”

    Megan Miller is the founder of Bitty Foods, a cricket flour company

  • Daniella Martin’s Mealworm Slaw

    mealworm slaw
    Daniella Martin

    “My favorite way to prepare insects is to toast them in the oven until crispy. Then they can be salted and eaten plain, added to salads, or ground up into flour for use in baked goods or smoothies.”

    Daniella Martin is author of Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet and host of Girl Meets Bug

  • Chef Monica Martinez’s Mealworm Pecan Pie

    mealworms
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    “Oven toasted, and there’s no need to use any oils as most insects are very fatty—good fatty! They don’t contain cholesterol or saturated fats. Mealworms make a great dessert item as they have a very nutty flavor, they could replace pecans for a pecan pie.”

    Monica Martinez is the creator of Don Bugito, a food cart of edible insects in San Francisco

  • Chef Curtis Stone’s Night Crawlers

    earthworm
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    “I tasted a whole variety of bugs and insects in one sitting on the set of Top Chef Masters (season 3). We had guests from the Discovery Channel show Man, Woman, Wild who helped us find our chefs everything from night crawlers, beetles and bugs—the contestants cooked them and I ate the lot! No matter how good a chef you are, it’s pretty challenging to cook with these ‘ingredients.’ There were some really good attempts and some that just didn’t work unfortunately. I actually still have a memory of biting into a worm omelet and feeling the grit in the worm. All in a day’s work I guess!”

    Curtis Stone is an Australian chef, television personality, author and chef/owner of Maude restaurant in Beverly Hills

  • Paul Landkamer’s Marinated Stink Bugs

    marinated stink bugs
    Paul Landkamer

    “Boil for about 5 minutes, then simmer the boiled insects in a Cajun sauce before dehydrating. Marinate about 24 hrs in a favorite sauce, then dehydrate to a crispy crunch.”

    Paul Landkamer is an edible insect enthusiast

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Eating Insects Isn’t as Eco-Friendly As People Say

Insects: Our Food Of The Future?
Sean Gallup—Getty Images Dried grasshoppers, mealworms and crickets seasoned with spices

Crickets aren't so green after all

Crickets are often trumpeted as the future of food, an edible, eco-friendly solution to a some-day protein shortage that livestock just can’t fix. Even the United Nations promotes insect-eating as a promising, protein-packed way to feed the 9 billion people that will live on earth in 2050. “A benefit of insects as an alternative animal protein source is that they can be reared sustainably on organic side streams (e.g. manure, pig slurry and compost),” their report reads.

Because insects emit far fewer greenhouse gases than livestock and consume way less water, they have a comparatively tiny ecological footprint, and they’re thought to thrive on basically anything, even organic waste. That last point sums up the main ecological appeal of eating insects; growing the grain used in animal feed takes up huge water and energy resources.

But do crickets really have the potential to be the new beef? Not yet, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE. When researchers raised crickets on several different diets and tried to see how much protein they could squeeze out of them, they got some disappointing results: just not a whole lot of protein.

MORE: Why, On Second Thought, Maybe You Shouldn’t Start Eating Bugs

In the experiment, researchers raised crickets on one of five different diets. They replicated each diet three time and harvested the crickets after two weeks. One group ate corn-, soy- and grain-based feed, while others survived on food waste or crop residue. The researchers measured how big the crickets grew and how much edible protein they produced.

Diet made a huge difference, the study authors found. Those that ate a diet of processed food waste had a feed and protein conversion rates no more efficient than that of chickens. Nearly all those fed straight food waste died before they could be harvested. And the most successful crickets were those that ate a grain-based diet similar to what most poultry eat. They had a 35% protein conversion rate, which is only slightly better than chickens.

So even if the whole world took a page out of Mexico’s cookbook and developed an appetite for chapulines—crunchy fried crickets—the small protein payoffs may not even be worth it if we’re feeding them what chickens eat, the authors suggest.

“I think the sustainability claims on this topic have been overstated given the current state of knowledge,” wrote study author Dr. Mark Lundy of the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources in an e-mail.

Even if they can’t survive on as many organic sidestreams as we originally thought, Lundy doesn’t think that insects are out of the running as the future of food.

“I’m all for exploring alternatives, and I am impressed by the amount of innovation that has sprung up around insect cultivation and cuisine in the last few years,” he says. “However, I also think we need to be clear-eyed about what the sustainability gains are and aren’t, and focus our innovative efforts and limited resources to where they will have the most lasting impact.”

Swapping chickens for crickets–while feeding them the same thing—is unlikely to make a real difference. “Insect cultivation is more likely to contribute to human nutrition at a scale of economic and ecological significance if it does not rely on a diet that competes with conventional livestock,” he says, “but more innovation is needed for this to become a reality.”

TIME Cancer

Breast Cancer May Increase 50% By 2030

By 2030, the number of breast cancer cases in the United States will be 50% higher than the number in 2011, according to new research from the National Cancer Institute.

In the new study, presented at the American Association for Cancer Research’s annual meeting, researchers used cancer surveillance data, census data and mathematical models to arrive at projections. Part of the reason the numbers are so high, they note, is because women are living longer. Another factor is the increase in screening that enables doctors to spot and diagnose more cases of in-situ tumors—very early stage growths that may not require treatment—as well as more invasive tumors.

MORE: This Mammogram Saves Lives and Money

The data comes amid concerns about the over-treatment of breast cancer. Last year, an analysis of women with stage 1 or stage 2 breast cancer in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found little difference in survival rates 20 years after diagnosis between women who had an unaffected breast removed and those who did not.

“There’s certainly concern, especially in the older patients, about over-diagnosis of breast cancer, and that’s one of the reasons that screening mammography can become very controversial in older patients,” says Dr. Sharon Giordano, MPH, department chair of health services research at MD Anderson Cancer Center. (Giordano was not involved in the research.) “We don’t want to end up diagnosing and treating a disease that would never cause a problem during the person’s natural lifetime.”

Not all in-situ breast cancer progresses into a dangerous condition, Giordano explains. “One of the unanswered questions is, how do we identify the in-situ cancers that are the ones that go on and progress to a life-threatening illness, and which are the ones that we should be leaving alone and not subjecting people to invasive surgery and radiation for treatment?”

The researchers also teased out some more hopeful projections: that the number of estrogen-receptor negative (ER-negative) cancers, the kind that don’t need estrogen to grow and don’t typically respond to endocrine therapy, will drop from 17% in 2011 to 9% in 2030. That may be good news, since ER-positive breast cancers tend to grow slower and have better long-term survival rates. The reasons for the expected drop aren’t clear yet, the study authors say, but one contributing factor could be that women are having children later in life, and having a child young is a risk factor for ER-negative tumors.

“In sum, our results suggest that although breast cancer overall is going to increase, different subtypes of breast cancer are moving in different directions and on different trajectories,” said study author Philip S. Rosenberg, PhD, a senior investigator in cancer epidemiology and genetics at the National Cancer Institute, in a statement. “These distinct patterns within the overall breast cancer picture highlight key research opportunities that could inform smarter screening and kinder, gentler, and more effective treatment.”

TIME Research

Tylenol Dulls Your Emotional Pain, Too

Tylenol Pills Spilling Out Of Bottle
Shelley Dennis—Getty Images

Acetaminophen might be having a bigger effect on the brain than we realize

Popping Tylenol to soothe an ache is second nature to many of us. But what do you take for heartache? A new pair of studies suggests that the painkiller might blunt responses to emotional pain, too.

In one study, researchers from the Ohio State University Medical Center gave 80 people either a placebo or 1,000 mg of acetaminophen —the active ingredient in Tylenol and the equivalent of two extra-strength Tylenol. After waiting an hour for it to kick in, the researchers showed them a series of emotional images on a computer screen and had them rate how much emotion they felt from each picture: from happy images like cute, cuddly kittens to negative images like gory car accidents and snakes, to neutral images like a filing cabinet. Study author Baldwin M. Way, PhD, assistant professor in the department of psychology and Institute for Behavioral medicine Research at the Ohio State University, says he was surprised by what he saw. “It turned out Tylenol blunted that or reduced that by about 20% compared to people who were on placebo rating the same images,” Way says.

The next step was to figure out if the drug was blunting responses to absolutely everything—or just emotional responses. They repeated the experiment testing reactions to color saturation. When they found no difference in how the two groups observed the intensity of color, they concluded that the drug was only interfering with emotionally charged information.

This isn’t the first study to show that the drug might be tinkering with our emotions. Previous research has shown that when people take acetaminophen for three weeks, their feelings get hurt less when they are socially rejected. That could be because pain is pain; whether it comes from a bump or a break-up, pain seems to travel through the same neurochemical pathways. In another study published in 2013, people who took acetaminophen thought about their own death less negatively than those who weren’t on anything. And a study this year found that when faced with a tough choice, acetaminophen helps dull the discomfort.

But how?

Acetaminophen works on several different levels in the body in ways scientists aren’t entirely sure about yet. But Way suspects it involved the insula, an area of the brain that responds to both positive and negative emotions and creates emotional significance. “When you have a pain response—when you put your hand on a hot stove for example—your brain needs to know which body part is getting hurt or wounded so you can react,” Way says. “But there’s also another part of your brain that needs to know the emotional response: the ‘ouch.’” That’s where the insula comes in, Way suspects. “It seems to register that this is painful, that this hurts and that this has an emotional element to it. What we think is going on is that the emotional component of pain—the ‘ouch’—is being blunted by acetaminophen.” Another way Tylenol may dull emotional pain is that it could be acting along the same anti-inflammatory pathway to the brain, he suspects.

Some brain scan studies show that acetaminophen reduces activity in that area of the brain, and other studies show that people with insula damage don’t respond to positive and negative stimuli. Way says he plans to repeat the experiment in an MRI scanner to see if acetaminophen reduces insula activity.

“What this all means and how it affects people in daily life is an unknown question, of course,” he says. Way and his colleagues are currently running a trial with psychiatric patients to see if acetaminophen may have a therapeutic benefit.

More research is needed. But Way thinks that all kinds of drugs besides acetaminophen may be having effects on our emotions. “When a drug goes through clinical trials, they test it for its safety on things like, ‘Does your liver work?’ or ‘Is it causing your blood vessels to explode?’” he says. “But what’s never assessed in those studies is behavior and psychological processes…so one has to wonder, are these drugs that people are taking for a variety of different reasons having brain effects? There might be more widespread psychological and behavioral effects than we currently appreciate.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Should I Drink Fat-Free Half and Half?

5/5 experts say no.

“Hell no!” says Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, followed by: “What is it?” Those were sentiments echoed by all of our experts in this week’s burning food question.

Lest you, too, are left scratching your head, here’s the lowdown. Half-and-half math is simple: whole milk plus cream. The fat-free version requires some more advanced calculations, however. “It typically replaces the milk fat with corn syrup and thickeners,” says Julia Zumpano, an RD at Cleveland Clinic’s Heart and Vascular Institute. (Kristi King, senior clinical dietitian at Texas Children’s Hospital, agrees that the real thing is better than additives.) The ingredient list on a typical brand of fat-free half and half contains fat-free milk, corn syrup, carrageenan, cream, artificial color, disodium phosphate, guar gum and vitamin A palmitate. It has half the calories (20) as regular half-and-half and about twice the sodium (20-30 mg), plus sugar (1-2 grams).

“Fat-free half-and-half strikes me as an absolutely unnecessary product,” says Mario Kratz, PhD, a dairy researcher and nutrition scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. It exists, of course, because people want the rich texture and flavor and calcium benefits without the fat or calories. But that dairy phobia is misguided, according to Kratz’s recent review on dairy. “Our work shows that consuming dairy foods in their full-fat form (rather than nonfat or low-fat) is associated with lower weight gain, a lower risk of obesity, and possibly even lower risks for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” he says.

MORE Why Full-Fat Dairy May Be Healthier Than Low-Fat

These findings are largely drawn from observational studies, so they can’t establish cause in the way that a randomized controlled trial can, Kratz cautions. Nor do the findings imply that chugging a carton of regular half-and-half is a good idea—just that drinking the fat-free version might be a worse one.

“I didn’t know there was such a thing as fat-free half-and-half. Sounds awful,” says Andrew Weil, MD, founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. Weil steers people away from nonfat dairy products (though he cops to dipping into fat-free sour cream every once in a while) because taking the fat out of dairy, he says, might have hormonal effects. “Milk contains natural sex hormones,” he says. “The centrifugation process for preparing nonfat milk and products made from it causes differential concentration of male and female hormones in the separated watery and fatty components.” Some studies link skim milk to increased risk of type-1 diabetes, male acne and infertility in women, he says.

Without the fat, half and half is a lot like the skim milk that makes it up—it just isn’t quite whole.

fat-free half and half
Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME

Read next: Should I Eat Falafel?

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TIME Research

Can Specks of Dust Help Solve Crimes?

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Call them the dust busters: Scientists are now able to take a sample of dust, sequence the DNA of its fungi and microbes and figure out where it came from, according to new research published in the journal PLOS ONE. The application might prove useful in solving crimes.

The researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of Colorado, Boulder, had about 1,000 people across the country swab their homes’ outer door frames and send in samples of the dust. A lab sequenced all that dust DNA—fungi, microbes and all—from every state but North Dakota. (The scientists have nothing against North Dakota. It’s just that no one from the state sent in a sample.) Our nation’s door frames are home to a mind-boggling amount of diversity; researchers identified 40,000 unique fungal taxa from the samples. A single home, by comparison, usually only harbors about 700 fungal taxa.

MORE: Your Tiny Roommates: Meet the Microbes Living In Your Home

Their goal was to glean where each fungal species tended to show up, which could be useful information in forensic investigations with this type of evidence. “We wanted to take either the presence or absence of these different species and get a smooth picture of where we expect the fungus to live,” explains Neal Grantham, one of the study’s authors and a PhD student in the department of statistics at North Carolina State University. By estimating the probability of seeing these different species at some location in the U.S., they were able to put a pin in a map of the most likely location of origin, he says. Half of their predictions got closer than 143 miles of the actual place of origin, and about five percent were within 35 miles of the dust’s doorframe.

Down the line, mapping out the microbes of dust could help with forensics and law enforcement investigations, Grantham says. “This is not the first study that shows you can use bacteria and fungi in a forensics setting. But what our work contributes is a more objective statistical way to tackle these problems,” he says.

The scientists are looking into whether the probability method might hold for other samples, like pollen. If it does, law enforcement could use a statistically sound probability instead of relying on pollen experts to divine where a sample might have originated, Grantham says.

“‘Humans are ecosystems’ is the big microbiome message,” Grantham says. Now, our doorframes might be ecosystems, too.

 

TIME Diet/Nutrition

What 5 Days of Junk Food Does to Your Metabolism

There's far more than weight gain to worry about

It takes surprisingly few days of a mac-and-cheese-rich diet to do some really bad things to your metabolism. Just five days on a diet full of processed food was enough to alter a body’s healthy response to food, finds a small new study published in the journal Obesity.

Researchers wanted to look at how skeletal muscles adapt when we pound our bodies with fatty processed foods, so they took 12 healthy college-aged men and put them on an eating regimen designed by the researchers, including an initial control diet. Those on the fatty diet ate 55% of their calories came from fat—and about 18% of their total calories came from saturated fat. That’s a lot more saturated fat than most Americans eat, no matter how bad their diet. The control diet was about 30% fat.

“When we were toying around with what diet we were going to use, we looked at things like gift certificates for McDonald’s,” says Matthew W. Hulver, PhD, department head of Human Nutrition, Food and Exercise at Virginia Tech. “But a McDonald’s diet isn’t even saturated enough compared to what we fed the people in our study.”

They settled on a Westernized diet topped with butter, featuring foods like macaroni and cheese, ham and cheese sandwiches with mayonnaise and butter, and fatty microwavable meals. The researchers took muscle biopsies from the men before and after the high-fat feeding. The researchers formulated the fatty diets to be identical in calories to the control.

When researchers looked at specific gene targets, the effects on metabolism were dramatic. “The normal response to a meal was essentially either blunted or just not there after five days of high-fat feeding,” Hulver says. Before going on a work-week’s worth of a fatty diet, when the men ate a normal meal they saw big increases in oxidative targets four hours after eating. That response was obliterated after the five-day fat infusion. And under normal eating conditions, the biopsied muscle used glucose as an energy source by oxidizing glucose. “That was essentially wiped out after,” he says. “We were surprised how robust the effects were just with five days.”

While their overall insulin sensitivity didn’t change in the short time frame, the findings suggest that longer exposure to a diet of this kind might lead to insulin resistance down the line.

If five days of fat is enough to mess with metabolism, the chronic effects raise interesting questions, Hulver says. “Our question is: does this prime the body? When you go into a period where you are overconsuming calories, would individuals who have a chronic high fat diet be predisposed to weight gain?”

Hulver says he doesn’t know the answer yet, but his lab’s future studies hope to find out.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Here’s Your New Science-Backed Reason to Eat More Cheese

Your good bacteria love stinky fromage as much as you do

Americans have long been bewildered by the French paradox: that despite consuming a dream diet full of cheese, baguettes and red wine, people in France have generally low rates of coronary heart disease. By some estimates, the average French person eats 57 pounds of cheese each year—more than in any other country—while the average American eats a measly 34.

Scientists have yet to solve the puzzle. Some point to the resveratrol in red wine as one possibility; a more likely reason, say a growing number of experts, is that we were wrong—or at least partially wrong—to condemn saturated fat as a primary cause of heart disease. A small new study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry suggests yet another delicious possibility: cheese.

More research is needed, but in this paper—funded in part by Arla Foods (a Danish food company that produces dairy products) and the Danish Dairy Research Foundation—Danish scientists analyzed data from 15 healthy young men who ate three diets for two weeks. All of the diets had the same amount of calories and fat, but one was rich in 1.5% fat milk, another required eating 1.7 grams of cow cheese per day, and there was a third control diet. The researchers analyzed the men’s urine and feces to figure out how dairy is metabolized and what effect it had on markers of blood cholesterol levels.

When people gorged on dairy products—but especially cheese—their microflora seemed to change. In their feces, researchers saw some metabolites that they know are related to the metabolism of the microflora: short-chain fatty acids like butyrate and propionate both appeared at increased concentrations compared to the control diet. They also had lower levels than the control group of TMAO, a metabolite produced when the body metabolizes choline, which is found in many animal-derived foods, especially red meat. (Lower levels seem to be a good thing; other research has shown that TMAO may help transport cholesterol to the arteries and predicts mortality rates.)

The findings suggest that cheese and milk might help modify the gut bacteria to decrease production of TMAO, the authors write. “I was surprised,” says study co-author Morten Rahr Clausen, a postdoc in the department of food science at Aarhus University in Denmark. “I didn’t expect to find anything in the cheese that would change the microflora.”

MORE Should I Eat Cheese?

The researchers can’t be sure whether the increase in gut-friendly compounds came directly from the cheese or if they were formed by the microbiota, Clausen adds—but they could still have a beneficial effect either way. “I’m not completely sure why, but it seems like the cheese and also milk, but mainly cheese, affects the microbiota after eating cheese and that might affect the composition of the lipids in the blood,” he says.

The study adds a new dimension to our understanding how fermented milk products interact with the body. “The previous mechanism was that calcium binds the fatty acids and they’re just flushed through the gut,” he says. “Our study suggests another mechanism that the cheese might work through.

More research and studies on bigger, more diverse populations are needed before we definitively solve the French paradox, but these results are promising. “We didn’t know beforehand what to look for,” Clausen says. “Sometimes you find something that you didn’t expect.”

Read next: People Who Love Grilled Cheese Sandwiches Have Way More Sex Than Those Who Don’t

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