TIME Research

People Think Expensive Drugs Work Better, Study Shows

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Even when there's nothing inside

We’ve all heard of the placebo effect: just believing in the healing power of a pill is sometimes enough to make a person feel better, even when there’s not medicine inside. Now, a new study shows that when people take a drug believing it’s more expensive than it actually is, they tend to think the drug is working—even when it’s just a placebo.

In a study published in the journal Neurology, researchers told 12 people with Parkinson’s disease that they were receiving two variations of the same drug, but one was more expensive than the other. They were told that the study was meant to assess whether the two drugs were in fact similar in efficacy, and that one drug was $100 while the other was $1,500. Instead, the researchers gave them all saline solution, with no effect at all.

Before getting the drugs, everyone completed tests of their motor skills and had brain imaging performed. When given the saline injection, the patients were told that they were either getting the cheap or expensive shot first.

Interestingly, those who were told they were getting the expensive shot first improved their motor skills by 28%. In one of the exams, their motor skills shot up seven points with the expensive drug, but only three points on the cheap drug. Afterward, when everyone was told what actually happened in the study, eight people told the researchers that they had greater expectations for the expensive drug and were surprised by the the improvements they felt just by believing it would work better.

It’s possible that the people in the study experienced so a great placebo effect because receiving a placebo has been shown to increase the release of dopamine in the brain, and dopamine also impacts movement.

Though the authors acknowledge that they had to deceive the people in their study to get the results, they say that findings like theirs could one day help improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s. “The potentially large benefit of placebo, with or without price manipulations, is waiting to be untapped for patients with Parkinson’s disease as well as those with other neurologic and medical diseases,” they write.

TIME Health Care

California Says E-Cigarettes a Health Risk

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Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Department of health advises Californians to stay away from e-cigs

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has come out against electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), releasing a new report on Wednesday outlining their risks.

“E-cigarettes contain nicotine and other harmful chemicals, and the nicotine in them is as addictive as the nicotine in cigarettes,” CDPH director and state health officer Dr. Ron Chapman said in a statement about his report. “There is a lot of misinformation about e-cigarettes. That is why, as the state’s health officer, I am advising Californians to avoid the use of e-cigarettes and keep them away from children of all ages.”

The news comes as the California state legislature considers a ban on the devices in public places, as well as new measures against selling them to minors.

According to CDPH, e-cig use among Californians aged 18 to 29 has gone up from 2.3% in 2012 to 7.6% in 2013 and young adults in California are three times more like to use e-cigs than people over age 30. California poison centers are also seeing an increase in calls related to exposures to the liquids inside e-cigarettes. Calls increased from 19 in 2012 to 243 in 2014.

MORE: What to Know About the Science of E-Cigarettes

Nationwide, similar increases are being observed, with data from the 2013 National Youth Tobacco Survey showing that the percentage of middle school and high school students who have tried e-cigarettes doubled from 3.3% in 2011 to 6.8% in 2012.

The new report touches on the harm to brain development from exposure to nicotine during adolescence; dangerous chemicals found in some e-cigarette aerosol; and the fact that e-cigs are not FDA-approved devices for smoking cessation.

The report can be added to a growing amount of data on the risks and potential benefits of e-cigarettes. Earlier this month, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that e-cigarettes may be producing harmful chemicals known to cause cancer in humans.

You can read the full report, here.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Why Your Coffee Addiction Isn’t So Bad for You

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Go ahead and pour yourself another cup

Knocking back a daily cup of joe (or several) delivers more than a jolt of energy. That morning brew comes with a host of health benefits, according to research. Here’s how coffee can benefit your body and your brain.

1. Coffee may decrease your risk of depression. Drinking four or more cups per day could decrease the risk of depression in women, according to a study from the Harvard School of Public Health. The study examined the coffee habits and depression rates of 50,739 women over 10 years. Coffee drinkers had a 20 percent lower chance of developing depression later in life. Drinking two to four cups daily also appears to lower the risk of suicide by 50%, according to another Harvard study.

2. Coffee might help prevent skin cancer. Drinking four or more cups of coffee daily may lower your risk of cutaneous melanoma, the leading cause of skin-cancer death in the U.S., by 20 percent, according to a new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Researchers followed nearly 450,000 cancer-free participants over 10 years. Overall, those who drank more saw less cutaneous melanoma. Four daily cups of coffee can also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, according to previous studies.

3. Smelling coffee can bust stress. When rats smelled coffee beans, genes connected with healthful antioxidants and stress-reduction were activated, according to researchers from Seoul National University in South Korea. No, you’re not a rat—even if you’re in the rat race—but the stress-busting benefits may be one reason your morning latte smells so delicious.

4. Coffee might help fight obesity. A compound found in coffee, chlorogenic acid (CGA), could help ward off obesity-related diseases, according to researchers at the University of Georgia. In a study of mice, CGA prevented weight gain, reduced inflammation, helped maintain normal blood-sugar levels, and kept livers healthy. Gradually increasing your coffee consumption can also lead to a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, according to previous research.

5. Coffee may prevent Parkinson’s disease. Men who did not drink coffee were two to three times more likely to develop the disease than men who drank four ounces to four cups per day, according to a study published in Journal of the American Medical Association. Though there are treatments to slow the progression of Parkinson’s, which targets the body’s nervous system and causes tremors, there’s no cure, so prevention is key.

6. Coffee could boost your workout. Caffeine increases the number of fatty acids in the bloodstream, which raises overall endurance, because your body doesn’t have to burn carbs so fast, The New York Times reports. Weightlifters who drank caffeine before their workouts stayed energized longer than those who did not, according to another small study.

7. Coffee may help your hearing. Regularly consuming caffeine may help prevent tinnitus, a persistent ringing in the ear. Women who drank one and a half cups of coffee a day were 15% more likely to develop tinnitus than those who drank four to six cups, according to a study of 65,000 women published in the American Journal of Medicine.

8. Coffee could lead to a healthier liver. Drinking both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee may lower liver enzymes associated with inflammation, according to a 28,000-person study conducted by researchers at the National Cancer Institute. Participants who drank at least three cups of coffee per day showed lower levels of the potentially harmful enzymes than those who did not drink coffee.

9. Coffee might help you live longer. Drinking two to six (or more) cups of coffee per day could lower the risk of dying by 10 percent for men and 15 percent for women, according to a study of over 200,000 men and 170,000 women (ages 50 to 71) in The New England Journal of Medicine. (The data was adjusted to discount the effects of unhealthy habits, such as smoking, since regular coffee drinkers also tended to be regular drinkers and meat-eaters.)

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

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TIME Reproductive Health

Beauty Products May Trigger Early Menopause

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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 Research

The Science Behind Procrastination

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Learn the biological factors that cause procrastination—and how to defeat them

There’s no more elegant example of the cyclical self-torture of procrastination than the lyrics to a song from the musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Our hero has a book report due. He sings in a halting, panicky monotone:

“If I start writing now…when I’m not really rested…it could upset my thinking which is not good at all…I’ll get a fresh start tomorrow…and it’s not due till Wednesday…so I’ll…have all of Tuesday unless…something should happen…Why does this always happen…I should be outside playing…getting fresh air and sunshine…I work best under pressure and there’ll be lots of pressure if I…wait till tomorrow…I should start writing now but if I…start writing now when I’m not really rested…it could upset my thinking…which is not good at all.”

Ring a bell? It’s a monologue we all experience in some form, an agonizing internal conversation that fells the best of us. And that’s where things start to get interesting: Procrastination is so relatable, so universal, because the human brain, it turns out, iswired for it. Science explains Charlie Brown’s seesaw sensibility as a fight that is sparked between two parts of the mind when it’s faced with a distasteful activity: a battle of the limbic system (the unconscious zone that includes the pleasure center) and the prefrontal cortex (the internal “planner”). When the limbic system wins, and that’s pretty often, the result is putting off for tomorrow what could (and should) be done today.

Here’s a bit more scientific backup, so you can stop blaming yourself (or your parents, your birth sign, the weather) and start chalking up procrastination to biology. The limbic system, one of the oldest and most dominant portions of the brain, is on automatic. It tells you to, say, pull your hand away from a flame—and also to flee from unpleasant tasks. In other words, it directs you to opt for “immediate mood repair,” explains Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Carleton University, in Ottawa, and the author of The Procrastinator’s Digest: A Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle ($16, amazon.com).

The prefrontal cortex is a newer and weaker portion of the brain. It’s what allows you to integrate information and make decisions. “This is the part of the brain that really separates humans from animals, who are just controlled by stimulus,” says Pychyl. The prefrontal cortex, located immediately behind the forehead (where we tap when we’re trying to think, dammit, think), gets the job done. But there’s nothing automatic about its function. You must kick it into gear (“I have to sit down and write this book report!”). And the moment you’re not consciously engaged in a task, your limbic system takes over. You give in to what feels good—you procrastinate.

While understanding these mind games demystifies our habit of perpetually postponing stuff, it doesn’t cure the habit. The solution for procrastination is outsmarting it: You can trick yourself into productivity. How? Here are seven strategies for overcoming the Big P, devised with help from specialists in the field (yes, there’s a procrastination field). This tool kit of techniques will fix the fight between the just-do-it angel and the pleasure-hungry devil in your head. No need to pick just one tactic. Have them all in your arsenal so you’re ready to handle whatever obstacle your battling brain might toss in your path.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

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TIME public health

Even More Bad News For Young Football Players

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Former NFL players performed below expectations for their age groups on cognitive assessments

Professional football players who began playing tackle football before age 12 experienced more dramatic cognitive decline as adults than their counterparts who begin playing later in life, found a new study in the journal Neurology. Overall, former NFL players in the study performed below expectations for their age groups on cognitive assessments.

“As a society we need to question whether we should sanction and condone allowing our children at a young age to having their brains be jostled about inside their skulls hundreds of times per season,” says study author Robert A. Stern, a professor at Boston University.

The study tested 42 former NFL players who were experiencing brain function issues on their ability to remember a list of words, solve problems requiring mental flexibility and read and pronounce uncommon words. Athletes who began playing before age 12 performed significantly worse than their late-starting counterparts on all measures.

MORE: The Tragic Risks of American Football

The results challenge a common misconception that young people are likely fine if they aren’t experiencing full-blown concussions or dramatic injuries. Repeated hits sustained by children under 12, even if they’re not traumatic, may also affect the brain’s structure and function, the study suggests.

“For me, the biggest concern in long-term consequences is not concussion, but rather sub-concussive exposure,” says Stern. “We need to continue anything and everything possible to reduce the number of hits.”

Stern describes the findings as “robust” but noted the study’s limitations. For one, focusing solely on NFL players makes it impossible to generalize the findings to all athletes, or even all football players. Still, he says, the notion that tackle football poses the risk of brain damage just makes “logical sense.”

MORE: Football Head Impacts Can Cause Brain Changes Even Without Concussion

The study, released just days before the Super Bowl, adds to a growing body of evidence on the dangers of the sport, particularly for young people. A 2012 Virginia Tech study, for instance, tracked accelerometers in the helmets of youth football players ages 7 and 8 and found that the average player received 107 impacts throughout the course of the season, some at speeds equivalent to a car accident. Parents have responded to the mounting research by questioning whether their kids should play the sport at all. Between 2007 and 2013, the number of children ages 6 to 12 playing tackle football declined by more than 25%.

TIME Research

The Simple Way to Make Football Safer

Better materials could mean fewer concussions

Football is not a safe sport. Even though players wear lots of protective gear and helmets to protect their skulls, it doesn’t stop what many are calling a “concussion epidemic” among U.S. sports. But, one scientist is calling upon the community to develop new materials that could make helmets much safer.

A new study published Wednesday shows former NFL players who played tackle football before age 12 were more likely to have memory and thinking problems when they’re adults. But scientist Ainissa Ramirez, author of the book Newton’s Football: The Science Behind America’s Game, says it doesn’t have to be this way. If helmets were made with better materials, players’ brains could be better protected. “Helmet material is too stiff, it’s not able to absorb the force,” she says.

Ramirez and her co-author Allen St. John decided to ask the question: Why don’t other animals who hit their heads often get concussions? First, they looked at the woodpecker. “What we learned that woodpeckers don’t get concussions because they have small brains which means they can handle bigger forces,” explains Ramirez. “You know this intuitively, if your cellphone drops off your desk or your laptop drops off your desk, you’re not going to be too worried about your cell phone but you’re going to be afraid for your laptop.”

Next they looked at rams, and made a promising discovery. “Rams and big horned sheep hit each other at 40 miles and hour, and seconds later they are coming back for more,” says Ramirez. “They have brains comparable to our own size. They can survive and not get concussions because of their horns.” Rams’ horns are made out of a polymer called keratin. Keratin is in our hair, our fingernails, in tortoise shells, and porcupine quills for example. Ramirez says it’s very stretchy, and for rams, it acts like a crumple zone for a car, but with the ability to recover.

“We need better materials [for helmets] and we can borrow from nature. Maybe we need a material that’s sort of like keratin,” says Ramirez.

It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve borrowed from nature. Velcro, for example, was created in the 1950s when George de Mestral, a Swiss electrical engineer. After returning from a walk, he discovered his socks and his dog’s fur were covered in burs. Intrigued by how they worked, de Mestral looked at the burs under a microscope and discovered a bunch of little hooks, which became the inspiration for velcro.

Ramirez isn’t positive that keratin will for sure work as a helmet material, but she’s calling on the scientific community to try it out, or at least prioritize the search for better materials. Despite the fact that in 2013 the NFL launched a $10 million program to find better shock absorbent materials for helmets and other technologies to prevent concussions, there hasn’t been much of a race for finding the perfect material. One promising effort is from a team at UCLA that’s researching the use of a energy-absorbing microlattice material that could replace the foam in helmets.

You can watch a video of UCLA’s material below:

Ramirez says she thinks there are not many academics taking on helmet materials because the field isn’t “sexy.” “Scientists have egos like everyone else and if you’re sitting at the table working on helmet material, people think, ‘well what’s wrong with that person?’” says Ramirez. “It’s also hard to get an audience with the NFL. There are a lot of barriers.”

Still, the hope is that more priority and funding from the NFL and medical community will spur greater innovation for new helmet materials. We might see new technologies to prevent concussions in the near future, though not in time for the Super Bowl this weekend.

 

TIME Research

These Are the Cities With the Most Bed Bugs

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The cities with the most cases of bed bugs in the United States are Chicago, Detroit and Columbus, Ohio, according to a recent promotional study released by the pest control company Orkin.

Orkin calculated the number of bed bug treatments it performed between January to December 2014, and ranked the cities based on how often they were called in. Having bed bugs doesn’t mean a living place is especially dirty, and any home or workplace is susceptible if bed bugs travel on clothing or in luggage.

Citing data maintained by the pest control industry, Orkin says Americans spent around $446 million getting rid of bed bugs in 2013. The bed bug business increased 18% last year, Orkin says.

Here’s the full list of cities ranked from most to least cases of bed bugs:

  1. Chicago
  2. Detroit
  3. Columbus, Ohio
  4. Los Angeles
  5. ClevelandAkronCanton, Ohio
  6. DallasFt. Worth
  7. Cincinnati
  8. Denver
  9. RichmondPetersburg, Va.
  10. Dayton, Ohio
  11. Indianapolis
  12. Houston
  13. SeattleTacoma
  14. Washington, District of ColumbiaHagerstown, Md.
  15. Milwaukee
  16. San FranciscoOaklandSan Jose
  17. RaleighDurhamFayetteville, N.C.
  18. New York
  19. CharlestonHuntington, W.Va.
  20. Grand RapidsKalamazooBattle Creek, Mich.
  21. Omaha, Neb.
  22. Louisville, Ky.
  23. Nashville, Tenn.
  24. Lexington, Ky.
  25. Atlanta
  26. Buffalo, N.Y.
  27. SacramentoStocktonModesto, Calif.
  28. Syracuse, N.Y.
  29. BostonManchester
  30. Charlotte, N.C.
  31. Baltimore
  32. PhoenixPrescott
  33. MiamiFt. Lauderdale
  34. Knoxville, Tenn.
  35. Cedar RapidsWaterlooDubuque, Iowa
  36. MinneapolisSt. Paul
  37. HartfordNew Haven, Conn.
  38. ChampaignSpringfieldDecatur, Ill.
  39. San Diego
  40. LincolnHastingsKearney, Neb.
  41. Kansas City, Mo.
  42. Honolulu
  43. AlbanySchenectadyTroy, N.Y.
  44. Colorado SpringsPueblo, Colo.
  45. Myrtle BeachFlorence, S.C.
  46. St. Louis
  47. GreenvilleSpartanburg, S.C.Asheville, N.C.
  48. Bowling Green, Ky.
  49. Ft. Wayne, Ind.
  50. Toledo, Ohio

 

 

TIME Health Care

Battle Over Paid Surrogacy Opens New Front

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The bill is personal for this New York senator

In many states, hiring a woman to carry and give birth to a child for you is illegal. But democratic New York Senator Brad Hoylman is fighting to change that in his home state. On Wednesday, he and the New York State assembly re-filed a bill called the Child-Parent Security Act to legalize compensated surrogacy in New York, and provide protections that ensure surrogates are entering into legal agreements and there’s no question that the intended parents of the child have full rights.

For him, the issue is personal and political.

New York forbids compensated surrogacy and is the only state where criminal penalties can be imposed on people who enter into a paid surrogacy agreement. That means that couples who want to use a surrogate to have a child that they’re genetically related must travel to a state where the practice is legal in order to do so.

That’s what Hoylman and his husband David Sigal did. Their daughter Silvia, now 4, was born via a surrogate in California, where compensated surrogacy is legal and parental rights are established prior to the birth of the child. “It added a lot of time and expense and uncertainty to having a child as a gay couple,” says Hoylman. “California has codified legal protections for surrogate families, and I would like to see that replicated in New York.”

Twenty-two states allow the practice and four states—New York, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey—as well as Washington, D.C., forbid it . The remaining states don’t have any rulings on the matter, meaning it’s technically not illegal but there are no laws to protect people should something go wrong, such as legal arguments over who has parental rights.

“I’ve had reports of surrogate children being born in New York illegally,” says Hoylman. “It’s a bit of a wild west scenario.”

Paid surrogacy, whether in one’s home state or elsewhere, is still costly. Basic fees for a surrogate mother can range from $32,000 to $40,000, with medical bills, legal fees, finding an egg donor and paying for insurance on top of it. For couples who travel out of state for a legal arrangement, there’s the added cost of travel throughout the pregnancy. All told, out-of-state surrogacy arrangements can cost around $100,000 on average.

One of the reasons many states are still wary of paid surrogacy is because of a 1988 ruling in New Jersey over “Baby M.” In a traditional surrogacy scenario, a woman named Mary Beth Whitehead agreed to be the paid surrogate for William and Elizabeth Stern, whom she found in a newspaper advertisement. But after giving birth, Whitehead changed her mind and tried to take the child back. Ultimately, the court gave custody to the Sterns, but Whitehead was given legal visitation rights. After that, paid surrogacy was outlawed in New Jersey, and others followed suit.

But thanks to in vitro fertilization, surrogacy today looks very different than it did a decade ago. Experts now recommend gestational surrogacy, where a surrogate fetus is implanted with an embryo made from donor sperm and egg—as opposed to tradition surrogacy, where the surrogate is inseminated with sperm. In the latter case, the carrier is genetically related to the child. Hoylman’s bill does not endorse that form.

Hoylman’s bill establishes the concept of “intended parentage” so that regardless of how a child was conceived, intended parents get rights. For example, in many cases, if a lesbian couple has a child via a sperm donor, the non-biological mother must adopt the child, something Hoylman says women find “embarrassing.”

For now, Hoylman says he has to prove that compensated surrogacy can work in New York.

“I was in the delivery room with my daughter and not everyone has that vantage point,” says Hoylman. “I am mindful that this is a longer term project.”

TIME society

Local News Anchor Announces ALS Diagnosis and Retires in Touching Broadcast

After almost 40 years, Larry Stogner told viewers, "We have to stop meeting this way"

When longtime North Carolina news anchor Larry Stogner participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge last summer, he didn’t yet know that he was one of the 30,000 Americans who suffer from the neurological disease.

“I am sure that in recent months, you’ve noticed a change in my voice, my speech slower,” the anchor at ABC affiliate WTVD said in a touching broadcast last Friday. “Many of you were kind enough to email me ideas about what it might be, or just to show concern, and I truly appreciate that. As it turns out, I have ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”

After almost four decades reporting the news, Stogner announced his retirement, telling viewers, “We have to stop meeting this way.”

After a vacation with his wife, Stogner will be back in two weeks to talk on-air with his colleagues and say a more formal goodbye.

Read next: Here’s What’s Happening With the Ice Bucket Challenge Money

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