TIME Diet/Nutrition

This Kind of Tea Lowers Blood Pressure Naturally

green tea
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The best brew for your heart

Recent research has come down squarely on the side of caffeinated morning beverages, suggesting that coffee can protect against cancer and type 2 diabetes. Tea has enjoyed a healthy reputation for years as a heart-protector, and a study published in the October issue of British Journal of Nutrition suggests it might even help lower blood pressure.

Researchers were intrigued by the inconclusive link in studies so far regarding blood pressure and tea intake, so they analyzed 25 randomized controlled trials—the gold standard of scientific research—to further explore on the association.

They found that in the short term, tea didn’t seem to make a difference for blood pressure. But long-term tea intake did have a significant impact. After 12 weeks of drinking tea, blood pressure was lower by 2.6 mmHg systolic and 2.2 mmHg diastolic. Green tea had the most significant results, while black tea performed the next best.

Those might not seem like big numbers, but small changes in blood pressure can have a significant impact on health, the study authors write. Reducing systolic blood pressure by 2.6 mmHg “would be expected to reduce stroke risk by 8%, coronary artery disease mortality by 5% and all-cause mortality by 4% at a population level,” they write.

Tea is thought to offer endothelial protection by helping blood vessels relax, allowing blood to flow more freely. It’s a high source of antioxidants that have been linked to better cardiovascular health.

The researchers weren’t able to pinpoint the optimal number of cups to drink to get the benefit, but other studies have shown protective effects at 3-4 daily cups. The researchers said they didn’t see a difference in caffeinated tea vs. decaf.

“These are profound effects and must be considered seriously in terms of the potential for dietary modification to modulate the risk of CVD [cardiovascular disease],” the authors write.

TIME Addiction

The Genetic Reason Why Some Drinkers Can’t Stop

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Chris Clor—Getty Images/Blend Images

A new study in mice looks at the link between genetics, alcohol and the brain

Around 10% of people will develop alcohol disorders, and a new study in mice shows that having a specific genetic strand might be the reason some escalate from moderate to excessive drinkers.

Previously, scientists at the University of California, San Francisco showed that moderate drinking activates a protein in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which might protect against drinking too much.

In the new study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, they study what happens when that threshold into excessive drinking is crossed. When mice consumed generous amounts of alcohol for a long period of time—mimicking the human act of binge drinking—their levels of the protective protein BDNF decreased significantly in a part of their brains where decision-making occurs. One possible reason for this decline, the scientists discovered, was a corresponding increase in genetic material microRNA, including miR-30a-5p.

When the researchers increased miR-30a-5p in the mice brains themselves, BDNF went down and mice wanted to drink more, preferring alcohol to water. When the scientists inhibited the miR-30a-5p, the brains returned to normal, and so did the drinking behaviors of the mice.

Though mice studies can’t translate directly to humans, the researchers think a similar situation may be happening in human brains during alcohol consumption, and that perhaps certain people are genetically susceptible, as other research has also suggested. The researchers hope their findings will provide better data for alcoholism therapies.

TIME ebola

Why Ebola Isn’t Really a Threat to the U.S.

Ebola will not likely spread within the United States

Give us this—when Americans overreact, we do it all the way. Over the past week, in response to fears of Ebola, parents in Mississippi pulled their children out of a middle school after finding out that its principal had traveled to Zambia—a nation that is in Africa, but one that hasn’t recorded a single Ebola case. A college sent rejection notices to some applicants from Nigeria because the school wouldn’t accept “international students from countries with confirmed Ebola cases”—even though Nigeria has had less than 20 confirmed cases and the outbreak is effectively over.

The American public is following its leaders, who’ve come down with a bad case of Ebola hysteria. That’s how you get even-tempered politicians like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo musing that the U.S. should “seriously consider” a travel ban on West African countries hit by Ebola, while some of his less restrained colleagues raise the incredibly far-fetched possibility of a terrorist group intentionally sending Ebola-infected refugees into the U.S. It’s little surprise that a Washington Post/ABC News poll found that two-thirds of Americans are concerned about an Ebola outbreak in the U.S.

They shouldn’t be—and two events that happened on Monday show why. WHO officials declared Nigeria officially “Ebola-free.” And in Dallas, the first wave of people being monitored because they had direct contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S., were declared free of the diseases.

Nigeria matters because the nation’s is Africa’s most populous, with 160 million people. Its main city, Lagos, is a sprawling, densely populated metropolis of more than 20 million. Nigeria’s public health system is far from the best in the world. Epidemiologists have nightmares about Ebola spreading unchecked in a city like Lagos, where there’s enough human tinder to burn indefinitely.

Yet after a few cases connected to Sawyer, Nigeria managed to stop Ebola’s spread thanks to solid preparation before the first case, a quick move to declare an emergency, and good management of public anxiety. A country with a per-capita GDP of $2,700—19 times less than the U.S.—proved it could handle Ebola. As Dr. Faisal Shuaib of Nigeria’s Ebola Emergency Operation Center told TIME: “There is no alternative to preparedness.”

But Nigeria’s success was also a reminder of this basic fact: If caught in time, Ebola is not that difficult to control, largely because it remains very difficult to transmit outside a hospital. For all the panic in the U.S. over Ebola, there has yet to be a case transmitted in the community. The fact that two health workers who cared for Duncan contracted the disease demonstrates that something was wrong with the treatment protocol put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—something CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden has essentially admitted—and may indicate that the way an Ebola patient is cared for in a developed world hospital may actually put doctors and nurses at greater risk.

“You do things that are much more aggressive with patients: intubation, hemodialysis,” National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases head Dr. Anthony Fauci said on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. “The exposure level is a bit different, particularly because you’re keeping patients alive longer.” But now that U.S. health officials understand that additional threat, there should be less risk of further infection from the two nurses who contracted Ebola from Duncan—both of whom are being treated in specialized hospitals.

Even the risk of another Duncan doesn’t seem high. For all the demand to ban commercial travel to and from Ebola-hit West Africa, this region is barely connected to the U.S. in any case. Only about 150 people from that area of Africa come to the U.S. every day—less than a single full Boeing 757—and many airlines have already stopped flying. But there have been relatively few spillover cases even in African countries that are much more closer and more connected to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Besides Nigeria, only Senegal has had cases connected to the West African outbreak—and that nation was declared Ebola-free today as well. (There have been cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but that’s considered a separate outbreak.) The worst Ebola outbreak ever is raging in three very poor nations—but it seems unable to establish itself anywhere else.

None of this is to deny the scale of the challenge facing Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, where the Ebola has fully taken hold and the disease is still outpacing our efforts to stop it. But West Africa is where our fear and our efforts should be focused—not at home, where Ebola is one thing most of us really don’t have to worry about.

TIME ebola

Ebola Vaccine Testing Could Start Soon

WHO hopes for clinical trials to begin in January

An Ebola vaccine could begin testing in the next few weeks and be ready for clinical trials in West Africa by January, the World Health Organization announced Tuesday.

Still, questions remain about when the drug may be available for the public at large and how many doses will be available, according to CNN.

“It will be deployed in the form of trials,” said WHO official Marie Paule Kieny, noting the number of available trials would be in the tens of thousands, not millions.

Initial tests will be available in countries like the United States and England before moving to West Africa, CNN reported.

Currently, there is no vaccine for Ebola, which has killed more than 4,500 people, almost entirely in West Africa, in the latest outbreak. Health officials have been working on a vaccine for years, and now have expedited their efforts in the face of the current crisis.

[CNN]

TIME Research

Scientists Pinpoint Why Some People Are ‘SAD’ in Winter

"We believe that we have found the dial the brain turns when it has to adjust serotonin to the changing seasons"

Difficulty regulating a chemical in the brain may explain why some people suffer from season affective disorder (SAD), according to new research.

Scientists at the University of Copenhagen, who studied brain scans from more than 30 subjects, found that SAD patients had different levels of a neurotransmitter that regulates serotonin in their brains during winter and summer months, the BBC reports. Serotonin is thought to signal happiness in the brain, and, during the winter, the neurotransmitter that removes serotonin was present at higher levels.

“We believe that we have found the dial the brain turns when it has to adjust serotonin to the changing seasons,” lead researcher Brenda McMahon told the BBC.

The research confirms what other studies have suggested. “SERT fluctuations associated with SAD have been seen in previous studies,” European College of Neuropsychophar­macology professor Siegfried Kasper said. “But this is the first study to follow patients through summer and winter comparisons.”

[BBC]

TIME Research

4 Surprising Things Your Nose Can Tell You About Your Health

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Not being able to smell well could signal the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease

No one appreciates their sense of smell when they pass a trash heap or accidentally step in dog poop. But your nose knows a lot—not just when things stink. In fact, your ability to smell, or not, can tell you a lot about your health. Here’s why you shouldn’t take your whiffing powers for granted.

A bad sense of smell can signal an early death

Feel like your sense of smell has gone south over the years? If it’s less than stellar, it could be a tip-off that you’re not in good health. A new study from the University of Chicago Medical Center found that not being able to detect certain odors had an increased risk of dying within five years. A whopping 39% of older patients who couldn’t pick up on scents like orange, rose, and peppermint died within that time frame, compared to only 19% of so-so smellers, and 10% of good smellers.

HEALTH.COM: How to Live to 100

Poor smell detection may be a sign of Alzheimer’s

Not being able to smell well could signal the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, according a Harvard Medical School study. Participants with elevated levels of amyloid plaques (telltale proteins found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients) who performed worse on an odor identification test also had greater brain cell death. Why? When the disease starts to kill brain cells, this often includes cells crucial for your sense of smell.

HEALTH.COM: 25 Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

Smelling something weird could predict a stroke

Some people pick up on more scents than others, but brief episodes of smelling something completely off-base—like fish when there isn’t any around—may be a sign of stroke or a seizure. The American Academy of Neurology says these “olfactory hallucinations” are usually unpleasant smells, but they can differ from person to person, according to the Mayo Clinic. Contact your doctor right away if your nose seems to be going haywire.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Stroke Symptoms Everyone Should Know

Imagining odors can precede a migraine

While it’s relatively uncommon, people may also hallucinate a smell as part of a pre-migraine aura, according to a review of research done by the Montefiore Headache Center. Again, the scents were mostly unpleasant: the most common were of things burning or decomposing.

HEALTH.COM: 18 Signs You’re Having a Migraine

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Surgery

Paralyzed Man Walks Again After ‘Miracle’ Surgery

Polish doctors used cells from patient's nose to heal spinal injury

A man who was completely paralyzed from the waist down has learned to walk again after Polish doctors transplanted cells from the patient’s nose into the damaged part of his spine. This pioneering research offers hope for treatment to millions of people around the world with spinal cord injuries.

The patient, 38-year-old firefighter Darek Fidyka from Poland, was left with a completely severed spinal cord after being stabbed four years ago. His doctors had given him a less than 1% chance of recovery but thanks to revolutionary surgery carried out in 2012 Fidyka is now able to walk again with a frame. “It’s an incredible feeling, difficult to describe,” he recounts in a BBC documentary to be aired Tuesday “When it starts coming back, you feel as if you start living your life again, as if you are reborn.” Fidyka has been able to resume an independent life and is even able to drive a car.

The procedure was carried out by Polish surgeons in collaboration with British researchers at University College London. Professor Geoffrey Raisman, who led the U.K. research team, called the breakthrough “historic” and said what had been achieved was “more impressive than man walking on the moon.”

[BBC]

TIME ebola

CDC Changes Ebola Guidelines

CDC EBOLA TRAINING
Licensed clinician Hala Fawal practices drawing blood from a patient using a dummy on Monday, Oct. 6, 2014, in Anniston, Ala. Brynn Anderson—AP

Now recommending full-coverage for health care workers

Health care workers treating Ebola patients must now wear full-body coverage suits with no skin showing and must undergo significant training prior to treating patients, U.S. health officials said Monday.

“We may never know exactly how [the Dallas infections happened], but the bottom line is the guidelines didn’t work for that hospital,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said during a news conference announcing the new guidelines for caring for Ebola patients and wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). Prior to the three Ebola infections in Dallas, including two health care workers, the CDC did not recommend full body coverage for Ebola, but instead recommended at least gloves, a gown, eye protection and a face mask. That has changed, in light of the two health care worker infections at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.

The new guidelines have three additions:

1. Prior to working with Ebola patients, health care workers must be repeatedly trained and demonstrate competency in treating a patient with Ebola, especially putting on and taking off PPE. “Facilities need to ensure all healthcare providers practice numerous times to make sure they understand how to appropriately use the equipment,” the CDC said in a statement.

2. When wearing PPE, no skin can be exposed. The CDC is providing two options for the PPEs, since the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Emory University Hospital, which have both successfully treated Ebola patients, use different versions. Googles are no longer recommended. The recommendations for PPE are now the following:

  • Double gloves
  • Boot covers that are waterproof and go to at least mid-calf or leg covers
  • Single use fluid resistant or imperable gown that extends to at least mid-calf or coverall without intergraded hood.
  • Respirators, including either N95 respirators or powered air purifying respirator (PAPR)
  • Single-use, full-face shield that is disposable
  • Surgical hoods to ensure complete coverage of the head and neck
  • Apron that is waterproof and covers the torso to the level of the mid-calf should be used if Ebola patients have vomiting or diarrhea

3. Every step of putting on and taking off PPE must be supervised by a trained observer. There should also be designated areas for where PPE are taken on and off.

“It’s hard to care for Ebola, so every aspect… needs to be overseen,” said Frieden in the press conference, adding that hospitals should limit personnel in health care rooms and should limit procedures to only those that are essential.

The CDC is increasing health care worker training across the country as well as sending out training videos, but Frieden argues that there is no alternative for hands-on training, especially taking on and off PPEs. “We agree with the concern of health care workers,” said Frieden citing anxiety from health care workers nationwide that they felt unprepared for treating patients with Ebola. The new recommendations will be effective immediately, though the CDC does not have the regulatory authority to make hospitals follow the guidelines, Frieden said. The recommendations should be available online later Monday evening.

Earlier on Monday, a Dallas County Judge confirmed that 43 of 48 contacts of Thomas Eric Duncan were considered no longer at risk after the 21-day incubation period passed, and Nigeria was declared Ebola-free.

TIME ebola

The Psychology Behind Our Collective Ebola Freak-Out

Airlines and the CDC Oppose Ebola Flight Bans
A protester stands outside the White House asking President Barack Obama to ban flights in effort to stop Ebola on Oct. 17, 2014 in Washington, DC. Olivier Douliery—dpa/Corbis

The almost-zero probability of acquiring Ebola in the U.S. often doesn’t register at a time of mass fear. It’s human nature

In Hazlehurst, Miss., parents pulled their children out of middle school last week after learning that the principal had recently visited southern Africa.

At Syracuse University, a Pulitzer Prize–winning photojournalist who had planned to speak about public health crises was banned from campus after working in Liberia.

An office building in Brecksville, Ohio, closed where almost 1,000 people work over fears that an employee had been exposed to Ebola.

A high school in Oregon canceled a visit from nine students from Africa — even though none of them hailed from countries containing the deadly disease.

All over the U.S., fear of contracting Ebola has prompted a collective, nationwide freak-out. Schools have emptied; businesses have temporarily shuttered; Americans who have merely traveled to Africa are being blackballed.

As the federal government works to contain the deadly disease’s spread under a newly appointed “Ebola czar,” and as others remain quarantined, the actual number of confirmed cases in the U.S. can still be counted on one hand: three. And they’ve all centered on the case of Thomas Eric Duncan, who died Oct. 8 in a Dallas hospital after traveling to Liberia; two nurses who treated him are the only other CDC-confirmed cases in the U.S.

The almost-zero probability of acquiring something like Ebola, given the virus’s very real and terrifying symptoms, often doesn’t register at a time of mass paranoia. Rationality disappears; irrational inclinations take over. It’s human nature, and we’ve been acting this way basically since we found out there were mysterious things out there that could kill us.

“There are documented cases of people misunderstanding and fearing infectious diseases going back through history,” says Andrew Noymer, an associate professor of public health at the University of California at Irvine. “Stigmatization is an old game.”

While there was widespread stigma surrounding diseases like the Black Death in Europe in the 1300s (which killed tens of millions) and more recently tuberculosis in the U.S. (patients’ family members often couldn’t get life-insurance policies, for example), our current overreaction seems more akin to collective responses in the last half of the 20th century to two other diseases: polio and HIV/AIDS.

Concern over polio in the 1950s led to widespread bans on children swimming in lakes and pools after it was discovered that they could catch the virus in the water. Thirty years later, the scare over HIV and AIDS led to many refusing to even get near those believed to have the disease. (Think of the hostile reaction from fellow players over Magic Johnson deciding to play in the 1992 NBA All-Star Game.)

Like the first cases of polio and HIV/AIDS, Ebola is something novel in the U.S. It is uncommon, unknown, its foreign origins alone often leading to fearful reactions. The fatality rate for those who do contract it is incredibly high, and the often gruesome symptoms — including bleeding from the eyes and possible bleeding from the ears, nose and rectum — provoke incredibly strong and often instinctual responses in attempts to avoid it or contain it.

“It hits all the risk-perception hot buttons,” says University of Oregon psychology professor Paul Slovic.

Humans essentially respond to risk in two ways: either through gut feeling or longer gestating, more reflective decisionmaking based on information and analysis. Before the era of Big Data, or data at all, we had to use our gut. Does that look like it’s going to kill us? Then stay away. Is that person ill? Well, probably best to avoid them.

“We didn’t have science and analysis to guide us,” Slovic says. “We just went with our gut feelings, and we survived.”

But even though we know today that things like the flu will likely kill tens of thousands of people this year, or that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. every year, we’re more likely to spend time worrying about the infinitesimal chances that we’re going to contract a disease that has only affected a handful of people, thanks in part to its frightening outcomes.

“When the consequences are perceived as dreadful, probability goes out the window,” Slovic says. “Our feelings aren’t moderated by the fact that it’s unlikely.”

Slovic compares it to the threat from terrorism, something that is also unlikely to kill us yet its consequences lead to massive amounts of government resources and calls for continued vigilance from the American people.

“Statistics are human beings with the tears dried off,” he says. “We often tend to react much less to the big picture.”

And that overreaction is often counterproductive. Gene Beresin, a Harvard Medical School psychiatry professor, says that fear is causing unnecessary reactions, oftentimes by parents and school officials, and a social rejection of those who in no way could have caught Ebola.

“It’s totally ridiculous to close these schools,” Beresin says. “It’s very difficult to catch. People need to step back, calm down and look at the actual facts, because we do have the capacity to use our rationality to prevent hysterical reactions.”

Read next: Nigeria Is Ebola-Free: Here’s What They Did Right

TIME ebola

Emory’s Third Ebola Patient is Discharged

This is the third patient to successfully survive the disease at Emory

A third unnamed patient with Ebola being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta has survived the virus and has been discharged.

The patient, who asked to remain anonymous and is not one of the Dallas nurses, arrived at Emory on Sept. 9. Emory University Hospital announced on Monday that the patient was determined to be free of the virus and was discharged on Sunday Oct. 19.

The hospital has also successfully treated the two missionaries Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol. They are currently treating one of the Dallas nurses with Ebola who was flown from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital to Emory on Oct. 15.

Emory has a specialized serious communicable disease unit with an infectious disease team that had been training for the possibility of a case like Ebola for a decade.

MORE: Doctors Inside Emory’s Ebola Unit Speak Out

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