TIME Research

How Onions May Be Used as Artificial Muscles

Onions can bend, contract and elongate just like muscles

Imagine getting an onion transplant to replace an injured muscle. It may sound absurd, but new research published in the journal Applied Physics Letters suggests that onions have ideal properties for use as artificial muscles.

Researchers from the National Taiwan University in Taipei put onions through a variety of tests to measure their potential as artificial muscles. First, the researchers removed a single layer of the inside of the onion. They then freeze-dried the cells to remove water that could cause rupturing later on. Finally, they added small layers if gold to allow the onion to respond to electric current prompting it to move.

In the end, they found that onions bend, contract and elongate in response to external action, just like muscles. When the researchers applied the right voltage to the onion, it would contract and grip a ball of cotton.

Vegetable cells are promising for use in the body because they can perform many of the same functions when they are no longer living, unlike many other cells. “People have tried to use live muscle before. But then how to keep the muscle cells alive becomes a problem. We use vegetable cells because the cell walls provide muscle strength whether the cells are alive or not,” Wen-Pin Shih, a study researcher, told Smithsonian magazine.

Still, researchers say issues remain that may make it difficult to use onions in human beings. For one, the voltage required to trigger the movement may be too high.

TIME medicine

The Obesity Paradox: Can Body Fat Ever Be Good For You?

TIME.com stock photos Weight Loss Health Exercise Scale
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

More and more data suggests there may be a protective benefit from body fat. What's going on?

When it comes to a medical consensus on body fat here’s what we know: There isn’t one. The research is conflicting, interpreting the results can be confusing and even leading experts disagree about whether or not you can be healthy at any size.

More than one third of U.S. adults are obese. And being overweight or obese can put people at a greater risk for other health complications like heart disease and diabetes. Yet, in the last decade or so, there’s increasing data suggesting body fat may, in some cases, impart a kind of protective benefit. This has led to what’s known as the “obesity paradox”—the fact that moderately obese people with chronic diseases are often outliving normal-weight people with the same health issues.

The most recent example is a study published this week in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. In the study, researchers looked at over 10,500 patients with type 2 diabetes who were followed for around 10 years. They found that overweight or obese people in the study had a higher rate of cardiac events like heart failure compared to people who were a normal weight. However, people who were overweight—but not obese—lived longer than the people who were of normal weight or underweight. In fact people who were underweight had the worst prognosis, the researchers showed.

“The explanation for these results is unknown and does not mean that patients with diabetes should try to become overweight,” the editors of Annals write. “Patients should continue to follow a healthy lifestyle.”

That doesn’t answer the question of why heavier people fared better by some measures, however—a question that has been plaguing researchers for more than a decade. Some researchers say they’ve had trouble getting their initial findings published in medical journals because it raises so many challenging questions. And for average joes, this emerging body of evidence continues to confuse.

Can Fat Help the Heart?

The latest study does not dispute the fact that being overweight puts people at risk for heart problems. But how can it be that the very factors that put people at risk for heart disease could also add years to their life?

In a 2014 study, a team of researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 36 studies and found that a that low BMI in thousands of patients with coronary artery disease who underwent surgery was associated with up to a 2.7-fold greater risk of heart attack and heart-related death over a follow up period of close to two years. But overweight and obese patients had better outcomes and heart-related death risk was lowest among overweight patients with a high BMI compared to people with a normal BMI.

When asked what’s going on, study author Dr. Abhishek Sharma said his team could only speculate. “One explanation may be that overweight patients are more likely to be prescribed cardioprotective medications such as beta blockers and statins and in higher doses than the normal weight population. Further, obese and overweight patients have been found to have large coronary vessel damage, which might contribute to more favorable outcomes,” he said.

That year, Dr. Kamyar Kalantar-Zadeh, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Irvine, wrote an editorial in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings likening body fat to an unscrupulous friend. He writes: “Metaphorically, we can liken such cardiovascular risk factors as obesity to a friend who is a negative influence, causing the two of you to misbehave and be sentenced to jail, but once imprisoned, the friend remains loyal and protects you against poor prison conditions and other inmates.”

Still, not everyone is convinced. Dr. JoAnn E. Manson, chief of the division of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, says that the finding that obese people with diabetes live longer is not consistent. Other studies have found the opposite to be true, and studies that look at a snapshot may not reveal the full story either she says.

In 2o12 researchers reported in the European Heart Journal that there are groups of people who are obese who are also metabolically healthy—people do not suffer from problems like insulin resistance or high blood pressure. “Physicians should take into consideration that not all obese people have the same prognosis,” the study authors wrote. The individuals they studied had higher fitness levels and better heart and lung function than other obese individuals, suggesting that perhaps it’s exercise that’s providing benefit for some.

“Metabolic health is on a continuum. People who are obese, even if they haven’t gotten to the level of hypertension, will still tend to have a higher blood pressure and blood sugar on average. Even if it’s within the normal range, it tends to be at a less healthy level overall,” says Manson. “People can cross over from being metabolically healthy to unhealthy over time. I think there are few, if any, circumstances where you would recommend that a patient be overweight or obese rather than a healthy weight.”

The Belly Fat Burden

It’s also possible that body fat may be more complicated than our currently understanding of it allows. Some experts have speculated that it may be that the type of fat we carry on the inside is important. A 2013 study showed normal-weight people with heart problems who also have belly fat have worse survival rates compared to obese people who carry their weight elsewhere, like on their thighs or rear.

Belly fat, also called visceral fat, is more harmful than fat that sits right under the skin because it’s embedded in muscles and organs. Some argue that our reliance on BMI is part of the problem. Many agree it’s an imperfect measurement, partially because it doesn’t distinguish between fat and muscle.

A measure of belly fat may be a better indicator for overall health. Some people of different weights may carry fat of varying degrees of risk and, as Brigham and Women’s Mason points out, weight alone can’t tell the full story of someone’s health. After all, someone with a low BMI who is thin may be thin because of another underlying illness or factor.

The Bottom Line (For Now)

Right now, there’s still lots of speculation and few definitive answers regarding the obesity paradox. But what hasn’t changed is that being overweight and obese are risk factors for chronic diseases—and belly fat specifically may be a contributor.

“There’s no question that if you are overweight or obese you have a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes. There will be people who fall into the metabolically healthy category, but it’s not a large proportion of people who are overweight or obese,” says Manson.

“If you start early by encouraging a healthy weight through the lifespan, you are going to have a lower incidence of diabetes and heart failure to begin with,” she continues. “Maintaining a healthy weight throughout life is the optimal approach to preventing chronic disease. That would be the public health recommendation.”

TIME public health

Your iPhone Can Now Tell If You Have a Parasite

loa loa worm parasite
Getty Images Loa Loa, or eyeworm

A new way to diagnose a nasty kind of worm

Parasitic worms plaguing Africa may soon meet their match—because now, there’s an app for them, too. According to a new report in the journal Science Translational Medicine, researchers have developed a way to rapidly test for a particularly troublesome kind of eye worm through an iPhone.

Worms are a huge problem in parts of Central and West Africa. A single species called O. volvulus causes “river blindness,” the second-biggest cause of infectious blindness in the world, and another, W. bancroftiis, causes lymphatic filariasis, the second leading cause of disability in the world.

The good news is that they can be cured with an anti-parasitic drug called ivermectin. The bad news is that a third kind of worm—a particularly disgusting kind called Loa loa, or African eye worm—makes treatment much more risky. Loa loa wriggle out of the eye when they mature and spread throughout the body, but even though they look terrifying, they’re not life-threatening. However, when people harbor high quantities of these worms and take the antiparastic drug ivermectin, they can suffer fatal brain damage within days. That enormous side effect has stopped mass drug administration in its tracks, putting the effective drug on ice and countless at risk for blindness and disability.

Finding people with high levels of this worm is extremely important, but screening takes days and requires resources. In order to test levels, technicians have to make a blood smear on a glass slide, stain the sample to highlight the worms and manually count them under a microscope. But now, engineers at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a method that takes just three minutes using a smartphone device called CellScope Loa.

Here’s how it works: you slide your iPhone into a small 3D-printed box, which is built with microprocesssors, a motor and some LEDs for illumination. Align the phone camera with lenses in the box, and after a quick fingerprick for blood and the push of a button, the phone takes five short videos of worms wriggling in the blood and wirelessly analyzes the sample with the help of an app. The microscope senses the motion of the Loa loa, and within a matter of seconds, a worm count pops up on the screen.

The researchers tested the CellScope on 33 people in Cameroon and compared that analysis against the gold-standard smear technique. The diagnoses and very low false-negative rates matched.

Being able to diagnose worms with one streamlined portable device has a lot of advantages over current testing methods, which involve bulky microscope, a computer, a laboratory and a lot of time and money, says Daniel Fletcher, head of the lab that designed CellScope and associate chair and professor of bioengineering at UC Berkeley. Teams that provide mass drug administration services will be able to take the CellScope to villages, filter out who shouldn’t be treated and give worm medication to the rest, he says.

Next, the team will test the device on 40,000 people in Cameroon.

It’s possible that the device will have implications far beyond the African eye worm. “Right now, we’ve designed the algorithms to look for this particular kind of worm,” Fletcher says. “But we’re hopeful that the general strategy of using all parts of the phone—not just the camera, but using its ability through Bluetooth to control other components, its computing ability to analyze images, and the screen to report results—could be applicable to a range of other resources.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

7 Delicious New Takes on Avocado Toast

Fun combinations for your taste buds

It seems that every kind of food, no matter how basic, is getting fancy these days: Broth, coffee, jerky–and now toast.

If you have any doubt that toast has gone gourmet, remember that Gwyneth Paltrow compared toast (specifically, avocado toast) to “a favorite pair of jeans” in her 2013 cookbook It’s All Good ($20, amazon.com). And we all know Gwyneth means a very expensive, fancy favorite pair of jeans. More recently, the Better on Toast ($16, amazon.com) cookbook was released, and it is full of 70(!) different recipes for taking this morning staple to another level.

Still, we agree with Gwyneth that the tastiest way to get in on this trend is via the humble, yet versatile avocado. Whether you’re already a devotee of “avo toast” or not, we’ve got some variations on it that you’ve got to try.

As a guide: We used sprouted multigrain bread from Alvarado Street Bakery ($33 for 6 loaves—freeze them!, amazon.com), and about ¼ of an avocado for each slice, unless otherwise noted. Have 2 slices for a meal with a salad, or 1 slice as a snack.

  • Classic

    Beth Lipton

    Whole-grain (or sourdough) bread, mashed avocado, sea salt, black pepper. Add hot sauce or red pepper flakes for some heat, if you like.

  • Smoked salmon

    Beth Lipton

    Whole-grain bread, mashed avocado, 2 Tbsp. flaked smoked salmon, 1 tsp. lemon zest, pepper. Sliced red onion is optional.

  • Veg-heavy

    Beth Lipton

    Whole-grain bread, mashed avocado, 6 thin slices cucumber, 4 to 6 thin slices radish, 1 Tbsp. chopped olives. Drizzle with 1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil, season with salt and pepper.

  • Nacho

    Beth Lipton

    Whole-grain bread, mashed avocado, 2 Tbsp. salsa (drained), 1 Tbsp. shredded Cheddar or jack. Broil until the cheese melts (watch carefully to prevent burning).


  • Seedy

    Beth Lipton

    Whole-grain bread, mashed avocado mixed with 1 tsp. chia seeds, 2 tsp. each sunflower and hemp seeds, a splash of lemon juice, salt and pepper. Top with more seeds, if desired.

  • Chocolate

    Beth Lipton

    In a blender or food processor, combine 1 chopped avocado with 1/3 cup cacao powder, ½ cup pure maple syrup, a splash of vanilla extract and a pinch of salt. Blend until smooth, adding water 1 Tbsp. at a time if needed to reach desired texture. (Yield: About 1 cup; use about 2 Tbsp. per bread slice. Cover and refrigerate remaining chocolate-avocado spread, if you can stop yourself from eating it off a spoon.)

    This article originally appeared on Health.com.

    More from Health.com:

TIME Research

This Is How People Judge How Smart You Are

How smart we are is best conveyed through our voice

A new study from researchers at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business suggest that when giving a pitch, an interviewee’s voice—not what they’ve written down—is what’s most convincing when it comes to gauging intellect.

In the study, published in the journal Psychological Science, the researchers conducted several experiments using MBA students. They videotaped the students while they were giving elevator pitches. Prospective employers or professional recruiters then watched, listened to or read transcripts of those pitches.

The researchers found that the evaluators rated the job candidates as more intelligent, thoughtful, and competent when they heard their pitch as opposed to when they read it. Showing the evaluators the video didn’t impact the results of the evaluations any more than hearing the candidate’s voice.

“Our data does not show that appearances don’t matter,” says study author Nicholas Epley, a professor at he University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “What they show is that your intelligence is not necessarily something I can see on your body, but I think it’s a cue that we can pick up or hear in your voice.”

MBA students didn’t expect this to be the case. “People seem to be afraid of sounding stupid or something, but in fact, they seem to be in danger of seeming stupid when they type,” says Epley.

In the context of a job interview, Epley says their data suggests that if there’s an opportunity to speak to someone directly, you should take it.

Epley also adds that the study sheds light on why people treat each other terribly on the Internet. “We think this gets to something really fundamental in social life,” he says. “We think this speaks to a broader capacity to recognize that other people are human beings. And the capacity to recognize someone’s mind, we think comes quite literally through their voice. So much of our conversations and interactions with each other are done digitally with the voice stripped out. I don’t think it’s any accident that people online people seem to treat each other as mindless idiots.”

Though the study is still preliminary, it reminds us that in certain contexts we can fail to recognize someone’s mind, or humanity, because they may not have much of a voice.

TIME LIFE Photo Essay

Celebrate National Nurses Week With a LIFE Cover Story on Nursing in the 1930s

A look at how "acolytes in a great sisterhood of healers" earned their stripes in 1938

National Nurses Week, which begins May 6, recognizes the millions of nurses who make up the backbone of the American healthcare system. And the annual shout-out is more than warranted: A 2014 survey of more than 3,000 nurses found respondents to be stressed out, underslept and — at least in their own estimation — underpaid.

When LIFE featured the profession on its cover in 1938, the career was in a moment of transition. “Once almost any girl could be a nurse,” LIFE explained, “But now, with many state laws to protect the patient, nursing has become an exacting profession.” A candidate needed not only a background in science, but also a combination of “patience, devotion, tact and the reassuring charm that comes only from a fine balance of physical health and adjusted personality.”

Nurses also needed, as they still do, stamina. A typical day in the life of a Roosevelt Hospital School of Nursing student who had been capped — meaning she had successfully completed the probationary period — was described as follows:

Her day begins early. She rises at 6, breakfasts at 6:30, reports to duty at 6:55, has lunch sometime between 12 and 1:30. The rest of the day is consumed with ward duty, two hours of classes, three hours of rest or study. At 7 p.m. she is free to go out on parties, read in the library, dance in the reception room with her fellow nurses or make herself a late supper in the nurses’ kitchen.

The photo essay, shot by Alfred Eisenstaedt, was an earnest nod to a group of people responsible not only for the well-being of individual patients, but also the public health of a city and a nation. Their duty, after all, was “to secure the health of future generations.”

Alfred Eisenstaedt—LIFE MagazineJanuary 31, 1938 cover of LIFE magazine.

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.


You Asked: Do High Heels Actually Damage My Feet?

You Asked: Do High Heels Actually Damage My Feet?
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Yep. And the damage doesn’t end at your toes.

High heels hurt. If you’ve worn them (I have not) then you probably know this already. But are high heels also bad for you? A 2014 survey from the American Podiatric Medical Association—composed of the nation’s top foot and lower-leg docs—found heels were far and away the most common cause of foot pain among women.

Unsurprisingly, much of that pain comes from contorting your foot into a steep “plantarflexed” position, concludes a study from the Journal of Applied Physiology. Like standing on your tiptoes for hours, that high-heeled posture may lead to painful muscle fatigue and strain injuries, the authors of that study say.

Calluses, blisters, bunions, and ingrown nails are all common among high heel wearers, adds Dr. Rodney Stuck, division director of podiatry at Loyola University Chicago. The higher the heel, the more trouble you’re likely to run (or walk) into, Stuck says.

But the most significant risks of your high-heel habit may begin higher up your leg. According to research from the U.K. and Austria, lots of time spent walking in heels actually changes the structure of the muscles and tendons in your calves—and not for the better.

High heels lead to shorter muscle fibers and a toughening of the Achilles tendon, says Dr. Marco Narici, a professor of clinical physiology at the University of Nottingham (and coauthor of that study). Narici says these muscle changes reduce your ankle’s range of motion, and contribute to your risk for strains and sprains. Stuck says these sorts of muscle adaptations may also up your risk for other lower-body injuries. A sore ankle or leg you blamed on running may actually have more to do with your high heels, he says.

More research shows walking in heels puts a great deal of force on your kneecaps. This force can lead to the early onset of osteoarthritis, says Dr. Constance Chu, a professor of orthopedic surgery at Stanford.

Chu says this risk increases among heavier women. “Combining walking in very high heels for long periods of time every day with obesity and aging would be a perfect storm for knee osteoarthritis, as well as foot, back, and other joint problems,” she says.

Of course, tossing your stilettos is the one surefire way to dodge all these potential health hazards. But if you’re not willing to part with your pumps, Chu says lower heels lowers your risk. For formal or work events when you feel heels are a must, she recommends wearing flats beforehand and changing into your heels only when you’ve arrived at your destination. “Taking time to sit and move the knees through a full range of motion may also be helpful,” she says.

Loyola University’s Stuck also suggests standing against a wall or with one foot on a step and stretching your feet for a few minutes every day.

But don’t swap your heels for flip-flops. An Auburn University study found the way those loose summer sandals shorten your gait and force you to grip with your toes may lead to all sorts of heel, ankle, and sole problems.

Feet sure don’t have it easy.

Read next: These High-Tech High Heels Change Color With the Click of an App

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TIME Research

U.S. Ranks Worst Developed Country for Maternal Health

But there's plenty of room for improvement

A woman in the United States faces a one in 1,800 risk of maternal death, according to an annual report by the charity Save the Children, the worst of any developed country in the world. What’s more, they’re more than 10 times as likely to die from a cause related to pregnancy as those in Belarus, Poland and Austria.

The State of the World’s Mothers 2015 report, a global index that ranks the best and worst places to be a mother based on the latest available data on indicators like political status, economics, education, children’s well-being and maternal health, ranks the U.S. at No. 33 of 179 surveyed countries—down two spots from last year.

The U.S. ranked No. 42 on children’s well-being, No. 61 on maternal health and No. 89 for political status—or the participation of women in national government. Among the other statistics, the report finds that an American child under the age of 5 is nearly just as likely to die (6.9 per 1,000 live births) as one in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Slovakia or Macedonia.

Of the 25 capital cities of wealthy countries surveyed, the report finds Washington, D.C., had the highest rate of infant mortality (7.9 deaths per 1,000 live births as of 2012). In comparison, cities like Stockholm and Oslo had rates below 2.0. Washington’s rate fell in 2013, to 6.6, but a number of major American cities have had rates much higher. In 2011, Detroit’s rate was reported at 12.4, and in Cleveland, it was 14.1.

Prematurity was considered a major factor in the Detroit rate, but others included insufficient prenatal care, a dearth of education and poverty. Save the Children found race to be a factor, too.

The national average for deaths per live births in the U.S. is 6.1 per 1,000, but the report finds it’s much higher for unwed, poor and young black mothers. As one example, a black mom in San Francisco is six times more likely than a white one to lose her baby before its first birthday.

The overall top 10 included Norway, Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Australia and Belgium. The bottom 10 were Haiti and Sierra Leone (tied), Guinea-Bissau, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Niger, Mali, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.

Read the full report here.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

The Weird Thing That Packs on Calories—And Pounds

Getty Images

A new study says an increase in food brands is leading us to overeat

A quick trip down the frozen-food aisle at the supermarket can be anxiety-ridden. Given the sheer range of options for everything from popcorn to cereal to tomato soup, it’s tough to know what to buy (if you’re not going based on cost alone). Now, a new study suggests having so much variety may be wreaking havoc on our waistlines.

The new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, shows having so many different brands of the same food may be making us overeat. The researchers asked people nearly 200 people about their consumption of pepperoni pizza. In the study, there were over 70 different pepperoni pizza brands consumed, and the calorie content varied by well over 300%. The researchers then compared the eating habits of people who regularly ate multiple varieties of pizza to people who only regularly consumed the same brand.

The researchers found that the people who ate multiple brands of pizza were more likely to view pizza as less filling compared to people who ate one brand, and they were more likely to overeat when they were eating pizza to avoid being hungry later, suggesting they were unable to accurately compensate for the calories they were consuming on a given day.

“It would appear that this high variability of food items makes it more difficult for people to learn about food and manage their consumption which exposes a new feature of Western diets and which has potential public health implications,” study author Charlotte Hardman, a lecturer in the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Liverpool said in a statement.

The findings suggest that having so many options may distort people’s perception of how filling a given food is. Historically, our ability to regulate our own expectations of food satiety was based on sensory experiences with that food. The researchers suggest that the influx of brands for foods that have the same taste, but not necessarily the same calories, may be throwing us off. And that might be bad news for the number on the scale.

TIME public health

This Is the Leading Cause of Injury Death for Children in NYC

"We have an epidemic and must do all we can to make our streets more forgiving"

Motor vehicle accidents killed more than 100 children under the age of 13 in New York City between 2003 and 2012, making such crashes the leading cause of injury death in that age group, according to a New York City Department of Health report. Two-thirds of children killed in motor vehicle-related accidents were pedestrians.

The announcement comes as New York has sought to implement a comprehensive plan by Mayor Bill de Blasio to reduce traffic deaths. The program, known as Vision Zero, reduced the speed limit, redesigned intersections and called for more forceful prosecution of traffic violations. Traffic deaths in the city hit a 100-year low last year, even with the program in its infancy.

The high-profile deaths of several children, often pedestrians, have drawn publicity to the program. “My son Sammy was one of the hundreds of children who have been killed in traffic. Each statistic represents an unfathomable loss,” said Amy Cohen, a member of Families for Safe Streets, in a press release. “We have an epidemic and must do all we can to make our streets more forgiving.”

Fire-related injuries, suffocation and falls are also among the leading killers. Together, they account for nearly two-thirds of child injury deaths, according to the report.

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