TIME Obesity

This Is What Weight Loss Does To Your Brain

Brain scan, MRI scan
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New research shows weight loss surgery can reverse the negative effects body fat may have on the brain

Too much fat weighs down not just your body, but also your brain.

Obesity harms most organs in the body, and new research suggests the brain is no exception. What’s more, the researchers found that getting rid of excess fat actually improves brain function, reversing the ill effects of the extra weight. The new study, which focused on people who underwent bariatric surgery, found that the procedure had positive effects on the brain, but other research has shown that less invasive weight loss strategies, like exercise, can also reverse brain damage thought to be related to body fat.

Here’s why that matters: Obese men and women are estimated to be about 35% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s compared to people of a normal weight. Some research suggests that body fat ups the number of proteins in the brain that trigger a cascade of events that predispose someone to the disease, and other research in mice has suggested that fat cells release a substance called interleukin 1, which can cause severe inflammation and, in turn, gunk up the brain.

In a recent study, a team of researchers looked at 17 obese women prior to bariatric surgery and found that their brains metabolized sugars faster than the brains of a control group of women at a normal weight. The women underwent cognitive function tests before their surgery as well as after. The results show that after surgery, the obese women showed improvement in the troubling brain activity seen prior to going under the knife, and they performed better on their cognitive function tests—especially in the area of executive function, which is used during planning and organization. The findings suggest that the fat loss reversing its bad effects on the brain.

It is possible that the long-term “cerebral metabolic activity”—meaning the way the brains of obese people process sugars—leads to structural damage that can hasten or contribute to cognitive decline, the authors write in their paper.

Researchers are still trying to understand the exact effects of body fat on the brain, but one theory is that it’s a chain-of-events-type of scenario. For instance, insulin resistance has become linked to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s because insulin resistance is associated with an increase in fatty acids, inflammation and oxidative stress. Insulin resistance is a metabolic disorder, that can be brought on by obesity. Other theories have to do with the effects of certain kinds of fat. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) points out that visceral fat, the most damaging type of body fat, ups a person’s likelihood of developing insulin resistance, and on top of that, belly fat can produce stress hormones that can also hinder cognition. Other research has shown that the stress hormones are tied to hunger signaling, and those disruptions can alter a person’s sense of hunger and fullness and can contribute to obesity.

“The more we understand about [body fat], the clearer it becomes that belly fat is its own disease-generating organism,” said Dr. Lenore Launer, chief of NIA’s Neuroepidemiology Section of the Laboratory of Epidemiology, Demography, and Biometry in an NIH statement.

Inflammation continues to be fingered as a culprit in the link between body fat and a variety of disorders, which include brain-related diseases, and even depression. Body fat, also referred to as adipose tissue, is thought to create substances that cause inflammation, and that could be at least one of the primary ways it irritates the brain.

The bottom line is that excess body fat has a laundry list of effects on the body, and none of them are good. But on the bright side, getting rid of that fat should reverse some of the blips body fat is leaving on the brain. Though not everyone needs to go under the knife.

TIME Television

Watch Homer Simpson Take the Ice Bucket Challenge

D'oh!

+ READ ARTICLE

Homer Simpson is jumping on the Ice Bucket Challenge bandwagon.

The clip parodies the movement that’s dominated social media in recent weeks, in which people dump ice water on themselves to raise money and awareness for research into ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Homer dumps a tiny cup of water on himself and pretends to suffer: “But it was all worth it to raise awareness for ALS.” But then his kids raise the stakes, finding something a bit more frigid to dump on Homer.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

You Asked: What’s the Best Bed Time?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

The earlier the better? 11 PM? Sundown? Sleep experts say it’s not that simple. But there is a time range you should shoot for if you’re questing for a perfect night’s sleep

Every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after midnight. Your grandparents (and great grandparents) probably adhered to that creaky adage. “The mythology is unfortunate, because there’s no pumpkin-like magic that occurs,” says Dr. Matt Walker, head of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at the University of California, Berkeley. And while nothing special happens to you or the quality of your sleep at the stroke of midnight, many do wonder: What’s the best time to go to bed?

Walker says your sleep quality does change as the night wears on. “The time of night when you sleep makes a significant difference in terms of the structure and quality of your sleep,” he explains. Your slumber is composed of a series of 90-minute cycles during which your brain moves from deep, non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep to REM sleep. “That 90-minute cycle is fairly stable throughout the night,” Walker explains. “But the ratio of non-REM to REM sleep changes.”

He says that non-REM sleep tends to dominate your slumber cycles in the early part of the night. But as the clock creeps toward daybreak, REM sleep muscles in. That’s significant, because some research has suggested that non-REM sleep is deeper and more restorative than lighter, dream-infused REM sleep—though Walker says both offer important benefits.

What does this have to do with the perfect bedtime? The shift from non-REM to REM sleep happens at certain times of the night regardless of when you go to bed, Walker says. So if you hit the sack very late—at, say, 3 AM—your sleep will tilt toward lighter, REM-heavy sleep. And that reduction in deep, restorative sleep may leave you groggy and blunt-minded the next day.

That’s unfortunate news for nightshift workers, bartenders, and others with unconventional sleep-wake routines, because they can’t sleep efficiently at odd hours of the day or night, Walker says. “The idea that you can learn to work at night and sleep during the day—you just can’t do that and be at your best.” Your brain and body’s circadian rhythms—which regulate everything from your sleeping patterns to your energy and hunger levels—tell your brain what kind of slumber to crave. And no matter how hard you try to reset or reschedule your circadian rhythms when it comes to bedtime, there’s just not much wiggle room. “These cycles have been established for hundreds of thousands of years,” Walker explains. “Thirty or 40 years of professional life aren’t going to change them.”

When it comes to bedtime, he says there’s a window of a several hours—roughly between 8 PM and 12 AM—during which your brain and body have the opportunity to get all the non-REM and REM shuteye they need to function optimally. And, believe it or not, your genetic makeup dictates whether you’re more comfortable going to bed earlier or later within that rough 8-to-midnight window, says Dr. Allison Siebern, associate director of the Insomnia & Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Stanford University.

“For people who are night owls, going to bed very early goes against their physiology,” Siebern explains. The same is true for “morning larks” who try to stay up late. For either type of person—as well as for the vast majority of sleepers who fall somewhere in between—the best bedtime is the hour of the evening when they feel most sleepy.

That means night owls shouldn’t try to force themselves to bed at 9 or 10 if they’re not tired. Of course, your work schedule or family life may dictate when you have to get up in the morning. But if you can find a way to match your sleep schedule to your biology—and get a full eight hours of Z’s—you’ll be better off, she adds.

Both she and Walker say your ideal bedtime will also change as you age. While small children tend to be most tired early in the evening, the opposite is true for college-aged adults who may be more comfortable going to bed around or after midnight. Beyond college, your best bedtime will likely creep earlier and earlier as you age, Walker says. And again, all of this is set by your biology.

Siebern suggests experimenting with different bedtimes and using sleepiness as your barometer for a best fit. Just make sure you’re rising at roughly the same time every morning—weekdays or weekends. It’s fine to sleep an extra hour on your days off. But if you’re getting up at 6:30 during the workweek and sleeping until 10 on weekends, you’re going to throw off your sleep rhythms and make bedtime more challenging, she says.

TIME Infectious Disease

Ebola Forces the WHO to Shut Down Its Lab in Sierra Leone

Relatives of an Ebola victim mourn in Lango village, Kenema, Sierra Leone on Aug. 25, 2014.
Relatives of an Ebola victim mourn in Lango village, Kenema, Sierra Leone on Aug. 25, 2014. Mohammed Elshamy—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Medical workers are in retreat as the deadly virus continues to ravage West Africa

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Tuesday that it had shut down an Ebola-testing laboratory in Sierra Leone and pulled its staff, after a health worker contracted the lethal virus, Reuters reports.

“It’s a temporary measure to take care of the welfare of our remaining workers,” WHO spokesperson Christy Feig told the news agency. She did not specify how long the closure would last, but said staff would return “after our assessment.”

The lab is located in Kailahun, an area near the Guinean border that is severely affected by the outbreak, but it is unclear precisely how the infected worker, an epidemiologist from Senegal, contracted the virus. The WHO said he would be evacuated out of the country for treatment.

“The field team has been through a traumatic time through this incident,” said Dr. Daniel Kertesz, the WHO representative in Sierra Leone, in a statement. “They are exhausted from many weeks of heroic work, helping patients infected with Ebola. When you add a stressor like this, the risk of accidents increases.”

The shuttered lab is one of only two in the country, Reuters says, and its closure is likely to impede efforts to contain the deadliest ever outbreak of the virus, which has infected at least 2,615 people and killed at least 1,427.

Reuters also reports that Canada has pulled its three-person mobile laboratory team from Kailahun. Sean Upton, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada, said on Tuesday that the workers were brought home because three people staying at their hotel had contracted Ebola. He added that the Canadian medics did not have contact with the infected individuals and did not display any symptoms of the virus.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Doctors Without Borders told the New York Times that it would continue to operate an 80-bed treatment center in Kailahun.

Health workers have paid a heavy price in their efforts to contain the outbreak, which has killed at least 120 medical workers and infected more than 240 as of Monday.

TIME Innovation

Ralph Lauren Debuts Biometric Shirts at the U.S. Open

Fashion-Wearable Tech
Ralph Lauren's new garment offers smart technology to send heartbeat, respiration, stress levels and other data to tablets and smartphones AP

But don't get excited. You won't be able to buy them until early 2015

Fashion guru Ralph Lauren has sought to morph fashionable sportswear into wearable technology with the launch of the Polo Tech smart shirt, which is being worn by some ball boys at this year’s U.S. Open tennis tournament.

The compression garment comes with technology from a Canadian firm, OMsignal, that feeds detailed information about a wearer’s heart rate, breathing, activity and so on directly to a smartphone or tablet.

Silver-yarn-based sensors gauge athletic performance by measuring the expansion and compression of the wearer’s chest along with electrical changes associated with heart rate. The information is collected in a small black-box-type recorder, which can be removed when the garment needs to be thrown into the washing machine.

While the Polo Tech shirt is making a splash at the U.S. Open, the public won’t be able to purchase it until the spring.

TIME India

India Just Asked PepsiCo to Help Improve the Diet of the Nation’s Children

Indra Nooyi Meets Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal
PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, right, meets Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal in New Delhi on Aug. 26, 2014 Saumya Khandelwal—Hindustan Times/Getty Images

Wait, aren't they the people who make Doritos and Mountain Dew?

India’s government is soliciting the help of an improbable partner in improving the nutrition of millions of its hungriest children, reports Bloomberg. That partner is the world’s largest snack producer, PepsiCo.

Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal met PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi on Tuesday to discuss the possibility of developing nutritious processed foods for use in school lunches across the country, Bloomberg says. The move is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s goal of upgrading the diet of the South Asian nation’s 1.2 billion people — especially that of its 440 million children.

“I suggested [that PepsiCo develop] products which will be healthy and will also contain proteins,” Badal told reporters following her meeting. “As people are becoming busy, the children will be immensely benefited if such products are launched.”

India has a poor reputation when it comes to food safety. A nadir was reached last year when 23 children in the country’s northern state of Bihar died after eating a free school meal that turned out to be laced with pesticide. In addition, some 47% of Indian children under 3 are underweight, according to the U.N.

Critics wonder if processed foods, from a company better known for its sugary soft drinks and potato chips, are really the best way to address such chronic malnutrition.

“No respectable dietitian or nutritionist will recommend processed foods over freshly cooked meals,” Vandana Prasad, national convener of the Public Health Resource Network, told Bloomberg.

PepsiCo India did not reply to Bloomberg’s emailed questions about the meeting.

[Bloomberg]

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Why Waiting Actually Makes You Happy

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Want to know the secret to happiness? Wait for it.

No, really. Wait for it. As long as the “it” is an experience, according to a series of new studies published in the journal Psychological Science.

We already know that experiences make you way happier than things do. Studies have shown that spending money on experiences as opposed to goods is more meaningful, makes you less likely to compare yourself to others, and encourages more social engagement. (Vacations trump solo shopping sprees, in other words.) You get those same pleasurable effects long before you even make the purchase and now, researchers have found, waiting to buy those experiences is a lot more fun, too.

One study asked college students to think about a purchase they were going to make in their near future, whether material or experiential, and report how they felt while waiting. People were more excited when waiting to buy an experience—and more impatient when waiting to buy something material.

The next study pinged more than 2,000 people enrolled in the scientific project trackyourhappiness.org throughout the day on their smartphones, asking how happy they were feeling at that moment. Of those daydreaming about a purchase they would soon make, experience-buyers won again in the happiness department.

In the final two studies, researchers scoured newspaper articles about people waiting in long lines and found that people queuing up for an experience, like buying concert tickets or delicious food, were better behaved than those waiting to buy stuff, like gadgets. And when people were asked to reminisce about times they’ve waited in line, they rated experiential waits as more pleasant.

It’s a little counterintuitive why experiences make us happier. After all, you’ll have a material purchase far longer than you’ll actually be on vacation. “The irony is that although this is true in a material sense, it is not true psychologically,” the study authors write–we’re far too good at adapting, which dulls our appreciation for the material objects that surround us every day. So reconsider that fancy TV and take a trip instead. Just make sure to give yourself enough time to savor the wait until takeoff.

TIME health

The Surprising Food Flavor That Can Help You Shed Pounds

black-truffle
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You’re probably familiar with salty, sweet, bitter, and sour, but did you know there’s a fifth taste? It’s called umami, and a new study concludes that it has a unique effect on appetite.

Umami, which means “pleasant savory taste,” has been described as a mouth-watering, brothy, meaty sensation with a long-lasting aftertaste that balances the total flavor of a dish. Some chefs refer to umami as a flavor synergizer and, in the form of the food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG), it acts as a flavor enhancer.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the addition of MSG to soup stimulated appetite during eating, but also boosted post-meal satiety, which resulted in eating less later in the day. As an additive, MSG is something to avoid: research in the ’60s revealed that large amounts fed to mice destroyed nerve cells in the brain. And people who are sensitive to large amounts of MSG may experience side effects ranging from headaches to trouble breathing. However, umami flavor also occurs naturally in several healthy foods.

Here are five nutrient-rich umami options that may help you eat less, along with easy breezy ways to enjoy them.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms provide just 20 calories per cup, and they’re the only plant source of vitamin D, a key nutrient linked to lower rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and certain cancers. Studies also link low vitamin D intake to more total fat and belly fat, and recent research has found that adequate blood vitamin D levels improve muscle strength and help muscles work more efficiently by boosting energy from within cells.

Health.com: 12 Ways to Get Your Daily Vitamin D

Mushrooms also contain unique antioxidants that fight aging and heart disease, and natural substances in mushrooms have been shown to protect against breast cancer by preventing levels of estrogen in the body from becoming excessive. Shiitake, Japan’s most popular mushroom, is particularly rich in umami flavor. Simply sauté some ‘shrooms in organic, low-sodium vegetable broth with a bit of garlic, and add them to almost anything, including omelets, salads, soups, or open-faced sandwiches.

Truffles

Truffles, one of the world’s greatest delicacies, contain three types of natural umami substances. This fungus, which has been referred to as “the diamond in the kitchen,” is quite expensive because it’s difficult to cultivate, but a tiny amount goes a long way. Just a thinly sliced or shaved bit of truffle adds robust flavor to any dish, but you can also use truffle oil to make a simple vinaigrette along with extra virgin olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice, and herbs. Or drizzle truffle oil over cooked veggies, spaghetti squash, or a lean protein like organic eggs or fish.

Health.com: 13 Comfort Foods That Burn Fat

Green tea

The list of green tea’s benefits is impressive. Regular consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of obesity, heart disease, blood pressure, cancer, and osteoporosis, as well as overall anti-aging benefits. In addition to using green tea as a beverage along with meals, I like to use both brewed tea and loose leaves in cooking. I whip loose tea leaves into smoothies or combine them with pepper and other herbs like thyme as a rub. Brewed tea makes a great base for a marinade or soup or a flavorful liquid for steaming veggies or whole grain rice.

Health.com: Get a Flat Belly in 4 Weeks

Seaweed

Seaweed’s benefits range from heart protection to weight loss. One recent research review concluded that some seaweed proteins work just like blood pressure meds, and in animal research, a component in brown seaweed was shown to help rats burn more body fat. In addition, seaweed’s star nutrient iodine helps regulate the thyroid, and its magnesium may help enhance mood and improve sleep. In addition to making a side of seaweed salad a staple in your sushi orders, you can add a dollop to many savory dishes, including scrambled eggs, stir frys, and soups.

Tomatoes

Levels of the umami provider glutamic acid increase as tomatoes ripen, and research shows that in the inner “guts” of a tomato are tied to a stronger umami aftertaste. To take advantage, add sliced ripe tomatoes to a garden salad, or roast or grill tomatoes to further intensify their flavor. Bonus: cooking tomatoes provide more lycopene (as much as a 164% boost!), an antioxidant linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, and cancer, as well as skin benefits, including preventing wrinkles. Mmmm, umami!

Health.com: Best Superfoods for Weight Loss

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Skin Whitening Candy Is Coming

Want to keep your skin safe? You can glug a glass of drinkable sunscreen—which, yes, is a real product that had experts raising their eyebrows back in May.

If slurping SPF isn’t your bag—or if you’ve already got some sun damage you’d like to undo—you’ll also be able to kick things down a shade by popping skin-whitening candy, according to the maker of a new dietary supplement maker called Melagenol, based in Spain. It promises lighter skin with a daily 300-500 mg swallow of plant extracts claiming to interfere with melanin formation. By sucking on a candy or downing a pill or capsule containing melanin-inhibiting extracts, you’ll get “lighter skin from within,” the press release promises, banking on its lab study that found melanin-producing cells made less when the formula was applied.

The skin whitening and lightening industry, which, critics contend, prey on insecurity and the idealization of pale skin, will be worth nearly $20 billion by 2018, according to an estimate by Global Industry Analysts, fueled mostly by whitening creams sold in Asia. “Asian people are very much concerned about skin lightening,” Fernando Cartagena, marketing manager for Monteloeder, tells TIME. “They like to keep their skin as light as possible because it’s a way to show your class.” Even though the product isn’t yet on the market, he says he’s gotten calls from companies that want to carry it in Malaysia, Taiwan, South Africa, and Australia, a country that sells to many countries in Asia. (No bites yet from the United States.)

This won’t be the world’s first oral skin whitener—similar tablets are already sold in Japan—but the market is growing. Cartagena says his company came up with the idea for oral skin whiteners earlier this year. “We received a lot of feedback from the Asia office telling us that there’s a huge demand for these kinds of products,” he said.

As skin whiteners grow in popularity, so does the backlash against them. Groups like Dark Is Beautiful in India try to combat the obsession with fair skin and whitening products by raising awareness. The safety of these ingredients when ingested is not currently known.

Cartagena says he hopes we’ll be seeing a product with Melagenol on shelves—“especially in Asia”—within four to six months.

TIME Athletes

Here Are 8 Bizarre Yet Beautiful Photos of Women’s Rhythmic Gymnastics

Gymnasts are known for their incredible flexibility, but rhythmic gymnasts take it to new levels, wrapping their bodies around ribbons, clubs, balls and hoops—all with a dazzling smile.

The secret to their rubber-band like contortions? Hours and hours of training, including more time spent in splits—hanging from bars or stretched across foam blocks—than the rest of us would consider humane. These athletes, competing at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, represent the eight top-scoring qualifiers in mind-bending acrobatic routines in the individual all-around finals.

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