TIME Research

Study Finds Possible Association Between Autism and Air Pollution

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Research suggests that early exposure to air pollution may have wide-ranging negative effects

A new study from the University of Pittsburgh suggests that exposure to fine particulate air pollution from pregnancy up and through the first two years of childhood may be linked with developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health conducted “a population-based, case-control study” of families living in southwestern Pennsylvania, which included children with and without ASD, reports Science Daily.

The research team was then able to estimate an individual’s exposure to specific categories of air pollution based on where their mothers lived before, during and after pregnancy.

“There is increasing and compelling evidence that points to associations between Pittsburgh’s poor air quality and health problems, especially those affecting our children and including issues such as autism spectrum disorder and asthma,” said Grant Oliphant, president of the Heinz Endowments, which funded the research project.

However, the members of the study stressed that their findings “reflect an association” but does not ultimately prove causality.

[Science Daily]

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Dozens of People in 9 States Sickened After Eating Raw Tuna

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The source of the outbreak is unknown, but most who fell ill reported eating sushi containing raw tuna

(LOS ANGELES) — Health officials are investigating a salmonella outbreak likely linked to raw tuna that has sickened 53 people in nine states.

The California Department of Public Health said Thursday that 31 of the cases are there. Other affected states include Arizona, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

Ten people have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

The source of the outbreak is unknown, but most who fell ill reported eating sushi containing raw tuna.

Salmonella is a bacteria and the most common source of food poisoning in the U.S. It causes diarrhea, cramping and fever.

Health officials say the elderly, young children, pregnant women and people with weak immune systems should not eat raw fish or raw shellfish.

TIME Depression

These are the Most Depressed Workers

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One in five young workers have been depressed, according to the survey.

One in five millennials said they have been depressed on the job, the most of any age group, a new survey found.

That’s compared with 16% of Baby Boomers and 16% of Gen Xers, according to Mashable.

Bensinger, DuPont & Associates, a firm that provides employee drug testing and assistance for problems like gambling, published the survey, Depression and Work: The Impact of Depression on Different Generations of Employees, to coincide with National Mental Health Awareness Month. The study said that depressed employees are more likely to function poorly at work.

There was no word on why millennials, born from 1978 to 1999, are more depressed than other groups. Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 while Gen Xers were from 1965 to 1977.

The article continued:

Other impacts of depression in the workplace include absenteeism (missing work), tense work relationships or conflicts, and receiving verbal or written disciplinary action as a result of depression.

“While major depression affects 10% of [American employees], an overwhelming 75% of people with depression don’t receive formal treatment,” Marie Apke, chief operating officer for Bensinger, DuPont & Associates, said in a statement. “Depression costs the economy more than $23 billion annually due to absenteeism. While recent public health initiatives continue to enhance and expand our understanding of the social and economic costs of depression, it’s clear more work is needed to combat depression in the workplace.”

TIME Candy

These Candy Companies have a Surprising New Strategy

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The candy companies are making a push into healthier snack bars

Candy companies are jumping on the health food bandwagon. Yes, really.

Mars Chocolate North America and Hershey both plan to introduce snack bars for health-conscious consumers, according to Ad Age.

The two companies unveiled their new bars at the Sweets and Snacks Expo this week in Chicago. Mars and Hershey are the biggest players in the US confectionary market with 25% market share each, Ad Age said. The new snack bars will feature fruit, nuts, dark chocolate and, allegedly, lower calories.

With the new bars, the two companies will compete against each another as well as against Kind, a successful snack bar start-up.

Mars will reportedly debut its Goodnessknows bars in stores in August. Hershey’s Brookside bars are just now starting to reach store shelves.

The push into snack bars comes amid a broader shift by the food industry to make their products healthier, or at least appear healthier. Fast-food chains are increasingly selling lower calorie menu items and meat produced without hormones.

For more on how large food companies have been singing a healthier tune recently, check out Beth Kowitt’s Fortune feature “The war on big food.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

61% of Your Calories Are From Highly Processed Food: Study

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Most of the foods we buy are highly processed and loaded with sugar, fat and salt

As much as Americans like to pretend to worship at the altar of kale, many of us are cheating with chips, a new study suggests.

We like junk food so much that 61% of the food Americans buy is highly processed, according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. And almost 1,000 calories a day of person’s diet come solely from highly processed foods.

Not all processed food is the same, however. The USDA classifies processed food as any edible that’s not a raw agricultural commodity, so even pasteurized milk and frozen fruits and vegetables count. “It’s important for us to recognize that a processed food is not just Coca-Cola and Twinkies—it’s a wide array of products,” says study author Jennifer Poti, a research assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

So in the first study of its kind, researchers scrutinized our diets by analyzing a massive set of data of the foods we buy while grocery shopping. The stats came from 157,000 shoppers, who tracked their edible purchases with a barcode scanner from 2000-2012, for anywhere from 10 months to 14 years.

Using software that picked out words in the nutrition and ingredient labels, the 1.2 million products were placed into one of four categories : minimally processed—products with very little alteration, like bagged salad, frozen meat and eggs—basic processed—single-ingredient foods but changed in some way, like oil, flour and sugar—moderately processed—still recognizable as its original plant or animal source, but with additives—and highly processed—multi-ingredient industrial mixtures that are no longer recognizable as their original plant or animal source.

No surprise, our favorite categories are those last two. More than three-quarters of our calories came from highly processed (61%) and moderately processed (16%) foods and drinks in 2012. Best-selling products were refined breads, grain-based desserts like cookies, sugary sodas, juice, sports drinks and energy drinks.

Preferences for highly processed foods were remarkably stable over time, Poti says, which likely has implications for our health, since the study also found that highly processed foods were higher in saturated fat, sugar and salt than other purchases. But interestingly, no U.S. study has yet looked at the link between highly processed foods and health outcomes like obesity and diabetes, Poti says.

To be clear, the researchers aren’t pooh-poohing processing, per se. “Food processing is important for food security and nutrition security of Americans,” Poti says. The study wasn’t able to capture the full spectrum of our diets—loose spinach doesn’t come with a barcode, after all—and the authors acknowledge that food purchasing doesn’t always directly translate to dietary intake. But the results suggest that we might want to swap some bags of chips for, say, cans of beans. “Foods that required cooking or preparation”—like boxed pasta and raw eggs—”were generally less than 20% of calories purchased throughout the entire time period,” Poti says.

TIME Cancer

How a Common Childhood Vaccine Helps Ward Off Cancer

It reduces the risk of childhood leukemia by 20%

Scientists now understand why a common childhood vaccine reduces the risk of leukemia.

Researchers previously knew that the vaccine against Haemophilus influenza type B, or HiB, reduces the risk of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer. But now a new study published in Nature Immunology explains why this is the case.

Dr. Markus Müschen and his team on the study used a mouse model and found that recurring HiB infections, which can happen easily in children who have not been vaccinated, can cause certain enzymes to activate and push common precancerous blood cells into cancer. So, vaccines against HiB infections also protect children from this path to leukemia.

Müschen told the New York Times that the HiB vaccine, which is routinely given to children, has led to a 20% reduction in the risk for leukemia.

 

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Should I Eat Tempeh?

4/5 experts say yes.

Tempeh goes back ages in Indonesia, its birthplace, but the nutty, mushroomy plant protein is fairly foreign in the U.S. to all but the most hardcore of vegans. Still, most of our experts say tempeh is well worth trying.

But first: what is it? Tempeh is a cake of partially cooked whole soybeans aged overnight in an incubator at a tropical temperature, explains vegan food manufacturer Tofurky on its website. During incubation, a “thick, white mat of mycelia”—a kind of fungus—branches over the tempeh, which binds the beans together. It’s then steamed and ready to eat. Other types of tempeh can be made with barley, flax, oats, brown rice and other grains.

Tempeh is mainly used as a meat substitute, and it stands up well to the real thing structurally and nutritionally. A standard 3-ounce serving of tempeh has about 16 grams of protein, while an equal serving of grilled steak has about 26 grams. Plus, tempeh comes with about 8% of the recommended daily amount of both calcium and iron. It’s great for the nutrients it adds to your diet, says David Katz, MD, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, and for the meat it subtracts.

“If you’re looking to cut meat from your diet but are fearful that protein will be cut along with it, tempeh is a no-brainer substitution,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD, manager of wellness nutrition services at Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. So agrees the author of a 2015 review on the rise of veganism. “Tempeh is a popular source of plant-based protein for vegans due to its versatility, great earthy flavor, and overall nutritional value,” says review author Cynthia Radnitz, PhD, professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. (Her favorite tempeh dish: steamed, mashed and mixed with chopped celery and scallions, plus eggless mayo and lemon juice for a mock chicken salad.)

“Tempeh offers all the health benefits of soy without the drawbacks of more processed soy,” she says. Some soy processing involves hexane, a chemical solvent sometimes used to extract oil from soy in processed products that aren’t organic. By buying organic, you can avoid both hexane and genetically modified ingredients, if that is a concern for you. GMOs are ubiquitous in soy; 94% of soy in the U.S. is genetically modified.

Many experts believe that whole-food forms of soy are beneficial to the body. In a 2015 study by Robert Sorge, PhD, assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Sorge and his team looked at how certain foods can activate immune cells that spur inflammation in the body and other foods that have anti-inflammatory effects on those cells. Soy proteins, like those found in tempeh, seem to fall into the second group, he found. “Tempeh is a soy product with a decent amount of the isoflavone genistein,” he says. “Genistein is known to have anti-inflammatory and even anti-tumor effects and can be very good for general health, provided too much is not eaten.”

Fermenting whole soy makes it extra special, Radnitz says, by helping nutrients like calcium, zinc and iron become more available for the body to use. According to a thesis on tempeh made from barley, the fermented kind had 2.5 times the iron of unfermented barley. (Unfortunately, though, not everything you do to tempeh gives it a health boost. One Malaysian study found that battered and deep-fried tempeh had about half the isoflavones as raw tempeh.)

Even though it has many fans among these experts, not everyone is aboard the tempeh train. Tempeh is for uninspired vegans, declares Frédéric Leroy of the Research Group of Industrial Microbiology and Food Biotechnology in Belgium. His 2014 review of fermented foods concluded that there’s not enough quality evidence to make functional health claims for most fermented foods on the market. “Outside Asia, this idiosyncratic food is culturally irrelevant to most, and will seem odd to the average palate,” he says. “Granted, it contains isoflavones, but scientific evidence in support of true in vivo“—meaning in people—”health benefits of tempeh is far from being solid.”

Leroy is firmly in the more-research-is-needed camp. But for now, says Kirkpatrick, who cooks it several times a week it, “I’m in love with tempeh.”

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Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME

Read next: Should I Eat Tofu?

TIME medicine

Tylenol During Pregnancy Could Harm Male Babies, Study Shows

It reduces testosterone production in the womb

Taking too much Tylenol during pregnancy could reduce testosterone levels in male babies, according to a new study.

The study, published in Science Translational Medicine, found that prolonged use of acetaminophen, the drug in Tylenol, by a pregnant mother reduced production of testosterone in her unborn son.

The study used mice that carried grafts of human tissue. After one day of exposure to the drug there was no effect on testosterone production, but after seven days the amount of testosterone was down by 45 percent.

Limited testosterone in the womb is related to increased risk of infertility, testicular cancer and undescended testicles.

“We would advise that pregnant women should follow current guidance that the painkiller be taken at the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time,” said Rod Mitchell, one of the authors of the study from the University of Edinburgh.

Acetaminophen drugs like Tylenol or Panadol are the most common medicine for managing pain or fevers during pregnancy.

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