TIME heart

High Cholesterol Can Be Dangerous Even If You’re Young

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High cholesterol levels in older age are a familiar risk factor for heart attacks, and doctors warn that the danger can start much sooner for many. But how soon should you start worrying?

Most of us know that too much cholesterol in the blood can bring on dangerous clots that lead to heart attacks and stroke. And recent studies show that the build up of these fats in the blood vessels doesn’t happen overnight — it takes years of gradual deposits to narrow a vessel. So in 2013, when heart experts expanded the criteria for who over the age of 60 should consider taking cholesterol-lowering statins, Michael Pencina, a professor of biostatistics at the Duke University Clinical Research Institute, began wondering about those, including himself, who were younger. How long should they wait before taking the drugs?

In the latest study of healthy people who were followed for about 15 years on average, researchers report Monday in the journal Circulation that having even mildly elevated cholesterol levels can increase risk of having later heart problems by as much as 40%.

The researchers argue that having high cholesterol for many years—even if it starts when you’re young—should be a new risk factor that doctors and patients consider when discussing their risk of heart disease.

Even people with moderately high levels of lipids, who might not qualify for treatment for high cholesterol levels, could be at higher risk of heart attacks later in life simply because they harbor these elevated lipid levels for a long period of time.

MORE: Should I Take a Statin? What You Need to Know About the New Cholesterol Guidelines

Among a group of 1,478 people aged 55 years old from the Framingham Heart Study’s Offspring Cohort, those who had higher cholesterol levels for 11 to 20 years (beginning when they were about 35 years old) had a 16.5% higher risk of having a heart attack about 15 years later, compared to a 4.4% risk for those whose cholesterol levels never veered beyond the normal range during middle age. That’s an almost fourfold greater risk, and one that Pencina and his colleagues argue might be reason enough to be more aggressive in discussing ways to lower cholesterol with these patients so they can reduce their risk of heart trouble later on.

MORE: New Cholesterol Guidelines May Put 13 Million More on Statin Drugs

“We identified a patient population whom the guidelines might miss,” he says. It’s another dimension of cardiovascular health that needs to be looked at, and yes, I would say that it should be considered a risk factor.” In the study, the researchers considered LDL levels above 130 mg/dL as elevated, which falls into line with previous professional heart organization criteria.

But he stresses that this factor won’t fall easily into a threshold below which patients won’t need to worry about their cholesterol and above which they will. “There are so many components like family history and other factors that go into the decision of what kind of intervention people may need, such as lifestyle, diet or pharmacologic,” says Pencina. “But if you are measuring your cholesterol, even if it’s fine at an early age, it lets you build that history.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Cookies That Are Actually Pretty Good For You

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These cookies come with surprising amount of nutritional benefits

Unless you’re bent on eliminating sweets from your diet (and we know a doctor who thinks you shouldn’t), you’ll agree that almost any dessert can be healthy when consumed in moderation. But we can do better. Here, five recipes for delicious cookies that pack legit nutritional benefits.

1. Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies with Flax
Flax seed meal and whole flax seeds add nutritional value to these gooey oatmeal raisin cookies.

2. Chocolate Coconut Snap Cookies
There’s no butter in these ultra-chocolaty cookies. Instead, the recipe calls for coconut oil.

3. Chewy Cinnamon-Spelt Cookies with Sea Salt
A vegan twist on the classic snickerdoodle, these cookies are ultra-chewy with crinkly sugary tops.

4. Cocoa Nib-Almond Lace Cookies
Coconut oil, cocoa nibs and sliced almonds combine together to make these lace cookies extra crispy. They’re rich and butter (yet butterless) and full of almond flavor.

5. Gluten-Free Strawberry and Chia Seed Newton Cookies
These gluten-free cookies have a delicious filling of dried fruit, strawberry jam and chia seeds.

This article originally appeared on Food & Wine.

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TIME public health

Medical Pot May Have a Place for Very Ill Kids, Says Pediatric Group

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'The Academy recognizes some exceptions should be made for compassionate use'

In an update to its 2004 policy statement on marijuana legalization, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now says that in some cases, children with certain debilitating illnesses should be allowed derivatives of marijuana to ease their suffering.

The group of pediatricians announced the change in position today in a statement reaffirming its opposition to the legalization of marijuana. It now includes several exceptions for “compassionate use” in children dealing with debilitating or life-limiting conditions. Compounds found in pot, known as cannabinoids, have become a method of stopping seizures for children suffering from epilepsy.

“Given that some children who may benefit from cannabinoids cannot wait for a meticulous and lengthy research process, the Academy recognizes some exceptions should be made for compassionate use in children,” the organization said in a press release.

Read More: Pot Kids: Inside the Quasi-Legal, Science-Free World of Medical Marijuana for Children

The organization stopped short of explicitly endorsing the practice and called for further research into its effectiveness.

“While cannabinoids may have potential as a therapy for a number of medical conditions, dispensing marijuana raises concerns regarding purity, dosing and formulation, all of which are of heightened importance in children,” said policy statement co-author William P. Adelman in the press release.

The organization maintained its steadfast opposition to recreational marijuana use, arguing that allowing its use for adults is more likely to lead to increased use among teenagers.

“Just the campaigns to legalize marijuana can have the effect of persuading adolescents that marijuana is not dangerous, which can have a devastating impact on their lifelong health and development,” said Seth D. Ammerman, another author of the statement, in the release.

TIME ebola

Doctors Without Borders Sees Fewer New Ebola Cases

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Health workers of the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) and medical charity Doctors Without Borders take part in a pre-deployment training for staff heading to Ebola areas on Oct. 29, 2014 in Geneva. Fabrice Coffrini—AFP/Getty Images

“We are on the right track," said Brice de la Vingne, the group's director of operations

The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), says it’s seeing declines in new cases of Ebola in its centers in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

There are just over 50 patients currently in MSF’s Ebola treatment centers across the three countries, the organization announced on Monday.

“This decline is an opportunity to focus efforts on addressing the serious weaknesses that remain in the response,” Brice de la Vingne, MSF director of operations said in a statement. “We are on the right track, but reaching zero cases will be difficult unless significant improvements are made in alerting new cases and tracing those who have been in contact with them.”

There is still work to do on that score; in Guinea and Liberia only half of the new cases are people who are known contacts of people with Ebola. Since just a single case can spur an outbreak, more contact tracing is needed.

MORE: TIME Person of the Year: Ebola Fighters

In Sierra Leone, incidences of Ebola have dropped to their lowest levels since August, though there are still hot zones like the country’s capital of Freetown. Guinea’s caseloads are also dropping, but more cases are coming from regions that were previously thought to be leveling out. Liberia has experienced some of the greatest drops out of all three countries. MSF says that on Jan. 17, there were no Ebola cases at the organization’s ELWA 3 Ebola management center in the capital city of Monrovia, and currently there are only two patients.

The latest case numbers from the World Health Organization (WHO) show cases have reached 21,724 with 8,641 deaths.

TIME Research

Mindfulness Exercises Improve Kids’ Math Scores

Fourth grade boy works on computer.
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Fourth and fifth graders who did mindfulness exercises had 15% better math scores than their peers

In adults, mindfulness has been shown to have all kinds of amazing effects throughout the body: it can combat stress, protect your heart, shorten migraines and possibly even extend life. But a new trial published in the journal Developmental Psychology suggests that the effects are also powerful in kids as young as 9—so much so that improving mindfulness showed to improve everything from social skills to math scores.

Researchers wanted to test the effects of a program that promotes social and emotional learning—peppered with mindfulness and kindness exercises—called MindUP. Developed by Goldie Hawn’s foundation, it’s used in schools across the U.S., Canada and beyond.

The study authors put 99 4th and 5th grade public school students in British Columbia into one of two groups. One group received four months of the mindfulness program, and the other got four months of a standard “social responsibility” program already used in Canadian public schools.

In the mindfulness classrooms, the program incorporated sense-sharpening exercises like mindful smelling and mindful eating, along with cognitive mindfulness exercises like seeing an issue from another’s point of view. Children did a three-minute meditation three times a day focusing on their breathing. They also acted on their lessons by practicing gratitude and doing kind things for others.

For the four months, researchers analyzed all kinds of in-depth measures, like behavioral assessments, cortisol levels, children’s self-reports of their own wellbeing, reviews from their peers about sociability and the objective academic scores of math grades.

The results were dramatic. “I really did not anticipate that we would have so many positive findings across all the multiple levels we looked at,” says study co-author Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl, a developmental psychologist at the University of British Columbia. “I was very surprised,” she says—especially considering that the intervention took place at the end of the year, notoriously the worst time for students’ self-control.

Compared to the kids in the social responsibility program, children with the mindful intervention had 15% better math scores, showed 24% more social behaviors, were 24% less aggressive and perceived themselves as 20% more prosocial. They outperformed their peers in cognitive control, stress levels, emotional control, optimism, empathy, mindfulness and aggression.

The program also may have had an unintended effect—one the researchers didn’t measure, but now want to. “Anecdotally, teachers tell us that the program helped them calm down more—by doing the program and integrating these mindful attention practices and being more aware and thinking more about others, that they actually become less stressed,” Schonert-Reichl says. “That has huge implications, and a further area of research is needed.”

More research is needed, but mindfulness interventions like these are promising. “Doing these kinds of programs in school does not take away from academics,” Schonert-Reichl says. “It adds to a growing research literature that’s showing, actually, these kinds of programs and practices increase academic gains. By adding this on, you not only create more academically capable, successful students, but actually create more caring, less stressed, kind students.”

TIME Sex/Relationships

Unintended Pregnancies Decline Across the U.S.

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Though some states are doing better than others

The rates of unintended pregnancies have fallen in most U.S. states since 2006, according to a new report — though rates remained steady in a dozen states.

Between 2006 and 2010, 28 states out of 41 with data available experienced a drop in their unintended pregnancy rate of 5% or more, according to a new report from the Guttmacher Institute. Twelve states’ rates remained unchanged, and one state—West Virginia—had an increase of 5% or more.

MORE: The IUD: Why The Best Form of Birth Control is One No One is Using

The report notes that in 2010, more than half of all pregnancies in 28 states were unintentional and that the minimum rate for any state was 36%.

The states with the highest unintended pregnancy rates were Delaware, Hawaii, and New York, though the South tended to have higher rates in general. New Hampshire had the lowest rates.

“The decline in unintended pregnancy rates in a majority of states since 2006 is a positive development,” study author Kathryn Kost, a senior research associate for Guttmacher said in a statement. “However, rates remain twice as high in some southern and densely-populated states compared with those in other states—a variation that likely reflects differences in demographic characteristics and socioeconomic conditions across states.”

MORE: Why Schools Can’t Teach Sex Ed

There’s been an increased use of the most effective contraceptives, like the intrauterine device (IUD), which has contributed to the drop in pregnancies. The report underlines double-digit drops in unintended pregnancy rates in Colorado, Iowa and Missouri, after conducting campaigns to promote the use of long-acting methods like the IUD and implant.

In 2010, publicly-funded family planning services also helped prevent 2.2. million unintended pregnancies, according to prior Guttmacher research.

TIME Cancer

Many Breast Cancer Patients Don’t Understand Their Condition, Study Says

The disparity is particularly pronounced for minority women

Many breast cancer patients don’t understand the details of their disease, according to a new study. While many believed they understood the grade, stage and type of tumor, only 20% to 58% identified those characteristics correctly.

The study, published Monday in the journal Cancer, found that minority women fared particularly poorly in identifying their tumor characteristics, a finding that remained true even as researchers controlled for factors like education. The lack of understanding about their own disease makes it difficult for patients to make informed medical decisions and to follow prescribed treatments, said study author and Harvard Medical School professor Rachel Freedman.

“Our results illustrate the lack of understanding many patients have about their cancers and have identified a critical need for improved patient education and provider awareness of this issue,” Freedman said.

TIME animals

Millions of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Could Be Released in Florida

Jason Garcia
Jason Garcia, a field inspector with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, tests a sprayer that could be used in the future to spray pesticides to control mosquitos in Key West, Fla., on Oct. 4, 2012 Wilfredo Lee—AP

"This is essentially using a mosquito as a drug to cure disease"

Scientists could release millions of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys in an attempt to kill off insects that spread the diseases dengue and chikungunya — if their proposal wins regulatory approval.

The male mosquitoes, created by British biotech firm Oxitec, are engineered to keep their partners from producing offspring when they mate in the wild, the Sun Sentinel reports. The number of mosquitoes capable of spreading the diseases would be reduced if enough wild mosquitoes mate with the genetically modified population.

“This is essentially using a mosquito as a drug to cure disease,” Michael Doyle, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, told the Sun Sentinel.

Despite the benefits of reducing incidences of dengue and chikungunya, two viral diseases that cause a number of uncomfortable conditions, many are wary about releasing genetically modified organisms into the wild. More than 130,000 people have signed a Change.org petition opposing the release of the mosquitoes in the Florida Keys.

[Sun Sentinel]

TIME ebola

WHO Chief Unveils Reforms After Ebola Response Criticized

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan addresses the media during a special meeting on Ebola at the WHO headquarters in Geneva
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan addresses the media during a special meeting on Ebola at the WHO headquarters in Geneva on Jan. 25, 2015. Pierre Albouy—Reuters

"The Ebola outbreak revealed some inadequacies and shortcomings"

The head of the UN’s global health agency has laid out a set of reforms to better and more quickly fight disease outbreaks, in a frank acknowledgement that the organization struggled to confront the scale of the 2014 Ebola outbreak that killed more than 8,600 people.

“This was West Africa’s first experience with the virus, and it delivered some horrific shocks and surprises,” said World Health Organization (WHO) director General Margaret Chan in a speech on Sunday. “The world, including WHO, was too slow to see what was unfolding before us.”

The needed changes, she said, include country-specific emergency workforces trained with “military precision”; a strengthened team of epidemiologists for detecting disease and a network of other providers to allow responders to reach “surge capacity.”

“The Ebola outbreak revealed some inadequacies and shortcomings in this organization’s administrative, managerial, and technical infrastructures,” she said, calling for a “dedicated contingency fund to support rapid responses to outbreaks and emergencies.”

The remarks came as the WHO’s executive board prepared to meet in Geneva to discuss reform proposals that many in the international community consider to be overdue. The response to Ebola by the UN’s health agency was seen by many as slow and ineffectual.

Indeed, Sunday’s speech did not mark the first time Chan acknowledged her organization’s shortcomings. In October, she told TIME that “the scale of the response did not match the scale of the outbreak.”

TIME Exercise/Fitness

The Best Workout Move You’re Not Doing

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Doing this move may help you get more speed and power

Want to take your workout to the next level? Consider adding deadlifts to your strength routine.

A new study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that folks who performed the exercise twice weekly for 10 weeks experienced an uptick in torque capacities in both knee extensors and flexors, which were associated with improvements in vertical jump height. In other words, they got faster and had more power when performing explosive movements.

HEALTH.COM: 5 Fat-Burning Plyometric Exercises

What’s more, “improving maximal force output with large muscle mass exercises is likely to have carryover to other dynamic movements such as sprinting and box jumps,” explains study author Matt Stock, Assistant Professor in the Department of Health, Exercise & Sport Sciences at Texas Tech University in Lubbock—which is great news if you’ve been working to master plyometric moves.

Performing a deadlift isn’t just good for putting some power behind your next sweat session. “It has huge allover benefits,” says Faheem Mujahid, owner and master trainer at Influence Atelier in Miami. “Not only does the majority of the exercise isolate and target the glutes and the hamstrings, but the quadriceps are involved as well, by helping to extend the knee joint. Plus, it is one of the few exercises that works the adductor magnus, which helps provide leg stability.”

HEALTH.COM: 24 Easy Ways to Flatten Your Belly

Stock adds: “It is particularly useful because it relies heavily on our often forgotten about muscles of the ‘posterior chain’—the hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors. Ignoring these muscles within an exercise program has potentially dangerous consequences, particularly as we age and for knee health during sports.”

Effective as they may be, deadlifts can wreak havoc on your back if done incorrectly. The key to getting them right: Really working to engage the transverse abdominis muscles. “If that’s not happening, all the pressure will hit the spine, which is a big no-no,” says Mujahid. “When the transverse abs are engaged properly, it automatically engages the thoracic lumbar fascia [muscle in the lower spine] at the same time, which offers spine protection.”

HEALTH.COM: 25 Exercises You Can Do Anywhere

How do you know if you’ve got a handle on your core? Try this trick that Mujahid uses with his clients: “I tie a piece of yarn or a pair of shoelaces in a knot around my client’s waist. Whenever the core isn’t engaged, my client will feel pressure from the string,” he explains. “Feeling that contraction against the core gives them a little reminder to pull in that belly button.”

HEALTH.COM: 7 Moves for a Better Butt

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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