TIME

14 Fad Diets You Shouldn’t Try

Dubious diets

Every day it seems a new diet is ready to make weight loss faster and easier than ever before. Or at least they say they are. “Most fad diets go something like this: Take a few foods, give them ‘magic’ power, and set a plan to convince people that eating this way and only this way will promote weight loss,” says Alexandra Caspero, RD, a nutritionist based in Sacramento, Calif. The following diets might spur short-term weight loss, but many are difficult to follow, have arbitrary rules, and a few could put your health in danger.

The raw food diet

Any weight-loss expert would agree that boosting your veggie and fruit intake while reducing the amount of junk you eat is a safe and effective way to lose weight, but this diet bans foods that have been cooked or processed in any way. Why? Raw foodies say cooking destroys nutrients. Though it’s true that cooking produce can sometimes reduce nutrient levels, cooked veggies still pack plenty of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and in some instances cooking actually enhances nutrients while also killing bacteria. The biggest issue with this extreme form of veganism? Food prep—it’s totally impractical, says Christopher N. Ochner, PhD, director of research development and administration at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. Raw foodies spend hours upon hours juicing, blending, dehydrating, sprouting, germinating, cutting, chopping, and rehydrating.

Health.com: 12 Things You Need to Know Before Going Vegan

Alkaline diets

The alkaline diet—also known as the alkaline ash diet and the alkaline acid diet—requires you cut out meat, dairy, sweets, caffeine, alcohol, artificial and processed foods, and consume more fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, and seeds. The diet certainly has positive points; it’s heavy on fresh produce and other healthy, satisfying foods while eliminating processed fare, which in itself may spur weight loss. But your body is incredibly efficient at keeping your pH levels where they need to be, so cutting out these foods really won’t affect your body’s pH, says Ochner. Not to mention there’s no research proving that pH affects your weight in the first place. The bottom line: the diet is strict, complicated, and bans foods that can have a place in a healthy eating plan, such as meat, dairy, and alcohol.

The Blood-Type Diet

Developed by naturopathic physician Peter D’Adamo, the Blood Type Diet is based on the notion that the foods you eat react chemically with your blood type. For example, on the diet, those with type O blood are to eat lean meats, vegetables, and fruits, and avoid wheat and dairy. Meanwhile, type A dieters go vegetarian, and those with type B blood are supposed to avoid chicken, corn, wheat, tomatoes, peanuts, and sesame seeds. However, there’s no scientific proof that your blood type affects weight loss. And depending on your blood type, the diet can be extremely restrictive.

Health.com: 10 Bogus Health Trends That Waste Your Time

The werewolf diet

Also called the lunar diet, this one is simply fasting according to the lunar calendar. Its quick-fix version involves a day of fasting allowing only water and juice during a full or new moon—and supposedly losing up to six pounds in water weight in a single day. The extended version starts with that daylong fast and continues with specific eating plans for each phase of the moon. While you’ll lose some weight from not eating, it has nothing to do with the moon, and it will come right back, Ochner says.

Cookie diets

Dr. Siegal’s Cookie Diet, The Hollywood Cookie Diet, and the Smart for Life Cookie Diet all promise that eating cookies will help you drop pounds. Of course, you don’t get to chow down chocolate-chip cookies—you eat about 500 to 600 calories a day from high-protein and high-fiber weight-loss cookies (one cookie company even makes the cookies from egg and milk protein) for breakfast, lunch, and any snacks. Then you eat a normal dinner, for a total of 1,000 to 1,200 calories a day. If you stick to the diet, you will likely lose some weight, but by depriving yourself all day, you set yourself up for bingeing come dinnertime, Ochner says.

The Five-Bite Diet

Eat whatever you want—but only five bites of it. On this diet, developed by obesity doctor Alwin Lewis, MD, you skip breakfast and eat only five bites of food for lunch and five more for dinner. “I’m OK with the idea of eating whatever you want in smaller portions, but you need to round out the rest of your eating with nutrient-dense foods to give your body the fuel it needs,” Caspero says. “On this diet, even if you take giant bites of heavily caloric food, you’re still barely consuming 900 to 1,000 calories a day.”

Health.com: Best and Worst Foods for Bloating

The Master Cleanse/lemonade diet

This diet has been around for decades, and there are a ton of variations. Pretty much all involve subsisting for days on only lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper mixed in water. “You are essentially just drinking diuretics,” Ochner says. “You’ll shed mostly water weight.” Once you start eating solid foods again, you will gain all the weight back. Common side effects include fatigue, nausea, dizziness, and dehydration. Plus, on an extremely low-calorie diet like this one, you are going to lose muscle, exactly the kind of weight you don’t want to lose, Caspero says.

The baby food diet

If a baby can grow up eating the mushy stuff, eating some definitely won’t hurt you, but guess what: You aren’t a baby. Dieters replace breakfast and lunch with about 14 jars of baby food (most baby food jars contain 20 and 100 calories apiece), and then they eat a low-calorie dinner. It’s easy to get too few calories for your body to run its best, Ochner says. Besides, who really wants to take jars of baby food to work each day?

The cabbage soup diet

The grandmother of all fad diets, the bulk of this plan is fat-free cabbage soup, eaten two to three times a day for a week along with other low-calorie foods such as bananas and skim milk. In the short term, it does yield weight loss. “It works because you are eating a low-calorie diet full of fiber and water to help aid in fullness,” Caspero says. “But it’s just a quick fix diet. It can also promote bloating and gas from all the cabbage, and is lacking in protein, which is needed to preserve lean body mass. While I am a fan of nutrient-dense, low calorie foods for weight loss, it should be balanced with other foods such as fruits, carbohydrates, healthy fats, and lean protein.”

The grapefruit diet

We are all for including produce at every meal, but the various versions of this 80-year-old fad diet instruct dieters to focus all of their meals on grapefruit or grapefruit juice, claiming that the fruit contains fat-busting enzymes that will help dieters lose 10-plus pounds in 12 days. “In reality, any time you are following a very-low calorie diet you will lose weight,” Caspero says. And this diet definitely hits that, limiting dieters to 800 to 1,000 calories a day. Some iterations also prohibit eating extremely hot or extremely cold foods, preparing foods in aluminum pans, and requires dieters to space “protein meals” and “starch meals” at least four hours apart.

Health.com: 24 Food Swaps That Slash Calories

The Sleeping Beauty diet

If you’re asleep, you’re not eating. Rumored to have been followed by Elvis Presley, this diet takes that simple fact to the extreme, encouraging people to use sedatives to stay asleep for days on end. But sleeping the days away not only starves the body and causes muscle deterioration from a lack of movement, but actually risks death: “Every time you go under, there’s a risk,” Ochner says. “Sure, you might wake up 2 pounds lighter, but you might not wake up at all.”

The HCG diet

This edge-of-starvation diet limits you to about 500 calories a day while taking human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a hormone that proponents tout as a powerful appetite suppressant. However, there’s no evidence that HCG does more than act as a placebo, Ochner says. Yes, you’ll lose weight, but only due to the extreme calorie restriction. Though a health care provider may legally give you HCG injections, they’re typically used to treat fertility issues in women and the FDA has not approved them for weight loss. As for over-the-counter homeopathic products that supposedly contain HCG? Those are illegal.

The tapeworm diet

“You don’t need a doctor to tell you that ingesting a tapeworm is a bad idea,” Ochner says. But apparently, some people do. This weight-loss tactic has been around for decades, preying on especially desperate dieters. Here’s how it goes: Ingest tapeworm eggs, let the tapeworm eat the food you consume once it gets to your intestines, and then, when you lose enough weight, get a doctor to prescribe you an anti-worm medication. But some tapeworm eggs can migrate to various parts of your body or cause other potentially life-threatening problems. Freaked out yet? Good.

The cotton ball diet

Consuming cotton balls soaked in orange juice—a diet technique may have been born on YouTube, in chat rooms, and on Facebook—is an incredibly dangerous way to suppress your appetite. “This makes my eating-disorder therapy head spin,” Caspero says. Not only does consuming cotton balls in place of food deprive the body of nutrients, eating anything that isn’t actually food can cause blockages in your intestines. What’s more, most cotton balls aren’t even made of cotton—they’re composed of bleached, synthetic fibers.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Breast Cancer

Promising Cancer Drug Fails to Slow Breast Cancer

Researchers had hoped to add breast cancer to the list of cancers for which the drug is already approved

A Phase 3 trial of cancer drug Nexavar in patients with advanced breast cancer failed to delay progression of the disease, according to the drug’s makers, Bayer and Onyx Pharmaceuticals, Inc., an Amgen subsidiary.

The study, called Reslience, evaluated Nexavar in combination with capecitabine, an oral chemotherapeutic agent, in patients with HER2-negative breast cancer.

The drug is approved to treat certain types of liver, kidney and thyroid cancer and works by targeting signalling pathways that tumor cells use to survive. Researchers hoped that Nexavar would have the same tumor-stalling effect on breast growths.

“We are disappointed that the trial did not show an improvement in progression-free survival in patients with advanced breast cancer,” Dr. Joerg Moeller, Member of the Bayer HealthCare Executive Committee and Head of Global Development, said in a statement. “While the primary endpoint of this trial was not met, the trial results do not affect the currently approved indications for Nexavar. We would like to thank the patients and the study investigators for their contributions and participation in this study.”

Data from the study will be presented at an upcoming scientific conference.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Zebra: The New Red Meat

Africa, Tanzania, Safari, Common Zebra in the Serengeti
Zebra in the Serengeti, Tanzania on Feb. 1, 2013. Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Hungry for something different? Zebra meat is now an option.

If you’re looking for the leanest source of animal protein, you can now add zebra meat to your diet. It has one-tenth the fat of beef (zebra has 0.5g per 100g), making it leaner than chicken, and 35 grams of protein per serving.

UK’s fitness food supplier Musclefood.com now provides zebra steaks from the haunches of South Africa’s Burchell’s zebra, the only zebra species that can be legally farmed for its meat. Zebra meat can also be sold in the U.S., say health officials, although it may still be hard to find. “Game meat, including zebra meat, can be sold [in the US] as long as the animal from which it is derived is not on the endangered species list,” an official with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) told TIME. “As with all foods regulated by FDA, it must be safe, wholesome, labeled in a manner that is truthful and not misleading, and fully compliant with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and its supporting regulations.”

Like many high-protein meats, zebra is packed with zinc and omega 3 fatty-acids that contribute to muscle repair, maintaining the immune system and improving heart health. Penn State’s Penny M. Kris-Etherton, professor of nutrition, recently conducted a study examining heart benefits of lean beef, showing that along with an optimal lean-protein diet, lean meat may help reduce high blood pressure. And for the more adventurous eaters, there are a growing number of options, from bison sausage to ostrich patties and venison steaks. And now, zebra filets, presumably minus the stripes.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Probiotics Primer: What Science Says About Using Bacteria to Treat Disease

A rustic bowl of natural yogurt with blueberries
J Shepherd—Getty Images

Confused about the "good bacteria" that can help health rather than make you sick? Here's the latest on which bugs are the most effective, and for which conditions.

After training ourselves for so long to avoid bacteria — they’re responsible for serious illnesses, some of which can be life-threatening — it may be time to re-think microbes. Or at least think more broadly about them. We live in concert with millions of bacteria — on our skin and in our mouths, noses guts and reproductive tracts — and these bugs are essential to helping us digest food and keep some of their more unhealthy bretheren at bay.

But do we need to help these invisible populations along by taking probiotics, concoctions of live microorganisms in things like yogurt or increasingly in supplements, that mimic those living in the body? Recent studies link probiotics and healthy bacteria to improving a wide range of health issues, from allergies to obesity. But manipulating the microbiome, as this universe is known, is still based on a very preliminary understanding of what these bugs do and how changing their communities can affect human health. There is a lot, experts say, that we don’t know. Here’s the latest on whether we should be considering probiotics and if so, when and how to take them.

How do I know if I need probiotics?

You probably don’t. Bacterial populations can’t be measured like cells in blood tests, and what’s more important, there’s little solid evidence yet about whether there is a “normal” healthy microbiome. That also means that it’s not clear whether changes in these communities can actually cause disease, or that “fixing” these differences can treat disease symptoms.

The exception may be some severe digestive and gastrointestinal problems, for which doctors may recommend probiotics. Some doctors are using probiotics to combat diarrhea associated with antibiotic use among kids, for example. But these conditions affect only a small percent of the population and don’t involve regular and constant doses of probiotics.

Do we need to be taking probiotic supplements?

No. The supplement industry may suggest that probiotics taken regularly in pill form can be helpful for almost everyone, but there isn’t much science to support that idea, at least not yet. “The supplement industry will often take early science and run with it,” says Gail Cresci of the department of gastroenterology and hepatology at the Cleveland Clinic. She also notes that since supplements are not regulated in the strict way drugs are, consumers won’t know which strains they’re getting when the pick up probiotic supplements, and they also won’t know if those strains are right for treating whatever it is that ails them.

Each of us is home to about 8,000 strains of bacteria, and very few of these have been studied enough to know that they can provide a definite health benefit if we boost their numbers. That’s largely because the microbiome is constantly changing, and even if one strain helps address a child’s diarrhea after taking antibiotics, it may not have the same effect in adults. Our microbiomes change with age, our diet and other factors. “The general, average Joe, does not need to be taking any [probiotic] supplements,” says Cresci. “By taking a supplement, you do not know if the strains included will help you or not. You’re wasting your money.”

What about yogurt?

According to Cresci, the definition for a probiotic is very stringent. While there’s plenty of different bacteria out there, to be considered a probiotic, the bacteria has to be able to survive the environment in the intestines, colon, and provide some sort of benefit for the host. The average yogurt bacteria doesn’t meet these standards, and even if companies toss in another strain, there is still no telling whether it will provide you with any benefit at all. That’s why Dannon, makers of Activia and DanActive, agreed to remove claims that its probiotic products relieved irregularity and could lower the chances of catching a cold or flu when the Federal Trade Commission considered the marketing as false advertising. (There are plenty of other healthy reasons to eat yogurt, such as for the protein and calcium; just don’t expect it to make you regular.)

So, what are probiotics good for?

So far, evidence suggests that probiotics, in addition to other treatments, might be helpful for restoring the balance of microbial communities in digestive tract conditions like inflammatory bowel diseases, which include disorders like Crohn’s. And it may help with constipation, and for preventing diarrhea–especially caused by antibiotics. They are also being studied for treatment for skin infections, allergies, blood pressure, and immune system disorders. But all of these potential uses are still being investigated.

What should I do for good gut health?

If you want to stay regular and maintain a healthy digestive system, says Cresci, “Keep a healthy diet and maintain the good bacteria community already in your gut. Taking a random supplement is just a drop in the ocean.”

We may one day turn to probiotics to help with a number of conditions, but the time, say experts isn’t now.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

How to Stay Motivated When You Can’t Work Out

Pregnant woman walking
JGI/Jamie Grill—Getty Images/Blend Images

At one point or another, many of us will be sidelined by something that prevents us from working out. Whether it’s an injury, an illness, or a pregnancy restriction, it can be tough to stick to your usual healthy habits (like eating well and drinking plenty of water) when your exercise routine isn’t what it used to be.

Not being active can really throw you for a loop, so here are five ways to help keep you motivated.

Figure out what you CAN do

Ankle injury? You can you work on your upper-body strength. Just had a baby? Ask when it’s OK to start taking walks with the stroller. You might not be able to exercise like you used to, but with your doctor’s consent, you can work together to decide how you can stay active.

Health.com: How to Recover From an Injury in Less Time

Dial back your diet

If you can’t exercise, it’s especially important to pay attention to what you’re eating. Someone who’s used to burning a few hundred calories per day from working out will likely gain weight if they don’t cut back when it comes to food. Some ways to keep yourself accountable: track your calories (I love MyFitnessPal), invest in a fitness tracker, and search online for nutritious, low-calorie recipes.

Health.com: 24 Food Swaps That Slash Calories

Surround yourself with healthy inspiration

You might feel like you’re out of the game when you can’t exercise, but you can still keep yourself in the right mindset by surrounding yourself with all things healthy. Read health and fitness magazines, watch health-inspired documentaries, create a motivational Pinterest board, or cook some new nutritious recipes. Whatever you do, make sure it inspires you to stay healthy!

Set some goals for the future

You can’t work out right now, but you know you’ll be back to your favorite activities soon enough. Get yourself excited for your comeback by creating some goals for yourself. Do you want to run a half-marathon? Start looking at training plans online. Thinking about trying CrossFit? Check out some “boxes” in your area. Setting some goals for yourself will help keep you motivated until you can get back into the swing of things.

Health.com: The 13 Weight-Loss Goals You SHOULDN’T Make

Stay busy

When all else fails and you’re still itching to exercise, try being active in some other way, such as volunteering, taking up a new hobby, or enrolling in a class to learn something new. Keeping yourself busy will help pass the time until you can work out again.

Health.com: 15 Diseases Doctors Often Get Wrong

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Reproductive Health

Morning-After Pill May Not Be Affected By Body Weight

Morning-after pill
Jacques LOIC—Getty Images/Photononstop RM

Recent studies raised questions about the effectiveness of the contraceptive method among heavier women.

But after an investigation, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) says that emergency contraceptives are effective for women of all weights.

Last year, the agency requested a warning on the label of Norlevo, the European equivalent of Plan B containing levonorgestrel, indicating that it might not be as effective in preventing pregnancy for women with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 25. This decision was based on a 2011 study that showed heavier women who took products containing levonorgestrel—which prevents pregnancy after intercourse—were four times as likely to become pregnant as those with lower BMIs.

After that recommendation, the regulatory agency conducted a review of other emergency contraceptives containing levonorgestrel or ulipristal acetate, and found that the data in the earlier studies was limited and not substantial enough to conclude that the contraceptives’ effect was decreased with increased body weight. That doesn’t mean that weight may not play a role in the drugs’ effectiveness, but for now, the EMA’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) recommends that Norlevo remove the current warnings from its label. It also said emergency contraceptives should continue to include on their product inserts some study results showing potentially reduced effects in heavier women.

While the European health authorities took action on Norlevo last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not issued any similar warnings for Plan B. “I don’t necessarily think it’s inevitable that the FDA would act on this,” Dr. Carolyn Westhoff, professor of obstetrics and gynecology and public health at Columbia University and senior medical adviser at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told TIME in November 2013 regarding the data at the time. “People in the field have been scratching their heads since [the 2011 study] was published, saying what sorts of studies could we do to get more data to help us understand this better. To my knowledge, nobody has done those additional studies.”

EMA also admits that such data isn’t available yet, but says that there isn’t enough data to support the previous warning to women about weight.

TIME infectious diseases

Ebola Virus Suspected in Lagos, Nigeria

Members of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) put on protective gear at the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, Guinea on July 23, 2014.
Members of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) put on protective gear at the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, Guinea on July 23, 2014. Cellou Binani—AFP/Getty Images

Samples have been sent to the WHO for testing

The deadly Ebola virus that has killed hundreds across West Africa may have hit Africa’s most populous city, according to a Thursday statement from the country’s ministry of health.

Officials in Lagos, Nigeria are testing a Liberian man after he collapsed at the city’s airport displaying symptoms of the disease. Government representatives also expressed concern because the man worked and lived in Liberia where the disease is prevalent. Blood samples have been sent to the World Health Organization to be tested.

The virus has spread rapidly since an outbreak earlier this year, and health organizations have said they are struggling to control its spread.

In a statement, Nigerian health officials asked that residents “remain calm and take appropriate measures for the prevention and control of the disease.” These prevention measures include avoiding contact with people or animals suspected of having the disease.

While the outbreak has killed hundreds already in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, it could be especially damaging if it hit Lagos, an urban center with a population of 21 million.

TIME

6 Veggies You Only Think You Don’t Like

Brussels sprouts
Tonic Photo Studios, LLC—Getty Images

Brussels sprouts, broccoli, beets—yuck! Not so fast. Using a different cooking technique can totally transform the vegetables you thought you hated into mouthwatering sides you’ll want to make again and again. Here are 6 nutrient-packed vegetables you can instantly make taste better with a little know-how.

Brussels sprouts

Why you should eat them: These baby cabbages contain just 38 calories per cup and are packed with cancer-preventing phytonutrients and fiber.

Yuck-factor: An organic compound can cause Brussels sprouts to give off a stinky, sulfurous smell. “Boiling can make them seem slimy and even leach some of the nutrients into the water,” says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, Health‘s contributing nutrition editor.

Make them delicious: Roast Brussels sprouts to seal in nutrients and flavor. “Just slice in half, mist with a garlic and herb infused olive oil and roast on a baking sheet at 400 degrees,” Sass says.

Health.com: 13 Comfort Foods That Burn Fat

Broccoli

Why you should eat it: Broccoli, another cruciferous veggie, is high in vitamin C and fiber and racks up just 33 calories per cup.

Yuck-factor: Broccoli can taste quite dry when eaten raw, and watch out if it’s overcooked—you’ll end up with some very mushy florets.

Make it delicious: Broccoli tastes best blanched—a cooking technique where you dunk veggies into icewater after boiling them for two to three minutes. “This helps broccoli retain its crunchiness,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD, wellness manager for Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute. It also ensures the nutrients won’t get zapped from the food. After you’ve blanched the broccoli, you can pair it with an edamame dip for some extra fiber or top with lemon juice for an added kick, Kirkpatrick says.

Health.com: 20 Best Foods for Fiber

Peas

Why you should eat them: A cup of raw split peas has 50 grams of fiber and still contains 16 grams after being cooked.

Yuck-factor: “If you’ve only ever had the canned peas, then you are probably used to them being mushy,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD.

Make them delicious: Peas are another food you will love after blanching. “Peas boiled very fast are going to have a nice snap to them,” says Zuckerbrot. Just make sure to follow the blanching times suggested by the National Center for Home and Food Preservation. The heat makes it easy for chlorophyll in the peas (or really any vegetable) to lose magnesium, leading to a chemical change that will leave them a yucky olive green if overcooked, Zuckerbrot says. When done just right, blanching will help your peas maintain ultimate freshness.

Health.com: 16 Ways to Lose Weight Fast

Spinach

Why you should eat it: At seven calories a cup, this superfood is filled with lutein, folate, potassium, and fiber, all nutrients vital to keeping your heart going strong.

Yuck-factor: Some people find raw spinach too bitter, while overcooking the leafy green leaves a soggy, mushy mess.

Make it delicious: Adding fruit to your spinach salad cuts the bitter flavor, Sass says. With a drizzle of olive oil for seasoning, it will taste even better. “When I cook it, I often lightly sauté in a little bit of hot chili oil, along with minced garlic and chopped sweet bell pepper.”

Cauliflower

Why you should eat it: Cauliflower is high in vitamin C, with more than a day’s worth of your daily intake, and has lots of water for extra hydration. Beyond that, it has phytonutrients that have been shown to lower cholesterol and fight your risk of cancer.

Yuck-factor: Boiling cauliflower can leave it soggy, bland, and smelly.

Make it delicious: Roasting cauliflower gives it a nutty, sweet flavor and creamy texture. Or, try Kirkpatrick’s favorite recipe: “Sauté them in olive oil then add in some walnuts, turmeric, and tomato sauce.”

Health.com: 26 Quick, Healthy Juice and Smoothie Recipes

Beets

Why you should eat them: Beets are rich in iron, fiber, folate, and potassium, and also full of disease-fighting antioxidants.

Yuck-factor: Beets contain the compound geosmin, also found in carp and catfish, which gives them an earthy flavor. Unfortunately it can also make beets taste like dirt. “That compound is most concentrated in the skin of fresh beets,” Zuckerbrot says. “That’s why you have to peel them first.”

Make them delicious: After peeling, drizzle the beets with a bit of olive oil and roast them like a potato. Or you could try pickled beets, which have a crispy texture. “When they are pickled with a combination of vinegar, sugar, and spices, it gives them a similar taste to sweet pickles,” Zuckerbrot says.

13 Veggies You Only Think You Don’t Like originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME

Your Great Grandmother’s Exposure to Pesticides Could Be Making You Obese

The effects of pesticides can span three generations, according to the latest research

Your health, or unhealthy state, may be traced back to the stuff your grandparents were exposed to, say researchers from Washington State University (WSU).

They found that exposure to the pesticide methoxychlor, for example, can contribute to diseases in descendants up to three generations later, suggesting that the environment conditions in which your great grandparents lived and worked could affect your risk of obesity, kidney and ovarian diseases.

The heightened susceptibility to these conditions is passed down through genetics, although not in the direct, inherited way. The pesticide probably affected how genes were turned on or off in people three generations ago, and some of these changes, which are normally erased when the reproductive cells — the egg and sperm — join together, somehow were not deleted completely and were passed on to the next generation. And these changes may be affecting weight and cells in the kidneys and ovaries.

“What you’re ancestors were exposed to could radically affect the kind of diseases you get,” says Michael Skinner, the study’s lead author and founder of WSU’s Center for Reproductive Biology.

Skinner has been studying the genetic effects of pesticides for 15 years. His lab has observed such so-called transgenerational epigenetic effects from other toxins such as DDT, plastics, pesticides, fungicides, dioxins, hydrocarbons and bisphenol-A or BPA.

But this was the first study to show that disease risk was transmitted primarily through females. (The study also found the legacy of mutations in the sperm epigenome of great-grandchild male rats.)

Methoxychlor—also known as Chemform, Methoxo, Metox or Moxie—was introduced in 1948 and was widely used in the 1960s as a less toxic substitute for DDT. The pesticide can behave like the hormone estrogen, disrupting reproductive organs. It was used on crops, ornamental plants, livestock and pets, but was banned from the U.S. in 2003 after regulators determined that it, too, was toxic for people. But a generation of individuals had already been exposed, and the effects of that exposure, says Skinner, is still being seen today.

While it is no longer used in the U.S., the pesticide is still sprayed in Mexico, South America and in other countries around the world. But even people who were born after the compound was banned in the U.S., and who have never traveled to areas where it is used, showed the same genetic changes found in people who have been exposed to the chemical.

That means that it may be possible to scan for and potentially predict people’s increased risk for certain diseases by searching for these genetic legacies. “We have the ability to identify the epigenetic marks in ourselves. Some of these marks are exposure-specific. So in the future, we may be able to do an analysis of what you were exposed to or what your ancestors were exposed to and predict what diseases you’re going to get,” says Skinner.

And that could lead to improved treatments for these diseases, based on their epigenetic roots. “Knowing the high statistical probability that you’re going to get this disease, we may be able to come up with therapeutic things in advance,” he says. And by treating them, we may also be helping our great-grandchildren to live without them too.

TIME Opinion

The Beta Marriage: How Millennials Approach ‘I Do’

10147785
Archive Holdings Inc.—Getty Images

We are a generation reared on technology and choice. Why wouldn’t we want to test a lifelong relationship first? How millennials are redefining "forever."

You could say I beta-tested my relationship.​

It began with a platform migration ​(a cross-country move) and a bandwidth challenge (cohabitation in a 450-square-foot apartment). There was a false start (botched marriage proposal). Then, an emergency deglitching (couples therapy). We tried to take the product public before we were ready (I wrote about our relationship in Newsweek). And then, finally, we abandoned launch. There were simply too many bugs.

It’s a joke, kind of – except that when it comes to millennials and marriage, the beta test may be par for the course. And really, why wouldn’t it be? For a generation reared on technology, overwhelmed by choice, feedback and constant FOMO, isn’t testing a marriage, like we test a username, simply… well, logical?

The findings of a new survey certainly reveal so. In conjunction with a new television drama, Satisfaction, which premiered on the USA Network last week, trend researchers asked 1,000 people about their attitudes toward marriage. They found all sorts of things: among them, that people cheat on the internet (uh huh), that young people don’t think their relationships are like their parents’ (of course), and that everyone seems to have taken to the term “uncoupling” (yuck).

marriage

They also uncovered a surprising gem. Buried in the data was the revelation that almost half of millennials (43 percent, and higher among the youngest subset) said they would support a marriage model that involved a two-year trial — at which point the union could be either formalized or dissolved, no divorce or paperwork required. Thirty three percent said they’d be open to trying what researchers dubbed the “real estate” approach – marriage licenses granted on a five, seven, 10 or 30-year arms, after which the terms must be renegotiated. And 21 percent said they’d give the “presidential” method a try, whereby marriage vows last for four years but after eight you can elect to choose a new partner.

In total, nearly half of all of those surveyed, ages 18 to 49 – and 53 percent percent of millennials — thought marriage vows should be renewed, and nearly 40 percent said they believed the “till death do us part” vow should be abolished. In other words: Beta marriages! Unions you can test and deglitch, work out kinks or simply abandon course without consequence. “This is a generation that is used to this idea that everything is in beta, that life is a work in progress, so the idea of a beta marriage makes sense,” the study’s author, Melissa Lavigne-Delville, told me. “It’s not that they’re entirely noncommittal, it’s just that they’re nimble and open to change.”

It’s not a new concept, entirely. In the 1970s, the anthropologist Margaret Mead predicted the growing popularity of “serial monogamy,” involving a string of monogamous marriages. Helen Fisher, the biological anthropologist, has advocated for much of the same: she believes humans aren’t meant to be together forever, but in short-term, monogamous relationships of three or four years. Stephanie Coontz, the author of Marriage: A History, has advised a marriage contract “reup” every five years — or before every major transition in life — “with a new set of vows that reflect what the couple has learned.”

More recently, Mexico City lawmakers proposed (unsuccessfully) a “renewable” marriage concept, whereby couples could simply renew or dissolve their unions after a period of two years. It’s not so unlike the setup described by a young writer in a Modern Love column in the New York Times last month, about how she overcomes “marriage anxiety” by renewing her vows with her husband every year like clockwork. “I think people are indeed trying to avoid failure,” says Andrew Cherlin, the author of The Marriage Go-Round.

And, why wouldn’t they? The United States has the highest divorce rate in the Western world. The data show clearly that the longer we wait to get married the more successful our marriages will be. And it’s not like we can’t move in together in the meantime: the rate of unmarried cohabitation has risen 1,000 percent over the last four decades. Not all of our marriages will work, no — but when they do, they’ll work better than at any other time in history, say scholars. And when they don’t, why not simply avoid the hassle of a drawn-out divorce?

“Millennials aren’t scared of commitment — we’re just trying to do commitment more wisely,” says Cristen Conger, a 29-year-old unmarried-but-cohabitating podcast host in Atlanta. “We rigorously craft our social media and online dating profiles to maximize our chances of getting a first date, and ‘beta testing’ is just an extension of us trying to strategize for future romantic success.”

In an era where, according to the survey, 56 percent of women and men think a marriage can be successful even if it doesn’t last forever, that might just make sense. Scholars have observed for some time that attitudes toward divorce have become more favorable over the last decade. Millennials in particular are more likely to view divorce as a good solution to matrimonial strife, according to the sociologist Philip Cohen — and more likely to believe it should be easier to obtain.

And, of course, it’s easy to understand why. We’re cynical. We are a generation raised on a wedding industry that could fund a small nation, but marriages that end before the ink has dried. (As one 29-year-old survey respondent put it: “We don’t trust that institution.”) We are also less religious than any other generation, meaning we don’t enter (or stay) committed simply for God. We feel less bound to tradition as a whole (no bouquet tosses here).

And while we have among the highest standards when it comes to a partner – we want somebody who can be a best friend, a business partner, a soul mate — we are a generation that is overwhelmed by options, in everything from college and first jobs to who we should choose for a partner. “This is a generation who has not had to make as many long-term commitments as previous generations, so the idea of not having an out feels a little stringent,” says Lavigne-Delville. “Divorce has happened for a long time. Maybe we should rethink the rules.”

Indeed, at the end of the day, whatever you want to say about the hookup generation, or millennials’ inability to commit, the vast majority (69 percent, according to Pew) of millennials still want to get married. We simply need a little extra time to work out the kinks.

“Getting married is so much more weighted today, I get the impulse to want to test it,” says Hannah Seligson, the 31-year-old married author of A Little Bit Married, about 20-somethings and longterm unmarried relationships. At the same time, she adds, “I wonder if this is a false control study in a way. Yes, marriage terrifying, it’s probably the biggest leap of faith you’ll ever make. But you’ll never be able to peer into a crystal ball – or map it out on a spreadsheet.”

Jessica Bennett is a contributing columnist at Time.com covering the intersection of gender, sexuality, business and pop culture. A former Newsweek senior writer and executive editor of Tumblr, she is also a contributing editor for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s foundation, Lean In. You can follow her @jess7bennett.

 

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