TIME Heart Disease

How Much Alcohol Is Too Much? A New Study Has Answers

Alcohol, at least in moderation, can help the heart, but too much can be toxic. The latest study tells you where to draw the line

For decades, there’s been a steady line of literature welcomed by anyone who enjoys a regular drink or two: that moderate drinking can actually protect you from having a heart attack by keeping your vessels clear and relatively plaque-free. But there’s another set of data that shows too much alcohol can start to poison the heart. So where does the line between good-for-you and bad-for-you lie?

Researchers led by Dr. Scott Solomon, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of non-invasive cardiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and his colleagues provide some clues Tuesday in their latest report in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging. The scientists combed through data collected from 4,466 elderly people about their alcohol consumption. They also agreed to echocardiograms of their hearts. Solomon wanted to see if there were any changes in the structure of the heart that had anything to do with how much the volunteers reported they drank each week.

MORE: Should Alcohol Be Forced to List Calories?

The not-so-good news: The more the participants drank, the more likely they showed abnormal changes in their heart structure and function. In men, the changes started accumulating after more than two drinks per day, or 14 or more drinks a week. In these men, the pumping chambers of their hearts increased slightly compared to those in non drinkers, a sign that the heart had to work harder to pump the same amount of blood, which can cause it enlarge and weaken. In women, these changes appeared when women drank much less, just above the one drink a day. In addition, among the women who imbibed more than a drink a day, the scientists found slight drops in heart function compared to women who drank less.

“A little bit of alcohol may be beneficial, but too much is clearly going to be toxic,” says Solomon. “Once you get beyond two drinks a day in men, you get into the realm where you start to see subtle evidence of cardiotoxic effects on the heart that might over the long term lead to problems. And that threshold might be lower in women.”

The study provides valuable information about how alcohol affects the heart, and how much alcohol exposure can trigger changes to the heart’s structure and more importantly, how it functions. But where the tipping point lies with each individual between the benefits and harms of a having a few drinks isn’t clear yet. More studies investigating which genetic factors may predispose people, and in particular women, to the toxic effects of alcohol will need to done before more refined advice about how much is too much can be discussed.

Those investigations might start with potential differences in the way men and women process alcohol. The effects Solomon and his team saw remained strong even after they adjusted for body mass index, and other studies have hinted, for example, that the different hormone environments in men and women might be responsible for the increased vulnerability of women’s heart tissues to the toxic effects of alcohol.

Future work may also delve deeper into the question of how long people drink; like any exposure, the effects of alcohol may also be cumulative. Because the participants in the study were relatively elderly, with an average age of 76, their heart changes reflected decades of exposure to alcohol but it’s not clear whether there is a threshold for when the harmful effects dominate over the potentially beneficial ones.

“What is clear is that at more than two drinks a day is the point at which we start to think we are beyond the safe level for men, and with women, it’s likely to be even lower than that,” says Solomon.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

3 Delicious Ways to Get Creative With Your Veggies

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Try homemade sweet potato fries

Bored with the same old salads and green juice? Time to get creative! Check out these fun ideas for falling in love with your vegetables all over again, from Candice Kumai, chef and author of the forthcoming book Clean Green Eats ($19; amazon.com).

Spiralize your squash

Get your pasta fix by putting yellow squash or zucchini into a spiralizer, then sautéing the “noodles” lightly in olive oil. “Just toss them with your favorite marinara and you’ve got a low-carb, high-fiber dish!” Kumai says. “If you’re still craving real pasta, you can do half and half.” Don’t have a spiralizer? Use a peeler to create squash “ribbons.”

Shave your sprouts

Cut Brussels sprouts in half, then carefully use a mandolin slicer to thinly shave them. “You can sauté them in oil and season, or drizzle on a homemade balsamic vinaigrette for a salad. I like to add blue Roquefort, walnuts and sliced pear for sweetness,” Kumai says.

“Fry” your sweet potatoes

You probably already order sweet potato fries at restaurants every chance you get. Why not make a healthy version at home? All you have to do is peel two medium sweet potatoes, then slice lengthwise. Lightly coat them in coconut oil and bake at 375°F for 40 minutes. Turn them halfway through.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME global health

Man Dies of Rare Lassa Fever in New Jersey

He had recently returned from traveling in Liberia

A man died of a rare African virus in New Jersey Monday after recently returning from Liberia, officials confirmed.

The man died of Lassa fever, a virus that causes hemorrhagic symptoms but is very different from Ebola, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Lassa fever is only fatal for 1% of those who are infected, while Ebola can be fatal for 70% of those infected without treatment. Lassa fever is also much harder to spread from person to person (it’s usually picked up from rodent droppings). About 100,000 to 300,000 Lassa fever cases are reported in West Africa every year, resulting in about 5,000 deaths.

The man with Lassa fever had arrived at JFK airport from Liberia on May 17, and went to a hospital the following day complaining of fever, sore throat and tiredness, officials said. At that time, he did not say he had been traveling in West Africa, and he was sent home the same day. On May 21 his symptoms worsened and he returned to the hospital, at which point he was transferred to a facility equipped to deal with viral hemorrhagic fevers. The patient was in “appropriate isolation” when he died Monday evening. The CDC is working to compile a list of people who may have encountered the patient while he was sick, and they are monitoring close contacts for 21 days to see if they develop the virus.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

12 Reasons Why Dehydration Is Bad for Your Body

Being dehydrated can take a toll on your body and even your mind

It doesn’t take much to become dehydrated. Lose just 1.5% of the water in your body (the human body is usually about 60% H2O), and you’ve reached the tipping point of mild dehydration. It can be brought on by many things—and it can do much more to your body than just make you feel thirsty. Dehydration also brings on health effects ranging from fatigue and smelly breath to more dangerous consequences like distracted driving.

It gives you bad breath

It’s easy to forget to drink water during a busy workday, but at the end of the day you may find people standing unusually far from you when you open your mouth. “Dehydration can give you bad breath,” says Marshall Young, DDS, a dentist in Newport Beach, Calif. “Saliva has important antibacterial properties. When dehydrated, the decreased saliva in the mouth allows bacteria to thrive, resulting in bad breath.” So drink up for your own sake, and for those around you as well.

It makes you crave sugar

Dehydration can mask itself as hunger, particularly sugar cravings. This may happen particularly if you’ve been exercising, says Amy Goodson, RD, sports dietitian for the Dallas Cowboys. “When you exercise in a dehydrated state, you use glycogen (stored carbohydrate) at a faster rate, thus diminishing your stores more quickly.” So once you finish exercising, you will likely crave carbs to help you replenish those glycogen levels and get you ready for your next exercise bout.

It wrecks your workout

Even being slightly dehydrated affects your ability to put effort into your workout. “A 2% dehydration level in your body causes a 10% decrease in athletic performance,” says Goodson. “And the more dehydrated you become, the worse performance gets.” Measured by “perceived exertion,” how hard you feel you’re exercising, you might be working at a 6 but you feel like you are working at an 8, says Goodson.

It dries your skin out

Keeping skin healthy and glowing requires drinking enough water, says Anne Marie Tremain, MD, a dermatologist with Laser Skin Care Center Dermatology Associates in Long Beach, Calif. “It’s best to hydrate from the inside out,” she says. “Depending on your lifestyle you may need to adjust your water intake.” If you work out every day or are a caffeine fiend, for instance, then you’ll need to drink more., because workouts make you sweat and caffeine is a diuretic, which can dehydrate you. For smooth, moisturized skin, Dr. Tremain also suggests keeping showers short (less than five minutes) and using only lukewarm water as hot water can dry your skin out even more.

It may affect your ability to drive safely

Few things are more uncomfortable than being stuck in traffic or on a long drive when you need to use the restroom. Logically, it makes sense to simply not drink water before hitting the road. But new research published in Physiology and Behavior shows that the number of driving errors doubled during a two-hour drive when drivers were dehydrated versus hydrated—an effect similar to driving while drunk (defined by most states as .08% blood alcohol). Since often people purposely avoid drinking prior to a long road trip to prevent bathroom stops, dehydration could increase the risk of traffic accidents.

It makes you tired

A mid-afternoon slump may have more to do with hydration than you think. “When you’re dehydrated your blood pressure drops, heart rate increases, blood flow to the brain slows – all of which can make you tired,” says Luga Podesta, MD, sports medicine specialist at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles, Calif. A lack of water to muscles also makes physical tasks feel more difficult and tiring.

It sours your mood

Cranky much? Drink a glass of water and your mood may change. “Neurological effects of dehydration can cause irritability,” says Dr. Podesta. A small study published in the Journal of Nutrition tested mood and concentration in 25 young women who were either given enough fluids to remain properly hydrated, or who became mildly dehydrated by taking diuretics and exercising. The dehydrated women—who were at a level that was just 1% lower than optimal—reported headaches, loss of focus, and irritability.

It can give you the chills

It may seem counterintuitive, but dehydration can bring on chills. “This occurs because your body starts to limit blood flow to the skin,” says Dr. Podesta. In addition, water holds heat, so if you become hydrated it can be more difficult to regulate your body temperature, which can make you become chilled faster, even when you’re not in a cold environment.

It can cause muscle cramps

A lack of water causes less blood circulation, which can make muscles cramp up, says Ray Casciari, MD, medical director of the La Amistad Family Health Center in Orange, Calif. “The body will protect its vital organs, so it shifts fluid away from muscles and anything that’s not vital,” he says. Muscle cramps can be extremely painful, making muscles feel harder than normal to the touch. Changes in sodium and potassium through sweat loss can also contribute to cramping.

It makes you feel dizzy and foggy

Along with muscles, your brain also gets less blood circulation when you’re low on water, which can make you dizzy, says Dr. Casciari. Additionally, mild dehydration may affect your ability to take on mental tasks and cause you to feel foggy headed, according to a study from the British Journal of Nutrition. Interestingly, a study that appeared in the Journal of Nutrition showed greater mood changes in women than in men, both at rest and during exercise.

It can give you a headache

Dehydration can cause headaches in a couple of different ways. “Lack of water affects your body’s serotonin levels, which can give you headaches,” says Dr. Casciari. In addition, small blood vessels in the brain respond quickly to hydration levels (which is also behind hangover headaches), leading to dull aches and even full-blown migraines. Try downing a glass or two of water the next time you have a headache and you may discover it disappears. You could also eat fruit, which contains a high percentage of water, Dr. Casciari suggests.

It constipates you

Your body needs water to keep things moving through your colon. When you’re not getting enough H2O, your body compensates by withdrawing more fluid from stool, making it harder and more difficult to pass. That said, it’s worth noting that drinking more water when you’re already properly hydrated won’t necessarily relieve constipation caused by other factors, like the medications you’re taking, medical conditions, or a lack of fiber in your diet.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

Read next: 12 Mental Tricks to Beat Cravings and Lose Weight

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

Here’s Why Living on a Noisy Street Could Make You Fatter

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Living next to a busy thoroughfare may affect more than just your mental well-being

The overwhelming hum from nearby traffic is often annoying, but it could also be making individuals more obese, according to new research from Sweden.

In an article featured in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine journal this week, researchers said they found that residents of Stockholm exposed regularly to noise from trains, aircraft or road traffic, all experienced growth in their respective waistlines.

For individuals that were unlucky enough to have been consistently exposed to all three categories, “the risk of a larger waist doubled from the 25% heightened risk among people exposed to only one noise source,” reports the Guardian.

The research team was unable to draw a conclusive link between noise pollution and obesity, but suggested that the increase of stress caused by audible irritants may be a possible culprit.

“Traffic noise may influence metabolic and cardiovascular functions through sleep disturbances and chronic stress,” said Andrei Pyko, lead author of the study at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, according to the Australian Associated Press.

And when a person’s sleep patterns are disturbed, it can easily affect “immune functions, influence the central control of appetite and energy expenditure as well as increase circulating levels of the stress hormone cortisol.”

[Guardian]

TIME Research

Living at High Altitudes May Increase SIDS Risk, Study Says

A new study looks at how residential altitude affects newborns

A new study suggests babies that live at high altitudes may be at a greater risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) compared to infants living at lower altitudes.

Each year, around 3,500 infants under age one die unexpectedly in the United States. Still, public health experts remain uncertain for why SIDS occurs.

In a new study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, researchers sought to determine whether altitude might play a role in SIDS risk. The researchers looked at residential altitude of over 393,000 Colorado infants, as well as their birth and death certificate data between 2007 and 2012.

After accouting for a variety of complicating factors, the researchers found that babies that lived above 8,000 feet had slightly over double the risk of experiencing SIDS compared to infants that lived under 6,000 feet.

The study did not determine why higher altitudes might increase the risk, but others have suggested that hypoxia, not having enough oxygen, may play a role in SIDS. Researchers suggest the findings should be kept in mind when coaching new parents.

TIME Research

Babies Who Are Breast-Fed Are Better Protected Against Pollution, Study Finds

Human milk counters impact of airborne pollutants

In a newborn infant’s initial four months, exposure to pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and airborne particles can cause negative effects on motor and mental development, but a new study reported on in Science Daily says those effects are countered in babies who are breast-fed by their mothers.

Researchers in Spain began monitoring rural, pregnant women in 2006 and analyzed samples from 638 women and their infants at 15 months. They discovered that babies who are breast-fed did not suffer from the potentially harmful developmental impact of PM2.5 (pollution particle matter) and NO2 (nitrogen dioxide).

Read more at Science Daily.

TIME Disease

Bird Flu Spreading as Scientists Look Everywhere for Clues

Could it be blowing from farm to farm in the dirt? Could determined starlings and pigeons be carrying it into poultry houses on their feet? Is it spreading in feed, or being carried on truck tires?

Federal agriculture officials are looking everywhere they can think of for H5N2 bird flu, which has spread to poultry flocks in 14 states and killed or forced the slaughter of more than 39 million birds.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza has never spread like this before in the United States, and it’s flummoxed the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farmers and scientists alike …

Read the rest of the story at NBCNews.com

TIME Body Image

California Woman Struggling With Severe Anorexia Shares Her Story

"I want other anorexics to hear this"

A California woman desperate to win her 10-year fight with anorexia shared her story online recently, ultimately raising enough money to transfer her to a specialized medical facility.

Rachael Farrokh, 37, opened up to ABC last week about her story of dropping from 125 pounds to a life-threateningly low weight—so low that many hospitals won’t admit her due to liability reasons, according to her GoFundMe page. The crowdfunding campaign, set up by her husband and caretaker, Rod Edmondson, 41, has raised more $160,000 of the $100,000 goal over 24 days.

“I want other anorexics to hear this,” Farrokh said. “This is miserable. Everything hurts from my head down to my toes. It’s really hard to [stay on topic], so what I try to do is have conversations with Rod and keep in contact with other victims on Facebook to be encouraging and supportive of one another.”

Read more at ABC

TIME Research

The Scientific Reason Why Airplane Food Tastes Bad

It has to do with the dry cabin air

Why does airline food taste so lousy? A new study from Cornell University has come up with an answer, and it ain’t bad cookin’.

Turns out, the noisy environment inside a claustrophobic airplane cabin may actually change the way food tastes.

In the study, 48 people were handed a variety of solutions that were spiked with the five basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (basically, a Japanese word for the savory flavor found in foods like bacon, tomatoes, cheese, and soy sauce). First, the testers sipped in silence, then again, while wearing headsets that played about 85 decibels of noise, designed to mimic the hum of jet engines onboard a plane.

What the researchers found: While there wasn’t that much of a change in how the salty, sour, and bitter stuff tasted, the noisy surroundings dulled the sweet taste, while intensifying the savory one—which might explain why a meal eaten on a plane will usually seem a little, well, off.

“Our study confirmed that in an environment of loud noise, our sense of taste is compromised. Interestingly, this was specific to sweet and umami tastes, with sweet taste inhibited and umami taste significantly enhanced,” said Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science. “The multisensory properties of the environment where we consume our food can alter our perception of the foods we eat.”

This isn’t the first time airlines have tried to figure out the reason behind funky in-flight food. The Fraunhofer Institute, a research institute based in Germany, did a study on why a dish that would taste just fine on the ground would taste, “so dull in the air,” as Grant Mickles, the executive chef for culinary development of Lufthansa’s LSG Ski Chefs, put it to Conde Nast Traveler.

German researchers tried taste tests at both sea level and in a pressurized condition. The tests revealed that the cabin atmosphere—pressurized at 8,000 feet—combined with cool, dry cabin air numbed the taste buds (kind of like when you’ve got a bad cold). In fact, the perception of saltiness and sweetness dropped by around 30% at high altitude. Multiplying the misery: The stagnant cabin dries out the mucus membranes in the nose, thus dulling the olfactory sensors that affect taste. All of which adds up to a less-than-fine dining experience.

The good news: This research may help airlines find a way to make in-the-air meals more palatable. (That is, for flights and airlines that still offer any food at all!)

The key, according to Mickles, may be using ingredients or foods that contain a lot of umami to enhance the other flavors. He may be on to something: The folks at the Lufthansa have found that passengers guzzle as much tomato juice as beer (to the tune of about 425,000 gallons a year). Turns out, cabin pressure brings out the savory taste of the red stuff.

Good to know. Now pass the earplugs—and bring on the Bloody Marys.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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