TIME Diet/Nutrition

There’s Now Coffee to Help You Fall Asleep

coffee
Getty Images

A new product mixes coffee with a sleep-inducing herb

Imagine brewing coffee as a nightcap. That’s what Deland Jessop says he and his wife have begun to do with Counting Sheep Coffee—a new product designed to allow coffee lovers to drink a cup before bed without being kept awake for hours.

“Instead of a glass of wine, we’ll brew up a cup of coffee instead,” said Jessop, who launched the company in 2013.

When his wife complained that she couldn’t enjoy coffee after 3 p.m., Jessop turned his home into a makeshift lab to search for a possible solution. After experimenting with a variety of herbs and supplements, he says he stumbled upon valerian—a plant that has been used as a mild sedative in Europe for centuries. He mixed it with decaf to mask the pungent smell, and sleep coffee was born.

Jessop notes that Counting Sheep Coffee is a food product, not a drug to help with sleep. Valerian is approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a food ingredient.

Experts don’t know exactly why the plant such a potent sleep-inducer, but there’s little known risk of side effects (other than the obvious drowsiness), says University of California San Francisco associate professor Stephen Bent. “In the studies that have been done, it’s been show to be safe,” he says. “It has a long traditional history of being used to induce sleep.”

The product first appeared at Bed, Bath & Beyond in 2013, and is now sold in several regional supermarkets.

TIME Smoking

E-Cigarettes May Be More Toxic Than Tobacco, Researchers Say

A patron demonstrates an e-cigarette at Vape store in Chicago, April 23, 2014.
Nam Y. Huh—AP

Study finds five to 15 times more formaldehyde in vapour than tobacco smoke

Formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen found in cigarette smoke, also dwells in the vaporized liquid of popular electronic or e-cigarettes, researchers said Wednesday.

E-cigarette sales are booming in the United States and many hoped so- called “vaping” would replace tobacco smoking and be a panacea for the nearly 160,000 lung cancer deaths associated with conventional cigarettes.

But according to an analysis published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, the exposure to formaldehyde from e-cigarettes, based on similar chronic use as tobacco, could be five to 15 times higher than from smoking cigarettes…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Addiction

Typical American Smokers Burn Up at Least $1 Million During Their Lifetimes

Alaska smokers will spend over $2 million

American smokers spend at least $1 million dollars on cigarette-related expenditures over their lifetimes, according to a state-by-state analysis done by the financial consultancy company WalletHub.

The most expensive state for smokers is Alaska, where the habit costs over $2 million dollars on average. For a bargain, move to South Carolina, but that still comes in at nearly $1.1 million.

“I and most people really just think of the cost of cigarettes and taxes on the packs, but if you think about the healthcare costs, which can totally be avoided, healthcare insurance premiums, and in the workplace, bias against smokers, that can … add up,” said WalletHub spokeswoman Jill Gonzalez.

The study’s “average smoker” is someone who smokes one pack a day starting from the age of 18 (legal age to buy) and ending at 69 (the average age of death for a smoker).

So, if you’re looking for another excuse to quit, perhaps take a quick peak down millionaire’s row.

TIME Reproductive Health

Birth Control Pill Risks May Now Include Brain Cancer

128897700
Raymond Forbes—Getty Images/age fotostock RM

Certain forms of birth control may promote growth of a rare brain tumor

Taking any drug is a matter of weighing the benefits and risks, and when it comes to birth control, women may now have one more factor to consider.

Dr. David Gaist, a neurologist at Odense University Hospital and the University of Southern Denmark, and his colleagues found that women taking hormonal contraceptives — those containing estrogen, progestin or a combination of both — showed higher rates of a rare brain tumor known as glioma. Their results, published Thursday in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, raise questions about the connection between oral contraceptives and brain cancer, but shouldn’t yet be interpreted as a reason to stop taking birth control, says Gaist.

MORE: This Contraceptive Is Linked to a Higher Risk of HIV

Using data from Denmark’s national registries of health records, cancer cases and prescriptions, Gaist zeroed in on the women aged 15 years to 49 years diagnosed with glioma, and then analyzed whether they were prescribed contraceptives and for how long. Overall, women who had used hormonal contraceptives at any point in their lives showed a 50% higher risk of developing the brain tumors compared to those who had not used them. And women who used the birth control for more than five years nearly doubled their risk of the cancer. Still, Gaist says, since gliomas are rare, even a doubling of a rare event is still a small risk.

MORE: Which Birth Control Works Best? (Hint: It’s Not the Pill)

“If you look at women in Denmark aged 15 to 49, about five in 100,000 experience that terrible diagnosis in a year, and that figure includes women on hormonal contraceptives, so it’s a very rare event.”

But he admits he was “a bit surprised” by the results, since previous studies suggested that the sex hormones estrogen and progestin might be protective against the gliomas. But those studies primarily included women past menopause, who self-reported their use of contraceptives. In his study, the women were at the age where they would be taking contraceptives, and the data came directly from medical records and registries and therefore more likely to be accurate.

MORE: Take a Look at History’s Worst Contraceptives for Women

Interestingly, Gaist found that women using progestin-only birth control showed slightly higher risk of developing gliomas. While it’s not clear why, he suspects that obesity may be playing a role. In Denmark, regulations require that doctors avoid prescribing estrogen-based contraceptives to obese women, since estrogen can increase risk of blood clots.

Dr. Santosh Kesari, director of neuro-oncology at University of California San Diego and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, notes that rates of gliomas have not spiked since the introduction of hormonal contraceptives, but agrees that the correlation deserves discussion and more study. “It’s something women should be aware about, but I don’t think there is enough evidence to say don’t use it. But the discussion about this potential risk needs to happen,” he says.

Until more research is done to tease apart how the hormones in contraceptives are influencing cells in the brain, Gaist agrees that there isn’t any reason for women to stop using such birth control methods. “With the present knowledge we have, I would still favor using contraception in eligible women,” he says. “But we need to do more research to get a better handle on the issues.”

TIME Research

This Is the Reason You Keep Forgetting Stuff

186678742
Getty Images

Just seeing or hearing something isn't going to help you remember it

A new study coming out of Penn State suggests that individuals are better at remembering details when they anticipate having to recall them in the future.

“We found that in some cases, people have trouble remembering even very simple pieces of information when they do not expect to have to remember them,” said Brad Wyble, assistant professor of psychology at Penn State.

The researchers arrived at their conclusion after quizzing individuals about information they had just been shown. Participants often answered questions about their memories with ease when they anticipated what they would have to remember. However, when individuals were asked about information they had not specifically homed in on, they often were unable to remember the details accurately.

According to Wyble, the results from their experiments suggests that people’s expectations play a vital role in determining what they will be able to recall accurately.

“It seems like memory is sort of like a camcorder,” said Wyble. “If you don’t hit the ‘record’ button on the camcorder, it’s not going to ‘remember’ what the lens is pointed at.”

[Science Daily]

TIME Infectious Disease

Don’t Go to Disneyland’s California Parks If You Haven’t Been Vaccinated for Measles

DISNEY PARKS DISNEY SIDE
More than 1,000 fans gather for a photo at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. Newsire — AP

State health officials say 42 of California's 59 cases are linked to exposure at Disneyland

California state epidemiologist Gil Chavez is calling on anyone who hasn’t had the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to avoid visiting Disneyland’s two California theme parks “for the time being.”

State authorities say at least 59 people across California have been diagnosed with the highly infectious, airborne disease since December.

“Of the confirmed cases, 42 have been linked to an initial exposure in December at Disneyland or Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, California,” read a statement released by the California Department of Public Health on Wednesday.

Health officials have also called on any California resident who has not been vaccinated for the disease to consider getting inoculated immediately.

Read next: Disneyland: The Latest Victim of the Anti-Vaxxers

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Developmental Disorders

Parents May Be Able to Lower Kids’ Autism Risk

Boy (7-9), rear view, close-up
Sean Justice—Getty Images

With the help of videos and trained therapists, parents of at-risk kids may eventually help their toddlers to avoid an autism diagnosis

Autism experts still disagree over a lot of things about the developmental disorder, but there is one idea that unites most of them — that the earlier the condition can be diagnosed, and the sooner interventions, from medications to behavioral therapies, can be tried, the more likely that child will be to develop normally.

The latest research, published Wednesday in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, pushes this idea even further by intervening with one of the youngest group of babies yet — those who are 7 months to 10 months old. Jonathan Green from the University of Manchester, in England, and his colleagues say that teaching parents to get more in tune with the signals coming from infants who are at high risk of developing autism can change their babies’ behavior and shift them toward a pattern of more normal development.

MORE: Autism Symptoms Disappeared With Behavioral Therapy in Babies

The scientists focused on a group of 54 families with at least one autistic child. About 20% of siblings of autistic children end up developing the disorder themselves, so Green and his team randomly assigned parents of these babies to either receive a new parent-training program or to get no additional intervention at all. While previous studies have also looked at such parenting programs, most have focused on toddlers once they have been diagnosed with autism, which generally occurs around age 3.

During the training sessions, which occurred over five months, a therapist visited the home and videotaped parents interacting with their infants and then analyzed the behaviors. Rather than assuming the babies would make sounds or fidget if they wanted something, parents were asked to pay close attention to the signs their infants were providing, and find ways to recognize and respond to them so the babies would be more likely to engage and interact with their parents rather than turn away. After at least six such sessions, the infants of parents who did this showed improvements in their ability to pay attention, as well as better flexibility in shifting their attention from one object to another. Presumably the plasticity, or flexibility of the developing brain, especially in the first year of life, is making it possible to redirect some of the processes that may be veering toward autism.

MORE: How Brain Waves May Be the Clue to Diagnosing Autism

“Taken together, we think all of these improvements across different areas of measurement suggest that we improved risk markers for autism at this age,” Green said during a news conference discussing the findings. “Therefore logically we can say that we potentially lowered the risk of later autism development in these infants. At this point we think the results are promising.”

He stressed that the babies have not been tested yet for autism, which will occur when they are around 3 years old, but that the changes he and his team saw strongly suggest that the path to autism may have been interrupted, or at least suppressed in some way. “What we hope is to eventually demonstrate that by changing something critical in the environment, that we can push the organic brain-development process, the neurocognitive process, back on a typical trajectory,” says Tony Charman, a professor of psychology at King’s College London and one of the co-authors. “That’s the theoretical hope.”

MORE: Major Autism Studies Identify Dozens of Contributing Genes

The findings aren’t the first to show that intervening at such an early age with high-risk babies can potentially lower their chances of developing autism. In 2014, researchers at the University of California, Davis, tested an intensive parenting model in which parents engaged in intensive, focused play with their infants who were 6 months old, and achieved similarly encouraging results. In that study, the infants even showed brain changes that suggested their cognitive processes were normalizing to look more like those of children unaffected by autism. In Green’s study, they also saw evidence that the infants’ ability to shift attention improved after the parenting sessions to look more like those at low risk of developing autism.

MORE: Behavior Therapy Normalizes Brains of Autistic Children

Green said that the findings need to be repeated with dozens more families, but he’s encouraged by the initial success. “These parents need to have enhanced skills to deal with some of the biological vulnerability they are faced with in their children,” he said. “There are great advantages to parent-mediated interventions of this kind; once the parents are skilled up in this way, the therapy can go on 24-7 at home. It’s important to intervene throughout childhood.”

TIME Research

Study Questions Link Between Asthma and City Living

84754104
Getty Images

Poverty may be the greater factor as we spend more time inside

Research has long connected living in urban areas with a high risk for asthma. And it makes sense: Cities are polluted and pollution exposure is linked to a greater risk for asthma.

That’s why a new study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, is so surprising. The findings, which come from a study of 23,000 U.S. children, show that income and race are much greater risk factors for asthma than where a child lives. The greatest predictors of asthma risk, according to this research, are poverty and being African American or Puerto Rican.

“We didn’t go in looking to make this point at all,” says lead study author Dr. Corinne Keet, an assistant professor of pediatrics at John’s Hopkins Children’s Center. “We were somewhat surprised to find that living in a city didn’t seem to be a risk factor for asthma.”

To reach these findings, the researchers looked at data from 23,065 children, ages 6 to 17, who were part of the 2009-2011 National Health Interview Survey, and calculated the prevalence of asthma among the group. Their results showed that the prevalence of asthma among inner-city children was 12.9%, and 10.6% in non-inner city neighborhoods. But when the researchers accounted for race, ethnicity, geographic areas, sex and age, it was no longer significant.

Keet says she thought of looking into this while writing a grant proposal. She wanted to toss in a line about how inner-city children have more asthma, and couldn’t find the nation-wide evidence to back it up. She enlisted Dr. Elizabeth Matsui, another Johns Hopkins professor of pediatrics who has done several studies looking at the link between urban living and asthma. Keet learned from Matsui, who is a senior author of the study, that studies making the connection have primarily looked at individual cities, and that there was very little data looking at the effect nationwide.

The new findings still support pollution as a cause for asthma, but it suggests that indoor pollution may be doing more of the harm.

“A lot of what may make a difference is what happens inside the home than outside the home, especially as we spend so much time indoors these days,” says Keet. Allergen exposure from old housing materials, cockroaches and mice, mold pollution, cleaning supplies, and tobacco smoke may be heavy contributors.

Keet says other factors, like being born prematurely and second-hand smoke exposure, are also associated with both poverty and asthma. In addition, stress has been fingered as a possible contributor to asthma risk, and poverty is certainly a stressor for many families. When it comes to the race connection, Keet cites some research that has found genetic factors, especially among African ancestry, that’s associated with a greater risk. However, it’s very difficult to disentangle the genetics from the effects of other factors like socioeconomic status.

“[The study] turns 50 years of hypothesizing on its head,” says Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who was not involved in this study. “It seemed to follow logically that pollution in urban areas would contribute to asthma more so than in rural areas. I am more surprised by the rural numbers. But any young child who would have any wheezing episode should be seen and evaluated since pediatric asthma is not uncommon.”

It’s important to note that the new study was designed to look at overall prevalence of asthma, and not at the severity of a child’s asthma is. The researchers are already embarking on another study that looks at hospital and emergency room visits associated with asthma. Keet says they suspect that urban living may indeed exacerbate asthma.

“I think the takeaway is for policy makers — making sure we are not ignoring these pockets outside of cities,” says Keet. “A lot of work with great results has focused on children living in cities, and we just need to make sure we are not forgetting anyone else.”

TIME Exercise/Fitness

This Juice Is Good for Athletes—But Not for the Reason They Think

beets
Getty Images

Athletes are known to chug beet juice to give them an endurance boost. The root vegetables are a rich natural source of nitrates—which may help with blood flow—and they’re thought to give exercisers an edge by increasing flow to their limbs during workouts. Now, a new study in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism shows that beet juice really is good for athletes—but maybe not for the reasons they believe.

In a small trial, 12 healthy men in their early twenties drank beet juice either with nitrates, or a placebo version with the nitrates removed. Three hours after drinking, researchers measured the size of their arteries and flow speed of their blood when they were at rest and during six different intensities of a hand grip exercise.

Contrary to what they expected to find, researchers discovered that the beet juice had no effect on blood flow or artery size, either at rest or during activity. But they did find that it lowered pressure of blood vessels at rest.

The authors note that more research is needed to determine if the results would change under more strenuous exercise, or in an older, less healthy population. But other studies have shown beet’s positive effect on blood pressure and cardiovascular health—which could mean that far more of us than just elite athletes might want to give beets a chance.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser