TIME Research

Study Questions Link Between Asthma and City Living

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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

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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.

TIME celebrity

Jennifer Aniston Opens Up About Struggling With Dyslexia

The Hollywood Reporter

"I thought I wasn't smart"

Tabloid readers are up-to-date with Jennifer Aniston’s alleged struggles with her love life, her ex-husband and, more recently, the Academy Awards. But in a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the actress opened up about a very real struggle: her dyslexia.

Growing up, Aniston thought she just wasn’t a good student.

“I thought I wasn’t smart,” she said. “I just couldn’t retain anything.”

But things changed in her early 20’s when she went into an innocuous eye exam for glasses and came out with a diagnosis for dyslexia. “Now, I had this great discovery,” she said. “I felt like all of my childhood trauma-dies, tragedies, dramas were explained.”

Read more at THR

TIME Aging

What You Should Know About Early-Onset Alzheimer’s

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The condition affects about 200,000 people in the United States

Julianne Moore won a Golden Globe Sunday for her portrayal of an early-onset Alzheimer’s patient in the film Still Alice. Moore’s character, Alice Howland, is just 50 when she is diagnosed, and the movie follows her and her family’s struggle to cope as her memory and mental state decline.

But what is early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and who is at risk? Here’s what you should know about the condition that affects about 200,000 people in the United States.

HEALTH.COM: 25 Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

Not just for old people

Alzheimer’s disease is usually thought of as something senior citizens get. While that is often true, it’s not always the case: Up to 5% of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are under age 65—usually in their 40s or 50s—and are considered to have an “early onset” or “younger onset” of the disease.

Symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s are no different than symptoms of more traditional cases, says Mary Sano, PhD, professor of psychiatry and director of Alzheimer’s disease research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in the Bronx, whom Moore consulted during her research for Still Alice. But because the condition is so rare in adults under 65, the signs may not be recognized as quickly by patients themselves, or by those around them.

“By the time people ask for help, something strange has probably been going on for at least six months,” says Sano. “And often, it’s family members and close friends who can provide a point of view that a change has occurred, which can allow that person to realize something is wrong.”

HEALTH.COM: 7 Ways to Protect Your Memory

Because early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is so uncommon, diagnosis may also require testing above and beyond what a senior citizen might undergo. “We want to demonstrate that what’s really present is a cognitive problem and not a psychological or physical problem,” says Sano. “For a younger person, we’ll do a more rigorous workup, including imaging and other tests, because we want to make sure we get this right.”

Early-onset disease has a strong genetic component, so family history—if the patient knows enough about it—can be a big part of a person’s diagnosis, as well. A blood test can determine whether someone has a gene mutation that puts them at higher risk for familial Alzheimer’s, but cannot prove whether they have (or will get) the disease.

What it’s like—and what it’s not

First things first: Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is uncommon, and it’s not responsible for most cases of middle-aged forgetfulness—like not being able to remember where you put your keys, or the name of someone you met at a cocktail party last night, for example.

Episodes like these, says Sano, are most likely due to preoccupation or periods of temporary stress, and usually aren’t anything to worry about.

When you should be concerned, she says, is when problems with your memory begin to interfere with your ability to do the things that are most important to you, or when you start to have difficulty completing common, everyday tasks. “It’s the persistence and the erratic nature of the symptoms that’s the real warning sign.”

In fact, Sano says, people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease often subconsciously modify or adapt their routines to the point where they don’t even notice specific red-flag incidents. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, warning signs may include the regular use of memory devices, relying on friends and family to do things you used to handle yourself, or withdrawal from work or social activities.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Unexpected Things That Mess With Your Memory

Symptoms are different for everyone, but one thing to watch for is difficulty remembering and retaining new information, says Sano. “Not being able to learn your new computer password, or to learn a new activity or take on a new project—those are usually the challenges at the earliest stages of the disease,” she says.

As the disease progresses, however, all forms of memory are affected. In Still Alice, Moore’s character becomes concerned when she—a linguistics who is known for her mastery of speech—loses her train of thought during a presentation and cannot think of the words to continue. In other scenes throughout the movie, she gets disoriented while out for a jog, forgets her daughter’s name, and, yes, misplaces her keys.

As the movie shows, early-onset Alzheimer’s can be especially devastating because people in their 40s and 50s are often still working and caring for children. “They’re at risk for having more functional loss, and having their life and their family’s lives affected much more than someone who’s several decades older,” says Sano. “And so the management of the disease really requires a lot of thoughtfulness and a lot of extra service.”

Treatment and hope

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, no matter what age onset occurs. But there are drugs that can slow its progression, and there are ways in which Alzheimer’s patients and their families can better manage living with the disease.

Staying physically, socially, and mental active can also provide protection against the disease and may help people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease maintain their cognition longer, says Sano. Specifically, research has shown that doing crossword puzzles and speaking a second language may help slow declines in thinking and memory.

In addition, there are many opportunities for Alzheimer’s patients to take part in ongoing research, says Sano, which may lead the way to better treatment options. She recommends talking to your doctor or visiting the National Institutes of Health’s Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center online for information about clinical trials happening near you.

Sano hasn’t seen Moore’s performance in Still Alice (the movie will be officially released on Friday), but she’s glad the actress did her due diligence when preparing for the part. “When we worked with her, we were impressed with her awareness of the impact of the disease—not only on the individuals, but on the people around them as well,” she says.

She’s also grateful for the opportunity the film provides to show people another side to Alzheimer’s disease. “Many people don’t know what this is and so they don’t seek advice when they see victims,” she says. “It’s critically important to allow people to find out about the disease, and raise awareness about something they need to pay attention to—something they may even be living through.”

HEALTH.COM: 15 Diseases Doctors Misdiagnose

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME health

14 Timeless Rules to Keep You Sane

Advice for healthy living from 1927

Back in 1927, at a convention of the American Public Health Association, one Dr. Robert E. Humphreys explained to the crowd that stress caused by financial trouble could lead to health trouble. Nearly a century later, we know that he was right: long-term stress actually does harm your health.

And that’s not all he was right about. Dr. Humphreys went on to provide 14 “rules for sane living” that TIME reprinted in the Oct. 31, 1927, issue—and they just go to show that emotional eating isn’t exactly a modern problem.

From the Oct. 31, 1927, issue of TIME

Don’t laugh: according to one 2011 study, driving after eating actually is dangerous. Dr. Humphreys is likely no longer alive, but if he is, we officially give him the right to say “told you so.”

Read the full report on the 1927 American Public Health Association meeting, here in the TIME Vault: Public Health

TIME States

Right-to-Die Law Proposed in California

Brittany Maynard, a terminally ill woman who decided to end her life early under an Oregon law. She died Nov. 1, 2014.
Brittany Maynard, a terminally ill woman who decided to end her life early under an Oregon law. She died Nov. 1, 2014. AP

Brittany Maynard's family is backing the measure

Two California lawmakers backed by the family of a woman who drew national attention by choosing to end her life after an aggressive and debilitating cancer diagnosis are set to introduce a new right-to-die bill on Wednesday.

The End of Life Option Act would allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medications to terminally ill patients with six months or less to live, the San Jose Mercury News reports. Two state senators are pushing the bill with the support of Brittany Maynard’s family.

MORE Brittany Maynard Could Revive the Stalled ‘Death With Dignity Movement

Maynard was living in the San Francisco Bay Area when she and her husband moved to Portland, Ore., to take advantage of the state’s Death With Dignity law, in a widely publicized story that the bill’s authors say could be a tipping point in support for medically assisted suicide. Oregon, Washington and Vermont have such laws, but attempts to pass similar legislation in California have failed before.

“Our hope is to see the end-of-life option as part of a continuum of established rights available to patients,” state Sen. Bill Monning said.

[San Jose Mercury News]

TIME Diet/Nutrition

You Asked: Is It Bad to Eat the Same Thing Every Day?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

You can get away with eating the same things on loop. But you have to be shrewd about the foods on your grocery list

Meal planning and prep is a pain—especially during the workweek. So it’s easy to fall into the habit of buying, making and eating the same foods day in and day out. Fortunately, that’s not necessarily bad news for your health.

For one thing, “More food variety universally leads to more food intake,” says Dr. Susan Roberts, director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at Tufts University.

Imagine a buffet of vegetable dishes versus one large bowl of salad. You’ll eat more from the buffet every time, Roberts says, since we’re “hard wired” for food variety. Unfortunately, that instinct kicks in even if you replace the healthy veggie buffet with its more realistic equivalent: junk food. For that reason, Roberts says trimming your mealtime array of food options is one way to control overeating.

MORE 5 Healthy Eating Habits to Adopt This Year

We have that hard-wired instinct toward food diversity for a good reason. “No one food has all the nutrients we need in the optimum amounts, so eating a variety of foods means you are much more likely to get enough of each one,” Roberts explains.

But how much variety is enough, and how much is too much? A study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health found women who regularly ate 16 or 17 items from a healthy list of foods—which included fruits, vegetables, whole grains, cereals like quinoa, fish, and low-fat dairy—enjoyed a 42-percent drop in death from any cause compared to women who ate fewer than nine of the foods on that list.

On the other hand, there’s some very preliminary research that suggests eating a varied diet may have some not-so-hot health effects when it comes to your microbiome. That’s the network of microorganisms that lives in your body and supports your digestive system, helps control your appetite and performs dozens of other essential functions.

MORE 7 Things You Should Know About Shrimp

Typically, microbe diversity is a good thing when it comes to your gut. But, according to Dr. Daniel Bolnick, an ecologist at the University of Texas, “We’ve shown that in some animals, mixing foods actually reduces the number and variety of gut microbes.”

Bolnick says the takeaway at this stage isn’t that eating a wide variety of foods is bad, but rather that combinations of foods can do unexpected things. “If you know the effect of Food A and the effect of Food B, you can’t predict what will happen to the microbiome when you eat both,” he says. “There’s no question that, as a species, we eat a greater variety of things now then we used to. But whether that’s good or bad for us is still in question.”

So is it good or bad to eat the same stuff every day? If you’re thinking a bagel for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, and meat with potatoes and a salad for dinner, you’re surely going to be deficient in a number of the necessary nutrients your body needs to thrive, Roberts says.

But if you’re packing plenty of healthful, micronutrient-dense vegetables into your simple meal plan—at least six, Roberts advises—you probably don’t have much to worry about. Just be sure the vegetables you eat come in lots of colors, which tend to correlate with different nutrients. And stay away from starchy vegetables like potatoes, which don’t offer a lot of nutrient bang for your buck, she adds.

MORE How You Can Eat More of These 5 Winter Fruits and Veggies

Roberts says the following sample menu would offer pretty much everything your body needs even if you ate it every day: Greek yogurt with fresh fruit for breakfast, a spinach or kale salad with chicken and vegetables for lunch, a fruit-and-nut smoothie for a snack, and some kind of vegetable-and-brown-rice stir fry for dinner.

Of course, there are a thousand other ways you could structure your meals to get all the good stuff your body needs from just a few dishes. And you don’t have to restrict yourself to such a limited plan. The big takeaway here is you also don’t have to go crazy trying to fit a million exotic “superfoods” into your diet if you want to be healthy, Roberts says.

Consider this permission to be monogamous when it comes to your favorite healthy meals.

Read next: You Asked: What’s the Healthiest Sweetener?

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TIME Research

A Rough Childhood Can Literally Age You Says a New Study

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Researchers say childhood adversity and psychiatric disorders may be linked to cellular changes that cause aging

Childhood trauma and psychiatric conditions may cause individuals to experience accelerated aging, according to research published last week.

In a study featured in Biological Psychiatry, scientists say they may have found evidence to suggest there is a link between aging at the cellular level and trauma or stress disorders.

To complete the study, researchers recruited 299 adults and separated them into different groups based on their experiences with childhood adversity, depression, anxiety or substance abuse.

The participants then had their DNA analyzed to study the lengths of their telomeres and any alterations to mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Telomere shortening and higher mtDNA content can serve as a yardstick to measure cellular aging.

“Results of the study show childhood adversity and lifetime psychopathology were each associated with shorter telomeres and higher mtDNA content,” read the report.

These effects were seen particularly in adults who had battled with major depression and anxiety disorders, along with parental loss or childhood maltreatment.

“Identifying the changes that occur at a cellular level due to these psychosocial factors allows us to understand the causes of these poor health conditions and possibly the overall aging process,” said Audrey Tyrka, associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University.

[Science Daily]

TIME Infectious Disease

Five Workers at Disneyland Have Been Diagnosed With Measles

Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.
Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. H. Lorren Au Jr.—AP

Unvaccinated workers who came into contact with them have been asked to take paid leave

Five employees at Disneyland, California have been diagnosed with measles, bringing the total number of cases in the outbreak up to 53.

All workers who have come into contact with the five have been asked to show vaccination records or do a blood test, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Those who have not been vaccinated have been asked to go on paid leave until their health status can be confirmed.

Earlier this month, nine cases of measles were confirmed in two California-based theme parks, and in Utah from people who had visited the resorts between Dec. 17 and 20.

Since then, the disease has spread across three other states and to Mexico.

[LAT]

TIME ebola

Priests Assaulted in Guinea After Being Mistaken for Ebola Workers

They had gone to a local village to spray insecticides

Three priests from a church in Guinea were physically assaulted while visiting the village of Kabac on Tuesday, as locals suspected they were health workers who would expose inhabitants to the Ebola virus.

The villagers beat up the priests, who had planned to spray insecticide around the area, the BBC reported. They also vandalized the nearby town council building, setting fire to it after burning the priests’ car.

Guinea, one of the three West African countries worst affected by the Ebola outbreak, has lost nearly 2,000 people to the disease. The nation’s schools reopened earlier this week following a five-month break, soon after the U.N. said the number of cases nationwide had fallen to its lowest weekly total since August.

[BBC]

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