TIME medicine

How Concussions Can Lead to Poor Grades

Head injuries can have long lasting effects, not just on the field but in the classroom too

When it comes to concussions, the biggest question, especially on the minds of parents of student-athletes, is whether and when their child should get back in the game. But researchers at the Children’s National Health System say that there’s potentially bigger question that parents and educators aren’t asking: how concussions affect children’s performance in the classroom.

In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, Danielle Ransom, a postdoctoral fellow in neuropsychology, and her colleagues found that children who had concussions may experience more problems concentrating, keeping up and paying attention in school. The symptoms are worse for students who have recently been injured, but remained significant even for those who had recovered.

MORE: Longer Rest After Concussions Might Not Be Good, Study Says

“My colleagues and I have been hearing for years that kids with concussions have problems in school, but there was no evidence to show what the problems are, and how frequently they are occurring,” she says.

So she focused on 349 students ages 5 to 18 years old who had all been diagnosed with concussion. Some were still recovering, and experiencing symptoms, while others were no longer feeling any effects from their injury. Of the students who were still recovering, 88% reported more than one symptom including headaches, fatigue, difficulty understanding lessons or problems concentrating. And 77% said they had more trouble taking notes and spent more time completing homework assignments.

MORE: A New Blood Test to Diagnose Concussions on The Field

Students who experienced more-severe head injuries were also more likely to have the most trouble in school. But Ransom admits that diagnosing the severity of concussions is still a challenge. “At this point we really don’t have tools to clinically say, this is what you can expect in your kid’s recovery,” she says.

Still the results highlight the need to pay attention to the extra support that children with concussions need in order to recover. That may include, at least in the first days back from a head injury, a shorter school day, since students may feel more tired and overwhelmed by a full day, and even breaks throughout the day so they can rest when they feel headaches or symptoms occurring.

“Instead of trying to get the kid back to school doing things 100% as they usually would, we need to allow the symptoms to ebb and flow in a more natural way,” says Ransom. “Kids should be paying attention to their bodies, and teachers need to be attuned to their symptoms.”

MORE: Football Players Have More Concussions Than Are Diagnosed, Study Suggests

Such strategies could not only help to ease the transition back to school, and but also potentially lessen the effects of the concussion, says Ransom. There is evidence that children who push themselves to return too quickly to their normal workload can slow recovery and even make symptoms worse.

Unfortunately, she says, there is no magic threshold for when students can handle working at their full capacity; it varies with each child and with the injury. But recognizing that concussions can affect how children do in school could lead to better ways of helping them to return to their normal workload sooner. “We really think the findings in our study highlight the importance of targeting specific problems, and can ease the transition back for kids,” says Ransom.

TIME ebola

Watch an Ebola Survivor’s Powerful Speech to Med School Grads

"The most important thing we do is enter into the suffering of others"

Dr. Kent Brantly, one of the Americans who contracted Ebola while treating patients in Liberia, told graduates of the Indiana University School of Medicine on Saturday that failure isn’t the focus of being a physician.

Brantly, among the “Ebola Fighters” honored as TIME’s Person of the Year, recalled his experience treating—and losing—patients as a missionary doctor in Liberia, the Indianapolis Star reports. After he contracted Ebola last summer, he was transferred to the U.S. for care and later declared virus-free.

“Losing so many patients certainly was difficult, but it didn’t make me feel like a failure as a physician,” the Indianapolis native said at the commencement ceremony, “because I had learned that there was so much more to being a physician than curing illness. That’s not the most important thing we do. The most important thing we do is enter into the suffering of others.”

“We were able to hold the hands of people as they died, to offer dignity in the face of humiliating circumstances,” Brantly said. “You are going to share in the most intimate parts of your patients’ lives. You will share in their moments of tragedy. But you will also share in their moments of greatest joy. You will make a difference in people’s lives, and you will make a difference in the world.”

Brantly, a graduate of the same medical school, also proudly shared the news that the World Health Organization, earlier in the day, had declared an end to the Ebola outbreak in Liberia.

[Indianapolis Star]

TIME Healthcare

What You Should Know About Medical Marijuana for Pets

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Getty Images

Be sure to consult your veterinarian first

Now that 23 states have given medical marijuana the green light (with even recreational use now allowed in another four states and Washington D.C.), growing weed has become a growing business. The newest frontier: getting Fido and Fluffy on board with the cannabis revolution.

Relax. We’re not talking about rolling doobies with your dog, or seeing “pretty colors” with your cat. Nope, these are cannabis-containing edible treats and capsules that are meant for sick or aging pets.

“The cannabis plant has many compounds in it,” Matthew J. Cote, brand manager at Auntie Dolores, a San Francisco Bay Area-based edibles manufacturer, told ABC News. Auntie Dolores launched its pet line Treatibles last year. “Most people grow cannabis for the euphoric experience of THC. But they’ve been overlooking cannabidiol—commonly known as CBD—which is non-psychoactive,” he said.

CBD, in fact, does not produce a high, and it’s true that it’s been studied as a potential treatment for epileptic seizures and pain relief for cancer patients.

So, as Cote explained to ABC News, the theory is that since aging canines share a lot of the same health problems as humans, there must be a market for pot-laced dog “medicine.” Sold online ($22 per bag of 40 treats, treatibles.com), Treatibles contain 40 milligrams of CBD per treat and makers advise giving one per 20 pounds of your pet’s weight.

“What we’ve seen is that some of these dogs respond very rapidly,” Cote told ABC News. “One woman from Fort Bragg was ready to put down her dog due to how sick and in pain he was, but the day before he was scheduled to go under, she administered our treats and just like that the dog was up, walking around, and acting normally again.”

Canna Companion, another pot-for-pets proprietor based in Sultan, Washington, also boasts of amazing results for customers. One such testimonial posted on their website reads: “It seems as though [Canna Companion] is the best kept secret in the animal world for pain management and anxiety issues. I originally ordered it for my cat Robbie for anxiety/inflamed bladder issues and it works! Robbie has had issues for the past year or so, and now they are all but gone.”

High (ahem) praise, indeed.

Even so, the American Veterinary Medical Association hasn’t taken an official stance, and even in states where marijuana is legal, veterinarians are not allowed to prescribe cannabis products to their patients. (Though that may change: In Nevada, where medical use for humans is legal, the legislature is currently debating a bill that would allow vets to prescribe it to pets.)

Producers of these treats and capsules also have to be careful about any claims they make about their products. According to ABC News, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent Canna Companion’s co-owner (and a veterinarian) Sarah Brandon a notice, stating that the capsules were an “unapproved new animal drug and your marketing of it violates the [Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic] Act.”

That kind of cautionary approach makes sense, say some experts, who point out that since these products aren’t regulated by the FDA, there’s no real way of knowing what you’re getting—or what the potential side effects might be. Says Tina Wismer, medical director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, in an interview with Health: “These products show potential, but there’s not a lot of research at this point. No one is even sure what the correct therapeutic dosage is. For example, in the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section on one of the websites, a customer asks, ‘How much should I give my pet?’ And they answer—I’m paraphrasing here: ‘Whatever you think would help.’ Well, that’s extremely vague.”

Not to mention, potentially dangerous: A 2012 study published in the Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care found that the number of dogs treated for marijuana overdoses at two Colorado veterinary hospitals quadrupled in five years following the legalization of medical marijuana in the state.

Sometimes it’s a case of owners deliberately administering cannabis products (hash-laced brownies, for example) to their pets, experts note. Other times, ingestion happens by accident—say, animals inhaling second-hand pot smoke or getting into their owner’s unattended stash. Wismer, who hasn’t heard of any problems with Treatibles or Canna Companion specifically, says she has fielded more than a few panicked calls at poison control about accidental exposures to pot in general—with sometimes scary results.

“You would think they’d become sedated and wobbly, but almost a quarter of them become quite agitated,” says Wismer. “They’re trying to pace. They’re panting. You reach out to pet them and they jerk their heads away.” In fact, Wismer adds, dogs that ingest large amounts of THC sometimes need to be put on fluids and have their heart rate monitored. Scary, right? (Although the commercial dog treats contain little or no THC, according the manufacturers.)

The bottom line here: You probably shouldn’t feed your pet cannabis—in any form—without talking to your vet.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME public health

San Francisco Bans Chewing Tobacco at Sports Venues

Effective Jan. 1, 2016

On Friday, San Francisco became the first American city to ban smokeless tobacco—chewing tobacco and “moist inhalable snuff”—at sports venues.

The new ordinance, signed by Mayor Ed Lee, goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2016. Violators will be asked to leave the playing fields (where cigarette and cigar smoking is already banned), the Associated Press reports.

Anti-smoking groups argue that a ban on smokeless tobacco—which has been linked to cancer and nicotine addiction—sends the right message to kids who look up to the players. But San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain said the measure may be hard to enforce, noting that coffee pouches resemble tobacco pouches, according to an article on the team’s website.

The state Assembly is still considering a bill banning tobacco use—electronic cigarettes included—wherever there’s a baseball game, the AP reports.

Read next: Why Lawmakers Want Smokeless Tobacco Thrown Out of the Homes of a National Pastime

TIME Diet/Nutrition

6 Foods That Can Make You Happier

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Daily consumption of dark chocolate, for one, can lower your stress level

I’m a happiness research junkie. I love reading about simple things we can do to elevate mood and boost contentment. Mindfulness meditation, adequate sleep, laughing, volunteering, and spending time with pets (as well as with happy people) all help. And believe it or not, science shows you can also eat your way happier!

If you’re in need of a little more glee, here are six research-backed “better mood foods” to build into your eating repertoire.

Probiotic-rich foods

In a recent Dutch study, 20 healthy volunteers received either a probiotic supplement or a placebo for four weeks. Those who received the real deal showed a significantly reduced reactivity to sad mood, which was largely due to a reduction in aggressive thoughts, and rumination (you know, when you over-think or obsess on the negative). The conclusion: the type and amount of bacteria in your digestive tract impacts your mood. Scientists even have a name for it: the gut-brain axis, or the communication highway between the GI tract and the brain.

In an animal study conducted at McMaster University in Ontario, gut bacteria from mice with different personalities were swapped. Fearless mice became timid after receiving gut bacteria from anxious counterparts, and the reverse was also true—fearful rodents became more expressive and less apprehensive. The researchers also found that aggressive mice became calm when scientists changed their gut microbes by making their diets more healthy. All of this means that, for all intents and purposes, your gut bacteria can literally be mind-altering. To reap the benefits, stock up on probiotic-rich fermented foods, including kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir, or consider popping a probiotic supplement.

Fruits and veggies

In a study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, nearly 300 young adults kept daily food journals for three consecutive weeks, in addition to completing psychological and mood-related ratings. Researchers found that a higher intake of produce resulted in more energy, calm, and a greater sense of happiness. They also noted that the effects were seen not only on the days more veggies and fruits were consumed, but also throughout the following day. Another study, published in the journal Social Indicators Research, which tracked 80,000 adults, found that consuming a higher amount of produce boosted mental well-being, with the magic number for happiness being seven daily servings. To use produce to elevate your mood, choose fruits and veggies first, and build each meal around them. For tips on how, check out my previous posts 5 Veggies That Make Perfect Pasta Alternatives and 5 Reasons to Eat More Fruit.

Coffee

Coffee drinkers can be thought of as curmudgeons, but research has actually linked regular java consumption to positivity. In one study, researchers found that coffee consumed in the morning was linked to energy, kindness, and pleasure. Coffee enjoyed socially was tied to affection, friendship, satisfaction, and good nature, and when sipped leisurely, cups of Joe induced calm, happiness, and tranquility. Another study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that women who drank two to three cups of coffee a day were 15% less likely to develop depression over a 10-year span, compared to those who consumed one cup or less each day. Now that doesn’t mean a pot a day is a recipe for bliss, but if you enjoy coffee there are other health benefits to making it a daily habit. Check out my previous posts 6 Reasons to Keep Loving Coffee and 5 Reasons to Drink Coffee Before a Workout.

Dark chocolate

Even thinking about dark chocolate brings a smile to my face, but research backs its happiness benefits. The antioxidants in dark chocolate can trigger the walls of your blood vessels to relax, lowering blood pressure and improving circulation. That may be why one study found that eating about an ounce and a half of dark chocolate daily for two weeks reduced levels of stress hormones in people who rated themselves as highly stressed. Dark chocolate also contains magnesium, a mineral that has been shown to help alleviate PMS symptoms, including fatigue, depression, and irritability. Finally, dark chocolate’s unique natural substances trigger a sense of euphoria that’s similar in to the feeling of being in love! For more check out my 5 Healthy Ways to Eat More Chocolate.

Mushrooms

I adore mushrooms. In a previous post I wrote about five surprising benefits of this underrated superfood, and due to their unique nutrients, mood regulation may be a sixth. Shrooms are rich in selenium and research has linked a deficiency of this mineral (which doubles as an antioxidant) to a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and fatigue. Mushrooms are also the only plant source of natural vitamin D, a key nutrient of us aren’t getting enough of. In a study of people with seasonal affective disorder, which affects 11 million Americans, scientists found that those who upped their vitamin D intake experienced an enhanced mood. To bolster your intake, incorporate mushrooms into omelets or quiche at breakfast, salads at lunch, and sauté, grill, or oven roast them at dinner.

Green tea

A Japanese study, conducted with more than 40,000 people, found that levels of psychological stress were 20% lower in people who drank five or more cups of green tea per day compared to those who drank less than one. The results held true even after other factors were accounted for, including age, sex, medical history, body mass index, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, and diet. Reach for green tea as a beverage, or incorporate loose tea leaves or brewed green tea into cooking. It’s fantastic in smoothies, marinades, soups, and sauces. For info about a currently trendy form of green tea, check out my previous post 7 Things You Should Know About Matcha.

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME Sex/Relationships

The Science of How Women Can Have Twins With 2 Different Fathers

It's rare, but not impossible

Paternity tests usually give a straightforward answer—a man either is or isn’t the father. But, for a woman in New Jersey suing for child support, things are a little more complicated. It turns out the man she thought was the father of her twins was only the father of one of the pair.

That result is rare—so rare that the condition has the improbable name “superfecundation.” But it turns out a lot of things can happen when it comes to birthing multiple children at the same time. Here are the different types of multiple births:

Superfecundation twins: When a woman has intercourse with two different men in a short period of time while ovulating, it’s possible for both men to impregnate her separately. In this case, two different sperm impregnate two different eggs. This is what happened to the woman in New Jersey. One child was the product of her relationship with the man she brought to court, and the other child was conceived during a separate encounter with another man. While this phenomenon is rare, research suggests it does happen from time to time. A 1992 study found that superfecundation twins were at the root of more than 2% of paternity suits in the United States involving twins.

Fraternal twins (50% shared genetics): Fraternal twins result when two separate sperm fertilize two separate eggs. Both babies are a mix of the mother and father, but they don’t share the exact same genetics.

Polar body twins (75% shared genetics): You might think of polar body twins as half-identical twins. They occur when an egg divides in two during ovulation, creating a primary body and a polar body, both of which have the same genetics. In most cases, the polar body, which has less cytoplasm, will die off, but in some cases both the primary body and the polar body will be fertilized by separate sperm creating twins with identical genetics from the mother and different genetics from the father. While the theory of polar twinning makes sense from a scientific perspective, there’s some disagreement among scientists about whether polar twinning actually occurs in the real world.

Identical twins (100% shared genetics): Identical twins result when a single sperm fertilizes a single egg and the resulting cell then divides in two. The two bodies, soon to be babies, share the same genetics and look the same.

Things can get complicated when you start dealing with triplets, quintuplets, and even bigger single-pregnancy broods. For instance, a mother having triplets could have identical twins from the same egg and a third child from an entirely different egg and sperm. Once you start to mix and match like that, the possible combinations—to say nothing of the dynamics of the playroom—can get very complex.

TIME public health

USDA Proposes More Humane Treatment of Veal Calves

FRANCE-GASTRONOMY-CHEESE-CAMEMBERT
Charly Triballeau—AFP/Getty Images Veal calves eat straw in a dairy farm on April 18, 2013 in Vimoutiers, northwestern France.

Correction appended, May 8, 2015

The USDA wants to change the rules on how calves are slaughtered for veal, saying new regulations would make the process more humane.

The proposal comes from the department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which says veal calves that are unable to stand up and walk should not be slaughtered for food. Currently, veal calves that cannot walk are set aside to rest, and if they recover, they can still be slaughtered.

Under the proposed rules, the calves that cannot walk would be euthanized instead. Regulators are concerned that the current rules allow the slaughter of calves that can’t walk because they’ve been mistreated. Changing the regulation would discourage this mistreatment of the animals.

FSIS will take comments on the proposal for 60 days, then will decide whether to change the regulation.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly described the USDA’s position. The agency is concerned that veal calves which cannot stand are being treated poorly.

TIME Health Care

How a New Study on Premature Babies Could Influence the Abortion Debate

Pro-life advocates say the research supports their arguments

A new study showing that a tiny percentage of extremely premature babies born at 22 weeks can survive with extensive medical intervention could change the national conversation about abortion, though the research is unlikely to have a major effect on women’s access to abortions in the short term.

Anti-abortion advocates said the study—which was published by the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday and found that 3.5% percent of 357 infants born at 22 weeks could survive without severe health problems if hospitals treated them—could benefit the anti-abortion movement by sparking discussion about the viability of premature babies.

“Some people are strongly committed to pro-life, some are strongly committed to the other side,” but many fall somewhere in the middle, said Burke Balch, director of the Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics for the National Right to Life Committee, the non-profit advocacy organization. “The fact that those children could survive will affect those in the middle.”

The anti-abortion movement has tried to shift attention away from women who seek abortions—as in, debates on whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest—and instead focus on the unborn baby, using the argument that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks to justify state bans on abortion after that time. Some 13 states have banned abortion after 20 weeks, according to Naral Pro-Choice America, a non-profit advocacy organization. Other states, such as Wisconsin, South Carolina and West Virginia have started debating such measures this year. The 20-week bans, Balch said, are partially designed to bring the focus back to the child—and the new data on premature babies will make that easier. “It strengthens the persuasiveness argument, even if it doesn’t impact the legal argument,” he said.

While anti-abortion advocates hope the study will shift public opinion, the fact that a small number of babies can survive at 22 weeks with extraordinary interventions will likely not have a large impact on a woman’s ability to get an abortion today, experts said.

The Supreme Court has held that states can restrict abortions if the fetus is viable—able to survive outside the womb—even if the mother’s health is not threatened by the pregnancy. But there is no strict legal definition of viability; instead, it is determined on a case-by-case basis by the individual doctor. While it is possible that the study could affect a doctor’s decision about the viability of a pregnancy, doctors would usually focus more on the details of the specific case. And few doctors and clinics offer abortions at such a late stage anyway, experts added.

“Viability has never been a set number,” said Eric Ferrero, vice president of communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the reproductive health non-profit. “It is determined by each doctor based on the woman and the pregnancy and it varies. That’s what the medical community has said and what Roe v. Wade says, and that’s unchanged by this study, which is about the extremely intensive care that is provided in some places.”

Though the new research has sparked discussion of abortion, its real relevance is for expectant parents researching the medical treatment available for premature babies, particularly those who may want to find out whether their hospital provides interventions to save babies at 22 weeks.

“I think it’s important information, especially for women excited about having a baby,” says Elizabeth Nash, an expert on state laws governing reproduction at the Guttmacher Institute, a research and advocacy group focused on reproductive health. “It’s much more tangential to abortion, except that abortion opponents will look to this information to try to restrict access, and that’s where we have to pay attention.”

TIME Infectious Disease

Scientists Find a Way to Predict West Nile Outbreaks

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Getty Images

Outbreaks of the mosquito-borne disease correspond to climate

Scientists have discovered connections between weather conditions and incidence of West Nile virus disease in the U.S., which may pave the way for better outbreak prediction.

The findings, which were published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, reveal that U.S. West Nile virus outbreaks occur at a higher incidence when temperatures in the previous year were above average. Rain can also influence outbreaks in different regions.

The researchers, from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), say the weather may influence the breeding patterns of the mosquitoes that spread the virus. The weather may also be impacting other carriers of the disease, like birds.

The researchers say that if it’s possible to create an accurate prediction system, it will be easier to alert the public of outbreaks before they happen.

West Nile is the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the U.S. The vast majority of infected people have no symptoms, though about 1 in 5 will develop a fever and other other symptoms like headache and vomiting. In very rare cases—less than 1%—people develop neurologic illness. Currently there is no vaccine or treatment.

To reach the findings, the researchers conducted an analysis of how weather impacts the disease in counties nationwide from 2004 to 2012. They tracked reports of illness as well as weather-related factors like precipitation and temperature. In the Northeast and Southeast, for example, when there was an annual temperature increase of 1.8° Fahrenheit above the 2004-2012 average, there was a fivefold spike in the likelihood that there would be a larger-than-usual West Nile outbreak.

MORE: You Asked: Why Do Mosquitoes Always Bite Me?

The scientists saw some interesting differences in links with precipitation across the country. The data showed that in the East, a fall and spring that were drier than normal were linked to an above-average number of West Nile outbreaks. But the opposite was true in the West. Wetter-than-average seasons meant more West Nile.

“We’re still many steps away from implementation, but I could envision CDC using a West Nile virus forecast to put out alerts for different regions of the country at the beginning of the summer so that people are aware of the potentially heightened risk and would be more likely to wear mosquito repellent or long sleeves when they’re outside,” says study author Micah Hahn, a scientist with both NCAR and CDC.

Hahn says mosquito control agencies could also use such a forecast to make decisions about how many seasonal workers to hire or implementation of mosquito control.

“If we can predict West Nile virus outbreaks, we can target public health messages to high risk regions of the country,” says Hahn. “Counties will have additional information to use for deciding when, where and if they should do mosquito control.”

Such a tool could be becoming increasingly necessary. “Our study does not assess the impact of climate change on West Nile virus,” says Hahn. “That said, as a scientist studying climate and vector-borne diseases, I can say that we expect to see changes in weather extremes, more heavy rainfall events or more droughts, for example, as the climate continues to change, which may influence the distribution, abundance, and infection rate of mosquitoes that transmit West Nile virus.”

TIME toxins

How Working With Nail Polish Hurts Manicurists’ Health

Workers share stories of persistent coughs, miscarriages and cancer

Exposure to chemicals commonly found in nail polish and other manicure products can pose serious health risks to salon workers.

In the second part of a series on the profession’s risks, the New York Times says that workers frequently report health problems like persistent coughs, cancer, miscarriages and birth defects in their children. Several common chemicals pose an especially serious risk: formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate, which is banned in the E.U. The cosmetics industry disputes the danger of these chemicals. Studies have found that sometimes even products that claim to be free of these ingredients contain them, based on random tests.

While the levels of exposure may well be safe for women who get a weekly manicure, the risk is much higher for the workers who are exposed to them day in and day out, the Times reports.

Read more at the New York Times.

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