TIME Diet/Nutrition

A High-Fat Diet Could Be Altering Your Behavior and Not Just Your Waistline

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Study finds that heart disease and obesity aren't the only effects of eating too many fatty foods

Obesity, heart disease and other physical afflictions may not be the only negative impacts of consuming fatty foods. According to a recent study on mice, high-fat foods could be affecting behavior, increasing the risk of depression and related psychological disorders.

The study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, suggests that a high-fat diet alters the mix of bacteria in the gut known as the gut microbiome. These changes, researchers from Louisiana State University believe, might be affecting one’s susceptibility to mental illness.

The researchers tested their hypothesis by taking organisms from the gut microbiome of mice that had been fed a high-fat diet and transplanting them into non-obese mice. They found that the microbiome associated with greater levels of fat led to problems such as increased anxiety and impaired memory.

“This paper suggests that high-fat diets impair brain health, in part, by disrupting the symbiotic relationship between humans and the microorganisms that occupy our gastrointestinal tracks,” Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry, told Science Daily.

Although there is still a lot of research to be done in this field, the study highlights mental issues associated with a high-fat diet regardless of obesity.

[Science Daily]

Read next: 10 Reasons Your Belly Fat Isn’t Going Away

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TIME Depression

How Pilots Are Screened for Depression and Suicide

While it’s not clear exactly why Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed into a French mountainside, the black box from the cockpit raises questions about whether mental health issues were involved, and how aviation officials identify and monitor the mental health of pilots.

Prosecutor Brice Robin said that the cockpit recordings suggest the lead pilot was locked out of the flight deck after leaving for the restroom, and that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz “voluntarily allowed the aircraft to lose altitude. He had no reason to do this. He had no reason to stop the captain coming back into the cockpit.” As investigators search for a second black box, experts are trying to piece together the reasons why Lubitz acted the way he did. His mental state remains a possible cause.

If the investigation reveals that mental health played a role, it wouldn’t be without precedent. In a 2014 study in the journal Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine, researchers looked at 20 years of data for what they called “aircraft assisted suicide.” From 1993-2012, 24 of 7,244 plane crashes were thought to be deliberately caused by a pilot. That’s less than 1% of the total, but it’s still enough to raise questions about the mental health stressors of pilots.

“I really wish that we had some kind of deeper thinking about this issue, because it’s one of the most difficult in aviation medicine,” says Alpo Vuorio, MD, PhD, the study author and an aviation specialist in occupational medicine at the Mehiläinen Airport Health Centre in Finland. He screens pilots and cabin crew of commercial airlines for health issues—including mental health issues—and says he sees any given commercial pilot once a year for a short visit.

Commercial pilots have to pass a physical and mental evaluation every six months (for those over 40) or once a year (for those under 40) in order to be certified to fly a passenger plane. The emphasis, however, is on the physical and less on the mental, mainly because mental health is harder to quantify.

“You somehow try to see if the pilot is well, and it’s not the easiest thing,” Vuorio says. Pilots answer yes-or-no questions about their mental health, Vuorio says, like if they’ve ever tried to attempt suicide or visited a psychiatrist. “You speak yes or no, but it’s up to you, what you tell,” he says. Pilots can visit several different locations for these examinations, he says, and if they don’t occur in house, past data don’t appear on the screen.

And pilots aren’t likely to divulge any potential mental health problems, including signs of depression or anxiety, because that would take them out of the sky. “Pilots aren’t going to tell you anything, any more than a medical doctor would about their mental health,” says Scott Shappell, professor of the Human Factors Department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautics University who is a former pilot and crash scene investigator.

Pilots, like doctors and policemen and others with high-stress jobs, tend to be good at compartmentalizing — walling off difficult or emotional experiences so they don’t interfere with their ability to function day-to-day. Medical examiners who evaluate pilots for their recertification also aren’t always trained in mental health, so they may not recognize subtle signs of conditions such as depression or alcoholism.

According to Dr. William Sledge, medical director of the Yale-New Haven Psychiatric Hospital who has evaluated pilots for the Federal Aviation Administration, about 40% of pilots he saw were for alcohol related problems, and a third for depression or anxiety. Only about half of the latter group reported their problems themselves, however. The other half were referred to Sledge only after incidents required their superiors to intervene.

“The problem is there is no incentive” to report mental health issues, says Shappell. “They know that if they self report, the way the system is designed, it will be a black mark.”

In a statement, the FAA said: “Pilots must disclose all existing physical and psychological conditions and medications or face significant fines of up to $250,000 if they are found to have falsified information.”

In the case of mental health evaluations, pilots are taken off the flight schedule while they are treated or begin antidepressant medications. Until 2010, even these drugs were banned, and pilots required them could no longer fly.

When the U.S. Air Force began requiring annual suicide prevention and awareness training in 1995, including screening for mental illness, the suicide rate plummeted from about 16 suicides per 100,000 members to about 9.

Even for experts, however, judging whether a pilot is suicidal is one of the hardest parts of the job. That’s no surprise, since the struggles of spotting and talking about suicide plague our entire society, says Barbara Van Dahlen, a licensed clinical psychologist and the founder and president of Give an Hour, a network of volunteer therapists. “In our society we are so quick to try to make it ok, to say it will pass and to say suck it up,” she says. “We really don’t listen to ourselves and we don’t listen to others very effectively.”

But pilots and others in high-pressure occupations face several unique stressors, she says, like having a physically demanding job and being responsible for other lives. “In a lot of positions of authority and leadership, those people are supposed to be capable and on top of things,” she says. “They don’t have a lot of people to share with and talk to, to be less than perfect and less than OK. That adds to the stress.”

One study of suicides among general aviation pilots—civilians who aren’t leading scheduled commercial flights—published in the journal Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine, looked at 21-years’ worth of general aviation accidents as reported by the National Transportation Safety Board between 1983-2003. During that time, 37 pilots either committed or attempted suicide by aircraft, and nearly all resulted in a fatality. 38% of the pilots had psychiatric problems, 40% of the suicides or attempts were linked to legal troubles, and almost half, 46%, were linked to domestic and social problems. 24% of the cases involved alcohol and 14% involved illicit drugs.

Having ready access to a plane also seemed to be a contributing factor, too; 24% of the crashed planes in the study were used illicitly.

Read next: German Pilots Cast Doubt on Blaming of Co-Pilot for Crash

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TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: March 20

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The prison system is costly and rarely rehabilitates prisoners. Imagine a better way to transition inmates to freedom.

By Mark A.R. Kleiman, Angela Hawken, & Ross Halperin in Vox

2. Lawmakers should listen to the budget hawks, not the defense hawks.

By Robert Gard and Angela Canterbury in Defense One

3. For teenage girls, it’s possible to shift “attention bias” — literally focusing them on happy faces instead of sad ones — and fight the risk of depression.

By Jennifer Kahn in Pacific Standard

4. The next generation of American workers isn’t prepared to take over the jobs of departing baby boomers. The cost of this failure will be enormous.

By Jennifer Bradley in the Brookings Essay

5. As a four-year college education slips further out of reach, community college has some important lessons to teach us.

By Josh Wyner in the Miami Herald

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Heart Disease

Depression and Stress Could Be ‘Perfect Storm’ for Heart Disease Patients

The combination of depression and stress may increase the chance of a patient dying of heart disease

Intense stress and depression in people with coronary heart disease creates a “perfect storm” that can increase the risk of death, according to a new study in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

Overall, patients with both conditions are nearly 50% more likely to die or experience a heart attack as a result of heart disease than those with low stress or depression. The results were most apparent in the first two and a half years after observation began.

“The increase in risk accompanying high stress and high depressive symptoms was robust and consistent across demographics, medical history, medication use and health-risk behaviors,” said lead study author Carmela Alcántara, a researcher at Columbia University Medical Center.

The study, which looked at nearly 4,500 adults, expanded on previous research that found that both depression and stress can independently increase the risk of heart disease. The study suggested that some previous research may have misattributed the cause of heart-disease death to stress or depression independently. In reality, the study suggests, the interaction between stress and depression may have led to death rather than either independent factor.

The study traced participants for an average of nearly six years and asked patients to self-report symptoms of depression and stress. Overall, 6.1% of study participants had both high stress and intense symptoms of depression. Only 5.6% of the total sample had high stress alone, and 7.7% had intense symptoms of depression alone.

Researchers said the results suggest that doctors may want to consider additional methods to treat heart disease that include interventions to treat stress and depression.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: March 4

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. We’re measuring family poverty wrong. We should measure access to opportunity to find out what’s really working.

By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

2. Anxiety, depression and more: “Four to five times more” high school athletes struggle with mental health issues than concussions.

By Gary Mihoces in USA Today

3. They provide social order and an economic structure. What if prison gangs actually make life better behind bars?

By Shannon Mizzi in Wilson Quarterly

4. Scientists have released the genetic sequence of the 2014 Ebola virus to crowdsource solutions to future outbreaks.

By Fathom Information Design

5. If new technology really cut jobs, we’d all be out of work by now.

By Walter Isaacson in the Aspen Journal of Ideas

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

How Facebook Is Helping Suicidal People

Facebook will offer suicide prevention resources to users posting troubling messages

Facebook is going to give timelier help to users who post updates suggesting thoughts of suicide, the company announced on Wednesday.

According to a Facebook post written by Product Manager Rob Boyle and Safety Specialist Nicole Staubli, a trained team will review reports of posts that appear to be suicidal and if necessary send the poster notifications with suicide prevention resources, such as a connection to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline hotline.

The Facebook support posts are expected to look something like this:

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They also will contact the person reporting the posts, providing them with options to call or message the potentially suicidal friend, or to also seek the advice of a trained professional.

The new approach is an update on a clunkier system, implemented in 2011, that required users to upload links and screenshots to the official Facebook suicide prevention page.

For the project, Facebook worked with suicide prevention organizations Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention, Now Matters Now, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Save.org.

The company was clear that the update was not a replacement for local emergency services.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

Exercise May Prevent Depression—Not Just Alleviate It

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Women who keep exercising into midlife can prevent depression, a new study suggests

Getting a decent amount of exercise may be one way to prevent depression symptoms, according to a new study.

Prior research has shown that exercise is a non-invasive way to curb depression, but fewer studies have looked at whether exercising can actually prevent the emergence of depressive symptoms. In a new study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, researchers showed that physical activity may give women an extra edge in warding off depression that can sometimes come with aging and worsening health.

The researchers looked 10 years’ worth of data from 2,891 women between ages 42 and 52, who filled out questionnaires about their depressive symptoms and levels of physical activity. They found that the women who were meeting public health recommendations for physical activity—150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise—reported fewer depressive symptoms. The more physical activity the women said they did, the less likely they were to have signs of depression.

“Given the high prevalence of depression in the United States, particularly for women, exercise is still not considered a first-line treatment option, even though exercise can be of low cost and low risk, can be sustained indefinitely, and has additional benefits for multiple aspects of physical health and physical function,” the authors write in the study. “Our findings suggest that motivating midlife women to maintain at least some level of moderate-intensity physical activity may be protective against depressive symptoms, with some activity better than inactivity.”

TIME Research

13 Ways Inflammation Can Affect Your Health

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You can't live without inflammation, but it can also be hazardous to your health

You’ve heard of anti-inflammatory medications and anti-inflammatory diets, but do you really know what inflammation is? In short, it’s the body’s response to outside threats like stress, infection, or toxic chemicals. When the immune system senses one of these dangers, it responds by activating proteins meant to protect cells and tissues. “In a healthy situation, inflammation serves as a good friend to our body,” says Mansour Mohamadzadeh, PhD, director of the Center for Inflammation and Mucosal Immunology at the University of Florida.” “But if immune cells start to overreact, that inflammation can be totally directed against us.” This type of harmful, chronic inflammation can have a number of causes, including a virus or bacteria, an autoimmune disorder, sugary and fatty foods, or the way you handle stress. Here are a few ways it can affect your health, both short-term and long.

It fights infection

Inflammation is most visible (and most beneficial) when it’s helping to repair a wound or fight off an illness: “You’ve noticed your body’s inflammatory response if you’ve ever had a fever or a sore throat with swollen glands,” says Timothy Denning, PhD, associate professor and immunology researcher at Georgia State University, or an infected cut that’s become red and warm to the touch. The swelling, redness, and warmth are signs that your immune system is sending white blood cells, immune cell-stimulating growth factors, and nutrients to the affected areas. In this sense, inflammation is a healthy and necessary function for healing. But this type of helpful inflammation is only temporary: when the infection or illness is gone, inflammation should go away as well.

It prepares you for battles

Another type of inflammation occurs in response to emotional stress. Instead of blood cells rushing to one part of the body, however, inflammatory markers called C-reactive proteins are released into the blood stream and travel throughout the body.

This is the body’s biological response to impending danger—a “flight or fight” response that floods you with adrenaline and could help you escape a life-threatening situation. But unrelenting stress over a long period of time—or dwelling on past stressful events—can cause C-reactive protein levels to be constantly elevated, which can be a factor in many chronic health conditions, like those on the following slides.

Read more: 14 Foods That Fight Inflammation

It can harm your gut

Many of the body’s immune cells cluster around the intestines, says Denning. Most of the time, those immune cells ignore the trillions of healthy bacteria that live in the gut. “But for some people, that tolerance seems to be broken,” says Denning, “and their immune cells begin to react to the bacteria, creating chronic inflammation.”

The immune cells can attack the digestive tract itself, an autoimmune condition known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The symptoms include diarrhea, cramps, ulcers, and may even require surgical removal of the intestines. Doctors aren’t exactly sure why some people get IBD, but genetics, environment, antibiotics, diet, and stress management all seem to play a role.

It can harm your joints

When inflammation occurs in the joints, it’s can cause serious damage. One joint-damaging condition is rheumatoid arthritis(RA)—another example of an autoimmune disorder that appears to have a genetic component, but is also linked to smoking, a lack of vitamin D, and other risk factors. A 2013 Yale University study, for example, found that a salty diet may contribute to the development of RA.

People with RA experience pain and stiffness in their inflamed joints. But because the immune reaction isn’t limited to the joints, says Denning, they’re also at higher risk for problems with their eyes and other body parts.

Read more: 10 Ways to Protect Your Joints from Damage

It’s linked to heart disease

Any part of your body that’s been injured or damaged can trigger inflammation, even the insides of blood vessels. The formation of fatty plaque in the arteries can trigger chronic inflammation. The fatty plaques attract white blood cells, grow larger, and can form blood clots, which can cause a heart attack. One specific protein, called interleukin-6 (IL-6), may play a key role, according to a 2012 study published in The Lancet.

Obesity and unhealthy eating increases inflammation in the body, but even otherwise healthy people who experience chronic inflammation because of an autoimmune disorder—such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, or celiac disease—appear to have a higher risk of heart disease, regardless of their weight or eating habits.

It’s linked to a higher risk of cancer

Chronic inflammation has been linked to cancers of the lung, esophagus, cervix, and digestive tract, among others. A 2014 Harvard University study found that obese teenagers with high levels of inflammation had a 63% increased risk of developing colorectal cancer during adulthood compared to their thinner peers. The inflammation may be due to obesity, a chronic infection, a chemical irritant, or chronic condition; all have been linked to a higher cancer risk.

“When immune cells begin to produce inflammation, immune regulation becomes deteriorated and it creates an optimal environment for cancer cells to grow,” says Mohamadzadeh.

It may sabotage your sleep

In a 2009 study from Case Western Reserve University, people who reported sleeping more or less than average had higher levels of inflammation-related proteins in their blood than those who said they slept about 7.6 hours a night. This research only established a correlation between the two (and not a cause-and-effect), so the study authors say they can’t be sure whether inflammation triggers long and short sleep duration or whether sleep duration triggers inflammation. It’s also possible that a different underlying issue, like chronic stress or disease, causes both. Shift work has also been found to increase inflammation in the body.

Read more: The Best Bedtime Routine for Better Sleep

It’s bad for your lungs

When inflammation occurs in the lungs, it can cause fluid accumulation and narrowing of the airways, making it difficult to breathe. Infections, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, are all characterized by inflammation in the lungs.

Smoking, exposure to air pollution or household chemicals, being overweight, and even consumption of cured meats have been linked to lung inflammation.

It damages gums

Inflammation can also wreak havoc on your mouth in the form of periodontitis, a chronic inflammation of the gums caused by bacteria accumulation. This disease causes gums to recede and the skeletal structure around the teeth become weakened or damaged. Brushing and flossing regularly can prevent periodontitis, and one 2010 Harvard University study found that eating anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids (such as fish or fish oil) may also help.

Periodontal disease doesn’t just affect oral health, either. Studies show that inflammation of the gums is linked to heart disease and dementia as well, since bacteria in the mouth may also trigger inflammation elsewhere in the body.

It makes weight loss more difficult

Obesity is a major cause of inflammation in the body, and losing weight is one of the most effective ways to fight it. But that’s sometimes easier said than done, because elevated levels of inflammation-related proteins can also make weight loss more difficult than it should be. For starters, chronic inflammation can influence hunger signals and slow down metabolism, so you eat more and burn fewer calories. Inflammation can also increase insulin resistance (which raises your risk for diabetes) and has been linked with future weight gain.

Read more: 14 Lifestyle Changes That Make You Look Younger

It damages bones

Inflammation throughout the body can interfere with bone growth and even promote increased bone loss, according to a 2009 review study published in the Journal of Endocrinology. Researchers suspect that inflammatory markers in the blood interrupt “remodeling”—an ongoing process in which old, damaged pieces of bone are replaced with new ones.

Inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract (as with inflammatory bowel disease) can be especially detrimental to bone health, because it can prevent absorption of important bone-building nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D. Another inflammatory disease, rheumatoid arthritis, can also have implications because it limits people’s physical activity and can keep them from performing weight-bearing, bone-strengthening exercises.

It affects your skin

The effects of inflammation aren’t just internal: They can also be reflected on your skin. Psoriasis, for example, is an inflammatory condition that occurs when the immune system causes skin cells to grow too quickly. A 2013 study published in JAMA Dermatology suggested that losing weight could help psoriasis patients find relief, since obesity contributes to inflammation.

Chronic inflammation has also been shown to contribute to faster cell aging in animal studies, and some experts believe it also plays a role (along with UV exposure and other environmental effects) in the formation of wrinkles and visible signs of aging.

It’s linked with depression

Inflammation in the brain may be linked to depression, according to a 2015 study published in JAMA Psychiatry; specifically, it may be responsible for depressive symptoms such as low mood, lack of appetite, and poor sleep. Previous research has found that people with depression have higher levels of inflammation in their blood, as well.

“Depression is a complex illness and we know that it takes more than one biological change to tip someone into an episode,” said Jeffrey Meyer, MD, senior author of the 2015 study, in a press release. “But we now believe that inflammation in the brain is one of these changes and that’s an important step forward.” Treating depression with anti-inflammatory medication may be one area of future research, he added.

Read more: 12 Strange-But-True Health Tips

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Lonely, Depressed People Are More Likely to Binge-Watch TV

The habit is a way to forget about negative feelings

Turns out that a Walking Dead marathon may not be a healthy way to bust stress at the end of a long week: a study from the University of Texas has found that people who struggle with loneliness and depression are more likely to binge-watch television than their peers. The activity provides an escape from their unpleasant feelings.

Unsurprisingly, they also found that people with low levels of self-control were more likely to binge-watch, letting the next episode auto-roll even when they knew they should be spending their time more productively.

The researchers said that binge-watching should no longer be seen as a “harmless addiction” and pointed out that the activity is related to obesity, fatigue and other health concerns.

[Deadline Hollywood]

TIME Aging

These Common Mood Changes Can Signal Early Alzheimer’s

The vast majority of people with Alzheimer’s disease will experience changes like depression and anxiety. But a new study published in the journal Neurology shows that behavioral changes like these start well before they begin to have memory loss.

The researchers looked at 2,416 people over age 50 without cognitive issues. After following them for seven years, researchers found that 1,218 people developed dementia.

Those with dementia had twice the risk of developing depression earlier—far before their dementia symptoms started—than people without the disease. They were also more than 12 times more likely to develop delusions. The symptoms appeared in consistent phases: first, irritability, depression, and nighttime behavior changes; followed by anxiety, appetite changes, agitation and apathy. The final phase was elation, motor disturbances, hallucinations, delusions and disinhibition.

Though the researchers were able to make the connection, they still cannot confirm for certain whether the changes in the brain that cause one shift in behavior are the same changes that cause memory loss. But understanding when symptoms related to Alzheimer’s disease appear could one day lead to earlier interventions.

Read next: The Science Behind Why Dogs Might Just Be Man’s Best Friend

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