TIME health

Was Iceland Really the First Nation to Legalize Abortion?

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Satellite image of Iceland Planet Observer / Getty Images / Universal Images Group

The oft-cited law was passed 80 years ago, on Jan. 28, 1935

Ask the Internet which country was the first to legalize abortion and you’re likely to find some confusing answers, many of which point in one direction: Iceland.

It’s true that, 80 years ago, on Jan. 28 of 1935, Iceland’s “Law No. 38″ declared that the mother’s health and “domestic conditions” may be taken into consideration when considering whether to permit doctors to perform an abortion. And, according to the 1977 book Abortion by Malcolm Potts, Peter Diggory and John Peel, that law stuck for decades.

However, there are a lot of caveats to that “first” label. For one thing, abortion spent centuries as neither illegal nor legal, before becoming formally legislated, which happened in the 19th century in many places. Iceland, then, was the first Western nation to create what we might now recognize as a common modern abortion legalization policy, with a set of conditions making the procedure not impossible but not entirely unregulated.

Some other nations that passed abortion laws before Iceland’s (like Mexico, for example) also included conditions, like rape, under which it would be permitted. And, as Robertson’s Book of Firsts clarifies, the Soviet Union had actually legalized abortion, on demand, more than a decade earlier. The difference was that (a) the Soviet law didn’t last, as that nation underwent a series of regime changes, and (b) the conditions for legality were different. Though abortion was later strictly limited in Russia, legalization was apparently no small thing when it was first introduced.

As TIME reported on Feb. 17, 1936:

A not entirely enthusiastic participant last week was Dictator Joseph Stalin at the celebration by massed Communist delegations from all over Russia of the tenth anniversary of the founding in Moscow of the Union of the Militant Godless. This unprecedented Jubilee of Godlessness could only be compared to that celebrated by Bolsheviks in honor of the tenth anniversary of the Legalization in Russia of Abortion.

TIME Cancer

Here’s Why It’s Important That Scientists Have Figured Out How to Unboil Egg Whites

Scientist Brown moves a 3D model of a HSP90 protein on a screen at the Institute of Cancer Research in Sutton
Scientist Nathan Brown moves a 3D model of a HSP90 protein on a screen at the Institute of Cancer Research in Sutton, England, on July 15, 2013 Stefan Wermuth—Reuters

The discovery could mean cheaper production of cancer-fighting antibodies

A group of University of California, Irvine, and Australian chemists have discovered how to unboil egg whites, potentially slashing costs for cancer treatment and food production.

The discovery could be a financial boon to the biotechnology industry because scientists have long struggled to efficiently recycle molecular proteins, forcing manufacturers of cancer antibodies to use more expensive methods, according a press release by UC Irvine.

Cheap proteins have a tendency to fold into structurally flawed shapes and the current recycling process is both expensive and time consuming. By contrast, the new method could make utilizing cheap proteins viable for many types of research.

For cancer treatments, pharmaceutical companies currently use expensive hamster ovary cells because they rarely fold incorrectly. The hope is that the boiled egg method can be applied to cheaper proteins such as yeast or E. coli bacteria, facilitating the more efficient and economical production of antibodies.

“In our paper, we describe a device for pulling apart tangled proteins and allowing them to refold,” said Gregory Weiss, UC Irvine professor of chemistry, molecular biology and biochemistry. “The new process takes minutes … It speeds things up by a factor of thousands.”

Industrial cheese producers could also use the method to achieve a larger yield.

TIME Innovation

Medicine’s Augmented-Reality Future Is Just Around the Corner

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Getty Images

How this new technology will change how your doctor treats you

This story was originally published at the Daily Dot.

Augmented reality is still a relatively new and unknown technology. People scoff at Google Glass face computers on the street while the device is being used by doctors as both a diagnostic tool and a way to train medical students.

The hardware and software that bends reality is expected to become a part of our everyday life. But when? In fields like healthcare, it’s already being used to treat patients and improve the quality of life for those suffering from things like mental illness and vision impairments.

Helen Papagiannis, augmented reality specialist and Ph.D researcher, studies practical applications of augmented reality, and at a HealthTech Women event in San Francisco, discussed some of the ways it’s already being used in work and research environments.

OrCam is helping visually impaired people “see” text. The Tel Aviv-based company created a wearable that clips onto a pair of glasses and contains a camera and a pair of sensors. It speaks to the wearer through a bone-conduction earpiece, describing what it sees. OrCam can tell when a person is pointing to a menu, book, or any other text, and can “read” the text to the wearer. This technology has allowed people to enjoy novels before bed, go out to lunch with friends without asking them to read the menu, and look at street signs while walking through a city.

In diagnostic environments, Evena Medical gives nurses and doctors complete vision of vascular anatomy with Eyes-On Glass—by slipping on a pair of glasses, they can see the veins underneath patients’ skin, making it easier to document the best care as well as insert needles quicker and more comfortably.

“In two to five years, the definition of augmented reality is going to extend,” Papagiannis said in an interview with the Daily Dot. “We’re not going to be calling it augmented reality anymore, it really will just be reality. It will be a combination of artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, all coming together.”

Read the rest of the story at the Daily Dot.

TIME Research

This Is the Reason You Keep Forgetting Stuff

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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 Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 20

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

1. Is America willing to do the hard work to mend its racial divide?

By Eric Liu in CNN

2. The first new antibiotic developed in 30 years could turn the tide against the rising resistance of many diseases.

By Brian Handwerk in Smithsonian Magazine

3. Adapting to climate change will buy time, but rising sea levels are a major threat to low-lying cities.

By Laura Parker in National Geographic

4. Is four years too much? More college students are jumpstarting careers by graduating early.

By Rachel Rosenbaum in USA Today College

5. The cargo ship of the future will have a hull that acts as a giant sail, slashing fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

By Fraunhofer Center for Maritime Logistics in Phys.org

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 medicine

It Doesn’t Matter How Much You Exercise If You Also Do This

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Sitting too much can negate the benefits of exercise Simon Watson—Getty Images

Your workouts may not mean a lot if you sit too much

Most of us know that we need to be more physically active. Only 20% of American adults get the recommend amount of physical activity—150 minutes of the moderately intense aerobic kind—each week.

But simply moving more isn’t enough, according to a new report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The benefits of exercise can be blunted if you also spend most of the rest of your day sitting.

MORE Sitting Is Killing You

Dr. David Alter, a heart expert from the University of Toronto and senior scientist at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, and his colleagues found that sitting too much—even among people who exercise regularly—led to higher rates of hospitalization, heart disease and cancer, as well as early death.

The researchers looked at 47 studies that asked people how much time they spent sitting and exercising, as well as rates of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and death from any cause. The more hours people in the studies spent sedentary—like watching TV or reclining on a couch—the higher their risk of all of these negative outcomes. Heavy sitters showed a 90% higher risk of developing diabetes than those who sat less, an 18% higher chance of dying of heart disease or cancer, and 24% greater odds of dying from any cause. These rates were the average among people who both exercised regularly and those who did not.

MORE Now There’s Another Reason Sitting Will Kill You

“What struck me, and I was quite surprised by this, was that the deleterious effects of sitting time were almost uniform across the board of total mortality, heart disease mortality, the occurrence of heart disease, the occurrence of cancer and the mortality from cancer,” says Alter. “When we see a consistent effect, that reaffirms that something real is going on.”

What’s happening, he suspects, is that the metabolic effects of sitting are overwhelming any benefits that exercise might have. Even if people exercise regularly for half an hour or an hour a day, how they spend the remainder of that day is also important to their health. Alter says that the unhealthy effects of sitting are somewhat reduced among those who are physically active—by about 15%—but they aren’t completely erased. “You can make a little bit of headway on the bad effects of sedentary time by at least doing some exercise,” he says. “But you can’t completely nullify it.”

MORE Sitting Can Increase Your Risk of Cancer By Up to 66%

The only way to do that is to sit less, and not just exercise more. For so long, the public health message has been to move more and squeeze in as much active time as possible into the day. That message is still important, he says, but it needs to change as new research on the dangers of sitting starts to emerge. “It’s time to modify the public health message,” he says. “We still need more research, but there is a signal there that it’s time to do that. We need two different strategies—one that targets exercise for 30 minutes to 60 minutes a day, and the other is to reduce sedentary behavior.”

For his patients, Alter starts by helping them realize how much of their day they spend in a chair. There’s no prescription for sitting, and no research yet to support the optimal levels for avoiding cancer or heart disease or early death. But studies have shown that standing burns twice as many calories per hour, about 140, as sitting. And burning extra calories is a good way to maintain a healthy weight, one of the key factors in preventing heart disease and some cancers.

“Little things add up to a lot,” says Alter, who says he checks emails while on a elliptical. He also recommends standing up or moving around for several minutes every half hour when you’re at your desk, and aiming to sit two to three hours less in a 12 hour day. If you can’t give up your favorite TV shows, he adds, stand during the commercials.

Read next: Why You Should Start Forcing Your Coworkers to Take a Walk With You

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME medicine

This is What Alcohol Does to Your Sleep

It’s a favored way to end a hectic day, but a drink before bed can disrupt your sleep

Having a drink before bedtime might make you fall asleep a little faster. But the sleep you get after imbibing may not be so restful, finds a new paper in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Building upon earlier research, Christian Nicholas and his colleagues at the University of Melbourne found that alcohol just before sleep can lead to poorer quality slumber.

While most people know from experience that having a drink before hitting the sack can help you feel drowsy, Nicholas and his team were interested in learning how the brain physiologically reacts to the alcohol while you’re sleeping. They had 24 (presumably eager) young adults ages 18 to 21 to spend several nights at the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences Sleep Laboratory. On one of the nights, they would be given a nightcap (orange juice and vodka) and on another night, they’d only get a placebo (orange juice with a straw dipped in vodka). They were allowed to go to bed at their normal time, but their heads were dotted with electrodes to measure their sleeping brainwave patterns on an electroencephalogram (EEG).

MORE The More Hours You Work, the More You Drink, Study Says

Not surprisingly, on the nights they drank alcohol, people showed more slow wave sleep patterns, and more so-called delta activity—a process linked to the restorative aspects of deeper sleep, when memories are firmed up, the brain’s detritus is cleared out and hard-working neurons get some much-needed replenishment.

But that wasn’t the only thing going on in their brains. At the same time, alpha wave patterns were also heightened, which doesn’t happen during normal sleep. Alpha activity tends to occur when the brain is awake but quietly resting, in metabolic break mode. Having both delta and alpha activity together therefore leads to disrupted sleep, since the alpha functions tend to offset any restorative efforts the brain neurons are trying to squeeze in.

MORE Alcohol Poisoning Kills 6 Americans a Day

In fact, such dual activity patterns are typically seen among people with chronic pain conditions and in lab-based studies where people are intentionally given electric shocks while they slept. “People tend to feel that alcohol helps them fall asleep a little quicker, and therefore people associated that with helping them sleep,” says Nicholas. “But when you actually go and look at what is happening while they sleep, the quality of that sleep isn’t good.”

In previous studies, such warring alpha-delta brain patterns during sleep have been linked to daytime drowsiness, waking up not feeling rested, and symptoms like headaches and irritability. Whether similar outcomes occur among people who drink before bed isn’t clear yet, says co-author Julia Chan, but it’s reasonable to think that they might. “When you see alpha activity alongside delta activity during sleep, it suggests there might be some kind of wakefulness influence that could compete with the restorative nature of delta sleep,” she says.

This doesn’t mean that you should avoid alcohol at night all the time; occasionally indulging in a nightcap probably won’t disrupt your sleep too much. But, “if somebody is doing this night after night after night, the effects can be cumulative, not only for alcohol use but on sleep disruption as well,” says Nicholas.

Read next: School Should Start Later So Teens Can Sleep, Doctors Urge

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME animals

This X-ray Shows How Hamsters Can Fit So Much Food in Their Tiny Cheeks

From the BBC documentary Pets Wild At Heart

Thanks to the Internet, we’ve seen tiny hamsters eat tiny burritos, tiny pizzas and tiny Thanksgiving dinners. We’ve even seen tiny hamsters best competitive eating champion Kobayashi in a food face-off and watch them feast in a tiny mansion. But what is going on inside their tiny heads and tiny mouths while they eat those giant meals?

A recent BBC documentary takes you inside a hamster’s mouth via x-ray, revealing what is happening inside that tiny head while it fills its cheeks with those burritos, pizzas or whatever else it is having for lunch. The documentary, Pets Wild At Heart, which is narrated by once-and-future Doctor Who David Tennant, explains that hamsters come equipped with built-in travel coolers — incredibly stretchy cheek pouches that stretch all the way down to their hips. The cute little rodents can also turn off their saliva glands, which means they can preserve their fancy feasts for any time they are feeling peckish. That probably explains why hamsters aren’t allowed anywhere near the Sizzler salad bar.

TIME Research

Duke Researchers Hail Breakthrough After Growing Muscle Tissue in Lab

Advancement may form bedrock for future personalized medicines

Scientists at Duke University announced this week that human skeletal muscle has been successfully grown in the laboratory that is able to react to stimuli just like native tissue.

The lab-grown muscle will allow researchers to study the effects that drugs and disease have on muscle tissue without having to endanger the health of a potential patient, reports Science Daily.

“The beauty of this work is that it can serve as a test bed for clinical trials in a dish,” says Nenad Bursac, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University.

Bursac said the development would hopefully allow doctors to begin prescribing personalized medicine to patients in the future.

“We can take a biopsy from each patient, grow many new muscles to use as test samples and experiment to see which drugs would work best for each person,” he explained.

[Science Daily]

TIME Heart Disease

Popping Aspirin for Heart Health Could Be a Waste of Time for Some

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Tetra Images—Getty Images/Tetra images RF

The drug is overused in about 12% of heart patients, study finds

Study after study documents the wonders of aspirin for the heart—it can lower levels of inflammation, the trigger that sets off the unstable events of a heart attack, and it also helps blood remain free of viscous traps that can block vessels and slow the flow of blood to the heart. But these studies only support the benefits of aspirin in low daily doses for those who have already had heart events. For people who haven’t yet run into trouble but may be a higher risk of heart issues—including people who are overweight and those with high blood pressure or diabetes—the evidence isn’t so clear.

MORE: Who Should and Who Shouldn’t Take Daily Aspirin

That hasn’t stopped doctors from recommending aspirin to these patients. In a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers looked at more than 68,000 people in 119 medical practices in the U.S who hadn’t had any previous heart events, but who were receiving aspirin therapy. 11.6% of them were given the drug inappropriately, the authors concluded; even though they did not meet the criteria that various groups of medical experts established as the threshold for starting the medication, they were still taking it.

Though aspirin is available over the counter, the drug comes with potential side effects that can pose serious health risks, including bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract and brain. “With aspirin being so widely used and being available over-the-counter, the concern I have is that a lot of the use may be leading to side effects that could be preventable by having a discussion between the provider and patient,” says Dr. Salim Virani, from the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Baylor College of Medicine.

MORE: Daily Aspirin May Not Prevent Heart Attacks

Virani says that aspirin use among patients with no history of heart disease varies widely across the country. Among two similar patients randomly assigned to two different doctors, one would have a 63% higher chance of being given an aspirin to prevent a first heart event than the other patient.

Currently, the American Heart Association recommends that aspirin be used in such primary prevention cases only if the person has a greater than 10% chance of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years. This calculation is based on the person’s age, sex, cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, blood pressure and whether he or she smokes. Based on a review of the available literature, in 2009 the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force criteria advised starting aspirin for anyone with a great than 6% chance of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years.

Despite these guidelines, most doctors are likely not making the calculations necessary to come up with this score, suspects Virani—regardless of whether they are primary care physicians or heart experts. “We know from prior data that we as providers are not good at calculating the risk of every patient because it takes time,” he says. “You have to get the equations and put all the patient’s numbers in, and in a very busy practice that could be a time drain. So most of the variation we see could be doctors just determining risk by looking at the patient rather than going to the actual data to tell them what the person’s 10 year risk [of heart disease] is.” In fact, 73% of the people in the study, which only looked at heart doctors’ practices, did not have enough information for their physicians to calculate their 10 year risk score. Of those without score data, 97% were missing critical cholesterol level readings.

The overuse of aspirin is concerning, Virani says, because it persists even after he and his colleagues adjusted for potential confounding factors, including the proliferation of statins, the cholesterol-lowering drugs that can also reduce inflammation. Because more people are on statins, including those who have not yet had a heart event, it’s possible that the drugs are lowering the 10-year risk of a heart attack or stroke by more than the other factors that doctors usually use to calculate risk and the need for aspirin. In other words, there may be more people who no longer need aspirin because they are taking statins.

Virani admits that his study still leaves a lot of questions unanswered, like dosage and whether a doctor recommended the drug or the person started taking it on their own.

Part of the reason for the inappropriate use could be an artifact of the aggressive prevention and awareness campaigns surrounding heart disease. Though they’ve been extremely effective at informing people about the many ways to avoid heart trouble, like changing your diet, exercising regularly and taking drugs like statins or aspirin, the message isn’t one-size-fits-all. That’s important for aspirin in particular, since the medication can come with harmful side effects that overshadow any potential benefit they might have. It’s enough of a concern that the Food and Drug Administration recently rejected a request to add primary prevention of heart disease as a benefit of aspirin therapy on the drug’s label.

These latest results only reinforce that decision. It’s clear that when it comes to whether aspirin can prevent a first heart attack, neither doctors nor patients are being guided by the evidence—and that could mean more health complications for more people.

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