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90% of Americans Eat Too Much Salt

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A new report sheds light on Americans' sodium habits

Consuming too much sodium can be a risk factor for heart problems, and new federal data shows more than 90% of Americans eat too much.

The findings show that from 2011 to 2012, the average daily sodium intake among U.S. adults was 3,592 mg, which is well above the public health target set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of 2,300 mg. The data comes from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2013 survey of 180,000 American adults in 26 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico. The findings were published Thursday in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

Some Americans, however, are taking action to cut back, the report shows. About half of the U.S. adults surveyed said they were monitoring or reducing their sodium intake, and 20% said they had received medical advice to do so. People with high blood pressure were more likely to report they were doing something about their sodium consumption, and overall, people in Southern states were more likely to report such action or advice from medical providers.

Public health experts argue that people without high blood pressure could also benefit from cutting back. “Among adults without hypertension, most did not report taking action to reduce sodium intake, and an even smaller proportion reported receiving professional advice to reduced sodium,” the study authors write. “These findings suggest an opportunity for promoting strategies to reduce sodium consumption among all adults, with and without hypertension.”

Sodium intake recommendations have been the focus of controversy, with some researchers arguing that sodium levels are safe and that cutting back to very low recommended levels could be harmful. Others argue that high sodium consumption is related to serious health complications and contributes to millions of deaths every year. Some groups recommend limits that are even lower than the HHS; for instance, the American Heart Association recommends less than 1,500 mg a day.

In the new CDC report, researchers say that a high sodium habit doesn’t come cheap; medical costs for cardiovascular disease are predicted to triple from $273 billion to $818 billion between 2010 to 2030, and cutting back on sodium intake by 1,200 mg a day could save $18 billion in costs each year, they say.

TIME Research

What Drinking Does to Your Body Over Time

Social drinking is not always benign

The effects of having a few drinks can differ person to person, but often people may not realize just how risky their drinking patterns are, or what that alcohol is doing to them under the hood.

There are two definitions for “safe” drinking. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines say moderate alcohol consumption is OK, which means having up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has its own recommendation it calls “low risk” drinking, which sets limits for what levels of drinking will put you at a low risk for developing an alcohol abuse issue later on. This comes out to no more than three drinks on any single day and no more than 7 drinks per week for women, and no more than four drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week for men.

According to Dr. George Koob, director of the NIAAA, the current body of evidence doesn’t show whether there are significant differences between someone who drinks at this level versus someone who never drinks. In some cases, there’s strong evidence to suggest that moderate wine consumption could actually benefit the heart. Though Koob says some studies have been controversial and it’s not determined what it is about wine or other parts of a person’s lifestyle that could be at play. There are also individual patterns and sensitivities that people should take into consideration at this level. Some people can handle the amount better than others.

If you genuinely stay within the healthy drinking limits, you’re likely at a low risk for alcohol-related health problems down the line.

The concept of binge drinking is often associated with college students and drinking to get “drunk.” But evidence suggests that people beyond college age also maintain those heavy drinking behaviors. The NIH defines it as five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women within two hours. Some of the risks associated with binge drinking are well known. It increases the risk for sexual assault, violence and self harm. But the physical effects of such behaviors on the body are often less discussed. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there’s strong evidence to suggest that regular binge drinking can damage the frontal cortex and areas of the brain involved in executive functions and decision making. Alcohol slows down the pace of the neurotransmitters in your brain that are critical for proper body responses and even moods.

“Abstaining from alcohol over several months to a year may allow structural brain changes to partially correct,” the NIH says. “Abstinence also can help reverse negative effects on thinking skills, including problem­ solving, memory, and attention.”

Long term drinking can also hurt your heart muscles making them unable to contract properly. It can also harm liver, pancreas and immune system function. Heavy drinking can prevent the protective white blood cells in your body to attack bacterial invaders like they’re supposed to. Drinking too much alcohol can also increase your risk for certain cancers like mouth and breast. Regular heavy drinking also increases the risk for some alcohol dependence. “It creeps up on people,” says Koob.

You can calculate how many “drinks” your cocktail adds up to here and assess how risky your own drinking behaviors are here.

TIME Research

Your Diet May Be Causing Your Urinary Tract Infections

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A new study reveals that factors related to diet might play a part in urinary tract infections

Tough-to-treat urinary tract infections (UTI) that are resistant to antibiotics are on the rise. Now, in a new study looking at human urine published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, researchers say they’ve discovered why some people are more prone than others to the infections. Intriguingly, diet may have something to do with it.

Early on in an infection, cells produce a protein called siderocalin that blocks bacterial growth, including the growth of E. coli that often causes UTIs, says Jeffrey P. Henderson, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and senior author of the study. (It does this by keeping iron away from the bacteria, which need it to thrive.) The researchers wanted to see how the protein worked differently in various samples of urine at restricting the growth of E. coli, so they analyzed the urine from about 50 men and women.

“We found, kind of to our surprise, that there was a really wide range between individuals and how well this protein worked, just depending on that individual’s urinary composition,” says Henderson.

Two common factors emerged in urine that had a better ability to resist bacterial growth: it had a high pH—one that’s more alkaline, in other words—and higher levels of certain metabolites formed by gut microbes. That metabolite isn’t made from human cells, Henderson says; rather, they come from the diet or are metabolized by bacterial cells from dietary sources. “It looks like this protein that’s part of your immune system is able to use metabolites in the diet as grips to hold onto iron and keep it away from pathogenic bacteria,” Henderson says. In some people, that system is set up really well, he says, but in those who get recurrent UTIs, it doesn’t seem to work as well.

Both urine pH and metabolite production may be able to be changed through diet, and doing so could potentially offer a treatment strategy in the future, he says. “It may be that we have to adjust multiple things at the same time to get the system to work well, but the appealing part is this is not an antibiotic strategy,” he says. It may allow you to keep your normal flora while keeping bacteria out of the urinary tract.”

Physicians already know how to raise urinary pH with things like calcium supplements, and alkalizing agents are already used in the U.K. as over-the-counter UTI treatments, Henderson says. Knowing how to encourage the metabolites is trickier. The molecules come from phenolic, or aromatic, compounds, Henderson says, and robust food sources include those that we more often hear are rich in antioxidants: coffee, tea, colorful berries, red wine and dark chocolate.

And yes: cranberries, too, are known to make urinary aromatics, which may be why cranberry products are so often used as UTI remedies, Henderson says. “One thing this suggests is that maybe the reason it’s not more effective is that people need both cranberries and a higher urine pH, or they need cranberries and appropriate inhabitants of their intestine, or the right microbiome composition in their gut, for the cranberry part to work properly.”

A treatment without antibiotics would be a boon, but it’s likely a several-pronged approach and for now, more research is needed. “We still have a few more details to iron out before we know exactly how to do that.”

TIME Healthcare

This Vitamin May Be Behind Your Acne Problems

It can be found in your burgers and cheese

Vitamin B12 is notably found in beef, dairy, and some fish. It’s been used to improve memory and combat anemia. Now, according to a study just published in Science Translational Medicine and as reported on the Verge, it may be linked to acne. It’s still early, so researchers don’t want everyone freaking out and nixing burgers and cheese from their diet, but it’s important to note that B12 changes how the genes of facial bacteria behave, a shift that aids in inflammation. The vitamin has been connected to acne in studies since the 50’s, but the researchers say that was mostly anecdotal.

“It has been reported several times that people who take B12 develop acne,” Huiying Li, a molecular pharmacologist at the University of California-Los Angeles and a co-author of the study, told the Verge. “So it’s exciting that we found that the potential link between B12 and acne is through the skin bacteria.”

Acne is still largely a mystery to researchers, even though 80 percent of teens and young adults have to deal with the pesky skin condition. Oily secretion known as sebum and faulty cells that line hair follicles play a role, but Li and her team wanted to see where bacteria factors into acne development.

The study found in a small group of people that humans who take B12 develop high levels of vitamin in their skin (which sounds like a good thing), but that skin bacteria known as Propionibacterium acnes then lowers its own production of B12 causing an imbalance. More porphyrins (naturally occurring chemicals in the body and a related molecule) are produced, which have been known to induce inflammation, AKA where acne begins.

Li says that the “main message is that skin bacteria are important. But until other researchers confirm the link between B12 and acne in a larger number of people, dermatologists won’t really be able to make any clinical recommendations one way or the other. I don’t want people to misinterpret the results by not taking B12.”

Let’s just drink more water and eat more berries until we know for sure what’s going on.

This article originally appeared on MIMI

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TIME psychology

How to Find Happiness: 3 Secrets From Science

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

You’ve probably read a lot of stuff on the internet about how to find happiness… but you’re still not jumping for joy.

Some of the tips feel corny… so you don’t actually do them. Others stop working after a while so you stop following through.

What gives? Isn’t there a solution that really works and keeps working?

I’m with you. I want answers. Who has them? Sonja does. So I gave her a call.

Sonja Lyubomirsky is a professor at University of California at Riverside and one of the leading experts on happiness. She’s the author of two great books on the subject:

Okay, let’s find out why all these tips we see again and again may not be working — and what will make you happier.

 

What’s The Best Version Of You?

A lot of what you read about becoming happier sounds downright corny. Counting your blessings, doing good for others… all those cliches your wise grandmother told you to do.

But here’s the thing: the cliches are often true. Grandmom knows a lot. Here’s Sonja:

Psychologists often have to confirm the obvious, or what your grandma might tell you. It happens to be the case that in most of what I study, the folk wisdom is correct. People who are randomly assigned to be grateful once a week for six weeks, they actually do become happier and their relationships are improved. People who do acts of kindness get various benefits.

But if it feels corny — even if it works — you often don’t follow through. So what addresses that very real issue?

Sonja says that the best method is the one that clicks for you. Maybe you’re already showing gratitude. Maybe you’re the most gratitudinous person on the planet. (Yeah, I made that word up.)

But there’s an area of your life that could use a boost, something that will move the needle and that’s where to start. Here’s Sonja:

You have to find the strategy that works for you. You pick one thing that you think you’ll feel natural doing, that you want to try, that you think you’ll enjoy. For me, it’s savoring. I don’t think I savor enough. So now when I’m with my kids I just enjoy being with them and try not think about what I have to do tomorrow. Everyone can choose something like that. For someone else it might be starting an exercise program. For another person, it might be trying to improve a friendship you’ve kind of let go; you haven’t really called that person in a while. Choose one goal and then just take small steps towards it.

So don’t feel like you have to do something that sounds silly to you. But what is going to click for you?

Ask: “What’s my vision of my best possible self?”

When your life is perfect, what is it like? And that can tell you what’s really important to you and what your values are.

Research shows that thinking about your best possible self doesn’t just clarify goals — it can also make you happier just by thinking about it. Here’s Sonja:

Imagine your life in ten years and that your goals have been accomplished. You’re living your best possible life. Think about that in different domains. I did this once with students and they said to me, “I didn’t even know what my goals were.” So they were forced to articulate their goals. Some people said to me things like, “Yeah, I didn’t think my goals were feasible until I wrote about them,” and they realized there were concrete steps they could take.

(For more on what makes the happiest people on Earth so happy, click here.)

Great. But I have bad news. That happiness trick is going to stop working after a while.

Huh? Why?!? Don’t worry: it’s not your fault…

 

“Hedonic Adaptation”

That’s just a fancy way of saying: You can take ANYTHING for granted.

Yes, anything. Researchers looked at people who suffered terrible accidents and ended up in wheelchairs. Guess what? Eventually, they adapted and were happy again. Hooray!

But researchers also looked at lottery winners… Yup, people eventually adapted to that too. Ugh.

We all take things for granted. We never experience something and then BOOM — we’re happy for the rest of our lives.

When we say “I’ll be happy when X happens” we’re just not telling the truth. That great job, that dream wedding, that beautiful baby — none of them is the final key to happiness we think it will be. Here’s Sonja:

“I’m not happy now, but I’ll be happy when I have a baby, when I move to that city where I’ve always wanted to live, or when I get that job, when I have that career I want… then I’ll be happy.” Actually, our happiness really lies inside of us, and so people who aren’t happy at their current job probably won’t be happy at their next job either. We carry ourselves from one job to another. The idea is that most people are not really aware of the power of hedonic adaptation. Yes, that job or relationship or that move is going to make you happy… but it’s not going to make you happy for as long or as intensely as you think it will, because we adapt.

(For more on what the most successful people have in common, click here.)

Depressing, I know. But we ain’t done. Not by a long shot. Here’s what you can do about it…

 

New! Different! Surprising!

Habits are awesome for getting things done and they make our lives much more efficient.

But because of hedonic adaptation, habits can be a big problem for happiness — you can get in a rut.

But there’s a solution. Actually, there are three:

  • Novelty: Try a new angle. Watching Netflix on the couch feeling stale? Go to the movies.
  • Variety: Try different strategies. Gratitude isn’t doing it anymore? Try savoring.
  • Surprise: Not sure how something will turn out? Awesome. Grab that special someone and take tango lessons. Or sumo wrestling classes.

To beat hedonic adaptation, we need to keep things fresh. Here’s Sonja:

Novelty, variety and surprise can prevent or slow down adaptation. So, with relationships, let’s say you get married and you get a happiness boost. Studies show that it takes about two years for people’s happiness levels to go back to what they were before the wedding. That doesn’t mean that you’re not happy with your marriage, but we get used to it to some extent. So we want to introduce some variety and novelty and surprise to the marriage in a positive way. Don’t watch Netflix every Friday night; mix it up. Do different things with your partner. The kind of things that can lead to more surprises, again in a positive way. Same thing with a job. Open yourself up to new opportunities, challenges, taking risks, learning new things, and meeting new people.

When I talked to one of the leading experts on love, Arthur Aron, he said the same thing: doing something new and exciting has enormous power to spice up a relationship — and make you happier.

I know, I know, you need a concrete answer of what to do. But you also need something tailored for you. Well, here’s a great way to find that:

Ask yourself: “What would I do if this were my last month?”

When you feel like good things are going to end, it dramatically shifts your perspective. You take advantage of opportunities. You do the things you know you love. You get off the couch and see those people who mean so much to you.

And she’s done the research — answering this question has power. Here’s Sonja:

We asked students at George Mason University in Virginia to pretend that it was their last month before they move far away. Every week they’re supposed to do something to savor their last time with friends or family. To go on that hike that they’ve always wanted to go on, to go to the restaurant again that they really love, etc. And they got happier. They increased in measures of flourishing, positive emotions, and well-being.

(For more on how to stop being lazy, click here.)

Okay, lots of stuff here and we don’t want this to be yet another internet happiness list that doesn’t produce results. Let’s round this up into something you can use…

 

Sum Up

Research-backed happiness wisdom from Sonja:

  • Ask “What’s the best version of me?“: This can tell you what you value and what’s missing in your life. Now you know what interests you and can get you closer to that perfect, happy life.
  • New! Different! Surprising!: You can and will take anything for granted. So spice up the things that make you happy by adding novelty, variety or surprise.
  • Ask “What would I do if this were my last month?”: If you felt you’d never be able to do that fun thing again or see that special someone again, you’d get off your butt. So ask the question — and then do that stuff.

Happiness doesn’t have to be complicated. Research shows simple things like hugs really do make us happier. And as Bil Keane once said:

A hug is like a boomerang – you get it back right away.

I’ll be sending out a PDF with more joy-inducing tips from Sonja in my next weekly email. (Including the answer to the one thing you do all the time that killshappiness.) To make sure you get it, sign up for my weekly email here.

Join over 195,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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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 Research

5 Fashion Choices That Are Bad for Your Health

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It might be worth retiring a few of these trends

Fashion can be fun, but it can also take a toll. New research published Monday revealed that it’s possible for skinny jeans to cause nerve damage. Curious what other fashion dangers you’re wardrobe is causing?

Skinny jeans
As TIME reported Monday, a case report published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry chronicles the woeful tale of a 35-year-old woman whose legs went numb while she was wearing skinny jeans. “Her legs and ankles had become so swollen that emergency room staff had to cut her jeans off. Her ankles and toes were weak, but the rest of her legs, including her knees and hips, were working normally,” Alice Park wrote. The perils of tight pants have been noted by health experts as far back as 1993, as the Wall Street Journal reports, internist Dr. Octavio Bessa coined the term “tight-pants syndromein a medical journal after reporting several men coming in with symptoms like abdominal discomfort. When Bessa compared the size of the pants to the abdominal girth, he found there was often a discrepancy. Men needed to loosen up. Tight pants are currently a trend among both men and women, and perhaps it’s not worth the fashion points.

High heels
Foot doctors say the higher the heel on the shoe the more weight is pushed forward onto the balls of the feet, which can cause pain. A 2014 review concluded that high heeled shoes alter that natural position of the foot and ankle and can cause a “chain reaction” of issues that can eventually bother the spine. As the New York Times recently pointed out, other research suggests wearing high heels less often could prevent ankle injury among women.

Corsets
The Kardashian clan are “obsessed” with using corsets to “train” their waists. (Basically using a corset to squeeze your weight into submission). There’s essentially no evidence the process works, but efficacy aside, wearing corsets can be painful, make it hard to breathe, and could possibly result in rib damage according to some experts.

Neck ties
A small amount of evidence suggests wearing a neck tie that’s too tight could elevate intracranial pressure (though the study found that the raised levels were still within normal range), and possibly increase blood pressure in the eyes to unsafe levels. A couple studies by no means make neck ties a risk factor for serious health problems, but those who choose to don them may want to give themselves some breathing room.

Body piercings
A 2012 Northwestern University study reported that bacterial infections affect about 20% of body piercings. Other issues that can arise, the authors report, include things like medical procedure interference and allergies. Using proper utensils when undergoing a piercing and knowing how to keep piercings clean can prevent problems.

TIME psychology

10 Secrets About Sexual Satisfaction, Backed by Science

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

  • Here’s a list of scientific factors associated with sexual satisfaction.
  • What women look for in one night stands and long term relationships is very different.
  • Age difference has a big effect on how sexually satisfied husbands and wives are.
  • Here‘s a list of what keeps men and women sexually satisfied over time.
  • Increasing the amount of good sex you have is more about self-esteem than getting kinky.

Join over 190,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Related posts:

How To Stop Being Lazy And Get More Done – 5 Expert Tips

How To Get People To Like You: 7 Ways From An FBI Behavior Expert

New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

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 Research

Babies in Womb Prefer a Mother’s Touch to Her Voice, Study Finds

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A new study shows fetuses respond to touch more than noise

When it comes to mother-baby connections, new research suggests a mother’s touch during pregnancy elicits the greatest response.

In a recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers looked at what behaviors resulted in the greatest response from fetuses: a mother’s voice, a mother’s touch or nothing. The researchers brought 23 healthy pregnant women who were between the 21st and 33rd week of gestation into a dark room, and had them try three different behaviors.

In one, the mothers were instructed to read to their unborn child, either Little Three Pigs or Jack and the Beanstalk. In another, the mothers stroked and rubbed their abdomen. In a third, control situation, the mothers laid with their arms at their sides.

While the women performed the behaviors, the researchers used sonography to track the response of their fetus. They found that when mothers rubbed their bellies, fetuses had more arm, head, and mouth movements than when the women did nothing or when they spoke to the baby.

“Although it is speculative to suggest, it might well be that the increases in arm movements in response to maternal touch are also directed responses towards the source of the stimulation,” the authors write, suggesting that the movements are indeed responsive and intentional.

The fetuses were also more likely to touch themselves in the 3rd trimester compared to the 2nd trimester. The researchers believe this may because the skin of the fetuses becomes increasingly more sensitive.

The new study is a very small sample size, so definitive conclusions can’t be made. But the findings add to research that suggests that communicating with the unborn baby really does some good.

TIME medicine

Scientists Find a Gene That Regulates Sleep

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It's a study in flies but it could have implications for us, too

Flies, it turns out, sleep about as much as young children do. Males need about 12 hours a day, while females can do with about 10 hours. To find out which genes might be responsible for guiding how much slumber flies get a night, Kyunghee Koh did a massive experiment that you can only do with fruit flies.

She and her team at Thomas Jefferson University reported in the journal Current Biology that they took 3,000 flies, introduced random mutations in them and then monitored how well they slept. That allowed them to zero in on the genes that most directly affected slumber, and they found one, taranis, that may become an important target for sleep-related research even in people.

Flies with abnormal forms of taranis only get about 25% of their daily sleep; removing the gene keeps the flies buzzing almost non stop.

Koh’s team found that taranis works with a couple of other proteins to balance sleeping and waking. Normally, taranis and cyclin A pair up to keep the activity of another enzyme down. That enzyme generally keeps the flies awake. So when all three are working in concert, taranis and cyclin A shut down the enzyme so flies can get 10 to 12 hours of sleep. But when taranis is mutated, it doesn’t do its job as well, and the enzyme keeps the flies alert and unable to sleep.

It turns out that taranis has a related gene in mammals that may work in similar ways. The gene typically controls the way cells divide, “We don’t know yet whether these genes have a role in sleep in mammals or humans, but our hope is that somehow these genes we find in flies may have similar roles in people, and might ultimately give us some novel drug targets to help us sleep better,” says Koh.

TIME Research

Rising Birth Rates a Good Sign for the Economy

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First increase since the recession

The number of children born in the U.S. increased in 2014 for the first time since the Great Recession, a sign that some women may be feeling financially stable enough to start a family.

The National Center for Health Statistics released a study Wednesday showing that both the number of births and the fertility rate in the U.S. increased by 1% in 2014, the first rise since 2007, when both demographic markers began dropping.

Last year, the U.S. birth rate had fallen to a 15-year low, according to NCHS data, with the number of births decreasing from 4.3 million in 2007 to 3.9 million in 2013, a 9% drop. Based on 2007 birth rates, University of New Hampshire demographer Ken Johnson estimates that there were 2.3 million fewer babies born between 2008 and 2013 than there would have been if the birth rate remained stable.

The falling birth rate has been one of the indirect consequences of the recession and of particular concern for demographers. Low birth rates over the long term, barring an influx of immigrants, can mean a population decline that leads to a smaller tax base and fewer people to financially support programs like Social Security and Medicare as the population ages.

Demographers have been trying to determine whether the economy forced women to merely delay childbirth or forego starting a family altogether. The latest numbers, while preliminary, suggest that women may just have been delaying.

The birth rate for women aged 30-34, many of whom were graduating from college and looking for jobs when the recession hit, rose 3% in 2014 and has steadily increased since 2011. The rate for women aged 35-39 increased by 3% while the rate for those aged 40-44 rose 2%.

For women aged 20-24, however, the birth rate decreased by 2%, and it remained steady for those aged 25-29, suggesting that many millennials are still putting off starting a family.

“We won’t know how significant this is unless it continues for the next few years,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, of the overall rise in birth rates. “But it’s a glimmer of hope that demographic responses are reacting to an improving economy.”

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