TIME toxins

Meet Nanosilver—The Tiny Pesticides In Your Food Products

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The EPA got sued for failing to regulate these particles

If you haven’t heard of nanosilver, you’re definitely not alone. But that doesn’t mean these tiny silver particles intended to kill bacteria aren’t ending up in your food. There are now over 400 consumer products on the market made with nanosilver. These include many intended for use with food, among them cutting boards, cutlery, pans, storage containers, espresso machines, water filters, baby bottles, and refrigerators.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers nanosilver a pesticide and requires products that contain–or are treated with this germ-killer–to be registered with and approved for use by the agency. But most of the nanosilver products now on the market have not been reviewed, let alone approved by the EPA.

Just a few weeks ago, in an attempt to close this loophole, the Center for Food Safety, the Center for Environmental Health, Clean Production Action, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and other nonprofits filed suit against the EPA for failing to respond to their 2008 petition, asking the agency to regulate all products containing nanosilver as pesticides.

Why all the fuss?

As the name implies, nanosilver is silver used at the nanoscale, in the realm of billionths of a meter. To put this in perspective, one strand of human hair is about 50,000 to 80,000 nanometers wide. What makes nanomaterials so interesting to scientists designing new materials is that at this infinitesimal scale, materials can behave entirely differently than they do at either the macro or micro scales.

At the nanoscale, materials can take on chemical, physical, and biological properties that they might not otherwise have. And there are still many of unknowns, even in the scientific community, about how nanomaterials behave.

It is known that nanosilver can kill bacteria and microbes, so manufacturers are including it as a sort of antiseptic safeguard in food contact products that might harbor bacteria (i.e., that pesky cutting board on your kitchen counter.) But exactly how nanosilver behaves once released into the environment or absorbed into the human body, is not yet well understood. A number of studies show that consumer products, including textiles and plastics, can shed nanosilver particles. In fact, these particles have been detected in wastewater and sewage sludge.

Recent studies also show that nanosilver has the potential to harm and stress cells in ways that include causing damage to DNA.

Among the concerns raised by the growing use of nanosilver as antimicrobial agents in consumer products, explains Center for Food Safety’s Senior Policy Analyst Jaydee Hanson, is that it, like other antibacterial ingredients, “may lead to bacteria becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics.”

Despite the many gaps in understanding the environmental and human health impacts of nanomaterials, the EPA has already granted what’s called “conditional approval” to some nanosilver products, saying the silver released will not cause unreasonable adverse effects.

This brings us back to EPA oversight and approval. So far, the EPA has only reviewed the few nanosilver products that manufacturers have submitted to the agency for registration as pesticides. Under the law, manufacturers must have EPA approval to make claims about a product’s germ-killing ability. The agency has enforced this law, taking a number of nanosilver products off the market, as it did earlier this year with some sold widely by retailers that included Amazon, Pathway, Sears, and Walmart.

According to the recent lawsuit, however, other manufacturers have simply changed their product labels to remove germ-killing claims, in an effort to avoid EPA enforcement or product scrutiny. These products, however, may still contain nanomaterials.

In short, the plaintiffs contend that EPA is not regulating nanosilver products comprehensively as required under the U.S. law governing pesticides.

Asked about any EPA approval of nanosilver for use in food-contact products, an EPA spokesperson responded by email explaining that the agency “has approved nanosilver for use as a non-food-contact preservative to protect plastics and textiles … from odor and stain causing bacteria, fungi, mold, and mildew.” But they did not respond about food contact products directly.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates chemicals used in food contact products, responded by saying it has “not approved the use of silver nanomaterial for use as a food ingredient added to food or as a food contact substance.” So while EPA has approved some nanosilver products for use in plastics, its approval does not cover food-contact products of the type that are now being sold–without FDA approval.

To make matters more confusing, in a “guidance document” issued last June, the FDA said it had “not established regulatory definitions of “nanotechnology,” “nanomaterial,” “nanoscale,” or other related terms.” The same document also says safety evaluations of such products should consider their “unique” characteristics.

The bottom line appears to be that both EPA and FDA–the agencies responsible for regulating chemicals used in consumer products–acknowledge significant gaps in understanding the behavior and toxicity of nanomaterials, including nanosilver. Yet such products–including those for use with food–are growing in number and availability while research shows that nanosilver can indeed escape from these items.

So what happens next? “The EPA hopefully will say they want to settle,” and develop a legally binding “timeline to respond to the petition,” says CFS’ Hanson. In the meantime, nanosilver may be finding its way from these materials into the food we eat. If you’re concerned about their potential environmental and health effects, you might want to stay away from kitchen items that claim to kill germs and follow good food safety practices instead.

This article originally appeared on Civil Eats.

TIME Research

10 Surprising Health Benefits of Being a Woman

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Being a woman carries a host of health and body payoffs

Members of the so-called weaker sex, listen up. Thanks in part to the protective benefits of female hormones, as well as the lifestyle choices women tend to make, you’re afforded a host of body payoffs guys don’t get. “Men notoriously pay less attention to their health and prefer to take a macho approach rather than go to the doctor to get things checked out,” says J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. The following 10 ways women come out on top health-wise will make you glad you were born with two X chromosomes.

Women blow out more birthday candles

When it comes to longevity, chicks rule. A girl born in 2012 (the most recent year statistics are available) can expect to live until age 81.2; a boy is likely to hit 76.4, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Researchers aren’t entirely sure what accounts for those extra four years. “It might have to do with the fact that women have lower rates of heart disease compared to men, though women are catching up,” explains Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director of the women’s heart program at the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. “But it may be a result of women maintaining stronger social ties to friends and family, because social ties are linked to longevity.

Women have a higher pain tolerance

The notion that men face pain with unflinching stoicism while women are more sensitive to every ache is not exactly reflected in research. Though the jury is still officially out, numerous studies back up the fact that women appear to have a higher pain threshold than men, says Dr. Goldberg, with pain threshold defined as the amount of pain it takes to register in the body. Of course, it makes sense that females need to be able to withstand pain, considering how much of it is typically experienced during childbirth. “Women have to be able to sustain the agony during labor and delivery,” says Dr. Goldberg.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Things That Mess With Your Period

Head and neck cancers strike more men than women

The statistics tell the story: the National Cancer Society estimates that this year, about 30,000 men will be diagnosed with oral cavity or pharynx cancer, while just 12,000 women will. And when it comes to esophageal cancer, 14,000 men can expect to develop it this year, compared to only 3,000 women. Why do head and neck cancers discriminate so openly based on sex? Cancers that occur in these body areas are strongly linked to tobacco and alcohol use. “Though women are catching up, men still indulge is smoking and drinking in higher numbers, so they develop these cancers in higher numbers too,” says Dr. Lichtenfeld.

Melanoma rates are lower in older women

Before age 45, rates of melanoma—the least common yet deadliest form of skin cancer—are higher in women, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. It’s a trend researchers attribute to the popularity of tanning indoors and out. But after that point, it’s men who bear the brunt of the disease in more significant numbers. “It’s unusual for melanoma to strike at a young age, and by the time they reach their 50s and 60s, we start to see high numbers of white men with it, probably due to accumulated skin damage over time after decades of working outside, or playing outdoor sports, without the benefit of sunscreen,” says Dr. Lichtenfeld.

HEALTH.COM: 20 Weird Facts About Sex and Love

Women have a keener sense of smell

No wonder candles, soaps, detergents, and perfumes cater to female noses. Compared to men, women appear to have a sharper odor detection, with women having up to 50% more cells in their olfactory bulb (the first region of the brain to receive signals about odors), according to a recent study in the journal PLOS ONE. The study lends weight to the idea that women are superior sniffers, but it doesn’t explain why. One theory: a keener sense of smell helps women detect the pheromones that help her pick the right mate; another postulates that being able to detect rancid odors helps a woman protect her offspring from infection and disease.

HDL cholesterol levels are higher in women

HDL cholesterol, the good kind, is associated with strong heart health. It’s credited with preventing plaque buildup in the arteries of premenopausal women and protecting them from the early heart disease that may already be developing in men in the same age group. “Estrogen raises good cholesterol throughout a woman’s childbearing years, when estrogen production peaks,” says Goldberg. Estrogen output drops off following menopause, and HDL cholesterol goes with it. But if you continue to eat nutritiously, stay at a healthy weight, and have your cholesterol tested regularly, your HDL cholesterol numbers can continue to stay in a healthy range so you can maintain that estrogen-fueled head start against heart disease.

HEALTH.COM: 25 Exercises You Can Do Anywhere

The female brain has better recall

Several scientific studies suggest what a lot of women already know anecdotally: women are simply better at remembering things. A 2014 Norwegian study of about 37,000 people from the journal BMC Psychology bears this out: though older people in general had more memory issues, men of all ages, young and old, were more forgetful than their female counterparts. Why that is isn’t exactly clear, but previous research has suggested that it may be due to brain degeneration caused by cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure, both of which strike more men than women.

Women are less likely to become alcoholics

“Men are up to twice as likely to develop alcoholism as women are,” explains Holly Phillips, MD, New York City women’s health specialist and medical contributor for WCBS News. One reason for a guy’s increased risk of addiction to booze has to do with the brain chemical dopamine, says Dr. Phillips. A recent study of male and female social drinkers found that men had a greater dopamine release than women in an area of the brain called the ventral striatum, which is strongly associated with pleasure, reinforcement, and addiction formation. There may be a psychological component as well. “While women are more likely to become depressed than men in response to common environmental triggers such as illness or grieving a death—a process some psychologists see as turning pain inward—men may be more likely to numb the pain with substances,” adds Dr. Phillips.

HEALTH.COM: 18 Habits of the Happiest Families

Women tend to accumulate less belly fat

Instead of bemoaning the fact that you tend to pack extra pounds on your butt, hips, and thighs, be happy about it—it means your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other chronic diseases is lower than if fat tended to develop across your midsection, as it generally does in men. “Apple-shaped bodies, which more men have, hold more fat around the heart and upper abdomen, increasing heart disease risk,” says Dr. Phillips. “Pear shaped bodies keep fat away from the heart, which is a good thing.” Fat around the middle can also increase the risk of certain cancers, says Dr. Lichtenfeld. Researchers are learning that belly fat is metabolically active, producing hormones that cause a chain reaction in the body, resulting in higher levels of inflammation and insulin resistance, which leads to disease.

Women have a delayed heart attack risk

While a man’s odds of developing heart disease and having a major coronary begin in his 40s or even earlier, says Dr. Phillips, a woman’s risk doesn’t really begin until after she hits 50 and goes through menopause—giving women some extra time before being susceptible to the number one killer of both men and women. “Women have their first heart attack a full 10 years after men do,” says Dr. Goldberg. A younger woman’s better cholesterol profile plays a role, but estrogen or lifestyle choices, such as eating healthier, seems to have additional protective benefits, such as keeping blood pressure down (high blood pressure is a heart attack risk factor). However, things change after menopause. “After 50, a woman’s vulnerability to heart disease begins to resemble that of males,” says Dr. Phillips.

HEALTH.COM: 13 Everyday Habits That Are Aging You

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Biology

Smartphone Use Makes Your Brain More Sensitive to Touch

Apple Launches iPhone 5s And 5c In China
Lintao Zhang—Getty A customer inspects the new iPhone at the Wangfujing flagship store on September 20, 2013 in Beijing, China.

New study finds that brain activity is enhanced the more we thumb our devices

Swiping fingers across a smartphone screen can make the brain more sensitive to the touch of the finger tips, a new study suggests.

The study, published in Current Biology this week, shows that brain response to thumb stimulation is partly explained by how often people use their smartphones, reports the Washington Post.

“I was really surprised by the scale of the changes introduced by the use of smartphones,” said Arko Ghosh, one of the study’s authors from the Institute of Neuroinformatics at the University of Zurich.

Researchers recorded brain activity when people touched their thumbs, index and middle fingers to a mechanical object. Smartphone users broadcasted increased activity compared to non-smartphone users, and the activity was boosted the more people used their devices.

[Washington Post]

TIME Diet/Nutrition

10 Biggest Food and Weight Loss Stories of 2014

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I can’t believe it’s been a year since I compiled my last round-up, but it’s that time again! As a research junkie, I think this year’s crop of studies in the areas of nutrition and weight management have been particularly fascinating.

Here are my top 10 picks for discoveries that have either broadened our knowledge, or shed new light on the best ways to stay nourished and lean.

Night shift workers burn fewer calories

This intriguing study found that shift workers burn fewer calories, which means that the amount of food needed to maintain weight becomes excessive, promoting weight gain. The lesson: if your job requires working when most people are sleeping, find ways to curb your calorie intake, or employ healthy habits to help regulate or suppress your appetite.

HEALTH.COM: 11 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Belly Fat

Gut bacteria play a major role in weight control

Number one on my list of the compelling revelations in 2014 is the handful of studies about the role of gut microorganisms in weight management. One study found that there is a relationship between body clock regulation, gut microbiota, and metabolism. When mice received gut bacteria from jet-lagged humans, they gained significant amounts of weight and had abnormally high blood sugar levels (yikes!). Another found that gut bacteria affect cravings, mood, and food choices. And a third concluded that the healthfulness of gut bacteria may play a role in metabolic syndrome risk. All of this research may lead to a future that involves personalized gut microbe testing, special diets specifically designed to alter these organisms, or tailored probiotic therapy. Stay tuned!

Coffee may help prevent obesity

If there’s one thing my clients love, it’s hearing that a food they enjoy is actually beneficial. Two studies this year offered some good news about java. Animal research from researchers at the University of Georgia concluded that a compound in coffee called CGA allowed mice fed a fatty diet to not only stave off weight gain, but also maintain normal blood sugar levels and healthy livers. Another Spanish study, published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, found that athletes who took in caffeine pre-exercise burned about 15% more calories for three hours post-exercise, compared to those who gulped down a placebo. For more about other potential health benefits of enjoying your morning cup of Joe, check out my post 6 Healthy Reasons to Keep Loving Coffee.

HEALTH.COM: Best and Worst Health News of 2014

Obesity tied to autoimmune diseases

We’ve heard plenty about the connection between obesity and chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. But research from Tel Aviv University concluded that obesity leads to a breakdown of the body’s protective self-tolerance mechanisms, which results in a pro-inflammatory environment that may lead to or worsen autoimmune diseases, including Crohn’s Disease and multiple sclerosis, or hinder their treatment. The silver lining: adequate vitamin D may help, both with immunity and weight control. Here’s more about vitamin D, and 6 other nutrients to zero in on as you age.

In women, optimism affects diet quality

There aren’t a lot of feel-good studies tied to weight management, but I loved the conclusion of this one from the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In postmenopausal women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative, researchers found that those with higher levels of optimism made healthier choices, and had more success in making dietary changes over a one-year period. Those who scored better on the healthy eating index also had lower BMIs, smaller waist measurements, and fewer chronic health conditions. More proof that attitude is everything.

HEALTH.COM: 14 Strategies to Become a Happier Person

There’s a new type of good fat

When scientists say they’re blown away, it’s pretty big news. And that’s just what researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center declared when they uncovered a previously unidentified class of fat molecules that enhance blood sugar control, and may offer a promising avenue for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. Unlike omega-3 fatty acids, which are not made in mammals, these “good” fats, called FAHFAs, are produced and broken down in the body. Feeding mice extra FAHFAs resulted in a rapid and dramatic drop in blood sugar. Scientists also looked at FAHFA levels in humans, and found they were 50 to 75% lower in those who were insulin resistant and at high risk for developing diabetes. The data suggest that changes in FAHFA levels may contribute to diabetes. Groundbreaking. Surely there will be more research to come in this area.

Produce is connected to happiness

I love getting my hands on any research related to happiness, so I was thrilled to find this study, which tied healthy food choices to mental health. Scientists at the University of Warwick’s Medical School found that five daily servings of produce may just keep the blues away. More than a third of subjects with high mental well-being consumed five or more daily servings of fruits and veggies. In contrast, happiness was high in less than 7% of those who ate less than one daily portion of produce. In another study in young adults, a higher fruit and veggie intake was tied to “flourishing,” which includes greater happiness, creativity, curiosity, and positivity. For more about how eating well can bolster your mood, check out my post 5 Reasons to Eat Healthier Than Have Nothing to Do With Your Weight.

Umami may curb eating

A very foodie-forward study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that umami—also known as the 5th taste—boosts appetite but also increases post-meal satiety, which may help support weight control. Naturally found in mushrooms, truffles, green tea, seaweed, and tomatoes, incorporating more of this this unique palate pleaser may help you naturally eat less overall. To give it a try, check out my tips on umami, which include suggestions for now to sneak it into healthy meals.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Foods That Control Your Appetite

“Fat shaming” causes weight gain, not loss

I think we all intuitively know this is true, yet weight bullying persists, even if it’s self-directed. In this U.K. study, researchers found that over four years, those who reported weight discrimination gained weight, whereas those who didn’t actually shed pounds. So if you tend to berate yourself, with a goal of weight loss motivation, stop. And for techniques that work check out my post 5 Dos and Don’ts for Weight Loss Motivation.

Language stimulates the brain in the same way as food

This compelling study found that the reward region of the brain that drives us to eat (and also enjoy sex, gambling, drugs, and games) is stimulated by learning new words and their meanings. Interesting! I can’t guarantee it will work, but when a craving strikes, try visiting a site like vocabulary.com to see if logging some lingo time will satisfy your fix.

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 Research

11 Remarkable Health Advances From 2014

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And what to look forward to in 2015

From groundbreaking new drugs to doctor-assisted suicide, 2o14 was full of historic moments that are bound to play on in a big way throughout 2015 and beyond.

1. 3D Mammography is proven to be effective
Multiple studies in 2014 showed 3-D mammography to be a highly accurate screening tool for detecting breast cancer with fewer false positive results. It’s not widely available yet, but the growing evidence suggests we’ll see more adoption in 2015. Hologic, one of two U.S. companies selling 3-D mammography machines, told TIME there’s growing interest, with at least one of their machines in all 50 states.

2. The number of uninsured Americans nears record low
Federal data released Dec. 18 revealed that the percentage of uninsured Americans neared historic lows in 2014 at 11.3%. As TIME reported, it appears certain to fall to record lows next year.

3. Brittany Maynard wins support for “death with dignity”
After she discovered she had terminal brain cancer, Maynard, 29, chose to end her own life in the company of her family and friends by taking prescribed barbiturates on Nov. 1. Maynard moved from California to Oregon for the state’s death with dignity law that allows doctors to prescribe lethal medications for the terminally ill. A video of Maynard explaining her choice went viral, and a recent poll showed most U.S. doctors now support death with dignity.

MORE: TIME’s Person of the Year: The Ebola Fighters

4. CVS stops selling cigarettes
In February, CVS announced it would stop sales of cigarettes and tobacco products in its 7,600 U.S. stores by Oct. 1. Tobacco products made up about 3% of the company’s annual revenue. Anti-smoking advocates were pleased by the move.

5. Way more calorie counts are coming
The FDA rolled out new rules in November that require chains—including restaurants, movie theaters, vending machines and amusement parts—with 20 or more locations to list their calories for all their food and drinks. Companies have a year to comply.

6. The FDA unveils new nutrition labels
In a similar move, the FDA revealed in February proposed changes to nutritional labels that will put greater emphasis on calories, added sugars and have more realistic serving sizes. Calories will be listed in bigger and bolder type, and may be listed on the front of food packaging.

MORE: 3D Mammograms Are Better For Dense Breasts

7. The Sunscreen Innovation Act becomes law
In December, President Obama signed into law the much-anticipated Sunscreen Innovation Act, which requires the FDA to quickly respond to pending sunscreen-ingredient applications that have been awaiting a response for over a decade. There’s a good chance that in summer 2015, we could have a batch of new, up-to-date sunscreens to try.

8. New drugs show promise for heart failure
Novartis is anticipating approval for its new heart failure drug, LCZ696, in the second half of 2015. The drug could replace the current treatment of care: ACE inhibitors. The company’s most recent human clinical trial was forced to end when it apparent LCZ696 saved more lives than standard of care.

9. PillPack offers a new kind of pharmacy
For people on multiple medications, remembering what to take and when can be a medical nightmare. That’s why pharmacist T.J. Parker launched PillPack in 2014. Instead of sending customers bottles, every two weeks the company sends a dispenser that has all the customers’ individual pills sorted and organized by day on a ticker tape sheet of tearable pouches. TIME named it one of the best inventions of 2014.

MORE: New Heart Drug Saves More Lives Than Standard of Care

10. A device literally filters Ebola from blood of a sick patient
One of the most novel treatments during the Ebola outbreak is a device that can suck the Ebola virus out of the blood. Developed by Aethlon Medical, the Hemopurifier is a specially developed cartridge that can be attached to a standard dialysis machine and uses proteins that bind to the Ebola viruses and pull them out of patients’ blood. It’s still experimental, but appears to have worked in at least one patient with Ebola in Germany.

11. The Ebola vaccine shows promise
In August, two vaccines to prevent the deadly Ebola virus went onto human clinical trials. The vaccines are being tested with the hope that it could be deemed effective, and safe enough to be distributed widely in West Africa, where the Ebola crisis rages on.

TIME cell phones

Researchers Find Flaws That Means Anyone Can Listen to Your Cell Phone Calls

Flaws found in global cell network means spies can hack your phone

Security flaws discovered by German researchers could allow hackers to listen in on private phone calls and intercept text messages en masse, the Washington Post reports.

The weaknesses in the global cellular network are to be reported at a hacker conference in Hamburg this month, by Tobias Engel, founder of Sternraute, and Karsten Nohl, chief scientist for Security Research Labs.

The Post reports that these experts believe that SS7, the global network that allows cellular carriers worldwide to route calls and messages to each other, have “serious vulnerabilities that undermine the privacy of the world’s billions of cellular customers.” Researchers in Germany have discovered that hackers with an in-depth knowledge of SS7’s different features would be able to exploit certain functions to listen to private calls and intercept text messages.

One way that hackers could intercept calls would be to exploit cellular carriers forwarding function — which allows a user to have his calls directed to another number — by redirecting “calls to themselves, for listening or recording, and then onward to the intended recipient of a call. Once that system was in place, the hackers could eavesdrop on all incoming and outgoing calls indefinitely, from anywhere in the world.”

Despite mobile carriers working to secure data, the Post reports that the weaknesses in SS7 have left millions vulnerable:

These vulnerabilities continue to exist even as cellular carriers invest billions of dollars to upgrade to advanced 3G technology aimed, in part, at securing communications against unauthorized eavesdropping. But even as individual carriers harden their systems, they still must communicate with each other over SS7, leaving them open to any of thousands of companies worldwide with access to the network. That means that a single carrier in Congo or Kazakhstan, for example, could be used to hack into cellular networks in the United States, Europe or anywhere else.

It’s unclear how much, if any, data has been intercepted due to these vulnerabilities, but as Engel told the Post, “I doubt we are the first ones in the world who realize how open the SS7 network is.”

[Washington Post]

TIME Parenting

You Really Can Blame Your Parents for Everything

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How your parents treated you as a child has long-lasting effects on what kind of adult you turn into, finds a new study in the journal Child Development.

The researchers looked at 243 kids in Minnesota from low-income families and followed them for many years, until they turned 32. Researchers studied how their mothers interacted with the kids during their first three years of life, and as they got older, they asked their teachers about the child’s social skills and academic competence. Once the kids were in their 20s and 30s, researchers asked them about their education and relationships.

Children with mothers who practiced a more sensitive kind of parenting during their first three years of life—those who responded to their child promptly, had positive interactions with their kid and made their child feel secure—went on to have more successful relationships and higher academic achievement compared to those whose mothers didn’t engage with them in this way. The influence on academics appears to be stronger, but the overall effects of parenting could even be seen past age 30.

Prior research has shown that sensitive caregiving can influence social development when a child is young, but the new study shows that even despite economic factors, this type of parenting impacts children well into their adult lives—in a wide range of unexpected ways.

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TIME Research

Here’s How Hugs Can Prevent the Flu

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Hug-deprived people may get more severe colds

Want to stay well this flu season? New research suggests you can inoculate yourself with a hug—sort of.

For a study published Thursday in the journal Psychological Science, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University had an inkling that hugs—as an indicator of social support but also because it involves touch—might pack a flu-fighting punch. Studies have shown that strong social ties can protect against stress, anxiety and depression, and the researchers wanted to see if they can be a buffer for a purely physiological diseases, too. The researchers discovered that it did.

For two weeks, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University called up 400 people daily and assessed their levels of social support. They asked them if they’d been hugged that day, and if they were experiencing any conflicts or tension with people. The researchers then gave them nasal drops brimming with either the cold or flu virus, quarantined them for about a week in a hotel, and monitored their symptoms. (Everyone who participated in the study was compensated for their time, says study co-author Sheldon Cohen, professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon.)

Even though everyone was exposed to infection-causing drops, 78% who developed an infection and 31% actually got sick—meaning they had physical symptoms of illness. For the unfortunate third whose hugs weren’t enough to prevent physical symptoms of being sick, they at least got some big benefit: those who got regularly hugged and those who felt they had more social support had less severe symptoms than the hug-deprived.

“There’s a lot of evidence out there suggesting that touch might be really effective at protecting people from stressors,” says Cohen, and this study adds to that very hug-friendly body of work. “It’s a communication to people that you care about them, and that you have a close intimate relationship with them.”

And as for the ideal “dose” of hugs? Cohen says: “It looks like one hug a day might be enough.”

TIME global health

This Is Now the Average Life Expectancy Worldwide

Southern sub-Saharan Africa was the only region worldwide to have a decline in life expectancy

Life expectancy across the globe has increased by more than six years since 1990 to 71.5 years, according to a new study.

“The progress we are seeing against a variety of illnesses and injuries is good, even remarkable, but we can and must do even better,” said lead study author Christopher Murray, a University of Washington professor, in a press release.

The study, published Wednesday in the Lancet journal, showed declines in the number of deaths from cancer and cardiovascular disease in high-income countries as well as in deaths from diarrhea and neonatal complications elsewhere. Both of these trends contributed to the overall decline. Importantly, medical funding for fighting infectious diseases has grown since 1990 and helped drive the improvement, according to Murray.

Still, despite the improvement, the number of deaths from a number of ailments increased. Perhaps most dramatically, deaths from HIV/AIDS joined the list of the top 10 causes of premature death. The number of annual deaths from the ailment rose from 2.07 million in 1990 to 2.63 million in 2013, the equivalent of a 344% increase in years of lost life. The increase in deaths from HIV/AIDS made southern sub-Saharan Africa the only region worldwide to experience a decline in life expectancy.

Other ailments that caused an increased loss of life include liver cancer caused by hepatitis C, which soared 125% since 1990, and deaths from disorders related to drug use, which increased by 63%.

TIME Parenting

Expectant Dads Experience Prenatal Hormone Changes Too

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Including a decrease in testosterone

Women aren’t the only ones who experience hormonal changes before having a baby. As it turns out, men also have some hormonal waves prior to becoming dads.

New research published in the American Journal of Human Biology looked at 29 couples expecting their first child. The researchers took salvia samples of the participants and measured their levels of the hormones testosterone, cortisol, estradiol, and progesterone. The couples’ hormones were measured at weeks 12, 20, 28, and 36 of pregnancy.

It’s long been proven that expectant women undergo hormonal changes, but less is known about the soon-to-be-papas. The new study shows that while women had increases in all four types of hormones, men had decreases in their testosterone and estradiol levels, but no significant changes in cortisol or progesterone.

It’s the first research to evidence that prenatal testosterone changes can occur in expectant fathers, though the changes are still small compared to those observed in women.

The researchers did not compare the couples to other non-expectant couples, so exactly how great these changes are compared to couples who aren’t expecting kids is undetermined. And scientists were unable to conclude why men experience these changes, though there are some speculations based on prior research.

For instance, prior studies have suggested that men’s hormones change after becoming fathers as they adopt more nurturing behaviors. Or that drops in testosterone may reflect sleep disruptions or disruptions in sexual activity due to having kids. Some of these same behaviors may happen during pregnancy too. The psychological, emotional and behavioral changes of new parenthood could also cause hormonal waves in expectant dads.

“It will be important for future research to determine whether the changes that we observed in men’s hormones reflect processes associated with fatherhood specifically, or long-term pair-bonding more generally,” the authors concluded. 

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