TIME Research

7 DIY Health Cures Anyone Can Do

tissues
Getty Images

Home remedies for minor maladies

Somehow the most nonthreatening body problems almost always turn out to be the most frustrating. Sure, your cramps, stress headaches or yeast infections aren’t going to kill you, but man, what a hassle! Wouldn’t it be nice to solve them yourself, once and for all? Well, you can, with the right know-how: “Conventional medicine has a solid track record for serious issues, but natural cures can be a great way to ease those day-to-day annoyances,” says Mao Shing Ni (known as Dr. Mao), PhD, a doctor of Chinese medicine and author of Secrets of Longevity Cookbook. “Plus, in many cases, the risk of adverse reactions is much lower, and the ingredients may already be in your home.” Next time one of the following minor maladies messes with your life, look to some alternative remedies, along with dietary tweaks that can make all the difference.

HEALTH.COM: 21 Natural Headache Cures

You’ve got: A stress headache
What causes it: When you get really frazzled, the muscles in your head and neck tend to tense up, which constricts blood flow and can bring on the distinct throb of a stress headache. It’s generally felt all over, like a dull but distracting ache, versus a migraine’s one-sided pounding.

Eat this: Foods containing magnesium, such as spinach, nuts, Swiss chard and beans. “I call magnesium the relaxation mineral,” says Mark Hyman, MD, a functional-medicine specialist and author of The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet. “It pulls calcium out of muscle cells, which helps the muscle relax.” Running low on magnesium (which most of us are, Dr. Hyman says) can lead to constantly tense muscles because the calcium is locked in. It’s best to eat your magnesium, but supplements are an option. Women 30 and under need 310 milligrams daily. Over 30? Go for 320mg. In the meantime, avoid refined sugar, which can cause big spikes and crashes in blood sugar—a recipe for a skull throbber. Instead, satisfy your sweet tooth with fruit.

Do this: Put your thumb on the back of your neck at the base of your skull, and look up so you’re creating firm, steady pressure. “There’s an acupressure point here that’s connected to the muscles that tend to tense up,” Dr. Mao explains. “While you’re pressing into it, breathe in as you count to five, then breathe out, counting to 10.” Perform this breathing exercise while holding the point for five minutes and the pain should dissipate. And “if possible, take a 15-minute break from the stressful environment that led to the headache and go somewhere dark and quiet to relax,” adds Draion M. Burch, DO, an ob-gyn at the University of Pittsburgh Magee-Womens Hospital. “Take deep breaths or turn on soothing music. When you relax, your muscles will too.”

You’ve got: A recurring yeast infection
What causes it: While pretty much every woman can count on experiencing the redness, intense itching and thick, white discharge of a vaginal yeast infection at some point, the worst is one that just keeps coming back, striking at least four times a year. If you’ve tried over-the-counter creams or prescription antifungals and you’re still itching, that’s a sign you may have a resistant strain of candida, the fungus that causes yeast infections.

Eat this: A daily 6- to 8-ounce container of plain yogurt (if you’re lactose intolerant, soy or coconut yogurt works). Make sure it contains Lactobacillus acidophilus, a probiotic (good bacteria) that helps create an unfriendly environment in the vagina so yeast doesn’t grow out of control, Burch says. It’s very important to check that the yogurt has no added sugar, since yeast thrives on the sweet stuff, Burch adds. Other healthy whole foods, like lean proteins, leafy and cruciferous greens and healthy fats, along with garlic and coconut oil, also have anti-yeast properties, Dr. Hyman says.

HEALTH.COM: 15 Signs You May Have an Iron Deficiency

Do this: Try a vaginal suppository with boric acid powder. Yep, you know boric acid as a bug killer, but hear us out. “Ob-gyns used to prescribe boric acid to women all the time before over-the-counter creams and the one-day prescription pill appeared,” explains Tieraona Low Dog, MD, a specialist in natural remedies and author of Healthy at Home. “It’s effective against the less common species of the fungus, which don’t always respond to conventional treatment.” If you want to try it, “you can buy boric acid powder, not crystals, in any pharmacy, then place it in size 0 or 00 capsules, sold at drugstores, and insert one into the vagina each night for a week,” Dr. Low Dog says. Don’t take the capsules by mouth (they’re toxic if ingested), and don’t use them at all if you’re pregnant.

And FYI: Chronic yeast infections can be an early sign of diabetes. See your doc if you have symptoms such as frequent urination.

You’ve got: A runny nose
What causes it: When a cold virus or allergen invades your nasal passages, your body releases chemicals called histamines that increase mucus production and cause other symptoms, like itchy eyes or sneezing.

Eat this: Fermented foods, such as yogurt, miso or sauerkraut. They contain probiotics that can help boost immunity so you’re armed against colds and flu. If you’re already congested, you might want to avoid dairy products (they can make symptoms more noticeable) and sweets, which can crank up mucus production. Sometimes a runny nose is a reaction to a food allergen, like dairy or gluten (a protein in wheat rye and barley). “If your symptoms persist, consider being tested,” Dr. Mao says.

Do this: Disinfect a small squirt bottle by dipping it in boiling water. Then, after the water has bubbled for at least a minute, let it cool and add it to the bottle with 1 or 2 teaspoons of table salt. Shoot a tiny amount into your nasal passage before blowing it out gently, Dr. Mao suggests. (Sounds unpleasant, but we promise it’s not bad.) Besides rinsing out allergens and other germs, salt water is a natural antimicrobial that helps fight the bacteria and viruses that caused the cold in the first place. It can also dry up excess mucus. Don’t have a squirt bottle? A neti pot will work the same way, or you can try a premade salt spray like Simply Saline. Both are available in drugstores.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Ways to Soothe a Sore Throat

You’ve got: Constipation
What causes it: Often it’s a change in your routine—you go on a big trip or have a superbusy few weeks that keep you out of the gym—that disrupts your regular bowel habits, making you feel backed up and bloated. And the longer things remain standing still, the worse constipation can get.

Eat this: Down an 8-ounce glass of unfiltered aloe vera juice with 2 ounces of unfiltered apple juice. “Apple juice has pectin, which is fibrous, and the aloe vera speeds digestion,” Dr. Mao says. Another option: a tablespoon of hemp seed oil or flaxseed oil before bed, which lubricates the digestive tract, he says. If you’re often constipated, it might be a good idea to consider a daily regimen: Take 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds every morning (you can add them to your yogurt or mix them into green juice), pop 150 to 300mg of magnesium citrate in capsule form at breakfast and lunch and drink at least eight glasses of water throughout the day. “Flaxseed is an excellent source of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for reducing gut inflammation; water helps move things through,” Dr. Hyman says. “Magnesium citrate helps relax the bowels so you can go.”

Do this: “Lie flat and massage your lower abdomen with your fingertips in short up-and-down motions for a few minutes every hour to help get things moving,” Burch says. Afterward, walk around for a few minutes and have a full glass of water.

Are you chronically stopped up? See your doc for a thyroid check; a sluggish thyroid gland can cause constipation as well as other health issues, like weight gain and fatigue, Dr. Hyman adds.

You’ve got: Menstrual cramps
What causes them: When it’s time for your period, your body ramps up production of prostaglandins, hormone-like chemicals that help expel the uterine lining by causing contractions—and, unfortunately, triggering inflammation and those familiar pains in your belly. Over-the-counter pain meds are the usual go-to, but if you take them too often, they can lead to side effects such as upset stomach and diarrhea.

Eat this: Ginger is an antispasmodic that helps block prostaglandins. Sip ginger tea (you can buy tea bags or steep grated fresh ginger root) at the first twinge of cramps so you stop them before they get really intense, Dr. Low Dog says. Foods with omega-3s, like walnuts, pumpkin seeds and fatty fish (salmon, sardines) can also help reduce cramps over time. Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory powers that help slow prostaglandin production. “Up your consumption of cold-water fish to 3 to 4 ounces twice a week, or take a daily fish oil supplement that offers 500 to 800mg of EPA or 200 to 500mg of DHA. You’ll see improvement in your cramps in three months,” Dr. Low Dog says.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Things That Mess With Your Period

Do this: Massage a pressure point at the end of your spine (about 2 inches above your butt). “The nerves here connect to the uterus, so applying constant pressure to this spot with your palm or fingertip relaxes the uterine muscles,” Burch says. You can reach back and do it yourself or ask your partner to help.

You’ve got: Canker sores
What causes them: These shallow, painful sores tend to strike because of some kind of irritation, like after you’ve bitten your tongue. They also appear when you’re stressed. Most of the time the exact cause is unclear, but they’re unrelated to cold sores (which are brought on by a virus).

Eat this: Yogurt. Swishing a spoonful of the plain, sugar-free kind along your gums helps rebalance the microbes in your mouth so it’s a less favorable place for the harmful germs that can irritate the sore and make it worse, Dr. Low Dog says. Skip spicy or acidic foods, such as citrus or sodas, which can exacerbate an existing canker sore and may even cause new ones to form, Dr. Mao explains.

Do this: Gargle with a 50/50 solution of hydrogen peroxide and water three times a day and right before bed. Hydrogen peroxide is an antiseptic that can kill those bacteria, Dr. Mao says. “If the sore is already irritated, coat it with baking powder before bed, which helps it close up faster.” Canker sores can also be a sign of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, Dr. Mao notes, so consider being tested if you get them frequently or if you have symptoms such as abdominal pain.

You’ve got: Itchy winter skin
What causes it: Your skin just can’t win in the colder months. Both the heated indoor air and the dry, chilly air outside mean you’re facing dehydrated, flaky skin no matter what. And it’s hard to resist scratching it—which only contributes to the irritation.

Eat this: Foods high in B vitamins, such as poultry, meat and whole grains. “B vitamins, especially niacin (or B[subscript 3], found in poultry, meat and fish), help open capillaries near the skin’s surface, improving delivery of blood and boosting skin health,” Dr. Mao says. Avoid refined sugar: “Sugary, processed foods worsen skin issues because they immediately raise blood sugar levels, triggering an insulin response that leads to puffiness, itching and dryness,” Dr. Hyman says.

HEALTH.COM: Winter Skin Annoyances, Solved

Do this: Moisturize skin with natural nut or vegetable oils, available at supermarkets and organic food stores. “Walnut, coconut, hemp seed and avocado oils are high in specific amino acids that help your skin rehydrate,” Dr. Mao says. (One quick note of caution: If you or someone in your family has a tree nut allergy, skip oils made with those; there is a potential for a reaction when used on skin, Dr. Mao adds.) You can apply it directly to skin as needed. Or, for a hydrating treat, replace your nightly shower with a relaxing bath. Add 2 tablespoons of your favorite oil to the warm water and climb in. Afterward your flaky skin (and your stress) will be gone for sure.

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Health Care

Don’t Count on Smart Baby Monitors To Prevent SIDS

New "smart" products to monitor babies shouldn't quell parents' fears about SIDS

Parents often rely on home monitoring products to protect babies from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), an unexplained death that can happen to seemingly healthy babies, often during sleep. But they shouldn’t, argues a new editorial report in the journal The BMJ.

David King, author of the piece and clinical lecturer in pediatrics at the University of Sheffield, wrote that smart baby monitors and infant wearables provide a false sense of security to parents who use the products to keep their babies safe.

Take Owlet, King says, a U.S. company that raised $1.85 million in April 2014 for a smart sock that could measure babies’ vital signs. Other companies like Rest Devices and Sproutling have advertised similarly smart clothing for monitoring babies’ vitals. The problem, King argues, is that while the companies don’t outright claim that their products reduce the risk of SIDS, parents’ fears of the disorder are responsible for spurring the industry’s growth.

In August, Sproutling co-founder and CEO Chris Bruce told TIME the product was developed out of his own need to incessantly check on his baby to make sure she was still breathing. “I’d get nervous,” he said. “I tried to listen at the door and I didn’t want to wake her up…So I sneak in, I try and listen if she’s breathing, and I end up putting my hand on her and waking her up.”

King writes that devices can be helpful in some circumstances. “Home monitoring may be justified in some situations, such as for preterm infants or infants who need oxygen,” he says. “But in these cases parents and other caregivers should be trained in observation techniques, operation of the monitor, and infant cardiopulmonary resuscitation.” These monitoring products do not require premarket approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and King argues that despite the fact that the companies disclose that they are not medical devices, there’s not enough information ensuring parents really know that. He argues that the advertising for these products is confusing.

In the report, King writes:

Owlet states on its website that the device “alerts you if something appears wrong with your baby’s heart rate or the amount of oxygen in his/her body.” Rest Devices claims that its product allows parents to see their “baby’s breathing patterns, in real-time.” Sproutling says that it will let you know “if your baby is sleeping soundly or if something is wrong.” No published data support any of these claims, and because the devices are being sold as consumer rather than medical devices such data are not required. Ideally, manufacturers would be required to undertake observational studies or randomized trials to support any claims they make concerning the utility and efficacy of wearable devices in infants—even if they are categorized as consumer devices.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has already said that home cardiorespiratory monitors shouldn’t be used to reduce SIDS risk.

In response to King’s report, the founder of Owlet Kurt Workman says in a statement sent to TIME: “I have hundreds of comments from Owlet testers and none of them focus on SIDS. They just want to know if something is wrong. That’s what pulse oximetry does in hospitals and in homes worldwide. Parents simply want something that can monitor their child pro-actively (something that video and sound can’t do). As parents we’re tired of monitors that only serve a purpose when we’re awake. We want something that can let us rest easier. That’s the purpose of Owlet and for many parents it is worth the expense.”

Rest Devices, the company behind the Mimo Smart Baby Monitor, also responded to TIME:

Mimo was never designed to be a medical device. It’s worth noting that our founding team did clinically validate our sensors when doing early-stage development of adult respiratory diagnostic devices, and we continued to use that knowledge base once we transitioned to baby and family products. We do communicate to our customers in several different forms that our product is a baby monitor, not a medical device. It’s on our website, it’s on our packaging, it’s in our support tools—including the setup booklet that helps a parent get up and running.

Owlet says nearly 3,000 people have pre-ordered their product and that their technology is more advanced than the research King mentions in his piece. “The bigger point is that technology has progressed and we can now fit a pulse oximeter, accelerometer and even temperature sensors comfortably on a baby’s foot without any cords,” says Workman, adding that the company is creating a product that they will submit to the FDA as a medical device to take home from the neonatal intensive care unit.

“Some professionals have the notion that the less parents know the better, we feel the opposite,” he says. “We also feel that they have the right to know more about their child.”

King says medical professionals should not recommended the products to ease parents’ fears, but should instead recommend methods long known to work, like positioning a child on its back to sleep. But in our new age of tracking ourselves, why not keep tabs on the vitals of our dependent kin? Smart monitoring devices won’t hurt as an extra way for parents to track their children—as long as they’re well aware that doing so won’t alert them to SIDS in their babies.

Sproutling did not respond to requests for comment at publication.

TIME Research

How to Survive a Spaceship Disaster

sky
Getty Images

One of the most dangerous parts of an astronaut’s journey is the very beginning

WSF logo small

Falling from ten miles up, with no spacesuit on, in air that’s 70 degrees below zero and so thin you can hardly draw breath…Conditions were not ideal for Peter Siebold, a test pilot flying on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two, to survive. But he did. Siebold told investigators that he was thrown from the plane as it broke up, and unbuckled from his seat at some point before his parachute deployed automatically. It’s unclear at this point why the same thing didn’t happen for his copilot, Michael Alsbury.

Now, as spaceflight goes commercial, the destruction of both Spaceship Two and the Antares unmanned rocket is likely to bring the eyes of federal regulators back towards an industry that has until now enjoyed minimal red tape. The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act, first passed by Congress in 2004, was designed to encourage innovation by keeping the rules not so stringent for the fledgling private space industry. But “the moratorium [was designed to] be in place until a certain date or the event of the first death,” Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Space Law, told the MIT Technology Review. “Unfortunately, the first death has now occurred, and the FAA will likely revisit the need for regulations, if any.”

A Virgin Galactic spokesperson said in an email that the company couldn’t comment too broadly about the escape mechanisms for its spacecraft, due to the pending investigation. The spokesperson did confirm there are two exits from the cabin, but said that “specific design elements of the passenger cabin and spacesuits are still being developed and have not been made public.”

Since the earliest days of the space program, researchers have tried to develop realistic ways to provide astronauts with an emergency exit. But in an emerging field of such complexity, what mechanisms are plausible…and practical? Here’s a brief history of the effort so far.

Condition One: Failure To Launch

One of the most dangerous parts of an astronaut’s journey is the very beginning. To maximize the chance of survival during a launch, most spacecraft from the Mercury project onwards have incorporated a launch escape system (LES), which can carry the module containing the human crew away from a sudden threat to the rest of the craft—either while still on the launch pad, or during the initial ascent.

The Apollo LES was powered by a solid fuel rocket. At the first sign of trouble (transmitted by the loss of signal from wires attached to the launch vehicle), the LES would fire automatically, steering the command module up and away from danger, then jettison and allow the module to open its parachute and land. A similar principle lies behind the launch escape mechanisms used for Russia’s Soyuz capsules and the Shenzhou capsule used by the Chinese space program. The Orion spacecraft, NASA’s next generation of manned craft in development, also features an LES mounted on top of the craft, called a Launch Abort System.

On the private industry side of LESs, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule incorporates the rocket motors of the escape mechanism into the sides of the capsule itself, instead of mounting the LES on top. Since the LES isn’t discarded after launch, this “pusher” method provides the capsule with emergency escape capability throughout the entire flight—something the Space Shuttle and Apollo crafts never had, the company notes. (The drawback is that, if unused, all that fuel for the escape system is extra weight to carry around). Testing Dragon’s abort system both on the launch pad and in flight is something SpaceX expects to have done by January.

Using one of these devices is no picnic. Orion’s LAS was estimated to put about 15.5 Gs of force on an astronaut—more than a fighter pilot experiences, but a little alleviated by the fact that the astronauts are lying on their backs. “They’ll feel the effects,” Orion’s launch abort systems director Roger McNamara told Space.com, but “the bottom line is they’ll be walking away.”

Condition Two: Disaster In Orbit

In the 1960s, General Electric tested an emergency inflatable device called MOOSE (Manned Orbital Operations Safety Equipment, but originally Man Out Of Space Easiest) that was basically a small rocket motor attached to a six-foot-long polyester bag equipped with a heat shield, life support system, radio equipment and parachute. After a space-suited astronaut exited his or her space vehicle and climbed into the bag, he or she would activate pressurized canisters that filled it up with polyurethane foam.

More recently, NASA explored a new escape pod design called the X-38, a 7-person lifeboat designed to provide an escape route for astronauts on the International Space Station (say in case the Soyuz space capsule were damaged, or made unavailable because of political infighting, or hijacked by Sandra Bullock). This design made it as far as test flights, but was scrapped in 2002 over budget concerns.

Condition Three: Extraterrestrial Rescue

What if a disaster trapped astronauts on the moon? To prepare for that contingency, NASA worked on designs for unmanned Gemini Lunar Rescue Vehicles that could scoop up a marooned crew of two or three astronauts from the lunar surface, or from orbit around the moon. But funding cutbacks during the Apollo program prevented the agency from fully exploring these designs.

Condition Four: Trouble With The Landing

NASA’s space shuttles had an inflight escape system to be used only when the orbiter could not land properly after reentering orbit, which used a pole that extended out from one of the side hatches. The astronauts would hook themselves to the pole with a Kevlar strap and then jump out, allowing the pole to guide them out and underneath the left wing of the spacecraft. However, for this exit system to work, the space shuttle would have to be in pretty good shape, capable of staying in controlled, gliding flight. You can see the pole being used in this test footage here:

This article originally appeared on World Science Festival.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

The Surefire Way To Eat Healthier

home cooking
Getty Images

Why cooking cuts calories

There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence to suggest that cooking at home is better for our health. It’s also well known that eating convenience food is associated with poorer nutrition, obesity, and other metabolic diseases. Food experts, ranging from NYU professor Marion Nestle to author Michael Pollan and New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, have long argued that homemade meals belong at the center of a healthy diet.

Yet little research to date has focused on the relationship between how often people cook at home and the quality of their diets. A new study presented at the American Public Health Association annual meeting and published in the journal Public Health Nutrition provides strong evidence to support the connection.

“If a person—or someone in their household—cooks dinner frequently, regardless of whether or not they are trying to lose weight, diet quality improves,” write authors Julia Wolfson and Sara Bleich, researchers in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “This is likely due to the relatively lower energy, fat, and sugar contents in foods cooked at home compared with convenience foods or foods consumed away from home,” they explain.

Wolfson and Bleich analyzed data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Study (NHANES) to find out whether the link between healthier diets and frequency of home cooking can be documented scientifically.

As part of the NHANES data gathered between 2007 and 2010, approximately 9,500 adults 20 and older were asked about their cooking habits. Researchers found that households that reported cooking dinner at home most frequently (6 to 7 times a week) consumed “significantly fewer” calories and ate better than those who relied more heavily on restaurant meals and frozen foods.

The researchers found that 8 percent of adults lived in households in which someone cooked dinner no more than once a week; 44 percent cooked dinner 2 to 5 times a week; and 48 percent reported cooking dinner 6 to 7 times a week. Compared to the low-cooking category, those in the high-cooking category consumer significantly more fiber, fewer carbohydrates, and less sugar.

“From first-hand knowledge, I know how much fat and salt can be in restaurant food, whether it’s fine dining or fast food,” said Wolfson, who worked for 10 years as a chef in restaurants in New York and Los Angeles. “The food is formulated for flavor, so health is not at the top of a list of concern.”

The same is often true for processed and pre-packaged meals, as Michael Pollan noted in his recent book Cooked. “Corporations cook very differently from how people do…” and “tend to use much more sugar, fat, and salt than people cooking for people do,” he writes.

What the study doesn’t reveal, Wolfson explained during her APHA presentation, is what people mean by “cooking.” While the NHANES data includes questions about frozen meals, including pizza, it doesn’t ask about other prepared ingredients, including those now available in most major supermarkets.

The researchers also found no significant relationship between cooking frequency and body weight. As they note, “not all cooking is healthy.” Additional questions remain about what obstacles might be keeping some cooks from cooking with fresh, whole ingredients.

At the APHA meeting, Wolfson presented some follow-up research suggesting that when it comes to cooking with fresh fruit and vegetables, income is a significant piece of the puzzle. Their research to date shows that people of lower income are buying and eating less fresh produce regardless of how often they cook at home.

While these findings are not necessarily surprising, the data will be important in improving “access to high quality ingredients and circumstances that allow people to cook,” and to how cooking is used as a strategy in combating obesity, Wolfson said.

This post originally appeared on Civil Eats.

TIME diabetes

Why 3 in 10 People with Diabetes Don’t Know They Have It

The surprising similarities between diabetes and HIV/AIDS

New research on diabetes suggests that nearly 30% of adults with diabetes remain undiagnosed—the same rate as people with HIV. And just like many HIV patients, only about 20% of diabetes patients are treated satisfactorily, finds the new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study used the cascade of care method, which aggregates data on people’s treatment for a particular disease and has been used to guide treatment of HIV/AIDS. Study leaders say that the new diabetes research is the first time the method has been applied to another disease.

The research found a lot of similarities between the two diseases and how they’re managed. To start, the consequences can be grave for patients who don’t receive treatment for either disease. HIV/AIDS weakens the immune system and allows patients to develop other ailments, while diabetes can lead to problems with the kidney, heart and brain. Researchers showed where people with diabetes fall through the cracks on the path from the onset of a condition to the development of other serious illnesses. Millions aren’t diagnosed, more than a million people haven’t been to the doctor in years despite a diagnosis and millions of others don’t take the proper medication.

“As health care systems move from fee-for-service to fee-for-quality, something like the cascade can really aid in that shift and help both providers and patients be more motivated and spot the gaps and close the gaps in care,” said study co-author Mohammed Ali, an assistant professor at Emory University. Incentives could encourage both patients and health care providers to screen and then treat diabetes.

“They’re extremely similar because they both require patients to be extremely proactive in managing their own condition,” said Ali, specifically citing diet, exercise and taking medication. “If you’re a good patient, you’re actually going to prevent a lot of those diseases that come with diabetes and a lot of those bad outcomes that come with HIV.”

As electronic records make it easier for doctors to look at large sets of data, the cascade-of-care method has potential to aid in understanding where the health system has failed at treating diseases, Ali said.

“This should be easy to do for anything,” he said.

Corrected Nov. 11, 2014: This piece has been updated. An earlier version of the story mischaracterized statements from Ali.

TIME

New Test May Predict Alzheimer’s 10 Years Before Diagnosis

A blood test that can detect Alzheimer’s disease a decade before diagnosis might be possible, suggests new research published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) and presented at the Society for Neuroscience conference in Washington, DC.

The research is very early, the sample size is small and a commercial test is not yet available, but study authors found a way to measure insulin resistance in the brain—a symptom indicative of Alzheimer’s disease. The blood test can detect disease up to 10 years before clinical onset, the study found. Intercepting the degenerative disease early is important, since behavioral interventions might stall the disease and slow mental decline.

Researchers analyzed the blood of living patients with Alzheimer’s disease and their frozen blood samples taken 1-10 years before being diagnosed. Based on their blood levels of an insulin receptor called IRS-1, researchers could accurately tell which samples came from someone with Alzheimer’s, even up to a decade before diagnosis.

The findings are promising, but need to be replicated in a larger sample and expanded upon, senior study author Dr. Ed Goetzl told TIME. He and his team are looking at other proteins as well. “My vision of the future is you have your breakfast cereal, and on one side you have a statin for cardiovascular disease, and on the other side you have three pills to prevent dementia,” he says. “What I can see in this disease process is it’s far too complicated for a single magic bullet. The reason we’re trying to mine all these different pathogenic mechanisms is because I think they’re going to have to have at least two or maybe three targets against which a drug is directed.”

Still, “This study shows that insulin resistance is a major central nervous system metabolic abnormality in AD that contributes to neural cell damage,” Goetzl said in a press release by the company NanoSomiX, who sponsored the study and plans to develop a blood-based assay based on the results for researchers and pharmaceutical companies. “As insulin resistance is a known condition in type 2 diabetes mellitus and is treatable with several classes of existing drugs, these treatments may be useful as part of a multi-agent program for AD.”

Said lead author of the study Dimitrios Kapogiannis, a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging, to Bloomberg Businessweek at the conference: “We will need replication and validation, but I’m very optimistic this work will hold.”

TIME

This Soap Ingredient Linked to Liver Tumors In Mice

soap hand pump
Getty Images

Triclosan, a widely used antibacterial, is everywhere: in your cleaning supplies, soap, acne lotion, fabrics and even toothpaste. So too are the signs that it might be toxic: a 2012 study showed that triclosan impairs muscle contraction in cells, and other studies have linked it to endocrine disruption and bacterial resistance. Now, new research published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that long-term use of triclosan may promote the growth of cancerous tumors in lab mice.

Mice exposed to triclosan for six months—which is the equivalent to about 18 human years—had significantly more liver fibrosis, or hardening of the tissues. “If you have a damaged cell that’s been attacked by a mutagen”—like tobacco smoke, for instance—”triclosan promotes the development of the tumor,” says co-leader of the study Robert H. Tukey, PhD, professor in the departments of chemistry and biochemistry and pharmacology at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. The compound also causes inflammation, which means that “all the ingredients necessary for developing cancer” are present, Tukey says. Compared to control mice, those exposed to triclosan grew tumors that were larger and more frequent. Triclosan may wreak such havoc by interfering with the protein that detoxifies chemicals in the body, the study says.

Researchers also found that in addition to causing liver fibrosis, triclosan caused some kidney fibrosis. That’s concerning to Tukey, since “there are really not a lot of environmental agents that have the potential to cause kidney fibrosis,” he says. “It definitely is doing some nasty stuff with long-term exposure in these mice.” Since it was performed in animals, the results don’t automatically apply to humans. But past studies have found the chemical in 75% of people and the breast milk of 97% of lactating women, suggesting at the very least that the chemical is ubiquitous.

“It has contaminated virtually all of the waterways in the United States, many in the world,” Tukey says. “It’s the major contaminant in sediment in most lakes. It’s present really everywhere.”

The FDA is “engaged in an ongoing scientific and regulatory review of this ingredient,” the agency website notes.

TIME Research

Your State Bird Could Be Gone By 2080

birds
Getty Images

If our climate continues to change, many birds will lose significant portions of their habitat

WSF logo

By 2080, the skies over North America could be much emptier. A new report from the National Audubon Society, compiled from data collected over 30 years of bird counts and surveys, shows that more than half of North America’s most iconic birds are in serious danger. Of the 588 bird species surveyed, 314 are at risk for losing significant amounts of their habitat to a changing climate.

“Birds are a good barometer of the overall health and wellbeing of the natural systems we depend on for food, water, and clear air,” Audubon chief scientist Gary Langham wrote in an email. “If half the birds are at risk, the natural systems we depend upon are at risk too.”

Ken Rosenberg, a conservation scientist at Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology, cautions that it can be hard to tie any one specific effect on bird populations directly to climate change—other factors like human development, pollution, and invasive species play big roles. However, both Rosenberg and Langham point to clear examples of climate change affecting the avian landscape. Many birds are shifting their ranges farther north; some migratory species are arriving in the northern areas and the endpoints of their spring migrations earlier and earlier. Higher tides and storm surges are wreaking havoc on the nesting grounds of birds like the Saltmarsh Sparrow and the albatross. And foraging birds that live in Arctic sea ice environments are in decline.

“Some land birds, like the Broad-tailed Hummingbird, are finding that the availability of food supplies no longer matches their migration cycles,” Langham says. “And some seabirds, like Atlantic Puffins, are starting to run out of food as ocean temperatures change, causing adults and young to starve.”

If our climate continues to change, many birds will lose significant portions of their habitat, especially those birds that live in marshes and beaches, low-lying islands and snowy mountaintops. Tropical forests could dry out, spoiling the wintering spots for migratory birds. Drought and fire could devastate the habitats of prairie birds like the sage grouse. Even tiny differences in temperature can have big impacts. The gray jay, for example, hoards perishable food to get it through the winter, relying on freezing temperatures to keep it from spoiling, but a warmer climate will short-circuit its natural refrigerator.

“Every bird species has a ‘tolerance zone’ for climate conditions,” Langham says. “If the climate gets too hot, too cold, too wet or too dry, birds will be forced to leave their homes—but many will have nowhere else to go.”

These climate trends are set to impact birds big and small. By 2080, Audubon’s model predicts the summer range for bald eagles will shrink to 26 percent of the current extent. New areas could open up for them as areas get warmer, but it isn’t certain that food and nesting areas will be available to them in the new spots. Allen’s hummingbird could lose up to 90 percent of its summer range. The spotted owl, already a poster child for endangered birds, is expected to lose 98 percent of its wintering grounds. 10 states could lose their state birds—Maryland’s Baltimore Oriole, Vermont’s Hermit Thrush and the Mountain Bluebird (claimed by both Idaho and Nevada) are all among the imperiled.

But don’t count nature out of the game just yet. “A big ‘wild card’ is the ability of the birds themselves to adapt in ways we can’t predict,” Rosenberg told us. “For example, some Laysan Albatrosses have begun to nest in suburban yards and rooftops in Hawaii, as their usual nesting areas become more threatened.”

Rosenberg is also concerned about how humanity’s response to climate change will affect birds. In many areas, he says, sea walls are being built to protect coastal areas without taking into account how they will affect the ecosystem around them. The flow of water, nourishment of marches, and shaping of seaside habitats could all be negatively impacted by hastily built walls. And the rush to create alternative sources of energy has to be done in a smart way, he says. “Paving over fragile desert ecosystems for solar-panel fields, or placing wind farms in critical migration corridors and bottlenecks, or destroying natural habitats around the world to plant biofuels such as corn for ethanol, are NOT smart alternatives” to fossil fuels, Rosenberg says. “We will just be creating new environmental problems in an attempt to solve another.”

Langham urges bird lovers concerned about climate change to speak up.

“We can’t afford to sit quietly on the sidelines while a well-funded oil lobby gets a small number of people to intimidate the rest of us,” he says. “Decide what you want to say to your child or grandchild in 20 years. The day will come when that generation asks: What did you do to leave a better world when the science was clear? I think about my answer a lot and it motivates me to act boldly.”

This article originally appeared on World Science Festival.

TIME Research

Here’s How Many Bacteria Spread Through One Kiss

lips kiss
Getty Images

Pucker up, ladies and germs

First base is a great place to get your mouth microbes some new friends, finds a new study in the journal Microbiome. A ten-second French kiss can spread 80 million bacteria between mouths.

Study author Remco Kort, a professor and scientist at Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), asked couples visiting a zoo in the Netherlands if they wanted to participate in a study on French kissing. 21 couples agreed and had their tongues swabbed and saliva collected, both before and after a kiss.

Researchers discovered that the bacteria on the tongues of couples was much more similar than the oral bacteria of two strangers. “Apparently, being with somebody for an extended amount of time and having a relationship leads to a similar collection of bacteria on the tongue,” Kort says.

In order to find out just how similar the shared bacteria were, one person in the couple was instructed to sip a probiotic yogurt drink, wait a bit and kiss their partner a second time. The probiotic bacteria, which aren’t usually found in the mouth, indeed transferred: along with about 80 million other bacteria. Through questionnaires, the team found that the more often a couple kisses, the more bacteria they seem to share.

“There are a number of studies that show if the diversity in bacteria increases—more different types of species—this is a good thing,” Kort says. Kissing might also act as a form of immunization, he adds, allowing you to build up resistance from exposing yourself to more microorganisms. “If you look at it from this point of view, kissing is very healthy.” (Of course, he admits, the health boons kind of depend on who you’re kissing, and what types of oral microbial colonies they have.)

If you want to learn what kind of bacterial kisser you are, grab your partner and head to Micropia in Amsterdam, the brand-new museum of microbes—like a zoo for invisible animals, Kort says. A “Kiss-o-meter,” based on this research, will rate your make out on a scale from “dry, prudent kiss,” which transfers a meager 1,000 bacteria, to a “hot” one, spreading bacteria in the millions. You’ll even get a readout of the microorganisms you’ve exchanged.

And if you’re single? There’s never been a better scientific defense to bring back the kissing booth.

TIME Research

Racism Could Negatively Impact Your Health, Study Finds

blood pressure
Getty Images

High blood pressure and kidney decline may be linked to feelings of discrimination

Feeling judged because of your race could have a negative impact on your physical health, a new study finds.

A team of researchers studied 1,574 residents of Baltimore as part of the Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span study and found that 20% of the subjects reported feeling that they had been racially discriminated against “a lot.”

Even after the researchers adjusted the results for race, this group had higher systolic blood pressure than those who perceived only a little discrimination.

Over a five-year followup, the group who felt more racial discrimination also tended to have greater decline in kidney function. When the researchers, co-led by Deidra C. Crews, MD, assistant professor of medicine and chair of the diversity council at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, adjusted for age and lifestyle factors, the effect stayed constant for African-American women.

“Psychosocial stressors could potentially have an effect on kidney function decline through a number of hormonal pathways,” Dr. Crews said. The release of stress hormones can lead to an increase in blood pressure, and high blood pressure is one of the leading causes of kidney disease.

This isn’t the first time that perceived racial discrimination has been linked to chronic diseases: a 2011 study found that lifetime discrimination was linked to higher rates of hypertension.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser