TIME Research

Too Much Salt May Delay the Onset of Puberty, Suggests Study

Think twice before allowing kids unlimited access to salty condiments

Consuming too much sodium may stunt the commencement of puberty in humans, leading to reduced fertility and higher stress levels in affected individuals.

A new study published by researchers from the University of Wyoming found that rats that consumed a sodium-rich diet had a “significant delay in reaching puberty” compared to fellow rodents that imbibed normal levels of salt, reports Science Daily.

“Current salt-loading in Western populations has the potential to drastically affect reproductive health, and warrants further attention,” said Dori Pitynski from the University of Wyoming.

But don’t give up on salt completely, researchers claim. According to the study, too little sodium may also delay the onset of puberty as well.

The World Health Organization says adults should “consume less than 2,000 mg of sodium, or 5 grams of salt” daily, according to revised guidelines published in 2013.

[Science Daily]

TIME Research

4 Weird Health Effects of E-Cigarettes

TIME.com stock photos E-Cig Electronic Cigarette Smoke
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Banana pudding-flavored ecigs disturbed the lungs, one study found

E-cigarette research is heating up, and scientists are starting to show that using e-cigarettes can have some surprising health effects, according to new findings presented at the meeting of the American Thoracic Society.

“Millions of people around the world that are puffing e-cigs,” says Peter Dicpinigaitis, professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and one of the authors of new e-cigarette research, “but when you look at the scientific literature about the effects of e-cigs, there’s nothing out there.”

Here are some of the newest findings:

Using e-cigarettes suppresses your ability to cough

Smoking an e-cigarette makes you less likely to cough, even when coughing would benefit your health, according to research by Dicpinigaitis. Researchers asked 30 nonsmokers to puff an e-cigarette 30 times in a 15-minute period. After puffing, people in the study were less sensitive to capsaicin, a component of chili peppers that induces coughing. You might think stopping a cough would be a positive side effect, but coughing keeps you from choking and removes agents that may cause infection, says Dicpinigaitis. He presumes that those the effects would continue throughout the day for someone who uses an e-cigarette frequently.

E-cigarette temperature may affect how many chemicals you’re exposed to

People tend to think about the effects of cigarette smoke or e-cigarette vapor when they consider how the products harm their health. But the mechanics of e-cigarettes may also contribute to how much smoking harms your health, according to new research from University of Alabama School of Medicine professor Daniel Sullivan. His research found a correlation between coil temperature and the creation of harmful chemicals like acrolein, acetaldehyde and formaldehyde in the e-cigarette. There are no configuration standards for e-cigarettes, and Sullivan’s research suggests that the lack of consistency makes it hard to assess uniformly the health effects of smoking e-cigarettes.

E-cigarette flavors may have different effects

Researchers tested the effects of flavored e-cigarette liquid on calcium in the lungs and found that not all flavors had the same effect. Five of 13 flavors tested caused changes to calcium signaling in the lungs, according to a study by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researcher Temperance Rowell. Hot cinnamon candies, banana pudding and menthol tobacco were among the flavors that disturbed the lungs.

Evidence is growing that e-cigarettes probably aren’t an effective way to quit smoking

E-cigarettes are a popular tool people use to stop smoking, but they may not be the best way, suggests one research review. Using e-cigarettes improved the likelihood that a smoker would quit smoking cigarettes for the first month on the new technology, but the effect dissipated at 3 and 6-month followups, according to a meta-analysis of four studies by University of Toronto researcher Riyad al-Lehebi. He recommended that people who want to quit smoking consider “other more well-established options.”

TIME Research

The Connection Between Peanut Allergies and Asthma

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New study suggests benefit from testing kids with asthma for peanut allergies

A new study suggests that kids with asthma may have a peanut allergy, or be sensitive to peanuts, and not know it.

Dr. Robert Cohn, medical director of Pulmonary Medicine at Dayton Children’s Hospital and his team studied 1,517 children who went to a pulmonary clinic at Mercy Children’s Hospital in Toledo, Ohio, for respiratory problems and left with a confirmed diagnosis of asthma. Interestingly, among these children, about 11% knew they had a peanut allergy. Many of the children in the study came back to the clinic and had a blood test to screen them for peanut allergies, and of that group, 22% tested positive.

The researchers then found that more than half of the 22% of kids who came back positive did not suspect that they had any allergy or sensitivity to peanuts, suggesting it may be something that those who work with children with asthma may want to be more cognizant of.

“I don’t think children with peanut allergies would be misdiagnosed with asthma. It is most likely the other way around. Children with asthma might not be recognized as having a peanut sensitivity,” says Cohn in an email to TIME. “Parents of children with asthma should understand that there may be asthma medicines that are not advised in children with peanut allergies.”

Cohn says that since allergies can act as a trigger for an allergy attack, it may be useful for a child to be screened for peanut sensitivity if they have been diagnosed with asthma, especially if they have an uncontrolled cough or wheezing.

The study will be presented Sunday at the ATS 2015 International Conference.

TIME Research

New Study Explains Why People Saw ‘The Dress’ Differently

Shop manager Debbie Armstrong adjusts a two tone Roman Originals dress in a window display at a Roman Originals shop in Lichfield, England on Feb. 27, 2015.
Rui Vieira—AP Shop manager Debbie Armstrong adjusts a two tone Roman Originals dress in a window display at a Roman Originals shop in Lichfield, England on Feb. 27, 2015.

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve likely heard about the “The Dress” (if you don’t know what The Dress is, read this). It puzzled some researchers too, but now a team of scientists have published a new study shedding light on the phenomenon.

In a small study published in the journal Current Biology, researchers from Giessen University and University of Bradford learned that people vary when it comes to color perception, and this is largely due to differences in how people perceive light. What was possibly throwing people off was the lighting in the photo. In general, daylight lighting can look blueish around mid afternoon and it can look yellowish in the morning or later in the evening. Normally, people use reference points and surrounding context to perceive colors and they unknowingly will filter out the blue or yellow-hued lighting.

However, the photo of the dress had no reference points. There were no red or green colors, for example. Therefore, people looking at the dress were not able to filter out the lighting that was influencing their perception of the color. “The perceived hue in one of the groups of observers is related to the fact that a white dress was exposed to cool bluish light,” study author Karl Gegenfurtner, a professor in the department of psychology at Geissen University in a statement. “Just as well it could be a blue dress which was overexposed by warm light.”

In their study, the researchers also noted that even among people who saw the dress one way or the other, they were not necessarily seeing the dress in exactly the same way. While they generally agree, some may see the dress colors on a spectrum that ranges from very light blue to dark blue and from yellow to brown. To discover this, the researchers showed volunteers the photo and then had them separately adjust colors to match what colors they saw in the photo.

TIME Germany

102-Year-Old Who Fled Nazis to Become Oldest Doctorate Recipient

German pediatrician Ingeborg Rapoport, 97, speaks during an interview in her house in Berlin
Thomas Peter—Reuters German pediatrician Ingeborg Rapoport, 97, speaks during an interview in her house in Berlin on July 3, 2009.

Ingeborg Rapoport was refused an opportunity to defend her thesis in Nazi Germany.

A 102-year-old retired neonatologist successfully defended her doctoral thesis on Wednesday, 77 years after the Nazi regime denied her the opportunity.

Ingeborg Rapoport will become the oldest person to receive a doctoral degree at a ceremony at the University of Hamburg next month, the Wall Street Journal reports. Her thesis, which she submitted in 1938, focused on diphtheria, an infectious disease that was the leading cause of death among children in Europe at the time.

Rapoport was raised a Protestant but her mother was Jewish, leading officials at the time to deem her ineligible for academic advancement. She emigrated to the United States in 1938 and eventually received an M.D. from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal

TIME Research

A Limp Handshake Could Predict an Early Death Say Scientists

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Caspar Benson—Getty Images/fStop A fist holding a wrench up triumphantly

Grip strength could determine chances of an early death.

A new large-scale study suggests that grip strength could serve as a “simple, inexpensive” test for heart disease and other health risks.

The study, published in the medical journal The Lancet on Wednesday, found that people whose grip strength declined the fastest faced higher risks of health problems, including strokes and heart disease. In fact, the study found, grip strength can be better than blood pressure at predicting risk,

According to the study, every 11lb drop in grip strength was correlated with a 16 percent rise in the risk of early death.

The researchers, who studied more than 140,000 people in 17 countries between 2003 and 2009, say more work is necessary to further explain the connection between grip and health risks.

TIME Research

Giving Antibiotics to Infants is Strongly Related to Illness In Adulthood

Many red and transparent medical capsules, filled with yellow medicine, pouring out of a brown bottle, displayed on a white table n Wuerzburg, Bavaria, Germany in December 2014.
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By altering infant gut bacteria, the antibiotics make us more vulnerable to disease

Illness may appear in adulthood because of antibiotic resistance we develop when doctors prescribe us antibiotics as newborns and infants, researchers say.

The antibiotics may alter infant gut bacteria, which are tied to everything from allergies and obesity to infectious diseases, according to a new study published in the scientific journal Cell Host & Microbe.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota found that antibiotics eliminated bacteria in the gut that enabled the growth of allergen-fighting immune cells. Antibiotics were also found to alter critical gut microbiota that determine our vulnerability to a number of infectious diseases.

“Over the past year we synthesized hundreds of studies and found evidence of strong correlations between antibiotic use, changes in gut bacteria, and disease in adulthood,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Dan Knights.

Antibiotics remain the most prevalent drug prescribed to children, accounting for approximately a quarter of all childhood medications. However, around 30% of prescriptions are deemed unnecessary.

“We think these findings help develop a roadmap for future research to determine the health consequences of antibiotic use and for recommendations for prescribing them,” Knights added.

TIME neuroscience

You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish

No longer can we boast about 12 seconds of coherent thought

The average attention span for the notoriously ill-focused goldfish is nine seconds, but according to a new study from Microsoft Corp., people now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, highlighting the affects of an increasingly digitalized lifestyle on the brain.

Researchers in Canada surveyed 2,000 participants and studied the brain activity of 112 others using electroencephalograms (EEGs). Microsoft found that since the year 2000 (or about when the mobile revolution began) the average attention span dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds.

“Heavy multi-screeners find it difficult to filter out irrelevant stimuli — they’re more easily distracted by multiple streams of media,” the report read.

On the positive side, the report says our ability to multitask has drastically improved in the mobile age.

Microsoft theorized that the changes were a result of the brain’s ability to adapt and change itself over time and a weaker attention span may be a side effect of evolving to a mobile Internet.

The survey also confirmed generational differences for mobile use; for example, 77% of people aged 18 to 24 responded “yes” when asked, “When nothing is occupying my attention, the first thing I do is reach for my phone,” compared with only 10% of those over the age of 65.

And now congratulate yourself for concentrating long enough to make it through this article.

TIME Research

The New Science of How to Quit Smoking

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Two studies shed light on promising new ways to make kicking the habit easier, using both biology and behavior

Studies show that most smokers want to quit. So why are some people more successful at cutting out nicotine than others? The latest studies looking at the brains and behavior of smokers may provide some explanations.

Some people may be hardwired to have an easier time giving up their cigarettes, suggests one new trial described in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology. It turns out that some smokers start out with a particularly rich network of brain neurons in an area called the insula, which regulates cravings and urges and communicates cues: like seeing a cigarette or smelling tobacco smoke, then wanting to light up. Joseph McClernon, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, ran MRI scans of 85 smokers who puffed more than 10 cigarettes a day. The smokers were then randomly assigned to continue smoking their brand or to smoke low-nicotine cigarettes, along with nicotine replacement therapy, for 30 days. All of the people in the study were then told to stop smoking and given nicotine replacement for 10 weeks.

MORE The Best Way to Quit Smoking Isn’t E-Cigs

Those who relapsed during that time tended to have lower activity in the insula, particularly in the connections between the insula and other motor areas that translate cravings into action, while those who successfully kicked the habit showed more robust activity in this brain region. The pattern remained strong despite how many cigarettes the smokers smoked.

“We’ve known for a while that some people seem to be able to quit and other people can’t,” says McClernon. “This gives us a better sense of what neural mechanisms might underlie those differences.”

The results suggest that it might be possible to identify people who may have a harder time quitting—a quick MRI scan of their brains would reveal how much activity they have in their insula—and provide them with more support in their attempts to quit. “Some smokers might benefit from more intensive, longer duration or even different types of interventions to stop smoking,” says McClernon. “They might need a higher, different level of care to help them make it through.”

But how much this system can be manipulated to help smokers quit isn’t clear yet. Previous studies show how potentially complicated the insula’s connections may be—smoking patients who have strokes and damage to the insula suddenly lose their desire to smoke and quit almost cold turkey. McClernon believes that the richer connections may not only promote interactions between cravings and behavior, but also enhance the connections that can inhibit or suppress those urges as well. Having a more intense communication in the insula may help strengthen the ability to quiet urges and inhibit the desire to smoke, despite cues and the urge to light up.

MORE Taking Medication May Make It Easier to Quit Smoking

But even if you’re not blessed with a brain that’s wired to make quitting easy, you still have options. In another study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, scientists studied one of the oldest and most reliable ways to motivate people: money. In that trial, Dr. Scott Halpern from the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues assigned 2,538 employees of CVS Caremark to one of five different smoking cessation programs. All received free access to nicotine replacement and behavioral therapy, and some were also assigned to an individual reward program in which they could earn up to $800 if they remained abstinent at six months. Another group was assigned another individual deposit program which was similar, except they had to pay $150 to participate, which they got back if they remained abstinent. Others were assigned to group versions of the reward and deposit programs so that what they received depended on how many in their group quit successfully.

Not shockingly, more people who were assigned to the reward program (90%) agreed to participate than people who were assigned to the deposit strategy (14%), likely because most people weren’t wiling to put their own money on the line. But when Halpern looked more closely at those who did enroll, the smokers in the deposit programs were twice as likely to be abstinent at six months than those in the reward group and five times as likely to be smoke-free than those who received only free counseling and nicotine replacement.

MORE Paying People Could Help Them Quit Smoking

That’s not entirely surprising, says Halpern, since having some of their own money at risk provided more motivation for the smokers to quit. When it comes to incentivizing smoking cessation, “adding a bit of stick is better than having just a pure carrot,” he says.

Finding the perfect balance of stick and carrot, however, may be more challenging. Halpern believes that from the perspective of an employer, insurer or government, offering even higher rewards than the $800 in the study and lowering the deposit slightly might still provide benefits to all parties. Smokers cost an average of $4,000 to $6,000 more each year in health services than non-smokers, he says, so offering even as much as $5,000 can still result in cost savings for employers, many of whom are now dangling financial incentives in front of their smoking employees to motivate them to quit.

How the financial carrot is proffered is also important, says Halpern. Now, most employers or insurers reward quitting in more hidden ways, with bonuses in direct deposit accounts or with lower premiums. While helpful, these aren’t as tangible to people, and humans respond better to instant gratification. “They’re rewarding people in ways that are essentially blind to the way human psychology works,” he says. “The fact that the benefits occur in the future make them a whole lot less influential than if people were handed money more quickly. Our work suggests that in addition to thinking about the size of the incentive, it’s fundamentally important to think about how to deliver that money.”

Another factor that can make financial incentives more powerful is to make the experience more enjoyable, either by introducing some competition in a group setting or encouraging smokers along the way. In the study, smokers in the group programs were not any more successful than those in the individual regimes, but that may be because the employees didn’t know each other. Grouping colleagues in the same office might have more of an effect, says Halpern. Either way, he says, incorporating such incentives to help more people quit smoking is “really a win-win.”

Read next: The Best Way to Quit Smoking Isn’t E-Cigs

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TIME Obesity

‘Thrifty’ Metabolisms May Make It Harder to Lose Weight

File photo dated Thursday October 16, 2014. of a young girl using a set of weighing scales as slimmers should forget what they have been told about avoiding rapid weight loss in favour of slow but sure dieting, according to new research.
Chris Radburn—PA Wire/Press Association Images File photo dated Thursday October 16, 2014. of a young girl using a set of weighing scales as slimmers should forget what they have been told about avoiding rapid weight loss in favour of slow but sure dieting, according to new research.

The study marks the first time lab results have confirmed the widely held belief

Losing those love handles may be easier for some people than for others, says a new study that confirmed the theory that physiology plays a role in a person’s ability to lose weight.

According to a press release, researchers at the Phoenix Epidemiology and Clinical Research Branch studied the metabolisms of 12 obese men and women undergoing a six-week 50% calorie-reduction experiment. After measuring participants’ energy expenditure after a day of fasting and then re-examining them during the caloric-reduction period, researchers found that the slower the metabolism works during a diet, the less weight the person loses.

Coining the terms “thrifty” vs. “spendthrift” metabolisms, the experiment marks first time lab results have confirmed a widely held belief that a speedy metabolism plays a role in weight loss.

“While behavioral factors such as adherence to diet affect weight loss to an extent, our study suggests we should consider a larger picture that includes individual physiology — and that weight loss is one situation where being thrifty doesn’t pay,” said lead author Dr. Susanne Votruba, Ph.D.

Researchers have yet to figure out if the differences in metabolic speeds are innate traits or develop over time. Also, the study was only focused on weight loss, and the team does not know if the body’s response to caloric reduction can be used to prevent weight gain.

Over one-third of Americans are obese, and it leads to some of the most common forms of preventable deaths in the country.

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