TIME Research

This Is Your Brain on 10 Years of Working the Night Shift

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Why chronic shift work may age your brain almost 7 years

Hourly shift work has been linked to all kinds of ills, from obesity to heart attack, and now a new study shows it might also have serious implications for your brain.

The study in Occupational & Environmental Medicine looked at more than 3,000 people living in France, about half of whom had experience working shifts. Those who had done so, either in the past or present, had lower scores on tests of memory, processing speed and overall brain power than those who worked normal office hours, the study finds.

These effects persisted even after researchers controlled for effects of sleep deprivation and they got even stronger after people had worked nights for 10 or more years. Those long-term shift workers had worse memory than those who had always worked days, plus cognitive deficits so steep that the study authors equated them to 6.5 years of age-related decline.

There is a bit of good news, though. After stopping shift work for five years, cognitive abilities returned to levels of people who had never worked shifts.

So why does shift work appear to be so bad for the brain? The authors stress that the study is observational, so it can’t determine that shift work causes brain decline. But they do have a favorite theory: “If it’s not sleep,” says Dr. Philip Tucker, study co-author and senior lecturer in the psychology department at Swansea University in the U.K., “the strongest candidate would be destruction of circadian rhythms.”

Working the night shift challenges the body’s natural circadian clock, which is linked to all sorts of health problems. Though the study didn’t look at the brain structures of the participants, a small study in 2001 found that flight attendants who were chronically jet lagged actually had smaller temporal lobes.

Shift workers, who sleep during the day, may also have a vitamin D deficiency, the study authors say, or may be more prone to metabolic disorder—but the disruption of circadian rhythms is still the main contender.“You could argue,” says Tucker, “that if you start messing about with those clocks, there’s going to be all sorts of effects.”

Read next: The 12 Worst Habits for Your Mental Health

TIME Environment

Scientists Get a Little More Creative to Study Penguins Up-Close

Antarctica, Antarctic Peninsula, Paulet Island, Adelie
Penguins jump into the water on Paulet Island in Antarctica. Wolfgang Kaehler—LightRocket/Getty Images

They made four-wheel rovers look like baby emperor penguins

Scientists may have discovered a way to study animals without disturbing their natural behavior, according to a new study, and it involves dressing up.

Observing animals without disturbing their state of being has long been an issue, the researchers wrote in Nature Methods. So, in an effort to fix that, an international team of scientists made four-wheel rovers look like baby emperor penguins and drove them over to colonies of the animals to gauge their reactions and collect data.

The scientists implanted microchips in about 34 king penguins to monitor the animals’ heart rates when they were approached by the rovers, according to CNET. Turns out, they were slightly less stressed (and notably for shorter periods of time) when approached by the rovers than when near humans. The animals were so comfortable around the robotic penguin that adult ones sang to it and the babies huddled around it as if it were their own.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Why Kids Who Eat Junk Food Early Prefer It Later in Life

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Early exposure can influence children to prefer those same foods growing up

Children tend to develop poor dietary habits during their first year that stick with them for the rest of their lives, according to a new study, notably those in lower income families.

“Dietary patterns are harder to change later if you ignore the first year, a critical period for the development of taste preferences and the establishment of eating habits,” lead author Xiaozhong Wen, an assistant professor at the University of Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, said in a statement.

Parents from lower income brackets and education levels tend to feed their children formula milk rather than breastfeed in a baby’s first six months, the researchers wrote in Pediatrics after looking at the eating patterns of more than 1,500 infants at six and 12 months old. After the breastfeeding period, those same parents often feed their children foods that are higher in sugar and fat — like candy, ice cream and fries. Alternatively, parents with higher income and better education tend to follow dietary guidelines recommended by doctors.

These habits have repercussions later in life, the study finds, as early exposure to certain types of food can influence children to prefer those same foods as they grow up.

“This is both an opportunity and a challenge,” added Wen. “We have an opportunity to start making dietary changes at the very beginning of life.”

TIME Research

12 Key Health Items to Carry Every Day

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Toting these essential items in your purse or wallet could save you when a sudden health issue strikes

What’s in your purse, backpack, or pockets? Aside from your keys, wallet, and mobile phone, chances are you’ve got some old receipts and a few dollars worth of loose change—and nothing that would help you if you landed in a health jam. Health emergencies can pop up at any time, so make sure you have these 12 small—but essential—items stowed away in your bag or your desk drawers at work.

Insurance card

This card can be used for more than simply filling out health forms. It’s also an easy way for medics to identify your name and call your insurance company for more information in an emergency. “Your insurance card is the next best thing to your social security card,” says Melisa Lai Becker, MD, site chief of emergency medicine at Cambridge Health Alliance, near Boston. If you can’t find space in your wallet, snap a picture of the front and back and keep them on your smartphone, Dr. Lai Becker suggests. Two others to add: your business card and your doctor’s. The first is another easy way to identify you, while the second hints at what conditions you might have. “If the card is for a cardiologist, then you know the person is seeing someone for a heart issue,” Dr. Lai Becker says.

HEALTH.COM: How to Stock a Smart First Aid Kit

Emergency contacts

In an emergency, medics will want to know who to contact. “Medical personnel are accustomed to looking for ICE under a phone’s contact list,” Dr. Lai Becker says. That stands for “In Case of Emergency” and is usually entered with the phone number of a family member. You can list your medications, allergies, health conditions, and doctor’s name in the note section of the contact too. Keeping a written list isn’t a bad idea since most phones these days are password protected, though the new Health app from Apple will allow you to make an emergency card accessible from the lock screen.

Water

A 2011 study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that women with even mild dehydration experienced headaches, poor concentration, fatigue, and worse moods. So it’s a good idea to have some H2O on you no matter the temperature. “We breathe out water all the time,” Dr. Lai Becker says. “It’s important to keep up lubrication.” Though eight cups a day is the traditional recommendation, there’s an easy way to tell if you’re dehydrated: check your pee. “If you’re turning the water yellow then the urine is too concentrated,” Dr. Lai Becker says. “Your goal is to have a light yellow urine.”

HEALTH.COM: 14 Surprising Reasons You’re Dehydrated

Pain reliever

Headaches pop up at the most inconvenient times. “So many people deal with the pain and don’t do anything,” says Robin Miller, MD, a board-certified internist and co-author of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife and Beyond. At the end of the day, taking an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help you focus more on work projects or errands. Ibuprofen is also an anti-inflammatory drug, so it’s good for treating backaches, muscle soreness, and menstrual cramps. Acetaminophen is thought to be better for headaches and arthritis. The best time to pop a pill would be as soon as you start to feel pain, Dr. Miller says. Just make sure you’re taking the medication as prescribed, so read the label.

Antacid

Chest pain after a meal is no fun, especially when you’re dining out. If you’re going to a restaurant where the food may flare up your heartburn, it’s safe to have a chewable antacid on you in case. “Take just one when you start to feel something,” Dr. Miller says. Otherwise, you can save it for another day. Tums has the added benefit of giving you extra calcium, Dr. Miller says. The medication’s main ingredient is calcium carbonate, also used as a dietary supplement for people low on the nutrient, according to the National Institutes of Health. Be wary of how much you take though. Too many may lead to a case of diarrhea, Dr. Miller says.

HEALTH.COM: 14 Foods That Fight Heartburn

Bandages

Having a couple bandages on you is useful because there’s always someone looking for one, Dr. Lai Becker says. You never knew when you will get a paper cut or scrape. Not covering your wound up leaves it vulnerable to bacteria you come across throughout the day. If you don’t have access to any antibiotic ointment, that’s fine. With any minor cut, the most important thing is to wash it out with plain tap water, Dr. Lai Becker says. Add soap if there’s oil or grease in your wound and apply pressure for any bleeding.

Tummy reliever

Diarrhea is an all-too-common ailment you need to be ready to handle. The CDC reports that travelers’ diarrhea affects 30% to 50% of vacationers. Luckily, Pepto-Bismol contains an agent shown to reduce the incidence of travelers’ diarrhea by 50%, according to the CDC. Like antacid, it comes in a compact chewable form. “If you’re going to a questionable place to eat, take one before you eat,” Dr. Miller says. Don’t freak out, though, if you get a black tongue or stool. That happens in some people and is normal, Dr. Miller says.

HEALTH.COM: 27 Mistakes Healthy People Make

Tissues

If you do yourself one favor this cold and flu season, carry a set of tissues. “You don’t want to be blowing on your sleeve,” Dr. Miller says. That’s a surefire way to spread germs to your clothing and even infect others. According to the National Institutes of Health, you can catch a cold if your nose, eyes, or mouth touch anything contaminated by the virus. In addition to stocking up on tissues, you should practice proper hand washing too. In a Michigan State University study of college students, researchers found 23% didn’t use soap when washing their hands and—big yikes—10% didn’t wash their hands at all.

Sunscreen

Just because you slather on sunscreen in the morning doesn’t guarantee it will stick all day. Most formulas wear off as you sweat—more so after a workout. “Even rubbing your nose or face can wipe it off,” says Debra Jaliman, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist and author of Skin Rules. You should be reapplying the lotion daily every two hours—yes, even on cloudy days—to protect from cumulative sun damage. That also means little spots like the tops of feet or your ears, Dr. Jaliman says. If you’re not a fan of messy lotion, you can opt for a powder formula or spray sunscreen.

Floss

If you’re already flossing once a day, good job—you’re doing better than 10% of Americans who don’t floss at all, according to the American Dental Association. If you’re going out for a round of wings, though, it doesn’t hurt to have some floss with you. Bits of stray food can sit in your teeth for a while, says Gigi Meinecke, a dentist in Potomac, Maryland, and spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. That can be uncomfortable and lead to more serious problems like an abscess, a tooth infection that can spread to your gums. Don’t want to carry a whole pack? Cut off the corner of a regular mailing envelope and place a little floss inside, Dr. Meinecke suggests. “You can’t carry your brush easily,” she says. “But you can carry floss anywhere.”

HEALTH.COM: 20 Things That Can Ruin Your Smile

Aspirin

A travel pack of aspirin is great to have around if you or someone you know has heart troubles. “It’s one of the first line agents medics will give to someone who calls an ambulance with chest pain,” Dr. Lai Becker says. During a heart attack, your blood vessels can’t supply enough oxygen to the muscle because of a clot that forms and blocks an artery, according to the American Heart Association. “Aspirin works to inhibit the function of the platelets that help people form clots,” Dr. Lai Becker says. As long as you’re not allergic, medics will usually give four baby aspirin to the patient to chew, Dr. Lai Becker says.

Benadryl

Just four melt-away tablets of children’s Benadryl could temper a severe allergic reaction, Dr. Lai Becker says. When someone goes into potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis, the chemical histamine is released in your body. When a large amount of histamines is released, your lips, tongue, face, and airway can swell and you can have trouble breathing, Dr. Lai Becker says. It’s a medical emergency so call 9-1-1, but Benadryl is a powerful antihistamine that can help block the chemical. Giving someone about 50 milligrams of Benadryl could be the start to saving a life, Dr. Lai Becker says. (Chewables are 12. 5 milligrams; liquids are 12.5 milligrams per teaspoon, and capsules may be 25 or 50 milligrams.)

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Research

Google Is Working on a Pill That Can Catch Diseases Earlier

A pill that can detect the signs of diseases, including cancer

Google has plans to design an ingestible pill that detects the presence of malignant cells and other signs of disease, the company said Tuesday.

The pill would contain tiny magnetic particles that would travel through a patient’s bloodstream and register the presence of chemicals or cells associated with diseases like cancer on a little device, the Associated Press reports. The goal would be to allow patients to monitor their health in real-time to catch a potential illness before it’s even diagnosable.

The project, announced at a tech conference organized by the Wall Street Journal, is the latest life sciences innovation from the Google X facility. The secret research center, home of Google Glass, previously revealed a partnership with pharmaceutical company Novartis to create smart contact lenses that monitor diabetics’ blood sugar levels.

[AP]

TIME Research

Your Home Blood Pressure Monitor Might Be Way Off

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Up to 15% of home machines give the wrong readings, study finds

When one nephrologist at an Ottawa hospital asked a patient to bring in his home blood pressure monitoring machine, he only planned to teach him how to use it. But he noticed something strange. The measurement was 21 units off from the device the doctor uses in his office, a gulf that can mean the difference between normal and high blood pressure.

“That took me aback, because in some patients we are looking at home readings to make our decisions for treatment,” says Dr. Swapnil Hiremath of The Ottawa Hospital. So he decided to check out the machines of all his patients, expecting no more than 1% of the machines to give the wrong reading. Instead, according to a new study he’ll present at American Society of Nephrology’s Kidney Week next month, he and his team found that home blood pressure readings might be off in up to 15% of patients.

The researchers asked 210 patients to bring in their home blood pressure monitors and tested them against the gold-standard in-office machines—known as mercury sphygmomanometers. A full 30% were more than 5 units off in the systolic measurement, or when the heart is contracting, and 8% were off by more than 10. Diastolic blood pressure measurements, when the heart is resting between beats, were even more askew: 32% were off by 5 units, and 9% by more than 10 units.

Depending on the patient, those discrepancies could be enough to influence treatment decisions. Hiremath says he doesn’t know why so many of the readings are off, especially since all the machines are validated by FDA and Health Canada before they appear on the market. “Despite that,” he says, “these errors are happening and we’re getting these variations in readings.”

Hiremath takes three readings to ensure accuracy, and instead of merely encouraging his patients to test their home monitors against the kind used in doctors’ offices, now he all but mandates it. “It’s a resource intensive thing to do,” he says. “There are no easy fixes here.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

The Rise of Celiac Disease Still Stumps Scientists

What You Need to Know About Gluten
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This is your gut on gluten

Two new studies in the New England Journal of Medicine rocked the world of celiac research, both proving that scientists have a ways to go in their understanding of celiac disease, which affects about 1% of the population, whether they know it or not.

One Italian study wondered if the age at which gluten is introduced into the diet could affect a person’s likelihood of developing the autoimmune disease—so they kept gluten away from newborns for a year. To the shock of the researchers, delaying exposure to gluten didn’t make a difference in the long run. In some cases it delayed the onset of the disease, but it didn’t stop people from developing the disease, for which there is no cure.

The second study, of almost 1,000 children, introduced small amounts of gluten into the diets of breastfeeding infants to see if that fostered a gluten tolerance later on in those who were genetically predisposed to celiac disease. No such luck for them, either. Though both studies were excellently designed and executed, says Joseph A. Murray, MD, professor of medicine and gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, each was “a spectacular failure.”

What is it about gluten that causes so many people to double over in pain? How could the innocent, ancient act of breaking bread be so problematic for some?

It’s a question researchers are actively trying to answer. “I think of celiac disease now as a public health issue,” Murray says. He’s been researching the bread protein for more than 20 years and has seen the incidence of celiac disease rise dramatically; celiac is more than four times as common as it was 50 years ago, according to his research, which was published in the journal Gastroenterology. Even though awareness and testing methods have dramatically improved, they can’t alone account for all of that increase, he says.

About 1% of Americans have celiac disease, and it’s especially common among Caucasians. There’s a strong genetic component, but it’s still unclear why some people get it and other people don’t. It seems to affect people of all ages, even if they’ve eaten wheat for decades. And you can’t blame an increased consumption of the stuff; USDA data shows we’re not eating more of it.

Something else in the environment must be culpable, and theories abound about possible factors, from Cesarean sections to the overuse of antibiotics and the hygiene hypothesis, which suggests that as our environment has become cleaner, our immune system has less to do and so turns on itself—and maybe particular foods like gluten—as a distraction.

Or maybe there’s something different about gluten itself. The wheat seed hasn’t changed all that much, but the way we process and prepare gluten products has, Murray says. “There have been some small studies looking at old forms of bread-making…that have suggested it’s not as immunogenic, it doesn’t drive the immune response as strongly as more modern grain or bread preparations,” Murray says.

A small 2007 study found that sourdough bread, when fermented with bacteria, nearly eliminates gluten—but we need much more research before the truly allergic should be reaching for a slice of the stuff.

Dr. Alessio Fasano, MD, director of the Center for Celiac Research and chief of the division of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition at Mass General Hospital for Children, was a co-author of that recent study about breast-feeding and timing of gluten introduction. He says he found the “major, unpredictable results shocking. The lesson learned from these studies is that there is something other than gluten in the environment that can eventually tilt these people from tolerant to the immune response in gluten to developing celiac disease,” he says.

He suspects it may come down to how the modern, hyper-processed diet has influenced the makeup of our gut bacteria. “These bacteria eat whatever we eat,” Fasano says. “We’ve been radically changing our lifestyle, particularly the way that we eat, too fast for our genes to adapt.” Fasano hopes to explore the microbiome in his next study, in which he says he’ll follow kids from birth and search for a signature in their microbiome that predicts the activation of their gluten-averse genes, which leads to a child developing celiac disease. The hope, then, is that a probiotic or prebiotic intervention will bring the troubled guts back from “belligerent to friendly.”

“That would be the holy grail of preventive medicine,” he says.

Read next: ‘Gluten Free’ Label Now Actually Means Gluten Free

TIME Research

Cocoa May Help With Memory Loss, a New Study Finds

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But don't break out the chocolate bars just yet

It’s everybody’s favorite kind of health discovery: something delicious and seemingly sinful — red wine, chocolate, coffee — turns out to be good for you, according to new research.

The latest installment in this brand of happy news comes from a study out of Columbia University that finds that flavanols, a component of cocoa (a principle ingredient in chocolate) can actually reverse at least one aspect of memory loss associated with normal aging.

The small but intriguing study involved 37 healthy individuals, ages 50 to 69. Half were asked to consume a drink loaded with 450 mg of cocoa flavanols twice a day for three months. The other half got just 10 mg daily—about a quarter the amount in one candy bar.

Both groups were evaluated with a memory test and brain scans at the start of the study, and after three months of downing their respective potions. Researchers — led by Scott Small, professor of neurology at Columbia’s Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain, and his colleagues, Adam Brickman and Richard Sloan—found that the high-flavanol group showed a remarkably improved performance on a test of visual memory: the equivalent of a 60-year-old performing like a 30-year-old.

The test involves looking at a series of abstract shapes and determining whether the pattern of squiggly lines is the same as or different than one presented earlier. In this study, Dr. Small and his colleagues show that the ability to quickly perform this task declines at a predictable rate with advancing age.

“This test reflects the kind of complaints I hear from relatively healthy older individuals who say, ‘If I met someone new today, I’m not sure I would recognize them on the street tomorrow,’” Small explains. It tests the ability to form new memories as opposed to summoning up old information (which can be another issue for older adults).

Study participants were also examined in a functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) scanner. Small and his colleagues zeroed in on a structure called the dentate gyrus, located in the hippocampus, a brain region that plays a major role in memory. Previous research in both mice and humans has shown that decreased activity in the dentate gyrus is associated with the typical decline in memory seen as people age. (This is not, however, the spot in the hippocampal region where Alzheimer’s disease first strikes.)

As it turned out, the fMRI studies lined up neatly with the memory test results. People in the high-flavanol group showed much greater blood volume in the dentate gyrus — a measure of brain connectivity and processing ability. It, too, was on the order of gaining decades of function.

“I think it provides proof of principle that diet could potentially reverse an aging process,” says Small, who is working on a larger follow-up study.

Precisely what biological magic the cocoa components are working is not entirely clear, but recent research provides some clues. Studies have shown that cocoa flavanols help keep blood vessels supple as opposed to hardening over time. It could be that they perform this function in the brain. Flavanols also have anti-inflammatory effects that might be part of the explanation.

A number of small studies have linked the nutrients to lower risks of heart disease, hypertension, stroke and diabetes. These studies are sufficiently compelling that the National Institutes of Health is co-funding a massive study of cocoa flavanols — involving 18,000 men and women — that will kick off in early 2015.

“The cocoa flavanols are very promising and exciting in terms of their potential role for preventing heart disease, stroke and other vascular outcomes,” says Dr. JoAnn Manson, a professor at Harvard Medical School and chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, who will be co-directing the study with her colleague Howard Sesso.

The five-year study, tagged with the acronym COSMOS (for Cocoa Supplement and Multivitamins Outcomes Study),will primarily focus on cardiovascular disease, but Manson is seeking funding for additional arms that will provide extremely detailed data on how the nutrients impact memory and cognition, as well as other health problems. The Columbia study, she says, strengthens the case for further investigation of the effects on memory and cognitive decline.

Among the funders of both COSMOS and the Columbia research is Mars Inc., the world’s biggest candymaker. It already has a cocoa-flavanol supplement called CocoaVia on the market, and will be well positioned to sell other products to the public should the virtues of flavanols be confirmed by new studies.

Don’t want to wait until the 2020s for the final word on flavanols from COSMOS? Don’t just go out and load up on chocolate bars, warns Small. Many types of flavanols are eliminated by chocolate-manufacturing processes. And, besides, you’d need about 25 bars a day to get anything close to the level of flavanols used in his study.

“I’m a physician, and that’s not what I’m recommending,” he says.

Read next: 12 Unexpected Things That Mess With Your Memory

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Reliving A Friend’s Death May Help Lessen Grief

Nearly 40% of those who did not relive a the death of a loved one showed signs of prolonged grief disorder

Reliving the death of a close friend or family member may reduce the experience of long-term grief, according to a new study in JAMA Psychiatry.

The study assigned 80 people who had lost a loved one within the past few years to a 10-week regimen of cognitive behavioral therapy. Some of them were also assigned to exposure therapy, in which patients were made to relive the death of the loved one. Nearly 38% of those who did not get the additional exposure therapy showed symptoms of prolonged grief disorder, which includes yearning for the person who’s gone, bitterness about accepting the death and difficulty in engaging in life. Only 15% of those people who got the extra treatment showed signs of it.

Painful as it is, reliving a death may improve a patient’s ability to process loss and adapt to it, the study suggests.

“Including exposure therapy that promotes emotional processing of memories of the death is an important component to achieve optimal reduction in [grief] severity,” the study reads. “Despite the distress elicited by engaging with memories of the death, this strategy does not lead to aversive responses.”

Though researchers acknowledge some limitations, the study’s implications suggest some changes in the way doctors approach treatment for those in grief.

“Reluctance to engage with their distressing emotions may be a major reason for not managing the grief more effectively,” the study reads. “The challenge is to foster better education of clinicians through evidence-supported interventions to optimize adaption to the loss as effectively as possible.”

TIME Research

6 Medical Breakthroughs That Matter

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Including an alternative cancer treatment

It’s not every day that you catch wind of a true health game changer. That’s because research is more often than not a long, slow process of trial and error, and for every bright idea there are a bunch that don’t pan out. Luckily, this year brought plenty of major steps forward, including a new cure for a deadly disease and innovative gadgets that zap your migraines. Here are the developments making a difference right now.

New tech for migraine pain

Technology is opening up a new route to much-needed headache helpers. “Current drugs just don’t do the trick for many people,” says John Delfino, MD, a headache specialist at NYU Langone Medical Center. But the FDA recently approved two gadgets for migraines: Cefaly, a band that’s worn across your forehead for 20 minutes daily, and SpringTMS, a device you hold to the back of your head at the onset of pain. Both work by stimulating certain nerves deep in the head, using electrical signals (in the case of Cefaly) or magnetic energy (for the SpringTMS). There’s also new hope for debilitating cluster headaches in the form of an electrode that’s implanted behind the jaw and controlled by a remote. In the initial trial, 68% reported relief when they turned on the electrode during a headache, and of that group, over 80% had fewer episodes.

HEALTH.COM: 18 Signs You’re Having a Migraine

A watch that tracks your health

Say good-bye to your current fit tracker: The Apple Watch, when used with your iPhone, can log your steps and even your heart rate, giving you more feedback in one gizmo than ever. (Oh, and you can ask Siri for directions during your runs.) Available early next year, the watch will sync with the Health iPhone app, which you can get now. You can use Health to import your calorie, sleep, and fitness data from apps you already use, like Nike+.

An alternative cancer treatment

Everyone knows the storied side effects of chemotherapy: hair loss, diarrhea and more. That’s because chemo drugs destroy cells that multiply quickly, whether they’re cancerous or healthy. But scientists are finally finding success with a more selective approach: immunotherapy. These treatments harness your body’s natural defenses to beat cancer back. “What we’ve discovered is that cancer cells evade your immune system by putting it into overdrive, causing it to tire out and give up. The new drugs interrupt the cycle so your body can fight,” explains J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. The results so far have been staggering: “It’s not an overstatement to say this is a turning point in cancer research, especially for patients with melanoma,” Dr. Lichtenfeld says. Treatments for cancers of the kidney, lung and pancreas could be up next.

HEALTH.COM: 15 Worst Things to Say to a Cancer Patient

A real cure for Hep C

Usually symptomless, hepatitis C kills 15,000 Americans a year. Until now, treatment helped a mere 30 to 40% of people with the virus, which is passed via infected blood and can lead to liver failure and liver cancer. But in December 2013, the FDA approved Sovaldi (sofosbuvir), a pill that cures up to 90% of hep C patients when used with another new drug, simeprevir. “Before, it was like fighting a war with flyswatters, but now the big guns have arrived,” says Douglas Dieterich, MD, professor of medicine in the division of liver disease at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, who also was involved in clinical trials of Sovaldi. More help is expected to be FDA-approved soon: ledipasvir, combined with sofosbuvir, for one form of hep C known as genotype 1, as well as a three-drug cocktail that has cured 90% of people treated with it.

HEALTH.COM: 8 Things You Didn’t Know About Hepatitis

A smarter pregnancy test

An upgraded pee stick from Clearblue not only tells you if you’re pregnant but also gives you an idea of how far along you might be, via an extra strip that measures the concentration (not just the presence) of human chorionic gonadotropin in your urine. “It doesn’t beat the tests your doctor will run. But it could help women with irregular periods (caused by, say, breast-feeding or polycystic ovary syndrome) begin prenatal care on time,” says Pamela Berens, MD, professor of ob-gyn at the University of Texas Health Science Center.

A new way to fight breast cancer

Women with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), an abnormality that can become invasive breast cancer, or a strong family history of the disease are often prescribed tamoxifen to prevent it. “But many women won’t even start taking it, because they’ve heard of side effects like hot flashes and blood clots,” says Seema Khan, MD, of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. To see if there might be a better way, Dr. Khan prescribed tamoxifen in the form of either a pill or a gel applied to the breast to 26 women awaiting surgery for DCIS. Women who used the gel showed the same decrease in abnormal cell growth as the pill group—and they had no increase in blood markers linked to clots and other symptoms. The availability of the gel is still a few years away, but Dr. Khan says a topical gel might work for other drugs as well, suggesting that this is one discovery that could lead to many more.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Things That (Probably) DON’T Cause Breast Cancer

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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