TIME Research

14 Holiday Health Hazards to Avoid

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Check out these top holiday health risks and what you can do to avoid them

The holiday season is supposed to be a time for relaxing and celebrating with friends and family. Sorry to be a Grinch, but the most wonderful time of the year can also prove hazardous to your health and safety. The seemingly endless string of parties, the introduction of new foods and cooking techniques to your home, and even shopping for gifts can all put your wellbeing at risk. To ensure you make it to January 1 unscathed, follow this guide to the biggest holiday health hazards and how to avoid them.

Holiday weight gain

Christmas cookies, eggnog, late-night leftover ham sandwiches: All that holiday joy adds up to at least a pound a year, but studies suggest that you never really take it off. Keep eating everything you want over the holidays and you’ll end up looking like Santa when swimsuit season rolls around. Try these tips to avoid holiday weight gain.

Choking

You may wish your mother-in-law would choke on her snarky comments, but choking is a serious health hazard. Nearly 3,000 people in the United States die each year from choking, according to the National Safety Council, and since you’re eating more during the holidays anyway, better chew your chestnut pudding and pumpkin pie well. To avoid choking, take small bites, chew slowly and carefully, and avoid talking or being distracted while eating. Be wary of high risk foods including hotdogs, grapes, candy with nuts, and hard fruits and vegetables.

HEALTH.COM: 50 Holiday Foods You Shouldn’t Eat

Poisonous holiday plants

Hold the holly (and mistletoe) if you plan to have small children or pets around during the holidays. All can be toxic, and even pine cones and falling berries can pose a choking hazard. Best bet is to make sure no one smaller than a holly bush gets near seasonal plants this year.

Deep-fried-turkey fireballs

Deep-frying your turkey can be so dangerous that Underwriters Laboratories, the product safety certifier, has refused to stamp any fryers on the market with its iconic UL logo. From 1998 to 2007, there were at least 138 incidents involving turkey fryers that caused 36 injuries and more than $7.8 million in property loss. (Watch UL techs demonstrate the perils of frying.) Still, if you must deep-fry your bird, follow your fryer’s instructions carefully, and heed these safety tips.

Holiday heart attacks

Think the weather outside is frightful? Check the perfect storm of heart attack risk factors looming on the horizon. It’s the worst time of year for heart trouble, with heart-related deaths peaking in late December and early January. (The deadliest day? December 25, according to one study.) Why? There are lots of reasons: holiday stress, heavy meals (a known heart attack trigger), ignoring chest pain for fear of disrupting the festive mood, skipping meds in the hustle and bustle, and understaffed hospitals. Stay safe by being aware: Take your meds and watch for symptoms. Oh, and moderation is key.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Worst Jobs for Your Lungs

Flammable Christmas trees

Each year, more than 400 residential fires involve Christmas trees, resulting in as many as 40 deaths and 100 injuries. In fact, though Christmas trees cause the fewest holiday-related fires, they account for the greatest percentage of deaths, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The safest tree is a flame-resistant artificial one; follow this advice if you want to bring a fresh one home.

Toy horrors

Besides troublesome questions about the safety of toys made in China, now you must face the most dreaded of all holiday hazards—opening the gifts. Sounds simple, but each year about 6,000 people in the United States visit the ER with wounds from trying to pry, slice, or stab open gifts encased in hard plastic “clamshells” or held down with a thousand metal twist ties. Some retailers, including Amazon, Sony, Microsoft, and Best Buy, are moving toward easy-to-open packaging. Learn more about the health hazards of the toys themselves.

Seasonal car accidents

Thanksgiving is not only a traffic-filled holiday, it’s also one of the most deadly. In 2006, 623 people lost their lives in car crashes. Christmas and New Year’s, when alcohol is responsible for nearly half of accident fatalities, also have their share of road peril.

To stay safe from those statistics, John Kennedy, executive director of the Driver and Roadway Safety Department of the National Safety Council, offers these tips.

• Always wear your safety belt and have children in properly installed car seats.
• Stay sober or designate a driver.
• Keep your eyes on the road. Let passengers enjoy the scenery and chat on the phone.
• Maintain a safe following distance from the car in front of you.
• Plan your route ahead of time.
• Give your car a winter once-over: Check ignition, brakes, hoses, fan belts, spark plugs, tire air, headlights, battery, and wipers. Carry a shovel, jumper cables, tool kit, and a bag of salt or cat litter for traction.
• Don’t drive early on Saturday morning. “It’s a very hazardous time. A lot of people are driving under the influence or drowsy,” warns Kennedy. And if you can stay in or use public transportation on New Year’s Eve, do it.

HEALTH.COM: 21 Holiday Health Mistakes

Sledding catastrophes

As George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life could tell you, sledding can be very dangerous. What seems like good, clean family fun causes 33,000 injuries each year, according to the National Safety Council. Before you hit the hill, read these safety tips from the NSC.

• Keep all equipment in good condition.
• Choose a spacious, gently sloping hill free of trees, fences, rocks, or other obstacles—and make sure it doesn’t cross traffic.
• Do not sled on or around frozen lakes, streams, or ponds (like poor little Peter Bailey did).
• Assume the proper position: Sit or lie on your back on the top of the sled, with your feet pointing downhill.
• Wear thick gloves or mittens and protective boots.

Sleep problems

A good night’s rest is often the first thing we sacrifice in the midst of late-night parties, early-morning shopping, and year-end deadlines. For people traveling on vacations or to relatives’ houses, obstacles such as red-eye flights, jet lag, and unfamiliar bedrooms can disrupt z’s as well. But skimping on sleep can lower immunity, increase stress levels, and lead to weight gain; plus, it raises your risk for depression and automobile accidents. As tempting as it is to ignore, it’s important to make sleep a priority to ensure a happy and healthy holiday.

People who take sleeping pills may have their own set of holiday worries: Read about more ways the season can disrupt sleep and medication usage.

Decorating disasters

Decorations sure are pretty, but the fact that more than 5,000 people are injured in decorating-related falls each holiday season is not. To make sure you’re not a statistic this year, do the following when stringing lights or hanging mistletoe.

• Check that the ladder is on secure and level ground.
• Space the ladder 1 foot away from the wall for every 4 feet high it reaches.
• Stay centered between rails and do not overreach.
• Don’t step on the top two rungs.
• For roof access, extend the ladder at least 3 feet above the roof.
• Keep the top and the bottom of the ladder clear of obstacles.
• Make sure the ladder is locked open.

HEALTH.COM: 15 Natural Back Pain Remedies

Stress

Stress around the holidays can be worse than other times because people tend to overcommit themselves,” says Jennifer Caudle, DO, a board-certified family physician and assistant professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, New Jersey. Women especially find the holidays hard to manage. A study from the American Psychological Association found that 44% of women reported increased stress around the holidays compared to 31% of men. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to enlist some help. Say you’re worried the family dinner won’t be prepared on time. Ask others to bring dishes or help you set the table, Caudle suggests.

Holiday shopping

With any shopping trip, you need to watch how much you carry. Going from store to store with several bags could bring on back pain and wear you down. “This is not the time to be a superhero,” Caudle says. “Take breaks so you’re not standing on your feet the entire day.” Another smart move: when shopping at the mall, drop bags off at your car between stores. How you carry and lift heavy objects is also important. “Bend at the knees and tighten the stomach muscles while lifting,” Caudle says. “Hold the item close to you to distribute the weight with legs a good distance apart.”

Food poisoning

Each year, about 48 million people are hospitalized because of foodborne diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With all the food made around the holidays, it’s a prime time to get sick. You should be mindful of preparing meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs especially, Caudle says. Use separate cutting boards and dishes so bacteria can’t spread from one food to the next. Make sure ground meat like is cooked to 160 degrees, chicken reaches 165 degrees, and whole meat (like steak) gets to at least 145 degrees. “Bacteria grow on foods as they drop in temperature,” Caudle says. So don’t leave dishes sitting out for long periods and put away leftovers within two hours, she says.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Research

Study: Brain Abnormalities Found in 40% of SIDS Cases

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A quirk in the brain may be causing unexplained deaths in babies

The unknown cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) could be a brain abnormality, a new study suggests.

A team of researchers reported that around 43% of infants who died of SIDS shared a brain abnormality that affects the area of the brain called the hippocampus, which is responsible for basic functions like breathing and heart rate, in study published in the journal Acta Neuropathologica.

The team from Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office, and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston looked at sections of the hippocampus from 153 infants who underwent an autopsy in San Diego. All of the infants had died suddenly between the years of 1991 and 2012. Some of the infants’ deaths could be explained; those that could not be explained fell were ruled as SIDS. Eighty-three of the cases were classified as SIDS.

MORE: Don’t Count on Smart Baby Monitors To Prevent SIDS

Within the infants with SIDS, the researchers found an abnormality in a part of the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus. Specifically, at some parts of the dentate gyrus, it contained a double layer of nerve cells instead of the typical single layer. It’s possible that this abnormality interferes with the brain’s regulation of breathing control and heart rate while a child is sleeping. This abnormality was found in 43% of the SIDS cases.

Researchers believe that there might be a variety of factors that influence the risk of SIDS, which is why the researchers say not all of the cases had the brain abnormality.

It’s also possible that when a child is sleeping in an unsafe position or environment (it is recommended that infants sleep on their backs), the abnormality is triggered. More research is needed to conclude how exactly this quirk in the brain plays out.

TIME Environment

Vodka Leftovers Can Help Make Driving Safer by Removing Highway Snow

City Of Chicago Prepares For Another Winter Storm
Streets and Sanitation workers in Chicago prepare to load trucks with road salt as the city braces for another winter storm on Feb. 4, 2014 Scott Olson—Getty Images

Scientists are looking to curb the use of road salt, which damages roads, vehicles and the environment

Cold-climate researchers at Washington State University (WSU) are using barley residue from vodka distilleries to develop environment-friendly deicers to combat highway snow.

Every winter season, the U.S. government spends $2.3 billion to remove highway snow and ice, but also another $5 billion to mitigate additional costs the process accrues. Most of the hundreds of tons of salt that is applied to American roads doesn’t degrade, and actually causes damage to the surface, vehicles and the environment.

“In 2013, the [Environmental Protection Agency] reported alarming levels of sodium and chloride in groundwater along the East Coast,” says Xianming Shi, associate professor in civil and environmental engineering in a press release from WSU. As a nation, “we are kind of salt addicted, like with petroleum, as it’s been so cheap and convenient for the last 50 years.”

Shi’s work is part of a U.S. Department of Transportation–funded collaboration between WSU, the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Montana State University.

Apart from developing deicers, the team is working on the technology of smart snowplows, which are equipped with sensors that collect data to help operators regulate the amount of salt they apply. They are also working on software and new types of concrete.

“Our ultimate goal is to apply the best amount of salt, sand or deicers at the right location at the right time,” Shi said.

Any advances would be welcome as road salt is in short supply in northern states, and prices have ballooned by 10% to 30% since last year.

Read next: Road Salt Prices Skyrocket After Last Winter’s Snowstorms

TIME Obesity

You Exercise Less When You Think Life Isn’t Fair

The 'why try' effect gets in the way of weight loss

People who have been the target of weight discrimination—and who believe the practice is widespread—are more likely to give up on exercise than to try to lose weight, according to a new study published in Health Psychology.

The online study of more than 800 Americans specifically looked at whether participants believed in “a just world,” or in this case, the belief that their positive actions will lead to good results. People who experienced weight bias in the past and didn’t believe in a just world were more likely to say they didn’t plan to exercise than those who did believe the world is just. In a separate part of the study, participants primed with anecdotes designed to suggest that the world is unjust were more likely to say they didn’t plan to exercise.

Experiencing discrimination leads some people to adopt a pessimistic view of the world, and they accept negative stereotypes about themselves, including the belief that they’re lazy, said study author Rebecca Pearl. “When someone feels bad about themselves and is applying negative stereotypes to themselves, they give up on their goals,” said Pearl, a researcher at Yale University, referring to a phenomenon known as the “why try” effect.

It’s an area of conflicting research. Some previous studies found that weight discrimination leads to weight loss, while others concluded that weight discrimination discourages exercise. Belief in a just world may be the factor that distinguishes between the two, Pearl said. People who think their exercise will pay off are more likely to try.

Because believing in a just world is key to losing weight, Pearl said that legislation and other public policy efforts could act as a “buffer against loss of sense of fairness.”

“It’s important for doctors to be aware of what people are experiencing, to know that these experiences might have real effects on people’s confidence,” Pearl said.

TIME

Your Pharmacist Called. You Owe $1.3 trillion

A new report predicts that drug spending will shoot up 30% by 2018

Here’s a shocker: global spending on drugs is going up. Way up.

A new report from IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics projects the world will shell out $1.3 trillion for medications in 2018, a 30% increase over the figure in 2013.

The proliferation of new, pricey specialty medications like Sovaldi, Gilead’s $84,000 Hepatitis C wonder drug, has something to do with this spending increase, particularly in developed markets, but so does an aging population and increased accessibility of healthcare around the globe.

Take the U.S., the world’s largest drug market, where spending is forecast to rise 11.7% in 2014. New innovative treatments— particularly for cancer, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders—are one bigger driver for this, but so is Obamacare, which has expanded the number of individuals receiving medical care. (The spending increase in the U.S. this year was particularly dramatic because of the small number of drugs that went off patent. Also, the $1.3 trillion figure does not reflect the impact of rebates and discounts, pricing adjustments that are increasingly common in the modern health care landscape.)

A growing middle class and the adoption of universal healthcare is fueling drug spending in other parts of the world. Generics, rather than branded drugs, dominate these markets: IMS predicts spending on pain medication, the largest category of drugs in developing marketing, will increase roughly 10% annually. (IMS pegs the compound annual growth rate at between 8% and 11%.)

The rise in drug spending isn’t inexorable. The research firm points out that France and Spain are likely to see drug spending decrease, thanks in part to cost containment efforts.

The world is in a relative sweet spot for drug innovation. Whisked along by the FDA’s new breakthrough drug designations, the number of launches of novel medications will remain high in the coming years, IMS says. That’s particularly true in oncology. Cancer drugs account for 30% of the world’s pharmaceutical pipeline, and sales are expected to top $100 billion in 2018, largely because of breakthrough immunotherapy treatments.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Research

Study Suggests Banking Industry Breeds Dishonesty

Bank industry culture “seems to make [employees] more dishonest,” a study author says

Bank employees are more likely to exhibit dishonesty when discussing their jobs, a new study found.

Researchers out of Switzerland tested employees from several industries during a coin-toss game that offered money if their coins matched researcher’s. According to Reuters, there was “a considerable incentive to cheat” given the maximum pay-off of $200. One hundred and twenty-eight employees from one bank were tested and were found to be generally as honest as everyone else when asked questions about their personal lives prior to flipping the coin, the Associated Press reports. But when they were asked about work before the toss, they were more inclined toward giving false answers, the study determined.

The author of the study says bankers are not any more dishonest than other people, but that the culture of the industry “seems to make them more dishonest.”

The American Bankers Association rebuffed the study’s findings to the AP.

“While this study looks at one bank, America’s 6,000 banks set a very high bar when it comes to the honesty and integrity of their employees. Banks take the fiduciary responsibility they have for their customers very seriously,” the Association said.

[AP]

TIME Research

7 DIY Health Cures Anyone Can Do

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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

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

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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

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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.

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