TIME Heart Disease

Moderate Amounts of Coffee May Help Keep Arteries Clear, Study Says

Man on desk holding cup of coffee, close up
Getty Images

Coffee in your veins may actually be healthy

Drinking three to five cups of coffee per day may help to reduce signs of blocked arteries, says a new study out of South Korea.

Published Monday in the medical journal Heart, the study involved more than 25,000 male and female workers, who previously showed no signs of heart disease, looking for calcium buildups indicating plaque growth that can cause heart attacks and strokes.

The results showed that those who drank the least amount of coffee, and the most, had a larger amount of calcium in their arteries than those who consumed a moderate amount.

Interestingly, researchers also discovered that the findings were consistent through different subsectors, such as smokers, drinkers and those with obesity issues.

“While this study does highlight a potential link between coffee consumption and lower risk of developing clogged arteries, more research is needed to confirm these findings and understand what the reason is for the association,” Victoria Taylor of the British Heart Foundation told the BBC.

Taylor also noted that the results should not be generalized because different cultures have distinct lifestyle and dietary customs that may also contribute to cardiovascular health.

TIME Research

Eating Peanuts May Be a Low-Cost Way to Improve Your Cardiovascular Health

Closed Up Image of a Black-colored Plate Filled With Peanuts.
DAJ—Amana Images RF/Getty Images

But don’t go nuts

Eating peanuts could be associated with a longer, healthier lifespan and particularly a reduced risk of cardiovascular-related deaths such as heart attacks and strokes, a new study has found.

Researchers from Vanderbilt University and the Shanghai Cancer Institute examined nut intake for people from different ethnic groups and lower-income households.

As peanuts (which are actually legumes) are rich in nutrients and are inexpensive to buy, they could be a cost-effective way to improve cardiovascular health, reports Science Daily.

“In our study, we found that peanut consumption was associated with reduced total mortality and cardiovascular disease mortality in a predominantly low-income black and white population in the U.S., and among Chinese men and women living in Shanghai,” said author of the study, Xiao-Ou Shu.

Previous studies have linked eating nuts to a lower mortality but had generally focused on higher-income, white populations. Researchers claim the new study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine is the first to discover all races could potentially benefit from eating nuts.

They examined three large groups involving more than 70,000 black and white men and women living in the U.S. and more than 130,000 men and women living in Shanghai.

The results found that those who ate peanuts across all three groups had improved total mortality and less cardiovascular disease.

But scientists warn that the study was based on observational data collected from questionnaires, rather than clinical trials, so they cannot determine whether peanuts are specifically responsible for a lower risk of death.

“The findings from this new study, however, reinforce earlier research suggesting health benefits from eating nuts, and thus are quite encouraging,” said William Blot, co-author of the study.

While peanuts may be linked to better cardiovascular health, experts caution against eating too many, especially salted nuts, as they are high in calories.

Researchers say a small handful of nuts could be beneficial if eaten as part of a well-balanced diet.

[Science Daily]

TIME Research

A New Treatment for Migraines Is Showing Promising Results

485221893
Getty Images

Treating migraines effectively might have gotten a lot easier, according to a new study published this month.

Researchers at the Albany Medical Center claim that a new innovative treatment offers chronic migraine sufferers prolonged relief from the debilitating headaches.

During the procedure, clinicians insert a spaghetti-size catheter through the patient’s nasal passages and administer lidocaine to the sphenopalatine ganglion — a nerve bundle behind the nose that is associated with migraines. It should be noted that no needles actually touch the patient during the process.

“When the initial numbing of the lidocaine wears off, the migraine trigger seems to no longer have the maximum effect that it once did,” said Dr. Kenneth Mandato, the study’s lead researcher at Albany Medical Center.

Following the procedure, 88% of patients reported that they required less or no migraine medication to provide additional pain relief.

[Science Daily]

Read next: 8 Things You Don’t Know About Supplements

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME astronomy

Scientists Find a Black Hole 12 Billion Times More Massive Than the Sun

An artist's illustration shows a supermassive black hole with millions to billions times the mass of our sun at the center released by NASA on February 27, 2013.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout/Reuters An artist's illustration shows a supermassive black hole with millions to billions times the mass of our sun at the center released by NASA on February 27, 2013.

It's discovery appears to confound current theories about how black holes are created

A team of international astronomers has discovered a black hole of almost unimaginable proportions.

At 12 billion times more massive than the sun, it challenges current cosmological thinking, reports Reuters.

“Our discovery presents a serious challenge to theories about the black hole growth in the early universe,” lead researcher Xue-Bing Wu for Peking University, China told the news agency.

The enormous object was formed 900 million years after the Big Bang, and scientists are stumped as to how a black hole of that size could have grown in such a relatively short time.

“Current theory is for a limit to how fast a black hole can grow, but this black hole is too large for that theory,” said fellow researcher Dr. Fuyan Bian, of Australian National University.

Not only is the black hole the biggest ever seen but also it’s at the center of the largest quasar ever discovered. (Quasars are the brightest and most powerful objects in the universe, with this one emitting huge amounts of energy and light as matter is ripped apart by the black hole at its core.)

For comparison, the black hole at the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way, has only about four to five million times the mass of the Sun.

The black hole was discovered by a team of global scientists at Peking University, China, tasked with mapping the northern sky, and their findings were published in the journal Nature.

[Reuters]

Read next: This Is How Incredible (and Terrifying) Space Looks in Virtual Reality

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Research

You Asked: Why Is My Scalp So Itchy?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

It’s probably dandruff. But everything you’ve heard about dandruff is wrong.

Itches are inscrutable. They arrive unannounced and recede at the rake of a fingernail. But the stubborn kind—the type that skittle across your scalp with terrible regularity—tend to have an easily identifiable cause: Dandruff.

“People think dandruff has to do with dry skin, but it’s actually a problem with how the skin cells on your scalp turn over or replace themselves,” says Dr. Adam Friedman, director of dermatologic research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Your skin is constantly shedding layers of cells while manufacturing new ones, and Friedman says this process can be touchy. “Producing too many cells too quickly can lead to a build-up of dead skin, and this build-up itches and flakes off,” he explains. “That’s dandruff.”

What causes this over-production of skin cells? Anything that puts stress on your immune system—from cold winter temperatures to a crazy week at the office—can switch on certain genetic proteins that speed up the production of skin cells, Friedman says. (Other skin conditions—acne, eczema—also flare up when you’re stressed.)

Yeast microorganisms living on your scalp can also mess with your skin’s cell reproduction, says Dr. Anthony Rossi, a dermatologist with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. While usually harmless, these organisms—which live on everyone’s skin—can cause a reaction in some that leads to cell overabundance.

How do you stop the itching and flaking? Dandruff shampoo is a good start. Friedman says these shampoos work by killing scalp microorganisms and turning off the proteins that cause your skin cells to go nuts. That said, shampoos only help if you use them properly. “You’re trying to treat your scalp, so working these into your hair doesn’t do much good,” Friedman says. “You need to massage these products onto your scalp skin and leave them there for a couple minutes before rinsing.” (They aren’t usually very kind to your hair, though.)

He says dandruff shampoos typically include any one of a small number of chemicals that are all pretty much equally effective. While you could wash with them every day without over-drying your scalp, Friedman says this isn’t necessary. “Two or three times a week is plenty,” he says. “And if you don’t see improvement after a few weeks, switching to another product or using them more probably won’t do any good.”

There are many more explanations for an itchy dome. If your scalp is inflamed, red, and itchy, that may be seborrheic dermatitis—a more severe form of dandruff. “Scalp psoriasis is probably the next most common,” Friedman says. It can be hard to tell the difference between the two. But usually the flakes or “plates” of silvery gray plaques associated with scalp psoriasis are larger than dandruff flakes and tougher to brush from your clothing, he says. Scalp psoriasis could also cause some ear or face flaking.

Friedman mentions a few less-common issues: a skin disease called discoid lupus, or an allergic reaction. Rossi says an irritation to hair products like sprays or pomades is another possible itch-instigators. But trying to distinguish between those things and dandruff is really tough, Friedman says.

A good rule of thumb: If you have a red, itchy head and dandruff shampoos aren’t working after a month, see a doctor, he advises. He also cautions against waiting too long if dandruff shampoos don’t get the job done. “If you don’t treat inflammation of the scalp, there’s a chance of skin damage or hair loss,” Friedman says. “There’s often no coming back from that once it happens.”

TIME Research

This ‘Peanut Patch’ Could Protect Against Peanut Allergies

peanuts
Getty Images

Half of those who used the largest patch saw their peanut tolerance increase 10-fold

A small skin patch applied to patients with peanut allergies appears to safely and effectively protect against the sometimes life-threatening condition, researchers said Sunday

“This is exciting news for families who suffer with peanut allergies because Viaskin represents a new treatment option for patients and physicians,” study author Hugh A. Sampson, a doctor at Kravis Children’s Hospital at Mount Sinai, said in a statement.

The patch exposed patients to a small dose of peanut protein, ranging from 50 to 250 micrograms, for the course of the study. The study, which evaluated more than 200 patients with peanut allergies for a year, found that the treatment worked, particularly for patients who used the 250-microgram patch. Half of those who used the largest patch saw their peanut tolerance increase 10-fold. Tolerance increased 19-fold for some children treated with the 250-microgram patch.

The researchers, who presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, reported no serious side effects to the treatment.

“EPIT appears safe, well tolerated and effective,” Sampson said. “That’s good news for families who suffer from food allergies.”

Read next: 5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Gluten

TIME Research

Why Washing Dishes by Hand May Lead to Fewer Allergies

168849264
Getty Images

A new study shows kids in families who hand-wash their dishes have fewer allergies

Households worldwide now have extra incentive for getting family members to do the dishes: It could prevent the development of allergies.

A new and preliminary study, published in the journal Pediatrics, adds to an increasing body of evidence that suggests getting a little dirty does the immune system some good. That thinking is known as the “hygiene hypothesis,” which speculates that the reason kids develop so many allergies today is because their environments are just too clean. Without exposure to bacteria early in life, children’s immune systems don’t become as hardy as they could be.

Research over the years has linked a variety of early lifestyle factors, like having pets, eating fish and living on a farm to a significantly lower risk of developing allergies. Now this new study suggests that hand washing dishes might be the next behavior to add to the list.

“If you are exposed to microbes, especially early in life, you stimulate the immune system in various ways and it becomes tolerant,” says study author Dr. Bill Hesselmar of Queen Silvia Children’s Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden. “We thought [hand washing dishes] might be important, but we didn’t know, so we asked that question.”

Hesselmar and his team surveyed the parents and guardians of 1,029 Swedish children ages 7 to 8. They discovered that children in homes where the family hand-washed the dishes instead of using a machine were less likely to have allergies. Only 23% of children whose parents used hand dishwashing had a history of eczema, compared with 38% of kids whose families mainly used machine dishwashing. The researchers also found that the result was amplified when kids ate fermented food or food bought directly from farms.

Though the study is only observational and can’t confirm causality, Hesselmar and his team have a few speculations.

It’s not necessarily that the kids are washing the dishes themselves and becoming exposed to bacteria. That might be one form of exposure, but as Hesselmar notes, some of the kids might be too young for that chore. Instead, it could be that long-term use of hand-washed dishes does the trick. Prior research comparing the cleanliness of dishes washed by hand to those washed by machine has shown that machine washing is more efficient and leaves fewer bacteria behind. Living in a household that hand-washes means family members are eating off of plates and cutlery that have more bacteria, and therefore more microbial exposure.

Families who hand-wash may also have other lifestyle factors that contribute to a lower allergy risk. The researchers note that overcrowded housing, low socioeconomic status and immigration status can also be linked to fewer allergies, as well as possibly different modes of dish washing.

“The study was really well done and caveated well, while simultaneously suggesting new areas of research and interesting models,” says Jonathan A. Eisen, a professor at the University of California at Davis. Eisen, who was not involved in the study, is an expert on exposure to microbial communities.

The study still leaves a few questions unanswered, like why hand washing was only associated with a lower likelihood of eczema and not other allergy-related symptoms like asthma, or why the effect was so significant even though dish washing requires the use of soaps, possibly even antibacterial products. Hesselmar says they are asking the same questions and hope to continue looking into the link.

Read next: This ‘Peanut Patch’ Could Protect Against Peanut Allergies

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Research

Are YouTube Videos With Alcohol Dangerous?

98324578
Getty Images

A new study shows popular YouTube videos make light of alcohol

Prior research has suggested that teen media exposure to alcohol, whether through TV shows or movies, could influence their drinking behaviors. Now, a new study suggests that online videos may also be a site for negative exposure.

In the new study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, a team of researchers watched 70 of the most popular videos on YouTube related to intoxication in order to see what kinds of messages they were sending.

To do that, the researchers searched for the terms “drunk,” “buzzed,” “hammered,” “tipsy,” and “trashed” and chose the most popular and relevant videos in those categories. In order to characterize the videos, they coded each one for a variety of factors, like how much alcohol was depicted, who the characters were and whether the video showed consequences of binge drinking. Overall, the videos contained more men than women, and usually depicted a specific brand. Rarely did the videos show poor side effects like withdrawal.

The videos with the most “likes” tended to be funny, and the overall vibe of the video was upbeat and positive when a specific brand was mentioned. Hard alcohol was the most common beverage featured, even though beer is the most common alcoholic beverage consumed in the United States, the authors note.

In the study, the researchers didn’t make any connections between watching the videos and drinking more or drinking more dangerously. But their findings shed light on what alcohol-related content is available online. The findings are still preliminary, but online videos may be another way to target young people who might be susceptible to messaging.

Conversely, the researchers also view YouTube as a potential venue to reach young people with positive messages about drinking as well. Videos could educate teenagers about the potential consequences of behaviors like binge drinking. Either way, YouTube may be worth further consideration by public health experts, they note.

TIME Research

A Home Screening Test for the Bloom Syndrome Gene Has Been Approved

119021558
Getty Images

Similar genetic testing devices will also soon be exempt from the FDA's premarket review protocols

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has allowed Google-backed company 23andMe to begin marketing a home genetic test for Bloom Syndrome — an inherited condition characterized by shortness of height and increased risk of cancer.

The FDA also announced that it intends to exempt similar genetic testing devices from its premarket review protocol.

Screening tests are largely used by prospective parents who are concerned that their future children may inherent harmful genetic disorders.

“Today’s authorization … along with FDA’s intent to exempt these devices from FDA premarket review, supports innovation and will ultimately benefit consumers” stated spokesman Alberto Gutierrez.

TIME Research

Why Smoking Pot Brings On the ‘Munchies’

a stock photograph of pizza
Getty Images

Marijuana can shake up the chemicals in your brain

Wherever marijuana is smoked, the consumption of snacks usually follows — and a new study suggests that’s because pot causes changes in brain circuitry that make you hungry.

Pot heads and scientists alike have long known that marijuana can make a person crave food, a phenomena known colloquially as the munchies. But the evidence is still cloudy when it comes to why this happens. So a team of Yale researchers set off to figure it out.

In a new study published in the journal Nature, the researchers discovered that cannabinoids from marijuana actually interfere with signaling in the brain that causes the body to feel hungry when it should be feeling full. To do so, they looked at the brains of high mice.

The researchers observed that the neurons in the mice brains that make them feel sated, called POMCs, were activated in those who were given a chemical to mimic marijuana in the brain. At first, it didn’t make any sense. If the neuron in the brain that inhibits hunger is activated, then shouldn’t the mice be much less hungry? Not hungrier?

What the team discovered was that the cannabinoids interfere with the chemical POMCs’ release — so that when the mice were “sober,” the neurons released a satiety chemical. But when the mice were “high,” their neurons released a chemical that spurs appetite.

“It’s like pressing a car’s brakes and accelerating instead,” said study author Tamas Horvath in a statement. “We were surprised to find that the neurons we thought were responsible for shutting down eating, were suddenly being activated and promoting hunger, even when you are full. It fools the brain’s central feeding system.”

The new findings join the many working theories looking at why marijuana causes hunger. A study from last February, for example, suggests that the THC in marijuana activates smell receptors which causes hunger. The new results are still preliminary and require further research. For now, the jury is still out.

Read next: This Event Will Teach Businesspeople How to Buy Pot

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com