TIME Research

E-Cigs Weaken Immune Systems in Mice, Study Says

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Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Latest study underscores the need for more research into electronic cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes can weaken the immune response in mice, putting them at higher risk for infections like the flu or strep, a new study finds.

The researchers exposed mice to e-cig vapor at comparable concentrations to human users for two weeks. The researchers then exposed the mice to strep and flu, comparing their responses to mice that hadn’t been exposed to the e-cig vapor. The results showed that the mice exposed to e-cig vapor had weakened immune defenses in their lungs and were more susceptible to the infections. The mice exposed to the flu virus were more likely to contract the illness and to die from it.

MORE: What to Know About the Science of E-cigarettes.

The study looked only at mice, not at humans, but the results underscore the need for further research into the effects of e-cigarettes on humans. “E-cig exposure as an alternative to cigarette smoking must be rigorously tested in users for their effects on immune response and susceptibility to bacterial and viral infections,” wrote the authors of the study published in the peer-reviewed journal, PLOS ONE. Lead author Thomas Sussan is a scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

TIME Research

There’s a Smartphone Attachment That Will Test for HIV in 15 Minutes

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The device has the potential to save millions of lives

A team of researchers from Columbia University have developed a device that can be plugged into a smartphone and used to quickly test for HIV and syphilis.

The mobile device tests for three infectious-disease markers in just 15 minutes by using a finger-prick of blood, and draws all the power it needs from the smartphone, Science Daily reports.

The accessory costs an estimated $34 to make and is capable of replicating tests done in a laboratory using equipment that costs many thousands of dollars.

Samuel K. Sia, head researcher and associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia, described the smartphone accessory as “full laboratory quality.”

Because it can be easily used in remote and impoverished areas, like rural Africa, it is hoped the small but effective smartphone accessory will save millions of lives from sexually transmitted diseases.

[Science Daily]

TIME Research

23andMe Finds Genes for Motion Sickness

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The personal genomics company 23andMe has identified 35 genetic factors tied to motion sickness, according to a new study published in the journal Human Molecular Genetics.

In what the company says is the first ever genome-wide study looking at motion sickness, 23andMe was able to determine several genes that may be tied to the nausea associated with movement in a car or on a boat. Motion sickness affects around one in three people, and prior research has suggested that it could be hereditary.

The researchers, who are employed by 23andMe (or have been in the past) and own stock options in the company, used genetic data from more than 80,000 23andMe customers. They found that many of these genetic factors were involved in balance, eye and ear development and the nervous system. Overall, the effect appeared to be stronger in women.

Read more: Genetic Testing Company 23andMe Finds New Revenue With Big Pharma

The study also found links between risk for motion sickness and a greater likelihood of having migraines, morning sickness and vertigo.

It’s still unclear what the actual drivers are, and even if a person has the gene variants linked to motion sickness, it doesn’t mean they will definitely have the condition. Genome-wide association studies like the one performed by 23andMe can only find correlations, but they’re still useful strategies for finding at-risk genes.

TIME Cancer

Lung Cancer Now Kills More Women Than Breast Cancer in Developed Countries

The lingering effects of the tobacco epidemic are partly driving the shift

For years, breast cancer has been the leading cause of cancer death among women in developed countries, but according to a new report on the incidence of cancer worldwide from the American Cancer Society, lung cancer now surpasses it.

A combination of early breast cancer detection efforts and the lingering effects of the tobacco epidemic drove the shift, says lead report author Lindsey Torre, an American Cancer Society researcher. The study, which was published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians and used data from 2012, reported that lung cancer killed 209,000 women in developed countries in 2012, while 197,000 women died of breast cancer.

“We know now that in a lot of developed countries among women, smoking is on the decline,” says Torre, noting that new lung cancer infections today are the result of habits formed decades ago. “The good news is that we can probably expect to see these lung cancer mortality rates peak and start to decline as times go by.”

Read more: The Cancer Breakthrough With Big Implications

The report emphasized the growing incidence of cancer in the developing world. Lung cancer was the leading killer of men in developing countries and breast cancer the leading cause of death for women.

In part, these growing numbers can be attributed to an aging population, a trend that is affecting the world at large. And as the developing world continues to westernize, people in developing countries are increasingly likely to smoke, be overweight and rarely engage in psychical activity, Torre says.

“We’re seeing the burden of cancer shift to developing countries, so they’re taking on an increasing portion of the global cancer burden,” she says.

Cancer killed 8.2 million people worldwide and 1.6 million in the United States in 2012.

TIME

You Asked: Why Does My Eye Twitch?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Your eye spasms, decoded

Little lid spasms are common, but they can sometimes be a sign of trouble.

A slight tremor of the eyelid—the type that shows up without warning but scrams just as suddenly—is usually no cause for concern, explains Dr. Wayne Cornblath, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Michigan’s Kellogg Eye Center. “I think everybody has these once in a while,” Cornblath says. “You rub it, and it eventually stops.”

He’s talking about the kind of whispery muscle spasm that happens in one eyelid (or just a portion of the lid, to be precise). It can be a nuisance, but it usually goes away on its own within a few days, if not a few minutes.

To get rid of eye twitches, you might want to cut back on the caffeine. Too much of it seems to be a trigger, says Cornblath. While the exact mechanisms are a bit of a mystery, research from York University in Canada has shown that caffeine prompts the release of excitatory neurotransmitters like serotonin and noradrenaline. “Caffeine is a stimulant, and it increases reactivity within the muscles and nerves,” Cornblath explains. That may go some way toward explaining how caffeine causes occasional bouts of eyelid quivering, he says.

Getting too little sleep also seems to have an effect, though the reasons why are less clear. “Research has shown a correlation, and we know that getting more sleep can help, but we don’t know why,” Cornblath says. The same can be said for muscle spasms in general, which are quite common but confound explanation. “You hear about low potassium or dehydration, but there doesn’t seem to be much hard evidence,” Cornblath says.

Stress may also play a role, says Dr. Rebecca Taylor, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. When you’re frazzled, you produce more epinephrine—a fight-of-flight molecule that primes your body for action. This heightened state of muscle arousal may manifest itself in small contractions or spasms, like the one in your eyelid, Taylor says.

In rare cases, when people address these sleep and stress issues and the twitch persists, Cornblath says a single treatment of Botox resolves the problem. Botox temporarily “shuts off” the connection between muscles and nerves, he explains.

Eyelid spasms are usually benign. But that’s not necessarily the case if the twitch spreads, Cornblath and Taylor both say. “If you’re experiencing spasms lower in your face or neck, that’s another story,” Cornblath says.

It’s not as common, but having a spasm in one side of your face—hemifacial spasm—is definitely something to talk to a doctor about, Taylor says. So is another condition, called a bletharospasm, where the whole eyelid closes or blinks involuntarily. There are a handful of potential explanations for both of them, and an eye doctor can help you figure out what’s going on, she recommends.

Back to that irksome little lid twitch: if it lasts for months, get it checked out. But in most cases, it’ll be gone in the blink of an eye.

Read next: Why Am I Cold All The Time?

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TIME Research

There’s a Growing Health Gap Between Rich and Poor Teens

International efforts to improve health for the under-5-year-olds are not being matched for older children, a new study reveals

Disparities in health between rich and poor adolescents grew globally during the first decade of this century, according to a survey conducted in 34 countries in Europe and North America.

The study, published in the Lancet, reports that “socioeconomic differences across multiple areas of adolescent mental and physical health increased between 2002 and 2010.”

According to the research, adolescents from the most impoverished socioeconomic groups are more likely to suffer from poor health thanks to diminished physical activity and larger body mass indices.

“A strong international focus on reducing child poverty and mortality in children under five years has not been matched by a similar response in older age groups, resulting in widening socioeconomic inequalities in adolescent health,” says Frank Elgar, a psychiatry professor at McGill University in Montreal.

Researchers behind the study relied on data compiled from 500,000 young people from across Europe and North America who participated in a World Health Organization survey.

[Science Daily]

TIME psychology

10 Things That Will Prevent You From Getting Sick, Backed By Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Look at pictures of sick people.

Via The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature:

Being exposed to photographs of individuals spreading their germs (e.g., via sneezing or coughing) is sufficient to elicit a boost in one’s immunological defense system.

It’s legit. Here’s the study he’s referring to:

An experiment (N = 28) tested the hypothesis that the mere visual perception of disease-connoting cues promotes a more aggressive immune response. Participants were exposed either to photographs depicting symptoms of infectious disease or to photographs depicting guns. After incubation with a model bacterial stimulus, participants’ white blood cells produced higher levels of the proinflammatory cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) in the infectious-disease condition, compared with the control (guns) condition. These results provide the first empirical evidence that visual perception of other people’s symptoms may cause the immune system to respond more aggressively to infection. Adaptive origins and functional implications are discussed.

Source: “Mere visual perception of other people’s disease symptoms facilitates a more aggressive immune response.” from Psychol Sci. 2010 May; 21(5):649-52. Epub 2010 Apr 2.

You looked at the picture above, right? Your immune system is already stronger. (You’re welcome.)

There are a number of other simple research-based tips for staying healthy and dodging illness:

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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Read next: Here’s How Much Experts Think You Should Sleep Every Night

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Research

Here’s How Much Experts Think You Should Sleep Every Night

The National Sleep Foundation releases new recommendations

A national panel of sleep experts released new recommendations Monday that call for more hours of sleep for most young people.

The National Sleep Foundation, a nonprofit aimed at promoting healthy sleep and safety, says the amount of sleep a person needs is highly variable and that some people need more than others. Still, the new hour ranges for each age group recommend more hours for infants, kids and teens:

  • Newborns (0-3 months ): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
  • Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
  • Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
  • School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
  • Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
  • Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
  • Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)

MORE The Power of Sleep

To come up with the new recommendations, the foundation put together a panel of 18 scientists and researchers from prominent medical associations in the United States and asked them to review over 300 studies on how much sleep is ideal. The panel then voted on how much sleep is appropriate at different ages.

Getting too little sleep and getting too much sleep are both unhealthy behaviors that can lead to a variety of consequences from grogginess to weight gain.

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Read next: Let Your Kids Sleep More For Better Grades

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TIME Environment

Climate Change Is Making the Land in Iceland Rise

Blue Lagoon Iceland
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Study is the first to demonstrate the link between climate change and rising land

Land in Iceland is rising at a pace of as much as 1.4 inches per year in certain areas as a result of climate change, according to a new study. The melting of the country’s glaciers reduces pressure on the land below and allows the surface to rise, researchers say.

“Our research makes the connection between recent accelerated uplift and the accelerated melting of the Icelandic ice caps,” study co-author Kathleen Compton, a University of Arizona researcher, said in a statement.

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, relied on data from 62 global positioning system receivers placed throughout Iceland that allowed researchers to track the land’s movement.

MORE: The Senate Discovers Climate Change!

While scientists have noticed the rise in land levels in certain areas across the globe, this study is the first to demonstrate the link between climate change and rising land, the researchers say.

“Iceland is the first place we can say accelerated uplift means accelerated ice mass loss,” said study co-author Richard Bennett, a professor at the University of Arizona.

TIME psychology

The Simple Secret to Happiness Most People Get Wrong, Backed by Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Focus on increasing the amount of good stuff in your life vs. reducing the amount of bad stuff. Studies show that it really is the little things in life that make us happy.

Researchers often tout the happiness-increasing powers of both religion and exercise. One of the lesser known reasons why they’re so effective is because both provide regular, frequent boosts.

You may be focused on a big goal, something that you’re sure will make you super-happy for a long time… but you’re probably misguided. When it comes to happiness, frequency beats intensity.

Why? One reason is that it’s harder to take for granted a lot of little things vs one, big rare event. Another reason is that “in everyday life, bad events have stronger and more lasting consequences than comparable good events” — so we need more good to make up for unexpected misfortunes.

This “more good beats less bad” theory works across many domains:

With friends:

The best way to maximize happiness when having meals with friends is for one person to take a turn each time paying for everyone’s dinner. It’s a big hit but it results in many more “free” meals for everyone, boosting happiness.

At work:

The best work teams had a five to one ratio of positive vs negative interactions together.

In relationships:

Divorce may have less to do with an increase in conflict and more to do with a decrease in positive feelings. Wanna stay together? Do exciting stuff to keep things fun.

But what if creating more good things in your life is difficult due to constraints of time or money?

Just savoring the good moments you do have (even little ones) is the single most proven method for increasing happiness. It’s effectively treated people withmild/moderate depression. Reliving fun moments with your partner can improve a relationship. Savoring the good things in life is one of the secrets of the happiest people.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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