TIME Diet/Nutrition

You Asked: Can Water Go Bad?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Does drinking old water make you sick?

That depends, says Dr. Kellogg Schwab, director of the Johns Hopkins University Water Institute. As soon as you take a sip, your lips and mouth introduce microorganisms into your H2O. Combined with the ambient temperature in your home or office, and sunlight streaming into your windows, those microorganisms could start to multiply pretty quickly, Schwab says.

“If you have clean water in a clean glass, you’re fine for a day or two,” he says, adding that almost all tap water in the U.S. contains chlorine additives that will kill small communities of microorganisms. But if you’ve ever swigged a sip of day-old water from bedside your bed or on your desk and wondered why it tastes funny, that’s because after about 12 hours it goes flat and, as carbon dioxide from the air interacts with the H2O in your glass, it slightly lowering its pH. “But it’s most likely safe to drink,” Schwab adds.

He says reusing the same dirty glass day after day will raise you risk of exposure to some unfriendly bacteria—especially if someone else is sipping from your vessel and mixing his or her mouth microorganisms with yours. But assuming you grab a new cup every few days? “You’re probably not going to have a problem,” Schwab assures, adding that, “This is far from the top of the list of public health concerns.”

One possible exception: Touching the rim of your glass with dirty fingers—especially if you (or whoever unloaded the dishwasher) forgot to wash up after using the bathroom. There are lots of different sickness-causing bacteria in human waste, and if you handle your glass with dirty hands, those bacteria could make their way into your water, Schwab warns.

But what about that plastic water bottle on the floor of your car? Heat and plastic are a bad combination, he stresses. “A chemical called bisphenol-A, or BPA, along with other things used to manufacture plastic can leach into your water if the bottle heats up or sits in the sun,” he explains. BPA is a hormone disruptor that research has tentatively linked to several health hazards, including heart disease and cancer. Schwab says the types of plastic used for bottling water aren’t meant to be washed or refilled, so use them once and recycle them. Or better yet, use refillable containers made of metal or glass.

When it comes to storing water for long periods, the answer is “Yes,” your H2O can certainly become unsafe to drink, says Zane Satterfield, an engineer scientist with the National Environmental Services Center at West Virginia University. “Most experts will tell you tap water has a shelf-life of six months,” Satterfield says. “After that point, the chlorine dissipates to the point that bacteria and algae start to grow.” That growth will speed up if you store your water in a warm or sunny spot—or in a glass container that hasn’t been thoroughly washed or sealed, he adds.

If you’re a doomsday hoarder with giant vats of pre-packaged water in your basement, you should know that will last at least a year. But after 12 months you’re best off swapping out what you have for fresh stores, Satterfield advises. “You’ll see that some of the water will evaporate during that time, which is proof that the plastic isn’t impermeable,” he explains.

If you want to play it safe when it comes to water that’s been stored for long periods, Satterfield says adding a few drops of plain, unscented bleach and waiting 30 minutes will make your water safe to drink. (Specifically, that’s four drops per gallon, he adds.) Good to know in case of an apocalypse—zombie or otherwise.

TIME Research

Here’s How Much Money the ALS Ice-Water Stunt Has Collected

More than $1 million was raised over the weekend

As people continue to dump ice on their heads, money continues to roll in. The ALS Association national office reported collecting $5.5 million in donations since July 29, compared with $32,00o in the same time period last year. Nearly 150,000 new donors have contributed.

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve seen the videos of people taking on the Ice Bucket Challenge, where, apparently in the name of awareness-raising about Lou Gehrig’s disease, people have been pouring buckets of ice water over their heads and then challenging others to do the same on social media. According to the ALS Association, the challenge has also resulted in lots of money, too.

Since July 29, when the campaign kicked off, more than 71,000 donors have donated $2.3 million dollars to the national ALS Association, the organization said. The organization collected $25,000 in the same period last year. The $2.3 million figure includes nearly $1 million raised since Monday afternoon.

ALS Association spokeswoman Carrie Munk said the organization is “thrilled and completely amazed” at the sum they’ve raised and the public awareness the campaign has generated. She expressed awe at the quick rate at which the campaign has grown and said it’s difficult to anticipate how much it might ultimately raise. More than a million dollars came in over the weekend alone.

Who would have thought dumping ice on your head could be so profitable?

 

TIME Research

Ingredients in Antibacterial Soap Could Put Fetuses at Risk

FDA Proposes Makers Of Antibacterial Soaps To Prove Their Effectiveness
Bottles of antibacterial soap are seen on a grocery store shelf in Miami on December 17, 2013 Joe Raedle—Getty Images

Researchers say pregnant women and fetuses exposed to common ingredients found in antibacterial soaps and other germ-killing products could suffer health risks

Adding to the evidence against the safety of antibacterial soaps, researchers have found that pregnant women and fetuses that are exposed to triclosan and triclocarban — two common ingredients found in germ-killing soap — could face health risks.

The report released by the American Chemical Society (ACS), which will be presented at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the ACS, found that pregnant women and their fetuses were being exposed to antimicrobials, an agent that kills micro-organisms. “We found triclosan in all of the urine samples from the pregnant women that we screened. We also detected it in about half of the umbilical-cord blood samples we took, which means it transfers to fetuses. Triclocarban was also in many of the samples,” one of the researchers, Benny Pycke, told ACS.

Researchers also found a link between women with high levels of butyl paraben — an antimicrobial found in many cosmetics — and shorter newborn lengths, although the long-term consequences of this remains unclear.

The research led by Rolf Halden, a professor at Arizona State University, adds to previous studies proving that antibacterial products could also cause bacterial resistance and a decrease in thyroid hormones. In reaction to the growing controversy surrounding antimicrobials, the Food and Drug Administration announced in December 2013 that antibacterial hand soap and body wash manufacturers would have to prove that their products were safe for long-term use and were more effective than regular soap at eliminating germs.

However, only removing a few products from the shelves may not eliminate exposure to the deleterious effects of antimicrobials. Scientists say the ingredients are difficult to avoid because they are found in over 2,000 products including paints, soaps, detergents and toothpastes.

At the very least, the ACS says the findings are alerting policymakers and adding additional pressure on companies to remanufacture their products to remain on the market. Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble have already planned to remove triclosan from some products.

TIME Health Care

Even Dentists Disagree On How To Brush Your Teeth

Young boy brushing teeth, Italy
Getty Images

A study describes the different views as 'unacceptably inconsistent'

What’s the right way to brush your teeth? New research suggests that the experts don’t really know.

The study, published in the British Dental Journal, said that teeth-brushing advice provided to consumers is “unacceptably inconsistent” in its description of how often to brush and for how long.

“The wide range of recommendations we found is likely due to the lack of strong evidence suggesting that one method is conclusively better than another,” said lead author John Wainwright in a University College London press release.

The discrepancy is problematic, Wainwright said, because it leads to distrust in dentists and their profession.

“For something most people do twice a day, you would expect dentists to send a clearer, more unified message to their patients on how to brush their teeth,” said Wainwright, who now works as a dentist.

Hopefully the dental community doesn’t brush off his advice.

TIME Japan

Science Scandal Triggers Suicide, Soul-Searching in Japan

Sasai, deputy director of the Riken's Center for Developmental Biology, poses for a photo with Haruko Obokata in front of a screen showing STAP cells, in Kobe
Yoshiki Sasai, right, deputy director of the Riken's Center for Developmental Biology, poses for a photo with Haruko Obokata on Jan. 28, 2014. Kyodo/Reuters

Yoshiki Sasai’s death has generated mixed emotions among Japan's scientific community

It was a success story that Japan sorely needed: a young, talented and beautiful researcher developed a cheap and simple way to grow versatile stem cells.

The discovery promised to usher in a new age of regenerative medicine, validated Japan as a leader in scientific research and demonstrated that even in a male-dominated society, women could excel when given a chance.

Alas, it may have been too good to be true.

Intrigued by researcher Haruko Obokata’s breakthrough, other scientists tried but failed to replicate her results. Peer-review websites accused her of falsifying data and doctoring images, and supervisors were accused of lax management. Obokata, 30, was forced to retract her scientific papers, and the government-sponsored research center where she worked launched a formal investigation.

The matter took a darker turn this week when Obokata’s supervisor and mentor, Yoshiki Sasai, a noted scientist in his own right, was found hanging from a stairway railing at his office.

In farewell letters found at his desk, Sasai reportedly apologized for the turmoil, but urged Obokata to continue her work and to prove her detractors wrong.

Sasai’s death cast a pall over the controversy. But in a nation where suicide does not carry the same stigma as in some Western countries, there has been a certain degree of sympathy — if not outright approval.

“This is seen in some respects as an honorable way out of a shameful and devastating turn of events: ‘A highflyer brought low by an underling’s mistakes, seeking to atone for and expunge the shame,’” says Jeffrey Kingston, a professor of Asian studies at Tokyo’s Temple University-Japan. “This touches a chord of sympathy and understanding in Japan.”

Sasai was a noted stem-cell scientist and deputy director of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology, in Kobe — part of a national research system that receives roughly $1 billion a year in government support and is part of an ambitious effort to boost scientific research throughout Japan.

The 52-year-old was not directly involved in Obokata’s research, but had helped recruit her and supervised the research papers that were published in the British journal Nature in January.

But whether Sasai’s death generates sympathy for Obokata or the rest of Japan’s scientific community remains to be seen.

Obokata burst onto the scene in late January with the publication of the Nature papers, of which she was the lead author. Those studies claimed to have found a new way of creating stem cells, dubbed stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency, or STAP. Such cells could be used to create new tissue, with potential for treating illnesses like Alzheimer’s, heart disease and stroke.

Poised and photogenic, Obokata was an instant hit with Japan’s frenetic media —mainstream and social, alike. Here, after all, was a different kind of scientist. Even in the lab, Obokata flashed stylish clothes, false eyelashes and fashionable hairstyles. She eschewed the usual white lab coat in favor of a traditional housewife’s kappogi (a gift from her grandmother, she explained) and had the walls of her lab painted pink and yellow and decorated with cartoon characters.

Even Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has made “womenomics” a key plinth of his economic revival package, noticed. He commended Obokata’s apparent achievement from the floor of Japan’s Parliament and vowed to build “a country where the women are the brightest in the world.”

But it didn’t take long for doubts to surface. Peer-review websites noticed oddities and discrepancies in Obokata’s research. Attempts to replicate her findings failed.

By mid-February, RIKEN had launched an internal investigation. In April, officials charged Obokata with fabricating data, doctoring images and borrowing descriptions from other research papers.

Meanwhile, discrepancies were found in the research of other leading scientists, though none with the public profile of Obokata.

In an excruciating, four-hour press conference televised live by many of Japan’s major networks, a tearful Obokata struggled to maintain her composure. She admitted errors in her research papers, but maintained they were innocent mistakes that did not affect the final results. STAP cells were real, she insisted.

She has remained on the staff at RIKEN but has maintained a low profile, refusing interviews. In July, RIKEN officials announced that she would be allowed to take part in a five-month experiment designed to discover once and for all whether her initial findings were real. Other researchers and video cameras would monitor her work, officials said.

The RIKEN affair has been watched closely by Japan’s scientific community, which has produced its share of Nobel Prizes but is often viewed as insular and underperforming.

“One thing that should not be lost in all this is that Japan produces outstanding science,” says Jonathan Dorfan, a former director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, at Stanford University, and now president of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan.

“People in the scientific community here are paying attention to this, and hopefully that will lead to the kind of training that will avoid an outcome like this happening again.”

TIME Research

Low Vitamin D Increases Risk for Dementia and Alzheimer’s, Study Says

Senior woman covering face with her hands
Getty Images

Research shows a correlation, not a causal link, with the ailments

Elderly people with a moderate-to-severe Vitamin D deficiency are significantly more likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study published this week, confirming a link that was much stronger than what the researchers had anticipated.

An international team of researchers spent six years looking at 1,658 Americans, aged 65 or older, who at the start of the study had not suffered from dementia, cardiovascular disease or a stroke—and who could walk without assistance. The team found that adults who were moderately deficient in Vitamin D were 53% more likely to develop a form of dementia; those with a severe deficiency were 125% more likely to be stricken with the disease.

The researchers emphasized that the study, partially funded by the Alzheimer’s Association and published online in Neurology, shows a correlation between Vitamin D deficiency and dementia but does not establish a causal link.

“Clinical trials are now needed to establish whether eating foods such as oily fish or taking Vitamin D supplements can delay or even prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” the study’s leader, Dr. David Llewellyn of the University of Exeter Medical School, said in a statement. “We need to be cautious at this early stage and our latest results do not demonstrate that low Vitamin D levels cause dementia. That said, our findings are very encouraging, and even if a small number of people could benefit, this would have enormous public health implications given the devastating and costly nature of dementia.”

More than 44 million people around the world suffer from dementia, the researchers note, and that figure could triple by 2050 as the global population quickly ages.

TIME Research

Alzheimer’s Disease Has Been Reversed in Mice

Mice with memory loss were able to regain cognitive function

Though all mice studies should be viewed with quelled excitement, a new Yale School of Medicine study shows that scientists were able to reverse Alzheimer’s disease with a single dose of a drug compound.

The researchers gave mice with Alzheimer’s a compound called TC-2153, which prohibits a protein called STEP (Striatal-Enriched tyrosine Phosphatase) from interfering with the brains’ ability to learn and make memories. Synapses in the brain need to strengthen so that the brain can turn short-term memories into long-term memories, but STEP prevents synapses from doing so, and this can lead to neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s.

The mice with memory loss who were given the compound were able to recover their cognitive function, and the researchers say they were indistinguishable from normal, control mice. The researchers, who published their recent work in the journal PLOS Biology, are now testing the compound’s ability in other animals.

It will still be a long time before a compound like this is tested in humans, but the preliminary finding is encouraging since very few experiments have actually been able to reverse the disease, which currently affects about five million Americans and is expected to grow dramatically in coming years.

TIME Research

Our Brains Immediately Judge People

Brain
Science Photo Library/Corbis

We make calls on trustworthiness almost instantly

Even if we cannot consciously see a person’s face, our brain is able to make a snap decision about how trustworthy they are.

According to a new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the brain immediately determines how trustworthy a face is before it’s fully perceived, which supports the fact that we make very fast judgments about people.

Researchers at Dartmouth College and New York University showed a group of participants photos of real people’s faces, as well as computer-generated faces that were meant to look either trustworthy or untrustworthy. It’s been shown in the past that people generally think that faces with high inner eyebrows and prominent cheekbones are more trustworthy, and the opposite features are untrustworthy, which the researchers were able to confirm.

In a second part of their experiment, the researchers showed a separate group of participants the same images but for only about 30 milliseconds while they were in a brain scanner. They then did something called “backward masking,” which consists of showing a participant an irrelevant image or “mask” immediately after quickly showing them a face. The procedure makes the brain incapable of processing the face.

Even though the patients were not able to process the faces, their brains did. The researchers focused on activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain responsible for social and emotional behavior, and found that specific areas of the amygdala were activated based on judgments of trustworthiness or non-trustworthiness. This, the researchers conclude, is evidence that our brains make judgments of people before we even process who they are or what they look like.

Keep that in mind the next time you’re meeting someone new. No pressure.

TIME Research

A Low Daily Dose of Aspirin Can Cut Deaths From 3 Kinds of Cancer

But you need to take it for at least five years, and probably 10, for the benefits to be seen

Researchers have found that taking aspirin over a period of several years in late middle age can reduce deaths from bowel, esophageal and stomach cancer by 40%, 35% and 50%, respectively, Reuters reports.

The claim is based on a sweeping review of all available research into the harms and benefits of aspirin.

However, researchers stress that the benefits are only apparent if the drug is taken for up to 10 years between the ages of 50 and 65.

The study’s lead author, Professor Jack Cuzick, head of the center for cancer prevention at Queen Mary University of London, said that benefits were only seen after at least five years of low daily doses (about 75 to 100 mg).

Researchers also warned that 60-year-olds who take the drug for 10 years could slightly increase their chances of stomach bleeding, which could prove fatal for a small number of people. Aspirin can also increase the chances of a hemorrhagic stroke, which is caused by the rupture of a blood vessel in the brain.

Cuzick concluded that taking the drug did not relieve users of the obligation to live healthily. Although a daily dose of aspirin can help reduce the risk of some cancers, the drug “should not be seen as a reason for not improving your lifestyle,” Cuzick told the Guardian.

TIME remembrance

Doctor Who Contributed To Early Research on Smoking Has Died

LUTHER TERRY
U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry, at rostrum, answers questions on a landmark report on the dangers of smoking during a Jan. 11, 1964 news conference in Washington. Members of his advisory committee sit behind him, with Dr. Emmanuel Farber sixth from left, with arms folded ASSOCIATED PRESS—ASSOCIATED PRESS

Dr. Emmanuel Farber's research contributed to a paradigm shift in American attitudes to tobacco

Emmanuel Farber, the Canadian-American doctor whose medical research contributed to groundbreaking discoveries in the study of cancer-causing chemicals, died on Sunday. He was 95.

“He represents a guiding example of a life devoted to serving his fellow man and scientific colleagues with unmatched qualities of integrity, humbleness, deep reasoning, and an exquisite no-nonsense … approach to science,” the Society of Toxicologic Pathology wrote in 1985, when inducting him as an honorary member.

Farber was born in 1918 in Toronto, where he would first study medicine. After graduating from the University of Toronto with an M.D. in 1942 and serving in the Royal Canadian Medical Corps during World War II, he earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley.

His career was long and his legacy is vast, but perhaps his most prevailing accomplishment came at the nexus of medicine and public policy, when, in the early 1960s, he sat on the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health, which produced some of the earliest conclusive evidence that cigarettes could cause cancer. The committee’s report, according to Harvard Medical School, caused a paradigm shift in American culture, which until then largely dismissed concerns surrounding smoking’s health risks.

Over the course of his career, Farber held positions on the faculties of Tulane University, the University of Pittsburgh, and his alma mater in Toronto; he also served as president of both the American Association for Cancer Research and the American Society of Experimental Pathology. He received numerous awards for his scientific research.

He spent the last years of his life in Columbia, S.C., where he would meet his second wife, Henrietta Keller Farber. She died in 2011. He is also preceded in death by his first wife, Ruth Farber, and two siblings, Lionel Farber and Sophie Goldblatt. He leaves behind a daughter, a son-in-law, and one grandson.

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