TIME Research

Racism Could Negatively Impact Your Health, Study Finds

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High blood pressure and kidney decline may be linked to feelings of discrimination

Feeling judged because of your race could have a negative impact on your physical health, a new study finds.

A team of researchers studied 1,574 residents of Baltimore as part of the Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span study and found that 20% of the subjects reported feeling that they had been racially discriminated against “a lot.”

Even after the researchers adjusted the results for race, this group had higher systolic blood pressure than those who perceived only a little discrimination.

Over a five-year followup, the group who felt more racial discrimination also tended to have greater decline in kidney function. When the researchers, co-led by Deidra C. Crews, MD, assistant professor of medicine and chair of the diversity council at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, adjusted for age and lifestyle factors, the effect stayed constant for African-American women.

“Psychosocial stressors could potentially have an effect on kidney function decline through a number of hormonal pathways,” Dr. Crews said. The release of stress hormones can lead to an increase in blood pressure, and high blood pressure is one of the leading causes of kidney disease.

This isn’t the first time that perceived racial discrimination has been linked to chronic diseases: a 2011 study found that lifetime discrimination was linked to higher rates of hypertension.

TIME Research

Firefighter Deaths Could be Linked to Poor Sleep

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Almost 40% of firefighters suffer from at least one sleep disorder

Sleep problems could be a major factor in explaining why more than 60 percent of firefighter deaths are caused by heart attacks and traffic accidents, a new study published in The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine has found.

Researchers sampled almost 7,000 firefighters across the U.S. and examined how many tested positive for sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, shift-work disorder and restless leg syndrome, the New York Times reports.

They found that 37 percent of firefighters suffered from at least one type of sleep disorder.

“Our findings demonstrate the impact of common sleep disorders on firefighter health and safety, and their connection to the two leading causes of death among firefighters,” said lead author Laura K. Barger. “Unfortunately, more than 80% of firefighters who screened positive for a common sleep disorder were undiagnosed and untreated.”

Barber’s team found that when compared with those who had a good night’s sleep, firefighters who had a sleep disorder were more likely to crash their car or fall asleep at the wheel.

They are also more likely to report serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety.

[NYT]

TIME Research

Speaking More Than One Language Could Sharpen Your Brain

Skip the sudoku, try learning French

Speaking more than one language does the brain some good.

A recent study found that bilingual speakers may actually process information more efficiently than single-language speakers. Researchers from Northwestern University, in Illinois, and the University of Houston used brain imaging to look at bilingual people’s comprehension abilities. They found that people who speak more than one language are comparatively better at filtering out unnecessary words than monolinguals, whose brains showed that they had to work harder to complete the same mental tasks.

The study, published in the journal Brain and Language, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at what’s called coactivation and inhibition in the brain. Coactivation is the ability to have both languages simultaneously active in the brain, while inhibition is that ability to select a correct language while hearing more than one at a time. The researchers studied 17 Spanish-English bilinguals and 18 monolinguals, and had them undergo tests that assessed their brains’ ability to eliminate irrelevant words.

For example, in one task the participants heard the word cloud and were then immediately shown four pictures. One of the photos was of a cloud, and another was a similar-sounding word like clown. The goal was to watch how quickly the brain could make connections to the correct word. Bilinguals were consistently better at the task.

The results create a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg scenario. Is a bilingual person better at such tasks because of their expertise in both languages, or are people with greater comprehension capacity better equipped to master multiple languages? It could be a mixture of the two. The researchers of the new study believe that being bilingual is a constant brain exercise. So instead of tackling a puzzle, why not give a new language a shot, if not solely for the brain challenge.

Read next: The Secret to Learning a Foreign Language as an Adult

TIME Research

Repeated Pot Use Linked to Lower IQ

File picture shows marijuana plants at a indoor cultivation in Montevideo
Marijuana plants are seen at a indoor cultivation. Andres Stapff—Reuters

The average marijuana user's IQ was five points lower than that of a non-user

Repeated marijuana use is correlated with lower IQ scores and less volume in the region of the brain that helps make decisions, according to a new study.

The study found that the average marijuana user’s IQ was about five points lower than that of a non-user. The earlier the study participants began consuming the drug, the worse the condition of the brain. The study, which compared almost 50 marijuana users to a control group, suggests that at first brains affected by marijuana compensate for the deficit in decision-making brain volume by increasing connectivity, a key brain function. But marijuana-affected brains can’t keep up in the long term.

“The results suggest increases in connectivity, both structural and functional that may be compensating for gray matter losses,” said study co-author Sina Aslan, a faculty member at The University of Texas at Dallas. “Eventually, however, the structural connectivity or ‘wiring’ of the brain starts degrading with prolonged marijuana use.”

While previous studies have showed that marijuana causes harm to the brains of animals, researchers said they couldn’t be sure whether marijuana use was the cause of the negative changes in the brain. Nonetheless, the study joins a growing body of evidence that marijuana harms the brains of young people.

 

TIME Research

Study: Laundry Detergent Pods Sending Kids to Hospital Less Frequently

There were 17,000 cases of children coming in contact with products in 2013 and 2012

Laundry detergent pods sent hundreds of children to the hospital after more than 17,000 kids in the U.S. came into contact with them in 2012 and 2013, according to a new study.

At least one of those cases, all children age six and under, resulted in death, Bloomberg reports; 4.4 percent of the cases resulted in hospitalization. The data came from the National Poison Data System, which revealed that the number of exposures to laundry pods increased more than sevenfold between March 2012 and April 2013.

The good news is that the number of children ingesting the products appears to be on the decline. There was a 25 percent decline in the number of cases of that between April and December of last year.

Detergent manufacturers have spent the past two years working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to cut down on accidents, the American Cleaning Institute said in response to the study.

[Bloomberg]

TIME Research

Laundry Pods Pose ‘Serious’ Poisoning Risk for Kids, Study Says

The colorful detergent packets can harm young kids who try to eat or play with them

Colorful packets of detergent, called laundry pods, pose a serious risk for kids who try to eat or play with them, according to a new study.

Data from the National Poison Data System shows that between March 2012 and April 2013, more than 17,000 children younger than age 6 were exposed to the candy-like laundry detergent pods, which appeared in the U.S. market in 2012 as a replacement for liquid detergent. Experts say young kids can ingest the pods, or burst them open, which can expose their skin or eyes and lead to common side effects like vomiting, nausea or drowsiness.

Among the kids exposed to the pods, the study in Pediatrics found, 4.4% were sent to the hospital and 7.5% had a moderate or major medical outcome like respiratory distress. One child died.

The researchers say the findings underscore the need for greater efforts to prevent child exposure, like better packaging and labeling, voluntary safety standards and more public education.

TIME space travel

Watch the ISS Crew Land Safely Back on Earth

Footage from NASA shows Maxim Suraev, Alexander Gerst, and Reid Wiseman touch safely back down to earth in the Soyuz-13M capsule at 10:58 p.m. EST

Three crew members from the International Space Station (ISS) landed safely back on earth in Kazakhstan on Sunday after spending 165 days in orbit.

The trio were part of Expedition 41 and were conducting hundreds of scientific experiments and other research focusing on how humans can stay healthy while spending long durations in space.

Commander of the station, Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, and flight engineers Alexander Gerst, from the European Space Agency, and Reid Wiseman, an astronaut from NASA, completed a remarkable 82 hours of research in a single week in July.

During their time on board the ISS they traveled more then 70 million miles.

TIME Brain

New Hope for Replacing Nerves Damaged by Parkinson’s Disease

Stem cells may provide a new way of regrowing the motor neurons affected by the movement disorder

Reporting in the journal Cell Stem Cell, scientists say that stem cells turned into motor nerves function nearly identically to fetal motor nerves: the kind now used to treat some patients with Parkinson’s disease. That could mean that the stem cells may become an important source of new nerves to replace the ones damaged in diseases like Parkinson’s.

In Parkinson’s, motor nerves that normally produce dopamine, which is critical for regulating muscle movements and controlling dexterity, are damaged, and dopamine levels drop dramatically. The researchers, led by Malin Parmar, an associate professor of regenerative neurobiology at Lund University, took human embryonic stem cells extracted from excess IVF embryos and treated them to develop into motor neurons. They transplanted these neurons into the brains of rats bred to develop Parkinson’s and found that the lab-made cells brought dopamine levels in these animals back to normal levels in five months. The nerves sent out long extensions to connect with other nerve cells in the brain—such networks are important to ensuring coordinated and regulated muscle movements, and without them, patients experience uncontrollable tremors. The effects were similar to those seen when fetal nerves are transplanted into Parkinson’s patients, a treatment currently used to help alleviate symptoms in some patients.

While the results are exciting, it’s just the first step in bringing stem cell-based treatments to human patients. The study did not delve into how well the new neurons functioned and whether they could reverse symptoms of Parkinson’s in the animals. And even if they do improve those symptoms, scientists still have to show that humans could get the same effects. In an editorial accompany the article, Roger Barker of Addenbrooke’s Hospital and the University of Cambridge warned that the exciting possibilities of stem-cell based therapies shouldn’t push scientists—or patients—to expect too much too soon. Before the cells can be tested in people, he writes, it’s necessary to have “a knowledge of what the final product should look like and the need to get there in a collaborative way without being tempted to take shortcuts, because a premature clinical trial could impact negatively on the whole field of regenerative medicine.”

TIME Research

Having A Sense of Purpose Helps You Live Longer

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Dougal Waters—Getty Images

A meaningful life is a longer life

People who think their life has meaning and purpose die later than people with a lower sense of personal wellbeing, according to a new study.

About 9,000 people over age 65 were followed for eight and half years as part of a study published in the Lancet. Researchers measured their wellbeing by giving them a questionnaire that gauged how much control they felt they had over their own life, and how much they thought what they did was worthwhile. The participants were then split into four groups, ranging from the highest to lowest levels of wellbeing.

Happier people tended to outlive their less fulfilled peers. Over the eight years, just 9% of people in the highest wellbeing category died, compared to 29% in the lowest category. Previous research has linked happiness to a longer life, and this new finding adds to the theory.

MORE: Here’s Where People Are Happiest Growing Old

“There is quite good evidence from studies of people in nursing homes showing that those who have something to do and look forward to tend to be in a much better state,” says study author Andrew Steptoe, director of the University College London Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care. “I think one of the fundamental ideas is that of autonomy and sense control of their life. People can feel life is just rushing by, or once they quit working their purpose can narrow to some extent.”

Steptoe says it’s possible to engineer environments that encourage greater wellbeing, like bringing pets into nursing homes or having residents partake in gardening. Increasing meaning during the day might just increase lifespan, too.

TIME Research

PTSD Raises Risk of Premature Birth, Study Says

The researchers hope that treating PTSD could reduce the risks of premature birth

An analysis of more than 16,000 births by female veterans found that women with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are significantly more likely to give birth prematurely.

PTSD has long been suspected of increasing the risk of premature delivery, but the study, jointly conducted by Stanford University and the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs, provides strong support for the need to treat mothers with PTSD.

“Stress is setting off biologic pathways that are inducing preterm labor,” Ciaran Phibbs, the study’s senior author and an associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford, said in a statement. The study, published online on Thursday in Obstetrics & Gynecology, offered hope that treatment could prove effective in reducing the risk. While women with PTSD in the year leading up to delivery faced a higher risk of premature delivery, women who had been diagnosed with PTSD but had not experienced symptoms of the disorder in the past year did not.

“This makes us hopeful that if you treat a mom who has active PTSD early in her pregnancy, her stress level could be reduced, and the risk of giving birth prematurely might go down,” Phibbs said.

The implications extend beyond women in combat, since PTSD is not unique to combat. In fact, half of the veterans in the study had never been deployed to combat.

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