The Cost of Losing Sleep

Sleep often takes a backseat to work of parenting, but new research suggests that sacrificing slumber for productivity is a bad trade-off. Surveys of 22,000 Americans show that people who slept five hours or less on average weeknight were 28 percent more likely to have had a cold in the past month than those who averaged at least seven hours. Worse still, Reuters.com reports, the sleep-challenged subjects were 82 percent more likely to report battling the flu, pneumonia, or an ear infection. The study doesn’t prove that sleep loss increases susceptibility to infections, but researchers note that sleep deprivation does hinder infection-fighting white blood cells. Moreover, people who are chronically tired may also be less likely to exercise or follow a healthy diet. Says study author Aric Prather, “It is our hope that this work will help raise the profile of sleep as a critical health behavior.”   Melatonin

Standing Fights Obesity

It’s well established that a sedentary existence is bad for us and that regular exercise promotes better health. Apparently, new research reveals, we don’t even have to hit the treadmill to feel better; just standing up can have significant benefits, The Washington Post reports. A five-year study of more than 7,000 adults found that people who stood for a least 25 percent of their day displayed considerably lower risk of obesity – 32 percent for men and 35 percent among women. Meanwhile, standing for half of the day reduced the likelihood of obesity among men by 59 percent, compared with 47 percent among women. It’s unclear from the data if standing directly reduces obesity risk or if people who are obese simply stand less. But the results offer another argument for logging some upright time. “Many of us have sedentary jobs and commute long hours,” says lead author Kerem Shuval (Read More)

The Science of Humor

Comedians are funnier than the rest of us because they switch to a different part of their brains when they’re coming up with jokes, reports MedicalDaily.com. A team at the University of Southern California asked a group of professional and amateur comedians to come up with two captions – one funny, the other ordinary – for a New Yorker cartoon. They performed brain scans on the comedians as they performed this written task, and later had an outside panel rate each caption for humor. The researchers found that the experienced comedians had increased activity in their temporal lobe, a part of the brain involved with language, processing abstract information, and connecting feelings to events or objects. Those who weren’t as funny had more activity in their medial prefrontal cortex, the brain region responsible for complex planning and decision-making. “The more experience you have doing comedy,” explains study leader Ori Amir, (Read More)

Painkiller Dulls Empathy

Acetaminophen helps dull the pain of some 52 million Americans each week, but new research suggests it could also blunt their sensitivity to other people’s distress. Researchers conducted a series of experiments involving 200 college students to assess the effects of acetaminophen – an active ingredient in Tylenol and more than 600 other medications – on their ability to empathize. Participants read eight short stories with wrenching scenarios – one told of a person who suffered a knife wound that  cut to the bone; in another, someone grappled with the death of his father. As it turned out, CNN.com reports, the students who took 1,000 mg of acetaminophen (equivalent to two extra-strength Tylenol tablets) displayed less empathy for people who were enduring an emotionally or physically painful experience. “If you are having an argument with your spouse and you just took acetaminophen, this research suggests you might be less understanding (Read More)

Exercise Lowers Cancer Risk

If a healthy heart and trim waistline aren’t enough incentive, maybe a lower risk for cancer will inspire sedentary people to get moving. A new study from the National Cancer Institute shows that exercise may significantly lower the risk for 13 different forms of the disease, Time.com reports. Researchers analyzed 11 years of data on the health, diet, and activity of 1.4 million people and found that a higher level of physical exertion was associated with a 7 percent lower overall chance of developing cancer. Just a few hours of weekly exercise had a particular effect on esophageal cancer, lowering the risk for the disease by 42 percent. Working out also cut the risk for lung, kidney, stomach, and endometrial cancers by more than 20 percent and significantly reduced the likelihood that people would suffer from leukemia, colon cancer, or breast cancer. The more active people were, the more their (Read More)

The Power of Pomegranates

Pomegranates have been hailed as a “super food” that could help protect against inflammation and cancer.  New research shows this Middle Eastern fruit also contains powerful substances called ellagitannins that may slow the aging process, reports ScienceDaily.com. Throughout our lives, cells recycle worn-out mitochondria- the tiny powerhouse that provided them with energy. This process, known as mitophagy, slows down and malfunctions over time, resulting in weaker muscles and age-related frailty. In a study on worms and mice, scientists found that when consumed and broken down by gut bacteria, ellagitannins produce a compound called urolithin A that helps restore this mitochondrial clean-up process in cells where it has become inactive, significantly improving muscle strength and endurance. The worms’ life span also increased, by 45 percent. “It’s a completely natural substance, and its effect is powerful and measurable,” says the study’s co-author, Patrick Aebischer. Researchers caution that it’s not been determined that (Read More)

Prescription Drug Use Soars

Most Americans are now regularly taking prescription drugs, new research has found. Almost 60 percent of adults take some type of medication, and since 2000, the number of adults taking five or more prescription drugs has nearly doubled to 15 percent, raising serious concerns about the potential for adverse interactions. An aging U.S. population, expanded Medicare coverage, and aggressive TV marketing all play a role, but national surveys of nearly 40,000 people suggest the obesity epidemic is the primary culprit fueling this upward trend. Eight of the 10 most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States are used to treat high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and other preventable conditions associated with obesity. In fact, the most popular medication in the U.S. is Zocor, which is in a class of cholesterol lowering drugs called statins. Overall use of statins jumped 10 percent over the past decade by 7 percent. “Here in (Read More)

Vitamin C Targets Cancer

  Most people take vitamin C to fend off a cold, but new research suggests it could also be a possible weapon in the fight against cancer. A team of researchers at the University of Salfod in England evaluated seven substances – vitamin C, two natural products, and four experimental cancer drugs – on their ability to block the growth of cancer stem cells, which inhibit chemotherapy and help tumors spread throughout the body. They found that vitamin C did block the growth of cancer cells; in fact, it was 10 times more effective than one of the pharmaceuticals, although it was outperformed by two experimental drugs. The finding adds to previous research indicating that high dose vitamin C treatments could slow the growth of cancer cells in the prostate, liver, and colon. “Vitamin C is cheap, natural, nontoxic, and readily available,” study co author Michael Lisanti tells ScienceDaily.com. “To (Read More)

Happy Wife, Healthy Life

New research adds credibility to the old saying “Happy wife, happy life,” suggesting that men and women with happy spouses are not only happier but also healthier. For the study, researchers analyzed data compiled on nearly 2,000 middle-aged, heterosexual couples whose happiness and physical health were tracked for 6 years. They found that those whose spouses had a positive outlook were 34 percent more likely to be healthy, exercise regularly and eat healthfully, and have positive outlooks themselves. Those with a pessimistic partner, on the other hand, had more health issues and were less physically active. Why? The researchers speculate that when one member of a couple adopts good lifestyle habits, that person encourages his or her spouse to do the same. Spouses with a positive outlook also cause less stress in the relationship, the study’s lead author, William Chopik, tells Time.com. “Simply having a happy partner,” he said, “may (Read More)

The Value of Embracing Failure

People are often told not to “beat themselves up” over failure, but new study suggests a period of sharp regret helps us learn from our mistakes. Researchers challenged 98 college students to perform an online search or the lowest price on a specific blender, reports Time.com. Half the participants were asked to dwell on their feelings about possibly losing; the rest were told to think about their performance. The test was rigged to prevent anyone from winning, however, and all of the students were given a second chance. This time, half the participants were given a non-similar task. While the remaining students were instructed to search for a book for their friend at the lowest price. There were no improvements in effort among those given the unrelated task. But among the people searching for the book, those who had reflected on their emotions during the first challenge spent nearly 25 (Read More)