By Meera Senthilingam
The nickname given to the insects that spread Chagas disease is somewhat bittersweet: kissing bugs.
By Meera Senthilingam
The nickname given to the insects that spread Chagas disease is somewhat bittersweet: kissing bugs.
A new study suggests the best way to get over a breakup is to fake it until you make it.
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that simply believing you’re doing something positive to get over your ex can influence brain regions associated with emotional regulation and lessen the pain you’re feeling. In other words, remaining open to the possibility that what you’re doing could potentially make you feel better works like a placebo effect.
Researchers Leonie Koban and Tor Wager and their team at CU Boulder studied 40 young people who’d experienced an unwanted breakup in the past six months. The participants were asked to bring in two photos: one of their ex and one of a close friend.
Inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, the heartbroken parties were shown images of their exes and asked to reflect on the breakup. Then they saw the images of their friend (the control variable).
They were also given a jolt of physical pain (a hot stimulus on their left forearm).
As these stimuli were alternately repeated, the participants were asked how they felt on a scale of 1 (very bad) to 5 (very good). Meanwhile, the fMRI machine tracked activity in the brain.
The machine showed similar areas of the brain lit up during both emotional pain (reminiscing and looking at the ex pic) and physical pain — suggesting that the heartache you feel after a breakup is veryreal and not just in your head.
For part two of the study, the subjects were taken out of the machine and given a nasal spray. Half were told the spray was a “powerful analgesic effective in reducing emotional pain,” while the rest were told it was merely a saline solution.
The subjects then went back in the fMRI machine and experienced the same painful stimuli as before, but this time, the placebo group felt less physical and emotional pain.
When they were shown the photo of their ex, there was reduced activity in the areas of the brain associated with social rejection.
“The placebo nasal spray made people feel substantially better about viewing pictures of their ex-partners — on the brain as well as on people’s feelings,” said Wager, a senior author of the study.
If you’re nursing a broken heart, Wager said the takeaway of his study should be that your beliefs about the future matter more than you think.
“Your expectations are something you have some control over after a breakup,” he said. “When faced with rejection, there’s hope you can find a mental strategy to help deal with the event as best as possible. You have to be open to a better future.”
Diet soda is getting more bad publicity. A new study comes to some alarming conclusions about these beverages
Artificially sweetened beverages may be linked to an increased risk of stroke and dementia, according to a study released this week by the American Heart Association’s peer-reviewed journal Stroke. The researchers looked at 2,888 people over the age of 45 (with a median age of 62) for stroke risks and 1,484 people over the age of 60 (with a median age of 69) for risk of dementia. After adjustments were made for age, sex, education, caloric intake, diet, exercise, and smoking, they found that diet soda drinks “were associated with an increased risk of ischemic stroke, all-cause dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease dementia.” (The study cites correlation rather than causation.)
Diet soda sales have tumbled as consumers, turned off by studies on artificial sweeteners, have switched to bottled water, teas and energy drinks, instead. And this not the first study that has made a connection between diet soda to other serious medical issues. Several recent studies have linked diet soda and cardiovascular disease and showed a correlation (if not a causation) between cancer and aspartame. The beverage industry says people who are overweight and already at risk for heart disease may consume more diet drinks in an attempt to control their weight and the Food and Drug Administration has ruled that artificial sweeteners are safe.
The beverage industry highlights the safety of artificial sweeteners. “Low-calorie sweeteners have been proven safe by worldwide government safety authorities as well as hundreds of scientific studies,” Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for the American Beverage Association, told MarketWatch, on behalf of industry, including Coca-Cola KO, -0.05% and PepsiCo PEP, -0.14%Research shows that diet soda can be a useful tool as part of a weight management plan, she added. “According to the National Institutes of Health, the likelihood of developing stroke and dementia are related to age, hypertension, diabetes and genetics,” she said.
Americans now drink more bottled water than diet soda or traditional soda. Bottled-water consumption in the U.S. hit 39.3 gallons per capita last year, while carbonated soft drinks fell to 38.5 gallons, marking the first time that soda was knocked off the top spot, according to data from industry tracker Beverage Marketing Corp. But soda is still more expensive, racking up $39.5 billion in retail sales versus $21.3 billion for water, industry research group Euromonitor found. “In 2016, bottled water overtook carbonates to become the leading soft drinks category in off-trade volume terms, an astonishing milestone a decade in the making,” Euromonitor concluded.
There has also been a backlash against sugary drinks. Soda and sugary drinks may lead to an estimated 184,000 deaths among adults every year, a 2015 study by researchers at Tufts University published in the American Heart Association’s peer-reviewed journal Circulation. The study analyzed consumption patterns from 611,971 individuals between 1980 and 2010 across 51 countries. Sugar-sweetened beverages consumption may have been responsible for approximately 133,000 deaths from diabetes 45,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease 6,450 deaths from cancer, it concluded. (The American Beverage Association published a lengthy rebuttal.)
U.S. consumers spent $21 billion on bottled water last year
Americans now drink more bottled water than soda but, with Earth Day on April 22, some environmentalists say it’s worth highlighting there’s a hidden cost to buying all those plastic bottles.
Bottled-water consumption in the U.S. hit 39.3 gallons per capita last year, while carbonated soft drinks fell to 38.5 gallons, marking the first time that soda was knocked off the top spot, according to data from industry tracker Beverage Marketing Corp. But soda is still more expensive, racking up $39.5 billion in retail sales versus $21.3 billion for water, industry research group Euromonitor found. “In 2016, bottled water overtook carbonates to become the leading soft drinks category in off-trade volume terms, an astonishing milestone a decade in the making,” it said.
While the fizzy soda category has experienced an annual volume sales decline since 2003, bottled water grew every year over the last two decades, except 2009 during the depths of the Great Recession, driven by consumer concerns about the effects of artificial sweeteners and sugar.
While the fizzy soda category has experienced an annual volume sales decline since 2003, bottled water grew every year over the last two decades, except 2009 during the depths of the Great Recession, driven by consumer concerns about the effects of artificial sweeteners and sugar. Bottled water also had another unexpected boost aside from skittishness over sodas. Scares over possible water contamination have helped boost demand for bottled water over the last few decades, experts say.
More than one-quarter of bottled water revenue last year was shared by the soda giants Coca-Cola Co. KO, -0.05% and PepsiCo PEP, -0.14% which sell Dasani and Aquafina respectively. In the four decades since the launch of Perrier water in the U.S., consumption of bottled water surged 2,700%, from 354 million gallons in 1976 to 11.7 billion gallons in 2015, according to the International Bottled Water Association.
And not all European bottled water is always free of chemicals, according to studies of European bottled waters carried out in Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France — one published in 2011 and the other in 2013 — by the Goethe University Frankfurt’s Department of Aquatic Ecotoxicology. Among the main compounds Wagner found: Endocrine disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, which can act like hormones in the body and have been linked to diabetes, breast cancer and cardiovascular disease. (Representatives from the bottled water industry contend that the origin of these EDCs were likely environmental rather than from a packaging material.)
Plastic soda and water bottles are also clogging up landfills and floating as vast vortices on the world’s oceans. What’s more, consumers can purify their own tap water for a fraction of the cost of a $2 bottle of water or soda.
Plastic soda and water bottles are also clogging up landfills and floating as vast vortices on the world’s oceans, studies suggest. Americans discard around 33.6 million tons of plastic each year, but only 6.5% of that recycled and 7.7% is combusted in waste-to-energy facilities, according to Columbia University’s Earth Center. The U.S. was recently ranked 20th among 192 countries that could have contributed to plastic waste in the oceans, according to a 2015 study led by Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer at the University of Georgia and published in the academic journal Science.
The industry disagrees. Bottled water containers are 100% recyclable, an International Bottled Water Association spokeswoman said. “The most recent recycling rate for bottled water containers is 35.4% and, of all the drink packaging that is mismanaged, bottled water containers make up just 3.3%,” she said. (Glass containers make up over 66%, soda containers make up more than 13%, and aluminum cans make up nearly 8%, she said. Read more here.)
What’s more, polyethylene terephthalate or PET, plastic bottled water bottles already use less plastic than any other packaged beverage, the International Bottled Water Association spokeswoman added. Between 2000 and 2014, the average weight of a 16.9-ounce (half-liter) PET plastic bottled water container declined 51%, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation. Another 2015 study estimated that the accumulated number of “microplastic” particles in 2014 weighed between 93,000 and 236,000 metric tons, which is only 1% of global plastic waste estimated to enter the ocean in one year. (Consumers can also purify their own tap water for a fraction of the cost of a $2 bottle of water or soda. Prices start at $5.)
Amid this environmental debate, bottled water has come into its own precisely because of environmental problems elsewhere. Some 700,000 Californians may have been exposed to contaminated water, the California’s Water Resources Control Board recently said. And in Toledo, Ohio in 2014, the Ohio National Guard distributed bottled water to residents due to contaminated water there. A federal state of emergency was declared in Flint, Mich. in January 2016 and residents were told to use bottled water for both drinking and bathing due to faulty and old lead pipes.
But there is some irony for people who believe bottled water is spring water, sourced from some Alpine mountain peak or green meadow: Some 45% of bottled water brands are sourced from the municipal water supply — the same source as what comes out of the tap, according to Peter Gleick, a scientist and author of “Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water.”
Those within the industry, however, say that does not mean it’s the same as tap water. The spokeswoman for the International Bottled Water Association says purified and spring water must meet Food & Drug Administration quality standards. “When a public water system is used as a source for making purified bottled water, several processes are employed to ensure that it meets comprehensive U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations,” she says. “These treatments can include ozonation, filtration, reverse osmosis, distillation or de-ionization. The finished water product is then placed in a bottle under sanitary conditions and sold to the consumer.”
(Dasani and Aquafina use a public water source, but both companies say the water is filtered for purity using a “state-of-the-art” process.) And, as the industry expands, more bottled waters are available with different flavors, carbonation and vitamins.
And the alternative seems far worse. Soda and sugary drinks may lead to an estimated 184,000 deaths each year among adults from diabetes, heart disease and other obesity-related illnesses, according to a landmark 2015 study by researchers at Tufts University published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation. The study analyzed consumption patterns from 611,971 individuals between 1980 and 2010 across 51 countries, along with data on national availability of sugar in 187 countries. (The American Beverage Association published a lengthy rebuttal: “The authors themselves acknowledge that they are at best estimating effects of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption.”)
But sugar-shy consumers are shying away from diet soda too. Several recent studies have linked diet soda and cardiovascular disease and showed a correlation (if not a causation) between cancer and aspartame and, on last week, another study argued that diet soda is correlated to dementia and strokes in older people. The American Beverage Association also rejects those studies, highlighting the difference between “correlation” and “causation,” and says people who are overweight and already at risk for heart disease may consume more diet drinks in an attempt to control their weight and the Food and Drug Administration has ruled that artificial sweeteners are safe.
Last year, Pepsi announced that it will sell Diet Pepsi with both aspartame, the diet sweetener typically used in sweeteners like Equal, and sucralose, used in Splenda. Unlike bottled water, however, they’re both artificial.
Despite what you see in movies and Snapchat stories, the first few months of college can be a tenuous time for many. Sharing a bedroom with a stranger, navigating a new class schedule with more freedom — and homework — constantly meeting new people and living on a steady diet of pizza and (increasingly better) cafeteria food can easily combine to create a stressful first semester.
Fortunately, a new study suggests that taking a few deep breaths, some meditation and other mental exercises may help students make it through. Freshmen who participated in an eight-week “mindfulness” program were less likely to experience depression, anxiety and alcohol-related incidents, like a hangover or blackout, than a control group who did not, according to a study published in a recent issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of American College Health.
“Students’ mental health is incredibly important for their success,” said Kamila Dvorakova, one of the authors of the study. “Interventions that are based on mindfulness and compassion are focused on strengthening (students’) ability to do well in college.”
Mindfulness training typically includes exercises aimed at helping participants be present and in touch with their thoughts. The students studied in the research were exposed to the “Breathe” curriculum, a program focused on teaching mindfulness to young adults. As part of the study, students participated in group sessions centered around skills like body awareness and understanding and working with their thoughts. They also received cards to use at home to remind them to perform mindfulness techniques, such as taking three deep breaths in response to stress.
Though the study observed a relatively small group of students (109 in total), the findings provide some insight into strategies campuses can use to help ease the transition to college for students and help them have a healthier experience overall.
Colleges and universities have struggled to cope with a growing number of students facing mental health challenges while in school. Mindfulness training is of course no replacement for counseling, but it may complement existing resources available on college campuses, said Dvorakova, the compassion and caring fellow at the human development and family studies department at Pennsylvania State University.
“It’s not just having a counseling center,” she said. “The treatment is super important, but that’s at the end of the line when things already went downhill. What can we do to prevent that?” She suggests that colleges do more to indicate to students that they value wellness and health in addition to academic achievements.
The findings also come amid mindfulness’s growing cache in the corporate world. Companies are increasingly offering employees’ sessions on how better to cope with stress as well as boost focus and memory. What’s more an explosion of other apps and tools has helped turn mindfulness and meditation into a nearly $1 billion industry.
Emotional intelligence can mean the difference between behaving in a socially acceptable way and being considered to be way out of line.
While most people will have heard of emotional intelligence, not many people really know how to spot it – in themselves or in others.
Emotional intelligence is essentially the way you perceive, understand, express, and manage emotions.
And it’s important because the more you understand these aspects of yourself, the better your mental health and social behavior will be.
It might be these are things you do without even really thinking – which can be the case for a lot of people. Or it might be that these are skills you know you need to work on.
Either way, improved emotional intelligence can be very useful in all sorts of circumstances – be it in work, at home, in school, or even when you’re just socializing with your friends.
So if you want to know if you’re emotionally intelligent, simply check the list below.
Emotional intelligence can mean the difference between a good reaction and a bad reaction to circumstances. Emotions can contain important information that can be useful to personal and social functioning – but sometimes these emotions can also overwhelm us, and make us act in ways we would rather not.
People who lack emotional intelligence are more likely to just react, without giving themselves the time to weigh up the pros and cons of a situation and really thinking things through.
People who are less able to regulate their negative feelings are also more likely to have difficulty functioning socially – which can exacerbate depressive feelings.
People with major depression have been shown to have difficultiesunderstanding and managing their emotions. And research has also shown that more depressive symptoms are present in people with lower emotional intelligence – even if they are not clinically depressed.
If you are able to recognize negative emotions in yourself and see difficult situations as a challenge – focusing on the positives and persevering – chances are that you’ve got high emotional intelligence.
Imagine for a moment you lost your job. An emotionally intelligent person might perceive their emotions as cues to take action, both to deal with the challenges and to control their thoughts and feelings.
But someone with poor emotional skills might ruminate on their job loss, come to think of themselves as hopelessly unemployable, and spiral into depression.
Of course, there are times when your feelings can get the better of you, but if you are an emotionally intelligent person, it is likely that when this happens you have the skills needed to modify your emotions.
For example, while average levels of anxiety can improve cognitive performance – probably by increasing focus and motivation – too much anxiety can block cognitive achievement.
So knowing how to find the sweet spot, between too much and too little anxiety, can be a useful tool.
It is clear that moderation is the key when it comes to managing our emotions. Emotionally intelligent people know this and have the skills to modify their emotions appropriately.
And this is probably why emotional intelligence has been shown to be related to lower levels of anxiety.
If you are able to extend these skills beyond your own personal functioning, then that’s another sign that you have high levels of emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence can be particularly important in workplaces that require heavy “emotional labor” – where workers must manage their emotions according to organizational rules.
This can include customer service jobs, where workers may need to sympathize with customers – despite the fact that customers may be yelling at them.
This is why workplace emotional intelligence training is now common – with the most effective training focusing on management and expression of emotions, which are directly linked to communication and job performance.
It’s also worth pointing out that emotional intelligence is a cognitive ability that can improve across your lifespan. So if you haven’t recognized much of yourself in the traits listed above, fear not, there’s still time for you to work on your emotional intelligence.
Here’s food for thought: The average adult human brain has about 100 billion cells.
Scientists used to think that past childhood, the brain stopped developing. Once all of its connections formed, they were set for life, and then, all these cells would simply begin their inexorable decline.
Now, we know different: Neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to create and reorganize synaptic connections) continues throughout life. And these days, the scientific community actively researches the myriad ways this happens and how we can boost our brainpower.
Although we’ve long known about the areas that “feed the brain” (e.g., good nutrition, learning new skills), here are some recent findings on boosting brainpower:
1. Take advantage of blueberry season
A diet rich in plant-based foods (fruits and vegetables) helps brain cognition and staves off dementia. (Conversely, we know that too much salt, sugar and trans fat lead to inflammation and brain shrinkage.) One specific study is among the evidence linking blueberries to brain power as we age. Blueberries contain flavonoids (plant pigments) which are known to generate a variety of health benefits, including the potential to protect brain neurons.
2. Exercise for body and brain
Exercise is good for our hearts, but it has also been shown to have a strong positive impact on our brains. Exercise can create new brain cells as well as lead to improvement in general brain performance. One scientific study in particular focused on brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), finding a 32 percent increase in BDNF levels in exercisers. BDNF is a protein within nerve cells that in essence keeps those cells optimally functioning, and contributes to their growth as well as to the growth of new neurons. It appears that vigorous workouts can increase BDNF levels.
3. Work right to think right
Environmental (“green”) office spaces have always maintained a good reputation. Now, it turns out that in addition to better productivity and fewer sick days, they also have an impact on better brainpower. In 2015, a study conducted by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health showed that cognitive functioning is substantially improved for those who work in “green” offices. Much of this is due to better air circulation and ventilation, which can result in lower levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and carbon dioxide in the air. Check with your employer or an environmental expert on how you might facilitate a “green” office space. In the meantime, consider indoor plants. Simply adding a few of these can reduce indoor pollution and help filter the air.
4. Lead a musical life
Listening to music, singing or playing an instrument “exercises” our brains. This is in part due to the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine. A 2015 study found that classical music, specifically Mozart, can be linked to the brainwave activity which impacts attention and cognitive function. It turns out music is a coping mechanism for pain and depression (which involve brain chemicals). In addition, one researcher postulates that the strong emotions evoked by music can enhance brain memory.
5. Clear the house, clear the mind
Princeton Neuroscience Institute (PNI) researchers published an article in the Journal of Neuroscience which detailed their discovery of an interesting phenomenon: Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete within the brain, resulting in lowered performance. This basically means that clutter causes distraction, and that distraction impedes the brain from focus and information processing. The findings of their study imply that a clean environment translates to a clear mind.
6. Meditate for peace (and strength) of mind
Multiple sources have provided evidence on the connection between mediation and positive brain changes. These include a study that ties an increase in gray matter density to meditation. Even 20 to 30 minutes a day of meditation/mindfulness can result in the following definitive brain changes:
· An increase in the gray matter of the anterior cingulate cortex (located behind the brain’s frontal lobe)
· An increase in gray matter density in the prefrontal cortex (regulates problem-solving, emotion and planning)
· An increase in the cortical thickness of the hippocampus (responsible for learning, memory, and susceptibility to stress and related disorders)
· A decrease in the size of the amygdala, the source of fearful and anxious emotions (known as the brain’s “fight or flight” mechanism)
So, with this new knowledge, let’s go back to that original statistic: The average adult human brain has about 100 billion cells. Just think about how we can nurture all those cells and what would happen if we did …