Scientists are discovering that our food preferences are much more than a matter of taste, and that taste itself is more complicated than we thought. Psychology also plays a role. An expert discusses what determines preferences, such as why some people like jalapeno peppers & black coffee, and some don’t.
Dr. Rachel Herz, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Brown University, and author, Why You Eat What You Eat: The Science Behind Our Relationship With Food
Cancer deaths are continuing to decline. In fact, a report from the American Cancer Society trumpets a major milestone—cancer death rates have dropped every year for the last 25 years. Overall, they’ve dropped 27 percent since 1991… but some cancers are even more striking. For example, lung cancer death rates are down by 48 percent among men. Breast cancer death rates are down by 40 percent, and prostate cancer death rates have dropped by 51 percent.
Parents of teenagers are remarkably pessimistic that schools are keeping their kids safe. A study in the Journal of Community Health shows that 36 percent of parents believe their local high school is “highly likely” to have a shooter incident in the next three years. The study finds that the majority of parents are dissatisfied with the systems schools have in place to counteract gun violence.
Two drugs commonly prescribed for type two diabetes may significantly raise the risk for heart attacks. The drugs, sulfonylureas (sul-fon-eye-loor-ee-ahs) and basal insulin, are often prescribed when metformin doesn’t work. But a study in the journal JAMA Network Open shows that patients who take basil insulin are twice as likely to experience cardiovascular harm, and those taking sulfonylureas are 36 percent more likely to be harmed than patients taking newer second-line drugs. Experts say the results should prompt large scale changes in how type two diabetes is treated.
And finally… more than half of people who take medical marijuana for chronic pain admit they’ve driven while under the influence… and one in five users say they’ve driven while they were “very high” in the last six months. The study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence surveyed medical marijuana users in Michigan… where recreational marijuana is also legal. Researchers say they’re troubled that users don’t think there’s much risk to driving under the influence of pot… but they admit they’re not sure how marijuana affects driving for people who use it every day.
A drinkable cocktail of designer molecules is showing promise in stopping the development of dementia. A study in the journal Cell Reports finds that a cocktail based on an old antibiotic can keep amyloid beta peptides from binding to prion proteins—one of the first steps in Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers say the cocktail has also repaired synapses in the brains of rats… restoring memories. Scientists will now start testing the cocktail for toxicity.
If you’re using sugar substitutes as part of a weight loss resolution, a new study says “don’t bother.” In fact, the study in the journal BMJ finds there’s no compelling evidence that sugar substitutes help regulate any important health variable. Blood sugar levels and the risk of heart disease or cancer did not benefit from the use of saccharin, aspartame, or other artificial sweeteners. People who used plain old sugar ended up pretty much in the same place health-wise.
And finally… shaming people for what they do isn’t right… even though new research suggests that it can get people who engage in dangerous activities to quit. A study in the Journal of Consumer Affairs shows that smokers are more likely to quit if they’re told that their peers disapprove of smoking. However, experts warn that shaming people leads others to think that the bad effects of a bad habit are all their fault… and they deserve what they get.
Death rates for most major health conditions have been in decline, but chronic kidney disease is a big exception, according to a study in the journal JAMA Open. Researchers say that deaths due to chronic kidney disease have increased overall by 58 percent over the last 15 years… and among people under 55, who previously suffered little chronic kidney disease, death rates are sharply up as well. Scientists blame high-sugar, high-salt foods and the increase in health problems such as high blood pressure and type two diabetes… which can trigger kidney disease.
Some people say having a tough childhood makes kids grow up fast. But a new study in the journal Biological Psychiatry finds that it also ages children prematurely. Researchers analyzed DNA of children age eight to 16 who had been exposed to violence, neglect, or emotional abuse… and found that on a cellular level, they were older than similar children living in a more stable environment. Those changes are reflected in the average age of puberty… which is lower among children growing up in a tough environment.
And finally… if you’re a night owl, your health may suffer for it. Previous studies have linked being a night owl to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease… and now a study in the journal Chronobiology International has added up the effect—night owls may have a 10 percent higher risk of early death. Researchers admit they don’t know why a person’s chronotype has such an effect.
More than 31 million people are injured and require hospital care each year… and a new study has figured out that non-fatal injuries cost nearly two trillion dollars annually. Medical costs account for only about 170 billion of it… while permanent disability costs more than 200 billion. The biggest cost is in the loss of quality of life as a result of injuries–researchers put that total at nearly one and a half trillion dollars a year. Falls, being struck by an object, and car crashes account for about half the injuries…and experts say they’re almost all preventable.
About three million children are diagnosed with scoliosis or back curvature every year, and now researchers have found a possible cause. A study in the journal Nature Communications shows that children with severe scoliosis are twice as likely as children without the disease to carry a gene that makes it hard for their bodies to process manganese in the diet. Scientists say modifications in the diet may help, but they caution against manganese supplements for now, because too much manganese is also dangerous.
If you thought volunteering to help out a co-worker is a good thing… think again. A study in the Journal of Applied Psychology shows that it’s better to wait to be asked before you help. Scientists say helpers who jump in without being asked often don’t have a good handle on what they’re doing, so they don’t get much gratitude for it… and the person being helped starts feeling incompetent. Better to stick to your own business, researchers say… until you’re asked.
And finally… what kind of person swears the most? According to a study in the journal Language Sciences, it’s people who are highly intelligent. Researchers say people with a large vocabulary and who are fluent in language are good at creative swearing… and they’re not afraid to use it. Scientists also say people who swear a lot are honest with others… and more true to themselves.
Researchers have discovered a variety of components in foods that are essential to health but are low in quantity in most diets. One of these is a set of compounds called polyamines. Researchers explain what they are, how they work, and how people can replace those that are needed in the diet.
Colorectal cancer rates have increased among people under the age of 50 and that’s why the American Cancer Society is now recommending adults undergo screening starting at age 45, rather than 50. The rate of colorectal cancer among people younger than 50 has risen 51 percent since 1994 yet doctors are struggling to pinpoint the reason. Colorectal cancer is the fourth-most-common cancer among adults, and about 50,000 americans are expected to die of the disease in 2018.
For years, public health experts have been encouraging women to take folic acid supplements to prevent birth defects but a study in the American Journal of Public Health shows many women still don’t take them. The study shows fewer than five percent of low-income urban mothers take daily folic acid supplements before getting pregnant. Previous studies prove that use of these prenatal vitamins can prevent 50 to 70 percent of neural tube defects in newborns. Experts suggest all women of reproductive age take folic acid since many pregnancies are unintended.
The belief that exercise can slow cognitive decline in older people with dementia has gained popularity. Yet new research shows that’s not true. A study in the journal BMJ says moderate to high intensity exercise can improve physical fitness but experts say it does not improve cognitive impairment, daily activities, behavior, or health-related quality of life.
And finally, everyone knows soda isn’t good for you. But it may be even worse than you think. A study in the journal Obesity Reviews shows that “a calorie isn’t just a calorie” but that some are worse than others, and soda may be one of the worst. Even if soda doesn’t make you gain weight, it can markedly increase the risk of other health-related issues.