Friday, June 23, 2017

Bats Are the Number-One Carriers of Disease

This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

Understanding where new viruses come from is critical for preventing them from rapidly spreading among humans. When it comes to preventing the next pandemic, a new study suggests that bats may be public enemy number one.

In a new study published in the journal Nature, researchers at the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance collected data on viruses known to infect mammals, which included about 600 viruses found in more than 750 species. They were then able to calculate the number of viruses from each species and identify characteristics that make the transmission to humans more likely. Living more closely to humans and being more closely genetically related to humans increased the odds of transmission.

Out of all the species assessed, bats carried the highest number of these viruses. Researchers are currently looking into why.

“A lot of people don’t realize that these viruses have been on the planet for a long time, and they are in populations of animals all around the world,” says study author Kevin Olival, associate vice president for research at EcoHealth Alliance. “What we did in this study is prioritize where we should look if we want to stop the next Ebola or Zika from emerging.”

All groups of mammals were found to carry viruses that can spread to humans, and areas around the world most at risk for carrying emerging viruses differed based on the mammal. For bats, these places are most common in South and Central America and areas in Asia. For primates, the areas with the higher risks are in Central America, Africa and Southeast Asia.

The study was funded as part of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT program, a project that seeks to identify new emerging infectious diseases that could become threatening to human health. Olival says his team hopes that scientists will use this research to identify regions and viruses to focus on for prevention efforts.

Bats don’t deserve all of the blame, however. The spreading of new diseases often involves activity from both animals and people, Olival points out.

“These diseases are not just randomly jumping into people,” he says. “We see time and time again that it is the human disturbances in the environment that are causing these diseases to emerge,” through activities like chopping down forest and hunting animals out of certain areas. “It is our interactions with these species that are causing diseases to jump.”



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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Why Your Bad Memory Isn't Such a Bad Thing, According to Science

You know those people who always boast about having a perfect memory? Maybe they shouldn’t, because having total recall is totally overrated. That’s according to a new paper in the journal Neuron, which concludes that forgetting things is not just normal, it actually makes us smarter.

In the new report, researchers Paul Frankland and Blake Richards of the University of Toronto propose that the goal of memory is not to transmit the most accurate information over time. Rather, they say, it’s to optimize intelligent decision-making by holding onto what’s important and letting go of what’s not.

RELATED: 8 Ways Sex Affects Your Brain

“It’s important that the brain forgets irrelevant details and instead focuses on the stuff that’s going to help make decisions in the real world,” says Richards, an associate fellow in the Learning in Machines and Brains program.

The researchers came to this conclusion after looking at years of data on memory, memory loss, and brain activity in both humans and animals. One of Frankland’s own studies in mice, for example, found that as new brain cells are formed in the hippocampus—a region of the brain associated with learning new things—those new connections overwrite old memories and make them harder to access.

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This constant swapping of old memories for new ones can have real evolutionary benefits, they say. For example, it can allow us to adapt to new situations by letting go of outdated and potentially misleading information. “If you’re trying to navigate the world and your brain is constantly bringing up conflicting memories, that makes it harder for you to make an informed decision,” says Richards.

Our brains also help us forget specifics about past events while still remembering the big picture, which the researchers think gives us the ability to generalize previous experiences and better apply them to current situations.

“We all admire the person who can smash Trivial Pursuit or win at Jeopardy, but the fact is that evolution shaped our memory not to win a trivia game, but to make intelligent decisions,” says Richards. “And when you look at what’s needed to make intelligent decisions, we would argue that it’s healthy to forget some things.”

RELATED: 12 Unexpected Things That Mess With Your Memory

So what does that mean for those of us who frequently forget things we just read, people we just met, and where we put our keys? For one, we should stop being so hard on ourselves, says Richards—to a certain extent.

“You don’t want to forget everything, and if you’re forgetting a lot more than normal that might be cause for concern,” he says. “But if you’re someone who forgets the occasional detail, that’s probably a sign that your memory system is perfectly healthy and doing exactly what it should be doing.”

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Especially in today’s computers-at-our-fingertips society, Richards says, our brains no longer need to store information like phone numbers and facts easily found on Google. “Instead of storing this irrelevant information that our phones can store for us, our brains are freed up to store the memories that actually do matter for us,” he says.

Richards also recommends “cleaning out” your memory system on a regular basis by doing regular gym workouts. “We know that exercise increases the number of neurons in the hippocampus,” he says. Yes, that may cause some memories to be lost, he says—“but they’re exactly those details from your life that don’t actually matter, and that may be keeping you from making good decisions.” 



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We Want You!—Here’s How to Become a Health.com Contributor

At Health.com, our goal is to deliver up-to-the-minute news on all the latest trends in the wellness world—and we want your help. We’re looking for writers to join our new contributor network. As a Health.com contributor, you’ll receive story pitches from our editors straight to your inbox, your byline will appear on Health.com, and you will be compensated for your work. And you’ll have the chance to share your story with millions of readers—whether it’s an essay about your weight-loss journey, a recipe for your favorite healthy Crock-Pot dinner, or a firsthand account of living with psoriatic arthritis, we want to hear about it.

You don’t have to be a professional writer to contribute to Health.com. But we are looking for well-written, thoughtful pieces that demonstrate a passion for health and wellness and tell a unique story. We’re particularly interested in essays that highlight cool new workout classes, positive body image, relationship challenges, nutritious meal ideas, healthy travel tips, or even your favorite products (such as that incredible, can’t-live-without-it retinol cream you just discovered).

Does this sound like you?Head to Health’s Springboard page and select follow the prompts to create your account.Once you’re part of our contributor network, you can answer our story requests, get paid for your work, and see your byline appear on Health.com.

We can’t wait to hear from you!



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50 Ways to Use All of Your Vacation Days This Year

Why Do I Hate the Sound of My Own Voice?

This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

Have you ever recoiled at the sound of your own voicemail greeting, startled by what should be the most familiar of voices—your own? If so, then you’re not alone. It’s common to dislike the way your voice sounds in recordings, experts say. Here’s why.

You hear your own voice differently

When you hear people talking, sound waves travel through the air and into your ears, vibrating your ear drums. Your brain then transforms those vibrations into sound.

However, when you’re the one talking, your vocal cords and airways also vibrate. That means that you receive two sources of sound: the sound waves that travel into your ears from your own voice, as well as vocal cord vibrations.

“When we talk, it’s like everyone hears the sound through speakers, but we’re hearing it through a cave complex inside our own heads,” says Martin Birchall, professor of laryngology (the study of the larynx, or voice box) at University College London. “The sound is going around our sinuses, all the empty spaces in our heads and the middle part of our ears, which changes the way we hear sounds compared to what other people hear.”

People perceive their own voice to be the combination of those two sources of sound, but everyone else just hears the external stimulus. This is why when you listen to your voice in a recording, it sounds different than the voice you’re used to. You’re hearing only the external stimulus, rather than the combination of the two sounds.

People are bad at recognizing their own voice

Most people don’t sit around listening to the sound of their own voice independently from talking, so they can become detached from how they actually sound. One study, during which people were played recordings of their own voices, found that just 38% of people were able to identify their own voice immediately.

“When we hear our own voice in a recording, it can often feel surprising and disappointing,” Birchall says. “We get used to the sound we hear in our heads, even though it’s a distorted sound. We build our self-image and vocal self image around what we hear, rather than the reality.”

Birchall says this can be a particular problem for people with body or gender dysmorphia. “For people with gender issues, hearing that their voice sounds like someone of the opposite sex’s can be a really big issue,” he says. “We like to think that the way we are talking fits with our own gender identity and when we feel we are in the wrong body or our voice isn’t representative of who we are then that can be a major deal.”

You’re not necessarily stuck with your voice forever

If you’re really disturbed by the sound of your voice, you have options, Birchall says. First, you can go to see a properly trained voice therapist, which is different from a speech therapist. Voice therapists work with patients to improve their cadence and the rhythms of their pitch by doing specific exercises, like working on breathing patterns by getting them to blow bubbles through a straw. “It’s like physiotherapy, but for the voice,” he says.

If voice therapy is unsuccessful, people can seek seek specialist psychologist support. It’s also possible to make a person’s pitch higher or lower through surgery, which is a common part of gender reassignment surgery.



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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What to Do When Your Ears Get Clogged on a Plane

Between the jet lag, dry air, and muscle-cramping seating in coach, flying can really do a number on your health. But one of the most common body complaints fliers experience tends to go overlooked or be blown off as no big deal: clogged or plugged ears.

The proper term is “ear barotrauma,” which pretty accurately describes the pain and discomfort the condition typically causes. This complaint isn’t just a passing annoyance. Besides starting your vacation or business trip on a particularly sour note, it can also lead to some pretty serious complications, too. 

To understand what’s behind that clogged sensation, you’ll need a quick anatomy lesson. Your ear is divided into three sections: the outer ear, the middle ear (which houses the eardrum), and the inner ear. The middle ear is connected to the back of the nose and upper throat via a passageway called the eustachian tube, whose job it is to stabilize the air pressure levels between your nose and ear.

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“Our eustachian tubes open and close multiple times a day, but the passageway is so tiny that we don’t really notice it as long as it’s moving properly,” says Ana Kim, MD, an otolaryngologist at ColumbiaDoctors Midtown and associate professor of otolaryngology—head and neck surgery at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

RELATED: 7 Vacation Health Hassles Solved

“When we’re flying, however, there’s a rapid change in the barometric [air] pressure, which causes a collapse of the eustachian tubes and interferes with the normal air flow from the nose to the ear,” explains Kim. Getting on a plane while you’re sick with a cold or other head infection that triggers nasal congestion makes those changes in air pressure even worse. 

“If you have an active ear or sinus infection, you’re taking away what little volume of air you have [in the Eustachian tube] by flying, which could cause a lot of pain,” says Kim. Gwen Stefani experienced this a few weeks ago when she hopped a flight while fighting a cold and ended up with a ruptured ear drum due to changes in cabin pressure, boyfriend Blake Shelton told Entertainment Tonight.

To re-stabilize the air pressure levels and prevent uncomfortable aching, you’ll need to open up those tubes. Here are three things to try if it happens to you.

Pinch your nose and blow—gently!

To get your ears to “pop,” you can try closing off your nose and mouth, then gently forcing the air into the middle ear. Do not—repeat, do not—blow too hard. Doing so can actually rupture the membranes of the cochlea (the organ that allows us to hear), says Kim. And when that happens, fluid can leak out, causing hearing loss, nerve damage, dizziness, or a type of ringing in the ear called tinnitus.

RELATED: 5 Mistakes You’re Making Cleaning Your Ears

Move your mouth muscles

Call it a good reason to keep a pack of gum in your carry-on: moving the muscles of your jaw by chewing, yawning, or swallowing water or another beverage can help reopen the eustachian tubes, says Kim. If you’re traveling with a baby or toddler and you suspect (or they tell you) their ears are plugged up, have them sip juice or water or use a pacifier to get those mouth muscles going.

Take a decongestant

Medications like Afrin shrink blood vessels and reduce inflammation in your nasal cavity. Since it works right away, you can take it 10 minutes before takeoff to prevent your ears from clogging in the first place. One word of caution: Although these meds are over-the-counter, people who have heart problems or are pregnant shouldn’t take them unless they’ve cleared it with their doctor.

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If the clogging doesn’t go away … 

Most of the time, the pressure should clear up a few hours after you’re back on land, she says. If it lingers longer—into the following day, for example—you might have a buildup of fluid behind your ear that isn’t ventilating properly. For that, you’ll probably want to see a doctor. Not only will you experience some temporary hearing loss (everyone will sound like you’re listening to them underwater) you could put yourself at risk of a serious infection.



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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Mom Explains Why It's So Important to Be Body Positive in Front of Kids — Even When Bikini Shopping

This article originally appeared on People.com. 

Trying on bathing suits tends to be a time when women self-criticize, but Brittney Johnson made sure her recent mother-daughter bikini shopping trip was a positive one because she knew her young daughter was listening to how she spoke about her appearance.

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In a Facebook post that now has been liked over 322,000 times and shared over 165,000 times, Johnson, 27, explained why it’s so important for moms to be body positive role models for their children.

In the post, Johnson details her shopping trip, noting that her young daughter was polite to servers and generous to other children she encountered at the mall. When they got to Target, her daughter helped her pick out a few different swimsuits to try on. Johnson started snapping pictures of herself in the swimsuits to get her friends’ opinions, and noticed that her daughter was trying on the bikinis too.

RELATED: These Swimsuit Selfies Are Perfect Proof That Every Body Is a Bikini Body

“I stopped for a second to see what she would say, and when she turned to the mirror, she said, ‘Wow I just love cheetah print! I think I look beautiful! Do you think I look beautiful too?!’ ” Johnson wrote. “It hit me that she only says what she hears. What she sees. I tell her that she is beautiful every single day.”

“She is kind walking through the mall, because I tell her she is kind everywhere else,” she continued. “She is polite at the order counter because she hears me when I’m polite to strangers everywhere. She gives compliments to people she doesn’t know because she loves how it feels when she hears them. And when we are in a dressing room, with swimsuits of all God-forsaken things, there is a split moment when I have the power to say ‘Wow I have really gotten fat this year’ or ‘Wow I love this coral color on me!’ And those are the words burned into my daughter’s brain.”

Johnson notes that parents know to be a model for good manners and kindness, but often forget to be good role models when it comes to body image.

RELATED: Here’s How Little You Need to Exercise to Boost Your Mood

“When it comes to body image, be an example,” she wrote. “I am not a size zero. I never will be. I have big thighs and a huge rump and for some reason the middle of my body gets more tan than the rest. But this body made a whole other body. I am strong. I am able. And I am happy. I don’t have to be beautiful like you, because I am beautiful like me.”

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She knows that instilling a positive body image in her daughter now will benefit her as she grows up.

“As my daughter gets older, and she faces judgement and criticism, I will always remind her that the girls who look the prettiest in a two-piece or a body suit or a freaking Snuggie are the ones who are happy. Because that’s all that matters,” wrote Johnson. “And I want her to look at herself every single day and say, ‘Oh wow! I think I look beautiful!’ because every girl deserves to feel that.”



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