Kim Campbell Thornton writes: The hug of a middle-aged woman might affect nearby kids and pets in alarming ways -- and it has nothing to do with menopause mood swings.
On Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning that children who are inadvertently exposed to an estrogen spray to ease hot flashes can develop an upsetting reaction – premature puberty. The FDA has received 8 reports involving children ages 3 to 5 whose reactions have included nipple swelling and breast development in girls and breast enlargement in boys. Pets exposed to the hormone spray have turned up with nipple enlargement and swelling of the vulva in females.
A recent report by the Veterinary Information Network also warns that some pets are inadvertently ingesting topical hormone sprays, creams or gels by licking the area or being petted after the product is applied and then grooming themselves. Side effects have included undersized penises in males and fur loss.
Estrogen and testosterone aren’t the only hormones that cause problems. A psoriasis cream called Dovonex, a derivative of vitamin D — itself a hormone — can cause unusual thirst, appetite loss, and severe vomiting or diarrhea when pets lick it off the skin or chew on the tube, says Michael Stone, an internal medicine specialist at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in Grafton, Mass.
To avoid the problem, women shouldn’t let children or pets come in direct contact with the area where the medication was applied, or they should wear clothing that covers it. If contact does occur, wash the child’s skin with soap and water right away, the FDA says. We assume the same goes for pets.
Do you use these kinds of hormone sprays, creams or gels? Will you stop, or just take extra precautions? Leave your comments here.
Hey! Did you guys know that meth is not good for pregnant women or their babies? We know. We'll give you a minute.
Reuters Health reported on the study today. After treating three pregnant woman -- all meth users -- for uncontrolled high blood pressure, Dr. Ido Solt of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and his colleagues decided to study methamphetamine abuse in pregnancy. They compared 276 meth-using women to 34,055 non-meth-using women, all of whom delivered babies at a Phoenix hospital from 2000 to 2006.
Solt and his team compared health factors such as preterm delivery and uncontrolled high blood pressure, and for almost every factor the researchers measured, the meth users and their babies fared worse. Shocking.
To be fair, meth is a serious problem -- for teens, men and women, pregnant or not -- and drug use in pregnancy is nothing to be flip about. But in case you were considering methamphetamine abuse as a new hobby during your pregnancy, maybe don't? It's just science.
Sally Draper suspects you're making fun of her lisp.
Besides the notable absences of guys like Sal, Ken and Paul, Sunday’s season premiere of “Mad Men” was missing one more beloved character: Sally Draper’s lisp.
“What (a lisp) actually is, is a retained infantile misarticulation,” says Sam Chwat, who’s the director of New York Speech Improvement Services (and whose name, when said aloud, might make you sound like you have a speech impediment). Chwat's team specializes in helping people get over their lisps -- and people have all kinds of lisps, he says. Some substitute an "s" sound where a "z" should be (so hiss for his, herss for hers, etc), some whistle their "s's," but the one we're most familiar with is the interdental lisp, where the tongue comes too close to the teeth.
"The last of the 44 sounds to stabilize in any speech pattern is the "s," because it requires the most delicate positioning of the tongue vis-à-vis the palette," Chwat says, explaining why so many kiddos lisp. Most children who can hear grow out of it by age 7 or 8, but if it hasn't disappeared by then, they're probably stuck with it unless they enlist the help of a speech therapist, Chwat says.
Later in life, some people suddenly lisp when they're nervous, and Chwat says health problems like hearing loss, a stroke or Bell's palsy, a temporary form of facial paralysis, can suddenly have adults saying "th" when they meant "s."
Kiernan Shipka, the 10-year-old actress who plays Sally on the show, told the Los Angeles times last week that her lisp started to naturally fade away, and she worked with a speech coach to completely shake it. Good for her, but we admit we kind of mith it.
On the left, Emily Cheeseman smiles her baby-toothed smile. On the right, her baby teeth are gone, replaced with dental implants.
Most adults have long forgotten the day their last baby tooth came out, but for Emily Cheeseman of England, it was like yesterday. That’s because Cheeseman just "lost" her six front baby teeth at age 28.
According to a story on Dentristry.co.uk, Cheeseman was born with hypodontia, a condition where a number of adult teeth don’t develop. In Cheeseman’s case, not only did her permanent teeth not come in, her six front baby teeth stayed put. She recently had those baby teeth removed in order to make room for new dental implants.
“There are surprisingly large numbers of people walking around with baby teeth,” says New York dentist Dr. Michael Sinkin. “I can think of half a dozen patients in my practice who have lower baby molars. Although six baby teeth in front is unusual.”
Baby teeth usually appear at around five or six months, with all 20 baby teeth usually showing up by age 2 ½. By five, the first permanent tooth comes in with most permanent teeth (with the exception of wisdom teeth) arriving at around age 12 or 13.
In most cases, the permanent tooth’s arrival heralds the demise of the baby tooth (not to mention the arrival of the tooth fairy). But if a permanent tooth doesn’t come in, Sinkin says it’s not unusual for a baby tooth to stick around.
“If the permanent tooth doesn’t develop then oftentimes, the baby tooth’s roots don’t resorb (or dissolve),” he says. “It’s very common, if they’re missing the permanent tooth, for the baby teeth to stay.”
Although Cheeseman opted to have her six front baby teeth extracted and replaced with dental implants, Sinkin says it’s actually feasible for an adult to keep a baby tooth his or her whole life.
“If a root doesn’t resorb, [the tooth] could last a person’s lifetime,” he says. “I have a 72-year-old woman who currently needs a crown on a baby tooth because of decay. She doesn’t have a permanent tooth there.”
Although hypodontia is nothing to worry about, “as long as you’re under the care of a dentist,” Sinkin says there is a chance it could be associated with certain genetic conditions (according to a 2008 study, hypodentia may also be a risk marker for epithelial ovarian cancer).
As for which teeth will likely shortchange come tooth fairy time, experts say wisdom teeth are the most common permanent teeth not to develop; after that, it’s the upper lateral incisors, the teeth on either side of your two front teeth.
“If you look at early pictures of David Bowie, you’ll see his eye teeth where the lateral incisors should be,” he says. “He subsequently had a bit of dentistry done.”
But why is it so many of these tales seem to involve women and cats?
There was the elderly woman in Phoenix with 104 cats, 10 of them dead and tucked into freezers; the woman in Greeley, Colo., whose house was condemned after authorities discovered she was harboring 83 felines. Women cat hoarders have been discovered in Citrus Heights, Calif., where a woman and her mother had 60 cats; Orange City, Fla., where rescue workers discovered an unconscious woman surrounded by 59 cats and Piney Flats, Tenn., where a 64-year-old woman was found living in a trailer with 31 cats.
And that’s just so far this month.
Is there something that makes women more prone to animal hoarding than men?
“According to a 2002 study, 75 percent or more of animal hoarders are women who are middle age or older, usually unmarried and often socially isolated from family and friends,” says Dr. Christiana Bratiotis, project director of the Hoarding Research Project at Boston University’s School of Social Work.
One reason women may hoard animals more often is because we’re biologically hardwired to take care of things.
“Animal hoarders label themselves as rescuers,” she says. “And when you think about the connotation of that word, that seems to fit in with the gender role of women in this society. We’re rescuers and caregivers and care providers.”
While it may be difficult to reconcile care-giving with horror stories of homes littered with animal feces and/or dead carcasses, Bratiotis says people who hoard animals really do believe they’re caring for the creatures.
“Because of their mental illness, they have a very distorted belief that they are the person best suited to provide care for the animals,” she says. “They’re reluctant to place their animals in another person’s care, despite the fact they’re not well-fed or getting adequate veterinary care. They believe they’re doing well by the animals.”
While it seems that cats somehow are the hoarders' pet of choice, that's simply because there's such a prevalance of felines says Bratiotis. After cats, people also hoard dogs, birds, horses, sheep, goats, rabbits, rodents and reptiles. Or occasionally, a mix of everything, as in a recent Philadelphia hoarding case where a woman was found with 53 cats, eight dogs, 21 chinchillas and eight birds.
While the exact line where a loving cat owner starts to collect them and edge into hoarding country can be hard to pinpoint, Bratiotis points to the criteria experts use to define animal hoarding.
If the cats are not well-fed, not getting adequate veterinary care, don’t have enough space and are regularly making too much of a mess for you to clean up, you’ve got too many, she says, whether that number is six, 16 or (gulp) 60.
German researchers find the little things we do for luck might actually work.
Hold on to your lucky underwear. Your favorite lucky charms might actually work, a new study shows.
In a German study, volunteers gave researchers their good luck charms: a worn stuffed animal, a key chain, a pretty stone or a piece of sentimental jewelry. Only half the participants were given them back while playing a computer memory game, and those with their charmed objects did better at the game than those without.
“Superstition increases people’s confidence,” says Lysann Damisch, one of the study’s co-authors and a social psychologist at Germany’s University of Cologne. “In other words, if you have your lucky charm close by, you feel more confident and secure about the following task, which makes you try harder and perform better.”
So your lucky charm boosts your confidence. Any kid who’s seen “Dumbo” recently can tell you that. (He didn’t need his lucky feather to fly because he believed in himself!) But when you’re facing a scary situation – like a job interview, or a first date – it’s comforting to know that wearing a lucky piece of jewelry might help get you through it.
Professional athletes are famous for their superstitious quirks: Michael Jordan routinely wore his lucky gym shorts from college under his Chicago Bulls uniform, and tennis phenomenon Serena Williams once wore the same pair of socks throughout a tournament. Celebrities are a little weirder: Chris Martin of Coldplay is rumored to never take the stage without first brushing his teeth, and (this one’s really weird) Megan Fox once told Conan O’Brien on “The Tonight Show” that she believes she must listen to Britney Spears for the duration of a flight – otherwise the plane will crash.
Hey, whatever works.
What’s your lucky charm? And has it ever seemed to bring you good luck? Tell us about it in the comments.
Other drummers or drum-makers who use animal hides have come down with anthrax in the past.
Those hide-covered instruments that bring so much rhythmic pleasure may also be a source of dangerous illness: anthrax poisoning.
That's the word from government health officials following up on the case of a 24-year-old New Hampshire woman who developed gastrointestinal anthrax following a drumming circle late last year.
The woman, a vegan and organic farmer, had to undergo bowel surgery and nearly two months of hospitalization after she contracted the potentially deadly disease, apparently from the contaminated surfaces of hide-bound drums.
Her case is examined in the latest edition of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As many as 84 people may have been exposed to the tainted instruments during a drumming circle held at a community center in late December 2009, although the young woman was the only reported case of illness.
A CDC probe pinpointed the culprits: A 3-foot hairy cowhide drum and a tiny tambourine-like drum.
Other drummers or drum-makers who use animal hides have come down with anthrax in the past, but they had the kind that develops from breaks in the skin or when the anthrax spores are inhaled. The New Hampshire woman was the first to develop the gut-based form of the infection that made her so sick.
The drums used by the woman had a long history of use by others who didn't come down with anthrax and CDC investigators couldn't say exactly why. In any case, they conclude that the risk of infection is extremely low, partly because U.S. livestock regulations mean animal hides used here for drums aren't likely to be contaminated.
As for the victim, she's recovered and is doing well. No word on whether she's still got the beat.
Still, for those who aren't wild about drumming circles, anthrax poisoning may be one more reason to avoid them.
The teen fad known as i-Dosing – an allegedly trippy state of ecstasy reached, some claim, by listening through earphones to a pair of carefully mixed audio streams – has led some parents to worry, some teachers to panic and some narcotics authorities to start monitoring the so-called “digital drug.”
Unfamiliar with the notion of getting high via audio file? Websites boast that when repetitive beats are synchronized with brainwaves, it can alter the listener's mood or simulate the feeling of being high.
But one brain expert offers a decidedly blunt, low-tech take on this i-Trend: “It’s really much B.S., honestly,” said Damir Janigro, a Cleveland Clinic neurosurgery researcher. While music has the power to change moods, the medical concept behind i-Dosing is little more than a money-making scheme – just a dose of cyber-snake oil, Janigro adds.
To get the effect, users plug into “i-Dosers” through their headphones. The MP3 downloads (often accompanied by kaleidoscopic videos) send a distinct tone into one ear while simultaneously filling the other ear with staticky, white noise or an electrical hum, allegedly changing brain waves and bathing listeners in euphoric bliss. At least one track mixed in what sounded like a woman having an orgasm.
YouTube contains a number of free i-Dose “sound drugs,” including “Leviticus Green” or “Gates of Hades” which instructs people to listen alone in a dark room to maximize the “hallucinogenic effects.” Several websites sell i-Dose downloads for everything from smoking cessation to anxiety relief. They can cost about $20 for a 55-minute audio sample.
The grown-up hysteria over i-Dosing started with some YouTube videos that show users looking freaked out as they listen to the trippy tracks. Because i-Dosing fans – usually teenagers – claim they reach altered states through these sound streams, scattered packs of authorities have wagged their fingers at the practice. In March, three students at an Oklahoma high school were ordered to the principal’s office for admittedly i-Dosing. Consequently, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics said it was “concerned” about the fad because some i-Dosing websites offer links to buy prescription drugs or marijuana.
The late Timothy Leary would have undoubtedly loved the hoopla. But Janigro, a music aficionado who collaborated on the Cleveland Clinic’s study of deep brain stimulation, says i-Dosing is a medical dud. Any effects shown by users, he believes, are either triggered by the accompanying use of marijuana or simply by the power of suggestion.
“I really don’t think there is any danger in this,” Janigro says. “People are trying to make money ... simply using the same music that we’ve always had.”
Indeed, music can affect disposition: that’s why music is played at funerals, Janigro says. That’s why exercisers often tune into songs while working out. But the impact varies with each person. For some, “Beethoven makes them cry, for others Beethoven makes them bored.”
What’s more, sending one tone and beat into one ear, and another tone and beat into the opposite ear is as old as Beethoven – and symphony attendees don’t walk out stoned or craving munchies.
“Your awareness of music is bilateral: you hear music with both sides of your brain,” Janigro says. “At every orchestra, the strings on the left may be playing in three-quarter (time) and the cellos on the right in two quarter. So that’s nothing new.”
What i-Dosing fans ignore is “that [what comes through the right and left] ear canals are both crossing in the brain,” says Janigro. It’s not that the sound that goes into right ear goes to right side of your brain, or the left ear goes to the left side. “They cross so that in the left brain you hear from both ears and in the right brain you hear from both ears.”
Getting high digitally? “I don’t think there is a future in it,” he says.
Then, knowing kids, fads and scams of all types, the researcher quickly corrects himself.
“I don’t think there is any honest future in it.”
What do you think about i-Dosing? Is it a real danger -- or simply B.S., as Janigro puts it? Tell us in the comments.
An overdose of malaria pills during a trip to Costa Rica left one Calif. teen with an odd souvenir: a stripe of white hair.
People, pay attention to the instructions on your meds. If not for your health – at least consider your hair.
A 16-year-old Bay Area blonde learned this last year, when a band of her hair suddenly and mysteriously turned nearly white. She first noticed the change a week after returning from a two-week vacation in Costa Rica. While on the trip, she took chloroquine phosphate, an anti-malarial drug. But instead of taking 500 mg of the drug weekly, she took that amount every day.
“You could see across her hair, there was just this band of lighter color,” says Dr. Vera H. Price, a dermatology professor at the University of California, San Francisco, who described the case in today's New England Journal of Medicine. “They were very worried. She was concerned that something was drastically wrong and serious.”
It’s called hair hypopigmentation, and while it’s a weird side effect, it’s a harmless one. The bright blond hair is already starting to grow out, Price says. (The teen is lucky: In some cases, too much chloroquine has caused hair loss.) Most cases occur after three months of daily doses of 500 mg of the drug, but it happened much faster in this case.
“Whenever you take a pill of any time, for any reason, pay attention,” Price says. “Be careful, and know what you’re doing. It’s just a matter of respecting medications.”
"Actually, the first thing I did was look at her and say, 'What the flip?'" says Ben Ihegboro, the baby's father, who came to Britain with his wife five years ago and now lives in South London with their two other children. He says infidelity is out of the question. "My wife is true to me. Even if she hadn't been, the baby still wouldn't look like that."
The baby, which the couple named Nmachi, is not an albino, doctors say. Ben Ihegboro says his mother has a fairer shade of skin, "but we don't know of any white ancestry. We wondered if it was a genetic twist. But even then, what is with the long curly blond hair?"
It's an unusual case, but it's not unheard of. Skin and eye color are determined by melanin, and the amount or type of melanin is controlled by about a dozen different genes, as Bryan Sykes, an Oxford University professor of human genetics, told the tabloid. For the Ihegboros, Nmachi's blue eyes and blond hair must be the result of a trace of white ancestry from each of her parents' genes.
"In mixed race humans, the lighter variant of skin tone may come out in a child -- and this can sometimes be startlingly different to the skin of the parents," Sykes told The Sun. "This might be the case where there is a lot of genetic mixing, as in Afro-Caribbean populations. But in Nigeria there is little mixing."
Do you spy Australia on this tongue? Geographic tongue is a benign but curious condition.
Circles, ridges, and odd-looking continents are usually found on maps, but for people with benign migratory glossitis, these cartographic elements are right on their body.
On their tongue, that is.
John Rudzinski, a 48-year-old illustrator from Ottawa has had a "geographic tongue" as long as he can remember. "It's not always the same," he says. "On the flat of the tongue, you'll sometimes see continent-like shapes, but they change. You'll have one that's red and one that's kind of whitish and then they're gone the next day."
Geographic tongue is completely benign, say experts, and there's no treatment. Still the strange-looking patterns that appear and disappear and migrate overnight can be disconcerting.
"I'll see people who are very concerned about their tongue and they'll complain that they've had it their whole life and the doctors won't treat it," says Dr. Alan Hirsch, founder and neurological director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, calling it a benign, asymptomatic condition. "They want a treatment, they want a disease." Hirsch instead tells his patients, "Don't be scared. It'll go away on its own."
According to a recent case study in the New England Journal of Medicine, these shape-shifting tongue "lesions" are caused by the atrophying of the filiform papillae â€” the protuberances that contain taste buds. They can be found in about 2 percent of the world's population.
But Hirsch says it may even be more prevalent than that.
"We see it all the time," he says. "I wouldn't be surprised if it affected at least a quarter of the population."
Few studies have been done on geographic tongue. However, a 1976 study in an oral health journal does suggest it's hereditary. It's also commonly mistaken for something else.
"Your doctor might say this is fungus and shoot you with an anti-fungal agent, but it's not fungus," says Hirsch. "You can also see things that look a lot like geographic tongue with vitamin B12 deficiency, but that's different. It's basically just your own little tattoo, a tattoo that shifts over time."
Not surprisingly, it's not the only tongue condition out there. Scrotal tongue, which is sometimes associated with geographic tongue, causes deep fissures to appear on the tongue, making it lookwrinkled. It, too, is harmless. An overgrowth of bacteria in the mouth can also cause black, hairy tongue which basically looks just like it sounds. Aside from putting a damper on your love life for a short period of time, black, hairy tongue is temporary, benign and goes away on its own.
Rudzinski says he never thought much about the ever-changing patches of red and white on his tongue until his dentist mentioned he had a geographic tongue.
"I thought it was normal," he says. "But then my dentist pointed it out one day and started calling in other people to look at it."
Still, he doesn't mind the continental drift going on in his mouth.
"There's no down side to it," he says. "It doesn't hurt. It just looks odd. But nobody knows you have it unless you stick your tongue out at them."
Joan Raymond writes: Got a weird wart? If home remedies like acid or duct tape aren't working to annihilate it, try self-hypnosis. It's not as crazy as you think.
Though hypnosis has suffered mightily in popular culture (really, no guy with a pocket watch can make you dance like a chicken, unless you really want to) some doctors have found the mind-body technique helpful for treating problems like insomnia, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, and, yes, warts. Though these ugly skin growths caused by the human papilloma virus generally respond to conventional approaches (and some may go away with no intervention, but it can take months, even years), recurrence is common.
Kids are wart magnets and some of the treatments can be traumatic for them, says Karen Olness, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. In a multi-institutional study of wart regression using hypnosis, published more than a decade ago in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, Olness and colleagues found that kids who were treated with a standard topical remedy and kids who were treated using self-hypnosis techniques experienced equal amounts of wart regression. But after one year, kids in the hypnosis group who continued to use self-hypnosis techniques experienced fewer recurrences.
"We don't know why it works but we think it may have something to do with an ability to control blood flow. If the wart isn't getting nutrients, it's going to go away," says Olness, who begins teaching self-hypnosis by asking kids to name some things they enjoy. Once they're relaxed, she asks them to think of ways to "stop feeding" the wart.
Though most of us experience a trance-like state akin to self hypnosis when we're engrossed in a TV show or reading a good book, the deeply focused state of hypnosis can only be achieved if a person practices.
"People need a coach to help teach techniques, but then it's really up to them to take it the rest of the way," says Olness, who has had success in helping adults with warts, including a skeptical colleague who suffered with recurrent plantar warts. "At the end of the day, all hypnosis is self hypnosis."
Wondering what it is about Kate Bosworth's looks that are so riveting? It just might be her distinctive irises. Born with heterochromia, Bosworth has one blue eye and one eye with sectors of both hazel and blue.
It's a rare defect that many people find irresistible.
"It's definitely been my ace in the hole," says Ingrid Ingerson, a 36-year-old Seattle program assistant who also has sectoral heterochromia. She has hazel eyes with a splash of brown in her right eye. "It's always been a hit with the boys. Not that I care about that now that I'm married, but it's still part of my cachet and part of my mystique."
According to Dr. Ivan Schwab, an ophthalmology professor at UC Davis, heterochromia occurs more frequently in cats and dogs and is uncommon in humans, affecting only about 1 in 10,000 people. It's often genetic â€” usually due to an excess or lack of melanin in the iris â€” but it can also be caused by injury, inflammation, tumor or medications, such as eye drops for glaucoma or eyelash enhancement.
In some people, heterochromia produces two completely different-colored irises. Actress Jane Seymour has one green eye and one hazel eye. Others have a colored sector (like Bosworth) or will have central heterochromia, which is basically a ring of extra color between the pupil and the iris.
"Central is pretty common," says Schwab. "If you look really close in a person with blue eyes, at the margin [of the pupil] you'll see lots of yellow dots that will blend in when you step away. It's sort of the difference between a light blue and a steely blue."
Inherited heterochromia is harmless, although acquired may be a different story, says Schwab. The worst part of it is dealing with people who've never encountered it before.
"Some people can't let it go," says Ingerson. "They'll say, 'What's wrong with your eye?' 'Can you see out of it?' They â€¦ want to know if it hurts. They always go to the place where it's a problem or a malady."
Other common questions â€“ gleaned from a "People With Sectoral Heterochromia" Facebook page â€“ include: "Is that a glass eye?"; "I think your eye is bleeding"; and "Wow, you look just like a Husky."
While constant questions can be off-putting, most people seem to like it.
"It's exotic," says Schwab, the ophthalmologist. "It's striking and it makes them different."
It might even give them a certain star power. In addition to Bosworth and Seymour, luminaries sporting some form of heterochromia include actors Kiefer Sutherland, Christopher Walken, Dan Aykroyd, and Elizabeth Berkeley; singer/songwriter Carly Simon; baseball pitcher Max Scherzer; and by some reports, Alexander the Great.
David Bowie, perhaps the most famous "heterochromiac" in existence, actually has an enlarged pupil in one eye, courtesy of a fistfight in his youth, which gives the appearance of two different-colored irises.
Utah resident Angie Cromar has a rare condition called uterus didelphys, which means she has a double uterus. And right now, there's a baby in both of them, each at different stages of development. One is five weeks and four days along; the other is six weeks and one day along, reports ksl.com, the website of NBC affiliate KSL-TV 5 in Salt Lake City.
Although pregnancy in both uteruses is rare -- the chances are about 1 in 5 million -- this isn't the first recorded case. Nor is it the weirdest. In 1981, a woman with uterus didelphys became pregnant with triplets, two in the left uterus, one in the right. Babies on the left were delivered on the same day, two hours apart; baby on the right was delivered 72 days later. And in 1961, a woman with two uteruses, two cervices and two vaginas delivered two healthy babies. But even women without uterus didelphys can become pregnant with twins-that-aren't-twins. Last year, an Arkansas woman named Julia Grovenburg conceived while she was already pregnant, an example of a rare condition called superfetation.
Chris Tachibana writes: Can't go on a long car ride without feeling queasy? Don't worry -- you're not a wimp if you get green in the gills in the minivan. Even astronauts (up to 50 percent of them!) get airsick. And as it turns out, whether your summer travel plans include a cross-country flight or the boats at "It's a Small World," an unlikely source might help ease your motion sickness: NASA.
"Motion sickness won't kill you -- you just wish it would," says Dr. Patricia S. Cowings, a research psychologist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. Cowings and colleague Dr. William B. Toscano have a six-hour anti-motion sickness training program called AFTE for autogenic-feedback training exercise. It works even better than the anti-nausea injections given to queasy astronauts.
Turns out, there are plenty of recorded cases of spewing in space, and perhaps the most infamous of them all happened in 1969. All three Apollo 9 crewmembers had nausea, in particular Rusty Schweickart, who still managed to go out in a spacesuit after repeated episodes of vomiting. That's when NASA began to take the issue seriously, and the agency now actively studies ways to reduce motion sickness.
AFTE trains them to control the nausea by controlling body functions like sweating and increased heart rate. These are usually involuntary, but we can learn to control them with biofeedback training. Sure, you can change your pulse by running around and then stopping, but AFTE trains you to mentally ramp up and bring down your physiological responses.
"We don't teach relaxation," says Cowings, "we teach control. It improves with practice, like any other skill."
The astronauts get real-time, high-tech feedback about things like skin conductance to measure sweating, and how much blood their heart is pumping. But even those of us who aren't spacebound can use AFTE ideas. If you're nauseated, Cowings says, "Get your breathing smooth and even, with two seconds of inhalation and two seconds of exhalation. Breathe from low in your abdomen and keep that up as long as you can." She says to relax your arms and legs and think about getting your hands warmer, to increase blood flow.
Common sense says that opening the window for some fresh air, and looking at the horizon instead of down at a book or Nintendo DS makes car trips more tolerable. Some studies suggest ginger reduces nausea. Of course, you can always knock yourself out with a pill like Dramamine or Bonine, if you don't mind drowsiness. But AFTE has no side effects, says Cowings, and "it lasts forever, once you learn."
Linda Carroll writes: It used to be insulting if you were told you had a big head. Now, it turns out â€” ego, aside â€” that it might actually be a compliment. A large cranium equals a big brain, researchers say. And if you're struck by Alzheimer's disease, having a dominant dome on your shoulders might help preserve your thinking and memory, a new study shows.
As a general rule, the larger your head circumference measures, the more room there is for brain cells. That means that you've got all those extra neurons waiting like the cavalry in reserve when a brain disease like Alzheimer's strikes, says the study's lead author Dr. Robert Perneczky, a researcher at the Technical University of Munich in Germany.
"These findings add weight to the theory of brain reserve, or individual capacity to withstand changes in the brain," says Perneczky about the new research published in Neurology. "Our findings also underline the importance of optimal brain development early in life, since the brain reaches 93 percent of its final size at age six."
Perneczky says we might be able to prevent some cases of Alzheimer's disease if we could make sure everyone's brain got a chance to develop to its fullest potential. Unfortunately, that news might be a little late for anyone already old enough to be reading about his study.
Perneczky scanned the brains of 270 people with Alzheimer's disease and then measured their skull sizes and tested their thinking abilities. The ones with larger-sized heads did better on tests of memory and cognition.
So, does that mean that mean you should be investigating nursing homes if you have a small head?
Not yet, says Dr. Steven Arnold, a professor of neurology and psychiatry and director of the Penn Memory Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
While the German study results are interesting, the tests show a lot of "scatter," says Arnold. Which means that while there is a general trend for larger head size to be protective against mental decline, there are a lot of other factors at work.
As an example of that, Arnold points to Albert Einstein.
"The average male brain is about 1,400 g or 3 lb.," says Arnold. "Albert Einstein's brain was measured after his death at 1,230 g and I think we all agree he was intelligent."
So, clearly there are exceptions to the rule.
Do you worry about the size of your head? Tell us in the comments.
Even if you're expecting the unexpected, you're still going to miss some things, suggests a new study. In some cases, those things will be wearing gorilla suits.
A well-known study in the late '90s asked participants to watch a video and count the number of times a group of students -- some dressed in white, some in black -- passed a basketball back and forth. In the middle of the video, a person dressed in a gorilla suit runs into the middle of the game, and then sticks around for a bit while he waves his hairy arms and beats his chest. The funny thing? About half of those who watched the video didn't notice it. It's an example of what's called "inattentional blindness." That's a term that describes our inability to notice something that's happening right in front of us, usually because it's unexpected, or because our attention is focused elsewhere.
The new study, published this month in the journal i-Perception, builds on the original experiment: Say the participants have heard of the original study, and know to look for the gorilla. Would they notice other unexpected events introduced in the short video? Would you? Check it out here.
As University of Illinois psychology professor Dan Simons reminds us, "Looking isn't the same as seeing." Simons co-authored this study and the original study with Union College psychology professor Christopher Chabris. The two have published a book called "The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us," in which they tackle everyday illusions. One example you're not going to like: Talking on your cell phone as you drive really does reduce your awareness of obvious dangers on the road, even if you're using a hands-free device.
Can you think of a time -- while driving, watching a sports event, or anything else -- when you failed to notice something that was happening right in front of you? Tell us about it in the comments.
Are older women sexually adventurous because they, perhaps unconsciously, are desperate for a baby?
In a study released this week, a team of University of Texas graduate students led by Judith Easton wanted to know what happened to sexual feelings and action after peak fertility, but while women are still fertile. What would evolution have programmed women to do?
Well, if you follow the study’s conclusions, evolution has programmed women to act a lot like "The Real Housewives" of Orange County/New York/D.C.: horny and willing because they want to take that waning fertility for a workout.
The team based that conclusion on an online survey of 827 women. They divided those women into three groups of “high fertility” (18-26), “low fertility” (27-45) and “menopausal” (46 and older).
“We found that women in the 27-45 age group were much more willing to have sex after knowing somebody one evening, one week and one month, than younger women,” Easton told me.
This group was also more likely to have frequent and more intense sexual fantasies, and a more active sex life overall.
Interestingly, it didn’t matter if women in the low fertility group already had children or not. “It was strictly age-based,” Easton said. “That was pretty surprising.”
Easton and her colleagues found that the older women got, the more sexually willing they were until they hit menopause, at which point it started heading south.
Hmm. As msnbc.com's sex columnist, this made me skeptical. Was this about evolution, or experience? The study did not ask about sexual experience. Isn’t it possible that with more experience, women demystify sex, are more confident, and become more willing to have it on flimsier pretexts (like, say, because it’s fun), not to unconsciously take their fertility out for a jog? Easton agreed that was a potential confounding notion.
But, she pointed out, the menopausal women had fewer sexual fantasies and were less willing to bed a near-stranger so it’s not just experience. Yes, I countered, but as any man who has lived with a menopausal woman can tell you, all sorts of behavior changes, not just sexuality, thanks to our friends the hormones. The group did not test for hormone levels.
Another possibility, Easton agreed, is that our culture has finally decided that it’s O.K. – and some might say there’s even pressure -- for older women to be hot, act hot, feel hot. But whether it’s fertility, or culture or experience, Easton said, the study “sort of does support the idea of the cougar.”
Are women more confident? Experienced? Want a baby? Why do you think women are more sexually willing as they get older? Tell us in the comments.
Danielle Staub underwent breast surgery revision for her uneven assets on an episode of "Real Housewives of New Jersey."
In the "Real Housewives of New Jersey," Danielle Staub recently went under the knife to get her cosmetically-botched breasts evened out since one was bigger --- and higher -- than the other.
But Danielle isn’t the only “unbalanced” female out there.
“Ninety percent of women have some type of asymmetric breasts,” says Dr. Tony Youn, a plastic surgeon in Troy, Mich. “It’s very common. One side of our body is always a little different from the other. There are some women that have minor asymmetry -– to the point where they don’t even notice it -- and others who are one, two or three cup sizes different from one side to the other.”
Such is the case for Christine, a 38-year-old media consultant from Seattle, who asked not to give her last name for fear of being outed as having what she calls “teeter totter" ta-tas.
“It’s like I’m big boob girl and medium boob girl,” she says. “I first noticed it during puberty and was more self-conscious about it then, but now I just wear this shoulder pad thing that you can buy in any lingerie department. It’s kind of expected that women are asymmetrical but with some women, it’s just more dramatic than others.”
Perhaps the most dramatic asymmetry is found with Poland’s Syndrome, a medical condition where -- among other symptoms -- women (or men) will have one “normal” breast and one breast that completely lacks muscle, breast tissue or even a nipple.
Breast-feeding can also cause one breast to become smaller or droopier, says Youn (“The droopier side is usually the baby’s favorite”) as can cosmetic surgery complications, such as an implant that’s “gone bad.”
Although asymmetrical breasts are perfectly normal, Youn says they can still affect some women’s self-image and even their ability to have relationships.
“I’ve had women in their late 20s come in and say I’ve never taken my shirt off in front of a man before,” he says. “They feel quote unquote deformed.”
Christine, who recently married, is more philosophical about her “lopsided ladies.”
“Maybe if I had an endless amount of money I’d have surgery, but it’s more like why bother at this point,” she says. “It’s irritating and you have to learn to dress for your figure. But boys don’t care. They’re just like, whatever.”
Do you have any other asymmetries you're embarrassed about? Proud of? Tell us about it in the comments.
If you're a hiker planning to trek into rattlesnake-infested hills this summer, take a fashion cue from a pair of California reptile researchers: Make sure to wear jeans.
Snake scientists at Loma Linda University have discovered that denim clothing significantly cuts the amount of venom injected by angry rattlesnakes, reducing the poison by up to 66 percent.
The researchers, William K. Hayes, a biology professor, and Shelton S. Herbert, a doctoral student, tested 17 small and large southern Pacific rattlesnakes, allowing them to strike liquid-filled latex kitchen gloves, some covered with denim fabric and some left bare. They reported their findings in a recent issue of the Annals of Emergency Medicine.
Overwhelmingly, the snakes were thwarted by the denim-covered gloves, spilling their venom harmlessly onto the surface and cutting the amount of time that their fangs were in contact with what would have been human flesh.
"I was surprised," said Hayes, who believes too many hikers fail to take snakebite seriously.
"Wearing long denim pants as an alternative to shorts may provide a simple, low-cost means of reducing the severity of snakebites," his study concludes.
Of course, the Boy Scouts of America have urged hikers for years to wear not only jeans but also leather boots when tramping around snake country, as Dr. Robert James Hoffman, a New York toxicologist pointed out in a follow-up letter.
No word yet on whether future research will consider the effect of neckerchiefs, merit badges and funny hats on snake bites, but Hoffman couldn't resist a bad Boy Scout pun:
"Perhaps their study will assist persons to 'be prepared' for potential rattlesnake encounters," he wrote.
Megan Fox, shown at Nickelodeon's 2009 Kids' Choice Awards in Los Angeles, is said to have used a thumb double in a Motorola ad that aired during the Superbowl.
Megan Fox is hot. It's just true. But sometimes, it's kind of fun to take down the prettiest girl in school. Turns out the 24-year-old actress, who is year after year among Maxim's Sexiest Women Alive, actually does have a physical flaw â€“ her thumbs look like two big toes.
The scientific name for stump thumb is Brachydactyly type D, but the condition is also called club thumb, stub thumb, fat thumb, potter's thumb and toe thumb. It's also known as "murderer's thumb," a moniker once used by gypsy fortune tellers.
Whatever you call it, club thumbs are an inherited trait, and the condition is fairly common â€“ up to 4 percent of the population is estimated to have a stubby thumb. But Fox might be a little sensitive about the whole thing; in a Motorola ad that aired during the Super Bowl this year, she's said to have used a thumb double.
No need to be ashamed, dear. People like your thumbs! No, really, they do â€“ more than 1,000 people "like" Megan Fox's thumbs on Facebook. And for the toe-thumbed among us who aren't celebrities, don't worry â€“ Facebook's got you covered, too. A group called BRACHYDACTYLY Type D has more than 900 members, each of them proudly giving the condition a stumpy thumbs up. The page's wall is covered with notes like "BDDs unite!" and "I finally feel like I belong !!:)" Some seem to use the page to alert the group to other toe-thumbs out there; a woman named Sue Brown helpfully notes:
"Hey, try to catch the CHEEZ_IT cracker commercial where the researcher is trying to determine if the block of cheese is mature enough. he is checking off on a clip board whether or not the cheese is ready and his left thumb holding the clip board is definitely a BRACH-D thumb :)"
Do you have a bodily quirk that you're particularly proud of? Tell us about it in the comments.
Hey, summer beachgoers: You might think twice about packing those swim fins and snorkels.
A new study by Florida scientists trying to account for pollution suggests that staying out of the water might keep you healthier than going for a dip.
Even in waters with no known impurities, swimmers were more likely to get sick than sunbathers who stayed on the shore, said Jay M. Fleisher, an associate professor of public health at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale-Davie.
"We know that waters that have been contaminated with sewage will cause illness," said Fleisher. "We wanted to see whether people were actually getting sick from a beach that had no pollution."
The answer, it turned out, was yes. Fleisher and his crew sent 1,303 adults to Hobie Beach near Miami, a site known for its pristine waters. Half were told to stay dry and other half were sent to swim.
Within a week, it was clear that going in the water took a toll on the bathers. Swimmers were 1.76 times as likely to report stomach troubles; 4.46 times times more likely to report illnesses with fevers, sniffles and sore throats; and 5.91 times more likely to report itching, rashes and other skin woes.
The culprit? Scientists aren't certain, but they suspect enterococcus bacteria, nasty critters normally found in the feces of people and many animals. Health officials typically detect the bacteria in waters sullied by sewage spills, but they were surprised to find it â€“ sometimes in high concentrations â€“ in a beach area without known contamination.
The findings raise troubling questions about public beach water monitoring in the absence of known sewage spills and about whether â€“ and when â€“ it's necessary to warn people about potential health problems. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is grappling with the question now, trying to decide whether there's a better way to identify markers of risk, Fleisher said.
In the meantime, Fleisher notes that although swimmers were more likely to become ill than non-swimmers, the number of actual illnesses among people who went in the water was small.
Only about 1 in 100 people developed respiratory illness with fever, and only about 2 in 100 came down with gastrointestinal illness. About 6 in 100 developed skin ailments.
"The individual risk to the bather is fairly low," Fleisher said. "But when you multiply that by the number of people who go on the beach, you could start having a public health problem."
If Fleisher had his way, every beach would be posted with a stoplight-type sign that signals green, yellow or red conditions for healthy water quality.
Barring that, summer swimmers shouldn't be afraid to go in the water, he said. But they might stay healthier if they stick to the shore.
A man jumps out a fifth-story window. A woman marches into oncoming traffic. Another woman loads a gun and shoots herself. All appear to be open-and-shut cases of suicide, but, then again, maybe not. In rare cases, such deaths could be caused by something called parasomnia pseudo-suicide, experts say.
In other words: It’s possible to kill yourself in your sleep.
Recently, the New York Times reported on such a case. On the morning of May 30, a young, promising designer named Tobias Wong was found dead in his New York City home; he’d apparently hanged himself in the night. But Wong had a known history of insomnia and extreme sleepwalking episodes, among them billing clients, cooking a steak dinner or even creating silly outfits for his cats, the paper reported. His sleepwalking condition had apparently worsened with the stress of growing his design business.
Could his death be a tragic result of his sleepwalking?
There are documented cases of suicide while sleepwalking, says Michel Cramer Bornemann, the lead investigator of sleep forensics at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minn. Bornemann spends his days working on the legal implications of sleepwalking. He’ll help build a case to defend a sleepwalker who wanders into a stranger’s home, or, on the other hand, prosecute a woman who claims she was sleepwalking when she loaded a gun, shot and killed someone.
“If you think about sleep, the part of the brain that makes us human is essentially offline,” Bornemann says. He’s talking about the prefrontal cortex, which controls our personalities and our decision making processes. In sleepwalking, “the behaviors are either very primal, reflexive behaviors, or they’re overlearned behaviors that are kind of built into our neural networks that have become habitual.”
On NPR’s “This American Life,”comedian Mike Birbiglia relates experience with the sleepwalking disorder and an episode that nearly killed him. While staying at a motel in Walla Walla, Wash., he had a nightmare that a missile was headed for his hotel room. While still asleep, he got out of bed and jumped out the second story window. To cope with the disorder, he now sleeps in a sleeping bag.
Sleepwalking is more common among kids, affecting about 12 percent of American children, Bonneman says. But as the brain matures, most people grow out of it – it’s much rarer for adults to sleepwalk, and only about 4 percent of Americans adults do.
“But technically, it can happen in a lot of us,” Bonneman says. “This is something that all of us are potentially capable of.”