Saturday, November 29, 2014

10 scientific findings to ruin your holiday fun

before the science of food chemistry gave us quiche
image: CoppertailBrewing
I love science.  Without it, we'd still be in caves eating berries and choking from the smoke from the raw monkey meat roasting over the open flames.

However, science has that way of ruining some of life's guilty pleasures and cool-sounding ideas by reminding us of inconvenient truths of all sorts.

This article highlights 10 buzzkills that are particularly relevant during holiday periods, as we focus on family, friends, and food.

The article summarizes findings from a number of studies you may not be happy to read, but getting sick from your cat or your snack are even worse, so here they are.  There are conflicting opinions on some of them (e.g. raw cookie dough), but you should at least be aware of health risks.


Recognize any of these in your home?

1. Sharing a bed with your pet can be a bad idea. (And no kissing!)

Dogs and cats bring not only joy and love, but also a wide range of zoonotic pathogens into our homes, according to a 2011 study in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. Happily, zoonotic infections contracted from pets are uncommon, yet kissing and sleeping with pets raises the risk of contracting a variety of these bacterial infections, including staph/MRSA, plague, and meningitis.

Don't let your pet lovingly lick your mouth or an open sore, and keep young kids from sleeping with and kissing pets, and of course keep your pet free of ticks, fleas, and other ectoparasites with regular checkups.

the discomfort may not stop by morning, so check your pet
image: EatLiver


2. No snacking on raw cookie dough.

Raw eggs can contain salmonella, which is (one reason) why we were told not to eat raw cookie dough. I'm sure eating the equivalent of a dozen cookies in a few mouthfuls had nothing to do with it. Nowadays, hen houses are cleaner and the chance of food poisoning from eggs is low, though still possible.

In raw cookie dough from a store, the eggs are pasteurized, which kills the salmonella, but the other ingredients are also potential downers, as found in a party-crashing study, which tracked the source of a large E. coli outbreak in 2009 to the flour in a brand of raw chocolate chip cookie dough. Mercifully, cookie dough ice cream is still a safe bet!

image: StereoGum


3. Exercise [alone] won't help you lose weight.

For all you holiday snackers and cookie monsters, remember that overeating affects your weight more than all that sitting around watching football and Christmas species on TV. Unless we are exercising several hours a day (any Olympians out there?), studies show that our basal metabolic rates, which determines how many calories we burn each day, tend to drop as we lose weight. The bulk of the energy (calories) we burn each day is from just existing (keeping our brains, muscles, organs, and blood cells functioning).

Regular exercise IS critical to health overall; nevertheless, actually consuming fewer calories leads to faster weight loss than just doing more exercise because thinner people who exercise more don't burn off more calories than larger, more sedentary people.


4. Blue light has a dark side -- keep your iWhatever off at night.

Chronic exposure to light at night is linked to poor sleep and an increased risk of breast cancer, obesity and depression, so keep the TV, computer and phone turned off at night.

screen light doesn't promote sleep
photo: Dreamstime Photo Illustration
That's harder than it sounds, for me and for the average American: the US National Sleep Foundation reports 95% of Americans use some sort of tech device at night, including watching TV right before going to sleep. More than half of teenagers and nearly half or folks in their 20s say they text in the hour before bed.

Reading with artificial light, especially the blue light of electronics screens, before sleep disrupts the body's natural rhythms, and it suppresses the hormone melatonin, which promotes sleep, according to the American Medical Association. And staying up late often leads to snacking and overeating.  As someone often trying to finish blog posts late into the evening, I can vouch for all of this!


5. Indoor tanning is addictive and as bad a real sun exposure.

I've never been to an indoor tanning salon, which is a good thing, as the UV rays one receives there, just like those from the real sun, damage skin and can cause skin cancer. So why do people do it? Besides that "healthy" glow you get, indoor tanning can become an addiction, according to a 2012 study in the Journal of Addiction Biology (wow). The reward centers in the brains of people who use tanning beds change in ways that mimic drug addiction.

Aaaahh -- super cool or super carcinogenic?
photo: Newsucanuse


6. Faster-paced cartoons = slower learning

If you want a calm kid who can control her or his behavior, think about replacing fast-paced cartoons with slower-paced ones, or even non-digital entertainment like reading or drawing. A study in the journal Pediatrics found that 4-year-olds who watched nine minutes of the cartoon "SpongeBob SquarePants" had lower ability to learn and to behave with self-control, while kids who watched "Caillou" or who entertained themselves by drawing showed little effect.


7. Spreading more than the love -- double dipping great for spreading germs.

Even if you didn't get enough salsa, hummous, cheese, or spinach dip on that chip, don't dip again. Dipping that chip (or crisp) after putting it in your mouth is more than a faux pas-- it's a great way to share all those bacteria in your mouth with the rest of the party. Researchers at Clemson University counted the bacteria transferred to salsa, chocolate sauce, and cheese by a double-dipped chip. Yum. On average, about 10,000 bacteria moved from the eater's mouth to the dip, meaning the next dipper would get at least 50 to 100 bacteria from the offender's mouth in every bite. Worse than sharing too much information!


8. Soda makes you fat.

Sugary drinks do, in fact, make you fat. Whether the liquid is soda, lemonade or a sweetened fruit drink, people young and old who imbibe even modest amounts gain excess weight, according to a trio of studies published in 2012 in the New England Journal of Medicine. Moreover, if your genes put you at a heightened risk of obesity, you're also more likely than others to put on pounds from sugary drinks. The studies could mean more cities will imitate New York City, which recently banned large sugary drinks.

not your standard Coke commercial
image: LiveTradingNews


9. Vitamin supplements don't help you live longer.

More than half of Americans take some type of vitamin pill, yet, ironically taking vitamin supplements are not only not prolonging life in the US, it also may increase one's risk of dying, albeit indirectly, due to taking greater risks. According to research reported in the journal Psychological Science, taking vitamins creates an illusion of invulnerability that many consumers feel compensates for choosing other, less healthy behaviors. It's called "licensing" – for example, participants in this study thinking they were taking vitamins chose a big buffet over an organic meal and exercised less than those thinking they were taking a placebo.


10. Yes, you can drink too much coffee (but it's a lot)

Setting aside the acidic effect on your stomach lining, drinking too much coffee is risky for your health. How much coffee is too much? Happily for most consumers, it's a lot.

Studies find that 7 cups per day can cause anxiety, irritability, sleeplessness and increase stress to the point of hallucination. Drinking 10 or 11 cups daily slightly raises your risk of heart failure, due to the resulting faster heart rate and temporarily shrunken blood vessels. Women's risk tends to be lower, as they metabolize caffeine faster than men do. Individually, some people carry genetic mutations that increase or decrease their ability to process caffeine.


On the bright side, smaller amounts of caffeine have been associated with lower risks of Parkinson's disease, liver diseases, and depression, so, as in so many things, enjoy in moderation!

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