Monday, August 3, 2015

Eat Cake! New Study Says It's All in the Genes

Ah, if only!

No more cutting out cakes and cookies.  No more skipping lunch.  No more Weight Watchers.

Now all you have to do is find the gene that blocks fat.  Or, at least, scientists do.

According to a new study, by blocking the expression (or working) of a certain gene in patients, University of Montreal researchers have been able to isolate and somewhat shut down the production of the triglycerides that cause hypertriglyceridemia, the ones most often associated with frequent health issues, such as obesity or diabetes.

“Triglycerides, like cholesterol, are lipids. They come from fats carried by our food or produced by our bodies. Depending on the cause, the accumulation of triglycerides in blood is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular and pancreatic illnesses, and other complications,” explains Dr. Daniel Gaudet, first author of the study.  

What all that gobbledygook simply means is that, if the gene that produces this can be blocked, so may obesity or diabetes.

 More than one-third (or over 35% of our population) is obese in this country.  That's a lot of people.  Being able to shut this gene off may be a long way away but at least it provides hope that maybe we can see a decrease in heart attacks, cancer and diabetes -- illnesses all caused by overweight.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Words Can Make You Fat

Now how's this?  Reading about Donald Trump today can make you fat tomorrow.

Well, that's not quite true but it could be.  According to new research, bad news today can influence a country's weight.

What’s in the newspaper today can predict how skinny or fat a country’s population will be tomorrow, says new research published in BMC Public Health by Brian Wansink, Professor and Director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, and Brennan Davis, Associate Professor of Marketing from California State University at San Luis Obispo at

According to the study, food words trending today will predict a country’s obesity level by 2018 ¬– just three years from now!

If you're like me and look forward to Wednesdays and the food section in The New York Times, be very scared.  The study analyzed all the food words mentioned in The Times and The Times of London over the past 50 years and statistically correlated them with each country’s annual Body Mass Index, or BMI, a measure of obesity. 

“Newspapers are basically crystal balls for obesity,” says co-author Wansink.


“The more sweet snacks are mentioned and the less vegetables are mentioned, the fatter your country’s population is going to be in three years,” says lead author Davis. “But the less often they’re mentioned and the more vegetables are mentioned, the skinnier the public will be.“

So now what?

There's a catch, sort of.  The study found that people respond better to positive messaging -- eat more vegetables and fruit," rather than "eat less cookies."

If you only read sports and politics, what then?  I guess you're in the clear.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Rudeness More Contagious Than Sneezes

Measles are contagious.  Sneezes are contagious.  But did you know rudeness is, too?

New research has shown that encountering rude behavior at work makes people more likely to perceive rudeness in later interactions, a University of Florida study shows. It simply makes us more likely to be impolite in return, spreading rudeness like a virus.

Who hasn't had a boss who called them out in a meeting for failing to do something?  Or praised someone else for something you worked on, too? 

Years ago I had a boss who was so hateful I broke out in a rash on vacation when I was away from him, probably the only time my body felt safe enough to express it.  He'd make me do things like pick up donuts for my peers or make copies of their work to be handed out at meetings.  He did everything he could to make me feel small and worthless.  And it worked.

It also made me want to do churlish things back.  Though I was a little too afraid to be rude right back to him, what I said behind his back would have made his ears burn.  I hated that man.  But it also made me hate my co-workers who were his favorites.  One time he took everyone in the department to lunch, including one of my good friends, except me.  It hurt more than I can say that not only did she go, but she didn't even tell me that she had been included until they all left, laughing and high-fiving each other. 

Years later, when we were meeting former co-workers for drinks, he sidled up to me and tried to be friendly.  I just turned away.

So I guess his being rude infected me, too.

“Part of the problem is that we are generally tolerant of these behaviors, but they’re actually really harmful,” quotes lead author Trevor Foulk, a doctoral student in management at the University of Florida's Warrington College of Business Administration. “Rudeness has an incredibly powerful negative effect on the workplace.” 

Rudeness directed at others can also prime our brains to detect discourtesy. Researchers asked a group of undergraduate students to identify which words in a list were real and which were nonsense words. Before the exercise began, participants saw one of two staged interactions between an apologetic late-arriving participant and the study leader. When the leader was rude to the latecomer, the participants identified rude words on the list as real words significantly faster than participants who had observed a neutral interaction.

Even worse, when study participants watched a video of a rude workplace interaction, then answered a fictitious customer email that was neutral in tone, they were more likely to be hostile in their responses than those who viewed a polite interaction before responding.

So what does this mean for us?  As for me, I believe in karma.  If I let a car merge in front of me, most likely another car will let me, a few minutes later.  And what would it be like if we lived in a world where everyone could get away with being rude to others?

I guess that's kind of the world we live in now.  

I never used to be this way (call it age?) but now, when I see someone struggling with a stroller trying to open a door, I rush over and open it for her.  I don't know which I like better, the thanks or the feeling that I get of generosity, of the kindness I extended to someone else.  It makes me feel good.

In the end, being rude to someone really only hurts us.  I don't know about you but I hate that feeling of  emptiness when I rush to get in line ahead of someone else at the grocery store.  Chances are, in the end, I'll drop back and let them go first.   In the end, it's selfishness.  It always feels better to be righteous than rude.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Can't Stand on One Leg and Tell Your Partner You Love Him? Watch Out

Stand on one leg while telling your partner why you love him.


Your relationship may be in trouble.

According to Gretchen Reynolds of The New York Times, your stance may test your marriage.

Say what?

A new study has shown that how much stability you have on your feet may tell oodles about where your relationship is going. 

Balancing on one leg may test the stability not just of your body but also of your marriage or other intimate relationships, according to a remarkable new study of how bodily posture may affect emotional thinking.

I took an aerobics class a while ago that had one movement where you pulled one leg up behind your back and held it with the other arm.  For weeks I couldn't do it, and then, one day, I could.  I remember the feeling of being shocked that I couldn't do it.  And come to think of it, my marriage wasn't in such great shape in those days.

 I'm not sure I totally buy it but supposedly how much balance you have while standing on one leg can translate somehow into your marriage or relationship.  

Our minds and bodies connect in weird ways.  Reynolds explains that past studies have shown, for instance, that people who hold a warm cup of coffee tend to consider strangers as likely to be more friendly and “warm” than do people who hold a cup of iced coffee.

And we all know how often wellness (or unwellness) in our bodies is allied with our heads.  But back to balance.

Because that's what we're talking about here, how instability in our bodies can sometimes mean instability in our relationships with the significant people in our lives.

Reynolds notes that few researchers had closely examined how "embodied cognition" (the blending of emotional and bodily feelings)  might be entwined in our romantic relationships, but now that they are, this unusual finding has them shaking their heads.

To see how stability plays out among couples, researchers first recruited a small group of college students who reported being involved in a committed relationship that had lasted for at least a year, according to Reynolds.

The researchers then randomly assigned half of their volunteers to sit at a normal desk and the other half to sit at workstations that had been subtly altered so that both the chair and the desk wiggled slightly.

The volunteers all completed questionnaires about their lives and romantic relationships, including how satisfied they felt with their partner and whether they felt the relationship would last. (Only one member of a couple was part of the study, to encourage honesty.)

Afterward, the researchers found a strong correlation between wobbly work spaces and wobbly romantic pairings. The students who had been seated at the unstable workstations were much more likely to perceive instability in their love lives than were the students whose chairs and work spaces didn’t waver.

Then  the researchers used an online portal to recruit a much larger and more diverse group of volunteers, including older people, some of whom had been married for years. All said that they were part of an established, monogamous couple.

The researchers asked all of these volunteers to position themselves in front of a computer screen.
Then they asked half of the volunteers to stand on one leg, while the rest remained solidly positioned on both feet.  While holding the assigned posture, volunteers completed questionnaires about themselves and their romantic relationship, just as the students had done.

But now the researchers also had the volunteers, while still poised on one or both feet, compose a short note to their loved one, describing how the volunteer felt about his or her partner at that moment.

 Overwhelmingly, those volunteers who wobbled on one leg rated their relationships as more unstable and less likely to last than did the people who stood on both feet.

Does this mean if you're unsteady on your feet, your relationship is doomed?  Scientists say no.  It's just likely that, when people feel physically unstable, they are more likely to perceive their romantic relationship as similarly turbulent.

 As an experiment, I tried to see if I could do the leg behind the back thing again and tell my husband that I loved him.  He asked me to wait till after Bill O'Reilly.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Depression? It's All in the Eyes -- the Pupil -- For a Kid

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could pick out the kids who are going to be depressed later in life before they do something everyone regrets? 

In California alone, 12 children between the ages of 5 and 14 committed suicide in 2012.  Even one is too many.

But now scientists have found that we might be able to predict this deadly outcome just by looking in our children's eyes.

Really?  Yes.  But maybe not in the way you would think,

I'm lucky.  My teenager seems pretty happy-to-lucky.  While he's pretty intense (a teacher once called him "cerebral) and lives a lot in his head, he's still grounded enough to be on a local championship soccer team (and to smash the ball around on our front lawn with numerous friends).  But I know that can change in a flash.

What researchers have found is that how much a child’s pupil dilates in response to seeing an emotional image can predict his or her risk of depression over the next two years, according to new research from Binghamton University, as reported at

The new findings suggest that physiological reactivity to sad stimuli, assessed using pupillometry, serves as one potential biomarker of depression risk among children of depressed mothers, according to Brandon Gibb, professor of psychology at Binghamton University and director of the Mood Disorders Institute and Center for Affective Science.

This kind of assessment can help identify which children of depressed mothers are at highest risk for developing depression themselves.

“We think this line of research could eventually lead to universal screenings in pediatricians’ offices to assess future depression risk in kids,” says Gibb.

 It may sound a little weird to you (as it did to me), but pediatricians are starting to embrace this.

For the study, children whose mothers had a history of major depressive disorder were recruited and had their pupil dilation measured as they viewed angry, happy and sad faces. Follow-up assessments occurred over the next two years, during which structured interviews were used to find the children’s level of depressive symptoms, as well as the onset of depressive diagnoses

Children exhibiting relatively greater pupil dilation to sad faces experienced higher levels of depressive symptoms across the follow-up as well as a shorter time to the onset of a clinically significant depressive episode. These findings were specific to children’s pupil responses to sad faces, not angry or happy faces.

As a mom who has struggled with depression off and on throughout her own life, I would want to know long before my child started cutting himself or walking on railroad tracks that I need to man up about what he's going through.  I'm not sure you can totally depend on the pupils -- let's face it, a good parent should be aware of just about everything your kid's going through (especially if you're a helicopter one, like me).   

But if you have a teenager like mine, who is very private and reserved and rarely talks about what's going on in his life (let alone, his feelings!), it's a relief to know there may be other ways to  take his emotional temperature -- at least, somewhat subtly!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Think You Need Guilt to Exercise? Try Cues

So you really don't want to slip on your running shoes, or pack your bag for the gym. But did you know there's an even bigger way than guilt to get yourself going?

According to new research, cues are what often motivate us to get out on the road. Whether you exercise after work or first thing in the morning, right before lunch or going out for a few drinks with friends, the circumstances around when you exercise are what make it a habit, if you do it on a steady basis.

 I'm an early morning runner (used to go out around 5, often when it was still dark) and if it's morning, and I've just woken up, I know it's time to put on the sneakers.

The trick, you see, is to make exercise a habit.  Habits are harder to break. According to a new Iowa State University study, that may be easier to accomplish by focusing on cues that make going for a run or to the gym automatic, reports.

“From a health perspective, we want people to engage in physical activity frequently, and so instigation habit is the type of habit to promote that to happen,” say researchers. “Regardless of the type of exercise you’re going to do on a particular day, if you have an instigation habit, you’ll start exercising without having to think a lot about it or consider the pros and cons.”

Instigation is a fancy word for "cue."

For example, Alison Phillips, an assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State, says many people exercise after work. The end of the work day presents their cue to drive to the gym and work out instead of driving home. For others, the cue may be the alarm clock going off in the morning signaling that it is time to go for a run or a bike ride. Some research suggests that it may take a month or longer of repeated behavior before a cue reliably and automatically triggers a behavior; sticking with the same time of day might help initially, Phillips says.

The most common cues used with interventions are external, she added. But what works best might vary from person to person. Internal cues, such as a feeling that you need to move after sitting for several hours at your desk, form the strongest habits, Phillips speculates, but are harder to train in people and must develop over time.

 So next time you want to go home and relax after work, think about going to the gym instead.  As if.  But the longer you do it, the more it becomes a habit and who knows?  You just might not feel like you've had a full day -- I know I do -- unless you've exercised. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Are You Blue-Eyed and Like to Drink? Uh Oh

Hey, blue eyes.  Do you like to drink?  A new study says it's more likely you'll be an alcoholic.
People with blue eyes might have a greater chance of becoming alcoholics, according to a unique new study by genetic researchers at the University of Vermont.

The work, led by Arvis Sulovari, a doctoral student in cellular, molecular and biological sciences, and Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Dawei Li, Ph.D., is the first to make a direct connection between a person’s eye color and alcohol dependence.

The authors found that primarily European Americans with light-colored eyes – including green, grey and brown in the center – had a higher incidence of alcohol dependency than those with dark brown eyes, with the strongest tendency among blue-eyed individuals, reports.

The study outlines the genetic components that determine eye color and shows that they line up along the same chromosome as the genes related to excessive alcohol use.

But, Li says, “we still don’t know the reason” and more research is needed. “These are complex disorders,” he says. “There are many genes, and there are many environmental triggers.”

From its extensive database, Li’s and Sulovari’s study filtered out the alcohol-dependent patients with European ancestry, a total of 1,263 samples. After Sulovari noticed the eye-color connection, they retested their analysis three times, arranging and rearranging the groups to compare age, gender and different ethnic or geographic backgrounds, such as southern and northern parts of the continent.

But never fear.  Scientists are still a long way off from providing definitively that this is true.  Still, I'm glad my eyes are brown!