Chocolate makes you smarter, study suggests


People who eat chocolate at least once a week see their memory and abstract thinking improve, researchers say.

It’s good for your heart, reduces the risk of strokes and even helps protect your skin from the sun.

Now, another apparent benefit has been added to the list of chocolate’s nutritional qualities: it makes you smarter.

A study, published recently in the journal, Appetite, indicated that people who eat chocolate at least once a week saw their memory and abstract thinking improve.

“It’s significant – it touches a number of cognitive domains,” psychologist Merrill Elias, one of the leaders of the study, told the Washington Post.

Mr Elias began studying the cognitive abilities of more than 1,000 people in the state of New York in the 1970s, initially looking at the relationship between people’s blood pressure and brain performance.

About 15 years ago, he decided to ask participants of the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study (MSLS) what they were eating, adding a new set of questions about dietary habits.

Leading the analysis of the study, which was held between 2001 and 2006, was Georgina Crichton, a nutrition researcher at the University of South Australia. Ms Crichton recognised the study presented a unique opportunity to examine the effects of chocolate on the brain, using a large sample size of just under 1,000.

Examining the mean scores on cognitive tests of participants who ate chocolate less than once a week and those who ate it at least once a week, the researchers found eating chocolate was strongly linked to superior brain function. The benefits, Ms Crichton told the Washington Post, would mean you would be better at daily tasks “such as remembering a phone number, or your shopping list, or being able to do two things at once, like talking and driving at the same time”.

In order to see whether smarter people simply tend to eat more chocolate or if the food does actually improve brain function, the researchers studied 333 participants whose cognitive abilities had been tested an average of 18 years before they were quizzed about what they eat. They found cognitive ability does not predict whether you a chocolate eater or not.

“Our study definitely indicates that the direction is not that cognitive ability affects chocolate consumption, but that chocolate consumption affects cognitive ability,” Mr Elias told the newspaper.

Why this is the case remains uncertain. However, previous studies have shown that food containing nutrients called flavanols, such as chocolate, improves brain function. In 2009, research found mental arithmetic became easier after volunteers had been given large amounts of flavanols in a hot cocoa drink.

In 2014, a study also suggested that a diet rich in cocoa could help stave off dementia-like memory loss in the elderly.

Chocolate has also found to help ward off memory loss.

Chocolate has also found to help ward off memory loss.  

However, Mr Elias stressed they weren’t suggesting people stuffed their faces with chocolate bars all week.

“I think what we can say for now is that you can eat small amounts of chocolate without guilt if you don’t substitute chocolate for a normal balanced healthy diet,” he added.

Our best chocolate cake recipes

Mary Berry’s chocolate and vanilla marble loaf cake

Mary Berry's chocolate and vanilla marble loaf cakeMary Berry’s chocolate and vanilla marble loaf cake

Mark Hix: Ronnie’s chocolate cake

Mark Hix: Ronnie's chocolate cakeMark Hix: Ronnie’s chocolate cake

River Cottage recipes: Hazelnut chocolate cake

River Cottage recipes: Hazelnut chocolate cakeRiver Cottage recipes: Hazelnut chocolate cake

“All Cannabis Use is Medicinal” Whether You Know it Or Not


All-Cannabis-Use-is-Medicinal

In the past two years, we have witnessed a sea of change in the attitude of Americans toward cannabis. Colorado made history by becoming the first state to completely decriminalize possession and use of the plant, with Washington and other states soon following.

Medical cannabis use is now legal in 23 states, and others will soon be joining that list. Polls find that a solid majority of Americans support cannabis legalization, especially for medicinal use. The Free Thought Project has reported on many incredible ways that cannabis is being used to treat a variety of ailments. Its effectiveness at reducing or eliminating epileptic seizures is nothing short of amazing.

People are also realizing that the war on cannabis—and all drugs for that matter—is a war on people carried out by law enforcement to restrict freedom and to extort millions of dollars for victimless behavior. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) gains a sizable amount of revenue through cannabis seizures. The dried plant also provides ample opportunity for local law enforcement to carry out its favorite, most insidious form of extortion known as Civil Asset Forfeiture.

The good news is that these abuses of human rights are being exposed, and law enforcement is sounding ever more desperate as justification for their actions withers under the advance of reason and logic. When cannabis is finally decriminalized everywhere, our evolution from the days of Reefer Madness will provide an entertaining yet tragic documentary.

The fight continues, and we must build on the momentum if we are to see it to completion. The arguments for legalization are many, and they are sound. But perhaps the entire narrative needs to be reconsidered as we make the final push.

Daniel Macris, owner of Halycon Organics, suggests that the very idea of “recreational use” is flawed, and actually hampers the progress toward legalization.

“Recreational cannabis use” is the most detrimental phrase our industry faces today.

Over half the U.S. population supports “recreational use” of cannabis. Unfortunately, those whose don’t support recreational use, oppose it vitriolically. “Recreational cannabis” is exactly what the opposition is fighting to prevent.

The flip side to this is that over 80% of Americans support medical cannabis use and over 85% support freedom in healthcare decisions. All of these statistics are trending upwards.

In the South, “recreational cannabis use” is a non-starter and a debate that cannot be empirically won. On the other hand, “medical cannabis use” is a debate we win. And we don’t need to manipulate our messaging to change the debate, we need only to correctly identify ‘medicinal use.’”

The basis for this argument lies in our increasing understanding of a part of human physiology known as the endocannabinoid system, which is turning out to be vital to many life-supporting processes.

In 2006, the National Institutes of Health reported:

The recent identification of cannabinoid receptors and their endogenous lipid ligands has triggered an exponential growth of studies exploring the endocannabinoid system and its regulatory functions in health and disease…

In the past decade, the endocannabinoid system has been implicated in a growing number of physiological functions, both in the central and peripheral nervous systems and in peripheral organs. More importantly, modulating the activity of the endocannabinoid system turned out to hold therapeutic promise in a wide range of disparate diseases and pathological conditions, ranging from mood and anxiety disorders, movement disorders such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease, neuropathic pain, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury, to cancer, atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, stroke, hypertension, glaucoma, obesity/metabolic syndrome, and osteoporosis, to name just a few.

We have seen an explosion of studies looking at the medicinal use of cannabis and its extracts, and they center on “modulating the activity of the endocannabinoid system” as described above. With modern technology, we are discovering the mechanics of something known to the ancients—cannabis is a medicine. People have used it this way for thousands of years.

We can now extract even non-psychoactive components of cannabis, such as cannabidiol, to successfully treat debilitating conditions such as epileptic seizures. We can find out which phytocannabinoids are the most beneficial to specific diseases, and figure out exactly how much of the extract is needed for best results.

Scientific knowledge will validate what many cannabis users already know—the plant can provide relief from certain ailments and stimulate some of the best human qualities such as creativity and empathy.

Macris has interviewed several people and found they use cannabis for conditions that would otherwise be treated with pharmaceutical drugs in the current paradigm.

“It makes me relax,” “It helps me sleep,” “It calms me down,” “It helps me think,” “It helps my stomach calm down,” and it “It helps me talk to people,” are some of the ways people have said cannabis helps them.

All of these conditions—anxiety, sleep disorder, ADHD, inflamed bowels, and social anxiety—are targeted by pharmaceutical companies that vigorously advertise their manufactured pills with government complicity.

“Recreational cannabis users are using cannabis for medical purposes, they just don’t realize it,” says Macris.

When someone says they are a “recreational user,” they should consider saying “therapeutic user.” This will be far more effective in the push to completely decriminalize cannabis, as “recreational” implies that it can be abused on the level of alcohol or other drugs. Government may insist on keeping the distinction, as they can tax “recreational” use much more than medical use.

In any case, we can garner much more support from fellow citizens when legalization efforts are rightfully carried under the banner of medical use.

Scientists are about to drill into the dinosaur-killing impact crater for the first time.


Roughly 66 million years ago, a 9-km-wide asteroid slammed into Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, starting a series of unfortunate events that ultimately led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. It was a turning point for our planet, but until now, scientists have never been able to analyse the impact crater or the buried remains of the asteroid – mostly because the region is so tightly controlled by the oil industry.

But a team of researchers led by the University of Texas at Austin has finally received permission to set up a drilling platform above the crater, and at the start of next month they’ll drill deep below the seafloor and into the Chicxulub crater for the first time. They hope what they’ll find will help them put together the missing pieces that explain what happened after the asteroid hit.

“It seems like a lifetime’s ambition coming true,” co-lead researcher Joanna Morgan from Imperial College London told Science.

We already have a rough picture of what happened that fateful day – Chicxulub struck, released the energy of 1 billion Hiroshima bombs, killing nearby animals and plants instantly. In the years that followed, at least 75 percent of all species on Earth are estimated to have disappeared.

Some scientists have suggested that the impact triggered a cascade of volcanic eruptions worldwide, which filled the atmosphere with poisonous gases for the next 500,000 years, causing the majority of those deaths. Another papersuggests that it was debris from the natural disasters following the impact, such as tsunamis and earthquakes, that caused the mass die-off.

Retrieving samples of Chicxulub could be our best chance of finding out. The team will spend the next few months using a diamond-tipped drill bit to drill round the clock. The ultimate goal is to get 1,500 metres below the ocean floor into the crater’s ‘peak ring’.

The peak ring is that elevated ring that surrounds impact craters, and although they’re immediately recognisable, scientists still don’t understand what they’re made of or how they form. “Chicxulub is the only preserved structure with an intact peak ring that we can get to,” said co-lead researcher Sean 
Gulick from the University of Texas at Austin. “All the other ones are either on another planet, or they’ve been eroded.”

The samples retrieved from the drill hole will also provide insight into how life rebounded after the mass extinction – something that could come in handy one day if we ever come face-to-face with an asteroid again.

There’s also the possibly that the Chicxulub asteroid might have actually brought life to Earth, and the researchers will be analysing the genes of any microbes living in the rocks, especially those that could have unique metabolic pathways.

“Those genes might show that peak ring microbes – descendants of those that lived after the impact – derive their energy not from carbon and oxygen, like most microbes, but from iron or sulphur deposited by hot fluids percolating through the fractured rock,” writes Eric Hand for Science. “And that would mean the impact crater, harbinger of death, was also a habitat for life.”

The drilling is scheduled to start April 1.

Why Six Hours Of Sleep Is As Bad As None At All


Getting six hours of sleep a night simply isn’t enough for you to be your most productive. In fact, it’s just as bad as not sleeping at all.


Not getting enough sleep is detrimental to both your health and productivity. Yawn. We’ve heard it all before. But results from one study impress just how bad a cumulative lack of sleep can be on performance. Subjects in a lab-based sleep study who were allowed to get only six hours of sleep a night for two weeks straight functioned as poorly as those who were forced to stay awake for two days straight. The kicker is the people who slept six hours per night thought they were doing just fine.

This sleep deprivation study, published in the journal Sleep, took 48 adults and restricted their sleep to a maximum of four, six, or eight hours a night for two weeks; one unlucky subset was deprived of sleep for three days straight.

Subjects who got six hours of sleep a night for two weeks straight functioned as poorly as those who were forced to stay awake for two days straight.
During their time in the lab, the participants were tested every two hours (unless they were asleep, of course) on their cognitive performance as well as their reaction time. They also answered questions about their mood and any symptoms they were experiencing, basically, “How sleepy do you feel?”

WHY SIX HOURS OF SLEEP ISN’T ENOUGH
As you can imagine, the subjects who were allowed to sleep eight hours per night had the highest performance on average. Subjects who got only four hours a night did worse each day. The group who got six hours of sleep seemed to be holding their own, until around day 10 of the study.

In the last few days of the experiment, the subjects who were restricted to a maximum of six hours of sleep per night showed cognitive performance that was as bad as the people who weren’t allowed to sleep at all. Getting only six hours of shut-eye was as bad as not sleeping for two days straight. The group who got only four hours of sleep each night performed just as poorly, but they hit their low sooner.

The six-hour sleep group didn’t rate their sleepiness as being all that bad, even as their cognitive performance was going downhill.
One of the most alarming results from the sleep study is that the six-hour sleep group didn’t rate their sleepiness as being all that bad, even as their cognitive performance was going downhill. The no-sleep group progressively rated their sleepiness level higher and higher. By the end of the experiment, their sleepiness had jumped by two levels. But the six-hour group only jumped one level. Those findings raise the question about how people cope when they get insufficient sleep, perhaps suggesting that they’re in denial (willful or otherwise) about their present state.

WE HAVE NO IDEA HOW MUCH WE SLEEP
Complicating matters is the fact that people are terrible at knowing how much time they actually spend asleep.
According to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey, as reported by the CDC, more than 35% of Americans sleep less than seven hours in a typical day. That’s one out of every three people. However, those who suffer from sleep problems don’t accurately estimate how much they sleep each night.

If you think you sleep seven hours a night, as one out of every three Americans does, it’s entirely possible you’re only getting six.
Research from University of Chicago, for instance, shows that people are as likely to overestimate how much they sleep as underestimate it. Another sleep study published in Epidemiology, indicates people generally overestimate their nightly sleep by around 0.8 hours. The same study also estimates that for every hour beyond six that people sleep, they overestimate sleep by about half an hour. If you think you sleep seven hours a night, as one out of every three Americans does, it’s entirely possible you’re only getting six.

So no one knows how much or little they’re sleeping, and when they don’t sleep enough, they believe they’re doing better than they are.

Even just a little bit of sleep deprivation, in this case, six rather than eight hours of sleep across two weeks, accumulates to jaw-dropping results. Cumulative sleep deprivation isn’t a new concept by any means, but it’s rare to find research results that are so clear about the effects.

FIXING SLEEP: EASIER SAID THAN DONE
Figuring out how to get enough sleep, consistently, is a tough nut to crack. The same advice experts have batted around for decades is probably a good place to start: Have a consistent bedtime; don’t look at electronic screens at least 30 minutes before bed; limit alcohol intake (alcohol makes many people sleepy, but it can also decrease the quality and duration of sleep); and get enough exercise.

Other advice that you’ll hear less often, but which is equally valid, is to lose excess weight. Sleep apnea and obesity have a very high correlation, according to the National Sleep Foundation. What’s more, obese workers already suffer from more lost productive time than normal weight and overweight workers.

Other causes of sleep problems include physical, neurological, and psychological issues. Even stress and worry can negatively affect sleep. The CDC has called lack of sleep a health problem, and for good reason. Diet, exercise, mental health, and physical health all affect our ability to sleep, and in return, our ability to perform to our best.

Fixing bad sleep habits to get enough sleep is easier said than done. But if you’re functioning as if you hadn’t slept for two days straight, isn’t it worthwhile?

Surgeons describe first uterus transplant in the United States.


Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic Monday described the first uterus transplant in the United States, a procedure that involved removing the organ from a deceased donor and implanting it in a 26-year-old woman, who appeared with her partner to thank the medical team for providing her “with a gift.”

About a year after transplantation, the doctors expect to implant an embryo in the uterus of the woman — introduced Monday as “Lindsey” — and deliver a baby by Caesarean section about 37 weeks later. The transplant, performed Feb. 24, is part of a clinical trial that surgeons hope will result in uterus transplants for 10 carefully screened recipients.

The news conference was held about two years after the world’s first uterine transplant was conducted in Sweden. In October 2014, doctors there announced that one of the patients had delivered a healthy boy. Four more children have been born to the women there since.

About one in 5,000 women is born without a uterus, doctors said. For those whose beliefs do not allow surrogacy or who do not want to adopt, uterine transplants offer the possibility of pregnancy and delivery. Lindsey said she and her partner “Blake” have three children whom they adopted through the foster-care system.

Tommaso Falcone, chairman of the clinic’s obstetrics/gynecology department, called the successful completion of the nine-hour transplant “very euphoric for all of us.”

Woman who received nation’s first uterus transplant speaks

An infertile woman who received a uterus transplant at the Cleveland Clinic tells reporters about why she underwent major surgery in an effort to get pregnant. (Cleveland Clinic)

The major difference between the U.S. and Swedish approaches was the use of a deceased donor, in this case a woman in her 30s who had previously given birth and consented in advance to donate her organs, the doctors said. Farrell said there have been “some complications” for live uterus donors.

The process begins with doctors harvesting eggs from the women, who have ovaries but no Fallopian tubes, and therefore nowhere for the eggs they produce to go. The lack of Fallopian tubes also precludes pregnancy through sexual intercourse. The eggs are mixed with their partner’s sperm to form early embryos, called blastocysts, and banked, said Rebecca Flyckt, another obstetrician-gynecologist who was part of the team.

The uterus is harvested from a donor, cooled and transplanted quickly to minimize its time outside the body, said Andreas G. Tzakis, the surgeon who led the U.S. effort. The procedure is more difficult than other kinds of transplantation because the blood vessels that must be reattached are deeper inside the body, he said.

The newborns are delivered by C-section because doctors are uncertain about how well the surgical connections would fare during labor and delivery. The team said it plans to monitor the women and children for years after the deliveries.

Twins with different fathers found in Vietnam.


Scientists in Vietnam have confirmed a case of bi-paternal twins, or twins who have different fathers.

A Vietnamese couple recently brought their fraternal twins to the Center for Genetic Analysis and Technologies, in the country’s capital of Hanoi, to have DNA tests, after pressure from extended family members who noticed the children did not look alike, said Le Dinh Luong, president of the Genetic Association of Vietnam.

The tests showed there was no mix-up in the hospital: The twins have the same mother, but different fathers.

Luong said the family was surprised by the revelation, and looking for the best way to deal with the situation.

He declined to give more details, because of a confidentiality agreement with the parents.

VNS, Vietnam’s state-run news agency, reported the family is from northern Hoa Binh province and the children are 2 years old. One sibling has thick and wavy hair, while the other has thin and straight hair, VNS said.

Twins who have different fathers are extremely rare, Luong said, adding this is the first case in Vietnam that he knows of.

Mom conceives twins with two dads

Mom conceives twins with two dads 01:38

Another case was reported in the United States last year, when a court ordered a man from New Jersey to pay child support for one girl in a set of twins, aftergenetic tests showed he was not the father of the other.

A woman’s egg has a life span of 12 to 48 hours, and a sperm is viable for seven to 10 days, so there’s about a week’s time for potential overlap and the fertilization of two eggs by two sperm from separate acts of sexual intercourse, Dr. Keith Eddleman, director of obstetrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York told CNN last year.

5 Things Only People With OCD Will Understand.


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, otherwise known as OCD (other-otherwise known as the OC Disorder), is a condition in which unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). It’s possible to have only obsessions or only compulsions, and both aspects tend to follow a few basic routes — touch, sound, and visceral reactions and feelings are the most common areas where OCD shows up. Explaining OCD to people without it can be tricky, but here are five things only people with OCD understand (and want you to know).

OCD is not the same as being Type A.

Actually, they’re not really related at all. While people with OCD can totally be overly clean, OCD tends to be much, much more specific than “liking things to be neat.” In fact, it can function almost exactly the opposite way sometimes. Getting obsessive about one thing while letting the rest of your life fall into disarray is not uncommon, and that extends to the tidiness and deadline obsession Type A’s are known for. Compulsions and habits that do fall under the cleanliness tag are also usually a lot more complex and irrational than they appear. I’m very into washing my hands, but it has a lot more to do with the feeling of something I’ve just touched, or been in the vicinity of, or honestly maybe just thought about, than sanitation. And I’m pretty likely to over-wash my body and my clothes and everything around me because I feel like something is just…lingering. This isn’t the worst habit, but it’s not exactly reasonable, and I can’t really put it in the same category as my love of an empty inbox.

OCD is all about feelings, but maybe not in the way you’re thinking.

Compulsions are just mega intense feelings that you’re pretty much totally compelled to follow. They can be weird and confusing; sometimes they make you feel like you’re being physically pulled around to do something or sometimes they just feel like a little nudge in what may evenend up being the right direction. It’s hard to separate the good from the bad, especially since “go with your gut” is the most common useless advice known to man. I spent a lot of my first years in New York feeling monstrously compelled to take turns and detours whenever I was walking around that made no sense whatsoever, and it was super normal for me to keep walking, sometimes for hours, until it felt “okay” for me to stop. The confusing part was that I’ve always loved strolling — it’s my go-to for brainstorming, clearing my head, or just killing time — but something about it was getting out of control. Saying no to the compulsion was hard, until one day I was literally too tired to give into it. It felt miserable and utterly wrong to get on a train the first time I wasn’t “done” walking, but it got easier and easier, eventually becoming not even a thing at all.

Those compulsions can make you feel powerful, until they don’t.

Feeling like you’re the only person in the entire world who really “gets” it is a misconception that every single human on earth will experience at least once in their lives, but feeling pulls and compulsions on a regular basis can seriously mess with the way you think about your existence. It’s easy to give in to the idea that you’re on some level of understanding that no one else is, and experiencing this idea of purpose early on can definitely boost your confidence. But that concept can turn pretty quickly. A lot of people constantly feel like they’re making deals with something entirely unknown, but those deals feel completely real, and the idea of breaking them or screwing up becomes terrifying. There’s also a constant sense that your compulsions are there to lead you to something you’re absolutely supposed to be present for, with dire consequences if they’re ignored. That time I got on the train instead of walking, I was convinced I was missing out on something major, and the idea that I was just letting something so important go led to some very public tears and a lot of anxiety. But I’d done nothing wrong, and everything was okay.

One way to break out of the OCD power struggle? Fight the instinct to keep this superpower to yourself, and find someone to talk to about it. A therapist, a family member, a friend you trust — making the unknown known instantly takes away its power, and having another pair of eyes on your situation immediately makes it feel less dire.

OCD gets along with pretty much everything else you have going on.

OCD is definitely a team player, and isn’t shy about getting into whatever else you have going on with your body and mind. It can function seamlessly with (and sometimes exactly like)depression, general anxiety disorder, eating disorders, and a whole host of other behavior disorders. Feeling your symptoms way more than usual? You might want to check the calendar — your period can also intensify existing OCD. The natural ebb and flow of hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle put everything on high alert, and the same factors that create your need to cry, scream, and eat literally everything can feel like they’re tripling your compulsions and obsessions.

The good news is that knowledge is half the battle; getting to know your body is crucial, and understanding what’s going on when things feel off or overwhelming is a major tool in getting yourself back to stable.

OCD is manageable, but it takes some trial and error to figure out.

There are so many ways to handle OCD, but it definitely takes time and work to figure out your own method. Every single person is different, but it’s best to start with a therapist or counselor and move forward from there. It’s never too early to develop a plan for when things get out of control. OCD wanes and waxes, so being prepared for the less-than-fun times is important. Get to know your triggers, AKA the things that can send you into your least functional self, and get to know what works against them. The general tools to keep your mental health in order — open and honest conversation, exercise, meditation, healthy relationships, etc — will all help here for sure. Medication is also an option, but remember to be honest with your doctor if you’re not feeling something prescribed; there are a lot of options out there, and it’s in your best interest to find what works for you rather than settle with your first attempt.

Your best tool in managing OCD is remembering that it’s a part of you, not the whole thing. Set goals, spend time on your family and friendships, and allow yourself to explore what makes you happy. You’ll find, OCD or not, that you’re functioning the best when you’re at peace with yourself. It can be difficult to understand that working against factors within you isn’t working against yourself on the whole, but with patience and a commitment to self-love, you’re absolutely going to be fine.

5 Things You Should Know About Using Menstrual Cups.


The average American woman uses about 10,000 sanitary products during her lifetime, so it’s reasonable to look for some environmentally friendly ways to get through your period. One option: menstrual cups. While they’ve been around since the 1930s, they haven’t hit the mainstream in the U.S. But now a new generation is making the rounds that’s more user friendly. One, the Lily Cup Compact, collapses into a small case that can fit into even a teeny tiny clutch. That’s it above. (So far, the makers have raised more than $180,000 to bring it to market. That’s 20 times their $7,800 Kickstarter goal.)

Should you try a menstrual cup? Get the details and you decide:

What it is

A flexible cup that you wear internally to collect your flow instead of absorbing it like a tampon or a pad would. There are two kinds of menstrual cups—some are bell shaped and sit low in the vaginal canal, while others fit in the natural space under your cervix. They’re made of either silicone or latex and can be reusable or disposable.

How it works

Usually, you fold it and insert it into your vagina (each manufacturer provides detailed instructions); once it’s in, it unfolds and you can adjust the placement. You’ll need to remove the cup (most of them have a stem to help you grasp it) and empty it out every eight to 12 hours depending on your flow. The reusable kinds can be cleaned simply by rinsing them out in warm, soapy water.

Pros

You can usually keep them in longer than other sanitary products: women change them 2.8 times less frequentlyon average than when using tampons or pads, and they leak half as often, according to a 2010 UK study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research. Since many brands are reusable, they’re also less taxing to the environment—think of the millions of pads and tampons (and their wrappers) headed for landfills each year—and your wallet over the long run.

RELATED: 10 Things That Mess With Your Period

Cons

They’re definitely not for the squeamish: They’re more difficult to insert and remove than tampons (at least for beginners), and unless you go for the disposables you’re cleaning them out yourself, sometimes in public restrooms.

“If you’re not comfortable physically placing tampons then you’re definitely not a candidate for these types of products,” says Pamela Berens, MD, an ob-gyn at the University of Texas Health Science Center. “I’ve had a lot of patients try them and give up, telling me they’ve found them just too messy.”

And while menstrual cups are safe to keep in for up to 12 hours, Dr. Berens is skeptical that they’ll last that long, especially for those with super heavy flow: “I’d recommend changing them more frequently—about as often as you’d change an extra-large tampon—to avoid accidents,” she says.

Verdict

“It’s an attractive product for the right woman,” Dr. Berens says. “It’s appealing for a woman who is very comfortable with her own body, wants to consider an environmentally friendly choice, and won’t be discouraged or bothered by a potential bit of a mess when it comes to removing and cleaning.” If that’s you, then go for it!

What is meldonium, the substance that showed up in Maria Sharapova’s failed drug test?


Maria Sharapova announced  that she failed a drug test during this year’s Australian Open.

The Russian-born tennis star said she received a letter from the International Tennis Federation several days ago informing her that she had failed the test for meldonium during the Australian Open in January.

“I did fail the test,” Sharapova told reporters at a hastily arranged press conference in Los Angeles. “And I take full responsibility for it.”

The five-time Grand Slam champion said that she had been legally taking the drug, meldonium (also known as mildronate), as prescribed by a family doctor for a decade to combat a variety of illnesses while on tour.

What is meldonium?

According to the National Institutes of Health, the anti-ischemic drug meldonium “demonstrates an increase in endurance performance of athletes, improved rehabilitation after exercise, protection against stress, and enhanced activations of central nervous system functions.”

According to the Guardian newspaper, it is manufactured in Latvia and not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States.

Why is it a banned substance?

Due to “the growing body of evidence” concerning its misuse by athletes, the substance was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s monitoring program in 2015. WADA scrutinized the global athlete usage of the mildronate — which was which was not previously prohibited — to determine if the rates of use indicated any potential performance-enhancing concerns, and it wound up on its banned list on Jan. 1.

Sharapova said she had received an email from the ITF in December with a link to an updated list that included the newly banned substances, but admitted she “did not click on that link.”

In a statement released following Sharapova’s press conference, WADA said the drug was added to the list of prohibited substances in 2016 “because of evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance.”

The 28-year-old, who splits time between her homes in Bradenton, Fla., and Manhattan Beach, Calif., insisted she had been prescribed mildronate to treat chronic illnesses, a magnesium deficiency and family history of diabetes.

What other substances are on the banned list?

In short, a lot.

Who else has been caught using it?

It turns out, quite a few athletes.

Russian cyclist Eduard Vorganov was suspended this month after he tested positive for the drug, which boosts oxygen supply to the blood and tissues in the body.

Ukrainian biathletes Artem Tyshchenko and Olga Abramova as well as Ethiopian-born runners Abeba Aregawi and Endeshaw Negesse eachtested positive for meldonium in recent weeks.

Abramova was provisionally suspended in early February after testing positive for the metabolism booster. According to the AP, failed a test on Jan. 10, nine days after the drug was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned list.

The IAAF announced last week that Aregawi, who now competes for Sweden, is a former 1,500-meter world champion, failed an out-of-competition doping test.

And on Monday, fellow Russian athlete and Olympic gold medallist figure skater Ekaterina Bobrova also admitted to testing positive for the drug.

What does this mean for Maria?

Tennis officials have yet to indicate what kind of punishment Sharapova will face, but a lengthy suspension and hefty fine are possible, even likely.

In fact, it’s already been pricey for the world’s highest-paid female athlete. Nike, Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer and Porsche — three of Sharapova’s most prominent sponsors — cut ties with the statuesque Russian within 24 hours of her announcement.

What does the tennis world think?

Serena Williams, who defeated Sharapova at the Australian Open on the day the test was administered, said her rival showed “a lot of courage” for accepting responsibility for the failed test.

“Most people were surprised and shocked, but happy that she was upfront and very honest,” Williams said Tuesday.

Nick Bollettieri, who is credited with grooming a teenage Sharapova at his Florida tennis academy, told the BBC he was shocked because “she has always been above board in everything.”

But Bollettieri said he believes Sharapova made a “very honest mistake.”

“She said she took these for many, many years and then didn’t read the memorandum that came out,” he said. “I don’t think that Maria Sharapova would continue doing something, especially being in the limelight, if there was something she knew about.”

Former American tennis star Jennifer Capriati was not as understanding.

“[I’m] extremely angry and disappointed,” Capriati, whose career was plagued by injuries and off-court issues including a stint in drug rehab, tweeted. “I had to lose my career and never opted to cheat no matter what. [I] had to throw in the towel and suffer.”

Capriati continued: “I didn’t have the high priced team of [doctors] that found a way for me to cheat and get around the system and wait for science to catch up.” She subsequently deleted the tweets.

What’s next?

Sharapova — who stoked rumors of a possible retirement by calling for Monday’s press conference following a withdrawal from an upcoming tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., due to injury — said she isn’t sure what kind of penalty she’ll receive, but hopes to return to the tour.

“I don’t want to end my career this way,” she said. “I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game.”

Sharapova added: “I know many of you thought I would be retiring today, and announcing my retirement. But if I ever was going to announce my retirement, it would probably not be in a downtown Los Angeles hotel with a fairly ugly carpet.”

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