Life Expectancy Projected to Soar — Except in the US

Story at-a-glance

  • For the first time in two decades, life expectancy has declined in the U.S., highlighting the drawbacks of a processed food diet, lacks in chronic disease prevention and out-of-control drug addiction
  • South Korea has made the greatest life expectancy gains. By 2030, South Korean women are projected to have an average lifespan of 90.8. Key features of South Korean diet are fermented foods and high omega-3
  • Half of Americans are chronically ill, and nearly 60 percent of the American diet is ultra-processed junk food; less than 1 percent of daily calories come from vegetables

For the first time in 20 years, life expectancy has actually declined in the U.S.,1,2,3,4dropping from 76.5 years in 2014 to 76.3 in 2015 for men, and from 81.3 to 81.2 for women. This means American women now die, on average, about one month earlier than they did in 2014, and men lost about two months of lifespan.5

In all, there were 86,212 more deaths in 2015 compared to 2014, and as of 2015, the U.S. ranks 29th out of 43 countries for life expectancy,6 lagging behind countries like Chile, Costa Rica, Slovenia, Korea and the Czech Republic. In 2014, the U.S. ranked 28th.7

Moreover, according to Dr. Peter Muennig, a professor of health policy and management at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, this decline in life expectancy is a “uniquely American phenomenon.” No other developed countries experienced this decline.

Dr. Jiaquan Xu, the report’s lead author, noted the decline in life expectancy is primarily caused by a rise in several categories of preventable deaths,8 again highlighting the failure of the American health care system to properly address the root causes of chronic disease.

Meanwhile, both dietary patterns and health care availability in South Korea — which has made some of the greatest life expectancy gains — offer valuable hints at what Americans need to do to change course.

Analysis Suggests South Koreans May Soon Outlive the Rest of the World

Another extensive analysis9 of longevity patterns in 35 industrialized nations projects life expectancy at birth in the U.S. will continue to lag, such that by 2030, it will be on par with the Czech Republic, Croatia and Mexico.10,11,12

Meanwhile, South Koreans of both sexes and Hungarian men and have made the greatest life expectancy gains. By 2030, South Korean women are projected to have an average lifespan of 90.8, making it the first nation to break the 90-year life expectancy barrier.

This is a significant feat, considering South Korea ranked 29th for women’s life expectancy in 1985.13 As for the cause of the U.S.’ failure to keep pace, The Washington Post notes:14

“The reasons for the United States’ lag are well known. It has the highest infant and maternal mortality rates of any of the countries in the study, and the highest obesity rate.

It is the only one without universal health insurance coverage and has the ‘largest share of unmet health care needs due to financial costs,’ the researchers wrote …

In contrast to the United States, South Korea ‘has a remarkable investment in early childhood nutrition,’ has been taking advantage of medical advances and technology across its population and has some of the world’s lowest obesity and hypertension rates …

‘They seem to be getting a lot of things right at the same time, and getting them right for almost everyone,’ [lead author Majid Ezzati] said.”

Differences in Diet Offer Valuable Clues

Japan has long been noted for its longevity, but that’s starting to change as Western dietary influences have crept in. Again and again, we see health outcomes decline when countries adopt a Western style diet with processed foods as a staple.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s use of nutritional supplements, especially probiotics for both adults and infants has risen, and their fermented food and omega-3 intake is among the highest in the world. In my view, this is what you would call a major clue.

Research15 published last year showed South Korea, along with Japan, the Primorskry region of Russia, Denmark, Norway and Greenland and a few other indigenous regions had the highest blood levels of the animal-based omega-3 fats eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — the latter of which is a primary structural component of every cell in your body.

Americans and Canadians both have “very low” levels, which may increase the risk of chronic disease. Use of vitamins and dietary supplements in South Korea also rose by 4 percent in 2016, and probiotic sales rose by 7 percent.

According to Euromonitor, “these products are increasingly seen as essential consumer health items among South Koreans.”16 South Koreans also consume 2 million tons of kimchi each year — a traditional dish of fermented cabbage. As noted in a previous Food First article:17

“[K]imchi is the one food that most Koreans simply ‘cannot live without.’18 … [It] seems to make its way into every meal of the day. In autumn, South Korean employers even give their workers a customary ‘kimchi bonus,’ helping to subsidize the ingredients for their annual kimchi supply.19

Considering that most Americans eat a primarily processed food diet, high in sugars and low in healthy fats, fiber and fermented foods, it shouldn’t come as a major shock that life expectancy might suffer.

Advertisements might lead you to believe this processed fare will give you all the nutrition you need for a long and happy life, but your body cannot be fooled.

Chronic Illness and Opioid Addiction Take Toll on Americans

The cost of health care in the U.S. is also the highest in the world, and continues to rise. Health care now accounts for 17 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).20But even though the U.S. spends more than $3 trillion on health care each year, it is the worst performing system ranked by multiple aspects of care.21

Recent research also reveals HALF of all Americans live with chronic illness,22 and in my view, this has everything to do with diet. According to study authors Elizabeth Reisinger Walker, Ph.D., an assistant research professor, and Dr. Benjamin Druss, professor at Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University:23

“The health of individuals in the [USA] is increasingly being defined by complexity and multi-morbidity, the co-occurrence of two or more chronic medical conditions.”

Addiction to opioid painkillers appears to be another significant contributor to declining life expectancy in the U.S.24,25 Deaths from synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, rose by a whopping 73 percent between 2014 and 2015. Prescription pain killers alone killed 17,536 people last year.

According to Robert Anderson, who oversees death statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this. Certainly not in modern times.”

More Than Half of the American Diet is Ultra Junk Food

Ponder these parallel statistics:

  • Half of all Americans are chronically ill
  • Half of all Americans are also either pre-diabetic or diabetic26,27
  • Nearly 60 percent of the American diet is ULTRA-processed junk food, and these products also account for 90 percent of the added sugar consumption in the U.S.28,29
  • As much as 40 percent of American health care expenditures are for diseases directly related to the overconsumption of sugar30
  • Less than 1 percent of daily calories comes from vegetables31,32,33

I, for one, have no doubt these statistics are related. The dangers of eating too much added sugar have been well-established, and have even become officially recognized. For the first time ever, the 2015-2020 U.S. dietary guidelines34 recommend limiting your sugar intake to a maximum of 10 percent of your daily calories.35

Without a doubt, lowering your consumption of added and natural sugars is at the top of the list if you’re overweight, insulin resistant or struggle with any chronic disease. This includes sugar from refined non-vegetable fiber carbs such as potatoes, bagels and breakfast cereal. Recent research actually suggests these foods are as risky as smoking, increasing your risk for lung cancer by as much as 49 percent, even if you’ve never smoked.36

High glycemic foods, i.e., refined carbs high in sugar, promote insulin resistance and obesity, and this isn’t the first time a connection has been made between a high-sugar and/or obesity and cancer.

In fact, cancer specialists who discussed the cancer trend at the 2015 American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago warned that obesity will likely overtake smoking as the principal cause of 10 different types of cancer within the next decade.37 Obesity, also associated with worsened prognosis after a cancer diagnosis, raises your risk of dying from the cancer treatment, and raises your risk of additional malignancies and comorbidities.38

Why Fermented Food Is so Important for Health

In ancient societies, fermentation was a very common food preservation method. And, while they may not have understood the mechanisms involved, by eating fermented foods, their overall health flourished — principally, their intestinal health. Today, we have a much more comprehensive understanding of the human microbiome, and its influence on health. We also now know that the best ways to improve gut health are to consume fermented foods on a regular basis and avoid sugar and processed foods.

About 80 percent of your immune system is in your gut. When your intestinal flora is skewed toward more sugar-loving pathogenic microbes, health problems of all kinds are more prevalent, from obesity and diabetes39,40 to allergies and autoimmune diseases. The fiber and wide variety of beneficial bacteria (probiotics) found in traditionally fermented and cultured foods help protect against disease by improving your microbiome, and also help chelate harmful toxins and heavy metals from your system.

Nearly all organic plant matter (and even the dust covering the soil) contains lacto-fermenting bacteria called Lactobacilli, or Lactobacillus acidophilus. As Lactobacilli start multiplying in the fermentation process, they produce lactic acid. When lactic acid is produced, it helps preserve the food. Another benefit is that fermentation makes nutrients more bioavailable.

It also provides instant energy. Several studies indicate the many amazing benefits fermentation brings to your gut health. For instance, one week after sauerkraut begins fermenting, the vitamin C content rises to around six times higher than in the same amount of plain cabbage.41

Another fermentation advantage is vitamin K2, which works in tandem with and provides many of the same benefits as vitamin D. Certain cheeses, homemade yogurt, kefir and natto (fermented soy) are good sources of vitamin K2. There are only certain strains of bacteria that make K2, so not all fermented foods will contain it. Most commercial yogurts are virtually devoid of vitamin K2, and while certain types of cheeses, such as Gouda, Brie and Edam are high in K2, others are not.

It really depends on the specific bacteria present during the fermentation. When fermenting your own foods at home, using a special starter culture designed with bacterial strains that produce vitamin K2 will ensure a vitamin-K2-rich result.

Reclaiming Your Health Is Not Rocket Science

The data and statistics presented in all of these studies and analyses give us significant clues as to what works and what doesn’t — what promotes health and what will kill you off sooner rather than later. The fact that the average American lost up to two months of life expectancy from one year to the next should be a wakeup call.

Clearly, the Affordable Health Care Act did not have a positive influence. This makes sense when you consider that American health care is grossly lacking in common sense disease prevention. Making health care available to more low-income individuals makes no difference when treatment strategies are primarily focused on costly pharmacological interventions rather than low- or no-cost lifestyle recommendations.

For starters, if you seek wellness, you’d be wise to ignore any and all food commercials and most conventional dietary advice, which still to this day promote dangerous low-fat myths and condone the use of artificial sweeteners. In fact, a health-promoting diet is more or less the conventional food pyramid turned upside-down. My free optimal nutrition plan will lead you through the needed changes one step at a time.

Higher healthy fat consumption, lower sugar intake, and increased omega-3, fiber and fermented foods are of particular importance. The shift from sugar to fat will allow your body to become an efficient fat burner, which has many tremendous benefits.

The animal-based omega-3 fat DHA is a necessary component for all of your body’s cells, and fiber-rich and fermented foods will help optimize your gut microbiome. Switching to organic whole foods is also recommended, as this will help you avoid harmful agricultural chemicals as well.

U.S. statistics may be depressing, but the significant improvements made by countries like South Korea also offer hope. It’s rather remarkable to think a nation may soon have an average lifespan of 90! We can all get there. But to do so, we have to change our dietary status quo, and realize the price we pay for all of our convenience foods.

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Do Men Sweat More Than Women?

You’re born with anywhere between 2 million and 4 million sweat glands, and the number of such glands will determine, in part, how much you sweat. While women generally have more sweat glands than men, it’s long been said that men’s glands tend to be more active and produce more sweat.1

men sweat more than women

Story at-a-glance

  • The widespread notion that men sweat more than women may not be accurate; differences in sweating may have much more to do with body size than they do with sex
  • A person’s sex explained no more than 5 percent of the variances in individuals’ responses to heat, including sweating
  • Smaller men and women with more surface area per kilogram of body mass tended to cool down primarily by increasing blood flow to their skin — and less so by sweating
  • Larger people, both male and female, tended to sweat more

It turns out, however, the widespread notion that men sweat more than women may not be accurate after all.

Instead, differences in sweating may have much more to do with body size than they do with sex, as researchers from the University of Wollongong in Australia and Mie Prefectural College of Nursing in Japan revealed that a person’s sex explained no more than 5 percent of the variances in individuals’ responses to heat, including sweating.2

Body Shape and Size May Dictate How Your Body Cools Off

To understand the new study findings, it helps to first be aware of the two primary ways your body cools itself down: sweating and increasing circulation to your skin’s surface. You don’t get to consciously choose which route your body turns to when it starts to heat up, so what’s the determining factor in which method your body favors?

Researchers conducted a study with 24 men and 36 women who took part in two trials, one involving light exercise and the other moderate exercise.3

The workouts were performed at just over 82 degrees F (28 degrees C) and 36 percent humidity, which are conditions at which the body can successfully regulate its temperature using one of the two methods mentioned.4,5

Body temperature changes were the same in all participants, male or female; however, smaller men and women with more surface area per kilogram of body mass tended to cool down primarily by increasing blood flow to their skin — and less so by sweating.6

On the other hand, larger people, both male and female, tended to sweat more.7According to the study, which was published in the journal Experimental Physiology:8

“Gender is sometimes thought to independently modulate cutaneous vasomotor and sudomotor [sweat glands] function during heat exposure.

Nevertheless, it was hypothesized that, when assessed during compensable exercise that evoked equal heat-loss requirements across participants, gender differences in those thermoeffectors would be explained by variations in the ratio between body surface area and mass (specific surface area).

… It was concluded that, when assessed during compensable exercise, gender differences in thermoeffector function were largely morphologically determined, rather than being gender dependent.”

Past Research Has Hinted at Sex Differences in Sweating

The featured study adds a new perspective to the science of sweating, but it’s far from the only one. Multiple previous studies have suggested that a person’s sex does appear to play a role in temperature regulation during heat stress (i.e, exercise).

One review concluded, “… [O]bservations clearly establish sex differences in sudomotor activity during exercise, independently of differences in physical characteristics and rate of metabolic heat production.”9 Those findings suggested women may have a lower maximal sweat rate during exercise.

Another intriguing study looked into sweating rates not only among men and women, but among men and women of different fitness levels (trained versus untrained). The participants exercised on stationary bikes in an 86-degree F room and gradually increased exercise intensity as the workout went on (for a total of one hour).10

While the fit men sweat the most, they did so using a similar number of active sweat glands as the fit women, but the women produced less sweat from each gland. In contrast, the unfit women sweat the least and faced rising body temperatures before finally sweating at full capacity.11

Study author Yoshimitsu Inoue, Ph.D., a professor of physiology at Osaka International University, told The New York Times:12

“It appears that women are at a disadvantage when they need to sweat a lot during exercise in hot conditions … 

[The] lower sweat loss in women may be an adaptation strategy that attaches great importance [to preserving body fluids] for survival [while] the higher sweat rate of men may be an adaptation strategy for greater efficiency of action or labor.”

What Else Influences How Much You Sweat?

Everyone is different in how much sweat is released as a result of rising temperatures. Overweight people tend to sweat more than those who are a healthy weight, which lends more credence to the featured study’s findings that body size plays a role.

Beyond this physical characteristic, your levels of stress and anxiety also influence sweating.

Even in cases of hyperhidrosis, which is the medical term for excessive sweating, the sweating tends to be worse when you’re under stress and is thought to be triggered by your body’s stress response. Johns Hopkins pediatrician Dr. Kate Puttgen told Medical Daily:13

“The cause of primary focal hyperhidrosis is not well understood but is thought to originate from overactivity of the sympathetic ‘fight-or-flight’ nervous system sending aberrant signals to the major sweat glands of the body.”

Drinking alcohol and smoking can trigger sweating, as can too much caffeine.14Medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism, can also influence sweating. Hypothyroidism is a very common cause of inability to sweat (also known as anhidrosis or hypohidrosis) in women.

While this may sound like a good thing, it can be life threatening, and those affected are at increased risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.15 On the other hand, diabetes, gout, hyperthyroidism, Parkinson’s disease and heart failure are examples of medical conditions that can lead to excessive sweating.16

Do You Know About the Two Types of Sweat Glands?

You have two different types of sweat glands: eccrine sweat glands, which are distributed over your entire body, and apocrine sweat glands, located on your scalp, armpits and genital area. The primary purpose of eccrine glands is to regulate your body temperature.

As your body temperature rises, your body will automatically perspire to release salty liquid from your sweat glands to help cool you down. This is controlled by your autonomic nervous system, which you cannot consciously control. According to the International Hyperhidrosis Society:17

“Sweat is essential to human survival because it serves as the body’s coolant, getting rid of excess body heat (produced by your metabolism and working muscles) and protecting you from overheating. In fact, even people who don’t have hyperhidrosis are constantly sweating; they just might not notice it.

Whenever your body temperature begins to increase, your autonomic nervous system stimulates your eccrine sweat glands (the average person has 2.6 million of them) to secrete fluid onto the surface of your skin. As this fluid (called perspiration or sweat) evaporates, your body starts to cool down. Under normal circumstances, a single pea-sized bead of sweat can cool nearly 1 liter (about 1 quart) of blood by 1 degree Fahrenheit.”

The Emotional Side of Sweating

Certain emotions, such as anxiety, anger, embarrassment or fear, can prompt you to sweat more. This — your emotions — is a prime trigger of sweat from your apocrine glands. These glands, by the way, also produce bacteria to break down the sweat, and this process causes body odor.

This is why body odor comes primarily from under your arms — not so much from the sweat that forms on your chest or arms, for instance. In addition, sweat produced from exercise or overheating is made up primarily of water and salt. Sweat produced when you’re stressed also contains water and salt, along with fatty substances and proteins, which interact with bacteria leading to a distinct odor.

Interestingly, people can detect the difference between stress sweat and exercise sweat — and may even change their perception of you because of it. In one study published in the journal PLOS One, men who sniffed women’s stress sweat rated them as less confident, trustworthy and competent.18

Why Sweating Is Good for You

Sweating is an essential element of keeping your body temperature regulated, but it offers benefits even beyond that. Sweating acts as an important route of detoxification, including helping to excrete toxic metals like arsenic, lead and mercury.19 It’s been used since ancient times as part of worldwide traditions, from Roman baths and Scandinavian saunas to Aboriginal sweat lodges. Researchers writing in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health explained:20

“Sweating with heat and/or exercise has been viewed throughout the ages, by groups worldwide, as ‘cleansing’ … Sweating offers potential and deserves consideration, to assist with removal of toxic elements from the body.

… Sweating is not only observed to enhance excretion of the toxic elements of interest in this paper, but also may increase excretion of diverse toxicants, as observed in New York rescue workers, or in particular persistent flame retardants and bisphenol-A … Optimizing the potential of sweating as a therapeutic excretory mechanism merits further research.”

The researchers noted the following promising roles of sweat in detoxification:

  • Sweat may be an important route for excretion of cadmium when an individual is exposed to high levels
  • Sweat-inducing sauna use might provide a therapeutic method to increase elimination of toxic trace metals
  • Sweating should be the initial and preferred treatment of patients with elevated mercury urine levels

How Much Sweating Is ‘Normal?’

What’s normal for you may be abnormal for someone else, so it’s hard to pinpoint a “normal” amount of sweating. That being said, many people make efforts to sweat less when in reality they should be taking advantage of opportunities to sweat more.

The use of antiperspirants, which use antimicrobial agents to kill bacteria and other ingredients such as aluminum to block your sweat glands, is one such example that should be avoided (washing with soap and water should be enough to keep the area odor-free). On the other hand, breaking a sweat while you exercise is one reason why physical activity is good for you.

While virtually any type of intense exercise will lead to sweating, exercising in warm temperatures (or in a heated room, such as in Bikram yoga) will create even more sweating. As noted, if you’re fit, your body will sweat earlier and easier. Many people frown on this but it’s actually a benefit, because the sooner you start sweating the sooner your body cools down, and this allows you to continue exercising harder and longer.

You can also induce sweating via a sauna, either traditional or infrared. Infrared saunas are a great option and can significantly expedite the detoxification process. Hyperthemic conditioning, or “acclimating yourself to heat independent of aerobic physical activity through sauna use,” appears to also lead to earlier and easier sweating, similar to being fit.21

If you’re concerned that your level of sweating isn’t “normal” — either too much or too little — make an appointment with a holistic health care provider to rule out any potential underlying medical conditions.

‘Ride the Tiger’ — a Documentary About the Bipolar Brain

Story at-a-glance

  • An estimated 5.1 million Americans have bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, characterized by unusual and typically dramatic shifts in mood and energy
  • When it comes to treatment, lifestyle changes are often the most powerful, and need to be included in the treatment if it is to be successful
  • Scientists are investigating strategies to control the illness by helping the brain rewire itself. This includes the use of optogenetics, deep brain stimulation, electroconvulsive therapy and transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Watch the video.URL:

An estimated 5.1 million Americans have bipolar disorder,1 also known as manic-depressive illness, which is characterized by unusual and typically dramatic shifts in mood and energy. Emotions tend to be intense, with the patient seesawing between ecstatic joy and hopeless depression.

Hallucinations and delusions of grandeur are common during the manic phase, leading the patient to engage in risky and irrational behaviors, such as not looking both ways before crossing the street because they think they’re invincible, or jumping out of a window, convinced they can fly.

The PBS documentary, “Ride the Tiger: A Guide Through the Bipolar Brain,”2originally aired on April, 2016, explores our current understanding of the illness, and puts a human face on the struggle with commentary by those challenged with it.

Highly accomplished individuals diagnosed with bipolar featured in the program include actress Patty Duke, who was diagnosed in 1982, and Patrick Kennedy, a former U.S. Representative.

By seeking to understand how the bipolar brain malfunctions, researchers believe they can get closer to understanding the inner workings of the brain, potentially unlocking treatments for other types of psychiatric problems as well.

Drugs Versus Lifestyle

While medication is typically the first-line of treatment for bipolar and other mental illnesses, they can take up to two months to work and are often frustratingly ineffective. Lithium is a “gold standard” treatment for bipolar, but even lithium works for only one-third of patients.

Another drug shown to offer relief from severe depression and bipolar depression within mere hours of administration is ketamine, a dissociative anesthetic normally used for starting and maintaining anesthesia. Research suggests ketamine helps induce neuroplasticity, allowing your brain to grow new neurons and connections.

However, this drug also fails to work in many, and often fails to provide long-lasting relief. When it comes to treatment, lifestyle changes are often the most powerful, and as noted in the program, need to be included in the treatment if it is to be successful. This includes:

  • Maintaining a regular sleep cycle
  • Exercising
  • Addressing your diet and avoiding stimulants such as caffeine, drugs and alcohol
  • Stress relief
  • Maintaining healthy emotional connections with family and friends

Scientists are also turning to more novel strategies in an effort to control the illness, seeking ways to possibly “preempt, fix or rewire” the patient’s brain back to normal.

Treatments That Help Rewire the Brain

Optogenetics is one such strategy. The technique involves the use of light and light-responsive proteins to control neuronal activity. Using this technique, the scientist can control not only the physical movement of the subject, but also the behavior.

For example, by shining a light on a specific gene-altered neuron, it can dial down the activity to reduce anxiety. Kafui Dzirasa, Ph.D., has taken it a step further, creating what he calls a closed loop actuator.

Using brain map data obtained through optogenetics, the closed loop actuator circumvents “broken” or dysfunctional areas between neurons to reestablish normal communication in that specific area of the brain. The upside of this is that you’re only stimulating and correcting the area that needs it.

Drugs, on the other hand, affect the brain in its entirety, for better or worse. While it may correct one problem, it often creates others. While showing great promise, Dzirasa is not about to implant the device in human brains any time soon.

But he hopes the device may eventually lead to other treatment strategies. Other devices used in the treatment of bipolar disorder and severe depression include:

  • Deep brain stimulation, which acts much like a pacemaker for the brain, using electrical impulses to stimulate certain brain areas to regulate mood
  • Electroconvulsive therapy, which has been shown to induce remission in up to 80 percent of patients and appears particularly effective for those with bipolar depression. One significant drawback is the potential for permanent memory loss
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation, a noninvasive procedure using magnetic fields to stimulate brain cells

These techniques basically employ electricity or magnetism as a way to change the way neurons connect, allowing your brain to create new neuronal connections and pathways (neuroplasticity), thereby bypassing the “traffic jam” that’s blocking normal communication between the neurons.

But such devices are not the only way to rewire your thought circuits. Talk therapy, meditation, prayer and “positive thinking” have also been shown to have a distinct and positive influence on the wiring in your brain.

Nutrition Is Essential for Proper Brain Function

An estimated 1 in 20 Americans over the age of 12 struggles with depression.3 Dr. Hyla Cass, a psychiatrist who uses integrative medicine in her practice, places great focus on nutrition and healthy lifestyle habits. As mentioned earlier, this is crucial regardless of what type of mental disorder you’re facing.

One of Cass’ mentors was Dr. Abram Hoffer, a co-founder of orthomolecular medicine, which refers to the concept of nutritional deficiencies being a source of mental illness. In particular, Hoffer used high doses of niacin (B3) to successfully treat schizophrenics. Amazingly, he was able to get many of these severely ill mental patients well enough to get married and go on to lead normal lives.

As it turns out, pellagra, a disorder caused by extreme niacin deficiency, produces the same psychiatric symptoms found in schizophrenia. In fact, Hoffer discovered that many schizophrenic patients were niacin dependent, meaning they needed far more niacin on a regular basis than normal in order to remain well.

Other researchers have found niacin may also be successfully used in the treatment of other mental disorders, such as attention deficit disorder, general psychosis, anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Food sensitivities can also play a role. For example, gluten can produce symptoms of depression if you’re sensitive to it. In such a case, the key is to remove gluten from your diet entirely. You cannot simply cut down. It must be removed completely. Cass has seen many patients recover from severe depression when going gluten-free. It’s also important to avoid junk food, as it promotes gut inflammation.

According to Cass, one of the first steps in addressing a mental health problem is to clean up your diet and address your gut health. Otherwise, you’ll have virtually no chance of getting emotionally and mentally well. On her website,, you can find a free report called “Reclaim Your Brain,” which details nutritional substances you can use to address conditions like anxiety and depression.

Nutritional Deficiencies Implicated in Psychiatric Disorders

In one recent meta-analysis, fish oil, vitamin D, methylfolate (an effective form of folic acid) and S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) were found to improve the effectiveness of serotonin reuptake inhibitors, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors and tricyclic antidepressants.4,5,6 Fish oil produced the most significant improvement, which makes sense if you understand the importance of animal-based omega-3 for brain health. Although not studied, krill oil would likely do better, and clean fish would do the best.

In fact, considering antidepressants have the clinical effectiveness of a placebo,7,8,9,10 it’s no wonder nutritional supplements can “boost” the drugs’ effectiveness. The supplements may well have been the true benefit, but that possibility was not taken into consideration in this analysis. Still, studies have shown that both omega-3 and vitamin D11 can improve mental health all on their own.

The 2001 book, “The Omega-3 Connection,” written by Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Andrew Stoll, was among the first works to bring attention to and support the use of omega-3 fats for depression. Omega-3s have also been shown to improve more serious mental disorders, including schizophrenia, psychosis and bipolar disorder.12

While there’s no set recommended dose of omega-3 fats, some health organizations recommend a daily dose of 250 to 500 milligrams (mg) of EPA and DHA for healthy adults. If you suffer from depression, higher doses may be called for. In one study,13an omega-3 supplement with a dose range of 200 to 2,200 mg of EPA per day was effective against primary depression.

As for vitamin D, researchers have suggested vitamin D may play a role in depression by regulating brain chemicals called monoamines, which include serotonin.14 As a general rule, depressed individuals have lower vitamin D levels than non-depressed people,15 and having a vitamin D level below 20 ng/mL can raise your risk of depression by 85 percent compared to having a level greater than 30 ng/mL.16

B vitamins are also really important for proper brain function, and deficiencies of one or more B vitamins can result in psychiatric symptoms. For example, vitamin B12 deficiency can trigger confusion, agitation, depression,17 mania, psychosis and paranoid delusions.18,19 One recent study20,21 found vitamins B6, B8 (inositol) and B12 in combination were very effective for improving schizophrenic symptoms when taken in high doses — more so than standard drug treatments alone. Low doses were ineffective.

Lowering Inflammation Is Important for Mental Health

Studies have also linked depression to chronic inflammation and dysfunction of the gut-brain axis.22 One likely theory as to why certain nutrients work so well for depression is because they are potent anti-inflammatories. Indeed, many studies have confirmed that treating gastrointestinal inflammation helps improve symptoms of depression.23 The gut-brain connection is well-recognized as a basic tenet of physiology and medicine, so this isn’t all that surprising, even though it’s often overlooked.

A previous article24 titled “Are probiotics the new Prozac?” reviews some of the supporting evidence. For example, animal research has linked changes in gut flora to changes in affective behaviors, and in humans, probiotics (beneficial bacteria) have been shown to alter brain function.25

Previous research has also shown that certain probiotics can help alleviate anxiety. For example, one study26 found the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 normalized anxiety-like behavior in mice with infectious colitis by modulating the vagal pathways within the gut-brain.

Other research27 found that the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus had a marked effect on GABA levels — an inhibitory neurotransmitter involved in regulating many physiological and psychological processes — in certain brain regions and lowered the stress-induced hormone corticosterone, resulting in reduced anxiety- and depression-related behavior. (It is likely other lactobacillus species also provide this benefit, but this was the only one that was tested.)

Gut Bacteria May Play a Role in Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia

Researchers have also found strong connections between the gut microbiome and schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.28 As recently reported by Psych Central:29

“The gut and the brain are connected by what is called the enteric nervous system [ENS]. While the ENS can act independently, it can also influence the central nervous system. It does this through millions of neurons as well as neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, glutamate and norepinephrine. When one of these systems dysfunctions, it can heavily impact the other, causing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

One way the digestive system can dysfunction is with an alteration in the gut’s microbiome. The immune system is also vulnerable to changes in the microbiome … Part of the immune response to harmful microorganisms is inflammation. This inflammation occurs throughout the body, including areas around the brain, which can trigger or worsen symptoms of bipolar disorder.”

For example, studies have found:

  • Schizophrenics have less biodiversity overall and 400 times higher population of lactic acid producing bacteria than healthy individuals. Certain metabolic pathways differ as well, including those for glutamate and vitamin B1230
  • Schizophrenics also have significantly higher amounts of Lactobacillus phage phiadh, a microorganism associated with a higher risk for diabetes, than healthy controls31
  • Those with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia tend to have chronic low-grade inflammation, associated with gut dysfunction and an imbalanced gut microbiome
  • People with bipolar or schizophrenia also have elevated levels of antibodies against Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a yeast associated with Crohn’s disease. Many are also sensitive to lactose and gluten, which can trigger inflammation32
  • Individuals hospitalized with acute mania have increased exposure to antibiotics.33 While the authors suggested this finding means these patients tend to have higher rates of bacterial infections, this link could also point at the hazards associated with killing off your microbiome with antibiotics, which decimate both good and bad bacteria without discrimination

Holistic Mental Health Suggestions

Regardless of the nature or severity of your mental health problem, in order to successfully treat it, you need to take a holistic approach. Rarely will medication be the sole answer. Following are some guidelines and suggestions — presented in no particular order — to keep in mind.

Withdraw from antidepressants and other drugs under medical supervision

If you’re currently on an antidepressant and want to get off it, ideally you’ll want to have the cooperation of your prescribing physician. Some are happy to help you to withdraw if they know you’re going to be responsible about it.

Others may not want to bother, or they don’t believe you can get off the medication. As noted by Cass, you may need to do some reading in order to be better prepared.

Dr. Joseph Glennmullen from Harvard wrote a very helpful book on how to withdraw called “The Antidepressant Solution.” You can also turn to an organization with a referral list of doctors who practice more biologically or naturally, such as the American College for Advancement in Medicine

Once you have the cooperation of your prescribing physician, start lowering the dosage of the medication you’re taking. As noted by Cass, there are protocols for gradually reducing the dose that your doctor should be well aware of. At the same time, start taking a multivitamin.

Start taking low doses. If you’re quitting an SSRI under doctor supervision, Cass suggests going on a low dose of 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). For bipolar patients, holistic psychiatrists may prescribe nutritional supplements such as fish oil (omega-3 fats), inositol, niacin, tryptophan and others, depending on your individual needs.

Address Lyme disease

Bipolar symptoms can also be related to Lyme disease, so if Lyme infection is present, that needs to be addressed, also by a more functionally oriented doctor.

Combat inflammation

Keeping inflammation in check is an important part of any effective treatment plan. If you’re gluten sensitive, you will need to remove all gluten from your diet. A food sensitivity test can help ascertain this. Switching to a whole food diet as described in my optimal nutrition plan can go a long way toward lowering the inflammation level in your body and brain.

Optimize your vitamin D level

Vitamin D deficiency is another important biological factor that can play a significant role in mental health, especially depression. A double-blind randomized trial34 published in 2008 concluded that supplementing with high doses of vitamin D “seems to ameliorate these symptoms indicating a possible causal relationship.”

Recent research35 also claims that low vitamin D levels appear to be associated with suicide attempts.

Ideally, maintain your vitamin D level between 40 and 60 ng/mL year-round. If you cannot get sufficient sun exposure to maintain this level, taking an oral vitamin D3 supplement would be advisable. Just remember to also take vitamin K2 and magnesium, as these all work together.

Nourish your gut microbiome

Reducing gut inflammation is imperative when addressing mental health issues,36 so optimizing your gut flora is a critical piece. To promote healthy gut flora, increase your consumption of fiber and probiotic foods, such as fermented vegetables, kimchee, natto, kefir and others.

Clean up your sleep hygiene

Make sure you’re getting enough high quality sleep, as sleep is essential for optimal mood and mental health. A fitness tracker that tracks your sleep can be a useful tool. According to Cass, the inability to fall asleep and stay asleep can be due to elevated cortisol levels, so if you have trouble sleeping, you may want to get your saliva cortisol level tested with an Adrenal Stress Index test.

If you’re already taking hormones, you can try applying a small dab of progesterone cream on your neck or face when you awaken during the night and can’t call back to sleep. Another alternative is to take adaptogens, herbal products that help lower cortisol and adjust your body to stress.

There are also other excellent herbs and amino acids that help you to fall asleep and stay asleep. Meditation can also help.

Add to your self-help tool bag

Slowing your breathing using the Butyenko breathing technique increases your partial pressure of carbon dioxide (CO2), which has enormous psychological benefits and can quickly reduce anxiety.

Other helpful tools include Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). EFT is well-studied, and research shows it can significantly increase positive emotions and decrease negative emotional states. One scientific review found statistically significant benefits in using EFT for anxiety, depression, PTSD and phobias.

EFT is particularly powerful for treating stress and anxiety because it specifically targets your amygdala and hippocampus, which are the parts of your brain that help you decide whether or not something is a threat.37,38 For serious or complex issues, seek out a qualified health care professional that is trained in EFT39 to help guide you through the process.

Eat real food and avoid all processed foods

High sugar and starchy nonfiber carbohydrates lead to excessive insulin release, which can result in falling blood sugar levels, or hypoglycemia. In turn, hypoglycemia causes your brain to secrete glutamate in levels that can cause agitation, depression, anger, anxiety and panic attacks. Sugar also fans the flames of inflammation in your body.

In addition to being high in sugar and grains, processed foods also contain a variety of additives that can affect your brain function and mental state, especially MSG and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame.

Recent research also shows that glyphosate, used in large quantities on genetically engineered crops like corn, soy and sugar beets, limits your body’s ability to detoxify foreign chemical compounds.

As a result, the damaging effects of those toxins are magnified, potentially resulting in a wide variety of diseases, including brain disorders that have both psychological and behavioral effects.

Get adequate B vitamins

Vitamin B12 deficiency can contribute to depression and affects one in four people. Niacin (B3), B6, biotin (B8) and folate (B9) deficiencies can also produce psychiatric effects.

Get plenty of high quality animal-based omega-3 fats

The animal-based omega-3 fats DHA and EPA are crucial for good brain function and mental health.40,41 Good sources include fatty fish that are also low in mercury, such as wild caught Alaskan salmon, sardines and anchovies.

If you don’t eat these types of fish on a regular basis, it would be advisable to take a high-quality omega-3 supplement such as krill oil, which has a number of benefits over fish oil, including better absorption.42

Beneficial herbs and supplements: SAMe, 5-HTP and St. John’s Wort

SAMe is an amino acid derivative that occurs naturally in all cells. It plays a role in many biological reactions by transferring its methyl group to DNA, proteins, phospholipids and biogenic amines. Several scientific studies indicate that SAMe may be useful in the treatment of depression. 5-HTP is another natural alternative to traditional antidepressants.

When your body sets about manufacturing serotonin, it first makes 5-HTP. Taking 5-HTP as a supplement may raise serotonin levels. The evidence suggests 5-HTP outperforms a placebo when it comes to alleviating depression43 — more than can be said about antidepressants.

One caveat: Anxiety and social phobias can worsen with higher levels of serotonin, so it may be contraindicated if your anxiety is already high. St. John’s Wort has also been shown to provide relief from mild depressive symptoms.

Get adequate daily exercise

Studies show there is a strong correlation between improved mood and aerobic capacity. There’s also a growing acceptance that the mind-body connection is very real, and that maintaining good physical health can significantly lower your risk of developing depression in the first place.

Exercising creates new GABA-producing neurons that help induce a natural state of calm. It also boosts your levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, which help buffer the effects of

Hope For Obesity: First Time in Modern Memory, Americans Drank More Water Than Soda


Bucking a historic trend, Americans reportedly consumed more bottled water than soda in 2016.

According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, bottled water sales volume grew to 12.8 billion gallons, resulting in about 39 gallons of bottled water per person, as opposed to the estimated 38.5 gallons of soft drinks.

 Though this raises concerns for whether Americans are efficiently recycling the materials used to package bottled water, the report offers hope for tackling the surging obesity rate countrywide.

Obesity, which affects over 3 million Americans, increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and arthritis. It also costs taxpayers and individuals over $200 billion in medical costs annually.

So while the excessive use of plastic may be worrisome for the environment, the growing popularity of bottled water illustrates a trend toward healthier lifestyle choices.

“Bottled water effectively reshaped the beverage marketplace,” Michael C. Bellas, Beverage Marketing’s CEO said in a statement. “Where once it would have been unimaginable to see Americans walking down the street carrying plastic bottles of water, or driving around with them in their cars’ cup holders, now that’s the norm.”

The Science Has Spoken: Pluto Will Never Be A Planet Again

Pluto's atmosphere, as imaged by New Horizons when it flew into the distant world's eclipse shadow.

Pluto’s atmosphere, as imaged by New Horizons when it flew into the distant world’s eclipse shadow.

Practically everyone alive today grew up learning some way of remembering the nine planets of our Solar System in order: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Beginning in the 1990s, however, two revolutions in astronomy happened all at once: the uncovering of trans-Neptunian objects and the discoveries of worlds around other stars. These discoveries compelled us to rethink our definition of a planet, culminating in the official 2006 definition of “planet” by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). Pluto was out. But with many people unhappy with the IAU’s definition, the story doesn’t end there.

Clyde Tombaugh's original images identifying Pluto in 1930.

Lowell Observatory Archives

Clyde Tombaugh’s original images identifying Pluto in 1930.

When we first discovered Pluto, it was crazy to think it was anything other than a planet. The asteroid belt was known — thousands of small, rocky bodies that were most definitely distinct from planets — but Pluto was thought to be larger and more massive than even Earth to start. We thought it exerted a significant gravitational tug on Neptune, but those observations turned out to be flawed. We thought it was going to be at least as big as the inner, rocky worlds, but it’s less than half the size of even Mercury. And as the bounty of frozen worlds from the Kuiper belt, the scattered disk and even (perhaps) the Oort cloud have come in, we’ve learned that Pluto isn’t all that special by comparison with the rest of the Solar System. It was just first.

The orbit of 2015 RR245, compared with the gas giants and the other known Kuiper Belt Objects. Note the insignificance of Pluto.

Alex Parker and the OSSOS team

The orbit of 2015 RR245, compared with the gas giants and the other known Kuiper Belt Objects. Note the insignificance of Pluto.

At the same time that we were discovering the first additional Kuiper belt objects, we were also finding the first exoplanets. The first planets we found were the easiest type to find: the largest-mass worlds orbiting close in to their parent stars. As techniques and technology improved with the passage of time, we began to find large numbers of worlds of all different masses at a variety of orbital distances from their stars. These exoplanet solar systems have proved to be vast, varied and rich, showing us that our Solar System is both nothing special and not even necessarily the norm. The diversity of what’s out there is tremendous.

So who gets to be a planet? And who determines it? The IAU’s original, 2006 definition was as follows:

  1. It needs to be in hydrostatic equilibrium, or have enough gravity to pull it into an ellipsoidal shape.
  2. It needs to orbit the Sun and not any other body.
  3. And it needs to clear its orbit of any planetesimals or planetary competitors.

As you can see, it’s problematic from the start. For one, it doesn’t define “planet” for any star system other than our own. For another, “clearing its orbit” seems pretty subjective and dependent on what else is out there. (If you were to place Jupiter too distant from the Sun, it would fail to clear its orbit; would it therefore stop being a planet?) And even if you replaced “the Sun” with “its parent star,” it isn’t like we can measure exoplanetary systems well enough to tell whether their orbits are cleared or not. The definition isn’t precise enough.

The large moons of the solar system as compared with Earth in size. Mars is approximately the same size as Jupiter's Ganymede. Note that pretty much all of these worlds would become planets under the geophysical definition alone.

NASA, via Wikimedia Commons user Bricktop; edited by Wikimedia Commons users Deuar, KFP, TotoBaggins

The large moons of the solar system as compared with Earth in size. Mars is approximately the same size as Jupiter’s Ganymede. Note that most of these worlds would also become planets under the geophysical definition alone.

On the other hand, planetary scientists have proposed a geophysical definition for a planet:

A planet is a sub-stellar mass body that has never undergone nuclear fusion and that has sufficient self-gravitation to assume a spheroidal shape adequately described by a triaxial ellipsoid regardless of its orbital parameter.

But this poses a set of problems, too. Large moons (like ours) and asteroids would become planets. Charon, Pluto’s moon, would be a planet. In fact, over 100 known objects in our Solar System alone would become planets. In our efforts to include Pluto, we include every non-stellar object more massive than about 0.01% of Earth’s mass. The big problem is it’s far too inclusive.

This diagram compares the sizes of the newly-discovered planets around the faint red star TRAPPIST-1 with the Galilean moons of Jupiter and the inner Solar System. All the planets found around TRAPPIST-1 are of similar size to the Earth, but the star is only approximately the size of Jupiter.

This diagram compares the sizes of the newly-discovered planets around the faint red star TRAPPIST-1 with the Galilean moons of Jupiter and the inner Solar System. All the planets found around TRAPPIST-1 are of similar size to the Earth, but the star is only approximately the size of Jupiter.

Solar systems come in huge varieties. The recently discovered system around TRAPPIST-1 looks more like Jupiter and its moons than like our Sun and its revolving worlds, but these seven Earth-sized bodies should definitely be planets. They meet the geophysical definition, but that’s only the starting point. They also — and you may feel strongly or less-strongly about some of these — meet the following requirements:

  • They orbit their parent star.
  • They dominate their orbits in terms of mass and orbital distance.
  • They would clear out any debris in their orbit in well under 0.1 billion years.
  • And their orbits, barring any outside influences, will be stable as long as their star exists.

What’s perhaps most remarkable is that we can make a simple, mathematical relationship between a world’s mass and its orbital distance that can be scaled and applied to any star. If you’re above these lines, you’re a planet; if you’re below it, you’re not. Note that even the most massive dwarf planets would have to be closer to the Sun than Mercury is to reach planetary status. Note by how fantastically much each of our eight planets meets these criteria… and by how much all others miss it. And note that if you replaced the Earth with the Moon, it would barely make it as a planet.

The scientific line between planetary (above) and non-planetary (below) status, for three definitions and a star equal to the mass of our Sun.

Margot (2015), via

The scientific line between planetary (above) and non-planetary (below) status, for three definitions and a star equal to the mass of our Sun.

When it comes to planetary status, geophysics isn’t enough. In astronomy, the three rules of real estate also apply: location, location, location. There’s something very meaningful about our place in the Solar System that makes Earth a planet and Pluto not-a-planet. If we’re being honest about our Solar System and the number of planets within it, there are very clearly eight objects that are different from all the others.

The eight planets of our Solar System and our Sun, to scale in size but not in terms of orbital distances.

The eight planets of our Solar System and our Sun, to scale in size but not in terms of orbital distances.

There’s a limit to how far you can move Earth away before we become a dwarf planet or even a rogue (or orphaned, i.e., star-less) planet, and it’s important to have a real definition that means something wherever we look.

The orbits of the known Sednoids, along with the proposed Planet Nine.

The orbits of the known Sednoids, along with the proposed Planet Nine.

After all, the next decade should teach us whether there’s a larger-than-Earth mass out in the distant Solar System: what’s been dubbed Planet Nine. If this world does exist, we should be able to determine its mass and its orbital parameters. It will be an interesting object, a tremendous discovery and a fascinating world whether it makes it as a planet or not. But will it meet not just the geophysical but the astronomical criteria for being a planet? That’s a scientific question that should have a right (and wrong) answer. It’s up to us to draw the planetary line correctly, unswayed by our own biases and opinions.

How to secure your phone?

6 Waysto Secure Your Mobile Phone Against Attackersin 2017
are a real threat to businesses and individuals alike. In 2015, CNN reported that nearly 1 million new malware threats are released daily. In 2017, these types of cyberattacks are still a threat. Today, most people spend more time browsing the Internet on their phones than they do on their desktop computers, but many people still fail to secure their mobile devices. Keep your phone safe from and cyberattacks with these six tips.
Keep Your Software Updated
Software updates can be a pain, but there’s a good reason to ensure your and apps are all up to date. One of the ways get into mobile devices is through holes or bugs in old software programs. Software updates help patch these holes and make it harder for to get in. To keep your phone’s software up-to-date, enable automatic app updates, and be sure to take advantage of any updates your service provider offers.
Install an App
It sounds like a no-brainer, but according to CNBC, only 14 percent of people actually install apps on their phones. There’s no reason your phone shouldn’t be protected. Free apps like Avast and will scan your apps and URLs for malware and even allow you to PIN protect private apps. You can also scan Wi-Fi to improve The pro version offers more features, as will paid versions of other apps, but if money is the main factor in going without protection, the least you can do is download a free app and utilize the simple features it offers.
Lock Your Phone
It’s another no-brainer when it comes to mobile phone security, but still half of users opt out of using a password, PIN, pattern, or fingerprint to secure their mobile devices. You may not think it matters much. Any attacker is going to get in through malware or other types of wireless attacks, right? Wrong.
Cell phone thefts are incredibly common. In major cities, up to 40 percent of robberies involve cell phones. It’s possible for these thieves to use the information stored on your device to steal your identity or make fraudulent online purchases. It’s not just about theft, either. Mobile phones are easy to lose, and if the wrong person picks it up, they can use your personal information for their own gain. Locking your phone is just the first step in mitigating your risk of these people accessing your device’s data.
Install Software for Lost Devices
Another way to reduce your risk of physical attacks if your phone is lost or stolen is to install software that can find your phone as well as wipe the information on it remotely. If you’re on Android, chances are you already have these capabilities enabled. With Device Manager, you can locate your lost phone with accuracy up to 20 meters, make it ring, lock the screen, or erase the data, all remotely. You simply have to log in to the Google account associated with your device from another computer to access these features.
Avoid Third-Party Apps
One of the bigger vulnerabilities with mobile phones is third-party apps. It’s not always clear which apps are safe to use and which ones might be malicious. If you’re using an iPhone, the good news is that you can only download apps from iTunes. Since these apps have been vetted by the iTunes store, there’s a lower risk of downloading a malicious app.
That’s not true for users. Most apps on the Google Play store should be safe, but users don’t have to stick with Google Play. They can download third-party apps at any time, and that puts them at risk. If you decide to install a third-party app, be smart about it and research the app to ensure what you’re downloading is safe.
Note: It’s never a smart idea to “jailbreak” your phone to open it to third-party apps since it puts you at risk of even more vulnerabilities.
Use a VPN
One of the best ways to secure yourself when browsing the Internet is to use a virtual private network (VPN). This reduces your vulnerability to cyberattacks, especially when accessing the Internet over public networks.
A virtual private network is a service that routes your data through their servers first to encrypt your data and conceal your IP address. This makes it incredibly difficult for who are using public Wi-Fi networks to get ahold of your data. Try to find the best VPN for Android – it’ll will cost a small monthly fee, but it’s worth the price to keep your Internet browsing secure in public. If you’re using an iOS/– take a look at this comparison.
Whether you’re updating your software or getting a VPN, there’s more you can do to secure your mobile phone. Which steps will you take to keep your information out of hackers’ hands?


Physician Invents Reconstructive Surgery For Female Genital Mutilation.

There is new hope for the hundreds of millions of women worldwide who have been subjected to genital mutilation.

A surgeon in Penn Medicine’s Center for Human Appearance has developed a reconstructive procedure that can increase sexual function and, patients’ early experiences suggest, help heal the emotional and psychological wounds associated with the mutilation. Ivona Percec, an assistant professor of Surgery in the division of Plastic Surgery, reports on her use of the technique in three patients this month in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal. She also calls for greater awareness of this human rights issue in support of women who’ve suffered these experiences across the world.

 “Plastic surgeons have a crucial role to play in this recovery, and it’s important for physicians to be informed and prepared to address the surgical and emotional needs of women who seek care for this,” Percec said. “Our procedure is simple yet effective and can help victims restore their physical and psychological sense of well-being.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as, “any procedure that intentionally alters or causes injury to female genital organs for non-medical reasons and with no health benefits.” An estimated 200 million women have been subjected to FGM around the world, usually between the first week of life and adolescence, and often by their caregivers. It is a cultural ritual in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia to encourage female sexual fidelity. It is internationally recognized as a violation of human rights.

FGM can also have long-term consequences, including severe pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, cysts, recurrent infections, and even death.

All three women were between the ages of 30 and 33 and had recently immigrated to the United States from Sierra Leone. In each case, the women were married but had not told their husbands they had undergone FGM as children.

“These women were embarrassed that they were subjected to this procedure, in particular since relocating to the United States,” Percec said. “All of them were able to have intercourse, but without pleasure – usually with pain.”

The patients wanted to know if there were any surgical options available to help them look and feel more normal. After Percec’s research turned up little in the way of established procedures, she used her knowledge of other reconstructive techniques in hopes of restoring appearance and function.

With an average follow up of almost a year, all three patients reported improved sexual function and decreased embarrassment with their partners. All three women said they would recommend this procedure to others who have suffered FGM.

“Female genital mutilation is a violation of the basic rights of women and children,” Percec said. “As nations around the world work to eliminate this custom, plastic surgeons can play an important role in the physical, emotional, and psychological recovery of women everywhere.”

Why Cocaine Turns People Into Dickheads, a Simple Explanation.

We asked a scientist about the physical process that turns nice, normal people into bellends after they’ve done a bit of gear.

Cocaine’s a funny drug, isn’t it? I can’t think of any other substance – bar maybe alcohol – with the power to turn a relatively nice, normal human being into an absolute fucking nightmare. “Yeah, yeah, haha – have a bitta that,” your friend Grant is screaming, trying to ram the neck of a Polish brandy bottle physically inside your throat. “Haha,” he’s going, completely out of character, four lines deep now. “Probably going to kill him dead, that! Haha. Good fucking banter. Shall we do another bump? Let’s do another bump!! Have I told you about my idea for a board game??”

Of course, not everyone turns into a big sentient clenched jaw after half a gram – lots of us can do cocaine without becoming self-obsessed or arrogant or devoid of all self-awareness. But some of us can’t, which is where the “cocaine dickhead” archetype comes from. The girl who won’t stop banging on about her screenplay; the guy who wouldn’t be able to gauge the vibe of the room (extremely anti-him) if it was written in spray-paint on the wall.

So why, exactly, does this happen? And how come it only affects some people and not others?

“Cocaine tends to make people go into themselves, so they can either become introverted or be very sociable but a bit dominant or self-involved,” says Katy Mcleod, director of Chill Welfare, a social enterprise that runs welfare tents at festivals across the country. “One big issue with coke is how it makes you feel in yourself and how you come across to others when under the influence. The two don’t always match up. You might think you’re being really witty and outgoing, when other people just think you’re a twat.”

To get to the root of the twat chemistry, I spoke to David Belin from the Department of Pharmacology at Cambridge University. “Drugs target three psychological mechanisms in your brain,” he said. With cocaine, you’re effectively buzzing off the chemical dopamine flooding your brain every time you take a bump. “Dopamine is not pleasure itself, but a mechanism in the brain that allows for learning,” David explained.

Imagine how a new guitarist might get a kick out of nailing “Smells Like Teen Spirt” for the first time, but then immediately crave that feeling again so move straight on to “Heart-Shaped Box”. There’s a buzz there. You’re focused. The world’s a bit more thrilling. Cocaine replicates that feeling far more vividly. “It targets your brain so that dopamine is released all the time that you take it, and it feels great,” says David. “You start building a very strong motivation for the drugs.”

From here to the second psychological dust storm cocaine kicks up between your ears. “Cocaine influences your pre-frontal cortex [the part of your brain that regulates behaviours and, essentially, your ability to make sound judgements]. It actually messes up your executive functions, your inhibitory control and your decision making. So now you’ve got this very strong motivation [from the dopamine] and, because of the effects of the drug, you end up with an inability to inhibit your impulses and make good decisions.”

Remember the time you repeatedly offered the girl at that party a fiver for a line and she said yes, but only after making you promise you’d leave her alone forever? That. A study at Maastricht University in the Netherlands found that a single dose of coke – so a bump, or a tiny, little line – can impair your ability to recognise negative emotions in other people, which is why you’re under the impression everyone is eternally interested in what you have to say, when, really, they are not.

“Third: drugs facilitate habits, so at this point your impulses are full of motivation for the drug, and they reach your habit system and you just do it without thinking about it, necessarily,” said David, referring to how moreish cocaine can be. “Also, with cocaine, there’s no real physical withdrawal, but there’s a strong psychological withdrawal. You feel anxious, you feel bad, so that adds to the motivation to continue taking the drug.”

So that would explain why people might tease out the dregs of a bag towards the end of the night, or put the call in to Albanian Rocky at the same time you’d usually be waking up?

“Absolutely,” says David, adding that all these urges are going to be further enhanced or inhibited by the likely addition of alcohol to the mix. The combination effectively creates a new potent drug – cocaethylene – when the two meet in the liver, which drastically increases your chance of a heart attack, even up to 12 hours after you’ve been mixing. Woohoo!

“It will lower your general inhibitory tone so you give in to impulses you wouldn’t normally,” says David. Oh, and also, that thing where you’re a few drinks ahead of everyone else and start muttering about getting some gear to “sober yourself up”? It’s a myth. The cocaine is just providing more dopamine to battle between the other neurotransmitters competing for dominance in your brain. It might momentarily sharpen your focus, but in effect you’re only more stimulated.

The final thing I’m interested to hear about is why so many people tend to get turned on when they’re on coke, even if, in the case of some guys, there might structural problems to contend with.

“It may have have to do with general arousal,” he said. “Unlike heroin, which focuses on pleasure by itself, cocaine makes the world shinier. So something that is beautiful – a partner or a potential partner – will become more beautiful, and you will want them more. Perhaps you don’t have a choice.”

The issue of choice, or lack thereof, has been something that David’s alluded to throughout. If you’ve never taken drugs, you might be reading this and thinking, ‘If it’s such a problem, just don’t do any coke.” Which is fair. But is there a point where a so-called recreational user should maybe give their intake some proper consideration?

“Say you did it once at a party with friends and enjoyed it,” says David. “Then, two months later, it’s there again, but instead of being every two months it might gradually become every Saturday, and you think, ‘I’m fine, because it’s only Saturdays.’ Do you really want it, or do you end up in this mood with friends and take it without really wanting it? If it’s the latter, it suggests you are losing control. It’s a reflex. It’s the moment, the mindset. And the triggers – meeting with certain friends, drinking alcohol – for the drug mean you are always finding justifications. I suggest you meet up with these friends on a Saturday and agree that none of you will take cocaine. If you can’t make it through the evening, you may be be on the wrong side of the story.”

NASA Just Released the Raw Data From its Latest Observations of our ‘Sister Solar System’

You see what they see.

 A few weeks ago, NASA announced the discovery of seven, Earth-sized planets orbiting a star just 39 light-years away.

Known as the TRAPPIST-1 star system, the seven planets appear to be rocky, have life-friendly surface temperatures, and could potentially harbour liquid water – leading scientists to nickname it a ‘sister solar system’ to our own, and a pretty good spot to look for extraterrestrial life.

 Since then, researchers have debated how habitable these planets could really be, given the stellar activity of the dwarf star they orbit.

But the truth is, until we get a closer look, no one can say for sure whether or not life could be supported somewhere in the star system. Which is why NASA has just rushed out data from its latest and longest observations of TRAPPIST-1 to date.

The initial discovery of the star system was made over several months last year, using a combination of NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes.

But since 15 December 2016, NASA’s had its own planet-hunting Kepler space telescope trained on TRAPPIST-1 for follow-up observations. And this week, they’ve made all that additional data freely available to the scientific community and public to trawl through. (Note: you need Python-based Kadenza software to extract the raw data files.)

In total, the observation period, which was part of Kepler’s K2 Campaign, provided 74 days of monitoring, which is the longest, nearly continuous set of observations of TRAPPIST-1 to date.

Unfortunately, we can’t tell you exactly what’s in that gold mine of data just yet, because in its current state, it’s totally raw and uncalibrated, and it’s going to take weeks for scientists to make sense of what Kepler has seen.

 But this early release gives scientists an opportunity to get more insight into the gravitational interaction between the planets – a clue to whether any of them are tidally locked – as well as the chance to spot any planets that may remain undiscovered in the system.

Interestingly, TRAPPIST-1 wasn’t on Kepler’s original list of systems to study last year. But in May 2016, when the discovery of the first three planets orbiting the star was announced, NASA decided to point it towards the constellation Aquarius, home of the TRAPPIST-1 system, to get a closer look.

Specifically, Kepler monitored minuscule changes in the star’s brightness as the seven planets orbit in front of it.

That kind of ‘dimming data’ can give astronomers insight into the size and mass of the planets passing in front of their host star, and will hopefully help them nail down the orbital period of the seventh planet, which until now has only been observed passing in front of its star once.

The observations could also reveal information about the magnetic activity of the host star, which would greatly affect its habitable zone. That’s why they’ve rushed out the data’s release – NASA usually waits until its data has been processed before it gives us a look.

“Scientists and enthusiasts around the world are invested in learning everything they can about these Earth-size worlds,” said Geert Barentsen, K2 research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Centre.

“Providing the K2 raw data as quickly as possible was a priority to give investigators an early look so they could best define their follow-up research plans. We’re thrilled that this will also allow the public to witness the process of discovery.”

And it’s not just for the public’s benefit – astronomers around the world are currently preparing proposals for where we should aim Earth-based telescopes next winter, which are due by the end of March.

Telescope spots are hard to secure, so the new TRAPPIST-1 data will hopefully give researchers enough ammo to convince regulatory bodies that they should be given time to observe the star system in the coming months.

If the raw data means very little to you – and, let’s face it, if you’re not used to looking at this type of data, it’s like another language – don’t worry. NASA plans to finish processing the data by late May, and will release a ‘translated’ version then, hopefully with some exciting discoveries for us.

Although Kepler observations are amazing, what the scientific community is even more excited about is the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope next year, which will be powerful enough to actually detect the atmospheric composition of the TRAPPIST-1 system.

In the meantime, thanks to this freely available data, it could be a member of the public who stumbles across the next big discovery in the star system, and that’s pretty awesome.

IBM seriously just turned an atom into the world’s smallest hard drive.

Data storage technology continues to shrink in size and grow in capacity, but scientists have just taken things to the next level – they’ve built a nanoscale hard drive using a single atom.

By magnetising an atom, cooling it with liquid helium, and storing it in an extreme vacuum, the team managed to store a single bit of data (either a 1 or a 0) in this incredibly miniscule space.


Not enough room for your holiday photos then, but according to the team from IBM Research in California, this proof-of-concept approach could eventually lead to drives the size of a credit card that could hold the entire iTunes or Spotify libraries, at about 30 million songs each.

“We conducted this research to understand what happens when you shrink technology down to the most fundamental extreme – the atomic scale,” says one of the researchers, nanoscientist Christopher Lutz.

The team deployed its Nobel Prize-winning Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM) for the experiment, which uses the ‘tunnelling phenomenon‘ in quantum mechanics, where electrons can be pushed through barriers, to study electronics at the atomic scale.

With the extreme vacuum conditions inside the STM, free from air molecules and other types of contamination, scientists were able to successfully manipulate a holmium atom.

The microscope also applies liquid helium cooling, which is important in adding stability to the magnetic reading and writing process.

Thanks to that carefully controlled environment, the team could accurately read and write two magnetically charged atoms just a single nanometre apart – that’s one millionth the width of a pinhead.

With the help of the microscope, the scientists could deliver an electric current that turns the magnetic orientation of a single atom up or down, mimicking the operation of a normal hard drive, but on a much smaller scale.

Today’s hard drives use about 100,000 atoms to store a single bit, so you can get an idea of the difference we’re talking about.

The team says the technique could produce drives that are 1,000 times denser than the ones we have right now.

And while the process is going to remain much too difficult and expensive to use commercially for some time, the researchers have shown that it can be done, which is an exciting first step.

 This is just the latest in a long line of innovations in data storage – earlier this month researchers from Columbia University announced they’d crammed six digital files into a single speck of DNA.

While there have been previous efforts to store data on single atoms, this is now the smallest and most stable result yet, according to the IBM team.

“The high magnetic stability combined with electrical reading and writing shows that single-atom magnetic memory is indeed possible,” the researchers conclude.

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