(CNN)This feature is part of CNN Parallels, an interactive series exploring ways you can improve your health by making small changes to your daily habits.
(CNN)This feature is part of CNN Parallels, an interactive series exploring ways you can improve your health by making small changes to your daily habits.
An anti-obesity drive is about to see a tax introduced on sugary drinks across the UK, while Scotland is set to impose a minimum price on alcohol to target problem drinking.
But does making unhealthy products more expensive persuade people to make “better” choices? And what are the trade-offs associated with doing so?
The price increases being introduced could lead to significant health improvements, but they will be felt by everybody, not just those with the unhealthiest lifestyles.
From 6 April, the UK’s tax on sugary drinks will see shoppers asked to pay 18p or 24p more a litre, depending on just how much has been added to their drinks. The price of a 1.75-litre bottle of cola bought from a supermarket could increase by about 25%.
In Scotland, from May, alcohol will not be allowed to be sold for less than 50p per unit, which could see a four-pack of cider cost 10% more, while a pack of 20 cans could double in price. Wales is looking at similar measures.
This is happening because sugar and alcohol are associated with problems that impose a substantial cost on society.
For example, problem drinking can lead to anti-social behaviour, crime, pressure on A&Es and increased liver disease. Excessive sugar consumption is linked to rising obesity rates, some cancers, diabetes and heart disease.
But alcohol consumption is concentrated among a relatively small number of people: 5% of households buy more than 30% of all alcohol.
And the government is particularly concerned about obesity among children and young people: teenagers consume more than three times the recommended amount of free sugars – those which are not naturally present in food.
The government has to consider the trade-off between potentially large improvements to public health and making everybody pay more.
Price increases will be most effective if the people who consume too much sugar and alcohol significantly reduce their intake.
But people respond differently to higher prices, depending on how much they like the product. And, in the case of alcohol, addiction can also be a factor.
Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that heavy drinkers respond less strongly to price increases.
For example, if the price of alcohol increases by 1%, the percentage fall in consumption among households which buy more than 40 units per adult each week is only half as large as among those which buy fewer than eight units.
What people choose to buy instead also matters.
In the case of sugary drinks, increasing the price of a bottle of cola might work if people choose water instead.
But only some drinks, and no foods are being taxed. So, if people choose to buy a milkshake, a chocolate bar, a cake, or ice cream instead of the cola, then the impact of the tax on sugar consumption will be reduced.
It can also be difficult to know how great the impact of a price rise has been, compared with other measures.
The proportion of adults smoking halved between 1974 and 2013 – at the same time as the real rate of excise duties on tobacco more than doubled.
But higher taxes are not the only thing that affected behaviour, as awareness about the dangers of smoking also increased significantly.
The food and drink industry will react to the taxes – but not necessarily in the intended way.
The simplest response is for firms to pass on price changes to their customers. But they could choose to change prices by more or less than the tax, which will affect how much consumption falls.
They may also change their products – a move which could make the policy more effective.
There are examples of this happening – several soft drinks companies have already reduced the sugar content of their products to avoid the tax. The sugar content of Fanta has been reduced by 30%, for example.
If people are happy to buy the reduced sugar varieties, this could be a relatively effective way of reducing the nation’s sugar intake.
And new recipes can work – voluntary targets led to a 5% reduction in the salt content of groceries between 2005 and 2011.
Money from the sugar tax will go to the government, which could use some of the tax revenue it receives to improve public health, for example by increasing funding for school sports.
However, minimum pricing per unit of alcohol is likely to create windfall profits for the manufacturers and retailers.
If the alcohol industry uses the money to increase promotions, or advertising, this could undo some of the potential benefits of the policy.
Introducing taxes is only one of many options available to the government.
A lot of attention has been paid to differences in the quality of diet between different people. But there are also big differences in the same person over time.
Research by the IFS suggests that the share of calories people get from healthy food increases sharply in January and falls by 15% by the end of the year. Similarly, searches for “diet” on Google spike at the start of the year.
This suggests that if the government could persuade people to behave as they do in January for the whole year, then there could be substantial improvements in nutrition.
And “nudge” policies that encourage people to make better decisions – such as not allowing sweets and chocolates to be sold next to tills – could be used more widely.
Such policies could be effective at reducing impulse buys that people later regret.
A related idea would be adding information about the dangers of excess sugar and alcohol to food labelling, just as health warnings are placed on cigarette packets.
The challenges posed by obesity, poor nutrition and alcohol consumption are substantial.
All the options involve trade-offs.
The government needs to balance the potential improvements to public health against the costs to consumers.
It is likely that a whole range of policies will be needed to tackle these major public health challenges.
Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet.
About this piece
This analysis piece was commissioned by the BBC from an expert working for an outside organisation.
Kate Smith is a senior research economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which describes itself as an independent research institute which aims to inform public debate on economics.
More details about its work and its funding can be found here.
Charts produced by Daniel Dunford
Edited by Duncan Walker
Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-43414777
Cutting the cheese, breaking wind, letting her rip. There are a lot of euphemisms for farting, one of the body’s most necessary, but embarrassing functions. Unfortunately, not much is known about it, outside of its obvious hilarity. Here are 20 facts to know about farts.
1. Yes, human beings actually need to fart
This may seem like a basic premise, but there’s a lot that goes into it. Namely, the human body builds up a lot of intestinal gas because we not only swallow air all day, we also have bacterial overgrowths in our intestines, not to mention all those gassy byproducts of digesting.
Farting, therefore, is a very necessary function of the human body. All that gas has to go somewhere, doesn’t it?
2. Holding in farts is a super bad idea
Pressure builds. That’s the simplest way to put it. You hold in a fart, and what happens is the pressure increases on your spincter until you release a compound fart, which is twice as loud and smelly as the one you would have released had you just farted normally.
That’s not the only way a backed-up fart comes out, however. The fart gases can reabsorb in your bloodstream, which means eventually it’ll come out your breath. Thankfully, the smellier gases dissipate, so your breath should be fine.
However, there’s another way a delayed fart can get you – via a burp. That’s right, if the gas is near enough to your mouth, it’ll come out as a very mealy smelling burp.
When in doubt, let it out.
3. Your farts are flammable
Farts are made up of several different gases including nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Both of these, by the way, are highly flammable, so don’t even think of holding a lit match near your butt.
Bacteria-produced farts can add methane and hydrogen to the mix and both of these are – you guessed it – explosive.
Can you blow up a house with a fart? It’s honestly a distinct (if very far-fetched) possibility.
4. Vegetarian farts smell better
Meat products contain high levels of sulfur, and sulfur makes gas smelly. It follows, therefore, that vegetarians have less smelly farts due to the fact that they don’t eat meat.
That doesn’t mean vegetarian farts are all lilacs and roses, however. Certain vegetables cause smelly farts, so vegetarian farts can be as noxious as meat-eaters’ every once in a while.
5. Certain foods make your farts smellier
When bacteria breaks down sulfur-rich foods, gasses known as sulfides and mercaptans result. These are what give farts their distinctive bouquet, and meat is the usual suspect.
Veggies, however, are also a culprit. Some vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, onions, Brussels sprouts, peas, leeks and garlic are high in sulfites, and eating them results in sulfide- and mercaptan-rich gas.
6. 20 is a magic number
Why? Because that’s the average amount the typical human farts every day. Of course, this number varies depending on diet, exercise, etc., but it’s pretty standard.
This number counts both when you’re awake and asleep because people fart as much during both activities. And yes, men and women fart about the same amount.
7. “Wake-up” farts is a thing
Ever wake up in the morning and then let one rip? Turns out, there’s a reason for that. During the day, you’re up and about, so fart emerges in tiny little puffs.
At night, however, gas pools in your colon, which leads to flatulence and that horribly disturbing morning breeze that releases the moment your new significant other wakes up.
8. The word “fart” actually has a long history
And it’s always been vulgar. “Fart” comes from the old English word “
Interestingly enough, the definition of fart is “”
Excuse us while we go titter into a napkin.
9. We fart an unbelievable amount at an unbelievable speed
The average person releases four pints of farts a day. Four pints! That’s just over a liter of gas per day. That’s nothing compared to the speed of farts, however.
The average fart travels 10 feet per second, or, in other words, nearly 7 miles per hour. That’s nothing to sniff at.
10. There’s a good reason why you hate the smell of other people’s farts
Farts spread Streptococcus pyogenes, a bacteria that causes tonsillitis, scarlet fever, heart disease, and even flesh-eating disease. Back in the day, when our ancestors ran around naked, this was a huge problem. Now, however, people wear pants.
But they still hate the smell of other people’s farts, though.
Here’s how it could go: Some day in the future, it’s routine for every young woman of a certain age—for argument’s sake, let’s say 21—to undergo a procedure to snip off a piece of tissue from one of her ovaries. Her doctor slices up the tissue into a half-dozen or so microthin sections; these are frozen, to be used whenever she’s ready for a baby. Her ovaries function normally, and she keeps menstruating and ovulating just as she has since puberty. But she doesn’t worry about rushing into baby-making. The timetable of how her life unfolds need not adhere to a pesky biological clock.
Later, maybe much later, maybe not for another 20 years, this woman wants to start a family. She remembers those strips of ovarian tissue in deep freeze. Each strip contains thousands of follicles, the proto-eggs of the ovary, preserved at their peak. The follicles in her body have been getting progressively less robust, but in the lab freezer her proto-eggs have been in suspended animation, protected from the degradation of age.
So she goes back to the doctor, who defrosts one of the strips and implants it in her ovary. It becomes established there, starts pumping out hormones at the level of a younger woman, and transforms one follicle each month into a mature egg. Each menstrual cycle, the hardy egg of a 21-year-old is deposited into the fallopian tube, where it can be fertilized. Ideally, one of those youthful eggs turns into an embryo that embeds itself in the uterus and grows into a healthy baby. Ideally, that one strip of ovarian tissue keeps producing hormones and releasing eggs for years, long enough for the woman—who might be 45 or even older by the time it’s all done—to have a couple of children.
If the first implant doesn’t work, or if it stops working before the woman’s family is complete, doctors can defrost and implant another strip. And if she doesn’t need the strips for childbearing—maybe she decides not to have children at all, or she gets pregnant naturally without needing to take any strips out of deep freeze—she can use them for a different purpose: postponing menopause. As she enters her fifties, this woman thaws a strip and has it implanted in her forearm, where it releases estrogen and other sex hormones in a way that mimics the feedback loop of a younger woman, in theory with fewer side effects than with artificial hormones. She still menstruates, which is the downside, but she also remains at lower risk of chronic conditions, like heart disease and osteoporosis, that usually get worse after menopause, at least in part because of the drop in estrogen. In this future, the one-two punch of nature’s timetable—first making it harder to have healthy babies after about age 35, then making it harder to stay healthy yourself after about age 50—is something women have finally transcended.
Here’s the reality of where things stand: At the Center for Human Reproduction in New York, there’s a room with a boxy machine that slow-freezes slices of ovarian tissue before they are transferred to a stubby deep-freeze tank that bears an uncanny resemblance to R2-D2. But of the 14 tanks in the room, most contain frozen embryos or frozen eggs or sperm, not ovarian tissue. That’s because right now, removing ovarian tissue involves an expensive surgery requiring a hospital stay. (Infertile men can have a bit of testicular tissue removed via a comparatively simple probe-and-snip procedure; the hope is that a similar procedure can be developed for women.) Transplanting the tissue later requires another operation.
Which is all to say, we already do live in a world where bits of ovarian tissue can be harvested, frozen, and then reimplanted later to make a woman fertile, but it’s harrowing. The process was developed for young women or girls with cancer, who face oncological treatments that are certain to make them sterile; since 2004, about 100 babies have been born to these women using the technique. In the view of most researchers and the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, ovarian tissue extraction is still too experimental to recommend for healthy women.
As she enters her fifties, the woman thaws a strip and has it implanted in her forearm, where it releases estrogen and other sex hormones in a way that mimics the feedback loop of a younger woman.
But soon, say experts like Sherman Silber, director of the Infertility Center of St. Louis, freezing ovarian tissue could become the next big form of what’s known as “social freezing” (or, as it’s called in some waggish circles, “AGE freezing,” short for “anticipated gamete exhaustion”)—whereby women try to prolong their fertility not for a medical reason but just to give themselves the option of delayed childbearing. For now, the only way to pause the biological clock this way is to freeze one’s eggs, a route taken by some 6,200 women in the US in 2015. But egg freezing is expensive (up to $18,000 per cycle) and uncertain. Experts calculate that each egg frozen before age 38 has just a 2 to 12 percent chance of turning into a baby one day. Egg freezing also requires women to inject themselves with hormones powerful enough to produce more than 10 times the normal number of mature eggs at a time. These hormones can lead to mood swings, nausea, and abdominal pain; a slight chance of the serious condition known as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome; and an unknown risk of ovarian or breast cancer down the road.
So as women wait longer and longer to have kids—more than 26,000 women 40 or older became first-time mothers in 2016, an increase of nearly 30 percent over 2001—there’s plenty of incentive for the fertility industry to figure out how to make ovarian tissue extraction a better bet than egg freezing. For one thing, it would do away with the need for multiple rounds of in vitro fertilization. If all goes well, Silber says, the thawed and transplanted tissue will latch on to the rest of the ovary, become functional within about four-and-a-half months, and lead to pregnancy the old-fashioned way.
Roger Gosden, who helped develop the ovarian tissue-freezing procedure in sheep in the 1990s, worries that the social freezing of ovarian tissue will be fraught with the same hazards and anxieties as egg freezing: “A lot of commercial pressure and social pressure” will promote a procedure that most women end up not even needing—all “at great cost, great inconvenience, and a little bit of risk.” It’s also possible that the whole cold-storage approach to infertility could eventually be replaced by a better one: turning stem cells into egg cells, say, whenever a woman is ready to conceive.
But the biggest benefits of socking away young ovarian tissue may come at the other end of a woman’s reproductive life cycle. “One of the really big health challenges of the future is that we’re getting too old,” says Claus Yding Andersen, a professor at the Laboratory of Reproductive Biology at the University Hospital of Copenhagen. “The longer you’re in menopause, the greater your risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. The very best thing you can do to reduce those risks is to have your own menstrual cycles.” However they go about managing their fertility, women of the future who wait until their forties to start having children will probably want to put off the indignities of an aging body as long as possible. They will know they’ll need a spring in their step—not to mention sturdy hearts and flexible knees—if they’re going to keep up with those long-awaited kids.
Real Wedding, Virtual Space • The Pursuit of Youth • The Digital Vision Problem • The True Screen Addicts • Gamers Age Out • Silicon Valley's Brotox Boom • The Next Steve Jobs • Solving Health Issues at All Stages
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A six-month-old baby who received a new heart after a Europe-wide appeal, has died just months after his transplant.
Charlie Douthwaite was the youngest patient on the UK transplant waiting list, when he underwent nine hours of surgery in Newcastle late last year.
But despite the efforts of staff at the city’s Freeman Hospital, his father Steven posted on Facebook that “our little hero gained his angel wings”.
The hospital said Charlie died after a “long and brave battle” on Tuesday.
Charlie, who was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, had to have open heart surgery when he was three days old, after being born weighing 6lb 5oz at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.
He spent 10 months waiting for a new organ.
In his post Mr Douthwaite’s said Charlie had died just after 23:00 BST on Tuesday.
He said: “After such a hard battle Charlie’s body just had enough.
“He passed quietly and peaceful.
“Charlie baby you have no idea how many peoples hearts you touched. You have changed me for the rest of my life. I know you will be with me every day.
“I will love you forever baby. See you soon little man.”
A spokesman for the Freeman Hospital said: “It is with heartfelt sadness that we confirm that baby Charlie Douthwaite has died after a long and brave battle.
“Despite months of dedicated and highly skilled care at the Freeman Hospital, Charlie was never able to go home to his devoted and loving parents and two older brothers.
“The thoughts of Charlie’s Freeman ‘family’ are with them at this sad time.”
In December it emerged Charlie had begun to reject his new heart.
After Charlie’s transplant, his mother Tracie Wright said the family felt like they had “won the lottery” and that they had been give a “one-in-a-million” chance for happiness.
Obese people have shorter lives and even those who are just overweight spend more years living with heart disease than individuals who are a healthy weight, a U.S. study suggests.
Researchers examined data on more than 190,000 adults from 10 different studies conducted in the U.S. over the past seven decades that looked at weight and other factors that can influence the risk of heart disease. None of the participants had cardiovascular disease when they joined these studies, but at least 70 percent of men and about 60 percent of women aged 40 and older were overweight or obese.
For middle-aged men 40 to 59 years old, the odds of having a stroke, heart attack, heart failure or death from cardiovascular causes was 21 percent higher for overweight individuals than for those at a normal weight, the study found. Overweight middle-aged women had 32 percent higher odds of having a heart condition or dying from it.
When middle-aged people were obese, men were 67 percent more likely to have a heart attack, stroke, heart failure or cardiovascular death and women had 85 percent higher odds compared to normal-weight peers.
Extremely obese middle-aged men had almost triple the risk of having a heart condition or dying from it, compared with normal-weight men, and extremely obese middle-aged women had more than twice the risk of normal-weight women.
“Our data clearly show that obesity is associated with a shorter, sicker life with more cardiovascular disease and more years lived with cardiovascular disease,” said lead study author Dr. Sadiya Khan of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
“Obesity or excess fat in the body can increase risk for heart disease in and of itself as well as increasing risk for heart disease by causing elevated blood pressure, diabetes and abnormal cholesterol,” Khan said by email.
Some research in recent years has suggested that overweight people may live longer than their normal-weight counterparts, a phenomenon often described as the “obesity paradox.” Much of this research didn’t account for how early in life people develop ill health, however, and the current study offers fresh evidence linking excess weight to an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and of dying from it, researchers note in JAMA Cardiology.
The current study also links obesity to a shorter life.
While overweight men had a similar lifespan to normal-weight men, obese men lived 1.9 fewer years, and extremely obese men died six years sooner.
Middle-aged women who were a normal weight lived 1.4 years longer than overweight women, 3.4 years longer than obese women and six years longer than extremely obese women.
The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how obesity impacts the chance of developing cardiovascular disease or dying from it.
Another limitation is that researchers only had data on weight when people joined the studies, but not on any weight fluctuations over time. The study also assessed obesity using body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight relative to height that doesn’t take into account how much lean muscle versus fat people have.
A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered a healthy weight, 25 to 29.9 is overweight, 30 or above is obese and 40 or higher is what’s known as morbidly or extremely obese.
An adult who is 5′ 9″ tall and weighs from 125 to 168 pounds would have a healthy weight and a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An obese adult at that height would weigh at least 203 pounds and have a BMI of 30 or more.
Results from the current study suggest there are no health benefits to a higher BMI, said Dr. Haitham Ahmed, medical director of cardiac rehabilitation at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
“This study showed that risk was highest in obese patients, but even overweight patients had increased risk of cardiovascular disease,” Ahmed, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “So we certainly encourage weight loss down to a normal BMI.”
We often hear that we should all be getting eight hours’ sleep a night. Organisations from the NHS to the US National Sleep Foundation recommend it. But where does this advice come from?
Studies carried out around the world, looking at how often diseases occur in different groups of people across a population, have come to the same conclusion: both short sleepers and long sleepers are more likely to have a range of diseases, and to live shorter lives.
But it’s hard to tell whether it is short sleep that is causing disease or whether it is a symptom of a less healthy lifestyle.
Short sleepers are generally defined as those who regularly get less than six hours’ sleep and long sleepers generally more than nine or 10 hours’ a night.
Pre-puberty, children are recommended to get as much as 11 hours’ sleep a night, however, and up to 18 hours a day for newborn babies. Teenagers should sleep for up to 10 hours a night.
Shane O’Mara, professor of experimental brain research at Trinity College Dublin, says that, while it’s difficult to tell whether poor sleep is a cause or a symptom of poor health, these relationships feed off each other.
For example, people who are less fit exercise less, which leads people to sleep badly, become exhausted and less likely to exercise, and so on.
We do know that chronic sleep deprivation – that is, under-sleeping by an hour or two a night over a period of time – has been linked time and again by scientists to poor health outcomes: you don’t have to go for days without sleep to suffer these negative effects.
Poor sleep has been linked to a whole range of disorders.
A review of 153 studies with a total of more than five million participants found short sleep was significantly associated with diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease and obesity.
Studies have shown that depriving people of enough sleep for only a few nights in a row can be enough to put healthy adults into a pre-diabetic state. These moderate levels of sleep deprivation damaged their bodies’ ability to control blood glucose levels.
Vaccines are less effective when we are sleep deprived, and sleep deprivation suppresses our immune system making us more prone to infection.
One study found participants who had fewer than seven hours of sleep were almost three times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept for seven hours or more.
People who don’t sleep enough also appear to produce too much of the hormone ghrelin, associated with feeling hungry, and not enough of the hormone leptin, associated with feeling full, which may contribute to their risk of obesity.
There are also links to brain function and even in the long term to dementia.
Prof O’Mara explains that toxic debris builds up in your brain during the course of the day and waste is drained from the body during sleep. If you don’t sleep enough, you end up in a mildly concussed state, he says.
The impact of sleeping too much is less understood, but we do know it is linked to poorer health including a higher risk of cognitive decline in older adults.
After we fall asleep we go through cycles of “sleep stages”, each cycle lasting between 60 and 100 minutes. Each stage plays a different role in the many processes that happen in our body during sleep.
The first stage in each cycle is a drowsy, relaxed state between being awake and sleeping – breathing slows, muscles relax, the heart rate drops.
The second stage is a slightly deeper sleep – you may feel awake and this means that, on many nights, you may be asleep and not know it.
Stage three is deep sleep. It is very hard to wake up during this period because it is when there is the lowest amount of activity in your body.
Stages two and three together are known as slow wave sleep which is usually dreamless.
After deep sleep we go back to stage two for a few minutes, and then enter dream sleep, also called REM (rapid eye movement). As the name suggests, this is when dreaming happens.
In a full sleep cycle a person goes through all the stages of sleep from one to three, then back down to two briefly, before entering REM sleep.
Later cycles have longer periods of REM, so cutting sleep short has a disproportionately large effect on REM.
Shift work has been associated with a host of health problems. Researchers have found shift workers who get too little sleep at the wrong time of day may be increasing their risk of diabetes and obesity.
Shift workers are significantly more likely to report “fair or bad” general health according to a 2013 NHS study, which also found people in this group were a lot more likely to have a “limiting longstanding illness” than those who don’t work shifts.
People who work shifts are significantly more likely to take time off sick, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.
There is a far bigger gap for non-manual workers than manual workers – lack of sleep seems to have a bigger impact on those doing more sedentary jobs.
To judge from media reports, you’d think we were in the grip of a sleeplessness epidemic. But are we really all more sleep deprived than before?
A big piece of research looking at data from 15 countries found a very mixed picture. Six showed decreased sleep duration, seven increased sleep duration and two countries had mixed results.
Lots of a evidence suggests the amount we sleep hasn’t changed that much in recent generations.
But if you ask people how sleep deprived they think they are, a different picture emerges.
So why do so many people report feeling tired?
It may be that this problem is concentrated in certain groups, making the trend harder to pick up on a population-wide level.
Sleep problems vary considerably by age and gender, according to one study of 2,000 British adults. It found women at almost every age have more difficulty getting enough sleep than men.
The sexes are more or less level at adolescence but women begin to feel significantly more sleep deprived than men during the years where they may have young children, while work may become more demanding. The gap then shrinks again later in life.
Caffeine and alcohol both affect sleep duration and quality.
And later nights and more social activities mean some of us are getting less rest, despite having the same number of hours of sleep, according to Prof Derk-Jan Dijk, of the University of Surrey’s sleep research centre.
Some people may also sleep too little during the week and catch up at the weekend, bringing the average up but leaving those people feeling sleep deprived.
Adolescents are particularly at risk of becoming sleep deprived, according to Prof Dijk.
Aside from a few outliers – Margaret Thatcher could apparently get by on only four hours a night – people tend to go to bed in the late evening for around seven or eight hours.
But this wasn’t necessarily always the norm according to Roger Ekirch, a history professor at Virginia Tech in the USA. He published a paper in 2001 drawn from 16 years of research.
His subsequent book, At Day’s Close, contained a wealth of historical evidence suggesting that hundreds of years ago, humans in many parts of the world slept in two distinct chunks.
Dr Ekirch uncovered more than 2,000 pieces of evidence in diaries, court records and literature which suggest people used to have a first sleep beginning shortly after dusk, followed by a waking period of a couple of hours, then a second sleep.
He thinks this means the body has a natural preference for segmented sleep.
Not all scientists agree. Other researchers have found hunter-gatherer communities in the modern world who sleep in one block despite not having electric lighting. This suggests sleeping in two blocks is not necessarily our default.
According to Dr Ekirch the shift from biphasal to monophasal sleep happened in the 19th Century because domestic lighting pushed bedtimes later with no corresponding change in rising time, improved lighting changed the human body clock, and the industrial revolution put a greater emphasis on productivity and efficiency.
Sleep experts say teenagers need up to 10 hours sleep a night, but almost half don’t get this much according to the NHS.
Bedrooms are supposed to be a place of rest but are increasingly filled with distractions like laptops and mobile phones, making it harder for young people to nod off.
We have more different types of entertainment on offer than ever, making the temptation to stay awake greater. The blue light emitted by electronic devices makes us feel less sleepy. And the activity itself – be it talking to friends or watching TV – stimulates our brain when it should be winding down.
Digital Awareness UK and the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference recommend a nightly “digital detox”, putting mobile devices away for 90 minutes before lights out.
Last year the two organisations commissioned a poll which found a high proportion of young people check their phones after going to bed.
More people are turning up at their doctors complaining of problems sleeping.
Analysing data collected by NHS England, the BBC found in June that the number of sleeping disorder tests had increased every year over the past decade.
There are a number of factors, but the biggest is probably the rise in obesity, according to Dr Guy Leschziner, a consultant neurologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Centre.
The most common and fastest-growing complaint he sees is obstructive sleep apnoea – where the airway collapses and people stop breathing in their sleep – and this is strongly related to weight.
The media has also played a role because people are more likely to go to their GPs having read an article or searched for their symptoms online, he says.
The recommended treatment for insomnia is cognitive behavioural therapy, and doctors are increasingly aware that they shouldn’t be prescribing sleeping pills. But many still do because it’s difficult to access non-drug based treatments, particularly outside big cities.
One study looked at sleep habits in 20 industrialised countries.
It found variations of up to an hour in the time people went to bed and woke up, but overall sleep duration was fairly constant across countries. Generally, if a population on average went to bed later, they woke up later too, although not in every case.
Researchers have concluded that social influences – hours worked, timing of school, leisure habits – play a far bigger role than the natural cycle of light and dark.
In Norway, where the period of lightness each day varies through the year from zero to 24 hours, sleep duration throughout the year only varies on average by about half an hour.
Both in countries like the UK, where dusk and dawn times vary considerably across the seasons, and in countries closer to the Equator where dusk and dawn times vary minimally, sleep duration remains constant through the year.
But what about the impact of artificial light?
A study of three communities who had no access to electricity, in Tanzania, Namibia and Bolivia, found the average sleep duration was 7.7 hours – in step with industrialised countries.
So sleep duration seems remarkably consistent throughout the world – it’s the time we all go to bed and wake up that varies slightly.
These pre-industrialised communities did not fall asleep as soon as it got dark, but around three hours after sunset and generally woke before sunrise.
Most studies in this area suggest that artificial light delays sleep time but does not necessarily decrease overall sleep duration.
There have always been morning people and evening people. We even have genetic evidence that backs this up.
But the introduction of artificial light appears to have exacerbated this effect, particularly for people who prefer to stay up late.
If you are already inclined towards being a night owl, artificial light will make you stay up even later.
About 30% of us tend towards being morning people and 30% towards being evening people, with the other 40% of us somewhere in the middle – although marginally more people prefer early rising to late nights.
We do have some control over our body clocks, however. Those who are naturally late to bed and late to rise can try reducing their exposure to light in the evenings and making sure they get more light exposure in the daytime.
A team of researchers took a group of volunteers camping in Colorado, where they had no access to artificial light. Only 48 hours was enough to shift the campers’ body clocks forward by almost two hours.
Levels of melatonin, the hormone that tells our body to prepare for sleep, began rising earlier in the volunteers – their bodies were preparing for sleep much closer to sunset.
Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-41666563
A new study, whose results are being presented at the Endocrine Society’s 100th annual meeting in Chicago this week, has made an association between lower sperm count and other health afflictions, including lower bone mass, increased cardiovascular risk, and alterations to metabolism. In general, it seems that a man’s sperm count is a marker of his overall health.
Before we take a look at the study itself, some important caveats. Firstly, this research definitely doesn’t demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship between sperm count and other medical conditions. These associations are correlations only, and it’s likely that a lower sperm count is also a feature of an underlying health problem that causes other effects.
The study is the most extensive of its kind, having examined 5,177 male partners of infertile couples, but all were from Italy, and it’s not clear if the same association can be found across a range of demographics or men from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.
The research is yet to be peer-reviewed at the time of writing, so certain details remain elusive. If corroborated with additional research, however, then the implications of the study are clear: Fertility levels in men may sometimes be a proxy for their general health.
So what exactly did the team – led by the Universities of Brescia and Padova – find?
Of those examined during the research, half the men had low sperm counts, less than 39 million spermatozoa per ejaculate. They were 20 percent more likely than those with normal sperm counts to have greater body fat, higher blood pressure, more low-density lipoprotein (LDL, the “bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides (another type of blood-borne fat), and less high-density lipoprotein (HDL, the “good” cholesterol).
As noted by a press release, they were also at a higher risk of “metabolic syndrome”, which refers to a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. This makes stroke, coronary heart disease, and related conditions more likely later in life.
Speaking of diabetes, those with low sperm counts were also more likely to show indications of insulin resistance, a “precursor” to said affliction. They were also at a far higher risk of having low testosterone levels; half of these low-testosterone men were also more likely to have lower bone mass, which makes bones more vulnerable to breaks.
All in all, a lower sperm count sounds like it’s a mirror of plenty of rather worrisome conditions, but remember, having a low sperm count doesn’t automatically mean you have all, or some, of these other health problems. This study merely suggests that if you’re found to have lower fertility levels, you should be given a more in-depth health check.
Something else worth emphasizing is that we don’t know any values of absolute risk yet. How likely is a low sperm count male to get coronary heart disease in his lifetime compared to a normal sperm count male, for example, assuming no other factors are at play? Details like this will probably have to wait until the study itself is published.
Since 1973, there has been a 50-60 percent drop in sperm count in Western nations (and only Western nations so far), although no-one’s quite sure what’s causing it. If this new study’s associations hold up, then one could posit that this lowering sperm count may be related to a decline in general male health over the past few decades.
From medicine to space travel, these works explore how the newest wave of science will transform society
Science is the engine of prosperity. From the industrial revolution (powered by the steam engine), to the electric revolution (which lit up our cities), to the current computer revolution (which connects us all), science creates wealth and progress. Now, to predict the future of society, we have to understand the fourth wave of science, which is AI, biotech and nanotech.
Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connecting Brains with Machines and How It Will Change Our Lives by Miguel Nicolelis captures all the progress and excitement in this field. He predicts a future in which we will create a brain net: an internet where emotions, memories and feelings can be sent over the internet. Like magicians, we will simply think and send messages, move objects, feel the thoughts and emotions of others, and control exoskeletons with superpowers.
Working for Google, Ray Kurzweil has made many predictions that have surprised and amazed others, because he believes in the exponential rise of technology, leading to the singularity. In The Singularity Is Near, he predicts that computers may begin to rival or surpass human intelligence. Also, computers may one day be so small they will circulate in our blood, repairing cellular damage, giving us health and perhaps some form of immortality. Should we fear these computers, or celebrate their arrival?
In The Patient Will See You Now, Eric Topol charts how digitisation is slowly transforming medicine. Most industries have already been digitised the media, music, banking but perhaps the most important transformation will be in medicine, which still resembles something from the middle ages. Your mobile phone, for example, will analyse your heart beat for possible heart disease. Your DNA will be used to create new therapies and cures. The tricorder of Star Trek, which analyses your health by simply scanning your body, is coming.
Beyond Earth by Charles Wohlforth and Amanda R Hendrix imagines what will it be like to create settlements on Mars and even Titan, a moon of Saturn. We might be entering a new age of space exploration. Nasa has laid out a timetable, starting with going back to the moon after 50 years, and then going to Mars, perhaps to the asteroids and beyond. What will we find when we explore the oceans of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn? Can Titan be colonised, or used as a gas station for future space missions? Will we find intelligent life in outer space?
A few weeks ago, millions of people watched the launch of Elon Musks Falcon Heavy, the first genuine moon rocket to blast off in 50 years. Musk was inspired to bankroll this moon rocket in part because he read Isaac Asimovs Foundation trilogy as a child. I, too, was fascinated by Asimovs gripping saga of the rise and decline of a galactic empire. For Musk, creating a civilisation beyond the Earth would be an insurance policy for the human race. After all, the dinosaurs did not have a space programme.
Michio Kaku is the author of The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth. He is a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York.
Google search results — one of the most often used tools on the internet — may soon get a new look.
Spotted by Reddit user DiscombobulatedLead, Google is apparently testing new kind of search-results page that’s based on the company’s Material design approach that’s been spreading through Google services the past few years.
While the old layout displays all search results on one white background, the new layout reportedly displays each result in a “card box” with defined borders.
Google has been updated more and more of its desktop services around Material; Google Calendar was one of the most recent to get a makeover. Material roughly began with the launch Android 5.0 Lollipop, and it generally emphasizes cards, layers, “flat” textures, and specific coloring schemes.
For search, Google tends to favor redirecting users’ attention away from “extra stuff” (like sidebars) and more towards content. In 2012 it moved the search category toolbar from the side to the top of the page, then did a similar move with YouTube a couple years later. YouTube’s recent redesign also de-emphasized menus and made each page simpler and more visual.
In this case, Google hasn’t moved any menus around, but individual boxes may help each search result catch your eye.