More Groovy Science - 1

Science is so wonderful. There are always scientists hard at work trying to make sense of things, trying to understand and make things better. It's awesome. Here are some recent studies:

  • A Sense of Humor Helps Keep You Healthy Until Retirement Age

  • Tidy House, Fitter Body?

  • Spending Time in Nature Makes People Feel More Alive

  • Meditation Reduces the Emotional Impact of Pain

  • If You Don't Brush Your Teeth Twice a Day, You're More Likely to Develop Heart Disease

  • Antibiotic Resistance Lasts Up to a Year

  • Coffee Consumption Unrelated to Alertness: Stimulating Effects May Be Illusion

  • Studies Provide More Support for Health Benefits of Coffee

  • New Evidence That Chili Pepper Ingredient Fights Fat

  • Peppers May Increase Energy Expenditure in People Trying to Lose Weight

  • Milk: Two Glasses a Day Tones Muscles, Keeps the Fat Away in Women

  • Cereal And Milk Is The New Sports Supplement

A Sense of Humor Helps Keep You Healthy Until Retirement Age: A good sense of humor helps you reach retirement age and be healthy. But after the age of 70, the health benefits of humor decrease, according to researchers in Norway. The records of 53,500 people were examined and then followed up after 7 years. "There is reason to believe that sense of humor continues to have a positive effect on mental health and social life, even after people have become retirees, although the positive effect on life expectancy could not be shown after the age of 75. At that point, genetics and biological aging are of greater importance." The test only measured for "friendly humor", not insulting, bullying or humor based on conflict.
The lead scientist of this study believes there are many myths and misunderstandings about humor. For example, one myth is that happy people have a better sense of humor than people who are more serious. ...A sense of humor can be learned and improved through practice. There was another study 4 years ago that also came to the same conclusion, so this larger study confirms the findings from the first.

Tidy House, Fitter Body? This is an interesting study that shows a correlation between physical activity and the condition of participants' houses. Unfortunately it's really more of a preliminary study. They don't know the relationship, just that there seems to be a correlation. The study was trying to figure out ways to get people to be more physically active. The lead researcher said efforts to increase physical activity rates in city-dwellers might need to be taken inside. Much attention has been given to improving sidewalks and other aspects of the built environment outside, which is worthwhile, but if people already are not active in their homes, researchers should look at ways to increase this. "If you spend your day dusting, cleaning, doing laundry, you're active," she said. "This will inform interventions. They won't take 30 minutes to go for a walk, but they'll take 30 minutes to clean." The findings were unexpected and raise more questions. They suggest that something about the condition of someone's residence drives physical activity, or that people are being physically active while they keep their homes tidy. "Are the types of people who take care of their bodies the same types of people who take care of their homes?" she asked.

At any rate it's an interesting way to look at housework!

Spending Time in Nature Makes People Feel More Alive: Of course I had to share this study since it seems similar to the other studies I have mentioned recently (here and here). Being outside in nature makes people feel more alive, finds a series of studies published this month. And that sense of increased vitality exists above and beyond the energizing effects of physical activity and social interaction that are often associated with our forays into the natural world. "Often when we feel depleted we reach for a cup of coffee, but research suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature." "Research has shown that people with a greater sense of vitality don't just have more energy for things they want to do, they are also more resilient to physical illnesses. One of the pathways to health may be to spend more time in natural settings." Research has shown that people on wilderness excursions report feeling more alive and that just recalling outdoor experiences increases feelings of happiness and health. Other studies suggest that the very presence of nature helps to ward off feelings of exhaustion and that 90 percent of people report increased energy when placed in outdoor activities.
The research found that being outside in nature for just 20 minutes in a day was enough to significantly boost vitality levels. Interestingly, in the last study, the presence of nature had an independent energizing effect above that of being outdoors. In other words, conclude the authors, being outdoors was vitalizing in large part because of the presence of nature.The paper builds on earlier research ... showing that people are more caring and generous when exposed to nature.

Meditation Reduces the Emotional Impact of Pain: People who meditate regularly find pain less unpleasant because their brains anticipate the pain less, a new study has found. "The results of the study confirm how we suspected meditation might affect the brain. Meditation trains the brain to be more present-focused and therefore to spend less time anticipating future negative events. This may be why meditation is effective at reducing the recurrence of depression, which makes chronic pain considerably worse." "Although we found that meditators anticipate pain less and find pain less unpleasant, it's not clear precisely how meditation changes brain function over time to produce these effects."
Individuals in the study had a diverse range of experience with meditation, spanning anything from months to decades. It was only the more advanced meditators whose anticipation and experience of pain differed from non-meditators. The type of meditation practised also varied across individuals, but all included 'mindfulness meditation' practices, such as those that form the basis of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), recommended for recurrent depression by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in 2004.
"One might argue that if a therapy works, then why should we care how it works? But it may be surprising to learn that the mechanisms of action of many current therapies are largely unknown, a fact that hinders the development of new treatments. Understanding how meditation works would help improve this method of treatment and help in the development of new therapies.
"There may also be some types of patient with chronic pain who benefit more from meditation-based therapies than others. If we can find out the mechanism of action of meditation for reducing pain, we may be able to screen patients in the future for deficiencies in that mechanism, allowing us to target the treatment to those people.

If You Don't Brush Your Teeth Twice a Day, You're More Likely to Develop Heart Disease: Individuals who have poor oral hygiene have an increased risk of heart disease compared to those who brush their teeth twice a day, according to a new study. In the last twenty years there has been increased interest in links between heart problems and gum disease. While it has been established that inflammation in the body (including mouth and gums) plays an important role in the build up of clogged arteries, this is the first study to investigate whether the number of times individuals brush their teeth has any bearing on the risk of developing heart disease. Data from over 11,000 adults was analyzed for this study.
The research team analyzed data about lifestyle behaviors such as smoking, physical activity and oral health routines. Individuals were asked how often they visited the dentist (at least once every six months, every one to two years, or rarely/never) and how often they brushed their teeth (twice a day, once a day or less than once a day). Once the data were adjusted for established cardio risk factors such as social class, obesity, smoking and family history of heart disease, the researchers found that participants who reported less frequent toothbrushing had a 70% extra risk of heart disease compared to individuals who brushed their teeth twice a day, although the overall risk remained quite low. Participants who had poor oral hygiene also tested positive for inflammatory markers such as the C-reactive protein and fibrinogen.
"Our results confirmed and further strengthened the suggested association between oral hygiene and the risk of cardiovascular disease -- furthermore inflammatory markers were significantly associated with a very simple measure of poor oral health behavior." He adds that "future experimental studies will be needed to confirm whether the observed association between oral health behavior and cardio vascular disease is in fact causal or merely a risk marker."

I'm not sure what it means, "although the overall risk remained quite low", but it never hurts to have another reason to practice good oral hygiene.

Antibiotic Resistance Lasts Up to a Year: Patients prescribed antibiotics in primary care may develop a resistance that lasts up to 12 months.It is widely recognized that resistance to antibiotics is a major threat to public health. However, according to the researchers, this is not seen by most clinicians or patients as a reason to refrain from using them, with many regarding the problem as minimal. They found strong evidence that individuals prescribed an antibiotic in primary care for a respiratory or urinary infection develop a resistance. The effect is greatest in the month immediately after treatment, but may last for up to a year, and this residual effect may be a driver for high levels of resistance in the community. ... They say it highlights that the only way to avoid the "vicious cycle of resistance" is to avoid the initial use of antibiotics wherever possible. However, they also call for more clinical trials to strengthen the evidence base.

Coffee Consumption Unrelated to Alertness: Stimulating Effects May Be Illusion: Tests on 379 individuals who abstained from caffeine for 16 hours before being given either caffeine or a placebo and then tested for a range of responses showed little variance in levels of alertness. The study reports that frequent coffee drinkers develop a tolerance to both the anxiety-producing effects and the stimulatory effects of caffeine. While frequent consumers may feel alerted by coffee, evidence suggests that this is actually merely the reversal of the fatiguing effects of acute caffeine withdrawal. And given the increased propensity to anxiety and raised blood pressure induced by caffeine consumption, there is no net benefit to be gained. "Our study shows that we don't gain an advantage from consuming caffeine -- although we feel alerted by it, this is caffeine just bringing us back to normal. On the other hand, while caffeine can increase anxiety, tolerance means that for most caffeine consumers this effect is negligible."

Studies Provide More Support for Health Benefits of Coffee: Coffee contains several nutrients (eg, calcium) as well as hundreds of potentially biologically active compounds (eg, polyphenols) that may promote health. For instance, observational studies have suggested a beneficial link between coffee consumption and type 2 diabetes. ...Rigorous clinical intervention trials will be needed to understand more fully the biological mechanisms. Of particular interest is the well-controlled clinical trial that suggests coffee can lower chronic inflammation and even raise our 'good' cholesterol.

New Evidence That Chili Pepper Ingredient Fights Fat: Scientists are reporting new evidence that capsaicin, the stuff that gives chili peppers their kick, may cause weight loss and fight fat buildup by triggering certain beneficial protein changes in the body. Laboratory studies have hinted that capsaicin may help fight obesity by decreasing calorie intake, shrinking fat tissue, and lowering fat levels in the blood. Nobody, however, knows exactly how capsaicin might trigger such beneficial effects. In an effort to find out, the scientists fed high-fat diets with or without capsaicin to lab rats used to study obesity. The capsaicin-treated rats lost 8 percent of their body weight and showed changes in levels of at least 20 key proteins found in fat. The altered proteins work to break down fats. "These changes provide valuable new molecular insights into the mechanism of the antiobesity effects of capsaicin," the scientists say.

Peppers May Increase Energy Expenditure in People Trying to Lose Weight: Food scientists can tell you that hot peppers contain a substance called capsaicin that not only adds spice to our foods but can actually cause your body to heat up. They hypothesize that plants evolved to contain capsaicin because it protected them from being eaten by insects and other pesky predators. There is growing evidence that the body-heat-generating power of peppers might even lend a hand in our quest to lose those extra inches accumulating around our collective national waistline. And fortunately for those of us who don't appreciate the "burn" of hot peppers, there are plants that make a non-burning version of capsaicin called dihydrocapsiate (DCT) that could have the benefits of peppers without the pungency.
...Their data provided convincing evidence that, at least for several hours after the test meal was consumed, energy expenditure was significantly increased in the group consuming the highest amount of DCT. In fact, it was almost double that of the placebo group. This suggests that eating this pepper-derived substance that doesn't burn can have the same potential benefit as hot peppers at least in part by increasing food-induced heat production. They were also able to show that DCT significantly increased fat oxidation, pushing the body to use more fat as fuel. This may help people lose weight when they consume a low-calorie diet by increasing metabolism.
Note, however, that a limitation to this study was that the researchers only tested the effect of DCT on the thermic response to a single meal. This was the first study ever conducted to examine the potential health benefits of DCT consumed together with a very low calorie diet.

Milk: Two Glasses a Day Tones Muscles, Keeps the Fat Away in Women: Women who drink two large glasses of milk a day after their weight-lifting routine gained more muscle and lost more fat compared to women who drank sugar-based energy drinks. "Resistance training is not a typical choice of exercise for women, but the health benefits of resistance training are enormous: It boosts strength, bone, muscular and metabolic health in a way that other types of exercise cannot." A previous study conducted by Phillips' lab showed that milk increased muscle mass and fat loss in men. "We expected the gains in muscle mass to be greater, but the size of the fat loss surprised us. We're still not sure what causes this but we're investigating that now. It could be the combination of calcium, high-quality protein, and vitamin D may be the key, and. conveniently, all of these nutrients are in milk." ..."The women who drank milk gained barely any weight because what they gained in lean muscle they balanced out with a loss in fat. Our data show that simple things like regular weightlifting exercise and milk consumption work to substantially improve women's body composition and health." Phillips' lab is now following this study up with a large clinical weight loss trial in women.

Cereal And Milk Is The New Sports Supplement: A bowl of whole-grain cereal is as good as a sports drink for recovery after exercise. "Our goal was to compare whole grain cereal plus milk—which are ordinary foods—and sports drinks, after moderate exercise. We wanted to understand their relative effects on glycogen repletion and muscle protein synthesis for the average individual. We found that glycogen repletion, or the replenishment of immediate muscle fuel, was just as good after whole grain cereal consumption and that some aspects of protein synthesis were actually better. Cereal and non-fat milk are a less expensive option than sports drinks. The milk provides a source of easily digestible and high quality protein, which can promote protein synthesis and training adaptations, making this an attractive recovery option for those who refuel at home". The researchers concluded that, for amateur athletes and moderately physically active individuals who are trying to keep in shape, popping into the kitchen for a quick bowl of whole-grain cereal with a splash of skimmed milk may be a smarter move than investing in a high-priced sports drink.

Caffeine poster

Cross-posted from ZeNeece's World


  1. correlation is not causation. but interesting.

  2. Yes, that's very true. Correlation is not causation. But they are interesting and worth looking into further.

  3. Regarding housework, that sounds more like a bit of not so common sense that's apparently missing in a lot of people, in the same area as walking or cycling to work/uni/whatever. Heck, I'll never understand people who drive their car to a gym instead of cycling for 15 minutes who consequently spend like 15-20 minutes warming up on... well, you guess. I believe the key to making such things more enjoyable is an mp3 player of sorts so you can listen to podcasts or to music (depending on how much attention you need to spare while you're underway). It also makes me feel like I'm not wasting my time, because otherwise I'd still listen to Stuff You Should Know, except while sitting or walking around at home.

    Same for sugar-based energy drinks vs. something less of a sugar bomb that's actually healthy really. Does anyone expect water with extra salt, carbohydrates & a bunch of sugar to be better than bread or cereal? I don't only mean that in regard as to whether it gives your body what it needs without too many things you may rather not want to eat (like lots of sugar and perhaps salts), but also because you'll have to eat something regardless (unless you can stand being hungry, I suppose).

    For coffee, haven't we been hearing for years that any improved alertness is an illusion?

    Not saying these aren't worth looking into, but aside from the tiny tooth brushing and heart disease link none of these correlations seem surprising. I'd be more interested in, say, cow milk vs. goat milk. vs. soy milk vs. rice milk than in (cow) milk vs. sugar-based energy drinks.

  4. I agree about the housework study, Frans. But what isn't clear is which, if any, causes which? That's what I love about science. It doesn't assume anything. Everything is available for being studied. And if we just assume and think that everything is answered already because it seems like common sense, we're going to miss out on some interesting results.
    I see studies here and there where the scientists say things like, "we didn't expect those results at all." Or "the results we got were the opposite of what we hypothesized." That's real breakthrough science. We can't assume just because it looks like an easy answer.

    Regarding energy drinks vs cereal and milk, I think that's also interesting and not nearly as straightforward as it looks. I think it really is good science to test it and come away with more conclusive evidence that the hypothesis proposed is a good one, or start over again and ask more questions. Everyone thinks gatorade is good for you when you're working out. But it's good to know that cereal and milk is just as good if not better. It's a good thing to share.

    Regarding coffee, the positive benefits are stacking up in favor of my favorite elixir, but the case for caffeine is mixed and I think more research is definitely needed. This is just another study falling on that side of the fence. Other studies say coffee is really good for you and can even protect your brain from degenerative illnesses, so it's worth paying attention and following along.

    Remember, I really can't stress it enough, correlation does not mean causation. But we can keep looking at these things and learning more about common foods, beverages and activities and get more of a handle on how they really do work.

  5. Of course, testing, testing, and more testing is always important.