This simple sitting test could predict how long you will live

It’s a question we often ponder, especially as we age: How many years do I have left? Well, thanks to Brazilian physician Claudio Gil Araujo, there’s now a simple test you can perform right at home, in just a few seconds, that could predict how many years you have left to live, according to Discover.

Araujo came up with the test after noticing that many of his patients, especially older ones, often have difficulty with simple feats of balance and strength, such as picking up something off the floor or getting up out of a chair. Since balance and conditioning problems are known to increase the risk of dangerous falls and accidents (and can also harm cardiovascular health), he wondered if a patient’s flexibility, balance and strength could be used as a measure of life expectancy.

His idea was that patients might be more motivated to get in better shape if they had a more tangible way of conceptualizing how their overall health was being affected by their conditioning. If a patient is simply told to get in shape, they’re not likely to change their behavior. But if they’re told “if you don’t get into better shape, you could be dead in five years,” they’re apt to take notice.

Of course, the test also needed to be simple. If it required expensive equipment or measuring devices, the test probably wouldn’t be accessible to many people. So Araujo and colleagues developed the sitting-rise test, or SRT. It requires no equipment whatsoever and can be performed in seconds.

Sit and stand test
In fact, you can grab a friend try the test out yourself right now. A simple illustration (at right), provided by Discover, can help you to visualize the steps. It’s recommended that you wear loose or comfortable clothing.

Begin by standing upright in the middle of a room. Without using your arms or hands for leverage, carefully squat into a cross-legged sitting position. Once you’re comfortable, attempt to stand back up from the sitting position — again, without using your arms for help.

The test is scored on a point scale between 1 and 10 (5 points for sitting, 5 more points for standing back up). Each time you use an arm or knee for help in balancing during the test, you subtract one point from 10 possible points. Half a point is subtracted each time you lose balance, or when the fluidity of the feat becomes clumsy.

It seems like a pretty rudimentary test of conditioning, but Araujo found that it could predict life expectancy with alarming accuracy. He tested it on more than 2,000 of his patients aged 51 to 80, and found that people who scored less than 8 points on the test were twice as likely to die within the next six years. Those who scored three points or less were five times more likely to die within that same time period. Overall, each point achieved in the test accounted for a 21-percent decrease in mortality.

Araujo’s study was only performed on patients older than 50, so the results won’t mean the same thing for younger individuals taking the test. But regardless of your age, the test should provide a useful benchmark for your overall health. If you’re younger than 50 and have trouble with the test, it ought to be a wake-up call. The good news is that the younger you are, the more time you have to get into better shape.

Credit: Bryan Nelson

What gut bacteria can teach us about cancer treatment

At one time, the role of gut bacteria in human health was marginalized as a side note that health experts found interesting but not integral. But as more and more research has made clear, the number and diversity of bacteria in the gut can often make the difference between health and disease. Two new studies have found that gut bacteria can also determine the effectiveness of the treatments that are used to fight cancer, forcing doctors to take a closer look at the lessons they can learn from this once overlooked aspect of human health.

In one experiment, researchers at the University of Lille in France looked at ipilimumab — a cancer drug used to treat advanced melanoma — and found that not only did the medication affect the amount of bacteria that was in the gut, but its own effectiveness went hand-in-hand with the level of bacteria trial participants had in their intestines. So the very drug that needed gut bacteria in order to work was the thing that was destroying participants’ gut bacteria levels. Researchers found that when they gave participants supplemental levels of bacteria along with ipilimumab, they responded better to treatment.

A second study — conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago — confirmed the importance of gut bacteria in cancer treatment. For this study, researchers looked at the growth of tumors in two sets of animal subjects and compared that to the profile of bacteria in their intestines. Researchers found that mice who had the bacteria Bifidobacteria in their guts had slower tumor growth than those who did not. When the team transplanted this bacteria into the intestines of the mice that did not have it, they too experienced slowed tumor growth. And this was without any additional drug or treatment.

The takeaway from these two studies is that gut bacteria is very important in the treatment of disease. Of course, both of these studies were conducted on mice, so more work needs to be done to further define the role of gut bacteria in human health. But even at this stage of the game, many health experts are recommending that health care providers evaluate gut bacteria for their patients before beginning any type of treatment and replenish bacteria as necessary to improve the effectiveness of treatment.

credit: jenn Savegde

Turn cremated remains into a vinyl record

Death is a bit of a morbid topic, but let’s face it, we’re all going to die someday and it’s okay to think ahead about how we want our remains handled. Are you going the burial route or the cremation route? If you’re planning on cremation but don’t want your ashes sitting around in an urn on a mantel for decades, check out And Vinyly. The company turns ashes into vinyl records, and these vinyl records will play, if you happen to have an old turntable lying around.

From the And Vinyly homepage, “When the album that is life finally reaches the end, wouldn’t it be nice to keep that record spinning for eternity? We offer you the chance to press your ashes in a vinyl recording your loved ones will cherish for generations. Record a personal message, your last will & testament, your own soundtrack or simply press your ashes to hear your pops & crackles for the minimal approach.”

The British company offers several packages, starting with the basic package that comes with up to 30 discs with 24 minutes of total play time, 12 minutes on each side, for £3,000. At today’s exchange rate, that’s about $4,667.

If you’re looking for something a bit more over the top, then you can purchase one of the many add-ons including music written and produced specifically for you (£500 per track and up), record distribution through vinyl stores around the world (undisclosed price) and the ultimate package, the FUNerals.

For £10,000, the team at And Vinyly will dedicate a team of event organizers to your final sendoff, including speaking to your guests and of course, playing your cremated remains during the party.

Is cremation not in the cards for you? Don’t worry; And Vinyly will take cremated body parts. I’m not joking. If you prefer to be buried, you can cremate a body part and turn those remains into an album. Do you really need all 10 toes to be buried with you? Probably not. The team at And Vinyly has thought of everything!

While this sounds a bit cheeky, it’s a serious business and the website even features a disclaimer that reads, “Please note: Despite the site’s lighthearted tone, all of our services are carried out with the utmost respect & care.”

I have to admit, I love this idea. I grew up with vinyl, and my dad’s record collection was huge. My first record was “Sesame Street Fever” with a John Travolta-esque Grover on the cover.

Credit:Mellisa Ownby

Mysterious humming sound detected in the dark reaches of the ocean

 

The deep sea is a forbidding place, inhabited by strange, monstrous creatures that haunt its pitch-black waters. Now researchers have discovered an eerie new attribute of this little-known region: a subtle low humming sound that emanates from its depths every day around dawn and dusk.

“It’s not that loud, it sounds like a buzzing or humming, and that goes on for an hour to two hours, depending on the day,” said Simone Baumann-Pickering, co-author of the study, in a statement.
The source of the hum remains a mystery, to say the least. Researchers suspect that it may be coming from an organism, or perhaps many organisms chanting in unison, but no known marine creature could be matched to the noise. It might be coming from a species yet to be identified, or it might be evidence of a new capability of an already-known creature. Then again, it might be coming from a non-living source too.

There’s one clue, however. The sound comes from the ocean’s mesopelagic zone, a region between 660 to 3,300 feet below the surface that’s too dark for photosynthesis to occur. Since food is scarce there, many of the bizarre organisms that call this region home must migrate up and down the water column en masse of a daily basis to feed. These migrations typically happen at dawn and dusk, which coincides with the weird humming sound.

Researchers have theorized that the hum might be serving as some sort of “dinner bell” for the scores of marine creatures, a signal that tells them when to rise up or down in depth depending on the time of day. Or perhaps the sound is just the wholesale noise of the migration itself, the cacophony of billions of creatures moving through the depths simultaneously.

The daily migration of organisms that inhabit the mesopelagic zone is no small matter. The region is home to an unfathomable — and largely unstudied — number of sea creatures, which are estimated to weigh around 10 billion tons all combined. The planet’s carbon cycle is likely tied in many fundamental ways to this global daily migration.

That we’re just now detecting this omnipresent ocean hum is proof that there’s much for us to discover about this little-known but vitally important region.

Credit: Bryan Nelson

Friends don’t let friends eat faux Parmesan

If you want genuine grated Parmesan cheese, grate your own.
I am never without a good wedge of Parmesan cheese in my fridge. I use it to top pasta, make my meatballs, sprinkle on my son’s favorite snack (bruschetta), and flavor my oven-roasted potatoes with it, just to name of a few of the many uses.

One of my son’s friends heads straight to our cheese drawer and hacks off a huge chunk of Parmesan every time he comes over. (Poor kid has never had anything but shelf-stable grated Parmesan cheese in his house.)

The grated cheese he’s been shaking out of a plastic container in his home might not even be real Parmesan, according to Bloomburg Business. In 2012, following a tip from a disgruntled former employee, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took samples of cheese from Castle Cheese, Inc. The Pennsylvania cheese manufacturer supplies grated Parmesan cheese to some large grocery chains including Target.

The FDA found that Castle Cheese was manufacturing some majorly faux Parmesan — as in there was no Parmesan cheese in something labeled 100 percent Parmesan cheese.

According to the FDA’s report on Castle, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, “no parmesan cheese was used to manufacture” the Market Pantry brand 100% grated Parmesan Cheese, sold at Target Corp. stores, and Always Save Grated Parmesan Cheese and Best Choice 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, sold by Associated Wholesale Grocers Inc., which along with its subsidiaries supplies 3,400 retail stores in 30 states. Instead, there was a mixture of Swiss, mozzarella, white cheddar and cellulose, according to the FDA.
Castle was trying to save money by using other cheeses along with the filler cellulose, which is made from wood pulp. Parmesan is an expensive cheese to make. Because it’s a hard cheese, it spends months drying out and when a cheese loses moisture, it loses weight. A pound of properly aged genuine Parmesan will cost more to make than a pound of cheddar or mozzarella because it takes more milk to create that pound of cheese. Castle used less expensive cheese varieties and charged its customers for real Parmesan.

The company’s president, Michelle Myter, is expected to plead guilty to criminal charges, and she may spend a year in prison and pay a $100,000 fine. Castle Cheese has declared bankruptcy. The adulterated, fake Parmesan problem isn’t over, though. Bloomberg had other store-bought, grated Parmesan cheese tested for the percentage of wood pulp in it, which is allowed up to 4 percent in U.S. grated Parmesan cheese as an anti-clumping agent.

Tests showed that some well-known brands like Jewel-Osco’s Essential Everyday 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese and Wal-Mart’s Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese had cellulose that far exceeded the allowed amount.

parmigiona-reggiano
Real Parmesan cheese from Italy will have the words Parmigiano
How can you be sure your Parmesan cheese is actually Parmesan cheese? First of all, stop buying grated Parmesan cheese. I know it’s convenient, but grating a wedge of Parmesan, a very hard cheese, is not difficult to do. You can grate a cup of it in a minute or two. If you’re concerned that the wedge of Parmesan you’re grating may not be authentic, then look to the rind of the wedge.

While there are certainly many excellent authentic Parmesan-style cheeses made by American cheese makers, real Parmesan comes from Italy where it’s name is Parmigiano Reggiano. By law, the cheese must have the words Parmigiano Reggiano embossed on the rind. It may cost a little more, but you can be assured you’re getting the real deal.

I want you to experience that, because friends don’t let friends eat faux Parmesan.
Credit:
Robin Shreeves

Does the CDC want woman to stop drinking

Do the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention really want to butt their scientific noses into the business of women and drinking? Well yes … sort of … but it really depends.

The CDC has been making headlines for a recent news release warning that 3.3 million women who drink and don’t use birth control run the risk of exposing a potential baby to fetal alcohol syndrome.

The CDC reported that three out of four women who want to get pregnant “as soon as possible” don’t stop drinking alcohol when they stop using birth control.

“Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant,” warned CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, M.D. “About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and even if planned, most women won’t know they are pregnant for the first month or so, when they might still be drinking. The risk is real. Why take the chance?”
Many media outlets took this as a recommendation from the CDC that all women of childbearing age who aren’t on birth control should not be drinking alcohol.

“The CDC’s incredibly condescending warning to young women,” said a blog in the Washington Post.

“Protect Your Womb From the Devil Drink,” blared the Atlantic.

But shaming and guilting wasn’t quite the purpose of the message, the CDC insists.

“We definitely didn’t make any recommendations for women who are pre-pregnant,” Lela McKnight-Eily, an epidemiologist and clinical psychologist on the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Prevention Team at the CDC, told the Huffington Post. “It’s more a matter of women knowing and being informed that if they are drinking alcohol, sexually active and not using birth control, that they could be exposing a baby to a teratogen, and that could cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.”

The CDC said the warning was intended for the women who reported trying to get pregnant right away, but who continued to drink while they tried to conceive.

“Every woman who is pregnant or trying to get pregnant — and her partner — want a healthy baby. But they may not be aware that drinking any alcohol at any stage of pregnancy can cause a range of disabilities for their child,” said Coleen Boyle, Ph.D., director of CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

“It is critical for healthcare providers to assess a woman’s drinking habits during routine medical visits; advise her not to drink at all if she is pregnant, trying to get pregnant or sexually active and not using birth control; and recommend services if she needs help to stop drinking.”
What the report said
The report surveyed more than 4,300 non-pregnant women between the ages of 15 and 44. The highest risks for fetal alcohol syndrome were in women aged 25-29, women who were married or cohabiting, and women who had given birth to one child already. There was also an increased risk in current smokers over nonsmokers, as well as a link between the mother’s level of education and the risks of alcohol-related problems.

“There isn’t a new guideline. It’s been recommended for decades that women not drink during pregnancy,” McKnight-Eily said. “We think that there are a lot of mixed messages out there, and we want to give women a clear message that there is no safe time, there is no safe amount or type of alcohol to drink during pregnancy.”

Credit: Mary Jo Dilonardo

CO2 emissions stall, even as economy grows

For the first time, global CO2 emissions are expected to dip in 2015 despite economic growth.

Earth’s industrial carbon dioxide emissions are on pace to plateau this year, according to new projections, and they might even decline. On top of 2014’s relatively small increase in CO2 output, this surprising shift is raising hopes that an explosive era of greenhouse gas emissions may finally be winding down.

For most of the past 15 years, CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels increased by an average of 2.4 percent annually. But researchers from the University of East Anglia and the Global Carbon Project report that CO2 output grew by just 0.6 percent in 2014. And, more importantly, they say it may actually decline 0.6 percent in 2015.
Until now, global CO2 emissions have only fallen during economic downturns, like the collapse of the Soviet Union or the 2008 financial crisis. But if these new forecasts hold true, 2015 would mark the first modern dip in CO2 emissions while the global economy is growing. It may not represent a true “carbon peak” — even the study’s authors say emissions will likely rise again — but it does offer timely evidence that economic prosperity and ecological responsibility aren’t mutually exclusive.

World leaders and diplomats are currently in Paris for major U.N. climate talks, which are meant to produce a new worldwide treaty for reining in CO2 emissions. The summit was already expected to succeed where many others have failed, but this kind of reminder about the economics of CO2 cuts can only help matters.

“We have broken the old arguments for inaction,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in a speech on the summit’s opening day on Nov. 30. “We have proved that strong economic growth and a safer environment no longer have to conflict with one another; they can work in concert with one another.”

Published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the new findings are attributed largely to China, whose ranking as the No. 1 net emitter of CO2 puts it in a unique position to influence global emissions trends. “China is trying to deal massively with its air pollution problem,” study co-author Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, tells Nature News. “And its renewables are growing very fast.”

There are still uncertainties about China’s self-reported CO2 data, highlighted last month by news that China has been burning up to 17 percent more coal per year than its government had previously stated. Le Quéré says her research team factored China’s revised data into their new analysis, but she acknowledges that more transparency is needed in reporting of national CO2 emissions.

“We don’t have the capacity to check the energy reports of the countries,” she says. “We have to rely on the countries to tell us what types of coal they use and how clean it is. If the reporting was systematic, it would be wonderful.”

That kind of transparency is one goal of the Paris talks — formally known as COP21, short for “Conference of Parties” — where diplomats are working on ways to track and verify each country’s emissions. But in the meantime, based on China’s own data plus ongoing economic trends, the new study projects Chinese CO2 emissions alone will decrease by nearly 4 percent in 2015. After long resisting the idea of CO2 limits, China recently pledged that its emissions will peak by 2030.

Some have suggested the 2015 data may mean global CO2 emissions have already peaked, thus kicking off a new, downward trend in the main gas responsible for man-made climate change. But many experts doubt that, pointing out not only that Chinese emissions could rise again, but also that emissions from India and other developing countries will likely offset China’s progress at some point.

“Emissions in India are at the same level as China in the 1990s,” climate analyst Glen P. Peters tells the New York Times, adding that India “could actually dominate the global growth in the way that China has done in the past.”

The new study also doesn’t fully account for some man-made sources of CO2, namely those from deforestation — an especially big problem this year due to huge peat fires linked to land clearing in Indonesia. But in the long-running, often-gridlocked effort to curb climate change, any sign that humans are cutting back industrial CO2 emissions without sacrificing economic growth is reason for optimism, the researchers argue.

“Time will tell whether this surprising interruption in emissions growth is transitory or a first step toward emissions stabilization,” they write. “In either case, the trend is a welcome change from the historical coupling of CO2 emissions with economic growth and should be strengthened through efforts at the Paris COP and beyond.”

Credit: Russell Mclendon

5 calming quotes about meditation.

Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It is a way of entering into the quiet that is already there – buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day” ― Deepak Chopra

“Work is not always required. There is such a thing as sacred idleness.” ― George MacDonald

“The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, the wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms.” ― Thích Nhất Hạnh

“Meditation is not a means to an end. It is both the means and the end.” ― Jiddu Krishnamurti

“Looking at beauty in the world, is the first step of purifying the mind.” ― Amit Ray

 

5 ways being thankful can improve your life

Some Thanksgiving traditions are best in small doses, like pie binges, chair naps and televised parade coverage. But thanks to a group of scientists at the University of California-Berkeley, the holiday’s namesake spirit of gratitude is quickly outgrowing its November context, fed by research that points to wide-ranging health benefits from a steady diet of thankfulness.

The Greater Good Science Center, based at UC-Berkeley, has been studying “the psychology, sociology and neuroscience of well-being” for 12 years, including a recent study on the science of gratitude. That project aims to explain how feeling thankful affects human health, eventually yielding evidence-based practices to be used in schools, workplaces and medical settings.

“Because so much of human life is about giving, receiving and repaying, gratitude is a pivotal concept for our social interactions,” UC-Davis psychologist and gratitude expert Robert Emmons writes on the GGSC website. “Despite the fact that it forms the foundation of social life in many other cultures, in America, we usually don’t give it much thought — with a notable exception of one day, Thanksgiving.”

The GGSC recently awarded $10,000 grants to several research projects on gratitude (for which the recipients were surely grateful), and in 2014 will relaunch the online gratitude journal Thnx4.org. The group is also planning a public event that would “help bridge the research-practice gap.” In the meantime, here’s a closer look at some potential benefits year-round gratitude can bring:

1. Less stress, better moods

Grateful people tend to be happier, according to research cited by the GGSC. A 2003 study used a questionnaire to test “dispositional gratitude,” linking it to several measures of subjective well-being and reporting that “grateful thinking improved mood.” A 2010 study tied gratitude to reduced anxiety and depression, stating it’s “strongly related to well-being, however defined, and this link may be unique and causal.” It also noted the potential for gratitude exercises in clinical psychology.

2. Less pain, more gain

Beyond helping us exorcise anxiety, gratitude might also help us exercise. It “encourages us to exercise more and take better care of our health,” the GGSC says, and research by Emmons and University of Miami psychologist Michael McCullough suggests it contributes to a wide range of physical health benefits, including a stronger immune system, reduced disease symptoms and lower blood pressure. It can even make people “less bothered by aches and pains,” the GGSC adds.

3. Better sleep

A good night’s sleep can make anyone thankful, but a 2009 study found the reverse is true, too. Grateful people get more hours of sleep per night, fall asleep more quickly and feel more refreshed upon waking. “This is the first study to show that a positive trait is related to good sleep quality above the effect of other personality traits,” the study’s authors wrote, adding it’s “also the first to show … gratitude is related to sleep and to explain why this occurs, suggesting future directions for research and novel clinical implications.” As the GGSC puts it, “to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep.”

4. Stronger relationships

Expressing gratitude to a relationship partner — whether a close friend, colleague or significant other — “enhances one’s perception of the relationship’s communal strength,” according to a 2010 study. Feeling thankful for a friend’s generosity or a spouse’s patience helps you appreciate the relationship’s mutual give-and-take, as long as gratitude doesn’t mutate into feelings of indebtedness. “Although indebtedness may maintain external signals of relationship engagement,” the authors of another study wrote in 2010, “gratitude had uniquely predictive power in relationship promotion, perhaps acting as a booster shot for the relationship.”

5. Resilience

Misfortune itself is rarely cause for thanks, but Emmons says a broader sense of gratitude — religious or not — comes from learning to take nothing for granted. “Our national holiday of gratitude, Thanksgiving, was born and grew out of hard times,” he writes for the GGSC. “The first Thanksgiving took place after nearly half the pilgrims died from a rough winter and year. It became a national holiday in 1863 in the middle of the Civil War and was moved to its current date in the 1930s following the Depression.” Even among war veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome, a 2006 study found that dispositional gratitude predicted things like daily self-esteem, “daily intrinsically motivating activity” and percentage of pleasant days “over and above” the severity of PTSD.

credit:Russel Mclendon

FDA to finally tackle ‘natural’ food label

The term natural, when it’s used on food packaging, means very little.

Consumers may think it’s a promise of purity, when in fact it’s a marketing term meant to give the illusion of purity. When consumers realize that ingredients made with GMO foods or high fructose corn syrup are in the products labeled “natural” or “all natural,” they may feel duped. Some have sued, like the two California mothers who sued General Mills for all the profits they’ve made on Nature Valley products when they realized the products contained high fructose corn syrup, high maltose corn syrup and maltodextrin.

As consumers have become more aware of the murkiness of the “natural” label, some food manufacturers have been pulling the word from packaging. More than 100 lawsuits have been filed against companies because of GMOs in products labeled “all natural.” Consumers aren’t just suing; they’re asking the FDA to define the term “natural.” After receiving “three citizen petitions asking that the agency define the term ‘natural’ for use in food labeling and one citizen petition asking that the agency prohibit the term ‘natural’ on food labels” and requests from some federal courts that have ruled on some of these lawsuits, the FDA is starting the process of addressing the term.

The FDA’s current policy concerning the label “natural” is this: A food labeled natural cannot contain anything artificial or synthetic (including color additives) that would not normally be expected in a food. The policy was meant for ingredients, and not to address, as the FDA says, “food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation. The FDA also did not consider whether the term ‘natural’ should describe any nutritional or other health benefit.”

Now, the FDA wants everyone’s input, and it has opened it up to public comment. The agency is looking for information and comments on questions such as:

Whether it’s appropriate to define the term “natural”
If so, how the agency should define “natural”
How the agency should determine appropriate use of the term on food labels.
If you have an opinion, let it be heard. You can be sure that food manufacturers will be submitting their own comments and information, as is their right. Their voices will be loud, and as consumers, we need to make our collective voice heard loudly too by taking the time to comment.

This is just the beginning of what will probably be a long and drawn-out process. Regardless of what the outcome is, remember that almost everything declared on front-of-package labeling is there for marketing purposes and meant to entice consumers to purchase it. If you want to really know what’s in a particular food, turn the package over and read the nutrition label. It won’t give you all the information you might want, but it’s the most informative space on a food package by far.

credit: Robin Shreeves