Your Friday 5: The week in health

April 7, 2017 Mike Francis

This week, we’re thinking about crying babies, aging mice (and men), smokers, dancers and vending machines that think they know what’s best for you. Here are some developments in health and wellness research that caught our eyes this week.

Ponce de Leon, in the guise of a group of Dutch researchers, may have unlocked a way to reverse the aging process. In a study that generated headlines around the world, a research team from Erasmus University Medical Center has caused aging mice to regain hair, stamina and organ function by giving them a drug that targets cells related to aging. Researchers say the next step is to set up trials in humans. The lead author intends to start a company to develop a drug. Others said the study is “impossible to dismiss,” but much work remains before the findings can translate into a drug for humans. The study was published in the journal Cell.

Why are British babies so prone to cry, while across the North Sea in Denmark, babies are relatively content? Parents everywhere would like to know what factors contribute to colicky infants. An analysis by researchers at the University of Warwick in England doesn’t answer the “why,” but it does quantify the differences in the duration of baby cries around the world. In a review of records covering 8,700 infants, researchers found that, on average, babies cry for around two hours per day in the first two weeks after birth. Crying peaks at around two hours and 15 minutes per day at six weeks and decreases gradually to an average of one hour and 10 minutes at 12 weeks. Babies cry the most in the U.K., Italy, Canada and the Netherlands, and they cry the least in Denmark, Germany and Japan. American babies fell in the broad middle of the bell curve.

In the United States, the dangers of smoking are well known. Antismoking campaigns in this country and elsewhere have driven down the rates of smokers worldwide. Yet a major new study published in The Lancet medical journal has found that, worldwide, 1 in 4 men and 1 in 20 women still smoke, and smoking still causes 1 in every 10 deaths. “Despite more than 50 years of antitobacco efforts, smoking remains a leading global risk factor,” the authors write. “The staggering toll of smoking on health echoes well beyond the individual, especially as tobacco threatens to exact long-term financial and operational burdens on already resource-constrained health systems.”

If you want to keep your brain intact as you age, then dance. That’s the message that emerges from a study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. Researchers put seniors through a variety of routines and discovered that the group that danced regularly saw improvement in the structure of the brain’s white matter, which is related to the brain’s performance. The authors of the study wax almost poetic in their explanation of why dancing seems to be good for the aging brain: “Dance is a pleasurable and captivating activity, which involves aerobic exercise, sensorimotor stimulation, and cognitive, visuospatial, social, and emotional engagement,” they said. Then, we may speculate, they adjourned to the ballroom floor.

A study funded by the National Institutes of Health has probed how likely your snack choices can be influenced by a reluctant vending machine. Researchers at Chicago’s Rush University Prevention Center created a vending machine that stalls when you select a less-nutritious snack. Eventually you’ll get what you paid for, but the machine pauses 25 seconds before delivering it to you. Meantime, the machine counts down, inviting you to make a healthier choice. “Having to wait for something makes it less desirable,” said lead investigator Brad Appelhans. “Research shows that humans strongly prefer immediate gratification, and this preference influences choices and behavior in daily life."

What are you thinking about this week?

Is there a subject you’d like us to tackle in a coming To Your Health blog post? Let us know in the comments below.

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