Researchers Describe A New Hypothesis About Why The Female Orgasm Exists – REBECCA HERSHER August 1, 2016 9:15 PM ET


Depiction of female reproductive organs during ovulation.

Depiction of female reproductive organs during ovulation. — BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

A pair of scientists have a new hypothesis about why the female orgasm exists: It might have something to do with releasing an egg to be fertilized.

Scientists have puzzled over, and sometimes even questioned the existence of, a phenomenon that appears to have no physical effect on conception. While a male orgasm is crucial to impregnate a female, it is not obvious how a female orgasm affects whether she is impregnated.

In fact, Aristotle and Hippocrates both pointed out the female orgasm appears to be an afterthought, at least when it comes to creating offspring.

The theory would explain the modern reality that women do not experience orgasms as easily or as regularly as men.

But, until now, no hypothesis looked to the biology of distant human mammal relatives, even older than primates, for clues about the orgasms of modern women. In a paper published Sunday in the Journal of Experimental Zoology, Mihaela Pavlicev of the University of Cincinnati and Gunter Wagner of Yale University describe how, over millions of years, evolutionary history suggests reproduction could help explain the female orgasm after all.

If you think of an orgasm as consisting of three parts — a wave of hormones, intense pleasure and muscle contractions — it’s possible to see similarities between a human orgasm and phenomena in other mammal species. The authors are particularly interested in mammals who ovulate in response to copulation.

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Inside the Lab That’s Inventing Your Next Favorite Flavor -TOM VANDERBILT 05.19.16. 3:20 PM


DrPepper-470709106-582x388

There are few entities in the world where the question of how things taste, and what they taste like, looms larger than with the global flavoring giant McCormick. One day, I drove from my Brooklyn home to suburban Baltimore to visit the company’s headquarters and observe a group of people at work who are, in essence, paid to taste.

As I pulled up, I detected a faint whiff of a spice that I could not quite give a name to. When I met Marianne Gillette, the company’s vice president of applied research, she noted that many old Baltimoreans, back when the company was based on the waterfront, “associated the smell of Baltimore with McCormick.”

Everyone “remembers the cinnamon,” perhaps no surprise, because not only is it a best-selling spice but, citing the company’s internal research on food and emotion, Gillette told me that “cinnamon is the most loving spice.” It is a virtual memory pathway—for many people, one of the most potent smells of early childhood (I remember the oblong white McCormick cinnamon tin in a way that I do not remember the company’s oregano). Although many of us may associate the McCormick name with tins or bottles of spices, much of the company’s business now comes in providing “custom flavor solutions” for products higher up the food chain. “We are in every aisle of the supermarket,” Gillette told me, and in any number of “quick-serve casual restaurants.”

To visit the company’s flavor laboratories is to see where the human vagaries of flavor meet the certainties of hard science. As I spied a few test tubes on a workbench, Silvia King, McCormick’s white-coated chief scientist, invited me to take a whiff. It smelled like tomato or, more accurately, the smell that remains on your fingers after you touch tomato leaves. “We had a customer come in who had a processed tomato product,” she told me, “that was really lacking in that fresh tomato profile—where you pull it off the vine.”

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Why (almost) everything you know about food is wrong – by Julia Belluz on January 2016


LTDean/Shutterstock

There was a time, in the distant past, when studying nutrition was a relatively simple science.

In 1747, a Scottish doctor named James Lind wanted to figure out why so many sailors got scurvy, a disease that leaves sufferers exhausted and anemic, with bloody gums and missing teeth. So Lind took 12 scurvy patients and ran the first modern clinical trial.

The sailors were divided into six groups, each given a different treatment. The men who ate oranges and lemons eventually recovered — a striking result that pointed to vitamin C deficiency as the culprit.

This sort of nutritional puzzle solving was common in the pre-industrial era. Many of troubling diseases of the day, such as scurvy, pellagra, anemia, and goiter, were due to some sort of deficiency in the diet. Doctors could develop hypotheses and run experiments until they figured out what was missing in people’s foods. Puzzle solved.

Unfortunately, studying nutrition is no longer that simple. By the 20th century, medicine had mostly fixed scurvy and goiter and other diseases of deficiency. In developed countries, these scourges are no longer an issue for most people.

Today, our greatest health problems relate to overeating. People are consuming too many calories and too much low-quality food, bringing on chronic diseases like cancer, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Unlike scurvy, these illnesses are much harder to get a handle on. They don’t appear overnight; they develop over a lifetime. And fixing them isn’t just a question of adding an occasional orange to someone’s diet. It involves looking holistically at diets and other lifestyle behaviors, trying to tease out the risk factors that lead to illness.

Today’s nutrition science has to be a lot more imprecise. It’s filled with contradictory studies that are each rife with flaws and limitations. The messiness of this field is a big reason why nutrition advice can be confusing.

It’s also part of why researchers can’t seem to agree on whether tomatoes cause or protect against cancer, or whether alcohol is good for you or not, and so on, and why journalists so badly muck up reporting on food and health.

To get a sense for how difficult it is to study nutrition, I spoke to eight health researchers over the past several months. Here’s what they told me.

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http://www.vox.com/2016/1/14/10760622/nutrition-science-complicated

Science Says Soda Taxes Work


RapidEye/iStock

Mexico is among the world’s top consumers of sugar: In 2011, the average Mexican consumed 163 liters of sugary drinks a year, or about 43 gallons. In order to combat the country’s high obesity rate—which, among developed countries, is topped only by the United States—the Mexican government implemented a 10 percent tax on sugar-sweetened drinks in January 2014.

A study published Wednesday in the British Medical Journal suggests that the tax is working: After one year, sales of sugar-sweetened drinks in Mexico dropped by 12 percent. And among poor households, which have the highest levels of obesity and untreated diabetes, sales fell 17 percent.

The study, conducted by researchers at Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, looked at sugary-drink purchases among some 6,000 households in cities across Mexico, and compared real purchases with expected purchases without the tax. In addition to a reduction in sugary-drink sales, the researchers found a 4 percent increase in untaxed beverage sales—primarily water.

“These results are not surprising, but their empirical confirmation is of the greatest importance for governments that have opted to use taxes on sugar sweetened beverages as part of public health strategies, and those considering to do it,” wroteFranco Sassi, head of the public health program of the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation.

Mexico’s tax of 1 peso per liter was celebrated by health advocates in part because of the way it was constructed: The price increase showed up on the price tag and not just at the register, and it was a big enough price jump that consumers noticed a difference.

Meanwhile, Berkeley, California, is the only city in the United States to have a soda tax, passed in March 2015 despite heavy beverage industry spending. It’s too soon to tell if that tax has had a similar effect.

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/01/more-evidence-soda-taxes-work-mexico

Childhood Asthma Rates Level Off, But Racial Disparities Remain – Rob Stein December 28, 20151:51 AM ET


Asthma is a big cause of school absences and can cause parents to miss work, too.

Asthma is a big cause of school absences and can cause parents to miss work, too. AJPhoto/Science Source

There’s finally some good news about childhood asthma in the United States: After rising for decades, the number of children with the breathing disorder has finally stopped increasing and may have started falling, according to a government analysis.

“That was a big surprise,” says Lara Akinbami of the National Center for Health Statistics. “We were expecting the increase to kind of continue. But in fact we saw the opposite.”

The percentage of U.S. children with asthma doubled in the 1980s and 1990s and had been increasing steadily since then. The reason for the increase has remained mysterious, but there may be many possible factors, including exposure to secondhand smoke, obesity and children’s immune systems failing to develop properly.

Akinbami and her colleagues detected the first change in that trend when they analyzed data from the National Health Interview Survey between 2001 and 2013.

Among children ages 17 and younger, the prevalence of asthma peaked at 9.7 percent in 2011 and then plateaued until 2013, when it declined to 8.3 percent, the researchers report Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

But asthma prevalence continues to rise among children in the poorest families and remains far more common among African-American children than white children. More than 14 percent of black children have asthma, compared to about 8 percent of white children. Black children are also much more likely than white children to suffer severe complications.

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http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/12/28/460845335/childhood-asthma-rates-level-off-but-racial-disparities-remain

 

A Star-Crossed ‘Scientific Fact’: The Story Of Vulcan, Planet That Never Was – NPR STAFF Updated November 30, 20151:46 AM ET


There’s a common misconception that science is purely about cold, hard facts — concrete evidence, mathematical models and replicable experiments to explain the world around us.

It’s easy to forget that there are people behind the data and equations. And when people are involved, there is always room for human error.

The Hunt for Vulcan
The Hunt for Vulcan

And How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe

by Thomas Levenson

In The Hunt For Vulcan, author Thomas Levenson, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explores one glaring error that was taken as fact for more than 50 years: the belief that there was another planet in our solar system that we couldn’t see behind the sun.

The mistake started with good science, Levenson says: the observation of something odd, and the development of a reasonable hypothesis to explain it.

“In the mid-19th century, an extremely talented astronomer — a really, really top-flight guy — was studying the orbit of the planet Mercury, and he found that there was a wobble in it. There was an unexplained extra residue of motion,” Levenson tells NPR’s Michel Martin.

And, Levenson says that according to the prevailing science of the time, there was a clear explanation for that: “another planet that we hadn’t yet discovered, inside the orbit of Mercury, that could tug it just slightly off its expected course.”

Professor Thomas Levenson, during the History Channel 2008 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour.

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

After the theory was announced, both amateur and professional astronomers reported that they’d actually spotted the planet. The planet was named Vulcan, and its orbit was calculated. It all appeared quite cut and dry.

Then Albert Einstein came along.

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http://www.npr.org/2015/11/29/457782813/a-star-crossed-scientific-fact-the-story-of-vulcan-planet-that-never-was