Coffee is officially off the vice list as new studies show health benefits for ailments ranging from cancer to Parkinson's disease
I am not, by nature, a morning person. So ever since the age of 20, I have been a proud member of Coffee Achievers of the World--people whose daily intake of Morning Joe is an essential factor in getting the brain and body kick-started in the morning (or mid-afternoon, or before a college all-nighter). Getting a cup of coffee in the morning is such a high priority for me, in fact, that when I climbed a mountain high in the Himalayan mountains, I took a zip-lock bag of Coffee Singles along with me. I could handle yaks, glaciers, and whatever other discomforts the day had to throw at me, as long as I could start it with a steaming hot cup of Java.
As a result, I have also spent the past decades periodically defending my habit to non-coffee-drinking friends and the occasional health-fanatic doctor--because, as we all knew, coffee was bad for you. "Look," I'd tell the critics. "I don't have many vices. So I'm very attached to the few I have."
Well, huzzah and hurrah, all that is changing!
In a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, a group of Harvard researchers announced that they'd found that coffee consumption actually reduces the risk of prostate cancer, and particularly lethal prostate cancer, in men. Not only that, but a Swedish study published last week in Breast Cancer Research indicates that coffee could also help reduce a woman's risk for post-menopausal, ER-negative breast cancer.
All of that is in addition to other recent studies that have found links between coffee consumption and a decreased risk of gallstones, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson's disease, as well as lower rates of disease progression in liver cancer and cirrhosis. Other recent studies have indicated that coffee may not even increase a person's risk of heart disease or stroke. Turns out that coffee contains antioxidants and compounds that can improve glucose metabolism and insulin secretion. It also seems to have an effect on sex hormones, which is why researchers looked at its impact on prostate and breast cancer.
There are caveats to the results, of course. The strong correlation in the Harvard study came from men who drank six cups of coffee a day, and the Swedish study results applied to women who drank five or more cups of coffee a day. What's more, a German study (the MARIE study) that was used to validate the Swedish research findings did not show a statistically significant link between coffee consumption and a reduced risk of breast cancer--a result the Swedish researchers think may have to do with the fact that Swedish coffee is boiled, while German coffee is filtered. Of course, boiled coffee has also been shown to raise cholesterol levels, so drinking huge amounts of Swedish coffee in an effort to ward off ER-negative breast cancer might not be such a terrific idea. The Swedish paper also notes that the scientific community is still divided in its opinion of the toxicity of coffee.
But still. How has coffee managed to go from a universally agreed-upon vice to at least a potential virtue in such a relatively short period of time? The Harvard researchers suspect that part of the issue is that coffee drinking has traditionally been associated with other high-health-risk habits--e.g. drinking more alcohol, smoking, and not exercising--that muddied the waters of what role the coffee itself was playing.
"The difficulty of being able to separate the effects of coffee on health from the effects of associated behaviors, such as smoking or alcohol use, is one reason that coffee was seen as negative for so long," said Kathryn Wilson, one of the Harvard researchers. "Until there were computers that could handle the necessary statistics, along with studies with larger sample sizes, it was very difficult to control for multiple factors at once to see their individual effects on health outcomes."
The caveats are important, too. As an article in the New York Times Sunday Business section this week pointed out, scientific studies do support Quaker's claim that eating oatmeal can reduce cholesterol ... but only if you eat three or more bowls of it a day. Same with Activa's claims that the probiotics in its yogurt help to stimulate digestion (at least three servings a day). A "healthy" diet trying to hew to the standards of all these studies would be a horrific gorge-feast of multiple pots of coffee and so much oatmeal, yogurt, and other supposedly "healthy" foods that there'd likely be nothing all that healthy, and certainly nothing balanced, about it.
And that's not even taking into account the changing views on what foods are even healthy. Eggs were bad, and then good. The big benefits of soy milk are now suspect, even as coffee is seeing a reprieve. Drinking alcohol is a health risk, but drinking a moderate amount of red wine is good for your heart. On the other hand, a 2002 study by Spanish researchers found that people who drank more than two glasses of wine a day had a dramatically reduced risk of getting a cold. The head could spin, trying to keep up with it all.
Given all of that, I asked the Harvard team what advice they had for the average person, based on their research results.
"I wouldn't recommend that men change their coffee consumption based on this study (or any single study)," Wilson answered. "[But] I think this study is part of mounting evidence that you don't need to feel guilty about your current coffee consumption."
Guiltless coffee. Is it possible? I might have to ponder that over a glass of red wine ... or another cup of steaming Java.
As pay TV slowly declines, cable news faces a demographic cliff. And nobody has further to fall than the merchant of right-wing outrage.
Updated at 12:05 p.m.
October 7, 2016, will be the 20th birthday of the Fox News Channel, and at the moment, the network is experiencing the soap-operatic highs and lows typical of any teenager on television. In many ways, the summer of 2016 may go down in Fox News history as the company’s nadir. Its founder and leader Roger Ailes has been dishonorably dispatched, the remaining executives are dealing with a flurry of sexual harassment lawsuits, and one of its most public faces, Sean Hannity, has ignominiously remodeled himself as a gutless Trump whisperer.
And yet Fox News’ fortunes are ascendant, at least in the most quantifiable sense. The network’s annual profit in 2015 soared by about 20 percent. For the first time ever, Fox News has been the most-watched cable network among both primetime and daytime viewers for several months, with a larger audience than its nominal rivals, CNN and MSNBC, combined. Led by “The O'Reilly Factor,” Fox News doesn’t just have the best-rated news show on cable television; according to The Wrap, it has the 13 best-rated news shows on cable television.
Hillary Clinton has her problems, but Donald Trump is unfit for the presidency.
On one hand, there’s former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who oversaw “grossly inadequate” security at a diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, the site of a deadly September 11, 2012, terrorist attack.
What looks at first glance like an opening up of possibilities is actually an attack on the human imagination.
You might not like what I’m about to say about the multiverse. But don’t worry; you’ve already had your revenge. If there are an infinite number of parallel universes, there will be any number of terrible dictatorships, places where life has become very difficult for people who like to string words together. Somewhere out there, there’s a society in which every desperate little essay like this one comes with a tiny, unremarkable button: push it, and the author will be immediately electrocuted to death.
Maybe your hate is more visceral—you already know I’ll die some day, but you want to see it happen; you need to see me groveling. You can if you want. Fly upwards from the plane of our solar system, keep on going, through the endless huddles of galaxies, never forgetting your purpose, until space and time run out altogether. Eventually you’ll find yourself in another universe, on a damp patch of grass and broken concrete, unwatched by whatever local gang or galactic empire rules the city rising in foggy shapes beyond the marshes. There, you’ll see a creature strangely similar to yourself, beating me to death with whatever bits of scrap are lying around.
What to do if you’re a Hillary fan seated next to a Trump supporter at a wedding
When America is finally great again, they’ll make the latte with soy milk like you asked.
All those political cracks, not to mention earnest proclamations, mean that for the next 10 weeks, many casual interactions run the risk of erupting into full-blown partisan warfare. It’s more of a danger for those with family members or close friends who support opposing candidates and views. But on Facebook, hot-button scuffles can break out between almost anyone. (I recently witnessed a college friend who lives in Europe arguing about gun rights with a random guy from my high school in Texas, whom I myself have spoken with only a few times in person.)
One reason Americans find the other side’s views so inflammatory is that increasingly, they view their political party as more of a tribe than a checkbox. “People start seeing themselves or their political views as the main representation of their values, and what is right and wrong,” said Emanuel Maidenberg, a clinical professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA.
We asked education experts how much time they think kids should spend in class. Here's what they had to say.
Nothing is perfect, but what if it could be?
Back-to-school season is in full swing, and despite the crispness of new notebook paper and the allure of Friday night lights, it’s hard to ignore the serious inequities, debates, and issues currently hampering America’s education system. Students will walk down hallways they haven’t seen since June with questions of segregation raging around them. Teachers will greet their pupils as public-school systems around the country are flailing. And administrators will continue on as innovative ideas about how best to reach learners emerge. And so, it’s no surprise that many are entering the school year with both aspiration and trepidation.
With that in mind, we asked a variety of prominent voices in education—from policy makers and teachers to activists and parents—what their vision of a perfect school system would be. We asked them to look beyond laws, politics, and funding to imagine a utopian system of learning. We wanted to know how these men and women would critically examine the most macro and micro aspects of school and reform these elements in a perfect world. They went back to the drawing board—and the chalkboard—to build their educational Garden of Eden. We’ll be publishing their answers to one question every day this week. The responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
A new anatomical understanding of how movement controls the body’s stress response system
Elite tennis players have an uncanny ability to clear their heads after making errors. They constantly move on and start fresh for the next point. They can’t afford to dwell on mistakes.
Peter Strick is not a professional tennis player. He’s a distinguished professor and chair of the department of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute. He’s the sort of person to dwell on mistakes, however small.
“My kids would tell me, dad, you ought to take up pilates. Do some yoga,” he said. “But I’d say, as far as I’m concerned, there's no scientific evidence that this is going to help me.”
Still, the meticulous skeptic espoused more of a tennis approach to dealing with stressful situations: Just teach yourself to move on. Of course there is evidence that ties practicing yoga to good health, but not the sort that convinced Strick. Studies show correlations between the two, but he needed a physiological mechanism to explain the relationship. Vague conjecture that yoga “decreases stress” wasn’t sufficient. How? Simply by distracting the mind?
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
In the primaries, he avoided policy debates by promising to build a wall—but the general election is forcing him into specifics.
The biggest political story of the last week has been Donald Trump’s flip-flop on deporting undocumented immigrants. This Sunday on CNN, Mike Pence filibustered his way through the subject for almost seven minutes before Jake Tapper finally declared, “You did not address the issue” and moved on. Chris Christie on ABC and Kellyanne Conway on CBS were no more coherent. The Daily Beast summed up the morning with the headline, “Immigration Flip-Flop Leaves Trump Campaign Flailing on Sunday Shows.”
But focusing on Trump’s “flip-flop” misses the point. Trump’s real problem isn’t that he’s changed his position on immigration. It’s that he’s trying to formulate one at all.
What the commentary of the last few days has generally overlooked is that while immigration was key to Trump’s success in the Republican primary, Trump never actually offered an immigration policy. To the contrary, his success rested in large measure on his ability to avoid one. Trump’s strategy on immigration, as on other key issues, was to cut through the Gordian knot of public policy with aggressive, quick fix solutions. Terrorism? Ban Muslims. ISIS? Bomb the hell out of them and take their oil. Loss of manufacturing jobs? Slap massive tariffs on companies that outsource American jobs.
Economics hasn’t been able to explain irrational choices. Can neuroscience?
Humans often make bad decisions. If you like Snickers more than Milky Way, it seems obvious which candy bar you’d pick, given a choice of the two. Traditional economic models follow this logical intuition, suggesting that people assign a value to each choice—say, Snickers: 10, Milky Way: 5—and select the top scorer. But our decision-making system is subject to glitches.
In one recent experiment, Paul Glimcher, a neuroscientist at New York University, and collaborators asked people to choose among a variety of candy bars, including their favorite—say, a Snickers. If offered a Snickers, a Milky Way and an Almond Joy, participants would always choose the Snickers. But if they were offered 20 candy bars, including a Snickers, the choice became less clear. They would sometimes pick something other than the Snickers, even though it was still their favorite. When Glimcher would remove all the choices except the Snickers and the selected candy, participants would wonder why they hadn’t chosen their favorite.
A new analysis of Lucy’s bones suggests that she may have fallen to her death from a tall tree.
In 1974, scientists working in Ethiopia uncovered an extraordinary female skeleton, whom they called Lucy. She was 3.2 million years old, and belonged to a new species of hominid now known as Australopithecus afarensis. Her brain was small and chimp-sized, but her hips and legs that were clearly built for upright walking—a unique blend of features which revealed that our ancestors evolved a two-legged gait before their brains became big.
Lucy has since become a household name, and it’s easy to forget that she was more than just an avatar of human evolution. She was also a person. Back when her now-famous skeleton was still wrapped by flesh and skin, she was walking around Africa. She ate, drank, and socialized. She climbed trees. And that, if John Kappelman from the University of Texas at Austin is right, is how she died.