Issue 11

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In this issue:


  • Traveling for the holidays? Science has a yummy suggestion for avoiding jet lag.

  • Omicron: the new super villain of the Covid universe (or is it?).

  • The solution to your chronic stress might be... more stress.


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Chocolate for breakfast? Yes please.

You’ve probably heard people say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Indeed, research has shown that the times at which you eat can influence aspects of your health, including your circadian rhythm. This led some scientists to wonder whether feeding patterns could also influence the extent to which we experience jet lag. How did they go about answering this question? By feeding jet lagged rats chocolate.

How do you jet lag a rat?

No, the scientists didn’t literally fly the rats to a new time zone. Instead, they just turned on the lights 6 hours earlier than usual to mess with their biological clock (how would you feel if someone woke you up at 3 am every day?). The researchers then split the rats up into separate groups and brought in their secret ingredient. 🍫

The experiment: One group of jet lagged rats was fed 5 grams of chocolate right when they woke up. A second group was not given any chocolate at all (boo). The researchers then checked to see how quickly the rats would adjust to the new light schedule in the room. It turns out, the rats that received chocolate just as they woke up were able to resynchronize their circadian rhythm to the new schedule 40% faster than the rats who received no chocolate at all.

Brb, gonna go stock up on Hershey's

Not so fast. The researchers then repeated this experiment, but this time instead of chocolate, they gave the rats the various individual ingredients of chocolate (cocoa, gelatin, sugar, etc.). They found that the rats who were given sugar when waking up were adapted similarly to the rats who were originally given chocolate. The other ingredients did not have much of an effect. They concluded that any “high caloric and palatable meal” consumed upon waking is probably good enough to help your biological clock adapt to the new schedule.

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The Leak: According to a new paper, rats who were jet lagged and then given a piece of chocolate for breakfast were better at readjusting their circadian rhythm. So if you’re a jet setter who struggles with adjusting to a new time zone, feel free to try it out and claim that you’re “doing it for science.” πŸ˜‰


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This has got to be the worst way to learn the Greek alphabet.

Another season, another COVID variant of concern. You’ve probably been inundated with news about the ominous Omicron. We’ve noticed some ~questionable~ media coverage about it, so we figured it was time to chime in.

Questionable coverage? Like what?

Let’s talk about the mutations that have led us down the alphabet. You’ve probably heard by now that Omicron is "the most mutated” version of the virus so far. But “most mutated” is not synonymous with “most dangerous.” Mutations could make a virus more threatening or likely to spread. They also could not. It’ll take some time for scientists to fully agree on what Omicron’s mutations do, so keep that in mind the next time you see a clickbait news headline.

I'm vaccinated. Should I be concerned?

It’s worth discussing “vaccine evasiveness” and the fact that immunity is not black and white. “Neutralizing antibodies” are the first line of defense in an immune response. These antibodies glom onto the surface of the virus and make it less effective. Some of Omicron’s mutations might make it harder for antibodies to attach. Nonetheless, having ample neutralizing antibodies can only help, and they can fade over time. Vaccines are useful for their creation, so now might be a good time to get a booster.

You said, "first line of defense"?

Your body also has other tactics to defend against infection, such as T-cells. T-cells attack and break down any foreign agents in the body. T-cells are unlikely to prevent infection entirely, but would almost certainly prevent severe illness, regardless of mutations. Vaccines also help with the production of T-cells (I mean what can’t they do), which is yet another reason to go get that jab.

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The Leak: Despite the continuous barrage of Omicron “updates” in the news, there isn’t a clear answer yet. The truth about mutations and immunity is unlikely to be entirely straightforward, but thorough science takes time. In the meantime, wear a mask (which thankfully are agnostic to mutations) and keep an eye out for reliable sources (here’s a great evidence-based blog).


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πŸŽ„It's the most stre-e-essful time of the year🎢

Has life got you down? Feel like the tension never goes away? If you experience chronic stress, a new paper might have a solution to your blues — more stress.

Wait. What?

Before we explain further, here’s some quick background. When you’re in a nerve-wracking situation, your body releases cortisol. Unfortunately, too much cortisol can make you feel sad. This is what happens when you experience stress persistently. But here’s the paradox — many anti-depressants actually mimic the properties of cortisol. In other words, while too much cortisol can cause feelings of depression, drugs that resemble cortisol on a molecular level can also ease feelings of depression (when taken at the right dosage). This contradiction got some scientists wondering whether the sadness brought on by chronic stress might get better if one were exposed to several, smaller stressful episodes.

The experiment: The scientists studied a group of mice who had experienced stressful situations over a long period of time. These mice acted super gloomy and refused to socialize with their friends or consume sugar. To put it bluntly, the mice were straight up depressed. The scientists then exposed these mice to shorter, 5-minute stressful episodes over two weeks to see how their behavior would change.

Did it work?

As insane as it sounds, the mice got better. They started hanging out with their buddies again and eating sweet food. It was as if their depressed mood was lightened by the repeated, brief stress exposures, similar to small doses of anti-depressants. The researchers also uncovered a detailed biological explanation for how all of this plays out in the brain (if you’re curious, you can check out the full open-access paper here).

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The Leak: If you experience constant stress and that makes you sad, it might be that the balance of cortisol in your brain is not quiteee right. According to a new paper, this imbalance could get better through repeated exposures to small stressors. Guess it’s time to incorporate some cardio into our workout routine (seriously, cardio is stressful).


In case you missed it:


  • Enjoying that new iPhone that works just as well as the last one? Monkeys also seek novelty even when there's no apparent value in it. πŸ’

  • A silver lining of everyone staying put in 2020: cleaner air. 🌎

  • Submit papers for us to write about and earn rewards! πŸ†

  • Watch for our next issue covering our 12 favorite science advances of 2021 (in 2 weeks)! πŸ™Œ



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