Issue 28

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In this issue:


  • Feeling aged? Might be time to blame your phone.

  • A micro update on microdosing.

  • A new way to diagnose Parkinson's that definitely passes the sniff test.

  • The neuroscience of nature walks, ketamine, and fatherhood.


Do your parents blame your phone for all your problems?

Back hurts? Probably because of your phone. Can’t sleep? Kids these days and their phones. Lost a sock in the laundry? Must be the phone. But as annoying as it is, they might (unfortunately) be on to something.

You're kidding.

Sadly, no. A major component of the displays that make up electronic screens is blue light (BL) emitting LEDs. We already knew that excessive blue light exposure can cause damage to the tissue in our eyes. But a new study shows that the damage caused by BL is not limited just to the eyes, and extends to other parts of the body as well.

The experiment: The researchers took a bunch of fruit flies and placed them in a room that was constantly lit by blue light LEDs (kinda like one of those downtown nightclubs, but probably less fun). After a few weeks, the scientists collected blood from the flies’ heads to see if they could find evidence of tissue damage. And here’s the twist — since the scientists wanted to focus on potential harm to parts of the body other than the eyes, they used a very specific breed of flies for this experiment. What makes this fly breed so special? They've been genetically modified to simply not have eyes.

WTF.

It’s actually less bizarre than you might think. Unlike humans, fruit flies are not heavily dependent on sight for their day-to-day lives, so blindness is just not as big a deal for them.

Right. What about the results of the experiment?

The scientists found that even in these eye-less flies, overexposure to blue light caused noticeable brain damage. What’s more, their bloodwork showed evidence of accelerated aging, and a decrease in levels of crucial neurotransmitters. In short, the blue light caused flies to age faster, and have more damaged (and probably dysfunctional) brains.

But I can’t live without my phone!

The good news is that these effects are most likely limited to chronic, continuous exposure (remember, the flies lived under a blue light 24X7). As long as you use your devices in moderation, you’re (probably) in the clear.

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The Leak: According to a new study, excessive exposure to blue light (the kind that comes from your phone screen) could cause brain damage and accelerated aging. Looks like parents do have a pretty good reason to stop their kids from spending all day in front of the TV.


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You can have a small bite of psychedelic mushrooms, as a treat.

That’s the mantra adopted by proponents of microdosing. In case you haven’t heard of it before, microdosing involves consuming just a teeny tiny amount of some drug (such as psilocybin shrooms), everyday. The idea behind microdosing is that consuming frequent, small doses can allow one to reap certain beneficial effects of a drug (for instance, improvement in mood) without necessarily experiencing the high.

Cool. Does it work?

That’s precisely what a group of researchers tried to figure out by running a double-blind experimental trial. In the study, half the participants were given a pill containing a microdose of psilocybin, whereas the other half were given a placebo pill. None of the participants actually knew what their pill contained, but the researchers did ask them what they thought they had been given. The participants also filled out surveys about their mental wellbeing.

So what’s the verdict?

Participants who consumed the psilocybin pill did, on average, report greater changes to their mental state compared to the placebo controls. But here’s the catch — this effect was only present for individuals who had guessed that their pill contained psilocybin. Participants who were given psilocybin but thought they had the placebo proved to be no different from the controls.

What does that mean?

People who microdose might feel better simply because they think they ought to feel better (aka they experience an “expectancy effect”). This study doesn’t definitively prove that microdosing is BS, but for now, there isn’t tons of evidence to suggest that it works.

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The Leak: Microdosing may not be all that it’s made out to be. But then again, if it makes you feel good, who’re we to stand in the way of that.


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Are you self-conscious about smelling bad on the subway?

You might have more than just bad body odor to worry about — it turns out, Parkinson’s disease has a distinct smell too.

No way.

We don’t blame you for being surprised. The only reason scientists were able to figure this out is because of a woman named Joy Milne. Milne first detected a “musty” smell on her husband many years ago. When he was later diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Milne met other Parkinson’s patients at a hospital support group. That’s when she realized that the smell was actually the disease.

But…how does that even work?

To get to the bottom of the mystery, researchers swabbed and analyzed the skin oil samples from several Parkinson’s patients. They found 500 molecules in these samples that differed significantly from those found on people without the disease. These compounds likely produce the distinctive odor that Milne first detected. The scientists are now developing a skin-swab test for hospitals that they hope can be used to diagnose the disease early.

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The Leak: If you’re at risk for Parkinson’s, you might smell ~musty~ (sorry). But on the upside, at least your doctor might be able to sniff it right out.


City life stressing you out?

A stroll through the woods might just be what the doctor ordered. A new study shows that taking a walk through the verdant outdoors can reduce activity in the parts of your brain that are known to process negative emotions. All hail the healing majesty of nature!


Could Ketamine be used as an antidepressant?


Looks like men’s brains shrink when they become fathers.

Guess that provides a neuroscientific basis for dad jokes.


In case you missed it:


  • Don't call it procrastination, call it a 10 minute "micro-break" (and it's good for your productivity too). πŸ“ˆ



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