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Category Archives: African American Health

Here you will find news about African American’s health

3 Reasons You Should Have More Plants In Your Home

by Dan McNulty

Plants are a powerhouse of wellness for your home. They’ll provide you with a host of benefits, and they’ll make your house look great while doing it. I’ll admit, I’ve been kind of obsessed with this idea lately, and I think you’ll find the concept intriguing as well after learning about the myriad benefits they offer.

1. They purify your air.

You probably know that plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen; plants in your home are no exception. Oxygen affects every part of your body and mind, and making sure you get quality air is essential to your well-being.

Did you know NASA uses plants on the International Space Station to help with air quality? Certain species purify the air of toxins like benzene, formaldehyde, and more. In order to do this efficiently, the researchers at NASA recommend at least one plant per 100 square feet of home or office space.

2. They’re truly local produce.

A lot of people don’t live in a climate where it’s possible to plant something like a lemon tree or a lime tree outside, but did you know there are dwarf versions of these? They thrive while potted indoors virtually everywhere in the US. They even have dwarf banana trees, pineapple trees, avocado trees, fig trees, and more. All that fruit right in your sun room or living room window!

Imagine picking stevia leaves right off the stem, enjoying a fresh avocado for breakfast, or making a drink with limes and mint leaves that were grown right in your kitchen. A fully fruited lemon tree at a party would probably make for quite the conversation piece as well. There are some things you just won’t find in a Midwest or Northeastern farmer’s market, and fresh local citrus fruits or locally grown avocados are usually some of those things. Having these growing right in your own house is as local as it gets.

3. They make your house a home.

This is probably the best catchall for all those intangible qualities that having more plants will bring to your home. Plants are living things, and when you’re surrounded by living things you will feel better; you’re literally bringing more life into your house! There’s something about bringing live pieces of nature inside that just radiates a healthy energy throughout the room.

Fragrant plants like dwarf Kaffir lime trees will also fill the room with the most wonderful scents. It’s an all-natural alternative to those wall plug-ins filled with artificial fragrance chemicals. Other aromatics like mint, lemon grass, bay leaves, and basil (as well other others) have the added bonus of naturally repelling bugs as well!

All in all, when you have a lot of plants in your house, the benefits reach multiple aspects of your life. You’re improving the air you breathe, getting a healthy renewable ultra-local agricultural pipeline, naturally freshening your air, repelling insects, and bringing a unique energy into your home. With a little botanical maintenance, the rewards are endless.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

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Posted by on November 18, 2015 in African American Health

 

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Blood Plasma, Sweat, and Tears

How America’s poor sell the contents of their veins to get by

KATHRYN EDIN AND H. LUKE SHAEFER

There is no money to be made selling blood anymore. It can, however, pay off to sell plasma, a component in blood that is used in a number of treatments for serious illnesses. It is legal to “donate” plasma up to two times a week, for which a bank will pay around $30 each time. Selling plasma is so common among America’s extremely poor that it can be thought of as their lifeblood.

But no one could reasonably think of a twice-weekly plasma donation as a job. It’s a survival strategy, one of many operating well outside the low-wage job market.

In Johnson City, Tennessee, we met a 21-year-old who donates plasma as often as 10 times a month—as frequently as the law allows. (The terms of our research prevent us from revealing her identity.) She is able to donate only when her husband has time to keep an eye on their two young daughters. When we met him in February, he could do that pretty frequently because he’d been out of work since the beginning of December, when McDonald’s reduced his hours to zero in response to slow foot traffic. Six months ago, walking his wife to the plasma clinic and back, kids in tow, was the most important job he had.

The first thing the 21-year-old does when she gets to the donation center is check in, and as a regular donor, she can bypass the initial, time-consuming health screening. She proceeds to a kiosk, rhythmically clicking the mouse to answer the required questions about her health. “When you get there, they have you fill out … 22 questions … They ask you about your health and, like, if you’ve had any recent tattoos or been in jail or had any piercings lately.” Her husband has too many tattoos and doesn’t remember the exact times and places he acquired all of them, details that the plasma center requires. He says he has been told he “need not come by” to donate.

After completing these initial steps, she sits in the waiting room, listening for her name to be called. She describes what happens after that: “They take your blood pressure and your temp. And then if everything is okay, you wait and get your finger pricked to test for your iron and your protein and stuff … Usually, it be during my time of the month that my iron really goes down.” Lately, the iron pills she has tried haven’t been working. This terrifies her, because “donating” is the bedrock of the family’s finances right now. The phlebotomist in charge of the finger pricking has told her that “if the iron pills don’t help, [it means] I could be, like, anemic.” Anemics are barred from donating.

Today, like other days, she’s nervous—what will happen if she is not allowed to give plasma? The family desperately needs the $30. They’re now nearly three months behind on the rent. Once she passes all the tests, she proceeds to the back room, where she’s directed to a recliner. Today she has brought along a Nicholas Sparks novel she checked out of the library. “I always bring a book with me,” she says.

A technician feels around for her vein with a plastic-gloved finger, rubs on some iodine with a Q-tip, positions an IV, and inserts a needle. For the usual donor, the procedure takes about 45 minutes, but for her it takes well over an hour, as she is just over the minimum weight of 110 pounds. “I get tired. Especially if my iron’s down, I get, like, really tired,” she says. The ritual takes roughly three hours, door to door. Even so, the payoff is relatively good: $10 an hour. As long as her iron, blood pressure, and temperature are okay, she’ll donate as often as she is legally allowed.

Later, she says the procedure makes her squeamish. “I can’t ever look at it. I never look at it when they do it. They do it right here,” she says, pointing to the obvious indentation at the crease in her arm, which looks somewhat like a drug track line. Many among the extreme poor bear these small scars from repeated plasma donations.

* * *

Before welfare died in 1996, a family of three couldn’t live solely on the $360 or so the program provided on average. Just prior to welfare reform, it took roughly $875 to meet such a family’s monthly expenses, but families could generally get only about three-fifths of that from the combination of cash welfare and food stamps.

To make matters worse, when a mother secured a job, she would lose about a dollar in welfare benefits for every dollar she earned. Often, she couldn’t afford to rely only on earnings from work in the formal economy. Work paid only a little more than welfare but cost a lot more in terms of added expenses for transportation, child care, health care, and the like. It was more expensive to go to work than stay on the welfare rolls.

Back then, neither welfare nor work could singlehandedly bring a poor family’s budget into balance, yet the ability to combine them legally was limited at best. How did these single mothers survive?

Some gleaned some sustenance through private charities, as the couple in Johnson City do now. In addition, at any given time, almost half of single mothers on welfare were secretly working. Some used a false identity to avoid detection, or hopped from job to job, since short stints wouldn’t typically get reported to the welfare office. Those without a formal job did hair, babysat, sold meals, cleaned homes, or, occasionally, resorted to fencing stolen goods or selling drugs or sex. Back before welfare reform, the strategies poor single mothers employed were hardly get-rich-quick schemes; they provided a few dollars here and there, often garnered with considerable effort. When combined with welfare, plus a lot of old-fashioned frugality, these strategies usually allowed for a bare-bones survival.

Today, a striking number of Americans live on extremely small incomes. As of early 2011, 1.5 million households (with roughly 3 million children) were surviving on cash incomes of no more than $2 per person, per day, during any given month. What’s different these days—and what affects the $2-a-day poor so profoundly—is that welfare can no longer be counted on to provide a floor of cash that families can depend on.

The variety of survival strategies used by today’s $2-a-day poor are variations on the same tactics poor families used a generation ago to get by: private charity, a variety of small-time, under-the-table schemes, and plain old thriftiness. Even those somewhat higher up the income ladder today, who have steady jobs, draw on such strategies from time to time when the money doesn’t quite stretch to the end of the month. But the degree to which people must resort to the riskiest strategies—those that can exact a sharp psychological, legal, and even physical toll—appears to be an order of magnitude greater for the virtually cashless poor than it is for poor families with some cash on hand.

Far from being passive, many among the $2-a-day poor take what few resources they have and try to “make the best out of a bad,” as the son of one cash-strapped parent put it. While the circumstances that they find themselves in may appear wholly un-American, in many ways their actions and outlooks are as American as they come: often surprisingly optimistic, creative, family-focused, scrappy, and imbued with a can-do spirit that belies their desperate circumstances. They may be officially jobless, but they are laboring intently. Their work can be grueling, and, at times, it’s work into which they’re literally pouring their blood, sweat, and tears.

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2015 in African American Health

 

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HOW SUGAR IS HURTING US

Is 40 teaspoons of sugar too much for one person per day? You might think so. Yet, as the Australian actor and director Damon Gameau demonstrates, you can eat that amount without exceeding the recommended number of calories or ingesting a single junk food.

In “That Sugar Film”, Gameau—whose normal diet is fashionably free of refined sugars—decides to eat 40 teaspoons of sugar a day for 60 days, while monitoring the effects on his body. The set-up is familiar. Gameau’s film borrows heavily from Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary “Super Size Me”, in which Spurlock ate at McDonald’s three times a day for 30 days and suffered a precipitous decline in health.

Yet the subject of Gameau’s polemic makes it more universally relevant and urgent than Spurlock’s. Audiences could leave “Super Size Me” and feel smug that they didn’t eat Big Macs. By contrast, almost everyone now consumes crazy quantities of sugar. It’s hard not to, when it’s present in 80% of the food now sold in a typical supermarket.

Gameau chose 40 teaspoons because it is how much the average Australian eats every day. He does not consume any fizzy drinks or confectionary; all of the sugar must be “hidden” in apparently nutritious foods. On the first morning of his experiment, Gameau swallows 20 teaspoons at one sitting in a “healthy” breakfast of wholegrain cereal, low-fat yoghurt and juice. “It’s just obscene!” he exclaims.

“That Sugar Film” points the finger at two villains: the low-fat-diet mantra and an under-regulated food industry. In 1955, the American scientist Ancel Keys used flawed data to put forward his famous “lipid” thesis: heart disease, Keys insisted, was caused by eating fat, not sugar. This became the basis of official health advice around the world. For decades, nutritionists encouraged us to worry too much about fat and too little about sugar.

Meanwhile, the giants of the sugar industry freely employed tactics similar to those used by tobacco companies. They funded scientists to publish research stating that sugar was not associated with metabolic disease. Product developers found ever more products—from pizza to teriyaki sauce—to lace with sugar. The market researcher Howard Moskowitz discovered that if manufacturers could engineer sugar in foods to exactly the right “bliss point”, consumers would eat more.

The consequences are less blissful. After just two months of a high-sucrose diet, Gameau shows signs of fatty liver disease and his triglyceride levels (fat in the blood) markedly rise. Despite the fact that his daily calorie intake—roughly 2,300—remains the same, he gains an additional 7% of body fat and suffers mood swings and poor concentration.

The most scandalising footage, however, concerns those who are living a high-sugar diet for real. Gameau visits an Australian Aboriginal community where chronic diseases are rife: asthma, heart disease, diabetes. Pre-contact, people here ate the equivalent of two small pieces of sugar in a whole year. They are now hooked on fizzy drinks and other sugary fare—as of 2008, the Australian Northern Territories drank more Coca Cola per capita than any other region worldwide—and many die before reaching 40.

Equally distressing is the case of a young Kentucky man who drinks 12 cans of Mountain Dew a day and is filmed having all his teeth removed. His gum infection is so bad that the anaesthetic won’t work. A local dentist tells Gameau he sees patients as young as three: toddlers who are given fizzy drinks in a bottle, sucking on tooth-rot all day long.

Some people are clearly more sugar-dependent than others. When his experiment ends, after a couple of shaky weeks, Gameau happily returns to affluent meals of steak and greens or avocado and nuts, shared with his beautiful girlfriend. By contrast, the toothless Kentucky man says he won’t give up his beloved Mountain Dew. The big question that Gameau’s important, if simplistic, film fails to address is why some of us learn to enjoy flavours other than sweetness, while others never do.

That Sugar Film is out now in Australia and New Zealand and will be released in Britain on June 26th and America on July 31st

 

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How to Be Emotionally Intelligent

CreditWesley Bedrosian for The New York Times

What makes a great leader? Knowledge, smarts and vision, to be sure. To that, Daniel Goleman, author of “Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence,” would add the ability to identify and monitor emotions — your own and others’ — and to manage relationships. Qualities associated with such “emotional intelligence” distinguish the best leaders in the corporate world, according to Mr. Goleman, a former New York Times science reporter, a psychologist and co-director of a consortium at Rutgers University to foster research on the role emotional intelligence plays in excellence. He shares his short list of the competencies.

1. SELF-AWARENESS

Realistic self-confidence: You understand your own strengths and limitations; you operate from competence and know when to rely on someone else on the team.

Emotional insight: You understand your feelings. Being aware of what makes you angry, for instance, can help you manage that anger.

2. SELF-MANAGEMENT

Resilience: You stay calm under pressure and recover quickly from upsets. You don’t brood or panic. In a crisis, people look to the leader for reassurance; if the leader is calm, they can be, too.

Emotional balance: You keep any distressful feelings in check — instead of blowing up at people, you let them know what’s wrong and what the solution is.

Self-motivation: You keep moving toward distant goals despite setbacks.

3. EMPATHY

Cognitive and emotional empathy: Because you understand other perspectives, you can put things in ways colleagues comprehend. And you welcome their questions, just to be sure. Cognitive empathy, along with reading another person’s feelings accurately, makes for effective communication.

Good listening: You pay full attention to the other person and take time to understand what they are saying, without talking over them or hijacking the agenda.

4. RELATIONSHIP SKILLS

Compelling communication: You put your points in persuasive, clear ways so that people are motivated as well as clear about expectations.

Team playing: People feel relaxed working with you. One sign: They laugh easily around you.

 

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Rethinking the Placebo Effect: How Our Minds Actually Affect Our Bodies

by

The startling physiological effects of loneliness, optimism, and meditation.

In 2013, Neil deGrasse Tyson hosted a mind-bending debate on the nature of “nothing” — an inquiry that has occupied thinkers since the dawn of recorded thought and permeates everything from Hamlet’s iconic question to the boldest frontiers of quantum physics. That’s precisely what New Scientist editor-in-chief Jeremy Webb explores with a kaleidoscopic lens in Nothing: Surprising Insights Everywhere from Zero to Oblivion(public library | IndieBound) — a terrific collection of essays and articles exploring everything from vacuum to the birth and death of the universe to how the concept of zero gained wide acceptance in the 17th century after being shunned as a dangerous innovation for 400 years. As Webb elegantly puts it, “nothing becomes a lens through which we can explore the universe around us and even what it is to be human. It reveals past attitudes and present thinking.”

Among the most intensely interesting pieces in the collection is one by science journalist Jo Marchant, who penned the fascinating story of the world’s oldest analog computer. Titled “Heal Thyself,” the piece explores how the way we think about medical treatments shapes their very real, very physical effects on our bodies — an almost Gandhi-like proposition, except rooted in science rather than philosophy. Specifically, Marchant brings to light a striking new dimension of the placebo effect that runs counter to how the phenomenon has been conventionally explained. She writes:

It has always been assumed that the placebo effect only works if people are conned into believing that they are getting an actual active drug. But now it seems this may not be true. Belief in the placebo effect itself — rather than a particular drug — might be enough to encourage our bodies to heal.

She cites a recent study at the Harvard Medical School, in which people with irritable bowel syndrome were given a placebo and informed that the pills were “made of an inert substance, like sugar pills, that have been shown in clinical studies to produce significant improvement in IBS symptoms through mind-body self-healing processes.” As Marchant notes, this is absolutely true, in a meta kind of way. What the researchers found was startling in its implications for medicine, philosophy, and spirituality — despite being aware they were taking placebos, the participants rated their symptoms as “moderately improved” on average. In other words, they knew what they were taking wasn’t a drug — it was a medical “nothing” — but the very consciousness of takingsomething made them experience fewer symptoms.

Illustration by Marianne Dubuc from ‘The Lion and the Bird.’ Click image for more.

This dovetails into recent research confirming what Helen Keller fervently believed by putting some serious science behind the value of optimism. Marchant sums up the findings:

Realism can be bad for your health. Optimists recover better from medical procedures such as coronary bypass surgery, have healthier immune systems and live longer, both in general and when suffering from conditions such as cancer, heart disease and kidney failure.

It is well accepted that negative thoughts and anxiety can make us ill. Stress — the belief that we are at risk — triggers physiological pathways such as the “fight-or-flight” response, mediated by the sympathetic nervous system. These have evolved to protect us from danger, but if switched on long-term they increase the risk of conditions such as diabetes and dementia.

What researchers are now realizing is that positive beliefs don’t just work by quelling stress. They have a positive effect too — feeling safe and secure, or believing things will turn out fine, seems to help the body maintain and repair itself…

Optimism seems to reduce stress-induced inflammation and levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. It may also reduce susceptibility to disease by dampening sympathetic nervous system activity and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. The latter governs what’s called the “rest-and-digest” response — the opposite of fight-or-flight.

Just as helpful as taking a rosy view of the future is having a rosy view of yourself. High “self-enhancers” — people who see themselves in a more positive light than others see them — have lower cardiovascular responses to stress and recover faster, as well as lower baseline cortisol levels.

Marchant notes that it’s as beneficial to amplify the world’s perceived positivity as it is to amplify our own — something known as our “self-enhancement bias,”a type of self-delusion that helps keep us sane. But the same applies to our attitudes toward others as well — they too can impact our physical health. She cites University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo, who has dedicated his career to studying how social isolation affects individuals. Though solitude might be essential for great writing, being alone a special form of art, and single living the defining modality of our time, loneliness is a different thing altogether — a thing Cacioppo found to be toxic:

Being lonely increases the risk of everything from heart attacks to dementia, depression and death, whereas people who are satisfied with their social lives sleep better, age more slowly and respond better to vaccines. The effect is so strong that curing loneliness is as good for your health as giving up smoking.

Illustration by Marianne Dubuc from ‘The Lion and the Bird.’ Click image for more.

Marchant quotes another researcher, Charles Raison at Atlanta’s Emory University, who studies mind–body interactions:

It’s probably the single most powerful behavioral finding in the world… People who have rich social lives and warm, open relationships don’t get sick and they live longer.

Marchant points to specific research by Cacioppo, who found that “in lonely people, genes involved in cortisol signaling and the inflammatory response were up-regulated, and that immune cells important in fighting bacteria were more active, too.” Marchant explains the findings and the essential caveat to them:

[Cacioppo] suggests that our bodies may have evolved so that in situations of perceived social isolation, they trigger branches of the immune system involved in wound healing and bacterial infection. An isolated person would be at greater risk of physical trauma, whereas being in a group might favor the immune responses necessary for fighting viruses, which spread easily between people in close contact.

Crucially, these differences relate most strongly to how lonely people think they are, rather than to the actual size of their social network. That also makes sense from an evolutionary point of view, says Cacioppo, because being among hostile strangers can be just as dangerous as being alone. So ending loneliness is not about spending more time with people. Cacioppo thinks it is all about our attitude to others: lonely people become overly sensitive to social threats and come to see others as potentially dangerous. In a review of previous studies … he found that tackling this attitude reduced loneliness more effectively than giving people more opportunities for interaction, or teaching social skills.

Illustration by André François for ‘Little Boy Brown,’ a lovely vintage ode to childhood and loneliness. Click image for more.

Paradoxically, science suggests that one of the most important interventions to offer benefits that counter the ill effects of loneliness has to do with solitude — or, more precisely, regimented solitude in the form of meditation. Marchant notes that trials on the effects of meditation have been small — something I find troublesomely emblematic of the short-sightedness with which we approach mental health as we continue to prioritize the physical in both our clinical subsidies and our everyday lives (how many people have a workout routine compared to those with a meditation practice?); even within the study of mental health, the vast majority of medical research focuses on the effects of a physical substance — a drug of some sort — on the mind, with very little effort directed at understanding the effects of the mind on the physical body.

Still, the modest body of research on meditation is heartening. Marchant writes:

There is some evidence that meditation boosts the immune response in vaccine recipients and people with cancer, protects against a relapse in major depression, soothes skin conditions and even slows the progression of HIV. Meditation might even slow the aging process. Telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes, get shorter every time a cell divides and so play a role in aging. Clifford Saron of the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis, and colleagues showed in 2011 that levels of an enzyme that builds up telomeres were higher in people who attended a three-month meditation retreat than in a control group.

As with social interaction, meditation probably works largely by influencing stress response pathways. People who meditate have lower cortisol levels, and one study showed they have changes in their amygdala, a brain area involved in fear and the response to threat.

If you’re intimidated by the time investment, take heart — fMRI studies show that as little as 11 hours of total training, or an hour every other day for three weeks, can produce structural changes in the brain. If you’re considering dipping your toes in the practice, I wholeheartedly recommend meditation teacher Tara Brach, who has changed my life.

But perhaps the most striking finding in exploring how our beliefs affect our bodies has to do with finding your purpose and, more than that, finding meaning in life. The most prominent studies in the field have defined purpose rather narrowly, as religious belief, but even so, the findings offer an undeniably intriguing signpost to further exploration. Marchant synthesizes the research, its criticism, and its broader implications:

In a study of 50 people with advanced lung cancer, those judged by their doctors to have high “spiritual faith” responded better to chemotherapy and survived longer. More than 40 percent were still alive after three years, compared with less than 10 percent of those judged to have little faith. Are your hackles rising? You’re not alone. Of all the research into the healing potential of thoughts and beliefs, studies into the effects of religion are the most controversial.

Critics of these studies … point out that many of them don’t adequately tease out other factors. For instance, religious people often have lower-risk lifestyles and churchgoers tend to enjoy strong social support, and seriously ill people are less likely to attend church.

[…]

Others think that what really matters is having a sense of purpose in life, whatever it might be. Having an idea of why you are here and what is important increases our sense of control over events, rendering them less stressful. In Saron’s three-month meditation study, the increase in levels of the enzyme that repairs telomeres correlated with an increased sense of control and an increased sense of purpose in life. In fact, Saron argues, this psychological shift may have been more important than the meditation itself. He points out that the participants were already keen meditators, so the study gave them the chance to spend three months doing something important to them. Spending more time doing what you love, whether it’s gardening or voluntary work, might have a similar effect on health. The big news from the study, Saron says, is “the profound impact of having the opportunity to live your life in a way that you find meaningful.”

Philosopher Daniel Dennett was right all along in asserting that the secret of happiness is to “find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.”

Each of the essays in Nothing: Surprising Insights Everywhere from Zero to Oblivion is nothing short of fascinating. Complement them with theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss on the science of “something” and “nothing.”

 

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Why Does Hair Change Colour And Turn Grey?

| by Rodney Sinclair

photo credit: Men generally have more grey hairs than women. crumpart/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Most of us find our first “greys” by the time we turn 30, usually at the temples, then later, across the scalp. While many people find the salt and pepper look appealing, others go to great lengths to conceal these locks.

The grey hair “rule of thumb” is that by the age of 50, half of the population have lost the colour in 50% of their hair. When researchers tested this rule, they found that 74% of people aged between 45 and 65 had grey hair, with an average intensity of 27%.

Generally, men have more grey hair than women. Asians and Africans have less grey hair than Caucasians.

What Determines The Colour Of Hair?

Hair colour is produced by cells known as melanocytes, which migrate into the hair bulb as the hair follicles develop in utero. The melanocytes produce pigment that is incorporated into the growing hair fibres to produce hair in a bewildering array of natural shades.

Hair colour depends on the presence and ratios of two groups of melanins: eumelanins (brown and black pigments) and pheomelanins (red and yellow pigments). While variations in the ratio of these pigments can produce an large number of colours and tones, siblings often have strikingly similar hair colour.

Hair colour varies according to body site, with eyelashes being darkest because they contain high levels of eumalanin. Scalp hair is usually lighter than pubic hair, which often has a red tinge, due to the presence of more phaeomelanin pigments. A red tinge is also common in underarm and beard hair, even in people with essentially brown hair on their scalp.

Hormones such as melanocyte-stimulating hormone can darken light hair, as can high levels of oestrogen and progesterone, which are produced in pregnancy. Certain drugs such as those to prevent malaria can lighten hair, while some epilepsy medications can darken it.

Siblings often have strikingly similar hair colour. hans905/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Blond children tend to see their hair darken around the age or seven or eight. The mechanism for this is unknown and probably not related to hormones, as the darkening precedes puberty by a number of years.

New parents often find the first coat of their baby’s hair is darker than expected. It is not until this first hair is shed and replaced, at around eight to 12 months of age, that you get a clear indication of their hair colour.

Growth

Human hair growth is cyclical. During the anagen phase, hair grows continuously at a rate of 1cm per month. Anagen can last three to five years on the scalp and produce hair that grows to between 36 to 60cm in length.

At the end of the anagen phase, the follicle turns off, hair growth stops and remains off for the three months. Towards the end of this resting (telogen) phase, the hair is shed and the follicle remains empty until the anagen phase of the cycle restarts.

Pigment production also turns on and off in rhythm with the hair cycle. When pigment cells turn off at the end of one hair cycle and fail to turn back on with the onset of the next, hair becomes grey.

Losing Colour

Genetic factors appear to be important in determining when we turn grey. Identical twins seem to go grey at a similar age, rate and pattern, however we’re yet to identify the controlling genes.

There is no evidence to link the onset of greying to stress, diet or lifestyle. Certain autoimmune diseases such as vitiligo and alopecia areata can damage pigment cells and induce greying. However, these conditions are uncommon and can explain only a tiny fraction of greying.

 

Don’t worry, stress won’t turn your hair grey. frankieleon/Flickr, CC BY

Early greying occurs in premature ageing syndromes such as Hutchinson’s-progeria andWerner syndrome, where every aspect ageing in the body is accelerated. Premature greying can also be seen in people affected by pernicious anaemia, autoimmune thyroid disease or Down syndrome.

So, why doesn’t pigment production turn back on?

At the end of each hair cycle, some pigment-producing melanocytes become damaged and die. If the melanocyte stem cell reservoir at the top of the hair follicle can replenish the bulb, this keeps pigment production going. But when the reservoir of stem cells is exhausted, pigment production stops and the hair turns grey.

Scientists have long known that in order to prevent hair from going grey they would need to either prolong the life of the melanocytes in the hair bulb – by protecting them from injury – or expand the melanocyte stem cell reservoir in the upper or top region of the hair follicle so they continue to replace lost pigment cells.

A group of French scientists have identified a new series of agents that protect hair follicle melanocytes from damage at the end of the hair cycle. This enables pigment production to restart as soon as the next hair cycle begins.

The agents work by mimicking the action of an enzyme called DOPAchrome tautomerase. This enzyme is the naturally occurring antioxidant in the hair bulb that protects melanocytes from oxidative damage. By duplicating the effects of DOPAchrome tautomerase, melanocyte metabolism and survival improves.

The new agents are being formulated into a product that can be applied as a spray-on serum or shampoo. But they won’t re-colour grey hair or bring back the dead cells that produce hair colour. Instead, they protect your melanocytes.

So for those who cannot find it within themselves to embrace the salt and pepper look, new options are on the horizon.

 
 

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A Sheriff And A Doctor Team Up To Map Childhood Trauma

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell (left) and Dr. Nancy Hardt, University of Florida.

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell (left) and Dr. Nancy Hardt, University of Florida.

Bryan Thomas for NPR

The University of Florida’s Dr. Nancy Hardt has an unusual double specialty: She’s both a pathologist and an OB-GYN. For the first half of her career, she brought babies into the world. Then she switched — to doing autopsies on people after they die.

It makes perfect sense to her.

“Birth, and death. It’s the life course,” Hardt explains.

A few years ago, Hardt says, she learned about someresearch that changed her view of how exactly that life course — health or illness — unfolds.

The research shows that kids who have tough childhoods — because of poverty, abuse, neglect, or witnessing domestic violence, for instance — are actually more likely to be sick when they grow up. They’re more likely to get diseases like asthma, diabetes and heart disease. And they tend to have shorter lives than people who haven’t experienced those difficult events as kids.

“I want to prevent what I’m seeing on the autopsy table,” Hardt says. “I’ve got to say, a lot of times, I’m standing there, going, ‘I don’t think this person had a very nice early childhood.’ ”

Back in 2008, Hardt was obsessing about this problem. She wanted to do something to intervene in the lives of vulnerable kids on a large scale, not just patient by patient.

Hardt’s Map Of Medicaid Births

The deep blue and red spot on the left shows the Gainesville area’s most dense concentration of babies born into poverty — to parents on Medicaid.

Medicaid birth map

So, by looking at Medicaid records, she made a map that showed exactly where Gainesville children were born into poverty. Block by block.

Right away she noticed something that surprised her: In the previous few years, in a 1-square-mile area in southwest Gainesville, as many as 450 babies were born to parents living below the poverty line.

It just didn’t make sense to her — that was an area she thought was all fancy developments and mansions.

So Hardt took her map of Gainesville, with the poverty “hotspot” marked in deep blue, and started showing it to people. She’d ask them, “What is this place? What’s going on over there?”

Eventually she brought the map to the CEO of her hospital, who told her she just had to show it to Alachua County’s sheriff, Sadie Darnell.

So Hardt did.

And, to Hardt’s surprise, Sheriff Darnell had a very interesting map of her own.

Darnell had a thermal map of high crime incidence. It showed that the highest concentration of crime in Gainesville was in a square-mile area that exactlyoverlaid Hardt’s poverty map.

“It was an amazing, ‘Aha’ moment,” says Darnell.

“We kind of blinked at each other,” Hardt says. “And — simultaneously — we said, ‘We’ve got to do something.’ ”

The hotspot is dotted with isolated, crowded apartment complexes with names like Majestic Oaks and Holly Heights. The first time she visited, on a ride-along with Sheriff Darnell’s deputies, Hardt tallied up all things that make it hard for kids here to grow up healthy.

Dr. Nancy Hardt's free "clinic on wheels," parked in December at an apartment complex in Gainesville, Fla., gets about 5,000 visits from patients each year.

Dr. Nancy Hardt’s free “clinic on wheels,” parked in December at an apartment complex in Gainesville, Fla., gets about 5,000 visits from patients each year.

Bryan Thomas for NPR

There’s a lot of poorly maintained subsidized housing. Tarps cover leaky roofs. Mold and mildew spread across stucco walls. Sherry French, a sergeant from the sheriff’s office, says lots of families here have trouble getting enough to eat.

Hardt added hunger to her list and substandard housing. And she noticed something else: almost a total lack of services, including medical care.

She mapped it out and determined that the closest place to get routine medical care if you’re uninsured — which many people here are — is the county health department. It’s almost a two-hour trip away by bus. Each way.

This was a problem a doctor like Hardt could tackle. She would bring medical care to the hotspot, by rustling up a very large donation: a converted Bluebird school bus, with two exam rooms inside.

Hardt organized a massive crew of volunteer doctors and medical students from the University of Florida, where she teaches, and raised the money to hire a driver and a full-time nurse.

The “clinic on wheels” first made it out to the hotspot in 2010, parking right inside one apartment complex there. Patients could walk in without an appointment and get treatment free of charge, approximating the experience of a house call. Today, the mobile clinic gets an average of 5,000 visits from patients per year, in under-served areas all over Gainesville.

Physician assistants and undergraduate care coordinators treat patients in the mobile clinic parked at Majestic Oaks, a low-income apartment complex in Gainesville.

Physician assistants and undergraduate care coordinators treat patients in the mobile clinic parked at Majestic Oaks, a low-income apartment complex in Gainesville.

Bryan Thomas for NPR

But the clinic is really just one piece of the puzzle.

Because after the day that Hardt and the sheriff matched up their maps, they kept digging into the data. And, a few years later, Hardt made some new maps. They showed that the crime in the hotspot included the highest concentration of domestic violence, child abuse and neglect in Gainesville.

Childhood Trauma Maps

The reddish pink spots on these maps of the Gaineseville area, indicate an increased density of reports of child abuse and neglect (top map) and domestic violence (bottom). Deep blue indicates the highest concentration.

two maps of crime

That revelation brought Dr. Hardt back to her original mission — to head off bad health outcomes in the most vulnerable kids. So she teamed up with Sheriff Darnell and other local groups and grass-roots organizers from the neighborhood. They collaborated to create the SWAG (Southwest Advocacy Group) Family Resource Center, right in the Linton Oaks apartment complex.

The SWAG Center opened in 2012. Kids can come play all day long. There’s a food pantry, free meals, a computer room, AA meetings. A permanent health clinic is slated to open up across the street next week.

All the resources here are designed to decrease the likelihood of abuse and neglect by strengthening families.

“I think we knew it intuitively — that health issues are associated with crime, [and] crime is associated with health issues and poverty,” Darnell says. “But seeing that direct connection literally on a map … it helped to break down a lot of walls.”

Child abuse and domestic violence are still serious problems, but there has been a small drop in the numbers of such calls over the past few years, according to the data.

Hardt says that investing in families and health now can help kids grow up healthy — and save money in the future.

“Conservatives or liberals, everybody gets that,” she says. “That we have limited resources and we need to really spend them wisely. I think the maps — the hotspot maps — just tell us policywise, where we need to be going and what we need to be doing.”

Hardt’s next goal is to make more people aware of the links between health and early education. Last summer, the county got a new superintendent of schools. Hardt has been to visit him three times already — maps in hand.


This story is part of the NPR series, What Shapes Health? The series explores social and environmental factors that affect health throughout life. It is inspired, in part, by findings in a poll released this month by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

 
 

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