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April 19, 2019

Weekend reads: Your food cravings, explained

Daily Briefing

    Ben Palmer's reads

    The 'epidemic' that swept through France in the late 19th century? We call it 'wanderlust.' Today we call it "wanderlust," but in the late-19th to early-20th century, it was known as "pathological tourism," or dromomania—and it could land people in police custody or a mental institution, Sabrina Imbler writes for Atlas Obscura. The "epidemic," as Imbler calls it, was especially bad in France from 1886 to 1909, when dozens of men found themselves wandering around Europe "in dissociative fugue states, crossing borders and even continents with no apparent destination in mind." However, the idea of dromomania as a pathological illness ended after about a quarter century, with the rise of stricter borders in Europe and changes in psychiatry, among other developments.

    A 3-step guide to make public bathrooms less gross. Public restrooms can bring relief, so to speak, but also disgust. Thankfully, there are a handful of things you can do to limit your germ exposure, Melinda Wenner Moyer writes for the New York Times. First, pick one of the end stalls, as a 1995 study found that middle stalls are the most commonly used. Second, don't worry about the toilet seat. The only way you're going to catch something from a toilet seat is if the germs from the seat get into your bloodstream via an open cut on your rear end, Moyer writes. Still, if you're grossed out by the seat, wipe it down with an alcohol-based wipe before you sit, according to David Jay Weber, an epidemiologist and physician at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina. And most important of all—wash your hands every time you use a public restroom.

    Danielle Poindexter's reads

    Can porcupines help heal wounds? Surgeons have been using metal surgical staples for decades, and while they are easy to insert, they have to be bent to stay in place, which can damage tissue. Now, some surgeons are looking to porcupines for a solution. Porcupines are covered with hollow, 2-inch long quills, which have microscopic barbs on the tip. The barbs make it nearly impossible for predators to remove the porcupine quill, but they also make insertion smoother. Jeff Karp, a bioengineer at Brigham and Women's Hospital performed an experiment using the quills and found that, compared with metal staples, the quills' design is such that they would damage tissue less when inserted. In a few years, Karp hopes to test biodegradable staples modeled after the quills—with two barbed ends—that would dissolve over time, requiring no removal. "This could be an enabler for smaller incisions to be made in a large number of surgeries," Karp said.

    You food cravings, explained. Samantha Cassetty, a registered dietician, explains why we crave ice cream over celery, and debunks popular myths about food cravings. For one, Cassetty notes there's actually little evidence to support the theory that cravings are related to nutrient deficiencies. According to Cassetty, "cravings are partly driven by nature and partly by nurture." On the physiological side of things, we are more likely to crave processed foods because they trigger reward circuitry in our brains more than unprocessed foods. But in a lot of cases, food cravings are "a learned response," Cassetty writes. For instance, if you and your family established a tradition to have pizza every Friday night, you might carry that habit—and the craving that comes with it—into adulthood, because "deep down inside … you've paired pizza with Friday," according to Cassetty. 

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