October 4, 2019

Weekend reads: It might be time for Americans to end their 'uneasy relationship' with kale

Daily Briefing

    Ben Palmer's reads

    Optimism might be good for your heart. Being optimistic might reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and early death, according to a meta-analysis published in JAMA Network Open. For the analysis, researchers assessed 15 studies measuring participants' levels of optimism and pessimism with questions about whether they expected good or bad things to happen to them. Of the 15 studies, 10 also factored in heart disease and found that optimists had a 35% lower risk of cardiovascular events than pessimists. Meanwhile, nine of the 15 studies looked at all-cause mortality and found that optimists also had a 14% lower risk of premature death than pessimists. According to Alan Rozanski—a professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, who led the study—said of the findings, "It seems optimists have better health behaviors," are more likely to exercise and have a healthy diet, and "have less inflammation and fewer metabolic abnormalities."

    Does alcohol affect sperm? While research has largely focused on how women's alcohol consumption before or during pregnancy may affect an infant's health, a new study in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology finds that prospective fathers' drinking habits may also play a role. Researchers in the study found that when compared to men who did not drink, men who drank during the three months before conception were 44% more likely to have a baby born with congenital heart diseases—and men who were binge drinkers were 53% more likely to have a baby with a congenital heart defect. As for women, those who drank or binge-drank before conception had a 16% higher risk of having a baby with a congenital heart defect than non-drinkers, the researchers found.

    Danielle Poindexter's reads

    Do Americans really like kale? People used to be crazy for kale, but Google Trends data show that the vegetable may be part of a dying trend. Kale, a symbol of "health consciousness" since 2011, became America's favorite cooked green in 2014, Amanda Mull writes for the Atlantic, but interest in the vegetable has declined since. Now, kale has half the search popularity as it did in 2014, and 8 million fewer pounds of kale were sold in America in 2017 compared to 2016. So, what's with the decline in popularity? While kale has a lot of good qualities including fiber, protein, and a reasonable amount of vitamins A, C, and K, the green is also tough to chew and requires a lot of preparation. According to Mull, the findings suggest that Americans have an "uneasy relationship" with kale, which they consider to be so nutrient-rich that it's comparable to taking a vitamin or flossing, "something [they] know is supposed to be good for them, but that's still annoying and unpleasant"—and potentially unnecessary. Mull explains that because "pretty much all dark, leafy greens have strong nutrient profiles…there's little reason to privilege one over all the others."  

    What training does to athletes' brains. Overtraining can tire athletes' brains, according to a study of triathletes published in the journal Current Biology. For the study, 37 male triathletes participated in a special training program. Half of the athletes were told to continue their workouts as usual, while the others were told to over-train by increasing their weekly training by 40%. The researchers found that after three weeks, athletes who were told to over-train were more likely to choose immediate gratification over long-term rewards. Brain scans of these athletes' brains also revealed decreased activity in the part of the brain involved in decision making. For instance, when asked if they would prefer $10 now or $60 in six months, the over-trained athletes were more likely to choose the $10. These findings could explain why some athletes see a decline in their performance after training too much, Jon Hamilton writes for NPR. 
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