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Sorting through the year's health advice
Some of the things they said were good for us and some of the things we were told to avoid.
 

Some of the things they said were good for us ...

Magnets really do have healing power. This year, scientists demonstrated the ability of a magnetic field to increase blood flow and to reduce swelling. When treated with magnets about 10 times stronger than the ones on your fridge, tiny blood vessels near an injury dilate, allowing for faster healing. It’s possible, some researchers say, to treat your bumps and bruises with a magnet instead of an ice pack.

Political involvement boosts your brainpower. “As we listen to the candidates and think about what is being said, the brain processes the information, which grows neural connections,” says neuro-pharmacologist John Roache. If you watched the presidential debates, your brain got as much exercise as it would have working a math problem—especially if you really cared which candidate won. “The greater levels of emotion or commitment further enhance the brain processes,” says Roache.

Charity isn’t just good for the world, it’s good for your mood and self-esteem. Studies in the lab and public surveys find that spending cash on others makes you feel better about yourself and life in general than spending it selfishly does. Regular charity works better than a once-a-year contribution. When giving “becomes a way of living,” says social psychologist Elizabeth Dunn, “then it could make a lasting difference.”
 
Fasting can help cancer patients undergoing chemo. A restrictive diet in the days leading up to chemo, researchers found, can help the drugs distinguish between cancer cells and regular body cells, making the drugs more effective and lessening the nasty side effects. Forgoing food for a short time also was found to help a less serious condition: jet lag. Research shows that when you don’t eat before and during an overnight flight, it suspends your body’s sense of time. Once you land and eat a big breakfast, you reset your body’s clock.

Peer pressure could save your life. A Harvard study found that when people quit smoking, they tend to do it in groups. When a few people within a social circle decide that smoking is uncool, suddenly the remaining smokers are outcasts. “Smokers used to be the center of the party, but now they’ve become wallflowers,” says Dr. Nicholas Christakis. Most lagging addicts quickly fall in line to avoid being ostracized.

Bottling up your feelings is actually a useful strategy for getting over a traumatic event. For some people, studies found, pushing away memories of an awful experience is more therapeutic than talking it out. “We should be telling people there is likely nothing wrong if they do not want to express their thoughts and feelings,’’ says psychologist Mark Seery. “They can cope quite successfully and are likely to be better off.”

Magic mushrooms might just make you a happier, more spiritual person. Researchers at Johns Hopkins found that years after taking the hallucinogenic drug psilocybin in an experiment, subjects were still affected by their experience, during which they felt a profound connection to everyone and everything. Sixty-one percent felt that they were better people—more loving, open, and sensitive. “There was this sense of relief and joy and ecstasy when my heart was opened,’’ explained one volunteer.

Reading celebrity magazines need not be a guilty pleasure. Keeping up with the lives of your favorite movie stars, musicians, athletes, and other famous people, researchers found, can actually boost your self-esteem. “Because people form bonds in their mind with their favorite celebrities, they are able to assimilate the celebrity’s characteristics in themselves and feel better about themselves,’’ says study author Shira Gabriel. This is only true, however, if celebrity-watching is a part-time hobby, not an obsession.
 
Good smells give you pleasant dreams. Even in deep sleep, the world around you can flavor your dream world. German researchers have found that a bouquet of flowers or lavender lotion at bedtime can help your brain to manufacture beautiful dreamscapes. 

White wine is finally getting the credit it deserves. Though red wine has gotten all the accolades, white wine is just as good for your heart. White wine is made from the pulp of the grape, not the skin, but it contains the same heart-protective chemicals. “The flesh of the grape can do the same job as the skin,” says molecular biologist Dipak Das. “We can safely say that one to two glasses of white wine per day works exactly like red wine.’’

... and some of the things we were told to avoid.

Cell phone radiation isn’t as harmless as you might think, a new group of studies has concluded. Preliminary results from an international study show some correlation between long-term cell phone use and brain tumors, prompting a cancer researcher to warn staffers to limit their cell phone use. “I find the old adage ‘better to be safe than sorry’ to be very apt to this situation,’’ said Ronald Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. 

Sushi is packed with poisonous mercury, said two alarming studies of Japanese restaurants in New York and L.A. Though nobody—especially pregnant women and children—should be eating sushi more than once a week, sushi made from bluefin tuna is the most dangerous. Being large, predatory, and long-lived, these fish accumulate more mercury in their flesh than do other species.

Double dipping your chip into a communal bowl of dip isn’t just uncool, it’s downright unsanitary. A Seinfeld-inspired study found that double dipping can transfer up to 10,000 bacteria from a partygoer’s mouth to the salsa or guacamole bowl. “Before you have some dip at a party,” says study author Paul Dawson, “look around and ask yourself, Would I be willing to kiss everyone here?”

Artificial sweeteners may assuage your guilt, but they’re not making you any thinner. When you taste something sweet, researchers found, your brain preps your body for a big intake of calories. When your blood doesn’t receive the sugar rush that your tongue promised, your brain sends out hunger signals to try to get those calories back. In the end, you end up eating more calories than you would have if you had just ordered that regular Coke. 

Botox can leak from its original injection site, causing paralysis and even death, the FDA warned. Botox users who experience slurred speech, muscle weakness, breathing problems, or difficulty swallowing should seek medical help immediately. 

Gymnastics is as dangerous a sport for young people as ice hockey or football. More than 27,000 young gymnasts are injured every year, and bad falls can cause broken limbs, paralysis, and death. “Most people don’t realize that gymnastics can be such a dangerous sport,” says Dr. Lara B. McKenzie. 

Sex in the city
might be a bad idea. A study this year found that one in four New Yorkers is infected with genital herpes. Though herpes itself is treatable and not terribly harmful, the virus can lead to bigger health problems. “Genital herpes alone will not cause serious problems for most people,” says researcher Julia Schillinger, “but some people will have painful genital sores, and the infection fosters the spread of HIV.”

Detox diets are a terrible health fad. The body gets rid of poisons on its own, and researchers warn that trying to “detoxify’’ or “cleanse” with liquid diets or weird supplements is a quick way to end up in a hospital. Geoff Page of Britain knows this firsthand: His wife, after trying to “detox” with too much water, ended up with permanent brain damage. “Her life has been seriously affected, perhaps ruined, by this fad-type way of losing weight.”

Abstinence can ruin your big day. Researchers have found that regular sex (with a partner) helps to soothe the body in stress situations. When giving a big presentation or enduring a critical evaluation, abstinent people experienced a jump in blood pressure much greater than the increase experienced by sexually active examinees. The hormones released during intercourse, researchers said, can soothe the body’s stress reactions for days afterward.
 
Incense is hazardous to your health. Singapore researchers have found that people who used incense every day for decades are at a greater risk for cancers of the upper airway.

Sexy models make everyone feel lousy about themselves. New research shows that it’s not just women who get depressed over sexy pictures of unattainable female bodies. Looking at photos of models in bikinis in magazines such as Maxim and FHM made men feel unworthy of such beauties, and therefore inadequate and lonely.

 

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