Health & Science
The science of humor
Comedians are funnier than the rest of us because they switch to a different part of their brains when they’re coming up with jokes, reports MedicalDaily.com. A team at the University of Southern California asked a group of professional and amateur comedians to come up with two captions— one funny, the other ordinary—for a New Yorker cartoon. They performed brain scans on the comedians as they performed this written task, and later had an outside panel rate each caption for humor. The researchers found that the experienced comedians had increased activity in their temporal lobe, a part of the brain involved with language, processing abstract information, and connecting feelings to events or objects. Those who weren’t as funny had more activity in their medial prefrontal cortex, the brain region responsible for complex planning and decision making. “The more experience you have doing comedy,” explains study leader Ori Amir, “the more you rely on your spontaneous associations.”
Cancers striking earlier
Rates of colon and rectal cancers have dropped significantly among older people since the mid-1980s, but there has been a surprising rise in the prevalence of the diseases among young adults. A new study by the American Cancer Society found that people born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer compared with 27-year-olds in 1977. “Every generation after 1950 has a little bit higher risk,” the study’s lead author, Rebecca Siegel, tells NBCNews.com. “The largest increases are in people in their 20s.” Siegel and her colleagues were unable to establish a cause for this worrisome rise, but they note it has coincided with the growing obesity epidemic and might be related to poor diets. Colon cancer is much less likely to be detected at an early stage in younger people, since colonoscopy, the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening, is usually administered to people 50 and over. In addition, symptoms of colon cancer, such as bloody stool and constipation, are often vague and may not appear right away.
Eat produce, live longer
People striving to improve their health by eating more fresh produce may want to double down on their efforts. After analyzing 95 studies on diet and well-being, researchers from Imperial College London have concluded that we should be aiming to eat 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, rather than the five portions recommended by the World Health Organization. They found that daily consumption of 28 ounces of fresh produce was associated with a 33 percent reduced risk of stroke, a 13 percent drop incancer risk, and a 31 percent lower risk for premature death. “Fruit and vegetables have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and to boost the health of our blood vessels and immune system,” the study’s lead author, Dagfinn Aune, tells TheGuardian.com. These benefits may be linked to valuable nutrients found in fresh produce, such as fiber, glucosinolates, and antioxidants, which can help prevent DNA damage.
Health scare of the week
Unhealthy dietary fads
People are trying all sorts of dietary changes to improve their health, but many of these fads may do more harm than good. Researchers from several U.S. institutions reviewed 25 studies, covering tens of thousands of people over 40 years. They concluded that the most effective diet for reducing the risk of heart disease is one high in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and seeds—and very low in sodium, added sugars, refined grains, and fats. But they warned that people should be wary of certain nutrition fads. Coconut oil, an increasingly popular alternative to olive oil, is loaded with artery-clogging saturated fat. Juicing fruit and vegetables can remove valuable fiber and other nutrients. And there is no evidence that avoiding gluten helps with weight loss—in fact, gluten-free foods are often higher in processed carbohydrates than whole grains. “If you are glutensensitive, allergic, or have celiac disease, you should avoid gluten,” Andrew Freeman, lead author of the review, tells ABCNews.com. “Otherwise, gluten is not necessarily the enemy.” ■