Health & Science
Flamingos’ balancing act
Biologists have long wondered how flamingos can stand on one leg for so long. Now researchers may have an answer: The birds have a unique anatomy that makes the posture almost effortless. Young-Hui Chang of Georgia Tech and Lena Ting of Emory University had several baby flamingos stand on a force plate, which measure the body’s sway as it maintains stability. They found that when the birds fell asleep on one leg, they actually swayed less than they did on two. In a separate experiment, the researchers held up a flamingo cadaver by one of its shins. To their surprise, the limb locked into place and the dead bird could stand upright unaided—something it couldn’t do on two legs. “It was a light-bulb moment,” Chang tells The Washington Post. “We weren’t expecting it to be stable.” The pair concluded that whereas humans use muscles to balance on one leg, the flamingo’s unusual skeletal and muscular systems essentially let gravity do all the work. It remains unclear why they stand on one leg, however. Chang and Ting posit that it is to reduce “muscular energy expenditure.” But other researchers believe flamingos may stand on one leg to preserve heat, by keeping their non-standing limb out of water.
Alzheimer’s deaths surging
The number of people dying from Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. has soared 55 percent over the past 15 years, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The incurable neurodegenerative condition, which ultimately results in the loss of critical brain function, claimed the lives of 93,541 Americans in 2014, up from 44,536 in 1999. Scientists believe several factors are contributing to this troubling trend, including an aging population, greater longevity, improved diagnoses, and an increased willingness among doctors to identify Alzheimer’s as a cause of death. The CDC notes that more Alzheimer’s patients are dying at home, suggesting the burden of the disease is weighing more heavily on loved ones and personal caregivers, reports NBCNews.com. “As the number of older Americans with the disease rises,” says CDC Acting Director Anne Schuchat, “more family members are taking on the emotionally and physically challenging role of caregiver than ever before.” Alzheimer’s currently affects 5.5 million Americans. The CDC projects that by 2050 some 13.8 million people age 65 and older will be diagnosed with the debilitating disorder.
Fiber prevents knee arthritis
Dietitians often extol the myriad digestive benefits associated with a high-fiber diet. Now new research suggests that eating more nuts, legumes, fruit, whole grains, and other fiberrich foods could also reduce inflammation and the risk for osteoarthritis of the knee. An international team of researchers analyzed data from two longterm studies that tracked the diet, lifestyle, and overall joint health of about 6,000 people. The first study found that people who ate an average of about 21 grams of fiber each day had a 30 percent lower risk for knee osteoarthritis than those who ate less than 9 grams. The second found that those who consumed nearly 26 grams of fiber daily had a 61 percent lower risk for the disease than those who ate less than 14 grams a day. “Increasing dietary fiber is one of the most economical ways to reduce the pain of knee osteoarthritis,” lead author Zhaoli Dai tells The New York Times. “And there are a lot of other benefits as well: reduced weight, reduced cardiovascular risk, and reduced diabetes risk.”
Health scare of the week
The downsides of secrets
Keeping secrets can lead to stress, sleep loss, and other unhealthy consequences, new research suggests. Psychologists at Columbia Business School asked 1,200 Americans online, and 312 in person, about their secrets. Participants admitted to keeping an average of 13 things to themselves—such as thoughts of infidelity, sexual fantasies, and betrayals of trust— including five about which they’d never told anyone. But the researchers found that they spent twice as much time dwelling on their secrets in private than they did actively concealing them from others—and that the more often people ruminated on their secrets, the less healthy they said they were. “Secrets exert a gravitational pull on our attention,” study co-author Malia Mason tells MedicalDaily.com. “It’s the cyclical revisiting of our mistakes that explains the harmful effects that secrets can have on our well-being and relationship satisfaction.”