Research Suggests Loneliness Is As Bad for You as Smoking Nearly a Pack of Cigarettes a Day

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iStock

Humans are social animals. That means that our friendships, family, and other social networks are not just pleasures; they're also essential to our survival. New research presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association finds that loneliness and isolation may be bigger public health issues than previously realized.

"Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need—crucial to both well-being and survival," psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University said in a statement.

"Extreme examples show infants in custodial care who lack human contact fail to thrive and often die, and indeed, social isolation or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment."

A 2010 AARP study of adults aged 45 and up found that more than one-third of respondents felt lonely, and that loneliness and poor health went hand in hand.

To quantify the impact of loneliness and isolation, Holt-Lunstad conducted two separate meta-analyses of the scientific literature, reviewing a total of 218 studies. Her first analysis found that higher social connectedness is linked to as much as a 50 percent decrease in risk of early death.

The second, which included data from more than 3.4 million people in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, suggests that social isolation, loneliness, and living alone can be as bad for a person's health as other common risks. (The AARP study also concluded that prolonged isolation carries the same health risks as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.)

"There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators," Holt-Lunstad said.

"With an increasing aging population, the effect on public health is only anticipated to increase. Indeed, many nations around the world now suggest we are facing a 'loneliness epidemic.' The challenge we face now is what can be done about it."

To combat loneliness, experts recommend strengthening existing relationships, scheduling regular phone dates with friends, and signing up to volunteer or otherwise help build community.

Carla Perissinotto is a geriatrician and researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. "Maintaining connections, that touchy-feely thing, is actually really important," she told NPR. "It's hard to measure, it's hard to quantify, but there is something real."

This Smart Mug Alerts You When You've Had Too Much Caffeine

Ember
Ember

Since 2010, Ember has been giving perfectionists ultimate control over their morning coffee. Their travel mug lets you set the preferred temperature of your drink down to the degree when you're on the go, and their ceramic cup allows you to do the same in the office or at home. Now, in addition to telling you how hot your beverage is at all times, Ember lets you know how much caffeine you're consuming through Apple's Health app, CNET reports.

Ember's new feature takes advantage of the same Bluetooth technology that lets you control the temperature of you drink from your smartphone. Beginning October 17, you can connect your Ember vessel to your Apple device to keep track of what you're drinking. If you drink all your tea and coffee from an Ember mug, the Health app should be able to give you a rough estimate of your daily caffeine intake.

Ember wasn't originally designed to measure caffeine content, but its built-in sensors allow it do so. In order to maintain a constant temperature, the mug needs to know whether it's full or empty, and exactly how much liquid it's holding at any given time. The feature also gives you the option to preset your serving size within the app if you drink the same amount of coffee everyday. And if you like to drink specific beverages at their recommended temperatures, the mug can guess what type of drink it's holding based on how hot it is.

The new caffeine-calculating feature from Ember is especially useful for coffee addicts: If the mug senses you've exceeded your recommended caffeine intake for the day, it will alert you on your phone. Here are some energizing caffeine alternatives to keep that from happening.

[h/t CNET]

What You Need to Know About Acute Flaccid Myelitis, the Polio-Like Disease That's Spreading in Kids

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iStock.com/Sasiistock

The rapid spread of a polio-like disease across the U.S. is causing concern within the medical community. Since the start of 2018, there have been 127 reported cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), with 62 of those cases confirmed in 22 states, NBC reports. Unlike polio, there's no vaccine for AFM, and doctors aren't entirely sure what causes it or how it spreads. Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging people to educate themselves on the condition.

AFM is a disease that attacks the gray matter of the victim's spinal cord, which can cause serious damage to the central nervous system. Symptoms like muscle weakness, facial drooping, limb paralysis, and trouble swallowing or slurred speech can manifest quickly and require immediate medical attention. There is no specific way to treat the disease or reverse its effects, but physical therapy can help some victims regain mobility.

The condition usually develops following a viral infection, such as enterovirus and West Nile virus, but there's no one virus is linked to AFM. Environmental toxins and autoimmune diseases can also trigger it.

Acute flaccid myelitis has been on the rise since 2014, and the CDC expects to see a higher-than-average number of cases this year. The department isn't sure of what's causing the spike, but even with incidents on the rise, the disease is still incredibly rare. It affects mostly children under age 19, and kids younger than 4 account for most of the cases. The chances of a kid contracting the infection in the U.S. are less than one in 1 million.

To protect yourself and your children against AFM, the CDC recommends following general good health practices. Stay up-to-date on your vaccines, avoid mosquitos, and wash your hands regularly and thoroughly to ward off viruses.

[h/t NBC]

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