Study Finds Hot Baths May Be as Effective as Exercise in Helping Depression

iStock.com/karelnoppe
iStock.com/karelnoppe

Though some dermatologists believe showers can be better for your skin by helping it to retain some naturally occurring oils, baths are still symbolic of relaxation. Luxuriating in standing water provides a break in routine and allows people to unwind.

Now, scientists may have found evidence that there’s a more substantial benefit to bathing: It might actually help alleviate depression.

In a study [PDF] out of Freiburg University in Germany and published by the preprint repository bioRxiv, 45 subjects with moderate to severe depression as measured by the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D) were instructed to either exercise for 45 minutes twice each week or take 30-minute hot baths (at 104°F) and then relax with hot water bottles and a warm blanket for 20 minutes twice a week. The subjects were then retested with HAM-D after eight weeks. Those who bathed reported a six-point drop in their score, which averaged 21.7 on a scale of 1 to 50 at the outset. Exercise patients saw only a three-point drop.

There are some significant caveats to this study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed. In addition to the sample size being small, 13 of the 23 people assigned to the exercise group failed to complete the study because they were unable or unwilling to continue physical activity.

Some researchers suggest that soaking can address one's mood by helping to normalize a person’s body temperature and circadian rhythms, which help regulate the sleep-wake cycle. (The hot water bottles provided a continued spike in body temperature.) A 2017 study led by the University of Madison-Wisconsin demonstrated that regularly raising a individual's core temperature to 101.3°F led to a 4.27-point reduction in the HAM-D score after six weeks (though the findings from the small-scale study were controversial).

While it’s too early to conclude whether hot baths should be a prescription for depression, or that their benefits are equal to those of exercise, they have almost no side effects and are likely to result in more adherence than an exercise regimen.

[h/t New Scientist]

Bombshell, Victoria’s Secret’s Bestselling Fragrance, Also Happens to Repel Mosquitoes

Dids, Pexels
Dids, Pexels

People love Bombshell, the best-selling fragrance at Victoria’s Secret, for its summery blend of fruity and floral notes. Not everyone is a huge fan, though: As Quartz reports, the perfume is surprisingly good at warding off mosquitoes. In fact, it’s almost as effective as DEET insect repellent, according to the results of a 2014 experiment by researchers at New Mexico State University.

Researchers took 10 products that are commercially available and tested their ability to repel two different species of mosquitoes: the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), both of which are known to transmit diseases like dengue fever, chikungunya, and yellow fever. In doing so, volunteers subjected their own flesh to the test by placing their hands on either side of a Y-shaped tube containing the blood-sucking critters. One hand was covered in a synthetic rubber glove, while the other hand was sprayed with one of the products but otherwise left bare. Researchers recorded which tunnel the mosquitoes flew to, and how long they avoided the other end.

Three of the products contained DEET, while four products didn’t. In addition, there were two fragrances (including Bombshell) and one vitamin B1 skin patch. The DEET products were the most effective, but Bombshell proved to be nearly as good, keeping mosquitoes at bay for roughly two hours.

“There was some previous literature that said fruity, floral scents attracted mosquitoes, and to not wear those,” Stacy Rodriquez, one of the study’s authors, said in a statement. “It was interesting to see that the mosquitoes weren’t actually attracted to the person that was wearing the Victoria’s Secret perfume—they were repelled by it.”

This isn’t the first time a perfume has had an unintended effect on the natural world. It turns out that tigers are obsessed with Calvin Klein’s Obsession for Men cologne, partly because it contains a synthetic version of civetone, a pheromone that's secreted by glands located near a civet’s anus. This substance was once used to create musky fragrances, but nowadays the scent is mostly reproduced in a lab. Still, the fake stuff must be pretty convincing, because big cats go crazy when they catch a whiff of it.

[h/t Quartz]

Mystery Solved: Scientists Have Figured Out Why Some Squirrels Are Black

Rena-Marie/iStock via Getty Images
Rena-Marie/iStock via Getty Images

It can be something of a surprise to see an animal sporting a fresh coat of paint. Blue lobsters occasionally surface after being caught in traps. A pink dolphin was spotted in Louisiana in 2007 (and several times since). In the Chinese province of Shaanxi, a cute brown and white panda greets zoo visitors.

Another anomalous animal has joined their ranks. Black squirrels have been spotted in both the United States and the UK, and now scientists believe they know why.

Like many animals with unusual color schemes, black squirrels are the result of a genetic detour. Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge University, and the Virginia Museum of Natural History collaborated on a project that tested squirrel DNA. Their findings, which were published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, demonstrated that the black squirrel is the product of interspecies breeding between the common gray squirrel and the fox squirrel. The black squirrel is actually a gray squirrel with a faulty pigment gene carried over from the fox squirrel that turns their fur a darker shade. (Some fox squirrels, which are usually reddish-brown, are also black.)

A black squirrel is pictured
sanches12/iStock via Getty Images

Scientists theorize a black fox squirrel may have joined in on a mating chase involving gray squirrels and got busy with a female. The black fur may offer benefits in colder regions, with squirrels able to absorb and retain more heat, giving them a slight evolutionary edge.

In North America, black squirrels are uncommon, with one estimate putting them at a rate of one in every 10,000 squirrels. In 1961, students at Kent State University in Ohio released 10 black squirrels that had been captured by Canadian wildlife authorities. The squirrels now populate the campus and have become the school’s unofficial mascot. Their coloring might help them hide from predators, which might come in handy at Kent State: The campus is also home to hawks.

[h/t The Guardian]

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