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The 19th Century Illness That Struck Busy, Stressed-Out Americans

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, workaholics in America were said to be at risk for developing Americanitis, a dangerous illness unique to citizens of the land of the free and the home of the brave. It was thought that this disorder, a relative of neurasthenia, was caused by nervous exhaustion and was a direct product of “the hurry, bustle, and incessant drive of the American temperament,” according to psychiatrist William S. Sadler.

The term first popped up in the 1880s, and was most likely coined by a foreign professional; according to one medical journal published in 1882, it was an English researcher, although Annie Payson Paul, author of 1891’s Power Through Repose, claimed it was a German doctor. Either way, it didn't take long for it to become the diagnosis du jour.

There was some debate as to whether Americanitis was a disease, or was just a precursor to more serious health issues, such as heart attack and even insanity. But nearly all of the day’s experts blamed stress caused by the relentless pace of life in the U.S., which was only exacerbated by new technological advancements. Some pointed fingers at the proliferation of electric lights, which were said to have lengthened the workday. 

Most experts believed that the only cure was for sufferers to stop and smell the roses. Elbert Hubbard, a self-help author of the era, suggested his readers “cut down your calling list, play tag with the children, and let the world slide.” For those too busy to work the few hours a day Hubbard recommended, there were a number of medical treatments available too, including electrotherapy and elixirs such as Rexall’s “Americanitis Elixir,” and Neurosine, used to address the symptoms of Americanitis and other nervous issues. (Its active ingredient: cannabis.)

Famous sufferers included Theodore Roosevelt—who was sent on a retreat in the Badlands as part of his recovery—Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Jane Addams, and mogul Nelson Morris, who in 1907, was said to have died from Americanitis. The condition was most often seen in middle-aged men; in 1925, a writer for TIME claimed that the condition was responsible for taking 240,000 lives a year. 

By the time the Great Depression rolled around, however, Americanitis was no longer much of a concern. No work, after all, meant no stress about work. 

Wonder what the doctors of the day would have made of our iPhone addictions? 

[h/t: Smithsonian.com

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Sleeping In on Weekends May Help You Catch Up on Sleep After All
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Weekend mornings are a precious time for nine-to-fivers. If you spend your weekdays staying up long past reasonable bedtime hours and waking up with the Sun, you may be tempted to sleep past noon every day off you get. Sleeping in feels great, and now a new study from sleep scientists at Stockholm University's Stress Research Institute finds that it may also be an effective way to make up for the sleep you missed during the week, contradicting previously held beliefs on the matter.

According to most sleep researchers, the only way to catch up on sleep debt is to adjust your sleeping patterns gradually over time—in other words, cramming in all the sleep you missed last week into a night or two won't cut it. A team of scientists reexamined this theory for their study published in the Journal of Sleep Research [PDF]. Researchers looked at the sleep data from about 44,000 Swedish adults collected in 1997 and followed up with the participants 13 years later. Accounting for factors like age, gender, and education, they report that adults who consistently slept for five hours or fewer throughout the week were more likely to have died after those 13 years than subjects who slept for six or seven hours, seven days a week. Oversleeping every day of the week also put participants at a greater risk of mortality.

But there's good news for people who do all their sleeping in on the weekend—subjects who under-slept five days and slept more during the last two days of the week had no greater risk of death than the people who got healthy amounts of sleep every night of the week. The results call into question past sleep studies that have only looked at sleep patterns during the week, ignoring weekend behaviors. The new study, though, focuses just on the sleeping habits of people at a specific point in time. To confirm what these results suggest, more long-term studies will need to be conducted.

Earlier mortality isn't the only health risk associated with unsatisfactory sleep habits: Getting too little or poor-quality sleep can mess with your memory, appetite, and cognitive and motor performance. That means finding time to get a good night's sleep, no matter the day of the week (if you're lucky enough to have the option), is still the healthiest course of action.

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People With Type A Blood Are More Prone to Severe Diarrhea
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Bad news for people with type A blood who also love to eat at buffets: A new study spotted by Science News reveals that people with this particular blood type have a significantly higher risk of contracting severe diarrhea from a common bacterial pathogen.

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine discovered that a protein secreted by a strain of Escherichia coli latches onto sugar molecules that are only found within the blood cells and intestinal lining of people with type A blood.

For the study, 106 healthy volunteers drank water that contained a strain of the bacterium E. coli—one of the major causes of infectious diarrhea around the world. Only 56 percent of volunteers with blood types O and B contracted moderate to severe diarrhea, but 81 percent of volunteers with blood types A or AB fell ill. All participants were later given antibiotics.

Researchers say these findings, which were published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, could aid the development of an effective vaccine. Developing parts of the world are particularly susceptible to E. coli contamination, which causes millions of infections and hundreds of thousands of deaths each year, researchers note.

As anyone who has ever had "Delhi belly" can attest, this is also a concern for people who travel to developing regions. The main causes of E. coli infection are contaminated food and water, so it's wise to regularly wash your hands and avoid eating raw produce and undercooked beef while traveling.

[h/t Science News]

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