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? 


Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows

We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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Not Sure About Your Tap Water? Here's How to Test for Contaminants

In the wake of Flint, Michigan's water crisis, you may have begun to wonder: Is my tap water safe? How would I know? To put your mind at ease—or just to satisfy your scientific curiosity—you can find out exactly what's in your municipal water pretty easily, as Popular Science reports. Depending on where you live, it might even be free.

A new water quality test called Tap Score, launched on Kickstarter in June 2017, helps you test for the most common household water contaminants for $120 per kit. You just need to take a few samples, mail them to the lab, and you'll get the results back in 10 days, telling you about lead levels, copper and cadmium content, arsenic, and other common hazardous materials that can make their way into water via pipes or wells. If you're mostly worried about lead, you can get a $40 test that only tells you about the lead and copper content of your water.

In New York State, a free lead-testing program will send you a test kit on request that allows you to send off samples of your water to a state-certified lab for processing, no purchase required. A few weeks later, you'll get a letter with the results, telling you what kind of lead levels were found in your water. This option is great if you live in New York, but if your state doesn't offer free testing (or only offers it to specific locations, like schools), there are other budget-friendly ways to test, too.

While mailing samples of your water off to a certified lab is the most accurate way to test your water, you can do it entirely at home with inexpensive strip tests that will only set you back $10 to $15. These tests aren't as sensitive as lab versions, and they don't test for as many contaminants, but they can tell you roughly whether you should be concerned about high levels of toxic metals like lead. The strip tests will only give you positive or negative readings, though, whereas the EPA and other official agencies test for the concentration of contaminants (the parts-per-billion) to determine the safety of a water source. If you're truly concerned with what's in your water, you should probably stick to sending your samples off to a professional, since you'll get a more detailed report of the results from a lab than from a colored strip.

In the future, there will likely be an even quicker way to test for lead and other metals—one that hooks up to your smartphone. Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old from Colorado, won the 2017 Young Scientist Challenge by inventing Tethys, a faster lead-testing device than what's currently on the market. With Tethys, instead of waiting for a lab, you can get results instantly. It's not commercially available yet, though, so for now, we'll have to stick with mail-away options.

[h/t Popular Science]


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