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Do I Really Need to Take Vitamins?

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You’ve heard about the health-bolstering powers of things like vitamin C, vitamin D, and calcium (and, if you grew up in the '90s, were likely fed a chalky Flintstones vitamin along with your Corn Flakes). Your body needs vitamins; there’s no doubt about that. But do you need to take vitamins and other supplements? That depends.

Americans are definitely on the vitamin bandwagon: More than half of us take at least one supplement. But most of us probably don’t need them, researchers say. “It’s possible to get all of the nutrients you need by eating a variety of healthy foods,” registered dietitian Carol Haggans told the National Institutes of Health's newsletter in 2013.

Speaking broadly, she’s right. Your body is better able to absorb nutrients from food than it is from pills, and a balanced diet can provide most people with all the vitamins and minerals they need. But there are exceptions:

  • People with dietary restrictions: Maybe you’re a vegan for philosophical reasons, or you’re lactose intolerant, or you have celiac disease. Cutting out any large food group can create nutrient deficiencies if you’re not careful to fill in the gaps.
  • Women who are pregnant or want to become pregnant: Prenatal vitamins are specially formulated with high levels of iron and folic acid to support a healthy pregnancy.
  • People who have absorption issues: Some people’s bodies just can’t take in all the nutrients they need from food. If blood tests show low nutrient levels, you may benefit from supplements.

That list of exceptions used to include older women, who need more calcium than men and younger people. But recent studies have cast some doubt on the wisdom of universally recommending calcium supplements. Like any vitamin or mineral, calcium in high doses can start more problems than it solves.

So do you, personally, need to take vitamins? There are only two people who can answer that: you and your doctor. Call your physician before starting or stopping any supplement (even those marketed as “natural”) to be sure it’s a safe choice for you.

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    Interactive Chart Tells You How Long It Takes to Get Frostbite
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    For many people, winter means dry skin and high heating bills. But if you find yourself outdoors in the right conditions, it can also mean frostbite. Frostbite occurs when the skin and the tissue beneath it freezes, causing pain, loss of sensation, or worse. It's easier to contract than you may think, even if you don't live in the Siberian tundra. To see if frostbite poses a threat where you live, check out this chart spotted by Digg.

    The chart, developed by Pooja Gandhi and Adam Crahen using National Weather Service data, looks at three factors: wind speed, air temperature, and time spent outdoors. You can hover your cursor over data-points on the table to see how long you'd need to be exposed to certain wind chills for your skin tissue to freeze. If the wind chill is -22°F, for example (10°F air temperature with 5 mph winds), it would take 31 minutes of being outside before frostbite sets in. You can also look at the time scale above the chart to calculate it a different way. If you bring your cursor to the 40-minute mark, a window will tell that frostbite becomes a risk after exposure to -17°F wind chill for that amount of time. You can play with the interactive table at Tableau Public.

    Chart of cold weather conditions.
    Adam Crahen, Pooja Gandhi

    If you can't avoid being outside in extreme wind and cold, there are a few steps you can take to keep your skin protected. Wear lots of layers, including multiple socks, and wrap your face with a scarf or face mask before venturing into the cold. Also, remember to stay hydrated. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, drinking at least one glass of water before going outside decreases your risk of contracting frostbite.

    [h/t Digg]

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    REM-Fit
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    Stop Your Snoring and Track Your Sleep With a Wi-Fi Smart Pillow
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    REM-Fit

    Everyone could use a better night's rest. The CDC says that only 66 percent of American adults get as much sleep as they should, so if you're spending plenty of time in bed but mostly tossing and turning (or trying to block out your partner's snores), it may be time to smarten up your sleep accessories. As TechCrunch reports, the ZEEQ Smart Pillow improves your sleeping schedule in a multitude of ways, whether you're looking to quiet your snores or need a soothing lullaby to rock you to sleep.

    After a successful Kickstarter in 2016, the product is now on sale and ready to get you snoozing. If you're a snorer, the pillow has a microphone designed to listen to the sound of your snores and softly vibrate so that you shift positions to a quieter pose. Accelerometers in the pillow let the sleep tracker know how much you're moving around at night, allowing it to record your sleep stages. Then, you can hook the pillow up to your Amazon Echo or Google Home so that you can have your favorite smart assistant read out the pillow's analysis of your sleep quality and snoring levels the next morning.

    The pillow is also equipped with eight different wireless speakers that turn it into an extra-personal musical experience. You can listen to soothing music while you fall asleep, either connecting the pillow to your Spotify or Apple Music account on your phone via Bluetooth or using the built-in relaxation programs. You can even use it to listen to podcasts without disturbing your partner. You can set a timer to turn the music off after a certain period so you don't wake up in the middle of the night still listening to Serial.

    And when it's time to wake up, the pillow will analyze your movements to wake you during your lightest sleep stage, again keeping the noise of an alarm from disturbing your partner.

    The downside? Suddenly your pillow is just another device with a battery that needs to charge. And forget about using it in a place without Wi-Fi.

    The ZEEQ Smart Pillow currently costs $200.

    [h/t TechCrunch]

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