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Want to Eat Healthier? Listen to Your Biological Clock

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The jury’s still out on whether early birds are superior to night owls, but they may have an easier time maintaining a healthy lifestyle. As The New York Times reports, a new study published in the journal Obesity found that morning people may make better food choices, and eat earlier in the day, than those who function on an evening schedule.

Finnish researchers wanted to see whether a person’s chronotype—their personal biological clock—affects their eating habits. To do so, they examined data from 2000 men and women who participated in Finland’s national FINRISK and FINDIET studies in 2007. The first study monitored participants' health-related behaviors; the second, their dietary habits.

For the FINDIET study, the subjects logged their food and alcohol intakes for 48 hours, tracking their daily caloric intake and the types of macronutrients they consumed. They also recorded when they ate, both during the week and during the weekend. The FINRISK study looked at participants’ sleep habits; this helped researchers determine whether participants were morning or evening people, CBS News reports.

After crunching the numbers and controlling for various factors (age, sex, BMI, education, etc.), the researchers found that morning people and evening people consumed similar amounts of calories per day. However, the night owls tended to eat fewer calories in the morning—and when they did eat, they chose breakfast foods that were higher in carbs, fats, and sugars. The night owls also ate more sugars and fats during the evening.

This difference was even more pronounced during the weekend: Night owls consumed far more sugar and fat than the early birds, they ate more, and they also ate during irregular times, researchers noted.

"Early birds may have an extra advantage over night owls when it comes to fighting obesity as they are instinctively choosing to eat healthier foods earlier in the day," concluded Courtney Peterson, a nutrition sciences professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, in a press release. "Previous studies have shown that eating earlier in the day may help with weight loss and lower the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease,” Peterson added. “What this new study shows is that our biological clocks not only affect our metabolism but also what we choose to eat."

You may be able to make better lifestyle choices if you know your chronotype, Peterson added. "Clinicians can help steer people to healthier options—and suggest the optimal time to eat these foods—based on what we now know about our biological clocks," she said.

[h/t The New York Times]

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Not Sure About Your Tap Water? Here's How to Test for Contaminants
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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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Medicine
Bill Gates is Spending $100 Million to Find a Cure for Alzheimer's
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Not everyone who's blessed with a long life will remember it. Individuals who live into their mid-80s have a nearly 50 percent chance of developing Alzheimer's, and scientists still haven't discovered any groundbreaking treatments for the neurodegenerative disease [PDF]. To pave the way for a cure, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has announced that he's donating $100 million to dementia research, according to Newsweek.

On his blog, Gates explained that Alzheimer's disease places a financial burden on both families and healthcare systems alike. "This is something that governments all over the world need to be thinking about," he wrote, "including in low- and middle-income countries where life expectancies are catching up to the global average and the number of people with dementia is on the rise."

Gates's interest in Alzheimer's is both pragmatic and personal. "This is something I know a lot about, because men in my family have suffered from Alzheimer’s," he said. "I know how awful it is to watch people you love struggle as the disease robs them of their mental capacity, and there is nothing you can do about it. It feels a lot like you're experiencing a gradual death of the person that you knew."

Experts still haven't figured out quite what causes Alzheimer's, how it progresses, and why certain people are more prone to it than others. Gates believes that important breakthroughs will occur if scientists can understand the condition's etiology (or cause), create better drugs, develop techniques for early detection and diagnosis, and make it easier for patients to enroll in clinical trials, he said.

Gates plans to donate $50 million to the Dementia Discovery Fund, a venture capital fund that supports Alzheimer's research and treatment developments. The rest will go to research startups, Reuters reports.

[h/t Newsweek]

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