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Is Being Double-Jointed Bad for You?

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Everybody had that one kid in their third-grade class who could do gross party tricks, folding her body into a pretzel or twisting his fingers into strange configurations. Double-jointedness is certainly weird. But is it dangerous? That really depends on the person, and what else their body is doing.

The medical term for this extreme bendiness is joint hypermobility (JH). Experts have recently suggested sorting this trait into three different types. There’s the harmless kind (called asymptomatic JH); the kind that can cause pain (hypermobility spectrum disorders, or HSD); and the kind that’s actually a symptom of some other underlying medical condition.

Asymptomatic JH is very common. Many party-trick kids, super-flexible ballet dancers, and circus contortionists are not in pain, nor are their joints dangerously loose. But for people with HSD, that hypermobility is a problem, or it can become one as they get older. The same flexibility that can make a person a better dancer or athlete can increase their risk of injury or developing arthritis later down the line.

“When you ask those people in 10, 20, 30 years later how they’re feeling, it's not infrequent that those individuals have joint troubles,” rheumatologist David Bornstein told Real Simple. “Either they stretched their tendons so far that now they’re aching, or they’re experiencing some degeneration in their joints because their cartilage has seen more pressure than it normally would.”

The third type (when JH is a symptom of an underlying condition) is the trickiest to diagnose. JH can be a symptom of disorders like hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), a genetic condition that affects the body’s connective tissue. Tendons and ligaments are just two types of connective tissue; it’s also found in our skin, cells, organs, and brain, which means that people with hEDS might have lots of different and seemingly unrelated medical issues at once.

Experts don’t think hEDS is rare, but it is pretty obscure, which means it typically takes doctors a long time to arrive at a diagnosis. People with asymptomatic JH and mild HSD can help protect their hypermobile joints with strength training and conditioning under a doctor or physical therapist’s supervision. It’s important is to find safe exercises that don’t create additional stress on already vulnerable joints. Though it seems counterintuitive, many doctors advise hypermobile patients to avoid stretching and yoga, which can push fragile joints too far.

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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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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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