Today’s Headlines: Hugs, Pollution and Weight Loss

Hugs can help keep you healthy. We all love the embrace of someone we’re close to, but that hug could convey more than good feelings. A new study out this week has found that those who get more hugs are also less likely to get a cold. “The researchers tested whether perceptions of social support are equally effective in protecting us from stress-induced susceptibility to infection and also whether receiving hugs might partially account for those feelings of support and themselves protect a person against infection.” After asking about how much social support a person has in their life and how many hugs they get, the authors exposed participants to the flu. “They discovered that perceived social support reduced the risk of infection associated with experiencing conflicts and that hugs accounted for one-third of this protective effect. Regardless of whether a participant reported having an interpersonal conflict, greater perceived social support and more frequent hugs helped mitigate cold symptoms.” The results indicate that those who get hugs more are also probably more supported and less stressed, which helps protect them from illness. (Fox)

Autism risk higher in areas with high air pollution. Much is still unknown about how autism develops and why it strikes some children and not others. New data out this week from the Harvard School of Public Health indicates that pollution might have something to do with it. “The researchers analyzed 245 children with autism and 1,522 without. By looking at estimated pollution exposure during pregnancy, based on the mother’s home address, the scientists concluded high levels of pollution were more common in children with autism. The strongest link was with fine particulate matter – invisible specks of mineral dust, carbon and other chemicals – that enter the bloodstream and cause damage throughout the body.” While the link was significant, the researchers acknowledged the study doesn’t show causality and that there may be other factors in heavily polluted areas that also contribute. But they also point out this study is not the first to propose the danger. “If chemicals are entering the mother’s body then the fetus will have access to those too. Women should be made aware of the potential links so they don’t get excessive exposure.” (BBC)

When weight is lost, it’s through your breath. While most people think of their fat as being “burned” off, the metaphor can be misleading for patients and for doctors. A survey of “nutritionists, physicians, physical trainers and people who should know better, largely didn’t realize that lost weight does not leave our bodies as heat, get converted into muscle or get passed out in the feces. It largely leaves the body in the form of carbon dioxide exhaled from our lungs.” This is because the basis of fat is carbon. As fat gets broken down into energy, carbon dioxide is left behind while that energy goes on to be put to work elsewhere. The only place to get rid of that new CO2 is to breathe it out. “When someone sets a goal of losing weight without losing lean muscle, she is in effect planning to break down the fat stored in her adipocytes, or fat cells. Chemically speaking, fat must be oxidized, or broken down into its component parts. Oxidizing 22 pounds of fat uses about 64 pounds of inhaled oxygen, and will produce 62 pounds of CO2 and 24 pounds of water.” (LA Times)