Today’s Headlines: Lavender, Social Media and Heart Disease

Lavender may make you more giving. We all prefer some smells over others, but new research suggests that certain scents may change the way you behave. “The researchers set up a trust game in a room misted with one of two aromas: lavender, which is considered soothing, and peppermint, which is associated with alertness and energy. The researchers put a few drops of essential oils, diffused by a candle, in the room before the 90 young adults in the study came in to play. The trust game is a test that measures levels of trust. One person (the “trustor”) gets money, and they can keep it or give any amount of it to the other person. If they give, the cash received triples and the person who just got a cash infusion gets to decide whether to share it with the original trustor. Without being told about any change in scent, when people smelled lavender, they gave significantly more money than when they had sniffed peppermint or nothing at all.” The researchers think the effect has to do with the way our sense of smell is linked to part of the brain that control trust. The calming effect of lavender may boost activity in those regions of the brain. (TIME)

Social media use doesn’t increase stress. You’ve probably had pundits say that you wouldn’t be so stressed if you weren’t constantly following what was happening on social media. But research released this week shows that probably isn’t true. “Heavy users of the Internet and social media do not have higher levels of stress, and women who use Twitter, email and photo sharing show less stress than women who do not use them.” The study found that women were also more stressed than men and the authors think social media may serve as a way for women to deal with this increased stress. “The electronic tools may provide women with a low-demand and easily accessible coping mechanism that is not experienced or taken advantage of by men.” But the type of information on social media mattered. “A woman with an average number of Facebook friends is aware of 13 percent more stressful events among her closest ties than those who use social media less. A typical male Facebook user knows of 8 percent more stressful events. Awareness of stress in others’ lives can be a significant contributor to people’s own stress.” (Reuters)

Healthy living makes a big difference in heart disease.  Lifestyle has long been known to influence heart health, but results from a 20-year study focused on women have found that effect can be dramatic. “Women who led a healthy lifestyle in their young adult years were 92 percent less likely than those who didn’t to develop heart disease by middle age. U.S. researchers followed thousands of women starting in their 20s and 30s and found those with healthy diet and exercise habits, who didn’t smoke, were also 66 percent less likely to have any heart risk factors like diabetes or hypertension by the time they were in their 40s and 50s. The results suggest that more than 70 percent of heart attacks in younger women could potentially be prevented by changes in lifestyle.” While those who did everything right had the lowest risk, the researchers pointed out that adding even one or two changes can drop your risk in the long term. The key is starting early rather than waiting until it’s too late. “Once you develop a risk factor it’s not too late to start improving your lifestyle and trying to get things going in right direction. This is a disease process that develops over time and you may look and feel healthy now but we worry about your risk in the future.” (Fox)