February 3, 2017

Weekend reads: The Supreme Court Justice who's likely fitter than you

Daily Briefing

The Daily Briefing editorial team highlights several interesting health care stories and studies that didn't quite make this week's Briefing. What are you reading this weekend? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.

Rachel Schulze's reads

If you needed another reason not to eat fast food. Researchers have a new entry for fast food's rap sheet: Roughly one-third of fast food packaging contains toxic chemicals, according to a recent study. For the study, researchers tested fast food packaging for polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), which have been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers, high cholesterol, hormone issues, obesity, and immune suppression in studies involving both humans and animals. Leonardo Trasande, an environmental medicine researcher at New York University School of Medicine who was not involved in the study, said, "This study reinforces the reality that these chemicals are highly persistent in the environment, and may find their ways into people's bodies for years after they are no longer intentionally added."

RBG is fitter than you. At a Q&A earlier this week, 83-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—the oldest justice on the court—had some reassurance for those who, given Ginsburg's age, might be worried about her health: She said she has a personal trainer and does push-ups, sit-ups, and "something called a plank."

Sam Bernstein's reads

Making extinction obsolete. Extinction is a real and growing threat to Earth's biodiversity, but some scientists say emerging technologies could bring extinct species back to life. In fact, in 2016 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature released a report on when "de-extinction" should be used and how to reintroduce revived species back into the environment in a sustainable way. For instance, if the underlying causes that lead to an extinction are still ongoing, it would not be productive—and even cruel—to bring an animal back from the dead, experts said.

The murky science of bilingualism, cognitive reserve, and Alzheimer's. There is some evidence that speaking two languages can delay the onset of Alzheimer's, but scientists don't have a strong understanding of why, Cathleen O'Grady writes in ArsTechnica. One theory is that bilingualism can help the brain develop a "cognitive reserve" that delays the effects of the disease. That theory got a boost this week in a cross-sectional study published in PNAS that found the brains of bilingual individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer's consumed fewer resources than Alzheimer's patients who didn't speak two languages. But Jon Andoni Duñabeitia, a bilingualism researcher not involved in the study, said more longitudinal studies are needed to make clearer conclusions.

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