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March 17, 2017

Weekend reads: The strange dangers of 'toxic fat'

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

  • How 'toxic fat' could tie into diabetes: After Jerry Summers, a regular runner with a lean body, was unexpectedly diagnosed with diabetes in 1981, his son Scott promised to find a cure. Now a physiologist, Scott has been researching "a hypothesis that he believes could revolutionize our understanding of human metabolism and disease," James Hamblin writes for The Atlantic. While most fat is stored as triglycerides in adipose tissue, some of that fat, Scott explained, "can spill out" and "give rise to ceramides"—a family of toxic lipids that cause dysfunction in other lipids. Based on his research testing ceramides in human cells, Summers found that the so-called "toxic fat" can decrease metabolic activity of fat tissue. Hamblin writes, "If some people simply have a genetic susceptibility to accumulate ceramides, blocking that pathway with a drug could be an effective approach to preventing diabetes."

  • Pricey punctuation: How much is a comma worth? About $10 million, according to a recent federal court decision in a case that addressed whether truck drivers in Maine were entitled to overtime pay under a state law. The case hinged on whether truck drivers were eligible for overtime under language in the law that says the overtime rules do not apply to "the canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods." Were there a comma after "shipment," it might have been clear that the law did not apply to the truck drivers, who distribute but do not pack food, Daniel Victor writes for the New York Times—but the court ruled that the lack of comma produced enough uncertainty to rule in favor of the truck drivers.

Sam Bernstein's reads

  • March Madness is here—so maybe it's time get a vasectomy: No one really knows why, but the start of March Madness seems to coincide with a rush of men getting vasectomies. According to the Daily Mail, Cleveland Clinic said it had a 10 percent increase in the procedure during March Madness in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Joseph Alukal, the director of male reproductive health and clinical associate professor of urology at NYU's Langone Medical Center, said it partly may be a coincidence; men frequently decide on the procedure at the start of the year and schedule it for March. Afterward men must remain sedentary for about 48 hours—which is a good excuse to watch basketball.

  • A very special frog: Scientists say they have discovered the first frog which glows. According to NPR's "Shots," the South American polka dot tree frog seemed very ordinary—at least until researchers bathed it in ultraviolet light and found that "the creature is actually fluorescent and glows bright blue-green." In a new research paper published in PNAS, scientists say fluorescence is "unprecedented" in amphibians.

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