The Case for Drinking as Much Coffee as You Like

The Atlantic Magazine


What I tell patients is, if you like coffee, go ahead and drink as much as you want and can,” says Dr. Peter Martin, director of the Institute for Coffee Studies at Vanderbilt University. He’s even developed a metric for monitoring your dosage: If you are having trouble sleeping, cut back on your last cup of the day. From there, he says, “If you drink that much, it’s not going to do you any harm, and it might actually help you. A lot.”

Officially, the American Medical Association recommends conservatively that “moderate tea or coffee drinking likely has no negative effect on health, as long as you live an otherwise healthy lifestyle.” That is a lackluster endorsement in light of so much recent glowing research. Not only have most of coffee’s purported ill effects been disproven – the most recent review fails to link it the development of hypertension — but we have so, so much information about its benefits. We believe they extend from preventing Alzheimer’s disease to protecting the liver. What we know goes beyond small-scale studies or limited observations. The past couple of years have seen findings, that, taken together, suggest that we should embrace coffee for reasons beyond the benefits of caffeine, and that we might go so far as to consider it a nutrient.


The most recent findings that support coffee as a panacea will make their premiere this December in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Coffee, researchers found, appears to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

“There have been many metabolic studies that have shown that caffeine, in the short term, increases your blood glucose levels and increases insulin resistance,” Shilpa Bhupathiraju, a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition and the study’s lead author, told me. But “those findings really didn’t translate into an increased risk for diabetes long-term.” During the over 20 years of follow-up, and controlling for all major lifestyle and dietary risk factors, coffee consumption, regardless of caffeine content, was associated with an 8 percent decrease in the risk of type 2 diabetes in women. In men, the reduction was 4 percent for regular coffee and 7 percent for decaf.

The findings were arrived at rigorously, relying on data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, two prospective studies that followed almost 80,000 women and over 40,000 men from the 1980s through 2008. Although self-reported, the data is believed to be extremely reliable because it comes from individuals who know more about health and disease than the average American (the downside, of course, is that results won’t always apply to the general population — but in this case, Bhupathuraju explained that there’s no reason to believe that the biological effects seen in health professionals wouldn’t be seen in everyone else).

That there were no major differences in risk reduction between regular and decaf coffee suggests there’s something in it, aside from its caffeine content, that could be contributing to these observed benefits. It also demonstrates that caffeine was in no way mitigating coffee’s therapeutic effects. Of course, what we choose to add to coffee can just as easily negate the benefits — various sugar-sweetened beverages were all significantly associated with an increased risk of diabetes. A learned taste for cream and sugar (made all the more enticing when they’re designed to smell like seasonal celebrations) is likely one of the reasons why we associate coffee more with decadence than prudence.

“Coffee and caffeine have been inexorably intertwined in our thinking, but truth is coffee contains a whole lot of other stuff with biological benefits,” said Martin. And most concerns about caffeine’s negative effects on the heart have been dispelled. In June, a meta-analysis of ten years of research went so far as to find an inverse association between habitual, moderate consumption and risk of heart failure. The association peaked at four cups per day, and coffee didn’t stop being beneficial until subjects had increased their daily consumption to beyond ten cups.

Caffeine might also function as a pain reliever. A study from September suggested as much when its authors stumbled across caffeinated coffee as a possible confounding variable in its study of the back, neck, and shoulder pains plaguing office drones: Those who reported drinking coffee before the experiment experienced less intense pain.

The data is even more intriguing — and more convincing — for caffeine’s effects as a salve against more existential pains. While a small study this month found that concentrated amounts of caffeine can increase positivity in the moment, last September the nurses’ cohort demonstrated a neat reduction in depression rates among women that became stronger with increased consumption of caffeinated coffee.

But that caffeine is only mechanism behind coffee’s health effects is supported by a small study of 554 Japanese adults from October that looked at coffee and green tea drinking habits in relation to the bundle of risk factors for coronary artery disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes known together as metabolic syndrome. Only coffee — not tea — was associated with reduced risk, mostly because of dramatic reductions observed in serum triglyceride levels.

So aside from caffeine, just what are you getting in a cup, or two, or six? Thousands of mostly understudied chemicals that contribute to flavor and aroma, including plant phenols, chlorogenic acids, and quinides, all of which function as antioxidants. Diterpenoids in unfiltered coffee may raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol. And, okay, there’s also ash which, to be fair, is no more healthful than you would think — though it certainly isn’t bad for you.



Some of the chemicals in coffee are known carcinogens, though as far as we know that’s only been seen in rodents, not in the small levels we encounter in everyday consumption. Findings, on the other hand, have been supporting that coffee can protect against some cancers. When the Harvard School of Public Health visited the Health Professionals Follow-Up cohort in May 2011, it found that coffee’s protective effects extend only to some types of prostate cancer (the most aggressive types, actually). In a separate study of the same population from this past July, they also found a reduced risk of basal cell carcinoma with increased caffeine intake.

The association was strongest for those who drank six or more cups per day.

That same high dosage is also effective in fighting against colorectal cancer, according to a prospective study from June of almost 500,000  adults conducted by the American Society for Nutrition. While the association was greatest for caffeinated varieties, decaf made a small but significant showing. A meta-analysis of 16 independent studies this past January added endometrial cancer to the group of cancers whose relative risk decreases with increased “dosage” of coffee. And in 2011, a large population of post-menopausal women in Sweden saw a “modest” reduction in breast cancer risk with immoderate consumption of 5 or more daily cups.

Taking the benefits of coffee any further requires being patient-specific, but findings apply to a broad range of populations and conditions:

If you have fatty liver disease, a study from last December found that unspecified amounts can reduce your risk of fibrosis.

If you’re on a road trip, you may respond like the 24 volunteers for an experiment from February who were subjected to two hours of simulated “monotonous highway driving,” given a short break, then sent back out for two more hours. Those given a cup of coffee during the break weaved less, and showed reductions in driving speed, mental effort, and subjective sleepiness. If you’re on a weight-training regimen, it can provide a mild (and legal) doping effect.

If you’re trying to enhance your workout, the results of one experiment from October found that drinks containing caffeine enhances performance. And then another one from Dr. Martin in 2008: He coauthored a study of people enrolled in Alcoholics Anonymous in which there appeared to be an association between upping coffee intake and staying sober.

Nothing can be all good, and there is still information working against coffee — in October, TheAtlantic reported on a study from the health professionals cohort that suggested a link between excessive coffee consumption and glaucoma. “The current recommendation is that if somebody’s not drinking coffee, you don’t tell them to start,” said Bhupathiraju.

But she agrees that drinking coffee, and more of it, does appear to be beneficial. The evidence remains overwhelmingly in coffee’s favor. Yes, it was observational, but the study published in May in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at hundreds of thousands of men and women and found this bottom line result: people who drank coffee lived longer than those who didn’t.

And the more they drank, the longer they lived. If you’re into that sort of thing.

Plates That Help Your Weight

by Carole Jackson>, Bottom Line Health


There’s a reason why stop signs are red. Not only is it the most noticeable color, but study after study has found that, because stop signs have been red for such a long time, the color itself has come to automatically signal “danger”…“don’t go here”… and, yes, “stop.” And now new research shows that this color even might help us stop drinking fattening beverages and eating too much food.

We have known for a long time that colors can influence our moods and even our behaviors, but it was Leonie Reutner, MSc, a doctoral student and lecturer at the University of Basel in Switzerland, who coauthored a study published online inAppetite this past January to see if color could actually be used as a tool for weight loss. The answer? Yes. But how?


Knowing how the color red signals “danger” in most people’s minds, Reutner and her colleagues wanted to see whether using red-colored plates and red-labeled glasses would make people eat less of a salty snack and drink less of a sugar-sweetened beverage. So they set up two experiments to find out…

The beverage study: Researchers approached 41 college students and invited them to take part in an “evaluation of three sweet drinks.” Since their pretest had found that female students took only tiny sips of the drinks, the researchers invited only male students to participate. Each participant was asked to rate three drinks matched for color (slightly yellowish) in clear plastic cups. An adhesive label with a large A, B or C printed in white on it was attached to each cup. The backgrounds behind the letters on each label were, randomly, blue or red. The drinks were not identified to the study participants, but they were lemon-flavored, white tea-flavored and green tea-flavored. Researchers weighed each cup before and after the drink test and found that—you guessed it—regardless of which drink was being tasted, participants drank significantly less (about 41% less, on average) from the red-labeled cups than from the blue-labeled cups.

The red-plate study: This time, 109 males and females, ranging in age from 13 to 75, were asked to assist in a study related to “various areas of psychology.” Each was given a questionnaire to complete, was seated at a table in front of either a white, red or blue paper plate containing exactly 10 pretzels, and was told, “Feel free to snack on the pretzels while completing the questionnaire.” After the participants left, researchers counted the pretzels that were left on each plate. And, sure enough, participants ate 48% fewer pretzels from red plates than from the blue and white plates.


Before anyone goes out and buys red plates and cups, Reutner said, it’s important to consider two points. The first is that the participants in the experiments didn’t know ahead of time that red might help them eat or drink less, but now that you know it, the red might not have the same effect on you. The second is that the participants were distracted during the experiment. They were focused on either rating a beverage or filling out a questionnaire as opposed to being focused on what they were eating…so again, your results might vary.

I applaud Reutner for being academically rigorous in pointing out these differences between her study and real life—but on the other hand, the red had such a huge effect in the study that it’s hard to imagine that it wouldn’t have some effect on our dinner tables.

So if you want to lose weight or if you want to help a loved one lose weight, why not try it? Get some red plates and give it some time—maybe a month—for the novelty to wear off, and then judge whether they are helping you. And while you’re at it, get smaller plates—size has also been shown to matter when it comes to quantity of food eaten.

Source: Leonie Reutner, MSc, researcher and lecturer, department of social and economic psychology, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.

Easy Way to Relieve Pain

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health



If you suffer from some type of chronic pain and tend to get anxious about it (or if you tend to be an anxious person in general), you’ve probably been told umpteen times by well-meaning friends, “Just try to not think about the pain”…and of course, that’s easier said than done!

But I do have good news for you today—scientists at the Pain Research Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City have learned something new about a way that people can stop thinking about their pain…interestingly, this strategy works best for people who tend to be anxious or nervous!

To find out more about this intriguing discovery, I called David H. Bradshaw, PhD, who works in the department of anesthesiology at the center. His study was published in the December 2011 issue of The Journal of Pain.


For his study, Dr. Bradshaw gathered 143 men and women, ages 18 to 55, who were healthy and free of chronic pain. Participants were given questionnaires that assessed how much general anxiety they had. Then they went through three phases of the experiment. During one phase, they sat still while, at random times, they were given fingertip shocks to produce pain. Researchers chose to shock the participants rather than study people with chronic pain, because it made the data easier to measure and control. During another phase, participants got the random shocks while individually performing an “easy” task. The easy task was listening to a familiar melody (for instance, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star) and shouting “bad” when they heard a wrong note. During a third phase, they got the random shocks while individually performing a “hard” task. The hard task was similar to the easy task—but the researchers made the wrong notes more subtle and therefore more difficult to detect. How much each participant was “aroused” (or bothered) by the painful shocks was assessed by measuring changes in pupil dilation, palm sweatiness and electrical activity in the brain. Here’s what the researchers found…

Finding #1: This first discovery was not incredibly surprising. As you would expect, the more difficult the task that the participants were engaged in, the less they felt the pain.

Finding #2: The second discovery was much more interesting. Participants who had shown themselves to be anxious types on the general anxiety questionnaire and who performed the tasks well (signaling greater engagement) experienced the least amount of pain during the experiment—less pain, even, than participants who tended to have relaxed, worry-free personalities and performed the task well.

That’s the opposite of what was expected. And that’s why this study is so remarkable—it suggests that by becoming fully engaged in a task, some of the people who need pain relief the most can finally get it.


Of course, the type of task that the study participants performed isn’t something that you can easily replicate at home, but Dr. Bradshaw said there are other, similar ways that you can intensely engage your mind to relieve your pain. For example, if you want to make it less likely that your sore neck or bad back is going to bother you, forget passive activities such as watching TV. Even reading a book, while it isn’t passive mentally, is usually not very challenging—so most books aren’t likely to provide the kind of immersion that will really beat your pain.

More likely to help, Dr. Bradshaw said, are virtual-reality video games (the kind where you take on the role of a character onscreen, navigate your way through different virtual environments and make decisions along the way). In fact, research has shown that even burn patients have less pain when they play such games. Or if you’re listening to music, Dr. Bradshaw said, you can engage with it by singing or tapping along with your foot—because it forces you to pay closer attention to the rhythm, melody and lyrics. Another strategy you could try anywhere—even at work, where you can’t exactly sing along to music or play video games—is to breathe deeply, said Dr. Bradshaw. Inhale for 10 seconds, exhale for 10 seconds, and repeat this for at least a few minutes, focusing your mind on your breath and nothing else.

It is interesting to realize that the mind has so much power over our pain. Any pain reduction due to distraction is likely to be only temporary…but even brief relief is better than no relief. So when you are in pain, before you pop a pill, see if getting immersed in something doesn’t take the edge off—and if you are a worrywart, try this technique with confidence!

Source: David H. Bradshaw, PhD, research assistant professor, department of anesthesiology, Pain Research Center, University of Utah, Salt Lake City.

The Biggest Health Mistake Kids Make

by Carole Jackson>, Bottom Line Health


We all know that we should encourage our kids and grandkids to exercise because it boosts both their physical and mental health, but new research reveals that there’s a certain age at which the amount of physical activity that kids do tends to drop off the most.

And at that particular time in their lives, a few extra reminders wouldn’t hurt.

To learn more about exactly when—and why—this drop-off appears, I called study author Matthew Kwan, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, whose report was published in January 2012 in American Journal of Preventive Medicine.


In one study, starting at ages 12 to 15, 683 Canadian teens were followed over 12 years and interviewed every two years. Each time, Dr. Kwan and his colleagues assessed how much physical activity the teens had done over the previous three months. Physical activity was defined as any mild, moderate or vigorous leisure activities—from bowling to soccer to marathon running—but did not account for activities such as walking to school.

The results: Over the course of the 12-year period, the amount of physical activity among girls declined, on average, by 17%, while physical activity among boys declined by 30% on average. Dr. Kwan said that it’s important to note that boys were more active to begin with at around ages 12 to 15, so that might explain why their decline was steeper.

Another study of Dr. Kwan’s looked at when the steepest declines within that time period tend to occur. He looked at boys and girls, both those who went to college and those who didn’t. He found that in three of the four groups, the steepest decline took place around the age of 18, as the girls and boys were finishing high school. Among girls who went to college, there was a decline in their exercise around that age, but it wasn’t quite as steep as that of the other groups—probably because they had had another steep decline in middle school.


So what’s so special about the age of 18? I have to admit that I was surprised by the results, since many college kids have so much free time! I would have guessed that the largest drop would have been seen right after college, when young adults enter the workforce, often in sedentary jobs, and start to take on many more of life’s responsibilities. But the results seemed more logical when Dr. Kwan shared the following insights…

The transition from high school to college usually means a big drop-off in the number of organized sports that students participate in. Even great high school athletes can’t always compete at the college level—either because they aren’t quite good enough or can’t take on the greater time commitment. Less glamorous “club sports” in college may not seem that appealing… so it’s all too easy for physical laziness to set in and for kids to say “I’m done with the sport.”

There are more distractions at college…and there is much more freedom to participate in unwholesome activities. For example, besides tracking physical activity, the researchers also asked the kids about how often they smoked and drank alcohol—and it’s no shock that those behaviors tended to peak during the college years. And if smoking and drinking aren’t anti-exercises, I don’t know what is!


Is it all hopeless, or can we help our kids and grandkids keep up their health by keeping up their exercise? Well, Dr. Kwan said, if you have a bit of money to spend on this, indulge your older kid’s interest in, say, martial arts or dance by offering to spring for classes after he or she graduates high school. In many cases, that could be the best replacement for secondary-school sports. But spending isn’t the only answer, and not even the best answer. “There’s a lot of evidence that the more active parents are, the more likely their kids will be active,” Dr. Kwan told me. So, yes, if you really care about this, you should be a positive role model. Stay active yourself…make sure your kid knows that you are…and when your college kid is home on break, grab those hiking boots or tennis racquets and head out there together.

Source: Matthew Kwan, PhD, postdoctoral fellow, department of family medicine, Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, McMaster University, Ontario, Canada.

Have More Fun in Bed! All It Takes Is Some Sexual Intelligence…

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health


Are you sexually satisfied? For so many people, sex is more a source of anxiety than pleasure. Instead of bringing them closer to their partners, sex often makes them feel inadequate, perhaps due to concerns about their aging bodies. They look back nostalgically to a time when sex was satisfying and give a sigh, thinking that it’s just something else you lose as the years pass.

But things could be very different. What really helps is a bit of intelligence—sexual intelligence.

Here’s what that means…


On TV and the Internet and in magazines and movies, we are surrounded by youthful, sexy people. Sex is portrayed as mind-blowing, athletic and amazing. We’re conditioned to think that’s the way all sex is supposed to be.

But as we grow older, our bodies—and our lives—change. Also, factors such as medication use, chronic pain, familiarity with your partner and accumulated resentments can reduce libido during this phase of life.

So it makes sense that sex will be different during middle age and beyond. It may be difficult to adjust expectations, but the way to change your sex life is to change your ideasabout sex.


It’s a given that most people want pleasure and closeness from sex. But many focus on other things altogether…

How am I doing? It is very easy to equate sex with performance. This can mean constant self-evaluation. Is my erection as firm as it should be? Will it last? Am I attractive or skillful enough?

Is this normal? People may think, I like this, but is it morally acceptable? Unlike most activities they do for enjoyment, they may worry that their tastes in sex show them to be bad or wrong.

With all these anxieties, how much pleasure and closeness are people likely to experience when having sex?


To have satisfying sexual experiences, you don’t need to be a hotshot in bed. You need a combination of emotional skills and physical awareness, both of which are essential to sexual intelligence.

Partners must be patient and sensitive to each other’s feelings and keep any disappointment in perspective.

Physical awareness includes understanding how your own body and your partner’s body have changed over time. What are your bodies still capable of doing, and what can’t they do anymore? It means knowing what makes you and your partner feel good—where you both like to be touched, how you both enjoy being kissed, what aids are preferred. Sexual intelligence means accommodating these preferences, whenever possible, with good humor.

Important: Remember that emotional skills and physical awareness typically are more central to good sex than sexual technique.


Many people get into the habit of having sex while thinking about something else entirely. This undermines pleasure and intimacy.

Much better: Focus on the physical sensations. What specifically are you feeling in your arms, legs, genitals, fingertips? What do you smell and taste?

Soak up the emotional experience, too. Feel the pleasure, relaxation, excitement and fun. Also feel the closeness to your partner. If you’re anxious, worried or rushed, notice that, too, but don’t judge or analyze the feeling then. Set it aside to think about or talk about later. Bringing your attention back to the moment is helpful when you start to worry about your performance or appearance or what your partner is thinking. More self-acceptance and less self-criticism often enhances libido.


For better communication, you must view the person you have sex with as a partnerrather than as a critic or judge. Since this person is your partner, you shouldn’t feel reluctant to ask for what you would like in bed. Even better: Show your partner how you would like to be touched. And if something feels good, say so (and do it with a whisper—it’s sexier).

Take time to discuss your sexual relationship. It may feel awkward at first, but talking about performance anxiety is the best way to get past it. Also, this is the time to discuss with your partner anything new that you would like to try. And, if there is anything that you definitely don’t want to do again, make this clear. During this discussion, work out details, such as preferred time for sex (some people like the morning, others the night), place and even room temperature. Since initiating sex is a problem for many couples, discuss signals to use when one of you could be in the mood.


Most people consider “sex” to be intercourse. This thinking is unfortunate. There are drawbacks to intercourse that can make it inconvenient, ill-advised or even impossible. It requires an erect penis and lubricated vagina…it’s difficult for people with various physical problems…chronic pain can make it uncomfortable…and it’s not an effective way to have an orgasm for many women.

Speaking of orgasms—they probably get a good deal more attention than they merit. An orgasm is quite pleasant, but it lasts maybe five seconds during a sexual encounter that might be 20 minutes or more.

Consider that sex can be satisfying without intercourse and without orgasm. A broader range of physically and emotionally gratifying activities—oral sex, manual stimulation of body parts you may have ignored, watching each other masturbate, etc.—are all options.


In fact, you can think of sex in the same way you would think of other things you do with your partner. Was it enjoyable? Did you feel close to each other? How can you make it even better next time? In this spirit, you’re less likely to worry about success or failure and more likely to appreciate the rich range of experiences sex has to offer.

A couple should consider seeing a sex therapist if either or both have trouble discussing a sexual issue. To find a sex therapist, check with your doctor or consult the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists,

Source: Marty Klein, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist in Palo Alto, California. He is the author of seven books, including most recently Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want from Sex and How to Get It(HarperOne).

Try This to Keep Your Honey Faithful

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health


Whether you’re a man or a woman, if you’re in a committed relationship, then there’s a good chance that you don’t want your partner to be lured away from you by another person.

And as it turns out, “chemistry” is important to your relationship in more ways than one.

In fact, the secret to fidelity involves making your partner’s body produce a “love” hormone called oxytocin, a new German study suggests.

You’ve probably heard of oxytocin—women produce it, for example, during certain activities such as childbirth and breast-feeding, and it makes them feel more bonded and attached to their children.

But both sexes produce the hormone—and there are various ways to keep it flowing…


For the study, researchers gathered single heterosexual men and heterosexual men who were in committed relationships. Half of each group was given a nasal spray containing oxytocin and the other half was given a placebo nasal spray. About 45 minutes later, each of the men was asked to stand in front of an attractive female stranger.

Researchers wanted to measure how much distance the men kept from the women, because prior studies have found that the less personal space you keep between yourself and a person of the opposite sex, the closer you feel to that person—a small gap signals intimacy and possibly even romantic interest.

Results: Men in relationships who were given the oxytocin stood farther away from the women than the men in relationships who were given the placebo. Among the single men, the oxytocin had no effect. Then researchers performed a similar experiment, except instead of having each male participant stand in front of a woman, each participant was told to stand in front of a man. In that experiment, the oxytocin had no effect on anyone.

In other words, the main finding was that oxytocin made men in committed relationships stand farther away from attractive women they didn’t know. And what can we take away from that? Well, according to the researchers, it implies that these men may have been signaling to the woman they were not romantically interested. Now, the researchers can’t say that oxytocin will necessarily make men 100% faithful to their partners, of course, but they argue that the less often committed men signal romantic interest through body language, the less likely they are to stray, said the study’s lead author, Dirk Scheele, MSc and doctoral candidate. Though this study involved only male participants, Scheele told me that the hormone works similarly in both genders, so oxytocin may help prevent women from cheating on their partners, too.


If you want to boost your partner’s oxytocin levels, you could go buy a bottle of oxytocin nasal spray online on a site such as But increasing oxytocin exogenously(ingesting more to increase your body’s supply), such as through a nasal spray, hasn’t been studied in the long term. We don’t know what dosage would be best…or how long its effects may last…or whether it will truly make a partner faithful….or what the long-term side effects may be…and the quality and purity of products on the market is hard to determine.

So in all honesty, would you really ask your partner to use such a spray?

So, in the hope of preventing any adulterous impulses, there are other things that you and your partner can do that will boost your partner’s oxytocin levels endogenously(naturally). And the best part is that they’re all pleasurable, and you may boost your own levels of oxytocin in the process. Here is what you can do with your partner…

Have sex often. Oxytocin is released during orgasm, and orgasm boosts oxytocin more than anything else.

Cuddle often. Gentle, loving physical contact, such as cuddling, kissing, hugging or receiving a massage, can all increase oxytocin levels. Even just holding hands while you walk or putting your arm around the other person does it, too.

Share your feelings. Telling your partner that you love him or her will make your partner feel warm and fuzzy inside, which raises oxytocin levels. A small act of kindness, such as a sweet e-mail or text that says “thinking of you” also can do the trick.

Watch an emotional movie together. Renting a romantic film that’s emotionally compelling makes oxytocin surge because you empathize with the characters and feel the love that they feel. Research shows that this one simple action makes oxytocin spike 47%. (Do this while cuddling for a double whammy of oxytocin!)

Go karaoke singing. Believe it or not, belting out a duet with your partner can cause oxytocin levels to elevate—it’s because you’re aware of feeling joy simultaneously, which connects you more deeply.

Dance as a pair. Dancing with your partner in a way that you hold each other closely most of the time and move in step with each other is an oxytocin booster—in fact, research shows that one night of dancing makes the body produce 11% more oxytocin.

Get scared together. Doing something thrilling together, such as going white-water rafting or even riding a roller coaster, may help bond you even more and increase oxytocin because an experience that frightens you a little and triggers an adrenaline rush tends to make you cling to the person next to you a little more, both emotionally and physically. There’s a shared feeling of “We’re in this together, and we’re going to make it through.”

Source: Dirk Scheele, MSc, doctoral candidate, department of psychiatry, Neuromodulation of Emotion (NEMO) Research Group, University of Bonn, Germany. His study was published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

The Plus Side of Insomnia

by Carole Jackson>, Bottom Line Health


Maybe you watched a loved one pass away recently. Or maybe you were once mugged. Or maybe you witnessed a really horrendous car accident on your way to work last week.

After going through a traumatic experience like that, feeling tense with anxiety, sadness or fear, you might want to bury your head into your pillow and just sleep—just to stop thinking about it. But a new study shows that doing the exact opposite may help you get past the trauma.

To find out why, I called study author Rebecca Spencer, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at University of Massachusetts at Amherst.


Dr. Spencer and her team conducted a very clever study, so I want to take a minute to describe it to you. They showed 106 adults a series of images. Half of the images were classified as “emotionally neutral,” such as a person reading the newspaper, while the other half were categorized as “disturbing,” because they were of such scenes as a war-torn country or a person with a gun held to his or her head. Participants were asked to rate their feelings about each image on two scales. One scale measured sad versus happy, and the other scale measured calm versus excited. “Excited” was used to describe any strong reaction, whether positive or negative.

Participants saw and rated each image twice—either first thing in the morning and then again that same evening, with no napping or sleeping in between…or first in the evening and then again the next morning after having slept through the night.

During their second sessions, both groups were also shown some images that they had not seen during the first sessions and were asked whether or not they thought they had seen them before.

Members of the “sleep group” wore electrodes on their scalps, chins and the outer edges of their eyelids while sleeping. The idea was to see how much time they spent in rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep, which is when dreams tend to occur, because researchers were curious to learn whether dreaming might affect the emotional intensity of memories, Dr. Spencer told me.

The results: Those who did not sleep between viewing sessions were less likely to feel “sad,” on average, about photos that depicted negative events during the second session, compared with those who slept between sessions. Participants who did not sleep between viewing sessions also tended to feel more “calm,” on average, about the disturbing images the second time around, compared with those who slept between sessions. Some of the nonsleeper group even struggled to remember whether they had viewed the images 12 hours earlier.

Meanwhile, participants who had slept in between viewings were more likely to have remembered which images they had seen, and those who had spent the most time in REM sleep reacted with more emotional intensity to the “disturbing” images than they had done 12 hours before. In other words, seeing and thinking about these images proved more disturbing to them even though they had gotten a “good” night’s sleep! Dr. Spencer’s research was published in January in Journal of Neuroscience.


Dr. Spencer and I discussed how the amygdala, a region of the brain that is responsible for helping us “replay” memories of daytime experiences likely solidifies them during REM sleep. What this study suggested, she said, is that the amygdala also “replays” theemotional tone of those experiences in a way that leaves us feeling them more vividly. So seeking to immediately “sleep off” the impact of a traumatic emotional event actually may be the worst thing that we can do for ourselves, she said—instead of softening the blow, it imprints the memory even deeper.

In Dr. Spencer’s view, if you experience something really terrible, limiting yourself to either no sleep or just a few hours of sleep during that first night—and even limiting how much you sleep during the following few days—may help you heal better, emotionally, down the road.

The researchers unfortunately didn’t measure how sleeping, say, two or three or four days after a traumatic experience impacts the emotional intensity of a memory, but this study suggests that those who put off sleeping for at least 12 hours after the experience are better off than those who go to bed sooner. As Dr. Spencer put it, “This is one case where insomnia may actually be a healthy response.”

Source: Rebecca Spencer, PhD, assistant professor, psychology, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Are Toilet Seat Covers Really Necessary?

by Carole Jackson>, Bottom Line Health


When you enter a public bathroom and, on the wall, you see a dispenser filled with toilet seat covers…do you take one of them?

Hamlet was wrong. To cover or not to cover—that is the question!

On the one hand, there’s an undeniable “ick factor” when it comes to sitting on top of something that countless bare-butted strangers have sat on before you—especially if you spot bits of water, urine or (worst of all) feces on the seat. So part of you is probably eager to do whatever you can to shield yourself from germs and avoid getting yourself wet and/or soiled.

But on the other hand, seat covers are generally made of porous tissue paper that is laughably thin. They have to be that thin, or they might clog toilets. And don’t let the waxiness of the paper fool you—if there is liquid on the seat, it is likely to bleed through the cover. So another part of you is probably thinking, How protective can these covers truly be? And even if a germ does touch me, could I really get a disease that way?

So I went straight to the top of the heap to get to the, er, bottom of things, calling Charles Gerba, PhD, a professor of environmental microbiology at The University of Arizona in Tucson—because he is widely known as “Dr. Germ” for his extensive research about bacteria and organisms covering public surfaces.


In essence, here’s what he told me: “I don’t know of any scientific data on this specific topic, but based on my past germ research, in my opinion, most toilet seat covers are useless,” he said.

First, we discussed what sort of germs you might find on a toilet seat. If you’ve bought into the common misconception that toilet seats carry sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), you’ve been fooled. The organisms that cause STDs, such as the viruses that cause herpes and AIDS and the bacteria that cause gonorrhea and syphilis, can’t survive on cold, hard toilet seats for more than a few minutes, Dr. Gerba said. So by the time someone leaves a stall and you’re ready to sit on the toilet, odds are, those types of germs are dead.

Other germs can survive on a toilet seat indefinitely, though—such as fecal bacteria (including E. coli) and the MRSA bacterium (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which can be transferred from a person’s skin to the toilet seat.

But how, exactly, would those types of germs infect you? “I suppose it’s physiologically possible, but the chances of it happening are very, very slim,” said Dr. Gerba.

For example, one way for fecal bacteria to be transmitted to your body would be for you to have an open sore—but you’d have to have an open sore on your buttocks or the back of your thighs in the specific place where the germ happens to be situated on the toilet seat. Another way would be by doing a poor wiping job—as you move a wad of toilet paper toward yourself, you accidentally brush by the toilet seat (collecting the germ) and then accidentally let the toilet paper touch your urethra. A third way? Perhaps you accidentally touch the toilet seat with your bare hands…don’t wash your hands properly with soap and warm water after you finish going to the bathroom…and then later touch your nose or mouth and ingest the germ.

MRSA is a little more concerning, because research has shown that it can spread from simple skin-to-skin contact (as opposed to through a bodily opening), but Dr. Gerba said that even though it has been found on toilet seats in hospitals, there is no direct evidence proving that anyone has ever contracted MRSA by sitting on a toilet seat.

So, again, is it possible to get infected by a germ from putting your bare buns on a toilet seat? “Theoretically, yes, but realistically, no,” said Dr. Gerba.

Even if the risk for infection were high, how much protection would a toilet seat cover provide? I talked with Dr. Gerba about how most toilet seat covers are porous, one-ply pieces of tissue and how bits of feces and urine (and therefore germs) can easily bleed through them. He said that a toilet seat cover is likely to provide protection only if it’s notporous—so the only ones likely to protect you are those nonporous plastic covers that rotate around the seat before a new person sits down (the bathrooms in Yankee Stadium in New York City, for example, have these, as well those in the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in Louisiana).


Dr. Gerba left me with this food for thought: According to his research, far more dangerous germs exist on kitchen surfaces, such as sinks and counters, than on toilet seats, whether in public or at home. E. coli bacteria, for example, are 200 times more prevalent on cutting boards than toilet seats, he said. “It’s actually safer to make a sandwich on a typical toilet seat than a typical cutting board,” he said.

Hmm…no thanks! I’ll keep cooking in the kitchen!