Issue 24


In this issue:

  • The effects of social isolation (hint: not good).

  • The effects of sitting too much (hint: also not good).

  • What happens when animals chow down on our garbage.

  • Why some smokers never get lung cancer, a novel weight-loss molecule, and other exciting news in biology

Some bad news for Akon.

Being Mr. Lonely may lead to more than just multi-platinum hits — a new paper shows that social isolation can change the structure of your brain.

I could’ve probably guessed that.

The fact that your friendships affect your brain seems pretty logical given how social human beings are, but we didn’t really have strong scientific evidence to prove it. In this recent study, scientists studied more than 400,000 people (that’s more than the population of the Bahamas!) over 12 years, looking at their health, behavior, and psychological data.

What did they find?

People who reported experiencing social isolation (for instance, living alone) had poorer overall cognition as measured by things like memory and reaction time. What’s more, socially isolated individuals had less gray matter in many parts of their brain. Some of these shrunken brain regions included the frontal lobe and hippocampus, which are super important for attention, planning, learning, and memor

That sounds bad.

It's not great, considering that gray matter volume decline is thought to relate to a host of psychiatric conditions. In this particular study, the researchers found that socially isolated individuals had a 26% increased risk of dementia later in life. Those who experienced loneliness (aka feeling distant from one’s friends) also had an increase in their dementia risk, although to a slightly lesser degree. This was true even after adjusting for other psychological variables such as depression.


We admit — this isn’t the happiest story we’ve ever covered. But on the flip side, it might also mean that you could help prevent cognitive decline by staying in touch with your friends. And if you know someone who lives alone or has recently lost a partner, make an effort to reach out — it might make more of a difference than you think.


The Leak: A new study shows that social isolation and loneliness are risk factors for dementia, and can contribute to cognitive decline. Brb, gonna quickly google “How to make friends as an adult” (seriously, we want to know).


Time to finally invest in that standing desk.

That’s because according to a new paper, spending too much time sitting on dat tush could increase your risk for early death. 💀

But sitting is literally my favorite pastime.

Believe us, we were heartbroken about it too. In this study, the researchers followed more than 100,000 participants across 21 countries over the span of 11 years. During this time, the scientists kept track of the participants’ daily activity levels, heart health, as well as deaths.

So how bad was the damage?

The researchers found that compared to people who sat less than 4 hours a day, those who sat for more than 8 hours had anywhere from a 17 - 50% increase in the likelihood of a cardiac event or an early death. People who sat for 8+ hours but were otherwise fairly active ranked closer to the 17% figure, whereas chronic sitters who didn’t exercise came in closer to 50%.

Any silver linings?

The fact that exercise made such a big difference means that it’s probably not just the literal act of sitting that leads to heart issues or earlier death, but rather an individual’s overall physical fitness levels. So feel free to enjoy your ergonomic, memory-foam, heated massage-roller office chair — just make sure to stand up and take a walk every once thrice in a while.


The Leak: A new observational study shows that spending all your time on your butt could lead to an increased chance of dying early. Butt at least now you have a science-approved reason to go wandering away from your desk in the middle of the work day. 🍑


What do city mice and country mice have in common?

Not their gut bacteria, apparently. Instead, a new study shows that wildlife living in urban and rural environments have strikingly different gut microbiomes.

Tell me more.

Researchers analyzed bacteria found in the tummies of three species of animals — lizards, coyotes, and sparrows. Some of the animals were city slickers, whereas others were from more rural areas. The scientists found that city animals had very different gut bacteria from their rural counterparts, which was rather unusual. What’s more — the bacterial profile of city critters was actually much closer to that of people (meaning that the half-eaten burger you threw away earlier could be causing bacterial spillover from humans to animals).


The Leak: The animals we share our cities with have “humanized” gut microbiomes. Jury is still out on whether that’s a bad thing, but considering how much influence gut bacteria have on an organism’s health, we’re not super optimistic. 😔

Wondering how grandpa can still burn through a pack of cigarettes a day?

Smoking is a massive health hazard, yet some people manage to puff their way through life without ever developing lung cancer. According to a new study, some folks may simply not be as susceptible to smoking-induced DNA mutations in lung cells. This could explain why they’re able to resist cancer in spite of their penchant for lighting up.

Can't stop going after the midnight snacks?

Meet Lac-Phe — a molecule generated in your body that can suppress appetite. According to a recent study, this molecule can also induce weight loss (at least in mice). But here’s the catch — the main way to make your body produce Lac-Phe is through (drumroll, please)...high intensity exercise. Looks like you won’t be getting out of that trip to the gym just yet.

Does catnip turn your cat into a toddler on cocaine?

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