Air pollution found to affect marker of female fertility in real-life study

Ovarian reserve, a term widely adopted to reflect the number of resting follicles in the ovary and thus a marker of potential female fertility, has been found in a large-scale study to be adversely affected by high levels of air pollution.

Results from the Ovarian Reserve and Exposure to Environmental Pollutants (ORExPo study), a ‘real-world data’ study using hormone measurements taken from more than 1300 Italian women, are presented today at the Annual Meeting of ESHRE by first investigator Professor Antonio La Marca from the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy.

Behind the study lay emerging evidence that many environmental chemicals, as well as natural and artificial components of everyday diet, have the potential to disturb the physiological role of hormones, interfering with their biosynthesis, signaling or metabolism. The hormone in this case, anti- Müllerian hormone or AMH, is secreted by cells in the ovary and is now widely recognised as a reliable circulating marker of ovarian reserve.(1)

‘The influence of age and smoking on AMH serum levels is now largely accepted,’ explains Professor La Marca, ‘but a clear effect of environmental factors has not been demonstrated so far.’

The ORExPo study was in effect an analysis of all AMH measurements taken from women living in the Modena area between 2007 and 2017 and assembled in a large database. These measurements were extended to a computing data warehouse in which AMH levels were linked to patients’ age and residential address. The analysis was completed with environmental data and a ‘geo-localisation’ estimate based on each patient’s residence. The assessment of environmental exposure considered daily particulate matter (PM) and values of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a polluting gas which gets into the air from burning fuel.

Results from the 1463 AMH measurements collected from 1318 women firstly showed — as expected — that serum AMH levels after the age of 25 were inversely and significantly related to the women’s age. However, it was also found that AMH levels were inversely and significantly related to environmental pollutants defined as PM10, PM2.5 and NO2. This association was age-independent.

These results were determined by dividing the full dataset into quartiles reflecting PM10, PM2.5 and NO2 concentrations. The analysis found significantly lower levels of AMH in the fourth quartile than in the lowest quartiles, which, said Professor La Marca, ‘again confirms that independently of age the higher the level of particulate matter and NO2, the lower the serum concentration of AMH’. The lowest concentration of AMH — reflecting ‘severe ovarian reserve reduction’ — was measured in subjects who were exposed to levels of PM10, PM2.5 and NO2 above 29.5, 22 and 26 mcg/m3 respectively. Nevertheless, these were values well below the upper limits recommended by the EU and local authorities (ie, 40, 25 and 40 mcg /m3 respectively).

Severe ovarian reserve reduction, as reflected in a serum AMH concentration below 1 ng/ml, was significantly more frequent in the fourth quartile than in the first three quartiles for PM10 (62% vs 38%), for PM2.5, and for NO2. ‘This means by our calculations,’ said Professor La Marca, ‘exposure to high levels of PM10, PM2.5 and NO2 increases the risk of having a severely reduced ovarian reserve by a factor between 2 and 3.’

While noting that this study again confirms that age is the most important determinant of AMH concentration in women, Professor La Marca emphasised that other factors such as smoking, body weight and long-term hormonal contraception are already recognised as having an impact on AMH. Similarly, he said, environmental pollutants may also have a significant effect in determining circulating levels of AMH. ‘Living in an area associated with high levels of air pollutants in our study increased the risk of severely reduced ovarian reserve by a factor of 2 or 3,’ he said.

Sex Therapists Share the Sex Fears They Hear All the Time

Fun sex things to talk about: enthusiastic consent, pleasure, sex toys, kink, orgasms, positions, intimacy. Less fun sex things to talk about: insecurity, inadequacy, unwelcome pain, dysfunction, internalized stigma, embarrassment. Understandable. No one wants to sit around chatting about their deepest sexual anxieties. But when you rarely see people having these less sexy conversations, it’s easy to assume you’re the only one who might have a complicated relationship with sex. You’re not.

“The sex education standard in North America is fear-based, shame-inducing messages that erase pleasure and consent,” sex therapist Shadeen Francis, L.M.F.T., tells SELF. “Because of this, there is a lot of room for folks to worry. Most of the insecurities I encounter as a sex therapist boil down to one overarching question: ‘Am I normal?’”

To help answer that question, SELF asked a few sex therapists what topics come up again and again in their work. Turns out, no matter what you’re going through, more people than you might think can probably relate.

1. You feel like you have no idea what you’re doing.

Listen, good sex takes practice. It’s not like sex ed often covers much outside the mechanics: This goes here, that does that, this makes a baby. For the most part, people are left to their own devices to figure out what sex is actually like. A lot of the time, that info comes from less-than-satisfactory places, like unrealistic porn that perpetuates way too many myths to count. So if you’re not super confident in your abilities and sometimes feel like you have no idea what you’re doing, you’re not the only one.

This is especially true for people whose genders and sexualities aren’t represented in typical heteronormative sex ed. “Intersex people, gender non-conforming people, and trans people rarely have been centered in sexual conversations and often are trying to navigate discovering what pleases them and communicating that with partners outside of gender tropes,” says Francis.

People also worry that they’re straight up bad in bed all the time, Lexx Brown-James, L.M.F.T., certified sex educator and the founder of The Institute for Sexuality and Intimacy in St. Louis, tells SELF. “The most common question I get is, ‘How do I know if I’m good at sex?’” This, Brown-James emphasizes, isn’t the right question to be asking. Not only is everyone’s definition of “good sex” different, but it’s not going to come down to something as simple as your personal skill set. It’s about consensually exploring and communicating about what feels good, emotionally and physically, with your partner or partners.

2. You’re embarrassed about masturbation.

Depending on a few different factors, you might have a lot of internalized shame and self-consciousness around masturbation. Maybe you grew up in an environment that told you it was dirty or wrong, maybe no one talked to you about it at all, or maybe you’ve always felt a little nervous about the idea of pleasuring yourself. According to Francis, a lot of people have masturbation-related hangups.

If that sounds familiar, it’s important to remember how common masturbation is and that there’s no “right” way to do it. Not only do people of all ages, abilities, races, genders, religions, sizes, and relationship statuses masturbate, but there are tons of different ways to go about it, too. “People masturbate using their hands, their body weight, their toys, and various household or ‘DIY’ implements,” says Francis. Same goes for how people turn themselves on—people masturbate to fantasies, memories, visual and audio porn, literature, and a lot more. Some masturbate alone, while others also do it in front of or with their sexual partner or partners. Sex therapists have heard it all.

Basically, if your way of masturbating feels good to you and does not create harm for yourself or others, then it is a wonderfully healthy part of your sexuality and you should embrace it, says Francis. (Just make sure you’re being safe. So…don’t use any of these things to get yourself off.)

3. You worry that you’re not progressive enough.

You’ve probably noticed that lifestyles like kink and polyamory are bleeding into the mainstream. It’s not unusual to stumble across phrases like “ethically non-monogamous” and “in an open relationship” while swiping through a dating app.

According to sex therapist Ava Pommerenk, Ph.D., this increased visibility is having an unfortunate side effect: Some people who aren’t into the idea of polyamory or kink have started to feel like they’re…well, boring or even close-minded. Which is not true! But plenty of people equate alternative sexual practices with progressiveness when it’s really about personal preference. If you’ve been thinking your vanilla nature makes you old-school, just keep in mind that it’s totally OK if any kind of sexual act or practice isn’t your thing.

While we’re on the topic, it’s worth noting that both non-monogamy and kink can be wonderful but require a lot of trust and communication. Some people who aren’t educated on the ethics involved are taking advantage of these practices as buzzwords to excuse shitty behavior.

“I get a lot of people, particularly women in relationships with men, whose [partners are] making them feel guilty for not opening up their relationship,” Pommerenk tells SELF. At best, that kind of behavior means there’s been some serious misunderstanding and miscommunication, but at worst, it can suggest an unhealthy or even emotionally abusive dynamic, says Pommerenk. If that sounds familiar to you, it’s worth unpacking, possibly with the help of someone like a sex therapist. You can also reach out to resources like the National Dating Abuse Helpline by calling 866-331-9474 or texting “loveis” to 22522 and the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 800-799-SAFE (7233) or through email or live chat on the hotline’s contact page.

4. You feel pressured to have sex a certain way or amount.

“One aspect of this that I see a lot—and this is true for all genders—is pressure to perform,” sex therapist Jillien Kahn, L.M.F.T., tells SELF. “[That] can include things like the pressure to have sex at a certain point in dating, feeling expected to magically know how to please a partner without communication, and/or fear of sexual challenges and dysfunctions.”

Kahn likes to remind her clients that sex isn’t a performance. “The best sex happens when we forget the pressure and are able to connect with our bodies and partners,” she says. “If you’re primarily concerned with your own performance or making your partner orgasm, you’re missing out on so much of the good stuff.”

Pommerenk also says it’s not uncommon for her clients to worry about the consequences of not being sexually available to their partners. For example, they feel like they’re bad partners if they’re not in the mood sometimes or that their partners will leave them if they don’t have sex often enough. A lot of this is cultural messaging we have to unlearn. It’s not difficult to internalize pressure to be the “perfect” sexual partner. After all, people in movies and porn are often ready and available for sex at all times. But much like worrying that you’re not open-minded enough, if this is how your partner is making you feel or something that they’re actually threatening you about, that’s not just a sexual hangup of yours—it’s a sign of potential emotional abuse.

5. You’re freaked out about a “weird” kink, fetish, or fantasy.

“Many of my clients seem to have a fantasy or enjoy a type of porn they feel ashamed of,” says Kahn. Some of these clients even feel ashamed to mention their fantasies or preferred porn in therapy, she adds. “The thing is, the vast majority of your fantasies have been around far longer than you have. The porn you look at was developed because a lot of people want to watch it. Even in the rare exception of unique fetishes or fantasies, there is nothing to be ashamed of,” says Kahn.

It can help to remember that just because you have a fantasy or like a certain type of porn doesn’t necessarily mean you want to do any of it IRL. According to Kahn, that’s an important distinction to make, because people often feel guilty or panicked about some of the thoughts that turn them on. For example, rape fantasies aren’t unheard of—in fact, like many fantasies, they’re probably more common than you’d expect, says Kahn—and they don’t mean that a person has a real desire to experience rape.

“I try to make sure my clients know that the fantasy doesn’t necessarily mean anything about them, so it is not necessary to try and analyze it,” says Kahn. “Whatever you’re fantasizing about, I can confidently tell you that you’re far from the only person excited by that idea.”

What if you do want to carry out a fantasy you’re worried is weird? Again, as long as you’re not actively harming yourself or anyone else, chances are pretty good that whatever you’re into sexually is completely OK—and that you can find someone else who’s into it, too.

If you’re still feeling embarrassed about any of your sexual practices, desires, or feelings, Kahn has these parting words: “Sexual anxiety and insecurity [are] such a universal experience. There’s constant comparison to this continually changing image of sexual perfection. [People should] discuss sex more openly for many reasons, and if we did, we would see how incredibly common sexual insecurity is.”


Babies can learn link between language and ethnicity, study suggests

Eleven-month-old infants can learn to associate the language they hear with ethnicity, recent research from the University of British Columbia suggests.

The study, published April 22 by Developmental Psychobiology, found that 11-month-old infants looked more at the faces of people of Asian descent versus those of Caucasian descent when hearing Cantonese versus English — but not when hearing Spanish.

“Our findings suggest that by 11 months, infants are making connections between languages and ethnicities based on the individuals they encounter in their environments. In learning about language, infants are doing more than picking up sounds and sentences — they also learn about the speakers of language,” said Lillian May, a psychology lecturer at UBC who was lead author of the study.

The research was done in Vancouver, where approximately nine per cent of the population can speak Cantonese.

The researchers played English-learning infants of Caucasian ancestry sentences in both English and Cantonese and showed them pictures of people of Caucasian descent, and of Asian descent. When the infants heard Cantonese, they looked more at the Asian faces than when they were hearing English. When they heard English, they looked equally to Asian and Caucasian faces.

“This indicates that they have already learned that in Vancouver, both Caucasians and Asians are likely to speak English, but only Asians are likely to speak Cantonese,” noted UBC psychology professor Janet Werker, the study’s senior author.

The researchers showed the same pictures to the infants while playing Spanish, to see whether they were inclined to associate any unfamiliar language with any unfamiliar ethnicity. However, in that test the infants looked equally to Asian and Caucasian faces. This suggests young infants pick up on specific language-ethnicity pairings based on the faces and languages they encounter.

“Babies are learning so much about language — even about its social use — long before they produce the first word,” said Werker. “The link between speaker characteristics and language is something no one has to teach babies. They learn it all on their own.”

The researchers are now probing how babies’ ability to link language and ethnicity might help them with language acquisition.

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Materials provided by University of British Columbia. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Fake news ‘vaccine’ works: ‘Pre-bunking’ game reduces susceptibility to disinformation

An online game in which people play the role of propaganda producers to help them identify real world disinformation has been shown to increase “psychological resistance” to fake news, according to a study of 15,000 participants.

In February 2018, University of Cambridge researchers helped launch the browser game Bad News. Thousands of people spent fifteen minutes completing it, with many allowing the data to be used for a study.

Players stoke anger and fear by manipulating news and social media within the simulation: deploying twitter bots, photo-shopping evidence, and inciting conspiracy theories to attract followers — all while maintaining a “credibility score” for persuasiveness.

“Research suggests that fake news spreads faster and deeper than the truth, so combatting disinformation after-the-fact can be like fighting a losing battle,” said Dr Sander van der Linden, Director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab.

“We wanted to see if we could pre-emptively debunk, or ‘pre-bunk’, fake news by exposing people to a weak dose of the methods used to create and spread disinformation, so they have a better understanding of how they might be deceived.

“This is a version of what psychologists call ‘inoculation theory’, with our game working like a psychological vaccination.”

To gauge the effects of the game, players were asked to rate the reliability of a series of different headlines and tweets before and after gameplay. They were randomly allocated a mixture of real (“control”) and fake news (“treatment”).

The study, published today in the journal Palgrave Communications, showed the perceived reliability of fake news before playing the game had reduced by an average of 21% after completing it. Yet the game made no difference to how users ranked real news.

The researchers also found that those who registered as most susceptible to fake news headlines at the outset benefited most from the “inoculation.”

“We find that just fifteen minutes of gameplay has a moderate effect, but a practically meaningful one when scaled across thousands of people worldwide, if we think in terms of building societal resistance to fake news,” said van der Linden.

Jon Roozenbeek, study co-author also from Cambridge University, said: “We are shifting the target from ideas to tactics. By doing this, we are hoping to create what you might call a general ‘vaccine’ against fake news, rather than trying to counter each specific conspiracy or falsehood.”

Roozenbeek and van der Linden worked with Dutch media collective DROG and design agency Gusmanson to develop Bad News, and the idea of a game to inoculate against fake news has attracted much attention.

Working with the UK Foreign Office, the team have translated the game into nine different languages, including German, Serbian, Polish and Greek. WhatsApp have commissioned the researchers to create a new game for their messaging platform.

The team have also created a “junior version” for children aged 8-10, available in ten different languages so far. “We want to develop a simple and engaging way to establish media literacy at a relatively early age, then look at how long the effects last,” said Roozenbeek.

This first set of results from Bad News has its limitations, say researchers. The sample was self-selecting (those who came across the game online and opted to play), and as such was skewed toward younger, male, liberal, and more educated demographics.

With this in mind, however, the study found the game to be almost equally effective across age, education, gender, and political persuasion. Bad News has ideological balance built in: players can choose to create fake news from the left and right of the political spectrum.

There are six “badges” to earn in the game, each reflecting a common strategy used by purveyors of fake news: impersonation; conspiracy; polarisation; discrediting sources; trolling; emotionally provocative content.

Due to limited bandwidth, in-game questions measuring the effects of Bad News were deployed for four of its featured fake news badges.

For the disinformation tactic of “impersonation,” often seen in the mimicking of trusted personalities on social media, the game reduced perceived reliability of the fake headlines and tweets by 24% from pre to post gameplay.

Bad News gameplay reduced perceived reliability of deliberately polarising headlines by about 10%, and “discrediting” — attacking a legitimate source with accusations of bias — by 19%.

For “conspiracy,” the spreading of false narratives blaming secretive groups for world events, perceived reliability was reduced by 20%.

“Our platform offers early evidence of a way to start building blanket protection against deception, by training people to be more attuned to the techniques that underpin most fake news,” added Roozenbeek.

Why money cannot ‘buy’ housework

If a man is handy with the vacuum cleaner, isn’t averse to rustling up a lush family meal most nights after he’s put on the washing machine having popped into the supermarket on his way home then it’s more than likely his partner will have her own bank account.

A new study by Lancaster University reveals the way in which couples manage their money tells ‘a tale of two marriages’ in the UK today.

The research shows the management of household finances and control of financial decisions are linked to the time spent by women and men on routine housework such as cooking, cleaning, laundry and grocery shopping.

‘What about money? Earnings, household financial organization, and housework’ conducted by Lancaster Lecturer in Sociology, Dr Yang Hu, is published today in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

The study analysed data from more than 6,000 heterosexual couples, aged 20 to 59, from the UK Household Longitudinal Survey (Understanding Society).

This is the first study to examine how the organisation of household finances intervenes between couples getting their pay packets and housework at home. It takes previous studies on housework a step further.

“Housework provides a window into the ‘checks and balances’ of power and gender in couple relationships,” said Dr Hu.

To negotiate their housework participation, men either hand over their income to their partners, who manage the money, so they use money to ‘exchange’ their way out of housework, or they hold on to their income to ‘bargain’ their way out of housework.

“Men get away with not doing housework through both channels,” explains Dr Hu. “It puts women in a very compromising position as they are left to do the lion’s share of housework.”

Given wage penalties and a glass ceiling in the labour market, women are unlikely to win the ‘war’ over housework by ‘exchanging’ and ‘bargaining’ with men.

They are seen to negotiate in a different way. Going ‘solo’, some working women are seen to opt out of housework by taking control of their own earnings and developing a sense of autonomy.

Indeed, women’s income only reduces their housework time when they can access their own earnings and have a say in household financial decisions. But the study finds that in the UK, less than 12% of working-age women kept separate purses, another 23% managed household finances, and only around 15% controlled financial decisions.

“Our research provides further evidence to show that despite women’s participation in education and the labour market, this still has not yet translated into gender equality in housework at home,” said Dr Hu.

“If men still monopolise the management of household finances and financial decisions, then things are unlikely to change,” said Dr Hu. “It’s therefore important for everyone to be able to access their own earnings.

“Educating and employing more women and settling the gender pay gap with gender equality flowing neatly into place at home as a result is certainly not the story this analysis is revealing.”

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Materials provided by Lancaster University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Breast Milk Storage: Dos and Don’ts

If you’re breastfeeding and going back to work or looking for more flexibility, you’re probably considering using a breast pump. Once you start pumping, it’s important to know how to safely store your expressed milk. Consider these dos and don’ts for breast milk storage.

What kind of container should I use to store expressed breast milk?

Before expressing or handling breast milk, wash your hands with soap and water. Then store the expressed milk in a clean, capped glass or hard plastic, BPA-free container. You can also use special plastic bags designed for milk collection and storage.

However, breast milk storage bags might tear, leak, and become contaminated more easily than hard-sided containers. For extra protection, place the bags in a hard plastic food storage container with a tightly sealed lid.

Don’t store breast milk in disposable bottle liners or plastic bags designed for general household use.

What’s the best way to store expressed breast milk?

Using waterproof labels and ink, label each container with the date you expressed the breast milk. If you’re storing expressed milk at your baby’s child care facility, add your baby’s name to the label. Place the containers in the back of the refrigerator or freezer, where the temperature is the coolest. If you don’t have access to a refrigerator or freezer, store the milk temporarily in an insulated cooler.

Fill individual containers with the milk your baby will need for one feeding. You might start with 2 to 4 ounces (59 to 118 milliliters), and then adjust as needed. Also consider storing smaller portions—1 to 2 ounces (30 to 59 milliliters)—for unexpected situations or delays in regular feedings. Breast milk expands as it freezes, so don’t fill containers to the brim.

Can I add freshly expressed breast milk to already stored milk?

You can add freshly expressed breast milk to refrigerated or frozen milk you expressed earlier in the same day. However, thoroughly cool the freshly expressed breast milk in the refrigerator or a cooler with ice packs before adding it to previously chilled or frozen milk. Don’t add warm breast milk to frozen breast milk because it will cause the frozen milk to partially thaw.

How long does expressed breast milk keep?

How long you can safely keep expressed breast milk depends on the storage method. Consider these general guidelines for healthy infants:

  • Room temperature. Freshly expressed breast milk can be kept at room temperature for up to six hours. However, use or proper storage within four hours is optimal. If the room is especially warm, the limit is also four hours.
  • Insulated cooler. Freshly expressed breast milk can be stored in an insulated cooler with ice packs for up to one day.
  • Refrigerator. Freshly expressed breast milk can be stored in the back of the refrigerator for up to five days in clean conditions. However, use or freezer storage within three days is optimal.
  • Deep freezer. Freshly expressed breast milk can be stored in the back of a deep freezer for up to 12 months. However, using the frozen milk within six months is optimal.

Keep in mind research suggests that the longer you store breast milk—whether in the refrigerator or in the freezer—the greater the loss of vitamin C in the milk. It’s also important to note that breast milk expressed when a baby is a newborn won’t as completely meet the same baby’s needs when he or she is a few months older. Also, storage guidelines might differ for preterm, sick, or hospitalized infants.

How do I thaw frozen breast milk?

Thaw the oldest milk first. Place the frozen container in the refrigerator the night before you intend to use it. You can also gently warm the milk by placing it under warm running water or in a bowl of warm water.

Also, don’t heat a frozen bottle in the microwave or very quickly on the stove. Some parts of the milk might be too hot, and others cold. Some research suggests that rapid heating can affect the milk’s antibodies.

While further research is needed on whether previously frozen milk that’s been thawed can be frozen again and safely used, many experts recommend discarding thawed milk that isn’t used within 24 hours.

Does thawed breast milk smell or look different from fresh breast milk?

The color of your breast milk might vary, depending on your diet. Also, thawed breast milk might seem to have a different odor or consistency than freshly expressed milk. It’s still safe to feed to your baby. If your baby refuses the thawed milk, it might help to shorten the storage time.

Updated: 2015-04-07

Publication Date: 2009-12-01

Can Our Bodies Even Tell the Difference Between Naturally Occurring and Added Sugars?

If you regularly read nutrition labels—or, ya know, half-heartedly skim them on occasion just for the hell of it—you may have noticed a couple new lines appearing on more and more products. Food manufacturers are now listing “Total Sugars” and “Added Sugars” in the Nutrition Facts (under “Total Carbohydrate”), thanks to a new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirement. That kind of implies added sugars are officially something you need to be wary of.

But what does “added sugar” even mean? Is it somehow inherently worse for us than naturally occurring sugar? We have a lot of questions, so we went digging for answers.

Here’s what we mean when we say “naturally occurring” versus “added” sugars.

To put it simply, added sugar is any sugar that was added to the food at some point, while naturally occurring sugar is just inherently already in the food.

Naturally occurring sugars are the kinds found in all fruits (fresh, frozen, dried, canned in 100 percent fruit juice), many dairy products (like milk and yogurt), some vegetables (like sweet potatoes and corn), and 100 percent fruit and vegetable juices. Basically, they are an inherent part of the foods they’re found in—nobody put them there.

Added sugars, on the other hand, are the kinds created or put in during the manufacturing process. They sometimes appear solo in their pure form as the ingredients you use to whip up a batch of cookies (granulated sugar, molasses, brown sugar) or liven up your oatmeal in the morning (honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar). Added sugars also commonly appear in baked goods or packaged foods, under those names and in less familiar forms, health and wellness coach Kim Larson, R.D.N., tells SELF. That includes pretty much anything containing the word “syrup” (like corn syrup, malt syrup, and high-fructose corn syrup) or ending in “-ose,” Larson explains: dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose, and trehalose.

You can find added sugars in the obvious (pastries, ice cream, cereal, cookies, candy, soda, muffins, cakes) and the stuff we don’t think of as classic sweets (bread, salad dressing, crackers, pasta sauce), typically in smaller amounts.

Setting aside fresh fruit and vegetables and some plain dairy products, most products containing sugar actually contain some naturally occurring and some added. “Very rarely do you come across something that doesn’t have anything added to it to make it just a tiny more sweet or balance out the flavors,” Colleen Tewksbury, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., a senior research investigator and bariatric program manager at Penn Medicine and president-elect of the Pennsylvania Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells SELF.

For example, granola might contain some naturally occurring sugar from raisins or dates, along with some added sugar to sweeten up the oats, like honey. Tomato sauce contains naturally occurring sugars from tomatoes, along with, often, additional white sugar to counteract the natural acidity of the tomatoes. And an average strawberry yogurt will contain naturally occurring milk sugars in the plain yogurt itself and fruit sugars in the strawberries, in addition to some added sugars (like corn syrup). That’s why this labeling change will be helpful, Larson says, so people can more quickly discern how much added or naturally occurring sugar is in something.

Just to be clear, we’re not even getting into the huge variety of non-sugar sweeteners that can also be found in packaged foods. Sugar substitutes made in a lab (like saccharin and sucralose) or derived from nature (like stevia or monk fruit), which the FDA classifies as high-intensity sweeteners, are a totally different ballgame in terms of their chemical structure and effects on our bodies. Like added sugars, they are added to foods and beverages to give them a sweet taste—but without altering the sugar or overall nutritional content. They are not composed of sugar molecules and contain zero or very few calories. We’re also not talking about sugar alcohols (like sorbitol or xylitol) for the same reasons. Yes, these things taste sweet like sugar, but they don’t factor into our discussion here because they’re not actually sugar.

So, do different sugars impact our body differently?

Now that we’re clear on WTF naturally occurring and added sugars really are, let’s talk about whether your body even cares one way or the other.

“From a nutrition science standpoint, we really view them as basically the same,” Tewksbury says. “Our bodies can’t tell the difference whether it’s found in nature or added to a recipe, because they’re not any different in terms of their chemical structure.”

On a molecular level, there are two main kinds of sugars, the FDA explains, and most foods contain some of both. The first is monosaccharides, or single sugar molecules, which include fructose, galactose, and glucose. These go pretty much directly into the bloodstream after you eat them. The second is disaccharides, which are just two of these single sugar molecules linked together: sucrose, or table sugar (glucose + fructose); lactose, or milk sugar (glucose + galactose); and maltose, or malt sugar (glucose + glucose). These get quickly broken down by the liver into single glucose molecules before entering the bloodstream—so they raise your blood sugar just slightly more slowly, Tewksbury says.

All of the naturally occurring and added sugars we eat are simply some combination of these molecules. “What we call naturally occurring sugars aren’t more natural, per se, than added sugars,” Tewksbury says. “The glucose you find naturally occurring in a grape is going to be the same as the glucose in table sugar,” Tewksbury says. So while we distinguish between naturally occurring and added sugars on food labels, our bodies don’t distinguish between a molecule of fructose, glucose, sucrose, or whatever other sugar molecule you consume. We digest them all in generally the same way.

But wait! What about natural added sugars, you ask? Like honey and agave syrup. While “natural” might sound inherently good or better, it doesn’t really mean anything in this case. Sure, some of the ingredients we classify as “added sugars” are less refined than others and pretty close to the original form in which they’re found in nature, like maple syrup. Added sugars can also be extracted from foods with naturally occurring sugars and concentrated, like in the case of peach nectar or pear nectar. But the sugar molecules in a tablespoon of honey are not going to be superior to the sugar molecules found in a tablespoon of white sugar. “Chemically, [natural sugars] affect you exactly the same as table sugar,” Tewksbury says. Plus, you could argue that virtually all sugars are “natural” in some sense, given that they’re derived from something once found in nature. Even powdered sugar, for example, has just been refined from the sugarcane plant. So the term “natural sugar” sounds nice but doesn’t mean much.

If you’re wondering about the frequently demonized high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), by the way, it’s not worth freaking out about. HFCS has a higher ratio of fructose to glucose than regular corn syrup, the FDA explains—close to that of sucrose, or table sugar—and is a common source of large amounts of added sugar in packaged goods. But there’s no science to say that fructose is a worse monosaccharide for the body than any other, Tewksbury says.

In fact, a 2013 review published in the scientific journal Advances in Nutrition found that HFCS and sucrose (table sugar) work pretty much identically in the body, and concluded that there’s no good research out there to say that one impacts our metabolism and disease risk more than the other. (Similar research comparing fructose and sucrose is also pretty useless, the researchers say, as the studies we do have compare these sugars in amounts that are not reflective of human consumption.) The issue with foods containing HFCS appears to be not the form of sugar they contain but the amount, as these products tend to add higher-than-average concentrations of sugar to a person’s diet and little nutritional value. A 2018 review published in the British Medical Journal found that while fructose consumption generally does not have a harmful effect on blood sugar control, fructose-sweetened beverages (like sodas sweetened with HFCS) were associated with negative health effects because of the excess calories they added to the diet.

Basically, if you’re concerned about sugar intake, checking the label to see how much sugar is in the food you’re eating is more helpful than getting into the nitty gritty of exactly which chemical compound the sugar exists in.

Should we care, then, about added sugar in packaged foods?

If our bodies can’t even distinguish between a molecule of sugar from a banana or a brownie, then why even differentiate between the two on nutrition labels? Well, that’s a good question. It would seem that since, to our bodies, sugar is sugar, it wouldn’t really matter. If you’re trying to limit your sugar intake for whatever reason, looking at the total grams of sugar, no matter the source, is a sufficient way to do so.

But that doesn’t mean calling out added sugars is necessarily useless. Products with a ton of added sugar in them are foods that are processed, which means that there’s a decent chance other important nutrients could have been stripped out in the process of making the food sweeter and more desirable for consumers.

Foods consisting of only naturally occurring sugars, on the other hand, are typically inherently full of other good stuff, like fiber (in fruit), protein (in dairy products), and vitamins and minerals (in both fruit and dairy products), Larson says.

And those costarring nutrients can affect how your body reacts to the sugar in that food. Consider a piece of fruit-flavored candy compared to a pear, each with 10 grams of sugar. The fiber present in the pear (and missing from the candy) can have several positive health effects, like regulating digestion, increasing feelings of satiety, and slowing the breakdown and absorption of sugar into your bloodstream. So even though you’re technically consuming the same amount of sugar from both foods, and those sugars are equivalent in and of themselves, you’ll feel a little more satisfied and your blood sugar won’t spike quite as quickly when you eat the pear, Tewksbury explains. More gradual fluctuations in your blood sugar provide a steadier supply of energy, and are especially helpful for anyone wanting to keep blood sugar levels stable, such as those with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.

Products with mostly added sugar also tend to have a much greater concentration of sugar than something like a piece of fruit, Tewksbury says, which makes it easier to eat more sugar without realizing it. For example, downing 40, 50, or more grams of sugar when you’re nomming on candy or sipping soda is pretty easy to do. Eating 40 or 50 grams of sugar from fruit or milk, on the other hand, requires some effort.

But, on that note, it’s important to remember that sticking with naturally occurring sugar isn’t always better or a foolproof way to consume less of the sweet stuff. Fruit juice is a great example of this. For instance, a cup of 100 percent fruit juice will have a good amount of sugar on the label, none of which would be considered added sugar (unless it’s artificially made more concentrated and therefore more sugar-dense). But just because a cup of apple juice might have 25 grams of naturally occurring sugar, your body’s not going to process or react to that sugar any differently than 25 grams of added sugar from a soda. (Although, it is worth noting, you will get some vitamins out of the apple juice.) From a purely nutritional value standpoint, a snack bar containing 25 grams of added sugar and good amount of fiber and protein would be a sounder choice.

So the bottom line is that yes, it’s easier to get more nutritional value and harder to consume excessive amounts of sugar from foods with only or mostly naturally occurring sugars. But again, that’s due to the nutritional value in the rest of the food, not the nature of the sugar itself. (See what we did there?) No, a cup of yogurt does not equal a donut. But “sugar is sugar is sugar,” as Tewksbury puts it.


The 8 Niacinamide Skin-Care Products Dermatologists Swear By

You may not have heard of the ingredient niacinamide—a form of vitamin B3—by name, but chances are you’ve already used it on your face. The ingredient has been a staple in skin-care products for literally years, but has recently come into the spotlight as a shining star, particularly for those prone to breakouts, or for sensitive skin types. Niacinamide is also water-soluble, which makes it an easy ingredient to be added into cleansers, serums, creams or sunscreen, Shasa Hu, M.D., F.A.A.D, associate professor of dermatology at Miami University tells SELF.

Niacinamide has anti-inflammatory properties which, when applied topically, help minimize the impact of acne, and moderate rosacea. If that wasn’t impressive enough, the ingredient can also neutralize free radical damage, helping to prevent skin cancer as well as fine lines and wrinkles in the process. “The amount of niacinamide in products varies in formulations, and depends on what other ingredients are in the product,” says Marnie B. Nussbaum, M.D., Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College. “There are topical formulations ranging from two percent to 10 percent.”

If you’re considering trying it out at home but unsure where to start, check out some of these over-the-counter niacinamide products dermatologists swear by.

All products featured on SELF are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Americans overestimate income for children from wealthy families

Americans overestimate the future income for children from wealthy and middle-income families, but underestimate that for children from poor ones, finds a new study by New York University sociologists.

The research, which appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), runs counter to popular perceptions, as well as to some previous research, that holds Americans, overall, have optimistic views of economic mobility in America.

“Our results suggest that the once-prevailing belief that Americans tolerate inequality because they see great promise in economic mobility may not hold true today,” observes Siwei Cheng, an assistant professor in NYU’s Department of Sociology and the paper’s senior author. “In fact, the American public is acutely aware of, and in fact quite pessimistic about, the remarkably unequal distribution of economic opportunities among children from rich and poor families.”

“Intergenerational mobility” refers to the odds that children will move up or down in socioeconomic status relative to their parents. Previous research has shown that intergenerational mobility has remained low and stable in the United States over the past few decades. Yet, popular discourse often assumes that Americans are optimistic about intergenerational mobility — and perhaps overly so — even if they are concerned about inequality.

Moreover, previous scholarship has produced conflicting results, with some studies showing that Americans are optimistic about intergenerational mobility and others indicating pessimism.

The PNAS study, which also included Fangqi Wen, an NYU doctoral candidate, sought a more precise method to gauge how perceptions of intergenerational mobility aligned with reality.

To do so, the researchers developed a survey instrument soliciting the public’s perceptions (3,077 U.S. adults) on the relationship between the parents’ and child’s income ranks. Specifically, they asked participants to indicate where they thought a particular child’s own family income would rank when he or she reached the age of 40. In addition, the participants were split into discrete groups and were given different descriptions of the child’s background. In one, the child was described as a college graduate and, in another, was portrayed as someone who “worked hard” in life, a condition designed to gauge whether respondents believe individual effort to be a factor promoting mobility. In a third, no description was given — this served as a baseline group. These descriptions were added right after the information on the person’s parental income rank was given (e.g., ranked in the middle or in the top 10% of all U.S. families).

They then compared these views against actual income data. This allowed the researchers to match perception of future income with real numbers. So, for instance, if the survey respondents predicted future income for children from rich and poor families to be more unequal than what the data showed, they were pessimistic about intergenerational mobility. By contrast, if they saw future income as more equal than what actually occurred, they were optimistic.

Overall, the findings showed that those surveyed overestimate the economic prospect for children from rich and middle-income families while underestimating that for those from poor families.

In addition, the perceptions of some types of respondents offered some interesting findings. For example, the following categories of respondents were more pessimistic about the equality of mobility prospects across parental income ranks: those aged 18 to 29, white, living in a household with $30,000-$99,999 annual income, owning a house or paying some rent, leaning liberal, or with a bachelor’s degree.

In fact, those with a bachelor’s degree were the most pessimistic about the equality of mobility outcomes — and especially so for children from the lowest 30 percent of the income distribution. This particular finding is consistent with previous studies.

Finally, results based on the different hypothetical children yielded some notable results. Specifically, when a hypothetical person is described as having a college degree, the respondents perceived slightly higher income ranks for children across the parental income spectrum. However, the perceived change in income level was much smaller than the change in reality, suggesting that the public underestimates not only the amount of mobility overall, but also the contribution of a college degree to mobility.

Similarly, intergenerational mobility for a hypothetical “hard-working” child was not seen as significantly greater than that for the baseline measurement, further indicating that the public is pessimistic about the equality of opportunity — even when the hypothetical person is assigned attributes that should promote economic mobility (i.e., hard work and a college degree).

“This research challenges the prior belief that Americans hold an optimistic view about the openness of the society and is instead consistent with the idea that the everyday experiences of highly unequal opportunity between children from poorer and wealthier families may have shaped how the general public thinks about the opportunity structure of the American society,” Cheng and Wen conclude.

The research was supported, in part, by a grant from the National Science Foundation (0818839).

Big data says food is too sweet

New research from the Monell Center analyzed nearly 400,000 food reviews posted by Amazon customers to gain real-world insight into the food choices that people make. The findings reveal that many people find the foods in today’s marketplace to be too sweet.

“This is the first study of this scale to study food choice beyond the artificial constraints of the laboratory,” said study lead author Danielle Reed, PhD, a behavioral geneticist at Monell. “Sweet was the most frequently mentioned taste quality and the reviewers definitively told us that human food is over-sweetened.”

The study used data posted on an open-source data science site to examine 393,568 unique food reviews of 67,553 products posted by 256,043 Amazon customers over a 10-year period. Using a sophisticated statistical modeling program to identify words related to taste, texture, odor, spiciness, cost, health, and customer service, the scientists computed the number of reviews that mentioned each of these categories.

“Reading and synthesizing almost 400,000 reviews would essentially be impossible for a human team, but recent developments in machine learning gave us the ability to understand both which words are present and also their underlying semantic meaning,” said study coauthor Joel Mainland, PhD, an olfactory neurobiologist at Monell.

The focus on product over-sweetness was striking, as almost one percent of product reviews, regardless of food type, used the phrase “too sweet.” When looking at reviews that referred to sweet taste, the researchers found that over-sweetness was mentioned 25 times more than under-sweetness.

The findings, published online in advance of print in Physiology & Behavior, indicated that over 30 percent of the Amazon food product reviews mentioned “taste,” making it the most frequently-used word.

Drilling down, the scientists found that sweet taste was mentioned in 11 percent of product reviews, almost three times more often than bitter. Saltiness was rarely mentioned, a somewhat surprising finding in light of public health concerns about excess salt consumption.

Seeking to better understand individual differences in how people respond to a given food, the scientists also looked at responses to the 10 products that received the widest range of ratings, as defined by the variability in the number of stars the product received. They identified two factors that tended to account for polarizing reviews related to a product: product reformulation and differing perspectives on the product’s taste. With regard to taste, people often rated the sweetness of a product differently. Response to a product’s smell also contributed to differences in opinion about a particular product.

“Genetic differences in taste or olfactory receptor sensitivity may help account for the extreme reactions that some products get,” said Reed. “Looking at the responses to polarizing foods could be a way to increase understanding of the biology of personal differences in food choice.”

Together, the findings illustrate the potential uses of big-data approaches and consumer reviews to advance sensory nutrition, an emerging field that integrates knowledge from sensory science with nutrition and dietetics to improve health. Moving forward, similar methods may inform approaches to personalized nutrition that can match a person’s sensory responses to inform healthier food choices.

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