Every single teacher on a crowd-funding site just got their wishes fulfilled

(CNN)When it comes to educating America’s children, how much of a difference could $29 million make? Could it send a second grader on a school trip to the museum, or provide updated equipment to a class of budding scientists?

Ripple, a cryptocurrency and international payment company, has donated $29 million in cryptocurrency to DonorsChoose.org, a donation platform that connects people to classroom needs across the country. With the money, Donors Choose was able to fulfill every single classroom project request on its site — 35,647 requests in all, from 28,210 teachers at 16,561 public schools.
“It’s fair to say there’s never been a day that this many classroom dreams have come true,” Donors Choose founder Charles Best told CNN.

    The Colbert bump

    The massive donation is the culmination, or grand finale, if you will, of the site’s #BestSchoolDay project. Two years ago, Stephen Colbert, who is a member of the Donors Choose board of directors, announced he was going to pay for every school project request in his home state of South Carolina.
    His act of kindness set off a movement that became known as #BestSchoolDay.
    “More than 50 actors, athletes and philanthropists were inspired to fund classrooms in their states,” Best told CNN. “Together, those 50-plus people gave more than $14 million, and to use, that represented the idea of a best school day.”
    Best says the response has been overwhelming — in a good way.
    “An outpouring of joy would not be an overstatement,” he said.

    The Ripple effect

    Best says when the organization connected with Ripple, the cryptocurrency management company was “inspired to think of the impact” of such a significant gift.
    “At Ripple, we care about giving back to our community and we collectively value the importance of quality education in developing the next generation of leaders,” Ripple’s SVP of Marketing Monica Long said in a statement.
    “DonorsChoose.org’s track record speaks for itself — they are highly effective at improving the quality of education and the experience of teachers and students across America. We’re proud to work with them to support classroom needs across the country.”
    According to Ripple’s company site, the donation will affect approximately 1 million public school students.
    Best says the “classroom projects” requested on the site represent specific missions or activities that teachers have for their students.
    “It’s a public schoolteacher requesting a classroom library. A field trip. A set of art supplies. A pair of microscopes. It’s about requesting experiences or tools to provide a student learning experience,” he said.
    “We believe in the wisdom of the front lines,” Best added. “Hardworking, passionate teachers know their students’ needs better than anyone else in the school environment. If we can tap into their needs, we can unleash smarter solutions and empower those people on the front lines.”

    Read more: https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/29/health/donors-choose-ripple-donation-stephen-colbert-trnd/index.html

    No signs of foul play in death of CDC scientist

    Atlanta (CNN)There were no signs of foul play in the death of a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologist who likely drowned, officials said Thursday.

    The remains of Timothy Cunningham were discovered Tuesday in the Chattahoochee River in northwest Atlanta, police spokesman Carlos Campos said.
    Cunningham, 35, was last seen on February 12.
      The preliminary cause of death is drowning, Fulton County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jan Gorniak told reporters. The manner of death has not been determined, she said.
      Authorities made a positive ID of the remains by using dental records, Gorniak said.
      Police are awaiting a final report from the medical examiner, but unless new information comes forward, the investigation is expected to conclude soon, officials said.
      Cunningham’s family released a statement Thursday night saying, “We sincerely thank all of you for the support and kindness you have shown our family during this difficult time. We are processing this incomprehensible loss and request time and space to grieve.”
      Cunningham’s disappearance prompted a high-profile police search and a $10,000 reward for clues. As days went on, internet rumors circulated that the case was tied to his alleged role as a flu vaccine whistle-blower. The rumors were debunked by police and his family.

      Body found wearing running shoes

      Maj. Michael O’Connor of the Atlanta Police Department stressed that “things are fluid and things can change,” but as of Thursday afternoon, there were no indications of foul play.
      Cunningham’s home is not far from the river, O’Connor said. Cunningham was also known to be a jogger, and was wearing his “favorite jogging shoes” when he was found.
      According to O’Connor, Cunningham was also an avid collector of “crystals,” and three were found in his pocket.
      The condition of the body is “consistent” with Cunningham having been in the river since he first went missing, Gorniak said. There were no signs of trauma on the body.
      “We may never be able to tell you how he got into the river,” O’Connor said.

      Area has been searched before

      Sgt. Cortez Stafford, a spokesman for the Atlanta Fire Department, said the department had searched the area of the river where the body was found on February 23. At that time, Stafford said, there was no sign of a body.
      But that wasn’t the case on Tuesday, when two fishermen called 911 to report a body.
      “It was very difficult terrain, very difficult to access the location of where Mr. Cunningham was found,” Stafford said. “It was in a remote area that’s not easily accessible by walking trails, by vehicle or by people just being around there.”
      The body was found along the riverbank, Stafford said, and was “stuck in a lot of mud as well.”
      Stafford couldn’t say whether the body had been in the area when it was canvassed on February 23. It could have been there or it could have moved there later, he said. “There’s just no way to tell due to the rise and fall of the river,” Stafford said.
      Assuming no new information is brought to investigators, O’Connor said, the case will likely be closed “fairly soon.”
      According to O’Connor, police feel they’ve spoken to “everyone of importance” in Cunningham’s life, and believe they’ve obtained all relevant information over the course of the investigation.

      Disappearance perplexed investigators

      Cunningham, of Atlanta, was last seen February 12, shortly after a CDC supervisor told him why he was being passed over for a promotion, police have said.
      The CDC’s director in mid-March issued a statement denying that Cunningham hadn’t gotten a promotion and noting that he’d been promoted in July. Atlanta police responded by doubling down on their version of events, citing the CDC as the source of the information.
      The case perplexed investigators because Cunningham’s keys, cell phone, credit cards, debit cards, wallet and all forms of identification were found in his house, along with his beloved dog.
      Co-workers told authorities that Cunningham had been “obviously disappointed” on the morning of February 12, when he learned why he wasn’t getting the promotion he’d hoped for, police have said. He left work quickly, saying he felt ill, they said.
      Earlier that morning, at 5:21 a.m., Cunningham’s mother had received a text message from him, she has said. “Are you awake?” her son asked. But her phone was on silent mode. “I wish I had that opportunity to answer that text,” she said later.
      Cunningham also called his mother at 9:12 a.m. that day, but she did not answer, Atlanta police have said. He did not leave a message.

      ‘This is extremely hard’

      Cunningham was a highly respected epidemiologist at the CDC, having risen through the ranks to become a team leader in the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. He earned a spot last year in the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 40 Under 40 list, a who’s who of the city’s young standouts.
      The CDC said in a statement sent to CNN that Cunningham’s “colleagues and friends at CDC are deeply saddened to learn of his death.” It called the doctor “invaluable” to the agency’s work.
      “Tim’s impact will be felt not only through his significant contributions to CDC’s mission, but also through his influence on the lives of his colleagues and friends,” the statement said.
      With more than 16 years of experience in public health, he’d co-authored 28 publications on topics ranging from sleep deprivation to pulmonary disease, with a special focus on how health issues affect minorities. He worked on public health emergencies including Superstorm Sandy, the Ebola outbreak and the Zika virus.
      Friends said Cunningham was smart and caring, with a big grin and big hugs to match.
      Fliers circulated across Atlanta in the weeks after he disappeared. They showed his magnetic smile and urged anyone with information to call 911.
      Cunningham’s parents, Tia and Terrell Cunningham, recently said they shared a worrisome series of text messages and a phone call with their son on the evening of February 11.
      “We’ve shared that with the detectives, and we’ve kept that as a private matter,” his father said. “As a parent, you have indicators when things are just not right with your child, and that was the case.”
      When they arrived at his house a few days later, Cunningham’s parents said, they knew something was wrong because his Tibetan spaniel was unattended. The dog, known as Bo, had twice accompanied Cunningham to Harvard, where he earned his master’s and doctoral degrees.
      Four times since their son went missing, Cunningham’s parents have been told that a body had been found. Each time, they felt heart-wrenching agony, they said, only to learn it wasn’t their son.
      “It takes you to a place that the light is not shining in,” Terrell Cunningham said. “I won’t call it a dark place, but they are lows. This is extremely hard.”

      Read more: https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/05/health/timothy-cunningham-cdc-body-found/index.html

      Marijuana legalization could help offset opioid epidemic, studies find

      (CNN)Experts have proposed using medical marijuana to help Americans struggling with opioid addiction. Now, two studies suggest that there is merit to that strategy.

      The studies, published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, compared opioid prescription patterns in states that have enacted medical cannabis laws with those that have not. One of the studies looked at opioid prescriptions covered by Medicare Part D between 2010 and 2015, while the other looked at opioid prescriptions covered by Medicaid between 2011 and 2016.
      The researchers found that states that allow the use of cannabis for medical purposes had 2.21 million fewer daily doses of opioids prescribed per year under Medicare Part D, compared with those states without medical cannabis laws. Opioid prescriptions under Medicaid also dropped by 5.88% in states with medical cannabis laws compared with states without such laws, according to the studies.
        “This study adds one more brick in the wall in the argument that cannabis clearly has medical applications,” said David Bradford, professor of public administration and policy at the University of Georgia and a lead author of the Medicare study.
        “And for pain patients in particular, our work adds to the argument that cannabis can be effective.”
        Medicare Part D, the optional prescription drug benefit plan for those enrolled in Medicare, covers more than 42 million Americans, including those 65 or older. Medicaid provides health coverage to more than 73 million low-income individuals in the US, according to the program’s website.
        “Medicare and Medicaid publishes this data, and we’re free to use it, and anyone who’s interested can download the data,” Bradford said. “But that means that we don’t know what’s going on with the privately insured and the uninsured population, and for that, I’m afraid the data sets are proprietary and expensive.”

        ‘This crisis is very real’

        The new research comes as the United States remains entangled in the worst opioid epidemic the world has ever seen. Opioid overdose has risen dramatically over the past 15 years and has been implicated in over 500,000 deaths since 2000 — more than the number of Americans killed in World War II.
        “As somebody who treats patients with opioid use disorders, this crisis is very real. These patients die every day, and it’s quite shocking in many ways,” said Dr. Kevin Hill, an addiction psychiatrist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the new studies.
        “We have had overuse of certain prescription opioids over the years, and it’s certainly contributed to the opioid crisis that we’re feeling,” he added. “I don’t think that’s the only reason, but certainly, it was too easy at many points to get prescriptions for opioids.”
        Today, more than 90 Americans a day die from opioid overdose, resulting in more than 42,000 deaths per year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioid overdose recently overtook vehicular accidents and shooting deaths as the most common cause of accidental death in the United States, the CDC says.
        Like opioids, marijuana has been shown to be effective in treating chronic pain as well as other conditions such as seizures, multiple sclerosis and certain mental disorders, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Research suggests that the cannabinoid and opioid receptor systems rely on common signaling pathways in the brain, including the dopamine reward system that is central to drug tolerance, dependence and addiction.
        “All drugs of abuse operate using some shared pathways. For example, cannabinoid receptors and opioid receptors coincidentally happen to be located very close by in many places in the brain,” Hill said. “So it stands to reason that a medication that affects one system might affect the other.”
        But unlike opioids, marijuana has little addiction potential, and virtually no deaths from marijuana overdose have been reported in the United States, according to Bradford.
        “No one has ever died of cannabis, so it has many safety advantages over opiates,” Bradford said. “And to the extent that we’re trying to manage the opiate crisis, cannabis is a potential tool.”

        Comparing states with and without medical marijuana laws

        In order to evaluate whether medical marijuana could function as an effective and safe alternative to opioids, the two teams of researchers looked at whether opioid prescriptions were lower in states that had active medical cannabis laws and whether those states that enacted these laws during the study period saw reductions in opioid prescriptions.
        Both teams, in fact, did find that opioid prescriptions were significantly lower in states that had enacted medical cannabis laws. The team that looked at Medicaid patients also found that the four states that switched from medical use only to recreational use — Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington — saw further reductions in opioid prescriptions, according to Hefei Wen, assistant professor of health management and policy at the University of Kentucky and a lead author on the Medicaid study.
        “We saw a 9% or 10% reduction (in opioid prescriptions) in Colorado and Oregon,” Wen said. “And in Alaska and Washington, the magnitude was a little bit smaller but still significant.”
        The first state in the United States to legalize marijuana for medicinal use was California, in 1996. Since then, 29 states and the District of Columbia have approved some form of legalized cannabis. All of these states include chronic pain — either directly or indirectly — in the list of approved medical conditions for marijuana use, according to Bradford.
        The details of the medical cannabis laws were found to have a significant impact on opioid prescription patterns, the researchers found. States that permitted recreational use, for example, saw an additional 6.38% reduction in opioid prescriptions under Medicaid compared with those states that permitted marijuana only for medical use, according to Wen.
        The method of procurement also had a significant impact on opioid prescription patterns. States that permitted medical dispensaries — regulated shops that people can visit to purchase cannabis products — had 3.742 million fewer opioid prescriptions filled per year under Medicare Part D, while those that allowed only home cultivation had 1.792 million fewer opioid prescriptions per year.
        “We found that there was about a 14.5% reduction in any opiate use when dispensaries were turned on — and that was statistically significant — and about a 7% reduction in any opiate use when home cultivation only was turned on,” Bradford said. “So dispensaries are much more powerful in terms of shifting people away from the use of opiates.”
        The impact of these laws also differed based on the class of opioid prescribed. Specifically, states with medical cannabis laws saw 20.7% fewer morphine prescriptions and 17.4% fewer hydrocodone prescriptions compared with states that did not have these laws, according to Bradford.
        Fentanyl prescriptions under Medicare Part D also dropped by 8.5% in states that had enacted medical cannabis laws, though the difference was not statistically significant, Bradford said. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, like heroin, that can be prescribed legally by physicians. It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and even a small amount can be fatal, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
        “I know that many people, including the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, are skeptical of cannabis,” Bradford said. “But, you know, the attorney general needs to be terrified of fentanyl.”

        ‘A call to action’

        This is not the first time researchers have found a link between marijuana legalization and decreased opioid use. A 2014 study showed that states with medical cannabis laws had 24.8% fewer opioid overdose deaths between 1999 and 2010. A study in 2017 also found that the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado in 2012 reversed the state’s upward trend in opioid-related deaths.
        “There is a growing body of scientific literature suggesting that legal access to marijuana can reduce the use of opioids as well as opioid-related overdose deaths,” said Melissa Moore, New York deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “In states with medical marijuana laws, we have already seen decreased admissions for opioid-related treatment and dramatically reduced rates of opioid overdoses.”
        Some skeptics, though, argue that marijuana legalization could actually worsen the opioid epidemic. Another 2017 study, for example, showed a positive association between illicit cannabis use and opioid use disorders in the United States. But there may be an important difference between illicit cannabis use and legalized cannabis use, according to Hill.
        “As we have all of these states implementing these policies, it’s imperative that we do more research,” Hill said. “We need to study the effects of these policies, and we really haven’t done it to the degree that we should.”
        The two recent studies looked only at patients enrolled in Medicaid and Medicare Part D, meaning the results may not be generalizable to the entire US population.

        See the latest news and share your comments with CNN Health on Facebook and Twitter.

        But both Hill and Moore agree that as more states debate the merits of legalizing marijuana in the coming months and years, more research will be needed to create consistency between cannabis science and cannabis policy.
        “There is a great deal of movement in the Northeast, with New Hampshire and New Jersey being well-positioned to legalize adult use,” Moore said. “I believe there are also ballot measures to legalize marijuana in Arizona, Florida, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota as well that voters will decide on in Fall 2018.”
        Hill called the new research “a call to action” and added, “we should be studying these policies. But unfortunately, the policies have far outpaced the science at this point.”

        Read more: https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/02/health/medical-cannabis-law-opioid-prescription-study/index.html

        Pour yourself a glass: Heres 4 ways to refresh how you stay hydrated

         You know you need to drink more water, but getting your 8 glasses in every day isn’t always easy.

        Staying hydrated keeps us healthy. It can impact kidney function, helps us boost our metabolism, and aids in digesting what we eat.

        But the way you drink your H20 doesn’t have to be limited to running to the water cooler every 2.5 seconds, drinking just from the tap, or constantly having to keep plastic water bottles at hand. 

        Here are 4 ways you can get the most out of getting your daily water intake.

        1. Got juice pulp?

        Juicing may help you shed the pounds, but that doesn’t mean you should toss the juice pulp. Next time you make your juice, upcycle the pulp from your fruits and veggies into healthy snacks and meals like crackers or veggie burgers. Juice pulp from foods like cucumber, melon, and celery is not only delicious—it’s also full of fiber and a great way to “eat” your daily water intake. 

        2. Filter a solution

        Tired of the hard water from your tap? There’s a filter for that. Want crisp tasting water all the time? There’s a filter for that. Looking to save a little on your next water bill? There’s even a filter for that. Invest in a Culligan Water Filtration System for H20 that’s cleaner and better smelling than regular tap water. Reducing impurities that might be in your water with a Culligan whole-home system can help improve everything from your cooking to laundry to bath time. 

        3. Keep hydration at your fingertips

        Staying hydrated by keeping a reusable bottle with you at all times can do wonders for your body. You’re more likely to drink water if it happens to be just a few inches away. Make drinking water foolproof by downloading an app that can help you monitor your intake or use bottles that measure how many ounces you’ve had or remind you of how much time it’s been since your last sip. Take your quest for hydration even further with a Culligan water filtration system that gives you better-tasting water you won’t be able to stop drinking. 

        4. Add some zest to your H20

        Keep the doctor away by drinking water with lemon every day. Lemons are chock full of vitamin C, antioxidants, and citric acid, which can keep the common cold at bay, help clear up your complexion, and aid with digestion and bloating. Adding lemon water to your daily morning routine can help energize you and get you ready to tackle the day. Still not convinced? Gisele Bündchen drinks a glass every morning. 

        Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/03/27/how-drink-more-water/

        Lesbian and bisexual women have no health problems, says government health agency

        Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services
        Image: chris kleponis-pool/Getty Images

        Congratulations, everyone! Lesbian and bisexual health problems are officially over.

        Or so it would seem, if you believe the Department of Health and Human Services’ website. According to the Sunlight Foundation, a government transparency project, HHS removed pages from it’s Office on Women’s Health site that focused on lesbian and bisexual women’s health.

        HHS told Politico, who first reported the story, that the pages were taken down because of a “routine update.” However, they appear to have been gone since September — and none of the missing information has been restored to the site.

        Bisexual and lesbian health is no longer listed as a topic on the page, which has existed since 2012. @WomensHealth, the official HHS Twitter account, hasn’t had an update about lesbian and bisexual women’s health since 2016.

        “The removal of lesbian and bisexual health materials in particular, without advance notice and in a targeted way, raise concerns that they’ve targeted information for vulnerable populations,” Andrew Bergman of the Sunlight Foundation told Politico.

        This isn’t the first time the Trump administration has eliminated critical information about at-risk groups from government websites. When Trump was elected, one of the first things to go was the government’s official page on LGBTQ rights. In October 2017, the EPA eliminated references to climate change on their website. In December, the National Park Service took down climate change plans for over 90 parks.

        Nothing to see here, folks! Lesbian and bisexual women are in perfect health, and climate change doesn’t exist. 

        Proceed normally — with a chronic sense of despair.

        Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/03/21/lgbtq-womens-health-removal-hhs/

        No hugging: are we living through a crisis of touch?

        Strokes and hugs are being edged out of our lives, with doctors, teachers and colleagues increasingly hesitant about social touching. Is this hypervigilance of boundaries beginning to harm our mental health?

        When did you last touch someone outside your family or intimate relationship? I dont mean a brush of the fingers when you took your parcel from the delivery guy. I mean: when did you pat the arm or back of a stranger, colleague or friend? My own touch diary says that I have touched five people to whom Im not related in the past seven days. One was a newborn and two were accidental (that was the delivery guy). Touch is the first sense humans develop in the womb, possessed even of 1.5cm embryos. But somewhere in adulthood what was instinctive to us as children has come to feel awkward, out of bounds.

        In countless ways social touch is being nudged from our lives. In the UK, doctors were warned last month to avoid comforting patients with hugs lest they provoke legal action, and a government report found that foster carers were frightened to hug children in their care for the same reason. In the US the girl scouts caused a furore last December when it admonished parents for telling their daughters to hug relatives because she doesnt owe anyone a hug. Teachers hesitate to touch pupils. And in the UK, in a loneliness epidemic, half a million older people go at least five days a week without seeing or touching a soul.

        Sensing this deficit, a touch industry is burgeoning in Europe, Australia and the US, where professional cuddlers operate workshops, parties and one-to-one sessions to soothe the touch-deprived. At Cuddle Up To Me, a cuddle retail centre in Portland, Oregon, clients browse a 72-cuddle menu. Poses includes the Alligator, the Mamma Bear and, less appealingly, the Tarantino. In Japan, a Tranquility chair has been developed, its soft arms wrapping the sitter in a floppy embrace.

        Is this what a crisis of touch looks like? And if so, what do humans risk losing, when we lose touch?

        Of course we are moving away from touch! exclaims Francis McGlone, a professor in neuroscience at Liverpool John Moores university and a leader in the field of affective touch. He is worried. We have demonised touch to a level at which it sparks off hysterical responses, it sparks off legislative processes, and this lack of touch is not good for mental health. He has heard of teachers asking children to stick on a plaster themselves, rather than touch them and risk a complaint. We seem to have been creating a touch-averse world, he says. Its time to recover the social power of touch.

        Touch is commonly thought of as a single sense, but it is much more complex than that. Some nerve endings recognise itch, others vibration, pain, pressure and texture. And one exists solely to recognise a gentle stroking touch.

        Illustration
        Illustration by Harriet Lee-Merrion

        Known as c tactile afferents, this last is the one that McGlone has studied for years. To find it, a needle is inserted into the skin to fish. Its like sitting on the banks of the river, McGlone says. Ones a pain fish. Ones an itch fish. Hours can pass before anyone catches a gentle touch nerve, but this elusive fibre has helped to teach scientists why humans need touch.

        By watching the nerves discharge behaviour while the skin is stroked, scientists have learned that the optimum speed of a human caress is 3cm to 5cm a second.

        This may sound like a diverting snippet of touch trivia, but its application is far-reaching. When a parent strokes a child, for instance, they are writing out the script that was laid down by 30 million years of evolution, McGlone says. We are destined to cuddle and stroke each other at predetermined velocities. The pleasantness encourages us to keep touching, nourishes babies and binds adults, and threads wellbeing into the fabric of our being. It could also teach us more about the touch-averse, including how and when autism and eating disorders develop, and even lead us to a cure for loneliness.

        Last year, researchers from University College London showed that slow, gentle stroking by a stranger reduced feelings of social exclusion.

        Bang on! McGlone says. This nerve fibre is responsible for so many aspects of our wellbeing across our lifespan. I call it the Higgs boson of the social brain. The missing particle that glues everything social together. Ironically, having been brought up in the 50s, when parental affection was thought to encourage mawkish children, he is himself sensitive to touch, and feels a gentle stroke like an electric shock.

        As a society, we instinctively understand the power of touch. That is why, after the tragic shooting at his school, the head of Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Florida promised to hug each and every one of his 3,300 students. A single, small touch can change countless lives. Princess Diana knew this when she held the hand of an Aids patient in 1987. So did Barack Obama when he stooped to let a young black boy pat his hair, so that he could feel his own potential in the palm of his hand.

        Tiffany Field founded the Touch Research Institute at Miami Medical School to study this neglected sense and its impact on health. She enjoys a weekly massage and happily lists the positive effects of being touched. We know from the science of what goes on under the skin that when the skin is moved, pressure receptors are stimulated, she says. This slows down heart rate, blood pressure and the release of cortisol, which gives people better control over their stress hormones.

        Being touched increases the number of natural killer cells, the frontline of the immune system. Serotonin increases. Thats the bodys natural antidepressant. It enables deeper sleep, Field says. Her appraisal is borne out by the experience of Kira Cuddles from Cuddle Up To Me in Portland, who has to remind her clients to check for phone, keys, wallet. They leave with a dose of oxytocin. They are floating on a cloud.

        Most basically of all, touch tells us who we are. That is why in the womb, McGlone says, with the amniotic fluid washing over it, the brain inside begins to realise, Ive got my body, and thats somebody elses. That developing brain has that sense of me rather than something else out there. If that doesnt happen, you get this almost locked-in syndrome.

        Mary Carlson is 78. She worked as a student assistant with the legendary scientist Harry Harlow, whose experiments with monkeys found that the hankering for touch is so innate that an infant, removed from its mother, would cling to a cloth-covered wire surrogate rather than a cold wire one with milk. It would choose to feel nourished rather than be nourished.

        Carlson met Harlow as a freshman. At the first lecture she attended, he came out hooting and running around on all fours. In his laboratory, she witnessed monkeys that as infants had been deprived of their mothers touch. In social groups, they would go off in a corner, self-grasping, staring into space. She saw similar patterns of behaviour in humans three decades later when she visited orphanages in Romania, a legacy of Ceausescus regime, where tens of thousands of infants were raised with minimal human touch.

        For Carlson, touch is a sort of species recognition. Which suggests that without touch, humans may be, well, less human.

        You just dont see people touching each other these days, Field complains. She has just come from a restaurant. And everybody was on their cellphones. At LaGuardia airport recently, she walked around the waiting area. Not a soul was touching another. Even two-year-olds were sitting in carriages with iPads on their laps. (Getting touch from their touch screens.) Then, at the Coconut Grove art festival, There were people bumping into each other because it was so packed. I heard people say, Im sorry! Excuse me! and move off in a way that made it look like they were really embarrassed.

        Field is planning studies in restaurants and airports to document how little touch there is and how much distraction by social media. There is as yet no scientific data to connect declining touch to the rise of mobile technology or social media, but Fields descriptions of people wrapped in their own worlds rather than each other, sitting in isolation, bowed over screens, a huddle unto themselves, are evocative and familiar.

        Do those atomised people who bounce off each other at art fairs before spinning away in shame, or those who sit day after day alone in their homes carry shades of Harlows monkeys self-soothing in the corner of their cages? And if so, where will our loss of touch lead us?

        Kellie Payne, research and policy manager at the Campaign to End Loneliness, says that loneliness is fatal precisely because it puts people into a kind of defensive state where the levels of cortisol are raised. Having had negative experiences, they anticipate that their connection with people will also be negative, which makes it hard to reinstate contact. To add to the challenge for the elderly, touch sensation is in decline. According to David J Linden, author of Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind, Humans have their strongest touch sensation at around 20, after which it goes down by a percent a year for your whole life.

        Field, meanwhile, is worried about the rise in paediatric pain syndromes, such as irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia, previously common only in adults. She thinks this is due to stress and the absence of touch, and is also worried that kids are getting more and more aggressive because there is less and less touch.

        This is what Im concerned about, McGlone says. If this evolutionary system is in any way disturbed or interrupted, brains are good at finding compensation. It could be drugs or alcohol … If you remove a reward system, the brain will try to find some other way to get that reward.

        Humans love touch. We love it so much that the word has the power to sell a heap of products from soft-touch pillows to velvet touch tights, expert touch saucepans and even smooth, perfecting touch face creams. But touching each other in an age of pervasive and historical sexual abuse and harassment no longer feels safe.

        There is a hypervigilance of boundaries that makes it hard to find the right approach. I think twice about hugging a colleague at work in a way that I didnt a couple of years ago, Linden says. Im thinking, maybe this is going to be misinterpreted. Maybe this is going to make somebody feel bad.

        Touch even the gentlest kind processed by McGlones beloved c tactile afferents is never only about affection, warmth and care, but also about power. (Just watch Donald Trump greet world leaders.) The so-called Midas touch studies which have shown that diners gently touched on the arm by their server will leave a generous tip, or that people in a care home eat more if touched, illustrate the power of touch to persuade. Touch can retract as well as confer agency. It is not a universal good. It can exacerbate the symptoms of those with autism, and those who have experienced trauma or abuse.

        At her home in north London, I meet Anna Fortes Mayer, who has run Cuddle Workshop since 2010. We sit on her red sofa and talk about how to broach touch. She is not tactile, but then we are strangers and her sofa is large.

        I tell her about my touch diary: by now my yoga teacher has patted me and Ive collected a matchday hug from my daughters football coach. Its not much. Its really not, Fortes Mayer says, shaking her head. But whats a person to do? How can we build more touch into our lives?

        For a start, Fortes Mayer advises against energetically leaning forward for a hug. She dislikes the phrases Do you want a hug?, Give us a hug and Can I have a hug?; they are all too, Who takes ownership here? (This is the mistake Kesha made with Jerry Seinfeld.) She suggests instead, Would you like to share a hug?

        Encouraging self-consciousness of the ways in which people offer and invite touch has many benefits. But this kind of touch can never be impulsive, immediate, if it comes with explanatory notes. And touch that breaks protocol can feel more affecting. Consider the excitement when Meghan Markle preferred a hug to a handshake, or Michelle Obama slipped an arm around the Queens back. Even McGlone, despite that 1950s upbringing, on a walk through the park, was tickled to see a big rugby player type bloke offer his wife and then him a hug. (He was so touched, he started to explain about c tactile afferents.)

        In Fortes Mayers hall, I put my shoes back on and with my hands at my sides ask, Anna, would you like to share a hug? She says yes and it feels good.

        I will often place my hand on someones shoulder, Carlson says. I believe in touch. There are ways you can do it so it isnt demeaning.

        Even stranger touch, when its wanted, is pretty good, Linden points out. Even petting your dog. Even petting a dog thats not yours. For the truly solitary, daily power walking stimulates pressure points. Its what Tiffany Field does. She also advocates yoga: Its moving your limbs against each other.

        Of course, nobody thinks that a cure for loneliness will happen at a stroke, but maybe careful touch could bring it closer.

        Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/mar/07/crisis-touch-hugging-mental-health-strokes-cuddles

        Yes, bacon really is killing us

        The long read: Decades worth of research proves that chemicals used to make bacon do cause cancer. So how did the meat industry convince us it was safe?

        There was a little cafe I used to go to that did the best bacon sandwiches. They came in a soft and pillowy white bap. The bacon, thick-cut from a local butcher, was midway between crispy and chewy. Ketchup and HP sauce were served in miniature jars with the sandwich, so you could dab on the exact amount you liked. That was all there was to it: just bread and bacon and sauce. Eating one of these sandwiches, as I did every few weeks, with a cup of strong coffee, felt like an uncomplicated pleasure.

        And then, all of a sudden, the bacon sandwich stopped being quite so comforting. For a few weeks in October 2015, half the people I knew were talking about the news that eating bacon was now a proven cause of cancer. You couldnt miss the story: it was splashed large in every newspaper and all over the web. As one journalist wrote in Wired, Perhaps no two words together are more likely to set the internet aflame than BACON and CANCER. The BBC website announced, matter-of-factly, that Processed meats do cause cancer, while the Sun went with Banger out of Order and Killer in the Kitchen.

        The source of the story was an announcement from the World Health Organization that processed meats were now classified as a group 1 carcinogen, meaning scientists were certain that there was sufficient evidence that they caused cancer, particularly colon cancer. The warning applied not just to British bacon but to Italian salami, Spanish chorizo, German bratwurst and myriad other foods.

        Health scares are ten-a-penny, but this one was very hard to ignore. The WHO announcement came on advice from 22 cancer experts from 10 countries, who reviewed more than 400 studies on processed meat covering epidemiological data from hundreds of thousands of people. It was now possible to say that eat less processed meat, much like eat more vegetables, had become one of the very few absolutely incontrovertible pieces of evidence-based diet advice not simply another high-profile nutrition fad. As every news report highlighted, processed meat was now in a group of 120 proven carcinogens, alongside alcohol, asbestos and tobacco leading to a great many headlines blaring that bacon was as deadly as smoking.

        The WHO advised that consuming 50g of processed meat a day equivalent to just a couple of rashers of bacon or one hotdog would raise the risk of getting bowel cancer by 18% over a lifetime. (Eating larger amounts raises your risk more.) Learning that your own risk of cancer has increased from something like 5% to something like 6% may not be frightening enough to put you off bacon sandwiches for ever. But learning that consumption of processed meat causes an additional 34,000 worldwide cancer deaths a year is much more chilling. According to Cancer Research UK, if no one ate processed or red meat in Britain, there would be 8,800 fewer cases of cancer. (That is four times the number of people killed annually on Britains roads.)

        The news felt especially shocking because both ham and bacon are quintessentially British foods. Nearly a quarter of the adult population in Britain eats a ham sandwich for lunch on any given day, according to data from 2012 gathered by researchers Luke Yates and Alan Warde. To many consumers, bacon is not just a food; it is a repository of childhood memories, a totem of home. Surveys indicate that the smell of frying bacon is one of our favourite scents in the UK, along with cut grass and fresh bread. To be told that bacon had given millions of people cancer was a bit like finding out your granny had been secretly sprinkling arsenic on your morning toast.

        Vegetarians might point out that the bacon sandwich should never have been seen as comforting. It is certainly no comfort for the pigs, most of whom are kept in squalid, cramped conditions. But for the rest of us, it was alarming to be told that these beloved foods might be contributing to thousands of needless human deaths. In the weeks following news of the WHO report, sales of bacon and sausages fell dramatically. British supermarkets reported a 3m drop in sales in just a fortnight. (It was very detrimental, said Kirsty Adams, the product developer for meat at Marks and Spencer.)

        But just when it looked as if this may be #Bacongeddon (one of many agonised bacon-related hashtags trending in October 2015), a second wave of stories flooded in. Their message was: panic over. For one thing, the analogy between bacon and smoking was misleading. Smoking tobacco and eating processed meat are both dangerous, but not on the same scale. To put it in context, around 86% of lung cancers are linked to smoking, whereas it seems that just 21% of bowel cancers can be attributed to eating processed or red meat. A few weeks after publishing the report, the WHO issued a clarification insisting it was not telling consumers to stop eating processed meat.

        Meanwhile, the meat industry was busily insisting that there was nothing to see here. The North American Meat Institute, an industry lobby group, called the report dramatic and alarmist overreach. A whole tranche of articles insisted in a commonsense tone that it would be premature and foolish to ditch our meaty fry-ups just because of a little cancer scare.

        Nearly three years on, it feels like business as usual for processed meats. Many of us seem to have got over our initial sense of alarm. Sales of bacon in the UK are buoyant, having risen 5% in the two years up to mid-2016. When I interviewed a product developer for Sainsburys supermarket last year, she said that one of the quickest ways to get British consumers to try a new product now was to add chorizo to it.

        And yet the evidence linking bacon to cancer is stronger than ever. In January, a new large-scale study using data from 262,195 British women suggested that consuming just 9g of bacon a day less than a rasher could significantly raise the risk of developing breast cancer later in life. The studys lead author, Jill Pell from the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at Glasgow University, told me that while it can be counterproductive to push for total abstinence, the scientific evidence suggests it would be misleading for health authorities to set any safe dose for processed meat other than zero.

        The real scandal of bacon, however, is that it didnt have to be anything like so damaging to our health. The part of the story we havent been told including by the WHO is that there were always other ways to manufacture these products that would make them significantly less carcinogenic. The fact that this is so little known is tribute to the power of the meat industry, which has for the past 40 years been engaged in a campaign of cover-ups and misdirection to rival the dirty tricks of Big Tobacco.


        How do you choose a pack of bacon in a shop, assuming you are a meat eater? First, you opt for either the crispy fat of streaky or the leanness of back. Then you decide between smoked or unsmoked each version has its passionate defenders (I am of the unsmoked persuasion). Maybe you seek out a packet made from free-range or organic meat, or maybe your budget is squeezed and you search for any bacon on special offer. Either way, before you put the pack in your basket, you have one last look, to check if the meat is pink enough.

        Since we eat with our eyes, the main way we judge the quality of cured meats is pinkness. Yet it is this very colour that we should be suspicious of, as the French journalist Guillaume Coudray explains in a book published in France last year called Cochonneries, a word that means both piggeries and rubbish or junk food. The subtitle is How Charcuterie Became a Poison. Cochonneries reads like a crime novel, in which the processed meat industry is the perpetrator and ordinary consumers are the victims.

        The pinkness of bacon or cooked ham, or salami is a sign that it has been treated with chemicals, more specifically with nitrates and nitrites. It is the use of these chemicals that is widely believed to be the reason why processed meat is much more carcinogenic than unprocessed meat. Coudray argues that we should speak not of processed meat but nitro-meat.

        Parma
        Prosciutto di Parma has been produced without nitrates since 1993. Photograph: Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

        Pure insane crazy madness is how Coudray described the continuing use of nitrates and nitrites in processed meats, in an email to me. The madness, in his view, is that it is possible to make bacon and ham in ways that would be less carcinogenic. The most basic way to cure any meat is to salt it either with a dry salt rub or a wet brine and to wait for time to do the rest. Coudray notes that ham and bacon manufacturers claim this old-fashioned way of curing isnt safe. But the real reason they reject it is cost: it takes much longer for processed meats to develop their flavour this way, which cuts into profits.

        There is much confusion about what processed meat actually means, a confusion encouraged by the bacon industry, which benefits from us thinking there is no difference between a freshly minced lamb kofta and a pizza smothered in nitrate-cured pepperoni. Technically, processed meat means pork or beef that has been salted and cured, with or without smoking. A fresh pound of beef mince isnt processed. A hard stick of cured salami is.

        The health risk of bacon is largely to do with two food additives: potassium nitrate (also known as saltpetre) and sodium nitrite. It is these that give salamis, bacons and cooked hams their alluring pink colour. Saltpetre sometimes called sal prunella has been used in some recipes for salted meats since ancient times. As Jane Grigson explains in Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery, saltpetre was traditionally used when brining hams to give them an attractive rosy appearance when otherwise it would be a murky greyish brown.

        In earlier centuries, bacon-makers who used saltpetre did not understand that it converts to nitrite as the meat cures. It is this nitrite that allows the bacteria responsible for cured flavour to emerge quicker, by inhibiting the growth of other bacteria. But in the early 20th century, the meat industry found that the production of cured meats could be streamlined by adding sodium nitrite to the pork in pure form. In trade journals of the 1960s, the firms who sold nitrite powders to ham-makers spoke quite openly about how the main advantage was to increase profit margins by speeding up production. One French brand of sodium nitrite from the 60s was called Vitorose or quick-pink.

        Nitro-chemicals have been less of a boon to consumers. In and of themselves, these chemicals are not carcinogenic. After all, nitrate is naturally present in many green vegetables, including celery and spinach, something that bacon manufacturers often jubilantly point out. As one British bacon-maker told me, Theres nitrate in lettuce and no one is telling us not to eat that!

        But something different happens when nitrates are used in meat processing. When nitrates interact with certain components in red meat (haem iron, amines and amides), they form N-nitroso compounds, which cause cancer. The best known of these compounds is nitrosamine. This, as Guillaume Coudray explained to me in an email, is known to be carcinogenic even at a very low dose. Any time someone eats bacon, ham or other processed meat, their gut receives a dose of nitrosamines, which damage the cells in the lining of the bowel, and can lead to cancer.

        You would not know it from the way bacon is sold, but scientists have known nitrosamines are carcinogenic for a very long time. More than 60 years ago, in 1956, two British researchers called Peter Magee and John Barnes found that when rats were fed dimethyl nitrosamine, they developed malignant liver tumours. By the 1970s, animal studies showed that small, repeated doses of nitrosamines and nitrosamides exactly the kind of regular dose a person might have when eating a daily breakfast of bacon were found to cause tumours in many organs including the liver, stomach, oesophagus, intestines, bladder, brain, lungs and kidneys.

        Just because something is a carcinogen in rats and other mammals does not mean it will cause cancer in humans, but as far back as 1976, cancer scientist William Lijinsky argued that we must assume that these N-nitroso compounds found in meats such as bacon were also carcinogens for man. In the years since, researchers have gathered a massive body of evidence to lend weight to that assumption. In 1994, to take just one paper among hundreds on nitrosamines and cancer, two American epidemiologists found that eating hotdogs one or more times a week was associated with higher rates of childhood brain cancer, particularly for children who also had few vitamins in their diets.

        In 1993, Parma ham producers in Italy made a collective decision to remove nitrates from their products and revert to using only salt, as in the old days. For the past 25 years, no nitrates or nitrites have been used in any Prosciutto di Parma. Even without nitrate or nitrite, the Parma ham stays a deep rosy-pink colour. We now know that the colour in Parma ham is totally harmless, a result of the enzyme reactions during the hams 18-month ageing process.

        Slow-cured, nitrate-free, artisan hams are one thing, but what about mass-market meats? Eighteen months would be a long time to wait on hotdogs, as the food science expert Harold McGee comments. But there have always been recipes for nitrate-free bacon using nothing but salt and herbs. John Gower of Quiet Waters Farm, a pork producer who advises many British manufacturers of cured meats, confirms that nitrate is not a necessary ingredient in bacon: Its generally accepted that solid muscle products, as opposed to chopped meat products like salami, dont require the addition of nitrate for safety reasons.

        Bacon is proof, if it were needed, that we cling to old comforts long after they have been proven harmful. The attachment of producers to nitrates in bacon is mostly cultural, says Gower. Bacon cured by traditional methods without nitrates and nitrites will lack what Gower calls that hard-to-define tang, that delicious almost metallic taste that makes bacon taste of bacon to British consumers. Bacon without nitrates, says Gower, is nothing but salt pork.

        Given the harm of nitro-meat has been known for so long, the obvious question is why more has not been done to protect us from it. Corinna Hawkes, a professor of Food Policy at City University in London, has been predicting for years that processed meats will be the next sugar a food so harmful that there will be demands for government agencies to step in and protect us. Some day soon, Hawkes believes, consumers will finally wake up to the clear links between cancer and processed meat and say Why didnt someone tell me about this?


        The most amazing thing about the bacon panic of 2015 was that it took so long for official public health advice to turn against processed meat. It could have happened 40 years earlier. The only time that the processed meat industry has looked seriously vulnerable was during the 1970s, a decade that saw the so-called war on nitrates in the US. In an era of Ralph Nader-style consumer activism, there was a gathering mood in favour of protecting shoppers against bacon which one prominent public health scientist called the most dangerous food in the supermarket. In 1973, Leo Freedman, the chief toxicologist of the US Food and Drug Administration, confirmed to the New York Times that nitrosamines are a carcinogen for humans although he also mentioned that he liked bacon as well as anybody.

        The US meat industry realised it had to act fast to protect bacon against the cancer charge. The first attempts to fight back were simply to ridicule the scientists for over-reacting. In a 1975 article titled Factual look at bacon scare, Farmers Weekly insisted that a medium-weight man would have to consume more than 11 tonnes of bacon every single day to run the faintest risk of cancer. This was an outrageous fabrication.

        But soon the meat lobby came up with a cleverer form of diversion. The AMI the American Meat Institute started to make the argument that the nitrate was only there for the consumers own safety, to ward off botulism a potentially fatal toxin sometimes produced by poorly preserved foods. The scientific director of the AMI argued that a single cup of botulism would be enough to wipe out every human on the planet. So, far from harming lives, bacon was actually saving them.

        In 1977, the FDA and the US Department of Agriculture gave the meat industry three months to prove that nitrate and nitrite in bacon caused no harm. Without a satisfactory response, Coudray writes, these additives would have to be replaced 36 months later with non-carcinogenic methods. The meat industry could not prove that nitrosamines were not carcinogenic because it was already known that they were. Instead, the argument was made that nitrates and nitrites were utterly essential for the making of bacon, because without them bacon would cause thousands of deaths from botulism. In 1978, in response to the FDAs challenge, Richard Lyng, director of the AMI, argued that nitrites are to processed meat as yeast is to bread.

        The meat industrys tactics in defending bacon have been right out of the tobacco industrys playbook, according to Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University. The first move is: attack the science. By the 1980s, the AMI was financing a group of scientists based at the University of Wisconsin. These meat researchers published a stream of articles casting doubt on the harmfulness of nitrates and exaggerating the risk from botulism of non-nitrated hams.

        Does making ham without nitrite lead to botulism? If so, it is a little strange that in the 25 years that Parma ham has been made without nitrites, there has not been a single case of botulism associated with it. Almost all the cases of botulism from preserved food which are extremely rare have been the result of imperfectly preserved vegetables, such as bottled green beans, peas and mushrooms. The botulism argument was a smokescreen. The more that consumers could be made to feel that the harmfulness of nitrate and nitrite in bacon and ham was still a matter of debate, the more they could be encouraged to calm down and keep buying bacon.

        A
        A bacon sandwich at a diner in Michigan. Photograph: Molly Riley/Reuters

        The botulism pretext was very effective. The AMI managed to get the FDA to keep delaying its three-month ultimatum on nitrites until a new FDA commissioner was appointed in 1980 one more sympathetic to hotdogs. The nitrite ban was shelved. The only concession the industry had made was to limit the percentage of nitrites added to processed meat and to agree to add vitamin C, which would supposedly mitigate the formation of nitrosamines, although it does nothing to prevent the formation of another known carcinogen, nitrosyl-haem.

        Over the years, the messages challenging the dangers of bacon have become ever more outlandish. An explainer article by the Meat Science and Muscle Biology lab at the University of Wisconsin argues that sodium nitrite is in fact critical for maintaining human health by controlling blood pressure, preventing memory loss, and accelerating wound healing. A French meat industry website, info-nitrites.fr, argues that the use of the right dose of nitrites in ham guarantees healthy and safe products, and insists that ham is an excellent food for children.

        The bacon lobby has also found surprising allies among the natural foods brigade. Type nitrate cancer bacon into Google, and you will find a number of healthy eating articles, some of them written by advocates of the Paleo diet, arguing that bacon is actually a much-maligned health food. The writers often mention that vegetables are the primary source of nitrates, and that human saliva is high in nitrite. One widely shared article claims that giving up bacon would be as absurd as attempting to stop swallowing. Out of the mass of stuff on the internet defending the healthiness of bacon, it can be hard to tell which writers have fallen under the sway of the meat lobby, and which are simply clueless nutrition experts who dont know any better.

        Either way, this misinformation has the potential to make thousands of people unwell. The mystifying part is why the rest of us have been so willing to accept the cover-up.


        Our deepening knowledge of its harm has done very little to damage the comforting cultural associations of bacon. While I was researching this article, I felt a rising disgust at the repeated dishonesty of the processed meat industry. I thought about hospital wards and the horrible pain and indignity of bowel cancer. But then I remembered being in the kitchen with my father as a child on a Sunday morning, watching him fry bacon. When all the bacon was cooked, he would take a few squares of bread and fry them in the meaty fat until they had soaked up all its goodness.

        In theory, our habit of eating salted and cured meats should have died out as soon as home refrigerators became widespread in the mid-20th century. But tastes in food are seldom rational, and millions of us are still hooked on the salty, smoky, umami savour of sizzling bacon.

        We are sentimental about bacon in a way we never were with cigarettes, and this stops us from thinking straight. The widespread willingness to forgive pink, nitrated bacon for causing cancer illustrates how torn we feel when something beloved in our culture is proven to be detrimental to health. Our brains cant cope with the horrid feeling that bacon is not what we thought it was, and so we turn our anger outwards to the health gurus warning us of its hazards. The reaction of many consumers to the WHO report of 2015 was: hands off my bacon!

        In 2010, the EU considered banning the use of nitrates in organic meats. Perhaps surprisingly, the British organic bacon industry vigorously opposed the proposed nitrates ban. Richard Jacobs, the late chief executive of Organic Farmers & Growers, an industry body, said that prohibiting nitrate and nitrite would have meant the collapse of a growing market for organic bacon.

        Organic bacon produced with nitrates sounds like a contradiction in terms, given that most consumers of organic food buy it out of concerns for food safety. Having gone to the trouble of rearing pigs using free-range methods and giving them only organic feed, why would you then cure the meat in ways that make it carcinogenic? In Denmark, all organic bacon is nitrate-free. But the UK organic industry insisted that British shoppers would be unlikely to accept bacon that was greyish.

        Then again, the slowness of consumers to lose our faith in pink bacon may partly be a response to the confusing way that the health message has been communicated to us. When it comes to processed meat, we have been misled not just by wild exaggerations of the food industry but by the caution of science.

        On the WHO website, the harmfulness of nitrite-treated meats is explained so opaquely you could miss it altogether. In the middle of a paragraph on what makes red meat and processed meat increase the risk of cancer, it says: For instance, carcinogenic chemicals that form during meat processing include N-nitroso compounds. What this means, in plain English, is that nitrites make bacon more carcinogenic. But instead of spelling this out, the WHO moves swiftly on to the question of how both red and processed meats might cause cancer, after adding that it is not yet fully understood how cancer risk is increased.

        The
        The typical British sausage does not fall into the processed meat category. Photograph: Julian Smith/AAP

        This caution has kept us as consumers unnecessarily in the dark. Consider sausages. For years, I believed that the unhealthiest part in a cooked English breakfast was the sausage, rather than the bacon. Before I started to research this article, Id have sworn that sausages fell squarely into the processed meat category. They are wrongly listed as such on the NHS website.

        But the average British sausage as opposed to a hard sausage like a French saucisson is not cured, being made of nothing but fresh meat, breadcrumbs, herbs, salt and E223, a preservative that is non-carcinogenic. After much questioning, two expert spokespeople for the US National Cancer Institute confirmed to me that one might consider fresh sausages to be red meat and not processed meat, and thus only a probable carcinogen. (To me, the fact that most sausages are not processed meat was deeply cheering, and set me dancing around the kitchen with glee thinking about toad in the hole.)

        In general, if you ask a cancer scientist to distinguish between the risks of eating different types of meat, they become understandably cagey. The two experts at the National Cancer Institute told me that meats containing nitrites and nitrates have consistently been associated with increased risk of colon cancer in human studies. But they added that it is difficult to separate nitrosamines from other possible carcinogens that may be present in processed meats like bacon. These other suspects include haem iron a substance that is abundant in all red meat, processed or not and heterocyclic amines: chemicals that form in meat during cooking. A piece of crispy, overcooked bacon will contain multiple carcinogens, and not all are due to the nitrates.

        The problem with this reasoning, as I see it, is that it cant account for why processed meat is so much more closely linked to cancer than cooked red meat. For that, there remains no plausible explanation except for nitrates and nitrites. But looking for clear confirmation of this in the data is tricky, given that humans do not eat in labs under clinical observation.

        Most of what we know about processed meat and cancer in humans comes from epidemiology the study of disease across whole populations. But epidemiologists do not ask the kind of detailed questions about food that the people who eat that food may like answers to. The epidemiological data based on surveys of what people eat is now devastatingly clear that diets high in processed meats lead to a higher incidence of cancer. But it cant tell us how or why or which meats are the best or worst. As Corinna Hawkes of City University comments, The researchers dont ask you if you are eating artisanal charcuterie from the local Italian deli or the cheapest hotdogs on the planet.

        I would love to see data comparing the cancer risk of eating nitrate-free Parma ham with that of traditional bacon, but no epidemiologist has yet done such a study. The closest anyone has come was a French study from 2015, which found that consumption of nitrosylated haem iron as found in processed meats had a more direct association with colon cancer than the haem iron that is present in fresh red meat.

        It may be possible that epidemiologists have not asked people more detailed questions about what kind of processed meats they eat because they assume there is no mass-market alternative to bacon made without nitrates or nitrites. But this is about to change.


        The technology now exists to make the pink meats we love in a less damaging form, which raises the question of why the old kind is still so freely sold. Ever since the war on nitrates of the 1970s, US consumers have been more savvy about nitrates than those in Europe, and there is a lot of nitrate-free bacon on the market. The trouble, as Jill Pell remarks, is that most of the bacon labelled as nitrate-free in the US isnt nitrate-free. Its made with nitrates taken from celery extract, which may be natural, but produces exactly the same N-nitroso compounds in the meat. Under EU regulation, this bacon would not be allowed to be labelled nitrate-free.

        Its the worst con Ive ever seen in my entire life, says Denis Lynn, the chair of Finnebrogue Artisan, a Northern Irish company that makes sausages for many UK supermarkets, including Marks & Spencer. For years, Lynn had been hoping to diversify into bacon and ham but, he says, I wasnt going to do it until we found a way to do it without nitrates.

        When Lynn heard about a new process, developed in Spain, for making perfectly pink, nitrate-free bacon, he assumed it was another blind alley. In 2009, Juan de Dios Hernandez Canovas, a food scientist and the head of the food tech company Prosur, found that if he added certain fruit extracts to fresh pork, it stayed pink for a surprisingly long time.

        In January 2018, Finnebrogue used this technology to launch genuinely nitrate-free bacon and ham in the UK. It is sold in Sainsburys and Waitrose as Naked Bacon and Naked Ham, and in M&S as made without nitrites. Kirsty Adams, who oversaw its launch at M&S, explains that its not really cured. Its more like a fresh salted pork injected with a fruit and vegetable extract, and is more perishable than an old-fashioned flitch of bacon but that doesnt matter, given that it is kept in a fridge. Because it is quick to produce, this is much more economically viable to make than some of the other nitrate-free options, such as slow-cured Parma ham. The bacon currently sells in Waitrose for 3 a pack, which is not the cheapest, but not prohibitive either.

        I tried some of the Finnebrogue bacon from M&S. The back bacon tasted pleasant and mild, with a slight fruitiness. It didnt have the toothsome texture or smoky depth of a rasher of butchers dry-cured bacon, but Id happily buy it again as an alternative to nitro-meat. None of my family noticed the difference in a spaghetti amatriciana.

        Nitrite-free bacon still sounds a bit fancy and niche, but there shouldnt be anything niche about the desire to eat food that doesnt raise your risk of cancer. Lynn says that when he first approached Prosur about the fruit extract, he asked how much they had sold to the other big bacon manufacturers during the two years they had been offering it in the UK. The answer was none. None of the big guys wanted to take it, claims Lynn. They said: It will make our other processed meats look dodgy.

        But it also remains to be seen how much consumer demand there will be for nitrite- or nitrate-free bacon. For all the noise about bacon and cancer, it isnt easy to disentangle at a personal level just what kind of risk we are at when we eat a bacon sandwich. OK, so 34,000 people may die each year because of processed meat in their diet, but the odds are that it wont be you. I asked a series of cancer scientists whether they personally ate processed meat, and they all gave slightly different answers. Jill Pell said she was mostly vegetarian and ate processed meats very rarely. But when I asked Fabrice Pierre, a French expert on colon cancer and meat, if he eats ham, he replied: Yes, of course. But with vegetables at the same meal. (Pierres research at the Toxalim lab has shown him that some of the carcinogenic effects of ham can be offset by eating vegetables.)

        Our endless doubt and confusion about what we should be eating have been a gift to the bacon industry. The cover-up about the harm of meat cured with nitrates and nitrites has been helped along by the scepticism many of us feel about all diet advice. At the height of the great bacon scare of 2015, lots of intelligent voices were saying that it was safe to ignore the new classification of processed meats as carcinogenic, because you cant trust anything these nutritionists say. Meanwhile, millions of consumers of ham and bacon, many of them children, are left unprotected. Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about this controversy is how little public outrage it has generated. Despite everything, most of us still treat bacon as a dear old friend.

        In an ideal world, we would all be eating diets lower in meat, processed or otherwise, for the sake of sustainability and animal welfare as much as health. But in the world we actually live in, processed meats are still a normal, staple protein for millions of people who cant afford to swap a value pack of frying bacon for a few slivers of Prosciutto di Parma. Around half of all meat eaten in developed countries is now processed, according to researcher John Kearney, making it a far more universal habit than smoking.

        The real victims in all this are not people like me who enjoy the occasional bacon-on-sourdough in a hipster cafe. The people who will be worst affected are those many on low incomes for whom the cancer risk from bacon is compounded by other risk factors such as eating low-fibre diets with few vegetables or wholegrains. In his book, Coudray points out that in coming years, millions more poor consumers will be affected by preventable colon cancer, as westernised processed meats conquer the developing world.

        Last month, Michele Rivasi, a French MEP, launched a campaign in collaboration with Coudray demanding a ban of nitrites from all meat products across Europe. Given how vigorously the bacon industry has fought its corner thus far, a total ban on nitrites looks unlikely.

        But there are other things that could be done about the risk of nitrites and nitrates in bacon, short of an absolute veto. Better information would be a start. As Corinna Hawkes points out, it is surprising that there hasnt been more of an effort from government to inform people about the risks of eating ham and bacon, perhaps through warning labels on processed meats. But where is the British politician brave enough to cast doubt on bacon?

        Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.

        Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/01/bacon-cancer-processed-meats-nitrates-nitrites-sausages

        E-cig vapor tested positive for arsenic, lead, and other toxic metals

        E-cigarette vapor has tested positive for lead and arsenic.
        Image: Getty Images/EyeEm

        Bad news, vapers. Your e-cigs might not be the healthier alternative to cigarettes you think they are.

        A new study has found that vaping may be exposing e-cigarette users to harmful toxins and carcinogens, like lead, chromium, and even arsenic.

        The study, published Wednesday in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives by researchers from Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, sampled 56 vape devices. They gathered these e-cigs from actual vapers who they recruited for the study at smoke shops and vape conventions. Prior studies have only looked at newly purchased e-cigs, and the authors of this study wanted to test devices that people actually use for a more representative sample, since they often contain modifications and wear-and-tear.

        The study’s authors tested three elements of the e-cigs: the liquid itself, the liquid inside of the vape pen’s chamber, and the aerosol (or vapor). They were specifically interested in whether the metal coil that vape pens use to heat the liquid in order to turn it into vapor was leeching or generating toxic metals. 

        And it turns out, their hypothesis was right. There was not a significant amount of toxic metals in the e-cig liquid itself. But in over half of the e-cigs, the liquid inside the dispenser and the aerosol contained significant levels of chromium, nickel, and lead. According to the study’s authors, chromium and nickel have been linked to respiratory disease and lung cancer. And lead can cause neurotoxicity and cardiovascular disease — there is also no safe amount of lead exposure.

        “It’s important for the FDA, the e-cigarette companies and vapers themselves to know that these heating coils, as currently made, seem to be leaking toxic metals—which then get into the aerosols that vapers inhale,” study senior author Ana María Rule, PhD, MHS, an assistant scientist in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, said in a statement.

        Troublingly, the authors also found arsenic in over 10 percent of the sampled e-cigs. Unlike the metals, arsenic was present in the liquid, liquid in the dispenser, and aerosol alike. While the study’s authors hypothesize that the metals appear in the e-cig vapor thanks to the metal coils, they do not know how arsenic apparently finds it way into the e-cig refill liquid itself.

        I asked some acquaintances who vape what they thought of these findings. These vapers, who preferred not to be named, used to be daily smokers. But they almost entirely vape now; vaping, they have said, is what allowed them to quit cigarettes. 

        “I’m not really surprised to be honest,” one vaper said. “I never expected them to be good for me.”

        “My question is why is arsenic a necessary ingredient,” said another. “I would love to understand why these toxins are remotely necessary.”

        Cigarettes, of course, also contain toxins including lead and arsenic — with the hugely unhealthy bonus of inhaling burnt tobacco, which itself is damaging to the lungs. And several studies have shown that vaping is far healthier than smoking. One showed that vapers have far fewer toxic substances in their bodies than smokers; another suggested that the cancer risk of vaping is one percent of smoking’s cancer risk. However, a study that claimed vaping was 95 percent healthier than smoking was widely criticized. And study author Dr. Ana María Rule sees a comparable risk in terms of metal exposure between e-cigs and cigarettes.

        “We found the emission rates were similar between cigarettes and e-cigarettes for elements like chromium, nickel, zinc, lead and silver (all toxic to the lung),” Dr. Rule told Mashble over email. “We found lower concentrations in e-cigarettes for cadmium and arsenic.”

        Plus, comparing e-cigs to cigarettes is complicated. Dr. Rule said cigarette risk is easier to quantify, because they can measure risk by cigarette. With e-cigs, risk is studied by a designated amount of puffs, which may or may not represent an accurate unit for any given user. 

        Furthermore, comparing vaping to cigarettes was not the study’s authors’ primary aim. 

        “We know there are many young vapers that have never smoked,” Dr. Rule said. “A better comparison for them is to breathing ambient air, so for them this represents an increase in risk.”

        The study’s authors hope that their findings will prompt the FDA to regulate e-cigs for the presence of these toxic chemicals, as evidence mounts that vaping is not a risk-free endeavor.

        “Our results add to the existing evidence that e-cigarettes are a relevant source of exposure to a wide variety of toxic metals,” the study’s authors write. “Due to potential toxicity resulting from chronic exposure to metals in e-cigarette aerosols, additional research is needed to more precisely quantify metal exposures resulting from e-cigarette use and their implications for human health, and to support regulatory standards to protect public health.”

        Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/02/23/e-cigarettes-toxic-metals-lead-arsenic/