What Going Gray Early Can Tell You About Your Health

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Does going gray earlier mean I’m aging more quickly?

Silvery strands are one of the more conspicuous signs of aging. That said, getting gray hair doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re closer to the end of your life span than anyone else your age. Gray hair occurs when the hair follicles produce less melanin, the pigment that gives hair its color. It’s most common for graying to begin in your 30s, though some women spot a few grays in their 20s. Your graying age is related to your ethnicity (Caucasians tend to go gray earlier than Asians and African-Americans), as well as your family history, so you may want to ask your parents and grandparents when they noticed their first grays.

RELATED: 13 Everyday Habits That Are Aging You

If you think you’re going gray unusually early, there are a number of possible reasons why. Smoking, for one, has been linked to the early onset of gray hair. Environmental factors—like ultraviolet rays and air pollutants—may also be partially to blame. In rare cases, premature graying can be a sign of a medical issue, such as vitiligo (a condition that causes skin to lose its pigmentation), pernicious anemia (in which the body has difficulty absorbing vitamin B12) or problems involving your pituitary or thyroid glands.

Health’s medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine and co-founder of Tula Skincare.

 

7 Things to Know Before You Donate Blood

In the Las Vegas shooting on Sunday night, at least 58 people were killed, and more than 400 others were transported to hospitals. Early this morning, the Las Vegas Police Department tweeted about the need for local blood donors, reminding us that in the wake of this tragedy—as well as the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey—helping out can be as simple as rolling up a sleeve. Last summer, Health spoke with Justin Kreuter, MD, medical director of the Mayo Clinic Blood Donor Center in Rochester, Minnesota. Here's what he wants potential donors to know:

Eligibility is always changing

The Red Cross maintains an alphabetical list of eligibility criteria for potential donors—from acupuncture (thumbs up) to Zika (thumbs down)—and can give you the latest information on whether or not you’re good to give.

RELATED: 4 Unexpected Benefits of Donating Blood

The FDA regulates donor blood just as aggressively as it regulates drugs

“It takes a lot of money to do the infectious-disease testing that we do [on donor blood], and when we create blood products out of the donation, that’s done to the same standards as any drug manufactured in this country. The FDA holds us to those same standards, so it’s a very high level of quality and also resources that are invested,” Dr. Kreuter explains. “These tests and high standards are what’s keeping the blood supply safe, so that if my wife or one of my daughters needs a blood transfusion, I can feel assured that I can just sit at their bedside and hold their hand rather than worry about what that might result [in] for them later down the road.”  

You’ll get a mini-physical before you donate

The flip side of donor blood screening (which ensures that it’s safe for the eventual recipient) is confirming the donor’s health (which ensures that the blood draw won’t have a negative effect on them). “We check blood pressure and pulse, we do a pinprick to check red blood cells to make sure they’re safe—we don’t want to make our donors iron deficient,” Dr. Kreuter says. He makes no specific suggestions about what you eat and drink prior to donation; just be sure you have breakfast and lunch under your belt, and take it easy on caffeine. “We all live on our daily espressos and whatnot, but we see donors who show up and haven’t eaten [meals] and they’ve only been drinking coffee, and they’re quite dehydrated. When you donate you’re losing circulating fluid, so the water that you drink before and after your donation is important.”

RELATED: 15 Signs You May Have an Iron Deficiency

You’ll hardly feel a thing—seriously

The needles used to collect blood are a bit larger than those you’d encounter when, say, receiving a flu shot, but the so-called ‘small pinch’ you feel at insertion is, truly, no big deal. “What we feel [at the start of a blood draw] is just on the surface of our skin. These needles have silicone on them, they’re made to glide and be quite comfortable. After that initial stick, you’re not going to feel anything,” Dr. Kreuter says. If needles give you the shivers, look away for the quarter-second in which yours is placed; then ask a staffer to cover up the insertion site for you. Since the "tough" part is already over, you can lie back and spend the next eight to 10 minutes zoning out.

It’s okay to have a cookie after you donate

“What’s healthy is to keep a balanced diet as you go forward in the day [after your donation],” Dr. Kreuter says. “We tend to stock our canteen area with things like water and juice and then salty snacks, because salt helps you retain a little more of the [water] volume that you’ve lost through donation. The cookies are there because [they’re] something the donor culture has grown up in—maybe not the healthiest option, but certainly an expectation. Believe it or not, I have meetings about cookies. I’ve seen shirts before that say ‘I donate for the cookies.’” Bottom line: Rewarding yourself with a treat isn’t going to do any harm, provided that you indulge in moderation.

Your blood could save patients who haven’t even entered the world yet

Though many of us are reminded of the importance of blood donation when tragedies happen, much of what we give does the quiet work of saving people who’ll never show up on the news. Since the need for blood doesn’t go away, the best way to save lives is to contribute regularly. “At Mayo, about 15% to 20% of our blood is going to trauma patients and being used in our ER; a lot of our blood gets used supporting patients through life-saving cardiac or cancer surgeries. Cancer patients [also need blood]—chemotherapy knocks down their ability to make their own red blood cells and platelets—and folks who have medical conditions like autoimmune diseases also need transfusions.”

Donations flow to delivery rooms, too: “If anemia is significant enough in utero we transfuse during pregnancy and sometimes immediately after delivery,” Dr. Kreuter explains. “A lot of kids need blood in the first couple of minutes of life. Sometimes with newborn babies an emergency platelet transfusion in the first few moments of life is absolutely necessary; in their situation the newborn brain is so delicate and fragile that having these platelets immediately available is the name of the game in order to prevent bleeding into their brains, which results in long-term disabilities.”

Note that platelets have a shelf life of just five days, while whole blood can be stored for up to six weeks. The immediate need for platelets—and platelet donors—is constant.

RELATED: 6 Iron-Rich Food CombosNo Meat Required

Donating your voice is vital, too

Those "Be nice to me, I gave blood today!" stickers aren’t merely a cute (and justified) humblebrag: They’re also a benevolent form of peer pressure, not unlike the "I voted" stickers we earn and wear on election days. “Hearing about blood donation from a friend or colleague is very motivating in getting [potential first-timers] to think about taking that next step,” Dr. Kreuter says. “Our donor population [in Rochester] has an older average age, and we’re trying to reach out to the younger generation to start having the same blood donation habits.”

Think about it this way: Taking your kids to see you strengthen your community’s heartbeat at a blood center is just as important as bringing them with you to the voting booth. Donate visibly, donate vocally, and donate as often as you can.

Can Ovarian Cysts Actually Be Cancerous?

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Can ovarian cysts be cancerous?

Some can be, but the vast majority are not. Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs in or on the ovaries, and they fall into two general categories. The most common type, called functional cysts, occur as a normal part of the menstrual cycle. Every month, your ovaries grow structures called follicles in preparation for releasing an egg. If a follicle doesn't break open and release an egg, a cyst can form. Many women will get this type of cyst each month; they're usually small and harmless, and they disappear on their own within two or three menstrual cycles.

RELATED: 12 Facts You Should Know About Ovarian Cysts

You can also develop growths that are unrelated to ovulation. Generally referred to as neoplastic cysts, most are benign. However, in rare cases, one of them may be cancerous. A cyst on the ovary is more likely to indicate cancer if you've already gone through menopause. (In general, the risk of ovarian cancer increases as you age; meanwhile, roughly 8 percent of postmenopausal women develop cysts every year.)

Some symptoms of cysts can be nonspecific, but tell your doctor if you've experienced pressure or pain, or a feeling of fullness after eating only a small amount. Pelvic exams may help detect and monitor cysts, and ultrasounds and a CA-125 blood test can give better clues as to whether a cyst is cancerous. If a mass persists or continues to grow after more than six to eight weeks, has solid parts or walled sections (rather than being strictly fluid-filled) and its own blood flow, surgery may be the next step.

Health‘s medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine and co-founder of Tula Skincare.

 

Gaming For A Good Cause?

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Games are brilliant, not only are they fun to play, they’re also an increasingly relevant platform for seamlessly gaining insight into human behaviour.

With Sea Hero Quest, the colourful and casual mobile and VR game, we’ve helped collect valuable navigational data for scientists trying to tackle the huge problem of dementia.

The number of diagnosed cases of dementia is on the rise, and it is currently estimated that 130 million people will be affected worldwide by 2050. As it stands medical and scientific research can’t keep up, which is why a fresh approach to the problem is now a necessity.

The kind of leap required just isn’t feasible with traditional pen and paper research methods, which is where online, mobile & VR games come in. The democratisation of hardware (everyone now has essentially has a computer in their pocket) has blown things wide open, allowing scientific experiments and research techniques to be married seamlessly with game design.

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It’s really a win-win for everyone involved. Right from the player, who is sat at home with the game in their hand, right up through the development process to the scientists in the lab actually parsing the data – everyone is having a positive experience across the board. Glitchers is proving, in partnership with Deutsche Telekom, the power of collaboration and the power of gaming.

Traditionally, lab-based experiments can take a long time to complete per participant and the studies themselves might be limited to only a few hundred people. Games, like Sea Hero Quest, are able to tackle this problem head-on by delivering legitimate scientific tests via a fun and friendly game environment.

Players engage with complex studies within Sea Hero Quest without ever realising what’s being tested and when. It’s easy to get lost in the world of Sea Hero Quest and never feel like you’ve taken part in a scientific experiment. Sea Hero Quest has been designed with scientists and architects who are experts in the field of Alzheimer’s dementia. This time players share with science isn’t gruelling, it’s fun! Meaning an otherwise enjoyable experience comes with a fortunate, well considered by-product — collecting valuable navigational data for science.

From a game development perspective, we at Glitchers get the incredible satisfaction of using our reach as developers to facilitate this translation of entertainment hours into valuable research data on a massive scale. Experiments in spatial navigation have previously reached just under 600 people, whereas Sea Hero Quest has now reached over 3 million players to date, making it the world’s biggest research study in this field.

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Scientists are buzzing at the sheer volume of data we’re able to collect, so much so, that tiny differences in navigational ability can be effectively measured against so many different normative measures. In the future, this data will become the benchmark that helps form a diagnostic opinion.

Already the data collected by Sea Hero Quest has given new insights into navigational ability across the world. Participants shared their time to game for good from 192 countries! A huge accomplishment that brings scientists invaluable information such as the age in which people’s navigational ability begins to decline, which genders adopt what kind of navigational strategies as well as the difference in results seen across countries around the world.

Glitchers hopes to see more of this kind of cause-driven research become part of the game design process in the future. There are essential learnings that must be given consideration around the fidelity of the data destined for researchers and player’s time being treated like it would in a normal game. The perfect output for us is one which features underlying scientific principles, an interesting story and engaging, fun gameplay mechanics.

We’re doing our own part, looking beyond the mobile game that’s collected navigational data from millions of players, and moving with technological advancements. In that regard, Virtual Reality is the next logical step for the Sea Hero Quest team in terms of scientific research, as completely immersing players in a game world gives a noticeable increase to the accuracy of the data.

Sea Hero Quest is available for free for Samsung Gear VR on the Oculus Store and for mobile on the App Store and Google Play.

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Online Safety: A Lesson All Students Need To Learn

August this year was an exciting month for those students finishing sixth form and college. After spending months disconnected from the world to focus on their studies, their A-Level results were released. For many, it was an opportunity to celebrate and let off some steam before setting off for pastures new. The prospect of university and expanding their minds, surroundings and opinions is too good to turn down for many people. It is where, some say, you ‘find yourself’. But during this rollercoaster ride of meeting new people and experiencing new things, it’s important to stay safe.

From spraying traceable SmartWater on possessions, to using anti-drink spiking straws, safety lessons are instilled into students by the bucket load as they leave for higher education. However, there isn’t much advice concerning their digital safety. We live in an age where there are just as many people looking to do you harm online as there are in real life and it’s important for students to stay vigilant. While it’s essential to enjoy their new home, they need to ensure their personal details are secure and that they’re the only one that can truly ‘find themselves’ online.

Recent attacks like the one on UCL in July show that universities are prime targets when it comes to cyberattacks. Students’ details are highly sought after and hackers have a number of ways of targeting them. From phishing scams like the one seen in September, where cyber scammers posed as the Student Loans Company, to the creation of a completely fictitious university, cyber-attackers are not short of creativity. Students need to be aware of their online behaviour and learn how to best mitigate risks. By following a few simple steps, students won’t have to worry about who can see their information, leaving them lots of extra time to attend those all-important lectures.

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Some people, no matter how many times they’re told, simply never change their passwords. They stick with predictable standbys and default options like ‘123456’ or even worse, ‘password’. Remembering them can be a chore, yes, but ensuring you have different passwords for each account is a necessity. If you don’t have the memory to remember all these different variations then a password manager is the answer for you.

Password managers greatly simplify the entire password process, enabling you to secure all your passwords behind one master password. All you have to do is remember one secure password and your accounts will auto-fill with their applicable passwords whenever you need access. Remembering one password isn’t too hard, right?

Keeping Social Media Social

Adding new friends on social media is a first step for many students cementing friendships. With so many fresh faces in such a short period of time it can be hard to keep track, but it really is imperative. Thousands of fake profiles are made every day with malicious intent, so be aware that it isn’t difficult for those same impersonators to list a university on their profile, too. Make sure you don’t accept anyone you haven’t physically met, no matter how attractive they are.
Sampling the offerings of your new surroundings is essential if you’re to feel at ease in your new home.

But as you post pictures on Instagram, or check-in on Facebook, remember that this information is permanent and available for many to see. It’s easier than you might think to accidentally reveal sensitive information such as your card details, address and when you’re out of the house, through pictures on social media. Be aware that most social media platforms are, in their essence, public.

Sharing Isn’t Always Caring

University is a time of sharing, from the accommodation you live in to the many group presentations you’re expected to do. Some of the most commonly shared things are the communal computers in the library. These shared devices can be used by dozens of people in one day, so remember to never click yes when asked to save your details. Keep track of which devices you’re logged in to and always sign out at the end of each session.

Wi-Fi hotspots are important for doing work while you’re out and about, but these open networks can also be ripe territory for hackers. When connected to the same public Wi-Fi, hackers can see which webpages you access and depending on how secure the sites you’re visiting are, your browsing history, searches, personal login information, photos, videos, emails, and comments. Use a Wi-Fi inspector app to analyse the security of the connection, or invest in a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to surf the net securely.

Be Cautious

The final tip is more general advice, but it’s the step which is perhaps easiest to fall foul of. Stay away from shady websites, be careful of what you download and don’t open links from someone you don’t recognise. These are all tips we’ve heard a hundred times before, but you can never say them enough.

Ensuring you have an up-to-date internet security product is a good way of saving yourself if you do click the wrong link. But the only sure-fire way to avoid malicious content online is by not clicking them. Choose what you access as carefully as you chose your new university. You’ve got a lot of important things to focus on without adding a whole heap of worry about your internet safety.

What Every Business Leader Should Know About the Rise Of The Robots

Every week Artificial Intelligence makes the headlines – pharmaceutical firm Exscientia has just announced a £33m deal with GSK. The founder wants to put AI in partnership with people to diminish the time and cost equations associated with medicine.

This application of AI focuses, as most do, on changing the way companies do things, or on re-wiring entire industries. Yet scant attention is paid to the real burning issue: how will robots change our day-to-day experience of working in business? And, more to the point, will robots working alongside rather than replacing humans even be possible?

These questions are fast becoming critical for today’s business leaders because the need to understand the implications of AI will dictate what changes to how a business and its people operate in anticipation of that are needed today. In every case, however, the answer is the same: educate yourself.

We’re warned that jobs are at stake. Some 4 million in the UK private sector should you choose to believe the latest reports. With this in mind, it’s reassuring that AI is, in fact, distinctly unhuman in its thinking. The self-driving car doesn’t drive like a human – it has no easily distracted mind; instead, its sole focus is on the road and delivering safety for humans. And in the differences between humans and AI lies opportunity.

More productive than worrying about AI versus human is for businesses to focus instead on where human and machine intelligence can complement one another, rather than compete.

Take as your starting place the notion that AI can augment human behaviour. This is the so-called ‘centaur approach’ to the technology inspired by the growth of freestyle chess where teams compete using any combination of humans and computer. And consider Gary Kasparov’s conclusion that “weak human + machine + better process was superior to a strong computer alone and, more remarkable, superior to a strong human + machine +inferior process”.

As it stands today, the ‘centaur approach’ to freestyle chess beats AI players more than half the time. In itself, this is interesting. But more than that, it shows how despite the rise of AI chess did not die – it evolved. So if humans can use AI to become better chess players, they can surely use AI to become better teachers, engineers or doctors.

The take-out for businesses is that by evolving employees to become ‘centaurs’ they can be moved away from menial tasks to focus on things that truly matter to a business’s core mission. And with the elimination of human-implemented routine tasks, more not less emphasis will be placed on the improvement of more sophisticated human-based tasks.

This, then, should provide the starting point for businesses today to create the right platform for deploying AI moving forward. So, they will need to focus on how they nurture emotional intelligence, imagination, intuition and creativity within their workforce ahead of more basic, lower-grade skills.

They will need to prioritise areas within their organisation for implementing AI where that AI will complement human skills sets – focusing on automation, for example, 24/7 response and crunching big data. They will need to start experimenting. And they should research how others use the ‘centaur approach’.

What they must understand is not just what AI can and can’t do but, as important, when. Even in the next ten years, the AI we interact with will be an extremely narrow, task-specific super-smart specialist incapable of the subtleties and nuances that come from an ability to synthesis seemingly disconnect thoughts and actions.

Finally, when needed, they should turn for inspiration and reassurance about the continued need for and role of humans in their workforce to the disciplines of Emotional Intelligence and Behavioural Economics for inspiration. Because as long as humans are consumers of goods and services companies produce, then those companies will always need humans to understand the irrational and random nature of their consumers’ decisions.