2015 proved to be a big year for us health-obsessed wonder junkies, with a number of incredible studies published that further elucidate how our choices affect our health — in ways both large and small.
One area of major focus over the past year has been the microbiome — the universe of 100 trillion microorganisms that take up residence in our gastrointestinal tracts, modulating our health in profound ways. While we’ve known about the bacteria living in and on us for decades, it is only recently that we’ve begun to understand the scope of the role these little symbionts play in our health. This year bookshelves were lined with offerings shedding light on how we might better utilize this burgeoning field for optimal health. A few standouts: The Good Gut, Brain Maker, and Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ.
But studies about the microbiome were just the start. Below are more fascinating things learned about health over the past year, in no particular order, that you ought to pay attention to if you value things like feeling vibrant, boosting brainpower, and living longer!
1. Your brain is directly connected to your immune system
Unbelievably, in the same decade that humanity can take credit for having put a robot on the surface of Mars, we also located an anatomical feature hiding out in our own brains. And an important one at that. In a stunning discovery that overturned decades of textbook teaching, researchers determined that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by lymphatic vessels previously thought not to exist. The finding, validating the importance of reducing inflammation in the body, and therefore the brain, could have profound implications for the treatment and prevention of many neurological diseases including depression, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Lewy body dementia, multiple sclerosis, and autism.
2. Using an iPhone before bed screws up your sleep
Thanks to this study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science back in January, we now know that using light-emitting e-readers (aka tablets and other backlit mobile devices) in the hours before bed acutely suppresses melatonin production in the brain. That’s a hormone that not only is responsible for helping regulate your circadian clock to help you fall asleep, but is also involved in the expression of many genes, some of which may keep cancer at bay.
In fact, totally blind people have lower cancer rates than the fully sighted, and it’s thought that one key mechanism is that their melatonin levels are never suppressed. Participants given an e-reader to use before bed took longer to fall asleep, had worse sleep, and were less alert the next morning. This led study authors to conclude that the “electric light to which we are exposed between dusk and bedtime has profound biological effects.” Put it away, or try blue-light-blocking night glasses.