A new study found that female college-aged students who reported at least one period of daily self-weighing over a two-year study saw a drop in their body mass index.
Our sense of smell is key to the enjoyment of food, so it may be no surprise that in experiments at the University of California, Berkeley, obese mice who lost their sense of smell also lost weight.
What’s weird, however, is that these slimmed-down but smell-deficient mice ate the same amount of fatty food as mice that retained their sense of smell and ballooned to twice their normal weight.
In addition, mice with a boosted sense of smell — super-smellers — got even fatter on a high-fat diet than did mice with normal smell.
The findings suggest that the odor of what we eat may play an important role in how the body deals with calories. If you can’t smell your food, you may burn it rather than store it.
These results point to a key connection between the olfactory or smell system and regions of the brain that regulate metabolism, in particular the hypothalamus, though the neural circuits are still unknown.
“This paper is one of the first studies that really shows if we manipulate olfactory inputs we can actually alter how the brain perceives energy balance, and how the brain regulates energy balance,” said Céline Riera, a former UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow now at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Humans who lose their sense of smell because of age, injury or diseases such as Parkinson’s often become anorexic, but the cause has been unclear because loss of pleasure in eating also leads to depression, which itself can cause loss of appetite.
The new study, published this week in the journal Cell Metabolism, implies that the loss of smell itself plays a role, and suggests possible interventions for those who have lost their smell as well as those having trouble losing weight.
“Sensory systems play a role in metabolism. Weight gain isn’t purely a measure of the calories taken in; it’s also related to how those calories are perceived,” said senior author Andrew Dillin, the Thomas and Stacey Siebel Distinguished Chair in Stem Cell Research, professor of molecular and cell biology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. “If we can validate this in humans, perhaps we can actually make a drug that doesn’t interfere with smell but still blocks that metabolic circuitry. That would be amazing.”
Riera noted that mice as well as humans are more sensitive to smells when they are hungry than after they’ve eaten, so perhaps the lack of smell tricks the body into thinking it has already eaten. While searching for food, the body stores calories in case it’s unsuccessful. Once food is secured, the body feels free to burn it.
Zapping olfactory neurons
The researchers used gene therapy to destroy olfactory neurons in the noses of adult mice but spare stem cells, so that the animals lost their sense of smell only temporarily — for about three weeks — before the olfactory neurons regrew.
The smell-deficient mice rapidly burned calories by up-regulating their sympathetic nervous system, which is known to increase fat burning. The mice turned their beige fat cells — the subcutaneous fat storage cells that accumulate around our thighs and midriffs — into brown fat cells, which burn fatty acids to produce heat. Some turned almost all of their beige fat into brown fat, becoming lean, mean burning machines.
In these mice, white fat cells — the storage cells that cluster around our internal organs and are associated with poor health outcomes — also shrank in size.
The obese mice, which had also developed glucose intolerance — a condition that leads to diabetes — not only lost weight on a high-fat diet, but regained normal glucose tolerance.
On the negative side, the loss of smell was accompanied by a large increase in levels of the hormone noradrenaline, which is a stress response tied to the sympathetic nervous system. In humans, such a sustained rise in this hormone could lead to a heart attack.
Though it would be a drastic step to eliminate smell in humans wanting to lose weight, Dillin noted, it might be a viable alternative for the morbidly obese contemplating stomach stapling or bariatric surgery, even with the increased noradrenaline.
“For that small group of people, you could wipe out their smell for maybe six months and then let the olfactory neurons grow back, after they’ve got their metabolic program rewired,” Dillin said.
Dillin and Riera developed two different techniques to temporarily block the sense of smell in adult mice. In one, they genetically engineered mice to express a diphtheria receptor in their olfactory neurons, which reach from the nose’s odor receptors to the olfactory center in the brain. When diphtheria toxin was sprayed into their nose, the neurons died, rendering the mice smell-deficient until the stem cells regenerated them.
Separately, they also engineered a benign virus to carry the receptor into olfactory cells only via inhalation. Diphtheria toxin again knocked out their sense of smell for about three weeks.
In both cases, the smell-deficient mice ate as much of the high-fat food as did the mice that could still smell. But while the smell-deficient mice gained at most 10 percent more weight, going from 25-30 grams to 33 grams, the normal mice gained about 100 percent of their normal weight, ballooning up to 60 grams. For the former, insulin sensitivity and response to glucose — both of which are disrupted in metabolic disorders like obesity — remained normal.
Mice that were already obese lost weight after their smell was knocked out, slimming down to the size of normal mice while still eating a high-fat diet. These mice lost only fat weight, with no effect on muscle, organ or bone mass.
The UC Berkeley researchers then teamed up with colleagues in Germany who have a strain of mice that are supersmellers, with more acute olfactory nerves, and discovered that they gained more weight on a standard diet than did normal mice.
“People with eating disorders sometimes have a hard time controlling how much food they are eating and they have a lot of cravings,” Riera said. “We think olfactory neurons are very important for controlling pleasure of food and if we have a way to modulate this pathway, we might be able to block cravings in these people and help them with managing their food intake.”
When children avoid school to avoid bullying, many states can lose tens of millions of dollars in lost funding, and California alone loses an estimated $276 million each year because children feel unsafe.
New research from The University of Texas at Austin published in School Psychology Quarterly highlights the hidden cost to communities in states that use daily attendance numbers to calculate public school funding. When children are afraid to go to school because classmates target them because of bias against their race, gender, religion, disability or sexual orientation, schools lose tens of millions of dollars each year linked to this absenteeism.
“Bullying is a big social problem that not only creates an unhealthy climate for individuals but also undermines schools and communities,” says Stephen Russell, professor and chair of human development and family sciences at UT Austin. “We are interested in the economics of bullying and how it can affect a whole school system.”
In the United States, some states including Texas, Illinois and California, use a formula known as average daily attendance to allocate certain school funds. Schools that receive funding based on children’s presence rather than based on total enrollment will have lower revenue when children miss school for any reason.
The research used data from the 2011-2013 California Healthy Kids Survey and information from the state’s Department of Education. Russell and colleagues analyzed surveys of the seventh-, ninth- and 11th-grade students from nearly half of the schools across the state. The team also calculated the average amount of money allocated for each student each day based on average daily attendance funding (about $50).
Analyses showed that 10.4 percent of students reported they missed at least one day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe. This extrapolates to an estimated 301,000 students missing school because of feeling unsafe and $276 million in lost revenue each year in California public schools.
Biased-based bullying is also costly. Nearly half of the absent students — 45 percent — reported that they missed school and felt unsafe because of being targeted for bias. When Russell and colleagues calculated the lost revenue to California schools each year, it was up to $78 million for bullying due to race/ethnicity bias, as much as $54 million based on a religion bias, up to $54 million for gender bias, as high as $62 million for bias related to sexual orientation and as much as $49 million for disability-related bias. Many children reported they were bullied in more than one of these categories.
“We found a strong link between all types of bullying and school absence,” says first author Laura Baams, also of UT Austin. “Once school districts and boards realize how much funding is lost — especially in those districts that are struggling for funds — we see that it is worth the investment to do something about bullying.”
Not all students subject to bullying miss school. About 19 percent of students experienced biased-based bullying but did not miss school. Still, Russell explains, other effects can occur such as depression, anxiety, poorer academic achievement and health complaints.
“Discriminatory bullying occurs because of who you are or because of who someone assumes you are,” says Russell. “There are clear steps that schools can take to create a safe environment. Professional anti-bullying training and decreasing racism are not only cheaper than leaving the system as it is, but would also promote an inclusive climate for everyone.”
Materials provided by University of Texas at Austin. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
The morning that I was to leave for a long weekend trip to Nantucket with my new boyfriend, I received a text message from my best friend. “Good luck <3” she said, knowing more than me that I’d wake up under a heavy blanket of anxiety, only to get on the ferry with more baggage than my current boyfriend could see.
The last time I was in Nantucket, I was with someone who I thought I was going to marry. He took me around to all of his favorite spots and showed me what beaches he wanted to bring our future kids to. When we broke up, I vowed to never go back. The cheery island was remastered in dark shades of grey and untruth. And despite the fact that he had moved on and married, and I had moved on and fallen deeply in love, (and that the concept of the island having any sort of lasting hold over me seemed ridiculous) I couldn’t ignore the way the wind stung my eyes just a bit more than it should have on the ferry out.
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When a relationship becomes a sinking ship, there are things we leave behind — things we jettison just to get out alive. Despite the fact that pad Thai existed before one ex-boyfriend broke my heart over it, the greasy, peanut-dusted noodles that once made me feel so full, alerted an emotional gag-reflex. And that one particular Thai place we used to go to in Williamsburg that looked strangely like a Las Vegas hotel inside is on a street I came to avoid altogether. And while I couldn’t help but tap my foot to the “Ho!” and “Hey!” of The Lumineers’ “Ho Hey”, my stomach would slink when I did, for another ex had once proclaimed it would be our wedding song. House of Cards? I couldn’t even tell you who killed Peter Russo. Post-breakup, I couldn’t bear to queue up our favorite show.
If I really looked at all of the things that had become off limits to me because I experienced them in relationships gone sour, I wouldn’t be able to leave my couch or eat anything other than beans. Oh wait, I made love with one ex on that couch. And another ex grew beans on our windowsill — couches and beans, too, would be tainted for eternity.
When a relationship becomes a sinking ship, there are things we leave behind — things we jettison just to get out alive.
A few years ago, it seemed like everything was a danger zone. I couldn’t walk down the street without seeing something that made me wince. I had become a self-proclaimed victim of all of my relationships, and yet created a prison around myself. I couldn’t move on or take back what was mine without feeling overly sentimental and heavy about it.
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On the ferry, I blinked away the scratchy feeling in my eyes and took a deep breath, sucking in as much fog as I could, hoping it would clear away the view and mood. My boyfriend stood behind me and wrapped his arms around my chest. “This is my favorite part” he said, of the ferry pulling past the low speed zone and taking off toward the island. I could feel how wet his face was as he pressed it into my hair. He should have been colder than me, but even under my sweater, I felt a chill I knew I shouldn’t feel. When we returned to our seats, I pretended to sleep. With my eyes closed, I recited an incantation, “I have to go back to move forward, Nantucket is just an island.”
“It’s just because it’s off-season,” I told myself. There’s always something eerie about a vacation town in a shoulder season. But even with the cement skies and spanking winds, he was enjoying himself. When the sun would make itself known between cloud parades, he’d throw his head back and catch the light like a chef flipping an egg in a pan. And while I was excited about the prospect of taking Nantucket back and building new memories on the island, there was no denying how tacky my feet felt on the ground. I conjured a psychological quicksand, and it wasn’t long before we were both sinking in it.
First, it came innocently, in the form of some fatigue during a bike ride. He wanted to show me his favorite places and I couldn’t peddle fast enough to seem interested. And then the quicksand started to bubble. Unsure of how to manage the feeling of impending doom, I ignited it.
While out to a nice dinner with our hosts, I picked a fight. Under the table we sent venomous text messages. “I want to leave,” I hissed, just as I had hissed before, the last time I was in Nantucket. Relationships go to Nantucket to drown right? So why not just get this ship out to sea? His posture slumped, as the charade went on. Us, entertaining our dinner mates while ignoring each other’s existence and for the first time imagining our lives without each other — for no reason of our own. When we left the restaurant and walked towards the car, he lagged behind. I saw him look up and down the cobblestone streets, watching the light dim on the island and our relationship; I had done it. I couldn’t handle the suspense, and so I fast forwarded to the alternative ending. And then there we were in the car, shaking over the upturned roads on the way back to the house, looking out opposite windows at a scene gone dark. At a distance, a lighthouse shook a hula hoop of illumination around itself, serving as a reminder that no matter how many times you sail a sea, you’re destined to crash if you don’t look for the light.
We made it off the island — barely. With fragments of our relationship in tow. Our bags couldn’t pack the same way they did on the way in and so we carried plastic bags and totes filled with loose ends we didn’t know what to do with. It wasn’t my ex that had ruined Nantucket. It wasn’t my ex that poisoned pad Thai. It was me — it was my inability to separate superstition from reality. My last relationship wasn’t haunting the island, I was. In the same way I was sentimental over noodles, I had become superstitious over the island.
It wasn’t my ex that poisoned Pad Thai. It was me — it was my inability to separate superstition from reality.
And no matter how hard I tried to test the bounds of my current relationship, it wouldn’t budge. I had infused the island with so many bad omens that I actually convinced myself that my new relationship would die there by the sea, too. Despite how perfect my relationship felt and how enlightened I felt before I left, some part of me still believed that Nantucket had something to do with my last break up. But places don’t hold meanings, people do. And it was time to let go of all the lingering attachments that were no longer serving me — before I actually turned Nantucket into a self-fulfilling, relationship-ending prophecy. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until we were on the way home that I had this realization.
At a distance, it’s easier to see that a very important part of moving on is freeing up mental storage space and closing certain connections. Learning how to return to a place that once held one meaning and giving it the opportunity to hold another is crucial. Our hearts will only beat so many times in our lifetime, so it’s a shame to skip songs we like, to avoid streets that are convenient, to push away dishes we enjoy, or to create a bunch of juju around a physical space. Sometimes it takes going back to clear the cache and move forward. And sometimes it takes going back twice to move forward, and with my new love still intact, I now know Nantucket is really just an island again.
Trump-based sexual anxiety has not just struck the partnered of the world, but single people as well. Fatimah, 35, is single, has never had sex and has no interest in having it, but enjoys consuming sexual materials—romance novels, erotic fiction, and porn—and regularly masturbates. But the new regime has cratered her interests in these previously fun solo pursuits. “I went from a pretty okay porn habit to ‘Sex? I don’t know her.'” she said. “It feels like just one more thing this administration and Agent Orange has taken away from me along with my peace of mind.”
“I went from a pretty okay porn habit to ‘Sex? I don’t know her.'”
But not everyone has been tormented by Trump enough to even lose interest in porn. For some, like Maggie, 36, the world’s stresses have driven her to read and write more pornographic fiction as a form of release. “It just seemed… essential and necessary to build time for joy, to just pick the most self-indulgent possible thing and roll around in it,” she said. “If it was harmless and made me happy, why not? What possible reason could I have for denying myself a respite from anxiety and dread?”
Celebrating sex in fictional worlds had its benefit in the real world for Maggie. “One side-effect of massively upping my overall porn interaction is that I spend more time thinking about sex,” she said. “And for me personally, that means I also spend more time in a headspace where I’m interested in having sex.” Maggie still describes herself as anxious and afraid of today’s political climate, but her choice of escapism has lead her to have more and less inhibited sex. What’s there to lose in being a little kinky when the world is on fire?
These different responses to global anxiety are entirely normal, according to NYC-based therapist Abigail Zackin. “Some people are psychologically organized that sex is the furthest thing from their minds during a crisis because they’re too busy regulating their emotions through other means, either internal or external, but some people’s go-to coping tool is sex and sexual pleasure.”
Richard, 26, has felt a sort of liberation and release from shame in the face of so many people in power now emboldened to speak and take action against his way of life. “I’m a gay man in a long-term relationship in the conservative part of my state,” he said. “I’ve pretty much come to terms with the fact that most of my elected officials and fellow constituents don’t like me, even as a concept. While the thought of our current administration makes my skin crawl, why should I be self-conscious about my horny feelings when literally everything else on a national level is terrible?”
When everything is terrible and the national fear level is high, for some, like Violet, 27, sex serves as a release valve on the horrors of the world. “Basically my sex drive has been kicked into overdrive since the election,” she said. “My partner and I tend to use sex—and talking about sex, and sexting each other, and making sexy art—to get our minds off of our various anxieties.” And in the world that feels confusing and illogical, sex can make sense. “It’s a situation where you can be entirely in control—or entirely out of control—while still spending quality time with someone you care about and trust. And it makes people feel good! It gives you a chance to breathe candid emotions into others that the trappings of casual society are ill-equipped to express.”
And for some queer people, sex is a way of affirming their existence. Ryan, 34, is trans, and for him, sex “is a nice way to feel something good and personal that no one’s about to take away from me. I know this administration doesn’t give a fuck about my rights or personal safety. So much feels out of my control right now, but what I know I can do for myself is get myself off and feel release or relaxation or just something intense. And maybe it’s a bit of a psychic middle finger to people who would be (or publicly pretend to be) shocked or disapproving of what queer/trans/poly people do in the bedroom.”
What’s there to lose in being a little kinky when the world is on fire?
“There’s a big difference between sex as a means of physical pleasure and sex as a means of forming or strengthening our relational bonds,” says Zackin. “Sometimes we need to soothe ourselves and sometimes we need someone else to soothe us. Both are valid and necessary parts of the sexual experience and one is not more important than the other by any means, but I think a big difference here would be that the former provides immediate cessation of pain and the latter provides a sense of hope.”
Violet, who is genderqueer, finds this kind of hope through sex in a nation that is ever more trying to legislate her existence and that of those she loves. “My life expectancy right now is totally uncertain, but inside I feel like a fountain of love that can’t stop flowing,” she said. “It sounds stupid, but I want to make sure I can share as much of that as I can before I go—platonically, romantically, physically, whatever.”
“If I die because some rich white folks can’t stand that I exist,” Violet said, “I want to make sure the people close to me in my life know how important they are to me.” For many of us in the post-Trump world, expressing that love—even self-love—through sex isn’t possible yet. But four years isn’t forever, and there is some spark of hope in the world that yes, we will be horny again.
It’s not that it’s hard for Greg Ludlam to describe his wife, Elizabeth. It’s that when he does, he has to use the past tense.
She was an awesome wife. She was an on-top-of-it mom. She was thoughtful and kind-hearted.
On June 1, 2016, Elizabeth, then 39, committed suicide after battling postpartum depression (PPD) for months, if not longer. On a crystal-clear California afternoon, Greg, 51, became a widower and a single parent to their two children, Emma, 9, and Ethan, 2. Just weeks before his family confronts the one-year anniversary of Elizabeth’s passing, he’s retracing the lost battle he never knew his wife was fighting.
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“I’ve got to carry around this constant feeling of, Why didn’t I figure this out?” he says now.
It was Elizabeth’s bright-like-the-sun personality that Greg noticed first. They met at a library where Elizabeth worked part-time in Northampton, Massachusetts.
“We got to talking, and I was drawn to her smile and how friendly she was,” Greg says. “Even the way she walked — fast, with confidence. You could tell she was the kind of person who got things done.”
After about a year of dating, the couple went to California to help Greg’s family after his step-father passed away, and decided to make their stay permanent. If you look up the phrase “going west,” it’s described as the moment you’re about to meet disaster, but for Greg and Elizabeth, it felt like the exact opposite. Elizabeth fell in love with the area — the craggy coast, the nice weather, the day trips to the Golden Gate Bridge — according to Greg.
“Elizabeth took the lead with getting us out there,” he says. “She took care of all the little details — the packing, the prep.” The couple got married in the summer of 2001 and settled in Rohnert Park, a quiet neighborhood about an hour north of San Francisco.
“Life felt good,” Greg says. He was working as a mechanical engineer and Elizabeth had a job as a project coordinator with a solid track for advancement. After their daughter Emma was born in 2007, Greg felt like he and his wife were going through the normal ebbs and flows of new parenting.
“Elizabeth was completely on it — knowing what you’re supposed to do and not do,” Greg says. “Of course, we were tired, but it was fun.” Elizabeth worked her way into the Rohnert Park mom scene, attending classes for new moms and meeting up with them afterward for coffee and walks. “It was something she really enjoyed,” he says.
When Ethan was born seven years later, in 2015, that extra support lost out to work and managing a household of four. But to Greg, the routine felt like more of the same. The couple got up together for middle-of-the-night feedings and tag teamed the daily routine.
“Elizabeth would drop the kids off in the morning and I would pick them up later,” Greg says. “I would cook, she would do the laundry. At night, she’d get one kid to bed and I’d take care of the other one. We were a well-oiled machine.”
But then something changed. A change Greg did notice.
CRACKING THE FAÇADE
“Right around the time our son turned one, there was something about Elizabeth that just wasn’t right,” Greg says. “She was less tolerant of things around the house, and less patient, which was unusual for her because she was such a positive person. She wasn’t initiating time with friends or neighbors, and she started saying she was a bad mom. My interpretation was that it had to be stress.” Greg tried to help by suggesting she take a night to spend time with her friends, but she never did.
In the spring of 2016, the couple started talking about a move back to the East Coast, where they both had family.
“It was almost like a passing comment, but Elizabeth really latched onto the idea of leaving California, so it became this serious thing that we were going to do within the year,” Greg says. “We were both just kind of done with being on the West Coast. Elizabeth had been living thousands of miles away from her family for over a decade — a distance that now felt farther with two kids in the picture.” Elizabeth started packing up the house right way — stuffed animals, kitchenware that was seldom used. All boxed up.