Last Month in Science: Why Backing the Wrong Sports Team Could Kill You


Time for a new monthly feature! Meghan Holohan lives in Pittsburgh near two universities where she pesters doctors and scientists about their research. She's the kind of person who devours medical journals, and she'll be sorting through scores of studies each month and summarizing some of them for us. What she's missing is a name for the column. Got any ideas? If we choose yours, you'll get the mental_floss t-shirt of your choosing.

As if all the financial news isn't bad enough, this month scientists gave us a glut of research about which of our habits will kill us early. If all this bad news depresses you, try to find solace in multiplayer online gaming or moderate drinking with friends.

Killer anger

Soccer fans are notorious for violent outbursts—rioters have trampled people to death and fans have stabbed and shot one another. But mob violence isn't the only cause of death at sporting events. Anger over a big loss causes high occurrences of cardiac arrest.

Researchers had long noticed that deaths from sudden cardiac arrest increase after significant events such as an earthquake, war, or (less importantly) a favorite team's loss in World Cup Soccer. Rachel Lampert of Yale University wondered if extreme fits of anger cause cardiac arrest. Lampert and her colleagues studied 62 people with implantable heart defibrillators (ICD), which detect dangerous arrhythmias and deliver a shock to restore the normal heartbeat. In the lab, participants were asked to recall an angry episode while Lampert conducted a T Wave Alternans test, which measures electrical instability in the heart. The results—anger causes irregular heartbeats in a controlled-setting. She then followed the patients for three years to see how they fared in real life. The real world anger mimicked the lab results, meaning those who were angry more often required more stimulation from the ICD. Lampert told Reuters: "It says yes, anger really does impact the heart's electrical system in very specific ways that can lead to sudden death." Next up, she's studying how anger management reduces cardiac episodes.

Rachel Lampert, Vladimir Shusterman, Matthew Burg, PhD, Craig McPherson, William Batsford, Anna Goldberg, and Robert Soufer, Anger-Induced T-Wave Alternans Predicts Future Ventricular Arrhythmias in Patients With Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillators, The Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

EverQuest2 mimics hometown

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While the show was poking fun at online gamers, a recent study by University of Minnesota shows that online communities are so large, they are representative of real society. The researchers analyzed more than three years of data from the server logs and click-streams of Sony's PC game EverQuest2. This information shows every action performed in the popular multiplayer online game (MMO). More than 300,000 players average 26 hours of play per week. Because of the complex level of interaction in MMO, the researchers can study the social behavior of the players in a way that would provide more accurate information than a survey. For example, if a team of players organizes a quest, they also organize socially. Researchers feel they can see how groups form and work together better observing them online instead of in a controlled situation.

Jaideep Srivastava, Noshir Contractor, Scott Poole, and Dmitri Williams. "Analyzing Virtual Worlds: Next Step in the Evolution of Social Science Research" presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Downturns in sleep

More people are tossing and turn in bed as they think about their dwindling 401K, their mortgage, or whether their jobs are being eliminated. Nearly one-third of Americans are losing sleep because of the poor economy, according to a study by the National Sleep Foundation.

The number of Americans sleeping six hours or less increased from 13 percent to 28 percent, and only 28 percent report sleeping eight or more hours. Even though 40 percent of respondents say that sleep is as important as a healthy diet and exercise, only 32 percent talk to their doctors about their sleep problems. People who are not well rested perform poorly at work, eat more junk food, and are more likely to drive while drowsy. More than half of all adults—54 percent or 110 potentially licensed drivers—claim to have driven drowsy once in the past year and 28 percent said they have doze off at the wheel. Almost 90 percent of respondents said they have grappled with insomnia for at least a few nights during the past month.

One-third of Americans Loose Sleep Over the Economy, National Sleep Foundation, March 2, 2009

A steak a day will not keep the doctor away

When Oprah refused to eat beef because of Mad Cow Disease, the beef industry took a huge PR hit. Since then, beef has made a come back—chefs, food magazines, and TV shows tout the pleasure of red meat. But a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine might impact beef consumption again. The study found that people who eat red meat daily are more likely to die younger than people who enjoy a diet with less red meat. Rashmi Shinha of the National Cancer Institute and his colleagues followed 500,000 middle-aged and elderly Americas for 10 years. The researchers monitored their beef, poultry, fish, and pork consumption. Those who ate four ounces of red meat (the size of a small hamburger) a day were 30 percent more likely to die in the course of the 10 years. Even though the famous ad campaign might have you believe that pork is the other white meat, it is considered red meat and it also negatively affects health. Consumption of fish, chicken, and turkey decreased the risk of death by a small amount.

Researchers suspect that red meat decreases lifespan for several reasons—cooking red meat produces carcinogens and red meat is high in saturated fat, which is associated with breast and colorectal cancer as well as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Pork's high levels of iron contribute to some cancers.

Rashmi Sinha, Amanda J. Cross, Barry I. Graubard, Michael F. Leitzmann, and Arthur Schatzkin, Meat Intake and Mortality: A Prospective Study of Over Half a Million People, Archives of Internal Medicine


If the prospect of cutting out red meat is bringing you down, head to a bar with a group of friends for a drink. According to a study by Hiroyasu Iso from Osaka University, having a few drinks with a group of friends lowers a person's chance of suffering from heart disease and stroke. Iso urges folks to remember that only light to moderate drinking positively impacts health, and it must be in conjunction with social supports. Heavy drinking often occurs without the social element, taking away any positives that might be associated with a few drinks. In fact, being surrounded by supportive family and friends might be more beneficial than imbibing.

Iso and his team examined the drinking habits of 19,356 people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. They were classified by how much they drink—never, in the past, occasionally, 1 to 149 grams of alcohol per week, 150 to 299 grams of alcohol per week, 300 to 449 grams of alcohol per week, or 450 grams or more. Nine years later, Iso followed up with the group, finding that there were 629 strokes and 207 cases of coronary heart disease. He also discovered that those who drank over 300 grams of alcohol per week were more likely to suffer from these cardiac problems. Doctors have long associated heavy drinking with an increase in blood pressure. Men who drank up to 299 grams of alcohol per week saw decreased risk of stroke and heart disease, and this effect was enhanced in men with high levels of social support. Iso suspects that people with strong social support systems are less likely to participate in unhealthy behavior and more likely to be better able to deal with stress.

Satoyo Ikehara, Hiroyasu Iso, Hideaki Toyoshima, Chigusa Date, Akio Yamamoto Shogo Kikuchi, Takaaki Kondo, Yoshiyuki Watanabe, Akio Koizumi, Yasuhiko Wada, Yutaka Inaba, Akiko Tamakoshi; "Alcohol Consumption and Mortality From Stroke and Coronary Heart Disease Among Japanese Men and Women." The Japan Collaborative Cohort Study. Alcoholism Clinical and Experimental Research

Eeewww it's evolutionary

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Physiologists believed that moral disgust—such as the kind exercised when judging Octo-mom or Michael Jackson—is a newly developed trait. They theorized that morality is closely tied to reasoning skills and as humans became animals that reasoned, they also adopted morality. Hanah Chapman, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, decided to investigate disgust and morality. She had research subjects participate in three tests, which examined varying levels of disgust. In each situation, Chapman used electromyography to measured electrical activity of the levator labii muscle, which makes the wrinkled nose and frown face of a disgusted look. In the first test, participants tasted something bitter; in the second test they looked at something gross like a dirty bathroom; and in the third test someone treated them unfairly. In each case, the levator labii muscle reacted similarly, proving that moral outrage evolved from basic disgust. "These results shed new light on the origins of morality, suggesting that not only do complex thoughts guide our moral compass, but also more primitive instincts related to avoiding potential toxins," says Adam Anderson, coauthor and the Canada Research Chair in Affective Neuroscience.

Hanah A. Chapman, David A. Kim, Joshua M. Susskind, and Adam K. Anderson, In Bad Taste: Evidence for the Oral Origins of Moral Disgust, Science