Being American May Be a Hazard to Your Health
America is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, so how could people from much poorer ones be better off health-wise than us?
This week, the National Academies of Sciences released a report that immigrants are assimilating at an astonishingly rapid pace. Among many surprising facts, they are learning English even faster than their early 20th century counterparts.
But the most telling data is not about them, but about us. New immigrants are actually healthier — less likely to die from cancer and heart disease or have chronic illnesses — than people born in the United States. America is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, so how could people from much poorer ones be better off health-wise than us?
The question was glossed over by the researchers, but it deserves our attention. There are many competing and uncomfortable reasons that could lead to an explanation. For one, we are the most medicated country on the planet, which may sound like we should not be so unhealthy, except that, as the CDC reports, nearly half of us used some sort of prescription pill in the past 30 days, and according the World Health Organization, half of that number is on some sort of long-term mental health medication.
It’s even been suggested that immigrants returning to their place of birth actually reduces their risks for major diseases and health problems.
Why are we so anxious/nervous/tired/depressed? Well, it could be our diet. Nearly half of our diet consists of oils, fats, and processed grains. That’s a 92 percent caloric increase from 40 years ago. There are a variety of reasons as to why — we eat out more, eat more frozen food, etc. It’s even been studied in women that this toxic approach to eating causes inflammation that then leads to depression and other psychological disorders.
It’s even been suggested that immigrants returning to their place of birth actually reduces their risks for major diseases and health problems. A few years ago, The New York Times reported that a Greek emigre to Long Island was diagnosed with cancer in the 1960s, but then decided to move back to home in Greece to die. He lived instead. At the time of the article’s publication, he was 97 or 102, depending on whom you asked. He was on no medications or treatment for the cancer (which eventually went into remission), and the article noted that diet, attitude, and culture played a large role in not only his longevity but also the age of his fellow centenarians in his hometown.
Does our over-medicated, nutritionally deficient, sleepy culture mean that immigrants would be better off in their home countries? No, not necessarily.
Finally, there’s sleep. Or the lack thereof. The CDC has called Americans’ inability to get a good night of it a public health problem, and the American Psychological Association urges that not sleeping leads to a “heightened risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and depression.” These are conditions, of course, that we take medication for and that are then exacerbated by our poor diets. See a pattern?
Does our over-medicated, nutritionally deficient, sleepy culture mean that immigrants would be better off in their home countries? No, not necessarily. But we’d be wise to not assume that the American way of life is superior to any foreign one.
Daphne Muller is a New York City-based writer who has written for Salon, Ms. Magazine, The Huffington Post, and reviewed books for ELLE and Publishers Weekly. Most recently, she completed a novel and screenplay. You can follow her on Instagram @daphonay and on Twitter @DaphneEMuller.
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Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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