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Elemental
Your life, sourced by science. A publication from Medium about health and wellness.

Risk

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Risk assessment is hard. Nearly every situation has a range of different variables that affect risk, and only some of these variables can be quantified. Others we have to estimate, and in the human brain, emotions inevitably get tangled up in the process of trying to make those estimations and come to an overall idea of how risky something is or isn’t.

“This is why medical doctors and people in public health train for years to help people understand the public health landscape and marry public health with their own individual conditions and risk,” Lucy McBride, MD, an internist in…


How to face the reality and make a plan

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Kristen Carpenter, PhD, comes from a big family in Michigan, and she hasn’t yet decided how to approach the holidays, which traditionally involve road trips for large gatherings. Carpenter, the chief psychologist in the department of psychiatry and behavioral health at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, is keeping one eye on the rate of Covid-19 infections in Michigan and the other on the wishes and concerns of her far-flung family.

Whatever they decide to do or not do, “We’ve got to get a lot of people on board,” she says, pointing out that each of her relatives has…


It’s a smart way to help you focus on the activities you value most

The Covid-19 decision fatigue is real, and as cities continue to reopen (cue menacing churn in my stomach whenever I hear the phrase “indoor dining”), many of us are still struggling to find ways to reconcile the things we want to do — sports! socializing! museums! school! — with our strong desire to keep ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities as safe as possible. For Forge, science writer Kayt Sukel, author of The Art of Risk: The New Science of Courage, Caution, & Chance, offers a helpful way to approach these conflicting impulses (courtesy of Leana Wen, MD, an…


Surprising effects on the brain found in widely used over-the-counter drugs

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Acetaminophen, the pain-killing ingredient in Tylenol, alters a person’s perception of risk, potentially leading to behaviors they would otherwise not consider, preliminary new research suggests. The drug can also lower physical pain caused by emotional distress such as hurt feelings and even lessen our empathy for other people, other research finds.

Ibuprofen, the active ingredient in the painkiller Advil, has also been found to alter emotions, raising overall questions about the broad psychological effects — poorly understood, as of now — of over-the-counter medications consumed by tens of millions of Americans daily, often in higher-than-recommended doses.

People taking acetaminophen in…


Illustrations: Felicity Marshall

Americans are faced with more risk than ever. Understanding how the brain navigates this new reality can build confidence and empathy in everyday decision-making.

When people everywhere took to the streets in early June after Minneapolis police officers murdered George Floyd, Linda Rambert told her friends to stay home.

As a Black woman, and a long-time racial justice activist, the pandemic of systemic racism and police brutality wasn’t new to her. …


We have to reframe the very notion of risk, of fear. The more we minimize risk, the less there is to fear.

Photo: The Washington Post/Getty Images

The first time I went down on a guy, my mind was doing math. I knew the risk to contract HIV was 1 in 12,000. “Oh god, this is a mouthful,” I thought. I knew, too, that the virus, that virus, was poorly transmissible in any single act. Even bottoming (receptive anal sex), without a condom only had a 2% chance of seroconverting.

I was — I am — a professional biologist. I did my postdoc, in part, in biostatistics. …


Most young people infected with the virus will survive, but what’s different in the ones who won’t?

A man waves from a bus in a neighborhood in the Queens borough, which has one of the highest infection rates of coronavirus.
A man waves from a bus in a neighborhood in the Queens borough, which has one of the highest infection rates of coronavirus.
Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The novel coronavirus primarily afflicts the elderly, with people over 65 at a higher risk for severe disease and death: At least that was the message coming out of China and Italy, lulling people who don’t fall into that category into a false sense of complacency. But as the virus has besieged U.S. soil in recent weeks, topping 200,000 cases and over 4,500 deaths as of April 1, more and more stories have emerged of young people in critical condition and, in rare cases, even dying from Covid-19.

There’s the 30-year-old high school baseball coach in New Jersey, the 36-year-old…


The Nuance

Experts disagree over just how worried you should be about smartphone health risks

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Every week, the Nuance will go beyond the basics, offering a deep and researched look at the latest science and expert insights on a buzzed-about health topic.

If you’re like the average American, you probably sleep with your smartphone within arm’s reach. A 2015 Bank of America report found that 71 percent of people sleep with or near their phones — and that includes the 13 percent who said they slept with their phones in their beds.

Maybe you’ve wondered whether keeping your phone nearby is a bad idea — perhaps it’s zapping your brain with radio waves or otherwise…

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