The human body: An inspiring biological work of art? Or a meaty sack of germs and fluids? Either way, there’s still a lot we don’t know about what goes on in there — and scientists are constantly attempting to find out more. Here are the most interesting things they’ve discovered about our bodies in the last seven days:
Office Workers Are Now Taking Cream, Sugar and Poop With Their Morning Coffee
One of office life’s simple pleasures gets taken down a notch today. If you’re one of the nation’s 83 percent of coffee drinkers and you make your coffee at work, and you use a reusable mug, get ready for the big surprise: According to a study from the University of Arizona, that “world’s greatest dad” mug has feces all over it.
You read that correctly: 90 percent of office coffee mugs were found to have bacteria present, and 20 percent were found to have a nice, thin coat of fecal matter. It’s fine, we’ll wait while you go throw up.
“Coliform bacteria were present on 20 per cent of the coffee cups before and 100 per cent of the coffee cups after wiping with a dishcloth or sponge. No E. coli was found on cups prior to wiping. However, 20 percent of coffee cups were positive for E. coli after wiping.”
That’s right: It’s the sponges that are the problem. As per University of Arizona professor of environmental microbiology Dr. Charles Gerba, sponges in a communal kitchen are rarely changed, and the wet, warm and food-laden environment they reside in is like Disneyland for bacteria.
If you want to be safe, Gerba advises, don’t rely on the night crew to clean your mugs for you — take yours home and clean it in a dishwasher. If you don’t have a dishwasher, buy a “small office cup washer.” And if you have no money, stock up on the office supply of Imodium.
Why People (Read: You) Love Themselves Some Pumpkin Spice
Ahhh, fall! Can you smell it? Cool, crisp and… pumpkin spice-y. That’s right, the scent everyone loves to hate (and hates to love) is back, in everything from lattes to almonds to lip balm. If you’ve been inside any major coffee chain recently, this comes as no surprise.
But what might come as a surprise is just how perfectly formulated pumpkin spice is to make our brains go gaga for it.
CNN reported recently on the pumpkin spice phenomenon, and the lengths food scientists have gone through to make it so desirable. First off, there rarely is any actual pumpkin in pumpkin spice; most mixtures contain some combination of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and the like — i.e, smells that are hardwired in our brains to evoke pleasant memories of family, delicious food and comfort.
And, as CNN reminds us, 80 percent of flavor is smell:
“When an odor or flavor is combined with sucrose or sugar consumption in a hungry person, the person learns at a subconscious, physiological level to associate that flavor with all the wonderful parts of food digestion. By combining the recognizable pumpkin spice flavor with sugar, you train your brain and body to remember how delicious the combination is — and as soon as you smell or even imagine pumpkin spice, your body will have an anticipatory response and crave it.”
Which is why, as a society of basics, we’re so addicted to the stuff. So the next time you’re picking yourself up some pumpkin spice-flavored protein bars, or, God forbid, chips, remember: You’re a slave to your pumpkin spice-loving senses.
Carrying a Backpack Is Back-Breaking Work
A recent study in Science Daily found that schoolchildren carrying heavy loads were at risk of suffering damage to the soft tissues and nerves of their shoulder, which could result in everything “from simple irritation to diminished nerve capacity, ultimately limiting the muscles’ ability to respond to the brain’s signals, inhibiting movement of the hand and the dexterity of the fingers.”
In another study, heavy backpacks — some that added up to as much as 30 percent of a child’s body weight — caused disc compression that could permanently alter the curvature of the spine.
Children aren’t the only ones at risk, however. Natalie Lovitz, Clinical Director of Professional Physical Therapy in New York City, says that adults who regularly wear heavy bags such as purses and briefcases “can cause or reinforce muscle imbalances in the shoulders and spine.” Which, in turn, can cause back and shoulder problems, headaches and even change the way you walk.
While we used to make endless fun of them when we were kids, perhaps roller bags are the answer to this dangerous epidemic after all — for child and adult alike.
One Margarita, Please—Hold the E. Coli-Soaked Lime Garnish
Following our devastating coffee revelation, we also have bad news for margarita drinkers: That lime wedge the barkeep so kindly garnished your salt-rimmed glass with is killing you!
Well, maybe not killing you, per se, but it is dancing with the girl it done brought, and in many cases, that girl might be E. coli, norovirus or any number of contagious bacteria and viruses.
Food scientists from Clemson University studied service workers whose hands had been contaminated by E. coli. They found that these workers transferred the food-poisoning causing bacteria to wet lime or lemon wedges in 100 percent of cases, and in 30 percent of cases where the wedges were dry. Which means, by transitive property, if those wedges were then served as garnish, the drinker would possibly be in for one hell of a poopy ride.
Don’t feel too left out, rocks drinkers: That ice you so lovingly fill your glass with is not up for any cleanliness awards, either. Bacteria were found to have survived their trip from ice chest to glass 67 percent of the time when transferred by hands, and 83 percent by scoop. And don’t expect the alcohol to kill the contaminants for you, either — even 86-proof scotch didn’t provide an environment inhospitable enough to kill the bacteria.
Basically, if you’d prefer to not get a side of Montezuma’s Revenge with your blended marg, your best bet is to pick a spirit and drink it neat.