Bulletproof Bullet Points: December’s Biohacking News
December is here, and it seems Santa has been good to the world’s scientists this Christmas: the studies in this month’s Bulletproof Bullet Points are unusual. We’ll end the year strong by touching on the benefits of profanity, eye contact as a brain hack, empowering new cancer research, and two fresh upgrades you get from drinking coffee. Check it out.
Profanity links to a bigger vocabulary
Scientists have known about the power of profanity for over a century. A study all the way back in 1901 concluded that four-letter words are satisfying because they provide psychological release; when you feel intense emotion, swearing from the rooftops lets off steam.
Part of the stigma surrounding profanity involves the idea that if you swear, you’re unintelligent. Remember when your 6th grade English teacher said people rely on bad words because they don’t know a better way to express themselves?
Well, your 6th grade English teacher was dead #$%*ing wrong. Recently, researchers had men and women ages 18-22 do two tasks: come up with as many expletives as possible for 60 seconds, then name as many animals as possible for 60 seconds. Those who logged more swear words also named more animals. The researchers concluded that greater taboo word fluency (i.e. coming up with more swear words) links with greater verbal ability overall. There was also no sex difference: men and women swore equally.
That’s not all the researchers found. People with greater taboo word fluency were also more neurotic, more open, less agreeable, and less conscientious. So if you’ve got a mouth like a sailor’s, you may be more forward with your feelings, and you may not care as much about offending others. No surprises there.
The simplest brain hack: eye contact
Have you ever wanted to read someone’s mind? Well, according to a new study…
Just kidding. You can definitely sync your brain with the brains of those around you, though. All it takes is a little eye contact. Japanese researchers paired 96 strangers with one another and used fMRIs – machines that record brain activity in real time – to watch what happened as the strangers locked eyes.
When the strangers made eye contact, their brains lit up in the same place: the right inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). Even cooler, their IFGs followed the same pattern of activity over time, ebbing and flowing together. Strangers’ eye-blinks lined up, too.
Next time you’re talking to someone, notice how eye contact influences your conversation, and notice how it makes you feel. Holding another person’s gaze can help you engage with him/her on a deeper level. Eye contact increases empathy, too; it’s a powerful way to increase your social connection.
You can decrease your cancer risk…a lot
While there’s still a lot to learn about cancer, science keeps finding ways to give us the best odds against it. The new odds look a lot better than ever before. Researchers took a thorough look at who gets cancer and why in a huge new study published in Nature (one of the two most prominent scientific journals in the world).
Cancer comes from your stem cells dividing. Every time a cell divides, there’s a chance it will mutate. That mutated cell can go wild, dividing rapidly and growing into a cancerous tumor. Doctors used to think cancer was the result of bad luck – your cells are going to do their thing, and if you’re unlucky, a random mutation will give you cancer.
Now, though, it looks like your environment overwhelmingly affects your odds of getting cancer. Researchers used several cutting-edge approaches, from population analysis to genetic testing to computer modeling, and found that 70-90% of cancer occurs because of external factors.
Diet, exercise, stress, habits, lifestyle – everything you do affects your body at a cellular level. That’s empowering. It means you can take the wheel. Live well and thrive, and the odds are in your favor that you’ll lead a long life – or a cancer-free one, at least.
Coffee protects your DNA
If you want to protect your cells, it looks like coffee is a good place to start. A group of German researchers gave healthy participants 4 small cups of coffee over the course of 8 hours, taking DNA samples throughout. Participants showed significantly more intact DNA within 2 hours of their first cup of joe, and their DNA fared better and better with every cup afterward. That’s great news, because DNA integrity links to lower risk of cancer, immune system function, and brain performance.
Coffee also ties to lower mortality
Why stop at decreasing DNA damage? Coffee also correlates with overall lower risk of death, according to a mammoth study that followed more than 200,000 people over the course of more than 4.5 million person-years. There are a couple interesting things about the study’s findings:
- Dose matters. A single cup of coffee per day linked with 6% lower risk of death, and 3-5 cups linked with 15% lower risk of death. More than 5 cups per day, though, and the correlation disappeared. It looks like the sweet spot is about 3 cups of coffee a day.
- Caffeine was irrelevant. The researchers looked at both regular coffee and decaf coffee and found it didn’t matter which one people drank.
- In addition to decreased risk of overall death, coffee drinking linked specifically to decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease, diabetes, and suicide.
That’s it for this month. Enjoy your coffee, swear more, make plenty of eye contact, and keep living life to the fullest – your body will appreciate it. See you in the new year, and thanks for reading!