The Nuance

Exploring the science — and lack thereof — behind sunscreen safety

An illustration of a generic blue bottle with a “sun” shaped icon, set against a bright yellow background, centered on the shape of a sun.
An illustration of a generic blue bottle with a “sun” shaped icon, set against a bright yellow background, centered on the shape of a sun.
Kieran Blakey for Elemental

For a 2019 study, researchers at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had healthy people apply common, commercially available sunscreens.

For four days — and four times each day — the people in the study sprayed or rubbed sunscreen onto their bodies. Most sunscreen labels advise people to reapply “at least every two hours,” so the study was designed to assess what would happen inside the body if people followed this guidance. For example, if someone went on a beach vacation and slathered on sunscreen throughout the day, as directed, what, if anything, might show up in their blood?

To…


GOOD QUESTION

Probably. But first, consider the risks.

Photo illustration: Save As/Medium; Source: Karsten Jipp/EyeEm/Getty Images

The internet makes quite a fuss about the ways we arrange our bodies in repose.

Googling “best sleep position” turns up a cool 765 million results, and some of the top hits maintain that how you sleep — back, stomach, left or right side, fetal — has profound implications for your spine, heart, breathing, appearance, and much else. There’s even some Freudian pseudoscience linking certain sleep positions to personality traits, which seems to have about as much solid scientific backing as palmistry.

All of these claims are somewhat confounded by the fact that we all tend to sleep in a…


THE NUANCE

Why this time of year can trigger feelings of pleasure, pain, or a bit of both

Illustration: Kieran Blakey for Elemental

Spring is a season of rebirth and renewal. Flowers sprout, leaves bud, and the natural world wakes up from its long winter hibernation. Likewise, a lot of people feel rejuvenated as the days grow longer, sunnier, and warmer.

But for some, the transition from winter to spring can be a rocky one. …


Good Question

Beans, broccoli, and many other plant foods can be major gas triggers

A unidentifiable woman carrying a bag of fruit and vegetables over her shoulder.
A unidentifiable woman carrying a bag of fruit and vegetables over her shoulder.
Photo illustration: Save As/Medium; Source: Javier Zayas Photography/Getty Images

In my household, for reasons that are obscure even to me, “fart” is a bad word. At some point, my wife and I must have decided that we didn’t want to hear our kids use the F-word all the time, so we adopted “toot” as a gentler substitute. Beans and other legumes are often on our menu, and things can get pretty tooty around here.

The medical term for gas is “flatus.” While gas production varies from person to person, research has found that healthy people “pass flatus” up to 25 times a day. According to a 2013 study in…


The Nuance

Anti-fat bias and weight-loss fixation — including among doctors — is a problem that must be remedied

Kieran Blakey for Elemental

The study’s findings were surprising, even to its organizers.

Led by researchers at the CDC and the National Cancer Institute, the study examined roughly 30 years of data collected from tens of thousands of Americans. Its purpose was to identify associations between body mass index (BMI) and excess mortality. Its findings, which were published in JAMA in 2005, revealed that adults who were overweight were at no greater risk of death than those who fell into the “normal” BMI range. …


Good Question

What research says about how it works in the brain — and the many conditions it may be useful for

Photo illustration: Save As/Medium; Source: Bonerok/Getty Images

Welcome to my new column for Elemental. Each Tuesday, I’ll attempt to answer a thought-provoking health question with the help of one or two experts. If you’d like to suggest a topic, please email me at goodhealthquestion@gmail.com.

Hypnosis has long struggled with branding issues. For many, the term still conjures visions of swinging pocket watches and charlatans incanting, “Look into my eyes.” (No thank you.)

Jessie Kittle wants to dispel all those old associations and misconceptions. “The idea that you can take over someone’s brain and run them around like a puppet against their will — that doesn’t happen,” says…


The Nuance

How expectation, emotion, and other neurocognitive factors affect our perception of pain

Illustration: Kieran Blakey for Elemental

Imagine that you’re about to have a tooth pulled. Your dentist tells you that, unfortunately, the tooth’s roots are infected, and so the procedure is going to hurt. A lot. It can’t be helped.

Now imagine an alternate scenario. You still need that tooth pulled, but this time your dentist says nothing — one way or the other — about the pain you may feel.

In both of these scenarios, the painful stimulus is the same. The same tooth is going to be pulled, and it will probably hurt either way. But would you experience the same amount of pain…


Good Question

What adverse reactions look like — and how risky they really are

Photo Illustration: Save As/Medium; Source: Olena Ruban/Getty Images

Welcome to my new column for Elemental. Each Tuesday, I’ll attempt to answer a thought-provoking health question with the help of one or two experts. If you’d like to suggest a topic, please email me at goodhealthquestion@gmail.com.

Michigan voted to legalize recreational marijuana late in 2018. Open-to-the-public sales began a year later, but I didn’t partake until the fall of 2020, when the monotony of the pandemic and the prospect of a long, isolated winter made a little psychotropic dabbling seem like a good idea.

In Detroit, where I live, the sale of recreational cannabis is still outlawed. And so…


The Nuance

How mystical beliefs help people control stress and confront the unknown

Illustration by Kieran Blakey for Elemental

There’s an old saying that goes “there are no atheists in foxholes.” There also seem to be fewer atheists in a pandemic.

According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted last March, many Americans who never pray or do not identify as religious said that, during the first weeks of the outbreak, they had prayed for it to end.

This impulse to beseech a higher power during times of crisis is a well-mapped phenomenon. Whenever people encounter emotional turmoil — following the death of a loved one, for example, or in the aftermath of a national tragedy — research has…


The Nuance

Experts say a range of factors — including how we eat — may explain the rise of IBD and other gut disorders

Illustration by Kieran Blakey for Elemental

Gut health in America is poor and seems to be getting worse. According to a 2020 study led by researchers at the University of North Carolina, roughly one in four U.S. adults regularly experiences diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, or other symptoms of gastrointestinal dysfunction.

Meanwhile, about the same proportion of Americans — one in four— has gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition in which the stomach’s contents migrate up into the throat and food pipe, causing heartburn and other symptoms. …

Markham Heid

I write about health and science. I live in Detroit with my wife and kids. I’m trying to learn German, but my progress so far is nicht gut.

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