7 Things You Need To Know Today (January 24)

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1. Polar bears are endangered for more reasons than you think.

Polar bears get quite a bit of attention because of their diminishing habitat, but new research shows that they are also at risk for toxic exposure. Results from a study show that polar bears bodies' hold onto toxic chemicals from distant factories, causing immune and reproductive problems. (Scientific American)

2. Iceland's teen drug and cigarette use is at an all-time low.

How? By providing them with cool things they love to do based on their brain chemistry. Also, their parents make it a point to regularly spend quality time with them. Teens can choose from heated pools, music clubs, or art studios, among other things. If idle hands are indeed the culprit, the Icelanders are on to something. (The Atlantic)

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3. Is carbon monoxide really all bad?

Dr. Augustine Choi is leading a charge to answer this question by studying HO-1, a protein that converts heme into chemical by-products within the body, including carbon monoxide. He's found that HO-1 production increases times of stress, indicating that carbon monoxide may actually be therapeutic when released in small doses. Now, Choi is studying whether or not a controlled amount of CO can protect against acute respiratory distress syndrome in clinical trials. "I think in about three to five years we'll know what the landscape will be like for carbon monoxide in the clinic," he says. (Scientific American)

4. Starbucks gives parents something to smile about.

The ubiquitous coffee company announced that starting October 1, employees who work 20 hours per week or more will be entitled to 18 weeks of 100 percent paid parental leave, with an option to extend by another 12 weeks unpaid. That's quite the improvement from the six-week at 67 percent pay employees are entitled to now. (NYT)

5. Cervical cancer's racial gap is bigger than doctors thought.

There's a huge racial disparity when it comes to cervical cancer in the United States. Black women are dying of the cancer at twice the rate of white women—with death numbers comparable to those of women in many developing countries, according to a new study published Monday in the journal Cancer. Dr. Otis W. Brawley, the chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, said that the new study pointed to inequity of access and good treatment. "When we look at the difference between black and white, and rich and poor, we find the same disparity," he said. "The quality of assessment and follow-up treatment can be different. The question becomes: how do we get adequate preventive care to all people?" (NYT)

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6. Want to stay young? Sit less.

According to a new study, spending too much time sitting can age you by as much as eight years. Here's the good news, though: If you exercise, you may be able to undo some of that damage. That's not quite as scary, right? (Time)

7. Is there a "right way" to wash your hands?

Turns out, the same way antibiotics can wipe out the good flora in your gut, hand-washing can kill the good bacteria on your hands. So, what's the alternative? Well, probiotic companies like AOBiome are offering microbial mists to use in place of hand soap. But for a definitive answer on the pros and cons of hand-washing, the jury is still out. (The Atlantic)

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