Livin' on the MDedge

The pandemic changed smokers, but farming didn’t change humans


Pandemic smoking: More or less?

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot of habits in people, for better or worse. Some people may have turned to food and alcohol for comfort, while others started on health kicks to emerge from the ordeal as new people. Well, the same can be said about smokers.

cigarette stub artisteer/Getty Images

New evidence comes from a survey conducted from May to July 2020 of 694 current and former smokers with an average age of 53 years. All had been hospitalized prior to the pandemic and had previously participated in clinical trials to for smoking cessation in Boston, Nashville, and Pittsburgh hospitals.

Researchers found that 32% of participants smoked more, 37% smoked less, and 31% made no change in their smoking habits. By the time of the survey, 28% of former smokers had relapsed. Although 68% of the participants believed smoking increased the risk of getting COVID-19, that still didn’t stop some people from smoking more. Why?

Respondents “might have increased their smoking due to stress and boredom. On the other hand, the fear of catching COVID might have led them to cut down or quit smoking,” said lead author Nancy A. Rigotti, MD. “Even before the pandemic, tobacco smoking was the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. COVID-19 has given smokers yet another good reason to stop smoking.”

This creates an opportunity for physicians to preach the gospel to smokers about their vulnerability to respiratory disease in hopes of getting them to quit for good. We just wish the same could be said for all of our excessive pandemic online shopping.

3,000 years and just one pair of genomes to wear

Men and women are different. We’ll give you a moment to pick your jaw off the ground.

It makes sense though, the sexes being different, especially when you look at the broader animal kingdom. The males and females of many species are slightly different when it comes to size and shape, but there’s a big question that literally only anthropologists have asked: Were human males and females more different in the past than they are today?

Man and woman harvesting peppers in Uganda Leonard Mukooli/Pixabay

Man and woman harvesting peppers

To be more specific, some scientists believe that males and females grew more similar when humans shifted from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a farming-based lifestyle, as agriculture encouraged a more equitable division of labor. Others believe that the differences come down to random chance.

Researchers from Penn State University analyzed genomic data from over 350,000 males and females stored in the UK Biobank and looked at the recent (within the last ~3,000 years; post-agriculture adoption in Britain) evolutionary histories of these loci. Height, body mass, hip circumference, body fat percentage, and waist circumference were analyzed, and while there were thousands of differences in the genomes, only one trait occurred more frequently during that time period: Females gained a significantly higher body fat content than males.

It’s a sad day then for the millions of people who were big fans of the “farming caused men and women to become more similar” theory. Count the LOTME crew among them. Be honest: Wouldn’t life be so much simpler if men and women were exactly the same? Just think about it, no more arguments about leaving the toilet seat up. It’d be worth it just for that.

Proteins don’t lie

Research published in Open Biology shows that the human brain contains 14,315 different proteins. The team conducting that study wanted to find out which organ was the most similar to the old brain box, so they did protein counts for the 32 other major tissue types, including heart, salivary gland, lung, spleen, and endometrium.

illustration of male and female silhouettes w/brains Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

The tissue with the most proteins in common with the center of human intelligence? You’re thinking it has to be colon at this point, right? We were sure it was going to be colon, but it’s not.

The winner, with 13,442 shared proteins, is the testes. The testes have 15,687 proteins, of which 85.7% are shared with the brain. The researchers, sadly, did not provide protein counts for the other tissue types, but we bet colon was a close second.

Dreaming about COVID?

We thought we were the only ones who have been having crazy dreams lately. Each one seems crazier and more vivid than the one before. Have you been having weird dreams lately?

woman sleeping, coffee cup with spoon by bed Unsplash/@spanic

This is likely your brain’s coping mechanism to handle your pandemic stress, according to Dr. Erik Hoel of Tufts University. Dreams that are crazy and scary might make real life seem lighter and simpler. He calls it the “overfitted brain hypothesis.”

“It is their very strangeness that gives them their biological function,” Dr. Hoel said. It literally makes you feel like COVID-19 and lockdowns aren’t as scary as they seem.

We always knew our minds were powerful things. Apparently, your brain gets tired of everyday familiarity just like you do, and it creates crazy dreams to keep things interesting.

Just remember: That recurring dream that you’re back in college and missing 10 assignments is there to help you, not scare you! Even though it is pretty scary.

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