Spring 2016

Health News From Tufts

The Ow factor, Pet Therapy, Surgery for Breastfeeding Woes, Sleep and Food Choices

The OW Factor

Why do we cry “ow” the moment we stub a toe? The answer may lie in research published in the Journal of Pain earlier this year. Asked to submerge their hands in painfully cold water four times, 56 test participants were given a choice of four responses: say “ow,” push a button, listen to a recording of someone saying “ow,” or stay passive and silent.

Illustration of man in pain

Those who said “ow” and those who pushed a button were able to withstand the pain longer than those who made other choices—an average of 30 seconds versus 23 seconds.

The researchers theorized that the advantage might have stemmed from the way that muscle movements used to exclaim or push a button disrupted pain messages. Daniel Carr, director of the Pain Research, Education, and Policy program at Tufts, agrees. He told the Huffington Post that when you move, you can’t help but be aware of what you’re doing, and that “that awareness interferes to some degree with the awareness of the pain.” (From Tufts Medicine)


Pet Therapy

Animals have been a part of our lives for thousands of years. We started keeping company with them as soon as we realized that dogs could help us hunt, cats would exterminate the rodents pilfering our grain stores, and horses offered transportation. But why do we continue to embrace them like members of our family today, when they no longer fulfill such needs?

Small boy holding cat

According to a study out of the new Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction, the reason may be that our relationships with domesticated animals benefit us emotionally. Megan Kiely Mueller, A08, G10, G13, a developmental psychologist and a research assistant professor at Cummings School, and Kristina Schmid Callina, a research assistant professor in Tufts’ Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development, surveyed nearly 600 kids from military and nonmilitary families about their interactions with animals in the household and their stress levels and coping strategies. The results, published in Applied Developmental Science, showed that “animal ownership was linked to a host of positive outcomes” in all the kids, whether they had a parent deployed or not, says Mueller. Children who formed bonds with companion animals were more confident and had stronger relationships with their families and peers. Most significant, the researchers found that among kids with deployed parents, the ones who’d bonded with an animal displayed greater coping mechanisms than those who hadn’t. (From Cummings Veterinary Medicine)


Surgery for Breastfeeding Woes

Studies indicate that anywhere from 0.2 percent to 10 percent of babies are born with a condition known as tongue-tie, in which the frenum—the string of tissue that connects the tongue to the bottom of the mouth—is too short. That limits the ability to move the tongue.

Mother holding infant

The result, say lactation experts, is that the baby cannot latch onto the breast properly, leading to sore nipples, long on-and-off feeding sessions, lots of gulped air, and decreased milk production in the mother.

The treatment is a frenectomy, a simple snipping of the frenum, and Martin Kaplan, D75A, a pediatric dentist in Stoughton, Massachusetts, is working on a new way to perform it. He uses a laser to remove layers of tissue by vaporizing the water within the cells. The benefits, he says, are minimal bleeding (usually none), no sutures, and a low risk of infection because the laser essentially cauterizes the wound. (From Tufts Dental Medicine)


Sleep and Food Choices

The research is clear that people who regularly get enough sleep have healthier body weights than people who don’t. And now Hassan Dashti, N12, N15, may have found a connection between sleep and food choices that helps explain why.

Illustration of food on a nightstand

Illustration: Julliette Borda

For a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Dashti looked at nearly 15,000 people from several countries, noting how much sleep they usually got each night, along with the levels of fat, protein, and carbohydrates in their diets. He found that younger adults who reported sleeping more tended to eat less saturated fat than their less-rested peers. Older women who slept more reported eating fewer carbohydrates and more polyunsaturated fat. “Our results suggest that the connection between sleep and weight may be partly due to food choices,” Dashti said. (From Tufts Nutrition)