Usually when someone starts talking about how our inner cavemen chafes against our modern lifestyles, it’s a man justifying his cheating on his wife: “I am not built for monogamy — I am programmed to spread my seed!” Our sex lives are not the only part of us that goes against “nature.” From our diets to our urban surroundings to our parenting, modern life occasionally goes so against our evolutionary impulses that we become sick. With depression and obesity on the rise, and our recent exiting from the most violent century in the history of mankind, the warning signs that we are living wrong keep showing up.

When we talk about human evolution, it’s helpful to remember that we are a mere speck on the Earth. The Earth is estimated to be around 4.5 billion years old. The… More…

 

Who out there knows that butterflies are scented? Their aroma can be that of flowers like honeysuckle or jasmine, herbs and spices like lemon verbena or cinnamon, or confections like vanilla or chocolate, depending on the species. It can also be unpleasant, like vinegar, or urine. According to Avery Gilbert, author of What the Nose Knows, scented butterflies are neither exotic nor rare. While field guides do not say so, Gilbert notes that butterflies can easily be caught, sniffed, and released unharmed. What a captivating pursuit!

With my recent article on body odor, and the heat of summer causing lots of seasonally assertive odors, questions about the power of scent have stuck in my mind. So I turned to an expert: Gilbert’s new book examines why the sense of smell is so underappreciated, and why it should be… More…

 

Sometimes the smell of body odor means more than just “Wash me!” A person whose sweat starts to smell fruity may have developed diabetes, and an ammonia smell may indicate liver or kidney disease. Odor of rotting fish may signal trimethylaminuria — a rare syndrome caused by a defective gene that prevents people from metabolizing trimethylamine, a natural byproduct of digestion of certain foods like saltwater fish, eggs, and liver.

Body odors have a way of making a lasting impression, even when they don’t signal illness and even when we try ignore them. I’ll never forget the powerful scent emanating from Father Brady, the Irish priest at the church where I grew up. He never looked sweaty, but whenever he would lean over to shake my hand with his own squat, papery one, a smell that made me… More…

 

Daily relaxation is now a doctor’s order. It comes from one of the most influential names in medicine, former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher. At a recent meeting of doctors and health policy makers, Satcher presented an amended version of his long-touted “prescription for health”. The prescription advises Americans to practice regular physical activity, eat fresh fruits and vegetables, avoid toxins like tobacco and illicit drugs, and be responsible in sexual behavior.

Recently, Satcher added a fifth item to the list: Participate in relaxing and stress-reducing activities daily. The benefits of relaxation, he said, are invaluable for good health, especially good mental health.

When I went to check the scientific basis of this welcome proclamation, I discovered that one of the most reliable methods of relaxation — meditation — had become a serious subject of scientific investigation in… More…

Despite its familiarity, vitamin D is pretty puzzling. Not really a vitamin at all, it is actually a fat-soluble nutrient that is a prohormone (a precursor substance to a hormone). Milk is fortified with it, but it does not come in most other dairy products like cheese, yogurt, and ice cream, and it occurs in significant levels naturally in only a few foods like fatty fish and fish oils. To fulfill the recommended daily intake with milk alone may take as much as 6 to 8 glasses, far more than most people drink, and so most people get the majority of their vitamin D from sun exposure. But wearing sunscreen significantly impairs the sun’s ability to activate vitamin D — wearing SPF 8 can reduce the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D by about 95 percent.

Until recently, nobody thought much about whether they got enough vitamin D from drinking… More…