Recently by Jennifer Fisher Wilson:

 

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…

I have a poor memory for details. Just about everyone who knows me will say this is true. My husband loves to make me uncomfortable by quizzing me to name the band when a familiar song comes on the radio. He knows I almost never can recall it, even when the answer is ridiculously obvious. My family jokes that they don’t want to be on my team in Trivial Pursuit games. I often struggle to remember the names of books I’ve read, and their endings. The same goes for movies that I’ve watched, and the actors in them. I need a recipe just to make chocolate chip cookies I’ve made 100 times before. I have that constant tip-of-the-tongue problem remembering words.

It’s not that I don’t know anything or that I can’t learn — I know and learn lots, of course. I was a good student during my school days,… 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…

 

A scientist once told me that she wished for a safe way to obliterate mosquitoes from the Earth. I was kind of shocked, since it seemed like this would tinker with the natural order of the world. Don’t worry, she said: “They have absolutely no ecological value.” And just imagine the benefits: Without mosquitoes there would be no malaria and no dengue fever, also no yellow fever, no Rift Valley fever, no West Nile virus, no Japanese encephalitis, no St. Louis encephalitis virus. And of course, there would also be the far less consequential miracle of no more itchy bumps.

We’re lucky here in the United States that, with their nasty bites, our mosquitoes deliver just the small bump and itch. While I dread both — mosquitoes plague me all summer long — it could be a lot… More…

Just what makes the Mediterranean diet so healthy has been a matter of debate for years. The diet is recognized for significantly reducing the risk for stroke and heart disease, certain cancers, and dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease. Although not a uniform diet, it typically features an abundance of grains, fruits, and vegetables, and also fish and moderate amounts of wine. And don’t forget olive oil, an ingredient often overlooked when the diet is translated in butter-loving American kitchens. In true Mediterranean diets, olive oil is the main fat, and there is lots of it. “Olive oil is the central pillar of the diet, a major source of calories in what is overall a low calorie diet,” says Paul Breslin, sensory scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.

Breslin and his colleague Gary Beauchamp, are involved in work that just might end the healthy diet debate. Their work… More…

 

With all of its variables and mysteries, sleep (like the weather) provides for an endless source for small talk. How did you sleep, and did you get enough? Was it hard to fall asleep, or hard to wake up? Did you dream, and what about?

It’s unclear why, but people need sleep to survive. Insects, fish, and animals need it, too, but some less and others more, some hibernating for months. Sometimes sleep eludes people, no matter how tired they are, and other times the well-rested can’t stop themselves from nodding off throughout the day. People dream, but often can’t remember what about, or they dream the same thing over and over and over again.

Sleep is fascinating, and not just to regular people, but also to scientists who can now use technology like fMRI and modern biochemical… More…

I was 20 minutes into a knock-off reality television show called Make Me a Supermodel — which pits aspiring male and female models against one another — before I started to wonder how I had gotten sucked into the absurdity of it all. It took another 10 minutes to muster the discipline to turn it off.

It was enthralling television in spite of its derivativeness and dithering dialogue. Dominic recalled how everyone always told him that he should model and Perry told us that he was only auditioning for the show because his girlfriend insisted, while Aryn swore that modeling had always been her dream and Holly cried when she talked about how proud her family would be if she became a model.

Up until the moment I turned it off, I was completely caught up in the excitement of looking at beautiful people, figuring out what made them particularly… More…

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, as American cities grew increasingly polluted and crowded, wealthy Americans started retreating to clean, spacious suburban settings. Once there, they hired landscapers who planted bucolic gardens where people could walk in peace, see flowers and trees, and breathe clean, fresh air.

They may have gotten what they wanted in terms of peace and beauty, but the air wasn’t quite up to snuff. Although it didn’t carry the stench of garbage, disease, or manufacturing, it did carry something else they didn’t want: lots of pollen. Those cultivated vistas helped make hay fever an ever-growing affliction.

Still, nobody wanted to get rid of the gardens. So they prospered, and people continued to spread throughout the country, building new homes and roads and railways, and planting more flowers and trees. And allergies got worse.

In the end, it wasn’t so much what people planted, but the… More…