February 28 is World Rare Disease Day, and we’re here this week to share our colors in support! If you or someone you love is living with a rare disease, you can easily understand how deeply challenging and isolating the experience can be. We at HTHT want you to know you are not alone. To celebrate people living with rare diseases, this week our blog is dedicated to sharing the voices of people around the world. Rare Disease Day is coordinated by EURORDIS Rare Diseases Europe and 65 National Alliances of Patient Organizations for Rare Diseases, who have collected the stories below. Click the link below each picture to find the stories of real people living with rare diseases, sharing their experiences and the true colors of their mighty spirits.
If you are unfamiliar with rare diseases, they are defined in the US as a disease that affects under 200,000 people. There are over 300 million people around the world living with rare diseases, and currently over 6,000 identified rare diseases. 72% of rare diseases are genetic, and 70% of these rare genetic diseases start in childhood. People with rare diseases often experience difficulty getting a diagnosis, a lack of treatment options, and very little information on their condition. Advancements in medical science, including gene editing technologies like CRISPR, mean that there are more options than in the past, but the battle to help every person with a rare disease is still an uphill one. We hope that shining a light on the lives and stories of people living with rare disease will help bring comfort to those afflicted and more awareness to all.
For more about Rare Disease Day, more stories, and for resources to show your support on social media this week and beyond, please visit: https://www.rarediseaseday.org/
Move over Valentine’s Day — Singles’ Awareness Day, February 15th, is all about showing love for the SINGLES!! Even coupled folks can get sick of the sappy, romantic nature of Valentine’s Day, but it’s assumed that all of the miserable singletons among us are crying alone into their candy hearts on the day of love. Fortunately, excellent scientific research by Psychologists like Bella De Paulo is breaking down that stereotype and yielding some very surprising results. So, we at High Touch High Tech wish all you couples out there a happy Valentine’s Day, but to you singles we say, a truly happy Singles’ Awareness day to you too!
Across all media, the “happily ever after” of marriage is portrayed constantly, and there are hardly ever any happy portrayals of empowered single people enjoying their single life. Bella de Paulo, an expert on the psychology of single life, has pointed out that in most world societies, there is an overwhelming tendency to assume that partnership and marriage are a default human state, and that everyone fears being alone. This assumption has been so entrenched that it wasn’t questioned seriously by science until recently. However, in- depth psychological surveys of married people, single people, and divorced people are revealing that single folks are just as happy as married people, and single women may actually be the happiest of ALL! Shocking, isn’t it?
One of the first major studies of this kind, by Matthew Wright and Susan Brown of Bowling Green University, was focused on surveying people in their mid-fifties and beyond to find out how much having a romantic partner had mattered to people’s psychological well-being across a lifetime. They thought the happiest of all people would surely be the ones who were currently married, and the unhappiest of people were the single people who were not even dating. Married people were asked to rate their happiness before marriage, and after. What did the science show? Aside from a slight upward blip around the time of the marriage, married people’s happiness before and after the wedding stayed surprisingly the same. The group who went down the most in happiness over time were the people who had divorced and remained unmarried. Coming in overall just as happy and steady as married people throughout their lives? The never-married singles, especially women. For older women in the Wright and Brown study, partnership status made no statistical difference in their life happiness.
Wright and Brown were working from a model that was based on the idea that more social ties and attachments would increase well-being, and obviously married people had someone around all the time to attach to. The surprising results that single people, supposedly with less social ties and available care in their lives, could be just as happy can be interpreted in some interesting ways. One idea is that although there is a perception that romantic love and partnership is the ultimate satisfaction in life, some people are simply happier pursuing things like autonomy, purpose, mastery, or meaning. Studies have shown that single people are much more likely to report their lives have been “continuous processes of learning change and growth.” People can absolutely be happy single because they are pursuing meaningful work and purpose in their own lives that truly matter to them. Perhaps romantic love and partnership just isn’t the only kind of deep lifetime satisfaction out there?
Another interpretation is that although married people have built-in care, they become “insular” and bonded mostly to each other. Single people, however, tend to have more friends, spend more time building their social networks, and contributing to their communities. Single people are as happy as married ones because meaningful social relationships don’t have to come from having a romantic partnership. It may be that married people have THE ONE, but single people have THE ONES. As Paul Bloom, psych prof at Yale, says: “We need human contact. But the type of contact can vary a lot. So yeah, single people can be plenty happy.” And that’s the shocking truth about being single!
February 9th is National Pizza Day, but honestly, at least in the U.S., every day is pretty much pizza day! A person can get a slice in almost every country in the world, but Americans’ pizza consumption stats are particularly impressive: 350 slices are consumed every second, and 40% of Americans eat pizza once a week! What began in Italy as a quick snack made for Neapolitan laborers has become a delicious, gooey, piping hot, world-dominating juggernaut. Why do we love pizza SO much? Are we actually addicted to it?
It’s no secret that there is a lot of science behind the food industry, particularly in the area of what we call “junk food.” Neuroscientists such as Francis McGlone study the brain’s reaction to foods as subjects eat inside MRIs. Sensory scientists such as Herbert Stone calculate and test the exact right amount of salt, sugar and fat that give us the sensations and flavors that keep us coming back for more. Psychologists connect eating behaviors to emotional and mental experiences, and chemists have broken down and reproduced several of the exact compounds that make certain foods delicious. All of these fields of science have turned their attention to tasty, tasty pizza, and the general consensus is that although pizza is not exactly addictive in the way a drug would be, it can trigger “addictive-like” eating patterns. Pizza is a perfect storm of flavorful compounds that do indeed light up pleasure centers in the Amygdala region of your brain every time you take a bite.
So what are the molecular culprits in pizza that make our mouths water just from looking at pictures of it? The ingredients in pizza contain very high levels of certain brain pleasing compounds, and pizza also undergoes chemical reactions while baking that render it even more incredibly wonderful. The combination of fat, salt, sugar, and carbohydrates that is pizza certainly does not appear in nature, and the combination of those four molecules is already heavenly for our brains, which are still in the “take all the calories you can get” mode that helped humans survive for most of our existence. But what takes pizza to a whole other level of satisfying is a little molecule known as Glutamate. Yes, the one that is found in Monosodium Glutamate, or MSG.
We here at High Touch High Tech are not breaking the news of a worldwide MSG-in-pizza conspiracy, we promise! Commercial MSG is a synthetic version of Glutamate, which is a very abundant compound in nature that has many types, many of them already occurring in food. All of the flavors of food come from particular molecular compounds: sucrose makes sweet flavors, quinine brings us bitter flavors, and hydrochloric acid is sour. Glutamate is responsible for the flavor more recently identified as “umami,” a flavor that is rich and savory. Glutamate also enhances flavors, making people crave it and want to eat it more.
As it happens, pizza’s ingredients mean that it is layer upon layer of high-glutamate ingredients. Tomatoes are very rich in natural glutamate, and on top of that (literally), so is cheese, especially the aged cheeses like parmesan or asiago that find their way onto every good pizza. On top of THAT, mozzarella and tomatoes both contain a less common compound, 4 Methylpentanoic Acid, that enhances flavor even more. Add some glutamate-rich mushrooms on your pizza and your brain’s perception of deliciousness goes into overdrive. And that’s just the raw ingredients in your pizza. When a pizza bakes it goes through a process known as caramelization, when sugars in food become brown. When ingredients are caramelized it makes them richer, sweeter, and more flavorful, especially in the crust. Even the brown bubbly goodness on top of a pizza is a result of something called Maillard’s Reaction, whereby amino acids in foods react with sugars when heated.
Craving pizza yet? If you are, it’s not exactly a fault of your willpower. Pizza is an unusually perfect mix of incredibly delicious compounds and chemical processes that are very hard for our brains to resist! This is why for many of us, we’d be very glad if it was pizza day, every day.