Q: Is there an easy way to naturally elevate my mood?
A: Just inhale. And don't stop reading—because I'm not talking about deep breathing, although that can work, too. I'm talking about tapping into the power of scent. The nose is a gateway to the mind, and researchers have discovered that scents can influence your mood in powerful ways. For example, one recent study from the Medical University of Vienna found that the smell of both oranges and lavender lifted the moods of patients about to undergo dental procedures. If that's enough to make people facing a root canal happy, imagine what it could do for you. Try placing some lavender oil on your desk at work and taking a whiff when you're feeling down.
Q: Do antibiotics interfere with the effectiveness of birth control pills?
A: This association emerged in the early 1970s, when women taking oral contraceptives reported high rates of irregular bleeding and unwanted pregnancies while being treated with a specific antibiotic called rifampin. For the sake of caution, women are still warned against relying on the Pill while taking antibiotics. Yet there's very little evidence that any drug other than rifampin interferes with the efficacy of the Pill. If you're really worried, you can use a condom as a backup, but it's generally unnecessary.
Q: Should I be doing colon cleanses?
A: Some colon cleanses involve taking laxatives at home; in other cases, a therapist performs an irrigation using a device inserted into the rectum. In either case, cleanses are not only unnecessary but potentially dangerous. Your colon is designed to clear out waste every 24 to 48 hours or so, and eating lots of fiber (whole grains, fresh produce) helps speed things along. In addition, doing regular colon cleanses can lead to dehydration and an electrolyte imbalance, resulting in dizziness, fatigue, vomiting, and cramps.
Q: Where's the safest place to sit on an airplane?
A: Planes aren't exactly my area of expertise, so I checked data from the National Transportation Safety Board, which shows that crash survival rates are higher among passengers seated in the rear of the plane. In another study funded by the UK's Civil Aviation Authority, researchers found that those who sat in aisle seats and seats within five rows of an exit were also more likely to survive. However, there's a much more common flying-related threat for which every seat is equally at risk—picking up a nasty bug. To avoid colds and flu, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before you eat and after restroom visits.
Q: Is it okay to borrow a friend's prescription for modafinil to help me stay alert?
A: Modafinil is meant to treat severe sleepiness resulting from serious disorders like narcolepsy, and it can be habit-forming. If you're having trouble staying alert during the day, you're probably not getting enough sleep. Try starting a sleep journal: Before bed each night, note your evening activities—drinking a glass of wine, surfing the Web—and then the next morning log how long it took you to fall asleep. Soon you'll notice patterns of activities that are keeping you awake.
Keep Reading: How to get a great night's sleep
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