Doctor illustration
Illustration: Kagan McLeod
Alexithymia (n.)
An inability to express emotion verbally.
The problem is common among people in pain, but a 2010 study found that treating it with psychotherapy can actually help reduce the sensation of pain.

Brown fat (n.)
A type of fat that burns calories rather than storing them.
Researchers in Germany have found an enzyme that triggers development of this tissue in mice. They believe it could one day be a powerful weight loss aid.

Bruxism (n.)
Teeth grinding.
Research suggests it can be a side effect of SSRIs, antidepressants that indirectly suppress the neurotransmitter dopamine, which plays a role in controlling motor activity.

Central governor theory (n.)
The idea that while you're exercising, your brain triggers fatigue signals well before your muscles run out of energy, to trick your body into slowing down.
By incrementally pushing past your perceived limit, you can train your brain to allow more access to your reserves.

Dieter's paradox (n.)
A belief in "negative" calories.
New research finds that dieters tend to perceive meals with a healthy option (like chili and a salad) as having fewer calories than the unhealthy option alone (just chili).

Fullness resistance (n.)
A reduced sensitivity to the biological signals that cue satiety.
People with this condition can overeat. Louis Aronne, MD, suggests consuming filling foods (high in lean protein, water, and fiber) before fattening ones.

Genoeconomics (n.) The study of how DNA affects financial decision making.
It may one day be possible to medically treat poor spending habits.

Green exercise (n.)
The term used by researchers to describe physical activity outdoors.
A recent review of studies found that just five minutes boosted subjects' self-esteem scores on a standardized scale. Workouts near water had the largest effect.

Human biometeorology (n.)
The study of how weather affects health.
Sign up at to get alerts about atmospheric conditions that affect such ailments as arthritis, migraine, diabetes, and heart disease.

Iceberg belief (n.)
A deeply held, "frozen" principle (such as "Asking for help shows weakness") that often causes overreactions.
The military is training soldiers to identify these beliefs to help them better negotiate combat and interpersonal situations.

Inattentional blindness (n.)
The failure to see something in plain sight because your attention is elsewhere.
A 2009 study found that people walking and talking on a cell phone were less likely to notice a unicycling clown in their midst.

Never event (n.)
A medical blunder that never should have happened, like operating on the wrong person or wrong body part.
For tips on protecting yourself from clinical mistakes, go to

Nocebo effect (n.)
The phenomenon in which the expectation of a negative outcome actually leads to that outcome.
A 2009 review of trials revealed that the effect can cause symptoms ranging from nausea to ringing in the ears.

Normal weight obesity (n.)
A condition in which a person has a normal body mass index (a measure of weight in relation to height) but a large percentage of body fat.
A Mayo Clinic researcher estimates that up to 30 million Americans are "skinny-fat."

Optogenetics (n.)
A field in which researchers are learning to control brain activity with precision by inserting a photosensitive algae gene into specific neurons and then stimulating those cells with beams of light.
So far, they have made mice run in circles at the flip of a switch.

Post-traumatic growth (n.)
Positive psychological changes that can follow a distressing event.
A survey showed that people who endure more than one trauma have even greater improvement in this type of well-being.

Psychological acupuncture (n.)
A therapy that involves tapping on pressure points while focusing on a troubling issue.
Studies suggest it can alleviate food cravings. Find practitioners at

Self-reference effect (n.)
Our tendency to better remember information that has personal relevance.
Researchers say this is why using mnemonics that relate to your life can be so helpful.

Sleep-maintenance insomnia (n.)
A version of the disorder that involves waking up too early.
Women become more vulnerable to this between ages 40 and 60. Sleep experts stress the importance of avoiding caffeine after 1 P.M. and alcohol before bed.

Targeted reinnervation (n.)
Surgery that transplants nerves from a severed limb to skin above the amputation site.
A new prosthetic arm has sensors that connect to those nerves so the limb responds realistically.

Trait affective presence (n.)
The effect a person has on other people's emotional states.
Not surprisingly, researchers suggest avoiding those who consistently make others feel stressed or angry.

Vascular age (n.)
Your age if gauged by the state of your arteries.
For example, a 30-year-old diabetic, hypertensive smoker might have a vascular age of 80. The good news: Medication and lifestyle changes can help turn back the clock.

Vertebroplasty (n.)
The injection of a cement substance into a vertebral fracture to ease pain.
Two recent studies suggest the cure is in patients' heads: People who underwent sham procedures had similar pain relief.

White coat hypertension (n.)
A spike in blood pressure during a doctor's visit.
A recent study of 8,295 hypertension patients revealed that about a third actually had normal blood pressure outside the hospital.

More Ways to Educate Yourself About Your Health
As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.


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