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Rolling Around in ‘Dirt Fat’ Will Make You Happier

And four other things we learned about our bodies this week

The human body: An inspiring biological work of art? Or a meaty sack of germs and fluids? Either way, there’s still a lot we don’t know about what goes on in there — and scientists are constantly attempting to find out more. Here are the most interesting things we learned about our bodies in the last seven days…

Dirt Makes You Less Stressed

There have been decades of research supporting the idea that exposure to microorganisms and certain bacteria benefits your overall health, including your mental health. That doesn’t mean you need to go around licking the walls of public bathrooms to feel better, though: Instead, you should go play around in some dirt. A bacterium found in said muck, Mycobacterium vaccae, has been referred to by scientists as a “stress vaccine,” with a recent study published in the journal Psychopharmacology finding that an anti-inflammatory fat found in the bacterium might have anxiety-reducing qualities.

Researchers are calling this the “special sauce” that makes dirt so good for you. Part of the theory is that, as people become increasingly urban-dwelling, the human body has less contact with the bacteria and organisms it had historically been exposed to. These organisms could have helped regulate our immune system and reduce inflammation (yes, stress leads to inflammation).

Now go plant some succulents or something, and roll around in the mud while you’re at it.

It’s Official: Work Burnout Is Real

Surely you already knew this, but now the World Health Organization has recognized that work burnout is an actual syndrome caused by chronic work stress. The official WHO definition is characterized by, “Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.” It occurs when the demands of the job outweigh the rewards (i.e., pretty much every job you’ve ever had).

Work burnout is apparently taking a toll on public health, too. Because not only are more people suffering from it, but physicians are experiencing it as well –– meaning, patients may not be receiving the level of treatment they need, because their doctors are also burned out. It’s a crisis that’s costing the U.S. $4.6 billion a year, which seems like a good excuse to use up those vacation days you’ve been saving for no reason.

A Gentle Nudge in the Ob-Gyn Office

No offense men, but sometimes you really need things spelled out for you. Case in point: Researchers are exploring ways to increase paternal involvement in the obstetrician/gynecologist office by providing more cues that, basically, you’re supposed to be involved, too. These cues include photos of men and babies and the presence of men’s magazines and pamphlets about being a dad in waiting rooms — all of which have been proven to increase men’s perception of the expectations of fatherhood.

The key here is that men don’t just see these cues and feel an increased need to be present as fathers — rather, men see these cues and feel an increased expectation from doctors to be present as fathers, which (hopefully) carries a little more weight. Regardless, involved fathers play an essential role in infant health, so those posters of a guy holding a baby in a field of flowers are indeed trying to tell you something worthwhile.

Bullying Kids About Their Weight Doesn’t Work

If you’ve ever been bullied or made fun of for your weight, you’re probably aware of the fact that these mean comments never actually helped you lose weight — instead, that cruelty probably just made you want to eat more. You’re definitely not alone in that regard: A recent study conducted by the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, and the National Institutes of Health, found a correlation between teasing and increased weight gain all the way into adulthood.

Researchers asked 110 children (average age of 12), who were either overweight or had an overweight parent, whether they’d been bullied about their weight. Sixty-two percent of those who were overweight had experienced this, while 21 percent of non-overweight kids had as well. Researchers tracked these children for up to 15 years and found that those who had been teased had gained 33 percent more body mass on average. It’s proof that this kind of bullying, even if classified as “tough love,” doesn’t actually do anything to motivate — it just makes things worse.

Young White People Are Getting Colorectal Cancer More Than Ever

White people under 50 are twice as likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the U.S. since 1995, according to a study conducted by the American Cancer Society (a fact we’ve written about before, but which can’t be repeated enough). Rates of colon cancer have increased 0.7 percent each year from 1995 to 2015, but colon cancer rates remained mostly steady in Black and Hispanic Americans, while white people living in the Western U.S. have experienced the sharpest increase. Colorado, in fact, saw a 60 percent increase.

Overall, though, the South continues to have the highest number of colorectal cancer cases in the country. It’s thought that obesity and heavy drinking could be causes, but the study didn’t find links to either. Basically, it remains a total mystery, and like most awful things in life, there’s not a damn thing we can do about it — beyond, you know, getting regular screenings because this shit doesn’t have to kill you if you catch it early enough.