Your smartphone addiction is doing more than giving your thumbs a workout, it is also changing your brain.

A study suggests that using a smartphone — touching the fingertips against the smooth surface of a screen — can make the brain more sensitive to the thumb, index and middle finger tips being touched. The study, published in the journal Current Biology, found that the differences between people when it comes to how the brain responds to thumb stimulation is partly explained by how often they use their smartphones.

“I was really surprised by the scale of the changes introduced by the use of smartphones,” said Arko Ghosh, of the Institute of Neuroinformatics of the University of Zurich and one of the study’s authors.

Other research has shown that musicians and expert video gamers show the same type of brain adaptations.


CDC warns against binge drinking

U.S. binge drinkers are fueling an average of six alcohol-poisoning deaths per day, according to a new government report.

Women who have four or more drinks on an occasion and men who have five or more are considered binge drinkers by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But nearly every week, more than 38 million people report consuming an average of eight drinks during one episode, or binge, the CDC found.

That kind of heavy drinking over a short period, such as two to three hours, can prove fatal. High alcohol levels can shut down the brain’s ability to control breathing, heart rate and body temperature, leading to death.

“If we could eliminate binge drinking, we would dramatically reduce the risk of alcohol poisoning,” said Bob Brewer, who heads the alcohol program of the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the CDC.

Most of the estimated 1.5 billion binge-drinking episodes each year involve Americans 26 and older, Brewer said.


Drugs that reduce skin cancer risk

Aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) taken orally may reduce the risk for squamous cell carcinoma, a review of studies has found.

Squamous cell carcinoma, caused by exposure to ultraviolet light over a lifetime, is the second most common form of skin cancer (after basal cell carcinoma). If caught early, it is almost always curable; left untreated, it can be disfiguring or deadly. A topical NSAID, diclofenac (brand name Voltaren and others), is used to treat actinic keratoses, a type of lesion that can develop into skin cancer if not treated.

Researchers, writing in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, analyzed data from nine studies of various designs. Some used aspirin and NSAIDS, some aspirin or nonaspirin NSAIDS alone. Overall, use of NSAIDS reduced the risk for squamous cell skin cancer by 18 percent. Using aspirin alone did not reduce risk in a statistically significant way.

The authors acknowledged that the studies varied in the health conditions of the populations examined and the amounts of medicine taken.

“These data are preliminary,” said a co-author, Catherine M. Olsen, a researcher at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, Australia. “There have to be clinical trials to see if these drugs are useful.” For now, she said, “the best way to prevent skin cancer is to reduce sun exposure.”

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