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Can scientific research curl your hair?

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Q: How far are we from a medication that could change the shape of the hair follicle and therefore the texture of the hair?

“A long way,” said Nick Martin, a professor at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane, Australia, who has studied variations in one gene related to hair texture.

Research by Martin and his colleagues, published in 2009 in The American Journal of Human Genetics, attracted attention by suggesting to some that there might be a way to change the texture medically, perhaps through gene therapy or hormone treatment. That work followed a finding by scientists with L’Oreal, who studied how follicle shape influences hair shape and texture.

Their research found that hook-shaped follicles tend to produce a hair shaft with a concave cross-section, with more keratin protein on one side, so that it curls; round follicles tend to produce round shafts with evenly distributed keratin, so that it grows straight.

Martin’s team examined genetic influences on the follicles, using data that had been gathered in large samples of twins of European descent. Specific variations in the Trichohyalin gene, which is expressed in the developing inner root sheath of the hair follicle, were found to be associated with straight, wavy or curly hair.

But the Australian research on how a gene may affect hair is only suggestive, not a clear path to medical intervention for different hair types.

Q: Other than increasing the risk of choking, is eating fast bad for you?

The risks of simple indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease are frequently cited as reasons to follow your mother’s advice and enjoy a leisurely meal.

There is also some evidence linking speedy eating to disruption of chemical signals of fullness, leading to overconsumption and obesity.

In one small study, presented by Medical University of South Carolina researchers at a digestive disease conference in 2003, 20 healthy adults had their acid reflux levels tested after both five-minute and 30-minute meals of a chicken burger, french fries and a 16-ounce carbonated beverage. The participants had 10 reflux episodes when they ate slowly and 14 when they ate quickly.

A 2008 study in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association examined the feeling of fullness in 30 healthy women when they ate fast and slow meals on separate days. The fast meals resulted in higher caloric intake but less satisfaction.

Long-term effects of fast eating on weight gain were examined in a 2006 Japanese study using questionnaires filled out by 3,737 men and 1,005 women. The faster they reported eating, the higher their reported body mass index and the greater the increase since the age of 20.

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