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Surreal Science: 9 Strange Health Findings from 2016
Science is weird – and a number of new findings during 2016 proved it. From the superpowers that alcohol may give you, to the weird health risks associated with longer legs, this year has brought us some scientific studies whose conclusions were strange, funny and thought-provoking.
Here are nine of the strangest health stories we covered in 2016.
Leprosy found in red squirrelsSlide 2 of 15
Leprosy found in red squirrels
A medieval plague in modern squirrels? Yes, said a study published in Science in November. Researchers found that all 25 red squirrels they collected from England's Brownsea Island were infected with the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae. M. leprae is the oldest pathogen associated with leprosy, and was responsible for outbreaks of the disease in medieval Europe.
"The main message of this is that the number of nonhuman reservoirs of leprosy might be much higher than previously thought," Charlotte Avanzi, a doctoral assistant in molecular life sciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, told Live Science. Previously, the only known animal reservoir of the bacteria was the nine-banded armadillo, which is found in North, Central and South America, including parts of the southern U.S.
The good news is that the likelihood of people catching the disease from red squirrels is low, researchers said. [6 Strange Facts About Leprosy]Slide 3 of 15
Arthritis drug may help reverse hair lossSlide 4 of 15
Arthritis drug may help reverse hair loss
In November, researchers reported that two patients, one man and one woman, regrew at least some of their hair after taking a drug aimed at treating arthritis. The patients had a condition called alopecia universalis, in which people's immune system attacks their hair follicles, leading to hair loss on the entire body. But after taking the arthritis drug tofacitinib, they regrew hair on their scalp, eyebrows and in their armpits.
However, the drug has side effects. The long-term use of tofacitinib is known to cause an increased risk of serious infections, as well as tears in the stomach and intestines, according to Pfizer, the company that makes the drug.
Still, the new finding offers hope for patients. "Hair loss really affects your self-esteem," Dr. Doris Day, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, who was not affiliated with the study, told Live Science in November. By studying how tofacitinib works, researchers may better able to understand what goes wrong when people experience hair loss, and then be able to develop new treatments with fewer side effects.Slide 5 of 15
Long legs? You may have a higher risk of colon cancerSlide 6 of 15
Long legs? You may have a higher risk of colon cancer
There may be a surprising drawback to having fashion-model-length legs: A study presented in April found that, compared with men who had shorter legs, men with longer legs had a 42 percent higher risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Researchers used data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, which included a cohort of more than 14,500 men and women, analyzing overall height, torso height and leg length. They examined how many participants developed colorectal cancer over a nearly 20-year period, and found that the only factor linked to people's colon cancer risk was leg length. Men with the longest legs (an average of 35.4 inches) had a whopping 91 increased risk of colorectal cancer, compared with the men with the shortest legs (an average of 31.1 inches). In women, no statistically significant differences in risk were linked with leg length, the researchers said. [6 Strange Things the Government Knows About Your Body]
Guillaume Onyeaghala, a graduate student in epidemiology at the University of Minnesota and the lead author of the study, told Live Science that one hypothesis for why they saw these results is that the factors that drive bone growth in the legs are also a risk factor for colorectal cancer.Slide 7 of 15
Drinking a beer could help you read other people's emotionsSlide 8 of 15