Smoking and the Social Life of Female Rats

We don’t know what to make of this study. We just don’t. Maybe you will.

Imagine you’ve got 96 rats. Some male, some female. You give some of them nicotine, cage them in groups and sit back and watch ‘em. Or, rather, you let fancy infrared sensors watch the rats, so that you’re not stuck there for hours scribbling, “Squeaky wiggled his nose” or “Chomper ate some chow” in your note pad.

Bizarre-sounding? Just business as usual for someone like Martha Faraday, who publishes in magazines like Nicotine and Tobacco Research. A researcher at the Department of Defense’s Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, she’s trying to understand why people smoke. Piles of work, she says, have been done on the effects of nicotine on lab rat brains. But what about rats’ social lives?

Well, it looks like the female rats in Faraday’s study got nice and relaxed by nicotine. Normally, girl rats hate to hang out in central, exposed parts of a cage: It seems to make them nervous. Not Faraday’s rats--they spent a lot more time being the center of attention. (Male rats did different things too, but they’re not central to this tale.)


Faraday doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that, No. 1, female rats on nicotine were less anxious around other rats, and, No. 2, female humans say they smoke “to cope with emotional and social situations,” among other things. She thinks the drug may be doing similar things to these two very different female brains. If it goes for girl rats, does it go for girl humans? We have no idea, but--well, it’s interesting.

Bedside Humor Goes Online

Life, even for health journalists, is more than just articles about sundry diseases and body parts: We can enjoy a good laugh with the best of ‘em. And so we were glad when we stumbled upon some pages on the Web that point you toward all kinds of medical humor: and

Read oldies but goodies such as excerpts from real doctors’ case notes, such as, “When she fainted, her eyes rolled around the room,” “The patient has been depressed ever since she began seeing me in 1983,” “The patient had waffles for breakfast and anorexia for lunch,” and “The patient is tearful and crying constantly. She also appears to be depressed.” Then you can move on to sample ribald nursing humor, a lot of it funny and much of it dark (but no less funny for that). And ribald doctors’ humor (a lot of it unprintable in a family newspaper like this one).


Ushering Mind and Body Into Summer

Yet again, the Health section is brimming with various promotional products we’ve been sent.

There’s a box of Maple Raisin Crisp “peace cereal” seasoned with ginger and fennel (to aid digestion) that has peace poems and yoga tips covering the inside of the box. There’s a box of “60% organic” herbal “calming tea,” of which we sometimes have much need.

For the beach experience, we have a bright pink and yellow “Lotion in Motion” plastic body roller for putting sunscreen on those hard-to-reach nether quarters, though perhaps if we tried out Jacqueline Boomer Adams’ “Serene Body Stretch” video, we’d find we didn’t need that roller.

But this is all a preamble. We are happy to tell you that we’ll need no help from Oprah this summer, thank you very much: Because of all the health-themed books that have poured in here, we have our next few months of reading squared away.

Me, I’m starting with Nattanya Andersen’s “Broken Wings: A Flight Attendant’s Journey,” then I’m moving on to Paul Solotaroff’s August release, “Group: Six People in Search of a Life” (me too; make that seven, Mr. Solotaroff). Next comes Susan J. Ward’s “Just Cruising: Simple Fitness for Busy People” (sounds very promising). Last, but definitely not least, I’m going to take in “The Highly Sensitive Person’s Workbook” by Elaine N. Aron, PhD, a self-described highly sensitive person herself.

See you when I’m done!