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Science & Spirit: Killer Duvets, Cat Whisperers, and Insights into Ayahuasca

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feather duvet, rolled up on table

Olga Nikiforova/Getty Images

This week, we found researchers fussing over feathers, deciphering feline emotions, and exploring Amazonian mind benders. Want all the latest news? Read on.

Feather Duvet Lung

We’ve been hearing a lot about the dangers of vaping. But there’s another, albeit very rare, lung risk in the news: fluffy, puffy feather duvets. A study published in the journal BMJ discussed the case of a 43-year-old man who suffered from months of fatigue and breathlessness. He was finally diagnosed with feather duvet lung, which is caused by inhaling the dust from duck or goose feathers used to stuff feather duvets and pillows. He was treated with steroids, recovered, and presumably gave away that new feather duvet.

Cat Whisperers

Women generally do better at decoding non-verbal displays of emotion, scientists have found with studies on dog behavior and human behavior. Now, scientists have found women are also better at “reading” cats. In a study published in Animal Welfare, 6,300 people had been asked to look at cat videos and judge whether the cat was in a positive negative emotional state. Cats are famously inscrutable, so most people found this challenging. But one group of study participants were so good at it that the researchers dubbed them “cat whisperers.” Those good at this task are more likely to be women than men, were often vets or vet technicians, and young people did better than older people. Being a cat lover, however, made no difference either way.

But if you do love felines, check out our story, “The Healing Gift of Cats”.

How Does Ayahuasca Work? More and more people are trying ayahuasca, a tea made from the ayahuasca vine and another plant called chacruna. The bitter brew is used in some South American cultures as part of ceremonial rituals and can cause intense hallucinations, which some people say is very healing spiritually. At the Imperial College London, researchers sought to find out why the plant causes dreamlike states. Their study showed that dimethyltryptamine (DMT), one of the plant chemicals in the ayahuasca drink, significantly alters activity in the brain. It lowered the alpha waves associated with being awake, and increased the theta waves, which are associated with dreaming. Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, the head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College, called DMT a “particularly intriguing psychedelic.” Future research on it, he wrote, “may yield important insights into the relationship between brain activity and consciousness, and this small study is a first step along that road.”

For more on ayahuasca, read Shannon Kaiser’s story, “5 Sacred Lessons I Learned from Shamans and Ayahuasca.”


Kathryn Drury Wagner

Spirituality & Health’s Wellbeing Editor, Kathryn Drury Wagner, is based in Savannah. She’s been a contributor to the magazine for many years, and she loves sharing ways to build a healthy, mindful, and sustainable lifestyle. 


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