Friday Fun Paper: Down the Dark Road of Carrot Addiction

Be careful – your next salad might be the one that starts you down the dark path of carrot addiction. (By Kander, via Wikimedia Commons)

Last week there was no Friday Fun Paper because I was off in Cape Cod gallivanting as well as attending the National Library of Medicine Bioinformatics course at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory.  I met some very interesting people and learned a ton, and I can highly recommend this experience to anyone interested in applying technology to medicine.

At the end of the week, I boarded the plane back to Los Angeles, and found myself seated next to a woman who was probably in her mid-60s.  About halfway through the flight, she pulled a small bag of baby carrots out of the back of her seat pocket, set them on her tray table, looked at them for several minutes, and then put them away again.  I did not subsequently see the carrots, and I’m fairly certain that she did not eat them at any point in the flight.  This was strange enough in itself, but it also struck me because it reminded me of a very strange and fascinating article I read several years ago by Mary Roach, one of my favorite science writers.

Published several years ago in Salon, Roach’s article “Turning Orange” elucidates the curious phenomenon of carrot addiction.  Yes, this is a real thing.  Roach interviewed several carrot addicts, including one who had not been able to travel for many years because of her carrot addiction – she had to have her carrots cooked in a special way and eat them immediately after they were cooked, so she couldn’t go on a long flight or road trip because she wouldn’t have access to the carrots.  When her out-of-state daughter was going to get married, she braved the flight, but had to have her daughter waiting at the airport with the carrots as soon as she got off the flight.  It occurred to me that I might be sitting next to this woman, but since her carrots were raw in their original packaging and she never ate them, I think it’s unlikely.

A quick search of the medical literature1 reveals that the subject of carrot addiction has been explored by one R. Kaplan in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry (30.5) in an article titled simply “Carrot Addiction.”  The mechanism by which people become addicted to carrots, as far as I’m aware, remains unknown, though there are two theories.  First, some carrot addicts develop their carrot addiction while they’re quitting smoking, suggesting that it’s sort of an oral fixation substitute.  Secondly, some people may actually become physically addicted to the beta carotene in carrots. Some people end up eating so many carrots that their skin actually turns orange from the beta carotene.  Not even kidding.

So now, next time you see someone eating carrots, I bet you’re going to wonder, aren’t you?  Is this just a casual carrot eater, or are you dealing with a full-on carrot addict?

1.  In case you’re interested, after some playing around, my PubMed search string was

(“Behavior, Addictive”[Mesh] OR addict*) AND (“Daucus carota”[Mesh] OR “carrot” NOT “Card Arranging Reward Responsivity Objective Test”)

The bit on the end about the card arranging test is because I was getting lots of articles about this test (abbreviated CARROT) being used with people who had other addiction issues.

Friday Fun Paper: Two Words You Do Not Want to Hear Together

Personally, I can now never look at salami the same way again. (Image by André Karwath, CC-BY-SA-2.5, via Wikimedia Commons)

So this is my second Friday Fun Paper post, in which I present to you a odd, amusing, surprising, or otherwise attention-grabbing articles that I stumble upon in my work as a medical librarian.  Today’s article is a case study that pretty much says it all in its direct, but concise, title “Rectal Salami.”  I think that’s really all I need to say about the article, other than that it’s from the International Journal of Clinical Practice by Shah, Majed, and Rosin.  I don’t remember how on earth I stumbled upon this particular article – I have not done any similar searches that I can recall recently – but I had the foresight to save it on my “to read” list and sort of did a double take when I found it again in the list.  However, I will admit I did not actually read the article – the abstract was more than adequate for me.  Still, three thoughts came to mind, one flippant, and two related to librarian work.

First, I would like to have been there during the brainstorming session for the title.  Did they float other names?  Did anyone feel tempted to make a bad pun?  Were there suggestions put forth about how to maybe be a little more tactful about it, a little less blunt?  How many ideas did they go through before one of them just said, “I don’t know – should we just call it ‘Recal Salami?'”  And everyone kind of shrugged, and no one could really think of anything better, so now they all get to put an article called “Rectal Salami” on their publication lists.

Second, and more seriously, my colleague and I have gotten to do something pretty cool recently – we go to morning report once a month to teach the residents at our hospital about literature searching. In case you’re not familiar with medical education, residents are the people who have graduated with their MD, but are doing additional training in a medical specialty.  Part of their training is going to these morning reports, which involve one of the residents presenting the case of an unusual or challenge patient they’ve taken care of recently.  The resident presenting the case goes through the patient’s history and symptoms, and then everyone brainstorms about what they think the problem could be.  Then the resident presents what he or she found when they examined the patient, and the others suggest tests they would want to order if this were their patient.  The presenter gives the numbers on how those tests turned out (with some numbers occasionally garnering soft sounds of surprise and awe among the others in attendance for their being so off-the-charts out of the norm) and shows any images they have.  By then everyone’s got a good guess about what’s wrong with the patient and they talk about treatment and how the patient ended up doing. Finally the librarians (us!) talk about how you could use appropriate resources to quickly find the answer to clinical questions that might be relevant to the diagnosis or treatment of the disease.  It’s very cool.  Since we’re a pretty major medical center and one of the best in the country, we do get some really unusual and challenging cases.  The kind you might actually write a paper about.  Something that not many people had written about before.  Something like, you know…well, I’m not going to repeat it again, but you know.

Third and finally, when I read articles, I always sort of “file them away” so that I can suggest them to patrons I work with – surprisingly often, I’ll read something and then the next day someone will come and ask me a question that can totally be answered by the random thing I just read.  So when I read this abstract, I thought to myself, well, if a patron ever comes up to me and says something like, “so I need help finding article about how to treat a patient…see, this guy…he put a…well, I mean, he had this salami,” I will be able to smile and nod gently and reply, “say no more.  I have just the article for you.”

Hmm…now anyone who Googles “rectal salami” is going to potentially end up on my website.

Friday Fun Paper: We Are Naughty Psychics

So it’s been awhile since I’ve blogged here, but much has happened, which I hope to write about on the blog in the near future.  For now, something a little fun.  In my travels on the internet as a medical librarian, I often stumble upon odd, amusing, funny, or surprising papers.  As it turns out, many researchers are getting money to do some…unusual things.  So I have decided that each Friday I will share with you, the good people of the internet, a paper that has caught my attention.

This week’s article, titled “Feeling the Future: Experimental evidence for anomalous retroactive influences on cognition and affect” comes to us from the field of psychology and garnered a fair bit of press attention because it apparently scientifically validated the existence of psychic abilities.  It comes from the lab of esteemed Professor Emeritus Daryl Bem of Cornell and was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which is a respected psychology journal.  So this is not off the wall – it’s mainstream science.

Basically, the researchers set out to prove whether people could predict the future by having them predict which of two doors on the computer screen would have an image behind it.  Just to make things more interesting, I guess, they did the test with regular images and then repeated it with “erotic” images drawn from a database of images scaled on a range of 0 to 9 in their arousal effect on both men and women.  The researchers found that with non-erotic images, the subjects (all college students) were able to correctly predict where the picture would be no more often than one could guess by chance (about 49%), whereas the success rate improved to 53% when the images were erotic.  Even though 53% doesn’t sound that much bigger than 50%, this is in fact considered statistically significant.  However, other researchers have been unable to replicate these results, so take that as you will.

My favorite part of this article is this quote:

“In our first…experiment, women showed [psychic] effects to highly arousing stimuli but men did not. Because this appeared to have arisen from men’s lower arousal to such stimuli, we introduced different erotic and negative pictures for men and women in subsequent studies, using stronger and more explicit images from Internet sites for the men.”

To put that in plain language: “the official sexy images we were using weren’t hot enough for the college dudes, so we just downloaded some internet porn and used that instead.”  And based on my experience working with researchers, that probably means that the principal investigator (PI, or the head of the study), probably had an awkward conversation with some poor post-doc or graduate student asking him/her to please go online and find some sexier porno so they could get these dudes to show some psychic ability.  And I imagine that this young, budding researcher went online and looked for adequately graphic images for several hours, or several days, all the while thinking to themselves, “this is why I’m getting/got a PhD?”

So to summarize, the researchers found that people have psychic abilities, but primarily when it comes to figuring out where the porn is.  Good to know.  🙂