- How Irish Women Are Getting Around Abortion Laws
- 6 Things You Need to Know About Your Immune System
- Vice President Joe Biden to Speak on Ambitious ‘Cancer Moonshot’ Initiative
- Health Problems from Common Chemicals Cost $340 Billion Per Year: Study
- Here Are the Most Popular Foods on Twitter
Posted: 18 Oct 2016 08:35 AM PDT
The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have some of the most restrictive laws surrounding abortion in the world. The procedure is illegal in both countries; the exception is only to save a pregnant woman’s life. In the midst of a debate in Ireland over whether abortion prohibitions should be reconsidered, a new study released on Monday provides insight into how women on both sides of the border are obtaining abortions—despite the restrictions.
In Northern Ireland, obtaining an abortion is punishable by a life sentence, which is the strictest criminal penalty for abortion in Europe. In Ireland, women could face a 14-year prison sentence, according to Amnesty International. That prompted close to 15,500 women to travel to England or Wales—where it is not illegal to terminate a pregnancy—for the procedure between 2010-2012. If traveling abroad isn’t an option, Irish and Northern Irish women with unwanted pregnancies reportedly seek out ways to self-induce an abortion, like with medication, or carry the fetus to term.
Others avail themselves of telemedicine. Since 2006, Women on Web, a Netherlands-based non-profit group, has provided abortion pills—mifepristone and misoprostol—to women living in countries where they cannot access the procedure safely or legally. Since 2006, Women on Web says around 50,000 women worldwide have received abortion pills from a doctor through the mail. They are then guided through the process via online materials.
Obtaining mifepristone and misoprostol for a medical abortion is illegal in Ireland and Northern Ireland, and in April 2016, a woman was charged in Northern Ireland for helping her daughter access abortion pills, which was followed by public outrage. But Women on Web says customs regulations in most countries around the world allow for people to have medicine for personal use sent to them, and mifepristone and misoprostol are on the list of essential medicines of the World Health Organization.
The women in the study were diverse: They included married mothers, single mothers, migrant workers, young women completing their education, and rape victims. Some of the women were pro-abortion rights, and some were not. “A lot is assumed about women who have abortions, and I hope this [study] will inform the debate,” says Dr. Abigail R.A. Aiken, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin who was born in Northern Ireland. “These are women from all demographic and age groups—you can’t pin it down to a particular group.”
In the new report, published Monday in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Aiken and her coauthors also analyzed women’s experiences using at-home medication abortion via Women on Web in both Ireland and Northern Ireland. Between Jan. 2010 and Dec. 2015, 5,650 women requested the abortion pill online. The researchers then looked at the demographics and circumstances of more than 1,000 women who completed their abortion with the help of Women on Web.
Most of women requesting medication abortion said they had gotten pregnant because they’d used contraception incorrectly, or because it didn’t work. Sixty-two percent of the women said their reason for ending the pregnancy was that they could not cope with a child at this point in their life, followed by not having enough money to raise a child. Among the over 5,600 women who requested the medication, 99.8% said they could cope with their feelings regarding their decision.
Ninety-four percent of the 1,023 women who completed the at-home abortion said they felt grateful for the option, 97% said at-home mediation abortion was the right choice for them, and 98% said they would recommend the option to other women with unwanted pregnancies.
When asked about their feelings after completing the abortion, 70% of the women said they felt relieved, which was the most common sentiment expressed, followed by 35% who said they felt satisfied. “This was a difficult decision to have to make because of my religious beliefs but I feel it is very important that women should have the same choice regardless of where in the world they live. This website made the process so much less stressful than having to travel,” read one of the women’s comments in an email follow-up.
“What I think is most striking is that women reported these clear benefits for their health and wellbeing and anatomy,” says Aiken. “I think it really demonstrates that women can make the best choice for themselves when it comes to their own reproduction. The only negative thing about this is that women reported they had to do it against the law, and they went through considerable stress and anxiety and secrecy and isolation and shame.”
Posted: 18 Oct 2016 05:00 AM PDT
You probably don’t think much about your immune system until you’re willing it to banish a nasty bug. But your immune system does a great job attacking bad-news microbes every single day. That is, as long as you’re supplying the support it needs, says Neil Schachter, MD, a pulmonary disease specialist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. There are a host of ways to boost your immunity—from eating apples (they really do keep the doctor away!) to having sex. Here’s a primer to help you stay healthy until spring and beyond.
Women are more likely to have autoimmune diseases
Of the more than 23.5 million Americans living with autoimmune diseases (such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis), over three-fourths are women. “Why?” is the billion-dollar question: “We think, based on animal research, that sex hormones like estrogen are responsible,” says Abby Abelson, MD, a rheumatologist at the Cleveland Clinic. “Your body’s immune cells actually have sex hormone receptors that estrogen binds to,” she explains, “and that may trigger inflammation that causes the immune system to go into overdrive.” Women may also have more of a type of B cell that makes autoantibodies that attack the body’s own tissue, per research from National Jewish Health in Denver. There is good news, though: For some of these diseases, symptoms can be milder in women than in men, says Dr. Abelson.
Your gut is linked to your immune system
Actually, about 70 percent of the cells that make up your immune system are located in the lining of your digestive tract. “People don’t realize it, but your GI tract is one way your body gets rid of toxins,” explains Anish Sheth, MD, chief of gastroenterology at the University Medical Center of Princeton. The best tactic for keeping both your immune system and your digestive system in tip-top shape is to eat clean, he says, which means filling up on foods that are low in processed sugar and high in fiber, such as produce and whole grains. This helps foster a healthy microbiome in the gut by promoting the growth of friendly bacteria. Also, talk to your doctor about taking a probiotic. There’s some research suggesting that certain strains (like Lactobacillus GG) enhance immunity.
Sex, stress and sleep all impact your defenses
Sex: Research found that college students who had sex once or twice a week had 30 percent more immunoglobulin A, a blood protein that helps defend against colds, than those who didn’t have sex or who had sex more frequently.
Stress: It not only makes you more susceptible to bugs but also decreases your body’s ability to manage inflammation, according to 2012 research—so you may stay sick longer. When you’re chronically stressed, your body ramps up cortisol production, which can have a negative effect on the immune system, says Dr. Schachter.
Sleep: Clocking fewer than six hours a night left people four times as likely to get sick when exposed to a cold virus as those who got at least seven hours of slumber, per a 2015 study. While you’re snoozing, says Dr. Schachter, T cells that fight viruses increase in the bloodstream.
Immunotherapy is a cancer game changer
Clinical trials have shown its effectiveness in treating forms of melanoma, lymphoma, and lung cancer—and it’s being heralded as the biggest breakthrough since chemotherapy. But unlike chemotherapy, which uses drugs to kill cancer cells, immunotherapy harnesses a person’s own immune system to fight off disease. “Your immune system has ‘on’ and ‘off’ switches. When it’s turned on, it mobilizes certain cells, like T cells, to recognize and attack something that doesn’t belong there, like cancer cells,” explains Padmanee Sharma, MD, an oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “But when it turns off, it’s no longer able to kill cancer cells.” A promising type of immunotherapy, called immune checkpoint therapy, blocks the “off” signal so your body has more time to mount its own defense. Not everyone responds to it, though, says Dr. Sharma, and research on its effectiveness for other cancers is still in its infancy. But as treatments are developed, immunotherapy may offer new hope to the 1.6 million people diagnosed with cancer every year.
There’s a better time of day to get the flu shot
You know the flu shot is the number-one way to protect yourself from the virus that can leave you feeling like you’ve been rammed by a bus for up to two weeks. But what you may not know is that it’s ideal to get jabbed in the morning. A recent U.K. study found that, compared with folks who got immunized between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., people who received shots between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. had significantly higher levels of the antibodies for two flu strains one month later. It may have to do with the natural daily cycle of immune cells. So, if you can, head to the clinic early.
Health.com: Vitamins and Superfoods That Boost Immunity
Some foods can help boost your immunity
These immune boosters aren’t just old wives’ tales—they have solid research behind them.
Garlic: People who took garlic supplements during a three-month period had fewer colds than those who took a placebo, according to a 2014 study. Another study found a 30 percent reduction in the risk of colon cancer among people who ate a lot of raw or cooked garlic.
Alcohol: Research suggests that moderate drinking (usually defined as one drink a day for women) helps the immune system. But binge drinking is different: Adults who downed five vodka shots had drops in disease-fighting white blood cells within hours, a 2015 study found.
Apples: The fruit is rich in soluble fiber, a substance that seems to improve immunity, per a University of Illinois study. Researchers found that mice given this type of fiber got half as sick as mice that weren’t given any; and they recovered 50 percent faster.
Chicken soup: It contains carnosine, an amino acid compound that helps your body fight off flu in the early stages, says a study in the American Journal of Therapeutics. Other research has shown that the homemade kind has a mild anti-inflammatory effect.
Posted: 17 Oct 2016 07:31 PM PDT
(BOSTON) — Vice President Joe Biden is speaking in Boston about the White House’s ambitious push to find a cure for cancer.
Biden will speak Wednesday afternoon about the so-called “Cancer Moonshot” initiative at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate.
President Obama announced the initiative in his final State of the Union address in January.
He’s created a task force comprised of the heads of at least a dozen federal departments and agencies, including the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Biden, whose son died from cancer last year, serves as chair. The task force aims to double the rate of progress in cancer research and treatment, accomplishing what could be achieved in ten years in five.
Posted: 17 Oct 2016 03:30 PM PDT
Conditions linked to everyday chemicals—used in cosmetics, plastics and common household items like sofas—lead to $340 billion in treatment and lost productivity costs annually in the U.S., according to a new study.
Researchers behind the paper, published in The Lancet, evaluated a set of chemicals that have been shown to disrupt normal functioning of the endocrine system using data on the levels of the chemicals in blood and urine of subjects of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study. Flame retardants like PBDEs, phthalates, which are widely used in cosmetics and scented products, plastic component DEHP and organophosphate pesticides are among the chemicals linked to health issues in the U.S., according to the research.
The study contributes to a growing debate about how best to assess and manage the safety of common chemicals. Improved regulation could reduce exposure to some of the most damaging chemicals, the report’s authors say. Previous research has shown that Europe—where regulations require manufacturers to prove household chemicals are safe before they hit shelves—loses a significantly smaller share of its GDP as a result of endocrine disrupting diseases than the U.S.
Diseases related to household chemicals cost $217 billion, or 1.28% of GDP, in Europe, compared to $340 billion, or 2.33% of GDP, in the U.S. These chemicals have been linked to obesity, intellectual disabilities, endometriosis, autism and heart disease.
“Exposures in the United States are similar in some ways, but they also differ,” says study author Leonardo Trasande, a New York University professor who studies environmental health. “That’s in large part to differences in regulation between Europe and the U.S.”
The U.S. relies on a law known as at the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to regulate household chemicals, a decades-old law that was updated earlier this year, and thousands of chemicals on the market remain untested. Improvements passed this year give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) more authority to test and ban hazardous chemicals, but Trasande and many others say the law does not go far enough. The EPA has announced five chemicals the agency plans to “fast track,” but tens of thousands more will remain untested for the foreseeable future, including many included in the study. Trasande says Congress should provide additional funding to allow the agency to move faster with review of a broader array of chemicals.
Read More: You Asked: Can My Couch Give Me Cancer?
The American Chemistry Council, a lobbying group for chemical manufacturers, criticized the paper for using research that shows links between certain household chemicals and endocrine disruption rather than causation. The paper does “virtually nothing to advance the protection of public health,” the ACC said in a statement.
But while research showing the connection between many chemicals and endocrine disruption remains correlational, many scientists say the burden should still rest on manufacturers to prove a substance is safe before selling it to the public.
“What we need here is a reform that tests chemicals proactively before they’re used on the open market,” Trasande said last year.
Posted: 17 Oct 2016 01:23 PM PDT
If you are what you tweet, a lot of Americans are very, very jittery. A new study looked at nearly 80 million tweets and found that coffee was the most tweeted-about consumable in the U.S. and Starbucks was by far the most tweeted fast-food restaurant.
The study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research Public Health and Surveillance, used Twitter as a way to gain insight into the health of people in neighborhoods across the U.S. “Increasingly we’re seeing more and more studies looking at health beyond just disease, incorporating indicators of wellbeing,” says Quynh Nguyen, lead author of the study and an assistant professor at the University of Utah College of Health. She and her team zoomed in on geolocated tweets about food, physical activity and happiness, and compared them to census data and health surveys.
In just 140 characters, tweets about these three things said a lot about people in certain parts of the country.
Nearly 5% of the tweets, randomly collected from 2015-2016, mentioned food. The most-tweeted edibles were coffee, beer, pizza, wine, chicken, BBQ, ice cream and tacos. When researchers sorted these tweets by healthfulness, 16% were about healthy foods, and 9% mentioned fast food.
The team designed algorithms to determine food and exercise mentions as well as emotion, but they weren’t perfect. Researchers were baffled by the immense popularity of curry before realizing that Twitter was crazy for basketball star Stephen Curry, not the spicy dish.
The most popular fast-food restaurant was Starbucks—which took up nearly half of all such mentions—followed by Chipotle, Taco Bell and Buffalo Wild Wings.
Tweets from poorer neighborhoods were less likely to mention healthy foods, and areas with more healthy-food tweets had fewer deaths and lower rates of chronic disease.
Tweets about exercise also had stories to tell. The most-tweeted kinds of physical activity were walking, dancing, running, workouts, golf, swimming, hiking, yoga and bowling. And tweets about physical activity tended to come from places with lower rates of obesity and fewer deaths.
“What was kind of nice, from a health and emotion perspective, was that tweets that mentioned food were actually happier than tweets that did not mention food, and tweets that mention healthy foods were the happiest,” Nguyen says. “Healthy food and physical activity were the happiest kind of tweets.”
Nguyen believes that with more refinement, messages from social media like Twitter can provide untapped insights into our health. “So far, we are finding that they do predict area-level health outcomes at various levels: zip code, census tract, county and state,” she says. “Our next set of analyses examine whether these social environment variables predict individual-level health outcomes.”
You can see an in-progress map of their results here.
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