By Celia Milne - Monday, March 18, 2013 - 0 Comments
Modified in the lab, the Indian curry spice curcumin ‘may be better than a condom’
Could an Indian curry spice become the next big thing in contraception? Curcumin is a natural chemical that gives the common kitchen spice turmeric its yellow colour. Derived from the root of the turmeric plant, it has a history of health benefits spanning thousands of years. “Curcumin has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine in India, to treat almost anything—wounds, joint pain, stomach flu, headaches,” says Dr. Rajesh Naz, professor and vice-chair in the department of obstetrics and gynecology as well as microbiology, immunology and cell biology at West Virginia University, in Morgantown.
Published scientific experiments on curcumin show it has an ability to neutralize many tiny chemical reactions in our bodies. “Anything that is growing fast, it inhibits,” says Naz. This knowledge inspired him to test it as a spermicide. “I read studies showing it works beautifully in inhibiting cancer cells, which are fast-growing. The other fast-growing cells are sperm. They move fast and are highly energetic. I had this idea four or five years ago.”
Naz, who grew up in India and studied medicine in both India and the U.S., is a huge fan of turmeric. He eats it twice a day and even sprinkles a little on his toothpaste to wash away mouth bacteria. “It has antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties,” he says. A vast amount of medical research confirms these healing properties of curcumin, and dozens of clinical trials are under way to further test its effectiveness in a wide range of diseases.
By Anne Kingston - Monday, November 12, 2012 at 10:52 AM - 0 Comments
The new health-wealth paradox
The richer you are, the healthier you are. That maxim is hammered home in studies conducted by everyone from the World Health Organization to StatsCan, which reveal that income is the greatest determinant of health. Affluence and education are routinely linked to longevity and better fitness, nutrition and quality of medical care. As a medical truism, it’s right up there with “women are healthier than men,” based on the understanding that women visit the doctor more, are more concerned with nutrition and fitness, and are less likely to engage in risk-taking behaviour.
It would follow, then, that women who earn the most should be, and feel, healthiest of all. But that arithmetic may not add up. Women who shatter the glass ceiling are encountering a new gender gap, one that can affect their health in a one-two punch. First, they get equal access to the stress-related illnesses and habits that make male CEOs prime coronary candidates. Then, throw in a second, exacerbating factor: that pernicious “work-life” balancing act that has women, far more than men, contorting themselves like Cirque du Soleil performers to meet the demands of work and home. The upshot is a new female wealth-health paradox: earning enough to afford a trainer, an acupuncturist and a nutritionist, but not having the time to go to them.
A new Australian study, in fact, reveals that female executives don’t even have time to go to the doctor. The survey of close to 400 chief financial officers released last month by research firm East & Partners found most male respondents—77 per cent—had visited their doctor in the past year; only 34.8 per cent of women had. More astounding: 43.2 per cent of female CFOs couldn’t recall the last time they had. Continue…
By Scaachi Koul - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 at 2:26 PM - 0 Comments
Study shows women may eat more and gussy themselves up at certain times of the month
A woman’s menstrual cycle can affect her weight, mood and willingness to openly yell, “Oh, my God, does anyone have a tampon!?” in a bathroom when caught without one. But it turns out that it may affect other aspects of her life, too.
According to a new study from Concordia University, the menstrual cycle can affect other aspects of life too, specifically how you consume everything from clothing to burgers.
The study comes from Concordia’s Research Chair in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences and Darwinian Consumption, Gad Saad, and his doctoral student and co-author, Eric Stenstrom. Gaad is also the author of The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption.
Fifty-nine female participants were chosen and over 35 days, they kept detailed diaries on their clothing choices, calorie consumption, purchases, and “beautification behaviors,” including attention paid to hair and makeup.
The study analyzed the daily responses to survey items, including when each participant wore clothes that attracted sexual attention, how long she spent making herself beautiful, and whether she ate food high in calories. The researchers found that there was an increase in appearance-related behaviors during the fertile days of a woman’s cycle.
The infertile phase, however, is when the women in the study peaked in their craving and consumption of high-calorie foods, not to mention peaking in their food purchases.
Finally, research that shows us what many women would attest to from their own experience.
But the researchers offer a more scientific explanation for these behaviors than the generic “I’m on my period so it’s okay that I put this entire pizza in my mouth.”
“Women consume more calories during the luteal [infertile] phase because they’ve evolved psychological and physiological mechanism that favoured non-mating-related activities like food foraging,” Saad says. “These consumption behaviors take place without women’s conscious awareness of how hormonal fluctuations affect their choices as consumers.”
Although this may make women feel like a slave to evolutionary desires (or give us a perfectly good reason to buy self-tanners and French fries), Saad says it could lead to consumption-related apps for women. For example, if a woman’s iPhone alerts her that she shouldn’t go grocery shopping since she’s on day 23 of her cycle, she’ll be aware of how her biology affects her consumption.
Another possible advantage: a scientific excuse to eat everything for a week out of every 28 days. Not that one was really needed anyway.
By Emma Teitel - Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 8:39 PM - 0 Comments
On May 1st, my friend Josh Dehaas wrote an article on this website about a Simon Fraser University student named Keenan Midgley who wanted to start a “Men’s Centre” to complement his university’s “Women’s Centre”–the kind that exists on nearly every Canadian university campus today.
Like the women’s centre, the men’s centre would provide a safe space for its respective gender, one in which to discuss (to quote former SFSS president Jeff McCann) “men’s issues and mental wellness and all the different things that come along with that.” As Keenan Midgley pointed out to Dehaas, suicides, alcoholism, and drug use, are more prominent among young men than they are among women. Not that it’s a competition.
Or maybe it is…
That’s the impression I got from the video below, created, I suspect, by some of the most unsympathetic and over-educated people on the planet (I actually lost count of how many times one of the interviewees uses the phrase “hegemonic patriarchy.”) At no time did Midgley or McCann (who was on the CBC this morning promoting his cause) suggest that their proposed men’s centre would curb women’s rights or extract funds from the school’s existing women’s centre, but the people in this video—and those opposed to the very idea of a men’s centre in general—are under the impression that a safe space for men is a dangerous place for women. Or as some of the video’s contributors warn, “a highly masculinized space… a room with a PS3 and a bunch of douche bags playing video games”…
Which is awfully strange because you’d think that women wary of stereotypical fraternity culture (i.e. a room full of douche bags) would be the first to embrace the men’s centre. After all it’s fraternity culture—the kind that assumes men don’t need safe spaces in which to discuss their feelings and insecurities; the kind that lauds cat calling and “slut shaming”— that the men’s centre would likely do without.
Either way, however, calling McCann and Midgley patriarchal, hegemonic, douche bags is not a valid argument against their proposal. Neither, for that matter, is weighing your group’s struggles against another’s. Just because group A (insert women/Jews/blacks here) has more problems than group B (white men) doesn’t mean group B shouldn’t seek help.
Or deserve a safe space of its own.
By Kate Fillion - Monday, September 26, 2011 at 10:30 AM - 10 Comments
Dr. Aaron Caughey on labour and how epidurals changed childbirth
Dr. Aaron Caughey is the chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Oregon Health and Sciences University, director of its Center for Women’s Health, and a researcher with an interest in diabetes in pregnancy. He recently addressed the pushing question at the Birth World Congress in Chicago.
Q: What attracted you to obstetrics?
A: I’m a labour-floor junkie. As a third-year medical student doing an obstetrics rotation, it was immediate for me, like a crush. The process of birth, the intensity of the experience, the potential for it to be many people’s best days mixed with a small percentage of people’s worst days, and the challenge of how to make the outcomes better—it’s extremely compelling.
Q: Let’s start with a brief refresher course on labour.
By macleans.ca - Friday, December 10, 2010 at 11:25 AM - 2 Comments
Signs of setbacks identified in the U.S.
More women are obese, diabetic and hypertensive than just a few years ago, the New York Times reports; more are testing positive for chlamydia (a sexually transmitted disease linked to infertility), binge drinking (consuming five or more drinks at a single occasion within the last month) and not getting screened for cervical cancer. This information comes from a new report by the National Women’s Law Center and Oregon Health and Science University, which gives the U.S. a grade of “Unsatisfactory” on goals set by the government’s Helathy People 2010 initiative. Screening rates for colorectal cancer and high cholesterol have improved since the last report, in 2007, and less women are smoking, or dying of stroke or coronary heart disease. Still, one-quarter of women are sedentary and get no leisure-time physical activity. Most don’t eat five fruits and vegetables a day.
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 2:26 PM - 80 Comments
Here’s the lede of a science story from Saturday’s Winnipeg Free Press:
WINNIPEG — Depression and substance abuse plague about half of American women who reported having an abortion, according to a new University of Manitoba study.
The study, published in the current issue of the Canadian Journal of Psychology, suggests there’s an association between mental disorders and abortion…
Eager to investigate this shocking headline claim—the Edmonton Journal, picking up the story, literally gave it the headline “Depression or drug abuse found in half of women who aborted”—I set out to find the study. This presented something of a problem, since there has not been a “Canadian Journal of Psychology” since 1993. I spent a little while rifling through Canadian Psychology and the Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology until a helpful reader on Twitter clued me in. Yes, you guessed it: it can be found in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. First place I should have looked, really.
That’s an understandable mistake. It’s a bit more of a problem that the first sentence of the article—an article that includes a warning from the lead author to the effect that it is “important the study is not misinterpreted”—is totally false. Because of, y’know, misinterpretation.
The paper, entitled “Associations Between Abortion, Mental Disorders, and Suicidal Behaviour in a Nationally Representative Sample”, does what it says on the tin: the data are taken from interviews with a demographically representative subset of the U.S.’s National Comorbidity Survey Replication project. It is hard to know what numbers the reporter added or multiplied or pulled out of a hat to reach the conclusion that “Depression and substance abuse plague about half of American women who reported having an abortion.” (I spoke to the lead author of the study, and she can’t figure it out either.) But a good guess would be that she looked at this section from the article’s main chart—
—and simply added together the estimated lifetime incidence of depression among women who had had an abortion (29.3%) and the lifetime incidence of substance-use disorders (24.6%). It will probably have occurred to you that there might be some overlap there between depression and substance abuse, which go together like poached eggs and hollandaise. You don’t need a Ph.D. to know that the depression group is likely to contain almost all of the women in the substance-abuse group.
And this naïve math (which is hardly attributable to a failure to grasp hyper-advanced statistics) is compounded by the wording of the offending sentence, which doesn’t say that “some percentage of abortion recipients have, at some point before or after getting an abortion, experienced depression or substance abuse or both.” It uses present tense, unjustifiably implying that all the women in question are plagued by both problems now.
This mess is already being picked up, “carelessly” garbled even further, and circulated around the globe by pro-lifers, despite the personal entreaties of the scientist who helped the newspaper with its reporting and the many, many methodological and interpretive caveats in the original study. This kind of thing is exactly why a lot of scientists hate talking to reporters. Nor does it make sincere research into therapeutic abortion any easier. The UM study can’t be used to attribute psychiatric morbidity to abortion, but it could be used by fair-minded pro-lifers (let’s assume for the sake of argument that there were some) to raise questions about abortion’s place in our society and argue for a research program.
Oh, I know: we’re a hundred years away from that kind of discussion being possible. But the inadvertent propagation of urban legends only pushes that day further into the future.
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 2:24 PM - 105 Comments
The long-standing controversy over the link between therapeutic abortion and breast cancer found its way onto unexpected territory—the Globe and Mail website—on Friday. The pro-life movement has long been quarrying the epidemiological literature for the smoking gun of what it calls “ABC“. This is what pro-lifers ask Santa for Christmas, or wish for when they see a falling star: that abortion will turn out to carry previously unsuspected harms which might become the pretext for outlawing it completely, for imposing severe restrictions on it, or, at the very least, for stigmatizing it like tobacco and allowing clients to receive a scary mandatory lecture on cancer risk in the name of informed consent.
Thus far, science hasn’t been much help to them. ABC is a tricky topic because there are confounders in the picture: in general, spending less time pregnant (and more time menstruating) gives women a slightly greater lifetime risk of breast cancer. Abortion probably does increase breast cancer risk insofar as it eliminates one pregnancy—just as being able to drive increases one’s risk of ending up with shards of windshield glass under one’s eyelids.
Whether abortion imposes a distinct burden of cancer risk is another question, one much harder to answer. Occasionally a study will turn up that suggests it might. And that’s what has happened now. Gloria Galloway writes:
Three years ago, [Saskatchewan MP Maurice Vellacott] helped to bring an American doctor and activist to Parliament Hill to tell Canadian women that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. It turned out that the doctor, Angela Lanfranchi, was speaking from a defined religious point of view that had little apparent basis in science.
And, at the time, the link between the procedure and the disease had been discounted by the National Cancer Institute in the United States, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (and their U.S. counterparts), as well as the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Breast Cancer Network.
But a study released last fall (available here but only for a fee) by the respected Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute in Seattle by a number of distinguished cancer experts including Louise Brinton, the chief of the Hormonal and Reproductive Epidemiology Branch of the National Cancer Institute, lists induced abortion as being “associated with an increased risk for breast cancer.” Background documents further suggest that it increases the risk of the disease by 40 per cent.
An e-mail to Dr. Brinton on Friday was returned by an Institute spokesman named Michael Miller who said: “NCI has no comment on this study. Our statement and other information on this issue can be found at http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/ere.” …Requests for an explanation of the apparent discrepancy between that position and the information contained in the study released last spring went unanswered by NCI.
I visited the library to double-check whether Galloway had characterized the study’s findings correctly. The data behind the study come from a breast-cancer surveillance project in the Seattle area that included interviews with 897 women who had suffered invasive breast cancers before the age of 45. Here’s the part that’s the cause of all the excitement—a line in a table of odds ratios for “known and suspected risk factors among women 45 years of age and younger”:
The odds ratios were derived by adjusting for age, family history of breast cancer, lactation history, and duration of oral contraceptive use: the double dagger indicates that only women who had been pregnant at least once were included in the “never” row under the “Abortion” heading, so the statistically significant 40% apparent increase in background risk actually leaves never-pregnant women out of the background completely. This is notable, especially given that the study is population-based (the authors boast that it is the “largest of its kind”; their goal was not just to measure breast-cancer risk but to differentiate between etiologic subtypes of breast cancer).
On the other hand, it’s not that notable. If you look at the raw numbers, you’ll see that the randomized control group of 1,569 Seattle-area women with no history of breast cancer broke down between “Never [had an abortion] and “Ever” pretty much the same way that the breast-cancer victims did. Most of the “40%” extra risk, in other words, is the product of statistical adjustments, and may, in part, be attributable to confounding variables that weren’t controlled for. Income wasn’t controlled for, and as you can see in the table itself, it might make a difference; neither was obesity. And 40% is not a big number in epidemiology. In general researchers don’t get worked up about an odds ratio until it is at least 2.0, and it is seen over and over again in multiple studies.
Galloway is, frankly, not being careful enough when she describes the study as implying that abortion “increases the risk of the disease by 40 per cent.” This study is strictly about breast cancer in women under 45—a small fraction of all breast-cancer cases (though, to be sure, it is a fraction that is of special concern). In no way can it provide justification for any statement about overall lifetime breast-cancer risk.
Moreover, there is really no “discrepancy” between the NCI’s stated position on ABC and this particular study. Here’s what the NCI says officially:
The relationship between induced and spontaneous abortion and breast cancer risk has been the subject of extensive research beginning in the late 1950s. Until the mid-1990s, the evidence was inconsistent. Findings from some studies suggested there was no increase in risk of breast cancer among women who had had an abortion, while findings from other studies suggested there was an increased risk. Most of these studies, however, were flawed in a number of ways that can lead to unreliable results. Only a small number of women were included in many of these studies, and for most, the data were collected only after breast cancer had been diagnosed, and women’s histories of miscarriage and abortion were based on their “self-report” rather than on their medical records. Since then, better-designed studies have been conducted. These newer studies examined large numbers of women, collected data before breast cancer was found, and gathered medical history information from medical records rather than simply from self-reports, thereby generating more reliable findings.
Although the new Seattle study is large and features randomized controls, it too is a retrospective, questionnaire-based study, reliant on self-reporting; it does not meet the gold standard for epidemiological evidence. The NCI has no reason I can see to change, or apologize for, its position.