Monthly Archives: May 2013

Is Antibacterial Soap Safe?

I have been known to joke that my nephew is going to be a bubble boy. He is obsessively protected from any type of germs, and I have actually brought up experts’ opinions about this multiple times. His dad already has major allergies, which is one of the things that experts worry about. So it might just be hereditary. Still the same, at his father’s request, I do some pretty serious hand washing before taking him, and I’m not the only one. People around the US have been using antibacterial soap for years, and we just assume it’s safe (as long as you’re not trying to eat it).

Antibacterial soap can be found in your dishwashing liquids, your laundry detergents, and everyday soaps. It is used to clean just about everything, and federal health regulators are just now starting to question it. Specifically, triclosan, a major germ killing ingredient used in many of these soaps may be ineffective and even harmful.

Let’s put all the talk about super germs in that .01% or whatever it is aside. Triclosan is where it’s at. Recent studies on this chemical have shown that it may lead to infertility, early puberty, and potentially serious hormone problems in people. It may be a bit premature, but then again aren’t we better safe than sorry?

Allison Aiello, a professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health states, To me it looks like the risks outweigh any benefit associated with these products right now. At this point, it’s just looking like a superfluous chemical.

Why are officials just reconsidering this now? Well, first they’re not reconsidering. Fun Fact (or not so fun): a number of chemicals found in everyday household products have never actually been approved by the FDA. Most of these chemicals were formally introduced decades before there were even laws that required scientific testing and review, and they just stayed. The US government just seems to think if it’s not broken, don’t fix it….or if it doesn’t seem broken, don’t fix it.

It’s not uncommon for these types of reviews to drag on for years. So I wouldn’t expect any real upsets or changes any time soon. Congress officially passed a law in 1972 that required the FDA to set guidelines for antibacterial chemicals typically found in over-the-counter soaps and scrubs, and obviously triclosan has slipped by. In 1978, guidelines for chemicals used in hand soaps and washes were passed by the FDA, and triclosan was determined as not meeting the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) standards. At that time, FDA regulators couldn’t find enough proof of its efficacy or safety. The FDA has continued to lag, not officially finding anything that was strong enough to clear the triclosan name OR remove it from the market. In case you haven’t heard though, the FDA tends to be a bit sketchy. Just think of MSG. You may not want it, and you may even search your labels for it. However, the FDA has too far for some, actually allowing manufacturers to hide it under other more vague names such as artificial flavoring.

Triclosan likewise has been approved to be used in Colgate toothpastes and other products meant to fight gingivitis. Again, there is NOT strong proof it works or strong proof it is safe, but I digress. What can we really expect from the US government these days?

Officially, the FDA has stated that reviews and research on triclosan should wrap up in late 2012. However, as you may have noticed, it’s now 2013 and the date keeps moving back and back and back. Critics haven’t let up. In March, the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit, which they hoped would force the FDA to complete their research. This lawsuit reinstated a previous lawsuit, because justices determined that they actually had evidence that proved that triclosan might be dangerous and harmful. As you may expect, Stephanie Yao, a spokeswoman for the FDA, has stated that triclosan is one of the highest priorities. If that’s high priority, it makes you wonder what happens to the low priority items.

At this point, the FDA website officially states that they don’t have proof it’s dangerous. The American Cleaning Institute (which has obvious vested interest in maintaining sales) has stated that they have provided tons of data that shows that triclosan is both safe and effective. However, they are not providing this extensive research to the general public. This group is associated with Colgate-Palmolive and Henkel Consumer Goods Inc (the makers of Dial soap). To put some perspective on all of this, the government was investigating this when Nixon was president.

Science has evolved, and we have discovered new ways to study and evaluate things. We have discovered new facts in many different areas, and realistically FDA guidelines do have to catch up. Dr Andrea Gore at the University of Texas at Austin states, I think the FDA is behind the curve. At what point do you draw a line and say we need to take this out of products that are being applied to our skin? What is enough evidence?

Green Tea May Not Be Healthy

Personally, I have no desire to ever visit China. This sentiment only increased when my sister visited China to find that the optional excursions were not optional and they were forced into tourist traps where people literally spent hundreds of dollars on tea. Yes, ounces of tea. Part of the behavior is the fact that green tea has been pushed as this amazing and healthful thing that can also help you to lose weight. Studies have proven it increases metabolism, but doesn’t necessarily make a huge impact on weight.

Researchers add to this though with new studies that show that not all green tea is the same. Yes, we’ve all said it before. Why spend more on diet supplements when you could just go to your local grocery store? This is not to say that all diet supplements have good green tea, but certain types of green tea are better than others. Researchers specifically studies 26 types.

Some had higher levels of caffeine than what was listed, and the teas that were grown in China had a higher propensity to be contaminated with lead. Many plants can be contaminated with lead in the wrong plant, green tea included. However, green tea actually absorbs more from the soil in general, not just lead.

Researchers found 1.25 mcg to 2.5 mcg of lead per bag in Lipton and Bigelow, some of the biggest names which also use tea grown in China. On a side note though, the lead for whatever reason did not actually go into the water when brewing tea.

On the other hand, loose leaf teas you might find at Teavana used tea leaves grown in Japan for Gyokuro tea. It did not have a measurable amount of lead. Expert Cooperman explains The majority of lead is staying with the leaf. If you’re brewing it with a tea bag, the tea bag is very effectively filtering out most of the lead by keeping those tea leaves inside the bag. So it’s fine as long as you’re not eating the leaves.

For the health conscious, the most important part of green tea is the EGCG antioxidant. Researchers also compared the EGCG levels in different popular teas and green tea supplements. As it turns out, EGCG levels vary widely between teas. Some supplements have as little as just 4mg, and others have 300mg. 4mg is barely there, certainly not enough to actually do anything. Honest Green tea as an example has a promised 190mg of EGCG in every serving, but it only actually has about 114mg. It also had as much sugar as half a can of soda in every serving. Snapple has virtually no EGCG at all.

In other words, if you want EGCG, be picky. Many pre-brewed green tea drinks and supplements probably aren’t what they seem. Likewise, the cheap stuff you find in the grocery store probably isn’t all that great. In some cases, it’s worth it to just spend a few bucks and get what you’re paying for.

Should You Eat More Bugs?

eating-bugsSome being the size of a mere grain of rice, bugs are plentiful and unlikely to disappear any time soon. Some release poisons, making them obviously bad choices, but others the UN is saying could fight global hunger.

Personally, I haven’t been inclined to eat the chocolate covered grasshoppers and other hip bugs. However, I have been known to eat earthworms and escargot from time to time as prepared in some Korean street foods. They tend to have a somewhat nutty taste to them, and they are low fat, high protein, and overall pretty healthy if you can get past the initial impression of eating a bug. The UN claims that they could actually reduce greenhouse gases, create jobs in developing countries, and feed millions of starving people in many developing nations.

We have a stigma in the US, but in many developing countries, but diets are already a regular thing. Frankly, some bugs may already be in some American foods, ground up, etc. Not all bug contaminations are as obvious or controlled as we would like them to be. Cockroaches are in your makeup, especially lipstick, colors like red include cochineal, which is generally found in Peru.

Studies have shown that your best choices for protein and low fat include grasshoppers, red ants, and certain water beetles. If you want other nutrients like fiber, bugs also have you covered. You can get iron, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, and zinc depending on the bug.

Of course, for most of us, I wouldn’t recommend going out and catching your own bugs any time soon. Again, some bugs can be poisonous and otherwise potentially dangerous. You may also get some stings trying to catch certain bugs. If you can find them through natural outlets though, bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, crickets, etc can be properly screened. On the other hand, termites and flies may not be your best choices, and it’s hard to tell sometimes the difference between certain types of worms. Personally, I would have too many thoughts and issues with spiders.

In certain third world countries, insects can stimulate the economy. in Africa, you can buy 4 water bottles of grasshoppers for 15 euros ($20). Even in developed countries, certain bugs are considered to be delicacies, bringing in high prices for sellers. Being that bugs can be found just about anywhere you can find people, it seems highly sustainable.

New Definition of Bipolar Disorder

I’m sure there were times when my parents would have been relieved if my sister had a mental disorder. If something was wrong with her (outside of teenage angst), the would have been able to do something about it. The truth is she was just an angry and rebellious teenager who had youngest child syndrome. Some kids on the other hand are going to be diagnosable with the new DSM coming out with something other than bipolar disorder (manic depressive disorder). For some parents, the related stigma is terrifying. At the same point though, diagnosis can lead to better treatment. With the new disorder being classified, because it is not understood, it could carry a harsher stigma.

Like the redefining of autism and the elimination of Asperger’s disorder, this is controversial. Many teens are prone to tantrums and even explosive behavior with developing brains and our society as a whole. In the past decade, diagnosis has gone up by 40%, which truth be told could be good or bad. On one hand, you think more people are coming forward to get help. On the other, is this overdiagnosis to avoid responsibility and having to change our parenting or take responsibility for our actions? Still, rates are at just 3% in adolescents. In the mid 90’s, bipolar disorder pretty much didn’t exist as far as doctors and parents were concerned.

Along with studies and research, bipolar disorder has come into the spotlight in Hollywood. Catherine Zeta Jones for one came out, and the facts we understand have changed. I doubt the disorder itself has changed. We are simply learning more every day. The psychologist’s major bible is causing an upstir, in part because this is the first major rewrite for diagnosis in 20 years. This is for many reasons the most controversial edition yet. The DSM now includes a classification of Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder to counter and address the rising number of bipolar disorder cases in youth.

The new classification defines children who have temper outbursts several times a week for at least a year. They are explosive, not your usual teenage tantrums, and they are out of proportion with the situation and unusual for the age of the child (allowing for parenting of course). They also require that these begin before 10 years old in a time when childhood development undergoes relatively clear definition.

Some experts believe that these children are being misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder, and they are accordingly being incorrectly and over medicated. Unfortunately, the trials for alternative treatments for DMDD are just starting, and they are unclear. So some kids diagnosed with DMDD may be put on the same medications anyway or not treated at all my well meaning clinicians.

Many within the psychiatric community still believe this to be part of bipolar disorder, and many speculate that the research is severely lacking to say the least. Considering the sparse information available, I can’t say I disagree. Some also worry that this new classification will turn temper tantrums into a mental disorder.

A lot of the classification does depend on parents. After all, the doctor can’t see every tantrum, the frequency, or the severity on office visits. A lot of the reporting will come solely from parents who may feel overwhelmed by a child of any age. With the way parents are going within the US, it is more likely that many will continue to go undiagnosed.

The biggest thing the psychiatric community worries about right now is treatment based on misdiagnosis. For example, if you diagnose someone with ADHD as depressed, they are going to struggle without the proper treatment. A friend of my dad’s has struggled with this his whole life because of the way it presented, and he only found out he was ADHD when his son was diagnosed. As a 60 year old man, the damage is already done, and even with the proper treatment, it’s a struggle to re-learn everything in a lot of parts of his life. Likewise, if someone with bipolar disorder is diagnosed with ADHD, the wrong treatment plan (especially over an extended period of time) can be disastrous.

Whether you define this as a new disorder or just a part of bipolar disorder, kids who are struggling with these problems (and adults) do need help. They do need a proper diagnosis and effective treatment. If separating these kids out leads to better treatment for one or both sides, then great. The reality is simply a debate. Some are cautiously optimistic, and I can’t blame them. You always hope for something better when the current options are not perfect. As far as the hopefuls go though, a lot of them include parents of children diagnosed with things like NOS (Not Otherwise Specified) mood disorders, which haven’t been classified as bipolar and haven’t been definitively treated anyway.

Diet Changes for Women Over 40

Guess what, losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight is going to get harder as you age. Different experts blame it on different hormones, but the fact is women have it harder than men in this area. This doesn’t mean that you have to gain weight. It’s just going to take a little more work. At 40, chances are you won’t be going through menopause quite yet, but it never hurts to start early. You can get the jump on those pesky hormones, and if you do, you may actually experience a less uncomfortable and healthier menopause. Once you hit 40, here are a few things women can do to help themselves:

  1. Bloating is a factor – For most women going through menopause (if not all), bloating is going to happen. Experts recommend cutting down on your salts. Make sure that you’re getting enough fruits and vegetables, and certainly don’t skimp on whole grains. They are chalked full of heart healthy fibers. Keep in mind, some fruits and vegetables can cause bloating. It’s common with broccoli for example. In these cases, you can take things like Mylanta to reduce bloating.
  2. Lose Weight – Losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight can be key to controlling your menopause. If you’re overweight, losing weight at any age makes a big difference. According to Dr Mary Jane Minkin, MD though, losing weight can be especially key after menopause to combat the higher risk of heart disease and breast cancer. That seems rather obvious. What’s not obvious to everyone is that losing weight could actually reduce the effects of hot flashes.
  3. Take a calcium supplement – Once you hit menopause especially, your body isn’t able to absorb calcium as effectively as before. You should increase your calcium intake from 1000mg to 1200mg, and you may want to consider taking a supplement. There are both pills and chews that actually give you quite a few choices. Foods like milk, soy products, orange juice, and yogurt are all chalked full of calcium. If you can, get as much calcium as you can out of food. It absorbs better. To control your weight though, make sure that you are choosing low fat dairy products.
  4. Omega Fatty Acids & Fish – Like I said before, your risk of heart disease is heightened after 40 and especially after menopause. Try to eat at least 2 servings of fish a week (salmon is preferable), and makes sure to balance out your omega fatty acids! A lot of people just assume all omega fatty acids are good. Omega 3 is a good choice, but high levels of some others could actually be bad for your heart.
  5. A little red wine – I’m not talking about getting drunk all the time. One drink from time to time won’t hurt though. When used in moderation, red wine can fight heart disease and breast cancer. Then again, grapes have more resveratrol, no alcohol, and realistically serious benefits. This one is a bit debatable for me, and it seems in some ways like an excuse to drink. Frankly, there are some studies that show that one drink a day can actually increase women’s risk of cancer.
  6. Soy plants – There are many women who believe that soy will increase breast cancer risk due to its links to estrogen, but this is not true. There is no solid data that supports this idea, and so far, it is a myth. Soy can reduce heart attack risk, and frankly, it is recognized as being good for women. Some high estrogen pills can increase the risk of certain tumors, but soy simply looks like estrogen and does not necessarily have the same effects. It offers mild relief from hot flashes, and according to Dr Minkin, Women in Japan have the highest soy intake and the lowest risk of breast cancer, but Japanese women who move to the US and eat less soy have a higher risk.
  7. Skip the hot drinks – Right now, I like to start my day with a coffee, and I have been known to tell people not to talk to me until I have had my coffee. The problem is that whether it’s tea or coffee, a hot drink can trigger hot flashes, and caffeine can also increase the risk and severity. Try something cold and decaffeinated such as a decaffeinated iced tea in the morning.
  8. A balanced diet – If you cut calories and exercise more, you are going to lose weight, period. Menopausal women often do struggle a little more. However, the important thing is to stick with healthy lifestyle habits. Menopausal women who maintain healthy habits can more easily maintain a healthy weight, leading to all of the other afore mentioned benefits.

Does Your Personality Make You Fat?

I have never believed that fat is genetic. Yes, some of us have a higher metabolism than others, which is nice for those people. However, it is extremely unlikely that you have a medical condition that would cause you to be fat. A low percentage of people actually have even mild thyroid issues, and the number of people whose thyroid problems would actually have a significant impact on their weight is even smaller, and smaller if you take out the people who have an overactive thyroid that would cause them to lose weight.

If you do have a thyroid disorder or other medical issue that would affect your weight, I can guarantee that’s not your biggest concern. On the other hand, diseases caused and aggravated by obesity and unhealthy lifestyle choices are extremely common. In fact, medications related to those issues are the most commonly prescribed options in the US.

Personally, I have fought the battle of the bulge. I know it’s my own fault. Most of the foods I like are healthier, but I have weaknesses, I sometimes eat too much, and I don’t exercise like I used to. Getting older, I should be exercising more, and I don’t. Still, I wouldn’t be defined as obese.

Researchers, like me, have focused on behavior. Smart researchers know that Americans face many of the same metabolism and medical issues (in relation to weight) as any other country, and yet other countries don’t have the issues with obesity that we face, especially in certain states and communities.

Now though, researchers are starting to focus on personality. Could your personality, which might lead to other types of excess in other cultures, actually make you fat? The trait that immediately comes to mind for me is an addictive personality. You can be addicted literally to anything, and why not food? In another society where you might learn early on that excess weight is not acceptable, you may instead pick up a cigarette habit (which is on the rise worldwide). In the US, a lot of focus is put on food, which could make addiction that much easier.

Yes, we learn bad habits over time, but a personality issue could simply aggravate that. Over 50 years, researchers have followed people, monitoring health, weight, and other factors. Interestingly, personality and even the big 5 are strongly linked to obesity, at least among Americans. Those who are more neurotic and prone to anxiety and aggression are more likely to hold onto more weight. Those who enjoy taking risks (possibly those who are more open to new experiences) are more likely to gain weight.

Of course, one could argue that those with high neuroticism are also prone to eating disorders. Therefore, if you were to average it out, high neuroticism could just lead to weight problems in general on both ends of the spectrum.

Likewise, those who are seen as cynical and competitive tend to pack on the pounds. Think about men you see on Wall Street or as super fans at football games. There are a lot of obese people out there. Yes, tailgate parties don’t generally focus on healthy food, and one could assume that it is because they are fat that they emulate and love to criticize athletes who are doing things they most likely never could.

The most powerful trait though was impulsiveness. An impulsive person takes risks, and they are less likely to think before they do. In other words, in relation to food, if they see something good, they are more likely to just eat it without thinking about the long term effects. If they get involved in an exercise program, they are less likely to stick to it, instead opting to do other things that seem more exciting at the time. People with impulsive tendencies were more likely to carry an extra 22 pounds. Losing weight is a continual process that you have to focus on to some degree all the time. If you see a buffet table and just jump in, and you can’t follow through with long term plans, obviously you’re going to have trouble losing or maintaining a healthy weight.

Is Culture Important?

There are some who theorize that culture does have a huge impact on personality, even defining it. While I don’t agree that culture completely defines personality, one can’t deny the connection. Many Asian cultures tend to run much thinner because food is often healthier, many use metros and other public transportation requiring more exercise automatically, and the culture expects it. If you are fat, you are much more likely to be ostracized and looked down upon.

In the case of this particular study, like many others within the US, the distribution was fairly bland. Yes, they had as many females as males. However, most of the participants (71%) were white, highly educated, middle class individuals. This is not a fair representation to assess the effect of cultures, whether subcultures within the US or completely different cultures from countries across the world. Maybe this explains white middle class problems in one area of the country. However, maybe even people without these issues fight obesity in certain cultures, because they are taught that food is central and they simply have to eat and eat unhealthy foods. Those types of habits learned in childhood are hard to break to say the least.

Either way, people of all cultures seem to struggle against crash dieting and other issues with weight. I know of at least one Asian star who has been known to lose weight by going on a boiled egg diet. To me, this simply seems far from final or conclusive, especially across different cultures.

Childhood ADHD Causes Problems in Adulthood

Like many other mental and learning issues, ADHD doesn’t just magically go away. As a child, my family always assumed that one of my dad’s best friends from childhood and adulthood was depressed. He still struggles now, being isolated in many ways. When his son was diagnosed with ADHD though, they suggested that he may be manifesting a less recognized reaction to ADHD, since it is hereditary. When he was medicated for ADHD instead of depression, everything changed. Yes, he’s not the same as he could’ve been with early help, but he is actually seeing improvements he could not achieve before.

My cousin on the other hand has recognized ADHD. As a child, she was difficult to deal with and unruly to say the least. As an adult, she chooses to be unmedicated, and a simple cup of coffee makes her a new woman. Despite what some may think, she still deals with it every day, and many adults like her who suffered as children don’t see a sudden change once they turn 18. Some are more affected in negative ways, leading to a higher rate of suicide and other problems in adulthood according to one study.

According to this study, 29% of the participants suffered from ADHD into their late 20’s. To me these numbers seem low. Everyone who I know who suffered from ADHD as children still suffers from it today. It affects 3 to 7% of American school children, according to the CDC, and it is more common among boys. Yes, there are arguments that many children are simply misdiagnosed by lazy teachers and parents, but 3 to 7% is still extremely low.

These kids do not meet many basic landmarks seen in classmates. The have a hard time paying attention, and some studies suggest that they are simply focusing on everything instead of just one thing like many other kids. Most studies still rely on information that is evidently unreliable or people with only severe forms of ADHD.

This particular study followed 5718 children born in Rochester, MN between 1976 and 1982. 367 were diagnosed as children with ADHD, and they opened their medical records to researchers.They were then re-evaluated at 29. 232 of those with childhood ADHD chose to participate, and 68 still had the disorder by the time they re-evaluated, which is 29%. However, it is important to note that even those who “recovered” as adults were more likely to suffer from other mental or psychiatric issues other than ADHD. A whopping 57% were confirmed to have at least one if not more psychiatric conditions such as alcohol or substance abuse and dependence, anxiety, depression, etc. 35% of those without childhood ADHD suffered similar issues.

3 of the 367 people with ADHD committed suicide (successfully) while 7 out of 4946 subjects without childhood ADHD committed suicide in the course of the study. What some may be surprised to learn is that the suicide finding is actually relatively new, and this study may be the first of its kind. Some researchers on ADHD say that they have seen it before. It just hasn’t necessarily been highlighted.

This study was somewhat limited. Study participants came from largely white, middle class families in one city/area in Minnesota. So obviously, statistics could change depending on where you live, racial background, etc. Researchers write:

It is possible, if not likely, that the magnitude of the adverse outcomes would be even greater in populations with additional challenges such as higher rates of poverty.

In other words, higher poverty rates may increase rates. Not getting help early on may make it harder to cope, aggravating the problem. With the proper help though, ADHD is by no means something that would prevent everyone suffering from it from being successful as adults.