Daily Archives: March 5, 2016

The One Thing To Know About Medications And The Female Body

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Are you a woman with a new prescription for some meds? If so, here’s a bombshell for you: the chances are reasonable that your your medication was only tested on men in the clinical trials designed to make sure it is safe and effective. And that’s a big deal. I’m all for gender equality (feminism is the best, obviously), but the male and female body have some fundamental differences, and we’re increasingly discovering that a one-size-fits-all approach to drugs — whether it’s about dosing, side effects or effectiveness — is seriously unfair to women.

This isn’t a new discovery. In fact, this concern has been circulating in medical circles for decades; Nature, one of the most prominent scientific journals in the world, devoted most of a 2010 issue to three different studies about gender bias in medical testing. The issue’s editorial pointed out a pretty startling statistic: in a survey of medical studies across nine different medical journals in 2004, only 37 percent of participants were female; further, only 13 percent of the studies analyzed their results by gender. It’s important to note that this testing bias isn’t just due to simple sexism: more often, it’s about the realities of the female body and how complicated it can sometimes be to test medications on it.

The problem is still massive, though. In September 2014, the National Institute for Health handed out $10.1 million in grants to scientists to learn more about the sex differences present in several major medical conditions, from strokes to migraines. So why are we just playing catch-up on this issue now? Why aren’t more women included in biomedical studies? And what can you do to make sure your meds are the right dosage and type for your lady-self?

Why Your Meds May Only Have Been Tested On Men

The main reason that drugs are primarily tested on men isn’t actually misogyny: The reality is that scientists prefer testing medications on men because they don’t have periods or the possibility of getting knocked up. In other words, their bodies are nice and consistent. “One of the usual reasons given for researchers’ tendency to use more men than women in their studies,” writes Melissa Dahl for New York Magazine’s Science Of Us, “is that when you include women, you have to account for menstrual cycles or potential pregnancies, which can disrupt the data on the drug being tested.”

The fear is understandable. If a subject were to get pregnant accidentally (which is a possibility for many women) during a drug trial, what if the drug potentially harms the child and the mother?That fear actually drove the FDA to ban all women who could potentially get pregnant from participating in clinical trials, from 1977 up until 1993. That meant that many drugs came onto the market in that time period, complete with recommendations for dosages and what kind of side effects to expect, without ever being near a woman aged 15 to 44, let alone tested on one. And even though it’s now compulsory for drugs to be tested on women as well as men, the FDA has a really tough time making anybody stick to the rule.

This is a problem because, as we’re gradually figuring out, a single-gender approach to drug testing actually leaves a huge amount of information out of the picture. The gender difference in the bodies of men and women isn’t just in your underpants; it’s in every cell, and that can have pretty massive consequences when you’re taking meds.

Why Women React Differently To Drugs

In a TED talk on this problem in October 2015, Alyson McGregor pointed out why testing meds on both genders is so important. “Every cell has a sex,” she explained. Our gender affects all our organs, our metabolism and fat levels, our cardiovascular function — almost anything you can think of. Plus, frankly, we’re often smaller in stature. And that means women’s bodies will react differently to medications than men.

This has all sorts of manifestations. For example, women tend to have higher concentrations of antidepressants in their blood than men on the same dosage. We metabolize medications differently, the New York Times points out, partially due to our menstrual cycle and our higher amount of body fat; drugs that react with body fat are likely to stay present in women’s bodies for longer. We also generally have smaller blood vessels than men, and birth control hormones and menopause alter how our bodies respond to drugs. Plus, importantly, diseases often show up differently in the two genders: there are big differences in how the symptoms of heart disease, stroke,diabetes and asthma present in men and women, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

And the consequences can be massive. Famously, NSAID recommendations for women needed to be completely overhauled in 2014, because the original tests were done entirely on men. And the FDA copped a lot of flak in 2013 when it announced that women should actually take half of the normalrecommended dose of the sleeping drug zolpidem. Whoops. 80 percent of the drugs withdrawn from the American market between 1997 and 2001, a Government Accountability study found, were taken out because they caused serious, sometimes life-threatening, side effects in women. So understand that this isn’t just me jumping up and down about a hypothetical imbalance; leaving women out of drug tests can have real effects on how you process your meds and recover from illness.

Here Are Some Of The Drugs That Work Differently In Women

Sarah Klein over at Prevention put together a master list of some of the major, U.S. market drugs that may work differently on different genders. The reasons for their difference often vary, but the nitty-gritty is that they aren’t absorbed or processed the same way in the bodies of both men and women. Along with NSAIDs and the sleep med zolpidem, the ones that are raising eyebrows include cholesterol-lowering statins, opioid pain medications (which seem to work a lot better on women), and SSRI-style antidepressants.

More horrifyingly, the list also includes general anesthesia. It’s now known that women wake up faster than men from the anesthetic propofol, which can result in traumatic situations in surgeries. But gender’s only begun to be taken into account in anesthetic administration in the last 15 years or so. (Women, it turns out, are more sensitive to vecuronium and morphine, while men are more thoroughly knocked out by propofol — and giving a woman a “male” dose raises the risk of some serious side effects in surgery.)

What You Can Do To Help The Problem

Basically, you need to do your research. Any time you’ve been prescribed a new drug, check whether the dosage is different for men and women, and poke around the drug’s testing history with your doctor. If you’re not satisfied with the answer, get onto the FDA’s website, look at its research trials in scientific journals, and see what work’s been done regarding women, people of different ethnicities, or anything else that applies to you.

If you’re up for being part of a study yourself, join up to ResearchMatch, which collects volunteers and matches them up to scientists looking for people to be in clinical trials. You can still apply if you have pre-existing medical conditions; many studies look for subjects with a wide variety of health conditions, in order to examine the science behind a drug. A lot of universities, hospitals and colleges also have their own sites with guidelines for signing up for studies, so you can be part of the solution. And if you’re having side effects from a drug that doesn’t seem to have proper gender guidelines or research, talk to a medical professional immediately.

Chantelle Brown-Young Takes on ‘America’s Next Top Model,’ Proving Vitiligo Can’t Keep Her Down

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When Chantelle Brown-Young was 4 years old, a white patch appeared on her stomach. She was diagnosed with the skin pigment disorder vitiligo, and over the next several years, she watched more white patches pop up all over her body. She was bullied, people called her names, and friends distanced themselves from her because their parents were concerned they’d “catch” it from her (even though vitiligo isn’t contagious). But she hasn’t let any of the hardship over the years stop her — and tonight, Young-Brown makes her debut on the 21st cycle of America’s Next Top Model.

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, one to two million people in the United States have been diagnosed with vitiligo. Most people generally develop it before their 40th birthday, and it affects all races and sexes. Growing up was tough; the Toronto native told TODAY.com that she was called “cow” and “zebra” in middle and high school, and that puberty was even more difficult than usual. “You’re already having changes you don’t understand, plus this skin condition that I didn’t ask for that has to do with other people’s opinions and other people’s bullying.”

But then, at the age of 16, Brown-Young was discovered by a Toronto photographer who encouraged her to model. She began posting photos of her modeling on Instagram, which led to Tyra Banks herself catching notice of her — and in spite of the fact that the now-20-year-old was still relatively green, her assistant got in touch with her and asked her to compete. “I’d only been modeling for maybe a year before she found me, so I was pretty fresh,” Brown-Young said to People. “The fact that she wanted me so badly for her show will stick with me for the rest of my life.”

Brown-Young joins Cheri Lindsay of the recent Dermablend Camo Confessions campaign as an inspiration to those with vitiligo, as well as a whole host of other folks breaking down beauty boundaries. From body builder Blake Beckford, to Miss Idaho winner Sierra Sandison, to model Bethany Townsend, there’s a growing movement toward acceptance and celebration. As Bustle’s Tori Telfer noted in her piece about the Dermablend campaign, the message was that “the ‘real them’ is them, their entirepersonhood, and not simply their faces.” It’s about the whole package — which is what I think everyone from Brown-Young to Townsend are about. People are more than the sum of their parts, and all of this is proof of the fact.

Even without ANTM, Brown-Young is already making waves: Desigual announced on Aug. 4 that they had signed her as the face of its Autumn-Winter 2014 campaign. Why is the name connected with the campaign in the press release is Winnie Harlow? “Chantelle Winnie is my birth name.Chantelle Winnie Harlow, I call her my Sasha Fierce,” Brown-Young explained, calling up Beyonce’s alter-ego during a conversation with TODAY.com.

As Cheri Lindsay said in her Dermablend Camo Confession, “Can I still live with this and be successful? Hell yes.” Ayyyy-men.

Catch Chantelle Brown-Young on America’s Next Top Model tonight at 9 p.m. on the CW.

10 Surprising Things That Increase Your Risk of Multiple Sclerosis

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Multiple sclerosis is pretty quirky as far as diseases go—and some of the nuances surrounding it continue to baffle experts. What they do know for sure: MS is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body misfires against its own central nervous system. A few things linked to a higher risk:

1. Your gender

Montel Williams and a few other high-profile male celebrities have been diagnosed with MS, but by and large, MS disproportionately strikes women, says Nancy L. Sicotte, MD. And the gender gap is growing: “It used to be two women to every one man, but several new studies suggest that the ratio is approaching 4-to-1,” she says. Even though the disease is more common among women (they are also more likely to get MS at a younger age), it tends to be more severe in men, adds John Rose, MD, professor of neurology at the University of Utah.winter-health-myths

2. Where you live

People who dwell nearer the earth’s poles (think Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Iceland) are more likely to get MS than those who live closer to the equator. This is true in the United States, too: MS is about twice as prevalent in North Dakota as in Florida, for example. Researchers believe that vitamin D, or lack thereof, is the reason. Our bodies produce D in response to sunlight, so people far from the equator make less, especially during the long, dark winter months.

3. Having moved as a child

If your family relocated when you were growing up, your risk of MS may change to reflect your new homeland, whether you go from a low-risk area for MS or vice versa. However, this is true only if you moved before the age of 15.

4. Your DOB

Strange but true: Finnish researchers found that spring babies have a higher risk of MS. (In the study, an April birth was linked to a 9.4 percent higher MS risk, while those born in November had an 11.1 percent lower risk.) A possible explanation, according to Dr. Rose: “If your mother was pregnant with you through the winter, her levels of vitamin D during pregnancy may have been low.”

5. Your ethnicity

MS is more common among Caucasians, particularly those with northern European ancestry. Some groups—people with African, Asian, Hispanic and Native American ancestry—seem to be at lower risk, although they can still get the disease. MS is almost unheard of among some groups, including Australian aborigines and New Zealand Maoris, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

6. Your smoking status

We all know that puffing is bad news and that it increases the odds of lung cancer and heart attack or stroke. But did you know it’s a well-established risk factor for MS, too? Smokers and ex-smokers are more likely to get MS than people who never smoked, and the more cigarettes you’ve had, the greater your chances (people who smoke at least two packs a day have a fivefold greater risk). While you can’t erase the past, quit if you haven’t already: MS may progress more quickly in current smokers, according to research.

7. Your age

You can be diagnosed with MS at almost any time, from childhood right on up to your years as a senior citizen, but it’s most liable to strike from age 20 to 50. “MS is not an all-comers’ disease,” says Carrie Lyn Sammarco, DrNP. “We don’t tend to see it in children, although it can occur.”

8. You’ve had mono

Many germs have been studied as possible MS triggers, but the results have been mixed. There is, however, a growing body of evidence that Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which causes mononucleosis, is a culprit. A Journal of the American Medical Association study found higher levels of EBV antibodies in people with MS. (About 90 percent of people are infected with EBV at some point, although not all get symptoms.) And researchers at Wayne State University in Detroit found that a history of EBV is more common among people with MS. While it’s not certain whether the virus causes MS, “a relationship is clearly present,” they concluded.

9. You have another autoimmune condition

Autoimmune diseases tend to cluster, so if you have one, you may develop others. That means if you have inflammatory bowel disease or type 1 diabetes, you may have a slightly higher risk of being diagnosed with MS, too. (The link isn’t as strong with some autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.) “Genes seem to haywire the autoimmune system,” Dr. Rose explains.

10. Your family tree

While environmental factors have an impact on your chances of developing this disease, so do genetics. “If a mom or dad has MS, their children have between a 5 and 10 percent chance of getting it,” Dr. Rose says. The MS risk is 1 in 750 for most people, 1 in 40 for those with close family members with the disease and 1 in 4 for those with an identical twin who has it.

There’s A New Vegan-Ish Diet That’s Changing The Rules

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If you can’t imagine abiding by the laws of veganism, a diet that excludes some of brunch’s best offerings, you might be pleased to know about a new food fad that permits breakfast lovers to have their omelets and eat them, too.

Many not-quite-vegans are including eggs in their otherwise animal product-free regimens, and these so-called “veggans” (clever, right?) are using #veggan on Instagram to prove how much a runny yolk can change a dish.

Elizabeth Ward, a registered dietitian who previously served as a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, points out that eggs are incredibly nutritious and satisfying. She supports adding them to an eating plan.

“Being a vegan can be tricky because you need to be careful about getting enough of some nutrients,” she said.

Vitamin B12 and choline are two essential nutrients that are found in higher amounts in animal foods, and they’re often better absorbed from animal foods, too. According to Ward, eggs can help to fill some of the potential nutrient gaps that vegan diets pose: “They are an excellent source of choline, and provide vitamin B12 and iron, as well as protein and many other nutrients,” she said.

Indeed, eggs have long-been dubbed “the perfect protein,” with one large egg containing six grams of the most readily available protein to the body.

Outdated wisdom suggested eggs could contribute to high cholesterol, but recent studies show that the food’s good cholesterol doesn’t raise a healthy person’s risk. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, some studies have shown that moderate egg consumption (about seven a week) can actually help prevent the risk of some heart-related conditions.

What’s more, eggs are affordable, portable and pair well nutritionally and deliciously with many plant-based foods.

The rising term “veggan” comes at a time when there are seemingly millions of specialty diets under the sun. Whether you’re a flexitarian, a bacon-after-beer subscriber or a vegan before six, the truth is is that there are many ways to be healthy — and it doesn’t really matter what you call yourself. If you stick to real, whole foods that you feel good about eating and that fuel you’re body, you’re doing alright, whether you have a cool Instagram hashtag or not.

The Beginning of the End? Why the World Is Off-Track on AIDS But 2013 Gives Us Hope

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I still remember how I felt on World AIDS Day one year ago: filled with hope. I spent the morning listening to celebrities, CEOs, faith leaders, members of Congress and three U.S. presidents do something rare in DC: agree with one another. What was even more inspiring was that the bold vision they all touted in their remarks — “the beginning of the end of AIDS” — for the first time no longer felt impossible, coming off a year filled with new scientific data suggesting that we had the tools to finally begin breaking the back of the pandemic.

I also remember how I felt after the International AIDS Conference just seven months later: deflated. The conference was full of dignitaries and speeches, but at the end of the week, I felt a sense of rhetoric-fatigue. There was so much talk of turning the tide on AIDS, and yet it still felt challenging to point to what world leaders were doing differently, and how they were moving the ball forward.

So this year, to commemorate World AIDS Day, ONE took a hard look at how much progress the world has actually made on AIDS and analyzed which countries had been leaders and laggards in the fight. Our new report, “The Beginning of the End? Tracking Global Commitments on AIDS,” shows that although significant progress has been made, if we maintain the status quo on treatment and prevention, we won’t see the beginning of the end of AIDS until 2022. Not exactly a message of hope.

Some of the largest hurdles to achieving accelerated progress on this vision are a lack of resources and coordination. Set against a $6-$8 billion annual AIDS financing gap, the report finds huge variance among donors’ contributions. Countries such as the United States have led the way in funding, political rhetoric and strategy development; others, including many in Europe, are contributing significant resources, but could contribute more financially and politically. Many donors still do not have strong global AIDS strategies to focus their investments, and this has led to gaps in the global response, with no clear sense of responsibility for achieving the broader UN political targets on AIDS agreed upon in 2011.


A Global Fund and EGPAF supported clinic in rural Lesotho that provides services for thousands of people who live in the mountains behind it.

Encouragingly, low- and middle-income countries are for the first time contributing more than half of the global resources for AIDS, but there, too, is still much room for growth. In particular, as of 2010, only four African countries have met their Abuja commitment of spending 15 percent of their national budgets on health, and 13 countries would need to double, triple, or quadruple their spending to achieve the commitment by 2015.

Yet I still have cause for hope on World AIDS Day 2012, because2013 will provide a number of key moments at which stakeholders can signal how serious they are about achieving the beginning of the end of AIDS. The Global Fund’s fourth replenishment meeting in 2013 offers donors, both traditional and new, the opportunity to reinvest in the Global Fund’s critical work. Strong support will signal confidence in the Global Fund’s new funding model, designed to more consistently target resources towards countries with the highest burden and the greatest need. With sufficient new resources, the Global Fund will be well positioned to deliver significant results toward the beginning of the end of AIDS.


Erin with Motselisi, a five-year-old girl alive on ARVs supported by the Global Fund.

In 2013, global leaders will also discuss a new post-2015 global development framework. As leaders debate this framework, they must not lose sight of the current set of Millennium Development Goals (including MDG 6 focused on AIDS and other infectious diseases), and should adopt more of a “war room” mentality in getting the job they’ve already committed to getting done by 2015.

Without scaled-up financing, more targeted programming and expanded political will, the beginning of the end of AIDS will remain a distant ambition. But with concerted action, the world can chart a course towards ending this pandemic. To help make this transformation real, we need your help in creating a sense of urgency and asking leaders from around the world to step up. Please sign ONE’s AIDS petition, post a surprising fact you learned from this report on Twitter or Facebook, or download thee-reader version for your favorite global health-loving family member this holiday season.

New species of bacteria causes Lyme disease in humans, scientists warn

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A new species of bacteria has been found to cause Lyme disease in humans, scientists have warned.

It was previously thought that only one bacteria, called Borrelia burgdorferi, caused the disease.

That bacteria is known to be transmitted through bites from the blacklegged ‘deer tick.’

Yet, a recently emerged bacteria, called Borrelia mayonii, has been found to also cause the disease.

Dr Jeannie Petersen, microbiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said: ‘This discovery adds another important piece of information to the complex picture of tickborne diseases in the United States.’

A bacteria - called Borrelia burgdorferi - that is transmitted through ticks (pictured) is known to cause Lyme disease. Now, a newly emerged tickborne bacteria - called Borrelia mayonii - has also been found to cause the disease. It brings additional symptoms, such as nausea and vomitting, but responds to the same antibiotics

A bacteria – called Borrelia burgdorferi – that is transmitted through ticks (pictured) is known to cause Lyme disease. Now, a newly emerged tickborne bacteria – called Borrelia mayonii – has also been found to cause the disease. It brings additional symptoms, such as nausea and vomitting, but responds to the same antibiotics

Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Yolanda Foster, her daughter, model Bella Hadid and son Anwar, pictured with sister Gigi (left), all suffer Lyme disease

Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Yolanda Foster, her daughter, model Bella Hadid and son Anwar, pictured with sister Gigi (left), all suffer Lyme disease

An estimated 300,000 cases of Lyme diseases are diagnosed annually, according to the CDC.

In most cases the disease is not fatal – and most patients can recover fully after a few weeks of oral antibiotics.

Borrelia mayonii was discovered after scientists studied blood samples of patients in Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota, each of whom were suspected of having Lyme disease between 2012 and 2014.

The blood samples from six out of 9,000 patients showed ‘unusual results’.

Those results prompted further study – which is how Borrelia mayonii was discovered.

The new bacteria is similar to Borrelia burgdorferi, for both strains initially cause the fever, headache, rash and neck pain – as well as arthritis later on – associated with Lyme disease.

But unlike Borrelia burgdorferi, the new bacteria triggers more severe symptoms, as well.

Patients infected with the newly discovered bacteria also suffer from nausea, vomiting and widespread rash.

In addition,Borrelia mayonii leads to a higher concentration of bacteria in the blood.

The newly discovered bacteria has only been detected in the upper Midwest region of the US so far.

But, so far, scientists say Borrelia mayonni and Borrelia burgdorferi seem to respond to the same treatments.

The patients in the sample group who were infected with the new bacteria were successfully treated with the same antibiotics as those infected with Borrelia burgdorferi.

Heroin Next Drug to be Legalized in Colorado

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After the success of marijuana legalization in Colorado, state legislators have decided to try passing a law legalizing the recreational use of heroin. The proposed amendment does come withrestrictionssimilar to the one permitting marijuana. In order to purchase heroin for recreationaluse, a person must be 21 years of age or older and the heroin must be sold in limited amounts.

“Many are unjustly imprisoned due to their heroin usage,” said a Colorado legislator who asked his identity remain undisclosed. “In the wake of legalizing marijuana, we want to continue to take progressive action in making sure that people can enjoy themselves without the threat of prosecution. Studies show that heroin, when used in moderation, is not that addictive. In fact, alcohol is a much more unhealthy and addictive drug.”

Those who support the bill have come out in full force, many of them occupants of local homeless shelters. Bernard Jackson, a Colorado citizen and a homeless war veteran who has used heroin recreationally for a number years, had this to say about ‘smack‘, the slang term for heroin, “The reason that I’m in this (expletive) position that I’m in is because The (expletive) Man has been keeping me down. They want to lock me up because I like smack! I ain’t never killed nobody, I ain’t never stole from nobody, and the times that I did, I wouldn’t have done it if I could walk into the (expletive) Walgreens down the street and get me some (expletive) smack! I‘m all for making smack legal. All for it.”

Unfortunately reporters failed to have an extended conversation with Mr. Johnson because he abruptly ended the interview and darted out of the shelter into the back alley. However it’s clear that his opinion is not rare among citizens of the state. Legislators have been working tirelessly to find a way to legalize heroin without endangering the public.

Heroin Next Drug to be Legalized in Colorado

“Heroin has health benefits,” said the aforementioned Colorado lawmaker. “Users have reported peace of mind, freedom from anxiety and stress, and a host of other positive effects.” He added, “I’ve been three years sober. I hate being sober. This marijuana legalization gives myself and others like me hope that one day we can indulge in shooting up heroin with impunity.”

The Real Reason for Michael Jackson’s Death? His Secret Fatal Illness

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Was the King of pop really felled by prescription drug use and abuse ? Those who speculate on this theory could be dead wrong! Instead, Michael could very well be the victim of the lupus he suffered from.

Did you know that Michael Jackson, was the victim of a rare auto-immune disease called lupus? Yes, he was according to his Wikipedia biography and as it turns out — lupus sufferers frequently die in their 40s and 50’s from sudden heart attacks, caused by atherosclerosis. Let me explain.

Lupus causes inflammation in many of the body’s organs including the arteries of the heart. The inflamed arteries then cause cholesterol to deposit on their walls.These deposits cause scarring, and the whole process primes lupus victims to have massive heart attacks, which are often asymptomatic beforehand.

Mild lupus sufferers, like Jackson, are actually more at risk for having a fatal heart attack, according to Dr Michael Lockshin, a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. The reason for this is because people who have a mild case of lupus are less likely to take any of the medications which would prevent inflammation of the organs.

Now if you don’t believe that Jackson had lupus consider this: vitiligo, which Jackson also suffered from, resulting in the famous pigment loss in his skin, is also an auto-immune disease. Coincidentally, vitiligo and lupus are often diagnosed in the same person, explains Dr. Lockshin. In other words, it would not have been unusual for Michael Jackson to have suffered from both ailments.

Here’s another key fact: African-Americans are four times more like to be lupus victims than Caucasians. However, lupus is far more common in women than men. Still men, do get it.

So would prescription drug abuse have exacerbated a case of lupus? Only if demerol was injected intravenously, would it also have damaged Jackson’s heart, according to Dr. Lockshin. Demerol injected into his muscles would not have played a deadly role and neither would drugs like Xanax and Zoloft.

Lupus also frequently causes inflammation and pain in the joints, which could explain why Jackson was sometimes seen in a wheel chair. This might also explain why Jackson had not performed in years. Maybe it wasn’t just the stress of the child molestation charges and trials that forced him to put his performance career on hold. Maybe, he was simply unwilling to share his medical problems with the public.

Until a possible lupus-induced heart attack felled him, the King of Pop may have preferred to preserve the illusion that he was still, at least in some ways, invincible!

The Surprising Science of Praise

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As parents, we love to praise our children. When a daughter or son has succeeded in something at school, at home or in an activity, we love telling them, “You’re so smart!” “You’re so talented!” “You’re the best!”

After all, reinforcing a child’s success with praise is good for them, right? Well, maybe. But, it may depend on the praise that’s given, and certain kinds of praise can actually do harm.

Ability or Effort?
Lewis Terman was a pioneering psychological researcher at Stanford University and was the person responsible for creating the Stanford-Binet IQ test in America between 1904 and 1915. He modified the original test created in 1905 by Frenchman Alfred Binet. In fact Terman coined the term “intelligence quotient” or IQ. He launched a study of high IQ students in 1921, tracking 1,528 individuals in what has become the longest running research study. Participants were followed throughout their lives using surveys about all aspects of their lives every 5 to 10 years. Current participants are in their 80s and 90s.

In 1968, Terman’s associate, Melita Oden compared the 100 most successful and 100 least successful men in the group, defining success as holding jobs that required their intellectual capability. For instance, those who were deemed successful were in professions such as medicine, while those deemed unsuccessful were in jobs such as sales clerk. She found that the IQs of the two groups were nearly identical; the difference being meaningless in any practical term. The big difference turned out to be in “will power, perseverance and desire to excel.” And these traits were discernible by grade school.

Traits Are Not Fixed and Effective Praise Can Build Traits for Success
So we see that IQ may be less important than personal traits, like persistence. But are not personal traits fixed? Aren’t children born with unique personalities, which may predispose them to persistence or resilience? Maybe, but there is some compelling science that says that traits can be instilled or, at least, strengthened.

A former Columbia University researcher, who is now currently at Stanford, psychologist Carol Dweck, conducted a series of landmark studies with her colleague, Claudia Mueller, in the late 1990s about praise and education outcomes. Their findings have been replicated and expanded by numerous studies since.

The findings repeatedly showed that praising intelligence or talent made children actually less persistent, less confident and less resilient. Because intelligence and talent are things they can’t control, every challenging situation they faced became a confrontation that could discredit their being labeled intelligent or talented.

But praising improvement and the process children engage in — like their effort, hard work, strategy or focus — led to greater persistence, greater resiliency and greater success. Dweck and her colleagues showed that the traits identified by Oden are not fixed, but can be instilled and strengthened.

Especially in children and teenagers, the brain and personality — and personal traits — are being found to be elastic, adaptable and capable of change. Both for the better or otherwise.

Praising correctly can improve traits linked with education and life success. It involves praising for things, processes, approaches and outcomes that children can control and replicate on their own. What the praise should do is concretely identify these for the child, because he or she may not be able to link the correct cause and effect; link their effort or focus to a successful outcome.

Praise can help them make that connection and associate positive emotional reinforcement with that cause-effect connection.

Better vs. Best
Telling children they are the best may make them think that ability at something is fixed and they may avoid situations that could disprove their status as the best. But telling children they have gotten better because of what they did or how they did it, lets them know that ability at something is not fixed; that it can improve and they have the power to make it happen.

The science is surprising yet compelling:
“That’s so much better!” may be far more effective than “You’re the best!”

Joel L. A. Peterson is the award-winning author of the critically acclaimed book, “Dreams of My Mothers” (Huff Publishing Associates, March, 2015).

“Compelling, candid, exceptionally well written, “Dreams Of My Mothers” is a powerful read that will linger in the mind and memory long after it is finished and set back upon the shelf. Very highly recommended.”


When Depression Is The First Sign Of A Brain Tumor

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The 54-year-old patient was physically weaker, had stopped showing interest in her past hobbies and was spending more and more time in bed. She said she was feeling irritable, lacked willpower and blamed herself for not being effective at work. Her husband also mentioned problems with her memory.  

After running lab tests on her and finding no abnormality, her doctors suspected the cause was psychological and prescribed different antidepressants, one after another, when they failed to work. But it turned out that the woman, who at that point had suffered from unexplained, untreatable depression for six months, had several tumors in her brain — especially in the left frontal lobe, which is linked to more depressive symptoms than tumors in the back of the brain. After surgeons removed the growths, her depressive symptoms completely disappeared within a month. The discovery put a stop to her depression and prevented further brain damage, as well as saved her life.

Doctors usually only order brain imaging scans for patients who have neurological symptoms like seizures, vision and hearing loss or cognition problems, but this case is an important reminder thatsometimes a psychiatric illness — in this case, depression — is the only outward sign of a brain tumor, the authors write in thejournal BMJ Case Reports.

© BMJ 2015
MRIs indicating multiple meningiomas in the patient’s brain.

The woman turned out to have Meningiomatosis — a condition in which several tumors, called meningiomas, are present in the brain. Meningiomas can be deadly, with a five-year survival rate of 70 percent. (To put that in perspective, this is worse than breast cancer’s rate is 89 percent.)

To illustrate just how tricky it is to diagnose these benign, asymptomatic tumors, a 2004 study on meningiomas examined 72 cases and found that 21 percent of the patients first sought help because of psychiatric symptoms — most of them related to depression or anxiety. We’ve also known for a long time thatpsychiatric illnesses like anorexia nervosa, depression, anxiety and schizophrenia can also be the only indicators that a mass is growing in the brain.

That said, it’s important to note that depression and anxiety are far more common due to psychological factors.

“It seems unrealistic to prescribe brain imaging in every patient with a depressive syndrome,” the authors wrote in the study. “Indeed, depression is a frequent mental disorder, and brain tumours are remarkably rare in patients with depression.”

But based on this woman’s case, the authors did suggest a few ways to tell whether or not a person with depression should get scanned. If you’re over 50, have never had depressive symptoms before and you’re not responding to antidepressant medication, it may be time to consider a scan.

In this particular case, the woman had experienced several stressful events recently, but had no family or personal history of depression, and didn’t feel guilty or suicidal. In fact, it was this woman’s lack of feeling — apathy to both good or bad news — that the authors say is another sign that a brain scan was warranted.

Major depression is a condition caused by a complex mix of genetic, environmental, chemical and psychological factors. Most people can get treatment for their symptoms by taking antidepressant medication, going to psychotherapy sessions or doing both.