Category Archives: Health

Moms May Live Longer

It’s more and more popular for women to delay childbearing for all kinds of reasons, as they pursue education and career goals. Later pregnancies are linked to more complications, but in a new study of more than 28,00 women, researchers found that delaying childbirth is associated with longer life.

Aladdin Shadyab, a post doctoral fellow in family medicine and public health at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, and his colleagues studied women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a multi-year study of post-menopausal women in the U.S. Of the nearly 28,000 women, around half survived to reach age 90. What distinguished these women, says Shadyab, was that they were slightly older when they had their first child. Compared to women who weren’t yet 25 when they first gave birth, women who were older than 25 were 11% more likely to live to 90. Furthermore, women who had two to four children were more likely to live longer than those who had one—however, this relationship was only true among white women and not black women.

“Previously studies have looked at some reproductive events and their relationship to death, but not to longevity per se,” says Shadyab, who reported the results in the American Journal of Public Health. “Our study is the first to look at age at first childbirth and parity [number of children] in relation to survival to very advanced age.”

He and his team accounted for a number of factors that could affect longevity or reproductive choices, including mother’s age, race, education, income, marital status, BMI, smoking, alcohol consumption and contraceptive use. Even after these adjustments, the relationship between older age at first childbirth and longevity remained significant.

They study was not designed to delve into why the association existed, but previous data suggest some potential reasons. First, it’s possible that the women who had two to four children were generally healthier overall than women who had one child; the fact that they were able to have several term pregnancies may simply be an indication of their overall better health and therefore higher chances of living to old age.

Second, it’s possible that social factors such as income and education may be markers for women’s access to health care. Women who have babies later in life tend to delay childbirth because they are pursuing higher levels of education; since education and income tend to pair together, women having children later may just have more access to healthcare, which allows them to live longer.

For women who choose to have children later, the findings should be reassuring. “Our findings definitely do not suggest that women should delay childbearing,” Shadyab says; having children later in life is associated with considerably more health risks for both the mother and child. “But they do provide a foundation for future research to look at how important reproductive events are for aging women and longevity. Our findings may help to identify targets for future public health interventions among women in the pre-conception and family planning stages, so they may improve their healthy aging long term.”

Helps Couples Predict Their Chances

For couples who turn to IVF, the biggest question on their minds is how successful the treatment will be. That can vary widely, from 20% to around 50%, depending on what the issues are. Even so, most IVF experts won’t make those estimates until after the first cycle, when they have more information on the quality of the eggs, sperm and embryos involved.

But now, researchers led by David McLernon at University of Aberdeen report in the BMJ that there is a way to help couples get a better idea of their IVF success before they start their first cycle.

McLernon and his colleagues analyzed data from the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which collects data from all licensed IVF clinics in the U.K. The dataset, involving 113,873 women, provides complete information on more than 118,000 cycles performed at these clinics, including the number of eggs produced, number of eggs fertilized, number of embryos transferred, and number of live births. Based on this data, they isolated certain characteristics that were linked with higher success for a live birth.

After IVF began, factors that affected success included the woman’s age, as well as the number of eggs retrieved from the cycle, whether the eggs used were frozen, and the stage at which the embryos were transferred. The more eggs produced from each IVF cycle, the better the chances of a live birth, but only up to about 13 eggs; after that, over stimulation may result in lower-quality eggs that are less likely to become fertilized and result in healthy embryos.

The calculator, available here, can be a useful tool for couples considering and undergoing IVF, says McLernon. “It can really shape couples’ expectations and their chances over the complete journey of IVF, rather than just a single cycle,” he says. He notes that it’s not perfect — no model for estimating IVF success is — since it doesn’t take into account things like BMI and lifestyle factors. But it could help people get a more individualized estimate of their chances of having a baby. Current modelsfocus on success rates involving fresh embryos only, but since more people are taking advantage of new technology that allows embryos to be frozen and transferred later, this model takes that option into account as well.

His group is working with IVF experts in the U.S. to test the model on the largest database of IVF information, overseen by the CDC and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (to which member clinics voluntarily provide data), to see if the model applies to U.S. IVF cycles as well. There are some differences in IVF practices between the U.S. and the U.K., the most notable one being that in the U.S. clinics may still transfer more embryos per cycle than those in the U.K. “If it doesn’t predict well, we will make adjustments to recalibrate the model to make sure it does, and also add further predictors that might be available in the U.S. dataset that weren’t available in the HFEA dataset,” he says. “The model works so well in the U.K. I don’t see a reason why it can’t be used to counsel fertility patients in the U.S. as well.”

The Benefit of Mental Health

Legal access to marijuana, medicinal or otherwise, is growing. In 2016, four states approved recreational use of the drug and four states passed laws related to medical-cannabis access, bringing the total number of states that allow some form of legal marijuana use to 28.

Scientists know that marijuana contains more than 100 compounds, called cannabinoids, that have biological effects on the body. Mdically, cannabis can be prescribed for physical ailments like arthritis and cancer symptoms as well as mental health issues like PTSD, depression and anxiety. Still, the role marijuana can play in medicine remains murky. The dearth of research is in large part due to the fact that most studies have focused on illicit use of marijuana rather than its therapeutic potential, and because it’s classified as a schedule 1 drug, making it nearly impossible to study.

Looking for answers about marijuana’s potential mental health benefits, a team of researchers in Canada and the U.S. recently conducted a review of the science. In their report, published in the journal Clinical Psychology Review, researchers found evidence that cannabis can likely benefit people dealing with depression, social anxiety and PTSD, though it may not be ideal for people with bipolar disorder, for instance, for which there appears to be more negative side effects than positive ones. “This is a substance that has potential use for mental health,” says Zach Walsh, an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. “We should be looking at it in the same way [as other drugs] and be holding it up to the same standard.”

Though more research is needed, studies also suggested that cannabis may have a place in dealing with addiction. “We are really excited about the potential substitution effect,” says study author Zach Walsh, an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. “If people use cannabis as a replacement for opioid medications, or to get off of opioids or cut back, we could see some pretty dramatic public health benefits. The level of opioid overdoses is so high right now.”

The Important of Energy Drinks

Energy drinks are popular among young teens and adults, but studies continue to show they may have unintended and potentially serious side effects, including high blood pressure, hyperactivity and more.

In a new report published in Pediatric Emergency Care,researchers conducted a questionnaire at two emergency departments from June 2011 to June 2013 that surveyed adolescents between ages 12 and 18. Of the 612 young people who responded, 33% said they frequently drank energy drinks. Among those teens, 76% said they experienced a headache in the last six months, 47% said they experienced anger and 22% reported difficulty breathing.

It’s impossible to say whether any of those behaviors were due to energy drinks, but young people who consumed them were much more likely to report the symptoms than those who didn’t. Overall, kids who consumed energy drinks often were more likely to say the drinks helped them do better in school or in sports, helped them focus and helped them stay up at night.

Moderation is key,” says Dr. Vikas Khullar, a University of Florida fellow in Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

In a recent case study published in the journal BMJ Case Reports, Khullar and his colleagues wrote about a 50-year-old man who came to the hospital with an inflamed liver. He was in pain, vomiting and had dark urine. After running several tests for possible infections and coming up short, the doctors learned that the man drank four to five energy drinks every day for three weeks before his health issues appeared. The doctors concluded energy drinks caused his liver problems, citing another similar case that supports their suspicions. “We cannot speculate on the safety of energy drinks, however anyone with liver or heart disease should consume energy drinks with caution,” says Khullar.

Period Say About Health

According to some forms of ancient Chinese medicine, a woman’s menstrual discharge is interwoven with her qi, or life force. If her qi is disrupted—by stress or disease or internal discord—those issues may manifest as irregularities in her menstrual bleeding.

While Western doctors don’t talk a lot about their patient’s “life force,” they agree some attributes of a woman’s menses could be a tip-off to underlying health conditions—both good and bad.

“The average woman has 400 to 500 periods in her lifetime, and most go off without a hitch,” says Dr. Linda Bradley, an OB/GYN and surgeon with Cleveland Clinic. While there’s a lot of woman-to-woman variation in terms of timing and volume, Bradley says normal menstrual bleeding lasts three to seven days, and comes on every 24 to 35 days. And “bleeding” is not exclusively blood; it’s a mixture of mucous, blood and tissue from the lining of your uterus.

The color and consistency of a woman’s menses can vary, so in most cases, those characteristics aren’t reliable indicators of any specific health issue, says Dr. Nanette Santoro, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and a member of the Endocrine Society.

One textural exception: “Clots are not supposed to form in menstrual blood,” Santoro says. Your uterus contains enzymes that should break up any clots. If some are showing up in your menses—especially if they’re large, about quarter-sized—that’s a sign of an unusually heavy bleed, which is something you should tell your doctor about, she says.

Some other signs of a heavy menstrual bleed include having to change pads more than twice an hour for four hours, or a period that lasts longer than eight days, Santoro says. “If you’re changing your pad every 20 minutes, or you can’t go to work, or you’re waking up in the middle of the night to change your pad, that’s aberrant,” Bradley adds. She says that kind of heavy bleeding could be nothing—or a sign of benign uterine polyps or fibroids, disorders of the muscle wall or lining of the uterus, hormone imbalances or even cancer.

Returning to color, a brownish or rust-colored tint can result from taking birth control pills or using an IUD, and neither is concerning, she says. But any kind of noticeable odor is. “An offensive smell could signal vaginal infection or a sexually transmitted disease,” she says. Experiencing pain or fatigue with your period are also reasons to talk with your doc. Ditto light periods or going several months without a period. Bradley says pain or period absences could signal unhealthy weight gain or malnourishment. “Anorexia, bulimia, or very heavy exercise without proper nutrition can all cause dysfunction,” she says.

In some cases, hormonal imbalances—whether caused by pregnancy, menopause or a thyroid condition—could also lead to period hiccups. That’s also true of diabetes, liver disease, or chronic diseases, Bradley explains. “It’s good to remember that regular cycles happen because your body is making an egg,” she says. If something’s up with your health, your body may decide making that egg isn’t such a hot idea, and so you might experience a wide range of menstrual abnormalities.