TIME Cancer

Angelina Jolie’s Surgery May Have Doubled Genetic Testing Rates at One Clinic

Actress Angelina Jolie leaves Lancaster House after attending the G8 Foreign Minsters' conference on April 11, 2013 in London.
Actress Angelina Jolie leaves Lancaster House after attending the G8 Foreign Minsters' conference on April 11, 2013 in London. Oli Scarff—Getty Images

When Jolie announced her surgery to prevent cancer due to a genetic predisposition, she encouraged other women to get checked too, study says

In 2013, actress Angelina Jolie announced that she had undergone a preventive double mastectomy because she was a BRCA1 gene mutation carrier, which puts her at very high risk for breast and ovarian cancer. Jolie also had a family history of these cancers.

Soon after, TIME wrote a cover story–“The Angelina Effect“–looking at what impact her decision could have on women who carry the dangerous BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and therefore may be at risk for breast and ovarian cancers. Now, a new study being presented at the 2014 Breast Cancer Symposium shows that the Angelina effect is indeed real.

The study authors did a retrospective review of records from a cancer center in Canada and discovered that in the six months following Jolie’s highly publicized surgeries, testing and counseling around genetic testing nearly doubled. The researchers compared the number of counseling sessions and testings in the six months before and after the announcement and found that the number of women referred to genetic counselors by physicians increased 90%, and the number of women who qualified for genetic testing increased 105%. The researchers say this led to a two-fold increase in identified BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers.

“After Angelina Jolie’s story was released, physicians were probably more proactive and referred more patients; at the same time, patients were more likely to request and seek genetic counseling,” said study author Dr. Jacques Raphael, a clinical fellow at Sunnybrook Odette Cancer Centre in Toronto, Canada, in a statement.

Estimates vary, but BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are said to increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer by well over 50%. Only about two to four of every 1,000 women carry the gene mutation (men can have it too) and it is more common among women with histories of ovarian and breast cancer in their families, as well as people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.

Jolie isn’t the only celebrity with a known health “effect.” In 2000, TV personality Katie Couric underwent a colonoscopy on live television, which prompted a surge of 20% more colonoscopies across the U.S. (dubbed “The Katie Couric Effect.”) This recent study, although small, suggests that Jolie’s announcement and the resulting media coverage encouraged more women to opt into genetic testing–and that prominent figures like Jolie can impact how women approach their health in real, measurable ways.

TIME Barack Obama

Can Stress Make You Go Grey? (Even If You Are Not Barack Obama)

The President's hair may not be a marker of a tough time in office

Speaking at a Labor Day event Wisconsin Monday, President Obama tried to fire up Democrats to vote in the November’s midterm elections by reminding them of what he’d sacrificed on behalf of American workers—namely his youthful black hair.

“Every gray hair is worth it,” the President said.

As is evident in the timelapse video below, it’s clear that Obama is notably grayer than when he entered office and the change is extraordinary, but as any logician/annoying know-it-all-friend will remind you, correlation does not imply causation. But could Obama be right? Can job stress make you go gray?

The current evidence suggests that “stress does not cause people to have gray hair,” says Dr. Ken Anderson, founder of the Anderson Hair Sciences Center in Atlanta. In other words, parents who complain that their teenagers are turning their hair gray probably can’t blame their new hair color on the 16-year-old. “That’s called aging. That’s father time doing that to them,” Anderson said.

Still, the science on the matter isn’t settled. A 2013 study on mice, published in Nature Medicine, suggests that stress or injury to the skin around the hair follicle can cause a depletion of melanocyte stem cells—which are responsible for hair’s color—resulting in gray strands.

What we do know is that a change in hair color is most often the natural result of a reduction in melanin—the pigment that adds color to your hair—which occurs naturally over time. The odds of your hair turning gray increase by between 10% and 20% every decade past age 30. Other factors that can cause your hair to change pigment, or lose pigment, include pollutants, chemical exposure, some medications and even climate.

If the president is losing his hair, it could be due to job-related stress, but even then it would have to be an extraordinary situation. “Stress can cause hair loss, but not the kind of stress that we have every day,” he said. “It’s the kind of stress like your wife of 50 years dies…that kind of stress can really raise the stress hormones in the body and cause hair loss.”

Obama ain’t the only one.

TIME psychology

Hooray for the Mundane! Ordinary Memories Are the Best

Life's peak experiences sometimes pale in comparison to the routine business of living, a new study shows. That "what is ordinary now becomes more extraordinary in the future" can have some positive implications for our state of mind

Never mind those dreamy recollections of your fab trip to Rome or that perfect night out last Valentine’s Day. Want a memory with some real sizzle? How about that time last week you went out for a tuna sandwich with the guy in the next cubicle? Or that trip to the supermarket on Sunday? Hot stuff, eh?

Actually, yes. Ordinary memories, it turns out, may be a lot less ordinary than they seem—or at least a lot more memorable—according to a nifty new study published in the journal Psychological Science. And that can have some positive implications for our state of mind.

It’s not entirely surprising that the experiences we often think should have the greatest impact on us sometimes don’t. For one thing, we tend to expect too much of them. The first time you stand in the Colosseum or stare up at the Eiffel Tower is a gobsmacker alright, but while those moments nicely enhance your life, they typically don’t change them. What’s more, in the weeks and years that follow, we tend to re-run the memory loop of the experience over and over and over again. Like a song you hear too much, it finally becomes too familiar. To test how much we underestimate—yet genuinely appreciate—the appeal of our more mundane experiences, a group of researchers at Harvard University’s school of business devised a multi-part study.

In the first part, 106 undergraduate volunteers were asked to compile an online, nine-item time capsule that included such unremarkable items as an inside joke they share with somebody, a list of three songs they were currently listening to, a recent status update on Facebook, an excerpt from a final class paper and a few recollections of a recent social event. They sealed the virtual capsule at the beginning of summer and were asked to predict how interested they’d be, on a scale of 1 to 7, in rereading each item when they reopened it a few months later, and how surprised they thought they’d be by the details of the contents.

After the students did get that opportunity at the beginning of the fall semester, they used the same 1 to 7 scale to rate how meaningful and interesting they found the items. On item after item, the interest, curiosity and surprise they felt was significantly higher than what they had anticipated three months earlier.

In the second part of the study, a different pool of participants did something similar, but this time wrote about a recent conversation they had, rated it on whether it was an ordinary or extraordinary one (what they had for dinner the night before, say, compared to the news of a new romantic interest), and predicted again how interested they thought they’d be about reading the description a few months down the line. Here too, they wound up lowballing those predictions—finding themselves much more interested than they predicted they’d be. And significantly, the more mundane the conversation they described was, the wider the gap between their anticipated interest in it and their actual interest when they re-read the description.

The third part of the study replicated the second, but this time used only volunteers who did have a romantic partner, and asked them to describe and anticipate their later interest in an ordinary evening the two of them had spent on or before Feb. 8, 2013, and the one they’d spent one week later, on Feb. 14. Here too, the Valentine date did less well than the subjects expected compared to the surprise and pleasure they felt in reading about the routine date.

“What is ordinary now becomes more extraordinary in the future,” said lead researcher Ting Zhang, in a statement that accompanied the study’s release. “People find a lot of joy in rediscovering a music playlist from three months ago or an old joke with a neighbor, even if those things did not seem particularly meaningful in the moment.”

One way to correct this imbalance—to take more pleasure in the day-to-day, nothing-special business of living—is merely to try to be more cognizant of those moments as they go by. Another, say Zhang and her colleagues, is to document them more, either by writing them down or, in the social media era, by sharing them. But there are limits.

“[T]he 5,000 pictures from one’s ‘extraordinary’ wedding may be excessive,” the researchers write. The same is true, they warn, about photo-documenting every plate of food that’s set in front of you rather than just getting down to the pleasurable business of eating it—a practice that they say is leading to “an unhealthy narcissism” growing society-wide. Recording our lives for the biopics that are constantly playing out in our heads is fine, but sometimes that has to give way simply to living those lives.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

What’s The Best Diet For Weight Loss: Low-Carb or Low-Fat?

They're equally good, study says

If your goal is to lose a few pounds, there’s a crowded library of best-selling programs to get you there. But which one is best? A new analysis published in JAMA shows that you might not have to worry about that so much, at least when it comes to two of the more popular diet regimens, low-carb and low-fat. No matter which one you choose, you can’t really go wrong.

After analyzing data from about 50 clinical trials involving 7,300 overweight or obese dieters, researchers found that any low-carbohydrate or low-fat diet resulted in significant weight loss. No single program contributed to a dramatically larger drop in pounds: people cutting back on carbs lost 19.2 pounds on average after a six-month follow-up, while low-fat dieters lost 17.6 pounds.

After a year follow-up, some of those pounds crept back for people on both diets, but still resulted in a 16-pound drop for people on low-carb or low-fat diets.

The authors say that these results should help people to find the diet that’s most likely to work for them, rather than forcing them to make drastic changes in their eating habits, which studies have shown aren’t effective in helping people to change what they eat and keep pounds off. “Our findings suggest that patients may choose, among those associated with the largest weight loss, the diet that gives them the least challenges with adherence,” the researchers write in a press release. As long as you maintain your diet and drop calories, you’ll drop pounds, too.

It’s important to remember, however, that the study only looked at weight loss, and did not focus on other health markers, such as cholesterol or blood sugar levels. So the findings don’t address whether one diet trumps the other in protecting against heart disease or diabetes. But other studies did take such factors into account — new research released yesterday in Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that a low-carb diet might be better for the heart: people on that diet lost almost eight pounds more and had a lower risk for heart disease than those following a low-fat diet.

More comparisons of the popular diets are inevitable, but which diet you choose will likely depend on what you hope to accomplish — whether it’s losing a few pounds or lowering your risk of having a heart attack or developing diabetes. But as the latest results show, being realistic about what you can and can’t give up is a good place to start.

TIME Infectious Disease

How Ebola Might Cause a Food Shortage in West Africa

The United Nations warns of food shortages as Ebola tightens borders

+ READ ARTICLE

DAKAR, Senegal — Food in countries hit by Ebola is getting more expensive and will become scarcer because many farmers won’t be able to go to their fields, a U.N. food agency warned Tuesday.

The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more than 1,500 people and authorities have cordoned off entire towns in an effort to halt the virus’ spread. Surrounding countries have closed land borders, many airlines have suspended flights to and from the affected countries and seaports are seeing less traffic, restricting food imports to the hardest-hit countries. Those countries — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — all rely on grain from abroad to feed their people, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

The price of cassava root, a staple in many West African diets, has gone up 150 percent in one market in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia.

“Even prior to the Ebola outbreak, households in some of the affected areas were spending up to 80 percent of their incomes on food,” said Vincent Martin, who is coordinating the agency’s response to the crisis. “Now these latest price spikes are effectively putting food completely out of their reach.”

An estimated 1.3 million people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will need help feeding themselves in coming months, said the U.N.

The situation looks likely to worsen because restrictions on movement are preventing laborers from getting to farms and the harvest of rice and corn is set to begin in a few weeks, the FAO said.

The World Health Organization is asking countries to lift border closures because they are preventing supplies from reaching people in desperate need. Ivory Coast decided Monday night to keep its borders with Guinea and Liberia closed but said it would open a humanitarian corridor to allow supplies in.

The world’s worst-ever Ebola outbreak has killed more than 1,500 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

A separate Ebola outbreak has hit a remote part of Congo, in Central Africa, the traditional home of the disease. So far, 53 cases consistent with Ebola have been identified there of whom 31 have died, WHO said Tuesday.

TIME Infectious Disease

Another American Doctor Infected With Ebola, Charity Says

Another American missionary doctor has tested positive for Ebola, an aid group said Tuesday.

SIM USA said the doctor, who was not named, was treating obstetric patients at ELWA hospital in Monrovia and had not treated Ebola patients in the hospital’s isolation unit, which is separate from the main hospital. The charity said it was not yet known how the doctor was infected, but he immediately isolated himself when he showed symptoms.

The new case comes two weeks after Dr. Kent Brantly and his colleague Nancy Writebol, who worked for SIM, walked out of an Atlanta hospital virus-free after being infected and evacuated from Liberia…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Infectious Disease

Window to Stop Ebola Outbreak Is ‘Closing Quickly,’ Official Warns

A burial team in protective clothing retrieves the body an Ebola victim from an isolation ward in the West Point neighborhood of Monrovia, Liberia.
A burial team in protective clothing retrieves the body of an Ebola victim from an isolation ward in the West Point neighborhood of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia on Aug. 28, 2014. Daniel Berehulak—The New York TImes/Redux

The CDC says more needs to be done to fight Ebola before it's too late

The window of opportunity to stop the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is “closing quickly,” a top health official said Tuesday.

“The number of cases is so large, the epidemic is so overwhelming and it requires an overwhelming response,” Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told reporters Tuesday after returning to the U.S. Monday from a trip to the affected counties.

Despite the efforts of health workers from the affected countries and elsewhere, cases of Ebola will continue to increase, Frieden said. Moments after his remarks, an aid group announced that another American doctor fighting the outbreak in Liberia has been infected.

Groups like Doctors Without Borders that are treating patients are overwhelmed by the high number of cases, and have had to turn away infected people due to lack of space. Frieden said he saw patients lying on the ground in some West Africa clinics. He stressed that Ebola is a global problem, and that closing off affected countries like Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone—many airlines have stopped flying there—will only worsen the outbreak by cutting off access to needed supplies.

“Getting supplies and people in is a big challenge,” Frieden said. “The more the world isolates and stops contact with these countries, the harder it will be to stop the outbreak.”

TIME Cancer

British Parents Who Pulled Son from Cancer Ward Won’t Be Charged

Ashya King's Parents Extradition Hearing In Madrid
A policeman stands guard as a police van allegedly holding Brett and Naghemeh King, parents of five years old Ashya King arrives at the National Court on Sept. 1, 2014 in Madrid. Pablo Blazquez Dominguez—Getty Images

Police arrested Brett and Naghmeh King in Spain, where they had sought an alternative treatment for their 5-year-old son's brain tumor

British prosecutors will not press charges against a couple for taking their 5-year-old son from the cancer ward of a hospital without warning and flying to Spain to seek alternative treatment for his brain tumor.

The couple was arrested in Malaga, Spain over the weekend, where they were arranging to sell a home to fund an alternative treatment that they said could only be found outside the U.K., CNN reports. The withdrawal of their son from hospital sparked an international manhunt.

Brett and Naghmeh King said they felt they had no choice but to remove their son from treatment at University Hospital in the southern city of Southampton, after doctors there refused to agree to proton beam treatment that the parents argued was less invasive than chemotherapy. Their son, Ashya, suffers from a malignant brain tumor called medulloblastoma.

“We pleaded with them for proton beam treatment,” said Brett King in a video plea posted to YouTube:

The Kings have refused to return to Britain and have made a public plea to police to call off their search. British Prime Minister David Cameron announced his support for the couple on his Twitter account Tuesday:

TIME Liberia

Liberian Government’s Blunders Pile Up in the Grip of Ebola

People celebrate in a street outside of West Point slum in Monrovia, Liberia, Aug. 30, 2014. Crowds cheer and celebrate in the streets after Liberian authorities reopened a slum where tens of thousands of people were barricaded amid the countryís Ebola outbreak.
People celebrate in a street outside of West Point slum in Monrovia, Liberia, Aug. 30, 2014. Crowds cheer and celebrate in the streets after Liberian authorities reopened a slum where tens of thousands of people were barricaded amid the countryís Ebola outbreak. Abbas Dulleh—AP

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's government was forced to lift a quarantine of one of Monrovia's worst slums last week as errors mount

In a cramped bar down a dark alleyway of Monrovia’s sprawling seaside slum West Point, residents are dancing wildly. They shuffle and stomp across a concrete floor sprinkled with cigarette butts and splashed with beer and homemade liquor.

“We celebrating! We are out of jail!” says Mary Goll, a resident and local bar owner, who leans back to the bar crisscrossed with metal for security for another bottle of beer. Goll’s own bar is in ruins on the shoreline, half eaten by the Atlantic Ocean. Just as the ocean has eroded away the land and driven the community inwards, so too did a government-ordered quarantine imposed last week.

On Aug. 20, the Liberian government enforced a 21-day quarantine aimed at preventing the spread of the virus that has claimed close to 700 lives throughout the country, with cases and casualties mounting in the city. Médecins Sans Frontières has described the outbreak in Monrovia as “catastrophic” and the 120 beds in its treatment center in the capital are already full. The World Health Organization has said the epidemic could last for six to nine months and infect up to 20,000 people in the region before the outbreak is over. Liberia is now the only Ebola-affected nation in the region with rising cases in the capital.

On Friday Aug. 30, just 10 days into the quarantine, the government announced on radio it would be lifting the quarantine the next morning. At 6am the next morning, police and soldiers took away their barbed wire and makeshift wooden checkpoints. West Pointers have been celebrating ever since — but the government seems just as unsure how to combat the virus as it has been since the outbreak began.

The plan to cordon off this community of some 80,000 people was made after a holding center for victims was ransacked on Aug. 15, one week after Liberia declared a state of emergency. Suspected Ebola patients escaped, and looters stole infected materials and mattresses from the center. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told Katie Couric the attack had motivated the quarantine because the attack “put the entire community at risk, therefore we had to protect them from themselves.”

But sources monitoring the security sector say the decision was less about the community’s safety and more a political attempt to show the government was in control of the situation. It had already blundered early in the outbreak by failing to prevent Patrick Sawyer, a consultant to the Ministry of Finance, from traveling to Lagos, despite the fact he was under observation having been in contact with a sister who died of Ebola. Sawyer, a naturalized U.S. citizen, died in Nigeria July 25 but not before infecting several people in Africa’s most populous country.

The government compounded that error with its lack of transparency. A day before the quarantine was imposed the Minister of Information Lewis Brown said the 17 patients who escaped were found and taken to an Ebola clinic at John F. Kennedy Medical Center, a claim that was denied by a doctor at the clinic. The Ministry of Health has since failed to provide concrete data on the number of suspected or confirmed cases in West Point despite requests.

Then, the first day of the quarantine came. As armed police wearing helmets and riot shields attempted to prevent West Point residents entering the rest of the city, the town commissioner Miatta Flowers attempted to escape with her family, to the fury of onlookers. Some began throwing rocks at police and others tried to escape across a makeshift checkpoint made of concertina looped between wooden benches.

Security forces opened fire and killed a 15-year-old boy named Shakie Kamara; another two young men were also wounded by gunfire. The teenager’s body was taken by Ministry of Defense officials, according to a news report, and buried without an autopsy. Only later that day did the police commissioner explain to residents food would be distributed and they would be inspected by teams from the Ministry of Health.

It was yet another major mis-step on behalf of the government. The quarantine had not been sanctioned by the international donor community, and Dr. Nestor Ndayimirije, the World Health Organization representative to Liberia, had warned quarantining would only work with the community’s consent, which was neither gained nor sought.

“The force was disproportionate, they were already using batons, sticks, they had access to teargas and equipment to things to control an unarmed crowd,” said Counsellor Tiawan Gongloe, Liberia’s most prominent human rights lawyer. “I find it difficult to believe that there was any justification for shooting a 15-year-old boy who was unarmed. This is not a militarized conflict, it is a disease situation and a biological problem.”

It’s not hard to see why the government felt it needed to act. The cramped quarters, lack of access to running water and poor sanitary conditions of slum communities like West Point put them at a high risk of becoming hot spots for new Ebola infections. But Gongloe says the government has not been clear about what powers it has under a state of emergency, and has not been consistent in how it has used them. “[The government] must have an even handed approach to strengthen public trust in the government in order to fight Ebola,” Gongloe told TIME.

That public trust has been further eroded by the large number of public officials who fled the country after Sawyer’s death. Johnson Sirleaf said on Aug. 11 that government officials who refused to return home from overseas would be declared AWOL, and the Executive Mansion announced last week it had fired all but a handful of those who had still not returned. But she neglected to name those who had been fired, and many are skeptical she will follow through.

The government exodus contributes to a sense among citizens that Liberia’s wealthy and powerful have left the country’s poor to fend for themselves. Many expatriates who work for non-governmental organizations and international companies have been evacuated and their lavish apartments with 24-hour electricity and running water are now empty.

Most Liberians didn’t have that choice. Francis, a 15-year-old homeless youth who sometimes sleeps in one of the roughest communities in West Point, had to grease a palm to escape before the quarantine was lifted. He says he made his way out of West Point by paying an army man 150 Liberian Dollars (about $1.77 in U.S. dollars). The back of Francis’ head aches with an infected wound he says was made by a policeman who hit him with a baton as he tried to break free on the first day of the quarantine. It will be a while before Francis returns to West Point.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Training Your Brain Could Make You Prefer Healthy Food

Neural network
Getty Images

Which is more appealing: cheese pizza or salad? For many, the lure of lettuce hardly matches that of greasy comfort food, but new brain research from Tufts University published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes suggests that reconditioning can train adults to prefer healthy food and shun the junk.

“We don’t start out in life loving French fries and hating, for example, whole wheat pasta,” said study co-author and Tufts University professor Susan B. Roberts in a press release. “This conditioning happens over time in response to eating – repeatedly! – what is out there in the toxic food environment.”

The researchers studied the brain scans of 13 people, then assigned eight of them to a new behavioral intervention geared toward weight loss. The program taught lessons on portion control and distributed menu plans geared around specific dietary targets, encouraging people to get 25% of their energy from protein and fat and 50% from low-glycemic carbohydrates, with more than 40 g of fiber per day. After six months either on or off the program, a second round of scans showed the part of the brain associated with addiction and learning had changed in people who participated in the program and stayed the same in the control group. That brain region appeared more active and sensitive to healthier foods and less sensitive to caloric foods among people in the weight-loss group.

Though the study acknowledges the need for further research, the findings suggest that it may be possible to recondition our cravings from cheese puffs to carrots. “Our study shows those who participated in it had an increased desire for healthier foods along with a decreased preference for unhealthy foods,” co-author Sai Krupa Das, an assistant professor at Tufts, said in the release, “the combined effects of which are probably critical for sustainable weight control.”

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