TIME Infectious Disease

Contaminated Mexican Cilantro Sickens Hundreds Across the U.S.

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Education Images/UIG—Getty Images/Universal Images Group

This is the fourth time in as many years

Cyclosporiasis, a painful and uncomfortable parasitical stomach ailment, has affected more than 380 people in 26 states after a batch of Mexican cilantro was found to be contaminated with human waste, the Centers for Disease Control and FDA says.

According to the two federal agencies, the outbreak began on May 1 and is likely caused by “contact with the parasite shed from the intestinal tract of humans” in the fields where contaminated cilantro plants were grown in Mexico’s Puebla state, al-Jazeera America reports.

The news comes after the FDA placed a partial ban on cilantro from the region in late July. Authorities investigated up to 11 farms and found toilet paper and feces in many of the fields. They also found that many of these farms lacked adequate toilet facilities, AJAM says.

According to AJAM, it’s not the first time cilantro from Mexico’s Puebla state has caused widespread illness. The herb has been linked to outbreaks of the stomach condition in 2012, 2013 and 2014 as well.

[AJAM]

TIME Cancer

The Pill Has Prevented 200,000 Cases of Cancer, Study Says

TIME.com stock photos Birth Control Pills
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

The effect continued even when women stopped taking the pill

Oral contraceptives have prevented 200,000 cases of endometrial cancer in the last decade, according to new research published Tuesday.

In the new study, published in the journal The Lancet Oncology, researchers looked at data from 27,276 women with endometrial (uterine) cancer and 115,743 women without it from 36 different studies. They estimate in their findings that 400,000 cases of endometrial cancer have been prevented due to women taking oral contraceptives in the past 50 years, and 200,000 of these prevented cases are from the last 10 years.

The study shows that every five years of using oral contraceptives lowers the risk of endometrial cancer by around a quarter. Hormone doses in oral contraceptives have dropped through the years, but the new findings suggest that the amount of hormones in lower dose pills used today still offer a protective benefit.

Since oral contraceptives make the body think its pregnant, the amount of natural estrogen circulating in the body drops and lowers the risk of developing endometrial cancer.

The study also found that the longer the women used oral contraceptives, the greater their risk declined. Interestingly, the risk reduction continued for over 30 years after the women stopped using oral contraceptives, suggesting the protective effect is prolonged.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

The Intriguing Link Between Spicy Food and a Longer Life

Spicy chili, Salento, Apulia, Italy in March 2014.
DeAgostini—Getty Images Spicy chili, Salento, Apulia, Italy in March 2014.

People who love chili peppers might be eating their way to a longer life, according to a new study published in The BMJ.

“We know something about the beneficial effects of spicy foods basically from animal studies and very small-sized human studies,” says study author Lu Qi, associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. Some of those preliminary studies have found that spicy food and their active components—like capsaicin, the compound found in chili peppers—might lower inflammation, improve metabolic status and have a positive effect on gut bacteria and weight, he says.

 

But human evidence remains scant. So Qi and a team of researchers looked at questionnaire data from about half a million adults all across China who participated in the China Kadoorie Biobank study between 2004-2008. Each person in the study reported their health status, alcohol consumption, spicy food consumption, main source of chili intake (fresh or dried, in a sauce or in an oil) as well as meat and vegetable consumption.

The researchers followed up with them about seven years later. Compared to people who ate spicy foods less than once a week, people who ate them just once or twice a week had a 10% reduced risk of death. Bumping up the spice consumption didn’t make much of a difference; those who ate spicy food 3-7 days a week were at 14% reduced risk of death compared to the most spice-averse group.

Eating chili-rich spicy foods was also linked to a lower risk of death from certain diseases, including cancer, ischemic heart diseases and respiratory diseases, they found. Further analysis revealed that fresh chili had a stronger protective effect against death from those diseases.

More research is needed to make any causal case for the protective effects of chili—this does not prove that the spicy foods were the reason for the health outcomes—but Qi finds this observational research valuable. “It appears that increasing your intake moderately, just to 1-2 or 3-5 times a week, shows very similar protective effect,” he says. “Just increase moderately. That’s maybe enough.”

MORE: 3 Reasons You Should Eat More Spicy Food

TIME public health

U.S. Approves First 3D Printed Pill

Spritam
AP This product image provided by Aprecia Pharmaceuticals shows Spritam 750 mg, foreground, and 1000 mg tablets.

The pill is better for children and elderly users who find it difficult to swallow large tablets

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first 3D printed pill.

The medicine, Spritam (levetiracetam), helps to treat epilepsy. Previous levetiracetam tablets did not dissolve easily, but the new version boasts porous layers that make it easily dissolvable, according to a press release from the company, Aprecia Pharmaceuticals. A spokesperson for the FDA confirmed to the Associated Press that Spritam is the first 3D printed prescription tablet to gain approval.

Seizure medication is often too large and difficult to swallow—particularly for the elderly and children—making advances in 3D printing key for epileptics and other who suffer from seizures, according to the company.

“By combining 3DP technology with a highly-prescribed epilepsy treatment, SPRITAM is designed to fill a need for patients who struggle with their current medication experience,” said Don Wetherhold, Chief Executive Officer of Aprecia.

The pill would be the latest in a series of healthcare products that utilize 3D printing, including jaw replicas, dental implants, and hip replacements. Scientists are currently working to develop 3D printed tracheas and bones, ears, kidneys, and skin.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

How to Stop Work Stress From Turning Into Burnout

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Start by getting yourself moving

Have you ever been so emotionally exhausted at work that the mere thought of typing up one more report or sending one more e-mail makes you want to scream? Yes, we’ve all been there every now and again. But if that “can’t go on” feeling becomes more of an everyday thing, that’s probably work burnout—a chronic state of job stress that can tank your performance at work as well as your emotional wellbeing.

According to the latest Gallup survey on the topic, full-time American workers are at their posts 47 hours a week, on average, with 18 percent of respondents saying they work at least 60 hours per week. Many of us are under a lot of pressure, in other words.

But burnout, which is defined by the feeling that you can’t cope with your workload and the frustration that comes with that, doesn’t have to be just something you put up with. (Or quit your job overbecause who can do that?) A recent Australian study found that it might be avoidable or reversible with exercise (which definitely explains why going for a run or taking a CrossFit class feels so darn good after a terrible day at the office.)

In the study, inactive men and women either participated in a four-week cardio or weight-training exercise plan (with a minimum of three 30 min sessions per week), or continued to not work out, like normal.

Before and after those four weeks, researchers used three different tests, including the Perceived Stress Scale, to figure out whether the participants’ moods shifted.

The results? Not only did those on the fitness plan feel more accomplished about what they had gotten done after those four weeks, but they also had less mental distress, emotional exhaustion, and perceived stress. (In the control group, not much changed.)

“Exercise has potential to be an effective burnout intervention,” researchers from the University of New England in Australia wrote in the paper. “Organizations wishing to proactively reduce burnout can do so by encouraging their employees to access regular exercise programs,” they concluded. (So bosses, take note: Researchers even suggest that knowing this information could help save companies money, as they say the global burnout costs over $300 billion each year.)

And if you’re feeling down about your job or are in a constant state of tension every time you move your mouse, consider incorporating more cardio or weights into your fitness routine. Although the study was small—only 49 volunteers participated—the benefits to your work could be real (not to mention, you’ll also reap all the other health benefits you get when breaking a sweat).

This article originally appeared on Health.com

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TIME Obesity

This Kind of Body Fat Burns Calories More Quickly

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Peter Dazeley—Getty Images

The good news is that you can turn your body fat into a super-burner that’s better at melting away calories and lowering blood sugar. But it takes a lot to make the switch

For years researchers have been tantalizing us with news of a mysterious type of fat that can burn through calories and keep blood sugar levels in check. Unlike white fat that tends to sit in deposits where we least want them, this other kind of fat—called brown fat—is scant inside the human body. While newborns tend to have more brown fat, the average adult harbors barely two ounces of the stuff.

As little of it as we have, recent studies have suggested that brown fat can be triggered under the right conditions. And now, in a new paper, scientists report for the first time that it’s possible to turn white fat into brown fat — or at least something that acts like brown fat and burns up more calories.

Researchers had accomplished the feat in animals, but the latest study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, is the first to describe the phenomenon in people. The research was conducted by Ladros Sidossis from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and his colleagues.

While previous studies showed that cold temperatures could activate brown fat in healthy people, none demonstrated that the stress of the frigid exposure could transform white fat into brown fat. Speculating that it would take an extreme and continued stress on the body for that to happen, Sidossis decided to study brown fat stores in burn patients; as director of the metabolism unit at Shriners Hospitals for Children, he knew that burn injuries that cover more than 30% of the body caused the body’s stress response to remain high for weeks.

Indeed, when he compared white fat samples taken from the patients soon after their injury to those of healthy controls, he found markedly higher signs of a revved-up energy process in these cells that showed the white fat was acting more like brown fat. Confirming the finding further, when he compared the burn patients’ white fat cells soon after their injury and then a month later, he found signs that the white fat had reverted back to its original state again as the patients began recovering and their stress response waned.

Of course, Sidossis is in no way suggesting that burns are a strategy for enhancing brown fat stores. What’s important is the fact that the study showed it’s possible to make white fat burn more calories, something that could be the start of a new way of addressing obesity and diabetes. “The next step is to find the mechanism of how this is happening,” he says. “Then we can find drugs that mimic this effect to turn white fat into a more metabolically active form to help normalize weight and blood sugar.”

Scientists working with animals are already heading down that path; they’ve identified some 40 agents that might be useful in convincing white fat to work more efficiently. Now that there’s evidence that the process does occur in people — albeit under extreme conditions — studying those substances further to see if they can accomplish the same transformation of white fat, without the stress, seems worthwhile.

MORE: This New Drug Turns ‘Bad’ White Fat Into ‘Good’ Brown Fat

TIME

Hackers Could Go After Medical Devices Next

Patient Receiveing Chemotherapy Treatment
Richard Lautens—Toronto Star via Getty Images A nurse programs an infusion pump.

They could break in via a hospital’s network, authorities warn

Nothing, it seems, is safe from hackers — not Yahoo’s ad network, the federal government, or even electronic skateboards. Another item to add to the list: medical devices.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Department of Homeland Security have both issued advisories warning hospitals not to use the Hospira infusion system Symbiq because of cyber vulnerabilities. No known attack has occurred, but by accessing a hospital’s network, hackers could theoretically fiddle with the intravenous infusion pump.

“This could allow an unauthorized user to control the device and change the dosage the pump delivers, which could lead to over- or under-infusion of critical patient therapies,” the FDA wrote in a statement.

But it’s not just the Symbiq pump that has security problems. According to a WIRED report last year, security experts who studied on Midwestern medical facility chain over the course of two years found a host of security vulnerabilities. Just a few issues they founded included “Bluetooth-enabled defibrillators that can be manipulated to deliver random shocks to a patient’s heart or prevent a medically needed shock from occurring; X-rays that can be accessed by outsiders lurking on a hospital’s network; temperature settings on refrigerators storing blood and drugs that can be reset, causing spoilage; and digital medical records that can be altered to cause physicians to misdiagnose, prescribe the wrong drugs or administer unwarranted care.”

The retirement of the Symbiq pump may only be the beginning of a landslide of recalls and added security features in the medical field.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

How Effective Are PTSD Treatments for Veterans?

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Though many treatments for PTSD can alleviate symptoms, veterans continue to meet the criteria for the disorder

A new study published Tuesday suggests commonly used first-line treatments for PTSD in veterans may not work as well as medical experts once thought.

The number of American veterans who suffer from PTSD continues to be a serious national public health problem. Recent data show that more than 200,000 Vietnam War veterans still have PTSD, and other research shows that around 13% of Iraq or Afghanistan veterans who experienced combat have PTSD. The numbers continue to climb. As TIME previously reported, PTSD diagnoses among deployed troops grew by 400% from 2004 to 2012.

Now new research, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reveals that go-to treatments for the disorder may not be as effective as many in the medical community may have believed or hoped. To reach their findings, researchers from the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Veterans Center for Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury at NYU Langone Medical Center reviewed 36 randomized control trials of psychotherapy treatments for veterans suffering from PTSD over a 35-year span. Two of the most commonly used treatments—and the most widely studied—are cognitive processing therapy (CPT) and prolonged exposure (PE) therapy.

CPT is a treatment that focuses on changing dysfunctional thoughts, and exposure therapy is meant to help patients face what’s causing them stress and fear.

The research showed that while up to 70% of the men and women who received CPT or PE experienced symptom improvements, around two-thirds of people receiving the treatments still met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis after treatment. The researchers note that current veterans affairs policies emphasize the use of the two methods as treatments of choice.

The researchers also argued that veterans with PTSD are likely to have worse outcomes from treatment compared to civilians with PTSD. Though the researchers are unsure why that is, there’s some speculation: “Compared to civilian traumas such as car accidents and natural disasters, military deployment involves repeated and extended trauma exposure,” says study author Maria M. Steenkamp, an assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone. “It also involves not just life-threat, but exposure to traumatic losses and morally compromising experiences that create shame and guilt.” Veterans are also more likely to have additional mental health issues such as anxiety or substance abuse, she adds.

The researchers also raise the question of whether focusing on trauma during PTSD treatment is really that effective. Based on their review of the trials, they found that when CPT and PE were compared to non-trauma focused psychotherapy, patients showed similar improvement.

However, not everyone agrees that the findings should be cast in such a light. Dr. Paula Schnurr, the executive director of the National Center for PTSD under the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says there’s not consensus that veterans have a more difficult time overcoming PTSD symptoms compared to civilians, and adds that some people who treat veterans feel avoiding fears and trauma perpetuates problems, rather than processes them. In addition, symptom improvement is an important part of PTSD treatment since it improves veterans’ quality of life. Schnurr was not involved in the study, though some of her own research was analyzed in it.

“If a person has a meaningful response, they have a meaningful improvement in their quality of life,” says Schnurr, adding that many treatments for other mental health conditions have similar outcomes. “As scientists we will always try to enhance the effectiveness of these treatments for more people…My takeaway message [from the study] is one of optimism and also encouragement for people to seek treatment.”

The researchers say other treatment options should continue to be explored, and there are practitioners who are trying different methods, from acupuncture to healing touch therapy. Another new study published Tuesday in JAMA looked at 116 veterans with PTSD who either underwent mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy that focused on being present and non-judgmental in the moment or a present-centered group therapy that focused on current life problems. The results showed that those in the mindfulness group had a greater improvement in self-reported PTSD symptom severity. However, they were no more likely to lose their PTSD diagnosis.

There may not be a cure yet for PTSD, but the amount of research looking into how to improve or innovate treatments is encouraging. Veterans who need support can find resources here.

TIME Crime

Homicides Are Spiking This Year After Falling for Decades

A study says homicide rates are down. But 2015 rates—especially for gun violence—are very different.

Since 1960, U.S. homicide rates have been falling—that is, until this year. Meanwhile, intimate-partner violence and child abuse affect up to 12 million and 10 million Americans, respectively, according to a survey released Tuesday in JAMA. Taken together, it paints a bleak picture for Americans’ safety, and it has violence prevention scholars trying to figure out what led to the changes—and when.

At the annual meeting of the Major Cities Chiefs Association on Monday, police chiefs grappled with the fact that some cities are seeing a 50% increase in murders compared with last year. Washington Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier pointed to the nation’s capital as an example: This time last year, D.C. had 69 homicides; this year, D.C. has seen at 87 homicides. Nearby Baltimore tallied 42 homicides in May alone, with 45 in July. And in Chicago, there have been 243 homicides this year so far—a 20% spike from last year.

Until 2012, “we saw decreases for homicide and aggravated assault,” says Dr. Debra Houry, a co-author of the JAMA study who works with the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “It’s promising because it shows that violence is preventable.”

Homicide rates in 1980 stood at 10.7 per 100,000; by 2013, they’d been cut in half. Aggravated assault saw a similar halving of incidences between 1992 and 2012.

But Andrew Papachristos, a professor of sociology at Yale and a criminal justice expert who has focused much of his research on Chicago’s gang and gun violence, says that JAMA‘s findings may not offer a nuanced enough picture of what’s going on in the United States, because it looks at general trends across the country. While on average crime might have fallen until to this year, some cities, such as Chicago and Milwaukee, are still facing severe problems with violence, particularly in certain areas of the city. Indeed, within cities, “the rates of violence across neighborhoods can be exponentially higher in certain areas and almost zero in others,” he says.

Policy changes can make a difference, says Papachristos. Programs that aim to decrease unemployment, particularly among African Americans, is a critical policy adjustment, he says, since unemployment is correlated with gun violence. He also cites outdated gun laws as part of the problem.

One policy bright spot was found in a study released by the American Journal of Public Health earlier this summer, which looked at Connecticut’s permit-to-purchase handgun law as a case study. The law dates to 1994 and it requires gunowners to purchase a license prior to acquiring a handgun. The state would only allow people to buy guns if they passed a background check and gun-safety course. The result? Connecticut residents can credit the law for a 40% reduction in gun-related homicides. (Of course, in a dreary statistic that illustrates Papachristos’ point, it’s not down everywhere in the state; Hartford is experiencing a massive surge in gun violence this year.)

But even with some signs of promise, any changes to law or policy might come too late for many victims of American crime this year. Criminal justice expert Rod Wheeler told Fox that America is snowballing into the most violent summer the country has seen in decades.

“I said this back in June, that we’re going to have a long, hot, bloody summer,” he said. “And unfortunately, it’s coming to pass.”

TIME safety

FOMO Is Making Teens Terrible Drivers

The pressure to be "always on" is leading young people to take their eyes off the road

A frightening amount of drivers will fess up to texting while driving. One recent survey found that 70% of people will admit to using their smartphones at the wheel. Now a new study goes beyond bad behaviors to investigate the motivations behind them. When it comes to teen drivers at least, it appears the culprit is an ascendant cultural plague: FOMO.

FOMO, an acronym for fear of missing out, is not just another cloying bit of slang, report Liberty Mutual Insurance and the non-profit SADD, an acronym for Students Against Destructive Decisions. In their study of 1,622 high school juniors and seniors around the country, teen drivers said they feel pressure to respond immediately to texts even while driving and that they can’t help but peek at their phones when notifications pop up in their apps. The expectations of their “always on” lifestyles, the researchers say, have “potentially deadly consequences.”

“Today’s hyper-connected teens … may be more plugged into their devices than the actual driving task,” says William Horrey, principal research scientist at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, in a statement. Teens may struggle to attend to everything they should on the road even without a smartphone, he says, because they are less experienced drivers. Once a device is thrown into the mix, messages and updates and videos and tweets become additional competitors for their attention, along with the radio, the climate controls or the hundred things happening outside the car.

In the study released Tuesday, more than half of teens said they text while driving in order to keep their parents updated and about one-fifth of them said they believe their parents expect a response within a single minute, even when they are at the wheel. (For their part, nearly 60% of 1,000 parents also surveyed for the study said they do not have a set expectation for response times.) About half of teens said they text more when they’re in the car alone than when others are in the car with them. The most popular apps they said they used while driving break down as follows:

  • Snapchat: 38%
  • Instagram: 20%
  • Twitter: 17%
  • Facebook: 12%
  • YouTube: 12%

The list highlights that, like older drivers, teenagers aren’t just texting while driving. They’re watching videos and taking selfies.

The feeling that they must like an Instagram photo or reply to a Facebook comment the moment it’s posted not only makes teenagers distracted, the researchers say, but may contribute to their general fatigue. In their survey, 58% of teens said they had either fallen asleep or nearly fallen asleep at the wheel, and about half of them said they get only three to six hours of sleep per night during the week, often because they’re up staring into their smartphone screens. The effects of driving while sleepy, the researchers point out, are similar to those of driving under the influence; 24 hours without sleep can be the equivalent of three cocktails.

SADD was founded to stop young people from drinking and driving but has expanded its mission to combat an array of things that undermine young people’s health and safety. Their experts suggest parents act on data like this by talking to their kids, making it clear that it’s fine not to respond while they’re en route somewhere and making sure they get a decent amount of shuteye each night. “Today’s parents are juggling their own busy schedules, and too often young drivers’ risky habits go unrecognized,” says SADD’s Stephen Gray Wallace in a statement.

It appears they should also continue to pound away at the message being trumpeted by everyone from trauma centers to wireless carriers: It’s dangerous to use your phone while driving, and despite how you might feel at the time, whatever it is can wait. Nearly 90% of the teens who said they use apps on the road also said they consider themselves “safe” drivers, the study found, as did 60% of those who make calls. While many said they’re texting with purpose—to coordinate an event or update a friend—nearly 20% say they text while driving “just for fun.”

“It’s critical that parents focus on pinpointing these dangerous driving habits early on,” says Wallace, “and have frequent conversations with their children about what safe driving really means.”

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