TIME Food

Study: Organic Produce Has Fewer Pesticides, More Antioxidants

Organic produce
Getty Images

New research comes down on the side of organic food, but doesn't make any claims about health effects

Organically-grown fruits, vegetables and grains have substantially higher levels of antioxidants and lower levels of pesticides than conventionally-grown produce, according to a comprehensive review of earlier studies on the matter.

Organic crops contain 17 percent more antioxidants than conventionally grown crops, according to the study, to be published next week in the British Journal of Nutrition.

“It shows very clearly how you grow your food has an impact,” Carlo Leifert, a professor of ecological agriculture at Newcastle University in England who led the research, told the New York Times. “If you buy organic fruits and vegetables, you can be sure you have, on average, a higher amount of antioxidants at the same calorie level.”

The findings contradict a similar analysis published two years ago by Stanford scientists, who found that there are only minor differences in the nutritional content of organic and conventionally-grown foods.

However, the new study does not claim eating organic food leads to better health. However, many studies have suggested that antioxidants have been linked to a lower risk of cancer and other diseases.

Organic food purchases accounted for just over four percent of the total food market in the United States last year, or $32.3 billion.

[NYT]

TIME Drugs

The FDA is Cracking Down on Big Pharma Social Media

The FDA sent one company a warning letter for Facebook "likes"

The FDA often sends warning letters to companies for violating FDA regulation on how their products are marketed. For instance, if a company is advertising its product as a treatment for an ailment its not approved for, they’re going to hear from the FDA.

So is the case with a recent FDA warning letter to Zarbee’s Naturals, which the FDA scolded for not only claiming to treat conditions like coughs (supplements cannot make these claims, otherwise they would drugs and regulated as such), but for the company’s Facebook “likes” and tweets.

In the letter, the FDA takes issue with certain consumer comments on the Zarbee’s Facebook page that the company “liked” or commented on, which the FDA says is basically the same as endorsing that comment, and since several comments were about cures or uses that the supplements are not approved for, that’s a no-no. For example, the FDA writes:

Zarbees “liked” the following comment made on January 7, 2014: “I’ve been battling either bronchitis or pneumonia for the last 18 days and have tried everything…your Children’s Cough Syrup and mucus relief got rid of…my hoarsness [sic]…[m]y throat and chest are beginning to feel so much better…”

The letter also points out tweets the FDA believes are also promotional for treatments not proven:

On February 7, 2014: “Try @Zarbees #naturalremedies for Cold and Cough Season…”

The issue with Zarbee’s is that it’s not a drug, and sending tweets or endorsing Facebook claims for specific treatments is inappropriate. “Your products are not generally recognized as safe and effective for the above referenced uses and, therefore, these products are ‘new drugs’,” the letter reads.

The Zarbee’s letter is evidence that the FDA is taking social media actions seriously. Last month the agency released two draft guidances for how the pharmaceutical and medical device industry should go about communicating over the Internet and social media. The FDA argues that the Internet has changed the way Americans get information about medical products and therefore manufacturers and their representatives need to know the FDA position on how to communicate about drugs and devices accurately.

“In today’s world, in addition to traditional sources of medical product information, patients and health care providers regularly get information about FDA-regulated medical products through social media and other Internet sources, and those technologies continue to evolve,” Thomas Abrams, director of FDA’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion wrote.

Social media allows manufacturers to interact with their consumers in a more active way, and in real-time. The first set of recommendations from the FDA says that both the risks and benefits of a given product need to be presented online, even with character restrictions. The FDA suggests the following format as an example tweet for a drug company “NoFocus” that is both accurate, not misleading, and provides both benefits and risks. The FDA also encourages hyperlinks for additional context.

NoFocus for mild to moderate memory loss; may cause seizures in patients with a seizure disorder http://www.nofocus.com/risk

In the FDA’s second guidance, they provide an outline for what they think is an appropriate way for manufacturers to correct what they believe to be inaccurate information about their product. For example, if a blogger is posts incorrect information about a drug, the manufacturer can respond online as long as it is specific and non-promotional.

Of course, some pharmaceutical companies find the FDA guidance overbearing. “If the FDA is going to require the same type of fine print that you see in a magazine ad to be in a tweet, then the FDA is essentially taking that tool away from patients who may want to hear from companies as well as healthcare professionals,” Jeffrey K. Francer, vice president and senior counsel with Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America told the publication GEN in an interview. “I assume that the FDA believes that its own tweets are truthful and not misleading. If they believe that, then why couldn’t a company use Twitter in the same way that the FDA is using Twitter?” Francer thinks the guidelines interfere with the First Amendment.

The FDA says that as with traditional media, it wants to ensure all messages on social media are honest and not misleading. And it’s clear they will regulate as such.

TIME Sex

Intimacy Addiction Looks Similar to Drug Addiction, Study Finds

Watching porn triggers similar brain activity as drug exposure, study says

There’s still debate over whether sex addiction exists, but a new study on porn and the brain provides more evidence that consuming explicit material is addicting. The new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE shows that sex addiction, scientifically known as compulsive sexual behavior, may actually be similar to drug addiction in the brain.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge’s department of psychiatry discovered that watching pornography triggers brain activity similar to what drug addicts experience when they’re shown drugs.

In the study, the researchers looked at 19 men with compulsive sexual behavior and 19 healthy men. The participants either watched sexually explicit videos or sports while the researchers monitored their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

The imaging showed that three regions of the brain—the ventral striatum, dorsal anterior cingulate and amygdala—were more active in the men with compulsive sexual behavior compared to the healthy participants. Interestingly, these are the same areas stimulated in drug addicts when they’re shown drugs. The ventral striatum helps process reward and motivation and the dorsal anterior cingulate is involved in anticipating rewards and drug cravings. The amygdala processes events and emotions.

After watching the videos, the participants also rated their level of sexual desire and how much they enjoyed the videos. Previous research has shown that at a certain point, drug addicts use their drug of choice because they need it, and not necessarily because they like the feeling. As the researchers expected, the patients with compulsive sexual behavior reported higher levels of desire towards the sexually explicit videos even though they did not necessarily like them more. Their desire was also correlated with higher interactions between the three areas of the brain during the explicit videos than for the sports.

The men with compulsive sexual behavior also reported starting to watch pornography at earlier ages, and they consumed it at a higher rate than the healthy group. The researchers noticed that younger participants—particularly those with compulsive sexual behavior—had greater levels of activity in the ventral striatum after watching pornography. This, the study authors believe, suggests the ventral striatum is involved in the development of compulsive sexual behaviors like it is in drug addiction. Since people’s brains continue developing into their mid-20s, teens often take more risks and are more susceptible to impulsive behavior.

Despite the findings, the investigators still caution against making any conclusive leaps until more research is done. After all, the study sampling was small, and there’s still disagreement over whether sex is really addictive.

“Whilst these findings are interesting, it’s important to note, however, that they could not be used to diagnose the condition. Nor does our research necessarily provide evidence that these individuals are addicted to porn – or that porn is inherently addictive,” lead study author Dr. Valerie Voon, a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Clinical Fellow at Cambridge, said in a statement. “Much more research is required to understand this relationship between compulsive sexual behaviour and drug addiction.”

TIME Accidents

CDC: Anthrax Scare Caused by Lack of Oversight

Anthrax
BSIP/UIG—Getty Images/Universal Images Group

Another incident occurred after the anthrax exposure

Last month’s anthrax accident was caused by scientists’ failure to follow an appropriate study plan, a lack of standard procedures for documenting when biological agents are properly inactivated and a lack of oversight, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday.

The report, called for by the CDC’s director, reviewed the June incident in which researchers were exposed to potentially viable anthrax. It includes information about what went wrong and details actions the agency is taking to address the incident and prevent similar ones from happening again.

Not only did scientists at the Atlanta lab not follow an approved written study plan when handling the anthrax, but they also used a procedure that may not have adequately inactivated the samples of B. anthracis. The procedure the scientists used inactivates B. anthracis cells after 10 minutes, but the researchers were dealing with spores, which are more resistant to chemical inactivation and so a small percentage remained viable.

While the agency was conducting its internal review, another CDC lab had a separate incident in which a culture of non-pathogenic avian flu was unintentionally cross-contaminated with the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain. It was then shipped to a Level 3 select-agent United States Department of Agriculture lab. No one was exposed, but the lab is closed pending a review.

Due to the anthrax and the cross-contamination incidents, the CDC has placed a moratorium on the movement of all biological materials, active and inactive, from Biosafety Level 3 and Biosafety Level 4 facilities. These facilities handle microbes that can cause fatal infections that are transmitted easily by inhalation.

The review initiated an investigation in to the H5N1 incident, reported the incident to the proper channels, took personnel action, and established several groups to review CDC lab safety. One review group, which sits under the CDC’s Associate Director for Science, will look at the systems, procedures, and personnel issues leading to the anthrax event. A separate working group will report to the CDC director and serve as the point of accountability on lab safety for the time being.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

People Still Don’t Know the Difference Between “Organic” and “Local”

Food Prices Expected To Rise Significantly In 2014
Fresh produce is displayed at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on March 27, 2014 in San Francisco. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

'Organic' vs 'local', the saga continues

It’s no secret that the organic food market is ever-growing. Organic food hit $28.4 billion in sales last year, and the Nutrition Business Journal reports that organic food products will reach and estimated $35 billion in 2014. Yet despite the popularity of “local” and “organic,” Americans are still very confused about what those words mean, according to a recent study published in the International Food and Agribusiness Management Review.

A team of researchers surveyed consumers across the U.S. and Canada and discovered that 17% of the people they spoke with incorrectly believed that foods labelled “organic” were also grown locally. Another 23% falsely believe that local produce is grown organically. Researches also found that 40% of consumers think “organic” food is more nutritious than conventional food, while 29% believe that “local” products are more nutritious than their imported equivalents.

But when you scrutinize the laws governing what food companies can and cannot say on labels, it becomes obvious why consumers are so confused. Words like “all natural” and even “free range” are not easily (or often) policed, and many words used on so-called health foods have no legal definition enforceable by the Food and Drug Administration or the Federal Trade Commission.

So, what’s organic?

“Organic” is more straightforward, from a legal perspective, but most consumers likely do not know that. To be labelled organic, a producer must abide by a stringent set of government standards. The USDA qualifies produce as organic if no synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers or genetically modified organisms (GMO) are used. Pest control and crop nutrients must be managed through natural physical, mechanical and biological controls. And when producing organic meat, eggs and dairy, for instance, farmers must provide non-GMO livestock with year-round outdoor access. They are also prohibited from using growth hormones or antibiotics. The U.S. and Canada follow fairly similar organic guidelines, said the study.

And what’s local?

“Local,” meanwhile, is murky. A 2010 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture stated that “though ‘local’ has a geographic connotation, there is no consensus on a definition in terms of the distance between production and consumption.” This despite a provision in the 2008 Farm Act, that stated, in part, that any food labeled “local” must be produced in the “locality or region in which the final product is marketed, so that the total distance that the product is transported is less than 400 miles from the origin of the product.”

To put the distance in perspective, a drive from Washington, D.C., to Boston is about 400 miles, which means “local” is not necessarily close-by. Many states have limited “local” to mean produced within the state, and some retailers and restaurants have their own definitions. Many farm-to-table restaurants, for example, only serve food from within a 100-mile radius.

And are they healthier?

For the health-conscious, organic food is probably better for you—but not necessarily because of traditional nutrition measures. A 2012 study conducted by Stanford’s Center for Health Policy concluded that organic produce is not more nutrition-dense than its generic counterparts. However, the research was widely panned for taking a narrow view of nutrition. Counterarguments insisted that food grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides—which is to say organic—are by definition healthier choices.

As for the 29% of consumer who believe local food is more nutritious, they may be right. Most nutrients begin to degrade the moment a fresh piece of produce is picked, so the sooner it gets to you the better. Many studies have shown that a peach or berry picked closer to ripeness is more nutritious than a fruit—organic or not—picked before or after its peak of ripeness.

The bottom line

Both organic and local are good healthy options, but knowing the difference is important—especially when you consider the cost that can be attached to both.

TIME HIV

This National Blood Drive Is Fighting the FDA Ban on Gay Donors

The National Gay Blood Drive is happening in 63 cities nationwide
The National Gay Blood Drive is happening in 63 cities nationwide Courtesy of Alexandra Sifferlin

A nationwide blood drive is protesting an FDA ban on gay men donating blood

Outside of the New York Blood Center near Grand Central Station, Sam Gavzy, 26, is wearing a name tag that reads: “Hello, my name is Sam. Ask me why I can’t donate.”

Gavzy, who is a research biologist at NYU Langone Medical Center, believes in the benefits of donating blood since his father had two kidney transplants. But gay and bisexual men cannot donate blood in the U.S. due to a ban imposed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1983, when there was no effective and simple test to detect HIV in blood. Men who have sex with men (MSN) at any time since 1977 cannot donate. So Gavzy joined the National Gay Blood Drive, a nationwide donation and protest effort occurring in 61 cities July 11 to raise awareness about the ban they feel is outdated. “I wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for donation,” says Gavzy referring to his fathers’ reliance on donors. “The simplest way I could contribute and pay it forward is to donate blood, and I can’t.”

This is the second year of the National Gay Blood Drive, which drew about 1,000 participants last year. Gay men come to the blood drive locations with an ally or proxy — a straight friend or family member — who donates blood in their place. Gavzy has two friends donating for him. “There’s a such a need for blood, to have restrictions like this is a shame,” says Kian Bichoupan, 25, one of Gavzy’s proxies. Some of the gay men can fill out the paperwork only to be denied, so that the organizers can send the paperwork, along with postcards written by the men on why they want to donate blood, to the FDA to show the number of gay men willing to donate if they could.

Sam Gavsky cannot donate blood due to an FDA ban that prohibits gay and bisexual men from donating. Courtesy of Alexandra Sifferlin

The group also launched a White House Petition on July 1 calling on the FDA to change its policy. If the petition gets 100,000 signatures by July 30, the Obama administration will issue a response.

The National Gay Blood Drive began when gay rights activist Ryan James Yezak felt humiliated at work when he was one of the only people who could not donate blood to tornado victims three years ago. “It completely alienated me from the rest of my coworkers, and I felt like a different species,” says Yeznak, who has created a documentary on the topic. “We have enough [gay and bisexual men] to contribute to the offset of blood shortages.”

Last year, the American Medical Association (AMA) voted to end the ban, recognizing the new techniques available to detect HIV in donated blood. “The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science,” said Dr. William Kobler, AMA board member in a statement. “This new policy urges a federal policy change to ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and are not based on sexual orientation alone.”

When asked why the ban is still in place, and whether the FDA is in the process of considering a change, an FDA spokesperson told TIME that the agency is willing to consider changing its policy, but only if available data showed that lifting the ban provided no additional risk to people receiving donated blood.

“Although scientific evidence has not yet demonstrated that blood donated by MSM or a subgroup of these potential donors does not have a substantially increased rate of HIV infection compared to currently accepted blood donors, the FDA remains willing to consider new approaches to donor screening and testing,” the FDA responded in an email.

One issue involves when potential donors would get tested for HIV; although testing has now become relatively simple (there are even at-home tests), HIV-positive people may still test negative if their blood is drawn in the first 11 days after infection.

The FDA is the keeper of the deferral policy, but other health groups have also voted to keep it, or at least not change it for now. In 2010, the Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability (ACBSA) discussed the FDA policy and concluded that while the current policy isn’t ideal, it was necessary to protect the blood supply while they identified necessary areas for research. In 2013, they met again to hear updates on the research they requested; when there are enough results, the HHS plans to bring the issue into a public forum. Last year, members of senate–spearheaded by Senator Elizabeth Warren–wrote an open later to HHS holding them accountable to take action, based on the data.

“We have a lot of support from blood donation centers. They want our blood,” says Yeznak. “”We want to show the FDA that the gay community, can and wants to contribute.”

TIME

Ridiculous Study of the Day Says Smelling Farts Might Prevent Cancer

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Cream cheese Getty Images

Today in Strangest Study of the Day

It has been a weird week in health news. First doctors said that Justin Bieber might save young boys’ lives (the “hip” bowl cut is actually a form of sun protection — skin cancer be gone!), and now scientists out of the University of Exeter insist that smelling farts could actually prevent cancer, among other diseases. Uh, okay.

“Although hydrogen sulfide gas”—produced when bacteria breaks down food—”is well known as a pungent, foul-smelling gas in rotten eggs and flatulence, it is naturally produced in the body and could in fact be a healthcare hero with significant implications for future therapies for a variety of diseases,” Dr. Mark Wood said in a university release.

Although the stinky gas can be noxious in large doses, the researchers seem to think that a whiff here and there has the power to reduce risks of cancer, strokes, heart attacks, arthritis, and dementia by preserving mitochondria. Researchers are even coming up with their own compound to emulate the stinky smell’s health benefits.

“‘We have exploited this natural process by making a compound, called AP39, which slowly delivers very small amounts of this gas specifically to the mitochondria,” Professor Matt Whiteman, who worked on the study to be published in the Medicinal Chemistry Communications journal, said.

So thank the guy in the elevator. While it might have seemed like the ride from hell, IT MIGHT JUST SAVE YOUR LIFE. Or not.

TIME global health

Aid Group: Cholera Threatens Thousands in South Sudan

Zacharias Abubeker—AFP/Getty Images
South Sudanese refugees fetch water at a watering point in the Kule camp for Internally Displaced People at the Pagak border crossing in Gambella, Ethiopia, on July 10, 2014. Zacharias Abubeker—AFP/Getty Images

"Children are especially vulnerable."

Thousands of people in South Sudan are being put at risk by a cholera outbreak, says international aid group Save the Children. Cholera has infected 2,600 people in 9 of the the country’s 10 states, according to the group, leaving 60 dead since cases were first reported in May.

“Save the Children’s feeding clinics are dealing with an influx of severely malnourished children. We urgently need to further funds to provide families with life-saving food supplements,” said Save the Children’s Country Director Pete Walsh in a statement Friday.

The cholera outbreak is tied to an ongoing conflict in the country. South Sudan is home to a long-standing civil war, with the most recent violence escalating in December after President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy of attempting to launch a coup.

Aid agencies are struggling to receive needed funding even as the fighting has pushed the country to famine. Save the Children says the seven major international aid agencies operating in the country face closure, currently short an excess of $92 million.

“We are seeing a lot of cases of malnutrition at our treatment centers,” Save the Children Director Francine Uenuma tells TIME. “Children are especially vulnerable.”

Save the Children is working closely with local treatment centers, hoping to develop assessment plans and prevention education. However, with the rainy season approaching, conditions are only expected to deteriorate further. Walsh says that flooded roads will only slow down the delivery of life-saving drugs.

 

 

 

TIME Health Care

Studies Show Obamacare is Reducing the Ranks of Uninsured

Ronnie Cabrera, Dailem Delombard and Maylin Lezcano holding Lucas Cabrera sit with an insurance agent from Sunshine Life and Health Advisors as they try to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act at the kiosk setup at the Mall of Americas on January 15, 2014 in Miami.
People buying health insurance under the Affordable Care Act at the Mall of Americas on Jan. 15, 2014 in Miami. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

Data for Democrats to tout ahead of midterm elections

A growing body of research indicates that the number of American adults who lack health insurance has dropped sharply, by about eight million, since the health care reform law’s individual mandate went into effect early this year.

Three independent studies from the Commonwealth Fund, Gallup, and the Urban Institute recently found that roughly a quarter of people who were uninsured last year now have health insurance.

The proportion of people without insurance dropped across all income groups and ethnicities. But the largest declines were seen among the poor and Latinos, for whom the uninsured rate plummeted from 36% in the summer of 2013 to 23% by the spring of 2014, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

In its survey of 45,000 U.S. adults, Gallup found that the uninsured rate for Americans over 18 has fallen to 13.4%, the lowest level since the group began tracking the metric in 2008. The previous low point was 14.4% in the third quarter of that year.

The drop in the ranks of the uninsured marks a significant step toward the President Barack Obama’s goal of universal health insurance coverage in the U.S. and will be welcome news to Democrats heading into the 2014 midterm elections. Campaigning against Obamacare has been central to the GOP’s election-year strategy and Republicans have hammered Democrats over the Affordable Care Act’s initially rocky rollout.

But the news is unlikely to soften Republican opposition to the law. The GOP-controlled House is already moving forward with a lawsuit against the President over his decision to delay implementation of the so-called employer mandate, a key provision of the law that requires companies with more than 50 full-time employees to provide health insurance. Some in the GOP have accused the President of unilaterally delaying implementation of the measure to avoid hurting Democrats going into the midterm elections.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Boring TV Shows Make You Eat 52% More

Man watching TV bored and eating
Notorious91—Getty Images

Need another reason to kick back with a jaw-dropping episode of Orange Is the New Black? Didn’t think so—but here’s one anyway. A new study suggests there may be benefits for women who choose riveting TV programs over snoozers: We seem to eat less during the nail-biters.

That’s the conclusion of a group of researchers at Sweden’s Uppsala University, who studied 18 women while they snacked and watched different types of TV programming: an “engaging” episode of a popular Swedish comedy show and a “boring” televised art lecture. As a control, the researchers also monitored grazing during another “non-engaging” activity: reading a text on insects living in Sweden (seriously, we couldn’t make that last part up).

The results showed that boring content increased snacking by a surprisingly weighty margin. While watching boring TV, women consumed 52% more food than during the engaging comedy. This trend held up across different media, too: Subjects ate 35% less while watching engaging TV than while reading about insects. (Work On Your trouble spots during commercial breaks with this couch potato workout plan.)

The study authors conclude that it’s the level of excitement in our TV shows that may determine the amount we chow—not the act of watching (or reading) itself.

“At very low levels of engagement, you kind of eat to engage yourself because you’re bored,” says Aner Tal, a research associate at Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, an organization devoted to the study of how and why we eat the way we do. “It might also have to do with the pacing,” he suggests. A rapid-fire story, for example, could speed your rate of eating.

Of course, whether it’s a sleepy Sunday Antiques Roadshow marathon or an edge-of-your-seat Game of Thrones binge, watching TV is still a setup for overdoing it on the munchies. Your healthiest bet is to snack smarter while couch-bound. “Use pre-portioned snacks as opposed to endless bowls,” advises Tal. That means keeping the source of food out of sight, too. “If you know you have a tendency to overeat while watching TV,” he adds, “just snack on something that’s better for you. Have veggies as a snack instead of chips.” And maybe a side of excitement or action, too—anything but art lectures and insects.

MORE: 15 Terrible Snacks For Weight Loss

This article was written by Caroline Praderio and originally appeared on Prevention.com.

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