TIME Research

FAA Will Study Pilots’ Mental Health

A committee will provide recommendations within six months

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Wednesday it would study the mental and emotional health of pilots, a move that comes more than two months after investigators say a German pilot flew a commercial jet into the French Alps, killing all 150 people aboard.

While pilots are required to undergo medical screenings with agency-approved physicians once or twice a year, the study was recommended in the wake of tragedies like the crash Germanwings Flight 9525 in March and the early 2014 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the Indian Ocean.

The FAA said in a statement that the Pilot Fitness Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC)—to be comprised of government members and aviation experts, as well as medical professionals whose specialty is aerospace medicine—will look into awareness and reporting practices for emotional and mental issues among pilots. The committee, which will also probe the procedures used to evaluate mental health issues and any barriers to reporting them, will provide the FAA with recommendations within six months.

“Based on the group’s recommendations,” according to the statement, “the FAA may consider changes to medical methods, aircraft design, policies and procedures, pilot training and testing, training for Aerospace Medical Examiners, or potential actions that may be taken by professional, airline, or union groups.”

Read next: German Privacy Laws Let Pilot ‘Hide’ His Illness From Employers

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Are Taco Bell and Pizza Hut Actually Getting Healthier?

'Sort of, but not really,' say experts

Taco Bell and Pizza Hut shook the fast-food world Tuesday when the chains announced they’ll be nixing artificial ingredients in their menu items by the end of 2015. Taco Bell is saying sayonara to artificial flavors, artificial colors, high fructose corn syrup and palm oil in their food. (Artificial preservatives, too, will be removed “where possible” by 2017.) Pizza Hut has an even quicker timeline, saying it’ll phase out artificial colors and preservatives by the end of July.

But will these fast-food tweaks really make a difference for your health? We asked experts what they thought about the particular ingredients being nixed to gauge whether or not these swaps will, indeed, make the food more healthy.

“I think that this general trend is a good thing,” says Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. “But what the public, I think, has failed to recognize is that the single greatest power over the food supply has been food demand. If we change what we’re willing to buy, then the supply side will change what they’re selling.”

Here’s what else experts say about it.

1. Artificial flavors

The experts agree: taking out artificial ingredients is a positive move. “The kinds of things they are taking out are cosmetics—additives that make processed foods taste or stick together better,” says Marion Nestle, professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. “They are not necessary. Whether they are harmful at quantities typically consumed is debatable, but why not get rid of them?”

“It’s very much a political ploy on the part of the fast food industry to make their food look like somehow it’s real food, but it’s still not real food,” says Robert Lustig, MD, professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of Fat Chance. The problems with many processed foods, he says, are a matter of too little—fiber, micronutrients, omega-3 fatty acids—and too much—trans fats, branched-chain amino acids, salt, emulsifiers and sugar.

Selling real food is within the power of fast food establishments, Lustig says. “But they can’t sell it as long as we subsidize corn, wheat, soy and sugar”—the cheap ingredients that make up the bulk of processed food, Lustig says. Until then, he says, real food doesn’t have a fighting chance—and broccoli calories will continue to be more expensive than burger calories.

2. Artificial colors

“It’s good that they’re trying to get rid of food additives, especially artificial colors, because we never needed them,” says Lustig. While some artificial colors have been shown to cause cancer in animals, none have been proven to cause cancer in humans. Still, some experts caution against eating or drinking foods that contain them due to insufficient knowledge about their safety or worries about them triggering allergic reactions. (See this summary by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.)

Some scientists have raised concerns about the safety of some artificial colors, with a recent paper saying: “It is recommended that regulatory authorities require better and independent toxicity testing, exercise greater caution regarding continued approval of these dyes, and in the future approve only well-tested, safe dyes.”

3. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)

“HFCS has earned a very bad reputation within the general community,” says Lustig. “People see it and go, ‘Oh, that’s the devil.'” But Lustig thinks sugar is the real problem, regardless of whether it comes from—and since food companies aren’t likely to drop HFCS without replacing it with something sweet, we may see sugar appear more often on ingredient lists. “What they ought to be doing is getting rid of HFCS in exchange for nothing,” Lustig says. “If it’s not changing what you’re consuming, what’s the difference?”

4. Palm oil

Fast-food companies use huge amounts of palm oil, which can contribute to vast deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and harsh land-clearing techniques.”I’m really glad to see this in the mix,” says David Katz. The announcement follows this year’s release of new dietary guidelines, which addressed sustainability for the first time. Big food companies—some of the major clients for palm oil—are the most crucial people to prioritize this, Katz says. “Once you know that sustainability matters because you can see things that are running out, you’re obligated to address it, even if you’ve never addressed it before.” (The two restaurants, by the way, aren’t the first; last year, Dunkin Donuts committed to sourcing 100% sustainable palm oil by 2016.)

5. Artificial preservatives

It’s hard to gauge improvement without knowing what’s replacing artificial preservatives, says Katz. “We have to be very careful that this isn’t just minor tweaking at the margins: maybe they’re taking out food additives but still want the shelf life to be the same, so they’ll put in more salt,” he says. “My hope is that we’ve reached the point where you can’t get away with that anymore.”

TIME Infectious Disease

Hookup Apps May Be to Blame for Rhode Island’s Spike in STDs

Social media and hookup sites are contributing to the "epidemic"

Rhode Island is currently experiencing what health experts are calling an “epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases”—and hookup apps may be partially to blame, officials said.

From 2013 to 2014, infections of syphilis increased 79%, gonorrhea cases went up 30% and new HIV cases increased by about 33%, according to data released by the Rhode Island Department of Health.

The agency noted that the uptick could be sparked by better medical testing and more people having their STDs checked out and reported. However, the agency also acknowledged the role of high-risk behaviors, including “using social media to arrange casual and often anonymous sexual encounters, having sex without a condom, having multiple sex partners, and having sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” the agency wrote in a health alert.

Overall, the rates of HIV/AIDS and syphilis transmission were greater among populations of gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. The rates of all STDs in the state were also higher among African-American, Hispanic, and young adult populations, the agency reported.

The health department said the uptick is indicative of a national increase in STDs.

TIME medicine

How an Italian Boy Survived 42 Minutes Underwater

It’s unusual, but not impossible to survive that long while submerged

An Italian boy who fell into a canal in Milan is the latest “miracle” drowning survivor. The 14 year old was jumping off a bridge with friends into 6.5-foot water when he failed to come up. It took rescuers creating a human chain and 42 minutes before they could find him in the murky water and bring him back up; he had no pulse and was unconscious.

After a month in the hospital, where doctors attached him to a machine that took over for his lungs and heart to keep his body oxygenated, he woke, apparently alert and able to talk to his parents (and ask about his favorite professional soccer team).

But how did he survive underwater for nearly an hour?

MORE: How the Teen Stowaway Survived His Trans-Pacific Flight in a Wheel Well

Michael isn’t the first to recover from being underwater for so long; there’s a report of a person surviving after being submerged for an hour. Other young boys have recovered after going under in frigid lakes, ponds and oceans for anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes.

Experts say it’s no accident that most of the survivors are young; the automatic reflex to drop the heart rate and divert oxygen to the brain, especially in cold water, is more robust in younger children than in adults. Keeping the brain bathed in oxygen is critical; after about four minutes without oxygen, brain damage can occur.

And the colder the water, the more likely the brain is to be sustained in this way; frigid temperatures help the body divert its resources primarily to the brain. The canal into which Michael fell was about 59 degrees.

Doctors say there is no way to fully explain how the boy survived, much less how his brain remained relatively intact. But Michael’s case, and those of the other survivors, stress how important it is to administer emergency CPR as soon as possible after a drowning.

TIME Cancer

How Herpes Is Being Used to Fight Cancer

Patients whose cells were treated with this STD were 8 times more likely to survive than a control group

A genetically modified strain of herpes can kill cancer cells and stop tumors from growing, according to new research. The strain, called T-Vec, was used to treat patients with melanoma as part of one of the final phases of testing of a new drug.

The research, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, is the latest to show how viruses may be used clinically to kill cancer cells. Unlike chemotherapy, which casts a wide net and kills any proliferating cells, viruses often narrowly target cancer cells, which could make them more effective in fighting the disease. The method also appeals to researchers because it activates the immune system to fight cancer.

Researchers looked at more than 400 patients with aggressive malignant melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. More than 16% of patients given the T-Vec treatment showed a lasting response for six months, compared with 2% of members of the control group given normal treatment.

“We may normally think of viruses as the enemies of mankind, but it’s their very ability to specifically infect and kill human cells that can make them such promising cancer treatments,” said professor Paul Workman, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research, in a statement.

The drug, produced by Amgen, now awaits approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before it will be offered to patients.

 

TIME Research

You Asked: Are Self-Tanners Safe?

You Asked: Should I Use Spray Tanner?
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

These products are safer than sun exposure—but only if you avoid the sprays.

To bake, or to fake? It’s a classic tanning conundrum. Sitting under the sun causes skin damage and cellular changes that raise your risk for skin cancer, and even among adults under 40, melanoma rates are on the rise.

“In order to get a natural tan from ultraviolet light, your skin has to be injured,” says Dr. Darrell Rigel, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University. You know this, and you worry about it. But unlike ultraviolet rays, sunless self-tanners don’t mean you have to damage your skin. “These products contain an ingredient that stains the outermost layer or your skin,” Rigel says.

In most cases, that ingredient is dihydroxyacetone (DHA). When it combines with amino acids in your skin, DHA causes a browning reaction—the same type of reaction that occurs when you make toast or grill meat, explains Dr. Adam Friedman, director of dermatologic research at Montefiore-Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

That may sound scary. But the browning only takes place in your skin’s “stratum corneum”—the topmost layer composed of dead cells, Friedman says. “Our bodies make a form of this stuff,” he adds, referring to DHA. “So I’m not concerned about it from as safety standpoint. When used topically, I think it’s the only safe way to have a tan appearance.”

For anyone who’s read up on self-tanners, Friedman’s statements may raise eyebrows. A few years ago, a much-cited report from ABC News raised concerns about spray-tanning salons and the risks of inhaling DHA and other self-tanning ingredients. Subsequent research supported the idea that inhaling spray-on tanning chemicals could potentially raise your risk for asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or cancer.

“Stretched flat, your lungs are the size of a tennis court,” says Dr. Reynold Panettieri, a professor of pulmonary medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “So inhaling these self-tanning agents could have all sorts of potential health consequences.”

But what about self-tanners you spread on your skin? The ABC News report cited Food & Drug Administration data suggesting that small amounts of DHA might seep through your skin and into your bloodstream. If true, that could also raise health concerns. But since that FDA data came to light, follow-up studies have failed to find evidence that DHA penetrates your skin’s protective barriers.

Dr. Rigel was one of several experts who voiced concern to ABC News following their DHA investigation. But when it comes to DHA in lotions, Rigel says his concerns have since been assuaged. “There’s no data to show that DHA is harmful when applied topically,” he says. “Pregnant women and children may want to avoid it just as a precaution, but this is benign stuff.”

Panettieri agrees. “Based on what we know today, DHA is really pretty safe when applied to the skin correctly,” he says. Correct application means avoiding the sensitive skin around your eyes and on your lips, as well as cuts or abrasions—more reasons to be wary of spray-on options. Panettieri says rubbing DHA into very thin or broken skin could let it enter your system. “Even if DHA got beyond the skin, any risk is hypothetical,” he’s quick to add.

Both he and Rigel say that compared to the well-established risks of sun exposure, topical self-tanning lotions are a safer option. Friedman agrees, and says his only concern is that some people might have an allergic reaction to DHA or other ingredients in self-tanners—a risk that comes with almost any cosmetic.

But Friedman adds one big warning: Self-tanners do not offer your skin any protection from sun damage. “Some people think these self-tanners act like sunscreen,” he says. “They don’t.” In fact, some research suggests DHA may actually increase the amount of damage your skin sustains from sun exposure.

Of course, new research could always surface new risks. And not as much is known about less-common tanning chemicals. But for now, if you’re craving a little color, self-tanning lotions with DHA seem to be your safest option.

TIME ebola

Did Authorities Use the Wrong Approach to Stop Ebola?

A health worker takes the temperature of a travelers at a highway checkpoint in Liberia on on Jan. 29, 2015.
John Moore—Getty Images A health worker takes the temperature of a travelers at a highway checkpoint in Liberia on on Jan. 29, 2015.

A new study suggests there was a better way to respond to the Ebola outbreak

It’s known that the response to the most recent Ebola outbreak, which as of Tuesday had infected more than 27,000 people and killed 11,130, was far too slow. Now, a new study suggests that even once they got started, their approach to curbing the spread wasn’t the most efficient or effective.

One of the staples of infectious disease outbreak responses was contact tracing: finding everyone who comes in direct contact with a sick person. And it makes sense that health authorities would employ that in this outbreak, since it’s proven in the past to be an effective way to contain the spread of a virus. However, experts at the New England Complex Systems Institute released new research Tuesday that argues contact tracing wasn’t the best approach.

Yaneer Bar-Yam, founding president of the Institute, and his colleagues conducted in-depth mathematical simulations that found that a community-wide response that monitors entire groups of people—rather than tracking down individuals who may or may not have been exposed to the virus via an infected person they had contact with—could have been more efficient.

In the simulations, the researchers accounted for a wide variety of factors and ultimately concluded that a response that focused on community-wide monitoring—for instance, going door-to-door to check on people in a given area as well implementing travel restrictions—would have been more effective than tracking down contacts of infected people one by one. The objective of a community response, they write, is to progressively limit the disease to smaller and smaller geographical areas, while simultaneously sending in resources.

“You treat the whole community as if it might have been in contact with someone,” says Bar-Yam. “Trying to figure out who [an infected person] was in contact with doesn’t make as much sense—and it’s not as cost effective as saying, ‘Well, everyone may have been in contact with these people, so we better check all of them.'”

One of the most telling parts of Bar-Yam’s study was when the researchers looked at what happens when people do not comply with the health guidelines that are put in place to curb an outbreak. After all, no matter how many times people are told what to do, it’s hard to persuade them to stay away from public areas, for instance, or to avoid travel to at-risk places. They found that community-wide monitoring is successful at ending the outbreak even if there’s only 40% compliance.

“You will save more lives if you have higher conformity,” says Bar-Yam of community monitoring, adding that, “from the macro picture you’re stopping the epidemic very rapidly.”

NECSI

The Key to Liberia Being Ebola Free?

In mid-September 2014 in Liberia, cases of Ebola started to drop significantly. It’s unclear why, but the authors note that around that time, a community-wide approach to stopping the spread of Ebola was taken in Liberia.

Earlier this month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report on how it controlled the final cluster, and noted that the response included community-based approaches. And in a report on how Liberia got to zero cases, the WHO writes:

One of the first signs that the outbreak might be turned around appeared in September 2014, when cases in Lofa county, Ebola’s initial epicentre, began to decline after a peak of more than 150 cases a week in mid-August. Epidemiologists would later link that decline to a package of interventions, with community engagement playing a critical role.

In Lofa, staff from the WHO country office moved from village to village, challenging chiefs and religious leaders to take charge of the response. Community task forces were formed to create house-to-house awareness, report suspected cases, call health teams for support, and conduct contact tracing.

“I don’t know how difficult it would have been to implement it earlier,” says Bar-Yam. “Everyone kept saying, ‘Contact tracing is the tried-and-true right way to do this.'” Indeed, since contact tracing has been shown in numerous outbreaks in the past to be effective means of disease containment, that was the de facto strategy in west Africa during this Ebola outbreak.

This study alone cannot prove that health authorities and volunteers were misguided in their use of contact tracing.

Is It Either/Or?

The CDC declined to comment about the paper specifically, but spoke to TIME about the agency’s use of contact tracing and community monitoring. “When you are able to understand the connections [between people], while imperfect, you understand who is most likely to be infected and you are able to follow them,” says Jonathan Yoder, an epidemiologist with the CDC who responded to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. “At the end, it was really important that nothing was missed. One contact can start a whole other outbreak. I don’t know that it’s one or the other. I think the approach of engaging communities is really important.”

Bar-Yam says his work shows that there is an alternative approach to contact tracing alone, and that it appears to work—possibly more quickly than contact tracing, if done early enough.

The paper also underlines the importance of being nimble when it comes to dealing with outbreaks of infectious diseases like Ebola. “Everyone thinks in terms of statistics of prior events. Everyone looks at prior history and says ‘What are we going to be able to expect in the future based on what happened in the past?’” says Bar-Yam.

TIME medicine

Newer Birth Control Pills Raise the Risk of Blood Clots

A new study puts a number on the risk of developing potentially fatal blood clots after using the pill

Blood clots have been a known risk of oral contraceptives since the 1990s, but for most women, the chances seemed small enough to justify taking the Pill. Now, in a report published in The BMJ, scientists led by Yana Vinogradova, a research fellow at the University of Nottingham, found that using the Pill was linked to anywhere from a two- to more than four-fold increased risk of developing clots compared to women who didn’t take oral contraceptives.

“Our study suggests that the newer contraceptives have a higher risk of [blood clots] than the older agents,” Vinogradova tells TIME in an email. Overall, the risk for women on the Pill was nearly three times that of women not taking the medication. The risk was highest for people taking Pills that contain newer types of the progestogen hormone, such as drospirenone, desogestrel, gestodene, and cyproterone, as compared to people taking the Pill with first-generation versions of the hormone (levonorgestrel and norethisterone).

The difference essentially boils down to the progesterone part of the drug; since the original pill was introduced in 1960, drug developers have tweaked the progesterone to lower side effects such as acne, headache, weight gain and breakthrough bleeding. But the price for those modifications may be more blood clots.

Even after Vinogradova and her team adjusted for the potential contributions of things like cancer, heart disease, varicose veins, arthritis, smoking and obesity on the risk of blood clots, the link between the newer contraceptives and increased risk remained strong.

“While [blood clots] are a relatively rare problem, they are serious and potentially avoidable with the appropriate drug choice,” says Vinogradova. “Doctors need to consider all health issues when prescribing contraceptives, selecting a drug type associated with the lowest risk for patients with particular susceptibilities.”

Whether that means that doctors should start with prescribing the older formulations first—as well non-hormonal birth control like the copper IUD—isn’t clear yet, since the newer forms have certain advantages, including the fact that they disturb the cholesterol system less, which may be important for diabetic women.

The blood clot risk, however, is something that doctors should consider when prescribing the Pill. And since there are different formulations available, Vinogradova says doctors should monitor their patients for any potential symptoms of poor circulation and switch to other formulations if needed.

TIME Research

Do LSD and Magic Mushrooms Have a Place In Medicine?

97358355
Getty Images

Experts say it's hard to do research on the drugs under their current status

LSD and magic mushrooms are illegal for recreational use, but some medical experts see major benefits from the drugs. In a commentary published in the journal The BMJ on Tuesday, a London-based psychiatrist argues in favor of legally reclassifying the drugs so that they can more easily be used in medical research.

In his paper, James Rucker, a psychiatrist and honorary lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, argues that psychedelic drugs like LSD are less harmful and addictive than other controlled drugs like cocaine or heroin. But strict restrictions on the drugs make it difficult to conduct medical trials, he says.

Rucker writes that psychedelic drugs were frequently used in clinical research until they became classified as schedule 1 drugs—considered the most dangerous, and which aren’t used medically—in the UK in the late 1960s. “Hundreds of papers, involving tens of thousands of patients, presented evidence for their use as psychotherapeutic catalysts of mentally beneficial change in many psychiatric disorders, problems of personality development, recidivistic behavior, and existential anxiety,” Rucker writes.

It’s now challenging for researchers to conduct research on the drugs, largely due to stigma, cost and reluctance of funders to back such research. “These restrictions, and the accompanying bureaucracy, mean that the cost of clinical research using psychedelics is 5-10 times that of research into less restricted (but more harmful) drugs such as heroin—with no prospect that the benefits can be translated into wider medical practice,” argues Rucker.

Though Rucker is based in the UK, the United States has similar restrictions. According to the Atlantic, the world of research has in recent years seen a revival of interest in studying these drugs, but there’s currently no legislation to reclassify LSD and psilocybin, the main ingredient in magic mushrooms, for medical purposes.

Rucker says that in controlled settings like research laboratories, there’s little evidence to suggest that these can be harmful. But such drugs can be abused, and there’s some evidence to suggest that they can lead to health consequences that range from increased heart rate and nausea to memory loss among people who have abused the drugs for a long time.

“Importantly, and unlike most other drugs, the effects of hallucinogens are highly variable and unreliable, producing different effects in different people at different times,” the National Institutes of Health writes on its website. “Because of their unpredictable nature, the use of hallucinogens can be particularly dangerous.”

More research is needed to determine the safety and medical potential of psychedelic drugs —but in the UK, only four hospitals hold the expensive license necessary to conduct research on schedule 1 drugs, Rucker says.

TIME Hormel Foods

Hormel goes organic with latest big food acquisition

Hormel sliced turkey is seen for sale in Westminster
© Rick Wilking / Reuters—REUTERS Hormel sliced turkey

Deal is latest by big food company for a smaller 'natural' rival.

Hormel Foods is paying $775 million to buy organic processed meats maker Applegate Farms, the latest deal by a food giant for a smaller rival in the grocery aisle.

“A growing number of consumers are choosing natural and organic products,” said Hormel Foods Chief Executive Jeffrey Ettinger.

The deal will add Applegate’s deli meats, frozen burgers and dinner sausages to Hormel’s [fortune-stock symbol=”HRL”] portfolio of brands, which already includes Spam, Skippy peanut butter and the company’s namesake meats. The acquisition, which is expected to lift future profits, won’t add too much to Hormel’s sales. Applegate’s annual sales are expected to reach $340 million in 2015, a sliver of the roughly $9.3 billion Hormel records annually.

But the acquisition of Applegate is important for two key reasons. It is the latest deal by a “Big Food” maker for a smaller player. Smaller food makers have reported sharp sales growth as grocery shoppers at times turn away from legacy, established brands. Recent deals have included Hershey’s [fortune-stock symbol=”HSY”] acquisition of beef jerky maker Krave, Post Holdings’ [fortune-stock symbol=”POST”] deal for MOM brands, and Hormel’s own $450 million deal last year for Muscle Milk maker CytoSports.

Food companies are spending big on newer brands to lure consumers that want food they consider to be healthier. Applegate plays into the feel-good attitude that has been pervasive in the category. For example, Applegate says it produces meats that are “raised humanely without antibiotics and hormones.” The company’s webpage features an interview with CEO Stephen McDonnell talking about how he and other consumers want meats that don’t contain bad ingredients.

And like the Hershey deal for Krave, Hormel’s acquisition of Applegate is another big bet on protein. Industry analysts like NPD Group have flagged rising interest in protein, with studies showing nearly half of primary grocery shoppers have purchased protein-enriched foods and many are willing to pay more for those products.

Applegate will operate as a standalone subsidiary after the transaction is completed. The company has 100 employees, located primarily in Bridgewater, N.J.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com