TIME Obesity

Injecting This Drug Helps Patients Lose Weight

Daily shots of liraglutide (Saxenda), recently approved by the FDA, helps overweight or obese patients lose weight

In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers say that the only injectable weight loss drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) helps people to lose more than 12 pounds, more than twice as much as people taking a placebo.

The study is one of several that the FDA considered before approving the drug in 2014. It included data on 3,731 patients who were randomly assigned to take liraglutide or a placebo for just over a year. The trial continued to follow the patients for another year, and that data will be published soon.

MORE: This Pill Can Trick the Body Into Losing Weight, Study Finds

Liraglutide is similar to an already approved drug to treat type 2 diabetes, but is used in higher doses for weight loss. The drug mimics the effects of a hormone that works in the gut to signal the brain that you’ve eaten enough and feel full. As a diabetes drug, it helps the beta cells in the pancreas release insulin to keep blood sugar levels in check. In the NEJM study, none of the patients had diabetes, although some were pre-diabetic, and the FDA says liraglutide for weight loss should not be used together with the diabetes drug, also made by Novo Nordisk.

According to the study’s lead author, Dr. Xavier Pi-Sunyer, director of the obesity research center at Columbia University, liraglutide works as well as phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia), which doctors believe works by suppressing appetite. They key to making any weight loss medication effective, he says, is combining it with diet and exercise changes as well, which is what the participants in the study did. One advantage of liraglutide is that it can be used by women in their child-bearing years.

So far, the side effects of litaglutide, which include nausea, diarrhea, gall bladder abnormalities and pancreatitis, were minimal and did not outweigh the benefits of weight loss. But in approving the drug, the FDA asked the company to continue to study the drug to ensure that the adverse events remain within an acceptable range.

TIME medicine

Study Suggests Clue to Strange Link Between Swine Flu Vaccine and Narcolepsy

The immune system may have misidentified a protein in the vaccine

(WASHINGTON) — One vaccine used in Europe during the 2009 swine flu pandemic was linked to rare cases of a baffling side effect — the sleep disorder narcolepsy. Now new research offers a clue to what happened.

The vaccine Pandemrix never was used in the United States, and was pulled off the market abroad, but reports of narcolepsy in Finland and several other countries sparked questions globally about flu shot safety.

On Wednesday, an international team of researchers reported the problem may have been a case of mistaken identity by the immune system.

Narcolepsy is an incurable disorder that interferes with normal sleep cycles, leaving people chronically sleepy during the daytime and apt to abruptly fall asleep. No one knows what causes it, although patients have very low levels of a brain chemical named hypocretin that’s important for wakefulness. One theory is that a particular gene variant makes people susceptible, and that some environmental trigger, maybe an infection, pushes them over the edge.

About a year after mass vaccinations began against a new strain of H1N1 flu, called swine flu at the time, some European countries reported rare cases of narcolepsy in recipients of GlaxoSmithKline’s Pandemrix but not in people given other flu vaccines. Research found narcolepsy patients had that genetic predisposition, but no other explanation.

In the new study, Dr. Lawrence Steinman of Stanford University and colleagues found that the H1N1 virus contains a protein that is structurally similar to part of a brain cell receptor for that wakefulness chemical. They wondered if the flu-fighting antibodies generated by the Pandemrix vaccine might also latch onto those narcolepsy-linked receptors, leading to damage.

Colleagues in Finland sent blood samples that had been stored from 20 people diagnosed with vaccine-associated narcolepsy. Sure enough, 17 harbored antibodies capable of reacting both to flu and to those narcolepsy-linked receptors, Steinman’s team reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Recipients of another European vaccine, Novartis’ Focetria, didn’t harbor those cross-reactive antibodies.

Pandemrix contained much higher levels of the flu protein than Focetria, possibly because the two flu shots were made from different H1N1 subtypes, the researchers found.

The study doesn’t prove the link, Steinman stressed, calling for more research. It’s not clear how the antibodies could have gotten into the brain.

Moreover, some unvaccinated people who caught the flu harbor the antibodies, too, he said, and a study from China found H1N1 infection itself may increase narcolepsy risk.

It’s a plausible theory, said Dr. William Schaffner, a flu vaccine expert at Vanderbilt University who wasn’t involved in the new research.

Importantly, “this would also appear to be a solvable problem,” with manufacturing techniques to ensure that future vaccines don’t contain too much cross-reactive protein, he said.

However the narcolepsy puzzle turns out, the flu kills tens of thousands of people every year. “It’s really important to get vaccinated against flu,” Steinman said.

 

TIME public health

Now Blood Donors Can Get a Text When They Save Lives

blood donation
Getty Images

What we can learn from a revolutionary way Sweden is getting people to blood banks

The usual visit to a blood donation center goes something like this: you enter a sterile room, ease into a seat or lie down and have your blood drawn. Besides a handful of free cookies, you leave with nothing more than the noble sense of being a good citizen, and your part of the transaction is complete.

In Sweden, however, a simple text message is moving blood donation from an activity of the generous to a social media worthy event. Launched three years ago to combat paltry donation rates, the hospital using the pioneering text campaign, Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden, sends a text to a donor acknowledging their contribution. When the blood has been dispensed to someone in need, the clinic sends a follow-up text.

The system has seen a resurgence in attention thanks to a viral tweet from Swedish designer Robert Lenne:

The text program also includes a “nag me until I become a blood donor” option, reports Ragan’s Health Care Communication News. Choose it, and you’ll receive texts like “We won’t give up until you bleed” to (not so subtly) encourage you to donate.

It’s an attempt by Swedish blood banks—which are struggling with low blood donations—to connect with younger blood donors, reports The Independent.

In a post on behavioral economist Richard Thaler’s just-launched blog “Misbehaving,” Allison Daminger and Jamie Kimmel note the role of “nudges” in getting people to do otherwise mundane or uncomfortable tasks, like giving blood. The idea is simple, they write: offer potential donors proof that their contribution is going to a good use. The problem with blood donation, along with other acts of charity, is that if a donor doesn’t know the recipient of a gift, it’s harder to convince them that donating is beneficial, they write.

It’s not yet clear whether or not the campaign boosts donation rates, say Daminger and Kimmel. “There simply haven’t been many evaluations of similar programs,” they write.

What it does do well, however, is to tap into the ultimate millennial form of flattery, they say—personal connection with a social media twist.

The U.S., too, offers some options to track blood donations. In 2014, they launched a Blood Donor App was to track the journey of the donation, according to Kara Lusk Dudley, public affairs manager in biomedical communications at the American Red Cross. The organization also emails donors when their donation is shipped.

But a text with a witty vampiric nudge? Not quite yet.

TIME Research

What Drinking Does to Your Body Over Time

healthiest foods, health food, diet, nutrition, time.com stock, red wine, alcohol
Danny Kim for TIME

Social drinking is not always benign

The effects of having a few drinks can differ person to person, but often people may not realize just how risky their drinking patterns are, or what that alcohol is doing to them under the hood.

There are two definitions for “safe” drinking. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines say moderate alcohol consumption is OK, which means having up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has its own recommendation it calls “low risk” drinking, which sets limits for what levels of drinking will put you at a low risk for developing an alcohol abuse issue later on. This comes out to no more than three drinks on any single day and no more than 7 drinks per week for women, and no more than four drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week for men.

According to Dr. George Koob, director of the NIAAA, the current body of evidence doesn’t show whether there are significant differences between someone who drinks at this level versus someone who never drinks. In some cases, there’s strong evidence to suggest that moderate wine consumption could actually benefit the heart. Though Koob says some studies have been controversial and it’s not determined what it is about wine or other parts of a person’s lifestyle that could be at play. There are also individual patterns and sensitivities that people should take into consideration at this level. Some people can handle the amount better than others.

If you genuinely stay within the healthy drinking limits, you’re likely at a low risk for alcohol-related health problems down the line.

The concept of binge drinking is often associated with college students and drinking to get “drunk.” But evidence suggests that people beyond college age also maintain those heavy drinking behaviors. The NIH defines it as five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women within two hours. Some of the risks associated with binge drinking are well known. It increases the risk for sexual assault, violence and self harm. But the physical effects of such behaviors on the body are often less discussed. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there’s strong evidence to suggest that regular binge drinking can damage the frontal cortex and areas of the brain involved in executive functions and decision making. Alcohol slows down the pace of the neurotransmitters in your brain that are critical for proper body responses and even moods.

“Abstaining from alcohol over several months to a year may allow structural brain changes to partially correct,” the NIH says. “Abstinence also can help reverse negative effects on thinking skills, including problem­ solving, memory, and attention.”

Long term drinking can also hurt your heart muscles making them unable to contract properly. It can also harm liver, pancreas and immune system function. Heavy drinking can prevent the protective white blood cells in your body to attack bacterial invaders like they’re supposed to. Drinking too much alcohol can also increase your risk for certain cancers like mouth and breast. Regular heavy drinking also increases the risk for some alcohol dependence. “It creeps up on people,” says Koob.

You can calculate how many “drinks” your cocktail adds up to here and assess how risky your own drinking behaviors are here.

TIME Cancer

Nearly 10 Million Americans Still Use Tanning Beds

Skin cancer may be scaring people away

It looks like tanning beds are finally becoming less popular, a new report reveals.

The number of U.S. adults who use indoor tanning beds—which are strongly linked to skin cancer—declined to 4.2% in 2013 from 5.5% in 2010, according to new research published in the journal JAMA Dermatology.

Even young adults are using tanning beds less than in the past. The researchers noted a drop from 11.3% of 18 to 29 year-olds using them in 2010 to a 8.6% in 2013.

Still, the researchers estimate that 7.8 million women and 1.9 million men still use tanning beds, and for some age groups, there appears to be more interest. For instance, the number of female tanners dropped in all age groups and among college graduates. However, the researchers noted a 177% increase in tanning among men between ages 40 to 49 and 71% higher among men 50 and up.

Though the study authors can’t say for certain, it’s likely the wider acknowledgement that indoor tanning beds can lead to cancer that has more Americans opting out. The hope among public health experts is that the trend will continue to lose popularity.

TIME HIV/AIDS

Cuba Eliminates HIV Transmission from Mother to Child

A newborn baby rests beside his mother Dailyn Fleite at the Ana Betancourt de Mora Hospital in Camaguey, Cuba
Alexandre Meneghini—Reuters A new born baby rests beside his mother at the Ana Betancourt de Mora Hospital in Camaguey, Cuba, on June 19, 2015.

Only two babies were born with HIV in the country 2013

Cuba is the first country to eliminate the transfer of HIV and Syphilis from mother to child, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced Tuesday. Only two babies were born with HIV in the country 2013, a low enough number to meet the WHO standard.

“This is a celebration for Cuba and a celebration for children and families everywhere,” said Michel Sidibé, executive director of the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, in a statement.

The achievement is at least in part the result of a five-year program by WHO and the Pan American Health Organization to eliminate prenatal transmission of HIV in the region. The program has included testing for pregnant women and treatment for women who test positive. Effective treatment of HIV in pregnant women can reduce the risk of passing the disease to a child to just 1%, down from as high as 45% otherwise.

Around 1.4 million women with HIV become pregnant every year. And while the number of mother to child transmissions has declined dramatically in recent years, from about 400,000 in 2009 to 240,000 2013, WHO officials hope to see the number drop below 40,000.

TIME ebola

Ebola Cases Resurface in Liberia After 2 Months of Being Ebola-Free

Liberia Ebola West Africa
Abbas Dulleh—AP Health workers wash their hands after taking a blood specimen from a child to test for the Ebola virus in an area where a 17-year old boy died from the virus on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia, on June 30, 2015.

A teenage boy died from the virus and may have infected others

Liberia has reported its second case of Ebola on Tuesday after nearly two months of being Ebola-free.

Liberia had been declared officially Ebola-free on May 9 after it had gone 42 days with no new cases.

On Sunday, the body of a teenage boy was discovered in a rural area outside of the capital Monrovia and was confirmed to have the virus, Reuters reports. The news was not made public until Tuesday. People who came into contact with the boy have been isolated, and at least one of those patients has tested positive.

Though Liberia was declared free from Ebola infections in May, the outbreak has continued in Guinea and Sierra Leone, which share borders. “There is no known source of infection and there’s no information about him traveling to Guinea or [Sierra Leone],” a spokesperson for the ministry of health told Science.

So far, Ebola has infected 27,400 people in all three countries, killing over 11,200.

TIME public health

You Asked: Is My Air Conditioner Killing Me?

You Asked Air Conditioner Killing Me
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

It can be unhealthy for you—and it’s certainly bad for the planet. It could also save your life.

In the summer, many of us can’t bear to live without it, but even so, cool air is a modern luxury that sometimes seems to freak people out.

“We had forms of heating for a very long time before we ever had air conditioning,” says Dr. Stan Cox, senior scientist at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, and author of Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World. Cox points out that as recently as the 1960s, only 12 percent of Americans had some kind of AC in their homes. While heat was an absolute necessity for people to live in cold climates, Cox says, air conditioning is more of a newcomer on the climate-controlled front.

And research suggests that a little freaking out is warranted. “If you have a badly maintained or badly designed AC system, whether it’s in your home or office or vehicle, it can become contaminated and potentially harmful,” says Dr. Mark Mendell, an epidemiologist with the California Department of Public Health.

Mendell studied the health effects of air conditioning systems while with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He says worsening asthma problems and allergies are two health issues that can stem from contaminated AC units. He also mentions an ominous-sounding phenomenon: sick building syndrome.

“We started seeing it in the 70s and 80s,” Mendell says. “People in office buildings started saying the building was making them sick.”

He says sick building syndrome was associated with a range of seemingly unrelated symptoms: nasal congestion, breathing problems, headaches, fatigue and irritated skin. His own research has linked AC systems in office buildings to many of those same symptoms.

“The most likely explanation is that there may be some microorganisms growing in the system that may have some subtle effect on certain people,” Mendell says. “But it’s not clear how many people are sensitive to this or how big of a problem it is.”

Unlike heating systems, the process of cooling hot air creates a lot of moisture and condensation, which must be channeled away, Mendell explains. If your AC system does a bad job of this, whether due to poor maintenance, damage or shoddy design, it can become a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. To protect yourself, he says, your best defense is a well-maintained and routinely serviced AC unit. (HVAC repairmen, you owe this guy!)

But Mendell is also quick to point out that AC has been firmly linked to many health benefits. “Outdoor air pollution is common in urban environments, and especially in heavy traffic,” he says as just one example. “AC filters out the particles in outdoor pollutants.”

Exposure to airborne pollution particles can raise your risk for hospital admissions and premature death due to cardiovascular issues, says Dr. Michelle Bell, a professor of environmental health at Yale University. Bell’s research found the use of well-maintained AC use lowered a person’s risk for these health complications. “Use of central air conditioning causes less outdoor air pollution to penetrate indoors compared to open windows,” she says.

Both Bell and Mendell also say that during intense heat waves, AC saves lives.

If this seesawing between AC’s benefits and risks feels disorienting, you’re not alone. “Anyone who does research on these systems will admit there’s still a lot of things we don’t know,” Mendell says.

What isn’t in doubt, though, is air conditioning’s very real and harmful impact on the planet.

“The headline issue is its contribution to greenhouse warming,” says Cox, the Land Institute environmental researcher. Indoor heating has long been a bigger contributor than AC to the accumulation of harmful greenhouse gasses, Cox says. But the U.S. population’s southward shift has allowed AC to catch up—and maybe draw even.

Despite his concern for the planet, Cox says that AC can be life saving and beneficial. But he takes issue with what he calls our “lavish” use of any climate control conveniences. Setting our thermostats a bit higher in summer and a little lower in winter would benefit the environment without affecting anyone’s health, he says.

In fact, a little thermal discomfort could be good for you. People tend to eat more and gain more weight when the temperature is perfectly cozy, Cox says. “When we’re a little cold or a little warm, our metabolism runs faster,” he says. Research backs him up: One recent study found exposure to cold temps—enough to make you shiver—may increase your body’s stores of healthy, energy-burning brown fat.

Cox adds that your body can adapt to a range of temperatures. (This is why you break out the shorts and T-shirts on that first 65-degree spring day, but the same thermostat reading in autumn sends you hunting for jeans and sweaters.) So if you can cut out the heat or cold for a week or two, your body will often acclimate to temperatures you found unpleasant at first—and easing up a bit on the AC will make the planet thank you, too.

TIME celebrities

Jim Carrey Brands California Governor ‘Fascist’ Over Vaccine Law

Jim Carrey
Jason LaVeris—FilmMagic/Getty Images Actor Jim Carrey attends LACMA's 50th anniversary gala at LACMA in Los Angeles on April 18, 2015.

Carrey has been an activist on the issue since his relationship with Jenny McCarthy

Jim Carrey left his 14 million Twitter followers in no doubt about his feelings on California’s tough new vaccination law on Tuesday.

The actor believes there is a link between vaccines and autism. He branded California Gov. Jerry Brown a “corporate fascist” after he signed into law one of the strictest immunization programs in the country earlier in the day.

In a series of more than half a dozen tweets that ended in a flurry of capital letters, the Golden Globe winner insisted he was “pro-vaccine.” He was only “anti-neutrotoxin,” he said, repeating his claim that ingredients such as thimerosal and mercury carry a risk to children…

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

 

 

TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Foods That Taste Better in July Than They Will All Year

Here's what should be on your grocery list this month

Never know what’s growing now? Let’s take it one month at a time, with TIME‘s Foods That Taste Better Now Than They Will All Year.

We’re officially into summer, which means the produce department is looking plentiful. “It depends on where you are and what your climate is, but July is a great month,” says Deborah Madison, author of Vegetable Literacy. While some farmer’s markets will have different offerings compared to others, keep your eyes out for some of these fruits and veggies.

Figs: “There’s the early crop of figs this year, and there will be a second crop at the end of August,” says Madison, who lives in New Mexico. Just rinse your figs and trim the stems before eating.

Cherries: Madison says farmer’s market shoppers will likely continue seeing cherries brought to market, though the types of cherries may change as the season goes on. We are smack in the middle of both the tart and sweet cherry season now, so there’s no better time to pick up a pint.

Peas: Keep an eye out for the bright green pea pods. Peas taste their best in the summer, and according to Vegetable Literacy, if you live in higher altitudes, peas can be enjoyed all summer long. Snap peas taste their best when they are moist. When they start to dry, they can taste more starchy.

Peaches: If you can smell peaches, they’re ripe. While peach season can peak in states at different times, you’re definitely going to see some especially juicy ones in July. Peaches should be firm and without bruises on the outside.

Rhubarb: This vegetable is hearty since it comes from places with tough climates like China, Mongolia and Russia. Rhubarb can begin to appear in the Spring, but it can have a long summer season in some states. Remember to only eat the stalks and not the leaves, which are poisonous. Most of us enjoy rhubarb in our pie, but it can be good as a jam or can be eaten like applesauce.

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