TIME Drugs

New HIV Cases Down Dramatically in Previously Stricken Indiana County

HIV Outbreak Indiana
Darron Cummings—AP New needles, which clients can get as part of the needle exchange program at the Austin Community Outreach Center, are displayed in Austin, Ind. on April 21, 2015

Good news after a 3,400% rise in infections over recent months

After a dramatic spike earlier this year, the number of new HIV cases in rural Scott County, Indiana, has fallen considerably, public health officials announced Wednesday.

The rate of new cases has decreased to between zero and two a week, down from a maximum of 23 per week in April, deputy state health commissioner Dr. Jennifer Walthall told Reuters.

Since December the county has diagnosed 170 HIV cases, a near-epidemic that has been attributed to a corresponding explosion in intravenous drug use. Up from a previous county maximum of five diagnoses per year, that represents a more than 3,400% increase.

The rapid spread of HIV forced Governor Mike Pence, who had previously opposed needle exchanges, to reconsider and sign off on one in Scott County in March. News of the decline in infections came on the heels of that program’s implementation, and nearby Madison County also applied for a needle exchange Wednesday to help fight a sudden rise in Hepatitis C infections. The disease is often seen as a warning sign for a later HIV spike.

Despite the good news, state health commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams told reporters that the fight in Scott County was not yet over. He said his office planned an initiative to help identify so-called “high-risk negatives” — individuals who are not infected but are at risk because of their lifestyles — and stressed that there was much work still to be done. “This is something that is going to require continuing vigilance,” he said.

[Reuters]

TIME Health Fad

Health Warning Issued Over Consuming Breast Milk Bought Online

Bodybuilders, fetishists and cancer patients sometimes refer to the milk as "liquid gold"

Drinking breast milk purchased via the Internet may mean consuming dangerous bacteria and could cause serious illness, health experts warn.

Online communities selling breast milk were initially started for mothers who had trouble producing enough of their own, the BBC reports. But now bodybuilders, fetishists and even cancer patients are joining these virtual marketplaces in the hopes of reaping the benefits of what fans sometimes refer to as “liquid gold.”

However, a team of researchers at The Queen Mary University of London is warning about health risks including HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B and C as there’s no regulation of breast milk, which typically comes unpasteurized.

Dr. Sarah Steele, who works at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, told the BBC that the milk can be particularly harmful to cancer patients whose immune systems are already compromised.

“You’re exposing yourself to bacteria and viruses that could complicate the medical condition in a dangerous way,” she told the BBC.

Representatives of one of the marketplaces, onlythebreast.com, told the BBC that they advised all of their users to pasteurize the milk before selling it.

[BBC]

TIME Diet/Nutrition

This Kind of Fat Messes With Your Memory

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Samuel Kessler—Getty Images

These fats can build up in artery walls and spell disaster for the heart, but they can also harm the brain

The latest study gives support to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision to phase out the fats in three years. In a report published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One, researchers say that eating any amount of trans fats, such as those found in processed baked goods and cookies and some margarines, can wreak havoc on your memory.

Dr. Beatrice Golomb, professor of medicine at University of California San Diego, and her colleagues analyzed diet information on 1018 healthy men and women who were part of a study on cholesterol-lowering drugs. The participants answered detailed information about what they ate, including how their food was prepared, and the scientists then calculated the amount of trans fats the volunteers consumed based on their responses. Each participant also took part in a word recall test to measure their memory; they were presented with a series of word cards; the first time they saw a set of 104 cards, then they saw another set in which only 22 words remained the same, and were asked to identify which were new and which were repeats.

MORE: This Is Why FDA Is Banning Trans Fats

When the researchers matched up trans fat consumption with performance on the memory test, they found that those with the highest trans fat in their diet labeled the most words incorrectly. And, this effect seemed to be worse among younger volunteers than older ones.

“These results fit with other work showing that trans fats are key to brain function, including mood and behavior,” says Golomb. “And now we have another outcome showing that they adversely impair cell energy and oxidative stress.”

MORE: You’re Eating More Trans Fat Than You Think, Study Finds

While her study didn’t delve into how the trans fats are impeding memory, there is ample evidence that trans fats promote oxidative damage to cells. The presence of the fats can lead to a higher level of unstable oxygen molecules which can in turn destabilize DNA, proteins and other fats, prompting affected cells to die off. Some studies show that the memory center of the brain, in the hippocampus, is particularly vulnerable to such changes, which could explain the results Golomb saw.

The fact that the younger participants seemed to show worse effects than older ones may simply reflect the fact that older people are already experiencing declines in memory due to other, cumulative effects of brain injury, from poor sleep to a lifetime of traumatic injuries. In older people, the difference in memory changes won’t be as robust as they are in younger people.

MORE: Trans Fats Are Hiding All Over Your Grocery List

Essentially, for every gram per day of dietary trans fat the participants ate, the volunteers were able to accurately recall 0.76 fewer words. The FDA currently allows companies whose products contain 0.5g of trans fats to label them as having zero trans fats; even if a person eats eight such products (a reasonable amount, considering they’re found in canned chili, frozen cheesecake and popcorn) for a total of 8g of trans fats, that would mean they might remember three fewer words on the memory test on average. “That association does not appear to be tiny in my view,” says Golomb.

“There is no good consumption or exposure level; there is no positive purpose in my view of trans fat consumption,” says Gololmb.

The FDA, it seems, finally agrees.

TIME public health

This Is the Only Sunscreen Article You Need to Read

Only 43% of people know the definition of SPF

How proficient are you in sunscreen-ese? According to a new survey in JAMA Dermatology, most people don’t understand much of what’s written on a lotion label.

Researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine wanted to test people’s knowledge of sunscreen, so they surveyed 114 people who came to the dermatology clinic during the summer of 2014. Even though 93% of them had purchased a bottle in the last year, most people showed important gaps in their sunscreen smarts.

1. UVB rays

“People think that SPF equals everything,” says Dr. Roopal Kundu, one of the study’s authors and a dermatologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. And it does count for a lot: the sun protection factor measures a sunscreen’s ability to filter UVB rays, which are related to sunburn and skin cancer. But SPF only measures UVB rays; it doesn’t tell you anything about protection from UVA rays, Kundu says.

MORE: Top Sunscreens Are Put To The Test

2. UVA rays

The most misunderstood part of sunscreen is UVA, Kundu says. “UVA is around every day; it can penetrate through window glass,” she says. Like UVB, it’s also related to an increased risk of skin cancer, but unlike UVB, it’s not filtered by the ozone at all, Kundu says. UVA doesn’t cause sunburn, but “it really leads to darkening and aging, because it penetrates deeper into the skin and has more influence in the collagen.”

There’s only one way to tell whether your sunscreen offers UVA coverage: the words “broad spectrum.” Only 34% of people in the study named “broad spectrum” labeling as an influence in their choice to buy a sunscreen, but they’re the two most crucial words to look for on a sunscreen label, Kundu says, because there’s no other metric on the bottle for UV-A coverage. Without the words “broad spectrum” your sunscreen likely doesn’t offer coverage from UVA, Kundu says.

Most active ingredients in sunscreen shield against UVB, but far fewer have UVA coverage, and only a handful offer both.

Personally, Kundu uses an SPF 30 sunscreen with the active ingredient zinc oxide, a natural sunscreen ingredient that physically—instead of chemically—blocks rays. Zinc oxide protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

MORE: 80% Of Sunscreens Don’t Really Work Or Have ‘Worrisome’ Ingredients: Report

3. SPF numbers

So why does a dermatologist only use an SPF of 30? People in the study rated a high SPF number as the number-one reason they bought one sunscreen over another, but only 43% of people in the study knew what SPF actually meant. Here’s the real definition: an SPF of 30 means that technically, you could be out in the sun 30 times longer before you get sunburned than you would be able to if you went out without sunscreen, as long as you keep reapplying it appropriately, Kundu says.

And an SPF of 15 is not half as effective as an SPF 30, contrary to what 39% of the people in the study thought. According to Kundu, SPF 15 filters about 93% of UV-B rays; SPF 30 filters about 97% of UV-B rays; and SPF 50 filters about 98% of UV-B rays. The difference between SPF 30 and SPF 50 is only a 1% filtering improvement, she says, and since SPF 30 is readily available at many different price points, that’s the one many dermatologists recommend.

4. How much you need

For a sunscreen to work as advertised, you have to use a shotglass worth for unexposed areas, Kundu says. (About half of people in the study got this wrong.)

Bottom line: Typical adults should buy a water-resistant, broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen, reapply every two hours and use the right amount, Kundu says. “If we can help reduce or spot skin cancer sooner, or be more aware of it, these are the mechanisms by which we can do it.”

TIME Birth Control

Quiz: How Effective Is Your Birth Control?

IUD birthcontrol
Photo Illustration by Mia Tramz for TIME; Corbis

Test your contraceptive IQ

Teen birth and pregnancy rates are at a record low, possibly due to teens use of better birth control methods. Do you know how effective your birth control is?

Birth control methods vary widely in terms of effectiveness and duration of use. People choose their methods for a wide variety of reasons, but recent data shows that when women are informed and counseled about different forms of contraceptives, they tend to opt for the most effective types and unintended pregnancies drop. Typical use failure rates are used to determine effectiveness, and show the rate the method fails during “typical use,” which accounts of inconsistent or incorrect use of the method (think missing a pill or a broken condom).

Guess the typical use failure rates of the birth control options below:

TIME Research

Rising Birth Rates a Good Sign for the Economy

Large Group of Babies
Getty Images

First increase since the recession

The number of children born in the U.S. increased in 2014 for the first time since the Great Recession, a sign that some women may be feeling financially stable enough to start a family.

The National Center for Health Statistics released a study Wednesday showing that both the number of births and the fertility rate in the U.S. increased by 1% in 2014, the first rise since 2007, when both demographic markers began dropping.

Last year, the U.S. birth rate had fallen to a 15-year low, according to NCHS data, with the number of births decreasing from 4.3 million in 2007 to 3.9 million in 2013, a 9% drop. Based on 2007 birth rates, University of New Hampshire demographer Ken Johnson estimates that there were 2.3 million fewer babies born between 2008 and 2013 than there would have been if the birth rate remained stable.

The falling birth rate has been one of the indirect consequences of the recession and of particular concern for demographers. Low birth rates over the long term, barring an influx of immigrants, can mean a population decline that leads to a smaller tax base and fewer people to financially support programs like Social Security and Medicare as the population ages.

Demographers have been trying to determine whether the economy forced women to merely delay childbirth or forego starting a family altogether. The latest numbers, while preliminary, suggest that women may just have been delaying.

The birth rate for women aged 30-34, many of whom were graduating from college and looking for jobs when the recession hit, rose 3% in 2014 and has steadily increased since 2011. The rate for women aged 35-39 increased by 3% while the rate for those aged 40-44 rose 2%.

For women aged 20-24, however, the birth rate decreased by 2%, and it remained steady for those aged 25-29, suggesting that many millennials are still putting off starting a family.

“We won’t know how significant this is unless it continues for the next few years,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, of the overall rise in birth rates. “But it’s a glimmer of hope that demographic responses are reacting to an improving economy.”

TIME Cancer

You Asked: Can Deodorant Give You Cancer?

You Asked Deoderent Cancer
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

There may be reasons to worry—though hard proof remains elusive.

If you’ve seen the 1989 film Batman—the one with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson—you’ll recall that the Joker terrorizes Gotham City by slipping toxic chemicals into cosmetics: while no single item is lethal, combining deodorant with shampoo and lipstick could kill you.

It’s hard not to think of that movie while chatting with toxicologists who study the potential risk of deodorant and antiperspirant ingredients, especially parabens and aluminum. However, according to the American Cancer Society’s website, there is no “clear” or “direct” link between parabens or aluminum and cancer. The National Cancer Institute site says “more research is needed.”

The FDA, for its part, says “FDA believes that at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens. However, the agency will continue to evaluate new data in this area. If FDA determines that a health hazard exists, the agency will advise the industry and the public.

But “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” says Dr. Philip Harvey, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Applied Toxicology.

Dr. Philippa Darbre, an oncologist at the University of Reading in the U.K., has published more than 30 research papers on those substances found in underarm deodorant and other personal care products. She says that many of these ingredients are concerning on their own. But the health risks of each may be greater—and more difficult to identify—when you consider the complex chemical cocktails that form when they combine.

For example, her research has detected parabens—a category of chemical that acts as a preservative in some underarm and personal care products—in women’s breast tissue, though how those parabens got there and what happens when they are in breast tissue is unknown.

In Darbre’s experiments, combining different parabens with human cells creates activity that may contribute to the development of cancer. But attempts to find these links in humans—as opposed to in petri dishes—have produced inconsistent results. One 2002 study found no correlation between underarm product use and breast cancer; a 2003 study did find ties. Darbre says both studies have flaws and leave many important questions unanswered.

Like Darbre, Harvey has looked into the ways cosmetics interact with your body. He says wiping these chemicals under your arms and on the sides of your chest or breasts “could provide a route of almost direct exposure to underlying tissue containing estrogen receptors.”

Both parabens and aluminum are “estrogenic” chemicals—meaning they interact with your body’s hormones or cells in ways similar to estrogen. That’s concerning, because excess estrogen plays a role in promoting the growth of cancer cells, according to the National Cancer Institute. While many experts think cosmetic chemicals like parabens have only “weak” estrogenic activity, Harvey doesn’t agree. He says, “It is often quoted that parabens are thousands of times less potent than estrogen in terms of their estrogenicity. This can be misleading and ignores actual exposures.”

Harvey says his own calculations suggest these cosmetic chemicals may “significantly add to estrogenic burdens.” Because of that, he says he questions the wisdom of including any chemical with known hormonal activity in your personal care regimen.

But until he and other researchers are able to explain—and demonstrate—the ways these chemicals cause health problems, no regulatory changes are likely.

That’s because unless a chemical is proven harmful, regulators allow you to eat it, smoke it, brush with it or slather it on your body. Finding that proof of harm is a difficult, costly and time-consuming proposition. Darbre says researchers can’t simply mix some human cells and some chemicals in a test tube and watch for cancer to pop up.

So where does that leave deodorant and antiperspirant users? Largely in in the dark, Darbre says. “People want a simple fix,” she says. “Unfortunately it is not simple.”

Until more is known, consumers are in a bind. “Avoiding certain publicized chemicals is only the tip of the iceberg,” she says. Darbre says she switched to a twice-daily regimen of underarm cleaning with soap and water. (“No one has yet complained!” she jokes.) Frequent pit scrubbing may seem unnecessarily laborious—or just plain weird. But if you’re concerned about the chemicals you rub on your body, regular bathing might seem like an attractive alternative.

MONEY Whole Foods

Whole Foods Says This Is the Best Day for Discounts

whole-foods
John Nordell/Getty Images

It's the one day where sales from the current week and the previous week overlap.

Planning to make a Whole Foods run anytime soon? Schedule that shopping for the middle of the week and you might save some money.

A Whole Foods rep tells Business Insider that Wednesday is the one day where the sales from the current week and the previous week overlap, leaving consumers with a larger number of discounts.

The Austin-based company has lately made it clear it want to compete for more price-sensitive customers. It’s launching a new chain called 365, with an emphasis on lower prices for small range of foods.

The Whole Foods rep was also quick to mention bargain-happy customers can save in other ways, like subscribing to email alerts or cutting coupons, but people who really want to save are likely doing that already. For the rest of us: Wednesday. Just remember Wednesday.

(Or shop at a cheaper supermarket.)

Read next: 12 Ways to Slash Your Grocery Bill by Cutting Out Food Waste

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