April 13, 2010
By: S.L. Baker
Earlier this year, research linked bisphenol A (BPA), a common component of plastics and a powerful hormone disrupter, to heart disease. Now, in the March issue of the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, researchers have reported yet another newly discovered danger posed by BPA. Hugh S. Taylor, M.D., professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at Yale University, and his research team have found for the first time that BPA exposure during pregnancy can cause abnormalities in the uterus of offspring and permanent alterations in DNA.
But at least you can avoid plastics and therefore avoid exposure to the BPA, right? Unfortunately, another group of scientists has just announced that’s getting harder and harder to do. Bottom line: there is now solid evidence that Earth’s oceans have been contaminated on a global scale with BPA.
Katsuhiko Saido, Ph.D., of Nihon University in Chiba, Japan, and his colleagues announced their startling and worrisome findings at the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society held in San Francisco recently. He stated that the massive BPA contamination of oceans resulted from hard plastic trash thrown in the seas as well as from another surprising source — the epoxy plastic paints used to seal the hulls of ships.
“This new finding clearly demonstrates the instability of epoxy, and shows that BPA emissions from epoxy do reach the ocean. Recent studies have shown that mollusks, crustaceans and amphibians could be affected by BPA, even in low concentrations,” Dr. Saido said in a statement to the media.
The scientists noted that light, white-foamed plastic decomposed rapidly at temperatures commonly found in the oceans, releasing the endocrine disruptor BPA. It isn’t just soft plastics that leach BPA, either.
“We were quite surprised to find that polycarbonate plastic biodegrades in the environment,” Dr. Saido explained. “Polycarbonates are very hard plastics, so hard they are used to make screwdriver handles, shatter-proof eyeglass lenses, and other very durable products. This finding challenges the wide public belief that hard plastics remain unchanged in the environment for decades or centuries. Biodegradation, of course, releases BPA to the environment.”
Dr. Saido’s research team analyzed sand and seawater from over 200 sites in 20 countries, including areas in Southeast Asia and North America. Every site tested contained what Dr. Saido labeled as “significant” amounts of BPA, ranging from 0.01 parts per million (ppm) to 50 ppm.
Dr. Saido pointed out that littering currently results in about 150,000 tons of plastic debris washing up on the shores of Japan alone each year. In addition, a huge area of plastic waste known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is about two times the size of Texas, now contaminates the area between California and Hawaii. “Marine debris plastic in the ocean will certainly constitute a new global ocean contamination for long into the future,” Dr. Saido predicted in the press statement.
In yet more BPA news, Rolf Halden, associate professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering at Arizona State University and assistant director of Environmental Biotechnology at the Biodesign Institute, has just published a sobering research article on the hazards of chemical-loaded plastics. His findings, which are included in the latest issue of the Annual Review of Public Health, provide more evidence that plastics in garbage dumps, landfills and the world’s oceans are an ever-increasing toxic problem.
In fact, Dr. Halden concluded in his paper that plastics and their additives such as BPA aren’t only around us; they are inside virtually every human. The chemicals show up in blood and urine tests because they are ingested with the food we eat, the water we drink and from other environmental exposures.
“We’re doomed to live with yesterday’s plastic pollution and we are exacerbating the situation with each day of unchanged behavior,” Dr. Harden said in a press statement. “We are at a critical juncture and cannot continue under the modus that has been established. If we’re smart, we’ll look for replacement materials, so that we don’t have this mismatch — good for a minute and contaminating for 10,000 years.”
February 23th, 2010
The Wall Street Journal
By Shirley S. Wang
Acupuncture designed to treat depression appears to improve symptoms in pregnant women, suggesting it as an alternative to antidepressant medication during pregnancy, a study found.
The study, published Monday in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, is the largest to date examining the effectiveness of acupuncture to treat depression in pregnant women. It was funded by a grant from the government’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. “Acupuncture that we have tested works for pregnant, depressed women,” said Rachel Manber, a study author and professor at Stanford University. However, “no single study is enough to make policy recommendations,” she said.
Depression in pregnancy is a risk factor for postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is associated in some studies with poorer cognitive and emotional development in children. Some have linked depression in pregnancy and low birth weight.
As many as 14% of pregnant women are thought to develop a significant depression at some point during their pregnancy, according to the study authors, comparable to numbers who suffer from postpartum depression. Antidepressants are generally considered safe for use in pregnancy, but research has been limited and concerns continue to grow, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. One study showed that the risk of persistent pulmonary hypertension, a potentially serious lung condition, is significantly greater in newborns whose mother took antidepressants later in pregnancy. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that patients and physicians “carefully consider and discuss together” the benefits and risks taking antidepressants during pregnancy.”Antidepressants are not an attractive option for many women,” said Dr. Manber. “Many women are concerned about using antidepressant medication during pregnancy.”
Acupuncture, based on ancient Chinese medicine, attempts to treat conditions by stimulating points on the body, most often with needles stuck in the skin and moved by hand or electrical stimulation, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
In the study, 150 clinically depressed pregnant women who weren’t previously taking antidepressants were randomly assigned to get either acupuncture for depression, acupuncture not specifically designed for depression, or massage for eight weeks. Those who got acupuncture targeting depression had a significantly greater decrease in depressive symptoms, compared with the other women. Some 63% of women in the acupuncture-for-depression group responded to treatment, compared with 44% in the other groups.
There wasn’t a difference between the groups in full recovery from the depression. Though this study didn’t compare acupuncture for depression with another active treatment, the response rates are comparable to those rates from other depression treatments in studies of non-pregnant individuals, Dr. Manber said. And future work needs to examine how acupuncture for depression compares with standard treatment like antidepressants or psychotherapy, as well as who responds to treatment and what the optimal dose of the acupuncture treatment should be.
Febraury 22, 2010
Researchers said there was “promising evidence” for acupuncture in treating cramps, but that more work was needed.
In the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, they noted two studies found little difference between real and sham acupuncture in treating pain.
Acupuncture is a less contentious form of complementary medicine than some, but its value is still disputed.
Period pain can be severe in some women and may be accompanied by nausea, diarrhoea, migraine and backache. Common treatments include pain killers, applying heat and exercise – although a recent study questioned the efficacy of the latter.
This latest review involved 27 studies – which included nearly 3,000 women. They addressed a variety of forms of acupuncture – from classical to acupoint injection.
Traditional acupuncturists insert needles in acupuncture points located along what they describe as “energy meridians” – a concept for which many scientists say there is no evidence. Sham acupuncture places needles away from these points.
It is not clear whether either form alleviates pain as a result of the placebo effect – the very ritual of undergoing acupuncture – or cause subtle changes in the nervous system and brain activity which can be beneficial.
Nice backs needles
The analysis by the team from Kyung Hee Medical Centre found that patients with severe period pain reported a greater reduction in their symptoms when using acupuncture compared with pharmacological treatments.
But they stressed there were methodological flaws in some studies, and that the findings did need to be interpreted with caution. Nevertheless, there was “promising evidence”, they wrote.
In the UK, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) has backed the use of acupuncture in the treatment of low back pain – a move welcomed by some but criticised by those who say there is little evidence for its efficacy.
The editor-in-chief of the BJOG, Professor Philip Steer, noted that some women had period pain, also known as primary dysmenorrhoea, so badly they were “unable to function normally”.
“Women with primary dysmenorrhoea should consult their GPs or gynaecologists on the best treatment available to them. Complementary therapies should not be used exclusively, at the expense of conventional treatment, unless significant improvements have been made and your doctor tells you otherwise.”
January 22, 2010
The Washington Post
By Lauran Neergaard
U.S. newborns are arriving a little smaller, says puzzling new Harvard research that can’t explain why. Fatter mothers tend to produce heavier babies, and obesity is soaring. Yet the study of nearly 37 million births shows newborns were a bit lighter in 2005 than in 1990, ending a half-century of rising birth weights.
The change isn’t big: The average birth weight of full-term babies is just under 7 1/2 pounds, a drop of about 1.8 ounces, researchers reported Thursday in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.
That’s surprising considering doctor warnings about 9-pound, or bigger, babies. So the researchers double-checked.
The proportion born large for their gestational age dropped about 2 percent, which is good.
“What physicians are responding to is that the bigger babies are getting bigger,” said lead researcher Dr. Emily Oken of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. Plus, “babies are still bigger than they were 30, 40, 50 years ago. It’s just the trend seems to have flattened or reversed itself.”
That’s particularly true for women at lowest risk for too-small babies: White, well-educated, married non-smokers who got early prenatal care. Still, their babies, on average, weighed 2.8 ounces less over the study period.
Babies born too big are at increased risk of obesity and diabetes later in life. On the other hand, babies born too small may require intensive care right away and also be at risk for later chronic diseases. The proportion of babies small for their gestational age did increase slightly, by 1 percent, Oken said.
Moreover, babies’ length at birth suggests even full-term pregnancies are 2.5 days shorter than they used to be. That can’t account for all the weight change, and Oken couldn’t find a full explanation from the birth certificates she studied.
Oken excluded premature babies, as well as twins or other multiples, from her study. (Obese mothers also are at higher risk of having a preemie.) Yes, there are more scheduled cesarean sections or induced labors now, but her analysis concluded that wasn’t to blame.
But that’s not clear as induction often isn’t listed on birth certificates, and the study found a drop in babies born at 40 or 41 weeks gestation, noted Dr. Joann Petrini, an adviser to the March of Dimes.
Regardless, it’s too soon know what this drop means for babies but “we should keep vigilant” about any decline among the smallest newborns, Petrini said.
The study uses the most recent data available from official U.S. birth certificates.