Friday, March 14th, 2014
Oxytocin, a chemical that is proving helpful in helping people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), particularly in terms of their ability to read social cues, is being researched for its possible application in treating anorexia, a disorder which currently has no established medication. More from Time.com:
Autism and anorexia have wildly different public faces. The stereotype of an autistic person is a little boy obsessed with trains or a brilliant coder with no social life, while the eating disorder victim is typically pictured as a driven young woman or girl, whose whole world revolves around presenting a carefully drawn picture of thinness and social perfection.
While stereotypes never capture the whole story, underlying both conditions is a rigid obsessiveness that appears within the first few years of life, as well as difficulties reading and responding appropriately to social signals. Not to mention, two of the major triggers for anorexia are a profound sense of alienation and sensitivity to social ranking, according to Dr. Janet Treasure, professor of psychiatry and director of the eating disorders unit at King’s College in London.
Evidence that oxytocin, a brain chemical also known as the “love hormone,” can help autistic people pay more attention to social cues and make socializing less stressful prompted Treasure to explore what effect it would have on anorexia. Now, three new studies of the hormone—best known for its role in bonding lovers to each other and parents to their children—suggest that it may indeed be a viable treatment for anorexia, which currently has no effective pharmacological medication and relies for the most part on therapy.
Image: Erasing anorexia, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, March 4th, 2014
Many parents breathed a sigh of relief when the FDA banned the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) from plastics that are used in infant feeding vessels including bottles and sippy cups in 2012. Studies have linked the chemical, which is known to disrupt the endocrine system by mimicking the hormone estrogen, to health problems including miscarriage risk, and childhood obesity, asthma, and behavioral issues. Many parents were disappointed, though, when the FDA, shortly before making its BPA ban in infant materials, stopped short of banning it from all food containers, especially canned foods and even infant formula packages.
But the debate over the safety of plastics is far from over–and it is larger than the BPA question–according to a new report from Mother Jones magazine that chronicles the work of research organizations that claims that even “safe” plastics leach estrogenic, hormone-disrupting compounds. More from the Mother Jones article:
Each night at dinnertime, a familiar ritual played out in Michael Green’s home: He’d slide a stainless steel sippy cup across the table to his two-year-old daughter, Juliette, and she’d howl for the pink plastic one. Often, Green gave in. But he had a nagging feeling. As an environmental-health advocate, he had fought to rid sippy cups and baby bottles of the common plastic additive bisphenol A (BPA), which mimics the hormone estrogen and has been linked to a long list of serious health problems. Juliette’s sippy cup was made from a new generation of BPA-free plastics, but Green, who runs the Oakland, California-based Center for Environmental Health, had come across research suggesting some of these contained synthetic estrogens, too.
He pondered these findings as the center prepared for its anniversary celebration in October 2011. That evening, Green, a slight man with scruffy blond hair and pale-blue eyes, took the stage and set Juliette’s sippy cups on the podium. He recounted their nightly standoffs. “When she wins…every time I worry about what are the health impacts of the chemicals leaching out of that sippy cup,” he said, before listing some of the problems linked to those chemicals—cancer, diabetes, obesity. To help solve the riddle, he said, his organization planned to test BPA-free sippy cups for estrogenlike chemicals.
The center shipped Juliette’s plastic cup, along with 17 others purchased from Target, Walmart, and Babies R Us, to CertiChem, a lab in Austin, Texas. More than a quarter—including Juliette’s—came back positive for estrogenic activity. These results mirrored the lab’s findings in its broader National Institutes of Health-funded research on BPA-free plastics. CertiChem and its founder, George Bittner, who is also a professor of neurobiology at the University of Texas-Austin, had recently coauthored a paper in the NIH journal Environmental Health Perspectives. It reported that “almost all” commercially available plastics that were tested leached synthetic estrogens—even when they weren’t exposed to conditions known to unlock potentially harmful chemicals, such as the heat of a microwave, the steam of a dishwasher, or the sun’s ultraviolet rays. According to Bittner’s research, some BPA-free products actually released synthetic estrogens that were more potent than BPA.
Estrogen plays a key role in everything from bone growth to ovulation to heart function. Too much or too little, particularly in utero or during early childhood, can alter brain and organ development, leading to disease later in life. Elevated estrogen levels generally increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer….
Today many plastic products, from sippy cups and blenders to Tupperware containers, are marketed as BPA-free. But Bittner’s findings—some of which have been confirmed by other scientists—suggest that many of these alternatives share the qualities that make BPA so potentially harmful.
Those startling results set off a bitter fight with the $375-billion-a-year plastics industry. The American Chemistry Council, which lobbies for plastics makers and has sought to refute the science linking BPA to health problems, has teamed up with Tennessee-based Eastman Chemical—the maker of Tritan, a widely used plastic marketed as being free of estrogenic activity—in a campaign to discredit Bittner and his research. The company has gone so far as to tell corporate customers that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rejected Bittner’s testing methods. (It hasn’t.) Eastman also sued CertiChem and its sister company, PlastiPure, to prevent them from publicizing their findings that Tritan is estrogenic, convincing a jury that its product displayed no estrogenic activity. And it launched a PR blitz touting Tritan’s safety, targeting the group most vulnerable to synthetic estrogens: families with young children. “It can be difficult for consumers to tell what is really safe,” the vice president of Eastman’s specialty plastics division, Lucian Boldea, said in one web video, before an image of a pregnant woman flickered across the screen. With Tritan, he added, “consumers can feel confident that the material used in their products is free of estrogenic activity.”
Eastman’s offensive is just the latest in a wide-ranging industry campaign to cast doubt on the potential dangers of plastics in food containers, packaging, and toys—a campaign that closely resembles the methods Big Tobacco used to stifle scientific evidence about the dangers of smoking.
The article goes on to report that CertiChem and PlastiPure are appealing the 2013 court ruling that alleged the companies were trying to discredit Eastman in order to market their own “safe” plastics, and the groups are working on new research.
Mother Jones also published a timeline that shows the history of the fight against BPA, and how the industry and even government regulators have apparently ignored concerning research about the safety of BPA-free plastics.
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Image: Child with plastic sippy cup, via Shutterstock
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BPA, childhood asthma, childhood obesity, endocrine disruptors, estrogen, fertility, hormones, miscarriage, Mother Jones, plastics | Categories:
Child Health, Must Read, New Research, Parenting News, Safety
Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
The hormone oxytocin may help the social brain functioning of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), a new Yale University study has found. More from The Boston Globe:
Years of research has revealed the potent effects of oxytocin, a hormone that is naturally released during childbirth and has been nicknamed the “love hormone” for the role it appears to play in pair bonding, whether between couples or mother and baby. Then researchers began to administer the hormone to people in non-romantic situations, to see whether it would change their behavior.
The results were intriguing, suggesting that it helped increase cooperation and trust. As the hormone’s ability to enhance social responses was replicated in other studies, researchers began to wonder whether oxytocin might be helpful for people with autism spectrum disorders, which are characterized by impaired social functioning.
In the new work, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Yale researchers measured what happened in the brains of 17 children with autism spectrum disorder when they inhaled the hormone or a placebo, and were then directed to perform tasks in a brain scanner that used functional MRI technology. One task was designed to use the social parts of the brain—the children were asked to intuit the emotion a person was experiencing by looking at a photo of their eyes. In another, they were simply asked to identify a vehicle.
What the researchers found was that a single spray of the hormone increased functioning in the social parts of the brain when the children were confronted with the eye-reading task, while the activity in those areas decreased during the vehicle-naming task. Their performance on the task was not different, but researchers think the brain signals indicate that oxytocin made the social stimuli more relevant and rewarding.
“What’s happening in the brain, we think, is that oxytocin is improving how well we are tuning in to social stimuli, to a social world,” said Ilanit Gordon, an experimental psychologist who did the work at the Yale Child Study Center and is now an assistant professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.
Image: Smiling boy, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, October 15th, 2013
The chemical compound called bisphenol-A (BPA), which is found in many plastics and food can linings, has been linked to a heightened miscarriage risk in women who struggled to conceive or have experienced repeated miscarriages. The finding comes from a new study presented this week to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. More from The Associated Press:
The work is not nearly enough to prove a link, but it adds to ‘‘the biological plausibility’’ that BPA might affect fertility and other aspects of health, said Dr. Linda Giudice, a California biochemist who is president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. The study was to be presented Monday at the group’s annual conference in Boston. Last month, ASRM and an obstetricians group urged more attention to environmental chemicals and their potential hazards for pregnant women.
BPA, short for bisphenol-A, and certain other environmental chemicals can have very weak, hormone-like effects. Tests show BPA in nearly everyone’s urine, though the chemical has been removed from baby bottles and many reusable drink containers in recent years. The federal Food and Drug Administration says BPA is safe as used now in other food containers.
Most miscarriages are due to egg or chromosome problems, and a study in mice suggested BPA might influence that risk, said Dr. Ruth Lathi, a Stanford University reproductive endocrinologist.
With a federal grant, she and other researchers studied 115 newly pregnant women with a history of infertility or miscarriage; 68 wound up having miscarriages and 47 had live births.
Researchers say it is virtually impossible to avoid exposure to BPA completely. The AP offers some tips on how to minimize exposure:
To minimize BPA exposure, avoid cooking or warming food in plastic because heat helps the chemical leak out, she said. Don’t leave water bottles in the sun, limit use of canned foods and avoid handling cash register receipts, which often are coated with resins that contain BPA.
Image: Food can, via Shutterstock
Get our Everything Pregnancy blogger’s take on the link between BPA and your miscarriage risk here.
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Friday, June 14th, 2013
The chemical compound bisphenol-a (BPA), which is found in plastics and many food containers, has been linked with childhood obesity in girls, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE. BPA has long been associated with health problems in boys and men, including prostate issues, but this study calls the compound a major environmental culprit in obesity among young girls. More from CNN:
[Dr. De-Kun Li, a reproductive and perinatal epidemiologist at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California,] and colleagues studied 1,326 school-age children in Shanghai, China, and measured BPA levels in their urine. In girls ages 9 to 12, higher BPA urine levels were associated with a doubled risk of obesity. And as BPA urine levels increased, so did the girls’ obesity risk – measured using their weight in reference to weight distribution in the population.
But strikingly, only girls in this age group were affected, the research showed. Neither girls outside of the 9-12 age range nor boys experienced a risk of being overweight or obese, even with high levels of BPA in their urine.
“Girls seem to be more sensitive to environmental impact, and we don’t know exactly why,” said Li, the lead study author.
Researchers do know BPA is an endocrine-disrupting chemical. It enters the body and mimics estrogen, the main hormone involved in female development.
When BPA acts like estrogen in young girls, it may accelerate the onset of puberty and cause weight gain – thus earning its “endocrine-disrupting” title.
“It is biologically plausible that BPA interferes with your normal hormone process – then your body gets screwed up,” said Li.
In March, a study reported a link between BPA and childhood asthma, and last year, the FDA banned BPA from all baby bottles and sippy cups.
Image: Overweight girl, via Shutterstock
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