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Update July 2018


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Health & Wellbeing
 

July 14, 2018 - July 20, 2018

Compulsive video-game playing could be mental health problem

A man plays a game at the Paris Games Week in Paris. The World Health Organization says that compulsively playing video games now qualifies as a new mental health condition, in a move that some critics warn may risk stigmatizing its young players. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu, File)

 Jamey Keaten & Maria Cheng

Geneva (AP) - Obsessive video gamers know how to anticipate dangers in virtual worlds. The World Health Organization says they now should be on guard for a danger in the real world: spending too much time playing.

In its latest revision to a disease classification manual, the U.N. health agency said Monday that compulsively playing video games now qualifies as a mental health condition. The statement confirmed the fears of some parents but led critics to warn that it may risk stigmatizing too many young video players.

WHO said classifying “gaming disorder” as a separate addiction will help governments, families and health care workers be more vigilant and prepared to identify the risks. The agency and other experts were quick to note that cases of the condition are still very rare, with no more than up to 3 percent of all gamers believed to be affected.

Dr. Shekhar Saxena, director of WHO’s department for mental health and substance abuse, said the agency accepted the proposal that gaming disorder should be listed as a new problem based on scientific evidence, in addition to “the need and the demand for treatment in many parts of the world.”

Dr. Joan Harvey, a spokeswoman for the British Psychological Society, warned that the new designation might cause unnecessary concern among parents.

“People need to understand this doesn’t mean every child who spends hours in their room playing games is an addict, otherwise medics are going to be flooded with requests for help,” she said.

Others welcomed WHO’s new classification, saying it was critical to identify people hooked on video games quickly because they are usually teenagers or young adults who don’t seek help themselves.

“We come across parents who are distraught, not only because they’re seeing their child drop out of school, but because they’re seeing an entire family structure fall apart,” said Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a spokeswoman for behavioral addictions at Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists. She was not connected to WHO’s decision.

Bowden-Jones said gaming addictions were usually best treated with psychological therapies but that some medicines might also work.

The American Psychiatric Association has not yet deemed gaming disorder to be a new mental health problem. In a 2013 statement, the association said it’s “a condition warranting more clinical research and experience before it might be considered for inclusion” in its own diagnostic manual.

The group noted that much of the scientific literature about compulsive gamers is based on evidence from young men in Asia.

“The studies suggest that when these individuals are engrossed in Internet games, certain pathways in their brains are triggered in the same direct and intense way that a drug addict’s brain is affected by a particular substance,” the association said in that statement. “The gaming prompts a neurological response that influences feelings of pleasure and reward, and the result, in the extreme, is manifested as addictive behavior.”

Dr. Mark Griffiths, who has been researching the concept of video gaming disorder for 30 years, said the new classification would help legitimize the problem and strengthen treatment strategies.

“Video gaming is like a non-financial kind of gambling from a psychological point of view,” said Griffiths, a distinguished professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University. “Gamblers use money as a way of keeping score whereas gamers use points.”

He guessed that the percentage of video game players with a compulsive problem was likely to be extremely small - much less than 1 percent - and that many such people would likely have other underlying problems, like depression, bipolar disorder or autism.

WHO’s Saxena, however, estimated that 2 to 3 percent of gamers might be affected.

Griffiths said playing video games, for the vast majority of people, is more about entertainment and novelty, citing the overwhelming popularity of games like “Pokemon Go.”

“You have these short, obsessive bursts and yes, people are playing a lot, but it’s not an addiction,” he said.

Saxena said parents and friends of video game enthusiasts should still be mindful of a potentially harmful problem.

“Be on the lookout,” he said, noting that concerns should be raised if the gaming habit appears to be taking over.

“If (video games) are interfering with the expected functions of the person - whether it is studies, whether it’s socialization, whether it’s work - then you need to be cautious and perhaps seek help,” he said.


FDA OKs first drug made to reduce excessive sweating

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Qbrexza, the first drug developed to reduce excessive sweating, a common condition that can cause anxiety. (Dermira Inc. via AP)

Linda A. Johnson

U.S. regulators on Friday approved the first drug developed specifically to reduce excessive sweating, a common condition that can cause people anxiety and affect their social lives.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Qbrexza for excessive underarm sweating and will be available in October. The drug is inside a cloth wiped over the skin daily to block sweat glands from activating.

Its manufacturer, Dermira Inc., refused to disclose the price, as drugmakers normally do.

An estimated 15.3 million Americans have some form of excessive sweating, but only 1 in 4 get treatment. Current treatment options include Botox injections, surgery to remove sweat glands, procedures using lasers and other devices, and drugs approved for other conditions that block the body’s chemical messengers to reduce sweat production throughout the body.

Side effects of Qbrexza include blurred vision, constipation, burning and itchy skin, head and throat pain, and dry mouth, eyes and skin.

Dermira said in one study, 53 percent of patients reported Qbrexza reduced sweat production by roughly half, versus 28 percent in a comparison group using a nonmedicated cloth. (AP)


July 7, 2018 - July 13, 2018

California moves to declare coffee safe from cancer risk

California State health officials proposed a regulation change Friday, June 15, 2018, that would declare coffee doesn’t present a significant cancer risk, countering a recent California state court ruling that had shaken up some coffee drinkers. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

Brian Melley

Los Angeles (AP) - California officials bucked a recent court ruling Friday and offered reassurance to concerned coffee drinkers that their fix won’t give them cancer.

The unprecedented action by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment to propose a regulation to essentially clear coffee of the stigma that it could pose a toxic risk followed a review of more than 1,000 studies published this week by the World Health Organization that found inadequate evidence that coffee causes cancer.

The state agency implemented a law passed by voters in 1986 that requires warnings of chemicals known to cause cancer and birth defects. One of those chemicals is acrylamide, which is found in many things and is a byproduct of coffee roasting and brewing present in every cup of joe.

If the regulation is adopted, it would be a huge win for the coffee industry which faces potentially massive civil penalties after recently losing an 8-year-old lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court that could require scary warnings on all coffee packaging sold in California.

Judge Elihu Berle found that Starbucks and other coffee roasters and retailers had failed to show that benefits from drinking coffee outweighed any cancer risks. He had previously ruled the companies hadn’t shown the threat from the chemical was insignificant.

The state’s action rejects that ruling.

“The proposed regulation would state that drinking coffee does not pose a significant cancer risk, despite the presence of chemicals created during the roasting and brewing process that are listed under Proposition 65 as known carcinogens,” the agency said in a statement. “The proposed regulation is based on extensive scientific evidence that drinking coffee has not been shown to increase the risk of cancer and may reduce the risk of some types of cancer.”

Attorney Raphael Metzger, who won the court case on behalf of The Council for Education and Research on Toxics, said he was shocked the agency would move to nullify the court decision and undermine its own report more than a decade ago that drinking even small amounts of coffee resulted in a significant cancer risk.

“The takeaway is that the state is proposing a rule contrary to its own scientific conclusion. That’s unprecedented and bad,” Metzger said. “The whole thing stinks to high hell.”

The National Coffee Association had no comment on the proposed change. In the past, the organization has said coffee has health benefits and that the lawsuit made a mockery of the state law intended to protect people from toxics.

Scientific evidence on coffee has gone back and forth many years, but concerns have eased recently about possible dangers, with some studies finding health benefits.

Big Coffee didn’t deny that acrylamide was found in the coffee, but they argued it was only found at low levels and was outweighed by other benefits such as antioxidants that reduce cancer risk.

The state agency’s action comes about a week after bipartisan bills were introduced in both houses of Congress to require science-based criteria for labels on food and other products. One of the sponsors, Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon, alluded to the California coffee lawsuit as an example of misleading warnings.

“When we have mandatory cancer warnings on a cup of coffee, something has gone seriously wrong with the process,” Schrader said in a news release. “We now have so many warnings unrelated to the actual health risk posed to consumers, that most people just ignore them.”

The lawsuit against Starbucks and 90 companies was brought by the tiny nonprofit under a law that allows private citizens, advocacy groups and attorneys to sue on behalf of the state and collect a portion of civil penalties for failure to provide warnings.

The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, better known as Proposition 65, requires warning labels for about 900 chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects.

The law has been credited with reducing cancer-causing chemicals, but it has been criticized for leading to quick settlement shakedowns and vague warnings that are often ignored.


FDA clears 1st generic film strip of addiction drug Suboxone

Linda A. Johnson, AP

U.S. regulators have approved the first generic version of an under-the-tongue film for treating opioid addiction.

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved a generic version of Suboxone, a film strip that dissolves under the tongue. Used daily, it reduces withdrawal symptoms, cravings for opioids and the high from abusing them.

The medication combines buprenorphine and naloxone. It’s used along with counseling and other behavioral therapy.

The generic version will be sold by partners Mylan N.V. and Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories SA. They didn’t immediately respond to questions about when their version will be available or what it will cost.

Brand-name Suboxone film costs about $200 a month without insurance.

The FDA said the approval was aimed at making the treatment available to more people.


June 30, 2018 - July 6, 2018

Fewer US teens smoking, doing drugs ... and drinking milk

Nearly 20 years ago, about nearly half of high school students said they drank at least one glass of milk a day. But now it’s down to less than a third, according to a survey released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday, June 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)

Mike Stobbe

New York (AP) - Fewer U.S. teens are smoking, having sex and doing drugs these days. Oh, and they’re drinking less milk, too.

Less than one-third of high school students drink a glass of milk a day, according to a large government survey released Thursday. About two decades ago, it was nearly half.

Last year’s survey asked about 100 questions on a wide range of health topics, including smoking, drugs and diet. Researchers compared the results to similar questionnaires going back more than 25 years.

One trend that stood out was the drop in drinking milk, which started falling for all Americans after World War II. In recent decades, teens have shifted from milk to soda, then to Gatorade and other sports drinks and recently to energy drinks like Monster and Red Bull.

The survey showed slightly fewer kids are drinking soda and sports drinks now, compared to the last survey in 2015.

One caveat: Most students were not asked about energy drinks so how many kids drink them now isn’t known. A study from a decade ago estimated that nearly a third of kids between the age of 12 and 17 were regularly drinking energy drinks.

Kids have shifted from a dairy product rich in calcium and vitamin D to beverages laden with sugar and caffeine, which is likely contributing to the nation’s obesity problem, said Barry Popkin, a University of North Carolina researcher who studies how diets change.

“This is not a healthy trend for our long-term health,” he said.

For teens, the government recommends 3 cups daily of dairy products - milk, yogurt or cheese.

The survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conducted every two years. About 15,000 students at 144 high schools were surveyed last year. The surveys are anonymous and voluntary, and there’s no check of medical records or other documents to verify answers.

Some of the findings:

- Not as many teen are having sex, although there wasn’t much change from the 2015 survey results. Last year, about 40 percent said they’d ever had sex, down from 48 percent a decade ago.

- There was no substantial recent change for cigarette smoking, either. About 9 percent are current smokers, down from more than 27 percent when the survey started in 1991. Ditto alcohol, with 30 percent saying they currently use alcohol, down from 51 percent in 1991.

- Marijuana use seems to hovering, with about 36 percent of students saying they had ever tried it. But overall, illegal drug use seems to be falling, including for synthetic marijuana, ecstasy, heroin, inhalants, and LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs. For the first time, the survey asked if they had ever abused prescription opioid medications. About 14 percent did.

- Another first-time question: Have you had a concussion from a sport or physical activity at least once in the previous year? Nationally, 15 percent said they had. The finding may sound high but it’s not far off from what’s been reported by some other researchers, said Michael Collins, who runs a University of Pittsburgh-affiliated sports concussion program.


NIH ends alcohol study, citing funding, credibility problems

A woman evaluates the aroma of a wine in California. On Friday, June 15, 2018, National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins announced the NIH is shutting down a study that was supposed to show if a single drink a day could prevent heart attacks, citing ethical problems that would undermine the credibility of its findings. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

Lauran Neergaard

Washington (AP) - The U.S. government is shutting down a study that was supposed to show if a single drink a day could prevent heart attacks, saying ethical problems with how the research was planned and funded undermine its credibility.

The National Institutes of Health used money from the alcohol industry to help pay for a study that ultimately was expected to cost $100 million. It’s legal for NIH to use industry money in addition to taxpayer dollars for research as long as certain rules are followed. The problem: An NIH investigation concluded Friday that a small number of its employees had close contact with industry officials that crossed those lines.

Some of those interactions “appear to intentionally bias” the study so that it would have a better chance of showing a benefit from moderate alcohol consumption, said NIH Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak.

Those employees, from the NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, then kept their interactions with industry secret, he said, even after the NIH started the normal process for asking companies or other outside groups to help fund a research project.

Those actions cast “doubt that the scientific knowledge gained from the study would be actionable or believable,” Tabak told a meeting of the NIH director’s advisers.

Another concern: Some outside experts who had reviewed the study plans raised concerns that it was too small and too short to address the potential problems of a daily drink - such as an increased risk of cancer or heart failure - and not just potential benefits such as a lowered risk of a heart attack.

“Purely on scientific grounds, I never really quite understood why this trial was being done,” Dr. M. Roy Wilson of Wayne State University told NIH Director Francis Collins after hearing the investigation’s conclusions. People who have a glass or two of wine - himself included, he said - “don’t do it for health reasons.”

The research was supposed to track 7,800 people who were assigned to take either a drink a day, or totally abstain, for several years. Only 105 people had enrolled by last month, when Collins temporarily suspended the study after a New York Times article first raised questions about the funding policy violations.

On Friday, Collins announced he was completely shutting down the research. “This is a matter of the greatest seriousness,” he said.

The study was being led by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, which said in a statement that it was “deeply committed to ensuring the scientific and ethical integrity of any research study involving our investigators” and would review NIH’s findings.

In a statement late Friday, the lead researcher, Beth Israel’s Dr. Kenneth Mukamal, said he and rest of the research team were “deeply disappointed” in NIH’s decision.

“We stand fully and forcefully behind the scientific integrity” of the study, Mukamal said. He added that “every design consideration was carefully and deliberately vetted with no input or direction whatsoever from private sponsors, who have had no contact” with study staff since the trial began.

Aside from how alcohol can impair behavior and judgment, scientists have long debated if drinking various amounts can truly translate into a specific health benefit. What the NIH’s alcohol research agency calls “low-risk” drinking is no more than seven drinks a week for women and no more than 14 drinks a week for men.

Asked if it would be possible for NIH to try to answer some of those health questions after the financial controversy, Tabak responded, “It would not be an easy study to conduct.”
 


DAILY UPDATEE

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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Compulsive video-game playing could be mental health problem

FDA OKs first drug made to reduce excessive sweating


California moves to declare coffee safe from cancer risk

FDA clears 1st generic film strip of addiction drug Suboxone


Fewer US teens smoking, doing drugs ... and drinking milk

NIH ends alcohol study, citing funding, credibility problems


 



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