Monthly Archives: November 2016

Healthy Effect of Facebook

Is it us, or are news headlines about Facebook’s impact on our health popping up more and more these days? Considering that 51 percent of Americans over age 12 now have profiles on the social networking site compared to 8 percent just three years ago, according to new data from Edison Research, it’s no wonder there are entire scientific journals devoted to the psychology of social networking, and piles of studies analyzing such sites’ effects on our moods, body image, friendships, and marriages.

Negative conditions such as “Facebook depression” or Facebook-fueled divorces bear the brunt of the media blitz, but much of the body of research actually points to positive perks from Facebook use. Here, a deeper look at how all those “likes,” “pokes,” and status updates are really affecting you and your family’s well-being, and how you can outsmart some of the potentially negative side effects.

Health Benefits of Facebook

Research shows that Facebook can:

Fuel self-esteem. In a Cornell University study, students felt better about themselves after they updated their Facebook profiles; a control group of students who didn’t log onto the site didn’t experience such a mood lift. The very act of posting something about yourself — regardless of what you write — can boost your self-confidence because you control the image you present to your network of friends, according to researchers.
Similarly, according to a Michigan State University study, students with low self-esteem and happiness levels who used Facebook more frequently felt more connected to friends and campus life than those who logged on less often.

Strengthen friendship bonds. In a small study of heavy Facebook-using young British adults between ages 21 and 29, Lancaster University researchers found that the site helped cement positive interactions among friends. Both private messages and wall posts allowed Facebook users to confide in their friends, surf down memory lane, and laugh out loud, promoting happy feelings.
Stamp out shyness and loneliness. In a soon-to-be-published Carnegie Mellon study, researchers who surveyed more than 1,100 avid Facebook-using adults found that receiving messages from friends and consuming info from friends’ news feeds boosted feelings of connectedness, especially in people with self-described “low social skills.” Authors say that for shy people, gleaning information from news feeds and profiles can help start conversations they otherwise might not be comfortable enough to strike up. “People who are uncomfortable chatting face to face gain more through their use of the site,” says study co-author Moira Burke, a PhD candidate in the university’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute.
Similar benefits hold true for tweens and teens: Australian researchers who studied more than 600 students between age 10 and 16 found that communicating online helped improve communication skills for lonely adolescents, giving them an outlet to talk more comfortably about personal topics.

Health Risks of Facebook

Research also shows that Facebook can:

Cause depression. A recently published American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) paper made a major splash when it described Facebook depression — a condition said to result when tweens and teens spend too much time on social media, leading them to turn to “substance abuse, unsafe sexual practices, or aggressive or self-destructive behaviors.”
However, the phenomenon is more anecdotal than based on solid science, and some experts suggest that it’s more of a correlation — that people who are depressed may simply be more likely to use Facebook. “People who are already feeling down or depressed might go online to talk to their friends, and try and be cheered up,” wrote John M. Grohol, PsyD, founder and editor-in-chief of on his blog. “This in no way suggests that by using more and more of Facebook, a person is going to get more depressed.”

In one of the papers cited by the AAP report, researchers found that the more time first-time Internet users spent online, the more likely they were to experience loneliness and depression but a follow-up study showed such effects disappeared a year later, according to Dr. Grohol. “It may simply be something related to greater familiarity with the Internet,” he wrote. In another paper referenced by the AAP report, the depression-Facebook link only held true among people with “low-quality” friendships; people with good pals did not experience depression with increasing Facebook use.

Trigger eating disorders. The more time adolescent girls spent on the social networking site, the more likely they were to develop eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and extreme dieting, Israeli researchers recently found. Exposure to online fashion and music content, as well as watching TV shows like Gossip Girl, were also associated with an increased risk for eating disorders.
But researchers aren’t saying that social networking sites necessarily cause eating disorders; as with Facebook depression, it may be that people prone to eating disorders spend more time online. What’s more, the researchers found that parents can help protect their daughters from harmful effects of media: The children of parents who were aware of what their daughters were viewing online — and talked to them about what they saw and how much time they spent — were less prone to develop eating disorders, according to study authors.

Split up marriages. Facebook was referenced in 20 percent of divorce petitions processed in 2009 by Divorce-Online, a British law firm. Time magazine reported that feuding spouses use their Facebook pages to air dirty laundry, while their lawyers use posts as evidence in divorce proceedings. Sexual health expert Ian Kerner, PhD, recently blogged on CNN that he’s seen many relationships destroyed by “Facebook bombs” — people reconnecting with high school sweethearts or other blasts from the past that can lead to emotional, if not actual, cheating.
“The mistake I often see is when someone gets friended or messaged by an ex and doesn’t tell their partner,” Kerner told Everyday Health. “It’s a slippery slope from the moment you don’t disclose information.”

He warns that it’s easy to over-romanticize the past, which can cause people to check out of their current relationship. Kerner advises couples to not keep secrets about whom they’re chatting with on Facebook. And while the site certainly makes it easy to reconnect with old flames and flirt behind the façade of your computer, the potential damage it can do depends on the stability of your relationship in the first place. “It all depends on your level of trust in your spouse,” says Kerner. “Have a dialogue, set some rules. The key is transparency.”

Bad Drug Reactions on the Rise

If you’ve ever gotten a rash from taking an antibiotic or gained weight on an antidepressant, you know that taking medicine means balancing the benefit of the drug against the possible risk of unpleasant, and sometimes even dangerous, side effects. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) calls these unwanted consequences “adverse events,” and once a drug is on the market, watches closely to see if it needs to reevaluate a drug’s safety. FDA does this in part through their MedWatch program, where health professionals and the general public can report any reactions or problems they suspect may have been caused by a medication. Medwatch reports and those submitted by drug manufacturers are combined into a single database for drug safety evaluation, the Adverse Event Reporting System (AERS).

According to a study recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the reporting of serious adverse events through AERS (those that can lead to hospitalization, significant health problems, or even death) has increased dramatically in recent years — a 2.6-fold increase in serious events and a 2.7-fold increase in deaths reported between 1998 and 2005 (the last year for which data was available for the study).

In fact, half of the 2.2 million total reports in the database since its inception in 1969 were received in just the past 10 years, the study found, increasing at a rate of more than 11 percent per year. Slightly more women than men had adverse events (55 percent compared to 45 percent).

Does This Mean Our Medicines Have Become More Dangerous?

Not necessarily, says the study’s lead author, Sheila Weiss Smith, PhD, director of the Center for Drug Safety at the University of Maryland. The spike could be due to several factors:

Greater awareness of the reporting system
Access to the Internet, making it easier for people to report problems than the old system (in which you had to call, fax, or mail a report to FDA)
The fact that people are taking more drugs for longer periods of time (thus increasing the potential for side effects, as well as interactions between drugs)
The aging of the U.S. population (older people often experience more problems with drugs)
News reports of FDA action on a drug also tend to increase the number of reports, says Dr. Weiss Smith. Her research found that many reports about problems with the anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx came in after it was withdrawn from the market.

On the other hand, some newer drugs also have more inherent risks and side effects. Among the most frequently reported drugs in the study were several recombinant DNA drugs used to treat autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. Because such drugs, such as Humira or Enbrel, are used for serious illnesses for which few other effective treatments are available, patients need to discuss with their doctors whether the benefits of treatment outweigh the risks (more on this below).

What Is the Adverse Event Reporting System?

The reporting system is designed as a safety net to flag potential drug problems, explains Robert Feroli, Pharm.D, medical safety officer at the Johns Hopkins Medical Center Department of Pharmacy. FDA has to perform a balancing act between getting drugs to the market quickly and learning as much as possible about potential adverse effects. Because drugs are tested on a relatively small number of people, only after a drug is released can you get a full picture of potential problems, based on a large, diverse population. For example, Vioxx was was tested on 5,000 people before it was approved, but many millions more took it after approval, when serious side effects like heart attacks began showing up.

If there is an unusually high number of reports on a drug, FDA will evaluate the claims and may request further studies, require changes to the drug’s labeling information, or rarely, remove the drug from the market, as with Vioxx.

Anyone — consumers as well as doctors, pharmacists, and other health care professionals — can report anything they suspect is a negative reaction to a drug. In 2009, the last year for which data is available, nearly 273,000 adverse reactions were reported by consumers, compared to nearly 318,000 reported by health care providers.

It’s important to recognize that the system doesn’t reflect the whole story about a given drug. Just because a drug has lots of reports doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem with it, Feroli points out. Suspected issues could be due to other causes, such as pre-existing health problems in the people taking it or interactions with other drugs. For example, taking the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra in combination with drugs that contain nitrates (like certain heart meds, such as those prescribed for angina) can cause dangerously low blood pressure.

But just because no adverse event has been reported for a particular drug, that’s no guarantee the drug hasn’t caused dangerous side effects, since many adverse events go unreported.

Is There Anything I Can Do to Prevent an Adverse Drug Reaction?

Part of being a proactive patient is taking the time to understand the medications prescribed for you. Feroli says you should ask your healthcare provider the following questions anytime you’re prescribed a new drug:

Why are you prescribing this drug? What is it supposed to do?
Are there any cautions I should know about? Can it interact with other medications, or things like sunlight or foods?
Are there any side effects I need to be aware of? What is normal and expected and what should I call you about?
Exactly how should I take the medication? With meals? Water?
How long should I take this drug? (For some medicines, such as antibiotics, you must finish the entire course, even if you start to feel better. Others, such as most pain medicines, you can stop taking when the pain goes away.)
It’s also important to let your health care team know about any other medications you’re taking, because drug interactions can increase the chances of serious reactions.

What if You Suspect You’re Having a Drug-Related Reaction?

If you think that a drug is causing a problem, first talk with your doctor or your pharmacist. Never stop taking a drug that has been prescribed for you without discussing it with your doctor, and never ignore any symptoms that concern you. Your doctor can often suggest other drugs that would work just as well without causing such side effects. Often, there are several different classes of drugs that treat a condition such as hypertension or depression. If you are having trouble on one, another might work just as well.

If the problem you are having with the drug is serious enough for you to consult your doctor, ask if she thinks you should report the problem to FDA. To report a negative reaction to a drug, go to FDA’s Medwatch website.

Which Drugs Have Been Reported the Most?

The Archives of Internal Medicine study looked only at brand-name drugs, not generics, and only included the 10 drugs most frequently reported. They’re listed below in order by number of adverse events reported in relation to the drug.

But before you panic if you’re taking one of the 10 medications, note that many are used to treat serious conditions that have not responded to other medications; in such cases, the benefit of the drug may outweigh the risk of side effects for many patients, says Feroli. If you’re worried about a particular medicine your doctor prescribed for you, ask if there’s another drug with fewer risks that might help.

1. Enbrel (etanercept)

Enbrel is a recombinant DNA drug, most often used to relieve the symptoms of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. Because Enbrel suppresses the immune system, it increases the risk of infections, including tuberculosis. It may also increase the risk of certain cancers, especially in children and teenagers. It has sometimes been used off-label to treat pediatric psoriasis and Alzheimer’s disease.

2. Vioxx (rofecoxib)

This is one drug you don’t need to worry about anymore: Its manufacturer, Merck, pulled the anti-inflammatory pain reliever from the market in 2004 after studies showed it increased the risk of heart attack and stroke. Vioxx was used to treat arthritis (both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis) and occasionally was prescribed for acute pain such as migraines and menstrual cramps.

3. Humira (adalimumab)

Humira is another recombinant DNA drug used primarily to treat autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease. It’s also used off-label for skin disorders, such as psoriasis, and for ulcerative colitis. Because Humira suppresses the immune system it can increase the risk of opportunistic infections, including tuberculosis. Humira may also increase the risk of certain cancers, especially in children and teens.

4. Remicade (infliximab)

Another recombinant DNA drug to make the top 10, Remicade is used for many of the same autoimmune disorders as Enbrel and Humira. The immune suppressor has similar serious risks. .

5. Byetta (exenatide)

Byetta is used in combination with another drug, metformin, to treat type 2 diabetes. Byetta stimulates the pancreas to secrete insulin when blood sugar levels are high, thus lowering blood glucose levels. It causes the stomach to take longer to empty and decreases appetite, leading to its off-label use as a weight-loss drug. FDA has received numerous reports of altered kidney function in patients using Byetta. It has also been associated with incidence of inflammation of the pancreas. .

6. Avonex (Interferon beta-1a)

Avonex is used primarily to treat the symptoms of multiple sclerosis in patients with frequent relapses. Amember of a class of drugs known as immunomodulators, Avonex concerns include a risk of seizures and an increase in preexisting cardiac problems.

7. Seroquel (quetiapine)

Seroquel is an antipsychotic drug used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Possible problems with Seroquel include abnormal muscle movements and withdrawal symptoms in newborns whose mothers were on the drug during pregnancy. In addition, older adults with dementia may have an increased risk of death during treatment with Seroquel, and children or young adults who take it may be at increased risk of suicide.

8. Forteo (teriparatide)

Another recombinant DNA drug, Forteo is used to treat serious cases of osteoporosis (patients at high risk of fracture who have not responded to other medications). Forteo has caused bone cancer in animals, and may increase the risk of this cancer in humans.

9. Ortho Evra (ethinyl estradiol and norelgestromin transdermal)

A type of birth control, Ortho Evra is a skin patch that contains a form of estrogen and progestin. While various combinations of these hormones have been used for years, their safety is still a matter of some debate. Because a patch delivers the hormones directly to the bloodstream without going through the digestive system, users are exposed to higher levels of estrogen. Concerns about Ortho Evra center on the risk of heart attack, blood clots, strokes, and endometrial and breast cancers. The risks of heart attack and stroke increase dramatically for users over 35, particularly for users who smoke.about Ortho

10. Mirena (levonorgestrel)

Another type of birth control, Mirena is an intrauterine contraceptive device (IUD) that releases small amounts of the hormone levonorgestrel into the uterus. It may also be used to treat heavy menstrual bleeding. Concerns about Mirena include an increased risk of ectopic pregnancies (pregnancies that occur outside the womb, such as in the fallopian tubes) and an increased risk of breast cancer.

Should You Know If Cell Phones May Cause Brain Cancer

Cell phones may cause brain cancer, a panel of experts reporting to the World Health Organization (WHO) announced Tuesday.

After reviewing dozens of studies that explored a possible link between cancer and the ubiquitous hand-held phones, the experts classified cell phones as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” and placed them in the same category as the pesticide DDT and gasoline engine exhaust.

The panel determined that an increased risk for glioma, a malignant form of brain cancer, appears associated with wireless phone use.

Globally, it’s estimated that 5 billion cell phones are in use. “The number of users is large and growing, particularly among young adults and children,” the International Agency for Research on Cancer said in a news release issued Tuesday.

The IARC made the announcement in Lyons, France, based on the work of 31 scientists from 14 countries. It will present its findings to the WHO, which may then issue its recommendations on safe cell phone use.

Experts said children are especially vulnerable.

“Children’s skulls and scalps are thinner. So the radiation can penetrate deeper into the brain of children and young adults. Their cells are dividing at a faster rate, so the impact of radiation can be much larger,” Dr. Keith Black, chairman of neurology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, told CNN.

Until Tuesday’s announcement, the WHO had said that cell phones were safe to use.

The international experts behind Tuesday’s announcement met for eight days to review exposure data, studies of cancer in humans and in experimental animals, and other relevant data, looking for associations between cancer and the type of electromagnetic radiation found in cell phones, televisions and microwaves.

Dr. Christopher Wild, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, said this new paper is important “first and foremost just because of the large number of users worldwide that have access now to this technology.”

Also, the scientists found notable gaps in the existing research, he said, which “suggest interesting areas of future research that will improve the evidence base which we have in order to make decisions about the usage of mobile phones in the future.”

Responding to Tuesday’s announcement, John Walls, vice president of public affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association, a trade group representing the wireless industry said: “Today, an International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) working group in Lyon, France categorized radiofrequency fields from cellphones as possibly carcinogenic based on ‘limited evidence.’ IARC conducts numerous reviews and in the past has given the same score to, for example, pickled vegetables and coffee. This IARC classification does not mean cell phones cause cancer. Under IARC rules, limited evidence from statistical studies can be found even though bias and other data flaws may be the basis for the results.

“The IARC working group did not conduct any new research, but rather reviewed published studies,” Walls added in a news release. “Based on previous assessments of the scientific evidence, the Federal Communications Commission has concluded that ‘[t]heres no scientific evidence that proves that wireless phone usage can lead to cancer.’ The Food and Drug Administration has also stated that ‘[t]he weight of scientific evidence has not linked cell phones with any health problems.'”

There has been conflicting research in recent years on the health hazards posed by cell phones. As recently as February, British researchers reported that cell phones do not increase the risk of brain cancer.

Their analysis of data on newly diagnosed cases of brain cancer in England between 1998 and 2007 — when cell phone use was climbing — revealed no statistically significant change in the incidence of brain cancers in men or women, said the University of Manchester researchers.

There was a very small increase (0.6 more cases per 100,000 people) in the incidence of cancers of the brain’s temporal lobe. That works out to 31 extra cases per year in England’s population of nearly 52 million people, the researchers said.

But the study authors also noted that cancers of the brain’s parietal lobe, cerebrum and cerebellum in English men fell slightly during the study period.