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Health Capsules: June 5

Sunscreen safety questioned following FDA study

A small FDA study which found that sunscreen is absorbed into the bloodstream at fairly high levels has promoted safety concerns.

Applying a liberal layer of sunscreen before heading outside has become a daily summer health habit for most of us. However, a new report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regarding the potential danger caused by sunscreen’s accumulation in the bloodstream has provided some food for thought.

In a recent “maximum usage trial” study, FDA scientists studied the effects of sunscreen on 24 healthy people. They tested different sunscreen formulations, including spray, lotion and cream. Participants applied sunscreen four times a day for four days, to 75% of their skin surfaces.

Blood samples from the participants were then analyzed to determine the percentage of four specific sunscreen ingredients – avobenzone, oxybenzone, ecamsule, and octocrylene – that were present in their bloodstreams.

The FDA has previously recommended that any active ingredients in sunscreen with “systemic absorption greater than 0.5 ng/mL” should be subject to more in-depth toxicology testing. The results of this small study showed that all four sunscreen ingredients were present at levels higher than the FDA’s benchmark – in some cases, six or even eight times higher.

This finding has caused concern among some healthcare professionals about how sunscreen could potentially affect reproductive and developmental health as well as cancer risk, especially when it’s used from infancy onward.

However, the FDA report did not specifically claim that the chemicals in sunscreen are dangerous, or that people should cut back on their sunscreen use. According to the report, “The fact that an ingredient is absorbed through the skin and into the body does not mean the ingredient is unsafe. Rather, this finding calls for further testing to determine the safety of that ingredient for repeated use.”

An editorial accompanying the report, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, urged that further testing could be especially important for babies, “whose skin may absorb substances at differential rates.” The editorial also called on sunscreen manufacturers themselves to commit to more safety testing.

Until this occurs, the FDA report said that people of all ages should continue their regular use of sunscreen, which has been proven to greatly reduce the incidence of melanoma and other dangerous skin cancers.

According to the agency’s statement, “Broad-spectrum sunscreens with SPF values of at least 15 remain a critical element of a skin cancer prevention strategy that includes other sun protective behaviors such as wearing protective clothing that adequately covers the arms, torso, and legs; wearing sunglasses and a hat that shades the whole head; and seeking shade whenever possible during periods of peak sunlight.”

Scientists get the lowdown on gossip

Researchers recently eavesdropped on thousands of conversations to learn some interesting facts about gossip.

A recent University of California-Riverside study investigating who engages in gossip, what kind and how often, discovered what many of us might have guessed:  Everyone gossips. “Gossip is ubiquitous,” the study concluded, finding that on average, people spend 52 minutes gossiping every day.

However, the study also contradicted a few existing stereotypes about gossip. It found that women don’t engage in “tear-down” negative gossip any more than men do, and people with lower incomes don’t gossip any more than their wealthier counterparts

“There is a surprising dearth of information about who gossips and how, given public interest and opinion on the subject,” said Megan Robbins, an assistant psychology professor who led the study.

In a strictly academic sense, gossip is neither bad nor good – it simply means talking about someone who isn’t present. That talk could be categorized as positive, neutral, or negative. “With that definition, it would be hard to think of a person who never gossips because that would mean the only time they mention someone is in their presence,” Robbins said.

The research examined data from 467 people – 269 women and 198 men – who were between the ages of 18 and 58. Participants wore a portable listening device called an Electronically Activated Recorder, or EAR, which sampled what they said throughout the day. About 10 percent of their conversations were recorded, then analyzed for those which constituted gossip.

The following were among other interesting results of the study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science:

• Almost three-fourths of gossip was neutral overall. Of the remainder, negative gossip was twice as prevalent as positive.

• About 14% of all conversations constituted gossip – just under an hour in 16 waking hours.

• Younger people engaged in more negative gossip than older adults.

• Most of the time, gossip involved an acquaintance of the study participants.

• Extroverts gossiped far more frequently than introverts, across all three types of gossip.

• Women do gossip more than men, but only in a neutral, information-sharing sense.

Oral contraceptives can prevent … a torn ACL?

A large analysis has linked taking oral contraceptives with a much lower risk of ACL tears in young female athletes.

In young athletes, anterior cruciate ligament [ACL] injuries are extremely common – two to eight times more common in young women than men. Previous research suggests that elevated estrogen may play a role in female athletes’ higher risk of ACL injuries.

A recent Brown University study which analyzed a decade of U.S. insurance information found that women taking oral contraceptives also had a lower rate of ACL tears. The observational study involved more than 165,000 female patients between the ages of 15 and 49.

Oral contraceptives were found to be most protective in female athletes between 15 and 19, who were 63% less likely to need reconstructive surgery following ACL injury compared with a control group of the same age who didn’t take the medications. Overall, women of all ages who took oral contraceptives were 18% less likely to require surgery after an ACL injury.

The findings have important implications for the nearly 50% of athletes with ACL tears who are unable to return to their sports, and the 20-50% who develop arthritis within two decades of their injuries, the researchers claimed.

The authors speculated that contraceptives, which contain the hormones estrogen and progesterone, may keep hormonal surges in check during an athlete’s menstrual cycle.

“It’s likely that oral contraceptives help maintain lower and more consistent levels of estrogen and progesterone, which may [otherwise] lead to periodic increase in laxity [and weakness] with subsequent risk of tear,” said Dr. Steven DeFroda of Brown, who led the research.

The authors concluded that their findings support the use of oral contraceptives in elite high school and college-aged athletes, especially those at higher risk of ACL tears such as soccer and basketball players.

“Young athletes use oral contraceptives for a variety of reasons, including regulating their menstrual cycle and/or preventing pregnancy. With careful assessment of the risks, injury risk reduction could be another way in which female athletes may benefit from their use,” DeFroda said.

He added that another carefully controlled study is needed to confirm their findings, specifically tracking young female athletes over time to see whether those who take oral contraceptives experience fewer ACL injuries.

On the calendar

BJC Progress West Hospital sponsors a free Teddy Bear Clinic for children on Saturday, June 8 from 9-10:30 a.m. at the hospital, 2 Progress Point Parkway in O’Fallon, in the cafeteria. Bring your favorite teddy bear or stuffed friend for a “check-up”; the event will include a tour of the hospital, story time and coloring activity. The event is open to all ages, but recommended for ages 2-5. No advance registration is required.

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BJC offers a Family and Friends CPR class on Tuesday, June 11 from 6:30-9 p.m. at Progress West Hospital, 2 Progress Point Parkway in O’Fallon, in Conference Room B. This class is designed for parents, grandparents, babysitters [ages 10–15 if accompanied by an adult] and childcare providers. The class does not include certification. The course fee is $25 per person. Registration is required by calling (636) 344-5437.

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BJC of St. Charles County offers free Know Your Numbers Health Screenings for adults on Friday, June 14 from 7:30-9:30 a.m. at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters, Hospital, 10 Hospital Drive in St. Peters, in Suite 117 of Medical Office Building 1. Tests include fasting glucose, lung function, blood pressure and BMI screenings. Participants should fast for at least 10 hours prior to screening if a glucose test is desired. To register, call (636) 928-9355 for an appointment.

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A free class for caregivers, Meditation, is offered on Thursday, June 20 from 3:30-5:30 p.m. at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital, 10 Hospital Drive in St. Peters, in Room 108A of Medical Office Building 1. This class, part of a monthly caregiver series, is best for friends and family members caring for someone who is developmentally disabled; however, topics are relevant for anyone caring for someone with a chronic condition. For more information or to register, call (636) 928-9355.

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BJC St. Louis Children’s Hospital sponsors a Babysitting 101 class on Saturday, June 22 from 1-5 p.m. at the Kisker Road Branch Library, 1000 Kisker Road in St. Charles, in Rooms A and B. Topics covered include the business of babysitting, child development, safety and first aid, and fun and games. A workbook, backpack and light snack are provided. The course fee is $30 per child. Advance registration is available by calling (636) 344-5437.

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BJC of St. Charles County sponsors a special “Evening with the Experts” presentation, Colon Health: Screening and Treatment Options, on Wednesday, June 26 from 6:45-8 p.m. at Siteman Cancer Center, 150 Entrance Way in St. Peters. The session will be followed by a Q&A session and a bonus wellness demonstration on Tai Chi. Attendance is free. Advance registration is preferred and is available online at bjcstcharlescounty.org/Events.

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