Weekly Round-Up: Women’s Health News 8.16.13


In this week’s news – more benefits to breastfeeding, the wide use of withdrawal as birth control, post-partum depression among urban women, a new HIV treatment, help for smokers who want to quit, and decreases in the U.S. infertility rate.

One Third of All U.S. Women Uses Withdrawal for Birth Control
If you and a partner have used withdrawal for birth control, you’re not alone.  A new study found that up to 1/3 of sexually active U.S. women between the ages of 15-24 has done so.  While withdrawal can be almost as effective as condoms for pregnancy prevention when used perfectly, it is a very difficult method to use, resulting in a failure rate of 30%.  While many women use withdrawal when they cannot afford more effective hormonal methods of birth control, this will hopefully become less common since the Affordable Care Act requires that all insurance plans cover contraception with no co-pay.  If you are using withdrawal, it is very important to take a daily vitamin with folic acid in case you do get pregnant (see the Go Folic! website). Click here to learn more about the study.

New Moms – Breastfeeding May Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer!
A new analysis published in this month’s Journal of Clinical Nursing found that breastfeeding for more than six months may safeguard nonsmoking mothers against breast cancer. The same does not seem to hold true for smoking mothers, though. These findings add to the list of benefits of breastfeeding for women and their babies. Click here to learn more.

Urban Moms at Greater Risk for Post-Partum Depression
A new Canadian study found that that women living in urban centers with more than 500,000 inhabitants were at higher risk of postpartum depression than women in other areas. Postpartum depression is a serious health concern for women and their children and women who lack of social support and/or have a history of depression are at greater risk.  To learn more about the study, click here.

Thinking of Becoming an Ex-Smoker? Meditation May Help
One of the first actions doctors recommend to a woman smoker who wants to get pregnant is to quit smoking. But that can be easier said than done. A small study conducted by the University of Oregon’s department of psychology found that learning a particular type of meditation technique might make it easier for smokers to cut down, at least on a short-term basis. Mindfulness meditation is designed to help people to relax, focus on the current moment and, essentially, go with the flow of thoughts and sensations. Click here to learn more.

Good News for Would-Be Parents – U.S. Fertily Rate is Decreasing!
A couple is considered to be infertile if they have been having unprotected vaginal intercourse for 12 months in a row without experiencing a pregnancy. According to the National Health Statistics Report, the rate of infertility among U.S. couples, ages 15-44 declined between 1982 and 2010, from 8.5% to 6.0%. Click here to download the full report (PDF).

New HIV Drug Just Approved
On August 12, 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Tivicay (dolutegravir), a new drug to treat HIV-1 infection. It can be used to treat HIV-infected adults who have never taken HIV therapy (treatment-naïve) and HIV-infected adults who have previously taken HIV therapy (treatment-experienced). The drug is also approved the drug for children ages 12 years and older weighing at least 40 kilograms. Visit the FDA website to learn more.

Folic Acid, the Men’s Vitamin? Folic Facts for Father’s Day


fathers-day-wallpapers-pictures

“Recognizing and preventing men’s health problems is not just a man’s issue. Because of its impact on wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters, men’s health is truly a family issue.” ~ Congressman Bill Richardson (Congressional Record, H3905-H3906, May 24, 1994)

If you thought that folic acid was only for women, think again!  Folic acid is a B Vitamin that plays a crucial role in healthy cell division.  It is essential for the formation of DNA – the blueprint at the heart of every one of our cells, which makes it as important for men as it is for women.  This is why we decided to focus our Men’s Health Week (June 10-17) and Father’s Day post on how folic acid and folate (the form found in foods) benefit men.

Folic Acid & Sperm – Facts for Future Fathers

healthy spermFolic acid is as important for future fathers as it is for moms to be.  Fertility experts have known for a long time that a poor diet can impair both sperm count and motility (how well the sperm move, which is crucial for fertilizing an egg).  A 2002 controlled study in the Netherlands published in the journal, Fertility and Sterility, found that supplementing the diet with folic acid and zinc could significantly increase the quantity and quality of sperm in men who were having trouble getting their partner pregnant.

The first study to look at the effects of a father’s diet on genetic abnormalities found that men who ate high levels of folate—more than 700 micrograms (mcg) per day—had up to 30% fewer sperm with extra or missing chromosomes.  According to Suzanne Young, M.P.H., a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, and coordinator of the study, “These abnormalities would cause either miscarriages or children with genetic problems if the sperm fertilized an egg.”  The study also found that the more folate a man got, the lower the levels of the defect.

Folate and Heart Health

I love my heartHeart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States.  In 2009 it was responsible for killing 307,225 men – or 1 in every 4 male deaths (see this CDC fact sheet to learn more). Getting enough folate and other B vitamins (especially B-6 and B-12) supports heart health.  They do this by reducing levels of homocysteine, an amino acid found in the blood. Too much homocysteine is related to a higher risk of:

  • Heart disease;
  • Stroke;
  • Peripheral vascular disease (fatty deposits in peripheral arteries).

Both genetics and diet affect homocysteine levels. Folic acid and other B vitamins (especially B-6 and B-12) help break down homocysteine in the body. So far, no study has proved that folic acid supplements reduce the risk of heart disease and researchers are trying to find out how much folic acid, B-6 and/or B-12 are needed to lower homocysteine levels. However, the American Heart Association recommends that people at risk for heart disease get enough folic acid and vitamins B-6 and B-12 in their diet (read on to find out how).

Other Potential Benefits

There is ongoing research on folic acid and its impact on a number of health conditions and diseases. While many of these studies are still preliminary, they suggest that adequate folate / folic acid may play a major role in reducing the risk for developing depression, certain forms of cancer, hearing loss, and Alzheimer’, among others.

How much folic acid do men need?

Since folate and folic acid aren’t stored in the body, it’s important to get at least the recommended amount of between 400-800 mcg everyday.  While it’s impossible to overdose on folic acid, getting more than 1000 mcg daily isn’t recommended, as doing so can mask a Vitamin-12 deficiency, a condition that can lead to neurological damage.  In fact, supplements of 1000 mcg of folic acid are only available by prescription.

How do I get enough folic acid?

cereal with strawberries - high in folate and folic acidMost experts recommend eating a diet that is high in folate, as well as taking a daily multi-vitamin with 400 mcg of folic acid.  Since the body can only absorb 50% of the folate that we get from foods, taking a supplement with both folate and other B-vitamins will ensure that you are meeting your daily needs.  If you dislike taking pills, try eating a bowl of breakfast cereal that is fortified with 400 mcg of folic acid instead; we absorb 85% of the folic acid in fortified foods. Click here for a list of cereals that have the recommended amount from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What about food sources?

food with folic acidFoods that are Many foods are naturally high in folic acid, with beans, liver and leafy greens like spinach containing the highest amounts.  Click here for a list of the “folate top 10.” For a more extended list of folate-rich foods, check this food chart from the USDA. Want to know how to cook all of these great foods?  Browse our list of folate-full recipes, or download a copy of one of our recipe brochures: Easy Snacks (English) | Soulful Recipes (English) | Spanish | Chinese.

Will the pill make me gain weight? And other common birth control pill questions


Pack of birth control pills - will these make you fat?

Will these make you gain weight?

The pill is one of the most studied medications in history, and taking it is far less risky for most women than giving birth(1).  However, up to 20% of unplanned pregnancies may be the result of common misconceptions about its safety (2).  So, we decided to continue this week’s birth control theme by addressing some of the most common concerns about birth control pills. 

1. Will the pill make me gain weight? Not necessarily 

Most women – 60% – don’t gain or lose weight while on the pill.  Between 15-20% actually lose weight, while 20-25% gain more than 4.5 pounds.  Pills with more estrogen may cause water retention, and progesterone in some pills may increase appetite, both of which may lead to weight gain. Switching to another brand may solve these problems.

2. Does the pill cause cancer? Not necessarily

Here’s what the research shows:

  • Taking the pill for at least three years reduces ovarian cancer risk by 30%-50%;
  • Women who use the pill are 1/3 less likely to get uterine cancer than those who don’t;
  • Ever using birth control pills may reduce colorectal cancer risk by up to 20%;
  • The jury is still out on breast cancer.  Women with a family history of breast cancer should discuss this with their clinician when considering the pill. 

3. Aren’t all birth control pills the same? No

There are many different brands and varieties of the pill.  Each type has its own combination of estrogen and progesterone and so can affect an individual woman’s body chemistry differently.  That’s why you might have troublesome side effects on one type of birth control pill, but not on another.

4. I smoke.  Does this mean I can’t use the pill? Not necessarily

While some pill brands are suitable for smokers, most doctors will not prescribe combination pills (those with estrogen and progesterone) for smokers who are age 35 or older. Women who smoke and take the pill have a higher risk for both stroke and blood clots.  Both of these risks increase even more in smokers who are age 35 or older.  

5. Don’t I need to take a breaks from the pill ? No

There’s no medical reason for a healthy woman to take a break.  Since most side effects occur during the first months of pill use, women who go on and off the pill may experience side effects repeatedly.  Doctors do advise women to review their contraceptive needs after 15 years of being on the pill or at age 35. 

6.  Can taking the pill make it harder for me to get pregnant? No

There is NO connection between taking the pill and infertility. Fertility can return almost immediately after stopping the pill, which is why it’s important not to miss pills.

7. Does the pill have other benefits besides preventing pregnancy? Yes

The pill may provide many additional health benefits, including:

  • More regular periods
  • Control over when you get your period
  • Stopping ovulation pain
  • Reducing menstrual cramps
  • Minimizing PMS symptoms
  • Lowering the risk of anemia (which can result from having heavy periods)

Additionally, pill use can provide protection against:

  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Acne
  • Non-cancerous breast growths
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Excess facial and body hair
  • Some types of migraine

8. If under 18, don’t I need my parents’ permission to take the pill? No

In California you do not need parental permission to get birth control.  California teens, click here to find a teen friendly clinic near you.

 ____________________________________
RESOURCES:
Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/birth-control-pill/WO00098
Planned Parehnthood: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/ask-dr-cullins/cullins-bc-5398.htm

Coming Tomorrow:
Our favorite web resources on birth control