Sunday, April 10, 2016

Women's Health: Birth-Control Pill May Cut ACL Injuries in Female Athletes

Erin McLeod kicking soccer ball
Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod, shown here in the 2011 World Cup, had to pull out of the 2016 Olympics with an ACL injury. Photo: Thewomensgame

It's long been known that women and girls suffer more injuries to the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) than males. Estrogen has been thought to be one of the culprits, and a recent study offers more evidence to back up this theory.

Girls aged 15 to 19 who were on the birth-control pill, which reduces estrogen levels, were shown in the study to be less likely to experience severe knee injuries than girls not taking the medication. While the research, conducted at the University of Texas, showed an association between estrogen and ACL injuries rather than a cause-and-effect relationship, the findings are nevertheless intriguing.


Less Estrogen, Fewer Knee Injuries?

"The teens with ACL injuries who were on the birth control pill were less likely to need corrective surgery than girls not taking the pill who had ACL injuries," said an article on the U.S. government website MedlinePlus. "The girls with the highest rates of ACL surgery were 22 percent less likely to be taking birth control pills than those who didn't have an ACL injury."

MedlinePlus also notes "The teens with ACL injuries who were on the birth control pill were less likely to need corrective surgery than girls not taking the pill who had ACL injuries."

The theory of the Texas research is that increased estrogen somehow weakens the ligaments and makes them more susceptible to injury, say the authors of the study. Many athletic girls and women already take birth control pills to have a more regular period and lighter menstrual flow.

Girls and women have many more ACL injuries than male athletes—from twice to eight times as many, depending on what statistics you read. What's more, while the injuries in men occur most likely as the result of contact (as in football or basketball), females often suffer ACL tears in non-contact situations, such as when making a cut in soccer.

Erin McLeod, goalkeeper for the Canadian national team, recently announced she'd have to skip the Rio de Janiero Olympics this summer because of an ACL injury.


Women & ACL Injuries: Possible Culprits

There can be a number of causes to why women are more susceptible to ACL injuries, from the estrogen association the Texas research studied to women's wider hips, a narrower area through which the ACL passes, and greater knee extension. (A WebMD article has a good overview of some of the physical differences between men and women that can possibly explain the increased ACL injuries in women.)

One bit of good news is that doctors have gotten better at treating ACL injuries in women and helping the athletes get back on the field and court. McLeod, the Canadian soccer player, had two previous knee injuries before the current one, and was able to return to professional-level play.

Another hopeful sign is that there's been more focus on helping girls and women prevent ACL injuries, including strength training to build up leg muscles to reduce the strain on knee ligaments. A 2012 study in Sports Health found that two injury-prevention programs "significantly reduced ACL injury rates and improved athletic performance tests."

See the MedlinePlus article on estrogen and ACL injuries in girls, and read an abstract of the Texas study, which was published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Medicine.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How to Improve Your Sleep Without Giving Up Your Evening Screen Time

In our last post we looked at how spending time on smartphones, tablets, and other screens at night can prevent you from falling asleep (or getting enough sleep). In this post, we'll review some of the ways you can tweak your screen time to get to sleep sooner and be better rested the next day. And, as you'll see, you don't necessarily need to give up your electronic reading time before bed.

As noted in our previous post, computer, phone, and tablet screens can interfere with our sleep patterns because they emit light in the blue wavelength, which our brains associate with daylight, and with wakefulness (certain e-reader screens don't have this problem). What if you could adjust the wavelength to make it more conducive to sleep?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Is Your Late-Night Screen Time Keeping You From Sleeping?

Lots of people don't get enough sleep these days, and there's growing evidence that smartphones and other digital devices may be contributing to the problem.

Part of the trouble is what people are reading or viewing. Consuming content that gets us excited (whether it's a thriller novel or a troubling news story, in print or on a screen) can delay sleep by causing us to lay awake thinking about whatever it is we've read or seen.

alarm clock
Are your digital devices keeping you awake? (Photo: Evil saltine, Wikipedia.)

But now scientists have found another reason why it may not be a good idea to be on our laptops, smartphones, or tablets right before bedtime: the light the gadget gives off may be keeping us from dozing off, and from feeling well rested the next day. A recent Harvard study has found that people who read before bed using a tablet or other e-reader gadget "felt less sleepy and took longer to fall asleep than when they read a regular printed book, researchers found," according to WebMD.

What's more, these people had more trouble waking up and gaining full alertness than they did after reading an old-fashioned printed book, even though they slept the same amount.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Endometriosis: New Hope for a Common (But Not Commonly Discussed) Condition

You won't often hear about endometriosis on the nightly news, or even in the health section of newspapers and websites. But this gynecological condition—in which the type of tissue that lines a woman's uterus (the endometrium) grows in other, nearby parts of the body—is much more common than you'd think. And much more debilitating.

(Read about one woman's experience with the disease in "What I Wish Everyone Knew About Endometriosis."

As some recent news reports have pointed out, though, there may be new hope on the horizon for understanding endometriosis.

Blausen 0349 Endometriosis
Illustration of endometriosis. Source: BruceBlaus, Wikimedia Commons.

Endometriosis sufferers can face years or even decades of pelvic pain, inflammation, infertility, and a search for relief. The endometrial tissue can grow in areas like the ovaries, Fallopian tubes, outer surface of the uterus, and pelvic cavity lining. The tissue can form scarring that can cause adhesions between surfaces like the bladder and bowel.

With endometriosis, patients can experience a range of agonizing and potentially embarrassing problems, from pain during sex to extremely painful menstrual cramps, back pain, painful urination or bowel movements, and constipation or diarrhea.
To make the situation even more frustrating, researchers don't understand exactly what the causes of endometriosis are. And patients and even doctors may be reluctant to talk about it.

But as a recent New Yorker article notes, in recent years there's been news of an interesting collaboration that may shed important light on the origins of the disease (the article is well worth reading for its explanation of endometriosis and the issues involved in understanding its causes and treating it).

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Health Notes: New Thinking on Fats & CVD; Alzheimer's Deaths Widely Underreported; Colon Cancer Rates Drop

 Above: Photomicrograph of the distal right coronary artery, showing complex atherosclerosis (thickening of the artery wall due to the accumulation of calcium and fatty deposits). Photo: Nephron, Wikimedia Commons.

We've been away for a long time, but now we're back to report on some new findings that shed a new light on some long-held medical beliefs.

* New study casts doubt on the link between saturated fats and heart disease. Saturated fats are a major contributor to heart disease, we've long been told. Not so fast, says a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. As explained in an article by the CBC, the researchers draws on more than 70 studies to conclude that "Current evidence does not clearly support guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats."

In addition, two studies have found that taking daily fish oil supplements may not help your heart health, either. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements "showed consistently little or no significant effect on reducing coronary heart disease events," said the lead author of one of the studies.

* Alzheimer's deaths may be five times more than reported. Cases of Alzheimer disease are projected to grow dramatically in the coming years, but the disease may already be causing many more deaths than are reflected in the official stats. Researchers at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center say that hhis is because death certificates often neglect to mention Alzheimer as a contributing cause of death. The new numbers would make Alzheimer disease the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

What's more, a new report from the Alzheimer's Association says that women over 60 "have a 1 in 6 chance of getting Alzheimer's disease in their lifetime, and are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's compared with breast cancer.

* Colon cancer rates decline sharply. The incidence of colorectal cancer, one of the most deadly forms of the disease, is down more than 30% among Americans due to increased use of colonoscopy for screening. "Xolonoscopy rates among adults ages 50 to 75 rose steeply — from 19 percent in 2000 to 55 percent in 2010," says an article in drawing on a study from the American Cancer Society.

The decrease was highest among older people: those 50 and older saw a decrease in colon cancer of 3.9% per year. There was bad news for younger people, however, as there's been a 1.1% per increase in colon cancer in persons under 50.