There’s been incredible progress in science in recent years, from driverless cars to genetic editing, but the scientific community has also faced significant obstacles recently. From the withdrawal of federal funding for epidemic response and research to the decision by the United States to leave the Paris Agreement on climate change, scientists are faced with the question of how to stand up for their field and counter the naysayers. At the Fortune Brainstorm Health conference on Monday in Laguna Niguel, Calif., top leaders in the field offered solutions for how to defend science and increase its appeal to everyday people.
Attract kids early
According to Dr. Susan Desmond-Hellmann, the chief executive of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, there aren’t enough kids growing up with the desire to be a scientist because “we make it boring.” “We start when kids are young, especially girls, talking about science like it’s [only] books and tests,” she says. “If you want to get kids or students excited about science, talk to them about children dying and how science can keep kids from dying before they’re one day old. I think it’s how we talk and think about science that furrows everyone’s brow.”
Change science education
For young people who do decide to go into medicine, many become discouraged or uninspired. “When I went to medical school, which by the way I did not enjoy, for two years we sat in a classroom,” says Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, describing a learning situation in which she and her peers were lectured at and told to memorize things. What was lacking? “There was no linkage made from what we were studying and taking care of patients,” she says. “It made me not want to continue in medicine.” Dr. Lloyd Minor, the Carl and Elizabeth Naumann Dean at Stanford University School of Medicine, agreed. “We need to re-envision medical education,” he says. “View it as a continuum.” Minor argues the learning and education should continue throughout a physician’s career.
Better and more honest communication
As the panelists see it, they way science is communicated to the public can be confusing and spur distrust. For example, a new side effect of a drug can be discovered after it’s approved, or a diet is no longer considered as a healthy as it was previously touted. For average Americans, that can be frustrating. “Science is a dynamic process,” says Hamburg. “You need to always be questioning, and in that process, science changes. The public starts to be suspicious and distrust science. We need to work on the understanding of the scientific process. It is dynamic.” “Truth can evolve,” acknowledged Desmond-Hellmann. “What everyone would like us to say is truth is forever, [but] it’s truth as we best understand it today. That’s not fraud or wicked, that’s science.” In order to combat the confusion, Hamburg says we need more public advocates for science. “We need people who can go to Wichita or New York City and explain why science matters and how it’s making a difference,” adding that she thinks there’s a “fundamental disconnect” in people’s understanding and appreciation of the science in their lives.
Democratize the field
The panelists agreed that science can be too hierarchical and slow. “Science shouldn’t be exclusive,” said Desmond-Hellmann. “The ability to have citizen science is vastly underrated.” Desmond-Hellmann says she thinks more alternative funding systems for science should be created, and that the formal system, in which people get masters and PhD degrees only to get their first government grant in their forties, is likely going to become unsustainable. Instead, leaders should think about “inventing new ways for people to access science and leadership no matter who they are and where they are,” she said.
More transparency in science research
Hamburg argued that scientific data should be well-done and reliable, but that people don’t want new knowledge that can change their lives to be restricted. “We want more openness and transparency,” she said. She also made the argument for more publication of studies that didn’t go as planned. “We want to also learn from failure, and very few studies that have failed have been published in Science and Nature, but that’s some of the most important science,” she said. Making failures in science public prevents people from repeating failure, she said, and instead scientists can learn from that failure to advance knowledge and understanding.
Mississippi’s governor signed the nation’s most restrictive abortion law Monday — and was slapped with a lawsuit less than an hour later.
The law and responding challenge set up a confrontation sought by abortion opponents, who are hoping federal courts will ultimately prohibit abortions before a fetus is viable. Current federal law does not.
Some legal experts have said a change in the law is unlikely unless the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court changes in a way that favors abortion opponents.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed House Bill 1510 , which bans most abortions after 15 weeks of gestation, on Monday in a closed ceremony attended by legislative supporters and abortion opponents.
“We are saving more of the unborn than any state in America and what better thing can we do?” Bryant said in a video his office posted on social media.
The law’s only exceptions are if a fetus has health problems making it “incompatible with life” outside of the womb at full term, or if a pregnant woman’s life or a “major bodily function” is threatened by pregnancy. Pregnancies resulting from rape and incest aren’t exempted.
Mississippi previously tied with North Carolina for the nation’s strictest abortion limits at 20 weeks. Both states count pregnancy as beginning on the first day of a woman’s previous menstrual period. That means the restrictions kick in about two weeks before those of states whose 20-week bans begin at conception.
“We’ll probably be sued in about half an hour,” Bryant said to laughter from supporters as he signed the bill. “That’ll be fine with me. It’ll be worth fighting over.”
Bryant’s prediction was accurate. The state’s only abortion clinic and one of the physicians who practices there sued in federal court within an hour, arguing the law violates other federal court rulings saying a state can’t restrict abortion before a child can survive on its own outside the womb.
The Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in a lawsuithandled by the Center of Reproductive Rights, argued the measure is unconstitutional and should immediately be struck down.
“Under decades of United States Supreme Court precedent, the state of Mississippi cannot ban abortion prior to viability, regardless of what exceptions are provided to the ban,” the suit states.
The suit says the clinic performed 78 abortions in 2017 when the fetus was identified as being 15 weeks or older. That’s out of about 2,500 abortions performed statewide, mostly at the clinic.
“Politicians are not above the rule of law, and we are confident this dangerous bill will be struck down like every similar attempt before it,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights.
“We certainly think this bill is unconstitutional,” said Katherine Klein, equality advocacy coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi. “The 15-week marker has no bearing in science. It’s just completely unfounded and a court has never upheld anything under the 20-week viability marker.”
House Speaker Philip Gunn, who was present for Bryant’s private signing ceremony, told The Associated Press he is proud Mississippi is taking steps to protect “the most vulnerable of human life:” the unborn.
“The winners (today) are those babies that are in the womb, first and foremost,” Gunn said. “Those are the ones we’re trying to protect.”
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said in an email to the AP that HB 1510 is a major step toward accomplishing the state’s goal to protect the lives of the unborn, adding that he is committed to making the state “the safest place in America for an unborn child.”
When asked if the state is prepared to bear the cost of a lawsuit, Gunn said, “Absolutely.”
“I don’t know if you can put any value on human life,” Gunn said. “We are all about fighting to protect the unborn. Whatever challenges we have to take on to do that, is something we’re willing to do.”
The bill was drafted with the assistance of conservative groups including the Mississippi Center for Public Policy and the Alliance Defending Freedom.
“We’re thrilled that Mississippi lawmakers are taking a step to protect the basic right to life, as well as protecting maternal health,” said Jameson Taylor, acting president of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.
Both Republican-controlled chambers passed the bill overwhelmingly in early March, by a vote of 35-14 in the Senate and 76-34 in the House.
The U.S. Senate failed to pass a 20-week abortion ban bill in January. With 60 “yes” votes required to advance, the bill failed on a 51-46 vote.
When Oniqa Moonsammy, 33, brought her uncle home from the hospital in early February following his stroke late last year, she planned to help her mother care for the 62-year-old as he regained his strength, figured out how to brush his own teeth again and managed his medications. But when they opened the door to the Brooklyn, N.Y., home her uncle shared with his father, Moonsammy saw her grandfather slumped in a chair. He, too, was having a severe stroke.
Moonsammy used to work five days a week as a hostess at a restaurant in Brooklyn and often spent time with her boyfriend or went to bars with friends. Now her life revolves largely around caring for her family. She’s cut back to four days at the restaurant and spends two days helping her grandfather at his rehab nursing home. She spends the remaining day taking care of her uncle. “It kills me that I can’t help more, because it puts more stress on my mom, who also has ailments,” Moonsammy says.
In other countries, a young professional like Moonsammy might take a leave of absence from work and return to the office once the relative was safely cared for. But the U.S. is the only highly industrialized country that does not have a national policy offering paid family leave. While some states have started to propose policies on their own, 46 states still leave the decision up to employers. So far, that has not worked. Just 15% of workers across the country have access to paid family leave through their employers, and roughly 40% don’t even have access to job-protected unpaid leave through the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
While Moonsammy loves her family and enjoys listening to her grandfather’s jokes and stories, the heavy caregiving load is already wearing on her own finances and physical health. And her experience is becoming more common, too. As the Baby Boomers age, a growing number of millennials are being called upon to take care of aging family members. Nearly 25% of the 43 million adult caregivers in the U.S. are between the ages of 18 and 34, according to a report by the AARP. Though many millennials face crushing student loan debt, uncertain job prospects and lower wages than previous generations, 86% of adults ages 18 to 29 told the Pew Research Center they view it as their responsibility to financially help aging parents. But many are struggling to balance these new duties with their own careers.
It’s been 25 years since the passage of the FMLA, and advocates say the time for comprehensive paid family leave in the U.S. has arrived. While Democrats have historically been more enthusiastic about the issue, some conservatives have embraced the topic. Ivanka Trump pushed the President to include six weeks of paid parental leave in his budget proposal. The Republican tax bill in December included a tax credit for companies that offer paid family leave.AndRepublican Senators Marco Rubio, Mike Lee and Joni Ernst have been discussing a plan that would allow people to draw on Social Security benefits to fund paid leave and then delay their retirement checks. A bill has not yet been introduced, but Ernst told TIME the group is working with White House to find a “path forward” on the issue.
“As a working mother and a grandmother, I believe our policies must reflect the evolving needs of our workforce and reduce barriers that pose challenges to parents balancing families and work,” she said in a statement. “That’s why I am encouraged to work to create a path forward for a voluntary, budget-neutral paid leave program rather than impose a new entitlement or mandate.”
But despite this emerging bipartisan support for the idea that families need time to deal with medical crises, bond with new babies and recover from pregnancy, there is no real consensus on how to offer this at the national level.
Experts say the tax credit is too limited to make much difference, and Democrats say a Social Security-based plan will hurt women and people of color, who depend on retirement benefits later in life and often take on greater caregiving duties. Many of them support the FAMILY Act, which would use payroll taxes to offer 12 weeks of paid leave to new parents and other caregivers — a plan Republicans say is too expensive to support.
“There’s the false perception that paid leave is expensive instead of thinking about what it’s costing us to fail to take action,” says Vicki Shabo, vice president for workplace policies and strategies at the National Partnership for Women and Families. Shabo says those costs come in the form of people re-admitted to the hospital because they don’t have anyone to care for them, employees who leave the workforce to care for family, employers that lose money when they have to replace those workers, and caregivers who suffer health consequences themselves after juggling so many responsibilities.
One month into caring for her grandfather and uncle, Moonsammy has lost sleep and developed a nagging cold. She lives in New York, which became the fourth state to offer paid family leave in January, but her busy schedule has left her no time to learn about her state’s program. In comparison, Moonsammy’s sister, Sade, gets paid family leave through her employer, Family Values @ Work, a network of state coalitions pushing for policies like paid leave. This has allowed Sade to travel from Washington, D.C., where she lives, to help her family coordinate care and navigate insurance processes. “I’ve been so grateful for the benefits,” Sade says. “But it’s also hard to see how my family is struggling to maintain the schedule when I’m not there.”
The sisters say they plan to look further into New York’s paid leave program, but right now, it replaces wages up to 50% of the state’s average weekly wage, which would likely not be sustainable. And while Sade’s job pays for the leave she takes in New York, the 32-year-old also has her own concerns to manage. “I’m also trying to start my career, I’m trying to pay off my $80,000 in student debt, and not lose money,” she says. “As a young, black, queer woman making it in the world, I have to work 10 times harder all the time.”
One positive aspect of so many millennials taking on caregiving responsibilities, experts say, is that it may force lawmakers and companies to start paying attention. Though family leave is generally considered a women’s issue, younger caregivers are equally likely to be men, according to the AARP. Studies have shown that millennial men want paid leave when they look for jobs, says Sherry Leiwant, co-founder and co-president of A Better Balance, a family-rights advocacy group in New York. States are taking notice. In addition to the four that already have paid leave policies in place, Washington state and the District of Columbia passed legislation set to go into effect in the next two years, and at least 30 more states have introduced legislation on the topic.
These changing priorities also mean that more young adults are getting involved in caregiving advocacy, says Jason Resendez of the advocacy group UsAgainstAlzheimer’s. While Alzheimer’s is a disease associated with older adults, about one in six millennial caregivers is helping someone with this diagnosis. This has led UsAgainstAlzheimer’s to start working with youth-focused groups to take advantage of millennials’ technology savvy and their drive to find caregiver solutions. “We need to look at how to empower and help young folks when it comes to caregiving,” says Resendez.
In the meantime, Oniqa Moonsammy still goes to her restaurant job and balances family responsibilities each day. She now wears a ring that belonged to her grandfather. “Every time I’m wearing this ring I’m putting positive energy into the ring and hoping it will help him,” she says. “I kiss my ring and I say, ‘Grandpa, stay strong, I love you, I’ll be there soon.”
Researchers reported encouraging results for a stem cell transplant for multiple sclerosis (MS) that some doctors and patients hope will be a breakthrough for MS treatment.
In a presentation at the European Society for Bone and Marrow Transplantation held in Lisbon, Portugal, scientists said that people with certain forms of MS showed fewer relapses after receiving a stem cell transplant for MS than those who received other treatments.
The study involved 110 people with relapsing multiple sclerosis, a condition in which cells in the immune system start to inexplicably attack the critical covering that protects nerve cells in the spinal cord, brain and eye. Without the coating, nerves gradually lose their ability to send important electrical messages that control things like movement and vision. In the study, people were randomly assigned to receive current treatments for the disease, which can help slow the progression of the immune-driven damage to the nerve cells, or a stem cell transplant.
People in the stem cell transplant group received chemotherapy to wipe out most of their current immune cells that were wrongly attacking neurons. They then took special medications to coax their stem cells, which produce the entire population of immune cells, out of the bone marrow and into the blood to start churning out new immune cells. After approximatelythree years, about 6% of the stem cell group experienced relapses, while 60% of the people in the control group receiving standard treatment relapsed.
It’s not clear why the immune system in people with MS starts attacking its own nerve cells. But the idea of rebooting the immune system with healthy cells is one that is proving very effective in other fields as well. In cancer, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a similar strategy in which the immune cells causing certain leukemias are destroyed and replaced with genetically engineered cells that now recognize and can destroy cancer cells.
In the case of MS, studies show that when the immune system is rebooted later with stem cell transplants, the immune cells generally don’t launch the same misguided assault on nerves. Some research suggests that genes, combined with exposures to environmental agents ranging from pollutants to chemicals in the diet, for example, could misdirect the immune cells to destroy neurons. Re-setting the system in people who develop the disease might erase those effects and give those with MS a chance at slowing or even beating their disease.
The results are still preliminary and were not published in a journal where other experts could analyze the data and vet the results. But the study is the first to rigorously test the stem cell transplant for MS. “The trick is going to be to determine where in the landscape of treatments we have now for MS that this is going to be appropriate to use, and who is the best candidate for this treatment,” says Bruce Bebo, executive vice president of research for the National MS Society.
The transplants are also expensive, and people who need them would likely have to go to a specialized center and work with a team of transplant and neurology experts who are familiar with the technique.
Bebo also notes that the trial involved people with relapsing MS, so it’s not clear whether those with progressive MS — which accounts for about half of people currently living with the disease, according to the National MS Society — might benefit. While about 80% to 85% of people first diagnosed with MS are diagnosed with the relapsing form, that can evolve into progressive MS over time. If the stem cell transplant results are confirmed, that could mean more people might be able to control their disease if they are treated early enough, before it becomes progressive and harder to treat. “That’s the hope and the promise,” says Bebo.
Researchers who conducted a month-long trial involving 83 men said the once-daily pill lowered hormone levels similarly to other forms of longer-term contraceptives—without signs of testosterone deficiency or excess. The pill, called dimethandrolone undecanoate, or DMAU, is structured similarly to the female pill, according to study author Dr. Stephanie Page. The drug is being developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH); the group also funded the study, which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
“DMAU is a major step forward in the development of a once-daily ‘male pill’,” said Page, who is a professor of medicine at the University of Washington, in a statement. “Many men say they would prefer a daily pill as a reversible contraceptive, rather than long-acting injections or topical gels, which are also in development.”
A daily pill for males has long been elusive to pharmaceutical developers, as oral testosterone in previous forms may damage the liver or clear the body too quickly to work in just one pill per day. The pill form that DMAU takes, Page said, contains a long-chain fatty acid to make the contraceptive linger longer in the body. Other forms of contraceptive for men are also in development.
The men who participated in the double-blind study took a placebo or one of three different doses of DMAU for 28 days. The study authors said there was “marked suppression” of testosterone and of two hormones necessary for a man to produce sperm for those who took 400mg of DMAU, the highest dose.
Notably, the researchers said few people had symptoms of excessive or deficient testosterone levels, and all subjects passed safety tests that ensured proper liver and kidney function.
More research is needed before DMAU becomes a viable option for male birth control. “Longer term studies are currently under way to confirm that DMAU taken every day blocks sperm production,” Page added in the statement.
In the moment, a snack can seem like just the thing to stave off boredom, loneliness, depression or even anxiety. Sometimes it’s an occasional bout of emotional eating; other times, stress or even an anxiety disorder can fuel overeating.
Stress unleashes the hormone cortisol, which can whet your appetite. And eating actually does make you feel better—at least for a little while.
“Food can give us the same type of reward and pleasure that even drugs will,” says Melissa Majumdar, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Munching can also serve as a distraction from whatever’s really bothering you.
But eating to quell anxiety—rather than hunger—isn’t a winning strategy. It sets you up for more eating and possibly weight gain, not to mention a bout of beating yourself up about all that snacking. Meanwhile, the underlying issues persist.
Whether you have an anxiety disorder or you’re facing ongoing stress in your life, a few simple tips can help tame anxiety eating.
Aim for balance
It’s not the carrots and the broccoli that people tend to go for when they’re anxious. It’s anything packed with sugar or fat. You’re probably not likely to overdo it on something like grilled chicken breast, says Majumdar.
Sugary and fat-filled choices can numb emotions, but they also spike your blood sugar before sending it back into the trenches. Then you can feel hangry all over again; you’re on a collision course with more emotional eating.
Instead of Oreos and potato chips, aim for a balance of protein and fiber, since they are digested more slowly for “more of a sustained, gradual increase and decrease of blood sugar,” says Majumdar.
Because snacks like crackers can be a trigger for some people causing them to devour an entire box, she likes to steer people toward sources of carbs like berries and melon. Pair them with hard-boiled eggs, low-fat Greek yogurt or cottage cheese for protein, she says.
Eat at regular intervals
The longer you go without eating, the more likely you are to overeat, whether you’re anxious or not.
“You’ve had a long, stressful day, you’re hungry, you’re [more likely] to overeat,” says Dena Cabrera, executive clinical director of the Rosewood Centers for Eating Disorders. “It’s a perfect storm.”
Instead of over-filling yourself at one sitting, eat balanced meals and snacks every three to four hours. Eating regularly like this will help you control your portion sizes and limit the urge to eat out of anxiety. “The goal is to feel satisfied and not turn to food,” says Cabrera.
In the study, published in the journal Appetite in February 2017, participants meditated for 45 minutes a day almost every day of the week and performed other mindfulness practices, like eating one meal a day mindfully. Some easy ways to bring more mindfulness into your own eating—and curb the anxiety-provoked snacking—include:
Eating slowly and with a purpose.
Taking several deep breaths before each meal.
Putting your fork (or spoon) down between bites.
Taking stock of how stressed you are before you eat. Use the HALT method, suggests Majumdar. Note if you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired to assess whether you’re eating out of necessity or due to anxiety.
Create a safe eating environment
That means not eating in front of the TV or your computer. Instead, try eating at the kitchen table or, even better, in the dining room, where you’re away from the fridge full of food.
Other ways to make sure your eating environment is helpful and not harmful: Put the food away after you’ve served it to limit trips back for seconds and thirds, and don’t store food where you can see it.
“If we have a bag of chips and cookies and we walk by, we’re going to grab them if we’re in a state of anxious eating,” says Majumdar, also a clinical bariatric dietitian at Brigham and Women’s Center for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery in Boston.
Change your route
Literally. If you’re feeling anxious, don’t drive by your favorite fast-food restaurant on the way home. Even if you’re just in the habit of stopping there for a Diet Coke, says Majumdar, it’s important to shift your thinking toward non-food ways of decompressing.
Sometimes it can help to navigate your own home differently. Cabrera worked with one woman who used to binge when she walked through the kitchen to take her dog out in the middle the night. Cabrera suggested her patient go out the back door instead of the front so she could avoid the kitchen. “That helped significantly,” she says.
It happens every year: As soon as the winter weather breaks and the temperature starts rising as spring approaches, you come down with a cold.
You’re not alone. While the biggest surge in human rhinovirus infections occurs in the fall, springtime also ushers in a second peak season for common colds. Experts say several factors play a part in these seasonal spikes.
In both spring and fall, seasonal allergies can increase a person’s vulnerability to infections, says Dr. Bradley Chipps, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. The nasal inflammation caused by seasonal allergies makes it easier for viruses to “set up shop” in your nose, Chipps says. Also, since your immune system is preoccupied dealing with your allergies, it has fewer resources available to defend you from illness-causing intruders, he says.
Even if you don’t have allergies, big seasonal swings in barometric pressure, temperature and wind can irritate your airways and nasal passages — and compromise your immune system’s built-in bulwarks against colds and infections, he adds. That may be especially true this year, as the first day of spring — which falls on Tuesday, March 20 — comes amid a brutal end of winter, where a trio of Nor’easters pummeled the East Coast over the last few weeks.
Research also suggests the common cold thrives in cooler temperatures. One recent study from Yale University found a seven-degree drop in ambient temperature can mess with your body’s ability to stop cold viruses from proliferating.
“Every time we’re exposed to infections, we try to counter this by secreting interferons, which are important for blocking viruses,” says Akiko Iwasaki, a professor of immunobiology at Yale School of Medicine. “We found that if you reduce temperatures from 37 to 33 degrees Celsius”—98.6 degrees to 91.4 degrees in Fahrenheit—“that change can dampen immune response and allow viruses to replicate more.”
This helps explain why cold rates leap in the fall when the temperature plummets. But what about springtime?
It’s possible that people are more likely to venture outdoors in March and April than in the wintertime—when the weather has warmed up a bit, but is still cool enough to encourage the spread of cold viruses, Iwasaki says. While a 50-degree fall day may keep you indoors, the same thermostat reading in spring could spur you to break out your running shorts or bike.
The increase in colds in the springtime may also have to do with spring break, Iwasaki adds. “Kids are coming back from trips and spreading things,” she says.
Put simply, a number of different variables can conspire to make you sick when the seasons change. So what can you do to prevent colds as the weather shifts?
“Keeping your nose area warm can keep your immune defenses elevated,” Iwasaki says. Even on cool spring days, wearing a scarf around your face really can make a difference, she adds. Washing your hands regularly—especially before eating or touching your eyes, nose or mouth—is probably the best way to keep illness-causing microorganisms from getting into your body.
People use essential oils a variety of ways: as lotions, for hair care, aromatherapy, cleaning products and more. But are essential oils safe?
Some research in the past has linked essential oils to hormone disturbances, with some suggesting a link between the oils and abnormal breast growth in young boys, called prepubertal gynecomastia. Now, a new study suggests that compounds in essential oils — specifically lavender and tea tree oil — may have properties that can disrupt hormones.
The suspicions that essential oils may be endocrine disrupters originated from a 2007 report in the New England Journal of Medicine: a case study of three young boys, all age 10 or younger, who were identified by a Denver pediatrician as having unexplained large breasts. The doctor learned the boys regularly used tea tree and lavender oils. In all three cases, when the boys stopped using the products, the issue went away a few months later. When the researchers tested the oils on human cells in the lab, they determined the oils appeared to interfere with hormone behavior in the cells.
The new study, presented at ENDO 2018 — the Endocrine Society’s 100th annual meeting in Chicago — was conducted by researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The study authors selected eight compounds found in lavender and tea tree oil to study closely. In the lab, they applied the chemical compounds to human cancer cells and watched for changes in estrogen and androgen receptor genes and other activity. They found that the compounds had varying effects, but all appeared to have hormone-disrupting activity.
It’s important to note that the study was done in cells, and even though they were human cells, much more research is needed to understand what impact they have in humans. If they do cause disruptions, it’s unclear whether those changes would have any tangible health consequences. There haven’t been enough human studies to know for certain.
“I personally cannot recommend the public to discontinue or cut back any usages of these oils,” says study author J. Tyler Ramsey, a post-baccalaureate research fellow at NIEHS. “However, the public should consider these findings when deciding to use essential oils, as they do contain endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and there may be health risks and implications when using these oils.”
Studies looking at the effects of aromatherapy for conditions like anxiety and pain have so far been inconclusive. Though essential oils are widely used and considered safe when used as purchased, they are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Dr. Brent Bauer, director of the Department of Internal Medicine’s Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program at Mayo Clinic, writes that essential oils are shown to be safe when they are used as directed. They may have side effects for the skin, like irritability or reactions. “Further research is needed to determine how essential oils might affect children and how the oils might affect women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, as well as how the oils might interact with medications and other treatments,” Bauer writes, adding that people considering using oils and aromatherapy should consult with their doctor.
Not long after Nelly Spigner arrived at the University of Richmond in 2014 as a Division I soccer player and aspiring surgeon, college began to feel like a pressure cooker. Overwhelmed by her busy soccer schedule and heavy course load, she found herself fixating on how each grade would bring her closer to medical school. “I was running myself so thin trying to be the best college student,” she says. “It almost seems like they’re setting you up to fail because of the sheer amount of work and amount of classes you have to take at the same time, and how you’re also expected to do so much.”
At first, Spigner hesitated to seek help at the university’s counseling center, which was conspicuously located in the psychology building, separate from the health center. “No one wanted to be seen going up to that office,” she says. But she began to experience intense mood swings. At times, she found herself crying uncontrollably, unable to leave her room, only to feel normal again in 30 minutes. She started skipping classes and meals, avoiding friends and professors, and holing up in her dorm. In the spring of her freshman year, she saw a psychiatrist on campus, who diagnosed her with bipolar disorder, and her symptoms worsened. The soccer team wouldn’t allow her to play after she missed too many practices, so she left the team. In October of her sophomore year, she withdrew from school on medical leave, feeling defeated. “When you’re going through that and you’re looking around on campus, it doesn’t seem like anyone else is going through what you’re going through,” she says. “It was probably the loneliest experience.”
Spigner is one of a rapidly growing number of college students seeking mental health treatment on campuses facing an unprecedented demand for counseling services. Between 2009 and 2015, the number of students visiting counseling centers increased by about 30% on average, while enrollment grew by less than 6%, the Center for Collegiate Mental Health found in a 2015 report. Students seeking help are increasingly likely to have attempted suicide or engaged in self-harm, the center found. In spring 2017, nearly 40% of college students said they had felt so depressed in the prior year that it was difficult for them to function, and 61% of students said they had “felt overwhelming anxiety” in the same time period, according to an American College Health Association survey of more than 63,000 students at 92 schools.
As midterms begin in March, students’ workload intensifies, the wait time for treatment at counseling centers grows longer, and students who are still struggling to adjust to college consider not returning after the spring or summer breaks. To prevent students from burning out and dropping out, colleges across the country — where health centers might once have left meaningful care to outside providers — are experimenting with new measures. For the first time last fall, UCLA offered all incoming students a free online screening for depression. More than 2,700 students have opted in, and counselors have followed up with more than 250 who were identified as being at risk for severe depression, exhibiting manic behavior or having suicidal thoughts.
Virginia Tech University has opened several satellite counseling clinics to reach students where they already spend time, stationing one above a local Starbucks and embedding others in the athletic department and graduate student center. Ohio State University added a dozen mental health clinicians during the 2016-17 academic year and has also launched a counseling mobile app that allows students to make an appointment, access breathing exercises, listen to a playlist designed to cheer them up, and contact the clinic in case of an emergency. Pennsylvania State University allocated roughly $700,000 in additional funding for counseling and psychological services in 2017, citing a “dramatic increase” in the demand for care over the past 10 years. And student government leaders at several schools have enacted new student fees that direct more funding to counseling centers.
But most counseling centers are working with limited resources. The average university has one professional counselor for every 1,737 students — fewer than the minimum of one therapist for every 1,000 to 1,500 students recommended by the International Association of Counseling Services. Some counselors say they are experiencing “battle fatigue” and are overwhelmed by the increase in students asking for help. “It’s a very different job than it was 10 years ago,” says Lisa Adams Somerlot, president of the American College Counseling Association and director of counseling at the University of West Georgia.
As colleges try to meet the growing demand, some students are slipping through the cracks due to long waits for treatment and a lasting stigma associated with mental health issues. Even if students ask for and receive help, not all cases can be treated on campus. Many private-sector treatment programs are stepping in to fill that gap, at least for families who can afford steep fees that may rise above $10,000 and may not be covered by health insurance. But especially in rural areas, where options for off-campus care are limited, universities are feeling pressure to do more.
‘I needed something the university wasn’t offering’
At the start of every school year, Anne Marie Albano, director of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CUCARD), says she’s inundated with texts and phone calls from students who struggle with the transition to college life. “Elementary and high school is so much about right or wrong,” she says. “You get the right answer or you don’t, and there’s lots of rules and lots of structure. Now that [life is] more free-floating, there’s anxiety.”
That’s perhaps why, for many students, mental health issues creep up for the first time when they start college. (The average age of onset for many mental health issues, including depression and bipolar disorder, is the early 20s.)
Dana Hashmonay was a freshman at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York in 2014 when she began having anxiety attacks before every class and crew practice, focusing on uncertainties about the future and comparing herself to seemingly well-adjusted classmates. “At that point, I didn’t even know I had anxiety. I didn’t have a name for it. It was just me freaking out about everything, big or small,” she says. When she tried to make an appointment with the counseling center, she was put on a two-week waitlist. When she finally met with a therapist, she wasn’t able to set up a consistent weekly appointment because the center was overbooked. “I felt like they were more concerned with, ‘Let’s get you better and out of here,’” she says, “instead of listening to me. It wasn’t what I was looking for at all.”
Eva O’Leary for TIME
Instead, she started meeting weekly with an off-campus therapist, who her parents helped find and pay for. She later took a leave of absence midway through her sophomore year to get additional help. Hashmonay thinks the university could have done more, but she notes that the school seemed to be facing a lack of resources as more students sought help. “I think I needed something that the university just wasn’t offering,” she says.
A spokesperson for Rensselaer says the university’s counseling center launched a triage model last year in an effort to eliminate long wait times caused by rising demand, assigning a clinician to provide same-day care to students presenting signs of distress and coordinate appropriate follow-up treatment based on the student’s needs.
Some students delay seeing a counselor because they question whether their situation is serious enough to warrant it. Emmanuel Mennesson says he was initially too proud to get help when he started to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression after arriving at McGill University in Montreal in 2013 with plans to study engineering. He became overwhelmed by the workload and felt lost in classes where he was one student out of hundreds, and began ignoring assignments and skipping classes. “I was totally ashamed of what happened. I didn’t want to let my parents down, so I retreated inward,” he says. During his second semester, he didn’t attend a single class, and he withdrew from school that April.
For many students, mental health struggles predated college, but are exacerbated by the pressures of college life. Albano says some of her patients assume their problems were specific to high school. Optimistic that they can leave their issues behind, they stop seeing a therapist or taking antidepressants. “They think that this high school was too big or too competitive and college is going to be different,” Albano says. But that’s often not the case. “If anxiety was there,” she says, “nothing changes with a high school diploma.”
Counselors point out that college students tend to have better access to mental health care than the average adult because counseling centers are close to where they live, and appointments are available at little to no cost. But without enough funding to meet the rising demand, many students are still left without the treatment they need, says Ben Locke, Penn State’s counseling director and head of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health.
The center’s 2016 report found that, on average, universities have increased resources devoted to rapid-access services — including walk-in appointments and crisis treatment for students demonstrating signs of distress — since 2010 in response to rising demand from students. But long-term treatment services, including recurring appointments and specialized counseling, decreased on average during that time period.
“That means that students will be able to get that first appointment when they’re in high distress, but they may not be able to get ongoing treatment after the fact,” Locke says. “And that is a problem.”
‘We’re busier than we’ve ever been’
In response to a growing demand for mental health help, some colleges have allocated more money for counseling programs and are experimenting with new ways of monitoring and treating students. More than 40% of college counseling centers hired more staff members during the 2015-16 school year, according to the most recent annual survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors.
“A lot of schools charge $68,000 a year,” says Dori Hutchinson, director of services at Boston University’s Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, referring to the cost of tuition and room and board at some of the most expensive private schools in the country. “We should be able to figure out how to attend to their whole personhood for that kind of money.”
At the University of Iowa, Counseling Director Barry Schreier increased his staff by nearly 50% during the 2017-18 academic year. Still, he says, even with the increase in counseling service offerings, they can’t keep up with the number of students coming in for help. There is typically a weeklong wait for appointments, which can reach two weeks by mid-semester. “We just added seven full-time staff and we’re busier than we’ve ever been. We’re seeing more students,” Schreier says. “But is there less wait for service? No.”
The university has embedded two counselors in dorms since 2016 and is considering adding more after freshmen said it was a helpful service they would not have sought out on their own. Schreier also added six questions about mental health to a freshman survey that the university sends out several weeks into the fall semester. The counseling center follows up with students who might need help based on their responses to questions about how they’d rate their stress level, whether they’ve previously struggled with mental health symptoms that negatively impacted their academics, and whether they’ve ever had symptoms of depression or anxiety. He says early intervention is a priority because mental health is the number one reason why students take formal leave from the university.
As colleges scramble to meet this demand, off-campus clinics are developing innovative, if expensive, treatment programs that offer a personalized support system and teach students to prioritize mental wellbeing in high-pressure academic settings. Dozens of programs now specialize in preparing high school students for college and college students for adulthood, pairing mental health treatment with life skills classes — offering a hint at the treatments that could be used on campus in the future.
When Spigner took a medical leave from the University of Richmond, she enrolled in College Re-Entry, a 14-week program in New York that costs $10,000 and aims to provide a bridge back to college for students who have withdrawn due to mental health issues. She learned note-taking and time management skills in between classes on healthy cooking and fitness, as well as sessions of yoga and meditation.
Mennesson, the former McGill engineering student, is now studying at Westchester Community College in New York with the goal of becoming a math teacher. During his leave from school, he enrolled in a program called Onward Transitions in Portland, Maine that promises to “get 18- to 20-somethings unstuck and living independently” at a cost of over $20,000 for three months, where he learned to manage his anxiety and depression.
Another treatment model can be found at CUCARD in Manhattan, where patients in their teens and early 20s can slip on a virtual reality headset and come face-to-face with a variety of anxiety-inducing simulations — from a professor unwilling to budge on a deadline to a roommate who has littered their dorm room with stacks of empty pizza boxes and piles of dirty clothes. Virtual reality takes the common treatment of exposure therapy a step further by allowing patients to interact with realistic situations and overcome their anxiety. The center charges $150 per group-therapy session for students who enroll in the four-to-six-week college readiness program but hopes to make the virtual reality simulations available in campus counseling centers or on students’ cell phones in the future.
Courtesy The Headset Health
Hashmonay, who has used the virtual reality software at the center, says the scenarios can be challenging to confront, “but the minute it’s over, it’s like, ‘Wow, OK, I can handle this.’ She still goes weekly to therapy at CUCARD, and she briefly enrolled in a Spanish course at Montclair State University in New Jersey in January. But she withdrew after a few classes, deciding to get a job and focus on her health instead of forcing a return to school before she is ready. “I’m trying to live life right now and see where it takes me,” she says.
Back at the University of Richmond for her senior year, Spigner says the attitude toward mental health on campus seems to have changed dramatically since she was a freshman. Back then, she knew no one else in therapy, but most of her friends now regularly visit the counseling center, which has boosted outreach efforts, started offering group therapy and mindfulness sessions, and moved into a more private space. “It’s not weird to hear someone say, ‘I’m going to a counseling appointment,’ anymore,” she says.
She attended an open mic event on Richmond’s campus earlier this semester, where students publicly shared stories and advice about their struggles with mental health. Spigner, who meets weekly with a counselor on campus, has become a resource to many of her friends because she openly discusses her own mental health, encouraging others not to be ashamed to get help.
“I’m kind of the go-to now for it, to be honest,” she says. “They’ll ask me, ‘Do you think I should go see counseling?’” Her answer is always yes.
The majority of legal abortions performed in the U.S. are safe, free of complications and devoid of long-term health effects, according to a comprehensive new report.
A committee assembled by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine analyzed available data on abortion safety, quality and care. The resulting report, published Friday, says the four major abortion methods used in the U.S. — medication, aspiration, induction and dilation and evacuation (D&E) — are all safe and effective, and that complications are rare. The vast majority of U.S. abortions — 90% — are also performed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, according to the report, which drastically improves their safety.
The committee also concluded that, contrary to some persistent misinformation, evidence generally does not suggest that abortions increase a woman’s risk of later infertility, pregnancy and birth complications, breast cancer or mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The report also delved into delivery of care. It found that most abortions can be performed in office settings, and that there is “no evidence” to suggest that abortion providers should require hospital admittance privileges — a stipulation sometimes put on abortion providers that can limit access. Medication and aspiration abortions, the report says, can be performed not only by trained physicians but also by physician assistants, nurse practitioners and midwives. D&E and induction abortions, meanwhile, require more specialized training and should be performed by either physicians or nurse-midwives.
Still, “while legal abortions in the U.S. are safe, the likelihood that women will receive the type of abortion services that best meet their needs varies considerably depending on where they live,” reads a statement accompanying the report, alluding to the wide spectrum of abortion access policies on the books across the country.
In 19 states, for example, a physician must be present for a medication-induced abortion, and in 17, the medicine must be administered in a hospital- or surgical-like environment. Even more states have mandatory waiting periods before receiving an abortion, and five provide clinicians with counseling materials that detail a link between abortions and breast cancer, according to the Guttmacher Institute — despite evidence to the contrary, according to the report.
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