Diet pills are not all safe…

18 02 2009

The Food and Drug Administration has discovered that many weight-loss / diet pills, many imported from China, are laced with drugs that may be potentially harmful. One such weight-loss pill, StarCaps, is promoted as an “all natural” diet pill that has papaya to help you lose weight. However, the FDA found that these pills also contain bumetanide, a powerful and potentially harmful pharmaceutical drug that can have severe side effects, which is also a violation of the law. Michael Levy, the director of the FDA’s division of New Drugs and Labeling Compliance said:

“A large percentage of these products either contain dangerous undeclared ingredients or they might be outright fraudulent on the ingredients and have no effect at all. We don’t think consumers should be using these products.”

Many other experts say that even diet pills that are not secretly spiked with potentially harmful pharmaceutical drugs
can still be dangerous or detrimental to one’s health. Diet pills like StarCaps have gained a large following as a result of celebrity endorsements and advertisements in popular magazines like People.

An advertisement for StarCaps featuring the company's founder, Nikki Haskell.

An advertisement for StarCaps featuring the company's founder, Nikki Haskell.

Bumetanide is one of the banned substances by the National Football League, and NFL players who have used StarCaps and then failed drug tests, are suing Haskell, who claimed to not have known that bumetanide was in the pills. She “‘was completely devastated and remain devastated'” upon discovering this.

We need to look at this problem of unsafe diet pills (laced or not laced with harmful drugs) within a larger context. Diet pills have become increasingly popular because of society’s elevated ideal of thinness and the public’s obsession with celebrities (and when celebrities endorse diet pills, their fans who want to try to look more like them will go out and get those pills). In a culture that shoves thinness in your face any time, anywhere you go, it’s sad but not surprising that diet pills have become so popular. It’s even sadder that many individuals who consume these pills get more than they bargained for and end up facing potentially serious health consequences.

How can we improve In the SACK?

18 02 2009

In the SACK (Safety, Awareness, Consent and Knowledge) is an important piece of the orientation program we have at Tufts to educate incoming students about consent and the realities of sexual assault/rape on college campus. I was a facilitator this year and after the small group program, some students in my group came up to me afterwards and thanked me for talking to them about these issues because no one had ever brought that up with them before.

I never went to In the SACK during my first year orientation because I was feeling, like many other students, orientation fatigue. After a packed day of program after program about plagiarism, academic honesty, safety services on campus, etc., many students just don’t feel like being crowded into another room for yet another lecture. So if not during orientation, when would be the best time to have In the SACK? Would it be more effective to do it later on in the semester after students have gotten somewhat adjusted to college life? Or would it be best to do In the SACK during orientation then repeat it, or something similar, later on in the semester?

Also, for many students In the SACK can be scary. Being told the truth about sexual assault and rape, and how the perpetrator is not a scary man hiding in the bushes but instead almost always someone you know – a classmate, friend, friend of friends, or partner even – is not fun. It’s also really overwhelming to take in all that information after a long busy day of orientation programs, and especially because you’re in college, a new environment. You’re excited to start college, and the last thing you want to hear about is probably rape. Nevertheless it is important to get this information out there.

Many students come into college without having had any sex ed in middle school or high school. Especially since abstinence only education seems to be dominant. Therefore students come into college with very little information about sex and sexual health and hearing about sexual violence may be the closest to sex ed that they’ve ever had.

What we need more of, in addition to sexual violence education, is comprehensive sex ed and sex positivity that is informative and pertinent to students of various ages. The Universalist Unitarian Association and the United Church on Christ have collaborated to create a sexuality education program called Our Whole Lives. It’s a year long program that teaches teens that sex can be good and pleasurable, and how to have good, safe sex.

What are people’s opinions about sex ed on the collegiate level? What are people’s thoughts about In the SACK? How can we modify or improve it? And should we / how can we make In the SACK / sex (positivity) ed a continuous thing throughout the academic year or throughout the college years?

Domestic violence goes up as the economy goes down

18 02 2009

With the budget cuts and the economic downturn, much funding for programs and services for women has been severely cut, such as battered women’s shelters, rape crisis centers, and advocacy organizations for survivors of domestic/sexual violence. These programs and services are deemed unnecessary, irrelevant or not as important, which is completely untrue because as the economy falters, the rates of domestic abuse/violence increase which is why we need these services more than ever.

Why is this so? There is a strong link between the economic stability of a couple, household or community and the intimate violence that occurs. According to a September 2004 study done by the National Institute of Justice, couples experiencing “extensive financial strain” had three times the domestic violence rate of others. Moreover, women in low-income neighborhoods are “substantially more likely” to be repeatedly abused by male partners.

Men have been harder hit than women by the economic downturn because “male-dominated industries like construction or transportation are bearing the brunt of the job losses.” In our society, men are supposed to be the breadwinners, which may make them tie their identities to their paid occupations. So when they are laid off they may experience a loss of a sense of power and control, and may feel a need to reassert their power and control over another, usually their partner or children.

This isn’t to say that all men who lose their jobs will become abusers, but in homes where domestic violence already occurs, the sinking economy increases frequency and violence of the abuse. Abusers use the economic downturn as a means of control over their victims.

The failing economy also makes it difficult for women to escape abusive relationships, especially if they are financially dependent on their partner’s income. Women who leave their abusive partners may end up homeless, which is more devastating now especially since families are struggling to keep their homes, pay all their bills and hold onto their jobs.

Therefore, for those people who just wonder “why doesn’t she just leave him?” It’s not that simple. It never is. Especially not now, given the economic situation.

The Risks of In-Vitro Fertilization

18 02 2009

Recent studies on the risks of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) suggest that IVF may lead to changes in gene expression and higher risk of the children developing certain disorders.  Data also suggests that there may be an increased risk of premature birth and low birth rate among babies conceived using IVF.  Although the results of these studies are by no means comprehensive, the data seems significant enough to instill concern in those who seek parenthood through in-vitro means.  

IVF has seemed to be very safe over the past 30 years, and the use of IVF has revolutionized cultural definitions of family.  Women who choose to conceive using donors often challenge the way that biological relation is viewed in relationship to parenthood.  IVF is used most often by higher-class well-off single women, gay and lesbian couples, and heterosexual couples with fertility problems.  Because of its high cost, IVF is mainly a path to parenthood used by wealthier individuals.

There is no question in my mind that IVF has been one of the most important scientific and social developments for both women and men.  But the excitement of the benefits of the method can overshadow the need for extensive study of the possible negative effects and risks of the method.  For one thing, embryos tend to grow much slower in the laboratory than in the human womb.  The culture medium used to grow the embryos in the lab affects the rate of growth.  With further study of the possible risks of this broth’s composition, researchers may be able to discover how to change the composition to make the process safer and erase the possibility that broth composition could affect genetic makeup.

The data of the studies are probably skewed.  There have been large selection effects on data of the participants in some studies, because people who respond to questionnaires used were probably more likely to be those parents who had experienced problems with their children’s health.  The increase in abnormalities found in the study, even so, were not found to be much higher in IVF children than in comparison with the general population.

Whether or not the data in the studies are actually indicators of a problem with IVF, the research is significant because it is crucial to examine our medical procedures.  Richard G. Rawlins, who is director of in vitro fertilization and assisted reproduction laboratories at the Rush Centers for Advanced Reproductive Care in Chicago, was interviewed for the New York Times article about this study.  He explained that patients at interview never asked questions about the possible risks of growing embryos in laboratories.  He added that not many doctors have asked about risks either.  We need to make sure that women are educated about the potential risks of their reproductive decisions, so that they are fully informed when they make the emotional decision to conceive a child using this method.