Summer Is Around The Corner In Canada: Are You Using the Right Sunscreen?

Despite numerous warnings and daily UV index advisories, Aveeno and Neutrogena surveyed Canadians and discovered that 1 in 4 do not use sunscreen on a regular basis and 1 in 3 do not view tanning as a risk.
“That might help explain why more than 81,000 Canadians will be diagnosed with skin cancer this year, including about 6,000 who will be diagnosed with the most deadly form, melanoma.”
Of the few Canadians that actively protect their skin from the harmful ultraviolet radiation, the choices of sunscreens are endless and confusing. 
The Sun Protection Factor…
For instance, many believe that the SPF rating allows one to be out in the sun longer, the higher the rating.  As such, applying SPF 60 means you can be out twice as long as you could with SPF 30 before having to reapply.  However, in reality, the Canadian Cancer Society advises that SPF 15 sunscreen will block roughly 93% of UVB rays, while SPF 30 will block out about 97% UVB rays, making SPF 30 nowhere near twice as effective.
According to Marianne Berwick, a professor of epidemiology at the University of New Mexico, "The high SPF numbers are just a gimmick".  In addition, many dermatologists believe that companies should not be allowed to promote rating higher that SPF 50.
In fact, “the U.S. FDA is working on setting a limit to SPF promises on sunscreen labels, but for now, the Canadian Dermatology Association advises Canadians to aim for an SPF of at least 30.”
On the other hand, some dermatologists believe that that issue lies within the amount of sunscreen used and not the SPF rating since manufacturer’s measure their rating based on using a considerable amount of sunscreen at once. 
For example, Toronto-based dermatologist Dr. Paul Cohen advises that the average bottle of sunscreen should last about a week and not an entire summer.
Of course, this means reapplying after a certain amount of time has elapsed and even more often after swimming and sweating, for regular and waterproof brands.
The Spray Sunscreen…
In recent years, the popularity of spray sunscreens has grown as they are much quicker, convenient and less messy. 
However, Respirologist Dr. Matthew Stanbrook, of Toronto Western Hospital, notes that certain ingredients in these sprays can be very harmful, especially in children. 
“Many contain oxybenzone, a chemical that absorbs ultraviolet light. While Health Canada and the American Academy of Dermatology says the chemical is safe for the skin, there are concerns that breathing it into the lungs might not be safe for children, because the chemical can act as a synthetic estrogen.”
In addition, Stanbrook indicates that the aerosol spray sunscreens contain zinc oxide and titanium oxide.  Such exposure these substances have been associated with some lung diseases and, although few studies exist, the aerosol spray creates particles of perfect proportion for breathing into the lungs.
Basically, Dr. Stanbrook advises against using such a product on children or in direct contact with the face. 
Additionally, spray sunscreens are now known to be a fire hazard as a Massachusetts man suffered second-degree burns on his chest and back last year when he walked over to his barbecue shortly after applying spray sunscreen igniting the vapour trail. 
Therefore, a final warning with spray sunscreen is to steer clear of open flames or be certain the sunscreen is fully absorbed into the skin.

According to Health Canada…
Protect your health by using a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Look for claims on the label indicating that the product is resistant to removal (e.g., water resistant, very water resistant, waterproof).
For best results, be sure to follow the instructions on the product label. Use the recommended amount of sunscreen and respect the waiting period between application and exposure to the sun. If you are sweating heavily or swimming, reapply sunscreen often to get the best protection.
Here are other steps that Health Canada recommends you take to protect against UV exposure:
  • If possible, avoid being in the sun between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
  • Look for shade, stay under a tree, or use an umbrella.
  • During outdoor activities, wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. When the UV index is three or higher, you should also wear protective clothing and a large-brimmed hat.
  • Remember to apply sunscreen to all exposed areas of your skin.


Social Isolation Affects Myelin Production

Researchers at the University at Buffalo and Mt. Sinai School of Medicine have uncovered more evidence for the plasticity of the brain. In particular, they found that animals that are socially isolated for prolonged periods produce less myelin in the region of the brain responsible for complex emotional and cognitive behaviour.

As such, lead author, Karen Dietz, PhD, research scientist in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences states that this research reveals that neurons are not the only brain structures that undergo changes in response to environment and experience. Specifically, they “discovered that the stress of social isolation disrupts the sequence in which the myelin-making cells, the oligodendrocytes, are formed.”

Although previous research has revealed an association between changes in the brain’s white matter and psychiatric disorders and demyelinating has been associated with depression, "this research reveals for the first time a role for myelin in adult psychiatric disorders," Dietz says. "It demonstrates that plasticity in the brain is not restricted to neurons, but actively occurs in glial cells, such as the oligodendrocytes, which produce myelin."

Myelin is an electrically insulating material that forms a layer, the myelin sheath, usually around only the axon of a neuron. It is an outgrowth of a type of glial cell and essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system. The production of the myelin sheath is called myelination. The main purpose of a myelin layer (or sheath) is to increase the speed at which impulses propagate along the myelinated fiber. In humans, the production of myelin begins in the 14th week of fetal development, although little myelin exists in the brain at the time of birth. During infancy, myelination occurs quickly and continues through the adolescent stages of life.

After isolating adult mice for 8 weeks, researchers introduced to a mouse they had never seen before. The mice that had been socially isolated showed no interest in interacting with the new mouse, while mice in general are considered social animals.

“Brain tissue analysis of the socially isolated animals revealed significantly lower than normal levels of gene transcription for oligodendrocyte cells in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region responsible for emotional and cognitive behavior.”

The key change was that cellular nuclei in the prefrontal cortex contained less heterochromatin, a tightly packed form of DNA material, which is unavailable for gene expression.

"This process of DNA compaction is what signifies that the oligodendrocytes have matured, allowing them to produce normal amounts of myelin," says Dietz.

"We have observed in socially isolated animals that there isn't as much compaction, and the oligodendrocytes look more immature. As adults age, normally, you would see more compaction, but when social isolation interferes, there's less compaction and therefore, less myelin being made."
However, the researchers did observe a normal production of myelin after a period of social integration, which suggests that the damage may be reversed, if treated.

Moreover, further research on the effects of environment and experiences on an individual may play an important role in understanding and treating various neurodegenerative autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis, acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, transverse myelitis, chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, Guillain-Barré syndrome, central pontine myelinosis, inherited demyelinating diseases such as leukodystrophy, and Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.

New Form of Brain Plasticity: How Social Isolation Disrupts Myelin Production

Impaired Sense of Smell May Predict Psychopathy

Researchers, Mehmet Mahmut and Richard Stevenson, from Macquarie University in Australia, have discovered individuals with psychopathic tendencies may have an impaired sense of smell.

Psychopathy is a personality disorder that has been variously described as characterized by shallow emotions, stress tolerance, lacking empathy, cold-heartedness, lacking guilt, egocentricity, superficial charm, manipulativeness,  irresponsibility, impulsivity and antisocial behaviors.

Research shows that impairment to the frontal brain, the area largely responsible for planning, impulse control and acting in accordance with social norms, is found in individuals possessing psychopathic traits.  Coincidentally, a dysfunction in this part of the brain is also linked to an impaired sense of smell.
“Mahmut and Stevenson looked at whether a poor sense of smell was linked to higher levels of psychopathic tendencies, among 79 non-criminal adults living in the community. First they assessed the participants' olfactory ability as well as the sensitivity of their olfactory system. They also measured subjects' levels of psychopathy, looking at four measures: manipulation; callousness; erratic lifestyles; and criminal tendencies. They also noted how much or how little they empathized with other people's feelings.”
As expected, results showed that individuals with psychopathic tendencies had more difficulty identifying smells and distinguishing between smells while being completely aware that there was an odor to be detected. 

Clearly this is just the tip of the iceberg, but a rather good start to an interesting area of study and the discovery of a potentially helpful diagnostic tool. 

'Psychopaths' Have an Impaired Sense of Smell, StudySuggests 


New Drug Prevents HIV

Finally, a new medication has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that can reduce the risk of HIV infection. 

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus hat causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a condition in humans in which progressive failure of the immune system allows life-threatening opportunistic infections and cancers to thrive.

Gilead Sciences Inc. has marketed a drug called Truvada since 2004, which has been primarily used to treat people who are already infected with HIV. However, in 2010, the company conducted studies that revealed that Truvada could actually prevent people from contracting HIV when used as a precautionary measure.

Just yesterday, the FDA approved Truvada as a method of preventing HIV among those people at high risk of contracting the disease.  For example, this means that people with HIV infected partners could begin using the medication to prevent infecting themselves with the disease.   

Because the drug is already available for other purposes, many doctors are already prescribing it for prevention.  Nevertheless, the FDA approval will now allow all individuals’ access to Truvada to prevent infection.

“A three-year study found that daily doses cut the risk of infection in healthy gay and bisexual men by 42 per cent, when accompanied by condoms and counseling. Last year another study found that Truvada reduced infection by 75 per cent in heterosexual couples in which one partner was infected with HIV and the other was not.”

Statistics indicate that about 1.2 million Americans have HIV and newly infected individuals have remained steady at about 50,000 new cases each year for the past 15 years.  In addition, it is estimated that about 240,000 HIV carriers are not even aware that they are infected - a scary statistic that can cause the virus to spread rapidly.  Preventative measures could not only slow the spread, but may one day eliminate the disease.

Although this seems like a positive stride, not everyone is pleased by the news.  “Groups including the AIDS Healthcare Foundation asked the FDA to reject the new indication, saying it could give patients a false sense of security and reduce the use of condoms, the most reliable preventive measure against HIV.”

In response, Dr. Debra Birnkrant, FDA's director of antiviral products, explained that research did not indicate that condom use decreased with the use of this new medication, therefore suggesting that there is no evidence that risky behavior will increase. 

In the end, more options mean more ability to fight the disease and perhaps more hope for many people.



Some Insomniacs May Simply Fear Darkness

A new study has uncovered a new potential cause for insomnia among adults.  Researchers studied a small group of college students in Toronto and discovered that coincidentally almost 50% of the participants claiming to sleep poorly had also reported a fear of the dark.  

To test their fear of the dark, researchers measured their blink response to sudden noises in both light and darkness.  Those who claimed to sleep well quickly became accustomed to the noises whereas those claiming to sleep poorly anticipated the noise more in the dark.

"The poor sleepers were more easily startled in the dark compared with the good sleepers," said Taryn Moss, the study's lead author. "As treatment providers, we assume that poor sleepers become tense when the lights go out because they associate the bed with being unable to sleep. Now we're wondering how many people actually have an active and untreated phobia."

Therefore, insomnia cases where a fear of the dark is present may require different types of treatment.  The principal investigator, Colleen Carney, PhD, indicated that current insomnia treatments are highly effective for most people.  There are a select few that do not respond to treatment and cannot fully recover from their insomnia.  Perhaps those individuals may fear the dark and require different treatment methods.  “For example, the most effective insomnia treatments encourage people to leave the dark bedroom and go into another, lit room; however, this would not be a way to treat a dark-related phobia.”

Further investigation could mean better treatment and, most of all, sleep for those untreatable patients.

How much sleep do we really need?  According to many sources…

  • Newborns: 13 to 17 hours
  • 2 years and up:  9 to 13 hours
  • 10 years and up: 10 to 11 hours
  • 16 to 65 years: 6 to 9 hours
  • over 65 years: 6 to 8 hours
For those unable to meet the suggested hours of sleep may be experiencing insomnia.  It has been said that insomnia affects about 30-40% of adults in any given year.

Insomnia can be defined as difficulties falling and/or staying sleep, or non-restorative sleep, that is associated with impairments of daytime functioning.  Insomnia can be…

Transient: Lasting less than 1 week.  Potential causes may be another disorder, changes in the sleep environment, the timing of sleep, severe depression or stress.  Consequences include sleepiness and impaired psychomotor performance similar to sleep deprivation.

Acute: Lasting less than 1 month, but more than 1 week.  Insomnia occurs despite adequate opportunity and circumstances for sleep and result in problems with daytime functioning.  It is also known as short term insomnia or stress related insomnia.

Chronic: Lasting longer than 1 month. It may be caused by another disorder, or it may be a primary disorder. People with high levels of stress hormones or shifts in the levels of cytokines are more likely to have chronic insomnia. Effects vary according to its causes and can include: muscular fatigue, hallucinations, and/or mental fatigue. Some people that live with this disorder see things as if they are happening in slow motion, wherein moving objects seem to blend together. Chronic insomnia can cause double vision.

Some causes of insomnia include:
  • A variety of medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Mental disorders such as bipolar disorder, clinical depression, generalized anxiety disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, or dementia.
  • Certain neurological disorders, brain lesions, or a history of traumatic brain injury
  • A variety of medications such as decongestants, stimulants and some antidepressants
  • Withdrawal from depressant drugs such as opioids and benzodiazepines.  
  • Use of fluoroquinolone (broad-spectrum antibiotics that play an important role in treatment of serious bacterial infections)
  • Nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol.
  • Abuse of over-the counter or prescription sleep aids such as sedatives or depressants can produce rebound insomnia.
  • Inactivity during the day.
  • Poor sleep habits 
  • Sleep problems such as sleep apnea.
  • Life events such as fear, stress, anxiety, emotional or mental tension, work problems, financial stress, birth of a child and bereavement.
  • Restless Legs Syndrome (a neurological disorder characterized by an irresistible urge to move one's body to stop uncomfortable or odd sensations during wakefulness)
  • Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) is previously known as nocturnal myoclonus, is a sleep disorder where the patient moves limbs involuntarily during sleep, and has symptoms or problems related to the movement.
  • Parasomnias, such as nightmares, sleepwalking, night terrors, violent behavior while sleeping, and REM behavior disorder, in which the physical body moves in response to events within dreams. 
  • Hormone shifts such as those that precede menstruation or during menopause.
  • Circadian rhythm disturbances, such as shift work and jet lag (east to west travel).
  • Exercise-induced insomnia (common in athletes, causing prolonged sleep onset latency.)
  • Pain from injury or medical conditions
  • A rare genetic condition can cause a prion-based, permanent and eventually fatal form of insomnia called fatal familial insomnia
  • From this lengthy list, it is clear that diagnosing and treating insomnia would be a very difficult task.  Therefore it seems like the best option would be to talk it over with a doctor if you are experiencing insomnia.
Sweet dreams...


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