Saturday, July 28, 2012

HCG Diet Products Are Still Available

In March of last year I blogged about a diet fad in which dieters are urged to restrict themselves to 500 calories per day and take shots of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a hormone.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) takes a firm stand against HCG diet products, calling them unapproved, illegal and potentially dangerous. The agency has even sent warning letters to manufacturers and distributors of HCG products, warning them that they are selling illegal homeopathic drugs.

Nevertheless, on an interstate highway near where I live there’s a billboard promoting a local clinic that provides these products for weight loss! Technically, it’s legal. HCG is approved for at least one medical condition (female infertility), so physicians can order it and prescribe it. The drug laws in the U.S. allow a doctor to decide what is best for his/her patient regardless of whether or not a drug is actually approved for a particular use. So the FDA can’t stop the clinics from using HCG products as diet drugs; it can only try to strong-arm manufacturers and distributors.

The bottom line is that HCG is widely available for dieters, even though it is not approved for dieting for the FDA. Google “HCG diet” and you’ll find clinics willing to sell this snake oil, right along with news and medical sites saying it doesn’t work.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bisphenol-A Banned From Plastic Babies’ Bottles

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has finally banned bisphenol-A (BPA) as an ingredient in plastic babies’ bottles and sippy cups, according to an Associated Press report of July 17, 2012.

Well, good for them. But in fact the FDA took action only after the agency was asked to do so by the American Chemistry Council, a chemical industry trade group. It turns out that plastics manufacturers had already voluntarily removed BPA from babies’s bottles and sippy cups. The American Chemistry Council had asked the FDA to ban BPA from these products largely to improve the public image of the industry and these products.

The FDA has argued for some time now that that the currently available scientific evidence does not support the conclusion that the amounts of BPA ingested by adults are unsafe. Nevertheless, the agency continues to review the evidence regarding to the safety of BPA in food packaging, and is likely to take action if and when it is warranted.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

New Pop Warner Safety Rules for Football Practice

Recent evidence suggests that repetitive sub-concussive blows to the head may contribute to the development of permanent brain damage later in life. In response to this evidence, Pop Warner announced last month that it is instituting new rules governing football practice sessions. Pop Warner is the oldest and largest youth football, cheer, and dance organization association in the world, with over 400,00 participants between the ages of 5 and 16.

Under the new rules, only a third of practice time can be devoted to contact drills, nor can contact drills exceed 40 minutes per practice session. Full-speed head-on tackling drills are banned. Head-on tackling drills are only allowed if the players line up less than three yards apart. Full-speed contact during drills is still allowed, but it must be at an angle, not straight on. There should be no intentional head-to-head contact, ever.

The organization is clearly taking the lead on safety. No other football organization at any level has such strict rules governing practice. The organization knows that the aggressive culture of football may make acceptance of the new rules a hard sell among some coaches, but believes that the new rules are important for the safety of the players and even the very survival of the game. The new rules will be in effect during the 2012 season.

It’ll be interesting to see how high school, college, and even pro football organizations respond to the current concerns about head injuries in football. Can we make the sport safe enough, if not completely safe?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Global Warming Self-Perpetuating Events

One of the concerns about global warming is that there may be a “tipping point” temperature at which global warming could become more rapid and potentially unstoppable by human intervention. To date, a tipping point for global warming as a whole has not been identified. But at least two events linked to global warming do seem to have the potential to be self-perpetuating, triggering even further global warming.

One such self-perpetuating event is the thawing of glaciers, most notably in Greenland. Melting glaciers leave behind are newly exposed areas of land, sea, or dark melt-water pools, all three of which absorb more light energy than snow or ice. This causes more local warming, which in turn causes more melting, which then causes more warming, more melting, and so on. It’s like a positive feedback event, with no obvious end in sight.

Another potential self-sustaining warming event is thawing of the permafrost (land that is generally frozen all the time) at northernmost latitudes. The concern is that thawed permafrost will release large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane currently trapped in the frozen earth. Since both carbon dioxide and methane are greenhouse gases, this will further exacerbate global warming, leading to more thawing of permafrost, then more carbon dioxide and methane released…..

Will global warming as a whole become self-perpetuating? Right now, no one knows. Perhaps the best policy would be to try to control global carbon dioxide emissions soon so that if there is a tipping point temperature, we don’t exceed it.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Gender Determination at the 2012 Olympic Games

With the 2012 summer Olympic games less than four weeks away, it’s worth asking: How will the International Olympics Committee (IOC) determine the gender of an athlete, if his/her gender is called into question?   You may recall the embarrassing incident suffered by Caster Semenya back in 2009 when she won the 800-meter event at an international track and field event (this blog Sept. 7, 2009).  It took another 10 months for a committee to decide she could compete as a woman (this blog July 7, 2010).  The delay and uncertainty were embarrassments for Ms. Semenya and for the international track and field governing body.

Here’s the IOC has tried in the past and what they’ll be doing this year in London:

1) The “nude parade”.  In the 1960 and 1964 games, female athletes were required to walk nude in front of a physician.   Aside from the obvious invasion of privacy issue, some people are born with both male and female genitalia, making the policy essentially ineffective.

2) Chromosome analysis.  By 1968 the IOC was using chromosome analysis to establish sex – XX for female and XY for male.  But some males have an extra X chromosome, and some females are missing the X. Should they be allowed to compete?

3) Hormone tests.  This year the IOC proposes to use testosterone levels to determine gender.  Males generally have much higher testosterone levels, of course, but in there can be a fairly wide range of testosterone levels in both genders.   Can the IOC be absolutely certain that there is no natural overlap, ever, in testosterone levels between males and females?

It’ll be interesting to see if any gender controversies arise in London this year.