This Week in Health: Watch those Mardi Gras beads!

Those beads may be more dangerous than you think. Credit: Getty Images
Those beads may be more dangerous than you think.
Credit: Getty Images

Mardi Gras beads may contain hazardous chemicals

Location of study: U.S.

Study subjects: Data study

Results: Mardi Gras beads on sale at top retailers may contain one or more hazardous chemicals linked to serious health threats, according to a study between HealthyStuff.org (a project of Michigan nonprofit The Ecology Center) and VerdiGras (a New Orleans nonprofit dedicated to greening Mardi Gras). The Ecology Center researchers tested 135 Mardi Gras beads — 87 previously used and 48 new — and found that more than 90 percent contained at least one of these harmful chemicals: lead, hazardous flame retardants, arsenic or cadmium. Eighty percent of the beads contained 400 ppm of bromine, indicative of halogenated flame retardants. Two-thirds exceeded the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s federal limit for lead in children’s products.

Significance: These chemicals have been linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer. Researchers warned to keep these beads away from children and for everyone to refrain from putting beads in their mouth, and to wash hands after handling them. Also, never burn the beads and do not store them in sunlight. Heat can activate the harmful chemicals, or make them airborne.

 

Non-heterosexual high school students have greater cancer risks

Location of study: U.S.

Study subjects: 65,871 students in grades 9-12

Results: Gay young adults are more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to engage in behaviors associated with cancer risk, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health. The study, led by City College of New York’s professor of psychology Dr. Margaret Rosario, found LGBTQ youths are more likely to engage in behaviors like smoking, drinking and having sex with multiple partners. The study was in collaboration with Boston Children’s Hospital, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Fenway Institute and Northwestern University.

Significance: “Sexual minorities are at risk for cancer later in life, I suggest, from a host of behaviors that begin relatively early in life,” says Professor Rosario. “No sex or ethnic racial group is at greater risk or protected for these behaviors. Overall, the study underscores the need for early interventions.”

 

New measurement could be more accurate than BMI

Location of study: U.K.

Study subjects: 7,011 adults ages 18 and over

Results: Dr. Nir Krakauer, an assistant professor of civil engineering in CCNY’s Grove School of Engineering, and his father, Dr. Jesse Krakauer, developed a measurement called A Body Shape Index (ABSI), which they contend is more accurate than Body Mass Index (BMI) in assessing one’s risk for death related to abdominal obesity. Persons with ABSI in the top 20 percent were found to have death rates 61 percent higher than those with ABSI in the bottom 20 percent.

Significance: Researchers concluded that further investigation as to whether lifestyle or other interventions could reduce ABSI and improve longevity was warranted.

 

Brain mapping might aid treatment of mental disorders

Location of study: U.S.

Study subjects: Mice

Results: A small region of the hippocampus known as CA2 is essential for social memory, the ability of an animal to recognize another of the same species. Columbia University Medical Center researchers hope that better understanding of the function of CA2 might help in treating disorders characterized by altered social behaviors, such as autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The hippocampus plays a critical role in our ability to remember the who, what, where and when of our daily lives. The study was published in the online edition of Nature.

Significance: “The role of CA2, a relatively small region of the hippocampus sandwiched between CA3 and CA1, has remained largely unknown,” says senior author Dr. Steven A. Siegelbaum, a professor of neuroscience and pharmacology. “Because several neuropsychiatric disorders are associated with altered social behaviors, our findings raise the possibility that CA2 dysfunction may contribute to these behavioral changes.”



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