Abortion Less Traumatic Than Childbirth, Study Finds

February 1, 2011

As the abortion wars heat up once again, there’s a new study out that’s sure to add fuel to the fire. A leading medical journal reports that having an abortion may be less damaging to a woman’s mental health than having a baby.

The study — which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week — tracked 365,550 girls and women in Denmark who had a first-trimester abortion or first-time delivery between 1995 and 2007. Researchers selected females with no history of mental health problems prior to getting pregnant. They then compared the rate of mental health treatment (as measured by an inpatient admission or outpatient visit) within the 12 months after the abortion or childbirth as compared with the 9-month period preceding it.

The study found that women who had an abortion sought psychiatric treatment at roughly the same rate before and after that event, while the incidence with which women who gave birth sought counseling increased dramatically after having a baby.

Specifically, one percent of women sought help for possible mental disorders in the nine months before the abortion, while 1.5 percent did so in the 12 months that followed. On the other hand, 0.3 percent of women who gave live birth visited a psychiatrist for the first time in the nine months before birth compared to an average of 0.7 percent in the year that followed. So even though women seeking abortions are statistically more likely to have emotional problems to begin with, the study concludes they actually “suffer” less after the abortion than their counterparts who have children.

The scholars’ conclusion? Contrary to popular belief (and heretofore received scientific wisdom), women’s mental health is not seriously compromised by having an (early) abortion.

Read the rest of this story at www.politicsdaily.com

 

Image: Pregnant Woman by Bete a Bon-Dieu via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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New Antidepressant Won’t Harm Sex Life

January 31, 2011

Here’s some good news that should brighten up this cold and snowy January: The FDA has just approved a new antidepressant with minimal sexual side effects.

The most commonly used class of antidepressants — called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) — has quickly risen to the top of the charts for their ability to treat depression. These include such household names as Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft. But there’s one problem with SSRIs: Many of them cause sexual dysfunction, including problems with achieving erection, delayed orgasm and loss of libido. As a result, patients frequently abandon their medication.

The new drug, vilazodone, was developed by the company Clinical Data and will be marketed under the brand name Viibyrd. (Yes, that’s right.) In clinical trials, it did not have a negative impact on sexual desire or function.

Read the rest of this story at www.PoliticsDaily.com

Prozac Sprinkles by Lushbunny via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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The Economics Of Abortion

January 17, 2011

For the first time since 1981, the long-term decline in U.S. abortions has stalled. And experts are pinning the blame on the recession. In other words, when it comes to abortions, American consumers behave much as they do when buying cars: when they have less money, they are more likely to opt for a used car, rather than splurging on the latest model. I’ll explain that further shortly.

The new data comes from the Guttmacher Institute in New York, which periodically surveys U.S. abortion providers. Researchers found that in 2008, there were 19.6 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44. While this is significantly below the 1981 peak (29.3 abortions for every 1,000 women), it is virtually unchanged from the 2005 rate (19.4 abortions). Likewise, the total number of abortions in 2008 (1.21 million) was essentially unchanged from 2005.

While there are many possible causes for this latest trend, the chief suspect is the recession that hit in 2008, which altered the economic calculations (and savings accounts) of many American families.

“Abortion numbers go down when the economy is good and go up when the economy is bad, so the stalling may be a function of a weaker economy,” said University of Alabama political science professor Michael New.

In this sense, abortion can be thought of as an “inferior good” — i.e. something a consumer would demand less of if they had a higher level of real income. While abortions aren’t cheap (in 2009, according to the Guttmacher Institute, the average amount paid for a non-hospital abortion with local anesthesia at 10 weeks’ gestation was $451), they are far cheaper than having a baby. (The average cost of having a child in the hospital in America in 2005 was between $5,000 and $10,000.)

If that all sounds like a very rational and clinical account of an issue that is usually portrayed in red-hot, polarizing terms, that’s a good thing, at least as far as I’m concerned. Because if, like me, you’d like to envision a country where — in the immortal words of Bill Clinton, abortion is “safe, legal and rare” — then we need to start looking at the cold, hard facts around abortion rather than crafting policy based on our emotions.

Read the rest of this story at www.PoliticsDaily.com

Image: P3123372 by jessica_trinity via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Life Lessons From My Yoga Teacher

November 24, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

It’s been awhile since I posted about yoga. And I think the reason is that just when I thought I’d found the right teacher – the one I *really* clicked with – she got pregnant and went away to have a baby. (How dare she!)

Like most things, yoga is all about the teacher. You can be doing the most amazing sun salutations on earth, but if you aren’t with a teacher who really speaks to you, it just isn’t going to work.

Fortunately for me, I’ve developed a new yoga teacher-crush. In fact, I’m so in love with this new person’s teaching method that I’ve completely upended my schedule so that I can take her class every Thursday morning from 9:45-11:15, which is normally when I’m sitting at my desk.

But it’s totally worth it. I come out of there feeling like I’ve taken a drug. In addition to the stretching, here are five things I’ve learned about yoga – and life! –  from working with her:

1. Be prepared. One of the reasons I knew that this lady was the one for me was when I noticed her note cards. Some yoga teachers come in with a few things scribbled on the back of a napkin. Others come in with absolutely nothing and wing it. But my yoga teacher comes in with about 5-7 incredibly detailed note cards upon which she’s written down precise instructions for exactly what she’ll teach that morning. And you know what? It shows. Her classes have a logic and – dare I say it? – a flow that is the product of strict preparation and hard work. I’m not exactly a slacker. But it’s nice to be reminded – outside of a work context – that there’s a pay off for working hard.

2. Push Yourself. In addition to her preparedness, what I really love about this new teacher is how she structures the class. She starts out really mellow and gets you thinking that it’s going to be a gentle class. But as you go on, you start repeating the poses over and over, each time with a bit more difficulty. And you realize that she’s actually extending you quite a bit from where you started. I think the reason she does this is to show us all that we can and should do more with our bodies (and ourselves). And sometimes, it’s that extra little push that really matters. Not just to really get the most out of a given stretch, but to have the confidence to know that you are capable of doing more.

3. Be Encouraging. At the same time, she’s hardly a drill sergeant. She’s incredibly supportive of the class and really goes out of her way to praise the students, as long as she sees that they are trying. As someone who’s currently struggling with how to motivate and encourage my kids to do their best without turning them into pressure cookers, this teaching method is highly instructive.

4. Be Self-Aware. Normally, I hate it when yoga teachers talk too much during class. If it’s not about the poses, I really don’t want to hear all the poetry and other gobbledy-gook about self-development, etc. It’s too distracting. But this lady won me over the time during Savasana (corpse pose) when she told a story about how she’d lost her temper with one of her kids. She narrated how she’d lashed out at her child for doing something silly with an art project because of the teacher’s issues with her own parents. It was the way that she told it – and the way your heart ached for both her and her child – that reminded me, once again, that the very first step towards fixing attitudes and behaviors in yourself that you don’t like is – per Alcoholics Anonymous – to recognize them. Which is so very, very key to parenting, among other things.

5. Breathe. I think it takes awhile when you’re doing yoga regularly to understand why the breathing is so important. At first blush, it would seem that doing the stretches correctly is way more important than remembering to breathe. I’ve been doing yoga for nearly four years and it was only a week ago that the breathing thing really sunk in. As my teacher noted, “Your breath is what centers you. It is what makes you present and anchors the entire pose.” And just like that, a light bulb went off. Focusing on the breathing helps you to really zoom in on the here and now, something which some of us (cough) struggle with at times.

Image: Hatha Yoga Video Lunge Pose – Hanurasana by myyogaonline via flickr under a Creative Commons license

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Keep Your Brain Active As You Age

October 20, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I had a senior moment the other day. I was talking to my daughter about my elementary school, and I started listing my teachers one by one. But when I got to fifth grade, I drew a complete blank. I could envision the lady perfectly – plump, jolly, liked to wear purple – and even remembered that her name began with an “F.” But for the life of me, I couldn’t remember her name.

I can be forgiven this lapse, of course. It was, after all, 35 years ago (cough.) But it was another sign that as we age, our memories aren’t quite what they once were.

In that spirit, here are five tips for keeping your brain active as you age:

1. Work. Pay no attention to all those French people behind the curtain, striking their hearts out because Nicolas Sarkozy is about to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. New research reported in the New York Times last week shows that postponing retirement is actually better for your brain. Coining the phrase “mental retirement” to capture what happens when your brain is no longer getting regular exercise, the study shows that retired people as a group tend to do less well on cognitive and memory tests than people who are still working.

2. Walk. But in case you’d still prefer to be living on the beach at 65 rather than toiling away in an office cubicle, be sure that you walk a lot in paradise. Another study out last week shows that walking at least six miles a week may be one thing people can do to keep their brains from shrinking and fight off dementia. Which is good news for me, even in my new-found hip, urban status as the owner of a collapsible bike. One thing that not owning a car really does is get you used to good, vigorous walks.

3. Be Social. Back when I wrote about five reasons to be optimistic about middle age, I referenced some new research showing that  – contrary to the long-held view that our brains get fixed in early childhood – circuits in the adult brain are, in fact, continually modified by experience. (See #1.) Turns out that one of the things that keeps the brain developing as we age is being social. In addition to getting out and meeting people, people who volunteer and help kids also seem to age better and help their brains.

4. Use the Internet. OK, this one is controversial, especially coming from someone who warned you not to get an e-reader lest it chip away at your capacity to engage in sustained, concentrated thought. But there are two sides to every story. And a lot of scientists – Harvard’s Steven Pinker, for one – think that far from damaging our brains as we age, the Internet and information technologies are helping us manage, search and retrieve our collective intellectual output at different scales. Colin Blakemore, a British neurobiologist concurs. As he notes – reacting to the prevailing “internet ruins our minds” thesis:  “At its best, the internet is no threat to our minds. It is another liberating extension of them, as significant as books, the abacus, the pocket calculator or the Sinclair Z80.” So by all means, grab that new Kindle, Grandma. And get a Twitter account while you’re at it..

5. Eat lots of fish. Many parents will be familiar with the importance of essential fatty acids (EFAs) for brain development in utero and in young children. (Neurotic parenting confession #346b: Until my son – who was born allergic to just about everything – was two, we regularly spiked his rice milk with flax seed oil for precisely this reason.) But it turns out that these so-called “good fats” are also increasingly seen to be of value in limiting cognitive decline during aging. Fish, for example, is a great source of EFAs. Flax-soaked salmon, anyone?

*****

On Monday, I was over on http://www.PoliticsDaily.com talking about reform of the British welfare system.

Image: thyme salmon with leek coulis by elana’s pantry via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.


Tips For Adulthood: Five Signs You’re Working Too Hard

October 6, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Sometimes it’s the off-hand comment that really gets you thinking.

So there I was in the playground yesterday, about to pick my daughter up from school, when I started talking to a friend who was also waiting for her son. We were midway into a vague, “How’s it goin’?” sort of chat, when she suddenly commented, seemingly out of nowhere: “You seem so busy. Do you ever eat lunch?”

I laughed, reassuring her that I did, even while suppressing the memory of stuffing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into my mouth but two hours earlier as I galloped up a hill towards a bi-monthly appointment with my life coach (whom I see to help me…relax.)

But it gets better. As we talked some more about my work schedule, my double-school-run-afternoons and my husband’s recent business travel, she asked – in all seriousness – “Do you ever watch TV?”

She meant it in the nicest way, of course. She’s a really nice person. But, still, it cut me like a knife.

I mean: Do I ever watch TV? Am I so busy that the image I now project is that of a pop-culture-bereft, ready-meal-popping freak show who zips around North London on her collapsible bicycle desperately trying to keep up with her life? (Don’t answer that question. And by the way, does falling asleep to the Director’s Cut of Pride and Prejudice count as “watching TV”?)

So I gave it some thought. And I realized that I have been working too hard lately and trying to do too much. And I really need to relax. Here are five other tell-tale signs that you need to take a break:

1. Strangers tell you that you look rushed. It’s one thing when a friend tells you that you seem over-worked. But when even a stranger expresses concern that you’re too busy, it’s really time to take note. I was in the pharmacy the other day – where, because of the multitude of medical problems afflicting my family – the pharmacists are basically my extended family. Again, seemingly out of nowhere, the owner of the shop stepped forward and observed: “You always seem to be in a rush.” (“Why do you say that?” I wanted to reply. “Because I just knocked 42 of your contact lens solutions on the floor when I whooshed in here to grab my prescription while – literally – jogging?”) Once again, she meant it in the nicest way. This lady brings the descriptor “kindly” to a whole new level. And that made her remark all the more telling.

2. Muscle pain migrates to new corners of your body. Remember my piriformis syndrome? Thought I had that licked, didn’t you? Nope. It’s back. Only it has inexplicably migrated to the left side of my body. As soon as the pain started about six weeks ago, I recognized the symptoms instantly. And for a while, I ignored it. (Even though you should never ignore pain. You heard it here first.) But you know it’s time to cut back on what you’re doing when your body is basically screaming: “Hey! Pay Attention to Me!”

3. You feel relieved when you *have* to read your favorite magazine. I love The New Yorker. But despite my Sabbath Saturday resolve to devote more time to reading this magazine, I’ve fallen off the wagon. There are three – quite possibly, four – issues sitting in my magazine rack as we speak. One day last week, I found myself waiting for one of my kids for an hour with nothing to do but read my New Yorker. And I felt…relieved. As in: “Thank goodness this hour presented itself miraculously in my life!” Not as in: “Gee, I love the New Yorker and I think I’ll spend an hour reading it this afternoon because I want to.” What’s wrong with this picture?

4. You mistake tragedy for comedy. I love Indie films. The bleaker, the better. So when I recommended Winter’s Bone to some friends recently, I was puzzled when one of them, while passing me on the school run, shouted out: “Hey, thanks for the movie recommendation. We had a lovely evening. But it was a bit…grim, no?” To which I responded: “Grim? Really? I found it kind of uplifting.” When I recounted this exchange to my husband later that evening, he looked at me as if I were smoking crack. Like me, he also loved the movie. But “uplifting”? To paraphrase his reaction, when you mix poverty, drugs, murder and rural American sub-cultures, that’s not generally characterized as “uplifting.” Just sayin’.

5. You read Nora Ephron. I like my books much like I prefer my movies: heavy and (often) dark. (For me, the Dragon Tattoo series constitutes “light.”) So when my book club chose Nora Ephron’s Heartburn as its selection this month, I was initially disappointed. Not my cuppa, as they say. Boy, was I wrong. It’s not a great novel by any stretch. In fact, it’s not so much a novel as an extended rant by Ephron against her ex-husband for cheating on her when she was seven months pregnant. (And who can blame her?) But, man is Ephron funny. She has a terrific voice. And sometimes, we all just need to laugh.

Fortunately, I will have a chance to take a break later this month when I travel with my family – and my mother – to Berlin, one of those European cities I’ve always wanted to visit. Let’s just hope that whole terrorist threat thing has lifted by then. Speaking of grim…

*****

I was very grateful for this shout-out on the New York Times Freakonomics blog for my recent piece on health care reform in the U.K.

Image: Eat On The Run by Brave Heart via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Drinking Fountains Making A Comeback

September 27, 2010

Still or Sparkling?

Apparently, that’s not just a question for restaurants anymore.

Last week  – and proving, once again, that it really *is* the coolest city on earth – Paris unveiled a water fountain in one of its parks that serves – wait for it – sparkling water.

The move was motivated by a desire to make Paris greener. The average person in France drank 28 gallons of still or sparkling water last year, making this country the eighth biggest consumer of bottled water in the world, according to figures from the Earth Policy Institute. That’s a whole lot of plastic waste (262,000 tons to be precise.)

Apparently, the French are perfectly happy to drink tap water. But the major stumbling block is that they prefer it with bubbles. So – following on a successful experiment in Italy – the Paris authorities decided to meet the consumer where he or she lives…and added some carbonation. (Before you go dismissing those frivolous Parisians, allow me to confess that I can relate.)

The fizzy French fountains (sorry, it had to be said) build on a revival of water fountains around the globe. Here in London where I live, Mayor Boris Johnson commissioned a special advisor two years ago to look into where public drinking fountains might go in the city and how much they would cost. About a year ago, a fancy public drinking fountain was unveiled in Hyde Park, the first public drinking fountain in this city in 30 years. Shortly thereafter, more fountains were installed at heavily trafficked rail and bus stations.

And it’s not only in Europe where drinking fountains are witnessing a renaissance. In California, a new law requiring schools in California to have free drinking water available in cafeterias is awaiting the signature of Governor Schwarzenegger. (It’s hard to believe that this has to be legally mandated, but there you have it.)

It’s funny, but until I read about the fizzy fountain in Paris I hadn’t stopped to realize what an endangered species the public water fountain had become. Back when I was a kid, they were quite literally everywhere. But somewhere along the way, we began to identify shared drinking fountains as a public health concern, even though there’s no evidence for this (and some evidence that more bacteria live within bottled water.)

Now they’re coming back. A combination of recession-induced economics coupled with the growth in awareness about the environment has revived the idea that public drinking fountains might be a good thing.

I wonder what else we’ll see come crawling out of our collective unconscious in the category of formerly-bad-but-now-we-realize-not-so-much. My money’s on Crisco.

Anybody?

*****

I was over on Politics Daily yesterday talking about the demise of press freedom in Mexico as a result of the drug wars.

Image: Drinking Fountain Moon by Kevin H. via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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