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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

New test for chemicals suspected to damage sperm

Posted: 15 May 2014 12:15 AM PDT

A team of scientists say that 1/3 of 96 compounds they tested had an averse effect on sperm.

German and Danish scientists recently said they had identified dozens of chemicals, including some used in hygiene and consumer products, that interfere with male fertility by damaging sperm.

Writing in the journal EMBO Reports, the team said a third of 96 compounds they tested using a new technique had an adverse effect on sperm.

The chemicals included 4-methylbenzylidene camphor (4-MBC), which is an ultraviolet filter used in some sunscreens, and the anti-bacterial agent Triclosan, used in some kinds of toothpaste, they said.

Outside commentators praised the research but noted it was only carried out on sperm in a lab, a context far removed from the more complex environment of the human body.

Health watchdogs are keeping a close eye on the so-called "endocrine disruptor chemicals", hundreds of which are present in food products, textiles, hygiene products, toys, cosmetics and plastic bottles.

But there were previously no tests that could decisively demonstrate the suspected side-effects on sperm. The researchers said this problem has now been solved.

"Our study provides scientific evidence to assist forming international rules and practices," said Timo Struenker of the Centre of Advanced European Studies and Research in Bonn, Germany, who led the study.

It suggested that exposure to the chemicals increases calcium levels in sperm, altering their swimming behaviour and hampering its ability to penetrate the egg's protective coat.

"For the first time, we have shown a direct link between exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals from industrial products and adverse effects on human sperm functions," said Niels Skakkebaek of Copenhagen University Hospital.

In a commentary carried by Britain's Science Media Centre, Colin Berry, a professor of pathology at Queen Mary University of London cautioned against extrapolating results for humans from only lab-dish tests.

Lab rodents should be the next step for experiments to validate the findings, he said.

Another expert, Allan Pacey of the University of Sheffield, said men were exposed to "relatively few chemicals or lifestyle factors" that affected their semen quality. The strongest evidence to back the case against endocrine disruptors would come from a widespread study conducted among the population, he said.

EMBO Reports is published by the European Molecular Biology Organisation. — AFP Relaxnews

These glands may swell

Posted: 14 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

The salivary glands produce saliva, which keeps your mouth moist, helps protect your teeth from decay and helps you digest food. Swelling of such glands may mean many things.

I RECENTLY found a little lump on the side of my cheek. It is a few centimetres below my ear, and it is hard, rubbery, ball-like and quite mobile. I went to a doctor, who referred me to a head and neck specialist. This specialist told me the swelling came from my parotid gland. What is a parotid gland?

The parotid gland is one of your salivary glands – glands in the body which produce saliva (spit).

You have many pairs of salivary glands – both on the right side of your face and the left side. They include:

Parotid glands – These are the largest of your salivary glands. They produce saliva to help you chew your food, and to begin the digestion of starches. They are located at the area of your jawbone. These supply saliva via the parotid ducts.

Submandibular glands – These are located beneath your lower jaw, 2cm above your Adam's apple and about 2.5cm on either side from the midline of your throat.

You can try to feel them. Although they are much smaller than the parotid glands, they produce 70% of all the saliva in your mouth. These supply saliva via the submandibular ducts.

Sublingual glands – These are situated below your tongue. They only produce 5% of your saliva.

Minor salivary glands – You have around 800 to 1,000 minor salivary glands located throughout your mouth – including your cheeks, tongue, soft palate and some parts of your hard palate. These glands are very small, but they can cause problems with dentures later on in life if you have a dry mouth.

Why is saliva important, other than for wetting my mouth?

Saliva is needed to:

·Keep your mouth moist. If you ever had a dry mouth before, you will know how uncomfortable it is.

·Help you chew and taste food. It also helps you swallow as saliva is made of mostly water.

When you chew food, your teeth breaks down the food into little bits. Saliva helps collect these bits into a ball-like substance so that you can swallow it easily.

Basically, your oral cavity and oesophagus are coated with saliva so that the food you eat never really touches the top layer of cells in such areas. This prevents the harder pieces of food from damaging the cells.

·Saliva contains substances that fight bacteria in the mouth and helps prevent bad breath. The reason why you have "morning breath" is because when you sleep, saliva production slows down a lot.

·Saliva also contains proteins, enzymes (lysozyme) and minerals that break down bacteria and help prevent tooth decay.

·Saliva contains the enzyme amylase, which helps break down complex carbohydrates.

What sort of diseases can affect our salivary glands?

The most common salivary gland disorder is blocked glands.

You can also get:

·Stones in your salivary glands. These stones are made of calcium.

·Infections (usually from stones blocking the gland), which may be due to bacteria or viruses. Viruses which affect salivary glands include (commonly) mumps and the flu virus.

·Sjogren's syndrome – this is an autoimmune disorder, which usually affects people who have other generalised immune disorders like SLE. It's more common than most people think.

·Tumours, which may include cancerous and non-cancerous ones.

How would I know if I had a disorder of my salivary gland? Aren't they hard to diagnose?

On your own, it's difficult, because there are many other structures in the head and neck area which can also present the same symptoms.

But you can look out for:

Salivary gland stones (sialolithiasis)

·A painful lump under your tongue.

·Pain which increases when you eat.

Salivary gland infections

·Lumps in your cheek or under your chin.

·Swelling on both sides of your neck (mumps).

·Pus which drains into your mouth.

·Fever, joint pains, muscle aches (viral illness).

Salivary gland tumours and cysts

·Lumps in your cheek or under your chin.

·Difficulty in eating, speaking and swallowing.

·Yellow mucous which drains into your mouth (if the cyst bursts).

Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health, computers and entertainment. For further information, e-mail The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

Want to age gracefully? Start while you're still young

Posted: 14 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

We can age more successfully if we develop a healthy lifestyle when we're young – one that includes exercise, a healthy diet, sufficient sleep and watching our weight.

Astrid Flaherty nimbly hops off a low platform, then swoops from side to side touching orange plastic cones. Though she's 70 and a breast cancer survivor, she seems barely winded. Her secret: lifelong exercise and healthy eating. "Exercise is the best anti-ageing pill you can take," says Dawn Davis, a fitness instructor at Shula's Athletic Club in Miami Lakes, Florida.

Flaherty has discovered on her own what doctors and fitness experts are saying: People can age more successfully if they develop a healthy lifestyle when they're young, one that includes exercise, a healthy diet, sufficient sleep and watching their weight.

Flaherty still hits the gym three times a week, plays tennis on Saturdays, and her diet emphasises fresh, natural foods. Being in good shape also helped when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. "My doctors were amazed that I was able to come back from my chemo sessions so quickly," she says.

"People need to think about the ageing process throughout their lives. I know it's hard when you're 20 years old," says Dr Sara Czaja, professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences and the scientific director of the Centre on Ageing at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine. "It's really important to take advantage of what we know, and we do know a lot about how to age healthily."

That includes staying socially engaged throughout life and being mindful at a young age of the dangers of smoking, the links between skin cancer and overexposure to the sun, and having recommended preventive screenings, Czaja says.

"A lot of chronic disease – diabetes, high-blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, obesity – may be prevented by maintaining a healthy lifestyle throughout life too," she says. "What we're also learning more and more is the importance of engaging in physical exercise. That leads to not only better cardiovascular health but also better cognitive health. There is suggested evidence that being obese can cause cognitive problems."

But the reality is what initially motivates many people to exercise is concern about their appearance – not their health, says Rickie Ali, a fitness/wellness specialist and personal trainer at Shula's Athletic Club.

"The fitness business knows this – with the ads about six-pack abs and all that," he says. You can get lean following some of the programmes now in vogue, he adds, but they're not complete and some also put people at risk of injury by trying to do too much too fast.

"My main goal for people is for them to have the fitness they need to get through their everyday activities," Ali says. "By default, the body gets leaner. But that is not my motivation." Anyone who wants health for life needs to address lifestyle habits, nutrition, wellness and fitness at every phase of their lives, Ali adds.

A basic mantra for anyone who wants to age well is move, move, move. In the 20s and early 30s, that means building strong muscles, bone density and as healthy a cardiovascular system as possible, Ali says. "It's like when you build a house. You need to build a solid foundation."

And anyone who embarks on a fitness programme needs to improve their nutrition as well. "Think of food as a fuel like gas for a car," says Ali. "You might want to drive that car five days a week, but if the gas isn't there, you can't do it."

Personal trainer Rickie Ali works with Laura Fuentes at a gym in Miami Lakes, Fla., on April 17, 2014. Building cardio-vascular health as well as muscle mass and bone density can make it easier as one ages. (CW Griffin/Miami Herald/MCT)

Exercise movements for those at mid-life are basically the same as for a younger person, but the number of repetitions and intensity may vary. – MCT

"If you have strong muscles and core, it's easier to stop yourself from falling and risking injury," says Davis. Charles Eaves, 75, a retired salesman who trains with Davis, was an almost everyday runner before a recurrent foot injury sidetracked him.

After he stopped running, "my resilience just wasn't there. I felt like if I fell, I would just lie there like a limp rag and wouldn't be able to get up," Eaves says. Now after a year of thrice weekly training sessions with Davis, he says the strength and flexibility he had as a runner have come back.

As people age they need to adapt to changing realities, Czaja says. "Your life may be different, but that doesn't mean you're not ageing successfully." The good news is that even if you've never exercised or haven't worked out regularly, it's still possible to ease back into a fitness routine and find success at any age.

But it's important before beginning an exercise regime, says Ali, to get medical clearance from a doctor and let your trainer know if there are any limitations. He also recommends a physical and lifestyle assessment to establish a baseline for building a fitness programme.

Dr Anaisys Ballesteros, a family practice physician with Baptist Health Medical Group, says her key advice to younger patients is: Don't forget your annual preventive physical.

Younger people don't tend to come in until they're sick, she says. But regular preventive screenings can show them whether they're at risk for diabetes or high blood pressure when they're still young enough to modify diet, lifestyle – including controlling stress, fitness and weight, says Ballesteros.

Even though she's only 27, Stephanie Martinez says she realised a few years ago it was time to make some changes herself. When she was younger, she thought nothing of eating a whole pizza or a big plate of food. "I'm Hispanic, so a big plate of food is a big plate – rice, beans, protein, plantains, avocado, tomatoes, and then I would always have dessert, a very sweet dessert like mango marmalade with cream cheese."

Even though she was active, her weight began to creep up – first 9kg, then 14kg – and she tired more easily. That's when she began to exercise, made healthy changes in her kitchen and got creative with recipes.

Although Martinez is busy with graduate school and her job as a speech therapist assistant, she says now she's committed to making wellness a priority. "Now I wish that when I was younger, my family would have gone bike-riding instead of to the mall," she says. "Parents need to give their children healthy options." – The Miami Herald/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services


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