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Beauty for Sale

Cosmetic surgery has become so pervasive, it is now a $4 billion industry, and is said to be growing at a 30% rate per annum. Now that it’s more accepted, where do you head for the next fix?

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The general acceptability of cosmetic surgery helped spawn an industry all its own – medical tourism, which pits the medical practitioners of developed countries, once regarded as the elite bastions of medical expertise, with the developing countries, now also offering highly qualified and well-trained medical professionals using the most advanced in technology.

The story, seeming like an urban myth, even made it to the pages of Asiaweek Magazine: a wealthy Filipino executive in his 60s took his mistress to a plastic surgeon to make her look like his wife when he married her. Unknowingly, the wife went to the same doctor to undergo cosmetic surgery herself, in a bid to keep her husband. After all the nipping and tucking, the wealthy husband left his mistress to return to the surgically rejuvenated wife – but only after undergoing surgery himself, as he started feeling insecure about his own aging appearance.

In a society that is willing to pay the top price for a youthful look, over $160 billion is spent annually worldwide on cosmetic and toiletry products, including deodorants, shampoos and soaps, makeup, lotions, and fragrances. In 2002, Filipinos spent P70 billion for the same, with the figure estimated to reach P89 billion in 2007.

However, more belatedly, cosmetic surgery has become the somewhat simple, yet long-term answer to the pursuit for beauty. Having a hard time losing the gut despite hundreds of sit-ups every day? Opt for abdominal liposuction (price starts at $1,400). There are even muscle implants for the gym body without ever lifting a gym equipment. Losing hair too fast? Consider hair transplant (from $1,500). Insecure about your manhood? Have a penile enlargement and/or lengthening operation (from $450). For women, the vaginal opening can be tightened (from $550) for another “Like a Virgin” experience. Getting edged by younger guys simply because they look better – and, well, younger? Mull over facelift (from $1,000). And, while doing so, you may consider adding a dimple and a cleft chin (from $360) for the Brad Pitt/Alec Baldwin look.

Once derided as vanity medicine, cosmetic surgery has gone a long way, as it is now largely recognized as a legitimate arm of medicine. While it was once only discussed in hushed voices, now anybody who underwent one or more cosmetic surgical procedures actually boasts of having them – men and women alike.

According to former Philippine Medical Association (PMA) president Bu C. Castro, M.D., Ll.B., FPSP, the Philippines is actually a premier destination when it comes to availing of cosmetic surgical procedures, among others. In fact, balikbayans (returning overseas Filipinos) are known to come home to undergo such treatments “Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), especially those in the entertainment industry, (are among the biggest markets of cosmetic surgery in the Philippines, as it allows them) to level with their competitors, particularly Caucasians, (by giving them similar physical attributes),” he says.

Plastic and reconstructive surgeon Carlos I. Lasa Jr., M.D. agrees. “First, comparing (our costs with) the costs (of medical treatment) where they are working right now, say in London or New York or Japan, where the charges are very high, they can save by coming here,” he says. The balikbayans are also familiar with the Philippine medical system, so they “have more or less this trust in our medical system.” And third, the treatments are merely side trips when they come over to take a vacation, so their visit becomes one trip for everything.

COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGES

The general acceptability of cosmetic surgery helped spawn an industry all its own – medical tourism, which pits the medical practitioners of developed countries, once regarded as the elite bastions of medical expertise, with the developing countries, now also offering highly qualified and well-trained medical professionals using the most advanced in technology.

“This is a $4 billion industry, which is said to be growing at a 30% rate per annum,” Eddie Uy of rxpinoy.com, the first online community of Filipino doctors and dentists that serves to connect various sectors with the health industry, says. Combined with affiliated industries like tourism, India’s BusinessWorld Magazine estimated that millions of travelers actually spend over $40 billion a year. “We should – and can – break into that.”

The local industry has been changing over time, however. According to Uy, although OFWs continue to be the major market of cosmetic procedures, their portal had been receiving inquiries on these procedures from Europeans, particularly from Germany and Denmark. Also, other procedures mainly attract foreign nationals, such as Australians for dentistry, Japanese and Koreans for ophthalmology, and Americans and Europeans for bariatric surgery.

Once derided as vanity medicine, cosmetic surgery has gone a long way, as it is now largely recognized as a legitimate arm of medicine. While it was once only discussed in hushed voices, now anybody who underwent one or more cosmetic surgical procedures actually boasts of having them – men and women alike.

The biggest edge of the Philippines over other countries, particularly in Asia, is its relatively cheap rates for the procedures. For example, breast augmentation could cost up to $5,043 in the US, and at a much lower price of $2,500 in Thailand’s Preecha Aesthetic Institute, but would only cost $2,100 in the Philippines. Similarly, full facelift could cost up to $5,000 in the US, and $4,000 in Thailand, but only $2,500 in the Philippines.

“Among others, there’s an interest in general surgery and cardiovascular surgery because (if they have the surgeries in their home countries) they are sometimes required to co-pay, which they can’t afford, and cosmetic surgery because it is not covered by medical insurance offered to them abroad. So they see (us),” Lasa says. He nonetheless stressed, “The reality is we can’t have fees as high as our counterparts in US and Europe. We also have to have fees that are affordable to the local patients. So when I put up my rates and publish them on the website, it was with due cognizance of the rates in other countries, and of course, the prevailing rates in the Philippines.”

“If you compare the (rates) in peso, (they may look expensive),” Castro says. “But if you go to Singapore, (it’s even more expensive). Even (compared to) Hong Kong, we’re still cheaper when you convert (the rates) to peso. A P150,000 procedure here could cost P250,000 in Hong Kong, and even more in Singapore and Thailand.”

It helps, too, that the standard of living is cheaper in the Philippines by foreign standards. “The Philippines’ highly favorable exchange rate can benefit both local and foreign patients,” Lasa says. With the foreign exchange rate averaging at P56 per $1, the amount brought in by a foreigner visiting the Philippines “can get more for less.”

Another advantage Lasa sees is that “over Thailand and India, the language barrier is non-existent (in the Philippines) for those who speak English well.”

Dr. Castro, however, believes that the country’s biggest edge is the expertise of the Filipino medical practitioners. “We can be competitive – especially with the skills we have. For example, the medical education in China is only four years, (while) ours is 16 years. So how could you rate their qualifications with ours?” he says.

“And with many of our professionals trained abroad, they don’t mind coming here for their treatments,” adds Lasa.

TAKING WINGS

However, while the Philippine government acknowledges that medical tourism is a potential source of dollar income, there are currently no “nationally palpable efforts done (to advance it), so we’re still off the radar of most Europeans, Americans and other nationals (who are considering availing of medical services outside their home countries),” Lasa says.

Lasa contends that government support will help develop a young industry. “For example, the Indian government (gives certain) incentive to dollar earners,” he says. “We need something like that to really promote (medical tourism in the Philippines). As it is right now, we just (get involved in medical tourism) as part of our regular practices.”

That Philippine government has, in fact, included the medical profession in the expanded value added tax (E-VAT). “The government thinks that by taxing, they can generate more income. Actually, they may be mistaken in that assumption,” Lasa says.

“Necessarily, we’ll have to increase the prices also – we’ll have to throw to the patients the costs of the E-VAT. That’s the problem,” Castro says. “The E-VAT has a negative effect on medical tourism – it will jack up the prices. But it will be costly not only to medical tourism but to local patients, who will primarily bear the burden because of the E-VAT.”

Lasa, however, said that while not necessarily translating to increase in prices, “the implementation of E-VAT will mean a decrease in our net income – it will amount to that.”

A bigger problem bothering the local medical tourism industry is its lack of cohesion. “Aside from the medical, dental, cosmetic and other procedures, medical tourism actually bundles hotel stays, destination tours, concierge services including interpreters, caregivers and tourist guides, and many others” Uy of rxpinoy.com says. “But at the moment, most of these (related) industries and sectors (go it alone).”

Castro recommends the establishment of a national call center for medical tourism, preferably with the assistance of medical staff because they would know what the industry is all about and has to offer. “When prospective clients would call up to ask specific questions, our agents should be able to answer them. Else, they’d ask their questions elsewhere – it could be India, Singapore or Thailand – then end up going there,” he says.

While there are entrepreneurs interested to open services like Singapore’s MNC, a one-stop information center for all medical services offered by the country state, “they want it to be outright business operations, not service-oriented, which increases the prices,” Castro says. “If that happens, then we lose our competitive advantage over our competitors.”

Pinoyrx.com is gearing towards the establishment of a “specific hub for medical tourism” when it recently established http://mtpshow.rxpinoy.com, which lists accredited hospitals, current rates and the credentials of Filipino practitioners. “But beyond that, we would like to cross sell other services in the country – if a person undergoes dental implant that requires for him to stay for up to 10 days in the country, then he has to choose accommodation. While here, he could go on tour. And while touring, he may need other services. rxpinoy.com could help arrange all those,” Uy says.

Dr. Bu Castro believes that the country’s biggest edge is the expertise of the Filipino medical practitioners. “We can be competitive – especially with the skills we have. For example, the medical education in China is only four years, (while) ours is 16 years. So how could you rate their qualifications with ours?” he says.

Another problem the industry is facing is the lack of “related infrastructure,” Lasa says. In Thailand, for example, Bumrungrad Hospital has its own hotel facility, connected by a walkway to the hospital, so families can be close to a family member undergoing treatment. “If local hospitals can afford such facilities, it will definitely help promote our medical tourism,” he says.

The urgency to address this situation varies, nonetheless, says Castro. “Makati City, for example, has hotels not far from hospitals. It is in other places like Quezon City that problems arise, since they are far from each other,” he says. Already, however, efforts are already done to establish a hospital cum accommodation facility in Subic Bay Metropolitan Area, among others.

The lack of solidity in the industry also poses a problem when it comes to regulating practitioners. “The Philippine law allows all licensed doctors to do any kind of surgery – mainly, this is to allow doctors in provinces to be able to give emergency treatments without worrying about legal consequences,” Lasa says. “This is good for the provinces, but (in cosmopolitan areas) this is problematic.”

While the PMA and other professional associations can regulate medical practitioners, their grasps are limited only to members. “(Medical tourism) is a very good concept,” Castro says. “But it could be subject to abuse with the sprouting of fly-by-night cosmetic centers that we need to control. The government should issue a listing on the qualified and accredited (practitioners). There should be some kind of a regulation to tell the customer that they are also protected.”

At the end of the day, Castro believes it all boils down to marketing. “When you say tourism, marketing is very important,” he says. “And when you say medical tourism, you’re not only marketing the medical services, but the Philippines itself – places to go to, accommodations and services, everything. We should realize that marketing is an indispensable arm of medical tourism.”

GROWING DEMAND

“I think there is a future (for medical tourism in the Philippines),” Lasa says. “Definitely, as long as there is an economic need for people abroad, as long as there is a perceived benefit of coming (here) to have treatments given by competent – let me emphasize competent – practitioners, there will always be people coming here for such reasons, so medical tourism will continue to prosper.”

Uy says that people live longer, “and you need to provide people to look after them (as they age).” “Coupled that with the escalating cost of health care – instead of chasing the expenses, they might as well outsource it,” he says. “With the advent of technology, information has become fluid, so it helps our cause (to promote the Philippine medical tourism). Who knows, this may just avert the brain drain of our medical professionals.”

While arguing that a concerted effort needs to be done in order for the local industry to realize its full potential, “I do not conduct my practice with grandiose visions – I conduct my practice with a simple philosophy: providing excellent patient care on a one-to-one basis. I don’t regard this as a business. I went into this field because I like treating patients on a one-to-one basis. If dadami ang patients ko (the number of my patients grow) because (they were referred to me by satisfied patients) then well and good,” Lasa says. “In the end, it is because of how good we are at our profession that is the driving force of people coming to avail of our services.”

 

Health & Wellness

Gender harassment and institutional betrayal in high school take toll on mental health

97% of women and 96% of men from a pool of 535 undergraduate college students had endured at least one instance of gender harassment during high school. Experiences of gender harassment, especially for those who encountered it repeatedly, were associated with clinically relevant levels of trauma-related symptoms in college.

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High school students who endure gender harassment in schools that don’t respond well enter college and adulthood with potential mental health challenges, according to a University of Oregon study.

The study, published last month in PLOS ONE, found that 97% of women and 96% of men from a pool of 535 undergraduate college students had endured at least one instance of gender harassment during high school.

Experiences of gender harassment, especially for those who encountered it repeatedly, were associated with clinically relevant levels of trauma-related symptoms in college.

“We found that the more gender harassment and institutional betrayal teens encounter in high school, the more mental, physical and emotional challenges they experience in college,” said lead author Monika N. Lind, a UO psychology doctoral student. “Our findings suggest that gender harassment and institutional betrayal may hurt young people, and educators and researchers should pay more attention to these issues.”

The study, the three-member UO team noted, served to launch academic research into the responses of high schools to gender harassment, beyond media reports of institutional betrayal by schools since the #MeToo movement began.

Gender harassment, a type of sexual harassment, is characterized by sexist remarks, sexually crude or offensive behavior and the enforcement of traditional gender roles.

Institutional betrayal, a label coined previously by the study’s co-author UO psychologist Jennifer Freyd, is the failure of an institution, such as a school, to protect people who depend on it. A high school mishandling a case of gender harassment reported by a student is an example of institutional betrayal.

“The more gender harassment and institutional betrayal teens encounter in high school, the more mental, physical and emotional challenges they experience in college,” said lead author Monika N. Lind.

Participants included 363 females, 168 males, three non-binary and one who did not report gender; they were initially not aware of the study’s focus.

They completed a 20-item gender harassment questionnaire about their high school experiences and a 12-item questionnaire about their schools’ actions or inactions. Trauma symptoms were assessed with a 40-item checklist that explores common posttraumatic symptoms such as headaches, memory problems, anxiety attacks, nightmares, sexual problems and insomnia.

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An analysis that considered gender, race, age, gender harassment, institutional betrayal, and the interaction of gender harassment and institutional betrayal significantly predicted trauma-related symptoms, but, Lind said, a subtle surprise emerged.

“We expected to find an interaction effect showing that the relationship between gender harassment and trauma-related symptoms depends on institutional betrayal, such that people who experience high gender harassment have different levels of symptoms depending on how much institutional betrayal they experience,” she said. “Instead we found that gender harassment and institutional betrayal are independently related to trauma-related symptoms.”

That issue, Lind said, needs to be further explored. It’s possible, she said, that the pool of students wasn’t large enough or that the measures used were not robust enough. Another factor may be that the study focused more on institutional betrayal than impacts of institutional courage.

“This is like measuring mood and only letting respondents report negative to neutral mood – you’re missing a bunch of variability that might be captured if you extended the scale to go from negative to positive,” she said. “Expanding the scale to capture institutional courage might increase the likelihood of identifying a meaningful interaction.”

Experiences of gender harassment, especially for those who encountered it repeatedly, were associated with clinically relevant levels of trauma-related symptoms in college.

How schools might respond to the issues identified in the study should begin with listening to students, Lind said. Asking about problems and listening to responses is an example of institutional courage. Interventions that do not do so often fail.

“Schools should engage in self-study, including interviews, focus groups and anonymous surveys of students, and they should take students’ reports and suggestions seriously,” Lind said. “When you’re trying to intervene in adolescence, you’ll do better if you demonstrate respect for teens’ autonomy and social status.”

Researchers have not focused on such issues in high schools, where students are emerging into early adulthood from the physical, neurological and psychological changes occurring in adolescence, said Freyd, a pioneer in academic research on issues of sexual harassment, institutional betrayal and institutional courage.

“Until now, all of the education-focused institutional betrayal research has considered the experiences of undergraduate and graduate-level college students, as well as those of faculty members,” she said. “There also has been work on these issues in the military and workplaces, but we don’t know a lot about gender harassment or institutional betrayal in adolescence.”

UO doctoral student Alexis A. Adams-Clark, a member of Freyd’s lab, was the study’s third co-author.

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Health & Wellness

There are two sides to every story

In the Philippines, one in five people suffers from mental health problems. Between 17% and 20% of Filipino adults experience psychiatric disorders, while 10% to 15% of Filipino children suffer from mental health problems. But addressing mental health is not yet among the priorities in the country.

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It all happened one busy Monday, in between unfinished deadlines and piling up of workload. The conversation suddenly ended, and it left him dumfounded. He kept looking for answers why it happened. He questioned himself; reviewed all his replies. Everything seemed okay.

His name is Andy. He considers himself as an introvert. There may be times when he can be talkative, but “that is different; I am not face-to-face with the person.”

Sometimes, people call him a “player,” claiming that he just wants to hook them into his “game”.

What not everyone knows is that whenever he starts to be close to someone, he (un)consciously builds walls around him, preventing anyone to get through particularly when he feels there is an attempt to make a deeper connection.

Andy said his intentions are always good. But most of the time, “I am read wrong and taken negatively.”

And every time that kind of thing happens, it just contributes to the sound he has been hearing in his head.

Running away

Sometimes it takes on the form of fear… fear of the current situation or the unknown. There are times when it invades his dreams, waking him up in the middle of the night with either a bad headache or heavy breathing. It is usually mistaken as stress.

A glass of warm milk or chilled rosé, a dosage of paracetamol or Valium, counting backwards from 100 while listening to calming music – any of these usually help, but only temporary.

“I found out a few years back that I am dealing with emotional and psychological trauma. I never knew I had one,” Andy said.

A type of mental health condition, trauma is a response to a stressful event. This is usually triggered by a terrifying situation, either experiencing or witnessing it firsthand.

Edgewood Health Network Canada listed down some of the most common symptoms of psychological trauma, i.e.:

  1. Disruptive recollections of the trauma, including flashbacks
  2. Emotional and physical reactions in response to reminders
  3. Negative beliefs about oneself or others
  4. Inability to feel close to others
  5. Being easily startled
  6. Dissociation
  7. Emotional numbness
  8. Inability to remember aspects of, or all of the traumatic event
  9. Avoidance of anything that reminds one of the trauma
  10. Hypervigilance (Always being alert, scanning and assessing for threat)
  11. Difficulty concentrating and focusing on reality
  12. Inability to fall asleep or to remain asleep, frequent and frightening nightmares

“When I am interested with someone, to either date that person or befriend him, after a few days, all of a sudden I will shut down,” Andy said. “There are even times when I would literally run away towards the other direction.”

Studies show that trauma also causes anxiety. When there are frequent occurrence of situations related to what caused the trauma or constant exposure to trigger points – confusion and overwhelming emotional and psychological pain will set in – and these translate into anxiety.

In the Philippines, one in five people suffers from mental health problems. Between 17% and 20% of Filipino adults experience psychiatric disorders, while 10% to 15% of Filipino children suffer from mental health problems.

Dealing with trauma

“Sometimes it is better to be alone because you do not need to explain yourself or adjust to them,” Andy said.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are three common ways to cope with trauma:

  1. Avoiding alcohol and other drugs
  2. Spending time with loved ones and trusted friends who are supportive
  3. Trying to maintain normal routines for meals, exercise and sleep

How long will it last? Unfortunately, there is no way to find out since it is not possible to expedite the healing process of trauma. But the intensity of emotional and psychological pain reduces with time.

“I create distractions whenever I feel I am placed inside a box,” Andy said. “Just recently, when I did something like that, the person suddenly disappeared. I was left hanging, I felt like I was all alone.”

Distractions are created by anyone to give themselves breathing space, a moment to take a step back and look at the big picture.

Knowing the other side of the story

Before dismissing someone who seems “different” in terms of how he/she deals with situations, it is better to look a little longer first.

Here are few ways you can help someone who has experienced trauma, as listed by HuffPost:

  1. Realize that trauma can resurface again and again
  2. Know that little gestures go a long way
  3. Reach out on social media
  4. Ask before you hug someone
  5. Do not blame the victim
  6. Help them relax
  7. Suggest a support group
  8. Give them space
  9. Educate yourself
  10. Do not force them to talk about it
  11. Be patient
  12. Accompany them to the scene of the “crime”
  13. Watch out for warning signs

Keep in mind that it is not your experience/story that you can freely make judgements on, else “attack” it after feeling sour.

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“Some five years ago everything fell apart with my life, in my career and health, my partner at that time chose to fool around and left me alone. It was shit. My friends told me that I was broken for four years,” Andy recalled.

That moment did not leave his mind until now. And it affected his trust issues with anything and everything.

A 2016 report by MIMS Today noted that in the Philippines, one in five people suffers from mental health problems. Between 17% and 20% of Filipino adults experience psychiatric disorders, while 10% to 15% of Filipino children suffer from mental health problems.

Unfortunately, it seems like addressing mental health is not yet among the priorities in the Philippines.

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Health & Wellness

LBG individuals use stimulants at higher rates than heterosexuals

Higher drug use among LGB individuals is likely a result of minority stress – that is, the fact that exposure to stigma and discrimination based on sexual orientation results in health disparities. Structural stigma (e.g. employment or housing discrimination) drives psychological and physical health morbidities among LGB populations, and perceived stigma is associated with cocaine use.

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Lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) individuals report higher rates of medical, non-medical, and illegal stimulant use compared to heterosexuals, mirroring patterns seen in other substance use.

The study by Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health researchers provides the most detailed picture to date on stimulant use by LGB subgroups and gender. Findings are published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The researchers analyzed data from the 2015-2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health to examine associations between sexual identity and past-year use of medical and non-medical stimulants (i.e., Adderall, Ritalin) and illegal stimulants (i.e. cocaine, crack, methamphetamine). They found that bisexual women’s illegal stimulant use in the past year was fivefold that of heterosexual women (7.8% vs. 1.5%), while gay men’s use was threefold that of heterosexual men (9.2% vs. 3.2%).

Non-medical use of prescription stimulants was higher among gay and bisexual men than heterosexual men (5.4% and 6.6% vs. 2.4%) and among gay/lesbian and bisexual women versus heterosexual women (3.3% and 6.8% vs. 1.6%). Past-year medical use of prescription stimulants was higher among gay men than heterosexual men (6.6% vs. 4.1%) and bisexual women than heterosexual women (7.9% vs. 4.9%). There were no differences between bisexual men and women compared to their gay/lesbian counterparts.

Potential consequences of stimulant include substance use disorder and overdose, particularly given increases in fentanyl contamination in illegally produced pills and cocaine and methamphetamine. As many as half of LGB individuals who reported nonmedical and illegal stimulant use also reported nonmedical prescription opioid use.

“This study highlights the need for future interventions to target stimulant use among LGB populations, with a particular focus on harm reduction approaches,” says first author Morgan Philbin, PhD, assistant professor of sociomedical sciences. “The findings have important implications across sexual identities, and demonstrate the need to disaggregate stimulant use by subgroup and gender, particularly related to polysubstance use.”

Higher drug use among LGB individuals is likely a result of minority stress – that is, the fact that exposure to stigma and discrimination based on sexual orientation results in health disparities. Structural stigma (e.g. employment or housing discrimination) drives psychological and physical health morbidities among LGB populations, and perceived stigma is associated with cocaine use.

Bisexuals can also experience “double discrimination” from heterosexuals and lesbian and gay communities, which the researchers say may account for the particularly high substance use among bisexual individuals.

The paper outlines several avenues to address stimulant use, including by educating healthcare providers who focus on LGB communities to screen for and discuss substance use, including stimulants. Communities and providers can also scale-up access to medication disposal and harm reduction services.

The researchers note that their dataset started assessing sexual identity among adults in 2015, so these relationships could not be examined in earlier years or among adolescents. The options for gender included only “male” or “female” and thus did not allow researchers to differentiate between transgender and cis-gender individuals. The dataset does not assess sexual behavior, so this study only captured associations based on individuals’ sexual identity.

Authors include Morgan M. Philbin, Emily R. Greene, Silvia S. Martins, and Pia M. Mauro of the Columbia Mailman School; and Natalie LaBossier of Boston University School of Medicine.

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Health & Wellness

Sexual minority men who smoke report worse mental health, more frequent substance use

LGBTQ+ people are more likely to smoke than their cisgender and heterosexual peers to cope with an anti-LGBTQ+ society, inadequate health care access and decades of targeted tobacco marketing. Those social stressors drive the health disparities they face, which are compounded by a lack of LGBTQ-affirming healthcare providers, research shows.

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Cigarette smoking is associated with frequent substance use and poor behavioral and physical health in sexual and gender minority populations, according to Rutgers researchers.

The study, published in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine, examined tobacco use by sexual minority men and transgender women to better understand the relationships between smoking, substance use and mental, psychosocial and general health.

The researchers, who are part of the Rutgers School of Public Health’s Center for Health, Identity, Behavior and Prevention Studies, surveyed 665 racially, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse sexual minority men and transgender women, 70 percent of whom reported smoking cigarettes.

They found that smoking was associated with participants’ race/ethnicity, marijuana and alcohol use and mental health. Current smokers were more likely to be white and reported more days of marijuana use in the past month. The study also found that current smoking was associated with more severe anxiety symptoms and more frequent alcohol use.

“Evidence also tells us that smoking is associated with worse mental health and increased substance use, but we don’t know how these conditions are related to each other, exacerbating and mutually reinforcing their effects,” said Perry N. Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health and the study’s senior author.

LGBTQ+ people are more likely to smoke than their cisgender and heterosexual peers to cope with an anti-LGBTQ+ society, inadequate health care access and decades of targeted tobacco marketing. Those social stressors drive the health disparities they face, which are compounded by a lack of LGBTQ-affirming healthcare providers, research shows.

“Our findings underscore the importance of holistic approaches to tobacco treatment that account for psychosocial drivers of substance use and that address the complex relationships between mental health and use of substances like alcohol, tobacco and marijuana,” said Caleb LoSchiavo, a doctoral student at the Rutgers School of Public Health and the study’s first author.

The study recommends further research examining the social determinants of disparities in substance use among marginalized populations and how interpersonal and systemic stressors contribute to poorer physical and mental health for minority populations.

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Health & Wellness

Love hormone also forms important link between stress and digestive problems

Oxytocin, an anti-stress hormone, is released from the hypothalamus in the brain which acts to counteract the effects of stress. For a long time, the actions of oxytocin were believed to occur due to its release into the blood with only minor effects on the nerves within the brain that regulate gastrointestinal functions.

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New research published in The Journal of Physiology shows that oxytocin, known as the love hormone, plays an important role in stress’ disruption of digestion such as bloating, discomfort, nausea and diarrhea.  

Stress disrupts gastrointestinal functions and causes a delay in gastric emptying (how quickly food leaves the stomach). This delay in gastric emptying causes bloating, discomfort, and nausea and accelerates colon transit, which causes diarrhea.  

Oxytocin, an anti-stress hormone, is released from the hypothalamus in the brain which acts to counteract the effects of stress. For a long time, the actions of oxytocin were believed to occur due to its release into the blood with only minor effects on the nerves within the brain that regulate gastrointestinal functions.  

The study used new ways to manipulate the neurons and nerves (neurocircuits) that oxytocin released from the hypothalamus acts upon and measured the effects on the response of gastric emptying to stress. They have shown that, contrary to previous assumptions, these oxytocin circuits play a major role in the response of the stomach to stress.  

Activation of these oxytocin circuits reversed the delay in gastric emptying that occurs normally in response to stress, by increasing muscle contractions (motility) of the stomach, while inhibition of these neurocircuits prevented adaptation to stress.  

The new research, conducted at Penn State University- College of Medicine and was sponsored by a grant from the National Institute of Health, USA, employed cutting-edge tools that allow selective manipulation of the circuits that receive hypothalamic oxytocin inputs together with simultaneous measurements of gastric emptying and motility in response to stress.  

The authors used a rat model of different types of stress – acute stress, appropriate adaptation to stress, and inappropriate adaptation to stress. The authors infected the neurons controlling the oxytocin nerves and neurocircuits with novel viruses that allowed them to be activated or inhibited and measured muscle activity in the stomach, as well as gastric emptying (the time for food to leave the stomach).  

The researchers have shown that these oxytocin neural circuits play a major role in the gastric response to stress loads. Indeed, their activation reversed the delayed gastric emptying observed following acute or chronic responses to stress, thus increasing both gastric tone and motility. Conversely, inhibition of these neurocircuits prevented adaptation to stress thus delaying gastric emptying and decreasing gastric tone.   

These data indicate that oxytocin influences directly the neural pathways involved in the stress response and plays a major role in the gastric response to stressors. ​ 

The ability to respond appropriately to stress is important for normal physiology functions. Inappropriate responses to stress, or the inability to adapt to stress, triggers and worsens the symptoms of many gastrointestinal disorders including delayed gastric emptying and accelerated colon transit.  

Previous studies have shown that the nerves and neurocircuits that regulate the function of gastric muscle and emptying respond to stress by changing their activity and responses.  

In order to identify targets for more effective treatments of disordered gastric responses to stress, it is important to first understand how stress normally affects the functions of the stomach. Their study provided new information about the role that oxytocin plays in controlling these nerves and circuits during stress and may identify new targets for drug development. 

Commenting on the study R Alberto Travagli said: “Women are more vulnerable to stress and stress-related pathologies, such as anxiety and depression, and report a higher prevalence in gastrointestinal disorders. Our previous studies showed that vagal neural circuits are organized differently in males versus females. We are now finalizing a series of studies that investigate the role and the mechanisms through which oxytocin modulates gastric functions in stressed females. This will help to develop targeted therapies to provide relief for women with gastrointestinal disorders.”

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Health & Wellness

Notable percentage of trans men who have sex with men never got tested for HIV, bacterial and viral STIs

When considering screening for HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), transgender men who have sex with men (TMSM) represent an understudied population. A study found that a notable percentage of TMSM had never tested for HIV and bacterial and viral STIs.

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When considering screening for HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), transgender men who have sex with men (TMSM) represent an understudied population. A study found that a notable percentage of TMSM had never tested for HIV and bacterial and viral STIs.

In “Sociodemographic and behavioural factors associated with testing for HIV and STIs in a US nationwide sample of transgender men who have sex with men” – done by Nadav Antebi-Gruszka, Ali J. Talan, Sari L. Reisner and Jonathon Rendina, and published in BMJ Journals – researchers tried to examine HIV and STI testing prevalence among TMSM along with the factors associated with testing in a diverse sample of TMSM. They used data from a cross-sectional online convenience sample of 192 TMSM, analyzed using multivariable binary logistic regression models to examine the association between sociodemographic and behavioral factors and lifetime testing for HIV, bacterial STIs and viral STIs, as well as past year testing for HIV.

The researchers found that more than two-thirds of TMSM reported lifetime testing for HIV (71.4%), bacterial STIs (66.7%), and viral STIs (70.8%), and 60.9% had received HIV testing in the past year. Engaging in condomless anal sex with a casual partner whose HIV status is different or unknown and having fewer than two casual partners in the past six months were related to lower odds of lifetime HIV, bacterial STI, viral STI and past year HIV testing.

Being younger in age was related to lower probability of testing for HIV, bacterial STIs and viral STIs.

The domiciles of the TMSM also affected their health-seeking behaviors. In this study, those residing in the South of the US were less likely to be tested for HIV and viral STIs in their lifetime, and for HIV in the past year.

Finally, lower odds of lifetime testing for viral STIs was found among TMSM who reported no drug use in the past six months.

According to the researchers, these findings indicate that a notable percentage of TMSM had never tested for HIV and bacterial and viral STIs, though at rates only somewhat lower than among cisgender MSM despite similar patterns of risk behavior.

They recommend for “efforts to increase HIV/STI testing among TMSM, especially among those who engage in condomless anal sex.”

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