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iCON Clinic opened

Currently targeting serving men who have sex with men (MSM) and, hopefully, populations at risk to HIV, AIDS or STI, iCON Clinic is aiming to provide a safe space for health and wellness, with fees that are comparably lower than those of standard clinics/hospitals.

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As an attempt to provide the Philippines’ “first alternative sexual health clinic”, the AIDS Society of the Philippines (ASP) has opened the ASP iCON, which offers confidential laboratory diagnostic exams that focus on sexual well-being.

iCON Clinic is at G/F OTM Building, 71 Scout Tuason St., Brgy. South Triangle, Quezon City. It is open every Friday, 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM, and Saturdays from 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM.

“There is a need to have a service facility that caters/adheres to quality medical services responsive to clients’ right for confidentiality, self-determination, that are free from judgment/stereotypes, that are gender responsive, and integrates rights based approaches,” said Dr. Jose Narciso Melchor C. Sescon, ASP president. iCON Clinic intends to be this facility.

Currently targeting serving men who have sex with men (MSM) and, hopefully, populations at risk to HIV, AIDS or STI, the venue is aiming to provide a safe space for health and wellness, with fees that are comparably lower than those of standard clinics/hospitals. Currently on offer are basic medical, physical and medical/laboratory examinations.

More than rendering needed services, though, it is also an attempt to help make ASP sustainable.

iCON Clinic eyes being “responsive to its clients’ medical/psychosocial needs”, as it hopes to eventually expand by and become a “model of a truly sustainable gender responsive and rights-based sexual health service facility”.

For more information, contact (+63 2) 376 2541; email asp.iconclinic@gmail.com; or visit http://iconclinic.tumblr.com/.

Health & Wellness

Guide to dealing with a new mental health diagnosis

It’s important to remember that mental health is a very wide categorization and not all disorders are the same or even similar.

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It’s estimated that around one-third of use will have to deal with a mental health issue at some point in our lives. But although there are still those who don’t understand fully how mental health works the stigma surrounding such diagnosis is thankfully on the decline.

It’s important to know how to deal with a diagnosis of this kind. It can be very upsetting and confusing, you will no doubt have lots of questions but it can also be a very good time because it means you are suddenly on the course to getting the help you need and this will ensure that you can live your life in a better manner. This is the start of a new phase of your life, and here we will look at some of the ways to start dealing with this situation.

Read Up on Your Diagnosis

Although we are as guilty of anyone of doing this it’s important to remember that mental health is a very wide categorization and not all disorders are the same or even similar. If you take depression as a particular example, even this is a very vague diagnosis and can vary wildly in both its symptoms and its severity. Other conditions such as schizophrenia can exhibit symptoms such as hallucinations, both auditory and visual, delusions of grandeur and you can have all or some of these and they can come and go. So whatever you have it’s good to get an idea of what the symptoms are and what the causes of the condition are as well.

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Look for Support

These days it’s important to know that you don’t need to suffer alone and there are plenty of resources and sources of help. First of all, you will have the doctor or Psychologist who diagnosed you and they should always be your first port of call for support. If you stay on top of your condition and regularly stay in touch with your medical professionals then it can prevent relapses and critical issues, even having to end up being admitted to hospital. But if you do end up having to spend some time in a hospital ward then it’s not the big issue it was in the past. You are suffering from an illness and shouldn’t feel bad for seeking medical help, think about it you wouldn’t berate a cancer sufferer for taking chemotherapy, so mental health treatment should be no different.

Permanent or Temporary

It’s also important to remember that not all mental health conditions are permanent, some of them indeed are and you might need to manage them throughout your life. However, you can end up with a reactionary condition that is temporary. This can be a reaction to a stressful life event if this is the case understanding adjustment disorders is very important.

Be Patient

Patience is also a good quality to have. Being diagnosed will a mental health issue can be a long process, and it may have taken a good while to even get to this stage. What you also find is that once you have the diagnosis it can take a lot of trial and error to get the right medication and the correct dose, so bear with it while they take the time to work it out, this is fairly normal.

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Talk to Your Family

Your family is most likely feeling a little apprehensive as well as often in a family setting they are dealing with something like this for the first time. So it leaves your loved ones feeling unable to help and not knowing how they can best be supportive. What can be helpful to them, and to you, is keeping them updated with how things are going, and they will then have more of an idea of what’s going on.

Dealing With Being Misunderstood

Although we mentioned at the start that awareness of mental health issues is much improved from where it has been in the past there is still a great deal of misunderstanding of what certain conditions are all about. If we take schizophrenia as an example, many people still confuse that with split personality syndrome, which in itself is a condition that is disputed as to its existence. Mental health is always a field that is progressing and new conditions and diagnoses are coming around all of the time, if we take gender reassignment, there are still those who wish to try to force individuals into a gender identity they don’t agree with can lead to poor mental health results. 

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Health & Wellness

Having less sex linked to earlier menopause

Women who reported engaging in sexual activity weekly were 28% less likely to have experienced menopause at any given age than women who engaged in sexual activity less than monthly.

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Women who engage in sexual activity weekly or monthly have a lower risk of entering menopause early relative to those who report having some form of sex less than monthly, according to a new UCL study.

The researchers observed that women, who reported engaging in sexual activity weekly, were 28% less likely to have experienced menopause at any given age than women who engaged in sexual activity less than monthly. Sexual activity includes sexual intercourse, oral sex, sexual touching and caressing or self-stimulation.

The research, published in Royal Society Open Science, is based on data from the USA’s Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN). It’s the largest, most diverse and most representative longitudinal cohort study available to research aspects of the menopause transition.

First author on the study, PhD candidate Megan Arnot (UCL Anthropology), said: “The findings of our study suggest that if a woman is not having sex, and there is no chance of pregnancy, then the body ‘chooses’ not to invest in ovulation, as it would be pointless. There may be a biological energetic trade-off between investing energy into ovulation and investing elsewhere, such as keeping active by looking after grandchildren.

“The idea that women cease fertility in order to invest more time in their family is known as the Grandmother Hypothesis, which predicts that the menopause originally evolved in humans to reduce reproductive conflict between different generations of females, and allow women to increase their inclusive fitness through investing in their grandchildren.”

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During ovulation, the woman’s immune function is impaired, making the body more susceptible to disease. Given a pregnancy is unlikely due to a lack of sexual activity, then it would not be beneficial to allocate energy to a costly process, especially if there is the option to invest resources into existing kin.

The research is based on data collected from 2,936 women, recruited as the baseline cohort for the SWAN study in 1996/1997.

The mean age at first interview was 45 years old. Non-Hispanic Caucasian women were most represented in the sample (48%), and the majority of women were educated to above a high school level. On average they had two children, were mostly married or in a relationship (78%), and living with their partner (68%).

The women were asked to respond to several questions, including whether they had engaged in sex with their partner in the past six months, the frequency of sex including whether they engaged in sexual intercourse, oral sex, sexual touching or caressing in the last six months and whether they had engaged in self-stimulation in the past six months. The most frequent pattern of sexual activity was weekly (64%).

None of the women had yet entered menopause, but 46% were in early peri-menopause (starting to experience menopause symptoms, such as changes in period cycle and hot flashes) and 54% were pre-menopausal (having regular cycles and showing no symptoms of peri-menopause or menopause).

Interviews were carried out over a ten-year follow-up period, during which 1,324 (45%) of the 2,936 women experienced a natural menopause at an average age of 52.

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By modelling the relationship between sexual frequency and the age of natural menopause, women of any age who had sex weekly had a hazard ratio of 0.72, whereas women of any age who had sex monthly had a hazard ratio of 0.81.

This provided a likelihood whereby women of any age who had sex weekly were 28% less likely to experience the menopause compared to those who had sex less than monthly. Likewise, those who had sex monthly were 19% less likely to experience menopause at any given age compared to those who had sex less than monthly.

The researchers controlled for characteristics including oestrogen level, education, BMI, race, smoking habits, age at first occurrence of menstruation, age at first interview and overall health.

The study also tested whether living with a male partner affected menopause as a proxy to test whether exposure to male pheromones delayed menopause. The researchers found no correlation, regardless of whether the male was present in the household or not. Last author, Professor Ruth Mace (UCL Anthropology), added: “The menopause is, of course, an inevitability for women, and there is no behavioural intervention that will prevent reproductive cessation. Nonetheless, these results are an initial indication that menopause timing may be adaptive in response to the likelihood of becoming pregnant.”

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Health & Wellness

Transgender students face higher levels of substance abuse

This misuse of drugs by transgender individuals is thought not to be anything to do with their non-gender conformity but with the discrimination that they, as transgender individuals, face on a daily basis.

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A study by The Journal of School Health has found transgender students to be 2.5 times more likely to try and use drugs such as methamphetamines and cocaine than their non-transgender peers. Transgender students were also found to be twice as likely to misuse prescription medication than other students their age. 

This misuse of drugs by transgender individuals is thought not to be anything to do with their non-gender conformity but with the discrimination that they, as transgender individuals, face on a daily basis, with stigma being one of the primary drivers of transgender mental health issues across the world. 

In the US more than 50% of transgender individuals report suffering from depression or anxiety and LGBTQ individuals are also 7 times more likely to consider death by suicide than heterosexual gender-conforming individuals. 

At home, 19% of transgender individuals have experienced domestic violence as a result of their gender nonconformity and at work, more than 50% of transgender individuals have experienced discrimination. 

With so much stigma at home, on the street and in the workplace it’s no wonder that some transgender individuals are turning to narcotics as a way to numb the pain and escape their realities. 

Dr. Pedro, a scientist who helped conduct the drug use study has said “When it comes to transgender teens, it’s the transphobia that impacts [their use of drugs], not being transgender. In order to reduce the likelihood of a kid to resort to drugs as a means to cope, there has to be some sort of social support mechanism,” 

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Evidence from initiatives in the US supports the idea that better support systems and less stigmatizing communities can have a positive impact on the mental health of transgender individuals. Simply providing transgender individuals with appropriate toilet facilities was found to reduce the likelihood of transgender teens committing suicide by a staggering 45% and the introduction of same-sex marriage saw a huge drop in suicide attempts by 134,000.

So what else can be done to help support transgender individuals and reduce their need to rely on narcotics?

The evidence provided by initiatives in the US proves that removing the stigma surrounding being transgender is key to reducing suicide rates and improving transgender mental health but this won’t happen overnight. We need to see an introduction of more support systems for transgender people in the form of support groups and access to counseling and we need to provide transgender people with access to inpatient drug rehab centers if they have already fallen too far. 

To remove stigma in the community, schools and governors need to focus on transgender awareness and education, helping friends, families, and co-workers to understand what it means to be transgender and how they can help to ease the weight that their loved one, friend or colleague is carrying. Education also needs to start far earlier and be taught in schools to help students grow up into compassionate individuals with a wider understanding of the LGBTQ community and the challenges it faces. 

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Health & Wellness

Hidden sexual-arousal disorder can compromise mental health

It’s important that people know of this medical condition and that it is primarily a neurological problem, not a psychiatric one.

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Persistent genital arousal disorder (PGAD)–which is almost exclusively experienced by females and characterized by spontaneous and unwanted sexual arousal unrelated to desire–can compromise individuals’ mental health and well-being and severely damage relationships with partners. Results from a new study by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) indicate that PGAD can be caused by altered firing of nerves that carry sensations from the genitalia or by damage to the lowest parts of the spinal cord. The study also found that neurological treatments benefit many patients.

“It’s important that people know of this medical condition and that it is primarily a neurological problem, not a psychiatric one,” said senior author Bruce Price, MD, an MGH Department of Neurology investigator who is also chief of Neurology at McLean Hospital. “Many affected women are silent and undercover–it’s in no way a fun condition, and it is difficult for patients to address their symptoms with their doctors, who have typically never heard of PGAD.” The problem can be especially troubling for adolescents, causing confusion, shame, and fear.

The study, published in PAIN Reports, included 10 females whose PGAD symptoms began between ages 11 to 70 years. Although the study involved only a small number of patients, it’s still one of the first to carefully examine PGAD in a thorough and scientific manner.

Spinal nerve-root cysts were detected in four patients and generalized sensory nerve damage (neuropathy) in two. One patient with symptoms since childhood was born with a small defect in her lowest spinal cord, one had a lumbosacral herniated disc in the lower back, and another developed short-lived PGAD when she abruptly stopped a prescribed antidepressant medication.

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All psychiatric and gynecological treatments were ineffective, and injecting local anesthetics had no lasting benefit. In contrast, neurological treatments–such as cyst removal and treating nerve damage–were effective in 80% of patients.

“Physicians need to be aware of PGAD and inquire about it when patients experience other pelvic pain or urological symptoms that often accompany PGAD,” said first author Anne Louise Oaklander, MD, PhD, an investigator in the Department of Neurology at MGH. “It’s treatable, but the treatment depends on the cause. By identifying some common causes–and localizing them to specific regions of the sacral nervous system–our study provides direction on how to help patients and to guide future research.”

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Women with single dose of HPV vaccine gain similar protection as multiple doses

While results of the paper showed that a single dose may be as effective as the currently recommended two- or three-dose series, it’s too early for people to rely on a single dose of the vaccine for protection.

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A new study revealed that one dose of the HPV vaccine may prevent infection from the potential cancer-causing virus, according to research published in JAMA Network Open from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 34,800 new cancer diagnoses are linked to human papillomavirus (HPV) annually. The virus is thought to account for more than 90% of all cervical and anal cancers, more than 60% of all penile cancers, and approximately 70% of all oral cancers.

While results of the paper showed that a single dose may be as effective as the currently recommended two- or three-dose series, it’s too early for people to rely on a single dose of the vaccine for protection, according to senior author Ashish A. Deshmukh, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor at UTHealth School of Public Health.

Although the study participants included only women, the CDC recommends a two-dose regimen for all children starting the series before age 15 or a three-dose regimen if the series is started between ages 16 to 26.
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“HPV vaccine coverage is less than 10% globally because of poor vaccine uptake rates in many resource-limited countries. Ensuring boys and girls receive their first dose is a big challenge in several countries and a majority of adolescents are not able to complete the recommended series due to a lack of intensive infrastructure needed to administer two or three doses,” Deshmukh said. “If ongoing clinical trials provide evidence regarding sustained benefits of a one-dose regimen, then implications of single-dose strategy could be substantial for reducing the burden of these cancers globally.”

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Although the study participants included only women, the CDC recommends a two-dose regimen for all children starting the series before age 15 or a three-dose regimen if the series is started between ages 16 to 26. The latest generation of HPV vaccine can protect against nearly 90% of cancer-causing HPV infections. Yet, current vaccinations rates are less than ideal – half of people in the U.S. are not vaccinated against this common sexually transmitted infection.

“The current HPV vaccine dosing regimen can be cumbersome for people to understand. If one dose is proven effective in trials, the vaccine regimen will be simplified. This will help improve the coverage rate among adolescents that are currently below the Healthy People 2020 goal and possibly will also increase the momentum of uptake in the newly approved age group,” said lead author Kalyani Sonawane, PhD, who is an assistant professor at UTHealth School of Public Health.

Michael D. Swartz, PhD, of UTHealth co-authored the study, along with Alan G. Nyitray, PhD, of the Medical College of Wisconsin; and Gizem S. Nemutlu, PhD, and Jagpreet Chhatwal, PhD, from Harvard Medical School.

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Diet has rapid effects on sperm quality

Sperm quality can be harmed by several environmental and lifestyle factors, of which obesity and related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, are well-known risk factors for poor sperm quality.

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Sperm are influenced by diet, and the effects arise rapidly. This is the conclusion of a study by researchers at Linköping University, in which healthy young men were fed a diet rich in sugar. The study, which has been published in PLOS Biology, gives new insight into the function of sperm, and may in the long term contribute to new diagnostic methods to measure sperm quality.

“We see that diet influences the motility of the sperm, and we can link the changes to specific molecules in them. Our study has revealed rapid effects that are noticeable after one to two weeks”, says Anita Öst, senior lecturer in the Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine at Linköping University, and head of the study.

Sperm quality can be harmed by several environmental and lifestyle factors, of which obesity and related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, are well-known risk factors for poor sperm quality. The research group that carried out the new study is interested in epigenetic phenomena, which involve physical properties or levels of gene expression changing, even when the genetic material, the DNA sequence, is not changed. In certain cases such epigenetic changes can lead to properties being transferred from a parent to offspring via the sperm or the egg.

In a previous study, the scientists showed that male fruit flies which had consumed excess sugar shortly before mating more often produced offspring who became overweight. Similar studies on mice have suggested that small fragments of RNA known as tsRNA play a role in these epigenetic phenomena that appear in the next generation. These RNA fragments are present in unusually large amounts in the sperm of many species, including humans, fruit flies and mice. So far, their function has not been examined in detail. Scientists have speculated that the RNA fragments in sperm may be involved in epigenetic phenomena, but it is too early to say whether this is the case in humans. The new study was initiated by the researchers to investigate whether a high consumption of sugar affects the RNA fragments in human sperm.

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The study examined 15 normal, non-smoking young men, who followed a diet in which they were given all food from the scientists for two weeks. The diet was based on the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations for healthy eating with one exception: during the second week the researchers added sugar, corresponding to around 3.5 litres of fizzy drinks, or 450 grammes of confectionery, every day. The sperm quality and other indicators of the participants’ health were investigated at the start of the study, after the first week (during which they ate a healthy diet), and after the second week (when the participants had additionally consumed large amounts of sugar).

At the beginning of the study, one third of the participants had low sperm motility. Motility is one of several factors that influence sperm quality, and the fraction of people with low sperm motility in the study corresponded to that in the general population. The researchers were surprised to discover that the sperm motility of all participants became normal during the study.

“The study shows that sperm motility can be changed in a short period, and seems to be closely coupled to diet. This has important clinical implications. But we can’t say whether it was the sugar that caused the effect, since it may be a component of the basic healthly diet that has a positive effect on the sperm”, says Anita Öst.

The researchers also found that the small RNA fragments, which are linked to sperm motility, also changed. They are now planning to continue the work and investigate whether there is a link between male fertility and the RNA fragments in sperm. They will also determine whether the RNA code can be used for new diagnostic methods to measure sperm quality during in vitro fertilisation.

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The study has been carried out in collaboration with the Reproductive Medicine Center at Linköping University Hospital, with financial support from the Swedish Research Council, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, and the Ragnar Söderberg Foundation.

The article – “Human Sperm Displays Rapid Responses to Diet” by Daniel Nätt, Unn Kugelberg, Eduard Casas, Elizabeth Nedstrand, Stefan Zalavary, Pontus Henriksson, Carola Nijm, Julia Jäderquist, Johanna Sandborg, Eva Flinke, Rashmi Ramesh, Lovisa Örkenby, Filip Appelkvist, Thomas Lingg, Nicola Guzzi, Cristian Bellodi, Marie Löf, Tanya Vavouri and Anita Öst -= appeared in PLOS Biology.

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