Although Risk Of Getting Zika Is Low, It’s Still Important To Prevent Mosquito Bites And Practice Safe Sex

As the world comes together for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, there’s been a lot of talk about the impact of the Zika virus. There’s good reason for concern: a virus that causes microcephaly and other serious fetal brain defects can be devastating for pregnant women and their families.

It’s no surprise, then, that there’s been some fear about what might happen when as many as 500,000 Olympic athletes, officials, journalists and spectators flock to Brazil in the midst of a Zika outbreak.

Travel to the Olympics a small fraction of everyday global travel

In our ever-more-connected world, this outbreak has spread throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and South America and even to island nations in Africa and the islands of the tropical Pacific Ocean (Oceania). In the continental United States and Hawaii alone, more than 1,800 travel-associated cases of Zika have been reported since January. We now have mosquito-borne transmission of the disease – a cluster of cases – just north of Miami, Florida.

A couple of weeks ago, my colleagues and I at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked at the risk that travelers to the Olympics would get Zika from mosquito bites in Brazil and bring it back to their home countries. As it turns out, our analysis suggests that the contribution of the Olympics to the spread of Zika virus is likely to be very small when compared with the overall impact of worldwide commercial air travel. In fact, travel to the Olympics represents only a tiny fraction – less than 0.25% – of global travel to areas where mosquitoes are currently spreading the Zika virus.

We also believe visitors to the Games have a low risk of getting Zika from a mosquito bite, particularly if they follow CDC’s recommendations for the prevention of bites. That’s because the Olympics are happening during Rio de Janeiro’s winter, when cooler and drier weather typically reduces mosquito populations.

Academic researchers at Yale University have come to similar conclusions, estimating that no more than 80 of the 500,000 people anticipated to travel to Rio are likely to become infected with Zika during the Games. In another report published in The Lancet in early July, the authors conclude that about 15 of the same 500,000 anticipated travelers would likely be infected.

Still important not to let down our guard

From the beginning of this outbreak, our primary goal has been protecting pregnant women because we know Zika virus infection in pregnant women can cause serious birth defects. While the risk of infection from mosquito bites will be low during the Games, the consequences are too great to neglect prevention measures, especially since Zika can also be spread sexually.

Most important, pregnant women should not travel to any of the places where Zika is spreading; that includes Brazil. We urge any traveler going to the Olympics or another area with Zika transmission who has a pregnant partner to use condoms during sex or abstain from sex for the duration of the pregnancy. We also recommend that if a woman has been to Brazil or any other place where Zika is spreading, she waits at least eight weeks to try to conceive. If a man has been somewhere where Zika is spreading and he and his partner want to conceive, we recommend that he wait eight weeks if he didn’t have symptoms and six months if he did have symptoms. Remember, to be effective, condoms must be used correctly from start to finish, every time, during sex.

All travelers going to places where Zika is spreading, including those who are not expecting or planning a pregnancy, are still encouraged to take steps to avoid Zika. These steps can keep travelers from getting Zika while at the Games and prevent the spread of Zika when they get back to the United States:

  • Prevent mosquito bites both during travel and for 3 weeks after returning to the United States. You can do this by using insect repellent, covering exposed skin, and avoiding mosquitoes where you are staying.
  • Prevent possible sexual transmission by practicing safe sex during your stay in Rio.
  • After returning from the games, people with pregnant partners should use condoms during sex, or abstain from sex, for the duration of the pregnancy.

Together we can defeat Zika

There’s little question that global travel and commerce bring many benefits – including the opportunity for the world’s finest athletes to compete on a global stage. But along with those benefits come obligations.

In the coming days, we’ll hear many stories of cooperation and teamwork among the athletes competing at the Olympic Games. This notion of working together toward something greater is enshrined in the Olympic Creed, which begins, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part.” We all must cooperate to help stop the spread of Zika, a virus CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden has called a “formidable adversary.”

When it comes to fighting Zika, the whole world can not only take part in protecting pregnant women, but by working together, we can help strengthen our defense against the virus. To learn more about safe and healthy travel to the Olympics, visit the CDC Rio 2016 page.

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Stress Literally Shrinks Your Brain (7 Ways To Reverse This Effect)

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We all know that living under stressful conditions has serious emotional, even physical, consequences. So why do we have so much trouble taking action to reduce our stress levels and improve our lives?

Researchers at Yale University finally have the answer. They found that stress reduces the volume of grey matter in the areas of the brain responsible for self-control.

So experiencing stress actually makes it more difficult to deal with future stress because it diminishes your ability to take control of the situation, manage your stress and keep things from getting out of control.

A vicious cycle if there ever was one.

But don’t be disheartened. It’s not impossible to reduce your stress levels; you just need to make managing stress a higher priority if you want to reverse this effect. The sooner you start managing your stress effectively, the easier it will be to keep unexpected stress from causing damage in the future.

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” -William James

Luckily, the plasticity of the brain allows it to mold, change, and rebuild damaged areas as you practice new behaviors. So implementing healthy stress-relieving techniques can train your brain to handle stress more effectively and decrease the likelihood of ill effects from stress in the future.

Here are seven strategies to help you fix your brain and keep your stress under control:

1. Say No

Saying no is indeed a major challenge for many people. “No” is a powerful word that you should not be afraid to wield. When it’s time to say no, avoid phrases such as “I don’t think I can” or “I’m not certain.” Saying no to a new commitment honors your existing commitments and gives you the opportunity to successfully fulfill them.

2. Disconnect

Technology enables constant communication and the expectation that you should be available 24/7. It is extremely difficult to enjoy a stress-free moment outside of work when an email that will change your train of thought and get you thinking (read: stressing) about work can drop onto your phone at any moment.

Taking regular time off the grid helps you to keep your stress under control and to live in the moment. When you make yourself available to your work 24/7, you expose yourself to a constant barrage of stressors. Forcing yourself offline and even–gulp!–turning off your phone gives your body and mind a break. Studies have shown that something as simple as a weekend e-mail break can lower stress levels.

If detaching yourself from work-related communication on weekday evenings is too big a challenge, then how about the weekend? Choose blocks of time where you will cut the cord and go offline. You’ll be amazed by how refreshing these breaks are and how they reduce stress by putting a mental recharge into your weekly schedule.

If you are worried about the negative repercussions of taking this step, try first doing it at times you are unlikely to be contacted–maybe Sunday morning. As you grow more comfortable with this, and as your coworkers begin to accept the time you spend offline, gradually expand the amount of time you spend away from technology.

3. Neutralize Toxic People

Dealing with difficult people is frustrating, exhausting, and highly stressful for most. You can control your interactions with toxic people by keeping your feelings in check. When you need to confront a toxic person, approach the situation rationally. Identify your own emotions and don’t allow anger or frustration to fuel the chaos. Also, consider the difficult person’s standpoint and perspective so that you can find solutions and common ground. Even when things completely derail, you can take the toxic person with a grain of salt to avoid letting him or her bring you down.

4. Don’t Hold Grudges

The negative emotions that come with holding onto a grudge are actually a stress response. Just thinking about the event sends your body into fight-or-flight mode, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat. When the threat is imminent, this reaction is essential to your survival, but when the threat is ancient history, holding onto that stress wreaks havoc on your body and can have devastating health consequences over time. In fact, researchers at Emory University have shown that holding onto stress contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease. Holding onto a grudge means you’re holding onto stress, and emotionally intelligent people know to avoid this at all costs. Letting go of a grudge not only makes you feel better now but can also improve your health.

5. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a simple, research-supported form of meditation that is an effective way to gain control of unruly thoughts and behaviors. People who practice mindfulness regularly are more focused, even when they are not meditating. It is an excellent technique to help reduce stress because it allows you to reduce the feeling of being out of control. Essentially, mindfulness helps you stop jumping from one thought to the next, which keeps you from ruminating on negative thoughts. Practicing mindfulness might even increase your score on an emotional intelligence test. Overall, it’s a great way to make it through your busy day in a calm and productive manner.

6. Put Things In Perspective

Our worries often come from our own skewed perception of events. So before you spend too much time dwelling on what your boss said during the last staff meeting, take a minute to put the situation in perspective. If you aren’t sure when you need to do this, try looking for clues that your anxiety may not be proportional to the stressor. If you are thinking in broad sweeping statements like “Everything is going wrong” or “Nothing will work out” then you need to reframe the situation. A great way to correct this unproductive thought pattern is to list the specific things that actually are going wrong or not working out. Most likely you will come up with just one or two things–not everything. The key to keeping your cool is to remember that your feelings are exaggerating the situation and the scope of the stressor is much more limited than it might appear.

7. Use Your Support System

It’s tempting, yet entirely ineffective, to attempt tackling everything by yourself. To be calm and productive you need to recognize your weaknesses and ask for help when you need it. This means tapping into your support system when a situation is challenging enough for you to feel overwhelmed.

Everyone has someone at work and/or outside work who is on their team, rooting for them, and ready to help them get the best from a difficult situation. Identify these individuals in your life and make an effort to seek their insights and assistance when you need it. Something as simple as talking about your worries will provide an outlet for your anxiety and stress and supply you with a new perspective on the situation. Most of the time, other people can see a solution that you can’t because they are not as emotionally invested in the situation. Asking for help will mitigate your anxiety and strengthen your relationships with those you rely upon.

Bringing It All Together

As simple as these strategies may seem, they are difficult to implement when your mind is clouded with stress. Force yourself to attempt them the next time your head is spinning, and you’ll reap the benefits that come with disciplined stress management.

How do you manage stress? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.

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Mike Pence Is Radically Anti-Public Health

Donald Trump does not have a political record. The fleeting glimpses we are offered into his own policies are further muddied by his own ideological inconsistencies and unpredictable temperament. A better lens, then, into his policies may be through the company he keeps. In terms of policy, understanding, and regard for public health — Mike Pence is by all counts an unmitigated disaster.

Pence’s public record reveals a misunderstanding of basic science. The field of public health is dedicated to identifying and minimizing risk factors that negatively impact human health. Perhaps the most basic and fundamental example of this is the impact of smoking. The Centers for Disease Control have stated that smoking is the number one preventable cause of death in the United States, responsible for nearly half-a-million deaths annually. While the data couldn’t be more clear, Pence penned an op-ed in 2001 refuting basic medical science at a time when tobacco products were being considered for regulation by the FDA. He wrote, “Time for a quick reality check. Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media — smoking does not kill.” Pence has no excuse — the link between smoking and health has long been considered doctrine in the United States since the landmark Surgeon General report in 1964.

Further, not only has Pence failed to fight tobacco, his policies have historically been so lenient as if to support tobacco companies at the expense of American lives. Pence has defunded smoking prevention and cessation programs and also opposed Republican led legislation to increase the tobacco tax in Indiana by $0.05, despite Indiana having one of the highest rates of smoking and one of the lowest tobacco taxes in the country. At best, these efforts reveal a gross misinterpretation of history and science. At worst, however, this willful ignorance is a manifestation of a willingness to hurt the health of his constituents for corporate special interests.

In numerous instances, Pence’s policies have served to further marginalize the health of populations whom are already vulnerable — particularly women, the LGBTQ community, and those at risk for HIV. When Pence took office as Governor of Indiana in 2013, he led a crusade to defund Planned Parenthood. By 2014, state funding for Planned Parenthood had been cut nearly in half from 2005 levels forcing the closure of small clinics. This funding drought no doubt affected women’s access to both primary as well as reproductive health care.

But the effects of this policy went further. One particular clinic, in rural Scott County, was closed in 2013, leaving the county without an HIV testing center. Less than two years later, the county became the center of an HIV epidemic affecting nearly 200 residents of Austin, Indiana, a town of 4,300, and leading to the highest incidence of new HIV infections in the country. Testing is not the only intervention to prevent HIV transmission, there’s also strong evidence for providing clean needles via needle exchange programs. But until this crisis in his own backyard, Pence had been a lifelong, vocal opponent of needle exchange programs.

Perhaps most controversial of all, in early 2015 Governor Pence signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which effectively allows business owners to cite their religious beliefs as right to refuse services to members of the LGBTQ community. Discrimination, especially the state-sponsored type like this, can have serious public health consequences. Discriminatory practices and social stigma in the LGBTQ community have led to significant health disparities and to higher rates of depression, substance abuse, and suicide. While prudent public health policy would work towards lowering barriers of access to care, this legislation — to use the campaign mantra — does no more than build walls. Worse, it allows for and even may encourage further stigma.

Public health should be a non-partisan issue. The public’s health is a universally desirable good — it is needed for each individual to reach their furthest potential, just as it is needed to reach our collective potential as a nation. It is the explicit role of our public servants to champion the rights and health of the most vulnerable communities, not to further marginalize them. Mike Pence’s track record on health as told through his policies on tobacco, women’s health and LGBTQ rights has been outright harmful, and should lead us to question him and his running mate’s eligibility for public office, let alone our highest office.

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Here’s What’s Keeping College Students From Getting The Sleep They Need

Late last month, I visited the California offices of Chegg, a higher education company that specializes in helping college students with everything from affordable textbook rentals to online tutoring. Lately, Chegg has committed to gaining a deeper understanding of another subject central to college students’ lives: sleep. And as Chegg’s CEO Dan Rosensweig and I began a conversation with an audience of Chegg employees, Dan shared the results of a new Chegg survey on the sleep habits of college students.

The survey’s findings bring valuable data to a familiar problem: for an alarming number of students, college has been turned into one long training ground for burnout. The motto “sleep, grades, social life: pick two,” or some version of this, can be heard on campuses across the country. The combination of academic pressures, social opportunities — and for many, newfound freedoms and the resulting challenge of time management — creates an environment where sleep doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

So as thousands of young people across the country prepare to head off to college, here are a few findings from the Chegg study — which surveyed 473 students from a mix of public and private colleges — that I found most illuminating.

Most students know there is a link between sleeping and academic performance.

Over half of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that students who do better in school probably get more sleep. (They’re right, of course. A 2014 study by the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota showed that the effect of sleep deprivation on grades is roughly equivalent to binge drinking and drug use.)

And the vast majority of students want to get the sleep they need.

Fully 84 percent said 8 or more hours would be “ideal” on a school night.

But very few are meeting that goal.

Only 16 percent usually get 8 or more hours on a school night, with far more (79 percent) sleeping 5 to 7 hours a night.

Today’s college students are constantly connected.

Students overwhelmingly cited time spent online and with electronic devices as significant obstacles to sleep. Asked to name the reasons that keep them from sleeping, 51 percent cited too much time online doing non-school related activities — second only to having too much homework.

Even in bed.

A whopping 86 percent said they take their devices to bed with them — for email, texting and other non-school activities. And 90 percent leave their phones on when they go to sleep.

The good news?

Chegg’s survey found that most college students have plenty of free time each day (much of it, for better or worse, is spent online). So there’s an opportunity for students to set aside some of that time for sleep, whether that means going to bed 30 minutes earlier or finding time during the day for a nap.

And the fact that so many students know how much sleep they should be getting, and are aware of how tethered they are to their devices, is at least a first step in changing habits. As more studies like this emerge — and as I was researching The Sleep Revolution, I was struck by the sheer number of new studies adding to our understanding of sleep’s vital role in every aspect of our lives — people will be more equipped to make changes, even small ones, to help them get the sleep they need.

That’s why HuffPost launched the Sleep Revolution College Tour, and why we continue to tell stories around sleep’s impact on our lives — everything from the military’s rediscovery of sleep as an essential tool of judgment to the ways athletes increasingly view it as the ultimate performance enhancer. As we approach the start of another academic year, with all its possibilities, there’s no better time than now to renew our relationship with sleep and savor all the benefits it brings.

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Voodoo Medicine: Time To Stop

The world’s most celebrated athlete standing on the podium in Rio in honor of receiving yet another gold medal has something important in common with your lazy uncle throwing back a cold one in his Barcalounger. Yes, swimming powerhouse Michael Phelps, purple-spotted from cupping therapy, and your slovenly relative with a beer gut both share a bond — a weakness in succumbing to the allure of voodoo medicine. Modern-day snake oil salesmen hawking quick cures and TV doctors peddling the latest diet miracle with blatantly ridiculous claims are everywhere on the tube, social media, the supermarket and old-fashioned billboards. Anecdotes and celebrity testimonials have in many cases replaced evidence-based medicine in our popular culture. Diet, nutrition and medical claims are thrown together in an olio of nonsense of false promise and false hope.

Problems with Western Medicine

Let’s pause here a moment. Before ripping further into the obvious drawbacks of voodoo medicine, that is, any medical claims absent substantiating data, let’s first emphasize that of course evidence-based medicine (often called western medicine) has its own set of serious problems and significant limitations. Clinical studies can be and have been tainted by pharmaceutical company sponsors or by doctors with financial interests in the outcome; negative data can be buried or manipulated; drugs shown to be safe in small trials can turn out to have significant or even deadly side effects in a broader population; treatment can lead to addiction; and interactions among different drugs can be hazardous. Biology is complex, and our understanding of disease incomplete, meaning that treatments are often hit or miss or luck of the draw rather than based on first principles. Perhaps the biggest flaw with modern western medicine, though, is that we have created a false expectation that our ills can be cured with a pill when it fact the cure more often lies in making difficult lifestyle changes. Smoking, lack of exercise and overeating come to mind. But these flaws in modern medicine are, in theory, amenable to improvement because the foundation is evidence-based. With scrutiny and reproducibility comes an accountability that will eventually expose weaknesses to be addressed. Or at least that possibility exists, which is not the case for claims that are made with no attempt at rigorous evaluation — like cupping.

The Allure of False Hope

Cupping can be traced to ancient Chinese practices used ostensibly to treat a variety of ailments including arthritis and muscle soreness. There is no credible clinical evidence that cupping is anything more than a placebo — or one big hickey — with no medical benefit at all. And consider this question — did you see any of the Chinese athletes doing cupping therapy? Think about it. Perhaps if this ancient Chinese treatment really worked over millennia we might see Chinese athletes partaking of its benefits?

Like their cousin cupping, faddish cryotherapy and chelation also offer an alternative to actual medicine. Chelation, which has a legitimate application in treating acute heavy metal poisoning, is sold instead as a cure or treatment for arthritis, hormone imbalances, and heart disease, which unscrupulous practitioners attribute to “heavy metal toxicity” or some other false claim about why chelation is beneficial. No scientific evidence supports this. All of these claims are unproven. The same applies to cryotherapy (or more faddishly whole body cryotherapy, or WBC), touted as a way to slow aging, improve sleep, enhance athletic performance and reduce various pains. There is not a shred of credible scientific support for these assertions. This list goes on and on: Ayurvedic medicine, aromatherapy, homeopathy, shamanism, naturopathy, Hopi Indian ear candling, Sekkotsu, Christian faith healing, stem cell therapy, probiotics, treatment for systemic “inflammation”…

These therapies and treatments all share the same fatal flaw; none has undergone rigorous clinical studies to determine safety and efficacy. In the absence of such trials, it cannot possibly be known if the drug or treatment is effective, if there will be serious side effects, if it will actually make the condition worse, or it will interfere with drugs or treatments that would otherwise help. Wishful thinking is not a viable treatment plan. In the absence of rigorous evaluation, you simply cannot know if your favorite treatment or supplement works no matter how many convincing testimonials you hear or how many anecdotes you may read. You or Grandma or Aunt Tilly or your best friend are just making it up based on lore and hearsay, no different than randomly going into a supermarket, picking out a package of peas and claiming that eating half a bag a day (but only if eaten at noon) will cure arthritis. The claim is convincing if the familiar face of a celebrity testifies that eating a bag of peas each day at noon will cure your ills or if an actor dressed as a doctor, removing a pair of glasses to simulate intimacy, solemnly attests to the benefits of pea eating. But testimonials and anecdotes do not make the claim any more valid. You might think chelating works because someone you trust told you so — but you are doing nothing different than picking out that bag of peas.

Intersection of Voodoo Diet and Medicine

Claims surrounding nutrition are equally noxious. Of all the voodoo treatments mentioned, my personal favorites are those meant to address the curse of “inflammation” because these claims are the perfect confluence between voodoo medicine and diet. Here is a typical claim:

“Inflammation controls our lives. Have you or a loved one dealt with pain, obesity, ADD/ADHD, peripheral neuropathy, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, migraines, thyroid issues, dental issues, or cancer? If you answered yes to any of these disorders you are dealing with inflammation.”

Well, no, inflammation does not control our lives. Like many others, this author claims inflammation is responsible for a huge range of maladies, ranging from Alzheimer’s to lupus to stroke to fibromyalgia; I counted 30 on this site. This is nothing but cringe-worthy. Yes, inflammation is terribly important, and is associated with disease. But the oversimplification and weak link to biology that we find on sites like these are misdirection from understanding what is actually happening in our bodies. Such misunderstanding leads to odd nutritional or medical recommendations that are useless at best or dangerous at worst.

We are awash in a sea of these crazy and exaggerated claims about inflammation that have taken root in popular culture, as even a quick Google search reveals:

Chronic inflammation is the root cause of many serious diseases.” No it is not; it is an important step, but one of many, in the progression of diseases generally caused by bad habits.

Inflammation is the cause of nearly all disease.” Wrong at every level; there are many diseases not associated with inflammation, and it is not typically the cause of disease. Rather inflammation is a pathway to pathology shared across many diseases.

Ginger and turmeric have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.” I love ginger and turmeric, but there is scant epidemiology to support the claim. It is just wishful thinking and the kind of bogus claim that distracts us from reality.

Excess sugar intake will contribute to inflammation. It’s not just the obvious sugar but also the hidden sugars.” There is no such thing as hidden sugars; and sugar itself has nothing to do with inflammation, other than adding calories, which in excess we know can cause inflammation.

Phytochemicals – natural chemicals found in plant foods… are also believed to help reduce inflammation.” There is no evidence for this statement. Of course, eating plant rather than animal products would reduce saturated fat intake, which in excess can cause inflammation. Cyanide is a natural chemical found in plants so the endorsement here is not ringing.

Inflammation has also been linked to unbalanced levels of certain hormones, such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. That’s why chronic inflammation often inflicts menopausal women, causing conditions like osteoporosis, weight gain, and adult acne.” This claim is not substantiated by any serious clinical research. None.

Foods that combat inflammation include tomatoes, green leafy vegetables and nuts like almonds and walnuts.” Well, no, that is not true at all. These foods simply do not promote inflammation, which is not the same as combatting it. Avoiding rotten food is not the same thing as treating food poisoning.

Monica has done exhaustive research on the nutritional components of 1,600 common foods, and rated them according to scientifically validated factors related to inflammation.” Well, scientists would be surprised by this since there are no “scientifically validated factors related to inflammation.” Just foods with or without saturated fats, which we know in excess can lead to inflammation. This does not require “exhaustive research.”

Voodoo Nutrition and the Curse of Supplements

Atkins, Dean Ornish, the Zone, South Beach, Glycemic Index… this list of fad diets too is nearly endless. Grocery stores sell magazines shouting out blatantly false claims that promise to help readers “lose weight like a teenager,” “lose belly fat,” “lose 11 lbs a week,” and “fill up on fat-burning super foods.” We are sold hormone supplements, told the benefits of “anti-inflammatory foods” and promised results if we only would take acetyl coenzyme A. These promises cannot be kept because they defy the simplest laws of biology and physics.

Dr. Oz has on his website a section entitled, “The Top 10 Fat-Burning Foods.” This is what the FDA and nutritionists say about fat-burning foods: there is no such thing. Dr. Oz is conning you, feeding you pure nonsense, selling miracle cures no better than snake oil vendors of old. FDA says, “Consumers should know that there is no such thing as a fat-burning pill.” Just to be clear, the FDA adds further about fat-burning foods that, “No substance has ever been shown to actually do this.” It is a big lie, a scam.

People daily pop, drink and chow down on nutritional supplements with great abandon — without the slightest evidence that any of them have any potential benefit. But things are worse than that; not only do you not know if the supplement you take has any health benefit at all, you actually don’t know if you are taking the supplement you intend. You may well be taking something detrimental to health or something potentially healthy but in unsafe doses. This from an expose in the New York Times:

Among the attorney general’s findings was a popular store brand of ginseng pills at Walgreens, promoted for “physical endurance and vitality,” that contained only powdered garlic and rice. At Walmart, the authorities found that its ginkgo biloba, a Chinese plant promoted as a memory enhancer, contained little more than powdered radish, houseplants and wheat — despite a claim on the label that the product was wheat- and gluten-free. Three out of six herbal products at Target — ginkgo biloba, St. John’s wort and valerian root, a sleep aid — tested negative for the herbs on their labels. But they did contain powdered rice, beans, peas and wild carrots. And at GNC, the agency said, it found pills with unlisted ingredients used as fillers, like powdered legumes, the class of plants that includes peanuts and soybeans, a hazard for people with allergies.

The Times is not alone in their summary findings, as we see from an article from Consumer Health Choices:

Supplement manufacturers routinely, and legally, sell their products without first having to demonstrate that they are safe and effective. Unlabeled ingredients found in many supplements are: bitter orange, chaparral, colloidal silver, coltsfoot, comfrey, country mallow, germanium, greater celandine, kava, lobelia, and yohimbe. The FDA has warned about at least eight of them, some as long ago as 1993. Of the more than 54,000 dietary supplement products in the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, more than 40,000 have no level of safety and effectiveness supported by scientific evidence.

Next time you have an urge to take fish oil, ginger and ginkgo biloba, just pop some peas into your mouth; there is no evidence one is more healthful than the other.

There is no room here to debunk the ocean of nonsense we encounter daily; this small sample of crazy is not even the tip of the tip of the iceberg. The voodoo surrounding probiotics and hormone supplements for example is each in itself a blog, or book. But understand that unless you restrict your intake of drugs and supplements to those proven to be effective and safe through rigorous scientific evaluation, you are just randomly putting stuff in your mouth. You should stop doing that. And Michael Phelps should stop cupping; it is embarrassing.

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Health Care Is A Right, Not A Business

Financial columnist Megan McArdle recently wrote a column entitled “Healthcare Is a Business, Not a Right.” She was responding to a tweet from financial writer Helaine Olen, which she quotes as:

“The health of Americans should not be a profit center. Health care is a right. Full stop.”

Health care is a business, says McArdle, but most of us aren’t tough-minded enough to admit it. Even if you ask a conservative, she writes, “there is a good chance you’ll get a rant about greedy insurers nickel-and-diming hardworking consumers when they’re sick.”

“Almost everybody feels that there is something fundamentally wrong about making money off someone else’s illness,” McArdle laments.

It’s a straw-man argument. Nobody I know thinks there’s something “fundamentally wrong” with doctors or nurses earning a living, or pharmacies turning a profit. Doctors, nurses, and corner pharmacists are iconic figures in American folklore.

McArdle misrepresents her adversary. Olen’s tweet begins with the number “25,”which McArdle omits, meaning it’s the 25th in a series of tweets. The full series makes it clear that Olen is talking specifically about health insurance. Olen’s “full stop,” which McArdle mocks, seems intended to signal the end of her twitter essay.

But then, you can’t make a straw man without breaking some straws.

“No, don’t sputter and tell me that it’s obvious, that people need health care,” McArdle writes. “People need a lot of things. You’ll die without food long before you’ll die without healthcare, and yet few people say we need to ‘take the profit motive out of farming’ …”

Nobody’s sputtering, but the farming analogy is poorly chosen. Food production and health care delivery occur in very different economies. The need for food is consistent, stable, and predictable. The need for healthcare varies dramatically over time. Insurance, whether public and private, spreads risk among larger groups and levels out its potentially devastating cost spikes.

But, while farmers provide food, insurers don’t provide health care. They’re intermediaries. When they’re profit-driven, their economic incentives can become socially destructive. Other for-profit health intermediaries include pharmaceutical companies and third-party investors like Bain Capital, who invest in medical providers and then press them to maximize profits. (See “Sick Money.”)

The result is a broken economy that works for profiteers but not for “consumers.”

Intermediaries make people angry when they exploit the system without adding value. People are outraged over the EpiPen scandal because they know that its manufacturer jacked up prices excessively, which it can do thanks to government-granted patent privileges. Patients are likely to die as a result.

Similarly, people are outraged over UnitedHealth’s profits because they know that UnitedHealth has never cured a sick child or mended a broken arm. But it has denied patients potentially life-saving treatments (yielding only when faced with bad publicity.)

For-profit health financing has failed this nation. Here’s a thought experiment:

Imagine an America where food costs twice as much as it does in most other developed countries.

Imagine an America where most Americans under the age of 65 get their food from a “food intermediary” chosen by their employer.

Imagine an America where the “food intermediary” can deny people access to lifesaving nourishment.

Imagine an America where corporate food distributors are granted special privileges by the government, then grossly overcharge customers who must either pay up or die.

Imagine an America where the out-of-pocket cost of food is rising much faster than inflation.

Imagine an America where a minimum of 45,000 people die each year because of inefficiencies in our food economy.

Would people across the political spectrum be saying that food is a right that’s being corrupted by profit? Absolutely. And they’d be right.

Full stop.

Rights and commerce aren’t diametrically opposed. Want to enjoy the national parks that are every American’s birthright? You’ll probably take a for-profit airline to get there, and stay in a for-profit hotel once you arrive. Want to exercise your right of free speech? You may take out a full-page ad in a for-profit newspaper. (There is a problem with media consolidation and free speech, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Rights and commerce can coexist in a democratic society, as long as commerce doesn’t threaten rights. But when they clash, commerce must give way. Since commerce has failed to provide affordable and accessible health care, it must yield to rights.

Here’s a cold, quantifiable truth some people would rather not accept: Government does some things better than the private sector. Health care financing happens to be one of them. That’s why every other developed nation on earth provides better care to more of its people at lower cost than we do.

McArdle snipes at Great Britain’s health system because its guidelines sometimes limit treatment. She doesn’t mention that our system does too. But our guidelines are set by highly-paid executives who aren’t accountable to the public, and whose economic self-interest lies in restricting care.

McArdle quotes economist Robin Hanson’s theory that we finance health care through insurance because we’re attracted to “reciprocal altruism.” If so, wouldn’t we be more likely to have a public health insurance system, like every other developed nation on earth? I doubt anyone thinks health insurance corporations are “altruistic.”

The real reason our system is structured this way is more prosaic. Wages were fixed during World War II, but the agency that administered them exempted fringe benefits. So employers began offering health insurance to attract workers, and our hodge-podge system grew up around this historical anomaly.

That system is a financial and moral failure. The employee portion of employer-based health premiums is skyrocketing, rising 83 percent between 2005 and 2015. The average American family with “good” employer coverage now pays $10,473 per year for health care. One-third of all Americans, including 40 percent of women, have an unmet healthcare need because of cost – even if they have insurance.

The US paid more than twice as much per capita on health care as the average for developed countries, paying nearly twice as much as a share of the economy (despite its many uninsured and under-insured) – with poorer outcomes than comparable countries on standard measurements like life expectancy.

By any objective measure, the US insurance industry has failed to manage either the cost or the quality of health care. Health care is a human right, and private insurers have failed to safeguard it. They had their shot, and they blew it.

McArdle gradually morphs from a defense of “greedy insurers” to the argument that health care cannot be a right because “it has to stop before we run out of wallet.” (That distastefully buzzwordy phrase presumably means, “before we run out of money.”)

That’s another straw man, since virtually no one argues otherwise. Every right is limited by outside constraints. That’s why the right to free speech doesn’t allow you to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

We all agree that hard choices must be made when resources are limited. Let’s see, where do we begin? Profit-taking is driving up healthcare costs at all levels. UnitedHealth’s operating earnings were $11 billion last year. Aetna’s were $2.7 billion. Big Pharma? Don’t even ask.

I’m sure most Americans would agree: If we’re going to talk about pulling the plug on Grandma, which is where McArdle is headed, then we sure can’t afford these guys. Maybe when they show up for their next big payday, we’ll have to explain that we’ve “run out of wallet” to pay them.

Government’s first obligation is to protect rights, not profits. When the Declaration of Independence proclaimed our “unalienable rights” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” it even put “life” first.

Health care is a right, not a business.

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TV News Stories About Birth Control Quote Politicians And Priests More Than Medical Experts

By Elizabeth W. Patton, University of Michigan and Michelle Moniz, University of Michigan

Ninety-nine percent of reproductive age U.S. women who have ever had sex have used contraception at some point in their lives. And thanks to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, more people have access to contraception than ever before.

As obstetrician/gynecologists, we help patients choose the contraceptive method that best suits them and explain how they work, their failure rates and potential side effects.

But we also know that patients (and the public) get a lot of information about health and medicine from the media in general, and TV in particular. How the media frame stories and whom they choose as sources might influence how people view an issue.

So we decided to examine how contraception was covered during the nightly news shows on the big three television networks (ABC, CBS and NBC). And it turns out these stories often portray contraception as a political or social issue, which means that actual medical information about contraception rarely makes it onto the air.

Medical experts are rarely quoted

In our study, published in the journal Contraception, we looked at a total of 116 stories about contraception that aired on the nightly news programs for ABC, CBS and NBC between January 2010 and July 2014. This period covered the months leading up to the signing of the ACA through to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell in June 2014, a case in which a privately owned company’s owners (Hobby Lobby) argued that the ACA’s contraceptive coverage requirement violated their freedom of religion.

For each story, we determined what birth control methods were covered, the people interviewed or quoted in each story and what information the story included.

We found that most stories focused on political or social aspects of contraception, such as controversies over contraceptive coverage by insurance plans or over the counter access to contraception.

Fewer than one-third of stories featured any medical information at all. In fact, the information we as doctors consider most critical – like the failure rate of a method, how to use it and potential side effects – was missing from nearly all TV news stories about contraception.

Only 11 percent of stories used a medical professional as a source, and only 3 percent of those were ob-gyns. Politicians and government leaders (40 percent of stories), the general public (25 percent of stories) or Catholic Church leaders (16 percent of stories) were quoted or interviewed more often than medical professionals.

The stories we reviewed covered many different types of birth control, including the oral contraceptive pill, the emergency contraceptive pill, condoms and long-acting reversible contraceptives (often called LARC for short) such as intrauterine devices (IUDS) and implants, like Nexplanon.

LARC methods are recommended as a first choice contraceptive for most people by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are the most effective forms of reversible contraception. But these methods were mentioned the least often. IUDs appeared in only 4 percent of stories and implants in only 1 percent.

While our study did focus on a politically charged time period around the ACA, coverage patterns didn’t seem to change when we looked at stories about contraception unrelated to the ACA. We saw similar topic and source selection in these stories too.


Demonstrators chant after the Hobby Lobby ruling outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington June 30, 2014.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Framing matters

In 2015 almost 24 million people watched the nightly network TV news. The median age of the nightly TV news audience skews older, ranging from 45 for ABC to 52 and 53 for NBC and CBS, respectively.
Women use contraception, however, throughout their reproductive years, from their teens to their 40’s. In fact, based on the most recent national data, more women in their 30’s and 40’s are using contraception than their younger counterparts.

Even if younger women aren’t tuning into these broadcasts, their social networks may well include people who do. Research suggests that many younger reproductive aged people get health information and news from their social networks, so TV news content may impact many more people than those who view it directly.

While most methods of contraception are intended for women, that doesn’t mean contraceptive access is only a women’s issue. It also affects men who have female partners, family and friends who share information and advice, and all of us as citizens who are affected by government policies around contraception.

Framing contraception primarily as a political or social issue rather than as a medical issue often means that TV news stories don’t cover the most effective contraceptive methods and information on method use, benefits and harms.

It also leaves some of the most knowledgeable sources about contraception, medical professionals like us, on the sidelines in favor of comment from political, advocacy group and church leaders. Ultimately, this could deprive the public of vital health information and understanding about contraception.

Providing context is part of the media’s job

Our research identified key gaps in nightly network TV news coverage of contraception that may affect the information some people in the United States are getting about birth control.

But these gaps aren’t insurmountable. Research analyzing media coverage of the HPV vaccine and the medication tamoxifen for breast cancer treatment and prevention found higher rates of medical professionals being used as sources. Coverage of these issues shows that it is possible to highlight both the social and medical aspects of a news story to convey the full context to the audience.

Providing context is critical to helping viewers understand topics and events in the news. Contraception is multifaceted, and the social and political angles shouldn’t be ignored in media narratives. But the medical and public health aspects of contraception are critical to understanding this issue, and are too important to leave out.

The Conversation

Elizabeth W. Patton, Clinical Lecturer, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Michigan and Michelle Moniz, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Michigan

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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How To Save A Life: Recognize An Overdose

Whether or not you’re someone who uses alcohol or other drugs, undoubtedly you will be around people who do at some point. And being able to recognize when something’s gone wrong is the first step toward being able to take action – and possibly save a life. That’s why in honor of International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31 this year, DPA’s Safer Partying campaign created a simple, shareable resource detailing signs of overdose for commonly used drugs: alcohol, MDMA, cocaine and other stimulants, heroin/opiates and cannabis.

Overdoses, or other drug-related medical emergencies, are far more common than most people think. But there’s no reason for them to be lethal – in many cases, fast action by people nearby make a difference between life and death.

And who should most be ready?

Everyone, really. But I would argue that anyone going out to a festival, concert, club or other party environment has a special need for this information.

We commonly associate overdose with heroin and opiates, and indeed, our country is currently facing more deaths related to use of these substances than ever before. All too often, these stories center on drug use as it relates to pain, addiction and long-term depression or mental health challenges.

But overdose and other drug-related medical emergencies can just as easily come during times of celebration, among people who don’t have a “drug problem” or aren’t otherwise struggling.

When partying, people can be more likely to try something they haven’t before, or push beyond what’s reasonable. They can get caught up in the moment and sometimes don’t make the best choices.

Before you rush to judge, “they” is truly “we.” We’ve all been there.

And that’s why we all have to look out for each other. No matter what drug, know what to look for – and, in all these cases, don’t hesitate to seek medical help!

  • Alcohol – Cold, clammy skin and an inability to stay conscious. Coffee, cold showers and “sleeping it off” don’t work and sometimes make things worse.
  • MDMA – Most medical emergencies related to MDMA are actually a result of heatstroke and not overdose (taking “too much”). Be on the lookout for someone who feels hot but isn’t sweating and/or passes out.
  • Cocaine & other stimulants – Rapid heart rate and seizures are danger signs. Be aware that overdose risk increases with the amount of stimulants ingested.
  • Heroin & other opiates – Extremely slow breathing, gagging noises and a bluish (on paler skin) or ashy (on darker skin) tone. If you have it and know how to, administer naloxone.
  • Cannabis – You can’t die from cannabis use, but with oils and edibles, some people ingest more than intended and experience uncomfortable highs that sometimes have serious physical effects. If someone is experiencing difficulty breathing or the effects last more than 2 hours, assistance may be needed.

The reality is, most overdoses or medical emergencies are the result of using more than one substance at a time – so keep in mind it’s always safest not to mix, and if you or someone else does, the symptoms may not precisely match what’s in this resource. Not to mention, there are many novel psychoactive substances (“synthetics”) out there that further complicate the picture.

That’s why seeking medical help early on is crucial. At festivals in particular, the medical tents are “safe zones” – you won’t get in trouble for bringing someone in who took drugs and is having problems. Outside of festivals, DPA and other organizations have helped pass 911 Good Samaritan laws in 20 states and D.C. that will offer varying levels of protection from prosecution.

Whatever you may think about drug use or drug policy, we all have a responsibility to know how to recognize an overdose and how to help.

So please read this resource and share it. Let us know if you have questions or anything to add. Empower yourself and others to save a life.

It’s one of the best ways to honor International Overdose Awareness Day. And to embody #SaferPartying.

Stefanie Jones is the director of the Drug Policy Alliance Safer Partying campaign.

This piece originally appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance blog.

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The Promise Of Mental Health Parity

There are a lot of ways you could describe the mental health bill that passed the House of Representatives in July. A first step. A start. A compromise. It’s a decent piece of legislation that tackles the margins, not the meat, of mental health reform. That’s okay. A system as expansive, entrenched, underfunded and wholly broken as our mental health system will require more than one bill to fix it.

What’s not okay is to call this bill historic, pat ourselves on the back and move on. (Today’s gridlocked Congress has a tendency to do that when something is labeled ‘comprehensive’ or ‘bipartisan’ — take the win and check that issue off the list).

But the millions of Americans suffering from mental illness and the families who love them deserve a government in this fight for the long haul, not the quick headline. For these families, the urgency that existed yesterday remains today. Too many roadblocks still exist on their path to care. And that is what makes Congress’ continued efforts on mental health so critical and a particular hearing on Capitol Hill this week so significant.

On Friday, the House Energy & Commerce Committee will hold a hearing dedicated to assessing the state of mental health parity. The idea behind parity is simple — insurers should treat mental and behavioral health the same way they treat physical health. It shouldn’t be easy to secure coverage for shoulder surgery but impossible to secure coverage for in-patient addiction treatment.

Eight years ago, Congress came together to validate this basic commitment to equity in our health care system. Under the leadership of many, including my cousin, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, the bipartisan Mental Health Parity & Addiction Equity Act was signed into law. A few years later, the Affordable Care Act expanded parity protections to millions more Americans.

So to recap quickly: mental health parity is already the law. This isn’t a new proposal or policy shift. It’s a rule of the road insurers have been required to follow for nearly a decade.

Unfortunately, they haven’t. Enforcement and execution of the law has been woefully inadequate. Penalties for non-compliance are practically non-existent. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that insurers deny claims for mental health care at twice the rate they do for physical care. Our communities are ridden with stories of the opiate-addicted young man cut off from in-patient treatment after just three days or the teenage daughter whose parents can’t get coverage for the counseling her eating disorder demands.

Those stories are the reason I introduced legislation last year to hold insurers accountable for violations of parity laws. It would require transparency when it comes to how and why claims for mental illness are denied and implement audits to ensure the rules are being followed. Beyond those regulations, it would also create a one-stop portal where patients could easily lodge complaints and learn more about the coverage options from different insurers.

Despite widespread support from the mental health patient and provider community, this proposal didn’t make it into the House bill in July. But Friday’s hearing brings renewed optimism that Congress’ efforts on mental health are ongoing. Most importantly, parity appears to offer continued opportunity for common ground. The Chairman of the Energy & Commerce Committee, Congressman Fred Upton, has shown an admirable willingness to take on this issue, as has Republican Congressman Tim Murphy, one of the leading voices on mental health reform in Congress. Both Rep. Upton and Rep. Murphy have voted in favor of strengthened parity provisions in the past.

This shared commitment to address parity reflects a reality that anyone serious about mental health reform would be hard-pressed to ignore. No matter how many providers we train, grant programs we fund or community health centers we expand, if we don’t ensure basic insurance coverage for those services, then the vast majority of working and middle-class families won’t be able to afford them.

These families can’t just write a check when their insurer says they’ll no longer cover drug rehab. They don’t have endless savings accounts to empty on counseling sessions, critical medication or in-patient care. Knowing this, most of them diligently pay into their health insurance policies in return for a promise that they will be covered when they’re in need.

Within our mental health system, the durability of that promise is especially critical. Mental illness and substance abuse disorders are rarely remedied with one prescription or one treatment. They are more likely to be chronic and enduring, requiring those suffering to fight bravely for their health every single day. The one in five among us shouldering this battle deserve a system that fights with them and for them, instead of standing in the way.

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Right-Wing Extremists Inspired Me To Write A Book About Teen Abortion

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a Republican War on Women:

If a woman has [the right to an abortion], why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman? At least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t [usually] result in anyone’s death.” — Republican Lawrence Lockman

Planned Parenthood isn’t purely a ‘healthcare provider’ any more than a heroin dealer is a community pharmacist. — Republican Mike Huckabee

“The problem that I have with Planned Parenthood is the abortion situation. It is like an abortion factory, frankly.” — Republican  Donald Trump

“Obviously rape is awful. What is beautiful is the child that could come from this.”  — Republican Brian Kurcaba

“I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues. — Republican Jeb Bush

I became sexually active at 16. There were times when my teen boyfriend and I didn’t use contraception and I could have gotten pregnant. In fact, I could have gotten pregnant even when I did use birth control. If that happened, I would’ve chosen abortion. Fortunately, I never had to make that choice, but I was always grateful to have that choice.

Many women across the United States no longer have the choice to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, even though it is still their legal right. It simply isn’t available because right-wing extremists have used TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) to successfully shut down abortion clinics.

We are now facing an unthinkable reality: Donald Trump will be America’s next president with Republicans controlling both the House and Senate. Vice President-elect Mike Pence has promised to overturn Roe v. Wade. This has been the anti-abortion crowd’s wet dream ever since abortion became legal in 1973.

Since 2011, those of us who’ve been paying attention have witnessed the GOP effort to remove reproductive choice — whether it’s by defunding Planned Parenthood, using bogus TRAP laws to shut down clinics, or the Supreme Court ruling that allows employers to deny employee access to certain forms of birth control on third-party insurance policies based on the false claim they are abortifacients. (Obamacare only covers contraception that prevents fertilization, not implantation. Hence none of the morning-after drugs covered under the law are abortion-inducing.)

War has been declared on reproductive freedom and we’re all paying the price — not just women. This is an issue that affects the well-being of entire families.

I’m very concerned for young women who are growing up in a world where the president can boast about grabbing women by the genitals and still get elected. I wrote Peyton’s Choice before Trump was even on the presidential radar and I believed I would be releasing it during a Democratic administration — no such luck.

I remember what it was like to be a sexually active teen. I was curious and most of the information I got was from my friends who thought they knew more than they did. I remember seeking out movies and literature which covered topics like sex, drugs and abortion. Whether or not I was engaging in any of those activities wasn’t the point. Like many teens, I wanted to fall in love and I wanted to be prepared for the inevitable sexual experiences I’d have. I firmly believe teens shouldn’t be shielded from reality because when they are, they are vulnerable to myths and misinformation. Abstinence-only education alone is not enough. When teens explore their sexuality and they don’t have a realistic understanding of what can happen, they open themselves up to a world of possible trauma. Whether it’s about contracting STIs or believing the pull-out method is all one needs to avoid an unwanted pregnancy, an uniformed teen is at great risk for all kinds of personal disasters.

The lead character in my book, 17-year-old Peyton, chooses abortion, but that isn’t the whole story. In fact, the pregnancy doesn’t happen right away. I wanted to craft a tale of a smart, capable young woman who finally found the love she’s been waiting for. And when she did, she realized that the romantic fairytale we’re so often sold isn’t always realistic. She finds out that a good guy can behave like a jerk or even a sexist. Peyton’s journey in a new sexual relationship is as important to the storyline as her choice to abort. And while it seems I’m spoiling the plot, I’m not. I’m not divulging if she chooses to include her boyfriend in her decision. Does he even know about it? Should she tell him? Does she confide in her parents and friends? Is the decision to abort a difficult one and who, if anyone, can she turn to for advice? And last, does she have any regrets after she makes her choice to have an abortion at a Planned Parenthood clinic?

As a feminist and a blogger who’s been covering and following women’s issues for several years, I utilized what I’ve experienced in my life in addition to what I’ve learned from other women on social media so that I could write a realistic story. I see what people are saying in the real world and I incorporated what I’ve learned with the hope that the book will have an authentic feel for women who’ve been through a similar experience — or for girls who are curious about love, sex and who crave entertaining stories about the sexual issues and battles we’re facing today.

My ultimate goal was to write a book with a strong emphasis on female empowerment. Like so many, I’m tired of watching our rights being taken away, and now that we have a Republican majority in Congress, plus 23 states completely controlled by anti-choice Republicans, and with Donald Trump ready to take over the White House, it’s more important than ever for girls and young women to understand what’s a stake and what they are at risk of losing. It’s imperative for them to know they have the power to fight back – and win, even if the victory takes time.

You can read the book description as well as sample chapters HERE.

Like Kimberley A. Johnson on Facebook HERE or follow her HERE. Books: Peyton’s Choice, American Woman The Poll Dance, The Virgin Diaries. Twitter: @AuthorKimberley

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