Drinking Coffee: More Good Than Harm?

There was a time when the only news about coffee and health was how it was bad for the heart, likely to give us ulcers and aggravate our nerves, but now it seems this popular beverage is receiving a more favorable kind of press.

However, the researchers uncovering the good news are all saying the same thing: while there appear to be some health perks from drinking coffee, there are also a few cautions, and the evidence is not solid enough to actively encourage people to go out and drink coffee.

Another reason to reserve some caution, is that although the evidence is shifting toward a more favorable view of coffee's effect on health, it is not based on cause and effect but on links for which there could be other explanations: it could be that regular coffee drinkers have something else in common, that studies have yet to discover, to account for the effect on health.

In this article we look at the shift in the research view on coffee consumption, touching on some of the key studies, and finish off with some facts and figures about coffee and caffeine.

One of the turning points in media reporting on coffee and health came with the publication in 2008 of a Harvard-led study, that examined data on over 130,000 participants from the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow Up Study who were followed for about 20 years.
The results showed regularly consuming up to 6 cups of coffee per day (containing around 100 mg caffeine per 8 oz cup) was not linked with increased deaths in either men or women, from any cause, or death from cancer, or from cardiovascular disease.

This finding confirms the research picture that has been emerging in the last few years, says Rob van Dam, Assistant Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, one of the study researchers.
Coffee ingestion is, on average, about one third of that of tap water in North America and Europe. (International Journal of Cancer) "For the general population, the evidence suggests that coffee drinking doesn't have any serious detrimental health effects," he adds.

Mayo Clinic preventive medicine specialist Donald Hensrud suggests one explanation for the apparent reversal in thinking about coffee, is that:
"Earlier studies didn't always take into account that known high-risk behaviors, such as smoking and physical inactivity, tended to be more common among heavy coffee drinkers at that time."
But perhaps what these more recent findings suggest, says van Dam, is that outside of certain groups, like pregnant women and those who have trouble controlling blood pressure, people should continue to enjoy their coffee in moderation and focus instead on other lifestyle factors, such as stopping smoking, getting more exercise, and eating more whole grains, as ways to reduce risk of poor health.

Heart Disease and Stroke
Some of the evidence that has emerged in recent years suggests coffee consumption may lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.
A Kaiser Permanente study presented at an American Heart Association conference in March 2010, found coffee drinkers were less likely to be hospitalized for heart rhythm disturbances. The researchers examined data on of 130,000 health plan members and found people who reported drinking between one and three cups of coffee a day had a lower risk than non-drinkers, regardless of other risk factors.
Reported more recently, in 2012, a US study found that drinking coffee in moderation, may also protect slightly against heart failure.

For women, coffee drinking may mean a lower risk of stroke.
In March 2011, research led by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, that followed over 30,000 women for 10 years, found those who drank more than one cup of coffee per day appeared to have a 22 to 25% lower risk of stroke, compared to non-drinkers. The researchers also found that "low or no coffee consumption was associated with an increased risk of stroke in women".
The findings were the same, regardless of other factors such as smoking, alcohol, body mass index, history of diabetes, and high blood pressure.
An earlier US study, published in 2009, involving 80,000 women from the Nurses' Health Study, had also found a 20% lower risk of stroke among coffee drinkers. None of the women had a history of stroke, coronary heart disease, diabetes, or cancer at the start of the study, and the researchers found the relative risk of stroke went down as coffee consumption went up.

However, a recent Harvard Health newsletter warns that while moderate coffee consumption (3 - 4 cups a day) may be linked to a lower risk for stroke, among infrequent coffee consumers the risk of a stroke just after drinking coffee could be higher.
One reason coffee consumption may lower longer term risk for heart disease and stroke, is because it appears to reduce the chance of developing type 2 diabetes, which is itself a risk factor for these diseases.
Type 2 Diabetes
Frank Hu, nutrition and epidemiology professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, has been researching the effects of coffee on health since before the 2008 Harvard study, on which he was also a co-author.
In 2005, he and his team published a paper in which they reviewed nine studies covering more than 193,000 people in the US and Europe that examined the link between coffee intake and type 2 diabetes. Their analysis found participants who reported drinking more than 6 or 7 cups of coffee a day were 35% less likely to have type 2 diabetes, compared with those who reported drinking under 2 cups a day. For those drinking 4 to 6 cups a day, the risk was reduced by 28%.

More recently, in 2009, an international study led by researchers in Australia, reviewed 18 studies covering nearly 458,000 people and found that for every extra daily cup of coffee consumed, there was a 7% reduction in risk for developing type 2 diabetes. There were similar reductions for tea and decaf coffee. However, the researchers warned that some of the studies they reviewed were small and less reliable, so the link between heavy coffee drinking and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes may be exaggerated. They called for randomized trials to investigate their finding more robustly.

In a comment to WebMD in 2011, Hu describes the evidence on coffee and type 2 diabetes, based on more than 15 published studies, as "pretty solid", and now it appears decaf may have the same benefit.

In February 2012, researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine who did a study on mice, wrote how they discovered decaffeinated coffee may improve brain energy metabolism associated with type 2 diabetes. This brain dysfunction is a known risk factor for dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's disease. The researchers said the new findings were evidence that some of the non-caffeine components in coffee provide health benefits in mice.

Hu also speculates that caffeine is unlikely to be the reason for the link between coffee consumption and reduced type 2 diabetes risk, and the more likely explanation is "the whole package" of nutrients. For instance coffee is rich in antioxidants, which are known to prevent tissue damage caused by oxygen-free radicals.

Coffee also contains minerals such as magnesium and chromium, both used by the body to regulate insulin which in turns controls blood sugar. People with type 2 diabetes have lost the ability to use insulin to regulate blood sugar properly.
Alzheimer's Disease
In 2009, researchers in Finland and Sweden reported a study that followed over 1,400 people over 20 years, and found that those who drank 3 to 5 cups of coffee a day in their midlife years had a 65% lower chance of developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease compared with those who reported drinking no coffee at all or only occasionally.

In June 2012, researchers from the University of South Florida (USF) and the University of Miami, published a paper describing how they monitored the memory and thinking processes of 124 people, aged 65 to 88, and found all those with higher blood levels of caffeine (mostly from drinking coffee) avoided the onset of Alzheimer's disease in the 2-4 year follow up. This was even true of those who had mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a precursor of Alzheimer's.

Lead author Chuanhai Cao, a neuroscientist at the USF College of Pharmacy and the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute, and colleagues, have been publishing papers on the links between caffeine, coffee and Alzheimer's disease since 2006.

For instance in 2009, Cao co-authored two significant papers, with colleagues from USF and other research centers in the US and the Saitama Medical University in Japan, that found giving aged mice with symptoms of Alzheimer's the caffeine equivalent of five cups of coffee a day, reversed two signs of the disease: memory impairment and the hallmark protein in the animals' blood and brains.

Earlier studies at USF had already shown that giving caffeine to elderly people who did not have dementia quickly affected their blood levels of beta-amyloid (a protein that forms stickly clumps of plaque in the brains of people with Alzheimer's), and found the same thing happened in the Alzheimer's mice.
"We are not saying that moderate coffee consumption will completely protect people from Alzheimer's disease. However, we firmly believe that moderate coffee consumption can appreciably reduce your risk of Alzheimer's or delay its onset," Cao told the press at the publication of the June 2012 paper.
While they believe caffeine to be the key, Cao and colleagues don't think it acts alone, but in conjunction with another, yet to be identified component in coffee, that boosts blood levels of a critical growth factor that seems to fight off the Alzheimer's disease process.
Parkinson's Disease
For Parkinson's Disease, another neurodegenerative disorder, it appears there is also a link between higher coffee consumption and decreased risk. And like Alzheimer's, this also seems to be due to caffeine, but it is less clear how it works. However, one study of caffeine and risk of developing the two diseases that was published in Journal of Alzheimer's Disease in 2010, by Xuesong Chen and colleagues from the University of North Dakota in the US, suggest it might be something to do with a protective effect that caffeine has in preserving the blood-brain-barrier.

In another Journal of Alzheimer's Disease study also published in 2010, João Costa of the University of Lisbon, Portugal, and colleagues present an analysis of 26 studies that suggests an inverse association between coffee drinking and the chance of developing Parkinson's disease. For every increase of 300 mg per day in caffeine intake, they found a drop of 24% in the relative risk of developing Parkinson's. Among those who regularly drank two to three cups of coffee a day, there was a 25% lower chance of developing the disease compared to non-coffee drinkers. However, among women coffee drinkers only, this fell to 14%. The researchers said their findings could "hardly by explained by bias or uncontrolled confounding".
Studies have also suggested coffee consumption is linked to a lower risk for some cancers, including endometrial, aggressive prostate, estrogen-negative breast cancer, liver cancer, and a common form of skin cancer, but not others (eg esophageal).
In 2011, researchers working with data from the Nurses' Health Study published findings that showed coffee drinkers who consumed more than four cups a day had a 25% lower risk of developing endometrial cancer.
Senior researcher Edward Giovannucci, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, said coffee is starting to emerge as a protective agent in cancers that are linked to obesity, estrogen and insulin.
He and his colleagues suggest antioxidant and anti-inflammatory substances in coffee may be responsible for anti-cancer activity. Giovannucci said lab tests show coffee has more antioxidants than most fruits and vegetables.
Giovannucci was also co-author of another 2011 study that found men who regularly drink coffee appear to have a lower risk of developing an aggressive, lethal form of prostate cancer. They also found the lower risk was the same for caffeinated as for decaffeinated coffee.
A link with coffee consumption and lower risk of estrogen-negative breast cancer was made in a Swedish study that also appeared in 2011.
When they first looked at their data, the researchers from Karolinska Institute found women who drank coffee had a lower incidence of breast cancer than women who rarely drank coffee, but when they took into account other risk factors, including lifestyle and age, they found the lower risk was only measurable for estrogen-negative breast cancer.

The case for linking reduced risk of liver cancer to coffee drinking has been building steadily for a while.

In 2007, a study led by the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan, Italy, that did a pooled analysis of ten studies that included over 2,200 people with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), reported that among coffee drinkers overall, there was a 41 per cent reduction in risk of HCC compared to those who never drank coffee. HCC is the most common liver cancer and accounts for about 90% of them.

But the researchers concluded that while they found this link, they could not say if it was coffee that was reducing the risk of liver cancer, or if it was that people with liver cancer tended to drink less coffee for other reasons.
Then in 2008, there followed the publication of a new large, prospective population-based study involving over 60,000 Finns followed for a median of 19 years, that confirmed higher coffee consumption was linked to lower risk of developing liver cancer.
Researchers led by Gang Hu at the University of Helsinki noted a significant inverse relationship between coffee drinking and the risk of primary liver cancer. The more coffee people drank, the lower their risk. But the authors said the biological mechanism behind this link was not known, and in an accompanying editorial, Carlo La Vecchia of Milan said that while the study solidly confirmed the link between coffee drinking and lower risk of liver cancer, it "remains difficult" to translate it into potential ways to prevent of liver cancer by increasing coffee consumption.
More recently, a large US study of over 110,000 people found that the more caffeine there was in their diets, the lower their risk of developing basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer.

Pregnant women are advised not to drink too much coffee. In 2010, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) put out a statement that said drinking less than 200 mg of coffee a day (which they equate to 12 oz of coffee), doesn't seem to increase risk of miscarriage, or premature delivery, but above this level it is not clear what the risks might be.
William H Barth, Jr, chair of ACOG's Committee on Obstetric Practice, told the press:
"After a review of the scientific evidence to date, daily moderate caffeine consumption doesn't appear to have any major impact in causing miscarriage or preterm birth."
"Given the evidence, we should reassure our pregnant patients and let them know that it's OK to have a cup of coffee," he added.
The ACOG statement pointed out that caffeinated tea and soft drinks also contain caffeine, although less than coffee, and so do chocolate candy bars.
Global Consumption of Coffee
Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, and the most commonly consumed psychoactive drug. Some its behavioral effects, such as arousal, are not dissimilar to those of other stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines.
From 1950 to 1990, world production of coffee doubled, and despite the economic downturn, consumption is still rising. Overall, the world consumes about 7.4 million metric tons a year, or 1.3 kg per person per year, ranging from nearly zero in countries like China and India, to upwards of 7 kg per person per year in Switzerland, Iceland and Scandinavia, with the Finns being the biggest coffee consumers (12 kg per person per year).
The United States consumes 1.3 metric tons per year, at a rate of 4.2 kg per person. The latest figures for 2012 suggest 65% of American adults drink coffee, placing the beverage "neck and neck with soft drinks", says the National Coffee Association.
How Much Caffeine in a Cup of Coffee?

It can be confusing when you read about coffee consumption in cups because of the difference in cup sizes from country to country. For instance, in the US, coffee is typically served in an 8 oz (240 ml) cup, which is twice the amount in a typical European serving.
Working out how much caffeine you are consuming each day can be a confusing experience. It can be even more confusing if you want to know how much caffeine is in a cup, because that varies depending on the beans, how they are roasted, and how the coffee is prepared.
For example, a restaurant-style serving of Espresso in a 1 oz (30ml) cup can contain from 40 to 75 mg of caffeine. Even a decaffeinated Espresso can contain up to 15 mg of caffeine.
On the other hand, an 8 oz (240 ml) cup of generic instant coffee can contain any amount from 27 to 173 mg of caffeine, while a Starbucks Pike Place 16 oz (480 ml) cup of brewed coffee contains 330 mg of caffeine.
Tea has about half as much caffeine as coffee.
How Much Is a Moderate Intake of Caffeine?
A moderate intake of caffeine is probably around 300 mg per day. This is roughly 3 to 4 cups of ground roasted coffee or 5 cups of ins
For pregnant women, this level would be considered excessive, and they are advised to keep their consumption below 200 mg a day.
Coffee is not the only source of caffeine in the diet. 300 mg is also the amount of caffeine in 5 or 6 servings of tea and some colas, and the average chocolate candy bar has about 35 mg.
Some painkillers also contain caffeine, because it can make them 40% more effective in treating headaches. The range here also varies; for instance, from 16 mg per capsule (Dristran) to 200 mg (Vivarin), among popular over-the-counter painkillers in the US.
In the American diet, coffee accounts for about 75% of the adult intake of caffeine.
Caffeine is probably the most investigated substance in coffee, but there are many others, which is probably why coffee seems to have good sides and bad sides, and the overall effect may depend on how much they cancel each other out.

After being absorbed in the stomach and small intestine, caffeine travels to the rest of the body and the brain. The amount in the bloodstream peaks about 30 to 45 minutes after ingestion, petering out some 10 hours later, as it is metabolized in the liver.
As yet no study has said that coffee does more good than harm and therefore drinking it should be recommended. But perhaps that is just a matter of time, and the meantime, those who thought they should give it up for the good of their health, unless their doctor advises them differently, can continue to enjoy it, and focus on other ways to improve health
Read more ...

The Danger Of Magnets In The Home

Magnetic toys are growing in popularity, but so is the accidental ingestion of magnetic elements among children

In a letter published in The Lancet, Doctors highlight the dangers of swallowing magnets and advise parents to take extra care that their children do not accidentally ingest them.
In the letter, Dr Anil Thomas George and Dr Sandeep Motiwale of Queen's Medical Center, part of Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, UK, report two separate cases in the last 18 months of children needing surgery in order to remove swallowed magnets.

In both cases, the children accidentally swallowed magnets from small children's toys. In the first incident an 18-month-old-child swallowed 10 small magnetic spheres. In the second incident an 8-year-old child swallowed two 2-cm long magnetic strips. In both cases the children experienced mild stomach pain and doctors found that the magnets were lodged in their digestive systems.

Normally small objects which are accidentally swallowed by young children are able to pass through the digestive system without causing internal damage or illness. However, when multiple magnets are swallowing they can become attracted to each other and trap internal soft tissues between them, which can cause fistulas to develop.

A fistula is an abnormal connection between soft tissues inside the body and may lead to serious illness is left untreated.
Read more ...

Vitamin D Deficiency And Lung Function In Asthmatic Children

A new study from researchers in Boston has found that poorer lung function in asthmatic children, treated with inhaled corticosteroids, is linked with vitamin D deficiency.
Ann Chen Wu, MD, MPH, assistant professor in the Department of Population Medicine at Harvard

Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute said:
"In our study of 1,024 children with mild to moderate persistent asthma, those who were deficient in vitamin D levels showed less improvement in pre-bronchodilator forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) after one year of treatment with inhaled corticosteroids than children with sufficient levels of vitamin D."

The study, which was published in American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, used data from the Childhood Asthma Management Program. It was a multi-center trial of asthmatic children between 5 and 12 years of age who were randomly assigned to treatment with nedocromil, budesonide (inhaled corticosteroid), or a placebo. The patients' vitamin D levels were categorized as deficient (≤ 20 ng/ml), insufficient (20-30 ng/ml), or sufficient (> 30 ng/ml).

Pre-bronchodilator FEV1 was increased during a treatment period of 12 months by 330 ml in the vitamin D insufficiency group that were treated with inhaled corticosteroids. In the vitamin D sufficiency group, kids with the same treatment saw a 290 ml increase, and in the vitamin D deficiency group only 140 ml increase.
Children who were vitamin D deficient were more likely to be African American, older, and have a higher BMI, as oppose to children who were vitamin D sufficient or insufficient. Those that were sufficient or insufficient in vitamin D, were associated with a more significant change in pre-bronchodilator FEV1 over 12 months of treatment after adjustment for age, race, gender, BMI, history of emergency visits, and time of year that the vitamin D specimen was taken.

The study had a few minor setbacks. Limitations included having only a small sample size of 101 vitamin D deficient children, and that the researchers only examined vitamin D levels at one time point.
Read more ...

Benefits Babies in Close Contact with Dogs or Cats

Babies who are in close contact with dogs or cats during their first twelve months of life were found to enjoy better health and were less likely to suffer from respiratory infections, compared to those without any pets in the house or no close contact with these animals, researchers from the Kuopio University Hospital, Kuopio, Finland, reported in the journal Pediatrics.
The team had set out to determine what effect contact with dogs and cats might have on respiratory symptoms among children during their first year of life.

They followed 397 children from pregnancy up to the age of 12 months, and monitored how much contact they had during this period with dogs and/or cats. The babies' parents were given a questionnaire which asked about their child's contact with pets. All the infants were born in middle or eastern Finland between September 2002 and May 2005

They found that despite respiratory infections and infectious symptoms being common during a human's first year of life, children who had contacts with dogs early in life had fewer symptoms of respiratory infections, suffered less often from respiratory diseases, and required shorter courses of antibiotics when ill, compared to other children of the same age with no exposure to dogs.

The frequency of ear infections was considerably lower among those with early regular contact with dogs, the authors added.

The protective effect on infants from having a pet cat was also detected, but it was not as strong as with dogs. The investigators compared children with a dog which spent its time indoors temporarily or often, with those who had just a pet cat, and children with no pets.

They found that those with a pet dog in the house had the lowest risk of infections generally, as well as respiratory tract infections. Those with no pets in the house had the highest rates of infections.
Weekly and yearly contact with dogs were found to be closely linked to overall susceptibility to illness - the more contact there was, the lower the morbidity.

The scientists believe that early contact with animals impacts on the maturation of the immune system in infants, resulting in shorter-lasting infections and better resistance to respiratory infections.
Read more ...

Four Things You Do That Kill Her Sex Drive

There’s a reason why you and your wife of 20 years don’t ravage each other anymore, and it isn’t for your lack of trying. According to a new study in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, women in a committed relationship report lower levels of sexual desire over time—a .02 percent decrease every month—while a guy’s desire stays the same. (Yet another reason to start with a lusty woman to begin with!)
“Some research suggests that somewhere between 6 and 30 months, relationships switch from passionate to compassionate—more affectionate than ripping each other’s clothes off,” says lead study author Robin Milhausen, Ph.D., a sex researcher at the University of Guelph in Ontario.
So are you to blame for her lack of lust? Not necessarily, Milhausen says. “For women with a lower sex drive in the first place, the switch to a deeper emotional bond may reduce some of the excitement associated with sex in new relationships.”

Still, you’re not exactly helping matters. We asked several sex experts to shed light on the worst things you do around the house and in the sack that turn her off. Vow to never commit the following mood-killers again—try to Banish These Bad Habits, too—and your sex life will suffer no more.

1. Ignoring Her Appearance
Guys in long-term relationships tend to stop noticing when their partner looks pretty, and so much of female sexual desire is tied to a sense of self-esteem,.. The fix here is simple: Pay her a few simple compliments every day, like letting her know she’s sexy.

2. Putting Her Under Pressure
Don’t worry or question her about getting orgasms, says Marnia Robinson, author of Cupid’s Poisoned Arrow. Stay relaxed and focused on playful touching, she advises. “This means no performance pressure on either of you. Let whatever happens happen in its own time—or not. Good sex is about connection and sensual satisfaction, not number of orgasms produced.

3. Using Porn As a Benchmark
It’s good to keep the sex hot—but it’s more important to keep it real. In other words, forget that cool move you caught on XTube.  ”Just because you saw a sexual practice in a film doesn’t mean it’s safe or satisfying,” says Robinson.  And it might not even be something she’s into. “If you need extreme stimulation to perform with a partner, you may want to cut back on overstimulation. A desensitized brain can also find sex less arousing. As you restore your brain to normal sensitivity, regular sex behaviors become enjoyable again.” Time to rediscover the wonders of the missionary position. (Need more help finding great moves? Use our handy Sex Position Master.)

4. Leaving Her Lips Hanging
As men get comfortable in a relationship, their approach to foreplay tends to focus on the moments leading up to sex, But female desire doesn’t operate like a light switch that turns on and off—it’s more like a dimmer,” he says. Small acts of intimacy like hugging and kissing can get her in the mood. But don’t get antsy: “Don’t expect her to be immediately turned on.

Read more ...

Tattoos: Health Risks, Toxicity and More

A frighteningly growing number of teens and young adults around the world are injecting dangerous chemicals under their skin in the name of art and self-expression. A trend that started growing in America and Europe in the early '90s, tattooing soon became so popular that 36% of Americans aged 25-29 had at least one body tattoo by 2003.1 The numbers have undoubtedly risen in the four years since; tattoos are now well-entrenched in the mainstream. Even the media regularly glorifies tattoo culture, as evidenced by reality TV shows like The Learning Channel's Miami Ink and LA Ink, and Inked on A&E, as well as frequent magazine sightings of tattoo-sporting celebrities like Paris Hilton, David Beckham, and Angelina Jolie, and print ads featuring tattooed models and athletes, like Calvin Klein Underwear's Fredrik Ljungberg (who, by the way, had a severe allergic reaction to his tattoos and had to have a lymph gland removed).

What's formaldehyde and antifreeze doing in your skin?
Tattooing is an art form that has been used for centuries by tribal societies in religious rites and as a natural part of life. At first banned and then appropriated by Western culture, tattoos have recently developed as a decorative art of self-expression; used by some to celebrate events, memorialize a departed loved one, or as a show of commitment to a life partner. There is one thing for sure: all tattoos have a story. What's not so clear is exactly what we're injecting into our skin for art's sake.

A far cry from their tribal predecessors made with dyes from the natural environment, many of today's tattoos contain an unknown conglomeration of metallic salts (oxides, sulphides, selenides), organic dyes or plastics suspended in a carrier solution for consistency of application.3 In the European Commission's report on the health risks of tattooing, they note that close to 40% of organic colorants used in permanent tattoos in Europe are not even approved for use on the skin as a cosmetic ingredient and just under 20% of the colorants studied contained a carcinogenic aromatic amine. Many of the chemicals found were originally intended for use in writing and printer inks, as well as automobile paints.4 These inks are injected deep enough into the skin that often tattoos will not even be destroyed by severe burns.5

In America, the FDA regulates some of the ingredients in cosmetics worn on the skin, and vitamins, drugs and food additives ingested into the body, but it does not regulate these toxic inks we put under our skin. Their official stance:

"Because of other public health priorities and a previous lack of evidence of safety concerns, FDA has not traditionally regulated tattoo inks or the pigments used in them."6

The FDA also does not require ingredient disclosure on the inks—they are considered proprietary (trade secrets)—and so tattoo inks may contain any chemical, including those known to be mutagenic (capable of causing mutations), teratogenic (capable of causing birth defects), and carcinogenic (capable of causing cancer), or involved in other biochemical reactions in the body that might take decades to appear.3 Surprisingly, the FDA does not list cancer in their list of potential tattoo risks, citing only infection, removal problems, allergic reactions, granulomas, keloid formation, and MRI complications.6 The job of testing and legislating the use of tattoo pigments in permanent cosmetics is left to the state. In California, specific ingredients are prohibited and the state will even legally pursue companies who fail to disclose tattoo pigment ingredients to the consumer. They recently brought suit against nine pigment and ink manufacturers for inadequate labeling.5

What's in a tattoo?
Without full disclosure of ingredients, it is impossible to know for sure what is in tattoo ink. Added to this, each color and each brand of ink has completely different ingredients, according to a 2005 study out of Northern Arizona University.7

The carrier solution itself might contain harmful substances such as denatured alcohols, methanol, rubbing alcohol, antifreeze, detergents, or formaldehyde and other highly toxic aldehydes.3

The oldest pigments came from using ground up minerals and carbon black. According to, a wide range of dyes and pigments are now used in tattoos "from inorganic materials like titanium dioxide and iron oxides to carbon black, azo dyes, and acridine, quinoline, phthalocyanine and naphthol derivates, dyes made from ash, and other mixtures."  Currently popular is Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS plastic), used in Intenze, Millenium and other ABS pigmented brands.5

The price of ignorance.
Although allergic reactions to permanent tattoos are considered rare given the number of tattoos applied yearly—in the neighborhood of 5 million9—they can occur, along with scarring, phototoxic reactions (i.e., reactions from exposure to light, especially sunlight), and other adverse effects. Many people have reported reactions to the intensely colored plastic-based pigments. There are also pigments that glow in the dark or in response to black (ultraviolet) light. Some of these pigments may be safe, but others are toxic and even possibly radioactive.9 Plastic-based inks (e.g., glow-in-the-dark ink) have led to polymerization under the skin, where the tattoo pigment particles converged into one solid piece under the skin.9

Allergic reactions have occurred with some of the many metals put into tattoo inks, nickel being one of the most common metal allergies.8 Others have reacted to the mercury in red cinnabar, to cobalt blue, and to cadmium sulfite when used as a yellow pigment. Some inks were found to have high levels of lead, some contained lithium, and the blue inks were full of copper.7 Allergic reactions may occur infrequently with permanent tattoos, but the long-term health effects are still unknown due to the lack of regulation, testing, and long-term studies.

In contrast to the low incidence of reported allergic reactions to permanent tattoos, however, certain temporary Henna tattoos have been very problematic. Henna tattoos that contain the dark brown dye para-phenylenediamine (PPD) can cause a delayed allergic reaction and subsequent PPD hyper-sensitization that may permanently prohibit one from using sulfa drugs, PABA sunscreens, benzocaine and other anesthetics, and hair dyes. Fragrance sensitization may occur, and in some cases, the reaction will include skin necrosis, scarring, and hypo-pigmentation. Analysis of henna dye used on persons who reported allergic reactions has shown the presence of toxic chemicals from hair and textile dyes, in addition to PPD.

The question of toxicity is multifaceted; there are others factors that may exponentially increase the serious health risks associated with tattooing. When alcohol is used as part of the carrier base in tattoo ink or to disinfect the skin before application of the tattoo, it increases the skin's permeability, helping to transport more chemicals into the bloodstream. Alcohol also works synergistically with mutagens, teratogens, and carcinogens to make them even more harmful, increasing the chance that they may cause mutation or disease, both at the site of the tattoo and systemically.3

Other health risks.
In addition to allergic reactions and the unknown long-term health effects from the metal salts and carrier solutions that make up tattoo inks, there are other health risks involved. Skin infections, psoriasis, dermatitis and other chronic skin conditions, and tumors (both benign, and malignant) have all been associated with tattoos. Due to the use of needles in tattoo application, there is also the risk of contracting infectious diseases such as tetanus, herpes simplex virus, staph, HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis B and C, and even Syphilis. And those with tattoos might not be able to get a life-saving MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) test if they need one—some hospitals and testing locations will refuse to do an MRI on people with body tattoos due to the metal particles in the tattoo, which may cause a burning pain during the test.10

If you plan on having your tattoo removed, you should be aware that some of the pigments used (especially Yellow #7) are phototoxic and may break down into toxic chemicals in the body when removed with UV light or laser, common techniques used in tattoo removal. The toxic end-products eventually wind up in the kidneys and liver, adding to your total body burden.5

Think for yourself.
In an ideal world, the 'trade secrets' clause that allows companies to put profit over public health would be disallowed for all products used topically, transdermally, or ingested into our bodies. However, in the absence of federal regulation to protect the consumer from unqualified tattoo artists, unhygienic tools and application methods, and highly toxic inks, the best advice for the youth of today is abstinence from tattoos. At the very least, one should find out if their state has any regulations on tattoo inks, and always ask to see the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for any pigment or carrier used to see basic health and safety information for the ingredients involved. Skin tests should be performed prior to tattoo application to see if you are allergic to any of the ingredients. Although certain tattoo ink ingredients may be plant-based or otherwise considered safe and non-toxic, the truth is that no long-term studies have been performed confirming that they are safe to inject as a permanent cosmetic. Bottom line: don't trust the government, tattoo ink manufacturers, or tattoo artists to give you accurate and complete information on the toxicity of the pigments and dyes being used—at least not just yet.

Read more ...

Cut Out Caffeine If You’re Pregnant

Caffeine can be your enemy if you are pregnant, says a new study that appeared in the March issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Too much caffeine can increase the risk of miscarriage—even if you have no previous history of this problem.

Researchers found that a caffeine intake of more than 200 milligrams (mg) per day during pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of miscarriage compared with no caffeine intake at all or with an intake of less than 200 mg per day.

The source of the caffeine doesn’t matter, say the authors. It can be coffee, chocolate, tea, soda or even hot chocolate. If you get too much of any of these caffeine carriers (more than 200 mg per day), you are at higher risk. This amount translates to about 10 ounces of coffee or 25 ounces of tea per day.
Interestingly, the magnitude of the risk association is higher if you have not had a miscarriage before. Among high caffeine users, study participants with a history of miscarriage actually fared better during their pregnancies.
Read more ...