How Stress Hits Women’s Brains Harder and Why Men Don’t Always Get It

If you’ve been stressed out and ignoring it—isn’t everyone stressed right now?— it could be time to do something about it. That’s because even though you may be basically healthy, tension is doing its stealthy damage. The latest evidence? Researchers have linked high levels of the stress hormone cortisol to brain shrinkage and impaired memory in healthy middle-aged adults. And get this: The effect was more pronounced in women than in men.

This research underscores an important point. Though stress affects your whole body, ground zero is your brain. It’s not just the effects of cortisol—it’s that teeth-grinders like traffic jams, personal snubs, and financial worries are perceived and interpreted by your gray matter. Fortunately, research focused on the brain is pointing to new, more effective ways to reduce your tension.

But first, let’s drill down and see how and why your brain’s natural reactions make you more vulnerable to the zings and arrows of tension.

How Stress Affects Your Brain

Aspects of the brain’s design that served us well thousands of years ago now make us susceptible to negative emotions and mental fatigue, both of which ratchet up our stress, says Amit Sood, M.D., professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and founder of the Mayo Clinic Resilience Program. Although our brains have evolved over time, “the speed of life today is the main stressor—it’s much faster than our brain’s ability to adapt,” he says.

And that means we often end up with too little time and too few resources to address what life throws at us each day, which adds to a diminishing sense of control over our lives. Perceived lack of control has been shown to be a huge source of stress.

In his book Mindfulness Redesigned for the Twenty-First Century, Dr. Sood describes a number of traps that frequently ensnare our brains. Three of the most challenging:

Focus Problems

When giant predators roamed Earth, a scanning, outward-
directed focus served us well—but today that focus is directed inward. Now, 80 percent of the time, our minds are wandering, stuck in an unfocused state even if we’re not aware of it.

Studies have found that this state makes us less happy, and the unhappier we are, the more our attention wanders and our thoughts pile up. It’s like having a huge set of open files on your computer, Dr. Sood says, only they’re in your brain, distracting you and demanding attention. Our tech dependence, a source of constant distraction, adds to our inability to focus.

Fear

Our survival depends on the ability of the brain (mostly the amygdala) to detect physical and emotional threats. Moments or events that elicit fear raise our heart rate, which the brain stores as information that might protect us from future danger. This so-called negativity bias makes us prone to paying more attention to bad news than to good. We readily remember bad things that happen to us because our brains also release hormones that strengthen those specific memories, and this further embeds them in our minds. The result? More stress.

Fatigue

While a number of body organs (e.g., the heart and the kidneys) can keep going like the Energizer bunny, the brain is not one of them. After working hard, it needs rest. The more boring and intense an activity is, the faster your brain will grow tired—and that can happen in as little as four minutes or as much as an hour or two.

You can tell when your brain is fatigued (it has to signal this indirectly, since it has no pain receptors) because your eyes feel tired and stuff happens—you start making errors, become inefficient, lose your willpower, or see a dip in your mood. Brain fatigue leads to stress, and stress leads to fatigue, in a continuous closed loop.

Why Stress Hits Women Harder Than Men

Stress almost seems to have it out for women. In an annual survey by the American Psychological Association, women have repeatedly reported higher levels of tension than men and sometimes even more stress-related physical and emotional symptoms, including headache, upset stomach, fatigue, irritability, and sadness.

What’s more, midlife women have been found to experience more stressful events than both men and women of any other age, reports an ongoing study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Institute on Aging. Stress overload may even lead to chronic disease: Long-term pressures at home and work plus stress from traumatic events almost doubles the risk of type 2 diabetes in older women, according to a recent study at the University of California, San Francisco. Women are also more prone to stress-induced mental health problems such as depression and anxiety disorders.

Here’s the why of it: A triple whammy makes women uniquely vulnerable to strain and pressure, says Dr. Sood. First, women’s brains make them more sensitive than men to stressors and a perceived lack of control. The limbic areas of women’s brains, which help control emotions and memories, are highly active, making them remember hurts and slights more readily. Stewing over these and having difficulty letting them go strengthens the brain circuits of those negative emotions—another example of the negativity bias at work—which also increases women’s stress.

In addition, the multiple demands of parenting and being in charge of the well-being of the household mean that women’s focus tends to be more diffuse. And an unfocused brain, as noted earlier, is another source of stress. A mom’s protective radar is always up for her kids too, which makes her sense a threat more quickly, and she’s more likely than her husband to get stuck and dwell on it, says Dr. Sood.

What Men Don’t Always Get

The differences in how men and women experience tension don’t play out in isolation, of course. They affect how husbands and wives, friends, and work colleagues experience and interpret the world—and yes, often the result is conflict. If you’re a woman, think of a time you had an upsetting disagreement with your boss.

When you vented to your husband about it—how your boss looked at you, what she said, how you responded, how you felt, what she said next—maybe you saw his eyes glaze over, and maybe he said, “It’s over now; why don’t you just let it go and talk to her tomorrow?” Which made you feel hurt, angry, and dismissed—and depending on which feeling was uppermost, you either escalated the conversation into an argument or retreated to mull it over.

New studies are looking at how the genders process stress in the moment and coming up with reasons for the disconnect. Recently, using fMRI to measure brain activity, researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine found that while imagining a personalized, highly stressful event, the action- and planning-oriented parts of men’s brains were actively engaged, while women’s brains were busy visualizing and also cognitively and emotionally processing the experience.

In the second part of the study, when men and women were experiencing intense anxiety, brain regions that were active in women were inactive in men. This suggests that women tend to get caught up in processing their stress, turning it over and over in their minds and reimagining it, says Rajita Sinha, Ph.D., director of the Yale Interdisciplinary Stress Center.

“Women cope by talking about being anxious and describing their emotions and stressors,” she says. This could put them at risk for ruminating about the issues. Men seem not to access that cognitive-processing part of their brains and “are more likely to quickly think about doing something, taking an action, as opposed to expressing their distress verbally. It’s just the difference in the way we’re wired.”

That might explain why women tend to provide emotional support to someone who is stressed, whereas men might offer advice or something tangible like money or physical help. Ironically, what both genders want is emotional support when they’re tense, says Jennifer Priem, Ph.D., associate professor of communication at Wake Forest University. So men and women who are stressed out prefer to get support from women.

Bridging the Gender Stress Gap

Priem has found that problems arise between couples when each person has a different perception of what’s stressful. The result: When people are really tense, their partners aren’t necessarily motivated to offer support if they think, If I were in this situation, I wouldn’t consider it that big a deal. So how do you get the response you want when you need it?

Ask your partner to just listen

“That’s number one—listening to and validating the other person’s feelings,” says Sinha. “So even just saying ‘You’re really frustrated by this’ in a nonjudgmental way is validating and will ease someone’s anxiety.”

Explain that you feel defensive when he dismisses your experience

“When a partner downplays the significance of something, the person who’s stressed may hold on to it more or feel they have to convince the other person it’s true and that they have a right to feel that way,” says Priem. “You might say, ‘I’m really upset right now, and I feel frustrated when it seems you’re making light of my feelings. It would make me feel better if you’d be more responsive to the fact that I’m upset, even if you don’t understand it.’”

Treat yourself with compassion

“Women tend to be more self-critical about not being able to control their emotions,” says Sinha. So they may see a partner’s comment as judgmental even when he didn’t mean it that way. If that’s the case, forgive yourself and let it go—and hug it out, which can reduce tension and boost positive feelings.

Learning to negotiate conflicts is a big step in easing pressures. Also important: figuring out strategies to deal with the distractions, fears, and fatigue your brain naturally accumulates (see below for four smart ones). These can help you take stress in stride, with a terrific payoff: better health and greater happiness, plus a more resilient brain.

How to Control Stress and Calm Your Brain

To keep stress in check, you should of course be eating healthfully, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep to improve your mood, emotions, and cognition. But those are just the basics—and they’re not always easy to accomplish, especially when life is throwing lots of tension your way. Dr. Sood has advice that can up your stress-reducing game, based on the successful resilience program he runs at the Mayo Clinic. Here, four of his brain-focused, research-based strategies that work in just minutes a day.

Give your brain some RUM

That stands for Rest, Uplifting emotions, and Motivation. You need all three to help energize your brain and head off fatigue. So when you’re engaged in a task, take three to five minutes every couple of hours (or sooner, if you start getting fidgety) and pause for RUM.

How-to: Get up from your computer, or stop what you’re doing, and look at photos of your kids or of your favorite vacation spot, read inspiring quotes, text or call a friend, or watch a happy short video. Choose an activity that makes you feel good and is motivating.

Begin a morning gratitude practice

Take control of your brain before it gets hijacked by the day’s concerns and greet the morning in a happier, more connected frame of mind. (Check out these simple ways to practice gratitude.)

How-to: When you first wake up, before you get out of bed, spend a few minutes thinking of some people who care about you and silently send them your gratitude. Another reason it’s a good idea: A recent study found that anticipating a stressful day when you first wake up affects your working memory later that day—even if nothing stressful actually happens. (Working memory is what helps you learn things and retain them even when you’re distracted.)

Be mindfully present

Meditation is a great stress reliever, but not everyone can sit still, looking inward, for 20-plus minutes. Good news for the fidgety: Research has shown that focusing your attention outward engages the same brain network, so you can get similar stress-easing benefits by consciously giving the world your attention.

How-to: Challenge yourself to be curious and notice details—the color of the barista’s eyes at the coffee shop, the pattern of your boss’s necktie, which flowers are blooming in your neighborhood. Curiosity feeds the brain’s reward network, which makes you feel good; it also augments memory and learning.

Focus on kindness

Even the nicest among us are quick to judge others, especially if they’re different from us (thank the amygdala, a region of the brain that interprets difference as a threat).

How-to: To calm the amygdala, focus on two things when you’re feeling judgy about someone: that every person is special, and that everyone has struggles. Start a practice of sending silent good wishes to people you pass on the street or in the halls at work. The benefits for you: Your oxy­tocin, the hormone of connectedness, rises; your heart rate slows; and you feel more benevolent. All of which makes you healthier and happier.

By: Jenny Cook

Source: How Stress Hits Women’s Brains Harder—and Why Men Don’t Always Get It

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A Surprising Link Between Immune System and Hair Growth

Regulatory T cells interact with skin cells using glucocorticoid hormones to generate new hair follicles and promote hair growth. The could have positive implications for the development of new therapies to treat alopecia and other hair loss disorders findings.

Salk scientists have uncovered an unexpected molyecular target of a common treatment for alopecia, a condition in which a persyon’s immune system attacks their own hair follicles, causing hair loss. The findings, published in Nature Immunology on June 23, 2022, describe how immune cells called regulatory T cells interact with skin cells using a hormone as a messenger to generate new hair follicles and hair growth.

“For the longest time, regulatory T cells have been studied for how they decrease excessive immune reactions in autoimmune diseases,” says corresponding author Ye Zheng, associate professor in Salk’s NOMIS Center for Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis.

“Now we’ve identified the upstream hormonal signal and downstream growth factor that actually promote hair growth and regeneration completely separate from suppressing immune response.”

The scientists didn’t begin by studying hair loss. They were interested in researching the roles of regulatory T cells and glucocorticoid hormones in autoimmune diseases. (Glucocorticoid hormones are cholesterol-derived steroid hormones produced by the adrenal gland and other tissues.) They first investigated how these immune components functioned in multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and asthma.

They found that glucocorticoids and regulatory T cells did not function together to play a significant role in any of these conditions. So, they thought they’d have more luck looking at environments where regulatory T cells expressed particularly high levels of glucocorticoid receptors (which respond to glucocorticoid hormones), such as in skin tissue.

The scientists induced hair loss in normal mice and mice lacking glucocorticoid receptors in their regulatory T cells. “After two weeks, we saw a noticeable difference between the mice—the normal mice grew back their hair, but the mice without glucocorticoid receptors barely could,” says first author Zhi Liu, a postdoctoral fellow in the Zheng lab.

“It was very striking, and it showed us the right direction for moving forward.” The suggested that some sort of communication findings must be occurring between regulatory T cells and hair follicle stem cells to allow for hair regeneration.

Using a variety of techniques for monitoring multicellular communication, the scientists then investigated how the regulatory T cells and glucocorticoid receptors behaved in skin tissue samples.

‘They found that glucocorticoids instruct the regulatory T cells to activate hair follicle stem cells, which leads to hair growth. This crosstalk between the T cells and the stem cells depends on a mechanism whereby glucocorticoid receptors induce production of the protein TGF-beta3, all within the regulatory T cells.

TGF-beta3 then activates the hair follicle stem cells to differentiate into new hair follicles, promoting hair growth. Additional analysis confirmed that this pathway was completely independent of regulatory T cells’ ability to maintain immune balance.

However, regulatory T cells don’t normally produce TGF-beta3, as they did here. When the scientists scanned databases, they found that this phenomenon occurs in injured muscle and heart tissue, similar to how hair removal simulated a skin tissue injury in this study.

“In acute cases of alopecia, immune cells attack the skin tissue, causing hair loss. The usual remedy is to use glucocorticoids to inhibit the immune reaction in the skin, so they don’t keep attacking the hair follicles,” says Zheng. “Applying glucocorticoids has the double benefit of triggering the regulatory T cells in the skin to produce TGF-beta3, stimulating the activation of the hair follicle stem cells.”

This study revealed that regulatory T cells and glucocorticoid hormones are not just immunosuppressants but also have a regenerative function. Next, the scientists will look at other injury models and isolate regulatory T cells from injured tissues to monitor increased levels of TGF-beta3 and other growth factors.

“Glucocorticoid signaling and regulatory T cells collaborate to maintain the hair follicle stem cell niche” by Ye Zheng et al. Maintenance of tissue homeostasis is dependent on the communication between stem cells and supporting cells in the same niche. Regulatory T cells (Treg cells) are emerging as a critical component of the stem-cell niche for supporting their differentiation.

How Treg cells sense dynamic signals in this microenvironment and communicate with stem cells is mostly unknown. In the present study, by using hair follicles (HFs) to study Treg cell–stem cell crosstalk, we show an unrecognized function of the steroid hormone glucocorticoid in instructing skin-resident Treg cells to facilitate HF stem-cell (HFSC) activation and HF regeneration.

Ablation of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) in Treg cells blocks hair regeneration without affecting immune homeostasis. Mechanistically, GR and Foxp3 cooperate in Treg cells to induce transforming growth factor 3 (TGF-β3), which activates Smad2/3 in HFSCs and facilitates HFSC proliferation.

The present study identifies crosstalk between Treg cells and HFSCs mediated by the GR–TGF-β3 axis, highlighting a possible means of manipulating Treg cells to support tissue regeneration.

Source: A Surprising Link Between Immune System and Hair Growth – bsfqh

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Beauty Products are Full of Risky Chemicals

Six years ago, I felt a lump in my breast and felt utterly betrayed by my body. Three exams, two ultrasounds, and one biopsy later, doctors discovered multiple benign breast tumors that will require a lifetime of monitoring. Lumps like mine seem to show up in people whose breast tissue is sensitive to the hormone estrogen.

I was 21 and still in college, but the seeming invincibility of youth quickly fell away; I felt anxious and vulnerable like never before. But I was inspired to learn more about my body and the chemicals I was in contact with every day, in everything from hair relaxers to styling creams.

About 10 percent of women will experience the same diagnosis, fibroadenoma, in their lifetime. While fibroadenoma hasn’t been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, all I could think about was how I’d spend years living with the consequences of something I couldn’t see or feel: hormones.

Hormones affect all of us, as they carry messages between different parts of the body. We’re talking estrogens, androgens, progesterones, testosterone, and everything in between. Together, they make up the endocrine system, which impacts our reproductive health, metabolism, and a range of biological processes.

Over the years, I tried to limit my exposure to synthetic hormones, including hormonal birth control. But our society doesn’t make it easy, even when it comes to potentially harmful chemicals. For years, scientists have been studying potential links between human cancers and the growth hormones that farmers feed to livestock, to take just one example. An even more pervasive threat lurks in everything from cleaning products to cookware to fragrances: endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which I’d never even heard of until I studied environmental policy in graduate school.

“It’s pretty safe to say that everyone likely has some level of EDCs in their system,” says Heather Patisaul, associate dean for research at North Carolina State University. “There are hundreds if not thousands of EDCs in the marketplace, so it’s just a question of what your personal exposure profile looks like.”

EDCs are a class of chemicals that interfere with normal hormone function. They include “forever chemicals,” also known as PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated substances), which are found in adhesives, nonstick cookware, food packaging, and even waterproof mascara. The CDC writes that PFAS are found everywhere from the soil to our bloodstream, and that in studies that fed large amounts of them to animals, they affected reproduction, immunity, and the thyroid and liver. (The CDC also notes, “Human health effects from exposure to low environmental levels of PFAS are uncertain.”)

Other EDCs like bisphenol A (BPA) and alkylphenols target estrogen receptors. And phthalates — a chemical used to make plastic soft and flexible — can be found in a slew of cosmetics, and targets both estrogen and testosterone receptors. Even low-level exposure to EDCs can result in minute changes to the body’s natural hormonal activity.

And although illnesses can come about from a combination of genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors, environmental health researchers continue to link EDC exposure as a possible risk factor in the development of immunity related diseases, neurological diseases, reproductive disorders, and breast and uterine cancer.

Our society makes potentially harmful chemicals hard to avoid

I wanted to learn how to lower my risks from personal care items with help from science, so I joined a consumer study led by the Silent Spring Institute, a research and advocacy organization that studies toxins in the environment. For three months, I meticulously tracked my personal care, right down to the brands I used and how often I used them.

It isn’t just that beauty products are full of hard-to-pronounce and potentially harmful chemicals. The study, a partnership with the Resilient Sisterhood Project and published as the POWER study, also validated previous findings that Black women like me purchase more hair products than other groups, and that these products are more likely to contain endocrine disruptors. The results rocked me to my core.

“There’s a disparity in exposure to chemicals that act like hormones,” says Robin Dodson, a chemical exposure researcher at the Silent Spring Institute. “When you look at general health trends, Black women have higher rates of hormone-mediated diseases like uterine fibroids, aggressive forms of breast cancer, fertility issues, and are more likely to have pre-term births.” As a Black woman with my own health condition related to hormones, I was starting to see connections between health issues in my community and the products we rely on.

How I purged worrisome chemicals from my beauty care

Cosmetics are a billion-dollar industry in the US, but remain woefully underregulated. Consumer protections against harmful chemicals hinge on product labels, but labels are hard to understand and aren’t always fully transparent. We’re all living with the consequences, and Black women in particular are paying a high price. Here’s how I’ve changed my beauty care with help from science and research, and how others can too.

Use a trusted source to compare products

For me, one of the most valuable parts of joining the POWER study was having a forum to navigate hair care questions with other Black women. When researchers asked participants how we discover new product recommendations, we pointed to social media, friends, and family. How many people cross-reference those word-of-mouth recommendations with a scientific database? That’s now a core step in my discovery process.

Screenshot 2022-01-04 at 21-44-09 Done For You Commission Machines

Some companies are better at avoiding chemicals of concern than others. When I’m in doubt, I look to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database, which gives a complete profile of chemical ingredients of concern in skin and hair products.

Reviewing the Toxic-Free Beauty pocket guide, tailored for products commonly used by Black women, helped me get familiar with the chemical names I might see on product labels. Keeping tabs on the FDA’s product safety alert page informs me of product recalls and FDA consumer warnings. Apps like Think Dirty will do the research for you; simply use your phone to scan a product’s barcode, and it displays a clear overview of health impacts associated with its ingredients.

Of course, these apps are only as good as the product label itself. Since new products enter the market constantly, Detox Me, developed by the Silent Spring Institute, shares practical tips for more conscious purchasing. Tools like these draw on years of scientific evidence to help you decode product labels and steer clear of potentially harmful chemicals.

Avoid unspecified fragrances

“Secret, unlabeled fragrance chemicals are hiding in personal care products, without the public’s knowledge or consent,” says Janet Nudelman, policy and program director at the advocacy group Breast Cancer Prevention Partners. “These chemicals are often linked to both environmental and public health harms, but people don’t know because companies don’t have to disclose them.”

While the FDA requires cosmetics to list other kinds of ingredients, many fragrance chemicals are protected as trade secrets and may appear as simply “perfume” or “aroma” on product labels. Fragrances are often mixed with aldehydes, which may increase cancer risks in some people, and benzophenone derivatives, which may be endocrine disruptors, according to the advocacy coalition Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

When the campaign tested 17 of the most popular perfumes in 2010, in partnership with the Environmental Working Group, it found 14 undisclosed ingredients in the average product, among them chemicals associated with hormone disruption.

Even “unscented” products may contain fragrance ingredients to mask unpleasant smells without giving the product a notable odor.

States like California are starting to close this “fragrance loophole” with stricter product labeling laws. In the meantime, you can do your own research to avoid products with vague fragrance labeling and other undisclosed ingredients.

Understand your body and what it needs

After 10 years of relaxing my hair, I wanted to assert my newfound independence and went natural, but was soon overwhelmed by the array of creams, gels, lotions, and oils intended to smooth my curls. Trying a new hair product from the “ethnic” aisle of my local drug store became my weekend ritual. Black consumers spend nine times more on hair care than their white counterparts, and I was beginning to understand why.

Looking back, I tried too many products, including low-quality ones that actually damaged my hair, and potentially exposed myself to more harmful chemicals in the process.Instead, I wish I took the time upfront to understand what my hair needed.

Learn about your hair porosity, density, and texture (yes, even straight hair has a texture), and tailor solutions to your needs. As a type-four, low-porosity queen myself, what my hair really needed — more than it needed three different kinds of styling creams — was moisture. That’s right, plain water! Understanding your hair’s natural attributes will save you time and money on wasted products.

When researchers from the Battelle Memorial Institute tested the hair products that Black women use most frequently, a long list of chemicals turned up: cyclosiloxane, fragrances, diethyl phthalate (DEP), and parabens, all of which are known to affect the endocrine system. Chemical straighteners, also known as “relaxers,” sometimes contain carcinogens like formaldehyde and might even lead to an increased risk of breast cancer in Black women (there’s still no scientific consensus on this one). Relaxer usage among Black consumers has declined in recent years, but some women are returning to them out of convenience.

Don’t be afraid to DIY

The science of hair care may be simpler than you think. Shampoos contain surfactants that help wash away dirt, oil, and products that build up in our hair. They also balance pH and close the hair cuticle, the protective outer layer of your hair. Most hair creams and butters help to lock in moisture between washes and prevent split ends. Commercial conditioners work to seal moisture into the hair cuticle, but may rely on chemical preservatives.

If you’re only able to swap out one or two products in your rotation, consider the ones that are in contact with your body for long periods of time. “From an exposure point of view, you’ll want to reduce usage of commercial products that you leave on your hair for a longer period of time, like scalp treatments, leave-in conditioners, hair dyes, and chemical straighteners,” says Dodson.

Early on, I internalized the myth that my hair was too difficult for me to care for without the use of chemical straighteners. But I’ve realized that most of what my own hair needs — moisture retention — can be achieved with ingredients from my own kitchen.

I spent months recreating the best parts of my favorite storebought products: banana and avocado are now core ingredients in my DIY conditioner. You could consider using honey, which has emollient (hair smoothing) and humectant (water bonding) properties. Coconut oil is another great alternative, and its lauric acid delivers moisture deep into the hair shaft. Any of these natural conditioners can be used on their own or together in a hair mask, or a deep conditioning treatment for the hair.

The US needs stronger regulation of cosmetics and personal care products

In the early 1900s, cosmetics and drugs were dangerously unregulated: Lead and arsenic found their way into skin creams, and mercury brightened makeup products. As more women suffered scarring, poisonings, and in some cases death, scientists sounded the alarm about harsh chemicals in consumer goods. In 1937, elixir sulfanilamide — an untested, but heavily marketed antibiotic — killed more than 100 Americans.

But medicines are regulated more closely than cosmetics, and the FDA does not order companies to recall cosmetic products that may be unsafe. “Neither the law nor FDA regulations require specific tests to demonstrate the safety of individual [cosmetic] products or ingredients,” the FDA explains on its website. “The law also does not require cosmetic companies to share their safety information with the FDA.”Screenshot 2022-01-04 at 21-56-49 JV - PrimeStocks

While some chemicals have been outlawed (DDT, DES, lead acetate hair dyes, and BPA in baby products), the FDA has failed to prohibit many endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are still widely used in personal care products.

Politics and big business play a role in keeping regulations to a minimum, according to the experts I talked to. “The $100 billion-dollar US cosmetics industry is very invested in maintaining the status quo, and is powerfully incentivized to fight regulation,” Nudelman says. Major industry trade groups, like the Personal Care Products Council, representing 600 beauty companies, heavily promote self-regulation, through the Cosmetic Ingredient Review program (CIR).

“Industry self-regulation lacks the safeguards provided by FDA reviews. The Cosmetics Ingredient Review is financed by cosmetics manufacturers and housed inside the industry’s trade association. Many CIR findings are inconsistent with the findings by other regulatory authorities or experts,” Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, testified to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Opponents of stricter cosmetics regulation continue to muddy the link between hormone-driven disease rates and risky environmental chemicals. While some research gaps remain, an ever-growing body of evidence shows that the chemicals we absorb from our environments matter, and may be compounding existing racial disparities in health outcomes.

When Vox contacted the FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors for comment, a spokesperson said that “a change in the FDA’s legal authority over cosmetics would require Congress to change the law.”

Congress has had some historical interest in better regulating cosmetics — Sens. Thomas Eagleton and Ted Kennedy tried to get traction on bills in the ’70s and ’90s, respectively, and current Rep. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has been an advocate, as well.

More recently, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced a package of four Safer Beauty bills this summer. One bill would ban 11 chemicals of concern currently outlawed for use in the EU, California, and Maryland. While Schakowsky has been trying to pass versions of the package since 2009, Nudelman of the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners believes they now have a fighting chance.

“We believe this bill package to be different from past legislative attempts,” she says. “It addresses four discrete issues that are already at the forefront of people’s minds: banning toxic chemicals, increased labeling transparency, protections for women of color, and closing the fragrance loophole.”

Occasionally, I’ll see “Just for Me” — a hair relaxer containing hormonally active ingredients and marketed specifically for children — at my local drugstore. It’s the same relaxer I used up until college and my eventual diagnosis with fibroadenoma. I’m hopeful that one day, consumers won’t have to wonder whether toxins are hiding in the products that are supposed to make us feel beautiful. But until then, research can help us look out for our own health.

Paige Curtis is a Boston-based writer covering the intersection of climate, arts, and culture in such publications as Yes! Magazine and Boston Art Review. Formally trained in environmental management from the Yale School of Environment, she’s most excited by community-based solutions to the climate crisis.

Source: Beauty products are full of risky chemicals. I tried to get rid of them. – Vox

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More contents:

The Neuroscience of Breaking Out of Negative Thinking (and How to Do It in Under 30 Seconds)

You just got off the phone with one of your most important clients. The game-changing deal you were trying to close is off. They’re not interested. You’ve just pitched 10 potential investors. They all say they’re “interested” but it’s been two weeks. You refresh your inbox hourly, and yet still no word.

How do you react in these situations?

If you’re like most people, your mind floods with negativity. “Maybe our product sucks,” “Why can’t I just get a break?” or “Maybe there’s something wrong with me.”

Neuroscientists have a name for this automatic habit of the brain: “negativity bias.” It’s an adaptive trait of human psychology that served us well when we were hunting with spears on the savanna 120,000 years ago.

In modern times, however, this habit of the brain leaves us reacting to a harsh email or difficult conversation as if our life were in danger. It activates a cascade of stress hormones and leaves us fixated on potential threats, unable to see the bigger picture.

Neuroscientist Rick Hanson has a great analogy for this strange quality of the mind. “Your brain,” he writes in his book Buddha’s Brain, “is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.” When you lose a client, when the investors don’t come calling, or when you face the hundreds of other daily disappointments of life, you’re wired to forget all the good things and to instead obsess over the negative.

The Ultra-Efficient Transformation of Notice-Shift-Rewire

How can we reverse this hard-wired habit of the mind?

Three words: Notice-Shift-Rewire. This simple strategy puts into into practice the core insight coming out of the neuroscience revolution of the past 30 years–the insight that, in the words of early neuroscientist Donald Hebb, “neurons that fire together, wire together.” It’s the insight that reminds us the brain isn’t fixed. Its habits aren’t like plaster. They’re more like plastic, strong enough to resist the occasional push but pliable enough to change in response to repeated effort.

That’s the magic of Notice-Shift-Rewire. By taking a moment each day to bring our attention to this practice, we build the habit of shifting out of negativity bias to more useful mind states: remembering our past wins, celebrating our strengths, and seeing life as a series of opportunities rather than a relentless slog through setbacks and heartbreak.

How do you integrate the practice of Notice-Shift-Rewire into the midst of everyday life?

1. Notice your negativity bias.

The first step is to bring awareness to this ordinary habit of the mind. Catch yourself when you slip into self-doubt, rumination, anxiety, and fear. Notice when your mind starts spinning out worst-case scenarios about how it’s all going to come crashing apart.

2. Shift to a moment of gratitude.

Noticing opens the space for carving new neural pathways. Shifting allows you to flood this space with a more productive focus of attention. A few seconds of gratitude is the most efficient way to do this. Think of one thing you’re grateful for right now. Your home. Your job. Your health. Your family. Your talents and strengths. Your drive.

3. Rewire your brain.

Here’s where the real work of begins. Hanson calls this the simple act of savoring. It’s taking 15 seconds to stay with this new mindset — to encode it deep into the fabric of your mind.

This last step is where we transform our ordinary habit of overlooking the positive. It’s where we shift the brain’s response to all the good in life from Teflon to Velcro. We’re flipping our evolved wiring on its head — taking just a few seconds to build stronger memories around all the good things happening in life.

The best thing about this practice is that it’s time efficient, portable, and powerful. It takes less than 30 seconds, you can do it anytime and anywhere, and you will begin to experience an immediate shift in your mindset.

The moment you make this shift, everything changes. You remember your purpose, look forward to new challenges, and face life with renewed optimism.

By: Nate Klemp

Source: The Neuroscience of Breaking Out of Negative Thinking (and How to Do It in Under 30 Seconds)

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Linguistic bases of social perception

Averaging versus adding as a stimulus-combination rule in impression formation

Differential weighting of favorable and unfavorable attributes in impressions of personality

The Cancer Custodians Hidden Truths

woman-with-headscarf-getting-chemo-treatment-article

Part of Dennis Plenker’s daily job is growing cancer. And a variety of different ones, too. Depending on the day and the project, different tumors may burgeon in the petri dishes stocked in the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory where Plenker works as a research investigator. They might be aggressive breast cancers.

They might be glioblastomas, one of the deadliest brain tumors that rob patients of their ability to speak or read as they crowd out normal cells. Or they might be pancreatic cancers, the fast and vicious slayers that can overtake a healthy person within weeks or even days.

These tiny tumor chunks are transparent and bland—they look like little droplets of hair gel that accidentally plopped into a plastic dish and took hold. But their unassuming appearance is deceptive. If they were still in the human bodies they came from, they would be sucking up nutrients, rapidly growing and dodging the immune system defenses.

But in Plenker’s hands—or rather in the CSHL’s unique facility—these notorious killers don’t kill anyone. Instead, scientists let them grow to devise the most potent ways to kill them. These tumor chunks are called organoids. They are three-dimensional assemblages of malignant growths used to study cancer behavior and vulnerability to chemotherapy and the so-called “targeted drugs”—the next generation therapies.

Scientists used to study tumors at a single-cell level, but because tumors grow as cell clusters in the body, it proved to be inefficient. The three-dimensional structures make a difference. For example, chemo might destroy the tumor’s outer cell layer, but the inner ones can develop resistance, so where single cells may die, a 3D mass will bounce back. Organoids can provide a window into these little-known mechanisms of drug resistance.

They can reveal how normal tissues turn malignant and where the cellular machinery goes off-track to allow that to happen. As their name suggests, organoids are scientists’ windows into organs, whether healthy or stricken with disease. You need to know your enemy to beat it, Plenker says, and cancer organoids offer that opportunity.

Taken from patients currently undergoing cancer treatments, these tumor chunks will reveal their weaknesses so scientists can find the cancers’ Achilles’ heel and devise personalized treatments. “Organoids are essentially patients in a dish,” Plenker says. Only unlike real patients, the organoids can be subjected to all sorts of harsh experiments to zero in on the precise chemo cocktails that destroy them in the best possible way.

And they will likely provide a more realistic scenario than drug tests in mice or rats, as animal models aren’t perfect proxies for humans.

These notorious killers don’t kill anyone. Instead, scientists devise the most potent ways to kill them.

The way that cancer proliferates in the body is hard to reproduce in the lab. Stem-cell research made it possible. After scientists spent a decade understanding how various cells multiply and differentiate into other cell types based on molecular cues and nourishment, they were able to make cells grow and fuse into tissues.

To stick together like bricks in a nicely laid wall, cells need a biological scaffold that scientists call an extracellular matrix or ECM, which in the body is made from collagen and other materials. Today, the same collagen scaffolds can be mimicked with a gooey substance called Matrigel—and then seeded with specific cells, which take root and begin to multiply.

Some tissue types were easy to grow—Columbia University scientists grew viable bones as early as 2010.1 Others, like kidney cells, were trickier. They would grow into immature tissues incapable of performing their job of cleaning and filtering blood. It took scientists time to realize that these cells wanted more than scaffolding and food—they needed to “feel at home,” or be in their natural habitat. Kidney cells needed the feeling of liquid being washed over them, the Harvard University group found, when they first managed to grow functioning kidney tissue in 2018.2

Cancers have their own growth requirements. In the body, they manage to co-opt the organism’s resources, but keeping them happy in a dish means catering to their dietary preferences. Different cancers need different types of molecular chow—growth factors, hormones, oxygen and pH levels, and other nutrients. Pancreatic adenocarcinoma thrives in low-oxygen conditions with poor nutrients.3 Glioblastomas feed on fatty acids.4 These nutrients are delivered to organoids via a specific solution called growth medium, which the lab personnel regularly doles out into the dishes.

Plenker is charged with keeping this murderous menagerie alive and well. He is the one who designs the cancers’ dietary menu, a specific protocol for each type. And while his official title is facility manager and research investigator who works closely with David Tuveson, director of the CSHL’s Cancer Center, he is essentially a cancer custodian, a curator of a unique collection that aims to change the paradigm of cancer treatment.

Plenker’s research area is pancreatic cancer—one of the most notorious killers known. Often diagnosed late and resistant to treatment, it is essentially a death sentence—only 8 to 10 percent of patients remain alive five years after diagnosis. The chemo drugs used to treat it haven’t changed in 40 years, Plenker says. In the past decade, physicians tried combining multiple drugs together with relative success. Identifying winning combos can save lives, or at least prolong them—and that’s what the organoids will help clinicians do better.

In a groundbreaking clinical trial called PASS-01 (for Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma Signature Stratification for Treatment), Plenker’s team collaborates with other American and Canadian colleagues to identify the most effective chemo cocktails and to understand the individual patients’ tumor behaviors, which would lead to more personalized treatments.5

Scientists know the same cancer types behave differently in different patients. Typically, all malignancies have the so-called “driver mutation”— the cancer’s main trigger caused by a mutated gene. But tumors also often have “passenger mutations” that happen in nearby genes. These additional mutated genes can generate various proteins, which may interfere with treatment.

Or not. Scientists call these mutated gene combinations tumor mutational signatures, which can vary from one patient to the next. With some cancers, doctors already know what mutations signatures they may have, but with pancreatic cancer they don’t have good tale-telling signs, or biomarkers. “There aren’t many biomarkers to help clinicians decide which chemo may be better for which patient,” explains oncologist Grainne O’Kane, who treats pancreatic cancer patients at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, Canada.

That’s the reason O’Kane participates in the PASS-01 trial—it will give doctors a better view into the exact specifics of their patients’ malignancies. As they take their patients’ biopsies, they are sending little cancer snippets to the CSHL to be grown into organoids, which will be subjected to chemo cocktails of various combinations to design more personalized regiments for them.

The hospital treats all patients with the so-called standard of care chemotherapy, which is more of a one-size-fits-all approach. Some patients will respond to it but others won’t, so the goal is to define the second line of chemo defense in a more personalized fashion. “That’s where the biopsies we send to Tuveson’s lab might be useful,” O’Kane says. “They can help us find something to benefit patients after the first line of chemo stopped working.”

Organoids are patients in a dish. Unlike real patients, organoids can be subjected to experiments.

Scientists can try all kinds of combos on the tumorous organoids, which they can’t do in living people. “You can treat 100 organoids with 100 different compounds and see which one works, or which compound does a good job and which ones don’t work at all,” Plenker says. That would also allow scientists to define the precise amount of chemo, so doctors wouldn’t have to over-treat patients with harsh drugs that create sickening side effects. Ultimately, organoids should take a lot of guesswork out of the process.

With about 150 patients’ adenocarcinomas already collected, the team hopes to come up with some answers. O’Kane says her team already has three patients for which they were able to design the more personalized second line of defense chemo, based on what their organoids revealed. They haven’t yet tried it, because the trial has only started recently, but this would be the next step.

“Being able to piece all this information together in real time as patients are moving through their therapies can really improve the outcomes,” O’Kane says. And while they may not be able to save all of those who graciously donated their biopsy snippets to science, it will help build better treatments in the future. “Even if we won’t be able to help these specific patients we’re hoping to use this info in the future clinical trials,” O’Kane says.

Organoids can also help understand how cancer develops. This is particularly true for breast cancers, says Camilla dos Santos, associate professor and a member of the CSHL Cancer Center. She studies the inner life of human mammary glands, more commonly referred to as breasts, and is also part of the cancer custodian crew. The hormonal changes that women go through during pregnancy subsequently modify breast cancer risk, sometimes lowering it and sometimes increasing—a complex interplay of the body’s chemicals.

“We know that women who get pregnant for the first time before they turn 25 years old, have a 30 percent decrease in breast cancer incidents later in life,” dos Santos says. “When they turn 60 or 70, 30 percent of them will not develop cancer.” On the contrary, those who are pregnant past 38 have a 30 to 50 percent increase in developing aggressive breast cancer types. Clearly, some molecular switches are involved, but they are very hard to study within the body. That’s where organoids can provide a window into the surreptitious process.

Using breast organoids, scientists can model the complex life of mammary glands at various stages of a woman’s life. And while most women wouldn’t want their breasts poked and pierced when they are pregnant or breastfeeding, many donate their tissues after breast reduction surgery or prophylactic mastectomy due to high-risk mutations like the BRCA gene.

That’s where organoids shine because scientists can not only grow them, but also give them the pregnancy hormonal cues, which will make cells generate milk, stop lactating, or do it again—and study the complex cellular interactions that take place in real life.

There’s a lot to study. At birth, mammary glands are similar in both genders—just little patches of the mammary epithelium tissue. But when puberty hits, the female glands fill up with the so-called mammary tree—a system of ducts for future milk production, which fully “blooms” in pregnancy.

“When a woman becomes pregnant, the duct tree expands, growing two types of cells—luminal and myoepithelial ones,” explains Zuzana Koledova, assistant professor of Masaryk University in Czech Republic who also uses organoids in her work. When the baby is born, the luminal cells, which line the inside of the ducts, produce the proteins that comprise milk.

The myoepithelial cells reside outside the ducts and work as muscles that squeeze the ducts to push milk out. Dos Santos likens this pregnancy mammary gland growth to the changes of the seasons. The images of sprouting ducts look like blossoming trees in the spring while later they shrivel like plants do in the fall.

The body governs these processes via the molecular machinery of hormones, which stimulate breast cells growth during pregnancy, and later cause them to die out. The two pregnancy-related hormones, prolactin and oxytocin, are responsible for milk production. Prolactin induces the luminal cells to make milk while oxytocin makes the myoepithelial cells contract. Once the baby is weaned, the levels of these hormones drop, causing cells to shrink back to their non-pregnant state.

With organoids scientists can observe these cellular dynamics at work. Koledova’s team had watched breast organoids secrete milk based on biological cues. They even recorded movies of cells pumping tiny milk droplets in the dish they were growing in. Using tiny snippets of donated breast tissue, the team grew the organoids inside the Matrigel matrix in the growth media and then added the two pregnancy hormones into the mix, explains Jakub Sumbal, a mammary gland researcher in Koledova’s group.

As they began to secret proteins that compose milk, the organoids, which looked like little domes inside the dish, changed from translucent to opaque. “At first, you can see through them, but then as they produce these proteins, they kind of darken,” Sumbal says. “And you can see them pushing out these little droplets.”

Cancer patients would no longer have to undergo chemotherapy by trial and error.

Dos Santos’s team, who also did similar work, outlined molecular changes that follow such dish-based hormonal cues in their recent study.6 In response to hormonal messages, cells produce proteins, which they display on their surfaces, like status symbols. During pregnancy the burgeoning cells prepping for milk production display the “proteins flags” that make them look important, attracting nourishment. When it’s time to die, they commit a cellular suicide.

They signal to the bypassing macrophages—immune system cleanup crew—to devour them. “They essentially say ‘come eat me!’ to the macrophages,” dos Santos says. “Because I’m no longer needed.”

The ability to mimic these processes in a dish, allows scientists to study the molecular switches that trigger breast cancer development—or minimize it. Scientists know that cancerous cells can hide from the immune system and even co-opt it into protecting themselves. They do it by displaying their own “do not eat me” protein flags on the surface and avoid destruction.

“Sometimes cancer cells can recruit specific types of immune cells to protect them,” dos Santos says. “They can not only say ‘do not eat me,’ but say ‘come hang out with me’ to the macrophages, and the macrophages will send suppressive signals to the B-cells or T-cells, the body defenders.” It is as if the cancer requests protection—a crew of guardians around it to defend against other cells that would otherwise wipe it out.

Scientists can’t telescope into the body to peek at these interactions, but they now can watch these stealth battles unfolding in a dish. “Right now we are looking at the proteins that are secreted by the organoids—the proteins that go on the surface of the organoids’ cells and what they would communicate to the immune system,” dos Santos says.

“Even when there’s no immune system surrounding them, they would still be doing that.” There’s a way to mimic the immune system, too. Scientists can add B-cells, T-cells, macrophages, and other players into the growth medium and watch the full-blown cellular warfare in action. “That’s the next step in our research,” dos Santos says.

Understanding what hormonal fluxes trigger breast cancer, and how it recruits other cells for safekeeping, can give scientists ideas for pharmaceutical intervention. “We can find drugs that pharmacologically turn off the switches that trigger cancer or interrupt its signaling for protection,” dos Santos says. “That opens novel ways to treat people.”

Can organoid research lead to a new standard of care for cancer patients? That’s the ultimate goal, researchers say. That’s why Plenker works at keeping his collection of cancer glops alive and well and thriving—he calls it a living biobank. And he keeps a stash in the cryogenic freezer, too.

He is also developing protocols that would allow commercial companies to grow organoids the same way chemical industries make reagents or mice suppliers grow rodents for research. A benefit of organoid experiments is they don’t involve animals at all.

Hospitals may one day start growing organoids from their patients’ biopsies to design and test personalized chemo cocktails for them. Once science crosses over to that reality, the entire treatment paradigm will change. Cancer patients won’t have to undergo chemotherapy by trial and error.

Instead their cancer organoids will be subjected to this process—knocked out by a gamut of drug combinations to find the winning one to use in the actual treatment. Plenker notes that once enough data is gathered about the tumors’ mutational signatures, scientists may create a database of tumor “mugshots” matching them to the chemo cocktails that beat them best.

And then just sequencing a biopsy sample would immediately inform oncologists what drug combo the patient needs. “We may be about 10 years away from that,” Plenker says, but for now there’s a lot more research to do. And a lot more cancers to grow.

By: Lina Zeldovich

Lina Zeldovich grew up in a family of Russian scientists, listening to bedtime stories about volcanoes, black holes, and intrepid explorers. She has written for The New York Times, Scientific American, Reader’s Digest, and Audubon Magazine, among other publications, and won four awards for covering the science of poop. Her book, The Other Dark Matter: The Science and Business of Turning Waste into Wealth, will be released in October 2021 by Chicago University Press. You can find her at LinaZeldovich.com and @LinaZeldovich.

Source: The Cancer Custodians – Issue 102: Hidden Truths – Nautilus

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Critics:

Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. These contrast with benign tumors, which do not spread. Possible signs and symptoms include a lump, abnormal bleeding, prolonged cough, unexplained weight loss, and a change in bowel movements. While these symptoms may indicate cancer, they can also have other causes. Over 100 types of cancers affect humans.

Tobacco use is the cause of about 22% of cancer deaths. Another 10% are due to obesity, poor diet, lack of physical activity or excessive drinking of alcohol. Other factors include certain infections, exposure to ionizing radiation, and environmental pollutants. In the developing world, 15% of cancers are due to infections such as Helicobacter pylori, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, human papillomavirus infection, Epstein–Barr virus and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

These factors act, at least partly, by changing the genes of a cell. Typically, many genetic changes are required before cancer develops. Approximately 5–10% of cancers are due to inherited genetic defects. Cancer can be detected by certain signs and symptoms or screening tests. It is then typically further investigated by medical imaging and confirmed by biopsy.

Most cancers are initially recognized either because of the appearance of signs or symptoms or through screening. Neither of these leads to a definitive diagnosis, which requires the examination of a tissue sample by a pathologist. People with suspected cancer are investigated with medical tests. These commonly include blood tests, X-rays, (contrast) CT scans and endoscopy.

The tissue diagnosis from the biopsy indicates the type of cell that is proliferating, its histological grade, genetic abnormalities and other features. Together, this information is useful to evaluate the prognosis and to choose the best treatment.

Further reading

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