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Low Vitamin B12 May Cause Birth Defects: Study

3 Mar

WASHINGTON – Babies whose mothers had low levels of vitamin B12 just before and after they were conceived could be up to five times more likely to be being born with a congenital defect, a study said Monday.

Those women, who eat little or no meat or animal-based foods, were the most likely to have low levels of vitamin B12 and give birth to babies with a neural tube defect, according to the joint study by Trinity College, Dublin, the Health Board of Ireland and the US National Institutes of Health.

“Vitamin B12 is essential for the functioning of the nervous system and for the production of red blood cells,” said Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

“The results of this study suggest that women with low levels of B12 not only may risk health problems of their own, but also may increase the chance that their children may be born with a serious birth defect.”

It has long been known that mothers-to-be should increase their levels of folic acid, another B vitamin, to reduce birth defects in their children.

The study, published Monday in the March issue of Pediatrics, said such neural tube defects affect the brain and spinal cord, such as spina bifida, which can cause partial paralysis. Another type, anencephaly, is a fatal defect in which the brain and skull are severely underdeveloped.

The researchers analysed stored blood samples originally collected during early pregnancy from three groups of Irish women between 1983 and 1990, when it was not so common for pregnant women to take vitamin supplements, and compared them against the records of whose babies were born with congenital defects.

The study showed that pregnant women with less than 250 nanogrammes of vitamin B12 per litre of blood had a risk 2.5 to three times higher of having a baby with a neural tube defect.

Women with the lowest levels of vitamin B12 (from zero to 149 nanogrammes a liter) ran the greatest risk, some five times higher.

Ireland has a high rate of neural tube defects, and NIH scientists have frequently collaborated with Irish researchers to gain insight into the causes of this group of disorders, the authors said in a statement.

The results could mean that women and expectant mothers who stick to a vegan diet may increase the risks of their baby developing some kind of congenital defect.

“If women wait until they realize that they are pregnant before they start taking folic acid, it is usually too late,” said author James Mills.

Thus he said all women of childbearing age should also consume the recommended amount of vitamin B12, found in meat, chicken, milk and eggs, whether they are planning a pregnancy or not.

Critical events in the formation of the brain and spinal column occur very early in pregnancy “in the first 28 days after conception” before many women even realize they are pregnant, Mills said. – AFP/ra

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Mothers Suffer Perinatal Blues Too

29 Jan

SINGAPORE : She was cranky and constantly craved her husband’s attention – but she thought it was because she was pregnant, and those traits would go away in time. After all, this was her fifth pregnancy, and the previous four had gone smoothly.

But after having difficulty breastfeeding her one-week-old baby boy due to an earlier fever, Madam Chong’s emotions took a turn for the worse.

“I was disappointed and very frustrated,” the 39-year-old housewife shared. This soon escalated into insomnia.

The final straw came when she woke up in near-hysterics one night. “That’s when I realised something was not quite right,” she said.

Mdm Chong was later diagnosed at the National University Hospital with perinatal anxiety – severe anxiety from pregnancy till the end of the first postnatal year.

“I felt relieved that I wasn’t going crazy,” she said.

Mothers with perinatal anxiety or perinatal depression are a “growing concern”, since women today often juggle many responsibilities, said Dr Cornelia Chee, a consultant at NUH’s department of psychological medicine.

Biological reasons aside, many women develop depression because of psycho-social factors. It includes juggling the demands of work and baby, marital conflicts, financial reasons, or a lack of support from family members.

Perinatal depression affects 10 to 15 per cent of women worldwide, while 13 per cent of pregnant women and 12 per cent of postnatal women have an anxiety disorder.

Less is known about perinatal anxiety, but a depressed expecting woman could end up having a premature baby or a baby that is born smaller than it should be. A depressed mother is also less likely to bond well with her child.

Common signs of perinatal anxiety would be if the mother was unable to control her worrying, panic attacks ranging from a few times a day to once a year and developing an obsessive-compulsive disorder; in particular, obsessing over the baby’s health.

Mothers suffering from perinatal depression tend to experience a more severe form of normal sadness. They do not enjoy things like they used to, are unable to fall asleep even if tired, and encounter excessive guilt. In rare cases, they even entertain fleeting thoughts of suicide.

It is “certainly possible” that women suffering from perinatal depression or anxiety would be put-off from further pregnancies, though evidence is anecdotal so far, said Dr Chee.

Perhaps, due to the stigma associated with mental or emotional health or low awareness of the problem, many mothers are not proactively seeking help, said Dr Chee.

A 2005 study led by Dr Chee found that out of 599 mothers, 68 were diagnosed with a clinically-significant mood disorder before giving birth. Even though the figures halved postnatally, ultimately only three sought help at a healthcare provider or family service centre.

The findings of this study led to the establishment of the NUH Women’s Emotional Health Service (WEHS), a free screening programme offered to all pregnant patients. It tests for perinatal depression, with indicators for anxiety as well.

The expecting mothers are screened using a questionnaire four times throughout their pregnancy: Three times during the three trimesters and once after giving birth.

Since the service started last March, the NUH has screened 2,600 patients.

Even then, many declined to see a case manager or psychiatrist when tested positive for depression.

Of those screened, 600 had registered a high positive and 450 a low positive for perinatal depression. However, only 100 of the 1,050 women agreed to see a case manager for counselling or further advice. Of this 100, 30 sought psychiatric help.

Still, it is an improvement from two years ago, where Dr Chee would see just two to three cases a year.

Anxiety treatment includes counselling and sedatives, and depression treatment includes anti-depressant drugs.

While NUH is the first to proactively screen expecting mothers, other hospitals do treat such cases on a referral basis.

Under the NUH programme, nurses are also taught to recognise signs of depression and refer mothers to the doctor.

The idea is to catch depressed mothers early on in their pregnancy, so that the hospital can engage them earlier and plan for the delivery and postnatal care, Dr Chee said.

The WEHS hotline is 6772 2037 oremail wehs@nuh.com.sg. –

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Palin's Daughter Has Baby Boy

30 Dec

LOS ANGELES: The teenage daughter of Republican former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has given birth to a baby boy, People magazine reported on its website Monday.

Bristol Palin, whose teen pregnancy became an election campaign talking point shortly after her mother was confirmed as John McCain’s running mate in August, gave birth in Palmer, Alaska on Sunday, People reported.

The child has been named Tripp Easton Mitchell Johnston, relatives told People. “We think it’s wonderful,” said Bristol Palin’s great aunt Colleen Jones.

“The baby is fine and Bristol is doing well. Everyone is excited,” Jones said.

The child’s father is apprentice electrician Levi Johnston, who has been dating Palin for three years. The couple are planning to marry in 2009, according to reports.

Johnston’s mother Sherry made headlines earlier this month when she was arrested and charged six felony drugs offences.

– AFP/yb

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Coke Not The Real Thing When It Comes To Contraception: Study

19 Dec

PARIS – The belief that Coca-Cola works as an after-sex spermicide is nothing but urban legend, a scientist cautions in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on Thursday.

Deborah Anderson, a professor in obstetrics and gynaecology at Harvard Medical School, says that Coca-cola douches were sometimes used in 1950s and 1960s America in the belief that the drink’s acidity killed sperm.

Soft-drink douches are still used as a post-coital contraceptive ploy in some poor countries, she says.

But, says Anderson, there is no evidence to suggest these unusual forms of contraception work – and plenty of reasons to suggest they could cause harm.

To begin with, Coke is not a very effective spermicide, as it is unlikely to kill the target.

And even if the beverage’s secret recipe were lethal, a speedy sperm is likely to outswim the douche and get to cervix first.

In addition, Coca-Cola damages the top layer of cells within the vagina, and makes a woman more prone to sexually transmitted disease. And while it is largely harmless to sperm, soda pop removes healthy bacteria, opening the way to fungal and bacterial infection.

Experiments with other forms of vaginal douches have found an increased risk of pelvic inflammation and ectopic pregnancy, in which a fertilised egg is implanted in the fallopian tube, rather than in the uterus.

Finally, says Anderson, there is the simple fact that there are much more effective and easy-to-use methods of contraception widely available.

Anderson also said there was a reason why she had gone into print.

An old study by her research group, on the impact of Coca-Cola on human semen, had recently been resurrected and had won a spoof Nobel prize, or IgNobel, for offbeat science.

She was afraid that the headlines surrounding this award may have repopularised the legend. – AFP/rose

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Baby-For-Sale Syndicate’s ‘Centres’ Raided

15 Nov

PUTRAJAYA: Immigration Department officers were taken by surprise when two houses that they raided last night turned out to be centres for a baby-for-sale syndicate.

In the operation codenamed Ops Pintu Serkap, the officers raided houses in Taman Masai and Taman Rinting, both in Pasir Gudang, Johor, following tip-offs that houses there were being used to house illegal immigrants from Indonesia.

Immigration enforcement chief Datuk Ishak Mohamed said the officers entered the first house in Taman Masai at 9pm, and found two babies.

They also arrested two women, one of whom was Indonesian.

Both the women, who were in their 30s, were in an advanced stage of pregnancy.
Their arrests led to a subsequent raid at a house in Taman Rinting where another five Indonesian women and two Indonesian men were taken into custody.

Also seized were several MyKad, believed to have been stolen.

The officers also confiscated birth certificates issued by a private clinic, child adoption forms and other documents.

Ishak said initial investigations showed that the babies were sold to interested parties, mainly childless couples.

“This is a new activity, and one which we will give attention to.”

Ishak added that investigations also showed that illegitimate children were handed over to the syndicate to be sold to interested parties.

New Straits Times

Baby-For-Sale Syndicate's 'Centres' Raided

15 Nov

PUTRAJAYA: Immigration Department officers were taken by surprise when two houses that they raided last night turned out to be centres for a baby-for-sale syndicate.

In the operation codenamed Ops Pintu Serkap, the officers raided houses in Taman Masai and Taman Rinting, both in Pasir Gudang, Johor, following tip-offs that houses there were being used to house illegal immigrants from Indonesia.

Immigration enforcement chief Datuk Ishak Mohamed said the officers entered the first house in Taman Masai at 9pm, and found two babies.

They also arrested two women, one of whom was Indonesian.

Both the women, who were in their 30s, were in an advanced stage of pregnancy.
Their arrests led to a subsequent raid at a house in Taman Rinting where another five Indonesian women and two Indonesian men were taken into custody.

Also seized were several MyKad, believed to have been stolen.

The officers also confiscated birth certificates issued by a private clinic, child adoption forms and other documents.

Ishak said initial investigations showed that the babies were sold to interested parties, mainly childless couples.

“This is a new activity, and one which we will give attention to.”

Ishak added that investigations also showed that illegitimate children were handed over to the syndicate to be sold to interested parties.

New Straits Times

Migraine’s Silver Lining – Drop In Breast Cancer Risk: Study

10 Nov

WASHINGTON – Migraine sufferers who likely have no kind words about the condition may take comfort in news that women who get the extra-strength headaches have a 30 per cent lower breast cancer risk, according to a new US study.

“We found that, overall, women who had a history of migraines had a 30 per cent lower risk of breast cancer compared to women who did not have a history of such headaches,” said Christopher Li, a breast-cancer epidemiologist and associate member of the Hutchinson Center’s Public Health Sciences Division in Seattle, Washington.

Li was lead author on the study that appeared in the November issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

Migraine history seemed to curb risk of the most common subtypes of breast cancer: those that are oestrogen-receptor or progesterone-receptor positive, the study found.

Those tumours have oestrogen or progesterone receptors, or both, on cell surfaces, which makes them more responsive to hormone-blocking drugs than tumours that lack those receptors.

While the biological mechanism behind the association between migraines and breast cancer is not entirely understood Li and colleagues suspect that it has to do with hormone fluctuations.

“Migraines seem to have a hormonal component in that they occur more frequently in women than in men, and some of their known triggers are associated with hormones,” Li said.

“For example, women who take oral contraceptives ‘three weeks of active pills and one week of inactive pills to trigger menstruation’ tend to suffer more migraines during their hormone-free week,” he said. Conversely, pregnancy – a high-oestrogen state – is linked to a significant decrease in migraines.

“By the third trimester of pregnancy, 80 per cent of migraine sufferers do not have these episodes,” he said.

Oestrogen is known to stimulate the growth of hormonally sensitive breast cancer.

According to the US National Cancer Institute, if current rates do not change, one in eight women will develop breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. – AFP/ra

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