Worst Stress Relievers: Owning Guns

SeattleSunset_EN-US1535293454Stressed by the danger of a home intrusion? We may be tempted to purchase a gun to feel safer and relieve this type of stress. The remedy, however, has its own problems. Statistics have shown consistently that guns cause more deaths to their owners and their family members than to would-be intruders. The danger for owners and their families comes from several factors: an increased risk of injury and death in domestic violence situations; a higher rate of successful suicide; an increased likelihood of accidental injury; and a rise in the rate of homicides.

In particular, the risk of successful suicide attempts is not to be underestimated: a self-inflicted gunshot is the leading cause of death among gun owners in the initial years immediately following gun purchase. In an article published by The Washington Post, the authors report that out of 395 deaths in homes where guns were present, there were 333 cases of suicide, 41 cases of domestic violence homicide, and 12 accidents. Only 9 cases were shootings of an intruder.

Guns are the most commonly used weapon in over 65% of domestic homicides. When a couple owns a gun, the risk of partner-on-partner homicide is five times as great. Three times as many women are killed in homes where a gun is present than where no such weapon was available. Children fare no better: 5,285 American children were killed by gunshots according to the 2005 data published by the Centers for Disease Control. During the same year, no child was killed in Japan, 19 were killed in the UK, 57 in Germany, 109 in France, and 153 in Canada.

It is fair to say that guns, which in theory are acquired to increase safety, vastly increase the risk of serious injury or death to their owners and their families. Outside the home, guns increase the frequency and seriousness of crime rates, as well as increase the risk of injury and death among crime perpetrators and their victims. It is also well-known that gun-related violence raises health care utilization and costs, criminal justice system expenditures, higher costs to taxpayers and for insurance premiums. No one will argue the point that gun-related violence produces a legacy of grief and hardship.

Cellphone Use & Cancer: Risks and Opinions

cellphone_brainOn May 31, 2011 the World Health Organization (WHO) announced their classification of radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic fields emitted from cell phones, used globally by more than 4.6 billion people, as "possibly carcinogenic to humans.”  Given the serious health risk that this implies, WHO has pledged to conduct a formal risk assessment of all studied health outcomes from radiofrequency fields exposure by 2012.

The Current Evidence of Cancer Risk

  1. A study conducted in Denmark from 1982 to 1995 (with a follow-up in 2002) analyzed cancer rates among 420,095 cell phone users and found no increased risk for brain tumors, salivary gland tumors, eye tumors, or leukemia.
  2. A number of earlier and smaller case–control studies as well as more than 40 experimental studies also found no direct association between cell phone use and cancer.
  3. The INTERPHONE study, the largest of its kind to date, examined 2,708 glioma and 2,409
    meningioma cases in 13 countries using a common protocol. This study found that using a cell phone appeared to slightly lower the risk of developing a glioma, compared with never using one. But, when the highest 10% of cell phone users in terms of call time were analyzed, this subgroup had a 40% increased risk for glioma, compared with those who had never used a cell phone. Thus, according to Interphone, there is a higher risk for tumors occurring on the same side of the brain as cell phone exposure, and especially for tumors located in the temporal lobe, where RF exposure is highest.
  4. A meeting of 31 scientists organized by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, whose results have been just published in the latest issue of the medical journal The Lancet, considered the potential carcinogenic hazards from exposure to RF electromagnetic fields emitted by cell phones. The IARC group concluded that fields emitted by cell phones should be considered as "possibly carcinogenic" to humans. 
  5. A pooled analysis of Swedish studies examined the association between cell and cordless phone use and glioma, acoustic neuroma, and meningioma in 1,251 (85%) cases and 2,438 (84%) controls. For people who had used a cell phone for more than 1 year, the risk for brain tumors was 1.3 times higher (30%) than in people who had never used a cell phone. This risk increased with time since first use and with total call time. After more than 2000 hours of use, the risk was 3.2 times as high. Similar results were observed among cordless phone users.

In addition to the comprehensive review planned by WHO, the Cohort Study on Mobile Communications (COSMOS) is attempting to do a similarly all-inclusive study. It will become the largest study ever conducted and examine the effects of cell phone use on long-term health. COSMOS plans to track at least 250,000 people in 5 European countries for up to 30 years and it will not rely on users’ self-report, but will follow cell phone use in real time.

The Opinions On Cell Phone Use and Cancer Risk

aaKandinsky_YellowRedBlueDr. Jonathan Samet, Chair of the IARC working group and the Flora L. Thornton Chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, , explains that "possibly carcinogenic" means is that cell phone use is not completely safe, although it needs to be more clearly defined through better investigation. If users want to do something about the risk, says Dr. Samet, “there are easy steps to take to lower exposure, such as using hands-free devices and reducing use of the phone."

Other researchers point out that exposure to RF fields is not limited to cell phones but can be caused by other personal devices. Moreover, the specific absorption rate varies from one phone model to another and it can be affected by many factors, including the design, the position of the phone and its antenna in relation to the head, how the phone is held, the anatomy of the head, and the quality of the link between the base station and the phone.

Children are more at risk than adults, since the average RF energy deposition in a child’s brain is generally at least twice as high as in adults. In the most sensitive area of the head, the bone marrow of the skull, exposure in children can be up to 10 times as high as in adults.

Researchers also point out that the INTERPHONE study and the Swedish pooled analysis may not be entirely accurate due to the possibility of "recall error and selection for participation," although the results of these studies cannot be dismissed as reflecting bias alone, since a cause-effect relationship between cell phone-caused exposure to RF fields and brain cancer remains a distinct possibility.

More, Better Research Needed

Where does this leave cell phone users, all 4.6 billion of them? More studies are certainly needed and, perhaps most importantly, the studies need to be better designed. Studies which rely on interviews and on the participants ability to recall the details of their phone use do not produce the most reliable results. Prospective studies that track phone use and health records in real time, that are large enough to include significant segments of the population will produce far more accurate results. They are being planned and, in the case of the COSMOS study, they are underway. Until then, Bluetooth earpieces would seem the way to go.

How Good and Bad Stress Are the Same

MountRotui_EN-US1706638791Eustress (or good stress) and bad stress (acute or chronic) cause the exact same reaction in the human body. Even during voluntary “stressful” activities such as sport or exercise or when we receive unexpected good news, the brain stem, the oldest and more primordial part of the human brain, immediately mobilizes the body’s resources. The brain stem does not know, and one might say does not care, what triggers the sudden demand for additional physical activity. All the brain stem knows, prior to any higher brain intervention such as a decision to be afraid of something, or a decision to exercise, is that more blood is needed immediately to fulfill physical demands that may already be occurring (in the case of exercise or a real and impending threat) or that may be presumed to occur (in the case of perceived danger in a situation).

When the motor areas of the brain and the limbic system become activated by a positive but sudden event, most of the reticular activating system of the brain stem is also mobilized. This activation includes greatly increased stimulation of the vasoconstrictor and cardioacceleratory areas of the vasomotor center of the brain stem. Thus, the increase in arterial pressure permits to keep pace with an expected increase in muscle activity. A similar rise in pressure occurs during negatively stressful situations. The need to prepare to meet the danger posed by the stressor mobilizes the reticular activating system and the vasomotor center of the brain stem.

During dangerous situations (real or perceived), arterial pressure rises to as high as twice its normal value within a few seconds. This dramatic increase can immediately supply blood to any or all muscles of the body needed to respond. This translates into an enormously increased ability to fight against or to flee from the cause of danger. It is indeed a significant survival factor that no conscious decision is needed when this split-second mobilization is required.

Type A and Hi-Tech: A Dangerous Mix

Tower of Babel by Bruegel at Stresshacker.comWhat does the relentless push of technology into our lives do to our ability to manage stress and to our health in general? It depends on the personality. For individuals who have a type A personality, multiple e-mail addresses available from any platform, high-speed anywhere Internet access, smart mobile phones, tablets, and e-readers have enabled even greater flexibility and mobility in teleworking and telecommuting. In effect, traditional boundaries between the different roles at work, in the family, at leisure have been blurred or even removed.

In addition to the advancing technology, economic conditions have made short-term employment, work on time-limited projects, and working two or even three part-time jobs simultaneously increasingly more common.

Type A individuals claim that this new rhythm of life has produced beneficial effects in terms of greater task variety and flexibility. Thanks to these ubiquitous and always-on hardware devices and the software tools they provide, there often is no break of continuity between work and non-work states, between being somewhere dedicated to work activities and being somewhere else, where relationships or relaxation are possible. Again, for the type A personality, this is just fine–at least in theory and by their own admission.

Type A Individuals Thrive…At Their Own Peril?

Type A personality is characterized by an extreme sense of time urgency, frequent impatience with one’s self and others, high competitiveness, and more frequent aggression and/or hostility (either in the form of overt outbursts, or constricted and internalized through tight behavioral control). Clinical evidence indicates that there is at least an increased risk of stress in these individuals due to their proneness to work overload, disruption of natural circadian patterns, role conflicts, lack of time for relationships, for sufficient rest and energy replenishment through sleep or relaxation activities.

This particular personality type, given the current availability of communication and connection devices, appears to thrive in this environment that promotes maximum efficiency, high productivity, a faster pace of work output, and competitiveness.

Is this a competitive advantage for individuals who happen to possess these personality traits, or is this a potential problem? Apparently, higher productivity and efficiency are desirable outcomes. From a business efficiency point of view, they most definitely are. This may explain why significant technological resources are being devoted by an increasing number of companies toward making this always-on-the-job state of affairs a reality for their employees. It is seen as a competitive advantage over other companies (which are fewer and fewer) that shut down at a reasonable hour and do not work on weekends.

Most type A individuals proclaim to “love” this uninterrupted access to the marketplace and the instantaneous availability that is demanded of them.

There are however potentially serious health consequences, unless the individual can set and maintain reasonable and appropriate boundaries.

Type A personality have long been known to be at risk in terms of elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate, higher blood lipids, and near-continuous catecholamine (stress hormone) output. Intensive, frequent, and sustained activation of these physiological stress responses can contribute to the atherosclerotic process and to blood clotting. This prolonged state of arousal can cause, with type A behavior, an elevated risk of myocardial infarction. A longitudinal study by Barefoot et al., found that medical students with high scores on the Cook-Medley hostility scale of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI)–which would indicate type A personalities– had a six fold increase in mortality when followed up 25 years later, mainly due to coronary heart disease.

The negative psychosocial and socioeconomic factors in which type A behavior appears to thrive is associated with increased risk of serious illness and mortality because of the elevated activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) system and the increased secretion of the stress hormone cortisol. A very high workload, such as regularly working more than 10 hours of overtime per week, is also associated with markedly elevated cortisol levels. Prolonged and sustained activity of the HPA system is related to a series of endocrine and metabolic effects, causing, among other things, increased storage of fat in the abdominal region.

It is a mixed blessing, to say the least, for type A personality to see modern technology facilitate and indeed augment their relentless rhythm of activity. Is the risk really worth the reward?