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Should nuns be on the pill?
December 7th, 2011
06:50 PM ET

Should nuns be on the pill?

Catholic nuns take a vow of chastity, so you might not think that any sister would need to be on birth control.

But oral contraceptive pills have other uses besides preventing pregnancy; in fact, Catholic bioethicists say there is no inherent conflict in nuns (or any other Catholic) taking these very same substances for prescribed, therapeutic reasons, such as for treating heavy menstrual bleeding or endometriosis.

A new article in the journal The Lancet goes one step further. It argues that nuns "should be free to use the contraceptive pill to protect against the hazards of nulliparity” – that is, heightened cancer risk among women who do not bear children.

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Report: Certain environmental exposures can increase breast cancer risk
December 7th, 2011
06:04 PM ET

Report: Certain environmental exposures can increase breast cancer risk

A report,  released by the Institute of Medicine on Wednesday, says there are steps women can take to reduce their risk of getting breast cancer that is associated with environmental exposures. 

The IOM says there are several environmental factors that can increase a woman's chance of getting breast cancer.  According to the report, "Breast Cancer and the Environment," exposure to ionizing radiation (that's radiation associated with diagnostic tests such as mammograms, X-rays and CT-scans) is one such environmental factor.

Others include combination estrogen-progestin hormone therapy, oral contraceptives and weight gain - especially after menopause. Limiting alcohol consumption and not smoking, staying physically active and avoiding weight gain also help reduce the risk, the study found. When researchers talk about environmental factors, they are referring to anything that is not related to inherited DNA.

It is less clear how exposures in the workplace to things like gas fumes and car exhaust, or chemicals found in things like benzene (a solvent used to make lubricants, dyes, detergents and pesticides) or ethylene oxide, a chemical used in antifreeze, adhesives and even cosmetics add to the risk of getting breast cancer. The committee found that because there is such little testing on chemicals in cosmetics, dietary supplements and other products before they actually go to market, they were unable to draw conclusions as to whether minimizing exposure to these chemicals is actually beneficial.

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Stress we face as children stays with us
December 7th, 2011
09:51 AM ET

Stress we face as children stays with us

Editor's note: CNN contributor Amanda Enayati ponders the theme of seeking serenity: the quest for well-being and life balance in stressful times.

The idea that the adversity we experience as children will go on to wound us forever riles me as being particularly unjust.

But that’s exactly what Dr. Rajita Sinha, director of the Yale Stress Center, explained a few weeks ago, when we spoke by phone about her research on stress, anxiety and addiction.

“The stress and motivational systems in the brain are really susceptible to learning and adaptation,” said Sinha. “As children we begin to adapt to our environment and learn things from it. If a child has a pervasive sense of adversity in his or her childhood for whatever reason, the brain responds to that kind of hardship by becoming more sensitized to stress. It gets hard-wired to react much more strongly than someone else who didn’t experience a lot of turmoil. So, to some extent, you will always have an elevated level of stress.”

“Fascinating.” I replied calmly, when what I was really thinking was: “That is so bloody unfair!”
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December 7th, 2011
12:01 AM ET

Sugar is on the menu for kids’ breakfast

Only one in four children’s cereals meets government guidelines for limits on sugar, according to a new report by the Environmental Working Group, a consumer advocacy organization.

Proposed government guidelines recommend that cereals have no more than 26% added sugar by weight, according to the report, and the Environmental Working Group found that many popular cereals, including Froot Loops, Cap’n Crunch and Honey Smacks, had more than 40% added sugar.

“Our children deserve better,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, said in a press release issued by the Environmental Working Group.
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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