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Men, Those 'Natural Enhancers' Aren’t Doing You Any Favors

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You’ve seen them by the cash register at the gas station: “male enhancers” with alarmingly virile-sounding names. “Who buys that stuff?” you might say, chuckling nervously. Or you might say, “Does that stuff really work?” or “Isn’t that stuff dangerous?”

Prepare to have all those burning questions answered: a recent study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine set out to learn how many men use nonprescription supplements to boost their, uh, personal abilities. The researchers also wanted to learn what’s in those pills, if the pills actually work, and if they’re safe to take. 

So who buys that stuff? A lot of people. Sexual health issues like erectile dysfunction are extremely common; the urologists who conducted the study estimate that between 40 and 70 percent of men will experience sexual dysfunction at some point in their lives. There are drugs for some conditions, but drugs are expensive and can involve terribly uncomfortable conversations with the doctor. “Natural” remedies, on the other hand, are available—without discussion—at any convenience store, or online from any spammer.

Over-the-counter penis pills are classified as dietary supplements, which means there’s no regulation and no monitoring of their ingredients, efficacy, or safety. 

What’s in them? Some of these “natural” supplements may contain herbs like ginseng, ginkgo biloba, or Epimedium grandiflorum, commonly known as "horny goat weed." Others are made with amino acids or hormones. Some are mineral-based. And some are laced with illegal drugs. 

To clarify: the researchers found that some products marketed as “natural” actually contained traces of phosphodiesterase-5-inhibitors (PDE5Is), a class of ED drugs that includes Viagra. Viagra is perfectly legal if you have a prescription, but mixing it into something else and selling it over the counter is illegal in the U.S. It’s also unsafe, senior author Ryan Terlecki said in a press release. A prescription is a doctor’s assurance that the drug should be OK for you to take. Without it, you run the risk of dangerous medication interactions and unintended consequences to your health. 

Do the pills even work? Some might. Others are useless. But the researchers concluded that none of the pills packaged as “enhancers” have been clinically tested. There’s no evidence that they’ll do you any good, and some of the ingredients could actually cause you harm. One thing's for sure: They're not worth the money. "Patients are paying more than $5 per day to take products with no proven effectiveness," Terlecki said.  

Gentlemen, spare yourselves the heartache. If you’re unsatisfied with your sex life, talk to your doctor. Trust us: They’ve heard everything.

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science
New Patient Test Could Suggest Whether Therapy or Meds Will Work Better for Anxiety
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Like many psychological disorders, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for patients with anxiety. Some might benefit from taking antidepressants, which boost mood-affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Others might respond better to therapy, and particularly a form called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Figuring out which form of treatment works best often requires months of trial and error. But experts may have developed a quick clinical test to expedite this process, suggests a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have noted that patients with higher levels of anxiety exhibit more electrical activity in their brains when they make a mistake. They call this phenomenon error-related negativity, or ERN, and measure it using electroencephalography (EEG), a test that records the brain's electric signals.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” the paper’s lead author, UIC psychiatrist Stephanie Gorka, said in a news release. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you've made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

Gorka and her colleagues wanted to know whether individual differences in ERN could predict treatment outcomes, so they recruited 60 adult volunteers with various types of anxiety disorders. Also involved was a control group of 26 participants with no history of psychological disorders.

Psychiatrists gauged subjects’ baseline ERN levels by having them wear an EEG cap while performing tricky computer tasks. Ultimately, they all made mistakes thanks to the game's challenging nature. Then, randomized subjects with anxiety disorders were instructed to take an SSRI antidepressant every day for three months, or receive weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for the same duration. (Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of evidence-based talk therapy that forces patients to challenge maladaptive thoughts and develop coping mechanisms to modify their emotions and behavior.)

After three months, the study's patients took the same computer test while wearing EEG caps. Researchers found that those who'd exhibited higher ERN levels at the study's beginning had reduced anxiety levels if they'd been treated with CBT compared to those treated with medication. This might be because the structured form of therapy is all about changing behavior: Those with enhanced ERN might be more receptive to CBT than other patients, as they're already preoccupied with the way they act.

EEG equipment sounds high-tech, but it's relatively cheap and easy to access. Thanks to its availability, UIC psychiatrists think their anxiety test could easily be used in doctors’ offices to measure ERN before determining a course of treatment.

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Food
A Pitless Avocado Wants to Keep You Safe From the Dreaded 'Avocado Hand'
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The humble avocado is a deceptively dangerous fruit. Some emergency room doctors have recently reported an uptick in a certain kind of injury—“avocado hand,” a knife injury caused by clumsily trying to get the pit out of an avocado with a knife. There are ways to safely pit an avocado (including the ones likely taught in your local knife skills class, or simply using a spoon), but there’s also another option. You could just buy one that doesn’t have a pit at all, as The Telegraph reports.

British retailer Marks & Spencer has started selling cocktail avocados, a skinny, almost zucchini-like type of avocado that doesn’t have a seed inside. Grown in Spain, they’re hard to find in stores (Marks & Spencer seems to be the only place in the UK to have them), and are only available during the month of December.

The avocados aren’t genetically modified, according to The Independent. They grow naturally from an unpollinated avocado blossom, and their growth is stunted by the lack of seed. Though you may not be able to find them in your local grocery, these “avocaditos” can grow wherever regular-sized Fuerte avocados grow, including Mexico and California, and some specialty producers already sell them in the U.S. Despite the elongated shape, they taste pretty much like any other avocado. But you don’t really need a knife to eat them, since the skin is edible, too.

If you insist on taking your life in your hand and pitting your own full-sized avocado, click here to let us guide you through the process. No one wants to go to the ER over a salad topping, no matter how delicious. Safety first!

[h/t The Telegraph]

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