Medical News Today: What to know about a black line on the nail

Very often, a person’s fingernails can provide some insight into what is going on with their body as a whole.

When a person has black or dark stripes running down their nails, the explanations can range from something normal through to severe, such as melanoma.

A person should not ignore changes to their nails, especially if they are painful, bleeding, and without explanation.

What are the causes?

Person with black lines on the nails clipping nails.
In some cases, black lines on the nails may be caused by melanoma.

Most commonly, dark stripes down a person’s nail are due to a symptom known as linear melanonychia. According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, these stripes commonly occur in those of African-American descent who are age 20 and older.

Linear melanonychia is considered a normal fingernail color variation. The condition occurs when pigments in the nail known as melanocytes make excess pigment. This causes the nail beds to darken.

According to an article in the journal Podiatry Today, an estimated 50 percent of African-Americans have this condition.

Less common causes of nail melanonychia exist. These include:

Another cause of black lines on the nails is a splinter hemorrhage, which occurs when blood vessels under the fingernail are damaged, often due to injuries, such as hitting.

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More seriously, a black line or lines on the nails can indicate the presence of melanoma, a dangerous form of skin cancer.

Melanoma under a fingernail is known as subungual melanoma. One of the melanoma types is known as acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM).

According to clinical guidelines published in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research, about half of all melanomas on the hands and feet are due to ALM.

Symptoms

Typically, healthy fingernails will have small vertical ridges in them, are curved downward from the nail, and do not crack or break easily. However, there are times when a person may experience black lines on the nail.

Linear melanonychia

When a person has linear melanonychia, they may see dark stripes running down the nails. They may have color variations that range from black to deep brown and gray. These lines will normally appear on 2 to 5 fingernails, but not necessarily all 10.

Subungual melanoma

When a person has subungual melanoma, they will usually notice a stripe on one fingernail only. Often, they cannot link the stripe’s appearance back to an injury.

Typically, a black stripe from subungual melanoma will darken or widen with time. Sometimes, the nail will be painful or bleed.

The pigmentation may also extend to the area where the fingernail meets the cuticle. This is known as Hutchinson’s sign, which is often an indicator of melanoma. The stripe can occur on either the fingernails or toenails.

According to the journal Podiatry Management, an estimated 40 to 55 percent of cases of subungual melanoma occur on the foot.

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Splinter hemorrhage

Splinter hemorrhages appear as small black or deep-red lines and are caused by injuries to the small blood vessels under the nail beds. They usually heal on their own within a few days.

If a person has multiple splinter hemorrhages across several different nails, it could indicate an underlying condition.

Getting a diagnosis

Person having fingernails inspected by a doctor.
A doctor may ask questions about a persons medical history to diagnose the cause of black lines on the nails.

The diagnostic process for dark lines under the fingernails usually starts with a persons’ medical history.

Questions a doctor may ask include:

  • How long have the lines been present?
  • When were you first aware of the lines?
  • Have you noticed any recent changes to the lines?
  • Have you had a trauma to the nails that may have caused these changes?

A doctor will also ask about medications. If a person has a history of taking blood thinners, such as warfarin or aspirin, this could explain splinter hemorrhages.

Sometimes a doctor will take a biopsy or sample of the nail area. They will send this biopsy to a pathologist, who can identify if any cancerous cells might be present.


What are the treatments?

Most causes of black lines on the nail do not require treatment. Melanoma is an exception. A doctor will usually first remove the area of melanoma as well as the skin under the fingernail.

A doctor can perform a skin graft over the fingernail to improve the finger’s appearance post-surgery.

If the melanoma had spread to the bone, a doctor might recommend amputating the finger to stop the melanoma spreading.


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When to see a doctor

It is especially important to see a doctor if a person has a nail that is bleeding and painful or has changes without a known cause.

A person should see their doctor if they notice changes to the quality of the nail itself, such as thinning, cracking, or differences in the shape.


Takeaway

Most black lines on the fingernails and toenails are harmless. However, if a person has melanoma, the earlier the condition is diagnosed, the better their prognosis.

According to the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research, melanoma that occurs in the foot or toenail has a poorer prognosis than melanoma in other locations, as it may not always be diagnosed early.

Source Article from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320687.php

Medical News Today: ‘Just breathing’ is enough to spread flu

Just breathing out — without coughing or sneezing — is enough for a person with the flu to spread the virus, according to new research led by the University of Maryland in College Park.
a man breathing in cold temperatures
Researchers say that simply breathing out is enough to spread the flu virus.

“People with flu,” explains senior author Donald K. Milton, professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland, “generate infectious aerosols (tiny droplets that stay suspended in the air for a long time) even when they are not coughing, and especially during the first days of illness.”

The common belief is that flu is spread through coughs and sneezes from infected individuals and from touching surfaces contaminated with the virus.

However, the new study reveals that people with the flu can shed the infectious virus into the air around them just by breathing.

“So,” Prof. Milton urges, “when someone is coming down with influenza, they should go home and not remain in the workplace and infect others.”

He and his colleagues report their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Seasonal flu varies widely

Flu, or influenza, is an infectious respiratory disease that is caused by viruses. The illness ranges from mild to severe and can lead to hospitalization and even death.

People at higher risk of serious complications from the flu include young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with certain conditions, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, heart disease, stroke, asthma, and diabetes.

The burden of seasonal flu in the United States varies widely from year to year, depending on which viruses are circulating, when the season starts and finishes, how well the vaccine is working, and how many people have it.

Since 2010, the number of people who have caught flu every year in the U.S. has varied from 9.2 million to 35.6 million; the number hospitalized has ranged from 140,000 to 710,000, and the number who have died has been between 12,000 and 56,000.

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) advise everyone aged 6 months and older in the U.S. receive a flu shot every year to prevent the spread of seasonal flu.

In the new study, the researchers assessed flu virus in 142 individuals who were confirmed to have influenza. They took samples from each participant during the first 3 days after their symptoms emerged.

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Flu spreads without coughing, sneezing

In all, the team was able to use viable data from 218 samples of exhaled breath and 218 “nasopharyngeal swabs,” where samples are taken through the nose or the back of the nose and throat. The samples of exhaled breath included samples taken during natural breathing, spontaneous coughs, and sneezes.

To collect the exhaled breath samples, the researchers invited the participants to breathe normally into a cone-shaped aerosol sampler for 30 minutes while they recited the alphabet once at 5, 15, and 25 minutes. They collected two types of aerosol samples: coarse and fine.

Of the 23 fine aerosol samples collected during normal breathing without coughing, the analysis showed that 11 samples — or nearly half — contained detectable traces of viral RNA, including eight with infectious virus. This suggests that normal breathing is a considerable contributor to aerosol shedding of flu virus through exhaled breath.

Also, the participants did not sneeze very much, and when they did, the sneezes were not especially associated with greater presence of viral RNA, either in coarse or fine aerosol samples. This suggests that sneezing is not a big factor in aerosol shedding of flu virus through exhaled breath.

From these results, the researchers conclude that “sneezing is rare and not important for — and that coughing is not required for — influenza virus aerosolization.”

We found that flu cases contaminated the air around them with infectious virus just by breathing, without coughing or sneezing.”

Prof. Donald K. Milton

They suggest that their findings could help to improve computer models that analyze risks of flu transmission through airborne means. This could eventually also improve the effectiveness of influenza public health initiatives to control and reduce pandemics and epidemics.

The results also suggest that improving ventilation in offices, schools, and other public places — such as subway cars — might also help to reduce the spread of flu.

The following video from the University of Maryland School of Public Health sums up the study:

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Medical News Today: What to know about swollen taste buds

Taste buds are the small sensory organs that allow a person to enjoy different flavors, from sweet to salty and savory.

The taste buds typically regenerate themselves about every 1 to 2 weeks. However, there are times when they can become damaged, burned, or swollen.

There are many potential causes of damage to the taste buds, and these will determine the choice of treatment.

Causes

Taste buds on person's tongue.
Swollen taste buds may be caused by a number of factors, including a dry mouth, or acid reflux.

Inside the papillae are small, hair-like projections known as microvilli that have sensory cells. These cells transmit messages to the brain. Disruption to these can affect a person’s ability to taste foods.

Several conditions can irritate the taste buds enough to result in swelling. These include:

  • acid reflux that causes acid to rise up the throat and burn the taste buds in the back of the throat
  • burns, cuts, or injuries to the mouth that can result in inflammation and swelling
  • a dry mouth
  • eating very spicy or sour foods
  • exposure to extremely hot or cold foods
  • history of or exposure to radiation of the head and neck
  • infection, such as a cold, flu, fungal, or bacterial illness
  • poor oral hygiene or dental problems
  • smoking
  • taking medications that are very acidic on the tongue

Sometimes an inflamed taste bud can signal a more severe problem, such as tongue cancer, which can cause inflammation that leads to tongue and taste bud swelling.


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What do they look like?

The papillae may appear white or bright red. Some may also have little fluid-filled blisters that are known as pustules on the tongue.

Normally, however, a person should not be able to see their taste buds with the naked eye.

When to see a doctor

Because the body grows new taste buds all the time, most people’s swollen taste buds resolve quickly. Either someone will treat the underlying condition they have, or the damage to their taste buds heals with time.

However, there are an estimated 200,000 Americans who seek treatment each year for disorders related to their sense of taste, according to the National Institutes of Health.

If a person notices chronically swollen taste buds or feels their sense of smell is affected, they will usually make an appointment to see an otolaryngologist, who is an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist.


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Diagnosis

Doctor inspecting tongue and throat of patient.
A physical examination is usually conducted to diagnose swollen taste buds.

An ENT specialist will start by taking a health history, reviewing a person’s medical conditions, and the medications they take. They will consider the symptoms and do a physical examination. The doctor can also conduct taste tests by applying specially-flavored substances to a person’s tongue.

If a doctor suspects a person could have tongue cancer, they may take a biopsy or sample of tissue. A specialist known as a pathologist will then view the cells under a microscope to look for cancerous cells.

What are the treatments?

A person may be able to reduce their swollen taste buds by treating the underlying cause. This could include taking antibiotics for a bacterial infection or gum problem.

Sometimes a doctor may prescribe alternate medications to reduce the effects of tongue or taste bud swelling.

Quitting smoking can also help a person who smokes and has problems with taste.

Other steps include:

  • brushing and flossing the teeth at least twice daily.
  • using a special mouth rinse and toothpaste if a chronic dry mouth is a cause
  • gargling with warm salt water several times daily
  • holding small amounts of ice chips on the tongue to reduce swelling
  • taking medications to reduce acid reflux, such as proton pump inhibitors and H2 receptor blockers

A person can also talk to their doctor about individual treatments that may benefit them.


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Takeaway

Damage taste buds might mean someone is unable to taste spoiled foods. A sense of taste that is compromised could also affect a person’s appetite and enjoyment of their food.

These problems with food consumption can result in unwanted weight loss if not dealt with quickly. Ideally, a person can seek medical treatment to identify underlying causes of taste bud swelling, so their taste sensations return.

Source Article from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320684.php

Medical News Today: What age do boys stop growing?

Growth during puberty happens over an extended period, so it can be difficult to know when it has finished. We explain what to expect and how to know when boys are likely to stop growing.

Every individual grows at different rates, and puberty begins and ends at different times for everybody. Puberty can last anywhere from 2 to 5 years, so it is not always easy to predict when it will end.

A boy’s body goes through many changes during puberty. These changes can be embarrassing or confusing, but the process happens to everyone and knowing what to expect can help.

When do boys typically fully mature?

3 teenage boys
On average boys start puberty around the age of 12 and it can last from 2 to 5 years.

Puberty is the process of growth and change that happens in the body as boys become adults.

Puberty is different for everyone and can start at any age between 8 and 14. The average age for boys to show the first signs of puberty is around 12 years old, about 1 year after girls begin puberty.

The fastest rate of growth is usually 1 to 2 years after puberty has started.

Developing physically into an adult takes 2 to 5 years. Most boys will stop growing taller by age 16 and will usually have developed fully by 18.

Onset of puberty and ethnicity

There is more research on the age that puberty begins in girls than there is for boys. However, a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that African-American boys were likely to start puberty earlier than Hispanic or Caucasian boys.


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What are the genetic factors?

Genes play a role, and parental height is a good indicator of how tall a child will be.

A way to judge roughly how tall a boy will become is to:

  • add together the height of the mother and father in inches
  • divide this number by 2
  • add 2.5 inches

This calculation is approximate and, in general, it is not possible to predict height accurately. Growth does tend to follow a curve, however, so if a person regularly plots a boy’s height on a graph throughout their childhood, it may be possible to track where the line is likely to end up.

Chronic illnesses, such as severe arthritis, and genetic conditions, such as Down syndrome, can cause a person to be shorter in adulthood than would otherwise be expected.

Average height in boys

two boys of differing heights
Boys may need reassurance that growing takes time and everyone is different.

Average height varies across the world. In the United States, the average height for an adult man is 5 feet 9 inches or 70.8 inches.

This average is found by adding the height measurements of a group of people together and then dividing by the number of people surveyed.

It does not mean that people above or below this height are unusually tall or small. It is important to remember that everyone is different.


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Questions and answers

Puberty can be a very confusing time for young people, and the following is a list of questions that people may ask.

At what age do the genitals finish growing?

For boys, one of the first signs of puberty is the growth of the testicles and development of pubic hair. The genitals grow throughout puberty.

Because puberty ends at different ages for different people, there is no set age at which the genitals will have completely developed. Once puberty is complete, the genitals are usually fully developed. Puberty usually takes around 4 years.

The key stages of development of the genitals for boys:

  • after 1 year of puberty, the penis and testicles begin to grow in size
  • the genitals continue to grow for a further 1 to 2 years
  • around 4 years after puberty begins, the growth of the genitals should be complete

When does body hair growth stop?

Pubic hair usually grows first, followed by underarm hair after about a year. Facial hair and other body hair will develop after around 2 years of puberty. Development of body hair will usually stop at the end of puberty.

What might impair growth rates?

Factors such as diet and environment can affect growth. Worldwide, children with diets that cause nutritional deficiencies or malnutrition may not grow to be as tall or strong as those who have had plentiful and balanced meals.

Illnesses, genetic conditions, and use of some medications, such as corticosteroids, can all slow or limit growth.

An imbalance of hormones in the body might slow or speed up growth. A parent or caregiver may wish to seek advice from their doctor if a boy:

  • is growing much faster or slower than expected
  • is much shorter or taller than other children their age
  • is growing very tall despite having shorter parents
  • has not started puberty by age 14

An X-ray of the hand and wrist can help judge how much more a child will grow.

Tips to ensure the best possible growth

young boy highfiving basketball teacher
Eating healthfully and keeping active will help a young person reach their full potential height.

All individuals have a maximum potential height. Some things can be done to ensure a person reaches their full potential height, but a person cannot grow beyond this by using supplements or eating certain foods.

Eating a healthful diet and getting enough sleep and exercise is essential. There are many ways to stay active, from joining a sports team to helping with household chores.

Teenagers need 8 to 10 hours sleep a night. A healthful sleep pattern means going to bed at around the same time each night and not staying up too late.

During puberty, boys may be shorter or taller than other boys their age. This can be hard to deal with. Understanding the changes their body is going through and being able to find information about puberty can help.

Boys should be reassured that growing takes time and that everyone is different. Developing good self-esteem through positive family relationships, friendships, hobbies, and interests can all help boys to cope with puberty.

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Medical News Today: At what age do girls stop growing?

Girls tend to have their final growth spurt between the ages of 10 and 14. Most will have reached their adult height by the time they are 15 years old.

This final growth spurt describes the period of a girl’s life when she enters the phase of sexual and physical development, known as puberty.

Everyone starts puberty at a different time, and genetics largely determines growth patterns. This means “normal” growth rates in humans occur within a range.

When does puberty start and finish in girls?

young girl smiling with other children in background
Girls tend to start puberty between the ages of 10 and 14.

Girls tend to experience a growth spurt that takes them to their adult height in their teens, as they go through puberty.

Puberty is the transition from childhood to adulthood; it describes a series of changes people go through as their bodies start to increase the production of certain hormones.

In girls, puberty tends to start between the ages of 10 and 14. The average age for girls to start puberty is about 11, but it is different for everyone.

For some puberty can start earlier or later, and this is completely normal. It tends to last until a person is around 16.

In girls, puberty before the age of 8 is atypical. It is also considered atypical if a girl has not developed breasts by the time she is 13, or has not started her periods by the age of 16. These situations require medical attention for further evaluation.

During puberty, girls will experience an acceleration in growth and will begin to have periods, known as menarche. Some girls may experience intense sexual thoughts and feelings. They may start getting zits, and the hair on their legs may get darker.

The hormones associated with puberty may also make teenagers feel emotional or moody. Again, this is perfectly normal.


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When do girls stop growing in height?

young girls height being measured by mother
Various factors including genetics impact on a girl’s growth pattern.

The rate at which girls grow during puberty usually reaches its peak about 2 years after this transition period begins. Once girls start to menstruate, they typically grow another 3 or 4 inches.

However, this can vary. Girls who start their period at an earlier age can often expect to see more total inches of growth following the start of their period.

Other factors that can have an impact on height include:

  • Nutrition: Malnourished children are often shorter and smaller than expected during childhood but with proper nutrition may be able to catch up before adulthood.
  • Hormonal imbalances: Low thyroid or growth hormone levels, for example, can lead to slower growth rates and shorter adult height.
  • Medications: The use of some medicines can slow growth. The chronic use of corticosteroids is one possible example of this. However, chronic diseases that often require corticosteroids, such as asthma, can also affect growth.
  • Chronic illness: Long-term health conditions, such as cystic fibrosis, kidney disease, and celiac disease can lead to a shorter than expected adult height. Children who have had cancer may also be shorter as adults.
  • Genetic conditions: Children with Down syndrome, Noonan syndrome and Turner syndrome are expected to be shorter than their peers. Those with Marfan syndrome tend to be taller.

Because growth patterns are largely determined by genetics, there is a lot of variabilities when it comes to “normal” height. Expectations for overall growth based on age come from studies of healthy populations of children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the use of growth charts from the World Health Organization (WHO) until age 2 to guide expectations. After age 2, the CDC growth charts are useful up through age 19.


When do girls breasts stop growing?

Breast development (thelarche) is usually the first sign of puberty. As a girl’s body grows, she will start to develop bumps under her nipple, called breast buds. As these buds grow, they will form breasts made up of mammary glands and fatty tissues.

Certain aspects of breast size are hereditary, meaning it runs in the family. Breasts will vary in size depending on a woman’s weight. After puberty, breast tissue continues to change and respond to hormones throughout a woman’s life, including during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, breast-feeding, and menopause.

A female’s breasts can start to develop from as young as 8 and can continue until the age of around 18.

Teenagers can sometimes feel self-conscious about this element of growing up, but it is normal to:

  • have one breast slightly bigger than the other
  • have sore or tender breasts at times, particularly around a period
  • have bumps, pimples, or hair around the nipples


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Can anything prevent or delay puberty?

young girl eating a salad
Good nutrition is important for growth and development.

A well-balanced diet, which gives growing teenagers all the nutrients they need, and keeping physically active will support continued growth and proper development.

But puberty and subsequent growth can be delayed for a variety of reasons. Constitutional delay, or “being a late bloomer,” describes a pattern of later development that runs in families and is nothing to worry about. These teenagers will fully develop, just later than their peers.

Girls need a certain amount of body fat before their bodies start to go through puberty. This means teenage females who do a lot of exercise may begin the process later.

Children with long-term conditions, such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, kidney disease, or asthma, may also experience delayed puberty. This may be less likely if the condition is well-controlled, with limited complications.

Problems with the pituitary or thyroid glands, which produce the hormones the body needs to grow and develop, can also delay puberty. Likewise, the chromosome problems associated with some genetic conditions can interfere with the process.

Being overweight can affect hormone levels and signal the start of puberty earlier than expected.

Nutrition

Nutrition is important, and someone who is malnourished can develop later than their peers. Severe malnutrition as a child can contribute to growth delays, which can have on-going effects if not corrected.

The WHO describes impaired growth in children based on expected weight for height, height for age and weight for age. Children suffering from poor nutrition, repeated infection, and inadequate psychosocial stimulation are most likely to have impaired growth.

In 2013, according to the World Hunger Education Service, over 200 million children under age 5 worldwide were significantly malnourished or undernourished leaving them at risk for delayed puberty, as well as other developmental complications.

Takeaway

Puberty and growth patterns are different for everyone. If parents have concerns, they can talk to a healthcare professional who may be able to order further tests.

A thorough physical exam, an evaluation of eating habits, blood tests to screen for medical conditions, and X-rays that look at how the bones age and grow can be a good way to start.

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Medical News Today: Can beet juice help treat erectile dysfunction?

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    Bondonno, C. P., Liu, A. H., Croft, K. D., Ward, N. C., Shinde, S., Moodley, Y., … Hodgson, J. M. (2015, August). Absence of an effect of high nitrate intake from beetroot juice on blood pressure in treated hypertensive individuals: A randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition102(2), 368–375. Retrieved from http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/102/2/368.long

    Clifford, T., Howatson, G., West, D. J., & Stevenson, E. J. (2015, April 14). The potential benefits of red beetroot supplementation in health and disease. Nutrients7(4), 2801–2822. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4425174/

    Kapadia, G. J., Rao, G. S., Ramachandran, C., Iida, A., Suzuki, N., & Tokuda, H. (2013, June 26). Synergistic cytotoxicity of red beetroot (Beta vulgaris L.) extract with doxorubicin in human pancreatic, breast and prostate cancer cell lines [Abstract]. Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine10(1), 113–122. Retrieved from https://www.degruyter.com/view/j/jcim.2013.10.issue-1/jcim-2013-0007/jcim-2013-0007.xml

    Kapil, V., Khambata, R. S., Robertson, A., Caulfield, M. J., & Ahluwalia, A. (2014, November 24). Dietary nitrate provides sustained blood pressure lowering in hypertensive patients. A randomized phase 2, double-blind, placebo-controlled study [Abstract]. Hypertension, 71(2). Retrieved from http://hyper.ahajournals.org/content/early/2014/11/24/HYPERTENSIONAHA.114.04675

    Velmurugan, S., Kapil, V., Ghosh, S. M., Davies, S., McKnight, A., Aboud, Z., … & Ahluwalia, A. (2013, December). Antiplatelet effects of dietary nitrate in healthy volunteers: Involvement of cGMP and influence of sex. Free Radical Biology and Medicine65, 1521–1532. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3878381/

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Medical News Today: Toxic substance may yield male birth control pill

A new study brings us one step closer to a birth control pill for men, and it comes from an unlikely source: a plant-derived poison once used on the arrows of African warriors.
a packet of blue pills
Researchers reveal how a substance with deadly origins could lead to a male birth control pill.

Yes, you read it right. Researchers suggest that a plant extract known as ouabain — a potentially toxic substance that can stop the heart — could serve as an oral contraceptive for men.

This is after finding that a modified form of the compound safely reduced sperm motility in male rats.

Study co-author Gunda Georg — who works in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Minnesota’s College of Pharmacy in Minneapolis — and her colleagues recently published their findings in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

When it comes to oral contraception, women have a wealth of options. But for men, the choice is between condoms or a vasectomy. But researchers hope that this could soon change, with great strides being made toward the world’s first oral contraceptive for men.

In 2016, Medical News Today reported on a study from Georg and colleagues that identified a number of compounds that could be modified to make them viable candidates for male birth control.

The latest study focuses on one compound in particular: ouabain.

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Ouabain and male fertility

Ouabain, a substance that derives from the African plants Strophanthus gratus and Acokanthera schimperi, is a toxic compound that, in high doses, can cause cardiac arrest.

It was also traditionally used in African warfare; warriors used to coat the ends of their arrows with the substance in the hope that it would poison their enemies.

Today, ouabain is sometimes used in low doses for the treatment of certain heart conditions; it can help to control blood pressure and heart rate. That being said, because of the compound’s toxicity, its use is not widespread.

Ouabain works by inhibiting proteins in cell membranes called Na,K-ATPases. These proteins are comprised of subunits, many of which are found in heart tissue.

However, the researchers note that one Na,K-ATPase subunit — known as Na,K-ATPase α4 — is present in adult sperm cells, and research has shown that this subunit plays a significant role in male fertility.

Although previous studies have indicated that ouabain could reduce fertility in men, the compound as it stands would not be suitable as a male contraceptive; it would not only inhibit Na,K-ATPase α4 in sperm, but it would also block cardiac Na,K-ATPase subunits, which could cause severe heart damage.

With this in mind, Georg and team sought to modify ouabain so that it would target Na,K-ATPase α4, while steering clear of Na,K-ATPase subunits in the heart.

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Compound reduced sperm motility in rats

The scientists tested a number of different ouabain modifications for the new study, and they found that by removing a sugar group and the lactone group from the compound and replacing the latter with a triazole group, they created a compound that could selectively target the Na,K-ATPase α4 subunit in sperm cells.

On testing this newly created form of ouabain in male rats, they found that it was able to bind to the Na,K-ATPase α4 subunit in sperm and reduce their motility, or ability to swim. Poor motility can hinder sperm’s ability to travel through the female reproductive tract and fertilize an egg.

Importantly, the researchers found that their modified form ouabain produced no toxic effects in the rats.

Also, they point out that the effects of the compound on sperm motility should be reversible; since Na,K-ATPase α4 subunits are only present on mature sperm cells, any sperm cells produced after treatment with the ouabain-derived compound should not be affected.

Further studies are needed before any conclusions can be made about the use of ouabain as an oral contraceptive for men, but the researchers believe that their modified version could be a potential candidate.

The team concludes:

This novel scaffold represents an attractive chemical structure for further development of a highly specific male contraceptive.”

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Medical News Today: What you should know about hyperkeratosis

Hyperkeratosis is a skin condition that occurs when a person’s skin becomes thicker than usual in certain places.

Keratin is a tough, fibrous protein found in fingernails, hair, and skin. The body may produce extra keratin as a result of inflammation, as a protective response to pressure, or as a result of a genetic condition.

Most forms of hyperkeratosis are treatable with preventive measures and medication.

Causes and types

A callous on a foot is a type of hyperkeratosis
Forms of hyperkeratosis may include warts, corns, and calluses.

Pressure-related hyperkeratosis occurs as a result of excessive pressure, inflammation or irritation to the skin.

When this happens, the skin responds by producing extra layers of keratin to protect the damaged areas of skin.

Non-pressure related keratosis occurs on skin that has not been irritated. Experts think that this form of hyperkeratosis may be the result of genetics.

Forms of hyperkeratosis include:

  • actinic keratosis, which causes rough, sandpaper-like patches of skin to develop as a result of excess skin exposure
  • calluses
  • corns
  • eczema
  • epidermolytic hyperkeratosis, an inherited skin disorder present at birth
  • lichen planus, a condition that causes white patches to grow on the inside of the mouth
  • plantar warts
  • psoriasis
  • warts

If a person has a potential area of hyperkeratosis on their skin that they are uncertain of, they should see their doctor.


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Symptoms

Hyperkeratosis can have a range of symptoms. However, all symptoms will involve an area of rough or patchy skin that feels different from the surrounding skin.

Some symptoms of the more common causes of hyperkeratosis include:

  • Calluses: A callus is an area of thickened skin that usually occurs on the feet, but can also grow on the fingers. Unlike a corn (see below), a callus is usually of even thickness.
  • Corns: A lesion that typically develops on or between the toes. A corn usually has a center lesion of very hard keratin with an outer ring of hard tissue that is slightly softer.
  • Eczema: This condition causes red, itching skin that may appear in patches or as small bumps
  • Epidermolytic hyperkeratosis: This condition causes very red skin and severe blistering of the skin at birth. As the baby ages, they will develop areas of thickened skin (hyperkeratosis), particularly over their joints.
  • Leukoplakia: This condition causes thick, white patches to build up inside the mouth.
  • Plaque psoriasis: This condition can cause an excess buildup of skin cells that are often silvery and scaled.

With the exceptions of corns and calluses, most forms of hyperkeratosis are not painful.

What are the treatment options?

barefoot man in locker room may be prone to hyperkeratosis lesions
It is recommended to avoid being barefoot in gyms and locker rooms to help prevent hyperkeratosis lesions.

Treatments for hyperkeratosis depend upon what form a person has. Both at-home and medical treatments exist for hyperkeratosis.

Some of the ways to avoid hyperkeratosis lesions, such as corns or calluses include:

  • Wearing comfortable, well-fitting shoes. Wearing padding over corns or calluses can also offer further protection.
  • Avoiding going barefoot in areas that are prone to fungi, such as in locker rooms, gyms, or pools.
  • Avoiding environmental conditions known to contribute to eczema, such as dry air, highly fragranced or perfumed soaps, harsh chemicals, or extremely hot or cold temperatures.
  • Avoiding allergy triggers, such as pet dander and pollen that can cause skin inflammation.
  • Wearing sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 30 every time you go outside. Wearing protective clothing, such as a hat or long sleeves, can also protect against actinic keratosis.

If a person has a condition that causes lesions that are removable, such as warts, they should see their doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant who can “freeze” a wart or use a laser to vaporize it.

These healthcare professionals can also prescribe medication to treat areas of hyperkeratosis, such as corticosteroid creams for eczema or lichen planus.


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When to see a doctor

A person should see a doctor when their hyperkeratosis causes pain or discomfort. If an area of the skin appears infected, such as reddened, swollen, or pus-filled, they should also seek medical attention.

Sometimes hyperkeratosis plaques can closely resemble cancerous lesions. For this reason, many people choose to have thickened areas of skin evaluated.

A doctor will take a medical history to determine if there is an underlying cause for the hyperkeratosis. For example, if a person has leukoplakia, a history of smoking or using chewing tobacco, then they may be at higher risk of developing hyperkeratosis.

A doctor may also order imaging tests to determine if there are underlying problems with a person’s bone structure or the presence of tumors on or around the hyperkeratosis areas.

Another diagnostic tool is a biopsy, which involves taking a sample of skin and examining it under a microscope for the presence of cancerous cells or other cell abnormalities. In most instances, a doctor can diagnose the underlying cause via a physical examination.


Takeaway

There are many forms of hyperkeratosis, most of which are not painful. Some types of hyperkeratosis, such as warts and calluses are removable, while other forms can be treated or managed with a variety of medications.

Anyone who develops patches of thickened skin on their body should consult a doctor or dermatologist for a diagnosis.

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