SciTech Briefs

Birth control pills given no standard

This week, the Food and Drug Administration’s board of health advisers refused to impose a numerical standard on the success rate of birth control medications that are allowed on the market.

This decision could lead to the marketing of medications that are less effective than those currently available.

According to experts, next-generation prescriptions will include lower amounts of estrogen and progestin, two hormones known to increase the pills’ success rate while also causing clotting and stroke. With reduced level of hormones, women taking these new prescriptions should be less likely to experience blood clotting or stroke.

Though the new pills are intended to be safer than their predecessors, doctors are uncertain that the reported 12 million women taking birth control to prevent pregnancies will see the glass as half full.

Those who will benefit, however, are the women who take the pill for other reasons, such as acne treatment and menstrual cycle regulation.

Source: The Washington Post

Scientists link brain to smoking impulse

Scientists have a new lead on the neurology behind cigarette addiction. The insula, a prune-sized region of the brain near the ear, is now thought to be a critical component in causing addictive behavior.

After sustaining an injury to the insula, stroke victims are sometimes able to quit smoking with effortless ease. As one patient put it, he simply “forgot” his usual cravings for cigarettes.

Doctors are hoping this breakthrough will lead to new methods of treatments for cigarette addiction. Moreover, they suspect that the brain’s insula plays the same central role in addictions to certain other substances, including alcohol and cocaine.

Source: The New York Times

MySpace to begin verifying user ages

Hoping to create a safer online environment, MySpace is exploring options to verify the ages of its users.

At the forefront of this possibility is a system called Zephyr, a monitoring software that will allow parents to see how old their children are claiming to be without granting access to their profiles and messages. Though MySpace is not the only website of its kind, it is by far the largest, boasting a user population of 55 million individuals.

On the other hand, a task force composed of the attorneys general from 34 U.S. states is worried that Zephyr will do too little to protect young users. The program could be easily outwitted, the attorneys argue, from a friend’s house or alternate family computer.

In fact, the attorneys are pushing for a more thorough method of verification, perhaps requiring license or credit card information from parents to confirm their children’s ages. They also recommended that the site raise its minimum age from 14 to 16.

Source: Newsweek