The American Voice Institute of Public Policy presents

Personal Health

Joel P. Rutkowski, Ph. D., editor
July 3, 2004

Important Medical Disclaimer: The content displayed in Personal Health is designed to educate and inform. Under no circumstances is it meant to replace the expert care and advice of a qualified physician. Rapid advances in medicine may cause information contained here to become outdated, invalid or subject to debate. Accuracy cannot be guaranteed. Personal Health assumes no responsibility for how information presented is used.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PERSONAL HEALTH for the week of April 17-24

 

  1. Heart Disease Now Major Global Threat –Report
  2. Study: Reading Program Helps Out Students

  3. High Doses of 'Older' Antidepressants Seen Risky
  4. Study Urges New Look at Antibiotic Resistance
  5. Concussions Often Followed by the Blues
  6. Single Women Less Likely to Get Cancer Screenings
  7. People Often Inactive, Alone After a Stroke
  8. Supersized Breakfast Stresses Vessels
  9. Cold Virus May Lurk in Body, Study Finds
  10. Doctors May Drop Ball With Hepatitis C Patients
  11. Ditching Sodas Cuts Childhood Obesity – Study
  12. Sinusitis: A Frequent Worry for Cystic Fibrosis Sufferers
  13. Cancer Not Increased in IVF Children
  14. Turmeric Corrects Cystic Fibrosis Defect, in Mice
  15. Study Blames Corn Syrup for Rise of Diabetes in US
  16. Study: Workers Should Stay Home When Sick
  17. Ditching the Fizz Cuts Childhood Obesity –Study
  18. Antidepressant Use in Kids Under Fire Again
  19. Tobacco Explains Black Cancer Disparity – Study
  20. Heart Enlargement Seen in Healthy But Obese Women
  21. Survey Reveals Wide Frustration Among Black Doctors
  22. Cervical Cancer Still Cutting Many Lives Short
  23. Childhood Poverty Can Hurt Eating Habits
  24. Screening Uncovers a Lot of Unsuspected Diabetes
  25. High Blood Pressure More Risky for Black Moms-to-Be
  26. Satisfying Your Hunger Cuts Cravings for Sweets
  27. Studies Highlight Dangers of Secondhand Smoke
  28. Worry Affects Fertility in Women, Study Shows
  29. High Blood Pressure More Risky for Black Moms-to-Be
  30. Diet, Exercise May Ward Off Arthritis
  31. Curves Program Cuts Pounds
  32. Weight Training Helps Women, Elderly, Studies Show
  33. 'America's Oldest Teenager' Gets Serious About Diabetes
  34. Japanese Study: Drug Combo Slows Cancer
  35. Higher Drug Dose Hurts Kids in Cardiac Arrest
  36. Cholesterol Reduction Takes More Than Education
  37. Radar Research Leads to New Breast Cancer Treatment
  38. CDC: Obese Not Being Told to Lose Weight
  39. Frog in Your Throat
  40. Zinc Supplements May Help ADHD Treatment
  41. Early Treatment Works With Sickle Cell Disease
  42. 'No Junk Food' the Rule in Conn. District
  43. Study: Drinking Excess Can Raise Risk of Cancer
  44. Study: Diabetics Often Go Without Medicine
  45. Airborne Droplets Spread SARS in Buildings –Study
  46. Water vs. Sports Drinks
  47. You Really May Be Addicted to That Chocolate Cake
  48. Heart Disease Exacerbates Immune Disorders
  49. Study: New Bypass Technique Holds Promise
  50. Menthol Eases Agony of Arthritis
  51. Crumbs on Your Pillow? You May Be Risking Obesity
  52. Study: Doctors Often Pick Costlier Drugs
  53. Mental Ability Impaired in Some Bipolar Patients
  54. Citrus Dept. Tries to Counter Low-Carb
  55. Clot-Busters Don't Work Well for Diabetics
  56. N.D. Worries About Overweight Children
  57. Low-Dose Pill Link to Stroke Deemed Unlikely
  58. Steady Exercise Strengthens Older Immune Systems
  59. Mild Iron Deficiency Affects Thinking, Study Shows
  60. Attacking Asthma in Children
  61. Researchers Warn About Hormone Magnifiers
  62. Epilepsy Drug Eases Migraines
  63. Low Folate Linked to Pregnancy Problem in Blacks
  64. Drug Shows Promise Against Parkinson's
  65. CDC: Obesity Patients Not Getting Advice
  66. New Diagnostic Markers for ALS Found
  67. Stomach Acid Rebounds When Ulcer Bug Is Cleared
  68. Cutting Calories Can Prolong Life
  69. Blacks Less Likely to Show Suicide Factors
  70. Two Compounds Disrupt Female Hormones
  71. Cholesterol Imperils Many Diabetics, Experts Say
  72. Tea Looks a Promising Prostate Cancer Fighter
  73. Meal Delivery Services Attract Dieters
  74. Drinking Alcohol May Raise Colon Cancer Risk
  75. Ark. Gov. Doesn't Want to Regulate Food
  76. Study Shows How Vibrating Tools Damage Workers
  77. Experts Stress Post-Exercise Nutrition
  78. Fungus May Boost the Old, Out-Of-Shape – Conference
  79. N.D. Students Testing Homes for Radon
  80. FDA May Act on Ephedra Substitutes, Others
  81. Canadians Turn Out for Laughter Classes
  82. Benefit of Grape Antioxidant Questioned in Humans
  83. Low-fat the Natural Way
  84. Study to Test Hormone Benefits in Younger Women
  85. Home Care For the Aging: What You Need to Know
  86. Atkins Seeks to Tone Down 'Cheeseburger' Image
  87. Don't Harvest Carpal Tunnel in Your Garden
  88. Smokers Risk Frostbite, Study Finds
  89. Alcohol and Health: Distilling the Risks and Benefits
  90. Spring Can Mean Sinusitis

 

 

Friday, April 23, 2004

 

Heart Disease Now Major Global Threat –Report

 

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

Reuters

Friday, April 23, 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Cheap food, cigarettes and city life are causing millions of early deaths in the developing world, according to a report to be released on Monday.

Heart disease, once an illness of the rich, is killing more and more people in poor countries, according to the report.

"The risk of cardiovascular disease is growing as populations increase in cities," reads the report, issued by Columbia University's Earth Institute in New York.

"There, food is steadily becoming cheaper and exercise is scarce. The prevalence of obesity and of diabetes and of its precursor conditions, are rising faster in urban than in rural areas," the report adds.

"The tobacco scourge, now at epidemic levels in less-developed countries, exacts its toll in many ways, but cardiovascular deaths are its principal mode of mortality."

Unlike in the United States, few are working to help people quit smoking, to eat healthier diets and to get some exercise, the report says.

The result is that people are dying young -- in their most productive economic years. The loss of middle-aged workers will affect entire economies, the report cautions.

In the United States, where heart disease is far and away the No. 1 killer, there are 116 deaths per 100,000 men aged 35 to 59 from heart disease and stroke each year.

In Russia, there are 576 such deaths per 100,000 men the same age.

No Longer A Disease Of The Rich

"Cardiovascular disease has always been seen as a disease of affluent and older people in developed nations, yet 80 percent of all CVD deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries," Philip Poole-Wilson, President of the Geneva-based nonprofit World Heart Federation said in a statement.

"A major finding of this report is that in developing countries the onset of CVD occurs among younger people, increasingly affecting those of working and productive age."

In South Africa for example, 41 per cent of all heart deaths were in people aged between 35 and 64.

In the United States, the Federation predicts, 73 percent of heart deaths will be in people over 75.

"Until now, governments, health authorities and the medical community have neglected CVD and the burden it imposes on developing economies," Janet Voute, chief executive officer of the World Heart Federation, said in a statement.

"Unless intervention programs are put into effect now we will witness a global health crisis in developing countries as skilled workers die or become disabled, women are widowed and older people require expensive medical support for disability related to CVD."

The Columbia University team studied Brazil, South Africa, China, Tatarstan and India, combining population estimates with current death rates and workforce data to calculate the potential effects of heart disease.

"In just the five countries surveyed, our conservative estimates are that at least 21 million years of future productive life are lost because of CVD each year," said Stephen Leeder, a professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney in Australia, who worked on the report.

Back to the Top

Study: Reading Program Helps Out Students

 

By Diane Scarponi

Associated Press Writer

The Associated Press

Friday, April 23, 2004

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The brains of poor readers bloom with new connections that improve reading ability when teachers use an intensive, scientifically based reading program, a new study shows.

Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine used MRI scanners to track the progress in children's brains as they worked through the intensive reading lessons. The parts of the brain that regulate reading skills showed permanent improvement, even a year after the lessons ended.

The poor readers started to catch up to classmates who were good readers from the beginning, especially in their reading fluency and comprehension, said Dr. Sally Shaywitz, an author of the study and a national expert on reading disorders.

"I think this is a very, very hopeful finding, because it shows not only do children improve in their reading, but their brains can reorganize. It should encourage educators, parents and people who formulate public policy to know that if this can happen, every child should be eligible to get this kind of evidence-based reading intervention," Shaywitz said.

The study followed 77 children between the ages of 6 and 9 in the New Haven and Syracuse, N.Y., areas. Forty-nine of the children were poor readers, and the rest were good readers.

Three-quarters of the poor readers received intensive lessons based on recommendations that came out of the National Reading Panel, which Congress appointed in 1997. The lessons use a systematic, phonics-based plan to tutor children.

The rest of the poor readers got the standard help that was available in their schools.

Previous research has shown that poor readers have disruptions in two systems in the backs of their brains that handle language skills and reading, Shaywitz said.

When the good readers were asked to read while being scanned with an MRI, those centers of their brains activated. In poor readers, the proper regions in the backs of their brains were not geared up.

"The question was, are these systems malleable?" Shaywitz said. "If we gave a proven reading instruction system to struggling readers, could you not only improve reading, but also reorganize the child's brain?"

In this study, the children who got intensive reading lessons showed much more progress than those who got the standard lessons. And, MRI scans of their brains showed new pathways in the parts of their brains that were not activating before.

"We know that at least one year after intervention ended that the brain systems for reading are intact and look the same as for readers who have no problem reading," said Dr. Bennett Shaywitz, who worked with his wife on the study.

The children were asked to read through a periscope-like device with a screen as they were scanned in the MRI. Researchers projected words onto the screen, and the children held buttons in each hand to indicate their answers to questions.

One test, for example, flashed two words onto the screen. The child was asked to indicate whether the words rhymed. If they rhymed, he hit the button in his right hand. If not, he pushed the button in his left hand.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which is part of the National Institutes of Health (news - web sites). It is published in the May issue of the journal Biological Psychiatry.

"This study represents the fruition of decades of NICHD-supported reading research," said G. Reid Lyon, chief of the agency's child development and behavior Branch. "The findings show that the brain systems involved in reading respond to effective reading instruction."

Sally Shaywitz was one of the experts appointed to the National Reading Panel.

The reading panel recommended that children be taught to read first through phonemes and phonics — learning about sounds of spoken language and how letters represent sounds.

Then, the panel recommended teachers work on fluency, comprehension and vocabulary development.

"Children need to learn this not randomly or in a fragmented way, but in a comprehensive and systematic way," Shaywitz said.

The study backs up what teachers see in the classroom, said Gwenette Ferguson, a reading specialist and middle school principal in Houston who served on the National Reading Panel.

Children are better readers if they are read to at a young age and if they are motivated and encouarged, Ferguson said. But for children who read far below their grade levels into middle school, something medical appears to hamper them.

"My personal opinion is there may be something medically that is a deterrent that is required to them getting the necessary reading skills," Ferguson said. "Teachers do everything they can to assist students."

Back to the Top

High Doses of 'Older' Antidepressants Seen Risky

 

Reuters Health

Friday, April 23, 2004

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - There appears to be an association between the risk of sudden cardiac death and use of relatively high doses of the tricyclic type of antidepressants (TCAs), investigators report.

However, the risk is not increased with the newer type of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or TCAs at doses less than 100 milligrams per day, according to results of a study published in the Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

TCAs include drugs such Etrafon and Sinequan, and numerous generic products. "TCAs, used frequently for the treatment of depression and several other indications, have cardiovascular effects that may increase the risk of sudden cardiac death," Dr. Wayne A. Ray, of Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tennessee, and colleagues write.

Using Tennessee Medicaid records from 1998 through 1993, the team examined data on antidepressant use and the risk of sudden cardiac death.

There were 1487 confirmed sudden cardiac deaths, the researchers report. They found that for current users of TCAs the risk of cardiac death increased along with the dosage, compared with non-users of antidepressants.

The rate of cardiac arrests did not increase with TCA doses lower than 100 milligrams per day, but more than doubled for doses of at least 300 milligrams. The rate with use of SSRIs at any dose was the same as among people who did not take any antidepressants.

These finding suggest that clinicians should use caution in prescribing higher doses of TCAs, "particularly in patients aged 65 years or older or with pre-existing cardiovascular disease," Ray and colleagues write.

Source: Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, March 2004.

Back to the Top

Study Urges New Look at Antibiotic Resistance

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDayNews

Friday, April 23, 2004

FRIDAY, April 23 (HealthDayNews) -- Waste left by chickens raised in industrial chicken houses contains a wealth of bacteria that have antibiotic multi-resistance genes, a new study has found.

Since the development of antibiotics, bacteria have been able to mutate and become resistant to them. In this new study, researchers show how bacteria are able to become resistant to many antibiotics at one time by pasting together genes that are resistant to many antibiotics.

"A genetic element, called integrons, that's involved in pasting together multiple-antibiotic resistance genes has been found in much greater abundance than was ever anticipated," said lead researcher Anne O. Summers, a professor of microbiology at the University of Georgia.

These integrons were found in bacteria where they haven't been found before, she added.

Previously, integrons have been studied only in so called gram-negative bacteria that include the food-borne pathogens such as salmonella, Escherichia coli and other bacteria that can make you sick and even kill you.

But in this new study, which looked at resistant bacteria in the real world, researchers found most of these integrons live in harmless gram-positive bacteria, which are normally found in humans and other animals and do not cause disease. Yet somehow, these integrons are transferred to gram-negative bacteria.

In their study, Summers' team collected samples of poultry litter from several farms over 13 weeks and examined it for resistant bacteria, according to their report in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

There are more bacteria that become multi-antibiotic resistant than scientists thought, Summers said.

Of the thousands of bacteria that live in all animal systems, experts now know that genes that make them resistant to many different kinds of antibiotics can be created quickly, as the integrons in both gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria paste together many types of antibiotic resistance genes in each bacteria, she explained.

The problem is that these strings of antibiotic-resistant genes make each type of bacteria safe from many different antibiotics, Summers said.

Summers believes that they will find the same antibiotic resistance mechanism in humans. They are now screening bacteria from humans to see if these samples carry integrons.

"For a long time, antibiotic resistance has been studied one antibiotic at a time, one bug at a time, but looking beyond that we can now see why resistance spreads so fast and why it's so hard to manage it," Summers said.

"We are going to have think about antibiotic resistance in a radically new way if we are going to overcome this problem in a way that leads to health benefits for people to diminish the risk of developing serious infections that are untreatable," she said.

"We are going to have to do some really new thinking," Summers said, "because the bugs are built to respond very cleverly to anything we throw at them." It takes 20 years to develop a new antibiotic, but only two years for bacteria to become resistant to it, she added.

Dr. Stuart B. Levy, president of the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics and a professor of medicine at Tufts University, said what's striking is that, up until this finding, integrons were thought to be only in gram-negative bacteria.

"But now we find that they are actually also in gram-positive bacteria," he said. This discovery says that most of these integrons are in gram-positive bacteria, but how they get from there to the gram-negative bacteria is not known, he added.

"In humans this means that maybe some of the bacteria that people normally carry, which are gram-positive, could be housing antibiotic resistance, and we haven't looked at that," Levy said.

To combat the problem of antibiotic resistance, we need to use antibiotics more appropriately, he said.

"We also need to look at ways to prevent the spread of these resistant integrons. And the study also raises questions about whether the use of animal antibiotics has not created the farm as a factory for creating antibiotic resistant bacteria," Levy said.

More information

The Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics can tell you about antibiotic resistance, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases can tell you more about the antibiotic problem.

Sources: Anne O. Summers, Ph.D., professor, microbiology, University of Georgia, Athens; Stuart B. Levy, M.D., president, Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, and professor, medicine, Tufts University, Boston; April 19-23, 2004, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Back to the Top

 

Concussions Often Followed by the Blues

 

By Alison McCook

Reuters Health

Friday, April 23, 2004  

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - After a concussion, many college athletes experienced a temporary period of depression, Canadian researchers.

People are generally warned to avoid sports or any activity that could cause injury while they are experiencing any lingering symptoms from a concussion, and depression should be added to the list of possible after-effects, study author Dr. Lynda Mainwaring of the University of Toronto told Reuters Health.

However, she added that post-concussion depression appears to resolve within three weeks after the injury.

So Mainwaring hopes that, if people experience a concussion and start the next day with a low mood, these findings let them know that "this is normal, and it is going to go away."

Other symptoms of concussion include trouble sleeping, headaches, fatigue, dizziness and sensitivity to noise or light.

Mainwaring and her colleagues measured the general mood of 341 college athletes and 28 undergraduate students. When 16 of the athletes experienced concussions, the researchers then re-checked their moods, and compared the results.

Athletes who experienced concussions showed similar moods to other students before their injury, the investigators report in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology. However, after a concussion, they showed a significant rise in symptoms of depression, confusion and low mood.

In an interview, Mainwaring explained that these results suggest that athletes' depression is "a result of that concussion." However, she noted that it is impossible to determine whether athletes are depressed as a result of other factors as well, such as being temporarily sidelined from play.

She explained that people who experience concussions are advised to take it easy while they are still experiencing symptoms, because those symptoms indicate that something is still unsettled in the brain which could be further aggravated by another injury.

In addition, some of the symptoms of concussion - like fatigue and confusion - make people vulnerable to other injuries, such as spraining an ankle, she added.

After a concussion, "you may not be firing on all plugs," she said.

Source: Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, March 2004.

Back to the Top

Single Women Less Likely to Get Cancer Screenings

HealthDayNews

Friday, April 23, 2004

FRIDAY, April 23 (HealthDayNews) -- Many unmarried women aged 40 to 75 say they're reluctant to have routine cancer screening tests because they feel misunderstood or out of place in doctors' offices.

That's the conclusion of initial information from the five-year Brown University Cancer Screening Project for Women.

The women said their feelings were based on a number of factors, ranging from the wording used in medical pre-visit questionnaires, to conversations with doctors. For example, unmarried women noted that doctors' intake forms didn't allow them to indicate any partner except a husband and, during medical exams, doctors didn't ask them about their intimate relationships.

"Regardless of partnership preferences, women in this age group were uncomfortable when their doctors assumed they did not have a partner because they were not married," project leader Melissa A. Clark, an assistant professor of community health, said in a prepared statement.

"Women wanted a trusting relationship with at least one [health] provider who knows about their life and is informed about the health issues related to their sexual history and intimate relationships," Clark said.

The Cancer Screening Project for Women is among the first to examine why the more than 20 million single women aged 40 to 75 in the United States are less likely than married women to have regular screenings for cervical, breast and colorectal cancers.

These initial results are from focus groups with 28 women who receive their health care in Rhode Island. The early findings, which appear in the most recent issue of Women and Health, will be used to design the next phase of the project.

More information

The Women's Cancer Network has more about women and cancer.

Back to the Top

People Often Inactive, Alone After a Stroke

 

By Will Boggs, MD

Reuters Health

Friday, April 23, 2004  

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - In the early days after having a stroke, most patients spend most of their time alone resting in bed, when they should be encouraged to be active.

Complications of immobility account for as many as half the deaths in the first month after a stroke, explain the authors of an article in the medical journal Stroke, but little information is available about early mobilization.

Dr. Julie Bernhardt from the National Stroke Research Institute in Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia, and colleagues investigated the physical activity of 58 patients from five acute stroke units in metropolitan Melbourne during the first 13 days after an acute stroke.

"Fifty-three percent of the time, patients were resting in bed," the team reports, though only nine patients were restricted to bed.

Patients were in or beside their beds for 89 percent of the observation time, the report indicates, and only 13 percent of the day was spent being active. People with severe stroke spent even a higher proportion of their days (96 percent) in bed.

Patients spent 60 percent of their time alone and 15 percent with friends or family, the researchers note. Contact with therapists accounted for only 5 percent of the day, including an average of 23 minutes in occupational therapy, 33 minutes in speech and language therapy, and 24 minutes in physical therapy.

"The amount of activity currently occurring among stroke patients in some hospitals is very minimal," Bernhardt told Reuters Health, "and these levels may not represent the early rehabilitation that we believe is or should be happening as part of organized stroke care."

The team hopes to at least double the activity of patients in the first two weeks after stroke, she said.

"What remains unknown is whether this will improve the outcome of patients in the short or long term. That is why we need 'AVERT,' a randomized controlled trial of very early rehabilitation," Bernhardt explained.

The first aim with the project "is to see whether the intervention works (i.e., whether there are fewer people dying or living in a nursing home at 3 months after stroke).'

But money may be a problem. "Trials of pharmaceuticals are well funded, whereas we face a considerable challenge to fund trials of other, simple interventions," Bernhardt added.

Source: Stroke, April 2004

Back to the Top

Supersized Breakfast Stresses Vessels

By E.J. Mundell
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDayNews

Friday, April 23, 2004

FRIDAY, April 23 (HealthDayNews) -- A small study suggests that eating an oversized fast-food breakfast can stress blood vessels right up till lunchtime.

A 930-calorie meal consisting of an Egg McMuffin, a Sausage McMuffin and two McDonald's hash browns appears to trigger inflammation within arteries "within an hour," said study co-author Dr. Paresh Dandona, of the State University of New York at Buffalo. This inflammation "is slow to increase but it's not over by three hours. It's still continuing, and it might be continuing till four hours for all we know," he added.

The study appears in the April issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

By now, most people know the regular consumption of high-fat, high-carbohydrate meals raises cholesterol levels and sends blood sugar rates soaring, raising risks for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

But, according to Dandona, nutritionists are becoming increasingly aware that these types of meals can induce a third, equally dangerous response within blood vessels.

"We now believe that a common pathway for the causation of atherosclerosis -- hardening of the arteries -- is through inflammatory mechanisms," he explained. "Atherosclerosis is actually an inflammation of the wall of the arteries."

Certain types of nutrients, most notably fats and carbohydrate sugars, appear to induce the release of "free radical" molecules within blood cells, which in turn triggers inflammation, he said.

In their study, Dandona's team had nine healthy young adults consume a McDonald's meal consisting of an Egg McMuffin, a Sausage McMuffin and two hash browns, after an overnight fast. They then took blood samples from each of the participants one, two, and three hours after breakfast.

Study author Dr. Ahmad Aljada said the researchers chose the extra-large, two-McMuffin "double breakfast" because its 900 calories falls within the normal range for fast food meals, generally. Other studies are under way that focus on smaller (300-calorie) and larger (1,800-calorie) meals.

The researchers chose the McMuffin-hash brown meal because of its popularity, and said similar breakfast fare at other restaurants could provoke the same response.

Compared to individuals who had received no breakfast, those who had eaten the McDonald's meal displayed "evidence of free radical generation by the circulating white blood cells, which would cause inflammation within the white blood cells," Dandona said.

These markers of inflammation peaked at the second hour, but appeared at high levels in all three tests -- suggesting that high-fat, high-calorie foods might wreak havoc on arteries right up till the next meal.

Separate studies have suggested carbohydrates and fats are major culprits in inducing the inflammatory response, Dandona said, whereas proteins are relatively benign. Picking apart the McDonald's breakfast, the hash browns, cooking oil and muffin may be the main source of inflammatory stress -- not the protein-rich egg or sausage. Dandona theorized that "if you were to concentrate on proteins, you'd conserve your tissues while at the same time causing yourself the least amount of oxidative stress and inflammation."

But not everyone is convinced. Dr. Chris Rosenbloom, a professor of nutrition at Georgia State University in Atlanta, says she wouldn't make any dietary recommendations based on this small study. The study included only nine subjects and, because it included two McMuffin sandwiches, was "a pretty hefty breakfast," she pointed out.

"It would also have been more significant if they had compared the [McDonald's] meal to a 900-calorie meal of fruits and whole grain cereal, or lean meats or something like that," she said. "I would look at this as a preliminary study."

But Dandona's team said it has recently finished a separate study focused on just that type of low-fat, high-fiber meal. That study, as yet unpublished, found a 900-calorie breakfast consisting of fruit and high-fiber cereal "will not cause either oxidative stress or inflammation," Dandona said.

McDonald's announced last week that it was offering leaner fare on its menu, including low-carb alternatives, a wider variety of salads, bottled water, Happy Meals with apple slices, and even a pedometer to promote walking as a way of getting exercise.

Breakfast at McDonald's or other restaurants needn't be so calorie-laden. A meal of one Egg McMuffin and one hash brown clocks in at 430 calories, while other items, like sausage burritos and bagels, contain even fewer. At lunch or dinner, a Quarter Pounder with cheese and a small order of fries will add 760 calories.

Dandona believes the addition of foods rich in antioxidants might help "balance out" some of the negative effects of high-fat, high-carb meals. Orange juice, for example, is high in carbohydrates, "but doesn't give you any inflammation," because it's also high in free radical-busting antioxidants like vitamin C and flavonoids.

Vigorous exercise can also help reduce the bad effects of tasty but unhealthy foods, he notes. "Exercise does reduce the levels of inflammation," Dandona said. "How it does so, nobody knows, but there are good studies showing marathoners and ultra-marathoners -- folks running 100 kilometers -- that these guys have inflammation levels one-third of yours and mine."

The Buffalo researcher also stressed that fast-food chains are not the only source of artery-stressing breakfasts. Sit-down restaurants or even a home-cooked breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast would have the much the same effect on arteries.

Rosenbloom agreed. "The kinds of meals they used in this study are high in total fat, high in saturated fat, high in cholesterol and high in sodium," she said. "Those are all nutrients that we know are positively related to the development of cardiovascular disease."

McDonald's Corp. did not reply to requests for comment.

More information

For advice on heart-healthy eating, check out the American Dietetic Association or the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Sources: Paresh Dandona, M.D., Ph.D., chief, endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism, State University of New York, Buffalo; Ahmad Aljada, Ph.D, assistant professor, medicine, State University of New York, Buffalo; Chris Rosenbloom, Ph.D., R.D., associate professor, nutrition, Georgia State University, Atlanta; April 2004 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Back to the Top

Cold Virus May Lurk in Body, Study Finds

 

Reuters

Friday, April 23, 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A common cold virus that can land babies in the hospital may hide out in the lungs for weeks or months, perhaps explaining how it spreads easily despite the best hygiene efforts, doctors reported on Friday.

They found evidence that respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, stays in the lungs of mice long after they seem to be over the main infection.

Doctors had thought that RSV survived in the body for only a few days. But this study, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, suggests it hides itself inside the lungs.

"These studies show that RSV is a 'hit and hide' virus, rather like HIV (news - web sites), herpes or some hepatitis viruses," said Dr. Peter Openshaw, of Imperial College London and St. Mary's Hospital, who worked on the study.

"The symptoms seem to go away but the virus is just hiding, waiting for a chance to re-emerge and begin infecting other people," he said in a statement.

RSV infects virtually every child by age 2 and is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia among infants. Like other cold viruses, it causes fever, cough, runny nose and wheezing.

The first time they are infected, between 25 percent and 40 percent of babies have some symptoms of bronchitis or pneumonia and up to 2 percent are ill enough to be hospitalized. Some end up on ventilators to help them breathe.

RSV causes mild symptoms in healthy adults but can cause severe illness in the elderly or those with damaged immune systems such as patients with HIV or on cancer therapy.

Openshaw and colleagues in Germany infected mice with human RSV and observed that after 14 days, the virus could no longer be found in samples taken from the airways.

But traces of the virus's genetic material, called viral RNA, could be found in the lung tissue more than 100 days later.

The same is probably true in people, the researchers said. It is possible that children who no longer have immediate symptoms of colds such as coughs and fever may have RSV lurking in their lungs, they said.

"Some people may be 'carriers', able to act as a source of new outbreaks in children," Openshaw said.

"If RSV is a 'hit and hide' virus, this could explain where this virus goes in the summer and where it comes from each winter. If the virus is able to lie dormant in previously infected individuals, it could re-emerge when the conditions are right and cause the outbreaks that fill our children's wards each winter."

Back to the Top

Doctors May Drop Ball With Hepatitis C Patients

HealthDayNews

Friday, April 23, 2004  

FRIDAY, April 23 (HealthDayNews) -- Poor communication skills and incompetence are among the problems cited by people with hepatitis C virus who say they're not satisfied with their doctors, says a study in the April issue of Hepatology.

The study, which included 322 patients at the University of Iowa, found that 23 percent questioned the competence of their doctor and 42 percent had communication problems with their doctor.

Of the patients who reported communication problems with their doctor, 69 percent identified poor doctor communication skills as the main issue. This left patients feeling rushed, ignored, misunderstood and treated unkindly.

Some patients felt their doctor wasn't able to diagnose or treat their disease and others felt they were stigmatized by their doctor as sexually promiscuous or as a drug abuser.

Emotional problems and low levels of social support were more common among HCV patients who reported conflict with their doctor. The study also found an association between reported conflict and patient failure to respond to antiviral therapy for hepatitis C.

"Although additional, prospective studies are needed to determine whether communications difficulties are a determinant of treatment outcome, these results lead us to question whether conflict between patients and their physicians may adversely affect medical adherence," the study authors wrote.

Treatment for hepatitis C involves 48 weeks of injectable and oral drug therapy.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about hepatitis C.

Back to the Top

Ditching Sodas Cuts Childhood Obesity – Study

 

By Patricia Reaney

Reuters

Friday, April 23, 2004

LONDON (Reuters) - Ditching fizzy drinks could help to prevent childhood obesity, scientists said on Friday.

Obesity is a growing problem in children. Researchers at the Bournemouth Diabetes and Endocrine Center in southern England found that just cutting down on carbonated drinks limited their obesity rates.

"The message was 'Ditch the fizz'," Dr David Kerr, the head of the research team, said in an interview.

Rather than targeting multiple areas such as food, drink and exercise to prevent childhood obesity, Kerr and his team decided to focus on just one -- carbonated drinks.

Fizzy drinks contain large amounts of sugar that are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. If the child doesn't use it up it gets stored as fat.

"We thought if we could persuade children to reduce their consumption of fizzy drinks it would go some way to prevent them becoming overweight or obese," Kerr explained.

It did.

In a study of 650 schoolchildren, aged 7-11, Kerr and his team said half of the youngsters cut their consumption of fizzy drinks by half a glass a day, about 250 ml (9 ounces).

The other half, or control group, drank about 0.2 glasses more a day in addition to their average of about two glasses every three days.

By the end of the school year the percentage of overweight and obese children in the control group rose by 7.6 percent but fell 0.2 percent in the children who cut fizzy drinks.

"This was is a cheap intervention, thoroughly enjoyed by the children. We think it should be rolled out," said Kerr, whose findings are reported online by the British Medical Journal.

"It doesn't take a major starvation diet to prevent people getting overweight or obese. This has huge implications for public health."

Instead of consuming carbonated drinks, the children were encouraged to drink diluted fruit juices or water. "This study supports the fact that maybe it is time to remove these drinks away from schools and perhaps persuade celebrities to stop endorsing them and move to promote something that is useful for the children, namely drinking water."

An estimated 17.6 million children under five are overweight, according to the World Health Organization (news - web sites). In the United States the number of overweight children has doubled and the number of overweight adolescents has trebled since 1980, according to the US Surgeon General.

Children who are overweight or obese tend to carry the excess weight into adulthood and face an increased risk of suffering from diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer.

Back to the Top

Sinusitis: A Frequent Worry for Cystic Fibrosis Sufferers

By Dennis Thompson Jr.
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDayNews

Friday, April 23, 2004

FRIDAY, April 23 (HealthDayNews) -- Andrea Eisenmann has struggled with cystic fibrosis since she was 9 months old.

A defective gene in her body promotes the creation of a thick, sticky mucus that clogs her lungs and could cause a potentially fatal lung infection.

It's a miserable disease, one that left her feeling winded after walking a flight of steps. But Eisenmann's misery was compounded by horrible headaches and raw sinuses, symptoms not directly attributable to cystic fibrosis.

"I've always had a really bad cough, and bad sinuses," said Eisenmann, a 39-year-old graphic designer from New York City. "I always was really skinny. I tried to stay active, because I felt like that kept the mucus out of my lungs. Always had a horrible cough, and thick mucus."

Those problems are due to sinusitis, or chronic sinus infections, and Eisenmann isn't the only cystic fibrosis patient who has had to contend with the condition. It's a common side effect of cystic fibrosis, and doctors estimate as many as 80 percent of people with CF struggle with sinus problems.

Cystic fibrosis affects approximately 30,000 children and adults in the United States, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. More than 10 million Americans are unknowing, symptom-less carriers of the defective gene that causes the disease. An individual must inherit two defective cystic fibrosis genes -- one from each parent -- to have CF.

In Eisenmann's case, as with many cystic fibrosis patients, her painful sinus infections took a back seat to her daily struggle to catch a breath.

"I would get frequent sinus infections, and I would take antibiotics, but it was always my chest I was preoccupied with," she said.

Eisenmann would have to sleep a lot, taking frequent naps. She tended to get sick very easily, and any infection she caught would fester very fast. She also suffered frequently from uncomfortable headaches.

These symptoms are common for cystic fibrosis patients who have sinusitis, says Dr. Noreen R. Henig, director of the Adult Cystic Fibrosis Center at Stanford University.

"Probably close to all cystic fibrosis patients have some degree of sinus disease," Henig says. "The extent to which they suffer varies from person to person."

Henig says cystic fibrosis and sinusitis are linked because the protein that is affected by the genetic disorder is also very active in the sinuses. "If you think of the upper respiratory tract in its entirety, it's easy to see why the sinuses are affected as the lungs are."

Most people with cystic fibrosis develop sinus symptoms, usually between the ages of 5 and 14 years, Henig says. These people complain of:

 

There are a number of ways to treat sinusitis, Henig said. These can include oral or nebulized antibiotics, nasal steroids, saline or antibiotic flushes, or antihistamines and decongestants. In severe cases, surgery to open up the sinuses might be required.

 

Eisenmann spent years using nasal irrigation to rinse out her sinuses. She also used a nasal nebulized antibiotic therapy as part of the 22-medication regimen required by her health problems.

 

She ended up having a lung transplant five years ago when her cystic fibrosis became life-threatening. Immediately after her transplant, her doctor recommended she have a second surgery to open up her sinuses.

 

"He said the mucus in my lung was like taffy," Eisenmann said. "He said, 'If you don't get sinus surgery, you will keep getting infections.' "

 

In the surgery, Eisenmann's doctor broke down the walls separating the different chambers of the sinus to reduce pressure. "He went in there and he broke down about 60 walls in there and just tried to make it one big area," she says. "He made these windows that could drain out, and he also took all the mucus out."

 

Both surgeries were a success. "I'd say that my cystic fibrosis and my sinus problems are both much more under control," she said.

 

As a result, Eisenmann's quality of life has improved dramatically. "I enjoy eating more. I enjoy not having to worry that I have to walk up a flight of stairs," she said. "Everything was a mountain I had to climb over."

 

Eisenmann still has to perform a nasal flush on herself twice a day, along with two doses of a nasal nebulized antibiotic inhalant. But she said she's fortunate the surgery helped her, compared with people she knows.

"Some people have such bad sinus problems they have innumerable sinus operations," she said. "They can't seem to get it right. Even though their lung function isn't compromised, they can't live with themselves."

 

More information

 

The American Academy of Family Physicians offers information on sinusitis. A description of the sinuses, along with photographs, can be found at the American Rhinologic Society.



Sources: Andrea Eisenmann, New York City; Noreen R. Henig, M.D., director, Adult Cystic Fibrosis Center, Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif.

Back to the Top

 

Cancer Not Increased in IVF Children

 

By Will Boggs, MD

Reuters Health

Friday, April 23, 2004

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The risk of childhood tumors does not appear to be increased in children whose mothers were treated with ovulation-stimulating drugs, researchers have shown.

As they point out in the medical journal Fertility & Sterility, several reports have suggested a link between in vitro fertilization (IVF) or ovulation-stimulating drugs and various malignancies in offspring. However, there has been little systematic investigation regarding childhood cancer risk in this setting.

Dr. Louise A. Brinton from National Cancer Institute (news - web sites) in Bethesda, Maryland, and colleagues used a database including 30,364 Danish women evaluated for infertility to assess the cancer risk among children conceived following the use of drugs to stimulate ovulation.

Fifty-one of the children developed cancer, the authors report, representing a cancer risk similar to that of the general population of children in Denmark.

Rates of leukemias and lymphomas were slightly, but not significantly, elevated while neural tumors were decreased, the report indicates.

"The results from our study were largely reassuring and suggested that no overall increase in tumor risk occurred among children conceived following their mothers' treatments for infertility," the investigators conclude. "However, even though this is the largest study to date, we were limited in our ability to detect alterations in risk, especially for specific tumor types."

Nonetheless, since IVF is widely used in the U.S. and other developed countries, the possibility of a small increase in risk for blood cancers suggests "the need for continued monitoring of the exposures," Brinton told Reuters Health.

"We have, however, just completed a large U.S. study in which we inquired about specific problems that the children (conceived after use of ovulation stimulating drugs) developed during the first 5 years of life," she added. "We will, therefore, have some opportunity for assessing further whether there are any early adverse effects among the children."

Sources: Fertility & Sterility, April 2004.

Back to the Top

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Turmeric Corrects Cystic Fibrosis Defect, in Mice

Reuters Health

Thursday, April 22, 2004

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Treatment for the underlying problem that causes the lung disease cystic fibrosis might be as close as the kitchen.

Curcumin, a major component of turmeric, allows a defective cell protein that results from the genetic mutation responsible for cystic fibrosis to do its job, at least in animal experiments.

As described in the journal Science, Dr. Michael J. Caplan, from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and colleagues gave curcumin to mice bred with the genetic mutation that occurs in about 90 percent of cystic fibrosis patients.

This mutation, known as delta-F508, involves the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) and leads to production of an incorrectly folded CFTR protein. Because it is misshapen, the protein is destroyed by the cell's housekeeping machinery and never gets to its intended location in the cell membrane.

The defect causes problems with mucus buildup in the lungs and respiratory difficulties. Cystic fibrosis is the most common life-threatening disease resulting from a genetic mutation among Caucasians.

In mice carrying the mutation, feeding them curcumin at doses well tolerated by humans corrected an electrical abnormality characteristic of the disease. This effect was only seen in animals with a mutated CFTR gene, not in mice completely lacking the gene.

Caplan's team also found that treating hamster kidney cells with curcumin allowed mutated CFTR proteins to reach the cellular membrane.

The results suggest that "curcumin and curcumin derivatives represent promising new candidate compounds that may prove useful in the search for small-molecule pharmacotherapies for cystic fibrosis and for other protein-folding diseases," the researchers state.

Source: Science, April 23, 2004602.

Back to the Top

 

Study Blames Corn Syrup for Rise of Diabetes in US

 

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

Reuters

Thursday, April 22, 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Corn syrup and other refined foods may be much to blame for the huge increase in type-2 diabetes in the United States over the past few decades, U.S. researchers said on Thursday.

A study of nearly 100 years of data on what Americans eat show a huge increase in processed carbohydrates, especially corn syrup, and a large drop in the amount of fiber from whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

It parallels a spike in the number of cases of type-2 diabetes, caused by the body's increasing inability to properly metabolize sugars.

"We are seeing this big jump in the number of calories," that people are eating, Dr. Lee Gross, a family physician at the Inter-Medic Medical Group in North Port, Florida, who led the study, said in a telephone interview.

"We tried to break down where are these calories coming from? We have heard everyone debating is it because of fat, is it because of carbohydrate and it is not really clear," Gross added.

"This shows the increase in the past 20 years is almost exclusively carbohydrates and certainly corn syrup consumption has increased dramatically."

Gross said he was not "picking on the corn syrup industry," but added, "It is hard to ignore the fact that 20 percent of our carbohydrates are coming from corn syrup -- 10 percent of our total calories."

An estimated 16 million Americans have type-2 diabetes, the sixth leading cause of death overall. And many studies have linked a high intake of refined carbohydrates and other foods with a high "glycemic index" with the development of diabetes.

Spikes In Insulin

Foods with a high glycemic index cause a spike in insulin production. Many experts agree that, over time, repeatedly eating foods in this pattern can cause insulin resistance, which in turn leads to diabetes.

Writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (news - web sites), Gross and colleagues said they used data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (news - web sites) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites) to show that people have eaten about the same amount of carbohydrates a day on average -- 500 grams -- since 1909.

But instead of whole grains and vegetables, people are getting more and more of those carbs in the form of processed grains and sugars -- most of all, in corn syrup, they said.

Gross, with colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health and the CDC, found that starting in 1980, people started consuming steadily more calories, with an average increase in total calories of 500 calories a day.

"Specifically, 428 calories (nearly 80 percent of the increase in total energy) came from carbohydrates," they wrote.

Gross said people are probably not eating all those 500 calories. Some could be wasted. "It's an estimate. It's hard to interpret," he said.

But the trend was clear.

"During the same period, the prevalence of type-2 diabetes increased by 47 percent and the prevalence of obesity increased by 80 percent," they wrote.

Audrae Erickson, President of the Corn Refiners Association, called the report misleading.

"Diabetes rates are rising in many countries around the world that use little or no high fructose corn syrup in foods and beverages, which supports findings by the Centers for Disease Control and the American Diabetes Association that the primary causes of diabetes are obesity, advancing age and heredity," she said in a statement.

Back to the Top

Study: Workers Should Stay Home When Sick

By William Kates

Associated Press Writer

The Associated Press

Thursday, April 22, 2004

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - American workers should stop trying to be heroes and just stay home when they're sick_ it could be cheaper for their employers, according to a study.

Workers who come in sick cost their employers an average of $255 each per year, according to Cornell University labor researchers.

Sick employees have difficulty concentrating, work more slowly and have to repeat tasks, bogging down productivity, according to the study. (They also get their co-workers sick, but those costs were not counted in the study.)

Economists refer to slack productivity from ailing workers as "presenteeism," and the Cornell study said it may cost employers even more than absenteeism due to illness.

Other studies have suggested that presenteeism costs U.S. businesses $180 billion annually in lost productivity.

"The study doesn't mean people should stay home sick at every sniffle," said Ron Goetzel, director of Cornell's Institute for Health and Productivity Studies in Washington, which conducted the research.

"It says this is a very large category of expenses, even exceeding the costs of absenteeism and medical and disability benefits, and part of the problem is that employers have not yet fully recognized the financial impact it can have on their business."

The impact of employee absenteeism is well documented. Figuring out how much it costs to come to work sick, however, has been more elusive, because of a lack of accepted measurement standards.

Lori Rosen, a workplace analyst for CCH Inc., a Riverwoods, Ill.-based trade group that does an annual nationwide survey on absenteeism, acknowledged presenteeism is a problem but said absenteeism still costs employers more, an average of $645 per employee per year.

"Presenteeism might be more costly if you have an employee start an epidemic and you knock out the whole office," Rosen said. "With absenteeism, though, you have to consider overtime, hiring a temp, and a whole bunch of other costs besides the work not getting done."

Goetzel said the Cornell study, published in the April issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, is the first to add the cost of on-the-job productivity losses from common health problems to an employer's total health-related expenses.

To obtain their figures, the Cornell researchers analyzed information from a medical database of about 375,000 employees. They combined the data with findings from five published productivity surveys for 10 health conditions that commonly affect workers.

The study found that presenteeism accounted for 61 percent, on average, of an employee's total medical and lost-productivity costs.

The researchers looked at such ailments as colds, the flu, headaches, allergies, arthritis, heart disease, asthma and cancer.

At Dow Chemical Co., company officials began examining presenteeism about two years ago, surveying 12,000 workers, said Dr. Catherine Baase, director of health.

"I don't think many companies routinely measure, or even appreciate, all the dimensions of costs involved. I know we didn't until we began taking a closer look," Baase said.

Baase said the Cornell research helps define the problem and finally gives employers a way to assess the economic impact of presenteeism.

Dow now includes presenteeism costs in its strategic planning and has started a program to educate workers about good health practices, Baase said.

On the Net:

Cornell Institute for Policy Research: http://www.ccpr.cornell.edu.

Integrated Benefits Institute: http://www.integratedbenefitsinstitute.org

Institute for Health and Productivity Management: http://www.ihpm.org

CCH Inc.: http://www.cch.com/

Back to the Top

Ditching the Fizz Cuts Childhood Obesity –Study

By Patricia Reaney

Reuters

Thursday, April 22, 2004

LONDON (Reuters) - Ditching fizzy drinks could help to prevent childhood obesity, scientists said on Friday.

Obesity is a growing problem in children. Researchers at the Bournemouth Diabetes and Endocrine Center in southern England found that just cutting down on carbonated drinks limited their obesity rates.

"The message was 'Ditch the fizz'," Dr David Kerr, the head of the research team, said in an interview.

Rather than targeting multiple areas such as food, drink and exercise to prevent childhood obesity, Kerr and his team decided to focus on just one -- carbonated drinks.

Fizzy drinks contain large amounts of sugar that are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. If the child doesn't use it up it gets stored as fat.

"We thought if we could persuade children to reduce their consumption of fizzy drinks it would go some way to prevent them becoming overweight or obese," Kerr explained.

It did.

In a study of 650 schoolchildren, aged 7-11, Kerr and his team said half of the youngsters cut their consumption of fizzy drinks by half a glass a day, about 250 ml (9 ounces).

The other half, or control group, drank about 0.2 glasses more a day in addition to their average of about two glasses every three days.

By the end of the school year the percentage of overweight and obese children in the control group rose by 7.6 percent but fell 0.2 percent in the children who cut fizzy drinks.

"This was is a cheap intervention, thoroughly enjoyed by the children. We think it should be rolled out," said Kerr, whose findings are reported online by the British Medical Journal.

"It doesn't take a major starvation diet to prevent people getting overweight or obese. This has huge implications for public health."

Instead of consuming carbonated drinks, the children were encouraged to drink diluted fruit juices or water. "This study supports the fact that maybe it is time to remove these drinks away from schools and perhaps persuade celebrities to stop endorsing them and move to promote something that is useful for the children, namely drinking water."

An estimated 17.6 million children under five are overweight, according to the World Health Organization (news - web sites). In the United States the number of overweight children has doubled and the number of overweight adolescents has trebled since 1980, according to the US Surgeon General.

Children who are overweight or obese tend to carry the excess weight into adulthood and face an increased risk of suffering from diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer.

Back to the Top

Antidepressant Use in Kids Under Fire Again

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDayNews

Thursday, April 22, 2004

THURSDAY, April 22 (HealthDayNews) -- The latest bad news on newer antidepressants is that they may not be the best treatment for children with depression and might even be harmful, according to a new British study.

The research, which appears in the April 24 issue of The Lancet, found that when data from both published and unpublished trials were combined, the risks for children taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and another drug, Effexor, outweighed any possible benefits from these medications. The only exception was fluoxetine, marketed under the brand name Prozac, which had a favorable risk-benefit profile.

"I'm not sure these drugs are any better than placebo," said study co-author Dr. Tim Kendall, co-director of the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health in London. "I'm not sure it's worth using SSRIs, and it may even be dangerous, with the exception of fluoxetine."

Experts caution, however, that no one should abruptly stop use of these medications because serious withdrawal symptoms can occur. If you're concerned, discuss the use of SSRIs with your child's psychiatrist.

Kendall said there needs to be legislation requiring drug manufacturers to make unpublished data available; at the very least it should be released to those working on national guidelines. According to the study, it's often hard to get negative results published, and the drug manufacturers are under no obligation to make the results of unfavorable studies known.

To complete this study, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the United Kingdom required drug companies to provide Kendall and his colleagues the results from their unpublished studies.

Kendall said the researchers reviewed a total of 12 studies -- six published, six unpublished -- that compared the use of various SSRIs to treatment with a placebo.

The researchers found fluoxetine (Prozac) had a favorable risk-benefit profile, which means the benefits from taking the drug outweigh any potential risks, such as drug side effects or an increased risk of suicide.

Other SSRIs didn't fare as well. Paroxetine (Paxil) and sertraline (Zoloft) had a slightly favorable risk-benefit profile when only the published data was examined. Once the unpublished data was added, however, the risks of taking these medications outweighed the potential benefits. Both citalopram (Celexa) and venlafaxine (Effexor, which is not an SSRI) also had unfavorable risk-benefit profiles.

The medications do have their defenders, though. "These drugs have done a lot of good. You don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, " said Dr. Marvin Lipkowitz, chairman of the psychiatry department at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City. "But you can't just count on the pills alone. This is not like treating a sore throat."

Lipkowitz recommended that any child on antidepressant medication be monitored while they're on the drug, and he said, they need someone to talk to and lean on.

Lipkowitz added that most of the studies examined for this article contained a relatively small number of children. When a study has only several hundred children, one or two adverse events can skew the data.

In an accompanying editorial, The Lancet editors write, "The story of research into selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor use in childhood depression is one of confusion, manipulation and institutional failure. Although published evidence was inconsistent at best, use of SSRIs to treat childhood depression has been encouraged by pharmaceutical companies and clinicians worldwide."

Kendall said in the absence of any convincing evidence, he believes parents whose children are depressed should try cognitive behavioral therapy first. If there's a need for an antidepressant, he said fluoxetine seems to be the safest choice. But, he added, "You really do need to think carefully about these drugs, and I think it would be unwise to prescribe these drugs for children at risk of suicide."

More information

To learn more about children and depression, go to the American Academy of Family Physicians or the National Institute of Mental Health.

Sources: Tim Kendall, M.D., co-director, National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, London, and consultant psychiatrist, Sheffield, U.K.; Marvin Lipkowitz, M.D., chairman, psychiatry, Maimonides Medical Center, New York City; April 24, 2004, The Lancet

Back to the Top

Tobacco Explains Black Cancer Disparity – Study

Reuters

Thursday, April 22, 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - If black men stopped smoking, their cancer rates would drop by nearly two-thirds, a U.S. researcher said on Thursday.

He said smoking explained virtually all the disparity between black men and white men in cancer mortality rates.

Writing in the May issue of the journal Preventive Medicine, Dr. Bruce Leistikow of the University of California Davis said smoking accounted for more than just lung cancer in men. It is also linked to cancers of the colon, pancreas and prostate.

"African-American men have had the highest cancer burden of any group in this country for decades," said Leistikow, an associate professor of epidemiology and preventive medicine.

"This study demonstrates, for the first time, that this excess cancer burden can be clearly linked to smoking," Leistikow said in a statement.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites) says the current age-adjusted cancer death rate for U.S. black men is 330.9 deaths per 100,000 men, compared to 239.2 for white men.

In 1950, the overall cancer mortality rate was 178.9 for black males versus 210 for white males.

The CDC says about 440,000 Americans die each year from lung cancer and other diseases related to tobacco use.

Leistikow used lung cancer death rates as a measure of smoke exposure, and compared them with non-lung cancer death rates for black men in the United States from 1969 through 2000.

The non-lung cancer death rate closely shadowed the smoke exposure rate. Non-lung cancer mortality rose about 34 percent among black men during the first 20 years of the study period, paralleling a steep rise in lung cancer deaths.

From 1990 through 2000, the mortality rate dropped 11 percent, as smoking declined.

"During two decades of a steep rise, and a subsequent decade of steep fall, U.S. black male smoke exposures and non-lung cancer death rates have moved in near-perfect lock step up and down. The associations are very strong and have been consistent year-by-year for over 30 years," Leistikow said.

"This means that if black male smoking exposures fall dramatically, that alone is likely to erase the great majority of their cancer burden," he added.

"Smoking may cause most premature cancer deaths in black men," he concluded in his report. He said his finding suggested 66 percent of all cancer deaths in black men were due to smoking in 1990. As smoking rates fall, that figure can be expected to fall as well.

Health officials have been expressing concern in recent years at the disparities between blacks and whites involving a range of diseases, but black men clearly are more likely to die of cancer.

In the past, black men have smoked more than other groups, but the CDC has registered sharp declines in smoking rates among blacks since 2001.

Back to the Top

Heart Enlargement Seen in Healthy But Obese Women

Reuters Health

Thursday, April 22, 2004

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Young women who are obese but otherwise healthy show signs of heart remodeling and impaired contraction and relaxation of the heart.

These abnormalities "may have important implications" in explaining cardiac dysfunction associated with obesity, say Dr. Linda R. Peterson and associates at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Peterson's group used ultrasound to study the hearts of 51 women ages 21 to 37 years old, who had normal blood pressure. Twenty subjects were obese, as indicated by body mass index of 30 or higher.

The mass of the left side of the heart averaged 128 g in the non-obese women and 161 g in the obese subjects, the report in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Other dimensions of the main left vessel of the heart were also significantly higher in obese women, and these changes have been associated with a poor outlook for people with high blood pressure.

In further analyzes, BMI was linked to abnormal contraction and relaxation of the heart, the report indicates.

Other studies will be needed to assess the effect of male gender and race on obesity-associated alterations in cardiac structure and function, Peterson's group notes.

Source: Journal of the American College of Cardiology, April 21, 2004.

Back to the Top

Survey Reveals Wide Frustration Among Black Doctors

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDayNews

Thursday, April 22, 2004

THURSDAY, April 22 (HealthDayNews) -- Most black doctors are unhappy with their chosen careers.

A combination of limited access to health insurance for their patients, the cost of medical malpractice insurance, and slow reimbursement rates headed the list of concerns unearthed by a new survey.

"When I got the preliminary findings, I said, no, this can't be right," said principal investigator Dr. Sharon Allison-Ottey. "This is a huge problem, a big red flag for the health of this nation."

The survey, which was conducted by the National Medical Association with support from Pfizer Inc., is called the first national survey of black physicians' perceptions and attitudes about the medical profession. The National Medical Association was founded in 1895 and represents the interests of more than 25,000 black physicians.

The findings were announced Wednesday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and will appear in the April issue of the Journal of the National Medical Association.

As the survey noted, black physicians make up 3 percent to 5 percent of all doctors in the United States, yet their patient base is 67 percent minority.

One of the more troubling findings was that 76 percent of the 479 physicians surveyed said they had retired within the past year or expected to retire soon.

"Where do these patients go? Who do they get their health care from?" Allison-Ottey asked. "The Institute of Medicine recommended that we increase diversity in the physician workforce. This can potentially create a huge vacuum."

Nearly a quarter of the doctors indicated "the loss of joy in medicine as a primary or major reason" for making the decision to retire.

Health insurance was also high on the list of complaints. The overwhelming majority of respondents (90 percent) said inequities in patient access to health care was "extremely important." Tort reform came a close second with 88 percent of the votes, followed by reimbursement issues (83 percent).

Almost three-quarters of the doctors (73 percent) said they weren't satisfied with their medical liability coverage, and 18 percent said that getting this insurance was "the biggest problem I've faced this year." Almost 62 percent said their liability insurance rates "went up significantly" or "went up somewhat" in the last three years. Many also indicated problems paying for the insurance.

Reimbursement issues also surfaced repeatedly in the survey responses. More than half of the physicians said they had "personally experienced a problem or annoyance" in getting reimbursed by insurers. Half or almost half were "not at all satisfied" with changes in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.

Paperwork and decreasing time allotments for each patient were also cited as reasons for dissatisfaction.

Almost half the doctors said they were dissatisfied with how they were being treated by managed care organizations.

At the same time, physicians expressed concern and caring for their patients and almost 40 percent said they had "passion" for their chosen field.

"Part of it is from frustrated physicians, stressed-out physicians, underpaid physicians, the physician with more obstacles each and every day. But irrespective of all of that, they are still trying to put on their white coat and see their patients," Allison-Ottey said.

More information

Learn more about black health-care issues at the National Medical Association or the Office of Minority Health.

Sources:  Sharon Allison-Ottey, M.D., internist and geriatrician, COSHAR Medical Inc., Baltimore; April 21, 2004, presentation, National Medical Association survey, April 2004 Journal of the National Medical Association

Back to the Top

Cervical Cancer Still Cutting Many Lives Short

By Amy Norton

Reuters Health

Thursday, April 22, 2004

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - While deaths from cervical cancer have plunged in wealthy nations over the past 50 years, the disease remains a top killer of younger women in many parts of the world, new research shows.

In fact, researchers found, in Latin American and Caribbean countries, cervical cancer robs young and middle-aged women of more years of life than any other disease.

The findings underscore the need for prevention efforts and screening in developing nations, said study author Dr. Zuo-Feng Zhang of the University of California Los Angeles.

He and his colleagues report the findings in the current issue of the International Journal of Cancer.

Routine Pap testing is credited for the drop in cervical cancer deaths that has been seen in the U.S. and other developed nations over the past half century. Pap tests can reveal early cancer, as well as precancerous changes in cervical cells; if necessary, this abnormal tissue can be removed before cancer develops.

A woman can also cut her odds of developing cervical cancer by avoiding risk factors. In most cases, the disease is caused by infection with certain strains of the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV). Research indicates that women can lower their risk of both HPV and cervical cancer by not having sex before age 18 and by limiting their number of sexual partners.

In countries low on resources, however, routine Pap tests are not feasible, and education on cervical cancer risk factors is lacking. As a result, it's estimated that more than 80 percent of the world's cervical cancer cases occur in these nations.

In the new study, Zhang and his colleagues used a measure known as "years of life lost" to look at the impact of cervical cancer among women ages 25 to 64 in 2000. This measure, unlike a simple death rate, takes into account a woman's age at death versus her life expectancy.

Globally, the researchers found, AIDS (news - web sites) was responsible for the most years of life lost by far, followed by complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, and tuberculosis.

However, in Latin America and the Caribbean, cervical cancer was the most important cause of lost years. In addition, women in sub-Saharan Africa and south-central Asia lost more years to cervical cancer than to any other type of cancer.

In most other world regions, breast cancer was responsible for the most years of life lost, according to the report.>

Zhang told Reuters Health that more international attention needs to paid to the burden of cervical cancer in developing nations. Resource-poor regions, he said, need help from wealthier nations and international aid agencies to educate women on the risk factors for cervical cancer and to improve screening.

He noted that Pap tests, which involve sending cervical samples to a medical lab to be examined under the microscope and interpreted by a pathologist, require resources that poorer world regions lack.

But there are alternatives, including simple visual inspections of the cervix, which can spot lesions. While not as sensitive as the Pap test, Zhang said, "it's better than no screening at all."

Source: International Journal of Cancer, April 10, 2004.

Back to the Top

Childhood Poverty Can Hurt Eating Habits

 

HealthDayNews

Thursday, April 22, 2004

THURSDAY, April 22 (HealthDayNews) -- Living in poverty during childhood, where there may be no emphasis on healthy foods, can affect a person's eating habits later in life.

That's according to a study that explored mother-daughter communication about food among low-income black American women.

Virginia Commonwealth University researchers conducted focus groups with 21 black women, aged 25 to 65, in rural South Carolina churches to find out how the women learned about nutrition and body size norms from their mothers.

The focus groups revealed that, as children, the women grew up being grateful for the food their mothers served at home. There was no emphasis placed on certain foods being healthier than other foods. However, the women recalled that vegetables were a primary food source. That's because many of the families had home gardens.

The women said they learned a lot about foods and food preparation by watching their mothers in the kitchen. The women also said they were taught to eat all of what was served at meals because food could be scarce at times.

The study found that younger and older women in the focus groups had different eating habits. The younger women said their current eating habits were different from the eating habits they learned while growing up at home.

The younger women said that, due to work and home schedules, they now ate more fast food and fewer home-cooked meals than they did when they were children.

Compared to the older women in the focus groups, the younger women were more interested in losing weight because they'd witnessed family members suffer health problems from being overweight.

"Clearly, eating patterns established in childhood have long-lasting effects and may be hard to modify even when information about healthy eating and access to healthy food is provided," study author Diane Baer Wilson, an associate professor of internal medicine and a researcher at the university's Massey Cancer Center, said in a prepared statement.

"Clinicians working with low-income African-American women should address overeating from a perspective of early food scarcity, reverence for the role of mother in obtaining and preparing food, and a respect for the cultural differences in body size norms," Wilson said.

The study appears in the April issue of the Journal of Cultural Diversity.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians offers these nutrition tips.

Back to the Top

Screening Uncovers a Lot of Unsuspected Diabetes

By Alison McCook

Reuters Health

Thursday, April 22, 2004

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Community-based screenings of people living in the Bronx, New York, revealed that nearly 25 percent either have or are at risk of diabetes, and don't know it.

Although diabetes can lead to a host of complications, those can take years to develop, study author Dr. Charles Nordin explained. Consequently, just like high blood pressure, people can live with diabetes for a very long time before they realize they are in danger, he said.

"Diabetes can also be a silent killer," he told Reuters Health.

He recommended that every person with known risk factors - such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, or a family history of diabetes - should be screened regularly for diabetes.

Nordin, of Jacobi Medical Center, and his team set up screening centers at churches, group homes, shelters, community centers and street corners in the Bronx, a relatively deprived area. As part of the screening, they measured levels of hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), a marker for long-term increases in blood sugar.

An HbA1c value of between 6 and 7 percent suggests a person is at risk of developing the disease, while anything over 7 percent indicates full-blown diabetes.

After screening more than 700 people, Nordin's group discovered that 13 percent knew they had the disease. However, an additional 24 percent had HbA1c levels that exceeded 6 percent, and were entirely unaware that they were at risk of diabetes. Between 3 and 4 percent of people unknowingly had HbA1cs that exceeded 7 percent.

People with HbA1cs above 6 percent had more risk factors for cardiovascular disease than people with lower HbA1cs, according to the report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"I would hope that our approach will bring more people at the early stages of this disease to physicians, so that our excellent treatments can be started in time to delay or even prevent the dreaded complications of the disease," Nordin said.

Inner city neighborhoods have higher rates of diabetes than others, and conducting random screenings like those that took place in this study may help doctors identify and treat people before it's too late, the researcher noted.

"I would like to see the medical community uses our example to become more proactive about getting out from the hospitals into neighborhoods to check people for diabetes and other cardiovascular risk factors," he said.

Source: American Journal of Preventive Medicine, May 2004.

Back to the Top

High Blood Pressure More Risky for Black Moms-to-Be

HealthDayNews

Thursday, April 22, 2004

WEDNESDAY, April 21 (HealthDayNews) -- Black women who have pregnancy-induced high blood pressure have more homocysteine and less folic acid in their blood than pregnant white women.

University of Pittsburgh researchers report their finding in the current online issue of Hypertension.

Homocysteine is an amino acid linked with atherosclerosis.

This difference between black women and white women may explain why black women have higher rates of a hypertension condition called preeclampsia, study author Thelma E. Patrick, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing and an assistant investigator at Magee-Womens Research Institute, said in a statement.

"There is a higher incidence of preeclampsia in black women, and we know that when black women experience the disorder they are more likely to have a more severe form that shows up as early as six months into pregnancy," Patrick said.

Researchers are uncertain if this difference between black women and white women is linked to diet, lifestyle or heredity. However, diets low in folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 have been linked to high homocysteine levels. Patrick suggests it may be necessary for black women to increase their intake of folic acid.

The study included 78 black women and 85 white women. Twenty-six of the black women and 34 of the white women had preeclampsia.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about preeclampsia.

Back to the Top

Satisfying Your Hunger Cuts Cravings for Sweets

By Merritt McKinney

Reuters Health

Thursday, April 22, 2004

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - If you find yourself constantly craving sweets in the afternoon, don't blame it on a sugar addiction. Hunger is most likely behind those cravings for cookies and other sweets, according to a nutrition expert.

"When people get too hungry, they tend to crave sweets," according to Nancy Clark, a sports nutritionist at Healthworks, a fitness center in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

People often blame their cravings for sweets on an addiction to sugar, claiming that they are answering the call of "the cookie monster" in the middle of the afternoon, Clark said in an interview with Reuters Health.

But by eating enough wholesome foods at meals and by having a healthy afternoon snack, people can minimize their cravings for sweets, according to Clark.

"Then the cookies don't talk to you" in the afternoon, she said.

One reason that people have trouble losing weight is that they "cut back way too much" on what they eat, according to Clark, who discussed the myth of the cookie monster at a recent meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Orlando.

Instead of skipping meals, Clark recommends eating a healthy combination of carbohydrates, protein and fat several times a day. For example, a well-balanced breakfast could include cereal, milk and a banana.

One mistake that many people make is that they do not eat enough at meals to get the calories they need, Clark said. For a person who needs about 500 calories at breakfast, for instance, a single English muffin - around 150 calories - will not be filling enough to last till lunch, Clark said.

"Experiment with eating a full breakfast and a full lunch," Clark said. But rather than waiting for dinner to eat again, have an afternoon snack or "second lunch," Clark said.

People who satisfy their hunger during the day will be less likely to pig out at dinner, according to Clark. "If they fuel appropriately during the day, they aren't driven by hunger at night," Clark said.

Back to the Top

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

 

Studies Highlight Dangers of Secondhand Smoke

 

American Cancer Society

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

By now, most Americans know that smoking cigarettes is a dangerousproposition, one that can leave them vulnerable to cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and other ailments.Most Americans also know that secondhand smoke is bad for them, too.Several recent studies highlight just how bad.

Researchers from New Zealand provide new evidence that secondhandsmoke can be deadly. In the April 5 online edition of BMJ, theyreport that people who have never smoked but live with a smoker are morelikely to die prematurely than nonsmokers who live with other nonsmokers.After taking into account factors like age, ethnicity, marital status andsocioeconomic status, the researchers found that nonsmokers exposed tosecondhand smoke at home had a death rate about 15% higher than that ofnonsmokers whose home air was clean.

"The results of this study add to the weight of evidence of harmcaused by passive smoking and support steps to reduce exposure to otherpeople's smoke -- in the home and in other settings," wrote coauthor TonyBlakely, MBChB, MPH, PhD, senior research fellow at Wellington School ofMedicine and Health Sciences.

The finding comes on the heels of a European study that quantified therisk of lung cancer faced by nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke at home,work, and in social settings. Researchers from the International Agencyfor Research on Cancer analyzed the results of two large studies on 1,263lung cancer patients who had never smoked.

They determined that exposure to secondhand smoke at home raised lungcancer risk by 18%; long term-exposure at home -- 30 years or more --raised the risk by 23%. Inhaling secondhand smoke at work or in socialsettings raised lung cancer risk by about 16% (and by as much as 27% whenexposure lasted 20 years or more). They published their results in theInternational Journal of Cancer (Vol. 109, No. 1: 125-131).

Dangers Known for Decades

Findings like these come as no surprise to public health and tobaccocontrol experts.

Secondhand smoke contains some 4,000 chemicals, more than 60 of whichare known or suspected to cause cancer. The US Environmental ProtectionAgency classifies secondhand smoke as a Group A carcinogen(cancer-causing substance), right up there with arsenic, asbestos, andbenzene.

The dangers of secondhand smoke were suspected as early as the 1960s,said Tom Glynn, PhD, senior director of International Tobacco Control forthe American Cancer Society (news - web sites). But it wasn't until the 1970s and '80s thatconcrete data of its harmful effects began to accumulate.

The EPA now estimates that, in the US alone, secondhand smoke causessome 3,000 lung cancer deaths in nonsmokers every year.

Smoking Bans the Best Bet

As awareness of the threat has increased, so have efforts to curbpublic exposure to it. But merely separating smokers from nonsmokers maynot be sufficient, as a recent study in the journal TobaccoControl (Vol. 13, No. 1: 17-22) showed.

Researchers from Australia's University of New South Wales comparedlevels of tobacco pollutants in smoking and nonsmoking areas of Sydneygaming clubs. Levels of nicotine and smoke particles were about 50% lowerin the nonsmoking areas overall. Nonsmoking areas that were separaterooms had slightly cleaner air than non-smoking areas that were justsections of a larger room where smoking was allowed.

The finding shows that simply keeping smokers separate doesn't doenough to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke, the authorsconcluded. Only an outright smoking ban will do, they wrote.

ACS and other health organizations support efforts to enact smoke-freepolicies on a local and state level. Currently, some 1,703communities in the US have laws restricting smoking in workplaces andpublic facilities.

"It's a public health issue, pure and simple," said Glynn. "We know[secondhand smoke] makes people ill, and even kills them, and we have anobligation to do all we can to reduce that."

Back to the Top

Worry Affects Fertility in Women, Study Shows

 

Reuters

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - "Don't worry, be happy" may sound like patronizing advice to a woman seeking help in having a baby but it may be just what the doctor ordered, according to research published on Wednesday.

A team at the University of California San Diego found that women who worried about either the medical aspects or the cost of their assisted reproductive technology cases were less likely to become pregnant than women who are less concerned.

They studied 151 women seeking in vitro fertilization, also known as IVF, or another procedure called GIFT. The women filled out questionnaires about concerns relating to treatment side effects, surgery, anesthesia, pain recovery, finances, missing work, and having a baby.

Women worried about the medical aspects of the procedure had 20 percent fewer eggs retrieved and 19 percent fewer eggs fertilized than women who were less inclined to worry about it, the researchers report in this week's issue of the journal Fertility and Sterility.

Patients who were very concerned about missing work had 30 percent fewer eggs fertilized, Hillary Klonoff-Cohen and colleagues found.

Those who were very concerned about how much the treatment cost were more likely to miscarry.

The results held even when age, race, smoking, type of infertility, number of previous attempts to become pregnant, and number of children already born were factored in.

"While no one has elucidated the physiological relationship between women's concerns and the outcomes of their (assisted reproductive technology) cases, we know that stress has a number of negative systemic effects," said Dr. Marian Damewood, President of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, which publishes the journal.

"Worry about missing work and fears surrounding ART medical procedures are definitely stress-inducers. By the time patients arrive at ART, they've been through months or years of diagnosis, treatment and the emotional pain of infertility."

She said fertility clinics should do more do ease the stress of their patients.

Back to the Top

High Blood Pressure More Risky for Black Moms-to-Be

HealthDayNews

Wednesday, April 21, 2004  

WEDNESDAY, April 21 (HealthDayNews) -- Black women who have pregnancy-induced high blood pressure have more homocysteine and less folic acid in their blood than pregnant white women.

University of Pittsburgh researchers report their finding in the current online issue of Hypertension.

Homocysteine is an amino acid linked with atherosclerosis.

This difference between black women and white women may explain why black women have higher rates of a hypertension condition called preeclampsia, study author Thelma E. Patrick, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing and an assistant investigator at Magee-Womens Research Institute, said in a statement.

"There is a higher incidence of preeclampsia in black women, and we know that when black women experience the disorder they are more likely to have a more severe form that shows up as early as six months into pregnancy," Patrick said.

Researchers are uncertain if this difference between black women and white women is linked to diet, lifestyle or heredity. However, diets low in folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 have been linked to high homocysteine levels. Patrick suggests it may be necessary for black women to increase their intake of folic acid.

The study included 78 black women and 85 white women. Twenty-six of the black women and 34 of the white women had preeclampsia.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians (news - web sites) has more about preeclampsia.

Back to the Top

Diet, Exercise May Ward Off Arthritis

By Ira Dreyfuss

Associated Press Writer

The Associated Press

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

WASHINGTON - As baby boomers get older and fatter, they're also more likely to come down with one of the consequences of age and weight — arthritis.

Although they can't prevent aging, boomers can reduce the risk from obesity, and diet and exercise can help them achieve it, doctors say.

Osteoarthritis, the most common form, develops as cartilage that cushions the joints wears away, leaving the ends of the bones rubbing against each other. The Arthritis Foundation says X-rays can find signs of osteoarthritis in most people over 60.

The condition commonly begins to show up between ages 40 and 60, so most boomers are "right smack in the target," said Bill Roberts, an associate professor of family medicine at the University of Minnesota and president-elect of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Extra weight on the cartilage brings extra risk of the joint disease. "The simple explanation is, you're putting more biomechanical stress on the joints," said Kevin Fontaine, an assistant professor of rheumatology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Fontaine and his colleagues looked at survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites), and concluded that the odds of joint pain went up as weight did. People ages 60 and older had a 12 percent likelihood of pain if they were underweight but a 60 percent chance if they were very obese, according to the study in the October edition of the journal Obesity Research.

Although the CDC survey did not ask whether the pain came from arthritis, Fontaine believes it did because the people polled were in the right age range.

Losing weight can reduce the risk of developing arthritis, said Dr. David Pisetsky, director of the Duke University Arthritis Center and a medical adviser to the Arthritis Foundation.

"There is good evidence that people who are close to their ideal weight are going to have fewer problems," he said.

Pisetsky also said overweight people ought to give special consideration to physical activity because it offers protection beyond weight loss. "Many tissues just perform better when they move or bear weight," he said.

Cartilage benefits by being well-fed. It gets nutrients from fluids in the joint, and the nutrients can be squeezed into the tissue by movement.

The reduced risk of arthritis by exercising muscle comes about differently.

For instance, muscles that protect the knee, one of the most common sites for osteoarthritis, act as shock absorbers. Strengthening them relieves pressure on the joint, Dr. Nicholas DiNubile, a clinical associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania.

Researchers can't tell yet how much activity is the right amount to reduce risk, Pisetsky said. They do know that at least one half hour a day of moderate activity such as brisk walking, as the Surgeon General advises, is good for cardiovascular health. So Pisetsky's advice is to do at least what the Surgeon General recommends, figuring that some protection against osteoarthritis of the knee should get picked up as well.

If people want to do more, possibly walking an hour and adding some weight training, they might get more benefit, but the research can't prove it, Pisetsky said.

People who already have arthritis also can gain from losing weight and keeping their joints active, although they have to be more careful about their activity.

Exercises that pound joints, such as running, are off-limits, but gliding movements are fine, DiNubile said. He recommended water aerobics designed for people with arthritis, as well as exercise bikes and elliptical trainers.

Activity can make arthritic joints hurt. But people can learn the difference between a little soreness and a pain worth worrying about, and go on to get the improvements that exercise can deliver, DiNubile said.

On the Net

Arthritis Foundation: http://www.arthritis.org/default.asp

NIH factsheet on arthritis and exercise:

http://www.niams.nih.gov/hi/topics/arthritis/arthexfs.htm

Back to the Top

Curves Program Cuts Pounds

 

HealthDayNews

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

WEDNESDAY, April 21 (HealthDayNews) -- Sedentary and overweight women who followed the Curves 30-minute circuit-training program significantly raised their metabolic rate, claim eight studies by health and fitness experts at Baylor University.

"We set out to scientifically test and evaluate the theories of the Curves program. We found it to be highly effective in promoting weight loss with no adverse side effects, especially among participants who followed the high-protein/low-carb/low-fat diet," Richard B. Kreider, chairman of the department of health, human performance and recreation, said in a statement.

He said the success of the program seems to be in the increase in metabolic rate achieved by participants.

"Following 10 weeks of dieting and exercising to lose weight and raise their metabolic rate, study participants were able to eat as much as 2,600 calories a day and maintain their weight loss during the maintenance period. These women also lost fat, increased the proportion of muscle to body weight, gained strength, and made medically significant improvements in blood pressure, resting heart rate and aerobic fitness," Kreider said.

He presented the results this week to nutrition experts attending the Experimental Biology 2004 meeting in Washington, D.C.

More information

The National Women's Health Information Center has more about obesity.

Back to the Top

Weight Training Helps Women, Elderly, Studies Show

 

Reuters

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Weight training can help women lose weight and keep it off, and can also help older men and women strengthen their immune systems, according to research presented at a conference this week.

The studies, presented at the Experimental Biology 2004 meeting in Washington, showed that short, simple workouts could have significant effects if done consistently.

A team at Baylor University in Texas reported on studies that looked at 160 overweight, moderately obese and sedentary women.

They took part in a commercial health and weight loss program known as Curves, which encourages 30-minute workouts three days a week and also a low-calorie diet plentiful in protein and certain vegetables.

"We found it to be highly effective in promoting weight loss with no adverse side effects, especially among participants who followed the high-protein, low-carb, low-fat diet," said Richard Kreider, an exercise expert who led the study.

The women in the study did the workouts for 14 weeks, Kreider told the conference on Wednesday.

"Following 10 weeks of dieting and exercising to lose weight and raise their metabolic rate, study participants were able to eat as much as 2,600 calories a day and maintain their weight loss," Kreider said.

"These women also lost fat, increased the proportion of muscle to body weight, gained strength, and made medically significant improvements in blood pressure, resting heart rate and aerobic fitness."

A Canadian team tested a different, home-based resistance program on middle-aged and elderly volunteers and found they got not only stronger muscles, but a stronger immune system.

They also followed the 30-minute, three day a week schedule but used stretchy tubes and resistance balls at home to work their muscles for 11 months.

Blood tests showed their bodies produced higher levels of natural killer cells, one line of defense against infection.

Jennifer DiPenta, Dr.Julia Green-Johnson and colleagues at Acadia University in Nova Scotia studied 10 men and 12 women aged 54 to 82.

They did not lose weight on the program but lowered their cholesterol, DiPenta told the conference on Monday.

The sustained exercise may be the key, they said, because earlier studies using shorter periods of up to three months did not find such marked changes.

"It was gratifying to see the improvement in these older people in ways that should enable them to maintain their health and independence with advancing age," Green-Johnson said.

Back to the Top

'America's Oldest Teenager' Gets Serious About Diabetes

 

By E.J. Mundell
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDayNews

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

WEDNESDAY, April 21 (HealthDayNews) -- Tan, fit and still youthful at 74, TV legend Dick Clark hardly looks like a poster boy for type 2 diabetes.

So many were shocked when the long-time host of "American Bandstand" announced this week that he was diagnosed with diabetes more than 10 years ago.

The self-confessed workaholic believes that diabetes "shouldn't slow you down," and to prove it, he has embarked on a cross-country tour aimed at educating the public about the deadly links between diabetes and heart disease.

"Two-thirds of people who have diabetes die of either heart disease or stroke," Clark said in an interview in New York City Tuesday. "That was enough for me to stand up and say 'Whoa, I'm in that group.' It just seemed like it was time to get out and shout about it."

That 'shouting' includes teaming up with the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) for the launch of their new campaign Diabetes: Know the Heart Part, supported by pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co.

Speaking in his trademark baritone, Clark said he hadn't felt the need to tell the wider world about his 1994 diagnosis until recently because "I felt fine -- no symptoms."

"I'm still on top of it," he added.

Following his doctors' advice, Clark now exercises 20 minutes each day to keep his cardiovascular system in good shape.

"I do a stair-climb, I got a little rowing machine, a walker that you can fake walking on a beach with, and then I lift 15-pound weights," he said.

But dietary control has been a bit more challenging, he admitted.

For the first few years after his diagnosis, he said, "I just kept eating whatever I ate and cleaned the plate. But now I try and eat only good food, and less of it."

Clark is also on "all kinds of medication" to control his diabetes, but is reticent to name any particular drug.

"What I take isn't important," he said. "What we've got to get across is 'If you have a problem, go see your caregiver and he or she will prescribe what you need.'"

According to experts, the number of diabetics in the United States is now 18.2 million -- and growing. The vast majority of them (95 percent) have type 2 diabetes.

"It's a real public health epidemic," explained Virginia Zamudio, president-elect of the AADE. Over the past few decades, she said, rising obesity rates and an aging population have combined in "a perfect storm" to send diabetes cases soaring.

While most diabetics focus on keeping their blood sugar under control, Clark and Zamudio pointed out that diabetics are also at elevated risks for the nation's No. 1 killer -- heart disease.

Diabetes greatly increases heart disease risk because chronic high blood sugar weakens blood vessels over time, increasing chances for blocked arteries, heart attack and stroke. In fact, "a person with diabetes who has never had a heart attack is actually more at risk for a heart attack than a person without diabetes who's already had one," Zamudio said.

Clark said it was those types of grim statistics that prompted him to speak out about his condition, so others might get the message. "Of people who have diabetes, two-thirds of them don't know this tie to heart disease," he explained.

Current guidelines from the American Diabetes Association advise that diabetics stick to healthy diets and regular exercise programs that reduce their cardiovascular risk, and take cholesterol-lowering medications. Another group, the American College of Physicians, announced similar guidelines just this week.

"It's not just about managing blood sugar anymore," Zamudio said. "It's about managing risks for heart disease, too."

Which doesn't mean that diabetes has to completely take over your life. -- Dick Clark, busier than ever, is proof of that.

Through his production company, Clark helps produce hugely popular awards shows such as the "Golden Globes," the "Academy of Country Music Awards" and the "Daytime Emmy Awards," as well as such top-rated series such as NBC's "American Dreams."

His "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve" is an American institution, and he recently secured the rights to all U.K.-based franchises of Krispy Kreme Donut shops.

"Diabetes shouldn't slow you down," Clark said. "I should've retired God knows how many years ago, but I didn't, because I find retirement boring. I just love to keep busy."

More information

For a free copy of the brochure , dial 1-800-224-4089 toll-free, or log on to Diabetes: Know the Heart Part. And for even more information on diabetes and diabetes control, check out the American Diabetes Association.

Back to the Top

Japanese Study: Drug Combo Slows Cancer

 

By Janet McConnaughey

Associated Press Writer

The Associated Press

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Surprising U.S. experts, a Japanese study has found that a drug combination rejected as a cancer treatment in the United States can add years to the lives of people with early lung cancer.

Lung cancer is one of the most common and lethal types of cancer, killing 85 percent of its sufferers. Only one other drug, cisplatin, has been shown to improve survival in early stages, and it adds only months.

"This is a big surprise to American oncologists," said Dr. Herman Kattlove of Los Angeles, medical editor for the American Cancer Society (news - web sites).

In addition, the two-drug combination, called uracil-tegafur, or UFT, is a pill, rather than something which must be dripped into a vein, and it has few side effects, Dr. Yukito Ichinose and others at hospitals around Japan reported in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine (news - web sites).

However, UFT apparently would be useful for only a small percentage of the 174,000 people diagnosed with lung cancer each year in the United States — as few as 10,000, by some estimates. It works only against adenomas, also called non-small-cell cancers, and only among patients with small tumors that have not spread out of the lung.

The Japanese researchers looked at 979 such patients. All had surgery to remove the tumor. Half — 482 — also got the pills, which were taken twice a day for two years.

After five years, there was no difference among the 412 patients with the smallest tumors, those less than eight-tenths of an inch across.

But patients with larger tumors were more likely to live longer with the drug. After five years, 85 percent of the UFT patients with tumors more than 1.2 inches across were still alive, versus 74 percent of those who got no chemotherapy.

The effect on survival after five years was much less marked for people with tumors in between those two sizes: Eighty-nine percent of the UFT patients versus 86 percent of the comparison group.

"The more advanced the cancer the more likely it is to kill you, so the more likely a treatment is to help you," Kattlove said.

Uracil-tegafur was not tested for lung cancer in the United States. Bristol Myers Squibb and Taiho Pharmaceutical Co. did test it against colon cancer, but the Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites) rejected their application for approval. However, it is used in Asia, Europe, and Latin America.

Kathy Baum, a spokeswoman for drug-maker Bristol Myers Squibb, would not say whether the findings would prompt a new application for UFT as a lung cancer treatment.

Kattlove said most cancer doctors would want to see more studies. "Finding a drug as simple as this, as free of side effects, that works is just too good to be true," he said.

Dr. Alfred Munzer, past president of the American Lung Association, said the drug could offer some hope to patients who have the best chances to start with.

"But the message for lung cancer still is that prevention is far more important than cure, and far more effective," he said. "That's, of course, to stop smoking."

Back to the Top

Higher Drug Dose Hurts Kids in Cardiac Arrest

 

By Ed Edelson
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDayNews

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

WEDNESDAY, April 21 (HealthDayNews) -- The common practice of giving second, higher doses of adrenaline to restart the heart of a child who goes into cardiac arrest reduces the

"This is the first study done in a randomized, blind fashion, and it shows that a second, higher dose does not improve survival," said study author Dr. Robert A. Berg, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Arizona. "In the most common circumstance, it worsens the outcome."

While most laymen may think childhood cardiac arrest is a rare event, it happens often enough to warrant serious concern, Berg said. At least 2 percent of all cases of cardiac arrest occur in children, and the percentage is higher for hospitalized children, he said.

The American Heart Association (news - web sites) has issued guidelines for resuscitation of those children for more than 20 years, and its experts will meet again next year to update those recommendations.

Injections of epinephrine -- the more formal name of adrenaline -- have played a central role in those guidelines, with the recommendations gradually being softened over the years.

In the early 1990s, a second, higher dose was recommended if a first dose was not effective, Berg said, but that stand has eroded as clinical evidence has shown that a higher second dose does not improve survival in adults who suffer cardiac arrest.

The latest guidelines say that if a first dose of epinephrine does not get the heart beating again, the patient can be given either another dose of the same amount or a higher dose.

Berg is a member of the committee that will issue the latest version of the guidelines, but he says he will recuse himself from the discussion because of his role in the new study.

That study, reported in the April 22 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (news - web sites), included 68 hospitalized children who suffered cardiac arrest. Half of them were given a second, standard dose of epinephrine when the first one was ineffective. The other half got a larger second dose.

Only one of the 34 children who got the higher dose of adrenaline was alive after the first day, and that child did not survive to leave the hospital. But seven of the 34 who got a standard dose were alive after 24 hours, and four were safely discharged from the hospital.

Saving a child's life means a lot in terms of years, Berg said.

"A child who survives cardiac arrest will survive 10 times as long as an adult," he said. "If you say that 5 percent of cardiac arrests occur in children, the potential years of life that are saved is large."

The new study is valuable because it was done in children, said Dr. Jeffrey S. Fine, an assistant professor of pediatrics at New York University Medical Center, but, he added, "we already knew from studies in adults that it [higher epinephrine doses] didn't work."

While cardiac arrest is uncommon in children, two groups are most vulnerable, Fine said: those with severe respiratory problems, such as lung disease that can affect the heart valves, who are more likely to suffer cardiac arrest outside a hospital; and those with other kinds of serious illnesses, such as cancer or neurological problems.

The new study was done among hospitalized children, Fine noted. "They are monitored carefully and so have the best chance of survival," he said. "They provide the best way to test drugs."

More information

A guide for managing out-of-hospital cardiac arrest in children can be found at the American Heart Association, which also has the 1997 recommendations for resuscitation.

Back to the Top

Cholesterol Reduction Takes More Than Education

 

Reuters Health

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - In a study of patients with heart disease, a special educational program was not helpful in lowering high cholesterol levels.

Dr. Judith H. Lichtman and colleagues, from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, investigated whether a nurse-based program, designed to educate patients about cholesterol levels and encourage partnerships with their physicians, could increase the percentage of patients who achieved recommended cholesterol levels.

The study included 375 patients who participated in the program and 381 who did not. The results are reported in the American Heart Journal.

Although patients in the education program were more likely to know the recommended cholesterol levels, they were just as likely as others to actually achieve these target levels, or not.

Moreover, the percentage of patients taking drugs like Lipitor (news - web sites) and Zocor--well-established treatments for high cholesterol--was similar in both groups

"Our findings suggest that patient empowerment strategies through education, which have been shown to be effective...for diseases such as diabetes mellitus and heart failure, may be less effective" for conditions without symptoms, like high cholesterol levels, the authors conclude.

"Getting patients to achieve recommended cholesterol levels will truly take a concerted team approach," involving the patient, nurse, and physician, write Eva M. Kline-Rogers and Dr. Kim A. Eagle from University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor, in a related editorial.

"Only when all health care team members are aware of national guidelines and are accountable for implementing evidence-based therapy will the benefits of current knowledge be fully realized," the commentators conclude.

Source: American Heart Journal, March 2004.

Back to the Top

Radar Research Leads to New Breast Cancer Treatment

 

HealthDayNews

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

WEDNESDAY, April 21 (HealthDayNews) -- MIT radar research originally focused on detecting missiles in space is the basis for a new breast cancer treatment that shows promise in the final phase of clinical testing.

In this treatment, external microwave energy is directed at tumors before a women has a lumpectomy to kill tumor cells and reduce the need for more surgery after the lumpectomy.

The preliminary results of the study found women who had this new treatment before a lumpectomy had a 43 percent reduction in the incidence of cancer cells found close to their lumpectomy surgical margins.

Women who have cancer cells close to the edge of the lumpectomy surgical margin often require additional surgery and/or radiation therapy.

These preliminary results are based on 64 women who have completed the study. The results will be presented April 21 at the International Congress on Hyperthermic Oncology in St. Louis.

"One of the primary objectives of this randomized study is to demonstrate that heat can affect and kill early-stage breast cancer cells prior to surgery," principal investigator William C. Dooley, director of surgical oncology at the University of Oklahoma Breast Institute, said in a prepared statement.

"With this focused heat treatment, it may be possible for the surgeon to provide better margins for the patient and possibly avoid additional treatment procedures and avoid recurrence of the cancer," Dooley said.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute (news - web sites) has more about breast cancer.

Back to the Top

CDC: Obese Not Being Told to Lose Weight

 

By Daniel Yee

Associated Press Writer

The Associated Press

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

ATLANTA - Many doctors are not advising their obese patients to lose weight despite a national obesity epidemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites) has said.

Only about 40 percent of doctors told their obese patients to lose weight in 2000, a decrease from 42.5 percent in 1994.

Meanwhile, patients who were advised to lose weight were nearly three times more likely to drop the excess pounds than those who did not have the discussion with their doctor, CDC officials said in a study released Monday.

Doctors "should recognize that obesity, similar to hypertension and diabetes, is a chronic condition and as such requires continued follow up," said Dr. Omer Abid, a CDC researcher.

"We need to investigate why advice from the health care profession is low," he said.

In 1998, federal guidelines urged health officials to advise overweight patients to lose weight because obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, heart disease and certain cancers.

About 30 percent of all U.S. adults are obese, the CDC said.

Some doctors have said they are not confident in counseling their patients to lose weight because they do not have enough formal training about obesity. Other experts say the problem stems from ignorance in other crucial health matters.

"Physicians in general are illiterate about nutrition," said Dr. Andrew Weil, founder and director of the Program in Integrative Medicine and author of "Eight Weeks to Optimum Health."

He said the amount of education on nutrition that doctors receive is either nonexistent or substandard.

On the Net:

CDC info: http://www.cdc.gov

Back to the Top

Frog in Your Throat

 

HealthDayNews

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

(HealthDayNews) -- If your voice gets hoarse when you overuse it or when you have a cold, the Center for Voice at Northwestern University suggests how you can treat a croaky voice or prevent its recurrence:

 

Back to the Top

 

Zinc Supplements May Help ADHD Treatment

 

Reuters Health

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Zinc supplements added to conventional drug therapy may benefit children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to results from a small study.

Dr. Shahin Akhondzadeh and colleagues from Tehran University School of Medical Sciences in Iran randomly assigned 44 children with ADHD to get methylphenidate (the active ingredient in Ritalin (news - web sites) and other similar stimulants) plus zinc sulfate or methylphenidate plus a placebo sugar pill for six weeks.

Both groups improved significantly during the trial, the team reports in the medical journal BMC Psychiatry. Compared with the placebo group, the group taking the zinc supplement showed a more marked improvement in their condition after 6 weeks.

The children receiving the zinc supplements were also three times more likely than those receiving placebo to report nausea, however. Most of the patients in the zinc group also complained about the metallic taste of the medication. No significant differences in the frequency of other side effects were observed.

"Zinc is basic for the production and modulation of melatonin, which helps regulate dopamine function, supposed to be an important factor in ADHD and its treatment," the investigators point out.

These findings support those of a previous study suggesting a beneficial effect of zinc supplementation in the treatment of ADHD.

Additional studies to replicate these findings and to examine the effect of different zinc doses are recommended.

Source: BMC Psychiatry, April 2004.

Back to the Top

Early Treatment Works With Sickle Cell Disease

 

HealthDayNews

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

WEDNESDAY, April 21 (HealthDayNews) -- People with sickle cell disease should begin taking the drug hydroxyurea sooner, possibly in higher doses, and they may need to take it in conjunction with drugs that treat general anemia.

Medical College of Georgia researchers presented those findings this week at the annual meeting of the National Sickle Cell Programon in Los Angeles.

The study included 236 adult sickle cell patients who had been taking hydroxyurea for six months to 14 years. Researchers compared demographic and biologic data of the patients who lived and the 33 who died.

"The patients who died were started on hydroxyurea at an older age, in their 30s, which means they already had significant damage to various organs, which makes the argument to start patients early stronger," Dr. Abdullah Kutlar, interim chief of the Section of Hematology/Oncology and director of the Sickle Cell Center, said in a prepared statement.

The same researchers also presented another study that looked at why sickle cell patients don't always take hydroxyurea as prescribed. The survey of 54 sickle cell patients found 80 percent said they sometimes forget and 67 percent cited side effects such as weight gain, decreased energy, hair loss and feeling sick.

Fear of long-term side effects, perceived lack of benefit, and the belief they were healthy enough to skip the drug were other reasons sickle cell patients gave for sometimes not taking hydroxyurea.

The drug has to be taken daily to be effective. The drug increases levels of fetal hemoglobin, which prevents red blood cells from forming into the sickle shape that causes pain and organ damage.

More information

The Human Genome Project (news - web sites) has more about sickle cell disease.

Back to the Top

'No Junk Food' the Rule in Conn. District

 

By Noreen Gillespie

Associated Press Writer

The Associated Press

HealthDayNews

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Principal Kim Johnsky walks the maze of lunch tables at her designated "junk food-free school," one of the early stages of a districtwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of childhood obesity.

By next fall, New Haven administrators plan to give every school a taste of what it's like to be junk-food free when they strip vending machines of salty, greasy and sugary food and drink.

"There isn't a candy bar in this school," says Johnsky, except for the ones in her desk. Those were the ones that were seized.

The school cafeteria has become a place where third-graders munch on salads if they don't like the main course, and seventh-grade girls take pilates after school.

The menu: Hamburgers, tater tots, fruit, milk.

No soda. No cookies. No chips.

For the student with a sweet tooth, the vending machines offer no help: They're stocked with water, juice, and milk. Soda will be replaced by water, juice and milk. Baked chips will replace fried. Granola will replace cookies. Most cafeterias will roll out baked versions of chicken nuggets and french fries.

The program doesn't stop in the cafeteria.

The district is offering cooking classes for parents and infusing nutrition lessons into regular science classes. Building renovations include designs for larger gyms to encourage physical activity.

Even the bake sale, a traditional source of fund-raising for classes and parent organizations, is being discouraged in favor of plant sales and penny drives.

Reginald Mayo, the district's superintendent, has volunteered to lose 30 pounds by doing the same things he's trying to teach his students — exercise, eat a healthier diet, and drink more water during the day.

It won't be easy, he said. Three weeks into his diet he's gained two pounds. But he concedes that he's going to have to cut back on some of his longtime breakfast favorites: ham, home fries, eggs and bacon.

"I'm going to look pretty hypocritical if I'm talking about healthy eating to kids and parents, and I'm walking around at 217 pounds," he said.

New Haven, an urban district on Connecticut's shoreline, doesn't have hard data on how many students are obese. But officials do know that nearly 3,000 children suffer from asthma, and many have juvenile diabetes.

Nationally, about 15 percent of children and adolescents between the ages 6-19 are obese, and that figure has grown steadily over time, according to 2000 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites).

Dr. Stephen Updegrove, a medical adviser for New Haven Schools and one of the primary architects of the district's policy, said one of the goals is to create a "ripple effect" from the school to community.

"Schools are a major area where kids spend a lot of time, a lot of structured time, and that's a real opportunity to model good behaviors," Updegrove said.

But the program has met some resistance, particularly among school officials who fear that the program will trade healthy budgets for healthy eating.

The junk food- and soda-stocked vending machines pull in up to $10,000 in extra income for some of the high schools each year, said Robin Golden, executive director of business operations for New Haven schools.

"That's considerable, considerable dollars," Mayo said.

When it's gone, there is some fear that healthy alternatives won't turn as big of a profit. That money is often used for field trips, awards programs, special events and other extras. Mayo said he is reviewing his budgets to see if there are ways to fill the revenue gap.

Schools across the country have made similar moves. California has passed legislation to ban junk food from vending machines, and New York City has cut out hard candy, doughnuts, soda and salty chips. Hawaii's Board of Education also recently put strict limits on machine contents.

In Connecticut, a bill that would require schools to offer healthy things like juices, water and dried fruit and ensure a 20-minute recess awaits action in the Legislature. Similar bills related to childhood +obesity+ have not succeeded in past sessions.

Next year, six schools across the state will pilot a junk food-free vending machine project. Using a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (news - web sites), six schools in Canton, Colchester, Southington, Meriden and Danbury will sell only things like nuts, baked chips, and smoothies.

It will test the theory that if only healthy food is around, kids will eat it, said Susan Fiore, a nutrition specialist with the state Department of Education (news - web sites).

It will also measure revenue loss, to determine if schools really do lose thousands of dollars when they make the switch from junk food to healthy food.

"We can't guarantee they won't lose money," Fiore said. "But maybe the payoff is worth it for the schools. There's a lot of research out there that kids who eat better learn better, and that's a pretty easy sell."

A separate program will work with ten local boards of education to create nutrition policies. For example, schools can tell teachers not to use candy to reward students, or give a student with a birthday an extra recess rather than celebrating with sugary cupcakes, Fiore said.

"It's slow," she said. "There's a lot of ingrained things that take time to change. You talk about not having cupcakes at birthday parties, and people freak out."

New Haven officials say their program has already created some results. In the parents' cooking class, some of the participants have started to lose weight, said Jene Flores, a family educator in the district.

The classes teach basic things like how to handle meat and cook food thoroughly, and substitute spices and herbs for salt and butter.

"Parents have the knowledge that what they're doing at home, that it's not wrong, but it's not that it's right either," said Flores. "So they sit down and they want to prioritize what's good for them, and what's good for their children."

In the cafeteria at Nathan Hale, the new, healthier lunches are getting mixed reviews from students.

Angela Cable, a 9-year-old with glasses and a long brown ponytail, wrinkles her nose at the thought of a hamburger. But the salads meet her approval.

"I'm not a vegetarian, but I don't eat a lot of meat," she explained.

Stephanie Aurora, a seventh-grader with blue-and-white manicured fingernails, is more blunt. She wants soda, and doesn't like the tuna fish that is on her salad.

The new food choices aren't her favorite.

"But they're OK," she said, glancing back at her salad.

Back to the Top

Study: Drinking Excess Can Raise Risk of Cancer

 

Reuters

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Shakespeare said drinking gives you a red nose, makes you pee and sends you to sleep, but a study published this week shows it can also lead to intestinal cancer, something Britain's bard didn't warn about. Drinking more than 30 grams (1.058 ounce) of alcohol a day -- the equivalent of two large glasses of wine -- can increase the risk of getting cancer of the lower intestine, the study of nearly 500,000 people worldwide showed.

"The risk starts at this level," said Dr Alicja Wolk, professor of nutritional epidemiology at Sweden's National Institute of Environmental Medicine and an author of the study.

Nor does switching your favorite tipple help. Beer and spirits are just as bad for you, the study by researchers in the United States and Europe shows.

But the scientists are not complete kill-joys. Small amounts of alcohol are not completely frowned upon.

"One glass (of wine) a day is still OK and it even may be recommended for cardiovascular diseases," Wolk said.

If you do drink, however, there may be a way to reduce the risk of intestinal cancer.

The study, published in the journal the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that people taking multi-vitamins showed no increased risk of the disease, even if their alcohol intake was above the 30 grams per day threshold.

Wolk said the folic acid in multi-vitamins can provide some protection against damage to the body from alcohol.

Back to the Top

Study: Diabetics Often Go Without Medicine

 

By Mark Sherman

Associated Press Writer

The Associated Press

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

WASHINGTON - A sizable share of diabetics who have health insurance used no medicine at all to control their condition, leading to higher costs and more frequent hospitalizations, according to new research paid for by the pharmaceutical industry.

One conclusion of the study commissioned by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America: Prescription drugs should be used more often to treat diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

"Now is the time to move ahead by promoting a healthy lifestyle among diabetes patients, regular testing and, when needed, the use of medicines that can help patients maintain their health," said Alan F. Holmer, PhRMA's president.

In a study that followed nearly 195,400 patients with the most common form of diabetes, nearly one in five did not use insulin or other anti-diabetes drugs over an entire year. This group saw doctors more often, spent more time in the hospital and had higher costs for lab tests and home care than patients treated with medicines, said the study, conducted by Massachusetts-based PharMetrics Inc.

In another, smaller sample of 19,000 diabetics, 30 percent took no medications during an entire year, the study said. "These results suggest that there may be much opportunity for improvement in the management of the diabetic patient," it said.

The study examined only people with insurance so that differences in the use of medicines could not be attributed to health care coverage.

Diabetes impairs the body's ability to produce or make proper use of insulin, resulting in elevated blood sugar levels that can damage the kidneys, heart, eyes and other organs.

More than 16 million Americans have diabetes, but experts think 6 million of them don't know it is festering in their bodies. It kills 180,000 people annually.

Treating the disease cost almost $92 billion in 2002, more than double what it cost just five years earlier.

On the Net:

Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America: http://www.phrma.org

American Diabetes Association: http://www.diabetes.org

Back to the Top

Airborne Droplets Spread SARS in Buildings –Study

 

By Gene Emery

Reuters

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

BOSTON (Reuters) - The deadly SARS (news - web sites) virus spread through a Hong Kong apartment complex last year by hitching a ride on microscopic airborne water droplets, according to a study that could help authorities in future battles with the respiratory disease.

The new research, published in Thursday's edition of The New England Journal of Medicine (news - web sites), debunks previous theories about how Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) spread through the private Amoy Gardens apartments.

SARS killed 299 of the 1,755 people known to have contracted it in Hong Kong, the epicenter of the epidemic. Worldwide, about 8,000 people were infected and some 800 died.

Sewage, roof rats, direct or indirect person-to-person contact were blamed when more than 300 people in the Amoy Gardens complex fell ill. The source of that outbreak was a person with diarrhea in Building E.

A team led by Ignatius Yu of the Chinese University of Hong Kong said investigators from the World Health Organization (news - web sites) were partly right when they concluded that the illness initially spread within the building because an exhaust fan in a bathroom drew the virus up through traps in the floor drain.

The fan then sent the virus -- riding on invisible aerosol droplets -- to other parts of the 36-story building.

Aerosols

After building a mock-up of the drainage system, "we found that huge numbers of aerosols were generated" in the plumbing system when toilets were flushed, the Yu team said .

In the past, the aerosols would have been blocked by standing water in the drain traps, Yu told Reuters.

These days, many residents don't clean their bathrooms by flushing water down the drains; instead they mop the floor, spilling little water. As a result, the traps dry up and don't trap what they should.

But because that theory did not explain how the disease jumped to other buildings, or why only those in certain buildings were affected, the Yu team used computer simulations of wind and airflow to see where the virus might have traveled.

They found that people whose windows were downwind from the apartment where the first SARS case was reported were three to five times more likely than others to fall ill.

Powerful bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans in the complex probably drew in contaminated air and helped spread the infection, they said.

That may explain why few tenants in the other 12 buildings became sick.

Yu said work is underway at Amoy Gardens to change the plumbing so the traps will no longer dry up.

"This is a very common type of design," at least in Hong Kong, he said.

The researchers said SARS would not have spread as rapidly via person-to-person contact. In addition, people who worked on the ground floor of the building and had frequent contact with residents did not fall ill.

Roof rats were an unlikely source because residents of the upper floors were less likely to fall ill than people on the middle floors.

Back to the Top

Water vs. Sports Drinks

HealthDayNews

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

(HealthDayNews) -- Which is the better drink to replace fluids lost during exercise: water or sports drinks?

It depends on the length of your workout. For workouts less than an hour, you should drink at least half a cup of water every 20 minutes. If you exercise vigorously for longer than an hour, a sports drink or another beverage with sugar in it will fuel your muscles, according to Connecticut College.

If your workout calls for a sugar boost, choose drinks that contain 15-18 grams of carbohydrates for every eight ounces of fluid. Drinks with higher amounts of carbs could delay absorption and lead to dehydration, cramps, nausea or diarrhea.

Most sports drinks also contain the electrolytes sodium and potassium. These are important in maintaining the right fluid balance in your body.

Back to the Top

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

 

You Really May Be Addicted to That Chocolate Cake

 

Reuters

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - People who say they are addicted to chocolate or pizza may not be exaggerating, U.S.-based scientists said on Tuesday.

A brain scan study of normal, hungry people showed their brains lit up when they saw and smelled their favorite foods in much the same way as the brains of cocaine addicts when they think about their next snort.

"Food presentation significantly increased metabolism in the whole brain (by 24 percent) and these changes were largest in superior temporal, anterior insula, and orbitofrontal cortices," they wrote.

These areas are associated with addiction. For instance, the orbitofrontal cortex has been seen to activate in cocaine users when they think about the drug.

The study, published in the April issue of the journal NeuroImage, may support the argument that food advertising is helping drive the U.S. obesity epidemic.

"These results could explain the deleterious effects of constant exposure to food stimuli, such as advertising, candy machines, food channels, and food displays in stores," Dr. Gene-Jack Wang of Brookhaven National Laboratory (news - web sites) in Upton, New York, who led the study, said in a statement.

"The high sensitivity of this brain region to food stimuli, coupled with the huge number and variety of these stimuli in the environment, likely contributes to the epidemic of obesity in this country."

An estimated 30 percent of Americans are obese, meaning they have a body mass index of more than 30. This ratio of height to weight usually works out to being about 30 pounds (14 kg) overweight for a woman and 35 to 40 pounds (16 to 18 kg) overweight for a man.

Wang and colleagues studied 12 men and women with an average age of 28. The volunteers fasted for just under a day and then underwent positron emission tomography, or PET scans, which measure brain metabolism.

They were asked to describe their favorite foods and how they like to eat them while they were presented with some of those foods.

"A cotton swab impregnated with the food was placed in their tongues so they could taste it," the researchers wrote.

"The favorite food items most frequently selected by the subjects were bacon-egg-cheese sandwich, cinnamon bun, pizza, hamburger with cheese, fried chicken, lasagna, Bar-Be-Que rib, ice cream, brownie, and chocolate cake."

Several leading addiction experts worked on the report including Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Back to the Top

Heart Disease Exacerbates Immune Disorders

 

HealthDayNews

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

TUESDAY, April 20 (HealthDayNews) -- Research in mice points to a two-way link between heart disease and autoimmune diseases, says a study in the current issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

The finding suggests people with autoimmune disease may benefit from low-fat diets.

It's recognized that autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. This study found the converse is true in mice -- atherosclerosis can have a negative effect on autoimmunity.

For this study, researchers created mice susceptible to both disorders by cross-breeding autoimmune-prone mice with other mice prone to atherosclerosis.

The offspring had bigger fatty deposits in their blood vessels than the parent mice that were only susceptible to atherosclerosis. That showed, as expected, that autoimmune disease makes heart disease worse.

The researchers also found the offspring had more severe autoimmune symptoms than the parent mice that were only prone to autoimmunity. These autoimmune symptoms were made even worse when the offspring were fed a high-fat diet.

Autoimmune disease can be caused by inefficient removal of dying cells, leading to an accumulation of cellular debris. That can trigger an immune response against our own organs. The offspring mice in this study had high levels of this kind of cellular debris.

The study authors believe the oxidized fats that cause atherosclerosis also prevent removal of this cellular debris. They conclude that low-fat diets may benefit people with autoimmune disease.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (news - web sites) has more about autoimmune diseases.

Back to the Top

Study: New Bypass Technique Holds Promise

 

By Eric Fidler

Associated Press Writer

The Associated Press

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

CHICAGO - Bypass surgery done on a beating heart is just as effective as the conventional operation performed with a heart-lung machine, and less expensive, a study found.

Previous research reached conflicting conclusions on the benefits of the new beating-heart technique, with one study finding that the newly grafted blood vessels are far more likely to become clogged up three months after surgery in those who undergo the procedure.

The new study, published in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association (news - web sites), examined nearly 200 patients three months after surgery, and again after a year, and found no significant differences in quality of life between those who had the beating-heart technique and those who were connected to a heart-lung machine during their operation.

The rates of death, stroke, heart attack and the need for additional surgery also were comparable. In addition, the two groups were found to be similar in how much — or how little — their new vessels became blocked.

Earlier findings from the same group of patients showed that those who underwent the beating-heart technique had fewer problems immediately after surgery and were released from the hospital a day earlier.

The savings averaged about $2,300 a patient, said Dr. John D. Puskas of Emory University in Atlanta, who performed all the operations and has been a pioneer of the method.

"Off-pump surgery is technically more challenging for the surgeon to perform, and I think it is also clear that it is easier for the patient to have it performed on them," Puskas said.

Puskas said about one-fifth of all bypass operations are now performed without a heart-lung machine and he expects the proportion to grow as more surgeons become comfortable with the procedure.

During conventional bypass surgery, the patient's heart is stopped and a heart-lung machine circulates the blood while surgeons attach new blood vessels to create a detour around clogged ones. But the machine — first used in 1953 — is thought to increase the risk of stroke, damage to the heart and kidneys, and possibly mental decline, because it can cause clots or air bubbles.

The beating-heart technique uses devices developed in the 1990s to hold the heart still during surgery.

The new study is unlikely to end the controversy over the procedure, since it involved just 200 operations performed by the same surgeon who pioneered the technique.

But a former president of the American Heart Association (news - web sites), Dr. Sidney Smith, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina, said the findings are "very encouraging."

Of 197 patients, 98 underwent off-pump surgery and 99 underwent the standard bypass. Four in each group died within a year of the operation.

Quality of life was assessed through questionnaires that asked patients to rate such things as their ability to perform usual activities, their pain and their general health.

The heart-lung machine is still preferred for people with irregular heart rhythm or blood pressure, or those suffering a cardiac crisis, Puskas said.

Back to the Top

Menthol Eases Agony of Arthritis

 

HealthDayNews

Tuesday, April 20, 2004  

TUESDAY, April 20 (HealthDayNews) -- Adding menthol to a topical cream of blended cetylated fatty acids reduces pain and improves mobility in people with osteoarthritis (OA).

So says a study presented April 19 at the Experimental Biology 2004 meeting in Washington, D.C.

The study included 10 people with knee OA, 10 with wrist OA, and eight with elbow OA. Each patient applied the menthol/cetylated fatty acids cream to the affected area twice a day for a week. After that week, they were tested for pain, stiffness, range of motion, balance and movement.

All the patients had significant improvements in physical performance and reduced pain.

This study was conducted by researchers from the University of Connecticut, The College of New Jersey, and Imagenetix Inc., which makes cetylated fatty acids topical cream.

OA is a progressive, degenerative joint disease. Common symptoms include pain, stiffness and reduced range of motion in joints. OA can limit normal daily activities such as walking, getting up from a chair, going up and down stairs and gripping objects.

Common treatments for OA include pain-reducing medications such as acetaminophen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and cox-2 inhibitors. But some of these drugs cause side effects or don't react well with other medications.

Topical creams containing cetylated fatty acids offer an alternative treatment for OA. This study shows that adding menthol to such creams improves pain relief in people with OA, the study authors concluded.

More information

The Arthritis Foundation has more about osteoarthritis.

Back to the Top

Crumbs on Your Pillow? You May Be Risking Obesity

 

By Alison McCook

Reuters Health

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A condition that causes people to wake up several times a night and eat may put them on a path toward obesity, a new study suggests.

U.S. researchers found that normal-weight people with the condition, known as night eating syndrome (NES), resembled obese people with NES in their eating habits and other behaviors -- except that people with NES who were obese were almost 9 years older than non-obese night eaters.

Furthermore, many obese night eaters reported that they believed their tendency to snack at night preceded their weight gain, the authors note.

These findings suggest that NES is more than just an inconvenience that interferes with getting a good night's sleep, study author Dr. Albert Stunkard of the University of Pennsylvania told Reuters Health.

"After night eating for a few years, you become obese," he said.

Stunkard explained that people with NES typically wake up between 1 and 4 times each night, and snack on about 300 calories worth of food. Many people with NES are sleep-deprived as a result, or feel frustrated that they cannot control their cravings, he said.

He added that people with NES are typically fully conscious of their eating habits. In contrast, people with another type of night eating problem will snack while sleepwalking, and are often unaware of their behavior.

Approximately 1.5 percent of the population has NES, but the condition has been found in up to 15 percent of people who are obese.

As part of their report in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, Stunkard and his team asked 40 non-obese and 61 obese people with NES to answer questions about their eating habits.

The researchers found that both groups shared many of the same eating and sleeping habits. For instance, both had an equal amount of trouble sleeping, the same morning appetites, and felt the same level of control over night eating.

However, non-obese night eaters were almost 9 years younger than obese night eaters, and tended to have NES for between 3 and 7 years less than obese night eaters -- suggesting that the condition leads to weight gain after a while.

Source: International Journal of Eating Disorders, March 2004.

Back to the Top

Study: Doctors Often Pick Costlier Drugs

 

By Eric Fidler

Associated Press Writer

The Associated Press

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

CHICAGO - Doctors often prescribe newer, more expensive drugs for high blood pressure instead of the ones recommended under medical guidelines, and the practice is costing the nation more than $1 billion a year, researchers say.

The researchers did not examine why, exactly, doctors go with the costlier drugs, but they speculated that aggressive drug-company advertising may be one reason.

The study of Pennsylvania's drug-assistance program looked at more than 133,000 patients who filled more than 2 million prescriptions for hypertension medicine in 2001. The prescriptions cost the state $48.5 million.

About 40 percent of the time, patients were prescribed different drugs than those called for under medical guidelines, according to the study in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association (news - web sites).

Getting doctors to prescribe the preferred treatments would have saved the state $11.6 million in 2001, the study found.

The researchers, Drs. Michael A. Fischer and Jerry Avorn of Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital, said that nationally, the savings could amount to $1.2 billion a year on high blood pressure medicine alone.

The study found that calcium channel blockers accounted for the most spending, about $17 million, with an average cost of $33.39 a prescription. The least expensive drugs, diuretics called thiazides, cost $5.33 a prescription.

The Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure recommends that thiazides be used as the first-line treatment in cases of hypertension without other complications.

As for the role of pharmaceutical industry advertising, Fischer said, "I think it's a really important area for further study. There's advertising both to consumers and physicians."

Dr. Hoangmai Pham, senior health researcher at the Center for Studying Health System Change, said advertising is only part of the story. She said patients often believe the best care is the costliest and push for more expensive treatments.

Also, "a lot of times physicians inherit patients and people are loath to switch regimens, especially if they seem to be working. This paper provides one more reason why you might stop and reconsider," she said.

Pham, who was not involved in the study, said she believes similar savings could be found throughout the health care system without compromising patient care.

"It's only one of many circumstances in which better quality doesn't cost more and can actually cost less," she said.

On the Net:

JAMA: http://jama.ama-assn.org

Back to the Top

Mental Ability Impaired in Some Bipolar Patients

 

Reuters Health

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A significant proportion of older patients who are being treated for bipolar disorder -- sometimes termed manic-depression -- show impairment in their mental capacities, a small study indicates.

Dr. Ariel G. Gildengers and colleagues from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, in Pennsylvania, compared 18 subjects whose bipolar condition was stabilized with medication and who were at least 60 years old with a control group of 45 age- and education-matched participants without a mood disorder.

The researchers evaluated the subjects using the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), the Mattis Dementia Rating Scale, and the Executive Interview.

Eight of the bipolar disorder patients scored below the average of the controls on the MMSE, and ten patients scored below the controls' average on the total Mattis Dementia Rating Scale. Three bipolar subjects scored above the average of the controls on the Executive Interview, which indicated mental impairment.

Based on these findings, Gildengers' team recommends in their article in the American Journal of Psychiatry additional research "to understand how bipolar disorder affects cognitive function in older adults and whether bipolar disorder is a risk factor for subsequent dementia."

As the investigators note, "The 'toxicity' of mood episodes, vascular disease ... history of substance abuse, and medication side effects are all potential contributors to cognitive dysfunction."

On the other hand, such factors are also "potential targets for intervention to alleviate an important component of disability among older adults with bipolar disorder."

Source: American Journal of Psychiatry, April 2004.

Back to the Top

Citrus Dept. Tries to Counter Low-Carb

 

The Associated Press

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

LAKELAND, Fla. - The Florida Department of Citrus on Monday launched a nationwide ad campaign that citrus officials hope will counter low-carb diets that discourage drinking orange juice because of its high sugar content.

The campaign centered around a television ad extols the healthy virtues of orange juice, and pushes a message that orange juice strengthens the immune system and can help prevent heart disease, cancer and strokes.

"It is clear that Americans are paying more attention to their overall health and wellness and are increasingly making healthy food choices an integral part of their lives," said Bob Crawford, the department's executive director.

The department has committed to purchasing $4.8 million of air time through June on ABC, NBC and cable television channels for the ad. The spot, titled "Health Drink," features a man feeding a kitchen blender rutabagas, liver, okra, brussels sprouts, a banana and four oysters as he explains that those are the foods a person would need to consume to get the equivalent vitamins and minerals found in a glass of orange juice.

In addition, the department is putting out a public service announcement, along with a group called Shape Up America!, that emphasizes the importance of eating a balanced breakfast that includes orange juice. The announcement, titled "Confusion," begins airing next month.

Florida's citrus industry, which is dominated by oranges used to make juice, has been battered by low-carb diets.

Orange juice consumption has decreased 5 percent in the last three years, from a high of 888 million gallons during the 2000-2001 growing season to an expected 844 million gallons for the current season.

On the Net:

Florida Department of Citrus: http://www.floridajuice.com

Back to the Top

Clot-Busters Don't Work Well for Diabetics

 

Reuters Health

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Heart attacks are routinely treated with clot-buster drugs to open up blocked coronary arteries, but Greek researchers report that this approach is not very effective for people with type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Michael N. Zairis and colleagues at Tzanio Hospital in Piraeus note in the medical journal Diabetes Care that there is evidence that diabetics treated with clot-dissolving drugs after a heart attack fare more poorly than those without diabetes.

To help determine why this might be, the researchers followed 726 survivors of a heart attack, 214 of whom had type 2 diabetes, for up to 3.5 years.

All had had been given clot-dissolving drugs within six hours of first experiencing chest pain.

Fewer diabetics than nondiabetics showed full normalization of their echocardiogram (indicating clot clearance) after treatment, and both diabetic and nondiabetic patients who failed to show recovery had a significantly elevated risk of dying.

Moreover, those patients with diabetes whose electrocardiogram did show more complete recovery took significantly longer to do so than did the nondiabetic patients.

In addition, diabetics who took 60 minutes or more after the start of clot-buster treatment to achieve a normal electrocardiogram reading were at significantly increased risk of death. This was not true for nondiabetic patients.

The investigators conclude that "more appropriate therapeutic approaches" may improve the outlook for diabetic patients when they suffer a heart attack. An alternative to clot-dissolving drugs is to treat patients immediately with balloon angioplasty and/or a stent to open coronary arteries.

Source: Diabetes Care, April 2004.

Back to the Top

N.D. Worries About Overweight Children

 

The Associated Press

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

BISMARCK, N.D. - The nationwide epidemic of overweight children has not missed North Dakota, the state Health Department says.

An April 2002 survey found that one out of every six North Dakota sixth-grade students was overweight, the department said Monday. The North Dakota rate of 16 percent overweight was slightly higher than the national rate of 15 percent.

"We know that being overweight can affect a child's health for his or her lifetime," state Health Officer Terry Dwelle said. "All of us — parents, educators, caregivers and health professionals, must work together to help our children become fit and healthy."

The North Dakota study was conducted by local public health nutritionists and nurses who collected the height and weight measurements of 827 sixth-graders in more than 40 classrooms across the state.

Nineteen percent of rural students were found to be overweight, compared with 12 percent of students in urban areas. Eighteen percent of boys and 14 percent of girls were overweight.

Dwelle said healthy weight is one of the issues being addressed by the Healthy North Dakota initiative, a statewide effort to establish policies and programs to held reduce obesity in children and adults.

Ten percent of all children age 2-5 and 15 percent of older children are overweight, double the rate of two decades ago, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

"All of us can set a good example by being physically active every day and eating a healthy, balanced diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lowfat dairy products," Dwelle said.

Back to the Top

Low-Dose Pill Link to Stroke Deemed Unlikely

 

Reuters Health

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Contrary to several much-publicized reports, there is no real association between newer low-dose oral contraceptives and increased risk of stroke, according to an analysis of pooled data from 36 studies.

The analysis was conducted in Canada by a multicenter team headed by Dr. Wee-Shian Chan of the University of Toronto. The researchers extracted data from 20 population studies with more than one million subjects and from 16 comparison studies looking at more than 4,000 cases of women who had suffered a stroke and a control group of nearly 11,000 unaffected women.

The combined data from the population-based studies showed no increase in the odds of stroke among women who took oral contraceptives, the team reports in the Archives of Internal Medicine (news - web sites).

Analysis of the case-control studies did show an increased risk of stroke with use of the Pill, but only for stroke caused by blood clots and not due to bleeding in the brain. Also, there was no increased likelihood of death due to stroke.

"The results of this study cast doubt on a true association between low-dose oral contraceptives and stroke," the authors conclude.

Considering limitations of the original studies and small statistical differences, the investigators believe that the link between low-dose Pills and stroke risk is "tenuous at best and perhaps nonexistent."

Source: Archives of Internal Medicine, April 12, 2004.

Back to the Top

Steady Exercise Strengthens Older Immune Systems

HealthDayNews

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

TUESDAY, April 20 (HealthDayNews) -- Older adults who do moderate resistance exercise over a long period of time can boost their immune system, says a study be researchers at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada.

The study included 10 men and 12 women, aged 54 to 82. When they did moderate resistance exercise -- using tubing and exercise balls -- at home 30 minutes a day, three times a week, for 11 months, they showed a significant increase in natural killer cell activity, which is the immune system's first line of defense against viral infection.

The extended period of exercise may be the major influence on this strengthening of the immune system, the researchers suggest. Previous research of people doing up to three months of resistance exercise did not find the same increase in immune system activity.

Along with enhanced immune system response, the study participants also showed major improvements in muscle strength and in lipid profiles, with decreased total cholesterol and LDL concentrations.

The study was presented Monday at Experimental Biology 2004 in Washington, D.C..

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (news - web sites) has more about exercise and immunity.

Back to the Top

Monday, April 19, 2004

 

Mild Iron Deficiency Affects Thinking, Study Shows

 

Reuters

Monday, April 19, 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Women with even a small deficiency of iron may have a little more trouble thinking and remembering than those with adequate iron levels, U.S. researchers reported on Monday.

They found that young women with mild deficiency but not medical anemia who took iron supplements for four months significantly improved their performance on tests of attention, short-term and long-term memory. They also did better on cognitive tasks.

In addition, anemic women clearly had trouble on the tests of mental performance, the team at Pennsylvania State University reported. The more anemic a woman was, the longer it took her to complete the tasks.

But when anemic women were given iron supplements, they also improved, the researchers told a meeting of the American Society of Nutritional Sciences, part of the Experimental Biology 2004 conference in Washington.

Dr. Laura Murray-Kolb and Dr. John Beard studied 113 women classified as either iron-sufficient, iron-deficient but not anemic, or anemic.

The women were then given either 60-milligram iron pills or placebos for 16 weeks.

They were examined at the beginning and end of the four-month period.

Before getting the pills, women who were iron-deficient but not anemic did as well on tests as women with normal iron levels, but it took them longer.

After taking the pills, they could work as fast, on average.

Murray-Kolb said in the United States 9 percent to 11 percent of women of reproductive age are iron deficient and 25 percent of pregnant women are.

In the developing world 40 to 50 percent of women are anemic. The World Health Organization (news - web sites) considers iron deficiency the leading nutritional disorder in the world, affecting 30 percent of the global population.

Iron deficiency causes poorer physical endurance, an impaired immune response, temperature regulation difficulties, changes in energy metabolism, and in children, a decrease in cognitive performance as well as negative affects on behavior.

But adult men and women past childbearing age are very unlikely to have iron deficiency and can develop iron overload, in which excess iron is found in the blood and stored in organs such as the liver and heart.

Some studies suggest but have not yet proven a link between high iron levels and heart disease.

Back to the Top

Attacking Asthma in Children

 

HealthDayNews

Monday, April 19, 2004

MONDAY, April 19 (HealthDayNews) -- Persistent asthma in 2-year-old children decreased 60 percent after the children took part in an asthma intervention program, says a Canadian study in the April issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

University of Manitoba researchers enrolled 545 infants at high risk for asthma (based on immediate family history) into intervention and control groups. Avoiding house dust mites, secondhand smoke and pets were among the steps taken in the intervention group. Children in that group also breast-fed for a longer time and were introduced to solid food later than children in the control group.

Also, many more of the children in the control group than those in the intervention group were in day care.

By 2 years of age, 16.3 percent of the children in the intervention group and 23 percent of those in the control group had developed asthma. The study also found the interventions reduced persistent asthma by 60 percent and that far fewer children in the intervention group had recurrent wheezing.

Intervention measures that reduce exposure to inhalant and ingested allergens and tobacco smoke significantly reduce the incidence of asthma in children at 2 years of age, the study concluded.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians (news - web sites) has more about asthma.

Back to the Top

Researchers Warn About Hormone Magnifiers

 

By Randolph E. Schmid

Associated Press Writer

The Associated Press

Monday, April 19, 2004

WASHINGTON - Women considering hormone therapy should be screened for exposure to a common chemical and a widely used drug, both of which can boost hormone activity to potentially dangerous levels, researchers suggest.

Millions of women have faced a dilemma about whether to use hormones as they confront reports that long-term use of estrogen slightly increases the risk of stroke and possibly of dementia. The government halted the nation's last major study of the hormone in March, a year early, because of the safety concern.

Studies also indicate that even more risk is involved in taking the two-drug combination of estrogen and progestin, which boosts the risk of breast cancer and heart attacks.

Now a research team led by Donald P. McDonnell of Duke University suggests that, for some women at least, part of the problem may be associated with prior exposure to other chemicals that can boost the activity of estrogen and progestin.

McDonnell, whose study is based on cultured human cells, mostly breast cancer cells, and on work in mice, is urging that humans be screened for exposure to the chemicals.

Dr. Jacques Rossouw of the Women's Health Initiative at the National Institutes of Health (news - web sites) said, however, that the research is basic and warned that it would be premature to introduce screening for women based on its results.

While the findings may add a new level of concern to women considering hormone therapy, McDonnell said, "it's probably good news" for them. Knowing that these chemicals have an impact on the hormone action, "you may be able to parse out those women who are at higher risk for adverse effects."

McDonnell and his colleagues focused on ethylene glycol methyl ether — EGME — an industrial solvent found in varnishes, paints, dyes, fuel additives and used in the semiconductor industry; and valproic acid, which has a similar chemical structure to EGME and is among the top 100 drugs prescribed in the United States. It is used to treat bipolar disorder, seizures and migraines.

Both these chemicals significantly increase the action of hormones in the body, McDonnell reports in this week's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (news - web sites).

"Our study demonstrates that these chemicals boost the activity of estrogens and progestins inside cells eight- to 10-fold," said McDonnell. "These data should prompt caution for patients who are exposed to either of these chemical compounds while taking any estrogen- or progesterone-containing medications, such as hormone therapy, oral contraceptives or tamoxifen for breast cancer."

Scientists have long had misgivings about chemicals in the environment that seem to mimic estrogen, fearing that these may lead to various illnesses.

McDonnell's study focused on two similar chemicals that were known to affect the reproductive system, reducing sperm count in men and producing irregular ovulation and spontaneous abortion in women.

What the researchers found was not that the chemicals mimic estrogen, but rather they sensitize the cells to it by inhibiting enzymes inside cells that normally slow the process of gene transcription. The result is to speed up cell activity, which potentially can fuel cell growth beyond what is normal, the researchers said.

"Estrogen produces effects inside cells in a very tightly controlled manner, so skewing that process by accelerating transcription can produce a variety of problems," said McDonnell.

"Clearly, these chemicals are affecting the cellular environment where estrogen works, and our goal would be to identify other chemicals with the same effect and alert the public to the potential for such drug-drug interactions," he added.

Back to the Top

Epilepsy Drug Eases Migraines

 

HealthDayNews

Monday, April 19, 2004  

MONDAY, April 19 (HealthDayNews) -- The epilepsy drug topiramate reduces the frequency of migraine headaches, says a study in the April issue of the Archives of Neurology.

The 26-week study at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia included 487 people, aged 12 to 65, with a history of migraines. The study volunteers received either a placebo or different doses of topiramate: 50 milligrams per day, 100 milligrams per day, or 200 milligrams per day.

Among the people taking the 200-milligram dose, the average number of migraines per month decreased from about 5.6 to 3.3. Among those taking the 100-milligram dose, the average number of migraines dropped from 5.4 to 3.3 per month.

In the placebo group, the average number of migraines per month dropped from 5.6 to 4.6.

The study found the percentage of study subjects who had at least a 50 percent reduction in migraines per month was 35.9 percent in the 50-milligram group, 54 percent in the 100-milligram group, 52.3 percent in the 200-milligram group, and 22.6 percent in the placebo group.

Fatigue, nausea, appetite loss and abnormal burning or tingling sensations were among the adverse effects noted among the people taking topiramate.

The study was funded by Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research and Development, which makes topiramate.

A study published in February in the Journal of the American Medical Association (news - web sites) also found topiramate reduces migraine frequency. That study was also funded by the drug maker.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians (news - web sites) has advice on how to cope with migraines.

Back to the Top

Low Folate Linked to Pregnancy Problem in Blacks

 

Reuters Health

Monday, April 19, 2004

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Low blood levels of the vitamin folate may explain why preeclampsia, a type of high blood pressure that occurs during pregnancy, is more common in black women than in white women, new research suggests.

This may relate to the fact that as folate levels fall there is a rise in another compound, homocysteine, which is linked to blood vessel stiffness.

Dietary supplementation with folate may decrease the rate of preeclampsia in black women, lead author Dr. Thelma E. Patrick and colleagues suggest in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association (news - web sites).

The investigators, based at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, assessed 26 black women and 34 white women with preeclampsia during labor and compared them with 52 blacks and 51 whites with uncomplicated pregnancies.

Folate levels were significantly lower in blacks than whites, the authors note. Moreover, in black women with preeclampsia, levels of homocysteine increased as folate levels fell. In both races, increased levels of homocysteine were tied to a heightened risk of preeclampsia.

Further studies are needed to identify other factors that may contribute to the higher risk of preeclampsia seen in black women, the authors conclude.

Source: Hypertension, April 20th online issue, 2004.

Back to the Top

Drug Shows Promise Against Parkinson's

 

By E.J. Mundell
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDayNews

Monday, April 19, 2004

MONDAY, April 19 (HealthDayNews) -- A drug expected to receive U.S. government approval later this year eases the symptoms of Parkinson's disease (news - web sites) and may even slow progression of the degenerative condition, researchers have found.

There is currently no drug clinically proven to put the brakes on the steady destruction of cells within the brains of Parkinson's patients. The new drug, rasagiline, is the first medication to be tested under a new study protocol that looks at whether a medication can do more than just mask symptoms, the researchers said.

"Rasagiline works for helping signs and symptoms of Parkinson's -- and this study gives us hope that it does something beyond that," said study co-author Dr. Karl Kieburtz, a professor of neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

The study appears in the April 19 issue of Archives of Neurology.

Parkinson's disease involves the steady loss of brain cells that produce dopamine, a chemical messenger essential to proper motor function. As levels of dopamine decrease, chemical messages between brain cells misfire, triggering symptoms such as tremors, loss of balance, rigidity and other abnormalities. Parkinson's is progressive and has no cure, although certain drugs can ease its symptoms. The National Parkinson's Foundation estimates that 1.5 million Americans are affected with the disease.

In their study, conducted in 32 clinics across North America, Kieburtz and his colleagues tested rasagiline on more than 400 patients diagnosed with early-stage Parkinson's. "This is a very mild stage, where they have enough symptoms to make a diagnosis but they don't have any functional impairment, so they're not on any medication yet," he explained.

In typical clinical drug trials, researchers give one group of subjects the medication under study while another group receives a placebo. The participants are then tracked for a period of time while changes in their symptoms are compared, to determine the drug's effectiveness.

In this case, however, the researchers fully expected that rasagiline would quell symptoms, since is a close chemical relative of an existing Parkinson's drug, selegiline. Instead, they wanted to go further, examining whether it might slow disease progression in the brain.

To do so, they designed a "delayed-start" study, where half of the participants started the drug six months after the other half.

"What you would expect is that if the drug is having no effect on disease progression, adding the pill later should have the same effect as having the pill earlier," Kieburtz explained.

That wasn't the case, however.

While all of the patients in the study experienced "appreciable" reductions in shaking, stiffness and other Parkinson's symptoms, "they never got as good as the people who started it earlier," Kieburtz said. This suggests the group who received the drug six months earlier had gotten a jump on slowing disease progression, he says.

Kieburtz stressed that existing drugs such as selegiline might produce similar results if subjected to the same kind of testing. In fact, his group is now seeking funding for a delayed-start study focused on levodopa, the medication most often used in the fight against Parkinson's.

Overall, rasagiline appeared to match other drugs when it came to reducing symptoms, the researchers report, while producing fewer side effects. According to Kieburtz, the drug is currently winding its way through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites) approvals process and "may enter the market this year."

Some experts remain unconvinced that rasagiline slows disease progression, however.

"Would I use the drug in my patients? Yes. Would I put every one of my patients on the drug because it may slow the progression? No -- I'm not sure I believe that yet," said Dr. Abraham Lieberman, a professor of neurology at the University of Miami and medical director of the National Parkinson's Foundation.

Lieberman believes more study needs to be done to prove that rasagiline -- or any drug -- has an effect on the course of Parkinson's disease. Proponents for other drugs have put forth similar theories in the past, he noted, with disappointing results.

"This drug is welcome, it'll be used, it'll find a niche," he said. But before he would prescribe it to all his patients, "I'd have to have better evidence."

Kieburtz agreed that much more study is needed. "I think this is a very useful drug," he said. "It's taken once a day, it has modest but appreciable benefits. But it's not a silver bullet."

More information

Learn about the disease from the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, while the National Parkinson Foundation discusses drugs.

Back to the Top

CDC: Obesity Patients Not Getting Advice

 

By Daniel Yee

Associated Press Writer

The Associated Press

Monday, April 19, 2004

ATLANTA - Many doctors are not advising their obese patients to lose weight despite a national obesity epidemic, the government said Monday.

Only about 40 percent of doctors told their obese patients to lose weight in 2000, a decrease from 42.5 percent in 1994, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites) said.

Meanwhile, patients who were advised to lose weight were nearly three times more likely to drop the excess pounds than those who did not have the discussion with their doctor, CDC officials said in a study.

Doctors "should recognize that obesity, similar to hypertension and diabetes, is a chronic condition and as such requires continued follow up," said Dr. Omer Abid, a CDC researcher.

"We need to investigate why advice from the health care profession is low," he said.

In 1998, federal guidelines urged health officials to advise overweight patients to lose weight because obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, heart disease and certain cancers.

About 30 percent of all U.S. adults are obese, the CDC said.

Some doctors have said they are not confident in counseling their patients to lose weight because they do not have enough formal training about obesity. Other experts say the problem stems from ignorance in other crucial health matters.

"Physicians in general are illiterate about nutrition," said Dr. Andrew Weil, founder and director of the Program in Integrative Medicine and author of "Eight Weeks to Optimum Health."

He said the amount of education on nutrition that doctors receive is either nonexistent or substandard.

On the Net:

CDC info: http://www.cdc.gov

Back to the Top

New Diagnostic Markers for ALS Found

 

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDayNews

Monday, April 19, 2004

MONDAY, April 19 (HealthDayNews) -- Researchers may have discovered a faster way to diagnose amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the disease commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease (news - web sites).

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Massachusetts General Hospital found 10 protein biomarkers that are present in people who have recently been diagnosed with ALS that aren't present in people without the disease.

"Hopefully, down the road we can use the discovery of these biomarkers as a tool not only for diagnosing ALS, but also to find a drug or a combination of drugs to treat this disease," said study author Robert Bowser, an associate professor of pathology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Bowser presented the team's findings on April 18 at the Experimental Biology 2004 meeting in Washington, D.C.

ALS is a progressive disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. It eventually leads to paralysis and death. The ALS Association estimates that 5,600 people in the United States are diagnosed with ALS every year.

Symptoms include weakness in the hands, arms or legs, often only on one side of the body. Tripping, dropping things, slurred speech, difficult projecting the voice and uncontrolled laughing or crying are also symptoms of ALS.

There's no cure for this disease, and the average survival after diagnosis is only three to five years, according to the ALS Association. There is only one drug available to treat the symptoms of Lou Gehrig's, and it's more effective if it's started early in the course of the disease.

Diagnosing ALS can be a difficult and time-consuming process. There is currently no specific test for ALS, so doctors must rule out many other disorders that share similar symptoms.

"There is an urgent need to find a faster and more reliable diagnostic process that will enable earlier treatment and improve chances that therapy will alter the course of ALS," Dr. Lucie Bruijn, science director and vice president of the ALS Association, said in a statement. The association is funding a larger study of the biomarkers.

For this study, Bowser and his colleagues collected cerebrospinal fluid from 25 people who had been recently diagnosed with ALS and from 35 control subjects. Some of the control subjects had neurologic disease with similar symptoms to ALS, but others had no neurologic symptoms.

Using a technique called proteomics, the researchers profiled all of the proteins in the spinal fluid, said Bowser. They found 10 protein biomarkers in the people with ALS that weren't present in the spinal fluid of the control group.

Besides a faster way to diagnose the disease, Bowser said this discovery also gives researchers a better insight into what changes occur in the body because of ALS. Bowser said they are currently enrolling people with the disease in a study to assess how these biomarkers change over the course of the disease.

Dr. Raina Ernstoff, a neurologist with William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., said the results of this study look very promising, but that "an awful lot still needs to be done." She said the findings need to be replicated in a larger group, and she'd like to see how these biomarkers change as the disease progresses.

Ernstoff added that a test to quickly diagnose ALS would be "extraordinarily helpful." She said currently because there's no cure or very effective treatment for ALS, doctors must be extremely careful when making the diagnosis.

Dr. David Younger, an ALS specialist and neurologist at New York University Medical Center, said the biomarkers show "important potential," but added that any test for these biomarkers would have to be "of great benefit to patients to have a real value." Younger also added that any test would likely be labor-intensive and couldn't be done by every diagnostic center.

More information

To learn more about ALS, go to the ALS Association or to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Back to the Top

Stomach Acid Rebounds When Ulcer Bug Is Cleared

 

Reuters Health

Monday, April 19, 2004

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The majority of stomach ulcers are caused by the presence of a microbe called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), which in many cases can be eradicated with a combination of antibiotics and a gastric acid suppressor like Prilosec (omeprazole).

Now a study has confirmed what some doctors have suspected -- that once H. pylori has been cleared, the stomach produces excess amounts of acid for at least two months after treatment with Prilosec.

The importance, if any, of this rise in acid release remains to be determined.

Rebound acid secretion was not seen when people remained infected with H. pylori after being treated with Prilosec, Dr. Derek Gillen from the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Scotland, and colleagues report in the medical journal Gastroenterology.

In the study, 20 people who were infected with H. pylori and 12 who were not underwent acid secretion studies before, during, and after a 56-day course of Prilosec. A dramatic, sudden jump in acid secretion was only seen in the uninfected group.

Although the clinical significance of all this not certain, one concern is that a prolonged rise in acid secretion could lead to a greater dependence on drugs designed to reduce acid levels.

Source: Gastroenterology, April 2004.

Back to the Top

Cutting Calories Can Prolong Life

 

By Ed Edelson
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDayNews

Monday, April 19, 2004

MONDAY, April 19 (HealthDayNews) -- People who drastically limit their calorie intake can reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease and stay young longer, real-life research finds.

The study of obviously dedicated members of an organization called the Caloric Restriction Optimal Nutrition Society found they scored significantly better on such major risk factors as cholesterol, blood pressure and insulin levels. A group led by Dr. John O. Holloszy, a professor of medicine at the Washington University School of Medicine, report the finding in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (news - web sites).

"For the first time we've shown that calorie restriction is feasible and has a tremendous effect on the risk for atherosclerosis [hardening of the arteries] and diabetes," Holloszy said.

The readings of such factors as blood pressure and cholesterol for these middle-aged Americans were typical of much younger people, he said.

The 18 organization members had been taking in about 1,100 and 1,950 calories a day for about six years, with bigger people logically eating more. They were compared to a matched group of 18 people whose daily intake was between 1,975 and 3,550 calories a day, more typical of Americans.

The calorie-restricted group had blood levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol in the lowest 10 percent of people in their age group. The readings for "good" HDL cholesterol, which carries fats out of the arteries, were in the highest 15 percent of their age group. And their levels of triglycerides, fats that contribute to atherosclerosis, were lower than in 95 percent of Americans half their age.

Those readings, and the ones for other factors such as body mass index and body fat, indicate that the low-calorie consumers "are aging less rapidly than normal," Holloszy said.

The study also deals a blow to the current craze over low-carbohydrate diets. The calorie-restricted group got 46 percent of their calories in the form of carbohydrates, with 26 percent from protein and 28 percent from fat. The comparison group got 50 percent of their calories from carbohydrates, 18 percent from protein and 32 percent from fat.

But the low-calorie people got mostly complex carbohydrates, from such foods as fruits and vegetables. The normal eaters were heavy on the simple carbohydrates found in sugary foods.

This is not a diet for the masses, Holloszy acknowledged. The society from which the participants were recruited has about 150 members, and possibly half of them have the discipline to follow the low-calorie diet, he said. Nevertheless, he said, there is a message for the average American eater.

"We are having an epidemic of obesity," Holloszy said. "Just reducing food intake enough to bring the body mass index into the normal range, losing 20 pounds or so, would produce the same kind of changes in the risk factors that would markedly reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and stroke."

Another new study says people should pay more attention to the amount of trans fatty acids they consume. Trans fatty acids, found in margarine, snack foods and the like, are produced by adding hydrogen to ordinary fatty acids.

A diet heavy in trans fatty acids caused development of the early stages of cardiovascular disease in pigs, whose hearts closely resemble those of humans, University of Missouri researchers reported. They presented their finding on April 19 at the Experimental Biology 2004 meeting in Washington, D.C.

"This is the first time we have studied the effects of trans fatty acids in an animal model," said Dr. James R. Turk, an associate professor of pathology at Missouri and a member of the research team. "What we see is quick development of more severe cardiovascular disease."

The lesson for humans, Turk said, is "to avoid trans fatty acids if possible to reduce the amount of cardiovascular disease."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites) last year ordered manufacturers to start listing trans fatty acid content on food labels, but the regulation will not take effect until 2006.

More information

A guide to a heart-healthy diet is offered by the American Heart Association. Meanwhile, go to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to learn more about trans fatty acids.

Back to the Top

Blacks Less Likely to Show Suicide Factors

 

By Daniel Yee

Associated Press Writer

The Associated Press

Monday, April 19, 2004

 

ATLANTA - A study of suicides in Fulton County found that blacks who commit suicide aren't as likely as whites to display telltale suicide risk factors such as depression, health officials said Monday.

The Georgia Division of Public Health studied 1,300 suicides in Fulton County between 1988 and 2002 and found blacks were less likely than whites to have known risk factors including depression, chronic disease, relationship or money problems.

They also were less likely than whites to leave a suicide note or have previously talked about suicide, health officials said.

"Risk factors associated with white suicide may not be predictive of suicides among blacks," health officials said, adding that more needs to be done to eliminate cultural stigmas against talking about mental health issues.

Only 15 percent of the 348 blacks who committed suicide left behind a suicide note, compared with 36 percent of 784 whites. About 63 percent of whites and 42 percent of blacks had a history of depression leading up to the suicides.

Both groups frequently used firearms in suicides. Guns were used 62 percent of the time for black suicides and 59 percent of the time for whites.

Fulton County was selected because a similar number of blacks and whites live there and health officials do not have as much data on suicides of blacks as they do for whites.

Nationwide, about there are about 30,000 suicides each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites), which released the study Monday at its Epidemic Intelligence Service conference in Atlanta.

Although suicide is more frequent among whites than blacks, blacks age 25 to 34 have higher suicide rates than whites in the same age group. Suicide is more common among elderly whites age 75 to 84 than blacks, health officials said.

On the Net:

Georgia Division of Public Health: http://www.ph.dhr.state.ga.us/

CDC info: http://www.cdc.gov

Back to the Top

Two Compounds Disrupt Female Hormones

 

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDayNews

Monday, April 19, 2004

MONDAY, April 19 (HealthDayNews) -- An industrial solvent and a medication often used for seizures and bipolar disorder increase the activity of female hormones inside cells, which might lead to miscarriages and breast cancer in women, a new lab study suggests.

The effects could be especially pronounced in women who are also taking hormones in the form of oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy.

The industrial solvent is ethylene glycol methyl ether (EGME), used in the paint and semiconductor industries, while the drug is valproic acid or Depakote. Both are short-chain fatty acids.

"It's not a major alarm. It's basically another piece in the puzzle" of hormones' effects on women, said Donald P. McDonnell, senior author of the study appearing in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (news - web sites). McDonnell is a professor of pharmacology and cancer biology at Duke University School of Medicine.

The findings so far have only been documented in a laboratory setting, leading some experts to question the significance of the research.

"Depakote has been out there for 20 years. It's one of the oldest branded products on the market," said Catherine Bryan, a spokeswoman for Abbott Laboratories, which makes the drug. "We have 20 years of patient experience and there's no evidence of breast cancer. This can't be extrapolated to humans."

"It [the finding] is interesting... but remember that these are reports of tissue cultures and cells in Petri dishes," added Dr. Steven Goldstein, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University School of Medicine. "These are not clinical trials. I don't want to read too much into this."

Hormone replacement therapy has received a lot of attention lately, largely due to the publication of results from the U.S. government-funded Women's Health Initiative, which found postmenopausal women taking the therapy have an increased risk for breast cancer.

The authors of the new study wanted to see if there were environmental factors that might affect how humans respond to hormones.

"We designed assays in cells to screen for chemicals that would change the way that cells would see estrogen," raising the specter of potential health problems, McDonnell explained. "What we found rather dramatically in the first half of the study was EGME increases the activity of estrogen and progestin up to tenfold."

Because valproic acid has a similar chemical structure to EGME, the authors tested that compound next. "It did exactly the same thing," McDonnell said. "It functioned to boost the ability of cells to respond to estrogen and progestin."

McDonnell is careful to point out that it's not clear whether this is a good or bad thing, only that "this is a confounding factor in the decision as to how a woman is going to respond to hormones." Any effect would be exaggerated in women taking oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy, he said.

Dr. Gina Solomon, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, "This study really shows how industrial chemicals and drugs may interact and how industrial chemicals and our own hormones can interact. That makes everything much more complicated."

Although McDonnell downplayed the alarm factor, he does believe the findings should be acted upon right away. "It's going to add another piece of information to a physician when he's trying to work out with the patient the relative risks and benefits" of hormone therapy or oral contraceptives, McDonnell said. "It should be taken into account right now."

Solomon said screening tests that analyze chemicals' effects on humans should take into account the type of compounds used in the study. "There was a focus [in screening tests] on chemicals that bind to a hormone receptor and the authors point out quite rightly that these chemicals [used in the study] would probably not be picked up in initial screens recommended under the screening program... We need to figure out a way to plug this gap in terms of routinely screening chemicals," she explained.

"I would definitely want to talk to my doctor but I wouldn't recommend that people make changes in their medications based on this study without first having a good, long talk with their doctor," Solomon added.

More information

For more on hormone therapy, visit the National Institutes of Health or the National Women's Health Information Center.

Back to the Top

Cholesterol Imperils Many Diabetics, Experts Say

 

Reuters Health

Monday, April 19, 2004

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Adults with type 2 diabetes who have just one additional risk factor for heart disease should be taking medication to lower cholesterol levels, according to new guidelines from the American College of Physicians (ACP).

Dr. Vincenza Snow and members of the Clinical Efficacy Assessment Subcommittee of the ACP based their recommendations, reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine, on the results of 12 lipid-lowering studies that contained information about outcomes for people with diabetes.

Pooled data from the 12 studies indicated that so-called statin drugs (e.g., Lipitor (news - web sites), Zocor or Crestor), along with another lipid-lowering agent gemfibrozil, lead to a greater than 20 percent reduction in major heart-related events in patients with diabetes.

"This is life-saving information," Snow commented in an ACP press statement. "In addition to controlling blood sugar levels, people with diabetes may be surprised to know that they must also be vigilant about controlling their blood pressure and cholesterol levels."

Snow, of the ACP in Philadelphia, and her team recommend lipid-lowering therapy for all patients with diabetes and known coronary disease. Such treatment is also advised for patients with any significant risk factor for heart disease, including age older than 55 years, high blood pressure, smoking, enlargement of the left ventricle of the heart, previous stroke, and peripheral arterial disease.

The only patients with diabetes for whom these drugs seemed to provide little benefit were those with no risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

The researcher also found that statins were extremely safe.

Source: Annals of Internal Medicine, April 20, 2004.

Back to the Top

Tea Looks a Promising Prostate Cancer Fighter

 

By Kathleen Doheny
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDayNews

Monday, April 19, 2004

MONDAY, April 19 (HealthDayNews) -- Green and black tea can slow down the spread of prostate cancer, while a highly touted antioxidant found in red wine, grapes and peanuts does not perform well as a cancer preventive, two new studies have found.

For the tea study, Susanne Henning, an associate researcher at the Center for Human Nutrition at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, assigned 20 men, all scheduled for prostate removal due to cancer, to drink either black tea, green tea or soda, five cups a day for five days before surgery.

The aim was to see if substances called polyphenols found in tea might slow prostate cancer cell growth. Other researchers have found these polyphenols induce death in cancer cells.

In Henning's study, a piece of each man's prostate was cut out during the surgery and given to a pathologist, who then turned it over to the researchers for evaluation. When they looked at the proliferation of prostate cancer cells in the sample of tissue removed, there was a decrease in how fast new cancer cells appeared for men who had consumed either black or green tea, The same was not found in those who drank the soda.

"This is the first human study to show that EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate, a polyphenol in the tea) shows up in the prostate after drinking tea," said Henning, who presented her study April 18 at the Experimental Biology 2004 meeting in Washington, D.C. "Black tea is a bit better. This strengthens the idea that green tea and black tea help prevent prostate cancer."

For several years, researchers have focused on tea and its potential to prevent cancer, partly because in parts of the world where tea is consumed, the incidence of some cancers is lower.

The other study, presented at the same meeting, looked at the cancer-fighting ability of resveratrol, a dietary polyphenol, and did not produce the same promising results.

For several years, resveratrol has been discussed as a natural way to protect against both cancer and heart disease. But it's not known if dietary resveratrol will actually reach the proposed sites of action, said study author Thomas Walle, a professor of pharmacology at the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston.

Oral dietary supplements of resveratrol are not likely to have any effect on breast and prostate cancer, Walle concluded after his study. He gave resveratrol both by mouth and intravenously to six healthy volunteers. Then they looked for resveratrol in the blood samples drawn later.

Only trace amounts reach the bloodstream, Walle said. "We are not trying to disclaim anything, but rather to answer a very basic question that is being asked by the drug industry all the time. When they introduce a new drug, they ask, 'Will it get into the circulation?'"

"It has been claimed that resveratrol may prevent breast or prostate cancer, and that may not be the case," Walle said.

Even though the bloodstream had only trace amounts of resveratrol, Walle said he has found in other studies that resveratrol does accumulate in ephithelial cells along the digestive tract, "So it could prevent cancer in those cells."

Henning said her findings are too premature to recommend that men drink black or green tea in hopes of preventing prostate cancer.

Dr. Herman Kattlove, a spokesman for the American Cancer Society (news - web sites), agreed: "It's a long distance from this data to any possible clinical effect."

Instead of focusing on single supplements or substances, Kattlove suggested boosting fruit and vegetable intake.

"Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables is protective from cancer," he said, adding it is highly unlikely a single substance in the foods provides the effect.

More information

To learn more about cancer prevention, visit the American Cancer Society. To find out about prostate cancer, visit the National Library of Medicine.

Back to the Top

 

Meal Delivery Services Attract Dieters

 

By Daisy Nguyen

Associated Press Writer

The Associated Press

Monday, April 19, 2004

LOS ANGELES - As a party planner for the stars, Jodi Thomas' schedule leaves little time for eating right.

Fed up with getting by on coffee and candy bars while coordinating events for hundreds of people, Thomas signed up with the Zone Diet At Home food delivery service. For her, weight loss was an afterthought.

"I'm eating right, the food is good, and the bonus is I lose weight along the way," said the 30-year-old Santa Monica resident who lost five pounds in a month.

Peggy White, 58, a software engineer from Redmond, Wash., is busy, too. But she joined a meal delivery plan because she desperately needed to slim down.

She wouldn't disclose her weight before signing up with Zone Seattle but said she lost 96 pounds during the next year. She said it was well worth the $40 a day she paid Zone Seattle, an independent firm based in Seattle that delivers to about 160 people in Seattle and Portland.

Neither woman missed cooking. Thomas said her stove is mere decoration. White was glad to stay out of the kitchen.

"One, when you're in the kitchen you want to eat things and cheat," White said. "Two, it's having to spend time in there to figure out what to eat and whether it's OK."

Fresh food delivery services offering customized meals are gaining acceptance among busy, well-paid professionals, many of whom aren't battling weight problems.

Some say the plans provide balanced meals on days when they otherwise would have worked hours without eating then binge on something they'd regret later. Programs usually include three neatly packaged meals and a snack, all delivered in coolers on the doorstep.

The Zone Diet At Home menu is designed to provide a balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat, while Atkins At Home offers low-carbohydrate, high-protein foods. Some programs have staff nutritionists to answer clients' questions.

Los Angeles-based NutriFit offers plans according to food preferences, nutrition and fitness goals, said company co-founder Jacqueline Keller. It even has meals for people who want to gain weight by eating healthy, and special diets for people with diabetes or heart disease.

Weight Watchers and South Beach, two leaders in the packaged diet food sector, don't offer fresh food delivery services.

Prices for delivered meals range from about $35 to $45 a day — a price that Atkins At Home spokesman Eric Freedland acknowledges is not for everyone.

"It may be a little pricey, but some people feel it's an investment for their health and lifestyle," Freedland said.

White didn't mind the cost.

"I was able to make something happen," she said. "You figure you're going to spend that much eating out anyway."

White initially had meals delivered to her home every day and found she was losing two to three pounds a week, partly due to regular swimming and a cardiovascular workout.

With the customized meals, she learned how to limit her portion sizes and to replicate some of the Zone Seattle-prepared meals in her kitchen. Eventually, White decreased the delivery days from seven to two.

Arlene Sherman, president of Zone Seattle, said her company offers a sample trial for those not fully prepared to commit to long-term delivery plans. To attract her mostly female clients, Sherman also offers an additional $8 meal so clients don't have to cook their spouse's dinner.

The Atkins At Home program requires at least a 28-day commitment to ensure that customers reach their goals, said Jo-Anne Kelly, a nutritionist for the company. She said most customers stay on the program for two months.

The New York-based Zone Diet At Home offers 14-day "jump-start" programs. In recent months, it has offered zone meals for kids and a 21-day diet plan designed for last-minute slimming down before big events like a wedding.

Some programs are available just in the New York metropolitan area, but company founder Arthur Gunning said he expects to make it available nationally soon.

On the Net:

http://www.nutrifitonline.com

http://www.zonedietathome.com

http://www.the-zone-diet.com

http://atkinsathome.com

Back to the Top

Drinking Alcohol May Raise Colon Cancer Risk

 

Reuters Health

Monday, April 19, 2004

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Fairly heavy alcohol consumption appears to moderately increase the risk of cancer in the colon and rectum, researchers report in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Although previous studies have linked alcohol use with colon cancer, findings regarding personal factors, types of beverage, and anatomic sites in the colon have been inconsistent, Dr. Eunyoung Cho at Harvard Medical School (news - web sites), Boston, and colleagues note.

They therefore combined data from eight large studies from North America and Europe, which included approximately 500,000 subjects. Among this cohort, there were 4687 cases of colon cancer.

The cancer risk was increased for those who regularly drank at least 30 grams of alcohol per day, the equivalent of two to three drinks of 80-proof liquor. For example, drinking 30 to 45 grams raised the risk by 21 percent, while drinking more than 45 grams increased the risk by 51 percent.

The results were similar for women and men, and did not differ between various locations in the colon. The risk also did not differ for beer, wine or liquor, leading Cho's group to believe that it was the alcohol itself and not other components that was responsible for the increased risk.

In the general population, reducing alcohol use to less than 30 grams per day could prevent 5 percent of colon cancer cases in men and 0.9 percent of cases in women.

Doctors "should factor the small increased risk for (colon) cancer into discussions with patients about alcohol's risks and benefits," the journal editors suggest.

Source: Annals of Internal Medicine, April 20, 2004.

Back to the Top

Ark. Gov. Doesn't Want to Regulate Food

 

The Associated Press

Monday, April 19, 2004

LITTLE ROCK - Gov. Mike Huckabee said Wednesday that government shouldn't become the "grease police" and regulate unhealthy snack foods.

"I think that is absolutely the worst approach that does not change people's lifestyles and behaviors," Huckabee said in his office. "It only angers people and creates conflict."

Huckabee has lost 100 pounds since last June and said his weight loss has had much more impact than any legislation could.

"My problem is if the government becomes the grease police and starts telling you 'I'm sorry, that hamburger is unauthorized by your government,' where does it stop," he said.

Huckabee said the marketplace will adjust as consumers change their habits and demand healthier foods.

"I think it's completely wrong to say sue the fast food industry because people are obese," he said. "McDonald's doesn't make people fat, people make themselves fat. I haven't had a french fry since last June, but I'm not going to sue McDonald's if I break down one day."

Huckabee said he'd rather offer incentives to people for choosing healthy lifestyles. He plans to feature that approach in his new program, "Healthy Arkansas," which he said he would unveil within the next month.

Back to the Top

Study Shows How Vibrating Tools Damage Workers

 

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

Reuters

Monday, April 19, 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Workers who use vibrating tools for hours on end may suffer permanent damage, and two U.S. researchers said on Monday they think they can explain why.

Their findings may point to a way to reduce or even prevent this damage, which can leave sufferers with numb fingers especially susceptible to cold, they told a meeting of the American Association of Anatomists.

The condition is called Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome and it which begins with pain, tingling, numbness, and increased sensitivity to cold. In serious cases it can permanently damage dexterity.

Dr. Sandya Govindaraju and Dr. Danny Riley of the Medical College of Wisconsin said they had detailed the damage done to cells, and found a common heart drug may help prevent the damage.

The constant vibration affects the arteries, causing them to constrict, which in turn may starve nerves, they told the conference, part of a larger meeting called Experimental Biology 2004.

Govindaraju studied rats, whose tails have nerves and arteries that are very similar in size and structure to those in the human hand.

They vibrated the rat's tails for four hours at a similar frequency to what would be experienced by a jackhammer or chainsaw operator.

The cells lining the artery got pushed together as the artery constricted, and little bulges called vacuoles could be seen coming from individual cells.

"The smaller the artery or the more constricted it was, the more vacuoles you got," Govindaraju said in an interview.

"It is like a little balloon," Riley added. If the vibration goes on for too long, the ballon breaks off at its narrowest point and the cell is permanently damaged. "That piece of the cell is going to die," Riley said.

But when Govindaraju treated the rats in advance with a drug that causes blood vessels to dilate, the arteries remained dilated and fewer vacuoles could be found, even after four hours of vibration. The drug, nifedipine, is a calcium channel blocker used to treat chest pain by expanding arteries.

She said her team is now working to determine at what point the numbness caused by vibration becomes permanent damage.

Riley said the findings could help workers and their employers find ways to prevent the syndrome.

"We should be thinking about anything that causes vasoconstriction," Riley said. Smokers and people working in cold temperatures could be especially vulnerable, he said.

Back to the Top

Experts Stress Post-Exercise Nutrition

 

By Alicia Chang

Associated Press Writer

The Associated Press

Monday, April 19, 2004

Carbohydrates may be considered evil in this age of the low-carb diet revolution, but the nutrient plays an important role in helping athletes recover from strenuous exercise.

Two decades of research have shown that consuming carbs after a hard workout rebuilds worn muscles and primes the body for the next training. Failure to eat the right food after exercise — or worse — skipping the post-exercise meal altogether can harm your body.

"You never think that you can just continue to ride your car without ever going to the gas station. We can't expect to be able to continue to exercise our bodies without refueling them," said Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist of the American Council on Exercise.

Carbs — the main source of energy during physical activity — are stored as glycogen in muscle cells. During exercise, the glycogen reserves deplete and an intake of carbs is needed to replenish the body. Neglecting or avoiding the post-workout meal could result in muscle breakdown and leave your body feeling fatigued during the next workout.

In 2000, the American College of Sports Medicine, along with the American Dietetic Association and the Dietitians of Canada, reviewed numerous studies on the subject and took a stand on the issue. In a published joint position statement, they acknowledged the importance of post-game nutrition on athletic performance.

How much carbs should be eaten after exercise depends on the duration and intensity of the workout, as well as when the next training will occur. For example, a post-workout meal is generally more essential for a triathlete who runs in the morning and cycles in the afternoon than a marathoner who just runs one race. That's because the triathlete needs to refuel in between workouts while the marathoner has more time between runs to recover.

Experts recommend that carbs be eaten 30 minutes to an hour after vigorous exercise since that's when the body will act like a sponge and absorb the nutrients. Some post-workout snacks may include cooked pasta, rice, English muffin, oatmeal or low-fat yogurt.

The casual health club visitor may not need to follow the post-workout rule as strictly because the body will naturally take in carbs from other meals during the day. But experts say it doesn't hurt to consume a carb-rich snack after workout to get a boost of energy.

Recent research shows that a combination of carbs and protein can also help the body recoup. Protein helps repair muscle damage, but carbs are king when it comes to replenishing carbohydrate stores. Eating too much protein after exercise is not good either because it can slow rehydration.

The general guideline is a carb intake of a half-gram per pound of body weight. So a 150-pound person should eat about 75 grams of carbs, or the equivalent of a cup of cooked pasta.

"That is really going to be the only way that you're going to be able to continue to power your working muscles," said Cindy Moore, a Cleveland-based registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

For those who are weight-conscious and wary about consuming too many carbs, experts say they still should make sure to eat the right food after intense exercise. But they can take steps like limiting carb-rich snacks that are high in simple sugars like cookies and cakes and eat more nutritious carb sources like legumes and whole-grain cereals.

"This isn't going to sabotage weight-loss efforts," Bryant said. "If anything, it will allow you to be more productive in your exercise, which in the long term is going to help you with your weight-loss efforts."

Nancy Clark, nutrition guidebook author and sports nutritionist at a fitness center in Chestnut Hill, Mass., advises that athletes plan their post-workout meal in advance to prevent unhealthy snacking afterward.

Lisa Avellino, a certified personal trainer and aerobics instructor from Scarsdale, N.Y., said most of her clients understand the importance of eating after exercising, many do not know the correct food ratios and combinations to maximize their energy.

"When they learn how they can combine certain foods and make subtle changes in their dietary post-workout meal, they get better results," she said.

On the Net:

American Council on Exercise: http://www.acefitness.org

American Dietetic Association: http://www.eatright.org

Back to the Top

Fungus May Boost the Old, Out-Of-Shape – Conference

 

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

Reuters

Monday, April 19, 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Supplements made from a Chinese fungus may help older and out-of-shape people feel a bit more energized, corporate researchers said on Monday.

They said people who took the supplements increased their ability to use oxygen as they exercised -- one way doctors measure fitness -- and were able to walk a mile slightly more quickly than those who took a placebo.

Jia-Shi Zhu and Dr. James Rippe of Pharmanex LLC and the Rippe Lifestyle Institute in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, said their tests on 131 sedentary people aged 40 to 70 showed modest but clear effects.

After 12 weeks of taking Pharmanex's branded supplement, called Cordymax, peak oxygen consumption rose 5.5 percent when middle-aged people who had been sedentary used a treadmill or exercise bike, Zhu said. It rose 2.2 percent in the group that took dummy pills.

The supplement-takers also were able to walk a mile 29 seconds more quickly and the placebo group took 19 seconds longer, on average, after the three months.

This suggests the product can help people get fitter, Zhu told a meeting of the American Physiological Society, part of a larger conference called Experimental Biology 2004.

Other studies have also shown the product can help regulate fat and sugar metabolism, he said.

But it does little for people in peak physical shape. "If you have normal glucose levels, you don't see any difference after taking this product," Zhu said in an interview.

The fungus, scientifically known as Cordyceps sinensis, is used in traditional Chinese medicine as an aphrodisiac and anti-aging agent. Some Chinese athletes use it in a bid to boost performance.

Zhu said the fungus infects a burrowing caterpillar, eating the creature until it dies. In the spring, a grasslike fungus sprouts from the underground corpse.

Zhu said he does not know what the active ingredient in the fungus is. He is also unsure just how it boosts performance, although he speculated it may affect adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, the power source of cells.

In the study of 131 people, Zhu said those allergic to mushrooms experienced a mild rash, and others found the large capsules uncomfortable to swallow, but otherwise side-effects were minimal.

Pharmanex is a subsidiary of Nu Skin Enterprises.

Back to the Top

N.D. Students Testing Homes for Radon

 

The Associated Press

Monday, April 19, 2004

BELCOURT, N.D. - Science students at Turtle Mountain Community College are testing homes on the reservation for radon, a radioactive gas linked to lung cancer.

The first round of preliminary sampling found nearly a third of homes tested high for the radioactive gas, but the project coordinator says more tests likely will change those results.

Project coordinator Gale Harmes said homes are tested in the winter, when they are sealed against the weather, to get the highest readings. He said testing also must be done in the summer to determine the annual average.

About 30 percent of the 250 homes tested for radon this winter had high readings, Harms said. That figure is not a major worry at this point, because many will fall within the recommended limit once the average is obtained, Harms said.

The study is funded through the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites). If the grant funding continues, the project aims to test 600 homes before it concludes next year.

Radon is an invisible, odorless radioactive gas created by the decay of uranium found in rocks and soil. It is estimated to be a health risk in as many as one in 15 homes in the country, according to the American Lung Association.

Test kits in the college project use activated charcoal to collect dust particles to which the radon attaches itself. Turtle Mountain Community College gets the kits from the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs.

Students go to the home of each resident who signs up for the testing and place a kit in the area of the house that is most used. The students retrieve the kits after 3.8 days, considered to be the half life of radon, and the kits are returned to the Colorado lab for results.

"One of the things we do in this program is encourage people to quit smoking, because if a person smokes and lives in an atmosphere of radon, their chances of contracting lung cancer are at least a magnitude of 10 to 100 times more likely," Harms said.

Radon seems to be higher in clay soils, found on much of the Turtle Mountain Reservation, Harms said.

As part of the Turtle Mountain project, students are mapping the location of homes tested. The information will be overlaid on a map of soil types and analyzed.

About 10 students are involved in the project, which began in February. They receive a stipend for their time and travel.

Many of the students are taking a life science course at the college as part of their study in nursing, chemistry or environmental science. The project provides a varied education in skills ranging from social skills to scientific analysis, Harms said.

"They are learning teamwork. They are learning self motivation. They are learning what running a scientific sample really is," he said. "There are more benefits than what meets the eye."

A variety of methods can be used to reduce indoor radon levels, such as sealing cracks in floors and walls or changing the air flow in a home. Sometimes, eliminating the radon source is as simple as putting a cover over a sump pump hole or a plastic barrier in a crawl space.

On the Net: Radon specialists: www.health.state.nd.us/ndhd/environ/ee/rad/Radon/index.htm

Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.ndweb.com

Back to the Top

FDA May Act on Ephedra Substitutes, Others

 

By Susan Heavey

Reuters

Monday, April 19, 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites) is gathering evidence on the safety of several alternatives to ephedra, the weight-loss herb the agency banned a week ago, the agency's top official said on Monday.

Acting FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford said regulators are also compiling data on three other supplements, including kava, a dried root often used as a relaxant that has been linked to liver damage.

"Never again will one of these (supplements) as bad as ephedra take two years" to ban, Crawford said.

The FDA is collecting research results, reports of health problems and other information to help officials decide whether to ban other supplements, he said.

"We've started the clock ticking. Maybe it will result in an ephedra-like decision for some of these (or) maybe not" Crawford said in a speech to the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics in Washington.

Since the agency announced the ephedra ban last December, a number of manufacturers have sought to fill the void with other products, including so-called bitter orange, or Citrus aurantium. The ban took effect last Monday.

Bitter orange contains several substances that produce an ephedra-like stimulation and have been shown to increase blood pressure. But Crawford said it was "too soon to say" whether it should be removed from the market.

While there are similarities, "the concerns are being overblown," said Michael McGuffun, president of the American Herbal Products Association. Many products put forward to replace ephedra are caffeine-based, he said.

The FDA is also compiling data on usnic acid, Crawford said. The lichen-produced chemical is used in some products touting weight control and has been linked to liver damage.

Pyrrolizidine alkaloids, compounds found in plants, can be toxic and are also under review, he said.

While most supplements "are probably safe" when used correctly, the industry's diversity and ability to quickly devise new products make it difficult to regulate, Crawford said.

But the recent ephedra court ruling favoring the FDA gave the agency strength to act against other supplements in the future, Crawford added.

The Council for Responsible Nutrition, a supplement industry group, supports FDA's safety efforts, President Annette Dickinson said, adding that many companies have already placed warnings on kava products.

The FDA last month recommended that the National Institutes of Health (news - web sites) make studying these four supplements a priority.

Paul Coates, head of NIH's Office of Dietary Supplements, said the institute's ephedra studies put steps in place to evaluate similar products but would not say if any studies were planned.

Back to the Top

Canadians Turn Out for Laughter Classes

 

The Associated Press

Monday, April 19, 2004

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Louise Ayotte is attracted to people who laugh, loud and a lot.

Wanting to be more like them, she signed up for a class on how to unleash more contagious giggles.

What Ayotte got was three hours of heavy breathing, face-making and laughing with Dr. Madan Kataria, a Bombay, India, physician with a global following who's making a rare tour of Canada to train aspiring laughter coaches.

Kataria's teachings have inspired people to form clubs and follow his lead in search of the incredible release of unstoppable laughter.

"I train people to laugh without humor or jokes. Jokes are intellectual. Not everyone gets it. We laugh at nothing as a form of exercise," he said.

A session last year in Montreal drew followers from across Canada.

Converts to Kataria's "laughter yoga" believe it helps them deal with stress and depression while bolstering their immune systems.

Followers are spreading his message like a knock-knock joke, starting a public awareness campaign in Montreal this summer and hoping to gather 25,000 people to giggle in unison on World Laughter Day in May 2005.

Listening to Kataria, Ayotte feared she had stepped into loonyville.

A woman in the audience burst out howling as he stood up, and had to be removed until she was calm enough to follow instructions.

"He had us doing all kinds of crazy things," Ayotte said. "Walking around and hugging each other, making a face like a roaring lion."

Kataria urges students to force the laughs out at first, even if they don't feel like it, and leads exercises such as argument laughter in which participants march at each other, laughing and shaking their index fingers.

In milkshake laughter, people pretend to hold a glass of milk in each hand, shaking them and chuckling.

Soon, he promises, people reach a state of meditative laughter as giggles flow freely and for no apparent reason.

Sure enough, Ayotte, a retired teacher, had tears rolling down her cheeks.

"I heard someone else's laugh standing out from the others and it was just contagious. I couldn't stop," she said.

Getting to that point, the uncontrollable state that countless studies have shown to produce health benefits, is all about the eye contact.

"It's a human connection that really reduces inhibitions and shyness," Kataria said. "Once you are willing and you start to let it go, it comes easily."

Immediately, yoga teacher Valerie Barry felt 10 years younger. She decided to try the class after attending a funeral where everyone managed to laugh in celebration of the deceased.

"You can either laugh or cry, right? But laughing isn't always so easy. We need to be reminded how to do it and to work at it," Barry said.

The day after her session with Kataria, who came wearing one white shoe and one black, Barry laughed her head off.

"I was as busy as always, but I was fun and lighter," Barry said. "I'm hooked. I'm definitely going to join a laughter club and keep it up."

Many others also vowed to start such a club.

Lone Sorensen, a devotee who traveled from Yellowknife to Kataria's Montreal workshop, said his visits leave lasting legacies.

She's organizing Yellowknife's second World Laughter celebration in which people go to a coffee shop and do the lion laugh.

"You put your paws up, open your mouth wide, stick your tongue out all the way and laugh from the belly. Your face gets a good workout and it opens the throat," she said.

Since studying with Kataria, Sorensen has had steady work running laughter workshops from corporate boardrooms to Girl Guide camps.

After a demonstration for the Yellowknife mayor, he agreed to speak at her laughter day party.

Sorensen is working with fledgling groups across the country to put together a national celebration.

"It's spreading like a ripple of laughter," she said. The reverberations from a crowd of people laughing together is amazing. You can hear it around the world. It's the sound of peace."

Back to the Top

Benefit of Grape Antioxidant Questioned in Humans

 

By Megan Rauscher

Reuters Health

Monday, April 19, 2004

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Dietary supplements containing resveratrol --the antioxidant found in grapes and red wine -- are not likely to ward off cancer or heart disease in humans because insufficient quantities get into the bloodstream, a new study shows.

In humans, the breakdown of resveratrol is "very rapid and efficient" and, as a result, availability of the compound in the body is "negligible," according to Dr. Thomas Walle and colleagues from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

Walle reported his team's findings Monday in Washington, DC, during Experimental Biology 2004, as part of the scientific sessions of the American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

In a telephone interview with Reuters Health, he noted that there have been many "exciting reports in cell culture models" suggesting that resveratrol may have protective effects against cardiovascular disease and cancer. But it has been unclear, until now, what happens to resveratrol in the human body.

In six healthy volunteers, Walle's team tracked the absorption and disposition of resveratrol tagged with a harmless radioactive tracer after it was either swallowed or injected, at doses roughly matching normal dietary intake.

They found that after oral dosing, most of the resveratrol showed up in urine in the first 12 hours, and it appeared only bound to other chemicals. The free, presumably active form of resveratrol was not present in urine or blood samples after oral dosing.

Similarly, after injection, free resveratrol was only detected in blood samples drawn 30 minutes after injection.

"We found no evidence that any resveratrol will reach into the systemic circulation," Dr. Walle told Reuters Health, "and the reason for that is very extensive metabolism of resveratrol as it is being absorbed into the body. It is completely broken down into metabolites very rapidly."

Dr. Walle knows of one other study involving four individuals that supports his findings that "very low if any" amounts of active resveratrol will reach the bloodstream in humans.

It is possible, however, Dr. Walle added, that oral resveratrol may help prevent cancers of the digestive tract. His group has seen some signs that resveratrol accumulates in cells in the oral cavity and "along the whole intestine including the colon," he said. "So if we are looking at cancer prevention activities of resveratrol, we could be looking at those sites."

Back to the Top

Low-fat the Natural Way

HealthDayNews

Monday, April 19, 2004

(HealthDayNews) -- Some foods other than those labeled "fat free" are naturally low fat, and can even be more satisfying than low-fat offerings.

Moses Taylor Hospital lists these low-fat treats:

Back to the Top

Sunday, April 18, 2004

 

Study to Test Hormone Benefits in Younger Women

 

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

Reuters

Sunday, April 18, 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Researchers hoping to find some benefits from hormone replacement therapy said on Sunday they were launching a trial in younger women to see if it protects them from heart disease.

HRT was once routinely prescribed to women as they reached menopause in the belief it would relieve unpleasant symptoms and protect against heart disease and osteoporosis.

In July 2002, women taking estrogen and progestin were told to visit their doctors and perhaps stop because of the risk of heart attack, stroke and some forms of cancer. A later study showed HRT may also slightly raise the risk of Alzheimer's disease (news - web sites).

And in March the National Institutes of Health (news - web sites) stopped a trial of women taking estrogen-only replacement therapy after finding the pills raised the possibility of a stroke.

The trials, part of the Women's Health Initiative, looked at older women and only one form of HRT -- Wyeth Co.'s Premarin, made from the urine of pregnant mares, or PremPro, which combines Premarin and progestin.

A team led by the Phoenix-based Kronos Longevity Research Institute, a nonprofit organization, said it would look at women who are just beginning to go through menopause.

World Health Initiative participants "were post-menopausal, with a mean age of 62.7, yet most women begin hormone treatment much younger, at the onset of menopausal symptoms," the researchers said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites) says many women can still consider taking HRT to reduce the worst symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and sexual effects. But it advises taking it for the shortest possible time at the lowest dose.

The researchers, who include some of the people who worked on the Women's Health Initiative, including Dr. JoAnn Manson of Harvard Medical School (news - web sites) and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, plan to study 720 women aged 40 to 55. Some will get placebos.

They especially want to see the effects on heart disease. Arteries will be examined using ultrasound and CAT scans to see if they become thicker, and thus more diseased, as the women age and take hormones.

"There are a lot of data that suggest that estrogen is good early and bad late," said Dr. Mitchell Harman, director of the Kronos Institute.

"The WHI was instrumental in providing a road map for the next phase of research to examine whether estrogen protects younger women from cardiovascular disease, as earlier observational studies indicated."

Manson said, "There is no evidence, in WHI findings or elsewhere, that indicate that recently menopausal women taking estrogen are at increased risk of heart disease."

The study will also look at women who take HRT not as a pill, but in a skin patch.

"This method may be safer since transdermal estrogen does not go to the liver in high concentrations and has been shown to have little or no effect on clotting," the Kronos statement said.

Back to the Top

Home Care For the Aging: What You Need to Know

 

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDayNews

Sunday, April 18, 2004

SUNDAY, April 18 (HealthDayNews) -- It's one of life's hardest decisions: How do you care for aging loved ones when they're no longer able to care for themselves?

The obvious choice is to put mom or dad in a nursing home. But few children -- or their parents -- want to do that. Eighty percent of older Americans surveyed said they'd prefer to live out their lives at home, said Kari Benson, a policy analyst with the U.S. Administration on Aging.

Home care, both short-term and long-term, is becoming a more popular option. But not everyone can afford -- or even manage -- it. There are a host of hidden concerns and details that need to be anticipated and worked out.

"It's better, but it's not easy," said Carol Levine, director of the Families and Health Care Project at the United Hospital Fund. The New York City-based advocacy group "promotes high-quality, patient-centered health-care services that are accessible to all," according to its Web site.

Levine's story is typical of many baby boomers who are confronted with the challenge of caring for failing parents or relatives.

She arranged for home care for her mother when she was dying two years ago. Now, she has home care for her husband, who suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Home care comes in two basic varieties, Levine explained. One is short-term care after a hospitalization for a stroke or fall or similar health problem. The other -- long-term -- is for an aging person who needs help with life's daily demands.

Short-term home care is more common, and more likely to be covered by insurance. Medicare, for instance, will pay for skilled nurses and part-time "intermittent care," which, according to Levine, is generally up to 28 hours per week. The home-care aide can help with personal care, prepare meals and make sure medications are taken without actually administering them.

"Medicare has its own very strict guidelines as to who's eligible and who's not," said Regina Hawkey, director of congregate care for the Visiting Nurse Service of New York.

Private insurance generally works the same way but typically offers less coverage, she added.

Even if you manage to get 28 hours a week in coverage and an agency to do it, that often isn't enough time for a person who's incapacitated. Very often, the families -- if they exist -- need to pitch in with care.

"It [short-term care] is really intended just to help get over the acute phase. But most people don't understand that or don't want to hear it or don't want to believe it's actually going to happen," Levine said.

Another problem: Someone who has suffered say, a fall or pneumonia, often ends up more needy than ever once the acute problem has been handled. But Medicare or most private insurers won't cover long-term care, Levine said.

Long-term care insurance is an option, but most people don't have such coverage, said Lisa Yagoda, a senior policy associate for aging at the National Association of Social Workers in Washington, D.C. "A lot of people wait for the crisis and, when you're in crisis mode, that's when you have the least options."

Even the best home care may not be what you think it is going to be. "It is not without difficulties because many people don't want what they call 'strangers in the house,' and a lot of people are coming in and taking over for very short periods of time and you lose a sense of your privacy and the intimacy of your home," Levine said.

If you can't pay for home care, you have to do it yourself. If you can't do it yourself, you need to find a way to pay for it. Levine had home hospice care for her mother for a year, but even that required additional help. She and her sister could not be home all the time so they organized a group of local women from the community who tended to her mother day and night. Some of the women had nursing experience and all were paid.

"The day-to-day taking care of my mother, making sure she didn't fall, making sure she had a bath, making sure she had meals -- that was a job that either the family had to pay for or provide and since we couldn't provide it, we paid for it," Levine said.

"For me, for my mother and for my husband, it's definitely worth it. And it was worth it for my mother who absolutely wanted to be home and had a much better quality of life than she would have had anywhere else," Levine added.

AARP says there are several issues to discuss when considering a home-care provider. Some examples:

 

More information

 

The United Hospital Fund has a Caregiver's Guide to Hospital Discharge Planning. The Family Caregiver Alliance has a variety of information, while the U.S. Administration on Aging has an eldercare locator.

Back to the Top

 

Atkins Seeks to Tone Down 'Cheeseburger' Image

 

By Deborah Cohen

Reuters

Sunday, April 18, 2004  

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Hoping to tone down the Atkins Diet's steak-and-bacon image, the company that bears the name of the low-carbohydrate food plan is launching a campaign centered on education rather than its products.

The ads, which privately held Atkins Nutritionals Inc. is running on the back pages of Newsweek and other major publications, feature its new Atkins Lifestyle Food Guide Pyramid.

The campaign comes as a host of rivals, including those pushing spinoff diets like South Beach, seek to cash in on Americans' fight against obesity and topple Atkins from its market-leading position.

Analysts say Atkins' backers, investment bank Goldman Sachs and private equity firm Parthenon Capital, may want to get the company in shape for an early initial public offering of stock, and changing its image may be part of that process.

"They are pressed to reinvent the public perception that the Atkins Diet is not synonymous with bacon cheeseburgers," said Dean Rotbart, editor of the online industry newsletter LowCarbiz.

Ronkonkoma, New York-based Atkins does not disclose its financial results, but said sales of its low-carb energy bars, cereals, baking mixes and other products doubled last year.

LowCarbiz estimates Atkins' retail sales at about $500 million to $750 million, exclusive of agreements with other branded retailers to use its logo, a red "A."

But a report on Wednesday from Morgan Stanley said low-carb dieting has reached its peak and begun a slow decline, giving Atkins all the more reason to try to steady its position.

The Atkins model runs counter to the high-carb diet depicted in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (news - web sites)'s own long-standing food pyramid, which has grain-based foods at its base and limited amounts of protein and fat on top.

But contrary to popular belief, Atkins says it prescribes "a wide range of protein sources and nutrient-dense carbohydrates, such as most vegetables, certain fruits, nuts, dairy products and whole grains."

"There's not a mention of a product on there," Matthew Wiant, senior vice president of marketing, said of the new ads. "It's reminding people that eating Atkins is fundamentally about eating whole foods."

The campaign follows criticism from consumer advocacy groups that have cautioned against the ill effects of low-carb eating, especially Atkins.

And the death of company founder Dr. Robert Atkins after a fall in April 2003 led to a spate of negative publicity when the public learned that the developer of his namesake diet had been overweight.

Licensing Is Key

Perhaps Atkins Nutritionals' greatest opportunity lies in the licensing deals with big food companies that go beyond its own product line.

With those agreements, the Atkins logo is appearing on a new line of salads and wraps at the Subway sandwich chain; yogurt and milk from dairy maker HP Hood; and baked goods from George Weston Foods, parent of Entenmann's pastries, Wiant said.

"That's kind of why we started with Subway," he added. "To have a big impact quickly."

Other deals are in the works, but he declined to name them or discuss how they are structured.

Industry watchers believe such arrangements are key to the success of a company that contracts its manufacturing to third parties and lacks the scale to make a big splash on its own.

Goldman Sachs and Parthenon Capital paid a reported $533 million for an 80 percent stake in Atkins last year. Neither responded to questions about its plans for the company, and Wiant declined to comment on the IPO speculation.

Atkins will continue introduce more of its own products, such as a low-carb frozen pizza due to hit stores this summer, he said.

The company is also hoping to supply restaurants with ingredients to promote low-carb menus.

This commercial push goes hand in hand with the educational drive. The company's independent Atkins Foundation has commissioned research with major universities to prove that the diet is based in science.

On Wednesday Atkins issued a statement warning about the "low-carbohydrate product frenzy." Because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites) has not yet defined "low-carb" for the consumer, the company said, the labels on many of these products are "meaningless from a scientific standpoint."

Back to the Top

Don't Harvest Carpal Tunnel in Your Garden

 

HealthDayNews

Sunday, April 18, 2004

SUNDAY, April 18 (HealthDayNews) -- When you're flexing your green thumb in the garden this year, make sure you don't sow the seeds of hand or wrist injuries.

That includes carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Garden work involves motions and activities that can contribute to development or aggravation of CTS, including repeated wrist motions, extended periods of hand movement, pounding and pushing with your hands, and working with poorly designed garden tools.

Some common garden chores associated with CTS include weed pulling, hoeing, planting, raking, transplanting and pruning, says information from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Symptoms of CTS include a weakened ability to grasp objects, wrist and finger pain, numb hands and fingers, cold fingers, or a "pins and needles" sensation in your fingers.

There are some simple ways to avoid developing CTS or to reduce CTS symptoms while you're gardening. Vary your garden activities and the motions of those activities. Take regular rests from doing repetitive motions. Make sure you use correct posture for all your gardening tasks.

The tools you use are important, too. Buy ergonomically designed tools that conform to your hand. You shouldn't force your hands to adapt to poorly fitting tools. Tool handles come in many different designs with varying kinds of diameters, coatings (anti-slip), contouring (finger grips), or coverings such as rubber.

When shopping for garden tools, take the time to test how they feel and fit your hands.

Gardening poses other potential hazards to your hands. Many garden tools can cut or pinch your fingers and hands. Always pay close attention to what you're doing when using such tools and wear gardening gloves.

More information

The Canadian Physiotherapy Association has some more garden safety tips.

Back to the Top

 

Smokers Risk Frostbite, Study Finds

 

Reuters

Sunday, April 18, 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Smokers, who already risk cancer and heart disease, are more susceptible than others to frostbite because their blood vessels do not expand fast enough to warm chilled fingers and toes, researchers said on Sunday.

The nicotine in cigarettes seems to be to blame, slowing the body's normal responses to cold, the team at Yale University in Connecticut found. Dr. Kichang Lee and colleagues immersed the hands of smokers and nonsmokers in water at 41 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes.

The blood vessels of the smokers were slower and less effective than those of non-smokers at cold-induced vasodilation -- a biological response in which blood vessels expand in response to cold.

After coming out of the cold water, the smokers' skin warmed up more slowly than that of non-tobacco users, Lee told a meeting of the American Physiological Society at a joint conference in Washington called Experimental Biology 2004.

The effect held even when the smokers avoided cigarettes for 16 hours, Lee, now at Harvard University, said.

Back to the Top

Saturday, April 17, 2004

 

Alcohol and Health: Distilling the Risks and Benefits

 

By Adam Marcus
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDayNews

Saturday, April 17, 2004

SATURDAY, April 17 (HealthDayNews) -- Alcohol-related problems -- from alcoholism to drunk driving -- kill roughly 100,000 Americans each year. And they cost the country more than $184 billion annually in treatment, lost productivity and other direct and indirect expenditures.

Some 14 million Americans, or about 7.4 percent of the population, are alcoholics. Millions more binge drink and otherwise abuse alcohol.

Those grim statistics suggest drinking is a scourge. But wait, you say. Isn't some alcohol good for me? What about those reports that a little alcohol each day is a boon to the heart?

If you're confused about the point where healthful, moderate drinking becomes unhealthy, heavy consumption, you're forgiven. With all the research on the effects of alcohol, it's hard to know when to keep sipping and when to stop.

And with April designated as Alcohol Awareness Month, now's a good time to set the record straight.

"There is a lot of gradation" in drinking, says Lorraine Gunzerath, chief of the strategic research planning branch at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Complicating matters, a person's genetic makeup likely has much to do with not only how well he or she tolerates the harmful effects of alcohol, but also how much they're body responds to the beneficial impact of drinking.

For all the vagaries of tippling, scientists do know a great deal about what happens to those who overdo it.

First, some rules of thumb: Scientists define risky drinking, which can impair judgment and coordination, as consuming enough alcohol to drive the blood alcohol content (BAC) to between 0.05 and 0.08, the legal limit recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (news - web sites). In general, a 160-pound man would have a BAC of 0.05 after consuming two drinks in a short period of time. For a 140-pound woman, the same two drinks would result in a BAC of 0.07.

Binge-drinking bouts are concentrated sprees that drive the BAC above 0.08; they're defined as five drinks in two hours for men and 4 to 4.5 drinks over that span for women. And heavy drinking is alcohol consumption that consistently sends BAC to 0.08 or higher.

U.S. health officials define moderate drinking as up to two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women (pregnant women should abstain completely.) A standard drink can come in the form of a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or a 1.5-ounce cocktail of 80-proof liquor.

Chronic, heavy drinking's most obvious victim is the liver. Cirrhosis of the liver is the buildup of scar tissue that results from long-term poisoning with alcohol. A healthy liver can break alcohol down into harmless starches and sugars within a matter of hours, Gunzerath says. But one of the initial breakdown products of alcohol is a toxic substance called acetaldehyde. [Some people are missing a gene that helps them neutralize acetaldehyde, and as a result they become quite ill immediately after drinking.]

Gradually, scars in the liver block blood flow throughout the organ and hinder its performance as a waste treatment center. Cirrhosis is the country's 12th-leading cause of disease-related death, claiming 26,000 lives each year, according to the National Institutes of Health (news - web sites).

Drinking also has been clearly linked to several forms of cancer that affect the digestive tract and airways, starting in the mouth and moving down into the esophagus. Even people who use mouthwashes that contain high concentrations of alcohol are vulnerable to some of these tumors, scientists have found.

Alcohol may increase the risk of stomach and pancreatic cancers, as well as colorectal tumors, although probably in conjunction with smoking. Heavy drinking may also raise a woman's risk of breast cancer, although the evidence here isn't strong.

That's the bad news. The glass-half-full side of alcohol consumption is this: People who consume alcohol moderately appear to gain some protection against heart disease, the nation's leading killer.

Alcohol might protect the heart and blood vessels in at least two ways. It increases blood levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL), the so-called good form of blood fat. And, alcohol thins blood, thus making it less likely to clot.

That should, in theory, shield drinkers from strokes, a leading cause of death and disability. Some studies have found such a protective effect from light-to-moderate drinking.

One recent study, for example, found older drinkers cut their risk of strokes, but at an intriguing -- and still undefined -- cost: A shrinking brain. "There may very well be a trade-off between improvements in blood vessel problems and direct injury to brain cells and brain shrinkage," says Dr. Kenneth Mukamal, a Harvard University internist who researched the issue.

However, a study in younger people turned up no reduction in stroke risk from light-to-moderate drinking.

"We're at an interesting point where the information that we have is hard to put together because it seems to be conflicting," Mukamal says. "On the one hand, we see some negative effects even at light to moderate amounts [of alcohol]. But on the other hand, studies show that [these drinkers] have a lower risk of stroke than non-drinkers or heavy drinkers. Finding the balance of these risks and benefits on the brain is still a challenge for us."

As Gunzerath points out, even if alcohol does ward off heart attacks and strokes, drinking may simply trade liver trouble and cancers for fewer cardiovascular problems.

The American Heart Association (news - web sites) doesn't recommend that non-drinkers take up alcohol. But the group does advise people who consume alcohol to do so moderately. The NIAAA, a division of the National Institutes of Health, recommends people 65 and older consume no more than one drink a day.

But at least one researcher says U.S. drinking guidelines are rooted as much in relative morality as they are in science.

Ruth Engs, an Indiana University researcher who studies "clean living" movements, says America is far more conservative about alcohol than other countries. In Britain, for example, moderate drinking is considered to be up to 21 drinks per week for men and 14 per week for women -- in other words, about twice as much as in this country.

"Alcohol is a forbidden fruit, it's something you can't touch," Engs says.

One result of this ambivalence toward alcohol is that health officials are reluctant to promote its benefits, Engs says. "I think unless you're an alcoholic and have a compulsive behavior, a drink a day is probably a good idea based on all the medical evidence," she says. "At least 200 to 300 studies [show] a small amount of alcohol is very beneficial."

Gunzerath says the federal government is funding several key areas of research into the effects of alcohol on health. They include:

 

More information

 

For more on alcohol and health, visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Women's Health Information Center.

Back to the Top

 

Spring Can Mean Sinusitis

 

HealthDayNews

Saturday, April 17, 2004

SATURDAY, April 17 (HealthDayNews) -- You've been sneezing for weeks, and your head constantly feels stuffed up.

Is it just your springtime allergies flaring up, or is it something more serious, such as sinusitis?

Allergies are caused by the body overreacting to what is normally a harmless substance. As the body tries to fight off the harmless invader, symptoms begin. The hallmarks of spring allergies or hay fever are sneezing, watery eyes and a runny nose, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI).

Allergies can be treated with antihistamines or by avoiding allergy triggers such as dust mites, pollen or animals. More than just a nuisance, allergies cost more than $250 million in lost work days in the United States every year. Worse yet, untreated allergies often lead to sinusitis, an infection of the sinuses.

Symptoms of sinusitis include pain in the forehead, teeth or face. Some people experience coughing, itchy eyes or sneezing also. Nasal discharge is usually dark yellow or green. Antibiotics are often needed to treat sinusitis.

To prevent sinusitis, the AAAAI recommends treating your allergies and using nasal steroids to reduce inflammation in your nasal passageways if needed. Saline sprays can also be used to help prevent chronic sinusitis.

Another way to prevent sinusitis is to prevent your allergies, so if your allergies are caused by pollen, try to stay indoors with the windows closed on windy or very dry days. After a rain, pollen counts drop dramatically.

More information

This information from the American Academy of Family Physicians offers advice on controlling your allergies.

 

Back to the Top