Update on the swine/Mexican flu epidemic

April 30, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

The pandemic alert level of 5 out of a 6-point scale has been declared by the World Health Organization with regards to the swine or Mexican flu. The flu which was originally reported in Mexico has spread in the North American continent to infect people in the United States (91) and Canada (13). The first fatal case in the US was reported on Wednesday, 29 April in Texas.

In Europe and the rest of the world, the following confirmed cases have been reported on 30 April 2009, 08:00 CEST.

  • Austria (1)
  • Costa Rica (2)
  • Germany (3)
  • Israel (2)
  • New Zealand (14)
  • Peru (1)
  • Spain (10)
  • United Kingdom (5)

As of noon today, 30 April 2009, Switzerland announced its first confirmed case.

The rapidity of how the virus “jumped” continents is largely attributed to the ease of global travel nowadays. Almost all confirmed cases outside North America have been in Mexico recently.

It is very easy to get confused about all the reports coming different sectors, be it from the media, from health authorities to conspiracy theorists.

To keep yourself updated, check put the following recommended sites:

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC). The CDC has done/is doing the following:

  • implemented its emergency response and released part of its stockpile of medications for use.
  • issued new interim guidance for doctors on how to care for children and pregnant women who might get infected.
  • gives regular updates

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) is issuing updates for Europe.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has done/is doing the following:

  • coordinates with health officials of different countries to facilitate reporting and monitoring
  • issues alerts and updates

Some useful and practical info to prepare yourself (aside from what the aforementioned sites can give you) can be found at WedMD:

The most important survival tip of all: be alert but do not panic!

Photo credit: stock. xchng

In the making: stem cell therapy for stroke victims

April 30, 2009 by  

blue-syringeAccording to the American Stroke Association, about one American suffers from a stroke every 40 seconds. On average, stroke kills one person every three to four minutes.

In March of this year, researchers at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston enrolled the first patient in a Phase I safety trial to test stem cell therapy in stroke patients. Usually, in Phase I trials, healthy volunteers are enrolled to assess the safety of a drug or a therapy. In this case, the participant is a stroke patient. The 61-year old stroke survivor arrived at the hospital more than 3 hours after the onset of the symptoms, thus making him ineligible to be treated with tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). According to the American Heart Association, tPA is a thrombolytic agent (clot-busting drug). It is approved for use in certain patients having a heart attack or stroke. The drug can dissolve blood clots, which cause most heart attacks and strokes. tPA is the only drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the acute (urgent) treatment of ischemic stroke. However, tPA is a time-sensitive treatment that can only be effective when administered within 3 hours of symptom onset. Stem cell therapy might be a less time-sensitive alternative to tPA.

Here is how the stem cell therapy works:

Stem cells were harvested from the bone marrow in the iliac crest of the patient’s leg. The purified cells were then administered intravenously back to the patient several hours later. Because they were his own stem cells, the problem of rejection is very unlikely to occur.

The Phase I safety trial, funded with a pilot grant from The National Institutes of Health and support from the Notsew Orm Sands Foundation, will enroll nine more patients who have suffered a stroke and can be treated with the stem cell procedure within 24 to 72 hours of initial symptoms.

Research using lab animals has shown that stem cells given after a stroke enhance healing of the damage brain. Stem cells seem to have some kind of “guidance system” to find their way to the area of injury. Stem cells promote healing, not by creating new brain cells, but by helping the repair processes and reducing inflammatory damage. Animal research showed that the effects of the therapy can be observable within a week.

So far, the patient has been making a lot of progress. However, it is too early to tell whether the improvement can be attributed to stem cell therapy or some other factors. The long-term effects of the therapy also needs to be investigated

According to lead researcher Dr. Sean Savitz,

“It’s still very early in this safety study, but this could be an exciting new therapeutic approach for people who have just suffered a stroke.”


Photo credit: stock. xchng

Toxoplasmosis, dopamine and schizophrenia

April 29, 2009 by  

laboratory22Schizophrenia is a complex neurological disorder, believed to be the results of multiple genetic and environmental factors. One important piece to the puzzle that is schizophrenia is toxoplasmosis. Toxoplamosis is a disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Previous studies have reported that the parasite may play a role in the development of psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Researchers from the University of Leeds’ Faculty of Biological Sciences (UK) may now be able to tell us the mechanism behind this link. It seems that the parasite infects the brain to form cysts. In producing the cysts, the parasite produces the enzyme tyrosine hydoxylase, a precursor of the neurochemical dopamine. As a neurotransmitter, dopamine plays a very important role in now the brain controls certain aspects of movement, cognition and behaviour. Abnormally high levels of dopamine have been linked to many neurological disorders, including psychosis and schizophrenia.

Dopamine’s role in mood, sociability, attention, motivation and sleep patterns are well documented and schizophrenia has long been associated with dopamine, which is the target of all schizophrenia drugs on the market.

Toxoplasmosis is transmitted via cat feces but can also be food borne. Unwashed vegetables and undercooked infected meat are possible sources of the parasite. It is a fairly common disease. In the US alone, 22% of population has supposedly cysts in the brain. In the UK, it is estimated to be between 10 to 20% of the population. Toxoplasmosis has always been thought to be harmless. Except in infected cases involving pregnant women and those who are immunocompromised (where it can be fatal), the cysts do not cause any harm or symptoms. The recent research results however, suggest that toxoplasmosis may not be as benign as it was originally thought to be.

According to lead researcher Dr Glenn McConkey

“Toxoplasmosis changes some of the chemical messages in the brain, and these changes can have an enormous effect on behaviour. Studies have shown there is a direct statistical link between incidences of schizophrenia and toxoplasmosis infection and our study is the first step in discovering why there is this link.”

Schizophrenia research lags behind compared to research studies on other neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. With the current knowledge on toxoplasmosis and dopamine, we might be just a bit closer to understanding this complex disease.

Can folic acid increase cancer risk?

April 29, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

pregnancy-2In the developed world, many food stuffs, especially flour and grain products, are fortified with folate and folic acid. Folic acid fortification has been going on since 1998 and its goal is to make sure that women consume enough folate during pregnancy. Deficiency of this essential vitamin can lead to birth defects, including the much-dreaded spina bifida.

“Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, which is a B vitamin that occurs naturally in leafy greens and other fruits and vegetables. It has been shown to significantly reduce the chance of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, and helps produce and maintain healthy cells and is involved in numerous biological functions.”

Now, just over a decade later, there is a growing body of research that questions the benefits and risks of folic acid fortification. There have been indications, for example, that “long-term consumption of folate and folic acid may increase the risk of developing certain cancers in some people.

In a recent study, Canadian researchers at the University of Toronto report that consumption of folic acid consumed during pregnancy can cause changes in gene function of the unborn offspring, changes which can potentially affect its susceptibility to certain diseases, including cancer.

The study is one of many in the relatively new field of epigenetics which looks at how certain genes and gene functions are “turned on” or “turned off” by environmental factors that include diet and lifestyle.

In some cases, genes that protect the body against certain types of cancer can be shut off, while genes that promote tumour formation can be turned on. Changes to genes can also trigger mutations, which explains why epigenetics has been gaining so much attention in the scientific community for its potential ability to help explain the mystery of disease risk.

Many health officials are concerned that the population is consuming excessive amounts of folic acid, leading to the abovementioned gene alternations. The effects of these alterations, however, are not clearly known.

The current study has been performed in rats and can’t conclusively say whether folic acid fortification has detrimental effects on human health, especially that of the unborn child. However several studies in humans have shown that folic acid supplementation does not lower risks for heart disease or cancer.

In fact,

“…it’s becoming harder to ignore the growing debate about folic acid. Despite its clear benefits when taken by pregnant women, the move to fortify food with folic acid means a major portion of the population is consuming a higher level of the supplement than they would otherwise. Now, concern is growing that parts of the population that may be susceptible to colon cancer and other diseases could be put at greater risk due to their inadvertent exposure to folic acid.”

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Breastfeeding is good for Mommy’s heart

April 28, 2009 by  

breastfeedingBreastfeeding is highly beneficial for the baby. However, there is also a growing body of evidence that indicates breastfeeding is beneficial to the mom, too. Lactation, for example, has been strongly linked to reduction of risks for breast and cervical cancer. This latest analysis of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) data shows that breastfeeding also reduces a woman’s risk for cardiovascular diseases (CVD) such as coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke, hyperlipidemia, and insulin-resistant diabetes at postmenopausal period. This is based on a large scale study of 139, 681 women with an average age of 63 years.

According to lead researcher Dr Eleanor Bimla Schwarz of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Healthcare, PA,

“We’ve known for years that breast-feeding is important for babies’ health; we now know that it is important for mothers’ health as well.”

The benefits of breastfeeding were observable in any woman with at least six months’ cumulative breastfeeding time. Women with a lifetime history of 12 months or more lactation are 10% to 15% less likely to develop CVD than those who never breastfed. A previous study has shown that a lifetime breastfeeding time of two years or more significantly reduced risks for insulin-resistant diabetes (14% to 15%) and incident myocardial infarction (23%).

What is interesting is the fact that the women who breastfed did not necessarily have a lower body mass index (BMI) than non-breastfeeding women. High BMI is an indicator of excess weight or obesity and obesity is a risk factor for CVD. In this case however, weight did not seem to matter.

The cardioprotective mechanism of breastfeeding is not clearly understood. It has always been thought that breastfeeding women tend to lose pregnant fat reserves faster than non-breastfeeding women. The results here indicate that it goes far more than just losing fat reserves. It is most likely that hormonal effects also play a role, include those of the hormone oxytocin, in stabilizing cardiovascular health. Oxytocin has anti-stress, probonding effects that contribute to the well-being of the mother. The study presents some interesting insight into the protective effects of breastfeeding, not only for the baby but for the mom.

According to an editorial by Dr Edward R Newton, an OB-Gyne at East Carolina University, Greenville, NC

“The findings are dramatic and persuasive…A strong benefit of prolonged breast-feeding is still observed. It is imperative that healthcare providers and our society support and educate women concerning the maternal benefits of prolonged breast-feeding as well as the well-documented benefits of breast-feeding for the child.”


Photo credit: stock.xchng

Can baby fat predict obesity?

April 28, 2009 by  
Filed under OBESITY

baby-feetThe last three decades have witnessed the rapid increased incidence in obesity and scientists and health experts are scrambling to come up with ways and means to stop and reverse this trend. Recently, more and more evidence points to the fact that the problem of excess weight starts rather early in life. A recent study by Boston researchers suggests that the rate of weight gain during the first months of a baby’s life is a predictor of its risk for obesity later in life.

According to lead author Dr. Elsie Taveras, assistant professor in the Harvard Medical School Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention

“There is increasing evidence that rapid changes in weight during infancy increase children’s risk of later obesity. The mounting evidence suggests that infancy may be a critical period during which to prevent childhood obesity and its related consequences.”

Dr. Taveras is also the co-director of the One Step Ahead Clinic, a pediatric overweight prevention program at Children’s Hospital Boston.

Previous studies on obesity risk concentrated on infants’ body weights. The current study took into account that weight gain is a dynamic process associated with growth, looked further and measured growth rates, e.g. weight gain, body length, and weight-for-length gain.

The connection between rapid infant weight gain and later obesity was striking, even after adjusting for factors such as premature babies or those underweight at birth. Take for example two infants with the same birth weight who, after six months, weigh 7.7 kg (16.9 pounds) and 8.4 kg (18.4 pounds), a 0.7 kg (1.5 pounds) difference. According to study estimates, the heavier of these two infants would have a 40% higher risk of obesity at age 3 (after adjusting for potential confounders).

Previous studies indicated that there is some confusion from infants’ growth charts, and that parents tend to be wrong in judging their children’s weight. Another study suggested that the “tipping point” for childhood obesity can be as early as age 2. The currents study indicates that weight gain in children should be managed appropriately as early as possible.

“At first it may seem implausible that weight gain over just a few months early in infancy could have long-term health consequences, but it makes sense because so much of human development takes place during that period-and even before birth,” says Matthew Gillman, director of the department’s Obesity Prevention Program. “Now we need to find out how to modify weight gain in infancy in ways that balance the needs of the brain and the body.”

Your barbecue and pancreatic cancer

April 27, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER


How do you like your meat? Rare or well-done?

The barbecue season has opened in many parts of the world. And meat is the staple of most barbecues. Meat that is well-done, sometimes even slightly burnt. Researchers from the University of Minnesota is warning us that regular consumption of meat, especially when well-done and charred, can increase our risk for pancreatic cancer by 60%. How does this happen?

According to the American Cancer Society

Cooking meats at very high temperatures creates chemicals (heterocyclic amines, or HAs) that might increase cancer risk. Heterocyclic amines (HAs) are created by the burning of amino acids and other substances in meats cooked at particularly high temperatures and that are particularly well-done. HAs turn up in grilled and barbecued meat as well as broiled and pan-fried meat.

The study surveyed more than 62,000 people and their eating habits, e.g. meat consumption, preference in meat preparation and “doneness”. The study participants were followed up for about 9 years as part of the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian (PLO) screening trial.

Choose lean cuts of meat and trim any excess fat. Fat dripping onto hot coals causes smoke that contains potential carcinogens. Less fat means less smoke.

Line the grill with foil and poke small holes in it so the fat can still drip off, but the amount of smoke coming back onto the meat is lower.

Avoid charring meat or eating parts that are especially burned and black – they have the highest concentrations of HAs.

Add colorful vegetables and fruit to the grill. Many of the chemicals that are created when meat is grilled are not formed during the grilling of vegetables or fruits, so you can enjoy grilled flavor worry-free. Red, yellow, and green peppers, yellow squash, mushrooms, red onions, and pineapple all grill well and make healthy additions to your plate.

This is not the first study to indicate that meat consumption can have some detrimental effects on our health, regardless of food preparation. According to the National Institutes of Health, four ounces of red meat per day is the limit for the average adult. However, most Americans consume more than that. Or any barbecue loving people for that matter.

Red meat, be it as steak, burger, or sausage, not only increases your risk for cancer, but for cardiovascular disease as well. It is rich in saturated fat and cholesterol. You can also check out some tips on how to make your barbecue more heart-friendly at Battling Heart Disease and Stroke.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Newsbreaker in health care: public health emergency due to swine flu in the US

April 26, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

As of Sunday, April 26, 2009, the number of confirmed cases of swine flu in the US has reached 20. In view of the current situation, the federal government has declared a public health emergency, according to major news networks.

However, health officials emphasize that there is no cause for panic. According to the New York Times, the emergency declaration frees government resources to be used toward diagnosing or preventing additional cases, and releases money for more antiviral drugs.

The breakdown of the 20 confirmed cases of swine flu are as follows:

  • 8 in New York
  • 7 in California
  • 2 in Kansas
  • 2 in Texas
  • 1 in Ohio

The swine flu could possibly have come from Mexico where about 1,300 people have been infected and resulted in 80 fatalities.

Canada has also confirmed 4 cases in Nova Scotia. Other countries which have reported suspected but unconfirmed cases are New Zealand, Hong Kong and Spain. Many countries are watching out and are considering about travel restrictions to and from North America. So far, the cases in the US and Canada presented with very mild symptoms and only resulted in one hospitalization. However, the health officials all over the world, coordinated by the World Health Organization, are on alert for a possible pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has set up a site to inform the public about swine flu:

Swine Influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza that regularly cause outbreaks of influenza among pigs. Swine flu viruses do not normally infect humans, however, human infections with swine flu do occur, and cases of human-to-human spread of swine flu viruses has been documented. From December 2005 through February 2009, a total of 12 human infections with swine influenza were reported from 10 states in the United States. Since March 2009, a number of confirmed human cases of a new strain of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection in the U.S. and internationally have been identified. An investigation into these cases is ongoing.

Here are some recommendations from the CDC on how to protect yourself from swine flu:

According to the CDC, the symptoms of swine flu are very similar to the seasonal flu and “include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting associated with swine flu. In the past, severe illness (pneumonia and respiratory failure) and deaths have been reported with swine flu infection in people. Like seasonal flu, swine flu may cause a worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions.”

Swine flu is mainly transmitted from person to person through coughing and sneezing. It is advisable to stay away from people with flu symptoms. If you experience symptoms, stay at home. If the symptoms worsen, see your doctor.

To learn more about swine flu, check out this podcast with CDC’s Dr. Joe Bresee.


What’s new in health care, April 24

April 24, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

doctors1Health care updates for you on this lovely spring weekend.

What’s being reformed?

The Struggle for Reform – Challenges and Hopes for Comprehensive Health Care Legislation
This article in the April 23 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) reviews the recent developments in legislation towards a comprehensive health care system in the US. Currently, there are five congressional committees (two in the Senate and three in the House of Representatives) busily working on reforms on tight timelines. The whole article is available for free.

What’s new and dangerous?

New Strain of Swine Flu in Two Children in California
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports two cases of swine flu in California. The patients were children who never had any contact with pigs. The source of infection is unknown but because the two patients were children who never had any contact with pigs, the possibility of human-to-human transmission is likely.

What’s being undervalued?

Health undervalued in reproductive rights debate
The issue of reproductive rights is a very controversial one. Abortion, assisted reproduction, and religious beliefs of both patient and health care provider are just a few of the most debated topics. University of Illinois legal expert Beth Burkstrand-Reid looked at court cases on reproductive rights and concluded that many court rulings considered religious freedom and conscience but undervalued the effect on women’s health.

What’s being improved?

Decision support service offers assistance in diagnosing paediatric mental health issues
Check out these figures: one out of five children in the US is suffering from a treatable mental condition. There are only 8 child psychiatrists for every 100,000 children. There are therefore concerns that the mental health of American children is being taken care of. To address this problem, doctors at Nationwide Children’s Hospital are partnering with paediatricians and family doctors to make sure kids suffering from anxiety, depression and other mental disorders are receiving the care they need – and quickly. Last month, health experts issued guidelines recommending that young people be routinely screened for clinical depression.

What’s being recalled?

FDA: Expanded recall
Aside from the pistachios, some more products are being recalled due to Salmonells, The US FDA announced. These include Uncle Chen and Lian How Brand sauces, oils and oil blends,

What’s being translated?

NY pharmacies agree to translate drug instructions
Five companies have announced that they will provide translations of prescription drugs instructions in other languages to help consumers who are non-English speakers. The companies Target, Wal-Mart, Costco, Duane Reade  and A&P have agreed with the New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to provide written translations in Spanish, Chinese, Italian, Russian and French. The agreement covers only the state of New York.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

News from the cancer side, April 24

April 24, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

newspaper1News from the pharma industry

Cancer drug hits setbacks
Bad news for Roche, bad news for colon cancer victims. The cancer drug Avastin (generic name bevacizumab) reported disappointing results in its latest Phase III clinical trial. Avastin, a monoclonal antibody, works by choking off the blood supply to tumors. It has been approved in the US and the EU in treating later-stage colon cancer. However, the recent trial data indicate that the drug does not well in the treatment of early-stage colon cancer compared to chemotherapy alone. Avastin was one of the reasons why Roche paid $47 billion for the biotech firm Genentech which developed the drug.

News from the charity sponsors

Boston Red Sox
Since 1953, the Boston Red Sox has officially adopted The Jimmy Fund of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute as its official charity organization. The bond between the winning baseball team and the cancer charity group for children has grown stronger over the years despite the fact that Red Sox is Boston’s team while The Jimmy Fund is New England’s charity. Truly, advocacy and support do not recognize geographical boundaries.

News from the budget makers

NCI’s Annual Plan and Budget Proposal for Fiscal Year 2010

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has published its budget proposal for 2010. In doing so, it gives the public a view of how the US is investing in cancer research.

News from the international agencies

New cervical cancer declaration prompts more urgent action
Last March 27, health ministers, doctors, activists and NGO and pharma industry representatives from Africa met in the UK to discuss cervical cancer. Although this is one of the most preventable types of cancer, mortalities due to cervical cancer is still very high in the African continent. “It is hoped that the ‘Oxford Declaration’ will stimulate governments into implementing comprehensive national cervical cancer control programmes for the sake of African women and their families.”

News from the legislators

WLF commends UK government on tobacco tax increase
The World Lung Foundation (WLF) as well as other advocacy groups are happy about the UK’s government’s decision to raise taxes on tobacco. Here is part of the statement from WLF executive director Peter Baldini

Kudos to Alistair Darling for raising taxes on tobacco in this year’s budget. Abundant research and economic modeling has shown that consumption will decrease meaning that there is a real, tangible public health benefit from at least this part of the budget… Rare is the policy tool that can save lives and simultaneously boost government coffers. Now the job is to implement the policy well.”

News from the cancer researchers

People who never sunburn may still get melanoma
Do you have blond or red hair, very fair skin, and are prone to getting sunburned? Then you have a high risk of getting melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. However, just because you are the dark skinned type and never sunburn does not mean you are safe. It may depend on a certain gene mutation, according to a study presented at the recent annual meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research.

Photo credit: stock. xchng

How stress affects your financial decisions

April 23, 2009 by  
Filed under STRESS

chanceIt’s a vicious cycle. The current economic situation has created an environment of stress as people worry about their finances and their jobs. Unfortunately, this stress can only lead to more financial woes because, as researchers report, stress can badly affect people’s judgment when making financial decisions. According to psychologists Anthony Porcelli and Mauricio Delgado of Rutgers University, “acute stress affects risk taking during financial decision making.”

The researchers conducted as test on a group of volunteers by asking them to make financial gambles in a stressed or stress-free environment. Stress was simulated by immersion of the participants’ hand in ice-cold water while room temperature water was used to simulate a no-stress environment. The choices were categorized as

  • Risky, e.g. less likely but with a high payout
  • Conservative, e.g. more likely but with a lower value

The results were consistent with a phenomenon known as the reflection effect – we tend to show increased conservatism when choosing between two potentially positive outcomes, but increase our risky behaviour when choosing between two gambles that result in a loss. However, this study suggests that stress exaggerates this effect; while exposed to stress volunteers were more conservative when choosing between potentially positive outcomes and were riskier when choosing between gambles that could result in a loss.

The researchers theorize that during stressful conditions, people tend to fall back on “automatic, lower-level thought processes,” and thus lose our ability to rationalize and think deliberately. The results of the study have some implication on those who work in the financial sector especially in stock trading where split second decisions are made that may mean a loss or a win of millions of dollars.

Previous studies on financial decision making have implicated the role of the hormones testosterone and cortisol. The level of the male hormone testosterone was positively linked to the amount of money gained by stock traders as well as their risk-taking behavior. The stress hormone cortisol, on the other hand, did not seem to correlate on losing or winning but reflected more the volatility of the financial market. In another study, researchers found that women who were given testosterone for a month did not exhibit increased risk-taking behaviour in making financial decisions. These findings may suggest that

Which goes back to the question as to how the global economy ended up in the mess we are currently in.

But back to stress – how can we minimize the effect of stress in our financial decision-making activities? Stay tuned for our next resource post on stress management.

Tobacco-free sports: “Their only addiction is the game”

April 23, 2009 by  
Filed under ADDICTION

tobacco-free-torii-hunterHave you seen the number of young people around you who smoke? This is despite the tobacco ad bans and anti-smoking legislations in many countries.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),

If current youth tobacco use trends continue, 6.4 million of today’s young people will die from tobacco-related diseases.

Young people usually have their first-time ever tobacco use before they graduate from high school. This suggests that if kept tobacco-free during those critical years, most young people will never start using tobacco at all.

So how can we keep adolescents away from tobacco use during those impressionable years? One the most popular initiatives that seem to work are through tobacco-free sports.

The CDC goes on to say that:

Youth sports continue to be popular in the United States. Sports activities, therefore, present great opportunities to reach young people. Young athletes learn to make important health decisions related to tobacco use, physical activity, and good nutrition while on a sports team.

Indeed, the tobacco-free sports movement has gained momentum as prominent athletes and sports organizations declared their support. Some of these organizations are the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).

Some of the most important sports and athletics events that highlighted the need for tobacco-free sports are:

However, it shouldn’t stop there. The CDC, together with the World Health Organization and the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, are continuously creating educational campaigns and programs to convince young people to engage in tobacoo-free sports. In a language that they would understand. Take for example this In The Mix video clip Soccer: Kickin’ Butts. The CDC also used spokespersons with whom kids can identify with and this included baseball star Torii Hunter, martial arts star Jackie Chan, and professional skateboarder Tony Hawk. Also available are TV spots by anti-smoking celebrities such Esai Morales and Christy Turlington. These TV spots actually carry a message not only for young people, but for their parents as well.

To keep your child tobacco-free, now is the time to act. Point them to the right direction. Download and print out for them the tobacco-free sports poster. Encourage to watch the TV spots. Check out sports activities in your area. Make sports their only addiction.

Photo credit: CDC poster

Walnuts may help prevent breast cancer

April 22, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

walnutWalnuts have been though of as “brain food”, probably because the nut’s structure considerably resembles that of the human brain. Whether this is true or not is not clear. What is well-known is that walnuts are heart-friendly food. They are rich in  essential “good” fatty acids omega-3, and phytosterols and antixodants. They have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels and can help prevent heart disease and stroke.

This recent study suggests that walnuts may also prevent breast cancer.

The researchers tested a walnut diet on laboratory mice. The mice were fed a diet that is approximately the human equivalent of two ounces of walnuts a day. They were then compared to a control group not fed with walnuts.

The group fed with walnuts had significantly reduced incidence of breast cancer. The number of glands with a tumor and the size of the tumor were also significantly reduced.

According to Dr. Elaine Hardman, associate professor of medicine at Marshall University School of Medicine

These laboratory mice typically have 100 percent tumor incidence at five months; walnut consumption delayed those tumors by at least three weeks.”

Laboratory analysis indicated that omega-3 fatty acids played a major role in the anti-cancer properties. However, other parts of the nuts contributed as well.

Aside from omega-3 fatty acids, walnuts also contain:

  • omega-6 fatty acids
  • vitamin B1 and B6
  • folate
  • vitamin E.

Web MD adds:

Walnuts contain alpha-linolenic acid or ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid similar to those found in heart-smart fish, such as salmon. Alpha-linolenic acid has a number of heart-healthy effects, independent of its cholesterol-lowering effects. It has been shown in previous studies to reduce the risk of sudden death from dangerous abnormal heart rhythms.

When it comes to snacks, walnuts are highly recommended. One ounce of walnuts (about 14 shelled walnut halves) is all that is needed to meet the 2002 dietary recommendation of the Food Nutrition Board of the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine for omega-3 fatty acids. An ounce of walnuts, which is approximately 25 g has an equivalent of 170 calories. Here are some ways to incorporate walnuts in your diet:

  • Walnuts are best eaten fresh so that no nutrients are lost.
  • Packed walnuts are also available in supermarkets, shelled or unshelled.
  • Walnut oil can be used in preparing salads.
  • Chopped walnuts go very well with morning cereals.
  • Chopped walnuts can also be added to green salads.
  • Chopped or ground walnuts can be used in baking cookies, muffins and cakes.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Preventing a second stroke: are you doing enough?

April 22, 2009 by  

bp-measurementStroke is a preventable illness. But still millions of people suffer from stroke each year. Much more, many cases of strokes are not the first time but the second, maybe even then third. Now, the question is, does having had a first stroke make the patient and his or her healthcare provider more aware of the risks, thus more ready to take preventive measures? Does “forewarned is forarmed” apply here?

Researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City report that although many services to avert a second stroke are available, not many patients avail of them. In fact, only about 50 to 70% of these facilities are generally used.

According to lead author Dr. Joseph S. Ross

Alarmingly high numbers of adults did not receive stroke prevention services. Most usage rates for prevention services were between 50 percent and 70 percent. That’s a lot of people not getting recommended care.”

The study participants included 11,862 adults at least18 years old who have had a stroke. 54% of the participants were women. The services offered for secondary prevention are as follows:

  • reduction of vascular risk, which includes taking preventive medications such as aspirin, and doing regular exercise
  • annual testing for cholesterol testing
  • management of high blood pressure;
  • management of diabetes
  • prevention of infectious disease

The key findings of the study are:

31% of patients received outpatient rehabilitation services;

52% reported influenza vaccination and 53 percent received pneumococcal vaccination;

57% percent exercised regularly;

77% percent used aspirin regularly;

66% percent received counseling to quit smoking;

62% percent with high blood pressure received low-fat diet counseling;

91% percent with high blood pressure reported currently taking hypertensive medication; and

89% percent of those with diabetes reported having annual glycosylated hemoglobin measurements for diabetes management. This measures the amount of sugar attached to the hemoglobin in red blood cells and shows the average blood sugar for several months before and can help regulate diabetic behavior.

There were no disparities in secondary stroke care in relation to gender, ethnicity, age or geographic residence.

The reasons behind the suboptimal use of secondary preventive care among stroke victims are not very clear. However, there is clearly a need for health care providers to focus on improving care for all stroke patients regardless of age, race or gender to uplift the level of care, thereby avert a subsequent stroke.

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How the Internet is spreading health news

April 21, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

Resource post for April

Time was when dissemination of health information is a complicated affair. How do you reach billions of people in the four corners of the earth – fast?

Nowadays, spreading health news is easier than ever – through Internet technology. You can receive news on your computer, on your PDA, your black berry or your mobile phone simultaneously in real time. And health agencies are taking advantage of this technology to send out health news, issue healthcare warnings, and increase awareness. More and more health organizations and advocacy groups use the Internet to campaign and lobby for health and healthcare issues.

Let’s check out how you can avail of what is being offered out there – online and for free.

FDA twitters

With the recent large-scale peanut product, and now pistachio product recalls, the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) has a set up a twitter account that consumers can follow to receive regular “tweets” or updates on which products to avoid. Twitter is easy and very user friendly and works well both for Internet-based and phone-based technology. Check out twitter.com/fdarecalls, follow and get tweets.

Other twitter accounts you might want to check out:

American Heart Association twitter.com/AHAScience

CDC health e-cards

Want to send an e-card? Why not a health e-card? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created a wide range of e-cards with health messages and reminders for all occasion and covering almost all health topics from bride safety, to pregnancy, to children vaccination, and taking care of the elderly. The e-cards provide a unique opportunity to say hello, sending warm greetings, and show your family and friends that you are concerned about them and their health.

Google flu trends

Keeping up to date about the flu epidemic is now as easy as googling. Since last year, the CDC and Google have joined forces to track seasonal flu through. Through Google flu trends, the public can easily access information about the where’s and when’s of flu outbreaks. While previous flu tracking systems by the CDC rely on sentinel healthcare providers that reported cases of flu in their area, Google bases their trends on data gathered from the use of the search engine on topics related to flu. And surprisingly enough, CDC and Google data show a very good match except that Google is about two weeks ahead of time.

AHQR pod casts

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) regularly produces audio podcasts through the news series Healthcare 411. The news series covers health topics from heart disease to cancer to diabetes, to more general healthcare news. Great for listening in your car radio, mp3 player or ipod.

Cleveland Clinic web health chats

One of the best hospitals in the US, Cleveland Clinic regularly organizes online health chats which allow patients to ask questions and get information from the hospital’s pool of experts. Participation is easy and for free.

Google Health and Health Vault

Google launched Google Health in 2007, a service that offers secure, online personalized health record services. In other words, your medical records are store online accessible on to you and those whom you give authorization to, e.g. your family and your healthcare provider.

One of Google Health’s most prestigious partners is Cleveland Clinic.

A similar service is offered by Microsoft HealthVault. It has joined forces, for example, with the American Heart Association to run AHA’s programs Heart360 and the HeartHub which allows patients to monitor and manage cardiovascular health using on online tools, e.g. blood pressure monitoring, risk assessment, and dietary planning.

Everybody’s on You Tube

During the peanut recalls in the US earlier this year, the US FDA released several You Tube video clips to inform people better about the recalls. After all, people tend to listen more if they can see the face behind the voice. The Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) launched a public service campaign with Chandra Wilson as spokesperson on the safe and appropriate use over-the-counter cough and cold medicine. Through You Tube of course.

Health blogs

Blogs such as this one also try to bring you the latest health news and updates. And by commenting, you can even express your thoughts and opinion. Subscribe to out RSS feed (twitter.com/statuses/user_timeline/19621763.rss) for the latest update. Or we can tweet you as well if you follow us at twitter.com/Battling.

Technology is such a wonderful thing. It connects us to the world and vice versa. While social networking is a great way to meet people on cyberspace and improve your social life, you should also use this technology to manage and improve your health.

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Earth Day Special: Losing weight is good for the environment

April 21, 2009 by  
Filed under OBESITY

earthI know. You have probably heard it all. Losing weight is good for you. And this absolutely true. People lose weight for a lot of reasons.

Weight and looks

For some people, it’s all about looks. They lose weight (or at least try to) because they associate slimness with good looks. Sometimes, however, vanity can have some bad consequences when they take the weight issue a bit too far and fall into the trap of eating disorders instead.

Weight and health

Losing weight is good for the health. After all, obesity is a risk factor for many chronic diseases including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer. Keeping fit and healthy is the best reason to lose weight. In the process, you feel good about yourself without being dependent on good looks.

Weight and the environment

Now, it seems there is another compelling reason for us to lose those pounds and manage our weight properly. Low weight is good for the environment and can help slow down climate change. Here are the reasons why:

  • Food consumption. Losing weight means low food consumption. It seems that food production contributes extensively to global warning. According to London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine’s Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, the population of Vietnam, which is considered to be on the lean side, consume less food resources than say the overweight population of more developed countries such as the US.
  • Waste production. Food consumption is, of course, closely related to waste production. Again, according to the researchers, a lean population needs 20% less food resources and produce less greenhouse emissions than an overweight population.
  • Transport-related emissions. It is a known fact that energy consumption are related to weight. The more food a population eat, the more energy is needed for cargo transport. In addition, the heavier a population is, the more energy is spent on human transport. And corollary to this, the more transport-related emissions are produced. According to Science Daily

The researchers estimate that a lean population of 1 billion people would emit 1.0 GT (1,000 million tonnes) less carbon dioxide equivalents per year compared with a fat one.

This doesn’t mean that we should blame all environmental problems on overweight people because this is far from fair.

Instead, we should take these findings as a strong incentive to lose weight. And governments and health authorities should put more effort in tackling the obesity problem. For the sake of the population. For the sake of our planet. Happy Earth Day!

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Know your interventions: focal cryoablation for prostate cancer

April 20, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

freezeThe recent contradictory results of two large scale studies that investigated the risks and benefits of prostate cancer screening brought about the question of overdiagnosis and overtreatment. It also highlighted the need for less radical and minimally invasive treatment.

Men diagnosed with prostate cancer are usually recommended to undergo prostatectomy, which is the surgical removal of the prostate gland. No one can deny that this treatment is radical and highly invasive, and sadly, sometimes unnecessary. This is because it is extremely difficult to determine whether a prostate tumor is malignant or benign, slow-growing or aggressive and the only way to be sure is looking at the tumor in the lab, long after the organ ahs been removed.

Researchers presented a study at the Society of Interventional Radiology’s 34th Annual Scientific Meeting that may just have the answer. Instead of bombarding tumors with radiation or chemotherapeutic agents, this new technique uses freezing technology. In the treatment of prostate cancer, this method is called “male lumpectomy” or “focal cryoablation.” Instead of surgically removing the entire prostate gland or subject the whole gland to radiation, interventional radiologists can localize the tumor and destroy it by freezing.

With cryoablation, interventional radiologists insert a probe through the skin, using imaging to guide the needle to the tumor; the probe then circulates extremely cold gas to freeze and destroy the cancerous tissue. This minimally invasive treatment targets only the cancer itself, sparing healthy tissue in and around the prostate gland rather than destroying it, as traditional approaches do.

This treatment method has the following advantages over traditional treatments:

  • Minimally invasive
  • Less traumatic
  • More likely to preserve sexual function
  • Less likely to interfere with urinary function
  • No major complications
  • Fewer side effects

The technique has long been used in breast cancer treatment where instead of radical mastectomy, surgical breast lumpectomy is now the preferred method. Unlike breast tumors, however, surgical lumpectomy of prostate tumors is technically not feasible. But the use of cryoablation technique seems to solve this problem. “Cryoablation spares as much as possible of the prostate gland and its neurovascular bundles, limiting the side effects of bladder control problems (incontinence) and erectile dysfunction (impotence) that result from more radical prostate cancer treatments.”

Many health experts advocate the “watchful waiting” strategy over traditional but radical prostatectomy. Advocates of focal cryoablation claim it, too, presents an advantage over the “watchful waiting” approach because all other treatment options are preserved.

The researchers further recommend that focal ablation should be complemented by the 3-D transperineal biopsy. Using 3-D mapping technique, this biopsy can detect very small tumors that can then easily be destroyed by cryoablation.

Indeed, this new development gives hope to men. Current guidelines recommend that men should get screened for prostate cancer at age 50 and above.

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Socioeconomic status and heart transplant outcomes

April 20, 2009 by  

coinsHere is another sad case of disparity among heart transplant recipients. It seems that children of low socioeconomic status tend to have worse health outcomes even after a heart transplant, according to Boston researchers.

The study followed up 135 pediatric patients who received their first heart transplant at Children’s Hospital Boston from 1991-2005. The demographic profile of the study group are:

  • 82% were white (110)
  • 18 % were non whites (10 black; eight Hispanic; and seven from other racial groups).
  • 58% were boys; 42% were girls
  • median age is 8.4 years

The researchers grouped the patients based on their socioeconomic status and followed up their outcomes after heart transplantation. One-third (45) of the patients were classified as “low socioeconomic group” and compared to the remaining two-thirds.  The two groups were similar demographically.

The findings show that

The low socioeconomic group also had a higher likelihood of rejection and had a shorter time to death or retransplantation. The study indicates that “low socioeconomic status and non-white race appear to be independent risk factors for worse outcomes.”

Looking closely as to what “lower socioenconomic status” means based on six socioeconomic factors, the following can be used as indicators:

The reasons for this disparity in health outcomes due to socioeconomic status are not clear but it may be due to difficulty in using medical resources. Because all patients had health insurance coverage and equal access to medical resources, the causes of the difficulty could be at the family and personal level.

Last year, there was another post highlighting the disparity in organ transplantation in relation to ethnicity. That study showed that non-white children are more likely to die while waiting for a heart donor. Clearly, there is a need to delve deeper into the causes of these disparities.  Because I believe that each child deserves a fair chance regardless of skin color or bank account balance.

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CVD News watch, April 17

April 17, 2009 by  

worldnewsHow has been your spring so far? Isn’t spring the perfect time for walking, cycling, or jogging? How about starting this weekend? Check out our heart(y) news update below!

CVD legislation watch

2009 Lobby Day – You’re the Cure on the Hill
On April 20 to 21, about 500 cardiovascular health advocates will be in Washington DC to lobby for affordable health care coverage, increased funding for cardiovascular research and heart disease and stroke prevention programs. The advocates include American Heart Association president Timothy Gardner, president-elect Clyde Yancy, and other officers who will all be wearing red when they meet their representatives in Congress on Capitol Hill next week. As part of the American Heart Association’s You’re the Cure on the Hill, these advocates will urge their members of Congress to support public policies that will help reduce death and disability from heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, the nation’s No. 1 killer.

CVD genetic watch

Genomewide Association Studies of Stroke
Doctors and scientists from all over the world teamed up perform “an analysis of genomewide association data generated from four large cohorts composing the Cohorts for Heart and Aging Research in Genomic Epidemiology consortium.” Until recently, the genes behind stroke risk were unknown. The analysis revealed that “a genetic locus on chromosome 12p13 is associated with an increased risk of stroke.” The findings have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

CVD drug watch

Radiocast: Aspirin Every Day – Is it Right for You?
This audiocast from the Healthcare 411 news series of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality looks into the use of aspirin as a preventive therapy against stroke and heart attack. According to Dr. Michael LeFevre, member of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, patients should first talk to their doctors before taking aspirin. While aspirin has been shown to prevent first heart attacks, it is also associated with a lot of side effects, including gastrointestinal bleeding. The risks and benefits of aspirin therapy should be weighed first.

CVD medical device watch

FDA clears Myxo ETlogix valve ring under new name but disagrees with earlier decision by Edwards that device did not need 510(k)
The US FDA clears dETlogix annuloplasty ring 5100 for the treatment of mitral-valve insufficiency. Due to disagreement between the regulators and manufacturer (Edwards Lifesciences, Irvine, CA), the product was recalled last autumn. It is now back in the market but has been renamed “Edwards dETlogix,” model 5100. According a compay spoeks person

The product is indicated for use in all mitral-valve insufficiencies irrespective of etiology, including degenerative as well as ischemic, rheumatic, and congenital. The device remains unchanged other than its name.”

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What’s new in health care, April 17

April 17, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE


Here’s some health care updates for you and wishing you a sunny mid-April weekend.

What’s confusing?

Confusing Heparin Labels Can Lead to Errors
Remember the heparin mix-up that endangered the lives of the twin babies of Dennis Quaid? There was question as to who to sue, the hospital or the pharmaceutical company who used confusing labelling? The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) has recently declared that “multiple dose heparin vials have potentially confusing labels that could lead to dangerous overdoses.”

What’s disappointing?

Use of Electronic Health Records in U.S. Hospitals
In the April 16 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, a study looked into how far and how fast the US health care system is adopting the use of electronic health records, also known as electronic medical records. The study concluded: The very low levels of adoption of electronic health records in U.S. hospitals suggest that policymakers face substantial obstacles to the achievement of health care performance goals that depend on health information technology. A policy strategy focused on financial support, interoperability, and training of technical support staff may be necessary to spur adoption of electronic-records systems in U.S. hospitals.

What’s been updated?

US Releases Updated Clinical Guidelines for HIV-Associated Opportunistic Infections
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced the release of the updated clinical guidelines for the prevention and treatment of HIV-associated opportunistic infections. The guidelines were compiled by a working group of more than 140 medical experts and concern 29 infectious diseases. HIV cripples the immune systems of its human hosts, leaving them more vulnerable than the general population to numerous other infectious diseases. These HIV-associated opportunistic infections are a leading cause of hospitalization and death among HIV-infected individuals in the United States.

What’s worth listening to?

Consumer Guide Compares Type 2 Diabetes Treatments
This radio podcast of the Healthcare 411 news series of the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) gives summary of the evidence behind a guide which compare the “the effectiveness, safety of premixed insulin analogues with other insulin preparations and oral drugs for type 2 diabetes.” Log on and listen!

What’s improving?

Healthy outlook
It is not only the US which is taking steps towards health care reforms. China is doing it as well. The most recent issue of the journal Nature reports how China announced on April 7 its new national health care plan. The ultimate aim is to provide health care to the Chinese population by 2020. Among the concrete plans are setting up more medical centers at country and village systems, capping drug prices, and introduction of an electronic medical record keeping system.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.