CVD News Watch, May 29

May 29, 2009 by  

Can you believe that May is almost over and June is just around the corner? Here’s your heart(y) news update, by the way.

CVD tobacco watchworld-no-tobacco

Showing the truth, saving lives: the case for pictorial health warnings
Sunday, May 31, 2009 is World No Tobacco Day,  and “Tobacco Health Warnings” is this year’s theme for this one-day observance. It focuses on using pictures as health warnings so that people should pay more attention and be aware of the health risks of tobacco use and encourage them to quit. Current warnings in most cigarette packaging are in the form of words and are deemed to be not that effective. 9 out of 10 people live in countries where picture warnings on packaging are not required. This campaign hopes to change that.

CVD nutrition watch

Health Canada contemplates providing food industry with “discretionary” authority to fortify junk foods
The Canadian regulatory body Health Canada may just give the go signal to fortify junk food. The addition of vitamin and mineral (iron, calcium, etc.) will hopefully give nutritional value to otherwise unhealthy foods. The fortification would be left at the discretion of the food manufacturers. However, many health experts and nutritionists do not agree that this is such a good idea. Many fear that fortifying junk food will promote further the consumption of these foods.

CVD events watch

Anti Aging Effects of Diet and Exercise
The Buck Institute for Age Research in California is organizing this presentation on Thursday next week, June 4, 2009 at 6:00 pm at Mill Valley Community Center, 180 Camino Alto, Mill Valley, California.
Check out also for heart-related webchats at Cleveland Clinic this coming June!

CVD clinical trial watch

SADHART: Increased mortality in severely depressed ACS patients
The clinical trial SADHART which stands for Sertraline Antidepressant Heart Attack Randomized Trial reports that patients who do not recover depression after an acute heart attack or unstable angina have double the mortality rate of those recover. There are guidelines which recommend routine screening of cardiac patients for clinical depression.

CVD drug safety watch

Naproxen best NSAID for heart-disease patients
A large scale study compared the cardiovascular safety of different nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and found that naproxen has the best safety profile compared to diclofenac, ibuprofen, and higher doses of rofecoxib and celecoxib. NSAIDs have rather controversial safety issues in patients with heart problems, which led to the withdrawal of rofecoxib (Vioxx) from the market several years ago.

CVD drug approval watch

FDA Approves Samsca to treat Hyponatremia
Samsca (tolvaptan) has just been approved to treat hyponatremia, an abnormally low concentration of sodium in the blood (e.g. serum sodium concentration of <135 mmol/L). Hyponatremia is associated with congestive heart failure, liver cirrhosis, and the syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone secretion. Samsca is an oral selective vasopressin-receptor antagonist.

What’s the latest in health care, May 29

May 29, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

doctors2Who’s new?

New York’s health commissioner to head CDC
The US Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) has a new head. New York City health commissioner Thomas Frieden has been recently appointed as CDC head by the White House, a position that does not require Senate approval. Frieden is not the only NY commissioner to move up to a national level leading role. The US FDA head Margaret Hamburg also used to be NYC health commissioner.

What’s needed?

Guidelines needed for informing patients of medical errors
Canadian researchers are calling for clear national guidelines that health care professionals should follow when communicating medical errors that affect a large number of patients. This lack of guidelines is not only true in Canada but in other countries as well. The researchers “call for clear communications, an external analysis to identify cause and a review that focuses on actions to ensure quality of care rather than punishment.”

What’s new about the swine flu?

Old seasonal flu antibodies target swine flu virus
Here is a silver lining in the current H1N1 flu epidemic. It seems that antibodies that developed against previous seasonal flu strains may actually actively attack the novel H1N1 flu virus. This is one of the reasons why the younger segment of the population, especially children, are more susceptible to the swine flu than older people. Older people may have more antibodies that are likely to work against the new flu virus. These antibodies may have developed from previous seasonal flu infections or from seasonal flu vaccination.

Industry Coalition Advises Against Use of Dietary Supplements as Swine Flu Remedy, Cure
The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), the Natural Products Association (NPA) and the United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA) are advising against the use of dietary supplements and herbal treatments as remedy or cure for the novel H1N1 flu. According to the advisory, there is “no scientific evidence currently supports the use of dietary supplements for the treatment of this disease.”

More frequent CDC updates
The CDC increases email news updates on the now H1N1 flu from once to three times a week -Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The updates will coincide with the official release of the updated case counts at 11:00 AM ET on the said days.

What’s on for June?

Health webchats at Cleveland Clinic

Presenations at the Buck Institute for Age Research

Anti Aging Effects of Diet and Exercise
Thursday, June 4, 2009, 6:00 pm
Mill Valley Community Center
180 Camino Alto, Mill Valley CA


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Judge Sonia Sotomayor: an inspiration for those with diabetes

May 28, 2009 by  
Filed under DIABETES

supreme_courtHealth advocacy groups applaud US President Barack Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court. You see, the 54-year old judge has Type 1 diabetes since the age of 8. Type 1 diabetes is an incurable but manageable condition.

According to the American Diabetes Association:

To survive, people with Type 1 diabetes must inject themselves with insulin numerous times a day, or use a pump that infuses it. Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar, converting it to energy. With Type 1 diabetes – once called juvenile diabetes because it usually is diagnosed in children or young adults – the body mistakenly attacks and destroys the pancreas cells that produce insulin.

Type 1 diabetes is less common than type 2 diabetes. People with diabetes have twice the mortality risk than those without diabetes. While type 2 is usually associated with obesity, type 1 cases are usually due to genetics.

The fact that Sotomayor has this condition led to speculations, especially in the media that she is not up to the demanding job of being a supreme court judge. However, the White House has talked with the candidate and her doctors and came to the conclusion that Judge Sotomayor is in good health and has her condition under control. Rightly so. After all, she has had it under control for 44 years now, made it through college and built up an exemplary career in law. If elected, the New York-born Puerto Rican will be the first Latina to be a US Supreme Court Justice.

According to Dr. R. Paul Robertson of the American Diabetes Association.

“The advancements in the management of Type 1 diabetes have been just amazing over the last two decades and the ability of people to manage their diabetes successfully has been proven. People with diabetes can function and live a long and healthy life.”

In relation to diabetes and career, people with diabetes won a major victory with the Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) of September 2008. Under the ADAAA,

“people with diabetes will no longer face a Catch 22 in which they can be denied a job explicitly because of their diabetes – but then told they don’t have the right to fight this discrimination in court because they take such good care of themselves that they don’t have a “disability” as defined by federal law.” People with diabetes as well as those with other chronic conditions now fall under the protection of this new law. And the achievements of Sonia Sotomayor just goes to prove that given the chance and if not discriminated upon, people with diabetes can excel in whatever job they may be in.

The link between obesity and food allergies

May 28, 2009 by  
Filed under OBESITY

inhalerOverweight children and adolescents are more likely to suffer from food allergies. This is according to a study by American researchers. Here are some of the figures to think about (Source: NY Times):

  • Overweight children are 50% more likely to be allergic to milk.
  • They are also 26% more likely to be allergic to at least one type of food.

For children as well as for parents, food allergies are a problem that can range from being a mild annoyance (e.g. skin rash) to life-threatening (food related anaphylaxis). According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, 4% of the American population (more than 12 million people) has some form of food allergy. Of these, 3 million are children.

90% of food allergies are due to the following food stuffs:

  • milk
  • eggs
  • peanuts
  • tree nuts (e.g., walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans)
  • wheat
  • soy
  • fish
  • shellfish.

The current study followed up 4,111 children and teenagers aged 2 to 19 years old and monitored the levels of total and allergen-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) or antibodies to a wide spectrum of airborne (indoor and outdoor) and food allergens as well as the body weight of the participants. The researchers found that obese or overweight children have higher IgE levels compared to children with normal weight.

According to researcher Dr. Stephanie London, “The signal for allergies seemed to be coming mostly from food allergies. The rate of having a food allergy was 59 percent higher for obese children.”

The study results do not necessarily prove that excess weight can cause food allergies in children. However, the fact remains that there is a strong association between obesity and allergies. This is an association that cannot be simply ignored but should be investigated further.

In recent years, the problem of obesity, especially among children has been on the rise. The same is true with the problem of food allergies.

According to lead author Dr. Cynthia Visness

“Given that the prevalence of both obesity and allergic disease has increased among children over the last several decades, it is important to understand and, if possible, prevent these epidemics.”

The current study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The results have been published in the May issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

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Cancer vs. Aging: take your pick

May 27, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

old_manIt is one of those biological paradoxes: what protects us from cancer early in life accelerate aging that makes us more susceptible to cancer later in life. This is according to a study by researchers at the Buck Institute for Age Research.

When the DNA in the cells gets damaged, the cells shut down and stop dividing. This shutting down provides protection against cancer. However, these cells also spew out proteins into the cells surrounding environment causing inflammation and creating conditions for the development of age-related diseases including, ironically, cancer. The process is called cellular senescence.

According to lead author and Buck Faculty member Dr. Judith Campisi

“We provide for the first time a broad molecular description of how this well known mechanism for cancer prevention drives aging and age-related disease by changing the local tissue environment.”

This is partly why treating cancer with chemotherapy leads to its severe side effects. The therapy forces both cancerous and non-cancerous cells into senescence, and blocks rapidly dividing cells such as those of the alimentary canal and hair follicles. The result is the severe nausea and hair loss that cancer patients on chemotherapy have to put up with.

Dr. Campisi continues to explain:

“The study has major implications for age research. This dynamic between cancer prevention and aging is exactly what is predicted by antagonistic pleiotropy, a major evolutionary theory of aging, which explains the trade-offs between early fitness and late life survival. The results suggest that a cellular response that likely evolved to protect from early life cancer can promote late life pathology, including, ironically, late life cancer. The challenge now is to preserve the anti-cancer activity of the senescence response while dampening its pro-aging effects.”

Indeed, life is full of ironies and this is one of them. It is basically a case of escaping cancer in your prime but growing old sooner. Luckily, there are research studies going on to unravel this biological paradox. The Buck Institute is the only freestanding institute in the United States that is devoted solely to basic research on aging and age-associated disease. The Institute is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to extending the healthspan, the healthy years of each individual’s life. The National Institute on Aging designated the Buck a Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Biology of Aging, one of just five centers in the country.

And the Buck researchers aren’t just stopping there with this research. They are investigating how to encourage the body to get rid of the senescent or aging cells faster. Hopefully, someday they will find a way to treat cancer and halt aging at the same time.

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Heart attack emergency care: men have it better

May 27, 2009 by  

ambulance__ecnalubmaHere is another study on gender disparity in health care, and again, women are at the losing end. Researchers at Penn University looked at 683 cases of emergencies with symptoms of chest pains and the care given to the patients by emergency medical service (EMS).

Chest pains or angina pectoris is a major symptom of a heart attack and the standard emergency treatments are aspirin and nitroglycerin. However, the study showed that less female patients get these treatments compared to male patients.

Chest pain is a leading cause of emergency room visits in the US, accounting for more than 8 million cases a year.

The study reported the following figures in terms of pre-hospital interventions the study patients have received:

  • Aspirin:  24% of women vs. 32% of men
  • Nitroglycerin: 26% of women vs. 33% of men
  • IV line: 61% of women vs. 70% of men.

A heart attack occurs gradually, with the following symptoms and warning signs according to the American heart Association:

Early intervention in a heart attack is very important. Aspirin can reduce clotting around the ruptured plaques in the coronary artery that block blood flow to the heart. This minimizes the damage to the heart tissue. Many EMS organizations have cardiac monitoring equipment in their ambulances that can send information about a patient’s heart rhythm ahead to the hospital. This alerts the hospital to prepare equipment that might be necessary, e.g.  catheterization device to open blocked arteries. This way, the “door-to-balloon time” is significantly shortened.

But why this gender disparity? According to lead author Dr. Zachary Meisel, an emergency physician and Senior Fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics at Penn.

“Women with heart attacks have higher death rates than men, so these findings are very concerning, and it’s important for us to try to figure out why this is happening.”

The study results show that the disparity wasn’t linked to ethnicity, age, or gender of emergency personnel. Experts believe that this is due to several factors. One may be the fact that heart attack symptoms may present atypically in women. This can lead to differences in the way the symptoms – in this case chest pains – are interpreted by both paramedics and patients. A previous study has reported that women tended to downplay heart attack symptoms that lead to delayed medical help.

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Cola: drinking to your bad health

May 26, 2009 by  

colaIt is the staple drink of people of all ages nowadays – soda or cola drinks in different containers, forms and flavors. An alarming trend is the increasing consumption of sweetened drinks among adolescents and children. But how does cola, normal, light, diet or zero affect our health?

Here some latest findings:

Metabolic Syndrome

It doesn’t matter whether it’s glucose or fructose. The sweeteners in the drinks you consume lead to metabolic syndrome that increases risks for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, according to a study at University of California Davis.


Consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks, including soda, in children result in about 110 to 165 excess calories per day, leading to an energy imbalance, e.g. more calories taken in than calories expended for growth, bodily function, and physical movement. The result is weight gain and eventually obesity. This is according to a study by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.


Excessive cola consumption can result in hypokalemia or severely low blood potassium, according to Greek researchers. It is characterized by mild weakness to severe paralysis of the muscles. Hypokalemia is caused by excessive consumption of glucose, fructose and caffeine – all found in cola drinks.

Here is a case study:
A 21 year-old woman was consuming up to three litres of cola a day… complained of fatigue, appetite loss and persistent vomiting. An electrocardiagram also revealed she had a heart blockage, while blood tests showed she had low potassium levels.

Bone demineralization

German researchers have observed that cola consumption, but not other carbonate drinks leads to softer bones in women. This was true for normal as well as diet cola, but also for decaffeinated cola.

It is undeniable that sweetened drinks, regardless of the type of sweetener used, pose health risks especially when consumed in large quantities.

It is estimated that the worldwide consumption of soft drinks in 2007 was 552 billion liters, which translate to about 83 liters per person per year. This is expected to increase to 95 liters per person per year by 2012. In the US alone consumption has already reached 212 litres per person per year (on average).

Dr Moses Elisaf from the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Ioannina, Greece

“And the soft drink industry needs to promote safe and moderate use of its products for all age groups, reduce serving sizes and pay heed to the rising call for healthier drinks.”

Photo crecit: stock.xchng

Recession: are we putting our health on hold?

May 26, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

piggy_bank_-_dollarIt’s lean times due to the current recession. Yet, instead of all losing all those excess fat, more and more people are actually gaining weight! This video at ABC news presents results of a survey conducted by the American Heart Association (AHA) and it’s not good news at all. The current economic problems are forcing people to skimp on things which are essential to their health.

The results of a national omnibus survey of 1,000 people conducted in March 2009 by the AHA show that:

The results are a bit worrying considering that the effects of investment (or rather non-investment) in health care and healthy lifestyle can only be seen years from now.

It is understandable that people should cut down on certain things in order to save money. However, it is important to set priorities straight and cut down on things that are non-essential but keep things which are essential for our health going. So what should be the things that we should prioritize?

Here are however some things that you can and should cut down:

  • Cigarettes and other tobacco products. Now is the best time to quit. Save money, save your health.
  • Alcohol. Alcohol is fattening, calorie-rich, and expensive. Your body won’t miss it.
  • Eating out. Maybe it’s time to brush up on your culinary skills and eat more often at home. It need be complicated. A salad doesn’t take much time to prepare and is healthy.

For more tips, check out a previous post on keeping healthy in a sick economy.

As the ABC video rightly said so: “Don’t put your health on hold.”

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Can a healthy lifestyle alter your genes and treat your cancer?

May 25, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

dna2 We’ve heard this statement of resignation before: “I can’t do anything about it. It’s in my genes.” Indeed, many diseases have been linked to genetics, including heart disease, mental illness, and cancer. However, this study by researchers at the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California suggests that there might be something we can do after all, and that changing our lifestyle for the better can trigger changes in certain genes that otherwise make us predisposed to disease.

The researchers followed up 30 men diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer and who decided not to undergo currently available treatments such as removal of the prostate gland, radiation therapy or hormone therapy. However, they opted for a major lifestyle change program which consisted of

eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and soy products, moderate exercise such as walking for half an hour a day, and an hour of daily stress management methods such as meditation.

Indeed there were some expected health benefits observed after 3 months of lifestyle change therapy, namely:

  • Weight loss
  • Improved cardiovascular health

However, the researchers found some unexpected but nevertheless beneficial effects in the form of “changes in activity in about 500 genes — including 48 that were turned on and 453 genes that were turned off…The activity of disease-preventing genes increased while a number of disease-promoting genes, including those involved in prostate cancer and breast cancer, shut down.”

The researchers also performed prostate biopsies before and after the 3-month therapy and found observable clinical improvement.

It is incredible to see these changes in such as short period of time but of course the study only looked at patients with a type of prostate cancer that is less likely to be aggressive or malignant. However, the study demonstrates the undeniable health benefits that a healthy lifestyle can bring. The lifestyle change therapy is especially relevant to prostate cancer patients who are faced with a lot of uncertainties concerning the early screening tests (e.g. PSA) and treatments available. Many patients tend to opt of the so-called “watchful waiting” management. If this management approach is coupled with a lifestyle change therapy, the chances of beating prostate cancer will considerably increase.

According to lead researcher Dr. Dean Ornish

“‘In just three months, I can change hundreds of my genes simply by changing what I eat and how I live?’ That’s pretty exciting. The implications of our study are not limited to men with prostate cancer.”

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Legal drinking age: the debate continues

May 25, 2009 by  
Filed under ADDICTION

alcohol-bottleOver the years, there have been movements to lower the legal drinking age in the US. There have been several reasons given to justify these demands, and some of these are:

  • The US has one of the highest age limit – 21 years – in alcohol consumption, the so called legal drinking age 21 or LDA 21.
  • 18-year old Americans are accepted as legally adult in many things except alcohol, e.g. driving, voting, enlisting, employment, to name a few.
  • The high legal drinking age limit supposedly encourages secret and dangerous drinking behaviour (e.g. binge drinking) among college students.

One of the main reasons behind the LDA 21 in the US is to prevent drunken driving among young adults.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Georgia shows that lowering the LDA to say, 18, may have some other consequences aside from increased incidence of vehicular accidents. The researchers looked at birth records and alcohol use data from 1978 to 1988, a decade when the LDA in certain US states (including Gerogia) was 18. The results of the study showed that LDA 18:

The poor health outcomes in infants are not related to the so-called alcohol fetal syndrome but rather to increased risky sexual behaviour that resulted in higher rates of unwanted pregnancies among young women. Unwanted pregnancies are associated with poor birth outcomes because the mothers are less likely to take care of themselves or seek prenatal care. This link between lower LDA and unwanted pregnancies was more pronounced in African-American women who showed a 25% increase in unplanned pregnancies during the LDA18 years.

Last year, the Amethyst Initiative which was a group composed of more than 100 college and university presidents and chancellors supported the initiative to lower the LDA.

Lead researcher Angela Fertig said her study broadens the debate by adding a new dimension that until now has not been considered.

What’s the latest in health care, May 22

May 22, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

doctors1The long weekend on our side (most of Europe) started last Thursday. The US long weekend goes on till Monday. Enjoy the extra free time.  But first, your health care updates for this weekend…

What’s the latest update on the H1N1 (swine) flu?

PCR test kit for H1N1 flu
The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) has developed a PCR diagnostic test kit to detect this novel H1N1 virus in patients suspected to have the flu. The test kit has been distributed test kits to all American states and territories. According to the CDC

The test kits are being shipped internationally as well. This will allow states and other countries to test for this new virus. This increase in testing will likely result in an increase in the number of confirmed cases of illness reported. This, combined with ongoing monitoring through Flu View should provide a fuller picture of the burden of disease in the United States over time.

Where to get your updates

Useful resources to get and access information of the H1N1 flu – fast!

What’s the latest updates from the World Health Organization (WHO)

Power of public health lies in strong health systems
Today was the 62nd World Health Assembly and Director-General Dr Margaret Chan emphasized to the delegates of the Assembly that

“The strength of a country’s health system will make the biggest difference in sickness and survival during an influenza pandemic.”

Current novel H1N1 count globally

  • 11,168 confirmed cases in 42 countries around the world,
  • 86 deaths in only four countries – Mexico, the United States, Canada and Costa Rica.

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News from the cancer side, May 22

May 22, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

newspaper1News from the cancer patients

Arrest ordered for mom of boy, 13, resisting chemo
The 13-year old boy with Hodgkin’s lymphoma who refused to have chemotherapy has been reported to have disappeared together with his mother. The family belongs to a religious group who believes in natural healing and the boy is convinced that the chemotherapy will kill him. The mother and son disappeared after a court order was issued in favour of the doctors who believe the chemotherapy can save the boy’s life. A warrant of arrest for the mother has been issued.

News from the drug regulators

FDA Approves Drug for Treatment of Aggressive Brain Cancer
The US FDA recent approved an extension of Avastatin to treat atyped of brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). Avastatin is already approved for the treatment of breast, lung, colorectal cancers. The approval was based on the results of 2 clinical trials which demonstrated that Avastin shrank the tumor size in some patients with GBM. The generic name of Avastin is bevacizumab and is manufactured by Genentech.

News from the stem cell experts

Embryo’s Heartbeat Drives Blood Stem Cell Formation
This research study at the Children’s Hospital Boston discovered that the embryonic heartbeat is what drives the formation of the blood stem cells. The study results “published online by the journals Cell and Nature, respectively, on May 13, together offer clues that may help in treating blood diseases such as leukemia, immune deficiency and sickle cell anemia, suggesting new ways scientists can make the types of blood cells a patient needs. This would help patients who require marrow or cord blood transplants, who do not have a perfect donor match.”

News from the geneticists

Why do people with Down syndrome have less cancer
Researchers have always been intrigued why the incidence of cancer is very low among people with Down’s Syndrome or trisomy 21. American researchers report that the genes in the extra chromosome 21 actually render people with Down’s Syndrome more suppression of cancer formation and tumor growth. The results have been demonstrated in lab mice. According to researcher Dr. Sandra Ryeom “I think there may be four or five genes on chromosome 21 that are necessary for angiogenesis suppression. In huge databases of cancer patients with solid tumors, there are very few with Down syndrome. This suggests that protection from chromosome 21 genes is pretty complete.

Don’t forget

May 22, 2009 is the first “Don’t Fry Day,” Society, jointly sponsored by the American Cancer Society and the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention (NCSCP). Take care of your skin!


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Jogging in summer time: the little annoyances

May 21, 2009 by  

sports-shoesEarlier this year, I shared with you some of the problems I’ve encountered when jogging in the winter time. Nowadays, the weather is more inviting so that you don’t have to drag yourself to go for a jog, run or walk. Still, jogging in spring/summer also does have its problems, albeit little ones, which I present below.


The sun is your best friend and worst enemy. It provides life-essential vitamin D but its UV rays can also cause damage to the eyes and skin. As a jogger, I try to do my runs in the summertime early in the morning or late in the evening when the sun’s UV rays are not so intense. However, there are days when a lunch break jog is the only thing possible. For this, I use physical as well as chemical sun protection. Physical protection is in the form of a cap and sunglasses. For chemical protection, I use sunscreen. Check these links for more information about how to choose the right sunglasses and the right sunscreen.


Dehydration is a big risk when running in the summer heat especially if you are running for long stretches. It is advisable that you carry a water bottle. In my case, I don’t carry one when jogging basically because I run on familiar stretches where I know the location of water fountains. That is the great thing about living in Switzerland. Whether you are walking in the city or hiking/cycling up in the mountains, there are always free-flowing water fountains with potable water where you can drink and have a refill


This one is my biggest problem yet. Just when the spring blossoms are gone, the fields have turned yellow with rape seed flowers and everything – especially the air – is covered with yellow dust – rape seed pollen. I am not asthmatic but I am a bit sensitive to certain types of pollen. So what do I do? I try to avoid running in the vicinity of the rape seed fields. If I have to, then I do when it’s raining or immediately after it has rained. If the worse come to worst, I can always wear a surgical mask.


Last summer, it was so warm that I decided to run without socks. This turned out to be a big mistake because my very comfortable running shoes became a blister monster. In the end, it all depends on the shoes, the sensitivity of your feet, the surface you are running on, and well – your running style. I’ve learned my lesson. Running with socks are best – at least for me.


There I was running, taking deep breaths through my mouth – and got a foul-tasting insect in my throat. Insects are one of the annoyances of running in the summer time. You simply have to put up with them. I know that in some places where flies as especially numerous, joggers/runners run with surgical masks on. So you see, masks are not just for swine flu protection.


My MP3 player conked out again today but I can’t blame the temperature. To be more precise, the MP3 player was OK but the earphones weren’t because they got wet from my sweat. However, they worked again once they dried. I wonder, are there waterproof earphones available?

So these are just some of the little annoyances I’ve experience during my regular jogging runs. Why don’t you share yours with us?

What your sunscreen label means

May 21, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

sunscreen_labels-from-fda-siteThis coming Friday, May 22, is “Don’t Fry Day”, a health awareness program jointly sponsored by the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention (NCSCP). The campaign is aimed to encourage sun safety awareness and help reduce increasing incidence of skin cancer.

In observance of this health campaign, this resource post brings you information on what your sunscreen labels mean.

Sunburn protection factor (SPF)

You see it on your sunscreen all the time – SPF, followed by a number. But what does SPF really mean for your sun protection?

SPF stands for sunburn protection factor. It can range from 2 to 60 and it refers to a sunscreen’s ability to block out the sun’s rays. According to the US FDA

SPF is a measure of how much solar energy (UV radiation) is required to produce sunburn on protected skin (i.e., in the presence of sunscreen) relative to the amount of solar energy required to produce sunburn on unprotected skin. As the SPF value increases, sunburn protection increases.

Many people think that SPF can tell us how long we can stay in the sun without getting burned (Source: As an example, if a person with unprotected skin turns after 10 minutes of sun exposure, then 10 minutes is their “initial burning time”. If that person applies a sunscreen with SPF 2, this factor is multiplied by the initial burning time, enabling the person to tolerate 20 instead of 10 minutes of sun exposure before turning red. The higher the SPF, the longer a person can stay under the sun without getting burned.

However, the US FDA warns that this is a misconception because the “initial burning time” can vary depending on the skin type, weather (clear or cloudy skies), time of the day, and geographic location.

The US FDA goes on sunbathingto explain:

Because of the various factors that impact the amount of solar radiation, SPF does not reflect time in the sun. In other words, SPF does not inform consumers about the time that can be spent in the sun without getting sunburn. Rather, SPF is a relative measure of the amount of sunburn protection provided by sunscreens. It allows consumers to compare the level of sunburn protection provided by different sunscreens. For example, consumers know that SPF 30 sunscreens provide more sunburn protection than SPF 8 sunscreens.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has come up with the so-called UV index which predicts ultraviolet radiation levels on a 1-11+ scale depending on location. This helps people to decide the amount of sun exposure they can tolerate and the kind of protection they would need. In cases when the UV index is expected to be unusually high, the EPA issues a UV alert.

The UV A stars

The labelling of sunscreens has been upgraded to include the 4-star UV A system. This aims to provide consumers information as to “how well the product protects them against “Ultraviolet A” (UVA) light.” This is in addition to the SPF. The UV A stars mean the following:

Broad spectrum protection

Some sunscreen products claim to have “broad-spectrum protection”. This means that it absorbs UV A as well as UV B radiation. According to the Mayo suntan_oilClinic:

For broad protection, chemical sunscreens often contain more than one ingredient to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. A newer over-the-counter sunscreen contains mexoryl (Anthelios SX) and offers protection against both UVA and UVB radiation. The ingredients that make a sunscreen block UV A and UV B and therefore broad spectrum are oxybenzone, sulisobenzone, avobenzone (Parsol 1789), ecamsule, titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.

Water resistant

Contact with water can reduce the effectiveness of sunscreens. It is therefore important to use products which are labelled “water resistant”.

Misleading labels

Sunscreens used to carry labels which have since been declared unacceptable and unallowable by health authorities because they can be misleading. This includes “waterproof” (no sunscreen can even be water proof), “sun block” (no sunscreen can block all rays) and “all-day” (no sunscreen can be effective all day.


sunglasses-babyIf you are of the sensitive skin type whose skin can be irritated by certain ingredients in the sunscreen, and it is best to choose your sunscreen carefully and check what’s in it. The most common sunscreen component that can cause irritation are fragrances, coloring, and preservatives.

Babies and small children have sensitive skin. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that

if the sunscreen irritates [the baby’s] skin, try a different brand or try a sunscreen stick or sunscreen or sunblock with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. If a rash develops, talk with your child’s doctor.

Some products may claim to be “hypoallergenic” or “for sensitive skin”. It is best to consult your pharmacist before you decide which one to buy. It is also advisable to use the product first in a small skin area to check of reactions before applying all over the body.

Photo credit: stock.xchng; US FDA site

Bright is not good for sight: sun safety tips for the eyes

May 20, 2009 by  
Filed under VISION

sunglasses-dubaiWith the sun shining and the weather so fabulous, the great outdoors is inviting us to enjoy nature. We all know however that too much of a good thing can be bad and this is also true when it comes to the sun. So we go out with our sun hats and sunscreens. After all, we are worried about how the sun can cause skin cancer, especially the deadly melanoma.

But do not forget. Our eyes also need protection from the sun because its UV rays can cause eye damage that may be immediate but also in the long-term.

Here are some examples of how the sun can damage our eyes:

Sunburns to the eyes. Do you know, for example, that you can also suffer from sunburns to the eye? According to Prevent Blindness America, prolonged exposure to the sun can cause photokeratitis, a painful condition [that] may result in temporary loss of vision for 1 to 2 days. Pterygium. In addition, the presence of pterygium, a growth of tissue that forms on the white of the eye, is in direct correlation to the amount of UV exposure that the person has been subjected to. Without treatment, this condition may require surgical treatment.

Cataracts and macular degeneration. Long-term damage may not be obvious until years later. Studies have shown that UV damage to the eyes accumulates and lead to cataracts and macular degeneration.

Basal cell carcinoma. The skin around the eyes and the eyes can also be damaged by UV rays to cause a type of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma. It may develop on the lower lid, in the corners of the eye and under eyebrows.

So how do we protect our eyes from the sun?

It is actually easy and cheap. According to Prevent Blindness America:

  • Use sunglasses that block 100% of UV A and UB B radiation from the sun.
  • A brimmed hat or cap can prevent the sun from directly hitting our eyes.
  • A wrap around sunglasses are highly recommended since they not only protect the eyes but all the skin around the eyes.
  • Children should also wear sunglasses that that fit properly and block UV but these should be made from unbreakable polycarbonate to avoid injuries.
  • Do not let children wear “toy sunglasses” that do not have UV protection because sunglasses without UV protection may shade the eyes but actually cause the pupils to dilate, allowing in even more harmful rays.

Keeping a “cool head” not good for Alzheimers patients

May 20, 2009 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

brain1I remember a food ad a long, long time ago which went like this: Keep cool but don’t freeze. In fact, keeping your cool is very important in our present day stressful society. But this isn’t seem to be the case in some people. In fact, a literarily cool head may actually be detrimental to your health especially if you have Alzheimer’s disease.

A research study published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Journal shows that the “tau” proteins which forms the characteristic clumps in an Alzheimer brain actually multiply much faster when the temperatures are low. In addition, the same bad proteins also builds up faster when a patient in under anesthesia.

The researchers performe dhre study in laboratory mice genetically designed to produce tau proteins. One group of mice was anesthesized and the other group not. The amount of protein accumulated in the brain were compared before anesthesia and one week after.

The anesthetized group had more of these clumps than the group that was not anesthetized. Furthermore, in mice showing advanced signs of the disease, the build up of tau proteins occurred faster than in those in the early stages.

The results of the  study has some clinical implications, namely:

  • Care should be taken when putting a patient with Alzheimer’s disease under anesthesia during medical interventions. However, even local anesthesia during dental surgery needs also to be reexamined.
  • Care should also be taken that Alzheimer’s patients are not exposed to extreme cold temperature as hypothermia can hasten the damage to the brain. This is especially important considering that Alzheimer’s patients tend to be disoriented and may not be capable of taking care of themselves, including putting on protective clothing in the wintertime.

According to Dr. Gerald Weissmann, Editor-in-Chief of journal

“Every patient wants a surgeon with a cool headbut surgeons might not want the same for their patients. People are anesthetized for all kinds of reasons, even dental work, but this study really should make patients and doctors reconsider whether it’s really necessary.”

R-I-N-G-G-G: your blood pressure, please?

May 19, 2009 by  

old_phoneIt’s not your normal phone call. It is just like having your own assistant who reminds you to check your blood pressure and refill your prescriptions except that this is all fully automated and computerized. Researchers at the University of Montreal tried a computer-based telephone program which automatically calls hypertension patients a couple of times a week to inquire for blood pressure measurements. The readings are then recorded and passed on to the patient’s health care provider who will then analyze the data and modify the treatment regime if deemed necessary.

The study included 223 hypertension patients from different primary care clinics in Laval, Quebec. 111 of the participants were assigned to the intervention group who received “an educational booklet, a digital home blood pressure monitor, a log book and access to the telephone-linked management system.” The remaining 112 received only the booklet in addition to their usual medical care program.

The study results showed that this “simple, automated feedback system made hypertension patients more aware of their potentially fatal or disabling disease and helped them significantly lower their high blood pressure.”

The reductions in blood pressure measurements in the intervention group are:

  • 11.9 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) in systolic blood pressure
  • 6.6 mm Hg in diastolic pressure

The reductions in the control group are:

  • 7.1 mm Hg systolic blood pressure
  • 4.5 mm Hg diastolic

The success of this computer-based phone call program can be attributed to its ease and convenience but also due to the fact that there is always someone reminding the patients what to do and as well as give feedback on how well they are doing.

In addition, this is a helpful service for those patients who aren’t too mobile and tend to be forgetful.

The next step is to find out how cost-effective is this automated intervention.

According to lead author Dr. Pavel Hamet,

“The automated blood-pressure control system could be widely accepted if it is cost-effective. The healthcare system doesn’t want to increase the cost without some benefit.”

Automated services are usually more cost-effective than manned services. In addition, if further studies can confirm that this automated phone call reminder service can prevent complications of hypertension such as stroke and kidney failure that can add to health care costs, then the health authorities might just be convinced of the system’s benefits.

Do your part and support cancer research!

May 19, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

ncrm_banner_350x100_2009May is National Cancer Research Month in the US and a lot is going on in the name of cancer research.

Here are some of the activities organized by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR):

 What else can you do?

If you are a patient, how about checking out currently ongoing clinical trials?

If you are not a patient, how about making a donation to your favorite cancer advocacy group? Or signing up as an organ donor?

In addition, there may be other cancer research studies you can get involve in. Check out an example below.

Donate breastmilk for cancer research!

The University of Massachusetts is running a unique cancer research program. And the participants are not cancer patients but breastfeeding women.

The study is led by environmental toxicology expert Dr. Kathleen Arcaro and its goal is to investigate whether  mother’ breastmilk can be used as a quick and easy way to assess breast cancer risk.

Specifically, the researchers are “looking for methylated genes that indicate potentially pre-cancerous changes in breast cells. The test could show signs of elevated breast cancer risk in women at an earlier age than ever before – a population currently not receiving mammograms or other screening.”

Methylation indicates potential tumour sites, and is thus an early phase cancer development. Early detection of methylation in mammary tissue is a key in cancer prevention.

Currently, the most widely used method of screening for breast cancer is through mammography. However, the technique presents some disadvantages inclusive, pain, invasiveness and exposure to potentially harmful radiation. Alternative methods of collecting cells through ductal lavage and nipple aspiration do not yield a large number of cells or a representative sample of cells in the breast. Breastmilk, however, provides millions of cells from all mammary glands, cancerous as well as noncancerous.

Interested in participating?

The UMass Amherst study, funded by Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs, is seeking to enroll a total of 500 nursing or breast-pumping mothers over the next year, women who have had a breast biopsy in the past or who are scheduled to have one soon. Interested women can contact the UMass Amherst research team online at If they qualify to participate, they’ll be mailed a breastmilk collection kit and asked to donate a sample, plus complete a questionnaire and consent form. Delivery and pickup of samples is free. Participants will receive $25 in appreciation for their time. Full confidentiality of medical records and other information is assured for all participants.

Choosing A Healthcare Provider When You Are Pregnant

May 18, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

Mary Davis writes How To Choose a Healthcare Provider During Pregnancy over on our “And You Will” blog …

You’ve just learned that you’re pregnant, and you’re feeling a avalanche of emotions. You may be excited because this is something you’ve been hoping for. And you may be worried, afraid of the unknown, or overwhelmed. One of the first decisions you’ll want to make is who will care for you and your baby during your pregnancy. Here are some things to consider when making this important and personal decision. Once you find a healthcare provider you trust, many of your anxieties will be put to rest.

check it out: How To Choose a Healthcare Provider During Pregnancy

Think before you drink

May 18, 2009 by  
Filed under ADDICTION

alcoholAlcohol consumption is part of many people’s lifestyles. It is normal to enjoy a drink every now and then. However, it is important to know your limit. And to know your limit is to know how much alcohol is in your drink.

So do know how much alcohol is in your drink? It might be easy to know this by reading the labels of beer cans and wine bottles. After all, alcoholic drink manufacturers are required to give full disclosure of the alcohol content in their products.

What you should be more careful about are the mixed drinks and cocktails you order at the bar.

People would say “I had a one drink!” But how do you define “a drink?” How much alcohol are you really consuming?

According to HHS Healthbeat, a public service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “… most people don’t know what a drink is. A drink is the amount of alcohol in 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or a one half ounce shots of 80 proof spirits like vodka.”

A regular can of beer (12 fl oz) contains about 5% alcohol, a malt liquor (8-9 fl oz) 7%, a glass of wine (5 fl oz) about 12% and a shot of hard liquor (1.5 fl oz) 40%. Mix them in your cocktail and you don’t know how much alcohol you are actually getting. For example, mixed drinks like Long Island iced tea, despite its seemingly innocuous name, could contain several times the alcohol in a standard drink.

The HHS has come up with a tool to calculate the amount of alcohol in your cocktail. By providing information about your cocktail’s ingredients (alcoholic as well as non-alcoholic), the alcohol calculator gives you an idea what you are up against in terms of % alcohol per volume of drink.

Knowing more about what you are drinking is important to avoid high risk drinking behavior.

Here is the drinking pattern in the US based on a survey of 43,000 by the National Institutes of Health:

So how do you find out at what risk level are in terms of alcohol consumption? The HHS is offering a free resource booklet called Rethinking Drinking: Alcohol and your health, which gives information on:

  • What counts as a drink?
  • How much alcohol do common drink containers contain?
  • What is your drinking pattern?

Remember, alcohol can affect your brain so it is better to think first before you drink.

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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.