What’s on in August

July 31, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

Here are some health events in August you might want to check out:

United Statescalendar


  • 1 to 7 August
    World Breastfeeding Week
    World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action
    La Leche League International
  • MedicAlert Awareness Month
    Medic Alert

Web Health Chats at Cleveland Clinic

  • 4 Aug
    Valve Disease
    James Thomas, MD
  • 11 Aug
    Endovascular Grafting – Latest Advances in Aortic Aneurysm Surgery
    Matthew Eagleton, MD
  • 19 Aug
    Pediatric Heart
    Constantine Mavroudis, MD
  • 24 Aug
    Ask the GYN
    Linda Bradley, MD
  • 26 Aug
    Childhood Cancer
    Margaret Thompson, MD, PhD
  • 31 Aug
    Multiple Sclerosis Symptom Management

For details: www.clevelandclinic.org/health/chatreg/

 Also check out Charity Walks and Runs at Battling Heart Disease and Stroke

Check your heart health IQ!

July 30, 2009 by  

heartsHow good is your knowledge of your heart health? Want to know more but doesn’t have the time to read up and do research? Or you just want to do something fun and learn at the same time? How about taking one of the Healthy Heart Quizzes at the American Heart Association site? Or all of them, for that matter? They’re easy to do online and would just take a few minutes of your time.

Or do you think you know it all? Well, that’s what I thought. And look how I did on the quizzes. Hmm…

Cholesterol Quiz
10 questions on cholesterol and I got nine of them right. Ok, so one is a bit tricky, “hidden”, so to speak. But hey, one can’t always perfect the test, right?

Diabetes Quiz
I got five out six questions right. Ah well, the sweetest is always the most difficult. But I did learn something.

High Blood Pressure Quiz
My blood pressure IQ? A dismal 8 out of 10 correct answers. Uh-uh. Thanks goodness I am not suffering from hypertension.

Test Your Fats IQ
Are you facing the facts of your fats? Whew! This is finally something I got right. Still some of the questions are rather difficult and I really had to pause and think hard.

Physical Activity Heart Health Quiz
Just eight little questions and I have to get the gender question wrong. What a bummer!

Workout Quiz
Well, this one’s rather easy and I got all 9 questions right. I guess I get to be luck at some stage.

And guess what? I did all these in less than an hour!

So are you ready to check out your heart health IQ? Hey, come on. It’s for free. And not having enough time is the most overused excuse in the whole world.

And while you’re at it, tell me how you did and whether you learned something new. Come on, take up the challenge and beat my scores!

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Those who managed to quit

July 29, 2009 by  
Filed under ADDICTION

alcohol_champagne_glassesQuitting – be it smoking, drinking, taking pills – is difficult, no doubt about that. However, it is not impossible. I therefore list here a few well-known people who had alcohol problems, still have problems, but managed to quit. In doing so, I hope to inspire those who want to quit to try and try and try.

George W. Bush. Despite his shortcomings as US President, former President George W. Bush is a living example that quitting is possible. He admits to having some alcohol problems up to the age of 40, referring those years as his “nomadic” and “irresponsible youth” period. He has a criminal record for disorderly conduct (age 20) and drunken driving (age 30). According to this 2000 New York Times article.

“… as he approached 40, an age when Al Gore was already a senator running for president, George W. Bush was just a heavy-drinking, fun-loving oilman struggling to control his temper, salvage his business and hold on to his marriage.

However, the article went on to say that Bush was late bloomer who redeemed himself at midlife and in the process, achieve something extraordinary – serving as the 43rd US President.

Richard Harris. The Irish actor was an inveterate drinker who managed to quit and went teetotal till his death at the age of 72. In his early years, he was well-known for his role as King Arthur in the film Camelot and as a mercenary in The Wild Geese. His most recent and perhaps most memorable role however, was as Professor Dumbledore, Harry Potter’s friend and mentor, in the first two Harry Potter films. In addition to being an actor, Harris also wrote poetry.

Alice Cooper. The leader of the American rock group KISS looks like somebody out of a horror film when he turns out for a show. In real life however, the 61-year old Vincent Damon Furnier is a devoted father and born again Christian. He credited his religious beliefs and his passion for golf as the major factors that helped him overcome his alcohol and drug problems. He says that when he took up golf, he replaced one addiction with another, albeit a healthier and better one. He plays golf six days a week and is almost a “pro.” His 2007 autobiography was entitled

Alice Cooper, Golf Monster: Rock ‘n’ Roller’s 12 Steps to Becoming a Golf Addict.

Samuel L. Jackson. Mr. Jackson is another one of those showbiz people who had an alcohol and drug problem but managed to stay dry during the last 15 years after undergoing rehabilitation. Like Cooper, he too, took up golf and got hooked. In fact, “he has it written into contracts that he must have time out from filming to play twice a week.” Check out this article on Jackson

From coke addict to golf addict: How Samuel L Jackson found salvation on fairways to heaven.”

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Diet and cancer risk: vegetarians are the winners

July 28, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

vegetables-freshThis is probably one of the largest studies to investigate the effect of diet and cancer risk. The study included more than 60,000 British residents and lasted for more than 12 years.

And the results indicate that a vegetarian diet lowers the risk for 20 different types of cancers.

According to researcher Dr. Naomi Allen

“This is strong evidence that vegetarians have lower rates of cancer than meat eaters.”

The study used the British data from an even larger study called the European Perspective Investment into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) which is tracking half a million Europeans.

The dietary characteristics of the participants are:

  • 32,403 meat eaters
  • 8,562 who ate fish but not meat
  • 20,601 vegetarians

During a 12.2-year follow up period, a large proportion of meat eaters developed cancer whereas the lowest incidence of cancer was among the vegetarians.

Statistically speaking, vegetarians were 12% less likely to develop cancer than those who ate meat. The fish eaters have also a lower likelihood – 18% less than meat eaters.

It has been known that red meat consumption is a risk factor for stomach cancer. What is surprising is the fact that the risk for lymph and blood cancers (e.g. leukaemia, lymphoma) is also much lower among vegetarians – in fact, much lower compared to other cancers. In the general population, the likelihood of developing any type of cancer is 33 in 100 people. For vegetarians, it’s 29 for every 100 people. When just looking at blood cancers, vegetarians had 50% lower risk that meat eaters. In one rare cancer of the bone marrow called multiple myeloma, the risk for vegetarians is even 75% less. Another cancer that is linked to the vegetarian diet is bladder cancer – 45% lower risk for vegetarians compared to meat eaters, However, risk for common cancers such as cancer of the prostate, breast and bowel isn’t seem to be dependent on diet and is basically the same for meat eaters and non-meat eaters.

The mechanisms behind the diet – cancer risk link is not very clear and health experts warn not to jump into conclusions and change diet immediately. However, it is comforting to know that it may be possible to modify our cancer risk by lifestyle change such as diet. We don’t have to change our diets and become all vegetarians doesn’t the study findings support the common but ignored knowledge of what a balanced diet is?

“A healthy, balanced diet [and] high in fibre, fruit and vegetables and low in saturated fat, salt and red and processed meat.”

What’s the latest in health care, July 27

July 27, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

world_stetLet’s start the week with latest updates on health care.

What’s bad?

More Americans Become Bankrupt Due To Medical Bills
Another sad fact of a health care system gone wrong. According to a recent study conducted by the Harvard Medical School, more than 60% of personal bankruptcies in the US are brought about by high medical bills. This is even more evident during the current financial crisis, with bankruptcies due to medical debt increasing from 46% in 2001 to 62.1% in 2007. What is even surprising is the fact that the majority of medical-based bankruptcies were filed by “middle-class, well-educated homeowners” and 75% had health insurance. According to principal author Dr. Steffie Woolhandler of the Harvard Medical School, of the study

“Unless you are a Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, you are one illness away from financial ruin in this country. If an illness is long enough and expensive enough, private insurance offers very little protection against medical bankruptcy, and that is the major finding in our study.”

The health conditions that brought about the high medical expenses are as follows (ranked from higest to least):

  • Neurological
  • Diabetes
  • Injuries
  • Stroke
  • Mental condition
  • Heart problems

What’s good?

Top Obama Administration Officials Hold Rural Health Community Forum
Four US cabinet secretaries are on a “Rural Tour” visiting rural communities all over the US. The most recent stop was last Monday, July 20, 2009 St. John Parish, La. The 90-minute rural health forum aimed “to share information about the federal government’s efforts to rebuild and revitalize rural America.” At the same time, the local residents could also express their perspectives and address their questions to the following four senior cabinet members:

  • Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services
  • Tom Vilsack, Secreatry of Agriculture
  • Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor
  • Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veteran Affairs.

What’s mysterious?

Mystery of HIV vaccine failure deepens
What went wrong with the once very promising vaccine against HIV? Remember the STEP trial which was prematurely halted in 2007 because it seemed to actual increase rather than reduce the risk of HIV infection? Researchers are continuing to unravel the riddle that made the vaccine fail by following up the patients who receive the vaccine. The major hypothesis at that time was more sensitivity of some patients to adenovirus %, a modified cold virus from which the HIV vaccine was made from. However, recent results seem to rule out the cold virus vulnerability theory. According to STEP trial investigator Larry Corey

“The role that [adenovirus 5] immunity plays has taken a back seat to the role that lack of circumcision has played, and also, to some extent, to the role that genital herpes plays,” Corey said. “The issues are getting increasingly more complex as time goes on.”

What’s new?

Web Site and Toll-free Line Will Help Unemployed Workers Appeal Denials of COBRA Premium Assistance Under Recovery Act
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) launched a new website last week “where certain unemployed workers may request expedited review of a denial by their former employers of eligibility for COBRA premium assistance under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).” Most Americans are health-insured through their employers and involuntary termination leaves them without coverage. The website (www.ContinuationCoverage.net) plus a toll-free helpline (1-866-400-6689) will “help displaced workers maintain health care coverage for themselves and their families.”

Photo credit: stock.xchng

News from the cancer side, July 24

July 24, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

pink-ribbon21News from the cancer victims

Hartson facing cancer treatment
Ex-footballer John Hartson has recently been diagnosed with testicular cancer which has metastasized to his brain. The 34-year old professional football player was a striker for Wales and used to play in the English Premier League for Arsenal and Celtics but retired last year. He is currently undergoing treatment at Swansea Singleton Hospital.

Frank McCourt had wisdom to look back
The Pulitzer-prize winner frank McCourt died of cancer last Sunday, July 20. The New York-born Irish American author of the acclaimed autobiographical piece Angela’s Ashes was suffering from melanoma. He was 78.

The Beat Lives On
In its summer 2009 issue, CR magazine features reggae legend Bob Marley who died of metastatic melanoma almost 30 years ago. The article reviews what has changed in the field of melanoma treatment and management during the last 3 decades. According to Dr. Vernon K. Sondak, a surgical oncologist and melanoma specialist at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa, Fla.

“Most people still don’t think of dark-skinned people as being at risk for skin cancer, and probably even fewer think that a melanoma might occur under a toenail. Still to this day, we have a hard time getting an early diagnosis when it’s a non-classic melanoma, meaning that it is in an unusual location, has an unusual presentation, or is in an unusual patient.”

News from drugmakers

UA pharmacy research shows prescribers miss potentially dangerous drug pairs
Drug-drug interactions can be dangerous and doctors should know what drugs should not be prescribed together. However, a research by the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy revealed that “a very low rate of recognition of these particular interactions [among prescribers] and some of these interactions are very common.” A potentially life-threatening interaction, for example, is between the widely used sildenafil (Viagra) and nitrates (e.g isosorbide mononitrate). The research also revealed that on average, 2.3 medications are prescribed during each doctor visit.

Europe attacks tactics that delay generic drugs
European authorities are attacking tactics by pharmaceutical companies to delay access to generic drugs. The European Commission just completed an 18-month inquiry into the case of several companies and certain “agreements” that may have breached anti-trust laws.

News from the cancer clinics

Dana-Farber is fifth highest ranked cancer center in the country
The US News and World Report has recently released its survey of medical facilities in the US. Once again, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute was ranked top cancer hospital in New England and 5th in the whole of the US. The top 4 places were taken by University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston (no.1), Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York (no. 2), Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore (no. 3) and Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. (no.4)

Photo credit.stock.xchng

CVD News Watch, July 24

July 24, 2009 by  

worldnews2Everyone enjoying the summer? Here’s some hearty news for you this weekend.

CVD presidential watch

President Obama visits Cleveland Clinic
The US President was scheduled to visit the renowned Cleveland Clinic on Thursday, July 23, together with Ohio governor Ted Strickland. The reason for the visit?

I’m going to be visiting . . . the Cleveland Clinic to show . . . why their system works so well. And part of the reason it works well is because they’ve set up a system where patient care is the number-one concern, not bureaucracy.”

Cleveland Clinic is one of the best hospitals in the US and number one in terms of heart health care.

CVD drug safety watch

American Heart Association statement on FDA alert about Xolair
Earlier this month, the US FDA issued a safety alert regarding the injectable asthma drug omalizumab, marketed as Xolair. The warning was based on preliminary data from the ongoing study Evaluating the Clinical Effectiveness and Long-Term Safety in Patients with Moderate to Severe Asthma (EXCELS). The data suggest that Xolair increases the risk for cardiovascular events, especially coronary artery disease, arrhythmias, pulmonary hypertension, and cardiac failure. Xolair is approved for use by adults and adolescents (12 years of age and above) with moderate to severe persistent asthma who test positive for reactivity to a perennial airborne allergen, and whose symptoms are inadequately controlled with inhaled corticosteroids.
The warning does not mean that patients should stop taking Xolair but rather to increase awareness in both patients and doctors as to the possible side effects of the drug.

CVD clinical trial watch

Merck/Schering-Plough reach ezetimibe settlement
The manufaturers of Zetia ( ezetimibe) and Vytorin (ezetimibe plus simvastatin) have reached a settlement with 35 American states and the District of Columbia concerning the ENHANCE trial. The states accused the Merck and Schering-Plough for delaying the release of the trial results which basically showed that Vytorin does not slow down hypercholesterolemia. The settlement amounts to $5.4 million “to reimburse the states for attorney’s fees and other costs related to the investigations.”

CVD health food watch

Less than 2% of restaurants using trans fat in New York City
The ban on the use of trans-fats in restaurants in NYC is bearing fruit. According to the short-term report from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, more than 98% of the city’s restaurants are no longer using artificial trans fat in oils, shortening, and spreads, leaving only less 2% which still have to comply. In comparison, only 50% of the restaurants were trans-fat free before the ban.
Trans-fatty acids or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in our diet are believed to be a major contributing factor to cardiovascular disease. The ban of these fats was amended into the NYC health code in 2006 and took effect 2007. The first phase was to switch to more heart-friendly fat for frying and spreads so that a serving would contain less than 0.5 g of trans fat with a deadline on July 2007. The second phase to eliminate trans fat from all other foods by July 2008. So far, the ban seems to be working, even including the fast food chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s. Non-compliance results in hefty fines.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Sweet potatoes that might just prevent cancer

July 23, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

purpple-potato-kansas-suAnthocyanins are the compounds that give dark fruits (blueberries, red currants, brambles, blood oranges, red grapes) their pigmentation. They are also present in vegetables such red cabbage, red beets, purple corn, and eggplant peels. And now they are also present in sweet potaoes – the purple kind, that is. The purple sweet potato has been specially bred by researchers at Kansas Stte University. But for what purpose? For the prevention of cancer.

Anthocyanins are anti-oxidants and are believed to have health benefits and medicinal value for a wide range of ailments, from cardiovascular disease to cancer. Because they are present in high abundance in nature and in the food stuff we eat everyday, they have become one of the most popular research topics of nutritionists and epidemiologists.

The purple sweet potatoes are really purple inside as well as outside, and well, have significantly higher concentrations fo anthocyanins than ordinary sweet potatoes you normally find in the supermarmet. Especially dominant were two anthyocynin pigment derivatives cyanidin and peonidin. Aside from these two, the potaoes have also much higher total phenolic content. Phenols are also strong anti-oxidants and were reported to have some anti-aging properties.

So here are the advantages of this new “dark” breed of sweet potatoes:

  • Higher anti-oxidant capacity
  • Potential anti-aging properties
  • High anti-cancer components

To test for anti-cancer properties, the researchers treated cultures of human colon cancer cells with cyanidin and peonidin. The results showed “significant cell growth inhibition for the cancer cells, but there were no significant changes in the cell cycle.”

This research is just one of the many that is trying to breed fruit and vegetables that contain more than the usual anthocyanin content. Some of the breeding are done the traditional way whereas others are done using genetic engineering. Plants that are easy to grown, eaten in large quantities, and are usually available the whole year round are especially targetted, such as tomotoes, and yes – sweet potatoes.

Other plants that are rich in anthocyanins are (source: wikipedia)

Food source Anthocyanin content in mg per 100 g












Marion blackberry


black raspberry




wild blueberry






red grape


red wine


purple corn


 Photo credit: Kansas State University

Blind, yet with a vision: Cathy Birchall’s world tour on a motorbike

July 23, 2009 by  
Filed under VISION

UPDATE: November 2012

I have been informed by Bernand Smith regarding error of this post …. as well to point out the comment from 2009 below

Date: November 5, 2012
Subject: errors of information // Message
Hi there – a correction if I may. On the following address from your site, battlingforhealth.com/2009/07/blind-yet-with-a-vision-cathy-birchalls-world-tour-on-a-motorbike/ At no time did sponsors contribute to the running costs of the trip in any shape or form. The trip was funded by myself in its entirety – I actually sold my house to fund it. Best wishes. Bernard Smith

– Thanks for the update Bernard and Cathy / HART

Motorcycling seems like a fun sport. I never tried it myself  
except by sitting behind my husband and holding on for my dear life. But even I, as the “passenger” could feel the freedom of movement that comes with these vehicles.

I can imagine how good it felt for Cathy Birchall of Warrington, Cheshire, UK to go around the world on her motorbike. So what’s the big deal, you’d ask? It’s been done before.

Well, what if I tell that Cathy is blind, and is the first blind person to circumnavigate the world on a motorbike?

That certainly breaks down your misconceptions of motorbiking and of visually impaired people, doesn’t it? And that’s exactly what Cathy aimed to do. Because hers was a journey with a real vision – to help raise awareness of sight loss and eye conditions around the globe.

And her travels took to places where she met people who inspired her and whom she inspired. Among the organizations she visited are

  • Swiss Guide Dogs
  • The Score Foundation
  • Eyeway in India
  • Vision Australia
  • Fred Hollow’s Foundation
  • The Centre for the Blind Women in Delhi

Cathy says

The past year has been an amazing experience; I have had the pleasure of moving freely in the world as a blind person – something that seemed unimaginable when I first lost my sight and I actually became a real inspiration to those I met throughout my journey“.

Cathy was born with a degenerative eye condition which gradually robbed her of her sight, so that she was completely blind when she reached her mid twenties.

Cathy travels with Bernard Smith who does the steering and a 20-year BMW motorbike Bertha. They started the incredible journey in Ireland on August 8, 2009 and arrived back in the UK earlier this month. , covering a distance of about 25,000 miles in 30 countries. During the journey, Bertha used up three sets of tires and had replacements for a starter motor, an exhaust and an alternator.

In their stop in Peru, Cathy even managed to climb the Wynapicchu at Machu Picchu, making her the first blind woman ever to scale the famous Inca mountain.

During her travels, Cathy managed to gain sponsors that contributed to the expenses of her trip as well as raise funds which will be split equally between Action for Blind People, Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).

Where to next, Cathy?


Stress and bedwetting

July 22, 2009 by  
Filed under STRESS

kid-in-bedThere is nothing more stressful for children and their parents than the problem of bedwetting or enuresis in medical terms. It is also a childhood problem that is embarrassing, and unlike food allergies and asthma, is almost always kept private.

So what causes bedwetting?

There are medical explanations for bedwetting, including late maturation or deformity of the urinary bladder, urinary tract infections, sleeping disorders, hormonal problems (low anti-diuretic hormone levels), and take note – genetics. However, these account for only 3% of cases of bedwetting.

The majority of cases are actually more of psychological rather than physiological in nature. And psychological stress is the most likely culprit.

Children have different ways of reacting to or coping with stress. Stress is usually brought about by change, and change can be minor (e.g. move to a new residence or a new school) or major (change in family structure such as divorce, loss of a close loved one, etc.)

What is clear is that

Is there something that can be done? Well, the first thing to do is find out the root cause, e.g. what causes the stress. Some sources of stress may not be overt, e.g. bullying at school, problems with the teacher, with schoolwork.

Dr. Howard Bennett is a pediatrician specialized in enuresis and wrote the book Waking Up Dry: A Guide to Help Children Overcome Bedwetting gives the following practical tips:

Bedwetting is a problem that creates a vicious cycle. Stress causes the child to lose nighttime bladder control, causing stress to the parents and additional distress to the child, thus exacerbating the problem. As the child grows older, the problem becomes more socially unacceptable. Sleepovers and camps – these are just a few childhood situations where bedwetting outside the home can cause problems.

According to Dr. Bennett

Because bedwetting gets better on its own, “in the past, doctors often said to parents and kids, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ ‘But if it’s causing anxiety or social problems, it’s important to know there are things families can do to make the situation better.”


Photo credit: stock.xchng

Can caffeine reverse memory decline?

July 22, 2009 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

coffee-machineMornings aren’t the same without a cup of coffee in hand. Whether it may be a broadsheet you have in front of you or your computer monitor, hold that coffee cup nice and tight because a new research shows that coffee has more than just antioxidants under its belt of health benefits.

The research involved genetically modified aged mice that exhibit symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease being proportionally given an equivalent of five cups of coffee a day worth of caffeine. The results were astounding. The cognitive issues of the said mice were reversed, according to a report coming from the Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Researcher Center (ADRC) researchers lead by Dr. Gary Arendash.

Recently published studies show that caffeine is a very good inhibitor of the protein linked to the disease, based on test results from both blood and the brains of the mice that showed symptoms of Alzheimer’s. These studies are considered as a continuation of previous research conducted by the Florida ADRC team showing that introduction of caffeine during early adulthood inhibits the onset of cognitive problems in old age in mice genetically modified to develop the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

55 mice were bred to exhibit dementia as they age, mimicking the symptoms of the said disease. Behavioral tests were then done to confirm the test mice aged18 to 19 months were showing signs of cognitive issues at an equivalent age of 70 human years. Half of the animals were given caffeine through their drinking water (test group) while the control group was given plain water. The test group mice took an equivalent of five cups of regular coffee every day. This is the same amount of caffeine you get from a large frap drink from your local coffee shop, or 20 soda cans or 14 cups of tea.

After two months of research, not only have did the caffeinated mice scored better on their tests measuring cognitive skills, researchers also have verified that the memory skills of the said mice were of the same level as to normal mice of younger age exhibiting no symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. The control mice showed very little or no difference at all with their memory skills.

Results also show a very significant decline (around 50% reduction) in the percentage of beta-amyloid, the protein responsible for the plaques on the brain, which when in abundance, is a classical sign of Alzheimer’s. Caffeine not only inhibits beta-amyloid but also suppresses inflammatory changes in the brain that lead to the high production of the said protein.

Promising as it may seem, questions always arise to clarify certain possible issues that may have been overlooked or questions that may lead to further knowledge or new discovery. Since it has been established that caffeine boost the memory of mice with Alzheimer’s, is it then safe to say that those that are exposed to caffeine from a very young age will do better in terms of memory? The researchers wanted to know if there would be any difference. To set things straight, another set of mice were given caffeine this time with the group being normal and is from young adulthood through old age. After a long research period, they collated the results for the control group and the caffeinated mice with both groups performing as well as the other.

“This suggests that caffeine will not increase memory performance above normal levels. Rather, it appears to benefit those destined to develop Alzheimer’s disease,” according to Dr. Arendash.

Though further, more rigorous research is needed, the use of caffeine has the great potential as a viable treatment for patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Caffeine is easily available and cheap. Give or take a couple of years from now, these new findings may be the start a new line of therapy and prophylaxis for Alzheimer’s. Caveat: do not forget that caffeine is not completely harmless. Excessive caffeine intake does come with health risks!

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Walk, Run or Cycle Charity Events: Get Movin’ for a Cause

July 21, 2009 by  

marathonAs you know, I’m an avid walker and runner and it gives me so much pleasure to do my hobby in connection with a cause, be it for charity, health, or environment and social issues I believe in. And I am sure many of you out there would also enjoy being on the move, not only for you’re the sake of your health and for others as well.

One runner I once interviewed said:

Running is a vehicle towards achieving goals that are larger than life. Who would’ve thought such a basic motion can take you so far? “

Which is why I have compiled a list of worthy upcoming walking or running events you might want to participate in. Check them out!

For short distance running events in the US, check out Charity Mile

For a list of running events for charity in the UK, check out Runners Web

Now is the perfect time to start and train. It doesn’t have to be that far or too long. Just do what you can

You don’t have to be fast. You don’t have to be perfectly fit and trim. All you need is the spirit to move and give and have fun.

And it works out best if you don’t do it alone! Ask your friends to join you. To join us. The more, the merrier.

Do anti-depressants make the heart stop?

July 21, 2009 by  
Filed under DEPRESSION


Sudden cardiac death or sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) has gained worldwide attention because of Michael Jackson’s passing last month. To review some SCA statistics from the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Coalition:

As I’ve posted before, there are many things that can interfere with the heart’s electric system, leading to a full stop and death. A recent study by researchers at Columbia University indicates that depression – and the use of anti-depressants  – can also cause SCA. And it’s not about overdose on anti-depressants, but regular use at normally prescribed dosage.

The study followed up 63,469 women who were participants in the Nurses’ Health Study and who did not have a history of cardiovascular disease or any other life-threatening disorders. The participants were monitored for depressive symptoms and anti-depressant use for eight years. The study results confirmed what previous studies have reported: Depressive symptoms were significantly associated with cardiac events, and especially strongest with fatal events.

However, what is new is the fact that the use of antidepressants to manage the depressive symptoms does not actually lower the risk for cardiac events but rather increases the risk of SCA. According to the present study

“61% of subjects were using selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), while 39% used other, nonspecified antidepressants.”

It is not clear how these medications exactly can affect heart function but researchers believe it has something to be with triggering arrhythmia or irregular heart rhythms. A previous study has linked antidepressant use to increased high blood pressure.

The authors warn that more study is needed to confirm the antidepressant use – SCA link.

“It is unclear whether SSRI agents might cause [sudden cardiac arrest]. While cardiac events are well documented with . . . tricyclic antidepressants, evidence for a link with SSRIs is mixed… Moreover, it is quite possible that antidepressant use merely indicates that depression is of sufficient severity to merit treatment.”

There have been high profile deaths due to SCA mainly because of the widespread use of prescription drugs among celebrities as a means of coping with their stressful, high-flying lifestyles. Among these prescription drugs are sleeping pills, anti-depressants, and pain killers.


Saving the fertility of female cancer patients

July 20, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

It is just like hitting someone where she is already down. A woman is diagnosed with cancer, and cervixin order to fight the disease and survive, she has to sacrifice her fertility.

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy save the lives of women suffering from ovarian and cervical cancers. However, at a great cost – losing their fertility and their ability to reproduce.

Preserving fertility in male cancer patients is much easier. Sperms can be collected in large amounts and cryopreserved (deep frozen) for future use. It is more complicated in women because there is usually only one mature egg produced a month. Fertility treatment can increase the egg numbers but may have some detrimental effects on an already failing health as well as delay cancer treatments.

Researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine may just have come up with a novel technique to save female cancer patients’ fertility better. The researchers removed follicles containing immature egg cells directly from the ovaries and cultured to maturity in the lab. Mature eggs are then ready to be fertilized. But why hasn’t this ever done before? Well, ovarian follicles are very fragile and delicate and culturing them to maturity outside the ovary is very difficult and tricky. But it seems that these researchers managed to do this for the first time and the resulting eggs are healthy.

According to Teresa Woodruff, chief of fertility preservation at the Feinberg School and a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

 “By being able to take an immature ovarian follicle and grow it to produce a good quality egg, we’re closer to that holy grail, which is to get an egg directly from ovarian tissue that can be fertilized for a cancer patient.”

There are other new techniques to preserve fertility during cancer treatment. One is by freezing part of or a whole ovary and reimplanting the tissue back after treatment. However, this comes with the limitation that the ovary cells themselves may contain cancer cells that will eventually spread in the body again.

The NU researchers have already managed to carry the technique to completion in mice. The egg follicles were mature in vitro, fertilized and re-implanted back into the mother to produce healthy offsprings. It is just a matter of time till they successfully perform the complete process in human females.

Photo credit: wikicommons

Summer health risks: are they for real?

July 20, 2009 by  

summerSummertime is really here. School vacation has already started. And though it’s nice and warm in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, it can be scorching hot in others. So you want to spend time outdoors and get a little exercise. But what to do in the unbearable heat of the summer? First of all, we are warned of the dangers that come with summer and these are:

  • Sunburns
  • Dehydration
  • Heat strokes
  • Summer infections
  • Insect bites
  • Burns from barbecue and bush fires
  • Lighting strikes

However, despite all the warnings we see, hear and read, people shouldn’t be scared of venturing out and be active in the summertime. According to WebMD, the chances of fatality due to these summer health risks are slim. In fact, the following figures from the National Safety Council give us an idea of the actual risks:

The Danger Lifetime Odds
Death by car accident 1 in 228
Drowning death 1 in 1,081
Bicycle accident death 1 in 4,857
Death by excessive natural heat 1 in 10,643
Death by lightning 1 in 56,439


Traffic accidents

You’d think that because of the favorable weather conditions in summer that there’d be less vehicular accidents. Well, actually it is the nice weather conditions that make more people venture out and travel with the car, that make people drive faster than usual, that make more people drive less carefully. Related to traffic accidents are bicycle accidents. Cycling is a popular summer sport and accidents can lead to head injuries that are fatal due to non-wearing of helmet.


It is not surprising that the risk of drowning ranks second after traffic accidents. Swimming pools, lakes, rivers and the ocean are popular summer destinations.  It is estimated that at least 3,000 people drown in the US each year. Children under 5 drown more often in swimming pools, especially the family pool, rather than in the natural water bodies. More adults drown in the sea due to undertows, strong rip currents, and boating accidents. The U.S. Coast Guard recorded more than 5,700 boating accidents in 2002, causing 4,062 injuries and 750 deaths.

Excessive heat

Heat waves occur sporadically and excessive natural heat can only lead to death as a consequence of dehydration, heat strokes, and exacerbation of underlying chronic conditions such as heart disease and hypertension. This is, however, highly preventable. The key is drink, drink, and drink and stay out of the midday sun.

Summer infections and diseases

There are some infections associated with some, many of which are food-borne or insect-borne. In the US, the West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes, whereas spoiled meat at the grill leads to food poisoning.

Rare but well-publicized risks

Lightning strikes and shark attacks are summer risks that are very unlikely to happen. However, when they do, they tend to get publicized and cause unnecessary alarm to the public.
According to National Safety Council spokesman John Ulczycki

“The topical rather than the important hazards tend to get the most attention. People may misinterpret or misunderstand where the real risk is.”

So let’s not use all the summer health risks we hear to refrain from being active this summer. We have to take care but we don’t have to be scared.

To put things into perspective….

“… for every one unfortunate who met his end in the jaws of a shark, at least 1,000 drowned; and while 201 people nationwide died of West Nile infection in 2002, car crashes killed nearly 43,000.

Coming next: ways of staying active despite the summer heat.

Ohoto credit: stock.xchng

CVD News Watch, July 17

July 17, 2009 by  

worldnews1Costs, valves, and tablet. Here are your hearty news for this weekend.

CVD cost watch

Use and costs of cardiovascular drugs escalating in Canada
The law of supply and demand is playing tricks with consumers in the Canada. Or is it the pharmaceutical industry? A study reports that the use of cardiovascular medications in Canada has been increasing during the past ten years. The most popular drugs are statins, angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), and ACE inhibitors. During the said decade, the costs of the medications increased more than 200%!
According to lead researcher Dr Cynthia Jackevicius “This rapid escalation of costs for cardiovascular drugs threatens the sustainability of public drug-insurance programs. Increases of this magnitude over such a relatively short period deserve further scrutiny.”

CVD clinical trial watch

ARBITER-6 HALTS stopped early: Safety not an issue, but little else known
The clinical trial ARBITER-6 HALTS which compares the effect of ezetimibe with extended-release niacin on carotid intima-media thickness has been stopped prematurely but no detailed explanation except that “it was not stopped due to safety concerns.”

CVD implant watch

Surgeons report “alarmingly early stenosis” with porcine heart valve; manufacturer assures safety, efficacy
It’s the doctor’s word against the manufacturer’s. Who do we believe? A group of heart surgeons report that patients implanted with the Mosaic bioprosthetic valve in the aortic position are suffering from “alarmingly early stenosis”. Mosaic is a 3rd generation porcine heart valve manufactured by Medtronic, and is supposedly durable for 10 to 15 years. Several surgeons, however, led by Dr Jennifer S Lawton of the Washington University School of Medicine, have observed a surprisingly high incidence of early stenosis. Of the122 patients who received the implant, four cases of severe stenosis occurred which required valve replacement just three to 44 months after implantation. Dr Jeff Tyner of Scripps Clinic, La Jolla, CA commented to heartwire that Lawton et al’s report was “not enough to condemn the Mosaic, although it’s a possible problem that you’d want to track.”
An official statement from Medtronic states that “We are committed to the highest possible product reliability and quality for physicians and patients. Medtronic stands behind its conviction that the Mosaic valve is a safe and efficacious product for patients.”

CVD drug watch

FDA Approves Effient to Reduce the Risk of Heart Attack in Angioplasty Patients
The US FDA the blood-thinning agent prasugel (Effient tablets) for the prevention of blood clot formation in patients who undergo angioplasty. Angioplasty is a popular procedure in unblocking clogged coronary arteries.
During an angioplasty, a balloon is used to open the artery that has been narrowed by atherosclerotic plaque.Often, a tiny wire mesh scaffold (stent) is inserted into the blood vessel to help keep the artery open after the procedure. Platelets in the blood can clump around the procedure site, causing clots that can lead to heart attack, stroke, and death.

What’s new in health care, July 17

July 17, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

health-medicalEnjoying your summer break? Here’s some health care updates for this weekend…

What’s new?

New Data Say Uninsured Account for Nearly One-fifth of Emergency Room Visits
Recent statistics show that about one-fifth of 120 million emergency room visits in hospitals in 2006 involved patients without health insurance coverage. This suggests that the current unreformed health care system has been forcing the uninsured to use emergency services as a last recourse for their health problems. This means that this sector of the population does not have access to preventive, maintainance and prophylactic medicine. The data come from the Nationwide Emergency Department Samples. It is reportedly largest, all-payer emergency department database in the US and is designed to help public health experts, policymakers, health care administrators, researchers, journalists and others find the data they need to answer questions about care that occurs in U.S. hospital emergency departments.

FDA Issues Draft Guidance for Industry on Drug Anticounterfeiting
To counteract tthe widespread sales and use of counterfeit drugs, the US FDA has issued this week a draft guidance advising manufacturers on the use inks, pigments, flavors, and other physical-chemical identifiers (PCIDs) that would make drugs difficult o counterfeit as well as make counterfeit products easy to spot. The document is entitled “Draft Guidance for Industry: Incorporation of Physical-Chemical Identifiers into Solid Oral Dosage Form Drug Products for Anticounterfeiting” and is available online for public viewing and comment.

Who’s new?

Noted Food Safety Expert Michael R. Taylor Named Advisor to FDA Commissioner
The food safety expert Michael R. Taylor will rejoin the US FDA as senior adviser to the regulatory agency commissioner Margaret Hamburg. Taylor is a research professor at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services.

Francis Collins named as NIH chief
President Barack Obama has nominated prominent geneticist Francis Collins to be the next National Institutes of Health (NIH) head. Collins co-discovered the gene for cystic fibrosis and directed the Human Genome Project.

What’s good?

Secretary Sebelius Releases Inaugural Health Care “Success Story” Report
The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), led by Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius launched a series of reports that document innovative programs and initiatives that can serve as models for a reformed American health care system. The first of these health care “success story” reports was released last July 13. The so-called inaugural report features the Michigan Keystone ICU Project. The project is a joint partnership between the Michigan Health & Hospital Association and the Johns Hopkins University. It helped dramatically reduce the number of health care associated infections in Michigan, saving over 1,500 lives and $200 million.

What’s bad?

Hospitalization of the Poor Much Higher for Asthma, Diabetes, Other Preventable Diseases
Americans from the low-income group are more likely to be hospitalized fro chronic diseases than higher earners. This is especially true fro asthma and diabetes, where low-income patients have 75% and almost 90% higher rates of hospitalization, respectively, compared to high-income patients. This is again related to the poor’s lack of access to preventive medicine. Conditions such as asthma and diabetes are preventable and manageable. Experts are of the opinion that some of these hospitalizations can be prevented through higher-quality outpatient care.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Blood pressure down, stress up after 30 years

July 16, 2009 by  
Filed under STRESS

antistressA lot of things have changed in the last 30 years. The first test tube baby was delivered and thousands of IVF babies followed. Medical science has made great advances in fighting cancer and other diseases. If you look back 30 years ago, what has changed in your life?

A Swedish study gives a very good insight as to how middle-age women’s lives have changed (or haven’t changed) during the last 30 plus years. The study is part of the Prospective Population Study of Women in Gothenburg, Sweden which was started during the late 1960s. 1,462 middle-aged Swedish women were followed up into the 21st century, in terms of lifestyle and health, among others.

The study results showed that many things have changed for the better since the initiation of the study, namely:

  • Blood pressure measurements have greatly improved.
  • Serum lipid levels have also significantly improved.
  • Average body mass index did not significantly change.
  • Overall risk factors for cardiovascular disease have significantly decreased.

The researchers attributed these positive changes to healthier lifestyles. In the 60s, for example, only 15% of women exercised regularly. Nowadays it is about 40%.

There is, however, one thing that did not improve but in fact increased for the worse – stress.

At the start of the study (1968 to 1969):

  • 28% of participants reported to be suffering from nervousness.
  • 36% experienced stress.

Reports in 2004 to 2005:

  • 75% of participants reported stress, more than double the numbers 32 years earlier.

This chronic stress seems to take a toll on the health of those suffering from it.

According to researcher Dominique Hange

“The women who stated at the end of the 1960s that they suffered from nervousness or perceived stress had a higher frequency of abdominal problems, asthma, headache, and frequent infections. This is true both at the time they were examined and nearly 25 years later. We could also in a longer perspective, see that the women who were mentally stressed had a higher mortality, and a somewhat higher incidence of breast cancer”.

Despite the great improvement in our lifestyles, has our lives become more stressful? Will stress eventually kill off mankind?

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Breastfeeding may prevent MS relapse

July 16, 2009 by  

breastfeedingThere are about 2.5 million people worlwide suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS). The disease commonly afflicts young people in their prime, between the ages of 20 and 40. It is no surprise that many MS victims are women of reproductive age – mothers and wanna be mothers.

However, there are certain restrictions to moms with MS. Most MS drugs cannot be taken during pregnancy and while breasfeeding. The drugs can get into the mother’s milk and taken in by the baby.

Breastfeeding is the best thing for babies. It is healthy, economical, and green. Moms with MS however, have to choose between restarting medications immediately after delivery or breastfeeding their babies.

A recent study indicates that breastfeeding may not be just good for babies but for moms with MS.

Tracking 32 women with MS and 29 without MS during the gestation period and up to one year postpartum, the study results suggests that breastfeeding actually prevents MS relapse even without the medications.

The actual figures are as follows:

  • 52% of moms with MS did breastfeed or stopped prematurely in order to restart taking their medications.
  • 36% of moms with MS who exclusive breastfed has a relapse within the follow up period.
  • In contrast, 87% of those who partially breastfed or did not breastfeed at all had an MS relapse during the same period.

According to Annette Langer-Gould of Kaiser Permanente Southern California

“While 87 percent of the women who did not breastfeed exclusively had a relapse in the year after giving birth, only 36 percent of the women who did breastfeed exclusively relapsed in that postpartum year.”

The study results indicate that breastfeeding lowers the incidence of MS relapse whereas restarting MS medications two months after delivers seems to actually increase rather than decrease the incidence of relapse.

Breastfeeding seems to provide protection in moms with MS but the mechanisms are not so clear. However, this is not surprising since other studies have reported health benefits for breastfeeding moms, from decreased risk for hormone-related cancers, to improved cardiovascular health.

Breastfeeding is the natural way to go, the way nature designed it to be. It is no wonder that both mom and baby benefit from it.

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

“During pregnancy, the body stores up a bunch of nutrients with the plan that it’s going to release much of this in the form of breast milk, a very calorific food. If this doesn’t happen, what we see is that the woman’s body pays the price. Breast-feeding really helps bring you back to your baseline, and it helps women recover from the stress test that pregnancy entails.”

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Cartilage loss: body weight matters

July 15, 2009 by  
Filed under ARTHRITIS

kneeYour knee is a very essential anatomical part in order to be mobile. That is why the bones of the knee are well-protected by the tibio-femoral cartilage. However, the protective cartilage sometimes gets damaged due to a wide range of factors, leading to pain, loss of mobility and even disability. Cartilage damage can lead to osteoarthritis, a progressive and painful disease caused by breakdown of the cartilage. It is the most common form of arthritis, afflicting approximately 27 million Americans.

According to lead researcher Dr. Frank Roemer

“Osteoarthritis is a slowly progressive disorder, but a minority of patients with hardly any osteoarthritis at first diagnosis exhibit fast disease progression. So we set out to identify baseline risk factors that might predict rapid cartilage loss in patients with early knee osteoarthritis or at high risk for the disease.”

The researchers looked at 336 people with 347 osteoarthritic knees. The majority of the study participants were women (65.2%), with an average age of 61.2 years and an average body mass index (BMI) of 29.5. The participants were followed up for 30 months. During this period, cartilage loss was monitored using whole organ magnetic resonance imaging. The results showed that

  • 20.2% of participants had slow cartilage loss during the follow-up period
  • 5.8% experienced a rapid rate of cartilage loss.

The researchers also identified the top risk factors that might influence the rate of cartilage loss, namely:

  • preexisting cartilage damage at baseline
  • evidence of tear or injury to the meniscus (the cartilage that cushions the knee joint)
  • high BMI
  • evidence of inflammation in the synovitis which lines the joints.

Of these, the high BMI is the only modifiable factor. Age, sex and ethnicity don’t seem to play a role in cartilage loss.

The rate of cartilage loss increased with increasing BMI. BMI is the ratio of body weight to height and a range of 18.5 to 25 is considered normal. BMI values above this range indicate being overweight or obesity. For every one unit increase in BMI, the likelihood of rapid cartilage loss increased by 11%

Dr. Roemer continues

“As obesity is one of the few established risk factors for osteoarthritis, it is not surprising that obesity may also precede and predict rapid cartilage loss. Weight loss is probably the most important factor to slow disease progression.”

Photo credit: stock.xchng

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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.