Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Whole Grains Hinder Heart Failure

tidbits that tantalize
Where's The Milk?

Go ahead - take a guess. What condition most often leads to hospitalization in the United States each year?

-Men completing do-it-yourself home improvement projects on the weekend

-Men foolishly abusing their bodies over a period of several decades

-Men deciding they are now old enough they no longer need to listen to their mother

Yes, it's a tough call. But, the most likely culprit falls squarely in the foolish abuse carried out over decades category.

OK - the actual health condition is heart failure. But, as we all know, the most common cause of heart failure is some form of poor lifestyle choices. Obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a sedentary lifestyle all contribute to heart disease.

But, researchers now report that a simple bowl of cereal is a powerful weapon in the battle against heart failure. Whole grain cereal, that is.

The benefits of eating whole grain cereals are well known. Consuming whole grains helps lower blood pressure, and reduces the risks of developing diabetes and heart disease. The recent study adds heart failure to the list.

Researchers followed over 21,000 male doctors for a period of nearly 20 years. Those consuming at least one bowl of whole grain cereal each day had a 28% lower risk of developing heart failure. One bowl - whole grains - 28% less risk. Hmm...

The researchers recommend whole grain cereals containing 4 grams of fiber or more per serving.

So there you have it - a simple solution. Come on, men - you can do this...

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about whole grains, see this from the Mayo Clinic.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Vitamin D Fights Breast Cancer

news you may not knowFriend Or Foe?

To sun or not to sun? Hmm...

Though the dangers of excessive sunbathing are well known, don't give up the sun altogether. In fact, exposure to adequate sunlight may be a key factor in fighting breast cancer.

Researchers at the Northern California Cancer Center, the University of Southern California, and Wake Forest University School of Medicine report that women with more exposure to sunlight have a lower risk of developing advanced breast cancer. A 50% lower risk. That's a big deal.

"We believe that sunlight helps to reduce women's risk of breast cancer because the body manufactures the active form of vitamin D from exposure to sunlight," said Esther John, Ph.D., lead researcher on the study from the Northern California Cancer Center.


Only women with lighter skin pigmentation derive the benefit. Dark skinned women, such as Hispanics and African-Americans, do not enjoy the same protection following exposure to sunlight. This is because dark skinned women produce as little as one-tenth the vitamin D as lighter skinned women following equal sun exposure.


Don't despair. There are many healthy - and easy - ways for women to assure adequate vitamin D intake. This beneficial vitamin is readily available as a supplement, and is found in fatty fish and fortified foods.

"If future studies continue to show reductions in breast cancer risk associated with sun exposure, increasing vitamin D intake from diet and supplements may be the safest solution to achieve adequate levels of vitamin D," said Gary Schwartz, Ph.D., a co-researcher from the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and get some sun - or, buy some vitamin D tablets, or throw a fish fry...

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To learn more about vitamin D, see this from the Office of Dietary Supplements.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Women's Health Declines in Most States

news you may not knowThere's Work To Do...

According to the late Gilda Radner, "It's always something."

Radner, who died of ovarian cancer at the age of 42, seems a fitting reminder of how far we still need to go in attaining optimum women's health. A new report, issued by the National Women's Law Center, points to continuing areas of concern in virtually all states.

The summary paints a bleak picture. When assessing the overall quality of women's health, not a single state received a passing grade. Only three states received a grade of "satisfactory minus," indicating they scored above 75% in meeting desired benchmarks. All other states - for the math-challenged, that would be 47 additional states - received failing marks.

There was precious good news, with only 3 of 27 health benchmarks met. Those dealt with mammograms, dental care, and colorectal cancer screenings. That's certainly good news, but...

The report also indicates:

-Every - EVERY - state reports an increase in obesity among women.

-Diabetes rates continue to rise

-12% live in a "medically underserved area"

-18% of women have no health insurance

What's the answer?

Continued efforts on all levels - federal, state, local, and personal. Access to health care services must be improved. Health insurance must be made readily available to all women nationwide. Healthy lifestyles must become the fabric of our collective psyche - it's time to trade in the tater tots for the treadmill...

To read a summary of the report, see this from Reuters. To read the complete, highly detailed report, see this from the National Women's Law Center. To read about living an active, healthy life, see this from the National Women's Health Resource Center.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Herbs Better at Relieving Menstrual Cramps

news you may not knowIs Liquorice Root The Cure?

Researchers at the Centre for Complementary Medicine Research at the University of Western Sydney say Chinese herbs are the best remedy for menstrual cramps.

Let's face it - China could use a bit of good news about now. Following the deluge of safety concerns swirling around its exported products, it's welcome news to hear the ancient practice of Chinese herbal medicine may still be a viable alternative.

The researchers compared the effects of several remedies, including a placebo, no treatment, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), oral contraceptives, heat compression, and even acupuncture. The results pointed to the herbal remedies as the clear favorite. This is particularly good news for women seeking an alternative to drug-based treatments.

The Chinese herbs utilized were chosen for their ability to regulate the body's energy ("qi") and blood, produce warmth, and boost liver and kidney function. Among the herbs used were Chinese angelica root, Szechuan lovage root, red peony root, fennel fruit, and liquorice root.

The study involved about 3,500 women. Researchers say additional, larger scale, studies are needed to verify these preliminary findings.

Are these results significant? Well, considering the fact that roughly 50% of women of reproductive age, and between 60% and 85% of teenage women, experience menstrual cramps and pain, this is indeed good news - for everyone. Especially, perhaps, the Chinese...

To read more about the study, including a complete list of the herbs used, see this from Reuters. To learn more about Chinese herbal medicine, including a searchable database of Chinese herbs, see this from The Chinese Herb Academy.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Cancer Deaths Drop

news you may not knowAh - A Perfect Fit...

Good news indeed. The partnership between citizen and science appears to be paying off. For the period between 2002 and 2004 the rate of cancer deaths dropped significantly.

Death by the three leading cancers in men - lung, prostate, and colorectal - and two of the three leading cancers in women - breast and colorectal - were down during the period. Death by lung cancer in women actually showed a slight rise, but at a slower rate than previously experienced.

Overall, the decline in rate of cancer deaths almost doubled, from 1.1% in the prior period, to 2.1% in the current report. That's terrific news, and researchers say the decline is due to the effectiveness of prevention efforts, early screening and interventions, and more effective treatments.

The drop in the deaths attributable to breast cancer was especially striking. Between 2001 and 2004 the decline was 3.4%per year. This is great news, but... It's unclear whether the decline is due to a reduction in hormone replacement therapy, which can cause breast cancer, or because the percentage of women receiving mammography exams has declined over the past few years.

The good news for colorectal cancer also comes at a price - but a very small one. To take part in the good news requires screening. Yes, the dreaded colonoscopy. The upside of undergoing this procedure, recommended for everyone 50 and older, is that pre-cancerous polyps are easily detected and removed long before they become life threatening. Certainly seems like the reasonable thing to do.

So, how do we build on this good news? Well, if you're a scientist, do your research. If you're a citizen, eat your vegetables...

To read more about the study, see this from the American Cancer Society. To learn more about cancer prevention, see this from the Prevent Cancer Foundation.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Smash Garlic For Better Health

tidbits that tantalizeYour Breath? Well...

It's the best of both worlds.

Not only do you get to take out your pent-up frustrations, you lower your blood pressure and clear your arteries at the same time. It's truly a win-win situation - except for the don't-come-any-closer lingering odor of garlic...

But, researchers from Argentina may have found a solution.

Scientists from the Agriculture Research Service (ARS) say the key is to crush and cook. The working theory, up to this point, has been that garlic must be consumed raw to derive its health benefits. Those benefits, by the way, are impressive. Garlic is believed to improve cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure and helping break up clusters of platelets in the blood.

The scientists at ARS now say you can cook garlic and still reap the healthy rewards - if you smash it first. They studied the effect of cooking both whole and crushed garlic. While the whole garlic lost all its health benefits when cooked, the crushed garlic held up quite well. It retained most of its healthy properties, if it was crushed before cooking, and the cooking time limited to 3 to 6 minutes at moderate temperatures.

What's the big deal? Ah, that would be the nose factor...

The crushing and cooking eliminates the pungent odor of the garlic.

So, go ahead - smash some garlic. Your friends will thank you...

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To learn more about garlic, see this from The World's Healthiest Foods.

Friday, October 19, 2007

"Cuban Model" May Point Toward Health

news you may not knowTime For A New Plan?

Quick, what comes to mind when you think of Cuba? Cigars, Elian Gonzalez, and boat people? Hmm...

Well, researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health in Baltimore are determined to change that. Their recent study points to Cuba as a "model" of societal health. Not an intentional model, but a model none-the-less.

The researchers studied the impact of the economic downturn in Cuba from 1989 to 2000. Though there were some negative health impacts, due to the increased reliance on rice and sugar cane as food staples, the overall impact was surprisingly positive.

As a result of the economic hardship, many Cubans both reduced calories and increased exercise levels - a potent combination for health. The average caloric intake dropped from about 2,900, the year before the downturn, to less than 1,900 five years later. The obesity rates also sank dramatically, dropping by over 50% through the decade.

The results were impressive. Between 1997 and 2000, deaths attributable to type 2 diabetes declined by 51%, deaths attributable to heart disease by 35%, and to stroke by 20%. It's a remarkable testimony to the power of diet and exercise.

Said Manuel Franco, MD, the lead study author, "Population-wide approaches designed to reduce caloric intake and increase physical activity, without affecting nutritional sufficiency, might be best suited for the prevention of cardiovascular disease and diabetes."

So, there you have it - the "Cuban Model." The choice is up to you. You can implement the plan now, by reducing your calories and getting out there and active, or... You can wait for the next economic crisis in Cuba and plan an extended "health sabbatical."

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To explore the advantages of leading a healthy lifestyle, see this from The HealthCentral Network.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Does the FDA Protect You?

news you may not know Notice Any Weird Side Effects?

Does the FDA live up to its mission statement in protecting drug trial participants?

The mission statement reads, in part: "The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by assuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices..."

It's a big - OK, huge - undertaking, and one that suffers the same shortcomings of other government programs: lack of funds and inadequate manpower. Now, a new report says these shortcomings place drug trial participants at risk.

The report says the FDA does not know how many drug trials are currently being conducted. It also notes the agency has only 200 inspectors, who are responsible to oversee the 350,000 test sites in the United States. For the math challenged among us - a sad tale to be explored another day - that works out to 1,750 sites per inspector. With fifty work weeks each year, and eight hours per day, less 30 minutes for lunch, two fifteen-minute coffee breaks, and the occasional sick day, that works out to... Well, leaving math for another time, it works out to way too much work to be completed in way too little time.

The report cites examples of testing site violations going unaddressed for years at a time and, finally, being resolved via weakly worded enforcement letters. The lack of hands-on oversight, adequate manpower, and substantive penalties creates a situation in which drug trial participants are often very much on their own.

So, while drug trials are a critical part of the development process, be careful if you choose to participate. If you begin to grow extra body parts, or glow in the dark, it may be time to reassess your commitment to the cause...

To read more about the report, see this from Reuters. To learn more about the regulatory process, see this from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Some Drugs May Become Available Without a Prescription

news you may not knowIs "Behind" A Good Idea?

Over-the-counter, behind-the-counter, or by prescription only? Good question. And, it's the question currently being debated at the Food and Drug Administration.

The issue involves whether certain medications, currently available only by prescription, should become available after consultation with a pharmacist. This method, known as behind-the-counter, is a class in between the current division of freely available over-the-counter medications and those available only by prescription. As always, when it comes to health care, a big argument about the proposal is underway.

Proponents say the action would help many, especially those without health insurance, obtain needed medications without first having to see a physician. The idea of involving the pharmacist is to ensure proper selection and safety, and to provide adequate patient education. Certainly seems reasonable, and similar systems are currently being utilized in Britain, Canada, Australia, and several European nations.

Opponents, particularly those companies manufacturing and marketing over-the-counter medications, say the current system works great and best serves the needs of the consumer. Not a surprising statement but, certainly, one to be viewed with at least a modicum of skepticism.

The FDA will hold a public meeting on November 14th to gather comments from the public.

Is the behind-the-counter model the best way to go? Well, on the surface, it certainly seems to hold the potential to increase access and reduce costs. Those are good things, right?

To read more about the proposal, see this from Reuters. To read more about the public meeting, see this (PDF) from the FDA.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Should You Eat Fish When Pregnant?

news you may not knowTasty - But, Should You?

Clarity is always welcome - especially when it comes to health advice from the experts.

But, the latest recommendation by the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies coalition appears to fall short. The coalition, which includes the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institute on Child and Human Development, and the CDC, recommends that women who are pregnant eat 12 ounces or more of fatty fish each week.

Fatty fish, such as tuna, mackerel, and salmon, are high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids carry many health benefits, including helping women avoid post-partum depression. They are also essential to the development of healthy brains and motor functions in babies.

So, the recommendation seems to make perfect sense. But...

It conflicts with earlier advisories by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the EPA against pregnant women consuming fish. The advisories warned of excessive levels of mercury, a toxic substance, and advised that women who were pregnant or breast-feeding eat no more than 12 ounces of fish per week. Hmm...

What should you do?

Well, first, stay calm. Yes, it's tempting to simply through one's hands into the air, abandon all thoughts of eating healthy, and head down to the local burger joint for a double-cheeseburger, onion rings, and chocolate shake, but...

A more reasonable approach may be to select those fish high in omega-3s with the lowest probability of mercury contamination. Or, if you prefer to get your food in a bottle, select omega-3 supplements that are certified to be free of mercury contamination (and cadmium, lead, PCB's...).

So, whether you get your fish from the brook or from the bottle, choose and eat wisely. Then, get busy - you have baby names to pick...

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about the coalition, see this from National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies. To find levels of both mercury and omega-3s in your favorite fish, see this from the American Heart Association.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Panic Attacks Increase Heart Attack Risk

news you may not knowFeeling A Bit Anxious?

It's a sad irony. Older women who experience panic attacks now have an additional dreadful possibility to consider: heart attacks.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital followed over 3,000 women, ages 51 to 83, over a five-year period. Those who experienced a panic attack in the six months preceding the study had a 300% higher risk of heart attack or stroke - yikes!

Researchers postulate that the panic attacks may trigger blood clots, through increased platelet production, or may lead to spasms of the arteries feeding the heart. Either occurrence would serve to increase the risk of both heart attack and stroke.

"Our results imply, however, that older women with a recent history of panic attacks represent a subgroup at elevated risk of myocardial infarction and stroke in whom careful monitoring and cardiovascular risk reduction may be particularly important," said the study's authors.

What's a woman to do?

First, take action.

Proactively seek answers. The literature suggests that treatment for panic attacks and disorders is quite effective. Professional treatment may include medications or cognitive behavior therapy. Or, on a self-help level, relaxation techniques, exercise, or practices such as Qigong or Tai Chi may be helpful.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Each person has unique needs - let that be your strength. Explore the options available to you. If medications do the trick for you, terrific! If you're loath to let a synthetic agent ever pass your lips, consider the exercise, visualization or Qigong options.

Then, find others. Friends, family, online groups... Surround yourself with people who will support your quest for a panic-free, peaceful life. Resist the urge to retreat.

Finally, look to the future. Though it may be tough right now, you can do this. Start your journey toward peace today...

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about panic attacks, including symptoms, treatment options, and online support, see this from

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Mayo Discovery Repairs Myelin in Multiple Sclerosis

news you may not knowHmm - It's A Tough Call...

What's your pleasure - modern medicine or miracles? Yes, at times it seems to devolve into a debate of exclusionary realms. But, when brilliant researchers are touched by a bit of grace, we sometimes find that medicine and miracles go hand-in-hand.

Mayo Clinic announced today they have developed an antibody capable of repairing damaged myelin - in mice. Trials with human subjects will need to be conducted. Still, this is fantastic, potentially revolutionary, news.

The breakdown of the myelin sheath, an insulating nerve covering, is at the heart of multiple sclerosis and other central nervous system diseases. In a healthy body, repair of damaged myelin occurs spontaneously. But, in those with multiple sclerosis the body fails to repair the myelin, and the disease progresses unchecked.

The antibody Mayo developed was genetically engineered from a single cell. It functions by binding to the myelin and triggering a process of myelin repair and regeneration, called remyelination. The mice, engineered to mimic progressive multiple sclerosis in humans, were treated with a single dose of the antibody. The dose administered was quite small, the equivalent of 2mg in adults.

The use of an antibody to treat multiple sclerosis is especially exciting. The antibody occurs naturally in the immune system and, contrary to most medical interventions, has no known side effects. In fact, it's thought to be safe when administered at strengths up to 4,000 times the required dose. In a medically complex world of ever-greater concerns about side effects, that's simply stunning.

Does this settle the debate over medicine and miracles? Well, no - but, in light of such stellar news, it would seem all sides have sufficient reason to rejoice...

To read more about the study, see this from EurekAlert. To read more about multiple sclerosis, see this from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Smoking Ban Lowers Hospital Admissions

tidbits that tantalizeReally - This Is Bad For You?

Isn't it lovely to see science verify common sense?

We all know that smoking is bad for you. Bad for the heart, the lungs, the circulation, the breath... Even smokers know it's bad for them, and constantly lament their lack of ability to quit.

But, what if they really could muster up the nerve and snuff out the puff? Would it really make a difference?

Well, research out of New York says yes - it would make a huge difference. A measurable difference, at that.

The New York State Department of Health analyzed hospital admission data from 1995 through 2004. They were interested to see if the statewide smoking ban instituted in 2003 had shown a measurable effect - particularly in terms of admissions for heart attacks and strokes. The results are quite encouraging.

During 2004, the first full year of the comprehensive smoking ban, the researchers found there were 3,800 fewer hospital admissions for acute myocardial infarctions (heart attacks). This is fabulous news. No difference was found in the rate of admissions for stroke.

So, go ahead. Sit back, relax, and wait for the next science and common sense collaboration. A new study will soon show that quitting smoking improves energy, helps you breath better, and brightens the teeth - and, of course, does wonders for bad breath.

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To find resources to help you stop smoking, see this from

Friday, October 05, 2007

Pomegranate Protects Against Prostate Cancer

tidbits that tantalizeProstate Protection Produce?

218,000 - the number of American men who will be told they have prostate cancer this year.

27,000 - the number of American men who will die from prostate cancer this year.

It's estimated that over 2 million men are currently living with prostate cancer. In fact, men are 35% more likely to develop prostate cancer than women are to develop breast cancer. Sadly, the risk increases with age. Instead of enjoying the golden years, many men find themselves in a struggle to survive.

But, unlike some cancers, there is some quite positive news in the fight against prostate cancer. When detected in its early stages, before it has spread to other areas of the body, prostate cancer is extremely treatable. Close to 100% of men diagnosed at this early stage will be disease free after five years - that's a phenomenal record.

Now, researchers from California have added an additional weapon to the arsenal: pomegranate juice.

The research is especially important for men whose prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels are rising. The PSA is the standard marker by which the spread of prostate cancer is measured. Of particular interest is what's known as PSA "Doubling Time." This is the length of time it takes for the PSA level to double - an indication of the aggressive level of the cancer.

The recent study shows that pomegranate juice significantly slows the doubling time - from 15 to 54 months. This is fabulous news, especially for the elderly, who are at greatest risk for developing prostate cancer. In the elderly, management of prostate cancer is at times as important as eradication.

So, while you may have no idea what a pomegranate looks like, an ounce or two of this unusual fruit juice each day may do your body good. Rumor, and preliminary research, says it may also help lower cholesterol. Hmm... May be worth a pomegranate exploratory trip after all.

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To learn more about prostate cancer, including risk factors and treatment options, see this from the Prostate Cancer Foundation. To learn more about the odd pomegranate, see this from Pom Wonderful.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Should You See Your Doctor Every Year?

news you may not knowShould You?

OK, admit it. You either see your doctor every year, or you feel guilty about not doing so.Though no major U.S. group advocates the annual visits, they've somehow become part and parcel of our daily lives. Everyone knows it's true, and doesn't hesitate to remind you. Your mother you expect. But, when the mailman starts to chide you for missing your annual visit, you have a right to feel put-upon.

So, what about it? Is an annual visit just what the doctor ordered?

Well, maybe not...

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the RAND Corporation say the yearly treks may be unnecessary. And hugely expensive. The research looked at data from 2002-2004. They found about 63 million U.S. adults made annual routine visits, accounting for a total cost, in 2004, of $7.8 billion dollars. This compared with a cost of $8.1 spent on all breast cancer treatment during the same year.

The issue is not the need of obtaining routine diagnostic exams, such as pap smears and cholesterol screening. The question is the viability, and the necessity, of obtaining these screenings only at an annual physician's visit. The researchers question whether there is a more practical and cost-effective manner in which to receive routine tests.

Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, the study's lead author, says, "Most patients believe they should see a doctor every year for a physical in which the doctor will examine them from head to toe and order lots of tests. There are many doctors who disagree. Physicians need to reach greater consensus on what we should advise patients to do."

So, what should you do until they sort it all out? Hmm... Maybe you'd better schedule an appointment with your doctor to talk it all out - or, better yet, try leading a healthy, active life and you may find a simple wave at the grocery store is all the time you really need with your doc after all.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about leading a healthy lifestyle, see this from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Almost 90 Million Without Health Insurance in 2006-2007

news you may not knowWhy Can't He Come Along?

Will you vote for Hillary in next year's election? Or will it be Obama or Edwards? What about Rudy, Thompson, or McCain? Hmm... How will you decide?

Well - certainly one factor that will sway your thinking will be health care. Or, honestly, the lack of health care. Candidates on both sides of the aisle are scrambling to cobble together a comprehensive health care plan. That's good news for all of us.

A recent report from Families USA tells this sad tale: during 2006-2007, close to 90 million people under the age of 65 went without health insurance for some period of time. The U.S. Census Bureau reported last month that 47 million had no insurance for all of 2006, and Families USA extrapolated their figures based on this data.

89.6 million - 34.7% of those Americans under 65.

The survey found that many of those lacking insurance were employed. 79% were in families in which at least one person worked, and over 70% were themselves employed full-time.

It's no wonder this is a major issue in the upcoming election.

So, how will you decide for whom to cast your vote? Consider this: look around and take a head count. Include your family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. Then, cast your vote for them - or, at least, the one out of every three who will have no health insurance sometime in the next two years...

To read more about the survey, see this from Reuters. To learn more about the issue of health care insurance, see this from Families USA.