Monday, June 30, 2008

Radiation Therapy Fights Returned Prostate Cancer

news you may not knowThis is Good News...

Prostate cancer is tricky. Some tumors grow so slowly they may never require treatment. Others zip around at light speed, morphing into life-threatening agents that must be taken out - literally. But, what happens when the cancer returns? Many men face a second tough choice. Should they treat the returned cancer with radiation therapy - and risk the potential side effects - or, should they take a wait and see approach, relying on frequent monitoring to see if the cancer is spreading?

New research says to put your money on the radiation therapy.

Scientists from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine studied the medical records of over 600 men with prostate cancer. These men had two things in common: each had undergone a radical prostatectomy, in which the prostate and some surrounding tissue are removed, and each man's cancer had returned. The treatment choices the men made following the return of the cancer fell into three groups: about 400 men chose to receive no additional therapy; 160 men chose to receive radiation therapy; just under 80 men chose to receive both radiation therapy and hormonal treatment.

The results were impressive. Six years after the return of their cancers, the men who had undergone radiation therapy fared far better than men who opted for no treatment. Their chance of surviving ten years was 86 percent, compared to only 62 percent for the men forgoing treatment.

The men who benefited the most were the men whose cancer was the most aggressive. They were at the highest risk of the cancer spreading and the radiation therapy helped stop the spread and extend their lives. Men with lower risks may still benefit, but must also weight the potential side effects, including incontinence and bowel troubles.

So, though prostate cancer is never good news, this is certainly a bright spot. Now, even with the return of the cancer, men have a solid option to fight the disease and extend their lives. That's good news for everyone.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about prostate cancer, including treatment options, see this from the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Fake Blood Holds Promise

news you may not knowI'll Take a Large Regular...

In a scene reminiscent of choosing between regular and decaf, emergency medical personnel may soon choose between real and "fake" blood.

In this case, the "fake" blood is a blood substitute known as HBOC-201. It's manufactured by Biopure Corporation and is derived from bovine sources that are subjected to multiple purification procedures. HBOC-201 has a couple significant advantages over whole blood in emergency situations: it can be stores at room temperature for up to 3 years; and, it does not need to be matched to a patient's blood type, which can greatly reduce the time required to administer blood.

But, is it safe?

"The majority of patients who received the blood substitute did well," said Dr. Jonathan Jahr, study lead author and professor of clinical anesthesiology, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

The UCLA scientists studied close to 700 adults who were undergoing elective orthopedic surgeries. One group received the HBOC-201 substitute and the other group received whole blood transfusions. The results were... mixed.

For those patients over 80 years of age, the HBOC-201 appears to be a choice of last resort only. Numerous problems with cardiac and central nervous system issues occurred in the older group of patients. "For this specific older acute patient population, we suggest using a blood substitute only if blood is not available," said Dr. A. Gerson Greenburg, study author and vice president, medical affairs, Biopure Corporation.

There were also issues for the younger patients, but not as severe. These included skin discoloration, elevated blood pressure and increased levels of certain enzymes. "Although these temporary side effects didn't lead to any clinical problems in most patients, these should be studied in future trials," said Jahr.

Will blood substitute products become the norm in the future? Maybe - but, it does seem quite certain they'll play an important role, especially in emergency situations.

So, what's your choice - regular or HBOC-201?

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To read about the history of blood substitutes, see this from eMedicine.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sleep Apnea Steals Memory

tidbits that tantalizeThis Can't be Right...

You know how it goes. You have a bad night's sleep, tossing and turning, fretting about this-or-that, and the next day you're a wreck. You can't think, you can't work and your memory is shot. The good news is that you'll recover after a good night's rest. But, what if every night was a constant cycle of tossing and turning?

Well, that's exactly how it is for people with sleep apnea. They toss and turn all night, every night, as their airway closes and they fight for air. Sleep apnea occurs when the muscles of the throat and soft palate relax, and the tongue slides to the back of the throat, cutting off the airway. This causes the sleeper to awake, gasping for air, and can occur hundreds of times each night.

Sleep apnea is known to be associated with loud snoring outbursts at night and chronic daytime fatigue. But researchers now find it's also associated with memory loss - permanent memory loss.

"Our findings demonstrate that impaired breathing during sleep can lead to a serious brain injury that disrupts memory and thinking," said principal investigator Ronald Harper, a distinguished professor of neurobiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

The researchers point to structures within the brain known as mammillary bodies. Resembling small breasts, these structures are found on the underside of the brain. The scientists hypothesize these mammillary structures are damaged due to the lack of oxygen that occurs during sleep apnea.

"The findings are important because patients suffering memory loss from other syndromes, such as alcoholism or Alzheimer disease, also show shrunken mammillary bodies," said lead author Rajesh Kumar, a UCLA assistant researcher in neurobiology.

What's the bottom line? Sleep apnea is serious stuff - get treated right away. It will not only help with your memory, but it will let what's-her-name get a better night sleep.

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To learn more about dealing with sleep apnea, see this from the American Sleep Apnea Association.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dementia Patients Thrive on Light

news you may not knowSun: Good for Plants - Good for People...

It's a tough go. First to hit is the forgetfulness. Then, well - it's hard to remember exactly what comes next. But, in the end, many of the elderly find themselves whisked away from the comfortable surroundings of home and shuffled off to a strange new place. Once they settle into the new assisted living facility or nursing home, things often just get worse. Their memory problems accelerate, they become easily confused and, just weeks after having lived on their own, they're diagnosed with Alzheimer's or dementia.

It's a difficult progression - for the elderly patient and for the family. While there's no way, currently, to guarantee people can ward off the effects of age, there is hope they can be slowed. New research indicates that light has a powerful impact on elderly dementia patients.

Scientists from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, in Amsterdam, studied 189 residents, mostly women, living in group homes in the Netherlands. They assessed the impact of both light and melatonin on the elderly patients. Melatonin is a hormone produced by a small gland in the brain. It is found naturally in some foods, including meats, grains, fruits and vegetables, and is also available as a dietary supplement. Melatonin plays a key role in regulating circadian rhythms, the body's sleep and wake cycles.

The study showed that patients exposed to bright daytime light did much better than those who were not exposed. The light was both natural, from large windows, and artificial, from fluorescent lights. Those exposed to the light exhibited 5% less mental deterioration than those not exposed. Most significantly, they showed a 19% reduction in depressive symptoms, and a 53% slowing of their loss of ability to cope with daily life issues compared to the non-exposed.

The best result came for those treated with both light and melatonin. They were less aggressive, slept better and were less restless.

Life is not perfect. There is no turning back the hands of time. But, with a little extra knowledge about how the brain works, we can help those we love live a more peaceful life. So, go ahead - forget the energy crunch and turn up the lights...

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

Friday, June 20, 2008

Exercise Keeps The Old Young

news you may not knowYeah, It's Better Than Television...

Do you love television? Are you up on all the latest gossip form American Idol, the soaps and the nighttime dramas? Well, enjoy it all while you can. Chances are your body is on a downward slide while your mind gobbles up all the broadcast goodness.

It's never been much of a secret: exercise is good for you.

Researchers continue to prove we benefit from exercise, especially as we age. The latest study, from the Stanford University Department of Medicine, looked at 4 groups of people between 50 and 72 years of age. The groups were: normal-weight active, normal-weight inactive, overweight active and overweight inactive.

The scientists followed over 800 individuals for a period of thirteen years. They assessed their physical health and capabilities at the start of the study, and then on an annual basis thereafter.

The primary factor they considered was the level of activity. The results were not surprising. The physically active, regardless of weight, fared better in terms of physical capabilities. The team used a measurement of physical disability to compare the groups.

So, though the results are not surprising, the following distinctions are: the normal weight physically active participants averaged 303 minutes of exercise per week - the normal-weight inactive just 16 minutes. That's a difference of 287 minutes each week, almost 5 hours. The overweight groups showed a similar pattern: the active averaged 251 minutes of exercise each week, while the inactive averaged only 12 minutes. That difference is almost 4 hours.

What's the answer? Well, for starters, learn to love television a little bit less. Then, learn to love the outdoors a whole lot more. Exercise is not complicated. All it takes is one hand and two feet. Use the one hand to open the door - then use the two feet to walk on down the sidewalk.

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To learn how to begin walking on a regular basis, see this from the Mayo Clinic.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Red Wine Keeps The Heart Young

news you may not knowDoes a Heart Good...

Maybe it's the sheer enjoyment of relishing the wine glass in your hand. Softly twirling the deep red liquid around the sides of the glass, the rich scent of the wine wafting slowly upwards. Maybe it's the variety of varieties. Today a Shiraz, tomorrow a Merlot. What could be better?

Yes, there is much to be said for the simple enjoyment of red wine. But, there's also the science. And, in this case, the science continues to be very good.

New research indicates red wine may protect the heart form aging - wow. Scientists tested mice at what is their equivalent of middle age. They supplemented their diets with the compound resveratrol. This is the compound found in red wine that delivers the health benefits. By the way, resveratrol is also found in purple grape juice and provides the same benefits - except, of course, for the twirling and sniffing stuff.

The mice were followed through their old age and then tests were conducted to assess their cardiac function. The scientists found the mice supplemented with resveratrol showed reduced signs of aging, including aging of the heart. The results were quite similar to those of previous calorie restriction studies. Those studies showed life expectancy can be prolonged by significantly reducing caloric intake.

Let's see - a perpetual starvation diet or a glass of red wine each night? Hmm...

Yes, of course drug makers are eager to get in on the action. But, really - how do you capture the joy of the twirl and aroma in a teensy little pill?

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

Monday, June 16, 2008

Be Careful With Antibacterial Wipes

tidbits that tantalizeOne Type of Superbug...

This is how life is sometimes. You do your best, you follow all the recommendations and you're sure you're on the right track. Then, bam! A 200-mile-per-hour super train comes whizzing 'round the bend and takes dead aim. It's really not fair.

Well, that's just how it may seem to some hospital and nursing home workers these days. New research shows the steps they've been using to contain the spread of germs may not work. In fact, they make actually make matters worse.

British researchers studied the use of antibacterial wipes in health care settings. The theory is they kill germs on hospital equipment. But, the scientists found they don't kill all the germs, and they actually can help spread the surviving germs to other surfaces.

Of particular concern is the spread of the superbugs, like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). These bacteria are resistant to antibiotic treatment and especially prevalent in health care settings. It's one of the age-old dilemmas about receiving health care: the very place you must go to get well is the most likely place to receive a serious infection.

MRSA infections are serious. They typically begin on the skin, causing small boils, but quickly become large abscesses that may require surgical intervention. The infection may also spread to the rest of the body, affecting the bones, joints and vital organs.

The researchers say the antibacterial wipes can be used effectively - if they are used on a single surface and used only once.

"On the whole," said Dr Gareth Williams, a microbiologist at the Welsh School of Pharmacy, "wipes can be effective in removing, killing and preventing the transfer of pathogens such as MRSA but only if used in the right way. We found that the most effective way to prevent the risk of MRSA spread in hospital wards is to ensure the wipe is used only once on one surface."

One use - one surface - throw it away.

Follow those steps carefully and you'll have the track all to yourself.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read about one of the best methods of fighting the spread of germs - hand washing - see this from the Mayo Clinic.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Diabetes no Match for Mediterranean Diet

news you may not knowGo Ahead - Give Them a try...

There are powerful forces in life - diabetes is certainly one, with over 20 million people in the United States affected. But, there are other powerful forces about that don't really care much for the likes of diabetes. Forces like olive oil, fruits and vegetables. Yeah, the good stuff that comes straight out of the ground...

The advantages of the Mediterranean diet are already well known. It's a major player in protecting against cardiovascular disease, and it is especially helpful for people who've already experienced a heart attack. Now, new research out of Spain says the Mediterranean diet also protects against type 2 diabetes.

Researchers followed over 13,000 graduates of the University of Navarra over a several-year period. They initially filled out a highly detailed questionnaire about their dietary habits. Then, every two years, they again filled out a questionnaire to assess their eating habits, lifestyle choices, risk factors and medical conditions.

The people who followed the Mediterranean diet most closely were the big health winners. Overall, they showed an 83 percent lower risk of developing diabetes compared to those who did not follow the Mediterranean diet. That's a huge difference.

Interestingly, those who benefited the most were actually at a higher initial risk for diabetes. They were older, included more ex-smokers and had a higher rate of family history of diabetes. This makes the results all the more impressive - the Mediterranean diet may be the new star in diabetes prevention and treatment.

So, go ahead - try some fruits and veggies. Oh, and a healthy drizzling of olive oil...

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To read more about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, see this from the Mayo Clinic.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Breast-Fed Baby Girls Reap Biggest Benefit

tidbits that tantalizeWhere's The Milk?

Medicine often seems to ignore issues of gender equality. It appears that male and female human bodies really are different and, as one might suspect, they have both unique challenges and unique strengths. So, forget the one-size-fits-all and "what's good for the goose is good for the gander" theory of medicine. Today it's the women who come out on top.

Research from Johns Hopkins University shows that pre-term females fare better when breast-fed than do their male counterparts. The researchers were especially interested in assessing the effect of breastfeeding on respiratory infections. Severely underweight newborns are particularly susceptible to respiratory infections, like bronchiolitis.

They studied 119 infants who weighed less than 3.3 pounds at birth. Those female babies who were breast-fed did far better than female babies who were bottle-fed. 50 percent of the bottle-fed girls required hospitalization after their first respiratory infection. But, only 7 percent of the breast-fed gals also required hospitalization after they experienced a respiratory infection.

What about the boys? Well, breast-feeding made no difference. 19 percent of the guys, both bottle and breast-fed, required hospitalization after they experienced a respiratory infection. Yes, it was their first lesson in the life-is-not-fair philosophy.

So, add another major advantage to breast-feeding babies - for the girls, that is.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about breastfeeding, see this from

Monday, June 09, 2008

Telemedicine Rehab Helps COPD Patients

news you may not knowYeah - Good Choice...

It makes sense, despite its irony. Years of sitting in front of the television may finally pay off. It seems the expertise we've developed in paying attention to every twist and turn of plot might actually help us learn to twist and turn our own bodies. Maybe even work up a bit of a sweat. That's a good thing - especially if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

COPD is a chronic lung disease in which the lungs are partly obstructed, making it hard to breathe. The most common cause of COPD is, no surprise, cigarette smoking. Other possible causes include exposure to dust and chemicals, or to pollution for an extended period.

This is serious stuff. The World Health Organization estimated 2.74 million people died of COPD worldwide in 2000. In the United States, there are about 16 million people diagnosed with COPD, and possibly as many as 14 million more undiagnosed.

Canadians have come up with a unique approach to treating COPD patients in rural areas. Yes, they're using television - telemedicine, actually. Respiratory therapists specialize in treating conditions of the lungs. But, there simply aren't enough to go around. So, in the same way American Idol reaches millions of viewers, a new program allows therapists to treat patients over the airwaves.

The Telehealth Pulmonary Rehabilitation program treats patients who are unable to visit a clinic for personal therapy sessions. Patients in remote areas go to a local community center twice each week. They receive their therapy and exercise instruction by certified respiratory therapists over the television. The directors of the program say this gives the patients the confidence to participate without fear of overdoing things.

An assessment of the program showed the remote therapy to be every bit as effective as in-person therapy. After 8 weeks of telemedicine therapy, the patients could walk greater distances in a 12-minute period, and their quality of life was improved. Score one for television.

This is good news. But, even better news will be never having the need for this type therapy. So, ditch the television now and get outside. Breathe the fresh air, take a walk and thank your lucky stars - you're on your way to a telemedicine-free future...

To read more about the program and study, see this form Reuters. To learn more about COPD, including tips on prevention, see this from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Diet, Exercise and Diabetes

news you may not knowSorry - It's a Bit More Serious...

If you're here looking for a quick fix-well, there are some Band-Aids on sale back on aisle seven. They'll help for a little scratch, a minor cut, or even a shaving mishap. But, if the issue you're dealing with is diabetes, you'll need to step over to the this-is-really-serious line; your life could depend on it.

Chinese researchers report that diet and exercise changes can significantly delay, or even prevent, the onset of type 2 diabetes. This is the most common type of diabetes, affecting over 200 million adults worldwide. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease often evident from an early age, but type 2 diabetes is more closely tied to lifestyle.

The Chinese researchers followed over 500 adults for a 20-year period. They were divided into 4 groups: a control group, whose members simply lived as they desired, a group whose members ate a better diet, a group whose members exercised more and a group whose members both ate better and exercised more.

The results are not surprising.

Those who ate better and exercised more had a reduced risk of developing diabetes - their risk was 43% less over the 20-year period. That's huge.

Diabetes is not a Band-Aid fixable disease. It leads to multiple serious medical complications, including liver and kidney damage, heart disease, stroke, and circulatory problems, which may result in limb amputation. The numbers are quite staggering. Currently, there are almost 250 million adults with diabetes, and about 3 million diabetes-related deaths each year. It's estimated the number of adults with diabetes will grow to 380 million by 2025, as more countries experience economic growth and adopt unhealthy lifestyles.

So, forget the Band-Aids. This calls for real-but simple-lifestyle changes. Reduce the amount of alcohol you drink, eat a diet filled with fruits and vegetables, and do some exercise. Your body will thank you.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about diabetes, including finding guidelines on prevention, see this from the International Diabetes Federation.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Is Hormone Replacement Therapy Risky?

news you may not knowMaybe My Own Reality is Best...

Let's consider the timeline.

In 2002 a medical research team issued a report saying hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increased the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, as well as strokes. Not to be outdone, a second group of researchers announced this month they believe the first study was flawed, and that HRT is quite safe for treatment of early menopause for women 50 to 59. Not wanting to leave any stone of confusion unturned, a third group of scientists, a few days after the second group, said that HRT is indeed dangerous; they claim it significantly increases the risk of blood clots.

If you're not confused by now, it's likely you have little grasp on reality.

French researchers conducted the latest study and reported the results in the British Medical Journal. The researchers completed a review of 17 previous studies, known as a meta-analysis, on HRT.

Their findings indicate the risk of blood clots increases for women on HRT. This is especially true during the first year of treatment. How serious is it? The scientists found the risk of blood clots was 2 to 3 times greater. That's a big difference.

Now, let's add a bit more confusion.

Other experts, commenting on the latest findings, say the risk is still too small to cause real concern. Even at 2 to 3 times the increased risk, they say the overall risk is so slight it should not prevent women from using hormone replacement therapy.

Now, for a possible touch of clarity. The French researchers also found that women receiving HRT through a patch, instead of orally, did not show the same increased risk. They hypothesize this may be due to the manner in which the hormone is metabolized. When taken orally, the liver is responsible for processing the therapy, and this may increase the clotting risk. When delivered by a patch, the HRT bypasses the liver.

So, if you're still not totally confused-congratulations. You have an unshakable grasp on your own alternate reality.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read about complimentary and alternative treatments for menopause, see this from WebMD.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Hot Chilies Cool Pain

tidbits that tantalizeSurprisingly Soothing...

Do you love spicy food? Terrific - you may be well on your way to a pain free existence. OK, so that's a bit of an overstatement. But, hot chili peppers may indeed play a major role in reducing common pain.

A Harvard Medical School professor, Clifford Wolfe, has discovered a tantalizing new use for capsaicin. This is the pesky little component in chili peppers that produces the heat. The greater the capsaicin content, the greater the heat. Now, though, professor Wolfe has found a terribly practical use for the heat blasting capsaicin. Used in combination with a form of lidocaine it makes a fabulous pain killer.

The major advantage of the new anesthetic is its ability to block pain without the common side effects of numbness and temporary paralysis. Think of it. You could have that cavity filled - without the pain - and not make a total fool of yourself ten minutes later by dribbling soda down your chin. Of course, you wouldn't have that "give me some sympathy, I just came from the dentist" lisp, but you'd survive.

The key is in their combination. The capsaicin opens up the pain receptors and allows the lidocaine to block the pain from within the pain receptors themselves. Other common anesthetics block all the neurons in the area, including sense of touch and muscles. It's a bit of scientific trickery that holds great promise.

"This is the first example of using the body's own cellular channels as a drug delivery system, targeting treatment only at pain fibers," said professor Wolfe.

So, keep those fingers crossed. You may soon have a spicy new pain relief option available. No word yet as to the potential for delivering the new pain medication on a deep dish pizza...

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To read about other health benefits of capsaicin, see this from