Friday, August 29, 2008

MSG Adds Both Flavor and Pounds

tidbits that tantalizeFriend or Foe?

Did you watch the Olympics?

Whether you watched the games or not, chances are you've indulged recently in an age-old American tradition: Chinese food. Who can resist the savory blend of spices, rich tastes, and tantalizing blends of sweet and sour? But, is it really healthy for you?

That depends. There are debates about the true health status of Chinese food - especially food flavored with monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG is a flavor enhancer used extensively in Chinese cuisine. Though it's now easier to order dishes without MSG, it's still a pervasive additive.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health teamed up with counterparts in China to study the impact of MSG. They were particularly interested in MSG's effect on weight. And, of course, what better place is there to study MSG than rural China?

The scientists studied 750 Chinese men and women between 40 and 59. The rural setting was selected to minimize the introduction of processed foods containing MSG, which would complicate measurement. The participants were divided into 3 groups, depending on the amount of MSG they added to their food. In all, over 80 percent of the participants used MSG on a regular basis.

The participants using the most MSG were three times more likely to be overweight than those who used no MSG. "Ours is the first study to show a link between MSG use and weight in humans," said Ka He, M.D., assistant professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the UNC School of Public Health. "We found that prevalence of overweight was significantly higher in MSG users than in non-users."

Let the controversy continue…

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other health organizations around the world have concluded that MSG is safe," He said, "but the question remains - is it healthy?"

So, if you're still hungry for Chinese, consider going the MSG-free route. What you'll sacrifice in flavor you'll save in pounds.

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To explore a world of healthy, natural foods, see this from The World's Healthiest Foods.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Lower Doses of Daily Aspirin Safer

news you may not knowBe Careful Out There...

How much is enough?

Well, that depends on the commodity that is being measured. If the item in question is a double-crust pepperoni pizza with extra cheese and bacon bits, the answer may be "Seven large and three medium." But, when the question revolves around aspirin things get just a tad touchier.

Aspirin is what drives the American culture in terms of cardiovascular treatment and prevention. Over 50 million adults in the United States take aspirin to protect their cardiovascular health. That adds up to between 10 and 20 billion aspirin tablets every year. Aspirin acts as an anti-clotting agent and helps protect against heart attacks and strokes. This is critical in the United States due to the aforementioned double-crust pepperoni pizzas with extra cheese and bacon bits.

But, back to the original question: How much is enough?

The standard recommended dosage for adults has been 325mg of aspirin for daily preventive use. But a new analysis from the University of Kentucky's Gill Heart Institute casts doubt on that standard. The researchers point to the fact that aspirin also has its downside. Though it's effective as an anti-clotting agent, it is also responsible for increased susceptibility to gastrointestinal bleeding. The scientists say the standard dose, which they believe is too high, results in close to 250,000 hospitalizations each year due to complications from gastrointestinal bleeding.

What's the solution?

Baby aspirin. The scientists say their analysis showed no data supporting the higher doses of daily aspirin. Instead, they recommend patients utilizing daily aspirin therapy should use baby aspirin, with doses of 75-81mg.

Of course, if Americans ate fewer double-decker fast food entrées in the first place...

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To lean more about the pros and cons of daily aspirin therapy, see this from the Mayo Clinic.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Recurrence Unlikely for Five-Year Breast Cancer Survivors

news you may not knowIt's Better Than I Thought...

A cancer diagnosis is often the first step into a world of uncertainty. And, of course, the most significant questions swirl around survival. But, until now, doctors have had little ability to give reasonable answers to the survival questions of cancer patients.

A new study sheds light on the issue for five-year breast cancer survivors.

As reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers at M.D. Anderson tracked women treated at their facility between 1985 and 2001. The study followed over 2,800 women who were cancer free at the five-year mark. These women had undergone surgery and radiation to remove the tumor, and then received follow-up treatment with either chemotherapy or hormone therapy, or the two in combination.

The researchers were pleasantly surprised with the results. Women with stage I breast cancer had a post five-year recurrence rate of 7 percent. Those women with stage II breast cancer had a post five-year recurrence rate of 11 percent, and women with stage III breast cancer had a rate of 13 percent.

Prior to this study doctors had no substantive data upon which to answer the question of recurrence rates. Now they believe they can provide women with accurate feedback. They also believe the recurrence rates are much lower than most women had previously suspected.

The study did not assess the most recent cancer treatments, including aromatase inhibitors and Genentech's Herceptin.

So, this is good news for breast cancer survivors. It appears your odds of beating the odds are looking up.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about all aspects of breast cancer, see this from

Friday, August 22, 2008

Heart Disease Starts in Childhood

news you may not know Get Healthy When You're Young...

Childhood is supposed to be a time of great joy and discovery. After all, there are rain puddles to be plunged into, butterflies to be awed by, and wild animals to be etched in the clouds. But, as our society becomes more entrenched in consumerism, childhood is becoming an increasingly risky endeavor. Obesity and diabetes are at record highs and show no signs of lessening. Now scientists tell us there is an additional health issue for kids to worry about: heart disease.

Do we really need to worry about heart disease in seven-year-olds? Apparently so. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine say heart disease begins to form in our formative years. They completed a review of medical literature, focusing on the role of high cholesterol in relation to heat disease.

"Our review of the literature convinces us that more aggressive and earlier intervention will probably prevent considerably more than 30% of coronary heart disease," said Daniel Steinberg, M.D. "Studies show that fatty streak lesions in the arteries that are a precursor to atherosclerosis and heart disease begin in childhood, and advanced lesions are not uncommon by age 30. Why not nip things in the bud?"

Steinberg and his team are quick to point out that statins are not the answer. Statins are the mainline drugs prescribed to help lower cholesterol. And, though they are largely effective, they note that a high percentage of patients on statins still have cardiac events.

So, what's the key to helping kids lower their cholesterol? According to the researchers, "...our long-term goal should be to alter our lifestyle accordingly, beginning in infancy or early childhood." They recommend people adopt a "TLC" program - "therapeutic lifestyle changes," including eating a healthier diet and getting regular exercise.

Wow - scientists who prefer positive lifestyle changes to a pill? Now we're getting somewhere.

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To find great resources to help your child lead a healthy life, see this from KidsHealth.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

One Puff May Lead to Cigarette Addiction

tidbits that tantalizeSome Become Addicted Quickly...

How long does it take to develop an addiction? Well, that depends. Some people indulge in smoking and drinking heavily, but then quit on a whim, apparently unaffected by their deadly grasp. Others take a single drink, or a single puff, and launch a lifelong addiction.

Scientists now believe they know why some people become instant addicts and others don't. Researchers at the University of Western Ontario point to a specific region in the brain responsible for controlling our sense of reward. Individual differences within this region appear to be responsible for one's tendency to become addicted.

"Nicotine interacts with a variety of neurochemical pathways within the brain to produce its rewarding and addictive effects," explains Dr. Steven Laviolette. "However, during the early phase of tobacco exposure, many individuals find nicotine highly unpleasant and aversive, whereas others may become rapidly dependent on nicotine and find it highly rewarding. We wanted to explore that difference."

Dr. Laviolette and his team were able to turn on and off the rewarding effect of nicotine in laboratory rats. Even though the rats had the equivalent of a pack-a-day addiction, by blocking certain receptors in the brain, the pleasant impact of nicotine disappeared. They were also able to lessen some of the withdrawal symptoms for the addicted rats.

Laviolette is hopeful further research will help them develop treatments for nicotine addiction in humans.

In the meantime, consider this: Are you a non-addict type, or are you a one-puff-equals-lifetime-addiction-type? And, since there's no way to know, is it really worth the risk to find out?

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about the benefits of regular exercise, see this from the Mayo Clinic.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Smoking Ban is Good for the Heart

news you may not knowYeah - It's Good for Everyone...

Some decisions are personal. Others are played out on a community-wide scale. But, what happens when personal decisions impact others in the community? Ah - that's where the conflict begins.

The rights of smokers to fill their lungs with toxic smoke has always been a given. What has often been in dispute is the right of non-smokers to place limits on the locales in which smokers may exhale. There really hasn't been any argument about where smokers can inhale - that's the private part of the matter. But, when they exhale, it quickly becomes a community affair.

Scotland instituted a ban on smoking in public places in 2006. Fighting and fuming aside, there is a great deal to be learned from their experience. Since the ban went into effect heart attacks have fallen by 17 percent. And, most tellingly, it's the non-smokers who have shown the most significant reduction in heart attacks.

Researchers believe the reduction in exposure to second-hand smoke is the key. "The primary aim of smoking bans is to protect non-smokers from the effects of passive smoking," said Dr. Jill Pell of the University of Glasgow. "Previous studies have not been able to confirm whether or not that has been achieved."

The before and after figures are impressive. Prior to the smoking ban the rate of heart attacks had dropped by 4 percent in Scotland. Following the ban, the rates dropped by 14 percent for smokers, 19 percent for former smokers, and a stunning 21 percent for non-smokers. "This confirms that the legislation has been effective in helping non-smokers," said Pell.

Private habits and public policy? Sometimes their overlap is a breath of fresh air.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To find help to quit smoking, see this from

Friday, August 15, 2008

Men Eventually Happier Than Women

tidbits that tantalizeI Was Happy Once...

If you're itching for a gender-based fight you've come to the right spot. So, here's the deal. Women, get ready to be righteously indignant. Men, well - go get your protective armor.

Researchers Anke Plagnol, of the University of Cambridge, and Richard Easterlin, of the University of Southern California, say men and women take distinctly different paths during their lives when it comes to happiness. Women come out of the gate strong and are more likely to be happy early in life. The early adulthood years, especially vexing for men, are a time of relative tranquility for women.

But, things change.

As the years tick past certain milestones herald a changing of the happiness guard. Men experience their most unhappy days in their twenties. During this period men are more likely to be single, and to be dissatisfied with their financial situation. (An interesting side note: the study also found a surprising 90 percent of both sexes want to have a happy marriage - that, of course, is a fight for another day) So, the twenties is a time when women shine.

But, consider these not so cheery milestones:

Age 34: Men are more likely than women to be married.

Age 41: Men are now more satisfied with their financial situations than are women.

Age 48: Men are now happier overall than women.

Age 64: Men are (wow) more satisfied with their family life than are women.

So, it's a bit of a delicate path. The researchers believe the pattern reflects men's greater opportunities to achieve their financial goals.

Not riled up enough yet for a good fight?

OK, one additional bit of trivia from the study should do the trick. The scientists found that men crave big-ticket items, like cars, boats, and vacation homes. Women, on the other hand, crave more nice clothes. Let the fighting commence...

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To learn more about the things that really matter in life, see this from The Last Lecture professor, Randy Pausch.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Prescription for Better Physician Communication

tidbits that tantalizeIt's a Good Start...

Wouldn't it be really nice if you didn't actually have to talk to the doctor during an office visit? Maybe a medical interpreter of some type could accompany the doctor into the exam room and translate. This would help the doctors, who often don't understand simple everyday language. It would also help the patients, who often don't understand complex phrases like, "Stop eating double cheeseburgers."

A recent study from the University of Washington and the University of Rochester sheds light on the difficult area of a physician's communication skills. Too much talk is counterproductive, wasting valuable time. Too little talk leaves the patient cold, feeling like their doctor doesn't really understand their concerns.

It's a tough chore for physicians who see tens of thousands of patients in a lifetime, hear between 3 and 6 concerns during each office visit, and have to look over their shoulders to meet efficiency guidelines from their HMOs. But, there is some new help available.

The study's authors developed a set of communication guidelines to help physicians be both efficient and effective. Among the recommendations are:

-Focus on the main purpose of the visit. The researchers recommend the doctor gather all the issues up front, making a list, rather than dealing with each as it's brought up. This allows the doctor to address the most critical issues first.

-Establish rapport with the patient. No more heads down, mumbling, thumbing through the chart routine. Instead, there's actual eye contact and a warm greeting. A very small time investment that yields positive benefits.

So, while going to the doctor is never great fun, it can at least be more productive - for both patient and doctor.

To read more about this study, see this from the University of Washington. To learn more about preparing yourself for a doctor's visit, including samples of questions to ask, see this from ButYouDon'

Monday, August 11, 2008

Americans Headed for HEAVY Trouble

news you may not knowAmericans Cast a Huge Shadow...

Take a look around - at people. What do you see? How many appear trim and fit? Or, how many take up so much of your visual field you have to step back to get a look at the full image? Well, get used to it. Americans, already eating themselves to record weights, are setting their sights on an even more precarious future.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health recently completed an analysis of 30 years of public health data. Considering the bleakness of the past data, it's surprising they had the courage to make future projections. They found that overweight and obesity rates had climbed steadily for the past three decades.

The future projections are even worse.

"If these trends continue, more than 86 percent of adults will be overweight or obese by 2030, said Youfa Wang, MD, PhD, lead author of the study and associate professor with the Bloomberg School's Center for Human Nutrition.

86 percent...

The scientists note that obesity places individuals at risk for multiple health ailments, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and stroke. Other recent studies have pointed to an explosion in the rates of children with high cholesterol. The impact not only takes an enormous toll on our physical health, but our fiscal health as well.

"The health care costs attributable to obesity and overweight are expected to more than double every decade. This would account for 15 to 17 percent of total health care costs spent," Wang says. "Due to the assumptions we made and the limitations of the available data, these figures are likely an underestimation of the true financial impact."

So, take another look around. But this time put down the fork, open the door, and look around down the block. When you're done there, check out the next block, then the next. It's not a cure-all, but it's a step in the right direction.

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To calculate your body mass index (BMI) to see if your weight is in the normal range, see this from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Olympic Pollution Raises Heart Attack Risk

tidbits that tantalizeSimply Breathtaking...

What does it mean when Chinese officials say the pollution in Beijing during the Olympics will be mild? It probably depends on who you are. If you are a resident of Beijing you may have reason to believe it. The steps the Chinese officials are taking, like restricting car traffic, may actually reduce the pollution to a level that allows more breathing and less wheezing. But, if you're a traveler to the fair Olympic city, you may feel like you landed in Los Angeles on the worst smog day in a decade.

Let the wheezing begin.

Researchers at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine warn of potential serious health complications for those traveling to Beijing. The level of pollution is far higher than travelers from the United States and other developed nations are accustomed to. As a result, the added strain can put certain individuals at an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Previous studies have shown that as microscopic air pollution particles invade the lungs they cause the blood to become thicker and stickier. This raises the risk of heart attacks and strokes within the 24-hour period following exposure. Those especially at risk include individuals with cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and those who smoke.

Getting safely out of Beijing doesn't settle the issue. The long plane ride home may be your most vulnerable point. "If you spend a few weeks in Beijing, your blood might become thicker and sticky and then when you fly 12 hours back to the U.S. that further increases your risk. If clots migrate into the lungs and cause pulmonary embolism, that can kill you," warned Gokhan Mutlu, MD, an assistant professor of medicine.

The researchers recommend that men over the age of forty take daily aspirin to prevent their blood from becoming too thick. They also suggest staying indoors during peak traffic times, and exercising your legs frequently during the flight home.

The only pollution hazard for those watching the Olympics on television appears to be a slight green tinge.

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To read more about the Summer Olympics, see this from The Official Website of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Scented Household Products Contain Hidden Toxins

news you may not knowDoesn't Smell Like Ocean Breeze to Me...

As they say, we've come a long way. But, that begs the question of whether the journey has actually taken us to a better place. Are we better off than our ancestors who relied on simple things like open windows to freshen the air? Is infusing our air with a Hawaiian ocean breeze scent from a wall socket really the way to go?

Researchers say no.

A new study from the University of Washington confirms what common sense should have told us long ago. All the scented laundry products and air fresheners are hazardous to our health. Since they can't capture the actual Hawaiian ocean breeze, they do the next "best" thing: they fake it with chemicals. Toxic chemicals.

The research team analyzed six laundry and air freshener products they picked up at the local grocer. They selected the best selling product in each category, then headed back to the lab. Each product was opened and left in an isolated area at room temperature. They then collected air samples and tested them for what are known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). VOCs are evaporated as small molecules from the surface of the products.

"Nearly 100 volatile organic compounds were emitted from these six products, and none were listed on any product label," said Anne Steinemann, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering and public affairs. "Plus, five of the six products emitted one or more carcinogenic 'hazardous air pollutants,' which are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to have no safe exposure level."

Sometimes the old ways really are the best ways.

To read more about this study, see this from ScienceDaily. To read more about the benefits of fresh air, see this from Prevention.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Safest Stent Access Seldom Used

news you may not know
This May Take A While ...

Change takes time. Just look at the hold fossil fuel has on the global energy industry. Or the hold the television remote has on the lives of those whose hands hold them. Or, well, lots of things. But, when it comes to medical treatments, we expect things to be different. We see medicine advancing at break neck speed, uncovering new treatments and procedures on a daily basis. But, just because a new and better treatment is developed, doesn't mean it's going to be used. Why?

Change takes time.

Dr. Sunil Rao, a cardiologist at Duke University Medical Center, recently reported on a little-used stenting procedure. Stents are another time related necessity, becoming necessary after spending our time in front of the television, eating fast food, and generally neglecting our physical health. When we then develop atherosclerosis, stents are used to prop open our clogged arteries.

Stenting is, unfortunately, a very common medical procedure. Dr. Rao points to an alternative method of gaining access that is safer, but seldom used. The vast majority of stenting procedures use an artery in the leg to gain access. But, using the wrist to gain access appears to be safer.

Dr. Rao and his team reviewed the data from close to 600,000 stenting procedures, at over 600 hospitals, for the period of 2004 to 2007. They found that only 1.3 percent of the cases performed used the wrist to gain access. And, of this 1.3 percent, the majority of the cases were performed at only 7 medical centers.

The primary advantage of using the arm is a lower rate of complications due to bleeding. Dr. Rao indicates using the arm to gain stenting access reduces bleeding problems by 70 percent. Currently, bleeding complications occur in about 10 percent of stenting cases.

So, if the arm stenting procedure is safer, why don't all doctors use it? Well...

Change takes time.

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To read more about coronary angioplasty and stenting, see this from the Mayo Clinic.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Hospitals: The Best of the Best

news you may not knowYeah, They're Good...

5,453 hospitals, 16 specialties.

170 made the cut. Only 19 made the Honor Roll.

Each year U.S. News & World Report provides a terrific service by completing a thorough assessment of our nation's hospitals. This year they assessed over 5,400 facilities. Their analysis included an assessment of 16 specialties, including cancer, heart and heart surgery, neurology and neurosurgery, psychiatry, and geriatric care.

The top fifty hospitals are ranked within each of the 16 specialties. Beyond the specialty rankings, a broader ranking allowed 19 hospitals to be included in this year's Honor Roll. To qualify a hospital had to receive high rankings in 6 or more of the specialty categories.

Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Mayo Clinic are this year's top 2 hospitals.

To view the full rankings, see this from U.S. News & World Report.