Archive for December, 2009

Cell Phones and Brain Cancer: No Link

December 31st, 2009 | No Comments | Source: J. National Cancer Institute, MedPageToday

In the 15 years since cell phones first appeared on the scene, they have spread with astonishing speed and revolutionized communications on a global scale. But right around the time the Motorola Flip-phone was the rage, reports surfaced that cell phone use might be associated with brain cancer.

Since then, the majority of research on the subject has refuted this claim, as has the most recent publication on the matter by Isabelle Deltour of the Danish Cancer Society in Copenhagen, and her colleagues.

nofearDeltour’s group looked at registry data from 4 Scandinavian countries between 1974 an 2003, a period encompassing the birth and growth of the technology.

They found that the incidence of the 2 major forms of brain cancer either remained stable, decreased, or continued the same slow rise that had been observed in the pre-cell phone era.

These findings are “consistent with mobile phone use having no observable effect on brain tumor incidence in this period,” they wrote in the Dec. 16 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The registry contained 59,984 glioma and meningioma cases had been diagnosed in people between the ages of 20 and 79 during the study period.

The incidence of glioma increased in men by 0.5% annually and in women by 0.2% annually during the study.

The incidence of meningioma increased 0.8% per year in men, on average.  In women, the incidence of meningioma rose by 2.9% per year from 1974 to 1987 (when cell phones began hitting the market), then dropped by 2.1% per year between 1987 and 1991, and then began rising again at a rate of 3.8%.

Most of that recent increase in meningioma incidence occurred in women who were at least 60 years old when they were diagnosed–an age group not likely to have been heavy cell-phone users back then.

The scientists could not exclude the possibility that very heavy cell-phone use could pose risks, or that a positive association may be present for very rare brain tumors.



Obesity, Cigarette Cessation and Life Expectancy

December 30th, 2009 | No Comments | Source: LA Times

In the last 3 decades, Americans have reaped enormous health benefits by smoking less, but have lost ground due to weight gain and obesity, and their negative impacts on health. Ever wonder how these competing trends interact with each other?

Average18yearoldSusan Stewart of Harvard University and colleagues tried to answer this question by forecasting life expectancy for a nationally representative 18-year-old assuming that recent trends in smoking and weight gain continued for the next decade or so.

The scientists estimated cigarette smoking trends over the last 30 years using data from the National Health Interview Survey, and BMI data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

It turned out that the negative effects of increasing body mass index swamped the positive effects of cigarette smoking declines.

Specifically, continued declines in cigarette smoking would increase the life expectancy of an 18-year-old by 0.31 year by the year 2020. However, continued escalations in BMI would cut life expectancy by 1.02 years over the same period of time, with an overall net loss in life expectancy 0.71 years.

The scientists did mention that other factors such as better nutrition and education are likely to generate a very modest increase in life expectancy despite the impact of obesity, at least through 2020.

But at some point, the authors concluded, a failure to address continued increases in obesity could erode the steady gains made in health over the last century.

It’s “a bit of a wake-up call,” senior author Allison Rosen told the Los Angeles Times. “We have attributed so many of our health problems to smoking, and we’re getting health improvements from declines in smoking. But changes in the rates of obesity are starting to outweigh the declines in smoking.”

The write-up appears in the New England Journal of Medicine.



Sebelius: US to Redesign Health-Threat Response

December 29th, 2009 | No Comments | Source: Washington Post

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced last week that she had ordered a complete review of the Feds’ ability to respond to emerging public health threats, bioterrorism and the like.

sebeliusThe news was prompted by the uneven performance of the government’s  swine flu vaccination program, which began delivering serious quantities of the jab right around the time the second wave of the outbreak began to subside.

“We’ll look for new technologies that will let us quickly produce countermeasures that are more dependable and more robust,” Sebelius told the AMA’s Third National Congress on Health System Readiness.

“Not just for flu and infectious diseases, but for all the public health threats we face.”

“Today, we face a wider range of public health threats than ever before in our history,” Sebelius told the crowd. “It could be anthrax delivered in an envelope. It could be a dirty bomb in a subway car. It could be a new strain of flu.”

“The countermeasure that saves the day during a quick-hitting public health emergency can take years to discover, develop, manufacture and distribute,” Sebelius continued. “We’ve often failed to make the kind of long-term investments in countermeasures that we need to stay safe.”

oldschoolReferring to the H1N1 vaccine, which was produced far more slowly than officials predicted, Sebelius said “we were fighting (it) with vaccine technology from the 1950s…there was nothing we could do if vaccine grew slowly in eggs.

We could make deals with foreign vaccine producers ahead of time, but we (then) wouldn’t have as much control as if they were based in the US.”

Sebelius did point to some progress in this regard. She mentioned a new facility in Holly Springs, N.C. that can produce flu vaccine from cells in lieu of eggs, for example. That facility is being run by Novartis, which received nearly $400 million in seed funding from the Feds.



Gender Disparities in Partner Abandonment following Life-Threatening Diagnoses

December 28th, 2009 | No Comments | Source: Cancer, Newswise

This post first appeared on

Women that have been diagnosed with cancer or multiple sclerosis are 6 times more likely to be separated or divorced than their male counterparts, according to a study in Cancer.

To reach this conclusion, Marc Chamberlain and colleagues enrolled 515 patients at 3 medical centers beginning in 2001, and followed them for 5 years.

thatsonofabitchDuring the study period, 11.6% of the patients either divorced or separated, a rate similar to that found in the general population.

However, the rate was 20.8% when the woman was the patient and just 2.9% when the patient was male.

The scientists also detected correlations between age and length of marriage, and the risk of divorce or separation. Older woman, it turned out, were more likely to experience a break-up, although longer marriages tended to remain intact.

Regardless of gender, divorced or separated patients were found to have an increased reliance on antidepressants, less frequent participation in clinical trials, more frequent hospitalizations, and failure to complete radiation therapy.

“Female gender was the strongest predictor of separation or divorce in each of the patient groups we studied,” Chamberlain–a professor of neurology and neurosurgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine–told Newswise.

The authors speculated that men were more likely to leave a sick spouse because they were less willing or able to commit to being a caregiver, while women were more able to assume the task of maintaining home and family.

“We recommend that providers be sensitive to early suggestions of marital discord in couples affected by a serious medical illness, especially when the woman is the affected spouse and it occurs early in the marriage. Early identification and psychosocial intervention might reduce the frequency of divorce and separation, and improve quality of life and quality of care,” concluded the authors.



DTC Advertising and Drug Costs

December 24th, 2009 | No Comments | Source: Archives Int. Medicine, BurrillReport

Most people have assumed that direct-to-consumer advertising has helped drive up the cost of drugs, but there really hadn’t been much proof of that. Until now, that is.

mediasensationThe proof comes in the form of a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

In the study, Michael Law of the University of British Columbia and others looked at US sales of Plavix, the $4 billion clot-busting blockbuster co-marketed by BMS and Sanofi-Aventis for the prevention of recurrent heart attacks and strokes, and thrombotic complications following stent placement.

Plavix was introduced to the US market in 1998. DTC advertising for the drug began 3 years later, and exceeded $350 million dollars over the next 4 years.

Law’s group queried pharmacy data from 27 Medicaid programs from 1999 through 2005 to analyze changes in Plavix prescription volume, the cost per unit dispensed, and total pharmacy expenditures before and after DTC advertising was introduced.

gettingbettereverydayThe scientists detected no change in the preexisting trend in the number of Plavix prescriptions written after DTC advertising was introduced.

They did, however, detect a sudden, sustained increase in cost per unit of the drug, of $0.40 per unit dispensed which coincided with the introduction of DTC advertising.

This resulted in an incremental cost of $40.58 per 1000 Medicaid enrollees per quarter, or an additional $207 million in total pharmacy expenditures.

“The key issue is whether advertising to consumers, which has risen 330% in the last 10 years in the US, contributes to the significant cost increases in publicly funded health insurance programs such as Medicaid,” Stephen Soumerai told BurrillReport.


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Shake the Salt, Live Longer

December 23rd, 2009 | No Comments | Source: British Medical Journal, MedPageToday

A meta-analysis performed by Italian scientists has shown that reducing salt intake by half in Westernized countries can reduce strokes by 23%, which amounts to about 1.25 million deaths, and reduce cardiovascular disease by 17% which amounts to nearly 3 million additional deaths per year.

killerAmericans consume about 10 grams (or 2 teaspoons) of salt per day.

The  World Health Organization recommends that dietary salt intake should be half that. The US Department of Agriculture recommends just under 6 grams per day.

To reach their astounding conclusions, Pasquale Strazzullo and colleagues at the University of Naples pooled data from 13 prospective studies published between 1966 and 2008. The analysis covered 177,000 subjects who sustained more than 11,000 strokes or cardiovascular events.

The extra power of the meta-analysis proved decisive in reaching the positive conclusions, since only 9 showed a direct positive link between sodium intake and the adverse events (of which only 4 reached statistical significance). Three  actually showed a non-significant inverse relationship.

Studies featuring longer periods of follow-up appeared to strengthen the relationship between salt intake and stroke, although this was not the case for cardiovascular events.

The findings were not impacted by age, sex, and hypertension status.

In an accompanying editorial, Lawrence Appel of Johns Hopkins hailed the study as a “useful and welcome addition” to the confusing literature on the subject.

“At a minimum, Strazzullo and colleagues’ analyses should dispel any residual belief that salt reduction might be harmful (a canard resulting from misinterpretation of studies, often with flawed analyses),” Appel wrote.

Appel probably had in mind long-standing efforts by the food industry to oppose tougher public health policies on dietary salt intake, which have been largely successful because the above-mentioned studies had muddied the waters so completely.

The write-up is in the British Medical Journal.



fMRI shows Men, Women are Different

December 22nd, 2009 | No Comments | Source: BBC

In the 15 years since communications expert John Gray penned the book, Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus, the concept that the 2 sexes are wired differently has become entrenched in popular culture.

And there’s plenty of evidence to support his observations.

lookatthatThalamus!Most recently, a team from Poland used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess gender differences in brain activity in response to images  designed to evoke various emotional reactions.

Lo and behold, they found plenty!

Andrzej Urbanik and colleagues from Jagiellonian University Hospital in Krakow demonstrated the differences in 40 volunteers, and presented their findings at the recently completed meetings of the Radiological Society of North America.

When the scientists showed women a sequence of negative images, fMRI records showed widespread activity in the left thalamus, an area known to relay sensory information to other parts of the brain that process pain and pleasure.

When the same negative images were shown to men, the fMRI revealed that the left insula lit up like a pinball machine. This region helps control involuntary activities like breathing, heart rate and digestion, and is involved in the so-called “fight or flight response.”

As for the positive images, the fMRI results in women revealed strong activity in areas of the brain associated with memory, while in men strong activity was found in areas associated with visual processing.

In an interview with the BBC, Urbanik postulated that “when confronted with dangerous situations, men are more likely than women to take action.”

As for the differential responses to the positive images, Urbanik suggested the differences imply that women tend to analyze them in a broader social context and associate them with particular memories.

An image of a smiling toddler for example, seems more likely to evoke memories of one’s own child in Venusians than in Martians.



Drunkenness, Unprotected Sex and the Holidays

December 21st, 2009 | No Comments | Source: Medical News Today

Young adults may be putting themselves at increased risk of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) during the upcoming holiday period, according to new independent research conducted by YouGov and published on the Web site of UK-based Marie Stopes International.

can'tgetenoughNearly half (48%) of respondents aged 18-34 stated that they drink more alcohol during the holidays than at other times of the year, and 27% admitted having unprotected sex because they were too drunk to remember to use contraception.

In response, Marie Stopes has launched a ‘Wrap it Up’ campaign that urges men and women to carry condoms and practice safe sex during the holidays.

Marie Stopes’ UK centers are also offering an emergency contraceptive pill  (which can be taken up to 3 days after unprotected sex to terminate unwanted pregnancies) at the reduced price of £10 until January 31st 2010 or while stocks last.

The research also showed that of the 18-34 year olds questioned:

– 19% had sex with someone they just met due to the influence of alcohol at a holiday party,
– 45% had sex under the influence of alcohol with someone that they wouldn’t have, had they been sober,
– 41% had sex that they regretted the morning after.

“The combination of alcohol and the festive party spirit may reduce inhibitions, and lead men and women to make decisions about their sexual behavior that they may not have made if sober,” said Lindsay Davey, Sexual Health Nurse at Marie Stopes. “In January and February last year Marie Stopes’  UK centers saw greater numbers of women seeking abortion services than at any other time of the year.”



In SARMs Way: New Doping Agent Found

December 18th, 2009 | No Comments | Source: BurrillReport, Drug Testing and Analysis

Add Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators, or SARMs to the list of substances used by athletes to enhance competitive performance.

SARMs have not yet been approved for any indication by any regulatory agency in the world. Nevertheless, scientists at the German Sport University in gettin'bigwithSARMsCologne have shown there already is an Internet-based black market for the substances, which are believed to provide benefits similar to anabolic steroids with fewer side effects.

Many drug companies are developing SARMs for the treatment of osteoporosis, benign prostatic hyperplasia, and appetite loss associated with cancer.
Using mass spectroscopy, Mario Thevis and colleagues recently demonstrated the presence of Andarine, a potent SARM in containers labeled as green tea extract and face moisturizer that were purchased over the Internet for $100.

Their write-up appears in Drug Testing and Analysis.

“This product with considerable anabolic properties is readily available without sufficient research on its undesirable effects,” Thevis told BurrillReport. “This is especially significant where uncontrolled dosing is applied and drug impurities with unknown effects are present in considerable amounts as observed in the studied material.”

Thevis presented his findings at the Conference of Parties to the International Convention against Doping in Sport, which was held in Paris 2 months ago.

In 2008, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) prohibited the use of SARMs in sports. WADA President John Fahey said at the time that in order to rid sport of doping, government agencies must adopt laws and regulations to combat the trafficking and supply of illegal substances.



The Quest for Healthy Ice Cream

December 17th, 2009 | 1 Comment | Source: MSNBC

People thought Columbus was nuts when he set off to find a shorter route to China, so let’s try not to snicker at the scientists who’ve announced plans to develop healthy ice cream.

icecream1Ingolf Gruen, a professor of food chemistry at the University of Missouri-Columbia, proposes to add fiber, antioxidants and probiotics to the real thing.

Gruen and his fellow ice cream professors chose these additives because they are known to contribute to good health and because consumers are familiar with them.

The Ice Cream Professor doesn’t anticipate that his concoction can match the seductive flavor or texture of the real stuff, however. 

What he’s after instead is consumers saying, “Oh it’s not as good as the full-fat heavy ice cream, but because it is good for me, and it still tastes good, I will purchase it,” Gruen explained.

icecream3“Our major challenges are texture, flavor and psychological acceptance,” Gruen continued.

“The nutrients we add often have bitter tastes and affect the texture of ice cream that we have to mask.”

Luckily for some ice cream fans, “flavors like chocolate are easier to work with because the flavor is so strong that it can overcome other flavors from the nutrients,” Gruen added.

The Ice Cream Professor has decided to include enough fiber to account for 10-15% of the recommended daily allowance, despite the gritty texture it will impart. “We want to make sure if you consume it there is a significant contribution to health benefits from these ingredients,” Gruen reasoned.

Gruen plans to have a prototype ready by spring. We know some denizens of Murray Hill that would be willing to give it a try.



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