Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Latest Health Controversy - Can a Daily Vitamin Harm Your Health?

Although many people regularly take vitamins because they think they will prevent chronic diseases and prolong life, the long-term health consequences of many compounds are unknown.

A lot of interest in these supplements has arisen from a recent article in the Archives of Internal Medicine that suggests taking vitamins and other dietary supplements may not be as healthy a choice as many of us have thought. 

The article reports on a study that followed over 38,000 elderly American women (average age 62) for 20 years.  When the study started about 66% reported using dietary supplements; by the time the study ended, that figure had risen to 85%. The authors looked at the use of supplements in relation to all-cause mortality (all causes of death). The use of several individual vitamins and minerals was statistically associated with increased risk of all-cause mortality when compared to nonuse; but, when adjustment was made for factors that could lead to false results, only copper and multivitamins showed this association. On the other hand, taking calcium and vitamin D was associated with a decreased risk of all-cause mortality when compared to nonuse; this carried over after adjustment.

Other researchers are quick to caution about reading too much into the study.  It shows an association, not necessarily a cause and effect.  The women may have been taking the supplements for an underlying health condition that itself caused the deaths, not the supplements.  The increases in death were small and may not be clinically meaningful.  And other factors besides the supplements may have led to the results.

Another article in the same issue of the journal found that men who take high doses of vitamin E for several years have a slightly higher risk of prostate cancer.

The widespread use of supplements by Americans arose from trying to prevent disease and promote wellness.  But in a well-nourished population, there is little probability that they are needed to treat vitamin deficiencies, and the articles confirm that they do not ward off death and may cause harm.   A more prudent choice may be to eat a balanced, varied and healthy diet.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Floods and Your Health

Our neighbors, friends, and co-workers are in the process of trying to put their lives together after the devastating floods after Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Irene. The Disaster Information Management Research Center (DIMRC) has links to information that will help you deal with the potential hazards you may encounter when cleaning and rehabilitating homes and businesses. The page on floods has links to many other government agencies with information on health and safety in a flooding disaster. There is also a link to the MedlinePlus Flood page, which offers even more information. Our hearts go out to those affected.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

WhatNext -- A New American Cancer Society Web Site

People newly diagnosed with cancer face the challenge of finding answers to questions about their cancer and navigating the treatment journey. The American Cancer Society (ACS) website WhatNext uses unique technology to match users with similar experiences and to link users to relevant ACS information resources.

As the ACS September 28, 2011 news release states "Dealing with cancer is emotionally and physically draining. Connecting with others who have been down that road is extraordinarily meaningful, for those who have questions and for people who have answers."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

New, Smaller Needle Available for Seasonal Flu Shots

Local vaccine developer Sanofi Pasteur (Swiftwater, Pennsylvania) has developed a new delivery system just in time for the 2011-2012 flu system.  While previous flu shots were administered by a needle that is 1 to 1.5 inches in length, the Fluzone Intradermal vaccine features an ultra-fine need that is 90 percent shorter (only 0.06 inches in length).  Instead of being injected into the muscle, the vaccine is injected into the dermis, or inner layer of skin.  This should provide a big improvement in comfort. 

The new system is indicated for adults aged 18 through 64.  The regular flu shot will continue to be available for others, as will the nasal spray vaccine for non-pregnant, healthy people ages 2 to 49.  Check with your doctor, clinic or pharmacist to see if Fluzone Intradermal is available in your community.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The “New” Flu and the “Old” Flu

It’s time to start thinking about a flu shot again and this recent article from Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine gives a good overview for everyone about the different types of flu, symptoms and treatment, and more importantly, flu prevention.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Cancer in Northeastern Pennsylvania

The Northeast Regional Cancer Institute published a report on the incidence, mortality and survival for common cancers. This May 2011 report, covering the years 2003-2007, uses data from the Regional Cancer Registry, the National Cancer Database, and the Bureau of Health Statistics and Research of the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Some findings:

  • Five most commonly diagnosed cancer sites in Northeastern Pennsylvania were bronchus and lung; colon and rectum; breast; prostate; and urinary bladder.

  • Cancer incidence was significantly elevated in Northeastern Pennsylvania at 11 cancer sites for both sexes (unless otherwise noted): bronchus and lung; larynx; urinary bladder; kidney; esophagus; Hodgkin's lymphoma; colon and rectum; ovary (female) uterus(female); cervix (female); and thyroid.

  • Cancer incidence was significantly decreased in Northeastern Pennsylvania at five sites for both sexes (unless otherwise noted): breast (female); prostate (male); melanoma; liver; and Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

  • The cancer sites that resulted in the highest number of deaths in Northeastern Pennsylvania were (starting with the highest): bronchus and lung; colon and rectum; breast; pancreas; and prostate.

  • Cancer mortality in Northeastern Pennsylvania was significantly elevated at six sites for both sexes (unless otherwise noted): colon and rectum; esophagus; larynx; Hodgkin's lymphoma; ovary (female); uterus (female).

  • Cancer mortality in Northeastern Pennsylvania was significantly decrease at three sites for both sexes: bronchus and lung; multiple myeloma; and liver.

These regional findings should help all those involved in trying to ease the burden of cancer in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

The complete report is available on the Northeast Regional Cancer Institute's web site.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sunscreen Products To Get a Makeover

This week the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) issued its final regulations for sunscreen products which establish standards for product testing, put limits on SPF values claimed on labels, and includes other regulations for manufacturers. This is in an effort to protect consumers from excessive sun exposure which causes skin damage and could lead to skin cancer. These regulations go into effect next year.  Here is a summary of what to watch for.

Products that claim "Broad Spectrum"
These products have to pass a standard test for all over-the-counter suncreen products. They have to provide protection agains both ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) and ultraviolet A radiation (UVA). They will be labeled "Broad Spectrum" and "SPF 15" (or higher) on the front. The maximum SPF claim allowed will be "SPF 50+."

The back of these products will tell consumers that if used with other sun protection measures, these products can reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging.

Products that are NOT "Broad Spectrum"
Products not labeled as "Broad Spectrum" and with an SPF value between 2 and 14 have been shown to only prevent sunburn. These products will have a warning label that reads: "Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert: Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging."

Spray products
These products will have to provide the FDA with additional data regarding their effectiveness and safety if they are inhaled accidentally.

Water resistance claims
Products must state how much time a user can expect the claimed SPF level of protection while swimming or sweating. This is based on standard testing. Only two timing claims will be allowed, either 40 minutes or 80 minutes. No product will be allowed to claim that is "waterproof" or "sweatproof."

Other Claims
In addition to prohibiting "waterproof" and "sweatproof" claims, no products will be allowed to claim that it is a "sunblock."  Claims of immediate protection upon application are also prohibited. Products will not be allowed to claim that they give protection for more than two hours without reapplication unless the manufacturer submits data and gets approval from the FDA.

Sun Safety Tips
Stay safe in the sun.
  • Use "Broad Spectrum" sunscreens with SPF values of 15 or higher. Use them regularly and as directed. Reapply at least every two hours or more often if you are sweating or in the water.
  • Limit the time you spend in the sun. The sun's rays are the most intense between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
  • Cover skin exposed to the sun. Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, sunglasses, and broad-brimmed hats.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The food pyramid has been retired! The Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, part of the US Department of Agriculture, just released MyPlate, a new way to communicate the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The website has nutritional information, sample menus, tips, individualized plans and other interactive tools and much more. The site has information for kids, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and those who want to loose weight. There are tools to analyze your diet, plan and track your food and physical activity, get a personalized daily food plan for you and your family, and a special planning tool for new moms or a mom-to-be. There is information on each food group and MyFoodapedia gives you information on calories and food comparisons.

Although MyPyramid will no longer be the icon for the dietary guidelines, the nutritional information is still available on the MyPlate site.

How can you make a healthy plate? The new guidelines encourage changes in these three areas:

Balancing Calories
  • Enjoy your food, but eat less.
  • Avoid oversized portions.
Food to Increase
  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Make at least half your grains whole grains.
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
Foods to Reduce
  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals-and choose the foods with lower numbers.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Report: Americans Can Prevent Thousands of Colorectal Cancer Cases Each Year

An expert panel of the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research just released a report confirming that colorectal cancer is linked to diet. After a systematic review of the evidence, this update to a previous report shows that Americans should limit red meat to around 17 oz. (cooked weight) per week and avoid processed meat. This would be approximately five or six medium portions. The report also concluded that the evidence is even stronger that dietary fiber like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans reduce the risk of bowel cancer.

The evidence for the protective effect of physical activity remains convincing, as well as the evidence that being overweight or obese increases the risk for colorectal cancer.

What should you do?
  • Eat more whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruit and eat less processed meat. (most deli meats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, beef jerky, or other foods containing sodium nitrite)
  • Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity.
  • Move toward a healthier weight.
More recommendations and the report can be found here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

June is Myasthenia Gravis Awareness Month

Myasthenia gravis is caused when there is a problem transmitting nerve signals to the muscles telling them to contract. In myasthenia gravis the body's own immune system blocks that signal. Many people with myasthenia gravis have problems with swallowing, facial expressions and eye and eyelid movement. Go to MedlinePlus for more information on myasthenia gravis.

The local chapter of the Myastenia Gravis Foundation of American meets the first Saturday of every other month (August 6, October 1, and December 3) at Allied Services in Scranton (475 Morgan Highway) in the Charles Luger Outpatient Center Community Room. For more information contact Vera Krewsun (570)687-6009. For information regarding the location contact Allied Services (570) 348-1407.

Monday, April 11, 2011

More Benefits of Exercise

We all know we should get up and get moving but three recent studies offer even more incentives for regular exercise.

Researchers reported at recent meeting of the American Heart Association that blood pressure in people who are less physically active rises more in response to a high-salt diet, and that following a low-salt diet may be especially important in lowering blood pressure among people who are not active.

            See the full article here.

In another study researchers at the Mayo Clinic discovered that fitness, not body weight, is a more important predictor of whether people with clogged blood vessels in their heart will die in the near future.

            Read about this study here. 

Lastly, researchers at an American College of Cardiology meeting reported that consistent, lifelong exercise preserves heart muscle in the elderly to levels that match (or even exceed!) those of health, non-active people.
            Read about this study here.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Disease Clusters in NEPA

The Natural Resources Defense Council just published a report, Health Alert: Disease Clusters Spotlight the Need to Protect People from Toxic Chemicals, reporting a cluster of Non-Hodkin's lymphoma and lupus in Wilkes-Barre associated with workplace exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE). In Luzerne, Schuylkill, and Carbon counties there is a cluster of polycythmia vera, which some blame on a chemicals and suspected carcinogens in a power plant and recycling facility. Go to the the NRDC website for a link to the full paper and the state fact sheet on Pennsylvania.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Area Comes in Second….in Unhealthy Behavior

According to the Daily Beast, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area is second worst in the nation in terms of smokers.  To figure out which cities have the worst smoking problem, they measured which had the largest population of smokers (1/3 of score), where smokers smoked the most cigarettes per day (1/3 of score) and where fewest smokers tried to quit (1/3 0r score).  

#2, Wilkes Barre-Scranton, Pennsylvania
Smokers: 23.5%
Cigarettes per day: 16.8
Tried to quit with gum: 25.8%
Tried to quit with patch: 27.6%
Tried to quit with support program: 9.3%

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New CDC Report on Health Behaviors

The Center for Disease Control has just published the Surveillance for Certain Halth Behaviors Among States & Selected Local Areas--United States, 2008. (MMWR Surveillance Summaries Dec 10, 2010 59(SS10);1-221)  The report gives statistics for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area on things like teeth extractions, medical screening, smoking, drinking, leisure time, weight, and some specific diseases (asthma, coronary artery disease, stroke). The report is over 200 pages long and takes a while to load. 

 Health Info NEPA has links to information on many of these local public health issues.