The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced a plan to reduce the use of certain antibiotics in animals raised for meat in an effort to protect the effectiveness of antibiotics for humans.
Antibiotics are frequently added to animals’ food and water supply to speed the animals’ growth rate, even for healthy animals, according to The New York Times. The overuse of antibiotics in both humans and animals has contributed significantly to the increasing threat of antibiotic-resistant organisms, which are estimated to kill 23,000 Americans a year.
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Organic whole milk provides best heart-health benefits, study says: “Scientists who looked at hundreds of samples found that organic whole milk offered more of the fatty acids good for the heart than conventional milk.” The study found that organic milk contains 62% more omega-3 fatty acids than conventional milk. Organic milk comes from cows that eat at least 30% of their dry food from grass and pasture for at least 120 days out of the year. Conventional farms give cows more grains such as corn. The study, which was published in the journal PLOS One also suggested that whole milk (which contains about 4% fat) has a more heart-healthy balance of fatty acids compared to reduced-fat milk. Skim milk contains no fatty acids. (Los Angeles Times)
Heartburn drugs could cause B12 deficiency: Patients who take common heartburn medications known as proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) and histamine 2 receptor antagonists (H2 blockers) are “more likely to suffer from a vitamin B12 deficiency than those who do not use them,” according to a new study. People who took PPIs for two years or longer were 65% more likely to have a vitamin B12 deficiency, especially if they were taking a higher dose. “The risk of deficiency was not has high in patients who used H2 blockers long-term: 4.2%, compared with 3.2% of nonusers.” Vitamin B12 deficiency may lead to anemia, dementia and neurologic damage. Experts said that people should not stop their heartburn medications, but encouraged patients to discuss appropriate dosing with their physicians. (CNN)
Limits of vitamin D supplements: A recent review of 290 prospective observational studies and 172 randomized clinical trials examining the effects of vitamin D on health found that “vitamin D supplements have little or no benefit beyond the low levels required for bone health.” Most of the trials used doses of 800 units of vitamin D or more. While the observational studies often observed an “association” between low vitamin D and increased cardiovascular disease, cholesterol, glucose levels, weight gain, infectious disease and mood problems, the random trials showed “little or no effect of vitamin D supplements on any of these problems.” The authors of the study concluded that “low vitamin D levels are almost surely an effect of these diseases, and not a cause.” (The New York Times)
From contaminated supplements to new statin guidelines, 2013 was a big year in health news. Here’s a look back at the most important studies and announcements from each month of 2013. See if you’ve stayed on top of this year’s most surprising health headlines and find some tips to keep you healthy and happy in the year to come.
Berries May Lower Heart Disease Risk: A study based on the diets of over 93,000 women found that eating at least three servings of blueberries and strawberries a week could reduce the risk of heart attack. The women who ate the most berries were 32% less likely to suffer an early heart attack, even compared to women who ate diets high in other fruits and vegetables. The results held true after researchers adjusted for other risk factors like age, family history and smoking. Researchers think dietary flavonoids called anthocyanins may be responsible for the berries’ heart-protecting effects.
Mindfulness Meditation Can Change Brain Waves: Neuroscientists found that mindfulness meditation appears to alter alpha rhythms – brain waves, which may regulate “how the brain processes and filters sensations” like pain or bad memories – in the brain. The practice of mindfulness meditation is centered on being in the present moment by focusing on immediate sensations, emotions and thoughts without judging or reacting to them. Researchers used brain scan technology called magnetoencephalography to show that brain waves changed when people focused on present sensory experience. Researchers suggested that people with chronic pain or mood disorders could potentially benefit from the ability to change their own alpha waves.
Processed Meats Linked to Increased Risk of Death: Eating processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs, salami and bologna was linked to an increased risk of death from cancer and heart disease in a study based on the diets of nearly 500,000 Europeans. These meats are high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which are known contributors to heart disease. They also often contain nitrates, additives that help preserve meat which have been linked to stomach cancer and degenerative diseases like dementia. The researchers believed that 3.3% of the 26,000 deaths that occurred during the study period could have been prevented if participants reduced processed meat consumption to less than 20 grams a day (about one strip of bacon).
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Scientists may have found an unexpected source of relief for women who suffer from menstrual cramps. A small study at Pennsylvania State University found that sildenafil citrate (also known as Viagra), a medication commonly used to treat male erectile dysfunction, may actually relieve cramping.
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Study says many lung cancer tumors prove harmless: “A provocative study found that nearly 1 in 5 lung tumors detected on CT scans are probably so slow-growing that they would never cause problems.” Lung cancer is the world’s leading cause of cancer deaths and is often diagnosed after symptoms develop. Imaging tests are not currently recommended for routine lung cancer screening, as they often lead to overdiagnosis and unnecessary invasive testing, but a leading health panel may soon recommend screening for people at increased risk. The new study is unlikely to change screening or treatment practices, since “doctors don’t know yet how to determine which symptomless tumors found on CT scans might become dangerous, so they automatically treat the cancer aggressively.” (Washington Post)
Gene therapy scores big wins against blood cancers: “In one of the biggest advances against leukemia and other blood cancers in many years, doctors are reporting unprecedented success by using gene therapy to transform patients’ blood cells into soldiers that seek and destroy cancer.” More than 120 patients with a variety of blood and bone marrow cancers that had resisted other treatment options have been treated with the new strategy, and many remain cancer free. The treatment involves removing immune cells called T-cells from a patient’s blood, inserting a gene targeting cancer into them and infusing them back into the patient. “Doctors say this has the potential to become the first gene therapy approved in the United States and the first for cancer worldwide.” (CBS News)
Princeton starts offering meningitis B vaccination to students: A vaccine not approved for use in the U.S. was offered to Princeton University students starting yesterday, after a meningitis B outbreak sickened eight people at the prestigious school. The vaccine, Bexsero, has been approved in Europe and Australia. The Centers for Disease Control allowed the vaccine to be imported to try to control the spread of the dangerous disease, which infects the membranes lining the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can result in permanent neurologic damage or death. The vaccine, which is not mandatory, will be available to approximately 5,000 undergraduates and 550 graduate students living in dorms at the New Jersey school. (CNN)
Vitamin D deficiency may damage the brain, according to a new study published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine. Approximately 40% of Americans are vitamin D deficient.
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Targeted radioactive bomb might clean out AIDS virus, study finds: “A radioactive smart bomb might help mop up the last bits of AIDS virus hiding out in a patient’s body, even getting into the brain,” researchers reported in a new study. The new treatment strategy for HIV is based on a modified version of a leukemia treatment. The treatment uses an antibody “tied to a bit of radioactive material called bismuth-213″ to recognize and hone in on infected immune cells, killing them with radiation. The treatment was effective in mice, and when it was subsequently tested on 15 patients with HIV, “it killed the infected cells that were still circulating in the patients, and even penetrated into the brain – something that not many drugs can do.” However, this approach is still experimental and requires further study. (NBC News)
USDA announces new plan to combat salmonella: “The U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled a new plan Wednesday to reduce the number of salmonella outbreaks linked to meat and poultry.” The move comes after several recent food-related outbreaks of the bacteria, which can cause severe diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain and infects an estimated 1.3 million Americans each year. Meat and poultry are often to blame. “The USDA said the new plan would focus inspectors more greatly on food safety, a change that could potentially reduce 5,000 illnesses a year.” (Los Angeles Times)
TB Vaccine May Work Against Multiple Sclerosis: Study: “A vaccine normally used to thwart the respiratory illness tuberculosis also might help prevent the development of multiple sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system, a new study suggests.” Researchers administered the vaccine to people who had experienced one episode of symptoms suggesting they might develop the neurologic disease. When the patients underwent subsequent brain scans, they had fewer brain lesions than people who received a placebo injection. “After five years, 70 percent of those who received the placebo had developed MS, compared to 42 percent of those given the vaccine.” (U.S. News & World Report)
Energy drinks high in caffeine and taurine may make the heart beat harder even an hour after consuming the drink, a new study shows. People with certain medical conditions and children should likely avoid such drinks in light of the new data, researchers warned.
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High cholesterol may ‘fuel’ the growth and spread of breast cancer: A byproduct of cholesterol breakdown called 27HC may act like estrogen and could potentially “foster the growth and spread of cancer cells,” a new study published in the journal Science reported. The researchers found that mice who ate high fat diets had increased 27HC and grew tumors that were “30 percent larger than those in mice eating a normal diet.” Tumors in mice injected with 27HC were also more likely to spread. The researchers suggest that controlling cholesterol with medication and diet may help “prevent the spread of deadly diseases like breast cancer.” (Fox News)
Journal retracts study tying genetically modified corn to rat cancer: “The publisher of a controversial and much-criticized study suggesting genetically modified corn caused tumors in rats has withdrawn the paper after a year-long investigation found it did not meet scientific standards.” The study, by French researcher Gilles-Eric Seralini was published in Reed Elsevier’s Food and Chemical Toxicology journal in September of 2012. The journal said the retraction was because “the study’s small sample size meant no definitive conclusions could be reached” and that while the results were not “incorrect,” they were “inconclusive.” (NBC News)
Phoenix flight passengers told to get precautionary tuberculosis test: Passengers on a US Airways flight have been told to get tuberculosis tests after a passenger with possible active tuberculosis was removed from a plane in Phoenix. Public health authorities are “still conducting tests to determine if the passenger was ill.” A US Airways representative “told reporters that the passenger had been cleared to fly when he boarded in Austin, but his status was changed to ‘no-fly’ while the plane was in the air.” About 70 passengers were on the plane and are being advised to see their physicians. Tuberculosis is a contagious disease that mainly infects the lungs and can be deadly. (Los Angeles Times)
A procedure that has been used to treat gastrointestinal bleeding from stomach ulcers may be the next big weight-loss tool, if the results of a small study hold up.
During the procedure, left gastric artery embolization, an interventional radiologist uses a catheter to deposit beads, coils or gels in the left gastric artery, which supplies blood to the fundus, or upper portion, of the stomach. Cells in the fundus are largely responsible for production of ghrelin, a hormone that works to signal that the stomach is empty and increase appetite. Researchers think that blocking blood flow to the fundus results in decreased ghrelin production and appetite.
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