Monthly Archives: December 2012

Cancer Prevention Tips

For the new year, resolve to lower your cancer risk. Though some possibility will remain, there are some simple steps you can follow that can help keep you protected:

  • This can be your year to quit smoking. Nearly one in three cancer deaths is related to cigarette smoking, according to the American Cancer Society.
  • Stay active and fit. Not only is that good for your heart, it’s good for all of you. Overweight people have a higher risk of several types of cancer, and physical activity in and of itself helps fight breast and colon cancer.
  • Drink in moderation. Alcohol consumption is linked to cancers of the breast, colon, lung, kidney, and liver. Try to keep it down to one drink per day.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Get plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—natural cancer fighters—and avoid fats. High-fat diets increase the risk of obesity.
  • Limit consumption of red meats, and sharply limit processed meat preserved with nitrites—a known carcinogen over a long enough time. Salty foods should also be avoided.
  • Stay out of direct sunlight, particularly between 10 AM and 4 PM. It’s almost impossible to avoid it entirely, but limit your exposure as much as possible, and wear a wide-brimmed hat or sunblock.
  • Be screened regularly if you have a high risk, including simply being over 50 for most cancers. This obviously doesn’t prevent cancer entirely, but it makes it more likely to be caught in earlier, more treatable stages.

Following these tips can help keep you healthy in 2013 and beyond.

Single Pill for Heart Health

Having risk factors for heart disease, such as age, usually means a pharmacopeia: aspirin or another blood thinner to prevent clotting, something for cholesterol levels, something for hypertension, a beta blocker. While this combination has been shown to substantially lower the risk of future heart attacks and other such events, the number of pills involved makes the therapy inconvenient, costly, and overwhelming. Noncompliance is also a common problem; studies show that each additional medication prescribed further lowers the adherence rate. Now researchers are looking at ways to combine these into a single medication known as a polypill. Scientists in the United Kingdom and India have been working on this polypill for some time and say it might soon be available for patients.

It’s not simply a matter of putting all the necessary drugs into a single capsule. Amounts and times vary and getting the right combination of drugs is important for the treatment to be more efficacious than harmful. Under current guidelines, in fact, aspirin therapy is not always recommended for patients with a poor cardiovascular history because it can cause harm. Various polypill combinations have been used, with or without aspirin, as well as with changes to the number of statin drugs, with or without folic acid, and other alterations, though the core idea is constant. This combined medication can lower the cost and reduce the inconvenience of properly treating and preventing heart disease, which researchers have found means greater compliance and so greater effectiveness.

In fact, age being the single biggest predictor of heart disease in the general population, a study was conducted on people over 50 without regard to other risk factors and found that a polypill combining three blood pressure lowering medicines and a statin for lowering cholesterol gave patients an average of 11 healthy years. The trial showed a two-thirds reduction in heart attacks, the leading cause of death throughout the world.

A Safer Way To Find Appendicitis

Appendicitis is a common condition, but also difficult to diagnose correctly. The difficulty lies in the overlap between appendix inflammation and other illnesses of the digestive system, and the vagueness and genericness of the symptoms. Major symptoms of appendicitis include abdominal pain that gets sharper over time, tenderness, nausea, and poor appetite. However, a variety of other ailments, such as a viral infection, have the same symptoms. Making the distinction is important because wrongly diagnosing appendicitis can lead to unneeded surgery, but the treatments for many other causes of the same symptoms can make the appendix more likely to rupture.

Appendicitis can follow an infection, but it is usually not directly caused by one. More commonly, the cause of the inflammation is an obstruction in the appendix. A blockage, generally by something called an appendicolith, can cause waste and mucous to build up in the appendix, causing inflammation. Left untreated, this can lead to rupture or death.

Because of the danger of misdiagnosis, medical professionals use CAT scans to determine if appendicitis is the actual problem. Though other testing can eliminate other possible causes of pain—blood tests to look for infection, urinalysis to find signs that indicate a urinary tract infection or kidney stones—imaging tests can save time and improve accuracy by looking directly at the appendix itself to see if there is inflammation. This is actually quite common, because appendicitis is treated as a medical emergency, and surgery needs to be done as soon as possible.

However, there is some concern that the radiation from CAT scans, and the higher radiation from x-rays, another imaging technique used to look at the appendix, can increase the cancer risk in young patients. To minimize this risk, the use of ultrasound to look at the appendix is becoming more common, according to a recent study. Researchers say that while ultrasound needs to be interpreted by specialists, it is a safer option when the equipment and personnel are available.

Food and the Body Clock

If you had a holiday feast last night, you may be paying for it now. The science behind this is interesting, and may have important implications for efforts to fight the obesity epidemic. The holidays have a similar, though shorter-term, effect on diet and metabolism to working a graveyard shift; the body expects to eat at certain times, and when the expectation is not met, it can cause problems and be disruptive.

The body’s “food clock” is based in the circadian rhythm, which is the time keeping mechanism. The circadian turn is how you know when to get up in the morning and go to sleep at night—and feel hungry. However, this body clock doesn’t have a holiday setting. Holiday meals, being larger and earlier that what most people are used to everyday, confuse it.

Now scientists believe they have found the molecular basis for this phenomenon. A protein called PKCγ is used by the brain to regulate the timekeeping function and match the hunger cycle to paleolithic patterns of the availability of food. Large meals, or meals at odd times, disrupt the activity of this protein and throw off the cycle.

The researchers say they may be able to use what they’ve learned of PKCγ to help travelers fight the effects of jet lag. Jet lag occurs when the body’s internal timekeeping mechanism becomes uncoupled from the local time. By learning more about how the body clock is regulated, scientists can do more to help it adjust.

“Understanding the molecular mechanism of how eating at the ‘wrong’ time of the day desynchronizes the clocks in our body can facilitate the development of better treatments for disorders associated with night-eating syndrome, shift work and jet lag,” said University of California at San Francisco neurologist Louis Ptácek, an author of the study, in a statement.

So while your holiday blowout probably won’t wreak long-term havoc with your health, a habit of evening eating could. Night diners are more prone to obesity than people who start the day—and their meals—early in the morning. Learning how PKCγ shifts the body’s clock can help with finding ways to counter that effect.

Medical Advances in 2012

For Christmas, here are some of the top medical breakthroughs in 2012:

  • Drugs called sodium-glucose cotransporter inhibitors—or SGLT2 inhibitors—were approved this year by the Food and Drug Administration for managing diabetes risk and treating type 2 diabetes. SGLT2 inhibitors are the first diabetes medications that don’t directly affect insulin. Instead, these drugs reduce blood glucose levels directly, as well as helping promote weight loss.
  • According to a study completed this year, CAT scans can be used in early detection of lung cancer. Early detection can increase the cure rate more than eightfold, and CAT scans have proven significantly more effective than x-rays in finding signs of the cancer when the disease is in its earliest stages. Low-dose CAT scans are also safer in general, less likely to cause damage to tissue when looking for disease, and so regular screening is safer.
  • Genome analysis for newborns became widely available this year. Modern computers and techniques mean a process that used to take months, far too long to be useful in many cases, now takes a mere two days. That means that infants at risk for—or already showing signs of—genetic diseases can be diagnosed quickly and given appropriate treatment right away.
  • The second lab-grown trachea ever was created this year. Adult stem cells were allowed to grow on a bioengineered frame at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden to replace the windpipe of a patient who’d lost it to cancer. This is an advance over the first lab-grown trachea, which used donor tissue as the scaffold. Researchers say similar techniques show promise for other lab-grown organs. By using the patient’s own cells, doctors avoid the risk of transplant rejection.

Happy holidays from your friends at Medex Supply.

Tics

About one in ten children have tics of some kind, and one in ten of them have Tourette syndrome. Tourette syndrome is usually diagnosed by age nine, and is at its worst in the teenage years. One patient in whom Dr. Georges Gilles de la Tourette first described the condition in 1885 was 86 years old.

The common view of the condition is of uncontrollable cursing, a phenomenon known as coprolalia. However, this is actually a very rare symptom of the condition. Most patients’ tics are nothing more alarming than blinking and throat clearing, notable only by frequency—and even that can vary. The most common verbal tics associated with TS are repeating words.

Tourette patients describe their tics as a releasing of tension and say in the moment it often feels like a voluntary act. Indeed, the tics can generally be suppressed briefly, and patients can typically feel tics coming on even when they can’t stop them.

The condition itself usually is allowed to be untreated unless the tics are severe or cause significant stress. However, Tourette patients often demonstrate other disorders as well, such as attention deficit or obsessive-compulsive disorder, for which treatment is generally indicated. When treatment is used, it’s usually behavioral therapy. Available medical treatments are narcoleptic drugs such as Haldol—which often have severe and debilitating side effects—or some types of blood pressure medications.

Tourette syndrome results from a combination of genetic and environmental factors, though the exact cause remains a mystery. At one time, it was believed that streptococcal infection led to Tourette, but investigations of the supposed connection have found no evidence supporting it and no mechanism by which it might occur. However, tics do seem to be connected with autoimmune conditions.

Kids and Colds

The common cold is, as the name suggests, the most frequently seen illness in the united states, and children are particularly vulnerable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently found that the average child gets six to eight colds each year. That means most children are sick most of the time during the winter months, missing 22 million school days.

There are a number of reasons for this. Their young immune systems aren’t yet inured to common infectious agents. Children spend a lot of time indoors and around other children, and are prone to passing diseases between each other. Though there is no cure for the common cold, there are some measures you can take to protect your children.

Hygiene is the most important part of prevention. Children should be taught the importance of washing their hands, because hand-to-hand contact is the most common way colds spread. This is particularly true in school, where children often share items. Children should know to scrub their hands with soap for at least 20 seconds before drying them completely. They should wash before every meal and remember that, while sharing is good, sharing straws or eating utensils is likely to spread germs.

Another important part of cold prevention is proper dietary habits. Balanced nutrition keeps young bodies strong, and helps kids—and adults—better fight off colds. Enough sleep is also important; well-rested is well-prepared to fight the onslaught of illness.

If children do get sick, there are ways to alleviate the symptoms. Warm drinks and, for older children, gargling with (but not swallowing) salt water can help with a sore throat. Use a humidifier to open stuffed noses and fight the drying effect of many cold medicines. Sick children should sneeze and cough into their sleeves or elbows to avoid spreading germs themselves.

Because It Is Bitter

Bitter tastes can be good for you. At least, tasting them can be. Bitterness taste receptors are found in the nose as well as the mouth, and those may be a first line defense against some types of bacterial infection, helping stop the bacteria almost the instant they get in.

Researchers say this is because the bacteria themselves are bitter-tasting. The receptors in the nose therefore function as a sort of early warning system, sounding an alert that activates the immune system as soon as an infectious agent reaches the body.

The primary use of the bitter sense along with sour, is to detect foods that are spoiled or otherwise toxic. This is less of an issue in an era of refrigeration and packaged foods, and scientists say one in four people is a “non-taster,” with a sharply limited ability to detect these bitter tastes, so foods like coffee and spinach—which should probably not be combined, but each of which is bitter on its own—don’t register as unpleasant. At the other end of the scale, a quarter of the population consists of “super-tasters” who are particularly sensitive to bitter flavors.

One of these bitter flavors is something called a biofilm, a sort of protective coating created by the bacteria responsible for sinusitis. The biofilm is in fact the direct instigator of sinusitis symptoms, which reflect an overenthusiastic immune reaction. That reaction is caused by the biofilm; however, when the bitterness receptors detect it, they call on immune cells that kill the invading bacteria before a biofilm has had a chance to form.

“Based on these findings, we believe that other bitter taste receptors in the airway perform the same ‘guard duty’ function for early detection of attack by different types of bacteria, and we hope to translate these findings into personalized diagnostics for patients with chronic rhinosinusitis,” said study author Noam Cohen, an otolaryngologist at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center, in a statement.

The researchers found that none of the super-tasters in their sample were infected with the bacteria. These super-tasters were able to taste it at significantly lower concentrations than other subjects.

Fatty Liver Disease

Diseases are regularly discovered. Sometimes, collections of symptoms that had been observed separately for years, even decades, are at long last recognized as all being related, as being part of a single condition. In other cases, particularly with lifestyle-related diseases, conditions that had once been rare become common.

An example of the latter is some types of cancer, common in old age, are a paradoxical result of improved healthcare, since people who in earlier generations might have died young (by contemporary standards) are able to live long enough to develop the cancer. Another example of a lifestyle condition becoming more common is what is known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: as obesity strikes more and more Americans, NAFLD affects fully a quarter of the population.

The effects of excessive alcohol consumption on the liver are well known. Sometimes—indeed, increasingly—similar effects occur in people who don’t drink heavily, or sometimes at all. However, though drinking is not associated with NAFLD, metabolic syndrome, a prediabetic condition that can result from with obesity, is.

However, fatty liver disease is also not infrequently found in patients who are not obese, and an exact trigger is difficult to determine. The immediate cause of the condition is an interruption in the liver’s ability to break down lipids. As a result, fat builds up around the tissue. Though this is often harmless, it can cause inflammation, and it is currently the leading cause of cirrhosis in the United States.

Though even inflammation is often asymptomatic—one reason the condition can be difficult to detect—sometimes symptoms do appear. In particular, patients often report fatigue and weight loss, and a less common symptom of pain in the upper right area of the abdomen. There is no treatment yet for NAFLD, but weight loss and other lifestyle changes can help ameliorate these symptoms.

Coffee

Coffee is a big component of a lot of people’s morning routine, one of the most popular beverages in the world. Now researchers say it’s also an important protector against some types of cancer. In particular, regular coffee drinkers in a large longitudinal study had a significantly lower incidence of mouth and throat cancer. Approximately 40,000 Americans are diagnosed with these forms of cancer every year.

“Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, and contains a variety of antioxidants, polyphenols, and other biologically active compounds that may help to protect against development or progression of cancers,” said the American Cancer Society’s Janet Hildebrand, an author of the study, in a statement. “Although it is less common in the United States, oral/pharyngeal cancer is among the ten most common cancers in the world. Our finding strengthens the evidence of a possible protective effect of caffeinated coffee in the etiology and/or progression of cancers of the mouth and pharynx.”

That means the chemical compounds in coffee are an important part of protection against cancer, and caffeine in particular protects against one of the most common types of cancer in the world. In fact, four cups of coffee a day appears to cut the risk of oral or pharyngeal cancer in half.

Caffeine has other health benefits as well. Though caffeine is associated with a short-term increase in glucose levels, people who drink a lot of coffee were found in a Harvard study to have lower rates of diabetes. In addition, in men coffee consumption reduces the risk of Parkinson’s disease. Though coffee was once thought to be associated with heart disease, more recent studies have cast doubt on that connection.

In addition, coffee is rich in antioxidants that protect against cellular damage and help slow the effects of aging. Unfiltered coffee also includes chemicals called diterpenoids that help increase beneficial HDL cholesterol while reducing levels of the harmful LDL type.