Monday, November 24, 2008

Mothers Exposed to Fragrances in Hair Sprays and Nail Products Under Increased Risk for Male Infant Birth Defects

If you are pregnant, it would be best to stay away from those "smelly" hair sprays and nail polishes. That's because exposure to hair and nail products and even some deodorant sprays has been linked to hypospadias in newborn boys, according to a study accepted for publication today by the peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Health Perspectives. Hypospadias is a birth defect of the male urethra that results in an abnormally placed urinary opening. It is one of the most common urogenital congenital anomalies among baby boys.

Oftentimes, surgeons can not perform a circumcision when this defect is seen on the penis. The culprit in causing this condition appears to be products that contain chemicals known as phthalates.

Phthalates, predominantly diethyl phthalate (DEP) and dibutyl phthalate (DBP), are present in many cosmetics including deodorants, fragrances and -- especially -- nail and hair products. Studies have linked the phthalates or their ingredients with androgen-lowering activities, abnormal cell function, a decrease in the distance between the anus and the genitals in male infants, and reproductive tract malformations including the aforementioned hypospadias.

The case–control study included 471 hypospadias cases referred to surgeons, and 490 randomly selected birth controls, born over a 21-month period in South East England. Sons of women working in industries where there is exposure to phthalates—including hairdressers, beauty therapists, research chemists, line operators, pharmaceutical operators, electrical assemblers, and factory assistants—had a 2- to 3-times greater risk for hypospadias. The results add to growing evidence that endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) such as phthalates may play a role in hypospadias.

The study indicates, however, that folate supplementation in the first three months of pregnancy can actually reduce the risk of hypospadias by 36%.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sun Deprived? Odds of Disease or Death are 30-50% Worse

Sue Penckofer, PhD, is a study author and professor at the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing at Loyola University in Chicago. She recently discussed with the press a study in which chronic vitamin D shortages were examined in people with a reduced exposure to sunlight. This problem is common during cold weather months and when days are shorter; people spend more time indoors during these conditions.

These Loyola researchers found that the risk of severe disease or death may be 30 to 50 per cent higher among sun-deprived individuals with heart disease. The research team led by Penckofer suggests that diet alone is not sufficient to manage vitamin D levels.

Treatment options to correct the deficiency, such as supplemental vitamin D2 or D3, may decrease the risk of severe disease or death from cardiovascular disorders. "Most physicians do not routinely test for vitamin D deficiency," said Penckofer.

"However, most experts would agree that adults at risk for heart disease and others who experience fatigue, joint pain or depression should have their vitamin D levels measured," she added.

This is simply the latest news in a long, long list of pro-Vitamin D press over the last year or two.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Stem Cell Technique for Heart Failure

In an investigational study of new heart failure treatments being conducted at The Methodist Hospital in Houston, a promising new technique had scientists injecting highly-concentrated stem cells directly into a patient’s heart. It is hoped that this will repair the damaged heart tissue.

This new technology may be more effective in regenerating healthy heart tissue than other methods that use a catheter to put standard stem cells through the bloodstream into the heart.

Currently, the 58-year-old veteran and businessman is resting comfortably and is expected to be discharged this weekend. “Some patients have such severe heart failure that their only current option is a heart transplant,” said Dr. Brian Bruckner, cardiac surgeon at the Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center in Houston. “We hope that stem cells will stimulate angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels, restore mechanical function in diseased heart tissue, and return patients to a much better quality of life without a transplant.”

In a novel process, the patient’s strongest and most robust stem and progenitor cells, derived from the patient’s own bone marrow, are amplified up to 1,000 times before they’re injected back into the patient’s heart. In the procedure, Dr. Bruckner made a small incision in the left side of the patient’s chest and administered approximately 25 injections of concentrated stem cells into the patient’s heart. All patients in the trial will be followed for 12 months after the injections.

There are currently 5.5 million people in the U.S. suffering from chronic heart failure.


Friday, November 21, 2008

You -- Becoming Your Disease

I attend a lot of trade shows and health-related events, and in some of those I speak about herbs or supplements. Recently, I had a chance to talk to a Texas man about his situation. He's had a chronic health concern for many years, and he approached me to talk about whether a particular herb might be good for him.

Whenever I am approached for medical advice, I do two things. First, I make sure that person knows that I am not a doctor and that medical advice should come from their MD, Naturopath or a trusted advisor like a Chiropractor. Secondly, I tell them that supplements like herbs and vitamins are not sold with health claims for a reason. The FDA and the FTC do not allow supplements to be sold with claims that a packaged herb "cures this disease," or "treats this ailment." Products like these are dietary and nutritional aids that, in many cases, can make a great improvement in quality of life. They support your body in healing itself; they aren't drugs, and anyone who makes such claims is breaking the law.

When this fellow I was speaking with didn't seem to get this message, I asked him to simply tell me a bit more about himself; not medically, but just to talk with me about his day-to-day life. As he did so, I began to notice what the author Eckhart Tolle mentions in his book "The Power of Now." This fellow had actually become his disease. His chronic candida infection had become his entire self-identification.

Tolle's book describes this phenomenon, and I have met many people who have this same identity issue. For one reason or another, a person can become so consumed with her health issues that the disease actually takes over the persona. Instead of being Jill, the accountant in Spokane, that person becomes Jill, the cancer patient. (My analogy doesn't work all that well, because Tolle would say that Jill's self-identification shouldn't be "the accountant," either. But I think you get my point.)

The path to true health and happiness lies in seeing oneself as separate from any health issue. Don't let health issues and concerns become "you," because that's a sure path to continued pain and anguish.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Get Religion and Reduce Your Risk of Death

Reports are out today describing a scientific study that actually shows a very significant benefit from regular attendance at religious services. It doesn't matter which faith you might be, but the very fact that you attend and participate in an organized religion appears to put you one-up on non-believers.

This work, published by researchers at Yeshiva University and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, suggests that regular attendance at religious services reduces the risk of death by approximately 20 percent. The findings, published in Psychology and Health, were based on data drawn from participants who spanned numerous religious denominations. 

Dr. Eliezer Schnall, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor at Yeshiva University, and Dr. Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at Einstein, combined their resources in this study of the Women's Health Initiative (WHI). The WHI is a national, long-term study aimed at addressing women's health issues and funded by the National Institutes of Health.

It was one of those really, really large studies -- the kind that often produce the most convincing results. In this case, the researchers evaluated the religious practices of more than 92,000 post-menopausal women participating in the NIH's study. They examined the prospective association of religious affiliation, religious service attendance, and strength and comfort derived from religion with subsequent cardiovascular events and overall rates of death. The study showed as much as a 20 percent decrease in the overall risk of mortality for those attending religious services; however, for a reason that is not clear, it did not show any consistent change in rates of morbidity and death specifically related to cardiovascular disease.

Scientists adjusted their study for participation of individuals within communal organizations and group activities that promote a strong social life and enjoyable routines, behaviors known to lead to overall wellness. However, even after controlling for such behavior and other health-related factors, the improvements in morbidity and mortality rates exceeded expectations.

One of the authors commented, "Interestingly, the protection against mortality provided by religion cannot be entirely explained," and further, "There is something here that we don't quite understand. It is always possible that some unknown or unmeasured factors confounded these results." 

Study participants were generally aged 50 to 79, and were recruited on a voluntary basis from a variety of sources, from all over the nation. The women answered questions about baseline health conditions and religiosity and were followed by WHI researchers for an average of 7.7 years, with potential study outcomes of cardiovascular events and mortality adjudicated by trained physicians.

More work is in the cards, because investigators are considering doing an analysis of psychological profiles for study participants to determine if this can help to explain the apparent protective effects of attending religious services. Oddly enough, researchers don't want to leave it a religious mystery.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Three Weight Loss Lessons

Here are the three lessons I've learned personally about weight loss. For the first time, I've had some real success and have lost 24 pounds in the last two or three months.

1) Don't let the clock tell you when to eat. Only your stomach tells you when it is time to eat, and unless you start to listen to your stomach and not your clock, you'll always be eating "three solids" without even thinking about whether you needed to eat or not. I've found that I really don't need huge meals at Noon and 6PM, and that I am actually hungry for smaller meals around 2PM and 7:30 PM. I enjoy my breakfast and after that I will only eat when I feel hungry.

2) Eat until you are 80% full, and no more. I mentioned this on another post a few weeks ago. This is a very healthy way of eating. Listen to your stomach (once again) and eat only until you are at what you believe is the 80% mark. When you are done, the feeling of fullness will expand to 100% and you will have eaten far less food than normal.

3) Save the wine or beer for the weekend. If you enjoy a glass of beer or wine after work each night, try putting off this source of calories until weekend nights. For me, it wasn't difficult to substitute a glass of cold water during the week. But I still enjoy a glass of red wine on Friday and Saturday nights!


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Biotech Discovery: Ovarian Cancer Cells Turn Cannibal

Researchers at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center report in the Nov. 15 issue of Cancer Research that they have discovered a naturally occurring protein in the body that inhibits the growth of ovarian cancer by forcing cancer cells to eat themselves until they die.

Senior author of the research was Naoto T. Ueno, M.D., Ph.D. associate professor of breast medical oncology. Ueno says that presence of this protein, known as PEA-15, is also an independent indicator of a woman’s prospects for surviving ovarian cancer. This laboratory's analysis of ovarian cancer tumors from 395 women showed those with high levels of PEA-15 had a median survival time of 50.2 months compared with 33.5 months for women with low levels of the protein in their tumors.

“These findings provide a foundation for developing a PEA-15 targeted approach for ovarian cancer,” Ueno said. It should also be useful research for later development of a novel test that can predict patient outcomes for those with ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer kills about 15,000 women in the United States annually, and is notoriously hard to diagnose in its early stages, when it is also most optimal to treat.

First author Dr. Chandra Bartholomeusz did a series of experiments that showed how high levels of PEA-15 inhibits the growth of ovarian cancer cells by killing cells via autophagy, which means "self-cannibalization." Autophagy kills when a cell entraps parts of its cytoplasm in membranes and digests the contents, leaving a cavity. When this goes on long enough, the cell essentially eats itself until it dies, its cytoplasm riddled with cavities.

Let's hope that further research on PEA-15 proves that it can be the useful predictor and possible future therapy for ovarian cancer that it now appears to be.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bone Marrow Transplant Yields Clean Bill of Health for AIDS Patient

A remarkable operation in Berlin, a bone marrow transplant using stem cells from a donor with natural genetic resistance to the AIDS virus, has left an HIV patient free of infection for nearly two years. This patient, an American living in Germany, was infected with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) and was also deteriorating from leukemia.

Standard operating practice for this person's type of leukemia is a bone marrow transplant. In this case, German doctors searched all over the country for a donor who could not only help this patient with the leukemia, but who would have a special type of bone marrow that exhibits a genetic mutation that has been shown to help the body resist the move to AIDS.

The Germans found this donor with the mutation and used that person's bone marrow to treat their patient, providing a two-fold medical miracle. Not only did the leukemia disappear, but do did the HIV.

"As of today, more than 20 months after the successful transplant, no HIV can be detected in the patient," the clinic said in a statement to the press. The researchers stressed that this would never become a standard treatment for HIV. Bone marrow stem cell transplants are dangerous and require the patient to first have his or her own bone marrow completely destroyed.

Patients risk death from even the most minor infections because they have no immune system until the stem cells can grow and replace their own. But, HIV has no cure and is always fatal, so this is a remarkable development nonetheless. The medical team said they have been unable to find any trace of the virus in their 42-year-old patient, who remains unnamed, but that does not mean it is not there.

"The virus is tricky. It can always return," Hutter said.


My Experience with "HealthGrades" Reports

My wife is considering a tricky surgical procedure here in my small town, and as a result we both felt that we needed a bit of outside information on the doctors, the hospital, etc. As many readers have probably seen, a company known as "HealthGrades" advertises all over the Internet for these reports they sell about doctors. Just do a Google search on a doctor name and the Healthgrades ad for this report is bound to be the first thing that pops up.

I have always hesitated buying these "online reports," and would -- as a rule -- avoid any offer for information-at-a-price, whether it is on a particular company, a telephone number, etc. But, in this case, we bit. I spent $12.95 to read the report that promised information that you just can't get from the doctor's office staff.

It was disappointing, to say the least. Part of the problem is that this doctor had no other consumer comments, so there was just not much to learn. We saw his years of medical practice, and the fact that he's had no disciplinary actions (that was comforting and worth a part of the admission price). But overall, it wasn't worth my $12.95.

Content to just leave it as a small wasted expense, I put it aside. That is, until I read the small print on an invoice that came to my email. As it turns out, by ordering this report I had given them permission to bill my credit card on a monthly basis for "watchdog subscriptions" on the two doctors we investigated. That's right . . . without my specific permission, this company was going to nibble away at my credit card each month, hoping that I wouldn't catch on to what they were doing.

All in all, "HealthGrades" falls into the Sham category in this blogger's editorial opinion. Watch out -- if you do buy a report on a doctor, go immediately to your account and cancel all "subscriptions."


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Antidepressant Drugs May Damage Sperm, Hurt Male Fertility

Today, Reuters is reporting on new research being done on male treatment with paroxetine (Paxil), which belongs to the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) class of antidepressant drugs. It has been found that Paxil increases DNA fragmentation in sperm. This new research is being presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine 64th annual meeting in San Francisco.

The five-fold increase in the number of men who developed abnormal sperm DNA while being treated with paroxetine is "troubling" and "suggests an adverse effect on fertility," according to co-investigator Dr. Cigdem Tanrikut, from Harvard Medical School in Boston, who was interviewed by a reporter from Reuters.

This clinical trial is considered by researchers to be the first study to assess the impact of an SSRI on semen parameters in healthy men, and consisted of a relatively small group of 35 men who took paroxetine for 5 weeks. The drug was administered in once-daily doses of 10 mg the first week, 20 mg in the second week, 30 mg the third and fourth week, and 20 mg in the fifth week. At the conclusion, tests were conducted on semen and comparisons were made with the semen analysis done before the Paxil regmen.

Tests were conducted on semen samples obtained prior to starting paroxetine and after 4 weeks of treatment. The average DNA fragmentation score increased from 13.8 percent before paroxetine was begun to 30.3 percent at week 4, a statistically significant amount. Sperm damage in the men rose 10% to 50% higher than their pre-treatment figures.

Paxil was associated with significant sexual dysfunction as well; one third of men reported problems with erectile function and nearly half reported ejaculatory difficulties (although their sperm looked normal in all aspects during the tests).

"DNA integrity is crucial to normal fertility," Tanrikut said.

At the 2008 American Psychiatric Association meeting in Washington DC, which I attended, I noted that many MD's are getting fed up with side effects stemming from pharmaceutical antidepressants. Still, they remain some of the most often prescribed drugs in the United States. Herbal products are gaining momentum in this important health category as well.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): Caution Raised for Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD)

This news story brings to mind how annoying it is for the medical profession to constantly use jargon and acronyms to describe medical conditions. In this case, OSA may cause SCD.

A very large study on people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), in which the sleep characteristics of nearly 11,000 adults were examined in an overnight sleep laboratory, shows that OSA - and, in particular, the low nighttime oxygen saturation of the blood it causes - may be a risk factor for SCD, or "sudden cardiac death."

OSA is a condition that disrupts breathing during sleep and is associated with obesity. SCD can occur when the heart's electrical system malfunctions. When treatment such as defibrillation is not administered quite quickly, that person dies.

If further studies validate these recent findings, OSA would join established risk factors such as smoking, obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Mayo Clinic cardiologist Apoor Gami, M.D., the lead researcher on the study, has shown thatlow oxygen alters the blood vessels in a way that promotes heart disease. Gami says that the new Mayo work is the first large study to rigorously test the hypothesis.

“Nighttime low oxygen saturation in the blood is an important complication of obstructive sleep apnea,” says Virend Somers, M.D., Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator. “Our data showed that an average nighttime oxygen saturation of the blood of 93 percent and lowest nighttime saturation of 78 percent strongly predicted sudden cardiac death, independent of other well-established risk factors, such as high cholesterol. These findings implicate OSA, a relatively common condition, as a novel risk factor for SCD.”

Dr. Somers says these early results are relevant to clinical care. He urges physicians to watch for OSA in their heart patients and consider treating severe cases. “It is possible that diagnosing and treating sleep apnea may prove to be an important opportunity to advance our efforts at preventing and treating heart disease,” he says.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Astragalus: A Potential for HIV Therapy

Biotechnology and ancient Chinese medicines have little in common, but it now looks as if the two might be coming closer together with the development of a new immune system therapy based on the root of a plant that is used often in Chinese medicines -- Astragalus.

Astragalus might benefit those with HIV because immune cells often lose the ability to divide as they age, compromising the disease fighting ability of the body; this plant seems to ease that problem for immune cells. Damage occurs when a part of the cell chromosome known as a telomere becomes progressively shorter with cell division. A new UCLA AIDS Institute study has found that a chemical from the Astragalus root can prevent or slow this progressive telomere shortening.

This ability of Astragalus could make it a key weapon in the fight against HIV. Study co-author Rita Effros, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the UCLA AIDS Institute, said that "The problem is that when we're dealing with a virus that can't be totally eliminated from the body, such as HIV, the T-cells fighting that virus can't keep their telomerase turned on forever." The immune cells' telomeres get shorter and they enter a stage of degradation; Astragalus has now been shown to impact this condition favorably.

The new study, to be published in the Nov. 15 print edition of the Journal of Immunology describes how the Astragalus plant may be turned into a new biotechnology therapy by the Geron Corporation, a biotech outfit located in Menlo Park, CA. It is not clear if the root itself can be taken to have the same effect without further manipulation, but I would strongly suggest that any immune compromised person check with their doctor to see if this herb could be a part of their daily regimen.