Thursday, June 18, 2009

Artificial Sweeteners Remaining in the Environment, Showing Up in Water Supply

The media team at Springer Science is reporting today about a new test that has been conducted on the German water supply. Unfortunately, it has detected several kinds of chemical artificial sweeteners. It appears that sewage treatment plants fail to remove these artificial sweeteners completely from waste water.

The authors of this study say that these pollutants contaminate waters downstream and may still be present in our drinking water. This new and quite robust analytical method has discovered seven commonly used artificial sweeteners. Authors Marco Scheurer, Heinz-Jürgen Brauch and Frank Thomas Lange from the Water Technology Center in Karlsruhe, Germany, were able to demonstrate the presence of these contaminants in waste water. Their findings are published online this week in Springer's journal Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry.

A range of artificial sweeteners are commonly used in food and drinks, as well as drugs and sanitary products. The potential health risks of artificial sweeteners have been debated for some time. Until now, only sucralose has been detected in aquatic environments. Through the use of a new analytical method, the researchers were able to look for seven different artificial sweeteners (cyclamate, acesulfame, saccharin, aspartame, neotame, neohesperidin dihydrochalcone and sucralose) simultaneously, and show, for the first time, that a number of commonly used artificial sweeteners are present in waste and surface water.

This is a very concerning matter for those of us who do not want to consume artificial sweeteners in any form.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Family Health Deteriorating Due to Internet

It's happening in my home, and it could be in yours . . . The Internet is stealing family time and endangering our relationships.

Researchers are reporting that more and more of America’s Internet-connected households report erosion of face-to-face family time, increased feelings of being ignored by family members using the Web, and growing concerns that children are spending too much time online.

Researchers at the USC Annenberg School for Communication report the percentage of people who say they spend less time with household members since being connected to the Internet at home has nearly tripled, from 11 percent in 2006, to 28 percent in 2008.

Total hours devoted to family socializing contracted sharply over this three-year period. Through the middle of the decade, reports of shared family time had fluctuated around an average of 26 hours per month (ranging from 22.6 to 29.8 hours). By 2008, shared time had dropped by more than 30 percent, to 17.9 hours. Reports of feeling ignored, at least sometimes, by family members using the Internet grew by 40 percent over the same period. Higher income households may be suffering greater family time erosion: 35 percent report a reduction in face-to-face time.

According to researchers, women report being ignored by a family Internet user more often; almost half say they are sometimes or often ignored (49.2%) vs. less than forty percent of men (39.1%). Gilbert, who focuses on family and gender issues, thinks this may reflect the varying emphasis the sexes place on relationships, the balance women appear to maintain in their home computer use, or the persistent call of their other family and household responsibilities.

In 2000, when the surveys began, just 11 percent of respondents said family members under eighteen were spending too much time online, a concern that had grown to 28 percent by 2008. All of this suggests increasing technological pressures on the family structure.

“The family is our social foundation, society’s basic building block. We need to guard its health in what otherwise seems to be a boundless digital future," the authors say in their report.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Farm Raised Fish and the Possibility of Mad Cow Disease

Recently a University of Louisville neurologist, Dr. Robert P. Friedland, questioned the safety of eating farmed fish. His article in today’s Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease adds a new worry to concerns about the nation’s food supply.

Friedland's concern is that farmed fish could transmit Creutzfeldt Jakob disease--commonly known as mad cow disease--if they are fed byproducts rendered from cows. He and his colleagues urge government regulators to ban feeding cow meat or bone meal to fish until the safety of this common practice can be confirmed.

When you think about it, this is an extraordinarily bizarre fish farming practice -- feeding them cattle. "Fish do very well in the seas without eating cows," said the author.

The scientific team has not proven that it’s possible for fish to transmit the disease to humans. Still, out of reasonable caution for public health, they believe the practice of feeding rendered cows to fish should be prohibited. I would agree.

Mad cow disease is an untreatable, universally-fatal disease that can be contracted by eating parts of an animal infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease). An outbreak in England attributed to infected beef prompted most countries to outlaw feeding rendered cow material to other cattle because the disease is so easily spread within the same species. Now, rendered cow material is being fed to farmed fish. What a terrific idea that was, eh?

The risk of transmission of BSE to humans who eat farmed fish would appear to be low because of perceived barriers between species. But, according to the authors, it is possible for a disease to be spread by eating a carrier that is not infected itself. It’s also possible that eating diseased cow parts could cause fish to experience a pathological change that allows the infection to be passed between the two species.

The incubation period of these diseases may last for decades, which makes the association between feeding practices and infection difficult. Enhanced safeguards need to be put in place to protect the public, say the authors.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Appetite Stimulating Hormone for Frailty In Elderly

If you've ever cared for an elderly relative, or visited a nursing home, you've no doubt seen so many older women suffering from clinical frailty. These women are everywhere in that environment, and your first impression is to help them enjoy a big meal. But they seem to just pick at their food. Frailty is a common geriatric syndrome characterized by unintentional weight loss, weakness, exhaustion and low levels of anabolic hormones which increases the risk of falls, hospitalizations, disability, and death.

These women stand to benefit from the first potential medical treatment for the condition, according to a study presented today by Penn Medicine researchers at The Endocrine Society’s 91st Annual Meeting. Ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, was administered to older women diagnosed with frailty. Those who received ghrelin infusions consumed 51 percent more calories than the placebo group, with an increase in carbohydrate and protein intake, not fat. Their growth hormone levels were also higher throughout the ghrelin infusion.

“As Americans are increasingly living into their 80s and 90s, we need to identify ways to prevent or treat common geriatric conditions, such as unexplained weight loss and frailty, which have serious health consequences,” said senior author Dr. Anne Cappola at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “We’re gaining a better understanding of the hormonal changes that occur as we get older and, with treatments like ghrelin, we can start intervening to prevent some of the common health problems that keep elderly people from living their most productive lives.”

At this time, these agents are only available for research use. It is our hope that we'll soon see these compounds available for these elderly patients.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

New Discovery Could Yield Very Early Alzheimer's Test

One of the long hoped-for developments in science is a diagnostic test for Alzheimers that could deliver results prior to the brain actually undergoing the disease process. In that way, patient care would be improved dramatically, as we'd be working with the patient several years in advance of where medicine is currently.

Well, there's good news on this front! Researchers in Japan have detected a peptide in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that can show whether a person is developing Alzheimer's disease. Measuring the level of this peptide appears to show that the disease process has started, long before any serious damage is done to the brain.

This research, published in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine, raises new opportunities for combating Alzheimer's disease. Currently treatments can only be started after considerable structural damage has occurred in the person's brain. However, if this finding leads to use as a clinical test, treatment may be possible before too much damage is present, offering the hope of much better outcomes. It is really an exciting prospect.

"This novel peptide is the long-sought surrogate marker for Alzheimer's disease," says lead researcher Dr. Masayasu Okochi, who works in the Department of Neuropsychiatry at Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine (Japan).

Currently, there are few or no signs that a person has the disease until the destructive process has been active in the person's brain for many months or years, which is why this discovery is so important (and the fact that once damage has been done, science knows no way to reverse it). Consequently, many are trying to find ways of detecting the onset of Alzheimer's disease long before any symptoms appear. Ideally, any diagnostics test of real value would use a sampling method that does not involve costly scanning equipment.

The multi-centre Japanese team analysed CSF and brain tissue samples from people with and without diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. They discovered that increases in this peptide corresponded to increased levels of one of the key constituents of the senile plaques that play a critical role in Alzheimer's disease.

"Our new test allows early diagnosis, giving patients the chance of getting maximum benefit from new drugs," says Okochi.


Monday, June 8, 2009

MRSA Bacteria All Too Common in Nursing Homes

Staphylococci or “staph” are bacteria that live on the skin and in the nose, usually without causing harm. But a new type of staph has developed which is called MRSA. MRSA is a real concern, because it is a strain of staph that has proven to be resistant to several types of antibiotics. And recently, it was discovered that hospitals and nursing homes are breeding grounds for this dangerous bacteria -- particularly in the nursing home environment.

Bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics when antibiotics are overused. No where in the world of healthcare is antibiotic therapy used more frequently than with the elderly. It seems that for decades we blasted microbes with antibiotics even when our nursing home patients were in the midst of a virus-borne flu or cold. And the bugs adapted.

A new study by Queen’s University (Belfast, Ireland) has found that as many as 25% of nursing home patients in the UK carry this bacteria, and there is no reason to suggest hat the USA or other major countries would have any better results. The study is thought to be the largest of its kind; researchers took nose swabs from 1,111 residents and 553 staff.

Its authors say that the findings, which have been published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, highlight the need for infection control strategies to be given a higher priority in nursing homes. I would also say that this is a warning cry to healthcare providers to watch out for the overuse of antibiotics, as antibiotic resistant strains are appearing with great frequency.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Gingko Extract Shown to Reduce Certain Chronic Pain

The June issue of Anesthesia & Analgesia, official journal of the International Anesthesia Research Society reports today that an extract of ginkgo biloba shows scientific evidence of effectiveness against one common and hard-to-treat type of pain. Research has been conducted on rats, which is likely to hold true with humans as well.

Dr. Yee Suk Kim and colleagues of The Catholic University of Seoul (South Kore) performed experiments in rats to evaluate the effectiveness of ginkgo against neuropathic pain, a common pain problem associated with herpes zoster, limb injury, or diabetes. Affected patients may feel severe pain in response to harmless stimuli like heat, cold, or touch.

Rats with this same type of neuropathic pain were treated with different levels of a standardized ginkgo biloba extract or with an inactive solution as a placebo, and the tests were performed to see how ginkgo affected pain responses to cold and pressure. Pain responses were significantly reduced in the ginkgo-treated rats. The higher the dose of ginkgo extract, the greater the pain-relieving effect. Pain was reduced for at least two hours after ginkgo treatment.

Unfortunately, the study provides no evidence as to how ginkgo works to reduce pain. Several mechanisms are possible, including antioxidant activity, an anti-inflammatory effect, or protection against nerve injury—perhaps in combination.

Ginkgo, one of the most popular herbal products, is widely used as a memory enhancer, among other purposes. But it has not often been seen in the literature as a possible pain reliever. New treatments are needed for neuropathic pain, which does not always respond well to available treatments.

"It's still too early to stock up on ginkgo biloba if you have chronic pain," comments Dr. Steven L. Shafer of Columbia University. "Many treatments that are effective in animals do not prove to be effective in humans, or prove to have unacceptable toxic effects when given to patients" Dr. Shafer reminds.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Major Sham: Doctors Who Treat "VIP's"

Here's an unusual trend . . . Recently, I heard from a doctor in Sedona that he plans to "trim down the patient roster," and "start providing a level of care to that smaller group of patients that has never been seen in our community." Sounds like something of a sales pitch, eh? Well, it turns out that there is a company called MDVIP that is now going around the country convincing doctors that they would be better off if they cut back their practice, as opposed to adding to their practice.

According to this doctor, MDVIP is a "national network of physicians who focus on personalized and preventative care," and this change means that he will "work with you as a partner, and treat the whole you." He promises to have longer appointments for each patient and a private number that you can call to talk to him at any time of the day or night.

It sounded great until I started getting phone calls and letters that reminded me of an investment scam, or perhaps time share sales. He's holding a meeting at a local resort, complete with food and beverage, so that his patients can hear more about this "exciting change" in his practice. If you miss the meeting, you can call or visit MDVIP on the Internet in order to "learn more and sign up as a VIP patient." (The website is By the time I had received a couple of letters, personal phone calls and solicitations (one of them from a professional survey company who asked me, "Would you be willing to pay more for even more attention from your doctor?") I was very, very suspicious.

Sure enough, if you want to be a VIP, you need to come up with something like $1,500.00 annually, in addition to per-visit charges that are definitely not on the insurance company's contract rate chart.

Wow. I can't believe that some MD's are signing up to have this company "convert" their practice in such a way. What's wrong with just limiting the practice to all that you can handle and then treating those patients like real people? MDVIP is training doctors to use patients like cogs in a factory, to produce income at a level that the rest of us can't even imagine.

Personally, I won't be a part of this doctor's new lifestyle. He's going to limit the practice to 600 patients. Let's see . . . what is 600 times the annual fee of $1,500?

This joker gets a cool million just to start treating patients like VIP's.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Trying to Conceive? Eat Your Veggies and Take Antioxidants

There's been a discussion for many years amongst scientists seeking to find a possible relationship between men's diets and the quality of their semen. As it turns out, Spanish researchers have now confirmed that antioxidants, molecules which are found mainly in fruit and vegetables, indeed play a key role. Antioxidants delay and prevent the oxidation of other molecules.

Low antioxidant intake has now been associated with low reproductive capacity in semen. This is the finding of a new study carried out in two infertility centres in Alicante and Murcia, and which has been published in the journal Fertility and Sterility.

"Our previous research study, published in March, showed that men who eat large amounts of meat and full fat dairy products have lower seminal quality than those who eat more fruit, vegetables and reduced fat dairy products. In this study, we have found that people who consume more fruits and vegetables are ingesting more antioxidants, and this is the important point", said Jaime Mendiola, lead author of the article and a researcher at the University of Murcia (Spain).

The experts have spent the past four years analyzing the link between dietary habits or workplace exposure to contaminants and the quality of semen among men attending fertility clinics. Their objective was to find out whether a higher or lower intake of vitamins and antioxidants could affect semen quality. These molecules, which are present in foods such as citrus fruits, peppers and spinach (and of course from supplementation) work by lowering the level of oxidative stress that can affect semen quality, and improve sperm concentration parameters as well as sperm mobility and morphology.

The study was carried out among 61 men, 30 of whom had reproductive problems, while the remaining 31 acted as controls. "We saw that, among the couples with fertility problems coming to the clinic, the men with good semen quality ate more vegetables and fruit (more vitamins, folic acid and fibre and less proteins and fats) than those men with low seminal quality", explains Mendiola.

"A healthy diet is not only a good way of avoiding illness, but could also have an impact on improving seminal quality. What we still do not understand is the difference between taking these vitamins naturally and in the form of supplements. In the studies we are going to carry out in the United States (where the consumption of vitamins in tablet form is very common) we will be looking at the role of supplements", the Spanish scientist continues.

It will be interesting for scientists to uncover whether some of these new high-value antioxidants taken in supplement form, such as Acai,(and other "superfruits") as well as Grape Seed extracts, etc, can have any bearing on sperm quality.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Why Clinical Trials for Anti-Depressants Always Work Better than Real Life

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have published the truth behind all the successful clinical trials for antidepressant drugs. They looked into why these drugs always perform better in the clinic than they do in the real world after FDA approval. Researchers believe the reason medications do not work as well in real life as they do in clinical studies is because there is a very limited type of study participant who is selected for drug trials; this profile differs significantly from the makeup of the real world.

Our clinical care in the United States is based on samples of patients that are totally different from the patient population actually treated in primary care and mental health facilities. Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern is the senior author of this study published in the May issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry. “Antidepressants should not be seen as a panacea. The general belief is that they work well, but they are less effective in real-world practice.” Trivedi believes that more work is needed to get trials to accurately predict the success of drugs in real applications.

As part of the Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR*D) study scientists found that only 22 percent of the 2,855 participants treated with a commonly prescribed antidepressant would have met the criteria for inclusion in a typical antidepressant efficacy trial. Those who did meet the trial criteria had shorter bouts of depression, quicker response to medication, less severe side effects and fewer adverse events compared with those people with depression who were excluded from such a trial.

To this writer, it doesn't seem fair that companies are allowed to "stack the deck" in this way when designing drug trials.

The six-year, $35 million STAR*D study is the largest investigation on the treatment of major depressive disorder and is considered a benchmark in the field of depression research. It initially included more than 4,000 people from outpatient treatment sites across the country. About 65 percent of STAR*D participants, however, had a medical co-morbidity such as diabetes that typically would have excluded them from participating in other clinical trials to test the efficacy of antidepressants.

“Evidence is growing that depression is like other chronic medical illnesses where it’s not just one small, short bout, but a longer battle. People with depression may be at higher risk for other illnesses including obesity or diabetes, yet people with these conditions are excluded from drug trials for depression,” Dr. Trivedi said.


Monday, June 1, 2009

Antibiotic Resistant Pathogens Now Turning Up In Sewage

There's been quite a lot written on this blog over the years about the dangers that antibiotic resistant pathogens can pose to our healthcare. My concern is that we create many of these pathogens ourselves by allowing the overuse of antibiotics (as well as by producing thousands of "anti-microbial" consumer products). These practices have allowed large numbers of bacteria to mutate into new pathogens which are not easily killed off by our usual armada of drugs.

Now, it appears that Vancomycin resistant enterococci (VRE) have been found in sewage sludge, which is a by-product of waste-water treatment frequently used as a fertilizer. Researchers writing in the scientific journal Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica point out the danger of antibiotic resistance genes passing into the human food chain.

Leena Sahlström, from the Finnish Food Safety Authority (the equivalent of our FDA) worked with a team of researchers from the Swedish National Veterinary Institute to study sewage sludge from a wastewater treatment plant in Uppsala, Sweden. She said, “Antimicrobial resistance is a serious threat in veterinary medicine and human healthcare. Resistance genes can spread from animals, through the food-chain, and back to humans. Sewage sludge may act as one link in this chain”.

The researchers collected sludge from the plant every week for four months, for a total of 77 samples. Of these, 79% tested positive for the drug resistant superbugs. Although VRE themselves are not generally considered to be highly pathogenic, the danger is that they may pass on their resistance genes to other bacteria.

Sahlström and her colleagues conclude that there is a need for more efficient hygienic treatment of sewage sludge, in order to avoid this possibility of the pathogens spreading their antimicrobial resistance by being used as fertilizer on our food.