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|Death by Medicine|
Natural medicine has come
under attack as pharmaceutical company lobbyists
push lawmakers to deprive Americans of the
benefits of dietary supplements. Drug-front groups
have implemented slanderous campaigns in attempts
to undermine the value of natural health
These attacks to natural
medicine prompted an independent review of
government-approved medicine, which revealed that
conventional medicine was the leading cause of
death in the United States. This review of
government health statistics showed that in most
cases, American medicine does more harm than
good. Compelling evidence
from this study unveiled astounding statistics on
the 783,936 deaths per year that have resulted
from conventional medicine.
The purpose of this article
was to memorialize the failure of the American
medical system by exposing the horrifying
statistics of the inadequacies of today’s health
care system with the goal of beginning some
Highlights from the
findings in the review:
U.S. health care spending
has reached $1.6 trillion in 2003, which
represents 14 percent of the nation’s gross
In a 1992 survey, a
national pharmacy database found a total of
429,827 medication errors from 1,081
In 1974, 2.4 million
unnecessary surgeries were performed that
resulted in 11,900 deaths compared to the year
2001, where 7.5 million unnecessary surgeries
were performed resulting in 37,136
A 1998 study reported an
estimated 106,000 deaths from prescription
medications per year.
Nearly 9 million people
were unnecessarily hospitalized in
Here are additional
reasons why the traditional paradigm is
Studies have found that
the 41 million Americans without health
insurance have an increased risk for dying
prematurely and not receiving appropriate
20 percent of all causes
of death occur in nursing homes.
More than 30 percent of
nursing homes in the United States were cited
for abuses, exceeding over 9,000
A study of a 100-bed
sub-acute care hospital revealed that only 8
percent of the patients were well nourished, 29
percent were malnourished and 63 percent were at
In January, University of
Utah hospital surgeons removed half the skull of Briana
Lane, age 22 and unemployed, in order to save her life
after an auto accident, but because putting the skull
back in place was not quite an emergency, it was delayed
by negotiations over cost. The skull remained in a
freezer for three months, with Lane battling serious
pain (and wearing a plastic helmet for protection,
feeling her brain "shifting" on her) while the hospital
negotiated with the state Medicaid office, which pays
only for long-term "disabilities." Her skull was finally
reattached on April 30. [Salt Lake Tribune-AP,
healthy heart means a healthy mind Steps taken to lower
stroke risk might help avert dementia later
your average middle-aged American guy. Say he has blood
pressure that's just a tad too high and cholesterol
that's over the limit, and he could stand to lose a few
pounds. And OK, he has been trying to quit but still
His doctor told him he's at risk for stroke
and heart disease. But he figures he has time.
he doesn't know is this: Those risk factors reflect an
underlying disease process that's harming not only his
heart and blood vessels but also his brain. Those
factors might lead to a series of ''silent'' strokes
that go by unnoticed, that hammer the brain and lead to
subtle problems like lackluster performance on any task
that requires planning and flexible thinking.
Fast-forward 10 years. This guy has ignored his
blood pressure, put on weight, still smokes and has had
a full-blown stroke.
He survived the stroke, but new
research raises another worry: He may be at higher risk
of developing Alzheimer's, a progressive disease that
destroys the brain, leaving victims unable to care for
Some researchers even suggest
Alzheimer's might be the product of the same sedentary
lifestyle and high-fat diet fueling the nation's obesity
epidemic. That unhealthy lifestyle has packed the pounds
on millions of Americans, putting them at risk for
diabetes, high blood pressure and other diseases that
might be causing an ''accelerated aging of the brain,''
says Philip Wolf, a researcher involved in the landmark
Framingham Heart Study.
Some experts say the
explosion of obesity cases, and the resulting health
problems such as stroke and heart disease, will almost
certainly lead to many more Americans developing
Alzheimer's disease in the coming decades, perhaps even
more than the projected 16 million cases by 2050.
The mental edge
The flipside of that dire
prediction is that people who reduce their risk of
cardiovascular disease with diet and exercise and other
heart-healthy habits might keep their mental edge late
in life -- and gain protection from Alzheimer's, says
Marilyn Albert, a neurologist at the Johns Hopkins
University in Baltimore.
''What's good for the heart
is good for the brain,'' Albert says.
now know what's good for the heart thanks to the
Framingham Heart Study, the first to make the connection
between high cholesterol and heart attacks and stroke.
Now Framingham researchers are starting to look at how
cardiovascular risk factors affect the brain.
Framingham researcher Rhoda Au, Wolf and their
colleagues studied about 2,000 Framingham participants
who were mostly in their 50s and 60s. Many were still
working, and none had Alzheimer's.
But some had risk
factors for stroke, such as diabetes, high blood
pressure or a smoking habit. The researchers estimated
each person's 10-year risk of having a stroke, when
blood flow to the brain gets blocked, causing brain cell
After giving a battery of tests that measure
thinking, the team found that people with the highest
risk for stroke lagged far behind their peers on tests
that measured the ability to pay attention, reason and
People might not notice such slight
problems, especially if they're in a job they've done
for years. But the deficits do show up on standardized
tests and over time might surface in daily life.
Wolf and his colleagues believe that such people
might be having a series of mini-strokes, very small
blockages that could injure the brain enough to impair
certain thinking abilities. ''Over time, that damage
accumulates,'' Au says. The study appears in the
February issue of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart
But the mini-stroke also can serve as a
warning sign of a full stroke, which can cause some
memory loss and confusion but doesn't progressively
destroy huge areas of the brain as Alzheimer's does.
A second study, this one by researchers in New York
City, provides further evidence that a stroke may lead
to Alzheimer's years later.
Richard Mayeux and his colleagues studied 1,766 older
people, including stroke survivors. Reporting in
December's Archives of Neurology, the team found stroke
survivors ran a 60% greater risk of getting Alzheimer's
compared with those who had never had a stroke.
price to pay'
No one knows for sure what's going on
deep inside the brain. The stroke might simply add to
ongoing Alzheimer's damage. Scientists believe
Alzheimer's is caused when abnormal brain deposits
called plaque build up and ultimately damage the brain.
Or the same factors that triggered the stroke might
fuel growth of Alzheimer's deposits. Thus, an unhealthy
lifestyle might lead to the double whammy of stroke and
Alzheimer's, says Bill Thies, a spokesman for the
Alzheimer's Association in Chicago.
mechanism, the result will be memory loss and confusion.
''Do enough damage to the brain and eventually there
will be a price to pay,'' says Steve Roach, a
neurologist at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem,
Though there's no scientific proof that an
unhealthy lifestyle causes or leads to Alzheimer's, the
public health message couldn't be more clear, Thies
says: Habits that keep the body and heart healthy might
pay off years later in reduced risk for the disease.
''What you do today does matter 20 years from
Portraits by an artist in
a fight for his young life 4-year-old's paintings help
pay for his treatment
dozen new works of art on exhibit at the Fresno Art
Museum may strike some patrons as somewhat juvenile.
They are abstract. One is a
collection of circles and dots. Another is a depiction
of rudimentary bicycles of varying sizes and clarity.
Earlier works by the painter have
sold for as much as $7,500, purchased by collectors
drawn by the talent and financial need of the artist --
a 4-year-old boy with leukemia.
Parker Fritsch, who lives in
Fresno, was diagnosed with Philadelphia
chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia two
years ago. The disease is an aggressive malignancy that
the American Cancer Society says strikes 3% of children
with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form
of childhood cancer.
Parker has been treated with
chemotherapy and is in remission. But he might need a
bone marrow transplant, and the search for a match is
expected to cost his family $250,000 because of the
number of potential donors who must be tested.
Parker is helping pay for the
search, putting to use a talent that his mother, an art
teacher, discovered when he was just 18 months old.
''Most little kids will take all
the paint and blend it on the paper and make it brown,
but he didn't do that,'' Melissa Fritsch says.
At a friend's suggestion, the
toddler's parents donated one of his paintings to a
charity function at Children's Hospital Central
California in Madera, Calif. The painting sold for
$1,600, and the family realized that Parker could
contribute a lot to his own cause.
''It just kind of snowballed, and
he has sold somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000 of
artwork so far, all for charity,'' his mother says.
Parker's paintings will be
displayed at the museum through July 10, when they will
be auctioned off. Nicole Gonzales, the museum's
marketing director, says she understands why there has
been such an outpouring of interest in Parker's artwork.
''It's inspiring and it feels
good to the person who is bidding that the money is
going to a good cause,'' she says. ''It puts a face on
the disease, and the artwork is something nice to have
in a home.''
Friends of the Fritsch family
have long been active in charity functions. ''I believe
that the more support you have, the better chances of
survival you have,'' says Marilyn Kelarjian, who has
become a coordinator and activist on the boy's behalf.
''When he was diagnosed, it was a
knee-jerk reaction for me to do something to help.''
Two charity golf tournaments have
contributed to Parker's medical expenses, and a team
inspired by his story participated in a 100-mile bike
ride to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Parker's family has been
overwhelmed by the outpouring of concern and generosity
from friends and strangers.
''It's amazing to me how much
love a little boy can bring into your life,'' Melissa
Fritsch says. ''You do whatever you can, and the
littlest things have meant so much to us.''
Carbohydrates may be considered
evil in this age of the low-carb diet revolution, but
the nutrient plays an important role in helping athletes
recover from strenuous exercise.
Two decades of research have shown
that consuming carbs after a hard workout rebuilds worn
muscles and primes the body for the next training.
Failure to eat the right food after exercise — or worse
— skipping the post-exercise meal altogether can harm
"You never think that you can just
continue to ride your car without ever going to the gas
station. We can't expect to be able to continue to
exercise our bodies without refueling them," said Cedric
Bryant, chief exercise physiologist of the American
Council on Exercise.
Carbs — the main source of energy
during physical activity — are stored as glycogen in
muscle cells. During exercise, the glycogen reserves
deplete and an intake of carbs is needed to replenish
the body. Neglecting or avoiding the post-workout meal
could result in muscle breakdown and leave your body
feeling fatigued during the next workout.
In 2000, the American College of
Sports Medicine, along with the American Dietetic
Association and the Dietitians of Canada, reviewed
numerous studies on the subject and took a stand on the
issue. In a published joint position statement, they
acknowledged the importance of post-game nutrition on
How much carbs should be eaten
after exercise depends on the duration and intensity of
the workout, as well as when the next training will
occur. For example, a post-workout meal is generally
more essential for a triathlete who runs in the morning
and cycles in the afternoon than a marathoner who just
runs one race. That's because the triathlete needs to
refuel in between workouts while the marathoner has more
time between runs to recover.
Experts recommend that carbs be
eaten 30 minutes to an hour after vigorous exercise
since that's when the body will act like a sponge and
absorb the nutrients. Some post-workout snacks may
include cooked pasta, rice, English muffin, oatmeal or
The casual health club visitor may
not need to follow the post-workout rule as strictly
because the body will naturally take in carbs from other
meals during the day. But experts say it doesn't hurt to
consume a carb-rich snack after workout to get a boost
Recent research shows that a
combination of carbs and protein can also help the body
recoup. Protein helps repair muscle damage, but carbs
are king when it comes to replenishing carbohydrate
stores. Eating too much protein after exercise is not
good either because it can slow rehydration.
The general guideline is a carb
intake of a half-gram per pound of body weight. So a
150-pound person should eat about 75 grams of carbs, or
the equivalent of a cup of cooked pasta.
"That is really going to be the
only way that you're going to be able to continue to
power your working muscles," said Cindy Moore, a
Cleveland-based registered dietitian and spokeswoman for
the American Dietetic Association.
For those who are weight-conscious
and wary about consuming too many carbs, experts say
they still should make sure to eat the right food after
intense exercise. But they can take steps like limiting
carb-rich snacks that are high in simple sugars like
cookies and cakes and eat more nutritious carb sources
like legumes and whole-grain cereals.
"This isn't going to sabotage
weight-loss efforts," Bryant said. "If anything, it will
allow you to be more productive in your exercise, which
in the long term is going to help you with your
Nancy Clark, nutrition guidebook
author and sports nutritionist at a fitness center in
Chestnut Hill, Mass., advises that athletes plan their
post-workout meal in advance to prevent unhealthy
Lisa Avellino, a certified personal
trainer and aerobics instructor from Scarsdale, N.Y.,
said most of her clients understand the importance of
eating after exercising, many do not know the correct
food ratios and combinations to maximize their energy.
"When they learn how they can
combine certain foods and make subtle changes in their
dietary post-workout meal, they get better results," she
Some doctors want cash payment — and their
patients aren't complaining
When Chuck O'Brien visits his doctor, they talk
about his aches and pains, his heart problems and his
diet, but never about his health insurance.
That's because his doctor only
Dr. Vern Cherewatenko is one of a
small but growing number of physicians across the
country who are dumping complicated insurance contracts
in favor of simple cash payments.
When O'Brien leaves the exam room,
he writes a check for $50 and he's done — no forms, no
ID numbers, no copayments.
"This is traditional medicine. This
is what America was like 30 years ago," said O'Brien, 55
and self-employed, who believes he has saved thousands
of dollars by dropping his expensive insurance policy
and paying cash. "It's a whole world of difference."
Is this the health care wave of the
future? Probably not, experts say. Most people are
content with monthly premiums and $10 copays; nine out
of 10 doctors contract with managed-care companies.
But cash-only medicine is becoming
an increasingly attractive option for doctors frustrated
by red tape and for the 43 million Americans who lack
"It's a terrible indictment of the
collapsing health care system," said Arthur Caplan,
chairman of the medical ethics department at the
University of Pennsylvania Medical School. "Insurance
and managed care were supposed to streamline — instead
what they've done is add so much paperwork and
bureaucracy they're driving some doctors out."
Health insurers downplay the trend,
while emphasizing recent efforts to mend tattered
relationships between doctors and managed care
"I don't look at it as a threat,"
said Mohit Ghose, spokesman for the industry group
America's Health Insurance Plans. "It's just a different
way of practicing."
Medical establishment leaders don't
object to doctors working for simple cash.
"This is America. One size does not
fit all," said Dr. John C. Nelson, president-elect of
the American Medical Association. "We certainly support
the physicians' right to do that."
An obstetrician-gynecologist in
Salt Lake City, Nelson easily recalled times when he
believed managed care rules prevented his patients from
getting the best treatment. He said cash-only doctors
are driven by the desire to practice medicine without
"There is a great intrusion by
third parties into the patient-physician relationship,"
Nelson said. "We can understand their frustration."
Cherewatenko, a broad-shouldered
45-year-old who wears black jackets and red stethoscopes
at work, switched to cash out of desperation six years
ago. His suburban Seattle practice was hemorrhaging
money, and he and his partners realized they were
spending hundreds of thousands of dollars just to
process insurance paperwork.
"We said, 'Let's cut out this
administrative waste,'" Cherewatenko said. Before, he
charged $79 for an office visit and got $43 from an
insurance company months later, minus the $20 in staff
time it took to collect the payment. Now he charges $50
— and he never worries about collection costs, because
patients pay in full after every visit.
Cherewatenko sees fewer patients
now. His whole office would probably fit inside his old
waiting room. But he says the freedom is worth it.
"Accounts receivable is zero. It's
a great feeling," Cherewatenko said. "I feel like I'm a
real doctor again."
He started a group called
SimpleCare to spread the gospel of cash-only medicine.
The organization steers patients to doctors who offer
cash discounts, and gives technical and moral support to
doctors who want to start cutting their ties to
insurance. Membership has grown to 22,000 patient
members and 1,500 doctors. Some reject all insurance and
take only cash, while others continue to accept
insurance while offering discounts of 15% to 50% for
Independent of SimpleCare, doctors
in California, Colorado, Minnesota, Texas, Mississippi
and other states have also quit the insurance game. Some
tired of the paperwork and administrative expenses. Some
wanted to spend more time with patients without managed
care bean-counters peering over their shoulders. The
patients who pay cash range from poor to wealthy, with
most in the blue-collar middle.
"When I first started, I thought it
would be the elite. That's not the case," said Dr.
Shelley Giebel, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Temple,
Texas, who washed her hands of insurance eight years
Her standard, hour-long annual
checkup costs $140. Everyone pays cash.
If a patient needs extra tests or
treatment, Giebel tells them upfront what it will cost.
"If it is an urgent test, we'll go
ahead and do it. We're not going to delay medical care
because they don't have the money in hand," she said.
Often, patients return later with the money.
"It has usually not been a problem
that people forgo medical care," she said.
The cash-only movement isn't just
changing the way people pay, it's changing the way these
doctors work. Because of managed care's low
reimbursement rates, doctors on insurance contracts must
limit their time with each patient.
Giebel, a typical example, said she
would have to double her patient load to make ends meet
if she relied on insurance — something she can't
imagine. "How can you possibly talk about prevention of
cancer and heart disease when you're seeing patients
every 12 minutes?" she asked.
Cash-only patients rave about the
quality of care.
"They take time here with you,"
said Jesse Rainwater, a 59-year-old church pastor from
Bellevue, Wash., who credits Cherewatenko with teaching
him to manage his diabetes. "They don't just bring you
in and run you out like a bunch of cattle. You feel like
The cash-only approach evokes
Norman Rockwell-tinged visions of country doctors being
paid with chickens. The simplicity is tempting, but the
truth is many people went without preventive health care
in those "good old days." A $50 charge can be powerful
incentive to delay seeing a doctor until you're in pain
— which can lead to more expensive health problems
"Medicine used to be a cash-only
business, and there were certainly many people who
didn't have the cash," said Caplan, the medical
ethicist. Doctors who insist on cash also have an
ethical obligation to help people who can't afford the
fee, he said — even if it means accepting chickens.
Cash crusaders acknowledge the need
for some type of insurance. Without it, expensive
surgery or hospitalization would force most people into
bankruptcy. But they think health insurance should work
more like car insurance: you pay for the routine
maintenance and little dings yourself, and insurance
pays for more expensive repairs.
O'Brien, a freelance marketing
specialist, switched from a comprehensive health plan
with $300 monthly premiums to a catastrophic plan that
costs $75 a month, with a $2,000 deductible. He pays
out-of-pocket for routine checkups, and his insurance
will kick in if he ever needs expensive care.
The promise of a simple cash
payment lured him to Cherewatenko's office, but the
doctor's personal attention keeps him coming back. The
$50 exams are just part of the bargain for O'Brien.
Cherewatenko recently met him for coffee to talk about
improving his diet — including an admonition to cut back
"How often does your doctor go out
and have a cup of coffee with you?" O'Brien asked.
Green Tea Component Kills Leukemia
A component of green tea helps
kill cells of B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL),
the second most common leukemia in American adults,
according to new research.
Mayo Clinic researchers
found that the component, called
epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), destroys leukemia
cells by interrupting the communication signals they
need to survive. The research appears online in the
CLL is most often diagnosed in people in their
mid-to-late 60s. Chemotherapy is used to treat the most
severe cases, but there is no cure for CLL.
In this study, the Mayo scientists found that EGCG
prompted leukemia cells to die in eight of 10 patient
samples tested in a laboratory.
"We're continuing to look for therapeutic agents that
are nontoxic to the patient but kill cancer cells, and
this finding with EGCG is an excellent start," study
leader Dr. Neil E. Kay said in a prepared statement.
"Understanding this mechanism and getting these positive
early results gives us a lot to work with in terms of
offering patients with this disease more effective,
easily tolerated therapies earlier."
A Surprising Reason Why Soft Drinks Make
The rate of
obesity in the U.S. started to increase in the 1970s,
about the same time that manufacturers switched from
sugar to cheaper corn syrup for their colas and other
soft drinks. Now researchers say this may be because
high fructose corn syrup—a food, like margarine, that is
created in the lab and not found in nature—does not
trigger the same appetite response in the body as sugar,
so it's more likely to make us fat.
Connoisseurs who remember the great taste of
old-time sodas try to find Kosher Coke and Coca-Cola
bottled in Mexico, where it's still made with sugar. But
these sodas may not just taste better; the cost-cutting
measures of major manufacturers may be the leading cause
of obesity in America. Obesity researcher Dr. George A.
Bray says the rise in corn sweeteners is "coincidental
with the epidemic of obesity. Body weights rose slowly
for most of the 20th century until the late 1980s. At
that time, many countries showed a sudden increase in
the rate at which obesity has been galloping forward."
glucose (sugar), fructose doesn't trigger responses in
the hormones that regulate your appetite and energy
output, meaning it's much more likely to be converted
foods" have been a major cause of disease in the past
few years. Margarine, which replaced butter when it was
scarce during World War II, was once touted by the
American Heart Association as a miracle food that
lowered cholesterol levels. It's now been shown to do
just the opposite and we're warned not to eat it.
being vegetarians, cows were fed protein in the form of
the ground-up bones of other cows, leading to Mad Cow
High-fructose corn syrup made soft drinks cheap,
especially after we could no longer import sugar from
Cuba. Like all the other "fake foods" of recent years,
it was created so manufacturers could cut costs and make
more profit. And like the other fakes, it has ended up
costing the public large amounts of money for treating
heart disease, obesity and for Mad Cow monitoring.
they try to sell us next?
From USA Today
Child obesity worse than
thought, study suggests
Childhood obesity in the USA looks
significantly worse than previously believed, suggests
the largest assessment ever of public school students.
The report, released Thursday, indicates
40% of students in Arkansas are overweight or at risk of
becoming so. Currently, the U.S. government estimates
that 30% of the nation's kids are overweight or on their
way to being too heavy.
Arkansas is one of the nation's poorest
states, and low-income adults are known to have high
obesity levels. But researchers say the study's numbers
show problems across income levels.
''As more data comes in, I think it's
going to be this bad everywhere. I don't think it's
isolated to Arkansas,'' says Carden Johnston, president
of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
''The epidemic of obesity in children is
advancing much more quickly than the (Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention) and others predicted,''
says pediatrician Joe Thompson, director of the Arkansas
Center for Health Improvement, a non-profit organization
that analyzed the data.
William Dietz of the CDC says, ''Either
this reflects an ongoing increase in the prevalence of
overweight children or that Arkansas has a more severe
problem than other parts of the country. Either way it's
Children who weigh too much are at a
greater risk of becoming heavy adults, are more likely
to have low self-esteem and have a greater chance of
developing health complications such as diabetes, high
blood pressure and bone and joint problems.
Arkansas is the only state to require
that its 450,000 students from kindergarten to 12th
grade have their height and weight measured to determine
their body mass index (BMI), a formula that also
considers age and gender.
Among findings reported at the Time/ABC
News summit on obesity in Williamsburg, Va.:
* 22% of the students are overweight;
18% show signs of developing weight problems.
* 58% are in the normal weight range; 2%
* African-American and Hispanic students
are more likely to be overweight or at risk of becoming
so than white children.
The state will send letters home to
parents this summer. If the child is reported to be
overweight, parents will be advised to ask their doctor
whether it is a problem, Thompson says.
In some cases, really muscular kids may
not actually be overweight, he says. ''One in four of
our high school boys are overweight and some of them may
have the muscles of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but most
clearly have a problem with obesity,'' he says.
Parents of overweight kids are advised
to reduce the children's TV time, increase their
physical activity and suggest low-calorie
Study: Low-carb not a
slimmer diet But research finds other advantages
In the largest study of its kind,
researchers have found that dieters on low-carbohydrate
plans don't lose more weight over the long term than
But there's good news for
carb-counters: They get greater improvement in their
levels of triglycerides, blood fats linked to coronary
disease. That is important because nutritionists have
raised concern for years over low-carb diets' high
intake of saturated animal fat and its potential impact
on the heart.
Millions are on Atkins and similar diets
that push beef, fish, chicken, pork, cheese and high-fat
salad dressings but slash carbohydrates, including
sweets, potatoes, bread and pasta, starchy vegetables
and many fruits.
Researchers at the Veterans Affairs
Medical Center in Philadelphia followed 132 obese adults
for a year. Half were told to try to eat less than 30
grams of carbs a day. The others were told to follow a
more conventional plan: cutting 500 calories a day and
limiting fat to 30% of calories.
Findings in today's Annals of Internal
* At six months, the low-carb group had
lost an average of 13 pounds; the conventional dieters
lost about 4 pounds.
* After a year, the low-carb group was
down an average of 11 pounds. The other group continued
to lose and was down an average of 8 pounds. The
difference was not statistically significant.
* The low-carb group had a decrease in
triglycerides, and diabetics in the group had better
control of their blood sugar.
* Both diet groups had fairly high
dropout rates. Almost a third of the dieters quit.
''Cutting back on carbohydrates for most
Americans means getting rid of junk food like French
fries, sodas, doughnuts,'' says Linda Stern, the study's
A second study, conducted at Duke
University, also found that low-carb dieters had better
improvements in triglycerides and ''good'' cholesterol.
Duke tracked 120 overweight people for six months.
Low-carb dieters lost an average of 26 pounds, compared
with 14 for traditional dieters.
The Duke study, also published in the
medical journal, was funded by the Atkins
Is high-fructose corn syrup the culprit?
Sweetener feeds obesity problem, researchers say
High-fructose corn sweeteners in soft drinks and
other products may be contributing significantly to
obesity in the USA, researchers said last week. But that
conclusion is drawing fire from industry and consumer
Almost 65% of Americans are either overweight or
obese today, compared with 47% in the 1970s. Experts
believe that is a result of many factors, including a
decrease in physical activity, larger portion sizes,
high-calorie fare and the availability of food
High-fructose corn sweeteners, which are cheaper to
produce than sugars from cane and beets, began being
more widely used in the late 1980s and 1990s, when
Americans' weight started creeping up, says Barry
Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North
Popkin and other researchers examined
government food-consumption data from 1967 to 2000 as
well as other studies and found that Americans age 2 and
above get an average 132 calories a day from
high-fructose corn sweeteners, mostly in soft drinks,
compared with 80 calories in 1977. The study is in
April's American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
''We know from animal studies that fructose doesn't
affect appetite,'' Popkin says. ''So if you drink a soft
drink, you don't get filled up like you would if you
drank milk.'' That means that if you were hungry when
you consumed the drink, you would need to consume
additional calories from some other food or beverage, he
Others disagree. The researchers ''give the
impression that high-fructose corn syrup is the secret
reason Americans are all obese, and that is patently
false,'' says Stephanie Childs of the Grocery
Manufacturers of America, a trade group representing
Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo and others.
''High-fructose corn syrup is very similar to sugar
in its chemical makeup. We are overweight and have an
obesity epidemic because we have an imbalance in how
many calories we consume and how many we burn,'' she
Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center
for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based
consumer group, says there's no nutritional difference
in the soft drinks that decades ago were sweetened with
table sugar, or sucrose, and those sold today with
high-fructose corn sweeteners.
He says either blend would contribute to a weight
problem because of the increase in container sizes and
the mass distribution of soft
From USA Today
FDA issues new rules vs.
mad cow disease Materials banned from human use
Six months after the discovery of the
first U.S. case of mad cow disease, the Food and Drug
Administration issued long-delayed rules Friday banning
nervous system tissue and other cattle parts from use in
human food, dietary supplements and cosmetics.
The ban prohibits the use of the brain,
skull, eyes and spinal cord tissue -- where infectious
agents of the brain-wasting disease first appear -- from
animals 30 months and older. Banned from all cattle are
tonsils and small intestines and material from cattle
that cannot stand up on their own.
Manufacturers and processors must
immediately cease using any of those materials.
The agency also is seeking public and
industry comment on a proposed ban on the use of the
materials in animal feed.
The rules bring the FDA in line with
those issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture just
weeks after the discovery in December of a diseased cow
in Washington state. The FDA ensures that food for
humans as well as animals is pure, wholesome and does
not contain unsafe additives.
But the agency might not finalize all
its animal feed rules until 2006, says Stephen Sundlof,
director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine,
and that has food safety advocates up in arms.
Jean Halloran of Consumers Union said
while the FDA mulls its options, ''this dangerous
material is still being fed to the cows.''
The FDA strengthened feed rules in 1997
and proposed new rules banning the feeding of
potentially infectious material to cattle in November
2002. The proposals included bans on feeding cattle
restaurant leftovers, poultry litter and dried cattle
Mad cow disease, known to scientists as
bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is spread when the
infected animals are recycled into feed. People who eat
infected meat risk contracting a rare but fatal human
condition, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
''The Bush administration has reneged on
its pledge to take additional steps to protect human and
animal health from BSE,'' says Carol Tucker Foreman of
the Consumer Federation of America.
But Sundlof says the broader feed rule
on which the FDA is seeking comment may supercede the
prohibitions it proposed earlier. By removing specified
risk materials (brain, skull, eyes, spinal cord, small
intestine, tonsils), ''you take about 90% of all the
infectivity out of the system altogether,'' he says.
The FDA hopes to have the new feed rules
in place within eight months, Sundloff says. ''Focusing
our attention on the highest-risk materials and
eliminating those from the animal feed supply will take
us very far, and then we can sort through the rest.''
Study: Not all kids with
glasses need them Many will outgrow mild farsightedness
A study released today finds that up to
25% of children with normal eyes who have comprehensive
vision exams may be prescribed glasses they don't need.
In an article published online in the
Journal of the American Association of Pediatric
Ophthalmology and Strabismus, researchers examined the
records of more than 100,000 preschoolers who were
screened through a statewide program in Tennessee.
More than 3,600 children were referred
to specialists for follow-ups because of suspected
disorders, such as lazy eye, according to the study.
About one-quarter, or 890, were found to have no eye
problems. Yet nearly one in five of these children were
Some health professionals were more
likely to misdiagnose kids than others, says Sean
Donahue, lead study author and an associate professor of
ophthalmology, pediatrics and neurology at Vanderbilt
University School of Medicine. Optometrists prescribed
glasses 35% of the time; general ophthalmologists, 12%;
and pediatric ophthalmologists, 2%, the study shows.
To Donahue, that suggests optometrists
and ophthalmologists who usually treat adults may not
have as much expertise with children. Many youngsters
are slightly farsighted, he says, although most will
grow out of the condition without glasses.
Though many doctors recommend that
preschoolers should be screened for vision problems,
experts disagree about the best approach. Kentucky
requires that youngsters undergo comprehensive eye exams
before beginning school.
Donahue says states should carefully
examine such expenses before following Kentucky's
example. Given the high level of misdiagnoses, Donahue
says, such laws could be expensive. Glasses cost about
$150; exams add another $100.
Instead of forcing all preschoolers to
get a formal exam, he says, kids could be screened by
doctors, teachers, nurses or others, then referred to
eye specialists for further examination.
Susan Taub, an assistant professor of
ophthalmology at Northwestern University, says she is
concerned that many children have undiagnosed eye
disorders, which can cause permanent damage or hurt
their ability to learn.
Doctors still do not know which tests or
technology work best, Taub says. ''This does need
further study. We don't want kids to fall through the
Toxic attack on cows points
to reporting problems Time lag called disturbing in
light of Sept. 11 and food supply concerns
An attack in which Washington state cows
were coated with a toxic substance went unreported to
federal officials for 10 days, a performance that local
and national officials say is unacceptable when there
are concerns about the safety of the nation's food
The incident involved 10 dairy cows in
Enumclaw, 35 miles southeast of Seattle. The animals
were painted June 5 with a sticky red substance that
caused welts, oozing sores and internal bleeding.
Three of the cows died; seven are
recovering. Food and Drug Administration testing later
identified the substance as chromium, used in dyes and
as a wood preservative. No milk from the cows entered
the food supply, the FDA said Wednesday.
It is unknown who attacked the cows.
Initial news reports said it was related to a labor
dispute. But whatever the motivation, officials say the
incident represents a failure to take potential
agriculture contamination seriously, particularly in the
wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
''If this were a first test case, the
system failed,'' says a senior federal government
official familiar with the incident. ''If there were to
be a real event, God help us all, because this just
demonstrates how little has really been done'' to make
local officials aware of potential problems.
Farmer John Koopman discovered that his
animals were ailing the morning of June 6, and
immediately called his veterinarian and the King County
Sheriff's office. It took the sheriff's department
''two, three, four days'' to contact the state
Agriculture Department, says Sgt. John Urquhart of the
sheriff's office. It then took another week, until June
16, for someone to tell Ken Parrish, the state
Agriculture Department's liaison to the U.S. Department
of Homeland Security. He then followed emergency
procedures, setting in motion the chain of events that
brought in Homeland Security, FDA and the U.S.
Department of Agriculture.
What took place over 10 days should have
happened soon after the farmer discovered the sick cows,
according to officials. The incident is under
investigation by the federal agencies involved.
''Any time something like that happens,
we want to find out about things as soon as possible,''
says Robert Brackett, FDA's director of food safety.
''People want to make sure that they're not giving a
false alarm and causing disruption when it's not needed.
But now with the increased awareness, everybody has a
role to play in securing the country,'' he says.
''Since Sept. 11, we just have to start
thinking about things in a new way. And we're not very
good at it yet,'' says Kate Sandboe of the state
Agriculture Department. ''Our minds don't run to
(potential bioterrorism) immediately.''
There has been no cohesive
homeland-security plan involving agriculture and funding
has been haphazard, resulting in ''lots of little pieces
in place,'' says Orlo Ehart of the National Association
of State Departments of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.
Before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal
authorities likely wouldn't have been involved until the
toxic substance was identified, says Ehart. ''Washington
state is a long way from the East Coast. And while you
may think you're doing your job, you may not be in tune
with the new issues,'' he says.
Officials say the incident is
particularly disturbing because Washington state has
been ground zero for other food safety issues in the
past 10 years, including the E. coli outbreak in 1993
and last year's discovery of the nation's first case of
mad cow disease.
''The food system is complex, and it
takes a complex response to make sure that these delays
don't happen,'' says Steve Cain, homeland security
project director for the Extension Disaster Education
Network, a national group of agricultural extension
TRAVEL Cruise-ship stomach
virus picking up steam again
Remember all the hubbub over stomach
illness on cruise ships? It's back.
Industry newsletter Cruise Week reports
that 1,355 cases of norovirus-like illness occurred on
12 ships during the first five months of the year.
That's almost double the 700 cases recorded on seven
ships during the same period a year ago.
The latest outbreak occurred last week
when 66 passengers on an Alaskan cruise aboard the
Island Princess came down with the illness. It followed
a wider breakout on the ship the week before that
affected 425 -- the industry's largest recorded incident
since 1994. Other ships reporting outbreaks this year
include the Norwegian Crown, Holland America's Veendam
and Ryndam, Celebrity's Zenith and Horizon, Cunard's
Queen Mary 2, Carnival's Celebration and Royal
Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas.
Outbreaks made headlines in late 2002
when the disease ran through seven ships, causing 1,340
reported cases. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control,
which tracks outbreaks on cruise ships, says the illness
is common nationwide during the winter.
Autism's surge mystifies
Broader definition of disorder fails to explain dramatic
rise in number of children afflicted
Autism, once a rare and
mysterious disorder, is no longer so rare. A generation
ago, only two to four of every 10,000 children were
labeled autistic. Today, it's more like 60 per 10,000 by
But no one knows why.
Experts cite a much greater awareness of autism and
related conditions, grouped as Autism Spectrum Disorders
(ASD), and a broader definition that has allowed
children who might otherwise have been overlooked to
receive a diagnosis. But they also say there has been an
actual increase, and the reasons for that are not
entirely clear -- though there are plenty of theories.
ASD, usually noticed by the
time a child is 3, is four times more common in boys
than girls. It affects social interaction, communication
and behavior, but there is wide variety in symptoms.
Some children don't speak. Some are talkative, but don't
make eye contact. Some are clingy, while others hate
''Years ago autism was a
very rare diagnosis,'' says embryologist Patricia Rodier
of the University of Rochester Medical Center, partly
because there was no impetus for doctors to label a
child as autistic. ''It did not qualify you for special
education. No one in good conscience could give that
diagnosis, because you couldn't get special education.''
That has changed. The
number of children identified by schools as having ASD
has risen by nearly 18% since the early 1990s.
Susie Kelly of Laurel,
Del., says she and her husband, Tom, suspected very
early that their second child, Mark, now 9, was not like
other toddlers. The first clue was his reaction to
''If someone came into the
house he would cry, or when he was visiting his
grandmother, if his aunt came in, he'd have a fit
because that wasn't what his expectation was,'' she
She was certain something
was wrong one day when she stopped off to buy doughnuts
as she was driving him to day care. ''It blew his mind
because I took a different route.''
Mark was finally diagnosed
at age 3, and to the Kellys, ''it was almost a relief,
because we had a name for it.'' Almost.
''It was devastating,'' she
says, choking up. ''And I didn't even know what it meant
then. It was continuous grieving.''
The Kellys moved from
Maryland to Delaware, where a comprehensive program of
care is available for Mark through age 20.
The rising incidence of
autism and effective lobbying by parent groups have sped
the pace of research into causes and treatments for
The National Institutes of
Health has allocated $65 million in funding for a
network of eight ''centers of excellence,'' where top
researchers are narrowing in on genes that may play a
role and are working to understand what causes them to
A mysterious disability
Evidence of a genetic basis
for autism is strong. If one of a pair of identical
twins is autistic, 90% of the time the other is too,
says Eric Hollander of the Seaver Center for Autism
Research and Treatment at Mount Sinai School of
Medicine. Researchers have found genetic mutations
linked to autism, and most believe several such
mutations must occur before autism results. In an April
report in the American Journal of Psychiatry,
Mount Sinai researchers reported the discovery of a gene
that doubles the odds of autism in those who carry it,
or one of its variants.
''We know there are genetic
factors,'' Hollander says, but something else may also
be involved. ''It is possible there are environmental
factors'' that trigger the genes.
Several possibilities have
been investigated, from junk-food diets, which are high
in fatty acids that could interfere with the coating of
nerve cells in the brain, to a drug used to induce labor
in pregnant women. But no environmental link has been
Rodier of the University of Rochester Medical Center and
her colleagues say whatever happens to the developing
brain may occur very early in pregnancy. ''We're
fascinated by the fact that symptoms of autism appear in
a number of congenital conditions that we know arise a
few weeks after conception,'' she says. In addition,
maternal exposure to some substances known to cause
birth defects, such as the German measles virus and
alcohol, also increases the risk of autism.
Another area of interest is
the possible link between autism and immune-system
An immune-system link is
supported by some doctors and parents of children with
autism who believe that a mercury-based preservative
that has been used in childhood vaccines is at the core
of the problem.
Thimerosal is being phased
out of most vaccines for children, but some lots that
contain the preservative are thought to be on doctor's
shelves. Some studies have suggested that children with
autism are less able than others to expel mercury from
their systems, and some parent groups think multiple
vaccines given to young children weaken the immune
system and allow a build-up of mercury in developing
Other scientists say this
theory has been thoroughly investigated, but no
conclusive evidence has been found. They say a continued
focus by activists on thimerosal may undermine
confidence in vaccines and divert funding from more
promising theories. The Institute of Medicine, which
provides advice on science and health to government, is
expected to release a report today that conclusively
dismisses the theory of thimerosal as a cause of autism.
'False hopes' for an affected child
Today, Mark Kelly is an
affectionate, talkative boy. He loves his sister Laura,
10, and likes to play, though he doesn't play with other
children, his mother says. He's in a special school for
Progress is being made and
there is more information available to parents than
there was even five years ago, Susie Kelly says.
''We had false hopes he'd
be cured,'' she says. ''That didn't happen. He's clearly
autistic. He's able to talk about what he needs or wants
to do, but he can't really hold conversations. . . .
Now we're looking toward a future where I don't
think he'll be able to live on his own. I don't think
he'll ever have a driver's license or a
Cattle feed rules unchanged
New regulations tied up in red tape
this year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, fearing
the spread of mad cow disease, made a highly publicized
announcement of major changes to materials that can be
fed to cattle.
But almost three months
later, the rules have yet to be changed, and potentially
dangerous materials can still legally be fed to cows.
The agency has yet to write
or publish new rules. ''We're still working on it,'' FDA
spokesman Brad Stone says. ''We don't have a set time
frame. We hope it will come up very soon.''
Cattle can get the
brain-wasting disease only by eating food that contains
protein from infected bovines. People who eat infected
materials can contract a human version that also is
Industry critics and
scientists applauded when the FDA announced on Jan. 26
that it was going to get rid of three loopholes in the
feed ban it enacted in 1997 to protect the U.S. cattle
supply from bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
One was the practice of
feeding poultry litter to cattle, because poultry feed
can include cattle remains. Another was feeding them
restaurant-plate waste, which might contain beef. And
another was giving feed and formula made from the blood
of ruminants (cattle, sheep and goats) to cattle and
Stone says that although
the rules don't go into effect until they're published
in the Federal Register, ''the purpose of our
announcement was to give a strong indication of the fact
that this is a practice on its way out. We anticipate
that that's a message that was received by the
Not so, says Rex Runyan of
the American Feed Industry Association. ''It's business
as usual until they publish those rules. I don't know of
any companies that have made any major changes based on
rumors or speculation.''
''There's significant work
being done on these FDA regulations . . . at the
White House level,'' says Caroline Smith DeWaal of the
Center for Science in the Public Interest. ''The Bush
administration is catering to industry concerns.''
Smith DeWaal notes that the
USDA implemented its own preventive measures --
including keeping disabled cows out of the food supply
-- eight days after the discovery of the first U.S. case
of mad cow. ''FDA isn't writing a regulation out of
whole cloth here; they're merely strengthening and
amending an existing one.''
Help 'happy pill' patients
separate hype and science
Is the honeymoon for
''happy pills'' finally over?
The recent warning from the Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) that physicians need to
closely monitor patients for suicide risk when first
prescribing certain antidepressants sent shock waves
through the 34 million Americans who suffer from
depression. It also shook up the pharmaceutical giants
that manufacture the drugs.
Ten drugs may be linked, the FDA says,
to an increased suicide risk. Six of the drugs belong to
a genre known as SSRIs, which are believed to work by
increasing the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain.
These drugs have been touted for their effectiveness and
lack of serious side effects.
Already doctors have expressed concern
that adding a warning to these drugs as the FDA suggests
may deter depressed patients from seeking help.
Actually, it may encourage the public to take a closer
look at the murky world of drug marketing. This isn't to
suggest there is no place for these drugs. Doctors point
to recent studies that show the rate of youth suicide in
15 countries has dipped by about one-third during a
14-year period -- a phenomenon they link with the rise
in SSRI prescriptions.
But, in addition to the warnings,
patients need help separating drug-company hype from
scientific studies of drugs' effectiveness and side
effects. As things stand now, that's often difficult to
Studies raise concerns
What probably helped spur the suicide
warning were secret studies undertaken by drug
companies, made public last year. They show depressed
children taking SSRIs were more likely to become
suicidal than those on placebos.
They also show that when it comes to the
testing of a new drug, pharmaceutical companies wield
the upper hand. In 2001, a commentary published in the
world's leading medical journals accused drug sponsors
of skewing results in their favor and denying
investigators access to the raw data.
In his upcoming book, Let Them Eat
Prozac, British psychiatrist David Healy describes how
one clinical trial of Prozac found it to be inferior to
imipramine, an older tricyclic antidepressant. Three of
the six centers in this trial failed to show it was more
effective than a placebo. In a subsequent study, the
results, combined with those from the earlier six-center
study, swung in favor of Prozac. A third study proved
inconclusive. Eventually, after a three-year review in
which serious flaws in the design of some trials were
noted by the FDA, the agency approved Prozac.
Equally damning, perhaps, a 2002 study
published in Prevention and Treatment analyzed the FDA
database of 47 trials of the six most popular
antidepressants. The data included studies that failed
but had not been published. The researchers found that
in more than half of the studies patients on
antidepressants fared no better than those on placebo.
Overall, the drugs worked slightly better than placebo,
but the difference was not clinically significant,
Ghostwriting on rise
More eerie is the growing trend in
''ghostwriting,'' in which articles in medical journals
that appear to be written by doctors are penned by
writers sponsored by drug companies. ''What appear to be
scientific articles are really infomercials of some
sort,'' said Healy in a recent interview.
Catherine DeAngelis, editor of The
Journal of the American Medical Association,
acknowledges that ''it is a very disturbing trend that
can be difficult to identify.''
So, taking all of these factors into
consideration, how do we distinguish effectiveness from
If you can identify a specific
difference in your mood, such as less anxiety, it's
likely the drug is working, Healy says. But it's also
important to remember that depression usually runs its
course, he says.
But Regina Casper, professor of
psychiatry at Stanford University, says ''not all
patients survive depression.'' She welcomes the FDA
warning but believes SSRIs in most patients are safe and
The same day the FDA urged the label
warnings, the journal Psychology and Aging released a
study on happiness that analyzed the responses of nearly
3,000 adults. Our capacity for mental health throughout
our lives, it found, was linked largely to the amount of
love and parental support we receive during early
childhood. There was no reference to
Meatpacker's testing plan rejected
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has
rebuffed a meatpacker's plan to test every animal at its
slaughterhouse for mad cow disease. Creekstone Farms
Premium Beef, a small, Kentucky-based meatpacking
company, was seeking approval of its plan to test each
animal at its plant in Arkansas City, Kan. Creekstone
said its customers in Japan promised to buy its beef
again if the company tested for the brain-wasting
disease in every animal and could show USDA
certification of such testing. ''We are looking at what
the consensus of international experts is when it comes
to testing, and that consensus is that 100% testing is
not justified,'' the USDA's Alisa Harrison
Growth hormones in veal
spark debate FDA says they're illegal, but industry says
they're not new
Revelations that up to 90%
of U.S. veal calves are being fed synthetic testosterone
illegally are sending a shock wave through the meat
industry, causing a government crackdown and new worries
about the impact of hormones on the food supply.
In interviews with USA
TODAY, veal industry officials said that calves have
been fed growth hormones for decades. Officials with the
Food and Drug Administration, however, say this has
never been legal and the safety of this practice has not
Since last Friday, the
Department of Agriculture has been stopping veal calves
found to have hormone implants from entering the food
supply. Its action was prompted by a USDA veterinarian's
discovery of a hormone-releasing implant in a Wisconsin
About 700,000 veal calves
are slaughtered each year at 20 weeks of age. The
hormone is trenbolone acetate, which is legally used to
increase growth in adult cattle but is not approved for
use in calves. ''We consider this an illegal activity,''
says Stephen Sundlof, who heads the FDA's Center for
Veterinary Medicine. He said the drug may be metabolized
differently in calves than in adult animals.
But Paul Slayton of the
American Veal Association called the issue much ado
about nothing, saying hormones have been fed to calves
for 30 years.
It is unknown if the
hormone is harmful to people who eat veal. It is also
not known exactly how many calves are being held back as
suppliers await a possible compromise with the FDA,
which may come as soon as this weekend. Both the USDA
and FDA are involved because the USDA monitors food
safety and the FDA regulates drugs given to animals.
The USDA confirms that veal
processing is way down, a fact echoed by the nation's
largest veal processor. ''Nobody's sending any animals
in,'' says Wayne Marcho of Marcho Farms in Harleysville,
It is too soon to know how
this will affect prices or when stores and restaurants
may feel a shortage.
When the USDA discovered
the problem last week, it was believed to affect only a
small number of animals. But Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.,
said Tuesday in a letter to FDA acting Director Lester
Crawford that ''more than 90% of all veal calves grown
in the United States utilize a growth implant.''
Industry officials interviewed Thursday put the usage at
80% to 90%.
The veal industry is trying
to get the FDA to stay enforcement of its rules for at
least two months, so that the calves can be slaughtered
and sold to restaurants and supermarkets. Pennsylvania
is a big veal-producing state, and Specter said that the
USDA and FDA were ''likely to jeopardize the entire veal
The veal industry is being criticized by
other meat producers. The practice is ''simply wrong,''
says Gary Weber of the National Cattlemen's Beef
Illegal hormones found in veal calves
Their use could be widespread, USDA says
Federal officials say thousands
of veal calves may have been illegally given hormones to
make them grow faster.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday
instructed its veterinarians to immediately remove from
the food chain any calves showing signs of such
''We consider this an illegal activity. It's against
our law to give animals drugs that are not approved for
them,'' says Stephen Sundlof, head veterinarian at the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The drug use came to light when a sharp-eyed
veterinarian with the USDA spotted a suspicious lump in
the ear of a veal calf in Wisconsin. The lump turned out
to be an implant that was slowly releasing hormones into
the animal's bloodstream.
Such ear implants are used as growth enhancers in
adult cattle but are not supposed to be used in veal
calves, which are slaughtered at 12 to 23 weeks old. The
young calves may eliminate the drugs more slowly or
metabolize them differently.
''We don't know how these drugs behave in animals for
which we haven't approved them,'' Sundlof says.
About 1 million veal calves are slaughtered in the
USA each year. Sources within the USDA say there's
concern that the use of such illegal growth enhancers
might be widespread, but an actual count is not yet
Sundlof cautions that the public shouldn't be
alarmed. Though the FDA doesn't know how the hormones
are metabolized in calves, it has long experience with
the drugs in adult cattle and does not consider them a
danger to the beef-eating public.
The USDA and FDA have launched an investigation and
are awaiting tests on the implant found in Wisconsin to
confirm what hormone it contained.
Both agencies are involved because the USDA deals
with food safety and the FDA with animal drugs.
It is thought to most likely be trenbolone acetate, a
synthetic steroid often given in conjunction with
estrogen to increase growth and muscle composition in
The race against Alzheimer's New
therapies could halt a looming 'major crisis'
Ronald Reagan's death over the weekend from
Alzheimer's is once again putting this incurable disease
into the national spotlight -- revealing both the hope
of future treatment as well as a looming crisis.
If researchers don't find better drugs or prevention
strategies to delay or prevent the disease, an estimated
16 million Americans might develop Alzheimer's by 2050,
a staggering increase from the 4 million who have the
''As the boomers age we'll have a major crisis unless
we find a way to prevent this disease,'' says Ronald
Petersen, the Mayo Clinic neurologist who helped care
for Reagan after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in
Reagan died at age 93 after living 10 years with the
disease, a time frame that's fairly typical of those who
develop the disease, Petersen says.
Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia
in people 65 and older, begins with just mild memory
lapses and often can be difficult to distinguish from
the usual forgetfulness that occurs with old age. But as
time goes on, people with Alzheimer's have frequent
bouts of severe memory loss, says Gary Small, an
Alzheimer's expert at the University of California-Los
Angeles. Over time, the disease hinders some basic
bodily functions, and fatal diseases like pneumonia can
Despite the fact that a cure remains elusive,
research in the past decade has brought about enormous
changes in the understanding of how the brain changes as
Alzheimer's takes hold. Experts say that the knowledge
gained will likely lead to better therapies.
''Within the next five to 10 years we're going to see
major breakthroughs in our ability to delay or prevent
this disease,'' Small says.
Those breakthroughs may include new drugs, prevention
strategies and possibly an effective therapy developed
by stem cell technology, an avenue of research supported
by Nancy Reagan, who was at the former president's
bedside as he died Saturday at their Bel-Air, Calif.
A plague of plaque
Twenty years ago, researchers knew that people with
Alzheimer's disease had abnormal deposits in the brain.
But within the past few years scientists have zeroed in
on the deposits, which are widely believed to be a
central player in the tragedy of Alzheimer's.
The deposits are made of a toxic protein called beta
amyloid. That protein kills brain cells directly and
clumps together to form plaques that interfere with
routine messages that travel from one cell to the next.
At the time of diagnosis, Alzheimer's patients might
still have enough understanding to plan for the future,
but soon that insight will vanish along with thinking
and reasoning skills, says Samuel Gandy, a neurologist
at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and
spokesman for the Alzheimer's Association.
The Alzheimer's plaque that first appears in the
hippocampus spreads to the cerebral cortex, and memory
loss and thinking problems worsen. By the middle stages
of the disease, people with Alzheimer's can get confused
in familiar settings and wander off. They also might
start to experience behavioral changes like aggression
or paranoia, symptoms that are hard on caregivers and
can lead to an admission to a nursing home, Gandy says.
By the end stages, the cerebral cortex and
hippocampus, brain regions responsible for thinking and
memory, are virtually destroyed. The patient often can't
get out of bed, doesn't recognize close family members
or friends and requires constant care.
Reagan died of pneumonia, a common cause of death for
people with Alzheimer's, Petersen says. Advanced
Alzheimer's affects the ability to swallow. Patients
often suck food into their lungs and can die of an
infection, he says.
Alzheimer's killed an estimated 59,000 Americans in
2002, but that number will surely rise as the number of
patients keeps going up.
Drugs show promise
A year before Reagan's diagnosis, the Food and Drug
Administration approved tacrine, the first drug to treat
Alzheimer's. But now Alzheimer patients have three other
drugs in the same class, the so-called cholinesterase
inhibitors. A fourth drug, memantine, got FDA approval
in October 2003 for the treatment of moderate to
Those drugs can offer a boost to an ailing memory but
none can slow the disease or affect the ongoing
destruction of the brain, says Marilyn Albert, a
neurologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
But recent gains in the knowledge about Alzheimer's
plaque has led to the development of experimental drugs
that might melt away or even prevent the formation of
plaque, Small says.
The road to success will almost certainly contain
many pitfalls. For example, a study of an experimental
Alzheimer's vaccine that reportedly cured mice of an
Alzheimer's-like disease was stopped in 2002 after it
provoked life-threatening brain inflammation in some
Drugs aren't the only hope on the horizon.
New research suggests that the same lifestyle factors
that might prevent heart disease and stroke might also
keep the brain healthy and free of Alzheimer's, Albert
says. She says that people who keep their weight down
and who work out or do some vigorous activity on most
days of the week might get a big payoff in the form of a
mind that has some protection against Alzheimer's.
At the same time, researchers now are developing
brain scanning techniques that one day might identify
the disease earlier in the process, before much of the
damage has been done. Early screening plus a combination
of drugs and lifestyle changes might one day mean most
Americans could hold the disease at bay or even prevent
''We all know what an extraordinary person Ronald
Reagan was,'' Albert says. ''And all that was destroyed
by this disease.
''We have to work really hard to bring about the day
when that doesn't happen.''
Scientist says 'boot camp' can whip
brains into shape
Can lifestyle changes, including diet and
exercise, keep the brain fit and reduce the risk of
memory problems as people age?
Kimberly McClain, 43, didn't feel she was
dropping any of the balls she juggles as a married,
employed mother of two young children who also pursues
demanding volunteer work.
She just couldn't remember certain things, and that
was annoying. ''I'd walk into a room and wonder, 'Why
did I come in here again?' Or I'd put something down and
not be able to remember for the life of me where I'd put
That was a few months ago. McClain says her memory is
now razor-sharp, thanks to a two-week ''boot camp for
the brain'' created by Gary Small, a psychiatrist and
director of the UCLA Center on Aging.
Small's program for improving memory combines four
elements: a special diet, daily physical activity,
stress release and memory exercises. It's all explained
in his new book, The Memory Prescription, co-written
with Gigi Vorgan.
The diet is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are
found in nuts and some fish. It also includes lots of
fruits and vegetables and is fairly low in fat, with
three meals and three snacks a day. The brief
stretching, walking and relaxation exercises are done
several times a day. And the ''memory aerobics,'' aimed
at keeping the brain nimble, take about 15 minutes a
day, Small says.
McClain says the program changed her brain, and Small
says he has evidence that two weeks of such lifestyle
changes literally can change brains. In a pilot study of
17 volunteers with mild memory complaints, he randomly
assigned eight to the two-week ''boot camp'' program and
the others to continue as usual.
Brain scans before and after ''boot camp'' show that
program participants developed significantly more
efficient brain-cell activity in a front portion of the
brain that controls everyday memory tasks or ''working
memory,'' Small says.
Those in the ''boot camp'' program also reported
significantly less forgetfulness than the others. Their
objective memory scores were better, too, but not
significantly; Small chalks that up to having so few
participants, which makes it harder to get a
statistically significant difference. The odds of the
brain-scan changes being a result of chance are one in
2,000, he says.
The study needs to be replicated in larger groups,
Small emphasizes, and the findings don't guarantee that
adults using this program will never develop Alzheimer's
''But it's striking how quickly you can make an
impact on brain function, and this suggests you may be
able to stave off future memory loss.''
Other scientists are cautiously optimistic about
Small's approach. ''It sounds promising,'' says Robert
Wilson of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Wilson is a researcher on a long-term study of
members of religious orders that has found that mentally
stimulating lives can postpone memory problems. Fatty
diets, sedentary living, stress and little mental
challenge all have been linked to higher risk of
dementia, Wilson says, ''and so he may have hit on a
In addition to doing a larger study, Small plans to
try just one or more of the four elements of the program
in future studies to see whether one part is more
important for certain types of memory.
''It wouldn't surprise me if nothing on its own is
quite as good as it all put together,'' University of
Florida psychologist Michael Marsiske says. His memory
training studies show that adults 60 to 90 years old who
don't have dementia can significantly improve their
memories after five weeks of memory-training classes a
couple of times a week. Small's study was with a
relatively younger adult group, ages 35 to 70.
In the UCLA study, systolic blood pressure (the top
number) of program participants dropped about seven
points, Small says. There's new evidence that using
medication to keep blood pressure at normal levels might
delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease, says Zaven
Khachaturian, spokesman for the Alzheimer's Association.
He says he doesn't believe a program such as Small's
can prevent Alzheimer's, ''but it may delay it, and just
delaying symptoms by five years would cut the numbers
affected in half,'' because older adults would die of
other diseases before they develop dementia.
''Ideally, you want to be demented one hour before
you die or, if you're less greedy, maybe a day before or
a year before,'' Khachaturian says. ''But if a whole
bunch of these baby boomers get Alzheimer's at 70 and
then linger on a long time, it would be disastrous. So a
five-year delay would be very important.''
Large, randomized clinical trials are needed to test
the value of lifestyle changes such as those in the UCLA
program, he says.
For McClain, for the time being, her own experience
is test enough. ''This memory problem was getting in the
way, and now it's not,'' she says. ''I feel so much more
Study finds link between Alzheimer's,
diabetes Findings suggest rates of brain disease could
Older men and women with diabetes face a 65%
increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, a
large, federally funded study reports today.
If confirmed by other reports, the findings suggest
that the rates of Alzheimer's disease might climb even
higher than projected in the next few decades, fueled by
the nation's epidemic of obesity. Obesity is a major
cause of diabetes.
'Junk' DNA may simply be in a jam
Harvard research suggests some genes are blocked 'like
the freeway at rush hour'
Scientists at Harvard Medical
School may have unraveled some of the mystery about why
up to 95% of all chromosomes are apparently
non-functioning -- otherwise known as ''junk'' DNA.
If the team is right, it may be that some of that DNA
has been busily working all along, but researchers just
didn't realize it.
That's because these genes don't do what classic
genetic theory tells us they should. It has generally
been accepted that there are two kinds of genes:
structural genes that make the raw materials that cells
need and regulatory genes that control the activities of
Both do their work by first making a copy of
themselves called messenger RNA. That RNA produces the
proteins and enzymes that do the work of building and
What geneticist Fred Winston and his co-workers
discovered is a gene in yeast called SRG1 that regulates
its next-door neighbor without the use of either
proteins or enzymes. Instead, this gene keeps its
neighbor from turning on -- and thus getting anything
done -- by pouring out a steady stream of messengers
that physically block the gene next door from sending
out its own RNA messages.
''It's like the freeway at rush hour. There are so
many cars coming down the highway that you can't get
on,'' Winston says.
To turn the neighboring gene back on, Winston and his
colleagues Joseph Martens and Lisa Laprade put in a
molecular ''roadblock'' that stopped the SRG1 gene from
pumping out RNA. The silenced gene next door immediately
turned back on. ''Now the cars could get on the highway
with no problem,'' Winston says.
The study is published in Thursday's issue of the
Winston notes that it has long been known that there
is a lot more RNA being made in humans than is accounted
for. It could be that the missing RNA is being produced
by these silenced genes, he says. This type of
regulation could be what some of that RNA is actually
doing, he says.
age-fighting strategy: Surgery for a younger
After the tummy tuck, the
forehead tightener, the nose job and the jowl trim,
something still might be giving away your age: your
For patients who think their
trembly, raspy or wispy words don't match their newly
firm face and figure, there's a procedure that claims to
make them sound younger too: the voice lift.
"There are people who pay $15,000
for a face lift and as soon as they open their mouth,
they sound like they're 75," said Dr. Robert Thayer
Sataloff, chairman of the otolaryngology department at
Graduate Hospital. "The wobbles, the tremors, they're
what we recognize as things that make a voice sound
Though it's not new, cosmetic
surgery for the voice is only just becoming more widely
known — and requested — among the general public, said
Dr. V. Leroy Young, a St. Louis plastic surgeon and
chairman of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons'
emerging trends task force.
Like everything else, vocal cords
show their age. A lifetime of talking, yelling and
singing can make the cords — and the voice — coarse.
So Sataloff plies his patients'
pipes with exercises and, in some cases, cosmetic voice
surgery. There are two general surgical remedies:
Implants can be inserted through an incision in the neck
to bring the vocal cords closer together, or substances
like fat or collagen can be injected to plump up the
cords and restore their youthful limberness.
Such procedures used to be largely
performed on people with voice-robbing diseases or
injuries, but Sataloff noticed that his patients' voices
usually sounded better afterward, too. And increasingly,
those with craggy or cracking voices are seeking the
procedure for aesthetic reasons, he said.
"If I spoke a great deal, or I was
shouting, on a particular day, at the end of the day I
would feel exhausted," said Robert Anzidei 75, a retired
construction superintendent who underwent the voice
surgery and therapy several years ago. "I don't know if
I sound younger, but the hoarseness is gone, which is
such a great improvement."
Still, there can be drawbacks with
vocal surgery when patients are under general
anesthesia, Young said. Unlike patients who are awake
and can speak, they can't have their voices fine-tuned
as the operation is under way — so there's no certainty
about what they'll sound like in the end.
"It can benefit people who may be
getting toward the end of a singing career, it can
benefit people like politicians and teachers who need to
have a strong voice that carries," Young said. "I'd say
caveat emptor for the professional singer, but if you're
a teacher and you don't want to sound like Marlene
Dietrich, it's something to consider."
Singer Julie Andrews was one person
who found out the hard way that vocal operations don't
always work. She was performing on Broadway in the
mid-'90s when she began having voice trouble, so she
underwent surgery to remove non-cancerous nodules.
The operation left her without her
renowned four-octave singing voice and she sued two
doctors and Mount Sinai hospital in New York. The
lawsuit was settled out of court in 2000 with no terms
More than 8.7 million cosmetic
plastic surgery procedures were performed in 2003,
according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
There were no statistics on how many of those were for
voices, but doctors said the number would be very small.
Study: Pregnant women
eating too much fish Fetuses may have harmful mercury
Of the 4 million babies born in
the USA in 2000, more than 300,000 of them -- and as
many as 600,000 -- may have been exposed to
''unacceptable'' levels of methyl mercury because their
mothers ate a diet rich in fish, a study finds.
The new study, by researchers at the Office of
Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances at the
Environmental Protection Agency, repeats a warning by
numerous studies that the neurotoxin is particularly
dangerous for growing fetuses.
Exposure to even low levels of mercury in utero can
cause developmental problems and difficulties with
visual and motor integration.
By looking at diet logs and testing blood levels in
1,709 women, researchers found that women who ate fish
and/or shellfish at least twice a week had blood mercury
concentrations seven times higher than women who didn't
eat fish in the previous month. The women were taking
part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination
Survey in 1999 and 2000.
Using the survey results, the researchers came up
with mercury ranges for women in the U.S. population as
a whole and extrapolated the number of babies who
potentially would be exposed to high levels.
Mexican-Americans participating in the survey had the
lowest levels of mercury while those who checked the
''other'' racial category, which includes Asians, Native
Americans and Pacific Islanders, had the highest.
The study is published in the April issue of the
journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
It emphasizes ''the importance of paying attention to
the advisories (on fish consumption for women of
child-bearing age) EPA and FDA have worked so hard to
create,'' says lead study author Kathryn Mahaffey of the
The EPA and the Food and Drug Administration revised
their guidelines this year on mercury consumption. They
advise that children and women of child-bearing age stay
away from fish with high levels of mercury: shark,
swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish.
The agencies also recommended restricting the
consumption of other fish to 12 ounces a week. And no
more than 6 of those ounces should be canned albacore
tuna, which is higher in mercury than canned light tuna.
The wide variation in the number of babies
potentially affected is because of new data that suggest
that the level of mercury in a fetus' blood is
potentially 70% higher than in the mother's. This may be
because the fetus' blood concentrates mercury when it
chemically tags along with other important molecules the
fetus needs to grow.
Mahaffey cautions that the research is based on only
two years of data. ''We predict this will change, but we
don't know which way,'' she says.
Moon gardens Sweet respite for relaxing
Gardens are good for the soul,
but homeowners who work from dawn to dusk can only enjoy
them on the weekends. The solution: moon gardens.
Also called evening or white gardens, these backyard
sanctuaries emphasize white, silver and pale colors to
reflect moonlight, and feature plants that open or emit
intense fragrance when the sun goes down. Some people
even group their plantings in the shape of a crescent
moon. Gardening experts say moon gardens are part of a
larger trend toward stronger color themes in gardens.
Peter Loewer, gardening journalist and author of The
Evening Garden: Flowers and Fragrance from Dusk Till
Dawn, says moon gardens are increasingly popular because
they're easy to grow just about anywhere, look wonderful
and can be enjoyed when people get home from work.
''It's incredible how many people love growing
daturas, which have white trumpet flowers that open and
emit fragrance in the evening,'' he says. ''It's the
whole idea of being able to go on your deck with a good
glass of wine after a rough day and watch an evening
primrose open -- or moon flowers, which open as the sky
begins to turn deep purple and smell extremely sweet.''
The most famous moon garden is the White Garden. It
was planted more than 50 years ago by Vita
Sackville-West, the English novelist and lover of
Virginia Woolf, at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent. It
remains a popular destination for garden tourists.
''If you really think about the colors carefully and
the direction the garden faces or where the moon will be
in the sky, you can turn an ordinary planting into
something truly spectacular,'' says Lance Walheim,
co-author of Gardening All-in-One for Dummies.
But maybe the best thing about moon gardens: No bees,
hornets or wasps required. Instead, Loewer says, the
pollinators are luna and silkworm moths, the
''butterflies of the night.'' They're pretty, and
they're not interested in your fine woolens.
Rare tropical storm strikes Brazil
A large storm that
was rare for its intensity killed at least two people
and destroyed hundreds of homes along the southern coast
of Brazil, officials said Sunday.
American officials said winds
exceeded 75 mph, making the storm the first hurricane on
record in the South Atlantic. But Brazilian
meteorologists said winds were between 50 and 56 mph,
meaning it would only be a tropical storm.
Five fishermen were missing off the
coast of Santa Catarina, and a number of injuries was
expected to rise amid heavy rain in two hard-hit
southern states, civil defense officials said.
As many as 40,000 homes could be
damaged in Santa Catarina state, they said. Power was
out in some 40 cities and towns.
The storm, dubbed Catarina by
meteorologists, hit the coasts of Santa Catarina and Rio
Grande do Sul late Saturday with heavy rain and high
On Saturday, meteorologists from
the Brazilian Center for Weather Prediction and Climatic
Studies called it a tropical storm with estimated winds
of around 55 mph.
But the U.S. National Hurricane
Center in Florida estimated the storm was a Category 1
hurricane with central winds of between 75 mph and 80
On Sunday, Brazilian scientists
said they were surprised by the intensity of the storm.
Dr. Gustavo Escobar of the Center
for Weather Prediction and Climatic Studies said winds
could have been stronger than 50 mph. Marcelo Moraes, a
meteorologist at the Integrated Climate Center of Santa
Catarina state said winds could have been reached 94 mph
— enough to classify it as a hurricane.
Brazil has no wind-measuring
devices in the affected areas, and both U.S. and
Brazilian scientists said they were basing their
estimates on satellite data.
By late Sunday morning, the storm
was dissipating "but a great instability with the
possibility of rains could increase the damage," Santa
Catarina state Civil Defense spokesman Enio Novaes said.
In Santa Catarina state, a tree
smashed into a car near Criciuma and killed the driver,
officials said. His wife was seriously injured. At least
30 others also were injured, Novaes said.
Strong winds destroyed some 200
homes in Criciuma and damaged another 3,000, but
officials said that number could run as high as 40,000
for Santa Catarina state alone once they are done
assessing the damage.
In Torres in Rio Grande do Sul
state, a house collapsed in an area of beach resorts
pummeled by high winds, killing a child, Civil Defense
official Marcio Luiz Alves said.
The storm destroyed some 300 homes
there and left 35,000 people without electricity.
Five people in Torres were injured
by falling roof parts and at least 80 families fled
their homes and were sheltered in nearby schools, Rio
Grande do Sul state Civil Defense officer Alexandre
The mayor of Torres declared state
of emergency and asked for help donations of food and
When North Becomes South:
New Clues to Earth's Mangetic
Next time Earth's magnetic
field flips, compass needles will point South instead of
North. But scientists can't say when it will occur, and
until now they've disagreed on how long the transitions
A new study pins down how long it took for the
last four reversals to play out. It also finds that the
dramatic turnarounds occur more quickly nearer the
equator than at higher latitudes closer to the poles.
That means folks living during the
next reversal -- which some scientists speculate might
be underway will see compasses change and behave
differently in different locations, study leader Brad
Clement, of Florida International University, told
Earth's magnetic field is thought to be generated
deep inside the planet. An inner core of solid iron is
surrounded by an outer core of molten iron. They rotate
at different rates, and the interaction between the
regions creates what scientists call a "hydromagnetic
dynamo." It's something like an electric motor, and it
generates a magnetic field akin to a giant bar
The process is not completely
understood. In fact, one study suggests the planet's
mantle, which surrounds the core, also plays a
However it works, the setup
has been in place for at least 3 billion of Earth's 4.6
billion years, scientists figure. But the field is
shifty, periodically growing stronger and weaker, moving
around, and even flipping its polarity
In the past 15 million years,
there have been four reversals every 1 million years, or
about one shift each 250,000 years, Clement explained.
The last one, however, was 790,000 years ago. That might
suggest we're overdue for a big change. Not necessarily
so, Clement says. The flips are not periodic, meaning
they don't adhere to a schedule of even intervals.
Yet the intensity of the
magnetic field has been dropping for the last 2,000
years, and "it has dropped significantly" during the
past two decades, Clement said. One recent study shows the decline in strength amounts
to 10 percent over the last 150 years.
Flip in progress?
Some scientists speculate a reversal is underway.
Clement said that's like forecasting that the bottom
will drop out of the stock market because it's gone down
the past few days. "We just don't know," he said.
Researchers also have not known how long it takes for
the magnetic field to make a transition. Studies have
suggested anywhere from 1,000 to 28,000 years are
required to initiate and complete a reversal.
"It is generally accepted that during a reversal, the
geomagnetic field decreases to about 10 percent of its
full polarity value," Clement said. "After the field has
weakened, the directions undergo a nearly 180 degree
change, and then the field strengthens in the opposite
polarity direction. A major uncertainty, however, has
remained regarding how long this process takes."
Clement examined sediment cores gathered from
deep-ocean sites in a National Science Foundation (NSF)
program. The cores provided readings at multiple sites
for the past four flips. He found that each took about
Interestingly, however, there is significant
variation depending on latitude.
Which way is up?
It takes less time -- around 5,000 years -- for the
reversal to occur at lower latitudes. And it takes
longer -- about 10,000 years, for the flip to play out
nearer the poles. So not only would compasses gradually
do a somersault in readings, but Arctic dwellers would
see changes that wouldn't match what tropical observers
would note across the generations.
Nobody understands how the shift occurs. Perhaps,
Clement says, the magnetic field shrinks to essentially
nothing, leaving several "mini-poles" at the surface
before the main poles rebuild on opposite sides of the
Scientists have plenty of
reasons to seek a better understanding. For one, the
magnetic field lines extend out beyond Earth's
atmosphere and provide the first line of
strong solar storms. And Clement wonders how the
reversals might affect navigation by migrating birds and
other animals that key in on the magnetic field to find
"But 7,000 years is probably enough for them to
adapt," he said.
"Clement has demonstrated that magnetic field
reversal events occur within certain time-frames,
regardless of the polarity of the reversal," said
Carolyn Ruppel, program director in NSF's division of
The study is detailed in the April 8 issue of the
"The work is an important contribution to our
understanding of magnetic field reversal on our planet,"
said Ronald Merrill, a professor of geophysics at the
University of Washington, in an analysis written for the