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There is many things we need to have knowledge about. In this News section we will try to have information and news about good things and things not so good. You have a right to know and make up your own mind what is best for you.



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 lifestyles.

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 meaningful reform.

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 national product.

  • In a 1992 survey, a national pharmacy database found a total of 429,827 medication errors from 1,081 hospitals.

  • 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 deaths.

  • A 1998 study reported an estimated 106,000 deaths from prescription medications per year.

  • Nearly 9 million people were unnecessarily hospitalized in 2001.

Here are additional reasons why the traditional paradigm is flawed:

  • Studies have found that the 41 million Americans without health insurance have an increased risk for dying prematurely and not receiving appropriate medical care.

  • 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 violations.

  • 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 risk of malnutrition.


Do No Harm??????

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, 5-11-04



A healthy heart means a healthy mind Steps taken to lower stroke risk might help avert dementia later
Take 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 smokes.
His doctor told him he's at risk for stroke and heart disease. But he figures he has time.
What 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 themselves.
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.
Most Americans 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 death.
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 plan ahead.
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 Association.
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.
Columbia University's 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.
'A 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.
With either 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, N.C.
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 now.''


Portraits by an artist in a fight for his young life 4-year-old's paintings help pay for his treatment

About two 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.''


Experts stress post-exercise nutrition

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 your body.

"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 athletic performance.

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 low-fat yogurt.

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 of energy.

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 weight-loss efforts."

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 snacking afterward.

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 said.


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 accepts cash.

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 health insurance.

"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 companies.

"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 interference.

"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 cash-paying patients.

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 ago.

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 you're loved."

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 later.

"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 on caffeine.

"How often does your doctor go out and have a cup of coffee with you?" O'Brien asked.


Green Tea Component Kills Leukemia Cells

 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 journal Blood.

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 You Fat

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."

Unlike 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 into fat.

"Fake 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.

Despite being vegetarians, cows were fed protein in the form of the ground-up bones of other cows, leading to Mad Cow Disease.

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.

What will 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 bad news.''

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% are underweight.

* 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 beverages.



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 traditional dieters.

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 Medicine:

* 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 lead author.

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 Foundation.


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 groups.

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 everywhere.

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 Carolina-Chapel Hill.

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 says.

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 says.

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 drinks.

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 blood.

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 prescribed glasses.

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 cracks.''


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 supply.

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 workers.



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 some estimates.

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 being held.

''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 surprises.

''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 says.

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 developmental disorders.

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 go awry.

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 found.

Embryologist Patricia 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 disorders.

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 brains.

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 autistic children.

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 girlfriend.''




Cattle feed rules unchanged New regulations tied up in red tape

Early 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 deadly.

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 calves.

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 industry.''

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 obtain.

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, researchers said.

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 hype?

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 effective.

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 serotonin.



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 said.

04/02/2004  1B


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 been tested.

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 calf.

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, Pa.

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 industry.''

The veal industry is being criticized by other meat producers. The practice is ''simply wrong,'' says Gary Weber of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

03/29/2003  9D


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 adulteration.

''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 available.

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 cattle


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 disease today.

''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 1994.

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 take hold.

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. home.

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 late-stage Alzheimer's.

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 patients.

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 it.

''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 it.''

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 disease.

''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 good combination.''

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 conscious.''

Study finds link between Alzheimer's, diabetes Findings suggest rates of brain disease could soar

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 other genes.

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 regulation .

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 journal Nature.

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.



Yet another age-fighting strategy: Surgery for a younger voice

 After the tummy tuck, the forehead tightener, the nose job and the jowl trim, something still might be giving away your age: your voice.

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 old."

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 disclosed.

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 levels

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 EPA.

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 at night

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 winds.

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 mph.

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 Wilante said.

The mayor of Torres declared state of emergency and asked for help donations of food and blankets.


When North Becomes South: New Clues to Earth's Mangetic Flip-Flops

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 take.
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 SPACE.com.

Giant magnet

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 magnet.

The process is not completely understood. In fact, one study suggests the planet's mantle, which surrounds the core, also plays a role.

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 entirely.

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 7,000 years.

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 world.

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 defense against 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 their way.

"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 ocean sciences.

The study is detailed in the April 8 issue of the journal Nature.

"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 journal


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