February 14, 2012
By Mike Barrett
Recent research shows that cadmium could very well be more dangerous to children’s health than lead.
While heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, and mercury are often the first to pop up when discussing or thinking about heavy metals and human health, cadmium remains the lesser mentioned metal compromising the health of many — especially children.
Current and future research will likely continue to make the dangers of cadmium more well known.
Is Cadmium More Dangerous for Children than Lead?
The study, led by Harvard University researchers, found that children with higher cadmium levels are three times as likely to have learning disabilities than those with lower levels. Study’s senior author Dr. Robert Wright explains:
One of the important points of the study is that we didn’t study a population of kids who had very high exposures. We studied a population representative of the U.S. That we found any [effect] suggests this is occurring at relatively low levels…It does certainly point to the fact that we need more attention paid to the neurotoxic effects of cadmium in children
A total of 2,199 children between the ages 6 and 15 were included in the study, with 12.6 percent of them having a learning disability and 10.5 percent being enrolled in special education classes. Those with the highest cadmium levels were 3.21 times more likely to have a learning disability than children less exposed.
Although cadmium is naturally found in much of the soil across the United States, the heavy metal is also released by battery manufacturers, smelters, electroplating plants, and other industries. Cadmium is also present in inexpensive jewelry for kids.
April 8, 2010
By: JoAnne Allen
Smoking may increase the risk of multiple sclerosis in people who have other risk factors for the neurological disorder, researchers said on Wednesday.
The findings suggest that smokers who have high levels of a protein that protects against the Epstein-Barr virus, a common herpes virus, were twice as likely as nonsmokers to get multiple sclerosis (MS), the researchers wrote in the online edition of the journal Neurology.
Previous studies have suggested that smoking and the virus-fighting protein were independent risk factors and this research looked at how they may be associated with each other, Claire Simon of Harvard University said in a telephone interview.
“We found that that association was stronger in people who reported smoking compared with people who did not report smoking,” Simon said.
The study found no association between smoking and a gene related to the immune system gene called HLA-DR15, which is thought to be another risk factor for MS, she said.
Studying the potential risk factors simultaneously might provide clues about why some people get MS and others do not, Simon said.
MS is an incurable condition that affects more than 1 million people worldwide. The disease can cause mild symptoms in some people and permanent disability in others. Symptoms may include numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, partial or complete loss of vision, tingling or pain, electric-shock sensation with certain head movements, tremors and an unsteady gait.
Simon and colleagues analyzed information from 442 people with MS and 865 without the disease. All were participants in either the U.S.-based Nurses’ Health Study, the Tasmanian MS Study and the Swedish MS Study.
The team determined whether participants had either of the potential factors and looked at the participants’ smoking history. The researchers said they found a consistent association between MS, smoking and the body’s immune response to the Epstein-Barr virus across the three distinct, geographic regions.
March 23, 2010
By: Maria Cheng
Up to a third of breast cancer cases in Western countries could be avoided if women ate less and exercised more, researchers at a conference on breast cancer said Thursday.
While better treatments, early diagnosis and mammogram screenings have dramatically slowed the disease, experts said the focus should now shift to changing behaviours like diet and physical activity.
“What can be achieved with screening has been achieved. We can’t do much more,” Carlo La Vecchia, head of epidemiology at the University of Milan, told The Associated Press. “It’s time to move onto other things.”
La Vecchia spoke Thursday on the influence of lifestyle factors at a European breast cancer conference in Barcelona.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. In Europe, there were about 421,000 new cases and nearly 90,000 deaths in 2008, the latest available figures. The United States last year saw more than 190,000 new cases and 40,000 deaths. A woman’s lifetime chance of getting breast cancer is about one in eight.
Many breast cancers are fueled by estrogen, a hormone produced in fat tissue. So experts suspect that the fatter a woman is, the more estrogen she’s likely to produce, which could in turn spark breast cancer. Even in slim women, exercise can help reduce the cancer risk by converting more of the body’s fat into muscle.
That means staying slim and never becoming overweight in the first place. Robert Baan, an IARC cancer expert, said it wasn’t clear if women who lose weight have a lower cancer risk or if the damage was already done from when they were heavy.
Drinking less alcohol could also help. Experts estimate that having more than a couple of drinks a day can boost a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer by four to 10 per cent.
After studies several years ago linked hormone replacement therapy to cancer, millions of women abandoned the treatment, leading to a sharp drop in breast cancer rates. Experts said a similar reduction might be seen if women ate better – consuming less fat and more vegetables – and exercised more.
“Women who have early pregnancies are protected against breast cancer, but teenage pregnancy is a social disaster so it’s not something we want to encourage,” she said in a phone interview. “But there’s no downside to reducing obesity and increasing physical activity.”
She also said people may mistakenly think their chances of getting cancer are more dependent on their genes than their lifestyle.
“The genes have been there for thousands of years, but if cancer rates are changing in a lifetime, that doesn’t have much to do with genes,” she said.
In the 1980s and 1990s, breast cancer rates steadily increased, in parallel with the rise in obesity and the use of hormone replacement therapy, which involves estrogen.
“It’s hard to lose weight, but it’s not impossible,” he said. “The potential benefit of preventing cancer is worth it.”
February 1, 2010
By Kate Kelland
Scientists say they have solved a crucial puzzle about the AIDS virus after 20 years of research and that their findings could lead to better treatments for HIV.
British and U.S. researchers said they had grown a crystal that enabled them to see the structure of an enzyme called integrase, which is found in retroviruses like HIV and is a target for some of the newest HIV medicines.
“Despite initially painstakingly slow progress and very many failed attempts, we did not give up and our effort was finally rewarded,” said Peter Cherepanov of Imperial College London, who conducted the research with scientists from Harvard University.
The Imperial and Harvard scientists said that having the integrase structure means researchers can begin fully to understand how integrase inhibitor drugs work, how they might be improved, and how to stop HIV developing resistance to them.
When the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infects someone, it uses the integrase enzyme to paste a copy of its genetic information into their DNA, Cherepanov explained in the study published in the Nature journal on Sunday.
Some new drugs for HIV — like Isentress from Merck & Co <MRK.N> and elvitegravir, an experimental drug from Gilead Sciences <GILD.O> — work by blocking integrase, but scientists are not clear exactly how they work or how to improve them.
The only way to find out was to obtain high-quality crystals — a project that had defeated scientists for many years.
“When we started out, we knew that the project was very difficult, and that many tricks had already been tried and given up by others long ago,” said Cherepanov.
“Therefore, we went back to square one and started by looking for a better model of HIV integrase which could be more amenable for crystallisation.”
The researchers grew a crystal using a version of integrase borrowed from another retrovirus very similar to its HIV counterpart.
It took more than 40,000 trials for them to come up with one a crystal of sufficiently high quality to allow them to see the three-dimensional structure, they said.
They tested the Merck and Gilead drugs on the crystals, and were able to see for the first time how the medicines bind to, and block, integrase.
Almost 60 million people have been infected with HIV and 25 million people have died of HIV-related causes since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. There is no cure and no vaccine, although drug cocktails can keep patients healthy.
United Nations data for 2008 show that 33.4 million people had HIV and 2 million people died of AIDS. The worst-affected region is sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for 67 percent of all people living with HIV.
December 16, 2009
By Joseph Brownstein
Prostate cancer may not be as deadly as it once was, likely because of advances in screening and treatment, but a new study suggests that even a diagnosis of the disease carries some risks.
A collaboration including researchers from Harvard University and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden looked at data for more than 4 million men in Sweden above the age of 30 and found that the diagnosis of prostate cancer — something that occurred in over 160,000 of those men — increased the relative risks for fatal heart problems 11 times and suicide by eight times in the week after diagnosis.
“Stress can be an important trigger for physiologic reactions, including increased risk of cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Meir Stampfer, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. “The diagnosis of cancer also can cause high enough stress to see a noticeable increase in both heart disease and suicide.”
Given that suicide is generally rare, the study does not suggest that men commit it in great numbers following a prostate cancer diagnosis, but doctors say it does suggest a need for more careful monitoring and communication with patients following a diagnosis.
“This study is certainly a wakeup call that there are other issues&that somebody could be at increased cardiovascular risk or increased suicide risk,” said Bruce Trock, an epidemiologist in the department of urology at Johns Hopkins. “The lesson [of the study] is more for physicians, that when they give out a diagnosis of prostate cancer, they should be thinking about this.
“It would be incumbent for a physician to try to keep tabs on what’s going on with this patient,” especially during the first month, he said. “Once somebody’s diagnosed with prostate cancer, usually the first month is when they’re trying to make up their mind about treatment.”
But possible heart disease and suicidal thoughts are not the only potential problems for men after a prostate cancer diagnosis.
Bruce MacDonald, a social worker at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, counsels men following a prostate cancer diagnosis. While he said in his eight years there he has only had one patient who attempted suicide, he far more frequently deals with patients who are depressed or have other problems following treatment.
Among men who have removal of the prostate, some men are left impotent permanently, while others have to deal with incontinence. He said others must take hormonal treatments when surgery fails to remove the tumor completely from the prostate, and the absence of testosterone can lead to impotence and a lack of libido.
MacDonald said a man who is 50 years old and is diagnosed with prostate cancer, then left without a libido by the surgery can be heavily affected by the change in sexual function.
“That, obviously, is a red flag when it comes to what can lead to depression,” he said. “It’s a real struggle for a man in terms of his self-image, which sometimes can change really overnight. If there is significant clinical depression, we do our best to help a man receive treatment for that.”
MacDonald explained that those treatments could include medication and psychotherapy, and possibly couples therapy to deal with the changing relationship with a partner.
Prostate Care Abroad
While men receiving a prostate cancer diagnosis abroad may react similarly to men in the United States, it’s not clear how applicable this study would be, given differences in screening and treatments between the United States and Sweden.
For example, given that men in Sweden tend to be screened less, their disease is sometimes caught in later stages, making it more likely that hormonal therapy will be necessary, and the resultant side effects may create more anxiety.
“We’re pursuing that actively, looking at the U.S. statistics,” said Stampfer, although he said that data available for the United States is not as clear as that available in Sweden, and so doing a similar study would prove difficult. However, he said, “It looks like the overall, broad pattern would be similar in the U.S.”
Stampfer said he was encouraged by the fact that men in later years of the study were less likely to suffer heart problems following a diagnosis of prostate cancer.
“In more recent times, the public has gotten more sophisticated, better information and realizes a cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence,” he said. “It no longer carries as much of that horrible sense of doom that it used to.”
Prostate Cancer Diagnosis: Finding Trouble
But the drop in heart risks may mean problems in the study.
Dr. Nortin Hadler, a professor of medicine and microbiology/immunology at the University of North Carolina said that given the lack of screening in Sweden, it’s possible that the increase in heart disease is because that was why patients were coming to the doctor in the first place.
He explained that patients getting a prostate test were likely to be at the doctor’s office for another reason, and in later years, with more awareness of prostate cancer, that effect was lessened.
“We don’t know why these particular individuals who are diagnosed with prostate cancer decided to get the diagnosis,” Hadler said. “The answer may be that something else brought them to the doctor, and as part of the doctor’s approach … they did a much more general exam.”
But others said that possibility did not confound the study.
“The suicide portion of it verifies an American study that was done several years ago,” said Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society. Suicide and heart risks are part of what physicians need to discuss with patients before prostate screening, he said.
October 26, 2009
By Maggie Fox
The U.S. healthcare system is just as wasteful as President Barack Obama says it is, and proposed reforms could be paid for by fixing some of the most obvious inefficiencies, preventing mistakes and fighting fraud, according to a Thomson Reuters report released on Monday.
The U.S. healthcare system wastes between $505 billion and $850 billion every year, the report from Robert Kelley, vice president of healthcare analytics at Thomson Reuters, found.
“America’s healthcare system is indeed hemorrhaging billions of dollars, and the opportunities to slow the fiscal bleeding are substantial,” the report reads.
“The bad news is that an estimated $700 billion is wasted annually. That’s one-third of the nation’s healthcare bill,” Kelley said in a statement.
“The good news is that by attacking waste we can reduce healthcare costs without adversely affecting the quality of care or access to care.”
One example — a paper-based system that discourages sharing of medical records accounts for 6 percent of annual overspending.
“It is waste when caregivers duplicate tests because results recorded in a patient’s record with one provider are not available to another or when medical staff provides inappropriate treatment because relevant history of previous treatment cannot be accessed,” the report reads.
Some other findings in the report from Thomson Reuters, the parent company of Reuters:
* Unnecessary care such as the overuse of antibiotics and lab tests to protect against malpractice exposure makes up 37 percent of healthcare waste or $200 to $300 billion a year.
* Fraud makes up 22 percent of healthcare waste, or up to $200 billion a year in fraudulent Medicare claims, kickbacks for referrals for unnecessary services and other scams.
* Administrative inefficiency and redundant paperwork account for 18 percent of healthcare waste.
* Medical mistakes account for $50 billion to $100 billion in unnecessary spending each year, or 11 percent of the total.
* Preventable conditions such as uncontrolled diabetes cost $30 billion to $50 billion a year.
“The average U.S. hospital spends one-quarter of its budget on billing and administration, nearly twice the average in Canada,” reads the report, citing dozens of other research papers.
“American physicians spend nearly eight hours per week on paperwork and employ 1.66 clerical workers per doctor, far more than in Canada,” it says, quoting a 2003 New England Journal of Medicine paper by Harvard University researcher Dr. Steffie Woolhandler.
Yet primary care doctors are lacking, forcing wasteful use of emergency rooms, for instance, the report reads.
All this could help explain why Americans spend more per capita and the highest percentage of GDP on healthcare than any other OECD country, yet has an unhealthier population with more diabetes, obesity and heart disease and higher rates of neonatal deaths than other developed nations.
Democratic Senator Charles Schumer said on Sunday that Senate Democratic leaders are close to securing enough votes to pass legislation to start reform of the country’s $2.5 trillion healthcare system.
October 14, 2009
By David Gutierrez
Drinking water from plastic bottles made with the toxic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) increases urinary levels of the chemical by nearly 70 percent, according to a study conducted by researchers from Harvard University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
BPA, an industrial chemical that makes plastics hard and transparent, is widely used in plastic drinking bottles, infant bottles and other consumer products, and also in resins that line cans of food and infant formula. The chemical has been shown to disrupt the hormonal system, potentially leading to reproductive defects as well as brain damage, cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes.
“These astonishing results should be a clarion call to lawmakers and public health officials that babies are being exposed to BPA, and at levels that could likely have an impact on their development,” said Renee Sharp, of the Environmental Working Group. “The adults in this study were willing participants who understood the risk of exposure, but babies are unwitting victims of the silent but serious threat this hormone-disrupting chemical poses to their health.”
The study, conducted on 77 student volunteers, was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
A number of major retailers, including Toys R’ Us, Wal-Mart, Nalgene, Gerber, Playtex and others, have agreed to phase out the chemical in some countries. The Environmental Working Group has published a guide to BPA-free baby bottles and formulas, which can be found at www.ewg.org/babysafe.
The state of Minnesota has banned the use of BPA in food containers intended for children three and younger, as have Chicago and New York’s Suffolk County. California and Connecticut are also considering banning the substance.
“If the legislation to protect California’s youngest from further exposure to BPA is defeated, those elected officials responsible for its demise should be held to account for protecting the profits of the chemical industry instead of children’s health,” Sharp said.
By John Byrne
Yesterday, we brought you the insurance company that wouldn’t insure a 17-pound infant because he was too heavy. Today, we bring you the investment bank that manages to double its bonuses during the worst recession since the Great Depression.
On Thursday, Goldman Sachs will announce the firm’s bonus payments for 2009. Analysts expect the bonus pool to mushroom to $23 billion — double the bonus pool paid to employees in 2008. Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs said that it had put aside $11.4 billion for bonuses during the first half of the year.
The absolute size of compensation payouts will rise significantly, Keith Horowitz, an analyst at Citigroup, wrote in a note to clients two weeks ago, highlighted by Andrew Sorkin in The New York Times’ dealbook column Tuesday.
How much is $23,000,000,000?
For one thing, it’s enough to send 460,000 full paying students to Harvard University for one year, or 115,000 for four years.
It’s enough to pay the health insurance premium for the average American family ($13,375) 1.7 million times.
It’s enough to upgrade 191 million computers to Windows 7 operating system (priced at $119.99), or to buy 115 million i-Phones at $199.99 (provided the recipient was willing to sign a two-year contract).
Or, apparently, it’s enough to reward the employees of Goldman Sachs for a bonanza trading year, at a firm where average employee compensation was recently $622,000 — and likely to be greater this year.