Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[News release] Air pollution linked to increased risk of anxiety and stroke

Remember, correlation does not mean cause! See also the rebuttal below

From the 24 March 2015 MedicalExpress item

Air pollution is linked to a higher risk of stroke, particularly in developing countries, finds a study published in The BMJ today. In a second article, new research also shows that air pollution is associated with anxiety.

Stroke is a leading cause of death and kills around 5 million people each year worldwide. Common risk factors include obesity, smoking and . But the effect of the environment, such as, air pollution is uncertain because evidence is lacking.

In a  and meta analysis, a team of researchers from Edinburgh University looked at the association between short term air pollution exposure and stroke related hospital admissions and deaths. In total, they analysed 103  that covered 28 countries across the world.

Gaseous pollutants included in the analysis were , nitrogen dioxide and ozone. In addition, particulate matter was included: PM 2.5 ( less than 2.5 µm in size) and PM 10 (coarse particles less than 10 µm in size).

Results showed an association between carbon monoxide (1.5% increased risk per 1 ppm), sulphur dioxide (1.9% per 10 ppb) and  (1.4% per 10 ppb) and stroke related hospital admissions or death. The weakest association was found for ozone.

Both PM 2.5 and PM 10 were associated with hospital admissions or deaths due to stroke, by 1.1% and 0.3% per 10 µg/m3 increment respectively. The first day of air pollution exposure was found to have the strongest association.

Low- to middle-income countries experienced the strongest associations compared to high-income countries. Only 20% of analysed studies were from low- to middle-income countries – mostly mainland China – despite these countries having the highest burden of stroke.

Both studies were observational and no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, and the teams of researchers call for more research.

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March 26, 2015 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , | Leave a comment

[BBC News article] Row over sugar firms’ links to scientists

From the 12 February 2015 article

Sugar
Are scientists in the palms of the sugar industry?

Related Stories

A row has erupted about links between the sugar industry and scientists who advise government on obesity.

Campaigners argue the scientists are so heavily influenced by companies that Dracula is now “in charge of the blood bank”.

The scientists concerned say it is wrong to assume they are biased and critics should “learn proper science”.

Public Health England said it welcomed industry “listening to our best scientists”.

The argument was sparked by a report on the issue in the British Medical Journal.

It claims Prof Susan Jebb – the government’s obesity tsar, a University of Oxford academic and an expert in a recent three-part BBC documentary series on obesity – has attracted more than £1.3m of industry funding.

This includes money from Coca-Cola, Unilever and Cereal Partners.

The article says members of a government advisory panel – the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) – are supported by companies such as PepsiCo, Mars and Nestle.

It also claims that of the 40 scientists affiliated with SACN between 2001 and 2012, just 13 had no connections to the sugar industry.

BMJ editor-in-chief Fiona Godlee said the investigation showed there was a “network of relationships between key public health experts and the sugar industry”.

She said “these sorts of links create bias” and “weaken public health efforts to tackle the harmful effects of sugar on the diet”

….

 

February 15, 2015 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , | Leave a comment

[News article] Web-savvy older adults who regularly indulge in culture may better retain ‘health literacy’ — ScienceDaily

Web-savvy older adults who regularly indulge in culture may better retain ‘health literacy’ — ScienceDaily.

From the news article

Date:November 25, 2014
Source:BMJ-British Medical Journal
Summary:Older people who are active Internet users and who regularly indulge in a spot of culture may be better able to retain their health literacy, and therefore maintain good health, suggests research.

There was a link between age and declining health literacy, and being non-white, having relatively low wealth, few educational qualifications, and difficulties carrying out routine activities of daily living.

Poorer memory and executive function scores at the start of the study were also linked to greater health literacy decline over the subsequent six years.

Around 40% of the entire sample said they never used the internet or email, while one in three (32%) said they did so regularly. Similar proportions said they had consistently engaged in civic (35%) and/or leisure (31%) activities over the six year follow-up period.

Almost four out of 10 (39%) said they had regularly engaged in cultural activities, such as going to the cinema, theatre, galleries, concerts or the opera, during this time.

Across all time points, internet use and engagement in civic, leisure, or cultural activities were lower among those whose health literacy declined.

After taking account of influential factors, only the links between regular internet use and engaging in cultural activities remained statistically significant.

But each factor appeared to exert an additive effect, and a combination of all four seemed to afford the best protection against health literacy decline, a finding that was independent of any tailing off in cognitive function.

This is an observational study so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect.

,,,

November 28, 2014 Posted by | Consumer Health, Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Repost] Yay for BMJ journal news release for caveats about observational study!

An example of a heart attack, which can occur ...

An example of a heart attack, which can occur after the use of a performance-enhancing drug. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yay for BMJ journal news release for caveats about observational study!.

From the 19 August 2014 post at HealthNewsReview

I’ve criticized them many times, so now it’s time to salute them.

And let’s hope the news release writers for BMJ journals continue this practice.

This week, in a news release about a paper in one of the journals published by the BMJ, the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, was this caveat:

“This is an observational study so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, and the researchers admit that some potentially important risk factors, such as family history of heart disease/stroke and genetic influences were not known.”

Such a statement of limitations has been missing many times in past news releases from/about BMJ journals.

I can’t see everything, so I may have missed other good examples in the past.

Here is the full text of the news release in question:

Good neighbours and friendly local community may curb heart attack risk

Might extend social support network which is also linked to lower cardiovascular disease risk, say researchers

[Perceived neighbourhood social cohesion and myocardial infarction Online First doi 10.1136/jech-2014-204009]

Having good neighbours and feeling connected to others in the local community may help to curb an individual’s heart attack risk, concludes research published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Current evidence suggests that the characteristics of an area in which a person lives can negatively affect their cardiovascular health. This includes, for example, the density of fast food outlets; levels of violence, noise, and pollution; drug use; and building disrepair.

But few studies have looked at the potential health enhancing effects of positive local neighbourhood characteristics, such as perceived neighbourhood social cohesion, say the authors.

They therefore tracked the cardiovascular health of over 5000 US adults with no known heart problems over a period of four years, starting in 2006. Their average age was 70, and almost two thirds were women and married (62%).

All the study participants were taking part in the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative study of American adults over the age of 50, who are surveyed every two years.

In 2006 participants were asked to score on a validated seven point scale how much they felt part of their local neighbourhood; if they felt they had neighbours who would help them if they got into difficulty; whether they trusted most people in the area; and felt they were friendly.

Potentially influential factors, such as age, race, gender, income, marital status, educational attainment, outlook and attitude, social integration, mental health, lifestyle, weight, and underlying health issues, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, were all taken into account.

During the four year monitoring period, 148 of the 5276 participants (66 women and 82 men) had a heart attack.

Analysis of the data showed that each standard deviation increase in perceived neighbourhood social cohesion was associated with a 22% reduced risk of a heart attack. Put another way, on the seven-point scale, each unit increase in neighbourhood social cohesion was associated with a 17% reduced risk of heart attack.*

This association held true even after adjusting for relevant sociodemographic, behavioural, biological, and psychosocial factors, as well as individual-level social support.

The researchers say their findings echo those of other studies which have found a link between well integrated local neighbourhoods and lower stroke and heart disease risk.

This is an observational study so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, and the researchers admit that some potentially important risk factors, such as family history of heart disease/stroke and genetic influences were not known. But a strong social support network of friends and family has been linked to better health, so friendly neighbourhoods might be an extension of that, they say.

“Perceived neighbourhood social cohesion could be a type of social support that is available in the neighbourhood social environment outside the realm of family and friends,” they write.

And tight-knit local communities may help to reinforce and ‘incentivise’ certain types of cohesive behaviours and so exclude antisocial behaviours, they suggest.

——————–

October 15, 2014 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BMJ special reports on overtreatment

From the 4 October 2012 blog item by Gary Schwitzer at HeatlthNewsReview.org

BMJ editor Fiona Godlee published an editor’s note, “Overtreatment, over here,” kicking off a discussion in her journal.   She begins:

“How much of what we offer to patients is unnecessary? Worse still, how much harm do we do to individuals and society through overtreatment? In the 30 years since Ivan Illich wrote his seminal and, at the time, shocking book Medical Nemesis, the idea that medicine can do clinical and societal harm as well as good has become commonplace. But are we doing enough to bring medicine’s harmful hubris under control?”

US journalist Jeanne Lenzer writes in that same edition, “Unnecessary care: are doctors in denial and is profit driven healthcare to blame?” A BMJ subscription is required for full access.

But you don’t need a subscription to watch a well-done BMJ video featuring Lenzer, colleague Shannon Brownlee, acting director of the New America Health Policy Program and author ofOvertreated: How Too Much Medicine is Making Us Sicker and Poorer, David Himmelstein, professor at the City University of New York School of Public Health, Vikas Saini, a Harvard cardiologist and president of the Lown Cardiovascular Research Foundation, and Patty Skolnik of CitizensForPatientSafety.org.

Related Resources

 

 

 

October 13, 2012 Posted by | health care | , , | Leave a comment

“What Doctors Don’t Tell You” magazine – reviewed in BMJ and Quackometer

From the blog item by Gary Schwitzer at HealthNewsReview.org

Dr. Margaret McCartney, who helped launch the PrivateHealthScreening.org site we wrote about yesterday, has a piece in the BMJ this week, “What a new consumer health magazine doesn’t tell you.”  (Subscription required for full access.) Excerpts:

“It looks just like any other magazine on the shelves of the newsagent aimed at middle aged women: glossy, 100 pages, with a smiling, confident looking woman on the cover. What Doctors Don’t Tell You, a monthly magazine that launched in September 2012, claims to explain how to “discover treatments that are safer and more effective.” …

In the October issue’s news section the article “Thyme is better for acne than creams” starts, “Thyme is more effective than prescription creams for treating acne . . .The herb outperformed pharmaceuticals in a series of laboratory tests, killing the actual bacteria that cause acne . . . Not only is thyme more effective, but it’s kinder on the skin too, say the researchers. Most pharmaceuticals cause a burning sensation and irritation to the skin, whereas thyme and other herbal preparations have none of these side effects.” The article references the Society for General Microbiology’s spring conference in Dublin this year. This research was reported through a press release; it was an in-vitro model; and the researchers did not compare side effects with current prescription creams.

Another article says, “Army personnel with noise deafness and tinnitus are commonly deficient in B12, but enjoy an improvement in symptoms after taking B12 vitamins.” The study referred to contained 12 patients receiving vitamin B12 and was not a randomised controlled trial.

The editorial on Gardasil, headed “Lock up your daughters,” warned that “your doctor and your daughter’s school nurse are not likely to tell you about the 100-plus American girls who suddenly died after receiving an HPV [human papillomavirus] vaccine.” Although there are valid concerns about the long term efficacy of HPV, to suggest that it has led to death is alarmist and does not reflect or explain the evidence collated by the Food and Drug Administration. Informed choice has to be about fair information, not scaremongering; we should hardly wish for a repeat of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine debacle.

Although medical journals carry advertisements for drugs, the ones in this magazine are an extraordinary shrine to non-evidenced based medicine. …

It is right to criticise medicine, but the same standards must be applied to all interventions, “alternative” or not. We now realise how important it is to ensure that fair evidence, free of bias, is used in making medical decisions. There is no point in substituting bad medicine for bad science, and it is not clear from this magazine where the hierarchies of evidence stand, and the limitations and uncertainties that arise in research are not consistently explained. The magazine’s liability statement—“the publishers cannot accept any responsibility for any damage or harm caused by any treatment, advice or information contained in this publication”—should perhaps be better printed on the cover, in an unmissable font.”

She’s not the only one giving What Doctors Don’t Tell You a critical eye. The Quackometer blog refers to “Fifty Shades of Quackery.”

I’ll show you a screenshot from that blog that should be titillating enough to send you there to see more.

“It looks just like any other magazine on the shelves of the newsagent aimed at middle aged women: glossy, 100 pages, with a smiling, confident looking woman on the cover. What Doctors Don’t Tell You, a monthly magazine that launched in September 2012, claims to explain how to “discover treatments that are safer and more effective.” …

In the October issue’s news section the article “Thyme is better for acne than creams” starts, “Thyme is more effective than prescription creams for treating acne . . .The herb outperformed pharmaceuticals in a series of laboratory tests, killing the actual bacteria that cause acne . . . Not only is thyme more effective, but it’s kinder on the skin too, say the researchers. Most pharmaceuticals cause a burning sensation and irritation to the skin, whereas thyme and other herbal preparations have none of these side effects.” The article references the Society for General Microbiology’s spring conference in Dublin this year. This research was reported through a press release; it was an in-vitro model; and the researchers did not compare side effects with current prescription creams.

Another article says, “Army personnel with noise deafness and tinnitus are commonly deficient in B12, but enjoy an improvement in symptoms after taking B12 vitamins.” The study referred to contained 12 patients receiving vitamin B12 and was not a randomised controlled trial.

The editorial on Gardasil, headed “Lock up your daughters,” warned that “your doctor and your daughter’s school nurse are not likely to tell you about the 100-plus American girls who suddenly died after receiving an HPV [human papillomavirus] vaccine.” Although there are valid concerns about the long term efficacy of HPV, to suggest that it has led to death is alarmist and does not reflect or explain the evidence collated by the Food and Drug Administration. Informed choice has to be about fair information, not scaremongering; we should hardly wish for a repeat of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine debacle.

Although medical journals carry advertisements for drugs, the ones in this magazine are an extraordinary shrine to non-evidenced based medicine. …

It is right to criticise medicine, but the same standards must be applied to all interventions, “alternative” or not. We now realise how important it is to ensure that fair evidence, free of bias, is used in making medical decisions. There is no point in substituting bad medicine for bad science, and it is not clear from this magazine where the hierarchies of evidence stand, and the limitations and uncertainties that arise in research are not consistently explained. The magazine’s liability statement—“the publishers cannot accept any responsibility for any damage or harm caused by any treatment, advice or information contained in this publication”—should perhaps be better printed on the cover, in an unmissable font.”

She’s not the only one giving What Doctors Don’t Tell You a critical eye. The Quackometer blog refers to “Fifty Shades of Quackery.”

October 13, 2012 Posted by | Consumer Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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