Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[Press release] Discussing alternative medicine choices for better health outcomes

 

English: A graph of age-adjusted percent of ad...

English: A graph of age-adjusted percent of adults who have used complementary and alternative medicine in 2002 in the United States according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the 3 October 2014 press release at EurkAlert

Discussing alternative medicine choices for better health outcomes

In the field of medicine there has often been a divide between those who focus on modern medicine and those who prefer alternative practices. But pediatrician Sunita Vohra is a firm believer there should be room for both.

A new study from Vohra, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry’s Department of Pediatrics at the University of Alberta, and a pediatric physician for Clinical Pharmacology with Alberta Health Services, is giving insight into the use of alternative medicines by pediatric cardiac patients and how effective they are seen to be. “We wanted to know if the use of alternative therapies helped or not, and we wanted to know if it hurt them or not,” she says.

The study, published in the journal CMAJ Open, examined the use of alternative therapies such as multivitamins, minerals, chiropractic care and Aboriginal healing in 176 patients at the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta, and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in Ottawa, Ontario.

It found 64 per cent of patients at the Stollery Children’s Hospital reported using complementary and alternative medicine products and practices, compared with just 36 per cent at CHEO. Of those patients, Vohra says most had no regrets about their choices.

English: Classification of complementary and a...

English: Classification of complementary and alternative therapies Italiano: Classificazione di terapie complementari e alternative (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The vast majority felt that they had been helped by the complementary therapy that they took and it was extremely unusual for them to report that they felt an adverse event had occurred because of it.”

The study also found one third of patients and their families did not discuss the use of alternative medicines with their physicians. Vohra believes it shows that patients may be reluctant to discuss their choices if they’re not sure how it will be received by health care providers.

That decision could have important health consequences, says Vohra, who also serves as director of the Complementary and Alternative Research and Education (CARE) program at the University of Alberta, and that patients’ discussing alternative therapies with health professionals is vital in order for them to make informed choices.

“There may be some therapies that help children feel better, but there may be others that, unbeknownst to the family, cause interaction between a specific natural health product and a prescription medicine. In that setting, instead of helping the child get better, harm may actually be happening.”

Vohra stresses the need for open communication and says children’s hospitals in Canada need to do a better job of providing information to patients looking at other avenues to health.

“That communication is essential because the health-care providers and the parents—together we are a team. And everyone’s hope is for that child’s better health.”

Other highlights from the study:

  • Multi-vitamins were the most common complementary and alternative medicine products with 71 percent of patients using them, followed by vitamin C (22 per cent), calcium (13 per cent) and cold remedies (11.8 per cent)
  • The most common practices include massage (37.5 per cent), faith healing (25 per cent), chiropractic (20 per cent), aromatherapy (15 per cent) and Aboriginal healing (7.5 per cent)
  • Almost half (44 per cent) of patients used complementary and alternative medicine products along with conventional treatments. The study’s research was supported by funding from the Sick Kids Foundation and Alberta Innovates Health Solutions.

October 15, 2014 Posted by | health care | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[News article] Vitamins: Potential Damage to Body’s Defences

From the 28 November 2013 ScienceDaily report

Vitamin supplements are a billion-dollar industry. We want to stay healthy and fit and help our bodies with this. But perhaps we are achieving precisely the opposite?

“We believe that antioxidants are good for us, since they protect the cells from oxidative stress that may harm our genes. However, our bodies have an enormous inherent ability to handle stress. Recent research results show that the body’s responses to stress in fact are important in preventing our DNA from eroding. I fear that the fragile balance in our cells can be upset when we supplement our diet with vitamin pills, says Hilde Nilsen to the research magazine Apollon. Nilsen is heading a research group at the Biotechnology Centre, University of Oslo.

Maintenance of genes

Our DNA – the genetic code that makes us who we are – is constantly exposed to damage.

In each of the hundred trillion cells in our body, up to two hundred thousand instances of damage to the DNA take place every day. These may stem from environmental causes such as smoking, stress, environmental pathogens or UV radiation, but the natural and life-sustaining processes in the organism are the primary sources of damage to our DNA.

How can the repair of damage to our DNA help us stay healthy and live long lives?

A small worm provides the answer

To answer this question, Hilde Nilsen and her group of researchers have allied themselves with a small organism – a one millimetre-long nematode called Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans). This roundworm, which lives for only 25 days, is surprisingly sophisticated with its 20,000 genes; we humans only have a couple of thousand more.

C. elegans is a fantastically powerful tool, because we can change its hereditary properties. We can increase its ability to repair DNA damage, or we can remove it altogether. We can also monitor what happens when damage to DNA is not repaired in several hundred specimens and through their entire lifespan. Different “repair proteins” take care of various types of damage to the DNA. The most common ones are repaired by “cutting out” and replacing a single damaged base by itself or as part of a larger fragment.

Affecting lifespan with the aid of genes

In some specimens that do not have the ability to repair the damage, the researchers observe that the aging process proceeds far faster than normal. Is it because the damage accumulates in the DNA and prevents the cells from producing the proteins they need for their normal operation? Most researchers have thought so, but Hilde Nilsen doubts it.

One of the genes studied by the researchers has a somewhat shortened lifespan: on average, this mutant lives three days less than normal. Translated into human terms, this means dying at the age of 60 rather than at 70. -“We were surprised when we saw that these mutants do not in fact accumulate the DNA damage that would cause aging. On the contrary: they have less DNA damage. This happens because the little nematode changes its metabolism into low gear and releases its own antioxidant defences. Nature uses this strategy to minimize the negative consequences of its inability to repair the DNA. So why is this not the normal state? Most likely because it comes at a cost: these organisms have less ability to respond to further stress ‒ they are quite fragile.

Hilde Nilsen and her colleagues have now -for the very first time -“shown that this response is under active genetic control and is not caused by passive accumulation of damage to the DNA, as has been widely believed.

Can do great harm

The balance between oxidants and antioxidants is crucial to our physiology, but exactly where this equilibrium is situated varies from one person to the next.

“This is where I start worrying about the synthetic antioxidants. The cells in our body use this fragile balance to establish the best possible conditions for themselves, and it is specially adapted for each of us. When we take supplements of antioxidants, such as C and E vitamins, we may upset this balance,” the researcher warns.

“It sounds intuitively correct that intake of a substance that may prevent accumulation of damage would benefit us, and that’s why so many of us supplement our diet with vitamins. Our research results indicate that at the same time, we may also cause a lot of harm. The health authorities recommend that instead, we should seek to have an appropriate diet. I’m all in favour of that. It’s far safer for us to take our vitamins through the food that we eat, rather than through pills,” Hilde Nilsen states emphatically.

 

Read the entire article here

 

November 27, 2013 Posted by | Nutrition | , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Scientist Debunks The ‘Magic’ Of Vitamins And Supplements : Shots – Health News : NPR

 

Screen Shot 2013-10-26 at 8.14.15 AMA Scientist Debunks The ‘Magic’ Of Vitamins And Supplements : Shots – Health News : NPR.

From the 23 July 2013 NPR item

A pediatrician who spent years defending childhood vaccines against the likes of actress/activist Jenny McCarthy has launched an assault on megavitamins and dietary supplements.

“If you take large quantities of vitamin A, vtamin E, beta carotene [or] selenium you increase your risk of cancer, risk of heart disease, and you could shorten your life,” says Dr. Paul Offit, a researcher at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Many large studies in recent years have shown that vitamins and dietary supplements rarely help and often hurt, Offit says. Yet a huge number of people still believe that these products will improve their health. So, Offit says, he decided to challenge the false beliefs of “the church of vitamins and supplements.”

Offit made the remarks during an appearance in Washington, D.C., Monday to promote his latest bookDo You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine.

Offit, an infectious disease specialist and the co-inventor of a rotavirus vaccine, is best known for publicly challenging groups that claim there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism. That effort often pitted him against actress Jenny McCarthy, who became a spokeswoman for anti-vaccine groups.

One big problem with dietary supplements is a 1994 law that exempts them from the tighter scrutiny the FDA applies to its regulation of medicines, Offit says. So the makers of a garlic supplement can say that it “supports cardiovascular health” even though a government study found that garlic supplements didn’t lower cholesterol. Meanwhile, Offit says, patients clearly benefit from a range of FDA-approved statin drugs that actually do what garlic supplements claim to do.

Dietary supplements are often advertised as “natural,” Offit says, even though that term can be misleading. For example, almonds are a natural source of vitamin E. But you would have to eat 17 pounds of almonds to get the amount of vitamin E in a single capsule sold by one supplement maker, Offit says. “So how is this a natural thing to do?”

Offit says doctors are partly to blame for the growing popularity of high-dose vitamins and other dietary supplements. Rather than pushing back against patients who want to take them, he says, doctors have acted like waiters at a restaurant, simply asking, “What would you like?”

Many hospitals also include unproved dietary supplements in their list of medicines available to patients, Offit says. But he says his own institution, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, plans to remove nearly all supplements from its list later this month.

Offit says his attack on dietary supplements has generated a steady stream of hate mail. But he says it’s not as harsh as the hate mail he used to get from people who believe vaccines cause autism. “This is more, I’m ‘a liar and a shill for the pharmaceutical industry,’ ” he says, “not, ‘You’re going to hell.’ ”

Offit has some strong defenders, though, including former President Jimmy Carter and Carter’s wife, Rosalynn. They sat in the front row at Offit’s appearance in D.C. And during a question and answer session, the former president rose to tell Offit: “You’ve been a hero around our house for a long time.”

 

October 26, 2013 Posted by | Consumer Health, Nutrition | , , | Leave a comment

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia becomes first in nation to disallow use of dietary supplements

From the 8 October 2013 EurekAlert

 

New hospital policies will improve patient safety, education

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) announced today that its Formulary- the list of medications approved for use- will no longer include most dietary supplements. The hospital said the action was being taken because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not routinely review the manufacturing of dietary supplements, and therefore cannot guarantee their safety and effectiveness. The move makes CHOP the first hospital in the United States to discourage patients from using these products without a doctor’s provision as a matter of policy.

“Because vitamins and dietary supplements are essentially unregulated, there is no sound information about adverse side effects, drug interactions, or even standard dosing for the vast majority of them,” said Sarah Erush, PharmD, BCPS, Pharmacy Clinical Manager and a member of the hospital’s Therapeutic Standards Committee. “Administering these medications – particularly to children with serious health complications– is unethical when the risks are unknown, and when there are alternative treatments that have been proven in clinical trials to be safe and effective.”

Dietary supplements are defined as vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, amino acids, enzymes and animal extracts meant to “supplement” the diet and are not intended to replace a healthy diet or to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure diseases. Melatonin, Echinacea, chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine, CoEnzyme Q10, milk thistle, and probiotics are some of the most commonly used supplements.

The hospital’s updated policy acknowledges that there are certain medical conditions that may require supplementation of vitamins or nutrients. To that end, the hospital has determined a very limited and carefully selected list of acceptable products that are proven to be of high quality and safe.

Under the hospital’s updated policy, parents or guardians will be asked upon admission whether the patient is taking any medication or supplements. If so, the attending nurse or physician will review the hospital’s policy discouraging the use of supplements and inform parents or guardians of the potential risks associated with the supplement. Potential risks include contamination, mislabeling, interactions with medications, or potential unforeseen adverse effects.

If, after receiving this information, a parent or guardian insists on continuing to give their child a dietary supplement that is not on the CHOP Formulary, they must sign a hospital waiver stating that they agree to be responsible for providing the product.

“Educating families is one of the most important reasons for implementing this new policy. Most people assume that supplements they buy at the health food store or online are strictly monitored or are safe because they are ‘all natural’,” said Erush. “But supplements are only subject to FDA review if an adverse event is reported, so there are many for which we have no reliable data. We’d much rather treat children with what we know works than provide them with a substance that may at best do nothing, or at worst, cause harm.”

In order to be included in CHOP’s formulary, all products must follow similar guidelines as for FDA-approved medications. If able to meet these criteria, pharmacy will stock and dispense as a formulary medication, avoiding the need for a waiver:

 

  • The product must have adequate safety and efficacy data to support use for the requested indication, including data in pediatric patients
  • There must be an available formulation with adequate quality assurance data

 

“CHOP has long embraced its responsibility to advance patient safety as the cornerstone to improving children’s health.” said Paul Offit, MD, Chair of the hospital’s Therapeutic Standards Committee. “Patients with chronic diseases use dietary supplements more frequently than the general population and are at greater risk for adverse events and interactions. Better monitoring and regulating the way we distribute these products is one more step we can take to make sure that we’re providing the best possible medical care for our children.”

 

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About The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was founded in 1855 as the nation’s first pediatric hospital. Through its long-standing commitment to providing exceptional patient care, training new generations of pediatric healthcare professionals and pioneering major research initiatives, Children’s Hospital has fostered many discoveries that have benefited children worldwide. Its pediatric research program receives the highest amount of National Institutes of Health funding among all U.S. children’s hospitals. In addition, its unique family-centered care and public service programs have brought the 527-bed hospital recognition as a leading advocate for children and adolescents. For more information, visit http://www.chop.edu.

 

Diet supplement - omega 3 fish oil-based

Diet supplement – omega 3 fish oil-based (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

October 14, 2013 Posted by | Nutrition | , , , | Leave a comment

[News item] Should You Take Dietary Supplements? (with links to resources)

Someone I know takes a multitude of supplements. As this article points out, it is a good idea to get objective medical advice on which supplements may be helpful.  This person started taking Vitamin D on the advice of a friend to stop back pain. It did work. And to to be honest, I was very skeptical. After a year, he told his doctor, and the doctor said that it probably did help. However, I do think that overall if folks ate right that supplements would be unnecessary.
Also, as the article points out, supplements cannot reverse medical conditions or replace other therapies.
Looking for more information on supplements? Check out the resources below, after the article summary.

A Look at Vitamins, Minerals, Botanicals and More

From the NIH August 2013 Newsletter

Illustration of a woman shopping for dietary supplements.

When you reach for that bottle of vitamin C or fish oil pills, you might wonder how well they’ll work and if they’re safe. The first thing to ask yourself is whether you need them in the first place.

More than half of all Americans take one or more dietary supplements daily or on occasion. Supplements are available without a prescription and usually come in pill, powder or liquid form. Common supplements include vitamins, minerals and herbal products, also known as botanicals.

People take these supplements to make sure they get enough essential nutrients and to maintain or improve their health. But not everyone needs to take supplements.

“It’s possible to get all of the nutrients you need by eating a variety of healthy foods, so you don’t have to take one,” says Carol Haggans, a registered dietitian and consultant to NIH. “But supplements can be useful for filling in gaps in your diet.”

Some supplements may have side effects, especially if taken before surgery or with other medicines. Supplements can also cause problems if you have certain health conditions. And the effects of many supplements haven’t been tested in children, pregnant women and other groups. So talk with your health care provider if you’re thinking about taking dietary supplements.

Read the entire article here

Resources

  • Dietary Supplement Fact Sheets (US National Institutes of Health)
    with links to decision making aids and consumer protection information
  • Dietary Supplement Label Database (US National Institutes of Health)
    ingredients of thousands of dietary supplements with information from the label on dosage, health claims and cautions
  • Drugs, Supplements, and Herbal Information (US National Library of Medicine)
    browse dietary supplements and herbal remedies to learn about their effectiveness, usual dosage, and drug interactions.
  • Longwood Herbal Task Force
    This site has in-depth monographs about herbal products and supplements written by health professionals and students. It provides clinical information summaries, patient fact sheets, and information about toxicity and interactions as well as relevant links. The task force is a cooperative effort of the staff and students from Children’s Hospital, the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

 

August 6, 2013 Posted by | Health Education (General Public), Nutrition | , , , , , | Leave a comment

CDC Announces People In The US Have Healthy Vitamin And Mineral Levels

food sources of magnesium: bran muffins, pumpk...

food sources of magnesium: bran muffins, pumpkin seeds, barley, buckwheat flour, low-fat vanilla yogurt, trail mix, halibut steaks, garbanzo beans, lima beans, soybeans, and spinach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the 2 April Medical News Today article

Whilst pointing out that certain groups of the population have deficiencies, the CDC announced in a press release today, that in all, the US population has good levels of the main essential vitamins and minerals. Vitamin A & D as well as Folate and Iron got the green light in a report entitled “Second National Report on Biochemical Indicators of Diet and Nutrition”.

The CDC’s Division of Laboratory Sciences in the National Center for Environmental Health collected data from participants in CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, by taking blood and urine samples. The data covers the years 1999-2006, with a focus on more recent figures from 2003 to 2006. Although the report is positive, it points out that it doesn’t mean people are eating balanced and healthy diets.

As Christopher Portier, Ph.D., director of CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health clarifies :

“These findings are a snapshot of our nation’s overall nutrition status … Measurements of blood and urine levels of these nutrients are critical because they show us whether the sum of nutrient intakes from foods and vitamin supplements is too low, too high, or sufficient.”

As far as deficiencies go, the report makes note that problems vary according to age, gender and ethnicity, and gives an example of vitamin D deficiency that can be higher than thirty percent for non Hispanic blacks….

April 4, 2012 Posted by | Nutrition | , , , | Leave a comment

Humans Shown To Have Intestinal Bacteria Groups As Well As Blood Groups

From the 27 April 2011 Medical News Today article

It would appear that in terms of composition, the intestinal bacteria of every individual can be divided into three main groups known as enterotypes. The intestinal bacteria in each enterotype organise themselves into distinct, stable clusters displaying common features. ..

..Three enterotypes

The three enterotypes show various categories of bacteria with a different impact of the gut. Enterotype 1 is dominated by the Bacteroides intestinal bacteria, which together with a few other species of bacteria, forms a distinctive cluster of gut flora. The dominant bacteria in enterotype 2 is Prevotella. And in enterotype 3, Ruminococcus is the main bacteria, along with other species such as Staphylococcus, Gordonibacter and a species discovered in Wageningen previously, Akkermansia. Enterotype 3 is the most common.

Furthermore, every cluster of bacteria has its own way of supplying energy. Enterotype 3, for example, specialises in breaking down mucin, a carbohydrate that enters the gut via our food. This allows the gut to absorb these fragments asnutrition for the body. All three enterotypes also produce vitamins, albeit in varying amounts. Enterotype 1 produces the most vitamin B7 (biotin), B2 (riboflavin) and C (ascorbic acid), and enterotype 2 produces mainly vitamin B1 (thiamin) and folic acid. Every enterotype, with its distinctive clusters of bacteria and functional differences, reflects a distinctive way of generating energy that is closely compatible with its host. It is also possible that the enterotypes may interact with their host on various levels, having an impact on the individual’s health.

In March of last year, the MetaHIT consortium published the first catalogue of genes of human intestinal bacteria (also known as the second genome). These bacteria populations encode 150 times more genes than our own genome. It was shown that from a range of more than a thousand species of bacteria that live in the human gut, every individual is host to several hundred types of bacteria.

The discovery of the enterotypes will influence the fields of biology, medicine and nutrition, making it much easier to analyse an individual’s needs. The research team sees future opportunities for personal and preventive dietary and medicinal advice.

April 27, 2011 Posted by | Consumer Health, Medical and Health Research News, Nutrition | , , , | 1 Comment

Vitamin and Dietary Supplement Information

Confused about claims about Vitamin E? Wondering how much Vitamin C you need?  Does feverfew prevent migraines? Thinking about taking  iron supplements but want to act on good evidence?

The Office of Dietary Supplements just might have the information you need to discuss with your primary health care provider or other trusted health professional.  While scientific evidence is inconclusive for many substances, this Web site is a great starting place for current objective information.

Health information for consumers and health professionals is offered for dietary supplements (as cranberry and ginseng), vitamins and minerals, and botanical supplements (as ephedra and soy).

Additionally, the health information page provides links to assist with informed decision making (as fraud detection), consumer safety, and Nutrient Recommendation Reports & Tables (DRIs & RDAs), and more.

Excerpt:  “To put it simply, people who take dietary supplements may have the misconception that they are invulnerable to health problems and may make poor decisions when it comes to their health – such as choosing fast food over a healthy and organic meal. “

September 28, 2010 Posted by | Consumer Health | , , , | Leave a comment

   

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