Home Birth Safety
A report in the British Medical Journal1 concludes that, for low-risk women in the United States and Canada, home births (using certified professional midwives) are as safe as hospital deliveries.
- BMJ, June 18, 2005.
Calcium for PMS
A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine2 suggests diets high in calcium and vitamin D may be helpful in warding off premenstrual syndrome. The study of 3,000 women spanned 10 years; researchers saw a significant decrease in PMS episodes (not merely the lessening of symptom severity) in women who averaged four servings a day of foods rich in calcium and vitamin D. Typical symptoms of PMS include anxiety, depression, headaches, and abdominal cramps.
- AIM, June 2005.
Beta Blockers During Surgery
An analysis of the records of more than 650,000 cardiac patients questions the wisdom of the general practice of giving certain patients beta-blocker medication before non-cardiac-related surgery.3 Some studies suggest the medications reduce mortality for high-risk patients, so of course, it is now a common practice to dispense them to all patients with any kind of cardiac history. The study suggests this practice may be killing patients. Although many high-risk patients may still benefit, say the researchers, for milder conditions, the drugs increased mortality by 43 percent. Beta-blockers decrease the strength of the heartbeat, so presumably, the practice is meant to keep the heart from getting overworked during a stressful procedure; apparently, other factors are involved. Currently, two randomized trials are underway to try to clarify the situation; in the meantime, medical leaders say the practice should continue until more scientific evidence is collected.4
- NEJM, July 28, 2005.
- Ibid (accompanying editorial).
Contraceptive Drugs and Cancer
A literature review from the World Health Organization concludes that oral contraceptives appear to have different implications for varying types of cancer. On the one hand, ovarian endometrial cancer rates appear to be lessened by the chemicals, but liver, cervical, and breast cancer risks increased. As a result of this work, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (part of the WHO) has elevated its hormonal menopausal therapy classification from "possibly carcinogenic" to "carcinogenic."5 The study found that the overall lifetime risk of cancer among women who used HRT increased about 17 percent.6
- Reuters, July 29, 2005.
- Associated Press, July 29, 2005.
Weight Control With Yoga
According to a study of more than 15,000 middle-aged individuals, those who practice yoga were trimmer than their peers. Average-weight individuals didn't really lose much weight with the gentle exercises over a 10-year period, but they didn't gain the pounds members of the other group did, either. Overweight yoga practitioners however, did lose about 5 pounds, while their nonparticipating peers gained more that 13 pounds during the course of the study. The weight differences probably had less to do with calories burned than with emotional well-being, a healthier lifestyle and attunement to the body, according to those involved.7 Apparently, it also is difficult to do some of the exercises when you've just gulped down half a pizza.
- Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, July/August 2005.
Super Bacteria Are Great Survivors
An investigation into the survivability of hospital germs reports many have adapted well to surviving on surfaces for a very long time. Methicillin-resistant Staph aureus (one of the "flesh-eating" varieties) was dabbed onto common surfaces, with researchers checking back periodically to see how the bacteria was doing. They found the bacteria survived five days on bed linens, six weeks on computer keyboard covers, and eight weeks on acrylic fingernails.8 To make matters worse, other studies have suggested health care professionals often do not follow sanitation procedures diligently.
- Reuters, June 6, 2005, reporting on the work of Kris Owens of Minnesota-based Ecolab, a sanitation-services company.
Alcohol for the Lymphatics
An analysis of studies involving 15,000 people suggests alcoholic beverages may have a protective effect against lymphatic cancers. The study found a significant decrease in about 20 types of non-Hodgkins lymphomas (NHL) in this analysis of nine different studies. The overall effect was a 27-percent decreased risk, and did not seem to be related to the type of alcohol. The incidence of Burkitt's lymphoma was affected the most, with approximately a 50 percent decrease in risk among imbibers.9
- The Lancet Oncology, June 2005.
Italian researchers report a link between the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (implicated in gastric ulcers) and irregular heartbeats. In a study of just over 100 people, researchers discovered that the patient was 20 times more likely to be infected with the bacteria if he or she suffered from atrial fibrillation.10
- Heart, June 16, 2005.
Over a period of about two months late last year, medical technicians at Duke University complained the surgical tools felt too slippery. A number of patients also reported unusual symptoms after their surgeries, such as gastrointestinal disturbances, unexplained weight loss, and other autoimmune-like symptoms. It turns out that prior to sterilization, the hospital had been washing the instruments not with soap, but with hydraulic fluid. Elevator maintenance workers had drained the fluid into an empty soap container that somehow never got relabeled. The hospital subsequently commissioned a study on the procedure; apparently, hydraulic fluid does not impair the sterilization process, according to a letter sent to the affected patients.11
- Associated Press, June 21, 2005.
Scottish researchers studying the effect of calcium and vitamin D3 supplementation for elderly osteoporotic patients say the practice does not appear to help. They divided 5,300 patients who had fractured a bone during the previous 10 years into four groups and administered vitamin D, calcium, both, or a placebo. After five years, there was no statistical difference in the number of fractures in any of the groups.12 Osteoporosis is the loss of bone support tissue, leading to gaps in the bone structure and an increase in fragility. Loss of the calcium (only) from that support tissue is known as osteomalacia, a malady that softens the bone and may lead to bowing.
- The Lancet, May 7, 2005.
A new study from Penn State suggests mothers risk losing some of the mother-child bond by skimping on their prenatal vitamins. The researchers say a mild iron deficiency increases the chance of postpartum depression and a resulting lessening of attentiveness to their child. The work involved videotaping 85 mother-child interactions 10 weeks and 9 months after birth, and then correlating behaviors to the mothers' iron levels. After the initial 10 weeks, iron supplements were given to some of the mothers to confirm the effect.13
- Reuters, April 5, 2005, reporting on the work of Dr. Laura Murray-Kolb.
Gas Stations and Leukemia
French researchers report that living near a service station may increase the risk of leukemia in children. This study found the incidence of the disease quadrupled in children in such a situation, and the frequency appears to correlate to the length of time the children lived in close proximity to the fuel station. The risk was greatest for acute non-lymphoblastic leukemia (sevenfold increase in risk).14
- Occupational and Environmental Medicine, August 2004.
Brian Sutton, DC
Colorado Springs, Colorado
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