The March 25, 1996 installment of this column included a number to call for persons interested in gaining more information on the professional status (i.e., credentials, certifications, disciplinary actions) of your local medical physician. Well, the procedure has changed. When you call, you are referred to another number (Data Services, 312-464-5199) where they tell you that they now require a written request. If you make it through the questions about your motives ("Are you a reporter, who are you giving this information to?" etc.), they will give you the address to send for information on up to five doctors. Oh, and don't forget to enclose your check for $60.
Vitamin E Cuts Heart Attack Risk
Cambridge University scientists were startled to discover that vitamin E supplementation is "far more effective than current heart treatments like aspirin and cholesterol-lowering drugs" in preventing heart attacks.1 The 2,000 patient study2 showed a 75 percent reduction in heart attacks in patients taking vitamin E compared to the placebo group. The researchers say that the findings explain some of the heart benefits of mediterranean-type diets. Further studies are ongoing.
1. Reuter, March 22, 1996.
2. CHAOS, Cambridge University Anti-oxidant study.
Vitamin C Opens Arteries
A report published by the American Heart Association3 describes a study of the effects of vitamin C and blood vessel function. Researchers used ultrasound to examine the ability of the brachial artery to open, allowing a higher volume of blood to pass. In patients with coronary artery disease, this artery dilation was a very sluggish two percent. However, two hours after administration of 2,000 mg of generic vitamin C, the vessels opened up an average of nearly 10 percent, very close to the amount seen in persons with no history of cardiovascular disease. The researchers hypothesize that further studies will show similar effects on cardiac vasculature.
3. Circulation, March 15, 1996.
Hodgkin's Treatment Increases Cancers
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine4 reports that young girls who undergo conventional treatment for Hodgkin's disease face a much higher risk of cancer as an adult. Traditionally, chemotherapy and radiation are used by medical physicians to combat the lymphoma. Researchers are now suggesting, however, that these methods trigger development of other serious diseases such as breast cancer and leukemia. By age 45, a woman treated as a child may face a risk of breast cancer of 55 percent. The incidence of certain tumors of the thyroid, brain, skeleton, and gastrointestinal tract approaches 30 percent at 30 years after the Hodgkin's treatment. The study of over 1,300 children also found, curiously, that subsequent cancers appear more frequently if the children are older when the Hodgkin's is initially diagnosed. These side effects are likely to be considered acceptable to the medical establishment at this time though since there is currently little choice in orthodox treatment.
4. NEJM, March 21, 1996.
Fight Germs with Germs
A medicinal chemist reporting in the Journal of the American Medical Association5 proposes that microorganisms be used, as was often the case before antibiotics became popular, to fight certain bacterial infections. Because of the increasing concern over antibiotic resistance, such older technologies are being repackaged and again recommended to patients. In this case, the author consults for a company that manufactures capsules containing a yeast that inhibits overgrowth of pathological intestinal bacteria. Similar organisms are available in health food stores of course, but the aim is to distribute an FDA- approved controlled form. They are going through the extensive testing required for official approval, which should ensure their place in the market should restrictions be imposed in the future. Apparently, some experts think that such remedies are apt to be "exploited" as their acceptance resurges.6
5. JAMA, March 20, 1996.
6. Associated Press, March 19, 1995. "Good Germs Fight Bad Germs."
Accutane Manufacturer Fights Disclosure
A dermatologist who researched the effects of the drug Accutane (isotretinoin) for the manufacturer prior to FDA approval has been trying to thwart marketing plans for the product. Dr. Frank Yoder argues that consumers are not told about potent side effects such as birth defects. A spokesman for the pharmaceutical company says the firm "now informs physicians of that risk."7 Dr. Yoder now plans to auction his research notes that detail the "development, use, and misuse" of the drug, but the company claims this is a violation of a confidentiality agreement he signed in 1977. They are seeking an injunction, as of this writing, to prevent sale of the papers.
7. United Press, March 20, 1996.
Soybean Problem? Nuts!
In an attempt to improve the nutritional content of soybeans, an Iowa company8 merged genes from the methionine-rich Brazil nut with the genetic structure of soybean plants. Preliminary animal testing had suggested few problems, but now researchers at the University of Nebraska have discovered severe allergic reactions in some humans. Persons allergic to Brazil nuts exhibited a strong skin-test reaction to the product during the latest tests. It is thought that the volunteers would have quickly died had they ingested the soybeans. The company has discontinued plans to market the product.9
8. Pioneer Hi-Bred International.
9. New England Journal of Medicine, March 14, 1996.
Folic Acid Allergy
According to researchers at St. Louis University School of Medicine, physicians need to be aware of possible problems stemming from the FDA's new requirement that folic acid be added to many foodstuffs. Apparently, synthetic forms of the nutrient combine in the digestive tract with certain proteins. This combination can trigger an immune response in some people. The allergy is rare, though experts are unsure of the consequences of widespread fortification of the food supply. Symptoms of hypersensitivity include hives, breathing problems, abdominal cramps and itchy skin. Naturally occurring folacin does not appear to precipitate the reaction.10
10. United Press, March 11, 1996.
Loss of Hope Can Kill
A new study published in Psychosomatic Medicine11 shows a very strong relationship between feelings of hopelessness and deaths from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other causes. The research was done on over 2,400 Finnish men between the ages of 42 and 60, over a period of six years. The men who were characterized as having "negative expectancies" about their future were three times more likely to die from violence or injury and died four times as frequently from cardiovascular problems. The paper distinguishes hopelessness from depression, contending that a person's health suffers far less from simple depression than it does when a person has given up hope.
11. Psychosomatic Medicine, March 20, 1996.
Aspirin Fortification of Food Supply
Doctors from the National Center for Health Statistics presented some intriguing information at a recent conference of the American Heart Association.12 Their study has determined that the amount of salicylates (the active ingredient in aspirin) has increased dramatically in our food supply since the 1960s. Salicylates are present in many artificial flavorings such as strawberry, vanilla, grape, butter, cinnamon, mint, caramel, and walnut. They calculated that the average consumption of salicylates from artificial flavorings alone went from 90 milligrams per day in 1960 to 125 mg. in 1970. One baby aspirin contains 80 mg. Other sources are difficult to ascertain, since such ingredients are protected by trade secrecy laws. The researchers theorize that increased consumption of this compound in junk food may be responsible for declining heart attack mortality in recent years (because of the anti-clotting action of the chemical), though they don't recommend increasing your junk food intake.13
12. March 14, 1996 conference sponsored by the AHA. The work was presented by Drs. Lillian M. Ingster and Manning Feinleib.
13. Associated Press, March 15, 1996.
Toxic Fish in San Francisco Bay
If you are in the habit of eating fish from San Francisco Bay, you may be interested in a new report released by the Save San Francisco Bay Association. They collected data from state agencies, integrated their own surveys, and now contend that many fishermen are putting themselves and their families at risk of chemical poisoning. The group says that people are consuming far more of the fish than was previously thought, raising their cumulative exposure to toxins such as mercury, DDT, and other substances. Also, these chemicals' levels are higher in the fish than had been assumed in the past.14
14. United Press, March 7, 1996.
Diet Won't Work Unless You Do
Stanford University, investigating the effectiveness of a National Cholesterol Education Program diet, has some bad news: it won't work without exercise. The low-fat, low-cholesterol Step II diet apparently did not lower the LDL levels in the male and female volunteers, except for those who underwent a rigorous exercise routine as well. The study examined 377 men and women with "hazardous" cholesterol profiles.15
15. United Press, March 18, 1996.
Iron Test Deficient
In a study of 321 infants, a doctor from Baylor College of Medicine16 finds that routine hematocrit screenings failed to detect any iron deficiencies, though some were present. The test is used in an attempt to catch iron deficiencies, which can cause a number of problems in growing children, however this study seems to question its effectiveness.17
16. Dr. Louis Kazal, Baylor College in Houston.
17. United Press, March 13, 1996.
Brian Sutton, DC
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