Monday, August 27, 2007

For Health Info, Women Often Turn to the Web

They're much more likely to do so than men, survey finds

TUESDAY, Aug. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Women are more likely than men to search for health information on the Internet, according to researchers who analyzed four years of U.S. national survey data.

A team at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., also found that:

  • women are more likely than men to seek online support groups for medical problems;
  • women are more likely than men to seek health care information for others;
  • women visit more health sites than men;
  • men are more likely than women to go online for sensitive health information that may be difficult to talk about.

According to the researchers, health care is one of the few areas where women use the Internet much more than men. The other two areas are religion and driving directions.

Men were much more likely to use the Internet to find information in seven areas: research on products and services; weather; news; do-it-yourself; sports scores; financial information; and work-related research.

The findings were to have been presented Sunday at the American Psychological Association's annual meeting, in San Francisco.

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers advice about evaluating health information on the Internet.


Read more!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Even a little exercise has health benefits

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A new study shows that even low levels of weekly exercise - below currently recommended levels -- has major health benefits. In the study, 30 minutes of brisk walking three days per week was enough to drive down blood pressure and improve overall fitness in a group of healthy sedentary adults.

For optimum health, adults are currently recommended to engage in 30 minutes of moderately strenuous exercise on at least five days of the week. But few people achieve this level of weekly activity, often citing lack of time as the reason.

Dr. Mark A. Tully, of University of Ulster, Northern Ireland, and colleagues designed a study to see if exercising at a level lower than currently recommended would boost overall fitness and heart health.

A total of 106 healthy but sedentary adults between the ages of 40 and 61 years participated in the 12-week study. The subjects were randomly assigned to a brisk 30-minute walk 3 days per week (44 subjects); a brisk 30-minute walk 5 days per week (42 subjects); and the remainder did not change their lifestyle (the non-walking control group).

After 12 weeks, Tully's team found that blood pressure and waist and hip girth fell significantly in both the 3-day walkers and 5-day walkers. Overall fitness also increased in both walking groups. In contrast, no changes occurred in the non-walking control group.

The findings of the study appear in the September edition of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The authors note that the degree of positive change in blood pressure and waist and hip size seen in the 3- and 5-day walkers is enough to make a difference to an individual's risk of heart disease.

"These results may encourage people who feel they do not have time to exercise on 5 days each week to consider finding time to commit to a lower weekly target of exercise," Tully and colleagues conclude.

SOURCE: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, September 2007.

Read more!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Healthy Diet Guards Against Return of Colon Cancer

Patients who ate high-fat foods were three times more likely to see recurrence of disease, study finds

TUESDAY, Aug. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Colon cancer patients who eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, poultry and fish can significantly lower the risk of their cancer returning, new research suggests.

"We know a lot about how certain dietary things affect the risk of developing colon cancer in the first place but we didn't know, before this study, how diet affected persons who already have cancer," explained study author Dr. Jeffrey A. Meyerhardt, an assistant professor of medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Although the findings, which appear in the Aug. 15 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, need confirmation, colon cancer patients might want to consider improving their eating habits.

"This is not a substitute for standard therapy, but it's not unreasonable for oncologists to use this data to start talking about diet," Meyerhardt said. "There are benefits in other regards, such as benefits for heart disease, and it does give us some initial information that may affect people's outcome."

"Maybe the message is it's never too late to change your diet," added Dr. Andrejs Avots-Avotins, an associate professor of internal medicine at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and a gastroenterologist with Scott & White Hospital in Temple, Texas. "A healthy diet is going to be so helpful in so many different ways that even if you do end up with a cancer that may or may not have been related to your diet, this may be of benefit in prolonging your survival."

Diet and other lifestyle factors have been strongly implicated in the risk of developing colon cancer. It's been less clear what effect diet has on the course of established colon cancer.

The authors asked 1,009 patients with stage III colon cancer (cancer that had spread to the lymph nodes) who were participating in a chemotherapy trial to answer dietary questionnaires during and after the time they received treatment. All participants had already undergone surgery to remove the cancer.

The study was funded partially by the U.S. National Cancer Institute and Pfizer Oncology.

Two major dietary patterns were identified: Western (high intakes of meat, fat, refined grains and dessert) and prudent (lots of fruits and vegetables, poultry and fish).

A Western diet was associated with a significantly worst prognosis, both in terms of recurrence and death, than a prudent diet.

Compared with patients ranked in the lowest 20 percent of a Western dietary pattern, those in the highest 20 percent had almost three-and-a-half times the risk of recurrence or death. Those in the highest 20 percent of a Western diet were also 2.9 times more likely to see their cancer recur than those in the lower 20 percent.

"There's a biological basis for this. The Western type of diet affects insulin levels and insulin-like growth factors that help promote cancer's growth and metastases," Meyerhardt explained. "The magnitude of the effect was surprising, however."

More information

Visit the U.S. National Cancer Institute for more on colon and rectal cancer.

SOURCES: Jeffrey A. Meyerhardt, M.D., assistant professor, medicine, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Boston; Andrejs Avots-Avotins, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor, internal medicine, Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, and gastroenterologist, Scott & White Hospital, Temple; Aug. 15, 2007, Journal of the American Medical Association


Read more!

Tape measure, not scale, key to knowing heart risk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- A quick check around the waist with a tape measure may be a better way of telling if you are at risk of heart disease than stepping on a scale, researchers said Monday.

Even if people are not overweight, those with larger waistlines are more likely to show the early signs of heart disease than those with smaller waists, the team at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas reported.

"Inches are as important as pounds," Dr. James de Lemos, a cardiologist who led the study, said in a telephone interview.

Writing in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the researchers said they have started a long-term study of 2,744 people with a median age of 45.

They used magnetic resonance imaging and electron beam computed tomography scans to look for early signs of clogged arteries and found a direct relationship between waist size and early indications of heart disease, regardless of the patients' overall weight.

"It's a straight-line relationship all the way down to the lowest levels," de Lemos said.

"This isn't the kind of thing that is only relevant if you are one of the obese people."

Several studies have shown waist size is clearly linked with heart attack, stroke and heart disease risk. U.S. government guidelines now say men should aim to have a waist 40 inches in circumference or less -- 35 inches for a woman.

The Dallas researchers found no absolute cutoff. They simply found that the smaller a person's waist, the clearer his or her arteries were observed to be.

"Our study was the first really large study to dig in the preclinical stage. So we are looking at people who haven't yet had a heart attack or stoke, and people at earlier ages," de Lemos said.

After accounting for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and other known heart factors, the researchers found that weight alone did not predict a person's chances of having early artery clogging.

Waist size, however, did.

"As a young adult, you have got to make some serious lifelong choices about maintaining your body shape," de Lemos said. "You have to fight, every day, this middle age creep in terms of belt size. Food is plentiful, it's cheap and it is high caloric and most of us work sedentary jobs."

"It's a day-to-day, meal-to-meal battle, but it's worth fighting. Even a small pot belly puts us at higher risk when compared to a flat tummy," de Lemos said.


Read more!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Study links women's obesity, birth defects risk

CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) -- Women who are obese before pregnancy face a higher risk of having babies with a variety of birth defects than women with a healthy weight, a new study suggests.

The results involving nearly 15,000 women from eight states found abnormalities of the spine, heart, arms, legs and abdomen, building on previous research that showed heart and spine defects. The greatest risk was for spina bifida.

"Obese women should not be overly alarmed by these findings because their absolute risk of having a child with a birth defect is low, and the cause of the majority of birth defects is unknown," said University of Texas researcher Kim Waller, the study's lead author.

Still, the results underline yet another reason for women to maintain a healthy weight, Waller said.

The findings suggest that about 4 percent of women who are obese before pregnancy will have babies with major birth defects, versus 3 percent for healthy-weight women, Waller said.

Obese women faced double the risk of having babies with spina bifida than women of healthy weight. With spina bifida, the most common disabling birth defect in the United States, the spinal column fails to close properly. That often leads to leg paralysis, learning difficulties and other serious problems.

Very heavy women also were 60 percent more likely to have babies born with a rare defect in which abdominal organs protrude through the belly button; 40 percent more likely to have heart defects; 36 percent more likely to have shortened arms or legs; and at least 20 percent more likely to have any of several gastrointestinal deformities.

The study was released Monday in the August edition of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. It was funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"This is probably an under-recognized finding which I suspect will be corroborated by other research in the future and something we will need to talk to our patients about," said Dr. Alan Peaceman, a high-risk pregnancy specialist and professor at Northwestern University.

Dr. Michael Katz, acting medical director for the March of Dimes, said, "It's important because if it is true," it suggests that rising obesity rates might be triggering increases in birth defects.

The research is part of the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, involving women who were pregnant between October 1997 and December 2002.

Participants included 10,249 women whose babies were born with at least one birth defect. They were compared with 4,065 women with healthy babies.

Women were asked what their height and weight had been just before they got pregnant. Based on those responses, the researchers calculated that 2,312 women were obese pre-pregnancy.

Reasons for the potential link between obesity and birth defects are unclear, Waller said. It's possible that some women had undiagnosed diabetes, which also is linked to birth defects, she said.

While the study didn't examine weight during pregnancy, it's also possible that some women tried potentially dangerous weight-loss techniques right before conception or during early pregnancy, when most birth defects occur, the researcher said.

She urged obese pregnant women, however, not to try diet pills, fasting or other aggressive methods which also might contribute to risks for birth defects.

Labels: ,

Read more!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Schizophrenia Improved By Mental And Physical Exercise

Science Daily Scientists at Melbourne's Howard Florey Institute have shown that mental and physical exercise can improve behavioural deficits in schizophrenia and repair damaged chemical transmitter pathways in the brain.

Dr Anthony Hannan, along with Dr Caitlin McOmish, Emma Burrows and colleagues, characterised a genetically altered mouse and discovered that it had schizophrenia-like behaviours, including learning and memory problems, the inability to process complex information, and abnormal responses to particular sensory stimuli.

The scientists found the mouse's condition significantly improved by simply giving them enhanced mental and physical exercise -- putting running wheels in their cages, plus interesting items to smell, see and touch.

Not only did the mouse's schizophrenia-like symptoms ease through this environmental enrichment, but a specific chemical transmitter pathway found to be abnormal in the cerebral cortex of the mice was selectively rescued.

An anti-psychotic drug used by humans also improved the mouse's condition, indicating that this mouse is a valid model for schizophrenia in humans. Dr Hannan said this discovery could pave the way for the development of better treatments for schizophrenia.

"Through our research, and that of others, we hope a new class of therapeutic drugs will be developed that mimic the effects of environmental enrichment in the brain to treat various brain disorders, possibly including schizophrenia," Dr Hannan said.

"Pharmaceutical approaches may not be the sole answer for a given brain disease. People may still need optimal levels of physical and mental activity, as well as a healthy diet, plus the right drugs.

"We have already identified specific molecules that could be targets for what I call 'enviromimetics' and these may have relevance for other brain diseases. "However, there are obviously major differences between mice and men, and large-scale clinical trials are needed to identify the most beneficial drugs," he said. Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that is brought on through a complex and largely unknown interaction of genes and environment.

There is a nature-nurture aspect to schizophrenia because in human identical twins, if one twin develops schizophrenia, there is only a 50% chance the other twin, who has identical genes, will develop the illness.

Dr Anthony Hannan's ground-breaking environmental enrichment studies have previously shown that a combination of mental and physical exercise could delay the onset and progression of Huntington's disease. As well as movement problems (e.g. chorea) and cognitive deficits (culminating in dementia) this disease has psychiatric symptoms, which can include depression and psychosis.

This research, which also involved collaboration with scientists from the Mental Health Research Institute of Victoria, was published online in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by Howard Florey Institute.


Read more!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Physicians Unlikely to Document Obesity in Patient Records

By Peggy Peck

ROCHESTER, Minn., Aug. 2 -- Obesity is more than twice as likely to be treated seriously if physicians jot the formal diagnosis down in medical records -- a relatively uncommon act by clinicians here.

Only about one in five obese patients have a diagnosis of obesity documented, according to a review of the records of almost 10,000 patients, Aditya Bardia, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic, and colleagues, reported in the August issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Of 2,543 patients who met a standard criterion for obesity -- a body mass index of 30 or more -- only 505 had obesity listed by Mayo physicians as a diagnosis, they wrote.

Mayo staff physicians were 45% less likely to diagnose obesity than residents (P<0.001),>

A BMI of more than 35, obstructive sleep apnea, and/or a diagnosis of diabetes increased the likelihood that obesity would be noted in patients' charts (P<0.001> 35 and obstructive sleep apnea, P=0.007 for diabetes).

Nonetheless, patients who did have that diagnosis were 2.39 times more likely to have an obesity management plan documented in the charts (P<0.001).

Dr. Bardia and colleagues used the clinic's primary care database to identify 9,827 patients who had general medical examinations from Nov. 1, 2004 to Oct. 31, 2005. Patient files included demographic information, BMI, and comorbidities, as well as documentation of obesity diagnosis and management plans.

Among the findings:

  • Among the 2,543 obese patients, 40% were men and the median age was 58.
  • The mean BMI of obese patients was 35.4 (±10.6).
  • Most of the obese patients -- 1,717 -- were seen by staff physicians.
  • Men were about 40% less likely to be diagnosed with obesity and the likelihood of diagnosis declined about 3% per year for every year over 58 (P<0.001>

The authors acknowledged it was "possible that physicians discussed obesity with their patients but did not document it," a possibility that could explain why some patients had documentation of an obesity management plan with no notation of obesity in their records.

The study was limited by its single-institution design, as well as by the lack full evaluation of a number of variables including race, education, and income. Finally, they said they did not "directly evaluate" whether documented obesity management plans resulted in weight loss.


Read more!

The new face of fitness is getting older

By David Williams

-- Sixty used to be old -- or at least it seemed to be.

In the '80s, seniors had TV role models like the Golden Girls, Matlock and "Murder She Wrote's" mystery-writing sleuth, Jessica Fletcher.

Now baby boomers can look to Goldie Hawn, Diane Sawyer and Harrison Ford for inspiration as they near retirement age.

Today's seniors also have a much different view of fitness than their parents, said Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging.

"Exercise was actually a bad word," Milner said. "The term exercise meant hard work. It was what you did in the military or body builders did at Muscle Beach and women were told that if they did it they weren't womanly or it would hurt their reproductive organs."

Baby boomers like Jane Fonda, jogging pioneer Jim Fixx and aerobics inventor Ken Cooper helped create the modern fitness movement, according to Milner.

He said 37 percent of health club members are 55 or older, and that doesn't count people who work out at retirement homes -- an area he said is exploding.

"Nine out of the 10 top builders in the U.S. are building active adult communities and they will typically put in anywhere between a 20,000- and 40,000-square-foot fitness center."

The average age of personal training clients also is going up, from 36.5 in 1998 to 42.4 in 2006, according to Robyn Stuhr of the American Council on Exercise.

The council certifies fitness professionals and has partnered with the AARP to help match the group's 38 million members with personal trainers.

"Our trainers say they're starting to see more middle-age and older clients and we've actually been looking at developing more curriculum about working with those groups," she said.

Stuhr said older clients are at higher risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease and also may have problems like arthritis, back pain or muscle tears.

"That probably means you need to exercise even more, but the trainer has to understand how to work with that population and make exercise a safe experience," she said.

She recommends getting a good physical before starting an exercise program and says people need to realize that their bodies aren't the same as they were when they were 20.

"Exercise can be a fountain of youth, in that it can help slow down aging changes and help you maintain a level of vitality and energy that you might not otherwise have. But you just have to do it smarter, because your body is more vulnerable because of the aging process," she said.

Milner says he's spoken to many physical therapists whose patients are pushing themselves too hard.

"What's happening is more of the boomers are going out and beating the heck out of themselves as a weekend warrior and spending the rest of the week in therapy," he said.

"Some wonder what kind of therapy they should be in," Milner said jokingly.

But that doesn't mean seniors have to take it easy.

Dr. Walter Bortz, author of the books "Dare to be 100" and "Living Longer for Dummies" is 77 years old, but he has run a marathon every year for the last 35 years.

"You're supposed to be a little bit tired," he said, but people should avoid "undue fatigue."

"Obviously, pain is nature's signal, but you can't be a pantywaist about pain," said Bortz.

Better stretching, going a little slower and investing in new shoes are just a few tips he offered, but he also encourages boomers not to give up.

"Fitness for young people is an option, fitness for old people is an imperative," Bortz said.

The government's National Institute on Aging says regular activity can help seniors maintain their strength and be more independent, have more energy and better balance. Exercise can also help reduce depression and fight diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

It recommends that seniors focus on four types of exercise:

  • Endurance: Seniors should try to get at least 30 minutes of activity that causes heavy breathing almost every day.
  • Strength: Lifting weights can help build muscle strength so you can get up from a chair by yourself or pick up your grandchildren. You don't have to be a bodybuilder though -- light weights or even using your own body weight for resistance is enough for beginners.
  • Balance: Standing on one foot, walking heel-to-toe and standing up without using your arms can help improve balance.
  • Stretch: Stretching exercises make muscles more flexible and help you move more freely. Be sure to warm up before stretching and don't stretch so far that it hurts.

  • The bottom line is people can benefit from exercise no matter how old they are, according to the International Council on Active Aging.

    "In the fitness industry, there's the old saying 'use it or lose it,' " Milner said. "But even if you've lost it, you can still find it again, no matter how old you are."


    Read more!