IFA News and Opinion
Issue Date:  May 1, 2007

Smoking, obesity, and macular degeneration

The National Eye Institute reports that people with a family history of macular degeneration increase their risk of blindness by smoking and adding excessive weight.

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in the U.S.
Studies indicate that smoking and obesity are more dangerous factors in macular degeneration than once thought, according to Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and the Harvard Medical School.

Scientists have learned that about 58 percent of the white population carries a form of a gene that can lead to macular degeneration. The CFH gene makes carriers four times as likely to develop the disease. If CFH carriers smoke, their risk is eight times higher, and if they smoke and are overweight, their risk is 12 times higher.

People with the LOC gene also have a greater risk of developing macular degeneration. They have a six times higher risk even if they don't smoke and 22 times higher if they do. About 34 percent of whites has the LOC variant gene.


New source for stem cells

Researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine have been able to derive human stem cells from amniotic fluid, the fluid that surrounds babies in the womb. The discovery has the potential of providing a source of stem cells that is easily available and uncontroversial.

The doctors were able to get the amniotic cells to differentiate into fat, bone, muscle, blood, nerve, and liver cells. The cells can be easily harvested from amniotic fluid or from placental tissue after a baby is born.

Though much research into the safety and effectiveness still needs to be done, researchers say the new discovery could lead to a bank of cells for 99 percent of the U.S. population with a perfect match for genetic transplantation.

Atkins diet doesn't Increase heart risk

If you have wondered whether eating the low-carb, high-fat diet specified by the Atkins diet, creates heart risk, a long-term study eases that fear. Findings by Harvard University show that the low-carb, high-fat diet actually reduced heart disease risk by 30 percent. Harvard cautions that the subjects were compared with those eating the highest-carb, lowest-fat diet.

Sugar slows alcohol absorption

Next time you have a mixed drink, don't order it with artificially-sweetened mixer. Australian researchers report that ingredients in artificial sweeteners cause blood-alcohol concentrations to rise significantly faster than in people who use sugary mixes. The curve was 5.2 blood alcohol with the diet drinks and 3.2 with the sugar-sweetened mixers.

The research shows that sugar slows the rate at which alcohol enters the blood. The liver then has a better chance to get rid of the alcohol. Food also slows alcohol absorption.


Get checked for PAD

If you have leg muscle pain that begins when you start exercising but goes away after rest, consider seeing your doctor, especially if you have certain risk factors.

Leg pain plus risk factors such as smoking, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, inactivity, high cholesterol and age (over 50) can suggest peripheral arterial disease (PAD), the leading cause of lower-limb amputations in the U.S.

Early diagnosis can make a big difference in preventing clogged arteries that reduce blood flow to your legs.

African-Americans are more likely to have it than non-Hispanic whites. One in three people with diabetes over age 50 has it.

H. pylori can cause ulcers but has some benefits

Heliobacter pylori (H. pylori) is the leading cause of ulcers in the stomach, but it's not the only cause.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin and others), and naproxen (Aleve and others) are the second leading cause of ulcers, say researchers at UCLA School of Medicine. Alcohol and smoking are also risk factors.

In the U.S., H. pylori bacteria often causes no symptoms and does no harm in most cases. Sometimes it actually does good things. Polish researchers found that it limits the damage done by NSAIDs for most people. It protects, but not in all cases.

H. pylori may also lessen the damage from gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD). It breaks down into ammonia, which helps neutralize stomach acid.

One of H. pylori's big benefits has been found to be its effect on ghrelin, which increases appetite and food consumption. It turns out that eliminating H. pylori with antibiotics increases ghrelin levels by up to 75 percent.


News about cancer:

Many types are preventable. It's a frightening word that no one wants to hear, especially from their own doctor. Fortunately, preventing many types of cancer can be accomplished by these lifestyle changes.

Stop smoking. In addition to lung cancer, smoking is the culprit in cancers of the mouth, nose, voice box, esophagus, stomach, and cervix. It contributes to cancers of the liver, kidney, and bladder.

Eat a healthy diet. Researchers estimate that some types of cancer could be reduced by one-third if we ate right. That means less fat and more fruits and vegetables. It also means eating more fiber, less salt, and less sugar.

Healthy eating helps to prevent cancer of the bowel, stomach, breast, prostate, and bladder, among other.

Guard against the sun. Though we need to get some exposure to the sun for vitamin D, we should be very careful. In fact, if you are fair skinned or have a close relative who has had skin cancer, it's probably best to get vitamin D from enriched foods and supplements. For everyone else:

  • Don't sit in the sun between noon and 3 p.m.
  • If you will be outside during the day, cover up with a hat, long-sleeved shirt, and trousers.
  • Wear sunscreen, the higher the SPF rating, the better. Reapply every couple of hours.
  • Be immunized against cervical cancer if you are a young woman. About 70 percent of cases are caused by the human papilloma virus. They can now be prevented by immunization.
  • Exercise. For everyone, exercise improves general health. For women, it has been shown to reduce the risk of breast and endometrial cancer.


    Magnets for depression

    People with depression who have not responded to medications and shock therapy may have another choice, say researchers at Harvard Medical School.

    Magnetism can help, but it's not the kind where magnets are placed on the skin. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, or repetitive TMS, could be the answer. It requires no anesthetic. It's localized and has few side effects.

    It uses magnetic fields to induce changes in brain function, and there is evidence that it can make nerve-cell connections more efficient.

    TMS is available in Canada, Australia, Israel, and the European Union. In the U.S., the FDA will rule on it soon.


  • Lack of sleep, heat exhaustion linked

    Lack of sleep is known to increase risk of heart disease, obesity, hypertension, and diabetes, not to mention migraines, depression, irritability, and memory problems.

    A shortage of sleep has also been linked to death by heat exhaustion. Fatalities that occurred during or just after exercise were reviewed by the American Journal of Medical Sciences. Sleep deprivation was found to be a major factor. It affects the body's ability to regulate its temperature.

    Regular exercise, however, reduces stress and increases serotonin, which promotes sleep.


    Exercise can be tailored to the individual

    In 2005, 63 percent of American adults were overweight or obese, compared to 58 percent in 2001.

    What's behind the statistics? We're eating too much, of course, but we are also exercising less, a lot less. More than 60 percent of American adults don't exercise regularly; 25 percent do nothing at all.

    That's too bad, because in addition to physical health benefits, studies from Duke University show that regular exercise may be as effective as anti-depressant medication in reducing the symptoms of depression. That's even more true for older people.

    Aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, or biking for 30 minutes on most days was associated with significant improvements in mood.
    Increasing physical activity may be especially beneficial for people who have medical conditions such as heart disease or arthritis.

    The doctors say it's never too late to start exercising. Programs can be tailored to the individual.

    At Duke, they say patients can ask their doctors not only to write prescriptions for medications, but also for physical activity.


    How to get more exercise

  • Choose an activity you like.
  • Schedule the time to do it.
  • Get a friend to exercise with you.
  • Hire a personal trainer.
  • Attend a class.
  • Get the right gear.


    Vitamin D for cancer prevention

    A study published in the Journal of Public Health concludes that taking vitamin D pills could substantially reduce the risk for breast, colon, prostate, and ovarian cancer. The University of California, San Diego researchers contrasted the nickel-a-day cost of a vitamin D supplement with "the high human and economic costs of treating cancer attributable to insufficiency of vitamin D."

    Other evidence shows that vitamin D is as important as calcium for building bone and preventing osteoporosis.