IFA News and Opinion
Issue Date:  September 1, 2006

Marijuana Abuse

From 1993 to 2003, the number of people seeking treatment for marijuana addiction more than doubled at substance abuse centers.

In 2004, the number of Americans using marijuana at least once a month was 14.6 million. The figures were compiled by the University of Maryland's Center for Substance Abuse Research.

The rate of addiction among marijuana users is slightly lower than for imbibers of alcohol. But among people who use marijuana daily, the rate of addiction is significantly higher than among daily drinkers. Addiction is diagnosed when a person has three of seven indicators such as failure to control usage, preoccupation with the drug, and inability to quit without withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms include irritability, anger, nervousness, sleep difficulties, change in appetite, and physical discomfort. Staying clean is as hard as it is for heroin addicts.

To find a no-cost, outpatient treatment program, visit www.drug-rehabs.org. There are many treatment options.

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Vitamin D and Sunscreen

It's true that vitamin D is an important nutrient. New studies suggest that it can even reduce the risk of diabetes and various types of cancer. After reading this in the newspapers, some people think sunscreen is not very important. That is totally incorrect.

You can get enough vitamin D from modest exposure to the sun. The key word here is "modest." Exposing your face and arms to the sun for a few minutes a few times a week is all you need. Even that recommendation varies by a person's skin type, time of the day, and season, according to experts at Boston University. Most people get enough sun exposure without thinking about it.

The American Academy of Dermatologists reports that a little bit of sun may be OK. But extensive, unprotected exposure remains a major cause of skin cancer and most of the skin wrinkling and spotting that come with age. The Academy recommends:

  • Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or more when you will be in the sun for more than 20 minutes.
  • Choose one that protects against both UVA and UVB rays of the sun.
  • Reapply it every two hours, more often if you are swimming.
  • Keep the sun off of your skin with clothing and stay in the shade, particularly between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Avoid tanning beds. Use sunless self-tanning products instead. Sunscreens aren't perfect. They let through some potentially damaging rays, are not waterproof, don't last all day, and may be applied incorrectly.

    They are also inconvenient and messy, but they are the best thing we have now.

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    Nasal Flu Vaccine for Tots

    A new study shows that the nasal flu vaccine FluMist is 55 percent more effective than traditional flu shots for children younger than age 5. Medimmune, Inc., the manufacturer, is seeking government approval to sell FluMist for younger children. Right now, it is approved only for children age 5 and older. Most deaths from the flu are among elderly people. But children are influenza's prime spreaders, fueling infection in older people. This makes approval of the treatment for kids under age 5 a public health issue according to vaccine specialists at St. Louis University, who led the study.

  • New Drug Helps Alcoholics

    With the help of a new drug which is called naltrexone, family doctors can effectively treat alcoholism. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that drinkers who took the drug and met occasionally with a doctor or nurse fared as well as alcoholics who did both and had up to 20 psychotherapy sessions.

    Few people dependent on alcohol ever enter a treatment program.

    High Blood Pressure

    Although hypertension is the main factor in stroke, a new study shows that it remained largely untreated or uncontrolled in 16,648 study subjects.

    About half of those receiving treatment had readings of at least 160/100 mm Hg, which is well above the normal level.

    In the following six years, 45 percent of the strokes that occurred were associated with blood pressure levels above 140/90 mm Hg.

    Stem Cells for Heart Repair

    A new treatment for heart damage uses adult stem cells to regenerate healthy heart tissue. While the treatment is still in its infancy, doctors at Johns Hopkins are excited by early successes.

    Adult stem cells can be used for treating heart attacks and heart failure. Doctors say if current trials go well, the treatment could be available in five years.

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    Immunizations

    Recent outbreaks of mumps among adults are bringing adult immunization into the spotlight. Beginning in Iowa with 800 cases, mumps spread quickly to seven other states and could reach several more states before the outbreak is contained.

    Immunization was one of the most significant public health achievements of the 20th century. Vaccines eradicated smallpox, eliminated polio virus in the U.S., and significantly reduced the number of cases of measles, diphtheria, rubella, pertussis, and chicken pox.

    Getting immunized is a livelong, life-protecting project. August is a good time to consider whether you are up-to-date and protected. Children returning to school could bring home diseases you think you are immune to, and flu season is just around the corner.

    What immunization updates should adults consider? The National Partnership for Immunization recommends it for these diseases:

  • Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (whopping cough) (DTaP): One dose every 10 years.
  • Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR): Two doses for adults up to 49 years old, one dose for those age 50 to 64.
  • Varicella (chicken pox): Two doses for adults of all ages.
  • Influenza: One dose annually.
  • Pneumonia: One to two doses for all adults.
  • Hepatitis A: Two doses for health care workers, drug users, and others as recommended by a doctor.
  • Hepatitis B: Three doses for health care workers and others as recommended by a doctor.
  • Meningitis: One dose for adults of all ages.

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  • Something to Sneeze At

    It's pollen time, and that means allergy problems for about 40 million Americans. Our immune systems think pollen is dangerous and fights it with histamines and the antibody IgE.

    In the future, researchers may offer potent allergy drops placed under the tongue or swallowed. They are used in Europe and could be coming here. For now, try an antihistamine (for a runny nose, itchy eyes, and sneezing) and a decongestant to ease stuffiness, or a combination product. Claritin and Alavert don't make you drowsy. A month's supply costs about $30

    Prescriptions like Zyrtec and Allegra have stronger medicine. But doctors at Jewish Research and Medical Center (Denver) say that for many people. Claritin and Alavert work as well.

    Researchers at the University of Chicago say that Sudafed 24 may be as effective as the prescription drug Singular as a decongestant.

    Prescription nasal steroids such as Flonase, Nasonex, and others are consistently more effective than antihistamines for stuffiness. Cost is about $90 a month. Side effects range from headache to nosebleed. Avoid nosebleed by using the right hand to spray the left nostril and vice versa, to keep the drug away from the septum.

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    Stroke? Call an Ambulance

    If you suspect that someone is having a stroke, don't go to the emergency room by car. Dial 911 for an ambulance. You'll get emergency room service.

    Ask to see a staff doctor immediately (rather than a nurse or resident) and ask to undergo computed tomography or a magnetic resonance imaging scan.

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    Low Thyroid and Heart Problems

    By some estimates, 10 to 15 percent of middle aged and older individuals have "subclinical" hypothyroidism. Over all age groups, 4 percent of the U.S. population is affected. The term subclinical means that there are no obvious symptoms, though some people may have fatigue, depression, dry skin, cold intolerance, weight gain, memory loss, and other hypothyroidism symptoms.

    Two new studies published in the Archives of Internal Medicine show that people with low thyroid activity, even at the subclinical level, are at a higher risk for heart disease. While neither study actually proves that thyroid dysfunction causes heart disease, this is another reason to have a thyroid test, especially if you are older and even more so if you are a woman. A simple blood test can tell the thyroid activity level.

    Guard Blood Pressure: Sleep

    Columbia University researchers give a new reason why it's important to get enough sleep. They find that adults who sleep less than five hours a night are twice as likely to develop high blood pressure compared with those who get seven to eight hours.

    To sleep better, they recommend getting some exercise (at least three hours before bedtime), drink herbal tea instead of drinks that contain alcohol or caffeine, and try to go to bed at the same time each night.

    To Feel Stronger, Try Tai Chi

    Tai chi is a movement therapy that's excellent for everyone but particularly for those with arthritis or balance and movement problems. It lowers blood pressure, improves flexibility and cardiovascular fitness, and fights fatigue.

    Many fitness centers offer classes, but beginners can also benefit from using one of the many tai chi CDs on the market to get into started. Those who haven't exercised at all should consult their doctors before using the program.

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