Category Archives: Medicine

Want to live longer? Just eat those hot peppers


As a child growing up in a small Kansas farm town, our died consisted in large part of something we came to call holy food, because mom boiled the hell out of all the vegetables, reducing everything from cauliflower to green beans to something of the consistency of mush.

As for spices, almost none was used, save for small sprinkles of salt and black pepper.

But then we discovered Mexican food, comestibles with real flavor, and a love of piquant spices ensued, the more eye-watering the better, leading our mother to conclude humorously that we must’ve been switched at birth.

But now a new study [open access] confirms that our love of the hot pepper has some real real value [emphasis added]:

In this large prospective study, we observed an inverse relationship between hot red chili pepper consumption and all-cause mortality, after adjusting for potential confounders. Adults who consumed hot red chili peppers had a 13% lower hazard of death, compared to those who did not.

More from the University of Vermont:

Like spicy food? If so, you might live longer, say researchers at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont, who found that consumption of hot red chili peppers is associated with a 13 percent reduction in total mortality – primarily in deaths due to heart disease or stroke – in a large prospective study.

The study was published recently in PLoS ONE.

Going back for centuries, peppers and spices have been thought to be beneficial in the treatment of diseases, but only one other study – conducted in China and published in 2015 – has previously examined chili pepper consumption and its association with mortality. This new study corroborates the earlier study’s findings.

Using National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) III data collected from more than 16,000 Americans who were followed for up to 23 years, medical student Mustafa Chopan ’17 and Henry and Carleen Tufo Professor of Medicine Benjamin Littenberg, M.D., examined the baseline characteristics of the participants according to hot red chili pepper consumption. They found that consumers of hot red chili peppers tended to be “younger, male, white, Mexican-American, married, and to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and consume more vegetables and meats . . .  had lower HDL-cholesterol, lower income, and less education,” in comparison to participants who did not consume red chili peppers. They examined data from a median follow-up of 18.9 years and observed the number of deaths and then analyzed specific causes of death.

“Although the mechanism by which peppers could delay mortality is far from certain, Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) channels, which are primary receptors for pungent agents such as capsaicin (the principal component in chili peppers), may in part be responsible for the observed relationship,” say the study authors. There are some possible explanations for red chili peppers’ health benefits, state Chopan and Littenberg in the study. Among them are the fact that capsaicin is believed to play a role in cellular and molecular mechanisms that prevent obesity and modulate coronary blood flow, and also possesses antimicrobial properties that “may indirectly affect the host by altering the gut microbiota.”

“Because our study adds to the generalizability of previous findings, chili pepper – or even spicy food – consumption may become a dietary recommendation and/or fuel further research in the form of clinical trials,” says Chopan.

New study links Roundup to liver damage in rats


And that’s from what researchers of the study [open access from Nature, the world’s most-esteemed scientific journal] called “ultra-low dose” levels.

From Al Jazeera English:

UK scientists say they have conducted an unprecedented, long-term study showing a link between Roundup – one of the most widely used herbicides in the world – and severe liver damage in test rats.

The research sparked further debate in the international scientific community over the potential health hazards to people caused by exposure to the well-known weed killer.

Scientists from King’s College London, whose findings were published in the journal, Nature, [open access] earlier this month, said their tests used cutting-edge technology to demonstrate that “extremely low doses” of the herbicide administered to rats through their drinking water had caused “non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)” over a two-year period.

NAFLD can lead to more serious liver disease such as cirrhosis, and increases the risk of other illnesses including diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.

“The study is unique in that it is the first to show a causative link between consumption of Roundup at a real-world environmental dose and a serious disease condition,” the report said.

In recent years, there have been an increasing number of studies alleging links between herbicides – used to help grow genetically modified crops – to a wide range of health issues including birth defects, reproductive and neurological problems, cancer, and even DNA damage.

Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, has repeatedly denied the accusations, insisting the product is safe for humans.

Headline of the day II: The usual suspects


From the Intercept:

Who’s Paying for Inauguration Parties? Companies and Lobbyists With a Lot at Stake

  • Corporate interests that were largely reluctant to embrace Donald Trump during the presidential campaign last year are finally opening their checkbooks to underwrite the festivities sweeping Washington, D.C., to welcome his incoming administration.
  • Firms with a great deal riding on the major policy agenda items of the next four years have lined up to sponsor the endless parade of hors d’oeuvres and open bars at parties across the city.
  • Topping the list are firms with interests in pharmaceuticals, oil, and defense contracting — highly regulated industries that have much at stake with ongoing policy discussions over drug pricing, environmental regulations, and the defense sequester.

Healthcare plan deductibles hit chronically ill


The current healthcare regime doesn’t look so grand either, when seen from the perspective of those of hit hit by lingering maladies.

We are in that number, afflicted by rheumatoid arthritis, a heart attack [maybe two], cancer surgery and its lingering health effects [multiple], and another condition or two [the list of long-term ailments on our healthcare record actually totals nine].

So we can couch for the accuracy of the new report

From the University of Michigan Medical School:

For tens of millions of Americans, the start of a new year means the counter has gone back to zero on their health insurance deductible. If they need health care, they’ll pay for some of it out of their own pockets before their insurance takes over.

As insurance plans with deductibles grow in popularity, a new study takes a national look at what those plans mean for people with common chronic health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, joint problems and heart disease.

The short answer: Those who choose plans with a deductible and have such conditions should be prepared to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars of their own money on their care, beyond what they spend to buy the insurance plan in the first place.

The results, reported in JAMA Internal Medicine by researchers from the VA Ann Arbor Health Care System, University of Michigan Medical School, and Penn State University, especially show the impact of high-deductible health plans – which now cover 40 percent of Americans who buy their own health insurance or get it through an employer.

Using data from a national survey of Americans under age 65, the researchers find that having a high-deductible plan makes it more likely that health-related costs will take up more than 10 percent of a chronically ill person’s total income. They also find huge variation between patients who have the same condition in the amount of out-of-pocket spending they had, even for those in low-deductible plans.

Despite these out-of-pocket costs, the study finds that few people with chronic illnesses said that costs or insurance coverage issues had gotten in the way of getting the care or prescriptions they needed.

“Increasingly, these plans have become woven into fabric of health insurance in America, so it’s important to look at the impact of deductibles on people who need care on an ongoing basis,” says senior author Jeffrey Kullgren, M.D., M.S., M.P.H., a research scientist in the VA Center for Clinical Management Research of the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and an assistant professor of general medicine at the U-M Medical School. “Not only on how they spend their money on care for their day in, day out health needs, but also how that affects spending in the rest of their lives.”

Changes to the insurance market

The findings are based on data from 2011 through 2013, during a time when many more employers started offering high-deductible health plans.

It was also before individuals who needed to buy their own insurance could do so on the Healthcare.gov Marketplace. Since the launch of the Marketplace, more than 90 percent of people shopping there have chosen high-deductible plans.

Continue reading

Headline of the day: Hang on to your hats, folks


From the New York Times:

18 Million May Lose Insurance After Repeal, Study Finds

  • The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that repealing major provisions of the Affordable Care Act would cost 18 million people their insurance in the first year.
  • The number of uninsured Americans would increase to 32 million in 10 years, while causing insurance premiums to double over that time.

From the study, a report on investigations by the Congressional Budget Office [CBO] and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation [JCT]:

Estimated Changes Before the Elimination of the Medicaid Expansion and Subsidies

Following enactment but before the Medicaid expansion and subsidies for insurance purchased through the marketplaces were eliminated, the effects of H.R. 3762 on insurance coverage and premiums would stem primarily from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate.

Effects on Insurance Coverage. CBO and JCT expect that the number of people without health insurance coverage would increase upon enactment of H.R. 3762 but that the increase would be limited initially, because insurers would have already set their premiums for the current year, and many people would have already made their enrollment decisions for the year. Subsequently, in the first full plan year following enactment, by CBO and JCT’s estimates, about 18 million people would become uninsured. That increase in the uninsured population would consist of about 10 million fewer people with coverage obtained in the nongroup market, roughly 5 million fewer people with coverage under Medicaid, and about 3 million fewer people with employment-based coverage.

Most of those reductions in coverage would stem from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate. However, CBO and JCT also expect that insurers in some areas would leave the nongroup market in the first new plan year following enactment. They would be leaving in anticipation of further reductions in enrollment and higher average health care costs among enrollees who remained after the subsidies for insurance purchased through the marketplaces were eliminated. As a consequence, roughly 10 percent of the population would be living in an area that had no insurer participating in the nongroup market.

Effects on Premiums. According to CBO and JCT’s analysis, premiums in the nongroup market would be roughly 20 percent to 25 percent higher than under current law once insurers incorporated the effects of H.R. 3762’s changes into their premium pricing in the first new plan year after enactment. The majority of that increase would stem from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate. Doing so would both reduce the number of people purchasing health insurance and change the mix of people with insurance—tending to cause smaller reductions in coverage among older and less healthy people with high health care costs and larger reductions among younger and healthier people with low health care costs. Thus, average health care costs among the people retaining coverage would be higher, and insurers would have to raise premiums in the nongroup market to cover those higher costs. Lower participation by insurers in the nongroup market would place further upward pressure on premiums because the market would be less competitive.

Estimated Changes After the Elimination of the Medicaid Expansion and Subsidies

The bill’s effects on insurance coverage and premiums would be greater once the repeal of the Medicaid expansion and the subsidies for insurance purchased through the marketplaces took effect, roughly two years after enactment.

Effects on Insurance Coverage. By CBO and JCT’s estimates, enacting H.R. 3762 would increase the number of people without health insurance coverage by about 27 million in the year following the elimination of the Medicaid expansion and marketplace subsidies and by 32 million in 2026, relative to the number of uninsured people expected under current law. (The number of people without health insurance would be smaller if, in addition to the changes in H.R. 3762, the insurance market reforms mentioned above were also repealed. In that case, the increase in the number of uninsured people would be about 21 million in the year following the elimination of the Medicaid expansion and marketplace subsidies; that figure would rise to about 23 million in 2026.)

The estimated increase of 32 million people without coverage in 2026 is the net result of roughly 23 million fewer with coverage in the nongroup market and 19 million fewer with coverage under Medicaid, partially offset by an increase of about 11 million people covered by employment-based insurance. By CBO and JCT’s estimates, 59 million people under age 65 would be uninsured in 2026 (compared with 28 million under current law), representing 21 percent of people under age 65. By 2026, fewer than 2 million people would be enrolled in the nongroup market, CBO and JCT estimate.

According to the agencies’ analysis, eliminating the mandate penalties and the subsidies while retaining the market reforms would destabilize the nongroup market, and the effect would worsen over time. The

Continue reading

Advertising works when it comes to kids drinking


Back when esnl was a kid, hard liquor advertisements simply didn’t appear on television, though beer ads were prominent in the evenings and hard liquor ads were featured in adult general interest magazines.

The reason was simple: Alcohol [at least in the forms that didn’t come in cans] was a drug and children shouldn’t be exposed to enticements to use the stuff.

But the old rule has been breached, and ads for whiskey, vodka, and tequila are now prominent on the television screen alongside those beer ads, thanks to millions of lobbying dollars and boozy dinners with regulators and legislators.

But a new review [open access] of studies of the impact of alcohol ads on children confirms that rationale, as reported in the article’s abstract:

Twelve studies (ranging in duration from 9 months to 8 years), following nine unique cohorts not reported on previously involving 35 219 participants from Europe, Asia and North America, met inclusion criteria. All 12 found evidence of a positive association between level of marketing exposure and level of youth alcohol consumption. Some found significant associations between youth exposure to alcohol marketing and initiation of alcohol use (odds ratios ranging from 1.00 to 1.69), and there were clear associations between exposure and subsequent binge or hazardous drinking (odds ratios ranging from 1.38 to 2.15). Mediators included marketing receptivity, brand recognition and alcohol expectancies. Levels of marketing exposure among younger adolescents were similar to those found among older adolescents and young adults.

More on the study and its findings from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:

A new analysis of 12 long-term studies published since 2008 from across the globe finds that young people under the legal drinking age who are more exposed to alcohol marketing appear more likely to start drinking early and also to engage in binge drinking.

A 2008 analysis established a link between exposure to alcohol marketing and drinking behavior in young people. This new systematic review — the first in nearly a decade — identifies 12 additional studies, broadening and strengthening the science in this area. All of the new studies found an association between level of marketing exposure and youth drinking behavior and found that exposure to ads was even more strongly associated with progression to binge drinking than with initiation of alcohol use.

The research was led by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY), part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and published in a special issue of the journal Addiction focused entirely on alcohol marketing and public health.

“This latest review of the scientific literature adds stronger evidence to the claim that exposure to alcohol marketing among youth is linked to more underage youth drinking and, in particular, binge drinking,” says study leader David Jernigan, PhD, the director of CAMY and an associate professor in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society at the Bloomberg School. “Studies are documenting this exposure, which includes marketing and ads on television, the internet and social media, as well as on the radio, in magazines and at sporting and other events.”

Binge drinking, defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as consuming four or more drinks within two hours for women and five or more drinks for men, is associated with a long list of negative public health consequences, including sexual assaults, violence, attempted suicide and illicit drug use.

Alcohol is the leading cause of death and disability for males ages 15 to 24 in nearly every region of the world, and females of the same age in the wealthy countries and the Americas. In the United States, excessive alcohol use is responsible for an average of 4,350 deaths every year among people under the legal drinking age of 21.

Continue reading

Want Alzheimer’s? Rates rise near busy roads


blog-roads

Busy roadways and streets have been linked to a variety of other ailments, including early childhood cancers, juvenile-onset diabetes, obesity, poor kidney function, asthma, and heart attacks.

And now you can add dementia to the list.

From Public Health Ontario:

People who live close to high-traffic roadways face a higher risk of developing dementia than those who live further away, new research from Public Health Ontario (PHO) and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) has found.

Led by PHO and ICES scientists, the study found that people who lived within 50 metres of high-traffic roads (like Ontario’s Hwy. 401) had a seven per cent higher likelihood of developing dementia compared to those who lived more than 300 metres away from busy roads.

Published in The Lancet, the researchers examined records of more than 6.5 million Ontario residents aged 20-85 to investigate the correlation between living close to major roads and dementia, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

Scientists identified 243,611 cases of dementia, 31,577 cases of Parkinson’s disease, and 9,247 cases of multiple sclerosis in Ontario between 2001 and 2012. In addition, they mapped individuals’ proximity to major roadways using the postal code of their residence. The findings indicate that living close to major roads increased the risk of developing dementia, but not Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis, two other major neurological disorders.

“Little is known in current research about how to reduce the risk of dementia. Our findings show the closer you live to roads with heavy day-to-day traffic, the greater the risk of developing dementia. With our widespread exposure to traffic and the greater tendency for people to live in cities these days, this has serious public health implications,” says Dr. Hong Chen, environmental and occupational health scientist at PHO and an adjunct scientist at ICES. Dr. Chen is lead author on the paper titled Living Near Major Roads and the Incidence of Dementia, Parkinson’s Disease, and Multiple Sclerosis: A Population-based Cohort Study.

Continue reading