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Health & Fitness (233)

Pour on the olive oil, preferably over fish and vegetables: One of the longest and most scientific tests of a Mediterranean diet suggests this style of eating can cut the chance of suffering heart-related problems, especially strokes, in older people at high risk of them.

The study lasted five years and involved about 7,500 people in Spain. Those who ate Mediterranean-style with lots of olive oil or nuts had a 30 percent lower risk of major cardiovascular problems compared to others who were told to follow a low-fat diet. Mediterranean meant lots of fruit, fish, chicken, beans, tomato sauce, salads, and wine and little baked goods and pastries.

Mediterranean diets have long been touted as heart-healthy, but that's based on observational studies that can't prove the point. The new research is much stronger because people were assigned diets to follow for a long time and carefully monitored. Doctors even did lab tests to verify that the Mediterranean diet folks were consuming more olive oil or nuts as recommended.

Most of these people were taking medicines for high cholesterol and blood pressure, and researchers did not alter those proven treatments, said the study's leader, Dr. Ramon Estruch of Hospital Clinic in Barcelona.

But as a first step to prevent heart problems, "we think diet is better than a drug" because it has few if any side effects, Estruch said. "Diet works."

Results were published online Monday by the New England Journal of Medicine and were to be discussed at a nutrition conference in Loma Linda, Calif.

People in the study were not given rigid menus or calorie goals because weight loss was not the aim. That could be why they found the "diets" easy to stick with - only about 7 percent dropped out within two years. There were twice as many dropouts in the low-fat group than among those eating Mediterranean-style.

Researchers also provided the nuts and olive oil, so it didn't cost participants anything to use these relatively pricey ingredients. The type of oil may have mattered - they used extra-virgin olive oil, which is richer than regular or light olive oil in the chemicals and nutrients that earlier studies have suggested are beneficial.

The study involved people ages 55 to 80, just over half of them women. All were free of heart disease at the start but were at high risk for it because of health problems - half had diabetes and most were overweight and had high cholesterol and blood pressure.

They were assigned to one of three groups: Two followed a Mediterranean diet supplemented with either extra-virgin olive oil (4 tablespoons a day) or with walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds (a fistful a day). The third group was urged to eat a low-fat diet heavy on bread, potatoes, pasta, rice, fruits, vegetables and fish and light on baked goods, nuts, oils and red meat.

Independent monitors stopped the study after nearly five years when they saw fewer problems in the two groups on Mediterranean diets.

Doctors tracked a composite of heart attacks, strokes or heart-related deaths. There were 96 of these in the Mediterranean-olive oil group, 83 in the Mediterranean-nut group and 109 in the low-fat group.

Looked at individually, stroke was the only problem where type of diet made a big difference. Diet had no effect on death rates overall.

The Spanish government's health research agency initiated and paid for the study, and foods were supplied by olive oil and nut producers in Spain and the California Walnut Commission. Many of the authors have extensive financial ties to food, wine and other industry groups but said the sponsors had no role in designing the study or analyzing and reporting its results.

Rachel Johnson, a University of Vermont professor who heads the American Heart Association's nutrition committee, said the study is very strong because of the lab tests to verify oil and nut consumption and because researchers tracked actual heart attacks, strokes and deaths - not just changes in risk factors such as high cholesterol.

"At the end of the day, what we care about is whether or not disease develops," she said. "It's an important study."

Rena Wing, a weight-loss expert at Brown University, noted that researchers provided the oil and nuts, and said "it's not clear if people could get the same results from self-designed Mediterranean diets" - or if Americans would stick to them more than Europeans used to such foods.

A third independent expert also praised the study as evidence diet can lower heart risks.

"The risk reduction is close to that achieved with statins" - widely used cholesterol drugs, said Dr. Robert Eckel, a diet and heart disease expert at the University of Colorado.

"But this study was not carried out or intended to compare diet to statins or blood pressure medicines," he warned. "I don't think people should think now they can quit taking their medicines."

--- Online:

Journal: HTTP://WWW.NEJM.ORG

---

Marilynn Marchione can be followed at HTTP://TWITTER.COM/MMARCHIONEAP

© 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.
Monday, 25 February 2013 07:22
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ATLANTA (AP) -- On an average day, U.S. adults get roughly 11 percent of their calories from fast food, a government study shows.

That's down slightly from the 13 percent reported the last time the government tried to pin down how much of the American diet is coming from fast food. Eating fast food too frequently has been seen as a driver of America's obesity problem.

For the research, about 11,000 adults were asked extensive questions about what they ate and drank over the previous 24 hours to come up with the results.

Among the findings:

- Young adults eat more fast food than their elders; 15 percent of calories for ages 20 to 39 and dropping to 6 percent for those 60 and older.

- Blacks get more of their calories from fast-food, 15 percent compared to 11 percent for whites and Hispanics.

- Young black adults got a whopping 21 percent from the likes of Wendy's, Taco Bell and KFC.

The figures are averages. Included in the calculations are some people who almost never eat fast food, as well as others who eat a lot of it.

The survey covers the years 2007 through 2010 and was released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The authors couldn't explain why the proportion of calories from fast food dropped from the 13 percent found in a survey for 2003 through 2006.

One nutrition professor cast doubts on the latest results, saying 11 percent seemed implausibly low. New York University's Marion Nestle said it wouldn't be surprising if some people under-reported their hamburgers, fries and milkshakes since eating too much fast food is increasingly seen as something of a no-no.

"If I were a fast-food company, I'd say `See, we have nothing to do with obesity! Americans are getting 90 percent of their calories somewhere else!'" she said.

The study didn't include the total number of fast-food calories, just the percentage. Previous government research suggests that the average U.S. adult each day consumes about 270 calories of fast food - the equivalent of a small McDonald's hamburger and a few fries.

The new CDC study found that obese people get about 13 percent of daily calories from fast food, compared with less than 10 percent for skinny and normal-weight people.

There was no difference seen by household income, except for young adults. The poorest - those with an annual household income of less than $30,000 - got 17 percent of their calories from fast food, while the figure was under 14 percent for the most affluent 20- and 30-somethings with a household income of more than $50,000.

That's not surprising since there are disproportionately higher numbers of fast-food restaurants in low-income neighborhoods, Nestle said.

Fast food is accessible and "it's cheap," she said.

© 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.
Thursday, 21 February 2013 07:03
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SEATTLE (AP) - A new study has found teaching parents to switch channels from violent shows to educational TV can improve preschoolers' behavior, even without getting them to watch less.

The results were modest and faded over time, but the study authors and other doctors say they may hold promise for finding ways to help young children avoid aggressive, violent behavior.

The research involving 565 parents was published online Monday by the journal Pediatrics.

They periodically filled out TV-watching diaries and questionnaires measuring their child's behavior.

Half were coached for six months on getting their 3-to-5-year-old kids to watch shows like "Sesame Street" and "Dora the Explorer" rather than more violent programs like "Power Rangers."

Low-income boys appeared to get the most short-term benefit.
Monday, 18 February 2013 02:12
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BOSTON (AP) -- What happens to fish that swim in waters tainted by traces of drugs that people take? When it's an anti-anxiety drug, they become hyper, anti-social and aggressive, a study found. They even get the munchies.

It may sound funny, but it could threaten the fish population and upset the delicate dynamics of the marine environment, scientists say.

The findings, published online Thursday in the journal Science, add to the mounting evidence that minuscule amounts of medicines in rivers and streams can alter the biology and behavior of fish and other marine animals.

"I think people are starting to understand that pharmaceuticals are environmental contaminants," said Dana Kolpin, a researcher for the U.S. Geological Survey who is familiar with the study.

Calling their results alarming, the Swedish researchers who did the study suspect the little drugged fish could become easier targets for bigger fish because they are more likely to venture alone into unfamiliar places.

"We know that in a predator-prey relation, increased boldness and activity combined with decreased sociality ... means you're going to be somebody's lunch quite soon," said Gregory Moller, a toxicologist at the University of Idaho and Washington State University. "It removes the natural balance."

Researchers around the world have been taking a close look at the effects of pharmaceuticals in extremely low concentrations, measured in parts per billion. Such drugs have turned up in waterways in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere over the past decade.

They come mostly from humans and farm animals; the drugs pass through their bodies in unmetabolized form. These drug traces are then piped to water treatment plants, which are not designed to remove them from the cleaned water that flows back into streams and rivers.

The Associated Press first reported in 2008 that the drinking water of at least 51 million Americans carries low concentrations of many common drugs. The findings were based on questionnaires sent to water utilities, which reported the presence of antibiotics, sedatives, sex hormones and other drugs.

The news reports led to congressional hearings and legislation, more water testing and more public disclosure. To this day, though, there are no mandatory U.S. limits on pharmaceuticals in waterways.

The research team at Sweden's Umea University used minute concentrations of 2 parts per billion of the anti-anxiety drug oxazepam, similar to concentrations found in real waters. The drug belongs to a widely used class of medicines known as benzodiazepines that includes Valium and Librium.

The team put young wild European perch into an aquarium, exposed them to these highly diluted drugs and then carefully measured feeding, schooling, movement and hiding behavior. They found that drug-exposed fish moved more, fed more aggressively, hid less and tended to school less than unexposed fish. On average, the drugged fish were more than twice as active as the others, researcher Micael Jonsson said. The effects were more pronounced at higher drug concentrations.

"Our first thought is, this is like a person diagnosed with ADHD," said Jonsson, referring to attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. "They become asocial and more active than they should be."

Tomas Brodin, another member of the research team, called the drug's environmental impact a global problem. "We find these concentrations or close to them all over the world, and it's quite possible or even probable that these behavioral effects are taking place as we speak," he said Thursday in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Most previous research on trace drugs and marine life has focused on biological changes, such as male fish that take on female characteristics. However, a 2009 study found that tiny concentrations of antidepressants made fathead minnows more vulnerable to predators.

It is not clear exactly how long-term drug exposure, beyond the seven days in this study, would affect real fish in real rivers and streams. The Swedish researchers argue that the drug-induced changes could jeopardize populations of this sport and commercial fish, which lives in both fresh and brackish water.

Water toxins specialist Anne McElroy of Stony Brook University in New York agreed: "These lower chronic exposures that may alter things like animals' mating behavior or its ability to catch food or its ability to avoid being eaten - over time, that could really affect a population."

Another possibility, the researchers said, is that more aggressive feeding by the perch on zooplankton could reduce the numbers of these tiny creatures. Since zooplankton feed on algae, a drop in their numbers could allow algae to grow unchecked. That, in turn, could choke other marine life.

The Swedish team said it is highly unlikely people would be harmed by eating such drug-exposed fish. Jonsson said a person would have to eat 4 tons of perch to consume the equivalent of a single pill.

Researchers said more work is needed to develop better ways of removing drugs from water at treatment plants. They also said unused drugs should be brought to take-back programs where they exist, instead of being flushed down the toilet. And they called on pharmaceutical companies to work on "greener" drugs that degrade more easily.

Sandoz, one of three companies approved to sell oxazepam in the U.S., "shares society's desire to protect the environment and takes steps to minimize the environmental impact of its products over their life cycle," spokeswoman Julie Masow said in an emailed statement. She provided no details.

--- Online: Overview of the drug: HTTP://WWW.NLM.NIH.GOV/MEDLINEPLUS/DRUGINFO/MEDS/A682050.HTML © 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.
Friday, 15 February 2013 07:37
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NEW YORK (AP) -- About 1 in 9 younger women have used the morning-after pill after sex, according to the first government report to focus on emergency contraception since its approval 15 years ago.

The results come from a survey of females ages 15 to 44. Eleven percent of those who'd had sex reported using a morning-after pill. That's up from 4 percent in 2002, only a few years after the pills went on the market and adults still needed a prescription.

The increased popularity is probably because it is easier to get now and because of media coverage of controversial efforts to lift the age limit for over-the-counter sales, experts said. A prescription is still required for those younger than 17 so it is still sold from behind pharmacy counters.

In the study, half the women who used the pills said they did it because they'd had unprotected sex. Most of the rest cited a broken condom or worries that the birth control method they used had failed.

White women and more educated women use it the most, the research showed. That's not surprising, said James Trussell, a Princeton University researcher who's studied the subject.

"I don't think you can go to college in the United States and not know about emergency contraception," said Trussell, who has promoted its use and started a hot line.

One Pennsylvania college even has a vending machine dispensing the pills.

The morning-after pill is basically a high-dose version of birth control pills. It prevents ovulation and needs to be taken within a few days after sex. The morning-after pill is different from the so-called abortion pill, which is designed to terminate a pregnancy.

At least five versions of the morning-after pills are sold in the United States. They cost around $35 to $60 a dose at a pharmacy, depending on the brand.

Since it is sold over-the-counter, insurers generally only pay for it with a doctor's prescription. The new Affordable Care Act promises to cover morning-after pills, meaning no co-pays, but again only with a prescription.

The results of the study were released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's based on in-person interviews of more than 12,000 women in 2006 through 2010. It was the agency's first in-depth report on that issue, said Kimberly Daniels, the study's lead author.

The study also found:

-Among different age groups, women in their early 20s were more likely to have taken a morning-after pill. About 1 in 4 did.

-About 1 in 5 never-married women had taken a morning-after pill, compared to just 1 in 20 married women.

-Of the women who used the pill, 59 percent said they had done it only once, 24 percent said twice, and 17 percent said three or more times.

A woman who uses emergency contraception multiple times "needs to be thinking about a more regular form" of birth control, noted Lawrence Finer, director of domestic research for the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit group that does research on reproductive health.

Also on Thursday, the CDC released a report on overall contraception use. Among its many findings, 99 percent of women who've had sex used some sort of birth control. That includes 82 percent who used birth control pills and 93 percent whose partner had used a condom.

---

Online:

CDC report: HTTP://WWW.CDC.GOV/NCHS/

Emergency contraception info: HTTP://EC.PRINCETON.EDU/INDEX.HTML

© 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.
Thursday, 14 February 2013 06:51
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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Scientists wondering why some children and not others survived one of China's worst food safety scandals have uncovered a suspect: germs that live in the gut.

In 2008, at least six babies died and 300,000 became sick after being fed infant formula that had been deliberately and illegally tainted with the industrial chemical melamine. There were some lingering puzzles: How did it cause kidney failure, and why wasn't everyone equally at risk?

A team of researchers from the U.S. and China re-examined those questions in a series of studies in rats. In findings released Wednesday, they reported that certain intestinal bacteria play a crucial role in how the body handles melamine.

The intestines of all mammals teem with different species of bacteria that perform different jobs. To see if one of those activities involves processing melamine, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Shanghai Jiao Tong University gave lab rats antibiotics to kill off some of the germs - and then fed them melamine.

The antibiotic-treated rats excreted twice as much of the melamine as rats that didn't get antibiotics, and they experienced fewer kidney stones and other damage.

A closer look identified why: A particular intestinal germ - named Klebsiella terrigena - was metabolizing melamine to create a more toxic byproduct, the team reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Previous studies have estimated that fewer than 1 percent of healthy people harbor that bacteria species. A similar fraction of melamine-exposed children in China got sick, the researchers wrote. But proving that link would require studying stool samples preserved from affected children, they cautioned.

Still, the research is pretty strong, said microbiologist Jack Gilbert of the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, who wasn't involved in the new study.

More importantly, "this paper adds to a growing body of evidence which suggests that microbes in the body play a significant role in our response to toxicity and in our health in general," Gilbert said.

© 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.
Thursday, 14 February 2013 06:35
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In a stunning example of when treatment might be worse than the disease, a large review of Medicare records finds that older people with small kidney tumors were much less likely to die over the next five years if doctors monitored them instead of operating right away.

Even though nearly all of these tumors turned out to be cancer, they rarely proved fatal. And surgery roughly doubled patients' risk of developing heart problems or dying of other causes, doctors found.

After five years, 24 percent of those who had surgery had died, compared to only 13 percent of those who chose monitoring. Just 3 percent of people in each group died of kidney cancer.

The study only involved people 66 and older, but half of all kidney cancers occur in this age group. Younger people with longer life expectancies should still be offered surgery, doctors stressed.

The study also was observational - not an experiment where some people were given surgery and others were monitored, so it cannot prove which approach is best. Yet it offers a real-world look at how more than 7,000 Medicare patients with kidney tumors fared. Surgery is the standard treatment now.

"I think it should change care" and that older patients should be told "that they don't necessarily need to have the kidney tumor removed," said Dr. William Huang of New York University Langone Medical Center. "If the treatment doesn't improve cancer outcomes, then we should consider leaving them alone."

He led the study and will give results at a medical meeting in Orlando, Fla., later this week. The research was discussed Tuesday in a telephone news conference sponsored by the American Society of Clinical Oncology and two other cancer groups.

In the United States, about 65,000 new cases of kidney cancer and 13,700 deaths from the disease are expected this year. Two-thirds of cases are diagnosed at the local stage, when five-year survival is more than 90 percent.

However, most kidney tumors these days are found not because they cause symptoms, but are spotted by accident when people are having an X-ray or other imaging test for something else, like back trouble or chest pain.

Cancer experts increasingly question the need to treat certain slow-growing cancers that are not causing symptoms - prostate cancer in particular. Researchers wanted to know how life-threatening small kidney tumors were, especially in older people most likely to suffer complications from surgery.

They used federal cancer registries and Medicare records from 2000 to 2007 to find 8,317 people 66 and older with kidney tumors less than 1.5 inches wide.

Cancer was confirmed in 7,148 of them. About three-quarters of them had surgery and the rest chose to be monitored with periodic imaging tests.

After five years, 1,536 had died, including 191 of kidney cancer. For every 100 patients who chose monitoring, 11 more were alive at the five-year mark compared to the surgery group. Only 6 percent of those who chose monitoring eventually had surgery.

Furthermore, 27 percent of the surgery group but only 13 percent of the monitoring group developed a cardiovascular problem such as a heart attack, heart disease or stroke. These problems were more likely if doctors removed the entire kidney instead of just a part of it.

The results may help doctors persuade more patients to give monitoring a chance, said a cancer specialist with no role in the research, Dr. Bruce Roth of Washington University in St. Louis.

Some patients with any abnormality "can't sleep at night until something's done about it," he said. Doctors need to say, "We're not sticking our head in the sand, we're going to follow this" and can operate if it gets worse.

One of Huang's patients - 81-year-old Rhona Landorf, who lives in New York City - needed little persuasion.

"I was very happy not to have to be operated on," she said. "He said it's very slow growing and that having an operation would be worse for me than the cancer."

Landorf said her father had been a doctor, and she trusts her doctors' advice. Does she think about her tumor? "Not at all," she said.

---

Online:

Kidney cancer info: HTTP://WWW.CANCER.NET/CANCER-TYPES/KIDNEY-CANCER

and HTTP://WWW.CANCER.GOV/CANCERTOPICS/TYPES/KIDNEY

Study: HTTP://GUCASYM.ORG

---

Marilynn Marchione can be followed at HTTP://TWITTER.COM/MMARCHIONEAP © 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.
Wednesday, 13 February 2013 06:22
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