A community for people who want to remain as healthy as possible as we age.

Four top reasons why dieting is so hard

(UPI) Two-thirds of Americans say they are on a diet to improve their health but relatively few are actually decreasing in size, a U.S. expert says.
Dr. Jessica Bartfield, who specializes in nutrition and weight management…, said dieting is a skill, much like playing a musical instrument, and requires practice and good instruction…
Bartfield said the top four reasons many dieters failed to lose weight are:
-- Underestimating the number of calories consumed. Write down everything you eat…
-- Overestimating activity and calories burned…
-- Poor timing of meals… Try not to go longer than 5 hours without eating a healthy snack or meal to keep your metabolism steady.
-- Inadequate sleep.
Community: We’ve seen that developing and recording specific plans, along with writing down our progress, are some of the best tools to help lose weight. When my niece visited last month, she and her friends recorded everything they ate in their smartphone apps.
That’s a little too much for me, but there’s a new website that offers you a free place to record your goals and progress. It’s called SlimKicker. Give it a try, and let me know what you think.
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Weight Loss Can Be Contagious, Study Suggests

(Science Daily) Is weight loss "contagious"? According to a new study…, teammates in a team-based weight loss competition significantly influenced each other's weight loss, suggesting that shedding pounds can have a ripple effect.
Researchers … found that team members not only achieved similar weight loss outcomes, but participants who said their teammates played a large role in their weight loss actually lost the most weight.
"We know that obesity can be socially contagious, but now we know that social networks play a significant role in weight loss as well, particularly team-based weight loss competitions," said lead author Tricia Leahey, Ph.D.
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Want to lose weight? Trade sugary drinks for water

(Reuters Health) Swapping your soda for water -- or at least diet soda -- really can help you shed a few pounds, a new clinical trial finds…
People who need to lose weight often find a diet overhaul too daunting. But swapping a couple sweet drinks for sugar-free alternatives may seem relatively easy, according to Tate.
"This is a simple thing you can do consistently each day," she said in an interview.
On average, people in this study lost around two percent of their body weight. That's not huge, but it's a move in the right direction, the researchers say.
Community: Better to stick to water, which you can flavor yourself, Diet soda has problems, too. See below.
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Diet soda tied to heart attack, stroke risks: study

(Reuters Health) [A] new study suggests that people who drink [diet soda] every day have a heightened risk of heart attack and stroke…
The findings, reported in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, don't prove that the sugar-free drinks are actually to blame…
"What we saw was an association," said lead researcher Hannah Gardener, of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "These people may tend to have more unhealthy habits."
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Working off the soda

(U.S. Department of Health & Human Services) How much exercise do you need to burn off the calories in a typical soda? Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health wanted to see what inner-city teenagers would do when they found the answer to that question. The researchers had posters put in convenience stores, which told teens the amount of jogging they would have to do. The study found teens then bought fewer sugar-sweetened sodas, and more water.
Researcher Sara Bleich says it’s better to avoid calories than to lose them:
“It may take you 5 minutes to drink a bottle of soda. But if you are a typical adolescent weighing 110 pounds, it would take you 50 minutes of jogging to burn off that bottle of soda.” 
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You Can Gain Weight Eating Fruits and Vegetables

(Andrew Weil, M.D.) While it’s true that most Americans don’t get enough fresh produce in their diets, a recent, large study from Europe found that adults who ate the most fruits and vegetables still managed to gain weight as they got older…
Men whose intake of fruits and vegetables was highest seemed to lose a bit of weight until the investigators factored in other losses related to daily calorie intake, exercise habits and education levels. The participants who boosted their fruit and vegetable intake and gained the least amount of weight were former smokers who quit during the study period, but researchers aren’t sure why.
The upshot may be that it’s healthy to increase your consumption of fruit and vegetables but important to watch what else you eat - or at least count total calories if you don’t want to gain weight.
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Soft Black Bean Tostadas
This hearty Mexican meal has countless variations. Prepare the salsa and bean spread separately for snacks, roll the tortillas burrito-style, or make this dish vegetarian-friendly by omitting the chicken.
Fennel & Pork Stew
This meltingly tender pork shoulder ragout has a savory broth that’s full of fennel. White wine gives the stew a bright edge of acidity.
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Maker of Snickers to put its chocolate on a diet

(Reuters) Mars Inc, the maker of Snickers and Twix candy bars, will stop selling chocolate products with more than 250 calories in them by the end of next year, a spokeswoman said on Wednesday.
The McClean, Virginia-based company, which also makes M&Ms and Skittles candies and Juicy Fruit chewing gum, said the goal is part of an ongoing effort to improve the nutritional value of its products and to sell them in a responsible way.
The new calorie limit target means fans of the 540-calorie king-size Snickers bar might want to enjoy the big bar while they can. Come 2014, it's going to be gone, part of what Mars says is a broader push for responsible snacking.
Community: Sorry, candy fans, I’m one of you, but I have to say that eating a candy bar isn’t responsible snacking, no matter how small it is.
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Vancouver Plans a Farm Atop a Parking Garage

(Designing Healthy Communities) Generally speaking, there’s not much on top of parking garages except cars.  But in downtown Vancouver, B.C., a parking garage will host a high-density “VertiCrop” farming structure, the first in North America.
Valcent Products has signed an agreement with the garage owners to build the 6,000-square-foot vertical farm, which will feature 12-foot-high stacks of growing trays on motorized conveyors that will ferry plants around to be watered, to catch the sun and, finally, to be harvested.
The array will produce about the same amount of produce as 16 acres of California fields, according to Christopher Ng, chief operating officer of Valcent.
Ng says the patented technology was developed to grow food naturally in bustling urban environments and represents a paradigm shift in farming and food production — providing up to 20 times the yield of normal field crops, while using only 8% of the water typically required for soil farming.
The company says the structure is designed to grow healthy, leafy green vegetables in closed loop and controlled environments, eliminating the need for harmful herbicides and pesticides, while maximizing taste, nutrition and food value.
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Do You Need Folic Acid?

(Andrew Weil, M.D.) Vitamin B9, more commonly known as folate or folic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin essential for human growth and development. It encourages normal nerve and proper brain functioning, and may help prevent heart disease and stroke by reducing blood levels of homocysteine (an amino-acid byproduct that is believed to raise the risk of heart attack, stroke and dementia). Studies suggest it might also help protect against cancers of the lung, colon and cervix, and may help slow memory decline associated with aging…
Spinach, green vegetables and beans are good sources, as are fortified products such as orange juice and cereals. Other natural sources of folate include asparagus, bananas, melons, lemons, legumes, yeast and mushrooms.
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U.S. to Review Diet Treatment Once Rejected

(New York Times) Next week, advisers to the Food and Drug Administration will recommend whether the agency should approve the first new prescription diet pill in 13 years.
The F.D.A. rejected the drug under review, Qnexa, in 2010, amid safety concerns, and the drug’s manufacturer is now presenting additional data to argue its case.
But thousands of people … in central California, where Qnexa’s inventor ran a weight-loss clinic, and others across the country have not had to wait for the drug’s approval. Through a regulatory loophole of sorts, many obesity doctors prescribe two separate drugs that, when taken together, are essentially the same medicine…
Qnexa, developed by the company Vivus, is a combination of two already approved drugs — a stimulant called phentermine and an anticonvulsant called topiramate — that seem to work together to quell appetite. Even though the F.D.A. declined to approve Qnexa two years ago, citing the risks of birth defects and cardiovascular problems, doctors are allowed to prescribe the components off-label as they see fit.
Many do.
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Protein may play role in obesity, diabetes, aging

(Medical Xpress) Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have identified a potent regulator of sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar levels. The new findings may help scientists find better treatments for type 2 diabetes, obesity and other health problems caused by the body’s inability to properly regulate blood sugar…
Fat and muscle cells in patients with type 2 diabetes become resistant to insulin, which normally causes them to take in glucose from the blood. The protein studied by the researchers, known as TBC1D3, keeps the insulin pathway open, so the cells can continue to take up glucose. TBC1D3 is found only in humans and certain other primates.
“When cells made more of the TBC1D3 protein, they had a much bigger response to insulin,” says senior author Philip Stahl, PhD…
“We found that TBC1D3 activates a protein called PP2A,” Stahl says. “Flies had shorter lifespans when the PP2A gene was knocked out. This suggests that TBC1D3 also may influence the aging process.”
The researchers are now investigating the factors that regulate the activity of TBC1D3. One such influence may be the number of copies of the TBC1D3 gene in a person’s DNA.
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Diabetes May Start in the Intestines, Research Suggests

(Science Daily) Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have made a surprising discovery about the origin of diabetes. Their research suggests that problems controlling blood sugar -- the hallmark of diabetes -- may begin in the intestines…
In the new research, scientists studied mice that are unable to make fatty acid synthase (FAS) in the intestine. FAS, an enzyme crucial for the production of lipids, is regulated by insulin, and people with diabetes have defects in FAS. Mice without the enzyme in the intestines develop chronic inflammation in the gut, a powerful predictor of diabetes…
[The researchers] say much more study is needed, but they say that FAS and a key component of the intestinal mucosa called Muc2 may be potential targets for diabetes therapy. They now plan to study people with diabetes to see whether FAS is altered in a similar way, producing damage to the mucosal layer in the intestines.
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Critical element that improves vascular function in postmenopausal women found

(University of Colorado Denver) Researchers studying why arteries stiffen in postmenopausal women have found a specific chemical cofactor that dramatically improves vascular function.
Kerrie Moreau, Ph.D…, discovered that BH4 or tetrahydrobiopterin plays a key role in arterial health of women. BH4 is a critical cofactor of the enzyme endothelial nitric oxide synthase or eNOS. The two combine to create nitric oxide which is highly beneficial to arterial health…
Researchers also took two groups of postmenopausal women and gave one group a placebo and the other estrogen patches. They examined the results 48 hours later and discovered those who took estrogen experienced similar effects to those given BH4 while the women who received placebos experienced no changes…
"Menopause is like an accelerated aging process," Moreau said."When women hit menopause you see this dramatic decline in arterial health." Moreau's discovery of the key role BH4 plays in this process sheds more light on the decline in arterial health and why it may not be inevitable.
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Microchip Implant Gives Medication On Command

(Scientific American) For people who face frequent needle jabs to treat chronic conditions, a new technology is on the horizon that might make treatment a lot less painful.
Researchers report that a new wirelessly controlled microchip, implanted under the skin, can safely and reliably give osteoporosis patients the daily dose of a drug that they need for at least 20 days in a row…
Some 55,000 people in the U.S. with osteoporosis face daily injections of a bone-boosting hormone (known as human parathyroid hormone fragment, which is the basis for the drug teriparatide, sold as Forteo). But during a two-year daily regimen of the shots, close to three quarters of osteoporosis patients fail to take the drug as often as they are supposed to. High noncompliance makes this condition an especially compelling target for an automatic drug-dosing system.
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DNA Robots Programmed to Kill Cancer Cells, Harvard Study Shows

(Bloomberg) Scientists have created a robot made entirely from DNA that can be instructed to find diseased cells in the body and deliver a payload to kill or reprogram them, according to a study from Harvard University.
The robot was constructed by folding DNA strands into a shape that looks roughly like a clamshell. The researchers programmed the nano-sized device to open in the presence of leukemia and lymphoma cells in a laboratory dish, where they delivered immune system antibodies that caused the cells to self-destruct, according to a report…
The next step will be to test the system in animals, tweaking the robot so that it can circulate longer in the blood to locate all cancer cells. The technology isn’t yet ready for commercial use, said Shawn Douglas, an author of the study.
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Med school admission tests change to reflect new care realities

(Booster Shots, Los Angeles Times) In an effort to create a cadre of future physicians with improved bedside manners, the Assn. of American Medical Colleges has announced changes to the Medical College Admission Test (MCATs) that would plumb applicants' knowledge of psychology, sociology and biology, as well as their ethical and scientific reasoning skills.
"Being a good doctor isn't just about understanding science: it's about understanding people," said Dr. Darrell G. Kirch, president and chief executive of the Assn. of American Medical Colleges…
Starting in 2015, aspiring doctors will sit down for a six-and-a-half-hour test that will go beyond  plumbing their knowledge of physics, general and organic chemistry and biochemistry. Two new sections will be added: one titled "Psychological, Sociological and Biological Foundations of Behavior," and another, "Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills." Those will require students to have a broad background in the social sciences and an ability to analyze, evaluate and apply information from subjects as diverse as philosophy and ethics, population health and cross-cultural studies.
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US government issues Medicare Advantage guidelines

(Reuters) The Obama administration on Friday issued 2013 payment and policy guidelines for U.S. health insurers that participate in the Medicare Advantage program, saying the proposed changes would bring lower premiums and stable or improved benefits.
But the documents did not include an official preliminary estimate for the net average percentage change in reimbursements, leaving insurers and financial markets in the dark about the guidelines' potential impact on the industry.
Analysts said unofficial estimates suggested a possible all-in gain of 2.3 percent, far better than market expectations that had ranged from no change to a decline of 5 percent.
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Banish Winter Blues With Exercise

(SouthBeachDiet.com) How many times have you looked out your window on a gray winter day and made the excuse that it’s too cold to exercise? While the short days and cold nights may tempt us into hibernation mode, winter is a great time to try a new seasonal activity and jump-start your commitment to losing weight.
Exercise is an essential part of leading a healthy lifestyle and the catalyst for a faster weight loss. Dr. Agatston, author of The South Beach Wake-Up Call, recommends 20 minutes of interval or core-strengthening exercise on most days of the week.
Exercising not only tones your body and trims inches off your waistline, it also releases endorphins, known as “feel good” hormones, which can boost your mood, revitalize your energy levels, and prevent bouts of emotional eating.
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Walking speed and grip strength in middle age may help predict dementia risk

(Daily Mail) Middle-aged people who walk slowly and have a poor grip could be at greater risk of dementia or stroke in later life, researchers have warned.
Simple tests of physical ability may give clues as to who is most likely to go on to develop disorders such as Alzheimer’s and, to a lesser extent, suffer a stroke, they say…
Dr Anne Corbett, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘Before people take stock in the strength of a handshake or the speed you cross the road, more research is needed to understand why and what other factors are involved.
‘The good news is that there are many things to reduce your risk of developing dementia.
‘We recommend you eat a healthy balanced diet, don’t smoke, maintain a healthy  weight, take regular exercise, and get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly.’
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Activity and Alzheimer’s Prevention

(HHS HealthBeat) A study indicates that people who are physically inactive and who have a higher genetic risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease may have more of a protein that’s associated with the development of Alzheimer’s.
At Washington University in St. Louis, researcher Denise Head looked at people with a form of the APOE gene, AP0E-e4, which has been linked to greater buildup of amyloid protein in the brain.
“The combination of a sedentary lifestyle and APOE-e4 status was associated with a higher level of amyloid deposition.”…
The study, which looked at people whose thinking ability was healthy, indicated more active people had less amyloid buildup.
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How 1-Minute Intervals Can Improve Your Health

(New York Times) While many of us wonder just how much exercise we really need in order to gain health and fitness, a group of scientists in Canada are turning that issue on its head and asking, how little exercise do we need?
The emerging and engaging answer appears to be, a lot less than most of us think — provided we’re willing to work a bit…
Several years ago, the McMasters scientists did test a punishing workout, known as high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, that involved 30 seconds of all-out effort at 100 percent of a person’s maximum heart rate. After six weeks, these lacerating HIIT sessions produced similar physiological changes in the leg muscles of young men as multiple, hour-long sessions per week of steady cycling, even though the HIIT workouts involved about 90 percent less exercise time.
Recognizing, however, that few of us willingly can or will practice such straining all-out effort, the researchers also developed a gentler but still chronologically abbreviated form of HIIT. This modified routine involved one minute of strenuous effort, at about 90 percent of a person’s maximum heart rate (which most of us can estimate, very roughly, by subtracting our age from 220), followed by one minute of easy recovery. The effort and recovery are repeated 10 times, for a total of 20 minutes.
Despite the small time commitment of this modified HIIT program, after several weeks of practicing it, both the unfit volunteers and the cardiac patients showed significant improvements in their health and fitness…
The scientists have noted other benefits in earlier studies. In unfit but otherwise healthy middle-aged adults, two weeks of modified HIIT training prompted the creation of far more cellular proteins involved in energy production and oxygen. The training also improved the volunteers’ insulin sensitivity and blood sugar regulation, lowering their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes
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Motivation Fluctuations Affect Exercise Behavior

(Science Daily) For many people, the motivation to exercise fluctuates from week to week, and these fluctuations predict whether they will be physically active, according to researchers at Penn State…
"Many of us set New Year's resolutions to be more physically active, and we expect these resolutions to be stable throughout the year," said David Conroy, professor of kinesiology. "One of the things we see in this study is that from week to week our motivation can change a lot, and these weekly changes in motivation can be destructive to our resolutions."…
Conroy advised that people should focus less on making broad commitments to becoming more active and instead come up with a plan for how they're going to sustain their motivation from one week to the next.
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Salmon Croquettes
By pairing this superfast recipe with a light salad, you can impress guests and have time to enjoy the meal.
Five-Spice Tilapia
Chinese five-spice powder, soy sauce and brown sugar make a quick glaze for tilapia.
Andrew Weil, M.D.:
Garlic Broth
Garlic is an herb with remarkable medicinal properties - and it tastes great, too. It acts as a cardiovascular tonic, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels and inhibiting blood clotting. It's also a powerful germicide and may even protect against some carcinogens. The smell of garlic cooking has extremely positive associations - it's comforting and homey. If you eat garlic regularly (and with a good attitude), you won't smell of it. It's better for you in its natural state - raw or lightly cooked - rather than dried as powder or in capsules. Enjoy the smell, taste and healthful effects of the whole, fresh herb. Sip a warm mug of this flavorful broth as is or use it as a base for other soups.
Food as Medicine
Garlic can reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack by modulating cholesterol metabolism, lowering blood pressure and decreasing clot formation. It also has antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.
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Pycnogenol unproven for seven chronic disorders, review finds

(Consumer Reports) There's insufficient evidence to support the use of Pycnogenol, a dietary supplement extracted from French pine bark, to treat certain chronic disorders, according to a review published Wednesday in The Cochrane Library.
Pycnogenol's main ingredient is procyanidin, a powerful antioxidant that's also found in food such as grapes, berries, pomegranates, red wine, and various nuts, according to the report…
Despite the positive results found in some of the trials, the authors reported that they could reach no definite conclusions on Pycnogenol's efficacy due to limitations of the studies.
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Reducing Risk of Head and Neck Pain from Tablet Computer Use

(Harvard School of Public Health ) People worldwide have been buying up tablet computers—small, thin devices such as Apple’s iPad--in droves, partly because of their ease of use and portability. However, little is known about the potential for tablet users to experience the same kinds of ergonomic issues that have afflicted desktop computer users for decades, such as head, neck, and wrist pain. Now, … Harvard School of Public Health researchers have begun quantifying the ways in which a person’s posture, and also the design of the tablet and its case, affect comfort—evidence that will help companies develop new ergonomic guidelines as tablets become more common in the workplace…
The researchers found that study participants' heads and necks were in more flexed positions while using the tablets than those typical of desktop or notebook computer users. Working for long periods of time with the head slumped forward and the neck flexed can result in neck pain. Users held their heads in the most neutral positions when sitting in the Table-Movie configuration.
[Lead author Jack] Dennerlein recommends that tablet users vary their postures every 15 minutes, and that they use a case that doubles as a tablet stand. These cases reduce the need to grip the device, and also allow it to be propped up at an angle that keeps the user’s head in a neutral position, minimizing neck strain.
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FDA warns of toothbrushes that mess up your face

(MSNBC.com) The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a consumer safety update Thursday about a brand of electric toothbrushes that's been found to chip teeth, cut gums and generally wreak havoc with your face.
Injuries reported from use of the battery-powered Spinbrush toothbrush, sold by both Arm & Hammer and Crest (before 2009), include chipped or broken teeth, cuts to the mouth and gums, injuries to the face and eyes and choking hazards thanks to broken pieces.
According to a consumer safety officer at the FDA, reports indicate that parts of the toothbrush have broken off during use, causing them to be "released into the mouth with great speed, causing broken teeth and presenting a choking hazard."
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In the Mouth, Smoking Zaps Healthy Bacteria

(Science Daily) According to a new study, smoking causes the body to turn against its own helpful bacteria, leaving smokers more vulnerable to disease.
Despite the daily disturbance of brushing and flossing, the mouth of a healthy person contains a stable ecosystem of healthy bacteria. New research shows that the mouth of a smoker is a much more chaotic, diverse ecosystem -- and is much more susceptible to invasion by harmful bacteria.
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Electronic cigarette explodes in man's mouth

(CBS News) So much for being safer. An electronic cigarette blew up in a Florida man's face, leaving him in a hospital with severe burns, missing his front teeth and a chunk of his tongue.
Fire officials said Wednesday that the man had switched to electronic cigarettes to try and quit smoking, and that the scary situation was caused by a faulty battery.
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Smoking Cessation Meds Shows Promise as Alcoholism Treatment, Study Suggests

(Science Daily) A medication commonly used to help people stop smoking may have an unanticipated positive side effect for an entirely different vice: drinking alcohol. A new study by University of Chicago researchers finds that varenicline, sold as Chantix, increases the negative effects of alcohol and therefore could hold promise as a treatment for alcoholism.
A group of heavy-to-moderate social drinkers given a single dose varenicline three hours before an alcoholic beverage reported increased dysphoria and reduced "liking," even when researchers controlled for the effects of nausea from the drug. Those effects upon the subjective response to alcohol could reduce drinking in people prone to bingeing and other forms of abuse.
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CDC: Painkiller overdoses an epidemic

(UPI) About 15,000 people die each year from prescription painkiller overdoses -- more than those who die from heroin and cocaine combined -- U.S. officials said.
A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said overdoses involving prescription painkillers -- a class of drugs that includes hydrocodone, methadone, oxycodone and oxymorphone -- are a public health epidemic…
Nearly a half million emergency department visits in 2009 were due to people misusing or abusing prescription painkillers, the report said.
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Texas Readies a new weapon against ‘doctor shopping’ for prescription drugs

(American-Statesman) As prescription drug abuse increases, Texas is readying a new weapon to catch patients who "doctor shop" for multiple prescriptions and physicians who prescribe too many painkillers.
The Texas Department of Public Safety has been collecting prescription histories of Texans for years, but by this summer the data are expected to be online so doctors, pharmacists and law enforcement officials can more quickly identify the patients abusing pain medications and the medical establishments profiting from the drug trade.
The Legislature last year made "doctor shopping" a felony in most cases and has tried to curb so-called pill mills that supply popular painkillers. Next year, the Legislature will consider whether to make it mandatory for doctors and pharmacists to check the state database before writing or filling a prescription.
Some privacy advocates say questions still need to be answered about how law enforcement officials would use the database.
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Stemming the tide of overtreatment in U.S. healthcare

(Reuters) A leading group of U.S. doctors is trying to tackle the costly problem of excessive medical testing, hoping to avoid more government intervention in how they practice.
The American College of Physicians (ACP), the largest U.S. medical specialty group, is rolling out guidelines to help doctors better identify when patients should screen for specific diseases and when they can be spared the cost, and potentially invasive procedures that follow.
Many individual U.S. medical centers have launched their own efforts to build a protocol of patient care in fields such as diabetes or obstetrics, but the ACP effort has the potential to influence doctors nationally. ACP members include more than 132,000 physicians, mainly focused on internal medicine.
"Excessive testing costs $200 billion to $250 billion (per year)," Dr. Steven Weinberger, CEO of ACP said in an interview from his office in Philadelphia. "There's an overuse of imaging studies, CT scans for lung disease, overuse of routine electrocardiograms and other cardiac tests such as stress testing."
Community: Good idea, doctors. Stop blaming lawyers and start solving this problem yourselves.
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HHS ensures consumers get better value for their health insurance dollar

(U.S. Department of Health & Human Services) Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced [Thursday] that consumers will soon begin receiving unprecedented information on the value of their health insurance coverage, and some will receive rebates from insurance companies that spend less than 80 percent of their premium dollars on health care.
The Affordable Care Act requires that insurance companies this year begin notifying customers how much of their premiums they have spent on medical care and quality improvement.  Beginning in 2011, insurers were required to spend at least 80 percent of total premium dollars they collect on medical care and quality improvement.  Insurance companies that do not meet the 80/20 standard  (also known as the Medical Loss Ratio) are required to pay rebates to their customers this year. 
"Before the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies could spend your premium dollars on administrative red tape and marketing," said Secretary Sebelius.  "With today's notice, we're taking a big step toward making insurers accountable to consumers.  Some of these insurance companies have already changed their behavior by lowering premiums or spending more on medical care and quality improvement, while the remainder will need to refund this money to their customers this year."
The proposed consumer notices about whether their insurance company has met the new standard have been posted on HealthCare.gov, and HHS is seeking public comment to help ensure the notices are useful transparency tools for consumers.
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Could Obama healthcare law force you to buy a car?

(Reuters) An attorney challenging President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare law before the U.S. Supreme Court said on Thursday that Congress could require Americans to buy a car or other product if people were compelled to obtain medical insurance.
But a former Obama administration attorney dismissed those concerns, calling them "absurd hypotheticals," and defended the insurance purchase requirement in the 2010 law as part of a comprehensive scheme to address a national problem of soaring healthcare costs.
Community: I think the difference is that not having health insurance can shift the cost of your illnesses to others. Not owning a car doesn’t have the same effect.
The mandate seems onerous to me, and unnecessarily complex. It’s a tax, but it’s a tax that forces people to pay for insurance company profits. I’d object less if there were a public option, allowing everyone to buy into Medicare, for example. And once we’ve done that, why not just include that cost in the general tax revenues, instead of keeping it separate?
VoilĂ ! Single payer health insurance!
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Conservatives Sowed Idea of Health Care Mandate, Only to Spurn It Later

(New York Times) It can be difficult to remember now, given the ferocity with which many Republicans assail it as an attack on freedom, but the provision in President Obama’s health care law requiring all Americans to buy health insurance has its roots in conservative thinking.
The concept that people should be required to buy health coverage was fleshed out more than two decades ago by a number of conservative economists, embraced by scholars at conservative research groups, including the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, and championed, for a time, by Republicans in the Senate.
The individual mandate, as it is known, was seen then as a conservative alternative to some of the health care approaches favored by liberals — like creating a national health service or requiring employers to provide health coverage…
Some conservatives originally saw the individual mandate as a way to make certain that uninsured people who became ill or were injured — but were still entitled by law to medical treatment — did not push the cost of their care onto others.
Community: Anything done by any Democrat is vilified by Republicans, even if it was originally a Republican idea. Didn’t used to be that way, friends.
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Man suffers heart attack eating at Heart Attack Grill

(Eatocracy, CNN) "Doctor" Jon Basso thought "Nurse" Bridgett was kidding when she informed the Heart Attack Grill owner that a customer was suffering some medical difficulties in the dining room.
The situation was, in fact, as serious as a heart attack. FOX5 News Las Vegas reports that this past weekend, a man in his 40s began experiencing chest pains while consuming one of the restaurant's signature 6,000 calorie "Triple Bypass" burgers. Basso, who is not a medical professional, called 911, and EMTs and paramedics arrived on the scene quickly.
The customer - or "patient" as they are referred to at the restaurant, which moved from Chandler, Arizona to Las Vegas last October - is reportedly alive and recuperating. Sadly, that's not the case for the restaurant's 575-pound spokesman, who died last March at the age of 29.
Community: When we visited Denver some years ago, we stayed in a downtown hotel that was a block from the Terminal Bar & Cafe. The word terminal referred to the train station it was near, but I couldn't help thinking of it as a place to eat and die.
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Vitamin B and fish oil fail to prevent cancer

(Reuters Health) Among more than 2,500 people in France with a history of heart disease, taking B vitamins or omega-3 fatty acid supplements did not reduce the risk of developing cancer in a new study. In fact, for a small group of women, fish oil was linked to higher cancer risk.
"We had expected to find a benefit of the supplements on cancer risk," said Valentina Andreeva, the study's lead author and a researcher at the University of Paris. "Instead, we found no effects in men, and some evidence of adverse effects in women."
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Vitamin D deficiency can contribute to many chronic problems

(The People’s Pharmacy) Q: I am 55 and was diagnosed with osteoporosis last April. I just learned that I am deficient in vitamin D.
I have felt fatigued and mentally foggy as long as I can remember. Could I have been vitamin D deficient for years and, as a result, developed osteoporosis?
I have read about the dangers of drugs like alendronate (Fosamax) and would like to learn about other ways to deal with osteoporosis.
A: Vitamin D deficiency can contribute to many chronic problems, including weakened bones and cognitive difficulties (CNS Drugs, August 2011). Ask your doctor to check you for celiac disease, since this condition can lead to multiple nutritional deficiencies, osteoporosis, fatigue and dementia.
Many prescription drugs are used to treat osteoporosis. Some, such as Actonel or Boniva, are similar to Fosamax and can also cause bone, joint or muscle pain, heartburn and eye inflammation.
Other options are low-dose estrogen (Menostar), raloxifene (Evista), calcitonin and teriparatide (Forteo). There are also nondrug approaches.
Community: Some of those nondrug approaches are listed here.
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Soy foods, not pills, helpful for breast cancer prevention

(Booster Shots, Los Angeles Times) [A] carefully performed new study shows soy supplements did not lower breast cancer risk and may even be harmful to some women.
Previous research has shown that people with diets high in soy have lower rates of breast cancer. Soy is also known to reduce levels of estrogen, a hormone that can contribute to breast cancer development. The new study, led by researchers at Northwestern University, was designed to look carefully at how soy consumption may change breast cells…
[I]n premenopausal women taking the soy supplement, levels of Ki-67 rose slightly, suggesting a potential harmful effect from the supplement.
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Cooking Light:
Classic New Orleans Cuisine
Celebrate Mardi Gras by feasting on our versions of recipes—Cajun, Creole, and otherwise—from the Crescent City.
Cooking with Quinoa
High in protein and fiber, quinoa is not only versatile, it also tastes wonderful and has a nice crunch. Find 15 delicious recipes for cooking with this ancient whole grain.
Chicken-Orzo Soup
Nothing says comfort like a bowl of hearty chicken soup. Pair with a sandwich for a simple, heart-warming dinner option.
The EatingWell Taco
We “oven fry” the taco shells instead of deep frying or using store-bought. To do this we spray them with cooking spray then bake them until they’re crisp. This reduces fat and saturated fat and we avoid the trans fats found in most store-bought brands of taco shells. We combine lean ground beef and turkey to cut out much of the fat and saturated fat. We add vegetables and jazzed-up canned refried beans in place of extra meat and cheese to keep calories and saturated fat down.
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Go Wild When It Comes to Wild Salmon

(SouthBeachDiet.com) Next time you head to the fish counter to buy salmon, consider choosing the wild variety instead of farmed. According to a report published in the journal Science, farmed salmon contain more potentially dangerous toxins than salmon caught in the wild…
How can you tell the difference between wild and farmed salmon?
The most reliable method is to ask the fish purveyor. If that's not possible, or if the seller isn't sure, check the color. You're probably familiar with the light-pink color of farmed salmon — wild salmon is a brighter, deeper shade of red. The price may also be a giveaway — farmed salmon is less expensive than wild salmon because it is more widely available.
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Menopausal women use non-medical approaches to treat their symptoms and want more support

(Wiley-Blackwell) Menopausal women prefer non-medical treatment for their symptoms and want more support from their GP and partner, finds a new study…
The study also looked at the different management strategies women adopt, from HRT to alternative therapies and social support. It found that the most common management strategy used by menopausal women was social support through talking to friends or family…
Dr Lisa Iversen…, co-author of the paper said: "We found that many women used non-medical approaches to help relieve the symptoms suggesting a large need for effective non-hormonal management options for menopausal women."…
[Journal editor John Thorp added:] "Support from healthcare workers as well as friends and family is important and women must talk to their GP if their symptoms are bothering them or affecting their day-to-day quality of life.
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Even a Little Air Pollution Raises Heart Attack Risk

(WebMD Health News) A new study shows that as little as a week in a place with high levels of air pollution raises the risk of heart attack.
The additional risk is slight compared with classic heart attack risk factors like high blood pressure, smoking, or diabetes. But researchers say it’s significant because many people are exposed to air pollution, and heart disease is the leading cause of death in industrialized countries.
“Thus, an improvement in air quality could have a significant effect on public health,” researcher Hazrije Mustafic, MD, MPH, of the University of Paris Descartes, and colleagues write
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Even moderate air pollution can raise stroke risks

(Medical Xpress) Air pollution, even at levels generally considered safe by federal regulations, increases the risk of stroke by 34 percent…
[R]esearchers who studied more than 1,700 stroke patients in the Boston area over a 10-year period found exposure to ambient fine particulate matter, generally from vehicle traffic, was associated with a significantly higher risk of ischemic strokes on days when the EPA's air quality index for particulate matter was yellow instead of green.
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