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

Walking linked to fewer strokes

(Reuters Health) Women who walk at least three hours every week are less likely to suffer a stroke than women who walk less or not at all, according to new research from Spain.
"The message for the general population remains similar: regularly engaging in moderate recreational activity is good for your health," lead author José María Huerta of the Murcia Regional Health Authority in Spain told Reuters Health.
Past studies have also linked physical activity to fewer strokes, which can be caused by built-up plaque in arteries or ruptured blood vessels in the brain.
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Doctors Push to Add Time of Exercise to Health Records

(AP) Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation's largest nonprofit health insurance plans, made a big push a few years ago to get its southern California doctors to ask patients about exercise. Since then, Kaiser has expanded the program across California and to several other states. Now almost 9 million patients are asked at every visit, and some other medical systems are doing it, too.
Here's how it works: During any routine check of vital signs, a nurse or medical assistant asks how many days a week the patient exercises and for how long. The number of minutes per week is posted along with other vitals at the top the medical chart. So it's among the first things the doctor sees.
"All we ask our physicians to do is to make a comment on it, like, ‘Hey, good job,' or ‘I noticed today that your blood pressure is too high and you're not doing any exercise. There's a connection there. We really need to start you walking 30 minutes a day,'" said Dr. Robert Sallis, a Kaiser family doctor. He hatched the vital sign idea as part of a larger initiative by doctors groups.
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Start small to make big fitness changes

(DoctorOz.com) Q. I need to lose weight, but it never happens. I want to exercise, but I can’t seem to stay motivated. How can I get on track?
A. Start simple, and don’t be discouraged if the weight doesn’t fall off. You’re building for a lifetime of health. Your first step? Walk 30 extra minutes a day. With that 30-minute walk — or three 10-minute walks — you are doing a lot to get your health on track. After 30 days of taking 30-minute walks, you should reward yourself by buying and using a pedometer.
Then, pick a realistic, long-term goal: Ask yourself, “What can I reasonably accomplish in six to 12 months?” As you set your goal, remember: If you lose weight slowly — 1 pound a week — you increase your chances of keeping it off. And people who start a moderate activity program feel better and can slowly build up intensity and endurance. (Aim for 10,000 steps a day.)
Pick a mentor or buddy: Whether it’s a friend, nutritionist, coach or gym instructor, arrange to work toward your goal with someone who can support you. All of us need help to stay the healthy course; otherwise life’s demands, big and small, intervene.
It takes two to three weeks for a new behavior to become a habit. Apply your willpower for 14-21 days and you’ll see the rewards in a renovated life and a younger you!
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Need Fitness Motivation? There's an Avatar for That

(U.S. News & World Report) In five studies, scientists at Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab set out to test whether virtual doppelgangers would influence their owners' real-life health and fitness behavior. As it turned out, they did.
The researchers created personalized avatars using participants' photographs. In one study, people who watched their avatars running on a treadmill were more likely to exercise following the study than those who watched their avatars lounging. Watching avatars of strangers exercising didn't have the same motivating effect.
In another study, people who watched their avatar's figure get slimmer during a workout—or conversely, gain weight in connection with inactivity—were even more likely to get moving afterward. Similar experiments in which avatars ate healthy or unhealthy food, and waistlines narrowed or expanded accordingly, also spurred healthier behavior.
We feel compelled to imitate what we see, the study authors said, especially when the outcomes of the actions become more tangible…
If you don't have access to a personalized avatar, visualization might be the next best thing. "Visualization is an easy way to see ourselves practicing a certain behavior," says Jeff Brown, … a Boston Marathon psychologist.
Community: I used visualization to help quit smoking, and I’ve helped to encourage healthy behaviors by visualizing myself as a healthy, active person.
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More Tips and Research on Exercise and Fitness

(Anna Davies for YouBeauty.com) Tired of letting excuses stand in the way of nabbing that healthier, fitter body? Here, eight] solutions to common fitness resolution roadblocks.
Community: If you feel to self conscious to do what’s best for your health, I say just get over it. I have no patience for these guys, either: “Gym-shyness keeps some dudes from working out.” Or maybe you could join a gym that only allows overweight people to join: “Downsize Fitness Requires Members To Be Overweight To Join.”
(Tribune Newspapers) Creating a home gym can be intimidating and expensive. But it doesn't have to be. Forget about the bulky treadmills, the weight areas and the gigantic stair-stepper. You can create an entire home gym that's small enough to fit into a desk drawer or into a carry-on suitcase. And research backs up the effectiveness of these tools. Read on to see what good comes in these small packages.
(Orlando Sentinel) It's the start of a new year and if you're looking to get fit or improve your health, zombies on your smartphone might be a good start. Zombies, Run! is a fun app that makes the user the survivor of a zombie apocalypse. As the name implies, the undead are chasing you as you run through a park or your favorite urban setting… The Nike+Running app is one of the most comprehensive free running apps for iOS and Android… While Runtastic is better known for its running app, the developers have rolled out several companion apps for walking, cycling, sit-ups, push-ups, squats, pull-ups and more… MapMyRide is a cycling app that features an easy to use interface that logs routes, distances traveled, calories burned, elevations, and other information.. The Lift app also helps users achieve goals and improve personal habits like reading exercising, running, meditating, going to the gym, and even flossing.
(Chryso D'Angelo for Shape.com) To lose belly fat and uncover amazing abs, [Lou Schuler, co-author of The New Rules of Lifting for Abs] recommends a series of core stabilization exercises based on a training program devised by co-author and personal trainer Alwyn Cosgrove. "Core exercises like the plank help train muscles to stabilize the spine and pelvis so you can avoid back pain and improve posture, Schuler says. "They also burn more calories than crunches because they work more muscles."
(Science Daily) In a study evaluating the financial impact of providing early physical therapy for intensive care patients, researchers at Johns Hopkins found that the up-front costs are outweighed by the financial savings generated by earlier discharges from the intensive care unit and shorter hospital stays overall.
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Greek-Flavored Turkey Burgers
Bursts of feta cheese, red onion, and fresh mint add spark to these flavorful burgers.
This vegetable-packed minestrone soup recipe is inspired by a popular Weight Watchers vegetable soup recipe. It makes a big pot of soup, so keep some in the refrigerator for up to 5 days and freeze the rest of the vegetable minestrone soup in single-serve portions. That way you always have an easy, delicious vegetable soup to start your meal or to eat for lunch. Think of this vegetable minestrone recipe as a starting point for other healthy soup variations, too: toss in leftover chopped cooked chicken or whole-wheat pasta or brown rice to make it more satisfying.
Los Angeles Times:
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Green Squash Soup
This is another easy, flavorful soup that can either be a first course or a main course in a meal with salad, bread, and cheese. Eat it right away; the fresh taste of the vegetables is what makes it appealing.
Creamy Broccoli Soup
This creamy soup is made in the French "potage" style, meaning that the veggies are boiled together until tender and then puréed. But don't let the creaminess of this flavorful soup fool you: It has no cream in it! Depending on the rest of your menu, serve it as a side dish or a main. On Phase 2, you can add whole-grain toasts or croutons drizzled with olive oil.
Asian Marinated Tofu and Eggplant with Rice
You'll find some version of this dish on a number of Chinese, Malaysian, Japanese, Thai, and other Asian restaurant menus. Our healthy South Beach Diet version marinates tofu in a mixture of rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, reduced-sodium soy sauce, and toasted sesame oil, then stir-fries it until browned and crisp. The tofu is combined with sautéed eggplant and snow peas, then served over brown rice for a filling and delicious meal.
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Retail Food Inflation Projected to be Above Average in New Year

(The Supermarket Guru) Looking ahead to 2013, retail food prices are projected by USDA to rise as much as 4% as protein prices continue to escalate.
If realized, that high-end 4% level would be over a full percentage point higher than both the previous five-year average retail inflation rate of 2.94% estimated by The Food Institute as well as the prior 10-year average of 2.85%. Much of that increase is the result of higher beef and poultry prices that hit consumers in the latter part of the year.
The largest increase USDA portends, however, is for fresh vegetables, which the agency sees climbing as much as 5% this year, following price declines of a comparable amount in 2012.
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Is All Fiber Created Equal?

(Heather Bauer, RD, CDN, U.S. News & World Report) The basic rule of thumb is that soluble fiber dissolves in water and insoluble fiber does not. Soluble fiber, found in oatmeal, lentils, oranges, pears, strawberries, nuts, beans, and blueberries, helps lower cholesterol. Foods containing soluble fiber are attracted to water, so it's best to drink lots of water in order to reap nutritional benefits. Soluble fiber also delays digestion, giving you a fuller feeling.
Insoluble fiber, found in whole wheat, whole grains, wheat bran, seeds, nuts, barley, and dark leafy vegetables, speeds up the digestion process and helps control IBS symptoms. This kind of fiber is not absorbed by water and passes through your body quickly. Both types of fiber are crucial for a healthy diet.
When you introduce more fiber in your diet, do so in small portions and increase your water intake to avoid a stomachache.
Community: And as we saw the other day, a high fiber diet may also slow prostate cancer growth.
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Foods Identified as 'Whole Grain' Not Always Healthy

(Science Daily) Current standards for classifying foods as "whole grain" are inconsistent and, in some cases, misleading, according to a new study by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers. One of the most widely used industry standards, the Whole Grain Stamp, actually identified grain products that were higher in both sugars and calories than products without the Stamp.
The researchers urge adoption of a consistent, evidence-based standard for labeling whole grain foods to help consumers and organizations make healthy choices. 
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Energy drinks versus energy

(HHS HealthBeat) A study indicates energy drinks, which can have the caffeine of up to three cups of coffee, can have a boomerang effect on a person’s ability to stay awake.
At the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Robin Toblin looked at survey data on service members in Afghan war zones. She says those who had at least three energy drinks a day reported falling asleep more often on guard duty and in briefings than did troops who drank fewer.  
Toblin advises troops and civilians alike: “Use these in moderation, both in the number of drinks someone is having, as well as the size of the container, which can really range from about 8 ounces all the way to 24 ounces.”…
Learn more at healthfinder.gov.
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Caffeine spreads to more categories

(The Supermarket Guru) The Lempert Report sees the broad range of caffeine’s potential effects, and urges food makers to clearly label its caffeine content in obvious ways. We advise this because caffeine content ranges widely across beverage brands, and this could pose risk to unaware consumers who assume certain levels within a product type.  The FDA has associated energy drinks high in caffeine with deaths.
We also question the judiciousness of adding caffeine to products where it needn’t be, simply to push an “energy” claim…
In our opinion, as the snack aisle tries to get “healthier” with baked processes, olive oil and low-sodium varieties, the coffee product may actually distract from building that image. 
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Caffeine In Supplements Varies Widely

(Shots, NPR) At moderate levels, caffeine is no big deal for most people and can even have some benefits. When overdone, however, it can trigger problems, including anxiety, insomnia, headaches, tremors and heart problems…
[In a study, of] 31 supplements, only nine had labels that accurately listed the amount of caffeine they contained. The rest either didn't list an amount or listed an amount that was off the mark — in some cases wildly so.
[Dr. Pieter Cohen, the Harvard team's lead researcher,] and his colleagues found that some contained twice as much caffeine as was on the label — upwards of 400 milligrams, or as much as a 24-ounce cup of coffee. Other supplements contained only a quarter of the caffeine they claimed.
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Herbal Treatments for Postmenopausal Symptoms

(Science Daily) Herbal and complementary medicines could be recommended as an alternative to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for treating postmenopausal symptoms says a new review…
Soy is the most common plant containing estrogen, found naturally in food and supplements. Previous research has shown a reduction in hot flush symptoms with soy ranging from 20 -- 55%. Red clover, a legume also containing estrogen, and black cohosh, a plant originating from the eastern United States and Canada, have also been reported to ease postmenopausal symptoms.
The author of the review recommends these herbal treatments as there are no significant adverse side effects associated with them, as long as they are used in women who do not have a personal history of breast cancer, are not at high risk for breast cancer, and are not taking tamoxifen.
Community: Having had breast cancer, I was leery of eating soy products, but once I found out they’re probably safe, and may even reduce the risk of a recurrence, I started putting edamame on my daily salad.
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Radon Risk: Its Perils Can be Prevented

(NIH News in Health) If you’re buying a new home, the house may need to be tested for radon, depending on local laws. Although the tests aren’t required everywhere, you should insist on it. You might not be able to see or smell radon, but it can still harm you—slowly, and in ways that you can’t detect…
Radon exposure is thought to be the second leading cause of lung cancer after active smoking—and the leading cause among people who have never smoked. Scientists estimate that 15,000 to 22,000 lung cancer deaths nationwide each year are related to radon.
Scientists believe that there are no safe levels of radon in the home. The effects of being exposed accumulate over time so that it may take many years for disease to appear. NIH-funded scientists have been working to better understand the relationship between radon exposure and cancer risk.
The good news is that many radon-related lung cancer deaths can be prevented. But testing is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk.
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Medicine in a storm

(HHS HealthBeat) Don’t become a patient because you don’t have your medicine. Make it part of your go bag – a set of supplies you need during a natural disaster. If you take regular medication, you may not be able to get to the pharmacy or a medical facility for an extended period. And you don’t want to be in an emergency room when you can control it.
At HHS, Ed Gabriel tells us to plan ahead.
“So you talk to your physician and you explain to that physician what you need and what you take, and ask them to provide a little bit more of it so you can use it during a disaster. Ten days of it or so is important.”
In addition to medicines you need, include these items in your go bag: a first aid kit, warm clothing, food, water, paper towels, and more.
Learn more at healthfinder.gov.
Community: I’m not sure it makes sense to buy extra medication to keep in a go bag, considering the expense and the fact that we might forget to check the medication periodically, to see if it has gone past the expiration date. It seems to me that a better plan would be to have a checklist of things to do in case of evacuation for a storm, and that putting current medications in the go bag should be on that list.
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Insurers' 2014 Hikes Already Taking Toll

(Politico) If you work for a small business, your next health insurance premium may give you sticker shock.
Many of the small-business and individual insurance policies are working the health reform law’s 2014 fees into their 2013 bills, contributing to double-digit premium increases for some people.
All those new consumer benefits packed into the health reform law — birth control without a co-pay, free preventive care and limits on when insurers can turn down a customer — had to be paid for somehow…
Some health insurance companies are getting a jump-start, passing on those 2014 fees to consumers in policies that start in 2013.
While insurance rates have been going up for years — and not all of the new increases can be pinned to the health law — the hikes will certainly give more fuel to Obamacare critics.
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Doc Shortage May Be Smaller Than Projected

(MedPage Today) The projected shortage in the nation's primary care physician work force may be overstated, and any that does develop can be eliminated with wider adoption of EHRs and practice restructuring, a study suggests.
By working in practices of two or three doctors while shifting as little as 20% of patients to a nonphysician provider and using an EHR, "most if not all of the projected primary care physician shortage could be eliminated," according to an analysis of several scenarios published in the January issue of Health Affairs.
"Given the trend toward larger physician practices, growth in patient-centered medical homes, team-based care, and adoption of electronic health record systems encouraged by federal incentives, these operational enhancements seem entirely plausible, if not conservative," Linda Green, PhD, of the Columbia Business School in New York City, and colleagues wrote.
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Quality Reporting Program Slow to Catch On

(MedPage Today) Fewer than one in five physicians met Medicare’s new quality reporting requirements and would be exempted from financial penalties starting in 2015, a review of Medicare data showed.
A study … found that 23.7% of radiologists and 16.3% of nonradiology specialties … met the reporting requirements under the Medicare Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) in 2010..
Physicians who meet PQRS standards currently receive a 0.5% Medicare bonus payment. In 2015, those bonuses for well-performing doctors will be replaced by a 1.5% penalty for those who don't meet the standards, which jumps to 2% in 2016.
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Flu Spread Opens Hospital Wings in U.S. as Cases Rise

(Bloomberg) Hospitals in the U.S. are adding more beds and boosting staff to meet increasing admissions of patients stricken by the influenza outbreak that prompted Boston to declare a health emergency in the city…
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to release new data on the flu outbreak today as 41 U.S. states reported widespread flu as of Dec. 29…
Influenza normally causes symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, headaches and body aches, fever, chills, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. Severe cases of flu are normally seen in very young and very old people whose immune systems are too weak to fight off the virus.
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U.S. faces shortages of flu vaccine, Tamiflu treatment

(Reuters) One of the worst U.S. flu seasons in a decade has created shortages of vaccine and the Tamiflu treatment for children, raising the prospect that people considered at high risk of getting the flu might not get the protection they need.
Though shortages are not unusual, the flu's early arrival and this year's especially nasty strain mean the situation could worsen.
"People who haven't been vaccinated and want to get the vaccine may have to look in several places for it," said Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control.
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More Flu News

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Tips for preventing the flu

(Chicago Tribune) Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
Avoid touching your hands, nose or mouth…
Stay home from work, school and errands when sick to avoid spreading the virus.
Drink enough fluids.
Get plenty of sleep.
Eat nutritiously.
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Flu Fighters: Foods That May Help You Stay Well

(Appetite for Health) A healthy diet and lifestyle is known to help keep the immune system on track. Several nutrients, such as iron, zinc and selenium, are essential for a healthy immune system. Flavonoids found in tea, apples, cruciferous vegetables and other plant-based foods provide immune-boosting benefits too…
Eat your fruits and veggies. Fruits and vegetables have the most nutrients that bolster your immune system. Cruciferous veggies—broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bok choy and kale—have specific antiviral properties that may help protect you.
Spice up your life. Herbs and spices provide a lot of antiviral and immune-boosting properties too, so don’t be shy about adding more herbs and spices to your food…
Have a cuppa. Tea is among the richest sources of antioxidant flavonoids that have been shown to have positive immune response…
Get your good bugs. Enjoy a probiotic daily in the form of a container of non-fat or low-fat yogurt.
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Mushroom-Prosciutto Pizza
This simple Mushroom-Prosciutto Pizza flavored with cremini mushrooms and Italian ham can be made in just about 20 minutes.
Baked Coconut Shrimp with Tangelo Salsa
A sweet-and-sour tangelo salsa complements the toasty coconut crust on these sassy little coconut shrimp. Serve these healthy baked coconut shrimp as a plated first course with the tangelo salsa or as a passed hors d’oeuvre. Be sure to use unsweetened shredded coconut or this baked coconut shrimp recipe will be too sweet—look for it near other baking supplies or in bulk at natural-foods stores or well-stocked supermarkets.
The Supermarket Guru:
Coffee Glazed Duck
This dish has intriguing complexity, a POW of flavor, and it's very easy to make. The spaghetti squash, an oblong pale yellow vegetable, has natural "strands" when cooked making in a healthful alternative to plain spaghetti and gives a sweet nutty taste.
Tomato and Herb Frittata
This Italian-style frittata features plum tomatoes, fresh basil, and scallions, and vegetable oil spread instead of butter. Frittatas are super easy to make. The process is just like preparing an omelet, except that you finish the frittata in the oven, so it puffs up and gets golden brown on top.
Spicy Mussels with Tomato and Basil
You and your dinner companions will feel like you've been treated to a night out at a French bistro when you try our take on "moules à la Provençale." This mouthwatering mussels dish, served in a broth of sautéed garlic and onions, white wine, and crushed tomatoes seasoned with basil and spiced with red pepper flakes, is surprisingly easy to prepare. Bon appétit!
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Tomatoes, Natural Antidepressant?

(The Supermarket Guru) In a study recently published in the January issue of the Journal of Affective Disorders, researchers explored the relationship between different vegetables, including tomatoes and tomato products, and depressive symptoms in a community-based elderly population. After analyzing their health records, researchers found that those who included tomatoes in their diet regularly were less likely to have depression…
So, what is it about tomatoes? Tomatoes are an excellent source of the powerful antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene is an extremely potent antioxidant found in tomatoes, watermelon, guava, papaya, apricots, pink grapefruit, and blood oranges.
Read more.
Community: There are many practical things we can do to prevent or reduce the severity of depression.
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Hotels transform dining options for time-pressed travelers

(USA Today) In an age when time-pressed, health-conscious travelers are used to customizing their options at coffee shops and casual eateries, hotels are tweaking the type of food they prepare and where they serve it…
"People don't want to ask to be seated and be given menus," says Brad Nelson, corporate chef at Marriott International, which has nearly 3,800 properties. "They want to sit down, maybe meet for an hour and then order. They want flexibility. We can thank Starbucks for that."…
"Hotels are really trying to move away from that hotel dining room that sits empty seven nights a week," [says Scott Gerber, CEO of the Gerber Group].
Community: The hotel we stayed at recently had a section that was a bit like a food court.
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Turning the Tide on Seaweed Supplements

(Science Daily) Proving the health benefits of a new class of compounds extracted from seaweed may require undergoing lengthy trials and comparison with similar substances before they become available as food supplements…
The chemicals in seaweed that attract scientists are polyphenols, which are a large class of more than 4,000 so-called phenolic compounds typically found in vegetables and fruit. Polyphenols are thought to bring health benefits by their antioxidant activity, which counters the ill-effects of oxygen metabolism in cells such as damage to DNA.
Not only are polyphenols unique, but they are also found in high concentrations in certain brown seaweeds.
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Hypnosis for Hot Flashes

(Andrew Weil, M.D.) Here’s an interesting option for women suffering from hot flashes: hypnosis may reduce the frequency of uncomfortable waves of heat by as much as 74 percent, according to a new study…
The women in the hypnosis group had five weekly sessions with clinicians trained in hypnosis, and were given suggestions for mental images as well as audio recordings of a hypnotic induction to use during home practice… The researchers confirmed a 74 percent reduction in the number of hot flashes among the women in the hypnosis group and reported only a 17 percent reduction in hot flashes among the women in the comparison group.
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Careful Immunotherapy Reduces Allergic Patients' Sensitivity to Peanuts, Study Suggests

(Science Daily) Of all foods, peanuts are the most frequent cause of life-threatening and fatal allergic reactions. New research at National Jewish Health provides additional support for a strategy to reduce the severity of reactions to peanut -- repeatedly consuming small amounts of the very food that causes those reactions in the first place, a practice called immunotherapy.
The new research … shows that 70 percent of peanut-allergic patients who consumed daily doses of peanut protein in liquid drops could safely consume 10 times as much peanut protein as they had before the therapy. One patient's serious reaction, however, highlighted the care that must be taken to keep patients safe.
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Who is a candidate for hip replacement?

(NIH Senior Health, via email) Hip replacement surgery involves removing a damaged hip and replacing it with an artificial one. Learn why people choose to have hip replacement and what hip replacement surgery involves.
For more information, watch the short video, “Deciding to Have Hip Replacement.”
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Is There a Period of Increased Vulnerability for Repeat Traumatic Brain Injury?

(Science Daily) Repeat traumatic brain injury affects a subgroup of the 3.5 million people who suffer head trauma each year. Even a mild repeat TBI that occurs when the brain is still recovering from an initial injury can result in poorer outcomes…
"Specifically, this window of risk is greatest when the interval between injuries is short, hours to days, while any risk for increased damage is obviated when the intervals between injuries are elongated over days to weeks," says Dr. [John T.] Povlishock. It is not yet clear if these time periods of increased risk are age- or gender-specific or depend on the intensity of the initial injury.
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First Cost-Benefit Analysis of DNA Profiling Vindicates 'CSI' Fans

(Science Daily) The first rigorous analysis of the crime-fighting power of DNA profiling finds substantial evidence of its effectiveness…
DNA databases reduce crime rates, especially in categories where forensic evidence is likely to be collected at the scene -- murder, rape, assault and vehicle theft.
Estimates of the marginal cost of preventing each crime suggest that DNA databases are orders of magnitude more cost-effective than alternatives like hiring police or locking people up longer.
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Growth in Medicare Spending per Beneficiary Continues to Hit Historic Lows

(U.S. Department of Health & Human Services) Medicare spending per beneficiary grew just 0.4% per capita in fiscal year 2012, continuing a pattern of very low growth in 2010 and 2011.
Together with historically low projections of per capita growth from both the Congressional Budget Office and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Office of the Actuary, these statistics show that the Affordable Care Act has helped to set Medicare on a more sustainable path to keep its commitment to seniors and persons with disabilities today and well into the future.
The success in reducing the rate of spending growth has been achieved without any reduction in benefits for beneficiaries. To the contrary, Medicare beneficiaries have gained access to additional benefits, such as increased coverage of preventive services and lower cost-sharing for prescription drugs.
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MedPAC Again Backs Repeal of Doctor Fee Sustainable Growth Rate

(MedPage Today) The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) will once again take Congress to the woodshed on the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula by yet another demand for repeal and replacement of that universally reviled payment scheme…
"We think that left as it is, the SGR will only grow as an increasing threat to access to care with Medicare beneficiaries," MedPAC Chair Glenn Hackbarth, JD, said… "There is a growing risk that [access] could destabilize if we continue down this path of just deferring a decision on SGR."
Created in the 1990s, the SGR formula links physician reimbursement rates to increases in the gross domestic product (GDP). It was viewed as a way to limit growth in Medicare spending by holding down payment for physician services.
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Medicare announces 106 new accountable care organizations

(Boston Globe) The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced the creation of 106 more accountable care organizations Thursday…
Created under the Affordable Care Act, the program pushes doctors and hospitals to collaborate “to give people with Medicare the high-quality care they expect and deserve” and to save money for the government program that provides coverage for the elderly and disabled, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a press release…
The model gives doctors and hospitals a spending target for patient care and allows them to keep some of the savings if they come in under budget. Eventually, they also will be penalized if they spend too much. The organizations must meet certain health care quality standards.
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Walgreen approved for 3 Medicare accountable care organizations

(Chicago Tribune) Drugstore chain Walgreen Co. took another step Thursday in its transformation into a front-line health care provider when three so-called accountable care organizations it created were approved by the federal government…
The company said its pharmacists and other health care professionals would work with the physician groups to provide more efficient care and generate savings for the government, a portion of which it can keep as an incentive for keeping costs low.
Walgreen also views the accountable care organizations, or ACOs, as a way to lure more Medicare patients and provide additional health care services to them, like screenings, immunizations and acute-care services administered via its staff nurse practitioners.
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Americans Are Sicker and Die Sooner Than Peers

(Bloomberg) People in the U.S. are sicker and more likely to die earlier than peers in high-income countries, a gap that bedevils even the wealthy, the insured and those with healthy behaviors, according to a government-sponsored study…
The health gap has worsened for three decades, especially for women, and disproportionately affects children and teens, who die at higher rates from traffic accidents and homicide. For males, almost two-thirds of the life expectancy difference can be attributed to deaths before age 50, and those who reach that age arrive in poorer health than in other wealthy nations…
The disadvantage exists even though the U.S. spends more per capita on health care than any other nation, partly because of a large uninsured population and inaccessible or unaffordable medical care, according to the study. Americans also have riskier health behaviors, including being involved in more traffic accidents that involve alcohol and using firearms in acts of violence. Americans who don’t smoke and are not overweight also appear to have higher rates of disease…
The nation’s large population of recent immigrants is generally in better health than native-born Americans, according to the report.
Community: The New York Times report on this study digs deeper:
The panel sought to explain the poor performance. It noted the United States has a highly fragmented health care system, with limited primary care resources and a large uninsured population. It has the highest rates of poverty among the countries studied…
The report also explored less conventional explanations. Could cultural factors like individualism and dislike of government interference play a role? Americans are less likely to wear seat belts and more likely to ride motorcycles without helmets.
That same culture of rugged individualism is pushing us over the cliff toward becoming a third world country.
Reuters has this to say:
Overeating, lack of health insurance access and comparatively high poverty are among the many reasons why Americans are less healthy and die younger than people in other wealthy countries, a report requested by the U.S. government showed on Wednesday.
The New York Times article quoted above also said:
The rate of firearm homicides was 20 times higher in the United States than in the other countries.
See below for how our health care system is making us less safe from gun violence.
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Better Mental Healthcare Is Key to Preventing Mass Gun Violence

(Center for Revolutionary Scientific Thought) In December we added Adam Lanza to a long string of mentally ill young men alleged to have committed horrific acts of violence… What is the root cause? And what can be done?
These events keep happening because they are the product of people with severe mental illness in need of treatment. Whether induced by genetics or the environment they are in need of our best available remedies. And, in the most severe cases, they need treatment because we need to protect our society.
We can limit access to firearms and other weapons. We can attempt to increase security at places where people congregate, especially schools. These actions might prevent some incidents, but they only address contributing factors. The root cause is mental illness…
It is time that the country considers a healthcare regime that provides and mandates treatment of those affected by diseases of the mind. The pain inflicted by these individuals goes beyond their victims, affecting siblings, parents, classmates, and others in ways that caused untold pain and harm… Often, acquaintances and family members witness signs of trouble and the individual may have even sought help, but the mental health system, as it stands today, cannot cope, and does not provide nor mandate the help and treatment these unfortunate and mentally diseased individuals need.
Community: So do we increase public health spending? No, we slash it. See below. Why do we keep doing the exact opposite of what’s good for the vast majority of citizens?
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Under Tight Budgets, Public Health Spending Falls For First Time

(Kaiser Health News) Hit by recession and tight budgets, spending on public health by federal, state and local governments fell in 2011 for the first time since analysts started tracking the numbers in 1960.
“Public health is adaptable, but the resource reductions now have been so substantial that it truly does put the public’s health at risk,” said Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, an organization of public health pros. “I’m usually a little reluctant to say that, but we’re at that point.”
Research links higher public health spending with reduced rates of infant mortality, preventable deaths in adults and other measures of community health.
“We’ve got strong evidence there is a connection between resources invested in public health and health outcomes,” said Glen P. Mays, a professor at the University of Kentucky whose 2011 Health Affairs article associated a 10 percent increase in local public health spending over more than a decade with reductions in death rates of between 1 percent and 7 percent. “That suggests that cutbacks in funding, certainly over time, could have some adverse health consequences.”
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U.S. could save $2 trillion on health costs - study

(Reuters) The United States could save $2 trillion in healthcare spending over the next decade, if the U.S. government used its influence in the public and private sectors to nudge soaring costs into line with economic growth, a study released on Thursday said.
Compiled by the nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund, the study recommends holding the $2.8 trillion U.S. healthcare system to an annual spending target by having Medicare, Medicaid, other government programs and private insurers encourage providers to accelerate adoption of more cost-effective care.
Such a plan would require new legislation from a bitterly divided U.S. Congress, where Republicans would likely oppose new government controls, despite claims by the study's authors that families, employers and government budgets would receive long-sought relief from their growing financial healthcare burdens if the changes were enacted.
But Commonwealth Fund President Dr. David Blumenthal, a former healthcare adviser to President Barack Obama, said the approach could find bipartisan support in upcoming deficit talks as an alternative to cutting so-called entitlement programs including Medicare, the popular healthcare program for the elderly and disabled.
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