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Health Headlines - July 26

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:21pm

Experimental Rheumatoid Arthritis Drug Appears Effective: FDA

Roche's Actemra (tocilizumab) appears to successfully treat the joint destruction and pain that accompany moderate-to-severe rheumatoid arthritis, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Friday in documents posted on its Web site.

But the drug has been linked to serious infections and cancer -- factors an FDA panel of experts will consider at its scheduled meeting Tuesday, when it decides whether to recommend the full agency's approval of Actemra, the Wall Street Journal reported.

More than 2 million Americans have RA, the newspaper said. Although there are many other treatments, they generally are limited to relieving pain. Actemra, by contrast, targets a receptor that plays a role in RA's acute inflammatory response, which leads to destruction of cartilage and bone that can trigger disability.

The FDA isn't bound to follow the recommendations of its expert panels, but generally does.

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EPA Bans Carbofuran Residue on Food

In what's regarded as a surprise move, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it will no longer allow residue of the toxic pesticide carbofuran on domestic or imported food. The decision would effectively remove the chemical from the U.S. market, the Washington Post reported.

The EPA said Thursday it made the decision on the grounds that carbofuran residue on foods poses an unacceptable safety risk to toddlers.

The American Bird Conservancy and the Natural Resources Defense Council had been urging the EPA to forbid carbofuran residue on food because the chemical poses a threat to wildlife, as well as people, the Post reported.

"I was surprised and pleased the EPA did the right thing and followed the science. This is really a big one for workers, birds and bees," said Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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Custom Insoles Help Relieve Foot Pain

Custom-made insoles may help ease arthritic foot pain, according to researchers who conducted a review of 11 studies that included 1,332 people.

The Australian team concluded that custom foot orthoses -- insoles molded to a cast of the foot -- may reduce pain within three months in adults with rheumatoid arthritis and in children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis, United Press International reported.

Treatment with custom foot orthoses may also reduce pain in adults with highly-arched feet or prominent big toe joints, according to the review, which appears in the The Cochrane Library.

The review authors said custom orthoses were safe, but additional research is needed to better understand their effectiveness, UPI reported.

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Omega-3s May Hinder Wound Healing

Omega-3 fatty acids -- touted as being heart healthy -- may hinder the healing of acute skin wounds, suggests an Ohio State University study.

It included 30 people with blister-type wounds in the skin. Fifteen of them took fish oil supplements (a source of omega-3s) and 15 people didn't take the supplements. The researchers believed those who took the supplements would have fewer inflammatory proteins in their skin, CBC News reported.

However, it turned out that participants who took the supplements actually had more inflammatory proteins in the skin than those who didn't take the supplements. This suggests that omega-3s in the blood may increase levels of these proteins, the researchers said.

"That finding was hard to explain. These proteins may have other functions that we don't yet fully understand," said lead author Jodi McDaniel, an assistant professor of nursing, CBC News reported.

The study appears in the journal Wound Repair and Regeneration.

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Drug Companies Make Billions More Under Medicare Part D

U.S. drug companies are enjoying a taxpayer-funded windfall worth billions of dollars under Medicare's privatized Part D drug benefit program for seniors and the disabled, says a report released by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The document said that under Medicare Part D, prescription drugs cost up to 30 percent more than they do under other government programs. Moreover, drug makers have taken in $3.7 billion more than they would have under Medicaid's program for the poor, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"This is an enormous giveaway. And it has absolutely no justification," said committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who plans to introduce legislation that federal taxpayers wouldn't be charged higher prices under Medicare Part D than under Medicaid.

"The drug companies are making the same drugs. They are being used by the same beneficiaries. Yet because the drugs are being bought through Medicare Part D instead of Medicaid, the prices paid by taxpayers have ballooned by billions of dollars," the newspaper quoted Waxman as saying.

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Family, Friends May Influence Person's Weight

People with overweight family and friends may be more likely to pack on the pounds, according to a study by an international team of researchers.

They analyzed data on 27,000 people from across Europe and concluded that choices about appearance made by people around you may influence your own choices. In other words, if people around you are overweight, you may decide it's okay for you to be overweight too, BBC News reported.

"Rising obesity needs to be thought of a sociological phenomenon not a physiological one," said researcher Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick in the U.K. "People are influenced by relative comparisons, and norms have changed and are still changing."

This finding about "imitative obesity" was presented at an economics conference in the United States.

But one expert said the reasons for rising obesity rates are much more complex, BBC News reported.

"If you are surrounded by people, whether that's friends or within the family home, who are overweight, you are sharing the same environment where there is likely to be an abundance of the wrong kinds of foods," noted Dr. David Haslam, clinical director of the (U.K.) National Obesity Forum.

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Wrong Kind of Bra Can Lead to Breast Damage

Wearing the wrong kind of bra could damage a woman's breasts, warn breast biomechanics experts at the University of Portsmouth in the U.K., who tested about 50 bra designs on hundreds of women over the past three years.

Poor bra support, the researchers said, can lead to stretching of fragile ligaments in the breast, BBC News reported.

During exercise, breasts can move up to 8 inches up and down, in and out, and side to side. However, most bras provide only limited vertical support, the researchers noted.

They also said many women make the wrong choices in bras for everyday wear and suffer pain and discomfort, BBC News reported.

"Many women have strong preferences for certain styles of bra and won't buy anything else. They won't even look at anything that doesn't look like the sort of bra they are used to wearing," said study researcher Wendy Hedger.

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