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Health Headlines - March 1

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Ban Darvon and Related Painkillers: Public Citizen

Citing the accidental deaths of at least 2,110 people in the United States between 1981 and 1999, the watchdog group Public Citizen has called for a ban on Darvon, Darvocet and related pain medications, the Associated Press reported.

The demand was made in a petition presented Tuesday to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which pointed out that since 1999, several hundred people have died accidentally each year after taking the pain medications and about the same number of people have used the drugs to commit suicide.

The main active ingredient in the drugs is propoxyphene, which is a relatively weak painkiller that poses an unacceptable toxic risk to patients, said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen.

"This is a black-and-white example of a drug where its risks far outweigh its benefits. There's no excuse for this drug to be around," Wolfe said.

Propoxyphene has been sold in the United States. since 1957 and Public Citizen first lobbied to have it banned in 1978, the AP reported.

The FDA has 180 days to respond to the petition, but Wolfe said his group may not wait that long before it launches legal action to get propoxyphene taken off the market.

Glycemic Index Not Effective: Study

The glycemic index, which distinguishes between "good" and "bad" carbohydrates, is not an effective method of controlling blood sugar levels and should be scrapped in favor of traditional methods of losing weight and reducing diabetes risk, such as getting more exercise and eating less, according to a University of South Carolina study.

While the glycemic index has been made popular by some diets, it's been a point of debate among dietitians and scientists. The index is a 100-point scale that measures how quickly carbohydrates enter the bloodstream as sugar. On the glycemic index, white bread scores 100 points, while foods such as apples and carrots score much lower, the Associated Press reported.

The study, which appears in the February issue of the British Journal of Nutrition, tracked 1,000 people over five years and found no significant correlation between the glycemic index and the blood sugar levels of the study volunteers.

"The glycemic index is sufficiently flawed as an index that it is not helpful for scientists or people trying to create a healthy diet," said University of South Carolina diabetes researcher Elizabeth Mayer-Davis.

State Actions Hinder Efforts to Reduce Unintended Pregnancies

While many U.S. politicians say that reducing unintended pregnancies is a national priority, budget cuts and other measures in 33 states have made it more expensive or difficult for teenage girls and poor women to get contraceptives and other birth control services, according to a report released Tuesday.

From 1994 to 2001, many states reduced funding for family planning, imposed tight controls on sex education, and passed laws that restricted access to birth control, the report said.

It was prepared by the Guttmacher Institute, a privately funded, nonpartisan research group that specializes in sexual health and family issues. This is the first report to assess the impact of state actions on reproductive health care, the Washington Post reported.

"Unintended pregnancy in the United States is twice as high as in most of Western Europe. As a direct result, abortion rates are twice or three times as high as European countries. There is no reason why abortion rates need to be as high as they are" in the United States, Guttmacher President Sharon L. Camp told the Post.

More than half the six million pregnancies in the United States each year are unintended.

H5N1 Virus Found in German Cat

The dangerous H5N1 bird flu virus has been confirmed in a cat in northern Germany, the first time that the virus has been found in an animal other than a bird in Europe, the Associated Press reported.

The cat lived on the island of Ruegen. Most of the 100 wild birds infected with H5N1 in Germany have been found on that island.

In Geneva, World Health Organization spokeswoman Maria Cheng said this was the first time she knows of an animal other than a bird being infected in Europe. Tigers and leopards were infected by H5N1 in Thailand, where they were fed chicken carcasses in a zoo.

It is not clear whether cats can pass the disease to humans, Cheng said.

In other news, the United States said late Monday that it has banned poultry and live bird shipments from France's Ain region, where H5N1 was found at a turkey farm, the AP reported.

Previously, the U.S. has banned poultry imports from countries that have had bird flu outbreaks. This latest U.S. ban does not apply to poultry and birds from other regions of France. However, Japan and Hong Kong have halted imports of all French poultry.

The World Health Organization on Monday raised its official tally of human bird flu cases worldwide to 173, including 93 deaths. Almost all human deaths from bird flu have been linked to contact with infected birds.

FDA Approves Depression Patch

The first transdermal patch for depression has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA approval was based on results of two double-blind, placebo-controlled studies of Emsam. One study found that six weeks of treatment with Emsam was more effective than placebo in relieving symptoms of major depression disorder in adults, United Press International reported.

A second trial found that Emsam was effective over an eight-week dose titration study.

The once-a-day patch works by delivering selegiline, a monoamine oxidase inhibitor or MAOI, through the skin and into the bloodstream. Emsam is designed to interact with three brain neurotransmitters that are believed to play a role in depression. The patch is not approved to treat depression in patients 17 and younger.

The final FDA approval comes two years after the agency first said the patch was "approvable." However, concerns about potential interactions with food and beverages high in tyramine -- such as salami, aged cheese, beer, and wine -- contributed to the delay in Emsam gaining final approval, MarketWatch reported.

It's believed that Emsam's active ingredient -- selegiline -- could interact with tyramine and cause a sudden, rapid increase in blood pressure. The FDA said patients who use the higher dose patches -- 9 and 12 milligrams per 24 hours -- must be advised to avoid foods and beverages high in tyramine. Patients who use the lowest dose -- 6 milligrams -- do not require any dietary restrictions, MarketWatch reported.

Food Fact:
Billions and billions served.

We're not talking about Big Macs; it's the number of people around the world who eat tofu. Tofu is an excellent source of protein and health-supportive soy isoflavones. It's also an excellent starting point for culinary creativity. Tofu comes in a range of densities: silken, soft, firm and extra firm. Firm or extra-firm tofu holds its shape when sliced. Use it for stir-fries, stews and braises. Soft and silken tofu is creamier. When pureed, tofu adds richness to dips and dressings like hummus and baba ghanoush. Smoked pressed tofu is very convenient -- it can be sliced and eaten as is in salads or sandwiches, or cooked in stir-fries and braises, and it comes in several flavors. Look for plain smoked, Thai seasoning, barbecue or lemon-garlic at your supermarket or whole-foods store.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Don't discount fitness.

Can't fit exercise into your schedule? Here's how to exercise when you shop, and buy a little extra time! Mall walking makes exercise feel less like a chore and more a part of daily life. When the weather is bad walk laps with a friend around your area mall -- a great cardiovascular workout. To find a mall-walking program in your area, contact the management office of your local mall.

FAQ of the day:
What's the best breakfast cereal?

Oddly enough, not necessarily the one with the most fiber. Breakfast cereals range from 0 to 14 grams of fiber. But you'll want one that not only contains whole grains, but has little sugar; is fat-free or low in fat; and is moderate in sodium.
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