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Health Headlines - March 5

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Experts Mixed on Diet Soda, Weight Control

Nutrition experts who are soured on soda often take a sweeter view of diet soda, which doesn't contain the sugar calories that many of them blame for weight problems.

Barbara Rolls, an author and nutrition expert at Penn State, is among its fans.

"Diet soda gives you a tool if you use it right" to wean off sweets and reduce calorie intake, she said.

However, others think it may encourage people to feel they've "earned" more dessert because they've cut calories from beverages. Although diet soda consumption is soaring, "we haven't seen the benefit" in lower rates of obesity yet, noted Dr. Louis Aronne, a Weill-Cornell Medical School nutrition expert who is president of the Obesity Society.

Harvard pediatrician Dr. David Ludwig worries that diet soda is causing "infantilization of taste buds."

Someone stepping out of a heavy metal concert can't appreciate a bird song, he said. Similarly, "if everything has to have a very intense sweetness, might that interfere with a child's or anyone's ability to appreciate another taste?" he asks.

"Broccoli, Brussels sprouts ... they just can't compete."

Over 200 Caribbean cruise ship passengers take ill

More than 200 passengers on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship and several crew members took ill with a stomach virus during a weeklong cruise, the Miami-based company said on Saturday.

Royal Caribbean International said 243 of 3,252 passengers on board the Explorer of the Seas had caught a norovirus, a common cause of infectious gastroenteritis prevalent in hospitals, nursing homes, cruise ships and other semi-enclosed environments. All those affected were treated.

Nineteen of the 1,184 crew members also took ill during the voyage, which made stops in Belize, Mexico's Yucatan and the Cayman Islands.

The vessel was due back in Miami on Sunday.

Royal Caribbean said it believed a passenger brought the virus on board.

Noroviruses are thought to affect an estimated 300 million people around the world every year, the cruise line noted.

Omega-3s May Bring On Better Mood

Heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in fish, may give a boost to behavior, mood and personality, new research suggests.

University of Pittsburgh researchers found that volunteers with lower blood levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids were more likely than others to be impulsive, to have a more negative outlook, and to report mild or moderate symptoms of depression.

Study participants with higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids were found to be more agreeable, however.

The findings were presented Friday at the American Psychosomatic Society meeting, in Denver.

"A number of previous studies have linked lower levels of omega-3 to clinically significant conditions such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, substance abuse and attention-deficit disorder," Sarah Conklin, a postdoctoral scholar with the psychiatry department's Cardiovascular Behavioral Medicine Program, said in prepared statement.

"However, few studies have shown that these relationships also occur in healthy adults. This study opens the door for future research looking at what effect increasing omega-3 intake, whether by eating omega-3 rich foods like salmon, or taking fish-oil supplements, has on people's mood," Conklin said.

Antidepressants Boost Heart Patients' Death Risk

Men and women with coronary artery disease who take antidepressants appear to be at a higher risk of dying, surprising new research suggests.

There was no ready explanation for the finding, which contradicts previous studies.

"This was an unexpected finding," said study co-author James Blumenthal, a professor of medical psychology at Duke University Medical Center. "There is no obvious explanation."

But, he added, "it is improper to conclude that antidepressants caused the patients to die."

"It contradicts what we were hoping," added Dr. Nieca Goldberg, chief of women's cardiac care at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association. "But we can't prove it one way or the other."

The research, presented Saturday at the American Psychosomatic Society meeting in Denver, showed that, even after adjusting for a variety of factors, the researchers found heart patients taking antidepressants had a 55 percent higher risk of dying than those not taking antidepressants. There was no statistical significant difference between those taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and those taking other types of antidepressants.

Previous research had found that heart patients with depression had a heightened risk of dying, possibly because depression increases the propensity of blood platelets to stick together. As a result, many physicians treat such heart patients with antidepressants to offset that risk.

One recent study found that antidepressants almost halved the risk of death or a second heart attack in people who had had a first heart attack.

That research notwithstanding, there have been few studies done on the effects of antidepressants in people with heart disease.

For this study, the Duke researchers analyzed information on 921 patients receiving a cardiac angiography to determine how blocked their coronary arteries were. Almost 20 percent of the participants were taking an antidepressant and, of those, 66 percent were taking an SSRI.

Those who were not taking antidepressants had a score of 7 on a widely used depression scale, while those on antidepressants had an average score of 11. A score of 10 or higher means the person is considered depressed, the study noted.

Over the course of three years, 21.4 percent of the patients taking antidepressants died, vs. 12.5 percent in the group not taking antidepressants.

The study does, however, have limitations, the main one being that it was not randomized.

There was also no indication whether the depressed patients had benefited at all from taking antidepressants, Goldberg said.

Duke researchers are already enrolling patients in a randomized trial to see if exercise and SSRIs affect such biomarkers of coronary artery disease as heart rate variability and platelet aggregation, or "stickiness."

"This is interesting and different from what we had thought, because we generally consider these medications to be safe," Goldberg said. "It doesn't mean we should not treat depression, but we need to understand why this happened as opposed to just making the observation that it happened."

Food Fact:
Zest for life.


Don't toss away that orange peel -- it may help protect you against cancer. Grated citrus zest -- the outmost layer of the peel, not the white pith -- includes compounds may provide health benefits, such as inhibiting development of some cancers and lowering cholesterol. Scrub the rind with warm water and a drop of soap before starting to grate. Press a piece of wax paper onto the grater to make clean-up easier; the zest accumulates on the paper instead of getting stuck in the holes of the grater. Best of all, you can use the zest for a flavor boost in low-fat baked goods, pilafs, salad dressings, marinades and fruit salads.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Want strong bones?


All it takes is 20 minutes of the right weight-bearing exercise three days per week. Activity such as walking will stimulate bone growth and prevent bone loss throughout life. Strength training, such as weight lifting, fortifies bone and can reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis.

FAQ of the day:
What's the "best" exercise?


Steve Blair of the Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research says: Instead of looking for the "best" exercise, think about the best reasons to exercise. Take weight control. If you burn more calories than you consume you'll lose weight. It doesn't matter if you do it by running, washing your car or digging in your garden. Likewise, your heart and muscles aren't picky about the activity you choose; they'll be happy whether you choose to jog or play tennis. What matters is the regular physiological stress placed on the various body systems, which results in improved fitness. Even the "best" exercise program is worthless if you won't do it. A "lesser" program that you follow regularly is much better for you than no exercise at all. The bottom line is to find any activity you enjoy that gets you up out of your chair and moving. The best exercise is the one that you like to do!
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