iStock_000022086164_MediumWhat in the world is an ultraprocessed food and what does it have to do with your health?  Lots, a study in the BMJ asserts, and Rick and I agree on PodMed this week.  Let's start first with their definition: ‘ultraprocessed foods’ (formulations of several ingredients which, besides salt, sugar, oils and fats, include food substances not used in culinary preparations, in particular, flavours, colours, sweeteners, emulsifiers and other additives used to imitate sensorial qualities of unprocessed
or minimally processed foods and their culinary preparations or to disguise undesirable qualities of the final product).  Hmmm.  I simplify this to a foodstuff capable of surviving a nuclear blast unscathed, and we all know which foods those are, perhaps even having some of them in our very own kitchen cabinets, where they've resided for several years. Okay, what about the health risk? Turns out that NHANES data reveal that ultraprocessed foods comprise a whopping almost 60% of the average American diet, and provide us with 90% of our consumption of added sugars.  Since said sugars are linked in many studies to obesity and its host of nasty health consequences, as well as high blood pressure, stroke, coronary artery disease and the more pedestrian dental caries, the WHO recommends reducing consumption.  Et voila! Simply eliminate those ultraprocessed consumables and all will be well.  Rick and I would also like to thank the authors for expanding our vocabulary.

Other topics this week include long term results of peanut feeding to infants in NEJM, and a look at incompatible kidney recipients in the same journal. Finally, we example the obesity paradox in Annals of Internal Medicine.  Until next week, y'all live well.

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iStock_000055567080_MediumThe United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has agreed that there is insufficient evidence to recommend vision screening for older adults in primary care settings, as published in JAMA.  Hmmm, Rick and I muse on PodMed this week.  We agreed that our a priori assumption would have been that of course, screening in such a place would  make sense: the primary tool is low-tech and easily administered, it has a high detection rate, and it doesn't cost much (a vision chart).  Yet after reviewing a plethora of studies the task force concluded that there just isn't enough research demonstrating benefit to go forward.  This against a backdrop of rather substantial burden of disease:

"In 2011, about 12% of US adults aged 65 to 74 years and 15% of those 75 years or older reported having problems seeing, even with glasses or contact lenses.1 The prevalence of AMD is 6.5% in adults older than 40 years and increases with age (2.8% in those aged 40-59 years and 13.4% in those aged ≥60 years).2About half of all cases of bilateral low vision (ie, best-corrected visual acuity of <20/40) in adults 40 years and older are caused by cataracts. The prevalence of cataracts increases sharply with age; an estimated 50% of US adults 80 years or older have cataracts.1 The prevalence of hyperopia requiring a correction of +3.0 diopters or more ranges from about 5.9% in US adults aged 50 to 54 years, to 15.2% in adults aged 65 to 69 years, to 20.4% in adults 80 years or older.1"

Rick confides that clinically, he recommends all his patients have an eye exam yearly.  Yet I wonder what percentage of those patients actually act on that recommendation, especially if their vision compromise is invisible to them (sorry!)? We look forward to more study in the future.

Other topics this week include the relationship between Zika virus infection and Guillain-Barre syndrome in the Lancet, and two from NEJM: labor induction in older first-time moms, and long term survival among those who've experienced a childhood cancer.  Until next week, y'all live well.

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iStock_000086115007_MediumShould you vaccinate your early adolescent children for HPV, or human papilloma virus?  The answer has been yes for some time, but now, as Rick and I discuss on PodMed this week, a study in Pediatrics has shown convincingly that young women who are vaccinated experience far fewer HPV infections than those who aren't vaccinated, and that translates down the road into fewer precancerous lesions and frank cancers of the cervix.

Researchers crunched data from NHANES, that nationally representative, ongoing study of many of our health habits, and found that the rate of infection with HPV dropped by 64% in young women 14 to 19 years of age. The drop was seen in the 4 specific types of HPV covered with the vaccine but not in other common types. Rates of infection among older cohorts with less vaccine coverage experienced commensurate drops. Rick and I agree that this is proof positive that the vaccine eliminated infection with HPV, which is known to cause cancer.  Clearly those parents who'd like to prevent cancer in their children, boys as well as girls, should have their children vaccinated.  Now the HPV vaccine provides coverage against 9 types of the virus so is even more effective in preventing cancers.  No more excuses, we say.

Other topics this week include a step down in ovarian cancer treatment and discontinuing aspirin before cardiovascular surgery in NEJM, and how acute respiratory distress syndrome or ARDS is managed worldwide in JAMA.  Until next week, y'all live well.

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iStock_000002132182_MediumIn our seemingly endless quest for eternal youth, testosterone supplements have occupied a place for older men, but do they really have any impact?  That's the subject of a study in NEJM Rick and I talk about on PodMed this week, and the results don't make a compelling case to use the stuff, in this case, testosterone gel.  What did they do in the study?

A total of 790 men with a serum testosterone measurement of less than 275 ng/dl were randomly assigned to either daily testosterone gel or a placebo gel for one year, with the objective of keeping testosterone levels in the midrange of normal for men 19 to 40 years old in those who received the testosterone. All of the men were 65 years of age or older, and none had health conditions that would contraindicate use of testosterone.  It's worth noting, as we do in the podcast, that finding that number of men among those screened was like the proverbial needle in a haystack: over 51,000 men were screened to yield this relatively small number with established low testosterone levels. Among the men who were on the testosterone gel in this study, they did report improved sexual activity, including improved desire and erectile function. Effect sizes were low to moderate, as they were for some measures of physical function and mood.  There were no adverse cardiovascular events but we wonder if the trial continued longer if some might emerge.  In sum, seems like men who have established low testosterone levels might choose to use the gel if their sexual function was very important to them.

Other topics this week, all from NEJM, include Ebola virus management in the US and Europe, use of pioglitazone in folks who've had a stroke, and a look at carotid endarterectomy or stent placement in people with carotid stenosis but without symptoms.  Until next week, y'all live well.

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iStock_000073325415_MediumOkay, so I admit it.  Sometimes Rick picks something for PodMed I shake my head about, and this study, published in NEJM, was one of them.  What's the broad applicability of the choice of topical agents to disinfect the skin previous to an incision in women about to undergo C-section? Here's what's great about my job: I continuously have the opportunity to become educated, and this is a stellar example.  Turns out that choosing a chlorhexidine-based agent rather than an iodine-based one results in about half the number of skin infections in women who have this operation.  And since the average cost of treating such an infection is about $3500, that's a significant savings, let alone avoiding interruption in care to the infant and morbidity for the mom.

This single site study randomized over 1100 women to use of chlorhexidine or iodine based solutions for skin swabbing prior to Cesarean section.  Nationally this population alone is significant; C-section is the most common surgical procedure among US women, with more than 1.3 million taking place in 2013. Reducing infections is obviously a great outcome, and Rick and I agree that as results of this study are promulgated, use of chlorhexidine-based scrubs will no doubt be employed in many other procedures.

Other topics this week include relaxing surgical resident work hours, also in NEJM, and update on Zika virus, and questionable trial results for rivaroxaban in the BMJ.  Until next week, y'all live well.

 

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iStock_000068289239_MediumMany people really aren't interested in having screening colonoscopy, even though the procedure has been shown to catch many cases of colorectal cancer as well as precancerous polyps early, so treatment is facilitated and survival improves.  But now a study Rick and I discuss on PodMed this week and published in Annals of Internal Medicine demonstrates the utility of a mail-in fecal sample to perform initial screening for colorectal cancer in a large group of adults, with impressive results.  As I quip in the podcast, here's a potential role for the United States Postal Service in health care!

Over 300,000 people fifty to seventy years of age were offered initial screening using fecal immunochemical testing (FIT), using a mail-in card with a self-collected fecal specimen.  The majority remained in the program for up to four subsequent rounds for up to four years of follow-up.  The technique was able to detect just over 80% of those with colorectal cancer after the first round of screening, with slightly reduced detection rates in subsequent rounds. Rick and I opine that over the years we've seen detection improve with fecal specimens and different techniques, and predict that trajectory will continue, rendering such a method for screening much less invasive, expensive and time-consuming for all concerned.  Taken together with another study we discussed this week in JAMA Internal Medicine on mailed nicotine patches and their efficacy in helping smoking cessation, the US Postal Service might stay afloat!

The other two studies we discuss this week are in JAMA: the USPSTF guidelines on depression screening, and malpractice claims in NEJM.  until next week, y'all live well.

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iStock_000062992601_MediumYou've no doubt heard by now of our latest mosquito-borne scourge: Zika virus.  Rick and I discuss what's known so far on PodMed this week, per a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alert.  And even as we ponder nomenclature for emerging viruses we also wonder at where the critters are hiding before they come to our awareness, and wreak havoc on fetuses of women who have the ill fortune to become infected. What do we know so far?

Zika virus is transmitted by our friend the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is also credited with transmission of dengue and chikungunya.  The bug bites day or night, and the best protections include staying indoors in the AC or screened-in places, long sleeves and pants, repellent use and so on.  For women who are pregnant the agency recommends against travel to any area where the infection is active, and notes that women can be infected at any stage of pregnancy.  Pregnant or not, about 80% of those who are infected are asymptomatic, and even those who with symptoms experience nonspecific ones.  Thus the CDC recommends that any pregnant woman who has traveled to these areas be screened for possible Zika virus infection, with ultrasonography for follow up in order to detect microcephaly or intracranial calcifications. No doubt we'll all learn more as the medical sleuths get underway.

Other topics this week include PT and Parkinson's disease in JAMA Neurology, afib in women in the BMJ, and a theme issue on oncology end of life issues in JAMA.  Until next week, y'all live well.

 

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Probiotic pills conceptCan probiotics help stave off the development of type 1 diabetes in infants at risk to develop the condition?  In a provocative study in this week's JAMA Pediatrics Rick and I talk about on PodMed  this week, the answer seems to be yes, at least in those with a specific mutation. Researchers gathered data from almost 7500 children at risk to develop type 1 diabetes from six clinical centers, three in the US and three in Europe.  Blood samples to assess antibody development to islet cells of the pancreas, one target of autoimmunity in the disease, were collected every 3 months when the children were between 3 and 48 months of age and then every six months thereafter. The cohort was stratified with regard to consumption of probiotics as this is common practice in Europe but not in the US. The data showed that those children who had one genotype, called DR3/4, and who consumed probiotics were at a greater than 60% reduced risk for developing diabetes compared to those not exposed but who had the same genotype. Pretty powerful stuff, in my mind, and well worth assessing in a prospective, randomized fashion. Now for finding an effective intervention for all those other at risk!

Other topics this week include a JAMA study showing that one-third of adult cancers may be due to inherited genes, JAMA Pediatrics on influencing food choices in middle and high school students, and the true value of cancer screening tests in the BMJ.  Until next week, y'all live well.

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iStock_000022047429_MediumChronic lymphocytic leukemia, abbreviated CLL in medical parlance, may have met its match with a new drug described in NEJM that Rick and I discuss on PodMed this week.  And since CLL affects mostly older individuals, a burgeoning population both domestically and globally, this is good news indeed.

The drug is called ibrutinib, and it is the first-in-class inhibitor of an enzyme known as Bruton's tyrosine kinase. The enzyme is known to be essential in survival and proliferation of immune cells gone awry in this type of blood cancer. Previous studies utilized ibrutinib along with other agents in people who had relapsed, or as primary therapy in patients having a specific genetic abnormality. This study used the drug in older, previously untreated patients. A total of 269 treatment naive subjects with CLL were randomized to either ibrutinib or chlorambucil. Improvements were seen in progression-free survival, overall survival, response rate, and hematologic variables.  Additionally, the oral agent was well-tolerated and associated with relatively mild side effects, including nausea, cough, diarrhea and fatigue, with 87% of patients in the ibrutinib group continuing to take the medication. Bill Nelson, director of the Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, calls this study practice-changing, and Rick points out in the podcast that among this group of people, who frequently have at least one other medical condition, the arrival of an effective agent with few side effects is terrific.

Other topics this week include CDC recommendations of opioid prescribing, a failure to counsel young women who are taking drugs associated with fetal malformations about contraception in Pediatrics, and use of electric fields in glioblastoma treatment in JAMA. Until next week, y'all live well.

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iStock_000061359348_MediumDoes being generally unhappy make you more likely to die?  Many people, ranging from new age types to medical professionals, have extolled the virtues of a positive outlook on improving health outcomes to actually  avoiding developing health problems in the first place. Indeed, our culture of happiness is so entrenched that some studies have reported cancer patients feeling guilty about their negative stance on life and its impact on their disease.  Now, as Rick and I discuss on PodMed this week and as published in the Lancet, comes a study that seems to dispel this relationship.

This investigation was part of the UK Million Women Study. Subjects were queried on feelings of stress, control. relaxation, health, and happiness.  One in six reported unhappiness, with smoking, lack of exercise, not living with a partner, and poor health associated with unhappiness.  Ten years later, after correcting for the lifestyle and health factors that were already present, the death rate for those who rated themselves unhappy was the same as that for those who identified as happy. Researchers explain this finding as a failure of previous studies to account for the impact on poor health on happiness.  As for Rick and me, we're adopting the mien 'don't worry, be happy' for 2016.  Other topics this week include too much measurement of hemoglobin A1c in those with type 2 diabetes in the BMJ, androgen deprivation and dementia risk in JCO, and a new drug for sickle cell disease in NEJM.  Until next week, y'all live well.

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