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March 22nd, 2010
08:00 PM ET

You can be your own fountain of youth

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

Since the days of Ponce de Leon, people have been looking for the fountain of youth and ways to live longer. Now more and more doctors are saying each individual has the power to prolong his or her life. It just takes good health decisions and some discipline. That means eating right, getting up off the couch and giving up cigarettes, if you smoke.

To back up these theories, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington looked at four preventable health factors: Smoking, high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose, and obesity and how those behaviors affect our longevity. The scientists picked these four factors because according to statistics they're responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in the U.S. each year from chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers and diabetes. The study investigators felt that by looking at how these risk factors affect mortality and life expectancy public health officials could better address how to improve the nation's health and to reduce chronic public health conditions.

For their study, researchers used 2005 data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and an extensive review of epidemiological studies on the effects of these factors. They estimated the number of deaths that would have been prevented in 2005 if the four risk factors had been reduced.

They found statistics showed that when the four factors were present, the life expectancy of Americans was cut by 4.9 years in men and 4.1 years in women.

When breaking it down by each factor, doctors found smoking cut life expectancy the most. Men who smoked took two and half years off their lives, while female smokers took off a little less than two years. High blood pressure was also a big factor, cutting out a year and half of life from a man with hypertension and 1.3 years from women who suffered from high blood pressure. Those who had high body mass indexes, an indicator of obesity, cut out 1.3 years from their lifespans, while those with high blood glucose, or high blood sugar, cut their lives by half a year in men and about three months in women.

According to the researchers, as a result of these patterns, smoking, high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose and overweight and obesity account for almost 20 percent of disparities in life expectancy across the U.S. These four factors also accounted for three-quarters of the events in cardiovascular deaths, and up to half of the incidents of cancer mortality.

"This study demonstrates the potential of disease prevention to not only improve health outcomes in the entire nation but also to reduce the enormous disparities in life expectancy that we see in the U.S.," said Majid Ezzati, associate professor of international health at the Harvard School of Public Health and senior author of the study.

The study appears in the March 23, 2010 issue of the open-access journal PLoS Medicine. It is the first study to look at the effects of those four preventable risk factors on life expectancy throughout the U.S.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

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Filed under: Cancer • Exercise • Longevity • Smoking

March 22nd, 2010
11:54 AM ET

Nanotech cancer treatment shown to work in humans

By Elizabeth Landau
CNN.com Health Writer/Producer

Nanotechnology has been generating a lot of excitement in the cancer research community. Scientists at institutions worldwide have gotten involved in looking at how tiny particles, specially designed to target cancer in the body and treat it, might work better than taking a regular drug. That's because targeted therapies would not harm healthy cells, reducing the toxic side effects seen in chemotherapy drugs.

After decades of work in animal models, there is now evidence that the approach works in humans. A paper published Sunday in the journal Nature shows that nanoparticles can successfully home to proteins associated with cancer progression, deliver medication, and turn off those proteins.

This is the first study to show that this particular method, using a mechanism called RNA interference, works in humans, said Gayle Woloschak, professor of radiology, and cell and molecular biology, at Northwestern University, who was not involved in the study.

But the study, led by Mark Davis at California Institute of Technology, is preliminary. It looked at three patients with melanoma, a form of skin cancer. Because only one of the patients consented to the biopsies due to all of the analysis, the researchers have conclusive evidence that the therapy – and not any previous treatment the patient may have had – was responsible for reducing the cancer-related protein in that patient, Davis said.

But the study showed targeting – that the nanoparticles got inside the tumor cells – in all three patients, Davis said. The more nanoparticles sent into the body, the more of these tiny structures get into the tumor cells, he said.

Although this is a small sample of participants, the study is still very important to show how the new technology works in humans, Woloschak said.

Particles used in this study were about 70 nanometers across, smaller than most viruses, Woloschak said. The therapy was injected directly into the patients' bloodstreams.

Researchers also demonstrated that a large number of different materials can be put together by using nanoparticles as scaffolds. This study used a tumor targeting agent and an anti-cancer therapy, but future possibilities include an imaging agent "so that a tumor can be observed as it is progressing through therapy," she said.

Results from the clinical trial associated with Davis' study will be presented at the meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in June.

Largely, the idea of targeted nanoparticles as cancer treatments has been shown to work in animals, but not humans. Last year CNNHealth reported on  the buzz on "nanobees," which use this method, as well as other concepts in the works. Read more about that here.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


March 22nd, 2010
11:52 AM ET

Keeping fit, on and off the track

By Matt Sloane
CNN Medical Producer

Eating well at a NASCAR track is somewhat like trying to sleep at a rock concert - possible with the right determination and equipment, but very difficult. That is why many NASCAR drivers, roadies and fans don't exactly fall into the "fit" category. But at the #99 trailer, things are a little bit different. (Watch Video)

Carl Edwards works hard on and off the track to keep fit.

Carl Edwards works hard on and off the track to keep fit.

"We make a concerted effort," said Carl Edwards – one of the fittest drivers at the track. "Our guys, the truck drivers have a list of grocery items we buy. Instead of buying candy and donuts, it’s Kashi bars and dried fruit."

Outside the trailers, drivers and their crews are confronted with a fantastic selection of french fries, half-racks of ribs and cheesy nachos around each corner.

"You can walk up and down pit lane and you can get anything you want to eat, including fried Twinkies," Edwards said, "but you have to make that one extra little bit of effort to stay healthy."

As with any successful “diet'” plan though, Carl says, eating well is only half of the battle.

"Exercise is really tough on the road," said Edwards. "The number one thing I do is I try and choose a hotel with some sort of workout room, or before I get there, I go on Google maps and I look for a park or something nearby."

But, you might be asking: Why does someone who drives a car for a living need to stay fit?

"Our races are grueling. They're 500 miles, sometimes they go on for four or five hours, and it's uncomfortable," he said. "That that race will be over, and once its over, you better have laid everything out on the table because you can't go do it again."

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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