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Stroke risks also linked to mental decline
November 7th, 2011
04:44 PM ET

Stroke risks also linked to mental decline

If you’re at risk for a stroke, you're more likely to suffer from mental decline, according to a study published Monday in the journal Neurology.

“Our take-home message is identifying and treating high blood pressure is very important in preserving brain health,” said Dr. Frederick. W. Unverzagt, professor of psychiatry at Indiana University School of Medicine.

Unverzagt and his colleagues found high blood pressure and other risk factors including diabetes, cigarette smoking and prior heart disease were good predictors of those most likely to develop cognitive impairment. Each 10mm increase in systolic blood pressure  (the top number) increased the risk by 4%, the study found.

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Anti-PVC push in health care grows
November 4th, 2011
05:39 PM ET

Anti-PVC push in health care grows

Hospitals and public health professionals are pushing to find alternatives to soft-plastic PVC found in IV bags, tubing, neo-natal masks – even flooring and carpeting.

These products are softened with additives called plasticizers. Most often, these plasticizers contain phthalates, which have been restricted in toys in the United States because of fears they disrupt the delicate body’s delicate chemical signaling system.

The American Public Health Association this week passed a resolution urging facilities such as hospitals, schools and nursing homes reduce the amount of PVC they use, especially with phthalates.

“These additives have toxic characteristics and are gradually released posing risks to infants, children and other vulnerable populations,” the APHA said in its resolution.

The APHA counts among its 25,000 members federal, state and local public health officials, epidemiologists, academics and others.

“This is an issue whose time has come,” said Brenda Afzal of the APHA’s governing council. “There is a preponderance of evidence that this is a problem.”

Allen Blakey, a spokesman for the Vinyl Institute, a trade organization, said the resolution was misguided.

"I think it’s based on old, outdated information - misinformation. I don't think it reflects at all what science is saying about PVC. I think I would call it more of a political document than a public health document," Blakey said.

The resolution comes on the heels of a move by five large purchasing companies representing 1,100 hospitals and $135 billion in buying power to push manufacturers of medical products to make them with safer chemicals.

The group, called Practice Greenhealth, agreed in October to ask all suppliers a series of questions including whether their products contain PVC.

“I think it’s going to be one of the products that over the next five to ten years the health care sector is going to want to phase out, as it did mercury (in thermometers), and it will stimulate significant innovation toward safer and more sustainable plastics,” said Gary Cohen, president and co-founder of Health Care Without Harm, which organized the coalition of hospital purchasing companies.

Cohen noted that companies had already developed PVC-free IV bags and tubing and pointed to several large hospital chains as signs PVCs days are numbered.

Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health plans, has committed to eliminated PVC from its hospitals. Kaiser Permanente spends $1 billion a year on medical products and equipment alone.

Catholic Healthcare West in 2005 converted its 30 hospitals to PVC and phthalate free IV bags and tubing.

Blakey, of the Vinyl Institute, said PVC remained the most widely used material in blood bags and tubings.

"It's just got great properties. It's flexible. It's kink resistant. It can be steam sterilized. It can be frozen," Blakey said.

Every year, almost 15 billion pounds of PVC are produced in the United States for pipes, building materials and a myriad of other uses. In consumer goods, it's marked with the recycling code #3.

Production of PVC results in emissions of vinyl chloride, classified by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services as a known human carcinogen. Incineration of PVC waste releases chemicals called dioxins, also carcinogens.

A growing body of research has found phthalates, used to soften PVC, are linked to health problems.

Among them:

A Columbia University study published in September finding prenatal exposure to phthalates linked to decreased mental and motor development at age three.

In its resolution, the American Public Health Association cited studies linking phthalate exposure to asthma and reproductive problems.

The resolution urged local, state and federal governments to educate administrators and purchasing staff “about PVC hazards and safer alternatives in schools, day care centers, medical care facilities, nursing homes, public housing, facilities for special needs and the disabled, and other facilities with vulnerable populations.”


A drink a day increases breast cancer risk
November 1st, 2011
03:00 PM ET

A drink a day increases breast cancer risk

Even moderate drinking increases a woman’s breast cancer risk, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The research found as few as three to six glasses of wine a week increased the chance of developing breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer rose with the amount of alcohol consumed, the study found, with the best measure of risk being a woman’s cumulative alcohol consumption throughout her lifetime.

“This study doesn’t tell women, ‘Don’t drink at all,’” said Dr. Wendy Chen, lead author and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “It’s really what someone does on average over a long period of time, not what they did this past month, not what they did this past year.”

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CDC: Heart disease prevalence down
October 13th, 2011
03:00 PM ET

CDC: Heart disease prevalence down

The prevalence of heart disease in the United States is declining, though rates vary widely depending on gender, race, education and geography, according to new figures released by the government.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the prevalence of coronary heart disease decreased from 6.7% to 6.0% from 2006 to 2010. The results, based on a national telephone survey, were published Thursday in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

"That’s a very significant decline, from 6.7% to 6%  in five years,” said Dr. Jerome Cohen, a board member of the National Lipid Association and professor emeritus in preventive cardiology at St. Louis University.

“The bottom line is good news and bad news,” Cohen added. “It shows what we can do [with treatment]. How we can do better is also shown by the wide disparities.”

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October 13th, 2011
12:01 AM ET

Healthier foods earn healthier profits

Foods that are good for the waistline are also good for the bottom line.  That’s the conclusion of a report out Thursday from the Hudson Institute, a non-partisan policy research organization.

The Hudson Institute’s Obesity Solutions Initiative found the food and beverage companies with the most “better for you” products grew faster, had higher profits and superior shareholder returns over the last five years.

Hank Cardello, a former food company executive and lead author, said the report was the first to look at profitability of healthier products in terms CEOs can understand.

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Test may be better gauge of heart attack risk
October 10th, 2011
02:00 PM ET

Test may be better gauge of heart attack risk

A growing number of patients should consider blood tests that go beyond the standard cholesterol numbers to gauge their risk for heart disease, an expert panel says.

Patients considered at intermediate risk for heart disease, perhaps the majority of the population, should be tested for C-reactive protein, a panel of specialists concluded in the current Journal of Clinical Lipidology.

Total cholesterol, LDL and HDL do not do as well predicting heart attack and stroke risk in patients with diabetes or metabolic syndrome, especially if those patients are already taking a cholesterol-lowering statin medication, said Dr. Michael H. Davidson, who headed the 17-member panel.

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MRSA in U.S. becoming resistant to over the counter ointment
September 14th, 2011
03:00 PM ET

MRSA in U.S. becoming resistant to over the counter ointment

Frequent use of over-the-counter anti-bacterial ointments in the United States may be leading to a new, antimicrobial resistant strain of MRSA, a study published Wednesday in Emerging Infectious Diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s monthly peer-reviewed journal.

Japanese researchers made the finding after testing 259 MRSA strains for susceptibility to bacitracin and neomycin, two of the antibacterial ingredients commonly found in over-the-counter ointments like Neosporin and Polysporin. Resistance to bacitracin and neomycin was only found in USA300, a type of MRSA found in the United States.

Masahiro Suzuki, with the Aichi Prefectural Institute of Public Health in Nagoya, Japan, said the triple antibiotic ointment is rarely used outside North America. That led his research team to conclude there may be a link between the frequent use of the over-the-counter treatment and the this MRSA strain becoming antibiotic-resistant.

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Bran, soy help cut cholesterol
August 23rd, 2011
05:13 PM ET

Bran, soy help cut cholesterol

Editor's note: Tune in as Dr. Sanjay Gupta explores the signs, tests and lifestyle changes that could make cardiac problems a thing of the past on "The Last Heart Attack," Saturday, August 27, 8 and 11 p.m. ET on CNN.

Researchers in Canada have shown that a special cholesterol-lowering diet works well – even with only two nutritional counseling sessions over six months.

Making dietary changes like eating oat bran for breakfast, drinking soy milk instead of dairy, soy burgers in place of hamburgers, and fruit and nuts instead of a full lunch prompted a double-digit drop in both total cholesterol and LDL or "bad" cholesterol.

The study was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Lead author Dr. David Jenkins, Canada research chair in nutrition and metabolism at the University of Toronto and St. Michael's Hospital, had previously shown the effectiveness of a cholesterol-lowering diet when all the meals were provided to participants.

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Kids' car seat tests reveal chemicals
August 3rd, 2011
12:34 PM ET

Kids' car seat tests reveal chemicals

More than half of 2011 model children’s car seats contain one or more potentially hazardous chemicals, but the seats fared far better than previous years, healthystuff.org found.

Healthystuff.org, a project of the environmental non-profit The Ecology Center, found “chemicals of concern” in 60% of the more than 150 seats tested, including brominated flame retardants, arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury.

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EPA proposes new standards for PVC plants
April 25th, 2011
05:00 PM ET

EPA proposes new standards for PVC plants

 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed stronger air emissions standards for polyvinyl chloride production facilities in an effort to improve the air quality and health in communities nearby.

The standards would require these plants to reduce emissions of such potentially carcinogenic chemicals as vinyl chloride and dioxin.

“In particular, children are known to be more sensitive to the cancer risks posed by inhaling vinyl chloride,” the EPA said in a news release announcing the proposed standards.

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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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