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Health Highlights: Feb. 9, 2008

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Aspirin Use Effective in Preventing Colon Cancer in Men, Latest Study Confirms

If you're a man and take at least two standard 325 milligram (mg) aspirin tablets weekly, you may be able to reduce your chances of getting colon cancer by more than 20 percent, the New York Times reports.

Reporting on a study in the January 2008 issue of the journal Gastroenterology, the newspaper said that the latest study, led by Harvard assistant professor of medicine Dr,. Howard T. Chan, confirmed earlier randomized studies indicating that prolonged aspirin use can act as a deterrent to colorectal cancer.

Men who took between 6 and 14 standard aspirin pills weekly decreased their colon cancer risk by 28 percent, and those who took more than 14 pills a week had a 70 percent decline in risk, the Times reported.

However, two cautions are important, the newspaper added. First, aspirin can be very difficult on some stomachs and can even cause intestinal bleeding. Second, the results were measured on a test group of 47,000 men over a very long time -- 18 years. The effectiveness of aspirin use occurs only after continuous use for five years or more, the Times reported.

"The results provide additional proof that a simple drug like aspirin can help prevent colon cancer," Chan told the newspaper.

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Not 'Buckling Up' More Prevalent Among the Very Obese

The more a person weighs, the less likely he or she is to wear a car seat belt, increasing the possibility of injury or death, according to a story by the Associated Press.

Led by Vanderbilt University psychologist David Schlundt, researchers from Meharry Medical College in Nashville studied 2002 information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and found a direct relationship between obesity and not buckling up when getting into the car.

"They really have a hard time getting that belt buckle over them," Schlundt told the wire service. "They have to stretch it out and then over and then some can't see the buckle."

According to the A.P., deciding not to wear a seat belt because of being overweight is more than a lifestyle decision. Schlundt's group found that only 70 percent of the very obese reported always wearing a seat belt, compared to 83 percent of those who fell into normal-weight categories.

And the latest U.S. government statistic show that more than half the people killed in automobile accidents weren't wearing their seat belts, the A.P. reports.

The research was recently published in the journal Obesity.

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Sad Shoppers Often Regret Purchases

Sad and self-focused people who attempt to increase their self-esteem by shopping tend to spend more for the same item than other people and often end up regretting their purchases, according to a U.S. study released Friday at the annual meeting of the Society for Social and Personality Psychology.

"What we think is going on is that sad and self-focused people are feeling pretty bad about themselves and have a decreased valuation of themselves. They want to enhance this valuation, and one way to do this is be acquiring material goods," said study co-author Cynthia Cryder, a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon University, Agence France-Presse reported.

These people may be seeking to boost their self-esteem by transferring the value of items to themselves. But this kind of purchase often results in later regret.

"A huge key to avoiding decision-effects like this is being aware that you're sad in the first place. But that's rather hard to do," Cryder said. "Participants in studies such as ours usually have no idea that their feelings influence their decisions, so it's impossible to correct."

She suggested people "always re-evaluate major purchases one day or one week after you make them so that you can make sure that whatever you bought is still attractive to you," AFP reported. "That lowers the probability that you'll have an over-priced mistake due to some fleeting influence that you didn't know about and still don't know about. You just know, 'Wow... why did I pay so much for that?'"

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Trek Recalls Girls' Bicycles

U.S. bicycle maker Trek has recalled about 49,000 MT220 girls' bicycles due to a risk of frame failure during use, which can cause riders to lose control and suffer injuries, said the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The company has received 13 reports of frames breaking, including four incidents that resulted in minor injuries. The recall covers MT220 bicycles from model years 2005 (light metallic blue), 2006 (metallic silver and metallic purple or pink and pearl white), and 2007 (pink and white pearl or metallic purple). The model name is printed on the frame of the bicycle. MT220 bicycles from model year 2008 are not included in the recall.

The recalled bikes were sold from April 2004 through June 2007 for about $300. Consumers should take these bicycles away from children immediately and return them to a Trek dealer for a free replacement bicycle or a $100 discount on a different size Trek bicycle.

For more information, contact Trek Bicycle Corp., of Waterloo, Wis., at (800) 373-4594.

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Merck to Pay More Than $650 Million to Settle Drug Pricing Fraud Charges

In one of the largest-ever healthcare fraud settlements, New Jersey-based Merck & Co. agreed Thursday to pay more than $650 million to resolve charges that it cheated Medicaid out of millions of dollars in discounts over eight years through routine overbilling for the arthritis drug Vioxx and the cholesterol drug Zocor, the Washington Post reported.

According to U.S. prosecutors, Merck gave the drug to hospitals at low cost in order to get poor patients used to the expensive pills. When these patients were discharged from hospital, many kept taking the drugs and the government had to pay the higher costs.

The investigation began in 2000 after a Merck district sales manager alerted federal authorities about what he believed were questionable sales tactics by the company, the Post reported.

Merck did not admit wrongdoing. It stood by its pricing strategies, but wanted to resolve the matter, according to a statement released by executives of the United States' third-largest drug maker.

As part of the settlement, the company agreed to heightened oversight by regulators for five years. Merck remains the subject of a separate grand jury investigation related to Vioxx marketing. It's also trying to reach another multibillion-dollar settlement of thousands of lawsuits filed by people who had heart attacks after taking Vioxx.

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Expanded Recall of New Era Canned Vegetables

A nationwide recall of canned vegetable products made by the New Era Canning Company of Michigan is being expanded for a third time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday. The recalled products may be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum, which produces the toxin that causes botulism. Infection with the toxin can cause life-threatening illness or death.

The recalled New Era products are large institutional-sized cans, weighing between six and seven pounds, of various types of beans, blackeye peas, and asparagus. They're marketed under ten different brand names: Classic Sysco; Code; Frosty Acres Restaurant's Pride Preferred; GFS; Kitchen Essentials; Monarch Heritage; Necco; New Era; Nugget; and Reliance Sysco.

To date, no illnesses have been reported to the FDA. Consumers should not consume these products, even if they appear to be normal, because of the potential serious risk to health. Consumers who have the affected products, or who have used them in recipes, should immediately throw the cans and food away, the FDA said.

A complete list of specific brands, products, and lot codes subject to the New Era recalls can be found at the FDA Web site. Consumers with questions can call the FDA at 1-888-SAFEFOOD.

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Posted: February 2008


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