Health Highlights: July 28, 2008
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
Veterans' Hot Line Prevented 1,221 Suicides in One Year
A suicide hot line launched a year ago has received calls from more than 22,000 veterans of the Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam wars and has prevented 1,221 suicides, according to U.S. government figures being released Monday.
The hot line -- created jointly by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration -- gets up to 250 calls a day, the Associated Press reported.
In addition to calls from veterans, the hot line has received tens of thousands of calls since last July from people concerned about veterans' well-being.
About one in five U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which puts them at increased risk for suicide, according to a recent RAND Corp. study, the AP reported.
Green Potatoes May Contain Harmful Toxin
Green-tinged potatoes may contain toxic glycoalkaloids that can cause serious illness in high concentrations, Indian researchers warn in a paper published online in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.
Cutting away the green parts of a potato can reduce the risk.
The researchers said glycoalkaloids are produced naturally by potatoes as protection against pests and disease, United Press International reported.
Levels of the toxin can be controlled by adopting certain pre- and post-harvest measures, such as keeping potatoes well covered with soil during growth, allowing them to mature before harvesting, avoiding harvest at very high temperatures, and minimizing exposure to light.
Diabetes Risk Higher in Men With Depression, Anxiety
Psychological distress -- including anxiety and depression -- increases a man's risk of developing type 2 diabetes, says a Swedish study that included 2,127 men and 3,100 women.
The researchers found that men with high levels of psychological distress were 2.2 times more likely to develop diabetes over a period of eight to 10 years than men with the lowest levels. No correlation between psychological distress and diabetes was found in women, BBC News reported.
The study appears in the journal Diabetic Medicine.
It was already known that stress and depression are risk factors for heart disease, and it was suspected that those same factors may play a role in diabetes, said study leader Professor Anders Ekbom of the Karolinska Institute, BBC News reported.
"The link could be the result of the way psychological distress affects the brain's role in regulating hormones or perhaps because depression influences a person's diet and level of physical activity in a negative way," said Ekbom, who noted that men and women have different coping strategies.
Regulation of 'Off-Label' Drug Use Needs Improvement, Report Says
It can take up to a year for a pharmaceutical company to correct unapproved use of one of its drugs, according to a U.S. government report prepared for Congress.
According to the Associated Press, the practice of "off-label" use of drugs -- using them to treat diseases or conditions for which they were not approved -- has long been a "gray area of medical practice."
And, the wire service says, the report prepared by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that it can take an average of seven months for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to issue a warning to the drug company. Then, according to the GAO report, it can take another four months before any corrective action is taken.
For example, Botox was first approved in 1989 to treat nervous disorders in eyelids. Although it wasn't approved for cosmetic use until 2002, hundreds of thousands of off-label wrinkle-removing treatments using Botox had already been conducted, according to the FDA.
How dangerous is off-label drug use? Dr. Randall Stafford, an associate professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, cautioned in an editorial in the April 3, 2008 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine that "off-label prescribing has become first-line therapy even in the absence of strong evidence of benefits and safety."
Dramatic Rise in Obesity Related Drugs Prescribed for Children
Obesity in U.S. children has created a market for prescription drugs normally associated with problems in adults, the New York Times reports.
Cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins, along with high blood pressure medication and even type 2 diabetes and acid reflux drugs, are being prescribed for hundreds of thousands of children, the newspaper reports.
The newspaper's findings come less than a month after the American Academy of Pediatrics -- a leading childhood physicians' organization -- had recommended that statins be given to some obese children at age 8.
The newspaper polled doctors about the number of prescription drugs in categories related to obesity that were being prescribed for young people and was told that the sale of these drugs accounted for less than 1 percent of all prescriptions in those categories. Nevertheless, the percentage increase over a seven-year period was dramatic, according to the Times.
For instance, one pharmaceutical prescription service reported that the greatest increase occurred in drugs for Type 2 diabetes, with a 151 percent hike over seven years, the newspaper reported. Children's acid reflux prescriptions -- associated with obesity -- showed a 137 percent increase, the Times reported.
Nevertheless, many physicians interviewed by the Times still emphasized diet and exercise as the best way to bring obesity under control. "I worry that some providers and some families are looking for the quick fix, and are going to want to start medication immediately," Dr. Russell L. Rothman, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University, is quoted as saying.
Restaurant Trans Fats Ban Becomes Law in California
In what may be developing as a trans-continental competition to promote healthier eating, California has become the first state to ban restaurants from using trans fats for cooking.
A week ago, New York City became the first city in the United States to require major restaurant chains to post calorie content for all menu items. New York banned trans fats from being used by its restaurants last year.
According to the Associated Press, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation on Friday that ends restaurants' use of oils, margarine and shortening that contain trans fats, which have been linked to coronary artery disease.
The new law won't take effect until 2010, although trans fats have already been banned from being used in preparing food in California schools, the wire service said. Violation of the the law can result in fines of between $25 and $1,000, according to the AP.
Posted: July 2008