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Health Highlights: July 26, 2008

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

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 A.P.


Experimental Rheumatoid Arthritis Drug Appears Effective: FDA

Roche's Actemra (tocilizumab) appears to successfully treat the joint destruction and pain that accompany moderate-to-severe rheumatoid arthritis, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Friday in documents posted on its Web site.

But the drug has been linked to serious infections and cancer -- factors an FDA panel of experts will consider at its scheduled meeting Tuesday, when it decides whether to recommend the full agency's approval of Actemra, the Wall Street Journal reported.

More than 2 million Americans have RA, the newspaper said. Although there are many other treatments, they generally are limited to relieving pain. Actemra, by contrast, targets a receptor that plays a role in RA's acute inflammatory response, which leads to destruction of cartilage and bone that can trigger disability.

The FDA isn't bound to follow the recommendations of its expert panels, but generally does.


EPA Bans Carbofuran Residue on Food

In what's regarded as a surprise move, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it will no longer allow residue of the toxic pesticide carbofuran on domestic or imported food. The decision would effectively remove the chemical from the U.S. market, the Washington Post reported.

The EPA said Thursday it made the decision on the grounds that carbofuran residue on foods poses an unacceptable safety risk to toddlers.

The American Bird Conservancy and the Natural Resources Defense Council had been urging the EPA to forbid carbofuran residue on food because the chemical poses a threat to wildlife, as well as people, the Post reported.

"I was surprised and pleased the EPA did the right thing and followed the science. This is really a big one for workers, birds and bees," said Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.


Custom Insoles Help Relieve Foot Pain

Custom-made insoles may help ease arthritic foot pain, according to researchers who conducted a review of 11 studies that included 1,332 people.

The Australian team concluded that custom foot orthoses -- insoles molded to a cast of the foot -- may reduce pain within three months in adults with rheumatoid arthritis and in children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis, United Press International reported.

Treatment with custom foot orthoses may also reduce pain in adults with highly-arched feet or prominent big toe joints, according to the review, which appears in the The Cochrane Library.

The review authors said custom orthoses were safe, but additional research is needed to better understand their effectiveness, UPI reported.


Omega-3s May Hinder Wound Healing

Omega-3 fatty acids -- touted as being heart healthy -- may hinder the healing of acute skin wounds, suggests an Ohio State University study.

It included 30 people with blister-type wounds in the skin. Fifteen of them took fish oil supplements (a source of omega-3s) and 15 people didn't take the supplements. The researchers believed those who took the supplements would have fewer inflammatory proteins in their skin, CBC News reported.

However, it turned out that participants who took the supplements actually had more inflammatory proteins in the skin than those who didn't take the supplements. This suggests that omega-3s in the blood may increase levels of these proteins, the researchers said.

"That finding was hard to explain. These proteins may have other functions that we don't yet fully understand," said lead author Jodi McDaniel, an assistant professor of nursing, CBC News reported.

The study appears in the journal Wound Repair and Regeneration.


Drug Companies Make Billions More Under Medicare Part D

U.S. drug companies are enjoying a taxpayer-funded windfall worth billions of dollars under Medicare's privatized Part D drug benefit program for seniors and the disabled, says a report released by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The document said that under Medicare Part D, prescription drugs cost up to 30 percent more than they do under other government programs. Moreover, drug makers have taken in $3.7 billion more than they would have under Medicaid's program for the poor, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"This is an enormous giveaway. And it has absolutely no justification," said committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who plans to introduce legislation that federal taxpayers wouldn't be charged higher prices under Medicare Part D than under Medicaid.

"The drug companies are making the same drugs. They are being used by the same beneficiaries. Yet because the drugs are being bought through Medicare Part D instead of Medicaid, the prices paid by taxpayers have ballooned by billions of dollars," the newspaper quoted Waxman as saying.


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Posted: July 2008