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28 December 2010

Limit set on popular procedure on spines

Blue Cross is under fire for seeking to curb use of expensive spinal fusions.

By Alan M. Wolf

More Information

  • 3,593: number of spinal fusion surgeries Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina covered last year, up 22 percent from 2007.
    $105 million: amount the insurer paid in claims for the procedures last year, up 44 percent from 2007.
    Nine: number of medical associations that signed a Dec. 15 letter to Blue Cross, urging changes to its new policies, which take effect Jan. 1.
    3.7 million: Blue Cross members statewide.

The state's largest health insurer is coming under fire from surgeons across the country for implementing tougher restrictions on an increasingly common type of spinal surgery.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina's new rules, which take effect Jan. 1, are designed to reduce overuse of spinal-fusion surgery, a costly and controversial procedure to ease patients' lower back pain . The Chapel Hill-based insurer says it wants to ensure the surgeries are approved based on the latest medical evidence.

"We are not going to stop coverage, but we do want to make sure the ones being done are appropriate," said Dr. Don Bradley, Blue Cross' chief medical officer. "In some cases, we're seeing technology being used when more conservative measures might be more appropriate."
But some spine surgeons worry that the restrictions will limit care for thousands of patients and could set a new coverage standard among other insurers.

A coalition of surgeons representing nine medical associations, including the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and the North American Spine Society, wrote to Blue Cross this month, urging the company to reconsider.

As Spinal Fusion Volume Grows, So Do Profits for Surgeons & Device Makers

Report outlines controversies over device-heavy spine procedures and surgeon-manufacturer relationships.

Are financial relationships with medical device companies and profitable reimbursement margins inducing spine surgeons to perform more fusions than necessary? A recent report in the Wall Street Journal explores several controversies associated with the growing market for these device-heavy spine surgeries.
Medicare paid $343 million for spinal fusion procedures in 1997, compared to $2.24 billion in 2008 — a nearly 400% increase, according to the Journal's analysis of Medicare data.
Within the medical community, doctors are divided between more conservative spine surgeons who believe fusion should be used sparingly to treat a small number of conditions, such as scoliosis, and surgeons who advocate using fusion to relieve chronic back pain or to treat degenerative disk disease, one of the most hotly debated uses of the procedure. 

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina announced earlier this year that it would stop paying for spinal fusions performed to treat aging disks beginning on Jan. 1, 2011. Nine medical associations, including the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons, recently sent a letter to the insurer to express concerns over the new policy and advocate for less restrictive language.
One thing is certain: The increase in spinal fusions has been a boon for the companies that make and sell the hardware and implants used in spinal fusion surgery, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars for a single procedure. 

Meanwhile, companies like Medtronic, the largest manufacturer of spinal implants, pay surgeons millions of dollars in royalties for their help in developing new technologies. Medtronic and the surgeons who collaborate with the company say the payments are a legitimate way for surgeons to give input on new devices and do not create a conflict of interest. Critics, including some members of Congress, argue that they are essentially kickbacks designed to boost medical device sales. 

In response to this criticism, Medtronic began disclosing its payments to surgeons publicly on its website in June, and many doctors who partner with device makers say they disclose these relationships to their patients. A provision in the Affordable Care Act requires all companies to disclose such payments made to physicians by 2013.
Read the full WSJ report here.

23 December 2010

Diet key to longer life, even when you're old

Adults ages 70-79 who ate healthy foods had lower risk of death over a 10-year period, study finds 

By Rachael Rettner 

Even in your elder years, eating healthy foods can help you live longer, a new study suggests.
In the study, older adults who ate mainly healthy foods — such as vegetables, fruit, poultry, low-fat dairy products and whole grains — had a lower risk of death over a 10-year period than those who ate less-healthy foods, including high-fat dairy products.

"Some people have suggested in the past that it doesn't maybe matter too much what people eat at an older age," said study researcher Amy Anderson, of the department of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Maryland. "But our study, and previous studies, support the idea that that older adults can affect their health and longevity by following a dietary pattern that is high in healthy foods."
Anderson and her colleagues examined the eating habits and quality of life of about 2,500 adults, ages 70 to 79, from Pittsburgh and Memphis, Tenn. Participants answered a questionnaire designed to assess their typical diet. They also indicated whether their health was excellent, very good, good, fair or poor.
Story: Being 'chilled out' can increase risk of obesity The researchers grouped the participants based on their diets:
  • Those who ate mainly healthy food
  • Those who ate mainly high-fat dairy products, such as ice cream and cheese, and had a lower intake of poultry, low-fat dairy products, rice and pasta
  • Those who ate mainly meat and fried foods and drank alcohol
  • Those who ate mainly refined grains
  • Those who ate mainly breakfast cereals
  • Those who ate mainly sweets and desserts — such as doughnuts, cakes and candy — and had a lower intake of fruit, fish, other seafood and dark green vegetables
The researchers followed up with the participants for an average of 10 years, during which 739 died. Those in the high-fat dairy product group were 40 percent more likely to die during this time period than those in the healthy food group. Those in the sweets and desserts group had a 37 percent higher risk of death than those in the healthy food group.

Those in the healthy food group also reported more years of healthy life, when they rated their health as excellent, very good or good.

Interestingly, those who ate mostly meat and fried foods and drank alcohol did not have a higher risk of death than those who ate healthy food after the researchers took into account other factors that could affect the results, such as age, gender, race, education, physical activity and total calorie intake. It's possible that eating plant-based foods counteracted the deleterious effects of eating animal fat, the researchers said. Those who consumed meat, fried foods and alcohol also ate slightly more vegetables, fruits and whole grains than those in the high-fat dairy products group and those in the sweets and desserts group.

21 December 2010

Low Vitamin D Levels Common in Breast Cancer

Dec. 14, 2010 (San Antonio) -- More than half of women with breast cancer have low vitamin D levels, British researchers report.

"Women with breast cancer should be tested for vitamin D levels and offered supplements, if necessary," says researcher Sonia Li, MD, of the Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Middlesex, England. The findings were presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

Some studies have suggested a link between low vitamin levels and breast cancer risk and progression, but others have not, she says. No studies have proven cause and effect.

Previous research suggests a biologic rationale for vitamin D putting the brakes on breast cancer development and spread, Li says.

Breast cancer cells have vitamin D receptors, and when these receptors are activated by vitamin D, it triggers a series of molecular changes that can slow cell growth and cause cells to die, she says.

Even if it does not have a direct effect on the tumor, vitamin D is needed to maintain the bone health of women with breast cancer, Li says. That's especially important given the increasing use of aromatase inhibitors, which carry an increased risk of bone fractures, she says.

Vitamin D is found in some foods, especially milk and fortified cereals, and is made by the body after exposure to sunlight. It is necessary for bone health.

Consumer Reports Warns Pregnant Women Against Canned Tuna

Pregnant women and children have long been warned that they should be wary of eating certain kinds of seafood because of the risk of mercury contamination. It's a real threat — mercury is a neurotoxin, and exposure in-utero at high levels can damage an infant's developing cognitive skills.

Seafood can pose a danger because mercury — usually from the emissions of coal-fired power plants and other industrial sources — can accumulate in the tissue of fish, especially in predators high on the food chain. That includes tuna, and white (albacore) tuna is known to be especially high in mercury. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) both recommend that women of childbearing age and young children should eat no more than 12 ounces a week of light tuna, including 6 ounces of white tuna. (More on 5 Pregnancy Taboos Explained (or Debunked))

But that may not be safe enough. Consumer Reports tested 42 samples of tuna from cans bought in and around New York and found that white tuna usually contains far more mercury than light tuna — and that women and children should be even more cautious about eating the fish.

After analyzing the tests, the magazine's fish-safety experts concluded that pregnant women should avoid eating all tuna as a precaution. Children over 45 lbs. should stick to no more than 12.5 ounces of light tuna or 4 ounces of white tuna a week, while lighter children should have no more than have 4 ounces or less of light tuna or 1.5 ounces or less of white tuna, dependent on their weight. (Download a copy of the report here.)

Why the stricter warnings? Every sample that Consumer Reports tested had measurable levels of mercury, ranging from 0.018 to 0.774 parts per million (ppm). Samples of white tuna ranged from 0.217 ppm to 0.774 ppm and averaged 0.427 ppm — enough that by eating 2.5 ounces of any of the tested samples, a woman would exceed the daily mercury intake considered safe by the EPA. (More on Study: Restless Leg Syndrome During Pregnancy May Recur)

Samples of light tuna ranged from 0.018 ppm to 0.176 ppm. That's low on average, but about half the tested samples contained enough mercury that eating a single can would exceed the EPA's limit for women of child-bearing age.

Indeed, it's the outliers that pose a particular danger, not so much the average. While light tuna especially on average doesn't contain that much mercury, there's the danger of spikes in certain samples — and there's no way for pregnant women to know if the canned tuna they're eating contains unusually high levels of mercury. But the Consumer Reports study shows that it is a real threat that cautious women should take seriously.

Of course, limiting your seafood intake has its own risks. Omega-3 fatty acids — found in fish — are thought to help in developing fetal nervous systems, and they're well-known to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. The National Fisheries Institute, a trade group, noted that none of the canned tuna it tested — even the outliers — exceeded the FDA's allowable limit of 1 ppm or more. (That's the point at which the FDA is allowed to pull products from the shelves, though that's never been done.) The group also noted — cheekily — that Consumer Reports had apparently served tuna tartare at its recent holiday party, so it can't be that dangerous. (More on Photos: Pregnant Belly Art)

Of course, the FDA's safety limits on mercury have long been considered too lax — and compared to the rest of the world, they are. It will be a long time before we have definitive science on just how much mercury pregnant women can be exposed to without ill effect, but most people would agree that this is a time for the precautionary principle.

Top Spine Surgeons Reap Royalties, Medicare Bounty

Norton Hospital in Louisville, Ky., may not be a household name nationally. But five senior spine surgeons have helped put it on the map in at least one category: From 2004 to 2008, Norton performed the third-most spinal fusions on Medicare patients in the country.

The five surgeons are also among the largest recipients nationwide of payments from medical-device giant Medtronic Inc. In the first nine months of this year alone, the surgeons—Steven Glassman, Mitchell Campbell, John Johnson, John Dimar and Rolando Puno—received more than $7 million from the Fridley, Minn., company.

Medtronic and the surgeons say the payments are mostly royalties they earned for helping the company design one of its best-selling spine products.

Corporate whistleblowers and congressional critics contend such arrangements—which are common in orthopedic surgery—amount to kickbacks to stoke sales of medical devices. They argue that the overuse of surgical hardware ranging from heart stents to artificial hips is a big factor behind the soaring costs of Medicare, the government medical-insurance system for the elderly and disabled.

Medtronic says it can't develop new medical products that improve patients' lives without the help of surgeons. It says the royalties it pays them are legitimate but it doesn't give detailed information about what intellectual property each recipient contributes. It says it doesn't pay its collaborating surgeons royalties on the devices they personally use in their patients, removing any financial incentive for them to do more surgeries than necessary.

Norton's Dr. Glassman cited this policy as a safeguard against any conflict of interest and said the royalties he and his colleagues receive are "legitimate." He added that they inform their patients of their financial ties with Medtronic. Norton Hospital said it has policies "to prevent direct conflicts of interest." The other Norton surgeons didn't respond to requests for comment put to them through Norton and Dr. Glassman.

Using a Medicare database that tracks hospitals' billing, The Wall Street Journal was able to ascertain that Norton is among the most aggressive practitioners of spinal fusion in the country.

Spinal fusion has become one of medicine's most controversial procedures. It involves fusing together two or more vertebrae to alleviate back pain, usually with the help of metal plates, rods and screws implanted in the patient's back. Tens of thousands of dollars of hardware can go into a single surgery.

Medtronic is the biggest maker of spinal implants. Last year, its spine business generated world-wide sales of $3.5 billion, accounting for half of the roughly $7 billion spinal-implant market.

Conservative spine surgeons argue that a spinal fusion is appropriate only for a small number of conditions, such as spinal instability, spinal fracture or a severe curvature of the spine known as scoliosis, and that financial incentives have caused the procedure to become overused. Others say it's a useful tool to treat patients who have debilitating back pain and have tried other options like physical therapy to no avail.

The Journal consulted several experts to determine which back conditions are commonly thought to require a fusion and which are subject to the most debate. The most hotly debated use of spinal fusion surgery centers on patients who merely suffer from aging disks, a condition known as degenerative disk disease.

One health insurer, the nonprofit Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, announced in September that it would stop paying for spine fusions performed on such patients beginning on Jan. 1. The insurer said that the procedures are "considered not medically necessary."

The Journal mined hospitals' Medicare claims to see what proportion of fusions performed fall in this category. Due to a three-decade-old court ruling guarding the confidentiality of physician information, the paper is barred from disclosing what it found regarding the five Norton surgeons.

Critics of the court ruling and of the privacy policies of the federal Medicare program argue that making such information public would help taxpayers understand where their money is going, and potentially deter abusive or wasteful practices.

But the Journal is permitted to disclose its findings for Norton Hospital as a whole, where 27 surgeons performed one or more spine fusions in 2008.

At Norton, spinal fusions on patients who only suffered from aging disks accounted for 24% of the 2,475 fusions the hospital performed for Medicare between 2004 and 2008, compared with 17% nationally. This placed it 11th in percentage terms out of 60 hospitals that performed 1,000 or more spine fusions in those years, and fourth in raw count. Norton ranked third nationally in the overall numbers of spine-fusion surgeries.

In emailed responses to questions, Dr. Glassman said he and his four colleagues "do not overuse spine fusion procedures," and argued that the diagnostic codes the Journal based its analysis on "do not convey indication for spinal fusion with the specificity that you are attributing to this data."

When to Consider Orthotics: Research-Based Recommendations

Sometimes a patient's need for custom-made foot orthotics becomes apparent only after an inadequate response to chiropractic care. Some patients, however, reveal an obvious need, and orthotics should be provided early in their care.

This will allow a good response to adjustments and prevent frustration all around. What follows are some commonly seen patient characteristics that indicate the need for foot orthotics.


Back problems worse with standing, walking, running. When a patient reports a link between locomotor activities and their spinal symptoms, this clearly calls for orthotics to minimize the stress being transmitted from the lower extremities to the spine.1

Recurrent ankle sprains. A history of previous sprain injuries to one or both ankles indicates biomechanical instability and probable permanent ligament damage. Custom-made stabilizing orthotics provide the support needed to help prevent re-injury.2-3

Family history of foot problems or surgery. A patient who has family members with foot problems and/or surgery has a much higher probability of the same. Fitting for orthotics may prevent these problems from developing and could help the patient avoid surgery.

Strenuous athletic activities. Those who engage in upright, weight-bearing sports need both shock absorption and foot/ankle stability. Orthotic support can increase performance and prevent injuries in many individual and team sports.4

History of lower extremity stress fractures, recurring shin splints, hamstring strains. Whenever an athlete, whether recreational or competitive, reports symptoms of overuse injury (microtrauma) in the lower extremities, orthotics should be provided. These conditions are closely correlated with biomechanical asymmetries, and require better support and shock absorption.5-6

Chronic knee pain, patellofemoral arthralgia, ACL injury. The knee joint is a sensitive indicator of abnormal biomechanical stress, and these conditions have all been shown to indicate the need for orthotics. Controlling pronation decreases the rotational forces, improving patellar tracking and protecting the anterior cruciate ligament.7

Exam Findings

Postural imbalances (e.g., pelvic tilt, scoliosis, forward head). When a standing structural evaluation discloses any pelvic tilt, a lower extremity asymmetry requiring orthotics for proper correction is likely. Both functional and idiopathic types of spinal curvatures can benefit from the foot stabilization and neurological stimulus provided by orthotics.8 Many postural complexes (forward head is one of the most common) are secondary to poor standing balance and proprioception from the feet.

Gait asymmetry (e.g., calcaneal eversion, excessive pronation, foot flare). Looking for indicators of biomechanical asymmetry while a patient walks will often demonstrate the need for orthotics.9 If the foot and ankle complex is not functioning correctly during the stance phase of gait, this stress is transmitted to the pelvis and spine with every step.

Foot calluses, bunions, hallux valgus. Heavy callousing, bunion development and abnormal alignment all reveal evidence of abnormal or poorly tolerated forces during walking and indicate the need for improved biomechanics and orthotics.10

Lack of an arch (especially unilateral). This is seen during the weight-bearing portion of the exam, when a foot collapses under the weight of the body. A foot without an arch will not function properly and thus requires support.11

Knee instability, high Q-angle, poor patellar tracking. When the knee does not align properly or track correctly, degenerative wear-and-tear and other chronic symptoms will follow. Orthotic alignment is required to reduce the abnormal forces on this complex joint, which must be able to sustain frequent high forces during walking and running.12-13

X-Ray Findings

Scoliosis (functional or idiopathic), widespread disc degeneration. The spine will demonstrate poor support from one of the lower extremities by developing a lateral curvature. Gait disturbances may be one of the causative factors for idiopathic scoliosis. Significant intervertebral disc degeneration is proof of poor spinal shock absorption, and orthotics with viscoelastic properties often reduce symptoms dramatically.9

Unlevel sacral base, sacroiliac joint degeneration. The pelvis shows evidence of inadequate support by the appearance of a tilted sacral base when standing. This is often due to a functional short leg requiring orthotic support.14 Sacroiliac degeneration is unusual; when found, it indicates significant abnormal stresses.

Low femur head, coxafemoral DJD. These conditions are due to either an anatomical or a functional short leg. Degenerative changes in the hip joint have been correlated with the stress of a longer leg. Both will benefit from the improved balance and support provided by orthotics.14

Heel spur, DJD in knees, metatarsals. X-rays of the feet and knees may reveal evidence of long-standing regional stress, such as degenerative changes in weight-bearing joints and connective tissue calcification. Calcium deposited in the calcaneal attachment of the plantar fascia specifically indicates the need for support of the arches of the foot to help reduce shock and symptoms in degenerated joints, and provide arch stabilization.11

Treatment Response

Recurrent subluxations. Making the same adjustment to a patient's spine again and again suggests poor structural support for the region. Orthotics have been used for decades by chiropractors who don't want to continue adjusting the same area and who want to see the adjustment "hold" better.

Unresolving muscle strain, myalgia. Myofascial symptoms not responding to treatment often are a clue to an underlying biomechanical imbalance. Many chronic muscle spasms and strains can be corrected by providing orthotics to support and stabilize.15

Flare-ups, exacerbations. A patient who is feeling better, returns to daily activities, and then suffers a return of symptoms probably needs orthotics. Without proper biomechanical support, these patients find that every attempt to establish normal routines causes a recurrence of their symptoms.

Foot symptoms are only one of the many reasons for supplying orthotics. In fact, the feet are seldom painful in most of the conditions that are clear indicators of an need for orthotic support. All chiropractors must be alert for signs of lower extremity involvement in spinal conditions. The good news is that these conditions can all be helped. Investigation and correction of foot biomechanics can help most patients, especially the recreationally active and the elderly.

14 December 2010

Natto – The Wonder Food For Scoliosis

By Dr Kevin Lau

Many, many years ago, when the Samurai roamed feudal Japan, they got many things wrong. A warlike and brutal enemy, the Samurai would often kill and pillage hundreds in their professional lifetime. 

They still had to maintain the lifestyle though, and without the processed foods that are available today, manage a daily routine that often involved a lot of trekking and probable combat. They also had to maintain the horses that were so valuable to them to. These horses, warrior steeds that they were, were actually fed something close to a modern health snack by their Samurai owners. Natto is gaining massive acceptance in these modern times as a great dietary component for people who not only want to look after their inner organs, but also their bones too.

The first thing you need to think about when you approach natto as something you may like to try for a food item is the smell. It is often compared to a strong cheese, so strong is the aroma that it emits. If you can get over the smell, then you have a chance at trying one of the true powerhouse foods available today.

Natto is packed with nutrients. It offers more vitamin and mineral content than most things you can buy in a supermarket. The substance s made up of steamed soybeans, and presents as a paste that soon becomes an item with a stringy texture.

Natto has been something that the Japanese have been committed to as a food source for a number of years. Thousands of years, in fact. As stated previously, the Samurai used it on their horses to make them stringer and faster. The famous warrior Minamoto was the man responsible for bringing natto to Japan, and at one point it was even used by pregnant women to build strength.

Bacillus natto is added to soya beans to create the natto substance that is used as food stuff. The Bacillus natto acts upon the soya beans to produce the natto kinase enzyme. The food presents as pretty valuable even compared to meat, bringing the eater more fibre and iron than beef, for example.

Vitamin K is present in natto to a high degree, and this benefit is passed into the eater almost immediately. Natto has a large part to play in the healthy development in bones, including massive benefits to cartilage health.

There have been many supporters of natto as a food stuff that can help sufferers of scoliosis. For example, Dr Kevin Lau has been a high profile believer in the benefits of using natto in the diet of anyone who needs help as regards the growth of their bones. In recent times, especially with the scoliosis problem developing in youngsters who need high level and intense support in a short space of time, natto is becoming a viable choice.

 [K1]More info about vitamin K and the benefits for cartilage and bone and hense the spine. Reference is also needed in this article.  Example:

10 December 2010

Do your kids prefer junk food? Blame yourself

Be it junk or healthy food -- what you eat during pregnancy affects your child's food preferences as it helps to form their sense of smell, so says a new study.

This makes the mother's diet more attractive to the child when they are older, reports the Daily Mail.

Study author Josephine Todrank, now at the University of Haifa in Israel, said: "If the mother drinks alcohol, her child may be more attracted to alcohol because the developing foetus 'expects' that whatever comes from the mother must be safe."
"If she eats healthy food, the child will prefer healthy food," added Todrank, according to the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Researchers studying mice found that the pups' sense of smell was changed by what their mothers ate, teaching them to like the flavours in her diet.

At the same time, they found significant changes in the structure of the brain's olfactory glomeruli, which processes smells, because odours in the amniotic fluid affect how this system develops.

Study sponsor Diego Restrepo, said: "This is the first study to address the changes in the brain that occur upon steady exposure to flavours in utero and early in postnatal life

Aspirin Helps in Reducing Cancer Deaths, a Study Finds

Many Americans take aspirin to lower their risk of heart disease, but a new study suggests a remarkable added benefit, reporting that patients who took aspirin regularly for a period of several years were 21 percent less likely decades later to die of solid tumor cancers, including cancers of the stomach, esophagus and lung.

As part of the new study, published online Monday in the journal Lancet, researchers examined the cancer death rates of 25,570 patients who had participated in eight different randomized controlled trials of aspirin that ended up to 20 years earlier.

Participants who had been assigned to the aspirin arms of the studies were 20 percent less likely after 20 years to have died of solid tumor cancers than those who had been in the comparison group taking dummy pills during the clinical trials, and their risk of gastrointestinal cancer death was 35 percent lower. The risk of lung cancer death was 30 percent lower, the risk of colorectal cancer death was 40 percent lower and the risk of esophageal cancer death was 60 percent lower, the study reported.

The specific dose of aspirin taken did not seem to matter — most trials gave out low doses of 75 to 100 milligrams — but the participants in the longest lasting trials had the most drastic reductions in cancer death years later.

“This is important as a proof of principle that a single simple compound like aspirin can reduce the risk of cancer substantially,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Peter M. Rothwell, professor of neurology at the University of Oxford. “There’s been a lot of work over the years showing that certain compounds can increase the risk of cancer, but it’s not been shown before that we can reduce the risk with something as simple as aspirin.”

But even as some experts hailed the new study as a breakthrough, others urged caution, warning people not to start a regimen of aspirin without first consulting a doctor about the potential risks, including gastrointestinal bleeding and bleeding in the brain (hemorrhagic strokes).

“Many people may wonder if they should start taking daily aspirin, but it would be premature to recommend people starting taking aspirin specifically to prevent cancer,” said Eric J. Jacobs, an epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society.

While Dr. Jacobs said the study design was valid, relatively few women were included in the trials, making it difficult to generalize the results to women.

“It’s hard to assess effects on mortality from just one study,” he said.

The findings do not come entirely as a surprise, Dr. Rothwell said, because aspirin has been found to slow or prevent the growth of tumor cell lines in the laboratory. Observational studies have reported that people who took aspirin were at lower risk for colorectal cancer recurrences, while other studies have pointed to similar reductions in cancers of the lung, stomach and esophagus.

“There have been hints of this before, but the quality of this study is the gold standard because it is based on randomized clinical trials,” said Dr. Alan A. Arslan, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and environmental medicine at New York University School of Medicine, who did an observational study several years ago reporting that women who had taken aspirin regularly had a lower risk of ovarian cancer. “Randomized controlled trials carry more weight.”

The strong results “add to the accumulating evidence that aspirin may be protective against various cancers,” Dr. Arslan said.

There are several ways in which aspirin may work to slow the development of cancers, experts say. Inflammation may play a role in cancer, and aspirin blocks the synthesis of prostaglandins, which are mediators of inflammation, and may affect early tumor promotion.

Aspirin may also induce the death of early cancer cells before they become aggressive, Dr. Arslan suggested.

7 December 2010

Light exercise may prevent osteoarthritis

CHICAGO – People at risk for osteoarthritis may be able to delay the onset of the disease or even prevent it with simple changes to their physical activity, according to a study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

"According to the results of our study, participating in a high-impact activity, such as running, more than one hour per day at least three times a week appears associated with more degenerated cartilage and potentially a higher risk for development of osteoarthritis," said the study's senior author Thomas M. Link, M.D., professor of radiology and chief of musculoskeletal imaging at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). "On the other hand, engaging in light exercise and refraining from frequent knee-bending activities may protect against the onset of the disease."

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that causes pain, swelling and stiffness. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and affects an estimated 27 million Americans over the age of 25.

For the study, the researchers recruited 132 asymptomatic participants at risk for knee osteoarthritis who were enrolled in the National Institutes of Health Osteoarthritis Initiative, as well as 33 age- and body mass index-matched controls. Study participants included 99 women and 66 men between the ages of 45 and 55. The participants were separated into three exercise and strength-training levels, based on their responses to the Physical Activity Scale for the Elderly (PASE) questionnaire. Exercise levels included sedentary, light exercisers and moderate to strenuous exercisers, strength-training groups included none, minimal and frequent. Knee-bending activities were also analyzed.

MRI exams revealed that light exercisers had the healthiest knee cartilage among all exercise levels, and patients with minimal strength training had healthier cartilage than patients with either no strength training or frequent strength training.

Moderate to strenuous exercise in women who did any amount of strength training was associated with higher water content and more degenerated collagen architecture in the knee.

"The results for this group indicate that moderate to strenuous exercise may accelerate cartilage degeneration, putting these women at even greater risk of developing osteoarthritis," said study coauthor Keegan K. Hovis, B.S., R.N., research associate in the Department of Radiology at UCSF.

In addition, the findings showed that frequent knee-bending activities, such as climbing up at least 10 flights of stairs a day, lifting objects weighing more than 25 pounds, or squatting, kneeling or deep knee bending for at least 30 minutes per day, were associated with higher water content and cartilage abnormalities.

According to Dr. Link, known risk factors for cartilage degeneration include excess weight, knee injuries, frequent knee bending and severe or strenuous physical activity.

"People can reduce their risk for osteoarthritis by maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding risky activities and strenuous exercise," he said. "Lower-impact sports, such as walking, swimming or using an elliptical trainer are likely more beneficial than high-impact sports, such as running or tennis."

"Our findings indicate that light exercise, particularly frequent walking, is a safer choice in maintaining healthy cartilage," Hovis added.

Tomato juice can reduce osteoporosis, claims study

Tomato juice can significantly increase the presence of cell-protecting antioxidants that help to fight against osteoporosis, according to new research.

Writing in Osteoporosis International, calcium researchers at the University of Toronto (UT) claim that 30mg of lycopene found in tomatoes – the equivalent to two glasses of tomato juice – is enough to help prevent the brittle-bone disease.

The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Research and Development Departments of Genuine Health, Heinz, Millenium Biologix, Kagome (Japan), and LycoRed.


Osteoporosis is characterised by low bone mass, which leads to an increase risk of fractures, especially the hips, spine and wrists. An estimated 75 million people suffer from it in Europe, the US and Japan.

Women are four times more likely to develop osteoporosis than men and previous research indicates that diabetes decreases bone turnover that is associated with impaired osteoblastic maturation and function.

According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, the total direct cost of osteoporotic fractures in Europe is €31.7bn so boosting bone density in high-risk and post-menopausal women could ease the burden of osteoporosis.


Lycopene is the red pigment in tomatoes and several fruits. According to the UT scientists, it is a potent carotenoid – a group of naturally occurring pigments essential for plant growth – with a high ability to quench singlet oxygen.

Due to this ability to decrease oxidative stress, lycopene has been associated with a decreased risk of chronic diseases.

The researchers claims that to date, no intervention studies have been published demonstrating the effect of the antioxidant lycopene on bone, and that the aim of the study thus was to determine whether lycopene would act as an antioxidant to decrease oxidative stress parameters that result in decreased bone turnover markers.

Methodology and results

Post-menopausal women aged 50 to 60 were restricted from consuming anything containing lycopene for a month.

The participants were split into four groups over four months. Each group of participants either consumed a 15mg lycopene supplement, a glass of tomato juice naturally containing 15mg of lycopene, a gourmet Japanese tomato juice with 35mg of lycopene or a placebo.

Acupuncture Changes Brain's Perception and Processing of Pain, Researchers Find

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers have captured pictures of the brain while patients experienced a pain stimulus with and without acupuncture to determine acupuncture's effect on how the brain processes pain. Results of the study, which the researchers say suggest the effectiveness of acupuncture, were presented November 30 at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

"Until now, the role of acupuncture in the perception and processing of pain has been controversial," said lead researcher Nina Theysohn, M.D., from the Department of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology and Neuroradiology at University Hospital in Essen, Germany. "Functional MRI gives us the opportunity to directly observe areas of the brain that are activated during pain perception and see the variances that occur with acupuncture."

fMRI measures the tiny metabolic changes that take place in an active part of the brain, while a patient performs a task or is exposed to a specific external stimulus.

In the study, conducted in close collaboration with the Department of Complementary and Integrative Medicine at University of Duisburg-Essen, 18 healthy volunteers underwent fMRI while an electrical pain stimulus was attached to the left ankle. Acupuncture needles were then placed at three places on the right side, including between the toes, below the knee, and near the thumb. With the needles in place, fMRI was repeated while electrical currents were again directed at the left ankle. The researchers then compared the images and data obtained from the fMRI sessions with no acupuncture to those of the fMRI sessions with acupuncture.

"Activation of brain areas involved in pain perception was significantly reduced or modulated under acupuncture," Dr. Theysohn said.

Specifically, fMRI revealed significant activation in the contralateral supplementary motor area, somatosensory cortex, precuneus bilateral insula and ipsilateral somatomotor cortex during electrical pain stimulation without acupuncture. During acupuncture, activation in most of these pain-processing areas of the brain was significantly reduced.

According to Dr. Theysohn, in addition to the assumed specific effects on the pain signal, acupuncture also affected brain activation in areas governing the patients' expectations of pain, similar to a placebo analgesic response.

The anterior insula, for example, plays a role in transforming pain sensation to cognition and represents a subjective component of pain sensation. The reduction in activation of the primary somatosensory cortex and the insula during acupuncture indicates an acupuncture-induced modulation of the sensory encoding of the painful stimulus.

"Acupuncture is supposed to act through at least two mechanisms -- nonspecific expectancy-based effects and specific modulation of the incoming pain signal," Dr. Theysohn said. "Our findings support that both these nonspecific and specific mechanisms exist, suggesting that acupuncture can help relieve pain."

Is The Hidden Soy in Your Foods Contributing to Illness and Poor Health?

Chocoholics have finally been matched or overtaken by Soyaholics – people who look for soy in every product and sprinkle it over any products that do not contain any. Women eat soy like it is the Holy Grail of food. It has become America’s favorite “health” food.

Nothing could please the soy industry more. Over the past decade, advertisements and newspaper articles have proclaimed soy foods as the answer to all of America’s nutritional problems. The soy industry formed more than 65 associations to lobby state and federal governments to recommend higher consumption of its product – under an ad campaign called, the “joy of soy”.

Now soy can be found in almost every product on your grocery store shelves. You can find it in simple Doritos corn chips, ice cream, caned tuna and every packaged food you can think of under names like yeast extract,soy protein, soybean oil, soy lecithin and soy flour.

It lurks in nearly 90% of the foods sold including infant formulas, McDonald’s hamburgers and almost all frozen foods. Imagine the savings from diluting real hamburger beef with, for example, 10% soy mix?

But, is it a “wonder health food” or is it just another industry hoax to promote the sales of one of its unhealthy genetically modified products?

In 1999, Big Food lobbyists were successful in getting the FDA to approve a health claim for soy protein. The claim states that, “25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

The additional campaigning touting the possibility that soy would prevent heart disease, fight cancer, eliminate menopause flashes and build strong bodies was very seductive approach to selling soy.

But the industry ignored the fact that soy is one of the top eight allergens that cause immediate hypersensitivity reactions such as coughing, sneezing, runny nose, hives, diarrhea, difficulty swallowing and anaphylactic shock. Delayed allergic responses are even more common and occur anywhere from several hours to several days after the food is eaten.

Cheap genetically modified soy created an opportunity for biotech companies to develop cheap meat substitutes, to dilute products to achieve greater profits, to formulate soy-based pharmaceuticals, and to develop a renewable resource that could replace petroleum-based plastics and fuels.

But, despite their efforts, this is the same genetically modified Bt soy (Bacillus thuringiensis – an insect-killing bacterium ) that Europe and Japan refuse to permit imported into their countries. The reality of Bt toxin soy is summed up in a study by The Cornucopia Institute, “When GM soy was fed to female rats, most of their babies died within three weeks.”

Big Food does not make much profit from any food that people eat in moderation. The continual push seems to be that if the recommend daily allowance (RDA) of any food is good for you, then ten times the RDA must be better. In America, a little or moderate amount of anything is never enough. More is always better for their pockets.

But the FDA health claim for soy protein recommends that consumers incorporate four servings of at least 6.25 grams of soy protein into their daily diet, for a total of at least 25 grams of soy protein each day. The high consumption of soy in Asian countries is an American myth. The fact is that, in Asia, the RDA of organic soy is limited to a mere 39 grams per day. Japan refuses to allow GMO Bt soy to be sold in its country because of its dangers.

To make matters worse, instructing anyone to eat the same thing everyday is dangerous to your health. The repeating of the same thing day after day will cause delayed food intolerance/allergy. So, even if you start out not having allergic/intolerance illnesses, you will eventually. The soy becomes toxic to the body which can not broken down properly. The toxic element starts a cycle of the body craving the soy. Eventually, this will result in over eating and weight gain. It is very unhealthy.

As we say in our other blogs, the same can be said with the corn products and by products that are now in almost everything, including your medicines. Yes, your Intravenous I.V. have corn and medicines sometimes soy. So much of everything in our daily diet are the same but with different flavor enhances. Repeat eating will result in immune system problems, silent chronic inflammation and future diseases, including sudden heart attack.

Initially, people turned their nose up at the sound of soy. Full Psychological profiling reports were accumulated on how to get people to buy into their program of eating lots of soy. The governmental programs and university’s such as Cornell have plenty of marketing savvy. Like corn and MSG, soy became other names hidden in ingredients to sell the GMO soy products.

The soy industry advertisers claim that by simply eating soy for your protein daily you can prevent a heart attack and lower your cholesterol. The vast multi-million dollar campaign worked. Despite the FDA recommendation of only 25 grams per day, some Americans eat as much as 250 grams or 1 cup or more of soy per meal. Dieters who consume energy, breakfast drinks and tofu meatless meals consume even more.

According to the Whole Soy Story - The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food by Kaayla T. Daniel, “There’s nothing natural about these modern soy protein products. Textured soy protein, for example, is made by forcing defatted soy flour through a machine called an extruder under conditions of such extreme heat and pressure that the very structure of the soy protein is changed. Production differs little from the extrusion technology used to produce starch-based packing materials, fiber-based industrial products, and plastic toy parts, bowls, and plates.”

To make soy more appetizing, the manufacturers added sugar, synthetic sweeteners, genetically modified high fructose corn sugar, refined salt, artificial flavorings, colors and MSG. So the soy isn’t really soy. It is a Frankenfood created for the sole purpose of making a profit from health conscious people trying to live a healthier life.

We know many vegans and vegetarians who consider their meatless diets safe. Many, thinking they are mirroring a healthy custom in Asian countries, eat genetically modified soy in amounts their bodies cannot digest. But Americans on a genetically modified (GMO) Bt soy based diet are in as much danger of heart attacks and cancer as red meat eaters.

That is because the process of making soy protein isolate begins with defatted soybean meal, which is mixed with a caustic alkaline solution to remove the fiber, then washed in an acid solution to precipitate out the protein. The protein curds are then dipped into another alkaline solution. But vitamin, mineral, and protein quality are sacrificed in the process. And levels of carcinogens such as nitrosamines are increased to a dangerous level.

In 1979, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology said that the only safe use for this type of soy was for sealers for cardboard packages.

Literally thousands of studies have linked all forms of soy to many diseases, including malnutrition. Many of these studies have also linked soy to digestive distress, immune-system breakdown, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders and infertility. Now studies are linking soy to even cancer and heart disease.

More than 70 years of human, animal, and laboratory studies show that soybeans put the thyroid at risk. Infants, whose main source of nutrient is soy-based formula, are at the highest risk of illness and disease because of their size and organ developmental.

In 1998, scientists attending the Working Group of biosafety of The UN-Concention on Bilogical Diversity warned the group about soy stating “. . . all governments to use whatever methods available to them to bar from their markets, on grounds of injury to public health, Monsanto’s genetically manipulated (GM) ‘Roundup-Ready” soybeans.

Make no mistake about it, the differences between organic soy and genetically modified soy are dangerous to your health. If you are pregnant or have an infant, then the dangers increases exponentially. If you are going to eat soy, eat organic soy in moderation and never above 25 grams per day. Don’t be fooled by industry claims said for the sole purpose of selling you more soy and increasing their profits.

Many Risks Related to Early Onset Scoliosis Treatments

Surgically treating early onset scoliosis with growing rods or vertical expandable prosthetic titanium rib procedures may not fully control the deformity over a patient's entire growth period, and both procedures are beset with complications, according to a literature review published in the Dec. 1 issue of Spine.

FRIDAY, Dec. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Surgically treating early onset scoliosis (EOS) with growing rods (GR) or vertical expandable prosthetic titanium rib (VEPTR) procedures may not fully control the deformity over a patient's entire growth period, and both procedures are beset with complications, according to a literature review published in the Dec. 1 issue of Spine.

Behrooz A. Akbarnia, M.D., of the University of California San Diego in La Jolla, and John B. Emans, M.D., of Harvard Medical School in Boston, reviewed studies on EOS and the indications, complications, and outcomes of GR and VEPTR.

The researchers found that risks associated with GR included spontaneous spinal fusion and rod breakage. Risks associated with VEPTR included drifting rib attachments and chest wall scars. Potential adverse outcomes associated with the treatments included failure to prevent progressive deformity or thoracic insufficiency syndrome, a spine that is too short or stiff or an unacceptably deformed thorax, increased burden of care for families, and negative psychological consequences from repeated surgery. The authors note that neither technique reliably controls deformity over the full growth period.

"Consideration of the options must include a discussion of complications as they relate to GR or VEPTR. Families need to understand that there will be unexpected events such as rod breakage or loss of anchor points or need for revision or exchange, and these complications might cause the premature cessation of treatment of EOS," the authors write.

6 December 2010

Your Child and Self Diagnosis for Scoliosis

It is understandable that a parent may feel a little distressed if they believe that their child has scoliosis, however it is vitally important that you know the difference between a self diagnosis and that carried out by a physician. 

Scoliosis is a condition of the spine that can cause great discomfort and stress to the sufferer. The curving of the spine is something that can affect young people from a relatively early age, and cause great self conscious embarrassment and anxiety. This is the reason why so many people opt to have a screening for it as early as possible. This article looks at ways in which scoliosis is screened for, and how you can even make some attempt to carry out a self screening process, one that may even do as good a job as that which the medical professional will do. It must be stated that if you do opt for any kind of self screening process, it is important that you also gain the advice of a medical professional. This kind of advice can never be substituted for your own assessment, so it is vital that you follow up any self screening with a visit to your local physician if you are concerned about scoliosis.

Scoliosis can greatly affect the flexibility of the sufferer, and even, when cases are more severe, affect the free movement of the sufferer. This can be extremely distressing and cause all sorts of problems for the mental wellbeing of the patient. Since scoliosis is basically an abnormal curve to the back, it is relatively easy to know when it is occurring. If one looks at a person’s back from slightly above or, better still, directly above, you will be able to notice the curvature.

The first thing you should do for your child is go for a physical examination. Doctors are of course the first recommended port of call for this aspect of the treatment plan, and it is advisable that you take yourself to the physician for this initial consultation. However, once you realise that all this entails is being shirtless and bending forward prior to the medical examination, one can see how it can be done by someone at home.
Essentially, any physician is looking for any abnormal variations when it comes to the length and curvature of the spine. Children are especially open to screening, because the effect of scoliosis is pronounced in younger bodies, and this is why children are often screened in this way at school.  With the permission of the parents, the child undergoes the examination. Since discomfort and strain is often a common sign of scoliosis when a sufferer bends forward, it can be quite easy to note what is potentially a sign of the condition. Parents do obviously have to be involved and often request an examination themselves for their child. It can be a little upsetting for a child, but it is often best to check at an early age.
Once a suspected case of scoliosis has been made clear from the physician (or if you think that you have the condition), then it is important that the next stage is proceeded towards as quickly as possible, this is where the x-ray comes into play.

Having an x-ray is vital when it comes to ascertaining if there is indeed a scoliosis case to deal with. As you can understand, if such a condition is suspected, then the x-ray is there to back up the examination with the picture of the condition. This is the best way to get a clear an accurate picture of the extent of the curvature of the spine. This is something that you cannot adequately do in the home environment, so it is most definitely the next stage after the initial examination. So if you are at the stage where you have checked the spine of your child, for example, and you suspect a clear case of scoliosis, then you should now move towards the point where you use x-ray technology to gain a full and clear picture of the problem.

A full diagnosis can only really be made once the physician has carried out the physical examination, and backed this up with the x-ray pictures. Add to this the taking of a full medical history, and you have a complete diagnosis of scoliosis of the spine.

The medical history is an important part of the picture. Once the physician has this to hand and the other factors, then they can make a full diagnosis. Then treatment can proceed.

Treatment of any kind will only really be offered if the curvature of the spine is deemed to be significant. This means that it is pronounced and causing enough discomfort to the sufferer that it will debilitate them in the future f not at the pint of diagnosis. The general benchmark as regards ‘significant’ is if the curvature is 25 degrees.

So there you have it. By all means take the opportunity to diagnoses scoliosis at home. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, many medical conditions are diagnosed or at least suspected by people before they approach medical professionals. However, as this article explains, having a full diagnosis done by physicians helps to assess the depth of the problem, and therefore the move towards treatment.

If your child is suffering from what you believe to be scoliosis, it shouldn’t be too hard to notice as you go about your caring for them. But general medical treatment, whichever country you are in, is not always guaranteed. Remember that the 25 degrees benchmark is a general one for most practitioners and healthcare providers, and if your child falls below this, other treatments may be an option.

3 December 2010

Cinnamon’s anti-diabetes benefits get clinical trial boost

A daily dose of two grams of cinnamon for 12 weeks may improve blood pressure measures and blood sugar levels in people with type-2 diabetes, says new research from Imperial College London.

According to findings of the randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial, the spice may be considered as interesting supplement to the conventional diabetes medications.

“The two gram dose of cinnamon administered in our study was safe and well tolerated over the 12 weeks of treatment,” wrote Dr Rajadurai Akilen and his co-workers in Diabetic Medicine.

“The sustainability and durability of the effect of cinnamon has not been tested, nor has its long-term tolerability and safety, both of which will need to be determined. However, the short-term effects of the use of cinnamon for patients with Type 2 diabetes look promising.”

Exploding statistics

The study adds to a growing body of research reporting that active compounds in cinnamon may improve parameters associated with diabetes.

With the number of people are affected by diabetes in the EU 25 projected to increase to 26 million by 2030, up from about 19 million currently – or 4 per cent of the total population –approaches to reduce the risk of diabetes are becoming increasing attractive.

The statistics are even more startling in the US, where almost 24 million people live with diabetes, equal to 8 per cent of the population. The total costs are thought to be as much as $174 billion, with $116 billion being direct costs from medication, according to 2005-2007 American Diabetes Association figures.

At the end of the study the results indicated that the cinnamon supplement was associated with a mean decrease in systolic and diastolic blood pressure of 3.4 and 5.0 mmHg, respectively. No significant reductions were recorded in the placebo group.

In terms of blood sugar, the researchers noted a reduction in levels of glycated hemoglobin (used to measure blood sugar levels) over 12 weeks from 8.22 to 7.86 percent in the cinnamon group, compared with an increase in the placebo group from 8.55 to 8.68 percent over 12 weeks.

“This is the first clinical trial in the United Kingdom in a multiethnic population that has confirmed beneficial effects of 2 g cinnamon on [glycated hemoglobin] and blood pressure in Type-2 diabetes patients,” wrote the researchers.

Cinnamon and diabetes

Despite numerous studies championing the role of cinnamon for diabetes management, a recent meta-analysis questioned the potential benefits of cinnamon for type-2 diabetes. The analysis considered only five randomized placebo-controlled trials involving 282 subjects, and found no significant benefits of cinnamon supplement on glycated hemoglobin (A1C), fasting blood glucose (FBG), or other lipid parameters (Diabetes Care, 2008, Vol. 31, pp. 41-43).

Belly fat may weaken bones

One of the few possible advantages of carrying extra weight is being shot down

In the past, doctors had suggested that excess body fat, which is associated with heart disease, diabetes, and many other bodily harms, may protect against the bone disease osteoporosis.

But now, a study finds that even this may be misleading. In fact, deep belly fat may contribute to osteoporosis, say scientists whose research will be presented at the Radiological Society of North America.

That's because the fat cells most likely produce substances, not yet understood, that lead to bone disease in addition to heart disease and diabetes, said Dr. Miriam Bredella of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, where the study was conducted.

Bredella and colleagues looked at 50 premenopausal women and examined their fat using computerized tomography (CT), which can distinguish between compartments of fat. Bredella said the human body has two categories of fat: superficial fat, which lies under the skin, and visceral fat, which surrounds organs. The first type of fat has been shown to have benefits against diabetes and heart disease when distributed around the hips.

It's the second kind of fat, the deep belly fat, that is bad for bones, she said. The study found that this fat was associated with lower bone mineral density, a measure of bone strength.

Most other studies on fat and osteoporosis have looked at weight or body mass index (BMI), which do not reflect this distribution of fat, she said.

And there's no way to know where the fat goes when you gain weight, as it's largely determined by genetics, she said.

The researchers also used a new technique to look at bone marrow fat, or fat within bones, which also appears to make the bones weaker. Women with deep tummy fat also had more fat within their bones, Bredella said.

On the other hand, women with anorexia have also been known to be at increased risk of osteoporosis. The bottom line is that you should strive for a normal weight, because the extremes of too much or too little fat are both bad for bones, Bredella said.

The research is being presented for the first time at the conference, and has not yet appeared in a peer-reviewed journal. Further work should be done to confirm the results.

A future study will look at the relationship between deep belly fat and osteoporosis among men, Bredella said.

For Health Benefits, Try Tai Chi

The gentle, 2,000-year-old Chinese practice of tai chi is often described as "meditation in motion." But the Harvard Women's Health Watch newsletter suggests a more apt description is "medication in motion."

Tai chi, the most famous branch of Qigong, or exercises that harness the qi (life energy, pronounced "chee"), has been linked to health benefits for virtually everyone from children to seniors. Researchers aren't sure exactly how, but studies show that tai chi improves the quality of life for breast cancer patients and Parkinson's sufferers. Its combination of martial arts movements and deep breathing can be adapted even for people in wheelchairs. And it has shown promise in treating sleep problems and high blood pressure.

Flexibility and strength. Tai chi is credited with so many pluses, physiological and psychological, that Chenchen Wang, an associate professor of medicine at Tufts University, set out earlier this year to analyze 40 studies on it in English and Chinese journals. Wang found that tai chi did indeed promote balance, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, and strength. In a study comparing it with brisk walking and resistance training, a tai chi group improved more than 30 percent in lower-body strength and 25 percent in arm strength, nearly as much as a weight-training group and more than the walkers.

[For Better Balance, Pilates and Tai Chi Beat Yoga]

"Benefit was also found for pain, stress, and anxiety in healthy subjects," adds Wang, who was influenced by her mother, a Chinese doctor, to study an integration of complementary and alternative medicine with Western medicine.

In a 2008 analysis, Harvard Medical School's Gloria Yeh, an internist and assistant professor, reviewed 26 studies in English and Chinese and reported that in 85 percent of trials, tai chi lowered blood pressure. Other studies have shown it to reduce blood levels of B-type natriuretic peptide, a precursor of heart failure, and to maintain bone density in postmenopausal women. The nonprofit Arthritis Foundation offers its own 12-movement tai chi sequence.

Wang says more study is needed. Still, says New York Times personal health writer Jane Brody: "After reviewing existing scientific evidence for its potential health benefits, I've concluded that the proper question to ask yourself may not be why you should practice tai chi, but why not."

Lesson One: Find a teacher. "Learning from a book or video just does not work," says Greg Woodson, vice president of the international T'ai Chi Foundation and a teacher for 35 years. Students need real feedback from a teacher who can make sure exercises are done correctly "so the practice does not cause the type of injury it's designed to alleviate," he says. One example: Weight-bearing feet need to be flat on the floor to avoid knee stress, "an extremely subtle point that an experienced teacher will see." Woodson suggests that if a teacher has less than 10 years of experience, you should make sure he or she has the backing of a school or a more experienced teacher.

[Tai Chi May Help Ward Off Knee Pain in Seniors]

How much tai chi is enough? "Data suggest the minimum amount for effective results" is once- or twice-weekly sessions for eight to 12 weeks, says Wang. No pain, big gains.

Today, the Food and Nutrition Board has Failed Millions

After 13 years of silence, the quasi governmental agency, the Institute of Medicine's (IOM) Food and Nutrition Board (FNB), yesterday recommended that a three - pound premature infant can take virtually the same amount of vitamin D as a 300 pound pregnant woman. While that 400 IU/day dose is close to adequate for infants, 600 IU/day in pregnant women will do nothing to help the three childhood epidemics most closely associated with gestational and early childhood vitamin D deficiencies: asthma, auto-immune disorders, and, as recently reported in the largest pediatric journal in the world, autism (1). Professor Bruce Hollis of the Medical University of South Carolina has shown pregnant and lactating women need at least 5,000 IU/day, not 600.
The FNB also reported that vitamin D toxicity might occur at an intake of 10,000 IU/day (250 micrograms), although they could produce no reproducible evidence that 10,000 IU/day has ever caused toxicity in humans and only one poorly conducted study indicating 20,000 IU/day may cause mild elevations in serum calcium but not clinical toxicity.
Viewed with different measure, this FNB report recommends that an infant should take 10 micrograms/day (400 IU) and the pregnant women 15 micrograms/day (600 IU). As a single 30 minutes dose of summer sunshine gives adults more than 10,000 IU (250 micrograms), the FNB is apparently also warning that natural vitamin D input – as occurred from the sun before the widespread use of sunscreen – is dangerous. That is, the FNB is implying that God does not know what she is doing.

Disturbingly, this FNB committee focused on bone health, just like they did 14 years ago. They ignored the thousands of studies from the last ten years that showed higher doses of vitamin D helps: heart health, brain health, breast health, prostate health, pancreatic health, muscle health, nerve health, eye health, immune health, colon health, liver health, mood health, skin health, and especially fetal health. Tens of millions of pregnant women and their breast-feeding infants are severely vitamin D deficient, resulting in a great increase in the medieval disease, rickets. The FNB report seems to reason that if so many pregnant women have low vitamin D blood levels then it must be OK because such low levels are so common. However, such circular logic simply represents the cave man existence of most modern day pregnant women.
Hence, if you want to optimize your vitamin D levels – not just optimize the bone effect – supplementing is crucial. But it is almost impossible to significantly raise your vitamin D levels when supplementing at only 600 IU/day (15 micrograms). Pregnant women taking 400 IU/day have the same blood levels as pregnant women not taking vitamin D; that is, 400 IU is a meaninglessly small dose for pregnant women. Even taking 2,000 IU/day of vitamin D will only increase the vitamin D levels of most pregnant women by about 10 points, depending mainly on their weight. Professor Bruce Hollis has shown that 2,000 IU/day does not raise vitamin D to healthy or natural levels in either pregnant or lactating women. Therefore supplementing with higher amounts -- like 5000 IU/day -- is crucial for those women who want their fetus to enjoy optimal vitamin D levels, and the future health benefits that go along with it.
For example, taking only two of the hundreds of recently published studies, Professor Urashima and colleagues in Japan gave 1,200 IU/day of vitamin D3 for six months to Japanese 10 year-olds in a randomized controlled trial. They found vitamin D dramatically reduced the incidence of influenza A as well as the episodes of asthma attacks in the treated kids while the placebo group was not so fortunate. If Dr. Urashima had followed the newest FNB recommendations, it is unlikely that 400 IU/day treatment arm would have done much of anything and some of the treated young teenagers may have come to serious harm without the vitamin D. Likewise, a randomized controlled prevention trial of adults by Professor Joan Lappe and colleagues at Creighton University, which showed dramatic improvements in the health of internal organs, used more than twice the FNB's new adult recommendations.
Finally, the FNB committee consulted with 14 vitamin D experts and – after reading these 14 different reports – the FNB decided to suppress their reports. Many of these 14 consultants are either famous vitamin D researchers, like Professor Robert Heaney at Creighton, or in the case of Professor Walter Willett at Harvard, the single best-known nutritionist in the world. So, the FNB will not tell us what Professors Heaney and Willett thought of their new report? Why not? Yesterday, the Vitamin D Council directed our attorney to file a federal Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the IOM's FNB for the release of these 14 reports.
I, my family, most of my friends, hundreds of patients, and thousands of readers of the Vitamin D Council newsletter, have been taking 5,000 IU/day for up to eight years. Not only have they reported no significant side-effects, indeed, they have reported greatly improved health in multiple organ systems. My advice: especially for pregnant women, continue taking 5,000 IU/day until your (OH)D] is between 50 ng/ml and 80 ng/ml (the vitamin D blood levels obtained by humans who live and work in the sun and the mid-point of the current reference ranges at all American laboratories). Gestational vitamin D deficiency is not only associated with rickets, but a significantly increased risk of neonatal pneumonia (2), a doubled risk for preeclampsia (3), a tripled risk for gestational diabetes (4), and a quadrupled risk for primary cesarean section (5).
Yesterday, the FNB failed millions of pregnant women whose as yet unborn babies will pay the price. Let us hope the FNB will comply with the spirit of "transparency" by quickly responding to our freedom of Information requests.