Health Updates 23 March 2012

  • Drug dosage was approved despite warning: “Four months before a best-selling Alzheimer’s drug was set to lose its patent protection, its makers received approval for a higher dosage that extended their exclusive right to sell the drug.  But the higher dosage caused potentially dangerous side effects and worked only slightly better than the existing drugs, according to an article published Thursday in the British Medical Journal.  The drug, Aricept 23, was approved in July 2010 against the advice of reviewers at the Food and Drug Administration.  They noted that the clinical trial had failed to show that the higher dosage – 23 milligrams versus previous dosages of 5 and 10 milligrams – met its goals of improving both cognitive and overall functioning in people with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease.  The single clinical trial of 1,400 patients also found that the larger dosage led to substantially more nausea and vomiting, potentially dangerous side effects for elderly patients struggling with advanced Alzheimer’s disease.  The drug was developed by the Japanese pharmaceutical company Eisai but is marketed in the United States in a partnership with Pfizer.  ‘It doesn’t really have much benefit, but does substantially more harm,’ said Dr. Steven Woloshin, one of the co-authors of the journal article…”.  Isn’t there an oath physicians take, something about ‘first do no harm’? (Katie Thomas, NY Times)
  • U.S. underestimates long-term costs of obesity, experts say: “The costs of the obesity epidemic to the United States and the economic value of curbing it are not captured fully by current methods, according to a new report.  The problem is that estimates used by Congress when it looks at these issues project out only 10 years, while it may take much longer than that for complications of obesity, such as diabetes and heart disease, to manifest, the report authors say.  For example, ‘a person with diabetes is not going to go on dialysis right away.  They’re going to go on dialysis 10 to 12 years after their diagnosis,’ said Michael O’Grady, co-author of the report, released Wednesday by the Campaign to End Obesity.  A 25-year window for making policy decisions would be more appropriate when drafting policies aimed at curbing disease, he said….By the same token, measures to prevent obesity can take 20 or more years, perhaps even generations, to show their promise….A wider window would enable policy makers to assess the cost-effectiveness of preventive programs, the report noted.  ‘Interventions aimed at children will not have their full payoff until those children are adults’, said Dr. James Marks, senior vice president and director of the Health Group at the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, which funded the study.” (HealthDay)
  • HHS: Insurance rate hikes too high in 9 states: “Two health insurance companies covering enrollees in nine different states sought rate increases that were too high, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  ‘Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, consumers are no longer in the dark about their health insurance premiums,’ said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a statement released Thursday, referring to the provision in the law that requires insurers to justify rate hikes of 10% or more.  ‘It’s time for these companies to immediately rescind these unreasonable rate hikes, issue refunds to consumers, or publicly explain their refusal to do so,’ Sebelius said.  The determinations of unreasonable rate increase requests came after independent review, according to HHS.  The nine states involved are Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.  The rate increases, which are as high as 24%, would affect more than 42,000 people.” (Joyce Frieden, MedPage Today)
  • Really?  Carrying a cold bottle aids exercise? “Health experts advise Americans to exercise moderately for at least two and a half hours a week.  But for those who are overweight, overheating can be a major hurdle to staying active.  For some, the extra fat prevents the body from dissipating heat, causing a steep rise in core temperature that leads to quicker exhaustion.  Studies of athletes have found that wearing cooling vests or similar items during exercise can help lower the rate at which the core temperature rises, delaying fatigue, improving performance and causing less perceived effort.  Now, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have shown that the simple act of carrying a cold thermos can have the same effect in people who are overweight.” Overweight but otherwise healthy women who took part in the study while carrying special cooling devices in their hands as they exercised were found to have better attendance rates, better duration and speed on treadmills, and  greater improvements in blood pressure, heart rate and waist size.  To get the same effect, try freezing a bottle of water and then holding it as you run or exercise.  “The bottom line: Holding a cold thermos or bottle of water may make it easier to exercise.” (Anahad O’Connor, NY Times)

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