Health Updates 3 July 2012

  • Really? Drinking coffee lowers colon cancer risk: “What role can coffee and tea play in the risk of developing colon cancer?  The question has been at the heart of a number of studies that have produced conflicting data.  Some researchers suspect their influence might be a protective one, stemming from the high levels of antioxidants they contain.  But others say they might have no effect at all or even add to the risk.  Some teas, for example, contain polyamines, compounds thought to promote the growth of cells and possibly tumors.  Over the years, most studies of the subject have been either small or plagued by methodological flaws.  But recently a team of researchers at the National Cancer Institute followed half a million Americans over 15 years.  The researchers looked in detail at their diets, habits and health, and found that people who drank four or more cups of coffee a day — regular or decaf — had a 15 percent lower risk of colon cancer compared with coffee abstainers. While the researchers could not prove cause and effect, they did find that the link was dose-responsive: Greater coffee consumption was correlated with a lower colon cancer risk.  The effect held even after they adjusted their findings for factors like exercise, family history of cancer, body weight and alcohol and cigarette use.  At the same time, however, there appeared to be no relationship between cancer development and tea.  As for coffee, it was unclear what exactly may be responsible for the finding of a reduced risk, though caffeine at the very least seems unlikely to be it, said Dr. Rashmi Sinha, the lead author of the study.  ‘Coffee contained more than 1,000 compounds that could potentially affect colon cancer risk,’ she added.  ‘At this point, we can’t say.’  The bottom line: Drinking coffee may have a slightly protective effect against colon cancer, though it’s not clear why.” (Anahad O’Connor, NY Times)
  • Minorities less likely to use hospice care: “Minority patients with heart failure are less likely to use hospice care than whites, new research finds.  Hospice provides palliative care for the terminally ill.  The goal is to ease pain and discomfort, and to focus on quality of life as death approaches.  Overall, use of hospice care is increasing, according to researchers from Indiana University School of Medicine.  Their study found that nonwhite Medicare patients with heart failure were 20 percent less likely to enroll in hospice than white patients.  Nonwhite patients were also more likely to drop out of hospice care than whites.  ‘When considering end-of-life options, it is important to consider hospice services at home, in nursing homes or in hospice facilities,’ study author Dr. Kathleen Unroe, a scientists with the Indiana University Center for Aging Research, said in a university news release.  ‘Our findings highlight that there is a significant difference between how white patients and nonwhite patients and their families utilize hospice services’.  The study, which looked at records on nearly 220,000 heart failure patients on Medicare, was published in the June issue of the American Heart Journal.  Nearly 1.6 million people received hospice services in 2010, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.  About 42 percent of all deaths in the United States were under the care of a hospice program in 2010.” (MedlinePlus)
  • Dole recalls ‘Hearts of Romaine’ for Listeria bug: “Produce distributor Dole has recalled two lots of a bagged salad due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination.  The two affected lots of Dole Hearts of Romaine include 2,598 cases with product codes of 0540N165112A or 0540N165112B.  The bags have a use-by date of June 26, 1012, and a UPC code of 7143000956.  The recall was announced after FDA testing found a sample that was positive for L. monocytogenes.  The recalled bags were distributed in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.  Customers who purchased a product from the affected lots should immediately discard it.  Retailers should remove any affected product from their inventory….No adverse event reports have been filed related to the potentially contaminated greens, the company noted.  Listeria is a bacteria found in water, soil, some farm animals, and raw milk, as well as in various processed meat products, products made from unpasteurized milk, refrigerated smoked seafood, and raw sprouts.  The bacteria can survive and grow in a refrigerated environment.  Infection can be fatal to certain high-risk populations, including adults ages 60 and older, immunocompromised patients, and patients with chronic medical conditions.  Pregnant mothers with listeriosis may experience miscarriage, stillbirth, and other potentially serious or fatal effects in their newborns.” (Cole Petrochko, MedPage Today)
  • Chronic pain may depend on emotional reaction to injury: “Whether a person’s injury will lead to chronic pain may depend on the level of communication between two parts of their brain, a new study  finds.  According to the report, published in the current issue of Nature Neuroscience, brain regions related to emotional and motivational behavior seem to communicate more in those who develop chronic pain.  ‘For the first time, we can explain why people who may have the exact same initial pain either go on to recover or develop chronic pain,’ senior study author A. Vania Apkarian, a professor of physiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said in a university news release.  ‘The injury by itself is not enough to explain the ongoing pain,’ Apkarian added. ‘It has to do with the injury combined with the state of the brain.’  For the study, the researchers used brain scans to examine interaction between two parts of the brain — the frontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens — in 40 patients who had back pain develop recently for the first time.  The patients were followed for one year.  By analyzing the scans, the investigators were able to predict whether the patients would develop chronic pain with an 85 percent level of accuracy.  The findings suggest that the brain’s emotional reaction to the injury is crucial.  ‘It may be that these sections of the brain are more excited to begin with in certain individuals, or there may be genetic and environmental  influences that predispose these brain regions to interact at an excitable level,’ Apkarian said.  ‘Now we hope to develop new therapies for treatment based on this finding’.  An estimated 30 million to 40 million US adults suffer from chronic pain.  Back pain is especially common.  ‘Chronic pain is one of the most expensive health care conditions in the US, yet there still is not a scientifically validated therapy for this condition,’ Apkarian said.  Although the study showed an association between levels of communication in the brain and chronic pain, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.” (HealthDay)

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