Category Archives: Health & Wellness

Health & Wellness

Nutrition Facts Label on Food Products Revised by FDA

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that there is a need to redesign the nutrition facts panel to include sugar content and its appropriate portion per serving. This is to address the unhealthy consumption of individuals leading to diseases. The organization would also like to put emphasis on “calories” and “servings” equated on the number of grams of sugar that is being added on the food, together with the percent daily value for “added” sugar.

It is necessary to have a barometer for these criteria in order to meet the nutrition requirements while staying within the allowed proportion of one’s sugar limits without compromising the scientific mark that supports the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, according to a news release.

The new law will slated to take effect on July 26. By this date, labels will no longer display “calories from fat”, but instead will indicate the amount of “Total Fat”, “Saturated Fat”, and “Trans Fat” per serving.  Nutritionist and dietitians are all looking forward to this milestone in the history of nutrition. In addition, First Lady Michelle Obama is expected to deliberate on the redesign on Nutrition Facts Label, being an advocate on obesity prevention herself.

The FDA added that it is easier to monitor one’s calorie and nutrient intake if the food or drink is packed per single portion.  The buying public normally looks at the label to define its suitability to their health and dietary requirements.  According to Dr. Robert Califf, FDA Commissioner, the current label system needs some revisions to better help Americans make intelligent decisions in choosing their food to avoid the complications of heart ailments, obesity and diabetes due to their eating patterns.

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Early Disease Detection Health & Wellness

Important Things You Need To Know About HIV Testing and Treatment

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The HIV epidemic continues to be a major global health threat. A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) showed that by the end of 2014, a total of 36.9 million people around the world were living with the HIV infection. That same year, the organization recorded a total of 1.2 million deaths from the AIDS virus. Since the onset of the epidemic, almost 71 million people have been infected worldwide, accounting for about 34 million deaths, according to this article.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that by the end of 2012, an estimated 1.2 million people of ages 13 and older were living with HIV. Of these, 12.8% were unaware of their condition. There are about 50,000 new HIV cases in the country per year, CDC said.

The world of medical science still has to find a cure for the disease that continues to affect and threaten the lives of a substantial number of people. Through the years, various health agencies and communities have exerted significant efforts to combat the epidemic. Emphasis is placed on prevention, early detection, and immediate treatment. Though the end of the search for the ultimate antidote is not yet in sight, advances in therapies including contemporary antiretroviral drugs have shown to be effective in increasing life expectancy among HIV patients. Next to prevention, the key is early detection.

HIV testing

Types of HIV Tests

HIV tests are used to determine whether a person is infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) which triggers a more deadly disease called Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).  These tests detect the presence of certain antibodies, antigens, or RNA in a person’s blood, saliva, or urine which signifies that the individual has been infected by the virus.

The tests are available in physician’s offices, clinics, hospitals, health centers, and health departments. Standard tests are either inexpensive or completely free. Testing centers implement a strict confidentiality policy for the protection of the patients. Anonymous testing is also available in most states.

The available types of HIV tests include the following:

Antibody Tests

These are the most common forms of HIV testing. These tests are done to detect the presence of antibodies to the virus in the person’s blood. Some tests can also detect these biomolecules in the saliva. With a normal antibody test, a patient waits for a few days to a few weeks before he gets a result. A rapid antibody test, however, can give the patient the results between 20 to 30 minutes.

There are two general types of antibody tests that are commonly used:

Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA)

This is usually the first test conducted to determine the presence of antibodies to HIV. If such antibodies are detected in the blood, the test returns an HIV Positive result. It is usually repeated for the confirmation of the diagnosis. When the initial ELISA test returns an HIV Negative result, no further tests need be conducted.

Western Blot

This is performed when two ELISA tests return a positive result.  This test is necessary to confirm the diagnosis. It is more difficult and takes longer to perform. Hence, it is also more expensive.

Both tests are highly accurate and when the combination shows positive results, a patient is clinically diagnosed to be HIV positive.

However, the antibody tests cannot successfully detect HIV immediately after exposure because it takes between 2 weeks and 6 months for antibodies to appear in the blood. This is called the “window period” within which a person may be infected and still may not test positive for the virus.

Ideally, antibody tests should be conducted beyond the window period. It is recommended that testing is done at 6 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months after exposure or contact with a person who is HIV infected, as reported in this article.

Other tests

Here are some other tests that may be used to check for HIV:

Antibody / Antigen Tests

These are tests that can detect the presence of both antibodies to the virus and antigens or particles of the virus itself. Antigens of HIV typically show up within 2 to 4 weeks after infection. Thus, antigen/antibody combination tests can detect HIV much earlier than the standard antibody tests. These screening methods are available only for blood testing. A rapid antibody/antigen test can deliver results within as quickly as 20 minutes.

Polymerase Chain Reaction

The PCR test can identify the presence of the virus itself in a person’s blood. It checks to find genetic material of the virus (RNA or DNA) in the person’s white blood cells. PCR testing requires highly technical skills and costly laboratory equipment. Thus, it is not as common as antibody testing.  Not all hospitals and clinics offer this service.

PCR can detect the virus within days or weeks after exposure. It is recommended to be performed when the results of antibody tests are uncertain such as when they were done within the window period. The test is also conducted for the screening of organs and blood intended for donation. In addition, it is done to determine if a baby born to an HIV-positive mother has likewise been infected.

In-Home Test Kits

Home test kits can screen either the blood or saliva for the presence of HIV antibodies. There are two tests currently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Some home testing kits are conducted by pricking the finger, placing drops of blood on the given card, and mailing the card to a licensed laboratory. The sample will be tested using the ELISA and Western Blot methods. The screening is done anonymously and the patient is given an identification number to be used when he claims results by phone call within three business days.

Meanwhile, others can detect antibodies in the saliva. To perform the test, the user swabs his upper and lower gums and places the collected sample in the given vial. This is sent to a laboratory for screening. Results can be expected within 20 to 40 minutes, but a follow-up test should be done if the initial results are positive.

Benefits of Early Detection

CDC recommends that all persons of 13 years of age and older must be tested for HIV, regardless of risk factors, based on the agency’s report. It is also advised that routine screening for adults, adolescents, and pregnant women be conducted in healthcare settings in the United States, according to this informational article.

Persons exposed to risk factors such as those having multiple sex partners, engaging in unprotected sex with a possibly HIV infected person, engaging in risky sexual behavior such as men having sex with men (MSM), and sharing needles for intravenous drug use should get themselves tested right after the lapse of the window period.

It is important to confirm a possible diagnosis as soon as possible for several reasons:

  1. To avoid transmitting the virus to others, including to other sexual partners or to an unborn child;
  2. To reduce the viral load in the blood;
  3. To get immediate treatment.

The earlier the virus is detected, the sooner can treatment and monitoring can begin. Treating the condition in the early stages can significantly slow down the growth rate of the virus. This increases life expectancy and delays the onset of AIDS.

Over the years, newer HIV treatment options have developed including advanced anti-retroviral medication which has shown to greatly increase a patient’s life expectancy.

HIV signs symptoms

HIV Treatment

Untreated, the HIV virus will spread rapidly and the illness will progress to AIDS, the most advanced stage. When the immune system is considerably damaged, the body will be susceptible to a host of life-threatening opportunistic diseases and cancers until death occurs.

Early medical attention can effectively delay progression and when administered properly, patients can continue to live normal and productive lives although they must employ special precautions to avoid contaminating other people.

HIV patients are treated with a combination of several medications. This regimen is called the antiretroviral therapy (ART). While the medicines cannot cure the virus, they control the spread and reduce the viral load or the number of HIV copies multiplied in the body. With a lower viral load, the immune system is maintained strong enough to fight off and recover from a number of infections and cancers. Having lesser HIV copies in the body also reduces the risk of transmitting the disease.

For instance, a research published in 1994 showed that the use of the drug called zidovudine or AZT by HIV-infected women and by their newborns reduced the risk of HIV transmission from about 25% to 8%.  Another study showed that pregnant women who received at least two weeks of ART reduced the risk of perinatal transmission to less than 1 percent.

There are 6 major classes of drugs for HIV treatment, according to aids.gov. These are non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs), nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs), protease inhibitors (PIs), fusion inhibitors, CCR5 antagonists (CCR5), and integrase strand transfer inhibitors (INSTIs).

The 6 classes include several medicines, depending on how each fights the virus.  There are 25 medicines that are currently approved for HIV treatment. A treatment regimen will usually combine at least three different medicines from at least two of the six categories, based on this article. A mixture of drugs is necessary to efficiently reduce the viral load and prevent resistance to medication.

In prescribing the medications, the doctor will consider several factors including the patient’s health history, results of other diagnostic tests performed after the diagnosis which measure the viral load in the patient’s body (e.g. CD4 Count), results of drug-resistance testing, possible side effects of the medicines, possible contraindications, convenience, and costs.

The drugs can cause several side effects. The most common reactions are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anemia, fatigue, dizziness, headaches, skin rashes, and insomnia. In considering an ART regimen, doctors will consider a combination of drugs that will efficiently control the disease with the least possible side effects.

ART is a lifetime treatment plan to which a patient must religiously adhere. His commitment to the regimen and to certain lifestyle changes will determine the effectiveness of the therapy and the quality of life he can expect while living with HIV.

Any concerns that arise while on certain medications should be discussed immediately with the health care provider or physician. Barriers to effective treatment should be reduced or eliminated as soon as possible.

While research continues to provide critical information for the development of advanced treatment plans and therapies, medications will not solve the global epidemic. The thrust of government and health agencies should focus more on education and prevention methods. Controlling and combatting the crisis requires a combination of measures including increasing access to screening methods and testing facilities, intensifying health campaigns, providing more HIV and AIDS support programs, and strengthening partnerships between government health agencies, communities, and the private sector to maintain effectual prevention programs.

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Health & Wellness

Hormone Replacement Therapy Doesn’t Heighten Prostate Cancer Risk In Men

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Contrary to popular perception, men who take hormone replacement medication to address declining testosterone levels are not exposed to a higher risk of developing prostate cancer.

This is the conclusion by a team of researchers who conducted an extensive analysis of medical records at the National Prostrate Cancer Register and the Prescribed Drug Register in Sweden. According to a news release, the study revealed that the male patients who underwent testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) for over a year had lowered their risk of aggressive disease by about fifty percent.

According to co-author and lead researcher Stacy Loeb, a urologist at the NYU Langone Medical Center, the findings support the position that maintaining testosterone levels within a normal range is crucial for the overall health of aging men. She says that men who have low testosterone and experience the associated symptoms should consult their doctors to determine whether or not testosterone replacement should be resorted to.

When used properly, the therapy can significantly reverse the symptoms of low testosterone, which include reduced libido, fatigue, depression, weight gain, and mood swings. Administering the treatment at the right doses can improve the patients’ sexual health, mood, and quality of life.

[Photo from Day Donaldson via Flickr]

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Health & Wellness

Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity Increase Risk of Psoriasis

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A recent study conducted by Danish researchers showed that psoriasis is possibly connected to obesity and type 2 diabetes. The findings revealed that people with type 2 diabetes had over 50% probability of developing psoriasis, compared to those who didn’t have the condition.

The study authors also discovered that psoriasis is linked to obesity. For instance, people with a body mass index (BMI) above 30 had twice the chances of having the skin condition compared to those with normal weight.

Lead researcher Dr. Ann Sophie Lonberg of the University of Copenhagen clarified that while the study does not concludethat obesity or type 2 diabetes triggers psoriasis or vice versa, it certainly establishes a probable correlation between the conditions. She further explained through a news item that it is the team’s theory that the link is caused by the association of the ailments to common genes and lifestyle choices.

Dr. Joel Gelfand, a dermatology professor at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia, agrees with this proposition. According to Gelfand, other studies indicate that the risk of developing diabetes among patients afflicted with psoriasis increases with the severity of the latter condition. For this reason, he recommends that patients with psoriasis should undergo regular screenings for diabetes.

Meanwhile, another dermatologist – Dr. Doris Day, who practices at Lenox Hospital in New York City – said that diabetes is harder to control among patients who are diagnosed with psoriasis, which strongly suggests that there may be a genetic link between these conditions.

Because psoriasis is a complex disease, patients should consult a cardiologist and an endocrinologist to better monitor and prevent the possible complications that commonly accompany the illness.

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Health & Wellness

A Quick Fact Sheet on Type 2 Diabetes

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Diabetes is a condition that results from the increase of blood glucose levels to higher than normal conditions. The most common form of the disease is Type 2 diabetes, wherein the body does not produce insulin properly.

Here are some facts about Type 2 diabetes as published in the 2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report:

  • Over 29 million people in the United States suffer from diabetes from the previous high of 26 million in 2010.
  • Approximately 86 million adults suffer from prediabetes, which results from the higher-than-normal production of blood sugar levels. Without weight loss and moderate physical activity, 15 to 30 percent of people with prediabetes may suffer from Type 2 diabetes within five years.
  • About 1.7 million people more than 20 years old were newly diagnosed with diabetes in 2012.
  • Roughly 208,000 people less than 20 years old have been diagnosed with diabetes (type 1 or type 2) in the same year.
  • In 2012, diabetes and complications associated with it cost the United States $245 billion in total medical costs and lost work and wages, up from $174 billion in 2007.

Treatment

In any diabetes treatment, the aim is to maintain a normal blood sugar level. Diabetics need to have an understanding of how food and physical activity can affect their blood sugar level. The key in the treatment of Type 2 Diabetes is changing the diet and lifestyle of the patient. This can help control diabetes without needing additional treatment.

In the long run, however, patients with Type 2 Diabetes may need treatment with tablets while others will need to inject insulin. They may also need medicines for reducing the risk of possible complications. For instance, some patients take pills for reducing blood pressure and others take statins to lower their cholesterol level.

 

Health & Wellness

Desserts Have Greater Impact on Childhood Obesity Than Salty Food

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If you think that letting your child eat a slice of cake after meals won’t hurt, this recent study might make you think otherwise.

New research conducted by a team from the University of Michigan Health System discovered a possible link between desserts and childhood weight management, especially for those in low-income households. “Eating in the absence of hunger is associated with being overweight among older children, but this is the first time we’ve seen this link in children as young as toddlerhood,” said study senior author Julie C. Lumeng in a news item.

The findings were based on tests done on kids age 1 to 3 who were arranged to have no food intake for an hour, then fed a sufficient amount of food for lunch. Afterwards, the toddlers were offered two kinds of after-meal treats: sugar-based foods in the form of chocolate chip cookies, and salty food such as potato chips. There was no restriction as to the amount that the kids are allowed to consume. After successive opportunities of providing treats, they were taken out of the kids’ diets.

Results revealed a significant increase in the body mass index (BMI) of children who preferred sweets after lunch when they reached 33 months. In contrast, those who liked salty snacks did not show any obvious increase in BMI.

The study provides important information about the impact of snacking after meals, even at an early age. “The tendency to eat when you’re not hungry increases with age and could have lifelong implications for weight gain… We need to explore ways to target this drive to eat before children even turn three,” Lumeng added.

The study was recently published in the journal Pediatrics.

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Health & Wellness Substance Abuse

People with Rheumatoid Arthritis Experience More Health Concerns When Smoking

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Tobacco consumption has long been known to cause destruction of the immune system, leading to several illnesses and disorders to develop. It is also one of the major causes of early death for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and a new study recommends quitting smoking to cut the risk of early death.

According to a team researchers led by Deborah Symmons (professor of rheumatology and musculoskeletal epidemiology at the University of Manchester in England), the study offers essential proof that there is a remarkable drop in the statistics of early deaths in patients who stopped smoking and carry on year after year. Furthermore, the threat to the health of patients with RA who used to smoke is similar to those who have never puffed a cigarette in their lives. The only advantage if a person stops smoking is to increase life span a little and avoid further complications.

The analysis of Symmons and associates was based on the evaluated data of rheumatoid arthritis patients from the U.K., as reported in a news item. The researchers are hoping that their data could save more lives by raising awareness to patients and encouraging them to quit smoking.

People diagnosed with RA also face a high fatal risk due to accompanying complications like hypertension, cancer, heart diseases, lung diseases and different infections that easily attach to the patient.

Previous studies even points out that smoking plays a vital role in the expansion of rheumatoid arthritis, though this condition is not yet fully understood. The abnormal response of the immune system affected by factors like genes, hormones and environmental factor like smoking can lead to inflammation.

As it is, rheumatoid arthritis is both a painful and devastating condition, and smoking increases the risk of death in patients.

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Health & Wellness

Free Breakfast Program in Public Schools Doesn’t Increase Obesity Risk

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Despite earlier assumptions that serving breakfast to public school students may do more harm than good, a recent study discovered that this practice didn’t affect the risk of obesity in children.

Some U.S. school districts have found classrooms to be effective venues for students to participate in the breakfast service. “Moving breakfast into the classroom is intended to encourage participation in school breakfast programs, particularly among students unable to arrive early, and to reduce the stigma associated with a trip to the cafeteria,” said study author Amy Ellen Schwartz in a news release.

The free breakfast program has been running in New York City since 2003, but the shift to serve them in classrooms started in 2007. According to the New York City Department of Education, there was a boost in the number of students participating in the program since it was transferred from the cafeteria to the classroom. From only 25 percent participation at the beginning of the program, it has now ballooned to 80 percent participation.

Fellow study author Sean Corcoran added that the motivation behind serving breakfast in classrooms does not exactly pan out as much as the school districts hope for. “While we find that providing breakfast in the classroom had large positive effects on participation in school breakfast programs, our analysis provides no evidence of hoped-for gains in academic performance, nor of feared increases in obesity,” Corcoran added. In other words, although the study confirmed that the breakfast program had no significant impact on student obesity rates, it didn’t lead to better scholastic performance either.

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Health & Wellness

Fruit Drinks For Children May Have Too Much Sugar, Says Study

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Fruit juice boxes flood the groceries and parents are unaware that these boxes of liquid sweetness don’t really provide their kids with healthy doses of vitamins, but instead load them up with unacceptably high dose of sugar.

Fruit juice is camouflaged and is not always as it seems even if it’s labeled as “100% pure” because the production undergoes a process wherein most of the flavor has been removed. This then leads the manufacturer to add “flavor packs” to restore the flavor lost during the processing.

Researchers from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society assessed sugar content of several fruit juice drink, 100% natural juices, and smoothies marketed specifically to children. According to the findings of the study as reported in a news release, close to 50 percent of the fruit juice products already contains at least 19 grams of sugar, which is already the daily recommended sugar consumption of a child.

In addition, while the fruit juice boxes were labeled safe according to European law, the information is applicable to adult females with average built and active lifestyles. As a result, the nutrient content in these products may not be suitable for kids.

Likewise, since fruit juice is high in calories and sugar, obesity and cavity problems may arise in children. Being in liquid form, it can also give a feeling of fullness to children, so they become less likely to feel hunger for more nutritious foods and beverages.

Details of the study are published in the journal BMJ Open.

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Health & Wellness

Portion Size and Calorie Content Influence Eating Habits in Children

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A team of researchers from the Department of Nutritional Sciences (NUTR) at Penn State University discovered how food preparations can affect the quality and amount of food that children eat.

Calorie consumption is a vital factor of the human diet, and striking a good balance is essential for healthier living. In the case of children, overall consumption of calories seems to be affected by the amount of food prepared in front of them as well as the calorie content of their meals. “In this study, we found that serving larger portions of food, along with higher-calorie-density options of those foods, led to the children consuming larger amounts of food and more calories overall,” study co-author Samantha Kling said in a news release.

For this study, the researchers enlisted the participation of 120 children in daycare centers. The youngsters — who were between 3 and 5 years of age — were provided specific lunch sets once a week within a six-week period. The meals were varied according to portion size from 100 to 200 percent, as well as caloric density (CD) from 100 to 142 percent.

One striking discovery was that the children weren’t able to distinguish between meals with low caloric content and those with high amount of calories. “There is a belief that young kids can self-regulate their food intake… This study shows those signals are really easy to override,” said study co-author Barbara Rolls.

The team believes that the study sheds light on the importance of proper food preparation in the eating habits of children. “With acceptable and readily available products, strategies to reduce calories can be easily implemented in homes and childcare settings, and can be strategically combined with changes in portion size by serving larger portions of lower-CD foods with smaller portions of higher-CD foods,” Rolls added. Of course, the participation of lawmakers and food companies could really make things a lot easier. “Policy makers and food producers need to provide the resources and products to help parents and caregivers counter pervasive influences.”

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