Booster Shots

Oddities, musings and news from the health world

Category: disease

Get health info, meet Mario Lopez at the Alive and Well L.A. health expo

June 22, 2010 | 12:44 pm

What's more fun and less stressful than going to the doctor, but still good for you? Attending the Alive and Well L.A. health expo this weekend, where health screenings, information on disease prevention and exercise programs will be available to the public.

L3kg2knc The free, two-day expo, to take place at the Los Angeles Convention Center this weekend from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., will feature a number of health-centric celebs such as trainer Bob Harper from "The Biggest Loser," Dr. Robert Rey, aka "Dr. 90210," and "Extra" host and uber-workout guy Mario Lopez.

If you're feeling ultra-fit, you can see how you measure up to Lopez on Saturday afternoon at the Celsius Fitness Age Challenge, where cardio, strength and endurance tests will determine your fitness age. Our money's on Lopez, but heck, give it a shot.

Or, check out GE's Healthymagination Tour to see a 3-D model of your muscular, cardiovascular, nervous, and skeletal systems -- and upload to them to your Facebook page. Of course, if your physique leans more toward Homer Simpson than Lance Armstrong, you may want to keep that information to yourself.

Other attractions will help get you moving, such as the soccer challenge booth and the rock climbing wall. Plus, you can bone up on information about kidney health and nutrition and cancer treatment, and meet Dr. Peter H. Grossman of the Grossman Burn Centers. A number of NBC4 on-air personalities will be in attendance as well.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo: Meet Mario Lopez during Saturday's Celsius Fitness Age Challenge at this weekend's Alive and Well L.A. health expo. Credit: Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images for Celsius

Early fitness important to cutting future risk of diabetes, heart disease

June 18, 2010 |  2:57 pm

Quad Attention, college students: Get off that shuttle bus and start walking to class.

You’re already eating a diet of mainly beer and pizza, staying up all hours of the night, and living in cramped, potentially germ-infested dorms. The last thing on your mind is whether you’re setting yourself up for future cardiovascular disease or Type 2 diabetes.

Now might be a good time to start thinking about it…

A new study by Tufts University scientists found that body fat percentages are not the only precursors to health problems later in life. A person's physical fitness may matter a lot more -- at least when it comes to developing cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

Motivated in part by the astounding growth rate of obesity amongst college students -- approximately 31% of U.S. college students are overweight or obese -- researchers at Tufts' Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy tracked the health and health-related behaviors of 564 male and female college students over a nine-year period. They tracked body fat, fitness level and risk factors such as cholesterol and blood glucose levels.

Their findings: Students who were physically fit -- regardless of their body fat content -- had lower blood triglycerides, higher HDL (the "good" cholesterol). That effect was especially marked in women.

The fitter students also had lower blood glucose levels, an effect that was especially marked in men.

The findings are important, says Jennifer M. Sacheck, one of the study authors, because they suggest that the roots of later disease may be laid down early. "Because most of these health problems show up more often later in life, most studies have focused on adults, and very few have been done on college populations or anyone younger," she said in a phone interview.

However, she added, because students won't be tracked through their lives, there's no way to guarantee that heart disease and diabetes actually will develop in those students who look like they're heading that way.

The study does suggest that maybe we should change the way we think about health -- basing it not so much on weight and body fat composition, but more on physical fitness and the frequency of exercise.

And, Sacheck says, the message has particular importance for college students who are known to be more careless and reckless with their health than other age groups:

"In college, you think you're invincible, at the peak of your health, and that your body can handle anything. But my message [in this study] is that even at this age your body is susceptible."

For those who have long cursed the Body Mass Index, which stratifies a person's health level based on weight and height equations, this study is heartening. Perhaps it's time to stop worrying about the number on the scale and whether you can still fit in  the jeans you wore in high school, and instead pat yourself on the back for running each morning. It might seem paradoxical, but being physically active and a bit pudgy might be better than skinny and unfit.   

Here's the study abstract (the full report is available for a fee) plus a news release from Tufts laying out the nuts and bolts of the research and its findings.

And here's a link to the website of physiologist Linda Bacon, one of the proponents of health at every size.

-- Jessie Schiewe

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

The FDA approves new drug for Pompe disease

May 25, 2010 | 11:40 am

The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved a new drug called Lumizyme for the treatment of Pompe disease, a disabling genetic disorder that is often fatal. A drug called Myozyme is available to treat the disease, but supplies have been severely restricted and it is reserved for use in children and infants with the most severe form of the disorder. Approval of Lumizyme, which is closely related to Myozyme, will make treatment available to much larger numbers of people.

Pompe disease, which affects about one in 40,000 Americans, is caused by mutations in the gene that is the blueprint for an enzyme called acid alpha-glucosidase, which is used by tissues to convert a form of sugar called glycogen into energy. If the enzyme is not working properly, glycogen builds up in tissues, especially in the heart and muscles, weakening them severely. Many different mutations have been discovered, and they vary in severity. Some mutations produce only a partial impairment in activity and the disease does not become a problem until adolescence or adulthood. In other cases, however, the enzyme does not work at all, and the disorder can be fatal at a very young age unless treated. In infants, symptoms include respiratory problems that often lead to infections, feeding problems, poor weight gain, muscle weakness, floppiness, head lag and an enlarged heart. More than half of victims also suffer enlarged tongues. In the late onset form, the primary symptom is muscle weakness leading to respiratory problems that can be fatal. The heart is usually involved, but it does not become grossly enlarged.

Myozyme, produced by Genzyme Corp. of Cambridge, Mass., is a synthetic form of alfa-glucosidase that breaks down the glycogen, easing Pompe symptoms. The company originally produced the drug in 160-liter batches, which limited the available supply so that its use had to be restricted to infants and children who were most severely affected. The company applied to the FDA to manufacture the drug in 2,000-liter batches, but the agency determined that the synthetic enzyme produced in the larger batches was slightly different from the original product. Apparently, more sugar molecules are attached to its surface. The company was thus forced to conduct clinical trials of the new form, which it chose to call Lumizyme. The safety and efficacy of the drug was demonstrated in a trial on 90 late-onset patients ages 10 to 70, and the FDA granted approval. An estimated 200 adult patients in this country are already receiving the drug on a compassionate basis, and it has already been approved in several other countries.

Because it is a protein, the drug has to be administered by infusion. The primary side effects are allergic reactions to the drug, which include hives, diarrhea, vomiting, itchy skin, skin rash and chest discomfort. The drug will carry a so-called black box warning cautioning about the possibility of severe allergic reactions. The company will undertake a post-marketing surveillance program to monitor for side effects, and the drug will be available only through a restricted distribution system to ensure that it reaches the proper patients, the FDA said.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

Dengue fever now seems to be our disease too

May 21, 2010 | 11:30 am

Mosquito Dengue fever only seems like a disease that happens in other countries. Key West, Fla., had 27 cases last year, and another last month.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a look at the first three of these cases in its current Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 

Case No. 1 was in an otherwise healthy 34-year-old Rochester, N.Y., woman who, after returning from Key West and coming down with fever, headache, malaise and chills, headed off to see her doctor. That doctor, unsurprisingly, did not immediately diagnose dengue. The woman was treated for a urinary tract infection and sent on her way.

A couple of doctor visits -- and tests and confirmatory tests -- later, the diagnosis of dengue fever was reached. The woman recovered just fine.

So did the others. But, the report notes, from 1946 through 1980 the United States had no reported cases of this mosquito-borne disease, which kills 25,000 people around the world each year.

The account states:

"Concern about the potential for emergence of dengue in the continental United States has increased in recent years. Reported dengue cases in South America, Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean increased fourfold, from 1,033,417 during 1980-1989 to 4,759,007 during 2000-2007. Rapid urbanization with a proliferation of man-made containers able to serve as mosquito-breeding sites, increased international travel, and lack of effective vector-control measures likely have been major factors in the spread of dengue."

The mosquitoes most likely to spread the disease here are Aedes aegypti and, to a lesser extent, Aedes albopictus.  

Here's the full dengue fever report. And here's more on dengue fever from the CDC.

The report doesn't suggest we should blame dengue fever the next time we come down with chills and a fever, but it does suggest we shouldn't rule it out:

"The timely reporting of dengue in the index patient from New York illustrates that, despite an absence of compatible travel history, clinicians throughout the United States should consider appropriate laboratory testing based upon clinical presentation. Had the index patient not been evaluated promptly and reported, the cases in Key West residents likely would not have been diagnosed. Dengue should be included in the differential diagnosis of acute febrile illnesses for patients who live in or have recently traveled to subtropical areas in the United States or to the tropics. This is particularly important when signs and symptoms such as thrombocytopenia, leukopenia, hemoconcentration, rash, or eye pain are present."

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: An Aedes aegypti mosquito as seen on human skin. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Events help launch muscular dystrophy clinic

May 3, 2010 |  7:38 am
Dylan Boys in the Los Angeles area with the genetic disorder muscular dystrophy will soon have a clinic to attend that does not require long-distance travel. The UCLA Muscular Dystrophy Clinic is slated to open later this year. The efforts to open the clinic, which began when two UCLA scientists learned their youngest son had the disease, are described in Monday's L.A. Times story, "A personal fight against a lethal childhood illness."
But several families have come together to make the clinic possible. Seven year ago, Paul and Debra Miller founded CureDuchenne, a national nonprofit advocacy group based in Newport Beach. The organization has focused much-needed attention on the plight of local MD families. CureDuchenne was aided by Chris and Amy Martin, a Los Angeles couple who have organized yearly fundraisers that have raised $200,000 for the clinic. The third-annual "Dealing for Duchenne Los Angeles Celebrity Poker Tournament" will be held June 12 at the Petersen Automotive Museum. Proceeds will benefit the clinic.
The efforts come at an opportune time, said Dr. Eric Hoffman, a leading researcher on the disorder at Children's National Medical Center in Washington.
"It's the best place the field has been in since I've been involved," he said. "There's a lot of progress in clinical trials."
-- Shari Roan
Photo: Photo of Stan Nelson and Carrie Miceli, both UCLA scientists, with their children, Calvin Miceli-Nelson, 16, and Dylan Miceli-Nelson, 9, at their Los Angeles home. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Environmental factors likely play a role in multiple sclerosis

April 28, 2010 | 10:40 am

Speculation about the cause of multiple sclerosis includes genes and environmental factors. A study published Thursday supplies strong evidence that environmental factors play a critical role.

MS Multiple sclerosis is a disease in which the immune system goes awry and attacks healthy tissue in the body. Researchers at UC San Francisco conducted the most advanced gene analysis ever on identical twins in which one twin has MS and the other does not. The analysis did not yield evidence for genetic differences that could explain why one sibling had the disease and the other did not. Nor did researchers find any differences in the epigenome -- mechanisms that change the way genes are expressed apart from changes in DNA -- to explain the disease in one twin.

Exactly what environmental factors contribute to causing MS is still unknown, however. The leading theory is that a virus triggers the immune system reaction that leads to the disease. Smoking and vitamin D deficiency have also been suggested as possible environmental contributors. But, "the results put us a step closer to teasing out the relative contributions of genetic and environmental factors on multiple sclerosis," the lead author of the study, Sergio Baranzini, said in a news release.

The findings do not mean genes don't play a role in the disease. When one identical twin has MS, there is 30% increased risk that the identical sibling will develop it. That compares with an increased risk of only 5% for a nonidentical twin.

The study is in the current issue of the journal Nature.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: A doctor uses a fluorescent microscope to view a brain section of a patient with MS. Credit: Julia Malakie / Associated Press

Influenza's peaks take an easterly route across the U.S.

April 16, 2010 |  3:22 pm

Flushot The flu may move its victims -- to stay in bed, to resolve to get a flu shot next year, to curse the (probably young and sniffly) family member who gave it to them  -- but it also moves, in a way, itself. From west to east, to be exact.

Researchers have known that flu season traditionally occurs in winter, and from year to year they've had a pretty good idea of which strains will be dominant. But predicting the path of illness has been difficult. So researchers at Tufts University attempted to establish a pattern for flu outbreaks' timing and intensity.

They analyzed older adults' hospitalization records for the 1991 through 2004 flu seasons. (This means the new H1N1 strain was not part of the equation.) And they found that flu seasons typically peaked first in the Western states and later in Eastern states. Nevada, Utah and California led the way; Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine wrapped things up.

So, you may ask? It's all about prevention, the researchers say.

Or as they put it: "Understanding the geographical patterns of influenza spread and utilizing multiple parameters for predictive modeling are essential for guiding prevention efforts."

Here's the full study of flu movement, published Thursday in PLoS One. (Don't forget to check out the map.)

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: This year's seasonal flu shot will target the new H1N1 strain and two other strains.

Credit: Bloomberg

Book Review: 'The Strong Women's Guide to Total Health' by Miriam E. Nelson and Jennifer Ackerman

April 10, 2010 |  3:45 pm

StrongWomencoverAlthough men may have more heart attacks, more women die as a result of them. Women have stronger immune responses  --  with increased resistance to many infections -- but are much more likely than men to develop autoimmune diseases. Men are more likely to have schizophrenia and alcohol and drug addiction, whereas women have more depression, anxiety and eating disorders. 

Those are just some of the ways women's health differs from men's, according to Miriam E. Nelson and Jennifer Ackerman, authors of "The Strong Women's Guide to Total Health."

"Our gender affects everything from the makeup of our bones and the architecture of our joints, to our skin's response to sunlight and aging, to how we experience pain, react to drugs, and cope with stress," they write.

Until fairly recently, medical researchers considered men's bodies the prototype for both genders. But today women are more than half of participants in health studies, and researchers are looking closely at illnesses affecting mostly them, Nelson and Ackerman write. 

In fact, there is so much health information available to women -- much of it contradictory -- that it can get confusing.

That's where "Strong Women's Guide" comes in. The book aims to summarize the latest thinking on women's health and offer "basic, reliable guidelines for staying well in body, mind and spirit."

And it appears to do so remarkably well considering the range of topics it covers, including reproductive and sexual health; skin, teeth, hair and nails; body weight and metabolism; muscles, bones and joints; the heart and lungs; cancer and disease; vision and hearing; and mental health.

Nelson -- the director of the John Hancock Research Center on Physical Activity, Nutrition and Obesity Prevention and an associate professor of nutrition at Tufts University -- has gained a following with earlier "Strong Women" books on topics such as weight control and bone health. Ackerman is a science and health writer and the author of several other books, including "Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream."

Their new book is not the place you would go for in-depth coverage of a specific health topic, but it offers solid overviews, useful advice and quite a bit of up-to-date detail. 

The section on birth control, for example, looks at the varied oral contraceptives available today, including a spearmint-flavored chewable pill, the three-month combination pill, the mini-pill, the "no more period" pill and other hormonal options such as a skin patch and injections. The chapter on menopause sorts through recent research findings on hormone therapy and summarizes the options for easing symptoms. A discussion of heart disease details the symptoms unique to women and tells what to look for in cholesterol, triglyceride and blood pressure screenings.

The writing is intelligent, accessible and sometimes personal; amid the matter-of-fact health discussions are anecdotes such as one in the sexuality chapter that describes a nervous first-time trip to a sex-toy boutique. A chapter on changing habits includes a story about how a colleague once chastised Nelson for not practicing what she preached about exercise -- a comment that prompted her to start running regularly to train for the Boston Marathon.

"Strong Women's Guide" is as much a how-to health book as it is a medical reference work. It starts with a health self-assessment section that looks at everything from body mass index to joy quotient. Sprinkled throughout the book are checklists of ways to protect or improve health. The book ends with chapters on managing stress and sleeping well, eating and exercising right and getting the proper screenings, tests and vaccines at every age.

-- Anne Colby

Photo: "The Strong Women's Guide to Total Health," Miriam E. Nelson and Jennifer Ackerman, Rodale Books, $27.99 


Book Review: 'The 10 Things You Need to Eat'

'Top Chef Master' Susan Feniger raising dough for a good cause

April 8, 2010 |  4:28 pm

It's not like chef Susan Feniger needed more on her plate. She's got Susan Feniger's Street, in addition to the Ciudad and Border Grill restaurants that she owns and runs with her Too Hot Tamale compadre, Mary Sue Millikan. So how is it that she ended up in the Season 2 premiere of "Top Chef Masters"?

"I would have never, ever, ever done it -- but it was for Scleroderma," she said simply.

That's the Scleroderma Research Foundation, founded by Feniger's close friend, Sharon Monsky, who was diagnosed with Scleroderma in 1984 and later died from its complications in 2002. Difficult to diagnose, Scleroderma leads to painful tissue loss, vascular deterioration and a ravaging of the body's immune system, among other symptoms. Its cause is unknown, and an estimated 300,000 Americans currently suffer with it.

"Top Chef Masters" pits the country's culinary kingpins against each other in a series of culinary throwdowns. These veteran chefs agree to put their reputations on the line because they win money -- and, more importantly, awareness for their favorite charities. Feniger emerged victorious Wednesday night and will return to fight again in the championship round. (One of the challenges Feniger faced: making two dishes using ingredients picked up in Chinatown -- a Chinatown gas station, that is.) Undaunted, by night's end Feniger had won $12,500 for the Scleroderma Research Foundation. (Read more about the episode at our entertainment blog.)

Amy Hewitt, executive director for Scleroderma Research, was also at Street, and said she was thrilled at the awareness offered up by the TV show. She said the organization noticed an uptick in Web traffic leading up to Wednesday night's episode -- no doubt caused by advance word of Feniger's appearance. "It's just such a little known disease," she said, that the organization needs to scrape and fight for every penny. "It's just very challenging. Something like this," she said, pointing to the TVs, "goes a long way."

Continue reading »

A new portrait of the where -- and the who -- of Parkinson's disease

January 28, 2010 |  9:44 am

Mapping cases of Parkinson's disease, the second-most common neurodegenerative disease behind Alzheimer's, might prove illuminating. We could see where the progressive condition is more common and maybe get some potential research leads.

Scientists at Washington University in St. Louis have done this. Using data on Medicare recipients, they've learned that the Northeast and the Midwest have significantly more cases of the disease, and that whites and Latinos are more likely to develop it than are blacks and Asians.

Here are the very brief abstract for the study, published in Neuroepidemiology, and the news release (complete with the aforementioned and enlightening map). The lead author suspects a connection to environmental risk factors, specifically to chemicals used in agriculture and metal processing.

For a primer on Parkinson's disease, there's this overview from the National Parkinson Foundation. It begins:

Parkinson's disease (PD) was first described in 1817 by Dr. James Parkinson, a British physician, for whom the disease was named. It is a disease that is characterized by four major features:

-- Rest tremor of a limb (shaking with the limb at rest).
-- Slowness of movement (bradykinesia).
-- Rigidity (stiffness, increased resistance to passive movement) of the limbs or trunk.
-- Poor balance (postural instability).

-- Tami Dennis  


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