For most kids, summer vacation has begun. This typically means more time spent at the park, swimming pool or beach, and often in front of the TV as well. It also means less time engaged in educational pursuits like reading, math and problem solving. [Read more…]
More than 15,000 lawsuits are filed against doctors in the United States each year for medical malpractice, a claim that medical treatment caused injury or death to the patient, typically involving a medical error. [Read more…]
As the U.S. Supreme Court is set to consider a historic case on gay marriage, new evidence is available on how same-sex unions impact children. [Read more…]
Keeping track of the latest evidence on which vitamin supplements to take can be confusing. Although new information is available regularly, mainstream media outlets don’t always report the full story, which can result in conflicting reports.
There is new, clear evidence this month: The U.S. Preventative Services task force is recommending that healthy, postmenopausal women should not take Vitamin D and calcium supplements to prevent fractures.
The task force – an independent panel of medical experts – reviewed more than one hundred medical studies before making their recommendation. It found insufficient evidence that taking vitamin D and calcium actually helps prevents fractures, and found a small risk of increased kidney stones for people who did take the supplements.
The task force’s recommendation does not apply to people suffering from osteoporosis or vitamin D deficiencies, or those living in skilled nursing facilities.
Cornell nutritionist Patsy Brannon has weighed in on the national debate over vitamin D supplements. Brannon was on the Institute of Medicine panel. While the panel recommended increasing the daily intake of vitamin D, it did not find that a deficiency is linked to chronic conditions such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
“The evidence available is inconsistent, with some studies demonstrating this association while others show no association, and still others show evidence of adverse effects with high blood levels of vitamin D,” Brannon told the Cornell Chronicle. Although we can’t conclude whether low vitamin D is associated with chronic disease, the evidence is clear that these vitamin supplements do not prevent fractures.
It’s always a pleasure to see a mainstream media outlet providing the big picture on medical therapies. So I was fascinated by a recent opinion piece in the New York Times which called for the increased use of aspirin.
In the article, cancer-researcher Dr. David Agus makes a clear case of the health benefits of aspirin. For years, the evidence has clearly established that aspirin reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, he points out, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force – an independent panel of health care experts – recommended aspirin for people up to 80 years old to prevent heart disease.
Now there is a growing body of solid evidence that aspirin also helps reduce the risk of cancer. Several major systematic reviews found that people who take an aspirin a day over the period of several years reduce their risk of developing cancer.
One major systematic review published by British researchers pulled together data on more than 77,000 patients from 51 separate clinical trials. It found some striking results: people who took aspirin daily were 15 percent less likely to die from cancer compared with those who didn’t take aspirin. They also had a 38 percent reduction in the risk of colorectal and gastrointestinal cancer. And for aspirin-takers who did get cancer, it was 38 percent less likely to spread to other parts of their bodies.
Other reviews have found that aspirin use not only reduces the risk of colorectal and gastrointestinal cancer but also decreases distant metastasis, the spreading of cancer to new regions of the body.
The take-home message: While people have been using aspirin for thousands of years, it was likely to be providing more health benefits than were ever realized.
The magazine Consumer Reports released a study last month that revealed low levels of arsenic – a chemical element that is toxic when consumed in higher doses – in rice and rice products grown across the world.
The study tested 223 types of rice and rice products – such as rice-based cereals and rice milk – purchased in the United States in April, May and August of this year. It found arsenic in every product it tested, and dangerous levels of inorganic arsenic in dozens of products. Consumer Reports the story points out that their study is “a spot check of the market and “too limited to offer general conclusions about arsenic levels in specific brands within/across rice product categories.” Nevertheless, their article raises some surprising questions about toxins in our food supply.
Following the Consumer Reports study, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released some preliminary results of a long-term study on arsenic levels in our food supply. Their study found levels of arsenic in rice similar to the Consumer Reports study.
Since the FDA and Consumers Reports found the same level of arsenic in food, the question in my mind is: Exactly how dangerous is low-level exposure to arsenic? A search of systematic reviews yielded some interesting results.
- One meta-analysis found consuming arsenic in drinking water is associated with a higher risk of lung cancer.
- Another analysis found chronic arsenic exposure can lead to mental retardation and developmental disabilities such as physical, cognitive, psychological, sensory and speech impairments – although in higher levels that measured in the rice products tested by Consumer Reports and the FDA.
- Other analyses found inconclusive results on the relationship between arsenic exposure and diabetes and arsenic exposure and cardiovascular disease – although both of these reviews identified limitations in the study methodology and called for additional research.
My plan is to think more carefully about the rice products my family consumes. I’m not going to throw out the brown rice in my pantry, and we will still enjoy stir fry and sushi on a regular basis. But I certainly plan to steer way from rice cereals and other rice products at the grocery store.
More than 75 years ago, the U.S. government created Social Security, the federal insurance program that provides benefits to individuals and their families who can no longer work because of disability, retirement or death. The program is complex, and its details are often debated among politicians.
Earlier this year, the Economic Policy Institute and the National Academy of Social Insurance published a guide that explains the facts about the Social Security program to young people. The document includes detailed, evidence-based explanations of Social Security’s history, beneficiaries, financing, and shortfalls. It pulls data from the Office of the Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration, Congressional Budget Office, the Employee Benefits Research Institute, and the Center for Retirement Research.
Here’s a sampling of interesting facts from the document:
- In 2012, about 159 million individuals or 94% of the American workforce, worked in Social Security-covered employment. (Those not covered include government employees covered by other insurance programs, farm workers who do not meet minimum work requirements and students.)
- Approximately 55 million Americans received Social Security benefits in 2011. Seventy percent were retirees; 19 percent were disability beneficiaries and 11 percent were survivors of deceased workers.
- Without Social Security income, it is estimated that nearly half senior citizens would be living in poverty. Instead, fewer than 10 percent of seniors live in poverty.
- Because the U.S. population is aging and people are living longer, the Social Security program is projected to run up a deficit. The projected shortfall is 2.67% of taxable earnings over the next 75 years.
- There are a variety of ways to compensate for the deficit including raising taxes, expanding coverage, investing in equities, increasing the retirement age and reducing cost-of-living increases.
The guide concludes that Social Security fulfills an important need in our society as an insurance program for American workers. To learn more about Social Security benefits and about how your payroll taxes are used, it’s worth checking out this evidence-based document.