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Headlines (Scroll down for complete stories):
1. Five Ways to Love Your Heart
2. Religion May Cut Anxiety
3. Self-Initiated Medical Tests: Good or Bad?
4. Good Bacteria in Women Help Slow HIV Transmission
5. Heredity a Factor in Dying From Flu

1. Five Ways to Love Your Heart

Lori Daniels, M.D., cardiologist at the University of California, San Diego Medical Center offers cardiac patients five easy ways to love their hearts throughout the year.

1) Sunday Night, Count Them Out

Instead of managing multiple pill bottles, manage one pill box. Almost every pharmacy sells pill boxes marked with the days of the week. Variations are offered with multiple compartments if you are taking more than one prescription. Every Sunday night, at a designated time, fill up one weeks worth of pills. Reduce the time you spend counting your prescriptions to four times a month instead of thirty.

2) One Crème Brulee = Five Miles

Research shows a direct link between obesity and increased cardiovascular disease. One way to keep your weight down is to reduce the number of calories you intake and increase the number of calories you burn. So before diving into a crème brulee or double chocolate sundae, find out how many calories the dessert contains. Then determine how many miles you would need to walk to burn the calories off. On average, 100 calories are burned walking one mile. Is one dessert worth a three mile trek? You decide.

3) Do Not Hesitate to Laminate

Keep an up-to-date list of medications and physician contact info in your bag and car glove compartment. In a time of emergency, this will serve as a quick and easy reference for family and medical personnel. Be sure to share this list with friends and family before traveling in case you need to fill a prescription or get medical attention while overseas.

4) One Aspirin, Crushed

Keep a supply of aspirin handy. If you have heart disease you should be taking some form of aspirin every day at any time you choose. If you or a companion believes you are suffering the onset of a heart attack, take either one adult or two baby aspirin. Instead of swallowing the pill whole, crush it first so that the aspirin is more rapidly absorbed into your body.

5) Avoid Salt of All Colors

You may be able to significantly lower your blood pressure by reducing the sodium in your diet. Be aware that white table salt is just one form of sodium in your kitchen. Other culinary culprits with high sodium content come in black (soy and teriyaki sauce), yellow (mustard), pink (lunch meats) and brown (canned soups and gravies.) Check the sodium content before ingesting a processed product; if you dramatically reduce your intake of sodium, you might, under your doctor’s care, be able to eliminate some blood pressure medications.

Editor’s Note:

2. Religion May Cut Anxiety

For many, religious activity changes between childhood and adulthood, and a new study finds this could affect one’s mental health. ?

According to Temple University’s Joanna Maselko, Sc.D., women who had stopped being religiously active were more than three times more likely to have suffered generalized anxiety and alcohol abuse/dependence than women who reported always having been active.

“One’s lifetime pattern of religious service attendance can be related to psychiatric illness,” said Maselko, an assistant professor of public health and co-author of the study, which appears in the January issue of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

Conversely, men who stopped being religiously active were less likely to suffer major depression when compared to men who had always been religiously active.

Maselko offers one possible explanation for the gender differences in the relationship between religious activity and mental health.

“Women are simply more integrated into the social networks of their religious communities. When they stop attending religious services, they lose access to that network and all its potential benefits. Men may not be as integrated into the religious community in the first place and so may not suffer the negative consequences of leaving,” Maselko said.

The study expands on previous research in the field by analyzing the relationship between mental health — anxiety, depression and alcohol dependence or abuse — and spirituality using current and past levels, said Maselko, who conducted the research when she was at Harvard University.

In the study sample, comprising 718 adults, a majority of men and women changed their level of religious activity between childhood and adulthood, which was critical information for the researchers.

“A person’s current level of spirituality is only part of the story. We can only get a better understanding of the relationship between health and spirituality by knowing a person’s lifetime religious history,” Maselko said.

Out of the 278 women in the group, 39 percent (N=109) had always been religiously active and 51 percent (N=141) had not been active since childhood. About 7 percent of the women who have always been religiously active met the criteria for generalized anxiety disorder compared to 21 percent of women who had stopped being religiously active.

“Everyone has some spirituality, whether it is an active part of their life or not; whether they are agnostic or atheist or just ‘non-practicing.’ These choices potentially have health implications, similar to the way that one’s social networks do,” Maselko said.

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3. Self-Initiated Medical Tests: Good or Bad?

Is it a good or bad thing when people decide or their own — and without consulting a physician — to have medical tests such as CT scans and X-rays performed? Such tests are supposed to offer “peace of mind” to people, and to assure them they are in good health. The tests are touted in newspaper and radio ads with pitches such as, “Why wait for symptoms to occur?’ They’re billed as a “high-tech medical check-up” and usually cost about $1,000 for a whole body scan, with the person being scanned paying for it out of pocket since most insurance companies don’t cover such tests.

In the United States, self-initiated tests have yet to be performed on a large enough scale to bring the question to public attention, but more and more companies are advertising and offering such screening services. In the United Kingdom, which has a national health service, the question has already being asked and the government is preparing to issue a cautionary report saying screening healthy people does not deliver better public health.

A leading British specialist in preventive medicine, Professor Nicholas Wald, says that scans and blood tests performed by private health companies are useless at best and dangerous at worst. Wald says that such tests often find benign abnormalities while missing genuine problems, and that radiation from scanners may actually increase cancer risk. He further believes such tests “always cause anxiety” while charging people for tests of questionable value, such as heart scans and “virtual” colonoscopies.

Radiologist John Giles, the clinical director of a UK company that provides private scans and tests, disagrees with Wald, saying, “This is targeted screening which gives very clear results and is unlikely to cause unnecessary worry. You can’t have a one-size-fits-all policy: some people don’t want to know, some people do. Screening is a personal decision and people are fed up with this paternalistic approach which tells them they can’t make choices for themselves.”

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4. “Good” Bacteria in Women Help Slow HIV Transmission

Beneficial bacteria found in healthy women help to reduce the amount of vaginal HIV among HIV-infected women and might make it more difficult for the virus to spread, boosting the possibility that “good bacteria” might someday be tapped in the fight against HIV.

The findings come from physicians and scientists at the University of Washington and the University of Rochester Medical Center, who worked together in an effort to learn more about how HIV survives and spreads from person to person. The study involving 57 women was done in Seattle and Rochester through the Women’s HIV Interdisciplinary Network (WHIN), which is based at the University of Washington.

The team studied the vaginal environment, examining the mix of bacteria that reside there and taking into account several other factors. Physicians tracked the level of HIV virus in the vagina as well as infection by common sexually transmitted diseases like trichomoniasis, gonorrhea and chlamydia, and other more common types of vaginal infections.

Physicians also monitored the levels of beneficial bacteria known as Lactobacillus in the vagina, as well as hydrogen peroxide, which is produced by the bacteria and hinders the virus. They also measured the level of HIV in the women’s blood and the rate of progression of the disease overall.

The team found that women with hydrogen-peroxide-producing Lactobacillus in the vagina had lower levels of HIV virus in genital secretions – what physicians call the genital viral load. Physicians know that the lower the level of HIV in the sexual tract, the less likely that the virus will be spread from person to person through sexual contact.

Scientists have previously recognized from laboratory studies that Lactobacillus might give women some natural protection against HIV. The bacteria, commonly found in most women, bind to the virus and secrete hydrogen peroxide. The bacteria are a close cousin of the Lactobacillus bacteria found in the small intestine, a type of “good” bacteria widely found in yogurt.

While previous work in the laboratory has indicated that Lactobacillus might help prevent HIV infection in women, the current study actually links, in women, decreased levels of the virus in the vagina with the presence of Lactobacillus that produce hydrogen peroxide there.

The team also found that the amount of the virus in the vagina varied in step with the presence of Lactobacillus: Women who did not have the bacteria at first but who had acquired it by a subsequent visit had their vaginal HIV levels drop, while vaginal HIV levels increased in women in whom the good bacteria had disappeared between visits.

The research was presented this week at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Boston by Jane Hitti, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Hitti has been working closely with Robert Coombs, M.D., Ph.D., the principal investigator for the WHIN study and professor of Laboratory Medicine and of Medicine at the University of Washington. Amneris Luque, M.D., associate professor of Medicine and medical director of the AIDS Center at Strong Memorial Hospital, and Susan Cohn, M.D., associate professor of Medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, also took part in the study.

“These findings underscore the importance of maintaining a healthy, Lactobacillus-dominant vaginal flora for HIV-positive women,” said Hitti. “I hope that we can explore Lactobacillus replacement in the future for women who do not have this bacteria, as a strategy to decrease the amount of HIV in the vagina.”

“The research opens up some doors,” said Luque. “Sexual activity is the most common mode of transmission of HIV. Perhaps we can make it less likely to spread by somehow taking advantage of good bacteria as a natural way to stop HIV and prevent transmission. These findings are striking, though preliminary, and should be looked at further.”

Luque and Cohn both care for patients at Strong’s AIDS clinic, which provides ongoing care for approximately 900 patients with HIV. The center is part of a broader AIDS treatment and research effort at the University of Rochester Medical Center. The University is the only institution in the nation to be part, since inception, of two major national AIDS research efforts – the search for a vaccine, and the testing of new treatments. More than 3,000 Rochester-area residents have taken part in treatment and vaccine studies at the University’s HIV/AIDS Clinical Trials Unit, funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Cohn stresses the importance of HIV-positive women participating in clinical research. “These women made a large contribution to knowledge about HIV and reproductive health by participating in this study. Advances in the care of HIV-positive women really depend on the dedication of study subjects.”

Editor’s Note:

5. Heredity a Factor in Dying from Flu

People may inherit a genetic predisposition to dying from influenza virus infection, according to an analysis of genealogy records linked to death certificates in Utah over a period of 100 years.

“A heritable contribution to the development of severe influenza virus infection (i.e., that which results in death) has not previously been hypothesized or tested,” Dr. Frederick S. Albright of the University of Utah College of Pharmacy and colleagues point out in a report in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Using the comprehensive Utah database, Albright and colleagues estimated the relative risks of death due to influenza for the relatives of 4855 individuals who died of influenza in the past 100 years.

They found that both close and distant relatives of individuals who died of the flu had a significantly increased risk of also dying of flu, “consistent with a combination of shared exposure and genetic effects.”

All “first-degree” relatives (parents, sisters, brothers) of individuals who died of influenza had a 54 percent higher risk of dying from influenza. The risk was 74 percent higher in siblings, 37 percent higher in parents, and 59 percent higher in children.

The risk of death from influenza in second-degree relatives of individuals who died of influenza was 22 percent and in more distant third-degree relatives it was 16 percent higher.

This genetic predisposition seems to be independent of the strain of influenza and the age of the individual.

The findings, the researchers say, support the need to study at-risk individuals and families to identify the genes involved. “Identification of the genes responsible could lead to new developments in treatment and prevention during epidemics,” Dr. Lisa Cannon-Albright, who was involved in the research, told Reuters Health.

Copyright Reuters

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