Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How Can Smoking Be Addicted?

Smoking is closely linked to diseases such as cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. Each year, smoking kills about 5 million people and among them, female smokers and smokers in developing countries are the most vulnerable group.

When you ask smokers this question: "How did you addicted to smoking?" Most likely, he or she just cannot give you a definite answer because he or she simply could not remember how the habit was formed. However, a recent New Zealand study showed that smoking just one cigarette could simply cause tobacco addiction in some people.

The medical researchers asked 96,000 youngsters aged between 14 and 15 to fill in questionnaires, issued via schools between 2002 and 2004, about whether they smoked and whether they felt the need to continue smoking. They published their findings on February 20, 2008 in the Elsevier Journal of Addictive Behaviours.

Questions such as 'Do you ever have strong cravings to smoke?", 'Do you smoke now because it is hard to quit?', and 'Did you find it hard to concentrate because you couldn't smoke?' were included in the questionnaires to calibrate any dependence on tobacco.

As expected, youngsters who smoked frequently replied that they felt the urge to continue smoking. What the researchers found surprising was that those infrequent smokers also reported a carving. It was found that 46 percent of those smoked less than one cigarette a month had diminished control over the urge to smoke. Among teenagers who found difficulty to repress an urge to smoke, 10 percent and 25 percent had the impulse within 2 days and one month of smoking their first cigarette respectively.

The responses from the study confirmed previous research showing addiction rises as more cigarettes are smoked, and it starts after the first cigarette. Smoking one cigarette can simply prompt a loss of autonomy, as suggested by the researchers.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Work Stress More Likely Lead to Higher Depression Risk!

Work work, and work! This is the reality. Whether you like it or not, many of us just have to face it. Long hours of work pressure will make people feel chronically stressed, and that is how they are at a higher risk of depression.

The researchers from the University of Rochester Medical School in New York reported in the American Journal of Public Health in October 2008 that among more than 24,000 working Canadian adults, nearly 5 percent had suffered from major depression in the past year, and those under heavy stress at work appeared to be at particular risk.

In fact, a number of studies have previously found that health risks were associated with chronic job stress, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and depression. Nevertheless, the depression studies have been limited to either certain occupations or single company.

The researchers went a step further on depression studies by confirming and extending past research, and looked at a large and general population. They also used stricter criteria to gauge participants’ depression. While past studies have relied on questionnaire responses, participants in the current study underwent diagnostic interviews for depression.

The study found that men who reported “high job strain” were more than twice as likely to suffer depression as men who were low on the job-strain scale. “High job strain” is defined as work that is demanding but leaves people little independence or decision-making authority.

The findings on women were not quite the same. Only one component of job strain (lack of decision-making authority) was related to depression. Rationale behind this is unclear but it is suspected that it may be due to the types of jobs many women take.

As compared with men, women are more likely to take part-time jobs to balance work and family. Similarity did exist. For both men and women, lack of support from co-workers and supervisors, which is a measure of job stress, was related to depression.

As pointed out in the findings, depression prevention in workplace is necessary for the sake of workers. Researchers also suggested some ways to relieve job stress, for example, workers are offered opportunities for training in new skills.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Should Parents Be Blamed For the Unhealthy Diet of Their Boys?

If your children love fries or other unhealthy stuffs, perhaps you as parents are the first to be blamed! Why do I say that?

This is because while I was searching for some health news last week, I saw the finding of a joint study done by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

The researchers from the two institutions evaluated the eating patterns of 792 twins aged 7 years old, and found that genetics mostly dictates a child’s picky palate and craving for items like peanut butter or snack food.

In order to conduct the study, the researchers grouped foods into 9 categories, namely

1. bread and butter;
2. breakfast cereal and milk;
3. candy;
4. fish and lemon; and
5. fruit;
6. high-salt snack foods,
7. peanut butter and jelly;
8. red meat and pork;
9. vegetables

According to the study, the genetics seemed to influence the choice of food and beverages of the boys more often than that of the girls. Furthermore, identical twins, who have the exact same genes, seemed to choose more similar foods and beverages than the non-identical twins. On the other hand, the food choices of girls were more influenced by the shared environmental factors, like the number of snacks at home.

With the help of these findings, parents would perhaps understand why their children prefer or dislike certain foods. The findings are also important since they could help scientists determine whether genetically linked eating patterns play a role in childhood obesity.

Childhood obesity is now a big health issue facing many countries. Health experts believe that childhood obesity will bring more serious health problems like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. to these fat children when they grow older. In addition, many countries may have to shoulder the impending huge health cost associated with this.

This study also revealed that the body mass index of a child is generally unrelated to his or her specific food consumption. Nevertheless, the researchers too suggested carrying out further studies to determine if genetically influenced eating habits would actually result in calorie and nutrition changes that lead to obesity.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Japanese Diabetes Drug Can Do A Better Job For Heart Disease!

When come to reducing the hardening of arteries, a Japanese diabetes drug known as “Actos” can do a better job than the similar drug from the West. A study conducted by Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and published on March 31, 2008 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) revealed such finding.

“Actos” is made in Japan by Takeda Laboratory. During the 18 months of clinical trials involving 543 patients in 97 clinics in North and South America, the researchers compared this drug with Amaryl, manufactured in France by Sanofi. So far, no diabetes drug has proved effective in reducing atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

Atherosclerosis is closely related to the diabetes patients. Past data has shown that 75 percent of deaths from Type-2 diabetes are actually caused by cardiovascular problems. It is known that the rate of diabetes is increasing tremendously in both developed and developing countries. Type-2 diabetes is the most common disorder in adults and it is increasingly linked to obesity.

In the study, the researchers utilized an ultra-sound scan to measure the volume of plaque found in 2 groups of patients’ arteries before and after the trials. The group that took “Actos” not only had no visible increase in arterial plaque but also showed a 0.16 percent of reduction, whereas the other group that was prescribed “Amaryl” showed a 0.73 percent growth of plaque.

Prior to this study, no diabetes therapy that could actually slow the progression of the disease. In other words, no one drug could do a better job than another could! Despite the breakthrough in treating diabetes with coronary disease as discovered in the current study, other health experts warn that “Actos” shares a common negative effect on heart failure, and other non-cardiovascular adverse effects such as bone fractures. Meanwhile, the researchers of the current study did suggest carrying out further studies before making any changes to the current treatment.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Can A Man Survive Without A Heart?

I bet you would be a little astonishing by just looking at the title and probably asked yourself, ‘How can a man live without a heart?’

In fact, there is nothing wrong about the title. In Taiwan, a 60-year-old retired electrician lived for 16 days without a heart but supported by 2 artificial heart-lung machines while he was waiting for heart transplant at the National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH). He is believed to be the world’s first heartless survivor.

During January 2008, the retired electrician, who had no prior record of major illnesses, suffered from severe coughing and displayed flu-like symptoms. On February 12, he was admitted to Chi Mei Medical Centre (CMMC) in Southern Tainan City.

He was diagnosed with infective endocarditis - a bacterial infection that can seriously damage the lining of the heart's chambers and valves. His heart failed just a day after and doctors had to perform emergency surgery. His entire heart was removed because the damage was so extensive.

The patient’s family took only 20 minutes to decide the removal of the heart but the operation required 9 hours. The patient’s son, who was a doctor with CMMC, understood the risk and helped the decision.

After the removal of heart, the patient was connected to an 'Extra-Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation' (ECMO) machine. ECMO is the artificial heart-lung machine normally used to support a patient's damaged or infected heart or lungs until a donor of heart is found.

In order to have a higher chance of getting donor in Taipei, the patient was transferred the next day by an ambulance to the top hospital in Taiwan, NTUH. The journey took about 5 hours.

Upon arrival at NTUH, a second ECMO machine was connected to the patient. Artificial arteries transferred blood from the gaping hole in his chest to an external blood pump and artificial lung. The blood was warmed and filtered before being returned to his body. During the waiting period, he suffered blood infections twice.

The doctors had also considered but later on dropped the option of an artificial heart transplant because they were concerned about the risk of infection given his condition. A donor was eventually found on February 29, and he was discharged on April 1 and he is now recovering at home.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Can The Robot Do The Heart Bypass Surgery?

In conventional heart bypass surgery, a patient will have to go through his or her most painful experience because his or her breastbone has to be sawn open. In addition, there will be a long zipper scar on the chest.

However, Smith (not his real name), who had a heart bypass in July 2007, does not have the long scar. Instead, there are only two 2cm long and a 5cm long scars. This is because his surgeons at the National Heart Centre (NHC) in Singapore used a robot to perform minimally invasive 'keyhole' surgery. His doctor also operated while his heart was beating. A retired teacher with an age of 80 years old, Smith went home after 5 days in hospital. He felt so lucky and claimed that there was not any pain after the operation.

The robot used in the surgery is called the da Vinci surgical system. It allows heart surgeons in Singapore to perform heart bypass, repair heart valves and remove chest tumors in a minimally invasive way. In fact, the robot has also been used for prostate surgery in Singapore since 2003.

As the robotic heart procedures are still new, doctors use them only on patients whose conditions are not complicated and who agree to the procedures.

Smith also puzzled when his doctor sought his agreement on the robotic procedure. He finally agreed only after the doctor reassured him that he actually controls the robot and that he had operated on 4 patients successfully.

The aim of the robotic procedure is bring less pain, less blood loss and faster recovery for patients. Most patients in United States are discharged 2 to 3 days after the operation, as compared to conventional bypass patients of 6 or 7 days in hospital. Nevertheless, patients in Singapore are normally discharged after 4 to 6 days, as the doctors want to be careful.

Conventional bypass surgery requires surgeons to open up the chest to reach the heart. Patients are then connected to a heart-lung machine that takes over the functions of those organs, and the heart is stopped. A vein, removed earlier from the patient’s thigh or chest, is attached to the heart arteries to create a bypass to re-channel blood away from blockages.

In a robotic procedure, it is not necessary for the surgeon to cut open the chest because the robot's arms can enter the patient’s body through small cuts and do the job within the chest. The main surgeon just needs to sit at a console to control the robotic arms to get the job done.

The robotic procedures usually cost about 10 to 20 percent more than that of the conventional heart bypass surgery. But if it can do a better job for the patients, why not?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Stent-Related Blood Clot May Lead To Repeat Stent Thrombosis!

Angioplasty procedure is commonly used to clear the blockages in the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart. Thereafter, stents, which are wire mesh tubes, will be inserted into the coronary arteries to help keep the vessels from reclogging.

The Dutch Stent Thrombosis Study indicated that one in six patients who suffer a potentially deadly clot inside a coronary stent are at a higher risk of developing another clot, especially if they had a second stent implanted during emergency treatment for the first clot.

The study was conducted by Dutch researchers from St. Antonius Hospital in Nieuwegein, the Netherlands, and its findings were presented at a joint meeting of the American College of Cardiology and the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions in Chicago.

Clots that form inside a stent, which is known as stent thrombosis, can block the blood flow to the heart and can therefore cause a heart attack or even death. According to the researchers, using an additional stent during emergency treatment of a stent-related blood clot is a strong predictor of repeat stent thrombosis.

The study examined 437 patients with various types of stents who had stent thrombosis between January 2004 and February 2007 and found that 16.9 percent of the patients had multiple episodes of stent thrombosis: 61 patients had 2 episodes, 12 had 3 episodes and one had 4 episodes.

Meanwhile, the study also discovered that:
  • Patients who had a second stent implanted during emergency treatment for their first clot were 4.2 times more likely to have another episode of stent thrombosis comparing with other patients.
  • Patients who previously had a heart attack and those who developed a clot long after stent implantation (known as late stent thrombosis) were 2.6 times and 2.1 times respectively more likely to suffer a repeat episode.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Side Effect of Smoking Ban in United States!

Smokers will not only expose themselves to a higher risk of heart disease, lung cancer and a number of medical disorders, but also cause people around them to be at risk through secondhand smoke. As such, more and more countries have banned smoking in the public places.

Nevertheless, a side effect seems to emerge from the smoking ban in American bars: number of accidents from drunken driving has surged. A recent study, conducted by the researchers from the University of Wisconsin, reported their finding on April 2, 2008 in the Journal of Public Economics that on average, a nearly 12-per cent rise in the number of drink-related accidents on the road as a result of smoking ban.

The researchers analyzed the data collected from counties that enforced a ban during the period from 2000 to 2005, and from accident statistics before and after the ban was introduced.

The ban is spreading across the United States, but in a piecemeal fashion. According to the figures cited in the report, nearly one-third of the US population lives in cities, counties or states where there are restrictions on smoking.

According to the study, the smokers may not drink more than before but they certainly drive more to find places that allow both drinking and smoking. This is what that makes the risk of road accidence to increase. The researchers pointed out in their report that banning smoking in bars increases the fatal accident risk posed by drunk drivers.

Meanwhile, the study also indicated that the increase in drunk driving has to be weighed against 'potential positive health impacts' from smoking bans, and this may take years to determine.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Exercise Can Help You Stay Healthy!

No matter how, you need to allocate certain amount of time to exercise! This is a piece of advice commonly recommended by or heard from doctors and health experts. However, how many of us will actually take such advice.

Ask yourself this question: when is your last exercise? Most of us will just quote excuses like ‘too busy’, ‘too tire’, and so on and so forth to skip exercise. We rather spend the spare time for watching television, playing computer games, or any other activities that require minimal or no physical movements at all.

A recent report published by the National Institute for Health and Medical Research (Inserm) on April 1, 2008 revealed that moderate, frequent exercise could reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, respiratory disease and depression.

In the report, the French researchers set a benchmark for adults, at least 30 minutes of modest exercise, such as fast walking, at least 5 times a week; or 20 minutes of harder exercise, such as jogging, 3 times a week. Young people should do twice that of the adults.

Furthermore, Inserm also recommended 'muscular strengthening' at least twice a week, and advised the elderly to do stretching and balance exercises.

Daily activities such as climbing up stairs with shopping bags or cleaning a bathroom can also be included in the exercise tally. However, Inserm cautioned that what the amount of exercise recommended would have only a minor effect on people who are obese.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Taiji Can Help Fight Diabetes!

Some 250 million people worldwide suffer Type-2 diabetes. Diabetes is a very common medical condition, but can be a very serious one, too.

Diabetes is characterized by excessively high blood sugar level. Food consumed is digested and released into blood as glucose (a form of sugar), to provide energy. When there is excess glucose, a hormone called insulin will convert and store glucose in the body for future usage. Diabetes is due to defects in insulin production (Type 1 diabetes), insulin action (Type 2 diabetes), or both, causing a buildup of blood glucose.

Patients with diabetes must be treated with medications in a timely manner to prevent them from escalating to more serious medical disorders like blindness, kidney failure, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Nevertheless, 2 newly-released studies indicated on April 1, 2008 that Taiji can actually help curb symptoms of Type-2 diabetes. Separate experiments conducted in Australia and Taiwan concluded that diabetics who performed Taiji for a few hours a week over a 3-month period showed significant health improvement compared to control groups.

Developed in China in the 13th century or earlier, Taiji combines elements of martial arts and meditation. Taiji is a very popular exercise nowadays, and it is practiced by millions of people in China and around the world.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

How Much Do You Know About Fats and Cholesterol?

Trans fats and saturated fats, as well as their relationship with cholesterol has been a pretty confusing topic for many people. A common belief is that fats will develop cholesterol that is harmful to our body. Unfortunately, this is not correct. In reality, not all fats are bad for the body.

Cholesterol is manufactured naturally in our bodies by our liver. It can also be found in certain foods like eggs, seafood, meats, organ meats and animal products. Taking high volume of dietary cholesterol will increase the risk of many medical disorders including cardiovascular disease, heart disease, high blood pressure.

In general, there are 4 types of fats: mono-unsaturated, poly-unsaturated, saturated and Trans fats. The first 2 unsaturated fats are the healthier ones as they increase our HDL (high density lipoproteins, or what we called the 'good' cholesterol) and decrease LDL (low density lipoproteins, or what we called the 'bad' cholesterol). On the other hand, saturated and Trans fats are bad for our bodies as they increase our LDL. The damage caused by trans fats is even serious because they also decrease our HDL.

Foods such as animal fat, animal skin, animal products such as butter, coconut milk and dairy products are good sources of saturated fats. Trans fats are formed when vegetable oils goes through a process called hydrogenation. As such, products that are labeled 'partially hydrogenated' or 'hydrogenated' vegetable oil in the ingredient list do contain trans fats.

Unsaturated fats can be found in vegetable oils like olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, and foods like nuts, avocados and oily fish.

In fact, our bodies still require a certain amount of fats for absorption of vitamins as well as other daily functions. Therefore, we should allocate only 10 per cent of our daily caloric intake for saturated and Trans fats, as recommended by health experts, and should take more foods containing unsaturated fats.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

When Does Heart Attack Occur Most?

People tend to eat and drink more during festive seasons like Christmas, New Year. It is, therefore, very common to see a surge in heart attack during such period.

In the United States, December and January are the deadliest months for heart attack when people consume rich food and extra alcohol, and at the same time, suffer seasonal stress. Nonetheless, the worst thing is that there would be a double dose of denial.

People may initially take chest pain as indigestion. Research shows that people who are possible candidates for heart attack are also more reluctant to rush to hospital when they feel that the holiday gathering is being disrupted or when they are in a city that they do not live in.

According to a study conducted in 2004, the seasoning swing in heart attack in the United States was noticed, with the peak in the number of deaths around the period of Christmas and New Year holidays.

Many factors can cause such phenomenon. For instance, people may just skip or forget to take their medications. Some people may put on weight especially when they skip exercising. As we know, digesting a particularly heavy and high-fat meal tends to pressure the heart, thus causing blood pressure and heart rate to increase. Heart will definitely have to pump harder.

For alcohol lovers, they may suffer 'holiday heart syndrome', which occurs when alcohol irritates the heart muscle, triggering an irregular heartbeat that can cause a stroke.

Furthermore, hospitals may be short of staffs during festive seasons, as most people would be taking their leaves as well. All this can cause a delay in treating a heart attack victim.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Which Country Ranks High In Focusing Preventable Deaths?

Which leading countries rank high in focusing preventable deaths? Don’t know, never, just make a wild guess!

United States! This is the first country that flashed on my mind. I bet many of you will have the same answer as mine.

The poll that I placed last week


The correct answer is France, and the next 2 best countries are Japan and Australia. Surprisingly, among the 19 leading industrialized nations, United States was rated worst on focusing on preventable deaths due to treatable conditions.

The researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine reported the findings in the journal Health Affairs on January 8, 2008. In the study, they tracked deaths that could have been preventable if accessing to timely and effective health care were possible and ranked nations on how they did. According to the researchers, such deaths are an important way to gauge the performance of a country’s health care system.

Deaths before the age of 75 from numerous causes, including heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, diabetes, certain bacterial infections and complications of common surgical procedures, were considered when establishing the rankings. The results showed that such deaths accounted for 23 percent of overall deaths in men and 32 per cent of deaths in women. France did best - with 64.8 deaths deemed preventable by timely and effective health care per 100,000 people, in the study period of 2002 and 2003.

Nevertheless, if the US health care system could have been performed as well as those of the top three countries, the deaths in the United States could have been reduced by 101,000 per year.

According to the US government estimates, there is a large number of Americans, about 47 million, who lack any type of health insurance, out of about 300 million populations. Perhaps, this is the main reason for United States to perform poorly in the study.

There is no doubt that the health care in the United States is good if you have access. However, if the people do not have access, then the “picture” could be very different. Don’t you think so?