HOW SWEET IT'S NOT: SUGARY DRINKS TAKE A TOLL ON HEALTH
In case you haven't heard, imbibing too many sugary soft drinks is bad for you. Now we know just how bad. Sweetened sodas, sports drinks, and fruit drinks may be the cause of 25,000 deaths per year in the United States.
American Heart Association in New Orleans. The death toll resulting from sugary drinks was attributed to additional cases of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
The research does not directly implicate sugary drinks as the cause of the deaths. Instead, it establishes a statistical link. It means that people who drink the most sugar-sweetened beverages also tend to have higher rates of chronic diseases--especially type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the body has trouble processing sugar in the bloodstream.
Chronically high blood sugar contributes to cardiovascular disease and cancer. It also directly damages the body, including the heart, blood vessels, and brain. - Harvard Men's Health Watch
MANY SCANS FOR BACK PAIN MAY BE UNNECESSARY
Many MRI scans for people with lower back pain are not medically necessary, according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine. Experts used widely accepted criteria to decide, after the fact, if MRI scans ordered for back pain or headaches were really necessary to diagnose or treat the problem effectively. Sometimes a scan is not likely to reveal anything especially useful.
The study found that only 44 percent of scans of the lumbar spine (the lower back) were appropriate. Of the remaining scans, 56 percent were deemed either inappropriate or of "uncertain value." The study also looked at MRIs for headache, but found that the clear majority, 83 percent, were deemed medically valuable.
Most people endure back pain sometime in their lives, but before you undergo diagnostic scanning, make sure it's really needed. MRI scans of the lumbar spine could pick up suspicious-looking features nearby that can cause you anxiety, follow-up testing, and medical visits, but turn out to be nothing. -Harvard Men's Health Watch
WHEN A DRUG YOU TAKE COMES UNDER FIRE
Attention-grabbing headlines such as "Statin Use Tied to Cataracts" and "Patients Taking Antihypertensive Drugs Show Increase in Lip Cancer" can make some readers so fearful that they stop taking their medication. The truth is, such headlines and articles are often misleading. Often, the chance of experiencing the frightening side effect is so small that the benefits of taking the medication far outweigh the risk.
Many times, it's impossible to prove that the medication caused the problem. "These studies do not give you the full picture," says Dr. Richard Lee, co-editor in chief of the Harvard Heart Letter.
When you read negative press about a medication, ask these questions:
1. Did the drug cause the effect? When people who take a drug experience an adverse effect, the drug is not always responsible." Yellow fingers don't cause lung cancer. People with lung cancer may have yellow fingers because they smoke. Tobacco causes lung cancer," says Dr. Lee, citing the classic example of association versus causation taught in medical school. In the articles tying statin use to cataracts and blood pressure medications to lip cancer, the findings were associations. The study design made it impossible to prove that either type of medication caused the adverse effect.
2. Is the side effect worse than the disease the drug is designed to treat? In clinical trials of cholesterol-lowering statins, some people have developed diabetes. But the statins also lowered the risk of heart attack and stroke. Diabetes can be managed with lifestyle and medication: heart attack and stroke can be deadly.
"In people with vascular disease, the chances of developing diabetes on a statin are far less than the chance the statin will prevent a future heart attack or stroke," says Dr. Lee.
3. How many people experienced the side effect? Sometimes, the finding touted in the headline is true, but it may affect very few people. For example, a drug may triple the risk of cancer, but if the risk is low to begin with, the benefit of taking the drug may greatly outweigh the risk.
When the side effect is serious
When a clinical trial uncovers a side effect serious enough to compromise the drug's safety, research usually stops, and the drug is never brought to market.
Some side effects appear after the drug is in use. In these cases, the U.S Food and Drug Administratio either removes the drug from the market, or--in the case of a lifesaving drug--warns about the potential risks, so doctors can weigh risks and benefits.
"The FDA works hard to maintain a balance between safety and efficacy and risk and benefit," says Prabashni Reddy, who directs the Center for Drug Policy at Partners Healthcare in Boston. - Harvard Heart Letter
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN SUNSCREEN
Confused by new labels popping up on sunscreen bottles? This year, changes to sunscreen labels are finally showing up on store shelves, as ordered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
One big change: terminology. Sunblock must now be called sunscreen, and the terms "sweat proof" and "waterproof" aren't allowed. The FDA says those labels weren't accurate, so a sunscreen can only be called "water resistant" for either 40 or 80 minutes, and only if it passes an FDA test.
But the more important terms focus on what sunscreen can prevent. For a label to claim the sunscreen can prevent sunburn, the product must pass the sun protection factor (SPF) test. This test shows how long a sunscreen protects you from ultraviolet B (UVB) rays that cause sunburn. SPF levels range from 2 to more than 70. The higher the number, the longer the protection lasts. For a product to claim it can prevent skin cancer, it must pass the broad-spectrum test. This shows if a sunscreen can protect your skin from both ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation, which contributes to skin cancer and early skin aging, and UVB rays.
So what should you look for? Go for a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF value of 30 or higher, recommends dermatologist Dr. Kenneth Arndt, a Harvard Medical School professor.
"Apply sunscreen before you go out. Use about a shot-glass full for your entire body. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or sooner if you've been swimming or sweating a lot," says Dr. Arndt. And wear protective clothing, including a hat with a broad brim that covers the ears and back of the neck, and avoid intense sun exposure during the 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. hours. - Harvard Health Letter