- Created on 23 November 2012
(AP) -- Unemployment hurts more than your wallet - it may damage your heart. That's according to a study linking joblessness with heart attacks in older workers.
The increased odds weren't huge, although multiple job losses posed as big a threat as smoking, high blood pressure and other conditions that are bad for the heart.
The researchers analyzed data on more than 13,000 men and women aged 51 to 75 taking part in an ongoing health and retirement survey partly sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. Since 1992, participants have been interviewed every two years about their employment and health.
The new analysis has several limitations. The data show periods of unemployment but don't indicate whether people were fired, laid off, out of work while switching jobs, or had voluntarily left a job. The researchers considered all of these situations "job losses," but it's likely the greatest risks for heart attacks were from being fired or laid off, said researcher Matthew Dupre, an assistant professor at Duke University and the lead author. Retirement was not considered unemployment
Sarah Burgard, a University of Michigan researcher who has studied the relationship between job loss and health, called the research solid but said it would be important to know the reason for the unemployment.
"There probably are differences in consequences of job loss when it's voluntary or more or less expected" and when it comes as a sudden shock, said Burgard, who was not involved in the study.
The analysis appears in Monday's Archives of Internal Medicine. An editorial in the journal says the study adds to decades of research linking job loss with health effects and that research should now turn to examining how and why that happens.
Theories include that the stress of losing a job may trigger a heart attack in people with clogged arteries or heart disease; and that the unemployed lose health insurance and access to medical care that can help keep them healthy, Burgard said.
The analysis covers 1992-2010. Participants were mostly in their 50s at the study's beginning and were asked about their job history, and about employment status and recent heart attacks at subsequent interviews. People who'd had heart attacks before the study began were excluded.
Nearly 70 percent had at least one job loss, or period of unemployment after working at a job, and at least 10 percent had four or more before and/or during the study period.
There were 1,061 heart attacks during the study. Those with at least one job loss were 22 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those who never lost a job. Those with at least four job losses had a 60 percent higher risk than those with none. Men and women faced equal risks.
Even though the odds linked with job loss weren't huge, many participants already faced increased other risks for a heart attack because of obesity, high blood pressure or lack of exercise.
"Any significant additional risk is important," Dupre said.
- Created on 20 November 2012
(AP) — There's a new push to make testing for the AIDS virus as common as cholesterol checks.
Americans ages 15 to 64 should get an HIV test at least once — not just people considered at high risk for the virus, an independent panel that sets screening guidelines proposed Monday.
The draft guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force are the latest recommendations that aim to make HIV screening simply a routine part of a check-up, something a doctor can order with as little fuss as a cholesterol test or a mammogram. Since 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has pushed for widespread, routine HIV screening.
Yet not nearly enough people have heeded that call: Of the more than 1.1 million Americans living with HIV, nearly 1 in 5 — almost 240,000 people — don't know it. Not only is their own health at risk without treatment, they could unwittingly be spreading the virus to others.
The updated guidelines will bring this long-simmering issue before doctors and their patients again — emphasizing that public health experts agree on how important it is to test even people who don't think they're at risk, because they could be.
"It allows you to say, 'This is a recommended test that we believe everybody should have. We're not singling you out in any way,'" said task force member Dr. Douglas Owens of Stanford University and the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System.
And if finalized, the task force guidelines could extend the number of people eligible for an HIV screening without a copay in their doctor's office, as part of free preventive care under the Obama administration's health care law. Under the task force's previous guidelines, only people at increased risk for HIV — which includes gay and bisexual men and injecting drug users — were eligible for that no-copay screening.
There are a number of ways to get tested. If you're having blood drawn for other exams, the doctor can merely add HIV to the list, no extra pokes or swabs needed. Today's rapid tests can cost less than $20 and require just rubbing a swab over the gums, with results ready in as little as 20 minutes. Last summer, the government approved a do-it-yourself at-home version that's selling for about $40.
Free testing is available through various community programs around the country, including a CDC pilot program in drugstores in 24 cities and rural sites.
- Created on 16 November 2012
If retired Army Gen. David H. Petraeus had gotten an occasional dose of supplemental oxytocin, a brain chemical known to promote trust and bonding, he might still be director of the Central Intelligence Agency, new research suggests.
A study published Tuesday in the Journal of Neuroscience has uncovered a surprising new property of oxytocin, finding that when men in monogamous relationships got a sniff of the stuff, they subsequently put a little extra space between themselves and an attractive woman they'd just met.
Oxytocin didn't have the same effect on single heterosexual men, who comfortably parked themselves between 21 and 24 inches from the comely female stranger. The men who declared themselves in "stable, monogamous" relationships and got a dose of the hormone chose to stand, on average, about 6 1/2 inches farther away.
When researchers conducted the experiment with a placebo, they found no differences in the distance that attached and unattached men maintained from a woman they had just met.
Even when an attractive woman was portrayed only in a photograph, the monogamous men who received oxytocin put a bit more distance between themselves and her likeness. But when the new acquaintance was a man, administration of oxytocin did not prompt attached men to stand farther away than single men, the researchers reported.
The latest findings suggest that oxytocin, which floods the body in response to orgasm, early romance, breast-feeding and childbirth, may act more subtly in humans than has been widely understood.
A mounting body of recent research suggests that boosting oxytocin in the human brain will indiscriminately promote trusting, friendly behavior. Research on female prairie voles has suggested the chemical might play some role in pair-bonding, and in humans playing games of risk and power, it increased empathy and trust in males and females alike. Injected into the cerebrospinal fluid of male rats, oxytocin causes spontaneous erections.
Accordingly, researchers examining oxytocin's effects on people — including the authors of the latest study — assumed that men under its influence would draw closer to women, not farther away.
"This was quite surprising," said Dr. Rene Hurlemann, a psychiatrist at the University of Bonn in Germany, who led the study.
At the same time, the new findings make evolutionary sense, Hurlemann added: As human societies evolved to give men an increasing role in safeguarding and supporting their mates and offspring, it appears that oxytocin may have taken on a more discriminating role in human interaction by favoring staying over straying behavior among men who've already found a mate.
Paul Zak, founding director of Claremont Graduate University's Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, said the new findings squared nicely with research, including his own, suggesting oxytocin doesn't merely make people friendlier — it makes them more empathetic, more attuned to social cues, and more inclined to adjust their behavior accordingly.
But the study also suggests something important about the ways in which the human brain differs from those of other animals, said Zak, who was not involved in the German experiments.
"The finding that one's relationship status affects how oxytocin affects the brain provides some evidence that our brains evolved to form long-term romantic relationships," Zak said. "Hugh Hefner is the exception, not the role model for men."
Inhaled oxytocin was marketed until 1997 in the United States under the name Syntocinon as an aid to new mothers having difficulty with breast-feeding. (It was withdrawn for business reasons unrelated to safety concerns.) In recent years, it has been under investigation as a drug that may help those with autism or schizophrenia to strengthen social skills.
Oxytocin's effects in women are quite clear. It plays a pivotal role in childbirth (its infused synthetic form, called Pitocin, is used to induce labor) and in breast-feeding, where it facilitates the "letdown" of milk.
For men, however, the chemical's effects have been mysterious. High levels of testosterone, for instance, inhibit the release of oxytocin.
Asked whether an oxytocin nasal spray might be used to help philandering males resist temptation, Hurlemann chuckled and asked whether any drug could be so powerful. At the same time, he underscored that high levels of oxytocin — or its more masculine counterpart, the hormone vasopressin — are produced by the body in response to sexual activity, cuddling or even the touch or close physical presence of a mate.
"What we actually simulate is a kind of post-coital posture" with the nasal administration of oxytocin, Hurlemann said. "And why should you actually approach another women when you're in a post-coital situation? It doesn't make much sense."
For women whose partners seem to get a little too friendly with new female acquaintances at parties, he said, the effects of inhaled oxytocin might be achieved by other means.
"It might make a lot of sense to remind him of the relationship, and sexual activity might be one means of achieving this," Hurlemann said. "I'm not sure it's politically correct to say so, but from a biological point of view, it makes sense."
- Created on 19 November 2012
Alcohol won't be the only beverage off-limits to those under 21 if one Chicago alderman has his way.
Ald. George Cardenas (12th), wants a city-wide ban the sale of energy drinks to anyone under the age of 21, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.
Cardenas, chairman of the City Council's Health Committee, wants to ban the contentious drinks first and get expert opinion later.
"You start with that premise because it brings more attention to the problem," said Cardenas in the Sun-Times. "It's a more serious conversation. If we just hold hearings, people won't take it seriously."
Energy drinks like Gatorade would be exempt from the ban; it's the caffeine-laced boosters, like Monster and Red Bull, that Cardenas is targeting with his proposal.
In October, the FDA said it was looking into reports of five deaths possibly related to Monster Energy Drinks. Earlier this month, the popular 5-Hour Energy drink was linked to 13 deaths over the past four years.
The proposed energy drink ban isn't the first time Cardenas has sought to ban products in Chicago via the City Council, says NBC Chicago. The council banned the sale of crib bumpers last fall from an ordinance sponsored by Ald. James Balcer (11th) and Ald. George Cardenas (12th).
- Created on 15 November 2012
(HealthDay News) -- Doctors have made great strides in fighting breast cancer, but not everyone is benefiting equally: Black women, in particular, are 40 percent more likely to die from the disease than any other racial or ethnic group.
So said health officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a special report released Wednesday.
Although breast cancer rates have been dropping during the past 20 years, "black women are diagnosed with breast cancer at lower rates than white women, and yet [blacks] have higher death rates," CDC deputy director Ileana Arias said during a noon press conference.
"As a public health official and as a woman, I find these disparities in breast cancer deaths unacceptable," she added.
Arias said two main factors account for this disparity. First, "there are unacceptable gaps in timely, adequate and appropriate health care," she said. "The second is the difficulty women have in navigating our complex health care system."
For the report, the CDC team collected data on new breast cancer cases from 2005 through 2009. The cases were reported in the CDC's National Program of Cancer Registries and the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program. The researchers also compared these cases with deaths from the National Vital Statistics System.
Better treatment and earlier diagnosis are likely responsible for 50 percent of the overall drop in breast cancer deaths, the report authors said. Black women, however, don't seem to be receiving the same quality of care for breast cancer as white women, the report noted.
"This fatal disparity must end," Dr. Marcus Plescia, director of the CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, said during the press conference.
Plescia said there's a lag for too many black women in receiving care once they've gotten a breast cancer diagnosis.
"Twenty percent of black women experience follow-up time of more than 60 days after an abnormal mammogram, compared to only 12 percent of white women," he noted.
Moreover, only 69 percent of black women begin treatment within 30 days, compared with 83 percent of white women, Plescia said.
"Fewer black women receive surgery, radiation and other treatments they need, compared to whites," he said. "Deaths rates could be reduced 20 percent if the same treatment was received by both groups of women."
Other highlights of the report:
- Some 40,000 U.S. women die from breast cancer each year.
- There are nine more deaths per 100 breast cancer cases among black women than white women.
- More black women are diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer (45 percent) than white women (35 percent).
"The full benefit of breast cancer screening can only be achieved when we ensure that every woman receives timely follow-up and high-quality treatment," Plescia said.
For her part, Arias believes the Affordable Care Act, which includes free mammography screening, will boost black women's access to health care.
"The lack of access to health care has been a major reason why women do not get cancer screening tests," she said.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. It is the second leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women, according to the CDC.