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Monthly Archives: December 2016

Cell Phones Affect Brain Activity

Holding a cell phone to your ear for a long period of time increases activity in parts of the brain close to the antenna, researchers have found.

Glucose metabolism — that’s a measurement of how the brain uses energy — in these areas increased significantly when the phone was turned on and muted, compared with when it was off, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and colleagues reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Although we cannot determine the clinical significance, our results give evidence that the human brain is sensitive to the effects of radiofrequency-electromagnetic fields from acute cell phone exposures,” co-author Dr. Gene-Jack Wang of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, where the study was conducted, told MedPage Today.

Although the study can’t draw conclusions about long-term implications, other researchers are calling the findings significant.

“Clearly there is an acute effect, and the important question is whether this acute effect is associated with events that may be damaging to the brain or predispose to the development of future problems such as cancer as suggested by recent epidemiological studies,” Dr. Santosh Kesari, director of neuro-oncology at the University of California San Diego, said in an e-mail to MedPage Today and ABC News.

There have been many population-based studies evaluating the potential links between brain cancer and cellphone use, and the results have often been inconsistent or inconclusive.

Most recently, the anticipated Interphone study was interpreted as “implausible” because some of its statistics revealed a significant protective effect for cell phone use. On the other hand, the most intense users had an increased risk of glioma — but the researchers called their level of use “unrealistic.”

But few researchers have looked at the actual physiological effects that radiofrequency and electromagnetic fields from the devices can have on brain tissue. Some have shown that blood flow can be increased in specific brain regions during cell phone use, but there’s been little work on effects at the level of the brain’s neurons.

So Dr. Volkow and colleagues conducted a crossover study at Brookhaven National Laboratory, enrolling 47 patients who had one cell phone placed on each ear while they lay in a PET scanner for 50 minutes.

The researchers scanned patients’ brain glucose metabolism twice — once with the right cell phone turned on but muted, and once with both phones turned off.

There was no difference in whole-brain metabolism whether the phone was on or off.

But glucose metabolism in the regions closest to the antenna — the orbitofrontal cortex and the temporal pole — was significantly higher when the phone was turned on.

Further analyses confirmed that the regions expected to have the greatest absorption of radiofrequency and electromagnetic fields from cell phone use were indeed the ones that showed the larger increases in glucose metabolism.

“Even though the radio frequencies that are emitted from current cell phone technologies are very weak, they are able to activate the human brain to have an effect,” Dr. Volkow said in a JAMA video report.

The effects on neuronal activity could be due to changes in neurotransmitter release, cell membrane permeability, cell excitability, or calcium efflux.

It’s also been theorized that heat from cell phones can contribute to functional brain changes, but that is probably less likely to be the case, the researchers said.

Dr. Wang noted that the implications remain unclear — “further studies are needed to assess if the effects we observed could have potential long-term consequences,” he said — but the researchers have not yet devised a follow-up study.

“The take-home message,” Dr. Kesair said, “is that we still don’t know, more studies are needed, and in the meantime users should try to use headsets and reduce cell phone use if at all possible. Restricting cell phone use in young children certainly is not unreasonable.”

Medical Leech Linked to Infection

A resistant Aeromonas infection transmitted by a medicinal leech developed in a man undergoing reconstructive surgery of the jaw, leading to total failure of the graft, investigators reported.

“Leech therapy is the most effective nonsurgical management of soft-tissue venous congestion,” explained Dr. Brian Nussenbaum, of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and colleagues.

However, because a bug — Aeromonas hydrophila — lives in the gut of leeches where this bacteria aids in the digestion of blood, infections can occur in as many as 20 percent of patients treated with medical leeches, according to a report in the February Archives of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

So to prevent infection, researchers are recommending that when medical leeches are used, patients should be given antibiotics, preferably Cipro (ciprofloxacin) or Septra (trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole).

The patient was a 56-year-old man undergoing a reconstructive procedure for a large benign tumor in his jaw. He was given ampicillin-sulbactam as prophylaxis.

Approximately 24 hours after the surgery, he developed a condition called acute venous congestion, meaning a lack of blood supply that turns skin and tissue blue, in the area of the surgery.

In preparation for revision of the surgery, which revealed widespread clot formation, the patient was given 400 mg of intravenous ciprofloxacin and three leeches were applied to the area.

Types of Surgery For Cancer Treatment

The surgery appeared to have been successful, but despite maintenance therapy with ciprofloxacin, 48 hours later purulent secretions appeared, and cultures with sensitivity testing identified a strain of A. hydrophila that was resistant to both trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole and ciprofloxacin.

Ciprofloxacin was withdrawn and the fourth-generation cephalosporin, cefepime, was prescribed.

The wound did not heal completely and eight months later the patient required a second reconstruction eight months later.

When Bacteria Becomes Resistant to Antibiotics

To determine the source of this resistant infection, Nussenbaum’s group conducted a two-part investigation.

First, to see if the infection was acquired within their hospital, they performed cultures on samples of water from their leech tank — and found that all samples were susceptible to multiple antimicrobials, including ciprofloxacin and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole.

They also noted that no other resistant Aeromonas infections had been seen at their institution.

“This practice-based investigation suggests that this strain was not acquired within our hospital,” they stated.

They then conducted a broader investigation, contacting various organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Emerging Infections Network, finding that no other cases of similar resistant infections associated with medical leeches had been reported.

The leech supplier also reported careful maintenance of holding tanks, although antibiotic resistance tests were not routinely done.

The investigators found, however, that ciprofloxacin-resistant strains of Aeromonashad been identified from environmental sources such as drinking water in Turkey, a lake in Switzerland, and the Seine River.

These isolates contained a plasmid encoding fluoroquinolone resistance, which had previously only been found in Enterobacteriaceae.

“These findings suggest the possibility of emerging ciprofloxacin resistance in environmental water supplies, which is concerning,” observed Nussenbaum and colleagues.

Limitations of the study included the investigators’ inability to culture the gut contents of other leeches from the same batch, and the lack of specimens that could be tested for the presence of the resistance-conferring plasmid.

The study suggests that, although resistance to trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole and ciprofloxacin is rare in A. hydrophila, it can occur and should be considered when antibiotic prophylaxis is undertaken, according to the investigators.

“Surgeons using leech therapy should be aware of this possibility and collaborate with infectious disease specialists in their hospital to determine appropriate antibiotic prophylaxis on local resistance patterns,” they cautioned.

7 Foolish Health Rumors You Should Ignore

Urban legends and health myths are certainly nothing new — we’re pretty sure even our Neanderthal ancestors passed some version of them around their cave fires. But the Internet has certainly helped outdated advice die hard, so it’s no wonder these fake facts keep popping up in our inboxes. We picked our favorites from such myth-busting sites as Snopes, the authors of Don’t Swallow Your Gum!: Myths, Half-Truths, and Outright Lies About Your Body and Health, and more. Here’s why you should stop falling for these, once and for all:

Chewing gum takes seven years to pass through your digestive tract.

The truth: Gum addicts can relax. Although your body can’t digest chewing gum, it doesn’t just sit in your stomach, according to Snopes.com. You eliminate it when you go to the bathroom just like other food you haven’t digested.

Plucking a gray hair causes two to grow back.

The truth: It’s fine to tweeze that errant hair. Genetics plays a key role in when you go gray, regardless of how often you pluck. It can take six months from the time a hair falls out until it grows back long enough for you to notice it; during that time, you’ll automatically see more gray hair as part of the aging process, explains Snopes.com.

Antiperspirant deodorants cause breast cancer.

The truth: Going au naturel won’t protect your breasts from cancer. This mythprobably came about because some antiperspirants contain aluminum, which can show up as a false-positive finding on a mammogram. All this means is you should skip the white stuff before a breast cancer screening. Though concerns have been raised about parabens in deodorant raising estrogen levels — and thus possibly increasing cancer risk — there’s never been any conclusive evidence to prove a link, according to the National Cancer Institute and FDA.

Cats can steal the air from a baby’s mouth.

The truth: There’s no need to send Fluffy away when baby moves in. This myth dates back hundreds of years to an era when cats were associated with evil spirits and witchcraft, but KidsHealth.org notes that it’s anatomically impossible for a cat or other animal to suffocate a baby by sealing the infant’s mouth with its own. Still, it’s a good idea to supervise pets around babies and small children — for the kitty’s safety just as much as the child’s.

Mountain Dew can shrink a man’s testicles.

The truth: Mountain Dew-drinking guys everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief. The gist of this ridiculous rumor, according to Snopes.com, is that drinking Mountain Dew can lower a man’s sperm count or cause his penis to shrink. The alleged culprit is food coloring Yellow No. 5, and the myth that it has a harmful effect on the male reproductive system is unfounded, the site says.

You can catch a cold from being outside too long.

The truth: It’s actually a good idea to let your kids spend plenty of time outdoors. “Going outside — with or without a wet head — is one of the best things you can do toprevent catching a cold,” D.J. Verret, MD, a Dallas otolaryngologist, toldWomansDay.com. “Colds are caused by viruses or bacteria, which are more often spread in the winter because of close contact from everyone being indoors.” So spending time al fresco can actually make you less likely to catch a cold.

Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis.

Truth: The sound can be extremely grating, but this uncouth habit won’t harm your joints. Researchers found no difference in instances of arthritis when they compared a group of longtime knuckle crackers with those who left their hands alone, according to Prevention.com. However, the study did find that people who cracked their knuckles had weaker grips and more hand swelling — good reasons to kick the habit.

Chemical Found in Blood Holds Clues to Survival

Even within the normal range, higher bilirubin levels appear to be associated with reduced risks of lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and death, a longitudinal, prospective analysis of a large database showed.

For every 0.1-mg/dL increase in bilirubin level, the rate of lung cancer dropped by 8 percent in men and 11 percent in women, according to Laura Horsfall, MSc, of University College London, and colleagues.

In addition, the same incremental increase in bilirubin was associated with a 6 percent decline in the rate of COPD and a 3 percent decline in mortality for both sexes, the researchers reported in the Feb. 16 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Based on our findings, bilirubin levels within the normal range appear to capture information about patients that may reflect a combination of environmental and genetically determined susceptibility to respiratory diseases,” they wrote.

Most people are familiar with bilirubin because of its role in jaundice — the yellowing of the skin that is sometimes seen in newborns but is also associated with liver disease.

Bilirubin is actually a byproduct of the turn over of red blood cells — the cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. Healthy individuals constantly replace old red blood cells with new ones. As the old cells are broken down they produce bilirubin, a chemical characterized by a distinctive yellow color.

The spleen and the liver taking in bilirubin and use it to break down or metabolize other substances into bile, which is used to aid digestion.

Although the study cannot establish causality for any of the relationships, there is some experimental evidence that bilirubin has benefits for respiratory health because of its cytoprotective properties, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiproliferative effects, according to the researchers.

They noted that a better understanding of the possible mechanisms linking bilirubin levels to lung cancer, COPD, and death may lead to potential therapies that target the activity of UGT1A1, a liver enzyme responsible for converting insoluble bilirubin to an excretable form.

Horsfall and her colleagues examined data from the Health Improvement Network, a U.K. primary care research database.

Their analysis included 504,206 patients ages 20 and older from 371 practices. All of the patients had recorded serum bilirubin levels but no evidence of hepatobiliary or hemolytic disease.

Median bilirubin levels were 0.64 mg/dL in men and 0.53 mg/dL in women.

Through a median follow-up of eight years, there were 1,341 incident cases of lung cancer, 5,863 incident cases of COPD, and 23,103 all-cause deaths. The corresponding rates per 10,000 person-years were 2.5, 11.9, and 42.5.

For men, the rate of lung cancer per 10,000 person-years dropped from 5.0 in the lowest decile of bilirubin levels to 3.0 in the fifth decile. Similar declines were seen for COPD (19.5 to 14.4) and death (51.3 to 38.1).

The findings were similar for all outcomes in women, and the declines in both sexes remained significant after adjustment for age, body mass index, systolic blood pressure, smoking, alcohol intake, and a measure of social deprivation.

The authors acknowledged some limitations of the study, including possible residual confounding by unmeasured environmental exposures or race/ethnicity and the inability to establish causality for the observed relationships.