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Health Highlights: Jan. 6, 2015

DASH Diet Tops Annual List of Best Diet Plans Laxative Ingredient's Safety Being Investigated: FDA Ebola Death Toll Reaches 8,153 in West Africa: WHO No More Chinese-Made Treats at Petco

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

DASH Diet Tops Annual List of Best Diet Plans

The DASH diet came first among 35 diets reviewed in the annual U.S. News & World Report's List of Best Diet Plans.

The U.S. government-approved DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet scored 4.1 out of 5. The diet was created to combat high blood pressure, and received high marks for being heart-healthy, safe, nutritionally complete and its ability to prevent or control diabetes.

The diets were judged by a panel of health experts.

The second highest-ranked diet (score of 4) was the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet created by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. It's particularly good at promoting cardiovascular health, but does require a more "do-it-yourself" approach than some commercial diets, the experts noted.

The Mayo Clinic Diet tied for third (score of 3.9) and received especially high ratings for its nutrition, safety and protection against diabetes. It was judged to be moderately effective for weight loss.

Also scoring 3.9 were the Mediterranean diet -- which emphasizes fare such as fruits, vegetables, olive oil and fish -- and the Weight Watchers diet, which the judges said surpassed other commercial diets in many areas.

Other diets in the top 10 included the Flexitarian and Volumetrics (both 3.8), Jenny Craig (3.7), Biggest Loser and Ornish (3.6).


Laxative Ingredient's Safety Being Investigated: FDA

The safety of an ingredient in an adult laxative commonly given to children is being investigated, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

Polyethylene glycol 3350 (PEG 3350) is the active ingredient in Miralax and similar generic products that are given to constipated children, sometimes daily for years. However, the FDA has never approved long-term daily use of the laxatives in adults or children, The New York Times reported.

While it's widely believed that very little PEG 3350 is absorbed into the intestines, there is little data on its absorption in children, especially the very young and chronically constipated, according to the FDA.

Also, the agency has received some reports of tremors, tics and obsessive-compulsive behavior in youngsters taking laxatives with PEG 3350. It's not clear whether these problems are caused by the laxatives, The Times reported.

The FDA-funded Children's Hospital of Philadelphia study will examine whether PEG 3350 might be absorbed by very young children and whether the use of laxatives with PEG 3350 is associated with psychiatric problems.

"It's a medicine that helps a fair number of children," study co-investigator Dr. Ritu Verma, section chief of clinical gastroenterology at the hospital, told The Times. "We want to be sure it's not harming them."

In 2012, an advocacy group called the Empire State Consumer Project petitioned the FDA to reopen an investigation into the safety of PEG 3350.

"Finally, they will measure changes in behavior," group co-director Carol Chittenden told The Times. "We absolutely want that."

In a brief to researchers last year, the FDA also said its scientists discovered trace amounts of two antifreeze ingredients in eight batchers of Miralax tested six years ago. The toxins were impurities caused by the manufacturing process, according to the FDA.

Miralax is intended to be used once daily by adults, according to a statement released by drug maker Bayer, which also said it is "committed to ensuring the product meets all specifications for quality."


Ebola Death Toll Reaches 8,153 in West Africa: WHO

At least 8,153 people have died in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, including 3,471 in Liberia, 2,915 in Sierra Leone and 1,767 in Guinea, according to the World Health Organization.

That means that the death rate is 39 percent for the 20,656 Ebola cases reported in the three countries hardest hit by the outbreak that began about a year ago. More than a dozen people have died in other countries, the Associated Press reported.

In related news, scientists at Oxford University in the U.K. have started testing a new Ebola vaccine in 72 healthy adults ages 18-50. The volunteers will receive an additional booster dose one or two months after the initial injection.

The main goal of the clinical trial is to assess the safety of the vaccine, developed by Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. Initial tests in monkeys showed the vaccine provided complete protection against Ebola. The volunteers in the new study are the first people to receive the vaccine, BBC News reported.

Similar small clinical trials are also planned in the United States and three African countries unaffected by Ebola.


No More Chinese-Made Treats at Petco

All remaining Chinese-made dog and cat treats have been removed from Petco stores across the United States and are no longer available online, the company announced Monday.

The treats have been the focus of concern after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration received over 4,800 complaints from consumers of pets being sickened, sometimes fatally, after consuming the treats.

Petco is the first national pet retailer to halt sales of Chinese-made pet treats. PetSmart Inc. says it plans to stop selling the treats by March, the Associated Press reported.

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