Health Highlights: July 17, 2007

Diet May Play Role in Macular Degeneration Protein May Link Asthma and Obesity FDA Approves Artificial Disc for Neck Disc Disease FDA Does Little to Ensure Food Safety: Report Bill Would Give FDA Authority Over Cigarettes TB Patient Has Part of Diseased Lung Removed

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

Diet May Play Role in Macular Degeneration

Some carbohydrate-laden foods may contribute to a leading cause of blindness among older people, an eye disease called age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a new study concludes.

Foods with a high glycemic index -- an indicator of the food's potential to raise blood sugar levels -- are associated with development of AMD, Tufts University researchers wrote in the July issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Heavy consumption of foods with a high glycemic index -- like cakes, cookies, white bread, and foods sweetened with sugar or corn syrup -- already have been associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers, reported The New York Times, citing a background paper in the medical journal.

The new study involved 4,099 people ages 55 to 80, none of whom had diabetes, the Times said. Those who ranked in the highest one-fifth of the dietary glycemic index were at more than 40 percent greater risk of AMD than those in the bottom one-fifth, the newspaper said.

The exact link between food consumption and AMD isn't clear, but the study authors speculated that high blood sugar concentrations could harm the retina and capillaries in the eye, and that a diet rich in high glycemic index foods could trigger inflammation, the Times said.

The scientists added that they hadn't established a definite cause-and-effect relationship between a high-glycemic diet and AMD, adding that age and smoking were greater risk factors, the newspaper reported.

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Protein May Link Asthma and Obesity

Although past studies have established a link between asthma and obesity, new research has identified a protein that may contribute to both, BBC News reports.

Scientists at King's College London said the protein, known as PMCH, appears to contribute to lung inflammation and to increase hunger, they wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Several studies have found a link between the two conditions that cannot be explained by asthmatics' typical lack of exercise, the BBC report said.

But since people with asthma aren't always obese, lead researcher Dr. David Cousins said more study of possible variations of the PMCH protein was needed, the network reported.

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FDA Approves Artificial Disc for Neck Disc Disease

The Prestige Cervical Disc is the first artificial disc to be sanctioned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat degenerative disc disease of the neck, the agency said Tuesday in announcing the device's approval.

The neck region, medically called the cervical spine, consists of seven vertebrae that are separated from each other by intervertebral discs. These discs let the neck bend and rotate.

The current standard treatment for degenerative disc disease is a surgical procedure called cervical fusion to remove a diseased disc and to fuse the remaining portions together, the agency said. The Prestige product is meant to replace the disc that's been removed.

The product is manufactured by Medtronic Sofamor Danek of Memphis, Tenn. The FDA said it considered results from the company's clinical study of 541 people, which found the device improved neck and arm pain, and was as safe and effective as cervical fusion.

The company is required, as a condition of approval, to conduct a seven-year study of the device's long-term safety and effectiveness, the FDA said.

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FDA Does Little to Ensure Food Safety: Report

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has minimal ability to ensure the safety of the nation's food supply, Congressional investigators were expected to testify before a House subcommittee Tuesday.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, an overwhelmed FDA inspection staff is able to test less than 1 percent of imported food. The agency is reeling from a series of recent food scares, including a huge recall of contaminated pet food ingredients imported from China. The newspaper said the FDA hadn't inspected those ingredients before thousands of pets died from what's believed to be contamination with a chemical used to make plastics.

Inundated FDA inspectors now allow importers to take possession of their goods and arrange for inspection by a private laboratory, the Journal reported.

Committee investigators reviewed documents, interviewed current and former FDA employees, visited agency laboratories and field offices, and talked with industry experts, the newspaper said.

FDA spokeswoman Julie Zawisza said agency officials hadn't seen the report but were prepared to testify at the hearings before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee.

"We look forward to addressing the issues the committee will raise," she said.

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Bill Would Give FDA Authority Over Cigarettes

Congress is considering legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the same authority over tobacco products that it now has over drugs and certain foods, the Associated Press reported.

Comparable bills in both the House and Senate would grant the agency authority to regulate tar, nicotine, and other ingredients of tobacco products, many of which have been proven to cause cancer. Cigarette smoke alone contains about 4,000 chemicals, and more than 40 are known to be carcinogenic, the wire service said.

The legislation would authorize the FDA to approve any new tobacco products, to set federal standards for how all tobacco products are manufactured, and require that makers list all of the ingredients on tobacco product labels.

Among those not altogether sold on the bill is FDA Commissioner Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, the AP reported. Von Eschenbach recently said he wouldn't want the agency put in a position of having to regulate products that are inherently unsafe, the wire service said.

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TB Patient Has Part of Diseased Lung Removed

Andrew Speaker, who sparked an international scare when he traveled from the United States to Europe and back despite being told he had drug-resistant tuberculosis, had a two-hour operation on Tuesday to remove the diseased portion of one of his lungs, CNN reported.

The 31-year-old Atlanta lawyer has been treated since the end of May at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver. Speaker told the network that it was his decision to have the surgery.

First thought to have an extremely drug resistant form of TB, Speaker was diagnosed earlier this month with a less virulent form of the disease that can be treated with less toxic drugs, CNN reported.

Despite warnings from Georgia's Fulton County Health Department advising him not to fly, Speaker in May took a series of flights to and from Greece for his wedding. Eight people who were aboard the flights have since filed suit against him.

One fellow passenger, a 72-year-old man, has had a positive skin test for TB, but is awaiting additional test results, CNN said.

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