Health Highlights: June 23, 2009

FDA Warns About Salmonella-Tainted Pistachios Americans Now Have Higher Out-of-Pocket Costs: Report Nutrient May Protect Babies' Brains From Alcohol U.S. Study Will Target Vitamin D, Fish Oil

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

FDA Warns About Salmonella-Tainted Pistachios

Consumers should not to eat certain brands of pistachio nuts because they may be contaminated with salmonella, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns.

The California Prime Produce- and Orange County Orchards-brand pistachios were distributed to retail locations in airports and hotels across the United States. The pistachios are in clear 6-ounce flexible plastic Ziploc bags, with "Sell By Dates" of "7/30/09" and "8/30/09," United Press International reported.

Orca Distribution West Inc. of Anaheim, Calif., received and repackaged pistachios recalled by Setton Pistachios of Terra Bella Inc., which has recalled all of its pistachios because of possible salmonella contamination, the FDA said.

More than 660 products are affected by the Setton recall, UPI reported. The FDA has a complete list of products at


Americans Now Have Higher Out-of-Pocket Costs: Report

Out-of-pocket costs (including premiums) for American workers with employer-based health insurance increased 30 percent between 2001 and 2006, from an average of $2,827 to $3,744, according to a federal government report released Tuesday.

When premiums weren't included, the average cost increased from $1,260 to $1,522, according to Hidden Costs of Health Care: Why Americans Are Paying More but Getting Less.

The report also says that employer-sponsored health insurance premiums have nearly doubled since 2000, a rate three times higher than wage increases. In 2008, the average premium for an employer-based family plan was $12,680. That's nearly as much as the annual wage of a person working a full-time minimum wage job, the report said.

In 2004, about 20 percent of Americans with employer-based health insurance had a co-payment of more than $25, but that increased to one-third by 2008, according to the report.


Nutrient May Protect Babies' Brains From Alcohol

Scientists plan to study whether a prenatal nutrient can protect the brains of babies whose mothers drink during pregnancy.

The study of pregnant women in Ukraine will examine the effects of choline, which is found in foods such as liver and eggs, the Associated Press reported.

The researchers are recruiting women who admit they drink while pregnant. The women would be counseled to stop drinking and then randomly selected to take either a standard vitamin supplement every day, or that vitamin plus 750 milligrams of choline. Currently, pregnant women are advised to get 450 milligrams per day of choline from food.

So far, about 120 of the planned 600 participants have been enrolled in the study. Preliminary results may be available within a year, the AP reported.

This is just one of a number of efforts to find ways to protect the brains of babies whose mothers drink while pregnant, including treatment with thyroid hormones and zinc.


U.S. Study Will Target Vitamin D, Fish Oil

The effectiveness of two popular dietary supplements, vitamin D and fish oil, will be put to the test in a large, five-year U.S. government-sponsored study, the Associated Press reported.

The study is designed to determine whether either supplement reduces the risk of developing heart disease, cancer or stroke, as proponents claim.

One quarter of the participants will be black, the AP said, noting that dark-skinned people can't produce much vitamin D from sunlight. Some experts believe this is why blacks suffer higher rates of stroke, heart disease and cancer than whites.

Fish oil, or omega-3 fatty acid, is widely touted for improving heart health, but previous studies haven't established its safety or benefits.

Noting that other supplements, such as vitamins E and C, have fared poorly in recent tests, a study leader advised restraint. "We should be cautious before jumping on the bandwagon to take mega-doses of these supplements," said Dr. JoAnn Manson, who will co-lead the study with Dr. Julie Buring of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, according to the AP.

Set to start later this year, the new study will include 20,000 older adults who will be assigned to take vitamin D, fish oil, both supplements or placebo pills, the AP said.

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