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Health Highlights: Nov. 21, 2003

Study Doubts Nursing-Blood Pressure Link Group: Atkins Diet Damaging to Heart Finishing Touches Added to Medicare Bill FDA Considers Nutritional Label Changes Strokes on Left Side of Brain More Deadly Man Dies While Having Stomach Reduction Surgery

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

Study Doubts Nursing-Blood Pressure Link

A new study casts doubt on earlier claims that babies who are breast-fed have lower blood pressure for life.

The research, appearing in the Nov. 22 British Medical Journal, looked at 29 previous studies on the subject, and found some of them to be unreliable or premature, according to a BBC account.

The research team from St. George's Hospital in London found that in the earlier papers, the larger the study, the lesser the benefits were, according to the BBC.

"Our analysis suggests that any effect of breast-feeding on blood pressure is modest and of limited clinical or public health importance," the study says. "However, blood pressure is not the only relevant outcome - the case for breast-feeding rests on a combination of long and short term benefits."


Group: Atkins Diet Damaging to Heart

A doctors' group has announced what it calls the second heart-related death in a person on the Atkins diet, and is calling for a government investigation into the safety of that and other high-protein, low-carbohydrate weight loss plans.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine states that a 41-year-old man and a 16-year-old girl died from sudden cardiac arrest while on the Atkins diet. The group wants the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to look into adverse effects.

Atkins diet promoters said the group was being anything but responsible in making this announcement. Agence France-Presse reports that the Atkins center is outraged by the allegations, which the group said could not be definitively linked to the diet. It accused the group of exploiting the tragedy of a few to promote its "vegan" political agenda.

"The PCRM appears to be exploiting the obesity and diabetes crisis in this country to further its own vegan political and philosophical agenda, regardless of the scientific evidence," AFP quotes an Atkins statement.

The group has also said it has found other bad side effects to these diets. According to a survey that 188 people answered, the following were reported:

  • 44 percent reported constipation;
  • 42 percent had a loss of energy;
  • 40 percent reported bad breath;
  • and 22 percent had kidney problems, including reduced function and kidney stones.


Finishing Touches Added to Medicare Bill

Congressional negotiators have finished work on the long-awaited Medicare overhaul that offers prescription drug coverage for the program's 40 million elderly and disabled subscribers, The New York Times reports.

There's hope that both the House and Senate will approve the measure -- which allocates $400 billion over 10 years -- for President Bush's signature before Congress recesses for Thanksgiving.

Ironically, while Medicare's spiraling costs have always been an issue, the negotiators discovered that when all of the numbers were finally crunched, they had an extra $5 billion to spare over 10 years, the Times reports. So in the final bill, the annual deductible was lowered to $250 from $275, and the annual ceiling for drug costs before a greater percentage of out-of-pocket contributions would kick in was raised to $2,250 from 2,200.

Some Democrats, representing the minority party in both chambers, still criticized the bill, adding that they felt largely left out of the negotiations. Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle predicted that 25 percent of Medicare recipients -- mostly those with lower incomes -- would actually have to pay higher out-of-pocket expenses than they do now.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) countered that the legislation would "help every Medicare beneficiary," according to the Times.


FDA Considers Nutritional Label Changes

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it's considering changing nutrition labels to reflect a package's entire contents, rather dividing the package by so-called "serving sizes," United Press International reports.

The agency acknowledges confusion over just what constitutes a serving size, especially as package sizes have become larger and larger.

For example, the once-typical 12-ounce can of soda has largely been replaced by a 20-ounce plastic bottle, yet the serving size on the nutritional label in many cases has remained the same, the wire service reports.

"Labels have not kept up with the supersizing of food," Associate FDA Commissioner Peter Pitts tells UPI. "We need to make sure consumers don't need a calculator to make wise nutritional choices."


Strokes on Left Side of Brain More Deadly

The five-year risk for sudden cardiac death is 45 percent greater in people who suffer strokes on the left side of the brain compared with those whose stroke was on the right side, says a new Dutch study.

That study of nearly 3,000 patients also found that the risk of sudden death was 40 percent greater for people who suffered a left-sided stroke compared to those with a bilateral stroke. It also concluded that left-handed or ambidextrous people had a 76 percent lower risk of sudden death following a stroke than right-handed people.

Sudden cardiac death occurs when a person's heart suddenly stops beating. It's often associated with coronary heart disease, but also occurs in stroke patients.

The researchers noted that the association between sudden death and left-handed strokes was the opposite of what they expected to find in their study. Previous studies suggested that right-handed strokes were more likely to increase the risk of sudden death.

The research appears in the Nov. 20 issue of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.


Man Dies While Having Stomach Reduction Surgery

A 27-year-old man having stomach reduction surgery died about 30 minutes into the procedure at Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence, R.I., reports WHDH-TV in Boston.

The patient, Robert Messa Jr. of East Providence, worked as a nursing assistant at the hospital. He was undergoing laparoscopic bypass surgery when he died.

The hospital is investigating the death but a spokesperson says there are no plans to stop doing this kind of procedure while it looks into this case.

Messa spent about three months preparing for the surgery, including consultations with a cardiologist, dietitian, and psychiatrist. He also attended a seminar that explained the risks and benefits of laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery, which is meant to help morbidly obese patients lose weight.

The surgery reduces the stomach to the size of an egg from its normal football size.

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