TIME tobacco

E-Cig Benefits Outweigh Their Harms, New Research Says

A patron demonstrates an e-cigarette at Vape store in Chicago, April 23, 2014.
A patron demonstrates an e-cigarette at Vape store in Chicago, April 23, 2014. Nam Y. Huh—AP

That doesn't mean you should hop on the bandwagon

The debate over e-cigarettes—now a$2 billion industry in the U.S. and growing—is constantly up in smoke.

The primary problem is that we simply do not know what e-cigarettes’ long-term health impacts are, with some people heralding it an effective smoking cessation while others say it’s just more nicotine products on the market—and not smoking, no matter what you inhale, is your best bet. Some early research found that adolescents smoking e-cigarettes will also smoke regular tobacco products, and that there’s an increase in e-cigarette related calls to poison centers around the nation.

But this week, a new paper looking at over 80 studies on e-cigarettes’ safety and their effects on users plays devil’s advocate.

The researchers found that based on the evidence, e-cigs are much less harmful to smokers and bystanders compared to conventional cigarettes. They are becoming more popular, but the numbers—so far—don’t suggest that they are being regularly used by non-smokers or kids. Finally, the researchers found that e-cigs can help some users cut down on their use of regular cigarettes and even quit. As regulating bodies around the world make decisions about how to deal with e-cigs, the researchers conclude that letting e-cigarettes compete with traditional tobacco on the market might actually decrease smoking morbidity and mortality.

“Health professionals may consider advising smokers unable or unwilling to quit through other routes to switch to [e-cigarettes] as a safer alternative to smoking and a possible pathway to complete cessation of nicotine use,” the Queen Mary University of London researchers write in their study, published in the journal Addiction.

When it comes to the question of what’s safer, e-cigs or cigarettes, no one is in disagreement. E-cigarettes win. While they still provide smokers with nicotine, which is highly addictive, users do not inhale the toxic smoke and chemicals from regular cigarettes.

Public health experts are split on what role e-cigarettes will play in the nation’s health, but more evidence and further research from both sides of the debate will hopefully keep policy members informed about where the current science stands.

TIME Cancer

Johnson & Johnson Urging Doctors to Steer Clear of Hysterectomy Device

The Johnson & Johnson logo is arranged for a photograph in New York on April 15, 2013.
The Johnson & Johnson logo is arranged for a photograph in New York on April 15, 2013 Bloomberg/Getty Images

The device, studies show, can spread some forms of uterine cancer and lower chances of survival

Johnson & Johnson is urging surgeons not to use a surgical tool that has been found to spread certain forms of uterine cancer in women, the company said Wednesday.

Sales of the company’s laparoscopic power morcellators, used during hysterectomies and fibroid-removal surgery, were halted in April because of a warning issued by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA told members of the medical community that the device could spread a form of uterine cancer called sarcoma in patients, lowering chances of survival.

Two recent studies — from the FDA and researchers at Columbia University — found that around 1 in 350 women has undetected cancer when being treated for fibroids; for women having hysterectomies, the risk is around 1 in 368.

Because of this, Johnson & Johnson is now expanding its pullback of the device, urging those who have purchased the device to return it. The Wall Street Journal reports the company originally stood by the tool, but now says the risk of spreading the cancer is more significant than previously believed. Though sales of the device are only a small part of Johnson & Johnson’s business, according to the Journal, the company represents about 72% of the market for this particular device.

[WSJ]

TIME West Africa

Peace Corps Pulls Volunteers Out of West Africa Amid Ebola Scare

GUINEA-HEALTH-EBOLA
Gloves and boots used by medical staff, drying in the sun, at a center for victims of the Ebola virus in Guéckédou, on April 1, 2014 Seyllou—AFP/Getty Images

Because of the spread of the Ebola virus, the organization announced Wednesday

The Peace Corps announced Wednesday that it’s pulling volunteers out of parts of West Africa amid an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. Volunteers in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are being recalled until further notice.

“The Peace Corps has enjoyed long partnerships with the government and people of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea and is committed to continuing volunteers’ work there,” the group’s statement reads. “A determination on when volunteers can return will be made at a later date.”

The organization currently has 102 volunteers in Guinea, 108 in Liberia and 130 in Sierra Leone, it says. On Wednesday, CBS News reported two Peace Corps volunteers in Liberia had been quarantined after possibly being exposed to the deadly virus, though neither currently exhibits symptoms.

As of July 23, 672 people have died from Ebola during the current outbreak, which has spread between Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and other parts of West Africa. Earlier this week, a hospital in Nigeria shuttered its doors after admitting a man who had contracted and later died from the virus.

World leaders are on high alert in light of the outbreak, which is the largest in history. Symptoms of Ebola include fever, diarrhea, vomiting and intense weakness; the fatality rate of this epidemic is about 60%.

TIME Mental Illness

Depression Is a Risk Factor for Dementia, New Research Says

The two have been linked before, but the new study says depression may be an independent risk factor for the disease

The link between depression and dementia is puzzling for researchers. Many studies have noticed a correlation between the two diseases and a 2013 review of 23 studies of about 50,000 older men and women reported that older adults suffering from depression were more than twice as likely to develop dementia and 65% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. But these have often only been associations. The newest study, published Wednesday in the journal Neurology, takes it further. The researchers believe that their findings, while not definitive, show that depression is in fact an independent risk factor for dementia — and not the other way around.

Researchers looked at 1,764 people with no memory problems around age 77 and followed them for about eight years. They discovered that people with mild cognitive decline as well as people with dementia were likely to have higher levels of depression symptoms before they were diagnosed, and that having these symptoms was associated with a greater decline in memory. Depression symptoms, the researchers estimated, accounted for 4.4% of the difference in memory decline that could not be caused by brain damage.

The reasons for the link between the two diseases are more unclear. Some research suggests that people with depression may have high levels of hormones that interfere with the region of the brain responsible for learning and memory aptitude. Gary Kaplan, an osteopath who runs the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine, as well as a handful of other researchers, has another theory: that inflammation caused by hyperreactivity of immune cells can hinder blood flow to — and impact neural pathways in — the brain.

Kaplan, who was not involved in this research, views depression as a symptom of inflammation in the nervous system, and not a disease in itself. “Depression is manageable,” says Kaplan. “We can modify risk for depression by lowering neuroinflammation. And these findings are completely consistent with depression as an inflammatory disease.”

It’s also possible that depression adds stress to the brain, and that can play a role in its deterioration.

If it was possible that treating depression could curb dementia risk, that would be game changing, medically speaking. That hasn’t been proved yet, but it’s an active area of research. The Mayo Clinic recommends that patients opt for treatments that are safe for both issues — for instance, taking antidepressants for depression, though “these medications may not be as effective at treating depression with Alzheimer’s as they are at treating depression alone,” they write. Kaplan thinks treating depression can be done with practices like meditation and getting more sleep — activities thought to calm the brain and improve overall brain health.

If the new research is right, finding new ways to treat depression may have an impact on dementia risk — even if it’s small.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Fruits and Veggies A Day Can Lower Your Risk of Death

Fruits and vegetables
Carlos Daniel Gawronski—Getty Images/iStockphoto

An apple (or five) a day may do more than keep the doctor away

We all know the cliche “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but in recent years, many studies have taken that promise even further, linking the daily consumption of fruits and vegetables to a reduced risk of mortality—especially from heart disease and cancer.

In a review and analysis of such studies published in The BMJ, researchers from China and the U.S. found that indeed, consuming fruits and vegetables is correlated with a lower risk of death in some cases—but that the association is not consistent for all types of death.

The researchers looked at 16 studies, which included a total of 833,234 participants, 56,423 of whom died. In order to minimize bias, investigators took into account various differences in study design and quality, and analyzed subgroups to confirm that results did not vary significantly by location.

Consuming more fruits and vegetables was significantly associated with a reduced risk of death from most causes. The average risk of death from all causes was lowered by 5 percent for each additional daily serving of fruit and vegetables, and the risk for cardiovascular death was reduced by 4 percent.

Interestingly, researchers found that once you reach five portions of fruits and vegetables per day, more of the healthy foods will not further reduce the risk of death.

This contradicts another recent study published in The BMJ’s Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health that suggested seven or more daily portions of fruits and vegetables were linked to lowest risk of death. However, researchers said studies may differ in their classifications of fruits and vegetables, and there was room for error in how people reported their eating habits on surveys used.

Eating more fruits and vegetables was not appreciably associated with risk of death from cancer, according to the study. Researchers said more studies are needed to examine specific types of cancer and the role of different groups of fruit and vegetables.

TIME Research

The High Risks of High Summer Temperatures

When the mercury rises, so do some health risks

A new CDC report out Wednesday shows that 2,000 Americans died each year from 2006 to 2010 from weather-related causes and, as TIME reported earlier, twice as many Americans died of winter cold compared to summer heat.

While the recent CDC numbers show more weather-related deaths attributed to the cold, the agency says heat-related health problems are concerning—and growing. According to the agency, a good example is Chicago. In 1995, there were 465 heat-related deaths in the city, but from 1999 to 2010, there were 7,415, which averages to 618 deaths a year. Low-income Americans without access to air conditioning—or those who have A/C but can’t afford to run it—are at a particular risk, as are children and the elderly.

This has some scientists concerned. “Previous research shows that extreme heat on average causes more deaths per year than tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes combined” says Olga Wilhelmi, a scientist who studies heat-related illness and climate at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “Heat-related deaths are a serious concern. When you look at the relationship between human health and extreme heat, it presents very complex medical, social, and environmental issues, and that’s what we’re trying to understand.”

Wilhelmi is studying what combination of factors influence heat-related health problems and death in a given place–primarily focusing on cities. The idea is that by gaining a vast knowledge of who are at the greatest risks and why, local health departments can better protect their residents.Wilhelmi has done a lot of recent work in the city of Houston, looking partly at the number of 911 calls made for heat-related health problems. One of her early findings is that the majority of Houston nights hit heat-stress levels, and that cities may need to consider issuing more alerts and interventions to protect its most vulnerable residents.

 

 

TIME Infectious Disease

CDC Reports More Cases of Mosquito-Borne Chikungunya Virus

EL SALVADOR-HEALTH-CHIKUNGUNYA
A doctor examines a patient during a medical brigade to detect suspicious cases of Chikungunya fever in a school of the town of Ayutuxtepeque, 4 km north of San Salvador, El Salvador on June 18, 2014. Jose Cabezas—AFP/Getty Images

Nearly all American cases were contracted while traveling

More than 600 Americans have been infected with the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus so far this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday. The vast majority of cases, the CDC says, were not contracted locally.

The disease (pronounced: chik-en-gun-ye), which causes fever, joint pain, headaches, swelling and rashes is not fatal, but it can be very painful. Earlier this month, the first locally-transmitted case was reported in Florida. There is no vaccine for chikungunya, but it is not contagious. The best way to avoid the disease is to stay protected from mosquitos by wearing adequate clothing and by getting rid of standing water.

The CDC says it expects more cases of the virus to pop up among travelers, given recent outbreaks in regions like the Caribbean and the Pacific. Imported cases of the virus could mean the disease will spread locally, the CDC said.

You can read more about chikungunya in the U.S. here.

TIME Infectious Disease

Infographic: Ebola By the Numbers

West African countries are trying to contain the deadly disease

The number of Ebola cases have continued to climb this week in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and now a recent victim in Nigeria. Here’s everything you want to know about the disease.

Sources: WHO, CDC, Mayo Clinic

You can also read more here.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Decoding Menus Can Help You Slim Down

Menu
Getty Images

Menu design can affect your dietary habits

Diners beware—the items in flashy fonts and bolded lettering are not always the best choice for your health. A new study released this month shows that the dishes we order at restaurants have less to do with our preferences and more to do with a menu’s description and design.

The Cornell study—published in the International Journal of Hospitality Management—examined 217 menus and the meal choices of 300 diners. Two factors impact our decisions, say the researchers: how food is presented on the menu and how we imagine our food will taste.

Tantalizing descriptions and highlighted fonts pull diners into certain items on a menu. “In most cases, these are the least healthy items on the menu,” said Brian Wansink in a statement, the study’s lead author and author of Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.

Wansink and his co-author Katie Love altered the names of some menu items, changing things like “seafood filet” to “Succulent Italian Seafood Filet” and “red beans and rice” to “Cajun Red Beans and Rice.” And when they did? Sales of these menu items increased by 28%. On average, diners were willing to pay 12% more for foods with descriptive, enticing names.

Wansink says the secret to healthy dining is talking to your server. “Ask ‘What are your two or three lighter entrées that get the most compliments?’ or ‘What’s the best thing on the menu if a person wants a light dinner?’”

If you are not cooking at home, decoding the restaurant menu may be the ticket to not spoiling your diet when you dine out.

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