Poll: what’s scarier than Ebola

ebola-virus-disease

There are actually more worrisome public health issues than Ebola.

What worries you?

Lions, tigers and ebola–oh my!

ebolavirusUnless you’ve been living under a rock (which is admittedly difficult), you might be aware of the Ebola virus. And that it has entered the USA–one patient, not exactly an epidemic. And, according to public health officials, about 10 people are at risk from the disease from contact with this “patient zero” in the USA. Despite these minuscule, small, tiny numbers, you’d think America is facing a disaster of epic proportions.

Not so fast. I’m not saying we should ignore this disease, or minimize it’s danger, but seriously, in the grand scheme of the world, is this something to actually worry about? I have completely ignored the disease, other than mocking homeopaths for attempting to cure the disease, because there are so many infectious diseases that are actually more scary than Ebola.

Let’s get some facts then. Continue reading “Lions, tigers and ebola–oh my!”

Vitamin supplements do not lower risk of cancer and heart disease

pile-of-supplementsVitamin and mineral supplements are important to maintaining proper levels of these nutrients when they aren’t obtained from the diet. Generally, if a human consumes a diet of broad based foods, there is little need for supplementation, unless they are afflicted with a chronic medical disorder which requires additional nutrients.

Vitamins and minerals do not have an impact on the immune system. Numerous articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals that have found very little evidence that supplements can lower risk of heart disease or one of the over 200 forms of cancer. What we need next, in the hierarchy of scientific evidence, is a systematic review published in an important journal.

And we got one. Continue reading “Vitamin supplements do not lower risk of cancer and heart disease”

Why we vaccinate-flu vaccine reduces cardiovascular risks

senior-flu-vaccineIn addition to preventing the infection, the flu vaccination may have a more important benefit for those who get the shot. A new systematic review, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found that individuals vaccinated against the flu had a significantly lower risk of a major cardiovascular events, such as a heart attack or stroke, compared with those who received no flu vaccine.

In the meta-review, researchers from the University of Toronto analyzed five published studies and one unpublished study. They then rolled-up the data to investigate the connection between those who were vaccinated against the flu and various cardiovascular events. Altogether, the studies included approximately 6000 patients. Moreover, the patients had an average age of 67, while about one-third had a medical history of heart disease.

The results were dramatic–individuals who were vaccinated against the flu had a 2.9% risk of having a major cardiovascular even with the next eight months. The risk for those who were not vaccinated (or received a placebo) increased by 150% to 4.7%, a statistically significant difference.

Just to be clear, the study did not show that getting the flu virus caused the development of cardiovascular disease. However, patients with diagnosed cardiovascular disease (or who have had cardiovascular events, such as myocardial infarction) are at a significantly greater risk of another one if they catch the flu. As the authors state, “the greatest treatment effect was seen among the highest-risk patients with more active coronary disease.”

According to the study, less than 50% of people under the age of 65 with high-risk conditions (such as cardiovascular disease) receive the flu vaccine, which puts them at risk of complications like heart attack and stroke. Older individuals, who often have existing health problems, appear to be more likely to be vaccinated, although up to one third still skip their annual flu shot.

One last point–getting the vaccine, whether the patient has underlying cardiovascular disease or not, does not increase the risk of any cardiovascular effects.

We’ve all heard the excuses and myths about the flu vaccines. They just aren’t trueNo, they really really really aren’t true. By the way, Mark Crislip, MD, thinks those of you who make up whiny excuses for not getting the flu vaccine are dumbasses. His words, but quite apropos.

So, if you have had cardiovascular disease, or are at risk from it (like those who have type 1 or 2 diabetes), then get a flu vaccination no matter what your age is. If you have any other risk factors, like being under the age of 5, pregnant, or other important chronic conditions, get a flu immunization. If you’re a healthy adult, and you’re going to visit your parents or grandparents who could catch the flu from you, get vaccinated, even if they’ve been vaccinated (because there is some small chance that the vaccine didn’t give them full immunity). Just get vaccinated for the flu.

The clinical value of preventing the flu is huge. The mythical risks of getting the vaccine are invisible.

If you need to search for accurate information and evidence about vaccines try the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.

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Vitamin D and high blood pressure–probably ineffective

supplementsVitamin D is a group of fat-soluble steroid-like biochemicals that have one known responsibility in human health–enhancing intestinal absorption of calcium and phosphate, minerals which are necessary for bone development and bone health. In humans, the most important D vitamins are vitamin D3 and vitamin D2, both of which can be ingested from dietary sources, including fishes, milk products, and many other foods. However, the body can synthesize vitamin D’s in the skin when exposure to sunlight is adequate. Because humans can produce their own vitamin D, it is not strictly considered an essential dietary vitamin, which are vitamins that cannot be synthesized in sufficient quantities by an organism, and must be obtained from its diet.

Even though supplementation is necessary for people who aren’t receiving adequate levels of vitamin D through either sun exposure or diet, excessive intake of the vitamin causes a condition called hypervitaminosis D. Excessive vitamin D can lead to acute problems, like excess thirst or increased urination, but over a long-term can lead to heart disease and other chronic conditions.  

Despite the understanding that vitamin D has only one real function, regulation of calcium and phosphate uptake, that hasn’t stopped the junk medicine pushers from making all sorts of claims about its usefulness in human health. In fact, recent studies have shown that vitamin D doesn’t reduce the risk of breast cancer, one of the more popular myths about the vitamin. Continue reading “Vitamin D and high blood pressure–probably ineffective”

Multivitamins–big money, no effect on cardiovascular disease

A few months ago, I wrote about the role of supplements, mainly vitamins and other nutrients, in preventing cancer. Conclusion: they didn’t. To quote Martinez et al., who published a review of dietary supplements and vitamins in cancer prevention

Nutritional supplementation is now a multibillion-dollar industry, and about half of all US adults take supplements. Supplement use is fueled in part by the belief that nutritional supplements can ward off chronic disease, including cancer, although several expert committees and organizations have concluded that there is little to no scientific evidence that supplements reduce cancer risk. To the contrary, there is now evidence that high doses of some supplements increase cancer risk. Despite this evidence, marketing claims by the supplement industry continue to imply anticancer benefits. Insufficient government regulation of the marketing of dietary supplement products may continue to result in unsound advice to consumers. Both the scientific community and government regulators need to provide clear guidance to the public about the use of dietary supplements to lower cancer risk. 

All those expensive supplements, most of which have broad and unproven claims made about them, do precious little for cancer. And some actually increase the risk of certain types of cancer. Continue reading “Multivitamins–big money, no effect on cardiovascular disease”

Eggs and your arteries–yolk or no yolk

Here we go again. The popular press gets ahold of a scientific study, misinterprets it, and runs a scary story. Of course, it’s much worse if the scientific study published in a respected journal seems to also misinterpret the study. As I mentioned before, a true skeptic needs to critically analyze whatever is written in the press by going to the original study whenever possible; but what happens if that study requires some critical analysis? Well, I never said it was easy. If you want easy, denialism is really easy!

So back to the eggs. All across the news during the past week or so, you probably saw a story that eating egg yolks cause arteriosclerosis, a chronic condition in which an artery wall thickens as a result of the accumulation of fatty materials such as cholesterol. Some people may have already believed that anecdotally, but a new article published in AtherosclerosisEgg yolk consumption and carotid plaque, concluded that, 

Our findings suggest that regular consumption of egg yolk should be avoided by persons at risk of cardiovascular disease. This hypothesis should be tested in a prospective study with more detailed information about diet, and other possible confounders such as exercise and waist circumference. Continue reading “Eggs and your arteries–yolk or no yolk”