The Antidote

Counterspin for Health Care and Health News

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Weekly this and that

Potential downsides of supplements

Thanks to The C.A.M. Report for leads to new studies of harmful effects of dietary supplements in AIDS patients. The blog post refers to studies that are not necessarily of high-quality, point again to the need for high quality studies of widely used and pricey supplements that might not be as benign as their purveyors and their shills would like us to believe.

Healthy aging in the news

New York Times health reporter Gina Kolata has a great article in today's Times about mental and physical aspects of preventing frailty in the elderly. She manages to tell the story of the ups and downs of the research in full context and without getting into the nitty gritty of study designs and other research jargon, and without making wishy-washy health recommendations (e.g., "If you'd like to find out more about how you can prevent disease X, talk to your doctor.") [Disclaimer: I have worked with Gina Kolata and two of the researchers quoted in the paper, and have done original research with them on related issues. Overall, it's a subject I'm pretty passionate about, and one of my career goals is to help old people keep walking.]

Headline abuse

"New study finds chocolate chip cookies lower cholesterol" - not.

Sorry, they don't mean Entenmann's or Chips Ahoy. Guess what? This is an ad (complete with prices and ordering information) disguised as a press release, posted on EurekAlert, a free service that disseminates research press releases. The cookie, um, researchers provide some of their study methodology, but of course are selective about reporting the results; I don't know if they even bothered to look at side effects. The cookies (made with psyllium and plant sterols - yum!) are basically dietary supplements, about which the press release authors are making a health claim. I may even see if I can track down someone at FDA who might give a hoot.

The reason I chose this item and dignified its title by calling it a "headline" is that whoever wrote it was clearly hoping that some unwitting health writer would pick it up and use it for just that purpose. So writers, if you're reading this, don't pick up the bait (as I did).

There's flu, and then there's flu

I won't get into this at length here, but I'm sensing a disconnect: the media covers the progress of bird flu almost every day, to the extent that experts are warning us not to forget about big killers like TB and AIDS, and Americans don't plan to get a flu shot because they're not really worried about it. Yet the standard flu kills tens of thousands of Americans every year, while bird flu has killed a lot of birds and a handful of people worldwide, and although it's potentially more lethal and we don't have a vaccine for it, it can't jump from human to human - yet.

I don't know, maybe it's all about that "yet." Has anyone asked people - or health journalists and editors in particular, for that matter - whether they would get the bird flu vaccine should it become available?

EDIT: The George Washington School of Public Health grand rounds series hosted a conference this week entitled "Synergized reactions to avian and pandemic influenza"; you can access the webcast here; thanks to for hosting the webcast (podcast also available).

Medical blog carnival

Don't look for my posts here yet, but this weekly carnival summarizes good blogging from docs (and others interested in medical topics) around the world. If all goes well I'll be hosting one soon.


At 4:28 PM, Blogger PM said...

mmmm...metamucil cookies.


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