Combination Cholesterol Drugs Show No Added Heart Benefits

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(BETHESDA, Md.) -- The combination of statins and niacin, both cholesterol modifying medications, doesn't reduce the chances of having a heart attack, according to findings by the AIM-HIGH trial conducted by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, an arm of the National Institutes of Health.

The findings prompted the NHLBI to stop their trial a year and a half early.

The AIM-HIGH study looked at patients who had lowered their LDL, or so-called bad cholesterol, with the help of statins and tried to see if raising HDL, or good cholesterol, by adding niacin to their therapy would additionally reduce the risk of having a heart attack. But the combined therapy of extended release niacin taken with statins showed no benefit in the patients tested.

Previous studies showed that low HDL cholesterol increases the risk of cardiovascular events in men and women, regardless of LDL cholesterol.

"We have had great clinical data that low HDL levels are bad for decades, but there is no evidence that raising HDL levels does anything to reduce the risk," said Dr. Cam Patterson, chief of the division of cardiology at the University Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Still, many cardiologists believe raising HDL reduces the chance of having a heart attack. In fact, the Framingham Cardiac Risk Score, a risk assessment tool used by cardiologists, looks mainly at the HDL score to assess a patient's risk of heart disease. It's unclear which HDL-raising treatments can reduce the risk of heart disease.

Niacin, found over-the-counter and frequently recommended to be taken two to three times daily, blocks the breakdown of HDL while preventing fat cells from releasing LDL. But niacin, also known as vitamin B3, has also been shown to increase the risk of stroke in some patients.

While many experts said they were surprised by the AIM-HIGH findings, some said they wouldn't abandon their longstanding belief in targeting HDL just yet.

In fact, some patients in the control group of the randomized trial may have had a longstanding history of niacin use before they started the study. The entire group of patients studied also had well-controlled LDL levels, which could indicate that their risk of heart disease or heart attack already may be lower compared to those with uncontrolled cholesterol.

Still, many doctors may be too focused on raising HDL without clear evidence of its benefits, according to Dr. Dean Ornish, founder and president of the preventative medicine research institute at the University of California San Francisco.

"There should be less emphasis on raising HDL and more on lowering LDL via diet and lifestyle, and focus on lipid lowering drugs in combination with diet and lifestyle changes to lower LDL, not raise HDL," said Ornish.

Many experts say patients should not stop taking cholesterol-lowering drugs like niacin or statins without talking to their doctor.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Researchers Detect Gestational Diabetes 7 Years before Pregnancy

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(OAKLAND, Calif.) -- The risk that a woman might develop diabetes during pregnancy could possibly be detected up to seven years before she becomes pregnant, according to new research from the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research.

Looking at 580 women, researchers found that routine assessments of blood sugar and body weight in the years before conception could be a significant help in determining those at risk for diabetes, according to their report.

The study, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, states that gestational diabetes mellitus is a pregnancy complication that can cause an intolerance to glucose and raise the risk of preterm delivery.  The condition can also lead to long-term health issues for affected babies.

Those at higher risk for gestational diabetes were typically women who possessed risk factors for heart disease and high blood sugar, according to the report.

The study authors conclude that this research could lead to the diagnosis and prevention of gestational diabetes long before a woman conceives a child, and reduce the rates of unfavorable outcomes during pregnancy.

Copyright 2011 ABC News  Radio 


Weight Loss for Obese Women Linked to Higher Vitamin D Levels

Creatas/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) -- Obese or overweight women who lose more than 15 percent of their body weight, could markedly increase their levels of vitamin D, according to new research from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Researchers say these findings could help in the future exploration for the prevention of other diseases like cancer or diabetes.

"Since vitamin D is generally lower in persons with obesity, it is possible that low  vitamin D could account, in part, for the link between obesity and diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes," study author Caitlin Mason, said in a statement.

Vitamin D a nutrient that promotes calcium absorption, inflammation reduction and aids in the health of cells and the immune system.

This study is published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Horse Herpes Forces Cowgirls to Ride Stick Ponies

Thomas Northcut/Thinkstock(OGDEN, Utah) -- Even cowgirls get the blues. The contestants in a Utah rodeo queen contest had to abandon their mares and ride toy stick ponies -- all because of an equine herpes outbreak.

The girls took it in stride at the Davis County Sheriff's Mounted Posse Junior Queen Contest this week, doing their routines around the arena as if they were on horseback. They were judged on knowledge of the drill, rather than their riding skills.

"It's kind of weird, but you can't really help that the disease is going around," said Savanna Steed, 15, of Far West, Utah, who has been riding and competing since she was 4.

"It's an outbreak that we don't have a vaccine for," she told ABC News. "It's airborne and if you have a horse and it touches something and the other horse touches it, they get it. It's easy to catch."

Utah has 13 suspected and seven confirmed cases of equine herpes virus after horses at a regional cutting horse competition at the Golden Spike Arena in Ogden first showed symptoms of the illness.

Most commonly, the virus spreads by horse-to-horse contact but contaminated equipment and clothing and hands can also infect a horse with the virus. The arena took precautions by just eliminating the horses from the contest.

Veterinarians have been concerned because this EHV-1 virus is a mutant strain and is not covered by existing vaccines, according to Bruce L. King, Utah state veterinarian. And it's highly contagious.

Equine herpes is not transmitted to humans, according to Dr. Kenneth Fife, who specializes in infectious diseases and is professor of medicine at Indiana University Medical School.

The virus takes two forms in humans: herpes simplex [HSVI] 1 and 2. The first is associated with cold sores and fever blisters on the mouth and is usually acquired as a child. The second is sexually transmitted and affects the genitals.

HSVI 2 can be transmitted from a mother to her fetus and be life-threatening to the newborn. It can also make those who are exposed more vulnerable to HIV infections. HSVI 1 can be associated with fatal brain infections, though it is rare.

The only herpes virus that crosses species lines is a monkey virus that causes cold sores in the animal, but can potentially become a brain infection in humans, he said. Handlers can be infected.

Savanna wasn't worried for a moment about getting herpes. And she and her fellow cowgirls, though disappointed, didn't let their audience down.

"With the tornado and everything, it was nice to see something fun," said her grandmother, Janet Steed, who watched the contest on television.

New Jersey has had similar equine herpes outbreaks this spring, according to Christine Connelly, who has bred thoroughbreds at Bright View Farm in Chesterfield for the last 40 years.

"I admire the girls," she said. "They must have a lovely quality about them to be willing to be so wondrously foolish and engaged and still doing their best. The must love the sport enough.

"What it says is they love competition and they love what they are doing," she said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Dr. Oz's Three Tips for Improving Your Life and Health

ABC/Jeff Neira(NEW YORK) -- Dr. Mehmet Oz appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show for years before hosting his own Emmy Award-winning program, The Dr. Oz Show. He's helped millions of viewers understand the intricacies of the human body, and how simple changes can prove hugely beneficial in people's lives.

"Demystifying the body was the essence of what we were doing," Oz said. "And there are truths about what happens inside of you. The magic that represents the special sacred nature of your body."

In an interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer, Dr. Oz shared three tips that he believes would benefit everyone:

Walk more. "Do what humans have always done, which is to walk...  I'm not talking about a stroll through the park. But an active, aggressive walk, has been the core of what has allowed humans to survive for decades longer than they should have," Oz said.

Eat rawer, fresher foods. "Half of all the foods you eat, half should be made up of real food. Food that comes out of the ground looking the way it looks when you eat it."

Find your passion. "You have to give your heart a reason to keep beating. It seems so simple. But if you don't have passion, if you don't have vision, if you don't have something that brings you joy day in and day out, then nothing else makes a difference."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Germ Test Shows Some Public Seats Full of Bacteria

Photodisc/Thinkstock(SAN FRANCISCO) -- You might want to sit down for this -- or maybe not. This is a story about germs on public seats, and just how common and hazardous they might be.

When ABC's Good Morning America heard that Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) commuter train seats in the San Francisco Bay Area had recently tested positive for all sorts of bacteria, producers wanted to know whether it was just BART, or if all public seats are germ factories. A team of GMA sleuths decided to travel from the East Coast to San Francisco to visit BART and test every seat along the way.

Here's a list of the seats that were tested and how they did.

The Not-So-Bad Seats: These seats contained low bacteria counts and/or harmless bacteria that will not make you sick.

  • New York City taxi seat
  • San Francisco restaurant seat
  • Hotel lobby seat
  • Hotel room seat
  • BART seat
  • Toilet seat

The So-Bad Seats: These seats contained high bacteria counts, including E Coli. (The strains of E. coli we found are not the deadly type, but are an indicator of the presence of fecal matter.)

  • Movie theater seat
  • Airport lounge seat
  • Airplane seat
  • Rental car seat
  • Park bench

How to Handle Germs on Public Seats

When GMA tested a dozen different kinds of public seats on a trip from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco, it discovered that more than half contained traces of fecal matter and nearly a third were positive for E. coli.

Wash your hands thoroughly after you sit in a public seat, especially before eating. If you don't have access to soap and water, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer solution is effective in killing germs.

It's a good idea to avoid sitting on your bed and anywhere else you want to keep extra clean after sitting in a public seat. And if you placed your purse or backpack on the seat, then you won't want to put it on your kitchen or bathroom counter -- or other places that you need to keep sanitary.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Researchers Develop New Treatment for Post-Stroke Blood Clots

BananaStock/Thinkstock(BALTIMORE) -- Treating patients who suffer from hemorrhagic strokes, in which a blood vessel ruptures inside the brain, can be tricky.

The blood clot that forms after the rupture can either be treated with surgery or clot-busting drugs, but both options pose a serious risk to the patient's health.

Now, researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have a developed a new clot-busting treatment that could change the current standards of care.

The researchers treated 60 stroke patients by threading small catheters into the blood clots in their brains and "dripping" blood thinners directly into the clots.  They found that the patients' blood clots shrunk by more than 50 percent, compared to the one percent reduction in clot size in patients treated with the current non-surgical standard of care.

Although both treatment groups were found to have equal death rates, those treated with the new and experimental procedure had a higher degree of function six months later than those who received standard care.  The authors conclude that "reducing the clot's size with a minimally invasive method seems to be pivotal for optimizing patient recovery."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Ragweed and Mold Allergies on the Rise, Report Suggests

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(MADISON, N.J.) -- Up to 20 percent of Americans suffer their way through the spring and summer because of ragweed allergies, and new research says the problem could be getting worse.

A report by Quest Diagnostics, a company that provides diagnostic testing services, suggests that allergies are on the rise nationwide, mostly due to an increase in the amount of ragweed and mold in the environment.

The company evaluated 14 million blood test results from about 2 million patients over a four-year period. Each test determined sensitivity to a specific allergen, and the company looked at 11 different allergens. They said people's sensitivity to ragweed increased 15 percent and mold sensitivity grew 12 percent.

"We believe this is the first large national study to show that the growing prevalence of allergies, suggested by other studies, is largely due to increases in environment-based allergens previously associated with climate change," said Dr. Stanley J. Naides, Quest's medical director of immunology.

The study also ranked the 30 worst metropolitan areas for ragweed allergies. They said Phoenix, Las Vegas, Kansas City, Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif., and Dallas topped the list. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


USDA to Unveil New Icon to Replace Food Pyramid

MyPyramid [dot] gov(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture will say goodbye next week to its food pyramid icon, which depicts the government's recommended daily intake of various food groups.

The MyPyramid will be replaced with a new food icon that will be unveiled Thursday, June 2.  The new symbol "will be an easy-to-understand visual cue to help consumers adopt healthy eating habits consistent with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans," according to the USDA.

The USDA will also launch a new website, which will include more nutritional information, to coincide with the icon.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


New Reality Show Takes on Extreme Obesity

Creatas/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The "extreme" in this summer's new reality TV show Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition doesn't necessarily refer to the tactics used by personal trainer Chris Powell.  It's the severity of the obesity that makes this show different.

The eight contestants who will be the stars of the show were all turned away from another weight loss show, NBC's The Biggest Loser, because the intense workouts might have been a health concern.  Effectively, they were too obese to compete.

While these participants may have the most weight to lose of any reality TV makeover, the approach taken by Extreme Makeover may be the healthiest, most doctor-approved approach yet.

When you're tipping the scales at nearly 500 pounds, losing weight can be a matter of life or death, but so can extreme dieting or exercise, especially for those who suffer from high blood pressure or heart disease.

The Biggest Loser approach, with intense calorie-restriction and a competitive environment, "is not the way I would have most people lose weight," says Dr. Terry Schaak, medical director of California Health & Longevity Institute, which served as the backdrop to Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition.

The Institute offers an immersive weight-loss program that focuses on moderate, easier-to-maintain dieting, with a vigorous exercise program that can be gradually tapered down as the person reaches their ideal weight, Schaak says.

This is the basic approach taken on the show, on which eight participants lose a total of 2,600 pounds over the course of a year under the guidance of their "650-Pound Virgin" trainer, Chris Powell.  Each episode will tell the year-long tale of a different participant's makeover journey.

Make no mistake, the makeovers were dramatic, with some contestants losing "north of 150 pounds in the first 90 days," says the executive producer of the show, JD Roth.  But the fact that makeovers take place over the course of an entire year in the contestants homes, with participants often fending for themselves for weeks at a time, makes this kind of reality weight-loss makeover more likely to stick, says Dr. Keith Ayoob, associate professor in the department of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

"The longer weight loss takes, the more likely it is to be part of a lifestyle change, and that's when you have real weight loss.  Too fast, and I guarantee that's going to come back," he says.  "This game is won and lost in maintenance."

Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition premieres on ABC Monday, May 30.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio