Personal Health: News and Notes

Posted: November 19, 2012

Study finds little effect from fasting before cholesterol tests

Doctors will tell you: For accurate results, fast for at least eight hours before a lipid profile, the blood test for cholesterol, lipoproteins, and triglycerides.

But a study last week in Archives of Internal Medicine says fasting is probably unnecessary.

Two Canadian scientists studied records of more than 200,000 people who completed at least one lipid profile during a six-month period.

Average levels for total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol varied less than 2 percent overall for the fasting times, ranging from one to 16 hours. LDL cholesterol varied less than 10 percent, and triglycerides less than 20 percent.

"The ones that varied the least - HDL and total cholesterol - are the ones that matter the most in estimating" heart risk, said a study author, Christopher Naugler of Calgary University.

The researchers admit that the fasting times were self-reports. Still, Naugler said: "Nonfasting is an option. I think as this study and others get out there, it may become more widespread."

- New York Times

Find calcium in food, not pills, to avoid heart attack risk

Calcium is recommended to help prevent osteoporosis, but calcium supplements have been criticized recently because of a possible heart attack risk.

A study in the June issue of Heart found a much higher risk of heart attack among women taking calcium supplements. Two other studies, in 2010 and 2011, had similar results. Since so many people take the supplements, these studies have created a buzz.

But JoAnn Manson, at Harvard University, notes that such risks haven't been found with calcium-rich foods. While "the jury is still out on the supplement issue, it would be wise to try to get most of your calcium from food sources," she says. Bone health guidelines recommend 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams daily of calcium, depending on age and gender.

A calcium-rich diet has been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and hypertension and has not been linked to a rise in heart problems, Manson says.

Good calcium sources include milk, cheese, yogurt, soy products, sardines, canned salmon, fortified cereal, and dark greens such as kale.

- Harvard Health Letter

Lyme disease study points to reinfection, not recurrence

For most people who get Lyme disease - a tick-borne bacterial infection - a course of antibiotics does the trick. But for some, especially those in this region where it's common, the infection returns. That raises questions: Is the disease recurring - a single infection leading to multiple bouts with symptoms - or is it reinfection, meaning the patient has been bitten again?

A new study in last week's New England Journal of Medicine may put the issue to rest: Such patients are reinfected, and the disease does not seem to recur after successful treatment with antibiotics.

The study looked at 17 patients who had multiple bouts of Lyme disease, analyzing the strain of bacterium that infected each one on each occasion (at least 19 different strains exist, the study says). The researchers found no case in which two successive infections were caused by the same strain, meaning the second occurrences were reinfections.

- L.A. Times

Flame retardants in couches and carpets can harm a child

Fetal or infant exposures to flame-retardant chemicals in furniture, carpets, and similar items could harm a child's development, a new study says.

Exposure to the chemicals, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), was linked to a higher risk for physical and mental impairment when children reach school age, said study lead author Brenda Eskenazi of the University of California, Berkeley.

PBDEs have long been recognized as potentially harmful "endocrine disrupters," which can be inhaled or ingested (via dust) and take up residence in fat cells. Eskenazi's team said the new study is the largest study to date of PBDE's impact on neurodevelopment.

Her team advises quickly sealing up any furniture/upholstery tears, and being vigilant about mopping and vacuuming to keep dust levels down. Routine hand-washing is also recommended.

And she suggested "choosing what are known to be safer alternatives, such as products filled with cotton, wool, or polyester, not chemical-treated foam.

- HealthDay

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