ACSH Dispatches Round-Up

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September 24, 2007: Flu, DDT, and Psychosomatic Allergies

-- Quote to Note: "Stop pushing DDT? Public health officials need to push harder to save lives now." --Steven Milloy, JunkScience.com

-- Today, talk at the morning table returned to last week's announcement from the Centers for Disease Control that there will be 132 million doses of the flu shot available. (Flu shot season officially launches the first week in October.) ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, curious about the exact number of discarded and wasted flu shots last year, attempted to contact the CDC last Friday. Sadly, the CDC provided very little help. ACSH staffers note the importance of having a large number of doses available but say they worry that if too many are thrown out at the end of this year, maybe pharmaceutical companies will decide to stop manufacturing so many.

-- After reading a letter to the editor in Saturday's Wall Street Journal about the potential "dangers" of DDT, ACSH staffers remembered that this year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Rachel Carson. Most famous for her book Silent Spring, Carson's polemic attacking pesticides, especially DDT, became the rallying cry for the ban of DDT. The subsequent ban all over the world caused millions of deaths from mosquito-borne illnesses, especially malaria. Nowadays, regulators, and even some environmentalists, are coming back to their senses; last year, the World Health Organization reintroduced using DDT as a life-saving program combating malaria.

-- ACSH's Dr. Ruth Kava said she found an article on "fake" allergies in Australia fascinating. The description of the "phantom" allergic reactions patients suffer imply a mind-over-matter pattern, Dr. Kava said. It's well known that the belief that a particular food can cause problems can result in a person actually having certain sorts of symptoms -- even if there is no physical connection with that food.

September 25, 2007: Mammograms and Apple Juice

-- Quote to Note: "If we put population growth and aging to one side, the exportation of cancer risk factors, primarily tobacco smoking, from developed countries will continue to be a major determinant of cancer risk and cancer burden in less developed countries." --Peter Boyle, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

-- On this morning's Today show, the American Cancer Society announced that the number of breast cancer cases is down. ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan points out that this news may not necessarily be as good news as it appears -- since more women are skipping the mammograms they should be getting, could the stats merely mean that women are going undiagnosed, or getting delayed diagnosis?

-- It seems every day there's a new article on "healthy antioxidants" (a buzz phrase for science journalists, ACSH's Dr. Gil Ross said). A story on the front page of the Personal Health section of the Wall Street Journal noted the phytonutrients present in apple juice. Research at Cornell University's Department of Food Science recently found that the combination of thousands of phytochemicals in apples retards tumor growth in animals. The one piece of bad news is that most of these phytonutrients are found in the peel and therefore left out of apple juice.

The article raised several red flags for ACSH staffers. First off, encouraging consumption of apple juice for phytonutrients should be accompanied by a warning of the high calorie count in the juice. In addition, ACSH's Dr. Ruth Kava said she worries about overemphasis on supposed benefits of antioxidants -- so far, these antioxidants have never been proven to improve human health.

-- Also in the Wall Street Journal, noted Dr. Whelan, a misleading headline said cancer deaths will have more than doubled to 17 million people worldwide by 2030. At first glance this sounds like really bad news. But that's not necessarily so, she explained. That's because by 2030, there will be more people and they will be living longer, thus not dying from other illnesses like heart disease or influenza first. Cancer is usually a disease of old age. This 17 million number must be age-adjusted and population-adjusted.

September 26, 2007: How Sweet It Is

-- Quote to Note: "The expo is a mother's nightmare and a kid's dream, with booth upon booth of colorful candies, tables overloaded with plates of chocolate bars and nuggets, and dizzying arrays of lollipops, licorice, and sour balls." --Wall Street Journal article on the All Candy Expo in Chicago.

-- Hearkening back to a scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Chicago hosted the All Candy Expo last week. The event introduced new candy products from around the world, from Sour Patch Exploders to Betty Boop Candy Lip Gloss. A main trend of the event, though, was health. Companies are focusing on portion control, packaging candies and cookies in 100-150 calorie containers. The emphasis on health and eating in moderation appeals to ACSH staffers, such as Dr. Ruth Kava, who said she is particularly curious about the new Melted Ice Cream, a spray candy that supposedly tastes like ice cream but does not contain any of the sugar and calories.

-- On the theme of candy and sweets, chewing gum may be making a comeback. Once discouraged for young children by their parents and teachers, a new seal of approval may aid the case for gum. The American Dental Association announced yesterday that it has awarded a seal of acceptance to Wrigley sugar free gums. The reasoning? The ADA said studies confirm that the sugar-free gums Orbit, Extra, and Eclipse help reduce plaque and prevent cavities. ACSH staffers say this study makes sense -- chewing gum produces saliva, which helps prevent tooth decay. Biologically, chewing gum essentially helps clean teeth. Dr. Whelan said this study reminds her of protocol in Sweden, where it is now required that children chew gum for a few minutes after lunch to prevent cavities.

-- But not everything in health news is as pleasant as chewing gum or candy. According to a recent study conducted by the University of Michigan, a large percentage of women discontinue their use of an aromatase inhibitor (AI), a treatment to prevent recurrences of breast cancer. AIs may be given to women who have had radiation and/or chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. Whelan said she found the report troubling -- if 13% of women abandon the drug due to musculoskeletal problems, you have to assume even more abandon it due to other side effects. All these women are missing out on an otherwise extremely effective type of drug.

September 27, 2007: Tyra Banks vs. Cigarettes

-- Quote to Note: "Whenever I want to see if something is a health scare or a real threat, I go to this organization." --Herb London, president of the Hudson Institute, about ACSH.

-- Last night marked a successful reception for New York City area donors at Dr. Elizabeth Whelan's home, featuring Herb London and other guests. If you are interested in hosting an event in your area, please contact Jeff Stier at jeff_stier[at]acsh.org.

-- The New England Journal of Medicine released a new study that should finally put to rest the fear of thimerosal in vaccines causing autism. ACSH staffers have long dismissed the idea that thimerosal is related to autism in children. As Dr. Elizabeth Whelan has said, the mainstream medical community is unanimous in finding thimerosal safe. Even with this latest study, though, will the activists making unfounded assertions ever really be quieted? Based on the hundreds of lawsuits still awaiting decision, we don’t think so.

-- America's Next Top Model (a guilty-pleasure television show hosted by Tyra Banks) broadcast its second episode of the season last night. The show is now chronicling its ninth contest for young women who aspire to pursue a modeling career. The girls are judged based on photo shoots with renowned photographers and eliminated one by one until a winner is named.

But this season Tyra Banks had something new in store: The first photo shoot proposed that the wannabe models pose in two shots: One as a "glamorous" smoker, the other as that smoker's ugly reflection in the mirror. The reflection represented a deadly consequence of smoking cigarettes. At the end of the night, Tyra dropped a bombshell: This cycle of the show will be a non-smoking one.

ACSH staffers applaud America's Next Top Model for taking such a stand. Too many young women, not just models, seem to be turning to cigarettes to whittle down their figures -- as seen in today's New York Times Style section posing the rhetorical question "Why is a model's meal of choice a cigarette?" Nearly 500,000 Americans die every year from smoking, something not typically publicized on television shows or in magazines. Dr. Whelan said she even sees young ballerinas near Lincoln Center in New York City puffing on cigarettes at all hours. No one can force a person to quit smoking, but if a photo shoot that's honest about the havoc smoking wrecks on a person's body helps keep one more person from lighting up, then the show worked.

September 28, 2007: Alcohol, Flu, and Fat

-- Quote to Note: "Maybe it's because we eat foods that fatten us that the workout becomes a necessity." --Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease.

-- Things aren't always as they seem, ACSH staffers were reminded this morning. The most deceiving news of the day is the most recent highly-publicized findings on increased risk of breast cancer associated with drinking three alcoholic drinks per day. ACSH's Dr. Whelan said the articles published on the study need perspective, and some additions.

First of all, looking at the relative risk of consuming three drinks as opposed to smoking a pack of cigarettes per day can calm the minds of women everywhere. While three drinks a day may increase breast cancer risk by 30%, smoking one pack a day increases lung cancer risk by a whopping 1,000%.

Despite the small relative risk from drinking, there is even bigger news that is absent in all mainstream news stories -- the increased risk of drinking can be mitigated by simply taking some extra folic acid, a B-vitamin. Dr. Whelan said she is astounded that women do not know this, but it's a bit of wisdom that experts can find the in the two authoritative epidemiological "bibles": taking twice the daily recommended folate will counter the risk. As quoted in Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention (edited by Drs. David Schottenfeld and Joseph Fraumeni), "In prospective analyses, high intake of folic acid and high plasma folate levels appear to mitigate completely the excess risk of breast cancer associated with alcohol intake."

-- Think exercise is going to help you drop a few pounds? Perhaps not. We at ACSH finally got our hands on a copy of this week's New York Magazine to read the feature story by Gary Taubes. If the story's tag line -- "Does Exercise Make You Thinner?" -- is not intriguing in its own right, the questions posed in the first paragraph drew us in. Why is it that so many of us exercise constantly but are unable to shed a pound? Taubes says people are innately programmed to be lean or chubby. After exercising, when a heavier person eats, more of those calories are directly channeled to fat. For lean people, this is not the case. We wonder, does this mean we can skip the gym this weekend? Not so, if we want to maintain a healthy heart, but we would also do well to remember the importance of eating healthily and in moderation.

-- Although some may be confused by the headline "Shots Now Fight Future Flu," Dr. Elizabeth Whelan's article in the New York Post leaves no room for misunderstanding: she clearly and succinctly explains that if people don't get flu shots, as they often and erratically neglect to do, there will be no incentive for drug companies to make flu shots for the future. Why would they waste the money on a barely-profitable, fluctuating, and lawsuit-attracting business? So get your flu shots this fall and help protect yourself and your loved ones from this viral disease which kills more than 30,000 Americans each year -- and you'll also be helping ensure that protective vaccines will be available for generations to come.

Corrie Driebusch is an ACSH research intern. Receive these dispatches each workday in your e-mail by becoming an ACSH donor -- donate here, send a tax-deductible donation to the Broadway address at the bottom of this site, or call (212-362-7044 x225) or e-mail (McTeague[at]acsh.org) with questions.