DAIRY MILK VERSUS NUT MILK (SOY, ALMOND and OTHERS): WHAT’S THE REAL SCOOP?

Nut milks are made from ground nuts and water. They’re lower in calories than even nonfat cow’s milk, but have the same amount of fat (about 2 grams per cup) as 1 percent milk. Most of the fat in nut milk is the healthier monounsaturated kind, though, while the fat in cow’s milk is mostly saturated fat. And you’ll get plenty of calcium and vitamin D from most nut milks because they are usually fortified.

Almond milk and other nut milks do have some nutritional shortfalls. For example, a cup of 1 percent fat cow’s milk contains 8 grams of protein, but hazelnut milk has only 2 grams, and cashew and almond milk might contain 1 gram or less. By comparison, low-fat plain soy milk, contains 4 to 6 grams of protein. Another potential downside is added sugar. Certain sweetened cashew and almond milks contain almost 2 teaspoons of added sweeteners per cup. Thus unsweetened nut milks are a healthier choice.

Coconut milk is slightly different. Not to be confused with the thicker, fattier stuff in cans, coconut milk is watered down to match cow’s milk consistency and fat content. It is usually fortified with calcium and vitamin D, but it has zero protein and 4 to 5 grams of mostly saturated fat, so it’s best avoided.

The biggest difference between nut-based milk and dairy milk is that the former doesn’t naturally contain the high amount of calcium found in dairy milk. So if you’re after calcium, look for brands fortified with calcium. The other big difference is the protein content: about 8 grams per one-cup serving of dairy milk vs. less in the nut varieties, except, as noted, soy milk. Nut milk might contain some vitamins and other nutrients not found in regular milk, such as fiber and vitamin E.

Getting enough vitamin D from your diet can be a challenge if you’re not much of a milk drinker or don’t spend much time in the sun. That’s because dairy milk, which is usually fortified with the bone-friendly nutrient, is one of the few foods that contain D in abundant amounts. But the nut milks may be a good option for getting vitamin D, especially now, since many milk alternatives are fortified with vitamin D, containing almost as much as cow’s milk. And since the Food and Drug Administration has recently increased the amount of vitamin D that can be added to both dairy milk and milk alternatives, you can now get up to 205 international units (IU) of D in an 8-ounce glass of your favorite dairy substitute. That’s almost twice as much as a milk drink could contain before the rule change. The recommended target is 600 IU per day for adults up to age 70 and 800 IU per day after that.

Another problem avoided by nut milks is that of lactose intolerance, often a cause of abdominal cramping and diarrhea. In contrast to dairy milk, none of these products contains lactose and thus anyone with this disorder may ingest them at will, including in cooking, etc.

CONCLUSION

The nut milks in general offer an excellent alternative to cow’s milk. But to get all the benefits, you must check the labels. Make sure you are getting adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D. Avoid added sugar. Also check the protein content; if in doubt, soy milk is the best option.

The rest is up to your taste!

Facebooklinkedinmail
linkedin

LOSE OBAMACARE AND WE ALL SUFFER

Although Trump’s food policy agenda is unclear, his anti-regularity, anti-science leanings in general should be a major cause of concern to all of us.

If the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) is repealed, not only could 22 million Americans face the devastating prospect of losing their health insurance, but all of us would lose several other health benefits as well.

First we would lose the opportunity to see how many calories are in thousands of foods, for, starting May 1st, 2017, we could lose the ACA rule that requires the listing of calories on menu boards of chain restaurants, movie theaters, supermarkets, delis, and convenience stores. The new administration could scrap the whole effort—as some in the food industry have urged. Moreover, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has told companies to disclose added sugars on Nutrition Facts labels by 2018. Since the new administration will likely sack the current physician FDA leader (Robert Califf, MD) in favor of a politically motivated layman, this regulation also could well be eliminated or delayed for years.

Second, the Obama administration proposed voluntary targets for cutting sodium (salt) in foods, which, as I have explained, would save tens of thousands of lives every year (http://www.mortontavel.com/2014/10/06/). Again, the present administration could scrap the whole effort—as some in the food industry have urged.

With regard to our children, two members of the Trump campaign’s agriculture advisory committee have worked to roll back the progress we’ve made in improving school lunches and removing junk foods from school vending machines. Can anyone doubt the potential damage of this measure?

The new administration may be inclined to grant the food industry’s request to continue to use heart-damaging trans fat (http://www.mortontavel.com/2014/) in many processed foods.

What about safe food protections? Who knows what to expect from a president whose campaign accused the “food police”—the FDA—of inspection “overkill.”

All these threats, as noted above, serve as a potential detriment—if not an outright danger—to the health of the general population. We should all follow these issues closely and become engaged, whenever possible, in the political process itself.

Facebooklinkedinmail
linkedin

EDUCATION SECRETARY NOMINEE LINKED TO BLATANT QUACKERY

The nomination of Betsy DeVos for U.S. Secretary of Education has led several major press outlets to investigate Neurocore Brain Performance Centers, a clinic chain in which she and her husband are the principal investors. Neurocore’s Web site states that its primary approach—which it calls neurofeedback, EEG biofeedback, and/or quantitative EEG (qEEG)—is effective against attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, autism, depression, memory disorders, migraines, sleep disorders, and stress. The main treatment consists of hooking up patients to a device that records their brain wave patterns, showing movies to to them, and interrupting them when they become distracted. Neurocore asserts that this process “retrains” brains. In a video interview, Neurocore’s CEO asserted—without providing evidence—that (a) medication can be helpful but is only a short-term fix that masks symptoms, (b) cognitive behavioral therapy (AKA psychotherapy) can help in some cases but just gives compensating behaviors, and (c) unlike these, Neurocore’s neurofeedback deals with the “root causes” of these disorders. In interviews, former employees expressed skepticism. Child psychiatrists and psychologists with expertise in autism and ADHD debunked Neurocore’s claims, and questioned its advertising and methods (New York Times, Jan 30, 2017). Another press report noted that Michigan’s Department of Insurance and Financial Services recently denied a claim for Neurocore’s services for treating migraine. DeVos, who is a billionaire, is also the daughter of one of Amway’s founders. None of these “brain claims” noted above possess any biologic validity, nor have they appeared in any acceptable scientific peer review publications—the usual destination for valid scientific advances.

Betsy DeVos is not just unqualified, she’s dangerous! Does anyone in his/her right mind believe such a person should occupy a cabinet position?

Facebooklinkedinmail
linkedin

TERROR THREATS: SOME SIMPLE MATH

       

Why are you standing here on this street corner?

Wildly waving your hands and shouting?

I’m keeping away the elephants”

But there aren’t any elephants here.

You bet: that’s because I’m here.”

Traditional Tale

In the wake of Trump’s recent executive order to shut down travelers from 7 predominately Muslim countries, one is reminded of the old adage conveyed above.

First, the actual number of terrorist deaths caused by immigrants in past years from these 7 banned countries is ZERO! Although we obviously can’t lower that number to below zero, even if there were a minuscule chance that we could be subjected to acts of terror from incoming travelers from one of these countries, how would that compare with a variety of threats already facing our population? Excluding the multiple deaths in NYC on 9/11/2001, all terrorism incidents inside the United States between 2001 and 2014 averaged 14 per year, mostly from home-grown gunmen.

Our population’s chance of dying as a result of firearm violence amounts to approximately 33,000 yearly, which is over 2,000 times greater than each individual’s chance of dying as a result of domestic terrorism. The chance of dying from an automobile accident is similar to this figure, approximately 33,000 yearly (1.13 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled), and this renders such travel statistically riskier per unit mile than commercial air travel, which carries a mortality rate that is approximately 60 times lower than that resulting from motor vehicles.

So the risk presented by travelers from the seven countries referred to above is even less than the minimal risk presented to an occupant in the commercial flight going to or from any of these countries!

Compare this with the number of American deaths caused by travelers from Saudi Arabia, which exceeded 3,000 in a single year – 2001. Yet immigration from Saudi Arabia is not restricted by the Trump ban. Could this major discrepancy be explained by the fact that Saudi Arabia is a country in which Trump has extensive business investments? Or does the ban result from Trump’s ignorance of basic math itself? Or could it be simply explained by the fact that Trump is in bed with the NRA?

Take your choice!


Facebooklinkedinmail
linkedin

DOES WEATHER PLAY ANY ROLE IN PAIN PRODUCTION?

DOES WEATHER PLAY ANY ROLE IN PAIN PRODUCTION?

Perhaps the most common fantasy (old wives tale?) is the idea that changes in the weather, including temperature, humidity, air pressure, wind direction and precipitation, can bring on aches and pains, especially those related to joint (arthritis) and back pains. Although there is no biologic reason to believe such a theory, little research has been devoted to this subject in the past.

Now research from The George Institute for Global Health has revealed the weather plays no part in the symptoms associated with either back pain or osteoarthritis.

Professor Chris Maher, of The George Institute for Global Health, said: “The belief that pain and inclement weather are linked dates back to Roman times. But our research suggests this belief may be based on the fact that people recall events that confirm their preexisting views.

“Human beings are very susceptible so it’s easy to see why we might only take note of pain on the days when it’s cold and rainy outside, but discount the days when they have symptoms but the weather is mild and sunny.”

Almost 1000 people with lower back pain, and around 350 with knee osteoarthritis were recruited for the Australian–based studies. Weather data from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology were sourced for the duration of the study period. Researchers compared the weather at the time patients first noticed pain with weather conditions one week and one month before the onset of pain as a control measure.

Results showed no association between back pain and temperature, humidity, air pressure, wind direction or precipitation. However, higher temperatures did slightly increase the chances of lower back pain, but the amount of the increase was not clinically important.

The findings reinforce earlier research on back pain and inclement weather from The George Institute which received widespread criticism from the public on social media.

Professor Maher, who led the back pain study, added: “People were adamant that adverse weather conditions worsened their symptoms so we decided to go ahead with a new study based on data from new patients with both lower back pain and osteoarthritis. The results though were almost exactly the same – there is absolutely no link between pain and the weather in these conditions.”

Back pain affects up to a third of the world’s population at any one time, while almost 10 percent of men and 18 percent of women over the age of 60 have osteoarthritis.

Associate Professor Manuela Ferreira, who led the osteoarthritis research at The George Institute, said: “People who suffer from either of these conditions should not focus on the weather as it does not have an important influence on your symptoms and it is outside your control.”

A/Prof Ferreira, Senior Research Fellow at The George Institute and at the Institute of Bone and Joint Research, added: “What’s more important is to focus on things you can control in regards to managing pain and prevention.”

The back pain study was published in the journal Pain Medicine, and the study on osteoarthritis, in the journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage.

Facebooklinkedinmail
linkedin

High Prices for Drugs With Generic Alternatives: The Case of Duexis and Others

 

    A recent article appeared in the AMA journal noted why certain drug prices, especially generics, are outrageously high. As I explained in a previous post, (http://www.mortontavel.com/2017/01/06/), some drug makers employ legal “scams” to achieve such astronomical results. Below we describe a more subtle means they achieve the same results of bilking the public.

To begin, approximately 13% of health care expenditures in the United States are for prescription drug spending, nearly $420 billion in 2015. High-priced pharmaceuticals, therapies that cost more than $600 per month, are projected to eclipse 50% of total drug spending by 2018. Price increases for these therapies have been persistent, with unit costs increasing 164% between 2008 and 2015.

Pharmacy benefit managers are third-party administrators that process and pay prescription drug claims and negotiate drug prices with manufacturers. These managers are ostensibly charged with the responsibility of mitigating cost increases through such means as controlling increased co-payment requirements for patients, and exclusion of some expensive medications from health plan formularies. Below we use the illustrative example of Duexis, a single-tablet, fixed-dose combination of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) ibuprofen and the common antacid, famotidine (PepcidR), marketed by Horizon Pharma (Dublin, Ireland). This is how the pharmaceutical companies have sought to circumvent such restrictions and maintain high prices for drugs with generic alternatives.

Duexis was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011 to relieve symptoms of arthritis and to decrease the risk of developing peptic ulcers in patients at risk for such problems. After approval, Duexis was first marketed at an average wholesale price, used for pricing and reimbursement of prescription drugs, of $158.40 per month. The drug is a combination of 2 over-the-counter medications that are sold as generics and would cost approximately $16 per month if purchased separately at the same doses. Since 2012, Duexis has had 11 price increases. As of August 12, 2016, the monthly wholesale price was $2061, representing a 1131% aggregate increase. In 2015, nearly $200 million was spent on Duexis in the US, with estimated cumulative revenue over 5 years of more than $600 million since FDA approval.

To circumvent co-payment requirements imposed by pharmacy benefit managers on patients to reduce use of high-priced drugs, pharmaceutical companies frequently offer co-pay assistance, also known as drug coupons; coupons cover direct costs to patients but not the amounts that insurers pay the manufacturer. In 2015, pharmaceutical manufacturers spent more than $7 billion on co-pay assistance. Horizon reports that 98% of patients prescribed Duexis have co-payments of no more than $10. Thus, patient out-of-pocket costs for Duexis are less than for ibuprofen and famotidine purchased separately. Federal programs, such as Medicare, do not permit manufacturers to provide co-pay assistance, because such assistance is considered an illegal inducement to encourage use of the drugs. Pharmaceutical companies, however, can work around this federal policy by providing financial assistance to patients through “independent” charities. The Patient Access Network Foundation, a large co-pay charity, provides financial assistance to patients prescribed Duexis and others.

Pharmacy benefit managers can also limit use of high-priced drugs by excluding them from health insurance formularies. When 2 large pharmacy benefit managers, Express Scripts and Caremark, excluded Duexis in 2015, Horizon provided Duexis without charge to patients covered by plans using these benefit managers. This response ensured that patients who received Duexis at no cost and the physicians who prescribed it remained aware of the brand, while the company collected revenue from other payers that continued to reimburse the drug. Pharmaceutical companies also ensure that their expensive therapies remain on formularies by providing rebates to pharmacy benefit managers, calculated as a percentage of the dollar value of a dispensed drug. As the result of an increased rebate offer from Horizon, Caremark removed Duexis from its exclusion list for 2017. Pharmacy benefit managers may provide some of the rebate savings to their customers, but typically much of the rebate is kept by the benefit manager as additional revenue, clearly an ethical violation.

In 2015, Horizon’s CEO was among 5 industry leaders elected to the board of directors of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. Such tactics have been used to increase sales for other expensive drugs with effective, lower-priced, generic alternatives. Examples include Horizon’s Vimovo (naproxen/esomeprazole), Novum’s Alcortin A (hydrocortisone/iodoquinol) topical gel, Valeant’s Zyclara (imiquimod) topical cream, Mallinckrodt’s Acthar gel (Corticotropin injection), and Insys Therapeutics’ Subsys (fentanyl) sublingual spray.

The US experience with Duexis illustrates the problem of self-serving interests in health care. Companies charge what the market will bear and use available strategies to circumvent price constraints. Insurance plans and pharmacy benefit managers generally avoid the negative publicity that accompanies restrictive drug formularies and pass along the associated increases in costs through higher premiums. Patients, noting that they have paid for health insurance coverage, request what they believe to be the best and most convenient therapies, regardless of the price or generic alternatives. Physicians, perceiving that they are acting in the best interests of the individual patient and seeking to avoid disagreements and insurance hassles, are often unwilling to advocate for clinically equivalent but less costly therapies.

REMEDY FOR THIS PROBLEM

There should be greater scrutiny of the medical value of expensive drugs, especially those with inexpensive generic alternatives. The states and the federal government should ban all third parties from being involved in prior authorization. This is the responsibility of the physician who prescribes the medication. Additionally, states should restrict the use of co-pay assistance programs, particularly since the majority of drug coupons are for brand-name medications for which lower-cost therapeutics are available. Finally, better federal regulation of “charitable” organizations that provide financial assistance to patients is needed. For example, contributions to such organizations from manufacturers should not be allowed for diseases treated by a single drug, because manufacturers can effectively ensure that donations will be spent only on co-pay assistance for their products. To preserve the long-term financial stability of the health care system, the use of medications that provide clearly established benefit to patients should be the first priority, although they have their own challenges. High-priced drugs with generic alternatives should be, as described above, carefully controlled by governmental action

Facebooklinkedinmail
linkedin

PHYSICIANS IN GOVERNMENT: USUALLY GOOD, BUT SOMETIMES NOT

    This is a summary of an article appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine (Jan 12, 2017)§ With regard to the department of health and human services (HHS), only two previous secretaries have been physicians. For the most part, all of us physicians work to defend not only our own patients, but society at large against dangers to health, and in the process, usually eschew venal and self serving goals. That is why most of us chose this respected profession of care-giving in the first place.

Let us begin by describing the good doctors: Otis Bowen, our former Indiana Governor, was Ronald Reagan’s second HHS secretary, and he engineered the first major expansion of Medicare, championed comparative effectiveness research and, together with Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, another exemplary physician, led the fight against HIV-AIDS. Louis Sullivan, HHS secretary under President George H.W. Bush, focused his attention on care for vulnerable populations, campaigned against tobacco use, led the development of federally sponsored clinical guidelines, and introduced President Bush’s health insurance plan, which incorporated income-related tax credits and a system of risk adjustment. All these aforementioned physicians, serving in GOP administrations, drew on a long tradition of physicians as advocates for the most vulnerable, were defenders of public health, and enthusiastic proponents of scientific approaches to clinical care.

Now comes the bad: In sharp contrast with these previous examples, Tom Price, Trump’s pick for secretary of HHS, shows a record that demonstrates less concern for the sick, the poor, and the health of the public, in favor of greater concern for the economic well-being of the rich and the care-givers themselves.

To exemplify this point, let’s enumerate his previous positions.

  1. Price has sponsored legislation opposing regulations on cigars and has voted against regulating tobacco as a drug, in reality, this product is actually far worse than most drugs!
  2. In 2007, during the presidency of George W. Bush, he was one of only 47 representatives to vote against the Domenici-Wellstone Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which improved coverage for mental health in private insurance plans.
  3. He voted against funding for combating AIDS, malaria, and TB, and against expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and in favor of allowing hospitals to turn away Medicaid and Medicare patients seeking nonemergency care if they could not afford copayments.
  4. He favors converting Medicare to a premium-support system.
  5. He opposed reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and has voted against legislation prohibiting job discrimination against LGBT people and against enforcement of laws against anti-LGBT hate crimes.
  6. He favors amending the Constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage.
  7. He opposes stem-cell research and voted against expanding the NIH budget and against the recently enacted 21st Century Cures Act, showing particular animus toward the Cancer Moonshot. Would he continue this stance if he were afflicted with cancer himself?
  8. He is a leader of the repeal of the ACA (“Obamacare”) in favor of a regressive “plan” which, without going into details, will offer much greater subsidies relative to income for purchasers with high incomes and more meager subsidies for those with low incomes. In effect, Price’s replacement proposal would make it much more difficult for low-income Americans to afford health insurance, diverting federal tax dollars to people who can already afford it, and also substantially reducing protections for those with preexisting conditions. The end result would be a shaky market dominated by health plans that offer limited coverage and high cost-sharing.
  9. Strongly anti-abortion and advocating the defunding of Planned Parenthood, Price has accepted the validity of the fraudulently modified videotapes used against this organization—despite their many pro-health programs for the poor.

CONCLUSION

   The HHS Department oversees a broad set of health programs that touch about half of all Americans. Over five decades covering nine presidential tenures of both parties, secretaries have used these programs to protect the most vulnerable Americans. The proposed nomination of Tom Price to HHS highlights a sharp contrast between this tradition of compassionate leadership and the priorities of the incoming administration.

I am not at all proud of this “fellow” physician!

  • Glied SA and Frank RG, Care for the Vulnerable vas Cash for the Powerful—Trump’s Pick for HHS. N.Engl J. Med. 376;2. 2017: 103-105.
Facebooklinkedinmail
linkedin

Sudden Price Spikes in Off-Patent Prescription Drugs: The Monopoly Business Model that Bilks Both Patients and the Entire Public

high-drug-prices

In May 2015, when Isla Weston was just two months old, doctors diagnosed her with a life-threatening parasitic infection known as toxoplasmosis. Immediate treatment was needed to cure this infection; otherwise, the parasite would attack vital cells in the little girl’s brain, potentially leaving her with lifelong deficits in cognition and function—or even causing death. Isla was prescribed Daraprim, the standard of care, which would cure the active infection within a year. To the shock and dismay of the infant’s family, and other Americans who relied on this vital medicine, the price of the 63-year-old drug that this child desperately needed had just spiked from $13.50 a tablet to $750 a tablet, an increase of more than 5,000 percent, in just one day. Shocked by the astronomical price, Shannon Weston, Isla’s mother, sought desperately to come up with the almost $360,000 necessary to treat her daughter for a year with a drug that she needed. This family’s struggle sadly represents the struggle of thousands of Americans in the face of soaring prescription drug costs. In this instance, Isla ultimately received treatment, not through affordable access to Daraprim, but through the genius and goodwill of her health care team at the University of North Carolina. Mrs. Heyman ultimately found affordable treatment by switching to an alternate drug, but in doing so, she endures lifestyle restrictions and uncertainties about future effectiveness of the drug actually used.

Nearly 60 percent of Americans, including roughly 90 percent of seniors, take prescription drugs to treat conditions ranging from cancer and diabetes to high blood pressure and depression. Staggering increases in the price of some prescription drugs threaten not only the economic stability of American households, but also the health of individuals who discover that drugs they need are unaffordable. This year alone, Americans are expected to spend more than $328 billion on prescription drugs. Of this amount, individuals will pay about $50 billion out of pocket. The federal government will pick up another $126 billion in payments through Medicare, Medicaid, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and other programs. These price increases affect all Americans, whether they take prescription drugs or not, as taxpayers shoulder a substantial portion of the cost of federal health care programs.

In November 2015, Chairman Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Ranking Member Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) formed a bipartisan Senate Special Committee on Aging to investigate the abrupt and dramatic price increases in prescription drugs whose patents had expired long ago. The Committee’s investigation centered on Turing Pharmaceuticals, Retrophin, Inc., Valeant Pharmaceuticals International, Inc., and Rodelis Therapeutics—companies that acquired decades-old, off-patent affordable drugs and then raised the prices suddenly and astronomically.

For many decades, federal policy has sought to strike the right balance between maintaining the incentives needed to promote innovation and development of new drugs, and keeping medicines affordable for patients. This balance has been struck by allowing a period of patent protection for innovative drugs, and then opening the market to generic competition to help drive down prices. On average, generics cost 80 percent less than brand-name drugs. That balance never anticipated companies acquiring off-patent drugs, for which they contributed not a single research dollar, and then dramatically increasing their prices in the absence of generic competitors.

The congressional investigation uncovered a business model that these four companies used (with some variation) to raise prices of generics excessively, which enabled them to identify and acquire off-patent sole-source drugs over which they could exercise de facto monopoly pricing power and a means to protect the astronomical price increases. The business model consists of five central elements: 1) Sole-Source. The company acquired a sole-source drug, for which there was only one manufacturer, and therefore faces no immediate competition, thus maintaining monopoly power over its pricing. 2) Gold Standard. The company ensured the drug was considered the “gold standard”—the best drug available for the condition it treats, ensuring that physicians would continue to prescribe the drug, even if the price increased. 3) Small Market. The company selected a drug that served a small market, which was not attractive to competitors and which had dependent patient populations that were too small to organize effective opposition. 4) Closed Distribution. The company controlled access to the drug through a closed distribution system or specialty pharmacy where a drug could not be obtained through normal channels, or the company used another means to make it difficult for competitors to enter the market. 5) Lastly, the company engaged in price gouging, maximizing profits by jacking up prices as high as possible. All the drugs investigated had been off-patent for decades, and none of the four companies had invested a penny in research and development to create or to significantly improve the drugs. Further, the Committee found that the companies faced no meaningful increases in production or distribution costs.

This investigation has shed light on why such companies can impose egregious price increases on off-patent drugs they have acquired and what federal policies should be considered to counter this disturbing practice. During the course of the Committee’s investigation, other companies raised their prices sharply. In April 2016, a study found that the mean price of insulin, a lifeline therapy for the 29 million Americans with diabetes, increased from $4.34 per milliliter in 2002 to $12.92 per milliliter in 2013, a 200 percent increase. In July 2016, a flurry of news stories reported another staggering price spike: the price of Naloxone, the antidote to prescription painkiller overdoses, increased by 1,000 percent, amid an opioid public health crisis. And in August 2016, news broke of a 500 percent price spike in the epinephrine auto-injector, EpiPen, which is used to save lives during allergy emergencies.

Facilitating such nefarious practices, investors and representatives from the business community often control company boards and policies which install such measures and, in the process, likely consider them business as usual, without regard to public welfare.

WHAT CAN BE DONE

The Senate Special Committee is committed to improving access and affordability of prescription medications. They strongly support continued efforts to stop the bad actors who are acquiring drugs that have been off-patent for decades, and they are considering a few counter measures noted below:

           To expedite entry into the market by potential challengers, In March 2016, senators Collins and McCaskill introduced The Increasing Competition in Pharmaceuticals Act. This legislation would take steps to incentivize competition and provide solutions to regulatory uncertainty, small market size, and other factors that serve as inherent limitations to generic entry. The bill proposes setting a reduced timeframe for the FDA to expedite the review of generic drugs that are in short supply, requiring this agency to act to approve such drug applications within 150 days. They would also encourage generic competition by allowing the FDA more latitude in approving potential individual generic competitors.

They would allow highly targeted temporary drug importation of off-patent drugs to combat major price increases.

They will study methods to prevent the misuse of patient assistance programs and co-pay coupons. Some patient assistance programs can be used to steer patients toward higher priced drugs, resulting in higher expenditures for beneficiaries, federal health care programs, and commercial providers.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should be strengthened to enforce action when it comes to drug company mergers, operations, and drug market dynamics. The FTC should be allowed greater use of its authority to conduct studies of the marketplace and to consider partnerships with academia and other federal agencies. The FTC needs more resources to allow it to more vigorously oversee the off-patent prescription drug market.

Transparency in drug prices should be improved. Releasing, for example, the true price of a drug, the Average Manufacturer Price, could empower patients and doctors, prevent surprise costs at the pharmacy or on health bills, and provide Americans with a refreshing dose of reality.

By pursuing such reprehensible methods to line their own pockets, these and other companies behaving in this way—while currently operating within the limits of the law—could be controlled. We applaud efforts by governmental departments to control them. Despite the current prevailing political sentiment against governmental intervention, the ultimate salvation of the masses will likely be provided by—you guessed it—Uncle Sam!

 

Facebooklinkedinmail
linkedin

Big Tobacco’s Poisonous Legacy

tobacco

The comments below were taken from a recent blog by my cousin, Sheila Kennedy, (http://www.sheilakennedy.net/2016/12/big-tobaccos-poisonous-legacy/) and it corresponds closely to what I have been long maintaining: In essence, the strategy of climate science denial is taken directly from tobacco’s playbook! I was on the front lines in this battle at the time fighting as a volunteer for the American Heart Association and saw how extremely difficult it was to counter the political effects of big tobacco money!

In the years when tobacco companies were fighting emerging medical evidence of the links between smoking and deleterious health consequences, including cancer, they developed a diabolically effective strategy; rather than arguing that the science was wrong, they claimed it was inconclusive, that no one really knew whether cigarettes were the cause of people’s illnesses. The research was inconclusive.

That tactic worked for a long time, and as Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) recently wrote, it has been the playbook for efforts by fossil fuel interests to delegitimize scientific consensus about climate change. In an essay for Inside Higher Ed, Whitehouse called upon universities to confront the tactic.

The threat is simple. The fossil fuel industry has adopted and powered up infrastructure and methods originally built by the tobacco industry and others to attack and deny science. That effort has coalesced into a large, adaptive and well-camouflaged apparatus that aspires to mimic and rival legitimate science. The science that universities support now has an unprecedented and unprincipled new adversary…

The science-denial machinery is an industrial-strength adversary, and it has big advantages over real science. First, it does not need to win its disputes with real science; it just needs to create a public illusion of a dispute. Then industry’s political forces can be put into play to stop any efforts to address whatever problem science had disclosed, since now it is “disputed science.” Hence the infamous phrase from the tobacco-era science denial operation — “Doubt is our product.”

Doubt is aided and abetted by the absence of universally trusted news sources (Where have you gone, Walter Cronkite? A nation turns its weary eyes to you…), increasingly sophisticated propaganda purveyors, and the very human tendency to engage in confirmation bias.

As Whitehouse says, the fossil-fuel apologists and climate-change deniers don’t waste their time in peer-reviewed forums. Instead, they go directly to Fox News and talk radio, to committee hearings and editorial pages. “Their work is, at its heart, PR dressed up as science but not actual science. So they go directly to their audience — and the more uninformed the audience, the better.”

Our universities and other organizations engaged in the enterprise of science struggle for funding. Not so for the science-denial forces. You may think maintaining this complex science-denial apparatus sounds like a lot of effort. So consider the stakes for the fossil fuel industry. The International Monetary Fund — made up of smart people, with no apparent conflict of interest — has calculated the subsidy fossil fuels receive in the United States to be $700 billion annually. That subsidy is mostly what economists call “externalities” — costs the public has to bear from the product’s harm that should be, under market theory, in the price of the product. These $700-billion-per-year stakes mean that the funding available to the science-denial enterprise is virtually unlimited… Make no mistake: in every dispute that this denial machinery manufactures with real science, it is determined to see real science fail. That is its purpose.

As Whitehouse points out, given the strong connections between the incoming Trump Administration and the fossil fuel industry, we can no longer depend on government to be an honest broker and a defender of legitimate science. Hence his plea to universities and other scientific organizations — to join together and step up a common defense.

Or, as these deniers are usually apt to say, “I’m not a scientist myself, but I’ve heard from some real scientists (who and how many?) that the issue is not settled”.

Sometimes, it all seems like a bad dream…..

 

Facebooklinkedinmail
linkedin

HOW WE CAN PREVENT ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE

alzheimer

Contrary to popular belief, many studies suggest that Alzheimer’s disease can be prevented, or at least delayed in onset. As I have previously presented, regular exercise diminishes the likelihood of developing this condition.  In addition, food intake such as Mediterranean diets can be helpful. Finally, regular mental stimulation of most types (note the picture above) can also retard the deterioration of brain function.

DIETARY FACTORS

     Let’s examine first the diets that can be helpful. Researchers have found that people who stuck to a diet that included foods like berries, leafy greens, and fish had a major drop in their risk for memory-sapping disorders, which affect more than 5 million Americans over age 65. This eating plan is called the MIND diet. Here’s how it works. MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. It’s similar to two other healthy meal plans, i.e., the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet. This approach specifically includes foods and nutrients that medical literature and data show to be good for the brain, such as berries, but extending to these 10 food groups:

  • Green leafy vegetables (like spinach and salad greens): At least six servings a week
  • Other vegetables: At least one a day
  • Nuts: Five servings a week
  • Berries: Two or more servings a week
  • Beans: At least three servings a week
  • Whole grains: Three or more servings a day
  • Fish: Twice or more a week
  • Poultry (like chicken or turkey): Two times a week
  • Olive oil: Use it as your main cooking oil.
  • Wine: One glass a day

Foods to avoid:

  • Red meat: Less than four servings a week
  • Butter and margarine: Less than a tablespoon daily
  • Cheese: Less than one serving a week
  • Pastries and sweets: Less than five servings a week
  • Fried or fast food: Less than one serving a week

                  The Benefits

One study showed that people who stuck to the MIND diet lowered their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 54%. That’s big. But maybe even more importantly, researchers found that adults who followed the diet only part of the time still cut their risk of the disease by about 35%.

Scientists need to do more research on the MIND approach, but it’s a very promising start. It shows that what you eat can make an impact on whether you develop late-onset Alzheimer’s, which is the most common form of the disease.

Simply reducing cholesterol, at least by the commonly prescribed “statin” drugs can also produce a similar desirable result.

One recent study showed that, based on a sample of 399,979 Medicare beneficiaries, men and women who took statins two years or more lowered their risk of Alzheimer’s in the period spanning 2009 to 2013. The incidence of Alzheimer’s disease was reduced for beneficiaries frequently prescribed statins (high users), compared to low users, USC and University of Arizona researchers found. Among women who were high users, the incidence rate was 15 percent lower. Among men, the rate was 12 percent lower.

These data further support the idea that many sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease may share a common origin with arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which likely means that controlling the various known risk factors provides a likely way to avoid not only Alzheimer’s disease, but also to reduce cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER: Multifactor lifestyle modification

A recent study from Finland showed that an intervention that targets nutrition, exercise, and metabolic and cardiovascular risk factors can improve cognition and memory in older adults, and prevent them from developing Alzheimer’s disease. Most striking, this program produced the greatest change in those who carried the highest risk, i.e., those subjects with a strong hereditary predisposition for this disease.

The randomized, controlled FINGER (Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability) trial was designed to show how a multimodal lifestyle intervention might not only slow or prevent cognitive decline, but help improve cognition among patients who are already experiencing decline. It enrolled 1,260 participants aged 60-77 years who were cognitively normal at baseline but at increased risk for decline.

All participants were followed for two years and randomized to 1) a control group provided with usual care by their regular physicians, or 2) the intervention group, which consisted of the following::

  • Dietary counseling with recommendations to consume increased amounts of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats.
  • Progressive aerobic exercise and weight training, conducted by physical therapists, several times each week.
  • Cognitive training several times a week with a computer program that targeted executive processes, working memory, episodic memory, and mental speed.
  • Managing metabolic and cardiovascular risk factors, including blood pressure, weight, and body mass index. This was addressed in group sessions and with visits to participants’ own physicians.

The primary endpoint was change in mental function, which was conducted at baseline and at months 12 and 24. Also assessed were memory and processing speed.

By the end of the study, subjects in the intervention group experienced a significant, 25% greater improvement on the overall score than did those in the control group. Improvements on the secondary measures were significant for the intervention group as well: 150% better than the control group in processing speed, and 40% better in short-term memory. Measures of cognitive decline increased by 30% in the control group, whereas subjects in the intervention group experienced no deterioration.

This study also included preliminary data on how the intervention improved overall function and quality of life. Although there was some decline after 2 years in the control group, the intervention group remained stable or showed a significant improvement in general health. Moreover, although general daily function was good for all subjects at baseline, by the end of the study, significant differences had emerged, for the control group actually had a 50% increased risk for at least one new difficulty with activities of daily living.

The program was not associated with any serious adverse events. The results also appeared to have a lasting impact, which boded well for better sustained later outcomes. At the end of the study, the intervention group participants had decreased their body weights by about 4-5 lbs, which was significantly more than for control group subjects. Most of the former group reported that they were still eating fish and vegetables every day, and exercising at least twice a week.

This was the first long-term trial to show that a multidomain intervention like this one can maintain and improve not only cognitive decline but also more robust physical outcomes and quality of life. Of special importance, it carries no risks.

WHAT NATIONAL TRENDS CAN TELL US

   Over the past 20 years, we have witnessed a gradual reduction of prevalence of cardiovascular disease in the U.S., attributable to lifestyle improvements mentioned above.  Also fitting well with this concept, a corresponding reduction in cognitive impairment was identified in a National Health and Retirement Study (HRS) surveyª. Although these latter trends were less clear, they seem to provide further optimism that we may have the means to ward off much mental deterioration in the future.

 

ª Rocca WA, et al. Trends in the incidence and prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and cognitive impairment in the United States. Alzheimers Dement. 2011 Jan; 7(1): 80–93. doi:  10.1016/j.jalz.2010.11.002

 

Facebooklinkedinmail
linkedin

HEALTH TIPS FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON

holidays

Mashed potatoes and gravy, Grandma’s apple pie, and other holiday favorites can be a joyous part of any celebration. But to feel your best, you know you need to eat in moderation and stay active. How can you avoid temptation when delicious foods and calories abound?

From Halloween through New Year’s, there’s always a decision to make about food. . Tasty treats tend to appear more often at work and festive gatherings, and to come as gifts. They may also tempt you when grocery shopping. Thus as the holidays approach, it’s important to think ahead and make a plan.

Consider your health goals for the holiday season, whether it’s preventing weight gain through overeating, staying active, connecting with others, or reducing stress. You can plan to make time for buying healthy groceries, cooking at home, scheduling regular physical activity, and setting aside a little quiet time for yourself.

Begin by adopting a flexible mindset. Many people have an attitude of all or nothing: either I’m on a diet or I’m not on a diet.  This “either-or” thinking can lead to negative self-talk, or being hard on yourself for small indulgences, overeating, or weight gain.

Unfortunately most people just throw their plan out the window when they think they’ve slipped up once. Celebrations don’t have to derail your lifestyle. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to follow your plan and eat healthy and feel good about it. Small choices really can make big changes. Each moment that you put something in your mouth or choose to exercise adds up over time, which can be true for weight loss or weight gain.Around the holidays, we often find ourselves with too many food options, for too many days in a row. It can be challenging to decide what to eat and when to say no.

Eat what you love—but in moderation. Consider choosing items that are unique to the season, instead of eating foods you can have any time of the year. When you feel the urge to splurge in unhealthy ways, try something else first, like drinking a glass of water, eating a piece of fruit, or climbing a few flights of stairs. You might even consider walking around your house or office for 5 minutes or more. Such diversions might be enough to help you resist unhealthy temptations. You could also try eating more deliberately. Slow down to really taste and enjoy your food. Eating more slowly also allows your body time to signal your brain when you’re full, which takes about 20 minutes. If you eat too much too quickly, it’s easy to gobble up as much as twice what your body needs before your brain even gets the message. Also it’s a good idea to identify and avoid any “trigger foods”—foods that may spur you to binge or eat more than usual. Overeating can bring feelings of bloating, reflux, indigestion, and nausea. Some people can eat less healthy foods in moderation and be fine, or have “cheat days” where they allow themselves to eat whatever they want for a day and stay on track for the rest of the week.. Others may have to avoid certain “trigger foods” completely, or they’ll spiral into unhealthy eating patterns for the rest of the week or abandon their plan altogether. Everyone is different. Because of these differences, it’s important not to force food on other people. Even if you don’t have an issue with food, be aware of other people around you, and respect their choices.

What if you do fall to temptation?  Happily every day is a new day when it comes to eating. If you overeat one day, work to get back on track the next meal or next day.

While food is a big part of the holidays, remember that there are other paths to staying healthy. Don’t make the holidays be just about food. The key is not only what you eat, but how much you’re moving. Even little bits of extra exercise can be very helpful for everyone over the holidays.

Plan ahead for how you’ll add physical activity to days that might otherwise involve a lot of sitting. When possible, get the whole family involved. You have to make an effort to incorporate exercise into days of big eating. Otherwise the day will come and go.Sign up to walk or run a community race. Enjoy catching up with family or friends on a walk or jog instead of on the couch. In between meals, take a family hike at a nearby park or stroll around your neighborhood..

The emotions of winter celebrations come into this picture, too. Joy, sadness, and stress are often associated with overeating during the holidays. People who are emotional eaters may be particularly vulnerable to such temptations around the holidays. If holiday stress causes you to derail your healthy plans, consider ways to reduce stress and manage emotions. These might include talking to a trusted friend, meditation, physical activity, or just getting outside. If you know you have a difficult time during holidays, plan outings once or twice a week with people who make you feel happy. If it’s in your best interest, also feel okay about declining invitations without feeling guilty.

Support your family and friends, too. Encourage them to eat healthy during celebrations and throughout the year. If you’re serving dinner, consider baking, broiling, or grilling food instead of frying. Replace sour cream with Greek yogurt, and mashed potatoes with mashed cauliflower. Make take-home containers available ahead of time, so guests don’t feel they have to eat everything in one sitting.

So you needn’t adopt a defeatist attitude around the holiday season. Be proactive, and fight the flab at the same time.

Facebooklinkedinmail
linkedin

DOES IT EVER PAY TO BE FAT?

overweight-scale


During the past several years, a misconception—the so called “obesity paradox”—has been creeping into the medical literature. This paradox is a medical hypothesis which holds that obesity (and even high cholesterol), counter intuitively, may be protective and associated with greater survival in certain groups of people, such as very elderly individuals or those with certain chronic diseases. It further postulates that normal to low body mass index or normal values of cholesterol may be detrimental and associated with higher mortality in asymptomatic people.

But is there any truth to this hypothesis? As we note below, the answer to this question is, no!

    A large international study that included Harvard researchers links a high body mass index (BMI)-a calculation used to determine if a person is overweight-to a risk of early death, and contradicts the idea that it’s possible to be fat and fit. Researchers pooled the data from 239 studies of more than 10 million people in 32 countries. They excluded people who had smoked, had a chronic condition, or died within five years of follow-up, leaving about four million people. Of those, researchers analyzed people’s BMIs (Body Mass Indices). A healthy BMI (non-obese) is considered to be in the range from 18.5 to 24.9. Researchers observed that study participants with a BMI of 20 to 24.9 were the least likely to die during the study period; people with a BMI above that were significantly more likely to die during the study period, especially men with high BMIs. The findings, published Aug. 20, 2016, in The Lancet, don’t prove that high BMIs cause early death, but they do suggest being overweight matters.

The bottom line: Extra fat puts you at risk for developing diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, so make weight control a priority, and avoid making phony excuses for being fat!

Facebooklinkedinmail
linkedin