Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

Health News - December 2017

  1. Lizard Mania and Salmonella
  2. High Exposure To Pesticides Reduces Women’s Fertility
  3. Colouring In Pills Can Cause Allergies
  4. I Like Coffee, You Might Like Tea?
  5. Poor Quality Air Damages More Than Your Lungs
  6. Mercury Amalgam Fillings In Teeth Are Safe
  7. What You Should Know About The Risks Of Tattoo Inks
  8. Chicken Out Of Antibiotics

Lizard Mania and Salmonella

I first wrote about this in 2000, but nothing changes.

Following the success of the movie Jurassic Park, there’s been an explosion of people keeping reptiles like lizards and iguanas as pets. Health experts in America have highlighted the risk of salmonella - the food poisoning bacteria - which these creatures often carry. One worker in a UK food factory has already lost his job after he was infected by his pet lizards. If you or your children keep these reptiles as pets, always wash your hands thoroughly after handling them. Don’t allow the lizards near food, on kitchen work surfaces or to eat off your plate.

It’s a perennial problem in the UK and now there is a current outbreak of Salmonella in babies, in France. Parents are anxious about preparing bottles from baby milk as one of the largest manufacturers are to blame and not for the first time!

Back in 2005 140 infants were infected after drinking baby milk from the same manufacturer. Theoretically the microbes that cause infection are destroyed by pasteurisation, but some bacteria are resistant to the high temperature and may survive. They could also be present in some of the other substances added to the baby milk.

Whatever the cause, babies have survived for generations without special, readymade drinks, and no one needs to keep lizards or other reptiles. In fact, many vets are concerned about the risks to both people and animals and the suitability of reptiles as domestic pets. In fact, nearly all these animals are reservoirs of various types of salmonella that can be easily passed on to humans.

If you are visiting or living in France and are concerned, there is a free phone line to the company, Lactalis, on 0800 120 120 and open 7 days a week from 9 to 8.

And advice from the UK government on reducing the risk of infection from handling reptiles: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/reptiles-pose-a-risk-of-salmonella-infection

High Exposure To Pesticides Reduces Women’s Fertility

A new study has found a potentially harmful link between eating fruits and vegetables high in pesticides and having lower reproductive rates.

In the report, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, scientists studied 325 women who were using assisted reproductive technologies to get pregnant. They were part of the Environment and Reproductive Health (EARTH) study, which was designed to measure factors that can affect reproductive success. The women in the study filled out detailed questionnaires about their diet, along with other factors that can affect IVF outcomes, like their age, weight and history of pregnancy and live births.

Senior investigator Dr. Jorge Chavarro, an associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, and his colleagues then matched the dietary responses with a U.S. government database of average pesticide residues on fresh fruit and vegetables to calculate a measure of the amount of pesticides the women were exposed to from their diet. Certain fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, spinach and peppers, tend to consistently rank high on pesticide residues, while others, like peas and avocados, rank lower.

Women with high exposure were eating more than two servings of high-pesticide fruits or vegetables a day, compared to women in the lowest exposure group, who ate one serving of high pesticide fruits and vegetables daily on average. Women who had the highest pesticide exposure were 18% less likely to get pregnant than women with the lowest exposure, and 26% less likely to have a live birth.

“I was always sceptical that pesticide residues in foods would have any impact on health whatsoever,” says Chavarro. “So when we started doing this work a couple of years ago, I thought we were not going to find anything. I was surprised to see anything as far as health outcomes are concerned.” For now, it doesn’t hurt to consider eating organic fruits and vegetables that have fewer pesticide residues. “I am now more willing to buy organic apples than I was a few months ago,” says Doctor Chavarro.

Colouring In Pills Can Cause Allergies

When Kammy Eisenberg broke out in hives last December, she attributed it to stress. But the rash persisted, and she was covered in hives “from head to toe” for eight months.

“It was everywhere,” said Ms. Eisenberg, 52, who lives in Atlanta. “I was beyond itchy.” Even powerful drugs like prednisone provided only moderate relief, she said. “My allergist was at a loss.”

She eventually consulted Dr. Robert Swerlick, an Emory University dermatologist known to take on difficult cases, who reviewed her medical record and suggested that since she was allergic to sulpha drugs, she might also be sensitive to dyes used to colour medications.

Within days, Ms. Eisenberg switched her anti-allergy pills, which contained two blue dyes, even though they looked white, to a dye-free brand.

“The day after I switched, I was 90 percent better,” Ms. Eisenberg said, adding, “I was swallowing my problem by the handful every day.

Dr. Swerlick, the dermatologist who treated Ms. Eisenberg, agreed that reactions to synthetic additives are rare and not well understood, making them even more difficult to identify. He had seen patients over a five-year period, who came in with chronic skin disorders that cleared up significantly when drugs containing colouring were replaced by dye-free medications. (Sceptics say that hives generally come and go and there is no proof that the removal of dyes caused the patients’ skin to clear.)

Each of Dr. Swerlick’s cases was slightly different, he said, so it was “a bit of detective work.” One 61-year-old patient had chronic skin problems on his hand, but the rash flared up suddenly, shortly after he renewed a prescription for diabetes pills and noticed that the colour had changed from off-white to dark purple. The new pills, it turned out, contained a blue dye. Another patient, a 42-year-old man, had suffered from a rash for almost a year but noticed it resolved when he went on vacation and left his toothpaste, which contained a blue dye, at home.

Many of the patients had “a drug allergy list that’s 20 drugs long,” Dr. Swerlick said. “You realize they can’t be allergic to all these medications. It must be something common to all of them, like a dye. That’s one of the clues.”

Unlike severe allergic reactions to a food, like peanuts, which occur immediately, the reactions to additives tend to be delayed for several hours or even days, making them difficult to trace, he said, and there are no good diagnostic tools for identifying food additive allergies. One hint that you may have an allergy to an additive is if you develop a reaction to a prepared product or a restaurant item, even though you tolerate the same food when you make it at home.

“There’s reason to be sceptical,” Dr. Swerlick said. “But I think the allergy community historically has equated absence of proof with proof of absence.”

I Like Coffee, You Might Like Tea?

Moderate coffee drinking “more likely to benefit health than to harm it” says experts

Three or four cups a day confers greatest benefit, except in pregnancy and for women at risk of fracture

Drinking coffee is “more likely to benefit health than to harm it” for a range of health outcomes, say researchers in The BMJ.

They bring together evidence from over 200 studies and find that drinking three to four cups of coffee a day is associated with a lower risk of death and getting heart disease compared with drinking no coffee. Coffee drinking is also associated with lower risk of some cancers, diabetes, liver disease and dementia.

However, they say drinking coffee in pregnancy may be associated with harms, and may be linked to a very small increased risk of fracture in women at risk (eg after the menopause) as it may reduce calcium absorption.

Coffee is one of the most commonly consumed drinks worldwide and could have positive health benefits. But existing evidence is of lower quality and randomised controlled trials are needed to strengthen the evidence of benefits.

In spite of this, a review of more than 200 studies shows that drinking coffee was consistently associated with a lower risk of death from all causes and from heart disease, with the largest reduction in relative risk of death at three cups a day, compared with non-coffee drinkers. Increasing consumption to above three cups a day was not associated with harm, but the beneficial effect was less pronounced. Coffee was also linked to a lower risk of several cancers, including prostate, endometrial, skin and liver cancer, as well as type 2 diabetes, gallstones and gout. The greatest benefit was seen for liver conditions, such as cirrhosis of the liver. There even seemed to be beneficial links to coffee consumption and Parkinson’s disease, depression and Alzheimer’s disease.

I am a lover of good coffee and even more so since moving to France. Buy the best coffee you can afford and take a few minutes to appreciate, enjoy and savour the smell and taste of this delicious and “health giving” drink.

Poor Quality Air Damages More Than Your Lungs

Air pollution linked to poorer quality sperm and might spell infertility for “significant number of couples,” say researchers.

Air pollution, particularly levels of fine particulates is associated with poorer quality sperm, suggests research published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Although the size of the effect is relatively small in clinical terms, given how widespread air pollution is, this might spell infertility for a “significant number of couples,” say the researchers.

Environmental exposure to chemicals is thought to be a potential factor in worsening sperm quality, but the jury is still out on whether air pollution might also have a role.

To explore this possibility further, the international team of researchers looked at the impact on health of short and long term exposure to fine particulates – mostly from diesel engines - among nearly 6500 15 to 49 year old men in Taiwan.

The men were all taking part in a standard medical examination programme between 2001 and 2014, during which their sperm quality was assessed .as set out by World Health Organization guidelines. A strong association between particulate exposure and abnormal sperm shape was found. Every 5 ug/m3 increase in fine particulate matter across the 2 year average was associated with a significant drop in normal sperm shape/size of 1.29 per cent.

And it was associated with a 26 per cent heightened risk of being in the bottom 10 per cent of normal sperm size and shape, after taking account of potentially influential factors, such as smoking and drinking, age or overweight.

Exactly how air pollution could impair sperm development is not clear. But many of the components of fine particulate matter, such as heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, have been linked to sperm damage in experimental studies, the researchers point out.

Free radical damage, caused by exposure to air pollutants, might have a possible role, as this can damage DNA and alter cellular processes in the body, they suggest.

Considering the world-wide exposure to air pollution, this small effect on sperm may result in a significant number of couples with infertility, and the authors call for global strategies to minimise the impact of air pollution on reproductive health.

Mercury Amalgam Fillings In Teeth Are Safe

A European Commission committee has concluded that amalgam fillings pose no systemic health risks to humans and that no justification exists for removing fillings that are functioning properly.

This report will greatly upset the super-rich dentists who specialize in this treatment. They make thousands out of removing mercury fillings from patients who have been duped into thinking they are the cause of previously incurable health problems.

I have campaigned against this process as there is no evidence that it works; is necessary, or is safe. In fact, the risk of generating mercury vapour during the process is a serious concern, so save your money and spend it on better food.

What You Should Know About The Risks Of Tattoo Inks

Dr Arefa Cassoobhoy, is a practicing doctor, Medscape advisor, and senior medical director for WebMD. This was her recent news cast on Morning Report.

Toxicity and Tattoo Ink

Tattoos are more popular than ever. To date, the most well-documented adverse effects are at the site of the tattoos. These include skin infections, granuloma formation, and allergic reactions. But now, concerns are being raised about the long-term toxic effects of the tattoo inks.

A new study shows that minute nano particles of the organic and inorganic pigments that make up tattoo inks migrate from the skin to the regional lymph nodes, which can become chronically enlarged. Moreover, some of the pigments (like nickel and chromium) are potentially carcinogenic.

It's challenging to track this kind of data and to understand the long-term impact of tattoos. It's going to be difficult to determine whether tattoos really increase the risk for cancer.

But when patients ask about the health risks associated with tattoos, we can go beyond the usual advice to pick a reputable and hygienic facility. We can let them know that tattoo ink puts them at risk for a lifetime of exposure to potentially toxic elements.

I have written in the past about the infection risks of tattoos, but this is more scary as it is a lifetime hazard.

Chicken Out Of Antibiotics

As the Government launches yet another useless plan to reduce the number of prescribed antibiotics, we hear a scary story from the US. The John Hopkins School of Public Health has found that workers on intensive chicken farms are 32 times more likely to carry resistant bugs. Most commonly they are playing host to antibiotic resistant E.coli, the organism causing food poisoning, serious for the very young and old.

When Health Minister, now turned novelist, Edwina Currie, said the national chicken flock was infected with Salmonella, she was fired. But she was the only person telling the truth. Now we know that workers can also carry the resistant strains and take them into the community. If the politicians can’t even keep the antibiotics out of our poultry, how can they believe they can reduce the amount prescribed by doctors?

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