Archive for November, 2008

Gulf War illness is from exposure to toxic chemicals

SoldiersOften dismissed as a psychosomatic disorder, Gulf War illness is actually due to exposure to toxic chemicals affecting at least 25 percent of the 700,000 U.S. veterans who took part in the 1991 Gulf War, according to a recent federal panel of scientific experts and veterans. The main causes are pesticides that were often overused during the war, and a drug given to U.S. troops to protect them from nerve gas.

Gulf War illness is frequently described as a pattern of symptoms that includes memory and concentration problems, chronic headaches, fatigue and widespread pain. Other symptoms often include persistent digestive problems, respiratory symptoms and skin rashes. There are also much higher rates of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in this group of veterans, and soldiers who were downwind from large-scale munitions demolitions in 1991 have died from brain cancer at twice the rate of other Gulf War veterans.

The panel presented the 450-page report to Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Peake. No effective treatments have been found for the disorder. The committee reported that overall federal funding for Gulf War research has declined substantially in recent years.  In conclusion, the group urged lawmakers to devote $60 million annually to such programs.

In an article by Health Day News, James Binns, chairman of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses said,”It took 20 years to admit that Agent Orange, a defoliant used in the Vietnam war, caused illness. It’s now coming up to 17 years on Gulf War illness. Troop exposures [to these chemicals] were a serious but honest mistake. Covering it up rather than trying to help them has been unconscionable.”

via Health Day News, November 17, 2008


Simple remedies are the best for IBS

IntestinesPeppermint oil, soluble fiber, and certain antispasmodic drugs are the most reliable and effective treatments for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), according to a new study from McMaster University. Peppermint oil appeared to be the most effective therapy of those reviewed, the researchers found. There were no serious side effects associated with any of these treatments, in this study.

Irritable bowel can cause either constipation or diarrhea.  For those with pain and diarrhea the antispasmodics may be useful. People with constipation should try either fiber or peppermint oil, the researchers found.

Peppermint oil is sold over-the-counter and can be taken directly, swallowed in capsules, or applied to the skin once diluted with another oil.  Common oral dosages are 1 to 2 capsules 3 times a day for irritable bowel syndrome.   Peppermint oil has been used over the years for a variety of health conditions, including nausea, indigestion, cold symptoms, headaches, muscle and nerve pain, and stomach and bowel conditions. A word of caution, however, allergic reactions can occur, strong vapors of menthol or peppermint can cause breathing problems for some, especially infants, and it is known to worsen acid reflux in certain people.

Ispaghula husk, also known as psyllium, was found to be the best soluble fiber in this study.  Optimal dosage was 20 grams per day in another related study on IBS. There was no added benefit to increasing up to 30 grams per day.  Ispaghula Husk is a bulk-forming laxative and is used to treat constipation, but can also be useful in treating diarrhea. It is sold over-the-counter and is available in cereals and in dissolvable granule and powder form.  On the package, ispaghula husk may be labeled as Fybogel, Isogel, Ispagel, and Regulan. Brand names include Metamucil®, Perdiem®, Bran Buds® cereal, Heartwise® cereal, Effersyllium®, Fiberall®, Fybogel®,  Hydrocil®, I-so-gel®, Konsyl®, Lunelax®, Minolest®,  Prodiem Plain®,  Regulan®, Serutan®, Vi-Siblin®, and Yerba Prima® psyllium husk powder.

For antispasmodics, the most effective was found to be hyoscine, which is available only by prescription as Donnatal, Levsin, and NuLev. Image courtesy of National Cancer Institute

via Kumar A, Kumar N, Vij JC, Sarin SK, Anand BS, “Optimum dosage of ispaghula husk in patients with irritable bowel syndrome: correlation of symptom relief with whole gut transit time and stool weight” Gut 1987 Feb;28(2):150-5

via “Peppermint Oil, Fiber Can Fight Irritable Bowel”, Health Day, November 2008

via “Peppermint Oil” National Center for Complementary and Herbal Medicine

Mylicon drops for infants recalled

Infants’ Mylicon Gas Relief Dye Free Non-Staining Drops have been recalled due to the potential for contamination with metal fragments generated during the manufacturing process. The simethicone drops are sold in one-ounce plastic bottles with one of two lot numbers: SMF007 and SMF008.  The lot numbers are located either on the bottom of the box containing the product or on the lower left side of the label on the bottle.

The bottles were distributed throughout the U.S. after Oct. 5. The recall does not affect any Original Infants’ Mylicon Gas Relief products (1/2 oz- or 1-oz size) or the half-oz size of Infants’ Mylicon Gas Relief Dye Free Non-Staining Drops.

The manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson Merck Consumer Pharmaceuticals, has said the potential for adverse events is low, and those that do occur are expected to be temporary and resolve without complication. Parents who have given the product to their infant should immediately stop using the product and are advised to contact their health care provider immediately.  The company can be contacted by calling 1-800-222-9435 (Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. EST) or via the internet at 

via FDA, November 7, 2008

New concern over MP3 players, pacemakers, and defibrillators

Headphones of an MP3 playerA recent study has shed new light over the potential for MP3 players to interfere with pacemakers and defibrillators, and it’s not the MP3 music players that are causing the interference, it’s the earphones. 

The magnet-containing earphones of MP3 players caused detectable interference in almost a quarter of tests conducted with patients, in a recent study of 60 patients from Boston’s Beth Israel Medical Center and Harvard. 

Significant cardiac interference occurred when earphones with a field strength as little as 10 gauss were placed close to the chest wall and near the implanted device, as they might be when draped around the neck or shoulders. Some of the earphones studied generated field strengths in excess of 200 gauss. Field strength fell off dramatically when earphones were moved just a small distance from the implanted devices, and in most cases, moving the headphones away from the chest restored normal cardiac device function.

via MedPage Today, November 9, 2008
Lee S, et al “Electromagnetic interference of implanted cardiac devices by MP3 player headphones” Circulation 2008; 118(Suppl 2): S596. Abstract 662.

Six facts everyone should know about Tylenol

Tylenol, cold medicine, and wine are a toxic combinationAcetaminophen (Tylenol) is the most widely used pain reliever and fever reducer in the United States, and it’s a common ingredient that’s readily available in most parts of the world. When taken as directed, it’s thought to be safe, but it’s very important that the following facts are well known:

  1. Acetaminophen causes more overdoses and overdose deaths, due to liver toxicity, than any other drug in the United States. This is due in part to it’s toxicity but also because it’s a common ingredient and very easy to obtain.
  2. As few as three alcoholic drinks at one time, when combined with certain over–the–counter medications, such as those containing acetaminophen, may have toxic effects on the liver.
  3. Overdoses also occur simply because people underestimate or are unaware of acetaminophen’s toxicity. Many cold remedies already contain acetaminophen (Tylenol), and overdoses can easily occur by taking acetaminophen in addition to a cold remedy, or two cold remedies which both contain acetaminophen. It’s very important to read the label of all over-the counter products before taking them.  Do not combine products which both contain acetaminophen.
  4. Parents can make a variety of mistakes in the amount of acetaminophen they give their children. For one, a parent may be unsatisfied with the results of the recommended dosage of acetaminophen, and decide more will be better. Another common mistake occurs when a parent may mistakenly give adult tablets to a child, instead of the children’s formulation. Also, even the children’s versions of acetaminophen come in many different formulations, and the dosage varies for each one. For example, the infant drop formulation is three times as concentrated as the elixir or syrup typically given to toddlers. It’s easy to see how a busy parent might assume that both liquids contain the same amount of medicine. But substituting infant drops for syrup could result in a dose of acetaminophen three times what it should be.
  5. Acetaminophen is frequently the drug of choice for adolescent suicide attempts. There is an antidote but it must be administered within eight to 10 hours after an overdose has been ingested.
  6. Toxic levels of acetaminophen can result in severe liver damage or liver failure. Your liver is a vital organ–you can’t live without it.

As long as acetaminophen is given to children at recommended doses, there is virtually no risk of liver toxicity, according to a recent large study from Rocky Mounting Poison and Drug Center in Denver.  But it cannot be stressed enough that’s it’s essential to read the label of all over-the-counter products before taking them or giving them to your child.

via “Over-the-Counter Pain Relief” from Bay Area Medical Information
via “AASLD: Acetaminophen Dosed Properly Poses Minimal Liver Risk to Children” from MedPage Today, November 3, 2008

Cancer and pain treatment scam

The FDA has issued a Class I Recall of the Vibe Technologies Vibrational Integrated Bio-photonic Energizer Machine Multi-Frequency Field Generator. The claims of treating or curing such conditions as cancer, depression, infection and pain are unsubstantiated according to the FDA, and individuals with the device should stop using it immediately and contact the manufacturer to make arrangements to return the device. This device has not been approved by FDA, lacks safety and effectiveness data, and is not manufactured under current good manufacturing practices.

via FDA, October 31, 2008

BPA may be unsafe at current acceptable levels

Baby bottleA board of independent advisers to the FDA has concluded that the FDA recently erred when it stated that the use of the common chemical bisphenol A (BPA) is safe, particularly for infants. 

BPA is used in packaging of infant formula, in molded plastic bottles,  dinnerware and sippy cups. The current margin of safety is 5 mg/kg, but the subcommittee recommended lowering that level. 

A man-made chemical, BPA is classified as an endocrine disruptor, which alters the function of the endocrine system by mimicking the role of the body’s natural hormones. It is used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastic, and as an additive in other widely used consumer products. The fear has been that exposure to BPA can cause birth defects and developmental problems. In addition, exposure to BPA has been blamed for a variety of other problems, including cancer, diabetes, obesity and attention-deficit disorder.

There has been a difference of opinion between researchers whether there is cause for concern over Bisphenol A (BPA), one of the highest-volume chemicals produced worldwide. In September, the FDA issued a statement about BPA that said there was insufficient evidence to connect commonly used levels of BPA to some health issues, including those in infants. But now, a board of independent advisers to the FDA has concluded that the FDA was wrong.  

Canada has banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and some scientists and consumer groups have warned for years that the chemical might contribute to some cancers, early puberty, alterations of the prostate and urinary tracts, and behavioral problems.

The board called for future, large-scale studies investigating BPA exposure and there will likely be new regulations.  The FDA is currently working with manufacturing companies that use BPA in their products to develop alternatives or to figure out how to effectively lower levels of the chemical. It is not recommended that mothers stop buying infant formula and attempt to make their own BPA-free formula, as it will likely be less nutritious. 

Read important facts about Bisphenol A (BPA) from Bay Area Medical Information