The Rundown | Week of 8.27.2018

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Study Findings: No Healthy Level of Alcohol

Though a glass of red wine is often touted as a heart-healthy indulgence, new research from a Global Burden of Disease study revealed compelling evidence that suggests no level of alcohol is safe for consumption. Researchers analyzed health effects related to alcohol use in 195 countries from 1990 to 2016 and found what many have long feared: the more you drink, the higher your risk for alcohol-related health issues. Alcohol was the biggest risk factor for disease worldwide, leading to 2.6 million deaths in 2016. Any heart benefits related to moderate drinking were outweighed by the potential to develop cancer and other diseases, the researchers concluded. Despite researchers warnings, critics argue their revelation may be overblown. “Claiming there is no safe level of alcohol consumption is not a compelling argument for people to stop drinking altogether,” said David Spiegelhalter, a professor for the public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge. Social acceptance of alcohol is at an all-time high in America; Georgia even passed a law dubbed the “mimosa mandate” to curb boozy weekend brunches. While many oncologists attest moderate drinking may be safe, they also caution patients that 5 percent of cancers are attributable to alcohol consumption.
>>Read More: No Amount Of Alcohol Is Good For Your Health, Global Study Says

Fishy Results Surround Omega-3s’ Effectiveness in Preventing Heart Disease

A placebo-controlled trial study recently found omega-3 fatty acid supplements were unhelpful in preventing cardiovascular events. Patients with diabetes taking 1-g capsules of omega-3 supplements daily had the same odds of developing stroke, transient ischemic attack, and cardiovascular-related death as those who took the olive oil placebo. Despite vast public sentiment surrounding omega-3 supplementation, this study’s findings add to growing literature disproving omega-3s as a tool to prevent heart disease. Experts agree that the public be made aware of this so that patients can be pushed towards evidence-based therapies. This study does not completely negate the benefits of fish though, as its co-founding health effects may prove beneficial, and a higher dosage may have shown more of an effect. The study did not examine how omega-3 supplements and statins — a drug used by 75 percent of the study population — react when used together, nor did it track triglycerides, though previous research suggested they can be reduced through omega-3 consumption. Ongoing trials, including the VITAL trial testing higher-dose omega-3 alongside vitamin D and the REDUCE-IT and STRENGTH trials testing a full therapeutic dose of 4 grams, are aiming to address these limitations so that we may finally understand the true effects of fish oil on cardiovascular health.
>>Read More: ESC: Omega-3 Supplements No Better Than Olive Oil for CV Risk

Air Pollution Decreases Intelligence

A recent study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has linked air pollution to cognitive impairment, with the most pronounced effects observed in the elderly, males, and people with less education. Researchers asked 25,000 residents of China to take verbal and mathematical tests over four years and compared the findings against the air pollution index. The effects were especially pronounced in the brain’s “white matter,” an area responsible for verbal ability. One researcher noted the policy implications of this evidence: “Investing in cleaner air not only improves human health but also cognitive capital, so when evaluating the impact of air pollution, the hidden cost on intellect should not be ignored.” In related environmental news, the White House announced revisions to an Obama-era regulation that capped power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions.
>>Read More: Air Pollution Exposure Harms Cognitive Performance, Study Finds

Senate Passes $857 Billion Bill That Includes Health Funding

An $857 billion spending bill passed the Senate on August 23 with an 85–7 vote. The “minibus” funds the Defense, Labor, Education, and Health departments to stave off a potential shutdown at the end of November. The bill proposes increased funding for medical research, in particular, research that combats the opioid crisis — through the development of non-addictive painkillers — and maternal mortality. Especially among minority women, maternal mortality has gained special attention through additional legislation, the Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (CARE) Act sponsored by Kamala Harris (D–CA). Further appropriations in the bill include $425 million for Alzheimer’s disease research; $3.7 billion for behavioral and mental health programs; and $2 billion for the National Institutes of Health, a 30 percent lift in reserves compared to 2003–2015. The bill awaits a vote from the House of Representatives.
>>Read More: Senate Passes Historic Health Spending Bill

Heart Attack Leads to $109,000 Bill

A hospital horror story illustrated a problem in insurance policies when a heart attack patient left the hospital with a staggering $108,951 bill. Drew Calver, a high-school history teacher and Ironman triathlete, suffered and survived a massive heart attack only to find that his four-day hospital stay was out-of-network. Though there is no information available about Calver’s specific insurance coverage, such problems arise in narrow network plans; in one case, a patient who received a surgery in-network was stuck with a large bill because the anesthesiologist was not covered. However, Calver’s bill was reduced to $782, 99.3 percent of the original invoice. His case is extreme, but not uncommon. A recent survey indicates that more than half of Americans have received a surprise medical bill for a procedure they believed insurance covered. A breakdown of unexpected charges showed that 53 percent were for physician services, 51 percent were for laboratory tests, and 43 percent were for healthcare facility fees.
>>Read More: Life-threatening heart attack leaves teacher with $108,951 bill

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