Monday, March 8, 2010

News Briefs: March 7, 2010

Cracking Down on Front-of-Packaging
Soumil Mhaskar

Companies within the food industry are always developing new methods to improve marketing. With this has come the advent of front – of – package claims that proclaim that the products provide “ten essential vitamins and minerals.” Recently, the Food and Drug Administration has embarked on a mission to crackdown on misleading front-of-package labels that have been ubiquitous in food marketing.

The issue with food label advertising began in 1906 when the Pure Food and Drug Act prohibited food labels that were “false and misleading.” In 1969, President Richard Nixon sought ways to end hunger and malnutrition and as a result, the FDA permitted food packages to state “contains 7 essential nutrients.” Furthermore, in the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act along with the FDA Modernization Act were passed in 1994 and 1997 respectively. Both of these acts ushered the proliferation of nutrient-content, health, and structure/function claims on food labels.

Recently, there has been increasing concern regarding the validity of the food labels. The FDA is increasing efforts to examine the issue of front-of-packaging labeling, making sure that they help consumers make the appropriate and healthy choice. Moreover, more public health officials are pushing towards regulating the labels based on national standards. Some are even contending that by banning front-of-package labels, it would encourage the public to make healthy and nutritious choices in selecting foods.

Reference: JAMA. 2010;303(8):771-772.
Imaage: Food Pyramid. Available here.

Depression – Mistake or Adaptation?
Namratha Rao

Charles Darwin was one of the many people throughout history who was afflicted by depression, always worrying that his illness would cause him to only “be content to admire the strides others made in Science.” Although this has clearly not been the case, Darwin was not alone in his depression; in fact, about 7% of the population is afflicted with depression every year. Most other mental illnesses, like schizophrenia which affects less than 1% of the population, are extremely rare, but depression is not only common but also seems to be heritable. This seemed to contradict Darwin’s theory of evolution because this disorder would seem to be a mistake on evolutions part. Therefore, recent discussion in Evolutionary Psychology raises the question of whether depression is an adaptation since it is the natural reaction to stress. This idea has surfaced with the theory that depression increases mental benefits through increased mental activity.

Reference: Lehrer, Johnah. (2010, Febraury 25). Depression’s Upside. The New York Times. Retrieved March 7, 2010 from

Stents and Surgery – Two Solutions to the Same Problem
Kanupriya Tewari

According to results of a government-sponsored trial released in mid February of this year, stents and surgeries have both proven to be effective at preventing strokes in people who have severely narrowed neck arteries – a phenomenon which has till now been putting their lives in danger. This danger develops in a number of stages, starting with restricted blood flow to people’s brains due to clogged carotid arteries – also known as “brain attack”. However, these people can now have surgery to open up their blockages after taking medications and making some lifestyle changes to improve their health. In addition, if they are a poor candidate for surgery, the federal regulations allow stents (small metal scaffolds) to be placed in their arteries.

These options may soon become available for numerous people based on the results of a large trial that was recently presented at the American Heart Association’s International Stroke Conference in San Antonio. Dr. Kenneth Resonfield, an interventional cardiologist states that, "What's amazing and what's important about this trial is that all patients across the board did well with both therapies. That's new information."

Another interesting aspect regarding the study is that age does seem to be a factor in the usage of this potential treatment. Results show that people under 70 did better with stents while people over 70 did better with surgery. Overall, both prove to be possibly durable therapies which can relieve the problems of many.

Reference: Cooney, Elizabeth. (2010, February 26). Stents and surgery roughly on par for preventing stroke, study says. The Boston Globe. Retrieved March 7, 2010 from

Decrease in Salmonella Cases in Boston’s Asian Population
Yang (Karen) Chen

Salmonella, a disease caused by poor food handling practices, has recently decreased tremendously in Boston’s Asian population after the enhancement of a public food safety campaign. Known as “Chill, Clean, Separate, and Cook,” the campaign involved publicizing advertisements, brochures, and distributing free cutting boards to raise awareness for food sanitation. Executive director of the health commission, Barbara Ferrer, says in a statement that the drop in salmonella cases in the Asian community demonstrates what can happen when “when public health officials, residents, and neighborhood leaders” collaborate to promote community improvement. While Asians in Boston had 23 percent of the 175 cases of food-borne illness in 2007, this dropped down to 8 percent of the 135 Boston cases in 2009.

Reference: Cooney, Elizabeth. (2010, February 24). Salmonella cases drop among Boston's Asian residents. The Boston Globe. Retrieved March 1, 2010 from

Potential Treatment for Asthma
Lori Fingerhut

A recent study, by Dr. Odelya E. Pagovich of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, found that statins, a drug normally used to lower lipids, have proven effective in asthma control. According to the members of the research team, statins have an anti-inflammatory mechanism that probably allows for asthma control. Dr. Pagovich notes that though they cannot be used alone in treatment, statins could be used as a supplement to other treatments if clinical studies for their use in asthma continue to prove positive.

Statins have been shown to have many beneficial effects in several other diseases beyond lipid lowering and anti-inflammation. In lung disease, for example, statins have been shown to reduce C-reactive protein levels, impact cytokine levels, possibly decrease the rate of pulmonary decline, and many other positive effects. Some negative results have been noted in both lung disease and asthma treatment.

Dr. Pagovich’s team at Beth Israel performed a retrospective clinical review of 70 adult patients who received statins for asthma treatment. On the whole, the statin treatment proved beneficial to decreasing a patient’s asthma severity. The use of a bronchodilator inhaler by the patients for asthma control also decreased on average after initiation of statin treatment. While the results of the study seemed promising, Dr. Pagovich warned that more research is necessary, in both adults and children, to prove statins are a safe and effective treatment for asthma.

Reference: Phend, Crystal. (2010, February 28). AAAAI: Asthma May Respond to Statins, Too. MedPage Today. Retrieved March 7, 2010 from

Eriene-Heidi Sidhom is the 2009 - 2010 News and Analysis Editor.
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