Vitamins may prevent hearing loss

Scientists have linked vitamin supplements to hearing loss preventionScientists have added another item to the long list of vitamin supplements’ benefits – they may also prevent noise-induced hearing damage.

A study conducted by researchers from the University of Florida demonstrated that laboratory animals fed a diet rich in antioxidants, including beta carotene and vitamins C and E, as well as mineral magnesium were better protected from temporary and permanent hearing loss due to exposure to loud noise, according to the university website.

Commenting on the results, senior author Colleen Le Prell said, "What is appealing about this vitamin ‘cocktail’ is that previous studies in humans … have shown that supplements of these particular vitamins are safe for long-term use."

The research findings will be reported on Wednesday at the Association for Research in Otolaryngology’s annual conference in Baltimore, Maryland.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders 15 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 – 26 million people – suffer from high frequency hearing loss that may have been caused by exposure to loud noise at work or in leisure activities.


Pension contributions may have to rise this year

Expert says financial meltdown will lead to higher pension contributions in 2009As the stock market collapse eroded employee pension funds, a consultancy is predicting that the level of contributions will double in 2009.

According to the Milliman 100 Pension Funding Index, net losses of pension funds were $23 billion in January. As of the end of that month, the total asset value for these pensions stood at $923 billion.

John Ehrhardt, co-author of the index, says, "Pensions have lost 30 percent in funding status since the beginning of 2008, and employers may have to double their contributions in 2009."

"After such a brutal year, it is easy to forget that these pensions were 104.9 percent funded to begin 2008," he adds.
Founded in Seattle in 1947, Milliman is one of the largest independent actuarial and consulting firms in the world.

The Milliman 100 Pension Funding Index, which consists of 100 biggest defined benefit pension plans in the U.S., projects the funded status for pension plans, reflecting the impact of market returns and interest-rate changes and utilizing reported asset values, liabilities, and asset allocations of the companies’ pension plans.

A recent survey from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants indicated that 35 percent of their clients who are approaching retirement age are postponing it due to recent wealth erosion.

Another government agency in breach of employee data

Sensitive personal information has been reported stolen from an FAA computerThe Federal Aviation Administration has announced that one of its computers was illegally accessed and employee identity information was stolen.

In total, there were 48 files on the breached computer server and two of them contained personal information about more than 45,000 FAA employees and retirees.

However, the server was not connected to the operation of the air traffic control system, and there is no indication any systems have been compromised.

According to the company statement, "The FAA is moving quickly to prevent any similar incidents and has identified immediate steps as well as longer-term measures to further protect personal information."

This is not the first time government has mishandled sensitive personal information. In 2006, a Department of Veterans Affairs’ subcontractor lost a computer with insurance claim data of patients at Pittsburgh and Philadelphia VA Medical Centers.

In a related development, a recent experiment demonstrated that RFID chips recommended by the Department of Homeland Security for use in new electronic passports are easy to break and download information from.

Groups urge Obama to support mercury regulations

Will mercury emissions be regulated?Green groups from around the world have sent a message to the new administration that it should support international efforts to regulate mercury emissions.

During a meeting at the State Department last week, representatives of a coalition of 75 environmental groups promoting mercury reduction called on President Obama to back a binding treaty on mercury at the United Nations meeting this week in Nairobi, Kenya.

"We strongly recommend an approach that embraces cooperation and leadership, rather than the obstruction and inaction we have seen from the previous administration," says Michael Bender co-coordinator for the Zero Mercury Working Group.

He adds that "we urge President Obama to seize this opportunity for leadership and support an international agreement to control this dangerous pollutant."

In a letter signed by 90 U.S. and foreign-based groups activists stress that most countries are in favor of a legally binding international agreement that would control mercury emissions.

Such emissions come mainly from coal-fired power plants as well as practices such as the use of mercury in small scale gold mining.

The signatories include Physicians for Social Responsibility, American Nurses Association, Clean Water Action, Greenpeace and Health Care Without Harm as well as World Wildlife Fund – Guianas, the Basel Action Network, Friends of the Earth Malaysia, Indonesia Toxics-Free Network, and many others.

Exposure to mercury has been linked to brain damage in fetuses and small children and neurological disorders in adults.

Maryland may ban food dyes

Some food dyes may be banned in MarylandState senators are debating a ban on artificial food coloring which some say is linked to attention deficit disorder in children.

Of the two bills under consideration by legislators in Maryland one would require warning labels on foods that contain Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, or Yellow 6 dyes and prohibit their use after 2012, according to Center for Science in Public Interest.

The other would outlaw dyed foods in Maryland schools.

"Evidence linking Red 40, Yellow 5, and other synthetic food dyes to behavioral problems in children has been mounting for 30 years," says David Schardt, CSPI’s senior nutritionist who testified in favor of the bills at the hearings.

He added, "The FDA should have banned the dyes years ago and responsible manufacturers could have stopped using them voluntarily." However, given their failure to do so, it is now incumbent on legislators to "protect children from these chemicals."

Meanwhile, food industry representatives, including Safeway, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, and the Maryland Restaurant Association, were in Annapolis last week to lobby senators to vote against the ban and disputed the studies that link food coloring to health problems.

Advocacy group: Stimulus bill raises concerns about privacy

How safe is your medical info?An organization which monitors health policies and advocates the freedom of choice in healthcare has issued a statement criticizing the stimulus package for allowing space for privacy breaches.

According to the Washington-based Institute for Health Freedom, the final version of the economic stimulus bill permits personal health information to be exchanged and sold for research and public-health purposes without patient consent.

"Most Americans have no idea that the so-called HIPAA privacy rule doesn’t give patients the freedom to give or withhold consent before their personal health information can be shared with others for many purposes," says Sue Blevins, president of the Institute for Health Freedom.

She adds, "Digitizing people’s health records combined with allowing researchers and public-health officials to buy their data from doctors and health plans is going to pave the way for research on millions of Americans [without their explicit consent]."

The institute, whose statement is supported by Citizens’ Council on Health Care, is also critical of the plan to convert the health records of each American into an electronic version by 2014 without allowing an opt-out.

Last Friday, Congress passed the economic stimulus package worth $787 billion which includes $19 billion in spending on health IT as well as $10 billion for the National Institutes of Health.

Fish oil substitutes may improve environmental health

Fish oil can come from sustainable sourcesA new study has suggested that reliance on fish oil replacements may help reduce the farmed fish industry’s dependence on resources from the wild.

Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential part of farmed fish feed and 90 percent of them are currently derived from natural fisheries, but researchers from the School of Life and Environmental Science at Deakin University in Australia claim that alternative lipid sources may reduce the environmental impact of the practice.

Dr Giovanni Turchini from Deakin University explains the paradox facing the fish farming industry by saying, "There is heavy emphasis for aquaculture to meet the global shortage of fish and seafood created by unsustainable fishing practices. However, dietary fish oil … required for the production of omega-3-rich farmed fish … is at present derived solely from wild fisheries."

According to the study, about 75 percent of dietary fish oil can be substituted with vegetable oils and animal fats without impacting the quality of the farmed product.

In addition to stemming the depletion of natural fish habitats, such replacement may also remove existing barriers to the industry’s expansion.

Multivitamin study sparks controversy

A study has created debate about the benefits of vitaminsA non-profit organization dedicated to the natural products industry has disputed the results of a study measuring the efficacy of multivitamins in cancer prevention.

The criticized study – conducted by researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center – suggested that long-term multivitamin use had no impact on the risk of common cancers, cardiovascular disease and general mortality in postmenopausal women.

However, the study failed to take into account important dietary factors, according to the Natural Products Association.

"While cohort and observational studies like these can be important, they in no way constitute convincing or conclusive evidence," says Dr Daniel Fabricant, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Natural Products Association.

He complains that the authors arbitrarily assigned categories to different supplement types. He also says they did not account for nutrient intake through the diet, failing to establish a baseline against which to make comparisons.

Fabricant further criticized the authors for being apparently unaware of how supplements are regulated and how the FDA authorizes health claims.

"To suggest that taking vitamins and minerals with a demonstrated health benefit is unnecessary sends the wrong public health message," he says.

Some 180 million Americans take dietary supplements to make up for inadequate diets and maintain and improve health.

Study: Medicare fails seniors

Medicare may not work for some seniors, according to a studyIn what may be seen as more evidence of the American healthcare system’s failures, a newly released study has shown that some senior citizens are forced to forgo prescription medications due to high costs.

The study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health found that beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare’s Part D – a prescription drug plan which covers only up to $2,250 in related expenses creating the so called ‘doughnut hole’ – were much less likely to use prescription drugs than their peers enrolled in Medicare through their employers.

"Our findings raise concerns about whether people with chronic illnesses who lack doughnut hole coverage are able to effectively manage their conditions," says the study’s lead author Dr Yuting Zhang, assistant professor of health economics at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

He adds, "Without needed prescriptions, we could potentially see an increase in hospital and physician costs."

The authors suggest a policy change that would mandate the coverage of generic drugs beyond the $2,250 limit through a modest increase in initial prescription co-pays.

President Obama campaigned on the platform of reforming the healthcare system which has left some 40 million American’s without any health care coverage. The new stimulus package also contains provisions for $19 billion in spending on health IT.

EWG calls for action against toxic chemicals

More action needed to protect Americans from chemicalsReacting to a recent slew of news about toxic compounds causing heath problems, a nonprofit organization has appealed to the government for more stringent regulations.

In recent months scientists from Europe and the United States have linked exposure to compounds such as perifluorinated chemicals (PFCs) and agricultural pesticides to infertility in both men and women, and the Environmental Working Group is taking the government to task.

Dr Olga Naidenko, a senior scientist with EWG says that these "alarming findings" reinforce the case for stricter regulation of harmful chemicals.

"Until we reform the nation’s chemical laws, we should expect to discover more and more links between chemical exposures and serious health conditions like infertility, childhood cancer, learning disabilities and asthma," she says.

The EWG is urging Congress to overhaul U.S. policy on man-made toxins by adopting policies that would place the burden on chemical companies to prove that their products are safe before they can sell them.

In recent months, scientists from Mount Sinai School of Medicine suggested that a cluster of a rare blood cancers diagnosed in several counties in northern Pennsylvania may be linked to hazardous waste materials coming from waste-coal power plants and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites.

EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that works to protect human health and the environment.