Monday, June 10th, 2013
A new analysis of health statistics published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology is suggesting that women who breastfeed their babies for at least a year–the recommended period for breastfeeding–may significantly lower their risk for breast cancer, heart disease, and hypertension, as well as saving the medical establishment hundreds of millions of dollars. The findings, not based on new research, are sure to be controversial, as Time.com reports:
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If new moms adhered to the recommended guidelines that urge them to breast-feed each child they give birth to for at least one year, they could theoretically stave off up to 5,000 cases of breast cancer, about 54,000 cases of hypertension and nearly 14,000 heart attacks annually.
Averting those diseases could also save $860 million, according to research published in Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Those figures, while significant and intriguing, are not actual numbers from documented cases. Rather, they’re the result of a sophisticated statistical model used to compare the effect of current breast-feeding rates in the U.S. to ideal rates.
The study, led by Harvard researcher Dr. Melissa Bartick, simulated the experiences of about 2 million U.S. women from the time they were 15 until they turned 70, estimating outcomes and cumulative costs over the decades in between.
Number-crunchers ran the data applying current breast-feeding rates – about 25% of U.S. women breast-feed for the recommended 12 months per child — and again assuming that 90% of women embraced the guidelines. “To be totally scientifically accurate, those are costs for a cohort of women in a certain year,” says Bartick, an assistant professor of internal medicine at Harvard Medical School. “If breast-feeding rates change, the cost would be different.”
Still, she says, the point is that breast-feeding boosts mom’s health in a big way. “We know that 60% of women don’t even meet their personal breast-feeding goals, whether it’s three or four or six months,” says Bartick. “We need to do more to support women so they can breast-feed longer. There are thousands of needless cases of disease and death that could be prevented.”
Wednesday, April 24th, 2013
Low levels of vitamin D may raise the risk that women will develop uterine fibroids, which are benign tumors that can cause discomfort and bleeding. The New York Times reports on the new study, published in the journal Epidemiology, that makes the connection:
Researchers randomly selected 620 black and 410 white women, ages 35 to 49, and determined their vitamin D levels with blood tests and their health status with questionnaires. Their analysis appears in the May issue of Epidemiology.
About two-thirds of the women had fibroid tumors. In the entire group, only 10 percent of the black women and 50 percent of white women had vitamin D levels above 20 nanograms per milliliter, generally considered an adequate level.
After adjusting for age, physical activity, sun exposure and other variables, they found that having a vitamin D level above 20 decreased the risk for fibroids by 32 percent, and that each increase of 10 nanograms per milliliter in vitamin D was associated with a 20 percent lower risk of having a fibroid tumor.
Image: Vitamin D supplements, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, March 6th, 2013
Premenstrual syndrome, which leaves many women retaining water and feeling moody, may be managed by a diet that contains the proper balance between iron and potassium, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. More from The New York Times:
Using data from a larger analysis of women’s health, researchers studied 1,057 women with PMS and 1,968 control subjects. They used questionnaires to establish their nutrient intake, both food and supplements, and established cases of PMS by clinical diagnosis.
After controlling for various health and dietary factors, they found that women in the highest 20 percent for iron intake were about 40 percent less likely to suffer PMS as those in the lowest 20 percent.
The study, published online in The American Journal of Epidemiology, found the opposite effect with potassium. Those in the highest 20 percent of intake had a 46 percent increased risk for PMS compared with those in the lowest 20 percent. There was no risk associated with intake of magnesium, zinc, manganese, copper or sodium.
The senior author, Elizabeth R. Bertone-Johnson, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts, cautioned women against taking too much iron, or consuming too little potassium, both of which can be harmful. “Eating a balanced diet with a variety of foods,” she said, “is a good way to ensure that women are consuming important vitamins and minerals.”
The Institute of Medicine recommends that women ages 19-50 get 18 milligrams of iron each day, and that all adults consume 4,700 milligrams of potassium daily. Iron-rich foods include beef, egg yolks, and dark leafy greens; potassium is found in bananas, baked potatoes (with skin), and white beans.
Image: Dark leafy greens, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, October 24th, 2012
Most women only need Pap smears, the most common screening test for cervical cancer, every 3 to 5 years, according to a new set of guidelines by the nation’s largest OB-GYN association. The Associated Press has more:
Many medical groups have long recommended a Pap test every three years for most women. The new advice from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that’s true for women ages 21 to 29 whose Paps show no sign of trouble.
But for healthy women ages 30 to 65, the preferred check is a Pap plus a test for the cancer-causing HPV virus, the group concluded. If both show everything’s fine, they can wait five years for further screening.
The guidelines from the nation’s largest OB-GYN organization agree with advice issued earlier this year by a government panel, the American Cancer Society and other medical groups — showing growing consensus that it’s safe for the right women to wait longer between Paps.
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Cervical cancer grows so slowly that regular Pap smears, which examine cells scraped from the cervix, can find signs early enough to treat before a tumor even forms.
Image: Gynecologist, via Shutterstock
Wednesday, September 12th, 2012
Standard screening tests for ovarian cancer, including blood tests and ultrasound images of the ovaries, do not lower the death rate from the disease, and in fact yield an alarming number of false positive results, the United States Preventative Services Task Force has found. The New York Times reports:
“There is no existing method of screening for ovarian cancer that is effective in reducing deaths,” said Dr. Virginia A. Moyer, the chairwoman of the expert panel, the United States Preventive Services Task Force. “In fact, a high percentage of women who undergo screening experience false-positive test results and consequently may be subjected to unnecessary harms, such as major surgery.”
The advice against testing applies only to healthy women with an average risk of ovarian cancer, not to those with suspicious symptoms or those at high risk because they carry certain genetic mutations or have a family history of the disease.
The recommendations are just the latest in a series of challenges to cancer screenings issued by the panel, which has also rejected P.S.A. screening for prostate cancer in men and routine mammograms in women under 50. The task force is a group of 16 experts, appointed by the government but independent, that makes recommendations about screening tests and other efforts to prevent disease. Its advice is based on medical evidence, not cost.
Image: Woman getting blood test, via Shutterstock
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