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Vitamin D and cancer risk: New study raises doubts

High doses of vitamin D supplements may not lower older women’s risk of developing cancer, a new clinical trial finds.

Many studies have hinted that vitamin D might help ward off cancer. Some, for example, have found that people with higher blood levels of the vitamin have lower rates of certain cancers, including colon and breast cancers.

In lab experiments, vitamin D has also shown activities that might slow the growth of cancer — such as promoting the death of abnormal cells.

But those types of studies cannot prove that taking vitamin D actually causes cancer risk to drop, explained Dr. JoAnn Manson, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

That, Manson said, takes clinical trials that test vitamin D against an inactive placebo.

That’s exactly what the new study did, but it found no significant benefit.

The trial involved 2,300 older women who were randomly assigned to take either high-dose vitamin D plus calcium, or placebo pills.

Over the next four years, about 4 percent of women on the supplements were diagnosed with cancer. That compared with just under 6 percent in the placebo group — a difference that was not statistically significant, the study authors said.

“This is a null study,” said Manson, who wrote an editorial published with the findings. “We can’t make any public health recommendations based on this.”

And it’s not the first such trial to come up empty, she added.

“The clinical trials to date have been disappointing,” Manson said. “Overall, we have no compelling evidence that vitamin D reduces cancer incidence.”

However, she stressed, the new trial is “by far not the final word.”

The problem is, the trials done so far have had limitations -- small study groups or fairly low vitamin D doses, for instance.

Two large-scale trials, each involving upwards of 20,000 people, are still ongoing, said Manson, who is leading one of the studies.

Those trials should offer more definitive answers in the next year or two, according to Manson.

Joan Lappe, a professor of nursing and medicine at Creighton University, in Omaha, Neb., led the latest study.

She agreed that it’s “not the definitive trial” on vitamin D and cancer.

One reason is that the study was fairly short-term, and there were few cancer cases, which limited the researchers’ ability to detect a protective effect.

Lappe added that important issues still have to be sorted out.

For one, she said, women in her study started out with relatively high vitamin D levels in their blood. On average, their levels were 33 nanograms per milliliter, which is considered well within the adequate range.

It’s possible, Lappe said, that supplements would have a greater effect on cancer risk among people with vitamin D insufficiency.

The findings are based on just over 2,300 healthy women who were 65 years old, on average, at the outset.

Half were randomly assigned to take calcium and 2,000 IU of vitamin D each day. That’s more than triple the recommended dose

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More older women are drinking hard

More older American women than ever are drinking — and drinking hard, a new study shows.

Most troubling was the finding that the prevalence of binge drinking among older women is increasing dramatically, far faster than it is among older men, the researchers noted.

The difference was striking: Among men, the average prevalence of binge drinking remained stable from 1997 to 2014, while it increased an average of nearly 4 percent per year among women, the researchers found.

Increased drinking and binge drinking can be a serious health problem for women, said study author Rosalind Breslow, an epidemiologist at the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Women don’t tolerate alcohol as well as men , and they start to have alcohol-related problems at lower drinking levels than men, Breslow explained.

She pointed out that on average, women weigh less than men, and have less water in their bodies than men do. (Alcohol dissolves in water).

“So, after a man and woman of the same weight drink the same amount of alcohol, the woman’s blood alcohol concentration will tend to be higher, putting her at greater risk for harm,” Breslow said.

For the study, Breslow and her colleagues collected data on more than 65,000 men and women aged 60 and older who were current drinkers. Among these, more than 6,500 men and 1,700 women were binge drinkers.

Older adults, in general, are at greater risk of the effects of alcohol than younger adults, Breslow noted. “They’re more sensitive to the effects of alcohol , which can contribute to falls and other injuries, a major problem in older people,” she said.

As the U.S. population ages, the number of men and women 60 and older who drink will likely increase further, bringing with it more alcohol-related problems.

In the study, said Breslow, “we found that between 1997 and 2014, the proportion of older male drinkers in the U.S. population increased about 1 percent per year, and female drinkers increased nearly 2 percent per year.”

It’s not clear why this is happening, Breslow added.

“There is a great deal of speculation that baby boomers drank more when they were young and continue to drink more as a group. There is some limited evidence to support this speculation,” she said.

“We did find that more younger boomers, ages 60 to 64, both men and women, were drinking than people of the same age in past generations,” Breslow added.

Whether drinking is increasing among certain racial or ethnic groups isn’t something the researchers analyzed, she said.

But alcohol can have devastating consequences , particularly for older adults, Breslow said.

“Too much drinking increases your chances of being injured or even killed. Alcohol is a factor, for example, in about 60 percent of fatal burn injuries, drownings and homicides; 50 percent of severe trauma injuries and sexual assaults ; and 40 percent of fatal motor vehicle crashes, suicides and fatal falls,” she said.

In addition, heavy drinkers have a greater risk of liver disease,

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GOP health care bill battle continues behind the scenes

Republicans say they’re not giving up on their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare despite their failure in the House last week to secure enough votes for legislation that would have done just that.

On Tuesday, the House GOP conference met for the first time since their healthcare debacle exploded on Thursday and Friday.

“The way I would describe the meeting we just had with our members is we are going to work together and listen together until we get this right. It is just too important,” Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., told reporters after their closed-door meeting. 

“Obamacare is a collapsing law. Obamacare is doing too much damage to families. And so, we’re going to get this right. And in the meantime, we’re going to do all of our other work that we came here to do.”

For two consecutive days, House Republican leaders and the White House lobbied members of their own party to back the American Health Care Act (AHCA), but ultimately they fell short of the votes needed to get it through the lower chamber . Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus remained united against the measure and a number of moderates opposed it, too. The bill’s opponents argued that it didn’t deliver a full repeal of Obamacare , it wouldn’t have lowered premiums, millions more people would be uninsured and it wouldn’t have passed the Senate.

President Trump has said he wants congressional Republicans to move on to overhaul the U.S. tax code and pursue a reform package. Conservatives aren’t giving up on health care yet, though.

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., a Freedom Caucus member, has filed a one-line piece of legislation to repeal Obamacare. He’s reportedly lobbying his colleagues to sign a discharge petition to try and force a floor vote on the bill.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked Tuesday whether the White House is involved in any renegotiations of the health care bill.

“Have we had some discussions and listened to ideas? Yes. Are we actively planning an immediate strategy? Not at this time,” Spicer said. “So there has been a discussion, and I believe there will be several more.”

In an interview on “CBS This Morning” Tuesday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., suggested that Republicans and Democrats should try and reach a compromise on health care together if they want to be successful.

“When the Democrats rammed through Obamacare, they did it on a strict partisan basis. We did not include the Democrats in negotiations on Obamacare. The issue is not going away,” the Arizona Republican said.

“We’ve got to go back and address this issue on a bipartisan basis and we can’t wait until people are without health care,” McCain added. “We’ve got to have some bipartisanship around here, otherwise we’re not going to get much done.”

There are signs Mr. Trump may not be quite ready to move on, either. He suggested in a tweet Monday that Democrats would eventually have to negotiate with Republicans.

And at a

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The new face of suburbia: Economic woes and early death

Getting lost in suburbia is taking on a grim new meaning in the U.S.

The nation’s suburbs, once the wellspring of the American Dream, now has the highest rate of premature deaths from drug overdoses, according to a new findings from the County Health Rankings, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Just a decade ago, America’s suburbs had the lowest rate of premature death from ODs. 

The spike in drug-related deaths is contributing to what County Rankings’ Marjory Givens said is setting off “alarm bells” among public health experts: More younger Americans are dying prematurely, especially those aged 15 to 44. The drug overdose epidemic is the top cause of early death among 25- to 44-year-olds, an age many people in this group traditionally buy their first homes and embark on careers. 

Yet for many adults, such achievements appear unobtainable, leading to what experts call “ deaths of despair .”

The data on drug-related deaths in suburbia “is absolutely an interesting and troubling finding,” Givens, the deputy director of data and science for County Health Rankings, said. “Access to affordable health care is important, but we know it’s so much more than that. Social and economic factors are so important -- the ability to have a good job, having social and family supports.”

rwj-premature-death-trends.png

Good jobs and the kind of social structure that propped up generations of Americans are fading in many areas of the country. Workers without college degrees have found themselves especially vulnerable to changes in the labor market. In the 1970s, Americans with only high school degrees could look forward to earning a steady, livable wage with benefits, but those days are long gone. 

White Americans without college degrees are suffering from “deaths of despair” after years of weak demand for their skills and stagnant wages, according to research from Princeton economists Anne Case and Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton. Earlier this month, they noted the phenomenon had spread across the country , touching both rural areas and cities.

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The impact of globalization, intensified by trade policy that effectively pits American workers against their lower-wage peers around the world, isn’t limited to suburbia. 

Economists Peter Schott of the Yale School of Management and Justin Pierce of the Federal Reserve have found that mortality rates spiked in counties around the U.S. that suffered the greatest economic disruption after trade policy was changed to make it easier for manufacturers to ship jobs to China or for Chinese companies to do business in the U.S.

“What you see is that mortality rates rise and stay high in the most exposed counties,” Schott said, noting the spike in unemployment in those regions after the U.S. liberalized trade with China in 2000. The sharpest increase in death rates were found in communities in the Southeast and in New England where manufacturing jobs have evaporated.

“Trade policy is sometimes sold as everyone wins -- that’s clearly too simple a way of picturing it,” he

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“Groundbreaking” tech restores movement in paralyzed man

For the first time, a paralyzed man has regained functional arm movement and is able to feed himself using his own hand as a result of new technology that reconnects his brain with his muscles.

Bill Kochevar, now 53, suffered a severe spinal cord injury  in a bicycle accident eight years ago that left him completely paralyzed from the shoulders down.

Scientists at Case Western Reserve University used an implanted neuro-prosthesis that decodes brain signals and transmits them to sensors in the arm to help him regain movement in his hand and arm. The researchers detail the case study in The Lancet.

Though the experimental technology has so far only been tested in one person, the authors say it is a major advancement and the first successful effort to restore brain-controlled reaching and grasping in a person with complete paralysis. 

“This is a big step,” Bob Kirsch, chair of Case Western Reserve’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, executive director of the FES Center and senior author of the research, told CBS News. “We’ve shown the feasibility of recording someone’s movement intentions and then making their own arm make those movements.”

Past research has used similar technology to help a person with less severe paralysis open and close his hand , while other studies have allowed individuals to control a robotic arm using their own brain signals . However, this is the first time scientists were able to restore movement and functional hand grasping ability in a person with a chronic spinal cord injury.

“It was amazing because I thought about moving my arm and it did,” Kochevar said in a video released by Case Western. “I could move it in and out, up and down.”

Man with quadriplegia employs injury bridging technologies to move again - just by thinking​ by case on YouTube

The study involved brain surgery to place sensors in the motor cortex area of Kochevar’s brain — the area responsible for hand movement. This created a brain-computer interface that learned which signals were meant for which movements. During this initial period, which took about four months, Kochevar trained using a virtual reality arm.

The scientists then placed 36 muscle-stimulating electrodes into his upper and lower arm, including four that helped restore finger and thumb, wrist, elbow and shoulder functioning. The electrodes were switched on 17 days later and began stimulating the muscles for eight hours a week over an 18-week period to improve strength and movement.

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The system involves sensors implanted in Bill Kochevar’s brain. Researchers are working on developing a wireless version.

Case Western Reserve University

Finally, the researchers wired the brain-computer interface to the electrical stimulators in Kochevar’s arm, using a mathematical algorithm to translate his brain signals into commands for the electrodes in his arm. The electrodes stimulated his arm muscles, allowing him to move in the ways he was thinking.

Within a year of having the neuro-prosthesis fitted, Kochevar was able to complete tasks including drinking a cup of coffee and feeding himself.

He

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