A Way to Shield Kids Against Diabetes?
You've probably heard that certain omega-3 fatty acids, which are found primarily in fatty fish, protect the heart. Now it seems they may also help young children stave off type 1 diabetes. By analyzing the diets of 1,770 children at high risk of diabetes, researchers from the University of Colorado-Denver and the University of Florida discovered that the more omega-3s children ate, the less likely they were to develop early signs of the disease. "This is an exciting association, but we still have to prove it with direct testing," cautions Michael Clare-Salzler, one of the paper's authors. Don't want to wait for proof? Breast milk contains the key fatty acids if Mom consumes them, and numerous products, including infant formulas, have been fortified. Fish oil supplements and fatty cold-water fish (albacore tuna, salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, and herring) are good sources. Because mercury contamination is a concern with certain fish, some supplement makers have started to offer omega-3 products derived from algae.
Virtual 3D Colon Checks Get a Boost
People putting off that colonoscopy just got some good news: Researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine have found that noninvasive CT colonography, which creates a 3D computer scan of the colon, can detect advanced polyps—the precursors to colorectal cancer—just as accurately. Doctors can zero in on the most likely dangerous lesions, leaving smaller polyps for further surveillance; with colonoscopy, all polyps are removed at once. Rarely, that can cause complications requiring surgery. The findings, published in last week's New England Journal of Medicine, support wider use of CT colonography—it isn't now covered by insurance. (However, if dangerous lesions are spotted, a colonoscopy and polyp removal will be required.) The scans are most appropriate for people with an average risk of cancer, says Juan Nogueras, a colo-rectal surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic Florida. But he thinks people with a family history should stick with the traditional screen. - Matthew Shulman
Got Back Pain? Get Up and Move
If you're curled up in bed in misery from back pain, the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society have some advice: Get up and get active. You're going to be better off doing some walking and low-impact activities "than if you lie around," says Roger Chou, an assistant professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University and lead author of new joint guidelines on back pain released by the two medical groups. The take-home messages: In the vast majority of cases, the pain will dissipate without medication or surgery, so don't bother asking for a high-tech MRI or CT scan without giving it at least a month. Meantime, you may need to experiment with pain medications and alternatives such as exercise therapy, massage, and acupuncture to see what works with a minimum of side effects. A physical exam and a talk with your doctor can help determine if more tests are necessary. - Adam Voiland
The Economic Cost of Chronic Disease
Those extra pounds aren't just hurting your health; they're taking a toll on the economy. A report released last week by the Milken Institute, a Santa Monica-based think tank, calculates, for example, that cutting obesity rates to the 1998 level would trim annual healthcare spending by $60 billion and increase productivity by $254 billion. Altogether, seven common chronic diseases—cancer, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, pulmonary conditions, and mental illness—cost the economy more than $1.3 trillion each year. The report calls for government and business to offer incentives that will encourage disease prevention and a national return to a healthful body weight. - Adam Voiland