Health Buzz: Tomato Warning Lifted and Other Health News

Disease prevention programs, mental health costs, and music as medicine

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FDA Lifts Nationwide Tomato Warning

The Food and Drug Administration yesterday lifted its nationwide warning against eating certain types of raw tomatoes. The agency says that fresh tomatoes now available in the United States are not associated with the salmonella outbreak that sickened 1,220 people in 42 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada. The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with state and local health departments, are continuing to investigate whether the outbreak is linked to raw jalapeño and raw serrano peppers.

As news of the salmonella outbreak spread in June, a congressional report criticized the FDA for its handling of food safety. U.S. News's Nancy Shute also offered tips on how to foil salmonella by cooking your tomatoes.

Music as Medicine for the Brain

Music therapy has been practiced for decades as a way to treat neurological conditions from Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease to anxiety and depression. Now, advances in neuroscience and brain imaging are revealing what's actually happening in the brain and why the therapy works, Matthew Shulman reports. Beyond improving movement and speech, music can trigger the release of mood-altering brain chemicals and once lost memories and emotions. Parkinson's and stroke patients benefit from music therapy, neurologists believe, because the human brain is innately attuned to respond to highly rhythmic music; in fact, our nervous system is unique among mammals in its automatic tendency to go into foot-tapping mode.

In March, HealthDay reported that music therapy can help reduce anxiety and improve physical health.

Mental Health Costs to Drop After Override of Medicare Veto

There's little-noticed good news for patients in the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 that became law on Tuesday: Medicare beneficiaries in need of mental health services will soon face lower coinsurance payments and will have improved access to certain medications. Medicare recipients will continue to pay a 50 percent copay until 2010; in 2010 and 2011, they'll pay 45 percent; in 2012, 40 percent; in 2013, 35 percent; and in 2014, they'll have a 20 percent copay. The new law also calls for coverage of benzodiazepines and barbiturates, medications used to treat psychiatric problems and other medical conditions, starting in January 2013. The medications were previously excluded from coverage under Medicare's drug program unless a doctor provided specific clinical justification.

Earlier this year, Michelle Andrews reported on filling the gaps in Medicare Advantage plans. In June, she explained that health costs after age 65 can be a burden even with Medicare.

Small Investment in Prevention Could Prove Cost-Effective

Spending $10 per person on disease prevention programs would save the United States more than $16 billion annually within five years, according to a new report from a health advocacy organization called the Trust for America's Health. Increasing physical activity, improving nutrition, and preventing smoking and the use of other tobacco products would be the goals of such programs. The report says that effective prevention programs could reduce the rates of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes by 5 percent within two years; decrease heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke by 5 percent within five years; and reduce cancer, arthritis and lung disease by 2.5 percent in 10 to 20 years, The authors say that the CDC, state and local health departments, and other government agencies should foot the bill for such prevention programs.

In September, Adam Voiland listed health screening tests that everyone needs. He also discussed whether you need a physical exam.

—January W. Payne