Health Buzz: Autism Study Halted and Other Health News

Why AIG policyholders can relax, how to ward off aging, and what to know about newfangled ERs.

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Controversial Autism Study Called Off

The National Institute of Mental Health halted its plans to study a controversial procedure called chelation for the treatment of autism, the Associated Press reports. The therapy, commonly used for lead or mercury poisoning, involves injecting a man-made amino acid called EDTA into the veins in an effort to remove heavy metals from the body. Some who think that vaccines containing mercury trigger autism believe the therapy could treat the disorder. NIMH officials said the agency isn't confident in the safety of chelation, which critics have called an unethical experiment on kids, the AP reports. Research into the treatment had been on hold after a separate study last year connected a medication used in chelation to brain problems in rats. With the exception of some flu shots, childhood vaccines haven't contained mercury since 2001.

U.S. News's Bernadine Healy reported on the purported autism-vaccine link in April. Earlier, Nancy Shute reported on evidence dismissing the link between vaccines and autism.

AIG to Policyholders: You Can Relax

If you have a health insurance policy through AIG, the company that announced an $85 billion bailout from the federal government this week, rest assured that your coverage will continue, according to a company spokesperson. AIG's health insurance business focuses on supplemental policies sold through employers that pay a cash benefit if policyholders get cancer or have a stroke, for example, and plans that cover medical and other costs if someone is in an accident or becomes disabled. AIG also sells travel insurance, which typically provides coverage if you need emergency medical care or medical evacuation while traveling overseas, Michelle Andrews reports. Regardless of which plan you have, "AIG continues to operate normally and remains adequately capitalized and fully capable of meeting its obligations to policyholders," says Peter Tulupman, an AIG spokesperson.

Last month, Bernadine Healy reported on how crafty health insurers are denying care.

How to Ward Off Aging

Rigorous lifestyle changes, like eating very little fat and sugar, increased the levels of telomerase (a protein that helps slows cell aging) in a group of prostate cancer patients, University of California researchers report. And a Harvard University study finds that a healthful lifestyle can boost women's longevity by reducing the risk of dying from heart disease and cancer. U.S. News's Deborah Kotz explains five other ways to ward off aging.

Earlier this month, Katherine Hobson described how to avoid losing muscle as you age.

Hospital Emergency Rooms, Meet Your Competitors

A new type of emergency facility is appearing across the country, one that isn't located at a hospital and whose claim to fame is customer service, Michelle Andrews reports. Often situated in the fast-growing suburbs, these "freestanding" emergency rooms trumpet shorter wait times and a more pleasant environment and, at their best, bring much-needed emergency diagnostic and clinical expertise to underserved areas. Typically staffed by board-certified emergency physicians, they're equipped to evaluate, stabilize, diagnose, and treat patients with conditions as varied and serious as broken bones and severe burns. They currently operate in only about 16 states, so they're not commonplace yet. But their numbers are growing fast. Between 2005 and 2006 alone, the total grew more than 20 percent, to 179, according to the American Hospital Association.

Andrews lists questions to ask before choosing an emergency room. In August, she described where to turn for immediate medical care.

—January W. Payne

Corrected on : Corrected on 9/18/08: An earlier version of this story misstated the value of the bailout of AIG. It involved $85 billion, not $85 million.