Health Buzz: Psoriasis Treatment and Other Health News

A crackdown on fake cancer cures, a warning against new drugs, and losing weight through volumetrics.

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Study: Experimental Psoriasis Drug Beats Enbrel

An experimental drug called ustekinumab was more effective than Enbrel (etanercept) in treating moderate-to-severe psoriasis, according to a new study funded by Centocor Inc., the biotech arm of Johnson & Johnson. Ustekinumab is an experimental human monoclonal antibody that targets naturally occurring proteins important in regulating a certain immune response. That response is believed to play a role in psoriasis, which involves red, scaly skin patches that can itch and bleed. After 12 weeks of treatment, 74 percent of patients who were treated with a 90-milligram dose of ustekinumab had at least a 75 percent reduction in psoriasis symptoms, 68 percent of those treated with a 45-milligram dose of the drug had that reduction, and 57 percent of patients who were treated with Enbrel, an established psoriasis treatment, experienced similar improvement. The results were presented this week at the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology in Paris, France.

In May, doctors released new guidelines for psoriasis care.

FTC Cracks Down on Fake Cancer Cures

The Federal Trade Commission charged five companies with making bogus claims touting their products' ability to treat or cure cancer, and it reached settlements with six other companies making similar claims, the Associated Press reports. The products involved include essiac teas and other herbal mixtures, laetrile, black salve, and mushroom extracts. Each company is charged with violations of the FTC Act, which targets deceptive claims. Some companies also falsely advertised scientific or clinical proof for their products, the FTC said. The companies will be told to advise consumers who bought the products that there was little or no evidence supporting claims that the products treat or cure cancer. They must also encourage customers to consult with their doctors about the use of the products.

In June, U.S. News's Katherine Hobson discussed 125 cancer "cures" that the Food and Drug Administration calls fake.

Former Pharma Pitchman: Beware of New Drugs

Tom Nesi, author of the new book Poison Pills: The Untold Story of the Vioxx Drug Scandal, wants you to know what you're getting into when you take a newly approved, heavily marketed prescription drug. A longtime director of public affairs at the pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb, Nesi has more than 30 years' experience in medical communications and strategy, Sarah Baldauf reports. Now a writer and consultant, he comes off as no shill for the industry he once served. His book focuses on the cautionary tale of Vioxx, the prescription painkiller that was pulled from the market after doctors belatedly realized that it caused heart, blood, and kidney problems—including some that were fatal.

Earlier, Nancy Shute posed and answered the question, Are your drugs are safe? And in February, U.S. News explained how to safely take prescription medications.

Weight Control Through 'Volumetrics'

The weight-control technique known as energy density reduction, or by the catchier term "Volumetrics," was coined by Barbara Rolls, professor and Guthrie chair of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University. It's based on a simple principle: People tend to eat the same amount of food by weight from one day to the next. Since some foods are less energy dense—that is, they have fewer calories per gram—than others, if you fill your plate with more of those foods, you'll be eating fewer calories without actually eating less food. It's a different slant than portion control, the usual rule of thumb for weight control. Rolls's research has shown that cutting energy density is indeed associated with weight loss. This summer, her team published a study showing that by cutting the energy density of a pasta entrée served at a day-care facility by adding veggies, kids consumed fewer calories during the meal. And this week, an independent Japanese study published in Nutrition supported the Volumetrics principle, finding that women who ate foods containing a lot of water had lower BMIs and waist circumferences than those who did not.