FDA Panel Supports Rapid, At-Home HIV Test
Home HIV tests should be sold in retail stores, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel urged Tuesday. If approved by the FDA, a mouth-swab test made by OraSure Technologies Inc.—and sold commercially to health professionals—would become available over the counter. That way, people could check if they had the virus within the privacy of their own homes. The 20-minute test is 93 percent accurate for positive results and 99.8 percent for negative, according to the manufacturer. About 240,000 Americans are unaware they are HIV positive, and are responsible for between 50 and 70 percent of the 50,000 new infections each year. "There is huge global momentum in support of over-the-counter testing for HIV," Nitika Pant Pai, an assistant professor of medicine at Montreal's McGill University who co-authored an analysis of the effectiveness of an at-home HIV test earlier this year, told HealthDay. "People desire private, discreet options that protect their confidentiality." It's unclear how much the over-the-counter test would cost.
Is a Gluten-Free Diet Smart for Weight Loss?
Miley Cyrus is looking leaner than ever these days, fueling mass speculation of an eating disorder. Last month, she took to Twitter to defend her slim physique: “For everyone calling me anorexic, I have a gluten and lactose allergy. It’s not about weight, it’s about health. Gluten is crapppp anyway!”
While Cyrus’ weight loss may be due to a legitimate food allergy, scads of other celebrities and non-famous folks alike are adopting a gluten-free diet—for weight reasons, not health. “It’s definitely trendy now. Everyone is talking about it,” says Elisabetta Politi, nutrition director at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, N.C. And the food industry is apparently cashing in on the trend, too: By 2015, sales of gluten-free foods and beverages are expected to hit $5 billion, according to Packaged Facts, a market research firm. “I see the positive side of being more aware of gluten and trying not to overdo it,” says Politi, “but I don’t think it’s a good way to lose weight.”
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, as well as many common food additives. It gives dough elasticity and baked goods their chewiness. (It’s found in pizza, beer, burgers, and pancakes, for example.) Those who have celiac disease—caused by an overactive immune response to gluten in the small intestine—are encouraged to go gluten-free to avoid digestive symptoms like pain and diarrhea, and even permanent intestinal damage or malnutrition. There’s no cure or medication other than a gluten-free diet. About 1 percent of the population suffers from celiac and about 10 percent have a less specific sensitivity, according to the Mayo Clinic. [Read more: Is a Gluten-Free Diet Smart for Weight Loss?]
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What Role Do Drugs Play in Determining Longevity?
If you're a typical American, chances are about 50-50 that you take at least one prescription drug—and if you're upwards of 60, the odds are nearly 2 in 5 that you take five drugs or more. Some may be lifesaving, especially for those with potentially deadly chronic conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure. But how many drugs in those mountains of pills add years to the lives of people who don't suffer from such illnesses?
"The majority of drugs approved probably aren't life-extending," says Lisa Schwartz, an internist and professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice in New Hampshire who specializes in medical communication related to the benefits and harms of prescription drugs and screening tests. But clearly, some can extend lives.
Take the massively popular class of heart drugs called statins. By lowering the level of "bad" LDL cholesterol in the blood, statins can cut the chances of a killer heart attack or stroke even in those who have never had one. That's why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of statins for individuals at high risk because of age, family history, smoking, and elevated cholesterol, even if they haven't shown outward symptoms of heart disease.
Yet every drug comes with baggage, some of it deadly. "All drugs—even the safest ones—have side effects," says Patrick J. M. Murphy, an associate professor of pharmacology at Seattle University. A notorious example is the arthritis medication Vioxx, a prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) recalled in 2004 because it significantly increased the risk for cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke. Today, other over-the-counter NSAIDS (such as naproxen and ibuprofen) can help ease pain but at the potential expense of bleeding ulcers in regular users. And while cholesterol-lowering drugs have proven benefits, the FDA recently announced that alongside muscle pain, labels for statins should also include side effects like memory loss and confusion. [Read more: What Role Do Drugs Play in Determining Longevity?]
Angela Haupt is a health reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.