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Medical studies don't tell the whole story

Written by: Marilyn Linton, QMI Agency
Apr. 22, 2013

If you’re a guy with thinning hair, a woman worried about breast cancer, a senior with memory issues, or anyone who likes the occasional steak, you can’t be happy with the latest health headlines. But all is not what it seems. Here’s my take on some of the most high-profile research recently published.

Male baldness points to heart attack risk. George Costanza, you’re in trouble! The hair-thinning Seinfeld character always said that bald equals sexy, but Danish research presented recently at a session of the American Heart Association said that guys who had receding hair at the temples or a bald spot were at risk for heart disease.

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Previous studies did show that hair that thinned on the crown was linked to heart disease but NOT a receding hairline – so what to believe? The British Heart Foundation had wise words when it told the BBC that men should focus on their waistlines rather than their hairlines. Canadian bald men can protect their hearts by visiting www.heartandstroke.ca. Forget that hairline, guys, and instead stop smoking, eat healthier and exercise.

False-positive mammograms trigger stress. Of course they do! But this study, recently published in Annals of Family Medicine, said that women were haunted by the results as much as three years after they received the news and they were as upset as women who actually had breast cancer! Hard to believe in that all that’s usually required to resolve a false-positive is further ultrasound or more mammography images.

Even more frightening is how this study could prevent some women from having a mammogram. True, mammography can lead to unnecessary further testing, but it also prevents unnecessary deaths, says the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care: “Mammography has been shown to be the most effective method of screening for breast cancer in its early stages.”

Herbals don’t help memory. Those of us wanting to stop memory slippage have gulped our share of gingko. But a recent review of published research conducted at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto found no evidence that herbal products, vitamins or drugs helped to prevent cognitive decline in healthy older adults.

The review included 32 randomized clinical trials involving about 25,000 patients. The research team also found no strong evidence for drug treatments such as acetylcholine, designed to assist memory, thought and judgment. No evidence either for gingko, omega-3 fatty acids or vitamin B6. But keep eating that fish – its benefits include the heart. As for your brain: Stay sharp by reading, taking classes, doing puzzles, and trying a new language.

Red meat hardens your arteries. The link this time isn’t cholesterol but a compound called carnitine which the digestive tract converts into heart-clogging TMAO, a type of oxide. This recent Cleveland Clinic study had steak lovers worried in that consistently high carnitine levels were associated with a raised risk of heart disease and stroke.

But hold on: A week later, a new study from the Mayo Clinic found that in patients who had a heart attack, carnitine was associated with less mortality, arrhythmias, and angina compared to placebo. Turns out that carnitine actually helps with energy (that’s why athletes take carnitine supplements) and carnitine supplements taken for a short time after a heart attack may even help the cardiac muscle. So eat less meat, but don’t obsess over the occasional steak.

 

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