It has been quite a year with lots of exciting discoveries. We have seen new hepatitis drugs, cutting edge research on the causes of depression, autism and ADHD and more information on the hidden health mysteries within our own poop. Lets look at the best of 2013. Wishing you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2014!
10. Alzheimer’s Breakthrough– Strong observational and clinical studies have suggested benefits to cognitive function and a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease for women using transdermal (on the skin) estrogen. Conjugated equine estrogens, such as Premarin on the other hand negatively effects cognitive function and may actually increase the risk of dementia for women over the age of 65. (Wellcast, Aug 4 2013, May 10, 2013).
9. New Hepatitis Drug– This year the FDA approved a new drug to treat hepatitis C in which patients would have the convenience of taking pills with no injections (such as interferon). This new drug known generically as Sofosbuvir, could shorten treatment from 24-48 weeks to 12! It also shows an 80% cure rate dependent on the strain, or genotype, of the virus involved.
8. Fecal Implants– OK, so I know this sounds gross, but fecal implants (taking healthy poop and putting it in someone else’s colon) has proven to be incredibly effective in curing infections of C. Difficile- a nasty bacterial infection that kills 15,000 people each year. The actual feces is not so much the cure as the helpful bacteria living in the donor’s gut. Canada has developed a method for delivering just the bacteria in an oral pill. Ugh…those Canadians!!
7. Risk of Depression, ADHD and Autism starts in the Womb– It’s clear now with hundreds of studies that the cause of these conditions are not strictly genetic or environmental. Genes are affected by the environment. The interrelationship between these two is called epigenetics. Research is beginning to focus on the epigenome in chronic diseases, which looks at how environmental risk factors (poor diet, smoking, toxins) turn on or off specific genes. This is where educating mothers on risk factors BEFORE pregnancy is so important.
6. Nanoparticles in Future Medicine– These tiny particles (1/80,000 of a human hair) offer infinite possibilities for cancer treatment. Drugs that can be compounded into nanoparticles can deliver anti-cancer drugs to specific cancer cells while leaving healthy cells untouched. We will be hearing more about this delivery method in the future (Wellcast, Oct 31, 2013, Sept. 8, 2013).
5. Amazing Microbiome– We are made up of trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms. Our gut is stuffed with these bacteria. The microbiome is the genetic map of microbes within each of us. No two people share the same microbial makeup, not even identical twins! There are more than 10,000 species of microbes in each of us. This can lead us to diagnosing and treating certain diseases (inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease ) as well as finding ways to help us enhance certain bacteria that will strengthen our immune systems (Wellcast, June 19, 2012)
4. New Heart Attack Risk Test– A new compound found in a simple blood test can tell us our risk for heart attack. This is much more sensitive than a cholesterol level. Those with a high trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) level have 2.5 times the risk of a heart attack compared to those with low levels. This compound is produced by intestinal bacteria (here we go again with poop) after you eat eggs, red meat or dairy.
3. 3-D Mammograms– Also called “Breast Tomosynethesis” , this type of mammogram can be performed along with traditional mammography for more accurate screening. It shows a 47% increase in cancer detection which is promising for women with dense breast tissue. I would only recommend it for high risk women since it delivers twice as much radiation than traditional mammograms and has a higher price tag (Wellcast, Oct. 25, 2012).
2. Do-It-Yourself Vaginal Swabs– Now women can avoid the discomfort or embarrassment of a pelvic exam for checking sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s). A new study has shown that when women perform their own vaginal smears, the results are actually more accurate in identifying Chlamydia and Gonorrhea infections than doing a cervical test by a doctor or practitioner. These tests still need to be performed at a clinic, but no exam is necessary. FYI…doing a pap smear also checks for an important STD for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
1. Health Care for All– OK, so the Affordable Care Act enrollment didn’t work as smoothly as we hoped, but now more than 1.1 million Americans have signed up and have some type of health care coverage. This does not include the 20 states that are running their own health insurance exchanges. Americans can still sign up for coverage until the end of March 2014.