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Zinc for colds? Researchers are skeptical

Zinc may be a popular over-the-counter supplement to reduce the severity and duration of common colds, but according to Harvard Health, the benefits may be modest at best. In a recent study published in BMJ Open, researchers examined data from 28 different studies and found that the effects of zinc ranged from minor to none at all. The bright side: When taken in safe amounts, zinc doesn’t appear to cause any harm — good news for those who swear by it.

The future of organ transplants

Surgeons at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have successfully transplanted kidneys from a genetically modified pig into the abdomen of a 57-year-old brain-dead man. According to the New York Times, the kidneys functioned well without signs of rejection. The landmark procedure occurred just weeks after University of Maryland surgeons completed a successful pig-to-human heart transplant.

Researchers believe that organs grown in genetically modified pigs could potentially save countless lives. Currently in the U.S., more than a dozen people die each day while awaiting kidney transplants.

Virtual reality allows surgeons to walk through the human heart

When Brayden Otten was born, his tiny heart, about the size of a walnut, couldn’t effectively pump his blood. A team of surgeons at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center managed to save his life with some workarounds to help his blood circulate, but even then, they knew those solutions were not perfect or permanent. Brayden enjoyed a relatively normal childhood, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, but his doctors knew that without further interventions, heart failure was inevitable. And so at 12, Brayden found himself back in the operating, room, but this time, his surgeons had a new and exciting tool in their arsenal: virtual reality (VR).

Brayden’s medical team worked with a 3D medical imaging specialist to create a model of Brayden’s heart that allowed surgeons to “walk” into his heart instead of relying on images and a 3D-printed model. According to Brayden’s surgeon, instead of reprinting the model every time he wanted to change his plan, he simply had to hit reset and he could dive in again. With VR, his surgeons were able to plan a procedure that would have otherwise required several surgeries and increased the risk of complications and other surprises. Brayden himself was able to explore the virtual operating room, the tools that would be used, and take a walk inside his own heart.

The procedure itself, which took 12 hours, went perfectly, and Brayden’s recovery is going well.

While the use of 3D VR in cardiothoracic surgery is still somewhat new and surgeons are still experimenting with the best applications, preliminary data is promising. One study, published in the European Heart Journal in 2020, suggests that the immersive technology is more useful in preoperative planning than flat two-dimensional images. Cardiothoracic surgery, the study authors note, has become incredibly complex over the decades and a surgeon must think in three dimensions to effectively plan and perform complicated procedures.

According to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, very few pediatric cardiac surgery centers currently use virtual reality, but mounting evidence of its benefits will likely translate into broader availability at more hospitals.

A literature review published in the Annals of Thoracic Medicine concluded that even though virtual reality is off to a promising start in the field of cardiothoracic surgery, more research and refinement are still needed to fully understand all the applications.

How music can help heal a broken heart

What song makes your heart pound? Do you get breathless from “Total Eclipse of the Heart?” Does Whitney Houston’s cover of “I Will Always Love You” get you going? Or maybe you’re old school and nothing makes your pulse race quite like the final movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. Whatever your preference, humans have always felt an innate connection between music and their hearts. And according to Scientific American, that ancient instinct is helping modern physicians diagnose and treat today’s cardiac patients.

Heart rhythm disorders, such as arrhythmia and atrial fibrillation, create complex tones that are audible through the stethoscope. In an article for the Lancet, nephrologist Michael Fields describes how he uses musical analogies to teach cardiac auscultation to medical students.According to Fields, describing heart tones in musical terms is a useful tool to help new physicians acquire this notoriously difficult skill.

According to Frontiers in Physiology, another group of researchers used a scene from a movie that pairs high tension with a fast-paced musical score to study how strong emotions influence heart cells. Their data may explain how extreme stress can contribute to serious cardiac arrhythmias.

According to Scientific American, cardiac patients can also benefit from music-based interventions to help them recover from surgery, lower stress and help reduce blood pressure and heart rate. Some studies have found that patients who listen to relaxing music after heart attacks experienced decreased strain on heart and lungs.

While music therapy for heart patients is still an emerging area of study, the early results are promising, according to St. Luke’s Health. And even though more research is needed and music alone cannot treat cardiovascular diseases, there’s no real risk attached to spending 30 minutes a day relaxing with your favorite tunes.

FDA issues black box warning for breast implants

The Food and Drug Administration placed a “black box” warning on breast implants to advise patients of health risks and side effects, according to the New York Times. Federal regulators ordered manufacturers to only sell implants to providers who agree to communicate all the risks to patients prior to surgery. The warning, along with a new checklist for patients and providers to review before surgery, states that breast implants have been linked to several serious health conditions, including a cancer of the immune system and several autoimmune diseases.

E-cigs linked to weaker bones

Use of e-cigarettes — also known as “vaping” — is linked to increased risk of hip, spine and wrist fractures, according to US News & World Report. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh examined data from more than 5,500 health survey participants and found that those who reported using e-cigarettes were 46 percent more likely to experience fractures. More research is needed to determine whether the e-cigarettes directly cause fractures, but physicians urge users to quit regardless.

Sodium consumption outpaces dietary recommendations

If you don’t watch your salt intake, it might be time to start. According to the Washington Post, American adults consume an average of 3,400 mg of salt per day — almost 150 percent of the federal government’s recommended daily maximum of 2,300 mg per day for people 14 and older. That’s about a teaspoon and a half.

While some sodium is essential to maintain the proper fluid balance and for nerve and muscle function, too much sodium can lead to major health problems, including kidney and cardiovascular issues. Experts advise cutting back on processed foods and reading nutrition labels to keep sodium intake within the daily recommended limits.

According to Healthline, about 70 percent of our sodium consumption comes from sodium added during commercial food production and preparation. In response, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued new guidelines to encourage food manufacturers, restaurants and food service operations to reduce sodium levels in 163 different food categories. FDA officials hope to bring the average daily maximum down to about 3,000 mg per day — a meaningful reduction, though still 700 mg above the maximum recommended daily intake.

According to nutrition counselor Joan Ifland, salt content in fast food alone has gone up about 23 percent since 2000. She recommends that consumers take control of their sodium intake by learning a few quick fresh recipes that can be easily prepared at home, such as sweet potatoes or seasoned meat patties that can be made in batches and reheated for quick meals.

Veterans Day: The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month

Nov. 11, 1918 is recognized as the end of the world’s first global conflict, World War I. In 1938, November 11 was named Armistice Day in recognition of those who served.

Then came World War II and the greatest mobilization of armed forces in history. After that, American forces fought in Korea. So in 1954, the 83rd Congress changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day to honor all who served.

Veterans Day National Committee services are held at Arlington Memorial Amphitheater. It is built around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, property that once belonged to General Robert E. Lee.

At 11 a.m., a color guard representing all branches of the military honors the Unknown Soldier with “Present Arms,” the laying of a Presidential wreath and the playing of Taps. Though these services are held at Arlington, the primary focus of Veterans Day is on veterans who are alive and with us today. They are honored with parades and speeches.

To all veterans working among us, and especially those who have recently served in Afghanistan, we offer our sincere thanks. We will not forget.

Pfizer recalls anti-smoking drug Chantix

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has recalled its anti-smoking drug Chantix over concerns that long-term use may elevate cancer risk, according to Healthline. According to USA Today, Pfizer initiated the voluntary recall due to concerns about high levels of nitrosamine, a chemical found in tobacco, tobacco smoke and certain foods. Some nitrosamines have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. While Pfizer has expressed concern over long-term use, the company says that there is no immediate risk to patients who take the medicine.

Pfizer is recalling all lots of .5 mg and 1 mg tablets. The Food and Drug Administration advises all patients who take Chantix to continue taking their medicine as directed until their pharmacist provides a replacement or their doctor prescribes a different drug.

Minimum age for prediabetes screening drops

The United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) has updated its recommendations for when physicians should start to screen patients for diabetes and prediabetes. According to a statement published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, USPSTF now recommends that physicians start to screen overweight and obese patients at age 35 instead of the previous recommendation of 40.

According to Medical Economics, earlier screening can help delay or prevent diabetes in adults whose screenings indicate prediabetes. Lifestyle changes like diet modification and increased physical activity have been shown to be effective in reversing prediabetes.


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