Year: 2021

Low GI Diet Has Noticeable Benefit against Diabetes

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Following a low glycaemic diet confers small but important benefits in blood glucose levels, cholesterol, weight and other risk factors, according to a study published by The BMJ.

The improvements were over and above existing drug and insulin therapy, suggesting this diet may help complement treatment, said the researchers.

Research has shown that foods with a low glycaemic index (GI), which is a measure of how quickly a food affects blood glucose levels relative to white bread, can help keep blood sugar levels steady and reduce the risk of heart disease in people with diabetes. These include foods such as vegetables, most fruits, pulses and wholegrains.

Due to this, clinical guidelines across the world recommend a low GI or GL (glycaemic load) diet for people with diabetes. However, the last European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) guidelines were released over 15 years ago and since that time a number of trials have been published.
So researchers set out to summarise the effect of low GI/GL dietary patterns on blood sugar control and other known risk factors in diabetes to help inform the update of the EASD guidelines for nutrition treatment.

Their results are based on 27 randomised controlled trials published up to May 2021 investigating the effect of diets with low GI/GL in diabetes for three or more weeks.

The trial recruited a total of 1617 participants with type 1 or 2 diabetes, who were predominantly middle aged, overweight or obese with moderately controlled type 2 diabetes treated with drugs or insulin.

Though the trials varied quality, the researchers could assess the certainty of evidence using the recognised GRADE system.

The results show that low-GI/GL dietary patterns were linked to small but clinically meaningful reductions in blood sugar levels (HbA1c) compared with higher-GI/GL control diets.

Some other risk factors saw changes, such as fasting glucose (blood sugar levels after a period of fasting), LDL cholesterol, body weight, and C-reactive protein (a chemical associated with inflammation), but not blood insulin levels, HDL cholesterol, waist circumference, or blood pressure. The certainty of evidence was high for reduction in blood sugar levels and moderate for most other outcomes.

Limitations that included imprecision in the evidence for the effect of low GI/GL dietary patterns on LDL cholesterol and waist circumference, and the small number of available trial comparisons for blood pressure and inflammatory markers.

However, they say their findings show that low GI/GL dietary patterns “are considered an acceptable and safe dietary strategy that can produce small meaningful reductions in the primary target for glycaemic control in diabetes, HbA1c, fasting glucose, and other established cardiometabolic risk factors.”

“Our synthesis supports existing recommendations for the use of low GI/GL dietary patterns in the management of diabetes,” they concluded.

Source: MedicalXpress

High-dose Heparin Reduces Worsening in Moderate COVID

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Giving moderately ill hospitalised COVID patients a full-dose of heparin reduced the risk for organ support, and shortened hospital stays, a large clinical trial has found.

However, the use of this treatment strategy for critically ill COVID patients did not result in the same outcomes. 

“These results make for a compelling example of how important it is to stratify patients with different disease severity in clinical trials. What might help one subgroup of patients might be of no benefit, or even harmful, in another,” said NHLBI Director Gary H. Gibbons, M.D.

Researchers have observed that in some people who died from COVID, blood clots had formed throughout their bodies, even in their smallest blood vessels. Antithrombotics, which include blood thinners or anticoagulants, help prevent clot formation in certain diseases. It was not known which antithrombotic drug, what dose, and at what point during the course of COVID, antithrombotics might be effective. To answer these urgent questions, three international partners came together and harmonised their trial protocols to study the effects of using a full, or therapeutic dose, of heparin versus a low, or prophylactic dose, of heparin in moderately and critically ill patients hospitalised with COVID.

Moderately ill patients were defined as being hospitalised for COVID without needing organ support, and critically ill patients as hospitalised for COVID and needing intensive care level of support, including respiratory and/or cardiovascular organ support.

In April 2020, hospitalised COVID patients received either a low or full dose of heparin for up to 14 days after enrollment. By December 2020, interim results suggested that in critically ill patients, full-dose anticoagulation did not reduce the need for organ support and may even be harmful. However, one month later, results suggested full heparin doses likely benefited moderately ill patients.
“The formal conclusions from these studies suggest that initiating therapeutic anticoagulation is beneficial for moderately ill patients and once patients develop severe COVID-19, it may be too late for anticoagulation with heparin to alter the consequences of this disease,” said Judith Hochman, M.D., senior associate dean for Clinical Sciences at New York University, a corresponding author. “The medication evaluated in these trials is familiar to doctors around the world and is widely accessible, making the findings highly applicable to moderately ill COVID-19 patients.”

Fnal trial data analysis included 1098 critically ill and 2219 moderately ill patients. Among moderately ill patients, researchers found that the likelihood of full-dose heparin to reduce the need for organ support compared to those who received low-dose heparin was 99%. Major bleeding was rare. For critically ill patients, full-dose heparin also decreased the number of major thrombotic events, but it did not reduce the need for organ support or shorten hospital stay.

“More work needs to be done to continue to improve outcomes in patients with COVID-19,” said Matthew D. Neal, M.D., the Roberta G. Simmons Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, co-senior author. “Given what we know about the type of blood clots in patients with COVID-19, testing anti-platelet agents is a particularly exciting approach.”

Source: NIH

Treatment for Women with Frequent UTIs Found Wanting

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Women with frequent urinary tract infections report being unhappy at perceived overuse of antibiotics by their doctors and with the limited treatment options available to them, according to a new study.

The study highlights the need to get to the cause of women’s recurrent UTIs, to come up with prevention and to avoid unnecessary antibiotics use, which can eventually lead to resistance.

“Since there’s already a common treatment for UTIs – antibiotics – many doctors don’t see a need to do anything differently,” said senior author Dr Ja-Hong Kim, an associate professor at UCLA Health. “This study really gave us insight into the patient perspective and showed us those with recurrent UTIs are dissatisfied with the current management of the condition. Continued episodes can have a major impact on their quality of life.”

More than half of women will develop a UTI at some point, and roughly 1 in 4 will have repeat infections that can last for years. Many with recurrent infections will be prescribed antibiotics frequently over their lifetime.

The researchers conducted focus groups with 29 women with recurrent UTIs, which were defined as two infections in six months or three in a year. Participants were asked about their knowledge of UTIs and prevention strategies and about treatment impact on their quality of life. Two common themes were revealed: fear and frustration.

Participants were concerned foremost about antibiotic use, with a fear of unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions and developing resistance. Some also reported antibiotic treatment for symptoms which may have signified other genitourinary conditions, like an overactive bladder.

“Other bladder diseases can cause symptoms similar to recurrent UTIs, such as urination frequency and urgency, pain with urination and blood in the urine,” Dr Kim said. “These could be signs of an overactive bladder, interstitial cystitis, kidney or bladder stones, or something more serious, like bladder cancer. As physicians, we really need to be careful about not just giving patients with these symptoms antibiotics without verifying a UTI through a positive urine culture.”

SInce diagnoses take 48 hours, women can wait days for the correct prescription. This shows the need for better diagnostic tools, Dr Kim said.

Frustration and resentment toward their medical providers for “throwing antibiotics” at them without presenting alternative options for treatment and prevention, and for not understanding their experience with UTIs. In addition, many said their physicians did not properly educate them on the potential negative impacts of antibiotics; the women instead had to rely on information from the internet, magazines and TV.

Beyond improved diagnostics, treatment approaches and guidelines, better patient education is key, Dr Kim said. “We need to do a better job of letting patients know when antibiotics are necessary and when to consider alternative therapy for bladder conditions other than UTIs.”

Dr Kim and her colleagues are currently working to improve UTI diagnosis and management, including developing comprehensive patient-care pathways through which primary care physicians and general gynecologists and urologists will provide initial UTI patient education and management. They are also pursuing studies examining the relationship of the vaginal microbiome to lower urinary tract symptoms and are working to incorporate novel diagnostic methods to allow for point-of-care treatment for UTIs.

Source: UCLA

New Bacteriophage Could Combat C. Diff

A bacteriophage. Credit: NIAH

A group of newly discovered bacteriophages named after the UK village of Colney could help combat C. difficile infections.

Clostridioides difficile, or C. diff, is a species of bacteria that infects the human gut. It can become a major problem when our normal gut microbes are impaired, most commonly during a course of antibiotics. This leads to an overgrowth of C. diff, with toxins it produces causing diarrhoea and severe inflammation.

Treatment involves further courses of antibiotics, but relapse and recurrent infections are common. The strains are becoming more resistant to antibiotics and causing more severe illness.

This prompted researchers in Norwich to look for the bacteria’s natural enemy, bacteriophages. They screened 27 different C. diff strains for any bacteriophages, finding one, which they called ΦCD27 (phiCD27). Genome sequencing confirmed this phage had not been discovered before. In fact, the members of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) decided it was genetically distinct enough to form a new group, or genus of phages.

The ICTV decided to name the new genus Colneyvirus, the Colney parish address of the Institute of Food Research (IFR, now part of Quadram Institute), where it was first discovered.

Like normal viruses, phages reproduce by injecting their genetic material into bacteria, making viral copies using the host’s own machinery. Using enzymes called endolysins, they destroy the bacterial cell wall and escape.

The researchers extracted the gene for ΦCD27’s endolysin and put it into another bacterium, E. coli so that they could produce and purify the endolysin. It was proven active against 30 different C. diff strains, including hypervirulent strains behind the current epidemic. It also didn’t affect other common bacterial species in the human gut microbiome.

”This phage and the endolysin encoded by its genome can provide a targeted approach to combat C. diff infections, in contrast to use of broad spectrum antibiotics that cause collateral damage by inhibiting other members of the gut bacterial population” said Professor Arjan Narbad, Group Leader at the Quadram Institute.

However, to be effective the endolysins need to be delivered into the gut, so the team also put the gene into a strain of lactic acid bacteria that has previously been used to deliver proteins and vaccines to the gut.

The research team believes this could serve as the basis for future new treatments C. diff. The system needs more work, but in the battle against this bacterial pandemic, the colneyvirus could be a vital ally.

Source: Quadram Institute

WHO Calls for COVID Booster Pause to Let World Vaccinate

The head  of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday called for a moratorium on COVID vaccine boosters until “at least the end of September” to enable the world’s most vulnerable people to be inoculated.

“I understand the concern of all Governments to protect their people from the Delta variant, but we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected”, said Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus, WHO head.

Speaking during his weekly press conference, Tedros recalled that in May he had asked for international support to promote global vaccinations with the goal of enabling a minimum of 10 percent of each country’s population to be vaccinated by the end of September.  

With the time already half gone, he lamented the lack of progress towards that goal, and even less towards the target of 30 percent vaccinated by year end.

Widening inequality
So far, more than four billion COVID vaccine doses had been administered around the globe, 80 percent of them in high- and middle-income countries – even though less than half of the world’s population live there, the WHO chief said.

As of May, high-income countries had administered about 50 doses for every 100 people, a figure that has since almost doubled, while supply shortages in low-income countries meant only 1.5 doses for every 100.

“Still, some rich countries are considering booster doses even though there are hundreds of millions of people waiting to have access to a first dose”, stressed Tedros, urging that most of those vaccines instead go to low-income countries.

The WHO has insisted global vaccination requires cooperation by all, “especially the handful of countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines”.

Tedros said that the G20 nations have a vital role to play as its members are the largest producers, consumers, and donors of COVID vaccines.

“It’s no understatement to say that the course of the pandemic depends on the leadership of the G20 countries”, he said, adding, that one month from now, the G20 health ministers will meet, ahead of the October summit and calling on them to “make concrete commitments to support WHO’s global vaccination targets. We call on vaccine producers to prioritise COVAX“.

Tedros also called on leaders and influential personalities, as well as every individual and community to support the moratorium on booster doses.

Booster’s immune benefit questionable
Meanwhile, Dr Jarbas Barbosa, deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) emphasized that so far there is no evidence that a booster dose adds immune benefits to people who already have the full vaccination course.

Source: UN News

Council for Medical Schemes Recommends a Limit on Contribution Hikes

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In a circular sent to medical insurance schemes this week, the Council for Medical Schemes (CMS) has recommended that contribution increases be limited to 4.2% in 2022.

The regulator said that this would be in line with the projected Consumer Price Inflation (CPI) increase.

“In instances where it is economically feasible to implement a lower contribution increase than the CMS recommended CPI-linked rate, Trustees are encouraged to adopt innovative pricing models, subject to an independent actuarial evaluation,” it said.

“The CMS is also cognizant of the heightened uncertainty regarding the impact of the pandemic on healthcare claims costs, as well as how quickly member’s health-seeking behaviour will normalise.

“As such, pricing decisions for the 2022 benefit year should be largely data-dependent and sensitive to the demographic risk profile and financial position of each scheme.”

There are roughly 4 million medical scheme members, with almost 9 million beneficiaries. This represents a little more than one in seven of South Africa’s population of nearly 60 million.

Claims may spike

Some medical schemes may experience sudden spikes in high-cost claims as the pandemic progresses over coming months – though the final economic impact of the pandemic remains uncertain, the CMS said. The schemes’ demographic risk profiles, the size of the population covered, and the extent of existing cross-subsidies within benefit options or schemes will affect the impact.

Additionally, the financial position of each medical scheme prior to the pandemic will dictate how it is able to absorb high-cost claims from the pandemic, it said.

Pent-up demand

The CMS said schemes should also be cautious of pent-up demand as South Africans aim to make use of their medical aids as concerns around COVID decrease. As treatments for some minor medical conditions were postponed, with increasing vaccination rates, many of these conditions would now require more complex and expensive treatment. The CMS also noted that some healthcare services will be completely forgone, resulting in lower than projected claims costs.

“Studies also indicate that as countries move out of different Covid-19 waves, hospital visit volumes slowly recover, although the utilisation rates of different services remain well below pre-pandemic levels.”

Source: BusinessTech

Cancer Survivors Experience Accelerated Ageing

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A new study published in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society indicates that cancer survivors, especially older ones, are more likely to experience faster functional decline as they age, compared with those without a history of cancer.

For the study, 1728 men and women (aged 22 to 100 years) were evaluated from 2006 to 2019, with 359 of these adults reporting a history of cancer. Among all participants, a history of cancer was associated with a 1.42 greater odds of weak grip strength. Those with a history of cancer and over 65 had a 1.61 greater odds of slow gait speed than those with no cancer history, and also had lower physical performance scores. Additionally, compared with those with no history of cancer, older individuals with a history of cancer experienced steeper declines in grip strength and gait speed. Reduced prefrontal cortex area is one of the factors thought to contribute to slow gait.

“Findings from our study add to the evidence that cancer and its treatment may have adverse effects on aging-related processes, putting cancer survivors at risk for accelerated functional decline,” said senior author Lisa Gallicchio, PhD, of the National Cancer Institute. “Understanding which cancer survivors are at highest risk, and when the accelerated decline in physical functioning is most likely to begin, is important in developing interventions to prevent, mitigate, or reverse the adverse aging-related effects of cancer and its treatment.”

Source: EurekAlert!

Helping People With Depression Quit Smoking can Save Lives

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Source: Sabine R on Unsplash

Giving the means to quit smoking to patients with depression could save as many as 125 000 lives over the next 80 years, researchers estimate. This number could be as high as 203 000 if people with depression who are not yet in mental health care settings are included.

The study, led by the Yale School of Public Health, shows the potential benefits that smoking cessation could have in a population suffering disproportionately from tobacco-related disease and death. Smokers with depression already find it harder to quit, and experience more negative withdrawal symptoms if they do, including increased depression. The study is also the first to estimate the population health effects of integrating smoking cessation treatments with standard mental health care.
Using more than a decade of data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the researchers made a model to project the effectiveness of smoking-cessation treatments into the future. They assessed how the benefits varied based on different rates of treatment adoption over the next 80 years.

Simulating the health benefits reveals that, at least 32 000 deaths could be prevented by 2100 if a significant number of patients with depression adopted any kind of cessation treatment. Assuming 100% mental health service utilisation and pharmacological cessation treatment, the number of potential lives saved could rise to 203 000.

“We’ve known for a long time that people with depression smoke more than the general population, and that mental health care settings often don’t have cessation treatment as part of standard care. Our study asks: what is that missed opportunity? What do we have to gain when mental health care and smoking cessation treatment are fully integrated,” said lead author and assistant professor Jamie Tam, PhD. The findings are published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Such high benefits would be a best-case scenario, the researchers cautioned. Even so, the model’s results match public health experts’ long-standing predictions of the results of smoking-cessation treatment becoming a routine part of mental health care. The findings show that even less-optimal cessation treatments would greatly impact both quality and length of life for patients living with depression.

“Beyond reducing the risk of early death, smoking cessation improves quality of life and increases productivity,” Tam added. “Decision makers should remove barriers to mental health care and smoking cessation treatments for people with mental health conditions.”

The researchers concluded that while existing treatments, such as nicotine replacement therapy, varenicline, and bupropion, can raise cessation rates by nearly 60%, in the future there would be even larger health gains if there were better cessation treatments.

Source: Yale University

Exact Location of Body’s Blood Pressure Sensors Finally Revealed

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After 60 years of fruitless searches by scientists, researchers from the University of Virginia have finally determined the location of our bodies’ natural blood-pressure sensors.

These cellular sensors monitor blood pressure and adjust hormone levels to keep it in check. Scientists have long suspected that these ‘baroreceptors’, may exist in or around specialised kidney cells called renin cells, but no one has been able to locate the baroreceptors within the cell until now.

The new findings, from UVA Health’s Dr Maria Luisa S Sequeira-Lopez and colleagues, finally reveal where the barometers are located, how they work and how they help prevent hypertension or hypotension. The study was published in Circulation Research.

“It was exhilarating to find that the elusive pressure-sensing mechanism, the baroreceptor, was intrinsic to the renin cell, which has the ability to sense and react, both within the same cell,” said Dr Sequeira-Lopez. “So the renin cells are sensors and responders.”

Back in 1957, it was first proposed that a pressure sensor existed inside renin cells because the cells had to know when to release renin, a hormone that helps regulate blood pressure. Though the baroreceptors had to exist, scientists couldn’t tell what it was and whether it was located in renin cells or surrounding cells.

To tackle this decades-old mystery, the study’s researchers used a combination of innovative lab models and determined that the baroreceptor was a ‘mechanotransducer’ inside renin cells. This mechanotransducer detects pressure changes outside the cell, then transmits these mechanical signals to the cell nucleus, akin to how the cochlea turns sound vibrations into nerve impulses.

Through in vitro tests, the researchers found that applying pressure to renin cells triggered changes within the cells and decreased activity of the renin gene, Ren1. The scientists also compared differences in gene activity in kidneys exposed to lower pressure and those exposed to higher pressure.

Ultimately, when the baroreceptors detect excess pressure outside the renin cell, renin production is cut back, while low blood pressure prompts more renin production.

Dr Sequeira-Lopez said she is looking forward to the work to “unravel the signaling and controlling mechanisms of this mechanotransducer and how we can use the information to develop therapies for hypertension.”

Source: University of Virginia