Chicago, Jul 24 (AP/UNB) — Advanced brain scans found perplexing differences in U.S. diplomats who say they developed concussion-like symptoms after working in Cuba, a finding that only heightens the mystery of what may have happened to them, a new study says.
Extensive imaging tests showed the workers had less white matter than a comparison group of healthy people and other structural differences, researchers said.
While they had expected the cerebellum, near the brain stem, to be affected given the workers' reported symptoms — balance problems, sleep and thinking difficulties, headaches and other complaints — they found unique patterns in tissue connecting brain regions.
Ragini Verma, a University of Pennsylvania brain imaging specialist and the lead author, said the patterns were unlike anything she's seen from brain diseases or injuries.
"It is pretty strange. It's a true medical mystery," Verma said.
Co-author Dr. Randel Swanson, a Penn specialist in brain injury rehabilitation, said "there's no question that something happened," but imaging tests can't determine what it was.
An outside expert, University of Edinburgh neurologist Jon Stone, said the study doesn't confirm that any brain injury occurred nor that the brain differences resulted from the strange experiences the diplomats said happened in Cuba.
Cuba has denied any kind of attack, which has strained relations with the United States.
"The article published today doesn't change the situation," said Johana Tablada, Cuba's deputy head of U.S. affairs. "The article recognizes that the changes detected are minimal, that their conclusions are uncertain and that they can't identify the cause."
The results were published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. A journal editorial says the study may improve understanding of the reported symptoms, but that the relevance of the brain differences is uncertain.
In a statement, the U.S. State Department said it "is aware of the study and welcomes the medical community's discussion on this incredibly complex issue. The Department's top priority remains the safety, security, and well-being of its staff."
Between late 2016 and May 2018, several U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Havana complained of health problems from an unknown cause. One U.S. government count put the number of American personnel affected at 26.
Some reported hearing high-pitched sounds similar to crickets while at home or staying in hotels, leading to an early theory of a sonic attack. The Associated Press has reported that an interim FBI report found no evidence that sound waves could have caused the damage.
Dozens of U.S. diplomats, family members and other workers sought exams. The new study reports on 40 of them tested at the University of Pennsylvania. A group analysis of results from advanced MRI scans found brain differences in the diplomat group compared with 48 healthy people with similar ages and ethnic background.
Workers had MRI tests about six months after reporting problems, but because their brains were not scanned before their Cuba stints they can't know if anything changed in their brains, a drawback of the study that the researchers acknowledge.
The University of Edinburgh's Stone said the new study has several other limitations that weaken the results, including a comparison group that wasn't evenly matched to the patients.
"If you really want to suggest that something fundamentally different happened in Cuba ... then the best control group would be 40 individuals with the same symptoms who hadn't been to Cuba and had no history of head injury," Stone said.
The latest study builds on earlier preliminary reports involving 21 U.S. workers who got brain scans showing less detailed white matter changes. The new study includes 20 of those workers.
A previous study from the University of Miami found inner-ear damage in some workers who complained of strange noises and sensations, but it also lacked any pre-symptom medical records.
Although some workers have persistent symptoms, most have improved with physical and occupational therapy, are doing well and have returned to work, Swanson said.
As more time passes, he said, "It's going to be harder and harder to figure out what really happened."
Washington, Jul 24 (AP/uNB) — Two veteran senators — a Republican and a Democrat — unveiled compromise legislation Tuesday to reduce prescription drug costs for millions of Medicare recipients, while saving money for federal and state health care programs serving seniors and low-income people.
Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley and Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden said the bill would for the first time limit drug copays for people with Medicare's "Part D" prescription plan , by capping patients' out-of-pocket costs at $3,100 a year starting in 2022. They're hoping to have it ready soon for votes on the Senate floor.
The legislation would also require drugmakers to pay a price-hike penalty to Medicare if the cost of their medications goes up faster than inflation. Drugs purchased through a pharmacy as well as those administered in doctors' offices would be covered by the new inflation rebates.
Political compromises over health care are rare these days. The bill reflects efforts by lawmakers of both parties to move beyond the rancorous debates over the Obama-era Affordable Care Act and focus on ways to lower costs for people with health insurance. Separate legislation to address "surprise medical bills" has already cleared the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.
The senators said preliminary estimates from the Congressional Budget Office show that the Medicare program would save $85 billion over 10 years, while seniors would save $27 billion in out-of-pocket costs over the same period, and $5 billion from slightly lower premiums. The government would save $15 billion from projected Medicaid costs.
CBO also projected that Medicare's inflation rebate would have ripple effects, leading to prescription drug savings for private insurance plans sponsored by employers or purchased directly by consumers.
The senators announced a Thursday vote on the package by the Finance Committee, which oversees Medicare and Medicaid. Grassley is the panel's chairman, while Wyden serves as the senior Democrat.
"Pharmaceutical companies play a vital role in creating new and innovative medicines that save and improve the quality of millions of American lives, but that doesn't help Americans who can't afford them," Grassley and Wyden said in a joint statement. "This legislation shows that no industry is above accountability."
The White House encouraged the Senate negotiations, and spokesman Judd Deere said the Trump administration stands ready to "work with senators to ensure this proposal moves forward and advances the president's priority of lowering drug prices."
Democrats controlling the House want to go farther by granting Medicare legal authority to directly negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies. Direct negotiations are seen as a nonstarter in the Republican-controlled Senate, but the bill's drug price inflation penalty may yet find support among Democrats in the House.
Grassley's office said the bill will force drugmakers and insurers to take greater responsibility for keeping Medicare prescription prices in line, instead of foisting increases on taxpayers and beneficiaries.
The lack of a cap on out-of-pocket costs for Medicare's popular prescription benefit has left some beneficiaries with bills rivaling a mortgage payment. That's because with Medicare's current protection for catastrophic costs, patients taking very expensive drugs are still responsible for 5% of the cost, with no dollar limit on what they pay. For example, 5% of a drug that costs $200,000 a year works out to $10,000.
The Grassley-Wyden bill does not directly address the problem of high launch prices for new medications, but its inflation rebates could put the brakes on price hikes for mainstay drugs such as insulin.
The bill drew a rebuke from the pharmaceutical industry, while AARP praised Grassley and Wyden.
Other provisions of the legislation would:
— Change an arcane Medicaid payment formula through which drugmakers can avoid paying rebates on certain drugs, depending on fluctuations in prices.
— Allow state Medicaid programs to pay for expensive gene therapy treatments on the installment plan, spreading out the costs over several years.
— Require drugmakers to provide public justification for new high cost drugs or steep hikes in the prices of existing medications.
— Require middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers to disclose details of the discounts they are negotiating and how much they are passing on to consumers. The benefit managers negotiate with pharmaceutical companies on behalf of insurers and consumers.
— Provide doctors with new computer tools they can use to estimate out-of-pocket medication costs for patients with Medicare.
Atlantic City, Jul 24 (AP/UNB) — There she is. Here she isn't.
Miss America is leaving Atlantic City for the second time, trading one casino town for another in a move that caps a whirlwind of change at the nearly century-old pageant.
This year's pageant will be held at the Mohegan Sun Connecticut in Uncasville, Connecticut, the Miss America Organization said Tuesday.
It will be broadcast on NBC on Dec. 19, in a switch from recent broadcaster ABC.
"The Miss America Organization is proud to partner with Mohegan Sun as we return to our longtime NBC home," said Regina Hopper, president and CEO of the Miss America Organization. "We are looking forward to a fresh take on this historic competition that will showcase the incredible women vying for the job of Miss America 2020."
Ray Pineault, president and general manager of Mohegan Sun, noted the college scholarship money the Miss America Organization provides to contestants.
"Miss America is a storied organization that has a long history of empowering women, providing tremendous educational resources to women and serving the overall public good," he said.
"We're thrilled to be hosting an impactful event like the Miss America Competition in December, and we look forward to working with both Miss America and NBC on what will be a tremendous evening," he said.
The broadcast will be on a Thursday evening from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern time, a departure from its longstanding fixture as a Sunday night event.
Announcements by the Miss America Organization and NBC mentioned only this year's competition and did not address whether the pageant was making a multi-year commitment to Connecticut. Messages seeking clarification from pageant officials were not immediately returned.
The pageant began in Atlantic City in 1921 as a way to extend the summer tourism season beyond Labor Day weekend. It became synonymous with the New Jersey seaside resort but moved to Las Vegas in 2005, returning to Atlantic City in 2013.
It had been held at the historic Boardwalk Hall, and a parade in which contestants wore shoes with themes identified with their individual states had become part of the pageant's history.
For decades, the pageant was a part of Americana, and longtime master of ceremonies Bert Parks crooning, "There she is ... Miss America," became synonymous with the pageant.
An email scandal in December 2017 led to the ouster of the pageant's mostly male leadership, some of whom were revealed to have mocked contestants' appearances, intellect and even sex lives.
They were replaced by female leadership including former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, a former Miss America.
But state pageant organizations chafed under the new leadership and launched vocal protests against the new leadership, which vowed to move forward with changes designed to make Miss America more relevant and empowering to women.
The biggest change included the elimination of the swimsuit competition in favor of more in-depth contestant interviews.
Carlson has since stepped down.
The pageant's departure from Atlantic City had been expected since the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority declined to renew subsidies for the pageant following last September's competition.
Over the past six years, the agency spent more than $20 million on subsidies for the pageant.
Connecticut did not provide the pageant with any financial incentives to make the move, a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Economic Development said.
Dhaka, July 23 (UNB) - A new research has suggested that one can fall asleep quicker and experience better quality sleep if a hot water birth is taken 90 minutes before bedtime. Biomedical engineers at University of Texas-Austin reached this conclusion after analysing thousands of studies linking water-based passive body heating, or bathing and showering with warm/hot water, with improved sleep quality, reports The Indian Express.
“When we looked through all known studies, we noticed significant disparities in terms of the approaches and findings,” said Shahab Haghayegh, lead author on the paper.
“The only way to make an accurate determination of whether sleep can, in fact, be improved was to combine all the past data and look at it through a new lens.”
In collaboration with the UT Health Science Center at Houston and the University of Southern California, the researchers reviewed 5,322 studies.
Meta-analytical tools were used to assess the consistency between relevant studies and showed that an optimum temperature of between 104 and 109 degrees Fahrenheit (40-42 degrees Celsius) improved overall sleep quality. The paper explaining the method was recently published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews.
When scheduled one-two hours before bedtime, it can also hasten the speed of falling asleep by an average of 10 minutes.
It is understood that both sleep and our body’s core temperature are regulated by a circadian clock located within the brain’s hypothalamus that drives the 24-hour patterns of many biological processes, including sleep and wakefulness.
The average person’s circadian cycle is characterised by a reduction in core body temperature of about 0.5 to 1 Fahrenheit around an hour before usual sleep time – dropping to its lowest level between the middle and later span of night-time sleep. It then begins to rise, acting as a kind of a biological alarm clock wake-up signal.
The researchers found the optimal timing of bathing for cooling down of core body temperature in order to improve sleep quality is about 90 minutes before going to bed.
“If baths are taken at the right biological time – 1-2 hours before bedtime – they will aid the natural circadian process and increase one’s chances of not only falling asleep quickly but also of experiencing better quality sleep,” read the findings.
Dhaka, Jul 23 (UNB)- While most of us happily consume anything that says “sugar-free”, assuming that it doesn’t have sugar at all, what we don’t realise is that “sugar-free” doesn’t mean ‘no sugar’. Like we add white table sugar or brown sugar to our cakes, coffee, cookies and even fruits, food manufacturers are also known to add artificial sweeteners, a form of sugar, or typically high-fructose corn syrup to foods and beverages including crackers, tomato sauce and salad dressing. Even low-fat foods like flavoured yogurt are considered to be high on sugar reports the Indian Express.
Pune-based diabetes researcher Dr Pramod Tripathi, founder, Freedom from Diabetes center, tells indianexpress.com, “Sugar-free and no added sugar labelled products do not mean the same thing”. “According to United States’ Food and Drug Administration guidelines ‘no added sugar’ means no sugar-containing ingredient is used during processing and ‘sugar free’ means a food must have 0.5 gram of sugar (naturally occurring or any sugar ingredient) per serving. Both these terms do not say anything about artificial sweeteners.”
Either added by consumers themselves or found in processed foods, such sugars are called free sugars, and include glucose, dextrose, fructose, household sugar (sucrose), malt sugar (maltose) and also sugars that are found in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.
Why is added sugar a concern? Sugar in all forms is a simple carbohydrate that the body converts into glucose and uses for energy. But the effect on the body and your overall health depends on the type of sugar you are eating. Since added sugars are easily broken down by once’s body, sugar levels tend to rise very rapidly unlike natural sugars.
Aside from adding calories to your body, added sugar provides no nutrition which is why it is often referred to as ’empty calories’ that causes weight gain and obesity. Having too much sugar can lead to many problems, ranging from trouble in concentration, mood swings, sudden drop and rise in blood sugar level, inflammation in the body to chronic illnesses like heart problems and diabetes.
According to FDA, the added sugar-intake recommendation should not be more than 10 per cent of one’s daily calorie intake. But World Health Organisation (WHO) reduced this percentage from 10 to five per cent. For an adult who has a normal BMI, WHO recommends no more than five teaspoons of sugar.
But the guideline does not refer to naturally occurring sugar that is found in fresh fruits, vegetables, milk and whole grains as these food items are known to have less amount of sugar and also have other additional health benefits. Even doctors are concerned about added sugars and not the naturally occurring sugar.
In fact, accumulating evidence also suggests that frequent consumers of these sugar substitutes may also be at increased risk of excessive weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease as per a Purdue University study in the US.
Since the generally accepted definition of sugar includes just glucose and sucrose, these sugar-free products are laden with FDA-approved artificial sweeteners, suggests Dr Mayank Uppal, Consultant, Internal Medicine, Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science & Research, Delhi.
“Neotame, Saccharin, Aspartame, Acesulfame Potassium, Sucralose and Advantame are some of the artificial sweeteners. When people end up using these products, it not only adds to their calories but makes the product very sweet due to the use of high-intensity artificial sweeteners. As consumers gorge on these products, they tend to develop a distaste for healthier options like fruits that are mildly sweet. This makes them add a large amount of calories to their diet,” he tells indianexpress.com.
So what is the way out? Dr Uppal recommends that while looking for sugar-free products, consumers should also be aware that products that claim to be sugar-free may not necessarily be low in calories and carbohydrates as perceived. “Consumers should not be satisfied with the conventional definition of sugar but also stay away from products that may contain ingredients like corn syrup extract, maple syrup and honey,” he says.