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Health News

By: Mendy Hecht

July 23, 2018

High-tech IQOS “smokeless cigarettes” might watch your habits

Tokyo, Japan/Neuchatel, Switzerland — The sleek “heat-not-burn” IQOS tobacco device, for which maker Philip Morris is still awaiting FDA approval, comprises several electronic features.


Among them is onboard software which, according to research commissioned by the Reuters news agency, could possibly be programmed to track a user’s daily and personal smoking habits.


The possibility raises concerns that—should IQOS ultimately win approval for U.S. usage—Philip Morris will be able to remotely monitor users’ habits and even adjust device performance to make long-term habit formation likelier.



Not the brainstorm you want: lightning may fry implants, warn docs

Ljubljana, Slovenia — According to a recent report in the Journal of Neurosurgery, a 66-year-old woman with a deep brain stimulation (DBS) implant had a close call after lightning struck her apartment building.


According to local doctors, the strike ruined several of the woman’s appliances and even turned off her brain implant.  Luckily, neither the woman nor her device was harmed.


But in the report, doctors say that lightning strikes could possibly destroy implants or, worse, injure or kill patients.  They call for more precautions, like surge protectors.  “In the future, DBS manufacturers’ safety recommendations should specifically mention the possibility of hazards from naturally generated electromagnetic interference, such as during thunderstorms,” they wrote.


Deep brain stimulation devices are increasingly used to help treat neurological conditions like Parkinson’s, tremors, muscle spasms, epilepsy, and obsessive compulsive disorders.



“Smart pill” gut scanner might spot trouble, send alert

Cambridge, MA — Researchers at MIT have developed a swallowed capsule packed with tiny electronics and millions of genetically engineered living cells.  The “smart pill,” described recently in Science, might one day wirelessly spot and report health problems from inside the gut.



Heart-medicine community debates ablation

New York, NY — Several recent studies, conferences and editorials have sparked a pulsating debate across the global cardiology community over a procedure called catheter ablation.


Ablation means surgically burning away small amounts of heart tissue.  It eliminates the stray electric signals from that tissue that cause atrial fibrillation (AF), or irregular heartbeat.  It is commonly done with a small surgically inserted device called a catheter.


But a recent major study dubbed CABANA found that catheter ablation “was no more effective than much cheaper medications at reducing mortality, cardiac arrest, major bleeding and stroke,” according to a May 20 New York Times editorial by cardiologist Dr. Haider Warraich.


In late May, cardiologist Dr. Milton Packer debated electrophysiologist Nassir Marrouche at the Heart Failure Association conference over catheter ablation for heart-failure patients with AF.  Dr. Packer leans away from ablation, finding it unscientific, while Dr. Marrouche favors it.


The debate was substantial and respectful, but—as Dr. Packer later wrote in a June 6 blog post—the emotional reaction on social media by electrophysiologists and others was not.  Many questioned the scientific evidence backing Dr. Packer’s disfavor towards catheter ablation or even called for the silencing of critics—apparently underscoring Dr. Packer’s view of some ablationists as almost-fanatical (despite the fact that most professionals are biased towards their chosen practices, and against critics).


Still, ablation remains a relatively new and still-evolving discipline—and a treatment that has improved the heart health and lives of a good number of patients with AF.



Verily veering vitamin veracity

Toronto, Ontario — Do you really need all those vitamins and supplements? 


While the parade of advertising for them is endless, studies on their benefits are likewise endless. 


And while several studies in recent years have associated various health benefits with vitamin D in particular, a late-May study by the University of Toronto in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology finds that vitamins and supplements do not significantly improve overall health and well-being in general.


The study had reviewed clinical trials from a five-year period to find whether vitamins and minerals can help treat and prevent cardiovascular disease.  In doing so, the study found that multivitamins, vitamins C and D, and calcium supplements have no significant benefit overall—but, interestingly, that folic acid and B-vitamins do.


Experts say that vitamins largely work due to the powerful placebo effect—in which the mind’s belief that you’re actually doing something good for yourself has a positive physical effect on the body. 


They also say that most vitamin/mineral deficiencies can be corrected by careful healthy daily eating—admittedly harder than simple morning pill-popping, but more effective.


This is not to say all vitamins are useless—rather, that many just make you feel more proactive about your health.