Health Highlights: June 18, 2018
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
NIH Cancels Large Alcohol/Heart Health Study
A $100-million study into whether alcohol protects against heart attack and stroke has been canceled by the U.S. National Institutes of Health after an investigation revealed that much of the money for the study came from the alcohol industry.
If the study had answered yes to that question, alcohol could have become a recommended part of a healthy diet, The New York Times reported.
Earlier this year, the newspaper revealed that officials at the NIH's National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) had sought funding from alcohol companies, a violation of federal policy.
Last Friday, an advisory panel recommended to NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins that the study be scrapped, and Collins agreed.
Investigators discovered that there "was frequent email correspondence" between NIAAA staff, outside scientists and alcohol industry officials, and that alcohol makers offered input into the design of the study, The Times reported.
Study lead investigator Dr. Kenneth J. Mukamal, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, had email discussions about the study design with alcohol officials in August 2014, and in December 2014 he had a conference call discussing the research with a dozen representatives of alcohol companies, according to investigators.
"The early and frequent engagement with industry representatives calls into question the impartiality of the process and thus casts doubt that the scientific knowledge gained from the study would be actionable or believable," the advisory committee wrote.
The discussions between NIAAA staff and alcohol industry representatives occurred before the Foundation for the NIH, which is empowered to solicit donations for government studies, received permission to raise private funding for the trial, The Times reported.
NIAAA officials also "hid facts" from other staff and from the foundation, the investigators concluded.
The decision to cancel the study "ensures that NIH's research agenda will be determined by scientific merit, not corporate marketing priorities," Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University and an early critic of the alcohol study, told The Times.
"The NIH research portfolio should not be up to the highest corporate bidder," he added.
Mukamal released a statement in which he denied any wrongdoing and said he and his colleagues "stand fully and forcefully behind the scientific integrity" of the trial, The Times reported.
California Health Agency Seeks to Reassure People About Coffee
California health officials have proposed a regulation that would reassure consumers that coffee is safe to drink.
In recent court ruling, the state was forced to warn consumers that coffee contains a chemical that may increase the risk of cancer. The decision was based on a state law meant to protect people from toxins.
But on Friday, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment proposed a regulation that "would state that drinking coffee does not pose a significant cancer risk," the Associated Press reported.
"The proposed regulation is based on extensive scientific evidence that drinking coffee has not been shown to increase the risk of cancer and may reduce the risk of some types of cancer," according to the statement from the agency.
It cited a newly-released World Health Organziation review of more than 1,000 studies that found inadequate evidence that coffee causes cancer, the AP reported.
The lawyer who won the lawsuit on behalf of The Council for Education and Research on Toxics said he was shocked by the state agency's actions, and noted that it released a report more than a decade ago that said drinking even small amounts of coffee led to a significant cancer risk.
"The takeaway is that the state is proposing a rule contrary to its own scientific conclusion. That's unprecedented and bad," Raphael Metzger told the AP. "The whole thing stinks to high hell."
Over the years, studies on possible benefits and harms of coffee have produced mixed findings.
Compulsive Video Gaming a Mental Health Condition: WHO
Compulsive video gaming is now classified as a mental health condition, the World Health Organization says.
It said including "Gaming Disorder" in its disease classification manual will "serve a public health purpose for countries to be better prepared to identify this issue," the Associated Press reported.
The U.N. health agency's decision was based on scientific evidence, as well as the "the need and the demand for treatment in many parts of the world," according to Dr. Shekhar Saxena, director of WHO's department for mental health.
However, some experts said the WHO's decision risks stigmatizing young video gamers.
Only a minority of video game players have the disorder and the new classification might trigger unnecessary concern among parents, according to Dr. Joan Harvey, a spokeswoman for the British Psychological Society.
"People need to understand this doesn't mean every child who spends hours in their room playing games is an addict, otherwise medics are going to be flooded with requests for help," she told the AP.
Other experts supported the WHO's new classification, explaining that many video game addicts are teens or young adults who don't seek help on their own.
"We come across parents who are distraught, not only because they're seeing their child drop out of school, but because they're seeing an entire family structure fall apart," Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a spokeswoman for behavioral addictions at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the U.K., told the AP.
Gaming addiction is usually best treated with psychological therapies but some medicines might also work, according to Bowden-Jones, who was not involved in the WHO's decision.
Gaming Disorder is not classified as a mental health problem by the American Psychiatric Association. It's "a condition warranting more clinical research and experience before it might be considered for inclusion" in its own diagnostic manual, the association said in a previous statement, the AP reported.
The new WHO classification will help legitimize the condition and improve treatment, according to Dr. Mark Griffiths, a professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University in the U.K. who has been researching video gaming disorder for 30 years.
"Video gaming is like a non-financial kind of gambling from a psychological point of view," he told the AP. "Gamblers use money as a way of keeping score whereas gamers use points."
The percentage of video gamers with a compulsive problem is likely much less than 1 percent, and those people are likely to have other underlying problems, like depression, bipolar disorder or autism, according to Griffiths.
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