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Monthly Archives: November 2016

More Effective Treatment of Nerve Pain

The sharp pain shoots to the face or teeth and seriously torments patients. Known as trigeminal neuralgia, it is one of the worst chronic nerve pains. The bouts are triggered by touch, such as shaving, putting on make-up, showering, talking and tooth brushing, or even a gust of wind. The cause is usually an irritation of the trigeminal nerve, the cranial nerve responsible for the sensory innervation of the facial area, parts of the scalp, and the oral cavity.

However, there is now a glimmer of hope for patients: Thanks to a newly tested substance, the pain can be reduced to a tolerable level, as indicated by the promising results of an international phase II study involving the Center of Dental Medicine at the University of Zurich.

Less burdening side effects

Pain signals reach the brain via the activation of sodium channels located in the membranes of nerve cells. The sodium channel “1.7” is frequently expressed on pain-conducting nerves and higher pain intensity is linked to higher channel activity. Blocking this sodium channel — e.g. by a local anesthetic — inhibits the pain. In trigeminal neuralgia, the nerve damage is presumed to be at the base of the skull. However, this region is hard to reach by local injections and therefore requires drug treatment.

The novel substance BIIB074 which was tested in this phase II study inhibits the sodium channel 1.7 state-dependent, meaning: The more active this sodium channel gets, the stronger it is blocked by BIIB074. By contrast, currently available medications block the sodium channel 1.7 irrespective of the nerve activity, which commonly results in burdening side effects. “Unlike conventional drugs, which often cause tiredness and concentration problems, BIIB074 was not only effective; but also very well tolerated,” explains Dominik Ettlin, a dental specialist from UZH. “We will now test the new substance in a lot more subjects during the next study phase, which will reveal whether the new hope for more effective pain relief is justified,” he concludes.

Trigeminal neuralgia

Around 13 people in every 100,000 are diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia every year — that’s around 1,100 throughout Switzerland. Trigeminal neuralgia affects more women than men, the majority of whom are pensioners. Around one percent of all multiple sclerosis patients develop trigeminal neuralgia.

Only one-third of parents think they are doing a good job

Nearly all parents agree with the importance of healthy diets during childhood, according to a new national poll. But when it comes to their own homes, only a third of parents of children ages 4-18 are confident they are doing a good job shaping their child’s eating habits.

While a little more than half of parents polled believe their children eat mostly healthy, only one in six rate their children’s diets as very nutritious, according to the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health. Meanwhile, about a fourth of parents say their child’s eating is somewhat or not healthy at all.

Common challenges get in the way: Price, picky eaters and convenience.

“Most parents understand that they should provide healthy food for their children, but the reality of work schedules, children’s activities and different food preferences can make meal preparation a hectic and frustrating experience,” says poll co-director Sarah Clark.

“The tension between buying foods children like, and buying foods that are healthy, can be an ongoing struggle. Many of us know the feeling of spending time and money on a healthy meal only to have our children grimace at the sight of it and not take a single bite.”

Most parents polled agree it’s important to promote a healthy diet for their children. Still, one in five don’t think it’s important to limit fast food and junk food in their child’s diet. Another 16 percent believe it is somewhat or not important to limit sugary drinks.

In general, parents of teens were less worried about unhealthy eating habits compared to parents of younger children.

“It can be easy to slip into more convenient habits that seem less stressful and less expensive. But if occasional fast food or junk food becomes the norm, it will be even more difficult to promote healthy habits for kids as they grow up,” Clark says.

“Many convenience foods are high in sugar, fat and calories and overconsumption of fast food can cause childhood obesity and other health problems.”

Another hurdle: The often overwhelming quest to shop healthy. Nearly half of parents polled admit that it is difficult to tell which foods are actually good for them. Phrases such as all-natural, low-fat, organic, and sugar-free are used inconsistently on food labels and packaging and can be confusing for shoppers.

Additionally, about one in four parents say healthy foods are not available where they shop, a challenge which is more prominent among parents with lower education and income levels.

“Most parents want their children to eat as healthy as possible but may need help making that happen,” Clark says. “Some parents need help with shopping, meal preparation, or other household chores so that mealtimes are not so hectic. Others would benefit from easy-to-understand information on how to identify packaged foods that are healthy, ideas on how to make kid-friendly recipes a little healthier, and practical suggestions on convincing picky eaters to try a more balanced diet.”

Food additive found in candy, gum could alter digestive

Researchers exposed a small intestinal cell culture model to the physiological equivalent of a meal’s worth of titanium oxide nanoparticles — 30 nanometers across — over four hours (acute exposure), or three meal’s worth over five days (chronic exposure).

Acute exposures did not have much effect, but chronic exposure diminished the absorptive projections on the surface of intestinal cells called microvilli. With fewer microvilli, the intestinal barrier was weakened, metabolism slowed and some nutrients — iron, zinc, and fatty acids, specifically — were more difficult to absorb. Enzyme functions were negatively affected, while inflammation signals increased.

“Titanium oxide is a common food additive and people have been eating a lot of it for a long time — don’t worry, it won’t kill you! — but we were interested in some of the subtle effects, and we think people should know about them,” said Biomedical Engineering Assistant Professor Gretchen Mahler, one of the authors of the paper.

“There has been previous work on how titanium oxide nanoparticles affects microvilli, but we are looking at much lower concentrations,” Mahler said. “We also extended previous work to show that these nanoparticles alter intestinal function.”

Titanium dioxide is generally recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and ingestion is nearly unavoidable. The compound is an inert and insoluble material that is commonly used for white pigmentation in paints, paper and plastics. It is also an active ingredient in mineral-based sunscreens for pigmentation to block ultraviolet light.

However, it can enter the digestive system through toothpastes, as titanium dioxide is used to create abrasion needed for cleaning. The oxide is also used in some chocolate to give it a smooth texture; in donuts to provide color; and in skimmed milks for a brighter, more opaque appearance which makes the milk more palatable.

A 2012 Arizona State University study tested 89 common food products including gum, Twinkies, and mayonnaise and found that they all contained titanium dioxide. About five percent of products in that study contained titanium dioxide as nanoparticles. Dunkin Donuts stopped using powdered sugar with titanium dioxide nanoparticles in 2015 in response to pressure from the advocacy group As You Sow.

“To avoid foods rich in titanium oxide nanoparticles you should avoid processed foods, and especially candy. That is where you see a lot of nanoparticles,” Mahler said.

You can Save Your Live and Dollars with Motorcycle Helmet

More lives are saved in states with universal helmet laws for motorcyclists and their passengers than in states with partial laws, a new U.S. report confirms.

Universal helmet laws also saved states millions of dollars, the report said.

More than 14,000 deaths of motorcyclists occurred between 2008 and 2010 in the United States, and of these, more than 6,000 involved people who weren’t wearing helmets, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Universal helmet laws result in increased helmet use and cost savings,” said lead researcher Rebecca Naumann, a CDC epidemiologist.

In all, 19 states have universal helmet laws, 28 have partial laws and three have no helmet laws, she noted.

“In states with universal helmet laws, use approaches 100 percent,” Naumann said.

Some people believe that helmets themselves cause injuries and restrict vision and hearing, Naumann noted. However, all studies have shown that that is not the case.

“They make riding safer by protecting the head. Head injuries are the leading cause of death among motorcyclists,” she explained.

The report appears in the June 15 issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

In addition to saving lives, universal helmet laws save money.

Yearly cost savings in states with universal motorcycle helmet laws were almost four times greater compared to states without these laws, the researchers found.

Medical, productivity and other cost savings ranged from a high of $394 million in California, which has a universal helmet law, to a low of $2.6 million in New Mexico, which has a partial law, according to the report.

Universal helmet laws mandate that motorcycle riders and passengers wear a helmet every time they ride.

Partial helmet laws require certain riders, such as those under age 21, to wear a helmet.

The data show that in the 19 states with universal helmet laws, 12 percent of those who died in a motorcycle crash weren’t wearing a helmet.

In comparison, 64 percent of those who died in crashes in states with partial helmet laws weren’t wearing one; nor were 79 percent of those who died in the three states with no helmet laws (Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire).

Helmets prevent 37 percent of motorcycle crash deaths among riders and 41 percent among passengers, the researchers said. In addition, helmets prevent 13 percent of serious injuries and 8 percent of minor injuries to riders and passengers.

There has been a trend in recent years for states to back off universal helmet laws. In April, Michigan repealed its universal law in favor of a partial law, while requiring motorcyclists to carry extra injury insurance.

Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, said that “these findings reinforce what we know about the efficacy of helmet laws.”

Yet states are under pressure to repeal these laws.

“The motorcycle lobby is a very influential lobby,” Harsha said. “When a state repeals a law there is pressure on neighboring states to do that.”

The main argument for repeal is personal freedom, Harsha noted. “They want to be able to ride with or without their helmets. They don’t want government telling them what to do,” she said.

There will be more repeal attempts, but the CDC research will help counter these repeal attempts, Harsha said.

“Wearing your motorcycle helmet is the most effective thing you can do to help to protect you in the event of a crash,” she stressed.

Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, added that “it makes little sense that states are repealing or weakening motorcycle helmet laws.”

In the 1970s, nearly all states mandated helmets for all motorcyclists, but now only 19 states have such laws, he pointed out.

“Helmets significantly reduce the risk of serious injury or death in motorcycle crashes. Yet, many states are turning back the clock on highway safety by repealing all-rider helmet laws,” Rader said.