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Category Archives: Health

You Can Smarter With Water

We get it. Despite the never-ending health benefits, staying hydrated may not top your daily to-do list. If you can’t get yourself to guzzle enough H2O, new findings might offer extra motivation: Drinking water can boost your brain power.

In a study presented Wednesday at the British Psychological Society Annual Conference in London, researchers found that students who brought water into exams performed better than those who didn’t. To make sure they hadn’t simply concluded higher-scoring students are more likely to bring water into a test, they used the students’ past coursework grades to set a general ability control. So even among generally poorer-scoring students, bringing water into the exams boosted their grades.

“The results imply that the simple act of bringing water into an exam was linked to an improvement in students’ grades,” says Chris Pawson, a professor at the University of East London and one of the study’s co-authors, in a release from the British Psychological Society. For those of us who’ve graduated from the test-taking world, the same could apply for our cognitive performance and work productivity, in theory.

Smart Water, Naturally

The researchers don’t know if the students actually drank the water they took into the exams, or how much they drank, but their presumption is that the test-takers consumed at least some of the water they brought with them.

And while Pawson and his colleagues didn’t get to the bottom of why water had this effect on the undergraduates’ grades, they have some theories. Maybe water enhances thinking power, leading to better scores. Maybe agua alleviates anxiety and stress, both known to hinder exam performance.

Either way, add “it makes you smarter” to the long list of reasons you should be drinking water. It already has a reputation for regulating body temperature, flushing out toxins, aiding digestion, balancing blood sugar, and even helping you deal with seasonal allergies, to name a few.

The easiest way to drink more water is to have it in front of you. At your desk, keep a big cup next to your keyboard. (Just don’t spill it.) On the run, always take a refillable bottle. If the taste (or lack of taste) turns you off, flavor your water with slices of lemon or fresh fruit.

Mass Hysteria’s Mystery

A few months ago, six teenagers at LeRoy Junior-Senior High School in upstate New York began exhibiting tics and verbal outbursts that resembled some of the classic symptoms of Tourette syndrome. The students — all girls, of whom there are now a dozen — were shaking and jerking uncontrollably, sometimes to the point of not being able to speak.

Parents and school officials were understandably alarmed and launched a full-scale investigation to determine whether environmental substances in any of the buildings could have triggered the problem. Thus far, however, all reports have come back clean.

Now a doctor who is treating some of the girls has come forward with a surprising explanation: mass hysteria.

“It’s happened before, all around the world,” said Laszlo Mechtler, MD, the neurologist who diagnosed the teens. “It’s a rare phenomena.”

Mass Hysteria Throughout History

Not that rare, as it turns out. Mass hysteria — in which various people in a common group (such as students within a school) spontaneously exhibit an outbreak of physical symptoms caused by psychological stress — has been documented frequently over the ages, dating all the way back to the 14th century. In fact, according to a report from the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, there were at least 70 distinct outbreaks between 1973 and 1993 alone, 34 of which occurred in the United States. Schools, workplaces, and small communities were the most common settings of these events, and women were more vulnerable to them than men.

Notable cases include:

  • The Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic of 1962. According to popular retellings, several villages in Africa were paralyzed for months by a serious case of the giggles after a group of students at a boarding school in Kakasha started laughing — and then couldn’t stop. The “plague” spread first among kids and teachers, and then to parents and people in other towns, eventually leading to a shutdown of the school where it had originated. Some of the so-called facts have been sensationalized — depending on whom you ask, the event lasted anywhere from six months to a year-and-a-half — but researchers say the story is at least partially true. Something did strike Tanganyika in 1962, and while laughter was among its many symptoms, there was nothing particularly funny about it. Villagers also suffered crying attacks, pain, fainting, skin rashes, and even respiratory problems.
  • The June Bug Epidemic. The same year that found Tanganyikans falling inexplicably into fits of laughter, a mysterious disease broke out at an American textile mill. Some 60 workers reported symptoms of numbness, nausea, dizziness, and vomiting. The original theory was that the patients were victims of some virus transmitted by bugs in the factory, but doctors and experts from the U.S. Public Health Service Communicable Disease Center could find no evidence to support this and eventually concluded that the “illness” was in fact a case of hysterical contagion caused by anxiety.
  • The Dancing Plague of 1518. This much-discussed mystery began when a woman in Strasbourg, France, stepped into the street and began a days-long solo dance that eventually attracted more than 400 people and lasted for over a month. By the time it ended, dozens of dancers had died of heart attacks, stroke, or just sheer exhaustion. Scholars were stumped for an explanation — some believed it was due to smallpox, syphilis, or spiritual possession, while others thought it was a symptom of mold exposure — but modern researchers believe it was an example of mass psychogenic illness, a form of mass hysteria usually preceded by significant psychological distress such as famine, economic depression, or widespread death.

What Causes Mass Hysteria?

In many cases, hysteria is triggered by an environmental incident — such as contamination of the water supply — that causes people to literally worry themselves sick over getting sick, even though they’re otherwise perfectly healthy. In other cases, people who witness individuals around them falling ill unwittingly trick their own bodies into manifesting the same symptoms. And in still other cases, social or emotional pressures simply become too much for a community to handle, leading to widespread anxiety in the form of neurological problems such as blindness or numbness. All three situations are examples of psychosomatic disorders, meaning the brain is making the body sick — but experts say they’re no less real or painful than any other illness with physiological roots.

“They’re real symptoms,” Gail Saltz, MD, told the Today show. “[These LeRoy students] need a psychiatric or psychological treatment.”

Which is not to imply that the students are crazy or mentally deficient.

“This kind of thing could happen to anyone,” said David Lichter, MD, in a story forBuffaloNews.com. Lichter is a clinical professor of neurology at the University at Buffalo, as well as a trained movement disorder specialist, and has evaluated at least one of the girls involved. The important thing to focus on, he says, is getting the students help.

Treatment for mass hysteria varies depending on the situation but may include separating the individuals involved and then addressing each person’s underlying stressors and specific symptoms — a solution some parents think falls short.

“Obviously we are all not just accepting that this is a stress thing,” said Jim Dupont, whose daughter is one of the girls affected. “It’s heart-wrenching. You fear your daughter’s not going to have a normal life.”

Why Snakes Make Your Skin Crawl ?

The poet Emily Dickinson greatly feared the “narrow fellow in the grass,” writing that she “never met this fellow/Attended or alone/Without a tighter breathing/And zero at the bone.”

Dickinson was not alone in her ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) and, it turns out, humans have good reason to fear the slithering serpent, whether it is found in the grass or elsewhere.

A new study in the Dec. 12-16 early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences documents frequent python attacks on a tribe of preliterate, hunter-gatherers in the Philippines, one of the first studies to actually quantify the danger that snakes pose to humans.

And the danger, it turns out, is quite real, at least among the Agta Negritos of Luzon Island.

Anthropologist Thomas N. Headland, lead author of the new paper, lived among the Agta Negritos his entire adult life, starting in 1962, and had the opportunity to interview 58 men and 62 women about their experiences with pythons.

Fifteen of the men (26 percent) and one of the women (1.6 percent) had lived to tell of python attacks and many of them bore scars from the encounter.

Tribespeople also recollected six fatal attacks that occurred between 1934 and 1973.

This amounted to one “traumatic python incident” — either fatal or nonfatal — every two or three years, the authors stated.

Fatalities included a brother and sister who were smothered by a python that had slipped unnoticed into their hut at twilight. The father killed the snake as it was coiled around and swallowing one of the children headfirst, but not in time to save the child.

Several years before that, a python swallowed an adult male. The man’s son located the snake the next day, cut it open and retrieved the body so it could be buried.

Meanwhile, none of the interviewees recalled deaths from Japanese soldiers during World War II, venomous snake bites or from the giant crocodiles that inhabit this archipelago.

According to the paper, an adult male Agta has just over half the mass of a large female python, “not a heavy meal by snake standards.” Pythons routinely eat pigsweighing up to 130 pounds, the authors stated.

But Agta, too, represent a threat to pythons. Headland himself was witness to a nearly 23-foot-long snake carcass killed by Agta hunters, which provided 55 pounds of meat.

Agta and python also share many favorite dishes, including deer, wild pigs and monkeys. So it makes sense that humans have a natural distrust of their reptilian neighbors, the authors stated.

“This data supports the theory that we have genetic phobia,” said Headland.

And modern-day psychiatrist Dr. Bryan Bruno, acting chairman of the department of psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, agreed that the lingering fear people have today may indeed date back to human ancestors who were even more vulnerable to serpent attacks.

“When a car comes at me on the highway, it scares me, I get out of the way fast. But when we see snakes, the hair of the back of our neck goes straight up. It’s more than being scared of a car. It’s a tremendous fear,” said Headland. The fear, he added, is “human universal.”

One in 6 Cell Phones in Britain Contaminated

One in six cell phones in Britain may be contaminated with fecal matter that can spread E. coli, likely because so many people don’t wash their hands properly after using the toilet, a new study contends.

The findings also suggest that many people lie about their hygiene habits, according to the researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Queen Mary, University of London.

The study authors went to 12 cities and collected 390 samples from the cell phones and hands of volunteers, who were also asked about their hand-washing habits.

Ninety-five percent of the participants told the researchers that they washed their hands with soap and water where possible. However, lab tests revealed that 92 percent of phones and 82 percent of hands had bacteria on them. The researchers also found that 16 percent of hands and 16 percent of cell phones harbored E. coli bacteria, which is found in feces and can cause serious illness.

The study was released to coincide with Global Handwashing Day on Oct. 15.

“This study provides more evidence that some people still don’t wash their hands properly, especially after going to the toilet. I hope the thought of having E. coli on their hands and phones encourages them to take more care in the bathroom — washing your hands with soap is such a simple thing to do but there is no doubt it saves lives,” Dr. Val Curtis, a hygiene expert at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and U.K. campaign leader for Global Handwashing Day, said in a school news release.

“Our analysis revealed some interesting results from around the U.K. While some cities did much better than others, the fact that E. coli was present on phones and hands in every location shows this is a nationwide problem. People may claim they wash their hands regularly but the science shows otherwise,” Dr. Ron Cutler, of Queen Mary, University of London, said in the news release.

Hand-washing with soap can prevent a number of illnesses caused by bacteria and viruses.

Double Crash Risk Causes Pot Smoking

Drivers who get behind the wheel after using marijuana run more than twice the risk of crashing compared to others, a new study finds.

The risk rises even higher if the driver has also been drinking alcohol.

The authors of a study published online Oct. 4 in Epidemiologic Reviews believe the findings are especially relevant in light of recent moves to legalize medical marijuana in many states.

“As more and more states consider medical use of marijuana, there could be health implications,” said study senior author Dr. Guohua Li.

Even as alcohol use has decreased over the past four decades, illicit use of non-alcoholic drugs, such as prescription medications and marijuana, has increased, said Li, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York City.

A large U.S. survey in 2009 estimated that more than 10 million people aged 12 and over had driven while under the influence of illicit drugs in the previous year. And testing has revealed that 28 percent of drivers who die from a crash and more than 11 percent of drivers in general test positive for drugs other than alcohol. Marijuana is the most commonly detected drug in drivers after alcohol.

In their study, Li and his co-authors assessed information from nine prior studies in six countries looking at marijuana use and motor vehicle accidents.

The studies looked at different time frames, with some assessing marijuana use as little as one hour before driving and others looking at one year or more. According to one study cited, driving skills are acutely affected for three to four hours after use.

All but one study found a higher risk of crashes in drivers who use marijuana, and that study was a small one, conducted in Thailand, where marijuana use is relatively low.

Overall, the risk of a crash was almost 2.7 times higher among marijuana users than non-users, the authors found. And the response was dose-specific, the authors said. That is, the more marijuana smoked — in terms of frequency and potency — the greater the likelihood of a crash.

Marijuana may interfere with reaction times and coordination, among other things, experts say. The authors of the new study said it is critical to determine the excess crash risk related to marijuana in different doses, strengths, and administration methods, such as smoking versus vaporization.

None of the studies in this grouping looked directly at medical marijuana, which is now legal in 16 states plus the District of Columbia in the United States.

However, one expert cautioned against inferring too much from this study, which was not designed to capture cause and effect.

“We can’t really say yet that marijuana increases the risk by two or three times,” said Chuck Farmer, director of statistics at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va. “Most of their studies pointed to a very strong bad effect of marijuana on driving, but there are other studies out there that actually go the other way.”

But other experts expressed some alarm at the findings. “At [its] annual meeting in late September, the Governors Highway Safety Association strengthened its drugged driving policy,” said Jonathan Adkins, a spokesperson for the association.

“We see this as a national priority and are seeking a range of actions to address the problem comprehensively,” Adkins said.

Breaking Down the Brain Health Statistics

States that ranked high in the 2011 America’s Brain Health Index share some traits, such as good diets and higher levels of physical activity, and residents of the top states tend to be intellectually curious. “It’s so important to have an intellectual passion and hobbies,” says Cleveland Clinic chief wellness officer Dr. Michael Roizen. The Beautiful Minds campaign also highlights inspiring seniors who are putting their minds to good use by volunteering, teaching classes, writing novels, and even bodybuilding.

Roizen notes that many of the states in the South rank at the bottom of the list, which he attributes to unhealthy diets and physical inactivity, reflected in the high incidence of diabetes.

But Southerners don’t have it all wrong: A positive brain health factor the Southern states share is a high level of religious and spiritual activity, which is a big boost for emotional health. “The benefit of believing in a higher being is that it will help you manage stress better,” says Roizen. “Stress ages you more than any other factor.” Several scientific studies have confirmed the benefits of religious activity: The Whitehall study of British civil servants, a major study on the health effects of stress, found that the participants who said they were more spiritual experienced less aging from stress and aged better. “Spirituality and religious practices may also help slow the regression of cognitive abilities caused by Alzheimer’s disease,” adds Roizen.

Check out the Brain Health Index interactive map for the full ranking of all the states.

Dr. Roizen’s Four Steps to Better Brain Health

Although healthy living habits are always important for your mind and body, they take on special importance in the mid-fifties and beyond. From the age of 55, our faculties begin to decline, and we are less able to multitask. “Our goal with the Beautiful Minds campaign is to motivate people to change how their minds age,” Dr. Roizen told Everyday Health. “Keeping the brain healthy is easier than many people realize.”

Roizen outlines the following steps you can take to improve your brain health:

  • Get more physical activity. Exercise doesn’t just help your body – “Staying fit can actually help reconstruct your brain,” says Roizen. Although any exercise you enjoy doing is fine, Roizen recommends interval training, meaning doing an exercise at a moderate pace and then ramping up to a faster pace during the last minute, provided that your doctor says you are fit enough. For example, if you spend 20 minutes on a treadmill, spend the last minute running at a higher speed.
  • Be socially engaged. People who are involved with their family, friends, and community tend to stay sharper than those who aren’t. In addition to socializing with your immediate circle, brain health experts suggest getting involved with your community through religious or spiritual activities as a way to lower your stress levels. “In research, men and women who had the most social interaction within their community had less than half the rate of memory loss as those with the least social engagement,” says Roizen.
  • Get your blood pressure checked. The brain is dependent on blood supply, and as we get older, these blood vessels age, too. “When we’re older, our brains actually decrease in IQ every five years,” says Roizen. Keeping your blood pressure within a healthy range will help your blood vessels stay as healthy as possible. A study published in the journal Neurology found that treating traditional risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol may also help to prevent the progression of cognitive problems into full-blown Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Get more DHA in your diet. The Memory Improvement With DHA Study (MIDAS) presented at the 2009 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease found that DHA supplements may help slow the rate of progression of age-related mental decline in healthy seniors. “The best natural sources of DHA are salmon and trout. DHA is also in fortified foods like soy milk, eggs, and nutrition bars, or in supplements,” Roizen says. Of course, eating a healthy, well-rounded diet is important too.

The Best States for Your Brain

Congratulations to the Old Line State: Maryland has emerged as the state with the best brain health in the 2011 America’s Brain Health Index. Developed by National Center for Creative Aging, the index ranks all 50 states and the District of Columbia on 21 brain health indicators including diet, physical health, mental health, and social well-being. This is the second time the index has been calculated; the first one appeared in 2009.

In the 2011 report, Maryland edged out the District of Columbia, which slipped to No. 2 from its first-place 2009 ranking. Maryland took top honors because it experienced a decrease in Alzheimer’s disease-related deaths, and because residents consume a high amount of fish, a natural source of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid that is tied to brain and eye health. Residents of Washington, DC, came in second due to its high proportion of active readers – more than any of the 50 states.

The Brain Health Index was created by health experts including Michael Roizen, MD, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and creator of the RealAgeconcept, and Majid Fotuhi, MD, PhD, chairman of the Neurology Institute for Brain Health and Fitness and assistant professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. The index was created as part of a national health education campaign called Beautiful Minds: Finding Your Lifelong Potential, aimed at encouraging adults in the second half of life to develop and maintain brain health. It’s sponsored by Life’sDHA, a supplement created by the nutritional products company Market Biosciences Corporation.

Wondering How Your State Stacks Up?

Here are the top 10 states in the 2011 index and the factors that give them a brain health advantage:

1. Maryland: Marylanders consume plenty of omega-3-rich foods, such as fish, and have a low incidence of Alzheimer’s disease-related deaths.

2. District of Columbia: Residents of Washington, DC, are the top active readers and have a high consumption of healthy foods.

3. Washington State: The Evergreen State is among the top five states in consumption of DHA-rich fish.

4. Colorado: Residents of colorful Colorado consume a healthy diet and have a low incidence of diabetes.

5. Vermont: People in the Green Mountain State keep their minds engaged by reading and are active community participants.

6. New Hampshire: The state has a high level of mental engagement through game playing, and residents tend to consume healthy diets of fruits, vegetables, and fish.

7. Oregon: Oregonians are bookworms, fish lovers, and involved in their community.

8. Utah: Residents are active in their communities and have a low incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.

9. Maine: This coastal state has a high level of fish consumption, and reading is a popular pastime.

10. New Jersey: Despite what you’ve seen on the Jersey Shore, the Garden State ranks relatively high in education, and has a low incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.

The states that fall at the bottom of the index are:

42. North Dakota: North Dakotans are active game players, but the state has a high prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease.

43. Kentucky: Kentucky does boast a high level of religious activity, but is tied with West Virginia for unhealthy smoking habits.

44. Indiana: Indiana ranks high in education, but has many smokers and low fish consumption.

45. Tennessee: The Volunteer State does have a high level of religious activity, but has a high incidence of Alzheimer’s disease-related deaths.

46. West Virginia: Another state with high religious activity, West Virginia has a large number of smokers and the second-worst diabetes rate in the nation.

47. Alabama: The state’s high involvement in religious activities boosts social well-being, but its residents’ brain health suffers due to a high incidence of diabetes and Alzheimer’s-related deaths.

48. Oklahoma: Oklahomans engage their brains through religious activities and playing games, but don’t consume many fruits, vegetables, or omega-3 fatty acids.

49. Arkansas: Arkansans are active game players and participate in religious activity, but they’re not big on reading and eating DHA-rich foods.

50. Louisiana: Up from the last spot in the 2009 rankings, Louisiana residents have a high incidence of diabetes and Alzheimer’s-related deaths.

51. Mississippi: The Magnolia State comes in last place because of its high incidence of diabetes, low educational rankings, and low consumption of brain-healthy foods.

Dangerous Bacteria Hide Out in Nurses’, Doctors’ Uniforms

 Where you live may have a bigger impact on your brain health than you thought. Find out where your state ranks in America’s Brain Health Index.

The white coats and medical scrubs worn by hospital staff may harbor hazardous bacteria, a new study finds.

Researchers in Israel swabbed nurses’ and physicians’ uniforms and found potentially dangerous bacteria on more than 60 percent of the clothing items.

The team, from the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, analyzed swab samples collected from three parts — sleeve ends, pockets and abdominal area — of the uniforms of 75 registered nurses and 60 doctors.

Potentially dangerous bacteria were found on 60 percent of the doctors’ uniforms and 65 percent of the nurses’ uniforms. Especially dangerous drug-resistant bacteria were found in 21 of the samples from nurses’ uniforms and six samples from doctors’ uniforms. Eight of the samples had methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus(MRSA), which is becoming tough to fight using conventional antibiotics.

The bacteria on the uniforms may not pose a direct risk of disease transmission, but the findings suggest that many hospital patients are in close proximity to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, the researchers said.

“It is important to put these study results into perspective,” Russell Olmsted, president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), said in an association news release. “Any clothing that is worn by humans will become contaminated with microorganisms. The cornerstone of infection prevention remains the use of hand hygiene to prevent the movement of microbes from these surfaces to patients.”

The study appears in the September issue of the American Journal of Infection Control, the official publication of APIC.

Pose Health Risks May Cause Global Warming

 Medical and public health groups are banding together to explain how global warming has taken a toll on human health and will continue to cause food-borne illnesses, respiratory problems, and deaths unless policy changes are enacted.

In a conference call with reporters, the heads of the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Public Health Association (APHA) joined with a pediatrician and a scientist to lay out what they say is a major public health issue: climate change caused by global warming.

The “evidence has only grown stronger” that climate change is responsible for an increasing number of health ills, including asthma, diarrheal disease, and even deaths from extreme weather such as heat waves, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the APHA.

For one, rising temperatures can mean more smog, which makes children with asthma sicker, explained pediatrician Dr. Perry Sheffield, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics and the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York.

There is also evidence that pollen season is also getting longer, she said, which could lead to an increase in the number of people with asthma.

Climate change also is thought to lead to increased concentrations of ozone, a pollutant formed on clear, cloudless days. Ozone is a lung irritant which can affect asthmatics, those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and those with heart disease, said Dr. Kristie Ebi, who is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

More ozone can mean more health problems and more hospital visits, she said.

Aside from air-related ailments and illnesses, extreme weather can have a devastating effect on health, Sheffield said.

“As a result of global warming, extreme storms including hurricanes, heavy rainfall, and even snowstorms are expected to increase,” Sheffield said. “And these events pose risk of injury and disruption of special medical services, which are particularly important to children with special medical needs.”

Extreme heat waves and droughts are responsible for more deaths than any other weather-related event, Sheffield said.

The 2006 heat wave that spread through most of the U.S. and Canada saw temperatures that topped 100 degrees. In all, 450 people died, 16,000 visited the emergency room, and 1,000 were hospitalized, said Dr. Cecil Wilson, president of the AMA.

Climate change has already caused temperatures to rise and precipitation to increase, which, in turn, can cause diseases carried by tics, mosquitoes, and other animals to spread past their normal geographical range, explained Ebi.

For instance, Lyme disease is increasing in some areas, she said, including in Canada, where scientists are tracking the spread of Lyme disease north.

Ebi also recounted the 2004 outbreak of the leading seafood-related cause of gastroenteritis, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, from Alaskan seafood, which was attributed to increased ocean temperatures causing infected sea creatures to travel 600 miles north.

Salmonella outbreaks also increase when temperatures are very warm, Sheffield said.

A 2008 study also projected that global warming will lead to a possible increase in the prevalence of kidney stones due to increased dehydration, although the link hasn’t been proven.

Wilson said the AMA wants to make doctors aware of the projected rise in climate-related illnesses. To combat climate change, Wilson says physicians and public health groups can advocate for policies that improve public health, and should also serve as role models by adopting environmentally-friendly policies such as eliminating paper waste and using energy-efficient lighting in their practices.

“Climate instability threatens our health and life-supporting system, and the risk to our health and well-being will continue to mount unless we all do our part to stabilize the climate and protect the nation’s health,” said Wilson.

Benjamin added that doctors should pay attention to the Air Quality Index. For instance, if there’s a “Code Red” day, which indicates the air is unhealthy, physicians should advise patients (particularly those with cardiac or respiratory conditions) that it’s not the day to try and mow the grass.

“ER docs are quite aware of Code Red days because we know that when those occur, we’re going to see lots of patients in the emergency room,” Benjamin said.

The conference call came as Congress is considering what role the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should have in updating its safeguards against carbon dioxide and other pollutants.

While the EPA has the authority to regulate levels of CO2, a budget bill passed by the House of Representatives last the weekend prohibited the EPA from exercising that authority. Meanwhile, other bills are pending in Congress that would significantly delay the agency’s ability to regulate air pollutants.

AMA has a number of policies on the books regarding climate change, including a resolution supporting the EPA’s authority to regulate the control of greenhouse gases, and a statement endorsing findings from the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that concludes the Earth is undergoing adverse climate changes, and that humans are a significant contributor to the changing weather.

In that statement, the AMA said it supports educating the medical community about climate change and its health implications through medical education on topics such as “population displacement, heat waves and drought, flooding, infectious and vector-borne diseases, and potable water supplies.”

The statement also said the AMA supports physician involvement in policymaking to “search for novel, comprehensive, and economically sensitive approaches to mitigating climate change to protect the health of the public.”

Judge Tosses Out Healthcare Reform Law

A federal judge in Florida has ruled that the healthcare reform law is unconstitutional, siding with the 26 states that sued to block enforcement of the law.

The lawsuit, filed by 26 states that sued to block the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is considered likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Judge Roger Vinson, of the U.S. District Court in Pensacola, Fla., stopped short of directing the federal government to stop implementing the law. Still, the ruling is the harshest legal action yet against the ACA.

Unlike a ruling last month by a judge in Richmond, Va., stating that the individual mandate portion of the ACA violates the Constitution, Vinson ruled the entire law “void” because the individual mandate provision can’t be separated out from the rest of the law.

Congress “exceeded the bounds of its authority in passing the Act with the individual mandate,” Vinson wrote in his 78-page ruling, which was released Monday afternoon. The mandate requires all citizens to have health insurance by 2014 or else pay a penalty.

“Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void,” he concluded.

He did contend that Congress has the power to address the “problems and inequities in our health care system,” but that Congress overstepped its power in passing the ACA.

“There is widespread sentiment for positive improvements that will reduce costs, improve the quality of care, and expand availability in a way that the nation can afford,” Vinson wrote. “This is obviously a very difficult task. Regardless of how laudable its attempts may have been to accomplish these goals in passing the Act, Congress must operate within the bounds established by the Constitution.”

While it was widely expected that Vinson would side with the states, it comes as somewhat of a surprise that he declared the entire law “void.”

The original lawsuit — which filed just hours after Obama signed the ACA into law on March 23, 2010 — alleged that the “individual mandate” in the law exceeded Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, but didn’t argue that the whole of the law is unconstitutional. The Commerce Clause permits the federal government to regulate interstate commerce.

In October, when Vinson ruled the case could proceed, he said the states “had a plausible claim” in their argument that the law’s individual mandate violated the Commerce Clause.

The states argued that the government cannot force individuals to participate in the stream of commerce — in this case, the health insurance market.

The federal government responded that at some point, every U.S. citizen will seek medical care, and if that person chooses to not have insurance, the cost of his or her medical care is passed on to those with insurance. Thus, a choice to not participate in the commerce of healthcare doesn’t actually exist.

Two other judges have rejected challenges to the law, ruling that the ACA’s individual mandate provision is constitutional.

Other states that have joined the lawsuit are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

The National Federation of Independent Business is also part of the lawsuit.