Archive for Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Weight loss, vaccines, food safety on doctors’ wish list for patients

December 27, 2006

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— If your New Year's resolution list looks a bit skimpy, chances are your doctor will help fill in the blanks.

For the young, the old and everyone in between, 2007 promises to bring an earful of strong advice from physicians concerned with the state of Americans' health.

Here are five of the top recommendations doctors are likely to discuss with patients in 2007:

l Lose weight. More than 100 million U.S. adults and children are overweight or obese. With no sign that those numbers are shrinking, and rates of obesity-related diseases including heart disease and diabetes holding strong, doctors are getting aggressive about telling patients to slim down.

Cutting a few hundred calories daily and increasing daily physical activity can reap big benefits. So can switching to a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish and lean meats. It's a mantra you've heard before, doctors say now it's time to take action.

l Practice food safety. Poisoning from E coli and other bugs that attack the gut sickened hundreds of Americans in 2006. With highly publicized outbreaks involving contaminated spinach, lettuce, ground meat and other foods, doctors want patients to be extra vigilant about handling food. That means cooking ground beef thoroughly and washing fruits and vegetables. If you have diarrhea, wash your hands carefully after using the bathroom, and avoid preparing food and public swimming.

l Cancer vaccine. A new vaccine protects against four types of human papilloma virus that cause most cases of cervical cancer. It's billed as the first vaccine designed to prevent cancer, and doctors say girls and young women ages 9 to 26 should get the three-shot series as soon as possible - but ideally before they become sexually active. Studies are under way to see if the vaccine could also prevent genital warts caused by the HPV virus in boys and men.

l Stop shingles. Another groundbreaking vaccine became available in 2006, this one to protect adults aged 60 and older from shingles. The intensely painful condition is caused by the chicken pox virus, which can linger after a childhood bout and cause burning nerve-related pain along with blisters and a rash in adults. Doctors are vaccinating older adults who have had chicken pox to prevent shingles attacks or make them less severe.

l Rethink hormones. Doctors got new ammunition in December to bolster warnings to women about using hormone pills for menopause symptoms. It arrived in a big study showing breast cancer cases fell in 2003, a year after landmark government research linked estrogen-progestin pills with increased risks for breast cancer and heart problems.

Millions of women quit taking the pills after that research - and some experts think that could explain the breast cancer decline. Doctors want menopausal women to know about the possible connection - especially those at increased risk for breast cancer, who may want to consider alternatives to hormone pills for hot flashes and other annoying symptoms. The advice remains to use the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time.

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