2012 Health Care Roundup: the Good and Bad News on Drugs, Food, Lifestyle, and Policy

2012 has come and gone, but many of its health innovations—and setbacks—will stick around for years to come.

Of course, the most far-reaching health news of 2012 will affect all of us in the U.S. The national health care reform law (also referred to as “Affordable Care Act” or “Obamacare”) was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June. Most states, however, are not up to the enormous task of running health exchanges for their citizens, with only 15 states signing on to do so.

Drug research led to more good news for an oldie but goodie drug: aspirin. Researchers found that aspirin might protect against liver disease and cancer, and even slow elderly brain decline.  On the higher-tech side, researchers manufactured stem cells that can target and destroy HIV. But we also saw a number of drug contaminations, including a Lipitor recall due to contamination with minuscule glass shards. A new, non-HIV immunodeficiency disease was found, and scientists determined that chemotherapy could damage neighboring healthy cells.

As far as food goes, some news was more than welcome: chocolate can lower the risk of stroke in men, turmeric can protect against diabetes, and coffee can lower the risk of heart failure. Counterbalancing the good news, though, we had the pink slime scandal that rocked the U.S. meat industry; energy drinks appeared to be associated with a number of deaths; and fish oil and omega-3s might not be the miracle ingredients we once thought they were.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though: dopamine levels, associated with good mood, appear to improve long-term memory formation. A decline in smoking rates means fewer heart attacks. And studies show that while a lack of sleep during your teenage years can raise the risk of diabetes, happiness in adolescence can lead to a wealthier adulthood.

The flooding from hurricane Sandy damaged years of research at NYU, but research and policy have still progressed by leaps and bounds. The UN reported a 24% drop in HIV infections in children since 2009. Access to free birth control was linked to a drop in abortion rates, and child mortality has fallen more than 40% in the past 20 years.

Despite some setbacks, 2012 showed us a number of ways to live better: eat chocolate, pop popcorn, and spend time with friends. Take a look at our highlights below, compiled from AskaPatient’s tweets over the course of the past year. May your 2013 be even happier and healthier than 2012. Cheers!

-by Charles Pletcher. Contact him and follow health news at Twitter.com/Askapatient

Click on the highlighted word to link to the news source.

Drugs and Treatments: The Good News

Aspirin could help prevent liver disease
Daily dose of aspirin may reduce the risk of many cancers

Aspirin can slow brain decline in elderly patients
The State Department plans to have AIDS under control within four years
Psoriasis drugs could slow the progression of dementia
Transplants from their own nose cells helped paralyzed dogs walk again
One colonoscopy is enough to prevent colon cancer in some patients
Replacing defective DNA may be able to treat genetic diseases
Hormone therapy within five years of menopause could reduce Alzheimer's risk
Snake venom could be a more effective pain killer than morphine
Snake venom could hold clues to curing cancer and diabetes
Cancer Research UK predicts a 17% drop in cancer deaths by 2030
Human muscle has been regrown using animal-muscle scaffolding
Scientists have been able to grow ears, bone, and skin to heal wounded troops
The first total artificial heart has been deemed a success
Stem cells were manufactured that target and 'kill' HIV

Drugs & Treatment: The Bad News

Lipitor was recalled due to contamination from tiny glass particles
Digoxin has been linked to deaths due to its narrow dose range
Genes, not sunlight, are behind redheads' increased risk of melanoma
Antidepressants may pose risks for women during pregnancy
Some antidepressants could raise stroke risk
Climate change will make mosquito-borne diseases more lethal
Influenza vaccines might not be as effective as thought
Ontario reported the first case of pig-to-human H1N1 transfer
A non-HIV immunodeficiency disease was found in Thailand and Taiwan
Chemotherapy could damage nearby healthy cells
Methadone painkillers account for 5000 deaths every year
The iodide used in routine scans could damage thyroid glands
7% of US adults carry HPV in their mouths
Doctors in India reported a strain of TB that is totally resistant to drugs

Food: The Good News

Pepsi is releasing a drink in Japan that includes a weight-loss-inducing fiber
A tomato-rich diet could lower your risk of stroke
A blend of sesame and rice bran oil can lower your blood pressure
The shape of your beer glass can affect how fast you drink
Restaurants with softer music and lower lighting can help with portion control
Chocolate could lower stroke risk in men
Dark chocolate could help lower your blood pressure
A daily dose of walnuts could improve sperm quality
A compound in turmeric could help fend off diabetes
Moderate coffee consumption decreases the risk of heart failure
Popcorn is loaded with antioxidants and other health benefits
Dessert as the first meal of the day might help dieters lose weight
Frying food in sunflower or olive oil is better than frying in other oils

Food: The Bad News

ABC News is sued over report that “pink slime” is in U.S. ground beef
High fructose corn syrup is linked to type 2 diabetes
Drinking grapefruit juice with certain medications could be deadly
The FDA has released reports on the deaths associated with energy drinks
Caffeine levels in energy drinks can often stray from what the labels indicate
Overweight and obese kids face kidney risks down the line
3 or more cups of coffee per day may cause vision loss
Too much salt could be harming kids' health
Bread accounts for most of the salt in Americans' diets
Fish oil and Omega-3s don't ward off heart attacks
Diseases linked to imported spices and fish are on the rise
Cadmium in food could raise the risk of breast cancer
Chlorinated tap water has been linked to the increase of food allergies
'Good' cholesterol might not be that good for us

Lifestyle: The Good News

Happiness during adolescence linked to increased wealth in adulthood
Dopamine has been linked to improved long-term memory formation
Bans on smoking are reducing heart attack rates
Women who quit smoking before 40 can avoid up to 90% of its risks
Russia is planning a ban on all public tobacco smoking
Group weight loss programs appear to work best
Free bus passes could encourage seniors to stay active
Sitting fewer than 3 hours a day could increase your lifespan by 2 years
Brain scans showed that people can learn to forget regrets as they age

Lifestyle: The Bad News

The CDC has found a correlation between traffic pollution and autism
Weight loss surgery not an effective solution to fighting diabetes
Flame retardants found in furniture could pose health risks
Unemployment is a significant risk factor for a heart attack
Chronic exposure to bright light at night could trigger depression
High blood pressure can accelerate brain aging in middle-aged people
The longer mice stayed overweight, the harder it was to shed pounds
Lead paint is still a risk in millions of Americans' homes
Lead has been found in 400 types of lipstick
Indoor tanning has been linked to 170,000 skin cancers each year
Lack of sleep during the teen years could raise risk of diabetes
Second-hand smoke can damage everyday memory
A third of adults in the US have high blood pressure
One in three people uses his or her phone--even texts--while crossing the street.

Health Care Policy & Practice: The Good News

The FDA has approved the first flu vaccine produced in cell culture
The UN reports a 24% drop in new HIV infections in children since 2009
Access to free birth control caused abortion rates to drop
The FDA is cracking down on online pharmacies for selling bad drugs
A government task force is urging doctors to check for signs of alcohol overuse
Child mortality has fallen more than 40% in the past 20 years
Remote-controlled drug-releasing implants recently tested in humans
2025 is a deadline for an Alzheimer's treatment or cure

Health Care Policy & Practice: The Bad News

The drug industry's ties to research can bias findings
A shortage of primary care physicians could lead to health care issues
Medical research was lost in the flooding at NYU
In-vitro fertilization linked to birth defect risks
Deadly intestinal bacterium targets untreated HIV-positive individuals
TRICARE doesn't provide enough help for soldiers coping with substance abuse
30 cents of every dollar spent on US health care is wasted
A study says that hospital sounds are getting in the way of patients' sleep
Children's vaccines in the US might not be stored properly
1 in 33 baby boomers has hepatitis C
Overweight doctors less likely to help patients tackle weight problems
Higher bills aren't the only problem: patients often kept out of electronic record billing loop.

-2012 AskaPatient Health Care Roundup List edited by Thomas Williams.

AskaPatient.com has been providing comparative drug information for consumers since 2000. Operated by Consumer Health Resource Group, LLC, AskaPatient has more than 100,000 patient reviews of prescription drugs.


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