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Artificial Sweeteners May Increase Blood Sugar Risks


iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(REHOVOT, Israel) -- Many people use artificial sweeteners to avoid sugar and the increased risk of type 2 diabetes that comes with too much of the natural stuff, but new research shows the fake substitutes may be equally bad.

In a study published Thursday in the journal Nature, researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel found that artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose and saccharine may lead to type 2 diabetes just like eating sugar does.

The researchers say the millions of microbes, largely bacteria, in your digestive system may be the reason.

In a number of experiments in people and lab mice, researchers observed the interaction between gut microbes and the consumption of the sweeteners.

Some of the human participants and mice experienced a two- to fourfold increase in blood sugars after consuming artificial sweeteners for a brief time.

Medical experts agree that high blood sugar levels can eventually lead to diabetes.

The researchers cautioned that the study needs to be repeated before they can properly determine if artificial sweeteners can actually increase the risk of developing diabetes.

"I think this issue is far from being resolved," says Eran Elinav of the Weizmann Institute of Science.


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Food and Beverage Companies Trim Trillions of Calories from Products


iStock/Thinkstock(CHAPEL HILL, N.C.) -- In wake of the news that American waistlines are larger than ever comes a report that 16 major food and beverage companies have made good on their pledge to reduce calories in their products.

The companies, acting in concert through the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, had pledged to remove one trillion calories from the market between 2007 and 2012, and 1.5 trillion by 2015.

They've actually reduced far more: 6.4 trillion calories, according to a report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"The 16 companies collectively met their pledge and exceeded their pledge," said lead researcher Shu Wen Ng, an assistant professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ng said the reduction translates to about 78 fewer calories per person daily.

The calorie reductions came from food categories such as sugar-sweetened beverages, snacks, cereals, candies, cookies and fats and oils.

The 16 companies are Bumble Bee Foods, Campbell Soup Co., ConAgra Foods, General Mills Inc., Kellogg Co., Kraft Foods Inc., Mars Inc., McCormick & Co., Nestle USA, PepsiCo Inc., Post Foods/Ralston Foods, Hillshire Brands, Coca-Cola Co., Hershey Co., the J.M. Smucker Co. and Unilever.

Ng cautions that while companies have improved their products, the focus in the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation effort was on calories only.

"We can't say anything about other nutrients or ingredients," Ng added. She acknowledges that more work is needed.

"Our diets are a function of a lot more than calories," she said.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this week that the average waist size among American adults expanded more than an inch -- from 37.6 inches to 38.8 inches -- between 1999 and 2012.

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Researchers Say PTSD and Food Addiction May Be Linked


Image Source White/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and food addiction may be linked, researchers say.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry, researchers surveyed 49,408 women who found that those women who self-identified as having PTSD symptoms also had the highest rate of self-reporting food addiction symptoms.

Approximately eight percent of respondents reported having many PTSD symptoms, about 73 percent had some symptoms and 19 percent reported none. Among those women with the highest number of PTSD symptoms, 18 percent also self-identified as having food addiction symptoms.

The study's authors have theorized that those people suffering from PTSD may be using food to cope with psychological stress.

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Researchers May Have Found Link Between Migraines and Parkinson's Disease


wavebreakmedia/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Researchers believe that they have linked frequency of migraine headaches to increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease.

According to the study, published in the journal Neurology, researchers studied data from 5,620 people for 25 years. Researchers say 430 of the study's participants had migraine headaches with aura in mid-life. Of those who suffered from migraines, 2.4 percent later developed Parkinson's Disease, while only 1.1 percent of those without migraines developed Parkinson's.

The study also found that 19.7 percent of those who suffered from migraines later experienced Parinsonian symptoms, compared to 7.5 percent who did not have the headaches.

The study was limited to patients in Iceland, so further research will need to be conducted to determine if the link between migraines and Parkinson's Disease can be extrapolated to a larger population.

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Enterovirus D68 Prompts Hospital Wards to Ban Child Visitors


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Several hospitals have banned children from visiting patients amid fears of a respiratory virus that has sent some children to the hospital gasping for breath.

Hospitals in upstate New York -- including SUNY Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse -- are the latest to restrict young visitors as Enterovirus D68 spreads primarily among children nationwide. State health departments have reported possible cases in 27 states, and experts say the virus likely infected thousands.

"In the upcoming weeks, more states will have confirmed cases of EV-D68 infection," the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on its website.

ABC News' Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser noted this practice of keeping kids away from the hospital isn't uncommon. It also happens during the regular flu season.

"Frequently during periods when particularly contagious viruses are spreading in communities, hospitals implement restrictions on visitations by children," Besser said.

Enterovirus D68 starts off like the common cold but can quickly turn serious and cause children to have difficulty breathing -- especially if they have asthma. In the most extreme cases, children are so sick they need to be put on a ventilator in a hospital's intensive care unit. No children have died from the illness so far.

The age restrictions on visitors vary from hospital to hospital. For instance, Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis is only restricting people under 18 from visiting its neonatal intensive care unit. Meanwhile, SUNY Upstate isn't allowing people under 16 to visit its children's hospital at all, according to ABC News' Syracuse affiliate WSYR. And American Fork Hospital in American Fork, Utah, isn't allowing anyone under 14 to visit its nursery or pediatric ward.

Hospitals are also restricting people who are sick -- with perhaps a cough or a cold -- from visiting these wards.

The CDC has officially confirmed only 130 enterovirus D68 cases in 12 states, but experts say this number probably doesn't reflect the scope of the outbreak as a whole.

Since the CDC does not require hospitals or state labs to report enterovirus D68 cases, and many state health departments are unable to test for it, experts say the reported cases are just the tip of the iceberg.

New Jersey became the 27th state to announce possible enterovirus D68 cases.

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Liberian Refugee Befriends Family of Ebola-Infected Doctor


iStock/Thinkstock(OMAHA, Neb.) -- As an American doctor recovers from Ebola at a Nebraska hospital, a Liberian refugee who works at the hospital has tried to provide extra comfort to the doctor's family.

Dr. Richard Sacra arrived at the bio-containment unit at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha earlier this month after being infected with Ebola in Liberia. When Sacra arrived for treatment, Patricia Taye, a housekeeper at the medical center, immediately asked if she could meet with Sacra's family.

Taye, who works on the same floor as the bio-containment unit, left Liberia as a refugee in 2001 and has not been back since. Since her mother and sister still live in Liberia, Taye told ABC News she was eager to thank the Sacra family for their work providing help and medical relief in the country.

"I asked the doctor and nurses to show me the family. When they showed me the family, I greeted them and was so happy to see them," Taye said. "I'm really praying for him right now."

Taye even cooked them a favorite Liberian dish, cassava leaves, as a way to thank them for their work.

"When I met them and I asked them, 'When you were in Liberia what kind of food did you eat?'" said Taye. "I cooked them traditional food and brought it to them."

Sacra was infected in Liberia, where he was treating patients in a maternity ward.

The Ebola outbreak has devastated the county, straining an already weak health system. According to the World Health Organization, 1,137 of the 2,218 known deaths have been in Liberia. The other West African countries affected by the unprecedented outbreak include Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal.

"Every time my mom [in Liberia] calls me, crying. It's a lot of suffering there," Taye said. "It's like World War II back home, because every day people die on the street."

Taye said she has been praying with Sacra's family for his recovery and hopes she can one day thank the doctor in person.

"I really want to talk to him about my people. My people really need attention and need medical care," Taye said.

Sacra's family told reporters Tuesday that the 51-year-old physician continues to recover. He is one of four American health workers known to have contracted Ebola while treating patients in West Africa.

Debbie Sacra said that her husband's appetite "has returned in a big way," noting he was able to eat enchiladas and chicken soup.

Debbie Sacra also cheered President Obama’s announcement this week that 3,000 people, including troops and support, would be deployed to fight the Ebola outbreak, which the president described as "spiraling out of control."

"I'm encouraged that more help is going to be on the way," she said. "I hope it gets there as soon as possible."

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Fashionistas Turn to Surgery to Rid 'Boot Bulge'


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Temperatures are falling and fashionistas everywhere are putting away their strappy sandals and pulling out their knee-high boots.

For women whose larger calf size makes it impossible to zip up those tight-fitting boots, there's a plastic surgery procedure growing in popularity to fight that dreaded "boot bulge."

"It's definitely a thing," said Dr. Matthew Schulman, a board certified plastic surgeon on New York City's Upper East Side, "especially this time of year when some women aren't able to wear the boots they want."

That was the case for Sabrina, who lives in New York City and asked that her last name not be used.

"I'm a fairly fit person, I always exercise. It wasn't an area I could fix on my own," she said. "I assumed that if you could have liposuction on your stomach, why not on your calves?"

Sabrina had her surgery last year.

Schulman said that unhappiness with legs -- specifically from the knee down -- is common among his patients. But it's a very difficult area to treat.

"If the woman is an avid bike rider or runner and it's all muscle, the procedure isn't possible. There has to be at least a little fat there to perform the procedure," he said.

The patient is put under anesthesia for the procedure, which takes between an hour and hour and half, Schulman said.

"It's a tricky procedure," he said, "you're using microliposuction to take out very small amounts of fat."

The recovery time, too, is a factor. Schulman said it can take up to 10 months to be fully recovered from calf liposuction, though most women are about 85 percent recovered after four or five months. A woman who gets the procedure done this fall won't be in her tight fitting, knee-high boots until next year.

That's fine for Dyan, a woman from Long Island whose unhappy to be facing yet another boot season with calves too big to fit into the fashion-forward kind she wants to wear.

"I've purchased $200 boots and taken them to a shoe maker to have an extra panel of leather sewn in but it doesn't look the same and I ended up throwing them out," she said.

Dyan said she gained weight when her father passed away and while she's lost some, it's been mostly in her upper body.

"I'm determined to do this," she said. Dyan's planning her calf lipsocution for this fall.

If Dyan were to ask Sabrina, she'd get an enthusiastic endorsement for the operation.

"I couldn't be happier," Sabrina said. "I got a few pairs of stretch Stuart Weitzmans."

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Most New Cancer Drugs Target DNA, Report Finds


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- One American dies of cancer every minute, according to the latest Cancer Progress Report from the American Association for Cancer Research.

The report, unveiled Tuesday, highlights major advancements this past year in cancer research, diagnosis and treatment. Among its key findings and predictions:

  • More than 1.6 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in 2014. The number of people who die from cancer worldwide is projected to rise to 14.6 million by 2034.
  • While cancer is the leading cause of disease-related death in U.S. children, more than 50 percent of cancers are diagnosed in those older than 65.
  • In the past year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved six new cancer therapies, five of which belong to a relatively new class of drugs known as molecularly-targeted agents because they are designed to attack highly specific cancer proteins.

While improved cancer screening tools and research have led to earlier detection and therapies in the fight against cancer, declining research budgets have slowed progress. And, as the population continues to age, the numbers of cancer diagnoses are expected to dramatically increase, the report warned.

Additionally, cancer health disparities persist among low-income and minority populations.

For more on the report, watch the video below of a cancer roundtable moderated by Dr. Richard Besser, chief health and medical editor for ABC News:

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Male Pattern Baldness Linked to Prostate Cancer


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Men with male pattern baldness just got something new to worry about besides a lack of hair.

A new study published in the Sept. 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology suggests men with male pattern baldness may face a higher risk of developing an aggressive type of prostate cancer than guys who are not going bald.

Study co-author Michael Cook, an investigator at the National Cancer Institute, is quick to point out that the study only found an association between male pattern baldness and aggressive prostate cancer. There’s no proof of cause and effect.

Male pattern baldness is a form of hair loss that starts when the front hairline as well as the top of the back of the head begin to recede.

Dr. Charles Ryan, an associate clinical professor with the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, says male pattern baldness develops as a result of "a cumulative, lifelong exposure to testosterone in the skin." Ryan says testosterone also drives prostate cancer.

Researchers studied some 40,000 men between 1993 and 2001, when they were between 55 and 74 years old, and asked them about their level and type of hair loss at age 45. During a follow-up period between 2006 and 2008, the researchers found more than 1,100 men had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Nearly 600 of them developed aggressive prostate cancer.

Men who recalled having a specific type of male pattern baldness -- in the front and, moderately, around the crown of the head -- were 39 percent more likely to develop an aggressive form of prostate cancer than men who had no baldness.

Other types of baldness were not linked to the development of aggressive or other types of prostate cancer.

"It is conceivable that, in the future, male pattern baldness may play a small role in estimating risk of prostate cancer and may contribute to discussions between doctors and patients about prostate cancer screening," says Cook.

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Prescription Drug Deaths Continue to Rise


iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says deaths from opioid prescription painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin nearly quadrupled between 1999 and 2011.

According to CDC data, there were 4,263 deaths linked to opioid drugs in 1999.  In 2011, the number of deaths climbed to nearly 17,000.

“The numbers we’re seeing are definite underestimates,” said Dr. Holly Hedegaard, injury epidemiologist at the National Center for Health Statistics and one of the lead authors of the CDC report.

According to the report, the number of deaths linked to a combination of opioids with benzodiazepine drugs, like Xanax or Klonopin, was also on the rise.

In 2011, nearly a third of opioid-related deaths occurred in combination with benzodiazepines -- a considerable jump from only about 13 percent in 1999.

The report also concluded that the group with the greatest increase in death rates was Americans between 55 and 65 years old.  Dr. Robert Waldman, an addiction medicine consultant not involved with the research, says one explanation may be the medical community placing more emphasis on treating pain symptoms.

Dr. Waldman says while this has led to relief for patients, it may have also led to more aggressive treatment of pain -- and with it, more use of prescription painkillers.

The rise in deaths from opioid prescription painkillers appears to be slowing down in younger age groups. Health experts say that is likely due to a combination of increasing drug awareness, law enforcement activities and drug treatment programs.

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One in Three Americans Would Save Smartphone Before Pets in a Fire


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Pets are cherished members of many American families, but apparently not as cherished as smartphones in some households.

When researchers asked 2,673 American adults what they would save first if their house was on fire -- aside from family members or other people -- 31 percent gave their smartphones a higher priority than family pets and cash.

Of those people who would save their smartphone first above all else, 65 percent said they would do so because there was “too much on their phone to lose.”

Another 12 percent admitted they would go for their smartphone first because it would be the closest thing at hand. The participants were able to choose from a list of possible answers.

The study was conducted by vouchercloud.net.

Here are the top 10 items people would save in a fire:

  1. Smartphone – 31 percent
  2. Pet(s) – 18 percent
  3. Cash – 13 percent
  4. Jewelry – 11 percent
  5. Tablet device -10 percent
  6. Wallet/purse/handbag – 5 percent
  7. Photos – 4 percent
  8. Laptop – 3 percent
  9. Desktop computer – 3 percent
  10. Keepsakes – 1 percent


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A Blood Test to Diagnose Depression?


iStock/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Doctors usually rely on patient self-reporting to treat depression, but researchers at Northwestern University say a simple blood test may one day allow physicians to diagnose major depressive disorder.

When the researchers examined nine biomarkers in the blood of test subjects, they noticed a significant discrepancy in levels among people who had MDD and those who did not.

The researchers say three of the markers can be used to determine which type of depression therapy might be most effective for a specific patient.

Because depression is diagnosed after an evaluation by a psychiatrist or primary care physician, the researchers suggest a blood test may help avoid diagnostic uncertainty which can often lead to a delay in identification and treatment.

Medical experts not involved with the research note that the Northwestern University study only involved 14 patients with 14 controls. The study was published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

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American Waistlines Continue to Grow


iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- In this era of triple bacon cheeseburgers, 48-ounce sodas and double-stuffed-crust pizzas, it shouldn't come as a surprise that American waistlines are getting bigger.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the average American waist size increased more than an inch -- from 37.6 inches to 38.8 inches -- between 1999 and 2012.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers studied 32,816 men and women ages 20 and older and found that while men's waists increased less than an inch -- about 0.8 of an inch on average -- women's midriffs grew about twice that, or 1.5 inches.

Waistlines larger than 35 inches for women and more than 40 inches for men are considered abdominal obesity.

Based on their waist circumference, 54 percent of Americans were abdominally obese in 2012, up from 46 percent 13 years earlier.

Abdominal obesity is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and high cholesterol.

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Detroit Doctor Pleads Guilty to Administering Unnecessary Chemotherapy to Defraud Medicare


yanyong/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(DETROIT) -- A Detroit-area doctor pleaded guilty to defrauding Medicare and insurance companies by providing patients with unnecessary chemotherapy.

Dr. Farid Fata, 49, had been accused of fraudulently billing about $225 million in claims to Medicare over a six year span. He pleaded guilty on Tuesday to 13 counts of health care fraud, one count of conspiracy to pay or receive kickbacks, and two counts of money laundering. He could face a maximum of 175 years in prison.

"At a time when they are most vulnerable and fearful, cancer patients put their lives in the hands of doctors and endure risky treatments at their recommendation," Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said. "Dr. Fata today admitted he put greed before the health and safety of his patients, putting them through unnecessary chemotherapy and other treatments just so that he could collect additional millions from Medicare."

Fata's actions are "chilling," Caldwell said.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General Special Agent in Charge Lamont Pugh called Fata's actions "simply deplorable."

Fata submitted $225 million in claims to Medicare between August 2007 and July 2013, receiving over $91 million.

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Doctor Who Recovered from Ebola Calls Outbreak a 'Fire Straight from the Pit of Hell'


ABC News(ATLANTA) -- The doctor who was the first U.S. Ebola patient to be treated in America testified before a congressional committee Tuesday recalling the horror and "humiliation" of a disease that has killed thousands.

Dr. Kent Brantly, working on behalf of the U.S.-based missionary group Samaritan's Purse, was treating patients in Monrovia, Liberia, when he became infected with the Ebola virus in July. Brantly was evacuated to Emory University Hospital, where he was treated and eventually recovered.

The Ebola outbreak continues to grow throughout West Africa with an estimated 2,461 deaths attributed to the virus and approximately 4,985 infected.

Now just a few weeks after being discharged from Emory, Brantly was able to speak out about what he saw as a doctor and a patient during this Ebola outbreak -- the worst on record since the virus was first identified in the 1970s. During his testimony, Brantly urged Congress and government officials to give more aid and personnel to try and stop the outbreak, which President Obama said is "spiraling out of control."

You can read a few of Brantly’s most affecting remarks from his testimony below.

- "I came to understand firsthand what my own patients had suffered. I was isolated from my family, and I was unsure if I would ever see them again," Brantly said of his time being an Ebola patient in Liberia. "I experienced the humiliation of losing control of my bodily functions and faced the horror of vomiting blood -- a sign of the internal bleeding that could have eventually led to my death."

- "Many have used the analogy of a fire burning out of control to describe this unprecedented Ebola outbreak. Indeed it is a fire -- a fire straight from the pit of hell. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that the vast moat of the Atlantic Ocean will keep the flames away from our shores."

- "It is grueling work," Brantly said of treating Ebola patients in Liberia. "The personal protective equipment (PPE) we wore in the Ebola Treatment Unit becomes excruciatingly hot, with temperatures inside the suit reaching up to 115 degrees. It cannot be worn for more than an hour and a half."

- "If we do not do something to stop this outbreak now, it quickly could become a matter of U.S. national security -- whether that means a regional war that gives terrorist groups like Boko Haram a foothold in West Africa or the spread of the disease into America."

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