Your Friday 5: The week in health

April 21, 2017 Mike Francis

As we wind through April showers toward the blessed sunshine of May and the months beyond, we have a moment to pause and reflect on the always-fascinating work of health care researchers, who are parsing everything from autism to bicycling. Let’s review some interesting recent findings, focusing on some timely quality-of-life items. We also have an update on a baby product containing belladonna.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has declared that middle school and high school classes should start no earlier than 8:30 a.m., so students can get sufficient sleep. (To which parents everywhere say: “Duh!”) The academy recommends young people ages 13 to 18 sleep eight to 10 hours a night for optimal health. But more than two-thirds of high school students sleep seven hours or less, according to CDC data. That contributes to poor school performance, obesity, increased symptoms of depression, risk-taking behaviors, athletic injuries and other unhealthy conditions, according to the academy.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force continues to refine its recommendations for prostate cancer screens. A draft recommendation from the agency now encourages men between 55 and 69 to discuss the potential benefits and harms of prostate screens with their health care providers, and to make a decision based on personal health factors. The task force recommended against routine screening for men 70 and older. This is a change to a

2012 recommendation that advised against routine screening for all men due to concerns about false-positive readings and unnecessary treatments.

The New England Journal of Medicine calls attention to three recent studies that may be comforting to pregnant women who take, or are contemplating taking, antidepressants. The upshot of all three studies is that using antidepressants doesn’t lead to autism in children. "The lack of a direct causal link between maternal antidepressant use and [autism] should be reassuring to parents and clinicians," said Robert Barbieri, M.D., of the NEJM Journal Watch Women's Health. JAMA editorial writers said, "Disentangling the effects of maternal mood disorders on the fetus vs. shared genetic predisposition to mental and neurodevelopmental disorders is the next step."

As health officials try to rein in the use of opioids, they are studying what happens when the highly addictive drugs are prescribed for post-surgical pain. Research published in JAMA Surgery shows that persistent opioid use by patients after surgery is related more to substance abuse problems, mental health disorders and pre-existing pain conditions than to surgical pain. Researchers said new, persistent use of opioids by patients recovering from surgery is more common than previously understood and represents “one of the most common complications” of recovery.

Commuting to work by bicycle is good for your heart and lowers your risk of developing cancer. In fact, cycle commuting lowers your risk of all causes of mortality, according to a British study published in the BMJ. Walking commuters also benefited from a lower risk of heart disease, researchers say. The findings suggest planners can improve overall health by advocating policies that encourage “active commuting,” especially bicycling.

And now, an update to earlier To Your Health articles

Hyland, the brand name for the company that makes teething products for babies, has bowed in the face of warnings and alerts from regulators. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned in January that Hyland’s Baby Teething Tablets and Baby Nighttime Teething Tablets pose “a serious hazard” because they contain inconsistent amounts of belladonna, a natural substance that can be toxic in some circumstances. The company did not agree to a recall at the time, but now says it stopped distributing the products in the United States last fall and has issued a recall. Hyland also said it’s arranging for retailers and customers to return its products. Follow the link for details.

What are you thinking about this week?

Toxins in the marketplace? Bicycles in the workplace? Health screenings? Let us know in comments below.

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