Extra Calcium May Not Boost Bones

A new study raises questions about the value of calcium and vitamin D when it comes to protecting the bones of older women.

Researchers from the Women's Health Initiative followed more than 32,000 post-menopausal women for seven years. Going against popular wisdom, they found that women who took calcium and vitamin D supplements had no significant decrease in broken hips compared with women on placebo. They did find that for women who diligently adhered to the daily dose there was a significant decrease, with 29 percent fewer hip fractures. Overall, women over age 60 saw a greater benefit. Researchers are quick to caution that calcium and vitamin D remain essential for bone health and that women entering menopause might want to check with their doctor to make sure they don't need even more targeted bone therapy.

The results appears in the New England Journal of Medicine. — Patricia Neighmond

HSAs Could Increase Number of Uninsured

Feb. 17, 2006 — President Bush this week is touting health savings accounts (HSAs) as a way to improve access to health insurance. But a new study argues that the policies could actually increase the number of uninsured.

HSAs are tax-preferred savings vehicles that combine with high-deductible health insurance to make patients more aware of the actual cost of their care. The president has been promoting them as a way to both contain costs and expand coverage.

But the study by Jonathan Gruber at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that the number of people who would get new coverage would be smaller than the number of people who would lose coverage because their employers stopped offering it. He projects a net increase in the number of uninsured at 600,000 people. Currently, an estimated 46 million Americans lack health coverage. — Julie Rovner

Study Finds Truth in Death by Broken Heart

Feb. 15, 2006 — When elderly people watch a spouse deal with a serious illness, that can put the care-giving spouse at higher risk of death, too, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Scientists call it the "bereavement effect," but it's more commonly known as dying of a broken heart. It's the idea that when one spouse dies, a partner is at higher risk of dying soon after.

Researchers wanted to see if illness, too, created a risk. Studying the medical records of more than a half million elderly couples, the researchers found that when a spouse is hospitalized, the partner's risk of death increases significantly and remains higher for up to two years.

Illnesses that often require long-term care giving put a spouse at highest risk. Most dangerous were dementia and psychiatric illness. Someone caring for a partner with those had a higher risk of dying while their spouse was still alive. There was less risk of their own death once the sick partner died. — Joseph Shapiro

FDA: Multigrain and Whole Grain Not Nutritionally Equal

Feb. 15, 2006 — The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a new whole grain guideline aimed at helping consumers figure out which cereals and breads contain recommended levels of heart-healthy grains.

Breads that are labeled as "multigrain" or "seven grain" don't necessarily contain whole grains. The FDA is trying to clarify the issue. Its new guidance is intended to assist food manufacturers in making accurate statements about grain content on their packages.

Whole grain, the agency says, means a product should include intact, ground or flaked grains from barley, corn, wheat or one of the eight other grains on the FDA list.

Consumers are advised to eat three ounces of these grains every day. The grains should be labeled as "whole" or whole flour on food packaging ingredient lists.

The draft guidance carries no enforcement muscle. FDA officials say they'd have to evaluate products case-by-case to determine whether they're appropriately labeled. — Allison Aubrey

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