The spectrum of health and science is always evolving and may leave us scratching our heads. This year was no exception. I'm outlining five of the top health stories in 2011 that got us thinking and reacting. If nothing else, these stories indicate that medical science, along with everything else, sometimes has to be taken with a grain of salt and can be really based on the individual.
Pregnant woman runs marathon, gives birth hours later:
Runner Amber Miller crossed the finish line at the Chicago Marathon in October—and then proceeded to go into labor! After she gave birth to a healthy baby hours later, a collective thought loomed on everyone's mind: "Is that safe?" Though experts have long endorsed exercise during pregnancy was this taking things a bit too far? Well at least one expert says no. Massachusetts General Hospital's medical director of labor and delivery, Dr. Laura Riley, says she supports Miller's efforts. "In general, exercise is great in pregnancy and even extreme exercise is likely ok for the woman who is in great shape. Most important thing is to listen to your body and when you are cramping, slow down or stop all together. The vast majority of women do not do enough exercise so this woman is definitely not the norm. More power to her."
Cell phones cause cancer? Or do they?
Most of us were reassured when a British study found no conclusive link between cell phones and brain tumors. But before we could digest and appreciate the news, cancer experts informed the World Health Organization (WHO) in May that cell phones may still pose a risk to the brain. In July another study found that cell phones do not seem to pose a cancer risk to those who use them regularly--are you keeping up?
Does mammography and self-breast exams really work?
In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said most women shouldn't require or need mammograms until age 50. But in April of this year a pair of studies supported the idea that women in their 40s, especially minority women should get yearly mammograms. The message changed again in July when it was revealed that mammograms analyzed with a technology called computer-aided detection aren't always helpful in detecting cancers--often produced false positives and causing unnecessary biopsies. Then in September researchers announced that both mammograms and self-exams are key in detecting breast cancer(s) even in younger women. Massachusetts General Hospital's senior radiologist, Dr. Daniel Kopans believes women should definitely err on the side of caution: "The data clearly shows that all women should be having mammograms every year beginning at the age of 40. The confusion has occurred because of the leakage of scientifically, unsupportable analyses into the literature," he explains.
Is your multivitamin actually killing you?
You always thought that taking your daily vitamin would protect you but a study published in October may suggest otherwise. The research revealed that older women who took multivitamins plus other dietary supplements, including iron and folic acid, actually had a higher risk of dying earlier. But as with much of preliminary research, experts said the study showed only an "association" between the combination and didn't account for other, underlying health conditions.
High-salt diets could kill you, but what about low-salt diets?
It's been widely reported that too much sodium in the diet can raise your blood pressure. But, a report published in May revealed that death from cardiovascular problems was over 50% higher for men who ate the least amout of sodium. What gives? Some experts say reducing sodium isn't necessarily good for everyone. Just to play devil's advocate, a July report (which incorporated over 15 years of research) found that people who eat more sodium and less potassium die sooner of heart problems than those who consume the exact opposite.
This is just a small sample of what happened in the world of health this past year, I'm sure 2012 will be equally as exciting and will keep everyone on their toes.