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Health Highlights: Oct. 27, 2011
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Food Industry Decides on Safety of Thousands of Ingredients
At least 3,000 food ingredients have been classified as safe by the food industry in recent decades without any U.S. government oversight, a new report says.
The food ingredients determined to be safe by industry trade associations and private companies since the early 1960s range from grape seed extract used in cheese and instant coffee to artificially synthesized chemicals used in chewing gum, the Associated Press reported.
The report, published in the Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety journal, uses research funded by the Pew Health Group, the health and consumer safety division of the nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts.
"We don't know the names of a lot of these chemicals because the companies have never told FDA or the public about them," Erik Olson, a study author and Pew Health Group's director of food and consumer safety programs, told the AP. "Often there is not publicly available data on the potential health impacts because FDA has never evaluated them."
Food ingredients are classified as safe only after they undergo rigorous testing, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association. But the group agrees that more transparency in the approval process would help reassure consumers.
The report raises important questions about the public's access to information about ingredient safety, FDA Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor said.
"Transparency in decision-making is a high priority for FDA, and FDA considers it timely to explore whether the statutory and regulatory framework for food additives adequately addresses today's need for transparency," he told the AP.
Turkish Pine Nuts Linked to Salmonella Outbreak: CDC
Turkish pine nuts from bulk bins at Wegmans grocery stores have been linked to a salmonella outbreak that's sickened 42 people in six states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday.
The illnesses began on or after August 20 and include 26 people in New York state, 8 in Pennsylvania, 4 in Virginia, 2 in New Jersey, and 1 each in Arizona and Maryland. The patients range in age from less than a year old to 94 years old.
Two people have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported, the CDC said.
There may be more illnesses that occurred after Sept. 28 and have not yet been reported because it can take 2 to 3 weeks between the time a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported to health officials.
Wegmans Food Markets Inc. is recalling about 5,000 lbs. of Turkish pine nuts sold from bulk bins of most Wegmans stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and Maryland between July 1 and Oct. 18, 2011.
Consumers should not eat the nuts or any products -- such as baked goods, pesto and salads -- that contain the nuts. Anyone who purchased the nuts should place them in a closed plastic bag and put the bag in a sealed trash can, the CDC advised.
Birth Control Pills and Having Babies Reduce Ovarian Cancer Risk: Study
Women can significantly reduce their risk of ovarian cancer by using birth control pills and having babies, according to a new study.
Researchers followed about 300,000 European women for an average of nine years and found that women who took the pill for 10 years reduced their risk of ovarian cancer by 45 percent, ABC News reported.
Women who had used birth control pills at some point in their lives had a 15 percent reduced risk, according to the study published this week in the British Journal of Cancer.
The researchers also found that having one child reduced ovarian cancer risk by 29 percent and having more children reduced the risk by an additional 8 percent, ABC News reported.
Researchers Examine Gene Makeup of Very Elderly
Researchers conducting whole-genome sequencing of very old, healthy people to learn why they've lived so long say the findings may lead to new medicines that could help others live longer, healthier lives.
Whole-genome sequencing involves deciphering a person's complete collection of DNA, the Associated Press reported.
One effort is the Wellderly Study, which will include thousands of Americans 80 and older with no history of chronic disease.
"Why are these people Teflon-coated? Why don't they get disease?" asked Dr. Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Health of San Diego study, the AP reported.
Another project is called the Archon Genomics X Prize competition, which is offering $10 million in prize money to scientists who complete DNA code from 100 people older than 100.
The competition is just a first step in discovering the genetic secrets of a long and healthy life, according to genome pioneer and contest co-chair J. Craig Venter.
"We need 10,000 genomes, not 100, to start to understand the link between genetics, disease and wellness," he said.
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