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X-Radiation in CT Scans, not in MRIs

X-radiation from CT scans is estimated to cause about two percent of all cancers in the United States (New England Journal of Medicine, 2007 (Nov); 357:2277-2284). Most decisions to order CT scans are made by physicians who do not inform their patients of the risks involved (JAMA Intern Med, March 4, 2013).

• Up to one third of imaging tests in the U.S. are ordered in situations when the expected benefits do not sufficiently exceed the risks.
• Two-thirds of patients in U.S. hospitals are not told that radiation from CT scans may cause cancers.
• When patients are fully informed, they often opt for fewer tests and less aggressive care.

CT scans are used to diagnose medical problems inside the body, such as sinus infections, lung disease, brain tumors and so forth. You can get even more information from MRIs that produce no radiation. However, MRIs are usually more expensive than CT scans because the machines used to perform this test are more expensive.

IF YOUR DOCTOR RECOMMENDS A CT SCAN: The more radiation you receive in your lifetime, the greater your risk for cancer. Tell your doctor that you are worried about X-radiation from CT scans. Ask him or her if the test is really necessary, and if so, whether an MRI could be ordered instead.


Even Small Amounts of Alcohol Increase Cancer Risk

Drinking even small amounts of alcohol regularly increases risk for cancers of the mouth, larynx, esophagus, colon, rectum, liver, and breast, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health (published online Feb 14, 2013).

Doctors usually tell their patients that it is safe for men to take up to two drinks a day, and for women to take one drink a day. This study shows that this advice is not true, since drinking any amount of alcohol regularly increases cancer risk.

HOW EXTENSIVE IS ALCOHOL-INDUCED CANCER? The authors found that alcohol causes 3.5 percent of all cancers in the United States. Of this 3.5 percent, three or more drinks a day causes up to 60 percent of the cancer-related deaths, while more than 30 percent of cancer-related deaths were caused by taking fewer than 1.5 drinks a day.

Weak data show that taking up to two drinks a day of alcohol may help to prevent heart attacks. However, this recent study shows that alcohol causes TEN TIMES MORE DEATHS in the United States than it may prevent.

HOW ALCOHOL DAMAGES CELLS: Alcohol damages every tissue it touches. It hurts to pour alcohol on a cut because alcohol will pull the water right out of cells to damage them and make them shrivel up. If you add a pint of water to a pint of alcohol, you will get a volume far less than two pints. Alcohol takes water right into its own molecule so the combination takes up less space than when alcohol and water are in separate glasses.

ONLY YOUR LIVER PROTECTS YOU FROM ALCOHOL: Your liver is the only organ in your body that can break down alcohol rapidly. It contains the enzyme, alcohol dehydrogenase, that breaks down alcohol into acetaldehyde that is even more toxic than alcohol. Acetaldehyde causes facial flushing, hot sensations in your body, nausea and rapid heart rate. Then your liver uses a second enzyme called acetaldehyde dehydrogenase to break down acetaldehyde to harmless substances.

A drink is the amount of alcohol that causes a significant amount of alcohol to remain in your bloodstream for one hour. For most people, that is 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 2/3rds of a shot glass of 100 proof alcohol.

Since your liver breaks down alcohol at a constant rate, and there is nothing you can do to make it break down alcohol faster, you should limit your intake of alcohol to a level that exposes your cells for only up to two hours a day. This new study shows that safe exposure may be even less than that.


All Sugared Drinks Can Make You Fat

Children who take sugared drinks eat more food than those who drink non-sugared drinks, and the more sugar-sweetened drinks they take, the more high-calorie, less-healthful foods they eat (American Journal of Preventive Medicine, March 12, 2013). Pizza, cakes, cookies, pies, fried potatoes, and sweets are major sources of solid fats and added sugars. Sugared drinks include sodas, sweetened tea and coffee, fruit juices, fruit drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks.

HOW SUGARED DRINKS MAKE YOU FAT: When you eat sugar in a solid food such as a cookie, your brain recognizes that you are taking in calories and you eat less of something else. However, when you take sugar in a drink, your brain does not recognize these calories and you do not reduce the amount of calories from other sources.

SUBSTITUTE WATER FOR SUGAR-SWEETENED BEVERAGES. Replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with water would eliminate about 235 excess calories per day among children and adolescents (Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, April 2009). Avoiding sugared drinks would markedly reduce obesity, dental cavities, diabetes, and other health problems associated with added sugar.

RESTRICTING SUGARED DRINKS REDUCES WEIGHT MORE THAN RESTRICTING FOODS. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that reducing calories in drinks is far more effective in promoting weight loss than reducing calories in food (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April 1, 2009). Both liquid and solid calories were associated with weight change, however, only a reduction in liquid calorie intake was shown to significantly affect weight loss during a six-month follow up.

THE BOTTOM LINE: To help protect you from gaining weight, quench your thirst with water, unsweetened tea or other non-sweet, no-calorie beverage.


This week's medical history:
Eugene O’Neill’s Guilt and Death

For a complete list of my medical history biographies go to Histories and Mysteries


Recipe of the Week:

Seafood Tossed Salad

You'll find lots of recipes and helpful tips in The Good Food Book - it's FREE

March 17th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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