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Showing posts from May, 2011

Cholesterol drug Niaspan disappoints; better to just have a glass of wine?

This week it was announced that a clinical trial on the use of Niaspan (a sustained release formulation of the vitamin niacin) to raise levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol, was suspended because of disappointing results. While it is well-established that higher levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) relative to LDL (its low-density counterpart) are associated with reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, the addition of Niaspan to the cholesterol-lowering statin drugs (for example Lipitor) has failed to deliver the same benefit seen in people who naturally have a high HDL/LDL ratio. In this recent trial, there was even a trend to an increased stroke incidence. Sales of Abbott’s Niaspan totaled nearly $1 billion last year, but development of several cholesterol drugs has been suspended recently due to lack of efficacy in preclinical trials.


It seems appropriate then to take a few steps back and see what we know about what does work. Not smoking, along with exercise and a healthy die…

The French Paradox at 20

This year will mark twenty years since the CBS television show 60 Minutes christened the term “French paradox” and ushered in the modern era of research on wine and health. It was a provocative idea at the time, attributing the French custom of regular imbibing to health and well-being, and it still has its naysayers; at the other extreme, there are those who reduce the idea to a simple question of nutritional biochemistry and proclaim that all of wine’s health benefits can be put into a pill, conveniently and properly skipping the alcohol. Is there still a useful truth underlying the paradox?


As with many questions in the realm of lifestyle and health, the answers are often nuanced and conditional. Though challenged by government authorities in both America and Europe, the authors of the idea – Serge Renaud in Bordeaux and Curt Ellison in Boston – provided a rigorous defense of the notion. The French paradox is invoked regularly as an excuse for having a few, to the point that it has…

New Heart Association Survey on wine: Why are Americans confused about healthy drinking?

The American Heart Association recently released the results of a survey of Americans on their knowledge of healthy drinking and consumption of sea salt. No surprise, they concluded that we have it all wrong. On the plus side, two thirds agreed with the statement that wine is good for the heart, but less than one third know the AHA’s recommended limits of a daily glass or two for men and no more than one for women. The survey showed that “we need to do a better job of educating people about the heart-health risks of overconsumption of wine” according to a spokesperson.


I say bless their hearts but their paternalistic message only adds to the confusion. For starters, they don’t even have their definitions right, which is a 5-ounce pour as the standard on which research and policymakers have long agreed, but the AHA cuts it back to 4. Granted, they have come a long way since the mid 1990’s when the official policy grudgingly acknowledged that a glass or two a day “might be considered s…