Alzheimer’s study points finger of blame at immune system

Alzheimer’s, Dementia & Mental Health

Alzheimer’s study points finger of blame at immune system

Search for treatment, cure seems headed in new direction today after Duke study

Colorful depection of regions of the human brainApril 15, 2015 – The search for a cure or treatment of Alzheimer’s disease appears to being going in a new direction today. New research points the finger of blame away from “plaques” and “tangles” and toward a failure of the immune system.

A Duke University study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that cells in the immune system that normally protect the brain from infection will begin to consume a key nutrient, arginine, during the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

The researchers blocked this process in lab mice with a small-molecule drug, difluoromethylornithine (DFMO), which prevented the brain plaques and the loss of memory. This stopped the damage caused by arginase, an enzyme which breaks down arginine.

“Plaques and tangles in the brain are two of the main features of Alzheimer’s disease,” according to the National Institute on Aging. “The third is the loss of connections between nerve cells (neurons) in the brain.

Alzheimer’s is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks of daily living.

In most people with Alzheimer’s, symptoms first appear after age 65. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia among older people. There are about 5 million cases in the U.S. today.

The mystery is not completely solved, however, as the precise role of the immune system cells is not understood. Still, the study points to a new possible cause of AD, which could open the door to new therapy.

“If indeed arginine consumption is so important to the disease process, maybe we could block it and reverse the disease,” said Carol Colton, professor of neurology at the Duke University School of Medicine, a senior author of the study.

“We see this study opening the doors to thinking about Alzheimer’s in a completely different way, to break the stalemate of ideas in Alzheimer’s disease.”

Research into the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers has typically focused on plaques and tangles. Plaques are a build-up of sticky proteins known as beta amyloid while tangles are a twisted protein called tau.

By studying a type of mouse created several years ago with a similar type of immune system to a human, researchers found that immune cells called microglia began to divide and change early in the onset of Alzheimer’s.

“All of this suggests to us that if you can block this local process of amino acid deprivation, then you can protect – the mouse, at least – from Alzheimer’s disease,” said Matthew Kan, one of the researchers involved in the study.

The researchers will next test older mice that already have an advanced form of Alzheimer’s.

via Alzheimer’s study points finger of blame at immune system.

How to Make the Most of Free Preventive Care Under the ACA – US News

How to Make the Most of Free Preventive Care Under the ACA – US News.


Flu shots may not be as effective this year, but the CDC says it's more important than ever to go out and get one.

The Affordable Care Act provides 26 free services for children, including immunizations, vision and oral health screenings and autism screening.

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One of the first implemented tenets of the Affordable Care Act was to give insured Americans access to free preventive care. But more than four years after this policy began, many people are still unaware of these preventive health benefits or how to take advantage of them.

The Department of Health and Human Services estimates the ACA rule made 76 million Americans “newly eligible” for free preventive care. But a Kaiser Health Tracking Poll in March 2014 revealed that only 43 percent of the population were aware of the change, meaning many are likely to avoid such care out of cost concerns.

What Is It?

Section 2713 of the ACA mandates all individual and group health plans offer a list of preventive care benefits with no cost-sharing requirements passed onto the consumer.

Technically, the services aren’t free – they’re paid for by the health insurance company through the money collected in your monthly premium – but you cannot be charged a copay, coinsurance or deductible to take advantage of them. In other words, you pay nothing at the time of service.

The exception to this mandate is health insurance plans that are grandfathered – which is to say they existed before March 23, 2010. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, this includes more than one-fourth of workers covered by employer-based insurance as of 2014.

What Services Are Included?

The list of preventive services available with no cost sharing is lengthy. You can view them in their entirety at For adults, there are 15 basic services, including:

  • Immunizations
  • Alcohol and tobacco misuse screening and treatment options
  • Blood pressure and cholesterol screenings
  • Obesity and Type 2 diabetes screenings
  • Depression screening

For children, the list is 26 items long and includes:

  • Immunizations
  • Developmental screenings
  • Vision and oral health screenings

Preventive services specifically for women are available on plans beginning on or after Aug. 1, 2012. These include 22 preventive services such as:

  • Contraceptives
  • Well-woman visits
  • Osteoporosis and anemia screenings
  • Prenatal care

How Often Can You Take Advantage of Them?

You can take advantage of most of these preventive services when you go in for a yearly physical or, in the case of women, your well-woman visit.

Obviously, timetables for immunizations differ from vaccine to vaccine, and your doctor can provide guidance on how often you should be receiving shots.

When Free Isn’t Free

As with nearly every health insurance benefit, there are exceptions, or rather words of warning that should accompany the invitation to avail yourself of them.

Your doctor’s office may bill a visit separately from your preventive services. If this is the case, you might have a copay. You might also have to pay if the primary reason for your appointment is something other than preventive care.

You’ll also likely have to pay out-of-pocket for treatments and follow-up appointments with your doctor if those screenings reveal a problem.

For instance, your child’s developmental or depression screening could reveal areas of concern, but any treatment for these findings would likely be subject to the deductible and other cost-sharing aspects of your health insurance plan. So following up with a specialist or mental health counselor could cost you.

Further, health insurance companies are handling the requirements differently.

In the case of free contraceptives for women, insurers are only required to offer one type of contraceptive from several different groups, and some see this as an opportunity to save money. So, if you want a vaginal ring, but the insurer offers alternative methods also considered “hormonal birth control,” you could be stuck with a bill. Likewise, opting for brand name over generic could leave you with cost-sharing responsibilities.

Finally, if you go to a provider outside of your health insurance network, your preventive care likely won’t be free. As with all medical services, you stand to save more when you seek in-network providers.

The Best Advice: Ask

When you schedule an appointment for any free preventive services, make it known that you’re interested in getting your free preventive screenings and want to be told if any services fall outside the list of approved “free” services.

If you’re visiting your doctor, don’t be afraid to speak up when he or she recommends additional testing and treatment. If they aren’t covered, you’ll need to pursue those recommendations with the knowledge that you’ll likely have some cost-sharing responsibilities.

While your doctor should have a general idea of which screenings and services fall under free preventive care, you can also call your insurance company for clarification.

Doctors hail reintroduction of Medicare-for-All

A national physicians group has hailed the reintroduction of a federal bill that would upgrade the Medicare program and swiftly expand it to cover the entire population.

The “Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act,” H.R. 676, introduced last night by Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., with 44 other House members, would replace today’s welter of private health insurance companies with a single, streamlined public agency that would pay all medical claims, much like Medicare works for seniors today.

Proponents say a Medicare-for-all system, also known as a single-payer system, would vastly simplify how the nation pays for care, improve patient health, restore free choice of physician, eliminate copays and deductibles, and yield substantial savings for individuals, families and the national economy.

“The global evidence is very clear: single-payer financing systems are the most equitable and cost-effective way to assure that everyone, without exception, gets high-quality care,” said Dr. Robert Zarr, president of Physicians for a National Health Program, a nonprofit research and educational group of 19,000 doctors nationwide.

“Medicare is a good model to build on, and what better way to observe Medicare’s 50th anniversary year than to improve and extend the program and its benefits to people of all ages?”

Zarr, a Washington, D.C.-based pediatrician, continued: “An expanded and improved Medicare-for-All program would assure truly universal coverage, cover all necessary services, and knock down the growing financial barriers to care – high premiums, co-pays, deductibles and coinsurance – that our nation’s patients and their families are increasingly running up against, often with calamitous results.

“Such a plan would save over $400 billion a year currently wasted on private-insurance-related bureaucracy, paperwork and marketing. That’s enough money to provide first-dollar coverage for everyone in the country – without increasing U.S. health spending by a single penny.

“Such a program would also have the financial clout to negotiate

via Doctors group hails reintroduction of Medicare-for-All bill | Application for Medicaid.

Seniors face high risk of Alzheimer’s, dementia from anticholinergic drugs

Seniors face high risk of Alzheimer’s, dementia from anticholinergic drugs.

Senior citizens often take anticholinergic drugs, which are commonly prescribed for a wide range of common health conditions

Senior woman looking at drugs in medicine cabinet

Feb. 17, 2015 – There is nothing that strikes fear in the hearts of senior citizens more than the risk of dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease in particular. A recent study found, however, a significantly increased risk for developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease from taking commonly used medications with anticholinergic effects, which are taken frequently by older adults, often unknowingly. They even include nonprescription medicines like Benadryl.

But the stern warning about anticholinergics significantly increasing this risk among seniors failed to get the attention it probably deserves.

Senior citizens often take anticholinergic drugs, which are commonly prescribed for a wide range of health conditions. Among the most widely used anticholinergics are antihistamines, including over-the-counter allergy and cold preparations and sleeping aids used regularly by elderly people.

“Older adults should be aware that many medications – including some available without a prescription, such as over-the-counter sleep aids – have strong anticholinergic effects,” said Shelly Gray, PharmD, MS, the first author of the report.

And the greater the use of the drugs, the higher the potential risk, according to the researchers.

“Efforts to increase awareness among health care professionals and older adults about this potential medication-related risk are important to minimize anticholinergic use over time,” they said in their conclusion.

“But of course, no one should stop taking any therapy without consulting their health care provider,” said Dr. Gray, who is a professor, the vice chair of curriculum and instruction, and director of the geriatric pharmacy program at the UW School of Pharmacy. “Health care providers should regularly review their older patients’ drug regimens—including over-the-counter medications—to look for chances to use fewer anticholinergic medications at lower doses.”

JAMA Internal Medicine published the online report, called “Cumulative Use of Strong Anticholinergics and Incident Dementia.” The National Institute on Aging (NIA) supported the research.

Anticholinergics are prescribed for many health conditions in older people, including overactive bladder, depression and even just seasonal allergies. Some are available over the counter and are often used as sleep aids. These medications block a neurotransmitter – acetylcholine – in the brain and body and may cause such side effects as impaired cognition, especially in older people. This side effect was previously thought to be reversible once the person stopped taking the medication.

However, the researchers show that these medications may have a lasting impact.

By analyzing records and data from the NIA-supported Group Health/University of Washington Adult Changes in Thought (ACT) study for drugs prescribed over 10 years to 3,434 seniors age 65 and older, they calculated cumulative exposure to drugs with strong anticholinergic effects.

Prospective population-based cohort study using data from the Adult Changes in Thought study in Group Health, an integrated health care delivery system in Seattle, Washington. We included 3434 participants 65 years or older with no dementia at study entry.

Initial recruitment occurred from 1994 through 1996 and from 2000 through 2003. Beginning in 2004, continuous replacement for deaths occurred. All participants were followed up every 2 years. Data through September 30, 2012, were included in these analyses.

During a mean follow-up of 7.3 years, 797 participants (23.2%) developed dementia. Seventy-nine percent of these (637) developed Alzheimer’s disease).

The analysis showed that 78 percent of ACT participants used anticholinergics at least once in 10 years.

The higher the use of anticholinergics, the higher the risk of dementia, regardless of whether the drugs had been taken recently or years ago.

The findings suggest that physicians treating older people should prescribe alternatives to anticholinergics, when possible, or lower doses of the drugs. More studies are needed to determine to what extent stopping anticholinergics can reduce the risk of developing permanent dementia.

“If providers need to prescribe a medication with anticholinergic effects because it is the best therapy for their patient,” Dr. Gray said. “They should use the lowest effective dose, monitor the therapy regularly to ensure it’s working, and stop the therapy if it’s ineffective.”

Anticholinergic effects happen because some medications block the neurotransmitter called acetylcholine in the brain and body, she explained. That can cause many side effects, including drowsiness, constipation, retaining urine, and dry mouth and eyes.

The study used more rigorous methods, longer follow-up (more than seven years), and better assessment of medication use via pharmacy records (including substantial nonprescription use) to confirm this previously reported link. It is the first study to show a dose response: linking more risk for developing dementia to higher use of anticholinergic medications.

And, it is also the first to suggest that dementia risk linked to anticholinergic medications may persist – and may not be reversible even years after people stop taking these drugs.

“With detailed information on thousands of patients for many years, the ACT study is a living laboratory for exploring risk factors for conditions like dementia,” said Dr. Gray’s coauthor Eric B. Larson, MD, MPH.

“This latest study is a prime example of that work and has important implications for people taking medications—and for those prescribing medications for older patients.” Dr. Larson is the ACT principal investigator, vice president for research at Group Health, and executive director of Group Health Research Institute (GHRI). He is also a clinical professor of medicine at the UW School of Medicine and of health services at the UW School of Public Health.

Some ACT participants agree to have their brains autopsied after they die. That will make it possible to follow up this research by examining whether participants who took anticholinergic medications have more Alzheimer’s-related pathology in their brains compared to nonusers.


University of Washington School of Pharmacy

Founded in 1894, the UW School of Pharmacy is ranked #3 in the world according to Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Follow the School of Pharmacy on Facebook or Twitter.

UW Medicine

UW Medicine is part of the University of Washington. Its system includes Harborview Medical Center, Northwest Hospital & Medical Center, Valley Medical Center, UW Medical Center, UW Neighborhood Clinics, UW Physicians, UW School of Medicine and Airlift Northwest. UW Medicine is affiliated with Seattle Children’s, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the Veteran’s Affairs Healthcare System in Seattle, and the Boise VA Medical Center. It shares in the ownership and governance of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and Children’s University Medical Group.

Group Health Research Institute

Group Health Research Institute does practical research that helps people stay healthy. The Institute is the research arm of Seattle-based Group Health Cooperative, a consumer-governed, nonprofit health care system. Founded in 1947, Group Health Cooperative coordinates health care and coverage. Group Health Research Institute changed its name from Group Health Center for Health Studies in 2009. The Institute has conducted nonproprietary public-interest research on preventing, diagnosing, and treating major health problems since 1983. Government and private research grants provide its main funding. Follow Group Health research on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Human stem cells restore cognitive function after chemotherapy damage

Health and Medicine for Seniors

Human stem cells restore cognitive function after chemotherapy damage

First solid evidence that transplantation of human neural stem cells can reverse chemo induced damage of healthy tissue in the brain

Feb. 16, 2015 – Human nerve system stem cell treatments are showing promise for reversing learning and memory deficits after chemotherapy, according to UC Irvine researchers.

In preclinical studies using rodents, they found that adult stem cells transplanted one week after the completion of a series of chemotherapy sessions restored a range of cognitive functions, as measured one month later using a comprehensive platform of behavioral testing. In contrast, rats not treated with stem cells showed significant learning and memory impairment.

The frequent use of chemotherapy to combat multiple cancers can produce severe cognitive dysfunction, often referred to as “chemobrain,” which can persist and manifest in many ways long after the end of treatments in as many as 75 percent of survivors – a problem of particular concern with pediatric patients.

“Our findings provide the first solid evidence that transplantation of human neural stem cells can be used to reverse chemotherapeutic-induced damage of healthy tissue in the brain,” said Charles Limoli, a UCI professor of radiation oncology.

Study results appear in the Feb. 15 issue of Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Many chemotherapeutic agents used to treat disparate cancer types trigger inflammation in the hippocampus, a cerebral region responsible for many cognitive abilities, such as learning and memory. This inflammation can destroy neurons and other cell types in the brain.

Additionally, these toxic compounds damage the connective structure of neurons, called dendrites and axons, and alter the integrity of synapses – the vital links that permit neurons to pass electrical and chemical signals throughout the brain. Limoli compares the process to a tree being pruned of its branches and leaves.

Consequently, the affected neurons are less able to transmit important neural messages that underpin learning and memory.

“In many instances, people experience severe cognitive impairment that’s progressive and debilitating,” Limoli said. “For pediatric cancer patients, the results can be particularly devastating, leading to reduced IQ, asocial behavior and diminished quality of life.”

For the UCI study, adult neural stem cells were transplanted into the brains of rats after chemotherapy. They migrated throughout the hippocampus, where they survived and differentiated into multiple neural cell types. Additionally, these cells triggered the secretion of neurotrophic growth factors that helped rebuild wounded neurons.

Importantly, Limoli and his colleagues found that engrafted cells protected the host neurons, thereby preventing the loss or promoting the repair of damaged neurons and their finer structural elements, referred to as dendritic spines.

“This research suggests that stem cell therapies may one day be implemented in the clinic to provide relief to patients suffering from cognitive impairments incurred as a result of their cancer treatments,” Limoli said. “While much work remains, a clinical trial analyzing the safety of such approaches may be possible within a few years.”


Munjal Acharya, Lori-Ann Christie, Vahan Martirosian, Nicole N. Chmielewski, Nevine Hanna, Katherine Tran, Alicia Liao and Vipan Parihar of UCI contributed to the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health (grant R01 NS074388581) and supported by UCI’s Institute for Clinical & Translational Science.

About the University of California, Irvine: Currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $4.8 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit

via Human stem cells restore cognitive function after chemotherapy damage.

More seniors go hungry in the U.S. than you might think –

More seniors go hungry in the U.S. than you might think

One in 12 American seniors do not have access to sufficient food due to shortage of financial resources or because they live in remote or especially poor areas of the country, according to a recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of Kentucky. An analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that seniors who were faced with so-called “food insecurity” had a higher incidence of diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart attack, gum disease and other health issues. The number of food insecure seniors has more than doubled over the past decade, and researchers recommend that officials focus their efforts on increasing involvement in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) with seniors. Take a look at these 19 Free Services for Seniors and Their Caregivers, for ways to help you and your loved one save money.

via The Link between Laughter and Memory Loss –

The Secret of Wealthy Older Adults – Yahoo News

How much do your grandparents (or parents) know about money? The answer might determine how much they have in their bank accounts.

That’s the finding of Joosuk Sebastian Chae, a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, who presented at the Gerontological Society of America’s annual meeting in the District of Columbia in November. Using data from 1,596 older adults in the national Health and Retirement Study, he found that advanced financial literacy levels, which include familiarity with stock market investments and investment risk, are associated with higher levels of wealth accumulation. In fact, respondents with strong financial literacy had, on average, $71,187 more than those with weak financial literacy.

“Financial literacy is very important for older adults to keep their assets,” Chae says. “I hope the findings motivate people to learn more [about money] and then keep their wealth.” He adds that while younger generations often feel comfortable learning about concepts on their own through online research, older adults tend to be more isolated, and as a result, can be more easily scammed, or simply make choices that hurt them financially, like investing in a single stock or taking Social Security early.

Chae’s study emphasizes advanced financial literacy over more basic concepts, like the ability to understand percentages. The questions he used to measure advanced financial literacy include: “Is it a big financial mistake to use a credit card without paying off the balance every month?” and “Which asset do you think historically has paid the highest returns over 20 years — a savings accounts, bonds or stocks?”. (The correct answers are “agree” or “strongly agree” and “stocks,” respectively.)

Chae’s work is in line with earlier findings by Annamaria Lusardi, a leader in the field of financial literacy and academic director of the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at the George Washington University School of Business. She and economist Olivia Mitchell of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania designed the financial literacy questions included in the Health and Retirement Study. Lusardi and Mitchell have repeatedly found a connection between financial literacy and wealth in their work, and Lusardi notes the particular importance of smart decision-making for older adults.

“When you make decisions at an older age, they are even more consequential. If you make a mistake at age 25, you might have time to correct it, but if you make a mistake at age 65 or 70, you don’t have the benefit of time,” she says. Older adults, she adds, are faced with many important money decisions, including when to take Social Security payments and how long to continue working. Despite that responsibility, she says her research has found that most older adults are not financially literate.

Debbie Banda, interim vice president of financial security at AARP, says that because of the shift away from defined benefit plans, like pensions, and into defined contribution plans, like 401(k)s, it’s more important than ever for employees to understand how to make smart decisions about their money. “You need to be more tuned into it; it requires a more active participation in retirement planning than there was a few decades ago.”

For older adults who want to improve their financial literacy, Chae suggests seeking out local programs related to money management. In some communities with colleges and universities, students volunteer to help older adults through workshops and other programs. Websites, including from the nonprofit National Endowment for Financial Education and the government’s, are also helpful for DIY learning.

“It’s never too late. Even if you’re way behind the curve, anything you do now will help you,” Banda says. While people often feel too overwhelmed to make any financial moves, she says even just small changes can have a big impact on your wealth levels. For example, making slight adjustments to spending so you can save more money, or delaying Social Security payments until age 70, can help contribute to your financial security. Free budgeting tools at can help with that planning. “The biggest mistake you can make is not to plan at all,” she says.

Lusardi adds that even though learning about money management early and getting a head start on saving and investing can have a bigger impact on later wealth levels, financial education at an older age can help older adults preserve the wealth they do have, avoid scams and identity theft, and make the best decisions for their situation. “Particularly at an older age, we are all very different and have different needs, different levels of risk aversion and different resources,” she says.

Lusardi says workplace financial education programs are also a great way to help prepare older adults to make smarter money decisions before and during retirement. As she puts it, “If we have gyms at work, we should have financial wellness programs, as well.”

via The Secret of Wealthy Older Adults – Yahoo News.

Herbal supplements not what they claim, ordered off shelves in New York

Herbal supplements not what they claim, ordered off shelves in New York.

Only 4% of the Walmart products tested showed DNA from the plants listed on the products’ labels – other stores GNC, Target, Walgreens

woman reading label on store bottleFeb. 4, 2015 – The world of herbal supplements – a place frequented often by senior citizens – virtually exploded yesterday when New York State’s Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman ordered four the largest retailers in the U.S. to stop selling a number of brand herbal supplement products because the labels on the products did not match the contents. This misleading information was on almost 80 percent of the products tested.

The letters came as DNA testing, performed as part of an ongoing investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, allegedly shows that, overall, just 21% of the test results from store brand herbal supplements verified DNA from the plants listed on the products’ labels — with 79% coming up empty for DNA related to the labeled content or verifying contamination with other plant material.

The retailer with the poorest showing for DNA matching products listed on the label was Walmart. Only 4% of the Walmart products tested showed DNA from the plants listed on the products’ labels.

“This investigation makes one thing abundantly clear: the old adage ‘buyer beware’ may be especially true for consumers of herbal supplements,” said Schneiderman.

“The DNA test results seem to confirm long-standing questions about the herbal supplement industry. Mislabeling, contamination, and false advertising are illegal. They also pose unacceptable risks to New York families—especially those with allergies to hidden ingredients. At the end of the day, American corporations must step up to the plate and ensure that their customers are getting what they pay for, especially when it involves promises of good health.”

“As the sponsor of a measure that would require labeling that states whether a product has been evaluated by the FDA or not, and legislation to establish a dietary supplements safety committee, I fully support the Attorney General’s efforts in this area,” said New York State Senator Ken LaValle. “ I will continue to fight for legislation that will provide adequate labeling information for the public.”

“Since 2005, I have sponsored legislation to create a dietary food supplements safety committee,” said New York State Assemblymember Felix Ortiz. “This bill was crafted for the very same reasons the Attorney General is now targeting retailers selling generic supplements that may or may not contain the substances contained on the labels. I support the Attorney General’s efforts and I will continue to push for the passage of my bill (A3548) to help reduce this kind of consumer fraud. We need adequate standards and better enforcement over these dietary supplements so consumers will feel confident knowing what they are buying.”

“The evidence for these herbs’ effectiveness is sketchy to begin with,” said David Schardt, Senior Nutritionist of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “But when the advertised herbs aren’t even in many of the products, it’s a sign that this loosely regulated industry is urgently in need of reform. Until then, and perhaps even after then, consumers should stop wasting their money. Attorney General Schneiderman has done what federal regulators should have done a long time ago.”

“This study undertaken by Attorney General Schneiderman’s office is a well-controlled, scientifically-based documentation of the outrageous degree of adulteration in the herbal supplement industry,” said Arthur P. Grollman, M.D., Professor of Pharmacological Sciences at Stony Brook University.

“I applaud the New York Attorney General for taking the additional step of seeking to remove these products from the marketplace as they can cause serious harm to consumers unaware of the actual ingredients in the pills and capsules they ingest. Hopefully, this action can prompt other states to follow New York’s example and lead to the reform of federal laws that, in their current form, are doing little to protect the public.”

Using DNA barcoding technology to examine the contents of herbal supplements, the Attorney General’s investigation is focused on what appears to be the practice of substituting contaminants and fillers in the place of authentic product. The investigation looked at six different herbal supplements sold at the four major retail companies in thirteen regions across the state, including Binghamton, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Harlem, Nassau County, Plattsburgh, Poughkeepsie, Rochester, Suffolk County, Syracuse, Utica, Watertown, and Westchester County.

The testing revealed that all of the retailers were selling a large percentage of supplements for which modern DNA barcode technology could not detect the labeled botanical substance.

While overall 21% of the product tests confirmed DNA barcodes from the plant species listed on the labels, 35% of the product tests identified DNA barcodes from plant species not listed on the labels, representing contaminants and fillers. A large number of the tests did not reveal any DNA from a botanical substance of any kind. Some of the contaminants identified include rice, beans, pine, citrus, asparagus, primrose, wheat, houseplant, wild carrot, and others. In many cases, unlisted contaminants were the only plant material found in the product samples.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires companies to verify that their products are safe and properly labeled for their contents, but unlike drugs, supplements do not undergo the agency’s rigorous evaluation process, which scrutinizes everything about the drug—from the design of clinical trials to the severity of side effects to the conditions under which the drug is manufactured.

If the producers of herbal supplements fail to identify all the ingredients on a product’s label, a consumer with food allergies, or who is taking medication for an unrelated illness, is taking a potentially serious health risk every time a contaminated herbal supplement is ingested. The Attorney General’s investigation is focused on potential violations of New York’s General Business Law and Executive Law, including deceptive practices and deceptive advertising.

An expert in DNA barcoding technology, Dr. James A. Schulte II of Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., was hired by the Attorney General’s office to perform the testing. DNA barcodes are short genetic markers in an organism’s DNA and are used to identify it as belonging to a particular species. Barcodes provide an unbiased, reproducible method of species identification. Barcodes can be used to determine the exact plant species being tested.

The DNA tests were performed on three to four samples of each of the six herbal supplements purchased from the New York stores. Each sample was tested with five distinct sequence runs, meaning each sample was tested five times. Three hundred and ninety tests involving 78 samples were performed overall.


·         Six “Herbal Plus” brand herbal supplements per store were purchased and analyzed: Gingko Biloba, St. John’s Wort, Ginseng, Garlic, Echinacea, and Saw Palmetto. Purchased from four locations with representative stores in Binghamton, Harlem, Plattsburgh & Suffolk.

·         Only one supplement consistently tested for its labeled contents: Garlic. One bottle of Saw Palmetto tested positive for containing DNA from the saw palmetto plant, while three others did not. The remaining four supplement types yielded mixed results, but none revealed DNA from the labeled herb.

·         Of 120 DNA tests run on 24 bottles of the herbal products purchased, DNA matched label identification 22% of the time.

·         Contaminants identified included asparagus, rice, primrose, alfalfa/clover, spruce, ranuncula, houseplant, allium, legume, saw palmetto, and Echinacea.


·         Six “Up & Up” brand herbal supplements per store were purchased and analyzed: Gingko Biloba, St. John’s Wort, Valerian Root, Garlic, Echinacea, and Saw Palmetto. Purchased from three locations with representative stores in Nassau County, Poughkeepsie, and Syracuse.

·         Three supplements showed nearly consistent presence of the labeled contents: Echinacea (with one sample identifying rice), Garlic, and Saw Palmetto. The remaining three supplements did not revealed DNA from the labeled herb.

·         Of 90 DNA tests run on 18 bottles of the herbal products purchased, DNA matched label identification 41% of the time.

·         Contaminants identified included allium, French bean, asparagus, pea, wild carrot and saw palmetto.


·         Six “Finest Nutrition” brand herbal supplements per store were purchased and analyzed: Gingko Biloba, St. John’s Wort, Ginseng, Garlic, Echinacea, and Saw Palmetto. Purchased from three locations with representative stores in Brooklyn, Rochester and Watertown.

·         Only one supplement consistently tested for its labeled contents: Saw Palmetto. The remaining five supplements yielded mixed results, with one sample of garlic showing appropriate DNA. The other bottles yielded no DNA from the labeled herb.

·         Of the 90 DNA test run on 18 bottles of herbal products purchased, DNA matched label representation 18% of the time.

·         Contaminants identified included allium, rice, wheat, palm, daisy, and dracaena (houseplant).


·         Six “Spring Valley” brand herbal supplements per store were purchased and analyzed: Gingko Biloba, St. John’s Wort, Ginseng, Garlic, Echinacea, and Saw Palmetto. Purchased from three geographic locations with representative stores in Buffalo, Utica and Westchester.

·         None of the supplements tested consistently revealed DNA from the labeled herb. One bottle of garlic had a minimal showing of garlic DNA, as did one bottle of Saw Palmetto. All remaining bottles failed to produce DNA verifying the labeled herb.

·         Of the 90 DNA test run on 18 bottles of herbal products purchased, DNA matched label representation 4% of the time.

·         Contaminants identified included allium, pine, wheat/grass, rice mustard, citrus, dracaena (houseplant), and cassava (tropical tree root).


The Attorney General’s investigation follows an important study conducted by the University of Guelph in 2013 that also found contamination and substitution in herbal products in most of the products tested. As was said at the time by a spokesperson for the University of Guelph, “The industry suffers from unethical activities by some manufacturers.”

The market for herbal supplements is significant. The Natural Products Foundation estimates that the dietary supplement industry contributes $61 billion dollars to the national economy. A 2013 study from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research estimated there are about 65,000 dietary supplements on the market consumed by more than 150 million Americans.

That same study also found that more than half of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Class I drug recalls between 2004 and 2012 were dietary supplements. Class I recalls are reserved for drugs or supplements for which there is a “reasonable probability that [their use] will cause serious adverse health consequences or death.”

The Attorney General thanks Dr. James A. Schulte II of Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y. for providing his expertise in DNA barcode testing for this investigation.

The case is being handled by Executive Deputy Attorney General Marty Mack and Assistant Attorney General Deanna Nelson with the assistance of NYAG’s thirteen regional offices.

Social Security adds four hours per week to nationwide business office service

Social Security NewsSocial Security adds four hours per week to nationwide business office serviceOne hour added each weekday afternoon except WednesdayJan. 23, 2014 – Senior citizens and other patrons of Social Security will have four more hours available each week to visit an office. The agency has announced that offices nationwide will be open one-hour longer on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, effective March 16, 2015. All offices will continue to close at noon on Wednesdays.A field office that is usually open from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. will remain open until 4:00 p.m. The Wednesday noon closings will continue so that employees have time to complete current work and reduce backlogs. Related Archive Stories Retirement Estimator at Social Security is Answer Again in Q&ANov. 4, 2014Read more Social Security News also check Medicare and Senior Politics “This expansion of office hours reaffirms our commitment to providing the people we serve the option of top-notch, face-to-face assistance in field offices even as we work to expand online services for those who prefer that flexibility,” said Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security. “The public expects and deserves world-class customer service and thanks to approved funding, I am pleased we will continue our tradition of exceptional service.”“In recent years, Social Security reduced public office hours due to congressional budget cuts, growing backlogs and staffing losses,” according to the news release from Social Security. The agency reports it began recovery in fiscal year 2014 by replacing some field office staffing losses and providing overtime support to process critical work. With the commitment of resources in fiscal year 2015, the agency is able to restore some service hours to the public.Most Social Security business does not require a visit to a local field office. Many services, including applying for retirement, disability and Medicare benefits, creating a my Social Security account, replacing a Medicare card, or reporting a change of address or telephone number are conveniently available anytime at Social Security also offers assistance via a toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (Voice) and 1-800-325-0778 (TTY). Representatives are available from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Monday thru Friday.

via Social Security adds four hours per week to nationwide business office service.

Regional Forums to Provide Ideas for 2015 White House Conference on Aging


Regional Forums to Provide Ideas for 2015 White House Conference on Aging

By Cecilia Muñoz, White House Blog


Cecilia Muñoz is Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy CouncilJan. 13, 2015 – Today, I am delighted to announce the launch of a series of regional forums to engage older Americans, their families, caregivers, advocates, community leaders, and experts on aging on the key issues affecting older Americans. These forums are designed to help provide input and ideas for the upcoming 2015 White House Conference on Aging.

Over the past several months, we have been preparing for the 2015 White House Conference on Aging along with the Conference’s Executive Director, Nora Super, by establishing a Conference website, and participating in a number of listening sessions and meetings across the country.

This will include regional forums, the first of which will be in Tampa, FL on February 19. Subsequent forums will be held in Phoenix, AZ on March 31; Seattle, WA on April 9; Cleveland, OH on April 27; and Boston, MA on May 28.

Each will allow us to hear directly from the public on issues such as ensuring retirement security, promoting healthy aging, providing long-term services and support, and protecting older Americans from financial exploitation, abuse, and neglect. They will also help us to reach older Americans and their caregivers, advocates, and other stakeholders where they live.

The regional forums are co-sponsored by AARP and being planned in coordination with the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, a coalition of more than 70 of the nation’s leading organizations serving older Americans. While participation is by invitation, all of the events will be live webcast to engage as many people as possible.

This Administration is committed to aging issues, and the 2015 White House Conference on Aging is an opportunity to look ahead to the issues that will help shape the landscape for older Americans for the next decade. We are dedicated to promoting policies that benefit elderly – and ultimately all – Americans.

As we prepare for the 2015 White House Conference, we want your voice to be part of the conversation. Go to our website to learn more about the Conference, to sign up for updates on its events and activities, and to tell us your thoughts and stories.

Cecilia Muñoz is Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council.

via Regional Forums to Provide Ideas for 2015 White House Conference on Aging.