Top Health Stories of 2014

Here, we look back at the top stories affecting our health in 2014

1. Ebola Outbreak in West Africa
The biggest outbreak in history of the deadly virus began in March. There have been 17,942 reported cases, with 6,388 reported deaths occurring mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Dozens of Canadian health care workers affiliated with the Canadian Armed Forces or Doctors Without Borders went to help, despite the danger.

2. First Marijuana Clinical Trial Approved by Health Canada
The trial will measure the effects of marijuana on patients with osteoarthritis of the knee versus other patients who receive a placebo. Health Canada had instructed doctors to decide which patients should have medical marijuana. But without clinical trials showing evidence of its efficacy, dosage or possibility of side effects, the doctors balked. The trial will be carried out by Saskatoon’s Prairie Plant Systems, a licensed pot producer. Arthritis patients were selected for the first trial because they are the group that has used medical marijuana the most. They’re also likely the boomers who used non-medical marijuana most.

3. Number of Malaria Deaths Halved
The World Health Organization declares that the results of a global effort are “a tremendous achievement.”
It says that, between 2001 and 2013, 4.3 million deaths were averted, 3.9 million of which were children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa.
Each year, more people are being reached with life-saving malaria interventions, the WHO says.
In 2004, 3 per cent of those at risk had access to mosquito nets, but now 50 per cent do.

4. Too Much Protein in Middle Age “As Bad As Smoking”
Beware the steak, boomers. New studies concluded that low protein intake may hold the key to a long and healthy life, at least until old age. They also emphasize the need to examine not only calories when deciding what constitutes a healthy diet, but also whether the protein is animal or plant-based. Another finding suggested that while a high-protein diet may in the short term help people lose weight and body fat, in the long term it may harm health and reduce lifespan.

5. Greater Awareness of Severe Brain Injury in Sports
The NFL finally admitted in September as the football season got underway that brain trauma affects one in three players. A settlement between the league and 5,000 players revealed significantly more cognitive problems, early dementia and mood and behavior problems among former players than in the general population. More people, including self-professed football fans, clamored for changes that would make the sport safer and many argued that it should be abolished altogether. Sports that cause brain damage have no place in a civilized nation was a popular opinion. Others compared NFL fans to the bloodthirsty onlookers in ancient Rome’s coliseum. Also this year, an Australian cricketer died after being struck in the head by a ball in a freak accident.

6. Record Donation Establishes Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research
Loretta Rogers announced on behalf of the Rogers family a $130-million donation over the next seven years to establish the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research. It is the single largest monetary gift in Canadian history and will be matched by another $139 million from Sick Kids Hospital, the University Health Network (UHN) and the University of Toronto, bringing the total investment up to $269 million.

7. ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
Dumping ice water over your head — or someone else’s — was hot this summer. There was no logic to the challenge — do it OR ELSE donate to the ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) Association — because everybody wanted to do it AND ALSO to donate. “The challenge even seems to be suggesting that being cold, wet, and uncomfortable is preferable to fighting ALS,” grumbled one critic.
Mainly, people wanted to post pictures of themselves on Facebook looking wet and smug. Some people were accused of hijacking the fad as an excuse to flood the internet with pictures of themselves in swimsuits. Nevertheless, the charity gained 70,000 new donors from the dump and raised $4 million compared to $1.12 million during the same period last year. “We have never seen anything like this in the history of the disease,” said the president of the ALS Association.

8. The Angelina Effect
Study results published this year showed that the number of Canadian women referred for genetic counseling went up dramatically in the months after Angelina Jolie revealed that she had undergone a preventive double mastectomy because of an increased risk for breast cancer. “When we compared six months before the [Jolie] story to six months after, we found the number of referrals doubled,” said Dr. Jacques Raphael, medical oncologist at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Odette Cancer Centre. “This is an example of a positive celebrity effect,” he said. The Canadian results were similar to those in the U.S. and the U.K.

9. End of Life Concerns and Laws Come Into Sharp Focus
Is the prohibition on assisted death unconstitutional? The Supreme Court of Canada began deliberating the case (Carter v. Canada) in the fall and a decision is expected early in the New Year. In June, Quebec became the first province to adopt right-to-die legislation. Also in 2014, Belgium became the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia for terminally ill patients of any age. France proposed an assisted dying bill that would allow doctors to put terminally ill patients in a deep sleep until they die as well as making ‘living wills’ legally binding. And the deputy chair of the British Medical Association said laws on ‘dying with dignity’ must and will change. He predicted that assisted dying will be made legal in the UK within two years.
Meanwhile, prominent U.S.bioethicist Dr. Ezekiel Emaunuel, who opposes legalizing assisted dying, nevertheless stated that he doesn’t believe in prolonging life after the age of 75. In an essay titled “Why I Hope to Die at 75,” he wrote that will stop going to doctor, stop all screening tests, stop taking life prolonging drugs such as statins and antibiotics and will accept only palliative care after his 75th birthday. Emanuel is 57.

10. Public Probing of Private Parts
Almost 15 years ago, Katie Couric made history by undergoing a colonoscopy on live TV. Last year, in observance of the Movember initiative to raise awareness and money for men’s health issues, Matt Lauer and Al Roker had a digital rectal exam to check their prostates on NBC’s Today show. This Movember, two Today Show personalities had their testicles probed live on the air. The piece de resistance of the Movember, uh, movement, however, was the on-air rectal exam during a live hockey broadcast to check the prostate of an executive of the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals. The trend hasn’t bottomed out yet. Man up, Leafs.

11. People Everywhere Are Living Longer
Worldwide, a girl who born in 2012 can expect to live to around 73 years, and a boy to the age of 68. This is six years longer than the average global life expectancy for a child born in 1990, reports the World Health Organization. Low-income countries have made the greatest progress, with an average increase in life expectancy by 9 years from 1990 to 2012. The top four countries where life expectancy increased the most were Liberia which saw a 20-year increase (from 42 years in 1990 to 62 years in 2012) followed by Ethiopia (from 45 to 64 years), Maldives (58 to 77 years) and Cambodia (54 to 72 years). WHO attributes the improvement to the fact that fewer children are dying before their fifth birthday.

12. One in 6 Ontario Adults Say They’ve Had a Traumatic Brain Injury in Their Lifetime
Nearly 17 per cent of adults surveyed in Ontario said they have suffered a TBI that left them unconscious for five minutes or required them to be hospitalized overnight, according to a study at St. Michael’s Hospital. These same adults also reported more substance use, smoking and recent psychiatric distress.

13. The Most Dangerous Emerging Disease: Drug Resistance
That’s the warning of Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, the world’s second largest foundation for the support of medical research.
Each year in Canada, more than 18,000 hospitalized patients acquire infections that are resistant to antimicrobials. The rate of resistant staph infections (MRSA) among hospitalized patients in Canada increased 8-fold from 1995 to 2012.
Last year, the World Economic Forum, in its report on global risks, concluded that “arguably the greatest risk…to human health comes in the form of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.” And the World Health Assembly endorsed a resolution this year identifying “the urgent need of a Global Action Plan for antimicrobial resistance” and directed the World Health Organization to come up with a plan in 2015. But drug companies have few new treatments in the pipeline.
Besides, warns Farrar, “Whenever drug treatment is the main method of control, development of drug resistance is inevitable.”

14. Sugar and Carbs Are the Villains, Fat Has Been Rehabilitated
Those who consumed more than 21 per cent of daily calories from added sugar had double the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, compared with those who consumed 8 per cent of daily calories from added sugar. The risk was almost tripled for those who consumed 25 per cent of daily calories from added sugar.
Meanwhile, saturated fat in the diet does not lead to increased levels of saturated fat in the blood, research showed. Instead, blame carbohydrates for raising levels of a fatty acid associated with diabetes and heart disease.
Diets full of high carbohydrate foods such as cookies could increase the risk of heart disease, according to the research. The primary regulator of what you save in terms of fat is the carbohydrate in your diet, concluded researchers.

15. Three Cheers for These Three Advances in 2014
*FDA approves human clinical trials in the U.S. for the first wearable artificial kidney.
*A handheld microchip device can sequence DNA in 30 minutes at a fraction of the cost of other methods; it’s already being used to develop an anti-aging serum tailored to an individual’s DNA; clinical trials of Geneu (Gene-you) have shown it may reduce fine lines and wrinkles by up to 30 per cent within 12 weeks but the cost for a four-week course is more $1,000.
*Adult onset diabetes and obesity have essentially been cured in lab mice with a new treatment that improves glucose sensitivity, reduces appetite and enhances calorie burning.