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Health Capsules: May 16

Area hospitals earn good grades for safety

Independent hospital watchdog organization The Leapfrog Group released its spring safety ratings in late April for about 2,500 hospitals nationwide. Safety grades, which represent a hospital’s overall performance in keeping patients safe from preventable harm and medical errors, are based on 27 areas of assessment monitored by several national measurement and reporting programs. The grades are designed to help hospitals identify areas in which improvements are needed, as well as to assist consumers in making informed choices regarding hospital care.

The following area hospitals received an “A” grade, according to The Leapfrog Group’s April report:

• Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital 

• Des Peres Hospital [now owned by St. Luke’s Hospital]

• Mercy Hospital St. Louis

• SSM Health St. Clare Hospital

Hospitals receiving an overall grade of “B” included:

• Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital

• Missouri Baptist Hospital

• Progress West Hospital

• St. Luke’s Hospital

A full list of hospital safety grades, along with more information about the individual rating areas, can be found on the organization’s website,  hospitalsafetygrade.org.

Universal ‘cure’ for allergies could be a step closer

New research suggests that a universal cure for allergies of all types may soon be possible.

Spring is – at long last – well underway in the St. Louis area, along with National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, which takes place in May of each year. As welcome as the delayed change of seasons may be, it also has undoubtedly set off an annual cycle of allergies to everything from tree pollen to mold in area residents.

But help may be on the horizon. A team of European researchers say they have recently uncovered a mechanism which may totally inactivate the body’s allergic response. This breakthrough, they claim, brings science one step closer to developing a universal treatment to prevent allergies in humans.

When an allergen enters the body of an allergic person, it causes that person’s immune system to produce a protective antibody called immunoglobulin E [IgE] to fight the invading substance. Although everyone has some IgE, an allergic person has an unusually large number of IgE defenders. The IgE antibodies bind to special cells called mast cells, which in turn releases histamines into the tissues and blood – causing a cascade of allergic reactions, from hay fever to asthma and worse. 

In the new study, scientists used substances called anti-IgE antibodies to prevent the allergen-induced IgE molecules from binding with mast cells in the first place, blocking histamine production. Using cells from patients with birch pollen and insect venom allergies, they were able to stop allergic reactions in the cells in as little as 15 minutes. Disrupting this process can effectively stop all allergic symptoms from appearing, no matter how much of an allergen is present, they said.

“Once the IgE on immune cells can be eliminated, it doesn’t matter that the body produces millions of allergen-specific IgE molecules,” said lead researcher Edzard Spillner, of the Department of Engineering at Denmark’s Aarhus University. “When we can remove the trigger, the allergic reaction and symptoms will not occur.”

Although any commercial use of the antibody in allergy therapy is still several years away, the long-term implications of their research look extremely promising in the development of new and potentially universal allergy treatments, Spillner said.

Five healthy habits identified as keys to a significantly longer life

People who practice five lifestyle habits during adulthood can live well over a decade longer than those who do not, according to a new Harvard University study. Eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, keeping body weight within healthy limits, drinking in moderation, and not smoking are the five life-extending factors identified in the study, the first comprehensive analysis of its kind conducted in the U.S.

Americans’ average life expectancy of 79.3 years is shorter than that of almost all other industrialized countries, ranking 31st in the world in 2015. To examine how lifestyle factors can directly impact longevity, the Harvard researchers looked at three decades of data from about 79,000 women and more than 44,000 men who participated in two large, longitudinal studies.  

At age 50, the women who had the healthiest lifestyles – meaning they followed all five low-risk factors – could expect to live until age 93, 14 years longer than women who adopted none of them. Among 50-year-old men, those who had the healthiest lifestyles could expect to live until age 87, 12 years longer than their least-healthy counterparts.

Overall, compared with those who didn’t follow any of the healthy lifestyle habits, men and women who followed all five were 74 percent less likely to die from any cause during the study period. In particular, they were 65 percent less likely to die of cancer and 82 percent less likely to die of cardiovascular disease. 

Although the researchers also found that following at least some of the five healthy habits reduced their risk of earlier death to a lesser extent, the combination of all five was associated with the most additional years of life. However, only 8 percent of American adults were achieving that goal as of 2006, the study authors noted. Being overweight or obese was the primary obstacle to meeting the five healthy lifestyle objectives, they said. The study was recently published online in Circulation.

When it comes to finances, couples often grow apart

The longer couples are together, the farther apart they may become in terms of financial knowledge and skills.

In many relationships, one partner – traditionally the man – has at some point taken over the lead role in managing household finances.  This has resulted in a large number of adults, many of them women, who have almost no knowledge about basic money management, such as how long it will take to pay off a debt, the effects of compound interest and inflation, or how to calculate for savings based on future needs. 

A team of researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Colorado-Boulder recently explored the reasons behind this. They conducted a study of about 200 married people who reported sharing financial resources with their partners. They studied participants’ responses to test-type questions measuring their financial skills, and analyzed them based on whether or not they reported having responsibility for 62 separate financial “behaviors.” They also looked at how the participants’ financial know-how developed – or failed to develop – based on the length of their relationships.

The researchers found that, as couples mature together, they often grow far apart in their level of interest and skill in handling money. Their research showed that although couples usually begin their relationships with fairly equal knowledge about finances, once they assign the role of “household CFO” to one partner, those knowledge paths diverge. The partner responsible for money-related decisions grows in financial knowledge over time, while the other partner’s financial ability and interest stagnates. The longer couples stay together, and the more responsibilities the household CFO takes over, the wider that knowledge divide becomes.

“We interpret our findings to say that the assignment of financial responsibility causes the two members of the couple to go on different trajectories for a lifetime,” said lead researcher Adrian F. Ward of UT Austin’s McCombs School of Business. Although such specialization between partners is natural and in many cases practical, the researchers said, it causes problems for those who have turned the financial management role completely over to their partners. 

When researchers asked them to make financial decisions or even read new financial information independently, the “non-CFO” partners in the study often could not. And after a divorce, or when the financially knowledgeable partner dies, those in similar situations are suddenly forced into the financial driver’s seat, unprepared to assume financial control over their lives, Ward said. Because current statistics show that between 80 and 90 percent of married women will at some point be solely responsible for their own finances for one of those two reasons, their relative lack of financial literacy has major negative consequences. The study was recently published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

On the calendar

Cholesterol and glucose wellness screenings are available on Friday, May 18 from 8-10:30 a.m. at St. Luke’s Urgent Care, 233 Clarkson Road in Ellisville. A one-on-one consultation with a St. Luke’s registered nurse/health coach is included, along with blood pressure and body composition measurement. A 10-12 hour fast and advance appointments are required. The fee for all screenings is $20. Register online at  stlukes-stl.com.

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Missouri Baptist Medical Center holds a Family & Friends CPR course on Wednesday, May 23 from 6:30-9 p.m. at the hospital’s Clinical Learning Institute, 3005 N. Ballas Road.  The course provides instruction and hands-on practice for parents, childcare providers and babysitters for adult hands-only CPR; infant and child CPR with breaths; introduction to adult and child AED use; and relief of choking in an adult, child or infant. The course does not include certification. Participants between the ages of 10 and 15 must be accompanied by an adult. The course fee is $25. To register online, visit  stlchildrens.org/registration or call (314) 454-5437.

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BJC sponsors a Babysitting 101 course on Saturday, June 2 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at Missouri Baptist Medical Center’s Clinical Learning Institute, 3005 N. Ballas Road.  Kids will learn how to entertain the children in their care, while attending to their needs. Topics include the business of babysitting, child development, safety and first aid, and fun and games. A workbook and light snack are provided. Cost is $30 per child. To register, visit  stlchildrens.org/registration. 

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St. Luke’s Hospital presents a Mindful Eating Workshop on Saturday, June 2 from 9 a.m.-noon at the hospital’s Desloge Outpatient Center, 121 St. Luke’s Center Drive in Chesterfield, in Building A. This three-hour program, presented by a stress management instructor and a registered dietitian, will offer strategies and techniques to help you achieve a healthier relationship with food. A light breakfast and educational materials are provided. The fee is $15. To register, visit  stlukes-stl.com; call (314) 542-4848 for more information.

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Missouri Baptist Medical Center co-hosts a wellness event, Be Well STL Boot Camp 2018, on Saturday, June 16 from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. at Westminster Christian Academy, 800 Maryville Centre Drive in Chesterfield. The event is designed to motivate both adults and children to adopt healthy lifestyles, and will feature workout classes from area instructors, inspiring speakers, and a kids’ camp, along with a product marketplace. Admission prices range from $5 to $35. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://ticketsstl.com/events/be-well.

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