The Week That Wasn't: Anti-Cancer Yogurt, Facebook Preventive Health, Schizophrenia Hair

Donavyn Coffey

November 01, 2019

This past week, the internet was abuzz with stories of cancer-fighting yogurt, Facebook's foray into preventive medicine and signs of schizophrenia in your hair. But you didn't see those stories on Medscape. Here's why.

Cancer-Fighting Yogurt

Eating more fiber and yogurt was linked to a lower risk for lung cancer in a new study published in JAMA Oncology. The authors say the microbiome might offer an explanation: Dietary fiber, a primary source of prebiotics, and yogurt, a probiotic, could confer changes in gut bacterial populations that ultimately reduce lung cancer risk. 

The researchers pooled data from 10 studies that took place in the United States, Europe, and Asia that totaled more than 1.4 million people. Of the study participants, 18,822 developed lung cancer over a median of 8 years of follow-up.  People who ate a lot of yogurt and fiber had a 30% lower lung cancer risk compared with those who consumed no yogurt and the least amount of fiber, the study authors write. 

Because this study was observational and re-analyzed existing data, there's no way to account for the many confounding health and diet factors that could have also contributed to a lower rate of lung cancer in the group of people who ate lots of yogurt and fiber. The yogurt and fiber consumption data relied on people filling out questionnaires by memory — a common but weak method in nutrition studies. The study results here suggest a link but aren't enough evidence for physicians to recommend patients increase their fiber and yogurt intake specifically for cancer prevention. 

Facebook Forays Into Preventive Medicine

Facebook announced a new "preventive health" tool that users can access by searching for it on their mobile app. The new tool delivers easily digestible health information reviewed by medical associations including the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society. Search results will vary for individual users, prompting them to get and record screening tests and vaccinations relevant to their age and sex. 

The company says they will not share data from the tool with third parties, nor will they allow advertisers to use the data to target ads. A single team within Facebook will have access to the health data to keep the tool functioning.  

This new tool might prompt some patients to be more proactive about their health, if they are motivated enough to use it, but it doesn't change much for clinicians. Facebook's new tool simply echoes what healthcare providers have been telling patients for a long time. 

Signs of Schizophrenia in Your Hair?

A study of mice and the brains of human cadavers suggests that hydrogen sulfide may be a biomarker for schizophrenia, and one that is present in human hair. In the brains of mice more sensitive to sound, a symptom that parallels patients with schizophrenia, the scientists found higher amounts of hydrogen sulfide and an enzyme that produces hydrogen sulfide compared with the brains of control mice. Human brains showed similar signs of "sulfide stress," and hydrogen sulfide was higher in hair follicles from patients with schizophrenia compared with control patients. The researchers hypothesize that oxidative stress originally stimulated the hydrogen sulfide increase. 

This novel marker and mechanism for schizophrenia development may offer new avenues for drug exploration, the researchers note. But a study of mice using a single symptom as a marker for schizophrenia isn't practice-changing. There's insufficient evidence that psychiatrists should use hair follicles to diagnose schizophrenia or target the sulfide-producing enzyme to treat patients.

Donavyn Coffey is an editorial intern at Medscape.

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