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The vitamin D effect

Research reveals another possible benefit of the sunshine vitamin

Photo by iStock

By Diane Mapes

"Vitamin D is certainly having its day in the spotlight," said Dr. Caitlin Mason, a researcher on a Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center study showing that healthy vitamin D levels may be associated with weight loss in
some women.

The study — published in the British Medical Journal and part of the larger Vitamin D, Diet and Activity (ViDA) study — looked at D3 supplementation among a group of overweight women ages 50 to 75 who tested low in D. The study found women whose vitamin D levels rose to what is considered a healthy level lost more weight, body fat and waist circumference than those whose levels did not become replete or who were assigned placebo.

The results are part of a growing body of research suggesting healthy levels of the vitamin are crucial; other studies have linked insufficient D to cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.

The problem, scientists say, is that people don’t think about checking their vitamin D levels like they do cholesterol or blood pressure.

"Vitamin D is something people are really familiar with,” Mason said. “But there are dangers with it being too low or too high. It’s best to talk to your doctor about getting tested so that any supplementation you take is really personalized. That’s the biggest take-home message."


Halting herpes

Finding aids efforts to prevent disease transmission

Photo by iStock

By Mary Engel

Couples in which one partner is infected with genital herpes and the other is not often ask their doctors how they can have a relationship without passing on this sexually transmitted disease.

To help address that problem, Fred Hutch researchers used mathematical models to predict viral loads below which transmission of the virus is unlikely to occur. In a study published online in the journal Interface, they found that treatments or interventions that maintain genital viral load below 10,000 copies would prevent most transmissions.

The defined threshold will help researchers assess new medications and other strategies aimed at preventing transmission, which is critical since there is no cure and the virus can be spread even in the absence of visible outbreaks.

Lead author Dr. Joshua Schiffer of Fred Hutch’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division explained, "Most of the time, the virus is cleared quickly enough so that an infected person is not even aware that the virus is reactivating. But there’s still enough time to transmit it to a partner."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in six Americans ages 14 to 49 is infected with the virus.


Landmark savings

Women’s Health Initiative trial’s value measured in lives and dollars saved

Dr. Garnet Anderson

Photo by Stefanie Felix for Fred Hutch

By Diane Mapes

In 2002, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) revealed a stunning finding: Combined hormone therapy (CHT) was not the fountain of youth it was touted to be. Yes, it helped women combat hot flashes, bone loss and other menopause symptoms, but at a cost. CHT significantly raised a woman’s chances of developing cardiovascular disease, stroke and breast cancer.

The landmark study, co-led by Fred Hutch’s Drs. Garnet Anderson and Ross Prentice, triggered a rapid decline in the use of CHT — and an ongoing debate regarding risk versus benefits.

But what if there had been no WHI study?

Investigators at the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research (HICOR) recently answered that question.

“The economic return from the trial is substantial,” said Dr. Joshua Roth, lead author of the new study. “The original National Health Institute trial cost was $260 million (in 2012 dollars) and the net economic return was $37.1 billion. That’s a return of approximately $140 on every dollar invested in the trial.”

More importantly, the 2002 findings sparked a sea change in women’s health. The new analysis, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, projected that approximately 4.3 million fewer women used CHT, resulting in 126,000 fewer breast cancer cases, 76,000 fewer cases of cardiovascular disease and 80,000 fewer cases of venous thromboembolism in the decade following the trial.

Those decreases, Roth said, more than offset the projected downsides: 263,000 more osteoporotic fractures and 15,000 more colorectal cancer cases. Anderson, study co-author, director of Fred Hutch’s Public Health Sciences Division and principal investigator of the Hutch-based WHI Clinical Coordinating Center, said, “These findings underscore the significant role clinical trials play in science and the importance of continuing to find ways to strategically invest public research funds to maximize value to society."