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News to Live By - Fall 2011

By Jackie Powder

Antidepressant Surge

More Americans with no diagnosed mental illness are taking antidepressants and more non-psychiatrists are writing prescriptions for them, concludes Ramin Mojtabai, MD, PhD, MPH, associate professor in Mental Health and lead author of a study in the August Health Affairs. Analyzing data from the 1996-2007 National Ambulatory Medical Care Surveys, researchers found that the number of patients with no psychiatric diagnosis who were prescribed antidepressants grew from 60 to 73 percent of all antidepressant prescriptions; the share of non-psychiatrist providers who prescribed antidepressants with no diagnosis of mental illness rose from 30 to 55 percent.


A Blow to Bacteria

An experimental treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) relies on sulforaphane—present in broccoli in a precursor form—to strengthen the lungs’ bacteria-fighting properties by activating the Nrf2 pathway, according to a report in the April 13 Science Translational Medicine. Senior author and Environmental Health Sciences Professor Shyam Biswal, PhD, and researchers found that sulforaphane treatment restored the ability of macrophages—bacteria-killing white blood cells—from COPD patients to clear bacteria from the lungs, important in stimulating the lungs’ immune defenses. The research raises the potential for new COPD treatment approaches.


Of Smoke and Taxes

The 2009 U.S. federal cigarette excise tax increase (from $0.39 to $1.01 per pack) drove some smokers to search online for ways to quit smoking, while many more used the Internet to search for cheaper cigarettes, according to a study in the March 16 PLoS One. Lead author John Ayers, a doctoral candidate in Health, Behavior and Society, and colleagues analyzed queries to search engines a year before and after the tax increase. Smoking cessation searches rose about 50 percent but quickly returned to pre-tax levels; cheap-cigarette searches rose about 300 percent, and remained 60 percent higher a year later.