GASTRO & ENDO NEWS: Editorial Board & Interviews

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I had the distinct honor of being appointed to the editorial board of leading GI newsletter, Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News (McMahon Publishing Group). Look out for my introduction to the exciting news featured in this August's issue.

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Also check out the newsletter website for recent interview videos with former Brigham and Women's Hospital co-fellow Dr. Allison Yang earlier this May in Chicago at the annual DDW meeting. 

DIGG.COM - What would happen if you stop wiping your butt?

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I was recently interviewed for this fun piece as part of a Digg.com series named "What Would Happen If.'

This is What Would Happen If, a close examination of mundane hypothetical situations. Each week, we look at something that you could do but probably never would, and take it to its logical endpoint. This week: What would happen if just didn't wipe your butt?

It's not a comforting feeling, but we've all been there, staring down some threatening 1-ply or a half-naked toilet paper roll with no replacement in sight. What if, just this once, we didn't wipe? Depending on your fiber intake or the current state of your gut, the prospect has varying levels of consequence.

But what if you neglected wiping altogether? What might start to happen down there? To answer this supremely unappealing question, we consulted Dr. Austin Chiang, a clinical and research fellow at the gastroenterology division of Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital.

ABC NEWS: Supplements No Guard Against Country’s Top Killers

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Check out my latest article on abcnews.com!

Supplements No Guard Against Country’s Top Killers
By Austin Chiang, M.D.

The millions of Americans who take daily supplements may be doing nothing to cut their risk of cancer and heart disease, according to updated guidelines released Monday by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force USPSTF.

Nearly half of American adults take at least one dietary supplement, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — a daily ritual that costs an estimated $12.4 billion. In light of this, researchers have been striving to determine whether vitamin and mineral supplements have any benefit in preventing cardiovascular disease and cancer — two of the greatest killers in America accounting for nearly half of all deaths in the U.S.

The USPSTF, which sets the standard for the country’s doctors, reviewed all of this research to come to the conclusion that there is inadequate evidence to support or discourage the use of multivitamins and individual vitamin or mineral supplements in reducing risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer.

While these findings may benefit some wallets, Dr. Michael LeFevre, co-vice chair of the USPSTF and practicing family physician, said he finds these results “disappointing.”

“You would think that for something done so commonly as taking a vitamin or multivitamin supplements that science would have progressed,” he said. “But we have still don’t have enough science to support that there is any benefit or harm for these supplements. We just don’t know.”

There was enough science, however, for the Task Force to recommend against taking beta-carotene or vitamin E as supplements. Beta-carotene, when taken in excess, appears to increase risk of lung cancer for those at higher risk, including smokers and individuals exposed to asbestos in the past. And while vitamin E does not seem to come attached with any real risks, there seems to be no apparent reason for those in the general population to go out of their way to take supplements to boost their dietary levels of it.

The new USPSTF guidelines build on previous recommendations the group issued in 2003 by adding other supplements such as selenium, calcium, vitamin D, and folic acid to a list of supplements that those in good health probably do not need more of to prevent cancer and heart disease — a list that already included vitamins A, C and E.

Doctor’s Take

It’s likely that many Americans who do take daily vitamin and mineral supplements do so as an “insurance policy” against disease. The picture that is emerging, however, is that this strategy does not do much — specifically, as Monday’s report suggests, when it comes to heart disease and cancer.

Fortunately, there are things that research suggests we can do to lower our risk. And while exercising and adhering to a healthy diet may not be as simple as taking a daily supplement, they are a far better bet for good overall health.

“Over and over again high hopes for an easy quick fix have not lived up to expectations,” said Alice Lichtenstein, professor of nutrition and science policy at Tufts University in an e-mail to ABC News. “Popping a pill is no substitute for eating sensibly and moving more.”

ABC NEWS: Buzzed Kids Switching From Soda to Energy Drinks

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I recently had the great honor of publishing my first abcnews.com piece. Thanks to the experts I interviewed as well as the editors at ABC News. Check out the piece below.

Buzzed Kids Switching From Soda to Energy Drinks
By Austin Chiang, M.D.

Where are kids getting their caffeine fix these days? Not from soda, according to a new report – or at least not as much. Children and adolescents seem to be switching to energy drinks and sweetened coffee drinks as their caffeinated beverages of choice. The finding comes out of a study released today in the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics studied the caffeine intake of children, teens and young adults, paying particular attention to the sources of caffeine enjoyed from 1999 to 2010. They found that while the percentage of young people consuming caffeine on a daily basis has held steady over the past decade at approximately 73 percent, a dwindling proportion is looking to soda for that buzz.

The numbers tell the story. In 1999, 62 percent of kids and young adults named soda their primary source of caffeine. This figure plummeted to 38 percent by 2010, a level that still makes soda the largest contributor to caffeine intake, but a significant slip nonetheless.

Lead study author Amy Branum of the CDC said the study was driven by a lack of understanding as to how much caffeine kids and adolescents regularly consume these days.

“We seem to hear about the potential dangers of energy drinks, but then it occurred to us we weren’t really sure how much young people were really taking in,” she said, adding that she was surprised to learn that little research had been done on the subject since caffeine-dense energy drinks stormed onto the scene.

What Branum and her team discovered was that these drinks, more or less nonexistent in 1999, accounted for 6 percent of young people’s caffeine intake in 2010. The proportion of caffeine that young people get from coffee, meanwhile, has more than doubled — from 10 percent in 1999 to 24 percent in 2010.

Why is this happening? Branum says this shift in preference may be a result of the growing perception of soda as being linked to obesity. But it could also be because sweetened coffee beverages and energy drinks are becoming more appealing to a younger palate. And while young people may not guzzle these beverages like they would soda, they may not have to in order to get a high dose of caffeine — some coffee and energy drinks have up to four times the caffeine of an equal amount of soda.

Bruce Goldberger, director of toxicology at the University of Florida, is not surprised that young people are consuming a greater proportion of energy drinks than before.

“Energy drink consumption by anyone should be done in moderation, especially in young people due to smaller body size,” said Goldberger, who was not involved in the study. “There are isolated reports demonstrating that even small quantities of energy drinks have resulted in serious adverse effects and sometimes fatal consequences.”

Diet and nutrition experts agreed that kids would do well to watch their intake of caffeine-laden drinks.

“If energy drink intake increases, caffeine could get up into toxic levels,” said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. “Some of these drinks can be significant sources of sugar and calories, too.”

Doctor’s Take

While it would seem that kids are getting less of their caffeine from soda these days, these new findings suggest that parents should nonetheless keep an eye on other sources.

Various organizations have issued warnings on kids’ caffeine intake. The American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, has stated that “stimulant-containing energy drinks have no place in the diets of children and adolescents” given the lack of nutritional value. And while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not currently regulate caffeine content of energy drinks, since they are marketed as supplements, the agency released a statement in May 2013 acknowledging “the potential for consumption [of products with added caffeine] by young children and adolescents” and the persistent need “…to establish clear boundaries and conditions on caffeine use.”

Branum said the current buzz over caffeinated drinks should serve as a call to parents to keep an eye on their kids’ daily intake. “It’s always important to know what your kids are eating and drinking,” she said, “and to educate yourself about the differences between different caffeinated drinks – though it’s easier said than done.”