Health Highlights: April 6, 2017

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Cannibalized Human Body Would Provide 125,000 Calories: Study

You would get more than 125,000 calories from eating a whole human body, and a large amount of that would come from the thighs, calves and upper arms, a researcher says.

James Cole is an archeologist at the University of Brighton, England who was studying “nutritional human cannibalism” during the Paleolithic period, which lasted from about 2.5 million years ago to 10,000 years ago, The New York Times reported.

“I was interested in how nutritious are we actually?” he explained. “Whenever I talk about the topic, I always get a slight sort of side view from my colleagues.”

Along with determining an overall calorie count for the human body, Cole also calculated the calories of specific parts: thighs,13,350 calories; calves, 4,490 calories; upper arms, 7,450 calorie; forearms,1,660 calories; heart, 650 calories; lungs, 1,600 calories; liver, 2,570 calories; kidneys, 380 calories, The Times reported.

Humans are not really worth eating just for nutritional reasons, Cole concluded. One body would provide a group of 25 Paleolithic adult males with enough calories to survive for only about half a day, he said.

In contrast, the 3.6 million calories in a mammoth would have provided the same group of males with enough nourishment for 60 days, and a steppe bison would have provided 612,000 calories, enough for 10 days, The Times reported.

The findings suggest that some cases of Paleolithic cannibalism interpreted as “nutritional” may have occurred for social or cultural reasons, according to Cole.

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.


Opioid Crisis a Priority: FDA Nominee

The nominee to lead the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says his first priority would be to combat the nation’s opioid painkiller epidemic.

At a hearing Wednesday, Dr. Scott Gottlieb also promised that decisions at the FDA will be guided by science, despite his many financial links to medical companies, the Associated Press reported.

The health consultant has previously criticized many FDA regulations and his opponents have attacked what they call his unprecedented financial ties to the health industry.

At the hearing, Gottlieb pledged to “lead the FDA as an impartial and passionate advocate for public health,” and emphasized the need to balance making new drugs and medical products available to Americans and following good science, the AP reported.

He also said opioid addiction is “the biggest crisis facing the agency” and as serious a public health threat as infectious diseases like Ebola or Zika.

Gottlieb said dealing with the opioid crisis would be his first priority and will “require dramatic action,” including promoting development of non-addictive alternative painkillers as well as addiction treatments, the AP reported.


Stem Cell Therapy for Autism Shows Promise

A stem cell treatment for autism shows promise, according to a new study, but the investigators and other experts emphasize that the therapy is still in the early stages and much more research is needed.

The Duke University study included 25 children, ages 2-6, with autism and assessed whether a transfusion of the youngsters’ own umbilical cord blood containing rare stem cells would help treat their autism, CNN reported.

Behavioral improvements were reported in 70 percent of the patients, according to the study in the journal Stem Cells.

A second, larger trial is now underway and the researchers hope they will find a long-term treatment for autism, CNN reported.

Some experts say many unanswered questions remain and the study authors agree much more work needs to be done. This initial trial was a safety study, meaning doctors and the children’s families knew the therapy was being administered and there was no comparison between treated and non-treated children.

“Some children, who were not speaking very much, had big increases in their vocabulary and their functional speech,” study author Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, head of the Robertson Clinical and Translational Cell Therapy Program, told CNN.

“Many children were able to attend to play and have meaningful communication in a way that they weren’t before. Some children had less repetitive behaviors than they did when they came onto the study,” Kurtzberg said.

“The study was very encouraging. We did see positive results. However, it did not have a comparison group, which is very important in establishing whether a treatment is actually effective,” study author Dr. Geraldine Dawson, director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, told CNN.

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