The Checkup

Supplements or flu shots; and stem cell research for Stargardt's macular dystrophy

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Supplements vs. shots for flu

Nearly half of Americans plan to use dietary supplements or homeopathic treatments to help ward off influenza this season. But only about a third of that group plans to also get a flu shot. That's the news from a survey of 1,500 adults conducted in September by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

The survey found that those using supplements for flu prevention planned to take an average of four different kinds, with Vitamin C, multivitamins, zinc and "combination herbs" leading the way.

While 35 percent of the supplement-inclined said they planned to get vaccinated against influenza, 62 percent said they'd turn to prescription and over-the-counter medications to battle the flu. And 13 percent said they'd be relying on supplements alone.

Call me cautious, but I got a flu shot (and nasal vaccine for my kids) as soon as I could this season, and I'll continue to do so until someone can prove that a supplement can be relied on to keep me healthy.

- Jennifer LaRue Huget

Stem cell research for eye disease

Government regulators have given the go-ahead to a study that will test a treatment created using human embryonic stem cells in people. The Food and Drug Administration approved a request by Advanced Cell Technology to inject cells created from human embryonic stem cells into the eyes of 12 patients suffering from advanced cases of Stargardt's macular dystrophy, which progressively destroys vision, usually beginning in childhood. It is currently incurable.

The study will involve injecting 50,000 to 200,000 cells known as retinal pigment epithelial cells in the hopes that they will replace those ravaged by the disease. While the study is designed primarily to test the safety of the treatment, researchers will look for signs of improvement in the patients' vision. The company hopes the approach will work for many conditions.

"I think this marks the beginning of a new era for stem cell research," Robert Lanza, the company's chief scientific officer, wrote in an email.

- Rob Stein


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