New uses for medications, experimental devices

Medical Minutes

A vibrating capsule may help combat chronic constipation

Researchers in Israel are now reporting success with a vibrating capsule for constipation. You simply swallow it and it helps get your bowels moving. In a new study, the researchers found that the vibrating capsule helped nearly double the weekly bowel movements of patients suffering from chronic idiopathic constipation (CIC) and constipation predominant irritable bowel syndrome (C-IBS).

“Despite the widespread use of medication to treat constipation, nearly 50 percent of patients are unsatisfied with the treatment either because of side effects, safety concerns about long-term use, or the fact that it simply doesn’t work,” said study investigator Dr. Yishai Ron, who is the director of Neurogastroenterology and Motility at Tel-Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, Tel-Aviv, Israel.

He and his colleagues are pleased with their study findings and now plan a larger study. In their initial investigation, 26 patients took the vibrating capsule twice a week and then completed questionnaires. The researchers found that the patients reported an increase in spontaneous bowel movements from two to four times per week. Patients also reported a decrease in constipation symptoms, including reduced difficulty in passing stools and incomplete evacuation. The study found minimal side effects from the capsule use.

The capsule houses a small engine inside it and is programmed to begin vibrating 6 to 8 hours after swallowing. The mechanical stimulations cause contractions in the intestine, which helps get things moving through the digestive tract. Chronic constipation is a significant health problem for a lot of people and it affects approximately 15 percent of the U.S. population.

“Sometimes, drug therapies bring more issues than relief for these patients,” Dr. Ron said. “The results of this study point to the potential for an alternative treatment that avoids the typical drug side effects, such as bloating and electrolyte imbalance, by imitating the body’s natural physiology.”

Combating Parkinson’s disease with a diabetes medication

A commonly prescribed diabetes medication called Byetta (exenatide) may have a whole new use. Researchers in London have found that patients with Parkinson’s disease appear to receive long-term health benefits from taking this agent. The latest round of testing suggests that patients who take this medicine experience significant improvements in many of their symptoms, and the benefits last even after they go off the medication.

Currently, the medication is prescribed as a treatment for insulin resistance in patients with Type-2 diabetes. However, researchers say it may have the potential to modify the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

The researchers conducted a study with 44 patients and found that one year after the patients were given the medication they had significant and clinically meaningful differences in both motor and cognitive symptoms.

In addition, the researchers found that at 14 months (when the patients had discontinued taking the drug for two months), the patients who received the medication still experienced significant symptom benefits.

“We found that patients on exenatide appeared essentially unchanged throughout and beyond the trial period, while the control group had the expected rate of gradual decline in movement and cognitive ability,” said senior investigator Dr. Thomas Foltynie, who is with the UCL Institute of Neurology, London, UK.

Coffee may help lower risk for diabetes

Good news for coffee drinkers. A new study out of Harvard University has found that drinking more than two cups of coffee a day may help prevent the development of type-2 diabetes. The researchers conducted a study where they analyzed questionnaires completed by more than 120,000 adults.

The study showed that those individuals who increased their coffee consumption by more than one cup per day over a four-year period had a 11 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes in the subsequent four years compared to those who made no changes in consumption. They also found that individuals who decreased their coffee intake by one cup a day or more had a 17 percent higher risk for type 2 diabetes.

Changes in tea consumption were not associated with type-2 diabetes risk. The changes in risk were observed for caffeinated, but not decaffeinated coffee, according to the researchers. They found that changes in risk were independent of initial coffee consumption and four-year changes in other dietary and lifestyle factors. Those individuals with highest coffee consumption and who maintained that consumption (consumed three cups or more a day) were found to have the lowest risk of type-2 diabetes, 37 percent lower than those individuals who consumed one cup or less a day.

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at

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John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.

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