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By John Schieszer
Medical Minutes 

Alaska's most and least healthy boroughs

Medical Minutes


Some Alaska Boroughs could improve health

Juneau Borough ranks healthiest in Alaska and Wade Hampton Census Area is the least healthy place in the state, according to the seventh annual County Health Rankings. These rankings are done by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute (UWPHI).

They are meant to be an easy-to-use snapshot comparing the health of nearly every county in the nation. The local-level data allows each state to see how its counties compare on more than 30 factors that influence health, including education, housing, jobs, smoking, access to healthy food, and more.

According to the 2016 rankings, the five healthiest counties in Alaska, starting with most healthy, are Juneau Borough, followed by Kenai Peninsula Borough, Valdez-Cordova Census Area, Kodiak Island Borough and Ketchikan Gateway Borough. The five areas in the poorest health, starting with least healthy, are Wade Hampton Census Area, Dillingham Census Area, Nome Census Area, Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area and Northwest Arctic Borough. It is hoped that these rankings will help drive improvements in education, housing, job training and healthy food options.

Preventing cataracts through diet and lifestyle

A diet rich in vitamin C could cut risk of cataract progression by a third, suggests a newly published study in Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The research is also the first to show that diet and lifestyle may play a greater role than genetics in cataract development and severity.

Cataracts occur naturally with age and cloud the eye’s lens, turning it opaque. Despite the advent of modern cataract removal surgery, cataracts remain the leading cause of blindness globally. Researchers at King’s College London looked at whether certain nutrients from food or supplements could help prevent cataract progression. They also tried to find out how much environmental factors such as diet mattered versus genetics.

The team examined data from more than 1,000 pairs of female twins from the United Kingdom. Participants answered a food questionnaire to track the intake of vitamin C and other nutrients, including vitamins A, B, D, E, copper, manganese and zinc. To measure the progression of cataracts, digital imaging was used to check the opacity of their lenses at around age 60. They performed a follow-up measurement on 324 pairs of the twins about 10 years later.

During the baseline measurement, diets rich in vitamin C were associated with a 20 percent risk reduction for cataract. After 10 years, researchers found that women who reported consuming more vitamin C-rich foods had a 33 percent risk reduction of cataract progression. Genetic factors accounted for 35 percent of the difference in cataract progression. Environmental factors, such as diet, accounted for 65 percent.

How vitamin C inhibits cataract progression may have to do with its strength as an antioxidant. The fluid inside the eye is normally high in vitamin C, which helps prevent oxidation that clouds the lens. More vitamin C in the diet may increase the amount present in the fluid around the lens, providing extra protection. Researchers noted that the findings only pertain to consuming the nutrient through food and not vitamin supplements.

“The most important finding was that vitamin C intake from food seemed to protect against cataract progression,” said study author Dr. Christopher Hammond, who is a professor of ophthalmology at King’s College London, UK. “While we cannot totally avoid developing cataracts, we may be able to delay their onset and keep them from worsening significantly by eating a diet rich in vitamin C.”

Drinking coffee may help lower risk for MS

Heavy daily coffee drinking (more than 30 fluid ounces) may help reduce your risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a new Swedish study. Caffeine, a central nervous system stimulant, has neuroprotective properties and can suppress the production of chemicals involved in the inflammatory response, which may explain the new findings.

The researchers looked at two representative population studies. One was in Sweden and was comprised of 1,620 adults with MS and a comparison group of 2,788.

The second study was an American one that included 1,159 people with MS and 1,172 healthy people. The researchers found that the risk of MS was consistently higher among those drinking fewer cups of coffee every day in both studies, even after taking account of potentially important influential factors, such as smoking and weight.

In the Swedish study, coffee consumption was associated with 28 to 30 percent reduced risk of MS among heavy coffee drinkers.

Similar results were found in the U.S. study, with a 26 to 31 percent lower risk among those heavy coffee drinkers compared with those who never drank coffee. The higher the quantity of coffee drunk, the lower the risk of MS, the results showed.

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast 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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