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Alcohol and drug abuse, flu shots and lactose intolerance

African Americans have lower drinking rates than other racial groups, according to a new survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It found that blacks ages 18 and older use alcohol at a rate of 44.3% compared with the national average of 55.2%

Moreover, blacks ages 18 to 25 are much less likely than other young adults to engage in binge drinking — 25.3% compared with 41.6% in the general population.

The survey is part of a series conducted by SAMHSA to learn how to target alcohol and drug abuse treatment and prevention efforts in various age, gender and ethnic groups. The survey also found that the rate of illegal drug use among black adults is higher than the national average — 9.5% compared with 7.9%. And among black males ages 26 to 49, illegal drug use is 14.7% compared with 11.2% in the general population for that age group. Binge drinking is also much higher in pregnant black women than among pregnant women in other age groups.

The report is available at the SAMHSA website at https://www.samhsa.gov.

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Shari Roan

Flu shots

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended Wednesday that all Americans over the age of 6 months — with the exception of those who are allergic to eggs — should receive a seasonal flu shot every year, beginning this fall. The advice must be accepted by the CDC director and the Department of Health and Human Services before it becomes official, but that ratification is usually pro forma.

The CDC has been slowly broadening the recommendations for flu shots over the last few years to the point where about 85% of the population is now covered. The primary exception now is adults ages 19 to 49 who do not have underlying medical conditions. But the committee noted that many such adults do not realize they are at risk because of diabetes, hypertension or other hidden problems and do not seek the shots.

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Thomas H. Maugh II

Lactose intolerance

The National Institutes of Health convened a panel of experts to reach a consensus on what is known about lactose intolerance. Their consensus, released Wednesday: There is no consensus. It is a real condition, but there are no good numbers for its incidence, little is known about its effects on health and even less is known about potential treatments.

Lactose is the primary sugar in all mammalian milk, including human milk. Virtually all babies are born with enzymes, called lactases, in their intestines that digest lactose, turning it into a form that can be used by the body. But beginning at about age 5 or 6, many children, particularly those of African and Asian ancestry, begin to lose the ability to digest the sugar. If they continue drinking milk and eating dairy products afterward, bacteria in the gut often ferment the sugar, producing diarrhea, abdominal pain, flatulence and bloating.

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Surprisingly, there are no good estimates of how many people have the problem, and the panel didn’t even try to make one. “A lot of people who think they have lactose intolerance don’t,” Dr. Frederick J. Suchy of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, chair of the panel, said in a telephone news conference. At the opposite extreme, many people who do not digest lactose properly do not manifest symptoms of lactose intolerance because their gut bacteria do not ferment it. Many people who think they have lactose intolerance, he added, actually have irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease or perhaps celiac disease.

Thomas H. Maugh II


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