Saturday, September 29, 2007

'Bad' neighbourhoods worsen child asthma: study

Biological and social triggers can aggravate asthma symptoms in children living in rough neighbourhoods and lacking family support, Vancouver researchers have found.

“Poor family relations may foster psychological experiences with direct physiologic consequences," said Dr. Edith Chen, a health psychologist at the University of British Columbia and one of the study's authors.

Troubled neighbourhoods, meanwhile, may introduce role models with bad behaviours that can worsen asthma symptoms, she said.

Researchers at UBC studied 78 children aged nine to 18 who had physician-diagnosed asthma without other chronic illnesses.

They assessed the extent to which youth perceived emotional support from family, support from peers and problems in their neighbourhood, such as crime and violence.

Researchers measured participants' lung function using standardized spirometry techniques, and assessed their asthma symptoms based on interviews and daily diaries kept by the subjects.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hope over tumor-killing skin cancer drug

Doctors are hopeful about a new drug to treat skin cancer by causing tumor cells to self-destruct by overloading them with oxygen.

Unlike regular cells, which can control their oxygen levels relatively easily, cancer cells have trouble balancing the levels.

With the new drug STA-4783, doctors may be able to overload the cancer cells with oxygen-containing chemicals to the point where the cells cannot cope and simply die off, according to research presented Wednesday at a meeting of the European Cancer Organization in Barcelona.

"We are taking advantage of the Achilles heel of cancer cells," said Dr. Anthony Williams, vice president of clinical research at Synta Pharmaceuticals Corp., based in Lexington, Massachusetts, which paid for the study.

STA-4783, which has no effect on normal cells, is the first of several such drugs planned for study, though no other companies have yet to release results from their research.

Lack of "good" cholesterol always poses heart risk

The amount of "good cholesterol" in the blood remains an important marker for heart disease regardless of how much "bad cholesterol" is lowered, researchers said on Wednesday.

Among patients taking cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins, the higher the HDL or good cholesterol, the less likely they were to have a heart attack or other "cardiovascular event," they found.

Dr. Philip Barter of the Heart Research Institute in Sydney said the result is important because "it shows very, very clearly that the risk is real" when levels of good cholesterol, known as HDL, are too low.

"It means doctors can't ignore a low HDL even if they're treating people with statins. They need to attack the HDL as well, if the HDL remains low," Barter said.

Doctors have known for years that HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, protects against heart attacks and stroke, probably by cleaning up the bad low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, known as LDL.

"But it has not been clear whether a low HDL cholesterol level would remain a significant risk factor in people whose LDL cholesterol was reduced to very low levels," Barter and colleagues wrote in their report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Indeed, it had been argued hypothetically that if the LDL cholesterol level were reduced sufficiently, the level of HDL cholesterol might become irrelevant," they added.

Coffee ‘triples paracetamol risks’

Reaching for the paracetamol alongside your morning coffee may be bad for your health, researchers say.

A study indicated that a combination of large quantities of the pain-killer and caffeine appeared to increase the risk of liver damage. Scientists found that caffeine tripled the amount of a toxic by-product created when paracetamol was broken down.

However, the University of Washington team so far has plied only bacteria and rats with large doses. British scientists emphasised that far more research would be needed to prove any danger to humans.

US researchers, writing in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology, recommend that people should limit the amount of coffee or energy drinks they consume while taking paracetamol. Even relatively small overdoses of paracetamol can cause permanent damage to the liver. Scientists already know that heavy alcohol consumption can make the drug even more toxic, but this is the first suggestion that combining paracetamol and caffeine could produce a similar effect.

Caffeine is added to many commercially available paracetamol tablets as it is believed that this increases their effects.

Sidney Nelson, who led the study, said: “You don’t have to stop taking acetaminophen [paracetamol] or stop taking caffeine products, but you do need to monitor your intake more carefully when taking them together, especially if you drink alcohol.” The study used E. coli bacteria that had been modified genetically to produce a key liver chemical which, in humans, helps the body to break down paracetamol.

When the bacteria were exposed to very large doses of paracetamol and caffeine together, the amount of the toxic by-product produced was tripled. This is the toxin that causes liver damage after a paracetamol overdose.

Dr Nelson said that the quantities of caffeine and paracetamol used in the study were far higher than most people would consume daily but added that the amount needed to produce a harmful effect in humans had not been calculated. Previous studies showing that high doses of caffeine can increase the severity of liver damage in rats with paracetamol-induced liver damage support this finding.

Some people are thought to be more vulnerable than others. These include those taking antiepileptic medication or St John’s wort, which have been shown to boost levels of the enzyme involved. People who drink a lot of alcohol are also at higher risk because it can trigger another enzyme that produces the liver toxin.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lack of sleep may be deadly, research shows

People who do not get enough sleep are more than twice as likely to die of heart disease, according to a large British study released on Monday.

Although the reasons are unclear, researchers said lack of sleep appeared to be linked to increased blood pressure, which is known to raise the risk of heart attacks and stroke.

A 17-year analysis of 10,000 government workers showed those who cut their sleeping from seven hours a night to five or less faced a 1.7-fold increased risk in mortality from all causes and more than double the risk of cardiovascular death.

Study: Hispanic Teens Abuse More Drugs

Hispanic teenagers used illegal drugs at greater rates than white and black teenagers, according to a report released Monday by a White House drug control policy office.

The report, Hispanic Teens & Drugs, warned that while overall illegal drug use among U.S. teens was down, Hispanic teens' use of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine outpaced use by their white and black peers. The report blamed drug use among Hispanic teens, in part, on their adaptation to new culture in America.

Besides the report, which was based on 2005 and 2006 data from academic, federal and nonprofit organization studies, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy also announced an anti-drug ad campaign targeting Hispanic teens and their parents that will begin appearing this week across the country.

The report found slightly more than 10 percent of Hispanic eighth-graders had used illicit drugs in the month before the survey compared to 7.5 percent of whites and 8.6 percent of blacks in the same grade.

Marijuana was the most commonly used illegal drug among all teens, the report said. Eight percent of Hispanic eighth-graders had used it in the month before the survey; for whites and blacks the percentages were 5.8 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively, the report said.

Acupuncture more effective than conventional treatments for back pain: study

Suffering from low back pain? Acupuncture might be a better option than conventional medication, physical therapy and exercise, according to a new study.

"Our study, which directly compared the conventional, non-surgical treatments with acupuncture, showed that patients who were treated with acupuncture over a period of about six weeks experienced nearly 50 per cent decrease in pain intensity, while those treated with physical therapy and other conventional treatments over a period of six weeks had less than 25 per cent improvement," Heinz Endres, one of the authors, told

The findings are published in the Sept. 24 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

German researchers conducted a randomized clinical trial involving 1,162 patients, with an average age of 50, that had suffered chronic low back pain for approximately eight years.

Study participants were broken into several groups. One group of 387 patients underwent 10, 30-minute sessions of verum acupuncture, which consisted of inserting needles into fixed points to a depth of five millimetres to 40 millimetres, based on traditional Chinese medicine.