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.

No evidence magnet therapy dulls pain: study

They're embedded in everything from mattresses to insoles for shoes to wrist bands — but there is no definitive scientific evidence that static magnets can relieve chronic pain, researchers say.

Products that incorporate static magnets are a multibillion-dollar business worldwide, and many chronic pain sufferers are drawn by the promise they hold for alleviating such nagging conditions as arthritis, fibromyalgia and low back discomfort.

The theory from proponents is that a magnetic field increases blood flow, causing increased oxygen, nutrients, hormones and painkilling endorphins to be distributed to tissues in the affected area.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Obesity not found to increase risk of memory problems in old age

Being obese in old age does not increase the risk of memory problems, according to a new study at Rush University Medical Center. Researchers studied nearly 4,000 patients over a 6-year period. Findings show that being overweight or obese was not associated with significant changes in memory or cognitive function. In fact, people who were underweight had more cognitive decline.

Doctors to Separate Conjoined Twins

Doctors at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital said they would attempt to separate 2-year-old twin girls who are conjoined at the chest and abdomen. Surgery on Yurelia and Fiorella Rocha-Arias of San Jose, Costa Rica, is expected to take place in late November, after their skin has been stretched to cover the large gap where they have been connected.

The survival rate for separation surgery for twins joined primarily at the chest - known as thoraco-omphalopagus twins - is about 50 percent, doctors said Thursday. But rates vary widely, depending in part on the extent of heart defects.

``We hope to send home two girls who are healthy and happy,'' lead surgeon Gary Hartman said. ``I can envision these girls, a few years from now, flipping through a photo album and calling mama and saying, 'Look mama! This is a picture of us when we were connected.'''

Since arriving in San Francisco on July 25, the girls have been receiving weekly injections of sterile saltwater into balloons placed beneath their skin. This procedure should stretch their skin to compensate for the hole that surgeons will cut into their abdomens.

The girls are connected at the right atria of their hearts, the chamber that receives blood from the rest of the body, and they share some blood and a single liver.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Researchers zeroing in on anti-aging pill

Researchers said on Thursday they had found more ways to activate the body's own anti-aging defenses -- perhaps with a pill that could fight multiple diseases at once.

Their study, published in the journal Cell, helps explain why animals fed very low-calorie diets live longer, but it also offers new ways to try to replicate the effects of these diets using a pill instead of hunger, the researchers said.

"What we are talking about is potentially having one pill that prevents and even cures many diseases at once," said David Sinclair, a pathologist at Harvard Medical School who helped lead the research.

Sinclair helped found a company that is working on drugs based on this research, Sirtris Pharmaceuticals.

The key is a family of enzymes called sirtuins. They are controlled by genes called SIRT1, SIRT2 and so on.

Last year, researchers showed that stimulating SIRT1 can help yeast cells live longer.

Sinclair, working with colleagues at his company, at Cornell University in New York and the U.S. National Institutes of Health, identified the actions of two more sirtuin genes called SIRT3 and SIRT4.

Scientists find hundreds of new cold viruses

It used to be called the common cold. Now scientists are starting to put some not-so-common names to the hundreds of viruses that make people cough, sneeze, wheeze and worse.

This week they described how new research techniques are uncovering a host of new respiratory viruses — including a new, monster-sized virus — and spurring efforts to better understand the role of these viruses in disease.

"We've added a bunch of viruses, some of which we have never heard of before," said Kenneth McIntosh of Harvard Medical School, speaking at a microbiology meeting in Chicago.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Mapping genes opens Pandora's box of issues: researcher

Each person's genome sequence, the DNA blueprint that among other things determines our susceptibility to disease, could be widely available in as little a five years, predicts a Canadian researcher.

The possibility could have huge privacy, ethical and societal implications, says an article published in Thursday's issue of Science.

Scientists believe that within five years, DNA sequencing, the process by which a person's 20,000 to 25,000 genes are mapped, will be affordable enough to be included in routine medical care.

As part of a regular physical, you could one day get a printout of your genes, identifying anything from a high cancer risk to a genetic mutation that you could pass on to your children.

But while this critical information could one day lead to personalized health care, such as specific tailor-made drug therapies that target your genetic weaknesses, it also opens a Pandora's box of ethical and societal challenges, Timothy Caulfield, Canada research chair in health law and policy and one of the study's authors, told on Friday.

AIDS vaccine fails, Merck halts testing

A promising experimental vaccine to prevent the AIDS virus has failed in a crucial experiment, with volunteers becoming infected with HIV anyway, leading the drug developer to halt the study.

Merck & Co. said Friday that it is ending enrolment and vaccination of volunteers participating in the international study, which is partly funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Officials at Merck told the Associated Press that 24 of 741 volunteers who got the vaccine in one segment of the trial later become infected with HIV, which causes AIDS.

In a comparison group of volunteers who got dummy shots, 21 of 762 participants also became infected with HIV.

"It's very disappointing news," said Keith Gottesdiener, head of Merck's clinical infectious disease and vaccine research group. "A major effort to develop a vaccine for HIV really did not deliver on the promise."

The study volunteers were all free of HIV at the start of the experiment. But they were at high risk for getting HIV: most were homosexual men or female sex workers. They were all repeatedly
counselled about how to reduce their risk of HIV infections, including use of condoms, according to Merck.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Alcohol a cancer risk for women

Women who have more than two alcoholic drinks a day double their risk of endometrial cancer compared with those who drink less, a new study finds.

Researchers examined a multiethnic group of 41,574 postmenopausal women, following them for an average of eight years and using questionnaires about diet and drinking habits. In that time, the team found 324 cases of endometrial cancer, the type that forms in the tissue that lines the uterus. According to the National Cancer Institute, the United States has 40,000 new cases of endometrial cancer a year and 7,400 deaths.

After controlling for variables, including body mass index, age, hormone therapy and whether they had been pregnant, the researchers found that women who had less than two drinks a day had no increased risk of endometrial cancer. But those who had more than two drinks a day had slightly more than twice the risk. It made no difference whether the women drank beer, wine or hard liquor.

The exact mechanism is unknown, but alcohol raises estrogen levels, and it is well established that prolonged exposure to estrogen increases mutations and DNA replication errors, predecessors of cancerous growths.

"Relatively few studies have examined the relationship between endometrial cancer and drinking," said Veronica Wendy Setiawan, the lead researcher and an assistant professor of research at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. "If this is a true association, that's one more lifestyle change women can make."

60% 'unaware of cancer age link'

Most British women are unaware that breast cancer risk increases with age, a poll suggests.

A survey of 1,000 people by charity Breast Cancer Care found nearly six out of 10 women did not know getting older was a strong risk factor.

More than 44,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK and 80% of all cases occur in over-50s.

Experts said many young women can worry unnecessarily while older women do not realise they are at risk.

The poll found that 58% did not know that the older they get, the higher their risk of breast cancer.

Starchy diet 'may damage liver'

A diet rich in potatoes, white bread and white rice may be contributing to a "silent epidemic" of a dangerous liver condition.

"High-glycaemic" foods - rapidly digested by the body - could be causing "fatty liver", increasing the risk of serious illness.

Boston-based researchers, writing in the journal Obesity, found mice fed starchy foods developed the disease.

Those those fed a similar quantity of other foods did not.

Fatty liver is exactly as it sounds - a build-up over time of fat deposits around the organ.

At the time, no ill-effects are felt, but it has been linked with a higher risk of potentially fatal liver failure later in life.

The study, carried out at Boston Children's Hospital, looked at the effect of diets with precisely the same calorific content, but very different ingredients when measured using the glycaemic index (GI).

This is a measure of how quickly the energy in the food is absorbed by the body, producing a rise in blood sugar levels - high GI foods lead to sharper rises in blood sugar, and similar rises in insulin levels, as the body releases the chemical in response.

High GI foods include many breakfast cereals and processed foods such as white bread and white rice.

Low GI foods include unprocessed fruit, nuts, pulses and grains, including rye or granary bread, spaghetti, apples and oranges.

Most Canadians 'health illiterate'

Canadians' low level of health literacy is adding "billions" of dollars in health care costs every year, says the president of the Canadian Council on Learning.

Paul Cappon made the comment after the release of the council's latest study on health literacy, defined as "the ability of individuals to access and use health information to make appropriate health decisions and maintain basic health."

The study builds on previously released data that shows 60 per cent of Canadian adults - including 88 per cent of those over 65 - lack that ability.

Health literacy is strongly correlated with health status, the study says. Adults reporting excellent general health have much higher health literacy scores on average than those reporting poor health.

As a result, policies aimed at increasing levels of health literacy and making it easier to navigate the health-care system "might turn out to be low-cost approaches to improving overall levels of health and well-being," the study says.

The potential savings are enormous, said Cappon, who is himself a physician. "I'm sure it's in the billions of dollars," he said in an interview. "It's the most important single intervention we can make to reduce health-care spending."

The study breaks down health literacy scores across Canada. Scores are highest in the Yukon and lowest in Nunavut.

They are above average in all four western provinces, but average or below in every province east of the Ontario-Manitoba border.

Scores hover near the national average in Ontario and Quebec, but plummet in immigrant-heavy Toronto.

Health and fitness: An hour down the salt mine is like a day at the seaside

On first impressions, Britain's first therapeutic "salt cave" – designed to alleviate a range of respiratory and skin conditions, including asthma and psoriasis, and to reduce the effects of stress – seems rather incongruous.

It isn't just the location, on the ground floor of a square 1970s building in a modern part of Bath, far from any natural geological feature.

Nor is it just the touch of Disney in the appearance – it is lined with pink, white and grey translucent salt rocks lit from behind and patterned like Palaeolithic paintings, with plaster stalactites on the ceiling and a water feature to one side.

No, for me, the oddest thing was the deckchairs. They looked out of place in the sombrely lit room, so far from any sunshine. "But they were really comfortable," one customer told me later: a frazzled mother from York who booked a 45-minute session with a friend for a bit of pampering.

The chairs were nearly my nemesis. A CD of repetitively calming music came on, the lights behind the salt rock panels became more intense, and gentle snoring filled the room as my companions-in-salt dozed off, tucked up in large blankets in case we got cold in the salt-air micro-climate that would swirl around us for the next 45 minutes.

But I couldn't work out how to recline my deckchair. I tried standing up and tipping it, but the only way was by launching myself in at a jump, risking a topple into the water feature.

I compromised by sitting slightly tipped, with the blanket tight around me, feeling like an old lady on a trip to the sea in a bathchair.

And I gently drifted off, dreaming of the ocean. Which was the right kind of dream: 20 million years ago, the chunks of pink salt chippings around me were part of a great shallow sea, now found in deposits between 10 and 300 metres beneath southern Poland.

A "speleotherapy" air-conditioning unit rumbled away, pumping salt particles into the atmosphere as I dozed.

Three-quarters of an hour in its presence is "equal to three days at sea", apparently, thanks to the iodine, bromine, magnesium, potassium and other minerals said to have antibacterial and antiviral properties.

Although the technology is less than 10 years old, it is inspired by 19th-century findings that Polish salt miners had fewer pulmonary problems than other people.

Then, in the 1990s post-communist era, scientists in Poland started to explore the possibility of recreating similar micro?climates above ground, which is when they came up with these salt rock panels, the backlighting and, most importantly, the air?conditioning.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Cell Phones May Cause Hearing Loss

Long-time mobile phone users who talk more than an hour a day on the devices may be may be more likely to have high-frequency hearing loss, researchers say.

"Our intention is not to scare the public," says Naresh K. Panda, MS, DNB, chairman of the department of ear, nose, and throat at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India, and researcher for the study. B The study, he tells WebMD, is preliminary and small. "We need to study a larger number of patients."

He presented the findings Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery in Washington.

His team found that people who had talked on cell phones for more than four years and those who talked more than an hour daily were more likely to have these high-frequency losses. These losses can make it difficult to hear consonants such as s, f, t and z, making it hard to understand words.

But another hearing expert familiar with the study says there is as yet no cause for alarm.

Hearing Loss Study

Panda and his colleagues evaluated 100 people, aged 18 to 45, who had used mobile phones for at least a year, dividing them into three groups according to length of use. One group of 35 had used phones for one to two years; another group of 35 had used them for two to four years, and a group of 30 had used them for more than four years.

"We asked them if they had been using the phones less than 60 minutes or more than 60 minutes per day," Panda tells WebMD. They compared the phone users with 50 people who had never used cell phones and served as a control group. The study was conducted in India.

Those who used the mobile phones for more than four years had more hearing loss in high-frequency ranges in their right ear, the ear most held the phone to, than those who used the mobile phone for one to two years.

"When we compared high-frequency thresholds (the level at which the sound is first detected) between the one- to two-year [users] and more than four years; there was a significant difference in the thresholds between these two groups," he says.

One- to two-year users had a 16.48 decibel loss in the high-frequency range, he says, while those who used the phones more than four years had a 24.54 decibel loss.

That decrease in hearing over a relatively brief period may not be noticeable to mobile phone users but would be of concern to a hearing expert, says Andy Vermiglio, AuD, a research audiologist at House Ear Institute in Los Angeles.

Mobile phone users who had symptoms such as a warm sensation, fullness in the ears, or ringing were more likely to have the high-frequency hearing loss, Panda also says.

Long-term mobile phone use may result in inner ear damage, Panda speculates. And symptoms such as ear warmth or fullness could be early warning signs of that damage.

Smoking blamed for 1 in 5 deaths in Nova Scotia

A new report applauds Nova Scotia's efforts to reduce smoking rates since 2000, but the study — commissioned by the Canadian Cancer Society — also says the province's anti-smoking campaign has stalled in the past three years.

Smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke is responsible for one in five deaths in the province, costing taxpayers $171.3 million in direct health expenditures, says the study, prepared by GPI Atlantic and released Wednesday.

The indirect costs to the economy were tallied at a further $526 million each year.

As good as gold

Beechworth is much the same as it was 150 years ago when the first diggers arrived, but with better food and nicer accommodation, reports Andrew Bain.

It's been said that if Ned Kelly resurrected and rode over the hill from Wangaratta, he'd still recognise Beechworth. One of the best-preserved provincial towns in the country, its framework has barely altered in 150 years. Look beyond the granite stonework and iron-trimmed verandas, however, and it's clear that this town is no simple museum piece. Created and built on the proceeds of the gold rush, today it's fine food and wine and a sophisticated shopping scene that is Beechworth's new fortune.


First settled in 1839, Beechworth's boom began in 1852 with the discovery of gold. Within 20 years there were 20,000 people living in the town, and houses of worship numbered seven churches, or 61 hotels, depending on your preferred spirit.

As any visitor will quickly learn, Ned Kelly made court appearances in Beechworth in 1870 and 1880 (daily Kelly walks operate from the visitors' centre), while other famous figures also passed through, including Sir Redmond Barry, Sir Isaac Isaacs and ill-fated explorer Robert O'Hara Burke, who served as police superintendent between 1854 and 1858.

Beechworth's heyday was short, with the town going into decline when the railway was routed through Wangaratta in 1873. Today, it's home to about 3000 residents.

Where to stay

Beechworth's newest accommodation option is also its most surprising. Opened just a month ago, 1860 is a timber cattlemen's hut carried piece by piece from near Taggerty, 200 kilometres away, taking four years to rebuild and fit out. Looking like a Man from Snowy River set from the outside, it's all simple luxury within. Rates are $225 a night midweek, and $245 Friday to Sunday (minimum two-night stay). Contact 0408 273 783,

Or try the Black Springs Bakery, a private hideaway five kilometres outside town. Constructed around 1875, and operating as a bakery until 1946, the National Trust-listed building offers self-contained accommodation over two levels in the bakery's barn. It has been fitted out in French rural style, complete with a formal garden, quince walk and olive grove. Rates are $220 a night midweek, and $265 Friday to Sunday (minimum two-night stay). Contact 5728 2565,

Learning to love apples

I always imagined I had an hourglass figure; very Marilyn Monroe, very Sophia Loren, very Scarlett Johansson. When I discovered I was an apple - prone to a big stomach and a flat bum - I can't tell you how disappointed I was. Luckily, all is not lost.

According to British fitness guru Matt Roberts, I can accentuate my positives and eliminate the negatives through appropriate exercises for my body shape. With the right kind of cardio and moves that focus on my obliques, I may just be able to have the figure I thought I had.

Disillusionment about body image isn't uncommon, with a reported three out of five women and one out of five men willing to give up a few years of their life for their ideal body. According to a study from the University of Colorado, we're not only happy to die young and beautiful but our interpretation of our actual size is way off the mark - often we imagine we're about 30 per cent bigger than we really are. Given our disillusionment it's no surprise that most of us cite losing weight or toning up as the reasons we want to exercise, but we often try to "spot" reduce those wobbly bits without really thinking through what we're trying to achieve.

Fitness exports have long dismissed the theory of targeting exercise to banish "trouble spots". Research seems to suggest, however, that exercising for your body shape can have significant health benefits.

"Just as you would choose the right clothes to enhance your figure and help you look slimmer," says Sydney personal trainer Dean Piazza, "you must also choose the right exercises and activities for your body shape."

It's not just about aesthetics, however. According to author and women's health expert Dr Marie Savard, your body shape can be a predictor for the development of disorders including diabetes and breast cancer, so understanding your body shape and how to look after it is crucial for good health.

The risks are linked to where you store fat and the way your body reacts to this. For example, fat stored around the tummy is a hormone and chemical powerhouse that can lead to increased risk of serious medical disorders, while excess fat stored in the "pear area" can be protective. Conversely, those with a "tube shape", as described by Roberts, can be susceptible to being underweight and the risk factors associated with that, such as infertility.

"Every aspect of a woman's life is affected by her shape," Savard says, "including her ability to lose weight, her fertility, severity of menopausal symptoms, response to birth control pills and hormone replacement, emotional volatility, body image and long-term risks of breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and other disorders."

Sleep is a painkiller

GETTING more sleep can be as effective as taking strong painkillers, according to a study showing extra shut-eye every night can be as numbing as a dose of codeine.

Research presented to a world sleep conference in Cairns this week has found that one or two hours more sleep can dull sensitivity to pain as much as 60 milligrams of analgesic drugs.

The results suggest that people who suffer from chronic pain or those who are about to undergo painful surgery should get as much extra sleep as possible.

"Essentially what we're saying is that increased bedtime can act as a pain-alleviating drug," said the lead researcher, Professor Timothy Roehrs, the director of research at the Sleep Disorders and Research Centre of the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Scientists enlisted six healthy young adults with no sleeping problems and had them stay in bed for 10 hours a night for six nights in a row. They then compared the effects of a longer sleep with the effects of different doses of the analgesic codeine.

The participants' sensitivity to pain was tested at the start and end of the trial, with researchers measuring how long it took them to pull away from a heated light bulb.

"We found that increasing their time in bed and making them more alert reduced their sensitivity to pain to the equivalent of having taken between 30 and 60 milligrams of codeine," Professor Roehrs said.

The research was presented at worldsleep07, a scientific meeting on sleep disorders such as insomnia, snoring and sleep apnoea.

Lonely hearts die young

Lonely people are more likely to get sick and die young, and US researchers may have found out why - their immune systems are haywire.

They used a "gene chip" to look at the DNA of isolated people and found that people who described themselves as chronically lonely have distinct patterns of genetic activity, almost all of it involving the immune system.

The study does not show which came first - the loneliness or the physical traits.

But it does suggest there may be a way to help prevent the deadly effects of loneliness, said Steve Cole, a molecular biologist at the University of California Los Angeles who worked on the study.

"What this study shows is that the biological impact of social isolation reaches down into some of our most basic internal processes - the activity of our genes," Cole said.

"We have known for years that there is this epidemiological relationship between social support - how many friends and family members you have around you - and a whole bunch of physical outcomes," he said.

Many studies of large populations have shown that people who describe themselves as lonely or as having little social support are more likely to die prematurely and to have infections, high blood pressure, insomnia and cancer.

"There are two theories - the social provision theory, which basically is about what other people do for you in a tangible, material sense. Like, if I am sick and I have got people around me, they will take me to the doctors, they will see I take my pills," Cole said.

"The other is that there is something about being isolated and lonely that changes your body."

Evidence short on growth hormone

Human growth hormone has become the fix of the moment, from athletes who hope it will boost their recovery, to older people who have flocked to clinics that promote the drug as a fountain of youth.

But there is little or no evidence that human growth hormone provides any of those benefits to healthy individuals, researchers and hormone specialists say, while overuse carries serious risks, including diabetes and heart abnormalities.

"People should think twice about using it," says Anne Nelson, the scientific project manager for growth hormone studies at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney.

"It seems silly to be spending a lot of money on growth hormone if it's not doing anything and there's long-term risks to health. And it's against the spirit of sports."

Nonetheless, sales of human growth hormone, or HGH, worldwide total more than $US1 billion ($1.19 billion), and hundreds of thousands of prescriptions are filled in the United States, far more than the probable number of people with confirmed hormone diseases for which the drug can legally be prescribed.

The drug can legitimately be prescribed only for children with growth abnormalities, adults with documented deficiencies of the hormone, and people with wasting from AIDS or other serious conditions.

But synthetic growth hormone and substances to boost natural growth hormone are widely marketed on the internet with claims of bodybuilding, rejuvenation and even increased sex drive. A Google search for growth hormone sales yields more than 2 million pages, including many advertisements for pills or sprays, even though the only effective way to get HGH into the body is by injection. A month's dose can cost up to $US1000.

Now is a good time to squeeze more fruit, vegies into the diet

That's according to the results of a national survey of 16,000 people, published online last month by the International Journal of Obesity. While government healthy eating campaigns aimed at promoting increased intake of fruit and vegetables are starting to make positive inroads in some Australian states, there's still a long way to go to meet daily targets for optimal health and disease prevention. With fresh spring produce packing greengrocers' shelves, now is a great time to start squeezing more fruit and veg into your day.

Many Australians are aware of the importance of eating fruit and vegetables. Surveys show that when asked what recent changes they have made to improve the healthiness of their diets, four of the top eight responses are eating more broccoli, green leafy vegetables and carrots, and drinking more fruit and vegetable juices feature. However, despite these positive signs and the fact that at least 92 per cent of Australians believe their overall diet is extremely or very healthy, most people are still a long way from recommended intake levels. A significant rift exists between perception and reality when it comes to assessing fruit and vegetable intake.

For optimal health, the recommendation is to eat daily at least five servings of vegetables (one serve equals half a cup of chopped vegetables, or one cup of salad) and two servings of fruit (one serve is equal to one average piece, or two small pieces). Fresh, frozen, dried and canned all count toward the recommended five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit.

To meet these recommendations an individual needs to eat a piece of fruit with breakfast and one with lunch, a medium bowl of salad with lunch and half a dinner plate covered with vegetables in the evening.

Sounds easy -- so why are we so far away from achieving optimal intakes, particularly when it comes to vegetables?

Research conducted in Victoria has found the barriers to fruit and vegetable intake are many, including being unfamiliar with serving recommendations, perceptions that vegetables are eaten only with evening meals, preference for eating meat, believing that recommended quantities are too big, and a lack of preparation time.

The researchers of this study suggested possible ways to help people eat more fruit and vegetables -- education about recommended number and size of servings, encouragement to spread fruit and vegetable consumption over the day, and ideas to increase the sensory appeal of fruit and vegetables.

To address some of these barriers, start eating fruit and veg early in the day -- and keep going. Try tomato on toast or fruit sliced onto cereal, pack fruit and veg for snacks, and prepare salads the day before so they're ready to take to work the following day.

Add olive oil, lemon juice, herbs or spices to increase the appeal of steamed vegetables, or throw an extra handful into curries, stir fries, pasta sauces and other mixed dishes. Keep fruit and veg at the top of your thinking and they will soon become a habit. Reaching the recommended target will become easier and your health will benefit significantly.

Govt to import vaccine for equine flu

The federal Government is set to sign off on a request from the NSW Government for the importation of the vaccine but NSW Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald warned that not every horse would be treated and that the vaccine would not solve all the problems stemming from the equine influenza outbreak.

Mr Macdonald said it was imperative that biosecurity, hygiene and movement restrictions remained in place to help contain the disease.

About 5000 horses in buffer zones established around known equine influenza hotspots will be vaccinated twice at an interval of 14 days to ensure the most successful use of the vaccine.

The Department of Primary Industries will define four risk zones across NSW, which will be announced later in the week.

"The vaccine will be imported, once the federal Government's office of the gene technology regulator signs off on this initiative," Mr Macdonald said.

"There is a national agreement that we must use the vaccine strategically and with precision to stay one step ahead of the disease, with the ultimate aim of eradication."

He defended the decision not to vaccinate horse earlier.

"Using vaccine earlier in the campaign, without the information we have now, would have been flying blind," he said.

Queensland Racing chairman Bob Bentley has called for a broader vaccination program to be implemented after the number of infected properties in Queensland grew to 146 on the weekend.

He said vaccination was the only way to deal with the crisis.

"Whilst there are a number of arguments in favour and also against equine influenza vaccination, the time has come to take positive action," Mr Bentley said.

Champion Queensland apprentice jockey Ric McMahon was yesterday suspended for one month and fined $5000 by Queensland Racing stewards for failing to comply with biosecurity measures aimed at stopping the spread of equine influenza.

GPs may take heart from MP3

The stethoscope, which evolved from a simple paper tube, has served cardiologists and GPs well for nearly 200 years, but Canadian researchers claim it is no match for today's MP3 players.

Neil Skjodt, of the University of Alberta, Canada, said even the most up-to-date stethoscopes provided inferior quality, clarity and purity of sound compared with off-the-shelf music players.

He said the new technology had several other advantages, such as storing recordings for future reference and analysis of them with more sophisticated software.

Chris Del Mar, of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine at Bond University on the Gold Coast, said stethoscopes were extremely efficient but the new technology might help in complicated cases, such as murmurs.

He said he doubted that MP3 players would replace stethoscopes but they might take away a lot of the "grunt work".

"Doctors are innovators, they get into all sorts of technology quite quickly," he said. "This will become part of what doctors use to provide best care."

Nick Zwar, professor of general practice at the University of NSW, said expense would also be a factor in how quickly such technology might catch on with local doctors. With the price of a reasonable stethoscope at $150 and better-quality MP3 players selling for between $200 and $300, he said the players would have to be clearly better.

Dr Zwar said most GPs would usually wait for feedback from established institutions such as the National Heart Foundation and the Cardiac Society before buying into new innovations.

"Stethoscopes are commonly used tools of the trade," he said.

"This sounds like one of these gee-whiz things. Whether it will catch on remains to be seen."

Testes May Provide Plentiful Source of Adult Stem Cells

A method to harvest stem cells from adult testes and reprogram them into functional tissue may provide an easily accessible and plentiful alternative to controversial embryonic stem cells, researchers said.

In a mouse study, spermatogonial progenitor stem cells isolated from testes using a marker on the cell surface were successfully redirected in vivo into working endothelial cells and tissue, contractile cardiac tissue, brain cells, and other cell types, reported Shahin Rafii, M.D., of Weill Cornell Medical College here, and colleagues in the Sept. 20 issue of Nature.

If the process works in humans, it could have therapeutic use for men in heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, and restoring fertility after chemotherapy, Dr. Rafii said.

"And, since these cells come from the patient's own tissue, they are genetically compatible and they are not going to get rejected," he added.

Other research groups have also pursued organ-specific adult stem cells as a substitute for embryonic stem cells. However, stem cells are relatively scarce in adult organs and have proven difficult to identify and harvest.

Dr. Rafii's group started studying adult testes as a source of pluripotent stem cells when he noticed that many testicular cancer patients develop teratoma tumors, which contain different types of tissue.

This suggested that testicular cancer cells share characteristics with adult stem cells. Thus, the spermatogonia cells that generate the precursors to sperm and give rise to teratomas might be easier to reprogram than other adult stem cells.

But, like other research groups, Dr. Rafii and colleagues had trouble finding and tracking these cells.

Then while evaluating a large series of knockout mice, his group discovered a stem and progenitor cell surface marker--GPR125--expressed on the adult testis.

Immunohistochemistry showed that the mice expressed GPR125 in the testis only in spermatogonial stem and progenitor cells and not in differentiated germ cells.

The marker was used to harvest and expand adult spermatogonia cells, which continued to proliferate when cultivated in the lab long-term. The cells could also be cultured into undifferentiated embryonic-like stem cells that expressed a marker for pluipotency.

The cells could be differentiated into multiple tissue types in vitro, including rhythmically contractile cardiac tissue and an "extensive network of vessel-like, lumen-containing" structures.

When the stem cells were implanted in immunodeficient mice used for cancer research, the cells developed into teratomas in every case that showed differentiation into multiple types of cells.

In the same mouse model, the stem cells formed teratomas that contained functional blood vessels that joined up with the "host" circulation system.

However, some hurdles remain before the method could be used in men, the researchers said.

The precise molecular and cellular pathways to switch spermatogonial stem and progenitor cells into differentiable stem cells on demand are not clear.

However, the GPR125 marker for identifying stem and progenitor cells is found in human testes as well, Dr. Rafii said.

The researchers said they have not seen cancer or cancer-promoting activity in adult mice implanted with differentiated cell tissue derived from testes, but "the use of these cells for therapeutic purposes should proceed with caution and extensive preclinical experimentation."

The technology is still experimental, Dr. Rafii concluded, "but our paper is one step forward."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Eat right to combat stress

"My diet is horrendous. I drink too much coffee. I skip lunch four out of five days at work and I eat everything in sight when I get home. I know I should eat better, but I can't seem to get it together."

Sound familiar? It's just one version of the frustrations commonly heard from people with hectic lives.

The demands of juggling a career, family and activities after work or school puts us in a constant time crunch. As a result, Canadians are finding it more difficult than ever to maintain a nutritious diet, which is profoundly affecting our health.

Stress Eroding Our Well-Being

It's not surprising that more than 35 per cent of Canadians say they are constantly under some form of stress. Many of us often internalize stress and, over a period of months and years, this wear and tear may cause both mental and physical breakdown.

In small doses, stress can energize and motivate us. Too much stress, however, can impair our health status.

About 50 to 80 per cent of today's health disorders -- headaches, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome and even cardiovascular disease -- are believed to be stress-related.

Unfortunately, our body cannot identify the difference between physical and mental stresses. Whether we are faced with an angry bear or have a deadline to meet, our body responds to the stressful situation in the same way.

Poor Diet Can Trigger Stress

Our demand for nutrients increases during periods of stress. Research shows that there is a faster turnover of protein, fat and carbohydrates in order to produce energy to keep up with the demands we place on ourselves. Vitamins B and C are rapidly depleted in the course of this carbohydrate and protein metabolism.

Therefore, if we are skipping meals or not eating a balanced diet, the level of stress increases as the demand for nutrients is increases and is not met.

Our bodies will not have the nutrients required to manage stress properly and, as a result, our health becomes compromised. Even normal stress begins to exact a toll.

How We Cope With Stress

When the pressure is on, the solution for many of us is to not take the time to eat. Then, when the stressful moment has passed or we finally have the time to eat, we typically reach for a treat. By then, we're low in blood sugar, extremely hungry and need to eat NOW. This energy slump, typically at 3 or 4 p.m., sets us up for poor food choices.

The concentrated shot of sugar found in soft drinks or jelly beans does makes us feel better and provides a quick boost of energy, but it's shortlived. We wind up feeling more tired and irritable than we did before we went for the sugar fix.

It's a vicious circle: stress affects our mood; our mood affects our food choices; and our food choices affect our mood, generally for the worse.

Many of us have been also socialized to rely on food for comfort or for a reward. This nervous noshing can lead us into a cycle of guilt and add more stress by increasing concerns about eating poorly or weight gain. Sadly, we've missed an opportunity to feed our body what it really needs: foods rich in vitamins, minerals, protein and carbohydrates.


Young women less attentive to heart risks than men

Young women with a family history of heart disease may be less careful about following a healthy lifestyle than their male counterparts, a study has found.

It's well known that people with a parent or sibling who suffered a heart attack at a relatively young age are themselves at higher-than-average risk, so it is especially important for them to maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle -- which includes exercising, eating a balanced diet and not smoking.

The new study, published in the American Heart Journal, found that younger women may be less likely than men to heed this advice.

"Some of them are getting the message," senior study author Dr. Amit Khera told Reuters Health, "but not nearly as much as men."

Heart disease was once widely thought of as a "man's" disease. Although this is changing, some women -- even those with a family history of early heart problems -- still underestimate their risk, according to Khera, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

For their study, Khera and his colleagues looked at more than 2,400 men and women between the ages of 30 and 50, of whom 265 had a family history of premature heart disease. This was defined as having a father or brother who suffered a heart attack before the age of 50, or a mother or sister who suffered one before age 55.

Among women, the researchers found, those with a family history were more likely than other women to have multiple other risk factors for heart disease -- such as smoking, excess weight and high blood pressure. Just about half (49 percent) had at least two heart risk factors, versus 39 percent of women with no family history of early heart disease.

Much narrower differences were seen among men, however. What's more, men with a family history tended to be more physically active than other men their age.

In contrast, their female counterparts were just as likely to sedentary as women without a family history of heart problems.

Part of the problem, Khera noted, may be that health providers are not as likely to ask women about their family history of heart disease, or to counsel them on ways to cut heart disease risk.

It's important for all women to be aware of their family history, and to know that premature heart disease -- whether in a male or female relative -- is relevant to them, according to Khera.

No matter how young they are, he said, women with a family history should be taking steps to protect their hearts, through diet, exercise and not smoking. They should also see their doctors for routine medical screenings, including blood pressure and cholesterol measurements, he advised.


The politics of women's health

People claim that either not enough attention is paid, not enough money spent, or that there is too much of both. And whether it's not enough or too much, pharmaceutical companies and health agencies always seem to be accused of being guilty of some permutation of sexism.

Decades ago, breast cancer became the poster illness for women, even though it was not – and is not – the Number 1 killer of women. Women's illnesses, it was asserted, were chronically underfunded because the male medical establishment didn't mind if women suffered. But no more. Breast cancer now receives money and attention disproportionate to the threat it poses. And according to statistics kept by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, gender specific medical research has been tilted toward women for the past 15 years.

Yet people aren't happy. Just ask the folks at Merck Frosst Canada Ltd., a research-driven pharmaceutical company, who have brought Canadians Gardasil, the vaccine it says protects against infection by four strains of human papillomavirus (HPV), two of which are responsible for 70 per cent of cervical cancers. (The other two strains in the vaccine protect against genital warts.)

The vaccine is being attacked on several fronts. Macleans magazine ran a cover story managing to cram the words "our girls" and "guinea pigs" into the same alarming headline. The article argued that inoculation programs, which will soon begin in several provinces, amount to little more than a test of Gardasil's safety. Merck responded that Gardasil had undergone extensive research and testing.

Another argument – one I heard on TVO's The Agenda – is that vaccinating girls will discourage them from getting pap smears which could protect them from other strains of the virus. That's a fair concern, but is it not a parent's or young woman's job to educate themselves in this regard? Should a vaccine that prevents only certain strains of a sickness be withheld? Imagine for a moment that Gardasil were being withheld, and news of its existence leaked out. The outrage would be that "our girls" were considered inconsequential.

Ads promoting Gardasil – featuring differently coloured and coiffed girls doing "empowering" things like working out and studying and laughing – run regularly on American television. (Regulations here don't allow such advertising.) The cover-girl sell makes it easy (and breezy) enough to be cynical and suspicious, but the reaction to Gardasil has been over-the-top.

I'm not suggesting we should blithely accept what we are told, without asking questions. Only that one would think that a vaccine that could prevent many cases of cancer among women would be welcome news, yes? Risks are inherent with any medical discovery. Vaccines and antibiotics that have been deemed safe for decades can have adverse affects on individuals in 2007 and beyond.

Possibly the most amusing – in a plus ├ža change sort of way – objection I have heard to the HPV vaccine is that protecting young women against an STD will cause them to be more sexually active. Amusing, because I am a fan of the television show Mad Men. In the first episode of the set-in-1960 series, a wide-eyed young woman named Peggy goes to the gynecologist to get herself some of them newfangled birth control pills. The doctor, speculum poised, tells Peggy – I'm paraphrasing here – "I'll prescribe these pills to you Peggy. But permit me to say I do so with a heavy heart, because I fear they'll turn all you girls into big sluts."


Studies: TB Can Be Treated in Few Months

New research gives hope for successfully treating tuberculosis in a few months rather than the six months or more currently needed to beat the contagious lung disease, doctors reported Tuesday.

Adding the antibiotic moxifloxacin to the usual TB drugs shortened the time to cure to an estimated four months in a study in Brazil, Johns Hopkins University scientists reported at an American Society for Microbiology conference in Chicago.

A second study by Hopkins researchers cured mice of TB in 10 weeks instead of the usual six months with moxifloxacin plus the TB drug rifapentine at higher doses.

"It sounds fantastic," said Dr. Melvin Spigelman, research and development director for the nonprofit Global Alliance for TB Drug Development in New York. "The science is there" and just needs to be verified in larger studies, he said.

The group will launch a 2,400-patient study later this year.

Also on Tuesday, the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced its largest grants ever to fight TB — $280 million for research on vaccines, diagnostics and drugs.

"If everything goes well, it should be feasible to shorten treatment time," possibly even to ultra-short regimens of two weeks to a month, said Ken Duncan, the foundation's program director.

More than 8 million people worldwide develop TB each year, and nearly 2 million die of it. The disease is mostly a problem in poor countries, but the recent case of Andrew Speaker, an Atlanta attorney who created an international health scare by traveling while he had a multidrug-resistant strain of TB, shows the danger in the United States as well.

Recently, a Mexican teenager was jailed in Georgia and threatened with deportation after refusing to take his recommended nine months of TB treatment.

On Tuesday, a man with a multiple drug-resistant form who had been detained after walking in public without a mask was returned to Arizona after doctors treating him in Colorado said he was no longer infectious.

Treatment now consists of three or four antibiotics taken daily for six months or more. But half of patients do not take all their pills, allowing resistant bacteria to grow and spread, said Dr. Jacques Grosset, the Hopkins researcher who led the study of several hundred mice.

The Brazil study involved about 170 men and women in Rio de Janeiro who had active TB. All were given three standard anti-TB drugs plus either moxifloxacin or an older drug, ethambutol.

After two months, 85 percent of those on moxifloxacin tested negative for the infection compared to 68 percent on ethambutol. The treatment advantage showed up in as little as two weeks.

"Based on what we know, if you get that big a difference at two months, you should be able to shorten the duration of treatment ... down to four," said Dr. Richard Chaisson, director of TB research at Hopkins.

In a third study of about 400 TB patients throughout Africa, 60 percent who received moxifloxacin plus three other drugs tested negative for TB at two months versus 55 percent given isoniazid and the other medications.

The federal government paid for the studies, and Bayer Healthcare AG donated moxifloxacin, which it sells as Avelox in the United States for short-term use against pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses. The pill costs $10 a day, but researchers said Bayer has promised to make it available in poor countries for less if it is approved to treat TB.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Four ways to handle ragweed allergies

For some people with allergies, the end of summer is a good thing. But for many others -- an estimated 36 million Americans -- the end of summer just means the beginning of ragweed season.
Symptoms of a ragweed allergy include sneezing, runny nose, and swollen, itchy, tearing eyes, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Nearly 80 percent of people who have such allergies will experience trouble sleeping.
With ragweed season running from the middle of August until October, here are some tips from the experts at the allergy academy on how to minimize exposure to the plant in question and its potent pollen:
1. Stay away: Avoid areas where ragweed likes to grow, such as ditches, vacant lots, riverbanks and the edge of wooded areas.
2. Stay inside: When pollen counts are high, try to minimize your outdoor activity. If you do spend time outdoors, shower when you head inside again so that the pollen doesn't collect on you.
3. Keep pollen out: Close the windows in your car and home to minimize the amount of pollen that enters the places you live. Run air conditioning to clean and dry the air that you're breathing.
4. Know the numbers:
Track pollen and other allergen counts regularly so you know when to take extra precautions. You can visit for up-to-date information on tree, weed and grass pollen and mold counts. Because some people's symptoms represent a cumulative effect of multiple allergens, it's also worth watching how prevalent other allergens are.

Vitamin D looks like a life-extender

Vitamin D supplements could prolong your life, a new European study suggests.

"The intake of usual doses of vitamin D seems to decrease mortality from any cause of death," said lead researcher Dr. Philippe Autier of the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France.The new finding, published in the Sept. 10 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, is a bit of an anomaly, because the benefits of vitamin supplements remain uncertain at best.

Although they often are touted as a means of reducing risks for cancer and heart disease, some studies have found supplements have no effect on these conditions.

For example, other studies have shown that vitamin E has no effect on cancer, Autier said. And prior research suggests that multivitamin supplements do nothing to reduce cancer risk, he added.

But vitamin D may be the exception, according to the results of this new study, which showed a 7 percent difference in the death rate.

"This is the first study that shows that taking one vitamin has an impact on mortality," Autier said. "If you want to increase your vitamin D intake by taking supplements, it looks like a great idea."

Autier believes people should take vitamin D supplements in the range of 400 to 600 IUs daily but no more.

Cancer Society ads: Lack of insurance costing lives

The American Cancer Society is devoting its entire $15 million advertising budget for 2007 to highlight the problems faced by Americans who don't have any or enough health insurance.

The society says that, because they lack insurance, people may not be getting the checkups they need to catch cancer early, when treatments are more successful.

"Reducing suffering and death from cancer may only truly be possible if all Americans are able to visit their doctor for regular checkups, early detection screening tests and prompt, quality cancer treatment if and when they need it," said Richard C. Wender, national volunteer president of the society.

The ad campaign is "going to tell the American people that a large and growing number of people are dying needlessly from cancer, because they don't have access to our health care system," said John Seffrin, the society's chief executive officer.

Dr. Otis Brawley, incoming chief medical officer of the cancer society, said 1 in 10 cancer patients lack insurance.

Almost 560,000 Americans will die from cancer this year, he said, "so at least 55,000 cancer patients will die without insurance." But he said the number is higher because many people will lose their insurance after they are diagnosed.

An estimated 47 million Americans are without health insurance, according to the most recent Census Bureau statistics. A 2003 report published in Health Affairs says an additional 16 million Americans were underinsured, lacking adequate insurance to protect them against catastrophic health care expenses.

In what the society's Web site calls "an emotional advertising campaign," three uninsured or underinsured cancer patients tell how their plight has affected their lives.

Lisa Cristia, of Chicago, Illinois, was diagnosed with tongue and neck cancer, and despite having health insurance, her treatments left her $65,000 in debt. While undergoing treatments, she lost her job and eventually was forced to declare bankruptcy because she could not fight off the debt collectors any other way.

"It's bad enough that people have to fight for their lives, and fight to get well ... they shouldn't have to fight for financial freedom," Cristia said.

Raina Bass, a mother in Boonville, Missouri, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer last year at age 25.

Although she had two types of health insurance, many of her medical expenses were not covered, she said.

"The medical debt I have has been turned over to collection agencies," she said.

Kathy Merkel, a northern Minnesota woman in her early 40s, lost her job and two weeks later was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. Because she had no health insurance, Merkel said she never went for regular screenings.

She said she is inundated with medical bills, but still has no job and no income.

Merkel said she doesn't think people should have to fall out of the middle class because they got sick.

The ads represent a change for the society. Its previous ad campaigns have urged people to get checked for colon cancer or warned against the dangers of second-hand smoke.

"The American Cancer Society is going to try to get the American public to see how broke our health care system is through the face of people facing cancer," Seffrin said.

The ad campaign was criticized as pushing a "political agenda" in a Wall Street Journal op-ed written last week by New York's former lieutenant governor and health policy official Betsy McCaughey.

"These ads will waste money that should be used to continue the society's educational campaign about prevention and detection," wrote McCaughey, chairwoman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths.

"The evidence shows that universal health coverage does not improve survival rates for cancer patients," the September 14 op-ed stated.

"The American Cancer Society should continue its lifesaving messages about prevention and screening instead of switching to a political agenda. The goal should be to ensure that all patients receive the timely care our current system provides, not to radically overhaul the system."

McCaughey, who served under New York Gov. George Pataki, criticized then-President Clinton's health care plan in 1994 in a New Republic article titled, "No Exit."


Monday, September 17, 2007

Exercise in clean air, cardiac patients told

People with heart disease may want to steer clear of heavy traffic when exercising or simply take their workout indoors to avoid breathing polluted air.
Exercising in areas with high levels of diesel exhaust and microscopic soot particles is especially risky for people with heart disease, according to the first study in which heart patients were directly exposed to pollution.
European researchers found that brief exposure to diluted diesel exhaust during exercise reduced a key anti-clotting substance in the blood and worsened exercise-induced ischemia, or insufficient flow of blood and oxygen to the heart -- changes that can trigger a heart attack and even death.
"We now have evidence that being exposed to diesel fuel during exercise will cause cardiac ischemia, and that if you have heart disease, it can only make things worse," said Dr. Abraham Sanders, a lung specialist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital who was not involved in the study.
The results have big implications: About 16 million Americans have heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.
In addition, people with asthma, bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease also should use caution and avoid polluted air when exercising, Sanders recommended.
Numerous studies have shown a link between short-term and long-term exposure to air pollution and higher rates of hospitalizations and deaths due to poor blood supply to the heart, abnormal heart rhythms, gradual heart failure and stroke.
This study adds to that knowledge about how air pollution harms people and aims to show what pollution is doing in the body, information that eventually might give clues for preventing such problems, said Dr. Howard M. Kipen, director of clinical research at Rutgers University's Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute.
"It's quite amazing, what they found," but not a surprise, he said.
The European study was reported in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.
Researchers in Sweden and the United Kingdom tested 20 men aged about 60 who had survived a heart attack at least six months earlier.
On two separate occasions, each man was put in an enclosed chamber for an hour and exposed to either diluted diesel exhaust or clean, filtered air.
They rode an exercise bike for two 15-minute periods and rested in between.
While exercising and exposed to diesel exhaust, the men experienced drops in the heart's electrical activity two to six times greater than when they were breathing filtered air. Those reductions indicated the heart muscles were not getting enough blood.

Husbands also have role in wives' cancer battle

Everyone knows the devastation a breast cancer diagnosis can mean to a woman, but less explored is its effect on their husbands, who often lack the skills to cope with the myriad emotions they suddenly find themselves experiencing and the role their wife now expects them to play.

Marc Silver was one such husband, a journalist who found himself overwhelmed when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001. In response, Silver wrote Breast Cancer Husband: How To Help Your Wife (and Yourself) Through Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond (Rodale Books), a manual to help men whose worlds are suddenly turned upside down. Silver talked with the Chronicle about what every husband of a breast cancer patient should know but that few people talk about.

Q: You describe the book as a guide for clueless men. Why are men so clueless? We get sick. Do we really want something so different?

A: It's a situation where there's no warning — it's not like one person is ill for a long time and then there's resolution. One minute, everything's fine and the next the woman goes in for a mammogram and it turns out it's breast cancer. There aren't a lot of behaviors to call upon in the past to guide men, who want to jump in and fix the problem but know they can't.

Q: What prompted you to write the book?

A: It was really the fact I felt so lost when my wife was diagnosed. She called me from the doctor's office, where the radiologist said, "it sure looks like cancer to me." My reaction was, "eh, that doesn't sound good." We talked about her next appointment, and then I said, "See you tonight," hung up the phone and stayed at work all day. Looking back, I ask myself, "What was I thinking?""

Q: What's the hardest thing for a man about his wife getting breast cancer?

A: Their own feelings and what to do with them. I remember all my fears about how I would lose it, how I might not be able to cope, but I didn't want to tell my wife because how could I go to this woman facing chemotherapy, surgery and radiation and say, "I'm really scared for me." You have a right to all those feelings, but you just don't know what to do with them.

Q: What are the most helpful things a man can do?

A: I often joke that the book's motto is shut up and listen, but I'm really serious.I think being there with her physically is very important — she's going to be bombarded with information. At that time, it's hugely helpful to have someone along to take notes and keep a list of questions you might want to ask the doctor so she can turn to you and ask, "was there anything else we wanted to know?" You can really do a lot of little things that can add up to be a great help.

Q: What do women with breast cancer not get about their husband's response?

A: They don't know what they're thinking inside, that they care even though they may not be showing it. One woman told me how upset she was that her husband didn't seem to be taking her diagnosis to heart, until he told her that after the surgery he came home to have breakfast and his hand was shaking so badly he couldn't lift the spoon of cereal from the bowl to his mouth. I think there's a lot of that sort of miscommunication going on.

Q: What kind of toll does breast cancer take on a marriage? How often do couples break up as a result?

A: There are two conflicting studies on the subject — one that found similar rates of marital dissatisfaction in women with breast cancer and women without; and one that found men caring for women with breast cancer left the marriage more than women caring for men with cancer. I couldn't find a study that found tons of guys walking out, and psychologists told me they don't see mass numbers of divorces after a diagnosis. What I wanted to emphasize in the book is that that's not the end of the marriage, that that's not the norm.

Q: How's the book done? Aren't a lot of men likely to benefit from it unlikely to read it?

A: I think their wives buy it for them and hit them over the head with it. Seriously, I've got incredibly moving e-mails from guys who found the book and told me how much it meant to them. I wanted the book to be not my story, but the story of many men and couples who've dealt with the disease, so men would understand if you cry in the car, that's pretty normal.

Q: The breast-cancer support world can seem an alien girl's club to a man, what with all the pink colors and touchy-feeliness. How do you suggest men overcome that?

A: Tell me about it. But you just have to plunge in and do it. Breast cancer walks to raise money, where it's like 800 women, 40 guys and a lot of pink, can be intimidating, but guys who participate find they get enormous respect and props. Your presence means so much to the patient. It's like you're going through a war together.

Q: Did your experience change your relationship with your wife?

A: It made me appreciate her incredible strength. I don't know if I could have been so courageous. I learned that we're very different — that I'm more optimistic and she's more pessimistic, and I guess I'd never noticed that. But that was OK — she could cope her way and I could cope my way, we didn't always have to be in sync


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Loneliness Is in the Genes

If, as Roy Orbison sang, "Only the lonely" know how you feel tonight, you may need a doctor. A new study shows that loneliness may change how certain genes in the body work, leaving chronically lonely people with less effective immune systems and lower defenses against disease. The results, if confirmed, could enable doctors to better prevent those ills for which the lonely are at greater risk, such as heart disease, infection, age-related dementia, and certain types of cancer.

Everyone feels lonely from time to time, but some people have it much worse. These individuals consistently feel lonely for years, often despite having friends and family. Researchers have long known that such chronically lonely people are less healthy. They suspected cortisol, a hormone that regulates the body's response to stressful or threatening situations, was to blame, because it's found in higher levels in people who feel isolated. But the mechanism remained a mystery, and one nagging question persisted: If inflammation drives most loneliness-linked diseases, how can cortisol, with its anti-inflammatory properties, be the culprit?

Steve Cole, a genomics researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and colleagues tracked a group of 153 people in their 50s and 60s, in hopes they'd provide an answer. The team ranked the volunteers using the UCLA Loneliness Scale, a test that measures a subject's loneliness by their responses to statements such as "I'm alone in the world" and "There's no one I can count on," regardless of how many people they know or spend time with. The researchers then studied DNA from the white blood cells of eight people who scored in the top 15th percentile of loneliness and six who scored in the bottom 15th percentile.

Of the 22,000 human genes, 209 were abnormally expressed in the very lonely group. Most of these genes help control the body's immune response. In the loneliest, the response was haywire: Those that activate the immune system and inflammation were overexpressed, whereas those that regulate the production of antibodies and antiviral factors were underexpressed. The results explain why lonely people suffer from chronic inflammation in spite of their high levels of cortisol and are vulnerable to microbes, viruses, and other sources of tissue damage, the researchers say. The study, which appears in the current issue of the journal Genome Biology, is the first to reveal on a molecular level how loneliness puts people at risk for disease, says Cole.

"This is an absolutely remarkable study," says Robert Wilson, a neuropsychologist at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, who helped establish the link between loneliness and dementia. Still, he says it would be "reassuring" to see the study repeated with more subjects, and he notes that the work leaves unanswered which comes first, the loneliness or the change in gene expression. "We're certainly a long way from that kind of specificity," says Wilson, "but studies like this may get us there."

Cole hopes doctors will someday be able to use the genetic markers his team discovered to identify at-risk patients and keep them healthier with anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin. "We can't change them into the happy, laughing life of the party," he says, "but we can keep them out of the coffin."

Source: http://sciencenow.sciencemag.or

Friday, September 14, 2007

Teen girls on diets more apt to become smokers

Teenage girls who start dieting are nearly two times more likely to also take up smoking regularly, compared with teenage girls who are not dieting. Among teenage boys, it is the inactive dieters -- those that tried dieting but didn't stick to it -- that are at risk for taking up smoking.

These are the findings of Dr. Mildred M. Maldonado-Molina of the University of Florida, Gainesville, and colleagues who analyzed associations between dieting and smoking. Their aim was to see if the desire to lose weight might play a role in the decision to start smoking.

The investigators used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a school-based study of health-related behaviors among girls and boys in grades 7 through 12 in the US.

Data collected from 1994 to 1996 in nearly 7800 teenagers showed that 55 percent of the girls were dieters, and of these, about 35 percent were consistent dieters. Yet less than 21 percent of the girls were considered overweight.

By contrast, more boys were overweight but only about a quarter were dieters, and just 12 percent were consistent dieters, the researchers report in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Teen girls who began dieting during the study period were roughly 1.9 times more likely than non-dieters to begin smoking regularly, the investigators note. Among boys, those who began but stopped dieting were 1.7 times more likely to initiate regular smoking compared with non-dieters.

Furthermore, in both girls and boys, those with cigarettes available in the home (nearly 27 percent overall) were at increased risk for initiating regular smoking, the investigators report.

Overall, dieting does not appear associated with trying smoking, the researchers observe, but female teenagers who initiate dieting appear at risk for beginning regular smoking.


Largest study of mobile phone safety finds no risk

The UK's largest investigation into the safety of mobile phones has found no evidence that they damage health – so far.

But scientists said yesterday that it was impossible to rule out the possibility that ill effects including cancers could emerge in long-term users – over 10 years – in the future.

Children could be at risk because their brains are more vulnerable, and the advice to limit children's use of mobiles should remain.

The findings from the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR) programme, which was launched six years ago and has cost £8.8m, were described yesterday by the scientist who chairs it, Professor Laurie Challis, as "reassuring".

Worries about the effects of mobile phones on the brain and on biological processes, indicated in some earlier research, had been tested and found to be baseless, he said.

But because of the remaining uncertainty he announced a further research programme, costing £6m, to examine the long-term hazards of mobile phone use and the risks to children.

The research, which is evenly co-funded by the Government and the mobile phone industry but is independently run, included 28 studies, of which 23 are complete. It found no association between short-term mobile phone use and brain cancer and studies on volunteers showed no evidence that brain function, including memory and reaction times, was affected.

The programme also included the largest and most robust studies of electrical hypersensitivity, which is claimed to affect 1 per cent to 4 per cent of the population. The results showed no link between the unpleasant symptoms reported by sufferers, including migraine, dizziness and tingling, and mobile phone use.

There was no evidence that use of the phones had biological effects on cells. Exposure to base stations also had no effect but a study of cancer incidence in children under five living near base stations is continuing.


Lonely people 'more likely to die young'

Lonely people are more likely to get sick and die young because it affects their immune systems, according to new research.

American scientists used a "gene chip" to look at the DNA of isolated people and found that those who described themselves as chronically lonely had weaker immune systems.

Study author Steve Cole, a molecular biologist at the University of California said: "This study shows that the biological impact of social isolation reaches down into some of our most basic internal processes - the activity of our genes."

Many studies of large populations have shown that people who describe themselves as lonely or as having little social support are more likely to die prematurely and to have infections, high blood pressure, insomnia and cancer.

"There are two theories," Cole said.

"The social provision theory, which basically is about what other people do for you in a tangible, material sense. Like, if I am sick and I have got people around me, they will take me to the doctors, they will see I take my pills," Cole said.

"The other is that there is something about being isolated and lonely that changes your body."


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Baby stem cells may lead to valve breakthrough

Children’s Hospital doctors believe they’ve found a way to someday make living heart valves from a baby’s own stem cells, raising hopes that one day synthetic fixes could be replaced with natural ones that grow as a child grows.

Children who receive artificial heart valve replacements typically go under the knife several times throughout their lives as their hearts outgrow the man-made valves. A Children’s Hospital doctor says that doesn’t have to be the case.

Using tissue-engineering, Dr. Virna Sales and her team have created a working heart valve made from sheep stem cells, according to a study published today) in the journal Circulation.

Sales hopes someday to use a baby’s own stem cells to make a human heart valve in a lab and implant it to last forever - a leap that could be only five to 10 years away.

“That is the Holy Grail of cardiovascular tissue engineering,” said Sales, a researcher in the hospital’s department of cardiac surgery and the study’s first author.

About 28,000 children undergo open heart surgery each year, and eight of 1,000 babies are born with some form of heart defect, including a faulty heart valve.

When the valves, which provide one-way blood flow from the heart’s right ventricle into the pulmonary artery, are malformed in congenital heart disease, it puts extra burden on the heart.

A synthetic valve is a good fix, but only for awhile, Sales said.


More Kids Developing High Blood Pressure

The rate of health-threatening high blood pressure has started rising among American children for the first time in decades, researchers reported yesterday, confirming a trend long feared by experts worried about the consequences of the obesity epidemic.

After dropping steadily since the 1960s, diagnoses of early hypertension and full-blown high blood pressure began creeping up among children and adolescents beginning in the late 1980s as the obesity epidemic apparently began to take its toll, according to an analysis of data collected from nearly 30,000 youths by seven federal surveys.


Why loneliness may damage health

The UCLA research, published in Genome Biology, found certain genes were more active in people who reported feelings of social isolation.

Many of the genes identified have links to the immune system and tissue inflammation - which may be damaging.

Other studies have shown clear links between lack of social support and illnesses such as heart disease.

The researchers said that quality, not quantity, of friendships, appeared to be important.

The link between genes and loneliness has been explored before - a recent Dutch study of 8,000 twins also pointed to the connection.

The UCLA research looked in more detail at which genes might be involved.

They took 14 volunteers and assessed their level of social interaction using a scoring system.

They then looked at genetic activity in their white blood cells and tried to compare the results.

In their "lonely" volunteers, various genes tended to be "over expressed" compared with those at the opposite end of the scoring scale.

These often had known links to the body's mechanisms for fighting off disease, such producing inflammation. Too much inflammation can damage tissues and cause disease.

Other genes, including those thought to be important in fighting viruses and producing immune antibodies, were less active compared with the non-lonely volunteers.

Dr Steven Cole, who led the study, said: "What this shows us is the biological impact of social isolation reaches down into some of our most important basic internal processes - the activity of our genes.

"These findings provide molecular targets for our efforts to block the adverse health effects of social isolation." Source: