Health clips Featured

9:36am EDT July 22, 2002
This one is on me

What's good for the heart may be just as good for the brain, new research suggests. Cutting blood pressure and drinking moderately, already shown to promote heart health, may also ward off the mental decline that comes with age.

In a study that followed nearly 400 older adults for up to 12 years, researchers found that those whose blood pressure dropped over time were less likely than others to see their mental abilities decline. The same was true of men and women who, before the age of 60, enjoyed a drink per day. Investigators at the Institute of Psychiatry in London reported their findings in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Some studies have linked uncontrolled high blood pressure to mental decline and some have suggested moderate drinking protects the brain; however, it has been unclear whether these associations hold over the long term. Subjects in this study had their mental functioning retested nine to 12 years after their original tests.

While slowing or preventing mental decline has obvious benefits in and of itself, it also cuts the risk of developing Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

Cheer up or else

Those who suffer symptoms of depression are at an increased risk of stroke, according to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In particular, depressed African Americans showed the largest increase in stroke risk, the investigators report in the July/August issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.

Those with the highest levels of depression had a 73 percent increase in their risk of stroke, and people with an intermediate level of symptoms for depression had a 25 percent increase in risk. However, it is not clear if depression caused the stroke or if some unknown factor related to stroke risk prompted depression prior to the event.

Let's try for three reps today

Experts say the No. 1 excuse women give for not exercising is that they have no time. But University of Arkansas researchers suggest women can squeeze three days' worth of muscle conditioning into two if they up the intensity.

Women can gain just as much strength and flexibility and lose just as much fat from weight training two days per week as they can from a three-day regimen, results of a study show. It takes only some extra curls, presses and pulls, according to Drs. Ro DiBrezzo and Inza Fort.

A bitter pill

The Federal Trade Commission contends that a Florida company misleads consumers by telling them one of its dietary supplements can rid them of fatty deposits known as cellulite.

In a lawsuit filed recently, the FTC said Rexall Sundown Inc. of Boca Raton, Fla., makes false and unsubstantiated claims to market its Cellasene supplement. The company denies the allegations.

Unlike most cellulite remedies, which are applied to the skin, Rexall's product is a pill containing ginkgo biloba, grape seed extract and other herbal ingredients. The recommended eight-week regimen costs $180 to $240, the FTC said. The government said sales totaled about $54 million last year.

American dream

Contrary to the beliefs of some Americans, state-sponsored health care programs in the United States are not a big reason for illegal immigration, according to a recent report from the Project HOPE Center for Health Affairs.

Researchers conclude that restricting immigrants' access to health care services is unlikely to deter immigration or reduce health care costs -- but could have a negative impact on U.S. citizens, namely the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. Immigrants overwhelmingly come to the U.S. to find work or to be with relatives or friends who are already here, rather than to take advantage of the U.S. health care system.

Put that in your pipe

While most Americans are aware that smoking causes heart disease and lung cancer, few may know of the many other diseases linked to smoking. Current smokers have almost twice the risk of developing colorectal cancer than nonsmokers, according to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.

Here comes heroin

Deaths from heroin overdoses have increased enough in the past few years to create a major public health problem, officials report.

"Overdose deaths extract a serious social cost," says Dr. Gary Oxman, public health officer in Multnomah County, Oregon, which includes the city of Portland. "They occur primarily among young and middle-aged men, ages 25 to 54. In that group in our county, heroin overdoses cause more deaths than AIDS and about the same number as heart disease and cancer."

Oxman is the author of one of two reports in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report describing the increase. Heroin overdose deaths in Multnomah County more than doubled between 1993 and 1999, to more than 100 a year, Oxman says.

A similar report comes from King County, Washington, which includes Seattle.

"Last year there were 110 deaths, more than double the 47 deaths in 1990," the county's public health department says.

The same appears to be happening in communities across the country, says Beverly Jackson, spokeswoman for the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The Drug Abuse Warning Network, which gathers data from 40 metropolitan areas, reported an increase of more than 25 percent in drug-induced deaths between 1994 and 1998.

The higher toll is due not only to increased use of heroin but also to the fact that more heroin users are injecting the drug rather than snorting it. Injection delivers a quick dose to the body -- sometimes more than the body can handle.

Watch out

Menopause can be a real problem for working women. Hot flashes, mood changes and other symptoms make it harder to work, and work may make symptoms worse.

Try these healthy hints:

  • Exercise regularly and eat a nutritious diet, which may prevent hormonal fluctuations and the symptoms they cause.

  • Stay away from caffeine and alcohol; they trigger hot flashes.

  • Wear fabrics that breathe and keep you cool.

  • Talk about it with your co-workers. You'll feel better knowing you're not the only one with symptoms.

  • Ask your doctor about estrogen patches and other hormone therapies. For some women, they make all the difference.

Kick the habit

Smoking is bad for your health. Period. Cigarettes are the nation's No. 1 cause of preventable deaths. They kill more than 400,000 people a year and cause serious health problems for millions more.

Nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs around, which explains why so many smokers have great difficulty quitting. Many people find they have to try several times before they give up smoking for good.

Even if you've tried and failed, don't give up. There are many strategies for kicking the perilous habit, from nicotine patches to support groups. And the body quickly mends itself once you do quit:

  • Within two days of quitting, carbon monoxide levels in the blood return to normal.

  • Within three months, lung function improves by as much as 30 percent. Source: Koop.com

New, improved HMO

A coalition of managed care firms said it has a plan to get rid of some of the administrative hassles that their businesses often create for patients and doctors.

The group, the Coalition for Affordable Quality Healthcare, said that within six to 12 months, it will develop a system to allow customers to more easily compare benefits -- particularly drug benefits -- by health plans and create a common method of reviewing doctors' credentials.

The group also said it will make provider directories easier to read and develop a standard claims form.

"Our industry has heard the concerns expressed by consumers and health care professionals," says Leonard Schaeffer, CEO of WellPoint Health Networks Inc. and coalition chairman. "We are trying to improve the patient experience."

The group of health insurers, formed in 1998, says it is trying to restore the trust of customers and doctors.

Never too young to die

If you think people in their 20s and 30s don't have to worry about their cholesterol, think again.

A study found that even men under 40 with high cholesterol run an increased risk of heart disease and premature death, underscoring the importance of early screening and preventive treatment.

High cholesterol in middle age is known to be a major risk factor for heart disease and heart attacks.

The new findings suggest that younger men with high cholesterol face a greater long-term risk than men diagnosed with the condition in middle age, in part because the longer high levels exist, the more damage they can cause.

The findings are contained in an analysis of studies on nearly 82,000 men ages 18 to 39 who were followed for up to 34 years. The results appeared in a recent Journal of the American Medical Association.

Sleeping in class pays off

Getting a good night's sleep after trying to master a tough new task might just reinforce what you have learned.

European researchers say dreaming might be the brain's way of replaying experiences and lessons so that they are fixed in the memory for use later on.

The scientists, using advanced imaging technology, found that the same regions of the brain that are buzzing while we learn a new task are also active while we dream. This heightened activity was observed during the brief but active stage known as rapid-eye movement, or REM, sleep.

The study was published in the August issue of Nature Neuroscience. Animal studies had shown similar results. Rats that ran new routes through mazes showed increased activity in the same portions of their brains when they slept afterward. But the human brain is more complex.

There goes the cobra act

The manufacturer of a widely used snakebite serum is warning of shortages of the drug.

The drug, made by Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, based in the Philadelphia suburb of St. Davids, is the only product available to neutralize toxins from three types of poisonous North American snakes: rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and copperheads. The shortage is due to the closing of a plant in Marietta, Pa., for renovations.

Easier said than done

Losing just 10 pounds, combined with a healthy diet and regular, moderate exercise, may prevent the development of Type 2 diabetes in people who are at risk because their bodies cannot use insulin properly or are not secreting enough of it.

Several studies, including one reported to the 60th annual Scientific Session of the American Diabetes Association by Dr. Jaakko Tuomilehto, indicate this is the case.

Finally, a use for all those tomatoes

A study by the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland, found that tomatoes could be the key to preventing blood clots that cause heart disease and strokes, two of the biggest killers in the developed world.

The yellow jelly around tomato seeds keeps platelets in the blood from clumping together and eliminates dangerous clots that block blood vessels and kill millions each year, the institute says. Researchers think the jelly could point the way to an alternative antiplatelet therapy to aspirin, which is widely used to prevent blood clots but can cause stomach upset and bleeding.

Tests on a small group of volunteers showed that the jelly from as few as four tomatoes could reduce platelet activity by up to 72 percent and did not cause bleeding.

Blame the smokers again

According to a new study, genes play a relatively small role in the development of most types of cancer.

In a study of nearly 45,000 pairs of twins, genes accounted for less than half of the risk of several types of cancer, with the rest of the risk explained by environmental factors such as smoking, diet, infections and exposure to chemicals and radiation, reports a team of researchers led by Dr. Paul Lichtenstein of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

"We conclude that the overwhelming contributor to the causation of cancer in the populations of twins that we studied was the environment," the authors wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine.