New research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine1 suggests that as little as four hours of exercise per week can substantially reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke among patients with adult-onset diabetes.
1. AIM, January 16, 2001.
Why Breast Cancer Is More Prevalent in Wealthier Nations - a Hypothesis
A study published in the British Medical Journal2 suggests an explanation for why breast cancer is more prevalent in wealthier nations. The research correlates higher levels of progesterone and estrogen among women that overeat and get little exercise. These increased hormonal concentrations are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer. For prevention, the authors of the study recommend a diet high in fruit and vegetables and regular exercise.
2. BMJ, March 10, 2001.
Couch Potatoes Rule
Despite multitudes of scientific studies and pleas from health officials and government agencies, U.S. citizens are no more fit now than they were in the early 1990s. Three out of four adults are not active enough to derive any of the benefits related to exercise, says the Centers for Disease Control in a recent report.3 About half the adult population is overweight, and nearly one in five is just plain fat (technical term: obese). Statisticians were surprised that no changes had occurred in the past decade, especially since a concerted effort has been made by numerous federal and state organizations to get people moving.
3. Reuters, March 9, 2001.
Decreasing Schoolyard Aggression
A study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine4 bolsters theories that television and video games might be encouraging aggression in children. Researchers compared two similar schools, one of which implemented a program that encouraged a group of children to decrease the time spent in front of the television set. The results were measured by surveying classmates about aggressive behaviors. At the end of the six-month study, the third and fourth-graders participating in the program had decreased their television viewing from 15-1/2 hours per week to nine. Incidents of aggressive behavior decreased by 25 percent compared to the control group.
4. APAM, January 2001.
Ulcers and Lack of Sleep
British researchers report that the amount of sleep you get appears to impact how susceptible you are to getting digestive ulcers. The researchers measured the amount of a protein (TFF2) known to be involved in the repair of intestinal tissues at various times during the day, and found a circadian rhythm that peaked during normal sleeping hours. From this, they speculate that the majority of repairs to the stomach lining occurs at night, and that disturbed sleep patterns (such as shift work or insomnia) will likely interfere with the process.5
5. Gut, April 2001, Dr. Felicity May and colleagues at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England.
A study of more than 800 Europeans published in the journal Circulation6 suggests that persons with chronic infections tend to develop atherosclerotic plaques more frequently. Researchers say that such individuals develop plaquing at three times the rate of healthier persons who do not suffer from conditions such as sinusitis, bronchitis or urinary tract infections. Some researchers think that excess immune cells circulating as a result of chronic infections tend to latch onto fat cells and try to pull them through arterial walls, often getting stuck there.
6. Circulation, March 2001.
Researchers from the University of California, after analyzing 56 completed studies, say that ultrasound scans are encouraging doctors to perform too many unnecessary amniocentesis procedures. Of seven findings often used as a possible indicator of Down's syndrome, these researchers found that only one is reliable enough to warrant further invasive investigation. That marker is a thickening of the back of the neck. The others, which include brain cysts; shortened limbs; bright spots on the bowels or heart; and high fluid levels in the kidneys, occur too frequently in normal fetuses to associate them with the chromosomal defect. In fact, the authors say that for a patient that shows just one of these findings and a negative blood test, the risk of amniocentesis causing a miscarriage (as much as one in 200) is greater than the likelihood of the baby having Down's syndrome.7
7. JAMA, February 28, 2001.
Organic Farming for a Healthy Bottom Line
Research from Washington State University suggests that organic farming techniques, at least for apple orchards, may be a more profitable way to go than conventional methods. An apple orchard was divided into three sections: organic only, conventional only, and "integrated management," a mixture of the two. The researchers judged the merits of each method by a number of factors, including profitability, health of the trees, quality of the fruit, and soil quality.
The organic section outperformed the other two in practically all categories. As for profitability, the lead research suggests a new organic orchard (in eastern Washington) will break even in nine years, compared to 15 for conventional methods and 16 for the integrated management system.8
8. Nature, April 2001.
Epilepsy Drugs during Pregnancy
A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine9 reinforces earlier studies that have reported increased birth defects when women take anti-epilepsy drugs during pregnancy. However, this study goes further in comparing the risks when the medication is withheld. Often, doctors will continue to prescribe the drugs thinking that uncontrolled seizures will also cause birth defects; however, this study contradicts that belief. The women who abstained from the drugs showed no significant increase in birth defects compared to a normal control group. This research also suggests that switching medications during pregnancy amplifies the risk, and that the drugs often considered safer during pregnancy (such as phenobarbital) actually may be worse.
9. NEJM, April 12, 2001.
A new study funded by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development casts doubt on the usefulness of implanting tubes in children's ears for chronic fluid build-up. The statistics taken from 400 such surgeries suggest that, contrary to the rationale often used for the procedure, there is no developmental benefit. The worry has been that fluid retention in the ear causes a hearing loss and subsequent learning impairment. In this study, the children were randomly placed into two categories: those that had the operation after three months of fluid, and those that waited until it persisted for nine months. Speech, language, learning and behavior tests were administered at age three; no differences were found.10 Based on these results, the authors question whether the risk of permanent scarring, perforation, infection or side effects from the anesthesia are worth any yet-unknown benefits. This study only looked at surgeries for fluid build-up, not those performed for chronic infections.
10. NEJM, April 19, 2001.
Alcohol Against Heart Failure
Studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association11 appear to bolster the role of alcohol in fighting heart disease. One study found that the likelihood of survival after a heart attack is proportional to the amount of alcohol consumed each week, at least to a point. Moderate drinkers (seven or more drinks each week) were 30 percent more likely to survive than abstainers. The beverage of choice did not seem to matter in this study of nearly 2,000.
Another study found that those who drank at least 1-1/2 drinks each day were 20-50 percent less likely to develop congestive heart failure; the benefit gained, again, was proportional to the quantity consumed.
11. JAMA, April 18, 2001.
A government agency says that prescription medication errors can be cut by more than two-thirds if some kind of computer-oriented system could be integrated into health care facilities. Problems like a doctor's poor handwriting and insufficient cross-checking contribute to an estimated 770,000 injuries and deaths each year in the United States. About five percent of civilian hospitals use such a system. The computer systems are expensive, but the Department of Heath and Human Services estimates that such errors add up to $5.6 billion in health care costs each year, mostly for additional treatment.12
12. Associated Press, April 11, 2001.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
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