Research from Johns Hopkins University suggests that the recreational drug "ecstasy" (MDMA), when used several times in an evening (as is typical in drug "raves"), causes damage to brain cells that produce dopamine.The damage lasted up to six weeks, although the study did not investigate long-term effects. However, the consequences of usage show some similarities to Parkinson's disease, leading to speculation that the drug may contribute to the disorder. Critics of the study argue that just because this effect is seen in monkeys, there is no reason to believe it causes similar problems in humans. Many are concerned such results might dampen enthusiasm for research into whether the drug can be used to treat posttraumatic syndrome.1
- Science, September 2002, study authored by George A. Ricaurte.
Daisies for Psoriasis
Researchers in London, testing the validity of a traditional Indian folk remedy for psoriasis, report an apparent benefit to using the seeds of the plant in question. The herb, "purple fleabane," is a member of the daisy family. It contains a compound called vernodalol that acts in two distinct ways: to inhibit proliferation of aberrant cells seen in the condition, and to provide anti-inflammatory action.2
- Reuters, Sept. 24, 2002, reporting on the work of Dr. Amala Raman, of Kings College in London.
Muscle Aches From Statins
A San Diego, Calif. doctor reports some patients taking "statins," a popular type of cholesterol-lowering drug, may experience a toxic side-effect that manifests as muscles ache. According to the doctor, the normal test for deciding if such aches are caused by the drug - measuring levels of creatine kinase - is not reliable. He conducted a placebo-controlled study in which patients began complaining of muscle aches when they started the drug, but reported improvement when their medication was switched to identical-appearing placebos.3
- Annals of Internal Medicine, October 2002.
Psychological Trauma Therapy Evaluated
Psychologists evaluating the effectiveness of a posttraumatic therapy designed to minimize the impact of psychological traumas to patients report the treatment appears to have no therapeutic value. More than 9,000 cases were followed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack in New York City, where patients underwent trauma "debriefing," often delivered as a single three-hour group session for victims. The researchers concluded that overall, the sessions did not appear to cause any reduction of subsequent psychological problems.4
- The Lancet, Sept. 7, 2002.
The Downside to Mountain Biking
A small study from Austria suggests avid male mountain bikers may be prone to a decrease in fertility. The research examined bikers who logged at least 3,000 miles each year, and found that almost 90 percent showed diminished sperm counts and other abnormalities. The researchers believe the continual jolts and vibrations cause scarring of the scrotum, penile arteries and other structures that lead to impaired sperm production. However, for perspective, examination by the same research group found similar abnormalities in about 75 percent of nonbikers.5
- Associated Press, reporting on the work of Dr. Ferdinand Frauscher of University Hospital in Innsbruck, Austria, Dec. 2, 2002.
Sowing the Seeds of Infertility
A study from the University of Missouri lends more credence to the hypothesis that agricultural chemicals can decrease fertility. Researchers found that men in poorer, rural areas had lower sperm counts, more irregular-shaped sperm, and diminished movement of their sperm than men from urban areas. The regions that scored worst were composed of about 50 percent farmland.6
Researchers investigating the link between birth defects and cosmetics and perfumes conclude that human sperm may be damaged by diethyl phthalates used in these preparations. The study,7 performed at a Massachusetts fertility clinic, involved 168 men. Results suggest the possibility of DNA damage to sperm, although the amount of damage and full effect were not quantified. A larger study is planned. Phthalates extend the longevity of fragrances, and are also used to soften plastics.
- Environmental Health Perspectives, December 2002.
Sweeten the Mix
A Dutch study8 reports many heart attack victims may benefit from an infusion of glucose immediately after arriving at the hospital. The researchers tested a solution of glucose, insulin and potassium on patients admitted to the hospital for a heart attack, and compared the results to a control group. The treatment involved an IV infusion of about 4.3 pints of fluid administered over 10 hours. Patients who had suffered major heart damage or heart failure did not benefit from the treatment, but among the rest, mortality during the following month dropped to less than one-third the usual rate.9
- Associated Press, reporting on the work at De Weezenlanden Hospital of Zwolle, the Netherlands.
- The European Society of Cardiology Web site. www.escardio.org.
Soy Nuts Reduce Blood Pressure?
According to a study from Massachusetts researchers, dry-roasted soy nuts can reduce blood pressure in postmenopausal women. This study involved 60 women evaluated over an eight-week period; those with high blood pressure who consumed about a half-cup of soy nuts each day decreased their systolic pressure by 10 percent, and their diastolic reading by 7 percent. These reductions are comparable, say the researchers, to those produced by prescription medications.10
- Reuters, Nov. 19, 2002, reporting on work from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Brookline.
Heart Problem in SIDS
An Arkansas study suggests a small percentage of SIDS deaths, about 5 percent, may be caused by an electrical problem in the infant's heart. Researchers say that in these cases, they discovered "long Q-T" syndrome: a condition that causes the heart to recharge too slowly to properly fire the next heartbeat. The syndrome also is blamed for a number of sudden deaths in youths and adults each year.11
- Reuters, Nov. 19, 2002, reporting on the work of Michael Ackerman from the Mayo Clinic.
A joint study from Brown University, Harvard Medical School, Boston University and the Boston Veteran's Affairs Healthcare System concludes that a personality test is one of the best ways to predict who will suffer a heart attack or other manifestations of heart disease.12 In the study, 774 men (average age of 60 years) were tracked for three years. Most laboratory, physical findings and habits (such as total cholesterol, blood pressure and smoking) demonstrated no significant correlation to heart disease, with the exception of HDL levels. However, the subject's hostility profile, as measured by a standard personality test, turned out to be quite a reliable predictor.
- Reuters, Nov. 18, 2002; the study was led by Raymond Niaura of Brown University's Center for Behavioral Preventive Medicine.
New research from the University of Richmond suggests a female's intelligence is enriched by motherhood. This research was done on rats, but the author of the study feels the results will translate to humans. Researchers used mazes and ultimately, dissections, to judge the intellectual prowess of the rats, and found that those who had given birth to multiple litters fared better in learning and remembering than those who had never been pregnant or produced only one litter. The moms also appeared to suffer from declining mental function less frequently as they aged.13
- Reuters, Nov. 7, 2002, reporting on the work of psychology professor Craig Kinsley.
Brian Sutton, DC
Colorado Springs, Colorado
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