Health & WellnessS


Of Bamboo and French Fries

Chinese scientists report finding a way to diminish the development of acrylamide - a potential carcinogen - in baked and fried foods: Dip them in an extract of bamboo leaves prior to cooking. It's the newest of several experimental approaches to limiting acrylamide in foods.

Nearly 5 years ago, reports by Swedish scientists catapulted acrylamide to public attention around the world. The researchers found that high-temperature cooking, baking, or frying of a range of foods could induce one or more chemical reactions that generate acrylamide (SN: 5/4/02, p. 277). Topping the list of affected foods were many dietary staples: breads, crackers, breakfast cereals, cookies, and even french fries.

Prior to the Swedish team's work, acrylamide had been known solely as a synthetic chemical used for purifying water and making some plastics. Commercial users handled acrylamide carefully because studies had shown that at high doses the chemical is a moderately potent carcinogen in rodents.


Chronic Dizziness May Be Caused By Psychiatric And Neurologic Illnesses

Approximately 9 million to 15 million people in the U.S. suffer from recurrent bouts of dizziness and 3 million experience symptoms of dizziness nearly every day. According to a paper that appears in the February issue of Archives of Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that chronic subjective dizziness (CSD) may have several common causes, including anxiety disorders, migraine, mild traumatic brain injuries, and neurally mediated dysautonomias - disorders in the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary actions.

Among the various forms of dizziness, clinicians have found CSD to be particularly vexing. "Patients with CSD experience persistent dizziness not related to vertigo, imbalance, and hypersensitivity to motion, which is heightened in highly visual settings, such as walking in a busy store or driving in the rain," says Jeffrey P. Staab, MD, MS, Assistant Professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Otorhinolaryngology at Penn, and coauthor of the paper.


Study: Herpes drug may curb AIDS virus

Treating genital herpes can also help keep the AIDS virus under control in women with both infections, and might reduce the spread of HIV, too, the first major study to test this strategy suggests. Many people with HIV are also infected with the herpes type 2 virus, and scientists have long known that herpes sores on the genitals can make it easier to become infected with the AIDS virus and could increase the risk of transmitting HIV to others.

In the latest study, conducted in Africa and published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine, women who took the herpes drug valacyclovir had less HIV in their blood and in their genital secretions.

The study did not look at whether the drug, sold as Valtrex by GlaxoSmithKline PLC, actually reduces transmission of the AIDS virus. However, scientists generally have found that the more virus someone has, the greater the risk of transmission.


Irregular heartbeat linked to genetic mutation, Mayo Clinic study shows

Every day for 10 years, a seemingly heart-healthy 53-year-old woman experienced rapid and irregular heartbeats. She had no personal or family history of hypertension or hyperthyroidism. She did not suffer from myocardial or coronary artery disease, or any abnormalities of the heart as best doctors and medical science could determine. Yet, she complained of heart palpitations and dizziness nearly to the point of fainting.

For the patient in this case study, her symptoms first appeared 10 years ago and they persisted through the years. The symptoms peaked in the morning and occurred more frequently as time went on. Doctors prescribed medication, but it proved to be ineffective.

As a next step, Mayo Clinic physician researchers explored and confirmed the presence of a genetic mutation that clearly established an inherited predisposition to atrial fibrillation.

Their study findings appear in the February issue of Nature Clinical Practice Cardiovascular Medicine (

"Why certain patients develop atrial fibrillation while others do not, despite comparable environmental stress exposure, might ultimately depend on their genetic makeup," the authors write.


Texas Governor Perry took Merck money before mandating cervical vaccine

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) says that it's just a coincidence that he and eight other lawmakers received donations of $5,000 each from Merck lobbyists just a few days before mandating the drug giant's HPV cervical cancer vaccine for all females in Texas ages 12 and up.


Suit: Peanut Butter Caused Death

A Pennsylvania family is suing ConAgra, claiming salmonella-tainted peanut butter led to the death of a family member.

Roberta Barkay, 76, of Ellwood City, Pa., died Jan. 30.


Prescription drug deaths skyrocket 68 percent over five years as Americans swallow more pills

Poisoning from prescription drugs has risen to become the second-largest cause of unintentional deaths in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers found that deaths from prescription drugs rose from 4.4 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 7.1 per 100,000 in 2004.

This increase represents a jump from 11,000 people to almost 20,000 in the span of five years.


Pregnancy hormone reverses MS damage

A hormone produced during pregnancy could reverse some of the neurological damage associated with multiple sclerosis, a mouse study suggests.

The finding could help explain why women with MS suffer fewer symptoms during pregnancy. And the results suggest that the hormone - prolactin - might one day be used to treat people with the disorder.

Multiple sclerosis involves the destruction of the sheath of fatty tissue called myelin that normally protects nerve cells. The loss of this protective layer disrupts nerve signalling and leads to symptoms including loss of coordination.


Caffeine may be good for some aging hearts

Drinking caffeinated beverages on a regular basis may provide significant protection against death from heart disease in the elderly who have normal levels of blood pressure, according to data from a large U.S. health and nutrition study.

Drinking caffeinated beverages may induce a "healthy" rise in blood pressure that counteracts the drop in blood pressure that occurs after a meal, a phenomenon that becomes more pronounced as people age, researchers note.

Among 6,594 adults participating in the study, 426 died of heart disease during a 9-year period. For subjects 65 years of age or older, the researchers found that greater daily consumption of caffeinated beverages was associated with a lower risk of death from heart disease. This acted in a dose-response fashion - the higher the caffeine level, the lower the risk, and visa versa.


Cholera Outbreaks Predicted by Mathematical Model

A mathematical model of disease cycles developed at the University of Michigan shows promise for predicting cholera outbreaks.

Speaking in a symposium titled "New Vistas in the Mathematics of Ecology and Evolution" at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco, theoretical ecologist Mercedes Pascual discussed how models that she and coworkers have developed can aid short-term forecasting of infectious diseases, such as cholera, and inform decisions about vaccination and other disease-prevention strategies.

In research done over the past seven years, Pascual and colleagues have found evidence that a phenomenon known as the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a major source of climate variability from year to year, influences cycles of cholera in Bangladesh. They also showed that the coupling between climate variability and cholera cycles has become stronger in recent decades.