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Health Headlines - April 10

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Obesity Drug Xenical Should be Banned: Public Citizen

The prescription obesity drug Xenical (orlistat) should be immediately removed from the U.S. market because it may increase the risk of aberrant crypt foci (ACF), which are widely believed to be a precursor to colon cancer, the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen said in a petition filed Monday with the Food and Drug Administration.

Public Citizen, based in Washington, D.C., said its petition is based on findings from a review of data from Roche Pharmaceuticals, which makes orlistat, and recent findings that the drug causes ACF in the colon of rats.

The group also expressed concern that the FDA seems poised to approve U.S. sales of an over-the-counter version of orlistat.

"The failure to ban the prescription version of this drug or worse, to make it much more widely available by allowing OTC sales, is a decision that is likely to increase cancer incidence," Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, said in a prepared statement.

Joining Public Citizen in the petition are Case Western Reserve School of Medicine pathologists -- Dr. Theresa Pretlow and Dr. Thomas Pretlow -- who are experts on ACF's link to colorectal cancer.

Study to Examine Chocolate's Effect on Cardiovascular Disease

A British researcher wants to study whether dark chocolate can help people with cardiovascular disease.

Professor Roger Corder of the William Harvey Research Institute in London plans to study 40 patients in order to determine if flavonoids found in dark chocolate offer any health benefits, BBC News reported.

Previous research has suggested that flavonoids -- which are also found in red wine, tea, fruits and vegetables -- may reduce levels of so-called LDL "bad" cholesterol that cause hardening of the arteries, strokes and heart attacks.

"It is probably wrong to say that all dark chocolate is good for you," Corder told the BBC. "I think it is going to take at least six to 12 months before it is clear which are the best dark chocolate brands to recommend."

There is some evidence to suggest that dark chocolate may have short-term beneficial effects on circulation, noted Dr. Charmaine Griffiths, spokeswoman for the British Heart Foundation.

"But it is important to remember that chocolate is far more often part of the problem for heart health than the solution," she told the BBC. "Eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day is a better way to get the heart-protective antioxidants without having to worry so much about the fats and sugars packed into chocolate."

Brain Scans Help Explain Autistic Traits

Poor communication between brain areas in people with autism may explain why they have difficulty relating to other people, says a U.K. study in the journal Neuroimage.

The weak connections between their brain areas mean that people benefit less from social situations, resulting in poor interaction with others, the University of London researchers concluded.

They compared the brain scans of 16 people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and a control group of 16 people without autism. Both groups were shown images of two faces and two houses on a screen and asked to determine if they were identical, BBC News reported.

The brains scans revealed that both groups had the same reaction to the images of the houses. However, the faces prompted much greater brain activity among the people in the control group than in the people with ASD, which explains their lack of interest in faces.

"It seems that, for people with ASD, paying attention to a face is much harder to do and doesn't have the same effect," said research head Dr. Geoff Bird of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.

New Yorkers More Likely to Suffer Mental Distress

New York City residents are more likely to suffer mental distress than other Americans, according to results of a survey released Monday by the City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The survey found that nearly one in seven adult New Yorkers described their mental health last year as frequently "not good," on 14 or more days of the month, compared to one in 10 adults in a national survey, The New York Times reported.

The higher rate of "frequent mental distress" (like stress, depression and other emotional problems) among New York City residents was statistically significant, said Dr. Lloyd I. Sederer, executive deputy commissioner for mental hygiene at the health department.

The reasons for the difference between New Yorkers and other Americans aren't clear.

"I wish we knew, in a way that we could say with confidence, why that difference is," Sederer told the Times.

Kidney-Stone Treatment May Hike Diabetes, Blood Pressure Risk

Lithotripsy, which uses shock waves to pulverize kidney stones, significantly increases the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure later in life, says a Mayo Clinic study published Monday in the Journal of Urology.

The Mayo team found that patients who had lithotripsy developed diabetes at nearly four times the rate of patients whose kidney stones were treated using other methods. The patients treated with lithotripsy also developed high blood pressure about 50 percent more often, The New York Times reported.

This is the first study to identify diabetes as a complication of lithotripsy. Previous research yielded conflicting findings about the link between lithotripsy and high blood pressure.

The Mayo team said it wants to conduct research in animals to determine how the shock waves used in lithotripsy actually cause diabetes and high blood pressure.

The researchers hypothesize that the shock waves may increase diabetes risk by damaging insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. They also suggest that lithotripsy may hike the risk of high blood pressure by scarring the kidneys and affecting their secretion of hormones that influence blood pressure, the Times reported.

About one million people in the United States have had the procedure since it was introduced in the country in 1984.
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