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Health Headlines - April 20

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:22pm

Canada Warns About Chemical Used in Baby Bottles

Canadian health officials announced plans Friday to limit the use of the controversial chemical bisphenol A, a move that could lead to a ban on baby bottles containing the chemical.

A draft report from Health Canada found the chemical to be potentially dangerous to infants and the environment, CTV reported.

The widely used chemical is also found in hard plastic water bottles, dental sealants, DVDs, CDs and hundreds of other common items. Canadian Health Minister Tony Clement said the levels of bisphenol A (BPA) that most adults are exposed to is not harmful.

Health Canada's action could be the first step toward Canada banning the chemical altogether, the Associated Press reported.

Earlier this week, the U.S. National Toxicology Program said there was "some concern" about BPA from experiments on rats that linked the chemical to changes in behavior and the brain, early puberty and possibly precancerous changes in the prostate and breast. While animal studies only provide "limited evidence" of risk, the draft report said a possible effect on humans "cannot be dismissed," the AP said.

More than 6 million pounds of BPA are produced in the United States each year, the AP said.

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World's Oldest Person Is Turning 115

Her name is Edna Parker, she lives in a nursing home in Shelbyville, Ind., and she's the world's oldest person. And on Sunday, she'll celebrate another birthday -- her 115th.

"We don't know why she's lived so long," Don Parker, her 59-year-old grandson, told the Associated Press. "But she's never been a worrier and she's always been a thin person, so maybe that has something to do with it."

Researchers from the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University took a blood sample from Parker in 2006 for the group's DNA database of so-called supercentenarians -- people who live to 110 and beyond. Her DNA is now preserved with samples of about 100 other people who made the 110-year milestone and whose genes are being analyzed, said Dr. Tom Perls, who directs the project. "They're really our best bet for finding the elusive Holy Grail of our field -- which are these longevity-enabling genes," Perls told the news service.

Perls said the key to a long life is now believed to be a mix of genetics and environmental factors such as health habits. He said his research on about 1,500 centenarians suggests another factor that may protect people from illnesses such as heart attacks and stroke -- they don't seem to dwell on stressful events.

Just 75 people -- 64 women and 11 men -- are 110 or older, according to the Gerontology Research Group of Inglewood, Calif., which verifies reports of very old ages, the AP said.

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More Reports of Sickness Linked to Supplements With Selenium

U.S. health officials are investigating more than 180 reports of illness in people who took dietary supplements containing toxic levels of the mineral selenium, the Associated Press reported.

The manufacturer recalled the products March 27, but reports of 184 illnesses indicate people are still taking them, health officials said.

On March 27, the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers not to purchase or use "Total Body Formula" in flavors Tropical Orange and Peach Nectar, and "Total Body Mega Formula" in the Orange/Tangerine flavor after receiving reports of adverse reactions in users in Florida and Tennessee. The reactions generally occurred after five to 10 days of daily ingestion of the product, and included significant hair loss, muscle cramps, diarrhea, joint pain, deformed fingernails, and fatigue, the FDA said.

Health officials are now looking into reports of illnesses in 10 states -- Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, Louisiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina. No deaths have been reported. One person has been hospitalized, the AP said.

Selenium, a naturally occurring mineral, is needed only in very small amounts for good health. Selenium can boost the immune system. Generally, normal consumption of food and water provides adequate selenium to support good health, the FDA said.

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Katrina's Legacy Still Haunts, Studies Find

From alcohol abuse to the loss of a home, new research continues to assess the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina and the toll it extracted from its victims.

In a study presented this week at the Population Association of America's annual meeting in New Orleans, University of Michigan researchers reported that Katrina survivors were more than three times likelier to exhibit alcohol abuse after a stress experience. And if the survivor experienced a trauma, they were five times more likely to become alcohol dependent.

The difference between a stress and a trauma is one of degree, said study co-author Sandro Galea, an associate professor at the university's School of Public Health. An example of stress might be dealing with insurance companies or contractors; a trauma is losing a loved one, he said.

Another paper found that New Orleans residents who lost their homes in the 2005 storm were more than five times more likely to experience serious psychological distress a year after the disaster than those who did not.

The study, by University of Michigan researcher Narayan Sastry and Tulane University's Mark VanLandingham, examined the mental health of pre-Katrina New Orleans residents in the fall of 2006 -- one year after the hurricane. In all, about 66 percent of the respondents reported that their homes were badly damaged or unlivable.

"Our findings suggest that severe damage to one's home is a particularly important factor behind socioeconomic disparities in psychological distress, and possibly behind the levels of psychological distress," Sastry said. "These effects may be partly economic, because, for most families who own their home, home equity is the largest element of household wealth.

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When It Comes to Happiness, It Really Is a Shade of Gray

Oh to be young again? Not so fast, says a new study that found that older Americans tend to be happier than younger ones.

The University of Chicago study also found that baby boomers aren't as content as other generations, blacks are less happy than whites, women are happier than men, and as people age, their happiness increases.

"Understanding happiness is important to understanding quality of life. The happiness measure is a guide to how well society is meeting people's needs," study author Yang Yang, an assistant professor of sociology, said in a prepared statement.

The study was based on data from the General Social Survey of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Yang charted happiness across age and racial groups and found that among 18-year-olds, white men are the happiest, with a 33 percent probability of being very happy, followed by white women (28 percent), black women (18 percent) and black men (15 percent).

But curiously, those differences vanish over time. Black men and black women have slightly more than a 50 percent chance of being very happy by their late 80s, while white men and white women are close behind.

The increase in happiness with age is consistent with the "age as maturity hypothesis," Yang said.

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Network Offers Experimental Treatments to Dying Cancer Patients

Great Britain has opened a government-run network of cancer clinics that will provide experimental treatments to dying cancer patients and may also speed up the drug testing process, the Associated Press reported.

There are clinics in France, Italy and the Netherlands that offer experimental treatments to cancer patients, but Britain is the only European country with a national network of clinics. Currently, only a few hundred patients with late-stage cancer in Britain have access to experimental drugs, but officials hope the new network of clinics will soon benefit thousands of patients.

Expanding drug tests for terminal cancer patients preys on their desperation, according to some critics of the program, the AP reported. But the process is fair as long as patients are told about potential side effects, counter some ethicists.

In the United States, cancer patients can sign up for experimental drug treatment, but there's no official national program to help them enroll. About 80 percent of American cancer patients are treated in community hospitals, while most drug trials are conducted at academic medical centers, the AP reported.

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Institute Seeks to Use Stem Cells to Heal Wounded Soldiers

A new U.S. research institute will try to develop methods to help wounded soldiers use their own stem cells to regenerate skin, muscle and even limbs, Agence France-Presse reported.

The $250 million Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine will fund and direct research by a number of universities and hospitals. The Pentagon will provide $85 million over five years, $80 million will come from participating universities and hospitals, and $100 million will be provided by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

"The new institute will work to develop techniques that will help to make our soldiers whole again," said Lieutenant General Eric Schoomaker, the army surgeon general. "We'll use the soldiers' own stem cells to repair nerve damage, to re-grow muscles and tendons, to repair burn wounds, and to help them heal without scarring."

The institute will also attempt to develop ways to salvage and reconstruct damaged limbs, hands, fingers, ears and noses, and to reconstruct damaged craniums, AFP reported.

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