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Health Headlines - July 27

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Circumcision Protects Men Against HIV Infection

Male circumcision greatly lowers the risk of female-to-male transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, says a French study.

The study of more than 3,000 young men in South Africa found that circumcision reduced the risk of men contracting HIV during intercourse with infected women by about 65 percent, the Associated Press reported.

The finding was presented Tuesday at the Third International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis and Treatment in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

"There had always been a suspicion that male circumcision prevented AIDS ... but this is the first randomized study using control trials," Dr. Bertrand Auvert, who coordinated the study for France's National AIDS Research Agency, told the AP.

The 21-month study, conducted between 2002 and 2005, did not look at the effect of male circumcision on male-to-female transmission of HIV. It also did not examine whether circumcision offers effective long-term protection against HIV infection.

Health Canada Warns About Impotence Drugs and Blindness

Men who experience vision problems while taking drugs for impotence and erectile dysfunction should seek immediate medical attention, advises a Health Canada warning that says the impotence drugs Viagra, Cialis and Levitra could cause blindness.

The warning, similar to one issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this month, said that men who use these drugs may be at risk for a rare side effect called nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION), which occurs when there's a blockage of blood flow to the optic nerve, the Canadian Press reported.

Health Canada is currently investigating two reports of vision problems in men using Viagra.

"It is difficult to determine whether the use of Viagra, Cialis or Levitra is causing (eye problems), as individuals who have erectile problems often have high blood pressure, diabetes or other conditions that put them at increased risk," said a Health Canada statement released Tuesday.

The agency is monitoring the drugs and has asked for additional safety information from the drugs' manufacturers, the CP reported.

Earlier this month, the FDA ordered updated labeling on all three drugs to reflect a small number of reports of sudden vision loss among users.

Gene Linked to Deadly Aorta Diseases

A gene linked to deadly diseases of the aorta, the body's main blood vessel, has been identified by University of Texas researchers.

Their genetic analysis of 80 families with a history of aortic aneurysm and dissection found that four of the families had a variant version of a gene called Transforming Growth Factor Beta Receptor Type II.

This gene contains the code for a protein receptor believed to play an important role in regulating the synthesis and breakdown of connective tissue in the body, BBC News reported. The finding offers scientists a molecular pathway they can study for the development of biological makers and therapies for aortic aneurysm and dissection, which can burst and cause massive internal bleeding.

The study was published in the journal Circulation.

"The fact that this particular mutation was detected in four of 80 families screened shows us that there are undoubtedly more culprit genes yet to be discovered," Jeremy Pearson of the British Heart Foundation told BBC News.

"However, the results are a very valuable step towards understanding better how aneurysms develop and identifying targets for new drugs to halt their progression," Pearson said.

Social Security Speeds Disability Benefits Decisions

People seeking Social Security disability benefits can expect faster decisions based on rules changes announced Tuesday, the government says.

Social Security Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart said people who are clearly disabled could be approved for benefits in as little as three weeks under rules expected to be implemented next spring, the Associated Press reported.

The changes, announced on the 15th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, will mean a speedier approval process for virtually every qualified person who applies, Barnhart told the wire service. To qualify, a person must be unable to work for a year or more, have paid Social Security taxes for a minimum amount of time, and meet other specific eligibility requirements. More than 11 million people now receive such aid, the AP said.

The Social Security Administration expects to publish the proposed regulations for public comment this week and issue final regulations by year's end, the wire service said.

Schwarzenegger Wants to Extend Soft Drink Ban in Schools

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to extend a statewide ban on soft drinks in the lower grades to high schools, the Associated Press reported.

Two years ago, the state became the first in the nation to ban soft drinks in middle and elementary schools. Some state school districts, including those in Los Angeles, already ban sodas in high schools.

The governor also wants to allow high schools to sell soda 30 minutes before and after the school day, the wire service said. And other types of food sold in vending machines would have to contain no more than 35 percent of their calories from fat, no more than 10 percent from saturated fat, and no more than 35 percent of the weight could be sugar.

A spokesman for the California-Nevada Soft Drink Association condemned the proposed ban, saying high school students were "almost adults" and could always buy soda nearby.

Candy Firm Touts Cocoa's Medicinal Properties

Candymaker Mars Inc. said it is holding "serious discussions" with major pharmaceutical firms about developing a number of cocoa-based prescription drugs that could help treat ailments including diabetes and some forms of dementia, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Cocoa is said to contain flavonols, antioxidant compounds that proponents believe may fight ailments from heart disease to cancer. The company said the compounds appear to have an "aspirin-like affect" that might help stave off blood clotting, helping to prevent strokes and other cardiovascular problems.

A Mars spokeswoman wouldn't mention the drug companies with whom it has been negotiating.

Critics say the company's efforts would amount to nothing more than a new way to sell chocolate. "Mars is only doing this because it wants people to eat more and more M&Ms," said Marion Nestle, a New York University professor of nutrition. She has no relation to the European chocolate maker of the same name, the Post notes.

Health Tip: Overcoming Morning Sickness

Are you pregnant and plagued by morning sickness?

The American Academy of Family Physicians offers these suggestions for relieving that queasy feeling:

* Eat small meals through the day so that you're never too full or too hungry.
* Avoid rich, fatty foods.
* Avoid foods with smells that bother you.
* Eat more carbohydrates.
*Eat saltine crackers and other bland foods when you feel nauseous.
* Some women are bothered by the iron in pre-natal vitamins. If you think this may be causing your morning sickness, speak to your doctor about changing your vitamins.
* Try Jell-O, popsicles, chicken broth, ginger ale, herbal teas, and pretzels.

Health Tip: Reaping the Benefits of Tea

A cup of tea may be more than a pleasurable drink, especially if it's black, green, or red tea. According to John Hopkins' Health After 50 newsletter, highly-concentrated forms of these teas may lower LDL, commonly called "bad" cholesterol.

Maximize the flavor of your home brews by:

* Using one tea bag or one teaspoon of loose tea per cup.
* Using fresh, cold water.
* For black tea, heat the water to a rolling boil, but for green tea, only to the boiling point.
* Pre-warm your cup or pot.
* Steep green tea for about two minutes, black for five-to-10 minutes.

Health Tip: Born to Run

Jogging is one of the most effective, convenient and time-efficient forms of exercise. All you need is a good pair of running shoes and the vast outdoors.

If you'd like to start pounding the pavement, check with your doctor that running is the right activity for you. Then lace up your shoes and follow these tips from the American Council on Exercise:

* Keep your head level, and avoid bouncing. Lean forward slightly from the ankles, not the waist.
* Keep your shoulders down and relaxed.
* Strike the ground first with your heel, then roll to the ball of your foot, pushing off from the toes.
* Take time to warm up and cool down before and after a run.
* Don't increase your total distance more than 10 percent per week.
* If anything hurts, take time off until it feels better.

Health Tip: Wrist Pain While Biking?

If you're an avid mountain biker, you probably have days when your wrists ache. When you grip the handlebars, the repeated shocks that occur as you bounce over rocky terrain can cause handlebar palsy, characterized by numbness, tingling, and pain in the arm, hand, wrist and little finger.

Prevention is key to avoiding the condition, says the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Here are some tips:

* Make sure your bike is the right fit for your size.
* Wear padded gloves and pad your handlebars.
* Sit in a more upright position. This puts less weight and pressure on your hands and wrists.
* Take rest periods between long bike trips.
* Change your hand position on the handlebars frequently.

Food Fact:
Sap to it!

Guess how many gallons of raw sap it takes to make 1 gallon of pure maple syrup? When the sap starts running, Vermont sugarmakers start stoking the fire under the evaporators -- there are 40 gallons of raw sap per gallon that reaches your breakfast table. The all-natural sweetener is loaded with calories -- 50 per tablespoon -- and has no significant nutritive value. But it's so flavorful a little will go a long way. Maple sugar is about twice as sweet as refined granulated sugar, and is produced when nearly all the sap has evaporated. Try it sprinkled on scones or biscuits or stirred into hot apple cider.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Less is more.

Surprise! A few short exercise sessions a day can be as valuable as one longer session. The key to making exercise a habit is to fit it comfortably into your schedule. If you can't find a 30-minute block of time, try three 10-minute stints over the course of the day.

FAQ of the day:
What is mesclun?

Mesclun is an assortment of baby lettuce leaves, usually prewashed. The mix may be expensive, but there's no waste. It's so convenient you may find yourself eating a mesclun salad with every meal.
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