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Health Highlights: Dec. 23, 2006

Olive Oil May Protect Against Cancer-Causing SubstanceHypertension Problems Can Occur in Black Children as Early as Age 10 Antibody Raises Hopes for Alzheimer's Treatment Dietary Supplement Burns Fat Location Affects U.S. Health Insurance Costs Slow Start to Flu Season in U.S.

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Olive Oil May Protect Against Cancer-Causing Substance

A little more than a couple of tablespoons of olive oil daily may be able to stave off the introduction of too many free radicals, substances that promote the growth of cancer cells, BBC News reports.

The broadcast news agency says a study of 182 European men found that the subjects who consumed as little as 25 milliliters (five teaspoons) of olive oil per day showed a reduced level of a substance that creates free radicals in their systems.

Olive oil contains monounsaturated fat that lowers HDL (bad) cholesterol levels. It also contains antioxidants called phenols, which based on the latest study, can help retard the accumulation of free radicals in a person's body.

The study showed that those who took olive oil during the course of the trial had a 13 percent reduction in the damaging substances, the BBC reported.

But more study is needed, scientists add. The BBC quotes Dr Anthea Martin, science information officer at Cancer Research UK, as saying, "Although this study suggests that olive oil can reduce DNA damage that could lead to the development of cancer, more long-term research is needed to confirm these effects."


Hypertension Problems Can Occur in Black Children as Early as Age 10

Signs of elevated blood pressure in African Americans can be evident as early as age 10, according to new research from the Medical College of Georgia.

By percentage, blacks in the United States have more hypertension than whites, and the latest research, published in the Dec. 19 edition of the journal Circulation,, offers more information as to how early high blood pressure problems can occur.

In an article written by the Medical College of Georgia, Dr. Xiaoling Wang, a genetic epidemiologist and the study's lead author is quoted as saying, "... this 15-year study allows us to look at one population over an extended period of time, [helping] us identify the age that these problems begin to occur -- as early as age 10."

The research team found that by age 10, some black children already had escalated blood pressure at night, which can signal heart disease problems later in life. Over its 15 year span, the study also found the gap of nighttime high blood pressure between blacks and whites widened.


Antibody Raises Hopes for Alzheimer's Treatment

An antibody that may hinder production of a brain protein associated with Alzheimer's disease has been developed by scientists at Cardiff University in Great Britain.

"Highly encouraging" tests of the antibody showed that it's possible to decrease production of the protein amyloid, BBC News reported. A build-up of amyloid deposits that impair brain functioning is believed to be a major factor in Alzheimer's disease.

By limiting or reducing the build-up of amyloids, this new antibody may help improve memory and quality of life in Alzheimer's patients, the researchers said.

Along with providing a potential treatment for Alzheimer's, it may be possible to use the antibody as a preventive treatment for people in families with a history of the disease, BBC News reported.

The research appears in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

There is currently no known cure for Alzheimer's. It will take many more years of research to determine if this antibody may be an effective treatment for the disease, the researchers said.


Dietary Supplement Burns Fat

A common dietary fat supplement called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) helped overweight adults burn fat, even through the holiday season, says a study by American and Canadian researchers.

The six-month study included 40 overweight people, mainly women, who were divided into two groups. One group took a daily supplement of CLA while the other group took a placebo, CBC News reported.

Over the course of the study, the people in the CLA group lost an average of 2.2 pounds of fat and tended to lose fat from the abdomen. This type of fat is believed to increase the risk of heart disease. In contrast, the participants in the placebo group gained an average of 1.5 pounds in November and December alone.

"Despite no differences between the CLA and placebo group with regards to calorie intake or physical activity throughout the study, the CLA group still managed to lose weight prior to the holiday season and didn't gain any weight over the holidays," said study author Andrea Buchholz, professor of applied nutrition at the University of Guelph in Canada.

The study was published in the International Journal of Obesity.

CLA is a form of naturally occurring polyunsaturated fat found in meat and dairy products. CLA supplements are available in health-food stores and pharmacies. While animal studies have suggested that CLA helps burn existing fat and impedes proliferation of new fat cells, previous research in humans has yielded inconsistent findings, CBC News reported.


Location Affects U.S. Health Insurance Costs

For Americans, the city in which they live can have a major impact on individual and family health insurance costs, reveals a study from the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

The estimates are from the AHRQ's Medical Expenditure Panel Survey for 2004, the most current data. Here are some highlights:

  • For family health insurance plans, Seattle workers contributed the most (an average of $3,299 a year), while New York City-area workers contributed the least ($1,851).
  • Average family coverage premiums were highest in New York ($11,244) and lowest ($8,521) in the Riverside, Calif., metro area, which includes San Bernardino and Ontario.
  • For individual coverage, Boston workers paid the most ($867) while those in Riverside, Calif., paid the least ($449).
  • Average premiums for single coverage were highest in San Francisco ($4,185) and lowest in Riverside ($3,012).

The agency's analysis also compares health insurance costs within states. For example, workers in the northern and central counties of New Jersey and part of the New Jersey shore contributed an average of $1,676 for family coverage, compared to an average of $3,079 for workers who lived in areas such as Atlantic City and Camden, which are farther from New York City.


Slow Start to Flu Season in U.S.

There has been a slow start to the flu season in the United States this year, according to health officials.

In a report released Thursday for the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR, statistics showed that influenza activity remained low in the country overall between Oct. 1 and Dec. 9, but did increase in the southeastern states.

So far this season, influenza A (H1) viruses have been the most common, and most of those viruses are well matched by this year's influenza vaccine, the report said

Patient visits for influenza-like illness and influenza and pneumonia death rates have not exceeded national baseline levels, the report said. No influenza-associated hospitalizations from the Emerging Infections Program or New Vaccine Surveillance Network systems or influenza-related children's deaths have been reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which publishes the MMWR.


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