Health Highlights: Feb. 7, 2012

Komen Official Resigns After Controversy University Vending Machine Dispenses Emergency Contraceptive U.S. Funding for Alzheimer's Research Increased Fructose Boosts Visceral Fat: Study Diabetes Increases Risk of Birth Defects Beam Radiation Most Toxic, Costly Prostate Cancer Treatment: Study

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

Komen Official Resigns After Controversy

An official at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer charity has resigned after the controversy over the group's funding of Planned Parenthood.

The charity announced last week that it would stop providing Planned Parenthood with grants for breast-cancer screenings, but reversed the decision after a storm of protest.

Karen Handel, the charity's vice president for public policy, resigned Tuesday. In a letter obtained by the Associated Press, Handel said she supported the decision to halt funding for Planned Parenthood.

Discussion about the issue began before she arrived at the organization and was approved at the highest levels of the charity, according to Handel.

"I am deeply disappointed by the gross mischaracterizations of the strategy, its rationale, and my involvement in it," Handel said in her letter, the AP reported. "I openly acknowledge my role in the matter and continue to believe our decision was the best one for Komen's future and the women we serve."


University Vending Machine Dispenses Emergency Contraceptive

In response to student demand, the Plan B emergency contraceptive will be available in a vending machine inside Shippensburg University's Etter Health Center.

The vending machine will also dispense condoms, pregnancy tests and decongestants, the Associated Press reported.

The decision to install the machine was made after a Student Association request and a survey showing 85 percent of student respondents supported it, said Roger Serr, vice president for student affairs.

In the U.S., Plan B is available without a prescription to anyone 17 or older, the AP reported.

Shippensburg University is about 125 miles west of Philadelphia.


U.S. Funding for Alzheimer's Research Increased

The U.S. National Institutes of Health will spend an extra $50 million on Alzheimer's research this year under a plan announced Tuesday, and the Obama administration plans to ask Congress for $80 million in new Alzheimer's research money for next year.

Currently, the NIH spends $450 million a year on Alzheimer's research in an effort to gain the upper hand in a fight against what may be the defining disease of the aging baby-boom generation, the Associated Press reported.

The increased funding is part of the Obama administration's development of the first National Alzheimer's Plan meant to develop better treatments and help people who look after loved ones with the disease.

"We can't wait to act," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement, the AP reported. "Reducing the burden of Alzheimer's disease on patients and their families is an urgent national priority."


Fructose Boosts Visceral Fat: Study

A new study finds that consumption of the sweetener fructose can lead to higher amounts of visceral fat, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Visceral fat is the kind that accumulates around internal organs.

The study of 559 teens, ages 14-18, found that higher fructose consumption was associated with increased systolic (top number) blood pressure, C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation) and visceral fat, and reduced levels of "good" HDL cholesterol, The New York Times reported.

These are all known risks for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Further investigation revealed that is was not fructose itself, but its tendency to increase visceral fat that led to the rise in these risk factors, The Times reported.

"To just say 'fructose is bad' is incorrect," said lead author Norman K. Pollock, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Georgia Health Sciences University. "But when calorie intake from fructose is greater than 16 percent of total intake, we're seeing these risk factors appear."

The study was published in the February issue of The Journal of Nutrition.


Diabetes Increases Risk of Birth Defects

Women with diabetes have a four-fold increased risk of having babies with birth defects, a new study says.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 400,000 pregnancies in the U.K. and found that the risk of birth defects was 72 per 1,000 births among women with diabetes, compared with 19 per 1,000 births for women without pre-existing diabetes, BBC News reported.

The study was published in the journal Diabetologia.

Blood sugar levels in the time just before conception were the "most important" risk factor that could be controlled, according to the Newcastle University researchers, BBC News reported.


Beam Radiation Most Toxic, Costly Prostate Treatment: Study

External beam radiation causes the most toxic side effects and is the most expensive type of prostate cancer treatment, according to a new study that compared the three most common treatments.

The Cleveland Clinic researchers found that external beam radiation costs an average of $6,412 per patient per year, compared with $3,205 for prostatectomy (surgical removal of the prostate gland) and $2,557 for brachytherapy (placement of a radioactive source near the tumor), The Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland reported.

Toxicity rates among patients were nearly 8.8 percent for external beam treatment, 6.9 percent for prostatectomy and 3.7 percent for brachytherapy.

The findings, based on an analysis of data from more than 137,000 patients, were presented recently at the Genitourinary Cancer Symposium in San Francisco, The Plain Dealer reported.

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