Health Highlights: July 10, 2007

Low Testosterone Levels in Women May Boost Heart Risk Ice Baths Won't Help Athletes' Recovery: Study Office Workers Most Likely to Suffer Dry Eye Connecticut Inspectors Seize 705 Tubes of Tainted Toothpaste Anti-Smoking Drug May Also Treat Problem Drinking Mutant Gene Kills Pancreatic Cancer Cells in Mice

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

Low Testosterone Levels in Women May Boost Heart Risk

Low levels of testosterone in postmenopausal women may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease, concludes a Belgian study of 112 women.

Testosterone is a male sex hormone, but women also produce it.

As reported by BBC News, half of the women in the study had atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries). Those women had much less testosterone than women without atherosclerosis, said the study, which was published in the European Journal of Endocrinology.

It's known that testosterone plays a number of important roles in both men and women, including maintaining bone density and muscle strength. The researchers at the Free University of Brussels said testosterone may also suppress chemical signals that cause inflammation in arterial walls, BBC News reported.

"The results from this small study identify an association between low testosterone levels in postmenopausal women and a build up of fatty material in the carotid artery -- the artery that supplies blood to the head and neck," said a statement from the British Heart Foundation. "However it is unclear why this occurs. Further work is required to enhance our understanding of the mechanism behind this."


Ice Baths Won't Help Athletes' Recovery: Study

Taking an ice bath after a tough workout or game does not speed athletes' recovery, according to an Australian study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Proponents claim that an icy cold dunk causes blood vessels to tighten and push out blood that contains lactic acid and other exercise-related waste products. When the athlete steps out of the ice bath, the blood vessels fill up with oxygen-rich fresh blood that aids muscle repair, according to the theory.

But the University of Melbourne study of 40 volunteers found that those who took an ice bath after exercise reported more muscle pain after 24 hours than those who took a tepid bath, BBC News reported.

"This study challenges the use of ice-water immersion in athletes," the researchers wrote. "Ice-water immersion offers no benefit for pain, swelling, isometric strength and function, and in fact may make athletes more sore the next day."


Office Workers Most Likely to Suffer Dry Eye

U.S. workers with office-based jobs such as administrative, finance and information technology positions are most likely to suffer dry eye, according to a list released Tuesday by the National Women's Health Resource Center (NWHRC).

Other occupations at the top of the list include construction/manufacturing, health care/medical, education, and retail/sales. Prolonged computer use, exposure to dust, allergens and wind, and long hours on the road are among the job-related factors that contribute to dry eye.

Symptoms of dry eye include dryness, itchiness, irritation, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, excessive tearing, and a feeling of having something in the eye. Dry eye affects more than 20 million people in the United States but remains a largely unrecognized on-the-job health issue, according to the NWHRC.

"If left untreated, dry eye can progress and lead to increased risk of infection and impaired vision," Dr. Marguerite McDonald, clinical professor of ophthalmology at Tulane University Health Sciences Center, said in a prepared statement.

Treatment options include eye drops and prescription products.


Connecticut Inspectors Seize 705 Tubes of Tainted Toothpaste

State inspectors in Connecticut have seized 705 tubes of toothpaste containing the chemical diethylene glycol, which is used in some antifreeze products. The toothpaste was removed from six of 120 stores inspected since July 2 and inspections will continue this week, The New York Times reported.

Diethylene glycol can cause liver and kidney damage. No injuries have been reported in Connecticut.

The toothpaste confiscated so far includes 430 tubes of a counterfeit Colgate toothpaste reportedly made in South Africa and 275 tubes of Chinese-made Dentakleen and the blueberry and strawberry flavors of Dentakleen Junior, said the state's Department of Consumer Protection.

The toothpaste was found in stores in Derby, Hartford, North Branford Waterbury and West Hartford, the Times reported. Connecticut officials launched the inspections after a consumer spotted tainted toothpaste on the shelves of some stores after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a recall order.

Last month, about 900,000 tubes of tainted toothpaste were found in some prisons, state institutions and hospitals in the United States. The FDA ordered a recall of the counterfeit Colgate toothpaste and told consumers to throw out all Chinese-made toothpaste, regardless of the brand, the Times reported.

In related news, China executed its former chief drug regulator for taking bribes, and officials outlined plans to improve the safety of drugs and food produced in the country, Bloomberg news reported. China faces international criticism over the quality of its food and drug exports.


Anti-Smoking Drug May Also Treat Problem Drinking

The anti-smoking drug varenicline (brand name Chantix) may also help treat problem drinking, preliminary findings from research with rats suggest.

Scientists in California trained rats to become heavy drinkers and then gave them varenicline. The drug curbed the rats' drinking. After the drug treatment was halted, the rats started drinking again but did not binge drink, the Associated Press reported.

The findings were published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The California researchers and the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism are now planning the first human studies to examine the effect of varenicline on alcohol cravings and dependence, the AP reported.

The anti-smoking pill Chantix has been sold in the United States since last August. The drug targets a pleasure center in the brain that's activated by nicotine. It's believed this same pleasure center also plays a role in alcohol dependence, the researchers said.


Mutant Gene Kills Pancreatic Cancer Cells in Mice

In research with mice, U.S. scientists found that a mutant gene called Bik can shrink or kill pancreatic tumors. Bik produces a protein that forces cancer cells to kill themselves, said the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center team.

The finding, published Monday in the journal Cancer Cell, offers hope for a new treatment for one of the deadliest human cancers, Agence France-Presse reported.

"This looks like a promising approach to gene therapy for pancreatic cancer and we are working to bring it to a clinical trial," said James Abbruzzese, professor and chairman of the department of gastrointestinal oncology at the MD Anderson Cancer Center.

"There are no good options for pancreatic cancer patients now," said Abbruzzese, who estimated that it will take one to two years to complete U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirements for a phase I clinical trial in humans, AFP reported.

About 96 percent of pancreatic cancer patients die within five years of diagnosis, one of the lowest cancer survival rates.


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