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Health Highlights: July 2, 2006

Poll: Most Americans Check Food Labels Canada May Have 6th Case of Mad Cow Disease Cheney Found Heart-Fit in Annual Physical Pomegranate Juice May Slow Prostate Cancer Experts: Bird Flu Vaccine 10 Years Away

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

Poll: Most Americans Check Food Labels

A new Associated Press poll finds that nearly 80 percent of Americans check for nutrition information on food labels before they make their purchases.

Trouble is, another 44 percent said they often toss the food item in their cart even if the label says it's high in fat or sugar.

"We can't assume that better packaged food labels are going to solve our problems," Alice Lichtenstein, professor of nutrition at Tufts University, told the AP.

The survey of 1,003 adults conducted May 30 - June 1 also found that women were more likely than men to check labels (65 percent vs. 51 percent, respectively), and that married men were more likely to read the nutrition info than single guys (76 percent vs. 65 percent).

And while 39 percent of young people between 18 and 39 years of age said they checked labels, 60 percent said they still might buy an item even if it looked bad for them. "I want to see what I'm getting myself into," explained Loren Cook, 39, of Marysville, Wash. "[The label] doesn't make my buying decisions for me."

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Canada May Have 6th Case of Mad Cow Disease

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency on Friday announced that a mature cross-bred cow in Manitoba may be the country's sixth case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly called "mad cow disease."

Agency experts expect the finding to be confirmed later this week, the Toronto Globe and Mail reported Saturday. No part of the animal has ended up in the human food system, they added, and the cow was born "well before" the 1997 ban on feed products containing (potentially contaminated) ruminant feed parts.

It's that type of contamination that is thought to have led to Canada's five previous cases of BSE. Canadian government officials last week announced tighter restrictions on animal feed to eliminate the disease from the national herd.

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Cheney Found Heart-Fit in Annual Physical

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney got good health news Saturday when he was pronounced in stable cardiac health after a routine annual physical examination.

Tests at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., showed that Cheney's cardiac pacemaker was working properly and had not been activated by an irregular heartbeat and that stent-grafts implanted in arteries behind his knees last year were "wide open," according to his spokeswoman, Lea Anne McBride.

Cheney, 65, has had four heart attacks, quadruple heart bypass surgery and two angioplasties, procedures to clear blockages in the arteries. And last year he underwent surgery to repair aneurysms in arteries behind his knees, The New York Times reported.

The physical on Saturday consisted of several tests, including an electrocardiogram, follow-up imaging of the repaired aneurysms and a check of Cheney's implantable cardioverter defibrillator, also known as a pacemaker, that he has had since 2001. A stress test on a treadmill is scheduled for the fall, McBride said.

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Pomegranate Juice May Slow Prostate Cancer

A daily eight-ounce glass of pomegranate juice may help put the brakes on prostate cancer, according to a new study involving 50 patients.

Studies in mice had already suggested that the juice, which is rich in antioxidants, might help slow the disease. For this study, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles gave the beverage to 50 men who had undergone treatment for prostate cancer, but had shown signs of relapse.

The investigators intermittently measured the patients' blood levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a common indicator of the presence of prostate cancer cells.

Reporting in Clinical Cancer Research, the researchers say it took 54 months for a doubling of PSA levels in men who drank the juice -- a much slower progression than the average 15-month doubling time usually seen in these patients. Some of the men continued to show PSA suppression for more than 3 years, despite receiving no treatment other than the juice.

"I was surprised when I saw such an improvement in PSA numbers," lead researcher Dr. Allan Pawtuck told the BBC. He said pomegranate juice "may be able to prevent or delay the need for other therapies usually used in this population, such as hormone treatment or chemotherapy."

The UCLA team aren't sure which ingredients in the juice help slow cancer progression, The juice is known to have anti-inflammatory compounds, cancer cell-killing isoflavones, plus antioxidants.

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Experts: Bird Flu Vaccine 10 Years Away

Experts meeting at a bird flu summit in Paris said that the H5N1 virus is proving a difficult target for vaccine research, and that a viable vaccine could be 10 years away.

Vaccine researcher Dr. David Fedson, a former professor of medicine at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, said H5N1 was proving very difficult to grow in culture, according to a BBC report. Researchers were also finding it tough to stimulate an immune system response in humans that would be strong enough to defend against the virus, he said.

"H5N1 is so poorly immunogenic and replicates so poorly that we could immunize globally, with six months of production, about 100 million people," Fedson told the BBC. Compared to the 300 million doses of seasonal flu manufactured each year, the number would be far too small. "From a public health point of view this is catastrophic," he said.

In related news, a report issued Friday by Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt announced that the United States in May sent an undisclosed amount of the antiviral flu drug Tamiflu to a secure location in Asia, where it could be used in the event of an outbreak of bird flu.

As reported by the Associated Press, Levitt said the Tamiflu "could be used as part of the international community's efforts to contain a pandemic. However, if containment was not possible, the Tamilu could be sent back to the U.S. stockpile of antiviral influenza medications."

The H5N1 avian flu virus -- which has so far failed to mutate into a form that is easily transmitted between humans -- has infected 228 people in 53 countries so far, mostly from bird-to-human contact. Half of those infected have died.

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