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Health Highlights: June 3, 2009

FDA to Review BPA-Safety Decision Where Eating Will Kill Your Diet: Restaurant Awards Curry May Protect Against Alzheimer's: Report China Closes Thousands of Milk Inspection Stations FDA Approves First Cancer Drug for Dogs

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

FDA to Review BPA-Safety Decision

The U.S. government has agreed to reconsider its position that Bisphenol-A, a chemical used to harden plastics, is safe at levels found in baby bottles and other everyday products, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Dr. Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said the review should be complete by the end of summer or early fall. The FDA's acting chief scientist is in charge of the review, she said.

Democrats on the House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday sent a letter to Hamburg asking the agency to review a decision made last August, when it determined that BPA, as the chemical is known, was safe at levels currently used for plastic bottles and other food and beverage containers.

But other studies suggest BPA causes health problems in humans. The FDA, which was criticized by some of its own advisers for its initial decision, agreed to review some of those studies, the Journal reported.

BPA, a hardening agent, is also found in CDs, bike helmets, sunglasses and in the linings of bottle tops and metal cans.

Containers of pre-mixed infant formula contain BPA, and health advocates wonder what effect that might have on babies. It's also in some plastic baby bottles, although many baby-bottle makers have discontinued using BPA.


Where Eating Will Kill Your Diet: Restaurant Awards

Eating at some of America's best-known restaurant chains can pack a day's worth of calories into just one dish, USA Today reported.

The consumer watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest announced on Tuesday its 2009 Xtreme Eating Awards for dishes that it said are loaded with calories and artering-clogging saturated fats.

Some of the worst offenders, according to USA Today:

  • Applebee's Quesadilla Burger, which packs 1,820 calories, 46 grams of saturated fat and 4,410 milligrams of sodium.
  • Chili's Big Mouth Bites, with 2,350 calories, 38 grams of saturated fat and 3,940 milligrams of sodium.
  • Uno Chicago Grill's Mega-Sized Deep Dish Sundae, with 2,800 calories and 72 grams of saturated fat.
  • Olive Garden's Tour of Italy, providing 1,450 calories, 33 grams of saturated fat and 3,830 milligrams of sodium.
  • The Cheesecake Factory's Chicken and Biscuits, with 2,500 calories.

"It's as if restaurants are on a mission to make bad food even worse," said Jayne Hurley, a CSPI nutritionist. "Fifteen years ago, restaurant entrees might top out at 1,000 calories, and now we are finding them in the 2,000 calories range."


Curry May Protect Against Alzheimer's: Report

Regular consumption of curry may help protect against Alzheimer's disease, a U.S. researcher told the annual meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Britain.

Studies suggest that curcumin, a component of the spice tumeric, appears to prevent the spread of dementia-associated amyloid protein plaques in the brain, said Professor Murali Doraiswamy of Duke University, BBC News reported.

There's evidence that people who consume curry two or three times a week are less likely to develop dementia, said Doraiswamy, who added that researchers are examining the effects of higher doses of curry.

"There is very solid evidence that curcumin binds to plaques, and basic research on animals engineered to produce human amyloid plaques has shown benefits," the Duke University professor told the meeting, BBC News reported.

"The next step is to test curcumin on human amyloid plaque formation using newer brain scans and there are plans for that." said Doraiswamy. A clinical trial is underway at the University of California, Los Angeles, to test curcumin's effects in Alzheimer's patients, he said.


China Closes Thousands of Milk Inspection Stations

The Chinese government has closed more than 3,900 substandard milk collection stations in the wake of last year's contaminated-milk scandal that killed at least six children and left about 300,000 other children with kidney and urinary problems.

State media reported that all of China's 20,393 milk stations were inspected between November 2008 and April this year, and 3,908 were shut down because of lack of proper equipment or poor hygiene, Agence France Presse reported.

Last year's scandal, which involved milk laced with the industrial chemical melamine, led to worldwide recalls and bans of Chinese dairy products.

Milk collection stations became the focus of attention after investigators learned that middlemen had added melamine to diluted milk in order to make it seem to have a higher protein content, AFP reported.


FDA Approves First Cancer Drug for Dogs

The first drug specifically developed to treat cancer in dogs has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Palladia, made by Pfizer Animal Health Inc., can be used to treat canine cutaneous (skin-based) mast cell tumors, a type of cancer that causes about 20 percent of skin tumors in dogs, the FDA said. Canine mast cell tumors can appear small and insignificant, but can be a very serious form of cancer in dogs.

Common side effects associated with Palladia are diarrhea, decrease or loss of appetite, lameness, weight loss and blood in the stool.

"This cancer drug approval for dogs is an important step forward for veterinary medicine," Bernadette Dunham, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, said in a news release.

"Prior to this approval, veterinarians had to rely on human (cancer) drugs, without knowledge of how safe or effective they would be for dogs. Today's approval offers dog owners, in consultation with their veterinarians, an option for treatment of their dog's cancer," Dunham said.

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