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Health Highlights: March 25, 2008

Cod Liver Oil May Help Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients Children's Water Bottles Recalled Due to Lead Hazard Polio Halted in Somalia: WHO Genetic Mapping Tool Could Improve Tumor Treatment Baby Milk Powder May Cause Breathing Problems HRT May Protect Against Alzheimer's Disease

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

Cod Liver Oil May Help Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients

Some rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients who took a 10g daily dose of cod liver oil cut their use of painkilling non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) by 30 percent, says a study by researchers at Dundee University in the U.K.

The nine-month trial of about 60 patients found that 39 percent of those who took cod liver oil reduced their use of NSIADs, compared to 10 percent of patients who took a placebo, BBC News reported. Reduced NSAID use was not associated with any worsening of pain or disease.

The study was published in the journal Rheumatology.

Concerns about the side effects of NSAIDs have led researchers to look for alternative treatments. It's believed that fatty acids in cod liver oil have anti-inflammatory properties, BBC News reported.

Since this was a small study, it's difficult to draw any firm conclusions, said Dr. Andrew Bamji, president of the British Society for Rheumatology.

"It does look as if the results are positive and that is quite interesting," he told BBC News.


Children's Water Bottles Recalled Due to Lead Hazard

About 18,000 Backyard and Beyond children's metal water bottles have been recalled due to excessive levels of lead in the paint on the outside of the bottles, said the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The Chinese-made bottles, distributed by Downeast Concepts Inc., of Yarmouth, Maine, have a black plastic sip-top and came in green, pink or blue, with assorted animal or insect graphics on them.

The bottles were sold nationwide from February 2006 through February 2008 for about $8. Consumers should immediately take the water bottles away from children and return them to the place of purchase for a refund, the CPSC said.

For more information, phone Downeast Concepts at 1-800-343-2424.


Polio Halted in Somalia: WHO

World Health Organization officials claim that polio transmission has been halted in Somalia, but they acknowledge that the deadly disease could easily return to the unstable, troubled nation.

If polio has been stopped in Somalia, it would meant that the disease remains in only a dozen countries, including four (Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan) where it's common, the Associated Press reported.

There hasn't been a case of polio reported in Somalia in a year. Over the past decade, about 10,000 Somali health workers and volunteers worked to vaccinate nearly every child under the age of five.

Somalia was declared polio-free in 2002, but the disease reappeared in the country in 2005, the AP reported.


Genetic Mapping Tool Could Improve Tumor Treatment

A genetic mapping tool that may help improve diagnosis and treatment of common tumors has been developed by U.S. researchers, Agence France-Presse reported.

The researchers mapped the molecular features of the most common and deadly primary brain tumor so that magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) could be used to identify the tumor's various subtypes. This same method could be used to identify other types of tumors, the researchers said.

"We found a way to allow MRIs to give us detailed molecular information about these tumors," lead author Michael Kuo, of the University of California, San Diego, told AFP. "In the past the only way you'd get it is by doing invasive biopsies and running expensive tests that aren't standardized."

This approach, which can be used with other types of imaging technologies such as CAT scans, needs to undergo further testing before it could be ready for clinical use, Kuo said.

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Baby Milk Powder May Cause Breathing Problems

Prolonged exposure to baby milk powder may increase the risk of breathing problems such as wheezing and breathlessness, says a British study that included about 170 laborers and 76 office staffers at a baby milk powder factory in Thailand.

The University of Birmingham team found that the workers with direct exposure to the baby milk powder were twice as likely as office staffers to have symptoms of breathing problems, BBC News reported. Among the factory floor workers, 24 percent had wheezing and 33 percent had breathlessness, compared to 12 percent and 16 percent of the office staff. The factory floor workers were also twice as likely to have asthma.

The researchers said at-risk workers should be monitored, but added that mothers and babies are safe because they have relatively little exposure to the milk powder.

"The effects of inhaled milk powder are relevant for occupational settings, so workers with such exposure should be protected as much as possible using exposure control measures, such as wearing latex gloves. They should also have regular check-ups of their respiratory health," said study leader Dr. Maritta Jaakkola, BBC News reported.

"Nannies, and bakers, both groups who are exposed to milk powder during their working life, may also benefit from respiratory tests," Jaakkola added.

The study was published in the European Respiratory Journal.


HRT May Protect Against Alzheimer's Disease

A new British study suggests that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may help protect postmenopausal women against memory loss and Alzheimer's disease, BBC News reported.

The London Institute of Psychiatry researchers found that a halt in the production of the hormone estrogen -- which occurs in menopause -- was linked to a decline in memory. But this was reversed when estrogen supplies were restored, as occurs when women have HRT.

This study appears to support a current theory that estrogen may help prevent the accumulation of harmful protein tangles in the brain that eventually lead to Alzheimer's.

"There may be a critical window of time around the menopause when HRT may have a beneficial effect in protecting against Alzheimer's dementia," said lead researcher Dr. Michael Craig, BBC News reported.

But one expert urged caution.

"This is not conclusive evidence and women are not advised to start HRT specifically to protect against dementia since it can have side effects and possibly increase the risk of cancer," said Rebecca Wood, chief executive officer of the Alzheimer's Research Trust in the U.K., BBC News reported.

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