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Health Highlights: March 27 2006

Marijuana Tar Levels Seven Times Higher Than Cigarettes New Kind of Birth Control Pill May Cut Breast Cancer Risk Girls Binge Drinking More: Study Soy Ingredient Reduces Obesity Czech Republic Detects 1st Bird Flu Case Victim Misidentified

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

Marijuana Tar Levels Seven Times Higher Than Cigarettes

Marijuana smoke has seven times more tar and carbon monoxide than cigarette smoke and the health risks of smoking three joints are about equal to the risks from a whole pack of cigarettes, according to a French National Consumers' Institute study.

The study also found that marijuana smoke contains more toxic chemicals than cigarette smoke.

Researchers used an artificial smoking machine to compare 280 specially rolled joints of marijuana leaves and resin to regular Marlboro cigarettes. The machine measured the smoke's content for tar and carbon monoxide, and for the toxic chemicals benzene, nicotine and toluene, Agence France Presse reported.

The study also found that a person who smokes a joint of cannabis resin rolled with tobacco will inhale twice the amount of benzene and three times the amount of toluene than someone who smokes a regular cigarette.

People who smoke pure marijuana leaves will also inhale more of these toxic chemicals than they would from a regular cigarette, AFP reported.

The findings were published in the April issue of the institute's magazine.


New Kind of Birth Control Pill May Cut Breast Cancer Risk

A new kind of birth control pill that does not carry an increased risk of breast cancer-- and may even reduce that risk -- could be on the market within five year, scientists said Monday at a news conference to mark the 50th anniversary of the original pill.

The current combined pill, which includes the hormones progesterone and estrogen, is believed to carry an increased risk of breast cancer. It's believed the progesterone is responsible for the increased risk.

The new pill is based on compounds used in the abortion pill RU486 and blocks the effects of progesterone, a hormone that prepares the body for pregnancy, The Times of London reported.

Animal tests of the new pill showed that it inhibited the introduction of breast cancer and trials on two groups of about 90 women showed positive results with few side effects.

Larger-scale studies are needed in to fully assess the new pill in humans, said David Baird, professor of reproductive endocrinology at the University of Edinburgh, who is leading the research into the new pill.

He also noted that early results of studies in women with advanced breast cancer suggested that the compounds used in the new pill "may be helpful," The Times reported.


Girls Binge Drinking More: Study

Binge drinking among underage girls in the United States is growing faster than among boys, says a study on underage drinking released Monday by Georgetown University's Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY). Binge drinking is defined as having at least five drinks on a single occasion.

The study said that three U.S. surveys all found that girls are binge drinking more and boys are binging less or increasing their binging at a slower rate than girls. The study also found that Grade 12 girls who drink or are binge drinkers are more likely to drink distilled spirits than beer.

Every day in the U.S., 5,400 young people under age 16 take their first drink of alcohol, said the study, which also noted that long-term studies show a direct link between alcohol advertising and youth drinking. The more alcohol ads young people see and hear, they more likely they are to drink.

Every day in the U.S., three teens die from drinking and driving, and at least six more die from other alcohol-related causes, such as murder, suicide and drowning. Heavy drinking during adolescence may hamper brain development.

Young people are more likely to drink alcohol than to smoke tobacco or use illegal drugs. A recent national survey found that more than seven million underage youth reported binge drinking at least once in the previous 30 days.


Soy Ingredient Reduces Obesity

A soy ingredient called genistein causes genetic changes that permanently reduce an embryo's risk of obesity after birth, according to an animal study by researchers at Duke University Medical Center.

Pregnant mice that were fed a diet rich in genistein gave birth to pups that stayed slimmer as adults. Mice in a control group that did not receive genistein when they were embryos were double the weight of the genistein-fed mice.

The Duke team concluded that genistein's effect occurred early in the mice pregnancies, at a time that would be equivalent to eight gestational days in humans.

The study appears in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The finding have yet to be confirmed in humans but may explain whey Asians have lower rates of obesity and cancer, the Duke researchers said. Asians consume large amounts of soy.

The study results also lend support to the theory that a person's long-term health may be influenced by prenatal factors.


Czech Republic Detects 1st Bird Flu Case

The Czech Republic said it has detected its first case of an H5 form of bird flu and officials believe it is the dangerous H5N1 virus. Tests are being conducted to confirm whether that's the case, Agence France Presse reported.

The virus was detected in a dead swan found about 150 kilometers south of Prague on March 20.

"We have a serious suspicion of the presence of H5N1, which will either be confirmed or not," Minister of Agriculture Jan Mladek said at a news conference. "We want the information to be as precise as possible. We do not want to hide anything. Bird flu is dangerous but there is no reason to panic."

To date, the Czech Republic is the only central European country that has not announced a case of bird flu. The H5N1 virus has been found in the neighboring countries of Austria, Germany, Poland, and Slovakia.

Because of the presence of H5N1 in its neighbors, the Czech Republic has had plans to deal with the virus in place for several weeks, AFP reported. If H5N1 is confirmed in the dead swan, Czech officials will establish quarantine zones around the area where the bird was found.

Since 2003, the H5N1 virus has been detected in 45 countries in Africa, Asia, and Europe. More than 100 people have died after coming into contact with infected poultry.

In related news, a female migrant worker infected with the H5N1 avian flu strain died Tuesday in Shanghai, Chinese officials confirmed on Saturday. The death is the 11th fatal case of bird flu so far documented in the country, and the first in Shanghai, China's most populous city.

According to the Associated Press, Chinese health officials said blood tests confirmed the woman was infected with the bird flu virus. She was admitted to the hospital with cold and fever symptoms.

Also on Saturday, Indonesian officials said they were awaiting tests to confirm H5N1 infection as the cause of death of a 1-year-old Jakarta girl.

And in Hong Kong, a peregrine falcon found dead in a housing complex has tested positive for H5N1, officials there said. Hong Kong last reported a human case of bird flu in 2003.


Victim Misidentified

In the March 23, 2006, "Health Highlights," HealthDay ran a story titled "Reebok Charm Bracelet Linked to Child's Lead Poisoning Death," in which the victim was incorrectly identified. The victim was a 4-year-old boy in Minneapolis.

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