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Health Highlights: March 18, 2003

Bayer Cleared in Cholesterol Drug Lawsuit Thunderstorms Tied to Asthma Attacks High-Protein Diets May Harm Kidneys Genetic Link to Gulf Syndrome, ADHD Probed Shockwave Therapy Approved for Tennis Elbow MOSA Recalls Bike Helmets

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

Bayer Cleared in Cholesterol Drug Lawsuit

Bayer Corp. has been cleared of liability in a $560 million lawsuit over its cholesterol-lowering drug Baycol.

A Texas jury handed down the verdict today after 2 1/2 days of deliberation, the Associated Press reports.

The suit was being watched closely because it's the first of more than 8,000 Baycol cases against Bayer to go to trial.

This suit was filed by 82-year-old Hollis Haltom. He says that as a result of taking Baycol, he developed a muscle-wasting disease that severely weakened his legs.

Bayer has acknowledged the link between Baycol and the muscle-wasting disease. But the company says it acted responsibly when it withdrew the drug from the market in 2001 after it was linked to dozens of deaths worldwide.

Bayer has already paid out $125 million to settle about 450 Baycol-related cases, the AP reports.

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Thunderstorms Tied to Asthma Attacks

Thunderstorms may help trigger asthma attacks as storm-generated winds toss increased levels of fungal spores into the air, Canadian scientists say.

Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa found that hospital admissions for asthma increased by 15 percent on stormy days, CBC News reports.

Their study also found that concentrations of fungal spores in the air nearly doubled during thunderstorms. There was no increase in levels of air-borne grass pollen.

The researchers analyzed asthma hospital admissions, storm activity and air quality in the Ottawa area from 1993 to 1997. The study appears in the March issue of the journal Chest.

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High-Protein Diets May Harm Kidneys

A high-protein diet can accelerate kidney disease in people who already have mild kidney problems, says an American study.

The researchers found that a diet high in meat protein and low in carbohydrates, such as the increasingly popular Atkins diet, can overload the kidneys, BBC News Online reports.

The study included 1,624 women ages 42 to 68 who were monitored for 11 years. Of those women, 489 had mild kidney problems.

The women filled out questionnaires about their eating habits to determine their protein intake. The researchers also took blood samples in order to evaluate the women's kidney function.

The study found no link between a high-protein diet and reduced kidney function in women with normal kidneys. But women who ate high-protein diets (particularly meat protein) and already had mild kidney problems did show reduced kidney function.

The study appears in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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Genetic Link to Gulf Syndrome, ADHD Probed

Chemicals that inhibit the activity of a certain gene may be responsible for neurological disorders including Gulf War Syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), researchers at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., say.

Exposure to chemicals called organophosphates appears to inhibit the activity of a gene called neuropathy target esterase (NTE). On experiments in mice, this impairment either killed the mice before birth, or led to behaviors that were similar to ADHD, the Salk researchers said in a prepared statement.

And some of the behaviors appeared to mimic those of Gulf War Syndrome -- a loosely defined collection of symptoms including headache, fever, and severe forgetfulness that has plagued many soldiers who served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The NTE gene is active in parts of the brain responsible for movement, including the hippocampus and the cerebellum. Salk researchers say they're continuing to investigate how its lack of function affects a person behaviorally and neurologically.

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Shockwave Therapy Approved for Tennis Elbow

The OssaTron high energy orthopedic shockwave device has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treatment of chronic tennis elbow, medically known as lateral epicondylitis.

The device is already agency-approved for heel pain. Manufacturer HealthTronics Surgical Services Inc. says it requires only one treatment, allows for faster recovery, and is less painful than surgery to correct tennis elbow.

FDA approval was based on a 225-patient clinical trial, in which 90 percent of participants benefited from the treatment and 64 percent reported excellent or good outcomes, HealthTronics says in a prepared statement.

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MOSA Recalls Bike Helmets

MOSA Sports is recalling 1,250 "Five 40" brand bicycle helmets, which have failed U.S. government impact testing. Riders wearing these helmets are not adequately protected from falls, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says. No injuries have been reported so far.

Made in China, the helmets are black, white or red, and have the name "Five 40" printed on the front and back. The "V" in the "Five" is much larger than the other letters. A label inside the helmet reads "990803," along with the model name "540."

Sporting good stores nationwide sold the helmets from October 1999 through September 2001 for about $25. Consumers should immediately return them to the store where purchased or MOSA Sports for a refund or free replacement.

For more information, contact MOSA Sports at 1-800-804-0211 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. PT Monday through Friday.

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