Health Highlights: May 22, 2007

Chinese-Made Toothpaste May Contain Industrial Solvent Naprapathy Eases Back and Neck Pain Divorced/Separated Men at Higher Risk for Depression: Study Companies Seek to Launch Advanced Trials of Alzheimer's Drug Synthetic Estrogen Turns Male Fish Into Females Most Nations Have Quelled H5N1 Outbreaks in Birds

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

Chinese-Made Toothpaste May Contain Industrial Solvent

Chinese officials are investigating two companies suspected of exporting toothpaste that may contain the industrial solvent diethylene glycol, commonly used in antifreeze. Some of the suspect toothpaste was made for children.

Tainted toothpaste believed to be from China has been found in Australia, the Dominican Republic and Panama, but has not been found in the United States, The New York Times reported.

Diethylene glycol in cold medicine killed at least 100 people in Panama last year. There have been no reports of deaths linked to the tainted toothpaste.

Chinese authorities have closed the factory of the Danyang City Success Household Chemical Company and have questioned the manager of the another toothpaste maker called Goldcredit International Trading, the Times reported.


Naprapathy Eases Back and Neck Pain

A therapy called naprapathy -- which involves massage, stretching and manipulation of the spine and other joints -- is more effective at treating neck and back pain than some conventional methods, according to a Swedish study of 409 patients.

The patients were divided into two groups. One group received naprapathy while the other group received support and advice from doctors, which included the common approach of encouraging patients to move and live normally despite their back and neck pain, Agence France-Presse reported.

After 12 weeks, 57 percent of the patients who received naprapathy said they felt much better, compared with 13 percent of patients in the other group. The study also found that 69 percent of those in the naprapathy group said they had noticeably less pain, compared with 42 percent in the control group.

By the end of the study, 19 percent of naprapathy patients had totally recovered from their back and neck pain, compared with seven percent of those in the control group, AFP reported.

The findings were published in the Clinical Journal of Pain.


Divorced/Separated Men at Higher Risk for Depression: Study

Divorced and separated men may be much more likely to suffer depression than people who stay together or women who divorce or separate, says a Statistics Canada study released Tuesday.

The study authors analyzed data from the National Public Health Survey and found that depression occurred in about 12 percent of all people involved in the breakdown of a marriage or common-law relationship, compared with three percent of people who stayed together, CBC News reported.

But men were hit much harder than women when a domestic relationship ended.

The study found that men, ages 20 to 64, who had divorced or separated were six times more likely to report depression than married men, while divorced or separated women were 3.5 times more likely to report depression than married women, CBC News reported.

The study authors said men may be especially vulnerable to the loss of social support after a breakup. While women tend to have social networks, many men rely solely on their partner for support.


Companies Seek to Launch Advanced Trials of Alzheimer's Drug

Two drug companies are seeking approval to launch advanced Phase III trials of a drug to fight Alzheimer's disease. Elan Corp. PLC of Ireland and Wyeth of the United States hope the drug bapineuzumab will prove successful at halting Alzheimer's-related memory loss and dementia.

The companies said they'd like to begin the trials in the second half of this year, several months earlier than previously planned, the Associated Press reported. Even though the companies want to start the trials this year, they don't expect to announce the results of their current Phase II trials until 2008.

The Phase II studies include 270 American and European patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's receiving 18 months of treatment with bapineuzumab.

A number of companies are vying to develop the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drug to prevent or remove the amyloid plaques in the brain associated with Alzheimer's, the AP reported. Current drugs only help control symptoms of the disease.

Myriad Genetics Inc. has already started Phase III trials of its drug Flurizan, and Medivation Inc. expects to begin Phase III trials of its Dimebon drug in 2008. Memory Pharmaceuticals Corp. expects to release Phase II results of its drug MEM 1003 later this year.


Synthetic Estrogen Turns Male Fish Into Females

After traces of the synthetic estrogen that's used in birth control pills were put in a lake, male minnows started turning into females, according to an American/Canadian study published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For this study, extremely low concentrations of synthetic estrogen were introduced into a northern Ontario lake over three years. The researchers then continued to monitor the impact over the following two years, the Globe and Mail reported.

Instead of sperm, the male fish started to develop eggs and eventually became indistinguishable from females. Within a year of exposure to the synthetic estrogen, the minnow population began to decline. Within a few years, the minnows had practically vanished.

The findings are likely to increase concerns about the effect that estrogen and other drug residues in waterways may have on humans and wildlife. Estrogen and other drugs can be passed in urine and eventually end up in surface waters.

"What's sobering for me is that we've shown such a dramatic response in fish population at these low concentrations," lead researcher Karen Kidd, a biologist at the University of New Brunswick, told the Globe and Mail. She was with Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans when she conducted the study.

Kidd said that it's not known what impact exposure to estrogen in drinking water might have in humans, but added that it's an area that should be a research priority. She noted that there's been an increase in male reproductive problems over the past few decades and the causes aren't known.

"When we see these kinds of responses in fish, it raises a red flag for what these compounds are doing to humans," Kidd said.


Most Nations Have Quelled H5N1 Outbreaks in Birds

Most countries have been able to suppress outbreaks of the H5N1 avian flu virus among birds, the director general of the World Organization for Animal Health said in a statement issued Monday.

Bernard Vallat noted that, so far in 2007, countries have reported fewer H5N1-related deaths among wild and migratory birds, which "could indicate the disease is coming closer to the end of a cycle," Agence France-Presse reported.

But he added that poultry outbreaks continue in some countries, which means the international community should maintain rigorous H5N1 prevention and control measures.

Since 2003, H5N1 outbreaks have been reported in 59 countries. Most of these have been successfully eradicated, Vallat noted. However, he said H5N1 remains endemic in at least three countries -- Egypt, Indonesia and Nigeria, AFP reported.

Preventing the spread of H5N1 among poultry is the best way to keep the dangerous virus from infecting people, Vallat said. So far, the virus has killed 185 people worldwide, mostly in Southeast Asia.

Experts fear a deadly human pandemic if H5N1 mutates into a form that's easily transmitted between people.

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