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Health Highlights: Nov. 17, 2006

Dioxin May Affect Reproductive System in Men Chocolate Milk May Boost Exercise Stamina U.K. Bans Junk Food Ads on Kids' TV Shows FDA Expands Herceptin Use for Breast Cancer Taco Bell Changes to Trans Fat-Free Oil EPA Phasing Out AZM Insecticide Brain Tumor Vaccine Shows Promise

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

Dioxin May Affect Male Reproductive System

Exposure to TCDD, the most toxic dioxin in the herbicide Agent Orange, may disrupt the male reproductive system in a number of ways, says a study of 2,000 U.S. Air Force veterans who served in the Vietnam War.

Researchers at the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas found evidence that TCDD may lower testosterone levels and limit the growth of the prostate gland. The study appears in the November issue of the journal Environmental Health.

"Until now, we did not have very good evidence whether or not dioxins affect the human reproductive system," urologist and lead author Dr. Amit Gupta said in a statement. "Now we know that there is a link between dioxins and the human prostate leading us to speculate that dioxins might be decreasing growth of the prostate in humans like they do in animals."

The study found that veterans exposed to TCDD had lower rates of an enlarged prostate disorder called benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH).

"It may be construed that a decrease in the risk of BPH is not a harmful effect, but the larger picture is that dioxins are affecting the normal growth and development of the reproductive system. Moreover, several effective treatments are available for BPH and thus reduction of BPH by a toxic compound is not a desirable effect," Gupta said.


Chocolate Milk May Boost Exercise Stamina

Chocolate milk may boost athletic endurance, suggests an Indiana University study that was partly funded by the Dairy and Nutrition Council.

Researchers had a small group of fit athletes do hard workouts on a stationary bike, then drink either low-fat chocolate milk, a fluid replacement drink (Gatorade), or a carbohydrate replacement drink (Endurox R4). A few hours later, the athletes were told to ride the bike again until they were exhausted, the Associated Press reported.

The test was repeated three times, once with each type of beverage. The study found participants exercised up to 54 percent longer after drinking chocolate milk than when they drank the carbohydrate drink. There was no significant difference between the milk and the fluid-replacement drink.

The findings that chocolate milk may help boost endurance are not conclusive, but do suggest that it's worth doing a larger study, dietician Mary Lee Chin (who does public relations work for the Western Dairy Council) told the AP.


U.K. Bans Junk Food Ads on Kids' TV Shows

In an effort to fight childhood obesity, officials in the United Kingdom have announced a ban on all junk food advertising on children's television programs.

The Ofcom broadcasting regulator said Friday that no ads for foods and beverages with high fat, salt, or sugar content will be shown during shows aimed at children younger than 16, Agence France Presse reported.

Some health and consumer groups said the measures didn't go far enough. Junk food ads should be prohibited from all television shows before 9 p.m., whether the programs are for children or adults, the groups said, noting that many children watch adult programs.


FDA Expands Use of Herceptin for Breast Cancer

The approved use of the cancer drug Herceptin has been expanded to include treatment of early-stage HER2-positive breast cancer along with chemotherapy after a woman has a lumpectomy or mastectomy, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday.

Herceptin was first approved by the FDA in 1998 to treat metastatic breast cancer (cancer that's spread to other areas of the body). This latest approval means it can also be used to treat women with cancer that was detected only in the breast or lymph nodes and was surgically removed. The drug should only be given to women with HER2-positive breast cancer, the FDA said.

This expanded use is based on the findings of two studies sponsored by the U.S. National Cancer Institute. The studies, which included nearly 4,000 women, found that 87 percent of women who received the drug and chemotherapy after surgery were cancer-free after three years, compared to 75 percent of those who received chemotherapy alone.

It's too early to determine whether Herceptin combined with chemotherapy will increase the cure rate or lower the risk of death from breast cancer, the FDA said.


Taco Bell Switching to Trans Fat-Free Cooking Oil

Taco Bell is the latest U.S. fast-food giant to announce that it's switching to trans fat-free cooking oil, which is used to fry a number of items including nachos, chalupa shells, potatoes, and taco salad shells.

The company said that by April 2007, all of its single-brand restaurants in the United States will be using trans fat-free canola cooking oil, instead of the current partially hydrogenated soybean oil, the Associated Press reported.

Taco Bell restaurants that share space with KFC or other restaurants owned by the same company will start using trans fat-free soybean oil.

Despite the switch to trans fat-free cooking oil, some Taco Bell products will still contain some artery-clogging trans fats, the AP reported.


EPA Phasing Out AZM Insecticide

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced its final decision to phase out the 10 remaining approved uses for the organophosphate insecticide azinphos-methyl (AZM) over the next five years.

The use of AZM on brussels sprouts and nursery stock will end in September 2007; on almonds, pistachios and walnuts by October 2009; and on apples, blueberries, cherries, parsley and pears by September 2012.

During the phase out period, the EPA said it is decreasing AZM application rates.

All other uses of the insecticide have been voluntarily discontinued by the registrants, the EPA said. In addition, AZM manufacturers have agreed to develop training materials to instruct farm workers and others on how to avoid unnecessary exposure.


Brain Tumor Vaccine Shows Promise

A vaccine for glioma brain tumors is showing promising results, according to preliminary data from a clinical trial at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.

These early findings from the first group of six patients showed that the vaccine vitespen (trademark name Oncophage) was associated with tumor-specific immune responses in patients with recurrent, high-grade glioma.

The vaccine is derived from each patient's own tumor.

"This is the first documentation of a glioma-specific immune response after vaccination with vitespen," and further research is warranted, principal investigator Dr. Andrew T. Parsa, assistant professor in the department of neurological surgery, said in a prepared statement.

The findings were presented Thursday at a meeting of the Society of Neuro-Oncology.

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