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Health Highlights: Oct. 28, 2009

High-Fiber Foods May Protect Against Inflammatory Diseases: Study Immune-Suppressing Drugs May Boost Bladder Cancer Risk Scientists Discover Rodent's Anti-Cancer Secret NFL Offers Support To Former Players With Dementia Curry Spice Chemical Kills Esophageal Cancer Cells: Study Radiation Treatment Required For Fresh Gulf of Mexico Oysters

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

High-Fiber Foods May Protect Against Inflammatory Diseases: Study

A high-fiber diet may boost the immune system and help prevent inflammatory diseases such as asthma, diabetes and arthritis, say Australian researchers and their colleagues.

In the gut, high-fiber foods are converted by bacteria into short chain fatty acids, which are known to ease some inflammatory diseases in the bowel. This new study identified a molecule that binds to short chain fatty acids and also functions as an anti-inflammatory, Agence France Presse reported.

The study appears in the journal Nature.

"The important point about our work is that we provide the molecular explanation that links fiber in the diet to the microorganisms in our gut to the effect on the immune response," Professor Charles Mackay told AFP.

"We believe that changes in diet, associated with Western lifestyles, contribute to the increasing incidences of asthma, type 1 diabetes and other auto-immune diseases," he said. "Now we have a new molecular mechanism that might explain how diet is affecting our immune systems."


Immune-Suppressing Drugs May Boost Bladder Cancer Risk

People who take immune-suppressing glucocorticoid drugs may be at increased risk for bladder cancer, according to a U.S. study.

Glucocorticoids are used to prevent organ rejection in transplant patients and to treat diseases such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.

Dartmouth Medical School researchers examined the long-term use of glucocorticoids by 786 bladder cancer patients and 1,083 controls, United Press International reported.

The finding that glucocorticoids may increase bladder cancer risk "might indicate the need for closer monitoring of individuals who regularly take glucocorticoids," epidemiologist Margaret Karagas and colleagues said in a news release.

The study was published in the British Journal of Cancer.

Previous studies found an association between glucocorticoids and increased risk of lymphoma and skin cancer, UPI reported.


Scientists Discover Rodent's Anti-Cancer Secret

New insight into how the only animal known to be cancer-free defends itself against tumor development could lead to a way to stop cancer in humans before it starts, say U.S. researchers.

They found that cells in the naked mole rat, also known as the sand puppy, express a gene called p16 that stops the uncontrolled cell growth that leads to cancer, United Press International reported.

"We think we've found the reason these mole rats don't get cancer, and it's a bit of a surprise," said study leader Vera Gorbunova, an associate professor at the University of Rochester. "It's very early to speculate about the implications, but if the effect of p16 can be simulated in humans we might have a way to halt cancer before it starts."

The study appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


NFL Offers Support To Former Players With Dementia

The NFL plans to offer free follow-up medical work to retired players who reported dementia, Alzheimer's disease or other memory problems in a recent study that suggested former pro football players may have a higher than normal rate of memory problems.

In written testimony to be presented Wednesday to Congress, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league also will ask the players whether they're receiving money from the 88 Plan, which provides up to $88,000 per year to former players with dementia, Alzheimer's, or Parkinson's disease, regardless of the cause, the Associated Press reported.

The 56 players took part in a survey by David Weir and colleagues at the University of Michigan. When the study was released, the NFL said it didn't prove a link between concussions and memory disorders.

Weir, who will be among the witnesses at Wednesday's House Judiciary Committee hearing, said the survey findings highlight the need for further study but don't prove an association between playing pro football and memory problems later in life, the AP reported.

When it comes to head injures, Goodell said medical considerations must always trump competitive ones. He said the NFL offers a toll-free hot line for players who believe they're being pressured to start playing before fully recovering from a concussion or other head injury, the AP reported.

"All return-to-play decisions are made by doctors and doctors only," according to Goodell. "The decision to return to the game is not made by coaches. Not by players. Not by teammates."


Curry Spice Chemical Kills Esophageal Cancer Cells: Study

A chemical found in the curry spice tumeric kills esophageal cancer cells, according to U.K. researchers.

It's long been believed that the chemical curcumin has healing powers and it's being tested as a treatment for conditions such as arthritis and dementia, BBC News reported.

In lab tests, researchers at the Cork Cancer Research Center found that curcumin started to kill esophageal cancer cells within 24 hours and that the cancer cells began to digest themselves after curcumin triggered cell death signals.

The study appears in the British Journal of Cancer.

"Scientists have known for a long time that natural compounds have the potential to treat faulty cells that have become cancerous and we suspected that curcumin might have therapeutic value," said study author Dr. Sharon McKenna, BBC News reported.

"This is interesting research which opens up the possibility that natural chemicals found in turmeric could be developed into new treatments for oesophageal cancer," said Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK.


Radiation Treatment Required For Fresh Gulf of Mexico Oysters

Beginning in 2011, raw oysters harvested from the Gulf of Mexico during warm months will have to be treated with low-dose radiation to kill a potentially deadly bacteria, say U.S. health officials. There will be a ban on sales of oysters that aren't treated.

Each year in the U.S., about 15 people die after eating fresh oysters infected with Vibrio vulnificus, a bacteria typically found in coastal waters between April and October, the Associated Press reported.

Oyster industry officials say the low-dose radiation procedure is too expensive and contend that adequate safety measures are already in place.

Two-thirds of oysters consumed in the U.S. come from the Gulf of Mexico, the AP reported.


Antibody May Benefit Trauma Patients

An antibody that could help control major internal bleeding in patients with major trauma injuries from car crashes, bullets and other causes has been identified by U.S. researchers.

A protein called histone is responsible for much of the internal bleeding in trauma patients, according to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation team. They also found that a certain type of antibody blocks the ability of histone to cause damage, BBC News reported.

In experiments in mice with sepsis, the antibody stopped the toxic effects of histones, and the mice recovered. The findings appear in the journal Nature Medicine. The researchers want to conduct studies in primates and eventually humans.

"These findings offer some clues as to why people suffering from one traumatic injury often experience a catastrophic 'cascade' of secondary traumatic events," said Dr. Stephen Prescott, president of OMRF, BBC News reported. "If we can figure out how to control the initial injury, perhaps that will stop the domino effect that so often follows."

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