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Health Highlights: Oct. 9, 2008

St. John's Wort May Help Treat Depression: Study Energy-Saving Light Bulbs Can Redden Skin: Report Most Europeans Oppose Meat From Cloned Animals Ovarian Cancer Test Illegal: FDA 10,000 Chinese Children Hospitalized Due to Tainted Milk Powder Smoking Increases Women's Colorectal Cancer Risk

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

St. John's Wort May Help Treat Depression: Study

The herbal medicine St. John's wort could be a suitable alternative to drugs for treating depression, suggests a German study that included nearly 5,500 people suffering from mild to severe depression.

The researchers compared the effectiveness of St. John's wort, a placebo, and a number of antidepressants, BBC News reported.

"Overall, the St. John's wort extracts tested in the trials were superior to placebo, similarly effective as standard antidepressants, and had fewer side effects," said study leader Dr. Klaus Linde.

St. John's wort has been used for decades as an alternative medicine to treat depression or stress. It's believed it helps keep a mood-enhancing chemical called serotonin in the brain longer, BBC News reported.

"Using St. John's wort extract might be justified, but products on the market vary considerably," Linde noted.


Energy-Saving Light Bulbs Can Redden Skin: Report

Ultraviolet emissions from some energy efficient compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs can cause reddening of the skin if people get too close for long periods of time, says the U.K.'s Health Protection Agency.

The agency is advising people to stay at least one foot away from CFL bulbs with exposed light coils, which emit UV light that's equivalent to being outside on a sunny day, BBC News reported. There is no danger of skin cancer, the agency emphasized.

It added that there are no UV concerns with enclosed CFL lights, where the coil is covered like a traditional light bulb.

The Health Protection Agency investigated the safety of CFL bulbs at the urging of groups that represent people with light sensitivity issues, BBC News reported. The research, believed to be the first to identify the problem, is due to be published in an academic journal.


Most Europeans Oppose Meat From Cloned Animals

More than 80 percent of Europeans reject the idea of eating meat from cloned animals because they feel there's too little known about the long-term effects of eating it, according to a survey released Thursday by the European Union.

The survey of more than 25,000 people in all 27 EU member states also found that 58 percent of respondents felt that cloning animals for food production could never be justified. However, a large minority said animal cloning was OK in order to preserve rare species, Agence France Presse reported.

The findings provide "valuable insights into the attitudes of EU citizens toward the use of animal cloning technology for food production," said EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou.

The survey results will be considered along with other opinions from the European Group of Ethics and the European Food Safety Authority, she added.


Ovarian Cancer Test Illegal: FDA

A blood test to detect ovarian cancer is being marketed illegally by the Laboratory Corporation of America, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a warning letter posted on its Web site Wednesday.

The OvaSure test, introduced in June, promises to detect ovarian cancer at an early stage, when it's still treatable. However, experts say the test hasn't been proved accurate and might cause women to undergo unnecessary surgeries to remove their ovaries, The New York Times reported.

In a previous letter to LabCorp, the FDA said the test "may harm public health." The new warning letter, sent to LabCorp on Sept. 29, says the OvaSure test requires FDA approval before it can be marketed.

LabCorp spokesman Eric Lindblom told the Times that the company is currently in discussions with the FDA, but wouldn't say whether the test would be removed from the market.


10,000 Chinese Children Hospitalized Due to Tainted Milk Powder

More than 10,000 children remain hospitalized in China after being sickened by milk powder contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine, the Chinese Health Ministry said in a statement on its Web site Wednesday.

The ministry said no new deaths have been recorded in the scandal, which has killed four babies and sickened about 54,000, the Associated Press reported.

It's believed dairy suppliers in China added melamine to watered-down milk to make it appear rich in protein. The chemical can cause kidney stones and potentially fatal kidney failure.

In related news, Singapore officials said traces of melamine were found in more Chinese-made products -- blueberry and chocolate flavored Cadbury Choclairs and Panda Dairy-brand Whole Milk Powder, the AP reported.

In Canada, consumers and businesses have been warned not to eat, distribute or sell Sherwood brand Pirate's Gold milk chocolate coins imported from China because the candy tested positive for melamine.

The candy is sold in 840-gram containers containing 240 pieces per container that bear the designation UPC 0 36077 11240 7 and the lot code 1928S1, the Canadian Press reported. The candy is sold across Canada by Costco. It may also have been sold in bulk packages or as individual pieces at various dollar and bulk stores across the country.


Smoking Increases Women's Colorectal Cancer Risk

Compared to men, women require less tobacco exposure to have a significantly higher risk of colorectal cancer, say U.S. researchers who analyzed data on 2,707 patients who had colonoscopies between 1999 and 2006, United Press International reported.

The patients were divided into three groups: Heavy smoking exposure, low exposure and no exposure. Those in the heavy exposure group were further divided into two groups -- those who smoked 30 pack years or less and those who smoked more than 30 pack years. Pack years are determined by multiplying the packs of cigarettes smoked per day by the number of years smoked.

Women who smoked less than 30 pack years were almost twice as likely to develop significant colorectal neoplasia (abnormal proliferation of cells) than women who weren't exposed to cigarette smoke, said Dr. Joseph C. Anderson of the University of Connecticut in Farmington and Dr. Zvi A. Alpern of Stony Brook University in New York, UPI reported.

The researchers also found that smoking may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer precursor lesions, particularly in people with a strong family history of the disease.

The study was presented at the annual American College of Gastroenterology scientific meeting in Orlando, Fla.

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