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Health Highlights: June 4, 2005

Laugh Your Way to Weight Loss: Study Children's Tylenol Recalled Over Labeling FDA Investigates Food-borne Illness in Florida Childhood Weight May Signal Adult Obesity Obesity Drug Trial Shows Promising Results Scientists Uncover Important Clue About Mad Cow Disease

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

Laugh Your Way to Weight Loss: Study

When all is said and done, maybe weight loss is a laughing matter.

U.S. researchers are reporting that 10 to 15 minutes of hearty chuckling can burn off the same number of calories contained in a medium square of chocolate, according to the Associated Press.

Scientists from Vanderbilt University recruited 45 pairs of friends, ushered them into a room and then played them comedy clips on a TV screen. The room was designed so the researchers could measure the amount of oxygen the volunteers inhaled and how much carbon dioxide they exhaled -- a proven method of gauging energy consumption. The volunteers wore heart monitors as well, the AP said.

"They burned 20 percent more calories when laughing, compared to not laughing," said lead researcher Maciej Buchowski, director of bionutrition at Vanderbilt. "Then we calculated what would happen if somebody laughed for 10 or 15 minutes a day and we found that it was up to 50 calories, depending on your body size and the intensity of the laughter."

That means that if you laugh for up to 15 minutes a day, you'll burn enough calories to lose 4.4 pounds in a year, Buchowski said.

The findings were presented Saturday in Athens, Greece, at the annual European Congress on Obesity.

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Children's Tylenol Recalled Over Labeling

The maker of Children's Tylenol said Friday that it was recalling certain lots of 80 mg. Meltaways, 80 mg. Softchews, and 160 mg. Jr. Tylenol Meltaways because confusing packaging could lead to overdosing.

McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals said among certain 80 mg. blister packs, it's concerned that some parents might conclude that a single blister cavity that contains two tablets for a total of 160 mg. might be confused in thinking that the combined total for both tablets was only 80 mg.

Each 80 mg. tablet is imprinted with an "80" to remind parents of the tablet's strength, the company said in a statement.

Also, some instructions on Children's Tylenol bottles and the Jr. Tylenol product could confuse parents on proper dosages, the company added. Though it hasn't received any reports of adverse effects, McNeil said it was recalling the products to clarify the dosing instructions.

Studies have shown that over time, taking more than the recommended dose of Tylenol's main ingredient, acetaminophen, could cause liver damage. For more information about this recall, contact the company at 877-895-3665 (English) or 888-466-8746 (Spanish).

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FDA Investigates Food-borne Illness in Florida

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is trying to determine the source of several clusters of a gastrointestinal illness known as cyclosporiasis that have been linked with fresh basil served in Florida from mid-March through mid-April.

The Florida Department of Health has 293 confirmed cases in 32 Florida counties. The outbreak includes several clusters and a large number of sporadic cases.

Cyclosporiasis is caused by consuming the Cyclospora parasite and results in infection of the small intestine. It causes watery diarrhea with frequent, sometimes explosive, bowel movements. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, substantial weight loss, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, low-grade fever and fatigue, the FDA said.

Symptoms typically develop about a week after eating the contaminated food. Cyclospora infection can be treated with antibiotics. People experiencing these symptoms are advised to consult their physicians and notify their local health departments, the FDA said.

To help reduce the chances of infection from consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, consumers should wash all produce -- including fresh herbs -- under running tap water before eating them, the agency said.

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Childhood Weight May Signal Adult Obesity

A child's weight at three distinct periods in childhood could signal a tendency to become overweight as an adult, experts speaking at a European obesity conference in Athens, Greece, said.

The three periods are birth, preschool and the teenage years, according to an Associated Press account. Puppy fat or tubbiness at these stages appears to influence how much of a struggle with weight a person will have in adulthood, the wire service reported.

Babies born large are more likely to stay that way as adults. Ironically, being born very small may also increase the risk of adult obesity, since these infants are often fed intensively so that they can catch up with their peers, experts told the AP.

Prominent studies over the past few years indicate that 1 in 3 children who are fat in early childhood end up as fat adults, the wire service said. And children who become fat before age 8 are more likely to become obese adults than those kids who gain their weight later, the AP added.

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Obesity Drug Trial Shows Promising Results

Mid-stage clinical trials of the anti-obesity drug Pramlintide show it helped obese patients progressively lose weight, maker Amylin Pharmaceuticals said Friday.

In a study of 204 obese people, those taking Pramlintide before meals for 16 weeks lost an average of 3.6 percent of their body weight, the Associated Press reported.

Pramlintide is a synthetic version of the hormone amylin, which helps regulate appetite.

The company is enrolling 400 people in a new round of trials, which should provide initial results in the first half of 2006, the AP reported.

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Scientists Uncover Important Clue About Mad Cow Disease

U.S. scientists have gained an important insight into how the rogue proteins called prions that cause mad cow disease and related illnesses destroy the brain.

In research with mice, they concluded that in order for these prions to be toxic, they have to latch on to the outside of cell membranes, the Associated Press reported.

If scientists can find a way to prevent this attachment, they may be able to develop a treatment for mad cow and other fatal animal and human brain diseases such as scrapie in sheep and Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, the human version of mad cow disease.

"We need to focus on that as a target for drug therapy," Dr. Bruce Cheseboro, a virologist at the National Institutes of Health's Rocky Mountain Laboratories, told the AP.

The study was published Friday in the journal Science.

An accompanying editorial noted that if abnormal prions can't latch on to cells' surfaces, the prions may not be able to disrupt signaling between cells. This interference with cell signaling is a leading theory behind prion toxicity, wrote neuropathologist Adriano Aguzzi, of the University Hospital of Zurich, Switzerland.

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