Health Highlights: Oct. 26, 2004

Gene May Account for 20% of Type 2 Diabetes Cases Happy Marriage Balances Work Stress Crippling Shyness Often Starts at Young Age Illinois Governor Says He's Found 200,000 More Flu Shots Rehnquist's Cancer Isn't Always Mild Tea May Help Boost Memory

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

Gene May Account for 20% of Type 2 Diabetes Cases

Wake Forest University scientists have identified a gene that may be responsible for up to 20 percent of type 2 diabetes cases.

Pinpointing the PTPN1 gene could help researchers develop new therapies and provide earlier treatment of people at risk for diabetes.

"If we could identify those who are at highest risk, then medical care and preventive care could be focused on those people, and we could either delay or prevent onset," study co-author Donald W. Bowden, professor of biochemistry and internal medicine at Wake Forest, told the Associated Press.

The PTPN1 gene plays a role in the body's regulation of sensitivity to insulin. The gene produces a protein that blocks insulin absorption. In some people with type 2 diabetes, the PTPN1 gene makes too much of the protein.

The study appears in the November issue of the journal Diabetes.

About 8.2 million Americans have type 2 diabetes.

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Happy Marriage Balances Work Stress

A happy marriage can help men and women cope with workplace stress and control their blood pressure, says a Canadian study.

"People who have stress and strain at work are at higher risk of high blood pressure, and if they have supportive relationships at home, that modifies the effect," Dr. Sheldon Tobe of Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Center told the Canadian Press.

"But if they have a stressful relationship at home, it will actually make their blood pressure worse," Tobe said.

The study included 248 full-time Toronto hospital workers who were married or had partners. Men and women who were part of couples who were most supportive and enjoyed each other's company had the lowest blood pressure.

"Our research is telling us that people who have high job stress should seek more support at home to balance out their life. And perhaps people who have stressful relationships at home should seek a work life that is more supportive and less stressful to balance their life as well," Tobe told the CP.

The study was presented Tuesday at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress.

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Crippling Shyness Often Starts at Young Age

Crippling shyness -- also referred to as social anxiety disorder -- often begins in childhood or early adolescence and can plague a person for decades, according to a new Statistics Canada study.

Symptoms of the disorder include feelings of extreme discomfort in social or work situations due to a fear of being embarrassed or scrutinized, the Globe and Mail of Toronto reported.

The study found that people aged 15-24 were most likely to experience social anxiety disorder, followed by middle-aged and older people. Women were more likely than men to have the disorder. In many people, crippling shyness lasted for 20 years.

Social anxiety disorder is associated with lower education, lower income or dependence on social assistance, social isolation, general dissatisfaction with life and health, and a lower likelihood of marriage.

People who never married or who are divorced were more likely to experience crippling shyness than married people, the Globe and Mail reported.

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Illinois Governor Says He's Found 200,000 More Flu Shots

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced Tuesday that he's located 200,000 more flu vaccinations from European suppliers, bringing his claimed total to at least 262,000, the Associated Press reported.

The governor has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval to begin dispensing the shots, and the FDA has said that it will "expeditiously" consider the proposal.

The federal government has been shopping for additional flu vaccine on its own, and the Chicago Sun-Times reported that it's unclear if the FDA would seek to take control of the Illinois supply if it were acquired. The state said it plans to distribute the doses to nursing home residents and hospitalized children.

The state has no intention of giving up control of its newfound supply to the federal government, a Blagojevich spokeswoman said.

The supply located by Illinois is largely produced at Aventis Pasteur's Lyon, France, plant, while the only U.S.-approved supply produced by Aventis is made at a Pennsylvania facility, the Sun-Times reported.

Blagojevich's office said if Illinois secured more flu vaccine than it needed, it would share it with other states, beginning with neighboring Wisconsin, the newspaper said.

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Rehnquist's Cancer Isn't Always Mild

Thyroid cancer -- depending on its type -- can be mild or quite aggressive, the Associated Press reports of the disease that U.S. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist had surgery for on Saturday.

The type affecting the 80-year-old head of the U.S. Supreme Court was not immediately announced. Thyroid cancer of all types is diagnosed in some 23,600 Americans annually, the AP said, citing the American Cancer Society.

Mild forms of the disease can be easily treated with iodine, thyroid suppressant medications, and sometimes surgery, experts told the wire service. These patients tend to live long, healthy lives, while people with the more aggressive forms don't do as well.

One aggressive type, called anaplastic cancer, tends to grow into the trachea and obstruct breathing. Rehnquist underwent a tracheotomy, in which surgeons cut into his neck to gain access to his air tube.

In addition to the tumor's aggressiveness, other factors that can determine a patient's outcome include the type of surgery performed, the patient's age, and ability to tolerate surgery, the AP reported.

One expert noted that Rehnquist's having to wear a tie each workday may have helped alert doctors that there was a problem. The thyroid, located just below the Adam's apple, is covered by a dress shirt's top button and may become uncomfortable when the button is fastened. The neck gland produces hormones that help regulate the body's use of energy.

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Tea May Help Boost Memory

Green and black teas appear to inhibit brain enzymes that impair memory, British researchers say.

The scientists at Newcastle University, writing in the journal Phytotherapy Research, said that tea's effects appear to mimic those of medications designed to help people with Alzheimer's disease, who typically have reduced levels of a key brain chemical called acetylcholine.

The researchers found that tea appeared to inhibit the activity of an enzyme abbreviated as AChE, which breaks down acetylcholine, according to a report from BBC News Online.

Both forms of tea also appeared to inhibit a second enzyme, abbreviated BuChE, that's been identified in protein deposits found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients, the BBC account said.

Many of the medications developed to inhibit these enzymes have unpleasant side effects, the network's report added.

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