Health Highlights: Oct. 7, 2004

Antioxidants Don't Protect Against Digestive Cancers Chronic Kidney Failure Surges in United States Scientists Recreate 1918 Killer Flu Virus Insight on Protein-Killing Cells Wins Nobel Chemistry Prize Smoking Among Pregnant Women Plummets Research Fingers Environment in More Breast Cancer Cases

By HealthDay News HealthDay Reporter

Updated on June 14, 2022

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

Antioxidants Don't Protect Against Digestive Cancers

There's no evidence that antioxidant vitamin supplements help protect against common digestive cancers, says a study in this week's issue of the The Lancet medical journal.

Researchers in Denmark reviewed the results of 14 trials involving more than 170,000 people at high risk of developing digestive cancers. Vitamins A, C and E and selenium were among the antioxidant supplements investigated in these trials, the Associated Press reported.

The study authors concluded that there's no point in doing any more research into the cancer-fighting properties of vitamins A, C and E. They did say that selenium's potential ability to fight liver cancer is worthy of further investigation.

"The conclusions are consistent with other reviews... In general, there's not convincing evidence that the use of antioxidant supplements, at least for short periods of time, provides any health benefit with respect to cancer," Eric Jacobs, senior epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, told the AP.

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Chronic Kidney Failure Surges in United States

The rate of chronic kidney failure in the United States more than doubled between 1990 and 2001, surging from 697 to 1,424 cases per one million people, says a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Thursday.

That 104 percent increase was much larger than researchers expected, Dr. Wayne Giles, a CDC associate director, told the Associated Press.

The report said diabetes-related chronic kidney failure increased 194 percent and hypertension-related cases doubled over that period.

Obesity, an aging population, and advances in medical care that keep more people with the condition alive longer are possible reasons for the dramatic increase in the cases of chronic kidney failure, the report said.

Tackling the obesity epidemic -- by getting more Americans to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly -- can help reduce the cases of chronic kidney failure, the CDC said. Better control of hypertension and diabetes would also help.

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Scientists Recreate 1918 Killer Flu Virus

By making tiny changes to a modern flu virus, U.S. scientists were able to recreate the flu virus that caused the 1918 influenza epidemic that killed millions of people around the world.

The scientists added two genes from a sample of the 1918 virus to a modern flu strain than normally has no effect on mice. But mice exposed to the altered version died within days, after displaying symptoms similar to those seen in human victims of the 1918 pandemic, BBC News Online reported.

Post-mortems on the mice showed that the altered flu virus had caused inflammation and hemorrhaging in their lungs. The study appears in the journal Nature.

The scientists said their research, which was carried out under strict security, may help develop better methods of assessing the potential danger of new flu viruses.

The report comes as the United States braces for an estimated 50 percent reduction in vaccines available for this flu season.

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Insight on Protein-Killing Cells Wins Nobel Chemistry Prize

Groundbreaking research into how body cells target certain proteins for death has earned the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for an American scientist and two Israeli researchers.

The research by American Irwin Rose and the Israeli scientists, Aaron Ciechanover and Avram Hershko, has major implications for the treatment of cancer and other serious illnesses, reports the Agence France-Presse news service.

Proteins are the building blocks of all living things. The researchers termed those marked for elimination as "ubiquitin." If the process to mark and eliminate them goes smoothly, we remain healthy. But illnesses like cancer or cystic fibrosis are the result of this process gone awry, the AFP report said.

"Thanks to the work of the three laureates, it is now possible to understand at the molecular level how the cells control a number of central processes by breaking down certain proteins and not others," the Nobel jury said in announcing the award.

Rose, 78, of the University of California at Irvine, is the 55th American to win the Nobel chemistry medal, the wire service reported. Hershko, 67, and Ciechanover, 57, of the Technion Institute in Haifa, are the first Israelis ever to win a Nobel in a science discipline, AFP added.

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Smoking Among Pregnant Women Plummets

Rates of smoking during pregnancy have fallen consistently over the past 12 years, in some states by more than 50 percent, according a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2002, 11.4 percent of all women giving birth in the United States reported that they smoked, a decrease of 38 percent from 1990, when 18.4 percent were self-described smokers, according to the report in the Oct. 8 issue of the CDC publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The decline was smallest in West Virginia, which reported a 5.8 percent drop between 1990 and 2002, while the largest -- 68 percent -- was in Massachusetts.

Despite the across-the-board declines, the cost of maternal smoking remains steep, according to a second report. The CDC said health-care expenditures tied to smoking during pregnancy were $366 million in 1996, the most recent year for which figures are available. That amounted to $704 per smoker.

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Research Fingers Environment in More Breast Cancer Cases

Exposure to environmental toxins may play more of a role than previously suspected in causing breast cancer, recent research indicates.

Fewer than one in 10 cases of breast cancer occurs in women born with a genetic predisposition to the disease, and as many as 50 percent remain unexplained by traditionally accepted risk factors, according to the report released jointly by the nonprofit groups the Breast Cancer Fund and Breast Cancer Action. Many scientists increasingly believe that these cases are linked to environmental factors, the groups said in a statement.

Their report analyzes new evidence from 21 research studies published since February 2003. Among its findings:

  • Chlorinated chemicals found in drinking water and involved in many manufacturing processes were associated with an increased risk of breast cancer in three new studies.
  • The solvent ethylene glycol methyl ether, used in many varnishes, paints, dyes, and fuel additives, was found to increase a woman's risk by sensitizing breast tissue to the effects of the female hormones estrogen and progestin.
  • The use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in women previously diagnosed with breast cancer tripled their risk of relapse.
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