Today's Health Highlights

The Heartbeat of America Religion Can be Good Medicine, Survey Says Is Teaching a Risky Business?

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

U.S. Reaps Rewards for Reducing Heart Risk

Americans have curtailed smoking, reduced cholesterol levels and controlled blood pressure, and the effects were well worth the efforts -- the rate of death from heart disease has gone down, a new study says.

In the 1980s, deaths from heart disease were reduced by 430,000. And the really good news is yet to come, says Dr. Lee Goldman, chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, and author of the study that appears in the October issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

"In some instances, the positive results are not seen right away. It can take time; so as time goes on, these numbers are likely to get even better," says Goldman, in a HealthDay story.


Religion Can be Good Medicine, Survey Says

Adding still another voice to the ongoing debate about the link between health and spirituality, an examination of two decades of research concludes that religion can make you healthier and doctors should add it to their treatment process, HealthDay reports.

Dr. Mark Su, a second-year resident in the Tufts University Family Practice Residency program who describes himself as a nondenominational Christian, has amassed a wealth of research pointing to a link between good health and religious commitment. He is presenting his survey findings Wednesday, Oct. 3, at the annual scientific assembly of the American Academy of Family Physicians in Atlanta.


Is Teaching a Risky Business?

Kids are germ factories. Just ask any parent. But do teachers pay a very high price for their long-term exposure to children and their germs -- maybe an increased risk of serious immune system diseases like multiple sclerosis and lupus?

A new study suggests they might, lending weight to the theory that if someone is genetically susceptible to a certain disease, environment could trigger its onset, the Associated Press reports.

Researchers at the University of Connecticut reviewed 11 years of death certificates. Their findings: Deaths from some autoimmune diseases among kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers were more than twice as high than those for people in other professions.


No Mercury Risk Found in Childhood Vaccines

A mercury preservative that until recently was commonly added to vaccines in the United States does not appear to pose a risk of autism, hyperactivity and other neurological problems in children, according to a new report that looked at the possible risk.

The report, from the Institute of Medicine, an advisory panel to the government, failed to find a link between the additive thimerosal, found in vaccines and other drug products, and brain damage, HealthDay reports.

But the panel also concluded that it was "biologically plausible" that cumulative exposure to thimerosal might make children vulnerable to mercury-related disorders. So the report recommends that vaccine makers take steps to eliminate thimerosal from their products whenever possible.


Designer Molecule Cuts Off Cancer's Blood Supply

Human trials of a genetically engineered molecule designed to kill cancers by destroying their blood supply could begin early next year, researchers say.

The molecule, developed by a team led by Alan Garen, professor of microbiology and biochemistry at Yale University, will be mass produced at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City for a trial against melanoma, a deadly skin cancer, at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center in San Diego, according to HealthDay.

The treatment has been effective in mice with prostate cancer and melanoma, Garen's team reports in the Oct. 2 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. If further trials are successful, it could be used against a number of cancers, Garen says.


Alzheimer's and Parkinson's May Feed Off Each Other

Alzheimer's disease destroys memory and Parkinson's disease attacks the body's ability to move. But new research suggests these brain diseases are far from strangers to each other: A renegade protein in Alzheimer's patients may inspire another protein to cause Parkinson's, according to HealthDay.

Scientists in California don't know if the reverse -- Parkinson's contributing to Alzheimer's -- happens also. But they hope their research may mean that defusing one of these proteins, or both, may have a wider effect than narrowly targeting one disease. Up to one-third of Alzheimer's patients also get Parkinson's; some Parkinson's patients also have signs of Alzheimer's.

"There is some sort of relationship between these two diseases beyond just coincidence," says study co-author Dr. Eliezer Masliah, a professor of neurosciences and pathology at the University of California at San Diego. "There might be similar mechanisms triggering these diseases. It might be possible that understanding one disease will help us understand the other."

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