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Today's Health Highlights: Jan. 9, 2002

More Americans Treated for Depression Low-Calcium Diet Doesn't Prevent Kidney Stones FDA Issues Guidelines to Protect Food Supply from Terrorists Progestin in Birth Control Pills Seems to Thwart Ovarian Cancer: Report Tampa Death Pilot had Prescription for Acne Drug Linked to Suicide

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

Number of Americans Treated for Depression Up Sharply

The number of Americans treated for depression more than tripled from 1987-1997, new research says, and increasing numbers of those patients were prescribed antidepressants.

The number of people treated for the disease jumped from 1.7 million to 6.3 million during the 10-year period, and the proportion of those receiving antidepressants doubled, according to wire service reports.

Much of the increase in antidepressant use was due to the aggressive marketing of then-new drugs such as Prozac. Also cited was the rise of managed care, which prefers medications to the more time-consuming and costly talk therapy, according to the Associated Press.

Further fueling the increase in treatment was an easing of the stigma surrounding depression.

The study found that the number of people treated with antidepressants rose from 37 percent to nearly 75 percent. And the share of people receiving psychotherapy declined from 71 percent to 60 percent, the AP said.

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Low-Calcium Diet Doesn't Prevent Kidney Stones

The longstanding advice to cut calcium from your diet to prevent kidney stones from recurring is based on rocky scientific evidence, a new study says, according to HealthDay.

A meal plan with normal amounts of the mineral, but that's modest in meat and salt, is roughly twice as effective as a low-calcium diet at preventing kidney stones from recurring in men with a history of the painful accretions, Italian researchers say.

In an about-face from earlier thinking, experts say the findings should assign the low-calcium prescription to the scientific outhouse. Although kidney stones are largely composed of calcium, denying the body the mineral appears in fact to promote stones and deprives the skeleton of a critical building block.

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FDA Issues Food-Tampering Safety Guidelines

With the threat of more terrorist attacks looming, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning that the nation's farms, restaurants and supermarkets consider criminal background checks on employees, closely monitor salad bars and make sure that water supplies are safeguarded.

The new guidelines, reported by the Associated Press, are in response to advice from the food industry in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent threats to the nation's safety.

The FDA also suggests that food industry officials keep a watchful eye on employees who stay at work after their shifts have ended, and restrict access to computer control systems, laboratories and sensitive areas of processing plants.

The guidelines are meant as official suggestions for employers to follow, but they are not mandatory.

"These are essentially best practices that everybody can look at and say, 'Am I doing as much as I can be doing?' '' said Joseph Levitt, the FDA's food safety chief.

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Study: Progestin in Birth Control Pills Appears to Thwart Ovarian Cancer

Doctors have long known that oral contraceptives can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, but no one has fully understood why. Now, a new study says the protection could be linked to "the pill's" level of progestin, a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone, HealthDay reported today.

According to the study's authors, birth control pills have been believed to prevent ovarian cancer by limiting ovulation, which, in turn, reduced potential DNA damage to ovaries.

But the Duke University study theorizes that the level of progestin affects the death of cells, which then reduces the risk of cancer. The higher the level of progestin, the study authors suggest, the greater the protection.

Other experts caution that the findings are inconclusive and advise against women selecting birth control pill formulation based on progestin content.

The study appears in the January issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

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Tampa Death Pilot had Prescription for Acne Drug Linked to Suicide

Could a prescription acne drug provide clues as to why a 15-year-old student pilot flew a single engine plane into a Tampa, Fla., office building last weekend, killing himself?

Wire services report that Charles Bishop had a prescription for Accutane, a powerful "court-of-last-resort" acne medication, but law enforcement officials aren't necessarily offering a cause-and-effect relationship.

"We are aware that he had a prescription,'' Tampa police spokeswoman Katie Hughes told the Associated Press. "We don't know if he was taking it, how long... we don't know those details.''

The wire service quotes the FDA as saying that 147 people who had taken Accutane between 1982 and 2000 either committed suicide or were hospitalized for suicide attempts. The drug affects the central nervous system and already has strict regulations for its use by pregnant women.

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