Health Highlights: Oct. 30, 2008

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

High-Fat Diet May Increase Alzheimer's Risk

A high-fat diet may increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease, suggests a Canadian study with mice genetically engineered to produce two proteins --tau and amyloid beta -- found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

The University of Laval team fed a diet rich in animal fat and poor in omega-3 to one group of mice, and a diet that contained seven times less fat to a control group of mice. The mice on the high-fat diet (in which fat accounted for 60 percent of consumed calories) had 8.7 times more amyloid beta and 1.5 times more tau than the control mice, United Press International reported.

Mice on the high-fat diet also had lower levels of drebin protein in their brains, another characteristic of Alzheimer's disease.

"Metabolic changes induced by such a diet could affect the inflammatory response in the brain," said study co-author Carl Julien, UPI reported.

The study was published online in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

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FDA Didn't Properly Assess BPA Health Risks: Experts

U.S. Food and Drug Administration didn't properly assess the potential health risks posed by the chemical bisphenol A, says a report released Wednesday by a panel of independent toxicology experts. BPA is used in a number of products, including baby bottles and food-storage containers.

In August, the FDA said BPA was safe at current exposure levels, a statement that prompted criticism from lawmakers and consumer groups.

The experts said FDA staff failed to provide "reasonable and appropriate scientific support" for the conclusion that BPA didn't pose a threat, even though some studies have linked the chemical to diabetes and developmental changes in children, Bloomberg news reported.

The FDA staffers considered but rejected "a number of potentially relevant studies" and the safety data they relied upon was "inadequate," wrote the experts serving on a subcommittee of the FDA's Science Board.

The report will be discussed at a public meeting Oct. 31. An FDA statement released Tuesday said additional study of BPA "would be valuable," Bloomberg reported.

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Cold Germs Found on Many Household Surfaces

Doorknobs, TV remotes, refrigerator handles and other commonly touched household surfaces are hotbeds of cold germs, which can survive on those surfaces for two days or longer, says a University of Virginia study.

The study included adults with cold symptoms who were asked to name 10 places in their homes they had touched in the preceding 18 hours. The researchers then went to the participants' homes to hunt for cold germs, the Associated Press reported.

"We found that commonly touched areas ... were positive (for cold germs) about 40 percent of the time," said ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. Birgit Winther. Cold germs were found on six of 10 doorknobs, eight of 14 refrigerator handles, three of 13 light switches, six of 10 TV remote controls, eight of 10 bathroom faucets, four of seven phones, three of four dishwasher handles, and three of three salt and pepper shakers.

The study was presented Tuesday at a national conference on infectious diseases in Washington, D.C., the AP reported.

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Doctors Show Bias Against Black Patients: Study

Many doctors unconsciously prefer white patients to black patients, suggests a University of Washington study released Tuesday. However, black doctors showed no preference for either race.

The researchers examined results from 2,500 anonymous people who identified themselves as doctors and took a test designed to measure unconscious bias. The findings revealed doctors were similar to other test takers, of whom more than 70 percent showed an unconscious preference for whites over blacks. This bias was stronger among male doctors than female doctors, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported.

The study results don't imply prejudice, said Janice Sabin, an assistant professor in medical education and training.

"It's important to not leave the impression that this necessarily affects behavior, because we really don't know," she told the Post- Intelligencer.

Posted: October 2008


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