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Health Highlights: Aug. 17, 2008

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

High Incidence of Suicidal Thinking Among College Students: Survey

More than half of 26,000 college students who completed a Web survey said they had thought about committing suicide at least once in their lives, University of Texas at Austin researchers say.

Fifteen percent of respondents said they had seriously considered suicide, and more than 5 percent said they had actually attempted to kill themselves at least once, psychologist David J. Drum and co-authors reported Sunday in a news release to coincide with their planned presentation at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in Boston.

The survey of students at 70 colleges and universities was administered in the spring of 2006. It also found:

  • Six percent of undergraduates and 4 percent of graduate students said they had seriously considered suicide at least once in the prior year.
  • The most common reasons for suicidal thinking were: wanting relief from emotional or physical pain, problems with romantic relationships, and problems with school or academics.
  • Fourteen percent of undergraduates and 8 percent of graduate students who seriously contemplated suicide in the prior year actually made a suicide attempt.
  • Nineteen percent of undergraduate attempters and 28 percent of graduate attempters needed medical attention.
  • Half of those who attempted suicide tried overdosing on drugs.


Food Container Chemical Not Harmful, U.S. Government Scientists Find

A chemical used in the making of baby bottles and other food containers is not dangerous, U.S. Food and Drug Administration researchers have decided.

The Associated Press reports that FDA scientists have confirmed the agency's original decision that the chemical bisphenol A, which hardens plastic, is not a threat to either infants or adults. The European Food Safety Authority made a similar finding in late July.

Trace amounts of bisphenol A have been found to leach into food containers, the FDA acknowledged, but the agency's scientists said they found no evidence that such small amounts were harmful, the AP reported.

Canada has already announced it would ban using the chemical in the manufacture of baby bottles, and 10 states in the U.S. are considering similar legislation, the wire service said.

The FDA findings are not the final word, according to the AP. A September meeting is scheduled, in which experts outside the FDA will debate bisphenol A's safety. The FDA itself has kept the issue open.

More research is needed because "there are always uncertainties associated with safety decisions," the AP quotes the FDA as saying.


Toxins Found in Frozen Shellfish Imported from Ireland

Frozen mussels imported to the United States from Ireland may contain a toxin that can cause stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Two cases of azaspiracid toxin poisoning occurred in July in the state of Washington, according to an FDA news release, and further examination of other containers of "Mussels in a Garlic Butter Sauce" from the same production lot imported by Bantry Bay Seafoods also contained the azaspiracid toxins.

The FDA recommends that consumers discard Bantry Bay Seafood frozen cooked products with "best before end" dates on the side of the box ranging from January 23, 2009, to November 15, 2009: Mussels in a Garlic Butter Sauce; Mussels in White Wine Sauce; and Mussels in Tomato and Garlic Sauce.

The Bantry Bay Seafood products are sold frozen in 1-pound cardboard packages in stores throughout the United States, the FDA says, and store operators have been asked to remove them.

Azaspiracid toxins have never been found in U.S. shellfish beds, the FDA says. They are odorless, tasteless, and can't be destroyed by freezing, cooking, or boiling. Symptoms occur within two hours after the seafood has been eaten and can last up to three days.


Drinking Red Bull May Cause Heart Damage: Study

Drinking too much of the popular Red Bull energy drink may lead to heart damage, says an Australian study that included 30 university students, ages 20 to 24.

The researchers found that drinking just one 250 ml sugar-free can of the caffeinated drink boosted the "stickiness" of the blood and increased the risk of blood clots. After drinking Red Bull, the students had a cardiovascular profile similar to that of someone with heart disease, the Times (U.K.) reported.

The results were alarming and suggest that older adults with symptoms of heart disease shouldn't drink too much Red Bull, said study author Scott Willoughby, of the Cardiovascular Research Center at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and Adelaide University.

In a statement, Red Bull officials said the drink had been proved safe by numerous scientific studies, and that it had never been banned from anywhere it had been introduced, the Times reported.

Red Bull is sold in 143 countries but is banned in Norway, Denmark and some other countries due to health concerns.


Teens Having Easier Time Getting Prescription Drugs

It's easier to illegally obtain prescription drugs such as OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin or Ritalin than it is to get beer, say a growing number of American teens.

Researchers at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University surveyed 1,002 12- to-17-year-olds and found that 19 percent said it was easier for them to obtain prescription drugs than to get their hands on beer, cigarettes or marijuana, compared with 13 percent a year ago, the Washington Post reported.

The study also found that 34 percent of teens who abuse prescription drugs get them at home or from their parents.

About 25 percent of the teen respondents said marijuana is the easiest substance to buy, and 43 percent of 17-year-olds said they could purchase marijuana in less than an hour, The Post reported.


Gene Mutation Linked to Colorectal Cancer

A gene mutation strongly linked to colorectal cancer has been identified by Northwestern University researchers. People with the TGFBR1 ASE gene mutation have a 50 percent higher risk of colorectal cancer than the general population.

"This probably accounts for more colorectal cancers than all other gene mutations discovered thus far," said study lead author Boris Pasche, Agence France-Presse reported.

The TGFBR1 ASE mutation results in decreased production of an important receptor for TGF-beta, the most potent inhibitor of cell growth. A reduced ability to inhibit cell growth means it's easier for colon cancer to develop. The study was published in the journal Science.

"The reasonable expectation is this finding will save some lives," said Pasche, AFP reported. "We will be able to identify a larger number of individuals that are at risk of colorectal cancer and, in the long term, maybe decrease the cases of colorectal cancer and of people dying from it by being able to screen them more frequently."

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Posted: August 2008