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Health Highlights: July 29, 2008

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

Don't Eat Lobster Tomalley: FDA

Consumers shouldn't eat the soft, green substance (tomalley) found in the body cavity of lobsters because it may be contaminated with toxins that can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said. The white meat found elsewhere in lobsters is safe.

The FDA's warning follows similar advisories from public health officials in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Canada after a red tide (algae bloom) contaminated fishing grounds , the Associated Press reported.

Paralytic shellfish poisoning symptoms -- which usually appear within two hours of exposure -- include tingling and numbness of the mouth, face or neck; muscle weakness; headache and nausea, the AP reported.

People who have such symptoms should see a doctor, the FDA said. In rare cases, consuming a large amount of toxin can cause respiratory failure and death.


Ritalin May Help Prevent Falls in Elderly

Ritalin may help prevent falls in elderly people, according to an Israeli study of 26 seniors who live independently.

Some of the participants received Ritalin (methylphenidate) -- often prescribed to treat hyperactive children -- while others received a placebo before they were instructed to stand from a sitting position, walk 10 feet, walk back, and sit down, Agence France- Presse reported.

Those who took the drug "performed the test quicker and had less variability in their 'stride time,' a common sign of instability," wrote the researchers at the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University. The study appears in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

While the idea of using a pill to reduce fall risk among the elderly is an "intriguing concept," not enough research has been done to recommend the use of Ritalin on a wide-scale basis, AFP quoted study author Jeffrey Hausdorff as saying.


Food Makers Spent $1.6 Billion Targeting Children

The 44 largest food and beverage companies in the United States spent about $1.6 billion in 2006 marketing their products to children and adolescents, says a Federal Trade Commission report to be released Tuesday.

About $492 million was spent on soda marketing, (primarily targeted at adolescents), about $237 million was spent on cereal marketing (primarily aimed at children under age 12), and restaurants spent close to $294 million on marketing that targeted children and adolescents about evenly, the Associated Press reported.

To prepare its study, the FTC used confidential financial data the companies were forced to hand over. The findings show that a large amount of money is being used to persuade children to eat foods that are often unhealthy, said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who pushed for the study.

"This study confirms what I have been saying for years. Industry needs to step up to the plate and use their innovation and creativity to market healthy foods to our kids," Harkin was quoted by the AP as saying. "That $1.6 billion could be used to attract our kids to healthy snacks, tasty cereals, fruits and vegetables."


Veterans' Hot Line Prevented 1,221 Suicides in One Year

A suicide hot line launched a year ago has received calls from more than 22,000 veterans of the Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam wars and has prevented 1,221 suicides, according to U.S. government figures being released Monday.

The hot line -- created jointly by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration -- gets up to 250 calls a day, the Associated Press reported.

In addition to calls from veterans, the hot line has received tens of thousands of calls since last July from people concerned about veterans' well-being.

About one in five U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which puts them at increased risk for suicide, according to a recent RAND Corp. study, the AP reported.


Children With Gene Variant Have Difficulty Sensing They're Full

Children with an obesity-associated gene have a more difficult time than other children sensing that they're full and tend to overeat, says a U.K. study that included more than 3,000 children, ages 8-11.

The researchers found that those with a certain variant of the FTO gene were less likely to have their appetite "switched off" when they should have been full after a meal, BBC News reported.

The gene variant's effect on appetite was the same regardless of a child's age, sex, socioeconomic status and body mass index, said the study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Previous research found that adults with two copies of the high-risk FTO variant were an average of three kilograms (6 lb. 10 oz.) heavier, and adults with one copy of the gene variant were an average of 1.5 kg. heavier, than adults without the variant, BBC News reported.


Green Potatoes May Contain Harmful Toxin

Green-tinged potatoes may contain toxic glycoalkaloids that can cause serious illness in high concentrations, Indian researchers warn in a paper published online in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.

Cutting away the green parts of a potato can reduce the risk.

The researchers said glycoalkaloids are produced naturally by potatoes as protection against pests and disease, United Press International reported.

Levels of the toxin can be controlled by adopting certain pre- and post-harvest measures, such as keeping potatoes well covered with soil during growth, allowing them to mature before harvesting, avoiding harvest at very high temperatures, and minimizing exposure to light.

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Posted: July 2008