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Health Highlights: March 14, 2008

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

Unique Risk Factors May Help Spread Heart Disease in Developing Nations

Certain health issues may be helping the rapid spread of heart disease in developing nations, suggests a study that looked at 1,593 black and white cardiovascular disease patients in South Africa.

Many of the patients were obese, a recognized risk factor for heart disease. But the researchers noted other factors in these patients, including HIV infection and tuberculosis, late diagnosis, and a tendency to seek medical care only after consultation with a traditional healer failed to help, Agence France-Presse reported.

The study appears in The Lancet medical journal. An accompanying commentary noted that the study's findings are "relevant to many areas of the world that face similar threats and the emergence of epidemics of heart disease."

The commentary said that in "some developing countries, such as India, the epidemiological transition has been more rapid and the speed of transition will vary from country to country depending on the exposure time and competing causes."


Lubbock Has Worst Teeth in U.S.: Study

The best teeth in the United States are found in Madison, Wis., Nashville, Tenn., and Raleigh, N.C., while the worst are in Lubbock, Texas. Three other cities in the Lone Star state -- El Paso, San Antonio, and Dallas -- are also in the bottom 15 cities, says an article in next month's Men's Health magazine.

The authors looked at U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on the number of annual dentists visits, canceled appointments, regular flossers, and households using fluoride in 100 large cities, the Associated Press reported.

Some experts theorized that high level of fluoride in Lubbock's well water may be a factor. Too much fluoride in water can cause tooth enamel to become rough, leaving white or brown stains.

Others suggested that dental care is too expensive, which means low-income people can't afford regular checkups or education, the AP reported.


South Korean Researcher Retracts Anti-Aging Papers

Two papers on anti-aging technology published in international journals have been retracted by a professor at a South Korean technical university after it was discovered that he fabricated evidence, the Associated Press reported.

Officials at the state-run Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology said biotechnology professor Kim Tae-kook admitted that he used forged data in a 2005 paper on anti-aging technology published in the journal Science, and in a follow-up 2006 paper published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.

Kim has been suspended from teaching and conducting research at the institute, which is still investigating whether to impose additional disciplinary measures, the AP reported. It's not clear if Kim will face criminal charges.

In the 2005 paper, Kim claimed to have found a way to use magnetic nanoparticles to find target proteins in the human body, a discovery he claimed could lead to the development of anti-aging drugs. In the 2006 paper, Kim said he had used the technology to identify target proteins and had developed two chemical substances that could slow aging.

In 2005, it was revealed that leading South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk faked evidence in what had been hailed as breakthrough stem cell research.


Microwave Popcorn Chemical Damages Airways: Study

Inhalation of a chemical used in microwave popcorn artificial butter flavoring damaged the airways of mice, which developed a condition that can lead to a life-threatening lung disease, says a study by researchers at the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

Mice exposed to diacetyl vapors for three months developed lymphocytic bronchiolitis, a precursor to obliterative bronchiolitis (popcorn lung). None of the mice developed the more serious disease, said

"This is one of the first studies to evaluate the respiratory toxicity of diacetyl at levels relevant to human health. Mice were exposed to diacetyl at concentrations and durations comparable to what may be inhaled at some microwave popcorn packaging plants," study co-author Daniel L. Morgan, chief of the Respiratory Toxicology Group at the NIEHS, said in a prepared statement.

He and his colleagues concluded that workplace exposure to diacetyl contributes to the development of obliterative bronchiolitis, but noted that more research was needed. The study was published online in the journal Toxicological Sciences.

Obliterative bronchiolitis has been noted in microwave popcorn packaging plant workers who have inhaled significant concentrations of artificial butter flavoring. Late last year, a number of leading popcorn makers said they planned to eliminate diacetyl from their products, said.


Officials Investigating Possible CJD Deaths in Quebec

Health officials are investigating whether two people who died in Quebec in the last few months had a form of neurodegenerative Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), CBC News reported.

The two deaths in the Saguenay-Lac St. Jean region -- one in December and another in February -- are being treated with extreme caution by Canadian health authorities, who said it generally takes a few months to get test results in such cases. They refused to release any details.

So-called classic CJD appears only in humans, while variant CJD is believed to occur in humans who have eaten beef from cattle with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), otherwise known as mad cow disease. Both forms are fatal. Classic CJD kills one in a million Canadians each year.

The two Quebec cases were made public in a story first aired Wednesday by CKRS-FM radio in Chicoutimi, CBC News reported. The radio story noted that two patients have never died of CJD within such a short period of time in one area of Canada.


More Americans Getting Colorectal Cancer Screenings

The percentage of Americans age 50 and older who had a colorectal cancer screening test increased from 53.9 percent to 60.8 percent between 2002 and 2006, a new report found.

However, while rates of colorectal cancer screening increased among all racial and ethnic groups, minority groups continued to have lower screening rates than whites. In addition, rates continued to be lower among those with no health insurance, low income, and less than a high school education.

The findings are reported in the March 14 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Lack of awareness of the need for colorectal cancer screening, lack of doctor recommendations for screening, lack of health insurance, and lack of a usual source of health care are among the factors that may contribute to disparities in colorectal cancer screening rates, the study authors said.

Previous studies found that men were more likely than women to be checked for colorectal cancer, but data in this new study suggest a narrowing of that gender gap.

"While we are encouraged to see an increase in colorectal cancer screening rates, certain groups are still not getting screened as recommended," report lead author Dr. Djenaba A. Joseph, medical officer in the CDC's division of cancer prevention and control, said in a prepared statement. "We need to ensure that all adults have access to these life-saving tests because there is strong evidence that screening can prevent colorectal cancer deaths."

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. In 2004, nearly 145,000 people in the country were diagnosed with the disease and more than 53,000 died from it, the CDC said. Regular colorectal cancer screening is recommended for everyone age 50 and older.

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Posted: March 2008