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Health Highlights: March 3, 2008

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

Black Tea May Help Fight Diabetes

Certain ingredients in black tea could act as an insulin substitute and might help prevent type 2 diabetes, according to a study by researchers at Dundee University in Scotland.

They found that several components of black tea -- called theaflavins and thearubigins -- mimic the action of insulin, BBC News reported. Diabetes develops when the body fails to make enough insulin or use it properly.

"What we have found is that these constituents can mimic insulin action on proteins known as foxos," said team leader Dr. Graham Rena. "Foxos have previously been shown to underlie associations between diet and health in a wide variety of organisms including mice, worms and fruit flies."

Rena said the next step is to determine whether there's a way to translate these findings into something that could benefit humans, BBC News reported.

"People shouldn't be rushing to drink masses of black tea thinking it will cure them of diabetes. We are still some way from this leading to new treatments or dietary advice," he said. "Our research into tea compounds is at a preclinical, experimental stage and people with diabetes should continue to take their medication as directed by their doctor."

The study was published in the journal Aging Cell.


Scientists ID Proteins Linked to Stomach Expansion While Eating

A potential new method of treating obesity by preventing the stomach from expanding while a person eats has been identified by researchers at University College London in Great Britain.

The scientists pinpointed two cell proteins -- P2Y1 and P2Y11 -- that relax the stomach so it can enlarge to make room for food, BBC News reported. It may be possible to develop a drug that blocks this stomach relaxation, thus reducing a person's ability and desire to eat too much, the researchers said.

The study is published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

The "resting" internal volume of the stomach is 75 milliliters, but relaxation of its muscular wall can increase the volume to 2 or more liters, BBC News reported.

Currently, two surgical procedures -- stomach stapling and gastric banding -- are used to reduce the stomach's maximum volume in order to treat obesity.


Frog's Skin Secretions May Lead to New Diabetes Treatment

A compound -- pseudin 2 -- secreted in the skin of a South American frog stimulates insulin release, and a synthetic version of this compound could be used to develop new drugs to treat type 2 diabetes, according to research presented at the Diabetes UK annual conference.

Scientists from the University of Ulster and United Arab Emirates University found that a synthetic version of pseudin 2 stimulated secretion of insulin in pancreatic cells in the laboratory and caused no toxic side effects, BBC News reported.

The researchers said the synthetic version was better than natural pseudin 2, which is found on the skin of the "shrinking" frog, which grows to 27 cm (10.6 inches) as a tadpole, but then shrinks to 4 cm (1.6 inches) as a mature frog. Psedin 2 protects the frogs from infection.

There's a growing body of research around nature-based treatments for diabetes. For example, a recently developed drug called exenatide was developed from a hormone in the saliva of the Gila monster, a lizard that lives in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, BBC News reported.


Low-Intensity Aerobic Exercise Boosts Energy: Study

A University of Georgia study found that low-intensity aerobic exercise can boost energy levels and reduce fatigue.

The study included 36 healthy, but sedentary, young people who reported persistent fatigue but hadn't been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, CBC News reported.

One group of volunteers did low-intensity aerobic exercise for 20 minutes three times a week for six weeks. Their energy levels increased by 20 percent and their fatigue levels decreased by 65 percent.

Another group that did moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for the same amount of time also experienced a 20 percent boost in energy levels but only a 49 percent drop in fatigue, CBC News reported.

"It could be that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise is too much for people who are already fatigued," study co-author Patrick O'Connor, co-director of the UGA Exercise Physiology Laboratory, said in a prepared statement. "And that might contribute to them not getting as great an improvement as they would have had they done the low-intensity exercise."

The findings are published in the February issue of the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.


U.S. Disposes of Last of Its Original Smallpox Vaccine

America's oldest smallpox vaccine is no more.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced late last week that it had arranged for the elimination of the last of its 12 million doses of Dryvax, the vaccine that was largely responsible for eliminating the worldwide scourge of a disease that killed millions of people in the 1700s and 1800s.

The Associated Press reported that Dryvax, developed by the pharmaceutical company Wyeth in the late 1800s, was actually used quite recently -- in 2003 -- to help stem an outbreak of monkey pox in the United States. The last case of human smallpox was reported in Somalia in 1977.

No one in the United States gets smallpox vaccinations anymore, but because of concern about biological terrorism, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved replacing Dryvax with more than 200 million doses of a vaccine known as ACAM2000, made by Acambis Inc. of Cambridge, England, the wire service reported.

Despite its effectiveness, Dryvax had its problems, the AP reported, with evidence of heart attacks and heart inflammation in some cases.

But overall, the vaccine's importance can't be overlooked, Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of Vanderbilt University's department of preventive medicine, told the wire service. He called it a "historical moment, because it's our oldest vaccine."


Solution Offered for U.K. Binge Drinking: Smaller Bottles of Wine

A recent report of binge drinking among wine aficionados in some of the more affluent British circles has prompted a rather simple solution: offer wine in half bottles.

BBC News reported that Trish Groves, the deputy editor of the British Medical Journal, made the suggestion because people in the United Kingdom have little choice when buying wine. The amount of wine in a standard bottle is 750 milliliters, about 1.6 pints.

"It's no wonder Britain's middle classes are getting wasted," BBC News quoted Groves as saying. "It's all too tempting to finish the bottle there and then to avoid waste."

Using her own experiences, Grove said that her local wine store was typical of the problem throughout the United Kingdom -- almost all wine is sold in full bottles.

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association was receptive to the idea, BBC News said. "As an industry, we're always keen to provide our consumers with a range of options to choose from," a spokesperson was quoted as saying.

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Posted: March 2008