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Health Highlights: Oct. 5, 2011
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Vitamin D Levels Lowest in Fair-Skinned People
Fair-skinned people are more likely than others to have low levels of vitamin D, a new study finds.
A lack of vitamin D can increase the risk of heart disease and bone loss, and reduce the chances of surviving breast cancer, according to the U.K. researchers, CBS News reported.
The study found that 730 of 1,200 participants had below-normal levels of vitamin D and that fair-skinned people had the lowest levels. The study defined a normal level as 60nmol/L.
Exposure to sun triggers vitamin D production by the body. Supplements may help fair-skinned people boost their levels of the "sunshine" vitamin without running the risk of sun damage that can lead to skin cancer, the researchers suggested, CBS News reported.
The study was published in the Oct. 4 issue of the journal Cancer Causes and Control.
Avastin May Cause Fertility Problems in Women: FDA
The cancer drug Avastin may cause fertility problems in some women, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday.
A new warning about the risk of ovarian failure has been added to the drug's label, the agency said. It also said doctors should tell women of child-bearing age before they begin treatment with Avastin that the drug can cause ovaries to stop releasing eggs regularly, Dow Jones Newswires reported.
Avastin is used to treat certain types of colon, kidney, brain, lung and breast cancers.
The FDA's warning about ovarian failure is based on results from a clinical study of 179 women with colon cancer. About half the women received Avastin in addition to chemotherapy. Ovarian failure occurred in about 34 percent of the women who took Avastin and in two percent of those who didn't take the drug, Dow Jones Newswires reported.
Stress Affects Mothers' Interactions With Children
Chronic stress can affect how mothers treat their children, a new study finds.
U.S. researchers tested the stress responses of 153 mothers and found that those dealing with ongoing stress, such as poverty or depression, were either more insensitive and neglectful or more hostile and harsh toward their toddlers, USA Today reported.
The findings show that chronic stress disrupts the body's normal stress response, which is to react and then recover, according to lead author Melissa Sturge-Apple, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, N.Y.
The study was published online in the journal Development and Psychopathology.
Teens Underestimate Fast-Food Calories: Study
Young Americans often greatly underestimate the number of calories in fast-food meals, a new study finds.
It included 547 young people, ages 11 to 20, who were asked to estimate the calories in their meals after they'd eaten at McDonald's, Subway, Wendy's, Burger Kind or Dunkin' Donuts, USA Today reported.
The researchers found that 80 percent of the participants underestimated the calories in their meals and 30 percent of them underestimated the amount by 500 or more calories.
Those who had 1,000-calorie meals underestimated the amount by an average of 350 calories, while those who had 1,500-calorie meals were 700 calories too low in their estimation, USA Today reported.
The study was presented Tuesday at the Obesity Society's annual meeting.
Injectable Contraception Increases African Women's Risk for HIV: Study
Injectable hormone contraceptives appear to double the risk that women will become infected with HIV, according to a large study of women in Africa.
It also found that the male partners of HIV-positive women who used injectable hormone contraceptives were twice as likely to become infected with HIV than the male partners of HIV-positive women who used no birth control, The New York Times reported.
The injections, which are given every three months, are used worldwide and are the most popular form of contraception for women in eastern and southern Africa. The finding that the injections have biological properties that make men and women more likely to become infected with HIV is alarming because many countries with high pregnancy rates also have high rates of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
"The best contraception today is injectable hormonal contraception because you don't need a doctor, it's long-lasting, it enables women to control timing and spacing of birth without a lot of fuss and travel," Isobel Coleman, director of the women and foreign policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations, told The Times.
"If it is now proven that these contraceptions are helping spread the AIDS epidemic, we have a major health crisis on our hands," she warned.
The study, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, led the World Health Organization to schedule a meeting in January to discuss whether women should be advised that injectable contraception may increase their risk of getting or transmitting HIV, The Times reported.
Medicare Slow to Stop Prescription Drug Abuse: GAO
Medicare officials have been slow to recognize and act on evidence of drug abuse by a large number of beneficiaries, says a Government Accountability Office report to be presented Tuesday at a Senate hearing.
Investigators found that thousands of Medicare beneficiaries shop around for doctors and fill prescriptions for amounts of painkillers and other narcotics that far exceed what any patient could safely use, The New York Times reported.
The medications were obtained through Medicare's Part D prescription drug coverage program.
"Our analysis found that about 170,000 Medicare beneficiaries received prescriptions from five or more medical practitioners" for 14 types of drugs that are frequently abused, said Gregory D. Kutz, director of forensic audits and special investigations at the accounting office, The Times reported.
"Federal dollars intended to address the health needs of the elderly and the poor are instead being used to feed addictions or to pad the wallets of drug dealers. This is clearly unacceptable," said Senator Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee that's holding Tuesday's meeting.
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