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Jan 20
Cold Weather May Raise Blood Pressure in Elderly
When the temperature drops outside, blood pressure appears to rise in older adults, a new study shows.

The systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) blood pressures both rose and fell with the change of seasons in the 8,801 people, aged 65 or older, looked at in the study by the Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale of Paris. The average systolic blood pressure, for example, was five points higher in winter than in summer for the participants. Instances of high blood pressure (systolic blood pressure higher than 159, or diastolic higher than 94 millimeters of mercury or higher) were found in 33.4 percent of participants during winter but just 23.8 percent during summer.

The findings were published in the Jan. 12 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The reasons for the correlation, though, were not known. The authors said it could be related to the baroreflex, a mechanism of blood pressure regulation that is modified in elderly subjects or a function of the sympathetic nervous system, which helps control involuntary actions such as stress response.

Background information in the article said seasonal variance in blood pressure has been noted in past studies, but not specifically in the elderly.

"Although our study does not demonstrate a causal link between blood pressure and external temperature, the observed relationship nevertheless has potentially important consequences for blood pressure management in the elderly," the authors wrote.

Jan 20
Indians face genetic risk of cardiac attack: Study
NEW DELHI: Every 25th Indian carries a mutant gene which makes the person vulnerable to an "almost guaranteed" risk of sudden cardiac arrest,
results of a study published today suggest.

The mutated gene is carried by six crore people around the globe of which more than four crore are Indians, researchers said. 'Every 25 th Indian carries a mutation almost guaranteed to lead to heart problems,' the study said, the findings of which were published in latest edition of the journal 'Nature Genetics'.

'We can confidently say that four per cent of the Indian population is at risk of a sudden cardiac arrest as they carry this mutant gene,' Kumarasamy Thangaraj of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, who led the study, said.

The CCMB is a government lab functioning under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). India has a burgeoning population of heart patients and according to a previous study the country will constitute 60 per cent of global heart patient by 2010. The new findings shed light on the genetic pre-disposition that increases risk of heart disease in Indians.

People having this mutation have 25 letters of genetic code deleted from a gene MYBPC3 – responsible for production of heart muscle protein. The altered form produces an abnormal protein which disturbs the structure of heart muscle fibre.

'Those having the altered form of gene have seven folds higher chances of getting a cardiac arrest than normal people. Besides, these people have no warning about the danger which makes it worse,' Thangaraj said.

'Young people degrade the altered protein, hence they don't generally show symptoms. But with age, the degradation becomes less effective, making a mutant protein build up and symptoms develop,' said Chris Tyler-Smith, a researcher from Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, UK, in an e-mail interview.

'From our data, around 90 per cent of people carrying this form of gene, who live to old age will develop symptoms of heart disease,' Chris said.
The mutation was discovered five years ago in two Indian families but its significance became apparent only after the study of about 1,500 people from different parts of country.

The study involving 25 scientists from four countries shows that gene has slightly higher prevalence in south Indian than in the north but affects all groups and religions, he added.

'We think that the mutation arose around 30,000 years ago in India, and has been able to spread because its effects usually develop only after people have had their children. A case of chance genetic drift: simply terribly bad luck for the carriers,' said Perundurai S Dhandapany from Madurai Kamraj University, one of the researchers.

'If this mutation is present in both copies of chromosomes (one from father and another from mother), chances of getting a heart attack are even higher than the person who has got the mutant gene from only one of the parents,' Thangaraj said. Researchers are of the view that this finding will help in identifying potential heart.

Jan 20
Humans make their own aspirin compound
LONDON: Humans form their own version of aspirin\'s active principle, known as salicylic acid, when the drug breaks down in the body.
Salicyclic acid or SA, which is responsible for aspirin\'s renowned effects in relieving pain and inflammation, may be the first in a new class of bioregulators, according to a new study.
Gwendoline Baxter and her British colleagues said their past research revealed that SA exists in the blood of people who have not recently taken aspirin.
Vegetarians had much higher levels, almost matching those in patients taking low doses of aspirin.
Based on those findings, the researchers previously concluded that this endogenous SA came from the diet, since SA is a natural substance found in fruits and vegetables.
Now the group reports on studies of changes in SA levels in volunteers who took benzoic acid, a substance also found naturally in fruits and vegetables that the body could potentially use to make SA.
Their goal was to determine whether the SA found in humans (and other animals) results solely from consumption of fruits and vegetables, or whether humans produce their own SA as a natural agent to fight inflammation and disease. The results reported in the study suggest that people do manufacture SA, according to a release of American Chemical Society.
\"It is, we suspect, increasingly likely that SA is a biopharmaceutical with a central, broadly defensive role in animals as well as plants,\" they state. \"This simple organic chemical is, we propose, likely to become increasingly recognized as an animal bioregulator, perhaps in a class of its own.\"

Jan 20
More young adults using sleeping pills
CHICAGO: Use of prescription sleep aids nearly tripled among young adults between 1998 and 2006, according to a study released by the healthcare
business arm of Thomson Reuters.

\"Insomnia, a condition traditionally associated with older adults, appears to be causing larger numbers of young adults to turn to prescription sleep aids, and to depend on them for longer periods of time,\" said William Marder, senior vice-president and general manager for the healthcare business of Thomson Reuters, parent company of Reuters News.

A study of medical and drug claims data found a 50% increase in use of the drugs among all adults under 45, who also appear to be using the drugs for a longer period of time to help them fall asleep. During the study period, the average length of time sleep aids were used by adults under 45 jumped by more than 40% — rising to 93 days in 2006 from 64 days in 1998.

But perhaps the most startling finding was the increase in use of sleep aids among college-age adults 18 to 24. Use in this age group rose to 1,524 users per 100,000 in 2006, up from 599 users per 100,000 in 1998.

\"I find it very worrisome that young people who should have a very strong and healthy sleep system are now finding they are turning to medication to help them get to sleep,\" Donna Arand, a sleep specialist at Kettering Hospital Sleep Disorder Center in Dayton, Ohio, said in a telephone interview.

Arand said she has seen a number of students seeking sleep aids because their normal sleep patterns have been disrupted in college, and she fears these adults may have trouble adjusting to a normal sleep pattern as their schedules normalize.

Two-thirds of those in this study population were taking non-benzodiazepine hypnotics - such as Sanofi-Aventis\' Ambien CR and Sepracor Inc\'s Lunesta. These newer sleep aids generally have fewer side effects, but in rare cases they can cause sleep walking.

That may have led to the demise of a 51-year-old Wisconsin man who froze to death while sleep-walking barefoot in his underwear this week in below-zero cold.

The Sawyer County Sheriff\'s Office in Hayward, Wisconsin, said Timothy Brueggeman had Ambien at his house, and family members told the Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis that he had a history of sleep walking.

Chief deputy Tim Ziegel said sleep walking is a rare side effect of the drug and she cautioned that Ambien or Ambien CR should not be taken by people with a history of sleep walking, nor should they be taken with alcohol.

Jan 20
China to roll out two HIV drugs
BEIJING: China will provide two imported HIV drugs to patients who develop resistance to cheaper, domestic alternatives, state media said on Monday,
going some way to meeting a key demand of AIDS treatment activists.

The decision to hand out the new drugs means that nine of 20 drugs to combat AIDS are now available to patients in China, the official China Daily said, citing senior Health Ministry official Hao Yang.

Treatment with Tenofovir, marketed by Gilead Sciences Inc under the brand Viread, and Kaletra, manufactured by Abbott Laboratories, cost over $1,500 a year each. In comparison, the other drugs already available in China cost as little as 5,000 yuan ($730), the report added.

The new offerings come after a nationwide survey released last year showed that more than 17 percent of HIV patients in China had developed resistance to available drugs. China estimated at the end of 2007 that about 700,000 people were infected with HIV, up from an earlier estimate of 650,000.

Although HIV infection is incurable, cocktails of the drugs can control the virus. Nearly 60,000 people had received free HIV drugs since they were first offered in 2003, cutting the mortality rate in China from over a quarter in 2002 to just 5.8 percent in 2007, the China Daily said. Drug-resistant HIV strains are turning up in parts of China as the virus stretches beyond high-risk groups and gains a stronger foothold in the general population, a leading Chinese AIDS researcher said late last year.

Jan 20
Relaxation [helps in maintaining weight]
WASHINGTON: Obese women have a better chance of maintaining a healthy weight if they incorporate a little relaxation into their lifestyle, says a
new study.

Researchers at Otago University have found that non- dieting interventions to improve overweight and obese women\'s health have a longer-lasting effect if they include relaxation training, the \'Preventive Medicine\' journal reported.

The study\'s lead author, Dr Caroline Horwath, said: \"Stress and negative emotions can trigger women to overeat and consume high-fat and high-sugar foods.

\"By learning and practicing relaxation techniques, like progressive muscle relaxation, abdominal breathing and visualisation, as part of a wider lifestyle change programme, women have effective tools to manage stress and emotions without resorting to unhealthy eating.\"

The researchers have based their findings on analysis of a two-year follow-up of a ground-breaking research project into the effectiveness of non-dieting intervention programmes in improving lifestyle behaviours and reducing distress.

In the study, 225 women with a body mass index of 28 or more were randomly assigned to one of three intervention programmes. All three 10-week-long programmes assisted women in moving their focus away from calorie counting and body weight, towards sustainable lifestyle changes that enhanced their well-being, regardless of weight loss.

Jan 20
Clearer skies in Europe as earth losing its cool
PARIS: Fog, mist and haze in Europe have declined over the last three decades, a trend that may have stoked regional warming and ironically could be
linked to better air quality, a study published says.

From 1978-2006, temperatures in parts of Europe rose above the global land average, with prominent increases in the north, centre and eastern parts of the continent.

As much as 20% of Europe\'s warming during this time, according to the study, can be pinned on a reduction in fog, mist and haze, which — because they are white — reflect solar radiation and thus keep the ground cool. In eastern Europe, the decline in fog, mist and haze could account for 50%, the paper believes.

The authors, led by Robert Vautard of France\'s Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), pored over data from 342 weather stations around Europe.

They found that over nearly 30 years, the number of days categorised as having restricted visibility fell by half. These categories were determined by ranges of visibility at 2km, 5km and 8km.

The phenomenon is closely linked to falling levels of atmospheric sulphur dioxide (SO²), a byproduct of burning oil and coal that causes notorious \"acid rain” that damages forests and lakes. The temperature rise has been especially perceptible in Eastern Europe, where the end of the Communist system closed down innumerable sources of coal pollution. However, the SO² cleanup is now largely tapering off.

This means the fog reduction will probably stop and \"the warming trend in Europe will not be so large in the coming years,\" Vautard said.

Jan 20
Rise in kids\' nose & throat infections
CHICAGO: Researchers say they have found an ``alarming\'\' increase in children\'s ear, nose and throat infections in the United States caused by
dangerous drug-resistant staph germs.

Other studies have shown rising numbers of skin infections in adults and children caused by these germs, nicknamed MRSA, but this is the first nationwide report on how common they are in deeper tissue infections in the head and neck, the study authors said. These include certain ear and sinus infections, and abcesses that can form in the tonsils and throat.

The study found a total of 21,009 pediatric head and neck infections caused by staph germs from 2001 through 2006. The percentage caused by hard-to-treat MRSA bacteria more than doubled during that time from almost 12 percent to 28 percent.

``In most parts of the United States, there\'s been an alarming rise,\'\' said study author Dr. Steven Sobol, a children\'s head and neck specialist at Emory University.

The study appears in January\'s Archives of Otolaryngology, released Monday.

It is based on nationally representative information from an electronic database that collects lab results from more than 300 hospitals nationwide.

MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, can cause dangerous, life-threatening invasive infections and doctors believe inappropriate use of antibiotics has contributed to its rise.

The study didn\'t look at the severity of MRSA illness in affected children.

Dr. Robert Daum, a University of Chicago expert in community-acquired MRSA, said the study should serve as an alert to agencies that fund U.S. research ``that this is a major public health problem.\'\'

MRSA involvement in adult head and neck infections has been reported although data on prevalence is scarce.

Almost 60 percent of the MRSA infections found in the study were thought to have been contracted outside a hospital setting.

MRSA infections were once limited mostly to hospitals, nursing homes and other health-care settings but other studies have shown they are increasingly picked up in the community, in otherwise healthy people.

MRSA does not respond to penicillin-based antibiotics and doctors are concerned that it is becoming resistant to others.

Jan 20
Medical \'microbot\' for human arteries
PARIS: In 1966, the movie \"Fantastic Voyage\" recounted the tale of doctors who are miniaturised along with a submarine and injected into the body of
a Soviet defector, sailing up his bloodstream to destroy a brain clot that imperils the VIP\'s life.

The improbable storyline -- and the equally improbable casting of sex icon Raquel Welch as a scientist in a wetsuit -- invited the audience to suspend their disbelief and enjoy a good sci-fi romp.

More than 40 years later, some of the futuristic potential of \"Fantastic Voyage\" has taken a step closer to realisation, thanks to a remarkable achievement in miniaturisation unveiled on Tuesday.

There\'s no submarine or Raquel Welch, but instead a motorised robot that its inventors believe is small enough to be injected into the human bloodstream.

One day, the remote-controlled bot could carry sensor equipment for observation work, relaying images back to surgeons.

Or it could become a tiny surgeon, cutting away blood clots, reaming out clogged arteries or repairing damaged tissue, its inventors hope.

The \"microbot\" measures just a quarter of a millimetre, or \"two or three human hairs wide,\" said lead scientist James Friend, from the Nanophysics Laboratory at Monash University, Australia.

\"We are looking for something that can be placed in human arteries, especially in locations where it can\'t be done with the technologies that were around previously,\" he said.

Conventional methods of \"keyhole\" and other minimally invasive surgery today use tubes called catheters, which are inserted into body cavities and arteries.

But catheters are rigid and despite their small size can still puncture thin arterial walls.

In a paper published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering, Friend\'s team describe prototype work on a motor based on piezo-electricity, the energy used in quartz watches, upmarket cigarette lighters and gas-stove lighters.

Piezo-electric materials are ceramics or crystals that generate a voltage in response to mechanical stress.

In this case, the materials vibrate a corkscrew-like microstructure inside the bot that then drives a \"propellor\" comprising soft flagella.

Like a swimming bacterium -- but guided externally by remote control -- the robot would make headway against the bloodstream, at least in blood vessels where the flow is not too great, the inventors hope.

The device could transmit images, deliver microscopic payloads and, eventually, carry out surgery, said Friend. It would then be retrieved by syringe at the point of entry.

\"For the moment, we are going for observation, because it is the easiest thing to do,\" said Friend. \"From that point on, we will go for other kinds of operations, mainly snipping and cutting.\"

If the device breaks down, it would return downstream to the point of entry and then be picked up, or it could be recovered by micro-catheter, he said.

The team has produced prototypes of the motors and is now looking at how to improve the assembly method and a mechanical device that moves and controls the micromotor.

But years of work probably lie ahead before it is used on a human patient.

In a link with \"Fantastic Voyage,\" the microbot has been baptised Proteus, carrying the same name as the miniaturised sub in the movie.

The moniker was chosen by readers in a \"name-that-bot\" poll on the technology website Wired, said Friend.

Jan 20
Infants\' liquid medicines risky
LONDON: An Indian-origin expert at the University of Leicester has led a major study that shows that infants given liquid medicines are exposed to
risk from the chemicals used.

The study led by Dr Hitesh Pandya, senior lecturer in Child Health, documents the non-drug ingredients (excipients) present in liquid medicines given to premature infants as part of their medical care.

The study revealed that the chemicals added to medicines to improve their taste, absorption and to prolong their shelf-life could be potentially harmful to very small babies.

The chemicals generally used are ethanol, sorbitol and Ponceaau 4R (a colouring agent). The study revealed that premature babies are exposed to these potentially harmful excipients in amounts equivalent to over three pints of beer per week.

\"This study documents a worldwide problem. It shows that the collection of medicines given to babies may ultimately lead to them being exposed to harmful chemicals with the potential for short and long-term toxic effects.

\"Our research highlighted this, and we are planning further studies on the chemicals to understand exactly what these effects might be. What our study hasn\'t done is find any direct evidence on the cause and effect of these chemicals and the medical problems that these babies might be being treated for,\" Dr Pandya said.

Dr Andrew Currie, Consultant at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust who was also part of the research team, said, \"Parents should not panic about these findings. These chemicals can be found in foods all around the world.

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