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Headlines (Scroll down for complete stories):
1. Multitasking Can Harm Your Health
2. Cranberries are Miracle Cure for Women
3. Sorbitol Products Can Cause Severe Weight Loss
4. Checklist Identifies Severe Illness in Newborns
5. Statins Benefit Almost All Diabetics

1. Multitasking Can Harm Your Health

Multitasking may be one of the hot bywords of the New Millennium, but several studies show it can be hazardous to your health. In plain terms, the studies show people can only do so many things at one time before everything starts to slide downhill.

People who love to talk on their cell phones while driving should be aware, for instance, that the Federal Aviation Administration and University of Michigan researchers discovered that the time involved in switching back and forth between tasks while driving or flying may be critical to avoiding an accident. Virginia Tech researchers using “black box” data confirmed these findings, proving that distractions, including the use of hand-held portables, contributed to 80 percent of all crashes in their study.

UCLA research shows you don’t learn as well when dividing attention between learning new information and watching TV or listening to the radio, or talking on your cell phone, for that matter. Such diversions, they found, don’t allow you to be as flexible in the use of the new information as you would have been with full attention giving to the learning, whether that information is for passing a Bar exam or Real Estate exam, or learning to safely operate a new power saw or electric carving knife.

There is in addition hidden health harm caused by multitasking, even if you escape car and plane crashes, manage to operate your new saw or knife without losing fingers, and don’t burn the house down: the stress involved in multitasking takes a toll on your body by producing the stress hormone cortisol. Over a period of time — and if the level of stress is great enough — cortisol can set you up for obesity and inflammation, which in turn lead to numerous physical problems including neurological changes and heart conditions. Perhaps the new hot byword should be “minimize multitasking.”

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2. Cranberries are Miracle Cure for Women

Cranberry juice, long dissed as a mere folk remedy for relieving urinary tract infections in women, is finally getting some respect.

Thanks to Prof. Itzhak Ofek, a researcher at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, the world now knows that science supports the folklore. Prof. Ofek’s research on the tart berry over the past two decades shows that its juice indeed combats urinary tract infections.

And, he’s discovered, the refreshing red beverage has additional medicinal qualities as well. Prof. Ofek has found that cranberry juice exhibits anti-viral properties against the flu, can prevent cavities, and lessens the reoccurrence of gastric ulcers. Unhappily for half the human race, however, new research published this year in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research on ulcers, suggests that, like urinary tract infections, the healing power of cranberries apply only to women.

The remarkable healing property in cranberries stems from a heavy molecule known as non-dialyzable material or NDM. This molecule, isolated by Prof. Ofek and his colleagues, seems to coat some bodily surfaces with Teflon-like efficiency, preventing infection-causing agents from taking root.

Surprisingly, NDM appears to have no effect on some of the good bacteria in our bodies, says Prof. Ofek. His seminal research on the subject, in collaboration with Prof. Nathan Sharon from the Weizmann Institute, appeared in the world’s leading medical journal, the New England Journal of Medicine, in 1991. “We understood that there was something in cranberry juice that doesn’t let infections adhere to a woman’s bladder,” Prof. Ofek says. “We figured it was a specific inhibitor and proved this to be the case.”

After the 1991 study, Prof. Ofek conjectured that if cranberries could protect against bacterial invasion in the bladder, “Could they work wonders elsewhere.” He took the question Tel Aviv University’s School of Dental Medicine, and together with Prof Ervin Weiss, produced positive results.

“We found that NDM inhibits adhesion of oral bacteria to tooth surfaces and as a consequence reduced the bacterial load that causes cavities in the mouth,” says Prof. Ofek. “And after a clinical trial, we formulated a mouthwash based on cranberries which was patented by Tel Aviv University.”

But Prof. Ofek wasn’t content to stop at cavities. Working with Prof. Ervin Weiss and Prof. Zichria Rones at Hadassah Medical and Dental School, he found that NDM inhibits the flu virus from attaching to cells and prevented experimental flu infections in animal models.

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3. Sorbitol Products Can Cause Severe Weight Loss

In this week’s BMJ, doctors warn of excess sorbitol intake, a widely used sweetener in “sugar-free” products such as chewing gum and sweets.

Sorbitol has laxative properties and is poorly absorbed by the small intestine.

Their advice follows the cases of two patients with chronic diarrhea, abdominal pain and severe weight loss. Although extensive investigations were carried out, final diagnosis was only established after detailed analysis of eating habits.

On questioning, both patients admitted consuming substantial amounts of sugar-free gum and sweets.

The first patient (a 21 year old woman) chewed large amounts of sugar-free gum, accounting for a total daily dose of 18-20g sorbitol (one stick of chewing gum contains about 1.25g sorbitol). The second patient (a 46 year old man) reported chewing 20 sticks of sugar-free gum and eating up to 200g of sweets each day, which together contained around 30g sorbitol.

After both patients started a sorbitol free diet, diarrhea subsided, normal bowel movements resumed and weight gain was achieved.

As possible side effects are usually found only within the small print on foods containing sorbitol, consumers may be unaware of its laxative effects and fail to recognize a link with their gastrointestinal problems, write the authors.

In conclusion, they say, our cases demonstrate that sorbitol consumption can cause not only chronic diarrhea and functional bowel complaints but also considerable unintended weight loss (about 20% of usual body weight). Thus, the investigation of unexplained weight loss should include detailed dietary history with regard to foods containing sorbitol.

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4. Checklist Identifies Severe Illness in Newborns

Medical experts have compiled a checklist of seven signs that mothers and healthcare workers can use to identify severe illnesses in newborn infants requiring urgent treatment in hospital.

Around 4 million babies around the world die each year before they are a month old, and three-quarters of them die in the first week of life — mainly from bacterial infections, birth complications and prematurity.

In an article published in the Lancet, the researchers said the list can help identify serious illnesses in infants under two months and bridge a gap in a previous checklist that did not cover infants in their first week of life.

“Anyone looking after children, mothers, should know that if children are not feeding well, it is a sign of serious illness, they should take it to care,” said Martin Weber of the World Health Organisation in Jakarta.

“It seems very simple, but these are messages we need to promote more widely. If the baby is not moving spontaneously and only doing so when you touch it, that should alert you that the baby has problems,” Weber told Reuters in a phone interview.

The seven clinical signs are:

— history of difficult feeding
— history of convulsions
— movement only when stimulated
— breathing rate of 60 breaths per minute or more
— severe chest indrawing
— over 37.5 degrees Celsius
— under 35.5 Celsius

Weber and colleagues started off with a checklist of 31 signs that first-line health workers used to identify severe illnesses in 8,889 infants brought to clinics in Bangladesh, Bolivia, Ghana, India, Pakistan and South Africa.

These assessments were compared against decisions made by pediatricians. Weber’s team later found the assessments were reliable even after the list was narrowed down to seven points.

Weber stressed that mortality figures can only be reduced if proper healthcare is available to these children.

Copyright Reuters

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5. Statins Benefit Almost All Diabetics

Statins — the best-selling class of cholesterol-fighting drugs — should be considered as standard therapy for all diabetics, apart from children and pregnant women, researchers said on Friday.

A group of British and Australian investigators said the largest study of its kind, involving a pooled analysis of clinical trials involving nearly 19,000 patients with diabetes, found there was a clear benefit in taking statins.

After five years, 42 fewer people with diabetes had major vascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes, for every 1,000 allocated statin therapy.

The findings are reassuring, particularly in the light of two other recent studies that found no statistically definitive benefit of statins in patients with diabetes. Diabetics are known to be at increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Colin Baigent of the Clinical Trial Service Unit in Oxford, England, and one of the authors of the research published in the Lancet medical journal, said the latest data cleared up the uncertainty.

“Statins are clearly effective for a wide range of people with diabetes, irrespective of their absolute risk and irrespective of whether they have type 1 or type 2 (diabetes) or whether they are male or female,” he said in a telephone interview.

“Generic statins are highly cost-effective, right down to an annual risk of about 1 percent per annum of a major vascular event, so it makes sense for statins to be used widely in most people with diabetes.”

Statins are the world’s top-selling drugs and have been proved highly effective at cutting the risk of heart attack and stroke. They have made fortunes for drug companies like Pfizer Inc, which sells the market leader Lipitor, although they are now increasingly available as cheap generics.

Many diabetics already receive a statin because they are deemed at relatively high risk. Baigent said the latest research should encourage doctors to use them more widely still.

“I think individual doctors will be influenced by this and, hopefully, also the guidelines bodies will consider it when they update their guidelines in due course,” he said.

Diabetes, which is closely linked to obesity, is on the rise worldwide. At least 170 million people are estimated to have the disease and the number is predicted to at least double by 2030.

Bernard Cheung of the University of Birmingham, England, writing in a commentary in the Lancet, said the latest findings were reassuring but statins were not a panacea and doctors also needed to stress the important of lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, healthy diet and regular exercise.

Copyright Reuters

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