Consider skipping the aspirin
Most people take a couple of aspirin when they get a cold. But a study suggests they'd be better off if they didn't. Nor will it help to take Tylenol or ibuprofen. Australian doctors asked 56 college students with colds to take either aspirin, Tylenol, ibuprofen or a placebo up to eight times a day for a week. Those taking aspirin and Tylenol actually ended up with stuffier noses and a lower immune response than those on the placebo. Ibuprofen proved to be no better or worse than the placebo. Remember, these drugs are basically pain medications. Colds aren't painful, they're just uncomfortable. So the next time you have a cold, skip the painkillers and concentrate on getting some rest and drinking plenty of fluids. Cough syrups, throat lozenges and chicken soup can make a cold easier to endure.
All blood not equal
In this sophisticated age of medicine, it's surprising that it took so long to find that all blood is not created equal. The first researchers to show racial differences in blood were doctors at the University of Southern California Medical Center in a new study. They took blood samples from more than 2,100 healthy white, black, Asian and Hispanic hospital workers. A comparison showed that blacks had fewer red and white blood cells, Asians more red blood cells and Hispanics more white blood cells than whites. Lab standards for most blood tests are based on white people. Considering how often doctors rely on blood tests to make decisions, it's surprising that non-white patients aren't routinely misdiagnosed -- though the researchers didn't speculate on the chances of this happening. High levels of white blood cells, for instance, can signal infection, which means that doctors might mistakenly prescribe antibiotics for Hispanic patients. The differences aren't as dramatic in other races, but clearly we would all benefit by updating our blood tests.
Gel for nerve pain
In the past year it was reported that a cream made from hot peppers can relieve postherpetic neuralgia, the painful nerve condition suffered by several hundred thousand Americans that sometimes follows a case of shingles. Now there's something even better. Harry Hind, a pharmacist from Los Altos, Calif., developed a lidocaine gel that deadens the nerve endings in just an hour or two -- a big improvement on the one to three weeks required for the pepper cream to work. When it gets final FDA approval, the gel will be sold under the name LidoDerm by Hind Health Care.
In recent years, tens of millions of Americans have heeded the government's badgering to get their cholesterol tested. Millions have embarked on low-fat diets. Up to 3 million are taking cholesterol-lowering drugs every day. Now the government is rethinking America's strategy against cholesterol. No revolution is in the offing. There will be no startling pronouncements that it is now OK to eat fried food and ice cream. But federal scientists and private experts are talking about easing up on the general public and focusing prevention efforts on Americans at highest risk from elevated blood cholesterol levels, those with established heart disease. While close attention to cholesterol levels is still considered beneficial for everyone, the government is starting to think that its recommended policy of aggressive early screening and widespread treatment may not be cost-effective. The current strategy, begun in 1988, casts a wide net. It targets 60 million Americans, nearly half the adult population, for cholesterol-lowering diets and, if that does not work, for a lifelong regimen of drugs to bring their levels down. This policy has been criticized from various quarters as an over-aggressive "medicalizing" of the problem. Critics have called it too onerous for healthy Americans who find themselves labeled with a medical problem and have said it is of benefit mainly to drug companies.