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Omega-3 fatty acids' benefits questioned

Eat your fatty fish and hang on, if you wish, to that bottle of tasty fish oil. But don't expect them to protect you from cancer. A new study says that foods and supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids do not offer such protection, dashing some earlier hints that they might.

The analysis, which looked at 38 studies conducted between 1966 and 2005, suggests that omega-3s (found in many kinds of fish and some plants) have no significant effect on a variety of cancers, including those of the breast, colon, lung and prostate.

The studies included more than 700,000 adults, tracked for up to 30 years.

"Although other research shows that [omega-3 fatty acids] are good for your heart and your general health, the benefits don't appear to extend to cancer," said Dr. Catherine MacLean, chief author of the Rand Corp. study.

Fish sources rich in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, mackerel, anchovies, herring and cod liver oil. Plant sources (of a slightly different omega-3 fatty acid) include flax seeds, canola oil, soybeans, wheat germ, peanut butter and walnuts. The report was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.



Husband's touch a comfort to spouse

Married women under extreme stress who reach out and hold their husbands' hands feel immediate relief, neuroscientists found in what they say is the first study of how human touch affects the neural response to threatening situations.

Using MRI brain imaging on women who were expecting mild electric shocks, scientists at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Virginia demonstrated the soothing effect of touch in scans of areas deep in the brain that are involved in registering emotional and physical alarm.

The women received significantly more relief from their husbands' touch than from a stranger's, and those in particularly close marriages were most deeply comforted by their husbands' hands, the study found.

The findings help explain one of the longest-standing puzzles in social science: why married men and women are healthier on average than their peers. The study will appear later this year in the journal Psychological Science.



Common drug may lead to impairment

Drugs commonly used in elderly patients to treat bowel disorders, incontinence and Parkinson's disease may lead to mild mental impairment, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal.

About 10 percent of the 372 people studied took these anticholinergic drugs over an extended period, said Karen Ritchie, research director at the Hopital La Colombiere in Montpellier, France. Drug users had worse cognitive performance than nonusers, and 80 percent were impaired mentally compared with 35 percent of nonusers, Ritchie found.

"Doctors should assess current use of anticholinergic drugs in elderly people with mild cognitive impairment before considering treatment for dementia," Ritchie said.

In U.S. nursing homes, more than 30 percent of elderly residents take more than two anticholinergic drugs, and 5 percent take more than five, according to the report.



FDA gives approval to drug for angina

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first new therapy in more than 20 years for reducing the attacks of chest pain known as angina. The drug Ranexa - developed by CV Therapeutics of Palo Alto, Calif. - will be on the pharmacy shelves by late next month, officials said.

More than 6 million people in the United States have angina, which can produce chest pain when the heart doesn't get enough oxygen - a condition known as ischemia. Angina attacks often occur when a person exercises or experiences emotional stress.

Although Ranexa doesn't cure ischemia, it relieves the sodium and calcium overload that often accompanies ischemia, allowing the heart to function better and reducing painful episodes, according to Dr. John Schroeder, a Stanford University cardiologist who was a paid consultant to CV Therapeutics on Ranexa's clinical tests.

He said medicines on the market in the United States, including beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and nitrates, tend to lower a patient's blood pressure or reduce heart rate. That sometimes can result in dizziness and even fainting, which can be dangerous, especially for the elderly, he said.


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