In Brief



Alzheimer's risk cut by drug

People who take certain high blood pressure medicines cut their risk of Alzheimer's disease by as much as 70 percent, according to new research. But doctors cautioned that people should not make changes in their medication as a result of this single report.

The study found the 70 percent drop in risk among those taking a type of medication called potassium-sparing diuretics -- one of several classes of drugs designed to fight high blood pressure.

Up to 24 million Americans are using one or more medicines to control their blood pressure, according to some estimates, and 65 million people in the United States suffer from the condition.

"This is an interesting finding, but it needs to be further tested to see if it holds," said Peter Zandi, an epidemiologist from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and one of the study's authors. "People should not change their prescribing patterns based on this."

The research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, involved more than 3,200 elderly residents of Cache County, Utah. The findings were published online this week in the Archives of Neurology (



Canada records its warmest winter

This winter has been Canada's warmest on record and the federal agency Environment Canada says it's investigating whether it's a sign of global warming.

Between December and last month, the country was 3.9 degrees above normal -- the warmest winter season since temperatures were first recorded in 1948. Environment Canada climatologist Bob Whitewood said it beat the previous record set in 1987 by 0.9 degrees.

The experience has been similar south of the border where the U.S. National Climatic Data Center said the winter has been the fifth warmest on record. It was especially balmy in Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories, where temperatures were 6 to 8 degrees above normal.

Whitewood said the previous 10 winters have been warmer than normal and along with this winter reflect a trend that could be explained as global warming.



Negativity affects health of heart

If you care about your heart, lay off the negativity and controlling comments when you talk to your spouse. A three-year study of older married couples from the University of Utah has found a link between the quality of relationships and atherosclerosis, or the narrowing of the arteries that carry blood to the heart.

In the study, reported at a conference this week, researchers evaluated videotapes of dialogue between 150 married couples with at least one member between 60 and 70 years old. They were asked to talk about a subject of disagreement, be it money, in-laws, children or household duties.

Two days later, husband and wife underwent a CT scan of the chest to determine coronary artery blockage. For women, hostility in the marital relationship -- whether on her part or her husband's -- was associated with a build-up of plaque in the coronary arteries. For a man, the important factor was not hostility but control. Men who were controlling toward their wife, or had a controlling spouse, were more likely to have atherosclerosis.



iPod use may bring early hearing loss

A disturbing number of high-school students and adults are reporting early signs of hearing loss, and hearing experts think they know the culprits: iPods and similar portable devices that enable people to funnel loud sounds into their ears for hours on end.

Hearing experts at a meeting in Chicago this week said they were worried about the results of a survey conducted by the polling firm Zogby International.

Twenty-eight percent of high school students questioned said they had to turn up the volume on a TV or radio to hear it better, for example, and 29 percent of the teenagers said they often found themselves saying, "What?" and "Huh?" during normal conversation.

"While the cause of the symptoms was not identified, the polling showed that people are listening louder and longer -- habits made easier by strides in listening technology, but ones that may also contribute to hearing damage," said Alex Johnson, chairman of the audiology and speech-language pathology department at Wayne State University.



Slight paunch may save life in crash

Being obese increases a man's chance of dying in an automobile accident, but having just a little paunch might cushion the blow, say scientists at the Injury Research Center of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

Skinny men are more likely than normal-weight men to die in a crash, they found after analyzing data from more than 22,000 traffic accidents.

Women of any size and body mass index, however, got no added protection or harm regardless of the shape they were in. "It might be the difference in fat distribution," said Shankuan Zhu, author of the study. Men who are obese tend to resemble apples.

"When we go shopping for clothing, there's a men's department and women's department," says Zhu, whose study will appear in April's American Journal of Public Health. "Maybe in the future we can customize car design."



Genetics play part in anorexia

Researchers studying anorexia in twins conclude that more than half a person's risk for developing the sometimes-fatal eating disorder is determined by genes.

The study by scientists at the University of North Carolina and Sweden's Karolinska Institute looked at a Swedish registry of 31,406 twins -- identical and fraternal -- born between 1935 and 1958. Identical twins are genetic clones, while fraternal twins are no more similar genetically than a brother and sister born in separate pregnancies. Anorexia was more prevalent between identicals, and statistical analysis led to the scientists' conclusion that 56 percent of the liability for developing anorexia is from genetics, with environmental factors determining the rest.

The new study "hammers home the fact that these are biologically based disorders," said UNC psychiatrist Cynthia Bulik, lead author of the study. "We need to stop viewing them as a choice. ... It's held us back for decades."


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