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NEWS FOR THE WEEK 16th FEBRUARY 2007

Previous week's news

New seafood baby brain boost

Friday February 16th, 2007

A major new study of British families argues that pregnant women should continue to devour seafood for the sake of their children.

The belief that sea-food aids the development of children suffered a setback when US authorities warned of the danger of toxins from polluted seas.

The new research is based on the experience of more than 11,000 women in the Bristol area.

Writing in The Lancet, British and US researchers say the evidence is overwhelming that the children of women who consume sea-food during pregnancy fare better than others.

Researchers found that when pregnant women who consumed less than three helpings of sea-food a week their children were at high risk of having poor verbal IQs.

The Bristol University researchers worked with Joseph Hibbeln, of the US National Institutes of Health at Bethesda, Maryland, USA, on the study.

They write: "We recorded no evidence to lend support to the warnings of the US advisory that pregnant women should limit their seafood consumption.

"In contrast, we noted that children of mothers who ate small amounts (<340 g per week) of seafood were more likely to have suboptimum neurodevelopmental outcomes than children of mothers who ate more seafood than the recommended amounts."

And in the same journal, two specialists from Rochester University Medical Center, New York, USA, call for their national authorities to find scientific evidence of "harm".

They add: "Epidemiological findings have presented a dilemma for regulatory authorities around the world."

The Lancet 2007; 369:578-585

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'Group snacking' means kids eat more

Thursday February 15th, 2007

Children snacking in big groups eat almost a third more than when they ate with just a couple of friends, according to new findings.

The study, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, suggests that children who don't eat enough may fare better by dining with family and friends.

And those who eat too little should avoid busy fast food restaurants where the environment could encourage more eating.

Researchers from the University of Michigan, USA, said the pattern of eating more in larger groups was common among adults and animals.

Called "social facilitation", the phenomenon stems from the stimuli provided by others engaged in the same behaviour that overrides the brain's normal signals of satiety.

Researchers led by Dr Julie Lumeng from the university's Centre for Human Growth and Development analysed the eating behaviour of 54 children aged between two and a half and six and a half, when in groups of nine or three.

They found children ate slightly more in the larger groups when the snacking time was less than 11 minutes.

But when snacking went on for longer, children in the larger groups ate 30 per cent more than children in small groups, irrespective of the time they took over their snacks.

Arch Dis Child 2007 doi: 10.1136/adc.2006/103259

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Omega-3 won't cure depression: review

Wednesday February 14th, 2007

Omega-3 fatty acids do little to alleviate depression, concludes a Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin review.

The review looked at published research on the clinical effectiveness of omega-3 fatty acids, on their own and in combination, as well as overall analyses of these studies.

It found little convincing evidence for using fatty acids alone to treat depression and only limited evidence to back their use as a supplement to antidepressants.

The review also warned that fish oil supplements may contain environmental toxins so it was important not to exceed maximum recommended doses.

Pregnant women should take only lose doses, because of the potentially harmful effects of high levels of vitamin A on the developing foetus.

Evidence from circumstantial research had suggested links between omega-3 levels and behaviour and mood disorders, such as depression. The findings have attracted widespread attention.

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids involved in chemical messaging in the brain.

They are available over the counter as fish oil.

Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin, February 2007

Joint smoking aids joints but not lungs

Tuesday February 13th, 2007

There is growing evidence that cannabis smokers suffer many of the ill-effects that tobacco users endure, according to new findings.

Long term users are showing symptoms of cough, phlegm and wheeze, according to a study reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Researchers from Yale University, USA, dug out some 14 studies of long-term cannabis use and found they all suggested symptoms of obstructive lung disease.

The findings remain inconclusive as researchers have not always succeeded in finding cannabis users who do not use tobacco.

Researcher Dr Jeanette Tetrault said: "While there is convincing data on the effects of tobacco smoke on pulmonary clinical outcomes, the effect of marijuana smoke has been poorly understood.

"Despite these limitations, clinicians should advise their patients of the potential negative impact of marijuana smoking on overall lung health."

A second study reported better news on cannabis use - suggesting it can help relieve some of the pain linked to chronic HIV infection.

Writing in the journal Neurology, researchers say smoking cannabis helped relieve aching, burning and painful numbness associated with infection with the AIDS virus.

The research involved 50 patients in a Californian hospital who were given either cannabis or a dummy joint to smoke.

Researchers concluded that cannabis was twice as effective as the fake joints, reducing daily nerve pain by 34 per cent.

Researcher Dr Donald Abrams, of San Francisco General Hospital, USA, said: "Our findings show the amount of relief from smoking marijuana is comparable to relief provided by oral drugs currently used for chronic nerve pain."

Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol. 167, (February 12, 2007)

New project seeks heart genes

Monday February 12th, 2007

British researchers are to be at the centre of a major international project to track down genetic causes of heart disease.

Some three million Euros from the European Commission is to go towards the project in Britain, France, Denmark and the Lebanon.

Researchers will also look for ways of predicting the development of risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and insulin resistance.

The work will be undertaken in Oxford, at Imperial College, London, at centres in France and Lebanon and in industrial laboratories in Denmark, France and Britain.

Researcher Professor Dominique Gauguier, of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at the University of Oxford, said: "Coronary artery disease is a major health issue in the Western world and we want to get to the root of what causes it.

"It is a complex disease, so it's impossible to say 'We've found the gene for heart disease'. Rather, it is caused by a number of factors, including the interaction of genes with other genes and with the environment."

She added: "We believe the study will play a key role in identifying targets for novel therapies to tackle the disease.

"Ultimately, we hope that the wealth of information obtained by the project and the techniques that it helps us develop will lead to significant advances for disease diagnosis and prevention."

Clomiphene still best for infertile women with PCOS

Monday February 12th, 2007

The standard fertility drug clomiphene is still the best infertility treatment for women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the New England Journal of Medicine reports.

In the largest study of its type, US researchers compared metformin - a diabetes drug thought to be a promising treatment for infertile women with PCOS - with clomiphene.

The team from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine randomly assigned 626 infertile women with PCOS to one of three groups; the first group received clomiphene and a placebo, the second metformin and placebo and the third were given both drugs.

Results showed women who took metformin and those who took both drugs ovulated more frequently, but the increase in ovulation did not lead to more successful pregnancies.

"The bottom line here is that ovulation does not necessarily results in a successful pregnancy," said principal investigator Professor Christos Coutifaris.

"The results suggest that an ovulation due to clomiphene is two times as likely to results in pregnancy compared to an ovulation caused by metformin."

In the metformin only group, 15 of 208 women gave birth. In the clomiphene only group 47 of 209 women gave birth and 56 of 209 women gave birth in the combined clomiphene-metformin group.

The difference in the latter two groups was not statistically significant.

"With this study, my colleagues and I recommend and support the use of clomiphene alone and NOT in combination with metformin as a first-line therapy for infertility in women with PCOS," Professor Coutifaris said.

"These results emphasise the need to test any new application rigorously, no matter how promising it may seem initially."

NEJM 356; 6: pp 551-556.

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