Originally created 05/11/00

Capsules



Tunnel attack

A team led by a Tuscaloosa, Ala., plastic surgeon has found that women with large breasts are more likely to suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome than their smaller-breasted counterparts. And their symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome -- a malady that causes tingling in the hand and wrist pain and is often associated with heavy use of computer keyboards or other repetitious motion -- were apt to clear up after breast-reduction surgery.

Certain physical problems are more common among large-breasted women, including neck and back pain and grooves in the shoulders caused by bra straps, but carpal tunnel has not been identified as one of them.

Why large breasts may predispose women to carpal tunnel syndrome is unclear, the researchers noted.

The researchers, whose study appears in the April issue of the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, speculated that the link may be related to problems with the median nerve. Neurological symptoms most often occur along the median nerve, and carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by compression of this nerve.

Growing girls

Slightly more boys than girls are born in the United States, but the percentage of baby boys appears to have gradually fallen during the last half of this century. The loss of viewership on ESPN will probably be imperceptible: The actual decline has been small, representing less than 1 percent of births.

What does bother some scientists is that there is no clear reason why this is happening and why it is occurring in the most modernized countries of the world.

The theory that gets the most attention maintains that environmental pollution is toxic to some males while still in the womb. Certain pollutants are known to mimic the effects of female hormones when they leach into the body, and perhaps, the theory goes, some male fetuses aren't able to survive.

"I'm not certain there are environmental causes, but we have to think they are out there," said Devra Davis of the World Resources Institute, an environmental advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.

Out of sync

If a trip across the ocean or a new shift at work can make you feel out of sync, science now has a clue as to why.

New research on rats suggests that after shifting schedules too far ahead or behind, certain organs get back on track before others. If the same holds true for people, it could explain why jet lag and shift work can make people feel so out of whack.

In the new study, published last month in the journal Science, researchers measured how long it took for biological clocks in various organs of rats to get back on schedule after a simulated trans-Atlantic trip. The brain clock got back on track first, then the lung and muscle clocks. But the liver clock was not back on track after six days. Because the biological clocks that keep organisms in tune with the sun's rising and setting are quite similar in every species, people probably get as out of step as the rats.

"I think there are going to be differences (between rats and people), but I think the differences are likely to be minor," said Michael Menaker, a biologist who worked on the new research.

Dietary flap

The makers of the purported weight-loss products Fat Trapper and Exercise in a Bottle will pay $10 million in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission that was announced last week.

The payment by Enforma Natural Products Inc. will settle charges that the company made false and unsubstantiated claims about its products, which were touted for enabling weight loss without dieting or exercise. Under the court settlement, the company also will no longer make claims for its products that the government called deceptive. Infomercials promising that the Enforma products, which contain the substance chitin, could enable consumers to "eat what you want and never, ever, ever have to diet again," featured former Los Angeles Dodgers baseball player Steve Garvey as a pitchman.

"Lose weight without dieting?" said Jodie Bernstein, director of the commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Not a chance!" Fantastic-sounding weight loss claims are just that, according to Dr. Bernstein, and they "prey on people who are overweight or obese."

The company admitted no wrongdoing and has given refunds to 250,000 consumers under a money-back guarantee.