Originally created 03/01/01


Hormone replacement

Women with heart disease who take estrogen and progestin hormone therapy gain no benefit in stroke prevention, but they don't incur a higher risk either, a new study has found.

Earlier studies had been unclear. Some suggested a benefit, while others showed no effect or even a risk. The latest study, from the University of California at San Francisco, included nearly 2,800 postmenopausal women with heart disease and should provide the most authoritative results on the question.

Physicians had expected that hormone therapy would protect women against heart attacks and strokes, but rigorous studies have not supported that notion. Other benefits, such as protection against osteoporosis, may still be seen as a reason for prescribing hormone therapy.

Nicotine damage

A part of the brain involved with emotional control, sexual arousal and deep sleep can be damaged by nicotine, researchers have found. The brain's fasciculus retroflexus seems especially vulnerable to addictive drugs, said Gaylord Ellison, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Los Angeles. Earlier research done by Dr. Ellison showed that the fasciculus retroflexus was damaged by such drugs as amphetamines, cocaine and Ecstasy. Those drugs attacked half of the fasciculus retroflexus, and nicotine damages the other half, Dr. Ellison said.

"Our findings suggest this is the brain's weak link for stimulant addictive drugs," he said. "This tract is affected more by chronic drug use than any other tract in the brain."

Emotional caring

Women who provide long-term home care for an ill or disabled family member develop an increasing number of emotional problems over time, according to researchers at Indiana University.

Measures of emotional distress among 3,000 caregivers ages 50 through 65 included increasing episodes of sadness, restless sleep and crying, sociologist Eliza Pavalko reported in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

"At least half of American women will care for a disabled family member during their lifetime," she said. "Our findings provide new information about the health effects of caregiving and have broader implications for understanding how women's involvement in multiple roles affects their health and well-being."

The findings should raise a cautionary flag against policies designed to increase the responsibility of families to take care of disabled members and reduce formal support for care, she said.

Double duty

Seat belts and air bags are lifesavers, but the two together offer the most protection in a head-on collision.

In a new study, seat belts alone reduced the odds of dying by 72 percent, while air bags reduced mortality by 63 percent.

Combining the two reduced mortality by 80 percent, say researchers from the University of New Mexico and the University of Utah, who based their study on an analysis of all head-on collisions in the United States between 1992 and 1997.

The report appeared in February in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Growing heavier

British children younger than 4 are getting fatter, says a recent study published in the British Medical Journal.

Researchers from the University of Liverpool tracked the height, weight and body mass of more than 64,000 infants and toddlers between 1989 and 1998.

They found that 24 percent of the children were overweight in 1998, compared with 15 percent in 1989. About 9 percent were obese, compared with 5 percent previously.

The study called the increase "highly significant," though researchers conceded that there was no consensus on how much weight makes a child overweight or obese. The researchers defined overweight children as weighing in the 85th percentile or higher for each age group. Obesity was defined as weighing in the 95th percentile or higher.


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