Health Briefs

Health Briefs

Health & Fitness

January 04, 2004|By Los Angeles Times

Nicotine studies show memory enhancement

For many years, doctors have been trying to harness the memory-enhancing powers of nicotine without exposing people to the carcinogenic chemicals in cigarette smoke. A nicotine patch could be the answer.

Several studies have shown that nicotine can improve attentiveness among patients with attention deficit disorders, schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease and mild to moderate Alzheimer's. Now, a small study from Duke University researchers suggests that low-dose nicotine patches might relieve the mildest form of memory loss, a common condition called age-associated memory impairment -- often referred to as "senior moments."

The study of 11 nonsmoking patients ages 60 to 90 found that four weeks of wearing a nicotine patch halved the time it took them to make decisions on a standardized memory test. The low-dose nicotine patch worked without such side effects as increased heart rate, blood pressure and weight loss, all of which are associated with higher doses. One participant dropped out because of nausea.

Nicotine, the study demonstrated, can improve memory and attention even at the earliest stages of memory loss, said co-author Edward D. Levin, a behavioral pharmacologist. But people having difficulty recalling names or phone numbers shouldn't rush out to buy the patch, experts say. Nicotine is only FDA-approved for smoking cessation, and the long-term safety of nicotine patches hasn't been proven in large studies. The findings are published in an online edition of the journal Psychopharmacology.

Urine test could reveal kidney cancer early

A new procedure could, for the first time, allow doctors to diagnose kidney cancer through a simple urine test.

Until now, the only way to know if you had kidney cancer was with imaging tests, such as a CT scan, MRI or ultrasound and, if something suspicious was found, with a biopsy.

Researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia have found that DNA testing of urine samples not only can accurately detect cancer but also can pick up the disease in its early stages, when it's curable. Nearly 32,000 Americans are diagnosed each year with kidney cancer, and 25 percent to 40 percent of them already have advanced forms of the disease.

Led by molecular biologist Paul Cairns, researchers examined the tumors of 50 kidney cancer patients, looking for changes in a half-dozen genes that normally suppress tumor growth. They found the identical gene defects in the urine of 44 patients, meaning the urine tests detected 88 percent of the cancers. In six cancer patients, however, a defect found in the tumor wasn't seen in the urine. If more than six genes were tested, researchers believe that 95 percent or more of kidney cancers could be spotted with the urine test. The research was published in the journal Cancer Research.

Pesticide may delay boys' sexual development

Living in a community where a common pesticide has gotten into the soil, water and air may interfere with sexual development in young men.

Until now, scientists had evidence only from laboratory animals that pesticides could affect the male reproductive system. The challenge was finding a place where they could look for the effects of a single pesticide on humans. They identified a community in northern Kerala, India, where endosulfan was the only pesticide sprayed for more than 20 years on the local cashew crop; spraying was discontinued in 2000.

Researchers from India's National Institute of Occupational Health studied 117 schoolchildren ages 10 to 19 who lived in the foothills of cashew plantations. When compared with 90 young men from similar communities with no history of pesticide exposure, the young men exposed to endosulfan showed signs of delayed sexual maturity and lower-than-expected testosterone levels. The study appeared recently in Environmental Health Perspectives.

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