In Brief

In Brief

June 30, 2006

Cognition

Supplements don't help memory

Folate and B vitamin pills failed to help keep elderly people's brains and memories sharp in the longest study yet to test this approach.

Although some scientists said the study was too small to be the final word, others said it was one of the best done so far.

"We'd love to have something that is simple and reproducible and cheap and effective that would reduce the amount of dementia," but proof that vitamin supplements can do this is still lacking, said Bill Thies, scientific director of the Alzheimer's Association, which had no role in the study. The findings were published in yesterday's New England Journal of Medicine.

Folate and B vitamins lower homocysteine, a blood substance that can make arteries stiffen and clog. Researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand tested the approach for two years in 276 healthy people 65 and older with relatively high levels of homocysteine at the outset. Half got daily pills containing 1,000 micrograms of folate, 500 micrograms of B-12 and 10 milligrams of B-6; the other half got dummy pills.

Homocysteine levels fell in those taking the supplements, but cognitive function, as measured by several different tests, remained the same in both groups.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Breast cancer

Mammograms may raise risk in some

High-risk women who rely on mammograms as a weapon against breast cancer may actually increase their chances of getting the disease, according to preliminary research released this week.

The study looked at 1,600 European women with genetic mutations that predispose them to get breast cancer. Women who reported having had at least one chest X-ray were 54 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who had never had one.

This Catch-22, reported in the July 20 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, means women with mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes might want to consider being screened with magnetic resonance imaging instead of X-rays, doctors said.

It also suggests that women and men with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer might want to consider genetic testing to find out whether they carry a mutation before they get any X-rays in the chest area, doctors said.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Activity

Volunteers show improved health

Volunteering in the classroom can improve children's lives and the health of seniors who spend time with them, according to a new study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

In a study of 113 men and women 60 and older, researchers measured the volunteers' physical health by looking at their activity levels. Fifty-nine were in the Experience Corps Baltimore, a program sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Center for Aging that places older volunteers in elementary classrooms 15 hours a week. The others were not enrolled in a volunteer activity.

The seniors with activity levels below U.S. standards when they started volunteering doubled the calories they burned after just one school year. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that all Americans be physically active or exercise for half an hour a day, five days a week. "It says a lot when we document a near doubling in the physical activity levels of inactive adults who enrolled in this volunteer program," said Erwin Tan, an assistant professor of geriatrics at Hopkins who led the study. "We've shown that volunteering isn't just good; it really is good for you, too." The study was published on the Web site of the Journal of Urban Health.

Sun staff

Sociology

Number of close friends drops

Americans have fewer close friends than they did 19 years ago, researchers have found.

Using data from the General Social Survey, one of the nation's longest-running surveys of social, cultural and political issues, researchers compared responses from 1985 and 2004 and found that the mean number of people "with whom Americans can discuss matters important to them," dropped by almost one-third, from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 people in 2004. The number of people who have no one to talk to doubled, to 25 percent.

People are relying more on family, the researchers found, with those who speak only to kin about important matters increasing from 57 percent to 80 percent, and those speaking solely to their spouses about such things growing from 5 percent in 1985 to 9 percent in 2004.

Longer work hours, lengthier commutes and the substitution of Internet connections for live ones may have contributed to the breakdown of social networks, said Lynn Smith-Lovin, a sociology professor at Duke University and one of the authors of the study.

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Prostate cancer

Obesity may hurt recovery chances

Being overweight hurts men's chances of having successful radiation treatment for prostate cancer, according to a study released Monday.

The study by researchers at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center is being called the first to examine the link between obesity and prostate cancer progression after radiation treatment.

Researchers found that moderately and severely obese men had a 70 percent higher risk of having a tumor recur after radiation treatment than thinner men.

The same researchers last year looked at men who had surgery for prostate cancer and found that heavier men were more likely to have rising levels of PSA, a blood protein that can signal prostate cancer, after treatment than thinner men.

"Together, these studies confirm that a man's level of obesity can be a significant factor in how well he fares after standard treatments for prostate cancer," said Sara Strom, the epidemiologist who led the research on both studies.

It's not clear how being overweight affected the success of prostate cancer treatment. Fat tissue, by secreting certain hormones, may somehow have helped the cancer to progress later, Strom said.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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