In Brief

In Brief

August 04, 2006


Soldiers showing effects of war

Two months after returning from Iraq, some U.S. Army soldiers displayed subtle signs of confusion, reduced attention spans and impaired memories that suggest a slow readjustment to civilian life, according to a study published this week.

Researchers also found an increase in reaction speed and a heightened level of tension among the soldiers, said lead author Jennifer J. Vasterling, a psychologist with the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System.

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, are consistent with "an adaptive response to a life-threatening situation," she said. The psychological changes most likely were a result of the soldiers' constant hyper-vigilance in Iraq - a trait that is helpful in battle, but counterproductive on their return.

The study, the first to examine soldiers before and after deployment, found no significant incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Earlier studies have shown that as many as one in every eight soldiers who saw duty in Iraq was formally diagnosed with PTSD within a year after their return.

Vasterling's group studied 654 soldiers who were examined both before and after their deployment, comparing them to a control group of 307 soldiers who were not deployed.


Weight control

Big bowls lead to bigger helpings

If you are packing on the pounds, open the kitchen cabinet and take a long, hard look at your china and flatware. Big bowls and big spoons cause people to eat bigger portions of ice cream, a new study has found.

The research, to be published in the September issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, reported that doubling the size of bowls increased the amount of ice cream people served themselves by 31 percent. Offering them a larger ice cream scoop increased the amount they dished out by 14.5 percent.



Charles V had gout, pinkie shows

A 450-year-old piece of Charles V's pinkie lends support to the theory that it was gout that led one of the most powerful rulers of all time to abdicate, Spanish researchers report.

Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, whose empire stretched across Europe and included Spanish America, was diagnosed with gout by his doctors in early adulthood. By the end of his reign in 1556, he was a crippled man who could barely walk at times or ride a horse, said Dr. Pedro Luis Fernandez, a pathologist at the University of Barcelona.

"His physical suffering influenced decisions that affected the future of many countries," Fernandez and his colleagues reported in yesterday's New England Journal of Medicine.

To confirm the diagnosis of gout, a form of arthritis, the scientists did laboratory tests on a mummified piece of Charles V's little finger.

Fernandez said the fingertip was taken from the corpse at some point and later returned. It is kept in a red velvet box at the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, outside Madrid, where Charles V, who was also king of Spain, is buried.

The analysis revealed deposits of needle-shaped crystals of uric acid that had eroded tissue and bone - a sure sign of gout. Such crystals are caused by a buildup of uric acid and result in pain and swelling of the joints, often the big toe.

Gout has long been associated with rich diets and alcohol. According to the researchers, Charles V had a big appetite.



Three risk factors for dementia

Researchers have for the first time developed a "risk score" to try to predict which people may develop dementia. The leading factors virtually mirror those already known for cardiovascular disease: obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, according to the study published yesterday in the journal Lancet Neurology.

Having any one of these risk factors doubles a person's chance of developing dementia, and having all three increases their chances by six times, said Dr. Miia Kivipelto, an associate professor at the Aging Research Centre in Stockholm, Sweden, and the study's lead author.

The study looked at 1,409 middle-aged people in Finland from 1972 to 1987, who were then re-examined 20 years later. Forty of those developed dementia.

While cautioning that the results still need to be validated in further studies in different populations, Kivipelto says that their risk score predicted dementia occurrence with about a 70 percent accuracy rate.



Alternative therapy provides little relief

Almost half of American women seek alternative or complementary treatments for the unpleasant symptoms of menopause. But a systematic review of the evidence has found little proof that any of them work.

Researchers reviewed 70 randomized, controlled trials of alternative treatments and found insufficient scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of any of the commonly used remedies: herbs, mind-body techniques, energy therapies using magnets or electrical nerve stimulation, homeopathy, naturopathy or culturally based non-Western medical treatments.

The review was published July 24 in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Most of the studies were of poor quality, but even those judged by the researchers to be "fair" or "good" on a three-point scale most often demonstrated little difference between alternative treatments and placebo. For example, a study that compared 56 patients given a soy drink with 55 who drank a medically inactive liquid found no difference between the groups, although both groups got some symptom relief.


Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.