Study: Chemical in Household Products Linked to Early Menopause

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(CHARLESTON, W. Va.) -- Chemicals found in everyday products such as non-stick pans, clothing, furniture, carpets and paints have been associated with the early onset of menopause, according to a new study from the West Virginia University School of Medicine.

The study published by the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that women with high levels of perfluorocarbons (PFCs) in the body had lower concentrations of estrogen compared with women with low levels of PFCs.

PFCs are chemicals that are used in many household items, including furniture, cosmetics and food packaging.

"There is no doubt that there is an association between exposure to PFCs and onset of menopause, but the causality is unclear," Sarah Knox, lead author of the study, said in a news release from the university on Wednesday.

Even though the report may not be conclusive, it's still raising eyebrows. Some doctors say they're not surprised that chemicals are altering hormone levels, but they say they need more proof.

"Studies that we've done looking at these chemicals on the U.S. population show that almost everyone has these chemicals in their blood," Dana Boyd Barr, a research professor at the Rollins School of Health at Emory University in Georgia, told ABC News.

Chemical companies maintain their product is safe, but the study raises questions about whether early menopause is a new reason to worry about PFCs in general.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Breakthrough: Japanese Researchers Grow Sperm in Lab

BananaStock/Thinkstock(YOKOHAMA, Japan) -- Researchers in Japan have grown functioning mouse sperm in a laboratory dish, a breakthrough that has been decades in the making and holds out new hope for millions of infertile men.

The research, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, could help scientists understand several steps of spermatogenesis, or sperm formation, at the cellular level and ultimately lead to new treatments for male infertility.

Researcher Takehiko Ogawa of Yokohama City University not only grew healthy mouse sperm in the laboratory, but also used them to produce fertile offspring, according to the study.  The sperm were produced in a test tube from the cells taken from newborn mouse testicles, and then injected into eggs to produce to twelve healthy babies, four male and eight female, which were all fertile and able to have their own babies in adulthood.

"It's really exciting," said Mary Ann Handel, a reproductive genetics research scientist at Maine's Jackson Laboratory.  "I really do think that he's really achieved a goal that a lot of people have tried over the years."

"It is a significant breakthrough," said Martin Dym, a professor of biochemistry and molecular and cellular biology at Georgetown University.  Dym was part of a team that tried, and failed, to accomplish in vitro growth of functional sperm ten years ago.  "We did make sperm, but could not succeed in getting the sperm to make pups.  [The Japanese team] has better sperm."

The potential practical applications in humans would include treating infertility, which affects an estimated 8 to 12 percent of the male population.

"So far it's been done in mice," said Dym.  "You have to show that it can work in humans."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Revolutionary New Prosthesis Helping Wounded Troops Walk Easier

Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A revolutionary new prosthetic leg system developed to help troops wounded in battle walk with ease again was showcased Thursday at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

The medical advancement, called the PowerFoot BiOM, is the first bionic lower-leg system to restore the lost function of the foot and ankle.  Dr. Paul Pasquins, the chief of orthopedics and rehabilitation at Walter Reed, says unlike previous systems, the new prosthesis doesn't rely on muscles above the knee to help a person walk.

"The difference is all of those devices are passive devices, meaning the individual has to propel themselves, use more proximal muscles -- muscles above the knee, for example, to make that prothesis work," Pasquins explains.  "What this prothesis does is substitute for the muscles that are lost for an amutation below the knee in terms of ankle and foot function."

"The actuators within the prosthesis actually help to propel the individual," he adds.  "So the motors can carry a human body up to 260 pounds."

Army First Sgt. Mike Leonard, who was injured in Afghanistan, says the PowerFoot BiOM makes walking easier.

"It gives your body a forward momentum, so you can walk a little bit easier, with less muscle energy," Leonard says.

So far, only five PowerFoot BiOMs exist.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study Suggests More Added Sugar Equals Weight Gain

Polka Dot/Thinkstock(MINNEAPOLIS) -- A new study suggests that added sugar intake is directly related to weight gain, according to HealthDay.

The study, which was conducted by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, examined Minnesota residents for 27 years. Researchers found that over the years patients ate less fat, but more carbohydrates and added sugar. The study also showed that the body-mass index of the patients corresponded with national trends in sugar consumption.

Researchers also found some intriguing differences between men and women. Men ate 38 percent more of their daily calories from added sugar in 2007-2009 than in 1980-1982. By contrast, women ate just under 10 percent more.

The study was presented at the American Heart Association conference in Atlanta on Thursday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study Suggests Itching Is Contagious

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.) -- The need to scratch an itch may just be in your mind, according to a new study publishing in the British Journal of Dermatology.

Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center had participants in the study watch videos of other people itching to determine whether being itchy was really a contagious feeling.  They found that participants who saw the videos scratched themselves more intensely and reported feeling itchier than those didn't watch it.

The concept that itching can be visually transmitted could lead to meditation methods to stop the scratching.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Ecstasy-Related ER Visits Spike on Spring Break

Ryan McVay/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A new player may be joining the list of spring break overdose dangers: the "club drug" ecstasy.

New government statistics show a 75 percent spike in ecstasy-related emergency room visits since 2004, prompting Director of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske to issue a public warning on the dangers of the popular party drug, especially with the spring break season approaching.

"The latest numbers show we need to work urgently and collaboratively to warn young people about the harms of drug use.  Now is the time when a lot of young adults and high school kids are going on spring break trips, and this is unfortunately when young people often experiment with substance abuse," said Rafael Lemaitre, a spokesperson for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

And ecstasy-related substance abuse has been especially present in certain spring break hotspots in recent years.

"Miami Beach is like the playground of young adults in America.  We're seeing a lot more ER visits associated with ecstasy.  I'd say ecstasy is one of the top three drugs of choice for Miami Beach," said Dr. David Farcy, director of Mount Sinai Medical Center's Emergency Medicine Critical Division in Miami Beach.

Spring break is one of the peak times the hospital sees ecstasy-related ER visits, Farcy said, often by younger college students.  Other peaks happen during music festivals such as last December's Day Glo Party in Miami, when over a dozen patients came in suffering complications from ecstasy.

Ecstasy, also known as MDMA, is a mood-elevating drug that produces a relaxed, euphoric state but can lead to dangerous, even deadly complications.

Though the U.S. saw a dip in overall youth drug use -- specifically including ecstasy -- at the beginning of the decade, results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show ecstasy climbing in prevalence since 2008.  According to Thursday data, an alarming 18 percent of ER visits associated with the drug were by adolescents under age 17.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


How Will Radiation Burns Affect Japan Plant Workers?

YOMIURI SHIMBUN/AFP/Getty Images(CLEVELAND) -- Three Japanese ground workers laboring to contain the nuclear reactors in Fukushima were rushed to the hospital with radiation burns after irradiated water that escaped from the plant's number 3 reactor seeped through the workers' protective gear.

Following reports of the workers' injuries, nearly a dozen experts on radiation exposure responded to a few questions by the ABC News' Medical Unit on the growing elements of radiation danger to workers on the ground in Fukushima.

Physical burns may not be the only hazard for the workers who came in contact with contaminated water, experts said.

Some reports of radiation injuries may not necessarily be radiation burns, according to Dr. Roger Macklis, chair of the department of radiation oncology at the Cleveland Clinic.

"Healing a radiation skin burn is much more difficult if the patient's bone marrow is failing," said Blackstock.

While it's unclear the extent of the workers' burns, Brook said, deeper radiation burns are harder to treat and are more prone to infection.

Maintaining higher than normal levels of radiation in the body can lead to acute radiation syndrome (ARS). Symptoms of ARS include swelling, itching, and nausea. If left untreated, ARS could cause internal bleeding.

The quicker the onset of symptoms, the higher the radiation dose, Emery said.

Immediate treatment might help curb the potential longer-term effects. It's unclear what other radiation effects some workers may experience, but Brook said, time will tell.

"It may develop within 24 to 72 hours if they got more radiation than estimated," he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


What's For Breakfast? How About Lower Blood Pressure

George Doyle/Thinkstock(YONKERS, NY) --  Consumer Reports brought to light a new fact about men and high blood pressure on Thursday.  According to a study presented at an American Heart Association meeting in Atlanta, men who start the day with a bowl of cereal are 19 percent less likely to have high blood pressure than those who don't.   And if you’re talking about cereals high in fiber,  that percentage only increases.  Even with less consumption -- two to six servings per week -- men were still 11 percent less likely to have high blood pressure. 

Another benefit the study highlights is the importance of breakfast in one's daily meal routine as it has been linked to other health benefits, including better weight control, healthier cholesterol numbers and triglyceride levels and improved sensitivity to insulin.

Consumer Reports adds that you should look for products with at least three grams of fiber and no more than four grams of sugar per serving.

Consumer Reports also says that while the whole study hasn't yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, it is part of the respected Physicians' Health Study and includes approximately 17 years of follow-up with some 13,400 participants.



Eating Cocoa Associated with Improved Heart Health

Jack Hollingsworth/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- For years we've heard about the health benefits of dark chocolate.  Now researchers have taken another look at the role of cocoa on heart health and presented their study to a conference at Harvard Medical School.

Chocolate comes from the cocoa plant and contains compounds known as flavonoids, which not only act as antioxidants but are known to have cardiovascular benefits.

Researchers reviewed 21 studies on the effects of cocoa on the the heart.  The studies were short term and the more than 2,500 participants consumed sugar-free dark chocolate.

The authors found that eating chocolate lowered blood pressure and improved the ability of insulin to lower blood sugar "without weight gain."

They concluded chocolate is good for the heart.  However,  they didn't say how much is needed or for how long one should enjoy its benefits.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


A Portrait of Tuberculosis: Disease Still Kills 1.7M Per Year

Duncan Smith/Thinkstock(GENEVA, Switzerland) -- For the past three years, David Rochkind has documented the devastating effects of a disease that, despite being treatable and preventable, has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization: tuberculosis.

Rochkind, an American photojournalist living in Latin America since 2003, naturally became interested in migrant groups in the region. In 2008, he set off to South Africa to report on tuberculosis among migrant gold miners, a disease he'd heard was plaguing the population, but he knew very little about it. What he found there shocked him.

TB was completely rampant, and its reach knew no boundaries. "The disease didn't just affect the individual patient who has it, but also affected their family and the communities where it was found," says Rochkind.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2010, Africa's mining industry contributes up to 760,000 new cases of TB each year, with the migrants traveling to work in South Africa at highest risk. Miners in the area are particularly susceptible to TB because of high rates of HIV and silicosis, a lung disease caused by the dust formed during mining. When the miners return home, they take TB with them, passing it on to their families and communities, frequently far from any health center able to treat the disease.

But South Africa isn't alone in the epidemic.

The World Health Organization estimates that 1.7 million people died from TB in 2009. While the incidence rate is declining worldwide, the number of cases is still rising globally, because of population growth. TB is a cruel disease, stalking the poor and others who live in crowded conditions. While 90 percent of cases are in the developing world, TB has become a growing concern in the U.S. and Europe in recent years. Even more disturbingly, multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB), the disease's more difficult and expensive to treat relative, is spreading rapidly in many countries. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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