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Health Updates 21 March 2012

  • Coffee not linked to psoriasis: “First it was beer, then it was cigarettes.  Finally, researchers have found a vice that’s not tied to psoriasis: coffee.  In fact, when Dr. Abrar Qureshi and his team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston first set out to study whether there was a link between the skin disease and java, they thought the anti-inflammatory properties of caffeine might actually protect against psoriasis.  That had been reported by a group of Irani researchers, who applied caffeine directly to the skin of volunteers with psoriasis and found an apparent benefit.  Scientists believe psoriasis is caused by an abnormal immune system attack on the body’s own cells, which causes them to form red, scaly patches all over the body that usually itch.  Typical treatments…include topical creams, ultraviolet light exposure and systemic drugs that target the immune system.”  After taking smokers and drinkers into account (earlier studies have tied psoriasis to both tobacco and alcohol), it was found there is no link between caffeine and skin problems.  “‘There is also a growing body of evidence suggesting that coffee drinking may decrease the risk of diabetes, stroke and some types of cancer,’ [Dr. Esther] Lopez-Garcia…told Reuters Health in an email.  But she warned that the drink can worsen problems like insomnia, anxiety and high blood pressure.” (MedlinePlus)
  • Infants‘ faces trigger caregiving impulse in adults’ brains: “Seeing a baby’s face triggers a response in areas of adults’ brains involved in emotion, reward and planning movement, a finding researchers say may indicate a natural inclination to take care of an infant.  Researchers observed this pattern in adults who didn’t know the baby and didn’t have children of their own.  ‘These adults have no children of their own.  Yet images of a baby’s face triggered what we think might be a deeply embedded response to reach out and care for that child,’ study senior author Marc Bornstein, head of the Child and Family Research Section of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, MD., said in a news release.  The study is published in the journal NeuroImage.  Researchers…used MRI brain scans to record the brain activity of seven men and nine women as they viewed infant and adult faces, puppy and kitten  faces, and full-grown dog and cat faces.  Infant faces evoked more activity in certain brain regions than the other images.” (HealthDay)
  • Studies link daily doses of aspirin to reduced risk of cancer: “Taking aspirin every day may significantly reduce the risk of many cancers and prevent tumors from spreading, according to two new studies published on Tuesday.  The findings add to a body of evidence suggesting that cheap and widely available aspirin may be a powerful if overlooked weapon in the battle against cancer.  But the research also poses difficult questions for doctors and public health officials, as regular doses of aspirin can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and other side effects….The studies, led by Dr. Peter M. Rothwell, a professor of clinical neurology at the University of Oxford, were published in the medical journal The Lancet….There is an urgent need for clinical trials of treatment regimens incorporating aspirin, Dr. Rothwell said.  ‘What really jumps out at you in terms of prevention is the striking 75 percent reduction in esophageal cancer and a 40 to 50 percent reduction in colorectal cancer, which is the most common cancer right now,’ Dr. Rothwell said.  ‘In terms of prevention, anyone with a family history would be sensible to take aspirin,’ he added….Some cancer doctors commend the new research, saying that despite the limitations of the analyses, no other long-term clinical trials of aspirin and cancer are likely to be done because of the enormous expense involved and the fact that aspirin is a cheap generic drug.” (NY Times)
  • Many Americans ambivalent over laws aimed at healthy living:  “With a recent flood of new regulations or proposals aimed at governing lifestyle choices such as smoking, eating or cellphone use, is the United States in danger of becoming a ‘nanny state’?  According to a new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll, most Americans remain ambivalent about the issue, agreeing that policies that aim to protect public health and safety are sometimes necessary, but believing as well that adults should take responsibility for their own actions, and consequences for health.”  Pollsters found some interesting conflicts.  “‘The public is somewhat schizophrenic about laws and policies that are intended to improve health and safety and reduce injuries and accidents’, said Humphrey Taylor, chairman of The Harris Poll.  ‘Most people favor many regulations that protect them but they worry about our becoming a ‘nanny state’….And even as they supported many individual initiatives aimed at protecting the public good, 81 percent of respondents agreed that individuals should take responsibility for their own actions and ‘be free to make their own decisions, even if they suffer as a result’.” (Womenshealth.gov/HHS)
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