Delaying Death With a Pill
Vitamin D supplements could prolong your life, a new European study suggests. "The intake of usual doses of vitamin D seems to decrease mortality," says lead researcher Philippe Autier, from the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France. Autier and his colleague Sara Gandini, from the European Institute of Oncology in Milan, Italy, looked at data from 18 trials involving more than 57,000 people. Doses of vitamin D in the trials varied from 300 to 2,000 international units, with an average dose of 528 IUs. Those who took vitamin D supplements had a 7 percent lower risk of dying during a trial compared with those who didn't. "Vitamin D can reduce the proliferation of cells; the proliferation of cells is something you see in cancer," Autier says. He believes people should take vitamin D supplements in the range of between 400 and 600 IUs daily. And there's another way to make sure you get vitamin D: Get a moderate amount of sun exposure each day, since the skin uses sunlight to produce vitamin D. -Healthday
Now Expecting More of Life
We may be getting older, but we're living longer than ever. U.S. life expectancy at birth reached an all-time high of nearly 78 years in 2005, up from 77.8 the year before, according to a report released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The increase may not seem like much, but a mere decade earlier, life expectancy fell shy of 76 years. "The higher rate reflects a continued reduction in deaths from heart disease, cancer, and stroke," says the cdc's Donna Hoyert. Better prevention methods and treatments, she says, are now available for those conditions, the top three causes of death nationwide. African-Americans' life expectancy has risen to 73.2 years but still lags five years behind that of whites. -Matthew Shulman
Prostate Drug Shows Safer Side
Two studies published online last week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute offer reassuring data on the drug finasteride. A 2003 cancer-prevention trial found that a daily dose of finasteride can cut a man's risk of developing prostate cancer--but the tumors that did turn up tended to be of the dangerous, high-grade variety. That troubling finding has deterred doctors from prescribing the drug for preventive purposes. But the new studies, which reanalyzed the trial data, suggest the concern may be misplaced. Since finasteride shrinks healthy prostate tissue, it may make doctors less likely to miss a tumor, says Scott Lucia, a pathologist at the University of Colorado, who led one of the studies. Better detection--not more disease--probably led to the trial's worrisome finding, conclude the researchers, some of whom have ties to Merck, a pharmaceutical company that manufactures finasteride. "The bad press for finasteride is probably exaggerated," Lucia says. Still, the drug sometimes has side effects, including impotence and decreased libido. -Adam Voiland
Risks Differ for Diabetes Drugs
Avandia, used by millions of diabetics, greatly increases their risk of heart attack and heart failure, researchers report. The drug does not up risk of heart-related death, however, said Sonal Singh of Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. Patients should talk to their doctors about the potential risks and benefits of the drug, Singh said.
The study is published in the September 12 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, as is a study finding that Actos, a diabetes drug in the same class as Avandia, reduced the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death during the period studied. Singh and his colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of four trials involving more than 14,000 patients. Avandia increased the risk of heart attack by 42 percent and doubled the risk of heart failure.
The second study looked at data from 19 trials. Actos's manufacturer funded the analysis. Like Avandia, Actos raised users' risk for heart failure. However, patients receiving Actos had an 18 percent lower risk of heart attack, stroke, or death than did patients in the control group. -HealthDay