Health & Medicine
Health Watch: Teens and Vitamin D
Teenagers who skimp on vitamin D may be at risk of serious lung disease later in life. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that teens who consumed one fourth less than the daily recommended dose of 200 IU--found in two cups of fortified milk--could not exhale the same volume of air as those who regularly took in the full amount, even though they didn't notice any shortness of breath. Lung function naturally declines over time, and starting out at a disadvantage may increase vulnerability to diseases like emphysema, says lead researcher Jane Burns, who presented the findings at the American Thoracic Society International Conference last week. Norman Edelman, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association, cautions against automatically adding supplements, however. In the past, beta carotene pills were thought to protect against lung cancer and turned out to do just the opposite, at least in smokers. Vitamin D is produced when skin is exposed to sunlight and is found in fish oil and egg yolks. - Jill Canada
Health Watch: Maybe You Don't Need Chemo; Frail Bodies and Broken Minds; If Your Diet Doesn't Do It, Take a Nap
Maybe You Don't Need Chemo
Nausea, infections, and mental confusion called "chemo brain" are the price that 100,000 breast cancer patients are willing to pay each year to get well. But many women now may sidestep chemotherapy and these noxious side effects. Currently, people with estrogen-sensitive tumors that haven't spread to lymph nodes routinely undergo chemo to prevent a recurrence. However, an article published online last week in the Journal of Clinical Oncology reported that women who got a low score on the Oncotype DX test, which looks at 21 markers of tumor growth, lived long lives even without chemo. Their probability of living for at least 10 years without a recurrence was 96.8 percent. "Thousands of women are receiving toxic therapies, potentially unnecessarily. So this is very exciting to us," says Jo Anne Zujewski, head of breast cancer therapy evaluation at the National Cancer Institute. Patients can ask their doctors to send samples of the tumor to the test maker (www.oncotypedx.com). The cost: about $3,500, which is covered by Medicare and some private insurance. -Josh Fischman
Frail Bodies and Broken Minds
When legs and feet slow down, trouble may be brewing at the other end of the body. A clumsy gait and poor balance may be the first visible signs of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study. In last week's Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers who followed about 2,200 elderly people for at least seven years noted that those who developed dementia showed physical problems long before mental ones became obvious. Still, "it would be a mistake" for patients to conclude that a shambling walk signals early Alzheimer's or for docs to use it to diagnose the disease, says Dallas Anderson, a dementia expert at the National Institute on Aging. Too many other factors could contribute. The study does point to a tie-in between mind and body. That may explain why moderate exercise reduces the risk of dementia--another good reason to hit the gym or walking trail. - J.F.
If Your Diet Doesn't Do It, Take a Nap
Want more proof that you need a good night's sleep? It appears that women who squeeze in less than five hours of sleep a night are more likely to gain weight in the long run than those who get seven hours or more. Researcher Sanjay Patel, a doctor at Case Western Reserve University, examined data on 68,183 women in the Nurses Health Study, a long-term project that tracks women's health and habits, and found that women who reported getting the least sleep in 1986 were nearly a third more likely to experience major weight gain over the next 16 years. They were 15 percent more likely to become obese. One possible explanation: a difference in their metabolism rates. Being short on sleep is also thought to mean a higher risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular trouble--and it certainly makes you tired and apt to be cranky. So put down the magazine, and turn off the light. - Helen Fields
This story appears in the June 5, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.