Our weekly roundup of the latest news in the world of health.
Researchers reported this week that brain-disease deaths are three times average for former pro football players. Another study looked at the use of ginkgo biloba in older adults. It found that ginkgo did not help prevent Alzheimer's disease in the study group. Results were released this week for a major project related to human DNA. Researchers found that so-called "junk" DNA actually has important roles in the body. Another study found no increase in health benefits for organic compared with conventional foods.
This Issue: Brain-Disease Deaths High in Ex-NFL Players Ginkgo Disappoints in Alzheimer's Prevention Study 'Junk' DNA Linked to Important Roles Study Finds Little Reason to Buy Organic
In the News:
Brain-Disease Deaths High in Ex-NFL Players
Former pro football players are much more likely than average to die from brain diseases, a study published this week finds. The study was done by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). It was based on a 1994 study of 3,439 former NFL players. All had spent at least 5 seasons in the league. Researchers looked at death certificates for 334 players who died. They were 3 times as likely as the general public to die of diseases that damage the brain. Seven had Alzheimer's disease. Seven had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, often called Lou Gehrig's disease). Death rates from those 2 diseases were 4 times average. Death rates from Parkinson's disease were average. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease long known to occur in boxers, has also been found recently in the brains of deceased NFL players. It is believed to be caused by repeated concussions. CTE symptoms can mimic Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or ALS. The new study could not say if any players who died had CTE. The condition can be found only on an autopsy. The researchers had to rely on death certificates. The journal Neurology published the study. USA Today wrote about it.
Ginkgo Disappoints in Alzheimer's Prevention Study
Taking a daily ginkgo biloba pill does not prevent Alzheimer's disease in older adults, a new study suggests. The study included 2,800 people age 70 or older. All of them had memory problems when the study began. But they had not been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. People were randomly divided into 2 groups. One group took a daily dose of ginkgo biloba, an herbal supplement. The other group took placebo (fake) pills. Everyone got yearly tests of memory and thinking skills. Researchers kept track of people for 5 years. In that time span, 61 of those in the ginkgo biloba group were diagnosed with Alzheimer's. There were 73 people diagnosed in the placebo group. The difference was small enough that it could have occurred by chance, researchers said. The journal Lancet Neurology published the study this week. The Associated Press wrote about it.
'Junk' DNA Linked to Important Roles
It's time to give up the idea that humans have useless, "junk" DNA, results of a major project suggest. The reports are part of the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) project. ENCODE's aim was to explain a puzzling finding of the Human Genome Project. That project's report, published in 2003, said that only 2% of human genes seemed to have a direct role in production of bone, blood, muscle and other tissues. Other areas, whose function was unknown, have often been called "junk" DNA. But the new project found out that 80% of the human genome contains "switches" that control other genes. These switches are also called regulatory genes or transcription factors. More than 4 million switches have been identified. The ENCODE results show that these switches turn on and off to control production of body tissues. Glitches in these switches also play a major role in disease. Most of the time, the process is complex, the project found. For instance, each of the 17 major types of cancer was found to be linked to defects in 20 or more gene switches. The journals Nature, Science, Cell and others published reports from the ENCODE project. USA Today wrote about it.
Study Finds Little Reason to Buy Organic
Organic foods have few, if any, health advantages over conventional foods, a research review finds. The researchers looked at thousands of prior studies. They focused on 237 that met their standards for how well the research was done. Only 17 studies compared how the foods affected people. The others focused on properties of the foods themselves. Nutrient levels varied greatly, with no clear patterns. Organic produce was 30% less likely to have pesticide residue than conventional produce. Children in 2 studies were less likely to have pesticides in urine if they ate organic diets. But researchers said the amounts were small and within safety limits. Bacteria levels were about the same in both kinds of meats. But the bacteria in the conventionally produced meats were more drug-resistant. They were 33% more likely to resist multiple antibiotics. The journal Annals of Internal Medicine published the study this week. The Associated Press wrote about it.
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