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Health Notes: Smog, Antioxidants and Prostate Cancer - 2001-12-07


A new study finds that children exposed daily to high levels of air pollutants may risk developing lung disease. Leading researcher Lynn Fordham of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine reached this conclusion after evaluating standard chest x-rays of 260 school-age children. 241 of the subjects lived in smog-ridden Mexico City and 19 resided in a small Mexican coastal town. All appeared to be very healthy and showed no symptoms of lung problems or signs of respiratory ailments such as asthma.

But, when Dr. Fordham studied their x-rays she saw that 63 percent of the Mexico City children had excessive inflation of the lungs. Also, 52 percent of the metropolitan children had signs of inflammation along the lung airways and abnormal markings in their lungs which could be a precursor to future pulmonary diseases. At the same time, only one child out of the 19 children from the small coastal town showed signs of lung damage.

Dr. Fordham says that the children studied were very active and many of them played for a long time outdoors in the later afternoon hours when pollutant levels are at their peak. The doctor says that air pollution may cause lung disease in children and advises parents and guardians to keep them indoors in the late afternoon on days when ozone levels are high.

A recently released study finds that certain antioxidant vitamins may offset cholesterol-lowering medications. Dr. Greg Brown of the University of Washington Medical school led the study, funded by the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Brown found that vitamins E, C, Selenium and Beta-Carotene blunted the benefits of Statins and Niacin medication used to lower the bad form of cholesterol and raise the good kind of cholesterol - cholesterol that keeps the arteries flowing smoothly.

Dr. Emily Senay, a medical consultant, says that 40% of people who suffer from heart disease have low levels of good cholesterol. "The antioxidants blunted the positive effects of cholesterol lowering medications," she says. "What's really important is that the cholesterol lowering medication and the Niacin when they were given completely alone had remarkable benefits for those people."

Leading researcher Dr. Greg Brown says that during the three year long study, just 3 percent of the people who were taking cholesterol lowering medication died of heart attack or needed heart surgery. In comparison, he says, 14% of those patients who added antioxidants to their drugs required medical intervention, including surgery.

Men with low blood levels of selenium, a trace element found in certain foods and supplements, are four to five times more likely to develop prostate cancer. That's the conclusion of a study conducted by Dr. James Brooks of Stanford University's School of Medicine. The men who participated averaged just less than 69 years of age. One third of them were prostate cancer patients. Dr. Brooks found a direct connection between lower levels of selenium and prostate cancer.

Specifically, he says, men with higher levels of selenium were found to be at lower risk of prostate cancer. He also found that selenium levels in blood decrease with age and most men who suffer from prostate cancer are older in age. Dr. Brooks concluded that eating foods that contain selenium, such as tuna fish or Brazil nuts, or taking dietary supplements that are rich in selenium might reduce the risk of this often-fatal form of cancer.

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