This week in the medical journals
By Peggy Peck
Editor's note: CNN.com has a business partnership with MedPageToday.com, which provides custom health content. A medical journal roundup from MedPage Today appears each Thursday.
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The brainy high school kids are the ones more likely to keep their wits in old age when others around them are succumbing to dementia. This finding highlighted the studies reported in the major medical journals this week.
High school whiz kids are less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease in old age, found researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio.
Using high school records and yearbooks from the 1940s, the researchers identified nearly 400 graduates and tracked their health status through adulthood into old age. They reported that a high IQ in high school reduced by about half the risk of dementia in old age.
But not everyone can be class valedictorian, and the researchers, who reported their findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, said that activity -- joining two or more extracurricular clubs or participating in sports -- also helped to preserve brain function into old age.
Parents who would like their kids to be competing for class honors should start by removing televisions from kids' bedrooms, according to a study in Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine.
In a study of about 350 third-graders, a bedroom TV was associated with significantly lower scores on standardized math tests, found researchers from Johns Hopkins and Stanford universities.
But before you replace the TV with an aquarium, consider this: A computer in the bedroom was associated with higher scores on the language arts section of standardized tests.
Diagnostic tests for cancer, an experimental test and an old standby, were featured in two studies this week.
A study in the Journal of Translational Medicine reported that bacteria found in saliva can predict about 80 percent of oral squamous cell cancers.
The researchers analyzed saliva from 45 cancer patients and 229 healthy volunteers and reported that three pathogens were elevated in the cancer patients. But the researchers say more studies are needed to determine whether the bugs are markers for cancer or whether they cause oral cancers.
The old test is prostate specific antigen, or PSA, which is used as a marker for prostate cancer. Researchers from the University of Texas, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, said that many prostate cancers are missed because physicians set the PSA bar too high.
A PSA level of 4.1 ng/ml, which is the recommended threshold, will miss about 80 percent of cancers, the Texas team reports. The team analyzed data from nearly 19,000 men and reported that many men who were considered low risk because they had PSA tests in the "normal" range had cancer.
On the other hand, if the threshold was set lower, a higher percentage of men without cancer would undergo biopsies. The PSA test, researchers concluded, is less than perfect when looking for prostate cancer.
Double duty for antidepressants
In heart news this week, researchers from Stanford University reported that taking drugs such as Prozac or Zoloft after a heart attack may prevent a second heart attack.
The researchers studied more than 1,800 heart attack patients for more than 2 1/2 years and found that patients who took antidepressants to fight the post heart-attack blues reduced their risk of a second heart attack or death by more than 40 percent compared with heart attack survivors who didn't use antidepressants. The findings were reported in Archives of General Psychiatry.
Meanwhile, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that the oxidized low-density lipoprotein, which is just another way of referring to the amount of fat circulating in the bloodstream, has a "strong and graded association" with coronary heart disease.
Moreover, this association is stronger in people younger than 60 than it is in older people. If additional studies confirm this association, physicians may be able to use a blood test to determine heart disease risk.
Treating tiny babies
Also in this week's New England Journal of Medicine, Stanford researchers reported that nitric oxide does more harm than good when given to premature babies who weigh 2.2 pounds (1,000 grams) or less, but it can reduce mortality and complications in preemies who weigh more than 2.2 pounds.
Tools of ignorance
The catcher's mitt caught some flak this week.
Researchers at Duke University said that catchers are not playing with the best equipment -- at least in terms of hand protection. The modern catcher's mitt, which has less padding than when the boys of summer played, makes it easier to throw out runners trying to steal. But it does less to protect the gloved hand from the constant pounding of high hard ones.
The end result is that catchers, more than pitchers or outfielders, have an increased risk of vascular damage to the hand, according to the study published in the Journal of Joint and Bone Surgery.
Games of chance were the focus of a study in Archives of General Psychiatry that offered fresh evidence that for some people gambling can be as addictive as smoking, drinking or drugging.
The study of 939 young adult New Zealanders found that psychological profiles of Gen-Xers diagnosed with gambling problems were strikingly similar to profiles of same age problem drinkers or drug abusers.
A smokeless break
And on the subject of addiction, researchers at Duke said that some smokers have a harder time kicking the tobacco habit because their brains are hard-wired to be more receptive to nicotine cravings.
The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to track brain cell response to smoking-related images in 13 adult smokers who swore off cigarettes for at least 24 hours before testing.
Juan Valdez: You the man!
And while cigarettes are clearly a bad habit, we can raise our cups in praise of coffee.
A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that coffee is a good defense against type 2 diabetes. A Dutch-American team of researchers that reviewed 15 epidemiological studies concluded that the more coffee people drank, the less likely they were to develop diabetes. That's assuming, of course, that the coffee is not accompanied by doughnuts, biscotti or topped with whipped cream.
Finally, you can't measure a woman's libido by her testosterone level, according to another Journal of the American Medical Association study.
But researchers from Monash Medical School in Victoria, Australia, said that even though blood levels of sex steroids like testosterone or its precursor dehydropiandrosterone sulfate don't correlate with sexual function, it is possible to improve a woman's sexual function with hormone therapy using either testosterone or DHEAS.
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