This week in the medical journals
By Katrina Woznicki
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.
YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS
New use for old drug
There was startling news about an old drug this week in the major medical journals. This drug, used for many years to treat epilepsy and seizures, may provide the final ingredient for a drug "cocktail" that could eradicate the HIV virus, researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center reported in The Lancet.
The drug is Depakene, also known as valproic acid. It, or drugs like it, could supplement highly active anti-retroviral therapy, known as HAART, which vastly reduces the amount of HIV virus in the blood and stops the infection from progressing to AIDS. But when HAART is stopped, HIV comes back because the virus is hiding in resting immune cells.
The Dallas team said Depakene goes after the resting immune cells infected with HIV. The researchers said this new approach may open the door for a way to completely eradicate the HIV infection.
The bronze loses its glow
In other news, the dark side of tanning was the focus of a series of studies in Archives of Dermatology that put ultraviolet light under the spotlight.
Researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found evidence that some people might be addicted to the sun's rays. They questioned 145 beachgoers and found women were 5.5 times more likely to be at the beach to achieve that bronze glow.
It's possible, the researchers said, that sunbathers might experience an endorphin rush that might make tanning addictive. If there is a tanning addiction, they said, that could help explain why despite efforts to educate the public about the dangers of too much sun, skin cancer rates continue to climb.
A study by researchers at Hopital Saint-Louis in Paris found that when it comes to sunbathing, the French seem to know when to call it quits even if they've used the strongest sunscreen. The researchers randomly handed out sunscreen labeled "high protection," "basic protection," and "low protection" to 359 beachgoers. The study found beachgoers using the strongest sunscreen tanned for about the same amount of time as those using the basic. The encouraging finding suggests a stronger sunscreen won't necessarily lead to more sun exposure.
And finally, state laws prohibiting minors from patronizing tanning salons are effective, according to a study from the University of Colorado. Sixty-two percent of tanning salons in states with minimum age laws said they would not allow a 12-year-old to use their services. On the other hand, only 18 percent of salons in states without such laws said they would turn away a 12-year-old. The findings were based on a telephone survey of 400 tanning salons in Texas, Wisconsin, Illinois and Colorado. Only Texas, Wisconsin and Illinois have established minimum age requirements for indoor tanning.
Matters of the heart
The latest technology for opening narrowed vessels in the heart, drug-eluting stents, were the focus of studies in two leading medical journals. Stents are the tiny flexible tubes that are used to prop open narrowed vessels in the heart. Drug-eluting stents are coated with drugs that prevent the growth of tissue that causes the newly opened vessels to re-narrow.
Two studies in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that Cypher, a stent coated with a drug called Rapamune (sirolimus), performed better than Taxus, which is coated with Taxol (paclitaxel). This finding was confirmed in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
All three studies reported that patients treated with Cypher stents were less likely to suffer restenosis, the medical term for re-narrowing of vessels.
But, all three studies also agreed that the jury is still out on the real significance of these findings. No one knows, they concluded, whether preventing restenosis can prevent heart attacks and save lives.
Business-hour heart attacks
Heart attacks during business hours get quicker attention, according to a team of Yale researchers. Patients who suffered heart attacks after hours or on weekends faced treatment delays that averaged 21 minutes. And when it comes to heart attacks, especially ST-segment acute myocardial infaction, or STEMI, time is muscle.
The longer it takes to reopen blocked vessels, the more likely it is that the heart will be permanently damaged. The researchers reported their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Once again researchers are linking painkillers to increased risk of heart disease. This time it's a pair of studies from Harvard researchers who reported that women who regularly use painkillers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen increase their risk for high blood pressure.
Moreover, the researchers said the increased risk, which was also observed in women taking prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), occurred in both young and old women. The findings were reported in Hypertension.
Black and white health care
Race continues to be a barrier to good health care according to a trio of studies in the New England Journal of Medicine. Harvard researchers said the race-based differences are lessening, but that blacks were less likely to receive lifesaving surgical procedures when compared with whites.
A second Harvard study said Medicare data indicate that the situation may be improving. The third study, from Emory University, found black women were less likely to receive the recommended treatments for heart attacks that are routinely given to white men.
Race was also a factor in a disturbing advertising trend, according to researchers from San Diego State University. They reported in BMC Public Health that magazines aimed at black or Hispanic readers are more likely to carry adds for cigarettes, alcohol and "unhealthy foods" than magazines aimed at white readers. By contrast, magazines that target white readers had more ads for healthy products such as vitamins, the authors said.
Color me bell pepper red
Finally, an apple day -- a bright red apple that is -- may keep the rheumatologist at more than arm's distance.
Researchers at the University of Manchester in England reported that a diet rich in brightly colored fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of arthritis. Writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, they reported that people who develop arthritis typically eat much lower amounts of oranges or red bell peppers, which leads them to conclude that a plate full of brightly colored fruits and veggies may offer protection against arthritis. Alternatively, a daily glass of orange juice will do, they added.
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