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This week in the medical journals

By Peggy Peck Managing Editor

Editor's note: has a business partnership with, which provides custom health content. A medical journal roundup from MedPage Today appears each Thursday.



Medical Research

Low-fat fizzles, not sizzles

Three studies and two editorials in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that restricting dietary fat to less than 25 percent of total caloric intake for eight years didn't reduce breast cancer, colon cancer, or heart disease in almost 20,000 women ages 50 and older.

But as soon as headlines trumpeted the bad news, defenders of low-fat diets started picking apart the results pointing out that the diet used in the study decreased all fats, not just bad fats like transfats and animal fats. Others said the study didn't last long enough or that the dietary intervention started too late in life.

The low-fat-debate isn't over yet.

Low-fat diets disappoint for cancer and heart diseaseexternal link

Saw palmetto fails test

First it was bad news for low-fat diets for women, then it was bad news for men with enlarged prostates hoping to avoid surgeons.

Researchers from the University of California San Francisco reported that saw palmetto extract was no better than placebo at relieving urinary symptoms caused by enlarged prostate glands.

The study in the New England Journal of Medicine randomized 112 men with benign prostatic hyperplasia to saw palmetto and 113 to sugar pills. After a year, there was no difference between the two groups.

Saw palmetto wilts as benign prostate hyperplasia treatmentexternal link

Slow start, big finish

On the good news front, however, researchers in Hamilton, Ontario, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that a significant number of extremely-low-birth-weight babies -- infants who weighed one to two pounds at birth -- grow-up to be fully functioning adults.

The researchers followed 149 tiny babies born between 1977 and 1982 to adulthood and compared their outcomes with 133 normal-weight babies born during the same period.

Extremely low-birth-weight infants do well as adultsexternal link

A six-month plan for breast feeding

And speaking of babies, researchers at the University of California Davis found that breastfeeding for six months may be the best way to protect newborns against respiratory infections.

The report in Pediatrics found that less than 2 percent of babies who are breastfed for six months contracted pneumonia, compared with 6 percent of infants breast fed for just four months.

Six months of breastfeeding protects infants against pneumoniaexternal link

Calcium gap for school kids

School-age children, meanwhile, are not getting enough calcium, according to new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The guidelines, which were published in Pediatrics, stated that kids ages 7 to 12, should be getting 800 to 1,300 mg of calcium, but only about 40 percent of boys and 30 percent of girls are actually meeting that goal.

And it gets worse as kids hit the teen years, when just 10 percent of girls and 30 percent of boys consume recommended amounts of calcium.

Pediatricians say most U.S. kids don't get enough calciumexternal link

TV fans tune out family

Kids may, however, be getting too much TV, according to researchers from the University of Texas in Austin who surveyed more than 1,700 children ages 12 and younger.

As reported in Pediatrics, the more time kids spend in front of tube, the less time they spend interacting with family or friends -- even when everyone is watching TV together.

But these researchers said the news isn't all grim: TV time didn't cut into reading time or time spent in active play.

TV-addicted kids forsake all othersexternal link

Pregnancy and depression: difficult choices

A pair of studies reported in separate journals shed more light on the complex issue of treating depression during pregnancy.

Researchers from the University of California San Diego reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that babies born to women who took anti-depressants like Prozac or Zoloft during pregnancy were at risk for a serious respiratory problem called persistent pulmonary hypertension.

These drugs, which are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, were also linked to an infant withdrawal syndrome in a study reported in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

In that study researchers form Children's Medical Center of Israel in Petah Tiqwa, Israel, said that infants born to mothers who took the drugs had high-pitched crying, gastrointestinal disorders, stiffness, and disturbed sleep -- all signs of withdrawal.

Antidepressants find way to newborn lungsexternal link

Antidepressants in pregnancy linked to newborn hangoverexternal link

Stroke drug shows 'hint' of efficacy

Moving from the pediatric crowd, to the geriatric set, there was a "hint" of a breakthrough in stroke treatment this week.

For years doctors have been seeking drugs that could protect the brain's delicate nerve structure from damage caused by stroke with no success. But this week a report in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that an investigational drug called Cerovive (NKY-059) may limit the early damage caused by stroke. The drug works by blocking free-radicals that trigger inflammation, which destroys brain tissue.

But the drug didn't reduce long-term disability or reduce stroke mortality, so the message from stroke researchers is "cautious optimism."

Investigational cerovive may limit stroke damageexternal link

Wait, I'm confused

Finally, for those who sometimes feel that are just too many distractions in today's world, guess what? You may be older than you think.

Yes, Canadian researchers reported in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience that age-related brain changes make it harder for older adults -- that's over 65 in this study -- to filter out distractions. Multi-tasking, they wrote, is skill for the young and middle-aged.

Endnote: What happened to simplify, simplify?

Brain changes drive older adults to distractionexternal link

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