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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
Health Treatment
Flu Season

Focused on bird flu

This spring the minds of medical researchers and the major medical journals are focused on bird flu.

The New England Journal of Medicine published results from the first multicenter study of a vaccine to prevent the H5N1 avian influenza virus and the results were clearly mixed. The vaccine works, but it only works at an unusually high dose and even then it is only effective for about half the people vaccinated.

Good enough for the federal government. Washington gave Sanofi-Aventis the go-ahead to begin producing the vaccine.

Avian flu vaccine protective but only at high dosesexternal link

Horse sense

Another option, but this is still in the experimental stage, would be to use bird flu antibodies developed in horses to treat avian flu in humans.

A team of Chinese researchers reported in Respiratory Research that bird flu-infected mice recovered after being injected with the equine antibodies.

Avian flu vaccine seen in equine antibodiesexternal link

Can you hear it now?

The heart is another springtime theme, and there was news to make one's heart skip a beat.

Many doctors, it seems, are not a whiz with a stethoscope. According to a report in Archives of Internal Medicine from Stanford researchers, practicing doctors are no better than medical students at evaluating cardiac symptoms the old fashioned way, by listening with a stethoscope for erratic beats or the sound of a malfunctioning valve.

Third- and fourth-year medical students did as well on a test that measured clinical exam skills as medical residents and medical school faculty, while private practice doctors did a little worse.

The best score -- 71 out of 100 -- went to doctors taking advanced training in cardiology.

Doctors flub lub-dub proficiency testexternal link

Down at the end of lonely street...

Lonely hearts are not happy hearts, and aging lonely hearts are also unhealthy hearts.

That was the assessment of researchers from Northwestern University who reported in Psychology and Aging that loneliness may be as bad for the heart as being overweight or a couch potato.

In a study of 229 adults ages 50 to 68, participants who said they were lonely had blood pressures 10 to 30 mm Hg higher than adults who say they aren't lonely. Not good.

Loneliness weighs heavily on the heartexternal link

Small successes

In vitamin news this week, researchers at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease reported a smidgen of evidence that high-dose vitamin C delivered intravenously may be a useful cancer treatment for some cancer patients.

Writing in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the researchers described three cases -- a woman with kidney cancer, a man with bladder cancer, and a woman with a tumor on her spine -- in which patients responded to the unusual treatment.

But the researchers pointed out they can't make treatment recommendations based on the outcomes of only three cases.

Reassessment urged for intravenous vitamin C and cancerexternal link

Big failures

On the other hand, high daily doses of vitamin C and vitamin E did not reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia -- a blood pressure-related common complication of pregnancy that is also called toxemia -- in high-risk women.

But researchers for the Vitamins in Pre-Eclampsia (VIP) study said that women taking the high dose vitamins -- 1,000 mg of vitamin C and 400 IU of vitamin E -- had a higher risk of delivering low birth-weight babies.

Writing in The Lancet, the researchers concluded that vitamin supplementation in pregnancy was a bad idea on both fronts.

High-dose vitamins flop in preventing pre-eclampsiaexternal link

A good idea at any age

Quitting smoking is a good idea -- at any age.

A team of Duke University researchers reported that smokers who are 65 or older when they kick the habit are more successful than younger smokers. Only 16 percent light up again compared with a recidivism rate of about 35 percent to 45 percent among younger smokers.

Also, according to results reported in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, among seniors women are more likely to quit than men. That's the exact opposite of the smoking cessation patterns in younger smokers.

Smokers never too old to quitexternal link

Another reason to quit

But a good reason to quit while still in the prime of life is that smoking along with drinking is linked to earlier onset of colorectal cancer in both men and women, according to Northwestern University researchers who analyzed medical records from more than 161,000 colorectal cancer patients.

Men and women who smoke or drink develop colorectal cancer about five to eight years sooner non-smokers and non-drinkers, they reported in Archives of Internal Medicine.

Smokers and drinkers get head start on colorectal cancerexternal link

Great, an alert drunk

And if you a drinker, Brazilian researchers had a few words of caution about the risks of using energy drinks like Red Bull as mixers. Those high-test pick-me-up drinks rely on high concentrations of caffeine to boost energy, which means that the drinker may feel wide awake and alert even though their blood alcohol level soars.

As a result, the Brazilians wrote in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, drinkers are likely to consume more alcohol and end up more intoxicated than they would be if they took their liquor straight or mixed alcohol with club soda and other traditional mixers.

Mixing alcohol with energy drinks doesn't null intoxicationexternal link

These pigs don't fly, but...

Finally, there was good news for bacon lovers.

Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia, working with researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, have finally brought home heart-healthy bacon that you can cook up in the pan.

Using genetic manipulation they created 10 little piggies, and six had meat with high levels of omega-3-fatty acids -- the healthy fat found in fish.

They reported their success in Nature Biotechnology.

Endnote: As E.B. White noted in Charlotte's Web: Some pig.

Transgenic pigs may bring home heart-healthy baconexternal link

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