Health bites

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2012, 12:00am


Alcohol linked to child abnormalities

Mothers-to-be, it's a good idea not to drink alcohol. New research has shown that heavy drinking during pregnancy is very likely to result in a child with abnormalities - sometimes physical but most frequently neurological ones associated with learning, behaviour, language or mental function. The study, to be published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, screened 9,628 women in Chile during their first prenatal appointments and found 101 had at least four drinks per day. Detailed data regarding alcohol consumption was collected during their pregnancies, and their children were evaluated up to 81/2 years of age by clinicians unaware of their alcohol-exposure status. The data was matched with 101 pregnant women who reported abstaining from alcohol. About 80 per cent of the children had one or more abnormalities within the diagnostic criteria of fetal alcohol syndrome.

Liver cancer connected to lost molecule

New research offers hope for a novel way to treat liver cancer, the third-leading cancer killer worldwide. Ohio State University scientists have found that the loss of a regulatory molecule called microRNA-122 leads to liver cancer, suggesting that developing a drug that restores levels of this molecule could slow tumour growth. The molecule is found mainly in liver cells and plays a major role in regulating cholesterol in the body, but it's lost in some people with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common form of liver cancer. The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, manipulated levels of microRNA-122 in mice. Lacking the molecule, the mice livers developed fat deposits, inflammation and tumours that resemble HCC. When the molecule was restored to normal levels, the size and number of tumours were dramatically reduced, with tumours making up 8 per cent on average of liver surface area in treated animals versus 40 per cent in control animals.

Lung function helped by vitamin D

Vitamin D may protect you against the negative effects of smoking on lung function, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine by Brigham and Women's Hospital researchers in Boston. A group of 626 adult white men were tracked over a 20-year period to examine the relationship between vitamin D deficiency - levels of 20 nanograms/mm of blood and below - and the rate of lung function decline. 'We found that vitamin D sufficiency had a protective effect on lung function and the rate of lung function decline in smokers,' says lead author Dr Nancy Lange. 'These effects might be due to vitamin D's anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.' The study, however, has limitations because the data is observational only; vitamin D levels fluctuate over time; and the group consisted of all elderly men. Also, the health hazards associated with smoking far outweigh any protective effect that vitamin D may have on lung function.

The power of green to help us breathe easier

The judicious placement of grass, climbing ivy and other plants among the stagnant air of Hong Kong city streets could help reduce levels of two of the most worrisome air pollutants by eight times more than previously believed. Past research suggested that trees and other greenery can reduce pollutants - nitrogen dioxide and microscopic particulate matter (PM) - from the air by less than 5 per cent. But a new study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, shows the effects of greenery are greater: the concentration at street level of nitrogen dioxide can be reduced by as much as 40 per cent and PM by 60 per cent. The authors suggest building plant-covered 'green billboards' in these streets to increase the amount of foliage.