Health bites

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 September, 2012, 11:28am

It all comes out in the wash

Organic foods are often perceived as healthier than non-organic ones, but there's little evidence to prove this, according to a study by Stanford University researchers published today in
Annals of Internal Medicine. There is no strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or carry fewer health risks than conventional alternatives, although organic produce is 30 per cent less likely to be contaminated with pesticides. But the researchers say there are other reasons to go organic, such as taste preferences and concerns over the effects of conventional farming practices on the environment and animal welfare.

When growing up runs out of puff

Children who use inhaled steroid drugs for asthma end up slightly shorter - about 1.2cm - at their full adult height than children who don't use the drugs, new results show. The findings were published online yesterday in
New England Journal of Medicine. Nearly 950 children aged five to 12 with mild to moderate asthma were involved in the study. They were divided into three treatment groups, receiving either inhaled steroid medication, inhaled non-steroid medication, or a placebo. They were followed at regular intervals until they reached adult height. Those who took the inhaled steroid medication experienced slower growth in the first two years of the study and remained 1.2 cm shorter through adulthood.

Honey, I shrank my brain

It's a good idea to keep your blood sugar levels in check, even if you don't suffer from diabetes. Many studies have shown a link between type 2 diabetes and brain shrinkage and dementia, but a study published today in
Neurology finds even people whose blood sugar is on the high end of the normal range may be at greater risk of the same effects. A fasting blood sugar level of 10 millimoles per litre or higher is defined as diabetes, and a level of 6.1 mmol/l considered pre-diabetes. The study involved 249 people aged 60 to 64 with blood sugar in the normal range (below 6.1 mmol/l). Analysed over four years via brain scans, participants with higher fasting blood sugar levels within the normal range were more likely to have a loss of brain volume in the areas of the hippocampus and the amygdala, areas involved in memory and cognitive skills.

Smoky coal link with lung cancer

A study on a Chinese county where lung cancer rates are particularly elevated has identified a culprit: the use of smoky, or bituminous, coal for household cooking and heating. Published today on the British Medical Journal website, the study involved more than 37,000 individuals in Xuanwei county, Yunnan province. They were followed over 20 years, from 1976 to 1996, during which time more than 2,000 deaths from lung cancer were recorded. It was found that the risk of lung cancer death before 70 for men and women using smoky coal was 18 per cent and 20 per cent respectively, compared with less than 0.5 per cent among smokeless coal users. These risks are almost as high as those reported for heavy smokers in Western countries, which range between 20 per cent and 26 per cent.