Health Bites

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2012, 8:55am

Asian women at risk

An international group of scientists has identified three genetic regions that predispose Asian women who have never smoked to lung cancer. Two variations were found on chromosome 6 and one on chromosome 10. "These variants may also increase lung cancer risk associated with environmental factors, such as environmental tobacco smoke," says study co-author Dr Nathaniel Rothman. The study, published online in Nature Genetics, combined data from 14 studies that included a total of about 14,000 Asian women (6,600 with lung cancer and 7,500 without lung cancer). Lung cancer in non-smokers is the seventh leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide, and most lung cancers diagnosed historically among women in Eastern Asia have been in women who never smoked.

Angst for the memories

Adults aren't the only ones affected by stress - female babies exposed to high levels of family stress have been linked to differences in everyday brain function and anxiety during teenage years. In a long-running population study by University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists, babies who lived in homes with stressed mothers were more likely to grow into preschoolers with higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. In addition, these girls with higher cortisol also showed less communication between brain areas associated with emotion regulation 14 years later. Both high cortisol and differences in brain activity predicted higher levels of adolescent anxiety at the age of 18. The young men in the study, which began in 1990 with newborns, did not show any of these patterns. The study is published in Nature Neuroscience.

Beats worrying

Music soothes the savage breast - and the anxious cataract surgery patient. The use of an audio therapy known as binaural beats can significantly reduce the patient's anxiety, according to research from Chiang Mai University in Thailand. The therapy consists of two tones that are each pitched at a specific, slightly different frequency, with each tone delivered to a separate ear via headphones. The technique evokes alpha-frequency brainwaves, a state that is linked to relaxation and reduced perception of fear and pain. In the 141-patient study, the researchers combined binaural beats with soothing music and nature soundscapes that included ocean and forest sounds, to provide a pleasant experience for patients. Patients who listened to the audio mix before, during and after the procedure had less anxiety, slower heart rate, and significantly reduced systolic blood pressure, compared with those who did not receive the therapy. The research team focused on cataract surgery because it is usually done under local anaesthesia, with the patient awake and continuously exposed to unfamiliar, potentially upsetting sounds.

Losing sight of the cause

Many parents assume that frequent headaches mean their child needs glasses, but a new study proves that vision or eye problems are rarely the cause of recurring headaches in children, even if the headaches usually strike while the child is doing visual tasks. Paediatric ophthalmologists at Albany Medical Centre in New York State reviewed the medical records of 158 children under the age of 18 who were seen at the clinic for frequent headaches from 2002 to 2011. All of the children had received complete eye exams at the clinic. No significant correlation was found between their frequent headaches and a need for vision correction. Eye health and vision test results remained unchanged from earlier exams for 75 per cent of the children. Follow-up reports from parents showed that headaches improved in 76.4 per cent of all study subjects.