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Am Fam Physician. 2003;67(1):25-26

Oats: you gotta love 'em. Results of a randomized controlled parallel-group trial published in the Journal of Family Practice suggest that people with high blood pressure who regularly eat whole grain, oat-based cereal may reduce their need for antihypertensive medication. Researchers compared the effects of eating oat cereal with the effects of wheat cereal in 88 patients who were being treated for hypertension. By the end of the 12-week trial, 73 percent in the oat cereal group were able to stop taking antihypertensive medication or reduce it by one half, compared with 42 percent of the wheat cereal group.

“A child's best friend.” Your children may be protected from allergies to dust mites, ragweed, and other allergens because you have household pets, according to a study published in JAMA. The prospective birth cohort study of 474 children found that allergic sensitivity was less common in children six to seven years of age who were exposed to two or more dogs or cats early in life. Endotoxins released by bacteria from pets may create the protective effect by suppressing the children's allergic response.

Activity does wonders for muscles. Now, according to a study published in Science, researchers have found a calcium-signaling protein that may have a similar effect on skeletal muscle cells. In experiments with mice, they discovered that the protein, calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase, or CaMK, can turn easily tired muscle fibers into energized, fatigue-resistant muscle fibers. The protein directs the creation of mitochondria, the energy centers of cells. Study results show promise for the development of treatments to enhance skeletal muscle performance in patients with chronic diseases or those who are confined to bed.

Can you name the bird with the most peculiar migration pattern? That's right: the stork. A study published in BMJ finds that more boys than girls are born in the southern latitudes of Europe, but in North America, the reverse is true. Researchers have no explanation for the findings, except to say that temperature plays no part in the phenomenon. It just goes to show—the strange and inexplicable are sometimes a part of science, too.

If you're counting sheep at night, you're not alone, according to a poll conducted for the National Sleep Foundation. The annual telephone survey of 1,010 adults found that a slightly greater number of Americans had sleeping problems last year than in previous years. Of respondents reporting insomnia, 58 percent said they had at least one symptom such as difficulty falling asleep or waking up a lot during the night a minimum of a few nights a week, while 35 percent said they had a symptom every night or almost every night in the past year.

A teacher in the cafeteria equals empty lunch trays and healthier children. It turns out that children eat more vegetables and drink more milk when a teacher is present during lunch, reveals a study presented at an American Academy of Pediatrics conference and cited in the New York Times. A researcher conducting a study about “plate waste” noticed that children in one of the three classes she was observing were drinking all of their milk and eating 20 percent more of their food. In this class, the students brought their lunches back to the classroom, where the teacher observed them as they ate, encouraging them to eat fruits and vegetables and to try new foods.

Cellular telephones and noise: not a good combination. But help may be at hand. A new accessory introduced by Audex, Inc., makes it easier for hearing-impaired persons to use a cellular telephone. The accessory, named the CHAAMP, is compatible with most Nokia phones and offers features such as a voice recorder, background noise reducer, and volume enhancer.

Electronic diaries are helping researchers reduce paperwork and improve accuracy in clinical drug trials, according to a feature story in the New York Times. In a drug trial taking place at sites around the country, patients enter their nightly diaries into handheld computers and send them by modem using a toll-free telephone number. Researchers receive the information instantly into a central database. Because the computer “chirps” to remind patients to complete their diaries, time stamps each entry, and stores information if the patient is unable to reach a telephone, the accuracy of the data is assured. In time, this new use of technology may hasten the drug-approval process and lower the cost of drug development.

Six liters of H2O + 400 daily calories = weight loss hell. A 51-year-old woman presented to the emergency department with a recent history of lethargy, weakness, and nausea. Five days earlier, the woman had started a daily diet of three shake drinks, which provided a total of only 400 calories, plus 4 liters of water, according to a case report in The Lancet. On her own, the woman had increased daily water intake to 6 liters. Because of her low caloric intake and large consumption of water, her body had retained 2.5 gallons of water since the diet started, and her sodium level had fallen to a dangerous low. After resuming a normal diet and limiting her water intake, the woman fully recovered.

Even gardens can be dangerous places for small children. A study published in BMJ found that drowning deaths involving garden ponds nearly doubled in the United Kingdom over a recent 10-year period, despite a decline in the total number of deaths by drowning. Evaluating statistical information on drowning in children up to 14 years of age, the researchers found that from 1988 to 1989, 149 deaths occurred, 11 of which involved garden ponds. From 1998 to 1999, 104 drowning deaths were reported, and 21 took place in garden ponds. A trend toward more garden ponds and decorative water features, possibly driven by popular television garden shows, may have contributed to the mortality increase, according to the researchers.

Who said money can't buy a healthier lifestyle? According to Business & Health, some employers are finding that cash and gift certificates are the best incentives for encouraging employees to participate in wellness programs. Employees receive the rewards for such healthy activities as exercising, quitting smoking, eating better, visiting their physician regularly, or getting a flu shot. And recognizing that these programs reduce health care costs and increase productivity, some employers conveniently offer wellness activities on site.

Easier to understand, and safer for all. By now, most over-the-counter (OTC) medications should have new, easy-to-read labels aimed at making the drugs safer for Americans, especially older persons. Since May 2002, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required that most OTC medications feature the new labeling, which includes plain language, larger type, and details that improve reading comprehension, such as bullets and wider line spacing, according to the FDA Consumer.

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