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Am Fam Physician. 2003;67(4):687-688

Protecting yourself from skin cancer may one day be as easy as getting dressed in the morning. The Skin Cancer Foundation has awarded its Seal of Recommendation to Coolibar, LLC, an Australian line of garments that block the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. According to Coolibar's press information, their clothing blocks at least 97 percent of UV rays, providing a UV protection factor of 30 or more. Coolibar has received an approval letter from the Foundation to create a man's button-down shirt, a woman's blouse and skirt, a woman's hooded beach shirt and pants, and two styles of polo shirts.

To love is to share. A cross-sectional study of 8,386 married couples published in BMJ finds that the partners of persons with certain diseases, including asthma, depression, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and peptic ulcer disease, have an increased risk of developing those diseases themselves. The risk—at least 70 percent for asthma, depression, and peptic ulcer disease—may be explained in part by shared environmental causes, according to the researchers.

Patients with an aneurysm have a better chance at survival or life without disability if they receive endovascular coiling treatment rather than neurosurgical clipping, shows a study published in The Lancet. Patients with ruptured intracranial aneurysms were randomly assigned to endovascular treatment or neurosurgical clipping and were assessed for rebleeds and death at two months and one year after the procedure. Of the 801 patients assigned to endovascular treatment, 190 (24 percent) were dependent or dead at one year, compared with 243 (31 percent) of the 793 patients assigned to neurosurgical treatment. Although the risk of rebleeding was low for either treatment, it was somewhat more frequent with endovascular coiling.

Many children are missing out on the health benefits of walking and biking to school, according to survey findings published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Of 611 families surveyed, the majority said their children can't walk or bike to school because of barriers such as long distances, traffic danger, adverse weather conditions, crime, and school policy. An editorial note accompanying the findings adds the reminder that increasing the number of walking and biking trips to school is a national health objective for 2010.

“Prosit! Here's a toast to your mental health.” People who drink wine occasionally may have a lower risk of developing dementia, according to study results published in Neurology. Researchers hypothesize that flavonoids, natural compounds with an antioxidant effect, may reduce the occurrence of dementia. However, doctors don't recommend that people start drinking wine or increase their wine consumption just because of these study results.

For most people, noise is a nuisance. But for people with poor balance, noise may be a blessing in disguise, according to a Boston University study published in The New York Times. The ability to stand steady is partly a result of slight adjustments to posture that are ordered by the brain in response to sensory information sent from the feet. As people age, they become less sensitive to touch, and their feet send fewer of these signals. However, it was found that healthy 75-year-olds who stood on a platform that transmitted randomly varying vibrations to the soles of their feet adjusted their balance to the same degree as 25-year-olds. Researchers are experimenting with vibrating insoles or bionic socks for use in people with foot sensory deficits.

Many parents are anxious and confused about their children's immunizations. A survey conducted by Ipsos-Reid for three national health organizations found that although the majority of 1,000 new and expectant parents believed that immunizations are important in preventing disease, 83 percent did not know how many vaccinations their children needed to receive in the first two years of life, and more than one half could not identify vaccine-preventable diseases. Not surprisingly, most parents reported that they find their children's immunizations difficult to watch, and many said they feel like they are having “sympathy pains” during the event.

Doctors who specialize in treating patients in the hospital can improve efficiency of care while maintaining or improving patient outcomes. Referred to as hospitalists, these physicians care for patients only during hospitalization. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that length of stay and cost were significantly reduced in facilities using hospitalists, but not until the second year of the study. Researchers think that the reductions in length of stay and cost are due to the improved clinical efficiency of hospitalists. Larger studies are needed to determine precise measures of care quality and the true effect of hospitalist care on mortality.

How virtually cool. According to FDA Consumer, a group of researchers and Pennsylvania State University mechanical engineers have created a “virtual stomach” to reveal how extended-release tablets work their magic. In colorful computer simulations, the virtual organ has shown that the location of pills in the stomach affects the way they break down. This information may help researchers improve the design and delivery of medications. The simulations may also help researchers better understand gastric function and diseases that involve stomach motility.

Nuts to you! A nutty diet may help ward off diabetes. Women who reported eating 1 oz of nuts or peanut butter at least five times a week were more than 20 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who rarely or never ate nuts, shows a study published in JAMA. Nuts contain 70 to 80 percent polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, the “good fats,” which have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity. It is recommended that nuts be a replacement for refined grains and red or processed meats, to avoid increasing caloric intake.

When reaching for the finish line, a little water goes a long way. According to U.S. News && World Report, marathon runners have been told, until recently, to drink a lot of water during races. But now, faced with growing evidence of serious hyponatremia among runners, physicians and marathon organizers are rethinking this advice. One study showed that nearly 6 percent of marathon runners who needed medical attention during a race had abnormally low sodium levels in their blood. How can this problem be prevented? By knowing how much you sweat in a good workout. Drinking just enough water to replace lost fluid and not much more is the key to success.

Here's some soothing news for Alzheimer's disease patients and their caretakers. Aromatherapy appears to ease agitation in patients with severe Alzheimer's disease, shows a BMJ review of three placebo-controlled studies. It appears that chemicals in lavender oil and lemon balm have a calming effect. The chemicals—called terpenes—are rapidly absorbed through the lungs and cross the blood-brain barrier. Terpenes also possess cholinergic activity or act on γ-aminobutyric acid receptors.

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Copyright © 2003 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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