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Am Fam Physician. 2004;69(3):474

A way to improve balance in older persons? The decline in somatosensory function that occurs with age has been associated with an increased risk of falling. Through a mechanism termed stochastic resonance, input noise has been shown to enhance both motor and sensory function. A study published in The Lancet showed that noise-based devices could improve age-related impairment of balance control. In 12 elderly participants, all sway variables were reduced when subsensory noise was introduced into vibrating gel-based insoles.

A calorie is a calorie—or is it? A small but well-controlled study (21 subjects), reported at a meeting of the American Association for the Study of Obesity, found that compared with persons on low-fat diets, those on low-carbohydrate diets can eat more and still lose weight. While consuming an extra 25,000 calories over the course of the 12-week study, the dieters on the low-carbohydrate diet still lost 20 lb. The average weight loss in those who followed a low-fat diet was 23 lb.

Mom was right: it's better to eat slowly. As reported in Family Practice News, study findings show that eating quickly is associated with more gastroesophageal reflux than is eating more slowly. Testing in 13 women and seven men after consumption of a 600-kcal meal in five minutes or 30 minutes found that nonacid reflux was predominantly responsible for increased reflux within an hour after eating. According to the researchers, eating food rapidly affects the gastric-pressure volume response, contributing to increased postprandial reflux.

Using chopsticks regularly could lead to osteoarthritis of the hand, according to study findings presented at a meeting of the American College of Rheumatology. Based on interviews and tests in more than 2,500 men and women in Beijing, researchers determined that the mechanical stress of chopstick use was associated with osteoarthritis in the joints of the thumb, first, and third fingers in both sexes, and the second finger in women. Although the researchers noted that the risk of developing osteoarthritis from chopstick use is small, they believe further study is warranted because the utensils were linked to a large proportion of osteoarthritis cases in the study participants.

Pain relief in two clicks, without a needle stick or a pain medication pump? It could be on the way. According to a press release from the American Society of Anesthesiologists, a new device currently being studied by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration uses a low-level electric current to dispense pain medication through the skin at the patient's control. The patient-controlled transdermal system (PCTS) is about the size of a credit card and adheres to the skin of the arm or chest. When activated by the double-click of a button, the PCTS delivers medication over 10 minutes. At 24 hours, the device shuts off automatically. According to researchers, greater mobility may allow earlier rehabilitation in patients using PCTS.

Follow Mom's advice: “Wash your hands after you go to the bathroom.” According to a survey of more than 7,500 airport travelers, about one fourth of travelers in New York, Miami, and Chicago airports did not wash their hands before leaving public restrooms. However, in Toronto, where public campaigns encouraged handwashing after the recent SARS outbreak, almost all travelers washed their hands. In response to these findings, the American Society of Microbiology is launching a campaign to promote handwashing. Let's hope the message spreads faster than the germs!

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