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Am Fam Physician. 2005;71(3):417

Breastfeeding may help fend off joint pain, according to a recent study published in Arthritis & Rheumatism. The study, which examined the health of over 120,000 women since 1976, found that those who breastfed for 13 to 23 months were only one fifth as likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis as those who had not breastfed. Those who breastfed for at least two years cut their arthritis risk in half. Researchers say that the lower risk may be attributed to production of prolactin, a hormone that spikes when a woman is nursing.

Researchers have found that incorporating finger pricks into playtime can help encourage diabetic children and teenagers to check their blood sugar more consistently. A study, reported in The New York Times, found that young patients who earned points for guessing their blood sugar levels using a hand-held computer game performed the check significantly more often than those checking without the game. Researchers at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston found that 78 percent of the game users checked their blood sugar at least four times per day, compared with 68 percent of nongame users. The game users also showed a significant increase in knowledge about diabetes by the end of the four-week study.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced support for an electronic tagging system to track prescription drugs and curb counterfeiting, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The system, called radio frequency identification technology (RFID), uses a radio sensor embedded in drug labels to track the drug's movement from the manufacturer to the retailer. Several drug manufacturers have begun testing the tracking system, including the makers of the commonly counterfeited drugs OxyContin and Viagra. The main hurdle facing RFID is finding a way to provide a detailed shipping history while guarding more sensitive information, such as sales numbers and shipping frequency. The FDA said it is currently working to provide guidelines for RFID pilot programs and is assembling a team to monitor and identify potential problems.

Do you want to lose weight? Along with a healthy diet and exercise, a good night's sleep can help achieve that goal. A study conducted by Columbia University and reported in USA Today found that as sleep hours increase, the risk of obesity decreases. The study of 6,115 patients between the ages of 32 and 59 in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that patients who sleep two to four hours a night are 73 percent more likely to be obese than patients who get an average night's sleep (seven to nine hours). While this study shows only an association between amount of sleep and risk of obesity, previous animal studies have shown that when rats are sleep deprived, their appetites increase.

Can an apple a day keep coughing at bay? Consumer Reports recently reported that this high-fiber fruit beat out a dozen other fruits as the top cough fighter in a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. The study found that foods high in dietary fiber reduced phlegm production and incidents of coughing in persons with chronic lung problems. The findings have prompted researchers to stress the importance of a high-fiber diet along with smoking cessation to prevent chronic respiratory symptoms.

Good news: only about 1 percent of the U.S. population has schizophrenia. Bad news: a new study suggests that women who have the flu during the first half of pregnancy are three times more likely than noninfected women to have children who develop schizophrenia later in life. The study, published in the August issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, suggests that when the mother's immune system produces antibodies or proteins (cytokines) in response to the infection, they are transferred to the fetus and disrupt fetal brain development.

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