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Am Fam Physician. 2005;71(5):843

There’s something in the air, and it’s affecting death rates in urban communities. A study published in JAMA found that short-term exposure to ozone pollution, caused by cars, power plants, and industry, was associated with higher death rates in 95 urban communities over a 14-year period. Short-term ozone exposure already has been linked to health problems and increased hospital visits, but the findings of previous studies linking ozone levels to mortality rates were inconsistent. Researchers from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies found that a 10-parts-per-billion increase in ozone levels within the previous week was associated with a 0.52 percent daily death rate hike and a 0.64 percent increase in cardiovascular-and respiratory-related deaths.

The secret to detecting the early stages of heart disease may be right at our fingertips. A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found a correlation between patients who have blood vessel dysfunction in their extremities and those with the same affliction in their heart. Researchers say they hope noninvasive procedures, such as finger probes, can act as a screening tool to determine whether a patient should undergo more invasive tests or treatments. The study found that a simple 20-minute finger probe is highly successful in identifying heart problems in patients with chest pain. The next step, according to the researchers, is to extend the study to patients who are not yet showing cardiac symptoms.

Researchers have long believed that alcohol consumption increases a person’s risk of developing cancer, and now they’re one step closer to finding out how. A study published in Cancer shows for the first time that chronic ethanol exposure accelerates angiogenesis (a process that creates new blood vessels within a tumor). The study found that chick embryos exposed to alcohol had eight times the number of cancer cells than those exposed to saline. The alcohol-exposed embryos also developed larger, denser tumors.

Don’t be afraid of needles—especially if you suffer from arthritis pain. A study published in the British Medical Journal shows that acupuncture may be an effective treatment for osteoarthritis of the knee. Researchers gave 97 patients older than age 45, who had never received acupuncture, the anti-inflammatory medication diclofenac and either authentic or placebo acupuncture treatments. The same certified professional performed all acupuncture procedures, using needles with adhesive ends that didn’t penetrate the skin during the placebo procedures. Those who received the true acupuncture took less medication and reported better knee function at the end of 12 weeks.

For men who are looking for that last reason to stop smoking, researchers may have found it. A study in the International Journal of Impotence Research reports that heavy smoking is a significant risk factor for erectile dysfunction (ED).The study included 860 men, ranging in age from 18 to 44, representing three groups: current smokers, former smokers, and never smokers. Researchers found that smoking was the risk factor most frequently associated with ED. Heavy smokers (those who smoked 20 or more cigarettes a day) were 2.5 times more likely to develop ED than those deemed light smokers.

Could smell be an early detection method for Alzheimer’s disease? The Washington Post recently reported that a study undertaken by Columbia University links the loss of ability to smell certain aromas with the later development of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers asked 150 patients who showed mild cognitive impairment and 63 healthy elderly persons to identify individual odors. According to the study, the inability to identify 10 specific odors (strawberry, smoke, soap, menthol, clove, pineapple, natural gas, lilac, lemon, and leather) predicted the patients who would go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

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Copyright © 2005 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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