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Am Fam Physician. 2005;72(10):1956

Can crocodiles save human lives? Scientists in Australia say it’s possible. The scientists began studying the immune systems of alligators and crocodiles when they realized the animals quickly healed from violent territorial attacks that often left them wounded or limb-less. During their research, they learned that the animals’ immune systems are much stronger than human immune systems, and they contain proteins that easily kill bacteria resistant to penicillin. Compared with the human immune system, the immune systems of alligators and crocodiles are more effective at killing the human immunodeficiency virus because they directly attack viruses as soon as they enter the body. Scientists are collecting blood from crocodiles to develop oral and topical antibiotics for ailing humans. (BBC News, August 19, 2005)

If you’re unhappy with the excess pounds you’re carrying, you might want to blame the neighborhood. A study published in the British Medical Journal says that people who live in a clean, appealing environment with a lot of greenery are more likely to be active and therefore less likely to be overweight or obese. Researchers analyzed data from health surveys conducted in eight European cities during 2002 and 2003. They found that people in greener areas were more than three times more likely to be active and 40 percent less likely to be overweight than people in other areas. Those who lived in neighborhoods cluttered with graffiti and litter were 50 percent less active and 50 percent more likely to be overweight. The study does not give specific reasons for the difference, but it suggests that attractive neighborhoods entice people outdoors. (BMJ , August 19, 2005)

Babies born to malnourished mothers have a higher risk of developing schizophrenia, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Scientists have found a link between prenatal starvation and increased risk of schizophrenia by studying data from Chinese children born during a famine from 1959 through 1961. Rates of schizophrenia were compared for children born before, during, and after the famine. Although birth rates in the region decreased by 80 percent over the three years, study participants recently were found to have a 2.2 percent risk of developing schizophrenia, more than double the normal 1 percent risk. The findings replicated a similar study on Dutch people and suggest that the risk may be the same across all racial populations during periods of famine. (JAMA , August 3, 2005)

Bald men are out of luck in Germany. According to Reuters, a German court ruled that state health insurance is not required to cover the expense of toupees for men after a bald man sought reimbursement of 440 euros (530 U.S. dollars) for his hairpiece. Although the state pays for wigs for balding women, the court ruled it is not considered discrimination to refuse coverage for men because male baldness is common and accepted as normal. The court says the state has to pay only when the hair loss is so extreme that it ostracizes the person from society, which is an unlikely outcome from the common baldness that men experience. (MSNBC, July 20, 2005)

If you love to lounge in the sun, you may want to add more curry to your diet. Researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston have found that a compound in curry could help fight skin cancer. Curcumin, the compound that makes curry yellow, interferes with melanoma cells and makes them more likely to self-destruct. The compound also helped stop the spread of breast cancer cells in mice by suppressing two proteins that make tumor cells immortal. The researchers say that although people who eat a lot of curry have fewer instances of some cancers, the spice itself has not been shown to reduce the overall risk of cancer. (Cancer , August 15, 2005)

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