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Am Fam Physician. 2007;76(3):333

Drug particles found in air

Is it love that's in the air? No, it's cocaine, marijuana, caffeine, and nicotine. Researchers sampled the air in areas of Rome and Taranto, Italy, and Algiers, Algeria, and found particles of caffeine and nicotine suspended in the air of each city, as well as cocaine and marijuana in Rome. The highest concentration of cocaine (i.e., 0.1 ng per m3) was found in Rome during the winter. The researchers note that these results indicate how widespread the consumption of these substances is and how they remain in the atmosphere. Although the amount of drugs found in the air was minimal, even small concentrations of pollutants in the air can cause serious health problems. (Reuters, May 31, 2007)

Death from a broken heart?

Can a person die of a broken heart? Study results from the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggest that it's possible. The authors analyzed data from 4,395 married couples who were 45 to 64 years of age. Of the persons whose spouses died during the study, 68.5 percent of men and 47.2 percent of women subsequently died during the 28 years of follow-up. Furthermore, compared with participants whose partners survived during the study period, those who were bereaved were at a higher risk of dying from any cause. In addition to the small influence of individual risk factors (e.g., stroke, coronary heart disease), the authors note that bereavement does affect mortality risk, and they recommend that physicians provide extra support to patients whose partners have died. (J Epidemiol Community Health May 2007)

Aerated snack food reduces energy intake

Snacks as light as air? According to study results from Appetite, adding air to food is a great way to reduce caloric intake. Researchers gave 28 volunteers (16 women and 12 men) free access to two types of cheese puffs that had the same energy density but differed in energy per volume. The volunteers snacked for four different sessions. When the more-aerated cheese puffs were provided, participants consumed 21 percent fewer calories than when they were given the less-aerated snack. However, they also consumed a 73 percent greater volume of the more-aerated snack. The researchers theorize that this may occur because the increased volume of the stomach contents may elicit an appetite-reducing “full” reaction from the aerated snacks. Thus, incorporating air into food may help reduce caloric intake from energy-dense snacks. (Appetite, May 2007)

Device helps users understand the effects of schizophrenia

A new virtual-reality training device called Virtual Hallucinations is available to help people understand what it feels like to have the types of hallucinations experienced by patients with schizophrenia. The device, which has been endorsed by advocates for the mentally ill, offers users two interactive scenarios. In the first scenario, the user is riding on a bus in which other passengers appear and disappear while birds of prey claw at the windows. In the second scenario, the user is in a drugstore, and the pharmacist appears to be dispensing poison instead of medicine. For health care professionals and law enforcement and correctional officials who some-day may need to deal with a person having a psychotic episode, the understanding and empathy such training could provide are invaluable. (Wired, May 22, 2007)

Outdoor smoking may cause health hazards

According to research presented at a conference of the American Thoracic Society, cities that ban indoor smoking may be creating greater health hazards for people who gather outside to smoke. To determine whether this was true, researchers measured the air in Athens, Ga., for substances commonly found in secondhand smoke (e.g., carbon monoxide, particulate matter measuring 2.5 μm or less) in front of five locations: two restaurants, two bars, and one area without people smoking. The researchers note that, on any given weekend night, there could be 40 to 50 people huddled together to smoke in a small area outside. Thus, they found that air pollution increased with the number of people who were smoking outside of the building. Although further research is needed, the authors note that forcing smokers into a small area outside an establishment such as a restaurant or bar may create potentially unhealthy areas. (EurekAlert!, May 22, 2007)

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Copyright © 2007 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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