Daily chocolate may keep the heart doctor away

By Denise Mann, Health.com //
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People who ate the most chocolate had a 27 percent and 48 percent reduced risk of heart attack and stroke.

People who ate the most chocolate had a 27 percent and 48 percent reduced risk of heart attack and stroke.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Eating as little as a quarter of an ounce of chocolate each day could help prevent heart attack, stroke
  • For best results, the chocolate should be dark, experts say
  • Flavonoids appear to promote artery health and reduce inflammation
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(Health.com) — Eating as little as a quarter of an ounce of chocolate each day — an amount equal to about one small Easter egg — may lower your risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke, a new study has found. For best results, the chocolate should be dark, experts say.

“Dark chocolate exhibits the greatest effects, milk chocolate fewer, and white chocolate no effects,” says the lead author of the study, Brian Buijsse, a nutritional epidemiologist at the German Institute of Human Nutrition, in Nuthetal, Germany.

In the study, Buijsse and his colleagues followed nearly 20,000 people for an average of eight years. The researchers surveyed the study participants about their chocolate consumption (as well as the rest of their diet), and also tracked the heart attacks and strokes that occurred in the group.

Compared with people who rarely ate chocolate (about one bar per month), the people who ate the most chocolate (slightly more than one bar per week) had a 27 percent and 48 percent reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, respectively, the researchers found.

Health.com: How to make chocolate a healthy indulgence

The heart benefits observed in the study may be due in part to lower blood pressure, the study notes. Previous studies have suggested that eating chocolate can lower blood pressure, and the researchers observed a similar — though less pronounced — association in this study.

“The good news is that chocolate is not as bad as we used to think, and may even lower the risk of heart disease and stroke,” says Buijsse. “The bad news, at least for some of us, is that the amounts that are needed to benefit from these effects appear to be quite low.”

In other words, these findings don’t mean that you should stuff yourself with chocolate Easter eggs. Chocolate is high in calories, and, as with any such food, eating too much of it can swell your waistline and harm your health in other ways.

Health.com: 8 rich desserts for 300 calories or less

“This is only one small egg per day,” says Buijsse. “Eating higher amounts will most likely result in weight gain. If people start eating small amounts of chocolate, it should replace something else, preferably other high-calorie sweets or snacks.”

The people in the study were part of a larger study on the effect of diet and lifestyle on cancer risk. For the current study, Buijsse and his colleagues excluded anyone with a history of heart disease or stroke, and also controlled for age, diet, lifestyle, and other factors. Still, they note that factors not recorded in the surveys — rather than chocolate consumption alone — could have been responsible for some or all of the health benefits they observed.

The study had some other important limitations. Most notably, the researchers did not determine whether the study participants ate dark, milk, or white chocolate.

Health.com: 10 best foods for your heart

Using one of the surveys administered during the study, the researchers estimated that 57 percent of the participants ate milk chocolate, 24 percent ate dark chocolate, and 2 percent ate white chocolate.

This data, however, came from a subset of just under 1,600 participants, so they are merely estimates that may not have been borne out in the full study population.

Experts believe that natural compounds known as flavonoids (or flavonols), which appear to promote artery health and reduce inflammation, are responsible for the cardiovascular benefits that have been associated with chocolate consumption.

Health.com: Food swaps that cut cholesterol, not taste

Flavonols are found in cocoa, and dark chocolate contains more cocoa than milk chocolate does.

“The benefits of chocolate come from flavonoids, and those are mainly found in dark chocolate, not Easter eggs, which are usually milk chocolate and have a lot of saturated fat,” says Julia Zumpano, a registered clinical dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic, in Ohio.

“I usually recommend less than one ounce of dark chocolate a day — a tiny square — for heart health,” she adds. “The chocolate should be at least 70 percent cocoa with limited added sugar.”

Health.com: 20 meals that won’t kill your cholesterol

This study is merely the latest to point to the heart benefits of chocolate. In addition to lower blood pressure, cocoa consumption has been linked to improved blood vessel function, lower LDL (or bad cholesterol), and higher HDL (good cholesterol) in recent years.

Despite their findings, Buijsse and his colleagues caution that more research, namely randomized trials on the heart benefits of chocolate, is needed. Buijsse admits to being conservative about his own chocolate consumption.

“If I eat chocolate, which is not on a daily basis, I limit my intake to a small piece,” he says.

H1N1 virus attacks deep into the lungs

By Stephanie Smith, CNN Medical Producer//
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Damaged lung tissue is seen as light gray and healthy lung tissue is seen as dark gray in this cross-sectional CT scan of a deceased patient with pulmonary bacterial infection caused by the H1N1 virus. The other organs are white.

Damaged lung tissue is seen as light gray and healthy lung tissue is seen as dark gray in this cross-sectional CT scan of a deceased patient with pulmonary bacterial infection caused by the H1N1 virus. The other organs are white.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Doctors examined records, autopsy reports, and slides of 34 people who died due to H1N1
  • Inflammation and damage in the lungs extended all the way to the farthest end of airways
  • More than half of the deaths were caused by bacterial pneumonia.
  • 91 percent had underlying health condition; obesity was a factor in 72 percent of deaths

New York (CNN) — In the rare cases when the H1N1 virus kills, scientists have found, it penetrates deep into the lungs, creating widespread damage — a pattern similar to what killed millions during previous flu pandemics in 1918 and 1957.

The New York Office of Chief Medical Examiner examined medical records, autopsy reports and microscopic slides of 34 people with H1N1 who died between May 15 and July 9, 2009, during the early days of the pandemic.

The report found that among those deaths, inflammation and damage in the lungs extended all the way to the alveoli, tiny sacs at the farthest end of the lungs’ airways.

“Generally, flu stays in the upper airways,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “What this shows is clearly this virus has capability of infecting and causing inflammation and destruction of cells from the trachea, all the way down into smaller cells of the lungs.

“The cells of the lung get directly attacked by the virus,” said Fauci.

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CDC : Fewer states are reporting widespread flu activity //

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The damage appears in computerized scans as opaque patches that normally would not appear in the lungs, and which obstruct lung function.

Get complete coverage of H1N1 — Fighting the flu

Echoing previous reports, the study, published online in the Archives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, also revealed that 91 percent of those who died were people with underlying health problems, and most occurred in people between 25 and 49 years old.

More than half of the deaths were caused by bacterial pneumonia.

“The secondary bacterial infection evokes inflammation,” said Dr. William Schaffner, professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “It socks it in the lung and all of a sudden the lung as an organ can’t do its principal job.”

Obesity was a factor in 72 percent of H1N1 deaths, a finding that has caused concern among infectious disease experts.

“That was a striking finding,” said Schaffner. “It contributes in a very material way to what we know about risks for a severe outcome with H1N1 infection. We are keeping an eye on obesity as a risk factor for H1N1 death.”

Track the H1N1 virus in your state

The study gives interesting insight into the mechanism behind H1N1 deaths, but will not change the current response to the virus, said Fauci.

Vicks nasal spray recalled over bacteria

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London, England (CNN) — Procter & Gamble is recalling Vicks Sinex nasal spray in the United States, Britain and Germany after finding it contained bacteria, the company said.

Procter & Gamble said it announced the voluntary recall after finding the bacteria in a small amount of product made at a plant in Germany.

There have been no reports of illness from the bacteria, but it could cause serious infections for people with weakened immune systems or those with chronic lung conditions such as cystic fibrosis, Procter & Gamble said late Thursday.

The bacteria poses little risk to healthy people, the company said.

Cincinnati, Ohio-based Procter & Gamble said it detected the problem during routine quality control at the plant. Analysis so far shows the problem is limited to a single batch of raw material mixture involving three lots of product, which were sold only in the three countries affected by the recall, the company said.

In the United States, the recalled product is Vicks Sinex Vapospray 12-hour Decongestant Ultra Fine Mist with lot number 9239028831.

In Britain, the company is recalling Vicks Sinex Micromist Aqueous Nasal Spray with lot number 9224028832.

In Germany, the recalled product is Wick Sinex Schnupfenspray Dosiersystem with lot number 9224028833.

All recalled products are in the 15-milliliter size.

Lot numbers are listed on the outer carton and the bottle, the company said.

Consumers with the product should discard it, and they may call the company for a replacement coupon or refund, the company said.More information is at the company’s Web site, http://www.pg.com.

Afghan schools shut down after first H1N1 death

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) — It’s 1p.m. and squeals of delight reverberate off the apartment complex walls.

A half dozen children are kicking an old soccer ball back and forth in a three-car parking lot.

They are not supposed to be here. They are supposed to be in school.

“I am a student in a school but the schools are off because of brain influenza,” second grade student Ahmad Mujtaba Habibi said.

He is painfully shy and has not yet grasped the name of the deadly flu that has caused authorities to shut down every school in Afghanistan for weeks.

But his schoolmates at the sandy, crumbling playground down the street have it memorized.

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Video: Swine flu outbreak in Afghanistan//

// “I have this mask because there is swine flu in Afghanistan.”

Ramin Nudratt talks through a disposable medical mask. He is 11 and was in the middle of doing the thing he says he enjoys second most in life. Riding his bike.

His first love: school.

“We get to learn something and to do our homework. It is very good to be in school,” Nudratt said. His favorite subject is English.

“My name is Nudratt,” he said slowly and deliberately.

But Nudratt and all the other children of Afghanistan won’t be able to go to school for at least three weeks. The government declared a public health emergency after the country reported its first death from H1N1. A 35-year-old engineer died in Kabul last week. By this week, seven more were confirmed dead by Afghan officials.

The ripple effect: 8 million students and teachers across the country will have to find another way to spend their days.

“The government and the Ministry of Health have decided to give off weeks despite that it is not good for students education,” said Haji Habibi, a father of six. He vowed to use whatever time he has to teach his son at home.

We need at least 3.3 million doses of Tamiflu.
–Dr, Amin Fatemie, Minister of Public Health

“Prevention is better than a cure,” Habibi said. “We prefer life over death.”

But there is great fear that there will be more deaths. The Minister of Public Health, Dr. Amin Fatemie, bowed his head saying he has had “many sleepless nights” since the outbreak.

“We need at least 3.3 million doses of Tamiflu,” Dr. Fatemie said. Right now the ministry estimates they only have 51,000 doses, which is why prevention is key. Authorities are handing out face masks. They’re also asking people not to have traditionally large Afghan weddings in enclosed places.

In some parts of the country where security issues trump all else, getting the message out about prevention is not going all that well, but in Kabul, a glimpse at a playground gives you the sense people are taking action.

You can only sees the eyes of just about every other child on the playground because green tinted disposable medical masks are covering most of their faces.

An eight-year-old swings with the kind of enjoyment only a child can experience. She is wearing her mask as if it has always been a part of her wardrobe.

“I don’t want to become sick,” she said.

Blue M&Ms linked to reducing spine injury

(CNN) — The same blue food dye found in M&Ms and Gatorade could be used to reduce damage caused by spine injuries, offering a better chance of recovery, according to new research.

Rats injected with BBG not only regained their mobility but temporarily turned blue.

Rats injected with BBG not only regained their mobility but temporarily turned blue.

The rat before being injected with BBG.

The rat before being injected with BBG.

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Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center found that when they injected the compound Brilliant Blue G (BBG) into rats suffering spinal cord injuries, the rodents were able to walk again, albeit with a limp.

The only side effect was that the treated mice temporarily turned blue.

The results of the study, published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” build on research conducted by the same center five years ago.

In August 2004, scientists revealed how Adenosine triphosphate, which is known as ATP and described as the “energy currency of life,” surges to the spinal cord soon after injury occurs.

Researchers found that the sudden influx of ATP killed off healthy cells, making the initial injury far worse. But when they injected oxidized ATP into the injury, it was found to block the effect of ATP, allowing the injured rats to recover and walk again.

“While we achieved great results when oxidized ATP was injected directly into the spinal cord, this method would not be practical for use with spinal cord-injured patients,” said lead researcher Maiken Nedergaard, professor of Neurosurgery and director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

“First, no one wants to put a needle into a spinal cord that has just been severely injured, so we knew we needed to find another way to quickly deliver an agent that would stop ATP from killing healthy motor neurons. Second, the compound we initially used, oxidized ATP, cannot be injected into the bloodstream because of its dangerous side effects.”

Back in 2004, Nedergaard’s team discovered that the spinal cord was rich in a molecule called P2X7, which is also known as “the death receptor” for its ability to allow ATP to latch onto motor neurons and send the signals which eventually kill them.

Nedergaard knew that BBG could thwart the function of P2X7, and its similarity to a blue food dye approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1982 gave her the confidence to test it intravenously.

It worked. The rats given BBG immediately after their injury could walk again with a limp. Those that didn’t receive a dose never regained their mobility.

Nedergaard told CNN that there is currently no standard treatment for patients with spinal injury when they reach the hospital emergency room.

“Right now we only treat 15 percent of the patients we receive with steroids and many hospitals question if that even works for that 15 percent; it’s a very moderate benefit to only a subset of patients. So right now 85 percent of patients are untreated,” she said.

Nedergaard said the research team isn’t claiming that BBG can cure spinal injuries, instead that it offers a potential improvement in patients’ condition.

“Even a moderate improvement in functional performance of the patient is a big, big event for these patients,” she said. “They can control their bladder. If they can just take small steps instead of sitting in a wheelchair all the time, it’s a tremendous benefit for these patients,” she added.

The dose must be administered immediately after the injury, before additional tissue dies as a result of the initial injury.

Researchers are currently pulling together an application to be lodged with the FDA to stage the first clinical trials of BBG on human patients.

“Our hope is that this work will lead to a practical, safe agent that can be given to patients shortly after injury, for the purpose of decreasing the secondary damage that we have to otherwise expect,” said Steven Goldman, Chair of the University of Rochester Department of Neurology.

(CNN) — The same blue food dye found in M&Ms and Gatorade could be used to reduce damage caused by spine injuries, offering a better chance of recovery, according to new research.

The rat before being injected with BBG.

The rat before being injected with BBG.

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