Science briefs: Fish oil pill doesn't help heart ills

  • Updated: September 15, 2012 - 5:37 PM

FISH OIL PILL DOESN'T HELP HEART ILLS

Looks like a fish oil pill a day won't keep the doctor away.

Scientists who reviewed data from about 68,000 patients gathered in 20 trials over the past 24 years found that men and women taking fish oil supplements didn't lower their risk for a bevy of ills including heart attacks, strokes and death.

Diverging recommendations about the benefits of fish-oil supplements, which contain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, can "cause confusion in everyday clinical practice about whether to use these agents for cardiovascular protection," Moses Elisaf and his colleagues from the University of Ioannina in Greece wrote in the study.

The scientists concluded that the use of fish-oil pills is unnecessary to ward off heart disease, a finding that contradicts other studies that said the supplements were beneficial.

The paper, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, belongs to a form of research known as a meta-analysis, which evaluates data from previous investigations without doing new clinical work.

HIGH-DOSE VITAMIN D SPEEDS TB RECOVERY

High doses of vitamin D speed the recovery of tuberculosis patients, according to a new study.

The inspiration for testing the idea, scientists from Queen Mary University of London and other British hospitals said, was that 19th-century tuberculosis patients were sent to the mountains to lie in the sun. Ultraviolet B rays in sunshine convert cholesterol in the skin into vitamin D.

In the decades before antibiotics, doctors knew that TB patients sometimes recovered, or at least lived longer, at high altitudes.

Vitamin D seems to prevent lung damage by slowing down inflammatory responses to the TB bacterium. Since it does not interfere with the action of antibiotics, it may be useful in other illnesses, like pneumonia, according to the authors of the study, published online by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

NONALCOHOLIC RED WINE HELPS LOWER BP

Drinking red wine may help lower blood pressure, but a new study from Spain suggests that alcohol is not the reason.

In a small randomized clinical trial, 67 men ages 55 to 75 who were at high risk for cardiovascular disease were assigned to daily drinks: four weeks drinking 1 ounce of gin, 10 ounces of red wine or 10 ounces of nonalcoholic red wine. All the men tried the three programs in succession.

When the men drank gin, they experienced no change in blood pressure. With red wine, there was a slight but statistically insignificant lowering. But with nonalcoholic red wine, the men saw a significant decrease in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

The study, published in Circulation Research, concludes that the blood-pressure-lowering effects of red wine are attributable not to its alcohol content, but to the beneficial chemicals called polyphenols that it contains, even in its nonalcoholic form.

METABOLIC SYNDROME CHANGES KIDS' BRAINS

Metabolic syndrome, the combination of disorders that increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, is known to be associated with brain changes and cognitive deficiencies in adults. Now a new study, published online in Pediatrics, has found a similar effect in teenagers with the disorder.

Researchers compared 49 nondiabetic teenagers who had metabolic syndrome -- high blood levels of glucose, low levels of high-density lipoprotein, high triglycerides, abdominal obesity and high blood pressure -- with 64 young people who had fewer than three of those symptoms. Participants were given magnetic resonance brain scans and standard tests of memory, learning, attention and psychomotor ability.

After controlling for age, socioeconomic status, school grade, sex and ethnicity, the researchers found that the teenagers with metabolic syndrome had lower scores on tests of mental ability and significantly lower academic performance in reading and arithmetic. The scientists were surprised to discover that the MRI scans showed brain changes in children with metabolic syndrome.

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