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Health Highlights: Sept. 3, 2008

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  • Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

    One Dead, Hundreds Ill in Oklahoma E. Coli Outbreak

    At least one person has died and 206 have been sickened in an E. coli outbreak linked to a restaurant in Locust Grove, Okla., a community of 1,500 people about 50 miles east of Tulsa. Those who've become sick range in age from 2 months to 88 years.

    The outbreak was first reported by health officials on Aug. 25 and the Country Cottage restaurant has been closed voluntarily for more than a week, the Associated Press reported.

    The exact source of the contamination hasn't been pinpointed. Health officials are testing food preparation surfaces at the restaurant and interviewing people who became ill.

    "The complexity of this outbreak and the necessity to be extremely thorough in our investigation means we still have more questions than answers," state epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley said in a statement, the AP reported.


    Popular Diet Plans Safe and Effective: Study

    Four popular diet programs are safe and effective, according to Australian researchers who conducted a two-month study of 293 people who used the Slim Fast, Atkins, WeightWatchers and Rosemary Conley's Eat Yourself Slim plans.

    Some critics have raised concerns about such diet programs. But the researchers found that all four diet plans resulted in weight loss, while providing sufficient nutrients, BBC News reported.

    "This analysis provides reassuring and important evidence for the effectiveness and nutritional adequacy of four commercial diets in weight management for the general public," the researchers wrote in the Nutrition Journal.

    However, there was no significant increase in the dieters' consumption of fruits and vegetables, despite recommendations to do so, BBC News reported.


    Women Smokers Suffer Heart Attacks Earlier Than Nonsmokers

    Smoking is more of a threat to women's hearts than to men's, according to Norwegian researchers who analyzed data from 1,784 patients admitted to a hospital after suffering a first heart attack.

    The study found that women who smoke have heart attacks nearly 14 years earlier than women who don't smoke -- age 81 vs. age 66. Men who smoke have heart attacks about eight years earlier than male nonsmokers -- age 72 vs. age 64, the Associated Press reported.

    Smoking may cause women to go through menopause earlier, leaving them less protected against a heart attack, suggested Dr. Morten Grundtvig and colleagues from the Innlandet Hospital Trust in Lillehammer.

    The study was presented to the European Society of Cardiology.

    "This is not a minor difference," said Dr. Silvia Priori, a cardiologist at the Scientific Institute in Pavia, Italy, the AP reported. "Women need to realize they are losing much more than men when they smoke," said Priori, who was not involved in the study.


    Taking Stairs Could Extend Your Life

    Taking the stairs instead of the elevator could reduce your risk of premature death, according to a Swiss study presented at a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology.

    During the 12-week study, 69 volunteers were told to use the stairs exclusively instead of taking the elevator while at work. On average, the number of flights of stairs they climbed or descended increased from five a day to 23, BBC News reported.

    At the end of the study, the participants had better fitness, less body fat, trimmer waistlines, and lower blood pressure. Taken together, the physical benefits of using stairs translated into a 15 percent reduced risk of premature death from any cause, the University of Geneva researchers said.

    "This suggests that stair climbing can have major public health implications," said lead researcher Dr. Phillippe Meyer, who added that the findings need to be confirmed in larger studies.


    Sex Hormones Linked to Male Heart Disease: Study

    Sex hormones may explain why men are more prone to heart disease than women of the same age, say British researchers.

    The University of Leicester study of 933 men examined the way that sex hormones interact with three major heart disease risk factors -- cholesterol, blood pressure and weight, United Press International reported.

    The researchers found that two sex hormones -- estradiol and estrone -- are associated with increased levels of "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and low levels of "good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

    Dr. Maciej Tomaszewski said the results suggest that sex hormones may play an important role in heart disease in men, even before they have symptoms of coronary artery disease or stroke, UPI reported.

    The study was published in the journal Atherosclerosis.

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