Sunday, November 29, 2009

Health news: Fascinating, irrelevant and sometimes strange

Every week I receive the gift, and sometimes the curse, of a flood of press releases about the latest findings from new health, medical and general scientific studies. Often it’s a treasure trove of new discoveries, exciting hypotheses, or confirmatory findings. Sometimes not so much. And nearly always there are some that fall into what I like to call the “Duh!” category. As in “that’s so obvious, or irrelevant. Why did anyone bother to study it?” Here are a few standouts from this past week.

Policy researchers have determined that simply giving money to people in poverty is not a good way to reduce levels of poverty. Hmmmm, perhaps there are some other underlying causes for poverty beyond lack of cash: Insufficient education, drug abuse, mental illness, chronic disease, a multigenerational “culture” of poverty? If dolling out the shillings was sufficient to restructure society, we’d likely be living on a very different planet.

Yet another good reason to drop the smokes: Cigarettes contain a host of potentially hazardous bacteria, including those linked to respiratory, lung and blood infections, as well as an anthrax relative. Researchers are now studying whether and how the critters might survive the burning process to colonize the human respiratory tract. That just sounds disgusting.

The world appetite for frog legs (OK, its actually the appetite of the French, Belgians and Americans who eat 75% of the world’s stock) is leading to a dangerous spread of amphibian pathogens such as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. That’s a fungus that’s harmful to other amphibians, but not humans. I’m not sure what the practical implications of this paper are, but as a lover of useless trivia, I was fascinated to learn that Indonesia exports 45% of the world’s frog legs.

Researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles are reporting that the air in neighborhoods around airports contains more pollutants from aircraft than air in other neighborhoods. I’m not sure I have a comment for that one.

And finally, in the only study that stood out as actually being potentially important, researchers have linked an increased levels of depression in pregnant women with an increased risk of asthma in their child once it is born. At this point they aren’t sure what a causal link may be, though the hypothesis is that mothers may not manage their own chronic illnesses as well when they are depressed, and that may result in less robust babies.

Have you encountered any interesting, bizarre or ridiculous health news lately? By all means share what you’ve heard!

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