Health Highlights: Aug. 8, 2008

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

Interaction Between Cholesterol, Heart Meds May Cause Muscle Damage

People who take the anti-cholesterol drugs Zocor (generic: simvastatin) or Vytorin along with a medication to control irregular heartbeat are at increased risk of severe muscle damage, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Friday.

Zocor and Vytorin, which contains the active ingredient in Zocor, are statins, and muscle damage is a known but rare side effect of the drugs. The heart rhythm drug is called either Cordarone or Pacerone (generic: amiodarone). The danger rises among those who take more than 20 milligrams daily of the cholesterol drugs, according to the agency warning cited by the Associated Press.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • Interaction Between Cholesterol, Heart Meds May Cause Muscle Damage
    • Pandemic Flu Biggest Threat to U.K.: Report
    • Study Examines Possible Link Between Gluten/Dairy and Autism
    • Fertility Treatments Offer Little Benefit For Some Couples
    • Circumcision May Reduce Risk of HIV Infection by 65 Percent
    • Gum Disease May Increase Risk of Diabetes

The FDA first warned in 2002 about an interaction between the two types of medications, but that hasn't prevented the problem, the AP reported. Over the past six years, the agency has gathered 52 reports of serious muscle damage among people who took both medicines.

Most of those injuries required hospitalization, the wire service said.

The FDA warned that people who are taking the heart rhythm drug should switch to a different statin to control cholesterol.

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Pandemic Flu Biggest Threat to U.K.: Report

The most serious danger facing the U.K. over the next five years is pandemic flu, not terrorism, according to a national threat assessment released Friday by Britain's Cabinet Office.

The document's authors assessed the level of risk posed by a number of threats, including terrorism, extreme weather, climate change and pandemic flu, the Associated Press reported.

The document doesn't actually rank the threats in order of seriousness, but does say that pandemic flu is considered the most pressing concern, according to a Cabinet Office spokeswoman.

Previous government assessments concluded that a pandemic flu outbreak could kill as many as 750,000 people in Britain and that it could take as long as several months to develop vaccines to deal with a specific strain of the virus, the AP reported.

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Study Examines Possible Link Between Gluten/Dairy Products and Autism

A study to investigate whether gluten or dairy products contribute to autistic behavior is being conducted by researchers at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston.

The double-blind clinical study will include 38 autistic children, ages 3 to 9. All of them will be taken off gluten (a protein in wheat) and dairy products before the start of the four-week study. When the study begins, half the children will be given gluten/milk powder and half will be given a placebo powder, United Press International reported.

Some parents of autistic children believe casomorphin (a peptide in milk) and gliadomorphin (a peptide in gluten) affect their children's behavior.

"There's a lot of misinformation, so that's why this study is so important. Hundreds and hundreds of parents think [changing diet] works but we need serious evidence," lead investigator Dr. Fernando Navarro said in a news release cited by UPI.

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Fertility Treatments Offer Little Benefit For Some Couples

The infertility drug clomifene citrate and artificial insemination do little to help certain couples who can't have children naturally, according to Scottish researchers.

Their study included 580 couples who had no obvious reasons for their inability to conceive. The couples were divided into three groups and received either the drug, artificial insemination, or no treatment. There was little difference between the three groups in the numbers of women who had babies, the Associated Press reported.

Women in the clomifene citrate group had 26 babies, compared to 32 babies in the no-treatment group and 43 babies in the artificial insemination group. The findings appear in the British Medical Journal.

"These treatments are a leap of faith," said lead author Dr. Siladitya Bhattacharya, a professor of reproductive medicine at the University of Aberdeen, the AP reported. "None of the treatments studied had any significant benefit over no treatment at all."

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Circumcision May Reduce Risk of HIV Infection by 65 Percent

Circumcision may offer men greater protection against HIV than previously thought, according to a study that included 2,784 Kenyan men who were uncircumcised and HIV-free when they enrolled in the trial. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

Half of the men were circumcised at the start of the study. After two years, circumcised men were 60 percent less likely to contract HIV than uncircumcised men, Agence France-Presse reported.

The protective benefit was deemed so great that, after two years, the uncircumcised men were offered circumcision.

"The 60 percent protective effect against HIV acquisition ... over the first 24 months of the study, we now find to be sustained and possibly strengthened to approximately 65 percent over three and half years of follow-up," said study author Robert Bailey, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, AFP reported.

The findings were presented Thursday at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City.

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Gum Disease May Increase Risk of Diabetes

Gum disease may be an independent risk factor for type 2 diabetes, according to a Columbia University study that included more than 9,000 people who didn't have diabetes at the start of the study.

The researchers examined the risk of developing diabetes over 20 years among participants with varying degrees of gum disease. They found that people with higher degrees of gum disease were nearly twice as likely to develop diabetes, United Press International reported.

That finding held true even after the researchers adjusted for other diabetes-related factors such as age, smoking, obesity, diet and high blood pressure. The study appears in the journal Diabetes Care.

"These data add a new twist to the association (between diabetes and gum disease) and suggest that periodontal disease may be there before diabetes," lead author Ryan T. Demmer said in a news release, UPI reported.