Health Highlights: Aug. 15, 2008

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

Drinking Red Bull May Cause Heart Damage: Study

Drinking too much of the popular Red Bull energy drink may lead to heart damage, says an Australian study that included 30 university students, ages 20 to 24.

The researchers found that drinking just one 250ml sugar-free can of the caffeinated drink boosted the "stickiness" of the blood and increased the risk of blood clots. After drinking Red Bull, the students had a cardiovascular profile similar to that of someone with heart disease, the Times (U.K.) reported.

    • Drinking Red Bull May Cause Heart Damage: Study
    • Teens Having Easier Time Getting Prescription Drugs
    • Gene Mutation Linked to Colorectal Cancer
    • Lack of Judgment Endangers Teen Drivers
    • Bush Signs Bill Banning Lead in Children's Products
    • Neck Artery Stent Devices Recalled

The results were alarming and suggest that older adults with symptoms of heart disease shouldn't drink too much Red Bull, said study author Scott Willoughby, of the Cardiovascular Research Center at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and Adelaide University.

In a statement, Red Bull officials said the drink had been proved safe by numerous scientific studies, and that it had never been banned from anywhere it had been introduced, the Times reported.

Red Bull is sold in 143 countries but is banned in Norway, Denmark and some other countries due to health concerns.


Teens Having Easier Time Getting Prescription Drugs

It's easier to illegally obtain prescription drugs such as OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin or Ritalin than it is to get beer, say a growing number of American teens.

Researchers at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University surveyed 1,002 12- to-17-year-olds and found that 19 percent said it was easier for them to obtain prescription drugs than to get their hands on beer, cigarettes or marijuana, compared with 13 percent a year ago, The Washington Post reported.

The study also found that 34 percent of teens who abuse prescription drugs get them at home or from their parents.

About 25 percent of the teen respondents said marijuana is the easiest substance to buy, and 43 percent of 17-year-olds said they could purchase marijuana in less than an hour, The Post reported.


Gene Mutation Linked to Colorectal Cancer

A gene mutation strongly linked to colorectal cancer has been identified by Northwestern University researchers. People with the TGFBR1 ASE gene mutation have a 50 percent higher risk of colorectal cancer than the general population.

"This probably accounts for more colorectal cancers than all other gene mutations discovered thus far," said study lead author Boris Pasche, Agence France Presse reported.

The TGFBR1 ASE mutation results in decreased production of an important receptor for TGF-beta, the most potent inhibitor of cell growth. A reduced ability to inhibit cell growth means it's easier for colon cancer to develop. The study was published in the journal Science.

"The reasonable expectation is this finding will save some lives," said Pasche, AFP reported. "We will be able to identify a larger number of individuals that are at risk of colorectal cancer and, in the long term, maybe decrease the cases of colorectal cancer and of people dying from it by being able to screen them more frequently."


Lack of Judgment Endangers Teen Drivers

A lack of judgment about the risks of driving may explain why teens have the highest crash and fatality rates of any age group, according to Canadian researchers.

The team at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto evaluated 262 high school students and found they consistently underestimated the risks of driving due to a number of mistaken beliefs, CBC News reported.

For example, the teens assumed that:

  • Their age and agility would enable them to overcome the effects of poor driving conditions or intoxication better than more experienced drivers.
  • Vehicle and highway design were more likely than human error to cause crashes.
  • In the event of a crash, doctors would be able to save their lives and leave them unscathed.

"Students need to comprehend that it is a lack of judgment, not only lack of skill, that increases the risk of injury to oneself and others," said Dr. Najma Ahmed, assistant trauma director at St. Michael's, CBC News reported.

The study was published in the August issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.


Bush Signs Bill Banning Lead in Children's Products

Legislation that bans lead from children's products was signed Thursday by President George W. Bush, giving the United States the toughest standard in the world. The bill was passed by both houses of Congress two weeks ago.

Under the new law, lead beyond minute levels is prohibited in products for children under 12 years old, the Associated Press reported. Last year, lead paint was a major factor in U.S. recalls of 45 million toys and other children's products, mainly from China.

The new legislation also bans the use of phthalates, chemicals used to make plastic products softer and more flexible. It also gives the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission more money and power to oversee testing of products and to penalize violators.

Each year in the United States, unsafe products cause about 28,000 deaths, according to the CPSC. Last year, faulty consumer products injured more than 33 million people, the AP reported.


Neck Artery Stent Devices Recalled

Stents and related devices made by Boston Scientific -- used to keep once-clogged neck arteries open -- are being recalled because of problems with the system used to implant the stents, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.

The recall affecting the NexStent Monorail, NexStent Carotid Stent and Monorail Delivery System does not affect devices that have already been implanted, the Dow Jones news service reported. Affected devices were produced between June 12, 2007 and May 2, 2008.

Stents are hollow tubes of wire mesh that are surgically implanted inside an artery to keep it open after a procedure to unclog the blood vessel. The affected devices are meant to be used in the carotid artery, a primary supplier of blood to the brain. They're being recalled because "the tip of the stent delivery system may detach from the delivery system during the procedure," the news service said, citing a notice on the FDA's Web site.

This problem could "lead to increased procedure time, cause vessel wall injury, stroke and/or emergency surgery to remove the detached tip," the agency warning continued.

The FDA said Boston Scientific sent a recall letter to customers on June 6.