Health Highlights: Oct. 13, 2008

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

Personal Music Players Pose Hearing Threat

Personal music players could cause permanent hearing loss for as many as 10 million of the estimated 50 million to 100 million Europeans who use them, according to experts who conducted a study for the European Union.

The specialists on the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks concluded that people who listen to personal music players at high volume for five hours a week are exposed to more noise than employees in the noisiest factories or workplaces. Maximum volume on some personal music players can be as loud as an airplane taking off nearby, The New York Times reported.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • Personal Music Players Pose Hearing Threat
    • Shark Antibodies May Help Fight Cancer
    • 1 in 5 Adults May Use Prescription Drugs for Brain Boost
    • Ultrasound Law Challenged in Oklahoma Abortion Case

People who listen at high volumes for more than an hour a day each week risk permanent hearing loss after five years, the study said.

"Regularly listening to personal music players at high-volume settings when young often has no immediate effect on hearing, but is likely to result in hearing loss later in life," wrote the authors of the study, which was published Monday, the Times reported.

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Shark Antibodies May Help Fight Cancer

Antibodies in shark blood could offer a powerful weapon against cancer, suggest Australian researchers who found the antibodies can withstand high temperatures and extremely acidic or alkaline conditions.

This suggests that shark antibodies may be able to survive in the harsh environment of the human gut, a capability that's vital in the development of a cancer-fighting pill, BBC News reported.

The researchers also found that shark antibodies can also attach to cancer cells and prevent them from spreading.

"The (cancer) cells actually grow less than when we don't add a shark antibody or we add a completely irrelevant shark antibody," said Mick Foley, an associate professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne, BBC News reported. "So this indicates the shark antibody that we have is binding to those cancer cells and for some reason causing them to grow more slowly and perhaps even killing them."

It's also hoped that shark antibodies may treat other conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and malaria.

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1 in 5 Adults May Use Prescription Drugs for Brain Boost

Up to 20 percent of adults may be using prescription drugs such as Ritalin to increase alertness and brain power, according to a survey of 1,400 people, BBC New reported.

The Nature journal poll found that 20 percent of respondents said they'd taken Ritalin, Provigil (modafinil) or beta-blockers for non-medical reasons such as boosting focus, concentration or memory. Of those, 62 percent had taken Ritalin and 44 percent Provigil, which is normally prescribed to treat daytime sleepiness in people suffering from the sleep disorder narcolepsy, the news service said.

In most cases, users of the drugs got the drugs through prescriptions or bought them online.

Professor Barbara Sahakian, of Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, England, said there's evidence that the use of drugs for cognitive enhancement is becoming more widespread and safety trials are urgently needed, BBC News reported.

"We do not really have long-term efficacy and safety data in healthy people. These are studies that really need to be done," Sahakian said. "The use of cognitive enhancing drugs is spreading to younger and younger people. That's a concern."

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Ultrasound Law Challenged in Oklahoma Abortion Case

An Oklahoma law forbidding a woman from having an abortion until she has an ultrasound and has a physician give her a description of the fetus is being challenged in court.

According to the Associated Press, the law, which goes into effect Nov. 1, is being contested on grounds that it violates a woman's privacy, endangers health and assaults dignity. Oklahoma is joining Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi as the states having a mandatory ultrasound and consultation law, the wire service reported.

The lawsuit was filed late last week in Oklahoma County District Court by the Center for Reproductive Rights, an abortion rights advocacy group, the AP reported. What makes the Oklahoma law different from the other three states, the wire service reported, is that the ultrasound picture of the fetus is to be turned toward the woman as the doctor describes the dimensions of the fetus to her.

The Oklahoma state Legislature overrode Gov. Brad Henry's veto, and the bill's sponsor, Republican Senator Todd Lamb, told the AP: "I introduced the bill because I wanted to encourage life in society. In Oklahoma, society is on the side of life."

The plaintiff's lead lawyer, Stephanie Toti, told the wire service, "Anti-choice activists will stop at nothing to prevent a woman from getting an abortion, but trying to manipulate a woman's decisions about her own life and health goes beyond the pale."