Men's Health: Health Bulletin

Not only have scientists found that some stress actually boosts your immune system, but there is also key evidence to suggest that your dentist may be the best person to warn you of an impending heart attack or stroke. Read on for more news from Men's Health.

A Shot to Save Your Life

Researchers at the University of Texas at Houston found that heart-attack survivors are one-third less likely to have a second heart attack if they get a flu vaccination before the flu season. The flu may contribute to inflammation that leads to rupturing of arterial plaques, such as the blockage shown here. It may also weaken your body in general, making you more susceptible to heart damage.

Heart Attacks, Now Gum Disease

Aspirin is on a roll. A study to be published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology found that people who took low doses of aspirin had healthier gums than those who didn’t take aspirin. Researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia theorize that aspirin protects the fibers and ligaments that attach gums to teeth. Unless there are medical reasons for not taking aspirin (usually stomach trouble, but talk to your doctor), people at high risk of gum disease should take a low dose of aspirin (100 milligrams) daily, says Robert Hirsch, M.D.S., Ph.D., one of the study authors.

Kicking Through Chemistry

Scientists at the University of Toronto have found that methoxsalen, a drug used to treat psoriasis, reduces the number of cigarettes smokers need for satisfaction. It suppresses the enzyme responsible for the metabolism of nicotine, says Edward Sellers, M.D., the lead researcher. That makes a cigarette’s nicotine effect last longer, satisfying the craving with fewer smokes. Methoxsalen also inhibits the release of cancer-causing agents from nicotine. The drug is not FDA approved for smoking cessation, though Dr. Sellers is hopeful it will be within a few years.

Some Stress is Good For You

So she dumped you, but at least you’re less likely to get a poison-ivy rash. Brief bouts of emotional stress may boost your immune function, suggests a study by researchers at Ohio State University, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. When the researchers exposed the skin of mice to a foreign substance, they found a stronger immune response among mice who had been briefly stressed just before the exposure. Hormones released during stress send protective cells called leukocytes from the bloodstream to the skin. “It’s long been known that chronic stress suppresses the immune system,” says Firdaus Dhabhar, Ph.D., the study author, “but short periods may actually ready it for battle.”

Getting the Inside Story

Scottish researchers are working on a tiny camera that will fit in a capsule and, once swallowed, will film your insides. The pill will give doctors a director’s-eye view and provide early warning about precancerous polyps or other problems. “Most of the technology exists, but just needs to be integrated,” says David Cumming, Ph.D., of the University of Glasgow.

A Pump For Prostate Cancer

Until now, patients with advanced prostate cancer often had to get a testosterone-suppressing injection every few months. But the FDA has just approved a new product that will make life easier for them. Viadur is a match stick-size pump that’s implanted in the upper arm and continuously releases the testosterone-depressing drug leuprolide into the bloodstream for a full year. Prostate cancer patients won’t have to go see their doctors solely for injections anymore.

The Power of X-Ray Vision

Researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo believe that panoramic dental X-rays can warn of an impending heart attack or stroke. These X-rays often show the carotid arteries in the neck, the vessels that carry blood to the brain. Patchy, white spots in the carotids could indicate dangerous plaque buildup. “Only 2 percent of stroke victims have any warning signs,” says Laurie Carter, D.D.S., Ph.D., one of the study authors. So ask your dentist to take a look at your carotids. If he sees anything on the X-rays that looks like calcified plaque, make an appointment to see your doctor right away.

Use Olive Oil

We like it when a food can stand in for a drug. And researchers from the University of Naples in Italy think olive oil may help minimize how much high-blood-pressure medicine people need. Their study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that patients who increased their intake of extra-virgin olive oil and cut back on other types of oil and fat were able to lower the dosages of their blood-pressure medicines by an average of 48 percent. Some were able to control their BP without any medication at all. “Extra-virgin olive oil is high in antioxidant polyphenols, compounds that help dilate arteries,” says one of the study authors, Aldo Ferrara, M.D., associate professor of internal medicine.

Magnets May Help Zap Tumors

Researchers at UCLA Medical Center think magnets may help make chemotherapy more effective. They added particles of iron to a chemotherapy drug before injecting it into an artery feeding a tumor. Then they put a magnet right over the tumor and drew the iron-laced chemicals to it. “This type of technology may mean the therapy can be concentrated right on the tumor site,” says Scott Goodwin, M.D., one of the study authors. It may not only make the medicine more effective, but also reduce side effects. The study was the first in a series needed to get FDA approval for the procedure.

Get Well, Keep Your Hair

Chemotherapy leads to hair loss because the drugs can’t distinguish between cancer cells and hair-follicle cells. But researchers at Glaxo Wellcome have developed a gel that may help prevent the hair-loss side effect of cancer treatment. The gel slows the growth of hair follicles, so treatment chemicals don’t mistake them for cancer cells. So far, it’s only at the animal-study stage. If human studies confirm the findings, patients will rub the gel into their scalps before a chemotherapy treatment and wash it out a few hours later.