Health Highlights: Aug. 21, 2008

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

FDA Sanctions Irradiation of Lettuce, Spinach

Food producers will be allowed to irradiate fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce to kill E. coli and other dangerous germs to prevent outbreaks of foodborne illness, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said. The new regulation takes effect Friday.

Irradiation of meat and spices has been permitted for years but there were concerns that exposing leafy greens to radiation would affect the quality of the produce, the Associated Press reported.

    • FDA Sanctions Irradiation of Lettuce, Spinach
    • Anti-Addiction Drug Helps Rats Lose Weight
    • Trauma During Pregnancy Boosts Risk of Schizophrenia in Kids
    • Posture Training Eases Chronic Back Pain
    • One Dead, 16 Sick in Listeriosis Outbreak in Canada
    • Minorities More Likely to Suffer Corporal Punishment in Schools

But the FDA concluded that modern irradiation techniques can kill dangerous germs without compromising the safety or nutrient value of raw lettuce and spinach.

"What this does is give producers and processors one more tool in the toolbox to make these commodities safer and protect public health," said Dr. Laura Tarantino, director of the FDA's Office of Food Additive Safety, the AP reported.

The FDA also is assessing the possible use of irradiation on other types of produce.


Anti-Addiction Drug Helps Rats Lose Weight

A drug being tested as a treatment for cocaine and methamphetamine addiction helps rats lose weight, U.S. researchers say. The findings suggest the drug could help treat severely obese people.

Following short-term treatment with the drug vigabatrin, rats genetically modified to be obese lost up to 19 percent of their total weight, and normal-weight rats shed 12 percent to 20 percent of their weight, Agence France-Presse reported.

"Our results appear to demonstrate that vigabatrin induced satiety in these animals," said study leader Amy DeMarco, of the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory.

The study was published online this week by the journal Synapse.

Previous research identified vigabatrin as a potential addiction treatment and found similar brain changes in addicts and obese people. That led the Brookhaven team to study whether vigabatrin would turn off the uncontrolled urge to eat among obese lab rats, AFP reported.


Trauma During Pregnancy Boosts Risk of Schizophrenia in Kids

There's an increased risk of schizophrenia among children born to women who experience traumatic stress during pregnancy, including stress caused by natural disasters, war, a terrorist attack, or the sudden loss of a loved one.

Dolores Malaspina, of New York University's School of Medicine, and colleagues analyzed birth data for 88,829 people born in Jerusalem from 1964 to 1976 and cross-referenced that data with Israel's national psychiatry registry, Agence France-Presse reported.

The study found that females born to women who were in their second month of pregnancy during the height of Six-Day War in June, 1967, were 4.3 times more likely to develop schizophrenia as they entered adulthood, and males were 1.2 times more likely to develop the mental disease.

"It is a very striking confirmation of something that has been suspected for a long time. The placenta is very sensitive to stress hormones in the mother. These hormones were probably amplified during the time of war," said Malaspina, AFP reported.

The study was published in the journal BioMed Central Psychiatry.


Posture Training Eases Chronic Back Pain

Improving posture and coordination in people with chronic low back pain provides relief that lasts for more than a year, according to a British study.

The 579 patients in the study received either massage therapy, care from a family doctor, or lessons on the Alexander Technique, which involves training to improve posture and muscle coordination while walking, standing and sitting, CBC News reported.

After one year, the patients in the Alexander group had an average of three days of back pain a month, compared with 14 days for those in the massage group, and 21 days for those under a doctor's care, which included painkillers and exercise lessons in some cases. Alexander group patients also reported improved quality of life, such as being able to walk at a normal pace.

The study was published in the British Medical Journal.

The Alexander Technique was developed in the late 19th century by actor Frederick Alexander, who found he was losing his voice, because he was stiffening his body before speaking, CBC News reported.


One Dead, 16 Sick in Listeriosis Outbreak in Canada

One person in Ontario has died and at least 16 others across Canada have become sick in a listeriosis outbreak believed to be caused by packaged meats made at a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto. On Wednesday, the company said it was closing the plant and expanding its recall of certain packaged meats, CBC News reported.

So far, 13 cases of listeriosis have been identified in Ontario, two in British Columbia, one in Saskatchewan, and one in Quebec, said the Public Health Agency of Canada. No further details about the death in Ontario have been released.

Ontario health officials said they're investigating another 16 probable cases of the same strain of Listeria monocytogenes, CBC News reported.

"I strongly advise the public, especially those at risk for listeriosis, such as the elderly, pregnant women and those with weak immune systems, to make sure they avoid consuming these products," Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, said in a statement.

On Sunday, Maple Leaf said it discovered listeriosis-causing bacteria in Sure Slice roast beef and corned beef and recalled those products. As of Wednesday, the recall had expanded to about 23 products, including a variety of smoked meat, turkey and roast beef products sold under brand names such as Schneiders, Sure Slice, Deli Gourmet and Burns Bites, CBC News reported.


Minorities More Likely to Suffer Corporal Punishment in Schools

Minority children received a disproportionate share of the corporal punishment given to 223,190 American school children last year, says a study released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberty Union.

Black and Native American children were more than twice as likely as other students to be paddled, the Associated Press reported.

Most states have outlawed corporal punishment, but it remains widespread across the South. Texas and Mississippi accounted for 40 percent of the children who received corporal punishment at least once in the 2006-07 school year, followed by Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Florida and Missouri.

The study also found that boys were three times more likely to be paddled than girls, and special education children were also more likely to be paddled, the AP reported.