Health Highlights: Sept. 23, 2008

Sept. 24 -- Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Chinese Milk Scandal Toll at 54,000; System Called 'Out of Control'

China's milk-gathering system was "out of control" and led to abuses that have now sickened some 54,00 babies, killing four, China's agriculture minister acknowledged Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

The industrial chemical melamine was found in infant formula and milk products from 22 of China's dairy companies and is blamed for causing kidney stones and kidney failure in infants. European Union customs authorities are keeping a closer eye on food imports from China, where it is believed that suppliers may have tried to cut costs by adding melamine to watered-down milk, since its high nitrogen content can mask protein deficiencies, the AP said.

China's Sanlu Group Co. had received complaints about the tainted formula last December but waited eight months to tell local authorities, who then delayed informing higher officials for another month. As a result, Li Changjiang resigned Monday as director of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, the Chinese agency responsible for the safety of China's food supply chain, the AP said.

The sick have so far have included 12,892 babies who were hospitalized, 39,965 who have received outpatient treatment, and 1,579 more patients discharged from hospitals, the AP reported.


Obesity Increases Risk of Recurrent Miscarriage

Women who have had a miscarriage may be at increased risk of another miscarriage if they're obese, says a U.K. study that tracked 696 women who had miscarriages classified as "unexplained" by doctors.

The researchers at London's St. Mary's Hospital found that being obese increased the risk of another miscarriage by 73 percent, BBC News reported. The study was presented at an international meeting of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, held in Montreal.

"This is the first study to look directly at the link between BMI (body-mass index) and recurrent miscarriage. It shows that obese women who experience recurrent miscarriage are at greater risk of subsequent pregnancy loss," said Winnie Lo, a clinical nurse specialist who presented the study at the meeting.

"All women with recurrent miscarriage should be weighed at their first consultation. Those who are found to be obese should be counseled regarding the benefits of weight loss," Lo was quoted by BBC News as saying.


Low-Calorie Diet Can Influence Lifespan: Study

A low-calorie diet can affect two genes in a way that increases lifespan, suggest U.S. researchers, who studied the gene TOR in tiny roundworms called C. elegans. TOR regulates cell growth and plays a role in the development of cancer.

A loss of TOR has been shown to slow aging in C. elegans, which shares similar genetics to humans.

"Our work with C. elegans reveals that TOR depends on a second gene called pha4/FoxA to control the aging process," said study co-author Susan Mango of the University of Utah, United Press International reported.

Mango and colleagues also found that an abundance of food increases TOR activity, which decreases the action of pha4/FoxA and results in a shorter lifespan.

The study appears in the journal Current Biology.


Critics Assail White House Over Perchlorate in Drinking Water

Under pressure from the Bush administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency appears poised to abandon a drinking water safety standard for the rocket fuel chemical perchlorate, which has been linked to thyroid problems in pregnant women, newborns and young children, the Washington Post reported.

A near-final document obtained by the newspaper showed that the EPA's "preliminary regulatory determination" was heavily edited by White House officials. They eliminated important scientific sections and told the EPA to use a new computer modeling method to calculate health risks associated with perchlorate, the newspaper said.

"They have distorted the science to such an extent that they can justify not regulating" the chemical, University of Massachusetts Professor Robert Zoeller told the Post. "Infants and children will continue to be damaged and that damage is significant," said Zoeller, a specialist in thyroid hormone and brain development.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has endorsed legislation requiring the EPA to set a federal standard for perchlorate and to monitor levels of the chemical in tap water. Committee chair Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., was outraged that the EPA may not establish a standard for the chemical.

"Perchlorate has been a serious, persistent and widespread problem which threatens the health of our families, especially our children," Boxer told the Post. "For the Bush EPA to walk away from this problem and shrug off this danger is, in my view, unforgivable and immoral."


Gut Bacteria May Increase Colon Cancer Risk

Bacteria called Enterococcus faecalis that live in human intestines may produce harmful chemicals that damage DNA and trigger gene activity linked to colon cancer, a U.S. study says.

E. Faecalis, also known as Group D Streptococcus, is one of many normally harmless or beneficial kinds of bacteria that live in the human gut. But in some people, E. faecalis may pose a threat, say researchers at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Oklahoma City, BBC News reported.

They examined how colon cells in the laboratory reacted to the presence of E faecalis when it's in a "fermentation" state and produces a kind of oxygen molecule called "superoxide," which can damage DNA in surrounding cells.

The researchers discovered that superoxide has other harmful effects.

"We found that superoxide led to strong signaling in immune cells called macrophages. It also altered the way some cells in the gut grew and divided, and even increased the productivity of genes which are associated with cancer," said research leader Professor Mark Huycke, BBC News reported.

He and his colleagues found that the expression of 42 genes linked to critical processes in human cells was altered by the presence of E. faecalis in the fermentation state.

The study was published in the Journal of Medical Microbiology.


British Plastic Surgeons Protest Ads That Promise Too Much

While cosmetic surgeons may take pride in their work, the vast majority of them don't claim to be Rembrandt.

That's why the BBC News is reporting that the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) is taking issue with advertising from some cosmetic surgery clinics in England that may be taking liberty with just how effective their reconstructive surgery is.

BAAPS officials claim that some of the advertising shows models with "anatomically impossible" breasts while other ads offer "lunchtime facelifts," according to the BBC.

In fact, the news service reported, one clinic offered a discount worth about $350 for having cosmetic surgery quickly, and the plastic surgery association says there is no such thing as a "lunchtime facelift."

A spokesman for the Advertising Standards Authority, which oversees advertising propriety in the United Kingdom, told the BBC, "We look into all complaints and make an adjudication. This is not something we are inundated about but there are more [advertisements] of that nature out there now, so you might expect more complaints."