Health Highlights: Dec. 8, 2008

Dec. 9 -- Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Irish Pork May Contain Cancer-Causing Chemicals

Irish pork that may be tainted with cancer-causing dioxins has been removed from sale in Europe and Asia.

The Irish government ordered all pig meat products made since Sept. 1 to be withdrawn after dioxins were found in slaughtered pigs believed to have eaten tainted feed, Agence France Presse reported.

Authorities are investigating a feed company suspected of being linked to the contamination and up to 100,000 pigs from affected farms will be slaughtered.

Contaminated meat may have been shipped to 12 European Union countries and nine nations outside of Europe, AFP reported. Japan, Singapore and South Korea have suspended imports of Irish pork products.


Commentary Supports Brain Stimulant Pills

In a controversial commentary article, a group of experts argues that healthy people should be able to use stimulants to give their brains a boost. They said using pills to increase brain function is no more morally objectionable than eating right or getting a good night's sleep.

The commentary in the journal Nature calls for more research into this area and steps to manage any risks, the Associated Press reported.

"I would be the first in line if safe and effective drugs were developed that trumped caffeine," article co-author Michael Gazzaniga, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, said in a an e-mail.

While some health experts agreed this is an area that deserves attention, Leigh Turner of the University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics disagreed.

"It's a nice puff piece for selling medications for people who don't have an illness of any kind," Turner told the AP.


Cold Sore Virus Linked to Alzheimer's

People who develop cold sores may be at increased risk for Alzheimer's disease, according to British researchers who said the herpes virus that causes cold sores is a major cause of the brain protein plaques associated with Alzheimer's.

The University of Manchester team found DNA evidence of the herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1 in 90 percent of plaques in Alzheimer's patients' brains, BBC News reported. The findings were published in the Journal of Pathology.

"We suggest that HSV1 enters the brain in the elderly as their immune systems decline and then establishes a dormant infection from which it is repeatedly activated by events such as stress, immunosuppression, and various infections," said Professor Ruth Itzhaki.

This causes damage to brain cells, which die and disintegrate, releasing the proteins that form the plaques that cause Alzheimer's, the study suggested.

The potential good news in this study is that antiviral drugs used to treat cold sores may also prevent dementia. Itzhaki and colleagues plan to test that theory, BBC News reported.


Body Clock Gene Fault Linked to Diabetes

Faults in an important body clock gene (MTNR1B) are associated with higher blood sugar levels and increased risk of type 2 diabetes, according to international teams of researchers.

MTNR1B helps control the action of the hormone melatonin on different parts of the body. Melatonin plays a role in drowsiness and the lowering of body temperature.

The researchers, who analyzed the genomes of thousands of people, said their findings could lead to new ways to control or prevent diabetes, BBC News reported.

"Our research demonstrates that abnormalities in the circadian rhythm may partly be causing diabetes and high blood sugar levels -- we hope it will ultimately provide new options for treating people," said Professor Philippe Froguel of Imperial College London.

The findings appear in the current issue of the journal Nature Genetics.