Health Highlights: March 5, 2009

Religion May Ease Anxiety, Research FindsHigh-Fat Diet Reduces Allergic Symptoms: StudyBarbara Bush Recovering From Heart SurgeryTobacco Regulation Bill Approved by House Committee87M Americans Under 65 Uninsured During Last 2 Years: ReportFDA Control Over Dietary Supplements Inadequate: GAO

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

Religion May Ease Anxiety, Research Finds

Religious belief may help control stress-related anxiety, suggests a University of Toronto study.

Volunteers did a stressful task while researchers monitored activity in an area of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is involved in emotion, reported. Participants with strong religious belief had less ACC activity than non-believers, suggesting they experienced less anxiety while doing the task and when they made mistakes.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.

Religious belief may offer peace of mind that helps people control their anxiety, suggested study leader Michael Inzlicht, an assistant professor of psychology, reported.

"Religion provides meaning to many people. It helps people to understand what to do, where to go next, what decision to make. It may be that having this sense of meaning reduces their anxiety," he said.


Fatty Diet Lessens Allergic Symptoms: Study

A high-fat diet may help reduce allergic symptoms, say U.K. researchers who studied the effects of a fatty diet on non-obese mice.

The rodents' lungs showed a decrease in cells called eosinophils, which are responsible for allergic response, BBC News reported. The Edinburgh University study was published in the journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy.

"If people eat a high-fat diet prior to becoming obese, it may well be that they have fewer allergy symptoms, but this could also be indicative of an immune system that is not working properly, and more research is needed," said researcher Dr. Annick de Vries.

She noted that the study looked at the effect of fat in the diet as opposed to the impact of obesity, BBC News reported.

"We certainly would not advocate eating a high-fat diet because of its link to obesity implications and numerous health implications such as increased risk of heart disease and diabetes," de Vries said.


Barbara Bush Recovering From Heart Surgery

After undergoing open heart surgery Wednesday to replace her aortic valve, former first lady Barbara Bush was reported to be resting comfortably in the intensive care unit, according to family spokesman Jim McGrath and officials at The Methodist Hospital in Houston.

The surgery, which lasted about 2 1/2 hours, was scheduled last week after Bush complained of shortness of breath, and doctors determined the aortic valve had started to harden, the Associated Press reported.

Her aortic valve was replaced with a biologic valve made of natural living tissue. Bush, 83, is expected to recover fully and soon resume her normal activities, according to heart surgeon Dr. Gerald Lawrie.

The hospital said it expects Bush will be released in seven to 10 days, the AP reported.

Left untreated, a hardened aortic valve can cause heart failure or sudden cardiac death. Shortness of breath, chest pains and dizziness are among the symptoms of aortic valve disease.


Tobacco Regulation Bill Approved by House Committee

A House panel has approved decade-old legislation that would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate the tobacco industry.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act in a 39-13 vote Wednesday. The bill would require the FDA to regulate tobacco product ingredients and the introduction of new products, restrict tobacco marketing to young people, and add larger warnings to cigarette packages, Bloomberg news reported.

Last July, the full House passed the same measure, but it stalled in the Senate due to a number of concerns, including a lack of FDA resources. Democrats say that broad approval may speed approval of the bill this year.

"Regulating tobacco is the single most important thing that we can do right now to curb the deadly toll of tobacco, and FDA is the right agency to do the job," said committee chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a sponsor of the legislation for more than 10 years, Bloomberg reported.

The American Lung Association urged the full House to quickly pass the bill and send it to the Senate. Smoking causes 20 percent of deaths in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.


87M Americans Under 65 Uninsured During Last 2 Years: Report

President Barack Obama has made reducing the number of Americans without health insurance a centerpiece of his health reform efforts, and a new poll highlights those concerns: 86.7 million people under 65 went without coverage at some time during the past two years, according to an advocacy group's report released Wednesday.

Gleaning data from the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey and its Survey of Income and Program Participation as well as from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, Families USA, a nonprofit health care reform group, said that the figure represents one of every three Americans under age 65, according to United Press International. Of all those uninsured, 60.2 percent were without coverage for nine months or more, and almost 74.5 percent were uninsured for six months or more, the group found. And, more than half of families with incomes between $21,200 and $42,400 a year -- 52 percent of them -- went without insurance in 2007-2008, the report said.

The report also warned that four of every five uninsured Americans are from working families and face even greater risks in a slumping economy: As more and more workers get laid off, they may lose their ability to keep health coverage.


FDA Control Over Dietary Supplements Inadequate: GAO

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has too little control over dietary supplements, according to a report released this week by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The GAO, which conducted the evaluation at the request of Congress, found that the FDA lacks the information, resources or recall ability it needs to adequately regulate dietary supplements, which are taken by 79 percent of American adults, USA Today reported.

As one example, the GAO noted that supplement companies aren't required to tell the FDA what products they sell or ingredients they use.

A number of groups have long demanded the FDA increase its regulation of supplements.

"It's like the Wild West, and the bad guys know they don't have to take the sheriff seriously," Bruce Silverglade, legal director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told USA Today.

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