Health Tips ... from UPI

By LIDIA WASOWICZ, UPI Senior Science Writer  |  Jan. 15, 2004 at 9:00 AM
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Doctors are warning chronic back pain sufferers not to take serious risks by mixing alcohol with narcotic painkillers. A study shows a disturbing number of people who admit to drinking heavily also are on pain medication. "Be careful if you are a heavy drinker with pain, because doctors don't seem to pay attention to the interaction between alcohol and drugs," says study coauthor Dr. Andrew Haig, associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Michigan Medical School and director of the Spine Program. "The combination of alcohol and narcotics increases the sedative effect of both, probably the desired effect among people with pain, but in significant quantities the combination could lead to respiratory depression," adds study coauthor Dr. Ethan Booker, an emergency medicine resident at the University of Chicago. In addition, painkillers that combine acetaminophen and narcotics, such as Vicodin, could cause severe liver damage when mixed with alcohol, doctors caution. The study, published in Disability and Rehabilitation, is the first to look at the relationship between alcohol and chronic back pain.


Research suggests exposure to sunshine may help protect against the development of multiple sclerosis. The study, reported in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, notes the exact causes of MS are unknown, but it becomes more common the further away from the equator people live in both the Southern and Northern hemispheres. To test their theory that sunshine may itself be an important factor, the authors analyzed data from hospital records and death certificates to assess the prevalence of skin cancer, a side effect of prolonged sun exposure, in Oxford, England. Analysis of 30 years worth of records showed the prevalence of skin cancers in people with MS was significantly lower than average. They say sunshine might protect against the development of MS by boosting the response of the immune system through changes to the production of vitamin D and melatonin, the substance involved in acquiring a tan.


Finnish researchers report hard water may protect against coronary artery disease and heart attacks. They say in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health fluoride also seems to exert a protective effect. Their study was prompted by the seemingly inexplicable variation in rates of heart attack within Finland. The researchers analyzed national population statistics, hospital discharge and death certification data, and national geological survey data on water hardness and trace elements. Their analysis included measuring levels of calcium, magnesium, fluoride, iron, copper, zinc, nitrate and aluminum in nearly 12,500 groundwater samples. In the study of 19,000 men, they found for every one unit increase in water hardness, there was a corresponding 1 percent decrease in the risk of having a heart attack. The study indicated higher fluoride levels were protective, while higher levels of iron and copper in the water seemed to have the opposite effect.


As temperatures plummet in parts of the country, health officials are urging residents to get a flu shot and take other steps to prevent colds and flu. They advise people in chilly regions to dress warmly in layers and cover up as much as possible. "Since infants and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to body heat loss from cold weather conditions, parents and caregivers should ensure that their loved ones are adequately protected from the cold," advised Dr. Thomas Frieden, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygeiene. Tips for staving off flu and colds include: Wear a hat, hood or scarf as most heat is lost through the head; wear layers of clothing, rather than a single outerwear item for better insulation; make sure the outer layer is tightly woven and wind resistant; consider the effects of wind chill; keep clothing dry. Parents are urged to take special care of infants, and neighbors are asked to check in on the elderly to make sure they are warm enough, health officials said.

(Editors: For more information about ALCOHOL, contact Nicole Fawcett at (734) 764-2220 or For MS, Michael Goldacre at +44 (0) 1865 226 994 or For WATER, Anne Kousa at 00 358 205 50 3644 or

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