Mindfulness classes pay off

Chalk another one up for mindfulness classes.

A study in Norway of 73 patients with painful joint diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis found that mindfulness exercises reduced stress and fatigue and that patients maintained the improvement a year later.

Mindfulness exercises help patients focus on the present. In 10 group sessions, patients were taught to deliberately think about their feelings and bodily experiences without judging or trying to avoid them. The control group was given a CD with similar exercises for use at home.

The study from Diakonhjermmet Hospital in Oslo was published this month in Annals of Rheumatic Diseases. - Stacey Burling

Sleep shortage plagues police

Be kind to the next police officer you come across. He or she may be sleepy.

A survey of nearly 5,000 state and municipal police officers, including many from Philadelphia, has shown that about 40 percent suffer from sleep deprivation - not surprising considering that they frequently work extended shifts or night shifts and have long workweeks.

That, in turn, is associated with a higher risk for a number of health, safety, and job problems, from falling asleep while driving to anger toward a suspect.

The study, led by physicians at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, found that the forms of sleep deprivation included sleep apnea, insomnia, and another sleep disorder.

Among that 40 percent, 10 percent reported having depression, 34 percent reported emotional exhaustion or burnout, and 20 percent reported falling asleep while driving.

In an accompanying editorial, two sleep researchers at the University of Pennsylvania said more study is needed, as is occupational screening for sleep disorders. The study and editorial are in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

- Sandy Bauers

Value of diuretics is confirmed

Diuretics have been shown to help prevent strokes, heart failure, and other cardiac events, but their impact on overall long-term survival has been less clear.

A new study, led by researchers at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N.J., helps cement the case.

The authors followed up on the medical histories of more than 4,600 patients who had been in a hypertension study during the late 1980s. Half had received the diuretic chlorthalidone for an average of 41/2 years, and the other half were given a placebo. At the conclusion of the original study, all were encouraged to take the diuretic.

Two decades later, those who got the diuretic during the original study had a life expectancy 105 days longer than those who were initially on the placebo. Looking just at cardiovascular deaths, the increase in life expectancy was 158 days, the authors reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

While an equal number of patients in both groups were presumed to have taken the diuretic in the years after the original trial, those who took it during the trial apparently benefited from the head start in treating hypertension before it led to more serious disease, the authors said.

- Tom Avril

Salt preference may start early

Feeding young babies solid foods such as crackers, cereals, and bread, which tend to be high in salt, may set them up for a lifelong preference for salt, researchers reported.

The study, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests that efforts to reduce salt intake among Americans should begin very early in life. Infancy may even contain a "sensitivity window" in which exposure to certain foods programs the brain to desire them in the future, said the study's lead author, Leslie Stein, of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.

To get at the issue, Stein and colleagues first gave 61 healthy 2-month-old infants a mild solution of saltwater. Based on facial expressions and how much they drank, the authors concluded the infants were indifferent to the taste.

When the babies were 6 months old, they were brought back to Monell and presented with bottles containing water, a mild salt solution, or a slightly saltier solution. Researchers recorded how much fluid they drank from each bottle during a one-minute period.

Almost half of the infants - 26 - had been exposed to starchy foods such as crackers, soft bread, or cereal, which are often high in salt. During the bottle test, those babies consumed 55 percent more salt than babies who had not yet been exposed to such foods.

The scientists also reexamined 26 of the children at preschool age. Children exposed early to the starchy, salt-rich foods clearly had a greater liking for salt, they found. - Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times