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Personal Health: News and Notes

Tanning faces backlash

Teenage girls risking deadly melanoma for a year-round tan have helped spur a global backlash against the tanning-bed industry.

Health officials from Brasilia to Sydney are banning tanning salons amid evidence that they cause malignant lesions. Tanning-bed use causes all three types of skin cancer, especially for those under age 25, a study from the University of California, San Francisco, said.

Doctors say the work in the British Medical Journal should prompt tougher warnings on ultraviolet radiation-emitting tanning machines, which support $5 billion in U.S. annual economic activity. In May, Vermont followed California, banning teens under 18 from indoor tanning. In Europe, laws barring teens from tanning beds have been enacted in 22 countries, 18 since 2009. Age limits in Australia may have forced the closing of a third of tanning-bed operators there. "We're seeing an uptick in melanoma cases and deaths among young women," said J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, the American Cancer Society's deputy chief medical officer. "Are we going to look back in 15-20 years from now and wish we'd been more forceful?" - Bloomberg

Cut down on fat to slim down

The key to a slimmer figure is not necessarily dieting, but just cutting back on fat intake, a new British study suggests.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia found that simply replacing high-fat foods with low-fat alternatives helped people lose roughly 3.5 pounds. Reducing fat intake also led to lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels. The researchers, writing in the journal BMJ, reviewed 33 randomized, controlled trials in North America, Europe, and New Zealand involving more than 73,500 people.

"The weight reduction that we found when people ate less fat was remarkably consistent - we saw it in almost every trial," said study leader Lee Hooper of East Anglia's Norwich Medical School. "Those who cut down more on fat lost more weight."

While the study did not differentiate among types of fat, Hooper's team said reducing saturated fat was the healthiest plan since it cut the risk of heart disease and strokes.

"This means having low-fat milk and yogurt, cutting down on butter and cheese, and cutting the fat off meat," said Hooper. "Most importantly, have fruit instead of fatty snacks like biscuits, cake, and crisps [potato chips]. And remember, this isn't a diet, so don't take it to extremes, but work out a way of eating that you can stick to permanently." - HealthDay

Therapy that eases depression

People suffering from depression who don't respond to antidepressants alone may find relief if they also undergo cognitive behavioral therapy, a new British study suggests.

Cognitive behavioral therapy posits that it's our automatic thoughts that cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things such as people, situations, and events.

The University of Bristol team randomly assigned more than 400 people with depression who had not responded to six weeks of antidepressant therapy to stay on their drugs, some while receiving cognitive therapy and others not.

After six months, the researchers found that 46 percent of those in cognitive therapy improved, compared with 22 percent of those on antidepressants alone. Improvement was a minimum 50 percent drop in symptoms.

People receiving cognitive therapy were also likelier not to have any symptoms of depression or anxiety. And the results held a year later, the researchers added. - HealthDay

Meditation gets nod for pain

Meditation last week won the scientific stamp of approval from a federal panel to reduce the severity of chronic and acute pain. The influential committee also concluded that the practice of mindfulness has shown effectiveness in reducing stress and anxiety, but it found the scientific evidence for that claim weaker and more inconsistent.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality also said there is now insufficient evidence to conclude that meditation can promote positive feelings, induce weight loss, and improve attention and sleep.

Those findings are in a draft report issued this week by the agency, which assesses what works in health care. The draft is up for comment until Jan. 2.

The draft report does not distinguish among the many forms of meditation, including Transcendental Meditation and mindfulness-based meditation. In reviewing 14,788 studies, the panel found only 34 studies that met its standards. For anxiety, depression and stress, the report found mindfulness meditation appeared to provide modest relief with consistency. Mantra-based meditation showed more inconsistent benefits.

- Los Angeles Times