If you're going to drink, don't smoke - and vice versa

Maybe those country crooners knew something when they sang about sitting at a smoky bar with a whiskey, nursing a broken heart.

A study out of the University of Alabama in Birmingham, published in the journal Free Radical Biology & Medicine, shows that while smoke-filled air is indeed bad for your heart, drinking booze at the same time makes it even worse.

The researchers started out looking at the theory that moderate consumption of alcohol can protect the heart. But reality kicked in and they decided to look at how people - many of them, anyway - really drink: in smoky bars.

Mice that were exposed to smoky air and fed ethanol like sailors on liberty had a nearly fivefold increase in artery lesions compared with mice treated like, well, nuns. Lesions are a sign of cardiovascular disease.

Mice that were exposed to just smoky air, or just ethanol, had a lower incidence of lesions.

The experiment simulated a 150-pound adult chugging two drinks an hour while sitting in a car with a chain smoker and the windows rolled up.

There might be a song in that scenario, too.

- John Sullivan

Take two of these and you'll forget to call in the morning

A much quicker way to damage your health is to use so-called club drugs such as Ecstasy and other forms of methamphetamine.

A new study by researchers at the University of Florida suggests that Ecstasy triggers chemical reactions in the brain similar to those caused by traumatic brain injury.

Whether caused by a car crash or a night of clubbing, the chemical chain reaction can lead to the death of cells, memory loss, and potentially irreversible brain damage, said Mark Gold, chief of the division of addiction medicine at the university's McKnight Brain Institute.

The researchers had already shown how brain injury affects rats. In this study, presented at a Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego, they found club drugs caused similar injuries in rats' brains.

Gold noted that many people think the effects of illicit drugs wear off in the same way most medications do. The data from this and earlier studies, he said, "suggest some drugs, especially methamphetamine, cause changes that are not readily reversible."

- Josh Goldstein

Study suggests you're never too young to be part of a study

Look out moms and dads, there is a new group passing judgment - 6- and 10-month-olds.

A study from Yale University published in the journal Nature suggests the idea that preverbal babies favor nice over nasty.

A small group of infants viewed a simple wooden character called the "Climber" as it made two failed attempts to scale a hill. On a third attempt, the Climber was either aided from behind by a "Helper" character or pushed down by a "Hinder" shape.

After viewing the scenario with sufficient time to process it, 14 of the 16 in the 10-months group and all 12 of the 6-month-olds chose the Helper.

A second experiment, with a new group of babies, affirmed the overwhelming preference. This time, the Helper was picked over a neutral character that didn't interact with the Climber. And in a follow-up, the neutral character was chosen over the Hinder. In both of the later trials, seven of eight in each age group preferred the more favorable image offered as a choice.

The authors said their findings provide the first evidence that infants socially assess others even before they can talk themselves.

- Colleen Dunn

Hypertension may contribute to or exacerbate Alzheimer's

There are plenty of reasons to get your blood pressure under control. Here's one more: Hypertension reduces blood flow to the brain and may contribute to or worsen Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh used sophisticated magnetic resonance imaging technology to measure blood flow in the brains of 88 older adults.

The MRI results showed that all 58 study participants with high blood pressure had substantially less blood flow to the brain than the 30 without the condition. Blood flow was lowest in those with Alzheimer's.

"This study demonstrates that good vascular health is also good for the brain," said Oscar Lopez, a professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh and coauthor of the study presented last week at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

- Josh Goldstein