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Personal Health: News and Notes

Among winter sports, hockey poses more head-injury risk

As fun as skiing and snowboarding may be, they can also be dangerous. Even fatal, as proved in March when actress Natasha Richardson died after what appeared to be a bump on the head sustained in a fall on a beginner ski slope in Quebec.

While skiing and snowboarding head injuries tend to be more severe, ice hockey contributes to more head injuries per year, says the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Concussions can be caused by colliding with other players or the boards and falling on the ice. Of the nearly 5,300 ice-hockey head injuries in 2008, 1,950 were concussions.

The AANS encourages those who engage in winter sports to take proper precautions and wear the proper safety gear, such as a helmet. AANS president-elect James T. Rutka, a Toronto neurosurgeon, says anyone with a head or neck injury should seek immediate treatment. - Sandy Bauers

Study: Beware the side effects of bourbon (and vodka, too)

New Year's Eve revelers, beware of bourbon - and vodka too, but especially bourbon. That's what a new study shows from Brown University's Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies.

The researchers compared the effects of a night of drinking in 95 healthy adults between the ages of 21 and 33. The study participants spent two nights drinking (to an average breath alcohol concentration of 1.1 percent), consuming vodka one night and bourbon the other.

The participants' sleep was monitored on the drinking nights, and they were tested and questioned about the next-day effects of their boozing. Not surprising, after drinking, the participants tended to have more hangovers "and more deficits in tests requiring both sustained attention and speed."

The alcohol also decreased sleep efficiency and rapid eye movement sleep, and worsened next-day tiredness.

On sleep and next-day cognitive function, there was no difference between vodka and bourbon.

But the researchers found that drinking bourbon, which contains more congeners - byproduct materials from the fermenting process - caused more severe hangovers. - Josh Goldstein

Bingeing, purging found to be common among young women

Binge eating, vomiting, laxative abuse, and other unhealthy weight-control habits are fairly common among young women, according to a new study led by the Universite de Montreal.

The researchers conducted a phone survey of 1,500 urban women, most of them nonsmokers and university graduates. The average age was 31.

None of the women was classified as anorexic, and only 1 percent met the criteria for bulimia (bingeing and purging). However, almost 14 percent reported binge eating one to seven times per month, while nearly 3 percent occasionally used vomiting, laxatives, or diuretics for weight control.

About 28 percent said they exercised intensively twice a month solely to lose weight.

Writing in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, the researchers estimated that 15 percent had "potentially problematic eating disturbances." Such behaviors were more common among women who perceived themselves to be in poor health. - Marie McCullough

Surprise: Positive sex episodes reported among college frosh

A group of psychologists from the University of Alberta are reporting that college freshmen sometimes have positive experiences with sex. The results contrast sharply with previous studies, say the researchers, which tend to view all sex among young single people as "inherently negative" - even in Canada.

The authors interviewed 177 first-year college students about their sexual activities and emotional responses. Only two were married.

The researchers also asked questions geared to assess the students' maturity. The result: The students assessed as more mature generally had a positive experience with sex. For the less-mature students, the study concluded that intercourse sometimes resulted in negative emotions, but that oral sex was almost always positive.

One author, doctoral student Andrea Dalton, said students who no longer lived with family reported more general negative feelings and stress, but those who reported having sex fared better. Sexual intimacy may be serving as a coping mechanism, easing the transition out of the nest, she said. - Faye Flam