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Personal Health: News and Notes

Researchers prove one can't get drunk through one's feet

Time to share two hooch-related studies reported last week on, the British medical publisher:

Swiss and German researchers, examining the benefits of imbibing during a holiday meal, served each of 20 adults a cheese fondue with two of the following: black tea, water, white wine, and cherry schnapps.

They concluded that moderate alcohol consumption with the meal slowed digestion without causing indigestion; higher alcohol consumption also suppressed appetite.

The objective of the second study: "To determine the validity of the Danish urban myth that it is possible to get drunk by submerging feet in alcohol."

The feet (no skin problems) of three adults (none members of AA) were submerged (in three 700ml bottles each of Karloff vodka) for three hours while the subjects were tested objectively (blood-alcohol concentration) and subjectively ("self-confidence, number of spontaneous hugs").

Conclusion: It's a myth.

The finding has many implications, but the most important may be that students doing similar experiments "should move on to more relevant activities." - Don Sapatkin

If kids aren't sleeping, better count the caffeine milligrams

If your kids are insomniacs, check their caffeine intake.

A new study by University of Nebraska Medical Center researchers looked at caffeinated beverage consumption, hours slept, and bed-wetting among 200 children ages 5 to 12. Sure enough, the more caffeine, the less sleep - although there was no correlation with bed-wetting.

The study, based on surveys of parents during routine pediatric visits, found that their offspring were glugging lots of caffeine - way more than children in past surveys.

The 5- to 7-year-olds consumed an average 52 mg. of caffeine daily, more than a can of soda. (A 12-ounce can has an average of 45 mg.) The 8- to 12-year-olds, meanwhile, downed an average 109 mg. or almost three cans a d-d-day, well above the amount that can make adults jittery.

A quarter of the younger youngsters slept less than nine hours a night, the minimum recommended by public health experts. The older children slept an average of 8.5 hours a night, below the recommended minimum for their ages.

The study was published this month in the Journal of Pediatrics. - Marie McCullough

Healthy lifestyle shown to cut risk of macular degeneration

A new study from the University of Wisconsin concludes that a healthy lifestyle can stave off macular degeneration, the most common form of visual impairment in people over 50. The retina-damaging condition often destroys a person's ability to read or recognize faces, though peripheral vision may remain intact.

The study followed 1,313 postmenopausal women from Oregon, Iowa, and Wisconsin. After a period of six years, 202 of them had symptoms of the disease. But those who ate a poor diet and smoked were three times as likely to develop macular degeneration as were the nonsmokers who ate lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean sources of protein.

The large contribution of lifestyle came as a surprise because the disease tends to run in families and has a heavy genetic component. The lead author suggests perhaps some people are inheriting not just high-risk genes but high-risk lifestyles as well. - Faye Flam

Use just one ER to avert errors, extra tests, delays, study says

Want to avoid unnecessary tests? Stick to one emergency room, advises a study published last week by the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Patients who visit multiple ERs are "exposed to the risk of medical errors, adverse events, duplication of testing, as well as delays in their treatment," said coauthor Fabienne Bourgeois of Children's Hospital Boston. The study looked at 3.5 million adults - who made 12.7 million ER visits - in Massachusetts between 2002 and 2007.

People with psychiatric disorders and dementia are especially at risk of error or unnecessary treatment because they can't always accurately convey what previous care they've had.

What's more: Patients who visited more than two different sites racked up nearly twice the bill ($12,050 on average) compared with patients who went to the same sites ($7,465).

The federal government has repeatedly pledged to invest in health technology and has provided incentives to doctors and hospitals to move to electronic records that, if shared, could help solve this problem. "We were able to confirm a very fundamental assumption that underpins a good fraction of $48 billion investment in health information technology," says Kenneth Mandl, also a coauthor of the study. But its arrival is still some ways off. - Amita Parashar, Kaiser Health News