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Personal Health: News and Notes

Study: Certain baby formulas may reduce later obesity

Formula-fed babies tend to weigh more and are at greater risk for later obesity, research has suggested. But a certain class of formulas, those containing protein hydrolysates, may be a better alternative.

That's the finding of a new seven-month study from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, published online this week by the journal Pediatrics.

In the study of 56 babies, those given traditional formula, based on cow's milk, were significantly heavier than those who were fed a hydrolysate variety called Nutramigen. Hydrolysate formulas contain predigested proteins and are made for infants who cannot tolerate the regular kind, although in the study the two formulas were assigned randomly to infants who had no digestive issues.

The two varieties of formula contained the same amount of calories, but the babies on hydrolysate formula ate less, gaining weight at a rate comparable to those on breast milk. The authors said the predigested proteins in hydrolysate formula may send a stronger signal to the digestive system, causing the babies to feel full sooner.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health; the formulas were supplied by a company that makes both varieties.

- Tom Avril

Study finds psoriasis increases risk of metabolic syndrome

A new study urges doctors to be on the lookout for metabolic syndrome among patients with psoriasis, a common skin disease that causes redness and irritation.

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors - including abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol - that increases the chance of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

Analyzing data from a U.S. health survey, researchers from Iceland, Harvard University, and the University of Pennsylvania found that 40 percent of psoriasis patients had metabolic syndrome, compared with 23 percent of a control group with no psoriasis. Thus, the syndrome was almost twice as common among psoriasis sufferers.

The researchers did not speculate about a biological reason for the association, but they estimated that of the 6.6 million American adults with psoriasis, 2.7 million have metabolic syndrome.

Given the serious complications of the syndrome, it "needs to be recognized and taken into account when treating individuals with psoriasis." The study appeared online last week in the Archives of Dermatology.

- Marie McCullough

Research debunks herbal cure for common cold symptoms

A new government-funded study of echinacea (ECK-in-AY'-shuh) finds the popular herbal remedy doesn't help fight the common cold.

Americans spend billions on over-the-counter pills, drops, and other concoctions to battle their colds. Some turn to echinacea, which is marketed as a product that helps the immune system fight infections.

Although the study of more than 700 adults and children suggests a tiny potential benefit - about a half-day shaved off a weeklong cold and slightly milder symptoms - that could have occurred by chance.

In the past, some studies found echinacea did nothing to prevent or treat colds; others showed modest benefit.

The new study's results were released last week by the Annals of Internal Medicine.

- Associated Press

Surprising benefit turns up from full-fat dairy products

A team at Harvard University offers some vindication to those of us who've flouted health dogma by pouring cream in coffee and cooking with (heaven forbid!) butter.

In a study that followed 3,726 people for 20 years, the researchers found those who consumed the most full-fat dairy products had a threefold lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Those who ate whole milk, cheese, butter, and yogurt also had healthier levels of cholesterol, inflammatory markers, and insulin, according to the study, published in last week's Annals of Internal Medicine.

The researchers attribute these results to a little-known component of dairy fat called trans-palmitoleic acid. The more dairy fat people reported eating, the higher their levels of this fat, and the lower their diabetes risk.

Epidemiologist Dariush Mozaffarian, who led the study, said he's not ready to advise ordering extra cheese, but evidence is growing against the old anti-fat wisdom: "A large body of recent research has demonstrated that the percentage of calories from fat in a food does not predict its relation to obesity. . . . The 'low-fat' craze of the past misled many to believe incorrectly that 'low-fat' always equaled 'healthy' and that any amount or type of fat was unhealthful."