Saturday, August 16, 2008

Obese people can be healthy too

Some obese people are in good health and are not predisposed to heart ailments, according to a new study. And another shows that being slim doesn't automatically protect you from heart-related illnesses such as high blood pressure and cholestrol, and diabetes.

In the first study, conducted by Norbert Stefan and a team at the University of Tubingen in Germany, the researchers studied the fat around the internal organs and under the skin of 314 individuals with an average age of 45. The obese individuals in the study were divided into two groups: those who were resistant to insulin and those who were not. Insulin resistance is a pre-diabetic condition, meaning some symptoms of diabetes are present and progression to full-blown diabetes is likely.

Those who were obese and resistant to insulin had more muscle fat, fat in their livers and thicker carotid-artery walls - an early sign of artery narrowing, which is a heart-disease risk factor - than obese individuals without insulin resistance, the study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found. As well, obese individuals who were not insulin-resistant had no differences in artery-wall thickness from the normal-weight group. "We provide evidence that a metabolically benign obesity can be identified and that it may protect from insulin resistance and atherosclerosis,'' the researchers wrote.

The second study carried out by Rachel Wildman at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York examined body weight and cardio-metabolic abnormalities - including high blood pressure, elevated triglycerides and low levels of so-called good cholesterol - in 5440 individuals between 1999 and 2004. The study found that some obese people were metabolically healthy. "Obese individuals with no metabolic abnormalities were more likely to be younger, black, more physically active and have smaller waists than those with metabolic risk factors,'' the authors wrote.

Those of normal weight with health risks were older, less active and had a larger waist than the average population. Among the US population aged 20 and older, some 23 per cent (16 million adults) of normal weight had metabolic abnormalities, while 51 per cent (36 million) of overweight adults and 32 percent (19.5 million) of obese adults "were metabolically healthy", the authors wrote.


Patients 'free from cancer' after immune-boost treatment

Cancer patients have been left free of the disease after being treated with a new drug which harnesses the power of their own immune cells. Four of 38 patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma have seen the disease disappear following treatment, while five others saw reductions of 50 per cent in their tumours. The drug, which could prove cheaper than other similar therapies, works by activating the body's own defences to attack the cancer.

The results have been described as an "exciting" and "significant" development in the use of immunotherapy, the process of using the body's own immune system to fight disease. While the trials were only carried out on patients with the blood cancer, it is hoped the methods can be adapated to tackle other cancers. The disease claims the lives of more than 150,000 people in the UK every year and more than one million people are suffering from cancer at any one time.

Earlier this year doctors announced that a patient with advanced skin cancer was free of the disease two years after they injected him with billions of his own immune cells using a different method. However, experts warned at the time that the process could prove extremely expensive. The development of the drug could prove a much cheaper alternative way of providing immunotherapy treatments.

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, said: "These exciting preliminary results come from using them to harness the body's own immune response in a new way. Although the side effects need to be monitored carefully, we hope that this type of treatment will prove to be active in larger trials in the future"

"This a significant study," said Dr Cassian Yee, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, who has had significant results using the alternative method of treating patients with white blood cells grown in the lab. "It remains to be seen if most of the responses are longlasting. Certainly the results are very promising."

The drug, which has been developed by Micromet, in Bethesda, Maryland, was trialled by a team led by Dr Ralf Bargou at University of Wuerzburg in Wuerzburg, German. Of the 38 patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma who took part in the most recent study, two of the seven who received the highest doses of the drug saw their cancer disappear while five others had reductions in their tumours of more than 50 per cent. One patient on a lower dose also became cancer free and remains so after more than a year. The results, published in the journal Science, are encouraging because they suggest that the bigger the dose, the bigger the effect.

Coauthor of the study Dr Patrick Baeuerle, of Micromet, said all seven who received the highest dose responded to the drug. "Two of the seven had a complete response, and five a partial regression (greater than 50 per cent reduction of tumour).". The longest duration of a response was so far seen in a patient who received one quarter of their dose. After 13 months, he remains free of the blood cancer.

There are adverse side effects involved, however, such as fevers and chills, occasionally with confusion and tremor, though all stopped after treatment ceased. Now a further trial is investigating how the drugs works in patients with another form of blood cancer, called acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Trials with a similar drug are also under way on patients with another type of cancer, which affects glandular tissue and can appear in the lungs, prostate, breast, colon and elsewhere in the body.


Red Bull gives you wings - and heart trouble

ONE can of Red Bull might "give you wings" but it could also cause a heart attack. Young people are being warned to treat the caffeine drink "with caution" after Australian research revealed it could increase risk of cardiac arrests and even death.

The study found one can of sugar-free Red Bull can cause the blood to become sticky -- an indicator of cardiovascular problems such as stroke. Lead researcher Scott Willoughby, from Adelaide Hospital, yesterday warned that the drink "could be deadly" for people with heart abnormalities.

While the prevalence of sudden cardiac death is very low, "it could be more deadly for people who have an unknown cardiovascular abnormality", Dr Willoughby said.

University student Tim Piper admits to drinking Red Bull a "couple of times a week" on its own, as well as with alcohol. "It's a good pick-me-up," the 20-year-old said. "(But) I'll think about it more now." The North Shore resident said he hasn't had any negative side effects, although his heart raced after drinking it. "But that's the whole thing, it's meant to do that," he said.

Red Bull refused to comment yesterday.


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