Saturday, September 20, 2008

Now paracetamol is in the gun

Finding: Sickly babies (i.e. ones given lots of painkillers) tend to have more illness in later life. Big news! Big stupidity to blame the problem on the remedy, though. There are other grounds for caution with paracetamol but the stuff below is negligible grounds for caution. It's just more data dredging

Giving paracetamol-based medicines such as Calpol to babies can increase their chances of developing asthma in later life, a large international study suggests. Researchers who analysed data on more than 200,000 children found strong links between their exposure to paracetamol as infants and the development of asthma and other allergic conditions.

Mothers are advised that after two months, in babies weighing over 4kg (9lb), they can treat fevers with medicines or suspensions that contain paracetamol. But the study raises questions about the long-term effects of using medicines such as junior paracetamol and Calpol at such a young age.

Children under 12 months who were given a paracetamol-based medicine at least once a month more than tripled the chances of suffering wheezing attacks by the age of 6 or 7, the researchers found. The painkiller was also associated with an increased risk of rhinoconjunctivitis - or hay fever - and eczema. The researchers add that increased use of paracetamol - because of earlier fears about giving children aspirin - could be a factor in causing rising rates of asthma in many countries.

Previous research had already suggested a link between paracetamol and asthma, and scientists believe that the painkiller may cause changes in the body that leave a child more vulnerable to inflammation and allergies.

The authors of the study, published in The Lancet medical journal, emphasise that the findings do not constitute a reason to stop using paracetamol for relief of pain and fever in children. Instead, they support existing guidelines of the World Health Organisation that paracetamol-based medicines should not be used routinely, but should be reserved for those with a high fever (38.5C or above). Experts point out that in these cases, giving children medication outweighs the risks of not doing so.

Paracetamol is not licensed for use in infants under 2 months old by mouth and is only recommended after that in "junior" doses or medicines that contain less than the standard adult dose. More than one million children in the UK - equivalent to one in ten - now have asthma and the number of cases has trebled since the 1960s. The rise has in part coincided with paracetamol becoming the preferred drug to treat fevers and pain in children.

The study, part of a worldwide investigation called the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood, spanned 73 centres in 31 countries. It found that giving children paracetamol in the first year of life increased the risk of later asthma symptoms in children aged 6 and 7 by 46 per cent. Taking paracetamol at least once a month - classified as "high use" - increased the symptoms risk 3.23 times. Using the drug in the first year of life increased the risk of hay fever and eczema at the age of 6 and 7 by 48 per cent and 35 per cent respectively.

The researchers had to rely on written answers from parents who filled in questionnaires about their children's health and use of paracetamol, which may be subject to error.

Professor Richard Beasley, who led the study at the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand, said that there were good reasons to suggest that paracetamol was a factor in causing health problems, rather than merely being associated with them. The research highlights a "dose-dependent" response, with more exposure to the drug resulting in more asthma attacks, pointing to a cause-and-effect relationship, he said. [Rubbish! It just shows that the sicklier kids get more asthma]

The researchers said that more research, in the form of randomised controlled trials, was needed urgently. [Indeed!]


Is marriage good for your health?

The article below is from an interview with Peter McDonald, a Professor of Demography. He says that marriage does go with better health but has a refreshing skepticism about why that is so. He points out a number of reasons why marriage of itself may not be the crucial factor. That people who are unhealthy to start with are less likely to get married seems to escape most commentators on the subject

There are many things you can do if you want to live a long, happy and healthy life - get plenty of exercise, watch what you eat [So I can eat all the Big Macs I want as long as I watch them?], don't smoke or drink too much, or you can get married.

While for many years demographers found that men in spousal relationships lived longer than women in the same situation, recent Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data on death rates shows people living in intimate relationships - both men and women - have lower death rates than single people in almost all age groups.

The ABS data, which compares the rate of death per 1,000 for single people versus married ones (including those in de facto relationships), shows the difference in death rates between single and married people starts in the 40s and continues across the lifespan. The difference spikes in the 70-84 year old age group where the death rate for single people is almost double that of their married friends.

In the last 20 years, married women have started to enjoy a longer life span than their single counterparts, says Professor Peter McDonald from the Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute. While demographers are not altogether sure why the situation has changed for married women in recent times, McDonald says there are several reasons experts believe married couples live longer. For a start, those who are at greater risk of dying are less likely to get hitched.

"If you're going to die then you don't get married, or if you've got some terrible disease you don't get married," he says. "So those with potentially high death risks are selected out into the single population."

There's also the 'in sickness and in health' factor. People living in intimate relationships are more likely to have someone looking after them when they're sick, telling them when to go to the doctor or encouraging them to live a healthier lifestyle. "Single people don't have someone there caring for them and suggesting their lifestyle needs changing," McDonald says.

And then there's the power of two incomes. "There's probably an economic advantage, married people are probably better off in economic terms, there's a strong association between economic well being and expectation of life as well - those who are well off live longer."

So if you're single and you want to live a long and healthy life, if the stats are anything to go by, you might want to consider adding 'find partner for life' to your next New Year's resolution list.


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