October 24, 2008

Male fertility may get a boost from sunshine
A smidgen of sunshine could be beneficial for men's sperm. Australian researchers found that one-third of 794 men visiting an infertility clinic had a vitamin D deficiency. Since getting only 10–15 minutes of sunshine a day can boost vitamin D levels, 123 men tried to do just that—along with taking vitamins and living a healthier lifestyle in general. The payoff? A 75% drop in sperm fragmentation, a measure of damage. Overall, 31 men had partners who conceived after making the changes.

More than half of U.S. doctors use placebo treatment
As many as 58% of U.S. doctors use placebo treatments on their patients, a study suggests. They're not passing out sugar pills, however. Instead, doctors are prescribing painkillers, vitamins, or antibiotics that they think will make their patients feel better, rather than get better. The study, published in BMJ, largely confirms findings in a smaller study in Chicago from earlier this year. Coauthor Franklin G. Miller, director of the research ethics program at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), described the new findings as "disturbing." However, the doctors surveyed had a more cavalier attitude toward placebo use: 62% believed the practice was ethical.

Woman never sees doctor in 19-hour ER visit, but still gets bill
Just when you think you’ve heard every U.S. health-care horror story, here’s one more. MSNBC reports that a Dallas woman with a leg fracture waited 19 hours in Parkland Memorial Hospital’s emergency room before giving up and going home without seeing a doctor. Sounds bad, but it gets worse. Two weeks later, she received a bill for $162 for the nurse’s assessment (she refused to pay). The woman, who doesn't have insurance, rested her leg, put on a brace, and is letting it heal on its own. If only our health-care system could do the same. (Read our tips on how to save money on health-care costs.)

FDA approves magnetic beam therapy for depression
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first noninvasive brain stimulator to treat depression in patients who do not respond well to antidepressant medications, reports the AP. In each 40-minute session, the NeuroStar TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) system beams roughly 3,000 magnetic pulses per minute through the left front of the skull into the prefrontal cortex, which stimulates deeper brain regions involved with mood. Magnetic therapy appears to be safe, but expensive: At $6,000 to $10,000 for five weekly sessions during a six-week period, TMS is pricier than pills but cheaper than invasive treatments such as surgically implanted electrodes or electroconvulsive therapy. The NIH currently has a study underway to corroborate the FDA's efficacy and safety findings. (Learn more about depression and ways to treat it.)

Extreme caffeine products flood the market—and your shower
Apparently it’s no longer enough to sip your caffeine in a cup at breakfast time. Now you can get a jolt while soaping up in the shower or lathering lotion on your face, according to Time.com. A trend that started with energy drinks is steamrolling ahead, and 126 new caffeine-containing products have been introduced in the last five years. Some of them are quirky choices that don’t fit the late-night-cram-session profile—such as caffeinated oatmeal, sunflower seeds, potato chips, and jelly beans. Others are caffeine-containing soaps and lotions. Experts fear that absorbing caffeine from multiple sources may lead to an overdose, which can result in nervousness, insomnia, a racing heartbeat, and agitation.

(PHOTO: FOTOLIA)

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