Health Highlights: Dec. 17, 2006

Sunday, December 17, 2006; 12:00 AM

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors ofHealthDay:

Some Brain Regeneration Possible After Heavy Drinking, but Not All of It

The brain can indeed regenerate some of its function that disappears when too much alcohol is consumed, researchers have found. But, they warn, the longer you drink, the more brain capacity you lose, and you can never fully replace what you've lost.

The findings, made by scientists from Germany, the United Kingdom and Switzerland are published in the Dec. 18 online edition of the journalBrain.

The study was conducted on 15 alcohol-dependent patients and used scanning technology and computer programs to measure how much "brain volume, form and function changed over six to seven weeks of abstinence from alcohol," according to a news release from Oxford University Press, the journal publisher.

After 38 days of sobriety, the study subjects were found to have had their brain volume increased by about 2 percent, and two chemicals which measure how well the nerve cells and nerve sheaths work also rose significantly.

However, before heavy drinkers think these findings confirm that you can drink to excess on a regular basis and not do permanent harm, think again, says lead researcher Dr. Andreas Bartsch from the University of Wuerzburg, Germany. "... the longer you drink excessively, the more you risk losing this capacity for regeneration. Therefore, alcoholics must not put off the time when they decide to seek help and stop drinking; the sooner they do it, the better."


Company Played Down Anti-Psychotic Drug's Risk, Newspaper Reports

Zyprexa, an anti-psychotic drug and the biggest-selling medicine for pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, may increase the risk of getting diabetes, a possibility downplayed by company executives for more than a decade, theNew York Timesreports.

Even though Eli Lilly already spent $750 million in 2005 to settle lawsuits brought in 8,000 cases, theTimesreports the company continues to maintain that Zyprexa (generic name olanzapine) is safe and an important treatment for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and dementia. Zyprexa accounts for $4.2 billion in annual sales for Eli Lilly, the newspaper says.

The Timesreported that internal company memos and e-mails it had received from a lawyer representing plaintiffs in lawsuits against the company show that Eli Lilly executives instructed sales representatives to "play down" research connecting Zyprexa to considerable weight gain. In doing so, the newspaper said, the drug played a role in patients' blood sugar levels rising, a major cause of diabetes.

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