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Monday, January 8, 2007

Drug May Help Hypochondriacs

And now, a real pill for your unreal illness.

Scientists report that the antidepressant Paxil helped hypochondriacs be less fearful about getting sick. In the first controlled study that compared a group of hypochondriacs given the drug with a group that got psychological talk therapy and another group that received sugar pills, the medication significantly reduced people's fears about imaginary illnesses.

Before the trial, one 40-year-old, who said he had fears starting at age 10 that he was going to die in his sleep, rated his certainty that he was suffering from a serious illness as an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. After six weeks on Paxil, his fear level dropped to a 4 -- an improvement that led him to continue the medication after the trial.

According to the standard manual of mental disorders, hypochondriasis is a potentially serious condition that can prompt people to go doctor shopping, abuse sick time at work and become complete invalids.

The study found that hypochondriacs who got cognitive behavior therapy, which encourages people to challenge the validity of their disabling beliefs, also improved -- as much as those given the drug. Researchers suggested that a combination of this talk therapy and medication might be especially effective.

The study was published this month in the American Journal of Psychiatry by researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands and other Dutch centers. It was funded by an "educational grant" from Glaxo SmithKline, which makes Paxil.

-- Shankar Vedantam

Daughters, Prostate Risk Linked

Men who only father daughters appear to be at greater risk of developing prostate cancer, according to a study published last week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Researchers from Columbia University in New York and Hebrew University of Jerusalem followed nearly 39,000 Israeli men whose children were born between 1964 and 1976, and it found that 712 of the fathers had been diagnosed with prostate cancer by 2005.

Men who had only daughters were more likely to have developed the disease than those who had at least one son, researchers found, and the relative risk of prostate cancer decreased as the number of sons increased. In general, there was a 40 percent increase in prostate cancer in men who had no sons.

"We . . . found a strong trend for a decrease in prostate cancer risk as the number of sons increased," said lead researcher Susan Harlap, a professor of clinical epidemiology at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health.

The findings are in line with scientific theories that there is a link between abnormalities in a man's Y chromosome and the likelihood that the man will get prostate cancer, she said. The sex of a child depends on whether it gets an X or a Y chromosome from the father. Men with a damaged Y chromosome are less likely to have sons, while those with a damaged X chromosome may be unable to have daughters.

-- Christopher Lee

Overwork Costly to Environment

Being a workaholic is bad for the environment, suggests an analysis by the D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The report, written by researcher David Rosnick and economist Mark Weisbrot, warns that if Europeans worked the long hours that Americans do, it would boost their energy consumption rates by 30 percent. This would boost the international demand for fuel, as well as Europe's overall carbon dioxide emissions, which are linked to climate change.

"There is an important political debate in Europe over whether Europeans would be better off economically if they moved towards a U.S.-style economic model, most importantly in their labor markets," the authors write. "But aside from the economic and political implications, there are some potentially large costs to the environment if European countries were to move to a U.S.-style economic model."

So the debate is settled: Midday siestas and extended vacations are environmentally friendly, as long as Europeans don't hop a transatlantic flight during their free time and burn up lots of fuel along the way.

-- Juliet Eilperin

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