WELL, WELL, WELL Another study has shown that the popular herbal cold treatment echinacea is ineffective against colds. After exposing 48 healthy adults to a virus that causes the common cold, investigators found that people who took echinacea were no less likely to develop a cold than people who took a placebo.

U.S. consumers spend more than $300 million each year on echinacea products, even though recent research has cast doubt on the efficacy of the herbal preparation. For example, a study published last year found that children who took echinacea as soon as they developed a cold showed no difference in the severity or duration of cold symptoms than children who took a placebo.

The current research showed a slight benefit in the group that took the echinacea, but the difference was not big enough to rise to the level of statistical significance. The study was funded by the German company Madaus Aktiengesellschaft, which sells the echinacea product used in the study.

DIABETES AND DEMENTIA New federal research shows that diabetes increases risk of Alzheimer's disease (AD) -- and in particular, of losing certain kinds of cognitive function -- by 65 percent.

The work, supported by the National Institute on Aging, is among the first studies to examine how certain cognitive systems -- memory for words and events, the speed of processing information, and the ability to recognize spatial patterns -- may be affected selectively in people with diabetes.

"The research on a possible link between diabetes and increased risk of AD is intriguing," said Neil Buckholtz, head of the Dementias of Aging Branch in the institute's neurosciences program. "Further research, some currently underway, will tell us whether therapies for diabetes may in fact play a role in lowering risk of AD or cognitive decline."

The data are drawn from a study of 824 Catholic nuns, priests and brothers participating in the Religious Orders Study, who were followed for an average of 5.5 years. They received annual detailed clinical evaluations, including neuropsychological testing. All participants have agreed to have their brains studied at their deaths, which will permit more detailed analysis of the relationship between dementias and other diseases.

STOCK PRICE MOVEMENT Firms can save millions in health care costs by getting employees to exercise even a little bit. University of Michigan researchers, studying 23,500 General Motors workers, last week reported that adding two or more days of light exercise -- 20 minutes of activity hard enough to boost heart rate and breathing -- lowered costs by $500 per employee per year.

-- From Staff and Wire Reports