MENOPAUSE

A soy supplement may not help fight the effects of aging.

* THE QUESTION Many women turned away from estrogen supplements when the risks were shown to be greater than the possible rewards. Some chose to try natural alternatives like soy products. Does soy provide estrogen-like protection from common effects of aging?

* THIS STUDY randomly assigned 202 post-menopausal women to take a soy supplement or a placebo daily for a year. Bone scans of the hip and spine showed bone density decreased in both groups. Blood tests indicated cholesterol levels remained the same for the soy group and decreased slightly for the placebo group. Results of cognitive tests -- which checked short- and long-term memory, verbal processing and attention -- were virtually identical.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Post-menopausal women.

* CAVEATS Women who were more recently post-menopausal scored better on bone density tests than women who had reached menopause longer ago; however, whether the effects of soy are altered by when a woman starts taking it requires further study. Soy supplements were provided by the Solae Co., which manufactures soy products.

* BOTTOM LINE Soy products may not offer benefit to post-menopausal women seeking an alternative to estrogen.

* FIND THIS STUDY July 7 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association; abstract available online at www.jama.com.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT menopause and hormone therapy at www.4woman.gov/Menopause and www.mayoclinic.com.

coughing

Plain syrup seems as good as cough medicines for children.

* THE QUESTION The near-constant coughing that often plagues children with colds can be especially vexing at night. Do over-the-counter cough medicines help?

* THIS STUDY randomly assigned 100 children with upper respiratory infections to take one of two common medicines -- dextromethorphan (DM, Benylin), a cough suppressant; or diphenhydramine (DPH, Diphen), a sedating antihistamine -- or a placebo of plain syrup. The children, whose average age was 5, had been sick about five days but had not been given cough or cold medicines. After one night of treatment, children in all groups showed dramatic improvement, according to parents' assessments.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Young children and their parents. Coughing is one of the most common reasons parents take a child to the doctor in the United States.

* CAVEATS Findings were based on the parents' and children's assessments, which can be imprecise. Children were given only one dose of cough medicine at night; multiple doses throughout the day or for several days might have altered the results. Insomnia (for DM) and drowsiness (for DPH) were reported side effects for some children.

* BOTTOM LINE Parents should remember that time remains the best healer for symptoms of upper respiratory infections. Over-the-counter medicines may not be effective for a coughing child.

* FIND THIS STUDY July issue of Pediatrics; abstract available online at www.pediatrics.org.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT children's coughs at www.kidshealth.org (search for "cough") and upper respiratory infections at www.medem.com (search for "colds").

prostate cancer

Decisions on radiation may affect life expectancy.

* THE QUESTION Some men who have had their prostate and surrounding lymph nodes removed because of cancer decide to have radiation soon after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells. Others hold off, waiting to see if the cancer returns. Is one decision wiser than the other?

* THIS STUDY analyzed the recurrence of cancer and survival rates among men who had surgery for prostate cancer that had not spread, comparing 237 men treated with radiation within six months with 178 men who either had no radiation or delayed treatment until the cancer returned. Based on prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels after an average of five years, 69 percent of the men treated with radiation remained free of cancer, compared with 31 percent of those who had foregone early treatment. The men not treated within six months faced a four times greater risk of death during the study than those who had received prompt radiation.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Men with prostate cancer. More than 230,000 American men, most over 65, will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year.

* CAVEATS These findings contradict an earlier study that found minimal differences in results between immediate and delayed radiation treatment. Concerns about the toxicity of radiation keep some men from choosing it; the study did not evaluate side effects. The study was not randomized.

* BOTTOM LINE Men with prostate cancer may want to ask their doctor about radiation.

* FIND THIS STUDY July 1 issue of the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology and Physics; abstract available online at www.redjournal.org.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT radiation therapy by searching for "radiation" at www.cancer.gov and www.cancer.org. Both Web sites also have general information about prostate cancer.

-- Linda Searing