heart disease

High blood sugar may be risky even for non-diabetics.

* THE QUESTION Controlling blood sugar in people with diabetes makes it less likely that they will develop heart problems. Might this have the same effect on people who do not have diabetes?

* THIS STUDY analyzed health data on 2,947 middle-aged people, 1,626 of whom had diabetes. In a 10- to 12-year period, 235 of the diabetics and 661 non-diabetics developed heart disease. Periodic blood tests measured participants' blood-glucose levels over a two- to three-month period via a test for glycated hemoglobin, which is formed by glucose binding to hemoglobin and is measured in percent of total hemoglobin. People without diabetes who had glycated hemoglobin levels of at least 6 percent (considered "high normal") were about twice as likely to develop heart disease as those with levels below 4.6 percent. For diabetics, every percentage-point increase in this level corresponded to a 14-point increase in their risk for heart disease.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? People of middle age, especially those with chronically elevated glycated hemoglobin levels.

* CAVEATS Glycated hemoglobin levels represent long-term blood-glucose control and are not the same as levels from a single fasting glucose or oral glucose tolerance test, generally expressed in milligrams per deciliters. Factors other than blood sugar level might have contributed to the incidents of heart disease among study participants.

* FIND THIS STUDY Sept. 12 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine; abstract available online at www.archinternmed.com.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT heart disease at www.americanheart.org and www.mayoclinic.com (search for "101").

sleepiness

Acupressure seems to help people stay awake in class.

* THE QUESTION Those can't-keep-your-eyes-open moments, while in class or at work, can be a real problem. To decrease drowsiness in such situations, might people find success with acupressure -- manual application of pressure at points believed to enhance alertness, sometimes described as acupuncture without the needles?

* THIS STUDY involved 30 adults who were enrolled in an executive education program that included all-day lecture classes for three days. They were instructed to give themselves 15 minutes of acupressure at stimulation points or at relaxation points on different days. The technique involved light tapping or massaging with the fingers at points on the head, hands, legs and feet. Using a standardized sleepiness scale, the participants reported being more alert and less tired on days they put pressure on the stimulation points than on the other days.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Anyone who occasionally gets sleepy in a classroom or work setting.

* CAVEATS The results were based on the participants' subjective determinations of their level of fatigue. Most participants correctly guessed which type of pressure they were administering, which may have influenced their assessments. Use of other pressure points or acupressure given for a different amount of time may yield different results. The study did not determine whether performance was affected.

* FIND THIS STUDY August/September issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine; abstract available online at www.liebertonline.com/loi/acm.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT acupressure at www.wholehealthmd.com/refshelf (click "Therapies") and www.intelihealth.com (click "Complementary & Alternative Medicine," then "Index of Alternative Therapies").

mammography

For some, digital technology offers more reliable results.

* THE QUESTION Deaths from breast cancer have been declining, in part because more women are having regular mammograms, allowing early detection of any cancer. But mammography, which records and displays images of breast tissue on film, is not perfect. Are newer digital machines -- which take an electronic image and store it in a computer, where it can be enhanced and manipulated for clearer interpretation -- more accurate in finding cancer?

* THIS STUDY arranged for 42,760 women to have both a traditional and a digital mammogram; 355 of them were diagnosed with breast cancer within about 15 months. Detection rates overall were comparable for the two technologies. However, digital mammography more accurately identified cancer in three groups of women: those whose breast tissue was denser than normal (14 percent more often), women younger than 50 (27 percent more) and those who had not experienced menopause (21 percent more). Cancers detected by digital mammography included many invasive and high-grade tumors missed by the traditional machines.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Women age 40 and older, who are recommended to have a mammogram every one to two years.

* CAVEATS In the study, neither digital nor film mammography detected all cancers. Digital mammograms generally cost more than traditional ones.

* FIND THIS STUDY Sept. 16 online edition of the New England Journal of Medicine; article available online at www.nejm.org.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT mammography at www.radiologyinfo.org and http://cis.nci.nih.gov/fact.

-- Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.