APRIL 01, 2007

Air Pollution More Harmful to Older Women

A recent study from the University of Washington showed that breathing common polluted air in urban areas is more dangerous to older women. Researchers studied the data of 65,893 postmenopausal women between 50 and 79 years of age without previous cardiovascular (CV) disease in 36 US metropolitan areas from 1994 to 1998. Exposure to air pollutants was assessed using air monitors located closest to each woman's residence.

By study's end, 1816 women had one or more fatal or nonfatal CV events, including death from coronary heart or cerebrovascular disease, coronary revascularization, myocardial infarction (MI), or stroke. The average exposure of the women was 13 millionths of a gram of fine particulates of pollution per cubic meter of air; each increase of 10 millionths was associated with a 24% increase in the risk of a CV event and a 76% increase in the risk of death from CV disease.

Women are traditionally more susceptible to CV disease by virtue of their biological variations from men. It is believed that the particulates travel deep into the lungs to spark inflammation that can lead to MIs and strokes. The particles come from burning fuel in cars, factories, and power plants and are usually seen collectively as urban haze, or smog. The results of the study were published in the February 1, 2007, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Did You Get the Memo? Women's Offices Dirtier Than Men's

A study from the University of Arizona suggested that women's offices have about 3.5 times more germs than men's. Charles Gerba, PhD, a microbiologist at the university, explained that there are 3 main reasons why women's office spaces tend to harbor more germs: they use hand lotion more frequently, which traps germs on surfaces; women tend to be around children more than men and can become carriers of various microbes from them; and most women wear makeup, which also absorbs germs and can get scattered by brushes, sponges, and hands.

There are other ways women tend to bring more germs into the office. Dr. Gerba warned against stashing snacks in desk drawers, a trend found more in women than men. Mold can accumulate in drawers that hold snack foods, and Dr. Gerba suggested wiping the insides of the drawers with disinfectant wipes regularly. He also noted that women's purses can pick up a great many germs because of their consistent presence on various floor surfaces. Dr. Gerba advised using a purse that can be easily wiped off regularly with a disinfectant wipe, such as one made of nylon or leather.

Breast Density Linked with Cancer

Women with dense breasts—a mainly genetic condition that affects roughly 1 of every 6 women—are about 3 times more likely to develop breast cancer, according to the results of a new Canadian study. Past studies had shown that detecting cancer among women with greater breast density was difficult because the denser tissues can hide a tumor on an x-ray, making it harder to find with a basic mammogram. This latest research showed that women with denser breasts are more likely to develop the cancer anyway.

The average 50-year-old woman has about a 2.5% chance of developing breast cancer within the next 10 years. Women with more lean tissue in their breasts than fatty tissue have 3 times this risk. The researchers encouraged these women to have digital mammograms conducted by a breast specialist, instead of a film-based one, which are usually read by general radiologists without the expertise needed to pinpoint breast cancer.

Moms Who Dine on Fish Could Boost Baby's Brain

According to new research from the US National Institutes of Health, women who eat seafood during pregnancy might be increasing the brainpower of their babies. The results were published in the February 2007 issue of the Lancet.

The study tracked the eating habits of 11,875 pregnant women in Bristol, Britain. At 32 weeks gestation, the women were asked to complete a seafood-consumption questionnaire. They answered similar queries 4 more times during their pregnancies and up to 8 years after their children were born. The researchers concluded that women who ate >340 g/week of fish or seafood—about 2 or 3 servings per week—had smarter children with better developmental skills. The children of mothers who abstained from seafood were 48% more likely to have lower verbal intelligence quotient scores, compared with the children of mothers who ate high amounts.

Past advice encouraged pregnant women to avoid fish because of the possibility of consuming high levels of mercury. The metal is found in small amounts in fish and other seafood and can accumulate in the human body. High amounts have been shown to damage the nervous systems of developing fetuses. Those who wish to avoid this risk may consider fish oil supplements; a separate study from Australia showed that pregnant women who took these supplements also had children with better developmental skills.