Health Highlights: Feb. 7, 2012

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

U.S. Funding for Alzheimer's Research Increased

The U.S. National Institutes of Health will spend an extra $50 million on Alzheimer's research this year under a plan announced Tuesday, and the Obama administration plans to ask Congress for $80 million in new Alzheimer's research money for next year.

Currently, the NIH spends $450 million a year on Alzheimer's research in an effort to gain the upper hand in a fight against what may be the defining disease of the aging baby-boom generation, the Associated Press reported.

The increased funding is part of the Obama administration's development of the first National Alzheimer's Plan meant to develop better treatments and help people who look after loved ones with the disease.

"We can't wait to act," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement, the AP reported. "Reducing the burden of Alzheimer's disease on patients and their families is an urgent national priority."


Fructose Boosts Visceral Fat: Study

A new study finds that consumption of the sweetener fructose can lead to higher amounts of visceral fat, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Visceral fat is the kind that accumulates around internal organs.

The study of 559 teens, ages 14-18, found that higher fructose consumption was associated with increased systolic (top number) blood pressure, C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation) and visceral fat, and reduced levels of "good" HDL cholesterol, The New York Times reported.

These are all known risks for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Further investigation revealed that is was not fructose itself, but its tendency to increase visceral fat that led to the rise in these risk factors, The Times reported.

"To just say 'fructose is bad' is incorrect," said lead author Norman K. Pollock, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Georgia Health Sciences University. "But when calorie intake from fructose is greater than 16 percent of total intake, we're seeing these risk factors appear."

The study was published in the February issue of The Journal of Nutrition.


Diabetes Increases Risk of Birth Defects

Women with diabetes have a four-fold increased risk of having babies with birth defects, a new study says.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 400,000 pregnancies in the U.K. and found that the risk of birth defects was 72 per 1,000 births among women with diabetes, compared with 19 per 1,000 births for women without pre-existing diabetes, BBC News reported.

The study was published in the journal Diabetologia.

Blood sugar levels in the time just before conception were the "most important" risk factor that could be controlled, according to the Newcastle University researchers, BBC News reported.


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