A heart benefit for regular drinkers

A new study suggests that what matters to your health is not how much alcohol you drink, but how and when you drink it.

For the study, in the journal BMJ, French scientists gathered data on the drinking habits of 2,405 men in Ireland and 7,373 in France and found that the French drank more — an average of 1.2 ounces a day, compared with about three-quarters of an ounce for the Irish. Only 12 percent of the Irish drank every day, compared with 75 percent of the French. But among the Irish the rate of binge drinking was sharply higher: 9 percent, compared with 0.5 percent in France. (A binge was defined as five drinks or more at least one day a week.)

The scientists followed the men for 10 years. After controlling for smoking, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and other risks, they found that compared with regular drinkers, both binge drinkers and teetotalers were almost twice as likely to have had heart problems.

There are cultural differences in drinking habits, said the study's lead author, Dr. Jean Ferrieres, a professor of medicine at Toulouse University.

''In France, fruits, vegetables and wine are consumed at the same meal," he said. "We think you can protect your heart by drinking daily with a complete meal. But we don't know how to disentangle the effect of wine from the other things."


Cola drinkers sleep less, study finds

A small study at an urban pediatric clinic suggests that children younger than 12 are routinely consuming so much caffeine that it could interfere with their sleep. The source, almost exclusively, is caffeinated soft drinks, like Coca-Cola.

About 75 percent of 228 children in the study (published online on Thursday in The Journal of Pediatrics) consumed caffeine. Children ages 5 to 7 swallowed an average of 52 milligrams a day, and those ages 8 to 12 averaged 109 milligrams — about the same amount as a cup of drip coffee.

Caffeine is a diuretic, and the study was designed to see whether the consumption was associated with bed-wetting. It was not, but sleep was another matter. Average sleep times for the caffeine drinkers were slightly less than the amount recommended for these ages by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The American Beverage Association disputed the study, citing a 2002 review finding that caffeine's effects on children "seem to be modest and typically innocuous."

''Caffeine is safe, even for children," said Maureen Storey, the association's senior vice president for science policy.

The new study's authors acknowledged that it did not prove a link between caffeine and sleep problems. Still, the lead author, William J. Warzak, a professor of psychology at the University of Nebraska, says that avoiding it is a good idea. "But," he added, "you're not a terrible parent if a kid has a Coke away from home."

Flaws seen in children's medicine doses


Giving the correct dose of an over-the-counter pediatric medicine is critical, but the package labeling and dosing information can be virtually incomprehensible. And an overdose can be deadly.

During the year that ended Nov. 1, 2009, researchers examined the directions and measuring devices in 200 nonprescription pediatric liquid medicines — drugs for allergy, cough and cold, pain or gastrointestinal problems, and medicines in combination products.

Writing online Nov. 30 in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the researchers reported that 52 of the medicines had no measuring device in the package and that 146 of the other 148 had inconsistencies between the dosing directions and the devices, including missing or superfluous markings, unfamiliar units of measurement (for example, drams or cubic centimeters), or undefined or nonstandard abbreviations.

In November 2009, the Food and Drug Administration published voluntary guidelines for the labeling of dosing directions and measuring devices for over-the-counter liquid medicines. "The plan is that we can expect to see changes by next winter," said Dr. H. Shonna Yin, the lead author.

But Yin, an assistant professor of pediatrics at New York University, is not finished. "When we do the study again," she said, "we'll see if voluntary guidelines work, or if we need something stronger." In the meantime, she said, parents should pay careful attention to both directions on packages and the labeling on measuring devices. "A tablespoon," she warned, "is three times as large as a teaspoon."

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