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Study Finds Unforeseen Benefit of Estrogen

July 19, 1999|THOMAS H. MAUGH II

Along with its other well-known benefits, hormone-replacement therapy with estrogen may also be something of a fountain of youth for women, according to an informal study by German researchers.

It's already known that hormone-replacement therapy helps increase bone density, lowers the risk of heart disease, may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease and may have other potential benefits. Now a team from the University of Erlangen reports that higher levels of estrogen may also make women look younger, according to a study published in Saturday's Lancet medical journal.

In their admittedly unscientific survey, the researchers estimated the ages of 100 women upon seeing them for the first time at an outpatient clinic. They then compared the estimated and actual ages of the women and the level of estrogen subsequently measured in the women's blood.

They found that they consistently underestimated the ages of women with the highest levels of estrogen in their blood and overestimated the ages of those with the lowest levels. In postmenopausal women, estrogen is known to increase skin thickness and quality, and the researchers speculated that these changes might make the women look younger as well.

Infections Seem to Rise the Longer Contacts Worn

Although the risk of eye infections associated with wearing contact lenses is small, the risk increases substantially if the lenses are worn for longer than 24 hours, according to Dutch researchers who have confirmed long-held suspicions of ophthalmologists. About 1.4 million of the 13 million residents of the Netherlands wear contact lenses.

Reaching all the ophthalmologists in the country, the team found that the incidence of bacterial infections--called microbial keratitis--among people who wore rigid gas-permeable lenses was 1.1 per 10,000 wearers a year. Among people who wore soft contact lenses and took them off every night, the incidence was 3.3 times higher. But among those who wore their lenses for more than 24 hours at a time, the risk was almost 20 times higher.

Assessing Risk of Breast Cancer Among Whites

Women of Scandinavian descent have the highest risk of breast cancer and those of Irish descent have the lowest, according to the first study of breast cancer risk among whites of different ethnic groups. The study of 27,578 post-menopausal women in Iowa was carried out by researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Dr. Thomas Sellers and his colleagues report in the July issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention that women of Irish descent had a breast cancer incidence of 353 per 100,000 women a year, while those of Scandinavian descent had an incidence of 488 per 100,000, about 40% higher. The Scandinavian women, however, had the least correlation between risk and family history of the disease, while there was a stronger correlation for those of English, Scottish, Welsh, Dutch and German descent.

Breast-Fed Infants Less Likely to Be Obese Kids

Infants who are breast-fed exclusively for the first three to five months of their lives are about a third less likely to become obese children than those who receive bottled formula, according to German researchers.

A team from Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich studied 13,345 children in Bavaria, ages 5 to 6, who received mandatory physical examinations before entering school. Among other things, their parents were surveyed about the children's early diets. The researchers reported in Saturday's British Medical Journal that 4.5% of those who had never been breast-fed were obese (a body mass index in the 97th percentile), compared with only 2.8% of those who were breast-fed.

Furthermore, the longer the children were breast-fed, the less likely they were to become obese. The incidence of obesity was 3.8% for those who received only two months of exclusive breast-feeding, 2.3% for 3 to 5 months, 1.7% for 6 to 12 months and 0.8% for more than 12 months. The researchers speculate that it is the breast milk itself, rather than the lifestyle of the parents, that is responsible for the benefits of breast feeding.

Highly Educated Brains May Resist Aging

In a puzzling finding, Detroit researchers have found that the brains of highly educated people shrink more with age than do those of the less educated, even though the more schooled people are less likely to lose brain function. The results suggest that increased amounts of schooling may organize the brain more efficiently so that it better resists the effects of aging.

Dr. C. Edward Coffey and his colleagues at the Henry Ford Health System studied 320 healthy men and women, ages 66 to 99, who showed no signs of mental impairment. They used magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain size, estimating the amount of cerebrospinal fluid bathing the brain as an indicator of shrinkage.

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