Lab Report: Health, Science and Medicine

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Alexander Ho for TIME


Good Riddance to a Nasty Brew

If you're a beverage maker and the nicest words people can use to describe your product is "blackout in a can," you know you're in trouble. That was the case for the manufacturer of Four Loko, a drink that packs the alcohol content of four glasses of wine, the caffeine kick of a cup of coffee and enough sweetness to make it all go down easy into a 23.5-oz. (650 ml) can. The hospitalization of 23 students at Ramapo College in New Jersey with alcohol poisoning after drinking the stuff was only the most conspicuous example of what happens when people get hold of a beverage that gets them wasted but keeps them awake.

On Nov. 17, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced what is effectively a ban on caffeine-spiked alcoholic drinks--a move that followed recent bans in five states. Four Loko's manufacturer, Phusion Projects, already announced it would "reformulate" its product to remove the caffeine. The FDA action gives three other companies 15 days to do the same. New York Senator Chuck Schumer called the move the "nail in the coffin" for Four Loko and its ilk. Better the drinks than their consumers.


Vitamin D and the Risk of Stroke

Sometimes medicine seems so simple. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to an increased risk of stroke. Blacks tend to have less D and more strokes than whites, so the two must be connected, right? Wrong.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University recently studied a sample group of 8,000 people and found that only 6.6% of whites had severely low levels of vitamin D, compared with 32.3% of blacks. Blacks in the study also had a 65% greater risk of stroke. But when the scientists studied all the variables that could be causing the higher stroke rate in blacks--including hypertension and diabetes--they became convinced that low vitamin D doesn't play much of a role, even though it doubles the stroke risk in whites.

The reason, they explain, is that since sunlight helps produce vitamin D, and dark skin is less permeable to the sun's rays than light skin, blacks may have simply adapted to having lower D levels and need less of it than whites. One bit of proof: vitamin D is also important for maintaining bones, yet despite their low D levels, blacks in the study actually had higher bone density and fewer fractures than whites.

But this leaves a problem. Without vitamin D in the mix, hypertension and other known factors do not account for all the extra strokes in blacks. The search for answers goes on.


Stem Cells to Treat Stroke?

In a long-awaited first, a stroke patient at Southern General Hospital in Glasgow has been injected with fetal stem cells in the hope that this will lead to new ways to restore function. The trial will show only if the procedure is safe. Later studies will look at whether new brain tissue starts to grow.

Depressed? Kill All the Lights

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