Weekly health rail, with items on treating pregnant drug users, the link between Viagra and watermelon, and more.

Treatment for cigarette, alcohol and drug use improves outcomes

Pregnant women who receive treatment for substance abuse early in their pregnancy can achieve the same health outcomes as pregnant women with no substance abuse, according to a Kaiser Permanente study.

The study, which is the largest to date, examined 49,985 women in the nonprofit’s prenatal care program and found that integrating substance abuse screening and treatment into routine prenatal care helped pregnant women achieve similar health outcomes as women who were not using cigarettes, alcohol or other drugs. This is also the largest study to examine multiple substances: cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamines, cocaine and heroin.

The study found the risk of stillborn, placental abruption (when the placental lining separates from the mother's uterus), pre-term delivery, low birth weight and neonatal ventilation were dramatically higher for the 156 untreated substance abusers than the 2,073 women in the program.

Replace Viagra with watermelon?

Watermelon is a tasty summer staple, but can it help you in the bedroom? Researchers say it has effects similar to Viagra — but don't necessarily expect it to replace the drug.

Watermelons contain an ingredient called citrulline that can trigger production of a compound that helps relax the body's blood vessels, similar to what happens when a man takes Viagra, said scientists in Texas, one of the nation's top producers of the seedless variety.

Found in the flesh and rind of watermelons, citrulline reacts with the body's enzymes when consumed in large quantities and is changed into arginine, an amino acid that benefits the heart and the circulatory and immune systems.

Health Tip

Everyone knows the importance of using sunscreen to prevent our skin from the powerful rays of the sun, but many forget about protection for our eyes.

Sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats are the best defenses against sunlight and harmful UV rays. What type of sunglasses should you buy? Some tips from the American Academy of Ophthalmology:

- They need to block 99 percent to 100 percent of UV-A and UV-B rays to properly protect you.

- The ability to block UV light is not dependent on the darkness of the lens.

- More expensive is not always better: With expensive sunglasses, you’re paying for style, frame quality and other options – not necessarily UV ray blocking ability.

Number to Know: 16.2

A survey found that 16.2 percent of people in the U.S. had used cocaine in their lifetime.

Data on drug use was available from 54,068 survey participants in 17 countries.

The authors from University of New South Wales found that 16.2 percent of people in the United States had used cocaine in their lifetime, a level much higher than any other country surveyed (the second highest level of cocaine use was in New Zealand, where 4.3 percent of people reported having used cocaine).

The List

U.S. News and World Report’s list of Best Hospitals for cancer treatment:

1. University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston

2. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York

3. Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Md.

4. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.

5. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston

6. University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle

7. University of Chicago Medical Center, Chicago

8. UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles

9. Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C.

10. Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston

Children’s Health

As the weather gets warmer, parents should be aware of heat stress in their active children. Here are some suggestions from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

- The intensity of activities that last 15 minutes or more should be reduced whenever high heat and humidity reach critical levels.

- Before prolonged physical activity, the child should be well-hydrated. During the activity, periodic drinking should be enforced.

- Clothing should be light-colored and lightweight and limited to one layer of absorbent material to facilitate evaporation of sweat. Sweat-saturated garments should be replaced by dry garments.

Senior Health

Women older than 90 are significantly more likely to have dementia than men of the same age, according to University of California-Irvine researchers involved with the 90+ Study.

The researchers reviewed an analysis of 911 people enrolled in the study. Of those, 45 percent of the women had dementia, as opposed to 28 percent of the men.

The 90-plus age group, or the "oldest old," is the fastest growing segment of the population, according to the U.S. Census. Research has shown that dementia prevalence for both men and women increases from age 65 to 85.

With women comprising three-quarters of the 90-plus population, the study raises questions why these women nonagenarians are more likely to have dementia than men.

GateHouse News Service