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BMJ. 2007 June 30; 334(7608): 1380.
PMCID: PMC1906647

Minerva

A BMJ reader is writing a biography of Charles Thomas Haden (1786-1824), a London doctor who was greatly admired by Jane Austen, and is looking for information on the location of Haden's private and professional papers, letters, and journals, and the papers of his wife, Emma Harrison. Haden was a surgeon at the Chelsea and Brompton Dispensary, vice president of the Associated Apothecaries and Surgeon-Apothecaries, part-editor of the Medical Intelligencer, and translator of Francois Magendie's Formulary (1823). If you can help, please contact Brian Southam on moc.liamtoh@mahtuos_nairb.

Is there a connection between exposure to rubbish in cities and diarrhoea in young children? Unsurprisingly, a longitudinal study carried out in Brazil suggests there is (Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 2007;101:722-9, doi: 10.1016/j.trstmh.2006.10.006). An index of “rubbish in the street” and uncontained rubbish within the home were both associated with diarrhoea. Less significant associations were the quality of water supply, hygiene and cleanliness near the house, the number of people living together, drainage problems, and the age of the child.

A seven year prospective birth cohort study of nearly 4000 children delivered at term found that lower birth weight was associated with a transiently increased risk of respiratory symptoms. This risk was further increased if children were also exposed to environmental tobacco smoke. This effect of birth weight increased up to the age of 5 years but was no longer significant at the age of 7. Interestingly, birth weight and a diagnosis of asthma were not related (American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine 2007;175:1078-85, doi: 10.1164/rccm.200610-14410C).

The prevalence of use of methylphenidate (Ritalin) at any time between 1994 and 2000 in Canadian children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder was almost twice as high in children whose parents have been through a divorce compared with those whose parents were still together (6.1% v 3.3%) (CMAJ 2007;176:1711-4, doi: 10.1503/cmaj.061458). Taking the age and sex of the children and the age of the mother out of the equation, drug use was significantly higher among children whose parents subsequently divorced (odds ratio 1.82 (95% CI 1.01 to 3.33)). The question is what causes what?

Several observational studies have indicated that taking calcium and vitamin D supplements reduces the risk of common cancers. Now an interventional, double blind trial of supplements taken by postmenopausal women over four years confirms the findings. The incidence of cancer was significantly lower in the group taking supplements compared with the placebo group (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2007;85:1586-91, http://www.ajcn.org/).

A survey of US patients receiving treatment for infertility found that about half of those who replied said they would willingly donate their unused embryos for stem cell research rather than have them destroyed or donated to another infertile couple (Science 2007 doi: 10.1126/science.1145067). Of course, US legislation still bans stem cell research, but research seems to be the “morally preferred option” for many infertility patients. The findings indicate that a larger than expected number of embryos could be available to scientists if the law were to change.

What happens to people who have experienced atrial fibrillation at some point? A 30 year follow-up suggests that about a quarter progress to permanent atrial fibrillation, but survival in general is similar to age and sex matched patients without atrial fibrillation (Circulation 2007;115:3050-6, doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.106.644484). The risk for stroke or transient ischaemic attack was also similar to that for the matched control group during the first 25 years, but thereafter the risk increased. Hypertension also increased the thromboembolic risk.

Carers of elderly adults were randomly assigned to participate in three types of writing sessions: expressive writing, time management, and history writing. Contrary to expectations, only those in the time management group (who wrote objectively about how they spent their time) experienced significant improvements in their mental and physical health; they were also more likely to report that they found the exercise valuable than were the participants in the other two writing groups (Gerontologist 2007;47:296-306, http://gerontologist.gerontologyjournals.org/cgi/reprint/47/3/296)

A prospective comparison of conventional and laparoscopic total hip arthroplasty—both performed via a posterior incision—comes out in favour of the minimally invasive approach (Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery 2007;89:1153-60, doi: 10.2106/JBJS.F.00940). With 30 patients in each group, the keyhole group achieved better early pain control, went home earlier, and had less need of walking devices. But after hospital discharge both groups had similar levels of pain and function.

Commenting on a review of sex and the nose published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, which presents evidence that humans use odour to influence mate selection, the editor of the journal says, “for men in relationships this paper helps us understand one of the fundamental mysteries of the universe: why the hell did our partners choose us in the first place?” (2007;100:251, http://www.jrsm.org/). For men who are less successful at wooing their partner of choice, he helpfully suggests, “try someone else, or find yourself a new deodorant.”

It's not just parenting that counts when it comes to producing well adjusted adults; the relationships children have with their brothers and sisters also matter. A 30 year study reports that poor sibling relationships during childhood may be an important and specific predictor of major depression in adulthood, in addition to a family history of depression (American Journal of Psychiatry 2007;164:949-54, http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/). Failing to get on as children did not predict later alcohol misuse or dependency.


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