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Aug 24, 2004 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- SMOKING BOOSTS HEART ATTACK RISK IN YOUNG

Smokers under 40 are five times more likely to have a heart attack than their peers who abstain from tobacco, a study shows. The findings, reported in Tobacco Control, are based on data from the World Health Organization study of cardiovascular disease and risk factors in men and women, ages 33 to 64. The investigators found 80 percent of those who had a non-fatal heart attack between the ages of 35-39 were smokers. Male smokers in that age group were almost five times as likely to have a non-fatal heart attack as their non-smoking peers. The risk for women smokers that age was greater than five-fold, said epidemiologist Dr. Markku Mahonen of KTL National Public Health Institute in Helsinki, Finland.

LEARN THE FACTS BEFORE USING SLEEP AID

A new brochure provides important information about how the common sleep aid melatonin works and when it is best used, specialists say. The National Sleep Foundation's "Melatonin: The Basic Facts" explains what the hormone is, how and when it can be effective, care that should be taken when using it, especially by night-shift workers, and additional research that is needed. Melatonin is made by the body's pineal gland, a pea-sized gland above the middle of the brain that is inactive during the day but perks up when the sun goes down to start producing the hormone. As melatonin levels in the blood rise, we become sleepy. With daylight, as melatonin decreases, alertness revives. Available as a dietary supplement, synthetic melatonin is the only hormone sold in the United States without a prescription.

SOME FACTS ON SLEEP HORMONE

Experts say the hormone melatonin can induce or maintain sleep but, if taken at appropriate times, may also delay the sleep-wake cycle. The National Sleep Foundation notes melatonin levels stay elevated for some 12 hours, from about 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. The hormone can react to sunlight and to artificial lighting, which can be bright enough to prevent its release, a special problem for workers on the late night/early morning shift. Natural body rhythms encourage nighttime sleepiness, but indoor lights can help them stay awake. At the conclusion of their shifts, they go into the daylight, which further inhibits the release of the melatonin needed to help them sleep when they get home. Depending on when it is taken, melatonin can re-set the circadian clock that affects alertness and sleepiness, a feature that may help travelers suffering from jet lag. There are inconsistent study results about the effectiveness of the hormone in helping people fall asleep and/or reduce the number of nighttime awakenings. For melatonin to be helpful, the correct dosage, method of delivery (oral or topical) and time of day it is taken must be appropriate to the sleep problem, the experts say. Because synthetic melatonin is not regulated as a drug in the United States, listed doses may not be controlled or accurate and side effects do not have to be determined by the manufacturer or listed on the product's packaging, specialists say. They say studies suggest melatonin can increase blood pressure and affect fertility in animals.

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(Editors: For more information about SMOKING, contact Emma Dickinson at +44 (0)20 7383 6529 or edickinson@bmj.com. For SLEEP, Marcia Stein at (202) 347-3471, ext. 205, or Mstein@sleepfoundation.org. For HORMONE, Marcia Stein at (202) 347-3471, ext. 205, or Mstein@sleepfoundation.org)

Copyright 2004 by United Press International.

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