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DISCOVERIES

Massage effective against pain and joint stiffness

A colorized electron micrograph shows a cluster of E. coli bacteria, like those responsible for sickening at least 71 people who said they ate at Taco Bell restaurants since November. While the US Food and Drug Administration says that outbreak is likely over, the number of outbreaks related to produce is reported on the rise. Escherichia coli is a common and ordinarily harmless bacteria found in the guts of cattle and other animals. Health officials believe most cases of E. coli contamination originate on the farm, where produce can come into contact with bacteria-laden animal feces. (US Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service)

ARTHRITIS
Massage helps reduce pain and joint stiffness in osteoarthritis patients, a new study finds. As many as 21 million Americans suffer from osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, which affects the hands, feet, spine, hip and knee joints. For the study, 68 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee were enrolled: 34 were offered eight weeks of massage twice a week for the first four weeks and once a week for the next four weeks, and the rest were not. All participants continued with previously prescribed medications and treatments. After eight weeks, the pain, stiffness, and range of knee motion was assessed in both groups. Participants who had received massage reported less pain, joint stiffness, and improved mobility in the knees, whereas the control group reported no change in symptoms. From week nine to 16, the control group also received massage therapy and they reported a decrease in pain and stiffness as well. The first group was assessed again two months after discontinuing massage and reported still feeling its benefits, a finding that, according to senior researcher Dr. David Katz of the Yale School of Medicine, makes this study especially worthwhile because massage requires time and money and if it can be used less it becomes more affordable.

BOTTOM LINE: Massage can help arthritis patients cut back on their medications.

WHAT'S NEXT: The researchers want to study the extent to which massage can reduce medication use and to determine its cost-effectiveness as an alternative, or adjunct to, current drug treatments.

CAUTIONS: This is the first study of its kind, and larger and longer studies are required to confirm this finding and to assess how long massage benefits last.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Archives of Internal Medicine, Dec. 11.

SENA DESAI GOPAL

CHEMISTRY

A plausible means for creating life's building blocks


Researchers at Harvard have created a chemical stew that could, theoretically, have led to the first life on earth. Using only ingredients available on the primordial planet -- carbon dioxide, water, sunlight, and a zinc sulfide mineral called sphalerite -- they triggered a chemical reaction that could have generated the first organic molecules necessary for life. The new study showed that sphalerite and light promoted 3 of 11 reactions necessary to create a "reverse Krebs cycle," the process by which life is believed to have been jump-started. Sphalerite was probably common in the early ocean, so similar processes could plausibly have occurred in shallow, sunlit early seas, said study coauthor Scot Martin, an environmental chemist at Harvard. "What we've introduced is a new rule to the game which says that mineral photochemistry . . . can make these reactions occur," he said.

BOTTOM LINE: Researchers have discovered a plausible means for the chemical creation of life's molecular building blocks.

CAUTIONS: This research shows one theoretically possible means for the origins of life; it does not provide evidence that life on earth actually started this way.

WHAT'S NEXT: Researchers will try to trigger more of the 11 reactions needed to make the first molecules that led to life.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Journal of the American Chemical Society, Dec. 13.

NAILA MOREIRA

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