Health Highlights: Feb. 2, 2012

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Hockey Great Gordie Howe Has Dementia

Even though hockey legend Gordie Howe has mild dementia, he still plans to begin another series of fundraisers to support dementia research.

A form of dementia called Pick’s disease killed Howe’s wife Colleen in 2009. Family members haven’t sought a diagnosis of the exact type of dementia afflicting the 83-year-old Howe, who started showing signs of the condition in his late 70s, the Associated Press reported.

Concussions weren’t tracked during Howe’s playing career, so it’s impossible to know how many the man known as Mr. Hockey might have sustained or whether there’s any link between possible concussions and his dementia.

“He’s a little bit worse than last year, but pretty close to about the same,” son Marty told the AP. “He just loses a little bit more, grasping for words.”


Sugar Should Be Regulated, Taxed: Doctor

Sugar is a “toxin” that should be regulated or taxed like alcohol or tobacco, a University of California doctor says in an article published in the latest issue of the journal Nature.

Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist, says Americans consume an average of nearly three times the Department of Agriculture’s recommended daily intake, CBS News reported.

All types sugars, including high fructose corn syrup, are to blame for diseases such as high blood pressure and heart disease, he claims. Fat have long been blamed for those diseases.

“It was never the fat. It’s not the fat. It’s the sugar,” he said, CBS News reported.

The Sugar Association and the American Beverage Association dismissed Lustig’s assertions.


Tobacco Cos. Oppose Graphic Images on Cigarette Packs

A federal judge shows no signs of changing his position in favor of the U.S. government’s push to require cigarette packs carry large graphic photos of dead and diseased smokers.

Previously, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled that tobacco companies are likely to succeed in their lawsuit to stop the requirement and he blocked it from taking effect until after the lawsuit is resolved, the Associated Press reported.

At a hearing Wednesday, Leon heard from cigarette makers that they shouldn’t have to place “massive, shocking, gruesome warnings” on products they legally sell. Federal government lawyers said the photos are “factually uncontroverted.”

After the hearing, Leon said the government appears “headed to a place where you have to watch a 10-minute video before you can even buy a pack of cigarettes.”


Closing Arguments in Plan B Lawsuit

Closing arguments were heard Wednesday in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Washington state’s requirement that pharmacies stock and sell emergency contraceptives even if druggists have religious objections because they believe the contraceptives destroy human life.

The lawsuit was launched by Ralph’s Thriftway in Olympia, Wash. and two licensed Washington pharmacists in 2007. They say that dispensing Plan B and other emergency contraceptives would infringe on their religious beliefs, the Associated Press reported.

State rules compel pharmacies to dispense any medication for which there is a community need and to stock a representative assortment of medicines required by their patients. The rules are legal because they apply neutrally to all medicines and pharmacies, the state says.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton blocked the state dispensing rule in 2007, but a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel said he applied the wrong legal standard and overruled him. The case was sent back to Leighton and he was told to apply the correct legal standard, the AP reported.

Wednesday was the last day of an 11-day trial to reconsider the case.


Colorado Considers Strict School Trans-Fat Ban

Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill that would implement the strictest school trans-fat ban in the United States.

The bill would ban any artery-clogging trans-fat in all school food, not just food served through regular cafeteria lunches. That would mean no trans-fat in vending machine products, after-school bake sale items, and popular “a la carte” lunch items such as pizza and ice cream, the Associated Press reported.

The bill is scheduled to be heard Thursday by a Colorado House committee.

A number of states limit trans-fat in school cafeterias, but there are no trans-fat bans that extend before and after school, the AP reported.