Aging and heart problems

In a study following more than 10,000 people over 35 years, the presence of visible signs of aging signaled an increased risk of heart attack and heart disease. (Jesus Solana, Getty Images / November 13, 2012)

For children with low stores of two brain-power nutrients, supplements may have different, and complex, effects, a new clinical trial suggests.

Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide, affecting about 2 billion people, according to the World Health Organization.

Poor children in developing countries are at particular risk for shortfalls in iron, as well as other nutrients, including the omega-3 fats found largely in oily fish.

So the new study looked at the effects of giving 321 schoolchildren in South Africa either supplements containing iron, omega-3s or both.

All of the kids had low levels of both nutrients, which are vital for children's growth and healthy brain development.

After about eight months, researchers found varied changes in the kids' memory and learning abilities.

In general, children given iron showed improvements on tests of memory and learning. That was especially true if they had outright anemia, a disorder wherein the blood's oxygen-carrying capacity is reduced, causing problems like fatigue and difficulty with concentration and memory.

For example, on a memory test, anemic kids given iron were able to recall an extra two words out of 12.

In contrast, there was no overall benefit linked to omega-3 supplements. And when the researchers zeroed in on kids with anemia, those who used omega-3s did worse on one test of memory.

Then there were the children with clear iron deficiency but not anemia. Of those kids, girls who got omega-3s fared worse, while boys improved their test scores.

Readmitted patients

Procedural guidelines intended to ensure patients get quality care while in the hospital are also thought to reduce the chances a patient will need to be readmitted down the line, but a study suggests there's little connection between the two.

"The idea was, increasing the quality of care provided by these hospitals would improve the outcomes," said Dr. Michaela S. Stefan, the report's lead author and an academic hospitalist at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass.

Right now, about 1 in 4 patients will be readmitted to the hospital within 30 days, Stefan and her colleagues found.

For the new study, Stefan and her colleagues looked at whether the degree to which a hospital followed guidelines to the letter predicted how many Medicare patients came back within 30 days of their first discharge.

Overall, they found that hospitals with the best scores for following guidelines did not have "meaningfully" lower readmissions.

— From Tribune Newspapers, news services