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Do you get an irresistible urge to tap your toes or jump up and dance when you hear your favourite song? Well, you're not alone. In fact, a new study suggests that the link between music and movement is essentially hardwired into the human brain.

Researchers at McGill University in Montreal asked a group of volunteers to listen to rhythmical sounds while their brains were monitored by a high-tech MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machine. As expected, the auditory regions of the brain showed increased activity as the sounds were played. However, brain regions involved in the control of body movements were also activated, even though the volunteers remained motionless, reports Joyce Chen, the McGill graduate student who conducted the study.

It's as though your brain is telling you to start moving your feet.

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The study, which was presented at a Society for Neuroscience conference in Atlanta, helps explain why music is so intricately connected with dance in human culture. But the new findings might also aid in the treatment of movement disorders, such as Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis.

"People with movement disorders have a lot of trouble initiating movement or making the movement smoothly. Some researchers have thought of using rhythm as a way to engage the motor system when the motor system is impaired," said Prof. Robert Zatorre, a senior researchers involved in the McGill study. "If we understand how the brain does this thing with movement and sound . . . we will be in a much better

position to develop therapies or interventions that might help such disorders."

Vitamin D takes on cancer

A new study provides more evidence that vitamin D, the so-called sunshine vitamin, might have a role to play in the fight against breast cancer. Researchers at Imperial College London measured vitamin D levels in the blood of 279 women with breast cancer. The results, published in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, revealed that women with early-stage disease had significantly higher levels of vitamin D in their blood than those in the disease's advanced stages.

Carlo Palmieri, who led the study, noted that previous lab

research has shown cancer cells "will grow slower or die quicker" when they are exposed to

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vitamin D.

But why are vitamin D levels so low in woman with advanced breast cancer?

Dr. Palmieri suspects the tumour produces a special enzyme that "changes vitamin D to another form, which is not so active against cancer." In effect, the tumour is trying to protect itself by destroying vitamin D.

Dr. Palmieri wants to conduct a new study in which patients undergoing regular breast-cancer treatment are given extra vitamin D to see whether supplements can counteract the destructive power of the tumour. "I don't think vitamin D will be some sort of wonder drug . . . but it might be used along with current anti-cancer therapies to make them more effective," he said.

Vitamin D is normally produced in the skin as a result of exposure to sunlight. It is also found in some foods, such as milk and certain types of fish. Many people suffer from chronically low levels of the vitamin during winter months. Experts say even healthy folks should take supplements.

Tennis elbow blues

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Steroid injections appear to provide quick relief for people suffering from tennis elbow. But the benefits are short lived -- patients would be better off doing physiotherapy or nothing at all.

Australian researchers at the University of Queensland divided patients into three groups: one got corticosteroid injections, one received physiotherapy plus home exercises, one was allocated to a wait-and-see approach.

Initially, those who got the injections were better off. After six weeks, 78 per cent reported improvement, compared with a 65-per-cent success rate in the physio group, and 27 per cent in the wait-and-see section.

However, after a full year, the tables had turned. Only 68 per cent in the injection group still felt an improvement in their condition, compared with 94 per cent of the physiotherapy patients and 90 per cent of those with the wait-and-see approach.

To make matters worse, the injection group had a high rate of re-injury. "It may well be that the pain relief [from the injection]allows patients to overstress their elbows" too soon after the initial injury, said Bill Vicenzino, led author of the study published in an on-line edition of the British Medical Journal.

People who play tennis aren't the only ones to get the condition, medically known as lateral epicondylitis. It is also common among those who do a lot of strong gripping or repetitive wrist motions.

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Smoking bans pay off

Smoking bans in public places pay quick health dividends -- especially for people who work in smoky bars and taverns, according to a Scottish study.

Researchers at Ninewells Hospital and Medical School in Dundee measured breathing problems in 77 pub employees before and after the local government outlawed smoking in enclosed workplaces.

Before the ban, 79 per cent of the workers experienced a variety of smoke-related symptoms, such as wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, sore throat and irritated eyes. But just one month after the ban was imposed, only 53 per cent of the workers reported these problems, according to the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The reduction in symptoms was most evident in workers who suffered from asthma.

This latest study, plus other research documenting the harm caused by secondhand smoke, "provides a powerful rational for prohibiting smoking in all public places," said an accompanying editorial. "The time has come to clear the air."

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