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The Latest in ...

HEALTH

FDA Says Bananas and Orange Juice Are Heart Healthy

Companies that sell bananas and orange juice may now extol the heart health benefits of their products with FDA approval, and with good reason. They are rich in potassium and low in sodium, a combination that has been shown to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke.

With nearly a quarter of all Americans suffering from high blood pressure and many unaware of it, this new focus on potassium-rich foods, which include vegetables, fruits, and grains, may help prevent countless heart attacks. Currently more than eight in ten Americans are not getting the recommended 3,500 milligrams of potassium per day. So have a cantaloupe this morning. It's the fruit that packs the most potassium.

More Evidence: Vegan Foods Save Lives

For anyone who is still not convinced, three new studies have confirmed that eating a diet of fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grains significantly reduces the risk of heart disease—America's most deadly, yet highly preventable, health threat.

Published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the studies found that Americans are getting one-third of their daily calories from nutrient-poor junk foods. But a detailed analysis showed that women who ate four to ten servings of fruit and vegetables each day cut their heart disease risk up to 30 percent. The troublemakers on American menus? Meats, refined grains, desserts, fried foods, and dairy products.

STROKE

Whole Grains Cut Stroke Risk in Women

The more whole grains women consume, the better protected they are against stroke. As part of the Harvard Nurses' Health Study, researchers followed 75,521 U.S. women, aged 38 to 63, for 12 years and found that risk of stroke was 31 percent higher for those eating the fewest whole grain foods compared to those eating the most, after adjusting for smoking, activity level, age, and other factors. Incorporating exercise with a healthy diet and kicking the smoking habit for good provided the greatest degree of protection.

Whole grain foods included dark breads, whole grain breakfast cereals, popcorn, oatmeal, wheat germ, brown rice, bran, and other grains such as bulgar, kasha, and couscous.

Liu S, Manson JE, Stampfer M, et al. Whole grain consumption and risk of ischemic stroke in women. JAMA 2000;284:1534-40.

WEIGHT LOSS

Atkins Diet Dangers

The Atkins diet, when it works, may be nothing more than an old-fashioned, low-cal diet, according to researchers from the Bassett Research Institute in New York. They enlisted nine overweight men and nine overweight women, put them on the Atkins diet—which encourages eating bacon, pork, steak, butter, cheese, and other high-fat, high-protein foods while avoiding virtually all carbohydrates—and analyzed the results.

During the first phase, dieters slashed their calories by more than 1,000 a day and lost an average of eight pounds in two weeks. Settling in at 1,500 calories a day during the latter phase, they lost an additional three pounds in the next two weeks. All the while, they cut carbohydrate intake by more than 90 percent.

The lead author of the study, an internist, reported that some dieters felt tired and nauseated on the plan, with the majority eager to resume their previous eating habits. Another recent study of dieters' behavior looked at 2,681 people who maintained a 30-pound weight loss for a year or more, and found that less than 1 percent followed an Atkins-like diet. The majority who kept weight off followed high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets, which provide a satisfying variety of foods, abundant protection from natural vitamin antioxidants, and a slow, steady calorie burn. The bottom line: The Atkins diet is no magic formula. A healthy way to stay slim is by enjoying whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.

Presented at the Annual Meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity. October 2000. Conducted at the Bassett Research Institute, New York.

FOODBORNE ILLNESS

Hidden Dangers of 'Mad Cow' Disease Continue to Surface

People showing no symptoms of illness can transmit Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), the human form of mad cow disease, through blood. Now doctors in Britain fear that an 11-month-old baby, whose mother died of CJD, contracted the disease while in the womb. The child has brain damage and suffers from convulsions, but confirmation of the disease can only be made from a post mortem examination if she dies.

Both the nonhuman and human forms of the disease are believed to come from abnormal proteins called prions (pronounced pree-ons) rather than from conventional organisms. Although scientists are still trying to determine how the protein functions in a healthy brain, they agree it continues to be spread by contaminated surgical equipment (original CJD) and by eating tissues from infected cows (new variant, or vCJD). Dozens of people in Britain have died from this brain-wasting disease since the first vCJD outbreak in 1986. Scientists believe some cases take as long as 30 years to reveal symptoms, which may have serious consequences in the U.K. and around the world.

Fish: More Than Just Mercury and Dioxin

Ciguatera, a cousin of pfiesteria, is found in reef fish such as grouper, jack, barracuda, and snapper. The toxin causes numbness, tingling, nausea, vomiting, headache, weakness, irregular heartbeat—sometimes even death—in those who contract it. Notoriously hard to diagnose, its symptoms have been found to linger for more than ten years in some people.

There are a million or more ciguatera poisonings annually around the world, with cases reported in Florida, Vermont, and Texas. Because cooking does not destroy the toxin and it is not visible in fish who carry it, health reports advise us not to eat the head, eggs, or guts of predator fish. On second thought, why not order the pasta, salad, and vegetable soup instead of any part of a fish?

ALTERNATIVES IN MEDICAL TRAINING

Talking Heads Join Medical School Curriculum

Medical school training includes lectures, labs, and even practice sessions where actors complain of symptoms and students learn to diagnose illness. Now a computer-generated "person," complete with 3-D talking head, will soon be putting the actors out of work, reports Studies in Health Information and Technology.

The Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina is the latest high-tech company to offer its innovative creations to science and medicine. Digital Frog, the humane alternative to frog dissection, has debuted in schools across the country, and computer simulators are replacing the use of "dog labs" in medical schools.

Studies in Health Information and Technology. February 2000.

DIABETES

Cow's Milk and Type 1 Diabetes Link Strengthened

Previous studies linking early exposure to cow's milk with the development of Type 1 diabetes have been strengthened by a new study from the University of Helsinki. Researchers studied infants having close relatives with Type 1 diabetes, indicating a genetic susceptibility to the disease. Mothers were encouraged to breast-feed their babies, then introduce either cow's milk or another type of formula to the diet at about six months of age. Researchers confirmed a significantly higher immune response to bovine insulin in infants who were given cow's milk. It is this response to insulin that many researchers believe foreshadows Type 1 diabetes.

Paronen J, Knip M, Erkki S, et al. Effect of cow's milk exposure and maternal type 1 diabetes on cellular and humoral immunization to dietary insulin in infants at genetic risk for type 1 diabetes. Diabetes 2000;49:1657-65.

POLICY AND PUBLIC HEALTH

Peaceful Meals Debut in Prison

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons has begun offering federal inmates "no-flesh, heart-healthy" meals. In other words, they've gone vegan. The Bureau was recently sued by an inmate seeking meals that would not violate his religious beliefs. PCRM filed a detailed brief in support of the case.

Bureau of Prisons spokesperson Traci Billingsley said the decision reflects how "the nation as a whole" is changing the way it eats. Food industry experts say Americans' interest in vegetarian diets and non-meat alternatives is growing rapidly.



 

Spring 2001 (Volume X, Number 2)
Spring 2001
Volume X
Number 2

Good Medicine
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