The Blue Pill

Vitamins and Aging: A new study has found that elderly men who took vitamin E and C supplements at least once a week over a number of years were protected from dementia and actually showed improvements in memory, creativity and mental acuity. "Vitamin E and C supplements may protect against dementia and may improve cognitive function in late life," report Dr. Kamal H. Masaki of the Kuakini Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, and colleagues in Neurology 2000;54:1265-1272.

Dangerous Driving: In their study, psychologists M.A. Recarte, Ph.D., and L.M. Nunes, Ph.D., of the Universidad Complutense, in Madrid, Spain, examined whether a driver's eye movements would be affected by additional verbal and visual tasks to the point where the driver's ability to pay  attention to his or her surroundings is sacrificed. "The potential hazard of using a cellular phone is one thing," said Dr. Nunes. "But add in-depth conversation that requires a considerable amount of mental effort, like recalling a route on a map, performing a mathematical computation or discussing an emotional charged subject, and you compound an already risky behavior....Our research shows for the first time that doing mental calculations while driving," said the authors, "may make some people pay less attention to the road ahead and put themselves more at risk for an accident. On the other hand, some secondary activity (listening to music) can have beneficial effects. Drivers need to know how much they can do or think while driving and know when to stop the activity to concentrate on the road." American Psychological Association's (APA) Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied

Holiday Weight Gain: A study in the New England Journal of Medicine finds that the average person'sweight gain is more like one pound. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health studied 195 people from September 1998 through March 1999. On average, the participants gained about 1.05 pounds, with less than 10 percent of them gaining five or more pounds. The biggest factor in how much extra weight they gained was their level of activity. However, the researchers followed up with 165 of the participants and by September, the participants were an average of 1.4 pounds heavier than they'd been when the study began, indicating that they'd gained more weight over the spring and summer, rather than taking weight off during the warmer months.

New Soybeans: Government scientists at Agriculture Department, Raleigh, N.C., using conventional breeding methods, have developed a new soybean that is healthier for the heart because the oil need not go through a process that produces artery-clogging trans fatty acids and it has less than half the saturated fat of conventional soybeans. More than 80 percent of the vegetable oil used in cooking and food manufacturing is hydrogenated soybean oil because of its relatively low price and wide availability. Hydrogenation results in saturated fat containing trans fatty acids. Margarine made from hydrogenated soybean oil contains about 2 grams of saturated fat per serving and 3 grams of trans fat.  Nabisco's Chips Ahoy! cookies have a total of 2 grams of saturated fat and  2 grams of trans fat.  USDA's new soybean will be planted this year in 1,000 acres to produce seed for 50,000 acres in 2001, said Richard Wilson, one of the scientists working on the project. Varieties with similar traits are being bred for local growing conditions in nine other states: Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. AP

Olive oil: Italian scientists report the benefits of reduction of animal fat (saturated fat) intake. According to their report, patients with high blood pressure reduced the amount of antihypertensive drugs they needed by switching to a diet low in saturated fat and rich in olive oil.  Some of the patients could stop their high blood pressure medication completely with the dietary changes. "A slight reduction in saturated fat intake, along with the use of extra-virgin olive oil, markedly lowers daily antihypertensive dosage requirement," lead author of the study Dr. L. Aldo Ferrara and colleagues write in Archives of Internal Medicine 2000;160:837-842.

Taxol in Hazelnut: Researchers at  the University of Portland in Oregon, say they've found the active ingredient of Taxol in hazelnuts, a discovery that could lead to new ways to make the cancer-fighting drug. However, eating hazelnuts is not a substitute for Taxol treatment. "It won't do any good at all, because Taxol is not active orally," said Robert Holton, a Florida State University chemist who gets royalties from Bristol-Myers for his method for the synthesis of the drug. Angela Hoffman, a member of the research team at the University of Portland in Oregon,  presented the study on Wednesday at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society. AP

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure:  In a survey, more than 1,000 US adults 18 years of age and over
 and 500 teens aged 12 to 17 were interviewed. The investigators found that even though 81% of parents of school-age children said they wanted their children to receive daily physical education at school, just 44% of youngsters actually engaged in school-based physical activity on a daily basis. The findings were released Tuesday as part of the annual convention
of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, in Orlando, Florida. US Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher said he is "alarmed by the trend we have seen over the last 20 years of decreasing physical education requirements in public schools across the country. As a  nation, we are becoming increasingly less active in our lifestyles at home, at school and at work."  Reuters

Smoking Hurts: Add blisters, bruises, sprains and even broken bones to the list of things that smokers are more likely to get. In a study, reported in the April issue of a supplement to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers followed 1,087 men and 915 women through all eight weeks of basic training. The study of Army basic trainees finds that those who were smokers before entering basic training had a 1.5 times higher rate of injuries related to exercise. Other studies have found that smoking reduces the fitness gained from exercise. For instance, research on British officer trainees found smokers trailed nonsmokers in fitness improvements, even when smokers and nonsmokers started at equal fitness levels.

Viagra, a Mechanical Fix Only: Since it won government approval on March 27, 1998, Viagra has been prescribed to an estimated 7 million American men, according to manufacturer Pfizer Inc. Worldwide sales in 1999 totaled over $1 billion. Pfizer encourages men to use the drug only after consulting face-to-face with a doctor who determines a genuine medical need. "It fixes a mechanical problem," said spokeswoman for Pfizer, Mariann Caprino. "It does not fix the broader, more complex emotional problems within a couple." Marty Klein, a sex therapist from Palo Alto, Calif., who directs an advice site on the Internet, says Viagra is widely misused. "There's enough blame to go around everywhere," he said. "Physicians who prescribe the drug without fully understanding what the patient's problem is; patients who insist that intercourse is real sex and everything else is not; patients' partners who insist that an erection is the proof of love; the advertising industry that is willing to promote this drug as the solution to a huge range of problems." "Many men feel the problems in their relationship stem from an  inability to have an erection, and they are oblivious to the intimacy problems," said Dr. Eli Coleman, a psychologist who directs the Program in Human Sexuality at the University of Minnesota Medical School.  "Viagra doesn't replace communication. It doesn't replace caring," he said.   AP

Sreenivasarao Vepachedu, March 30, 2000

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