IFA News and Opinion
Issue Date:  October 1, 2005

Attention, Coffee Bashers

Caffeine researchers for the U.S. Army say coffee makes you think better. Even in the sleep-deprived it improves decision-making, memory, and learning. And it improves mood.

Other research shows the caffeine in coffee reduces jet lag, aids headache relief, fights tooth decay, and reduces the risk of kidney stones.


Beet Protection

You've heard those stories about Russian country people who live more than 100 years. Some claim to be 120 years old.

It could be the lowly beet that's responsible for this longevity. Borscht, the traditional Russian soup made mainly of beets, contains powerful compounds that help protect against heart disease, birth defects and certain cancers, especially colon cancer.
Ancient Romans were the first to cultivate beets and use their roots as food. Tribes that invaded Rome were responsible for spreading beet consumption throughout northern Europe. In the 19th century, it was discovered that beets were a concentrated source of sugar, and the first beet sugar factory was built in Poland.

Scientists say the pigment that gives beets their rich color, betacyanin, is a powerful cancer-fighting agent. The antioxidant glutathione peroxidase in beets is a strong bodyguard for the liver. As the liver breaks up toxic substances, it generates a lot of free radicals, which this antioxidant can destroy.

Antioxidants help to protect against heart disease, but beets also aid the heart health by lowering levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and raising levels of beneficial cholesterol, called HDL.

Beets are rich sources of important minerals such as manganese, potassium, and magnesium. Their high levels of folate help expectant mothers avoid birth defects in newborns. A cup of beets contains only 74 calories and has high levels of vitamin C.


More Time for Angioplasty

Cardiologists have believed that they have only 12 hours in which to perform angioplasty after a heart attack. During that period, it could reopen clogged arteries and save the heart muscle from further damage.

Now, a European study shows that there can be significant improvement for heart attack patients by doing an angioplasty 12 to 48 hours after a heart attack. As many as 40 percent of heart attack patients seek treatment beyond the 12-hour window. In the U.S. alone, that is more the 300,000 who could benefit from later angioplasty.

Doctors at the Mayo Clinic say this is an important contribution to current knowledge.

DHEA for Depression

DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) is a hormone whose production by the adrenal glands decreases with age. But treatment for depression with a synthetic over-the-counter version is effective and causes no side effects.

A National Institute of Mental Health study shows that DHEA produced a significant reduction in depression among half of the group of middle-aged subjects studied. Subjects took 90 milligrams daily for the first three weeks and 450 for three weeks more.
DHEA is sometimes used to help prevent and treat metabolic syndrome, which is characterized by unhealthy levels of abdominal fat.

Whooping Cough Shots

The FDA has approved a second booster shot for immunization against whopping cough. Cases among adolescents and adults have increased dramatically. Babies and young children are protected by early vaccination, but the immunization wears off.

Approved boosters are GlaxoSmithKline's Boostrix for 10 to 18-year-olds and Sanofi-Adventis Adadel for ages 11 to 64.
Doctors wait to administer new inoculations until they are FDA approved so shots will be covered by health insurance.

Drink milk to lose weight

A dairy-rich diet combined with calorie control can almost double body-fat reduction and weight loss. And it helps prevent weight gain says researcher Michael Zemel of the University of Tennessee.

Zemel, author of The Calcium Key (John Wiley & Sons) says the calcitriol in dairy helps conserve calcium for stronger bones while telling fat cells to convert less sugar to fat and burn more body fat. He was quoted in Health magazine.

Carbonated Drinks and Reflux

The Sleep Heart Health Study by the University of Arizona shows that avoiding nocturnal gastroesophageal reflux (nighttime heartburn) could be as simple as avoiding carbonated beverages.

It is estimated that 44 percent of Americans experience nighttime heartburn at least once a month. It's more serious than daytime heartburn. It causes more damage to the esophagus and is more likely to lead to esophageal cancer.

The study showed that sufferers were more likely to consume one or more carbonated drinks daily. Heartburn was also associated with being overweight, snoring, hypertension, and asthma. According to The Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, the study did not link smoking or alcohol to a greater incidence of nighttime heartburn.

Other causes may include coffee, chocolate, whole milk, peppermint, spearmint, citrus fruits, and tomatoes.

It is recommended that people who have the problem eat a smaller evening meal and avoid a prone position for several hours after eating.


Avoid Complacency About Extra Pounds

Study shows that some overweight can be good?

A controversial study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) seems to indicate that being a little overweight is OK.

The study found a small decrease in death rates for people with a Body Mass Index that was between 25 and 29.9. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study prompted them to cut the estimate of obesity-related deaths to 112,000 annually, a large decrease from the their previous estimate of 400,000.

One factor not apparent in the study is the fact that most people die after age 70. In the elderly, extra fat gives rise to bone and muscle, which is protective in a medical crisis. The CDC also says that medical advances could be partly responsible for lengthening the lives of overweight people.

The CDC has apologized for any confusion the study causes. They say it definitely is not OK to be overweight. Note that it is also not OK to be underweight. The study shows that people with a BMI below 18.5 had the same mortality rate as those with a Body Mass Index of 40 or more.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute notes that waist size is an important factor in health. Muscular people, for example, may have a BMI over 30, but still have a small waist. Those who have a BMI over 30 but have a waist size of 35 inches for women or 40 inches for men have a much lower risk of obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

For those with trim waists, the Institute advises weight loss if they have two other risk factors such as high cholesterol, blood sugar, or blood pressure.


Brain Health and Exercise

Regular exercise has long been considered helpful in preventing dementia. Now a new report in the American Journal of Epidemiology says studies show that exercise variety matters more than intensity. Variety makes the brain work more so it stays healthier.


Don't Wash Meat, Poultry

New guidelines by the U.S. Department of Agriculture discourage washing of meats and poultry before cooking.

The risk of cross-contamination from handling the food as it's washed outweighs any benefits. Bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices can be spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces.

Your hands could become just as bacteria-laden as the surface of the food.

Bacteria on the food is destroyed by cooking to a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Older Smokers Risk AMD

A British study found that older smokers were twice as likely to suffer age-related macular degeneration (AMD) as non-smokers.

AMD blurs the central vision by affecting the macula. AMD is the leading cause of blindness in older adults, according to Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter.


More Statins Recommended

Only half of patients with moderate to high risk of heart disease are prescribed statin drugs by their doctors, according to Stanford School of Medicine.

Stanford researchers recommend that doctors aggressively examine patients to see whether statins or beta blockers for high blood pressure are appropriate.

Heart disease is one of the nation's leading killers, along with cancer. Each year, more than half a million people die from heart disease.


Strength Training Benefits People of Every Age

Everyone can benefit from resistance training for strength and flexibility. Professors of exercise science at the University of San Francisco say their studies prove the value of strength training in mature adults. Are you age 45, 50, 60, or more? No problem.

A Tufts University program of strength training reduced knee pain caused by osteoarthritis by 43 percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says strength training can reduce the symptoms of arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, back pain, and depression. In fact, lifting weights could be more beneficial for older people than younger ones.

Machines are good, but free weights are inexpensive and versatile. Begin with 3-, 5-, or 8- pound weights. One suggested routine from HealthNews:

  • Squats for the upper legs and buttocks. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms down, palms in, feet at hip width. Slowly bend your knees until upper legs are parallel to the floor, then return to the starting position.
  • Curls for the upper arms. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms down, palms in, and feet apart. Bring the weight up by bending your elbows and rotating your wrists toward the chest. Slowly return and repeat the curls.
  • Shrugs for the shoulders: Hold dumbbells arms down, palms in, feet apart. Shrug your shoulders up and as high as possible, return and repeat.
  • Heel raises for the lower legs. Hold dumbbells arms down, palms in, toes on a secure surface. Raise slowly onto your toes. Keep body erect and knees straight. Return and do it again.

    Check with your doctor, then get instruction on technique from a trainer. Start with eight reps and increase no more than 10 percent a week.


    Sleep On A Problem, It Really Works

    When Gone With the Wind's Scarlett O'Hara said she'd think about this tomorrow, researchers say that was a good plan. They have discovered that a good night's sleep can almost double a person's problem-solving ability.

    Scientists at the University of Lubeck in Germany gave test subjects a complicated mathematical problem. Hidden in the problem was a trick that could cut their solving time dramatically. A good night's sleep more than doubled the probability that participants caught on to the trick.

    All of the subjects solved the problem. Sleep wasn't absolutely necessary, but it was a big help. Some 23 percent found the trick, but after a good night's sleep, 59 percent found it.

    Doctors at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., say sleep is a series of repeated cycles of pruning and strengthening brain connections. This allows you to learn new things without forgetting old ones. Apparently, it's better to be unconscious while that's going on.

    Other scientists think the brain just needs to shut down for eight hours or so every night.


    Free 'Lazy Eye' Test For Babies

    Members of the American Optometric Association offer a free test for amblyopia (lazy eye) for babies ages 6 months to a year.

    To find an optometrist in your area, visit www.infantsee.org. The doctor also checks for nearsightedness.