Healthclips Featured

9:47am EDT July 22, 2002
You don’t say...

Philip Morris Cos. is acknowledging that scientific evidence shows that smoking causes lung cancer and other deadly diseases, after decades of disputing the findings of the U.S. surgeon general and other medical authorities.

In recent years, Philip Morris, the nation’s largest cigarette maker, has moved closer to prevailing scientific opinions about the health risks of smoking, as it has faced increasing pressure from smoking-related lawsuits, regulators and Congress.

On an Internet site it is unveiling as part of a $100 million corporate image campaign, the company unequivocally states there is an “overwhelming medical and scientific consensus that cigarette smoking causes’’ diseases including lung cancer, emphysema and heart disease. It also states that smoking “is addictive as that term is most commonly used today.’’

Philip Morris’ move is part of a trend among tobacco producers to try to put health-related issues behind them, after agreeing in the last two years to pay $246 billion to settle lawsuits brought by states seeking to recover their Medicaid costs for treating ill smokers.

By making more disclosures about smoking risks, producers also want to make it harder for those who start smoking now to sue by claiming they were unaware of the dangers.

Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co. created a Web site with information on health issues last year, and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. is in the process of doing so.

Silent killer

Every fall, when people fire up their furnaces and fireplaces, somebody dies. Health officials say fall is the time to check equipment to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, but many people don’t. About 1,500 people die and 10,000 are injured annually through carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the American Medical Association.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is odorless, and as it begins to hinder the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to body tissues, including the heart and brain, people become confused and sleepy. They often pass out without realizing the cause, and die if help doesn’t reach them in time.

The danger zones to be aware of, and precautions to take:

  • CO detectors — They work, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends a detector on every floor of a residence. At a minimum, you should have a CO detector on each sleeping floor and another near any major gas-burning appliance such as a water heater or furnace.

    CO detectors measure the gas concentration being inhaled as parts per million, or PPM. At 200 PPM over two or three hours, a person fees a mild headache, fatigue and nausea. At 800 PPM over 45 minutes, a person feels dizzy. After two hours, a person would be unconscious, and within three hours, he or she would be dead.

    CO detectors cost $30 to $50.

  • Chimney — Blockages caused by cracked masonry, nests or soot can cause CO buildup. Have a chimney sweep inspect and clean it.

  • Fireplace — A common source of CO — even smoldering ashes are enough to produce high concentrations. Always leave a window open a few inches to circulate fresh air. Don’t burn treated wood, painted wood or scrap lumber. Always leave the flue open, even if the fire is almost out. Gas logs and burners produce a lot of CO because their less efficient yellow flames are desired for a cozy atmosphere.

  • Portable heater — Buy one that has a CO sensor that shuts down the appliance if the atmosphere becomes toxic. Don’t use them inside enclosed structures, such as tents, if they need to be vented.

  • Kitchen range and stove — Gas stoves and range tops in houses are common sources of CO, because they’re often unvented. The exhaust fan over the range is unvented and therefore does not help dissipate CO. Never warm a house with a natural gas or propane oven.

  • Gas clothes dryer — Clogged exhaust lines can cause CO to build up. Clean the lint trap after every load of laundry; inspect it regularly, because the burner can become dirty or clogged.

  • Attached garage — The greatest danger in a house is a running car in an attached garage, especially if the door is closed. Never warm up your car in the garage, even if the door is open. An outdoor grill used in the garage also is a hazard.

  • Water heater — Dangerous if the appliance is installed improperly. Basement flooding may cause damage to the heater. Make sure it’s regularly maintained.

  • Furnace — Most often produces CO because of mechanical failure as a result of a cracked heat exchanger, flue or burner problems. Inspect annually.

  • Airtight, energy-efficient homes — Insulation cuts heat loss, but also cuts the amount of fresh air into your home. If you have a tight home, you must be extra careful with maintenance of your appliances. Crack windows occasionally.

Chocolate cravings

There’s something about chocolate that makes it an object of the palate’s desire more than any other food. What that something is remains unknown, but researchers believe it is probably a combination of chocolate’s nutrients, chemical composition and, of course, its fat and sugar.

Whatever the delicious truth, chocolate craving exists, according to a report in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

“Clearly, controversy surrounds the question of whether motivations for chocolate are physiological, psychological or pharmacologic,” write Dr. Douglas Taren and Kristen Bruinsma of the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Despite the downside of fat and sugar consumption, the researchers add, the body’s craving for chocolate should be acknowledged and may be fit into a healthful diet. The investigators came to this conclusion after reviewing studies of the physical, psychological, chemical and otherwise “drug-like” effects of chocolate indulgence.

For some people, the authors note, chocolate represents “self-medication.” Certain compounds found naturally in chocolate, called biogenic amines, are also produced in the brain; some studies have shown that these compounds are important regulators of mood and may play a role in depression.

From a nutrition standpoint, the researchers report, chocolate’s high concentration of magnesium may ease the effects of magnesium deficiency, a condition that research suggests may contribute to premenstrual syndrome. Along those lines, chocolate’s storied association with some women’s monthly cravings may well have a hormonal basis, according to the report.

“Chocolate cravings,” Taren and Bruinsma note, “appear to exist in 40 percent of females and 15 percent of males.” Studies have shown that women’s episodic chocolate cravings tend to be strongest just before menstruation, when levels of the hormone estrogen are moderate and progesterone levels are high. Because progesterone promotes fat storage, keeping it from being used as fuel, high levels of the hormone may trigger fatty-food cravings, they explain.

Eat those veggies

A study has shown that eating fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of an ischemic stroke. Researchers found that eating five to six servings of fruits and vegetables each day can result in a 31 percent decrease in ischemic stroke risk when compared to eating fewer than three servings.

Ischemic stroke comprises 80 percent of all strokes. The condition is brought about by a blood clot in the arteries of the brain. Experts estimate that 700,000 Americans are afflicted with stroke each year. Approximately 160,000 die from the disorder.

Scientists, led by Dr. Kaumudi Joshipura, assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, examined more than 114,000 adults in two studies. As part of the Nurses’ Health Study, 75,596 women were observed for 14 years, and 38,683 men for eight years in the Health Professionals’ Follow-Up Study.

Each individual serving of fruits and vegetables resulted in a 6 percent decrease of ischemic stroke risk. Researchers also discovered that a fruit and vegetable intake of more than six servings per day did not result in any additional reduction of ischemic stroke risk.

“There are very few studies that relate fruit and vegetables to cardiovascular disease, even though some of the constituents of fruits and vegetables are associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease,” Joshipura said. “I would hope that this study provides an additional motivation to the public to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables.” One of her future projects will examine the link between fruits and vegetables and heart attacks.

Consuming citrus fruits, citrus juice, green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower) resulted in the lowest risk levels.

Ask Dr. Computer

Medical authorities are alarmed about the lack of information and personal care available on prescription medications ordered and delivered via the Internet. In response, VideoPharmacist, www.VideoPharmacist.com, an interactive pharmaceutical care site, has been released by a top pharmacy multimedia producer. It also features access to Weber’s Pharmacy, an independent pharmacy and member of America’s largest network of community pharmacies.

Pharmacist Charles Calvano, inventor of VideoPharmacist, has created an interactive video library detailing the use of the most common prescriptions. More than 100 videos can be viewed online. Questions that require a customized response are answered via video e-mail. Video conferences, using Microsoft Netmeeting, allow direct contact between patient and pharmacist. A “topics” category, scripted and delivered by Dr. Jody Adams of Midwestern University, explains disease states and demonstrates products.

You’ve come a long way, baby

While smoking is declining for Americans, it is not decreasing as rapidly among women as it is among men. Almost 23 percent of adult American women smoke; that translates into about 22.6 million women.

Since the 1920s, the tobacco industry has targeted women with advertisements portraying smoking as liberating, glamorous, sexy, slenderizing and feminine. “Women’s cigarettes” were developed in the 1960s and 1970s, and large advertising and promotional campaigns coincided with sharp increases in the number of girls between the ages of 12 and 17 who began smoking. The sales of women’s cigarettes were high, and the smoking rate more than doubled among 12-year-old girls from 1967 to 1973.

In 1987, lung cancer surpassed breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the United States. Smoking is directly responsible for 87 percent of all lung cancer cases in the United States.

There is much speculation about the reasons for this slower decline. Women may be affected differently than men by their nicotine addiction. They may be reluctant to give up an effective weight management tool for fear they will gain weight. Nicotine is quite effective in weight management because it increases metabolism and suppresses appetite. The behavior and rituals of smoking can provide an effective substitute for the hand-to-mouth behavior of eating.

Feel the burn

Although researchers have not proven a direct cause-and-effect relationship between exercise and a better mood, it is widely believed that by improving the fitness levels of our heart and lungs through regular physical activity, we can improve our mood. Furthermore, exercise boosts our self-esteem and self-confidence by giving us a sense of accomplishment and independence.

Preliminary results from a major study on depression conducted at Duke University show that intense physical activity — rather than sustained regular exercise — may be the most effective way to reduce feelings of depression, anger and fatigue. The study is part of a larger, five-year study comparing these three treatments for depression: A four-month exercise program, drug therapy and a combination of exercise and medication.