Can vitamin pills actually increase human intelligence?
ILLUSTRATION: TOM OLIVIERI
The To Your Health column covers health advice topics on new medical discoveries including pills to stop smokers, IQ supplement tablets and gene therapy.
Health Advice: Pills to Stop Smokers, IQ Supplement Tablets and Gene Therapy
When it concerns the fitness of body, mind or spirit,
the editors of American Health are there, staying
on top of up-to-date medical research, separating fad from
fact and helping you preserve and improve life's most
precious gift—your good health. Here are just a few
items culled from recent and upcoming issues.
High-Tech Hand Washer
A futuristic device originally designed to scrub surgeons'
hands is now being tested on fast-food cooks and even gooey
It's like something from "The Jetsons": Just poke your arms
through the gadget's two holes, then step on a pedal.
Automatically, splash guards inflate, sealing in hands and
forearms as oscillating jets spray an antimicrobial
cleansing solution. Release the pedal and the guards
One version, the Insta-Clens ($1,750 from Pacific
Biosystems), has been tested in a Phoenix day-care center
where "the kids were a little scared of it at first, but by
day two they couldn't keep their hands off it." The machine
promises to do more than just keep kids tidy. Teaching
tykes clean habits could cut many day-care-spread
infections, including some that cause infant diarrhea.
Insta-Clens is also being tested in the kitchens of two
Phoenix fast-food restaurants.Getting kitchen help to wash
their hands is vital: Hepatitis, salmonella and
staphylococcus can all be transmitted by unclean cooks.
The original operating-room model, called Stat Scrub
($19,500), has been tested at a Phoenix hospital. According
to one study, the 90-second wash got hands 65% cleaner than
surgeons' usual 10-minute pre-op scrub. A smaller version,
Medi-Clens, is being used at a neonatal intensive care
unit. Though it doesn't provide the immaculate scrub that
surgeons require, it may surffice for between patient
contacts. Ideally, there would be such a machine in every
patient's hospital room, but at $2,950 each, Medi-Clens
units probably would be scattered along corridors.
Anything that reminds hands-on care givers to wash up
between visits is potentially very important. Studies show
that forgetful doctors frequently carry germs from patient
to patient. And in a study of 400 fourth-year med students
at five northeastern medical colleges, up to 96% didn't
wash their hands between simulated doctor-patient
For many people,
particularly women, even a slightly cool environment can be
a chilling experience. They get cold quickly and warm up
slowly. One reason may be that they're iron deficient. In a
Penn State University study, when both anemic and non-anemic
women were submerged up to their necks in water that was
slightly cooler than body temperature, the iron-deficient
women weren't able to cope well with the temperature
change. After 100 minutes, they were using less oxygen,
which translates into less body heat, and producing less
thyroid hormone, which is one of the body's temperature
regulators. They also had lower core body temperatures.
When the test was repeated after 12 weeks of iron
supplementation, the anemic women showed normal temperature
Considering that over 30% of all women aged 11 to 50
consume less than the recommended 18 milligrams of iron
every day, it's believed that cold intolerance is a common
problem for females. Yet, a physician can take a simple
blood test to determine anemia—and advise whether
iron supplements are a good idea. Iron is also found in
such foods as lean steak, poultry (dark meat), shellfish
(especially clams, oysters and mussels), tuna (dark meat)
and beans. Drinking orange juice and eating vitamin C-Rich
foods with meals enhances iron absorption.
Smarts in a Bottle
In England, sales of vitamins and minerals soared after the
BBC reported on a study indicating that vitamin and mineral
supplements might raise the IQ. The study, published in the
British medical journal The Lancet, found that
supplemented children performed better on nonverbal
intelligence tests—tasks such as matching colored
blocks to a preset pattern. Researchers believe that
nonverbal IQ is a more innate, biological measure than
verbal IQ, which depends more on formal learning and
Therefore, nutrition would be expected to affect nonverbal
results before changes could show up on verbal tests.
Though relatively few children in the U.S. or Britain have
marked nutritional deficiencies, many do consume diets that
are low in iron and zinc, both of which are important to
brain cell production. A recent study has also implicated
zinc deficiency as a risk factor in dyslexia. The B
vitamins support brain function, too—and may be low
in some kids' diets.
A Carotene Cauliflower
A small, mutant, orange cauliflower head found in a field
near Toronto may be the source of a new cauliflower variety
rich in vitamin A. Cornell University scientists are
currently crossing the cultivar—which gets its orange
color from carotene, as do carrots and pumpkins—with
standard varieties, to create a variety suitable for
farming. Cauliflower, a member of the reputedly cancer
preventive cruciferous family, is already high in fiber,
vitamin C and potassium.
At-Home Cholesterol Tests?
If you think cholesterol consciousness is at an all-time
high, just wait until the first at home cholesterol tests
hit drugstore shelves. Home Diagnostics (Eden town, New
Jersey) is ready now with an easy-to-use finger-stick kit
(pending FDA approval), and Keystone Medical Corporation
(Columbia, Maryland) will seek an OK from the FDA in the
fall. Chem-Elec (North Webster, Indiana), whose Clinicard
won FDA approval in June as the first self-processing
doctor's office screening test, will probably join
the over-the-counter bandwagon, too.
Sounds convenient, but what about accuracy? The Clinicard
doesn't give results exact enough for a doctor's diagnosis,
says the FDA. It does, however, give readings within three
ranges: below 200 mg/dl (desirable level), 200 to 300
(borderline to high), and above. (The cards show 25 mg/dl
gradations.) Manufacturers say the home kits are only
screening devices, and not meant to replace lab tests
(which are deemed "accurate" if they're within 150% of the
Gene-Therapy Taboos Long ago, gene doctors agreed that gene
therapy on fertilized eggs and embryos was off limits as
far as humans are concerned. Reason: Once a gene is
inserted into a fertilized egg, it becomes incorporated
into every cell—including the sex cells. And that
means the extra gene would be passed on to all future
progeny—even offspring that don't need it.
(Sanctioned gene-therapy would always target specific
tissue to eliminate any and all possibilities of novel
genes being passed on to future generations.)
Even though animal studies suggest that doctors could, for
example, eventually wipe out insulin-dependent (type I)
diabetes by inserting an insulin-producing gene in embryos,
scientists worldwide have agreed not to try. The risk of
mucking up the human gene pool is simply too high.
Another gene-therapy taboo is "eugenic" genetic
engineering. That line of research would involve
genetically altering such traits as intelligence,
personality and organ formation. But rest assured, says a
National Academy of Sciences report, these traits are
controlled by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of interacting
genes. "The genes involved have not been identified.
Furthermore, scientists do not have the tools to manipulate
these complex traits, and do not expect to have them in the