To Your Health: Lessons From the Chinese Diet

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PHOTO: FOTOLIA/PAUL BINET
A six-year study of Chinese diet and disease patterns links a traditional Eastern diet—with its greater emphasis on vegetables and small amounts of animal products—to lower rates of heart disease and colon cancer.

When blood cholesterol is under 180
mg/dl, heart disease is uncommon; below 150, it’s
practically nonexistent. In China, the average level is
127. In Western countries, it’s 212. Dietary differences
between China and the West–such as fat intake, which
health experts advise us to keep under 30% of our daily
caloric intake–may account for much of that
difference. A six-year study of Chinese diet and disease
patterns, the most comprehensive ever undertaken on diet
and health, has also shown that, except for high levels of
sodium, the Chinese diet–which, as you probably know,
is largely vegetarian with small amounts of animal
products–is nutritionally superior, even in iron
intake.

Surveying the Chinese enabled researchers to evaluate what
effects such low cholesterol levels have on the human
system. It turns out that not only does heart disease
decline, but colon cancer does too; this suggests that
earlier studies that linked low cholesterol levels to colon
cancer were misleading. In fact, the rate of heart disease
among men in China is one-sixteenth that in the U.S. (among
women, one-sixth), while the rate for colon cancer is only
about 40%.

Help for Low-Fat, Low-Cholesterol Living

Unlike other nutrition-oriented newsletters, Easy Low
Fat Living
offers little news or reporting, but it
does have food charts and plenty of recipes, plus tips on
lowering the fat content of your own favorite recipes.

For further guidance, Cholesterol Control: An Eater’s
Guide
offers a half-hour tour of one family’s
successful approach to low-fat shopping, cooking, eating
out and entertaining. At the 19th annual National
Educational Film and Video Festival, the video won a Bronze
Apple award. 

Anticancer Tobacco?

A California biotech firm hopes to field-test a genetic
engineering process that makes tobacco plants mass-produce
proteins used in anticancer drugs. If successful–and
financially practical–the technology could turn
tobacco farmers into allies in the war on cancer.

Biosource Genetics Corporation of Vacaville, California,
has developed a genetic engineering technique that
“hijacks” the tobacco plant’s genetic machinery and forces
it to produce the cancer-fighting proteins interferon and
interleukin 2. According to the company, the plant could
even be used to produce melanin, a natural pigment that
protects skin from the cancer-causing effects of
ultraviolet radiation; it could be the ultimate sunscreen.

The so-called “transient gene expression system” consists
of spliced-together pieces of RNA viruses that do little on
their own. However, once sprayed on a growing plant, they
behave like genes and temporarily turn the plant into a
“factory” for producing useful protein products. Biosource
considers the process safe because the virus can’t get
inside the plant’s seeds or reproductive machinery.

According to the biotech firm, a farmer would simply plant
a normal crop of tobacco or grain, peppers, tomatoes or
potatoes then, during the growing season, would decide
which protein to produce. (Although nearly any major crop
plant can be used, the tobacco plant is preferred because
so much is known about its genes and growth.) At some point
the plants would be harvested, and the proteins extracted
through another patented process.

Basic Health Insurance Coverage 

We should expect more from health insurance than just the
standard basic coverage for doctor’s office diagnoses,
hospitalization, X-rays and other tests, says the Health
Policy Agenda for the American People. This health-care
think tank, established by the American Medical
Association, has come up with a consensus on just which
health insurance benefits should be included in the basic
package. Some benchmark benefits are well-child checkups
and immunizations; periodic medical screenings; inpatient
substance-abuse treatment; 30 days of mental health
hospitalization; up to 50 visits a year for mental health
services; up to 30 visits for home care; 45 days at a
nursing home; and hospice care.

With the coalition’s model policy in hand, consumers can
more easily comparison shop for insurance or check existing
plans for specific types of coverage and services. For a
copy of the policy, contact the American Medical Association.

Aerobic Exercise for Asthmatics

Though conventional medical wisdom advises asthmatics to
avoid physical exertion on the basis that it can trigger
attacks, Aerobics for Asthmatics–a program started
two years ago by Silver Spring, Maryland, allergists
Stanley Wolf and Kathy Lampl–has shown that moderate
exercise can actually help patients breathe
easier. The twice weekly, 45-minute aerobic dance sessions
don’t change the patients’ lung capacity, but the strength
of their voluntary chest muscles improves substantially.

The program has been so successful that Wolf and Lampl have
packaged it as a videotape for home use. (Be sure to obtain your doctor’s
permission before starting any exercise program.) If you’re
asthmatic and need more encouragement to get off the couch,
consider this: Of the 611 U.S. athletes who competed in the
Seoul Summer Olympics, 52 were asthmatic. Fifteen of these
athletes–including superstar Jackie
Joyner-Kersee–won medals. 

Prevent Aerobics Injuries

Although the benefits of aerobics are indisputable, keep
this in mind: A new study from the University of North
Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill has found that
the more often you take an aerobics class, the more likely
you are to get hurt. It seems that 60% of the people who
take aerobics classes four or more times a week report
being injured, while only 43% who take less than four
classes a week get hurt. The most common injuries occur in
the lower extremities–the shin, calf and ankle.

Stop Bullying in Schools

It’s been estimated that 4.8 million American children are
either bullies or victims of bullying. However, the
traditional adult response has been to ignore bullying or
to regard it as an inevitable rite of passage. Lately, due
to bullying attacks that ended with the suicides of their
young victims, educators here and in Japan, Sweden and
Norway are waking up to the long-term consequences of
bullying. The bullies themselves do not go unscathed: The
same children who rough up others and talk back to teachers
are likelier as adults to commit crimes, abuse spouses,
work at menial jobs–and raise a new crop of bullies.
Yet, when Norwegian teachers and parents joined forces,
they cut bullying incidents in half.

School officials, however, can’t solve a problem if they
don’t know it exists. George Butterfield of the National
School Safety Center advises parents to report incidents
promptly and to be aware of signs of victimization, such as
torn clothing and bruises, stomachaches, dropping grades or
unexplained anxiety. Parents seem only to make matters
worse by confronting the bully or his parents or telling
their children to fight back. After all, bullies rarely
pick on anyone their own size.

For more information on parental involvement in besting
bullies, contact the National School Safety Center.

Stop Bed-Wetting: The Allergy Connection

Because an allergic reaction can irritate the detrusor
muscle in the lining of the bladder, causing it to spasm
and contract, an increasing number of doctors believe that
many bed wetters are reacting to something they’ve eaten or
even inhaled in the past day or so. An allergy can also
cause the sphincter muscle at the mouth of the bladder to
swell, preventing it from tightening enough to stop the
flow of urine until the child wakes. This means the bed
wetter may respond to sudden urges successfully during the
daytime but sleep right through them at night. It doesn’t
help that many allergic children are very heavy sleepers.

If your child wets the bed, you can test the allergy theory
yourself. Feed your young one only five of the least
allergenic foods–lamb, rice, cherries, spinach and
carrots–for five days. A dry bed at the end of that
time almost surely means an allergy, probably to something
eaten regularly. To identify the problem food, add one of
the following greatest offenders every day, in its pure
form: a glass of milk, an apple, roasted peanuts, plain
popcorn, a few spoons of wheat germ, a soft-boiled egg, a
pork chop, a piece of bittersweet chocolate, an orange. If
the bed stays dry for two days after your child has eaten a
particular food, you can consider that food safe and keep
it a part of your child’s diet. However, if your child wets
the bed after having been served one of the major
offenders, you’ve found the culprit–or one of them.

A child who wets during the test-diet interval may be
allergic to one of the tester foods, so eliminate them, one
by one. The problem may also be something in the air, so
try changing the feather pillow and putting out the cat. If
these measures fail, allergies probably aren’t the cause of
the problem.

Almost all bed-wetting disappears about two years before
puberty begins, when the pelvic cavity expands and there’s
less pressure on the bladder. This usually occurs earlier
for girls than boys, since girls mature faster.

Causes of Periodontal Disease

As microbiologists link specific bacteria (or “bug combos”)
to specific gum problems and treatments, it’s now clear
that periodontal disease is actually a group of diseases
with different causes, targets and rates of progression. Of
some 300 good and bad bugs that inhabit the mouth, eight to
20 have been linked to gum disease so far.

Gingivitis–an early and reversible form–is
characterized by bleeding, inflamed gums and persistent bad
breath. Left unchecked, gingivitis can progress into
full-blown disease. The symptoms and bacteria vary
depending on the cause. For example, the most common form
is associated with poor oral hygiene and plaque buildup.
Other factors contributing to the development of
gingivitis–and more serious gum disease–include
smoking or the use of smokeless tobacco, pregnancy, the
Pill, epilepsy drugs, steroids, stress, reduced saliva flow
(a side effect of some 400 drugs), anemia, diabetes and
eating disorders.

Because we now know the bacteria are disease-specific, it’s
important to get a correct diagnosis and treatment plan
from your dentist or periodontist.