To Your Health: New Food Facts and an Update on Lyme Disease

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PHOTO: FOTOLIA/VASINA NAZARENKO
Research has made the old adage, "You are what you eat" seem to be much more than a tired cliché.

Recent research has made that old adage, “You are what you
eat,” seem to be much more than a tired cliché. Here
are just a few items from the food front (as well as the
latest update on Lyme disease), as reported by the editors
of American Health, a magazine that stays on top of the
latest in medical research, separates fad from fact and
helps you preserve and improve life’s most precious gift–your good health.

The Eat-More Diet

Can you actually lower
your cholesterol level without giving up red meat, dairy
foods or eggs? “Yes,” says Rita Dougherty, R.D., of the
USDA’s Western Human Nutrition Research Center in San
Francisco. Chances are that you’ll lose weight, too, while
getting more vitamins and minerals than ever before.

For 40
days, seven men with an average blood cholesterol of 218
and an average blood pressure of 135/85 (both higher than
ideal) were allowed to eat the same number of calories as
they normally did, but instead of getting between 40 and
44% of those calories from fat and downing an average of
600 mg of cholesterol a day, they got only 25% of the
calories from fat and only 300 mg of cholesterol. To
accomplish this, fat was trimmed from all meats, skin was
removed from all fowl, margarine replaced butter, skim milk
replaced whole, and vegetable oil was used instead of
animal cooking fats. Since carbohydrates and proteins have
less than half the calories of fat, the men ate more food
to keep calories the same, but it was in the form of
grains, vegetables and fruits. By the end of the study,
their average blood cholesterol dropped to 185 and average
blood pressure to 124/79.

A Cup of
Infertility

A study recently completed by the
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
indicates that women who consume more than one cup of
coffee daily (or its caffeine equivalent) are only half as
likely to get pregnant per menstrual cycle as those who
drink less. The good news is, the effects may be quickly
reversed. Only caffeine consumed during the three months
before the study began was found to be a factor in its
results.

Dr. Allen Wilcox, the epidemiologist who headed
the study, noted that genetic differences in metabolizing
caffeine could also lead to differences in susceptibility:
“There were women in our study who were very heavy caffeine
drinkers and yet conceived right away.” Other women, he
says, might be adversely affected by far smaller amounts.
His advice? “If a woman has been trying to get pregnant for
several months, she ought to know that scientists have
noted some connection between caffeine and fertility. Then
she should make her own judgment.”

Tofu for Tummies

In preliminary studies at the Veterans Administration
Medical Center in Dallas, researchers have found that when
healthy people eat soy protein, they produce 30 to 40% less
stomach acid than when they eat the same amount of beef
protein. It’s too early to tell whether this effect holds
true for a real world mixed meal, but the results are
intriguing enough to encourage the scientists to continue
their work.

Good Vibes, Good Digestion

When it comes to digestion, how you eat may be almost as
important as what you eat. And that should concern us,
because poor digestion may lead to a wide range of
maladies, from ulcers to diverticulitis to colon cancer.

Dental professor and nutritionist Donald R. Morse of the
Temple University School of Dentistry in Philadelphia has
found that the best digestion can be achieved by coupling
deep relaxation with thorough chewing, and that “eating on
the run” may be even more unhealthy than was previously
realized. In his studies, not only did digestion occur more
rapidly during relaxation periods, but greater amounts of
the sugar maltose (produced when a complex carbohydrate is
broken down during chewing) were present at those times.
Chewing for a full minute also increased maltose levels
more than chewing for 20 seconds, but not as dramatically
as did deep relaxation.

“The digestion that occurs in the
mouth is a good barometer for the digestive process going
on in the rest of the body,” explains Morse. “After all, it
all starts in the mouth, chemically and mechanically.”

Osteoporosis Breakthrough

For the first time there’s evidence that an experimental
drug treatment can actually build new bone mass and halt
the progress of spinal osteoporosis. Approximately 5
million Americans suffer with this form of osteoporosis,
which thins the bones in the spine and causes crush
fractures and stooped posture.

The new drug
therapy–calcium citrate and a time-release version of
sodium fluoride–was tested in a government-funded study
headed by Dr. Charles Pak of the University of Texas
Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. According to Dr.
Pak, the treatment restored lost bone mass at rates of up
to 6% a year and reduced dramatically the tiny spinal
fractures that plague those suffering from this condition.

If all goes well, he says, the slow-release drug will win
the approval of the Food and Drug Administration within the
next two years.

Smoker’s “High”

If you’re a smoker, another way to lower your cholesterol
level is to quit. Researchers at the American Health
Foundation have found that every cigarette raises total
cholesterol half a point on the average. People of all ages
(excluding postmenopausal women) who smoke 30 cigarettes a
day have cholesterol levels 15 to 20 points higher than
nonsmokers. (Hormone shifts after menopause normally raise
cholesterol levels in postmenopausal women, including
nonsmokers, so researchers couldn’t make firm conclusions
for that group.)

Precisely how cigarette smoking alters
cholesterol levels is as yet unclear, but smoking may alter
levels of sex hormones that have an effect on serum
cholesterol. However, if you give up tobacco, levels soon
come down.

The Latest on Lyme Disease

And it’s not good! Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria,
responsible for Lyme, are on the rise in humans and animals
and are becoming an international problem. This disease,
which starts out with flulike symptoms, but which can lead
to arthritis, serious nerve and heart damage and even
miscarriage and birth defects, is currently reported in 43
states even in some in which the white-tailed deer (and the
Ixodes dammini ticks they carry) never roam. Among the
animals now shown to harbor Lyme bacteria are raccoons,
opossums, dogs, rabbits, horses, cattle, migrating birds
and even mosquitoes and flies. (The white-footed mouse has
long been implicated as a tick carrier, and at least one
person in Texas and another in Wisconsin may have been
infected by bites from cat-carried fleas.)

Some wildlife
biologists are thought to have contracted the disease after
coming in contact with the blood of slain deer that
harbored Lyme bacteria, and it’s possible that owners of
horses or cows could become infected by inadvertent contact
with the animals’ urine. (One study of Wisconsin dairy
farmers found that 46% had been exposed to Lyme, while a
study of dogs in Suffolk County, New York, found that 65%
had been exposed to Lyme bacteria–and fleas that bite
infected pets can ultimately pass the organism on to
people.)

In California, more than 400 people have
contracted Lyme disease, apparently after having been
bitten by another type of tick, Ixodes pacificus, found on
birds, lizards, rodents and other mammals. Investigators
say there’s also evidence that both biting flies and
mosquitoes are spreading Lyme disease in Europe.

What’s
more, you can have contracted Lyme disease without ever
getting the typical bull’s-eye rash, so be alert for
chills, fever and other flulike symptoms. Weeks or even
months after becoming infected, some people experience
severe headaches, muscle pain, facial paralysis, abnormal
heart rhythms and inflammation of the heart wall and
surrounding sac. To know for sure if the disease is
present, you need a blood test that detects an antibody to
the Lyme bacterium. The test is notoriously inaccurate
during the first few weeks after infection, so you might
need a retest; learning the results, however, can take
days. Fast, accurate assays are still in the works.

Lyme
disease, if caught early, is often easily cured with
antibiotics. Later on, treatment might require massive
doses of intravenous antibiotics. Even then, a small number
of patients don’t respond to treatment, possibly because
the bacteria are able to hide in nerve cells and perhaps
able to enter a dormant stage.

For prevention, wear
long-sleeved shirts and long pants (tucked into socks) when
in wooded areas and, afterwards, check for pinpoint specks
on clothes (ticks show up best on white). In a high-risk
area, consider using an insect repellent that contains DEET
(N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) on clothes and
exposed areas, especially arms and hands. (Make sure it
contains no more than 50% DEET for adults and 20% for
children, and use it sparingly for only a day or two at a
time.) Immediately remove any ticks on your skin with
sharp-pointed tweezers. Grab as close to the skin as
possible, and pull straight out. Treat tick bites with a
topical antiseptic, and watch, for the next few weeks, for
signs of Lyme. Make sure outside pets have flea and tick
collars, and inspect animals after outings. Also, avoid any
animal’s blood, urine and feces (good advice in general),
especially if you have a cut, scratch, sore or other open
wound.