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Most consumers assume that dietary supplements marketed as "all natural" are safe. How far that is from being true was underscored this year by the Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, which issued a "dirty dozen" list of supplements that have been linked to cancer, kidney or liver damage and heart problems and some of which have been banned in Europe and Asia. What to avoid: aristolochic acid, comfrey, androstenedione, chaparral, germander, kava, bitter orange, organ or gland extracts, lobelia, pennyroyal oil, scullcap and yohimbe. In addition, the FDA says, consumers should steer clear of supplements called Actra-Rx and Yilishen, which contain prescription-strength levels of sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. It can lower blood pressure to dangerous levels.
In a separate study, researchers at the University of Chicago found that ginseng, which is widely used to boost energy, can sometimes do more harm than good. In 20 volunteers, taking the herb disrupted the effects of the clot-busting drug warfarin, prescribed for millions of heart-attack patients. Because warfarin's dosage must be precise--too little can lead to clotting and too much can cause bleeding--any substance that alters its potency can have serious consequences.
Carrying too much weight--particularly around the belly--increases your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Shedding the extra pounds will make you healthier--if you shed them the right way. Liposuction, a quick and increasingly popular way to lose weight, may not necessarily do the trick. Researchers writing in the New England Journal of Medicine described the plight of 15 obese women, each of whom had about 20 lbs. of abdominal fat surgically removed. Three months later, none of the women showed any improvement in insulin sensitivity, cholesterol level, blood pressure or other risk factors for heart disease.
The low-carb potato has arrived. Developed by a Dutch seed company, the smooth yellow tuber has 30% fewer carbohydrates and 25% fewer calories than the average Russet Burbank. It's also moister and better tasting, says Chad Hutchinson, a potato expert and assistant professor of horticultural science at the University of Florida. Each year Hutchinson tests some 400 new varieties of spud for Florida farmers but finds, he says, "only a few we get really excited about." This creamy variety, named SunLite, "has risen to the top," says Hutchinson. SunFresh, a Florida growers cooperative, will market the lower-carb potato as a gourmet product and hopes to have it in stores by January.