FOOD RX Wondering if any dietary recommendation has merit these days? Well, a report on 42,000 women shows that the current federal guidelines--lots of fruits, veggies, low-fat protein and grains--can indeed reduce the risk of dying from cancer, heart disease or stroke. May sound familiar, but this is one of the few reports that look at the health effects of overall diet, not just a single food or food group. The message? Fill your plate with the good stuff.
CHEMO TEST In the battle to defeat cancer, chemotherapy can sometimes (albeit rarely) prove fatal--or cause such intolerable side effects that it has to be halted. Now scientists have developed a simple and, alas, still experimental test that can predict just how well a patient will handle cancer drugs. Patients have their breath analyzed (by blowing into a balloon) soon after they are injected with a tiny dose of a drug that releases carbon particles while it's being broken down by the liver. Very little carbon suggests the body will be slow to metabolize cancer drugs--and that a less toxic dose may be called for.
IRON IN THE FIRE It's a risk factor that most folks probably never considered: stroke victims with high blood levels of iron may be more prone to subsequent neurological disorders--like weakness and difficulty speaking--than patients with normal levels. Why? Excess iron may promote the formation of cell-destroying free radicals in the brain, according to researchers in Spain. Though it's too early to know for sure, those at high risk for stroke may want to cut back protectively on their iron intake.
CATTLE CALL Scientists have been speculating for years that plying the nation's livestock with antibiotics may be creating superresistant bacteria in humans. Here's new evidence: after contact with cattle on his family's farm, a 12-year-old Nebraska boy became infected with the same antibiotic-resistant strain of salmonella that had sickened the cows. Using a "molecular fingerprint," researchers confirmed that the cow bug and human bug were indeed one and the same.
--By Janice M. Horowitz
Sources: Good News: JAMA (4/26/00), Clinical Cancer Research (4/00). Bad News: Neurology (4/25/00), New England Journal of Medicine (4/27/00)