Health Briefs: Gleanings from magazines, newspapers, TV, radio and the Internet


Picked Pockets

The Vegetarian Awareness Network (VAN), a national consumer organization, has taken fast-food giant Wendy's to task for not revealing that its "all vegetable" Fresh Stuffed Garden Veggie Pita contained gelatin, made from animal tissue. VAN charges that Wendy's knew the sandwich contained gelatin as well as egg and dairy products, before it hit restaurants in April, yet still billed the sandwich as "vegetarian" and "all vegetable." The organization filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drag Administration.

Wendy's isn't the only offender. According to VAN, Taco Bell's Veggie Fajita Wrap contains a sauce made with chicken and clams.

According to VAN, Wendy's is now coming clean on its consumer hotline (800-82-WENDYS), admitting the veggie sandwich is a lot more than the name claims.


Get Un-hooked

As a follow up to their controversial book Dressed To Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras (Avery), authors Sidney Singer and Soma Grismaijer teamed up with the National Lymphedema Network to sponsor the Breast Health Recovery Course.

The month-long project, which took place during October's Breast Cancer Awareness Month, encouraged women to go bra-free for two weeks to compare their breast health with and without bras.

Singer and Grismaijer believe that the majority of fibrocystic breast disease -- what they call "tight bra syndrome" -- could be cured if women abandoned their bras.

The theory is that bras constrict the lymphatic system, rendering it less able to cleanse breasts of the toxins women are exposed to in everyday life; toxins lingering in breast tissue may eventually prompt cells to go cancerous. Singer and Grismaijer also see cystic breasts as the result of a clogged and overworked lymphatic system.

"Ninety percent of the time, lumps are benign cysts filled with fluid," says Singer. "If women go bra-free for a few weeks, most of the time you can solve the problem without biopsies and without exposing yourself to the risks of radiation [with unnecessary mammograms]."

In addition to collecting data for their ongoing Bra Impact Study, Singer and Grismaijer also provided participants with information on breast self exam and self massage.


Full Coverage

Just seven months after Oxford Health Plans launched its new alternative medicine program, the health insurance provider has teamed up with Harvard Medical School to study its effectiveness. David M. Eisenberg, MD, director of the Center for Alternative Medicine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess at Harvard Medical School will direct the study. Eisenberg is the author of the landmark 1993 study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, that lifted the veil on America's hidden appetites for alternative medicine. The Oxford-Beth Israel Deaconess study will analyze pattern of use, clinical outcomes. perceived effectiveness, cost, safety issues and satisfaction as they relate to Oxford's delivery of alternative medical care. The Oxford program includes a network of 1,000 New York, New Jersey and Connecticut-based healthcare professionals credentialed in chiropractic, acupuncture, yoga, massage therapy, nutrition and (in Connecticut) naturopathy. Oxford also provides members with a mail-order catalog for buying vitamins, herbs and other alternative medicine products and a web site -- -- that helps members decipher the alternative methods used for various conditions.

According to Oxford, in the last two years, more than a third of its 1.8 million members have chosen alternative treatments either alone or in conjunction with more traditional medicine.

Results of the study are expected in two years.

Qi: Now You See It

Talk with practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine and you'll inevitably hear about qi, the essential energy life force that flows through all living things. The trouble is, it's been tough to get a handle on the concept, until now. A recent edition of Chinese Healthways Newsletter reported that Kirlian photography can be used to photograph qi. Rather than a traditional camera, Kirlian photography applies high voltage to a metal plate behind the film to produce an image. To measure qi, a person puts their fingers on the film; the high voltage ionizes the air around the finger and the resulting light is recorded as the Kirlian image. As electrons flow from the film to the finger, they create streamers; as they flow from the finger to the film, they appear as little pools.

Weak images indicate low levels of magnetic material; lots of streamers indicate a deficiency of free electrons.

In one experiment, participants washed their hands either in regular tap water or in specially magnetized watch Prior to washing, all had bright Kirlian images. After washing in the magnetized water, their images dimmed slightly; after washing in the tap water, their images almost disappeared.

Rewashing in the magnetized water brought the images back. According to editor Richard Lee, "magnetic energy can be stored in the water and can be transferred to and from the human body, altering electrical conductivity. This...offers objective quantification of the magnetic (or Yin) aspect of qi."

Healthy Living

Germ-Free Culture

Worried about catching a harmful virus? Relax, it probably won't be from the $20 bill you just got from the ATM. A study, recently published in the journal Inflections in Medicine, found that U.S. money is fairly clean.

Of 100 bills arm 102 coins gleaned from the staff at New York Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, just three percent of the coins and 11 percent of the bills were tainted with harmful bacteria. By contrast, a 1972 study found that 70 percent of 10.5 coins and 70 percent of 50 bills were contaminated with harmful bacteria like E. coli. Although the money's origin may have something to do with it -- after all, it came from hospital staff, who should be washing their hands regularly -- the study's authors aren't really sure why the money today is less contaminated. Reuters reports that the U.S. Treasury says it's doing nothing to disinfect the cash.

And we're not the only ones fixated on harmful organisms. Ever since the E. coli epidemic that incapacitated 10,000 and killed 11 last year in Japan, Earth Island Journal reports that the Japanese have been snapping up hygiene products like antiseptic pencils, battery-operated portable bidets, sanitary stationery and germ-free karaoke microphones. Japanese versions of ATMs are constructed of special plastics, doused with fungicides and bacteria-resistant chemicals. Japanese banks are even going so far as to wash and sterilize money.


Hold The Half-Shells

Oyster lovers, beware: About five to 10 percent of all raw shellfish are contaminated by vibrio bacteria, reports the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.

While most people who eat contaminated shellfish only get mildly ill, if at all, those with chronic diseases or compromised immune systems should go for the clams casino. There's no way to truly cheek for viruses and bacteria in fishing water, even shellfish that's certified "clean" may harbor unwanted organisms. However, Walking magazine recently reported on a new process called Ameripure, that involves pasteurizing, then chilling raw shellfish. Recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration, this process reduces potentially harmful organisms to nearly undetectable levels while still retaining an oyster's slippery texture and taste.

Ancient Grain

Nutritionists recommend that we get six to 11 servings of grains a day. If you're looking for some variety, the newest grain sensation is centuries old: Farro.

Believed to have fed the ancient armies of Rome, this member of the wheat family (Triticum dicoccum) is grown in central and northern Italy and packs a nutritional wallop of fiber, magnesium and vitamins A, B, C and E, according to The New York Times. Used in soups, salads, desserts, breads and pastas, farro has the consistency of arborio rice (without the stickiness) and a nutty taste with "undertones of oats and barley," the Times reports.

These days, farro is so hot it even has its own web site. Cheek it out at

Cancer In Cooking Oil?

That's what Harvard Women's Health Letter says. It seems that when cooking oils are heated to boiling temperatures, they release carcinogenic compounds into the air, which, when inhaled, can cause lung cancer. The correlation between cooking oil and lung cancer was discovered when researchers noticed that Chinese women have among the highest rates of lung cancer. A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute tested unrefined Chinese grapeseed oil (related to canola oil) and peanut oil.

If you're using these types of oils, lower the heat when you cook and make sure you've got good ventilation in the kitchen.


Herbal Warfare

A Vietnamese mixture of 13 herbs is currently undergoing tests to determine if it can cure drug addiction. Called Heantos or "heat of the sun," the formula was developed in the early 1980s by Dr. Tran Khuong Dan, who became addicted to heroin in order to experiment on himself.

In Vietnam, Heantos was approved in the early 1990s and has since treated about 4,000 Vietnamese drug addicts. The addicts drink a liquid extract of the herbs and plants, once a day for four days until their cravings subside. Then they take lesser doses in capsule form for six months.

The U.S. study is sponsored by the U.S. Development Program, which fronted $400,000 for research and promised $5 million more if results are positive. Other sponsors include Johns Hopkins University, which will analyze the mixture, and the U.S. National Institute of Drug Abuse.

AIDS Update

Deadly Droppings

While pigeons are undoubtedly annoying to most folks who come across them, for those infected with HIV, they can be deadly. Pigeon droppings can harbor cyptococcosis, an organism that can cause meningitis in immune-compromised people, according to Men's Health. The CDC advises HIV-infected people to steer clear of places where pigeons congregate, like urban bridges.

Natural Remedies

Flaking Out

What to do about dandruff? Adding black currant oil or evening primrose oil to your diet may help. These contain gamma linolenic acid, an essential fatty, acid that helps hair, nails and skin look healthy Andrew Weil, MD, suggests starting with 500 milligrams twice a day. If the dandruff starts to clear up, he advises cutting the dose in half. But natural remedies work more slowly than synthetic ones, so you may have to wait up to eight weeks before you see results.


Something's Fishy

Shark cartilage may not be the cancer-fighter it's been touted as, according to a new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Denver.

In the last few years, shark cartilage received a lot of press for its promise of relief to sufferers of osteoarthritis and some forms of cancer. Indeed, scientists seem to have no quibbles with employing shark cartilage as an arthritis remedy. It's believed that mucopolysaccharides, starch-like molecules that act as anti-inflammatories, in the cartilage can help rejuvenate cartilage in injured joints. Jacques Rauis, DVM, of the University of Liege in Belgium has documented shark cartilage's efficacy on canine lameness.

When it comes to cancer, there's a lot of disagreement. One theory suggests that shark cartilage contains proteins that wall off tumors, essentially depriving them of the blood network they need to survive. Building on the work of Harvard's Dr. Judah Folkman, who discovered that tumors require a blood network, Drs. Robert Langer and Anne Lee of MIT used calf and shark cartilage to shrink tumors in rabbits and mice.

Others, like Dr. John Prudden, founder of the Foundation for Cartilage and Immunology Research in Waccabuc, N.Y., do not believe shark cartilage is an effective cancer treatment, For his part, Dr. Prudden has been working with bovine tracheal cartilage (BTC), a by-product of the meat-processing industry. He maintains that BTC contains even more mucopolysaccharides than shark cartilage and that that's the cancer-fighting element -not the short-length proteins claimed by the shark cartilage proponents." Mucopolysaccharides," he told Natural Pet magazine "are the stimulating component of the cartilage that produces the immune reaction."

According to this new study, shark cartilage appeared to have no impact on advanced-stage truman cancers. The study followed 60 adults with advanced breast, colon, lung and prostate cancers who took daily doses of shark cartilage as their only cancer treatment for 12 weeks. Ten remained stable; two improved slightly.

While the study concluded that the cartilage was "inactive...for advanced stages of cancer," it may be possible that the study participants' illnesses were too advanced for any treatment to be effective.

Natural Way Publications, Inc.

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