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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

Benefits by the Bunch

Bananas can help lower blood pressure


BLAME IT ON MODERN life. Blame it on stressful jobs, salt-laden fast-food, smoking and lack of exercise. All contribute to hypertension -- the condition in which the pressure of blood against your arteries, veins and heart-chamber walls rises to abnormally high levels. And more and more people in Asia are suffering from it.

Yet reducing hypertension could be as simple a matter as increasing the amount of fresh produce in your diet, according to a re-analysis of blood pressure studies by researchers at Johns Hopkins University in the U.S. It all hinges on potassium, a mineral found in such foods as bananas, potatoes and broccoli, which helps the body excrete sodium. Salt causes the body to retain liquid, and the more fluid in blood vessels, the higher the pressure. But a daily intake of 2,300 mg of potassium -- that's about five bananas -- may lower blood pressure by about half as much as drugs can.

That may not sound like a big deal. But for patients with mild hypertension, it could mean being able to cut down their medication. Treatments such as diuretics (which speed up the elimination of water and salt), beta-blockers (which cause the heart to beat more slowly and less forcefully) and ACE inhibitors (which stop the production of water-attracting chemicals) have long been available. But the drugs are expensive and may produce side-effects such as dizziness.

So take a tip from vegetarians: their blood pressure is usually low because they eat a lot of fruit and vegetables. Popping a potassium pill may be more convenient, but be careful. The mineral can interact with some medications, and high potassium levels may adversely affect people with damaged kidneys. Check with a doctor before taking any pills to make sure the dosage is correct.


IN BRIEF

GOOD TIMING Even cancer specialists are learning that it helps to listen to our body clocks. Biorhythms not only control hunger, wakefulness and hormone levels, they influence the activity of cancer cells. Now researchers in France have found that medication administered according to the circadian rhythms of tumor cells works better than when infused at a steady rate.

According to a report in The Lancet, the scientists discovered that cancer cells were highly active between 4 a.m. and 4 p.m. Half of a group of 186 patients with colorectal cancer was given fluctuating doses of drugs, with peaks at both times. The other half was given medication at a steady rate.

Of the timed therapy group, 51% responded well to the drugs and continued to do so for more than six months. The medication worked well on only 29% of the other group, with effects lasting less than five months. Although dosing patients according to their body clocks did not boost their survival rate, it made the treatment more comfortable. They suffered fewer gastrointestinal side-effects and neurological complaints such as numbness in the limbs.

Ice Hazards No, it's not mad-cow disease, but beef burgers are posing a risk again in Britain. An article in the British Medical Journal warns that frozen burgers and other foods from the freezer can cause lacerations so serious that tendons are severed. How? Through sheer impatience. Rather than wait for foods to thaw, many people prize them apart with knives. A slip of the blade could mean injuries ranging from a scratch to severe nerve damage. The authors are urging manufacturers to print instructions on packaging. Perhaps labels with a step-by-step defrosting guide will be next.

-- By Catherine Shepherd


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