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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

TWO IS ENOUGH - REALLY

Sweet tidings on treating high blood pressure


YES, YOU CAN HAVE bananas. This ancient fruit (it was mentioned in Buddhist texts more than 2,500 years ago) is much more than the stuff of desserts and trade wars. It may be the answer to a poor hypertension sufferer's prayers. Eating just two bananas a day will help bring down blood pressure. Volunteers taking part in an Indian study can verify that claim. Researchers put members of a medical college in Manipal, southern India, on a daily regimen of two bananas. Within a week, they were experiencing a 10% decrease in blood pressure.

How does this happen? Scientist attribute the lower blood pressure to compounds in the fruit which behave like ACE-inhibitors - a class of medicine widely used to treat hypertension. Increased levels of a substance called angiotensin-2 in the body bring a corresponding rise in pressure because they cause the blood vessels to constrict. Inhibitors work by curbing the action of the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), which governs the release of angiotensin-2. But the drugs are expensive - they bring in billions of dollars to pharmaceutical companies each year.

Bananas would be a much cheaper alternative, even if it might be difficult to get a precise dose of the active compounds. Writing in the journal Current Science, the Indian scientists report finding ACE-inhibiting properties in six varieties of banana. Ripe fruit, fortunately, have a greater effect than unripe ones.

The India study confirms earlier American research which suggested that potassium-rich foods such as banana help reduce blood pressure. Scientists at the Johns Hopkins University in the U.S. believe potassium facilitates the removal of sodium, thereby lowering pressure. Salt causes water retention in the body, and, in turn, higher pressure. At the time, researchers estimated that patients had to take in 2,300 mg of potassium each day to bring blood pressure down by half as much as drug therapy would. That's at least five bananas. It may not seem much, but, consumed on a daily basis, it is likely to acquire all the allure of congealed congee. Which is why the Indian finding should be especially welcome news for hypertension patients. Tastebuds don't shrivel up just because the wallet has.


THE HIPPEST GREENS AROUND

Gourmets dismiss it, nutritionists sniff at it. But iceberg lettuce, that quintessentially boring rabbit food, has risen several notches in the diet stakes. At the heart of this new status is its vitamin K content. Older women who have a higher intake of the vitamin seem less likely to suffer hip fractures - one of the most common injuries suffered by the elderly. The finding was based on a 10-year-study of more than 72,000 middle-aged and older women in the U.S. The lowly salad vegetable was the biggest source of vitamin K in their diet. Those who consumed at least 109 micrograms of the vitamin each day were 30% less prone to hip fractures (the U.S. daily recommended allowance is 65 micrograms for older women). The protective factor could be due to the vitamin's effect on undercarboxylated osteocalcin, a compound linked to low bone-mineral density. High levels of vitamin K seem to bring down concentrations of the substance in the blood.


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