Saturday, December 11, 2010

Let me meditain you

WHEN FOX News reported the link between depression and chocolate consumption, I knew medical research had finally jumped the shark. Apparently, having more than 8.5 servings of chocolate a month indicates profound depression. Huh? By that definition, my husband and I should be on suicide watch. Color me psychic, but soon Cambridge will be wresting Kit Kats from vending machines and moving chocolate behind the pharmacy counter. Can a ballot question be far behind?

Our seemingly insatiable thirst for health programming, or "meditainment," has catapulted shows like "The Dr. Oz Show" and "The Doctors" to the top of the charts. But the content is often confusing. For example, "Dr. Oz" reports that an inseam measurement less than 29 inches indicates childhood malnutrition and possible organ damage. As a petite woman, I thought it indicated short parents and the need for a good tailor.

In recent years, Reservatrol has been labeled "the fountain of youth." And, according to Dr. Oz, you can get it from red wine. Wrong. Turns out wine hasn’t enough Reservatrol to matter, and I only look younger if my husband drinks it.

Sometimes the shifting research is gratifying. I’m delighted that green tea does not reduce cancer risk as previously thought. Imagine the "healthier than thou" Whole Foods shoppers learning green tea bags don’t prevent cancer but green shopping bags, containing lead, cause it!

I recently heard that exercise works better on an empty stomach. Really? I generally down a meatloaf with a gallon of True Moo before a run. I find the cramping and nausea motivating. I’m surprised these researchers didn’t drown as children.

I’m sick of TV "sexperts." Like the specialist who recommends eating oats and beans for for "optimum performance." On what planet does excess fiber lead to connubial bliss?

And enough of the hype! Everything is billed as "shocking" or news that could "literally save your life!" Was anyone else shocked to learn that the best day to start a diet is Saturday? Shocking is the FBI catching Whitey Bulger or Sarah Palin looking up from grizzly wrestling to confess latent Democratic leanings. Starting a diet on Saturday? Nope. And everyone knows the best day to start a diet is tomorrow!

Have you heard about the "triangle of death," the dangerous area around the nose? Studies warn that exploration of nasal cavities can lead to fatal brain hemorrhaging. As a former kindergarten teacher, I can assure you that were this true, no child would make it to first grade.

But even if you avoid TV, radio, and magazines, there’s still Web MD, which makes everyone an armchair cardiologist and brain surgeon, happy to diagnose and treat your every symptom. I’m all for medical research and many of these broadcasts, articles, and websites contain helpful information. But it’s difficult to separate help from hype and a self-diagnosis can be a dangerous hobby. As everyone knows, the consumer who treats himself has a fool for a patient.


Banned food list has gone nuts in Australia

SCHOOLS have banned lunchbox staples such as egg, mayonnaise, Nutella, peanut butter, kiwi fruit and bananas to protect a handful of students with severe food allergies. Children are not allowed to share food and have to wash their hands and face after recess and lunch to prevent cross-contamination.

While the number of Australian children suffering from food allergies is on the rise, official guidelines on anaphylaxis in schools do not recommend blanket bans.

Many schools forbid all nut products, but some have gone further, to include eggs and egg-based mayonnaise, fish products, fruits and chocolate that may contain traces of nuts. Canteens do not sell the offending products and parents are told not to pack them in their child's lunchbox.

Medical experts, parents and interest groups oppose the bans, arguing they pander to anxious parents and create a false sense of security when a risk-management strategy would be more effective. "There is no scientific evidence to suggest banning a food from a school is helpful in reducing risk of anaphylaxis," NSW Department of Education and Training guidelines say.

Milk and egg are the most common food allergens in children, but many outgrow their allergy by the time they start school, leaving peanuts and tree nuts as the most dangerous culprits.

Associate Professor Dianne Campbell, a staff specialist in immunology at The Children's Hospital at Westmead said it is almost impossible to have an anaphylactic shock from touching a contaminated surface. They could, however, get a localised reaction such as hives or welts.

"But unless you've eaten it or absorbed it onto a mucosal surface like your mouth or eye, you can't actually have a systemic reaction, ie anaphylaxis," she said. "If someone is eating an egg sandwich or having mayonnaise and they're four lunchboxes away from you and you're not touching them or sharing food, you really shouldn't be able to have a dangerous reaction from that. But it's very anxiety provoking for the parents."

NSW Primary Principals Association president Geoff Scott said schools were "allergy aware" and vigilant but bans were impossible. "Banning of a product in another child's lunch prepared at home is a bit problematic as it's very difficult for a school to check 800 lunches to find out what's in each," he said.

"Obviously, no school lives in a bubble and, for those children who are anaphylactic, you just put in place as much risk-management as you can."

Croydon Public School principal David Horne said all nut products were banned including Nutella and marzipan, the canteen did not sell egg or egg-based mayonnaise, and parents were asked not to send egg products and kiwi fruit to school. "If a child comes with those foods, they need to inform their teacher and wash face and hands immediately after eating it," he said.

A Canberra school visited last month by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd warned journalists who had eaten a banana in the previous 12 hours they were not permitted to cover the visit due to allergy concerns.

Anaphylaxis Australia president Maria Said said she knew of independent, Catholic and government schools that had imposed food bans but they were overreacting. "Have hand-washing procedures, have children eat at designated times, no sharing of food, make sure teachers are trained and children have awareness of food allergy - those strategies will work much more effectively than saying we have a blanket ban on kiwi fruit or mayonnaise," she said.


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